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it is detected, is the proper act of vindictive justice; but to prevent frauds,
. To tread upon the brink is safe ; but to come a step
“ As law supplies the weak with adventitious strength, it likewise enlightens the ignorant with extrinsick understanding. Law teaches us to know when we commit injury, and when we suffer it. It fixes, certain marks upon actions, by which we are admonished to do or to forbear them. Qui fibi bene temperat in licitis, says one of the fathers, nunquam cadet in illicita. He who never intromits at all, will never intromit with fraudulent intentions.
The relaxation of the law against vicious intromission has been very favourably represented by a great master of jurisprudence', whose words have been exhibited with unnecessary pomp, and seem to be considered as irresistibly decisive. The great moment of his authority makes it necessary to examine his position. Some ages ago, (says he,) before the ferocity of the inhabitants of this part of the island was subdued, the utmost severity of the civil law was necessary, to restrain individuals from plundering each other. Thus, the man who intermeddled irregularly with the moveables of a person deceased, was subjected to all the debts of the deceased without limitation. This makes a branch of the law of Scotland, known by the name of vicious intromiskon; and so rigidly was this regulation applied in our Courts of Law, that the most trifling moveable abstracted mala fide, subjected the intermeddler to the foregoing consequences, which proved in many instances a most rigorous punishment. But this severity was necessary, in order to subdue the undisciplined nature of our people. It is extremely remarkable, that in proportion to our improvement in manners, this regulation has been gradually softened, and applied by our sovereign Court with a sparing hand.'
“ I find myself under a necessity of observing, that this learned and judicious writer has not accurately distinguished the deficiencies and demands of the different conditions of human life, which, from a degree of savageness and independence, in which all laws are vain, passes or may pass, by innumerable gradations, to a state of reciprocal benignity, in which laws shall be no longer necessary. Men are first wild and unsocial, living each man to himself, taking
Lord Kames, in his “ Historical Law Tracts.”
from the weak, and losing to the strong. In their first coalitions of society, much of this original favageness is retained. Of general happiness, the product Ærat. 63. of general confidence, there is yet no thought. Men continue to prosecute their own advantages by the nearest way; and the utmost severity of the civil law is necessary to restrain individuals from plundering each other. The restraints then necessary, are restraints from plunder, from acts of publick violence, and undisguised oppression. The ferocity of our ancestors, as of all other nations, produced not fraud but rapine. They had not yet learned to cheat, and attempted only to rob. As manners grow more polished, with the knowledge of good, men attain likewise dexterity in evil. Open rapine becomes less frequent, and violence gives way to cunning. Those who before invaded pastures and stormed houses, now begin to enrich themselves by unequal contracts and fraudulent intromissions. It is not against the violence of ferocity, but the circumventions of deceit, that this law was framed; and I am afraid the increase of commerce, and the incessant struggle for riches which commerce excites, give us no prospect of an end speedily to be expected of artifice and fraud. It therefore seems to be no very conclusive reasoning, which connects those two propositions ;- the nation is become less ferocious, and therefore the laws against fraud and cover shall be relaxed.'
“ Whatever reason may have influenced the Judges to a relaxation of the. law, it was not that the nation was grown less fierce; and, I am afraid, it cannot be affirmed that it is grown less fraudulent.
“ Since this law has been represented as rigorously and unreasonably penal, it seems not improper to consider what are the conditions and qualities that make the justice or propriety of a penal law.
“ To make a penal law reasonable and just, two conditions are necessary, and two proper. It is necessary that the law should be adequate to its end; that, if it be observed, it shall prevent the evil against which it is directed. It is, secondly, neceffary that the end of the law be of such importance, as to deserve the security of a penal sanction. The other conditions of a penal law, which though not absolutely neceffary, are to a very high degree fit, are, that to the moral violation of the law there are many temptations, and that of the physical observance there is great facility.
“ All these conditions apparently concur to justify the law which we are now considering. Its end is the security of property; and property very often of great value. The method by which it effects the security is efficacious, because it admits, in its original rigour, no gradations of injury; but keeps guilt and innocence apart, by a distinct and definite limitation. He Ddd
1772. that intromits, is criminal; he that intromits not, is innocent. Of the two Ætat. 73. fecondary considerations it cannot be denied that both are in our favour. The
temptation to intromit is frequent and strong; so strong and fo frequent, as to require the utmost activity of justice, and vigilance of caution, to withstand its prevalence; and the method by which a man may entitle himself to legal intromission is so open and so facile, that to neglect it is a proof of fraudulent intention : for why should a man omit to do (but for reasons which he will not confess,) that which he can do so easily, and that which he knows to be required by the law? If temptation were rare, a penal law might be deemed unnecessary. If the duty enjoined by the law were of difficult performance, omission, though it could not be justified, might be pitied. But in the present case, neither equity nor compassion operate against it. A useful, a necessary law is broken, not only without a reasonable motive, but with all the inducements to obedience that can be derived from safety and facility.
« I therefore return to my original position, that a law, to have its effect, must be permanent and stable. It may be said, in the language of the schools, Lex non recepit majus et minus,—we may have a law, or we may have no law, but we cannot have half a law, We must either have a rule of action, or be permitted to act by discretion and by chance. Deviations from the law must be uniformly punished, or no man can be certain when he shall be safe.
“ That from the rigour of the original institution this Court has sometimes departed, cannot be denied. But, as it is evident that such deviations, as they make law uncertain, make life unsafe, I hope, that of departing from it there will now be an end ; that the wisdom of our ancestors will be treated with due reverence; and that consistent and steady decisions will furnish the people with a rule of action, and leave fraud and fraudulent intromission no future hope of impunity or escape.”
With such comprehension of mind, and such clearness of penetration, did he thus treat a subject altogether new to him, without any other preparation than my having stated to him the arguments which had been used on each side of the question. His intellectual powers appeared with peculiar lustre, when tried against those of a writer of so much fame as Lord Kames, and that too in his Lordship's own department.
This masterly argument, after being prefaced and concluded with some sentences of my own, and garnished with the usual formularies, was actually printed and laid before the Lords of Session, but without success. My respected friend Lord Hailes, however, one of that honourable body, had
critical fagacity enough to discover a more than ordinary hand in the Petition. 1772. I told him that Dr. Johnson had favoured me with his pen. His Lordship, Atat. 03. with wonderful acumen, pointed out exactly where his composition began, and where it ended. But that I may do impartial justice, and conform to the great rule of Courts, Suum cuique tribuito, I must add, that their Lordships in general, though they were pleased to call this “ a well-drawn paper,” preferred the former very inferiour petition which I had written ; thus confirming the truth of an observation made to me by one of their number, in a merry mood : “My dear Sir, give yourself no trouble in the composition of the papers you present to us; for, indeed, it is casting pearls before swine.”
I renewed my solicitations that he would this year accomplish his longintended visit to Scotland.
To JAMES BOSWELL, Esq.
« DEAR SIR,
“ THE regret has not been little with which I have missed a journey so pregnant with pleasing expectations, as that in which I could promise myself not only the gratification of curiosity, both rational and fanciful, but the delight of seeing those whom I love and esteem, * But such has been the course of things, that I could not come; and such has been, I am afraid, the state of my body, that it would not well have seconded my inclination. My body, I think, grows better, and I refer my hopes to another year; for I am very sincere in my design to pay the visit, and take the ramble. In the mean time, do not omit any opportunity of keeping up a favourable opinion of me in the minds of any of my friends. Beattie's book is, I believe, every day more liked ; at least, I like it more, as I look more upon it.
“ I am glad if you got credit by your cause, and am yet of opinion that our cause was good, and that the determination ought to have been in your favour. Poor Hastie, I think, had but his deserts.
“ You promised to get me a little Pindar, and may add to it a little Anacreon.
“ The leisure which I cannot enjoy, it will be a pleasure to hear that you employ upon the antiquities of the feudal establishment. The whole system of ancient tenures is gradually passing away ; and I wish to have the knowDdd 2
1772. ledge of it preserved adequate and complete. For such an institution makes Ætat. 63. a very important part of the history of mankind. Do not forget a design
so worthy of a scholar who studies the laws of his country, and of a gentleman who may naturally be curious to know the condition of his own ancestors. I am, dear Sir,
“ Yours with great affection, “ August 31, 1772.
To Dr. Johnson.
« MY DEAR SIR,
Edinburgh, Dec. 25, 1772.
“ I was much disappointed that you did not come to Scotland last autumn. However, I must own that your letter prevents me from complaining; not only because I am sensible that the state of your health was but too good an excuse, but because you write in a strain which shews that you have agreeable views of the scheme which we have so long proposed.
“ I communicated to Beattie what you said of his book in your last letter.
He writes to me thus : : You judge very rightly in supposing that Dr. Johnson's favourable opinion of my book must give me great delight. Indeed it is impossible for me to say how much I am gratified by it; for there is not a man upon earth whose good opinion I would be more ambitious to cultivate. His talents and his virtues I reverence more than any words can express. The extraordinary civilities, (the paternal attentions I should rather fay,) and the many instructions I have had the honour to receive from him, will to me be a perpetual source of pleasure in the recollection. Dum memor ipfe mei dum fpiritus hos reget
, artuse". • I had still fome thoughts, while the summer lafted, of being obliged to go to London on some little business; otherwise I should certainly have troubled him with a letter several months ago, and given some vent to my gratitude and admiration. This I intend to do, as soon as I am left a little at leisure. Mean time, if you have occasion to write to him, I beg you will offer him my most respectful compliments, and assure him of the sincerity of my attachment and the warmth of my gratitude.
“ I am, &c.