« AnteriorContinuar »
upon record in this Court against me, and for which they now ask the judgment of your Lordships, as modern Herods, and Pilates, and High Priests. Similar as is my case to that of Jesus, so hereafter similar shall be my conduct; if I am to receive any further prosecution, any further punishment from your Lordships' hands, I shall suffer with equal fortitude, and say with Jesus, “ Father, forgive my persecutors, and my judges, for they know not what they do!"
If it be said to me that Jesus was not tried by a jury of his countrymen, I can answer, that I might as well have been without mine, for one of them was so blindly bigoted against, and so evidently ignorant of the subject he had to try, as to insist, that an argument in defence was an attack upon Christianity, and he would scarcely have believed the contrary had he not been corrected by the Lord Chief Justice. My accusers had the means of packing a jury, and practised them, and had the judgment of twelve of the most furious and most bigoted of the Jews, who accused Jesus, been taken, he would have had as fair a trial as mine, and perhaps fairer, for his Judges solicited him earnestly to speak in defence of himself, and mine as earnestly sought to silence me by continual interruptions.
It is the common practice of persons in my situation to bring before your Lordships a file of affidavits about former good character, and so on; to practise upon the well-known merciful dispositions of those who are always selected to fill the important offices of Judges of this Court. Every species of feigned humility, and penitence, and oftentimes the most barefaced perjury, as to present health, late sufferings, and past conduct, is exhibited, for the purpose of moving your Lordships to a merciful mood, and a mitigation of that punishment which the law has awarded them. But this is not my case; I come before your Lordships not to plead for a mitigated sentence, or a lessening of any given punishment assigned by law, I know there is no such law; and I come to show strong reasons why I ought not to receive any kind of punishment, but rather approbation and reward for what I have done to bring me here. I come not with a plea of feigned humility and false penitence, but with a mind elated with pride, from the assurance that the cause which has brought me here has been a common good, and not an evil to the community, nor an offence against the known laws of the country. I come not with a bundle of false oaths as to health, or to sufferings, or to past conduct, to excite pity where it is not due, but I come with an endeavour to excite the approbation of your Lordships by a clear and fair statement of my past and present conduct, by shewing reasons for what I have done, why I should have done it, and why I should not have shrunk from doing it. After I bave done this, I shall look for your Lordships' applause rather than for an infliction of punishment on account of the act that has brought me here.
Such is the preliminary matter I have to address to your Lordships. With me the age of precedent is gone, and I shall endeavour to be as rational in what I have to offer, as I desire to be considered free from unapt or impertinent remarks. I wish to try the effect of that sense, wbich is unjustly called common, in this atmosphere of legal quibble, legal subterfuge, and legal oppression. It is, I fear, a daring attempt, but like Franklin, I shall not fear the detonations which may ensue from the inflammable mixture, whilst I am near such safe-conductors as your Lordships, to save me from being scathed by the fire that will be engendered. In plainer English, and less figurative language, I would say, that I shall not fear the murmurs that will arise with the Gentlemen at the Bar, whilst a female sets them an example of duty, of courage, and of honesty, as the all-powerful words of your Lordships will restrain them from offering me their collected revenge and violence for an encroachment so daring on their prerogatives. I can assure your Lordships, that if I had known there was any one of them with a heart equal to my own, I would have yielded up this inappropriate and unpleasant task into his hand, that it might have gone forth with the grave influence of the Court habiliments, or the appalling impression of a “ Learned Friend's" wig, and the imposing air of his gown. I can also assure the Learned Gentlemen at this Bar, that I have carefully searched all the authorities, and I have uniformly found that the precedents are all against my application to them for assistance. It is sufficient for the credit of so honourable a body, that some half dozen of them are employed against me, as, for the present, it will pay them better to attack than to defend my principles; and they will not be in danger of losing what is technically termed, “ the ear of the Court.”
For the foregoing reasons, and from a desire to avoid all bad precedents, I shall plead for myself; in so doing, I shall do justice to myself, if I miss it every where else, and upon this certainty, I proceed to the point of an argumenta
tive statement of my case without a further waste of your Lordships' very valuable time. So thus goes my story,
The record against me in this Court, upon which a very ignorant Jury has returned a verdict of Guilty, and for which I now stand here for judgment, is a charge, that I have published what the pious suppressors of vice, and perhaps the law of this Court, call blasphemous libels. These miscalled libels consist of two small pamphlets of sixteen pages each, and however innoxious or auxiliary they may be to morals and physical truths, it seems they are to be held obnoxious to the religion of the British law, and the persecuting disposition of that association, some of whose members have, by their profligacy and horrid vices, proved themselves a disgrace to mankind and moral society. Unfortunately for this gang, it has happened, that whenever one of its secret members has become known, it has been discovered, that he has been tainted with some peculiar vice.
This word blasphemy is now become so very common, and so well understood, as to its real meaning, that, in a moral point of view, it has ceased to be considered an offence. If your Lordships were now to hear a Roman Catholic Christian impute the once heinous crime of heresy to a Protestant Christian, such an imputation would leave no other impression on your minds than pity for the former, whom you would consider in error. Such is now become the almost general view of the charge of blasphemy. That charge is founded on exactly the same principle as that on which the charge of heresy was founded-either a dread of change in the existing religious establishment, or a dread of loss of power and profit in those who are benefited by it. It is here that the whole charge of blasphemy centers, and it can entail nothing but disgrace on your Lordships and this Court, if you cherish this spirit of bigotry and corruption, and punish me for this fictions crime. I protest in the face of this Court and my country, that I have committed no crime, that I have not offended against the morals or the known law of the land. I protest that I have done nothing deserving the charge of blasphemy, because the alleged object blasphemed cannot be proved, as to its existence or its foundation in truth and nature. I am charged with libelling and blaspheming the Christian religion, but what is this religion? It is a non-entity. The law recognises no such thing, or it recognises every thing that any ignorant bigot or corrupt fellow thiuks proper to call Christianity. Who is the man that can define any thing to be the Christian religion, or the pretended religion of the law called Christianity, that I cannot controvert? I challenge every lawyer, every priest, every fanatic in the country to discussion. What, then, can your Lordships ground any punishment upon; or what beyond words wickedly and corruptly expressed, and without any meaning or truth?
The precise charge in the record against me is, that,
wickedly and profanely devising and intending to bring the Christian religion into disbelief and contempt among the people of this country, I, unlawfully and wickedly did sell, utter, and publish, and cause to be sold, uttered, and published, a certain scandalous, impious, blasphemous, and profane libel, of and concerning the Christian religion, containing therein, amongst other things, certain scandalous, impious, and profane matters and things, of and concerning the Christian religion.” It is further charged, that I have done this, “ to the high displeasure of Almighty God, to the great scandal and reproach of the Christian religion, to the evil example of all others, and against the peace of our Lord the King, his crown and dignity."
Is this charge true or false? There can be no other question for honest consideration. If I know any thing of the character of the King, the Chief Magistrate of this realm, I can venture to say, that nothing that weighs against the Christian religion can affect his peace or his dignity; and if I know any thing of an Almighty God, (and I will not allow that any person knows more of him than I do,) I take upon myself to say that this prosecution, this bringing me here for the judgment of your Lordships, is the greatest piece of blasphemy that can be offered to him, and a piece of bypocrisy that must excite his high displeasure, in the same ratio as he prefers truth to falsehood, honesty to dishonesty, virtue to vice. The Almighty God has nothing to do with the tithes, and fat benefices heaped upon the priests, and these alone constitute the religion and the Christianity of the law of this country; these are the foundation of that Christian religion, which the Vice Society calls upon yoar Lordships to protect from my blasphemy. The only profane matters and things to their views are those which dispute the rights of the priests to live in idleness upon the produce of the industry of others; of those whose labours produce all the necessaries, all the comforts, and all the luxuries of life, none of which can they themselves enjoy. With my prosecutors, the greatest of profanation is not to believe,
with one of your Lordships, “ that blessings fall back upon the industrious labourer to the same extent as taxes are imposed upon the produce of his industry!"
If we enquire seriously what constitutes the Christian religion in this country, we shall find that the thing is altogether undefinable. The most pious of your Lordships cannot explain it, for if you refer me to the Thirty-nine Articles, established as a rule for belief in the reign of Henry the Eighth, I can instantly refer your Lordships to statutes of the Parliament, passed siuce that time, that go to contravene the very foundation of those Articles. The statute for the toleration of the impugners of the Trinity, passed in the 53d of George the Third, is a direct annihilation of the first of the Thirty-nine Articles, and saps the foundation of the other thirty-eight. All the statutes which have been made for the toleration of Dissenters, are so many contradictions to the Thirty-nine Articles, and the Royal declaration of Henry the Eighth that accompanied them.
The Christianity which your Lordships recognise, as the religion of the law, is that form which originated with Henry the Eighth, after he had despoiled, in a truly Royal manner, the Catholic churches, abbies, and monasteries, of as much of their accumulated wealth, as would satiate his royal avarice, and that of his parasitical followers. This first defender of a faith that he destroyed in a true royal style, sought to establish a new system of his own, in opposition to the Pope of Rome; and accordingly, in the year 1562, he sent forth bis Royal Declaration, that the Thirtynine Articles then and now recognized by the Established Churcb, “ should never be disputed, departed from, or varied in the least degree." I shall enlarge a little upon this subject, for an exposure of the contemptibility of royal decrees, declarations, and proclamations, when put forth to controul and give uniformity to matters of opinion. It was asserted in the Declaration here alluded to, issued near three hundred years ago, that then, “ curious and unbappy differences had existed for centuries, and had been exercised in the Church of Christ," and this Royal Head of the English Church thought that his word would be sufficient to put a stop to all further curious search and disputation, and that Christianity was to stand for ever as it then stood! Had that tyránt lived for ever, perhaps he would have accomplished his views, and have served every sceptic and disputant as he served Lambert the “ schoolmaster,” by referring to the powers of the kindled faggot, where his powers of