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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
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.”
Such is Mr. Buckle's statement of Pooley's case, and such his commentary thereon. Although we confess it is uncongenial to our feelings to be obliged to repeat some of the above paragraphs in our pages, this course has, under the circumstances, become necessary, especially since their author has also published, in some further remarks, his own account of what the above extracts signify; and this latter explanation differs materially from the meaning which we attached to them.
“ What the verdict of public opinion may be, I cannot tell,” says Mr. Buckle. Although we do not pretend to record such verdicts (having, nevertheless, a strong opinion what must be the judgment of all who are able to arrive at one on this subject), we are able to say what is the sentiment throughout the legal profession. It is one of indignation, not unmingled with shame. Of indignation that a judge, among the eminent men who were his contemporaries on the bench pre-eminent for his great learning, sterling ability, and judicial virtues, should be thus attacked in an unjustifiable libel; of shame that a man, venerable and venerated, possessed in a remarkable degree of a pure love of justice, distinguished for courtesy and kindness in all the relations of life, public and private; and who, having retired from the bench, best beloved, esteemed, and honoured by those who best knew him, and knew how to value what is amiable, estimable, and honourable—that such a man as Sir John Coleridge should have been subjected to slander so virulent, mistaken, and foolish, as that into which Mr. Buckle has unfortunately been betrayed.
According to our experience, so far from there being a disposition to laud Mr. Buckle's efforts, either on the part of the public or of the legal profession, there is a general concurrence in opinion that the critic, in writing and printing his scandalous charges against Sir John Coleridge, has evinced insufficient appreciation of the facts connected with Pooley’s trial, and total misapprehension of the principles and practice of criminal law. In fact, Mr. Buckle has put himself in a false position. But, from his peculiar constitution of mind, we quite believe that he does not now, nor will he be ever able himself to perceive that this is so.
Although Mr. Buckle, we find, did not ask the question--one very pertinent to the subject, however, as to who Sir John Coleridge is, yet we may perhaps be allowed to make this inquiry. Who, then, is this man “ of cold heart and shallow understanding," who, acting together with a certain wretched and intolerant faction with which he was connected, selects the most inaccessible county in England, * where the press is least active, and the people most illiterate, and then “pounce upon a defenceless man, and make him the scapegoat” for the offences of more powerful unbelievers, who are too strong to be attacked ? What has been the history and life of this “unjust and unrighteous judge,” this iniquitous person, who, with his son as prosecuting counsel, was cruel and cowardly enough to crush an unfortunate victim, in order that malignant prejudices might be gratified, and the spleen of a miserable clique of intolerant religionists be humoured? Who is this functionary, who abuses a high and sacred office for his own mean, revengeful, and cowardly purposes ?
We do think that Mr. Buckle might have made some inquiries himself on the subject, as obviously character forms an element in calculating the probable motives of a man acting in a transaction such as Mr. Buckle has described. Had he done so, he would then perhaps have learnt that Sir John Coleridge was distinguished at his university as an accomplished scholar—that he was then the intimate friend of a body of earnest, zealous, and highly-gifted contemporaries—no insignificant men in later life-that his society was courted, his correspondence cherished, and his opinions valued by some of the leading and most thoughtful men of the age-that, in his professional career at the bar, he obtained the success which terminated in his promotion to the bench, by the legitimate exercise of his talents, his distinguished fame as a lawyer, and his high and unblemished reputation.
* Mr. Buckle has repudiated the notion that he here meant, that the judge exercised any choice as to where the case should be tried, or had any knowledge that such a case as Pooley's was to be tried previous to the trial. If Mr. Buckle has been misunderstood, it is his own fault for writing loosely and wildly on two important topics-human liberty and personal character.
We, who for years have been wont to watch Mr. Justice Coleridge on the bench, feel ashamed in referring to what must be more or less within the knowledge of the whole professionhis lofty character, strong undeviating sense of rectitude, and zeal for constitutional rights of all on whose interests he had to decide. We know that the occupants of the English bench are, and indeed have been for years, marked by high judicial qualities; but amongst our judges Mr. Justice Coleridge was conspicuous for his possession of the brightest and most admirable of these virtues. His love of Justice seemed an instinct-his search after the very truth a necessary and essential condition of his mind. His overwhelming sense of personal duty, and his absence of all “ fear or favour" (which sometimes, according to Bacon, beset judges), were proverbial. Whilst he listened with the moderation and modesty which belong to real knowledge and true wisdom, to the arguments of counsel and the opinions of his brethren on the bench, he delivered his own judgments with perfect independence and resolution, which is not their least merit.
Mr. Buckle might also, with a very little inquiry of those from whom he could easily have received authentic information, have ascertained that the private life and personal virtues of the man whom he has thought proper to accuse of crimes against society and outrages upon humanity, are such as would shed a lustre upon any name, and render it impossible for him to have committed an abominable act from a wicked motive. Nor can it be contended in excuse that the criticism was legitimately applied to a public officer, not to the man. A“most unjust, unrighteous judge,” “a stony-hearted man,” tyrannical and insolent in office, who “ferrets out obsolete laws” to gratify his malignity,
1 In our last Number reference was made to one of the excellent judgments of Coleridge, J., in which he vindicates the “liberty” of the subject with remarkable eloquence and force, see No. XIII., p. 17.