Curran, who conducted his defence, roused by the importance of the trial and the strong impulse of personal friendship, seems to have exerted the full extent of his magick powers, and if Hume's maxim be true, that " a common audience is the best judge of oratory,” the loud and reiterated acclamations which he received during its delivery, entitles his speech to be placed conspicuously among the instances of impressive and popular eloquence.



WHEN I consider the period at which this prosecution is brought forward; when I behold the extraordinary safeguard * of armed soldiers resorted to, no doubt for the preservation of peace and order; when I catch, as I cannot but do, the throb of publick anxiety which beats from one end to the other of this hall; when I reflect on what may be the fate of a man of the most beloved personal character, of one of the most respected families of our country; himself the only individual of that family, I may almost say of that country, who can look to that possi- . ble fate with unconcern? Feeling as I do all these impressions, it is in the honest simplicity of my heart I speak, when I say that I never rose in a court of justice with so much embarrassment, as upon this occasion.

If, gentleman, I could entertain a hope of finding refuge for the disconcertion of my mind, in the perfect composure of yours; if I could suppose that those awful vicissitudes of human events, which have been stated or alluded to, could leave your judgments undisturbed and your hearts at ease, I know I should form a most erroneous opinion of your character. I entertain no such chimerical hopes; I form no such unworthy opinions; I expect not that your hearts can

Alluding to a guard of soldiers who were brought into court,

be more at ease than my own; I have no right to expect it; but I have a right to call upon you in the name of your country, in the name of the living God, of whose eternal justice you are now administering that portion which dwells with us on this side of the grave, to discharge your breasts as far as you are able of every bias of prejudice or passion; that if my client is guilty of the offence charged upon him, you may give tranquillity to the publick by a firm verdict of conviction; or if he is innocent, by as firm a verdict of acquittal; and that you will do this in defiance of the paltry artifices and senseless clamours that have been resorted to in order to bring him to his trial with anticipated conviction. And, gentlemen, I feel an additional necessity of thus conjuring you to be upon your guard, from the able and imposing statement which you have just heard on the part of the prosecution. I know well the virtues and the talents of the excellent person who conducts that prosecution; I know how much he would disdain to impose upon you by the trappings of office; but I also know how easily we mistake the lodgement which character and eloquence can make upon our feelings, for those impressions that reason and fact and proof only ought to work upon our understandings.

Perhaps, gentlemen, I shall act not unwisely in waving any further observation of this sort, and giving your minds an opportunity of growing cool and resuming themselves, by coming to a calm and uncoloured statement of mere facts, premising only to you, that I have it in the strictest injunction from my client, to defend him upon facts and evidence only, and to avail myself of no technical artifice or subtility that could withdraw his cause from the test of that inquiry, which it is your province to exercise, and to which only he wishes to be indebted for an acquittal.

In the month of December 1792, Mr. Rowan was arrested on an information, charging him with the offence for which he is now on his trial. He was taken before an honourable personage now on that bench, and admitted to bail.

He remained a considerable time in this city, soliciting the threatened prosecution, and offering himself to a fair trial by a jury of his country : but it was not then thought fit to yield to that solicitation ; nor has it now been thought proper to prosecute him in the ordinary way, by sending up a bill of indictment to a grand jury." I do not mean by this to say that informations ex officio are always oppressive or unjust : but I cannot but observe to you, that when a petty jury is called upon to try a charge not previously found by the grand inquest, and supported by the naked assertion only of the king's prosecutor, that the accusation labours under a weakness of probability which it is difficult to assist. If the charge had no cause of dreading the light; if it was likely to find the sanction of a grand jury, it is not easy to account why it deserted the more usual, the more popular, and the more constitutional mode, and preferred to come forward in the ungracious form of ex officio information.

If such bill had been sent up and found, Mr. Rowan would have been tried at the next commission : but a speedy trial was not the wish of his prosecutors. An information was filed, and when he expected to be tried upon it, an errour, it seems, was discovered in the record. Mr. Rowan offered to wave it, or consent to any amendment desired. No. That proposal could not be accepted. A trial must have followed. That information, therefore, was withdrawn, and a new one filed: that is, in fact, a third prosecution was instituted upon the same charge. This last was filed on the eighth day of last July. Gentlemen, these facts cannot fail of a due impression upon you. You will find a material part of your inquiry must be, whether Mr. Rowan is pursued as a criminal or hunted down as a victim. It is not, therefore, by insinuation or circuity, but it is boldly and directly that I assert, that oppression has been intended and practised upon him; and by those facts which I have stated I am warranted in the assertion.


His demand, his entreaty to be tried was refused 1; and why? A hue and cry was to be raised against him; the sword was to be suspended over his head; some time was necessary for the publick mind to become heated by the circulation of artful clamours of anarchy and rebellion; those same clamours, which with more probability, and not more success, had been circulated before through England and Scotland. In this country the causes and the swiftness of their progress were as obvious, as their folly has since become to every man of the smallest observation. I have been stopped myself, with, “Good God, sir, have you heard the news ?-No sir, what?-Why one French emissary was seen travelling through Connaught in a post chaise, and scattering from the windows as he passed, little doses of political poison, made up in square bits of paper--another was actually surprised in the fact of seducing our good people from their allegiance, by discourses upon the indivisibility of French robbery and massacre, which he preached in the French language to a congregation of Irish peasants !

Such are the bugbears and spectres to be raised to warrant the sacrifice of whatever little publick spirit may remain amongst us: but time has also detected the imposture of these Cock-lane apparitions, and you cannot now, with your eyes open, give a verdict without asking your consciences this question; Is this a fair and honest precaution ?-Is it brought forward with the single view of vindicating publick justice, and promoting publick good ? And here let me remind you, that you are not convened to try the guilt of a libel, affecting the personal character of any private man. I know no case in which a jury ought to be more severe than when personal calumny is conveyed through a vehicle, which ought to be consecrated to publick information ; neither, on the other hand, can I conceive any case in which the firmness and the caution of a jury should be more exerted, than when a subject is prosecuted for a libel on the state. The peculiarity of the British constitution (to which


in its fullest extent we have an undoubted right, however distant we may be from the actual enjoyment) and in which it surpasses every known government in Europe, is this; that its only professed object is the general good, and its only foundation the general will. Hence the people have a right, acknowledged from time immemorial, fortified by a pile of statutes, and authenticated by a revolution that speaks louder than them all, to see whether abuses have been committed, and whether their properties and their liberties have been attended to as they ought to be. This is a kind of subject which I feel myself overawed when I approach. There are certain fundamental principles which nothing but necessity should expose to a publick examination. They are pillars, the depth of whose foundation you cannot explore without endangering their strength: but let it be recollected, that the discussion of such topicks should not be condemned in me, nor visited upon my client. The blame, if any there be, should rest only with those who have forced them into discussion. I say, therefore, it is the right of the people to keep an eternal watch upon the conduct of their rulers; and in order to that, the freedom of the press has been cherished by the law of England. In private defamation, let it never be tolerated; in wicked and wanton aspersion upon a good and honest administration, let it never be supported; not that a good government can be exposed to danger by groundless accusation, but because a bad government is sure to find in the detected false. hood of a licentious press, a security and a credit which it could never otherwise obtain.

-I have said, that a good government cannot be endangered. I say so again: for whether it be good or bad, can never depend upon assertion; the question is decided by simple inspection. To try the tree look at its fruit. To judge of the government look at the people. What is the fruit of good govern. ment?—“The virtue and happiness of the people.” Do four millions of people in this country gather those fruits from that government, to whose injured ,

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