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March 22 1812: Leigh and John Hunt Libel the Prince Regent

Leigh Hunt
On March 22, 1812, Leigh Hunt and his brother, John, publish an article written by Leigh under the title “The Prince on St. Patrick’s Day.” The article is a scathing response to the sycophantic encomium to the Prince Regent that had been published by the Morning Post on March 19, 1812. Leigh Hunt's article is a  thundering sarcastic hammer that destroys every phrase of praise that the Morning Post had used with respect to the Prince. Hunt writes, in part, as follows:
"What person, unacquainted with the true state of the case, would imagine, in reading these astounding eulogies, that this Glory of the People was the subject of millions of shrugs and reproaches! That this Protector of the Arts had named a wretched Foreigner his Historical Painter in disparagement or in ignorance of the merits of his own countrymen! That this Maeceans of the Age patronized not a single deserving writer! That this Breather of Eloquence could not say a few decent extempore words -- if we are to judge at least from what he said to his regiment on its embarkation to Portugal! That this Conquerer of Hearts was the disappointer of hopes! That this Exciter of Desire—this Adonis in loveliness, was a corpulent man of fifty!— In short, this delightful, blissful, wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal PRINCE, was a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in debt and disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who had just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country, or the respect of posterity."
The Hunts knew that they could be charged with libel. They had already been to court to face libel charges as a result of articles condemning flogging of British soldiers and sailors, corruption in military promotions and the rights of Irish Catholics. Juries had on each occasion refused to convict. The same would not happen after the 22nd of March. The government brought charges for libel.  A trial was held on December 1812. They were found guilty. The Court's sentence was read: 
The sentence of the court upon you, therefore, is, that you severally pay to the king a fine of £500 each; that you be severally imprisoned for the space of two years; you, John Hunt, in the prison in Coldbath-fields, and you, Leigh Hunt, in the New Jail for the county of Surrey in Horsemonger-lane; that at the expiration of that time, you each of you give security in £500 and two sufficient sureties in £250 for your good behaviour during five years, and that you be further severally imprisoned until such fine be paid, and such security given."
On hearing the sentence, the Hunts bowed to the Court and withdrew. The sentence and imprisonment made them heroes to the Whig opposition.  




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