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temptation to think lightly of rebellion. If mercy be exercised, it must be through a mediator; and who is qualified to mediate in such a cause? And what expedient can be devised by means of which pardon shall not relax, but strengthen just authority? Speak, my son, and say what measures can be pursued ?'
My father!' said the prince, 'I feel the insult offered to your person and government, and the injury thereby aimed at the empire at large. They have transgressed without cause, and deserve to die without mercy. Yet I also feel for them. I have the heart of a soldier. I cannot endure to witness their execution. What shall I say? On me be this wrong! Let me suffer in their stead. Inflict on me as much as is necessary to impress the army and the nation with a just sense of the evil, and of the importance of good order and faithful allegiance. Let it be in their presence, and in the presence of all assembled. When this is done, let them be permitted to implore and receive your majesty's pardon in my name. If any man refuse so to implore, and so to receive it, let him die the death!'
'My son' replied the king, 'you have expressed my heart! The same things have occupied my mind; but it was my desire that you should be voluntary in the undertaking. It shall be as you have said, I shall be satisfied; justice itself will be satisfied; and I pledge my honour that you also shall be satisfied in seeing the happy effects of your disinterested conduct. Propriety requires that I stand aloof in the day of your affliction; but I will not leave you utterly, nor suffer the beloved of my soul to remain in that condition. A temporary affliction on your part will be more than equivolent to death on theirs. The dignity of your person and character will render the sufferings of an hour of greater account as to the impression of the public mind, than if all the rebellious had been executed and by how much I am known to have loved you, by so much will my compassion to them, and my displeasure against their wicked conduct, be made manifest. Go, my son, assume the likeness of a criminal, and suffer in their place!'
The gracious design being communicated at court, all were struck with it. Those who had reasoned on the qualifications of a mediator, saw that in the prince all were united, and were filled
with admiration: but that he should be willing to suffer in the place of rebels, was beyond all that could have been asked or thought. Yet, seeing he himself had generously proposed it, would survive his sufferings, and reap the reward of them, they cordially acquiesced. The only difficulty that was started was among the judges of the realm. They, at first, questioned whether the proceeding were admissible. The law,' said they, makes provision for the transfer of debts, but not of crimes. Its language is The soul that sinneth shall die.' But when they came to view things on a more enlarged scale, considering it as an expedient on an extraordinary occasion, and perceived that the spirit of the law would be preserved, and all the ends of good government answered, they were satisfied. 'It is not a measure,' said they, for which the law provides: yet it is not contrary to the law, but above it.'
The day appointed arrived. The prince appeared, and suffered as a criminal. The hearts of the king's friends bled at every stroke, and burned with indignation against the conduct which rendered it necessary. His enemies, however, even some of those for whom he suffered, continuing to be disaffected, added to the affliction, by deriding and insulting him all the time. At a proper period, he was rescued from their outrage. Returning to the palace, amidst the tears and shouts of the loyal spectators, the suffering hero was embraced by his royal father; who, in addition to the natural affection which he bore to him as a son, loved him for his singular interposition at such a crisis: Sit thou,' said he, 'at my right hand! Though the threatenings of the law be not literally accomplished, yet the spirit of them is preserved. The honour of good government is secured, and the end of punishment more effectually answered, than if all the rebels had been sacrificed. Ask of me what I shall give thee! No favour can be too great to be bestowed, even upon the unworthiest, nor any crime too aggravated to be forgiven, in thy name. I will grant thee according to thine own heart! Ask of me, my son, what I shall give thee!'
He asked for the offenders to be introduced as supplicants at the feet of his father, for the forgiveness of their crimes, and for
the direction of affairs till order and happiness should be perfectly restored.
A proclamation addressed to the conspirators was now issued, stating what had been their conduct, what the conduct of the king, and what of the prince. Messengers also were appointed to carry it, with orders to read it publicly, and to expostulate with them individually, beseeching them to be reconciled to their offended sovereign, and to assure them that if they rejected this, there remained no more hope of mercy.
A spectator would suppose, that in mercy so freely offered, and so honourably communicated, every one would have acquiesced; and if reason had governed the offenders, it had been so : but many among them continued under the influence of disaffection, and disaffection gives a false colouring to every thing.
The time of the respite having proved longer than it was at first expected, some had begun to amuse themselves with idle speculations, flattering themselves that their fault was a mere trifle, and that it certainly would be passed over. Indeed the greater part of them had turned their attention to other things, concluding that the king was not in good earnest.
When the proclamation was read, many paid no manner of attention to it; some insinuated that the messengers were interested men, and that there might be no truth in what they said; and some even abused them as impostors. So, having delivered their message, they withdrew and the rebels finding themselves alone, such of them as paid any attention to the subject, expressed their minds as follows:
'My heart,' says one, rises against every part of this proceeding. Why all this ado about a few words spoken one to another? Can such a message as this have proceeded from the king? What have we done so much against him, that so much should be made of it? No petition of ours, it seems, would avail any thing; and nothing that we could say or do could be regarded, unless presented in the name of a third person. Surely if we present a petition in our own names, in which we beg pardon, and promise not to repeat the offence, this might suffice.
Even this is more than I
can find in my heart to comply with; but every thing beyond it is unreasonable; and who can believe that the king can desire it? If a third person,' says another, must be concerned in the affair, what occasion is there for one so high in rank and dignity? To stand in need of such a mediator must stamp our characters with everlasting infamy. It is very unreasonable: who can believe it? If the king be just and good, as they say he is, how can he wish thus publicly to expose us?'
'I observe,' says a third, ' that the mediator is wholly on the king's side; and one, whom though he affects to pity us, we have, from the outset, considered as no less our enemy than the king himself. If, indeed, he could compromise matters, and would allow that we had our provocations, and would promise us redress, and an easier yoke in future, I should feel inclined to hearken: but if he have no concessions to offer, I can never be reconciled.'
I believe,' says a fourth, that the king knows very well that we have not had justice done us, and therefore this meditation business is introduced to make us amends for the injury. It is an affair settled somehow betwixt him and his son. They call it grace; and I am not much concerned what they call it, so that my life is spared but this I say, If he had not made this or some kind of provision, I should have thought him a tyrant.'
You are all wrong,' says a fifth: I comprehend the design, and am well pleased with it. I hate the government as much as any of you but I love the mediator; for I understand it is his intention to deliver me from its tyranny. He has paid the debt, the king is satisfied, and I am free. I will sue out for my right, and demand my liberty!'
In addition to this, one of the company observed, he did not see what the greater part of them had to do with the proclamation, unless it were to give it a hearing, which they had done already. 'For, said he, pardon is promised only to them who are willing to submit, and it is well known that many of us are unwilling; nor can we alter our minds on this subject.
After a while, however, some of them were brought to relent. They thought upon the subject matter of the proclamation, were
convinced of the justness of its statements, reflected upon their evil conduct, and were sincerely sorry on account of it. And now the meditation of the prince appeared in a very different light. They cordially said Amen to every part of the proceeding, The very things which gave such offence while their hearts were disaffected, now appeared to them fit, and right, and glorious. It is fit,' say they, that the king should be honoured, and that we should be humbled; for we have transgressed without cause. It is right that no regard should be paid to any petition of ours, for its own sake; for we have done deeds worthy of death. It is glorious that we should be saved at the intercession of so honourable a personage. The dignity of his character, together with his surprising condescension and goodness, impresses us more than any thing else, and fills our hearts with penitence, confidence, and love. That which in the proclamation is called grace, is grace; for we are utterly unworthy of it; and if we had all suffered according to our sentence, the king and his throne had been guiltless. We embrace the meditation of the prince, not as a reparation for an injury, but as a single instance of mercy. And far be it from us, that we should consider it as designed to deliver us from our original and just allegiance to his majesty's government! No, rather, it is intended to restore us to it. We love our intercessor, and will implore forgiveness in his name; but we also love our sovereign, and long to prostrate ourselves at his feet. We rejoice in the satisfaction which the prince has made, and all our hopes of mercy are founded upon it but we have no notion of being freed by it previously to our acquiescence in it. Nor do we desire any other kind of freedom than that which while it remits the just sentence of the law, restores us to his majesty's government. O that we were once clear of this hateful and horrid conspiracy, and might be permitted to serve him with affection and fidelity all the days of our life! We cannot suspect the sincerity of the invitation, or acquit our companions on the score of unwillingness. Why should we? We do not on this account acquit ourselves. On the contrary, it is the remembrance of our unwillingness that now cuts us to the heart. We well remember