Basil Montagu to WH, 30 August, 1815

[1780-1818] - [1818-1824] - [1825-1832] - [1832-1842] - Hone Correspondence

Basil Montagu to William Hone, 30 August, 1815.1-TEI-


It appears to you to be necessary to publish your letter, I think it would be wrong in me to withhold my consent from your publishing my answer: — but I earnestly and affectionately entreat you to deliberate upon the expediency of such publication.2 The justification of Eliza Fenning is a very different consideration from the censure of the Recorder.

There are, I am aware, various reports in circulation respecting the indelicate conduct of the Recorder to the different members of Society who thought it their duty to interest themselves in this sad case & respecting his interference with the Prosecutor to prevent the Prince from extending mercy to this young woman. If these facts can be substantiated: If as a judge he has so far forgotten himself as to pollute or close the fountain of mercy, I submit to you that the proper mode of proceeding is, not by inflaming the public mind, but by petition to the House of Commons either by the Parents of this young woman or by those who feel the wound which justice has sustained and are conscious that the most grateful act of our Sovereign has ever been in attending to the gracious promise in his coronation oath "that he will execute justice in Mercy."

It could not be the wish of the Recorder to execute innocence under the forms of law. He may have erred in his judgment. He may have supposed himself to be shaped by power; but there is a respect due to his office which calls upon every well regulated mind to proceed with caution and, in ensuring judicial temperance, to act itself in moderation.

I am, Sir, with very kind feeling,
Your faithful,

Lincolns Inn
Augt 30th 1815.

British Library, Add. MS 41071, ff. 56-57. [return]
I have not been able to trace the specific publication of letters to which Montagu refers, and, indeed, such publication may not exist. Nonetheless, the content of Monatgu's letter sufficiently explains the context: In August and September of 1815, Hone was intensely interested in the Fenning case, seeing it not only as an example of the dangers of overreliance on circumstantial evidence but also as the occasion for a more deliberate corruption of justice on the part of the Recorder. Clearly Hone was contemplating publication of a document exposing such corruption when he consulted Montagu for his legal opinion. Montagu apparently provided his views of the Recorder's actions in a previous letter; the present letter responds to Hone's request that he might publish that earlier letter. [return]
Basil Montagu. Date: 2012-03-16