Page images





It has fallen to my lot, either fortunately or unfortu. nately, as the event may be, to rise as counsel for my client on this most important and momentous occasion. I appear before you, my lords, in consequence of a writ issued by his majesty, commanding that cause be shown to this, his court, why his subject has been deprived of his liberty, and upon the cause shown in obedience to this writ, it is my duty to address you on the most awful question, if awfulness be to be judged by consequences and events, on which you have been ever called upon to decide. Sorry am I that the task has not been confided to more adequate powers ; but, feeble as they are, they will at least not shrink from it-I move you therefore, that Mr. Justice Johnson be released from illegal imprisonment.

I cannot but observe the sort of scenic preparation with which this sad drama is sought to be brought forward. In part I approve it ; in part it excites my disgust and indignation. I am glad to find that the attorney and solicitor generals, the natural and official prosecu. tors for the state, do not appear; and I infer from their absence, that his excellency the lord lieutenant, disclaims any personal concern in this execrable transaction. I think it does him much honour; it is a conduct that equally agrees with the dignity of his character, and the feelings of his heart. To his private virtues, whenever he is left to their influence, I willingly concur in

giving the most unqualified tribute of respect. And I do firmly believe, it is with no small regret that he even suffers his name to be formally made use of, in avow. ing for a return of one of the judges of the land with as much difference and nonchalance as if he were a beast of the plough. I observe, too, the dead silence into which the public is frowned by authority for the sad occasion. No man dares to mutter; no newspaper dares to whisper that such a question is afloat. It seems an inquiry among the tombs, or rather in the shades beyond them.

Ibant sola sub nocte per umbram.

I am glad it is so—I am glad of this factitious dumbness : for if murmurs dared to become audible, my voice would be too feeble to drown them; but when all is hushed—when nature sleeps

Cum quies mortalibus ægris,

The weakest voice is heard the shepherd's whistle shoots across the listening darkness of the interminable heath, and gives notice that the wolf is upon his walk, and the same gloom and stillness that tempt the monster to come abroad, facilitate the communication of the warning to beware. Yes, through that silence the voice shall be heard ; yes, through that silence the shepherd shall be put upon his guard ; yes, through that silence shall the felon savage be chased into the toil. My lords, I feel myself cheered and impressed by the composed and dignified attention with which I see you are disposed to hear me on the most important question that has ever been subjected to your consideration; the most important to the dearest rights of the human being; the most deeply interesting and animating that can beat in his heart, or burn upon his tongue.-Oh how recreating is it to feel that occasions may arise in which the soul of man may reassume her pretensions; in which she hears the voice of nature whisper to her, os homini sublime dedicælumque tueri ; in which even I can look up with calm security to the court, and down with the most profound contempt upon the reptile I mean to tread upon! I say reptile; because when the proudest man in society becomes so the dupe of his childish malice, as to wish to inflict on the object of his vengeance, the poison of his sting, to do a reptile's work, he must shrink into a reptile's dimension ; and so shrunk, the only way to assail him is to tread upon him. Bul to the subject :-this writ of habeas corpus, has had a return. That return states, that Lord Ellenborough, chief justice of England, issued a warrant reciting the foundation of this dismal transaction: that one of the clerks of the crown-office had certified to him that an indictment had been found at Westminster, charging the Hon. Robert Johnson, late of Westminster, one of the justices of his majesty's court of common pleas in Ireland, with the publication of certain slanderous libels against the government of that country ; against the person of his excellency Lord Hardwicke, lord lieutenant of that country ; against the person of lord Redesdale, the chancellor of Ireland; and against the person of Mr. Justice Osborne, one of the justices of the court of King's Bench in Ireland. One of the clerks of the crown-office, it seems, certified all this to his lordship. How many of those there are, or who they are, or which of them so certified, we cannot presume to guess, because the learned and noble lord is silent as to those circumstances. We are only informed that one of them made that important communication to his lordship. It puts me in mind of the information given to one of Fielding's justices.

“Did not,” says his worship’s wife, “the man with che wallet make his fidavy that you was a vagram?" I suppose it was some such petty bag officer who gave Lord Ellenborough to understand that Mr. Justice Johnson was indicted. And being thus given to understand and be informed, he issued his warrant to a gentleman, no doubt of great respectability, a Mr. Williams, his tipstaff, to take the body of Mr. Justice Johnson and bring him before a magistrate, for the purpose of giving bail to appear within the first eight days of this term, so that there might be a trial within the sittings after, and if, by the blessing of God, he should be convicted, then to appear on the return of the postea, to be dealt with according to law.

Perhaps it may be a question for you to decide, whether that warrant, such as it may be, is not now absolutely spent; and, if not, how a man can contrive to be hereafter in England on a day that is past ? And high as the opinion may be in England of Irish understanding, it will be something beyond even Irish exactness, to bind him to appear in England not a fortnight hence, but a fortnight ago. I wish, my lords, we had the art of giving time this retrograde motion. If possessed of the secret, we might possibly be disposed to improve it from fortnights into years.

There is something not incurious in the juxtaposition of signatures. The warrant is signed by the chief justice of all England. In music, the ear is reconciled to strong transitions of key by a preparatory resolution of the intervening discords; but here, alas! there is nothing to break the fall: the august title of Ellenbocough is followed by the unadorned name of brother Bell, the sponsor of his lordship's warrant. Let me not, however, be suffered to deem lightly of the compeer of the noble and learned lord. Mr. Justice Bell ought to be a lawyer; I remember him myself long a crier, and I knew his credit with the state; he has had a nolle prosequi. I see not therefore why it may not fairly be said “fortunati ambo!" It appears by this return, that Mr. Justice Bell endorses this bill of lading to another consignee, Mr. Medlicot, a most respectable gentleman; he describes himself upon the warrant, and he gives a delightful specimen of the administration of justice, and the calendar of saints in office: he describes himself a justice and a peace officer—that is, a magistrate, and a catchpole : so that he may receive informations as a justice ; if he can write, he may draw them as a clerk; if not, he can execute the warrant as bailiff; and, if it be a capital offence, you may see the culprit, the justice, the clerk, the bailiff, and the hangman, together in the same cart; and, though he may not write, he may “ride and tie!” What a pity that their journey should not be further continued together! That, as they had been “lovely in their lives, so in their deaths they might not be divided !" I find, my lords, I have undesignedly raised a laugh; never did I less feel merriment.--Let not me be condemned-let not the laugh be mistaken.—Never was Mr. Hume more just than when he says, that, “ in many things the extremes are nearer to one another than the means.” Few are those events that are produced by vice and folly, that fire the heart with indignation, that do not also shake the sides with laughter. So when the two famous moralists of old beheld the sad spectacle of life, the one burst into laughter, and the other melted into tears; they were each of them right, and equally right

Si credas utrique
Res sunt humanæ flebile ludibrium.

But these laughs are the bitter ireful laughs of honest indignation, or they are the laughs of hectic melancholy and despair.

It is stated to you, my lords, that these two justices, if justices they are to be called, went to the house of the defendant. I am speaking to judges, but I disdain the paltry insult it would be to them, were I to appeal to any wretched sympathy of situation. I feel I am above it. I know the bench is above it. But I know, too, that there are ranks, and degrees, and decorums to be observed; and, if I had a harsh communication to make to a venerable judge, and a similar one to his crier, I should certainly address them in a very different language indeed. A judge of the land, a man not young, of infirm health, has the sanctuary of his babitation broken open by these two persons, who set out with him for the coast, to drag him from his country, to hurry him to a strange land by the “most direct

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »