Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

and apply that punishment.” But, Gentlemen, this short measure will not do—’tis false, 'tis barbarous, and wicked. I beseech you, become not the instruments of a tyranny like this. No precedent or number of precedents will justify what is in itself iniquitous; and that any man should be sent to prison for the open avowal of disbelief in a religion, which disclaims all means of persecution and force, is as great a wrong as wrong can be. To urge, however, that there is a law on the subject, and that that law, merely because there is such an one, must be enforced, is a most cruel and arbitrary sophism. It is an insult on your understandings; and they who press it on you, laugh in their sleeves at the stupidity that can be so easily imposed on. No, Gentlemen, there is no law that can authorise evil. In the

very

article of its injustice it is per se annulled. And if such exist on the letter of a fusty statute book, it should not be respected, but repealed; and till this can conveniently be done, the office and duty of a jury is, not to put it in force, but to prevent its operation. To make existing law the means of oppression is to add the last possible aggravation to cruelty and injustice. So it was by the law, that Naboth, the Jezreelite, was put to death, when the tyrant Abab, having occasion to possess himself of his inheritance, bad him accused of having “ blasphemed God and the King;" and the murder of Christ himself must seem justifiable, if that was good reasoning of the chief priests of his day, when they said, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die."-No, Gentlemen, though the letter of written law was against him, justice was vot; and that same justice which should have rescued him from the letter of strict enactment, now pleads for me. I beseech you, Gentlemen, as Christians, not to justify, by a verdict against me, the condemnation of him whom you believe, though sacrificed by the text of law, to have been “ led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep dumb before bis shearers.I beseech you as Christians to respect the very essence and soul of Christianity, and suffer me not to sink under the rigid application of a human law, when even that law, which you hold to be divine, yielded, and gave place to a dispensation of mercy and forgiveness. Be it that I bare erred-be it that all this evidence, which seems so clear against me, is as free from fraud and guile as it is from any sort of charity! Be it, therefore, as my inexorable Judge will tell you, that my liberty is forfeit to the law; is it for them to strain this point against me, who profess a religion, and for that very religion which teaches, that

66 All the souls that are, were forfeit once,
And he who might th' advantage best have ta'en
Found out the remedy."

I beseech you, Gentlemen, to acquit yourselves as the administrators, not the machines, of law, and suffer not your own good sense to be overborne, and your right of exercising your unbiassed judgment taken from you, by the sophistical dogmatism which would tell you, that you have no other business than to inquire merely whether I have done as I am charged witbal. You have no statute but the mere ipse dixit of that weak and wicked man, Judge Hale, to authorize these prosecutions-aud will you hand me over at once in condemnation, in spite of the convictions of your own collsciences, in spite of the positive precepts of Christianity itself -in spite of the cries of “ shame on such measures" echoing from one end of the kingdom to the other-in spite of truth itself, and of the God of Truth?

Gentlemen, the Judge has no right thus to controul and limit

your functions. Your business is much more than to make the inquiry which he would prescribe, or give the verdict that he would dictate. You are judges of the law as well as of the fact, and you are to try the motives and spi. rit in which that inquiry has originated, and to take care that a pretext of zeal for religion be not a cloak of maliciousness. You will recollect, Gentlemen, that persecution is still persecution, under whatever names or pretexts it may be carried on. The most bloody massacres, the most cruel and furious persecutions never wanted their excuse; they all pleaded reasons of state, regard to public morals, the interest of the community, and so forth, and if such pleas were of any weight, it would follow, that there was never such a thing as persecution or bigotry in the world. When Mary delivered Cranmer to the stake, sbe declared that “the interests of religion required that he should suffer.” Had he kept his opinions to himself, he might have been pardoned, but his attempt to shake the faith of others, was the sin against the Holy Ghost; and when thousands and tens of thousands of our fellow creatures were committed to the flames for heresy, by the pions zeal of the Holy Office;--they did not think that it was persecution.—Oh, no! 'twas charity to the souls committed to their care; 'twas the high and solema “ Act of Faith.It was done, with awe I speak it, s in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” If you hesitate at the testimony of secular bistory, accept, at least, that of your blessed Saviour. “ The time cometh," said he, “ when, whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” Since, then, men may be so grievously deceived, what better security can we bave for keeping within the sphere of truth, than to take care that we never wander from the attraction of charity. Charity is always right-charity only is the infallible guide. You have its rule; it thinketh no evil, it is not easily provoked, it beareth all things, it bopeth all things, it endureth all things. But I, Gentlemen, have no occasion to throw myself upon your compassion, I have suffered wrong, indeed, but I bave done none. I have already lain in prison more than six gloomy weeks upon a false accusation, supported only by the suborned testimony of a base hireling slave, who sells his oath as he would sell bis salvation-for money; and in a case in which he may be, and certainly is mistaken, dares to imprecate the vengeance of the Almighty on his head! Gentlemen, I have not done as is stated in that indictment; I have not maliciously published a most wicked and blasphemous libel. Whether the pamphlet in question be wicked and blasphemous I am not concerned to determine. I am neither its author nor its printer ; but it is my prosecutors themselves that have published it by calling public notice to it; and if to hunt a man into Newgate who never did, or intended harm to any one, and if to buy the soul of a poor wretch to come here and stake bis salvation upon a fact of which he is not and cannot be certain, be malice, then, Gentlemen, my prosecutors are guilty, pot only of the publishing, but of publishing maliciously. Gentlemen, assert yourselves, assert the sacred right of jurors, you must not follow a multitude to do iniquity; you are not to condemn me because others have been condemned; you are not to have the law dictated to you, for there is no written law on the subject; you are not to follow precedents, for then you would be mere ciphers, and have no judgment at all to form. Again, and again I beseech you to remember, that you are judges of the law as well as of the fact. The gowns and wigs which you see around you, are the mere pride, pomp, and circumstance of judicature. Your breasts only are the judgment seat. Let no Pontius Pilate sit there! and I shall not fear his Lordsbip on the bench. You, you only are my judges; yours will be the guilt, if an innocent man be condemned; yours will be the glory of putting an end for ever to bigotry and persecution, if you acquit me. Your unbiassed judgment will be the equity of the case, and your voice its law! So far would the strict letter of a statute, even if such could be adduced, seem from confining your sphere of judgment, that you would not hesitate to laugh at a Buller or Jefferies on the bench, and quash evidence itself, rather than be the instruments of a sanguinary execution; and they are “good men and true” in England, who, feeling that there is a higher rule of justice than the statute book can prescribe, represent an article which they know to be worth

thirty or forty pound, as of value under forty shillings, rather than yield, even manifest guilt, to too severe a law. Your verdict, then, Gentlemen, should respect not merely the evidence, not the law, and, least of all, the Judge. But it should be formed in a calm view of the case under all its bearings and all its consequences. And the mere technical form of those three syllables, Not Guilty, which I certainly expect to hear from you, will signify, not that I have not done as is stated in the contemptible rhodomoutade of that foolish and malicious indictment, but that you will not justify prosecutions for matters of conscience, nor deliver a fellow creature to boods and imprisonment-for what? if it be an error at all, is an error in his reasoning faculties; the fault only of his judgment, not of bis heart. By acquitting me, you will not, as you may be told, open the floodgates to licentiousness, nor give occasion to one pamphlet more that can pos. sibly be written against Christianity, but you will take away one of the strongest objections that can be urged against it: you will wipe off from it the dishonour of seeming to peed the support of statutes and penalties. You will shew that you dare trust it to stand alone; you will shew that you believe it yourselves, that you are sensible to the general voice of the whole British nation, and that you understand indeed what the nature of truth is.

In the legislative assembly of this kingdom, the conduct of the Recorder, on the occasion of the late trials, has been pronounced a disgrace to the Bench. And even the learned Bishop of Norwich, in the House of Lords, on the 17th of May, 1819, entered his protest, as a man and as a Christian against those very statutes which are attempted to be enforced against me. “ Christianity,” said he, “disclaims them. Reason is every day gaining ground, and its dictates should be obeyed. We ought, by a generous and wise

policy, to abandon those persecuting statutes, fit only to bind. demons,”

Recorder-- It is necessary to put you right, by informing you that there are no wriiten statues on the offence wbich you are charged with committing, it is decided by common law which has been resorted to for many centuries.

Defendant: I am aware, my Lord, that there are no statutes on the subject, but I am assuming the ground, that if such were the case, it theu would be unjust to put them in force, and such was evidently the meaning of the Bishop of Norwich. “He, said my Lord Lyttleton (one of the abiest writers for the Christian evidence), who can be angry with another man for not being a Christian, is himself no Christian.” What would he have said of that anger, which not merely suffering the sun to go down upon it, can calmly deliver over a

can

[ocr errors]

fellow creature to be shut up for many gloomy weeks in a damp, dark, miserable dungeon, merely for not yielding a consent, which it was not in his power to yield — for not suppressing a dissent, which could not be suppressed without a prostitution of all that is noble, great, and manly in the miod? “ Belief or unbelief,” says Dr. Whitby, the ablest commentator ou the volume you hold sacred, neitber be a virtue nor a crime.” Neither then, I ipfer, can the widest dissemination of that unbelief be criminal. For to cut off the communication between the heart and the tongue, and to make it politically expedient, that the man who thinks the established religion to be false, should act in every thing as if he thought it to be true-should utter no expression, and sell no book (not even to those who sought and wished to buy it) that tended to bring that religion into contempt, what is this but to consecrate-to authorise hypocrisy, and to make your religion itself the pander to dissimulation and insincerity? On one last argumnt to yourselves, Gentlemen, as men, as brethren, partners of the same nature as myself in every thing, and therefore liable to err, and be deceived as I am, I rest my last appeal. If it be right to allow me to be immured in a dungeon for having followed the sincere, though it may be erroneous, dictate of my conscience, and such treatment should not succeed (as in all probability it will not) in giving me more favourable sentiments of Christianity,--my error continuing, I should, upon being released from prison, immediately repeat the conduct to which that state of mind cannot but lead me; it would be equally right again and again to prosecute me; and thus would you be led on, step by step, till you had destroyed me. Is this humanity? Is this to be done for the religion of Him who came into the world, not to destroy men's lives, but to save them ? And if for the fault of uubelief-an unbelief which I cannot help--and which I profess myself ready to renounce as soon as I shall be better instructed, you will sufer me to be thus immured, thus persecuted, and thus at length destroyed, let him that is without fault among you throw the first stone at me. Let him pronounce me guilty who can lay bis hand upon his heart, and say, no misgiving, no doubt, no shade of unbelief was ever there. And let him be sure that he can say this in the present recollection of the circumstantial all, and whole, and every whit of what is contained in that book, to which he ascribes the authority of the God of Truth; or, as a mere tacit or verbal consent to that which makes no impression at all upon the mind cannot be taken for belief, take any one of the main facts of Christianity-say the resurrection, or what is consequential to it, the visible and corporeal ascension of the body, flesh,

1

« AnteriorContinuar »