« AnteriorContinuar »
in January, 1796. There the trial came on, and, after an extraordinary scene of contradictory evidence on both sides, a verdict was given against me, and I was sentenced to six months' imprisonment in York Castle, to pay a fine of thirty pounds to the King, and to give security to keep the peace for two years. Neither of the prosecution, the verdict, nor the sentence did I ever complain, considering all the circumstances; because, according to the law of libel, there was ground for the first, conflicting testimony that was deemed to warrant the second, and the third could not altogether be called vindictive. There and then, though very disproportionately matched, my prosecutor and I joined issue on the same ground in an open court of justice, face to face, and witness against witness. It was a fair "stand-up fight" between us, in which I was overcome, the jury being umpires; for I count as nothing the fictions of the indictment, the speeches of counsel, and the part which the magistrates took to influence the proceedings. We cannot now meet on equal terms: he has long ago passed beyond the judgment of fallible man. To that, indeed, the survivor might appeal, and perhaps win a verdict on a new trial, where the deceased could make no defence from the grave. But I could not thus dishonor his memory, without doubly dishonoring myself, and injuring the dead more than I was ever accused of injuring the living. In this case, as in the former, after many years, some of the official documents came into my
possession, among which are the brief held by the leading counsel against me, a copy of the indictment, with various memoranda of evidence to be produced, and, to crown the whole, the original draft of a paragraph issued from the attorney's office, and published in the Sheffield Courant, mentioning the trial, verdict, and sentence, accompanied by a remark so malignantly vindictive, that I will not trust my hand to transcribe it, lest I should be tempted to violate my purpose to forbear from making any animadversion on any part of the proceedings against me, open or covert, in court or out of it. One fact I will state. The above paragraph (the manuscript and the print are both under my eye at this moment), in reference to the trial, summarily observes, " After a most elaborate discussion of the business, the verdict of the jury did credit to their feelings as men, and ample justice to the above magistrate's conduct." Now, of this "most elaborate discussion of the business," neither the paragraph nor the newspaper gives one syllable of particulars. On the other hand, in the Iris, a report occupying nearly six columns, gave at length the examination of the witnesses on both sides, with brief notes of the pleadings, from the impossibility of comprehending the whole. There was a reason for suppression on the one part, and a reason for publication on the other.
No attempt was afterwards made to discredit this report of the only important disclosures which were brought out upon the trial, nor to supply the utter
defect of the paragraph in regard to these. I must, however, distinctly state, that I never had reason to believe that the prosecutor had any hand in this ferocious exultation over the fall of one, whom the party which had volunteered their enmity to me from my outset in public life imagined hopelessly cast down. They were mistaken, and so soon, as well as so thoroughly, were they convinced of their mistake, that from that day I do not remember I ever again experienced any annoyance from one of them. Twice, indeed, in later years, I was menaced with legal visitation from persons who did not avow themselves openly, but who, when they might have fought, exercised "the better part of valor," and, in their "discretion,” let me alone.
With regard to the magistrate whom I had offended in the last-mentioned case, he took the opportunity, a few years afterwards, of showing both kindness and confidence towards me, in an affair of business; and from his marked conciliatory conduct, I must believe that his mind was as much discharged of every degree of hostile feeling to me, as I trust mine was of resentment against him.
Of my situation in prison, I may add two or three words, for the reader's better intelligence of some allusions in the following pieces. On the first occasion I occupied a spacious apartment, and the range of a passage, having no open communication with any of the adjacent rooms. I was entitled to take exercise in the castle-yard for one hour early in the
morning. Of this, I never availed myself. The governor, however, informed me that I might have that indulgence at a more convenient season, if I would ask his leave. That, however, I did not feel free to do; and he, with great courtesy, occasionally sent me the keys of my barricadoed quarters to let myself out. After my second conviction, on account of infirm health, I petitioned the magistrates for the liberty of the Castle-yard, without being under obligation to the governor. And this mercy, to their honor I record it, was immediately shown me by the gentlemen who, I thought, had dealt hard justice towards me at Doncaster. In other respects I had every comfort and accommodation in prison that I could desire.
I shall venture to prolong this new Introduction to my "Prison Amusements," by mentioning a circumstance which requires explanation from myself, who alone can give it. In the Table Talk of the late Mr. William Hazlitt, vol. i. p. 371, I find this paragraph, which I quote literally :-"Mr. Montgomery, the ingenious and amiable poet, after he had been shut up in solitary confinement for a year and a half, for printing the Duke of Richmond's Letter on Reform, when he first walked out in the narrow path of the adjoining field, was seized with an apprehension that he should fall over it, as if he had trod on the brink of an abrupt precipice."
Now there is not one word of pure fact in this anecdote, which, nevertheless, was intended to be the
truth throughout, believed to be so, and published to excite compassion towards the sufferer. I never printed the Duke of Richmond's Letter on Reform. I was never shut up for a year and a half in solitary confinement, and I never felt any fear of falling over the edge of a narrow path through a flat field. It might be concluded from the foregoing story, that I had been immured in a dark cell, and loaded with chains, till my eye could not bear the light without giddiness, and my limbs were paralyzed for want of exercise. The iron did indeed "enter into my soul," but it went no further, it never touched my person - the nearest part of a man to himself under some circumstances. It is true that I was twice imprisoned, for three, and six months, in the course of "a year and a half." Now, during the first term, the room which I occupied overlooked the Castle walls, and gave me ample views of the adjacent country, then passing through the changes of aspect which Nature assumes from the depth and forlornness of winter to the first blooms of a promising spring. From my window I was daily in the habit of marking these, and dwelt with peculiar delight on the wellknown walk by the river Ouse, where stood a long range of full-grown trees, beyond which, on the left hand, lay certain pasture-fields that led towards a wooden windmill, propt upon one leg, on a little eminence; and the motion and configuration of whose arms, as the body was occasionally turned about, east,