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My Imprisonment for Libel

April 5, 2010

“For having dared to write and publish severe truths of very bad functionaries when truth was held by servile judges as libellous, and greater the truth the greater the libel.”

On the 20th of August 1828 at the Summer Assizes, I was tried before Mr. Justice Parke at the Guildhall of the City and County of Bristol, for the publication of certain libels in my Bristolian publication during April 1828 on the Corporation of Bristol. I was then and there convicted of such offence with the sentence being deferred until some future time.

The following inclusion being an example of just one small part of the evidence given in support against me:

(The Bristolian Friday Evening, 4th April 1828)

BRISTOL MAGISTRACY.

In our animated versions on the condition and conduct of this notable body, we are unable at all times to draw such distinction between its different members as a difference of character, talent or other qualifications, might claim or justify. None, we should have thought, could suppose that our general observations were intended as equally applicable to each individual Magistrate; and we therefore devote an article to the desirable purpose of explaining ourselves on this point.

Our objection to the constitution of the magistracy of our City, cannot bear the subdivision of apportionment. Each member of the firm, whatever his private resources, must, however reluctantly, submit to the inconvenience of exposure, as connected with his less solvent associates in the business. And if there be in this ill-reputed body, as we hope there are, some in whose estimation public opinion is desirable, and public contempt objectionable, we would suggest that the line of proceeding alone compatible with present honour and posthumous character is, immediate secession from bad company; for the experience of each successive day but adds fresh and varied evidence to the truth of the aphorism, that by the company a man keeps his disposition and habits may be best ascertained.

There are circumstances, indeed, which might justify a course directly at variance with that to which we have alluded; such, for instance, with a needy man, as the necessity of availing himself of the ways and means derivable by Corporators from the abundance in the corporation coffers or with a patriotic man, as the rational expectation of converting his brethren from the error of their ways. But we fear any hope of the latter can only be attributed to an ignorance of the world, or to a too sanguine temperament. As to needy men, members of the Bristol corporation, the supposition was incredible, or would be so esteemed by a vast majority of our readers. It is not very easy, neither indeed is it very desirable, to fathom the pecuniary depth of an Alderman’s purse, and the public opinion on such a question can only he formed on the precise quantum of information which the individual may please to amalgamate with his conduct. But if we were to form our opinion on this standard, we might be led into error by the profundity of an Aldermanic manoeuvre. It is not at all uncommon for a gentleman of straightened means to give alms in an inverse ratio to his just ability, in order that he may be thought richer than he is. So also, under the operation of the Property Tax, when it was an every day occurrence for tradesmen, with insolvency staring them in the face, to seek the establishment of a commercial credit by the sacrifice of an increased contribution to the revenue. And may not some equally weak men be as desirous that their riches should be unknown, as with the others that their poverty should be cloaked? But to explain these ideas we will illustrate our argument by a case in point:-

Mr. Camplin – the late Mayor of the second City in the kingdom – is a gentleman of whom it were impossible to suspect anything in the shape of poverty. That an individual who has so recently occupied so eminent a situation and station in the civilised world as Mayor of the second City in the first kingdom on the face of the earth, could be supposed a needy man, were, we repeat it, an instance of the most presumptuous folly. Well then, as we soar above the region of fools, we of course conceive this right worshipful ex-Mayor a man of unbounded wealth. And yet he may be one of those whose modesty is father to the thought, that a suspicion of wealth is prejudicial, and should be counteracted by the occasional semblance of poverty. Such we suspect he is, and to this feeling and an ingenious talent at throwing dust into the eyes of other people, we attribute his apparently singular behaviour some time since. The story we shall here relate, as we received it, for the edification of the many, and the instruction of those who may feel desirous of the following the example of the worthy ex-Mayor.

Mr. Camplin (so runs the tale) being somewhat interested in ascertaining how far a certain quantity of small coal might be made to diffuse sufficient warmth among the right worshipful household, directed his coachman to buy a savage dog for the purpose of guarding the said coal from the intending shovels of the un-experimental cooks. A savage dog was accordingly sought and found a sufficient collar, duly engraved, was ordered, made and delivered; – all the preliminaries for the master effort of economical ingenuity were well established, when, the unreasonable dog took it into his head that the cook deserved a warm return of his gratitude for the skin and gristle she had so plentifully supplied, and slipping his collar bolted. The dog seller sent in his bill. “Now” thought Mr. Camplin, “If I pay for the dog, the dog seller will think I have more money than I know what to do with, so I won’t pay for the dog.” And he would not pay for the dog – and he did not pay for the dog, or the dog collar, until during his Mayoralty he was summoned to the Court of Conscience, of which he was ex-officio chief, when, notwithstanding much show of resistance, that independent Magistrate, Alderman Haythorne, persuaded him to dub up by the observation, “It should have been paid when it was first demanded, and really you have no ground for hesitating to do so.” Accordingly, Mr. Camplin paid for the dog, consoling himself with the reflection that the dog seller could not now suppose he had more money than he knew what to do with.

But not to forget that the tale is but an illustration of our argument, we return to the point from which we have wandered, and assert, that however suspicious of poverty the assumed economy of some Aldermen may be, it cannot be supposed that any worshipful gentleman could desire to wear his gown merely for the sake of the good things to be got by so doing. There is therefore little excuse for remaining in a corporation one moment longer than the connection shall be conducive to, or consistent with, the personal honour of the individual.

But when we write of the conduct of the magistracy, we intend and desire to be understood as intending a personal reference to the particular Magistrate. And this too, in justice to others; for the saddle should be girthed on the right horse, or the unfortunate locum tenens might be severely galled by the unwise misfit.

MAGISTRATE JUSTIFICIATORY
CHARACTERS OBSERVATION.

Gabriel Goldney,Esq.
Wicked – Opposed to the people; and seeking the destruction of their rights.

Thomas Daniel, Esq.
Unfaithful – In misapplying the talents entrusted to his care.

Sir. R Vaughan, Knt.
Wicked – Aiding in the subversion of popular privileges.

William Fripp, Esq.
Unfortunate – As the father of an unjust Magistrate.

John Haythorne, Esq.
Worthy – The friend of the people. A just judge.

Henry Brook, Esq.
Weak – Not daring to be for us.

James Fowler, Esq.
Weak – therefore against us.

W. Fripp, Jun. Esq.

Vicious  – The unjust advocate of private trial in a free country.

G. Hillhouse, Esq.
Weak –  Not daring to be for us.

J. George, Esq.
Weak – therefore against us.

John Barrow, Esq.
On his probation.

Now, it appears to us that the worshipful members of our magisterial conclave may be thus classed: some WORTHY, others WEAK, and others again WICKED. Within our experience we have seen enough of these Corporators to be enabled duly to appreciate the distinctive merits and demerits of several, whilst of the rest we have naturally concluded that their indisposition to manifest an inclination on one side or the other, is unquestionable evidence of a pitiable degree of weakness.

The requisites of a Magistrate are, 1st, a due reverence for the people; 2nd, the determination, in the discharge of his duty, to be just and to fear not! On this test we have tried them, and the result of our investigation justifies the subjoined tabular arrangement.

Desirous that much appreciation may not be taken as merely founded on our opinion of desert, we are therefore free to confess that this estimation of character is the result of a solemn trial of the parties in question in The Bristolian Court of Enquiry, minutes of which we subjoin for the perusal of our readers and the furtherance of the ends of justice.

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