« ForrigeFortsett »
of more than eight to one.
And as no one else was elected at that time, either by show of hands or a poll, I was, in truth, the only legal representative, though I never sat in Parliament. Explanations after.
I was soon surrounded by a vast multitude of people, to whom I gave a short address. As soon as I could get away from the excited crowd, I hastened home. A friend had started for Wortley as soon as I was out of prison, to inform my wife and children that I was safe and at liberty, and he was there when I arrived. It fortunately happened that my family heard of my imprisonment and of my liberation at the same time, and from the same lips, so that the shock they received was not so severe as it might have been. But they were terribly tried. It would be vain to attempt to describe their feelings when they saw me enter the house. I did my best to comfort them, and assured them that I should take no hurt.
I was bound over to appear to take my trial at the Winter Assizes on a charge of sedition and conspiracy, and I set to work to prepare for the event. A good kind friend residing at Barnard Castle, George Brown, Esq., who had helped me in my contests with my theological opponents, helped me in this new trial. He had studied the law all his life, and was a most faithful and trustworthy adviser. He directed me what steps to take, and all his instructions proved wise and good.
My friends set on foot a subscription, to procure for me the ablest defence, and raised, in the course of a few weeks, from two to three hundred pounds. I am amazed when I look back to those days, at the number and ardor of my friends, and at the eagerness with which they hastened to my aid.
Some friends from Holbeck, in the Borough of Leeds, requested me to allow myself to be put forward as a candidate for the Town Council at the approaching election. Not thinking that I should have any chance of being elected, I hesitated; but as they expressed a contrary opinion, and seemed exceedingly anxious that I should place myself in their hands, I complied with their request. They elected me by the largest number of votes that had ever been given for a town councillor in any borough in the
CHOSEN TOWN COUNCILLOR,
kingdom up to that time. My neighbors chose this method of testifying their regard for me, and of protesting against the conduct of the Government in interfering with my liberty.
At length the Assizes came. I made my appearance in court at the time appointed, with more than thirty voluntary witnesses by my side, all prepared to testify, that in my lectures and public speeches I had uniformly advocated peaceful measures, and denounced everything in the shape of conspiracy, violence, or insurrection. I waited ten days for my trial, attending in court all the time. I watched the trials of other political prisoners, and was not a little discouraged to find that they were all convicted, and sentenced, generally, to lengthy terms of imprisonment. The charge against one of the prisoners was, that he had sold and circulated seditious publications. Copies of the works which he was charged with circulating were brought into court. What were my feelings when I found that the publications were my own Companion to the Almanacs, and my weekly periodical The People. These works were handed about the court, and placed in the hands of the judge. The man was convicted, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment. What chance was there now for me? My solicitor advised me to plead guilty, telling me I should thus get off with a lighter punishment; but I refused. Some did plead guilty, and did get off with lighter punishments than those who stood their trial; but I was determined to have a public trial, or else be honorably discharged.
It was alarming enough to see a man convicted for selling my publications: but something still more alarming happened the following day. A most unprincipled and lying witness was brought forward by the Attorney-General. During the trial of one of the Chartist leaders he swore that he had himself formed one of a band of conspirators in Manchester, who pledged themselves to burn the city, and who had prepared the most destructive combustibles to secure the success of their horrible plot. When asked to
name the parties composing the meeting at which he said he had been present, he named me as one. I was horrified. I had never seen the man before in all my life, and the idea
that I should be a party to such a plot as he had described, was monstrous; but what was to hinder a prejudiced or a frightened jury from believing his testimony? Fortunately for me, the Judge asked him if he saw in court, and could point out, any of the persons he had named as parties to the conspiracy. I stood within two or three yards of him, and looked him full in the face. It was plain from the way in which his wandering eyes passed by me, that whatever other parties he might know, he did not know me. At length he pointed out a person that he said was present at the secret meeting. 'What is his name?' said the Judge. The fellow gave a name. It was not the right one. He pointed out another. 'What is his name?' said the Judge again. The fellow gave a name. He was wrong again. The court got out of patience with the villain, and the Judge ordered him into custody to await his trial on a charge of perjury. This was an unspeakable relief both to me and to my anxious wife and friends, who had witnessed the dreadful affair with the most intense anxiety and alarm.
Some time after this horrible exhibition of baseness, my solicitor came to me and told me that he had had an interview with the Attorney-General, and that he had authorized him to say, that if I would enter into bonds and give securities to keep the peace, he would not ask me to plead guilty, but set me at liberty without more to do. He even offered, at last, to accept my own recognizances to the small amount of fifty pounds, without any other security. I refused the offer. To give bonds to keep the peace seemed like an acknowledgment that I had attempted or threatened to break it; and I had done no such thing. My solicitor said the offer was a very generous one, and pressed me very earnestly to accept it: my counsel did the same; but without effect. A number of friends came round me and tried to remove my objections to the measure: but all was vain. I was sorry to go against their advice, but my feeling was, that to agree to the compromise proposed would be a sacrifice of principle, and would entail dishonor on me, and be followed by self-reproach and shame. At last, to obtain a little respite, and to get out of the way of my importunate friends for a time, I told my solicitor that I would lay the matter before my wife, and that whatever she might
STANDS FIRM. A NOBLE WIFE.
advise, I would do. He agreed to this. He was satisfied that there was not a woman in the country that would not advise her husband to make a concession like that required of me, rather than see him run the risk of two or three years' imprisonment.
My wife was at Southport just then, some eighteen miles away, and it was too late for me to get to her that evening, so I had to spend the night alone in Liverpool. I went to bed, but found it impossible to sleep. My anxious mind. kept turning over and over the proposal of the AttorneyGeneral, and trying to find some good reason for accepting it; but all in vain. I had promised to be guided by my wife; but suppose she should counsel me to give the required security, could I do so and be happy? It seemed impossible. It struck twelve,-it struck one-two-three, and I was still unsettled. At last I said, 'I will explain my misgivings to my wife,-I will tell her that I feel as if I should never be happy to consent to the compromise, -that I cannot get rid of the feeling that it would be dishonorable. And I know she will never advise me to do anything that I regard as dishonorable.' As soon as I had fairly decided what to do, I fell asleep.
I was at Southport in the morning by the earliest conveyance, and laid the matter before my wife. 'Do nothing,' said she, 'that you regard as a sacrifice of principle, or an act of dishonor. Whatever you believe to be your duty, do it; I am willing to take the consequences.' I answered, 'I believe it my duty to insist on a trial, or on an honorable discharge.' 'Then insist on it,' said she. That was enough. I returned to Liverpool at once, and told my solicitor the result of my interview with my wife, and he communicated the intelligence to the Attorney-General. The Attorney-General was very much vexed, and, using an expression which we cannot with propriety repeat, declared that he would make me squeak.'
The result of my refusal was that the Attorney-General put off my case to the very last. On the eleventh day of the Assizes I was placed in the dock with a number of prisoners who had agreed to plead guilty, and enter into bonds. My name was called at length, and I refused either to plead guilty, or to be bound to keep the peace. Can
there be any man so foolish as not to accept the mercy of her Majesty?' said the Judge. My answer was, that I had committed no crime, and that it was justice that I wanted, and not mercy. 'I demand a trial,' said I, ' or an honorable discharge. I have been arrested on a charge of sedition and conspiracy, and held up before the world as a criminal, and I claim the right of justifying myself before the public, unless I am honorably discharged.' The Judge said I had no need to concern myself about the public,that the public did not concern itself about me. I answered that the public did concern itself about me; and that I was right in concerning myself about the public. At this point my Counsel rose, and spoke of my character and position, with a view to justify my demand for a trial, or an honorable discharge. The Attorney-General then applied for a postponement of my trial to the following Assizes, alleging that I was the author of a seditious and blasphemous publication. I said the statement was false, and that the Attorney-General had no right to make such a charge against me, and added that to ask a postponement after I and my witnesses had been waiting there eleven days, was most unreasonable. The Judge then asked on what grounds a postponement was desired. When the Attorney-General stated his grounds, the Judge pronounced them insufficient. The Attorney-General then said he should enter a nolle prosequi. Some of my friends, when they heard this, were greatly alarmed. They supposed it to be a threat of something very terrible, and expected to see me carried away at once to prison. And some of the bystanders began to reproach me, and say I was rightly served for not accepting the generous offer of the AttorneyGeneral. I, of course, knew that the Attorney-General's nolle prosequi meant that he would have nothing more to do with me, and that I was now free. While therefore my friends were fearing and trembling, I stood calm and comfortable. After a few moments the Judge said 'You are at liberty, and may retire.'
When my friends found that I was free, they were wild with delight, and flocked round me, eager to shake me by the hand, and give me their congratulations. They were now satisfied that in rejecting the proposal of the Attorney