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Sir, I have done. I have told you my opinion. I think you ought to have given a civil, clear and explicit answer to the overture which was fairly and handsomely made you. If you were desirous that the negotiation should have included all your allies, as the means of bringing about a general peace, you should have told Buonaparte so. But I believe you were afraid of his agreeing to the proposal. You took that method before. Aye, but you say the people were anxious for peace in 1797. I say they are friends to peace now; and I am confident that you will one day acknowledge it. Believe me, they are friends to peace; although by the laws which you have made, restraining the expression of the sense of the people, publick opinion cannot now be heard as loudly and unequivocally as heretofore. But I will not go into the internal state of this country. It is too afflicting to the heart to see the strides which have been made by means of, and under the miserable pretext of this war, against liberty of every kind, both of power of speech and of writing; and to observe in another kingdom the rapid approaches to that military despotism which we affect to make an argument against peace. I know, sir, that publick opinion, if it could be collected, would be for peace, as much now as in 1797: and that it is only by publick opinion and not by a sense of their duty, or by the inclination of their minds, that ministers will be brought, if ever, to give us peace.
I conclude, sir, with repeating what I said before: I ask for no gentleman's vote who would have reprobated the compliance of ministers with the proposition of the French government. I ask for no gentleman's support to night who would have voted against ministers, if they had come down and proposed to enter into a negotiation with the French. But I have a right to ask and in honour, in consistency, in conscience, I have a right to expect, the vote of every honourable gentleman who would have voted with ministers in an address to his majesty, diametrically opposite to the motion of this night.
MR. ERSKINE'S SPEECH,
ON THE TRIAL OF AN INFORMATION EXHIBITED EX OFFICIO, BY THE KING'S ATTORNEY GENERAL, AGAINST THOMAS PAINE, FOR A LIBEL UPON THE REVOLUTION AND SETTLEMENT OF THE CROWN AND REGAL GOVERNMENT, AS BY LAW ESTABLISHED; AND ALSO UPON THE BILLS OF RIGHTS, LEGISLATURE, GOVERNMENT, LAWS, AND PARLIAMENT OF THIS KINGDOM, AND UPON THE KING. TRIED BY A SPECIAL JURY IN THE COURT OF KING'S BENCH, GUILDHALL, ON THE 18TH OF DECEMBER, 1792, BEFORE THE RIGHT HONOURABLE LORD KENYON.
POSTERITY, who may study the history of our times, will learn with surprise, how strangely they were disfigured by a wild, turbulent, and wicked spi- rit of innovation which delighted to overturn whatever had been previously raised by the wisdom and dili gence of our predecessors, or consecrated by their experiences and prejudices.
This "evil spirit" was especially intent on the demolition of the old and well tried political establishments that had gradually grown up in Europe, and to substitute in their place schemes of new and fantastick polity, resting on views of the qualities and conditions of human nature, the most idle and delusive. In France, its "tricks and devices" produced that desolating revolution which covered with the lava of its bad principles, in a greater or less degree, the other portions of the civilized world. Every country be
came a prey to its disciples, who busied themselves in making converts and spreading proselytism. Not the least conspicuous of these " architects of ruin," to indicate his devotion to this "holy service," collected from every polluted source, materials of rancorous poison which, putting together, he prepared in a cheap and portable form," a most potent compound and digest of anarchy," and presented it as an offering to the publick, under the palatable and seductive title of the "Rights of Man." This "manual of mischief," being exactly adapted to the taste and capacity of the low, the ignorant, and seditious, it was read with the utmost avidity in these circles, through which it was gratuitously diffused by certain affiliated clubs that had assumed the province of inculcating the new code of political wisdom.
The author of the work, who had thus insulted the laws of his country, was prosecuted by the attorney general for a libel on the English government, and fortunately, even, at that sinister season, a jury of Englishmen were found sufficiently stanch, virtuous, and intrepid, to stigmatize this nefarious production by a verdict of conviction, and the culprit only escaped by flight the adequate penalty of" fine, imprisonment, and the pillory." The jury decided at once, without leaving their box, or permitting the attorney general to reply.
The speech of Mr. Erskine, in behalf of the defendant, which is here inserted, admirably illustrates with what plausibility a skilful and eloquent advocate will defend the worst of causes. As the speech contains those passages of the work which were selected by the prosecutor as libellous, it is thought unnecessary to prefix the indictment.
GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY,
THE attorney general, in that part of his address which arose from a letter, supposed to have been written to him from France, exhibited signs of strong
sensibility and emotion.* I do not, I am sure, charge him with acting a part to seduce you; on the contrary, I am persuaded from my own feelings, and from my acquaintance with my friend, from our childhood upwards, that he expressed himself as he felt. But, gentlemen, if he felt those painful embarrassments, think what mine must be: he can only feel for the august character whom he represents in this place, as a subject for his sovereign, too far removed by custom, and by law, from the intercourses which generate affections, to produce any other sentiments than those that flow from a relation common to us all. But it will be remembered, that I stand in the same relation+ towards another great person, more deeply implicated by this supposed letter, who, not restrained from the cultivation of personal attachment by those qualifications which must always secure them, has exalted my duty of a subject to a prince, into a warm and honest affection between man and man. Thus circumstanced, I certainly should have been glad to have had an earlier opportunity of knowing correctly the contents of this letter, and whether, which I positively deny, it proceeded from the defendant. Coming thus suddenly upon us, I see but too plainly the impression it has made upon you who are to try the cause, and I feel its weight upon myself, who am to conduct it; but this shall neither detach me from my duty, nor, added. to all the other difficulties that thicken around me, enervate me, if I can help it, in the discharge of it.
Gentlemen, if the attorney general is well founded in the commentaries he has made to you upon this book which he prosecutes, if he is warranted by the
*Mr. Erskine here alludes to a most insolent letter which Paine addressed, while a refugee in France from the justice of his country, to the attorney general, which contained the following passage; "But though you may not choose to see it, the people are seeing it very fast, and the progress is beyond what you may choose to believe, or that reason can make any other man believe that the capacity of such a man as Mr. Guelph, or any of his profligate sons, is necessary to the government of a nution.”
† Mr. Erskine was, at the time, attorney general to the Prince of Wales.