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Verdict against the Examiner in the Case of William Parry.
The Examiner  No. 1011  (17 June 1827)  375-76.
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No. 1011. SUNDAY, 17 June, 1827.


Examiner, Mr. Parry and Mr. Bentham

Our paper of this day contains the report of a trial which terminated in a verdict against us, with an award of £50 in damages to the Plaintiff. This is the second time the Examiner has been pronounced by a Jury guilty of a private libel; and we think it necessary to go into some explanation of the circumstances, because, however meritorious and honourable it is to suffer for speaking the truth (that is, writing a public libel) concerning profligate Princes and corrupt Governments, to be justly convicted of libelling the character of a private individual, is undoubtedly to incur a serious reproach.

Our first conviction was in the case wherein Nicholas Bochsa was prosecutor, whose merits are sufficiently notorious to save us the trouble of a single word of explanation. The second is an action wherein William Parry is plaintiff; and we shall be disappointed if, after the facts are known, the public feeling be not almost as decisive against the verdict in the latter case, as it confessedly has always been in the former.

Mr Serjeant Wilde (who conducted the defence in a masterly manner, and whose speech will long be remembered by the numerous and delighted audience for its zeal, its eloquence, its shrewdness, and its wit)—Mr Wilde clearly and forcibly showed the Jury that the alleged libel was not the result of any private malice or personal dispute, but originated wholly in the defendant’s indignation at the base and impudent calumnies contained in the slandered book put forth in Parry’s name. This our readers will perceive is a very important point, yet the Learned Judge was pleased to pass it over in a very remarkable manner. Some allowances may fairly be claimed for a writer who, in an honest zeal to vindicate the characters of honourable and venerable men from the aspersions of a dirty slanderer, goes beyond the boundaries of discretion in denouncing the contemptible creature who has provoked chastisement. In this case it was a libeller who came into Court to complain of libel—a slanderer who sought reparation for having been slandered. Were the law consistent—did the principle obtain in all cases, that the plaintiff must come into Court with “clean hands”—Parry must have been overthrown at the outset. This vulgar pretender to authorship had libelled a most honourable soldier and excellent man (Colonel Stanhope) in the grossest way; he had taken a base advantage of his admission to the table of a virtuous and venerable philosopher (Jeremy Bentham) who was protected neither by his hospitality nor his silver hairs from the low attempts of this reprobate to ridicule and annoy him;—and indeed there is hardly an individual named in the course of the book called the “Last Days of Lord Byron,” who is not either abused or sneered at—except one, namely, the self-described honest, frank, gay, good-humoured, active, zealous, eminently skilful Major Parry.* Now, however disagreeable the consequences in one respect, we shall always reflect with satisfaction on the part we took in exposing the true character of the illiterate pretender who thus threw dirt upon respectable and worthy men; and we cannot help feeling that the obvious honesty of the motive, and the admitted justice (in all the material points) of the castigation, should have been allowed to weigh against any imprudent looseness of expression, which after all did not touch the general effect of the libel. Was it praiseworthy to denounce William Parry as the man we knew him to be, when he came forward in the mask of an author to ridicule and slander such individuals as Bentham and Stanhope? Is it the proper duty of a free press to vilify good and great names? Is there any public spirit, is there any zeal in behalf of truth and private character manifested by the Journalist who, surrounded as he is by the pitfalls and man-traps of the incomprehensible law of libel, with all the terrors of special pleadings before his eyes, yet boldly declares the truth concerning a slanderer, and tears off the borrowed mask from a despicable pretender?

Could these questions be put to the Jury in Parry’s case, they would all answer in the affirmative. They would no doubt tell us moreover (like the learned Judge) that they are earnest friends to the Liberty of the Press, and disposed to view even tis faults with indulgence. But what says their
* In one of the editions of Shakspeare is an engraving (after Stothard) representing Antient Pistol cudgelled by Fluellen. Perhaps as humorous a subject might be found for that admirable artist’s pencil in some of the situations attributed by the witnesses to our valiant Major; for instance, the lying asleep after a debauch, embracing the bottle, as described with significant gestures by the witness Zambelli; or the elaborate shaving and dressing, while his men were proceeding to assault the Turkish brig.
verdict? Most happily, they thought proper to explain the grounds upon which they formed their decision: the reader will see in the report of the trial what those grounds were; he will see that the statement of the Foreman implies the conviction of the Jury, that all the definite charges in the libel against Parry were proved, except perhaps the excess of ignorance; and that they gave him damages principally on a minor point, which the Judge himself (although decidedly opposed to the defendant) treated as immaterial! In short, the verdict appears to amount to something like this—“We believe Parry has been proved to be a sot, a poltroon, a slanderer, &c.; but we give him, as a reparation for his injured character, 50l. out of the Defendant’s pocket, because the latter has slipped into the libel the phrase—“not to say the worst of him,” and also because we do not think the plaintiff profoundly ignorant.”* The gentlemen of the Jury will, we hope, pardon us for saying that their verdict is itself absurd. If Parry was really libelled by the Defendant—if his character was unjustly blackened—they should have given him ten or twenty times the amount of compensation which they have actually awarded—they should have inflicted upon his cruel assailant far heavier punishment.† But if (as they plainly declare by their reported explanation of the verdict) they believed that the Defendant had proved by evidence the serious charges he had specified against the Plaintiff, at his own risk and for the public good, where is the justice, where is the liberality, of turning round upon the Defendant upon a careless phrase of no calculable effect in the alleged libel, and—forgetting the credit due to him for first asserting and afterwards establishing the truth, in spite of the attendant danger)—condemning him in costs and damages, to the exoneration, if not the benefit, of an admitted delinquent? Was this an evidence of regard for the freedom of the Press? Was this a practical application of the poet’s advice, which may be addressed with peculiar propriety to Juries in relation to the Press—
“Be to its faults a little blind:
Be to its virtues ever kind.”

The charge of Chief-Justice Best was just such as the public expect on such occasions, from that learned but not very equable person. His opening was ominous;—our hearts sunk within us when we heard his Lordship profess his great regard for the freedom of the press; for we knew then what was coming. We were nevertheless amused for an instant by his ingenuous admission, that he had not “obtained credit” for that regard. Poor man! Accused of a cordial hatred of that which he tenderly loves! Suspected of a wish to strangle the darling over whose safety he so anxiously watches! It is indeed a melancholy fate.

We must beg the reader to examine for himself the summing-up of the Chief Justice: to insert the notes we had made upon it would lengthen this article unreasonably. We only call attention to the tender way in which the Learned Judge alluded to the charges (slander, for instance) of which the Plaintiff had been proved guilty; to the generous and obliging manner in which he invented all possible excuses for the vicious acts committed by the Plaintiff, and the surprising liberality with which he suggested the possibility of palliations which the Plaintiff had neglected (poor man!) to supply. In some instances, indeed, the overflowing liberality of the Chief Justice led him to put upon proved facts a construction diametrically opposite to that formed by the ill-natured common sense of mankind. He suggested that Parry might, by the company of men so superior to himself as Lord Byron and Colonel Stanhope—(sober men themselves, be it observed)—be tempted into unusual indulgence to liquor. Now the malicious world would say just the reverse; viz. that the presence of his superiors would naturally operate to restrain even a man who did not mind sotting in the company of his pot-house associates. The Chief Justice observed also about the drunkenness, that several instances of intoxication were proved against Parry; but he added, that probably Colonel Stanhope, himself a gentleman of refined taste, might speak too severely of irregularities not commonly thought very flagrant. Now what was the fact? His habitual drunkenness during the voyage to Greece was sworn to by Robert Laycock—his habitual drunkenness during his stay in Greece was stated by Colonel Stanhope, in whose house Parry lived for some time; and, by way of corroboration, two instances of excessive and bestial inebriety, accompanied by circumstances which would actually be very striking in a picture, were proved by Zambelli. Colonel Stanhope’s evidence happened to be brought out in a peculiar manner by the Counsel on both sides. Mr Serjeant Wilde, after many questions as to detail, put the matter broadly—

“In short, Colonel Stanhope, was Parry a sober man or was he a sot?”

Witness. He was a sot.”

And in the cross-examination—

Mr. Serjeant Taddy.—Pray, Colonel Stanhope, at whose table do you say the plaintiff was intoxicated?

Witness. At ever table: at Lord Byron’s table, at my table, and at every place he could get liquor.”

The Chief Justice too, observing on Parry’s conduct in the affair of the Turkish brig, intimated, that one neglect of duty ought not to fix the character of cowardice on any man:—but his Lordship knows, that a single neglect on the day of battle cost the unfortunate Byng his life, and that Lord Sackville was disgracefully driven from the service for once imputed fault on the field of Minden; yet both these men had given repeated proofs of noble courage. Where, however, are William Parry’s proofs?

We shall enumerate five consequences resulting from this trial, the first of which we certainly contemplate with some indignation, mingled, however, by the satisfaction we derive from the four latter:—

1. A Journalist has been made to smart for having allowed an incautious though immaterial phrase to slip into a paragraph containing a just and useful castigation of an impudent slanderer.

2. Chief Justice Best’s peculiar merits as a Judge have been further illustrated.

3. William Parry’s character, before confined to the humble columns of this little newspaper, has been blazoned forth in all the journals of the United Kingdom.

4. The name of the hireling has been given in evidence, who manufactured from Parry’s scanty materials a substantial volume of slander, boasting, and baseness.

5. The mock protection held out by the law to the Press has been further exemplified.

* The latter clause of the Foreman’s statement was so obvious a misconception of the meaning of the paragraph in the Examiner, that we cannot believe he accurately spoke the sense of the Jury in that particular. Our paragraph calls Parryexceedingly ignorant”—(not profoundly)—clearly in reference to his pretensions as an author—not as respects his capacity as a shipwright or caulker, regarding which we neither had nor assumed any knowledge. Now if anything was clearly proved on the trial, it was the man’s literary incapacity; but the only charge of ignorance which could have influenced the Jury to award him a compensation, would have been ignorance of his trade—with which we did not charge him.
† The fifty pounds, they must or ought to know, is in fact given to Parry’s attorney, whose extra costs will swallow it up.