« PreviousContinue »
Society sent persons to the shop of this defendant, who procured copies of these publications, and they were now both included in one indictment, of which the defendant had no reason to complain, since he was saved some esperrse by this course of proceeding. The first of these publications to which he should call their attention was the Republican; and though every page of the sixteen which it contained was filled with either blasphemy to God, or libelling some of the most illustrious characters of the country, he should not wade through its filthy contents, but bring at once before the consideration of the Jury that part of it which was charged in this indictment.
The first libel set out in the indictment was contained in No.9, of The Republican, printed by Mr. Carlile, on Friday, Oct. 22, 1819, and purported to be a letter addressed to that person, sigued by J. B. Smith, dated Westgate, Peterborough, Oct. 10, 1819, and contained, among other offensive passages, the following:
“ Before the people can be blest with, and cordially receive, a perfect Government and a pure and equitable code of laws, they must reject the Bible as being the word of the true God, and also totally disbelieve the divinity of Christ. For while ihey are inflexible in the Christian faith, there is no possibility of establishing equitable laws, or even acting in a private way justly towards each other; for by the doctrines of the Bible and New Testamert pature is subverted, and where nature is destroyed, no perfection can possibly remain.",
“ It is the Bible, and such books, that have degraded and made men far worse than the most bateful part of the brute creation,' &c.
The second libel set out in the indictment was contained in the first number of The Deist's Magazine, published in March, 1820, and purported to be a letter addressecl by a Deist to a Christian, and setting forth matter of a like tendency to that above set forth.
Was this (continued Mr. Gurney) fair, free, and manly discussion, was it an argument of reasoning, was it not rather vulgar
scoffing and scurrilous abuse! Whether it originated in gross ignorance or in knowledge perverted mattered nothing; but when the defendant held such language, as that Christianity was calculated to degrade and to debase mankind, he was answered by those who knew what the state of the heathen world was before its introduction, what savage acts were then practised, what deeds of atrocity were then committed, and they would beg of him so compare with these tiines the state of Ciuristeudom at the present day, Or he could be answered by those who, knowing nothing of ancient history, were yet acquainted with the condition of those countries from which the light of the Gospel was still concealed. The horrors of the Jaggernaut, and the dreadful superstitions that prevail in those countries, must convince every man, whose naud was not imbruted, that Christianity was for every purpose, here, and hereafter, man's best, aud sarest guide and protection. The other publication, which was priuted and published by the defendant himself, was entitled The Drist's Magazine, which commenced, it appeared, in the month of
March of the present, year, and which was prefaced by an address to the reader, which was not included in the indictment, but it proceeds Tuviling and abusing Christianity, and endeavouring by every gross and vulgar insinuation, to bring it into direct contempt.
Ilere Mr. Gurney was interrupted by the defendant, who, addressiog bis Lordship, observed, that a Gentleman who sat immediately behind him had remarked, that he hoped hie (the defendant) would get two or three years' imprisonment. ,
Mr. Justice Best. I perceive the gentleman to whom you allude, and I am persuaded that you are mistaken. No Gentleman in Court frels more for the unfortunate situation in which you are now placed than that Gentleman. 4.7.
A person who appeared to assist the defendant in the management of his case then observed that he had heard the observation.
Mr. Justice Best. I am quite convinced, that to say the least of it you are mistaken. If, however, auy remarks have been made, I request that they may not again be repeated,
Mr. Gurney proceeded. He was at a loss to conceive how such a remark, whispered, as it had been, if it were ever uttered, could prejudice ibe minds of the Jury; and in his opinion the wiser course would have been to have suffered it to pass in silence. He perceived that the defendant altended there to plead his own cause. What he could have to say in defence of those passages which he had readito them, it was indeed difficult to discover ; but the usual topics wlich were selected in these cases were,, the right of free discussion, The liberty of the press, the value of private judgment, and cthers of a sia nuilar nature; and no man living appreciated them more luighly than himself. But we had the right to write and print good; had we therefore the right to vilify all that was sacred, and to treat as ribaldry all I lose subjects that were held by those who believed in them as man's dearest possessions, upon which alone he rested his hopes of a futurity? Was it to be tolerated, that a man should defame and vilify the
çountry in which he lived, and reprobate those who administered its government? Such was not the liberty of the press. Was it to be to. lerated that he should go on and hold up religion itself as idle or worse than useless, as calculated to degrade and debase mankind? No; by their verdict tliat day they would vindicate the press from its inost dangerous enemies, from those who would substitute licentionsness for liberty. He would leave'ile case to their consideratioii, fully assured that by their verdict they would, as far as in them lay, preserve the religion of their country from the desolating progress of 'iufidelity and irreligion.
The publication of the libels in question was proved by Andrew Thomas Fraley and John Branscomb, agents of the Society, having respcetively purchased the works at the shop of the defendant.
The defendant, in a long written defence, addressed the Jury in justification of his conduct, contending that the liberty of the press, and the right of free discussion, justified him in the publication of
such works as those for which he was called upou to answer. The defendant, after a variety of observations, enforcing this argument, was proceeding to make a few observations against the English bar, whose assistance on such an occasion as this, lie considered as utterly useless, because they could do no more for him than offer a sham and sophistical defence, from their dependence upon, aud servile submission to the presiding Judge, wlien
Mr. Justice Best immediately interposed, and said he would not suffer such a scandalous libel to be uttered in his presence.
The Defendant. You must not interrupt me in my defence.
Mr. Justice Best. Nothing would make me more unhappy than to be obliged to use the authority I have. You may fancy ihat the only authority I have is that which will remove you from this place. I'state that that is not the only authority I have. I have the power,
besides that, of removing you, of tining you as often as you trespass upon , the decorum of a Court of Justice.
The Defendant. If you have your dungeon, I will give you the key, and you may send me to it if you will.
Mr. Justice Best. 'I now fine you twenty pounds for your contempt.
Thc Defendant in continuation said, he would not be restrained in his defence, and proceeded to inveigh against the injustice of sumnjoning him to answer at the bar for a mere matter of opinion. In the case of Mr. Hone, he said, who was prosecuted for a blaspbemous libel, an independent and enlightened London Jury pronounced their verdict of Not Guilty, whilst for the self same supposed libel, a servile and submissive Country Jury was found to pronounce a verdict of Guilty against another man, who was sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment in a duugeoil. Those who declared that Christianity was part of the law of the land, were a set of bigotted old women. After dwelling a considerable time upon topics of tbis nature, the defendant went on to invoke the Jury to laugh at the Christiau religion as a fraud and imposition on mankind.
Mr. Justice Best instantly interposed. I now fine you 401. more for this fresh instanee of misconduct, after the warning you have received. It is absolutely necessary that the dignity of a Court of Justice shall not be insulted. I will not give way to this indece!icy of conduct.
The Defendant. Then I leave my defeuce in the lands of the Jury.
Nr. Justice Best. I will sit with patience to be myself insulted, but I will not suffer the very sanctuary of justice to be insulted, still less will I sit here to hear the religion of the country scoffed at.
The Defendant. Then I must leave off my defence if I cannot conduct it in the inanver I wish.
Mr. Justice Best. You have a right to make your defence, and I do not wish lo interrupt you, nor do I wish to interfere with your
opinions : but you must boi introduce into your defence what I believe, and what I believe the gentlemen of the jury believe, to be an impious attack upon the Christian religion. I cannot suffer the religion of the government, and that religion under the sanction of which this Court sits to administer justice, to be insulted. If you think you can
offer any thing in your defence which may with propriety be received, I will lear you.
The defendant then proceeded to contend that the higher orders of society, both spiritual and temporal, including the whole legislature, were infidels and sceptics in matters of religion.
Mr. Justice Best interposed. You will remember the consequences of this conduct. It is not fit ibat those reverend persons, who are not before the Court, should be so attacked. It would be uujust in me to suffer them to be so attacked. I therefore add 401, more to the other fines I have already imposed upon you These tines shall be paid. I am determined to put down ihis audacity.
The Defendant. It is impossible for me to pay the fiues. My body must suffer. I must trist to the gentlemen of the jury, for I cannot make any defence in my own way.
Mr. Justice Best. It is iny duty, by the law of the land under which I am sworn, 10 take care that you do not avail yourself of the opportuuity you now have to villity persons who are not here to defend themselves. If you profess to act upon principles of justice, you must know that you have no right to attack those who are not here to answer for themselves. It is au infamous libel to say that the bi. shops are infidels and sceptics.
The Defendant. I only said, for the most part,
Mr. Justice Best. It is no offence to me. It is too contens ptible to be offended at.
The defendant then proceeded to insist, that Lord Bollingbroke, Lord Shaftesbury, Gibbon, Hume, and other eininent writers had made more mischievous attacks, upon religion than any thing colilained in the works in question.
Mr. Justice Best denieit that those eminent persons could be justly charged with such infamous libels upon the doctrines of Christianity. They might deny their divinily, but their morality and purity were thenies of their praise.
The defendant then resumed his defence, and read several passages from the works of eminent authors, in favour of free discussion and inquiry upon religious subjects, and conteuded that a Deist bad as much right to the public profession of his doctrines as Unitarians, Independents, and other sects, who were tolerated by law. Religion, he insisted, could never sustain any injury troin such a privilege, because the truth of it could only be elicited by tree discussion. After dilating upon this topic lo a considerable length, he concluded by com
plaining of the grievous fines that had been imposed upon him by the Judgė, for merely availing himself of what he conceived to be the riglit to make his desence in his own way. The Jury were to decide upon his case, and not the Judge, who was merely to preside for the purpose of receiving the verdict, and preserving order.
Mr. Justice Best charged the Jury, and said, no man could be more convinced than himself, that it was absolutely necessary for a Judge to preserve his temper during the discussion of a case brought under the notice of a Court of Justice; but it also were necessary that he should heep down alt irritation, aud prevent any expression of warmth from escaping him, when the law was directly and openly insulted, and when religion was scoffed at, before those who appealed to its truth for the verdict that they were to give, and expected its rewards aud its punishments according as they should do justice or injustice, and be should evince feelings of irritation, or betray any expression of warmth, he should be very unfit for his situation ; but he lioped, botwithstanding what he had felt during the address that was made to them by the defendant, he should convince tbat person, ibat whatever might be his Lordship's feelings upon the subject, they should bave no effect upon his faie. When a person thought proper to defend himself, he was certainly placed in a very delicate siiuation; but whatever course of defence he took, it was the duty of the presiding Judge to take care that the dignity of the law, and the sanctuary of the Court of Justice, should be preserved, because there would be an end of all law and justice if the solemnity of the proceedings of the Court was not maintained. A Judge in such a situation was bound to exercise bis authority, but in doing so he was placed in this delicate predicament, if he exercised the power of commitment, and the person committed was thus prevented from making his full defence, it might be said that if he were permitted to remain he might have stated circumstances to the Court and Jury which might lave an effect upon their verdict. The Judge had the double power of fine and imprisonment, when a man, in the face of the Court, presumed to insult the established religion of the country, to insult ihe Government of the country, and to traduce the Ministers of the Government, when their conduct was not in issue before the Court. The law, however, had empowered the Judge, in such cases, to remit the tine and imprisonment, if he saw sufficient reason. His Lordship had thought it to be bis duty to infict three several fines on this defendant, who would be bound to pay those tines, if the Judge had not the power to remit them. The fines, however, having had the effect of preventing the introduction of that deluge of blasphemy which the defendant seemed disposed to indulge, and having stated That he was a poor man, he was disposed to exercise that power with which the law had invested him-a power which was exercised by all Magistrates, from the King downwards, wamely, to administer justice in mercy. Conceiving that this example was sufficient to establish the authority of the Court, and to teach persons in the situation of the defendant, that the Court was noi to be