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wrong. Dr. Smethurst has, in fact, been tried a second timenot in open court-and has been acquitted. Unsatisfactory as this state of facts is, it would be unfair to attack the authorities to whom the issue was referred for re-consideration ; because, first, we do not know what were the grounds submitted to their judgment; and next, under any circumstances, we have no right to assume that the onerous and painful duty imposed upon them has not been properly and conscientiously performed.
It is said, we know, that public opinion, as expressed by the newspaper press, required the reversal of the verdict, and that in obedience thereto the Home Office has acted. We are not, however, justified in believing that this was the motive for reprieving Smethurst; and we should further deny, absolutely, that “public opinion" (endeavouring to give as accurate a definition as we can to this vague term) has pronounced upon the subject at all. It is true that heaps of anonymous letters were printed. Some appeared with names appended to them of which the "public" knew nothing, and others with names to which the public attached no value, and there has been no little editorial comment vouchsafed ; but we trust it will be a long time before the government of a civilized country will listen to, and act upon, such expressions of "public opinion” as these. There would be no guarantee for the due administration of justice, if once the dictation of the press were submitted to in such matters. The uses of newspapers are doubtless most important in the present day; but were their decisions thus to be regarded, we should soon find that the irresponsibility of editors and correspondents, and the opportunity which would thus be afforded for undue influences to operate, varying, as the press does, in its different branches, and in character and repute, would subjugate the executive of this country to an intolerable tyranny.
The cheap press of London has indeed distinguished itself greatly on this occasion, and forcibly illustrates the danger to which we are referring. Under the cover of saving the life of the miscreant who now lies in jail awaiting his uncertain fate, or under the pretence of expounding scientific truth, sundry medical
men have been vigorously advertising themselves in that part of the newspapers allotted to correspondents. The professional character of men like Dr. Todd and Dr. Taylor has been disgracefully assailed; and personalities of a gross description, dishonesty, and misrepresentation of fact, have been freely indulged in. Some of the enthusiastic chemists and ingenuous philanthropists, indeed, have been carried so far that we daily expected them to propose a “Smethurst testimonial,” or at least to call an “indignation meeting," in which a vote of censure should be passed upon the Chief Baron, Serjeant Ballantine, and Dr. Taylor. The readers of the brilliant letters of “ Justus," "Lex,"
» o Medicus," and "Veritas,” are left in happy ignorance whether they may not all have been written by worthies, who, however they may aspire to appear in print, may be totally ignorant of equity, jurisprudence, or medicine. Party spirit, personal spleen, and professional jealousies, all find vent in this correspondence.” It would be not a little instructive if one could, on some occasions, look behind the mask of the indignant but anonymous moralist letter-writer, or of the profound, disinterested, and scientific Authority. We might occasionally find, peradventure, a dear relative of the party whose cause is so warmly advocated, or a disappointed rival of the witness whose evidence is condemned. Alas, for human nature! Men love and hate, embrace and assault, divide and conspire all over the world, and over all time, for nearly the same reasons.
It is the accident of the circumstances which surround them, which regulates the mode in which they express their angry nature and bad passions. In some states of society the Bowie knife, assassin's bullet, duellist's pistol, and poisoned cup; in others, the courts of law, and the like inventions of civilization, are the common weapons in use. We trust that the present stage in English society is not that when the newspaper, by usurpation, is to exert directly and injuriously too extensive a control.
We do not know whether it be perfectly true, that “no man can be written down except by himself,” but it is a rule which generally holds good ; and we rejoice that the respectable men who have been so freely aspersed, have not been tempted to enter
into newspaper controversy, nor endeavoured to exculpate or protect themselves from misconstructions put upon their evidence. It should be an inflexible rule among professional men, never to be betrayed into such disputes ; never to be provoked to reply to charges made against them as witnesses; nor to explain their position with reference to the evidence they have tendered." If a medical man is so sensitive to what any one or “every body” may say, and has not sufficient confidence in himself, or in truth, to disregard casual criticism, he must, so far as is possible, withdraw from the chances of being called as a witness in matters which will excite popular clamour or professional malice.
In commenting upon Palmer's trial, we took occasion to observe upon the sad exhibition which was then presented, of a number of unscrupulous medical witnesses who were retained for the defence, and who, it would appear, were ready then, and on any other occasion, to come forward either for immediate reward or to gain notoriety. We fear that, on Smethurst's trial also, we have seen a similar disposition. On any future trial for poisoning, those who conduct the defence may always know where to seek the evidence necessary to support it. Scientific testimony, so called, it would seem, may now always be procured. Whenever Dr. Taylor shall find arsenic or antimony in the human body, one can always be certain of procuring a number of experienced men to depose that he did not. The general result of the case is this: All that is requisite by future murderers by poison to do, is to use small doses, combine the use of various destructive drugs, and subpoena the proper witnesses. If the judge and jury should nevertheless be convinced that the skilful poisoner was guilty, it is then open
to him to work the papers and “public opinion,” get other doctors' evidence, and apply to the Home Office.
We bave seen lately a satirical suggestion for the amendment of the law, that it be enacted that henceforth, on trials for mur
1 Of course, we are not referring to the interesting and able letter of Dr. Todd, which he addressed to the “Times” from Vevay, after the fate of Smethurst must have been decided, and the object of which was to direct attention to matters of scientific importance connected with the trial, and not to affect the individual interests of the prisoner or witnesses.
der, there shall be no judge, but the jury shall consist of upwards of five thousand volunteers—who are not to be sworn, cor be allowed to see the prisoner or witnesses, nor hear the evidence; but shall be required to read every casual observation made on the subject, and write letters thereon to the newspapers. We commend these suggestions—if not to the deliberation of our law reformers, at least to the consideration of the "public." There is another practice which may be, at the same time, rendered a part of our criminal procedure-we mean that of getting up petitions to the Home Office if the verdict should unhappily be unfavourable to the prisoner. It is stated, that one on Smethurst's behalf was presented with the signatures of some thirty members of the Home Circuit, who were not present at the trial. But these counsel might possibly know some who had been there, and so were, of course, just the proper persons to interpose, and lend their aid to the Secretary of the Home Department.
Again, it is urged by some, that a consideration of the evidence on Smethurst's case should lead to the conclusion that there should be an official laboratory, and government officers whose duty it should be to give evidence indifferently between the crown and the accused. Whether this would procure for the public additional security may be doubted; and if we tend rather to the conclusion that it might be of service to adopt this plan, it is not because we attach any weight to the attacks upon Dr. Taylor and his coadjutors, or believe that prisoners on their trial run any risk from his analyses and evidence, but because, under due regulations, it is possible that the door may thus be shut upon the indecent struggles which, evidently, are being watched for by rival “schools” and “professors,” who covet the appointments of analysts to the prosecution. No plan, however, can be devised which shall cure human fallibility; and experience seems to indicate, that in all those cases where there are difficulties to contend with, and a possibility for difference in opinion, opportunity will be found for making the most of it.
The jury empannelled to try Thomas Smethurst were satisfied that poison had been administered to the deceased lady, Miss
Bankes, and unless chemical analysis is henceforth to be considered useless, it is clear that antimony was found in the small intestines, in the cæcum, in one of the kidneys, and the blood, thus confirming the opinion of three of the medical witnesses (including Dr. Todd), who had each been led to suppose that the patient was suffering from irritant poison. But a very different mode of arriving at conclusions was pursued out of court. By an error in the experiments, arsenic had been supposed by Dr. Taylor to have been found in considerable quantities in the body; but the poison really was deposited by the copper used in Reinsch's test. This fact was seized on, and whether Miss Bankes was poisoned by arsenic or not, was made the question at issue ; and the danger of determining by such evidence upon the life or death of the accused was urged. The pregnancy which was discovered on the post mortem examination, and the symptoms of dysentery, were also made the theme of learned letters, and the subject was duly confused. The explanation of the failure of Reinsch's test had satisfied the court; and the fact of the discovery of the error, by the skill and care and knowledge of the experts, was enough to reassure those whose minds were properly exercised upon the evidence. But the opportunity afforded of attacking Dr. Taylor was too good to be lost; and the argumentum ab ignorantiâ ad ignorantiam was too seductive to be foregone; so public-spirited men kept asking, “How do we know that all tests are not fallacious in such hands? The difference between the verdict of the jury and of the nonjurors may be referred to the fact, perhaps, that the former had all the evidence as a whole before them, and felt responsibility ; and the latter had only ecparte versions of it, and no responsibility was attached to their opinion.
This trial has had the effect of reproducing a demand for 1 Moreover, arsenic was found in one of the evacuations, and there could be no suspicion of the introduction of this poison by the tests themselves in this case, because the same tests were applied in upwards of seventy cases to various materials, and in these no arsenic was found. If minute doses of various irritant poisons were administered, which were, however, carried out of the system very rapidly, it is very possible that not more thana chance trace like this of arsenic would be discovered.