CHEAP PUBLICATIONS—TAXES ON KNOWLEDGE.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR. August 16, 1832.
Sot—What can a Goveinment expect from the people, when such restraints are put on the diffusion of knowledge, and so much trouble is taken to withhold instruction from them ? Knowledge is not denied to be useful—nay essential— to the moral elevation of mankind, and ignorance is admitted to be the Source of misery and of crime. Why, then, shoUld a Reforming Government take cre- dit for restoring one of the institutions of the country, whilst it brutalizes the population who are to live under that institution: The Ministers, if they really seek for the improvement of the people, and of the institutions under which they live, cannot be considered to be consistent in their conduct, or sound in their principles, who, at the very time they are endeavouring to im- prove, and are improving the Parliamentary franchise, are throwing into prison the persons who labour to instruct the people how they ought to estimate the value of such improvements, and to sopport it as a valuable reform. Mark the conduct of a Government which, when crime is the child of ignorance, and ignorance the cause of vice and depravity—and when an excess of both threatens to destroy the best institutions of the country—maintains laws to add to the moral darkness already existing; and, by the union of vice and wretchedness, to render property and life scarcely secure. These remarks have been coiled forth by the sight of a Parliamentary paper yesterday distributed amongst the Members of Parliament, by which it appears that 131 persons have been confined in prison, for periods of between 7 to 90 days, for selling cheap publications that do not pay the duty laid on such publica- tions by the CASTLEREAGH Administration in 1819, under the well-known title of The Sir Acts, which required that no pamphlet containing observations on Church or State' and consisting of less than two sheets, or thirty-two pages, and selling for less than sixpence, can be legally published without paying a tax to Go- vernment. Now, all the leading members of the present Administration strongly opposed the passing of that Act, and characterized the measure by every dis- graceful epithet they could use—not worse, I admit, than it deserved. What, then, shall we Say of the consistency of those men who, now in power, not only continue those shameful Acts .passed by the Tories against the liberty of the press, but fill the prisons with the victims of an execrable Jaw?
It should be known that, although the ,Tories passed these gagging Bills, they really did not,within eleven years, from the year 1819, when they were passed, until the year 1830, when they left office, commit so many persons to the prisons for selling cheap and unstamped publications, as Earl GREY'S Administration have imprisoned in one week ! !! .
It will be recollected, that a return was printed early in the present year, showing the number of persons imprisoned for. selling cheap publications from November 1830, when the Whigs came into office ; and we now have another list of 131 persons deprived of their liberty since that time, some for 7, others for 90 days, according to the whim or caprice—for justice it cannot be—of the Police Magistrates.
I shall say no more, but leave that single fact to be reflected on by the good-
natured people of this country, who really think that Lord BROUGHAM IS a friend to the freedom of the Press, and to the diffusion of knowledge amongst the people. Is it, I ask, since he became Chancellor of England, that he has forgot the people, the "swinish multitude?" Is it since taking the Chancellor's Chair and putting on the Wig that he has lost all regard to past declarations so often repeated ? Is he really become of the opinion of the CASTLEREAGH Adminis- tration, "that knowledge should be kept from the people, by taxing all works suited to the capacity of the multitude; and thereby putting it out of the power of the poor and industrious man to acquire knowledge?" I leave Lords GitEY, ALTHORP, and HOLLAND, to answer for themselves why they are parties to such prosecutions and punishments as the following abstract offers to an in-
dignant and ill-used nation. . •
Abstract of the number of persons committed for selling Unstamped Publications, from the 10th December 1931, to the 1st August 1832, as stated in Parliamentary Paper
In the City of London Bow Street Public Office
10 persons confined from 7 days to 3 months.
17 Hatton Garden Police Office 27 7 3 Marlborough Street Police Office . 24 7 3 Marylebone Police Office 9 10
Queen Square Public Office '5 14
Thames Police Office • 0 0 0 Union Hall Police Office 37 - 2 3 Lambeth Street Police Office 3 1 3
In other parts of the country, 3 persons. Total of persons imprisoned, 131. The Tories may with confidence ask—Is this the way you, the liberal, the Whig Ministers, fulfil your pledges to the People? Is this your consistency, supporting in office what you so loudly denounced and vehemently censured when only candidates for place and power ? Is this the way the rights and liberties of the People are to be maintained and protected ? If so, then my prayer is, "From such friends of the Press may God deliver us." . Yours, VERAX.