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and the rash error of the boy. The locus penitentiæ, which God and nature and society grant, is cut off. He whom Wisdom would rebuke with kindness, and bid go and sin no more,' is at once pilloried and branded, and turned out hopeless and callous to a world in which he thinks every man's hand is for ever to be against him. If this system is to go on, the peace of families and of neighbourhoods must be perpetually agitated and harassed by rude intrusions on the sanctities of domestic retirement, to drag forth not only the smaller vices, and venial frailties of individuals, but their innocent and indifferent actions-even their misfortunes, their infirmities, their sorrows-whenever these can be made the subject of a heartless and mercenary exhibition to the multitude.

'Jam sævus apertam
In rabiem verti cœpit jocus, et per honestas
Ire domos impune minax-Doluere cruento
Dente lacessiti: fuit intactis quoque cura
Conditione super communi'-

The propriety of allowing unchecked such a vigour beyond the law is surely at least questionable.

When satire and comedy hold up classes of knaves, and fools, and pretenders, to public scorn, they do a service to morals and good taste, without committing any attack on individual security; but when the moral lesson degenerates into a furious hunt after individual transgressors-a hue and cry against every one who is a little more licentious or ridiculous than his neighbours, or, perhaps, only a little more unreserved-it becomes a question, whether any good end effected can at all compensate to society for the confidence betrayed-the bad blood and uncharitable feelings excitedand the appetite created and pampered for private scandal and detraction. To set one part of society (and this by no means the most pure or the most upright part) to lash and castigate the other into virtue and decorum of conduct-this is a moral expedient, the propriety of which we may be permitted to question. At the very best it is only the nostrum of the empiric, who expels one poison from the constitution by introducing another still more malignant in its place. Society gains little if, in attempting to shut one door against debauchery and profligacy, it opens a wider portal for slander to enter, with scurrility, envy, and perfidy in her train. Our constitution prefers occasionally encountering the excesses of liberty to arbitrary expedients, which in excluding sedition might endanger rational freedom. It prefers the nuisances of Westminster mobs and Orator Hunts to the perilous preventives of a military police and general warrants. And for our own part (and we believe the reflecting portion of the public are quite of our mind)


we should consider open profligacy a less evil than cautious hypocrisy and external decorum, brought about by the domestic inquisitions of authors, and the licensed disclosures of spies on private life. We should deem licentious morals a smaller nuisance than a vulgar despotism of irresponsible writers.-But there is in truth no such choice to be made; for by giving further license to such a mischievous censorship, we should admit one evil without in any degree getting rid of another. We believe the real profligates and knaves of society feel little, if any, effective dread of the criminations of the press, which so many who are deserving of them contrive to stifle, or evade, or set at nought, or turn to profitable account in a war of words, and which are generally meted out more from accident and caprice than in any certain proportion to the guilt of the individual. Without aid from the press, conduct grossly reprehensible must be known to the friends and relations of the party, that is, to all those on whose good opinion he sets a value; and the additional censure of thousands for whom he cares nothing, can have few terrors for one who has already steeled his feelings against the scorn and aversion of kindred and connexions. Besides it is no small diminution of their weight and utility, as correctors of vice, that the part of the press to whom this sort of police-this moral gens-d'armerie-belongs, cannot possibly be entirely above the reach of corruption, and absolutely cannot be above the suspicion of it,-though we believe the press of this country to be on the whole as free from this taint, as, from the nature of things, can be the case. We wish we could say the same thing as to the influence of malignant and angry passions, which lead it to hunt down, with unrelenting annoyance, those victims who happen to incur its displeasure, and whose characters, from some unfortunate stigma, may disqualify them for facing their persecutors in a court of justice-or whose known temper and principles make it certain that they will stoop to no such appeals.*

We believe, therefore, that the attempt to write down the follies and vices of society is, in truth, hopeless and visionary: we do not dispute by any means the great utility and efficacy of

The utter want of all principle upon which some newspapers conduct themselves, as to the public, when they think it possible to injure, by so doing, individuals who have in any way incurred their spleen, is often manifested in methods, at the meanness of which it is impossible not to smile. If a speaker in parliament clears the gallery when the reporters think he ought not to do so, they make a compact among themselves, and no notice is taken for months, even for years, of his appearances in the house. This happened once even to so eminent a person as Mr. Windham. The same system has been pursued sometimes in regard to professional men, of which we could point out a very recent and most degrading example; but the parliamentary reporters are now, in most cases, persons who ought to be far indeed above the contamination of any such tricks.


moral writings, and satires on vice and folly in the abstract, or exposing and reprehending whole classes of those who indulge in them; but we doubt the services of personal vituperation, and the exposure of individual conduct, by way of correction or example: and even if we thought this system efficacious, we are at a loss to know where such a tremendous power can be safely lodged. Horace requires the condition of spotless integrity as well as literary merit, in those who are to censure others with impunity :'si quis

Opprobriis dignum latraverit integer ipse?

-Solventur risu tabulæ-tu missus abibis.'

And, doubtless, a perfect moral character might safely be invested with a censorship over folly and vice; but trusted in the frail, irresponsible, and often mercenary hands of anonymous writers, we are satisfied such powers are attended with evils far counterbalancing any good to be derived from them. Not one of the least of these accompanying evils is, the constant familiarity of the public mind with scenes and details of immorality which this system of exposure occasions. The publications of the English press are disgraced and disfigured by a constant exhibition of vice in all its nauseating particulars and deformities, which is unknown to the press of other countries, and which, though undoubtedly arising from the superior freedom of publication in this country, must be reckoned among the heaviest prices paid by us for that great blessing. There are few fathers of families in the respectable classes of society who are not in daily dread of the exposure of their children's minds to the contaminating descriptions and details of our daily and weekly prints. The proceedings of Courts of Justice and Police-offices supply abundance of this pernicious food, and in so doing, counterbalance much of the good derived from the reports of their proceedings ;-what is wanted is eked out by the current slanders of society, the careless and exaggerated reports of hireling news-purveyors, and the second-hand scandal of saloons and club-houses. Gossip and personality have always been the evils more or less incident to free publication; but we believe the present day has had the credit of seeing, for the first time, journals established and rising into sudden vogue and celebrity, on the mere unassisted pretensions of superiority in detraction, of an unrivalled supply of licentious tittle-tattle and details of modish intrigues, or a matchless audacity of malice, which spares neither rank, nor sex, nor innocence, in its scurrilous assaults. It is most discreditable to society that such sordid and shameless appeals to the basest passions of our nature should meet with an encouragement and reward which enables the offen2 Q ders


ders to set the laws at defiance, and pursue their profitable and abandoned trade, unchecked by the ineffectual inflictions of justice.

When we are told that the law which says truth may be a libel is harsh and severe, that it tends to check censures on bad measures of government-that it places the press in jeopardy when usefully holding up private vice, or exposing bad morals or bad taste, we beg, in refutation of all such objections, to refer to every reader's experience of the actual contents of the publica tions every day before his eyes. Does he there see any timid truckling to power?-any crouching servility to rank and authority-any cautious forbearance or pusillanimous delicacy towards vice and delinquency, or even towards harmless folly and absur dity, whether titled or obscure ?-Is there any symptom of a terror of declaring, or even of exaggerating and exceeding, all possible truth?―any appearance of the timidity of men suffering under an oppressive law? If the opposite of all these symptoms distinguishes, and often disgraces, the bold press of this day, we care not what the law may be in theory, (though we have already shown that its theoretical principle can scarcely ever bear severely on any public, or political, or useful discussion)—it is manifest that in practice and effect, at least, it is not to be charged with tyranny and oppression;-that its errors, if it have them, are much rather on the side of leniency than of rigour—that it requires strengthening rather than relaxing. If the law be rigorous, it must, at least, be allowed that libel and slander, like heresy, prosper by persecution. And if the state of the press be that to which we have alluded, under a law which allows truth to be prosecuted when defamatory, into what untried latitude of license might we expect it to rush, if the feeble fences of private life and fame were at one blow removed,—if unqualified impunity were declared for the publication of everything not false? Above all, when we have shown that what is called the harsh, but is in truth the feeble, effect of the law excluding evidence of truth, can really fall alone on that class of publications where the press commits its greatest, its most pernicious, and its least palliable excesses-we mean the libels on private character-we ask whether it would not be the height of rashness and impolicy to allow further license where too much exists already-where licentiousness is unmitigated by any of the laudable motives, or useful ends, which often go far to redeem the exuberances of political and speculative writers?

The truth is, the proceeding by indictment (which, it will be remembered, is the only proceeding applicable to libellous truth) so far from being a severe, is a too slight and inefficient check on the transgressions of the worst class of authors. Prosecutions


by indictment are extremely rare, and the reason is obvious. The individual libelled does not by this proceeding advance a step towards clearing his character-nay, by adopting a proceeding in which truth is no defence, he, in effect, makes a tolerably plain confession that there is some ground at least for the charges made against him; he thus goes into court to assert the strict, though, as we think, salutary and evidently not oppressive law,

that the libeller must be punished, although the victim admits some truth in the libel. This is a proceeding-like many other salutary proceedings-naturally open to popular objections against the party resorting to it; and he accordingly arms the defendant and his counsel with the opportunity, abundantly taken advantage of, to hold him up to the court and the world as evading the dis cussion of the truth of his conduct, and confessing himself guilty of what has been written against him. This is insinuated and reiterated with such stress and explicitness, that although he walks out of court, having convicted the libeller, it is well understood and carefully published by the press, that his triumph is not that of entire innocence, but of an implied admission of at least partial guilt. When such is the effect of the proceeding, no wonder that few individuals, whose real misdeeds are published, think fit to prosecute, particularly when the prosecution publishes their delinquencies to thousands, who would otherwise have never heard of their existence. When an instance, therefore, occurs (as it sometimes, though rarely, does) of an offender being goaded by vehement invective into a proceeding by indictment against writers who have stated his crimes to the world, the prosecution excites the more sensation from its extreme rarity; a clamour is raised, and echoed from journal to journal-the slanderous publishers feel their traffic endangered,and writers of all kinds, naturally desirous not to łose a chance of acquiring extended power, join in filling the public ear with a cry, that the liberty of the press is in jeopardy. On all sides we hear the same clamours-that the law of libel is oppressive and tyrannical—that truth should be declared no libel: -and all this, simply because one individual has been found so unwise, or so abandoned, as to be willing to confess, by implication, his offendings, and to pay the price of disgraceful notoriety, rather than leave unpunished the revealer of his iniquity. To suppose that the press has really anything to fear from such prosecutions, can only arise from a want of thorough knowledge of the nature and effects of the proceeding. It is, in fact, to suppose persons libelled to be uninfluenced by the ordinary motives of men,-gratuitous coveters of disgrace, and lovers of costly exposure, when cheap concealment lies in their power.

We will, however, fairly admit that if the proceeding by indict




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