Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

vants of the crown, with a laudable eye to the investigation of the subject which now engages us, no one fact appeared which showed any plan, any object, any leader ;--since, out of fortyfour thousand persons who signed the petition of the Protestants, not one was to be found among those who were convicted, tried, or even apprehended on suspicion ;-and since, out of all the felons who were let loose from prisons, and who assisted in the destruction of our property, not a single wretch was to be found who could even attempt to save his own life by the plausible promise of giving evidence to-day.

What can overturn such a proof as this? Surely a good man might, without superstition, believe that such an union of events was something more than natural, and that the Divine Providence was watchful for the protection of innocence and truth.

I may now, therefore, relieve you from the pain of hearing me any longer, and be myself relieved from speaking on a subject which agitates and distresses me. Since Lord George Gordon stands clear of every hostile act or purpose against the legislature of his country, or the properties of his fellow-subjects-since the whole tenor of his conduct repels the belief of the traitorous intention charged by the indictment—my task is finished. I shall make no address to your passions- I will not remind you of the long and rigorous imprisonment he has suffered—I will not speak to you of his great youth, of his illustrious birth, and of his uniformly animated and generous zeal in Parliament for the constitution of his country. Such topics might be useful in the balance of a doubtful case; yet, even then, I should have trusted to the honest hearts of Englishmen to have felt them without excitation. At present, the plain and rigid rules of justice and truth are sufficient to entitle me to your verdict.

Speech on the Trial of Lord George Gordon.

PRINCIPLES OF THE LAW OF LIBEL.

Gentlemen, the question you have therefore to try upon all this matter is extremely simple. It is neither more nor less than this : At a time when the charges against Mr. Hastings were, by the implied consent of the Commons, in every hand and on every table-when, by their managers, the lightning of eloquence was incessantly consuming him, and flashing in the eyes of the public --when every man was with perfect impunity saying, and writing, and publishing just what he pleased of the supposed plunderer and devastator of nation;---would it have been criminal in

Mr. Hastings himself to have reminded the public that he was a native of this free land, entitled to the common protection of her justice, and that he had a defence in his turn to offer to them, the outlines of which he implored them in the mean time to receive, as an antidote to the unlimited and unpunished poison in circulation against him? This is, without color or exaggeration, the true question you are to decide. Because I assert, without the hazard of contradiction, that if Mr. Hastings himself could have stood justified or excused in your eyes for publishing this volume in his own defence, the author, if he wrote it bona fide to defend him, must stand equally excused and justified; and if the author be justified, the publisher cannot be criminal, unless you had evidence that it was published by him with a different spirit and intention from those in which it was written. The question, therefore, is correctly what I just now stated it to be-Could Mr. Hastings have been condemned to infamy for writing this book ?

Gentlemen, I tremble with indignation to be driven to put such a question in England. Shall it be endured, that a subject of this country may be impeached by the Commons for the transactions of twenty years—that the accusation shall spread as wide as the region of letters—that the accused shall stand, day after day and year after year, as a spectacle before the public, which shall be kept in a perpetual state of inflammation against him; yet that he shall not, without the severest penalties, be permitted to submit anything to the judgment of mankind in his defence ? If this be law (which it is for you to-day to decide), such a man has no trial. That great hall, built by our fathers for English justice, is no longer a court, but an altar; and an Englishman, instead of being judged in it by God and his country, is a victim and a sacrifice.

One word more, gentlemen, and I have done. Every human tribunal ought to take care to administer justice, as we look hereafter to have justice administered to ourselves. Upon the principle on which the attorney-general prays sentence upon my client, God have mercy upon us! Instead of standing before him in judgment with the hopes and consolations of Christians, we must call upon the mountains to cover us; for which of us can present, for omniscient examination, a pure, unspotted, and faultless course ? But I humbly expect that the benevolent Author of our being will judge us as I have been pointing out for your example. Holding up the great volume of our lives in his hands, and regarding the general scope of them, if he discovers benevolence, charity, and good will to man beating in the

*

heart, where he alone can look—if he finds that our conduct, though often forced out of the path by our infirmities, has been in general well directed, his all-searching eye will assuredly never pursue us into those little corners of our lives, much less will his justice select them for punishment, without the general context of our existence, by which faults may be sometimes found to have grown out of virtues, and very many of our heaviest offences to have been grafted by human imperfection upon the best and kindest of our affections. No, gentlemen, believe me, this is not the course of divine justice, or there is no truth in the Gospel of Heaven. If the general tenor of a man's conduct be such as I have represented it, he may walk through the shadow of death, with all his faults about him, with as much cheerfulness as in the common paths of life, because he knows that, instead of a stern accuser to expose before the Author of his nature those frail passages, which, like the scored matter in the book before you, checkers the volume of the brightest and best spent life, his mercy will obscure them from the eye of his purity, and our repentance blot them out forever.

Speech on the Trial of Stockdale.

THE BRIGHTEST ORNAMENTS OF OUR RACE CHRISTIANS.

How any man can rationally vindicate the publication of such a book, in a country where the Christian religion is the very foundation of the law of the land, I am totally at a loss to conceive, and have no ideas for the discussion of. How is a tribunal, whose whole jurisdiction is founded upon the solemn belief and practice of what is here denied as falsehood, and reprobated as impiety, to deal with such an anomalous defence ? Upon what principle is it even offered to the court, whose authority is contemned and mocked at? If the religion proposed to be called in question is not previously adopted in belief and solemnly acted upon, what authority has the court to pass any judgment at all of acquittal or condemnation? Why am I now, or upon any other occasion, to submit to his lordship's authority? Why am I now, or at any time, to address twelve of my equals, as I am now addressing you, with reverence and submission ? Under what sanction are the witnesses to give their evidence, without which there can be no trial ? Under what obligations can I call upon you, the jury representing your country, to administer justice ? Surely upon no other than that you are sworn to administer it under the oaths you have taken. The whole judicial fabric, from

[blocks in formation]
[ocr errors]

ne can look-if he finds that our conduet

, out of the path by our infirmities, has been ted, his all-searching eye will assuredly never little corners of our lives, much less will bis for punishment, without the general contest which faults may be sometimes found to bave s, and very many of our heaviest offences to by human imperfection upon the best and tions. No, gentlemen, believe me, this is not

justice, or there is no truth in the Gospel d general tenor of a man's conduct be seek ted it, he may walk through the shadow of

faults about him, with as much cheerfulness aths of life, because he knows that, instead of expose before the Author of his nature those -h, like the scored matter in the book before olume of the brightest and best spent life

, lis them from the eye of his purity, and our res out forever.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

the king's sovereign authority to the lowest office of magistracy, has no other foundation. The whole is built, both in form and substance, upon the same oath of every one of its ministers to do justice, as God shall help them hereafter. What God? And what hereafter? That God, undoubtedly, who has commanded kings to rule, and judges to decree justice; who has said to witnesses, not only by the voice of nature, but in revealed commandments, Thou shalt not bear false testimony against thy neighbor; and who has enforced obedience to them by the revelation of the unutterable blessings which shall attend their observance, and the awful punishments which shall await upon their transgression.

But it seems this is an age of reason, and the time and the person are at last arrived that are to dissipate the crrors which have overspread the past generations of ignorance. The believers in Christianity are many, but it belongs to the few that are wise to correct their credulity. Belief is an act of reason, and superior reason may, therefore, dictate to the weak. In running the mind over the long list of sincere and devout Christians, I cannot help lamenting that Newton had not lived to this day, to have had his shallowness filled up with this new flood of light. But the subject is too awful for irony. I will speak plainly and directly. Newton was a Christian! Newton, whose mind burst forth from the fetters fastened by nature upon our finite conceptions; Newton, whose science was truth, and the foundation of whose knowledge of it was philosophy, not those visionary and arrogant presumptions which too often usurp its name, but philosophy resting upon the basis of mathematics, which, like figures, cannot lie ; Newton, who carried the line and rule to the uttermost barriers of creation, and explored the principles by which all created matter exists and is held together.

But this extraordinary man, in the mighty reach of his mind, overlooked, perhaps, the errors which a minuter investigation of the created things on this earth might have taught him. What shall then be said of the great Mr. Boyle, who looked into the organic structure of all matter, even to the inanimate substances which the foot treads on? Such a man may be supposed to have been equally qualified with Mr. Paine to look through nature up to nature's God; yet the result of all his contemplations was the most confirmed and devout belief in all which the other holds in contempt, as despicable and drivelling superstition.

But this error might, perhaps, arise from a want of due attention to the foundations of human judgment, and the structure of that understanding which God has given us for the investigation of truth. Let that question be answered by Mr. Locke, who, to

15*

[graphic]

T ORNAMENTS OF OUR RACE CHRISTIANS.

[ocr errors]

rationally vindicate the publication of sah ry where the Christian religion is the very -w of the land, I am totally at a loss to et deas for the discussion of. How is a

bere denied as falsehood, and reprobated

such an anomalous defence ? Upon rest offered to the court, whose authority is to

jously adopted in belief and solemnly acted

his lordship’s authority? Why am I Dor, ddress twelve of my equals

, as I am not reverence and submission ? Under what

Under what obligations can I call up ating your country, to administer justice than that you are sworn to administer it ve taken. The whole judicial fabrie

, from

the highest pitch of devotion and adoration, was a ChristianMr. Locke, whose office was to detect the errors of thinking by going up to the very fountains of thought, and to direct into the proper track of reasoning the devious mind of man, by showing him its whole process, from the first perceptions of sense to the last conclusions of ratiocination; putting a rein upon false opinion by practical rules for the conduct of human judgment.

But these men, it may be said, were only deep thinkers, and lived in their closets, unaccustomed to the traffic of the world and to the laws which practically regulate mankind. Gentlemen, in the place where we now sit to administer the justice of this great country, the never-to-be-forgotten Sir Matthew Hale presided, whose faith in Christianity is an exalted commentary upon its truth and reason, and whose life was a glorious example of its fruits; whose justice, drawn from the pure fountain of the Christian dispensation, will be, in all ages, a subject of the highest reverence and admiration.

But it is said by this author that the Christian fable is but the tale of the more ancient superstitions of the world, and may be easily detected by a proper understanding of the mythologies of the heathens. Did Milton understand those mythologies ? Was he less versed than Mr. Paine in the superstitions of the world ? No;—they were the subject of his immortal song, and, though shut out from all recurrence to them, he poured them forth from the stores of a memory rich with all that man ever knew, and laid them in their order as the illustration of that real and exalted faith, the unquestionable source of that fervid genius which has cast a sort of shade upon most of the other works of man

“He pass'd the flaming bounds of place and time:
The living Throne, the sapphire blaze,
Where angels tremble while they gaze,
He saw: but, blasted with excess of light,

Clos d his eyes in endless night." But it was the light of the body only that was extinguished : “The celestial light shone inward, and enabled him to justify the ways

of God to man.” Thus you find all that is great, or wise, or splendid, or illustrious, amongst created beings; all the minds gifted beyond ordinary nature, if not inspired by its universal Author for the advancement and dignity of the world, though divided by distant ages and by clashing opinions, yet joining as it were in one sublime chorus to celebrate the truths of Christianity, laying upon its holy altars the never-fading offerings of their immortal wisdom.

« AnteriorContinuar »