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as one the various topics with which he has separately dealt. He had said the same before (p. 108), but now the underlying unity is felt.

35. In these concluding paragraphs Burke addresses himself to those practical arguments — alas, too familiar to us all ! — which may generally be counted on to bring to terms a politician somewhat too high-minded. If such words as these could be read and taken to heart by all in our country who are to exercise the public trusts of citizenship, we should have a very different condition of things from that which we see all about us.


Upon the conclusion of this speech resolutions were adopted by the meeting, warmly commending Mr. Burke's conduct in Parliament, and asking him to present himself as a candidate for the coming election. Having received this indorsement, Mr. Burke announced his candidacy in the usual manner, and began his

Two days later one of his three competitors fell dead, overcome with the excitement and strain of the contest. Next morning — the very morning of the election Mr. Burke, satisfied that his election was hopeless, publicly withdrew — « declined the poll” — in a little speech which is a fit pendant to the one just read. It may be found in any complete edition of his works.

Through the influence of Lord Rockingham, Burke was at once returned from Malton, and sat for that borough till the close of his political life.


THOMAS, LORD ERSKINE, was born in Edinburgh, in 1750, of a family famous in Scottish history, but at this time sadly reduced in circumstances. He grew to be a lad of much brightness and promise, and his ambition was to enter a learned profession; but the expense of an education could not be met.

At fourteen years of age he was sent to sea as a midshipman; and he spent eleven years of service in the navy and the army before he found it possible to prepare himself for the calling in which he afterwards attained distinction as an advocate and orator. Meantime he had married at twenty, and was struggling to maintain his growing family. At the age of twenty-eight he was admitted to the bar. His first case, coming fortunately not long afterwards, revealed such surprising courage, eloquence, and forensic skill, that his fame and fortune were instantly made. His talents were engaged in the most celebrated trials of those times. In 1793 he entered Parliament. His brilliant career culminated in 1806, when the dream of his life was realized, and he became Lord Chancellor of England. This honor, however, was not long to be his; for he had to vacate the woolsack in the next year, on the downfall of the Grenville Ministry. His later life again was clouded by poverty and by that idleness to which English etiquette condemns distinguished lawyers who have once reached the highest position open to the profession. He died in 1823, in Scotland, on the only visit he ever made to the native land he had left fifty years before.

The effect of his oratory upon those who heard him was surprising. Into the dull, heavy style of the courts he infused a warmth, a daring, an imaginative play, unknown before his time. His most memorable speeches were delivered before the Court of the King's Bench, and from this series the one in behalf of Stockdale has been chosen as an example of argument and eloquence specially addressed to a jury. The circumstances were these : During the slow progress of the trial of Warren Hastings, a Scotch clergyman had written, and a Mr. John Stockdale of London had published, a pamphlet defending Mr. Hastings, and criticizing severely the conduct of the prosecution. The managers brought the matter before the House, and secured an order directing the Attorney-General to prosecute Mr. Stockdale for libel. The liberty of the press was a question which had already been before the public in two separate aspects. Though direct censorship had ceased shortly after the downfall of the Stuarts, there long remained two formidable engines of coercion which the political party in power could use — and did use unmercifully — to prevent the publication of matters distasteful to it. One was the power of Parliament to punish by summary imprisonment anything which it deemed a breach of its ancient privileges; and such it considered the publication of any report of its proceedings, save such as itself had authorized (see note to page 22). But the battle upon this point had recently been fought out; the Commons, after a fierce struggle, had yielded; and since that time reporters have regularly had admission to the gallery of the House. Prosecution for “ seditious libel” was the other agency employed; and it was at that time rendered far more effective for mischief than it could be now, by the following means : Instead of submitting to the jury the whole question of the guilt or innocence of the defendant in view of all the facts and motives shown, as was done in the case of every other crime and misdemeanor, the practice in libel suits was to allow the jury to consider nothing beyond the question whether the defendant had or had not published the matter as alleged. The vital question of the guilt or innocence of the publication was reserved for the decision of the judge alone; and in these political suits he was often an interested party.

“ Writers, prosecuted by an officer of the crown, without the investigation of a grand jury, and denied even a trial by their peers, were placed beyond the pale of the law.” This vicious principle had been clearly revealed by the persecutions which Wilkes endured, and in the

Letters of Junius. Mr. Erskine had attacked it with splendid force and skill in his defence of the Dean of St. Asaph’s, claiming for the person accused of libel the same right which was accorded to one accused of any other crime or misdemeanor known to the law of England - the right to be tried by the jury on the whole issue raised. Mr. Erskine's argument on that occasion was before judges alone, and, naturally enough, he was unceremoniously overruled. But the matter was not to be thus summarily disposed of. The public was aroused. The trial of Stockdale soon afforded an opportunity of bringing the question before the jury itself. Their answer was the verdict “ Not Guilty,” rendered in defiance of all precedent, and in spite of the fact that the publication was admitted. It was the last case of libel tried under the old régime. In 1792 Parliament was constrained to register this triumph of freedom by establishing in the Libel Act the very principle for which Mr. Erskine had contended.

Among the champions of liberty Erskine stands thus linked with Milton, whose eloquent appeal “for the liberty of unlicensed printing,” — his Areopagitica was the trumpet-call which opened the attack on this stronghold of tyranny. The history of this interesting subject may be found in May's Constitutional History of England, chapter ix.


PAGE 141, 5–7. The reference is to Erskine's political friends, Fox and the Whigs, and especially Burke, whom he greatly admired. See repeated references to them farther on in this speech.

PAGE 142, 10. information. The precise meaning of technical terms should be ascertained upon the student's first encounter with them. See also, innuendoes, fine, farm, rent, and others farther on.

PAGE 152, 18 ff. Compare with this Macaulay's description of the famous trial in his Essay on Warren Hastings.

PAGE 153, 8. without prospect of conclusion. The trial dragged on for seven years. One hundred and forty-eight days were actually spent in its sessions.

PAGE 155, 24. This great hall was Westminster Hall, built
by William Rufus. It still stands, and forms part of the new
Houses of Parliament. The Court of the King's Bench, before
which Erskine was speaking, sat under the same roof, and in a
chamber directly adjoining it. See also p. 178.

PAGE 156, 27. brought home to intrusted to, undertaken

PAGE 159, 22. government, in the parliamentary sense ex-
plained in the next sentence.

27. I wish he would. To admit that the Tory party then
in power was a faction would be to give up the political battle.

34. my friends Burke, Fox, and the Whigs now in oppo-

Page 160, 18. A committee which was appointed in 1781
inquire into East Indian affairs, and which reported in 1782.
The charges made by it are not to be confounded with the Arti-
cles of Impeachment presented by the House. See below, p. 161,
1. 3.

Page 162, 20–27. A striking proof of the dangers at that
time attending free speech is found in the extreme pains Erskine
thinks it necessary to take in order to guard what he says from
the charge of interfering with, or anticipating, the regular process
of judicial investigation – the very same charge under which his
client was suffering.

PAGE 163, 11. Verres. Consult the Classical Dictionary, s.v.

PAGE 166, 31. Gothic, a term formerly used with utmost
looseness of signification, to designate confusedly anything Teu-
tonic, mediæval, or barbaric. Such was its meaning as at first
applied to a style of architecture. In no other sense were our
ancestors Gothic.

PAGE 170, 6. amenable to no law, with reference to the
privileges of members of Parliament, and particularly to their
exemption from action or indictment for any freedom of speech
they may use.

PAGE 170, 28 ff. The keen edge which lurks under these in-
nocent-looking remarks will be appreciated when we recall the
notorious fact that Pitt carried the very same majority with him

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