« PreviousContinue »
more of romance in them, than his bold and generous movement on this occasion. He was only a colonel, in command of a single regiment, when he raised the banner of republican liberty, and summoned his countrymen to put down the tyrant. A large force was instantly despatched from Mexico to crush him, but their general ultimately joined the patriot, and Santa-Anna, with a generous disregard of personal aggrandizement, summoned Victoria, an old leader of the people, from his hiding-place in the mountains, to take command of the popular forces. The revolution was successful; Iturbide was dethroned and banished, and a federal republic was established. His fortune has since been varied, and our limits forbid us to trace it; but, as our author remarks, 'It should redound to his lasting honour, that, surrounded as he was by faction, intrigue, and enemies, who have since overthrown him; in no single instance was any man punished for a political offence.'
The present constitution of Mexico dates only from the beginning of the year 1844, and contains some noble principles, which only want the vivifying element of intelligence and virtue amongst the people, to render it productive of national welfare. It abolishes slavery, guarantees the liberty of the press, prohibits the imposition of taxes, save by legislative authority, and gives the right of citizenship to all persons who possess an annual income of two hundred dollars, whether derived from labour or from capital. The powers of the president are limited and defined, as the following abstract will show.
The president must be a native of the country, and a layman, and holds his office for the term of five years It is made his duty to supervise the courts of justice, and he may prescribe the order in which cases shall be tried. He may impose fines not exceeding five hundred dollars, upon those who disobey his lawful commands. Certain large powers are conferred upon him in relation to concordats, bulls, decrees, and other ecclesiastical matters. sesses a very qualified veto upon the acts of Congress. He may call an extra session of Congress, and prescribe the only subjects to be considered. The president not to exercise any military command without the consent of Congress. Not to leave the Republic during his term of office, nor for one year after its expiration, but with the consent of Congress, nor to go more than six leagues from the capital, without the like permission. He shall in no case alienate, exchange or mortgage any portion of the territory of the Republic. All his acts must be approved by the secretary of the department to which it properly belongs. He cannot be prosecuted criminally, except for treason against the national independence or the form of government established by the constitution during his term of office, nor for one year afterwards.'-pp. 183, 184.
Unhappily, there is no public sentiment in Mexico to give practical worth to this constitution. Its enactments are consequently little more than nominal, and the people have realized little from all their struggles. We may, however, hope better things for the future. There are signs of improvement discernible,--the faint dawn of a better day,-yet there is too much truth in the remarks with which Mr. Thompson closes his reference to this subject, and with which we must terminate our notice of his valuable and interesting volume.
I think,' he says, that this constitution is calculated to elevate the character of those who framed it very much beyond the general estimate of the intelligence of the Mexicans; and that it is still more creditable in the general spirit of liberty which runs through all its provisions. I do not see that any of the guarantees are wanting for the security of the rights of the citizen or the public liberty. But of what avail are free institutions without the spirit of liberty amongst the people; or what avail are both without general intelligence and virtue? Quid valeant leges sine moribus?' The history of other countries answers the question, but none so conclusively as the present almost hopeless condition of Mexico-with a constitution quite liberal enough for any country. It is the profound remark of an eminent writer, that to endeavour to make a people free who are servile in their nature, is as hopeless as to attempt to reduce to slavery a nation imbued with the spirit of freedom.' I would very much prefer the spirit of liberty with despotic institutions, to free institutions without the spirit of liberty.'-p. 186.
Art. IV. Life and Correspondence of David Hume from the Papers bequeathed by his Nephew to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and from other original sources. By John Hill Burton, Esq., Advocate. 2 vols. 8vo. Tait, Edinburgh.
It is pleasant occasionally to be treated to the life of a philosopher, provided he be a genuine specimen of the class, not a would-be, or charlatan, but one who has with manly energy, and in sober earnestness, essayed to reach the utmost verge of metaphysical abstraction, and even to push the frontiers of that uneasy and dusky region some degrees beyond its admitted geography. Only let him be an accredited proficient in his favourite science, endued with microscopic and telescopic vision, who has made real discoveries beyond the ken of ordinary mortals, or at least thinks so, and whether he has opened up any new vista into the wide wilderness of mystery which lies on all sides round the limits of common sense, or not, we shall be sure to find some
thing both amusing and instructive in the history of his mental adventures. To see a man labouring magnanimously by dint of reason to dispel the thick mist with which our present being is surrounded, is, at any rate, exciting and ennobling. He may have travelled far and brought home little, wrought hard and perfected nothing, soared high and returned only to tell us that, the higher he ascended the less he could see, and the less distinctly, all he had ever seen, or thought he had seen before; and yet his aeronautic circumnavigation around the vulgar sphere of human knowledge, if it only issues, like the flight of Noah's dove, in proving that there is no resting place for the sole of his foot, may surely enhance the value of that Ark where still and exclusively safety and rest may be found. We confess that after we have endeavoured to follow such lofty and erratic wanderings, as closely as common faculties will allow, we feel it a relief and a refreshment to get again into the region of common humanity; and have always felt more reconciled to bear its imprisonment until it shall be given us to come forth to brighter light and ampler liberty. We aver, then, that it is a useful lesson, a most salutary lesson, which the world, the every day, drudging world, ought to learn from the ballooner of every sort, whether he descend again safely to his legs, or, after exhibiting ridiculous gyrations, is precipitated headlong, like another Phaeton, to the earth-if it amount to no more than this-that man is not made for the aerial ways, and that if he ever attempts to tread them, it should be modestly and cautiously, and with the reserved consciousness that he can never find safety and rest till he returns to his proper home on terra firma.
It is far from our intention to say or to insinuate, that there is no direct improvement to be obtained from the life and labours even of such a philosopher as Hume; or that no accession is made by men of that class to our knowledge of first principles. We believe, however, it is much more in a negative way than in a positive, that is, they do us more good by showing what we cannot know, than by revealing to us any thing we did not know; and most assuredly a large part of their vocation, as they seem to have understood it, has consisted in obscuring and bringing into doubt what ordinary minds always thought they did know.
Some considerable advantage, however, may be always gained by comparing such characters with other eminent men of another class, and of a more practical genius. Indirectly the career of the merest speculator may be serviceable. He may save other men's time though he wastes his own. He may contribute to other men's security by his own perils; and to their content by his disappointment. Though the survey of such a history may
add little to our absolute knowledge, to our practical wisdom, or the strength of our moral sentiments; and though it may show us grievous malversations of talent and influence, yet it can hardly fail to throw into bolder relief that class of minds which are always striving to make their moral power bear upon the improvement and happiness of the world.
For instance: let the results of the life of a mere philosopher be compared with those of the life of any distinguished, or even ordinary philanthropist; and it cannot fail to be highly instructive and beneficial. The reader may, if he please, take Hume and Howard, or the two Scotsmen and Davids, Hume and Nasmyth, and go carefully over their mental history, viewing them, if he will, by the tests of the Utilitarian philosophy; let him contrast, first, their pursuits and achievements; next, the amount of their influence for good or evil upon their respective ages; and, lastly, let him estimate the debt of gratitude due respectively for their services, and to be placed to their credit with the world. There would be no great difficulty in deciding to which the palm of merit should be decreed; but, if any hesitation should arise, or any demur be made, it could only be, we suspect, in young minds, or those inordinately disposed to speculation, and sanguine of its fruits; and in such a case we should beg to lay before the doubter such an outline of the two characters as the following.
The career of this eminent philosopher, David Hume, began with a decent though limited patrimony; and with a respectable education, so far as mere literature could go. His intellect was disciplined, but not his heart. That was evidently destitute from his youth up, not only of all sympathy in devotional feelings, but of all decent respect for those who professed them. In fact, all the natural emotions were reduced as near to the freezing point as humanity could bear. Whether this was the result of his collegiate education, the development of original bias, or of revulsion against the religion of his country and his times, or of all these combined, acting upon the boundless ambition of his intellect, it might be difficult to determine, and here cannot be essential. His first destination was to the legal profession, in which, no doubt, his talents would have secured success, if he could have lowered them, to bear the toil of learning technicalities and precedents. But he was making haste to be rich and great, and this profession offering no immediate prospect either of gain or fame, his attention was directed to commerce. The first effort of application to business was made at Bristol, but was speedily found to be so utterly uncongenial to the tastes and habits of a young and ardent scholar, that he hastily renounced it, and retired to France, for the purpose of making his narrow
income comport with his love of intellectual pursuits. Thence he returns in a comparatively short period, to make his début in the literary world, by publishing that, in all respects, extraordinary production, for a young man in his twenty-seventh year,the Treatise upon Human Nature.' It was replete with subtlety, as well as with hostility to the settled opinions of mankind upon the most sacred of subjects. The author expected to reap from it both fame and riches. But the world was not to be so
easily caught, nor so soon won. The failure was complete. It did not produce a ripple upon the tide; and, as he says himself, 'never literary attempt was more unfortunate.-It fell dead born from the press, without reaching such distinction as even to excite a murmur among the zealots.' Shortly after he becomes guardian or companion to the young and half-crazy Marquess of Annandale, with the hope of securing to himself a handsome provision and literary leisure. But the office proved, as might have been expected, utterly irksome, and he quitted it in disgust. Waiting for what might next turn up to his advantage, he is allured by the prospect of promoting his fortunes in connexion with state affairs, into the office of secretary to General St. Clair, whom he accompanies on an expedition, as was alleged, to Canada, but which proved to be a secret attack upon the French coast at Port L'Orient, issuing in disgrace to all parties except the secretary. Subsequently he attends his patrongeneral, on an embassy to the courts of Vienna and Turin. Between these diplomatic engagements he brought out his 'Essays, moral, political, and literary;' the success of which, in good measure, compensated for the failure of his first effort, and encouraged him to attempt its resurrection, by revising, improving, and popularizing it, under the title of an 'Inquiry concerning Human Understanding.' After completing his engagement as secretary to the embassy, he retires for two years to his native country, where he is vigorously engaged in pursuing his studies, but always on the scent after novelties of opinion and paradoxes in all departments, by which he might startle the thinking world into the belief that he was some great one. At the end of this period, he arrives in the metropolis to publish his 'Political Discourses,' and, in a short time after, his Inquiry concerning the Principles of Morals.' We believe he deemed this his chef-d'œuvre; but it attracted little attention, and again renewed his mortification and disappointment. He had, however, by this time so well husbanded his affairs, so well employed his talents, if not in authorship, yet in secretaryship, that he congratulated himself in having secured a small fortune, and no small reputation among that class of literary men, for whom scepticism had more charms than either religion or morality.