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Charles II.; and the writing of it was an overt act of treason, for that to write was to act. (Scribere est agere.)" It seems that the king's counsel in this reign had not received the same directions as Queen Elizabeth had given hers; she told them they were to look upon themselves as not retained so much (pro domina regina, as pro domina veritate) for the power of the queen as for the power of truth.
Mr. Sidney made a strong and legal defence. He insisted that all the words in the book contained no more than general speculations on the principles of government, free for any man to write down; especially since the same are written in the parliament rolls and in the statute laws.
He argued on the injustice of applying by innuendoes, general assertions concerning principles of government, as overt acts to prove the writer was compassing the death of the king; for then no man' could write of things done even by our ancestors, in defence of the constitution and freedom of England, without exposing himself to capital danger.
He denied that scribere est agere, but allowed that writing and publishing is to act (Scribere et publicare est agere), and therefore he urged that, as his book had never been published nor imparted to any person, it could not be an overt act, within the statutes of treasons, even admitting that it contained treasonable positions; that, on the contrary, it was a covert fact, locked up in his private study, as much concealed from the knowledge of any man as if it were locked up in the author's mind. This was the substance of Mr. Sidney's defence: but neither law, nor reason, nor eloquence, nor innocence ever availed where Jefferies sat as judge. Without troubling himself with any part of the defence, he declared in a rage, that Sidney's known principles were a sufficient proof of his intention to compass the death of the king.
A packed jury therefore found him guilty of high
treason: great applications were made for his pardon. He was executed as a traitor.
This case is a pregnant instance of the danger that attends a law for punishing words, and of the little security the most valuable men have for their lives, in that society where a judge, by remote inferences and distant innuendoes, may construe the most innocent expressions into capital crimes. Sidney, the British Brutus, the warm, the steady friend of liberty; who, from an intrinsic love to mankind, left them that invaluable legacy, his immortal discourses on government, was for these very discourses murdered by the hands of lawless power.
Upon the whole, to suppress inquiries into the administration is good policy in an arbitrary government; but a free constitution and freedom of speech have such reciprocal dependance on each other, that they cannot subsist without consisting together.
The following extracts of a letter, signed Columella, and addressed to the editors of the British Repository for select Papers on Agriculture, Arts, and Manufactures (see vol. i.), will prepare those who read it for the following paper:
"GENTLEMEN,There is now publishing in France a periodical work, called Ephemeridis du Citoyen,* in which several points, interesting to those concerned in agriculture, are from time to time discussed by some able hands. In looking over one of the volumes of this work a few days ago, I found a little piece written by one of our countrymen, and which our vigilant neighbours had taken from the..
* Citizen's Journal.
London Chronicle in 1766. The author is a gen tleman well known to every man of letters in Europe, and perhaps there is none in this age to whom mankind in general are more indebted.
"That this piece may not be lost to our own country, I beg you will give it a place in your Repository: it was written in favour of the farmers, when they suffered so much abuse in our public papers, and were also plundered by the mob in many places."
To Messieurs the Public.
ON THE PRICE OF CORN, AND THE MANAGEMENT OF THE POOR.
I AM one of that class of people that feeds you all, and at present abused by you all; in short, I am a farmer.
By your newspapers we are told that God had sent a very short harvest to some other countries of Europe. I thought this might be in favour of Old England, and that now we should get a good price for our grain, which would bring millions among us, and make us flow in money: that, to be sure, is scarce enough.
But the wisdom of government forbade the exportation.
Well, says I, then we must be content with the market price at home.
No, say my lords the mob, you sha'n't have that. Bring your corn to market if you dare; we'll sell it for you for less money, or take it for nothing.
Being thus attacked by both ends of the constitution, the head and tail of government, what am I to do?
Must I keep my corn in the barn, to feed and increase the breed of rats? Be it so; they cannot be less thankful than those I have been used to feed.
Are we farmers the only people to be grudged
the profits of our honest labour? And why? One of the late scribblers against us gives a bill of fare of the provisions at my daughter's wedding, and proclaims to all the world that we had the insolence to eat beef and pudding! Has he not read the precept in the good book, thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox that treadeth out the corn; or does he think us less worthy of good living than our oxen?
Oh, but the manufacturers! the manufacturers! they are to be favoured, and they must have bread at a cheap rate!
Hark ye, Mr. Oaf: The farmers live splendidly, you say. And, pray, would you have them hoard the money they get? Their fine clothes and furniture, do they make themselves or for one another, and so keep the money among them? Or do they employ these your darling manufacturers, and so scatter it again all over the nation?
The wool would produce me a better price if it were suffered to go to foreign markets; but that, Messieurs the Public, your laws will not permit. It must be kept all at home, that our dear manufacturers may have it the cheaper. And then, having yourselves thus lessened our encouragement for raising sheep, you curse us for the scarcity of mutton!
I have heard my grandfather say, that the farmers submitted to the prohibition on the exportation of wool, being made to expect and believe that, when the manufacturer bought his wool cheaper, they should also have their cloth cheaper. But the deuse a bit. It has been growing dearer and dearer from that day to this. How so? Why, truly, the cloth is exported: and that keeps up the price.
Now if it be a good principle that the exportation of a commodity is to be restrained, that so our people at home may have it the cheaper, stick to that principle, and go thorough stitch with it. Prohibit
the exportation of your cloth, your leather and shoes, your ironware, and your manufactures of all sorts, to make them all cheaper at home. And cheap enough they will be, I will warrant you, till people leave off making them.
Some folks seem to think they ought never to be easy till England becomes another Lubberland, where it is fancied the streets are paved with penny-rolls, the houses tiled with pancakes, and chickens, ready roasted, cry, Come eat me.
I say, when you are sure you have got a good principle, stick to it and carry it through. I hear it is said, that though it was necessary and right for the ministry to advise a prohibition of the exportation of corn, yet it was contrary to law; and also, that though it was contrary to law for the mob to obstruct wagons, yet it was necessary and right. Just the same thing to a tittle. Now they tell me an act of indemnity ought to pass in favour of the ministry, to secure them from the consequences of having acted illegally. If so, pass another in favour of the mob. Others say, some of the mob ought to be hanged, by way of example. If sobut to say no more than I have said before, when you are sure that you have good principle, go through with it.
You say poor labourers cannot afford to buy bread at a high price, unless they had higher wages. Possibly. But how shall we farmers be able to afford our labourers higher wages, if you will not allow us to get, when we might have it, a higher price for our corn?
By all that I can learn, we should at least have had a guinea a quarter more if the exportation had been allowed. And this money England would have got from foreigners.
But, it seems, we farmers must take so much less that the poor may have it so much cheaper.