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premacy as the British Parliament, which, under pretence of being omnipotent, has repeatedly degraded its high character by passing bills of attainder, and ex post facto laws, thus outraging the plainest principles of nature and reason, which require that no act of the meanest moral agent should ever be punished in any other manner than according to standing laws made and proculgated before its commission.
The utost authority, which can safely be delegated to the General Court is that of proposing a nerdments to the constituti »n to be ratified or rejected by the people in their primary asseinblies. But if this mode be adopted, and nothing more than a bare majority of the votes be required for their ratification, the government might watch an opportunity when the people were lulled into indifference, or blinded by some momentary passion or prejudice, to obtain the extension of its power; and it would be careful never to propose any alteration, which could tend to diminish it. Or should the government propose amendments by a siinple majority, the people would be harassed with every fluctuation of party by repeated propositions to change the constitution, and in this way their opinion of its stability, in which that stability itself consists, would be greatly shaken. By requiring the concurrence of two thirds of both branches of the legislature and two thirds of the people in every amendment, we should be sufficiently secure against any undue augmentation of the powers of government. This is analogous to the provision in the constitution of the United States, which requires the assent of two thirds of both houses of Congress and three fourths of the states to any amendment. But if experience should show the powers already given to the legislature to be too extensive, we should have no fixed remedy, for a proposition to diminish them can never be expected to come from that body itself, but must originate in some other assembly. Hence some may think it necessary to provide a mode of calling future conventions, such a mode as shall prevent their being called lightly or hastily. Perhaps the best would be to establish as a general rule the plan adopted by our constitution for a particular year; to require that the question whether a convention shall be holden be periodically or at the will of the legislature submitted to the people, and that two thirds of the votes shall be deemed to decide it in the affirmative.
It has been said that to require two thirds of the votes in any case interferes with the right of the majority to decide every question. But when the rule is established by the majority itself, this is not so. Any person may wish some particular amendment to be made in the frame of government with the consent of two thirds of his fellow citizens and not without it. He may think the stability produced by requiring this number in all cases to be more beneficial than the amendment contemplated by him, whatever it be; and if one man may hold this opinion, a majority may do so too. It is but a voluntary condi ion of their own vote. We will that there be a convention if two thirds of the votes are in favour of it, otherwise not. Why may not this be the will of the people; and if it be, why may they not express and enforce it? It is urged, however, that if a majority are competent to establish the rule, a majority may at any time repeal it, and will do so whenever it interferes with their wishes. Experience does not warrant this assertion. It is common in legislative assemblies to adopt certain standing rules, and provide that they shall not be dispensed with unless by the consent of two thirds of the members. A majority may repeal this provision in order to obtain some object, to which two thirds will not consent, but they never do so. So in many social and literary societies no new member can be adınitted, if there be a single vote against him; yet the majority do not, in fact, deprive individuals of the right of veto, for the purpose of admitting some favourite.
The rule is not designed to restrain the deliberate will of the people, but to make them deliberate ; to interpose a pause between the purpose and the execution, and remind them that they should not sacrifice the security and permanence of their public institutions to the wishes of a moment. Admitting that the majority may abolish the constitution and the rule together, they will not do it. A people who have deliberately and publicly laid down this limitation of their conduct; if they have any regard for the opinions of mankind, or any respect for themselies, will not overleap it. However, therefore, it may be urged in speculation that such a rule can have no effect, because it may at any time be abrogatrd, we know that in fact it has an effect, and an admirable one. It is glorious to see the majority of a free people, in all the heat of political contest, or flushed with
recent victory and conscious of uncontrollable power, folding their hands and bowing their heads before the majesty of the laws, which themselves have established.
It has been suggested that those who are or expect to be members of the General Court ought not to be chosen delegates to the convention, because their interest is in some respects adverse to that of the people, and might warp their judgments, though it should not shake their integrity. They may desire to destroy the present organization of the Senate so as to prevent the two houses from controlling each other effectually, and thus remove this restraint on the power, which they hope to wield. They may be disposed to make the legislature very numerous, in order to be more secure of a seat in it. They may wish to confer upon it, as far as possible, the power of changing the constitution, that the means of extending their authority may be in their own hands. The danger is perhaps exaggerated; but we admit these suggestions to be so far reasonable, that of two individuals in all respects equally qualified, he should be preferred who is not likely to hold a scat in the legislature; though this certainly cannot be deemed a sufficient motive for the peremptory exclusion of men distinguished by their integrity, abilities and independence of character.
ART. XVIII.-Percy's Masque, a Drama, in five acts. From
the London edition, with alterations. New York, C. S. Van Winkle, 1820. 12mo, pp. 150.
This work appears, from the title page, to be printed from a London edition, but we learn that the author is a countryman of our own. We are glad to meet with so respectable a production in this department of literature from the pen of a native writer ; indeed we are pleased to light upon any modern tragedy in the English language so well worthy of notice. Whatever may be the cause, it is certain that late attempts in that species of composition, with few exceptions, have failed. Few writers, indeed, of any note have ventured upon it, and it must be confessed that the discouragements are many and serious. In the other kinds of poetical composition, the author writes for those whose minds have many habits in common with his own-he writes to the contemplative, to the
It is per
learned, to those who have leisure to follow him in his reveries, and accompany him till he pursues his favourite disa quisitions to the end. But the tragic poet has not only to deal with these, but with a more vivacious and impatient race of beings-it must be his aim to please the many as well as the few he can offend neither with safety. His piece may be well received in the theatre, but if destitute of those higher qualities which should recommend it to the more polished and enlightened part of society, the multitude soon grow weary of the bauble, and it comes first to be despised, and then forgotten. On the other hand, he may frame his work according to the most judicious and sensible rules of criticism ; he may introduce many fine situations and much beautiful poetry; he may produce what shall be called a pleasing composition ; still he may have failed to touch those springs which move the hearts and kindle the imaginations of all, and he goes off with the cold and equivocal compliment of having written a good closet tragedy. haps more difficult and requires intenser effort to bring the mind to a proper state for writing tragedy, than for the other kinds of poetical composition. In those we commune with the author; he describes to our imaginations, he appeals to our feelings in his own favourite way, and these peculiari. ties interest us. But the dramatic poet must, so to speak, put off his identity, and put on the characters which he describes. He must bring before him the personages of his plot, and see their faces and hear their voices in his retirement; he must do more ;' he must enter into their bosoms, he must feel with their hearts and speak with their lips. Now, it is obvious, that all this demands great versatility of talent, as well as a state of strong and peculiar mental excitement. It demands, too, a great sacrifice of the self love and vanity of authorship. Many a flight of imagination, many an elegant refinement, which the author would be glad that the world should have an opportunity to admire, but which have no special connexion with the business of his play ; stately phrases and pretty epithets, which suggest themselves to his mind and win upon his partiality, but which would ill suit the ease of dialogue or the language of paysion, must be rigidly excluded. Every thing that interrupts the interest, every thing that destroys the scenic illusion, all that is merely fine and showy must be retrenched without
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mercy. It cannot be objected that these rules would make the writer tamely and coldly correct--un the contrary, they do not forbid, they even require that the diction and sentiments should be highly glowing and impassioned—but they still re. quire, what is the best means of attaining to these qualities, that he should never forget his subject. With all these diffi. culties in their way, it is no wonder that the most celebrated English poets of our day should choose rather to exert their talents in those walks of poetry, which leave them more at liberty to move in the free and natural current of their own feelings and fancies. It may be doubted, too, whether the general manner of most of these writers, greatly superior as we think it to the cautious and unimpassioned style which immediately preceded it, is not yet too quaint, fanciful, and over-wrought to succeed well on the stage. Be this as it may, tragedy is a noble province of poetry, demanding great powers of invention, deep knowledge of the human heart, and a strong and manly judgment; and proud would be the triumph of him who, at this day, should overcome its difficulties, and take his place by the side of those great and ancient masters of the drama, whose race seems to have pass. ed away from amongst us, like that of the giants who lived before the flood. It were glorious to succeed-it is not dishonourable, however, to have failed.
It would perhaps be unfair to apply the observations we have made, in their strictness, to the work before us. It does not appear that it was ever brought upon the stage, and it is fair to presume that it was not intended for representation. It is, however, to be observed, that the great principle of excellence in dramatic compositions, from which the foregoing remarks are deduced, namely, that they should be faithful and vivid copies of human life and action, applies equally to all plays, whether written for the closet or the stage.
The plot of this tragedy is suggested by the ballad of the Hermit of Warkworth, written by Bishop Percy, the compiler of the Reliques of Ancient English Poetry; and this ballad is printed at the end of the principal work. Henry Percy, the son of that Henry Percy, with whom Shakspeare has made us acquainted, under the name of Hotspur, was carried into Scotland while yet a child by his grandfather, the Earl of Northumberland, immediately after the sangui