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William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. V. 1783-1794
William Godwin to Joseph Gerrald, 23 January 1794

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
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“Jan. 23, 1794.

“I cannot recollect the situation in which you are in a few days to be placed without emotions of respect, and I had almost said of envy. For myself I will never adopt any conduct for the express purpose of being put upon my trial, but if I be ever so put, I will consider that day as a day of triumph.

“Your trial, if you so please, may be a day such as England, and I believe the world, never saw. It may be the means of converting thousands, and, progressively, millions, to the cause of reason and public justice. You have a great stake, you place your fortune, your youth, your liberty, and your talents on a single throw. If you must suffer, do not, I conjure you, suffer without making use of this opportunity of telling a tale upon which the happiness of nations depends. Spare none of the resources of your powerful mind. Is this a day of reserve, a day to be slurred over in neglect—the day that constitutes the very crisis of your fate?

“Never forget that juries are men, and that men are made of penetrable stuff: probe all the recesses of their souls. Do not spend your strength in vain defiance and empty vaunting. Let every syllable you utter be fraught with persuasion. What an event would it be for England and mankind if you could gain an acquittal! Is not such an event worth striving for? It is in man, I am sure it is, to effect that event Gerrald, you are that man. Fertile in genius, strong in moral feeling, prepared with every accomplishment that literature and reflection can give. Stand up to the situation—be wholly yourself. ‘I know,’ I would say to this jury, ‘that you are packed, you are picked and culled from all the land by the persons who have at present the direction of public affairs, as men upon whom they can depend; but I do not fear the event; I do not believe you will be slaves. I do not believe that you will be inaccessible to considerations irresistible in argument, and which speak to all the genuine feelings of the human heart. I have been told that there are men upon whom truth, truth fully and adequately stated, will make no impression. It is a vile and groundless calumny upon the character of the human mind. This is my theory, and I now come before you for the practice.’

“If you should fail of a verdict—but why should I suppose
it?—this manner of stating your defence is best calculated to persuade the whole audience, and the whole world, for the same reason that it is best calculated to persuade a jury.

“It is the nature of the human mind to be great in proportion as it is acted upon by great incitements. Remember this. Now is your day. Never, perhaps never, in the revolution of human affairs, will your mind be the same illustrious and irresistible mind as it will be on this day.

“You stand on as clear ground as man can stand on. You are brought there for meeting in convention to deliberate on grievances. Do not fritter away your defence by anxiety about little things; do not perplex the jury by dividing their attention. Depend upon it, that if you can establish to their full conviction the one great point—the lawfulness of your meeting—you will obtain a verdict.

“That point is fully contained in the Bill of Rights, is the fundamental article of that constitution which Englishmen have been taught to admire. Appeal (for so upon your principles you can) to an authority paramount to the English constitution, to all written Law and parchment constitutions; the Law of universal Reason, authorising men to consult. Ireland was always the least emancipated part of the British Empire. In Ireland they thought proper to pass a tyrannical law taking away this inalienable privilege. But in Britain they do worse; ministers are said to have it in contemplation to pass a similar law here, and in the meantime ‘you, the jury, are called upon to act as if the law were already in existence. Was ever so atrocious a breach of equity and reason? They pride themselves in having drawn us, and a great part of the Scottish nation, into the snare, and overwhelmed us with a destruction which no prudence could foresee, and no innocence avert.’

“The next point I would earnestly recommend to your attention is to show that you and the reformers are the true friends of the country, that you are actuated by pure philanthropy and benevolence, and have no selfish motives, that your projects lead to general happiness, and are the only means of averting the scene
of confusion which is impending over us. ‘Our whole effort is directed to the preventing mischief, and the sparing every drop of blood. The longer the confederates of foreign despots among us go on in their present impious career, the more you will want us. We place ourselves in the breach to snatch your wives and children from destruction. Will the present overbearing and exasperating conduct of government lead to tranquillity and harmony? Will new wars and new taxes, the incessant persecution, ruin, and punishment of every man that dares to oppose them heal the dissensions of mankind? No! Nothing can save us but moderation, prudence and timely reform. Men must be permitted to confer together upon their common interests, unprovoked by insult, counteracting treachery, and arbitrary decrees. It is for this antidote to the madness of men in power that we have, made every sacrifice, and are ready to sacrifice our lives. If you punish us, you punish us because we have watched for your good.’

“Above all, let me entreat you to abstain from harsh epithets and bitter invective. Show that you are not terrible but kind, and anxious for the good of all. Truth will lose nothing by this. Truth can never gain by passion, violence, and resentment It is never so strong as in the firm, fixed mind, that yields to the emotions neither of rage nor fear. It is by calm and recollected boldness that we can shake the pillars of the vault of heaven. How great will you appear if you show that all the injustice with which you are treated cannot move you: that you are too great to be wounded by their arrows; that you still hold the steadfast course that becomes the friend of man, and that while you expose their rottenness you harbour no revenge. The public want men of this unaltered spirit, whom no persecution can embitter. The jury, the world will feel your value, if you show yourself such a man: let no human ferment mix in the sacred work.

“Farewell; my whole soul goes with you. You represent us all.

W. Godwin.”