A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland

第41章 OSTIG IN SKY(6)

It may likewise deserve to be inquired,whether a great nation ought to be totally commercial?whether amidst the uncertainty of human affairs,too much attention to one mode of happiness may not endanger others?whether the pride of riches must not sometimes have recourse to the protection of courage?and whether,if it be necessary to preserve in some part of the empire the military spirit,it can subsist more commodiously in any place,than in remote and unprofitable provinces,where it can commonly do little harm,and whence it may be called forth at any sudden exigence?

It must however be confessed,that a man,who places honour only in successful violence,is a very troublesome and pernicious animal in time of peace;and that the martial character cannot prevail in a whole people,but by the diminution of all other virtues.He that is accustomed to resolve all right into conquest,will have very little tenderness or equity.All the friendship in such a life can be only a confederacy of invasion,or alliance of defence.The strong must flourish by force,and the weak subsist by stratagem.

Till the Highlanders lost their ferocity,with their arms,they suffered from each other all that malignity could dictate,or precipitance could act.Every provocation was revenged with blood,and no man that ventured into a numerous company,by whatever occasion brought together,was sure of returning without a wound.

If they are now exposed to foreign hostilities,they may talk of the danger,but can seldom feel it.If they are no longer martial,they are no longer quarrelsome.Misery is caused for the most part,not by a heavy crush of disaster,but by the corrosion of less visible evils,which canker enjoyment,and undermine security.

The visit of an invader is necessarily rare,but domestick animosities allow no cessation.

The abolition of the local jurisdictions,which had for so many ages been exercised by the chiefs,has likewise its evil and its good.The feudal constitution naturally diffused itself into long ramifications of subordinate authority.To this general temper of the government was added the peculiar form of the country,broken by mountains into many subdivisions scarcely accessible but to the natives,and guarded by passes,or perplexed with intricacies,through which national justice could not find its way.

The power of deciding controversies,and of punishing offences,as some such power there must always be,was intrusted to the Lairds of the country,to those whom the people considered as their natural judges.It cannot be supposed that a rugged proprietor of the rocks,unprincipled and unenlightened,was a nice resolver of entangled claims,or very exact in proportioning punishment to offences.But the more he indulged his own will,the more he held his vassals in dependence.Prudence and innocence,without the favour of the Chief,conferred no security;and crimes involved no danger,when the judge was resolute to acquit.

When the chiefs were men of knowledge and virtue,the convenience of a domestick judicature was great.No long journies were necessary,nor artificial delays could be practised;the character,the alliances,and interests of the litigants were known to the court,and all false pretences were easily detected.The sentence,when it was past,could not be evaded;the power of the Laird superseded formalities,and justice could not be defeated by interest or stratagem.

I doubt not but that since the regular judges have made their circuits through the whole country,right has been every where more wisely,and more equally distributed;the complaint is,that litigation is grown troublesome,and that the magistrates are too few,and therefore often too remote for general convenience.

Many of the smaller Islands have no legal officer within them.Ionce asked,If a crime should be committed,by what authority the offender could be seized?and was told,that the Laird would exert his right;a right which he must now usurp,but which surely necessity must vindicate,and which is therefore yet exercised in lower degrees,by some of the proprietors,when legal processes cannot be obtained.

In all greater questions,however,there is now happily an end to all fear or hope from malice or from favour.The roads are secure in those places through which,forty years ago,no traveller could pass without a convoy.All trials of right by the sword are forgotten,and the mean are in as little danger from the powerful as in other places.No scheme of policy has,in any country,yet brought the rich and poor on equal terms into courts of judicature.

Perhaps experience,improving on experience,may in time effect it.

Those who have long enjoyed dignity and power,ought not to lose it without some equivalent.There was paid to the Chiefs by the publick,in exchange for their privileges,perhaps a sum greater than most of them had ever possessed,which excited a thirst for riches,of which it shewed them the use.When the power of birth and station ceases,no hope remains but from the prevalence of money.Power and wealth supply the place of each other.Power confers the ability of gratifying our desire without the consent of others.Wealth enables us to obtain the consent of others to our gratification.Power,simply considered,whatever it confers on one,must take from another.Wealth enables its owner to give to others,by taking only from himself.Power pleases the violent and proud:wealth delights the placid and the timorous.Youth therefore flies at power,and age grovels after riches.

Samuel Johnson