Page images

We cannot conceive what has induced an author of such discrimination as Mr. Rowland to refer, as he frequently does, to the works of Lord Campbell. Lord Campbell's recklessness as to the truth or untruth of his statement of facts is so well known, that no one can think of relying on any assertions of his without reference to his authority, if there be one, and the original authority when found ought to be cited, and not Lord Campbell. If his lordship cites no authority, it may be taken for granted that his statement is incorrect (see passim our last Number, pages 41 & 42); and his vulgar, ignorant opinions and claptrap sentiments are not worth the paper they are printed on.

The second part of Mr. Rowland's work explains, in considerable detail, the constitution and functions of the different members of the constitution, and its actual working in the government of the country. It also describes the political and personal rights of the people, and the manner in which these rights are protected and exercised; and, in fact, shews us precisely how we are governed, or, rather, how we govern ourselves. This part of the work furnishes information which can nowhere else be found in the same practical shape and brief compass, and will enable the student henceforth to acquire, in a short time, knowledge which it has hitherto only been possible to collect with much labour from many books, and from a close observation of parliamentary practice. We recommend the work to all classes of our readers; but particularly to those who, still in youth, are desirous to lay that sound basis for their knowledge of the constitution which every English gentleman should possess, or who find it necessary to prepare themselves for one of those numerous examinations which are now applied, with the idea of stimulating the young, or testing their competence for office, or for entry into a profession.


" They of Poland," and Christianity is parcel of the com

mon law."

Both these doctrines may be found repeated by various authorities in English jurisprudence. How they found their way

into text-books and reports we will presently inquire ; though, sooth to say, for any merit which they may possess on the score of being sound, useful, or applicable, they might be passed over in common with much more which is obsolete, fanciful, or mischievous, which retained in old law-books is repudiated in the new.

Blackstone enumerates among "public wrongs,” (Book iv., chap. 7.) that of “blasphemy against God and religion, by denying his being or providence; or by contumelious reproaches of our Saviour Christ; whither, also, may be referred all profane scoffing at the holy Scripture, or exposing it to contempt and ridicule. These are offences punishable at common law by fine and imprisonment, or other infamous corporal punishment; for Christianity is part of the laws of England.To this passage the commentator hath appended references to 1 Vent., 293, and 2 Strange, 834; and the editor, Mr. Christian, further supports the position taken up in the text by the following note :-“ChiefJustice Prisot declared, in the Court of Common Pleas, Scripture est common ley sur quel touts manières de leis sont fondes.' -See the Year Book, 34 H. VI. 40."

On examining this reference of Mr. Christian, we find that it is certainly misquoted by him, and probably misinterpreted. The contention in the case cited arose out of a writ quare impedit. The institution of the patron's presentee to the living of Holborn was disputed, the bishop maintaining that he was to be subject to the law of the church, and not to the common law; and what Prisot, during the learned argument, is reported really to have remarked, is

“A tielx Iris que ils Saint Eglise ont en ancien Scripture, covient à nous a doner credence ; car ceo common ley sur quels touts mans leis sont fondes. Et auxy sir nous sumus obliges de conustre lour lep de Saint egl.; et semblablement ils sont obliges de conustre nostre ley,"

That the "ancien Scripture” here has reference to the Bible, is by no means evident. The phrase rather points to the record of the ecclesiastical law which existed in ancient writings; and it obviously includes the old canon law-a fact which would render this quotation any thing but palatable to those who rest their faith upon it. The whole text, however, is corrupt and obscure, and utterly inadequate to support the doctrine propounded. Nevertheless, the misquotation, or rather garbling, and the probable misinterpretations of this passage, are really the sole foundation, by way of authority, for the oft-repeated maxim, that the “Scripture is common law,” which we are astonished to find also preserved in Mr. Serjeant Stephen's commentaries.

The reference to Ventris is the report of Taylor's case (p. 293). The defendant here had used very gross language, saying “Christ was a bastard &c., and that religion was a cheat.” Hale, C. J., presided, and ruled, that “to say religion were a cheat, is to dissolve all those obligations whereby the civil societies were preserved, and to reproach Christianity was therefore to subvert the law." In Keble's reports the same case is reported, and it is there alleged that the defendant blasphemously alleged " that the Protestant religion was a fiction.” And the judge is said to have affirmed two propositions, 1st, “the Christian religion (not the Bible) is part of the law itself ;” and 2nd (a much more tenable position), that “the religion established must be protected.” Whereupon Taylor, according to the approved mode in those days of bringing sinners from the error of their ways, and deterring others from the abominations of infidelity, was sentenced to stand thrice in the pillory, to pay a thousand marks, and find securities for his good behaviour for the rest of his life. may indeed gather from Q. v. Curl (1 Str., 789), that Hale, C. J., had held on other occasions like language ; for the Attorney


general said in argument, “My Lord C. J. Hale used to say, *Christianity is part of the law,' why not morality too ?” 1

The remaining authority, cited in support of Blackstone's remark, is Woolston's case, reported in 2 Strange, and dating in the second year of George II. Woolston moved in arrest of judgment, that to write against Christianity in general was not an offence punishable at common law; but the judges would not suffer this to be debated, saying it had already been settled (by Ventris’s case ?). They however, in the cause of toleration, which then “infested some men's minds," desired it might be noted that they did not intend to include " disputes between learned men upon particular controverted points," but addressed their judgment to attacks on Christianity in general. We may observe in passing, that legal tribunals therefore, if this be law, have imposed upon them the onerous duty of deciding as to who are “learned” men, what are the particular points which may be discussed, and what may be considered a "general ” attack on religion. We could point to more than one recent work, bearing the names of university professors and famous divines, which, if made the subject of indictment, would afford excellent scope for the exercise of the judicial faculties, in determining as to the learning of the men, and the tendency of their books. Such, however, is the degeneracy of these times, that we fear the majesty of the law will not be invoked either against High-church writers who have excited irreverent laughter by attempting a revival of mediæval ideas and practices; or against the Broad-church party for rank infidelity; or against the Low-church for treating what is alike sacred and profound with equal temerity and ignorance.

Be it remembered we have not to deal with the question whether proceedings against persons of the above description are probable, but whether they are possible under the law as it now is interpreted; and, if so, whether that law ought not to be reformed.

* In this case, the court overruled Read's case (Fost. 98); Read was indicted for publishing an obscene work, “Fifteen plagues of,” &c. Powell's distinction between Read's case and Sedley's is too “broadto be repeated


That prosecutions for blasphemy are at this day possible, recent experience has shewn; and the tenor of the discussions which have recently been raised in various places, has demonstrated to us that the principles on which the decisiou of the law is founded, and their practical applicability, are much misunderstood.

There is abroad a lack of distinct definition, and a large supply of the odium theologicum, which may at any day, notwithstanding the boasted “spirit of the age,” induce fresh prosecutions for opinion in England, and the establishment of a censorship, galling and noxious, as in other countries and in other times. So little real security does the law itself give, and so ardent are some people for the repression of hostile and " dangerous" doctrines, that it may be fairly avowed that we must rather look to the mutual hostility and jealousy between rival sects, than to their common toleration and disinterested love towards one another, when we seek for the explanation of the immunity enjoyed by heretics and those who declare themselves the antagonists of popular religions. The divisions between the Roman Catholics and the Church of England, between the Church of England and orthodox Dissenters, between the latter and the Unitarian and Quaker, afford a practical protection to each in turn, and incidentally to the rationalist, sceptic, and deist. But the trial of Mr. Holyoake and others who have preceded him, and the contumely and insult poured forth occasionally upon persons who have appeared in court, and professed coarse forms of infidelity and atheism (whatever this term may mean), shew that, for the unfortunate persons who profess to believe atheism, there is no safeguard against the machinery of the penal law being enforced against them.

We have seen what Blackstone and his authorities provide for the jurist's aid and guidance in dealing with blasphemy; and, before we consider the present aspect of the question, it will be well to notice what are the principles enunciated by the older authorities, and what were the practical application of their principles.

We do not find “blasphemy," in Hawkins's “Pleas of the

« PreviousContinue »