Monday, March 5, 2012


In Lord Henry Cockburns’s “Memorials of his Time”, the date March 5th in the year 1817 appears, as a date on which Cockburn dealt with a case of sedition.

‘About this period the first preachers of sedition, who had openly practised their calling since 1793-4, ventured to begin business again; not in Scotland, transportation was still the law, but in England, which they greatly disturbed. It is usual to ascribe all that followed to the harangues of these crazy orators. But demagogues are almost always effects; very rarely causes. They are the froth that rises and bubbles on the surface, when the mass of the people ferments. The sedition of opinion, moreover, was promoted by the sedition of the stomach. The country was in deep distress;and natural dearth was aggravated by the artificial arrangements of trade and manufactures, which operated like what miners call troubles, in the transition from war to peace.

It was in these circumstances that certain judicial proceedings were taken in Scotland against several persons accused of sedition,* and of having taken and administered unlawful oaths…’

* The first adventure was with Baird and Maclaren, who were tried for sedition on the 5th of March, 1817. Jeffrey and I were counsel for one prisoner; John Clerk and James Campbell of Craigie for the other. And there occurred an excellent piece of Clerkism. Campbell called on Clerk on the morning of the trial. He found him dressing, and in a phrensy at the anticipated iniquities of the judges ; against whom, collectively and individually, there was much slow, dogged vituperation throughout the process of shaving. He had on a rather dingy-looking night-shirt ; but a nice pure shirt was airing before the fire. When the toilet reached the point at which it was necessary to decide upon the shirt, instead of at once taking up the clean one, he stopped, and grumphed, and looked at the one, and then at the other, always turning with aversion from the dirty one ; and then he approached the other resolutely, as if his mind was made up ; but at last he turned away from it, saying fiercely, " No ! I'll be d d if I put on a clean sark for them.'  '' Accordingly he insulted their Lordships by going to Court with the foul one. Not like Falkland.
Walter Scott dealt with seditious sentiment in quite a different manner, on at least one occasion, related by son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart in his “Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Scott”.

‘In the spring of 1794 I find him writing to his friends in Roxburghshire with great exultation about the "good spirit" manifesting itself among the upper classes of the citizens of Edinburgh, and, above all, the organization of a regiment of volunteers, in which his brother Thomas, now a fine active young man, equally handsome and high-spirited, was enrolled as a grenadier, while, as he remarks, his own "unfortunate infirmity" condemned him to be "a mere spectator of the drills."...

A party of Irish medical students began, towards the end of April, to make themselves remarkable in the Edinburgh Theatre, where they mustered in a particular corner of the pit, and lost no opportunity of insulting the Loyalists of the boxes, by calling for revolutionary tunes, applauding every speech that could bear a seditious meaning, and drowning the national anthem in howls and hootings. The young Tories of the Parliament House resented this license warmly, and after a succession of minor disturbances, the quarrel was, put to the issue of a regular trial by combat. Scott was conspicuous among the juvenile advocates and solicitors who on this grand night assembled in front of the pit, armed with stout cudgels, and determined to have God save the King not only played without interruption, but sung in full chorus by both company and audience. The Irishmen were ready at the first note of the anthem. They rose, clapped on their hats, and brandished their shillelahs; a stern battle ensued, and after many a head had been cracked, the Loyalists at length found themselves in possession of the field. In writing to Simprim a few days afterwards, Scott says—"You will be glad to hear that the affair of Saturday passed over without any worse consequence to the Loyalists than that five, including your friend and humble servant Colonel Grogg, have been bound over to the peace, and obliged to give bail for their good behavior, which, you may believe, was easily found…’

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