Imatges de pÓgina

ther his mother was conceived in original sin? he never pronounced marriage to be the visible sign of a thing invisible; he never said a word about concomitant grace; he instituted neither monks nor inquisitors; he appointed nothing of what we see at the present day.

God had given the knowledge of just and unjust, right and wrong, throughout all the ages which preceded christianity. God never changed nor can change. The constitution of our souls, our principles of reason and morality, will ever be the same. How is virtue promoted by theological distinctions, by dogmas founded on those distinctions, by persecutions founded on those dogmas? Nature, terrified and horror-struck at all these barbarous inventions, calls aloud to all men-Be just, and not persecuting sophists.

You read in the Sadder, which is the summary of the laws of Zoroaster, this admirable maxim :-" When it is doubtful whether the action you are about to per→ form is just or unjust, abstain from doing it." What legislator ever spoke better? We have not here the system of probable opinions,' invented by people who called themselves the Society of Jesus.'





THAT'justice' is often extremely unjust, is not an observation merely of the present day; summum jus, summa injuria,' is one of the most ancient proverbs in existence. There are many dreadful ways of being unjust; as for example that of racking the innocent Calas upon equivocal evidence, and thus incurring the guilt of shedding innocent blood, by a too strong reliance on vain presumptions.

Another method of being unjust is, condemning to execution a man who at most deserves only three months imprisonment; this species of injustice is that of tyrants, and particularly of fanatics, who always become tyrants whenever they obtain the power of doing mischief.

We cannot more completely demonstrate this truth than by the letter of a celebrated barrister, written in

1766, to the marquis of Beccaria, one of the most celebrated professors of jurisprudence at this time in Europe:-*

Letter to the Marquis of Beccaria, Professor of Public Law at Milan, on the Subject of M. de Morangies. 1772.

Sir, You are a teacher of laws in Italy, a country from which we derive all laws except those which have been transmitted to us by our own absurd and contradictory customs, the remains of that ancient barbarism, the rust of which subsists to this day in one of the most flourishing kingdoms of the earth.

Your book upon crimes and punishments opened the eyes of many of the lawyers of Europe who had been brought up in absurd and inhuman usages; and men began everywhere to blush at finding themselves still wearing their ancient dress of savages.

Your opinion was requested on the dreadful execution to which two young gentlemen just out of their childhood had been sentenced; one of whom, having escaped the tortures he was destined to, has become a most excellent officer in the service of the great king, while the other, who had inspired the brightest hopes, died like a sage, by a horrible death, without ostentation and without pusillanimity, surrounded by no less than five executioners. These lads were accused of indecency in action and words, a fault which three months imprisonment would have sufficiently punished, and which would have been infallibly corrected by time.

You replied, that their judges were assassins, and that all Europe was of your opinion.

I consulted you on the cannibal sentences passed on

* M. de Voltaire, in the preceding editions, had placed here, under the title of "Letter of M. Cassen to M. Beccaria," a little work that he had printed separately under that of "An Account of the Chevalier de la Barre." That account has been printed among our author's works of Policy and Legislation (see the second volume of Policy) and we have substituted for it in this place another letter of M. de Voltaire to M. Beccaria, on the prosecution of M. de Morangies. The rest of his other writings upon this subject are to be found in the course of the same volume.

Calas, on Sirven, and Montbailli; and you anticipated the decrees which were afterwards issued from the chief courts and officers of law in the kingdom, which justified injured innocence and re-established the honour of the nation.

I at present consult you on a cause of a very different nature. It is at once civil and criminal. It is the case of a man of quality, a major-general in the army, who maintains alone his honour and fortune against a whole family of poor and obscure citizens, and against an immense multitude consisting of the dregs of the people, whose execrations against him are echoed through the whole of France.

The poor family accuses the general officer of taking from it by fraud and violence a hundred thousand


The general officer accuses these poor persons of trying to obtain from him a hundred thousand crowns by means equally criminal. They complain, that they are not merely in danger of losing an immense property, which they never appeared to possess, but also of being oppressed, insulted, and beaten by the officers of justice, who compelled them to declare themselves guilty and consent to their own ruin and punishment. The general solemnly protests, that these imputations of fraud and violence are atrocious calumnies. The advocates of the two parties contradict each other on all the facts, on all the inductions, and even on all the reasonings; their memorials are called tissues of falsehoods; and each treats the adverse party as inconsistent and absurd,-an invariable practice in every dispute.

When you have had the goodness, sir, to read their memorials, which I have now the honour of sending to you, you will, I trust, permit me to suggest the difficulties which I feel on the case; they are dictated by perfect impartiality. I know neither of the parties, and neither of the advocates; but having, in the course of four and twenty years, seen calumny and injustice so often triumph, I may be permitted to endeavour to penetrate the labyrinth in which these monsters unfortunately find shelter.

Presumptions against the Perron Family.

1. In the first place, there are four bills, payable to order, for a hundred thousand crowns, drawn with perfect regularity by an officer otherwise deeply involved in debt; they are payable for the benefit of a woman of the name of Perron, who called herself the widow of a banker. They are presented by her grandson, du Jonquay, her heir, recently admitted a doctor of laws, although he is ignorant even of orthography. Is this enough? Yes, in an ordinary case it would be so; but if, in this very extraordinary case, there is an extreme probability, that the doctor of laws never did and never could carry the money which he pretends to have delivered in his grandmother's name; if the grandmother, who maintained herself with difficulty in a garret, by the miserable occupation of pawnbroking, never could have been in the possession of the hundred thousand crowns; if in short the grandson and his mother have spontaneously confessed, and attested the written confession by their actual signatures, that they attempted to rob the general, and that he never received more than twelve hundred francs instead of three hundred thousand livres;-in this case, is not the cause sufficiently cleared up? Is not the public sufficiently able to judge from these preliminaries?

2. I appeal to yourself, sir, whether it is probable that the poor widow of a person unknown in society, who is said to have been a petty stock-jobber, and not a banker, could be in possession of so considerable a sum to lend, at an extreme risk, to an officer notoriously in debt? The general in short contends, that this jobber, the husband of the woman in question, died insolvent; that even his inventory was never paid for; that this pretended banker was originally a baker's boy in the household of M. the duke of St. Aignan, the French ambassador in Spain; that be afterwards took up the profession of a broker at Paris; and that he was com pelled by M. Heraut, lieutenant of police, to restore certain promissory notes, or bills of exchange, which he had obtained from some young man by extortion;—

such the fatality impending over this wretched family from bills of exchange! Should all these statements be proved, do you conceive it at all probable, that this family lent a hundred thousand crowns to an involved officer with whom they were upon no terms of friendship or acquaintance?


3. Do you consider it probable, that the jobber's grandson, the doctor of laws, should have gone on foot no less than five leagues, have made twenty-six journeys, have mounted and descended three thousand steps, all in the space of five hours, without any stopping, to carry secretly' twelve thousand four hundred and twenty-five louis-d'or to a man, to whom, on the following day he publicly gives twelve hundred francs? Does not such an account appear to be invented with an utter deficiency of ingenuity, and even of common sense? Do those who believe it appear to be sages? What can you think then of those who solemnly affirm it without believing it?

4. Is it probable, that young du Jonquay, the doctor of laws, and his own mother, should have made and signed a declaration, upon oath, before a superior judge, that this whole account was false, that they had never carried the gold, and that they were confessed rogues, if in fact they had not been such, and if grief and remorse had not extorted this confession of their crime? And when they afterwards say, that they had made this confession before the commissary, only because they had previously been assaulted and beaten at the house of a proctor, would such an excuse be deemed by you reasonable or absurd?

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Can anything be clearer, than that if this doctor of laws had really been assaulted and beaten in any other house on account of this cause, he should have demanded justice of the commissary for this violence, instead of freely signing, together with his mother, that they were both guilty of a crime which they had not committed?

Would it be admissible for them to say,-We signed our condemnation because we thought that the general

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