Imágenes de páginas

the Litany. He was now brought up, on the motion of the Attorneygeneral, to receive judgment. The officer of the Court was about to read the information and the libel, when the defendant interposed, and said, that he did not wish the Court to be troubled by the repetition of the offensive matter. He then put in two affidavits by himself, in which he deposed, that he had been fifteen years in business, and had not, until now, been accused of the slightest infringement of the law that he was entirely unconnected with and unknown to the original publisher of the libel in question, which he had reprinted at the request of a travelling dealer, without being at all aware of their dangerous tendency; for him he had struck off 250 copies, besides some that he had reserved for himself, the sale of which he stopped immediately when he learnt their profane and illegal nature, at the same time ordering the types to be dispersed. He had a wife and five children depending upon him for support.

Other affidavits from persons resident at Portsea were put in; they gave the defendant an excellent character for general loyalty and propriety of demeanour.

The Attorney-general then addressed their Lordships for the prosecution. He was willing to give the defendant credit for that feeling of regret which induced him to save the Court the pain of hearing once more a libel which had too often already fallen under its observation every man who professed the slightest regard for the religion established in this country, must be shocked both at the form and tendency of the

publication; the defendant might have printed comparatively few copies, but the Attorney-general feared that the poison had been widely disseminated among those whose education and habits enabled them but ill to resist its baneful effects. The defendant united in himself the double capacity of printer and distributer; and what number of copies he had reserved for himself, after delivering the 250 to his itinerant employer, he had not ventured to state. The information justly charged it to be a scandalous, infamous, and impious libel, tending to bring into contempt and disgrace one of the noblest, most beautiful, and most affecting parts of the administration of divine service in this country. It was generally known that the ceremony, according to the church of England, usually termed the Liturgy, had been settled by the legislature in the reign of Charles II. from Parliament it derived its legal character, but for its sacred character it was indebted to a higher source, the principles of Christianity; which indeed might be said to be the very foundation of the law of the land. How important, then, was it that it should be protected from profanation by the punishment of those who were hardy enough to lay unhallowed hands upon it? The defendant had stated, that he was ignorant of the tendency of the libel, and of its injurious consequences; but the law presumed that a man who was guilty of the publication was guilty also of the purpose: that the libel was meant by him to produce that effect: it was impossible to imagine any thing more calculated to diminish,

if not to destroy, that reverential theless, most important to the inawe with which the less-informed ́dividual on the floor, for the first ranks ought to approach their blow always fell with the greatest Creator than this blasphemous pa- weight. In the administration of rody of the general supplication: penal justice, the first object was to comment upon it further was the effect of a sentence upon the wholly unnecessary; the mere public; the next, the justice and perusal of the libel sufficiently mercy due to the offender-for stamped its character, and dis- mercy and justice in the latter closed its consequences. He hoped case were convertible terins. The that the defendant had not been principal offenders were always aware of its dangerous tendency, earliest made the subjects of proyet it was scarcely possible to con- secution: they were first sought ceive that any man should be so out, and upon their heads the blind and thoughtless. He admit- vengeance of the law first fell: ted, that circumstances were men- when they were duly punished, tioned in the affidavits which de- the mild and genial feeling, so served attention, but the libel grateful to the Court, succeeded, spoke for itself, and the printer and sentences were sometimes and publisher being before the passed even more merciful than Court, their Lordships would a- the degree of delinquency, most ward a punishment adequate to severely considered, might appear the high offence to warrant. An honourable and a memorable instance of the kind had but recently occurred. If then it should be obvious, that there were behind, other offenders more deserving the indignant infliction of the law (though the defendant should unhappily, even by the effect of his own contrition, appear earlier before the Court), it would not think it necessary to make his punishment the precise standard to what was due to such crimes he had admitted judgment to go by default; he had done his utmost to acknowledge his offence, and to show his contrition, and his situation might well be contrasted with those who had added to their guilt by a daring and contumacious resistance to the forms of the law. He had not bid an audacious defiance to the Attorney-general, or thrown the gauntlet in the face of the

Mr. Robinson, on behalf of the defendant, trusted, that their Lordships would discover that there were not here aggravations beyond what the offence itself supplied. There was one circumstance connected with the libel, though foreign to the particular case, that especially forced itself upon his attention, and which he hoped would establish for the defendant some claim to merciful consideration: it was, that the defendant was not the first offender, either in the order of time or in the order of criminality, though unfortunately the first to receive the punishment of the law. He did not urge this circumstance in the way of complaint. He was certain that it was undesigned on the part of the Attorney-general, and owing to circumstances over which he had no control, It was, never


Court. A topic of mitigation might also be derived from the fact, that the defendant was merely a country printer. Those of that trade in London knew well that it was their duty to watch most carefully all the productions of their press; it was a part of the economy of their establishments; but country printers, whose types were engaged in catalogues, in cheap re-publications of popular works; or at most in a provincial newspaper, were not sufficiently upon their guard in this respect; and designing individuals might take advantage of their ignorance, and employ them to give to the world the most baneful libels: it was admitted that the parody in question had first appeared from a London press, and a man like the defendant might deem that circumstance alone some warrant for his conduct. It was sworn also that the defendant had not the remotest connexion with any of those who in the metropolis had spread these baneful productions. It was true that, in the eye of the law, a man who was guilty of the publication was presumed to be guilty of the knowledge of its effects; but although this might warrant a judge in directing a verdict, it was a legal construction which would not be observed in all its strictness when the defendant was upon the floor to receive judgment: if, too, on the face of the libel, another object and purpose were more prominent than that charged, their lordships, in a case like the present, would be inclined to put the most lenient construction on the conduct of the defendant. The

learned counsel concluded by a few brief observations upon the contents of the affidavits.

The Attorney-general informed the Court, that there was a second information againt the defendant for a blasphemous parody upon the Creed of St. Athanasius. The officer was about to read it, when the defendant again interposed, observing that it was unnecessary.

The Attorney-general described this publication as quite as injurious as the preceding: although a fair and discreet dişcussion of the mysterious parts of the Liturgy might be warranted, irreverence and blasphemous ridicule of them could not be en. dured.

Mr. Topping, on the same side, felt called upon by what had fallen from Mr. Robinson, to say that it was impossible the defendant should not have known the wicked nature of these publications; he could not have derived his first information of it from the newspapers.

Mr. Robinson regretted that any thing that had fallen from hin should have raised any feeling of asperity: it was far from his in tention to excite it: he only felt, in common with his client, sincere regret that he had been made the instrument of the wider circulation of these productions. He allowed that to parody the Creed of St. Athanasius was an offence meriting punishment, but he hoped the Court would not attribute to the defendant a criminality not charged, although it should appear on the face of the libel. All persons acquainted with the his


tory of the Christian Church knew that some illustrious members of the Church of England, and some high ornaments of the Bench, had expressed their wish that the Creed of St. Athanasius had been couched in a form less peculiar.

Mr. Justice Bayley, in passing sentence, observed, that the libels in question well merited the epithets bestowed upon them in the information: they were calculated to undermine the foundation of all moral and religious duties, and to bring into ridicule and contempt the sacred ordinances of the Church; to fill the minds, more especially of the lower orders, with light and trivial matters, at a time when they ought to be devoted to the service and adoration of God. The case before the Court was certainly not one of the most aggravated description; but if the defendant had unpremeditatedly been the means of circulating these blasphemous productions, the evil with respect to others was the same a slight perusal of them was sufficient to convince any man who reverenced the sacred institutions of his country, that they were profane and scandalous. It was said, that the Creed of St. Athanasius had been objected to by some of the holiest and ablest men it might be so; but their calm and learned discussion could be no warrant for an intemperate and impious attack like the present. With regard to others who had first been guilty of this of fence, they might or might not be more deserving of punishment, the Court always measured its sentences by the circumstances before it, not aggravating the

punishment in the case earliest brought before it, because it is the first, nor diminishing it in the latest, because it is the last. The sentence was-that the defendant, for the first libel, should be imprisoned in Winchester gaol for eight calendar months, pay a fine of 100l. and give security for five years, himself in 300l. and two sureties in 1501. each. For the second libel it was ordered, that he should be imprisoned four calendar months.

Sittings after Term, before Mr. Juslice Abbot and a Special Jury. December 18.

The King v. William Hone.-After Mr. Shepherd had stated, that this was an information filed by the Attorney-General against the defendant for printing and publishing a seditious and profane libel on those parts of our church service called the Catechism, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer, to which the defendant had pleaded Not Guilty; the AttorneyGeneral rose, and spoke to the following effect.

After having remarked, from Sir Matthew Hale, that “Christianity is part and parcel of the common law of England," he said, that if it were not an offence to revile the solemn service of our church, and to bring it into ridicule, Christianity was no longer parcel of the common law of the land. He then entered more particularly into the object of the prosecution standing for the present day, which was that of a protection to the Church Catechism, with its appendages, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. He dwelt with becoming gravity upon these articles; and pointed out the


manner in which, by the effect of parody, ridicule was attempted to be thrown upon each of them. A burst of laughter now issued from the crowd below the bar; upon which Mr. Justice Abbot, addressing the Under-Sheriff, desired that he would place persons who would bring before the Court those who should insult the feelings of the more grave and sober part of the auditors.

The Attorney-General proceeded to say, that if there were any thing in what he had read, which could raise a smile in any man's face, it was evidence enough that the publication was a libel. After some further remarks, witnesses were called in to prove the purchase of a copy of the work in question from Hone's shop, and to identify his place of residence. This was the whole of the prosecution.

Mr. Hone, who acted as his own counsel, then rose to speak; and though unpractsied in the art of addressing a public audience, the impression which he made was very considerable. He began with some observations on an arrest which had been made upon him in the month of May, and in which he found cause of complaint against Lord Ellenborough for excess of rigour. He then proceeded to remark upon the manner in which special juries were struck by the crown officers; and in fine he came to the particular object of his trial, which was the charge made against him by the Attorney-General for publishing parodies. There were, he said, two kinds of parodies; one in which a man might convey ludicrous or ridiculous ideas relative

to some other subject; the other, where it was meant to ridicule the thing parodied. The latter was not the case in that which he employed, and therefore he had not brought religion into tempt.

He then introduced a number of quotations from different works, which exemplified the different kinds of parodies; but in this sketch it would be superfluous to enter into particulars, especially where it cannot be doubted that all modern examples of prosecutions on this ground have been entirely founded on political reasons.

The Attorney-General in his reply thought it necessary to mention, that Mr. Hone having been formerly arrested and imprisoned, he (the Attorney-General) knowing that the trial could not come on till the present time, had caused him to be discharged on his own recognizance, to appear on a future day. He then made some severe remarks upon Hone, and addressing the jury, entreated them to consider the libel coolly and dispassionately, and compar ing it with what it was designed to ridicule, determine whether it were not a wicked, impious, and profane publication.

Mr. Justice Abbot, in his charge, said, that the question here was not what had been done in former times, but what the defendant had done in the present. He was fully convinced that the production was highly scandalous and irreligious, and therefore libellous; but if the jury were of a different opinion, their verdict would of course be an acquittal.

The jury then withdrew, and


« AnteriorContinuar »