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The press, being ever the tool of party, continued to be exposed to its vengeance ;1 but, except when Jacobite papers, more than usually disloyal, openly prayed for the restoration of the Stuarts, the press generally enjoyed a fairer toleration. Sir Robert Walpole, good-humored, insensitive, liberal, and no great reader, - was indifferent to the attacks of the press, and avowed his contempt for political writers of all parties. And other ministers, more easily provoked, found a readier vengeance in the gall of their own bitter scribes, than in the tedious processes of the law.
Such was the condition of the press on the accession of George III. However debased by the servile uses of party, and the low esteem of its writers," sa cession of its political influence was not the less acknowledged. With an increasing body of readers, interested in public affairs, and swayed by party feelings and popular im- . pulses, it could not fail to become a powerful friend or formidable foe to ministers. * A late nobleman, who had been a member of several administrations,” said Smollett, “observed to me, that one good writer was of more importance to the government, than twenty placemen in the House of Commons." 6 Its influence, as an auxiliary in party warfare, had been proved. It was now to rise above party, and to become a great popular power, - the representative of public opinion. The new reign suddenly developed a freedom of discussion biiberto unknown; and within a few years, the
1 Parl. Hist., viii. 1166; ix. 867.
2 Mist's Journ., May 27th, 1721; Parl. Hist., vii. 804; Trial of Mathews, 1719; St. Tr., xv: 1323.
3 On the 2d Dec., 1740, he said:-“Vor do I often read the papers or either party, except when I am informed by some who have more inclination to such studies than myself, that they have risen by some accident above their common level." Again: “I have never discovered any reason to exalt the authors who write against the administration, to a higher degree of reputation than their opponents." — Parl. Itist., xi. 882.
4 Walpole's Mem., iï. 115, 164; Forster's Life of Goldsmith, 387.
6 Forster's Life of Goldsmith, 665. In 1738, Danvers said: “ The senti. ments of one of these scribblers have more weight with the multitude than the opinion of the best politician in the kingdom.”—Parl. Hist., X. 448.
Wilkes and the North Briton."
people learned to exercise a powerful control over their rulers, by an active and undaunted press, by public meetings, and, lastly, by political concert and association. The government was soon at issue with the press. Lord
Bute was the first to illustrate its power. Overwhelmed by a storm of obloquy and ridicule, he
bowed down before it, and fed. He did not attempt to stem it by the terrors of the law. Vainly did his own hired writers endeavor to shelter him :1 vainly did th. king uphold his favorite. The unpopular minister was swep away; but the storm continued. Foremost among his assailants had been the “ North Briton,” conducted by Wilkes, who was not disposed to spare the new minister, Mr. Grenville, or the court. It had hitherto been the custom for journalists to cast a thin veil over sarcasms and abuse directed against public men ;? but the “ North Briton" assailed them openly and by name,
The affected concealment of names, indeed, was compatible neither with the freedom nor the fairness of the press. In shrinking from the penalties of the law, a writer also evaded the responsibilities of truth. Truth is ever associated with openness. The free use of names was therefore essential to the development of a sound political literature. But as yet the old vices of journalism prevailed; and to coarse invective and slander was added the unaccustomed inbult of a name openly branded by the libeller. On the 23d of April, 1763, appeared the memorable num
ber 45 of the North Briton," commenting upon Briton,"
the king's speech at the prorogation, and upon the 1 Dodington's Diary, 245, 419, &c.; History of a Late Minority, 77.
2 Even the Annual Register, during the first few years of this reign, in narrating domestic events, generally avoided the use of names, or gave merely the initials of ministers and others; e. g. “ Mr. P.," “ D. of N.," “ E. of B.," 1762, p. 46; “ Jr. F.," " Mr. Gr.," p. 62; “ Lord H." and " Lord E-s-t," 1763, p. 40; “ M. of R.," 1765, p. 41; · Marquis of R" and " Mr. G- ;" 1769, p. 50; " The K—," 1770, p. 58, &c. &c.
8 " The highest names, whether of statesmen or magistrates, were printed at length, and the insinuations went still higher.” — Walpole's Mem., i. 179.
unpopular peace recently concluded. It was at once stig. matized by the court as an audacious libel, and a studied insult to the king himself; and it has since been represented in the same light, by historians not heated by the controversies of that time. But however bitter and offensive, it unquestionably assailed the minister rather than the king. Recognizing, again and again, the constitutional maxim of ministerial responsibility, it treated the royal speech as the composition of the minister. 8
The court were in no mood to brook the license of the press. Why had great lords been huinbled,
Proceedings ties broken up, and the Commons managed by the against paymaster, if the king was to be defied by a libeller?. It was resolved that he should be punished, — not, like common libellers, by the attorney-general, — but by all the powers of the state. Prerogative was strained by the issue of a general warrant for the discovery of the authors and printers ; 6 privilege was perverted for the sake of vengeance and persecution ; & and an information for libel was filed against Wilkes in the Court of King's Bench. Had the Court contented themselves with the last proceeding, they would have had the libeller at their feet. A verdict was obtained against Wilkes for printing and publishing a seditious and scandalous libel. At the same time the jury found his “ Essay on Woman” to be "an obscene and impious libel.” But the other measures taken to crush Wilkes were so repugnant to justice and decency, that these verdicts were resented by the people as part of his persecutions. The Court of King': Benchi shared the ódium attached to the govern. ment, which Wilkes spared no pains to aggravate. He com
i Parl. Hist., xv. 1331, n.
See supra, Vol. I. 365, et seq.
plained that Lord Mansfield had permitted the informations against him to be irregularly amended on the eve of his trial ; he inveighed against the means by which a copy of his “Essay on Woman” had been obtained by the bribery of his servant; and by questions arising out of his outlawry, he contrived to harass the court, and keep his case before the public for the next six years. The people were taught to be suspicious of the administration of justice in cases of libel. And assuredly the proceedings of the government and the doctrines of the courts alike justified their suspicions. The printers of the “ North Briton" suffered as well as
the author; and the government, having secured the North these convictions, proceeded with unrelenting rigor Briton,"
against other printers. No grand jury stood between the attorney-general and the defendants; and the courts, in the administration of the law, were ready instruments of the government. Whether this severity tended to check the publication of libels or not, it aroused the sympathies of the people on the side of the sufferer:. Williams, who had reprinted the “ North Briton,” being sentenced to the pillory, drove there in a coach marked " 45." Near the pillory the mob erected a gallows, on which they hung the obnoxious symbols of a boot and a Scotch bonnet; and a collection was made for the culprit, which amounted to 2001.
Meanwhile er-officio informations had become so numerEx-officio in- ous as to attract observation in Parliament; where formations.
Mr. Nicholson Calvert moved for a bill to disconmotion, timue them. He referred the origin of the pracMarch 4th, 1765. tice to the Star Chamber, complained of persons
· State Tr., xix. 1136.
2 Horace Walpole affirms that 200 informations were filed, a larger num ber than had been prosecuted in the whole thirty-three years of the last regn. - Walp. Mem., ii. 15, 67. But many of these must have been abandoned, for in 1791 the attorney-general stated that in the last thirtyone years there had been seventy prosecutions for libel, and about fifty convictions: twelve had received severe sentences; and in fire cases the pillory had formed part of the punishment. — Parl. Hist., xxix. 551.
3 Walp. Mem., ii. 80; Walp. Letters, iv. 49.
being put upon their trial without the previous finding of a grand jury, and argued that the practice was opposed to the entire policy of our laws. His motion, however, was brought forward in opposition to the advice of his friends, and being coldly seconded by Mr. Serjeant Hewitt, was lost on a division, by a large majority.”
The excitement which Wilkes and his injudicious oppressors had aroused had not yet subsided, when a Junius. more powerful writer arrested public attention. Junius was by far the most remarkable public writer of his time. He was clear, terse, and logical in statement, learned, Character of ingenious, and subtle in disputation, eloquent in Junius. appeals to popular passion, polished, and trenchant as steel in sarcasm, terrible in invective. Ever striving to wound the feelings and sully the reputation of others, he was even more conspicuous for rancor and envenomed bitterness than for wit. With the malignant spirit of a libeller, without scruple or regard for truth, he assailed the private character, no less than the actions of public. men. In the “Morning Advertiser” of the 19th of December, 1769, appeared Junius's celebrated letter to the king. Inflammatory and seditious, it could not be overlooked ; and letter to the
king. as the author was unknown, informations were immediately filed against the printers and publishers of the let. ter. But before they were brought to trial, Almon, the bookseller, was tried for selling the “ London Museum," in which the libel was reprinted. His connection with the publication proved to be so slight that he escaped with a
1 Walp. Mem., ii. 84.
4 Burke, speaking of his letter to the king, said: — " It was the rancour and venom with which I was struck. In these respects the North Briton is as much inferior to him, as in strength, wit, and judgment." — Parl. Hid., xvi. 1154.
5 Letter, No. XXXV.; Woodfall's Ed., ii. 62.
6 Walp. Mem., iv. 160; Notes to the St. Tr., xx. 821; Parl. Hist., Avi 1153, 1156.