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it*. . What, for example, can be more indefinite than to say, that those who offend against the statutes are not guilty of perjury if they submit to the penalty, and if there be no gross and obstinate negligence? Who is to draw the line for a young man's conscience, where negligence not gross ends, and gross negligence beginst? Besides, does not the necessity of so long and so elaborate an explanation of the oath, and of what is and what is not perjury, condemn the oath itself?
To the Bodleian oath I entertain still stronger objections. When I read it through from its solemn opening, “ You shall promise, and religiously undertake, in the presence of the great and good God;" to its closing words, “ So help me God," the question forces itself upon my mind, Is this swearing (according to the indispensable requisites of our
* Most tutors, I believe, explain the oath to their pupils before matriculation, generally representing it as like the oath of allegiance to the state-an engagement not to resist lawful authority.
opo Some persons, I am aware, do not consider an oath objectionable in consequence of its language being indefinite; “ because the boundaries of practical right and wrong can never be defined beforehand, and because the conscience ought to be bound by the spirit rather than by the letter.” But would not a simple promise not to resist lawful authority be equally efficient, and in other respects (especially considering the tender years of the jurors,) far preferable? Or rather why not let the undertaking to do his duty be implied, on the part of a young man, by the very act of matriculation ?
own church*,) in a cause of faith and charity, in judgment, justice, and truth t?"
But there are at this present time in Oxford many as sincere and enlightened Christians, as any who ever held the faith in righteousness; and to them I would leave this question, with a prayer, that he who has begun a good work may continue it, till in this, as in other points, there be left no room for reasonable offence among us.
With regard to Cambridge, I must speak with much less confidence, and in much ignorance. I have, however, through the last six or seven years, been in constant communication with Cambridge men, all of whom seem to unite heartily in the desire of abolishing such objectionable oaths as are still administered among them. And it is with sincere
* Art. xxxix.
of The repetition of the same oath to keep the statutes, again and again exacted of the same person at his matriculation, and when he takes his bachelor's degree, or any subsequent degree, (even should the first administration of it be thought necessary,) seems a vain repetition, and there. fore contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, and the judgment of the early Christians. Of such repetitions of the same oaths we have many specimens in heathen times; for example, Thucyd: v. 18, where two contracting parties, the Athenians and Lacedæmonians, engage to renew their oaths every year. We are told that the practice arose from the casuistical doctrines of the stoic Cleanthes, who maintained, against Chrysippus, that a man would not be guilty of perjury, if he, after a time, should break a promissory oath, which he made with the intention of keeping it. Selden, B. ii., c. 2.
satisfaction that I have learned, since this chapter was first written, and am now allowed to communicate to others, that a most careful inquiry has been in the course of the last year instituted by authority, with a view of entertaining with safety the question of the abolition, or the change of oaths now usually required in that University. The evidence before me leaves no doubt in my mind, that as honest and sound guardians of their high trust, those who are now in authority there, are doing as they ought to do. They know that change is not in itself necessarily improvement, and that on all important subjects, patient inquiry, and calm and grave deliberation, are indispensable before any body of men can legislate wisely.
COURTS OF LAW.
But if the Universities offend in these particulars by their tens, the Courts of Law offend by their tens of thousands. The blessed Founder of Christianity said, “ Swear not at all :” The Apostle James re-echoed his Saviour's words; the earliest Christians interpreted this command as prohibitory at least of every oath not absolutely necessary for the preservation of justice and peace. And yet, in England, if ever the voice of our Christian legislature is heard bearing on these points, its words seem to sound, “ Swear on all occasions. Omit no opportunity of insisting upon an oath.” Indeed, our country has been, not without reason, called " A land of Oaths*.” I have made careful and extensive inquiries among many of those able and good men, who either preside in our Courts of Law, or are well acquainted, by personal experience, with the general principles, and the minutest details of our present system; and the inference which their representations, taken one with another, have forced upon my mind is, that a very large proportion indeed of the oaths now administered might safely be omitted. I must not dwell on details here ; but perhaps I may be expected to specify some instances, by way of example, and they shall be very few. In the Bankruptcy Court, where the average of oaths administered may fairly be taken at one thousand by the week (though, I beg to observe, that nothing turns upon the accuracy of that statement), a gentleman of great talent and attainments, whose station, also, is a guarantee to us against his speaking in ignorance or haste, has assured me, that one half, at least, of the oaths (chiefly in the proof of debts) might be safely dispensed with in his court, without any increased probability of the ends of justice being defeated or evaded. And a gentleman, whose character stands among the first at the Chancery bar, after dividing the oaths principally sworn in that court into four distinct heads, and having most clearly explained and exemplified each, says,_" The fourth class is extremely numerous. The things deposed to are formal matters, not seeming to require or scarcely to admit of any religious sanction, nor capable of being considered with any feeling of reverence. It would, I think, be desirable,” he continues, " that
* See a very sensible pamphlet, written in a truly Christian spirit, and with great moderation, entitled, Remarks on Oaths. It was published anonymously in 1826; but I understand the author is a gentleman much respected by those who know him. The present treatise was advancing to its close before the pamphlet came into my hands. Its character is the direct opposite to that of Jeremy Bentham's work, published in 1817.