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CHAP. constitution in the manner charged by the prosecutors. “ Are CXLII.
you impannelled,” said he, “merely to determine whether the defendant had sold a piece of paper value two-pence? If there be an indictment preferred against a man for an assault with an intent to ravish, the intent niust be proved; so if there be an indictment for an assault with intent to murder, the jury must consider whether the assault was in self-defence, or on sudden provocation, or of malice aforethought? The secret intention may be inferred from the tendency; but the tendency of the alleged libel is only to be got at by considering its contents and its character; and, because “S—r” means “ Speaker,” and “h-h-b ff” means “high-bailiff," are you to find the defendant guilty, if you believe in your consciences that what he has published vindicates the law, and conduces to the preservation of order ?” He then ably commented upon the absurdity of this prosecution by the House of Commons, who arbitrarily and oppressively abusing the absolute power which they claimed, would not even tolerate a groan from their victims. Said he, “ There is a common proverb, — and a very wise Chancellor affirmed that proverbs are the wisdom of a people,-LOSERS MUST HAVE LEAVE TO SPEAK. In the Scripture, Job is allowed to complain even of the dispensations of Providence, the causes and consequences of which he could not comprehend. As complaints are natural to sufferers, they may merit some excuse where the infliction is by the act of man, and to common understandings seems wanton and tyrannical. A gentleman of high birth and unblemished honour is committed to a felon's cell in Newgate, because, being convicted of no offence, he refuses to throw himself before those, for whom he did not feel the profoundest respect, into that attitude of humility which he reserved for the occasion of acknowledging his sins, and praying for pardon before the throne of the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Must all be sent to partake his dungeon who pity his fate? The Attorney General tells a free people that, happen what will, they shall never complain. But, gentlemen, you will not surrender your rights, and abandon your duty. The fatal blow to English liberty will not be inflicted by an English jury."
The Attorney General having replied, and Lord Chief CHAP. Justice Lee having reiterated his doctrine, by which every thing was to be reserved to the Court, except publication and innuendoes, the jury retired, and, being out two hours, returned a general verdict of noT GUILTY. When the Attorney General could be heard, after the shout of exultation which arose, he prevailed upon the Chief Justice to call back the jury, who were dispersing, and to put this question to them:– Gentlemen of the jury, do you think the evidence laid before you of the defendant's publishing the book by selling it, is not sufficient to convince you that the said defendant did sell this book?” The foreman was at first He obtains
the verdict “a good deal flustered;" but the question being repeated to in spite of him, he said, in a firm voice, all his brethren nodding assent, the Judge. “ Not guilty, my Lord; not guilty! That is our verdict, my Lord, and we abide by it!" Upon which there was a shout much louder than before; and the Court broke up. * The controversy respecting the rights of juries was not settled till the passing of Mr. Fox's libel bill in 1792; but after this expression of public feeling, the practice of requiring persons summoned to the bar for breach of privilege to fall down on their knees was discontinued by both Houses of Parliament.f
For several years Pratt went on steadily in the ordinary progress of a rising lawyer. Without a silk gown he was now one of the leaders of the Western Circuit, and being considered peculiarly well read in parliamentary law, he was the favourite in all cases of a political aspect. He had a great share of election business before the House of Commons, which for the present he preferred to a seat in that assembly.
From some cause not explained (some uncharitably said from the apprehension that he might rival the Honourable C. Yorke, now making a distinguished figure at the bar) he was not a favourite with the Chancellor, but he was at last made He receives a King's counsel, upon a report which he never authorised, a silk gown. CHAP. that he intended permanently to practise in the Court of CXLII.
* 18 St. Tr. 1203_1230.
t On the trial of a Peer for felony it is still put down in the programme, that is, “ to kneel when arraigned ; " but this ceremony is not insisted on in practice.
King's Bench. When with his silk gown he went over to A.D. 1755.
55. the Court of Chancery, as eminent counsel then sometimes did,
and he was actually beginning to interfere with Charles Yorke, he was treated with great civility, but with marked disregard by Lord Hardwicke, who plainly, though not tangibly, showed
that he never listened to any thing which Pratt said.* His inti. I do not find that he attached himself to any particular macy with a Mr. Pitt.
.." section in politics, but he was on a footing of familiar inti
macy with the great Whig chiefs, particularly with his old school-fellow Pitt, who was in the habit of consulting him respecting questions of a legal or constitutional nature which
from time to time arose. Happy pe
He was likewise in the constant habit of associating with riod of his
artists and men of letters. Although he did not yet enjoy life.
the sweets of domestic life, this must have been an agreeable portion of his existence, for, free from the anxieties of office, he had achieved an enviable station in society, the pleasures of which were enhanced by recollecting the despair into which he had formerly been plunged; he was courted by friends and respected by opponents; highly satisfied with the present, he had brilliant prospects before him. The disgrace brought upon the country by the imbecility of the government might disquiet him ; but his solicitude was mitigated by the consideration that this government was becoming daily more unpopular, and that it might be replaced by one patriotic and powerful, in which he himself
might be called to take a part. July, 1757. At last Mr. Pitt was at the head of affairs with dictatorial He is made
authority. Resolved, both on public and private grounds, General. that his old Etonian friend should now be provided for, he
thought it might be too strong a measure at once to give the Great Seal to a man at the bar, who had never been a law officer of the Crown, nor had sat in Parliament; but he declared that Pratt should be Attorney General in the place of Sir Robert Henley, who was to be made Lord Keeper. Against this arrangement Charles Yorke, who had been
* On the authority of Sir James Mansfield, from the relation of Lord Camden himself. He added that “ Lord Mansfield so enlarged the practice of K. B. that counsel did not leave his Court."
Ttainty of a large in danger of being parliament
appointed Solicitor General the November preceding, and CHAP. whose father was mainly instrumental in constructing the new ministry, strongly protested, as derogatory to his rights and his dignity ; but Pitt was firm, maintaining that, from standing at the bar and merit, Pratt ought long ago to have been raised to the honours of the profession. Yorke, although in a manner very ungracious, and although still retaining a grudge against Pratt for this supposed slight, agreed to serve under him as Solicitor. — Mr. Attorney received the honour of knighthood.
In those days the law officers of the Crown had no He is reanxiety about a seat in Parliament; they were not driven to
parliament canvass popular constituencies, with the danger of being for Downthrown out, and the certainty of a large hole being made in their official earnings. Sir Charles Pratt was put in for the close borough of Downton, which he continued to represent without trouble or expence till he was made Chief Justice of the Court of Commons Pleas.
He now flourished in the Court of Chancery, and he was an overmatch for the heavy Equity pleaders who for twenty years had been sleeping over“ Exceptions” and “ Bills of Revival.” *
To share his prosperity and to solace his private hours, now His marthat he was too much occupied to go into general society, he, though “ on the shady side of forty,” resolved to take a wife. The courtships of some of my Chancellors have been amusing; but, having to relate, not to invent, I can only say of this union, (which I believe to have been highly prudent and respectable, but quite unromantic,) that the lady of his choice was Elizabeth, daughter and coheir of Nicholas Jefferys, Esq., of Brecknock Priory, who brought considerable wealth into the family, and in compliment to whom one of its titles was afterwards selected. They are said to have lived together in great harmony and happiness; but throughout the whole of Lord Camden's career we have to regret that very few personal or private anecdotes of him have been
• During the four years that he afterwards practised in this Court, there is hardly a reported case in which his name is not mentioned as counsel. - See Eden's Rep. temp. Northington.
CHAP handed down to us. We must be contented with viewing CXLII.
him on the stage of public life.
It is a curious fact, that although he was afterwards such a distinguished orator in the House of Lords, – during the whole time that he sat in the House of Commons his name is not once mentioned in the printed parliamentary debates. This arises partly from the very imperfect record we have of the proceedings of the Legislature during this period of our history, there being only one octavo volume for the twelve years from 1753 to 1765,– partly from the cessation of factious strife during Mr. Pitt's brilliant administration, and partly from Pratt's style of speaking being rather too calm and ratiocinative for the taste of the Lower House, — so that while he remained there he was merely considered "par negotiis, neque supra,” — equal to carrying through the law business of the government, and fit for nothing more, – no one dreaming that hereafter he was to rival Chatham, and
that Mansfield was to quail under him. His bill to The only occasion when he seems to have attracted much amend the notice og Habeas
notice as a representative of the people was in bringing forward the excellent bill — which unfortunately proved abortive — for amending the “ Habeas Corpus Act,” in consequence of a decision that it did not apply, unless where there was a charge of crime — so that in many instances persons illegally deprived of their liberty by an agent of the Crown could not have the benefit of it. Horace Walpole tells us, that “the Attorney General declared himself for the utmost latitude of the habeas corpus,' and adds, that “it reflected no small honour on him, that the first advocate of the Crown should appear as the first champion against prerogative.” The bill having easily passed the Commons, where it was warmly supported by Pitt, was (as I have had occasion to mention elsewhere) *, rejected by the Lords, in deference to the opinion of the “ Law Lords," who then opposed all improvement, and likewise to gratify the strong prejudices of the King, who had openly declared against it, and who, throughout the whole course of his reign, most conscientiously
Ante, p. 147.