Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Expulsion from the House of Commons

'Upon the accession of George III., and the commencement of Lord Bute's administration, Smollett's pen was employed in the defence of the young monarch's government, in a weekly paper called The Briton, which was soon silenced, and driven out of the field by the celebrated North Briton, conducted by John Wilkes. Smollett had been on terms of kindness with this distinguished demagogue, and had twice applied to his friendship,— once for the kind purpose of obtaining the dismission of Dr Johnson's black servant, Francis Barber, from the navy, into which he had inconsiderately entered ;' and again, to mediate betwixt himself and Admiral Knowles, in the matter of the prosecution. Closer ties than these are readily dissolved before the fire of politics. The friends became political opponents; and Smollett, who had to plead an unpopular cause to unwilling auditors, and who, as a Scotchman, shared deeply and personally in that unpopularity, was compelled to give up The Briton, more, it would seem, from lack of spirit in his patron Lord Bute, to sustain the contest any longer, than from any deficiency of zeal on his own part. ..'

On January 19, 1764, politician John Wilkes was expelled from the House of Commons for seditious libel.  The complaint against Wilkes involved his criticism of George III's endorsement of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1763.  Wilkes is also known for his publication the "North Briton", which Sir Walter Scott discusses above in text from a biography of Tobias Smollett he wrote.  This biography is included in "The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, Bart.."

John Wilkes was unpopular with a great many people of his time, including Samuel Johnson. The two ultimately met, at a dinner arranged surreptitiously by Boswell.  As Boswell explains ("Life of Johnson"), 'My desire of being acquainted with celebrated men of every description, had made me, much about the same time, obtain an introduction to Dr. Samuel Johnson and to John Wilkes, Esq. Two men more different could perhaps not be selected out of all mankind. They had even attacked one another with some asperity in their writings; yet I lived in habits of friendship with both. I could fully relish the excellence of each; for I have ever delighted in that intellectual chymistry, which can separate good qualities from evil in the same person...But I conceived an irresistible wish, if possible, to bring Dr. Johnson and Mr. Wilkes together. How to manage it, was a nice and difficult matter.  Boswell facilitated conversation between the two, once he had arranged a dinner at Charles Dilly's, with common ground being found in needling Boswell about his Scotland: 'Mr. Arthur Lee mentioned some Scotch who had taken possession of a barren part of America, and wondered why they should choose it. JOHNSON. 'Why, Sir, all barrenness is comparative. The SCOTCH would not know it to be barren.' BOSWELL. 'Come, come, he is flattering the English. You have now been in Scotland, Sir, and say if you did not see meat and drink enough there.' JOHNSON. 'Why yes, Sir; meat and drink enough to give the enhabitants sufficient strength to run away from home.' All these quick and lively sallies were said sportively, quite in jest, and with a smile, which showed that he meant only wit. Upon this topick he and Mr. Wilkes could perfectly assimilate; here was a bond of union between them, and I was conscious that as both of them had visited Caledonia, both were fully satisfied of the strange narrow ignorance of those who imagine that it is a land of famine. But they amused themselves with persevering in the old jokes. When I claimed a superiority for Scotland over England in one respect, that no man can be arrested there for a debt merely because another swears it against him; but there must first be the judgement of a court of law ascertaining its justice; and that a seizure of the person, before judgement is obtained, can take place only, if his creditor should swear that he is about to fly from the country, or, as it is technically expressed, is in meditatione fugoe: WILKES. 'That, I should think, may be safely sworn of all the Scotch nation.' JOHNSON. (to Mr. Wilkes,) 'You must know, Sir, I lately took my friend Boswell and shewed him genuine civilised life in an English provincial town. I turned him loose at Lichfield, my native city, that he might see for once real civility: for you know he lives among savages in Scotland, and among rakes in London.' WILKES. 'Except when he is with grave, sober, decent people like you and me.' JOHNSON. (smiling,) 'And we ashamed of him.'...'

No comments:

Post a Comment