LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism
Parry v. Hunt.
The Times  No. 13,306  (15 June 1827)
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The Times.

Number 13,306. LONDON, FRIDAY,  June  15,  1827. Price 7d.


Mr. D. F. Jones opened the pleadings. The declaration charged the defendant with having printed, in the Examiner newspaper, of which he was the proprietor, a false, malicious, and defamatory libel on the character of the plaintiff. The defendant pleaded—first, that he was not guilty, upon which issue was joined; he then pleaded also special please, in justification of the alleged libel.

Mr. Serjeant Taddy stated the case. The question the jury would have to decide would be, what damages they should think proper to give Mr. Parry, who was a gentleman who had published a work entitled “The Last Days of Lord Byron,” and which was most certainly in his (Mr. Sergeant Taddy’s) opinion, a very entertaining book—for a libel which had been published by the defendant in the Examiner. What could have induced Mr. Hunt to have acted in the manner he had done, he was at a total loss to say, nor could he conceive any excuse for the gross, brutal, and offensive matter he had published; but a more disgusting attempt to confirm, to fix, and to give additional force and sting to a libel, had never before been made the subject of an action at law. Mr. Parry was formerly employed in the dock-yards as a ship-builder, and was induced to give up his situation there to go to Greece at the solicitation of a gentlemen of the Greek committee. He accordingly went out to that country in the capacity of an engineer, and when he arrived he was introduced to Lord Byron, in whose house he continued to live. This nobleman gave him authority to act over some of the military and mechanics whom he had raised and supported with a view to the benefit and service of Greece, whose cause he had espoused. While he was employed in this manner, still living with Lord Byron, the plaintiff collected that information which he had embodied in the book he had published. It was as the author of this work that he had been libelled by the defendant, at two different times. The learned Sergeant would read these libels, and when the jury had heard them, they would see that one of Mr. Hunt’s objects was to make an attack on The Times, but in so doing he did not scruple to attack the plaintiff, either as an author or an individual. An editor of a newspaper might at times a little exceed his proper bounds, from a provocation he might have received from another editor; but here there was nothing of the kind, no provocation had been given, nor could the parts complained of be considered as criticisms. The plaintiff was held up as a worthless creature, ignorant in the extreme, and even incapable of writing ten lines of his native language, and was termed a bully, a drunkard, a sot, and a poltroon; in fact, was attacked in every form in which slander could be applied to a man as an author or a man. Mr. Parry never gave the slightest provocation to have called them forth. Ignorant, therefore, of having given any offence, he now demanded very serious damages from the hands of the jury for the very serious injury his character had sustained.

The learned Sergeant now read the first libel: it was in the Examiner of the 2d of May, 1825, and was in the following words:—

The Examiner, Mr. Parry and Mr. Bentham

The Times has thought proper, in its strange anxiety to depreciate the character of Mr. Bentham, to notice with praise the very contemptible production of a very contemptible fellow—one Parry, lately a caulker, but now calling himself a Major, and who had unfortunately prevailed upon the Greek Committee to send him out to Greece as an engineer. This exceedingly ignorant, boasting, bullying, and drunken individual, it seems, while engaged in the cause of the Greeks, got introduced to Mr. Bentham’s table, an honour which the late estimable Sir Samuel Romilly, and other similar spirits, have always duly appreciated. Taking advantage of this unexpected condescension, the worthless creature in question, in order, we suppose, to get something that he thought would sell, has published various details (of no sort of interest however) respecting Mr. Bentham’s habits; such, for instance, as that he dines at 10 o’clock at night; that he runs rather than walks for health, &c., accompanying them with remarks designed to throw ridicule upon his excellent and enlightened host. We should not have noticed such wretched stuff, had not the Times given it currency, spoken of the low-minded author, who cannot write ten lines of English, with commendation, and made a very flippant and foolish remark upon it. The reputation of Mr. Bentham cannot be lowered by the writers in the Times; but such doings excite great disgust in many quarters; and the Times may be assured, that, ere long, it will have ample reason to regret the unjust and unhandsome course which it so very frequently adopts.”

This was the first libel: the next was in an editorial remark on a letter published in the Examiner, purportedly to be from Mr. Stanhope to Mr. Parry, on the subject of the work he had published. The following were the words:—

Leicsester Stanhope, Last Days

“This man was a calker in the dock-yards, and is (not to repeat the worst of him) a slanderer, a bully, a sot, and a poltroon. Who wrote the book to which he has prefixed his name, we cannot say, but he himself cannot write ten words of English.”—Examiner .

This appeared in a number of the Examiner dated April 2, 1826: so it would be seen this remark was not made from any hasty feeling of hostility to the plaintiff, for after the space of a year, during which he had time to consider of what he had previously done, having vilified the plaintiff in every way he possibly could, he renewed his attack on him, and he repeated his former assertion that he was unable to write ten lines of English. Not content, however with injuring his reputation as a writer, he attacked his private character, and at once declared him to be a bully, a sot, a coward, and a poltroon. What more injurious could be said of an author than that he could not write ten lines of his own language; or of an individual, than that he was a poltroon, bully, sot, and drunkard? This was the light, however, in which Mr. Hunt had thought proper to introduce Mr. Parry to the public. Taking advantage of the law on this point, he now thought proper to justify his assertions, by attempting to prove their truth. He intended to prove, as appeared by his pleas of justification, that the plaintiff was a sot and a drunkard while he was living in London; and a bully, a boaster, and poltroon while in Greece. He meant to show he was a boaster from a plan he had suggested to take and destroy the whole Turkish fleet, and a proposal to burn Lepanto by means of a fire kite. In further proof that he was a boaster, they intended to select some passages from the work he had published. In one of these passages the plaintiff had said, after having stated that he was living with Lord Byron, and that that distinguished nobleman had a very good opinion of him, and had proposed to appoint him to the command of a brigade of artillery, he added that certainly there appeared to him to be no other person in the country so well adapted to fill this post as himself; no one else having so good a knowledge of the duty that would be required. He then went on to state, that he had actually been appointed a fire-master in the regular army, but that some German officers considering him of a low origin, had refused to serve under him. It was also on such grounds as these that the defence was founded to this malicious libel, which had proved so injurious to the plaintiff, not only from the diminution of the sale of his work, but in some other transactions to which he was engaged. It appeared that about the time the latter libel was published, the plaintiff had entered into an engagement with Captain Ramsay to go out with him to Buenos Ayres, where he was to fill a situation, for which he would receive 400l. a year. When Captain Ramsay, however, saw the paragraph so defamatory of the plaintiff, he refused to employ him, and the plaintiff had consequently been seriously disappointed in his future prospects. His learned friend in the defence would, no doubt, attempt to hold the whole up as a very ridiculous affair, and try to throw the contempt and derision of the Court on the plaintiff; but let the jury beware how they indulged in a laugh, for every smile would be an additional sting to the plaintiff, and, probably, injurious to his case; let them consider how they would feel had they been spoken of as he had been, and then let them give such damages as they would themselves expect as a compensation for the injury they would think they had sustained. He would now call his witnesses, and would then leave the case in their hands, not doubting they would do that justice to the plaintiff which he was entitled to and expected to receive from them.

The publication and proprietorship of the paper were admitted.

The libels were then put in and read by Mr. Knapp, the associate, and the following witnesses called.

Captain Robert Ramsay.—I am a captain in the Royal Navy, and was authorized by the Government of Buenos Ayres to organize a small navy for them. Mr. Parry was recommended to me by a friend. Mr. Hullett is Consul-General of Buenos Ayres; and it was in consequence of his recommendation that I saw Mr. Parry. I entered into an engagement with him, which I afterwards broke off. It was in consequence of seeing a paragraph in the Examiner, which I had no sooner seen than I broke off the engagement. Mr. Parry was to have received 400l. a year.

Cross-examined.—Had the negotiation gone on between me and Buenos Ayres, it is probable I should have taken Mr. Parry out; but in consequence of the Brazilian war, the British Government forbade their officers to go out. I wished to serve the Government of Buenos Ayres, and communicated that wish to my own Government, who sanctioned it, but the Brazilian war breaking out, it fell to the ground.

Re-examined.—This is the letter I wrote to Mr. Parry. It is dated the 3d of April, 1826, and was sent to inform Mr. Parry, that he should decline engaging him, in consequence of the paragraph he had seen in the Examiner. The prohibition of the British Government did not actually occur until four or five months after I broke off with Mr. Parry.

By the Court—I engaged no other person, nor was there sufficient time to have done so. If I had engaged Mr. Parry, as events turned out, he would have received no salary. Previous to seeing the Examiner, I had confided no original papers relating to the affairs of Buenos Ayres into his custody.

The letter written by Captain Ramsay to Mr. Parry was then put in and read, which, with the evidence of the Captain himself, constituted the plaintiff’s case.

Mr. Sergeant Wilde addressed the jury for the defendant. He should certainly be sorry that any account of his “last days” should fall into the hands of such a person as he who had fabricated the matter which he had published in the book which had been so frequently alluded to by his learned friend, at whose opening he (Mr. Sergeant Wide) had been a little amazed. He had there accounted in some measure for the manner in which he disposed of his own time, by declaring that he had derived much pleasure from the perusal of the work of which the plaintiff stated himself to be the author. His learned friend, stating what was the nature of that defence, had read certain passages from the work, but he had not continued to read them through,—he had stopped at those places where to go on he thought might not prove beneficial to the credit of his client. He had read only that relative to the burning of Lepanto by a fire-kite, by the mention of which he had hoped to have blown up the defendant’s case. What his friend had omitted, however, the learned sergeant felt it his duty to fill up, and that for the sake of increasing the sale of the book; after which he would give some account of Mr. Parry. It was stated that the object of the attack on that gentleman by Mr. Hunt was to take an opportunity to remark on another public journal of the greatest eminence, which had mentioned Mr. Parry, with the name of another individual, whose name would never be mentioned but with the greatest respect and veneration,—he meant Mr. Bentham, whom the plaintiff, in his work, had held up as an object of ridicule. Indeed, the learned sergeant would show, by the extracts he would make from the “Last Days of Lord Byron,” that the plaintiff was himself a slanderer, not only of the noble lord whose memoirs he professed to write, but of many other distinguished characters; among whom would be found the Hon. Colonel Stanhope, whom he had spoken of as a deserter from the cause he had espoused, in conjunction with many others. The learned sergeant then went on to make very copious quotations from the work, which he contended were slanderous and libellous to the characters of those spoken of. He contended also that the plaintiff could not, in fact, be the author of that work himself, it being written in a style far superior to any thing he could have produced, being, indeed, as had been said of him by the defendant, a most ignorant and illiterate man. There were, however, some passages which he allowed might have been from the pen of the plaintiff, which was a proof that he had certainly lent some aid in some passages which were written more broadly or in a more vulgar strain, than the other parts. These he did not wish to deny were the production of the plaintiff. These quotations, and the comments made on them, occupied the learned sergeant a long time, and he concluded by informing the jury that he would call witnesses who would prove the truth of all the assertions that had been made respecting him; and when he had done so, at any rate, he should be able to prove so much as would act very considerably in mitigation of those damages that they might otherwise have felt it their duty to give.

The following witnesses were then called:—

Robert Laycock.—I was one of the mechanics who went out to Greece in 1823. I knew Parry. He went out with us; he was a journeyman shipwright. He frequently drank a little brandy on the voyage, and was constantly drunk, very seldom going to bed sober. He was in the habit of drinking “by word of mouth,” which is taking the bottle to hand, and drinking without a glass. This mode he frequently adopted. He talked of very surprising things that he would do. He would destroy the Turkish fleet 18 or 20 miles off. He has spoken also of a fire-kite, and said he would destroy Lepanto with one. Mr. Rogers frequently complained of him for the bad example he set to the persons under him. He was in the habit of speaking of America, and said he had been to Rio Janeiro. When he spoke of this he was more than half seas over. (A laugh.) He had mechanics under him to which he was very civil during the passage, and was very different when he arrived in Greece, where instead of putting them in a place of security, he neglected them, and said, if they did not obey his orders he would order out some troops and have them shot. He was frequently abusive to them, saying he would he would send them to hell. He was often drunk when in Greece, and said he could make Congreve rockets better than any man in England, and that Colonel Congreve had received a remuneration from Government for improvements that he had suggested. He told me, that if I meant to insinuate any thing to Lord Byron about Fletcher, it would be of no use, as Lord Byron could place no confidence in him. I don’t know whether it was true, that Fletcher took his master’s spirits to treat me. Speaking of Colonel Stanhope, he said they might as well have sent out an old woman from the workhouse, as he, and called him a d—d ass. This was at the place where Lord Byron was living. Lord Byron died in February, 1824. I remember the circumstance of a Turkish brig lying off Ithaca; no preparations were made for attacking her; I was off Ithaca in the Ann.Parry was with us. He said we need not be alarmed, for he did not think they were coming after us. He was not the commander of the Ann. I remember a Turkish brig coming a-ground off Missolonghi. We were then all in that place. I heard that Parry was applied to on that occasion to lend his assistance. He was at Lord Byron’s house. Several of us were ordered by him to go in a couple of boats, with guns, to attack the brig. Parry did not go with us; was to come round by land with some Greek soldiers. He did not come round. He said he would come to our assistance when he sent us out. He had a blue coat on, but I do not know whether he was shaved or not.

Cross-examined.—We had no guns on board the Ann; she was not made for fighting. When we saw the Turkish brig, she had two guns mounted, they were the only means of defence we had. There were other guns not mounted, stowed away in the hold, for the Greeks. The Ann was a merchant-vessel, the Turk appeared to be a brig of war of about ten guns. Captain Longly had command of the Ann; he had a mate named Martin under him. They were the only officers. It was after we left the Land’s-end that we got the brandy. I took some. I did not think it would do me any harm. When in Greece I drank with Fletcher, sometimes wine, lemonade, coffee, rum and water, and occasionally brandy, but this latter was not so plentiful as aboard the brig. I do not know that these were Lord Byron’s property. We sometimes drank it in his house.

Re-examined.—The Ann was prepared to defend herself from pirates, previous to coming to Ithaca. I remember Mr. Parry hurting his finger on this island, in a fight with a man named Grubb. I believe the finger was broken. When he came on board he was almost tipsy, and kept hollowing out, “Oh, my finger! Oh, my finger!

William Fletcher—I was in the service of the late Lord Byron upwards of 20 years, and was with him up to the time of his death. I now receive a pension from his family for my services. I first saw Parry at Greece, at Missollonghi. He lived in the same house with Lord Byron. I was not much in the habit of seeing him, and had not an opportunity of knowing whether he was drunk, more than I heard from report. He sometimes appeared the worse for liquor. I have seen him in Lord Byron’s company; he generally called him Captain Parry. I have heard Parry speak of Colonel Stanhope. Some men were sent to attack a Turkish brig off Missolonghi. Parry came home to his house on that occasion, and did not get out again, but said he wanted to shave and dress. This was early in the evening, and it was a considerable time before he came down again. He went into his room at the back of the house. I don’t know where he went when he had shaved. The brig was afterwards in flames. Parry was sent to, and discovered to be asleep. I did not see him go out before the brig was in flames. I have seen Parry once since my return to England. Since I have been subpœnaed here as a witness, I have seen him frequently. Having been here in attendance a long time, and feeling a want for something to eat, I went to get some bread and cheese. Zambelli was with me, and Parry came in, and was very polite to us. I do not know whether the word rogue was used. Parry addressed himself to me, but I do not recollect the words he made use of; they were meant to imply that he had always been my friend.

Cross-examined.—Mr. Parry never made an attempt to influence my evidence. I am not a sufficient judge to tell whether he acted in a cowardly manner. The Turkish brig was set on fire by its own crew. I believe Parry went into the room in which he usually dressed. He had the command of a brigade, composed of mechanics from England. I believe he acted as engineer. I never knew anything dishonourable of Parry. I have not seen him exactly drunk; but what would be called half and half. He was not always so.

By the Court.—We were certainly surprised that when the brig came on shore, no measures were taken to secure her. Some of the Greek men went out with some of the brigade of mechanics, but the plaintiff went to dress. The brig was aground. I have not drunk with Parry this morning. I paid for what we drank.

Zambelli, a Hungarian.—I lived in the service of Lord Byron at Missolonghi, and had the care of liquors and provisions in his house. I knew Parry at Missolonghi, and have twice known him absolutely intoxicated. He was, on those occasions, asleep with the bottle by his side lying on the floor, and Lord Byron called to me to take him away. Those are the only times when I have known him affected by liquor. I cannot say how many bottles he drank on those occasions. I recollect a Turkish brig being on shore when Parry came into the house and went up stairs. He did not go out of the house again that day. The brig was not burning before he came into the house. It was burned while he was in the house.

Cross-examined.—It was in flames about six or seven hours after Parry came into the house. During that time he remained in his room, and did not come out. It was 11 o’clock when the brig was on fire. Lord Byron sometimes called him Parry, at others Captain Parry, and latterly Major. While Parry was in the house I heard no person calling out. Individuals, the proprietors of small fishing-boats on the coast, came to desire Captain Parry’s attendance on account of the vessel that was on shore. That was after Captain Parry had come into the house. They saw him, and he said, “Stop, stop.” He did not go out after this until the brig was burned.

Colonel Stanhope.—I am a Lieutenant-Colonel in the army. I went out to Greece, and saw Parry there; he lived in my room, and ate his meals at my table. He was in the habit of drinking to excess. He was a sot, and a boaster, and frequently spoke of making Congreve rockets, in which, he said, he had made an improvement, of which Colonel Congreve had taken the merit. He said he would take Lepanto by a fire-kite, and destroy the Turkish fleet. He never carried any of his plans into execution. I have read the Last Days of Lord Byron. Parry is not capable of writing such a work. He is a man of a strong natural mind, but uneducated. He does not speak grammatically correct. He frequently spoke of his great science as an engineer. I saw the brig on shore, and was there. The brig was on shore four or five miles from Missolonghi, and the Greek officers applied to Lord Byron and myself to lend assistance; we despatched artillery and the greater part of the soldiers and townspeople immediately proceeded there; we were for some time under the bombardment of this vessel. After having been stranded for two days, and seeing the impossibility of getting her off, her crew set her on fire, and escaped in their boats to another Turkish vessel which had been hovering in the offing. Parry never made his appearance all the time. Lord Byron treated him as a fool, a buffoon—not as one of these fools that have so often graced the tables of the great. Parry called Lord Byron Hal, and he called him Falstaff.

Cross-examined.—Captain Parry has naturally a strong mind. I do not know that he has built several steam-boats. I had some differences with Lord Byron previous to his death, nor did I ever know a person with whom I was acquainted with whom I had not differed on some points. A difference arose between Lord Byron and myself, principally, on the subject of the application of a free press in Greece. I was an advocate for a free press, and so was Lord Byron at times. Parry was nominally in command of a portion of the forces I commanded myself. There were also German officers in command. I was at Missolonghi about six weeks or two months after Parry came there. During that time he was in the habit of drinking to excess whenever he could get liquor. I never saw him in such a state as described by the witness who preceded me.

Re-examined.—When the brig was on shore, some of the men were there who had been disciplined by Parry. I should conceive that Parry should have been there. He was at the head of the laboratory, and he might be right in remaining there till the stores were given out. He was, however, in the house, and at neither of his posts. The brig frequently fired so as to endanger those on shore. If Parry had been a good engineer, his attendance would have been of great importance.

By a Juror.—He was for a time called Major, to gratify his vanity; but it was merely nominal. He was allowed by Lord Byron to act as a Major, and wore a sort of uniform.

By the Court.—The title of Major was given him by the Greek Government.

Martha Gill.—I am a widow; my husband went to Greece at the same time with Parry, whom I knew before he went out: he was a shipwright, and has informed me that he worked as such; that was his employ until he left the country. I have seen him affected by liquor.

Cross-examined.—I have not been taking notes to-day.

By the Court.—I never knew him do the work of a calker. I believe journeymen shipwrights do the work of calking, but do not know it of my own knowledge.

Mr. Bowring.—I acted as Secretary to the Greek Committee. Parry was recalled by a vote of the committee of the 3d of July. I should consider him incapable of writing such a book without some assistance. I have not seen him in a state of actual drunkenness, but when he has drunk rather too much. After his return, he showed me the materials from which this work was formed, but I did not look them over. I should think them, however, insufficient to have made the book.

Mr. Knight.—This book was published by Knight and Lacy. I am not of that house. Parry applied to me early in 1825. He was announced as Captain Parry, and I fully expected to have seen that Captain Parry who had been so frequently towards the North Pole. He, however, undeceived me, and said he came from Greece, and that he wished to publish something relative to Lord Byron. Having said this, he left a portfolio for my perusal, and we had no further conversation at the time. In a few days he called again, and I returned the papers. They consisted of a few official documents, containing technical particulars, terms of war, and estimates of ammunition, and several Greek newspapers, with a few sheets, purporting to be the journal of Captain Parry. They amounted altogether to about 40 or 50 folios. I have read the book which he has published, and towards the end, in the appendix, there are some expressions similar to those I saw in the papers he brought to me. The body of the book does not contain a line of what was in those papers. If he were the writer of the journal put into my hands, he could not be the author of this book. My interview with him was very short; but from what I saw of him, and from his conversation, I should not think him capable of writing this book.

Cross-examined.—My interview with him lasted only about 10 or 12 minutes.

By the Court.—I do not remember having observed any errors in the orthography of the journal.

Mr. Lacy.—I am a partner in the house of Knight and Lacy. We published this book for Mr. Parry. He said he had received some assistance in the arrangement of the work from another gentleman.

Mr. Sergeant Wilde thought this evidence was sufficient to show, that the plaintiff was a sot, a drunkard, and a poltroon. The witnesses had stated him to be frequently drunk, and it appeared that in spite of all his boasting, he was afraid to show himself when his services were required.

The passages from the work which had been read by the learned serjeant in the defence were not put in and read.

Mr. Sergeant Taddy called a great many witnesses to contradict the statement given by those for the defendant with respect to the plaintiff’s drunkenness and want of courage. They had known him many of them from his earliest years, and all spoke in the highest terms of him in steadiness and sobriety, and, so far as they were capable of judging, of his courage.

Mr. Sergeant Wilde replied to this, and Mr. Sergeant Taddy to the whole of the defendant’s case, contending that the pleas of justification had not been made out.

The Lord Chief Justice summed up, leaving it to the jury to say whether they believed the defendant had sufficiently justified the assertions he had made use of.

The jury retired for 40 minutes, and returned with a verdict for the plaintiff, damages 50l.

The foreman stated that the grounds on which this verdict was returned were, that they did not think the justification clearly made out, and on account of the charge of such profound ignorance.