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Law Magazine and Law Review:
QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF JURISPRUDENCE.
ART. I.-SIR JOHN TAYLOR COLERIDGE AND
1. On Liberty. By JOHN STUART MILL. London: J. W.
Parker & Son, West Strand, 1859. 2. Fraser's Magazine, for May and June, 1859. 3. A Letter to a Gentleman respecting Pooley's Case.
HENRY THOMAS BUCKLE. London: J. W. Parker & Son, 1859.
R. MILL, in his recent admirable treatise on “Liberty,"
has the following passage—“Penalties for opinion, or at least for its expression, still exist by law; 'and their enforcement is not, even in these times, so unexampled as to make it at all incredible that they may some day be revived in full force. In the year 1857, at the summer assizes of the county of Cornwall, an unfortunate man [Thomas Pooley], said to be of unexceptionable conduct in all relations of life, was sentenced to twentyone months' imprisonment, for uttering, and writing on a gate, some offensive words concerning Christianity.”
In reviewing Mr. Mill's book, in the May number of Fraser's VOL. VII, NO. XIV.
Magazine, Mr. Buckle has taken the above paper as his text, and composed thereon certain remarks, written with his wonted power and ability.
Mr. Buckle writes as follows
“Inasmuch, therefore, as, in the present state of English society, any punishment inflicted for the use of language which did not tend to break the public peace, and which was neither seditious in reference to the state, nor libellous in reference to individuals, would be simply a wanton cruelty, alien to the genius of our time, and capable of producing no effect beyond reviving intolerance, exasperating the friends of liberty, and bringing the administration of justice into disrepute, it was with the greatest astonishment that I read in Mr. Mill's work that such a thing had occurred in this country, and at one of our assizes, less than two years ago. Notwithstanding my knowledge of Mr. Mill's accuracy, I thought that, in this instance, he must have been mistaken. I supposed that he had not heard all the circumstances, and that the person punished had been guilty of some other offence. I could not believe that, in the year 1857, there was a judge on the English bench who would sentence a poor man of irreproachable character, of industrious habits, and supporting his family by the sweat of his brow, to twenty-one months' imprisonment, merely because he had uttered and written on a gate a few words respecting Christianity. Even now, when I have carefully investigated the facts to which Mr. Mill only alludes, and have the documents before me, I can hardly bring myself to realize the events which have actually occurred, and which I will relate, in order that public opinion may take cognizance of a transaction which happened in a remote part of the kingdom, but which the general welfare requires to be bruited abroad, so that men may determine whether or not such things shall be allowed.
“In the summer of 1857, a poor man, named Thomas Pooley, was gaining his livelihood as a common labourer in Liskeard, in Cornwall, where he had been well known for several years, and had always borne a high character for honesty, industry, and sobriety. His habits were so eccentric that his mind was justly reputed to be disordered ; and an accident, which happened to him about two years before this period, had evidently inflicted some serious injury, as since then his demeanour had become more strange and excitable. Still, he was not only perfectly harmless, but was a very useful member of society, respected by his neighbours, and loved by his family, for whom he toiled with a zeal rare in his class, or indeed in any class. Among other hallucinations, he believed that the earth was a living animal,
and, in his ordinary employment of well-sinking, he avoided digging too deeply, lest he should penetrate the skin of the earth, and wound some vital part. He also imagined that if he hurt the earth the tides would cease to flow; and that nothing being really mortal, whenever a child died it reappeared at the next birth in the same family. Holding all nature to be animated, he moreover fancied that this was in some way connected with the potato-rot, and, in the wildness of his vagaries, he did not hesitate to say, that if the ashes of burnt Bibles were strewed over the fields, the rot would cease. This was associated in his mind with a foolish dislike of the Bible itself, and an hostility against Christianity; in reference, however, to which he could hurt no one, as not only was he very ignorant, but his neighbours, regarding him as crackbrained, were uninfluenced by him; though in the other relations of life he was valued and respected by his employers, and indeed by all who were most acquainted with his disposition.
“ This singular man, who was known by the additional peculiarity of wearing a long beard, wrote upon a gate a few very silly words expressive of his opinion respecting the potatorot and the Bible, and also of his hatred of Christianity. For this, as well as for using language equally absurd, but which no one was obliged to listen to, and which certainly could influence no one, a clergyman in the neighbourhood lodged an information against him, and caused him to be summoned before a magistrate, who was likewise a clergyman. The magistrate, instead of pitying him or remonstrating with him, committed him for trial, and sent him to jail. At the next assizes he was brought before the judge. He had no counsel to defend him, but the son of the judge acted as counsel to prosecute him. The father and the son performed their parts with zeal, and were perfectly successful. Under their auspices, Pooley was found guilty. He was brought up for judgment. When addressed by the judge, his restless manner, his wild and incoherent speech, his disordered countenance and glaring eye, betokened too surely the disease of his mind. But neither this, nor the fact that he was ignorant, poor, and friendless, produced any
effect upon that stony-hearted man who now held him in his gripe. He was sentenced to be imprisoned for a year and nine months. The interests of religion were vindicated. Christianity was protected, and her triumph assured, by dragging a poor, harmless, and demented creature from the bosom of his family, throwing him into jail, and leaving his wife and children without provision, either to starve or to beg.
“Before he had been many days in prison, the insanity, which was obvious at the time of his trial ceased to lurk, and broke
out into acts of violence.
He grew worse; and, within a fortnight after the sentence had been pronounced, he went mad, and it was found necessary to remove him from the jail to the County Lunatic Asylum. While he was lying there, his misfortunes attracted the attention of a few high-minded and benevolent men, who exerted themselves to procure his pardon; so that, if he recovered, he might be restored to his family. This petition was refused. It was necessary to support the judge; and the petitioners were informed that, if the miserable lunatic should regain his reason, he would be sent back to prison to undergo the rest of his sentence. This, in all probability, would have caused a relapse; but little was thought of that; and it was hoped that, as he was an obscure and humble man, the efforts made in his behalf would soon subside. Those, however, who had once interested themselves in such a case, were not likely to slacken their zeal. The cry grew hotter, and preparations were made for bringing the whole question before the country. Then it was that the authorities gave way. Happily for mankind, one vice is often balanced by another, and cruelty is corrected by cowardice. The authors and abettors of this prodigious iniquity trembled at the risk they would run if the public feeling of this great country were roused. The result was, that the proceedings of the judge were rescinded as far as possible, by a pardon being granted to Pooley, less than five months after the sentence was pronounced. By this means, general exposure was avoided; and perhaps that handful of noble-minded men who obtained the liberation of Pooley, were right in letting the matter fall into oblivion after they had carried their point. Most of them were engaged in political or other practical affairs, and they were, therefore, obliged to consider expediency as well as justice. But such is not the case with the historian of this sad event. No writer on important subjects has reason to expect that he can work real good, or that his words shall live, if he allows himself to be so trammelled by expediency as to postpone to it considerations of right, of justice, and of truth. A great crime has been committed, and the names of the criminals ought to be known. They should be in every one's mouth. They should be blazoned abroad, in order that the world may see that in a free country such things cannot be done with impunity. To discourage a repetition of the offence the offenders must be punished. And surely no punishment can be more severe than to preserve their names. Against them personally I have nothing to object, for I have no knowledge of them. Individually, I can feel no animosity towards men who have done me no harm, and whom I have never seen. But they have violated principles dearer to me than any personal feeling,
and in vindication of which I would set all personal feeling at nought. Fortunate, indeed, it is for humanity that our minds are constructed after such a fashion as to make it impossible for us, by any effort of abstract reasoning, to consider oppression apart from the oppressor. We may abhor a speculative principle, and yet respect him who advocates it. This distinction between the opinion and the person is, however, confined to the intellectual world, and does not extend to the practical. Such a separation cannot exist in regard to actual deeds of cruelty. In such cases our passions instruct our understanding. The same cause which excites our sympathy for the oppressed, stirs up our hatred of the oppressor. This is an instinct of our nature, and he who struggles against it does so to his own detriment. It belongs to the higher region of the mind; it is not to be impeached by argument; it cannot even be touched by it. Therefore it is, that when we hear that a poor, a defenceless, and a half-witted man, who had hurt no one-a kind father, an affectionate husband, whose private character was unblemished, and whose integrity was beyond dispute—is suddenly thrown into prison, his family left to subsist on the precarious charity of strangers, he himself by this cruel treatment deprived of the little reason he possessed, then turned into a madhouse, and finally refused such scanty redress as might have been afforded him, a spirit of vehement indignation is excited, partly, indeed, against a system under which such things can be done; but still more against those who, in the pride of their power and wickedness of their hearts, put laws into execution which had long fallen into disuse, and which they were not bound to enforce, but of which they availed themselves to crush the victim they held in their grasp.
“The prosecutor who lodged the information against Pooley, and had him brought before the magistrate, was the Rev. Paul Bush. The magistrate who received the information, and com mitted him for trial, was the Rev. James Glencross. The judge who passed the sentence which destroyed his reason and beggared his family, was Mr. Justice Coleridge.
“Of the two first little need be said. It is to be hoped that their names will live, and that they will enjoy that sort of fame which they have amply earned. Perhaps, after all, we should rather blame the state of society which concedes power to such men, than wonder that having the power they should abuse it.
" But with Mr. Justice Coleridge we have a different account to settle, and to him other language must be applied. That our judges should have great authority is unavoidable. To them a wide and discretionary latitude is necessarily intrusted. Great confidence being reposed in them, they are bound by every pos