Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

stitutes for testimonial veracity, took their rise-ordeals in all their forms ; trials by battle; trials without evidence (understand human evidence;) trials by supernatural, to the exclusion of human, evidence; trials by evidence secured against mendacity by supernatural means, by the ceremony of an oath.

“As the powers of the human understanding gain strength, invigorated by nourishment and exercise, the natural securities rise in value, the supernatural, understood to be what they are, drop, one after another, off the stage. First went ordeal ; then went duel ; after that went, under the name of wager of law, the ceremony of an oath in its pure state, unpropped by that support which this efficient security receives at present from those efficient ones which are still clogged with it; by and bye, its rottenness standing confessed, it will perish off the human stage; and this last of the train of supernatural powers, ultima cælicolúm, will be gathered like Astræa into its native skies.”

Without attempting to answer the above, I will only observe, as the result of my own experience, that oaths operate very differently upon different persons. Many take them as a matter of business, and are not much affected by them. Some appear to have a sense of their obligation, others pretend to have; and among the former class, there are those that have a religious, and those that have a superstitious veneration for the ceremony. Let any one attend in a court of justice, and watch the demeanour of the various witnesses as they come to the box to be sworn, and especially at the moment when they kiss the book. The sight is both amusing and instructive. Some will kiss the book reverently, some with an affectation of reverence, as if to impress the court with a great idea of their regard for an oath. Others take it up carelessly, as if to show their contempt for the practice, or their indifference to the matter at issue. Occasionally you will see persons raise the sacred volume near to their lips, and pretend to kiss it, while they kiss only the empty air, their object seemingly being to escape from the obligation which the ceremony is thought to impose; and such persons are sometimes reproved by the judge, and desired to salute the book with their mouths in the proper way. It would be exceedingly difficult in any case to estimate the nature and degree of influence which an oath exercises on the mind. To judge from the language of counsel, who are continually reminding the witnesses that they are upon their oaths, you would imagine that an oath was forgotten almost as soon as it was sworn.

There are many who have scruples as to the lawfulness of oaths. Upon this point, referring my readers to the 39th article of our Church and Burnet thereupon, I will conclude with a quotation from Paley :

Quakers and Moravians refuse to swear upon any occasion; founding their scruples concerning the lawfulness of oaths upon our

66

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Saviour's prohibition, Matt. V. 34. 'I say unto you, swear not at all.'

The answer which we give to this objection cannot be understood, without first stating the whole passage: Ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths. But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; neither by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay; for whatsoever is more than these, cometh of evil.'

“ 'l'o reconcile with this passage of Scripture the practice of swearing, or of taking oaths, when required by law, the following observations must be attended to.

“1. It does not appear, that swearing by heaven,'by the earth, ' by Jerusalem,' or 'by their own head,' was a form of swearing ever made use of amongst the Jews in judicial oaths : and, consequently, it is not probable that they were judicial oaths which Christ had in his mind when he mentioned those instances.

“2. As to the seeming universality of the probibition, 'Swear not at all,' the emphatic clause 'not at all’ is to be read in connexion with what follows; ‘not at all,' i.e. neither by the heaven,' nor by the earth, nor .by Jerusalem,' norby thy head :' 'not at all' does not mean upon no occasion, but by none of these forms. Our Saviour's argument seems to suppose, that the people, to whom he spake, made a distinction between swearing directly by the name of God and swearing by those inferior objects of veneration, the heavens, the earth, Jerusalem, or their own head. In opposition to which distinction, he tells them that, on account of the relation which these things bore to the Supreme Being, to swear by any of them, was in effect and substance to swear by him; by heaven, for it is his throne;' by the earth, for it is his footstool; .by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King;' by thy head, for it is his workmanship, not thine, thou canst not make one hair white or black;' for which reason he says, “Swear not at all,' that is, neither directly by God, nor indirectly by anything related to him. This interpretation is greatly confirmed by a passage in the 23rd chapter of the same gospel, where a similar distinction, made by the Scribes and Pharisees, is replied to in the same manner.

"3. Our Saviour himself being adjured by the living God, to declare whether he was the Christ, the Son of God, or not, condescended to answer the high-priest, without making any objection to the oath (for such it was) upon which be examined him.-"God is my witness, says St. Paul to the Romans, that without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers :

and to the Corinthians stili more strongly, 'I call God for a record upon my soul, that, to spare

a

[ocr errors]

you,

I came not as yet to Corinth. Both these expressions contain the nature of oaths. The epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the custom of swearing judicially, without any mark of censure or disapprobation; ‘Men verily swear by the greater; and an oath, for confirmation, is to them an end of all strife.'

Upon the strength of these reasons, we explain our Saviour's words to relate, not to judicial oaths, but to the practice of vain, wanton, and unauthorized swearing in common discourse. St. James's words, chapter V. 12, are not so strong as our Saviour's, and therefore admit the same explanation with more ease.”

APPENDIX X.

THE EMPIRE OF ATHENS.

No people can safely or permanently hold a great empire, who are not a military people, and who do not maintain a powerful army. Those states which have depended on a naval force, or on foreign mercenaries, have been all ultimately subdued. So fell Athens, and so fell Carthage. An insular, or quasi-insular position, protected by a navy, affords undoubtedly a great security against attack, and has enabled some people, with a scanty territorial dominion, to become independent and powerful; yet even this cannot hold out against a well-directed military power. Tyre yielded to Alexander; and Venice sank to decay. Carthage was the first mercantile nation in the world, and by means of her great wealth raised hosts of mercenaries, and subdued a great portion of Sicily and Spain; by the extraordinary genius of Hannibal she wrested the greater part even of Italy from the Romans : yet a Roman army landing in Africa strikes her to the heart, and all her power at once collapses. The Romans, with a warlike population and warlike institutions, annexing and by a wise and liberal policy firmly uniting to their state the surrounding nations of Italy, who were nearly as brave as themselves, gradually widened the circle of their power, and conquered the world.

Never was there a braver and better disciplined army than that of Sparta; but it was too small for purposes of conquest, or even of defence, unless she was supported by her neighbours. The institutions of Lycurgus were not calculated for empire. The Spartans were ignorant and illiberal; they kept themselves in a state of isolation, and were disliked even by their allies, who rejoiced at the defeat of Leuctra. They only became great by the misconduct of Athens, and could not maintain their position long.

The Theban army, naturally brave, was raised to great perfection by Epaminondas and Pelopidas, and Thebes was for a few years the head of a strong confederacy: but her allies were at a distance; they

a

were attached to her by fear of Sparta, rather than by any permanent ties, and fell off under a change of circumstances. She was surrounded by hostile neighbours, and, after losing her two great statesmen, relapsed into comparative insignificance.

Athens at an early period, through the energy and ability of her statesmen and commanders, and a concurrence of fortunate circumstances, acquired a great maritime power, receiving tribute from the numerous islands of the Ægæan, and many flourishing cities on the coast of Asia Minor, Macedonia and Thrace. She aspired to be the mistress of Greece; she was very nearly becoming, and probably would have become so, had she provided herself with a military power commensurate to her projects. Had she formed an intimate alliance, on terms of mutual advantage, with Euboea and the most important of the islands, and had she, with their aid, maintained a well-disciplined army, strong enough to repel an enemy from her frontiers, she might have defied any hostile confederacy that could have been formed against her. With strong garrisons at Eleusis, Panactum, Decelea, and Oropus, and a force of ten thousand cavalry permanently stationed in the country, Attica would have been protected from invasion, while her fleets ravaged the coasts of the enemy. As it was, while attempting to make distant conquests, she was unable to hold her own. Attica was ravaged in the Peloponnesian war by an enemy, whom the Athenians were unable to encounter, and the occupation of Decelea was a source of constant peril and distress.

Nor indeed could Athens have been defended against an army of sixty thousand Peloponnesians, had they possessed the science of besieging which was learned a century later. Alexander with such a force would have taken Athens, as he took Thebes, by storm. A country denuded of its defences may be smitten by a coup de main, while it is sending its armaments all over the world. The dialogue in Henry V. act I. scene 2, contains truths applicable to all time:

a

KING HENRY.
We must not only arm to invade the French,
But lay down our proportions to defend
Against the Scots, who will make road upon us
With all advantages.

ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY.
They of the marches, gracious sovereign,
Shall be a wall sufficient to defend
Our inland from the pilfering borderers.

KING HENRY.
We do not mean the coursing snatchers only,
But fear the main intendment of the Scot,
Who hath been still a giddy neighbour to us ;
For you shall read, that my great grandfather
Never went with his forces into France,
But that the Scot on his unfurnish'd kingdom
Came pouring, like the tide into a breach,
With ample and brimfulness of his force;
Galling the gleaned land with hot assays;

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Philip of Macedon began with his neighbours before he turned his arms against southern Greece; and took care to subjugate Greece before he thought of attacking Asia. The Athenians, in their first struggle for supremacy in Greece, ruined themselves by distant wars. The expedition to Egypt, B.C. 460, lost them two hundred gallies, and contributed to cripple their efforts when they were engaged in war in their own neighbourhood. Rash as this was, it is far exceeded in folly by the enterprise against Sicily, undertaken at a time when there was a confederacy of powerful states ready to assail them at the first opportunity. The attack on Syracuse was a measure of doubtful advantage, even had it succeeded. Alcibiades had formed a plan to conquer Sicily, Carthage, and the Italian peninsula, which last country would supply abundant material for augmenting the Athenian navy; he would then raise a large body of Iberian mercenaries, and attack Peloponnesus by land and sea; Greece must thus finally yield to their arms. This was the very thing which Carthage tried against Rome and failed. And Athens must have failed, with all her distant conquests, if unprovided with a domestic force for defence: the combined power of the Greek allies would have been too much for her. But it did not come to this: the Sicilian expedition was ill-planned, and ill-managed; and its failure led to the first overthrow of Athenian power.

Nor was Athens any viser-wiser, I mean, in her imperial projects-after her recovery from the great disaster of the Peloponnesian

Her spirit had formerly been greater than her strength : much of this survived, and she again aspired to empire, but did not adopt those measures which were necessary to insure success. She recovered indeed a good deal of her former power, owing to the incapacity of the Lacedæmonians, who alienated their best allies, and had not the means of standing by themselves. But the very facility with which Athens reascended to her former position seems to have caused her second downfall. The people were indisposed to military service; their discipline became still more relaxed; they hired mercenaries over whom they had little control, and whom they did not pay with regularity. In short, their system of warfare was infected with those vices which Demosthenes so forcibly points out in his Philippics, and which I need not recapitulate. One of the disastrous consequences was the Social war, which deprived them of some of their VOL. IV.

D D

war.

« EelmineJätka »