THE annals of proſecutions do not preſent to the world a more extraordinary caſe than that of the unfortunate man who is the ſubject of the following pages. It is not, however, for us, in the preſent ſtage of this buſineſs, to declaim either againſt the laws of the Britiſh empire, or the perſons to whom thoſe laws are entruſted. An innocent man has nothing to fear from the ſcourge of truth—'tis the guilty only that need tremble at inveſtigation. The notorious character, of whatever ſpecies, pleaſingly exults in the obſcurity of his depraved actions—but when the keen eye of diſcovery penetrates his horrid manſion, he would chearfully give a thouſand worlds to eſcape enquiry: It may be well for individuals, both of high and low degree, to mark theſe obſervations.
Not to detain the reader with a long introduction, we ſhall take the liberty of prefacing this narrative with a fictitious one, where the ſcenes might have occurred in another country, and leave Engliſhmen to make what comments they pleaſe. Suppoſe then the following occurrences in Sweden or any other country, under whatever governments your own minds may conceive.
It is preſumed the laws of every government is very explicit, particularly with reſpect to tranſgreſſions and puniſhments; this has been the boaſt of Britons, and we ſhall think but little of France, till ſhe has, by intrinſic [Page 4] merit, acquired that degree of eminence. In Sweden, however, we ſuppoſe that a certain publication of exclamation and declamation were ſent into the world (ſuch as Mr. Burke's for inſtance) violently condemning the principles of the Britiſh Revolution in 1688, and conſigning the abettors of that Revolution to deſtruction; that another perſon, of oppoſite political principles, were hardy enough to attack the bold declaimer; and while juſtifying ſuch a Revolution, was to make ſome very ſevere and pointed ſtrictures on the government of Sweden. Suppoſe then the legiſlature of Sweden finding the laſt writer had expoſed ſome of their malpactices, and were to be fearful the contagion would ſpread, whereby they might be deprived of their noble feaſting, &c. &c.—in conſequence of which they determined to inſtitute an action againſt their bold competitor, in order to try the merits of the work, and, if poſſible, to condemn it by due courſe of law;—ſuppoſe they were to take advantage, by proclamations, &c. and proſecute poor individuals who might be found ſelling the intended proſcribed work, before it was actually proſcribed by a fair and regular trial—would not the indignation of every Engliſh ſpectator be raiſed at the littleneſs, the meanneſs, the wretchedneſs, of the Swediſh legiſlators, who dared to violate the rights of man in ſo fl [...]grant a manner? Oh Albion, how great are thy ſuperior privileges!
Immediately on the inſtitution of a celebrated Society at the Crown and Anchor, for preſerving places and penſions, Mr. Spence, being a poor man, and leſs likely to oppoſe the lordly menaces of violent Ariſtocracy, was repeatedly ſurrounded, inſulted, and even threatened with his life, and the deſtruction of his little all, if he did not give up p [...]t of his bread, and decline ſelling the Rights of Man, and other political tracts. The eagerneſs of the public mind for political inveſtigation, almoſt rendered it uſeleſs for him to keep any other articles: and therefore, to a poor man, it was indeed a very [...] us ſacrifice, unleſs they had threatened him [Page 5] likewiſe with an ampſe compenſation. Indeed their conduct was contemptible, for no one of the oppoſite party ever offered him the moſt modeſt reproach for ſelling even Mr. Burke's pamphets! It may be obſerved, that Mr. Spence, being ſo expoſed, with only a ſtall in the open ſtreet, theſe petty beings, thought they might preſume on his unprotected ſituation. Even a pious Rector had the audacity to attack the defenceleſs man, and endeavoured to avail himſelf of the natural influence of his profeſſion over the landlord, by urging him to turn Mr. Spence out of the ſtall. Oh, Depravity, where is thy bluſh!
On Thurſday morning, Dec. 6, 1792, two runners, at the inſtance of a Mr. Reeves *, came to T. Spence's ſtall, and bought, by miſtake, Spence's Rights of Man, inſtead of Paine's Rights of Man. Immediately on which they took him, with their uſual ceremony, before the civil magiſtrate at the police office in Ha [...]ton Garden, and laid their information againſt him. To the honour of the magiſtrate, however, he declined committing Mr. Spence, as he could find no ſtatute to juſtify him in it. Mr. Spence told him in his defence, that he might as well commit every one who ſold Gulliver's Travels, More's Eutropi [...], Lock on Government, Puffendorf on the Law of Nature, &c. &c. all of which treated the ſubject of Government in a manner vaſtly oppoſite to the Britiſh ſyſtem. Here, however, we muſt obſerve, that no compenſation was m [...]de to Mr. Spence for tearing him, like a criminal, from his buſineſs, &c. &c.
Monday, the 10th of December, between two and three o'clock, two of the Bow-ſtreet runners came to Mr. Spence, and purchaſed Paine's Rights of Man; after which [Page 6] in the moſt unprecedented manner, without even ſhewing the leaſt authority, they obliged him to put up the ſhutters of his ſtall, and huſtled him into an hackney-coach, which they ordered to be driven to Bow-ſtreet. During the buſtle and the journey, Mr. Spence, feeling, very properly, the indignity offered both to law and juſtice by theſe proceedings, remonſtrated with the proſtituted ruffians, and modeſtly aſked them whether he was to conſider himſelf in Spain, Turkey, Algiers, or England? It appeared to him as though he were enchanted to one of the moſt deſpotic ſpots in the univerſe. Never perhaps were the rights of citizens ſo ſhamefully invaded as in this inſtance; nor ſhall we wonder if the complaints of individuals in this reſpect ſhould drive them to acts of deſperation—may the great God however avert ſuch a cataſtrophe!
When the unfortunate priſoner arrived at Bow-ſtreet, the magiſtrate was at dinner; of courſe the victim of deſpotiſm was carried to a public houſe near the office, where he was ſafely guarded, at leaſt three hours, till his worſhip had finiſhed his repaſt. In this bleſſed manſion the runners, by what authority can hardly be gueſſed, (unleſs their honourable profeſſion warranted it,) ſearched Mr. Spence's pockets, and even took from him his pocket book, papers and memorandums relating to his buſineſs, &c. which they have never yet returned. The pocketbook contained extracts from Locke, Puffendorf, Swift, Pope, and even the 25th chapter of the book of Leviticus, all of which related to government, and may, according to the preſent ſyſtem of proceedings, be equally termed libellous. Perhaps ſince the days of bloody Queen Mary have no priſoner, under the ſame circumſtances, been treated in ſo violent a manner as Mr. Spence was during his ſtay in the public houſe. Will it be credited that a man, aſſuming the air of a gentleman, could wantouly inſult even the moſt guilty felon; and yet it is a fact, that a perſon of ſuch a deſcription ſeized Mr. Spence by the throat, and had not fear prevented, would willingly have ſtrangled him—uttering the moſt horrid imprecations that he was not warranted in carrying his [Page 7] inveterate malice to ſuch an extreme. Well, indeed' might Mr. Spence exclaim, What country am I in! Nature ſhudders at the relation of inſtances of ſuch depravity in the human race; and thoſe deſpicable characters ſcarcely deſerve the epithet of human, much leſs the animating title of Britons! It ſurely will hardly be credited hereafter that theſe are the actions of the eighteenth century! Better for Engliſhmen openly to requeſt a Baſtile— they would then at leaſt be on their guard. In the preſent inſtance they have been groſsly miſled into the violation of laws which they have underſtood were never promulgated, and are treated as traitors for crimes they never dreamt of. The book had not been condemned by a legal proceſs, and they had always been taught that no crime attached itſelf to ſelling any publication till it was thus legally proſcribed. Is not this the language of almoſt every perſon both in the Houſe of Commons and out of it?
It is folly—it is madneſs for men in theſe days idly to chatter about their darling hobby horſe—Liberty. A great part of them in the midſt of ſuch childiſh exclamations are poſitively endeavouring to outrun each other; and by nick-named loyalty eagerly ſtriving which ſhall ſacrifice his deareſt intereſt, and the intereſt of his poſterity to the moſt inflexible deſpotiſm that ever diſgraced the world. (Theſe obſervations cannot apply to Engliſhmen.)
We muſt now direct the reader's attention to the tranſactions in the Public Office. After the uſual technical formula Mr. Spence requeſted his worſhip to inform him by what authority his journeymen were juſtified in their proceedings? With all the ſagacity which the nature of the caſe inſpired, his worſhip adverted to the Royal Proclamations, and even to the opinion of the Grand Jury. Mr. Spence was naturally led to doubt either the validity of indifinite Proclamations, or the legality of the opinion of the Grand Jury, in juſtification of arbitrary proceedings, previous to a public trial. However, agreeable to the natural order of things, the priſoner being the weakeſt party, was obliged to ſubmit.—To the honor, or rather to the diſgrace, of the mercenary attendants [Page 8] of Public Offices, Mr. Spence was aſſailed by a conſiderable party with threats and violent puſhes, that even the American Indians would have thought a diſgrace to their ſavage manners. With all the deliberation and coolneſs ſo characteriſtic of a blood-thirſty crew, the inſtruments of this extraordinary buſineſs delivered an exaggerated evidence, fearing perhaps, they ſhould be deprived of their emoluments by the priſoner's eſcape. When will man reflect and conſider the true dignity of the human ſpecies, by acting conformable to his judgment, and deſpiſing every thing that may impeach his integrity! This will apply from the higheſt character in ſtates through every gradation, civil and official, down to the common hangman. With a very ill grace then does it become the implements of abuſes to ſtrain every nerve both of violence and injuſtice, for ſecuring to themſelves the wretched enjoyment of places, which in their own conſciences they hold contemptible.
The runners (will it be credited?) had the conſummate impudence to threaten this unfortunate man with leading him through the ſtreets heavy ironed, if he would not ſubmit to pay the hire of a coach to Clerkenwell Priſon; nay, they had the audacity to bring forth irons for the purpoſe. Mr. Spence, however, with that dignity, which conſcious innocence naturally inſpires, ſpurned the monſters and their threats, and told them he would rather ſubmit to be led like a felon, than ſuffer ſuch an impoſition. At length they conſented to conduct him to goal without thoſe unneceſſary implements, where he arrived about eleven o'clock at night. Here Mr. Spence was uſhered in with the uſual ſalutations of the collegia [...]c officers, which conſiſted of the moſt abuſive menaces and illiberal treatment that their ingenuity could poſſibly invent. He was aſked whether he choſe to have a bed; and upon anſwering in the affirmative, an immediate demand of one ſhilling was made by one of the turnkeys for that indulgence—he had likewiſe one penny to pay for the uſe of a candle, which the turnkey held in his hand; nor did the wretch allow him time to take off his cloaths before he locked him up in a ſolitary [Page 9] cell.—The bed was ſo immoderately damp as to oblige him to lay down in his cloaths, and in the morning he found himſelf ſo poorly as led him to fear the conſequences.
The poor wretches always rejoice to ſee ſtrangers introduced, as it is cuſtomary for them to apply to every New Priſoner for garniſh, either that they may allay the cravings of hunger, or drown the recollection of their unhappy ſituations in liquor. To add to his misfortunes, Mr. Spence was obliged to comply with all their demands, or be denied the privilege of citizenſhip even among them; and it coſt him in goal fees, garniſh, &c. in the courſe of thirty hours, previous to being liberated by bail, one pound four ſhillings, which to a poor man is a great ſum.
During the abſence of Mr. Spence from his ſtall, ſome miſchievous perſon or perſons (perhaps delegated from the uſual ſource) had the impudence to write three ſeparate papers and ſtick them on his ſhutters, purporting, "That the owner was confined in gaol for ſelling ſeditious books; and they hoped it would be a warning to others."
One inſtance, however, it would be almoſt unpardonable to paſs over unnoticed. On Thurſday the 13th of December, the day his Majeſty opened the preſent ſeſſion of parliament, a gentleman, or one who aimed to be thought ſo, came to Mr. Spence's ſtall, and, ſeeing a young man with the firſt part of Paine's Rights of Man in his [Page 10] hand (which by the bye has never been even diſputed by the Attorney-General), ſeized the book, and in a curious (alias Grub-ſtreet) dialect, abuſed Mr. Spence, huſtled him about, tore his ſhirt, and dragged him to an adjoining ſhop, where, joined by more of his brutal fraternity, he robbed the poor man of two other books. One of the villains haſtened to the Police Office to fetch ſome runners, while the others guarded the perſecuted man, uttering violent threats, ſavage menaces, &c. &c. The ſpectators, however, to their honour be it mentioned, obſerving the lengths the ruffians would carry their infamous conduct, calmly interfered and reſcued the priſoner from the hands of the moſt diabolical and lawleſs banditti that ever threatened the peace of the metropolis. Perhaps theſe were ſome of the immaculate members of a certain inquiſitorial Society; at leaſt they muſt be ſanctioned by a dark and myſterious group, not leſs diabolical than themſelves.
The preſent aerea ſeems as a dream, one can ſcarcely credit the tranſactions of every preceding day. Truth is a libel, and falſhood is a libel—how then to ſteer between the two extremes, requires the ſagacity of a knave, or the duplicity of a hypocrite. To what a ſituation is the intellects of man reduced! Were it poſſible to deprive the numerous hoards of mankind (with very few exceptions) of their rational faculties—to diveſt them of thinking—to reſtrain them from ſpeaking—to draw a veil over their occult powers—and cancel their ſenſibility; it would be perfectly conformable with prevailing politics to attempt the experiment. Infatuation and ignorance—depravity and corruption—violence and intrigue, ſeem united againſt the progreſs of knowledge, and the intereſt of ſociety. The world, however, has ever been governed by fluctuations, and what one age or one deſcription of beings have eſtimated as bleſſings, ſucceeding ages or a different deſcription of beings have eſtimated as curſes. Perhaps ſome degree of propriety [Page 11] has attached itſelf to each party, and rational minds have only been able to contemplate the conſequences, without the power of affording any alleviation to the victims of contention. But may we not anticipate a better age, and a ſuperior degree of civilization; when ſociety will be united under one intereſt, and man be no more the dupe of faction—when peace will ſpread her genial wings and leave the human mind to the enjoyment of thoſe bleſſings which nature has ſo bountefully beſtowed, when induſtry will be relieved from the almoſt inſurmountable fetters of the preſent hour, and the only barrier to civil enjoyments will be thoſe of vicious inclinations.
A review of the numerous characters of Europe, who, with minds that would do honour to the higher ranks, but from the largneſs of their families, and political circumſtances are bowed down with poverty and oppreſſion, will fully juſtify the feeling mind in ardently panting for ſo glorious an aera.
The young woman remarked to Mr. Spence, on delivering the above, that ſeveral of her father's cuſtomers had threatened to withdraw their favours and intereſt, if he ſuffered Mr. S. to contiue on the premiſes.— What conſolation they can derive from being the means of depriving an honeſt man of his livelihood, would exceedingly puzzle a generous mind to diſcover. We may, however, fairly hope that the party who ſo ſtrongly have ſupported the efforts of deſpotiſm, will impartially reconſider their conduct; and we doubt not but they will find occaſion ſufficient to bluſh, and be ſorry at the conſequences that muſt inevitably follow their exertions.
DUKE OF RICHMOND
Extract of a letter from His Grace the DUKE of RICHMOND, to the Chairman of a Meeting of the County of Suſſex, convened at Lewes, January 18, 1793, for the purpoſe of preſenting a petition to the Houſe of Commons, to take into conſideration the unequal ſtate of Repreſentation in Parliament.
Whitehall, January 17, 1783.
YOU may eaſily believe, that being one of thoſe who joined in requeſting you to eall a county meeting, nothing but illneſs can prevent me attending it, and it is with infinite regret I ſubmit to the deciſion of my phyſicians who pronounce, that it is not ſafe for me to leave London.
I truſt that my ſentiments on the ſubject of Parliamentary Reform, are, in general, ſufficiently known, and that, without further aſſurances, I might be depended upon for giving it every ſupport in my power; but ſome circumſtances make me wiſh to ſtate them as briefly as poſſible to the county of Suſſex. They are formed on the experience of twenty-ſix years, which, whether in or out of government, has equally convinced me, that the Reſtoration of a genuine Houſe of Commons, by a renovation of the Rights of the People, is the only eſſential remedy againſt that ſyſtem of corruption which has brought the nation to diſgrace and poverty, and threatens it with the leſs of Liberty.
I take the grievance of the preſent ſtate of election to be its groſs inequality. All the electors in Great-Britain do not amount to one-ſixth part of the whole people and a ſtill greater inequality ſubſiſts in elections made by that ſixth part; for one-ſeventh part of them elect a majority, ſo that one-forty-ſecond part of the nation diſpoſe of the prpeerty of the whole, and have their lives and liberties at command. And this forty-ſecond part, far from conſiſting of the moſt opulent part of the kingdom, is compoſed of the ſmall boroughs, moſt of which are become either the private property of individuals, or are [Page 13] notoriouſly ſold to the beſt bidder: ſo that counties and great cities are, in fact, as well as the great maſs of the people ſwallowed up by this ſyſtem of corruption.
My ideas of reform undoubtedly go to one that ſhall be complete and general throughout the kingdom. I ſee ſuch fatal conſequences ariſe from the preſent partial and accidental ſtate of election, that I cannot take upon me to propoſe any new mode that partakes of the ſame defects. If we do not differ from the abettors of corruption upon the broad principle of inequality in election, and the univerſal right of the people to be repreſented, and are contending only for a degree of partiality, more or leſs, I fear our ground is not ſound: if we mean only to ſubſtitute partiality for partiality, and are ſtruggling but for its extent, one man's whim may be as good as another's conceit, and we have nothing certain to direct us; and if inequality is ſtill to ſubſiſt, the advocates of the preſent ſyſtem will have the ſanction of time and the riſk of changes, to oppoſe to us, which will have their weight, when it is but for a change of partiality that we contend.
I have thought that a Parliamentary Reform had much more ſimple and unerring guides to lead us to our end; I mean the true principles of the Conſtitution, and the Rights of the People. If theſe exiſt, I do not conſider myſelf at liberty to ſpeculate upon ſyſtem. I have no choice, but to give to every man his own.
How far it is wiſe for thoſe who entirely agree in principle upon the Rights of Men, to endeavour to perſuade them, that the recovery of their birth-rights, and moſt eſſential intereſts, "are not reducible to practice, nor attainable by any regular or conſtitutional efforts of theirs," is what I muſt leave others to determine. But the truth of this aſſertion is what I can never ſubſcribe to. I cannot but think that this nation ever has it in its own power, by peaceful and conſtitutional efforts, to do itſelf juſtice; and that nothing can render attempts for this purpoſe impracticable, but either a general indolence and indifference to all that requires exertion though for the nobleſt purpoſes, or prejudice to favourite ſyſtems, as ſhall divide the people.
[Page 14] To guard againſt ſuch an imputation falling on me, I moſt readily agree to an addreſs in the moſt general terms, not pointing to any ſpecific mode of reform in the petition, or by inſtructions to our members, or by reſolutions, but ſubmitting the remedy, as in my opinion it ought to be, in the firſt inſtance, to Parliament itſelf; which I conceive to be as equal to ſuch a conſideration as any Provincial Committee.
Should Mr. WYVIL'S firſt or ſecond plan be propoſed in Parliament, or any thing like it, although I ſhall lament that we, for a moment, quit our advantageous ground of the Conſtitution, and the Rights of Men, yet I ſhall certainly give every ſupport in my power to this or any other amendment, and it certainly will be a conſiderable improvement, that inſtead of a forty-ſecond, it ſhould be a thirty-ſixth or thirtieth part that ſhall decide the concerns of the whole people. It will be ſomething material they will have gained, and may become a ſtep to the more eaſy attainment of their privileges.
I muſt ſincerely hope that that plan may be found attainable; but I never can conſent to tell the people, and I hope to God they never will believe, that the recovery of any right, which Nature and the Conſtitution have given them, is impracticable. On the contrary, convinced myſelf, I wiſh them ever to believe, that whenever they pleaſe to claim, they will and muſt have the full extent of their Rights.
The meaſure, for which you are aſſembled, meets with my hearty concurrence, and I ſhall be happy if theſe my ſentiments, which I beg you would communicate to the meeting of the county of Suſſex, ſhould meet with their approbation.
To Wm. Frankland, eſq High Sheriff of the county of Suſſex.
It is with the higheſt eſteem and regard, that I have the honour to be, SIR, Your moſt obedient, and humble ſervant, RICHMOND, &c.
Captain Hull, of the horſe-grenadiers, waiting one morning on the Duke, about buſineſs, was ſhewn into a large room, where he found his Grace walking about, penſively, and ſo loſt in thought, that at firſt he took no notice of Hull; but ſoon after, turning his eyes that way, apologized for not ſeeing him ſooner; on which Captain Hull anſwered, "He feared he had interrupted his Grace's thoughts about ſomething of more conſequence than his buſineſs." (for the Duke was a real patriot, virtuous, wiſe, and valiant) "Not to you and me, Hull," ſays the Duke, "however, I'll tell you what I was thinking of; I was conſidering what will be the conſequence, fifty years [...], of the bad education of ſix parts out of ſeven of our young nobility. They are brought up with a little ſuperficial learning, introduced early into company, pleaſure, and diſſipation of all ſorts; then ſent to travel before they know any thing of their own country, or mankind, and the part they ought to act as men; abroad they are flattered, duped, and laughed at, and return home corrupted both in head and heart. While they are thus employed, all the uſeful ſenſe, learning, and knowledge, will be poſſeſſed by the middling claſs of people, who muſt of courſe deſpiſe a luxurious, idle, gaming nobility. And as time and accidents will widen the breach between them (unleſs Providence graciouſly interferes) confuſion in the end muſt follow: for the idlers will be for arbitrary power, that they may act the tyrant over their inferiors; not conſidering, by this ſtep they are ſlaves themſelves, and have given up the greateſt bleſſings in life. But the men of learning and Science will liſt under Liberty, knowing men are by Nature equal, and that all power is delegated from the people for their protection and ſecurity; and from hence convulſions may ariſe, which ſcarce you or I will live to ſee." —Vide The Weekly Miſcellany for Feb. 8, 1779.
Receive into your cuſtody the body of Thomas Spence, herewith ſent you, brought before me, Sir Sampſon Wright, Knt. one of his Majeſty's Juſtices of the Peace in and for the ſaid county, by Robert Berresford, Conſtable, and charged before me the ſaid Juſtice, upon the oath of John Delafontaine and the ſaid Robert Berresford, for publiſhing and ſelling, at Chancery-lane, in the ſaid county of Middleſex, a certain ſeditious book or pamphlet called "Rights of Man, part the ſecond, containing Principle and Practice, by Thomas Paine," tending to inflame the minds of his Majeſty's ſubjects, and create diſturbances, againſt the peace, &c. Him therefore ſafely keep in your ſaid cuſtody for want of ſureties, or until he ſhall be diſcharged by due courſe of law, and for ſo doing this ſhall be your ſufficient warrant. Given under my hand and ſeal this 10th day of December, 1792.
A ſubſcription being opened for the Defence of the poor Man whoſe Caſe is deſcribed in this Pamphlet, any perſons willing to contribute for the purpoſe, will pleaſe to pay their ſubſcriptions to Mr. Hamilton, Bookſeller, near Gray's Inn Gate, Holborn, where a book for the purpoſe lays open.