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blaze of discovery. Meantime, the guilty soul cannot keep its own secret. It is false to itself; or rather it feels an irresistible impulse of conscience to be true to itself. It labors under its guilty possession, and knows not what to do with it. The human heart was not made for the residence of such an inhabitant. It finds itself preyed on by a torment which it dares not acknowledge to God or man. A vulture is devouring it, and it can ask no sympathy or assistance either from heaven or earth. The secret which the murderer possesses soon comes to possess him, and like the evil spirits of which we read, it overcomes him and leads him whithersoever it will. He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes, and almost hears its workings in the very silence of his thoughts. It has become his master. It betrays his discretion, it breaks down his courage, it conquers his prudence. When suspicions from without begin to embarrass him, and the net of circumstances to entangle him, the fatal secret struggles with still greater violence to burst forth. It must be confessed, it will be confessed, there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession.
"Much has been said on this occasion of the excitement which has existed and still exists, and of the extraordinary measures taken to discover and punish the guilty. No doubt there has been and is much excitement, and strange indeed were it had it been otherwise. Should not all the peaceable and well-disposed naturally feel concerned, and naturally exert themselves to bring to punishment the authors of this secret assassination? Did you, gentlemen, sleep quite as quietly in your beds after this murder as before? Was it not a case for rewards, for meetings, for committees, for the united efforts of all the good, to find out a band of murderous conspirators, of midnight ruffians, ana to bring them to the bar of justice and law? If this be excitement, is it an unnatural or an improper excitement?
"It seems to me, gentlemen, that there are appearances of another feeling, of a very different nature and character, not very extensive, I would hope, but still there is too much evidence of its existence. Such is human nature, that some persons lose their abhorrence of crime, in their admiration of its magnificent exhibitions. Ordinary vice is reprobated by them, but extraordinary guilt, exquisite wickedness, the high flights and poetry of crime, seize on the imagination, and lead them to forget the depth of the guilt in admiration of the excellence of the performance, or the unequaled atrocity of the purpose. There are those in our day who have made great use of this infirmity of our nature; and by means of it done infinite injury to the cause of good morals. They have affected not only the taste, but, I fear, also the principles of the young, the heedless, and the imaginative, by the exhibition of interesting and beautiful monsters. They render depravity attractive, sometimes by the polish of its manners, and sometimes by its very extravagance; and study to show off crime under all the advantages of cleverness and dexterity Gentlemen, this is an extraordinary murder, but it is still a murder. We are not to lose ourselves in wonder at its origin, or in gazing on its cool and skillful execution. We are to detect and punish it; and while we proceed with caution against the prisoner, and are to be sure that we do not visit on his head the offenses of others, we are yet to consider that we are dealing with a case of most atrocious crime, which has not the slightest circumstance about it to soften its enormity. It is murder, deliberate, concerted, malicious murder.
* # # * #
"It is said 'that laws are made, not for the punishment of the guilty, but for the protection of the innocent.' This is not quite accurate perhaps, but if so, we hope they will be so administered as to give that protection. But who are the innocent whom the law would protect? Gentlemen, Joseph White was innocent. They are innocent, who having lived in the fear of God through the day, wish to sleep in peace through the night in their own beds. The law is established that those who live quietly may sleep quietly, that they who do no harm may feel none. The gentleman can think of none that are innocent except the prisoner at the bar—not yet convicted. Is a proved conspirator to murder innocent? Are the Crowninshields and the Knapps innocent? What is innocence? How deep-stained with blood, how reckless in crime, how sunk in depravity may it be, and yet remain innocence? The law is made, if we would speak with entire accuracy, to protect the innocent by punishing the guilty. But there are those innocent out of court as well as in; innocent citizens never suspected of crime, as well as innocent prisoners at the bar.
"The criminal law is not founded on a principle of vengeance. It does not punish that it may inflict suffering. The humanity of the law feels and regrets every pain it causes, every hour of restraint it imposes, and more deeply still every life it forfeits. But it uses evil as the means of preventing greater evil. It seeks to deter from crime by the example of punishment. This is its true, and only true main object. It restrains the liberty of the few offenders, that the many who do not offend may enjoy their own liberty. It forfeits the life of the offender that other murders may not be committed. The law might open the jails and at once set free all prisoners accused of offenses; and it ought to do so if it could be made certain that no other offense would hereafter be committed. Because it punishes, not to satisfy any desire to inflict pain, but simply to prevent the repetition of crimes. When the guilty, therefore, are not punished, the law has so far failed of its purpose; the safety of the innocent is so far endangered. Every unpunished murder takes away something from the security of every man's life. And whenever a jury, through whimsical and ill-founded scruples, suffer the guilty to escape, they make themselves answerable for the augmented danger of the innocent."
[Then follow nearly forty closely printed octavo pages of the most minute and ablest dissection of every part of the case; the most crushing answer to the opposite counsel; and the most searching and subtile analysis of the evidence. Every scene of the tragedy, from the first conception of the plot to the awful catastrophe, passes before us as if we had been present bodily. We are eye and ear-witnesses to every incident. Mr. Webster winds up his speech with the following impressive peroration ]
"Gentlemen, I have gone through with the evidence in this case, and have endeavored to state it plainly and fairly before you. I think there are conclusions to be drawn from it, which you cannot doubt. I think you cannot doubt that there was a conspiracy formed for the purpose of committing this murder, and who the conspirators were.
"That you can not doubt that the Crowninshields and the Knapps were parties in this conspiracy.
"That you can not doubt that the prisoner at the bar knew that the murder was to be done on the 6th of April.
"That you can not doubt that the murderers of Captain White were the suspicious persons seen in and about Brown-street on that night.
"That you can not doubt that Richard Crowninahield was the perpetrator of that crime.
"That you can not doubt that the prisoner at the bar was in Brown-street on that night.
"If there, then it must be by agreement, to countenance, to aid the perpetrator; and if so, then he is guilty as a principal.
"Gentlemen,—Your whole concern should be to do your duty, and leave consequences to take care of themselves. You will receive the law from the court. Your verdict, it is true, may endanger the prisoner's life, but then it is to save other lives. If the prisoner's guilt has been shown and proved beyond all reasonable doubt, you will convict him. If such reasonable doubts of guilt still remain, you will acquit him. You are the judges of the whole case. You owe a duty to the public, as well as to the prisoner at the bar. You can not pretend to be wiser than the law. Your duty is a plain, straightforward one. Doubtless, we would all judge him in mercy. Toward him, as an individual, the law inculcates no hostility; but toward him, if proved to be a murderer, the law, and the oaths you have taken, and public justice, demand that you do your duty.
"With consciences satisfied with the discharge of duty, no consequences can harm you. There is no evil that we can not either face or fly from, but the consciousness of duty disregarded.
"A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent like the Deity. If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning and dwell in the utmost parts of the seas, duty performed or duty violated is still with us for our happiness or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us. We can not escape their power nor fly from their presence. They are with us in this life, will be with us at its close; and in that scene of inconceivable solemnity which lies yet farther onward, we shall still find ourselves surrounded by the consciousness of duty, to pain us wherever it has been violated, and to console us so far as God may have given us grace to perform it."
There is no need to enhance the merit of eloquence like this; but I recollect to have heard that this immense effort was made immediately after a journey of unparalleled rapidity and fatigue which would have completely exhausted the energy of any man but Mr. Webster.
"0 Rare Ben Jonson!" so said his cotemporaries, and those cotemporaries the greatest dramatic poets, the greatest poets of any age or clime. "0 rare Ben Jonson!" says his tomb in Westminster Abbey; "0 rare Ben Jonson," echo we. But I doubt much whether our praises be not founded on very different qualities from those which were hailed with such acclaim by the marvelous assembly of wits who congregated at the "Mermaid." Hear what Beaumont, in his celebrated epistle to Jonson, says of that fair company. He writes to him from the country:
"Methinks the little wit I had is lost
These men, admirable judges although they were, seem to have regarded with what we can not but think an over-admiration the art which wanted the crowning triumph of looking like nature, and the learning, which displayed rather than pervading.