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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 kave 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
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 possible principle
which can actuate an honest man, to respect that confidence. They are bound to avoid not only injustice, but, so far as they can, the very appearance of injustice. Seeing, as they do, all classes of society, they are well aware that among the lower ranks there is a deep, though on the whole a diminishing, belief that the poor are ill-treated by the rich, and that even in the courts of law equal measure is not always meted out to both. An opinion of this sort is full of danger, and it is the more dangerous because it is not unfounded. The country magistrates are too often unfair in their decisions, and this will always be the case until greater publicity is given to their proceedings. But from our superior judges we expect another sort of conduct. We expect, and it must honestly be said we usually find, that they shall be above petty prejudices, or, at all events, that whatever private opinions they may have, they shall not intrude those opinions into the sanctuary of justice. Above all do we expect, that they shall not ferret out some obsolete law for the purpose of oppressing the poor, when they know right well that the anti-christian sentiments which that law was intended to punish, are quite as common among the upper classes
, as among the lower, and are participated in by many persons who enjoy the confidence of the country, and to whom the highest offices are intrusted.
"That this is the case was known in the year 1857 to Mr.Justice Coleridge, just as it was then known, and is now known, to every one who mixes in the world.
The charge, therefore, which I bring against this unjust and unrighteous judge is, that he passed a sentence of extreme severity upon a poor and friendless man, in a remote part of the kingdom, where he might reasonably expect that his sentence would escape public animadversion; that he did this by virtue of a law which had fallen into disuse, and was contrary to the spirit of the age; or rather, by virtue of the cruel and persecuting maxims of our old Common Law, established at a period when it was a matter of religion to burn heretics and to drown witches. Why did not such a judge live three hundred years ago? He has fallen upon evil times, and has come too late into the world, and that he would not have dared to commit such an act in the face of a London audience, and in the full light of the London press. Neither would he, nor those who supported him, have treated in such a manner a person belonging to the upper classes. No. They select the most inaccessible county in England, where the press is least active and the people are most illiterate, and there they pounce upon a defenceless man and make him the scapegoat. He is to be the victim whose vicarious sufferings may atone for the offence of more powerful unbelievers. Hardly a year goes by without some writer of influence and ability attacking
Christianity, and every such attack is punishable by law. Why did not Mr. Justice Coleridge, and those who think like him, put the law into force against those writers ? Why do they not do it now? Why do they not have the learned and the eminent indicted and thrown into prison? Simply because they dare not. I defy them to it. They are afraid of the odium; they tremble at the hostility they would incur, and at the scorn which would be heaped upon them, both by their contemporaries and by posterity. Happily for mankind, literature is a real power, and tyranny quakes at it. But to me it appears that men of letters perform the least part of their duty when they defend each other. It is their proper function, and it ought to be their glory, to defend the weak against the strong, and to uphold the poor against the rich. This should be their pride and their honour. I would it were known in every cottage that the intellectual classes sympathize, not with the upper ranks but with the lower. I would that we made the freedom of the people our first consideration. Then, indeed, would literature be the religion of liberty, and we, priests of the altar, ministering her sacred rites, might feel that we act in the purest spirit of our creed when we denounce tyranny in high places, when we chastise the insolence of office, and when we vindicate the cause of Thomas Pooley against Justice Coleridge.
“For my part, I can honestly say that I have nothing exaggerated, nor set down aught in malice. What the verdict of public opinion may be, I cannot tell. I speak merely as a man of letters, and do not pretend to represent any class. I have no interest to advocate; I hold no brief; I carry no man's proxy. But unless I altogether mistake the general feeling, it will be considered that a great crime has been committed ; that a knowledge of that crime has been too long hidden in a corner; and that I have done something towards dragging the criminal from his covert, and letting in on him the full light of day.
“This gross iniquity is, no doubt, to be immediately ascribed to the cold heart and shallow understanding of the judge by whom it was perpetrated. If, however, public opinion had been sufficiently enlightened, those evil qualities would have been restrained, and rendered unable to work the mischief. Therefore it is, that the safest and most permanent remedy would be to diffuse sound notions respecting the liberty of speech and of publication. It should be clearly understood that every man has an absolute and irrefragable right to treat any doctrine as he thinks proper; either to argue against it, or to ridicule it. If his arguments are wrong, he can be refuted; if his ridicule is foolish, he can be out-ridiculed. To this, there can be no exception. It matters not what the tenet may be, nor how dear it is to our feelings.”