HC Deb 21 May 1832 vol 12 cc1144-74

The Lord Advocate moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Reform of Parliament (Scotland) Bill.

Lord Stormont

said, that he would avail himself of that opportunity, pursuant to the notice which he gave on Friday last, to call the attention of the Attorney General to the state of the Public Press at the present moment. It was true, it might be said, that the proper authorities were vested with ample powers to preserve the peace and good order of society; but that appeared to him to be no reason why he should not bring under the consideration of the House, the scandalous, licentious, and treasonable articles, which day after day issued from the Press, with the view of inducing the Attorney General to institute prosecutions against the publishers of those articles. Some of the articles which had appeared in the public prints were of such a description that he should not be discharging his duty properly if he gave them that extended publicity which would be the consequence of his reading them in that House. Indeed, they were of so obscene and scandalous a nature, that he should be doing no service to the cause which he was then advocating if he read them publicly. He would select one article as a sample, by no means the worst, of the publications with which the Press teemed. The article was to be found in the "Satirist," weekly paper, of Sunday, May 13th, and was headed "the King and Queen are where they please, and how they please. Who cares?" After some prefatory remarks the article proceeded as follows:—'What the devil is the House of Brunswick to us, abstractedly regarded? Nothing more than that of the poorest sausage-spinner in Germany. The people of England, wishful to avoid the ceaseless squabbles of ambitious nobles, chose a foreign family, about the most ancient in Europe, to fill the proudest station in the world, i. e. the Sovereignty over a free and victorious nation. That family were especially distinguished by the negative sort of character which is, perhaps, the best in a limited monarch. From the first George to the first William of the family, not a man among them has evinced the slightest personal claim to consideration on the score of mental power or moral energy. Of mulish, dogged obstinacy, they have given abundant proof. And what better mark could have been shown of the all-enduring loyalty of the British people, than the alacrity with which they were willing to forget the Georgian æra, from the reign of the first fool of the name to that of the fat compound of all mean ingredients, inclusively, when, in the present King, they beheld a man willing to sympathize with his subjects and to re-dress their wrongs? But now—now that the mask has been laid aside, their indig- nant rage succeeds to a long-suffering, long-trusting loyalty. The principles that placed the family on the Throne—that so-much-hacknied phrase, the principles of liberty—have found a fatal opponent in the person of William 4th. So be it: in the people those principles have supporters, advocates, champions, whom Kings cannot enchain, nor military Dukes destroy. Wellington may smile at this. Let him try. For our parts, we publicly, solemnly, strenuously implore our countrymen to bear in mind the great constitutional truth, that the same power by which our fathers were enabled to confer on the family of Brunswick the Crown of England, when the so conferring it was favourable to the freedom and happiness of the British people, that same power would be justifiably and patriotically exercised by us in removing the Crown from the head of any member of that family who should forget the principles which had called his ancestors to the Throne. Yes; should it unhappily become a question whether England should be free—that is to say, whether the rotten boroughs should be abolished and the great towns enfranchised—in other words, whether Earl Grey's Bill should pass, or King William 4th take his chop at Holyrood with Charles Dix—we say, let England be free, and let there be two X's in the alphabet of monarchical imbecility.' The publication went on to say, 'A word to the Queen. This illustrious lady, "second personage in the realm," "Royal Consort," and all that fine fudge, is nothing more than a marvellously ill-favoured German woman, who, never having been guilty of an idea, most gladly grasped at the delusion that she had one, when Whiskerandos Cumberland filled her frivolous head with his own deep cogitations on the subject of Reform.' In another part of the same paper this passage occurred:—'Of the persons here alluded to, some are Germans—low, artful, nursed in despotism, and devoted to it—connected and in daily correspondence with despotic Princes and Ministers, following their guidance and constituting their tools—employing the resources of England, profusely bestowed upon them, even by the Whigs, to crush her people, and bribing the venal, who are every where to be found, to support them in their base ingratitude and daring machinations against a people who have redeemed them from beggary. The Queen and the Duchess of Kent are among the most active of these intriguers.' Again the writer proceeded—'Meanwhile, the enemies of the nation—the Queen, the Duchess of Kent, the Duke of Cumberland, and Mrs. Jordan's son—obtained an opposite promise, and kept incessant watch over his conduct. This was the reason why the Anti-reforming Peers were latterly so bold, and the Ministry so full of timidity and embarrassment. But the age is gone by when intrigues like these can be conducted with impunity. The persuaders of the King in this matter are the enemies both of the King and of the nation; and history records none who better deserves the doom attached to such conduct. The well-earned fate of another German Queen should have been before their eyes, or, at least, the more recent one of the Duchess of Berri.' It appeared to him impossible that such publications as these should be allowed to continue. It was quite clear that they were put forth for the purpose of bringing the King and Queen into contempt, and he felt that he should not discharge his duty as a loyal subject, if he did not take this opportunity of protesting against such scandalous libels being suffered to remain unpunished. He thought it became him publicly to call upon the Attorney General to give some explanation as to the course which he might think fit to pursue upon the subject. He understood the hon. Under Secretary of State for the Home Department to have argued, that it was best to leave such publications to the indignation and contempt of the virtuous classes of society. To the hon. Under Secretary, who was an honest man, of upright mind, the contempt of the virtuous portion of the community would doubtless be a great punishment; but he would ask, whether the persons who could sit down to write articles of such a description as that which he had read to the House, were likely to possess feelings which could be operated upon by the moral power of public opinion. He believed that they possessed feelings of such a gross nature as would be sensible only to physical punishment. They were the pests of society, and ought not to be allowed to continue. He would take an opportunity of calling the attention of the Attorney General in private to some other publications, which, as he had before stated, were of such an atrocious nature, that he could not venture to read them publicly. He had, he thought, done enough to afford the Attorney General an opportunity of declaring what his intentions were with respect to the present licentious state of the Press.

The Attorney General

thanked the noble Lord for the courtesy he had shown him, in giving notice of his intention to put the question, as it had afforded him an opportunity of considering whether any answer could with propriety be made to it. On a former occasion the noble Lord had privately drawn his attention to other disgraceful publications, and he had then mentioned the delicacy and difficulty of his situation, anxious as he was to preserve due respect to the laws, and at the same time not to infringe upon the rights of the public. In general appreciation it was thought that the Attorney General had a power, which he did not in fact possess: it was really taken for granted, that he was a sort of officer going about with an extinguisher, at once to put out all objectionable publications—that he had nothing to do but to issue his fiat, and the publication was at an end; but, he had in truth, no peculiar authority. He did not deny that he had a peculiar duty, but he could only issue ex officio informations, which must afterwards be tried by a Jury, and subjected to the usual uncertainty of such proceedings. The noble Lord had himself drawn into a fuller and broader light a publication, of which few, perhaps, had heard, and it was his (the Attorney General's) firm opinion, founded upon experience, that a libeller thirsted for nothing more than the valuable advertisement of a public trial in a Court of Justice. Triumph there made him rich, and defeat gave him all the honours of martyrdom. Even martyrdom was found to have its pecuniary advantages also, while it procured the wretched author a much better lodging in a prison than, while at large, he had ever been accustomed to occupy. Punishment was, therefore, ineffectual, and he entirely agreed with the Under Secretary of State, that the contempt of well-regulated minds was generally the best treatment for libellers, however, revolting or disgusting their productions. He did not entirely agree with the noble Lord that the writers of such libels would not feel that contempt; they would feel it at least in pocket, for the public would soon turn with loathing from the pernicious pandarism of the press. He hoped, too, that the multitude of such publications would check their circulation, and as the poison would become anything but a rarity, people would cease to value and regard it. The very neglect with which they had been treated by the public authorities for a long course of months had of itself diminished the number of licentious publications, and many had fallen, which, by means of prosecution, would have been elevated to importance. In reference to the question of non-prosecution, it was impossible for him not to advert to the conduct of his predecessors in office—not to cast blame upon them, or to relieve himself, but merely to show that they set the example which he had only followed, leaving obscure publications, however offensive, to perish in their obscurity. Even his learned friend opposite (Sir C. Wetherell) had not departed from the forbearance of those who went before him, and he had refrained from prosecuting the most offensive publications in the most trying times. Such had been the course adopted in 1819, when certain publications did not stop at invective obloquy, but even recommended assassination, and openly called upon their readers to sow the streets of London with forged Bank notes. These were allowed to pass without prosecution, and for the plainest of all possible reasons—that to prosecute would have been to play the game of the libellers. The noble Lord admitted, that some of the productions of which he complained were so scandalous and obscene, that he could not do more than advert to them. If so, why should they be exposed in an open court of Justice? It was undoubtedly and lamentably true, if the evil of libels were the reading of them, that prosecutions made innumerable readers, and in cases of private libel, a proceeding before a Jury often served chiefly to disseminate the slander. He might, perhaps, be allowed to advert to a remarkable occurrence which had happened to himself. On the evening of the day when he first sat as Common Serjeant of London, a trial for a libel of a most atrocious description was brought before him, without preparation: it was contained in a paper called The Republican, which had gone on for some years unprosecuted by Sir J. Copley, the then Attorney General. The libel was a resumé, or summing-up, of all the most offensive parts of the work, and the indictment contained eleven counts, six for blasphemous libels on the Bible, and the rest for sedition, exciting the people to tumult and insurrection. The prosecution was not instituted by the Attorney General, but by the "Constitutional Association," as it was called, which took the matter out of his hands. The libels were established (indeed they could not be doubted), and the defence made by the accused rather aggravated his crime, if such a crime could be aggravated by anything said by the party on trial. After this defence, it could not be put, even as a doubt, to the Jury whether the prisoner was acquainted with the nature and effect of the publication, and as he was indicted without a name, in order to avoid difficulties as to identity, he (the Attorney General) was called upon to pass sentence upon him immediately. Two Aldermen were on the bench with him, one of whom thought that two years' imprisonment should be inflicted, while the other was only for half that term. The middle course was taken, and the offender was sentenced to a year and a half's imprisonment for a very complicated and multitudinous libel. He had been much censured as a severe Judge on this occasion; a petition had been presented to the House in behalf of the prisoner, which he had refused to sign, on the ground that his trial was most fair and impartial; but he (the Attorney General) was not aware that the public had been much benefitted by any part of the proceeding. For himself he could say, that he was much happier the moment the eighteen months had expired. As long as a writer honestly expressed his opinions, and his opinions only—as long as it was possible to give him credit for sincerity—he (the Attorney General) was greatly disinclined to prosecute. The case was widely different when a writer's object was to incite to crime, and in the instance to which he alluded, the defendant was only twenty-one years old, and, perhaps, had no improper motive. When, therefore, the term of imprisonment expired, it was a great comfort and gratification to him (the Attorney General). Why did he say this? Because, the liberty of the Press being established in this country, men were invited to publish their honest opinions, and there ought to be no torturer behind, who might prosecute them, and throw them into a dungeon for an un- defined offence. The very existence of the liberty of the Press ought to make Attorneys General cautious how they proceeded to extremities. The only question, undoubtedly, which a public officer ought to ask himself was, what was his duty, and how could he best execute it? he (the Attorney General) was not disposed to shrink from it; but this he must say, that from the year 1822 to the year 1829, there was almost a total cessation of prosecutions for libels; not because they were not rife and aggravated, but because it was thought wiser policy to let them alone. What had happened in 1829 was very remarkable. His hon. and learned friend (Sir J. Scarlett) was then Attorney General, and a most gross and scandalous libel was printed, not in an obscure publication, like The Satirist, hunted out of some corner, but in a well-known newspaper, The Morning Journal, supported by a considerable capital, and by great names; that libel was directed against his present Majesty, then Duke of Clarence, and it boldly asserted, that by his vote on the Roman Catholic Question he had forfeited his right to the Throne, and never could recover his title to it. Yet for this publication no prosecution had been instituted; and when the Editor of The Morning Journal was afterwards proceeded against, the Jury wished that he should not be brought up for judgment, and even that he had not been prosecuted, on account of the excitement prevailing in the public mind. He begged also to state, that in that year a noble and learned Lord, who was reported to have spoken lately in another place, was not only then a member, but a leading member of the Government; yet the libel on the Duke of Clarence was passed by unnoticed. On this point he did not mean to blame the Ministers and law officers of that day, but merely to remark, with the example before him, that it would have been quite as wise if the Lord Chancellor of that day had exhibited equal forbearance in his own case, and had not indicted the Editor of The Morning Journal, in the Court of King's Bench, for a paragraph which stated that he had accepted a bribe of 30,000l. for making the hon. member for St. Mawes, Solicitor General. That was so improbable a calumny that no Lord Chancellor since the Revolution, but the noble and learned Lord, would have thought it necessary to prosecute it. The case of The Morning Journal was carried into court, and the prosecution begun by the Lord Chancellor in his individual capacity, though, subsequently, the Attorney General, for some hitherto unexplained reason, thought proper to proceed against the defendant by an ex officio information. Thus it seemed that the ex officio power of the Attorney General had been allowed for a long time to sleep, and had it not been awakened for the purpose of proceeding against The Morning Journal, that paper would have expired much sooner in the contempt and derision of all parties. In fact, it owed 800l. for stamps, and as the process for that sum was sent in on the eve of the trial, a degree of sympathy was excited, and subscriptions from Dukes and Peers were poured in from all quarters, which supported it much longer than it would otherwise have existed. For these reasons he was averse to proceedings of the kind, and had only prosecuted ex officio cases which incited to crime, and aimed at the disturbance of the public peace. Even to this extent he had met with little encouragement from Juries, for it was impossible to tell whether even a single individual amongst them, by his obstinacy, might not defeat the ends of justice. In the cases of Carlile and Cobbett the Government had prosecuted, and he had very recently met with Carlile's statement to him, which, if the House had any curiosity on the subject, he would read to them. In the case of Cobbett, Government was defeated, and the Jury discharged, owing to the perseverance of one juryman; and it was impossible for the prosecutor to dig into the heart of society on every occasion, in order to ascertain what were the political sentiments of those who were called upon to try the accused. Such was his (the Attorney General's) answer to the noble Lord's question; and if he thought proper to submit any papers to his private consideration, he would promise to give them his best consideration. Allusion had been made to slanderous attacks upon females of the highest rank. Nothing could be more disgusting; but it seemed to him that it would be taking a great liberty if he proceeded without special instructions. By a trial in a Court of Justice they might sometimes be placed in a worse situation, for which they certainly would have no reason to thank him. In the present excitement of the public mind, no doubt many improper productions had issued from the Press, but he hoped that the final settlement of the great Question would now render their recurrence improbable. He was happy that the censure upon his conduct for not proceeding against newspapers was impartial; at least, it came from all quarters; and, certainly, if he selected any one for prosecution it would be The Times of Friday last. That paper had utterly falsified what had occurred in another place, and had put forward, as the report of a speech, what could be nothing but a base and malicious invention of some abominable libeller. This writer actually had the impudence to say, that a noble and learned Lord, a criminal Judge, had not only advised the prosecution of an article which appeared in a previous number of The Times, but said that he would not form part of an Administration which would allow that paper to go without being prosecuted. This language was put into the mouth of an individual who held the highest legal office in the State in 1829, when the audacious attacks were made upon his present Majesty, to which he had recently alluded, without calling for any interference on the part of the Government. That noble and learned Judge, who might be called upon at the Old Bailey to preside at the trial, was represented in the newspaper as having himself prejudged the question in the most positive terms; and, after pronouncing, that certain articles were a notorious libel, the noble and learned Lord was said to have called upon the Attorney General to prosecute; nay, to such an extreme of infamy had this abominable Reporter gone, that he had represented the noble and learned Judge as accusing the Attorney General of misprision of treason for not commencing a prosecution. Suppose the Attorney General were to prosecute, and that noble and learned Judge were to preside, what chance could the unfortunate accused have, in such a case, of acquittal? The case, too, might be brought before the House of Peers under writ of error, and then it would be the peculiar province of that noble and learned Judge to advise their Lordships. To assign such a speech to such a person was, therefore, a libel of the most gross and injurious character; and that it was so was evident from another circumstance, that the speaker was made to go out of his way to attack the Attorney General; for what had it to do with the subject of the debate, and the attendance of the noble Lord upon the King at Windsor? The whole was a foul and atrocious libel, for which he would undertake to prosecute the paper, as soon as the noble and learned Lord denied upon oath that there was any truth in the representation. He (the Attorney General) was the less willing to believe that anything of the kind could have fallen from the noble and learned Lord, because they had formerly been upon terms of intimacy: he owed great obligations to the noble and learned Lord, who was something his senior when first he began to enter into the conversation of men. By his excellent judgment and sagacious mind that noble and learned Lord had confirmed him (the Attorney General) in his attachment to liberal opinions, which he, for one, would never desert nor betray. He did not here speak of notions confided to him as a friend, but of declarations boastfully and ambitiously brought forward by the noble and learned Lord, many years ago, according to which he was to take and keep his place in society. "I am (said the noble and learned Lord) a disciple and admirer of Sir Samuel Romilly; I hate and despise bigotry, and, therefore, I maintain the justice of Catholic claims; and I think Reform in the Representation of the people essential to the preservation of the peace of society and the welfare of the State."

Sir Charles Wetherell

thanked the noble Lord who had introduced the subject, for calling the attention of the House to it. He must also praise the noble Lord for the manner in which he had introduced it, and must express his concurrence in the opinion, that an Attorney General and a libel might co-exist, although that was not formerly the general notion. He agreed that every libel ought not to be prosecuted; but he did not on that account hold, with the Attorney General, that he was at once to be driven from the field by writers of every description in pamphlets, newspapers, and emphemeral publications. The question adverted to the general state of the Press, a matter very fit for the attention of the Attorney General, and it had particular reference to the personal attacks upon the Queen. The Attorney General answered, that he had not prosecuted, because he had had no particular instructions; but what, then, had become of her Majesty's Attorney General and Solicitor General? Had the hon. member for Middlesex, or some other economist, abolished the places of those officers, that he did not see either of them present on an occasion like this, when such infamous, unmanly, un-gentlemanlike, un-English-manlike libels were under discussion? [Mr. J. Williams made himself obvious to the Hon. Member.] He was happy to see, that one of them, at least, was in his place, and he might, in his presence, express his doubt whether, under such circumstances, it was either the duty or the practice of the law-officers of the Crown to wait for express instructions. The Attorney General had entered into a long, and he must call it a delusive, statement, into which he had introduced a sort of episode about himself, which might be very pleasant, although he could not congratulate the hon. and learned Gentleman on its logical connexion with the subject of discussion. The upshot of his speech was, that the Attorney General was in no case to prosecute, and he had attempted to strengthen his argument by reference to certain libels upon his Majesty when Duke of Clarence, which he (Sir Charles Wetherell), as was asserted, ought to have prosecuted. He doubted, however, whether he was in office at the time; and, at all events, at that date his hands were tied, and his teeth drawn. Who was it that called on the Attorney General to restrain the Press? Who was it that called on him to restrain the freedom of debate? No one that they had heard yet. The Attorney General said, that freedom of opinion ought not to be extinguished. He agreed with the Attorney General in that respect; but they ought to see whether there were not some who, acting on their own views of freedom of opinion, exercised the greatest tyranny towards others. The Attorney General said, that there had been a great degree of excitement on the subject of the Reform Bill; that was true. The excitement had been greater than, perhaps, was ever known on any question, and a large allowance must be made for that excitement; but, then, though he did not call on the Attorney General to look into every book and every sheet that was published, with a view to search out libels, yet, when the Attorney General asked, whether it was his duty to extinguish the Press, he (Sir Charles Wetherell) had a right to retaliate the proposition, and to say, that no man who filled the office of the hon. and learned Gentleman ought to suffer the House of Brunswick to be libelled as it had been. The hon. and learned Gentleman's arguments, if they were worth anything, came to this, that no ex officio information ever ought to be filed; for, if prosecutions were to cease because libels were too numerous to be encountered, then the very number and the very atrocity of the libels became the ground of their indemnity. No one would pretend to deny, that, in modern times, these cases of libellous publications were most gross and crying evils; yet the hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to fancy, that he had worked his salvation as Attorney General by having brought the authors of two libels into a Court of Justice. These two prosecutions were in the cases of Cobbett and Carlile, for recommending the burning of hay-stacks; and the Attorney General supposed that, because he had prosecuted these two cases, notwithstanding that the Crown was libelled, that the Queen was libelled, that the whole of the Royal Family were libelled, that both the Houses of Legislature were libelled—notwithstanding all this, the hon. and learned Gentleman thought he had done sufficient to work out his salvation as Attorney General. But the hon. and learned Gentleman was wrong in that respect; for, though recommending people to set barns on fire was a grievous offence, yet, in the preservation of the Monarchy—in the preservation of the monarch and of the family of the Monarch, and of the personal respect due to the Monarch and his family—the considerations were fully as important—fully as important as whether, under particular circumstances, a man had or had not burnt a barn or a haystack. But the learned Attorney General did not go by that rule; he put the British monarchy in one scale, and these recommendations to burn stacks of hay and straw in the other; and, though he must say, that the British monarchy was of more value than the haystacks, yet the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Attorney General, did not seem at all to entertain that opinion. "No," said his Majesty's Attorney General, "I care little for that; as long as I can get hold of men who have recommended others to burn three loads of sainfoin." That was the judgment of the Attorney General. But then, said the Attorney General, it was not usual nor proper for this House to call the attention of the law-officers of the Crown to cases of libel. Generally that was true; but there were cases in which that House had done so, where the Attorney General had appeared to allow them to pass too much unnoticed. The hon. and learned Attorney General, however, was not content with making these grounds of defence for himself, but he must needs lug, head, neck, and shoulders into this debate a noble and learned Lord who had had nothing to do with it. What had that noble and learned Lord done to call for this treatment at the hands of the Attorney General? Why was he thus treated? Why, but because he had been called on by his Majesty, in his character as a Privy Councillor, to do that which he was bound to do—yes, bound to do—bound on oath to do it—for every Privy Councillor took an oath to advise his Majesty to the best of his power, whenever he should be called on by his Majesty to do so. For doing that, he had been visited by the hon. and learned Attorney General, and in his absence also, most severely; and the hon. and learned Attorney General had, in that way, replenished the barrenness of his speech with a fertility which had nothing to do with it. It had been said, that the House of Lords ought not to recommend prosecutions for libel, for that these cases of libel might afterwards go up to that House upon writs of error; but that was no argument against individual Peers expressing their opinions on such questions; for if it were, then no Peer who was a Privy Councillor ought, in that character, to recommend a prosecution for libel, because, in his other character of Peer, he might afterwards have to adjudicate on that very prosecution. But did the Attorney General need such recommendation in order to make him see what was necessary? He was prepared to go as far as any man in allowing full liberty of opinion, but personal abuse and political intimidation were a sort of tyranny exercised by the Press, and were now grown so virulent, that he put them on quite a different ground, and altogether discarded them from the rule as to the liberty of the Press. Were not most of the articles now written in the papers, written, not to convince, but to intimidate—not to influence the judgment by reason, but to beat down opposition by threats—intimidating the King and the Peers for daring to exercise those rights for which the Attorney General professed himself the advocate. The Press had taken the liberty of dictating to the House of Peers the manner in which they should act, and to threaten the Crown with extermination, unless it gave way to the free exercise of the opinion of all others but itself. The Press, too, had forbidden either House of Legislature to exercise its influence against that one-sided leader of public opinion. Of all the tyrannies that had ever existed—the tyranny of military despots—the tyranny of the Romish Church—of all tyrannies, civil or religious, the greatest was that of the Press, which, while it proclaimed freedom of opinion on one side, threatened with danger, disgrace, and death, those who should use that freedom of opinion on the other. He appealed to every man, whether that was not the moral and practical object of the present state of the Press, and of the Attorney General's conduct with respect to it, whose argument amounted to this; that, because recently there had been a great degree of excitement in the public mind; because the liberty of the Press, at first not attacked, had afterwards grown larger, and then become monstrous, and from monstrous had become overwhelming; and because it had become overwhelming, they were to give way to it at once. He hoped that, at least the Queen's Attorney General did not maintain that doctrine. The papers had been attacking the Queen for the last four or five months; at first gently, and at a distance; but the Attorney General did nothing, because he thought there was no doing anything with them, and that, if he approached them, he should get a slap in the face. When asked, why he did not go on against them, his answer was, that it was a bad matter, which could not be mended. Indeed, then it seemed, that there were degrees of progression, and the public Press had, at length, been allowed to arrive at that degree, that it dealt out proscription and extermination to two royal personages, unless they partook of the exercise of the "free opinion" which the Press alone thought fit to tolerate. Then the House had heard again that hackneyed doctrine, that hackney, cabriolet, or hackney-coach doctrine (and he did not complain of it because it was hackneyed, for he knew that via trita was often via tuta); but they had heard again that night that hackney-coach argument, that prosecution gave publicity to libels where, if the Attorney General was asleep, they would not have been read. That was a common card trick—a common écarté trick of argument, which had often been used before, but which was now exploded and rendered ridiculous. What was the result of that argument, but that there ought to be no prosecutions for any libels whatever, however atrocious? He now came to another argument of the hon. and learned Attorney General, who had complained of the libels of The Times. He (Sir Charles Wetherell) had not named The Times; for it was not their Times; it was The Times of the other side; it was the Attorney General's Times. It was a paper conducted by a very able writer; it was supposed to have very official knowledge; it received contributions from the most brilliant pens in this country; it was a kind of miscellany to which Gentlemen on the other side of the House united to contribute; it prided itself on the merit of publishing papers and letters, which, constitutionally, no man could know—no; none but a Cabinet Minister. It was a paper which knew what passed between the King and his Privy Council; it was prophetic as to what was to happen. His hon. and learned friend never read The Times; of course he could not; but if he did, he would find in its columns in the morning what was to happen, and what could only constitutionally be known to Cabinet Ministers. It united a growing power to great intelligence, and to great facilities for acquiring information; and, as he had before said, it knew of papers with which it could not become acquainted but in the most improper and unconstitutional manner. But who attacked it? Not he (Sir Charles Wetherell) but the Attorney General. Why? Because it had attacked him in reporting the speech of a noble and learned Lord, who, in another place, had entered on the question whether the Attorney General had or had not done his duty. But, on this occasion, he (Sir Charles Wetherell) must step in to defend The Times, and when the subject was Lord Lyndhurst's doctrine, he must assert that the noble Lord had done nothing more than his duty. The statement made in The Times was defensible on every principle known to the Constitution; and if the Attorney General prosecuted the paper, though he was not fond of making an offer of his services, he would defend The Times from that prosecution. The papers had libelled the Queen—not for a moral, but a political offence. They must all recollect, that the hon. Baronet, not now in his place, had called on the Attorney General to prosecute a certain paper for its libels on the late Queen; and if he were here now, he would, no doubt, with his accustomed eloquence, demand the same interposition on behalf of her present Majesty. It was true, that it was not the duty of this House to look out for prosecutions; but if the Attorney General neglected his duty, it would become the duty of that House to do this; for otherwise, if the Attorney General was a Reformer, there would be no such thing as a prosecution for libel.

Mr. John Williams

I was a silent, though zealous supporter, of that Bill to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has alluded; and from that charge, in both respects, he is certainly exempt—for supporter of it he undoubtedly was not; but as to silence, in the number of his speeches the hon. and learned Gentleman defied the power of arithmetic; they were beyond the means of reckoning, and human patience lagged behind his continued and unremitting exertions. My hon. and learned friend has called on me, as Attorney General for the Queen, to prosecute the Papers. In the first place, he attributes to me an honour that I know not I possess. Very early in the recent events I had the honour of resigning my office, and how far that resignation was effectual I do not know. But, in the next place, suppose it was otherwise, and that I was the Queen's Attorney General, I am not aware that I should possess the power of filing an ex officio information, even for a libel upon her Majesty. If not, then why am I to be appealed to? The Queen, though in many respects unlike other married ladies in the distinct rights and privileges she enjoys, is but the first subject of the realm; and, if she comes into the King's Courts, must appear there as a subject; and it would, therefore, be impossible for me, without a sort of earnestness of zeal, resembling that which the hon. Gentleman has exhibited, to take the step which he, without the law, supposes I might have resorted to. Through the whole of his argument—which, indeed, has not been much curtailed, and which, as there was no question before the House, he has carried to an extent beyond what might have been anticipated even from him—he has supposed that prosecutions for libel, and an end of libelling, are convertible terms. In making that supposition he has been unmindful of all the events of past history—unmindful of the occurrences which took place in the times of other Attornies-general, of those who prosecuted the public Press, and of those who were on the best terms with it. He has forgotten the Attorney-generalship of Sir Vicary Gibbs, who had nearly one-half of the public Press under prosecution. Did those prosecutions produce the desired effect—did they put an end to the system of libels, or stifle the indignant spirit which the public felt for the number of prosecutions then instituted? Directly the reverse. On many of those prosecutions the Attorney General was foiled—the public spirit rose in proportion to the violence of the attacks, and, so far from those attacks producing the effect that was desired, they produced the directly contrary result. Take, Sir, the converse of this proposition—take the example of a noble and learned Lord, who was Attorney General subsequently to the time I have mentioned. I may be mistaken, but I believe I am not, when I say that he had a virgin Attorney-generalship, like an hon. friend opposite me, he filed no ex officio informations whatever; and I will undertake to say, that no change more observable than that between his time and the time of the Attorney-generalship of Sir Vicary Gibbs could possibly be imagined. The circumstance of Sir John Copley's moderation and forbearance, in contrast with that of his predecessor, produced that effect which the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite thinks is to be produced by an over-zealous discharge of duty, but which I confess I think is not to be produced by that cause, for such conduct I believe to be more likely to fan the rising flame than to produce that quiet which he supposes. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman think that no allowance is to be made for a period of excitement? Does he believe it to be possible for the people to feel strongly and the Press to be silent? that the people should have strong feelings, should use strong language, and strong expressions, but that the Press should lag behind them? Does he wish it, does he desire it? If he does, I tell him that it is impossible, and would be improper; and I should have thought that his experience and knowledge of philosophy would have taught him that such an extraordinary difference, instead of assuaging, would have promoted and increased the irritation. I must ask my hon. and learned friend, as he puts questions to me with such freedom, whether it has never occurred to him, that, when any strong feeling exists, it may be continued by opposition, which is now known to be ineffectual, but which is still offensive? Cannot he find, and cannot the noble Lord discover, that it is just conceivable, that the time has arrived, when, in a case of this kind, the sort of hostility to which I have alluded may take away all the grace from concession, and that the effect of this hostility will be, to make the people believe that, instead of this measure being granted readily and willingly, it has been extorted from the parties who have granted it? The lecture which the hon. and learned Gentleman has read, may produce its effects upon my hon. and learned friend, who can file an ex officio information, but not upon me, for I cannot.

Sir Charles Wetherell

, in explanation, said, that he never asserted the Queen's Attorney General could file an ex officio information, but he might have gone to the King's Attorney General, and asked him to file one.

Sir Robert Peel

I think that an unfortunate departure from the usual practice has been made this evening by the Attorney General, who, in answer to a simple question, has delivered a speech which, from its tenor, must clearly have been matured in expectation of my noble friend's question. If, indeed, any attack had been made on the Attorney General by my noble friend in introducing this question, the learned Gentleman might have been justified in the course he has pursued; but, nothing could be more temperate or more courteous than the manner in which my noble friend brought these newspaper paragraphs under the notice of the hon. and learned Gentleman—paragraphs, too, which he himself admits to be libels on the highest persons in the realm. So courteous, indeed, was the manner of my noble friend, that I believe he did not even ask for an immediate answer to his question. In one part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech I entirely concur. There is no man who has had official experience connected with the Press, who can fail to be sensible of the danger of any crusade rashly directed against it. There are considerations of delicacy and prudence always to be attended to; and if you were to produce a hundred libels of the most disgusting nature, and at the same time show me, that the Attorney General had not prosecuted one of them, I certainly should not, from those two premises alone, draw the conclusion that he must necessarily have neglected his duty. In cases of obscene, or irreligious, or seditious publications, there are other considerations to be weighed beyond the simple one whether the strict letter of the law has or has not been violated. There is a question of political discretion as well as one of mere law. There are undoubtedly cases in which it is absolutely necessary that the Government should appeal to the law of the land, lest continued impunity should raise the belief that scandalous libels are viewed with indifference by the Government. In some cases it would be the duty of the Government, even if Ministers foresaw that a Jury would acquit, to throw that responsibility on the Jury; and I have known instances in which, when the law officers have, from the temper of the times, anticipated acquittals, I have signified to them the determination of the Cabinet, that they must nevertheless prosecute. I do not say that such a case has now arisen; I am only arguing on the general principle: but I entreat the Government to consider that principle, and ask itself seriously, if the time has not at length arrived when forbearance on their parts may produce greater evil than acquittal by a Jury; whether it will not amount to a notification that the libeller may henceforth enjoy complete and systematic impunity. There is danger in the impression, that, the more atrocious the libel, the more secure will it be from punishment, from an unwillingness to increase its publicity by prosecution. The part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech which I heard with the deepest regret was, the avowal of that opinion which was not necessarily extorted from him on the present occasion, and which, if it generally prevails in the King's councils, will be not only fatal to this Government, but to the existence of all Government. The doctrine which has been laid down by the hon. and learned Gentleman is no other than this—that no man ought to be prosecuted for the publication of his opinions, provided those opinions are sincere. Sir, I am sure that real and effective Government cannot co-exist with the practical adoption of that doctrine. Sincere opinions! Who is to determine whether opinions are sincere or not? The hon. and learned Gentleman said, in another part of his speech this evening, that he could not dive into the hearts of men—that he could not be a spy on their secret sentiments. True, but how, then, is he to know, when he meets with a libel full of sedition, whether the author of it be sincere in his opinions? Such a libel may be written by a man whose avowed object is confusion and anarchy, but who may be sincere in holding opinions which he knows will lead to the disorganization of society, and who will propagate them with the more zeal because he sincerely entertains them. But where is the test by which sincerity in opinions is to be tried? Is the mere avowal of sincerity to shield a libeller from prosecution? The sincerity of a man's opinions has nothing whatever to do with the policy or the justice of prosecution. The question is, whether the doctrines themselves are dangerous to the peace and happiness of society, and if they are so, it is the duty of the King's Government to shield society from the consequences of the public propagation of those doctrines. The hon. and learned Gentleman has announced a great latitude of opinion: with that opinion, so far as his mere personal capacity is concerned, I do not quarrel; but I complain, that the learned Gentleman has assumed the robe of the Attorney General for the purpose of paralysing the just authority of his office. It is the official station which he holds that makes his doctrines dangerous. Entertaining high respect for the learned Gentleman's private character—entertaining, also, high respect for his consistency in public life, yet I cannot conceive how he is able to reconcile the sentiments which he now avows, with the duties which devolve on him as the King's Attorney General. I would take the liberty of putting this question to him: I wish to ask him, what he thinks would have been the fate of the present Government of France if that government had acted on the doctrine that the publication of any opinion whatever, provided only that it was sincere, ought to be permitted? Suppose the learned Gentleman, on the establishment of the government of Louis Philippe, had been appointed that monarch's Attorney-general, would he have acted on the same principles as those which he now avows? or, if he had, would that government have withstood the reiterated attacks of the Press? Does he mean to assert, that every sincere Carlist and every sincere Bonapartist ought to be allowed to assail with impunity the new government of France, and to encourage the people to open resistance? I will venture to say, that that government would not have existed for three months if it had pursued that course. But so far from attempting to act on that doctrine, the French ministry found it to be absolutely necessary, notwithstanding the extreme principles of liberality professed by that ministry, notwithstanding that M. Perier (the head of the ministry) had for many years been the determined opponent of the different governments of Charles 10th—I say the French ministry considered it absolutely necessary, for the salvation of the monarchy, to institute no less, I believe, than three or four hundred prosecutions against the Press in one year. And yet surely these prosecutions cannot be attributed to any desire on the part of M. Perier to control the liberty of the Press. The foundation of the present French government was laid in resistance to the illegal attempt of the former government to subdue the Press. But M. Perier said, and wisely, in my judgment, "If these attempts are made, both by the revolutionists and the Carlists, to excite the public mind against us, we will not have recourse to illegal ordinances, but we will have recourse to the Juries of the country and the laws of the land." And yet, all these opinions published in the French ultra papers, subversive of the government of Louis Philippe may be very sincere opinions. I do not doubt that the revolutionary papers are sincere, as well as the Carlist papers; but surely it is monstrous, to contend that sincerity in hostility ought to shield the enemies of a government from the enforcement of the ordinary law. The hon. and learned Gentleman has given us an account of the manner in which he acted when sitting in the capacity of a Judge. He has told us, that he had before him a culprit charged with a most scandalous publication, revolting to the best feelings of nature—not merely calling in question the truths of religion, but calling them in question in a manner so indecent, that no rational being could listen to either the substance or form of the publication without the utmost indignation and disgust. Now I can well understand that the hon. and learned Gentleman might doubt the policy of prosecuting this man—the policy of bringing these doctrines under the notice of the public. But this is not what the hon. and learned Gentleman said. He referred to the length of the man's imprisonment, and considered the sentence passed by himself, though warranted by law, to be morally unjust. He declares, that he felt uneasy during the continuance of the confinement of the man, and experienced great relief in his mind when the term of that imprisonment expired. The King's Attorney General publicly avows, that he considers it morally unjust to bring before the public tribunals, and punish acccording to law, those who sincerely entertain and publish opinions offensive to religion, or dangerous to the existence of government. If this be so, I foresee the establishment of a more sordid and degrading tyranny than any to which society has ever yet been exposed. To tell us that there is impunity for any libel against religion or Government, provided only that the opinion expressed is sincerely entertained—is, in other words, to tell us, that the grossest injuries may be committed—grosser than any inflicted by the confiscation of property—grosser even, to a man of honour, than any that can threaten his life—and that every hope of redress is excluded. Sir, this is a novel, and, I believe, a most dangerous doctrine. The hon. and learned Gentleman has referred to the early periods of his life, and has told us, that he derived from high authority those lessons of constitutional learning which he has observed in his subsequent course. But let me ask him, did Mr. Fox, Mr. Sheridan, or Lord Erskine, think that, because men sincerely held opinions, it was, therefore, perfectly safe to allow them to promulgate them without notice or prosecution? Does the learned Gentleman recollect the libel of Mr. John Reeves against the two Houses of Parliament? If not, I can inform him, that the persons then in Opposition never sanctioned the doctrine, that because Mr. Reeves really entertained the opinion that the House of Lords and the House of Commons were branches which might be lopped off without injury to the monarchy, which was the trunk, he ought, therefore, to go unquestioned for giving publicity to such a doctrine. If I remember right, Mr. Sheridan made two motions on that subject; the one was, that the libel should be burnt by the common hangman, and the other was, that Mr. Reeves should be prosecuted by the Attorney General. In vain did Mr. Reeves say, that he was sincere in his opinion; he was prosecuted at the instance of the learned Gentleman's high authorities, and in spite of his sincerity! It is, certainly, true, that the learned Gentleman somewhat qualified his doctrine by saying, that the sincere opinions must not excite to acts of violence. But doctrines subversive of society may easily be propagated, which at the same time shall not incite to direct violence. For instance, it has very lately been maintained, that the time for putting an end to the discipline of the soldier has come. The men who entertain this opinion, publicly proclaim, that it is not the duty of the army to array itself on the side of the law; and shall such persons with safety be told, that they may publish this doctrine, and do what they can to induce the soldier to forget his duty, and violate his allegiance? Are we, too, to be told, that it is not the duty of the Attorney General to stand forward and appeal to the laws of the country in such a case? I cannot but deeply lament when I hear such doctrines promulgated by those in authority. It is clear, that it is not merely the Reform Bill that we are engaged in passing. It is not merely this one experiment which we are going to make on the Constitution of the country—an experiment which even its advocates say, though necessary, is dangerous. No; what I lament even more than the passing of the Reform Bill is, that when the public mind is excited, the Government does not take measures, measures that are quite compatible with the success of Reform, to allay the public fever, and assuage the hot-headed violence that is abroad. In the present state of the public Press, the Attorney General has expressed himself in a manner wholly uncalled for, and stated views and sentiments that, in the Attorney General, cannot be otherwise than mischievous. He has stated, that it is painful to his conscience to sentence a notorious offender for a gross libel against religion, because that libel might, by chance, contain the offender's sincere opinions. By such expressions as these, he has tied his own hands, and will be incapable of instituting with effect any prosecutions that may hereafter be necessary. Let it not be supposed that I am bringing any charge against the learned Gentleman for his official conduct heretofore. So far from it, I witnessed with pleasure his manly prosecutions of Mr. Carlile and Mr. Cobbett; though I cannot help observing, that he did not then stop to inquire whether the libels which he prosecuted, contained the sincere opinions of those writers. No; he only inquired whether the libels were mischievous in their tendency. He inquired into their probable effect—he found they were calculated to encourage incendiarism, and he, therefore, prosecuted the authors. What was the result of those prosecutions? One was convicted. It is true the other escaped; but under what circumstances? "Eleven of the Jury," says the hon. and learned Gentleman (though, by the way, I do not know how he got at that fact) "were for a conviction; but the twelfth, who was a friend of Mr. Cobbett's, starved the eleven into acquiescing in his opinion." But surely such an accident as this is no argument against future prosecutions; and to be deterred from prosecuting, because, by accident, there has been one man on a Jury able to control his fellows into an improper verdict, is to be deterred by a phantom which should not be allowed to terrify a manly mind. I cannot help hoping that the opinions expressed by the hon. and learned Gentleman, have been expressed incautiously and without mature deliberation. At all events I can assure him, that nothing would give me greater pleasure, than to learn that I have misunderstood what he said; for, in the present times, and in those which I foresee will succeed the present, I cannot conceive any opinion more dangerous to the government of the country than the doctrine, that a man may not only maintain, but propagate, any principles among the deluded and infuriated multitude, provided he sincerely entertains them.

The Attorney General

I hope I may be allowed to trespass on the indulgence of the House, as I cannot help explaining, somewhat fully, that which the right hon. Baronet has most grievously misunderstood. I never said that, in my judgment, sincerity of opinion was to protect a man from prosecution; on the contrary, I said that I could not dive into men's hearts; I also said, that it was not my personal feeling that was to regulate this matter; but my feeling of what was due to the security of the public and to the honour of the Crown. More than this is unnecessary; and, while I entertain these principles, which I believe to be as just as I know them to be sincere, I shall not take the advice of the right hon. Gentleman (though I receive it with all the candour that is due to it), to resign my office into hands in which the duties of it may not, perhaps, be more conscientiously discharged, even though the right hon. Baronet himself should appoint my successor. I do not know what his opinion of the duties of an Attorney General may be, but my opinion is this—that he is to do all that in his conscience he believes to be right, for the purpose of protecting the peace of the country and the honour of the Crown. The right hon. Gentleman has asked me my opinion of the conduct of the French government. In the first place, I beg to say, that there is no sort of parallel between a new government emerging from the revolution of the barricades—between the ancient and long-established government of England, and the new government of France; but I believe that, instead of the latter having been strengthened, it has been materially injured by the multitude of prosecutions that the French ministry have thought proper to institute. As to the example set by Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan in the case of Mr. John Reeves, I think, at all events, that that is not an example in favour of such prosecutions, and, least of all, by order of the House of Commons. I believe that it is now very generally felt, that it would have been much better to have left Mr. Reeves's case alone, and to have let him go forward in his foolish extravagance without molestation: the prosecution, however, arose from the folly and heat of the party feeling of the day, which, I must say, was provoked by the still greater folly of the party feeling evinced by the other side. I, therefore, again beg to say, that I distinctly disavow that which the right hon. Gentleman has assigned to me, though I might, in my ill command of language, have led the right hon. Gentleman to the conclusion to which he came. Let me also remind the right hon. Gentleman, that I looked to other consequences besides that which he has quoted, as if it had been the solitary one on which I rested my argument; for, though I said that sincerity of opinion was one of those circumstances which would make me reluctant to prosecute, yet I only mentioned it as one of numerous others which would weigh with me, as Attorney General, before I committed the honour of the Crown to the uncertain issue of a legal prosecution. Indeed, I may say, that I mentioned all the objections which the right hon. Gentleman has himself laid down, and particularly that of giving a greater publicity, and thereby increasing the atrocity of the venom. I admit that, throughout the whole of this debate, we have, in a manner, been letting out secrets; and I, therefore, think it would have been better if such a question had not been put in this House as that proposed by the noble Lord (Lord Stormont); for even the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman himself—built as they are on official experience—are encouragements to the repetitions of libel. I, therefore, think that it would be much better not to discuss these matters, whereby we shall be avoiding, as far as we can, the introduction of them to the notice of the public. The right hon. Gentleman has also thought proper to make a sort of reprehension on me for entering so largely on this subject, when it only came before the House in the shape of a question proposed to me—I admit, in a most courteous manner—by the noble Lord. But I would ask the noble Lord himself, whether, after what has been said in this House and the other House of Parliament, and whether, after his having given notice of this very question, it would not have been a surprise to him, and an apparent dereliction of duty in me, if I had not taken the opportunity of stating some of the reasons which, in my view, make these prosecutions unadvisable? I really think, after all, that there is no great difference of opinion between us on the principle of the thing: we have only stated some considerations, which have more or less strength according to our different situations; but I do not feel that, in any thing (except as to the sincerity of a man's opinions), I differ from the right hon. Gentleman—unless, indeed, in degree. With respect to the particular case I mentioned to the House, I did so because I thought it was a strong illustration of the want of power on the part of the Attorney General to put an end to a libel; for, notwithstanding the abhorrent nature of the publication, the public feeling was far from going along with the sentence, and I myself (as I must again repeat) was glad when the term of the man's imprison- ment had expired; not that I believe the sentence was unjust, but because I felt that he was a young man just come to town, who probably did not know what he was doing, and who was led away by a false enthusiasm in an honest belief of the sincerity of his cause. I now only have to thank the House for its indulgence in having listened to me, and again to repeat, that, as Attorney General, I am giving up no power that belongs to the Crown. I am only standing up for a careful and forbearing use of it, which, I believe, will not only conduce to the protection of property, but to the well-being of the whole community.

Sir Robert Peel

I think that all who heard the hon. and learned Gentleman will confirm me in my impression, that he laid down the doctrine that the sincerity of opinions was an apology for a libel, without any qualification whatever, excepting that the libel must not incite to actual violence. I certainly recognise a distinction between the new government of France and the ancient government of England; but no distinction that is available to the learned Gentleman's argument on the injustice of punishing sincere opinions, and I can see many circumstances, even in this ancient government, which may call for the active interference of the law for the purpose of repressing the too great licentiousness of the Press.

Mr. James E. Gordon

thought it would have been quite inconsistent of his Majesty's Government to turn round and institute prosecutions against the Press, when so much had been done by them and their supporters in that House to inflame the public mind. He believed hon. Members were not acquainted with the violent and scandalous libels which were every day published. Some spoke of his Majesty being under petticoat government, and advised the people not to put their trust in princes. Her Majesty they spoke of as bringing with her all the political infection of her tyrannous country. Royalty was denounced, and the block was said to be the best place for kings. The cry of others was, "Down with the Priests and the Lords," and, conjoined with this, the people were told that the nobility and gentry unjustly took their property from them. The hon. Member then read several other violent extracts from publications, the titles of which he did not mention, and concluded by stating that he should every week bring down extracts from such of those publications as came under his notice, and, after holding them up to the reprobation of the House, the responsibility would rest on his Majesty's Government if they did not prosecute the libellers, and put an end to such inflammatory and seditious publications.

Lord Althorp

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not persevere in reading those papers to the House once a week; for he very truly says that it is probable that a great number of the Members of this House do not know even of the existence of the Papers from which he is to quote; to which I may add, that it is also probable that a great majority of the people of England are equally ignorant of them; and, therefore, if the hon. Gentleman, week after week, reads all the most objectionable passages, he will be in a fair way of giving them a prosperous sale. Agreeing in much of what has fallen from the right hon. member for Tamworth, I think that one of the dangers of prosecuting these libels will be, to give the defendant an opportunity of making an impudent defence in a Court of Justice, whereby the publicity of his paper will be very much increased. But there are other circumstances which we are also bound to take into consideration—the state of the excitement in the country at the present moment, for instance; though, at the same time, I admit, that whatever that excitement may be on general political subjects, it cannot at all justify the personal attacks which have lately been made. I am sure that in making this statement I am only expressing the general feeling of the House; but if we once enter into a crusade of prosecutions of this sort, so far from doing good to the cause of government, morality, or freedom of opinion, so called, I am afraid that we shall be inflicting on all these a most serious injury.

Mr. Hunt

thanked the hon. member for Dundalk, on behalf of the proprietors of the papers he had taken so much pains to bring into notice. As to Mr. Hetherington, with whom he was intimately acquainted, he could take on himself to say, that that Gentleman was very sincere in his opinions. The Attorney General had given him infinite pleasure by the speech which he had delivered that night. He never thought to have lived to hear such a speech from an Attorney General. He went the whole length which the hon. and learned Gentleman went; and his speech had given him (Mr. Hunt) so much satisfaction, that he could be almost content to die without hearing another speech. As to the person who had been sentenced by the Attorney General when Common Serjeant, he was one of Mr. Carlile's men, named Humphrey Boyle, and it was not the severity of the sentence which had given dissatisfaction, but the man made a very bold defence, and some persons supposed that the sentence was more severe because of the boldness with which the defendant maintained his opinions. Now, he wished to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman whether he had not increased the man's imprisonment, because he had made what was called an impudent defence. [The Attor-General: Certainly not.] Well, at all events, it had so been reported. He also wished to know why the prosecution against Mr. Cobbett had been suspended? Was it not because Mr. Hume had written to Earl Grey, to dissuade him from the prosecution, because Mr. Cobbett was so strenuous an advocate for the Reform Bill? He understood that it was; and if the Attorney General would not afford any information on the subject, he would, some day move for a copy of the letter. The effect of suspending Mr. Cobbett's prosecution was, that Mr. Carlile was tempted to write a still stronger article the following week, for which he was prosecuted and convicted. Only a week back, and coaches, omnibuses and all were christened Adelaide. Half the boys and girls, too, who were born were christened Adelaide; and now the name was all at once wiped out from the omnibuses, and the boys and girls were ashamed of it. He remembered when he came first to London—he was then fourteen years of age—that he had to walk from the Saracen's Head to Newgate, and in the Old Bailey he perceived a very bad smell. He found that this arose from the burning of a woman who had been found guilty of coining farthings. There were no laws to exempt females from punishment, and if the Queen had done any wrong—though he did not say she had—she might be liable to punishment. At least there was nothing, as the hon. Member said, unmanly, offensive, or ungentlemanly, in calling a woman to account. He would not trespass further on the attention of the House, but sit down, thanking his Majesty's Government and the Attorney General for having acted, as he thought, a very prudent part in abstaining from prosecution.

Mr. Shaw

congratulated the Attorney General on the compliments he had received from the hon. member for Preston. When it went forth that the member for Preston approved of the course taken by the Attorney General, in not prosecuting the Press, it would no doubt be highly advantageous to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The compliments must be doubly valuable, inasmuch as the hon. Member had accompanied them by some observations equally laudatory on Mr. Hetherington, the Editor of The Poor Man's Guardian, a paper published, as Mr. Hetherington expressly declared "in defiance of the law, in order to try the power of right against might." He mentioned this, because this was one of the publications which fell within the Attorney General's own description of publication which ought to be prosecuted, for it was an incitement to crime. With respect to the subject under discussion, he was of Blackstone's opinion as to libel, and thought that the best way to preserve the liberty of the Press was to restrain its licentiousness.

Mr. John Campbell

said, he should not presume to offer any advice to the Attorney General, as to what publications should be selected for prosecution—that was no part of the duty of the House of Commons. If an Attorney General misconducted himself, let a charge be brought against him, and let the House deal with that charge as justice should require; but it appeared to him that that House would not only waste time, but would act most inexpediently if, in that preliminary stage, it expressed any opinion that certain publications ought or ought not to be prosecuted. The Members of that House were not the constitutional judges of such a question. When an officer of the Crown neglected his duty, then would be the time for the House of Commons to interfere; but to point out such matters would only prevent the officers of the Crown from doing that duty which, he was sure, would be performed creditably to the individual to whose hands it was confided, and advantageously to the country.