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Catholics, or the precise period we have chosen for this grand effort of obstinate folly.
In whatsoever manner the contest now in agitation on the Continent may terminate, its relation to the emancipation of the Catholics will be very striking. If the Spaniards succeed in establishing their own liberties, and in rescuing Europe from the tyranny under which it at present labours, it will still be contended, within the walls of our own Parliament, that the Catholics cannot fulfil the duties of social life. Wenal politicians will still argue that the time is not yet come. Sacred and lay sycophants will still lavish upon the Catholic faith their well-paid abuse, and England still passively submit to such a disgraceful spectacle of ingratitude and injustice. If, on the contrary (as may probably be the case), the Spaniards fall before the numbers and, military skill of the French, then are we left alone in the world, without another ray of hope; and compelled to employ, against internal disaffection, that force which, exalted to its utmost energy, would in all probability prove but barely equal to the external danger by which, we should be surrounded. Whence comes it that these: things are universally admitted to be true, but looked . upon in servile silence by a country hitherto accustomed to make great efforts for its prosperity, safety, and in: dependence 2
PROCEEDINGs OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE SUPPRESSION OF VICE. (E. Review, 1809.)
Statement of the Proceedings of the Society for the Suppression of Pice, from July 9, to November 12., read at their General Meeting, held November 12, 1804. With an Appendic, containing the Plan of the Society, &c. &c. &c. London. 1804.
An Address to the Public from the Society for the Suppression of Pice, instituted in London 1802. Part the Second. Containing an Account of the Proceedings of the Society from its original Institution. London. 1804.
A society, that holds out as its object the suppression of vice, must at first sight conciliate the favour of every respectable person; and he who objects to an institution calculated apparently to do so much good, is bound to give very clear and satisfactory reasons for his dissent from so popular an opinion. We certainly have, for a long time, had doubts of its utility; and now think ourselves called upon to state the grounds of our distrust.* Though it were clear that individual informers are useful auxiliaries to the administration of the laws, it would by no means follow that these informers should be allowed to combine,—to form themselves into a body, —to make a public purse, –and to prosecute under a common name. An informer, whether he is paid by the week, like the agents of this society—or by the crime, as in common cases, -is, in general, a man of a very, indifferent character. So much fraud and deception are necessary for carrying on his trade—it is so odious to his fellow subjects, – that no man of respectability will ever undertake it. It is evidently impossible to make such a character otherwise than odious. A man who receives weekly pay for prying into the transgressions of mankind, and bringing them to consequent . VOL. I. T
punishment, will always be hated by mankind; and the office must fall to the lot of some man of desperate fortunes and ambiguous character. The multiplication, therefore, of such officers, and the extensive patronage of such characters, may, by the management of large and opulent societies, become an evil nearly as great as the evils they would suppress. The alarm which a private and disguised accuser occasions in a neighbourhood, is known to be prodigious, not only to the guilty, but to those who may be at once innocent, and ignorant, and timid. The destruction of social confidence is another evil, the consequence of information. An informer gets access to my house or family,–worms my secret out of me, -and then betrays me to the magistrate. Now, all these evils may be tolerated in a small degree, while, in a greater degree, they would be perfectly intolerable. Thirty or forty informers roaming about the metropolis, may frighten the mass of offenders a little, and do some good: ten thousand informers would either create an insurrection, or totally destroy the confidence and cheerfulness of private life. Whatever may be said, therefore, of the single and insulated informer, it is quite a new question when we come to a corporation of informers supported by large contributions. The one may be a good, the other a very serious evil; the one legal, the other wholly out of the contemplation of law, —which often, and very wisely, allows individuals to do, what it forbids to many individuals assembled. If once combination is allowed for the suppression of vice, where are its limits to be 2 Its capital may as well consist of 100,000l. per annum, as of a thousand: its numbers may increase from a thousand subscribers, which this society, it seems, had reached in its second year, to twenty thousand; and, in that case, what accused person of an inferior condition of life would have the temerity to stand against such a society? Their * mandates would very soon be law; and there is no compliance into which o might not frighten the common people, and the lower orders of tradesmen. The idea of a society of gentlemen, calling themselves an Association for the Suppression of Vice, would alarm any small offender, to a degree that would make him prefer any submission to any resistance. He would consider the very fact of being accused by them as almost sufficient to ruin him. An individual accuser accuses at his own expense;’ and the risk he runs is a good security that the subject will not be harassed by needless accusations,— a security which, of course, he cannot have against such a society as this, to whom pecuniary loss is an object of such little consequence. It must never be forgotten, that this is not a society for punishing people who have been found to transgress the law, but for accusing persons of transgressing the law; and that, before trial, the accused person is to be considered as innocent, and is to have every fair chance of establishing his innocence. He must be no common defendant, however, who does not contend against such a society with very fearful odds;– the best counsel engaged for his opponents, – great practice in the particular court and particular species of cause, -witnesses thoroughly hackneyed in a court of justice,—and an unlimited command of money. It by no means follows, that the legislature, in allowing individuals to be informers, meant to subject the accused person to the superior weight and power of such societies. The very influence of names must have a considerable weight with the jury. Lord Dartmouth, Lord Radstock, and the Bishop of Durham, versus a Whitechapel butcher or a publican Is this a fair con-r test before a jury? It is not so even in London; and what must it be in the country, where a society for the suppression of vice may consist of all the principal persons in the neighbourhood 2 These societies are now established in York, in Reading, and in many other large towns. Wherever this is the case, it is far from improbable that the same persons, at the Quarter or Town Sessions, may be both judges and accusers; and still more fatally so, if the offence is tried by a special. jury. This is already most notoriously the case in societies for the preservation of game. They prosecute a
poacher; –the jury is special; and the poor wretch is found guilty by the very same persons who have accused
him. o be lawful for respectable men to combine for the purpose of turning informers, it is lawful for the lowest vand most despicable race of informers to do the same thing; and then it is quite clear that every species of wickedness and extortion would be the consequence. We are rather surprised that no society of perjured attorneys and fraudulent bankrupts has risen up in this metropolis for the suppression of vice. A chairman, deputy-chairman, subscriptions, and an annual sermon, would give great dignity to their proceedings; and they would soon begin to take some rank in the
It is true that it is the duty of grand juries to inform against vice; but the law knows the probable number of grand jurymen, the times of their meeting, and the description of persons of whom they consist. Of voluntary societies it can know nothing, —their numbers, their wealth, or the character of their members. It may therefore trust to a grand jury what it would by no means trust to an unknown combination. A vast distinction is to be made, too, between official duties and voluntary duties. The first are commonly carried on with calmness and moderation; the latter often characterized, in their execution, by rash and intemperate
zeal. The present Society receives no members but those who are of the Church of England. As we are now arguing the question generally, we have a right to make any supposition. It is equally free, therefore, upon general principles, for a society of sectarians to combine and exclude members of the Church of England; and Mhe suppression of vice may thus come in aid of Methodism, Jacobinism, or of any set of principles, however perilous, either to Church or State. The present So. ciety may perhaps consist of persons whose sentiments on these points are rational and respectable. Combinations, however, of this sort may give birth to something