Category Archives: Press

Item of the Day: A Fragment (1789)

Full Title: A Fragment which Dropped from the Pocket of a Certain Lord, On Thursday, the 23d April, 1789, on his way to St. Paul’s with the Grand Procession. With Notes by the Finder. London: Printed or W. Priest, in Holborn; and sold by the booksellers in Piccadilly, the Strand, Fleet Street, and Pater-Noster-Row, 1789.



Oh, ill-star’d wight! misguided pamphleteer!

Dull as the vapid taste of mawkish beer;

Whose brains, though tortur’d oft, will never raise

The mead of solid pence, or empty praise;

So strain’d and twisted to each varying hour,

Alas! no wonder that the dregs are sour.

In these lines we think we can discover the irascible J. H—ne T–ke, a man no less distinguished for the accommodating versatility of his political zeal, than the inumberable quantity of pamphlets, letters, election squibs, &c. &c. &c. which his prolific head has given birth to. But as it often happens, the quickest births are not the most perfect, so many of his productions have come into the world in so mangled and undigested a state, that in compliment to his nartural parts, it is but charity to suppose a brain over-heated with chimaeras of promised greatness, has engendered such a motley breed. It has been the misfortune of this weather-beaten politician, that other people cannot see his services with his own eyes, and he has laboured long in the beaten track of plitical controversy without the solacing encouragement of pension or place to inflame his zeal, or shapren the natural virulence of his temper. He has, however, received the negative encouragement of not having yet stood in the pillory, an exaltation to which he has both a claim and a right, (two words which have made a great deal of noise lately,) and which, by the grace of God, no doubt, he will soon come into the possession of; we would advise him however, to make haste, as otherwise the Printers of some of our Morning Papers will be before hand with him, who mean there to enjoy the full “Liberty of the Press.” Till that happy day arrives, like the Camelion, he must change his colour, to meet each rising sun, and like that animal too, must feed on air, or what is as bad, the unsubstantial diet of a Minister’s promises, which wet the stomach without appeasing its yearnings. How must we admire then the charitable dispositon of our author in taking notice of this neglected wight, who barks like a dog at midnight, when every body is asleep.

Useless thy works, for head or tail the same;

The first they’ll deaden, and the last enflame.

With what delicacy does our poet touch upon the consequences of his lucubrations! How modestly does he insinuate, that a blister applied a posteriori, would have the same effect. By many families (it is said) they are used as tinder, and never is a house-maid so happy as when she can lay her hands upon any part of them, in her morning excursions, for fire paper. It has been shrewdly suggested, that the new-invented matches which light of themselves in the middle (in this resembling something else) are partly composed of one of these combustible performances. They were one of the Jack-the-Painter’s chief ingredients in setting fire to Portsmouth Dock-Yard, and serve universally for touch-paper to crackers, &c. &c. &c.  In short, their uses are as inumberable as their quantity, and it must be matter of pleasing reflection to their author to find amidst all his disappointmets, that his works, by taking a turn which he could never foresee, have become almost inestimable.

Yet, notwithstanding the great advantages which acrue from his literary labours, the danger which threatens those unaquainted with their inflammatory qualities, by making use of them a posteriori, induces us to join with our author in recommending the following recipe for the oveflowing of his bile, as we would not wish that any of our friends should experience the fate of Hercules, and suffer durance in a poisoned shirt. We therefore, (without a fee) prescribe the following regimen:

Then feed awhile on vegetable food,

To clear thy juices, and correct the blood,

Nor think it hard,

Virtue like thine should be its own reward. . . .



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Filed under 1780's, George III, Great Britain, Political Commentary, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Press

Item of the Day: Proceedings on the Trial against John Stockdale (1790)

Full Title: The Whole Proceedings on the Trial of an Information Exhibited Ex Officio, by the King’s Attorney General, against John Stockdale; for a Libel on the House of Commons, Tried in the Court of King’s-Bench Westminster, on Wednesday, the Ninth of December, 1789, before the Right Hon. Lloyed Lord Kenyon, Chief Justice of England. Tanken in Short Hand by Joseph Gurney. To which is subjoined, An Argument in Support of the Rights of Juries. London: Printed for John Stockdale, opposite Burlington-House, Piccadilly, M,DCC,XC.



The Pamphlet which gave rise to the following Trial, was written by the Reverend Mr. Logan, some time one of the ministers of Leith, near Edinburgh; — “A gentleman formed to be the ornament and instructor of the age in which he lived: All his writings are distinguished by the segacity of their reasonings, the brilliancy of their imaginations, and the depth of their philosophical principles. Though cut off in the flower of his age, while the prosecution against his publisher was depending, he left behind himseveral respectable productions, and particularly Elements of Lectures upon the Philosophy of Ancient History; which, though imperfect, and unfinished, will afford to the discerning, sufficient reason to regret that his talents did not remain to be matured by age, and expanded by the fostering breath of public applause.”

Such is the character, given of Mr. Logan in the last New Annual Register; but as his Review of the Charges against Mr. Hastings has made so much noise in the world, it may not be uninteresting to state by what means, he became so intimately acquainted, with the politics of India.

For some time previous to his decease, Mr. Logan was the principal author of that part of the English Review, which gives the general state of foreign and domestic politics. The enquiries in the House of Commons, which led to the impeachment of Mr. Hastings, formed very naturally the most material part of that Review for a considerable time; and his Strictures upon the arguments, and the decision on the Benares and the Begum charges, are written with great force and elegance; and contain reflections infinitely more pointed, than any of those which Mr. Fox objected to in his pamphlet.

Having qualified himself by the information that he had acquired, from intense application, to give the world what he conceived to be a fair and impartial account of the administration of Mr. Hastings, he sat down voluntarily, without a wish or prospect of personal advantage, to examine those articles which had been presented to the House of Commons by the Managers, then a Committee of Secresy, and which now form the articles before the Lords. When he had compleated his pamphlet, he submitted it in manuscript to the perusal of a gentleman, who is intimately connected with Mr. Hastings. That gentleman was certainly very ill qualified to advise him, as a lawyer; it never having entered into his imagination, that after the torrent of abuse that had been poured out upon Mr. Hastings, for years, any thing said in reply could be deemed libellous, and therefore he merely examined whether Mr. Logan was correct in his statement of facts, and communicated to him every particular relative to the last thirteen articles. Not satisfied with this communication, Mr. Logan examined the votes and the speeches, as printed and circulated throughout Great Britain. After an accurate investigation, he thought himself justified in inserting in his pamphlet, what a member had said in the House, that the Commons had voted thirteen out of twenty articles, without reading them.

The booksellar to whom Mr. Logan originally presented him pahmphet, offered a sum for it, which he conceived so inadequate to its importance, that he carried it to Mr. Stockdale, to whom he gave it; taking for himself a few copies only, which were sent in his name to men of the first eminence in letters, both in London and Edinburgh.

After it had been some time in circulation, and read with great avidity, it was publicly complained of by Mr. Fox. That gentleman quoted what he conceived to be the libellous passages. The following day he moved an address to his Majesty, to direct his Attorney General to prosecute the authors and publishers, and the motion was carried nemine contradicente; but owing to the sickness of the principal witness, the trial was deferred for nearly two years. This prosecution which has been attended with a very heavy expence to Mr. Stockdale, and has been nearly two years depending, hath excited universal attention.

The acknowledged accuraacy of Mr. Gurney, is too well known to require any particular praise on this occasion; but it never was more remarkable than in the present instance; yet the eloquent and excellent speech of Mr. Erskine, will appear to great disadvantage to those who had the good fortune to hear it, so much, even the best speeches depend upon the power of delivery. It was spoke in as croweded a Court, as ever appeared in the King’s-Bench. The exertions of that gentleman in support of his clients are too well known, to acquire new force from any thing that can be said of him here; but on no occasion, and at no period, did he display those wonderful abilities that he possesses in a higher degree, and Mr. Erskine will be quoted as the steady friend, and supporter of the Constitutional Rights of the people of Great-Britain, as long as the sacred flame of Liberty shall animate the breast of an Englishman.

The result of this Trial proves how dangerous to public liberty it would be, were any body of men, parties and judges in their own cause. No good subject will call into question unnecessarily, any of the privileges claimed by the House of Commons; but if in the instance before us, the House, consulting former prededents, had taken upon itself to state the crime, and to pronounce judgment, a British subject might have been seized and imprisoned some months, probably to the ruin of himself and his family, without the possibility of reparation. It may therefore with the greatest truth be observed, that the exertions of Mr. Erskine, and by the decision of this prosecution, the Freedom of the Press, and the Liberty of the Subject, are fully secured.

January 13th, 1790.




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Filed under 1790's, England, Legal, Liberty, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Press, Printing, Trials

Item of the Day: The Speech of Thomas Erskine at a Meeting of the Friends to the Liberty of the Press (1792)

Full Title:  The Speech of the Honorable Thomas Erskine, at a Meeting of the Friends to the Liberty of the Press, at Free-Mason’s Tavern, Dec. 22, 1792.  With the Resolutions, &c of that Truly Patriotic Society.  London:  Printed for James Ridgway, York-Street, St. James’s-Square. (Price Threepence, or Twenty Shillings per Hundred.) 1792.

 “. . . From the temper the firmness, and the perseverance which you have evinced this day, I augur that England will feel, from one extremity to the other, the good effects of your deliberations. — One of the Resolutions you have passed, is, “that a system of arbitrary coercion has always been dangerous to the Government of England.” — This is the fact; and should ever any Administration adopt such a system, I trust that we shall convince them that it is not only dangerous to the peace of the country, but personally dangerous to themselves. . . .

In the defence of Mr. Paine, I neither supported nor surrendered the doctrines he has advanced.  I pleaded his cause in the same manner as he would have been permitted to plead it himself.  I told the Jury that should they even be satisfied that Monarchy was an evil, and that a Republican form of Government was, as Harrington in his Oceana calls it, the ancient prudence of the world, yet that they would not be justified in pronouncing a verdict of acquittal, if it should be proved that what was done was done with a view to excite sedition, and to overturn the Constitution of the Country.

Gentlemen, when I look back and see what has happened in this kingdom within the last seven months, I consider it more as a shocking prodigy than and natural charge in human affairs.  What was the cause of the abolition of the infamous Star Chamber?  That men might discuss all public measures.  It was destroyed on this principle, That all Governments proceeded from the people, and stood alone on their will for their continuance.  The right of discussing the private character of a man is not within the right of the people, because if such man shall have violated the laws, the laws are competent to punish that violation, and the people cannot be his judges.  But the liberty of discussing public subjects, subjects that affect the community does belong to the people; because there the people may be judges.

Gentlemen, I should indeed consider myself as a most disgraceful being, if I did not devote myself to the service of those to whom I owe every thing.  When I left the Army, struggling with distress and want, I learned what was the practice in cases of libels, and thought it strange if the Law was so.  I trusted that perseverance and fortitude would renovate what was necessary to be renovated; and I thank God that I have not been disappointed.  When I addressed the Jury in the case of the Dean of St. Asaph, I observed at large on those words, wicked, scandalous and seditious words, that are to be found in every pleader’s shop.  I contended for the right of publishing opinions on Government, and was told, as a child is, not to disturb the Court with my idle prattle.  And here, Gentlemen, in justice to Lord Mansfield, I must say, that the exploded doctrine of Libels had not its origin in him.  No blame, therefore, is to be attached to his character on this account.  If he does deserve reprehension, it is for not exercising the great talents he possessed in throwing off a system so destructive to the liberties of the subject.  Eight years ago I was told that the Jury had no power — that they were only to see whether print was print, and to decide whether a book had been published, and on such proof were they to pronounce a Defendant guilty of a Libel alledged to be most scandalous, wicked, and seditious.  I was considered then, as I shall be to-morrow, and I hope to all eternity by these Associations, as using language dangerous to the constitution — I was beat down by a yell as loud as that which has occasioned us to assemble here at this present moment.  I came back to the charge again and again as those ought to do who are once foiled.  The people of England in the mean time were spiritless and dead.  But there is a time when delusion must end.  If we look back into the history of the world we shall find that all our Liberties have been produced from sparks. — The People, spiritless and dead so long, began to rouse themselves.  The danger at length grew greater and greater, and as in the beginning of the storm, wave impels wave to the shore, till at length the whole sea becomes agitated; so the storm of popular indignation arose to such a height, that even this virtuous House of Commons at last attended to the wishes of the People.  It became now a consideration who was to be the Midwife.  If I had introduced the Libel Bill into the House of Commons, I am convinced that there were so many devoted to the judges that the Bill would not have passed.  I therefore committed it to a man possessed of infinite judgment, of the clearest mind, of the soundest heart.  I committed it to Mr. Fox — there my voyage ended. . . .

The People now awoke as from a deep sleep — They flocked round the standard of Mr. Fox, and the House of Commons acceded to the Bill.  but when it went up to the House of Lords there were some there who stuck it to the very bone. — Am I angry with them?  No.  But it ought to be a lesson to them who are only as three in a whole country, how they convict people of Libels, merely to support the singularity of their opinions.

If I am asked what is the definition of an insurrection, I reply that I do not know.  Is it a few boys planting the Tree of Liberty at Dundee?  I remember rather a vulgar song, which I wish I had recollected on a recent occasion.  It began with —

“There was an Old Woman who lived at Dundee,

And out of her Backside there grew a Plumb-Tree.”

If should seem as if this good old Lady had risen from the dead, in pity to the present Administration, and for the purpose of giving some countenance to their Proclamation.

If the people were convened to decide whether the Power of Judgment in Libels should be restored to the Judges, I am convinced that not one hand would be held up in support of such a proposition.  When a man has an opinion, he ought to publish it without being calumniated.  The Administration of Justice, is or ought to be pure and impartial.  Freedom of discussion ought to be allowed, and ‘the issue of the brain,’ in the words of Milton, ‘ought to be as free as the issue of the womb.’

If these Associations, Gentlemen, continue, I shall move for establishment of a public licenser.  The danger and the oppression will be less.  I may give him my book, and if he refuses to license it, I know the consequences of publishing it.  But if the purses of all the placement and pensioners in England are to be employed in rewarding spies and informers, if the wealth of the treasury, and those who live on the treasury is to be spent in checking the operation of thought, how are the poor to resist the oppression, and to avert the evil?

Let us, therefore, Gentlemen, oppose law to those who are not guided by law.  In a short time, the people will look at each picture, and find which is right and which is wrong.  These Associators will then separate fast enough; they will be dissipated as the insects are at the rising of the sun.

I am happy, Gentlemen, that we have met:  Let us continue to meet, and our numbers will rapidly encrease. — I belong to the people — they raised me from poverty to affluence — from obscurity to notice — they have a right to demand my services — they shall have them.”

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Filed under 1790's, England, Legal, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Press

Item of the Day: Preface from the Letters of Junius (1772)

 Full Title:  The Letters of Junius.   Vol. I. London:  Printed for Henry Sampson Woodfall, in Pater Noster Row. MDCCLXXII.


It remains to say a few words upon the liberty of the press.  The daring spirit, by which these letters are supposed to be distinguished, seems to require that something serious should be said in their defence.  I am no lawyer by profession, nor do I pretend to be more deeply read, than every English gentleman should be in the laws of his country.  If therefore the principles I maintain are truly constitutional, I shall not think myself answered, though I should be convicted of a mistake in terms, or of misapplying the language of the law.  I speak to the plain understanding of the people, and appeal to their honest, liberal construction of me. . . .

Some opinion may now be expected from me, upon a point of equal delicacy to the writer, and hazard to the printer.  When the character of the chief magistrate is in question, more must be understood, than may safely be expressed.  If it be really a part of our constitution, and not a mere dictum of the law, that the King can do no wrong, it is not the only instance, in the wisest of human institutions, where theory is at variance with practice. — that the sovereign of this country is not amenable to any form of trial, know to the laws, in unquestionable.  But exemption from punishment is a singular privilege annexed to the royal character, and no way excludes the possibility of deserving it.  How long, and to what extent a King of England may be protected by the forms, when he violates the spirit of the constitution, deserves to be considered.  A mistake in this matter proved fatal to Charles and his son. — For my own part, far from thinking that the King can do no wrong, far from suffering myself to be deterred or imposed upon by the language of forms in opposition to the substantial evidence of truth, if it were my misfortune to live under the inauspicious reign of a prince, whose whole life was employed in one base, contemptible struggle with the free spirit of his people, or in the detestable endeavour to corrupt their moral principles, I would not scruple to declare to him, “Sir, You alone are the author of the greatest wrong to your subjects and to yourself.  Instead of reigning in the hearts of your people, instead of commanding their lives and fortunes thro’ the medium of their affection, has not the strength of the crown, whether influence or prerogative, been uniformly exerted, for eleven years together, to support a narrow, pitiful system of government, which defeats itself, and answers no one purpose of real power, profit, or personal satisfaction to You?  With the greatest unappropriated revenue of any prince in Europe, have we not seen You reduced to such vile, and sordid distresses, as would have conducted any other man to a prison? — With a great military, and the greatest naval power in the known world, have not foreign nations repeatedly insulted You with impunity? — Is it not notorious that the vast revenues extorted from the labour and industry of your subjects, and given You to do honour to Yourself and to the nation, are dissipated in corrupting their representatives? — Are You a prince of the House of Hanover, and do You exclude all the leading Whig families from your councils? — Do you profess to govern according to Law, and is it consistent with that profession, to impart your confidence and affection to those men only, who, though now perhaps detached from the desperate cause of the Pretender, are marked in this country by an hereditary attachment to high and arbitrary principles of government?  Are you so infatuated as to take the sense of your people from the representation of ministers, or from the shouts of a mob, notoriously hired to surround your coach, or stationed at a theatre? — And if You are, in reality, that public Man, that King, that Magistrate which these questions suppose You to be, is it any answer to your people, to say that among your domestics You are good-humoured, — that to one lady You are faithful; — that to your children You are indulgent? — Sir, the man, who addresses You in these terms is your best friend.  He would willingly hazard his life in defence of your title to the crown; and if power be your object, would still shew You how possible it is for a King of England, by the noblest means, to be the most absolute prince in Europe.  You have no enemies, Sir, but those, who persuade You to aim at power without right, and who think it flattery to tell You that the character of King dissolves the natural relation between guilt and punishment.”

I cannot conceive that there is a heart so callous, or an understanding so depraved as to attend to a discourse of this nature, and not to feel the force of it.  But where is the man, among those who have access to the closest, resolute and honest enough to deliver it.  The liberty of the press is our only resource.  It will command an audience, when every honest man in the kingdom is excluded.  This glorious priviledge may be a security to the King, as well as a resource to his people.  Had there been no star-chamber, there would have been no rebellion against Charles the first.  The constant censure and admonition of the press would have corrected his conduct, prevented a civil war, and saved him from an ignominious death. — I am no friend to the doctrine of precedents exclusive of right, though lawyers often tell us, that whatever has been once done,  may lawfully be done again.

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Filed under 1770's, Great Britain, Political Commentary, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Press