« PředchozíPokračovat »
events multiply upon us surprisingly. Gazettes, it is seriously to be feared, will not long allow room to anything, that is not loathsome or shocking. A newspaper is pronounced to be very lean and destitute of matter, if it contains no account of murders, suicides, prodigies, or monstrous births.
Some of these tales excite horror, and others disgust; yet the fashion reigns, like a tyrant, to relish. wonders, and almost to relish nothing else. Is this a reasonable taste; or is it monstrous and worthy of ridicule? Is the history of Newgate the only one worth reading? Are oddities only to be hunted? Pray tell us, men of ink, if our free presses are to diffuse information, and we, the poor ignorant people, can get it no other way than by newspapers, what knowledge we are to glean from the blundering lies, or the tiresome truths about thunderstorms, that, strange to tell! kill oxen or burn barns? The crowing of a hen is supposed to forebode cuckoldom; and the ticking of a little bug in the wall threatens yellow fever. It seems really as if our newspapers were busy to spread superstition. Omens, and dreams, and prodigies, are recorded, as if they were worth minding. The increasing fashion for printing wonderful tales of crimes and accidents is worse than ridiculous, as it corrupts both the public taste and morals. It multiplies fables, prodigious monsters, and crimes, and thus makes shocking things familiar; while it withdraws all popular attention from familiar truth, because it is not shocking.
Surely, extraordinary events have not the best title to our studious attention. To study nature or man, we ought to know things that are in the ordinary
course, not the unaccountable things that happen out of it.
This country is said to measure seven hundred millions of acres, and it is inhabited by almost six millions of people. Who can doubt, then, that a great many crimes will be committed, and a great many strange things will happen every seven years? There will be thunder showers, that will split tough white oak trees; and hail storms, that will cost some farmers the full amount of twenty shillings to mend their glass windows; there will be taverns, and boxing matches, and elections, and gouging, and drinking, and love, and murder, and running in debt, and running away, and suicide. Now, if a man supposes eight or ten, or twenty dozen of these amusing events will happen in a single year, is he not just as wise as another man, who reads fifty columns of amazing particulars, and of course, knows that they have happened?
This state has almost one hundred thousand dwelling houses: it would be strange, if all of them should escape fire for twelve months. Yet is it very profitable for a man to become a deep student of all the accidents, by which they are consured? He should take good care of his chimney corner, and put a fender before the back-log before he goes to bed. Having done this, he may let his aunt or grandmother read by day, or meditate by night, the terrible newspaper articles of fires.
Some of the shocking articles in the papers raise simple, and very simple, wonder; some, terror; and some, horror and disgust. Now what instruction is there in these endless wonders ?-Who is the wiser or happier for reading the accounts of them? On the
contrary, do they not shock tender minds, and addle shallow brains? Worse than this happens; for some eccentric minds are turned to mischief by such accounts, as they receive of troops of incendiaries burning our cities: the spirit of imitation is contagious ; and boys are found unaccountably bent to do as men do. When the man flew from the steeple of the North Church fifty years ago, every unlucky boy thought of nothing but flying from a sign-post.
[THE Duke of Grafton had in the House of Lords reproached Lord THURLOW with his plebeian extraction, and his recent admission to the peerage. Lord Thurlow rose from the woolsack, and advanced slowly to the place from which the chancellor addresses the house; then fixing his eye upon the duke, spoke as follows.]
My lords, I am amazed, yes, my lords, I am amazed at his grace's speech. The noble duke cannot look before him, behind him, or on either side of him, without seeing some noble peer, who owes his seat in this house to his successful exertions in the profession to which I belong. Does he not feel that it is as honourable to owe it to these, as to being the accident of an accident? To all these noble lords, the language of the noble duke is as applicable and insulting as it is to myself. But I do not fear to meet it single and alone. No one venerates the peerage more than I do. But,
my lords, I must say that the peerage solicited me, not I the peerage.
Nay, more, I can and will say, that, as a peer of parliament, as speaker of this right honourable house, as keeper of the great seal, as guardian of his majesty's conscience, as lord high chancellor of England, nay, even in that character alone, in which the noble duke would think it an affront to be considered, but which character none can deny me-as a MAN, I am at this moment as respectable, I beg leave to add, as much respected, as the proudest peer I now look down upon.
How wonderful a specimen of human corruption is presented in the so general profanation of the name of God, exhibited in light-minded cursing and swearing! How perfectly at a loss is Reason for a motive to originate, and explain this conduct! Why should the Name of the Creator be treated with irreverence? Why should not anything else be uttered by man, if we consider him merely as a rational being without recurring at all to his moral and accountable character, rather than language of this nature? Certainly, it contributes not in the least degree, to the advancement of any purpose; unless that purpose is mere profaneness. I know well that passion is often pleaded
for the use of this language. But why should passion prompt to profaneness? Anger, one would suppose, would naturally vent itself in expressions of resentment against the person who had provoked us. But this person is always a fellow-creature, a man like ourselves. In what way, or in what degree, is God concerned in this matter? What has the passion, what has the provocation to do with Him, his name or his character? Why do we affront and injure him, because a creature, infinitely unlike him, has affronted and injured us? I know that custom, also, is pleaded as an extenuation, and perhaps as an explanation, of this crime. But how came such a custom to exist? How came any rational being ever to think of profaning the name of God? How came any other rational being to follow him in this wickedness? Whence was it that so many millions of those who ought to be rational beings, have followed them both? What end can it have answered? What honour, gain, or pleasure can it have furnished? What taste can it have gratified? What desire, what affection, can it have indulged? What end can the profane person have proposed to himself?
Can any explanation be given of this conduct, except that it springs from love to wickedness itself? From a heart fixedly opposed to its Maker; pleased with affronting him; loving to abuse his character, and to malign his glorious agency? A heart in which sin is gratuitous; by which, in juster language, nothing is gained, much is plainly lost, and everything is hazarded? What, beside the love of sinning; what, but the peculiar turpitude of the character, can be the source, or the explanation of this conduct?