Imatges de pÓgina



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We were, not long since, some gentlemen of the inns of court, together, each to other so well known, that no man's presence was a confinement to any other from speaking his mind on any subject that happened to arise in conversation. The meeting was without design, and the discourse, as in like cases, various. Among other things we fell on the subject of Woolston's trial and conviction, which had happened some few days before : that led to a debate how the law stands in such cases, what punishment it inflicts; and, in general, whether the law ought at all to interpose in controversies of this kind. We were not agreed in these points. One, who maintained the favorable side to Woolston, discovered a great liking and approbation of his discourses against the miracles of Christ, and seemed to think his arguments unanswerable. To which another replied, I wonder that one of your abilities, and bred to the profession of the law, which teaches us to consider the nature of evidence, and its proper weight, can be of that opinion; I am sure you would be unwilling to determine a property of five shillings on such evidence as you now think material enough to overthrow the miracles of Christ.

It may easily be imagined that this opened a door to much dispute, and determined the conversation for the remainder of the evening to this subject. The dispute ran through almost all the particulars mentioned in Woolston's pieces; but the thread of it was broken by several digressions, and the pursuit of things which were brought accidentally into the discourse. At length one of the company said, pleasantly, Gentlemen, you do not argue like lawyers; if I were judge in this cause, I would hold you better to the point. The company took the

hint, and cried they should be glad to have the cause re-heard, and him to be the judge. The gentlemen who had engaged with mettle and spirit in a dispute which arose accidentally, seemed very unwilling to be drawn into a formal controversy; and especially the gentleman who argued against Woolston thought the matter grew too serious for him, and excused himself from undertaking a controversy in religion, of all others the most momentous; but he was told that the argument should be confined merely to the nature of the evidence, and that might be considered without entering into any such controversy as he would avoid; and to bring the matter within bounds and under one view, the evidence of Christ's resurrection, and the exceptions taken to it, should be the only subject of the conference. With much persuasion he suffered himself to be persuaded, and promised to give the company and their new-made judge a meeting that day fortnight. The judge and the rest of the company were for bringing on the cause a week sooner; but the council for Woolston took the matter up, and said, Consider, Sir, the gentleman is not to argue out of Littleton, Plowden, or Coke, authors to him well known ; but he must have his authorities from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; and a fortnight is time little enough of all conscience to gain a familiarity with a new acquaintance; and turning to the gentleman, he said, I will call on you before the fortnight is out, to see how reverend an appearance you make behind Hammond on the New Testament, a Concordance on one hand, and a folio Bible with references on the other. You shall be welcome, Sir, replied the gentleman, and perhaps you may find some company more to your own taste; he is but a poor council who studies one side of the question only, and therefore I will have your friend Woolston, T-1, and C-s, to entertain you when


do me the favor of the visit. On this we parted in good humor, and all pleased with the appointment made, except the two gentlemen who were to provide the entertainment.


The company met at the time appointed; but it happened in this, as in like cases it often does, that some friends to some of the company, who were not of the party the first day, had got notice of the meeting; and the gentlemen who were to debate the question, found they had a more numerous audience than they expected or desired. He especially who was to maintain the evidence of the resurrection, began to excuse the necessity he was under of disappointing their expectation, alleging that he was not prepared ; and he had persisted in excusing himself, but that the strangers who perceived what the case was, offered to withdraw, which the gentleman would by no means consent to: they insisting to go, he said he would much rather submit himself to their candor, unprepared as he was, than be guilty of so much rudeness as to force them to leave the company. On which one of the company smiling, said, It happens luckily that our number is increased; when we were last together, we appointed a judge, but we quite forgot a jury, and now I think we are good men and true, sufficient to make one. This thought was pursued in several allusions to legal proceedings, which created some mirth, and had this good effect, that it dispersed the solemn air which the mutual compliments on the difficulty before-mentioned had introduced, and restored the ease and good humour natural to the conversation of gentlemen.

The judge perceiving the disposition of the company, thought it a proper time to begin, and called out, Gentlemen of the jury,

a take your places; and immediately seated himself at the upper end of the table. The company sat round him, and the judge called on the council for Woolston to begin.

Mr. A., council for Woolston, addressing himself to the judge, said,

May it please your lordship; I conceive the gentleman on the other side ought to begin, and lay his evidence, which he intends to maintain, before the court; till that is done, it is to no purpose for me to object. I may perhaps object to something which he will not admit to be any part of his evidence, and therefore, I apprehend, the evidence ought in the first place to be distinctly stated.

Judge.-Mr. B., What say you to that?
Mr. B., council on the other side :-

My Lord, if the evidence I am to maintain were to support any new claim, if I were to gain any thing which I am not already possessed of, the gentleman would be in the right; but the evidence is old, and is matter of record, and I have been long in possession of all that I claim under it. If the gentleman has any thing to say to dispossess me, let him produce it, otherwise I have no reason to bring my own title into question. And this I take to be the known method of proceeding in such cases; no man is obliged to produce his title to his possession; it is sufficient if he maintains it when it is called in question.

Mr. A. Surely, my lord, the gentleman mistakes the case. I can never admit myself to be out of possession of my understanding and reason; and since he would put me out of this possession, and compel me to admit things incredible, in virtue of the evidence he maintains, he ought to set forth his claim, or leave the world to be directed by common sense.

Judge.--Sir, you say right; on supposition that the truth of the Christian religion were the point in judgment. In that case it would be necessary to produce the evidence for the Christian religion; but the matter now before the court is, whether the objections produced by Mr. Woolston are of weight to overthrow the evidence of Christ's resurrection. You see then the evidence of the resurrection is supposed to be what it is on both sides, and the thing immediately in judgment is the value of the objections, and therefore they must be set forth. The court will be bound to take notice of the evidence, which is admitted as a fact on both parts. Go on, Mr. A.

Mr. A.-My lord, I submit to the direction of the court. I cannot but observe that the gentleman on the other side, unwilling as he seems to be to state his evidence, did not forget to lay in his claim to prescription, which is, perhaps, in truth, though he has too much skill to own it, the very strength of his cause. I do allow that the gentleman maintains nothing but what his father and grandfather, and his ancestors, beyond time of man's memory, maintained before him: I allow too that prescription in many cases makes a good title; but it must always be with this condition, that the thing is capable of being prescribed for; and I insist that prescription cannot run against reason and

Customs may be pleaded by prescription ; but if on showing the custom, any thing unreasonable appears in it, the prescription fails; for length of time works nothing

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towards the establishing any thing that could never have a legal commencement. And if this objection will overthrow all prescriptions for customs; the mischief of which extends perhaps to one poor village only, and affects them in no greater a concern than their right of common on a ragged mountain ; shall it not much more prevail when the interest of mankind is concerned, and in no less a point than his happiness in this life; and in all his hopes for futurity? Besides, if prescription must be allowed in this case, how will you deal with it in others ? What will you say to the ancient Persians, and their firealtars ? Nay, what to the Turks, who have been long enough in possession of their faith to plead

Mr. B.-I beg pardon for interrupting the gentleman, but it is to save him trouble. He is going into his favorite common-place, and has brought us from Persia to Turkey already; and if he goes on, I know we must follow him round the globe. To save us from this long journey, I will waive all advantage from the antiquity of the resurrection, and the general reception the belief of it has found in the world ; and am content to consider it as a fact which happened but last year, and was never heard of either by the gentleman's grandfather or by mine.

Mr. A.-I should not have taken quite so long a journey as the gentleman imagines, nor, indeed, need any man go far from home to find instances to the purpose I was on. But since this advantage is quitted, I am as willing to spare my pains as the gentleman is desirous that I should. And yet I suspect some art even in this concession, fair and candid as it seems to be. For I am persuaded that one reason, perhaps the main reason, why men believe this history of Jesus, is, that they cannot conceive that any one should attempt, much less succeed in such an attempt as this, on the foundation of mere human cunning and policy; and it is worth the while to go round the globe, as the gentleman expressed himself, to see various instances of the like kind, in order to remove this prejudice. But I stand corrected, and will go directly to the point now in judgment.

Mr. B.—My Lord, the gentleman in justification of his first argument has entered on another of a very different kind. I think he is sensible of it, and seeming to yield up one of his

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