THE Duke of WELLINGTON'S Administration, after having so long trusted
for support to the opinion of the country, has at length deemed it expedient to invoke additional aid from libel-law. The public pro- secutor is once more abroad—is once more empowered to direct the energies of the state to the repression of free discussion. He is sent into the field, too, by a Government which has astonished friends and enemies alike by its previous liberality and moderation—which has overcome obstacles to social improvement deemed almost insuperable —and which possesses at this moment more power than any Adminis- tration of the last hundred years. The men who have given free- dom to religious opinion, would now fetter thought in the discussion of politics ; and to attain their object, they have not scrupled to employ means, of which the most illiberal of their predecessors were beginning • ten years ago to be ashamed. • In the course of the week there have been five trials upon ex officio informations and indictment by the Attorney-General ; and five verdicts have been given in his favour. Four have been against the . Morning Journal, and one against the Atlas. The first of these papers has been found guilty of a libel upon the Lord Chancellor LYNDHURST, of two libels upon the King and Government, and of a fourth libel upon the Duke of WELLINGTON personally. The Atlas has been found guilty of a libel upon Lord LYNDHURST. (It ought to have been Lady LYNDHURST.) ' The libels of the Morning Journal sprung from the state of feeling which the Emancipation Bill generated. The wisdom and courage of that measure, while it converted the sternest of the Duke of WELLING- TON'S antagonists into partisans of his policy, disgusted many of his previous supporters, and to these the iJournal addressed itself. By Emancipation, Church and State were divorced ; and many who had been bred in habits of allegiance to the pair, were somewhat puzzled to discover to which their duty was due when a forcible disso- lution of the old alliance had taken. place. Some thought, as the Church had always enjoyed precedence, that she was the better entitled to fidelity ; and the Morning Journal professed itself of that opinion. So far as mere consistency is a merit, the Morning Journal may lay claim to it ; and as to the extravagence of the views in which it delighted to indulge—political extravagance was the epidemic of the period. Men whosdelivered themselves sensibly on every other ques- tion, talked wildly when the Constitution was their theme ; and those even who had been bred in courts and tasted the sweets of office, were content to forego their power and forget their courtesy, when the Catholic Relief Bill was before the Legislature. The libel in the Atka was not connected with its devotion to any party. It did not make common cause with the men who opposed the Emancipation Bill ; nor did it aim at any higher object by the publica- tion of the libel of which it has been convicted, than to secure for itself the credit of " exclusive intelligence" in a small way, and thus give a slight impulse to its Sunday sales. The libels are of two kinds. Two of them insinuate personal cor- ruption; three impute public delinquency. The Lord Chancellor • in two of these is accused of a specific action, of which, had he been guilty, he must have been deemed unworthy of the office which he holds. The charges seriously affected his character. That in the Morning Journal was clearly malicious, in fact as well as law ; that in the Atlas had its origin in the ordinary motives of trades- men. The Chancellor was called on to defend his reputation- tO convince the country that he was not unworthy of the high trust reposed in him by the King. But while we concede all -this, still the libels were not, we contend, the proper subjects of ex officio prosecution,—for how was the Government identified with a ..charge of bribery against the Chancellor? The Chancellor himself - must have felt this, in the first instance, when he appeared in a court of law as a private prosecutor seeking redress—before itbad occurred to him as fitting that the State should make common cause with him. Public libels—libels on Government—are libels only by inference. They cannot be defined. They are libels not on any individual—the injury they inflict cannot be ascertained. They are to a certain ex- NEWS OP THE WEEK— Scenery of the Drury Lane Pantomime 825 tent unmeaning. How do plain men translate the charge of apostacy tiong against the Morning Journal Tedious Question 826 against the Duke of WELLINGTON ? What suggestion follows and the Atlas . . . . 317 Neapolitan Honesty . 827 its use ? Catholic Emancipation nothing more. When the France—State of the Ministry, and LITERARY SPECTATOR--. Morning Journal declares Mr. PEEL to be " as heartless as a spin- Netherlands—Ministers outvoted on _ The Romance of History—Spain 828 fling-jenny,, what does any one infer from it ? That Mr. PEEL has the Budget . . . . 818 Parlana . . . 829 carried the Currency Bill. These are mere figures in the rhetoric of London and Provincial News 818-824 Universities . . 829 party—mere symbols in political algebra. But could they be proved Casualties . . . . 820 Army 829 to have a meaning more definite and injurious than they possess, it Gleanings and Gossip . . . 821 Fa,t India Shipping . . ses would still remain a question, how far any body of men invested with Press 824 Gazettes . . . • 829 powers which in their exercise may affect the interests of every mem- Topics OP Tug ])Ay— Hunting Appointments . • 830 her of the community, are entitled to claim in their corporate charac- Delicate Investigation . . . 825 , Advertisements . . 831 ter exemption from abuse of the most rancorous and unqualified kind. As members of Government, they are amenable to the opinion of all TEE INDEX to the Second Volume of Tits SPECTATOR Will be published with our next the individuals of whom society is composed, for the concerns of Go- Number. vernment are the concerns of society. Unjust charges will refute NEWS OF THE WEEK. themselves ; and among public writers, governments, whatever be . their character, will never want defenders. The position of a minister of state, besides, is not one that a person who dreads clamour should affect ; and if his nerves or temper unfit him for the discharge of the duties of that station, it is gratifying to reflect, that these are not like the duties of private life—they may be relinquished at a moment's -.notice. What should we think of a player, who, when his audience might choose to exercise their right to hiss him, should bring an action of libel against the more troublesome among them ? Yet, would such a measure be less defensible than a prosecution by Government to save itself from contempt ?—more especially since those who hiss players may abstain from witnessing theatrical exhibitions, while those who brine- Governments into contempt cannot avoid witnessing and being affected by every change of scene in the great legislative drama ? Among the libels, was one which the Duke of WELLINGTON pro- secuted as a personal calumny. It consisted in an allegation that he aspired to the crown, and wished to marry his son to the present heiress apparent to the throne. To most this may seem, as it did to us, the day-dream of a bedlamite ; but a Jury has found it a libel upon the Premier and the Government.
Sir JAMES SC ARLETT, on whom the conduct of these prosecutions devolved, commenced, as most men in his situation do, with professions of regard for the liberty of the press ; and ended, as is the custom of public prosecutors, with declaring that liberty to have been sadly abused. If we rightly understand Sir JAMES, the liberty of the press • has, in his opinion, been for some time superseded by something unde- finable, which he terms licentiousness ; and one of the 'objects of these official prosecutions is to assist in restoring legitimate liberty. Sir JAMES SCARLETT may be entitled to the thanks of the public for his charit- able designs ; but his zeal, we fear, is not that of knowledge. He de- clared that the press had been degenerating for ten years past; and by the affectionate tone which he assumed when treating of the press of Queen ANNE'S time, he seemed to regret that his Attorney-Gene- ralship had not been cast upon that pleasant wra. We rather think that the state and temper of the press will not suffer by comparison with that of any corresponding period since the invention of printing; and few things could please us more than to see some of the gentle writers of Queen ANNE'S age confronted with Sir JAMES in his official capacity—to see Swim', for instance, on his defence for libel, instead of Mr. ALEXANDER. Giving Sir Jasass full credit, however, for that discriminating liberality to which lie laid claim, we think his treatment of Mr. ALEXANDER scarcely consistent with (rood feeling, or the dig- nity of his station. Mr. ALEXANDER stood before the Court the au- thor of certain most absurd libels, and of still More foolish defences of them. His manner and pronunciation might, moreover, he un- couth. But he stood alone under these disadvantages, and under the still greater of being opposed to the whole influence of a powerful Go- vernment, and to a phalanx of the first lawyers in England. These peculiarities in Mr. ALEXANDER'S situation ought to have secured for him the forbearance of a generous or dignified antagonist, but they only added bitterness to Sir JAMES SCARLETT'S denunciations. Of Mr. ALEXANDER himself we have little to say. His attack upon the Lord Chancellor we look upon as altogether indefensible—as me- riting a severe punishment, though not by means of an ex officio infor- mation. His attacks upon Government seem to us to have no value but what Government has been pleased to give them ; and if they had a tendency, it must have been to give rise to doubts as to their author's sanity. Mr. ALEXANDER, as well as the Attorney-General, has been cast upon times for which he is scarcely fitted. The wild rhetoric in which he delights to indulge while treating of grave matters, has long been abandoned by the rest of the world, for plainer kinds of statement and more intelligible logic than the Morning Journal has ever conde- scended to employ ; and the Duke of WELLINGTON has shown himself ignorant of the spiritof the age, whenhe supposedit could be excitedby a style of writing that lost its value " ten years" ago, according to the chronology of the Attorney-General. Mr. ALEXANDER'S delivery in Court was Just as effective with the Jury as his writings are with the country at large. Both have a dash of the mock-heroic about them, and_ueither are calculated to wiu the sialkages of reflecting men. The Atlas stands in a different predicament. Malice was not its motive in publishing the libel, and the deportment of its representative was very different from that of Mr. ALEXANDER. It is rather unusual, we believe, for a proprietor to give up an editor, or for an editor to offer himself up to prosecution ; but the proprietor and editor of the Atlag, no doubt, understand each other, and Sir JAMES SCARLETT seem ei to understand both. Nothing could surpass the editor's com- plaisance: at the close of a clever speech, delivered in a manner which denoted some practice in oratory, he begged the Jury to find him "guilty," rather than give pain to the Chancellor by acquitting him ;* and he had his reward in the unequivocal approbation of the Attorney- General.
The question still remains, to what end have these actions been insti- tuted. If the MorningJournal was a formidable enemy, will these triasl diminish its power ?—if a feeble one, will they accelerate its downfall ? Will any man that respected the Ministers before, now respect them more highly ?—will any man who hated them before, now hate them less ? Will the Lord Chancellor of England shine forth with more dignity because he has beaten down a couple of men, utterly unknown last week, and known this week, the one that he cannot make a speech, and the other that he can ? Will the Duke of WELLINGTON'S renown be enhanced because he has shown himself equal to the conquest not only of NAPOLEON, but of Mr. ALEXANDER? If the characters of the Premier and the Chancellor could be injured by the Editor of the Morning Journal, how miserably incorrect is the estimate hitherto
entertained .of them !—if they could not, where was the necessity of their vindication ?
* " If it could for a single instant be supposed that your giving a verdict in my favour could have the effect of throwing a stain upon it (Lord Lyndhurst's character,) then I beseech you not to give it to me. Better, far better would it be, rather than that so exalted a personage as he is should suffer unjustly, that so humble and insignificant individual as lain should be subjected to any inconvenience. I repose the fullest confidence in you, gentlemen—I doubt not that your verdict will be an honest one. But again I say, that, if the character of the Lord Chancellor should suffer from your verdict, I would much rather hear the word "guilty" come from that box than the language of acquit
tal."—Illorning Herald's Report.