Rienzi: The Last of the Roman Tribunes

By Edward Bulwer Lytton; L. W. Zeigler | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE SITUATION OF A POPULAR PATRICIAN IN TIMES OF POPULAR DISCONTENT. -- SCENE OF THE LATERAN

The situation of a Patrician who honestly loves the people is, in those evil times, when power oppresses and freedom struggles, -- when the two divisions of men are wrestling against each other, -- the most irksome and perplexing that destiny can possibly contrive. Shall he take part with the nobles? -- he betrays his conscience! With the people? -- he deserts his friends! But that consequence of the last alternative is not the sole -- nor, perhaps to a strong mind, the most severe. All men are swayed and chained by public opinion -- it is the public judge; but public opinion is not the same for all ranks. The public opinion that excites or deters the plebeian, is the opinion of the plebeians, -- of those whom he sees, and meets, and knows; of those with whom he is brought in contact, -- those with whom he has mixed from childhood, -- those whose praises are daily heard, -- whose censure frowns upon him with every hour.* So, also, the public opinion of the great is the opinion

____________________
*
It is the same in still smaller divisions. The public opinion for lawyers is that of lawyers; of soldiers, that of the army; of scholars, it is that of men of literature and science. And to the susceptible amongst the latter, the hostile criticism of learning has been more stinging than the severest moral censures of the vulgar. Many a man has done a great act, or composed a great work, solely to please the two or three persons constantly present to him. Their voice was his public opinion. The public opinion that operated on Bishop, the murderer, was the opinion of the Burkers, his comrades. Did that condemn him? No! He knew no other public opinion till he came to be hanged, and caught the loathing eyes, and heard the hissing execrations of the crowd below his gibbet.

-135-

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