13 APRIL 1867, Page 12


12EW peculiarities of English society are more noteworthy than r the prestige which still attaches itself to the higher Judges. A judge is almost the only kind of man left in this country whose utterance can change opinion at once and radically throughout the kingdom, the only one whose decision has a weight with the whole population not derived altogether from the reasoning by which it is supported. Individuals still have this power over small coteries and in limited localities, some clergymen, for example, in their congregations, and some owners on their own estates, but no man other than a judge exercises it over the whole country. No Bishop, for example, has it. It would be very natural that he should have, and in some ways very beneficial, but he never has it. Nobody's opinion on vestments was ever really affected by a Bishop's charge about vestments, unless indeed there was a novel argument or fine illustration in the charge, which is the rarest of all occurrences. The public is certainly no more affected by the best of such charges than it would be by a similar argument in a newspaper or pamphlet signed by anybody not a Bishop, is, per- haps, rather leas affected. Yet it is not too much to say that Sir A. Cockburn's charge to the Grand Jury in the Nelson and Brand trial has actually changed opinion throughout the country. The Standard, always friendly to authority, and the Telegraph, always venomous against negroes, alike recant at once, acknowledge that the popular theory of martial law which yesterday they would have declared sacred is illegal and morally wrong. They prostrate themselves mentally before the Chief Justice, and do it besides honestly, as clearly seeing what before they did not see. All over the country hundreds of country gentlemen who on Wednesday believed the proclamation of martial law was legally the suspension of all law, on Thursday read that immense charge all through, and eat down changed men upon that point for the remainder of their lives. Nobody else would have had a tithe of that influence, not the Primate, not the Premier, not the greatest thinker in the kingdom. It is, moreover, not only Sir A. Cockburn's reasoning, perfect as it is, which has produced this effect, for Mr. FitzJames Stephen put the case as well and almost in the same words in his "opinion," published months ago, which had no such effect at all. Nor is it the mere force of a judge's dictum, for a charge does not, like a judgment, actually help to make the law. It is the result of the singular influence which still attaches to the judge's utterance, an influence so exceptional that it is worth while for a moment to examine its causes.

They are, we believe, two — the crave which exists in all men, or all men not genuinely original, for a terminal or autho- ritative opinion upon a disputed point, and the extreme re- spect and liking which all men feel for mental white light, for absolute impartiality in the application of exhaustive knowledge. The former feeling is so curiously strong, that the decay of all influence like that exercised by the Judges is almost inexplicable. It has almost made every theology now existing in the world, each creed always elevating some book, or teacher, or tradition into a final and irreversible, or, as it may be, divine authority. Pro- testants have least of it, but half the reluctance to examine scientific and philological and historical criticisms on the Scrip- tures proceeds from a positive dread of losing the right of appeal to an authoritative and final arbiter, of being plunged into a sea of speculation which may not only be limitless, but eternal. Among Mohammedans precisely the same feeling protects not only the Koran, but the earlier amplifications and explanations of the Koran, because without them there would be no final authority for those applications of religion to the petty affairs of life which A.siatics, and in a leas degree all other men, believe to be essen- tial. If we are not greatly mistaken, we see signs of the same tendency among the Comtists, who seem actually to feel grateful when a final opinion of Comte's can be found, and let it override their own, or change it permanently. Of course a living authority is more pleasant than a dead one, so much more, that we have often wondered that the world has never produced a legal Pope. If all civilized countries had retained one law instead of using tw& or three hundred different modifications of two great systems, the Roman and the Feudal-Tentonic, a legal Pope would have been very probable indeed. In the only system of law which covers a, wide space, the "international law of Europe," the tendency ha reappearedover and over again, and one or two books are quoted even now with a respect quite aside from any accorded to their reasoning. On maritime international law Mr. Story really was Pope for a long time, and could issue something very like a Bull. There is a point in all questions upon which absolute truth is. unattainable, when men grow weary of argument, and positively long for a dictum, for something beyond discussion. We remem- ber an illustration of that in politics which is almost comically complete. Indian political controversies are always very fierce, at least in words, and at some time or other the Secretary of State is pretty sure to intervene with his opinion. He does not usually know very much, and he often writes very slipshod English, but his utterance always changes Anglo-Indian opinion. Controversy revives next minute, of course, but it is on the basis of that new text,_ not as questioning its perfect and final authoritativeness. We be- lieve that with most men this crave is so instinctive and so constant, that persons in the position, say of Archbishops, may yet arrive at- wholly unprecedented power, may be able to utter charges which. will have as irresistible a weight as Sir A. Cockburn's charge. At present we could expose most Bishops' decisions, or seem to expose them, as easily as leaders in the Star or Standard, but if we wrote- for a year on Sir A. Cockburn's, we should have on the majority of minds just no effect at all. His authority would stifle our reasoning. All that is required is that the Archbishop shall comply with the conditions with which the Judges, for instance, do comply, shall have knowledge beyond the criticism of the public, knowledge which, if not complete, is more complete than anybody else's, and apply it with impartiality not only perfect, but so perfect that it approves- itself equally to all men. We doubt if manyare aware of the immense,. the almost limitless force which perfect impartiality has over the imaginations as well as the feelings of the mass of mankind,. perhaps of all mankind without exception. It is the very rarest. of all qualities, is the only one which the vainest never in secret. assume to themselves, the only one in which the great majority feel and know themselves lamentably deficient. Men admire it accordingly when they find it, and as it is exceedingly useful, they hunger for it too. It is the root of the worship of kingship, the- notion that the king will be impartial among his subjects, all,. equally below him,—that he will in some sense, now metaphorical mostly, sit in the gate and do justice. We believe if we- could trace the cause of the singular wish to believe what are called millennial doctrines which pervades so many minds, we should find it in the longing for an absolutely impartial. authority, which, armed with sufficient knowledge, could give a, final and irresistible dictum on the controversies of life, a.- dictum which should carry conviction even to the sufferer by it. Muchof the want of fear of God, so much complained of by divines, in one sense rightly, in another wrongly, is traceable to the feeling that as He must be alike omniscient and impartial, those qualities will be, as it were, a compensation for the severity of His holiness. A series of circumstances, some of them accidental, some of them the result of our history, have made English Judges for the most part genuinely impartial, and impressed into the public- mind, at the same time, the difficult conviction that they are so,. Consequently, as they usually have knowledge considerable enough, to be perfect, in comparison with the knowledge of the public, their dicta throw on the subject just the white light so anxiously desired,. while they are by law authoritative and final. They operate,. therefore, like Papal decrees on Ultramontanes, really perform the- almost impossible work of suddenly changing deeply prejudiced opinion. Men even feel their opinion of their own motives. altered by the calm, passionless description of them, without hate, or fear, or affection, which seems to reveal them to themselves like a second and external conscience. It is like advancing out of artificial light into the sunshine; nothing is changed, but everything looks different, so different that the change of idea has the con,- creteness of a change of fact. The world is, men say, ceasing. to respect authority; but wherever full knowledge is applied, with serene, passionless impartiality, impartiality as of Nature raining and shining alike on unjust and just, Authority revives..