December 9 1812: Hunts Convicted

Leigh Hunt
On December 9, 1812, John and Leigh Hunt were convicted in the Court of King's Bench of libel. The trial judge was the Chief Justice Lord Ellenborough. The Hunts were ably defended by the great Whig lawyer Henry Brougham but the jury took fifteen minutes to find them guilty. They would have to wait for a month before being sentenced on February 3 1813. The  sentence was to be two years' imprisonment and a fine of £500 a-piece. John was imprisoned in Coldbath-fields, Leigh in the Surrey County Gaol.  
Their "libel" had been published on March 22, 1812. On that day, Leigh Hunt and his brother, John, published an article written by Leigh under the title “The Prince on St. Patrick’s Day.” The article was 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 was   thundering and sarcastic. 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.  Crabb Robinson met Leigh Hunt, shortly after the publication of the article,  at Charles Lamb's. Leigh Hunt told him: "No one can accuse me of not writing a libel. Everything is a libel, as the law is now declared, and our security lies only in their shame."  

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