such a strength of understanding, such a steadiness of principle, such a purity of intention, as are not commonly to be expected: and therefore, if injuries of the greatest importance must of necessity be punished, yet it is to be wished, at least, that in the more ordinary sorts of offences it might be omitted: and to every benevolent man it would be desirable to have it appear, that he may often, or generally, forgive, without so much danger as is vulgarly apprehended.

Imagine yourself then wholly unconcerned with any animosity or quarrel: an injury is offered you: the question is, whether, in an ordinary way, your punishing that injury, or your pardoning it, will more strongly induce the offender to injure you a second time?

First, consider the motives, in both cases, which are likely to make a man averse from future insults: if you Execute punishment, I know of none but fear. Now fear is an inconstant and imperfect principle of action, especially in performing duties between man and man. He who but fears to offend you, is only hindered from offending by want of opportunity; a prospect of concealment may deprive you of all your security: so may the loss of power on your part, or the attainment of fortune or influence on the part of your enemy: for as to that contrite and humble consciousness which misfortunes are sometimes the means of exciting, that is very rarely caused by hasty and angry punishment, or by any thing which has the appearance of revenge; though it may arise from reproof, and the lighter kinds of correction, when prudently and kindly administered.

But should you pardon an offence, there are several things likely to make an offender averse from persisting. There is that natural benevolence which every man has for every man, before any disgust arises;-this sa cred stream, whatever pollution it received in the commission of the original injury, will soon recover its former brightness, when it meets with the pure and unruffled current of benignity, which flows from the heart of the placable man,

There is also gratitude; a principle which men in

general are not unwilling to admit, (i) and which, when once admitted, depends not for its continuance on fortune, or outward circumstances, but is naturally stable and permanent.

We may add too prudence, or self-interest; for let a man once shew himself to act upon principles not easily shaken; to be possessed of a temper not captious, not jealous on every unfavourable appearance; to be actuated by a steady benevolence, which is not ruffled by every little meanness; and he will find the prudent part of the world more desirous of engaging him as a friend, than of provoking him as an enemy. Nay an injury might be pardoned with such indisputable marks of true fortitude, and genuine greatness of spirit, that the offender should be as much influenced even by fear to decline a second injury, as if he had been actually punished for where punishment has been inflicted, it is not, strictly speaking, reflection on the past, which deters from injuries, but dread of the future; founded on such reflection.

In the next place, consider the motives, in both cases, (of punishment and pardon), which are likely to incline a man to repeat offences. And it is undoubtedly true, that when you execute vengeance on any man you raise in him a desire of requiting and punishing you for that action by which your resentment was gratified. He will look upon your action as an injury, even though it should have really been, what is unlikely, no more than an equitable punishment. Self-love will represent to his fancy his offence as far from heinous, and your requital as cruelly severe and should he return the evil, partiality will again have the same effects: The desire of revenge, like other desires, when once indulged, will grow impatient of restraint; what can be expected from such an intercourse, but rancour increased by every return? ere long drawing into its vortex your dependants; and descending, as an inheritance, from generation to generation?

But should you pardon an injury, what can incline the author of it to persist in offending? It must be some habitual malevolence, or stupid insensibility, or, if he

gains by injuring you, a selfishness of the basest kind. But no one who made any pretensions to the countenance and esteem of the world, would dare to act from such principles: and so few give up the world, that the experiment might be hazarded without imprudence. Indeed though a person so abandoned should repeat an injury, that would not make against our reasoning; because such a cne would injure any man. He who forgave might not be safe; but neither would he who punished: except the offender was to be actually deprived of his Liberty.-There would still be one difference; the second injury would not, in case of a pardon, be of course greater than the first, as it would be in case of retaliation.

Thus the motives which prevent the repetition of an injury are stronger after a pardon than after a punishment; and those which encourage it, weaker. And we should, moreover, consider, that men often seem to injure us when they really do not: now having forgiven a seeming injury, which was not real, cannot possibly dharm: no man will injure us because we have treated an innocent action of his as innocent. And mistakes of this sort are so common, that even those who determine to revenge all injuries, ought to overlook some; otherwise they will be, not only severe, but unjust; they will exceed even that severity in which they allow themselves, and punish more than all the injuries which have really been committed against them.

But an injury may be real, and yet it may be very ill-judged to inflict punishment; this indeed has been shewn before, generally; but take the instance of the man of a warm but generous temper; such a one does injurious things, in a paroxysm of passion; but he soon reflects upon them with concern and remorse; and is as earnest to make reparation as he was rash in offending. Yet some time and forbearance are required; if resentment is shewn before he recovers himself, it keeps him in agitation, or exasperates him still more: it sets him upon justifying and defending himself; it excites him to new outrages, each fertile in mischief; whereas patience and self-command, though but for a time,

would cut off long trains of evil, and confer an obligation on a grateful mind, the remembrance of which would never be effaced.

'As this warm and generous temper is by no means uncommon, and as it both requires and deserves that restraints particularly strong should be laid upon the passion which we are considering, it may not be improper to make some impression in its favor, by observing, that the same vehemence which hurries a man into injurious attacks, may shew itself in warm and delicate friendship, in nice honour, in mercy and compassion. For that sensibility which makes a man burn with friendly zeal, and melt with kindness; by which he is susceptible of all the charms of moral beauty and the liberal arts; which makes him thrill at the sound of praise, and sink under disgrace, will also make him jealous of his honour, and indignant at every appearance of meanness, dishonesty and ingratitude. We need therefore only conceive such a man to have a partial and unfavourable view of any affair, or, to listen to the misrepresentations of art,or malice, in order to conceive him rushing into injury, and attacking the innocent: but let the stroke be yielded to; its force will soon be spent; humanity and judgment will return together, and you will be hailed the guardian and protector of all

that is valuable in human life.

28. I will conclude this calculation of the consequences of punishment and pardon, by marking out the difference between public punishment and private; as it may solve some mens difficulties best to see, that public punishment may sometimes be inflicted, when private should not be used without great caution. Public punishment of any injury is that which is inflicted by the Magistrate in obedience to the Laws, or constituti onal government. This was settled by the wisdom of the Legislature without any knowledge of the particular offence to be punished, merely from estimating the mischief of the kind of crime, on general principles. And it is inflicted with temper and calmness, and most usually with reluctance. But private punishment results from the feelings of the injured person: it is contrived, as to

its kind and degree, with a view to the particular case in question; and during the warmth of resentment, heightened by self-love. How much more likely is the former to be right and equitable than the latter! how much more likely also to be successful! for who would not submit more willingly to public than to private punishment? It may indeed depend on a private man to sue to those in power for public punishment; but that is a very different thing from letting loose private Resentment; different, both with respect to the punishment which would be inflicted, and to the effect which it would have in reforming the Offender.

29. And now what is the result of the whole? very greatly in favor of forgiveness.-You receive an injury, or imagine that you receive one; shall you punish, or shall you forbear? there are more things to be taken into consideration in answering this question than is generally imagined; the question seems to be single, but it is resolvable into many cases.


First.-What you imagine to be an injury may really no injury; it may be a plain, simple conduct, on the part of the offender; such as he has a right to pursue; or such as he is under obligation not to omit. To punish in this case would be to plunge into an abyss of mischief and iniquity. Yet it is a case by no means


Secondly. A man may commit against you what is, as a fact, a real injury, or violation of your rights, (that is, we will suppose its reality, though there may often be difficulty in settling that matter), but he may have done the action through inadvertence; he may not have intended so much as to do you harm, much less to injure you. Now to punish, in this case, would be to treat a man as guilty who is innocent; and would be a measure productive of evil upon the whole; consequently wrong. It is for the general good that innocence should receive all possible encouragements.

Thirdly. The harm which is done you, may be intentional, but the offender may think he has a right to inflict that harm; perhaps as self-defence; perhaps as

« VorigeDoorgaan »