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Pleas, immediately filed informations against the Messrs. Hunt and against Mr. John Drakard, the publisher of the “ Stamford News," on the ground that the publication tended to create disaffection in the minds of the soldiers and to disincline others from entering the service. The Messrs. Hunt were tried before Lord Ellenborough in the Court of King's Bench for printing and publishing a seditious libel. Mr. Brougham defended them in a speech marked by great ability and ingenuity, in which he set forth in eloquent and convincing language the right of British subjects to a free discussion of matters of vital interest to the people and the government. While he was far from pretending to make any apology for the reckless licentiousness into which some organs of the press had fallen, but, on the contrary, dwelt upon their malignant abuse in the most bitter terms; he skilfully took apart the alleged libel, and showed that the topic was not a new or improper one for examination, and that the tone in which it was treated was neither more inflammatory nor more mischievous in its tendency than certain publications of distinguished officers which had met with a favorable reception. He showed conclusively that there was neither evil intention in the publication nor any reasonable probability that disastrous results would flow from it. Mr. Brougham had to contend not only against the acute and learned Attorney General, but also against the hostile opinions of the presiding judge. Lord Ellenborough, who distinguished himself during this period by his crusade against “ liberty of opinion,” took advantage, in his charge, of the power reserved to judges by the Libel Act of 17921 of stating to the jury their opinion of the nature of the publications brought before them, commented very sharply on the character of the article, and closed as follows:
“Gentlemen, it is generally expected that, under the suggestion of the act of parliament, — it is not peremptory on me but it is generally expected
looking man (so at least he was described, for I never saw him); very worthy, I believe, in private; and said to be so fond of novels, that he would read them after the labours of the day, till the wax-lights guttered without his knowing it. I had a secret regard for him on this account, and wished he would not haunt me in a spirit so unlike Tom Jones. I know not what sort of a lawyer he was; probably none the worse for imbuing himself with the knowledge of Fielding and Smollett; but he was a bad reasoner, and made half-witted charges. He used those edge-tools of accusation which cut a man's own fingers " — Autobiography, vol. i. ch. 11.
Lord Brougham is unsparing of his old enemy in his “Statesmen of the time of George III.,” First Series, vol. i.
1 May's Constitutional Hist. of England, ii. 189.
—that I should state my opinion :- I have no doubt that this libel has been published with the intention imputed to it; and that it is entitled to the character which is given to it in the Information.”
Notwithstanding this, the jury, after a consultation of two hours, returned a verdict finding both the defendants not guilty.?
In the trial at Lincoln, before Sir George Wood, one of the barons of the Court of Exchequer, of Mr. Drakard, for the original publication of the objectionable article, Mr. Brougham brought an equal amount of zeal and ability to the defence. But though this trial took place only a few weeks later than that of the Messrs. Hunt, and though the fact of a London jury having declared this very piece not libellous, was not only referred to by counsel, but was a matter of common notoriety, the defendant was convicted. Baron Wood was no more chary of his opinion than Lord Ellenborough, saying,
" It is said that we have a right to discuss the acts of our legislature. This would be a large permission indeed. Is there, gentlemen, to be a power in the people to counteract the acts of the parliament; and is the libeller to come and make the people dissatisfied with the government under which be lives? This is not to be permitted to any man, - it is unconstitutional and seditious." He said that he entirely agreed with the counsel for the Crown, and thus concluded : “In the present case I have no difficulty in asserting of this publication, that it has a tendency to produce the mischief that is ascribed to it, and that it is a libel.” 8
Mr. Drakard was found guilty.
The Messrs. Hunt escaped the first time, owing to the reasonable and natural sympathy of*a London jury; but it was not long before they were again in trouble, this time on account of an article in the "Examiner” for March 22, 1812, describing the annual dinner
I State Trials, xxxi. 414.
? Lord Campbell reports a case in the Court of King's Bench, under date of Friday, Feb. 22, 1811, of Rex v. Hunt and Another, where the defendants were charged by the first count in the information with having composed, printed, and published a libel in the “Examiner" newspaper. Evidence of publication only having been introduced, according to the statute, by the counsel for the Crown, Mr. Brougham, for the defendants, contended that they must be acquitted on the first count, as the aggravated offence of composition had not been proved. Lord Ellenborough ruled that the evidence was sufficient to convict, but the jury found a verdict of “not guilty." Campbell, ii. 583. As Mr. Brougham made his argument for the Messrs. Hunt, just a month before (Jan. 22, Speeches, i. 13), these gentlemen must have been a second time prosecuted.
3 State Trials, xxxi. 535, 536.
of the Irish on St. Patrick's Day at the Freemasons' Tavern, in which the regent's person and politics were most freely satirized.
As Prince of Wales, George IV. had been a friend of the Whigs, and a supporter of the Roman Catholic claims, and hence a great favorite with the Irish; but, on his becoming prince regent, all was changed; his father's Tory ministers were retained in power, and he displayed the most violent animosity towards both Whig leaders and principles. At this dinner of the Irish, his health was drunk “ with partial applause, and loud and reiterated hisses," while his old friends vainly strove to stop the torrent of unpopularity by a timid remonstrance or a judicious silence. These facts were duly narrated by Mr. Hunt, in language which dealt most unsparingly with the political and moral conduct of the prince regent. But the vanity, not the conscience, of the prince was touched by the article, for it contained some caustic comments, showing up the folly of some grossly flattering verses on him, which had appeared in the columns of a contemporary, the “Morning Post,” ridiculing the idea of terming him an “Adonis in loveliness,” when he was in reality “ a corpulent gentleman of fifty.'
Leigh Hunt and his brother were prosecuted for this libel on the prince, it being understood that the sting of the piece lay in the styling of the conceited prince as “a corpulent gentleman of fifty.” The trial took place in December, 1812, Mr. Brougham, who was Leigh Hunt's personal friend, appearing, as before, in their defence. Francis Horner, who was present at the trial, thus describes Brougham's argument, which has not been preserved in his “ Speeches :
“ The Hunts are convicted; but not without the jạry retiring for about ten minutes. Brougham made a powerful speech, unequal, and wanting that unity which is so effective with a jury; some parts rather eloquent, particularly in the conclusion, where he had the address, without giving any advantage, to fasten the words effeminacy and cowardice, where everybody could apply them. One very difficult point of his case, the conduct of the regent to the princess, he managed with skill and great effect; and his transition from that subject to the next part of his case was a moment of real eloquence. Lord Ellenborough was more than usually impatient,
| The article is preserved entire in Leigh Hunt's “Autobiography," i. ch. 13.
" Mon Dieu !” said the Princess Caroline, when she first saw him, in 1795, “est ce que le Prince est toujours comme cela ? Je le trouve très gros, et nullement aussi beau que son portrait.” — Malmesbury's Diaries, üi. 218.
and indecently violent: he said that Brougham was inoculated with all the poison of the libel, and told the jury, the issue they had to try was, whether we were to live for the future under the dominion of libellers."
Notwithstanding Mr. Brougham lost his case, and his clients' slight offence met with the very severe and disproportionate punishment of two years' imprisonment in separate jails, owing mainly to the open enmity of the presiding judge ;? yet he is said to have so keenly satirized the regent in the course of his speech as to incur his lasting anger. This result Mr. Brougham, far from deprecating, did all in his power to aggravate ; fearlessly and unflinchingly, but most intemperately and injudiciously, attacking the prince. One of these assaults was so violent and entirely unnecessary, as to disgust some of his most firm and admiring friends, thoroughly to unite his political opponents, and to lose the cause of his own party, in whose behalf it was made.
This incident, which is described at considerable length by Sir Samuel Romilly, is a most convincing proof of Brougham's great fault, — his want of judgment; an obstacle which always stood in the
way of his rise, and which prevented a due appreciation of his great abilities. Sir S. Romilly’s estimate of him is that of a friend and of a man of strong perception, and is well worth attention. In March, 1816, a motion of disapprobation of the increase which had lately been made of the salary of the Secretary to the Admiralty in time of peace was before the House of Commons.
"In the course of the debate upon it, Brougham, who supported the motion, made a violent attack upon the Regent, whom he described as deFoted, in the recesses of his palace, to the most vicious pleasures, and callous to the distresses and sufferings of others, in terms which would not have been too strong to have described the latter days of Tiberius. Several persons who would have voted for the motion were so disgusted that they went away without voting; and more, who wished for some tolerable pretext for not voting against Ministers, and who on this occasion could not vote with them, availed themselves of this excuse and went away too; and
Life and Correspondence, ii. 125. 3 « There is but one sentiment of condemnation, respecting Lord Ellenborough's intemperate and indecent conduct at Hunts' trial. This is not only universal among the bar, who feel this as a professional concern; but among laymen, of all political denominations. I have reason to believe, also, that the other judges regret his conduct very much. The session of Parliament can hardly pass over, without some pointed notice of it.” – F. Horner, in Life and Correspondence, ii. 127.
it is generally believed that, but for this speech of Brougham's, the Ministers would have been again in a minority. If this had happened, many persons believe or profess to believe that the Ministers would have been turned out. Poor Brougham is loaded with the reproaches of his friends ; and many of them who are most impatient to get into office look upon him as the only cause that they are still destined to labour on in an unprofitable opposition. I have no doubt that, whatever had been the division, the Ministers would still have continued in office. But it is not the less true, that Brougham's speech was very injudicious as well as very unjust; for, with all the Prince's faults, and they are great enough, it is absurd to speak of him as if he were one of the most sensual and unfeeling tyrants that ever disgraced a throne. Brougham is a man of the most splendid talents and the most extensive acquirements, and he has used the ample means which he possesses most usefully for mankind. It would be difficult to overrate the services which he has rendered the cause of the slaves in the West Indies, or that of the friends to the extension of knowledge and education among the poor, or to praise too highly his endeavours to serve the oppressed inhabitants of Poland. How much is it to be lamented that his want of judgment and of prudence should prevent his great talents, and such good intentions, from being as great a blessing to mankind as they ought to be!” 1
Mr. Brougham had entered the House of Commons in 1810, as the representative of the close borough of Camelford, under the patronage of the Earl of Darlington, and had there remained true to the liberal political principles which he had from the first espoused. He had moved an address to the Crown for the more effectual suppression of the slave trade, and obtained the passage of a penal statute; he had with Horner and Lord King fought against the use of an inconvertible paper currency; and had procured, in 1812, the rescinding of the orders in Council as far as America was concerned, having in vain advocated the cause of the distressed merchants and manufacturers of London, Hull, Manchester, and Liverpool, at the bar of both Houses, when they had petitioned for such relief four years before.
An unsuccessful attempt to defeat Mr. Canning at the election for Liverpool in 1812, kept Mr. Brougham out of Parliament for four years; but in 1816 he was returned to Parliament as member for Winchelsea, another pocket borough of the Earl of Darlington's.