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TRIAL OF WILLIAM CAMPION,
For the publication of the "Age of Reason," Tuesday, June 8.
THIS morning being appointed for the trial of Mr. Carlile's shopmen, at an early hour the Court and the avenues leading to it, were crowded by persons, who were anxious to witness the trials of so many persons, nine in number, and all young men, who, for the sake of their opinions, were ready to sacrifice their liberty. A host of Barristers, with Mr. Maule, the Solicitor to the Treasury, appeared to prosecute the defendants.
At nine o'clock the Recorder entered the Court, and the defendants were all placed at the bar. A London Jury was then sworn. While the Clerk of the Arraigns called over their names, one of the defendants (who had a list in his hand), as each name was called, nodded a kind of assent; and took no objection to the following persons, who were sworn on the Jury:
John Hornby, William Hopkins, J. David Price, J. Muckle, William Sharpe, Joshua Smith, Samuel Skinner, Thomas B. Percival, John Lane, E. Witham, John Draysey, H. Vollum.
William Campion was then placed at the bar, charged with publishing a blasphemous libel contained in Paine's Age of Reason. The prisoner pleaded Not Guilty.
Mr. Barnard opened the pleadings; he said that the prisoner stood indicted for unlawfully and maliciously publishing a most wicked and blasphemous libel of and concerning the Christian religion, and of and concerning the Holy Bible, intending to vilify and bring the same into ridicule and contempt.
Mr. Bolland said, that by the opening of his learned friend, the Jury were informed that the indictment against the defendant was for publishing a blasphemous libel. He should consider it an insult to their understandings, and a waste of the time of the Court, if he were to dilate upon a subject which had now become so trite. He, however, would remark, that men of their age and understanding must be aware of the necessity of suppressing an evil so pregnant with mischief to the present, and to the rising generation, destroying those props upon which we obtained support and consolation in this world, and hopes of happiness hereafter. For some time, the Jury could not be ignorant, there had been a struggle, and a constant war, between the Government of this country and persons who have attempted to deluge the nation with blasphemous libels, and the Attorney-General had thought proper not to file criminal informations against the parties, but to have the of
fenders indicted summarily at the Quarter Sessions. The defendants had been so indicted by order of the Attorney-General, whose humble representative he (Mr. Bolland) then was. The learned Counsel then called the attention of the Jury to the libels published by the defendant, which he would read to them, commenting thereon as he proceeded, and he would put it to them, whether the language was not horrible in the extreme.-The first count charged the defendant with publishing a scandalous, wicked, impious, and blasphemous libel as follows:-" Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel torturous executions, and the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that it be called the word of a Demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind,” to the great displeasure of Almighty God; to the great scandal and infamy of that part of the Holy Bible called the Old Testament, &c. This (said the learned Counsel) is the impious language used in this vile work, than which nothing could be more blasphemous.
The second count charged the defendant with publishing a scandalous and blasphemous libel in these words: "Did the book, called the Bible, excel in purity of ideas and expression all the books that are now extant in the world, I would not take it for my rule of faith, as being the word of God, because the possibility would nevertheless exist of my being imposed upon. But when I see, throughout the greatest part of this book, scarcely any thing but a history of the grossest vices, and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales, I cannot dishonour my Creator by calling it by his name."
Such language as this required no comment, and he should proceed to read the next count, as it was only to repeat the language, to excite their abhorrence of it.
The third count of the indictment charged the defendant with publishing the libel following: "I have now gone through the examination of the four books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and when it is considered that the whole space of time from the crucifixtion to what is called the ascension is but a few days, and that all the circumstances are said to have happened nearly about tho same spot, Jerusalem; it is, I believe, impossible to find in any story upon record, so many, and such glaring absurdities, contradictions, and falsehoods, as are in these books."
The next count, said the learned Counsel, was very short, but it was a wicked libel, and the only object in publishing so blasphemous an expression, was to effect the downfall of our holy religion, by undermining the principles of those whose consolation. and hopes of salvation rested entirely on the divine word of God. The sentence was this: "It (the Testament) is a book of lies, wickedness, and blasphemy." According to this, the defendant, ad
mitted there was such a thing as blasphemy, how he defined it, he (the Counsel) could not pretend to say.
The fifth count charged the defendant with publishing the following libel:-"As it is nothing extraordinary that a woman should have been with-child before she was married, and that the son she might bring forth should be executed unjustly, I see no reason for supposing that such a woman as Mary, and such men as Joseph and Jesus, did not exist; their mere existence is a matter of indifference, about which there is no ground either to believe or disbelieve, and which comes under the common head of—it may be so and what then? The probability is, however, that there were such persons, or at least, such as resembled them, in part of the circumstances, because almost all romantic stories have been suggested by some actual circumstance, as the fabulous story of Robinson Crusoe was suggested by the case of Alexander Selkirk."
The learned Counsel designated the next count as most horrible, and shocking to the ears of every person except such creatures as the defendants. It stated, "that the Holy Bible teaches us to believe that the almighty committed debauchery with a woman engaged to be married, and the belief of this debauchery is called, Faith!"
The learned Counsel concluded by stating, that he felt great sorrow at seeing so many young men placed at that bar, charged with offences so heinous against God and their country; but he was convinced, if they lived to his age, they would become convinced of the divine truths of that religion which they now blasphemed. Defendant-It will not be by such treatment as we have re
Should distress or sickness overtake them, they would find that religion their comfort-their stay, and the best support they could rely upon. In prosecuting these libellers, it was no war of the Government against toleration, it permits any mode of worship, it allows any one to entertain what religious opinions he may think proper;
Defendant-My standing here is a proof against your tolera
But the Government of the law of the land will not permit, and he (the Counsel) trusted that they never would permit, persons of this description to propagate doctrines, and promulgate opinions, that may bring others into as deplorable a state as these wretched men now before the Court. Without further observation, his learned friend would proceed to prove the publication.
Thomas Drummond sworn, examined by Mr. Barnard: I am a messenger of Bow-street; I know No. 84, Fleet-street, Carlile's name is over the door. On the fifth of May, I went to that shop, and saw the prisoner at the bar there; I went into the shop, and asked the prisoner for the book called Paine's Age of Reason; he was standing at the counter, turned round and took this book,
which I now produce, from a pile of books; I paid him four shillings for it, and afterwards marked it before I parted with it. I asked him if I purchased half a dozen of them if he would sell them at a less price? He said he would take off twenty-five per cent, if I purchased a dozen copies.
Recorder-Prisoner, you may examine the witness now if you think proper.
Defendant-He may go away; I want nothing with him.
The Clerk of the Arraigns then read from the book those parts which had been laid out in the indictment as libellous, and the defendant compared it with the indictment itself that he might take advantage of any inaccuracy.
The Recorder here intimated that a person named Henry Baldwin Raven, who went before the Grand Jury to point out the libellous passages to them, was a witness whose name was affixed to the back of the bill, and if the prisoner thought proper he might examine him.
The prisoner said he should not examine him.
The Recorder called upon the prisoner for his defence.
Gentlemen of the Jury. An unreflecting mind might consider it an impudent presumption, that not only the sale, but the defence of such writings as are now before you, should be persisted in; but I commence my defence with a declaration, that on this head, I am free from all impudence, and even unbecoming presumption, that I am morally and solemnly impressed with the importance of what I have done and am now doing in this case, and that no man ever acted under a sense of an higher, more imperative, and more honourable duty than the person now addressing you, in the purpose of that address. I hold to sentiments consonant with the general sentiment of the writings now impugned, and because, that I am open enough to avow this fact, I claim the consideration from you, that I have not been actuated by any bad motive. I purpose to unfold my sense of the illegality of these prosecutions, and hope to make you share my immutable conviction, that no illegal act of mine, has brought me to answer before a Jury of my fellow citizens.
If it be said, as it has been said, that we have had warning enough to avoid the sale of publications which displease persons in power, I answer, first, that persons in power have no legal power to suppress such publications, which are filled with matters of free and fair enquiry, and that, they are not better, if so good, judges of proper and improper books, as persons out of power: they cannot be so impartial: second, that no books, particularly such deep contemplative and philosophical works as those for which I am prosecuted, can lead to breaches of the peace, or to any kind of violation of the existing laws; they are pure matters
of argument and reasoning; and though a general knowledge of their contents may lead to certain legislative changes, yet of all things, they are the least calculated to set a reader to defy existing laws. They are not book readers who systematically violate the laws of the country.
Again, the warning which I have received in this case, has been a warning that I might safely proceed in the sale of these books. Into the shop, from which I was arrested on the seventh of May, I entered early in September last. Throughout the intervening time, I openly exposed and sold Paine's Age of Reason, (with all other publications), as commonly and as freely as tobacco or snuff is sold in any shop in London. I heard, that the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench should say, in October, that no further prosecutions of these books would take place, as there was nothing injurious to be feared from them. This was addressed from the Bench to a Jury in a case of trial for publishing Palmer's Principles of Nature. Joseph William Trust, the person then tried, was allowed, in the last Hilary Term, to go at large without sentence, and no person in my situation could have felt, under such circumstances, that there was impropriety in doing what I have done. If previous prosecutions be argued as a warning, I answer, that, upon such a principle we are not to this day free from the danger of a burning for witchcraft or heresy. We may be again imprisoned to suffocation, as conventiclers or nonconformists; or be dragooned, shot, hung, and burnt, in houses' and barns' full, as the Scotch Covenanters were by the Church of England, down to the time of the union. Upon such a plea as this, there never can be any safety for any person, if some antiquated being gets into power, and impiously craves to reverse the order of nature, by making every thing retrograde to that point which pleases his fancy. No, Gentlemen, we must go onward, it is a matter in which no retrogression can take place, punish whom you will; and the man who desires it is an unworthy member of any community of human beings. The character of my publication, for I boast of the act of publishing, is that it points the human mind onward; and this progressive enlightenment, to the owls in literature, is as offensive as the light of the sun to the bird of night. All their gratifications arise from darkness, corruptions, and abuses; and they screech like that hideous bird, and fly upon you the moment you throw a ray of light upon them. Light is to them like carbon to insects: they lose their leech-likə hold in the good things of that species of life which may be termed human vegetation; and perish from the contact. They are not intellectual beings, to be improved by increasing knowledge.
Gentlemen, I shall study to avoid all matters that are not strictly connnected with this charge; and shall enter upon no discussions, but such as I consider to be important to my defence.