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“ Bill that prevents our having blasphemous libels in two sheets." [laughter.]
The application was for the removal of the Act which had been directed against all publications in two sheets, on the pretence that there were blasphemous libels that were on the same quantity of paper.
* To this he (Mr. Canning) replied, that the blasphemy, to be brought under the Act, must not only be comprised within such a specific compass, but the author must value the produce of his brains under sixpence. These were the three essential qualities required to bring a publication within the meaning of the Act-namely, blasphemy the size of two sheets, and the value of less than sixpence. These were the three objects which the Act intended to repress, and by which the Honourable Member was of opinion that the general liberty of the Press was extinguished. To be sure, blasphemy was of a most volatile, changeable essence ; but if any man wished to lay his hand upon the hallowed work that restrained it, and was desirous to restore the freedom of the press, the object was not difficult to attain. Let the Gentleman who had so much blasphemy on hand, tack an additional sheet to the proscribed number of two, let him come out on the 28th instead of the 26th day, and let him screw his courage to the sticking-place, and charge sixpence-halfpenny for his productions, and he avoided the law.'-Morning Chronicle, June 1, 1827. Speech of Mr. Canning, May 31.
All this mummery is meant to conceal the fact, that the publications of the poor man have been prohibited on the pretence of blasphemy. It is needless to insist further on the flagrant untruth of the ministerial assertion, that blasphemy was one of the qualities required to bring a publication within the meaning of the Act. The speaker knew as well as the present reader does, that the Act specified all publications containing any remarks on public occurrences, of certain size and form. "It is Nero fiddling, while the matches are laying under the thing it is his intention to destroy.
The object aimed at by the present article, is to attract the attention of that part of the public which it may reach, to the promised discussion of the subject by the legislature, and to the arguments by which the removal of the matter of complaint will be supported or opposed. If it has this effect, the benefit of the result will be independent of the merits of the execution,
VOL. XII.-Westminster Review.
Art. XI.-Justice and Codification Petitions : being forms proposed for
signature by all persons whose desire it is to see Justice no longer Sold, Delayed, or Denied : and to obtain a possibility of that Knowledge of the Law, in proportion to the want of which they are subjected to Unjust Punishments, and Deprived of the Benefit of their Rights. By Jeremy Bentham. 8vo. pp. 217, 88, 32, 9.
R. Heward. 1830. THE moral derived by the partizans of misrule from the
history of the French Revolution has been this ; that next to the maintenance of abuses is the advantage of guiding their correction. Obstinate defences involve persevering assaults, while concessions abate zeal, furnish excuses to indolence, and by a cunning use of devices perplex and fatigue vigilance itself. The difficulty of making a people accustomed to wrongs understand their wrongs is considerable, but far greater is the difficulty of making them understand their remedies; and under the forms of surrender they are too likely to accept mere modifications of old oppressions. Experience will discover the error, but such experience requires time and suffering, and a further period for excitement and for the levy of popular indignation against the pretended corrections. A crafty ruler might well say, 'give me the management of reforms and I will make no stand upon the abuses.'
The law of England can no longer be upheld as the perfection of reason, as the unalterable good; but we are not without apprehensions when we see the hands interested in the vices shaping the amendments, and knowing as we do the public proneness to repose on pretences. The vice of the law is conceived to be so extensive, that every alteration of it is supposed necessarily to be an improvement, and passes without examination—a heedlessness holding out no encouragement to those disposed to the most beneficial change, and offering some invitation to others who would only alter the shape and pressure of abuse.
It is of vast importance that the true principles of lawreform should now be kept in view, and that the offered remedies should be watched with a close scrutiny, lest the long labour to expose injustice should produce only a new modification of injustice. This object will be greatly served by attention to Mr. Bentham's Petitions for Justice, which catalogue the vices and defects of the law, and suggest the appropriate changes. These papers were composed before the delivery of the King's Speech, but their utility is rather enhanced by the opportunity of practically applying their arguments to the
objects recommended from the throne. If parliament had received any new aptitude for legislation from the royal address, we might consider Mr. Bentham's work in some degree superseded, but as the reformation is left to the same power which tolerated the vices of the law, till the public discontent compelled some amendment, and has effected more in addition to the faults than in improvement, under these circumstances, we say, mistrust of the capacity of parliament for the work in hand is founded on sufficient experience; and the diffusion of information, which may enable the community to supervise the remedial measures, and estimate their adequacy, is of the very last importance to securing a result of any substantial benefit. His majesty's speech is not of the force of inspiration, and honourable persons who were blind to defects a dozen years ago, are not now likely to comprehend the polypus-like ramifications of error and the befitting scheme of correction.
The proposed petitions for justice are three: the first running to the extent of two hundred and seven octavo pages,
and argued at length but with as much compression as the completeness of reasoning would permit; the second is the petition abridged to eighty-eight pages, and suited to popular convenience and ready reference; the third is the more abridged petition in fifteen pages, and fittest for signature. As to the usefulness of the production the great jurist observes :
*To those whom the design may be fortunate enough to number amongst its well-wishers, and the production among its approvers, a consideration that cannot fail to be more or less agreeable, is--that, whatsoever may be its capacity for attracting signatures, the same may remain to it during an indefinite length of time: and that, so long as the remeinbrance of this publication lasts, no one to whom the existing self-styled instrument of security is a source and instrumentof depredation, of oppression, in a word of injury in any shape, can be in want of a ready vehicle for the communication of his complaints.' Adv. p. xvi.
It presents indeed a complete manual of reform, which will not cease to be capable of application, till every speck of abuse or imperfection is removed from the law. Each paragraph of the abridged petition is numbered for the convenience of ready citation, and for the more distinct view of the propositions. The author in a passage, evincing his vivacity of spirit, and no ordinary portion of graphic power imagines the distress of antagonists, who find themselves opposed by this arrangement: 32.
Pitiable, in good truth, will be seen to be the condition of the disingenuous opponent, who, casting an eye on a body of argument which he stands engaged to encounter and attack, beholds it armed with them. Thus distributed into so many articulate parts, --for the clear, correct and complete designation of each of which, a single word is effectually sufficient,- the discourse, be it what it may, presents to him, in each part of it, a determinate and never misapprehensible ob t and standard of reference. “Here, sir, is proposition the first. What say you to it? has it your assent ? has it your dissent · if your dissent, for what reason or reasons ? Unapprised of the existence of these defences,- he comes (suppose) with his quiver full of devices borrowed from the Book of Fallacies. See then the condition, in which he finds himself. Instead of doing as he had flattered himself with doing,-instead of shooting fallacies into the middle of the discourse at random,--or enveloping the whole expanse of it as it were in a net,- he feels himself pinned down, under the pressure of a most distressing alternative. Taking in hand the chain of discourse, either he must grapple with the links which is thus composed of, one after another,-or remain motionless : remain motionless; and thus, by a token more unequivocal and demonstrative than it is in the power of words to be, acknowledge the object of his hostility to be unassailable.
Nothing can he say—(for such is the supposition, and this is a supposition which may continually be seen verified)—nothing can he say, but what is to be found in this or that chapter, section, and article, of the Book of Fallacies : some article, in and by which, before he ever took this device of his in hand, it may be seen ready confuted. Looking at the mark,-nothing can he find to hit it with, but some witticism-some well-worn piece of nothingness-some vugue generality-which,-like a cloud, -dark or more or less brilliant,-hanging in the air,-is seen to have no substance-nothing that can be brought to bear upon the object of his warfare.'—p. xiii, xiv.
The petition opens in these striking terms:-
Justice! justice! accessible justice! Justice, not for the few alone, but for all! No longer nominal, but at length real justice! In these few words stands expressed the sum and substance of the humble petition, which we, the undersigned, in behalf of ourselves and all other of his majesty's long-suffering subjects, now at length have become emboldened to address to the honourable House.
At present, to all men, justice, or what goes by that name, is either denied or sold ; denied to the immense many-sold to the favoured few; nor to these, but at an extensively ruinous price. Such is the grievance-p. 1.
By every fee imposed, men, in countless multitudes, are, for want of money to commence or carry on a suit, deprived of rights to any amount, and left to suffer without redress, wrongs to any amount: others made to suffer at the hands of judges, for want of the money necessary to enable them to defend themselves against unjust suits."-p.3.
To the arrangements by which the existing system has been rendered adverse to the ends of justice, our author gives the name of devices, and under that head in fourteen articles, he comprehends all the abuses and imperfection of the law.
1st. Exclusion of parties from the judge's presence.
4thịy. Falsehood rewarded, compelled, and practised by judges themselves.
5thly. Mendacious oaths necessitated.
On the exclusion of parties from the judges presence, the author objects that at the very outset of the business the door is shut against the best evidence, and from the best sources. No light being let in but through a combination of mediums, by which some rays would be absorbed, others refracted and distorted.
The natural mode of procedure is the model proposed for guidance by Mr. Bentham. Where a child or a servant is accused of a fault, what does the master of a family ? he sends for the two parties, and hears and examines their charges and defences; then seeks to trace the truth by means of such other evidence, as those accounts have suggested to be applicable.
English justice is aptly symboled blind--its genius is to prefer groping to viewing, and to make the course of perplexities the rule of practice. A short cut to the truth would be a line abhorrent to our jurisprudence, whose delight has been to seek the fact through the most intricate entanglement of falsehood, and at last to make it to the utmost degree questionable, nay, indifferent to the ministers of justice, whether the chace will end in the attainment of truth or untruth.
There was once a celebrated road-surveyor, John Metcalf, who was stone-blind. Analogously with law principles, it should thence have been ruled, that no man in possession of eye-sight should survey roads; and any one undertaking the business, should be compelled to wear a bandage and feel his way. The worse the means the greater the triumph of skill, the narrower the competition, the more close the profit to the craftsman, and