THE CARDIGAN LIBEL.
LORD CARDIGAN may be considered a very fortunate man. If at Christmas, 1856, some kind fairy had offered to grant him anything he might wish for, he should have replied with Job, " Behold my desire is that mine adversary had written a book." Without raking up forgotten scandals, it would be mere affectation to conceal that he was a man whose unpopu- larity had become a proverb. Then the charge of the Light Cavalry at Balaclava elevated him into a hero, and here at home all previous offences were eagerly condoned ; with the army it was otherwise. He returned home from ill-health, and at a dinner at the Mansion House received the admiration tendered to him with a complacent assent which was con- sidered scarcely fair to the officers and men who followed him, and it is matter of notoriety that as successive batches of invalids returned from the Crimea reports began to circulate which placed his lordship's conduct in a somewhat unfavour- able light. No man, however, can fight a rumour ; but just at the right moment just the right person came forward, and took the responsibility on himself. The son of a peer, the nephew and aide-de-camp of Lord Raglan, he was important enough to be a worthy foe, and yet young enough to lay him- self imprudently open to criticism. The " Letters from Head. Quarters" certainly kept clear of the law of libel, but they disparaged the Earl's discretion as a general with a perfectly engaging frankness. They spoke of his unpopularity and of his "violent and imperious temper." They ac -used him of unneces- sarily harassing his men during the reconnaissance in the Dobrudsclia. They criticized him for refraining from support- ing the Heavy Brigade. In the account of the famous charge of the Light Brigade they regretted his absence after the men had passed the Russian guns, and " when a general was moat required," in consequence of his horse having taken fright "on coming up to the battery,"—and in mentioning the report of the medical board which invalided him, the author further put the expression " totally unfit to command the Light Brigade " into italics, which he, doubtless, considered the quintessence of wit. Lord Cardigan defended his generalship. He de- manded a Court-Martial. on Major Calthorpe for what was certainly not a military offence, and after the publication of the second edition attacked him in the House of Lords, where the Major could not answer, in language at least as irritating as, and far more violent than, that of which he complained. In the third edition the Major retorted in a note, in which he declined to withdraw the assertion that the Earl did not enter the Russian battery, " but as the excellence of Lord Cardigan's horsemanship is unquestionable, the idea that his horse ran away with him is, no doubt, erroneous !" This, the last edi- tion, was published in December, 1857. After an interval of more than five years, in the summer of 1863, the Earl asks the Court of Queen's Bench for a criminal information against Major—now Colonel—Calthorpe for defaming his character.
The numerous affidavits filed on both sides, which contain the evidence of Lord Lucan, General Scarlett, and of no in- considerable proportion of the survivors of that most brilliant of blunders--the charge of the Light Brigade —seem to establish the facts to be as follows :---Lord Cardigan, leading the first line of his Brigade, charged right through the Russian guns, sabred the gunners, and then, finding his troops cut to pieces by overwhelming numbers, and himself in danger of capture, retreated. Just as he had got out of the battery, the third line, under Lord George Paget, dividing so as pass to the right and left of the battery, and, therefore, also of the Earl, entered the fray. Once there, it was abundantly clear that the only thing to do was to get out again as fast as possible; but there seems to have been a momentary doubt in the minds of the commanding officers whether they ought to do so with- out orders from their brigadier—a doubt which the necessity of the case instantly dispelled.
From this state of facts it results that Colonel Calthorpe's criticisms were altogether groundless. That the Earl was retiring when the third line passed him did not in the least justify the inference that he stopped at the battery, and, as a matter of fact, it was clearly proved that he rode through it.
The disparagement of his conduct as Brigadier seems equally unfounded. On the whole, we think that if he had not retired when lie did he would have been killed or captured, and either alternative would have left the third line equally without a general. But the conduct of an officer ought not to be questioned in this captious and ungenerous spirit. The whole charge, from the time the Light Brigade first moved forward till the relics of the force had struggled back to their ground, did not occupy twenty minutes. The actual affray, probably, lasted from five to ten. Every man who has ever been engaged even in a school fight knows how blind he was while it lasted to all but his immediate adversary. In battle the contest is for the dear life. The mind is bewildered by the roar of the guns, the confusion, the smoke, the glittering of the sabres, and the shouting. Even if Lord Cardigan might have discerned that his supports were passing him on either hand, and might have joined them to any good purpose —a conclusion which we by no means share—to reflect on him for not acting with perfectly round judgment in the course of ten minutes, and in such a situation, seems to us the height of folly as well as injustice. But, however erroneous were Colonel Calthorpe's inferences, however crude his criticisms, it is pretty clear that they were not libellous, unless there had been ground for imputing malignity to him. His error, in fact, seems of a kind to which all historical writers are liable, and certainly the incidents of that brilliant exploit, and the conduct of the officer who led it, are proper subjects for historical inquiry. It was that unhappy sarcasm in the third edition which brought the Colonel within the reach of the law. But we confess that the Court of Queen's Bench seems to us to have attributed to it a more serious meaning than it justly bears. Lord Cardigan's speech in the House of Lords was very pro- vocative, and Colonel Calthorpe retorted on him by saying, in effect, " 0 ! well! I am quite satisfied that when you retreated it was not your horse's fault." The animus of the writer strikes us to have been not seriously to impute cowardice, but to say what he thought a sharp thing. It seems a- silly petu- lance, such as Lord Robert Cecil indulged in, when, on being censured for stigmatizing the conduct of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as that of an attorney, he begged to apologise —to the attorneys. In the House of Commons these flippan- cies are disposed of by laughter, and it is perfectly clear that Lord Cardigan took originally much the same view of the matter. His active efforts to right himself were directed against the earlier editions, which merely reflected on his qualities as a commander. The third edition, in which the sneer against his courage first appeared, called forth no fresh explosion of wrath. He treated it, as, indeed, he might well do, with contempt for five years. As a matter of fact, what- ever judgment may be passed on the Earl either as a soldier or a man, he had given, even before the Crimean war, ample proof that he possessed perhaps even more than an ordinary share of indifference to personal danger.
The mere delay in applying for the criminal' information would, had it not been waived by the defendant, have been a conclusive answer. But, even as it was, the rule was dis- charged, although without costs, for it was proved that since the publication the third edition had (unknown to Lord Car- digan, but still at the request of a friend whom he had sent to remonstrate with Colonel Calthorpe) been withdrawn from circulation, and no less than one thousand copies destroyed.
On the whole, we are of opinion that the rule should never have been granted. The Court was not, indeed, aware of the destruction of the last edition when it issued the rule nisi; but it was clear that so far as the book reflected on the con- duct of the Brigadier, it was not libellous, and so far as it was libellous, it was scarcely of sufficient importance to warrant a criminal information. Notwithstanding the elo- quence of the Chief Justice. the dispute about Lord Cardigan's courage does not rise above the level of a petty literary squabble. Besides, it was openly admitted that the Earl did not care about Colonel Calthorpe, but wanted t) compel the survivors of the Light Brigade to make affidavits as material for Mr. Kinglake. Two long days have been consumed, the bond fide suitors have been delayed, a certain number of causes which would have been decided this term will be post- poned till next November, and all because the Court of Queen's Bench liked better to investigate Lord Cardigan's conduct at Balaclava than to decide the commen-place dis- putes of Smith and Thompson. In short, for two days. the Court of Queen's Bench has been making history. Colonel Calthorpe has figured as a defendant for Mr. Kinglake's enlightenment. We venture to think this scarcely the object for which courts of law are instituted, and that, at all events, the historian for whose improvement the argument takes place ought to be compelled to come and listen to the pro- ceedings. It is too late now to attach Mr. Kinglake; but we trust the Chief Justice will, at all events, send him office copies of the affi(!avits.
Throughout his career, Sir Alexander Cockburn, while taking a leadirg part in politics, always managed to keep clear of personal controver,ies. No man can charge him with a single bitter attack on an adversary, and we believe that it was a dislike to sarcasms such as Colonel Calthorpe had been betrayed into, springing from real kindness of heart, which induced him to take so serious a view of the publication. Every one who frequents the Court of Queen's Bench knows where to look for a perfect model of judicial courtesy and dignity ; but business three is scarcely transacted with such despatch that the Court has time to waste. Criminal informations ought not to be hastily granted. That there should be a preliminary investigation whether there is a Pried facie case for prosecution for libel is reasonable enough ; but the proper place for it is before an inferior tribunal—a magistrate, or the grand jury. As a rule, it is mere waste of the time of a superior court. The prac- tice originally grew up as an act of deference to persons holding office under the Crown, Peers of the realm, or other bigwigs. Their grievances were to be more promptly attended to. But it may well be doubted whether the whole system is not now antiquated and absurd. When the gentleman who writes under the name of "Argus" the other day complained of an attack made by an Earl on his character, at least as virulent as this, he was joked out of Court and told to bring an action, or go before the grandjury. We do not see why a different rule should be applied when an Earl is not the aggressor but the victim. Whatever authority there may be for the system which looks to the rank of the complainant rather than the importance of the injury, it is a system which will be more honoured in the breach than in the observance. And if the Court should get into a habit of leaving these prelimitcy investigations to the inferior tribunals to which they pr.. \ perly belong, the despatch of justice will certainly be greater,. ..\ and its facility probably not less.