The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter XVIII: To Sir William Blackstone, Solicitor General to Her Majesty. July 29, 1769.


I SHALL make you no apology for considering a certain pamphlet, in which your late conduct is defended, as written by yourself. The personal interest, the personal resentments, and, above all, that wounded spirit, unaccustomed to reproach, and, I hope, not frequently conscious of deserving it, are signals which betray the author to us, as plainly as if your name were in the title-page. You appeal to the public, in defence of your reputation. We hold it, Sir, that an injury offered to an individual, is interesting to society. On this principle, the people of England made common cause with Mr. Wilkes. On this principle, if you are injured, they will join in your resentment. [62] I shall not follow you through the insipid form of a third person, but address myself to yon directly.

You seem to think the channel of a pamphlet more respectable, and better suited to the dignity of your cause, than that of a newspaper. — Be it so. Yet, if newspapers are scurrilous, you must confess they are impartial. They give us, without any apparent preference, the wit and argument of the Ministry, as well as the abusive dulness of the opposition. The scales are equally poised. It is not the printer's fault, if the greater weight inclines the balance.

Your pamphlet, then, is divided into an attack upon Mr. Grenville's character, and a defence of your own. It would have been more consistent, perhaps, with your professed intention, to have confined yourself to the last. But anger has some claim to indulgence, and railing is usually a relief to the mind. I hope you have found benefit from the experiment. It is not my design to enter into a formal vindication of Mr. Grenville upon his own principles. I have neither the honour of being personally known to him, nor do I pretend to be completely master of all the facts. I need not run the risk of doing an injustice to his opinions, or to his conduct, when your pamphlet alone carries, upon the face of it, a full vindication of both.

Your first reflection is, that Mr. Grenville* was, of all men, the person who should not have complained of inconsistence with regard to Mr. Wilkes. This, Sir, is either an unmeaning sneer, a peevish expression of resentment; or, if it means any thing, you plainly beg the question: for, whether his parliamentary conduct, with regard to Mr. Wilkes, has, or has not, been inconsistent, remains yet to be proved. But it seems he received upon the spot a sufficient chastisement for exercising so unfairly his talents of misrepresentation. You are a lawyer, Sir, and know better than I do upon what particular occasions a talent for misrepresentation may be fairly exerted; but to punish a man a second time, when he has been once sufficiently

* Mr. Grenville had quoted a passage from the Doctor's excellent Commentaries, which directly contradicted the doctrine maintained by the Doctor in the House of Commons.

[63] chastised, is rather too severe. It is not in the laws of England; it is not in your own Commentaries; nor is it yet, I believe, in the new law you have revealed to the House of Commons. I hope this doctrine has no existence but in your own heart. After all, Sir, if you had consulted that sober discretion, which you seem to oppose with triumph, to the honest jollity of a tavern, it might have occurred to you, that although you could have succeeded in fixing a charge of inconsistence upon Mr. Grenville, it would not have tended in any shape to exculpate yourself.

Your next insinuation, that Sir William Meredith had hastily adopted the false glosses of his new ally, is of the same sort with the first. It conveys a sneer, as little worthy of the gravity of your character, as it is useless to your defence. It is of little moment to the public to enquire, by whom the charge was conceived, or by whom it was adopted. The only question we ask is, whether or not it be true? The remainder of your reflections upon Mr. Grenville's conduct, destroy themselves. He could not possibly come prepared to traduce your integrity to the house; he could not foresee that you would even speak upon the question ; much less could he foresee that you would maintain a direct contradiction of that doctrine which you had solemnly, disinterestedly, and, upon the soberest reflection, delivered to the public. He came armed, indeed, with what he thought a respectable authority, to support, what he was convinced, was the cause of truth; and, I doubt not, he intended to give you, in the course of the debate, an honourable and public testimony of his esteem. Thinking highly of his abilities, I cannot, however, allow him the gift of divination. As to what you are pleased to call a plan, coolly formed to impose upon the House of Commons, and his producing it, without provocation, at midnight, I consider it as the language of pique and invective, therefore, unworthy of regard. — But, Sir, I am sensible I have followed your example too long, and wandered from the point.

The quotation from your Commentaries is matter of record. It can neither be altered by your friends, nor misrepresented by your enemies; and I am willing to take your own word for what you have said in the House of Commons. If there be a real difference between what [64] you have written, and what you hare spoken, you confess that your book ought to be the standard. Now, Sir, if words mean any thing, I apprehend, that, when a long enumeration of disqualifications (whether by statute, or the custom of parliament) concludes with these general comprehensive words, "but subject to these restrictions and disqualifications, every subject of the realm is eligible of common right;" a reader, of plain understanding, must of course rest satisfied, that no species of disqualification whatsoever had been omitted. The known character of the author, and the apparent accuracy with which the whole work is compiled, would confirm him in his opinion: nor could he possibly form any other judgment, without looking upon your Commentaries in the same light in which you consider those penal laws, which, though not repealed, are fallen into disuse, and are now, in effect, — a snare to the unwary *.

You tell us, indeed, that it was not part of your plan to specify any temporary incapacity; and that you could not, without a spirit of prophecy, have specified the disability of a private individual, subsequent to the period at which you wrote. What your plan was, I know not; but what it should have been, in order to complete the work you have given us, is by no means difficult to determine. The incapacity, which you call temporary, may continue seven years; and though you might not have foreseen the particular case of Mr. Wilkes, you might and should have foreseen the possibility of such a case, and told us how far the House of Commons were authorized to proceed in it by the law and custom of parliament. The freeholders of Middlesex would then have known what they had to trust to, and would never have returned Mr. Wilkes, when Colonel Luttrell was a candidate against him. They would have chosen some indifferent person, rather than submit to be represented by the object of their contempt and detestation.

Your attempt to distinguish between disabilities, which affect whole classes of men, and those which affect individuals

* If, in stating the law upon any point, a judge deliberately affirms that he has included every case, and it should appear that he has purposely omitted a material case, he does, in effect, lay a snare for the unwary.

[65] only, is really unworthy of your understanding. — Your Commentaries had taught me, that, although the instance in which a penal law is exerted, be particular, the laws themselves are general; they are made for the benefit and instruction of the public, though the penalty falls only upon an individual. You cannot but know, Sir that was Mr. Wilkes's case yesterday, may be yours or mine to-morrow; and that, consequently, the common right of every subject of the realm is invaded by it. Professing, therefore, to treat of the constitution of the House of Commons, and of the laws and customs relative to that constitution, you certainly were guilty of a most unpardonable omission, in taking no notice of a right and privilege of the house, more extraordinary and more arbitrary than all the others they possess put together. If the expulsion of a member, not under any legal disability, of itself creates in him an incapacity to be elected, I see a ready way marked out, by which the majority may, at any time, remove the honestest and ablest men who happen to be in opposition to them. To say, that they will not make this extravagant use of their power, would be a language unfit for a man so learned in the laws as you are. By your doctrine, Sir, they have the power; and laws, you know, are intended to guard against what men may do, not to trust to what they will do.

Upon the whole, Sir, the charge against you is of a plain, simple nature: it appears even upon the face of your own pamphlet. On the contrary, your justification of yourself is full of subtlety and refinement, and in some places not very intelligible. If I were personally your enemy, I should dwell, with a malignant pleasure, upon those great and useful qualifications which you certainly possess, and by which you once acquired, though they could not preserve to you, the respect and esteem of your country; I should enumerate the honours you have lost, and the virtues you have disgraced: but having no private resentments to gratify, I think it sufficient to have given my opinion of your public conduct, leaving the punishment it deserves to your closet and to yourself.


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