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tions, and was published with the autho- , the case; for the great mass of the rearity of a member of parliament, as a report ders of newspapers were not the most of what was said, which could not any discerning class of society, nor was it to where else be published as an original be expected they should be so, for the work. Such things appeared to him to advertisements and other articles of which be monstrous. If any body were to ask a newspaper was composed were often inhim what he thought was the cause of the teresting chiefly to the lower orders of the dreadful mutiny last year, which so rea- community. They were for this very sonably alarmed every good man, and reason carried every where, read every which, but for the vigorous exertions of where, by persons of very government, would soon have reduced cities, and in
common alehouses and this country to nothing, he would say, it places frequented chiefly by those who was the daily publication of the debates of were least of all accustomed to reflection, that House more than any thing else. to any great mental efforts. Gentlemen He was not complaining of gentlemen for might say, “ Let all persons be allowed saying the war was unjust and unneces. to judge for themselves.” This sounded sary: if they thought so, they were right pretty well; but it was a mere sound in so saying. But was it a desirable thing Mankind had never yet been in circumthat the public at large, that the lower stances that enabled the mass of them to classes of the community from one end of judge correctly of any thing that required the kingdom to the other, should, from much mental exertion. Condemned as day to day be told so ? That the sailors they were to labour of body, it had not and the soldiers should be told that they yet been practicable for them to judge were fighting against justice and against correctly of abstruse questions; and he the liberty of mankind ; that they were knew of none that were more so, than such the tools of despotic power, that their as arose out of the complication of poliblood was shed, their lives sacrificed, to tical affairs. The people at large were the folly or the wickedness of those by entitled to justice-they were entitled whom they were governed ?-and all this to every favour that could be shown coming from men of great weight from to them consistently with their own their talents, and in many respects of safety, on which depended their own great credit in the country. Supposing happiness - they were entitled to every all this language to be proper, he was advantage they could possibly be capable saying that the effect of it must necessarily of enjoying, as much as the proudest perbe dreadful to the community in which son in the state; but they had not educawe live. It was then a question, whether tion to enable them to judge of political the House was justified in allowing to affairs. Those were not their best friends exist a cause which produced that effect, who told them otherwise. If any gentleand that cause, too, arising out of a breach men who heard him doubted this, he of the privilege of the House? It might would ask them, whether they were in the be said, that this was answered by the habit of calling in their gardeners and publication of the doctrine maintained on their grooms to give their opinions upon the other side. But this did not satisfy political affairs ? He knew they would do his mind. It led to a question that was so when they met in large bodies, and too long for discussion in that House | made up the bulk of a gentleman's conupon the present occasion, and opened a stituents, especially when their opinions view into the general theme of political were to be followed up by their votes ; institution, and the means of diffusing for then the cajoling arts of the true dethroughout the world all species of po- magogue were put in practice, and then litical instruction. And here there was to was the multitude tempted, as the devil be dreaded a double misrepresentation tempted Eve, by telling them they had the misrepresentation of the abuse, and all sorts of perfection. After reflecting the misrepresentation of the defence of upon this, he hoped gentlemen would not government; and therefore he who ob- be so ready to talk of the competency of jected to the publication of either could the multitude to form correct opinions hardly be said to be contented with upon political affairs.-But it might be the publication of both. Yet, if all said, that if the reports of the newspapers this was only addressed to persons of were stopped, some means would be great judgment, perhaps he should not found to circulate sentiments against goobject to it. But that was by no means vernment, and that they would be more [VOL. XXXIV.]
injurious to the public than these: that, what was the common case, to sit down
See Vol. 17, p. 87 and 89.
circulated every twenty-four hours, and any thing, but that species of information spread its venom down to the extremity which was destructive to every good prinof the kingdom. What, in the course of ciple, and was hostile to the character of a very few years, was likely to be the ef- every public man, or individual in whom fect of such a practice; into what hands public trust was reposed. It produced newspapers would fall, whether they were also the inconvenience of which the hon. likely to be friendly to good morals in fu- gentleman who made this motion, but for ture, from the specimen we had seen of reasons he could not well understand, them of late years, were points into which wished to withdraw it, complained; but he would not now inquire. The question that was its least evil. But as the House was not only whom these papers would had now the opportunity (which by the find out, but also who would find out way had been well to have occurred these papers, what sort of talents the sooner), it ought not to be lost; the chaowners of them were likely to possess, or, racter of the House ought to be vindi. what was a larger question, what sort of cated, and the advantage of the public talents those who were owners of papers ought to be regarded. What course the might employ to write for them, were all House would take was not for him, but of them points well worthy of the specu- for others, to determine. He had no molation of the House. Before they allowed tion himself to make; he left every thing newspapers to detail their proceedings, open to the House. He was desirous of they would do well to consider how those delivering his sentiments on this subject, who wrote for newspapers in general had because the occasion which offered was contributed to the overthrow of the dif- not frequent, although the occasion which ferent governments of the world which called for the animadversion and decision had been lately overturned, and had been of the House was much too frequent; and employed in causing so many insurrec- this not because gentlemen did not know, tions as had lately rendered so much of but because they chose to abandon their the habitable globe uneasy.-How much privileges. He had declared his opinion of the talents of those who wrote for news on this practice of newspaper reporting. papers had been employed in scattering The House would judge of what was right to poison wherever they could; in bringing done. He did not wish to say any thing virtue into discredit, by telling the peo- more, whether the House ought now to ple every where that those who professed come to a decision of either confirming it, and who ought to possess it, and who the old practice of prohibition, or of fain general did possess virtue, had no vouring the relaxation of very modern virtue whatever, by teaching the ignorant times. He had now no other duty to disand the credulous to despise every man charge to that House, except returning and every measure that was respectable. thanks for the indulgence with which he Such were the efforts, generally speaking, had been heard. of those who wrote for newspapers. He Mr. Wilberforce observed, that though felt this so forcibly, that he confessed he the disposition of the hon. gentleman to never saw any man of a low condition with withdraw the motion he had grounded on a newspaper in his hand, and who read his complaint, rendered it unnecessary for any of it, without comparing him to a man bim to trouble the House with much of who was swallowing poison under the hope what he should otherwise have judged it of improving his health. He was not to necessary to lay before them, yet various be led away with any notions that might circumstances combined in prompting him be entertained by some persons concern- to trespass upon their attention for a few ing the liberty of the press. Before any moments, particularly after what had just good could be done by the discussion of fallen from his right hon. friend. He was political subjects in newspapers, the capa. very solicitous to prevent any possible city of the people must be enlarged.misconstruction of the principles on which These were only a few of the objections he had himself acted, in very lately presswhich he felt to the publication of parlia- ing upon the serious consideration of the mentary proceedings in newspapers. It House, the scandalous misstatements of lessened the dignity of the House of Com- their proceedings which had become so mons: it put the members of it in a situa- general
, and the propriety, and indeed tion in which they ought not to stand; it necessity, of applying, if possible, some fomented discontents throughout the na- remedy to that great and growing evil.* tion; it multiplied nothing, or very rarely
* See p. 154 of the present Volume.
Those gentlemen who were present on specific character, he believed there never
cases in which the House was pletely refuted his right hon. friend's asser- grossly libelled by its own members. But tion; for, notwithstanding all the misre. such proceedings should not go on. If presentations which had prevailed, he had any member was guilty of a libel upon it, the satisfaction of being able to declare he was determined to propose some means that the happiest consequences had ac- that should put an end to the practice, tually followed from the notoriety of their and punish the offender. He could not debates, and from the eye of the public help referring to what had been reprehaving been fixed upon them. So far sented to have been said by a certain hon, from their having thereby at all lost their gentleman who had thought proper to de:
sert his duty in parliament, at a club in gentleman in the service abroad, when this town. That gentleman, who never his lordship had a command of bri. showed his face in the House, had gone gade. He had frequent occasions to conto that club, and, if fairly represented, verse with colonel Despard, and he was had uttered a gross libel on the House. convinced, from all he saw of him, that Such practices should not any longer go he was a man of an excellent disposition. on. There was another case, too, in He knew very little of the situation of which the hon. gentleman who brought that gentleman, and therefore, if he should forward the present complaint, was repre- happen to state any thing that was not sented to have used expressions, at a correct, he hoped he should be excused. meeting of some of his constituents, which His information was, that colonel Despard were a scandalous libel on the House. was very severely treated in the prison in He was reported to have said, that he which he was now confined ; that he was never heard of parliament meeting for the kept in a cell of seven feet square, without dispatch of business, but he considered it fire, without light, and without any thing to be for the dispatch of the property of to rest upon but a trackle bed. If true it himself and his constituents. When such was a very hard case. He wished to know, things as these were passed over unno- whether this was a species of confinement ticed, he should be hurt to death to ex- fit for a gentleman of such a character, tend the utmost rigour of the House to and against whom there was no crime al. offences so inferior in danger and malig- leged. He insisted that he had not been nity. The House might rest assured that guilty of any crime, that he was entitled if it did not protect itself against the libel. to be set at liberty ; after which he was lous attacks of its own members, it would told there was no charge against him, for in vain endeavour to repress the attacks that it was his brother government wanted. of others. Members were protected in Having said this, he would venture to in. the House from any consequences that troduce another matter, not immediately might arise from what they said, except connected with the subject before the what the House itself might inflict; but House, but of such a nature as to come nain return for that protection, they ought turally into view when any measure was not to be permitted in other places to de- considered that had reference to conspiracy grade, and vilify the House.
for treason. Perhaps he might again be The said complaint was then, with abused for what he was about to do, as he leave of the House, withdrawn.
had been for the evidence he gave on the
trial of O'Connor at Maidstone. He was in Debate in the Lords on the Habeas Corpus Scotland three or four months ago; and Suspension Bill.] January 4. 1799. On there he saw a character of the earl of the order of the day for the third reading Suffolk as one of the witnesses for O'Conof the bill for suspending the Habeas Cor- nor, in which he was most wantonly libelpus act.
led, and in which it was made to appear The Earl of Suffolk said, that ministers as if he had been the intimate acquain. should have assigned some reason for this tance of O'Connor. Now he did upon bill before they proposed it to the House. his honour most solemnly declare, that he To bring forward a measure, at all times never had any conversation with O'Congrievous, and an infringement of the con- nor, except one about eleven years ago, stitution, without any necessity for it, and from that conversation he was of opiwas highly unjust ; and of the necessity, nion that he never met with a more genthere was no proof. At the same time he tlemanlike man in his life, and he never acknowledged, that if the state was in heard from him a sentiment that would danger, the present measure ought to be not do honour to any man. adopted; but if ministers were to be en- Lord Grenville said, that with regard to trusted with the power which this bill con- the newspaper misrepresentation of which ferred upon them, they ought; at all the noble lord had complained, he could asevents, to use it with moderation, and sure him that no one abhorred more than here his lordship said, he was led to re- he did those libels with which private and dect on the case of a gentleman, whom he public characters of every description had not seen for seventeen years; a man were daily assailed. Nothing was more of as amiable manners and worthy dispo- injurious in this country that the licence sition as any he ever knew. He alluded now taken by the press. Indeed it was to colonel Despard. He knew that his opinion, that if the wisdom of parlia