Слике страница
PDF
ePub

Burke, in his celebrated speech, did not rest satisfied with detailing with thrilling interest the various charges which were the ground of the impeachment against Warren "Hastings; he thought it necessary to operate by the persuasive influence of flattery on each of the branches of the House of Lords—the tribunal to which he was addressing himself. He flattered the monarch; he flattered the Prince of Wales; he flattered the hereditary peers; he flattered the peers who had been elevated to that rank, and he flattered with profuse liberality the bench of bishops. He addressed the assembled peers as follows:

Do we want a tribunal ? My lords, no example of antiquity, nothing in the modern world, nothing in the range of human imagination can supply us with a tribunal like this. Here, my lords, we see virtually in the mind's eye that sacred majesty of the crown under whose authority you sit, and whose power you exercise. We see in that invisible authority what we all feel in reality and life-the beneficent powers and protecting justice of his majesty. We have here the heir-apparent to the crown such as the fond wishes of the people of England wish an heir-apparent to be. We have here all the branches of the royal family in a situation between majesty and subjection, between the sovereign and the subject, offering a pledge in that situation for the support of the rights of the crown and the liberties of the people, both which extremities they touch. My lords, we have a great hereditary peerage here—those who have their own honour, the honour of their ancestors to guard, and who will justify, as they have always justified, that provision in the constitution by which justice is made an hereditary office. My lords, we have here a new nobility, who have risen and exalted themselves by various merits, by great military services, which have extended the fame of this country from the rising to the setting sun. We have those who, by various civil merits and various civil talents, have been exalted to a situation which they well deserve, and in which they will justify the favour of their sovereign and the good opinion of their fellow-subjects, and make them rejoice to see those virtuous characters, that were the other day upon a level with them, now exalted above them in rank, but feeling with them in sympathy what they felt in common with them before. We have persons exalted from the practice of the law, from the place in which they administered high though subordinate justice, to a seat here, to enlighten with their knowledge, and to strengthen with their votes, those principles which have distinguished the courts in which they have presided. My lords, you have here also the lights of our religion - you have the bishops of England. You have the representatives of that religion which says that their God is love, that the very vital spirit of their institution is charity; a religion which so much hates oppression that, when the God whom we adore appeared in human form, He did not appear in a form of greatness and majesty, but in sympathy with the lowest of the people, and thereby made it a firm and ruling principle that their welfare was the object of all government, since the person who was the Master of nature chose to appear Himself in a subordinate situation. These are the considerations which influence them, which animate them, and will animate them against all opposition ; knowing that He who is called first among them, and first among us all, both of the flock that is fed, and of those who feed it, made Himself the servant of all. My lords, these are the securities which we have in all the constituent parts of the body of this house ; we know them, we reckon, we rest upon them, and commit safely the interests of India and of humanity into your hands. Therefore it is with confidence, that ordered by the Commons, I impeach Warren Hastings, Esq., of high crimes and misdemeanours.”

Every constituent part of the assembly was separately offered the tribute of appropriate adula

tion. Notwithstanding all the art and eloquence of Burke, the House of Lords acquitted Warren Hastings; but the trial cost him £70,000. This in itself would have been a heavy penalty if he was guilty ; but it was a grievous injustice if he was innocent, as he was declared to be.

I could give you many more instances of the successful introduction of flattery as an important element in securing attention and ensuring success. I find it introduced into every class of discourse, and I have arrived at the conclusion that all men, and, I may add, most women, are susceptible of flattery, provided it be skilfully applied.

Another of the artifices frequently resorted to, though by no means so unobjectionable as that to which I have been referring, is to endeavour to prejudice the judgment of the hearers by representing that the conduct of the opposite party has been insulting or wanting in proper respect to them. This particular topic operates on the vanity of the audience, and no assembly, no tribunal, is entirely impervious to its influence. The concluding speech of Edmund Burke, (not the one to which I have alluded) is an illustration of what I have said. He sought with all the vigor of his eloquence to prejudice the House of Lords, who were to decide on the fate of Warren Hastings, by representing that the demeanour of the latter was designedly disrespectful to their lordships. In summing up he said he wished to call their lordships' attention to four points. The first was the

demeanour of the prisoner. With respect to that he said : .

“As to the demeanour of the prisoner during the course of this trial, I think it affords grounds for the most serious observations. It was such conduct as I am sure has never yet been held by any person standing in the awful predicament with the prisoner ; it was not the boldness of conscious innocence, but the insolence of hardened guilt. I ask your lordships to examine the conduct of every person who has stood impeached before this house, and to compare it with the demeanour of the prisoner, from that of the Duke of Suffolk, Lord Bacon, Lord Macclesfield, down to the smugglers who were impeached in the reign of William III., and your lordships will find that such insolent and daring demeanour has never before been displayed. Your lordships will recollect the name of Lord Verulam- in knowledge, to speak of every thing the most profound-in learning, of every thing the most various and extensive !-in discovery, of every thing the most enlightened and the most penetrating-is to mention Lord Verulam. This man-whose least distinction was that he was a peer, a chancellor, and the son of a chief justice-this man was not exempt from frailty. The Commons discovered some spots on this sun, and impeached him. How did he conduct himself ? With humility, with a consciousness of his situation, with contrition, notwithstanding which the House fined him £40,000, a sum equal to £ 100,000 at the present day. It is not my wish that the defendant should be abject, should be mean ; I only wish him to conduct himself with decorum to the court that tries him, and to the body that prosecutes him."

If this course of argument be reprehensible in an advocate, it is inexcusable in a judge. I know that in modern times, no such misconduct can be imputed to any of Her Majesty's judges; but at the early part of the last century there occurred a very striking instance of the judicial position being used to prejudice the jury most unfairly against a prisoner on trial for a capital offence. I allude to the case of the poet Savage, an unfortunate man, of great talent, but of very reprehensible habits and conduct. He was accused of having killed a man in a midnight quarrel at a tavern. Mr. Justice Page, who presided at his trial at the Old Bailey, used every effort to prejudice the jury against the prisoner. He addressed them thus :

“Gentlemen of the jury, you are to consider that Mr. Savage is a very great man; a much greater man than you or I, gentlemen of the jury ; that he wears very fine clothes; much finer clothes than you or I, gentlemen of the jury ; that he has abundance of money in his pocket ; much more money than you or I, gentlemen of the jury : but, gentlemen of the jury, is it not a very hard case, gentlemen of the jury, that Mr. Savage should therefore kill you or me, gentlemen of the jury."

The result may be anticipated. The jury, exasperated by the language addressed to them from the bench, convicted the prisoner, who was sentenced to death. In the instance that I have mentioned, you perceive that the judge, in order to induce the jury to adopt his views, though in social rank much superior to the members of an Old Bailey jury, affected to identify himself with them, and to represent the unfortunate prisoner as the common enemy of both.

This mode of creating a prejudice is constantly resorted to, even when the offences of which the accused is guilty ought to be in themselves quite

« ПретходнаНастави »