"GOVERNMENT, IN ITS OWN ESTIMATION, HAS BEEN A SYSTEM OF PERFECTION; BUT A FREE PRESS HAS EXAMINED AND DETECTED ITS ERRORS… AND THEREFORE, UNDER THE BANNERS OF THAT FREEDOM, TODAY I STAND UP TO DEFEND THOMAS PAINE"
(PAINE, Thomas). The Whole Proceedings on the Trial of an Information Exhibited ex Officio by the King's Attorney-General Against Thomas Paine. London: Martha Gurney, 1793. Octavo, period-style half brown calf and marbled boards, black morocco spine label; pp. (1-3) 4-196. $2600.
Second edition, issued same year as the first, of the court transcript to Thomas Paine's 1792 British trial for seditious libel. A scarce and valued record, handsomely bound.
Paine's Rights of Man is "the clearest of all expositions of the basic principles of democracy" (PMM 241). Here, recording one of history's most compelling legal battles, is the transcript of the 1792 British prosecution of Thomas Paine, a battle that began with the printing of the second part of Rights of Man. Within months, the government issued a Royal Proclamation aimed at suppressing Paine's writings and that same day, he was charged with seditious libel. In addition, he soon became the object of government-sponsored propaganda. "Spies tailed him constantly on London's streets" and when the trial postponed until December, friends like William Blake advised him to flee the country: 'You must not go home, or you are a dead man." (Keane, 337, 343). Heeding the advice, Paine escaped to France and the trial began in absentia.
"Thomas Paine," the prosecution proclaimed, "late of London, gentlemen, being a wicked, malicious, seditious, and ill-disposed person… [did] represent, suggest and cause it to be believed, that the… hereditary regal government of this kingdom was a tyranny." With Paine absent, his lawyer Thomas Erskine offered an eloquent defense of his friend and the rights of a free press. But a hand-picked jury quickly returned the verdict of guilty and "Paine was now an outlaw. Should he ever set foot in England again, he could be imprisoned for life or even executed" (Fruchtman, 290). The court record was recorded verbatim by Joseph Gurney whose earlier transcripts for the House of Commons resulted in the "first public acknowledgement of the verbal accuracy of shorthand" in any country (DNB). Bound without two rear ad leaves. Gimbel-Yale, 78. Sabin 96918. ESTC T5905.
Text very fresh with tiny gutter-edge pinholes from original stitching. A fine copy.