Immagini della pagina

friends of freedom,, among the most ardent of whom was Mr. Mackintosh, that it almost wholly engrossed his attention and his time. Among the numerous productions to which this portentous event gave occasion, Mr. Burke's celebrated letter chiefly attracted his notice, and in some degree excited his astonishment. No person could entertain a higher degree of respect than Mr. Mackintosh for the transcendant abilities of Mr. Burke. He had always looked up to him as his master and model, in political prudence and principles, and his veneration for him is known to have bordered on something superstitious, or even idolatrous. No sooth er, however, had he perused the work than he conceived the design of answering it;-a bold and hazardous one he confessed; applying to his own inability the following line of the poet:

Infelix puer, atque impar Congressus Achillei.

But the performance of the task justified its boldness; and the public and himself are both much indebted to this essay of his literary prowess. The Vindicæ Gallicæ rescued him from that comparative obscurity in which he had, in some measure, allowed his abilities to languish, previous to this period: not that he had not before essayed in pen on a public occasion. For, during the de. bates on the regency, in 1788, he issued his first political pamphlets in fayour of the claims of the prince of Wales; but it was to the appearance of the l'indicia Gallice that he was chiefly indebted for the aequaintance of the most distinguished political characters of the time, more particularly of those who embraced the same side of the question as himself. Among them we need only men: tion the late duke of Bedford, Mr. Fox, Sheridan, Gray, Whitbread, &c. whose praise and encouragement could not fail of be ing highly flattering to the pride of a young author. But, most probably neither he himself could have emerged into this celebris ty nor the prospects which he now enjoys, vor would his é intry have been benefited with the subsequent more vigorous effusions of his mind, were it not for a material change that had been previously wrought in his liabits. It happened most luckily for him, that, nearly two years before, his inclination led him to change a single for a matrimonial life, and in 1789 he married miss Stuart, * young lady of exquisite good sense, and the most conciliating disposition, by whom he has had one son and four daughters. In her he found an intelligent companion, a tender friend, and, above all, a prudent monitress. He has often been heard to confess, that it was the fond and frequent entreaties of conjugal solicitude that gradually reclaimed him from dissipation, and urged his indolence to all those exertions, more particularly to his first, the Vindiciæ Gallicæ, which had till then proved either useful or creditable to him;~and with respect to the circumstances under which that work was composed, a work that exhibits such cogency of argument, such perspicuity of arrangement, such vigour of sentiment, and such splendour of declamation, it may be interesting to know that it was composed amidst the anxiety and distraction that must naturally be felt by a father, and husband, and brother, surrounded by a family consisting principally of females, all of whom were at the moment variously and seriously indisposed, and who were incessantly soliciting his assistance and consolation. Indeed, when the first sheet of the work was sent to the press, scarce a sentence was written of the chapter that was to follow; yet there appears no interruption in the chain of argument, or in the thread of the narrative; and the only indications that occur of hurry, disturbance, or inattention, are the numberless typographical errors by which the first edition was deformed.

As the mind of Mr. Mackintosh was now no longer so much depressed by difficulties, relaxed by indolence, or distracted by dissipation, his prospects began to brighten, as his faculies reassumed their native elasticity and tone. He therefore applied himself with increased diligence and renovated ardour, to the prosecution of his professional studies; with what success, we leave it for those to judge who have heard him plead before the committees of the house of commons, at the bar of the house of peers, or who had the good fortune to be present at his admirable and memorable defence of M. Peltier. Much less shall we attempt to appreciate his merits as a lawyer, though we may safely say that he combines all the more essential qualities that constitute the character of a pleader or an orator-learning, judgment, acuteness, penetration, easy and copious elocution, graceful and appropriate gesture. The only defects which the most penetrating and competent judges discover in him, as either are, too nice a refinement in his reasoning for the apprehension of ordinary hearers, and want of compass, , variety, and modulation in his voice.

But the most arduous and useful undertaking in which Mr. Mackintosh has hitherto embarked, is the exposition of the course of lectures which he delivered in Lincoln's Inn Hall. The design indeed is vast; and the mightiest mind, perhaps, of the age, observed of it, when the plan was submitted to him, that an ade. quate execution of it would require the concourse and co-operation of all the philosophers of every age and country. It had long been as Mr. Mackintosh himself observes, “the subject of his reading and reflection;" and it required indeed, the unbounded comprehension of his mind, and the vast capaciousness of his memory to embrace and treasure up the immense variety of materials out of which such a plan was to be constructed His own eagerness to undertake the task was strengthened and encouraged by the gravest authorities. “ I was confirmed in my opinion,” says he, “ by the assent and approbation of men,* whose names, were it becoming to mention them on so slight an occasion would add authority to truth, and furnish some excuse even for error.f The object and intention of the lectures will likewise be best understood, from the energetic and eloquent terms in which he himself has expressed them. $ “ I know not whether a philosopher ought to confess, that in his inquiries after truth, he is biassed by any. consideration—even by the love of virtue; but I, who conceive that a real philosopher ought to regard truth itself, chiefly on account of its subserviency to the happiness of mankind, am not ashamed to confess, that I shall feel a great consolation at the conclusion of these lectures, if by a wide survey, and an exact examination of the conditions and the relations of human nature, I shall have confirmed one individual in the conviction that justice is the permanent interest of all men and of all commonwealths: To discover one link in the eternal chain by which the author of the universe had bound together the happiness and the duty of his



* Among the more prominent were lord Rosslyn, Mr. Pitt, Mr. Ad: dington, lord Melville, Mr. Canning, &c. all of whom wrote letters to him in the highest strain of compliment, after reading his introductory discourse. # See the introductory discourse to the lectures. Ibidem,



creatures, and indissolubly fastened their interests to each other, will fill my heart with more pleasure than all the fame with which the most ingenious paradox ever crowned the most eloquent so. phist."

Will it hereafter be believed, that a task undertaken through so much labour, and with such virtuous intention, would have been opposed by some of the benchers of Lincoln's Inn, [men we must suppose of liberal minds and liberal education] under the false and futile pretence that their hall should not be prostituted to the purposes of jacobinism. Fortunately for himself and for the public, Mr. Mackintosh had other judges. Lord Rosslyn, then lord high chancellor, sent an authoritative mandate to open the hall, and the malignity of this insignificant cabal was silenced and confounded. Never was a course of lectures of any sort so illustriously attended. Twenty-five peers, and about fifty commoners were among the most assiduous in their attendance, together with nearly all the metropolis contained of men conspicuous for their talents or their learning. It will be for them to pronounce whether jacobinism, and its parent, the new philosophy, found in Mr. Mackintosh a partizan and a preacher of their principles, or whether, on the contrary, the pernicious system which they have endeavoured to erect against the altar and the throne, against every thing that is feeling, moral, and rational in the nature of man, has not sustained an eternal overthrow from the vigour of his arguments and the thunder of his eloquence:

furialia monstra Fulmine compescit linguc.


Never were the energies of a mind more forcibly or more va. riously exerted-never was greater affluence of intellectual wealth displayed. Scarcely is there a topic of literature but some of his lectures touched upon, or a department of science which they have not surveyed. The copious stores of his memory constantly supplied him with authorities and quotations from philosophers, orators and poets, of every age and country, to establish his positions and variegate his matter. What was intricate, he disentangled; he confirmed what was doubtful; embellished what was dry; and

illustrated what was obscure. Like the splendour of the golden bough that bore the Trojan hero through the darksome regions of the nether realms, the luminous glance of his genius darted through all the branches of the tree of knowledge, and gilt with a new light every leaf upon which it shone:

Ameaque ingenii per ramos aura refulsit.

We have dwelt longer upon Mr. Mackintosh's lectures than upon any other of his intellectual efforts, not only because it was the most useful, as well as the most splendid, that he, or any other man of genius, could have made, but more particularly because they can be but little known to the public, as they could only have been attended by, comparatively, a few. It is, however, our anxious hope, that though the public may never behold them in the shape in which they were delivered, the spirit of them, at least, may be embodied in the form of an essay or a treatise on the principles of morals and of politics, which they have laid down so distinctly, and so clearly ascertained. Both the late and the present administrations were deeply struck with their excellence and usefulness, and were not backward to acknowledge that they gave Mr. Mackintosh very strong claims, not only to the admiration, but the gratitude of his country. They accordingly made him several offers of lucrative and honourable appointments, and, very recently, that of under secretary of state in the home department: but he declined accepting them, as too exclusively connected with parties and politics, and, as rather unsuitable with his professional character and avocations. No sooner, however, did the recordership of Bombay become vacant, than an unsolicited offer of it was made to him, as a thing not liable to the same objections. Even this office, though highly desirable in many other respects, we cannot well suppose him to have undertaken, without a severe effort of resolution and self-denial;—for his acceptance of it removed him from the only sphere in which the powers of his mind seemed destined to move, and from the only theatre where their variety and extent could be fairly judgerl, and worthily exhibited. In this reluctance on his part, if any such he felt; the regret of his country must naturally sympathise; for the light of his genius and the powers of his pen

« IndietroContinua »