Изображения страниц

additional vow to work in God's service; the immediate object of it is the furtherance of Christianity; there is no hazard that it will be taken with irreverence, or that its obligation will be neglected or forgotten. Unnecessary it may be, on account of the good faith of the most reverend person who takes it; but objectionable it is not, either in the manner in which it is administered, or the matter in which it is required.

The practical tendency of the multiplication of oaths is well stated to bem" first, to diminish the reverence of an oath; secondly, proportionably to undervalue the simple truth; and, thirdly, to produce an evil, which seems to be a natural consequence of the other two-a recourse to the sanction of an oath in common'conversation—an appeal to Heaven in trifles and in everyday intercourse." With regard to the second and third evil consequences of the multiplicity of oaths, we must quote Mr. Tyler's own words at length, in a passage written as forcibly as any in the book.

“ The second mischief we mentioned, arising from our present unhappy practice in the administration of oaths, was a proportionate undervaluing of the truth, when a bare affirmation is made without the additional sanction of such an immediate appeal to Heaven. This undervaluing of a simple declaration is seen in a twofold point of viewin the person whose words purport to convey the truth, and in the person to whom they are addressed--a sort of general disparagement of that yea' and 'nay' of Christians, beyond which the great Legislator and Judge, from whom lieth no appeal, has pronounced every thing to originate in a poisoned well-spring. If the legislature of England, by its solemn enactments, pronounces and declares that no credit is to be given to a man's word, however seriously pledged, unless it be confirmed by an oath, though the most trivial question of every-day life be the subject; if justice, even when engaged in settling a point of less value than can be estimated by the lowest coin that is named amongst us, will not move her hand or tongue without first witnessing an appeal to Heaven, what is the natural result? Can it be any other (especially amongst the least educated part of mankind) than, on the one hand, a comparative carelessness, a heedlessness of his own words, when speaks unrestrained, uninfluenced by the religious bond of an oatb; and on the other hand, a proportionate distrust of another man's bare, naked word-an incredulity when he merely affirms or denies under the general obligation to speak the truth. Thus does the multiplication of oaths throw simple truth into the back-ground, and pave the way for the third evil we specified—the prevalence of rash and common swearing."--p. 38.

The seventh chapter asks— Does the present system work well?”—by which is meant, does the present system answer the purpose for which it was intended ?-_" does it provide judges and magistrates with the real facts of the case which they are called upon to adjudicate? The evil propensities of our na


ture' are shown in the miserable expedients to which men have recourse to evade the guilt of perjury, and secure their own ends by falsehood.” Here follow instances of superstitious fraud, which certainly may have occurred, but which do not seem to bave much bearing on the question. We are gravely told "some kiss their thumb instead of the book;" but it must be very unusual ignorance indeed which believes that the kissing of the book is the most material part of an oath; "others kiss the book and say nothing." These instances are irrelevant to the subject, because they can refer only to a few uninformed and stupid persons, who can have so very little knowledge of right and wrong, so little understanding of the meaning of an oath, that whether only a simple declaration was required, or an oath most solemnly administered, their truth could never be relied upon. But Mr. Tyler thinks these subterfuges derive countenance from the practical legal interpretation of the laws relating to perjury. Ambiguous as this interpretation may be, we cannot see why he should think this; for an indictment for perjury would rest, not upon whether the juror himself knew that he had taken the oath in proper form, but whether that oath had been properly administered to him; and an assertion on his part that he kissed his thumb instead of the book, or that he himself said nothing, though by the usual action he assented to the oath administered; such an assertion, we imagine, would serve him but little as a defence. We shall remark hereafter on the ambiguity of the law relative to perjury. But " the dreadful extent to which perjury, direct palpable perjury prevails, from one end of the kingdom to another,” calls forth Mr. Tyler's just horror and indignation. That the extent of perjury is truly deplorable, we allow; but we were hardly prepared for the extent of our author's credulity, when he avows “ that the judges tell us -every obligation of an oath on the conscience is forgotten! Indeed one gentleman high in the profession assured me, as the result of his own experience, that not one half of those who came before him to swear affidavits seemed to feel that they were under the slightest religious obligation to speak the truth”! This is too much, however high may be the respectability of the legal gentleman: his experience must have been most unfortunate, or this is a very exaggerated statement. Perjury is prevalent, but that one half, or one fourth, of those who take oaths would perjure themselves, we must at once deny. But we can no longer wonder at the ready insertion of the lawyer's hyperbolical expression, when we read the contemptible story which follows, and with which some mischievous tattler must have practised upon the reverend gentleinan's simple credulity. We cannot insult our readers by the repetition of this tale of Billingsgate blasphemy, though it is

NO. XXXI.-JULY, 1834.

related with most grave and innocent seriousness by Mr. Tyler, who seems to be quite unconscious that any one can doubt its truth.

After the contents of the last chapter, the reader will have no difficulty in answering at once in the affirmative the question of that which follows:-" Are any changes necessary?” The first change proposed is the omission of the imprecatory clause; but here we take leave to prefer the judgment of the author's friend to his own.

“ His remarks seem to me to unite sound judgment with equally sound liberality. I think it may be very safely said, the distinction of the Moravians is too finely drawn. What meaning can be attributed to the act of calling God to witness any declaration short of virtually calling upon his omniscience to discover, and upon bis might to avenge, any falsehood in that declaration ? The Moravians cannot mean to call upon the Deity to give sensible tokens of attestation. Still I object not to your recommendation to omit that part of the oath which is direcly imprecatory, turning entirely, in the English oath, upon the word so'-an objectionable, almost an insidious form of inducing an illiterate man to invoke the vengeance of the Almighty. I hold it no sufficient reason to retain the words' So help me God, that there will still be a virtual inprecation without them. If actual imprecation shocks the conscience even of the weaker brethren, and adds little or nothing to the sense of obligation, it is a reason for recommending an altered form."--p. 62.

The alterations, which are called for by every considerate person, are thus shortly explained by Mr. Tyler.

“ I shall take it for granted that every one who professes to regard the Gospel as the rule of life, will feel, first, that all unnecessary oathis should be abolished, in whatever department of church or state they may be found; and, secondly, that whatever oaths, after a calm and dispassionate examination of the subject in all its bearings, may still be deemed indispensable, they should always be administered with such marks of reverence and solemnity as at once are due to the ballowed name of Him who is invoked, and may be calculated to inspire a religious feeling of respect and a reverential awe, as well in the person sworn as in all who witness the ceremony.”—p. 63.

The first class of these oaths which are unnecessary, is that of oaths of office, except those of extraordinary trust in church or state. We have already stated our own coincidence with this opinion, for we think oaths never so seriously and solemnly, and therefore fitly taken, as in matters appertaining to religion. There can be no irreverence in the ministers of God calling on Him to witness any act of dedication to His service. Oaths of this kind are very analogous to those vows of old by which persons devoted themselves to the Lord; oaths of this kind are a part of religion itself, and should be abolished on no consideration. With re

[ocr errors]

spect to offices in the state, the distinction between those simply of a civil nature, and those connected with the administration of criminal justice, might, we think, agreeably to the author's suggestion, decide the instances of those where a declaration would be sufficient, or those where an oath was still requisite. Next to these oaths of office are mentioned voluntary affidavits: great is the mass of these which are now every day administered, and every day irreverently taken. If the proposed alteration in the poor laws takes place, it will destroy at one swoop a myriad of them. The part of these laws relating to bastardy are the cause of as much perjury, especially in the agricultural districts, as any or all the rest of the law requiring or permitting oaths. But we rejoice that here the annihilation of a vast collection of matter for perjury and falsehood is contemplated, and a multitude of oaths done away with, without the substitution of any declaration in the place of them: and this is far the most advisable mode of proceeding, where it can be adopted without any great inconvenience; for as oaths often draw men into the heinous sin of perjury, so declarations must in equal proportion be followed often by falsehood. When neither oath or declaration is required, perjury is impossible, and falsehood must remain inactive and innocent.

instances of voluntary affidavits, Mr. Tyler thinks the administering of an oath is even now contrary to law, for Sir E. Coke says expressly—“ Oaths that have no warrant by law are rather nova tormenta than sacramenta, and it is an high contempt to minister an oath without warrant of law, to be punished by fine and imprisonment.” We think there is very little reason to believe that the number of voluntary affidavits illegally adminis. tered is worth noticing; for not only have late acts of parliament legalized many oaths for which in Sir E. Coke's time there was no warrant, but magistrates and masters in chancery are very careful to adhere strictly to law. Some years since we know it was the custom with magistrates in the country to permit affidavits to be taken by any who wished to prove the truth of their words, or to clear their character from unjust imputations. Every idle assertion or ridiculous tale of scandal was subject for an affidavit, and we have known instances where the parties have gone to different magistrates and made oath of statements diametrically opposite to each other. We have heard, too, cases where masters in chancery are reported to have been equally careless and equally Jiberal in swearing persons, without a pretence of the law requiring it. But did either magistrates or masters act in this manner now, it would not escape the notice of those who are for ever ready to inform against persons in authority, whenever opportu

In many

nity occurs of proving that they have transgressed. Whether legally administered or not, however, voluntary oaths even now are too often admitted when not necessary. There is no case of this sort which immediately comes to our recollection as more productive of perjury, than that of a person surcharged by the assessor of taxes being allowed to clear himself of the surcharge by an oath. The temptation to falsehood in this instance is twofold; first, the person by his own oath confirms the truth of his own previous statement, which is called in question by the surcharge; secondly, he is exonerated from the payment of the amount surcharged. Oaths, where temptation of this sort exists, are snares baited too alluringly to be escaped by any but those of a strong conscience or wakeful caution. We regret that in candour we must own that the number of confirmed surcharges which takes place every year, and almost every where, militates against the idea that those who despise the obligation of their word, would, in general, be equally neglectful of the obligation of an oath; for here we see that men who without scruple sign a falsehood, do scruple to swear to it. But while we allow this, which is an argument for the retaining oaths, as the only means of eliciting the truth, we think, if falsehood were itself made a crime punishable by law in a summary manner, all these would be deterred from signing, besides many more whose conscience is less nice, and who are at present tempted to commit the more heinous sin of perjury.

The tenth chapter contains some very just remarks on the oaths required at the universities. Most of those which regard academical discipline might be done away with; the matriculation oath has almost come to seem a tissue of ridiculous absurdities. Instead of calling on the undergraduate to swear that he will observe the Statutes of the University, many of which are obsolete, and the observance of some of them impossible, it would be much more wise to give him warning publicly of the penalty or punishment which would be incurred by disobeying them. This warning would be likely to induce him to be obedient, and would prevent any cause of complaint in case that penalty or punishment was inflicted on his disobedience.

“ But if the universities offend in these particulars by their tens, the courts of law offend by their tens of thousands. The blessed Founder of Christianity said, Swear not at all; the Apostle James re-echoed his Saviour's words; the earliest Christians interpreted this command as prohibitory at least of every oath not absolutely necessary for the preservation of justice and peace; and yet in England, if ever the voice of our Christian legislature is heard bearing on these points, its words seem to sound, 'Swear on all occasions: omit no opportunity of insisting on

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »