20 MAY 1882, Page 6


MR. TREVELYAN'S speech on Thursday night is a manly and courageous one, with but one fault, which we should hardly have expected from a statesman so conversant with literature,—a tendency to attach far too much import- ance to newspaper exhortations. The real function of news- papers is to form opinion, not to mould action. That bad newspapers do foster a great deal of bad opinion, every one with any knowledge of the subject will admit ; and that such newspapers therefore indirectly promote that state of opinion which is favourable to crime, is not to be questioned. But what we deny that newspapers really can do with any effect, is to set on foot the immediate causes of crime ; and we still more strenuously deny that the effective way to counteract evil opinion is to suppress it, and so to bottle it all up in the private communications of the infected people. Publication is at least a guarantee against definite criminal plots. And while mischievous newspapers can be freely published, we are preserved from the danger of what is a great deal worse,—the issue by tens of thousands of litho- graphed letters which would be far more dangerous, and which the post would disseminate all over Ireland. We believe that the Government, in giving way to the feeble notion that you can prevent poison of this kind from being spread abroad in Ireland by stopping up the public channels by which it is con- veyed, are on a wholly wrong tack, and are abandoning those well-established principles which teach that the best way to restore morality to opinion is to expose publicly the immorality of opinion, and to stand boldly up for the just cause. We do not for a moment contend that Press offences should go unpunished. If the Press commits the same sort of offence as a private indi- vidual, by acts of intimidation or by inciting to crime, let the authors of such incitements be punished by all means as a private individual is punished, by the appropriate penalty ; but what we do deny altogether is, that there is any pretence for that urgency in relation to Press offences which makes it neces- sary to suspend the action of the ordinary law. The demoral- isation spread by an evil Press is great, but it cannot be neu- tralised, and it may be greatly increased, by attempting to suppress the publication before the offence has been proved. The- reason for apprehending men who are bound on a criminal errand before they have committed the crime is obvious,—that otherwise, the victim must suffer before the criminals can be punished. There is no such defence for seizing, a newspaper before the criminal character of its contents has been proved. The mischief done by it may be considerable, but is all of it indirect, and of slow operation ; while the mischief done by interrupting the ordi- nary -course of the law is quite as great or greater, and of much more rapid operation. You do more a great deal for the popu- larity of a recommendation which you have attempted to suffocate in its infancy by seizing the newspaper which con- tainer' it., by so seizing it, than you could ever do by letting it circulate freely, and bringing its authors to account for it in the legitimate way. We are profoundly persuaded that, bad as many- of the newspapers circulated in Ireland are, the in- fluence of those who write them will never be diminished, and has often been very greatly increased, by these violent statutes against them. The only ultimate remedy for bad popular literature, is good popular literature ; and the• only immediate remedy for bad popular literature is to'punish the authors of it, when they really transgress the law,..by the same punishments, inflicted in the same manner, as those which you inflict on the authors of the same class of practi- cal outrages. We warn Mr. Trevelyan that the Press clauses of his Bill will never do any real good. They may suppress a good. deal of evil counsel, so far as the open publication of it is- concerned ; but they will only increase the influence of that evil counsel, when it does reach the people,—and reach the people it will in the end, by still more dangerous channels than that of a newspaper.

For the rest, Mr. Trevelyan's speech shows a mind quite open to the dangers of many of the other provisions in the Bill, and we earnestly hope that he will be disposed to accept the amendment of which Mr. Dillwyn has given notice, in relation to the very vague powers of arrest after nightfall given to the police, under what the Bill terms "suspicious circum- stances." The character of these suspicious circumstances, as we pointed out last week, ought certainly to be very well defined, otherwise the most peace-loving and law-abiding Irishmen will be subject to annoyance from the Police of the most irritating and vexatious kind, and the law willthen be made

twice as odious to the people of Ireland as it is even at present. It would be a very odd way of bringing the Irish people over to aide with the law, to render it in every way inimical to their liberties and oppressive to their domestic peace.

But what Mr. Trevelyan says in relation to the absolute necessity of providing means, first, for the discovery of mur- derers and outragemongers, and next, for the severe punish- ment of them when they are discovered, is boldly and admir- ably said. And Mr. Dillon only makes the Irish Secretary's case stronger, when he replies that there is no evidence at all of juries having been intimidated when they acquit the prisoners whom, against the full weight of the evidence, they so often acquit. That, no doubt, may be so. We remember a case quite recently, in which a " Moonlighter " caught in the very act of firing into a dwelling house was acquitted by an Irish jury. That jury may have been intimidated by fear of the conse- quences of finding him guilty, or it may not. If the jury were so intimidated, Mr. Dillon's case is upset. If they were not, the need for a remedy is still more urgent. If the jury so far approved of firing into a dwelling-house in order to intimidate payers of rent that they would commit perjury rather than let such a man be punished, there is nothing left for a Legislature which respects the moral law at all, except to hand over the trial of such persons to tribunals of which juries are not the groundwork. Mr. Dillon will never get the Irish , people to sympathise with a law which is so weak that it cannot punish wrong-doing, only because wrong-doing is popular. When popular feeling is degraded to that point, it can be reformed only by putting a little moral strength behind the law, and giving righteousness the power to govern, even though popular feeling is un- righteous. What we said of the inutility and hopelessness of reforming opinion by suppressing evil opinion, does not apply at all to reforming action by suppressing evil action. By suppressing evil opinion, instead of publishing it and holding it responsible for its own consequences, you only tend to make it deeper and more inveterate. Opinion is inward, and that which makes it only the more inward, makes it also the more dangerous. But the open punishment of evil actions,—however much they may be approved by an evil public opinion,—is always and essentially a discouragement to them. There is something in acts of open malice and blood which so far startles even the most obdurate consciences, that they have the greatest difficulty in siding with the evil-doer, especially when the evil-doer comes to be punished as he deserves. The very men who would be indurated in their evil intentions by the premature suppres- sion of the language in which these intentions are vindicated, would be shaken hi them by seeing those who work them out seized and punished as they deserve. And Mr. Trevelyan will only gain respect from the Irish people by the vigour and plainness with which he insists on the necessity for putting down acts of cruelty and intimidation, and deeds of blood. If he will but abandon the Press clauses, and accept Mr. Dill- wyn's amendments to the preventive clauses, we believe that he will pass an Act which recommends itself to the consciences of the Irish people, and which does not take from them any of their true liberties and rights.