« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
the House have acted too readily on the principle of the Spartan lawgiver, who caused all interest tables to be burnt, and said, he never saw so fair a flame as those books yielded. The fate of the first burgess who complained of libels was so disastrous that it should have been a warning to future members against copying his folly ; but, alas ! their name is Legion. In the forty-third year of Elizabeth, we are informed, a Mr. Doyley, of Lincoln's Inn, stood up with a formal complaint.* “ I think myself bound in conscience to certify you of an infamous libel. Parliament, saving your presence, Mr. Speaker, is called “the assembly of fools.” When the printer had been sent for, and the book well scanned, “it was found,” says the worthy reporter, “ to be a mere toy, and an old book called “The Second Part of Jack of Dover,' a thing both stale and foolish, for which Mr. Doyley was well laughed at, and his credit much impaired in the opinion of the House."
Their censures ought assuredly to be restricted to those libels alone which disparage the House collectively, or asperse its members as such, in the exercise of their parliamentary functions, and even here too great activity is to be deprecated.
Mr. Petyt, in his Miscellanea Parliamentaria, gives a long list of censures most inefficacious upon those who have written books to the dishonour of Parliament, commencing with the diatribe of the unhappy Arthur Hall, four times in tribulation on account of his satirical spirit. Dr. Cowel, the learned civilian, was suddenly made famous by their complaints against his Law Dictionary, in which he discoursed of the
* Sir S. D'Ewes.
king's absolute sovereignty; and Dr. Mainwaring was prosecuted into a bishopric for publishing, in two sermons, that the king's command, in imposing taxes and aids without the consent of parliament, did so far bind the consciences of his subjects that they could not refuse the same without peril of eternal condemnation !
A House of Commons, that ought to be free and fearless, seems o thave shrunk from all open license of the pen as instinctively as the most jealous court, and to have listened with avidity to the charge of any querulous member, who chose to make them the confidants of his griefs. Orders similar to the following may be frequently met with in the Journals. “The House being informed that Anthony Row, Esq., a member, had dispersed a printed paper reflecting upon some of the members of the last parliament, he is ordered to attend.”'y Mr. Row escaped from the serjeant by an apology. “ The printer of a pamphlet,
An Account of the Proceedings of the House in relation to the Re-coining of the Clipped Money,' is ordered into custody.” John Rye, a merchant, having delivered a paper at the door of the House, intituled, “The great grievance of John Rye, of London, merchant,” as it reflected on a member, is ordered into custody. In April, 1689, the House ordered “A scandalous libel, intituled 'A Short History of the Convention, or Newly Christened Parliament,'" to be burnt by the common hangman, at Temple Bar, Palace Yard, and the Royal Exchange, as if to obtain for it as wide a circulation as possible, regardless of the lessons taught by history.
Journals, vol. x.
MEMOIRS OF THE HOUSE OF COMMONS.
The profligate Sejanus, we read in Roman story, prevailed on the senate to order a book in praise of Brutus and Cassius to be burnt. This prohibition naturally increased the circulation of the work : “Libros cremandos,” says Tacitus, “censuere Patres, sed manserunt occultati, etenim, punitis ingeniis, gliscit auctoritas.” Lord Bacon, a an authority equally classical, has remarked, with his wonted philosophical wisdom, “The punishing of wits enhances their authority; and a forbidden writing is thought to be a certain spark of truth, that flies up in the faces, of them that seek to tread it out.”
The vindictive privileges of the House, even the best assured and most essential to the due performance of its high functions, are necessarily odious in the eyes of the people.
They observe that, in its most legal shape, privilege has always something of an arbitrary appearance; that in its exercise all the ordinary forms of justice are disregarded ; that the accused are examined to criminate themselves; that evidence against them is given without the sanction of an oath ; that they are deprived of the assistance of counsel ; that matters of law are decided by persons wholly ignorant of law; that the body which sits in judgment is usually interested in the decision. They find that, in fact, by virtue of this claim, some men have been sent to prison for expressing their opinions on public affairs in the most constitutional manner; others, for venturing to assert their undoubted rights to private property ; others, for bringing actions which the highest tribunals in the country had declared to be maintainable ; attorneys and counsel for performing their professional duty; judges for deciding according to law;—in short, that there is scarcely any act, however innocent, or however meritorious, which has not at some period been
Mr. Pemberton's Pamphlet.
voted into a contempt of one or other House of Parliament, and that the punishments awarded have often been as barbarous as the grounds of complaint have been frivolous.
As if to make the exercise of these unpopular rights still more odious, the House have advanced their standards into neutral territory, and pronounced all libels on religion or the state to be constructive libels on themselves, who are met together to consult for the good of both. During the first three reigns which succeeded the Revolution, they appear to have been most exemplary in the performance of their selfimposed labours.
The whole vindictive artillery of Parliament, its worse than Papal bulls and temporal excommunications, were played off against constructive libellers. These paper bullets of the brain, the only missiles which did take effect in that bloodless revolution, as they whirled past in countless numbers, seem to have caused not less a panic than if charged with certain death. The Jacobite tracts, with which the friends of the exiled Stuarts assailed the usurper; the polemical pamphlets by whose force busy ecclesiastics sought to unsettle the Church of England; all application, in short, of intellectual strength against the Government, appear to have been dreaded equally with the exertion of physical force, and crushed with all the weight of parliamentary prosecution.
King and Commons vied in eagerness to suppress the mischief. The House addressed the King to put the laws in force against profane libels, and Queen Anne required the House to devise a remedy against seditious libels. They could devise no remedy against these pestilent books so effectual as to burn them, and,