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    Nor were the fears of Cobbett imaginary. The Ministry at this time were such fanatics in tyranny, that they would have rejoiced to have thus caged the great political lion, and kept him in silence. At this very moment they had pounced upon one who was equally clever in his way, and who had, perhaps, annoyed them still more, but whom they did not so much fear to bring into a court of justice. This was William Hone, who had for some time been making them the laughing-stock of the whole nation by his famous parodies. Hone was a poor bookseller in the Old Bailey, who had spent his life in the quest after curious books, and in the accumulation of more knowledge than wealth. His parodies had first brought him into notice, and it did not appear a very formidable thing for the Government to try a secluded bookworm not even able to fee counsel for his defence. His trial did not come on at the Guildhall till the 18th of December, and then it was evident that the man of satirical fun meant to make a stout fight. The judge, Mr. Justice Abbott, and the Attorney-General, Sir Samuel Shepherd, from their manner of surveying the accused, did not apprehend much difficulty in obtaining a verdict against him. But they very soon discovered their mistake. The charge against Hone was for having published a profane and impious libel upon the Catechism, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, thereby bringing into contempt the Christian religion. The special indictment was for the publication of John Wilkes's catechism. The Attorney-General did not very judiciously commence his charge, for he admitted that he did not believe that Hone meant to ridicule religion, but to produce a telling political squib. This let out the whole gist of the prosecution, though that was very well perceived by most people before; and it was in vain that he went on to argue that the mischief was just the same. Hone opened his own defence with the awkwardness and timidity natural to a man who had passed his life amid books, and not in courts; but he managed to complain of his imprisonment, his harsh treatment, of his poverty in not being able to fee counsel, of the expense of copies of the informations against him, and of the haste, at last, with which he had been[129] called to plead. The judge repeatedly interrupted him, with a mild sort of severity, and the spectators were expecting him to make a short and ineffective defence. Hone, on the contrary, began to show more boldness and pertinacity. He began to open his books, and to read parody after parody of former times. In vain Mr. Justice Abbott and the Attorney-General stopped him, and told him that he was not to be allowed to add to his offence by producing other instances of the crime in other persons. But Hone told them that he was accused of putting parodies on sacred things into his books, and it was out of his books he must defend himself. The poor, pale, threadbare retailer of old books was now warmed into eloquence, and stood in the most unquestionable ascendency on the floor of the court, reading and commenting as though he would go on for ever; and he did go on for six hours. He declared that the editor of Blackwood's Magazine was a parodisthe parodied a chapter of Ezekiel; Martin Luther was a parodisthe parodied the first Psalm; Bishop Latimer was a parodist; so was Dr. Boys, Dean of Canterbury; so was the author of the "Rolliad;" so was Mr. Canning. He proved all that he said by reading passages from the authors, and he concluded by saying that he did not believe that any of these writers meant to ridicule the Scriptures, and that he could not, therefore, see why he should be supposed to do so more than they. Nay, he had done what they never did: as soon as he was aware that his parodies had given offence he suppressed themand that long ago, not waiting till he was prosecuted. They, in fact, were prosecuting him for what he had voluntarily and long ago suppressed. The Attorney-General, in reply, asserted that it would not save the defendant that he had quoted Martin Luther and Dr. Boys, for he must pronounce them both libellous. The judge charged the jury as if it were their sacred duty to find the defendant guilty; but, after only a quarter of an hour's deliberation, they acquitted him.
    Defeated in this object, the Patriots united all their force to embroil us with Spain. There were many causes in our commercial relations with Spain which led to violent discontent amongst our merchants. They found the trade with the Spanish settlements in America exceedingly profitable, but they had no right, beyond a very limited extent, to trade there. The Spaniards, though they winked at many encroachments, repressed others which exceeded these with considerable vigour. Their Coastguard insisted on boarding and searching our vessels which intruded into their waters, to discover whether they were bringing merchandise or were prepared to carry away colonial produce. By the treaty of 1670 Spain had recognised the British colonies in North America, and England had agreed that her ships should not enter the ports of the Spanish colonies except from stress of weather, or with an especial licence from the Spanish Government to trade. By the treaty of 1729 we had agreed to the old regulations regarding trading to the Spanish Main, namely, that we should have the Assiento, or right of supplying these colonies with slaves, and that, besides this, we should only send one ship annually to the Spanish West Indies and South America. As fast as that authorised ship discharged its cargo in a Spanish port, she received fresh supplies of goods over her larboard side from other vessels which had followed in her wake, and thus poured unlimited quantities of English goods into the place. Other English traders did not approach too near the Spanish coasts, but were met in certain latitudes by South American smugglers, who there received their goods and carried them into port. In short, such a system of contraband trade was carried on in these waters by our merchants, that English goods in abundance found their way all over the Spanish American regions, and the great annual fair for goods imported from or by Spain dwindled into insignificance.

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    CAPTURE OF WOLFE TONE. (See p. 464.)
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    In the meantime, coroners' inquests had been held on the two men who were shot by the military. In the one case the jury brought in a verdict of "justifiable homicide;" but, in the other, of "wilful murder" against the soldiers. On their part, the Government offered a reward of five hundred pounds for the discovery of any one who had been guilty of firing at the soldiers, and an additional one of five hundred pounds for the discovery of the person who had fired at and wounded Ensign Cowell, whilst on duty at the Tower, the night after the committal of Sir Francis. The Reform party in the Commons demanded whether the Government did not intend to offer a reward for the discovery of the soldiers who had fired at and wounded several of the people, and killed two of them. Whitbread moved that an inquiry should be instituted into the justice of the verdict of "wilful murder" against the soldiers, and in this he was seconded by William Smith of Norwich; but Captain Agar, who had been on duty, declared that the people had fired the first shot, and the Premier got rid of the question by asserting that an inquiry was already going on into the circumstances of the riot, and that it was not for Parliament to anticipate it.
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    Such was the position of affairs when Parliament was prorogued on the 9th of August. The Peel Ministry appeared to be as firmly seated as any combination then possible was likely to be, and the agriculturists' monopoly seemed safe at least for another year; but the Government had already received warnings of a coming storm. The weather had been for some time wet and cold, but as yet a general failure of the wheat crop was not anticipated. The trouble approached from a quarter in which no one had looked for it. Early in the month of August Sir Robert Peel had received an account of an extraordinary appearance in the potato crop in the Isle of Wight. On the 11th of August Sir James Graham received a letter from a great potato salesman, indicating that the same mysterious signs were observable throughout the south-eastern counties, and he hastened to communicate the facts to his colleague. These isolated[517] observations soon became confirmed from numerous quarters, and the account was everywhere the same. First a brown spot was observable on the skin of the potato; then the spot became black, the leaves and flowers of whole fields grew shrivelled, black, and putrid; and the crops, wherever the plague appeared, were almost entirely destroyed. From Ireland the most alarming accounts were received, and the newspapers were quickly filled with details of the progress of the "potato disease." It began to be asked what would be done with the unemployed multitudes in that country, whose stock of provisions for the next ten months was gone?

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    The sense of the House was so completely with the Government, that Mr. Brougham, who led the Opposition, declined to go to a division. A division having been called for, however, on the part of Ministers, the whole assembly poured into the lobby, till it could hold no more; and then the remaining members who were shut in were compelled to pass for an opposition, though there were Ministerialists among them. They amounted to twenty, in a House of three hundred and seventy-two.

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    BURNING OF THE HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT. (See p. 376.)

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