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variety of publications, of which the certain and obvious tendency was to excite sedition, disorder, and disaffection; that the usual remedies could avail nothing; that there was an absolute insurmountable necessity for having recourse to a strong, violent, and threatening method of writing; that it was a time, when appeals must be made not to the reasons of men, but to their fears ; that the means were pardonable and even praise-worthy in consideration of the greatness and utility of the end ; in a word, that the evil spirit was laid, and the country saved, chiefly by the efforts of “ John Bull” and his coadjutors in the work of defamation. These gentry must themselves allow, that we have here placed their argument in the most favourable light, and stated the whole strength of their case. Let us examine this defence : it stands, we fear, upon a very rotten foundation. Now the “ John Bull,” which is almost the first in the series of these publications, was started at the very end of the year 1820. Granting, therefore, as we are ready to do, the existence of that sedition, disorder, and disaffection, which evil. minded journalists were labouring to foster and augment, we have still two answers to this plea of extenuation and
First, the tide was turned, the people were coming to their senses; the storm,-if there was ever any danger of its bursting upon our heads—had blown over before the establishment of the “ John Bull.” The waters only remained in a slight state of agitation from the tempest which was gone. The good feeling and sound disposition of the English nation had already brought back the body politic to a healthy state; when the “ John Bull” impudently interposed, and claimed the merit of the cure; as when a patient has recovered from a severe ill. ness by the mere efficacy of a strong constitution, the quatk who happened to be called in at some lucky moment after the regular physicians had departed, steps forth with diverting self-complacency, and tells us that hiş nostrum has done the business of nature. Secondly, although we agree with Shakspeare, that
diseases desperate grown, By desperate appliance are reliev'd;
It is the very
we also affirm, that such means never did, and never could, accomplish the object, which is alleged. It is not in the nature of things that calumny should soothe irritation, or private libels produce order. Has it ever happened that wine has made a man sober, or spirituous liquors allayed a fever? Slander and defamation—when they have any effect at all-can only exasperate the vehement, madden the indignant, and disgust the indifferent. In fact, the publications of which we complain, have, as might have been expected, added fuel to the fire of party rage, and inflamed the violence of political disputes to a ten-fold heat. To talk of calming by scurrilous jests, and pacifying by malignant personalities, is sheer abuse of language, and mockery of common sense. acmé of villany or folly. Nor have the English ever been a nation-God forbid that they ever should be who can be terrified by menaces, when they have been impenetrable to argument. We not only, therefore, deny the fact in the present instance, but in all cases whatever, in the widest and most comprehensive manner, we deny the possibility of the fact.
But we go farther : we affirm, that the defence which is set up strikes at the very root of all morality. The old maxim which forbids us to do evil, that good may result from it, is still the best and safest for the fallibility of human nature. Shall a man be suffered to commit an acknowledged offence against the laws of social life, because in his own opinion, perhaps, society may be ultimately benefited by the commission? Shall private libels be endured because the libeller forsooth imagines, or pretends to imagine, that the exposure of such or such a character will be of service to the community ? According to these principles, it would be allowable, and even commendable, to murder a bad man, upon the plea, that his life was burdensome or mischievous, and that his friends would profit by his removal from the world. It would be right to steal a miser's money, upon the ground that the thief would make a better use of it than the person who was robbed. In short, there is no earthly crime which would not admit of palliation and justification, if we listen for a moment to the proposition, that any means may be employed for the attainment of a good end. On the very favourable supposition, therefore, that the abusive personalities, in which the “ John Bull” and similar publications have indulged, may have had a beneficial effect in some particular instances, still the general system can never be too cordially detested, or too warmly reprobated. If individuals are tolerated in neglecting those eternal and fundamental laws, which the wise and good of all ages have agreed to recognise as inviolable and sacred ; or in setting them aside, as idle and inapplicable, on any and every occasion, when it accords with their fancy or their interest; if they are to have a licence for slander and scurrility, by referring to their own variable standard of fitness, propriety, or decorum, what is to become of the tranquillity of a state, or the security of its members ?
We conclude, then, that in whatever light we regard it, this defence is the most preposterous, the most arrogant, and the most shameless, that was ever attempted to be imposed upon the credulous simplicity of a good-natured people. It vanishes at the first touch of investigation like a ghost at cock-crow before the dawn of the morning. We sweep it away with the most undisguised and unqualified expressions of ignominy and scorn. In any tribunal either legal or moral it must be scouted with laughter.
If this, therefore, is the ground on which the editors of the “ John Bull" would make their stand, it falls at once beneath their feet; if this is the case which they are anxious to establish, it entirely fails. Upon what other basis, then, will they rest their justification ; to what fresh devices and sophistries will they have recourse?
Will they shift their defence, and deny the publication of private libels? will they deny, that they have heaped, without necessity and without decency, the most injurious taunts, the most insulting contumelies, upon their political adversaries! will they deny, that natural defects and family misfortunes have been the butt of their unsparing and ungentlemanly buffooneries? We dare them to the denial.
But our warmth is betraying us into hasty and desultory
censure. We must be methodical in our accusation. We, therefore, impeach the writers and proprietors of the “ John Bull” newspaper before the nation at large upon the following charges:--first, of the worst moral turpitude and debasement; of conducting a public journal in a manner at once disgraceful to themselves and discreditable to the country: secondly, of folly equal to their baseness, and ignorance on a par with their presumption. As we know that they will not plead guilty to these charges, we shall proceed to the proof.
Now, we must really be allowed in this stage of the discussion to take it for granted, that a writer is disgraced by dragging the circumstances of individuals, and the occurrences of private life, unnecessarily before the public, and exposing them to the ribald jeers and idle sarcasms of the multitude; that he is dishonoured by at-. tacking the virtuous reputation of his countrywomen both living and dead; by abusive personalities, gross indelicacies, and exposed, yet unacknowledged and unretracted, falsehoods:-that discredit, moreover, is reflected upon the country in which such a system is pursued.-It only remains for us to demonstrate, that of this nature has been the uniform conduct of the “ John Bull.”
Fortunately for us, much time and trouble may be saved by a reference to the decisions of a court of law, and the verdicts of a British Jury. Here is conclusive and irresistible authority against the persons whom we accuse. Nor have they been convicted of a single accidental libel, but of a continued series and concatenation of calumnies directed against four separate persons in the course of a year. We venture to assert that this fact is, under all the circumstances, totally unexampled and unprecedented in the annals of political discussion.
But it may be urged, that although they have been declared guilty according to the technicalities of law, yet in foro conscientia, in the courts of equity and honour they are without criminality, and ought to be without reproach. In answer
this we say, that their legal offences ar shadow, a cipher, are absolutely nothing, in comparison with their moral guilt ; that if we could wave the decision of a court of justice, if we could forget that they were tried and convicted ; nay more, were found utterly destitute of the slightest colour of justification and excuse ; if we were to judge of their conduct simply by the natural unsophisticated feelings of every honourable mind, the punishment which must be awarded them would be infinitely more severe than any which they have hitherto sustained from the laws of the country.
Let it be remembered, that three of these convictions have been for libels upon women, and the fourth for an attack upon the private character of a man in business. Look, reader, at this plain unvarnished statement, and say, Is it not enough? May we not exclaim with Cicero; “ Si nihil aliud nisi de lege dicimus ; nihil dico amplius : causa dicta est. Quid enim horum infirmari Gracche potest ?” Three libels upon women in the space of a single year! What! torture the sensitive feelings of that sex, which has no means of protecting or avenging itself, by scurrilous and brutal paragraphs in a public journalnot once, or by chance, but to such frequency and extent, that these attacks constituted the chief feature of the publication !-Merciful Heaven! are we speaking of Englishmen-and of Englishmen in an age like the present, when the theory of morals is so well understood, and the refinements and delicacies of life are brought to so high a pitch? The monster who has made it his amusement to maim and mangle the faces of women in the public streets, is not half so heartless, so debased, so execrable a ruffian, as he who disseminates anonymous calumnies against their honest fame, either in deliberate malice, or in barbarous levity, under the shelter of concealment. The injury which they suffer in their persons from the knife of the assassin, is not half so painful and so terrible as the mental anguish which they must endure from the poisoned dagger of the slanderer.
But the writers of the “ John Bull" affirm, that they dragged no woman into public notice, who had not made an exposure of herself in the first instance by stepping from her proper sphere. Unfortunately, we cannot enter fully into the question without opening old wounds, which