After a night of sleep, Lord Lipton thought it would be worthwhile to ask Lord Sydney about some assistance in dealing with the problem of people not being willing to discuss things in person and what sort of way he was being thought of. He wrote a quick note explaining what had happened with Mr. Sandwell in the sermon the previous day, and then sent it off to Lord Sydney’s townhouse.
The letter was delivered, and the messenger returned with news that the family was not in their townhouse and so the reply might be somewhat delayed.
Lord Lipton wondered why he had not seen the family at church as he would have talked to them there, and so it made sense, even if it was disappointing, that they were at another place. As he sat in his place his London housekeeper came to him politely, requesting to talk about something. He granted her request, not realizing it had anything to do with him. The housekeeper explained that people had been asking about his behavior towards the young lady, and that she had relayed to them that he had done nothing untoward. She explained that obviously people had been gossiping about him in the newspapers. He resolved to collect the newspapers and to see who it was that was spreading evil words about him.
He soon found his answer as a newspaper was found that talked about the hardness of Lord L’s evil in calmly listening to a sermon that denounced him. When he found the newspaper he took note of its name and its address and calmly wrote a note to the newspaper demanding that they reveal their sources so that they may face appropriate penalties. He then sent a follow-up note with a messenger to the vicar demanding to know if the sermon had been intended to attack him or not, to be both delivered in writing and verbally with a reply demanded for that by the messenger. He then sent a message to his solicitor, who came over with considerable alacrity, leading to a conversation in Lord Lipton’s library.
“Have you seen what the newspapers are saying about me?”
The solicitor replied that he not realized it at first but was definitely going to be looking into which newspapers published this information. “How do you wish to pursue this, personally or legally?”
“I am pursuing all options.”
The solicitor pondered thoughtfully. “What do you think is the motivation for this?”
“I don’t know of any personal enemies. It is possible I have some political enemies though.”
“Well, in the political campaign that has been going on there was someone who used to be a member of Parliament but he never got in touch with me when I asked him about it and he represented the pro-slave trade influence.”
“And would it have been obvious that you were against that interest?”
“I spent the last few months seeking to provide freed slaves with their own property in loyal colonies after being evacuated from the Southern colonies in Savannah and Charleston. Anyone who knew those efforts would have been able to infer from that my antislavery position, I would think.”
That is a plausible motive, I agree. But we will need more than plausibility in order to win a lawsuit for libel.
“I am aware of that.”
“Are you willing to go on trial stating that these allegations are false?”
“I am willing and able to do so.”
“Given the presumption of guilt for those who are charged with libel, they will have to prove their innocence and that is not going to be an easy thing.”
“What if the newspapers refuse to release their sources?”
“They could face some pretty substantial jail time, so it is unlikely that they will want to risk that on mere hearsay reporting about something that you did not do.”
“How will things work out in the House of Lords?”
“Do you think there may be a trial there?”
“Yes, it is possible.”
“If so I do not think you will have much trouble there, but you would be able to defend yourself if that happened pretty strongly.”
“Would my accusers have to show up?”
“They would indeed.”
“Well, that’s good to know, thank you for letting me know this. I am interested in seeing what sort of legal business results from this and what the response of the newspapers is to the threat of legal action.”
“I will make sure to let you know what is going on.”
“Very well then,” which ended the interview.
It did not take long before it became known that Lord Lipton was on the warpath looking for those who were responsible for libeling him and that legal action as well as an affair of honor was possible. This was an unwelcome development for those who were hostile to Lord Lipton, but they did not despair. After all, Lord Lipton was a gouty man, and it could be thought that he was not fit enough to fight.
So it was that before too long Lord Lipton found himself enjoying a snack in White’s, waiting for some fellow peers to show up to discuss his inaugural speech within the House of Lords during the current winter session, where there were no laws in danger but where there was a lot of opportunity for people to get to know each other in between trips to the theater. And this was amenable to Lord Lipton, it must be admitted.
While eating at White’s Lord Lipton saw someone come in and make a bit of a fuss. Lord Lipton took his walking stick and got up from his seat and heard the man talk loudly about what a poultroon that Lord Lipton was, to which Lord Lipton replied with a question as to who was making that accusation, and whether they had the standing to challenge a peer.
The man was silent, looking at Lord Lipton the way that a mouse looks at an owl. He had come thinking that he would have free ability to mock Lord Lipton and had seen the angry lord in the flesh. Some stammering expressions followed.
“Speak up,” Lord Lipton replied. “Do you insult me on your own basis or on behalf of someone else?”
“Both,” the man stammered.
“And who are you?”
“I am Mr. Howell.”
“Do you have the standing to challenge a gentleman to an affair of honor.”
There was more stammering, after which a friendly constable enjoying a meal helped the man to the authorities where it was determined that the man had insulted a peer of the land and attempted to challenge him to a duel without having the proper standing. He was then sent to a prison to await a longer trial. Lord Lipton continued eating his meal, and when he was nearly done he saw that someone else had come in, looking for one of their employees.
“Are you the boss of the person who came in speaking threats and insults towards a peer of the realm?” Lord Lipton asked.
The man replied that this may have been the case. “And who are you then?”
The man replied that he was a Baron Hammer, and that he was the owner of newspapers that ran in various areas of Lancashire and neighboring areas. Lord Lipton asked him if he had published libelous materials about a Lord L of Yorkshire. There was a pause after this.
“Do you claim that they were libelous.”
“I do indeed.”
“And what gives you the authority to say that?”
“I am Lord Lipton of Yorkshire.”
There was a longer pause as Baron Hammer considered his options. He looked at Lord Lipton and saw a man who was stout and clearly someone capable of brandishing a weapon and also a man who was angry, but also controlled.
“Do you feel yourself to have been insulted by what you have read about you?”
“I do indeed.”
“Do you consider such reporting to be false?”
“What sort of adjustment would you be willing to accept?”
“I would demand that the names of those who have sought to defame me be known and forced to publicly apologize for having libeled me. I would also demand a front-page retraction in your newspaper that you insulted me merely for political effect and had nothing negative whatsoever to say about me as a Christian or as a gentleman.”
There was another pause.
“To do so would be to admit that I and those who gave me the information were without honor.”
“Your libels about me have already demonstrated that to be the case.”
“Are you prepared to stand by that?”
“I am indeed.”
“Do you think me a person without honor?”
“You have treated me without honor, printed baseless accusations about me, brought my good name into disrepute wholly without foundation. It is only because I am a Christian and a gentleman that I do not thrash you here and beat you to within an inch of your life and restrain myself to talk to you more politely than you deserve.”
Baron Hammer had to own that this was indeed the case and that it was to be praised that Lord Lipton was not a violent man. But it was equally clear to him that a challenge would be forthcoming, and so it was that as he left he prepared to tell his backers that things were indeed going to be a bit difficult for them all if Lord Lipton’s wrath was to continue to the stage of challenges.
Yet when Baron Hammer arrived back at his press he found that there was a letter from Lord Lipton’s lawyer informing him that his newspapers were subject to a libel lawsuit. But there was also notice from his associates, and this Baron Hammer was more prone to listen to. There was some dissatisfaction about merely focusing on Lord Lipton, so there was now a writing meant to attack Lord Sydney for having a morally corrupt culture where his daughter was being exposed to a sapphic governess, and where another MP was being accused of having a mistress and another one was accused of being an opium addict. The general assumption in the articles was that those who wanted to reform government were themselves in need of moral reformation.
Whether or not such logic would have passed muster at an Oxbridge college, it might have been aimed at a lower audience than usual. After all, the tu quoque error was still an error. If the world needed to be reformed, what did it matter if the reformers were themselves imperfect. It did not in any way negate the need for reformation in the first place. It would seem to be a concession that reform was necessary if one seeks to discredit the people who are asking for reform. If even people who need to seek reform themselves see the need for reform for others, then should not reform be considered as a major priority? At any rate, these people did not think so and so it was that the expanded comments were made public, thus adding to their potential enemies.
At any rate, Lord Lipton now spoke again with his solicitor and looked to find out where and how far these allegations had spread, to see who else was responsible for spreading them. At the very least, though, Lord Lipton had some reason to examine his affairs and see how he was living his life. He had enemies who were willing to risk death to insult him, who did not care if they were speaking truth or not, and such people likely were either extremely reckless or extremely well-protected. One did not insult peers of the realm with impunity, and so someone needed some pretty high support. But who could it have been that would truly be hostile to someone who had served the king so loyally over the course of years? Lord Lipton pondered about those who could be considered his enemies from the time he was in the colonies, and it was hard to find someone.
And then he saw that a certain Banastre Tarleton was looking to become a member of Parliament in a shipping town, obviously to defend the interests of the slave traders. And then it all made sense. It was not as if Lord Lipton and Tarleton were exactly enemies, but it was pretty well known that Lord Lipton had been critical both about his brutality in the Carolinas, and the way that it provoked retaliatory violence, as well as the way he had been less that courageous when escaping from Gloucester when Cornwallis surrendered so as to avoid having to face the Americans who would likely have imprisoned him or worse for his violent deeds. Such a man was indeed a dangerous enemy and a reckless one. Did Tarleton and others wish to preserve the slave trade to such an extent that they would accuse those hostile of it of the worst sorts of crimes and seek to deny them a place in honorable society, all because they wished to stop the trade in souls? That was what Lord Lipton had to consider, that he had attracted violent hostility simply because he wished that people would have the right to live free of kidnapping and being stolen from their homes and turned into someone else’s property. To what lengths were people willing to go to protect the right to oppress others and deny them of life and liberty, to consider it a fundamental right? Would they be willing to kill him to have that right, and to silence anyone who thought like him?