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SIR WILLIAM GARROW, KNT.
This gentleman has distinguished himself at the bar (where he rose to the highest professional eminence) for a great number of years, by his uncommon talent for extracting the truth from a reluctant witness, as well as for his abilities in pleading, and doing the best for his clients.
No lawyer in the kingdom is better qualified, either by legal abilities or by unwearied industry, to fill the place of his Majesty's attorney-general, and it does not by any means appear that he will be inclined to stretch the arm of authority too far.
Even the judges on the bench have testified their disapprobation of ex officio proceedings when resorted to too frequently, or without necessity, and it is not only to be hoped, but to be expected, that Sir William Garrow will take care not unnecessarily to employ such a deservedly obnoxious mode of proceeding
The great, and almost constant difficulty that the attorney-general has to encounter, arises from the incomplete state of the law respecting libels, for though much has been done to bring it nearer to something perfect, and something certain, yet much remains to be done. The slow progress made by able lawyers in reducing this law to something like a fixed principle, is, that the cases which occur are of infinite variety; and that instead of recurring to, or seeking for, a basis upon which to proceed, every case has been taken as it stood, and the courts have groped their way much as pilots navigated the sea before the discovery of the magnetic power of the needle.
One great difficulty of settling the law of libel is, that, as the liberties of mankind are intimately connected with the freedom of the press, we are, very properly, in a free country, extremely jealous of
any power that might be extended to crush that liberty; and, as mostly all literary men make a common cause, a general alarm is excited the moment a prosecution for a libel is in question.
This alarm is the greater, that there is no defined boundary between what is, and what is not a libel; if that could be once laid down in a fair and complete manner, that anxious jealousy that now exists would
ease, and the trials for libel would be greatly diminished in number.
Words are attributed to Lord Mansfield that have caused great uneasiness, and have been universally, almost, condemned, but the words were not fairly quoted. His lordship is represented as having said that “ the greater the truth the greater the libel,” whereas he in reality only said, that in certain cases “a libel was not the less a libel for being true*.”
Be matters as they may with respect to what bas
* In the supposed case, truth would constitute a libel; but, according to the true statement, all that his lordship said went only to this, that a libel might consist in stating what was true, that is to say, that it may in some cases be libellous to state the truth,