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property. Wit, my lords, is a sort of property : it is the property of those that have it, and too often the only property they have to depend on. It is, indeed, but a precarious dependence. Thank God ! we, my lords, have a dependence of another kind; we have a much less precarious support, and therefore cannot feel the inconveniences of the bill now before us ; but it is our duty to encourage and protect wit, whosoever's property it may be. Those gentlemen who have any such
property, are all, I hope, our friends : do not let us subject them to any unnecessary or arbitrary restraint. I must own, I cannot easily agree to the laying of any tax upon wit; but by this bill it is to be heavily taxed, it is 10 be excised; for if this bill passes, it cannot be retailed in a proper way without a permit; and the lord chamberlain is to have the honour of being a chief gauger, su. pervisor, commissioner, judge, and jury; but what is still more hard, though the poor author, the proprietor I should say, cannot perhaps dine till he has found out and agreed with a purchaser, yet before he can propose to seek for a purchaser, he must patiently submit to have his goods rummaged at this new excise-office, where they may be detained for fourteen days, and even then he may find them returned as prohibited goods, by which his chief and best market will be for ever shut against him ; and that without any cause, without the least shadow of reason, either from the laws of his country or the laws of the stage.
These hardships, this hazard, which every gentleman will be exposed to who writes any thing for the stage, must certainly prevent every man of a generous and free spirit from attempting any thing in that way; and as the stage has always been the proper channel for wit and humour, therefore, my lords, when I speak against this bill, I must think I plead the cause of wit, I plead the cause of humour, I plead the cause of the British stage, and of every gentleman of taste in the kingdom. But it is not, my lords, for the sake of wit only ; even
for the saķe of his majesty's lord chamberlain, I must be against this bill. The noble duke who has now the ho, nour to execute that office, has, I am sure, as little an inclination to disoblige as any man: but if this bill passes, he must disoblige, he may disoblige some of his most intimate friends. It is impossible to write a play, but some of the characters, or some of the satire, may be interpreted so as to point at some person or another, perhaps at some person in an eminent station : when it comes to be acted, the people will make the application, and the person against whom the application is made, will think himself injured, and will, at least privately, resent it: at present this resentment can be directed only against the author ; but when an author's play appears with my lord chamberlain's passport, every such resentment will be turned from the author, and pointed di. rectly against the lord chamberlain, who by his stamp made the piece current.
What an unthankful office are we therefore by this bill to put upon his majesty's lord chamberlain ! an office which can no way contribute to his honour or profit, and yet such a one as must necessarily gain him a great deal of ill-will, and create him a number of enemies.
The last reason I shall trouble your lordships with for my being against the bill, is, that in my opinion, it will in no way answer the end proposed : I mean the end openly proposed, and, I am sure, the only end which your lordships' propose. To prevent the acting of a play, which has any tendency to blasphemy, immorality, sedition, or private scandal, can signify nothing, unless you can likewise prevent its being printed and published. On the contrary, if you prevent its being acted, and admit of its being printed and published, you will propagate the mischief: your prohibition will prove a bel. lows, which will blow up the fire you intend to extinguish. This bill can, therefore, be of no use for preventing either the public or the private injury intended
by such a play; and consequently can be of no manner of use, unless it be designed as a precedent, as a leading step towards another for subjecting the press likewise to a licenser. For such a wicked
may, indeed, be of great use; and in that light, it may most properly be called a step towards arbitrary power.
Let us consider, my lords, that arbitrary power has seldom or never been introduced into any country at
It must be introduced by slow degrees, and as it were step by step, lest the people should perceive its approach. The barriers and fences of the people's liberty must be plucked up one by one, and some plausible pretences must be found for removing or hood-winking, one after another, those sentries who are posted by the constitution of every free country, for warning the people of their danger. When these preparatory steps are once made, the people may then, indeed, with regret see slave. ry and arbitrary power making long strides over the land ; but it will then be too late to think of preventing or avoiding the impending ruin. The stage, my lords, and the press, are two of our out-sentries; if we remove them, if we hood-wink them, if we throw them in fetters, the enemy may surprize us.
Therefore I must look upon the bill now before us as a step, and a most necessary step too, for introducing arbitrary power into this kingdom: it is a step so necessary, that if ever any future ambitious king, or guilty minister, should form to him. self so wicked a design, he will have reason to thank us for having done so much of the work to his hand; but such thanks, or thanks from such a man, I am conyinced, every one of your lordships would blush to receive,--and scorn to deserve.
DUKE OF BEDFORD.
His Speech on the Address.
My Lords, There is not any one reason that has been advanced by the noble duke who spoke last, that has not had a quite contrary effect upon me, than what it seems to have upon the noble duke. His grace thinks that we ought to approve of this convention, because we are in the dark about it ; my lords, that is the very reason why I think we ought not to approve of it: I think we have been kept too long in the dark already, with regard to every step of this long and intricate negotiation with Spain. Perhaps, my lords, if we had been kept less in the dark some years ago, the nation might have seen its interest more clearly; we could then perhaps have interposed with greater dignity, with greater weight, than, I am afraid, we can now. But I hope it is not yet too late ; the convention which his majesty has been pleased to inform us of from the throne, can never be thought to have received its finishing stroke, but from the approbation or disapprobation of both houses of parliament. We have, my lords, before this time, rescued the nation from ruin, by rejecting measures that had received the last hand from a ministry ; perhaps a corrupt ministry indeed, but a ministry that had the same power, the same authority for what it did, that any subsequent ministry can pretend to have. Your lordships, no doubt know
that I mean the famous treaty of commerce with France, which was thrown out by the parliament of Great Britain about the time when the treaty of Utrecht was con. cluded.
I shall willingly agree with the noble duke who spoke last, in thinking that our unanimity is the best means of securing the nation against all the attacks either of her open or concealed enemies: but that unanimity, my lords, can only be brought about by every lord in this house contributing all that is in his power towards discovering by what means it has happened, that the solemn resolution of this house, which was laid before his majesty, has been neglected, wilfully neglected, by the negociators of this convention. Can it be expected, my lords, that we shall be unanimous in our approbation of a measure that carries along with it such evident marks of disrespect to parliament, and thereby lays the foundation of measures that may put it out of our power ever after to be of service to the nation ? My lords, I can never be persuaded that if the ministry had got from Spain an ample renunciation of all pretence to a right of searching our ships on the open seas, they would not have informed the nation of so considerable a point gained; we should have heard of it in all companies, in all our news papers; and, my lords, it would have been fully and explicitly set forth in his majesty's speech. Therefore, my lords, even his majesty's silence on that head is to me a sufficient proof, that no such renunciation has been obtained ; nay, to me it is a proof, that the Spaniards insist on their claim to search our ships, and that we have even submitted to have it discussed by the plenipotentiaries, who are to meet upon the definitive treaty. This is so evident a contempt of the parliament's advice, as if two plenipotentiaries were better judges of our rights and navigation and commerce, than both houses of parliament, that it is surprizing to me, that even an attempt should be made to excuse it-much more to defend it.