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the end, but “burst out into irrepressible acclamations which spread through the vast multitude outside and were repeated to a great distance around."
It need scarcely be added that for students of English law, Erskine is the most important of all the English orators.
ON THE LIMITATIONS OF FREE SPEECH, DELIVERED
AGE OF REASON."
Nearly all of Erskine's speeches were several hours in length and so logically constructed as not to admit of abridgment or excision. The more elaborate of them, therefore, are not adapted to the purposes of this collection. It happens, however, that one of the briefest of his forensic addresses was the one on which he himself looked with most satisfaction. Of the speech delivered on the prosecution of Williams he is reported to have said: “I would rather that all my other speeches were committed to the flames, or in any manner buried in oblivion, than that a single page of it should be lost.” Erskine's “Speeches,” Am. ed., vol. i., p. 571.
It is an interesting fact that the same great advocate who gave all his powers to the defence of Paine for publishing the “Rights of Man," was equally earnest in the prosecution of Williams for the publication of the same author's “ Age of Reason.” But the explanation is easy. In the former work the author criticised, in what Erskine regarded as a legitimate way, the character and methods of the English Government; in the latter he assailed what the advocate regarded as the very foundations of all government and all justice. The difference
between the two is pointed out in the following speech with a skill that will give the reader a good example of the orator's method.
GENTLEMEN OF THE JURY:
The charge of blasphemy, which is put upon the record against the publisher of this publication, is not an accusation of the servants of the crown, but comes before you sanctioned by the oaths of a grand jury of the country. It stood for trial upon a former day; but it happening, as it frequently does, without any imputation upon the gentlemen named in the panel, that a sufficient number did not appear to constitute a full special jury, I thought it my duty to withdraw the cause from trial, till I could have the
opportunity of addressing myself to you who were originally appointed to try it.
I pursued this course from no jealousy of the common juries appointed by the laws for the ordinary service of the court, since my whole life has been one continued experience of their virtues; but because I thought it of great importance that those who were to decide upon a cause so very momentous to the public, should have the highest possible qualifications for the decision; that they should not only be men capable from their educations of forming an
enlightened judgment, but that their situations should be such as to bring them within the full view of their country, to which, in character and in estimation, they were in their own turns to be responsible.
Not having the honor, gentlemen, to be sworn for the king as one of his counsel, it has fallen much oftener to my lot to defend indictments for libels than to assist in the prosecution of them; but I feel no embarrassment from that recollection. I shall not be bound to-day to express a sentiment or to utter an expression inconsistent with those invaluable principles for which I have uniformly contended in the defence of others. Nothing that I have ever said, either professionally or personally, for the liberty of the press, do I mean to-day to contradict or counteract. On the contrary, I desire to preface the very short discourse I have to make to you, with reminding you that it is your most solemn duty to take care that it suffers no injury in your hands. A free and unlicensed press, in the just and legal sense of the expression, has led to all the blessings, both of religion and government, which Great Britain or any part of the world at this moment enjoys, and it is calculated to advance
mankind to still higher degrees of civilization and happiness. But this freedom, like every other, must be limited to be enjoyed, and, like every human advantage, may be defeated by its abuse.
Gentlemen, the defendant stands indicted for having published this book, which I have only read from the obligations of professional duty, and which I rose from the reading of with astonishment and disgust. Standing here with all the privileges belonging to the highest counsel for the crown, I shall be entitled to reply to any defence that shall be made for the publication. I shall wait with patience till I hear it.
Indeed, if I were to anticipate the defence which I hear and read of, it would be defaming by anticipation the learned counsel who is to make it; since, if I am to collect it from a formal notice given to the prosecutors in the course of the proceedings, I have to expect that, instead of a defence conducted according to the rules and principles of English law, the foundation of all our laws, and the sanctions of all justice, are to be struck at and insulted. What gives the court its jurisdiction? What but the oath which his lordship, as well as yourselves, has sworn upon the gospel to fulfil? Yet in the