††††††††††† John Matthews was the son of a printer in Aldersgate Street, to whom he was apprenticed; but, his father dying, he continued to serve with his mother. Having made connections with some persons of Jacobitical principles, he printed some papers against the government, for which he was once taken into custody; but, the evidence being incomplete, he was dismissed.
††††††††††† Encouraged by this escape, he was induced to print a pamphlet, entitled 'Ex Ore tuo te Judico: Vox Populi vox Dei.'(That is,' Out of thy own mouth will I judge thee: the voice of the people is the voice of God.') For this offence he was brought to his trial on the 30th of October, 1719, when it appeared that he had composed the pages of the pamphlet in question, but locked them up, lest they should be found, and made use of to his prejudice.
††††††††††† An elder brother of Matthews, apprehending that the youth might endanger himself by his propensity to the printing such pamphlets, directed a journeyman, named Lawrence Vezey, to lock up the door of the printing-office every night, and bring him the key: but Vezey, like a villain as he was, first suffered the young fellow to print the supposed treasonable matter, and then gave evidence against him.
††††††††††† A general warrant being granted by the secretary of state, for the search of Mrs. Matthews's house, the messengers of government found a number of the supposed libel in a room which the prisoner acknowledged to belong to him; on which he was carried before the secretary of state, who committed him to Newgate, on his refusing to give up the author.
††††††††††† When Matthews was arraigned at the bar, Vezey swore that the prisoner brought the form, containing part of the book, to the press, and bid him pull a proof of it, which he did; and that the prisoner afterwards came down to him, and said that the pages had been transposed, but he had now put them right; and he then pulled him another proof: he said that then the prisoner desired this evidence to come early in the morning to work off the sheets, saying that he himself would take care of the paper, and that everything should be ready.
††††††††††† Accordingly Vezey went early next morning, intending to call up William Harper, the apprentice; but the prisoner came to the door, let him in, and called Harper, who assisted Vezey in working off the sheets, Matthews standing by, and taking them from the press, for the greater expedition: and, when the work was done, the prisoner paid Vezey for his trouble. This evidence was likewise confirmed by Harper, as far as he was concerned in the transaction, and he added that he saw the prisoner composing the matter from the manuscript copy. (Note: 'Composing the matter' is a term with printers, which signifies picking up the letters and arranging them in proper order for their being worked off by the printing-press.)
††††††††††† The counsel for the crown exerted their utmost abilities to aggravate the crime of the prisoner, and, the king's messengers swearing to as much as they knew of the affair, Matthews was found guilty, and sentence of death was passed on him.
††††††††††† After condemnation he was attended by the Reverend Mr. Skerrett, who also accompanied him to the place of execution. His whole behaviour after sentence was such as might be expected from one who had too much sense to expect favour from the people then in power; for it was not customary with the ministers of George the First to extend mercy to persons convicted of treasonable offences: but perhaps their seeming want of humanity will appear the more excusable if we reflect on the fatal consequences that might have ensued from the rebellion in 1715.
††††††††††† But nothing can excuse the method they took to obtain evidence in this case. It is but of late years that the issuing of general warrants has been legally condemned; and Englishmen are not a little obliged to the man who procured the condemnation of those warrants. Happily, we can now sit quietly, and write our sentiments in our own houses, without being liable to have our papers seized by the arbitrary mandates of a secretary of state. While we recollect that we are obliged for this favour in a great degree to the perseverance of Mr. Wilkes, we should not forget that the judicial determination of Lord Camden perfected the plan so happily begun, and so steadily pursued.
††††††††††† The above-mentioned John Matthews was executed at Tyburn on the 16th of November, 1719, before he had completed the 19th year of his age; and was pitied by everyone who had not lost the common feelings of humanity.
††††††††††† From the fate of Matthews young gentlemen in the same line of business should be taught to be cautious bow they engage in the printing of political pamphlets; for though, to the credit of the good sense and humanity of the present age, there is now much less danger than there formerly was, yet recent experience his taught us that great trouble and
expense may ensue, where all risk of life is out of the question.
††††††††††† We should all pray that we may live to see the time when the liberty of the press will be established in its fullest extent, and when no villain will dare to be guilty of an atrocious action, lest some honest man should reproach him with it in public. By this, however, we do not mean to encourage the licentiousness of the pressódetested be the heart that should dictate, and the hand that should write, a line to destroy domestic happiness, or corrode the mind of one worthy individual: but the public villain should be ever held up as the object of public scorn and censure!