Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/153

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SIR JAMES MACKINTOSH. 523

the best means of amending the criminal law a code which he had always thought much too sanguinary, and, therefore, but ill adapted for the ends to which all laws ought to be directed. He thought with Goldsmith, that " a man might see his last crime without dying for it ; and that very little blood would serve to cement our security."

His speeches on this subject are full of the most enlightened and statesmanlike views, and combine, in a wonderful degree, all the beauties of eloquence with profound reasoning, and just and noble sentiment So beautiful, indeed, are his orations on this subject, and so powerful the arguments which form their frame-work, that it excites a feeling of surprise in the reader to find, that they did not instantly accomplish the object for whose attainment they were con- structed. They appear irresistible, and seem to comprehend every argument on the point at issue which human ingenuity could devise. As chairman of a committee of the house of commons, on the criminal law, in 1819, Sir James Mackintosh introduced six bills in the course of May, 1820. But three only of these were at the time persisted in, and in the commutation of punishment bill, seven of the eleven offences which it was intended to commute, were ex- punged in the house of lords, four only being suffered to remain.

Sir James Mackintosh, as already noticed, was in politics a whig, and all his votes and speeches in parliament were in favour of the opinions and sentiments of that party ; but he was, perhaps, one of the most moderate and tolerant poli- ticians that ever existed, as the natural mildness and benevolence of his disposi- tion never failed to mingle largely in whatever character he assumed, whether author, statesman, or judge. In all he was the same amiable, forbearing, and conciliating.

One of Sir James's last speeches in parliament, was on the bill relating to anatomical dissections, in which he strenuously advocated the propriety, nay, necessity of affording to the profession every facility for obtaining subjects for the dissecting table. His speech, on this occasion, was remarkable for all that elegance of diction, and cogency of argument which distinguished his rheto- rical effusions; and indicated, besides, a love of science on the part of the speaker, and a zeal for the welfare of mankind, worthy of a great statesman and of a great philanthropist.

Great as Sir James Mackintosh certainly was as an orator, he was yet greater as an author, and the fame which he derives from the latter character, stands on still higher and firmer ground than that on which the former is rested. The Vindiciae Gallicse, published when the author was only in the twenty-sixth year of his age, is an eloquent and powerful political treatise. On all the grand points on which he meets Mr Burke the expediency and necessity of a revolution in France the character of the national assembly the popular excesses which at- tended the revolution, &c. it may be safely assumed, that he obtains the mas- tery in truth and cogency of argument. It ought to be remembered, that the French Revolution had not, at this time, put on its worst aspect. The great change which had taken place, promised to regenerate France, and to renovate civil society ; and Sir James Mackintosh, like his master Fox, in his exultation at the dawn of so bright a prospect, could not foresee that it would terminate in bloodshed and tyranny.

Both works are written in a style too ornate and artificial. The rich and fertile genius of Burke, and his vast and multifarious stores of learning, crowd- ed his pages with illustrations from all sources from history, philosophy, and poetry and he was not over-solicitous as to their being apposite and correct. On the other hand, Sir James Mackintosh, fresh from his books and burning with zeal, was also ambitious of display, and chastity and purity of diction were