תמונות בעמוד

boasted. uses of such a church as ours," who lifts her mitred front in courts and palaces,” is, that she has power to obtain acts of this kind from the government; acts which she denominates services to religion, and which are services of that kind which was rendered to Jesus by his servant Peter, when he drew his sword, and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. If it be good to prosecute, the clergy, would be inexcusable if tủey were not themselves the prime agents of prosecution. · If it is bad, why do they not prevent it? Would the government go; the length of a single act to stifle the voice of freedom in religion, were it known to be contrary to the inclinations of the church ? We shall therefore proceed upon it as an undoubted fact, that all prosecutions on the score of religion are prosecutions by the church, and that the reverend the judges are on such occasions. the mere mouth-pieces of the reverend the clergy.'

Let us now take a slight cognition of the progeny, which the priest begets upon the judge; that monster, half cant, half grimgribber, which the man on the bench brings forth, when he lends himself to crush the freedom of writing in matters of religion. - The King v. Woolston is treated by the lawyers as a leading case.* It was moved in arrest of judgment, that the offence was not punishable in the temporal courts. But the judges declared they would not suffer this point to be argued-mark the reasonfor the Christian religion is established in this kingdom: and therefore they would not allow any books to be written which would tend to alter that establishment.” If the worship of Moloch were established, this rule would hold equally good. Truth and utility are tossed out of doors, that good lodging may be preserved for the Church. Establishment, Establishment, is the word. What it is that is established, true or false, good or evil, is wholly out of the question,

The court added, " that Christianity was part of the law; that whatever derided Christianity derided therefore the law; and was, an offence against the law.” This reason is just the same as the former; it is merely a fresh form of words to say that Christianity is established, and that the mere fact of establishment is a proper ground for punishing every human being that calls in, question the truth or goodness of the established matter.

We have here a case of that fraudulent, use of language, of which we detected so many instances in a short passage of Blackstone, and with which the law language of England abounds beyond all example, and all belief." The law,” in its large and, general acceptation means, the whole body of the securities provided for our persons, our properties, and all that is dear to us. The man that by derision, or any thing else, tries to destroy or

[ocr errors]

Holt, Law of Libel, 67.

weaken the force of these securities, is the greatest of criminals. “ The law," however, has another meaning. It may be any "part or parcel" of the whole body of enactments; and it may be a part and parcel which not only does not aid the general means of security, but tends with all its force to impair them. To seek to cut off this cause of infirmity or hurtfulness in the law, either by argument or ridicule, is so far from an offenee against the law, in its more general acceptation, that the whole tendency of it is to strengthen and improve the law. The knavery of the lawyer, acting with its usual tool, a juggling, equivocating term, makes this admirable service, which is an attack upon “the law,” in one sense of the term, namely a peccant part, parcel, or pendicle of the law, be construed and taken for what it is not an attempt to deprive society of the benefits of law.

Thus fraudulent and worthless is that pretext for punishing freedom of speech, which is wrapt up in the canting jargon, that Christianity is part and parcel of the law of England. Observe too the sweeping operation of the dictum. If nothing which is part and parcel of the law is to be free to the press, nothing is free. In respect to other things, freedom of the press is a word without a meaning: if the press is not free, in respect to go vernment and religion, it is not free at all. Mark well that in the destruction of religious freedom, that of all other freedom is involved.

It was urged in the defence, that the opinion expressed by Woolston neither was, nor was intended to be, an attack upon Christianity. But the court said, that “ the attacking of Christianity in the way in which it was attacked in this book, was de stroying the very foundation of it: and though there were professions in the book, that the design of it was to establish Christianity upon a true bottom, by considering these narratives in scripture as emblematical and prophetical, these professions were not to be credited, and the rule is, allegatio contra factum non est admittenda.", - This deserves to be carefully marked. The question was, in which of two senses, the accounts of the miracles in the New Testament were to be received. According to Woolston the ordinary acceptation was wrong and injurious to Christianity. The court affirmed, that his was wrong, and subversive of Christianity. By what title? This was a matter of opinion, which the court took upon itself to decide by the mere word of a despot. Where had the court learned to be infallible in-theology? Nor was this all. The court took upon itself to determine and declare, that the author was a liar; his professions not to be believed. Upon what evidence? We intreat you, reader, to mark the evidence. It is a curious specimen of the process by which judges can fix guilt upon any man whom it is their interest to destroy. Allegatio contra factum non est admittenda : “ Professions are not to

be admitted against the fact.” What fact? Here was only one fact, namely, that of writing a certain opinion about the miracles. Woolston made no professions against that fact; he fully admitted it. He professed that he did no injury to Christianity. The court affirmed that he did ; but this was matter of opinion, not fact. Here, therefore, was no allegatio contra factum, and the ground for the affirmation of the falsehood of Woolston being worthless, the affirmation of it by the judges was criminal in the highest degree. Lord Raymond, Chief Justice, in delivering the opinion of the court said," I would have it taken notice of, that we do not meddle with any differences in opinion; and that we interfere only where the very root of Christianity is struck at." This is accurate language; is it not? well calculated to let men precisely know, what they are, and are not to be punished for. We do not meddle with differences in opinion.” · Wholly untrue. In the case of religious libels, they meddle with nothing else. The “root” of Christianity : what part of Christianity is that? And how is a man to know when he is “ striking" at the “root,” rather than the trunk, or some of the branches !

The proceeding here requires some developement. The court, after laying down, and acting upon narrow maxims, which not merely restriet liberty but destroy it, comes out with a declaration, vague, indeed, and uncertain in its meaning, but on the face of it importing a large liberty. This, you will say, is contradictory, and highly absurd. That is true; nothing can be

Yet it is not here only, but in many other parts of the law, that the judges have provided themselves with maxims similarly contradictory. We have on a former occasion observed, in politics, the great use, to fraudulent purposes, of the see-saw. In judicature, there is still a greater use, for the purposes of judges, in contradictory maxims. In whatever part of the field of law the judges can lay down contradictory maxims, they are despotic, and may do what they please. Let us put a broad case for illustsation. Suppose they had two maximas. 1. “It is good to punish a thief."-2. “ All men who commit thest, for their own benefit, and not purely for the sake of hurt to their neighbour, may go unpunished.” With these maxims, if they had them, it is evident, the judges might in every case punish, or not punish, just as they pleased. So in the case of the liberty of the press; it is good to have a set of maxims by which every thing may be punished, and also a set of maxims by which every thing may be exempted from punishment: because, then, judges may do what they please, or their employers please. Thus, it is exceedingly important to have a maxim, “ Let the liberty of the press be sacred." By this. every thing may be exempted from punishment. It is equally important to another maxim," Let the licentiousness of the press be prevented.". By this every

more so.

thing may be punished. It is important to have one maxim, “ We meddle not with differences of opinion.” By this, every thing be exempt. It is also importaut to have another maxini, “ Christianity is part and parcel of the law of the land." By this, every atom of difference from the opinion of the church of England may be punished : thus the Athanasian creed is part and parcel of the law of the land ; the thirty-nine articles are part and parcel of the law of the land, articles where all the nice and disputable points are carefully collected, and the opinions, which shall be true by ordinance of law, presented for the legal faith and conscience of all the subjects of the realm.

From the time of this prosecution, till the French revolution, which produced a state of mind highly favourable to the bent of the clergy, there was but little scope for employing the powers of law to crush freedom of printing on the subject of religion. The spirit of the age would not bear prosecution of the dissenters, for such heresies as they indulge in; and with respect to infidelity, or opinions unfavourable to Christianity in general, the situation of the clergy was somewhat perplexing. It was chiefly men of rank, or writers of very high reputation, who questioned in their works the pretensions of Christianity; lord Shaftesbury, for instance, lord Bolingbroke, lord Chesterfield, lord Kaims, Mr. Hume, Mr. Gibbon, Adam Smith ; and with a formidable enemy the clergy are commonly well inclined to avoid a dispute. It is also true that, during the fifty years which preceded the French revolution, infidelity in the higher circles was a species of fashion. Among the beau monde in France it was universal; and they at that time gave the tone to the leading classes in the rest of Europe. It is not a secret, how Christianity was regarded by the highest men, both in the state and the law, in England, during the time of which we are speaking. To excite prosecution for writing freely on the subject of religion, was attended with some hazard in these circumstances. And the fact is observable, that men, feeling themselves pretty much at liberty to declare their thoughts, made very little use of that liberty, the question appearing to be decided in the minds of those for whom almost exclusively at that time books were written; for it is since the French revolution, mostly, that the body of the people have become readers, and that men of talent have thought

• Warburton's testimony to this fact will probably be held sufficient evidence. “Indeed" says he, in bis dedication to the Freethinkers, “were it my design, in the manner of modern dedications, to look our for powerful protectors, I do not know where I could sooner find them, than amongst the gentlemen of your denomiuation ! for nothing, I believe, strikes the serious observer with more surprise, in this age of novelties, than that strange propensity to infidelity, so visible in men of almost every condition ; amongst whom the advocates of Deism are received with all the applause due to the inventors of the arts of life, or the deliverers of oppressed and injured nations."

it an object worthy of their ambition to prepare works for their instruction,

Though powers of law had thus dropped out of the hands of the 'clergy, their unabated rancour towards the liberty of the press does not the less certainly appear. Passages without end might be quoted from their sermons and other writings, in which they complain, in the bitterest terms, that such and such writings are permitted to appear, and that the writers of them are not punished; often denouncing the vengeance of God against the nation, for. thus permitting his word to be denied. But we shall omit these illustrations, and proceed to what we reckon one of the most atrocious manifestations of the spirit of the clergy: we mean, their disposition to blacken the character of those who hold opinions different from theirs; to defame their morals, to make them be regarded, as first vicious, next unbelievers, and unbelievers solely in consequence of their vices. Such has been the course pursued not merely by the declaimers, those who could calumniate, though they could not reason; it has been adopted, we will say disgracefully adopted, which shews how deeply roots of the poisonous tree have struck, by the very greatest and best men of whom the church has to boast; men of great powers and of great virtues, Berkeley for instance, Clarke, Tillotson, Barrow, and others.

Berkeley is not ashamed to set up as representative of the class of unbelievers, a minute philosopher, as he nicknames him, who formally and deliberately preaches wickedness, and denies abso. lutely the obligations of morality. * Lysicles. Men of narrow capacities and short sight, being able to see no further than one link in a chain of consequences, are shocked at small evils which attend upon vice. But those who can enlarge their view, and look through a long series of events, may behold happiness resulting from vice, and good springing out of evil in a thousand instances. To prove my point I shall not trouble you with authorities or far-fetched arguments, but bring you to plain matter of fact. Do but take a view of each particular vice, and trace it over its effects and consequences, and then you will clearly perceive the advantage it brings to the public.” He then goes over the several vices of drunkenness, gaming, highway robbery, whoredom; and at last declares to his companion, “ Thus, in our dialect, a vicious man is a man of pleasure; a sbarper is one that plays the whole game; a lady is said to have an affair, a gentleman to be a gallant, a rogue in business to be one that khows the world. By this means we have no such things as sots, debauchees, whores, rogues, or the like, in the beau monde, who may enjoy their vices without incurring disagreeable appellations. EUPHRANOR. Vice then is, it seems, a fine thing with an ugly

L CLES. Be assured it is."*


Minute Philosopher, Dial, ij.

« הקודםהמשך »