William Snow:  Newspaper report of Libel Charge, March 1828


LIBELS. The King v. Snow. — This was an in indictment against W. Snow, charging him with having published a series of libels with a view to defame the character of Miss Patience Reed, of Bow, in this county. The defendant pleaded Not Guilty, but finding that he would be allowed to address the Court in mitigation of damages if he pleaded Guilty, he thought proper to adapt that course, and intimated his wish to have all the letters read—the evidence gone through—and the ladies to be ordered out of Court !! —neither of which was of course complied with. The plea of Guilty being recorded, Mr. Justice Liltledale having occasion to go to the Exeter Guildhall to try a cause, ordered that the defendant should be brought up for judgment either in the afternoon, or on the following morning (Tuesday)- In the course of the same day, however, Mr. Justice Gazelee, having concluded the trials of the prisoners, took his seat at  Nisi Prius, and the defendant was brought up.

Mr. Sergeant Wilde then put in the affidavit of Miss Reed, of Bow, stating that the contents of letters written by the defendant were wholly false and scandalous—that he had for some years annoyed her with such letters—and that she had never misconducted herself in the manner alleged. The learned Sergeant stated that the letters charged Miss Reed with various imprudences, and were written in such offensive and indecent terms that it was not proper they should be read in Court.

Defendant.—My Lord, I wish to have the guardian of Miss Reed put into the box.

Mr. Justice Gazalee.— that cannot be allowed. Any explanation you wish to offer must be on affidavit.

Defendant.—Mayn't I be allowed to ask the belief of the witnesses in the Christian religion?

Mr. Justice Gazelee.— No.

Mr.Sergeant Wilde then proceeded to state, that Miss Reed, against whom those atrocious libels were directed, was a young lady of fortune residing at Bow, and the defendant was a surgeon. In consequence of having some considerable time since made an offer of marriage to Miss Reed, and being rejected, he had continued to write the most insulting and indecent letters to her and to her friends, and, to render the exposure more complete, had written the offensive words on the outside. This he had continued to do even since this prosecution had been instituted. Judging from the style of those letters one might suppose that the defendant was not of unsound mind; but the fact was that when intoxicated he rejected all restraint. Some of the letters were sensibly and well written, and proposed that the matter should end; but his hostility soon again revived with increased violence, extending even to a threat of murder. The young lady therefore finding that her character and her life were in the hands of this defendant, claimed the protection of the Court.

Mr. Justice Gazelee.—Perhaps you will be satisfied if his friends enter into recognizances for his appearing to receive judgment when called on.

Mr Sergeant Wilde assented to this proposition, but the defendant's brother (who had hitherto been his surety) was un-willing to incur a further responsibility.

Mr. Justice Gazelee (to defendant). It seems to me that no man of well-regulated mind would have published letters of this description. You have yourself admitted your guilt; but the prosecutors have no wish to punish you, if you and your friends will enter into securities that you do not repeat this offence for a certain time; if that be done, judgment will not be called for;—if you refuse those terms the case must go on.

Defendant.—My Lord, I decidedly reject the proposal- I reject any favor from the opposite party, whatever it may be; and I hope your Lordship will hear what I have to say.

Mr. Justice Gazelee. —I'll hear you, but I think you had better concede to the terms. Defendant.—l'd rather have my right hand cut off.

The defendant then read a short defence from a written paper, in which he repeated his attacks on the lady's character in terms which it would be improper to detail. He compared himself to George Barnwell, seduced by a second Millwood ; and concluded by expressing a hope that ''all the Judges of England" would not punish a young man who had been ill-used beyond his deserts.

Mr. Justice Gazelee proceeded to pass sentence in nearly the following terms:—" William Snow—you have suffered judgment to go by default for an offence of a nature that I have never seen equaled. You have published not only one but many libels, on the character of a Lady to whom you had offered marriage; and it appears that the refusal which you have met with has given rise to your violent conduct. The nature of the libels is such as I shall not repeat; and I am sorry you have rejected the humane offer of the prosecutor to withhold judgment, on condition of your entering into securities not to annoy this young lady in future. I have tried all my endeavors to induce you to adopt that course, without effect, and it is therefore necessary that I should proceed. In the few observations which you have addressed to the Court instead of expressing your regret at having so misconducted yourself, you have aggravated your offence beyond description, and added to the injury you had before committed on this young woman. From the manner in which the prosecution has been conducted, I find that prevention and not punishment was the object for which it was commenced but as you persevere in the course you have so long adopted, it is my duty not to pass over your offence lightly. The sentence of the Court therefore is, that you be imprisoned in the common gaol of this county for six calendar months, and then enter into  recognizances, yourself in 200/.  and two sureties in 100/. each, for your good behaviour for two years ; and that you be further imprisoned until such securities be given.