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Will the public please step forward? Libel law and public opinion in Byron's The Vision of Judgment.

THE LEGAL REPERCUSSIONS OF BYRON'S THE VISION OF JUDGMENT ARE well known. John Hunt, who had published the poem in the first issue of The Liberal, was tried for libel, found guilty by jury, and sentenced to pay one hundred pounds as well as to enter into securities for five years. (1) In many ways, the prosecution was typical of the period. Decided by special jury, the trial involved a pair of witnesses and hinged on a reading of the charged material. But there was a distinctive irony to targeting the work for prosecution: The Vision of Judgment is a poem about the limitations of judgment, the inadequacy of representation, and the prohibitive heterogeneity of public opinion.

Considering his low opinion of the English legal system, we might reasonably wonder why Byron retains the judicial framework employed by his satirical target Robert Southey in A Vision of Judgement--complete with recognizable legal language and protocol--to censure the Laureate and condemn the late king. But whereas Southey employs the framework to legitimize his "judgment" of George ill, the trial Byron stages is deliberately abortive. The arguments are inconclusive, the witnesses fail to provide any definitive testimony, and the trial ultimately disintegrates, derailed as much by a defective process as by discordant poetry. While this result reflects on the English legal system more broadly, the poem engages with a specific judicial problem, one that was highlighted by the slew of libel trials that led up to the publication of The Vision: the disconnect between public opinion and courtroom invocations of "the people." In his Vision, Byron is not simply repudiating Southey's verdict, but reimagining the relationship between the courtroom and the public. By conspicuously failing to represent public opinion fully in the heavenly trial, The Vision of Judgment underscores the representational limitations of the judicial process--limitations that had become especially prominent in 1821. Criticism of libel law was intense when Byron conceived the poem, in part because shifts in the interpretation and prosecution of libel law had fundamentally compromised its application in the courtroom. The gradual implementation of the 1792 Libel Act, which allowed the jury to determine whether or not a work was libellous in nature, made trials increasingly dependent on the invocation of public opinion. But in practice, effectively representing the reading public in the courtroom proved impossible, and libel prosecutions were required to make expansive claims (both implicit and explicit) to speak for the English people--claims that were unavoidably specious and unsubstantiated. In his Vision, Byron deliberately reproduces the central defect of contemporary libel trials, crucially premising the heavenly trial on an abortive invocation of "the people." A "universal shoal of shades" is called to voice the public attitude against the late king, but conclusively representing the sentiments of this motley crowd proves impossible, as neither Wilkes, Junius, nor Southey can move beyond their own private priorities and concerns. Accentuating the failure of these key witnesses, The Vision of Judgment foregrounds the disjunction between the individual witness and the multifarious multitude, demonstrating that public opinion cannot be effectively reduced to "one or two persons." (2)

Though Byron's poem mirrors the English legal system, none of the existing scholarship on The Vision of Judgment has considered the poem's jurisprudential subtexts. For most of the twentieth century, critics typically situated the poem within a biographical narrative, treating it first and foremost as a satirical response to Robert Southey's A Vision of Judgement (1821). (3) "The best introduction to Byron's The Vision of Judgment of 1822," commentators have regularly suggested, "is the laureate poem which inspired it." (4) While this approach helped explain the origins of the poem, it necessarily left the intellectual and historical contexts of The Vision comparatively neglected. In response, a range of critics have more recently begun treating the poem on its own terms, examining what role literary influences, (5) including Shelley (6) and Goethe, (7) and generic traditions (8) play in the shape of the poem. At the same time, The Vision of Judgment has also been connected with Byron's broader political and literary values, (9) among them his support for revolution (10) and his endorsement of "tolerance." (11) The political contexts of the poem, in particular its engagement with contemporary party politics, have now been studied in some detail by critics, most notably Malcolm Kelsall (12) and Stuart Peterfreund. (13) This critical shift has helped move analysis of the poem beyond the Byron-Southey rivalry, but no critics have yet addressed how the poem comments on the English legal system--a remarkable omission considering the poem is, after all, presented as a trial. This article aims to elucidate how The Vision is engaged with a juridical problem brought to the fore by changes in English libel law: the disjunction between courtroom invocations of "the people" and the heterogeneous character of public opinion.

When Byron composed the bulk of The Vision of Judgment in 1821, English libel law was the subject of intense controversy. That year Jeremy Bentham echoed popular discontent when he asserted that "libel law as it stands ... is incompatible with English liberties." (14) The agitation that followed the Peterloo massacre, along with the turbulence attendant on the accession of the new king, prompted the government to clamp down on political dissent, leading to an unprecedented number of libel trials in 1819. This spike in prosecution, combined with a number of high-profile cases, led to a "general feeling that fair play was not given to those who were prosecuted for libel." (15) A wide range of writers lamented "the extreme and singular uncertainty in the execution of the law of libel," and many defendants undoubtedly felt, as did Sir Francis Burdett, that "the only criterion [of libel] was whether any matter was or was not pleasing to his Majesty's Attorney General." (16) Most defendants were notably despondent, and some were openly cynical about the proceedings. When called to decide if he would proceed with his trial, for example, Joseph Swann was deliberately inditterent; "I don't care; I suppose it will all be alike in the end," he answered, declining to cross-examine any witnesses. (17) Trials were often described as farces or mockeries, among them the 1824 trial of John Hunt, which The Monthly Magazine dismissed as "the expected tragi-comedy at Westminster." (18) Defendants regularly complained about partial and unjust magistrates, and invocations of ancient despotism were a common trope in contemporary critiques. William Vamplue, on a bill posted in his shop window, described the campaign of prosecutions as "worse than the Inquisition," and Burdett claimed the state of libel law was "a thousand times worse than the plan adopted by the tyrant Caligula." (19) John Wade claimed that "Draco's laws, written in blood, or the enactments of the Roman tyrant, who placed them so high that they were illegible, were nothing" compared to contemporary libel laws. (20)

Since libel trials, particularly more prominent ones, were well attended and the proceedings printed in a number of newspapers, these challenges reached a markedly wide and heterogeneous audience. As Kevin Gilmartin observes, "trials for seditious and blasphemous libel became a key forum for radical assembly and verbal expression during the repressive campaigns that peaked in 1817 and 1819." (21) A broad political and socio-economic spectrum was involved--as defendants, witnesses, jurors, or spectators--in the working of contemporary libel law, and more controversial trials attracted large crowds. At the trial of radical printer Richard Carlile, "Guildhall and all the avenues leading to it were crowded to excess," (22) and spectators had to arrive early to find a good spot for the trial of Sir Francis Burdett. (23) For those who did not attend, reports of libel cases were available throughout a range of newspapers, most notably The Times, which printed a regular "Law Report" that sometimes occupied several pages. Consequently, libel trials became a remarkably public forum, one that allowed defenders not only to contest the charges against them, but also to challenge the law itself.

Though the 1824 trial of John Hunt (see footnote 1) attracted more public interest than most, the proceedings manifested the systemic inadequacies common to all contemporary prosecutions. After the opening indictment, which characterized the defendant as a "wicked and malicious" person, the prosecution aimed to demonstrate what was typically referred to as the libellous "tendency" of the offensive material (2:69). As stipulated by the 1792 Libel Act, the jury had to be convinced not only that the work had been published by the defendant, but also that it had a tendency to "bring [a party] into contempt and disgrace" (2:69). As in most libel cases, evidencing this tendency depended predominantly on the expostulations of the prosecutor, John Adolphus, who claimed, in a variety of ways, to speak for the typical Englishman. In some instances, Adolphus explicitly figures himself as a synecdoche for the reading public, characterizing his attitude as that felt by "every honourable and loyal man" (2:73). Expressing his personal disgust at the impiety of Hunt's poem, for example, he implies that his reaction represents that of any "honest freeborn Englishman" (2:74). In a typical fashion, the case for the prosecution hinged on a selective reading and interpretation of the poem, parts of which were read aloud to the jurors. Though less explicit than the prosecutor's rhetorical manoeuvers, this process, which formed the core of most libel prosecutions, made the most significant claims to represent public opinion, as it ostensibly spoke for the "natural" interpretation formed by the reading public.

Partly because Hunt (unlike many defendants) had an especially adept lawyer, James Scarlett, his trial sharply exposes the underlying defects of libel law as it stood in the early decades of the nineteenth century. Through his cross-examination and defense, Scarlett drew attention to the interpretive heterogeneity that Adolphus aimed to diminish. Rather than simply offer his own appraisal of public opinion, Scarlett acknowledged that popular sentiments cannot be definitively communicated in the courtroom, either by himself, the prosecution, the witnesses, or even the jury. The nature of his strategy emerges in his cross-examination of the witnesses, which aimed to highlight the disjunction between the claims of the prosecution and the sentiments of actual readers. After demonstrating that the primary witness was a paid informant (as in many libel cases), Scarlett probed him on his own opinion of the poem. This is an uncommon strategy: despite the regular invocations, both explicit and implicit, of the "public mind," witnesses were rarely asked about their impression of charged material. (24) Not only was this witness almost wholly unfamiliar with Byron's poem, but his flippant response to the question about poetic meter suggests he was far less shocked by the poem than the "honest freeborn Englishman" Adolphus imagines: "you are hexamining me," the man jokes (2:80). Scarlett then requested that the poem be read aloud in its entirety to the courtroom. Though a somewhat unconventional demand, this is an important aspect of his strategy, as it allowed alternative impressions of the poem to emerge, ones which potentially contradicted the homogenizing presumptions of the prosecution. And in fact, according to the report in The Times, the strategy achieved partial success; instead of uniformly disgusting the crowd, "several passages excited great merriment in Court" (especially those about Southey). (25) When the poem had been read in full, Scarlett concluded his cross-examination, but not before he incisively underscored the deficiency of the witnesses, who offered no sentiments to substantiate the public "effect" of the charged poem. After one witness affirmed that he had been called to court "only to say [he] know[s] Mr. Hunt," Scarlett responded, with facetious astonishment, "God bless me, I thought it was to give your opinion on this poem" (2:80).

Scarlett's statement, to which the witness answered simply "no," exposes the remarkable silence at the heart of the prosecution, one typical of libel trials from the period. In his defense of Hunt, Scarlett accentuates the heterogeneity of public sentiments, acknowledging his inability to calculate the "sentiments of the nation" (2:82). Whereas Adolphus shifts seamlessly from the personal to the public, figuring himself as a representation of the universal Englishman, Scarlett repeatedly balks at such assumptions. "Whether the death of his late Majesty was lamented or not," he observes, "it is not for me to say" (2:85). "I can not know," he concedes, "whether those who attended the funeral of his Majesty were affected to tears" (2:86). Certainly, Scarlett aims to suggest that the events of the recent reign, if not the king himself, brought about "much discontent and dissatisfaction ... among the people" (87). But he attends constantly to the prohibitively private nature of personal sentiments, acknowledging that "every man," including Adolphus, will have his own unique opinion on the reign of the late king. If this heterogeneity partly compromises Scarlett's own gloss of the poem, it serves nonetheless to strike more deeply at the fundamental assumptions underlying the prosecution's case. Public opinion, Scarlett suggests, cannot be conclusively evaluated or represented in the courtroom.

As the prosecution of Hunt demonstrates, libel trials were rhetorically compromised by the demands of the law itself which required that public opinion--the "public mind"--be effectively appraised and evidenced in the courtroom. This difficulty was introduced in the 1792 Libel Act, which made the libellous nature of charged material a matter of fact to be considered by the jury, rather than a matter of law comprehended in the charges. Before this legislation, jurors had only to determine whether the material had been printed by the defendant and to whom actionable passages referred. Though it was implemented only gradually and unevenly, the 1792 Libel Act required that jurors also decide whether a work was actually libellous. In cases where the law was properly followed, "the article complained of would be laid before the jury; and it would be for them to determine, under the principles of law, whether it was or was not a libel, as charged in the information." (26) As lawyers regularly reminded the jury, according to the "Libel Bill of Mr. Fox ... the judgment as to libel, or no libel, was vested in the jury, and in the jury alone, altogether independent of the judge." (27) Developed and championed by Charles James Fox, the Libel Act was widely considered a decisive victory for the liberty of the people and the freedom of the press. (28) In the 1813 libel trial of Hugh Fitzpatrick, for example, the defense contended that "the early attempts of this reign to extinguish [the freedom of the press had] been frustrated by one great constitutional act of parliament ... the Libel act." (29) While judges continued, well into the nineteenth century, to voice their own opinions upon charged material, it was in fact the jury who ultimately decided whether a publication was libellous in nature. This legislation produced a significant shift in the focus of libel trials: libel trials became substantially concerned with evidencing the public effect of charged material, rather than the facts of publication alone.

During the first decades of the nineteenth century, as prosecutors were increasingly compelled to evidence the libellous tendencies of indicted material, the epistemological difficulties attendant on this shift became apparent. The public, on whom an allegedly libellous publication had its effect, could not be definitively represented in the courtroom--either by the prosecution, the defense, the witnesses, or the jury. As Kevin Gilmartin observes, "libel trials were a juridical test of the relationship between the printed word and the world." (30) To prove that a work had a libellous tendency, prosecutors were compelled to speak on behalf of "the people," but however abstract the language they employed, the contempt, disgrace, or disorder that prosecutors alleged ultimately inhered in the minds of the reading public. Whether they spoke on behalf of "every man," (31) or appealed to "common sense," (32) prosecutors necessarily made expansive claims to speak for the public that they could not possibly evidence. Linguistic interpretations, on which many trials were premised, referred back to "minds of the public," (33) in which the effects of printed material took effect. To endorse their interpretations of charged material, lawyers appealed to "the natural, popular ... sense of [the] words," (34) to what the "ordinary reader" (35) would think. Individual witnesses might attest to their personal opinion of a text, but prosecutors almost never inquired about their interpretation of charged material; witnesses served almost exclusively to evidence the basic facts of publication. In the trial of J. H. Brandis, for example, the single witness for the prosecution only "deposed that the defendant had employed him to print the libel set forth in the indictment." (36) In theory, the jury offered the most authoritative representation of "the people," and lawyers--both prosecution and defense--often appealed to their judgment as a representative sample of broader public opinion. In practice, however, the jury never provided a definitive cross section of the "public" on which libel trials were premised. At best, the jury included only a selective portion of the public; only men between the ages of 21 and 71 who possessed some property were eligible to serve, and a number of professions, including clergymen and surgeons, were exempt. (37) Even beyond such systemic limitations, libel trials were frequently decided by special juries (or packed juries), a practice about which defendants and critics frequently complained. (38) In his lengthy tract on the topic, The Elements of the Art of Packing, Jeremy Bentham characterized special juries as a "special instrument of corruption" designed to obscure the arbitrary power of the judge. (39) More audacious defendants (or lawyers) sometimes even contested the jury selection for their trials. (40) The invocation of "public sentiments" upon which lawyers necessarily relied provoked challenges that accentuated these limitations. Especially in the most controversial trials, such as that of Sir Francis Burdett, appeals to the "public mind" clashed with competing signals of public opinion, not only in print but also in the courtroom itself. Cheers, laughter, and hisses often offered a countervailing expression of public feelings. At his trial, Wooler explicitly cited the laughter of the surrounding spectators in his defense, arguing that their reaction bore witness to the fact that his work was simply comedic, not seditious. (41) In early 1821, shortly after he had been found guilty, Burdett met with his supporters at a tavern, where Sir John Hobhouse "asked the meeting--he asked the people of England--had [Sir Francis Burdett] committed a crime?" (42) As Hobhouse implies, the meeting served as a more legitimate representation of "the people" than claims in the courtroom, and the loud cries of "No!" forcefully challenged the authority of juridical rhetoric. These competing manifestations of public opinion substantiated the allegations of critics that the "public" invoked in the courtroom was at odds with the sentiments of the English public. "It is peculiar to the offence of libel," one contemporary argued, "that the public feelings do scarcely, if at all, go along with the denunciations of the law against it." (43) While the "discrepancy between men's feelings and the law of libel" varied between trials, the need to evidence the popular effect of charged material naturally invited competing claims to the "public voice": ones that challenged the legitimacy of prosecutions for libel. (44)

It is not hard to imagine why Byron was keen to expose the deficiencies of the legal system, those of libel law especially. A lifetime of frustrating and expensive legal cases, concerning primarily his family estate, left Byron with a cynical view of the English legal system. "My Expectations from Law," he wrote to an acquaintance in 1806, "were never very sanguine." (45) By 1821, when Byron began work on his Vision, he must have been exceptionally familiar with courtroom procedures and language (as he boasted in 1822) (BLJ 9:157). Beyond his nearly twenty years of intermittent legal battles in England, he had reportedly been involved in six lawsuits in Italy by 1820, and his letters frequently demonstrate his familiarity with legalese (BLJ 7:181). A number of his friends and acquaintances, among them Leigh Hunt, Richard Carlile, and Sir Francis Burdett, had been convicted of libel, and he worried specifically about the legal consequences of his own poetry, particularly The Vision of Judgment. He acknowledged that Murray might be "afraid to publish it," and he reportedly advised Hunt "to omit any actionable passages," as well as to consult with a lawyer before publishing the poem (BLJ 8:232-33; 10:66). He even allegedly proposed that Hunt "give up the notion of the Journal" in the face of legal dangers (BLJ 10:65). Beyond his personal abiding antipathy to the courtroom and his concerns about libel law, the Vision is part of the radical reaction to the Peterloo Massacre and the ensuing suppression of political writing. (46) Challenging libel law, one of the most powerful and controversial government tools for quelling radical opposition, was a prominent aspect of this attack on government policy. As Peter A. Schock observes, during 1821 and 1822 Byron was developing "an oppositionist rhetoric" that challenged specific English policies and institutions, among them legal restrictions on the freedom of the press. (47) "Put[ting] George's Apotheosis in a Whig point of view," as Byron aims to do in his Vision, necessarily involves deconstructing the legal authority of the established regime, in particular the claims of crown prosecutors to speak on behalf of "the people" (BLJ 8:229-30). In this sense, emphasizing the irreducible disjunction between courtroom rhetoric and popular opinion is a central aspect of the poem's broader political outlook.

Rather than serve simply to condemn the late king, The Vision of Judgment foregrounds this judicial difficulty, interrogating the assumptions on which the slew of controversial libel trials were premised. While we might expect Byron to convict George m decisively, the poem allows the deceased king to escape judgment and slip into Heaven. While perhaps an artistically (48) or philosophically fitting outcome, (49) such "lenity and tolerance" has no place in a trial; (50) within the judicial framework the poem envisions, this abortive resolution is a monumental judicial blunder, one that serves as the centerpiece of a sustained arraignment of the English legal system. This is not a moral victory, but a procedural failure. After all, the king is neither formally exonerated nor forgiven; the trial simply falls apart. As this unsatisfactory result suggests, Byron is less concerned with condemning his enemies than with exposing the deficiency of the legal process his poem imitates.

Byron's abiding attention to the bureaucratic and procedural limitations of heavenly judgment is foundational to the poem's critique of libel law, as this perspective represents the judicial process as an inherently imperfect mode of judgment. The supernatural setting of The Vision offers an opportunity to envision a perfectly accurate and unmediated mode of judgment, one which Southey baldly exploits in his Vision of the afterlife; breaking the bounds of time and space, the supernatural trial the Laureate imagines determines the innocence of the king with uncompromised efficiency and certainty. The trial Byron constructs, however, is constrained by a range of recognizably earthly limitations. The opening stanza of the poem conceives of a heavenly world governed by the same physical laws as our own. Not only is the celestial gate barred by a simple lock, rather than divine power, but the rust on Saint Peter's keys also indicates that heaven is not "free from time," (51) as it is in the vision of the Laureate. Such details, which pervade the poem, are more than simply a source of comedic bathos; they frequently serve to mark the systemic imperfection of the judicial process. As Frederick L. Beaty observes, the process of heavenly justice the poem envisions "may be as prone to miscarriage as that of human tribunals." (52)

Whereas Southey employs legalistic imagery in an idealized manner, glossing over the gritty workings of the legal system, Byron foregrounds the cumbersome administrative underpinnings of the judicial process. As he presents it, heavenly justice is founded on an overworked and disgruntled bureaucracy. The guardian seraphs have abandoned their posts, so all "Terrestrial business" is left to Saint Peter, who is woefully unable to keep up with the rapid growth of accounts and facts (17-24). The scene, focused on a decidedly earthly black bureau, serves to signal a constellation of deficiencies that compromise the administration of heavenly justice. The most immediate limits are bodily; the profusion of records literally outstrips his angelic body, leaving his wings picked bare of quills. The lines that follow, which outline the expansion of the bureaucracy, suggest that Peter is also hindered by financial constraints. The staff of eighteen clerks he is allotted, though apparently generous by heavenly standards, evidently comes from a markedly limited personnel pool. Not only is this staff barely enough to keep up with the growing workload, but the mixed nature of the team, drawn from both angels and saints, suggests that choice is limited, as does the reference to the allotment as a "board" (33). Rather than reflect favorably on the heavenly bureaucracy, the growth of this administration only accentuates the ultimate disintegration of the endeavor, as the crew abandons their work in disgust after the Battle of Waterloo (38-40). This final failing, bespeaking a want of conviction and dedication among the angels, is perhaps the most humanizing of all the limitations signalled in this opening scene.

The process of judgment this disenchanted bureaucracy supports is figured as an analog of the English justice system. While the contest between Michael and Satan certainly possesses a political dimension, as a number of critics have observed, the structure and terminology of the process connect the proceedings specifically with the judiciary. In a word, The Vision of Judgment imagines not simply "a debate between politicians," but a trial. (53) As the speaker twice remarks, this process takes place in a "neutral space" (257), one that provides a venue for an even debate between two representatives: "between ... accusation and defence" (502-3). Pointing to the judicial role of gateways in the ancient Middle East, the comparison with "eastern thresholds" (274) represents this debate as a trial, as does the account of Satan's aims: "he stood / In act to assert his right or wrong, and show / Cause why King George by no means could or should / Make out a case to be exempt from woe / Eternal" (290-94). A "show cause" order requires an individual to justify why a particular course of action should be pursued, and was a regular feature of contemporary trials. In fact, as libel trials often tested the definition and boundaries of the law, they also occasioned rules to show cause. The term "making out a case," as Satan figures his aims, is also a recognizable phrase of contemporary trials, referring to the degree of evidence required to support a legal claim. The procedure the judgment follows, moving from arguments to witnesses, mimics that of earthly justice (though The Vision, understandably, leaves little opportunity for a cross-examination or defense). (54) Even the structured, restrained discourse of the debate is associated with the decorum of the courtroom, which demanded "civil" comportment; after Saint Peter is provoked to disrupt the proceedings, Michael acknowledges that "[e]ven Saints sometimes forget themselves in session" (406). As in earthly trials, the case for the prosecution ends with a formal declaration (one that is typographically and metrically accentuated in Byron's poem), and the witnesses, "summon'd by ... 'subpoena,'" come forward to deliver their testimony (479).

Yet while The Vision broadly marks the limitations of judgment and justice, the trial engages with a conflict at the heart of contemporary libel law. The Vision of Judgment is not simply about judgment, but about representation, about the possibility of representing popular sentiments fully and accurately. Can public opinion be effectively channelled in the courtroom? It is on this question, conspicuously raised by libel trials in the years surrounding the poem, that the case against the late king hinges--and ultimately founders. The heavenly prosecution is frustrated by the same impediments that compromised the libel trials of those years; the people over whom George mled, who might "swear against the good king's reign," cannot be coherently aggregated (477). Put simply, the voice of "the people" cannot be conclusively channelled in the courtroom. In fact, these impediments form the central focus of the poem. The Vision foregrounds the prohibitive heterogeneity of the public, exposing the disjunction between the representation and the reality of the "[m]illions" (368)--the "myriads" (515)--of the people.

The lengthy account of the damned souls, which traces how they are summoned to testify against the late king, serves to accentuate their prohibitive multiplicity, setting the stage for the surprising deficiency of the individual witnesses. Considering that the poem dedicates eight stanzas to describing the "cloud of witnesses" (458), this portion of The Vision (the exact mid-point of the poem) has been remarkably ignored by critics. Alerted by a brief signal from Satan, this heterogeneous crowd of souls travels from Hell to Heaven (almost instantaneously) to testify against George ill. As the speaker notes, the crowd seems to represent the full range of humanity, transcending not only national boundaries but also professions and ages. The range of expressions, Malcolm Kelsall observes, "is a dramatic way of representing the international hostility to Georgian policies." (55) As such, this teeming throng is figured as an embodiment of the "universal" voice of those who lived under the late king (474). The ability to conjure such a host, possible only outside the limits of earthly time and space, suggests that a complete and accurate evaluation of public opinion might be possible in this trial. Already, however, the semantic difficulties this scene presents for the speaker anticipate the judicial difficulties inherent in representing such a heterogeneous group. While the speaker struggles to communicate his vision at various points in the poem, his troubles are most pronounced in his endeavors to depict the cloud of souls. Indeed, the speaker is not only doubtful of his similes, which are markedly imperfect and uncertain, but even of his meter. As he acknowledges, the scene ultimately "makes the stanza stammer" (456), demanding an extra foot in the two closing lines. Even the punctuation of the stanza is somewhat awkward, the parenthetical concession spilling over into the following stanza, where it jarringly disrupts the opening line (457). The repetitions that dominate this stanza, the speaker stammering over "a cloud," signal the uncertainty of the account, as does his doubt concerning his comparison with wild ducks. The "universal" cloud, these semantic and metrical disruptions suggest, defies precise representation.

When the moment arrives for the witnesses to testify against the king, their striking failure to voice the sentiments of the "universal" cloud dramatizes the practical limitations of the judicial process, which can only call individual witnesses to speak on behalf of the "varied" multitude (462). This incongruity is emphasized by a series of contrasts between the singularity of the witnesses and the multiplicity of the throng they are called to represent. As in contemporary libel trials, most of which involved one or two witnesses, the prosecution of George in demands only "two honest, clean, / True testimonies" (500-501). The deficiency of this approach is particularly marked in Heaven, where the judicial process claims to represent an immeasurably numerous and varied mass of people through "[o]ne or two persons" (515). Representing public opinion in this way is especially absurd in this case, moreover, since the heavenly trial is not subject to the limitations of earthly justice--an absurdity highlighted by Michael's concern that hearing every voice would " 'stretch [their] immortality' " (504). While both Michael and Satan eventually agree (though with different motives) that one or two witnesses should speak on behalf of the multitude, the account of this process foregrounds, rather than minimizes, the problematic gap produced between the single and the many:
   Thus spoke the Demon (late call'd 'multifaced'
   By multo-scribbling Southey.) 'Then we'll call
   One or two persons of the myriads placed
   Around our congress, and dispense with all
   The rest,' quoth Michael: 'Who may be so graced
   As to speak first? there's choice enough--who shall
   It be?' Then Sathan answered, 'There are many;
   But you may choose Jack Wilkes as well as any.'

From the outset, the indefinite number of witnesses suggests the process is inexact, as does the haphazard manner in which the practice is introduced. Throughout the passage, the rhyme pairing serves to accentuate the disjunction between the varied multitude and the individual witnesses. The limited "call" is drawn from "all" the surrounding souls, and the closing couplet, in particular, stresses the contrast between the "many" and the "any." Satan endeavors to legitimize this "dispens[ation|" by figuring the witness as a representative sample of the multitude, but the choice of John Wilkes is conspicuously biased, especially as it is set against the vast variety of options. As the ensuing scenes make clear, though in life he acted as a representative in Parliament, he cannot properly represent the immeasurable heterogeneity of "the throng" (522).

While critics have remarked on the surprising lenience with which the poem concludes, the inconclusive testimony of the witnesses is perhaps the most significant and surprising twist in the trial Byron imagines. Considering his anxiety about the legal status of the poem, it is understandable that Byron does not decisively condemn George hi to Hell. But he certainly could have censured the late king more harshly, especially through the personas of Wilkes and Junius. While the escape of the king might be interpreted as a reflection of legal pressures or philosophical priorities, the marked irrelevance of the witnesses is a decidedly judicial failure. Wilkes and Junius neither exonerate nor convict the king; as Peter Cochran observes, "George is proven neither guilty [nor] guiltless." (56) Their testimony, in fact, only demonstrates their inability to represent the universal crowd from which they are called. In this sense, retaining the two radicals, who serve to exonerate the king in Southey's Vision, is consistent with his critique of the legal process. In Wilkes and Junius, Byron forfeits an opportunity to condemn George hi in order to emphasize instead the prohibitive multiplicity of the public. As both figures were charged (either directly or indirectly) with libel, their appearance in The Vision connects the contemporary campaign of libel prosecutions with a long history of oppressive restrictions on liberty of the press. This implication is emphasized by references to discursive "license" and "liberty" afforded by the heavenly setting, a liberty that Wilkes proudly reminds Michael he courageously assumed on earth: " 'Some,' " he proclaims, " 'don't wait to see them laid in lead, / For such a liberty--and I, for one, / Have told them what I thought beneath the Sun' " (549-52). While Wilkes and Junius are long dead by the time the trial takes place, in introducing the latter the speaker shifts into the present, reminding the reader that he himself strains under the same legal pressures that compelled Junius to conceal his identity; his own writing is constrained by his "fear / Of doing people harm about the throne, / And injuring some minister or peer" (634-36). In fact, Wilkes and Junius played this role in critiques of contemporary libel prosecutions, which recalled how censorship laws had historically been used to suppress the liberty of the press. (57) Yet, the poem is not simply aligned with the attitudes of Wilkes and Junius. On the contrary, their testimony fails to condemn the king, demonstrating instead the limited nature of their political views. Indeed, it is because they were so often represented, both by themselves and others, as the voice of "the people," that their failure to fulfill this role is so remarkable. Though their testimony provides Byron with an excellent opportunity to denigrate the late king, Byron aims, more broadly, to challenge the judicial discourse that underpinned the power of the reigning administration.

While Wilkes seems an ideal candidate to represent popular discontent with the late king, this potential is precluded by his disruptive individuality, which the poem foregrounds. The fact that Wilkes died more than twenty years before the king considerably compromises his ability to channel the popular discontent that developed during the early nineteenth century. There are certainly "good reasons ... why Byron should move the debate on George's political faults back to before 1788," as Kelsall suggests. (58) But the poem emphasizes, rather than mutes, the incongruity between past and present. For example, the speaker notes that Wilkes is "drest in a fashion forgotten" by 1822: the short petticoat, which Jerome McGann and Barry Weller note was fashionable during the 1750s and 1770s (527n8). This attire, as the speaker observes, links Wilkes to his "flesh[ly]" existence (524), a connection affirmed by his shameless attempt to win the votes of the surrounding souls:
   'If those are freeholders I see in shrouds,
   And 'tis for an election that they bawl,
   Behold a candidate with unturn'd-coat!
   Saint Peter, may I count upon your vote?'

As Kelsall points out, "this is the language of someone on the make at popular hustings." (59) Beyond the political implications of his behavior, this scene firmly anchors Wilkes in the historical particulars of his "former life" (538). The limitations of this perspective are marked by his surprised reaction to the age and blindness of the late king; Wilkes, the poem reminds the reader, never lived to witness the last third of George's reign, during which time his health (and fitness to rule) deteriorated significantly. The references to Bute and Grafton reinforce this deficiency, situating Wilkes firmly in the previous century. Beyond the temporal limitations of Wilkes's testimony, his ability to "arraign" the late king is prevented by his persistent focus on his past life "beneath the sun" (552). Michael urges him to attend to the trial presently underway "Above the sun" (553), but Wilkes remains fixated upon the personal circumstances of his former life, as his attention to "old scores" and "old stories" suggests (555, 559). While Satan certainly has his own motives, his account of Wilkes conspiring with Pitt seems to affirm what Wilkes's vote-mongering initially indicates: even in the afterlife, Wilkes retains the political allegiances and ambitions of his earthly life. Though he is initially presented as a representative voice, Wilkes is too individualized--too attached to his own personal priorities and concerns--to function as an effective channel for popular sentiments.

Considering Wilkes's inability to testify effectively, Junius seems an excellent alternative to represent popular antipathy towards the late king, since his form is as varied and amorphous as the cloud of souls itself. Though he is equally limited by temporal constraints, as his letters appeared between 1769 and 1772, Junius is apparently capable of embodying every class, appearance, and temperament; the shadow has
   But nought to mark its breeding or its birth:
   Now it wax'd little, then again grew bigger,
   With now an air of gloom, or savage mirth;
   But as you gazed upon its features, they
   Changed every instant ...

McGann and Weller argue that his unique nature "subtly suggests that Junius comprises the vox populi" (640n), a perspective the poem initially encourages. The effects of his arrival, which compresses the amorphous multitude into a defined shape and size, certainly seem to signify his ability to capture the "general" voice comprehensively (586). Yet, as the discomfort attendant on this process suggests, the form of representation Junius offers is inherently restrictive, if not distortive. The emphasis on his extreme "thin[ness]" reinforces this impression, especially as it calls to mind Junius's exclusively paper-based identity. Marking his transformations with "Presto!" figures them as a superficial magic trick (618), as does the image of him "putting] on" another face (619). Instead of effectively synthesizing public attitudes towards the late king, Junius is fundamentally destabilized by the volatility of public opinion; he "change[s] his countenance at least / As oft as they their minds" (612-13). At first, his ability to shift forms suggests he might capture the full variety of the multitude. But as the portrayal of Junius progresses, a number of signals figure his lack of identity as a defect or limitation, rather than an advantage. While his alienation from his mother might not necessarily be inauspicious, his association with the man in the iron mask clearly represents his mutability as both superficial and restrictive. In the paragraph that follows, the metaphor of London fog associates Junius with obscurity and ambiguity, while the allusion to Mrs. Malaprop, the character from Sheridan's The Rivals (1775) who habitually misuses words, suggests that Junius engenders confusion rather than clarity. This progressive denigration, which portrays Junius successively as an orphan, a prisoner, and finally an obscure "nobody" (640), culminates in stanza 81, in which the speaker imagines his metaphorical dismemberment. Though his transformations are initially presented as deliberate, the fact that Junius finally disappears in the middle of his testimony confirms that his identity is not flexible, but prohibitively unstable.

Serving as a fitting counterpoint to Wilkes, Junius is prevented from providing any testimony by his lack of a stable identity. While Wilkes might have been motivated partly by sympathy or politics, Junius seems to retain his hostility towards George, so his failure to testify productively is even more significant. As his response to the opening question indicates, his identity exists wholly in his published letters; when asked " 'who and what' " he is, Junius responds, " 'For that, you may consult my title-page' " (649-50). The reference to the title page of his letters is ironic, of course, since the page identifies him only as "Nominis Umbra." The speaker highlights this delusive introduction by describing Junius as a "mighty Shadow of a Shade" (651), an image that offers no concrete referent. Like Wilkes, Junius is prohibitively fixated on his past life, a perspective that prevents him from providing effective testimony. As Kelsall observes, his "Letters stands as a record to history.... But as testimony ... they leave the case non-proven." (60) When Michael asks him for evidence against the late king, Junius directs him to "'ask [George] for his answer to my letter'" (656). Not only has the opportunity for a printed answer to his letter, published in 1769, long passed, but also the king himself is now physically unable to respond.

Junius's attention to the "epitaph and tomb" (658) of George equally exposes his prohibitive fixation on the world "beneath the sun" (552), though where Wilkes remains concerned with politics Junius remains attached to literary history: to inscriptions, letters, pages, and publications. This attachment is evident in his marked reliance on literary allusions. His response in stanza 83 echoes Shakespeare's Sonnet 55, (61) and his words in stanza 84 recall John 19:22. The former allusion, in particular, accentuates the priority of heavenly judgment, as the speaker of the sonnet avers that his verse will preserve his subject only until judgment Day (55:13). Though Junius outwardly asserts the permanence of his published charges against the king, the allusion serves to remind the reader that the literary record Junius boasts is far less important than the heavenly trial he effectively disregards. As this ironic disjunction suggests, Junius is parroting literary phrases, rather than channelling popular opinions. Though he seems to offer an alternative to the vote-mongering Wilkes, neither Junius nor Wilkes is able to move beyond their own personal priorities, political or literary. While this inadequacy certainly has political and literary dimensions, within the judicial framework the poem envisions, the failure of these two key testimonies serves to demonstrate that the sentiments of the multitude are too varied and amorphous to be channelled by an individual witness--even those most famous for embodying the views of "the people."

Considering Southey's poem announced a judgment "so different front what the people had a right to expect," it is fitting that the trial culminates--or rather collapses--with his audacious vision. (62) Though Southey is not formally introduced as a witness, his abortive testimony serves as the most unequivocal evidence against libel law; his detested performance forcefully demonstrates the potential incongruity between representations of popular sentiments and the realities of public opinion. Wilkes and Junius were effective because their failure to testify was surprising, but Southey misrepresents the public far more conspicuously. Whereas Wilkes and Junius were called as representatives by the judicial process, Southey boldly takes it upon himself to speak for the multitude: "'Now,'" he announces, "'you shall judge, all people; yes, you shall / Judge with my judgment!"' (802-3). Though more audaciously and explicitly stated, this is the claim on which libel trials were crucially premised.

From the moment of his arrival, however, it is clear that Southey is particularly incapable of voicing public attitudes. The cloud of souls refuses to make room for his entrance, and Asmodeus has to force his way through the crowd (673-75). Like Wilkes and Junius, Southey's ability to channel popular sentiments is obstructed by his own personal motives and priorities, but to a far greater degree than the other witnesses. Whereas the latter two are able at least to comment on the late king, albeit while driven by political and literary motives, Southey's account is unmixed self-promotion. The anaphora that stretches across stanzas 97 and 98 emphasizes the excess of his gasconade, serving to exhaust the reader as much as it does the listeners. As the speaker makes quite clear, Southey aims to "plead his own bad cause, / With all the attitudes of self-applause" (759-60). The attitude is fitting, since the reactions of the surrounding multitude attest to the distance between Southey's judgment and the opinions of the crowd (802). What starts out as a "general bustle" turns into "an universal cough," and a few souls cry " 'off, off' " (729, 737, 741). Considering Byron's hostility towards Southey, we might reasonably expect the crowd to express more explicit disapproval. The protestations of the multitude, however, are deliberately vague; the "universal" expressions are only gestures and inarticulate sounds, while more exact voices are assigned to only "some" of the souls (741). Even on Southey's discordant verses, Byron concedes, the public mind cannot be conclusively appraised. Were he not preceded by the abortive testimony of Wilkes and Junius, we might conclude that Southey is uniquely out of touch with public sentiments. But his failure to represent the "universal" crowd is a typical, indeed inevitable deficiency, one occasioned by the demands of the trial itself. Byron certainly ridicules Southey as a poet, but the inaccuracy of his testimony--a failure consistent with Wilkes and Junius--is part of the poem's broader commentary on the relationship between popular opinion and juridical discourse.

The title of Byron's poem serves as both his first joke and his last. Though critics often drop the definite article, the subtly altered title of his parody--The Vision of Judgment--promises a definite and conclusive verdict on the late king. This is a promise, of course, that the poem conspicuously fails to deliver. Its abortive trajectory certainly has political and literary dimensions, as critics have observed. But the failure of the trial hinges, above all, on the witnesses, on their inability to channel popular sentiments. It is no coincidence that Byron takes up this issue in 1822, when libel law was especially controversial. Crucially premising his trial on the testimony of the universal crowd, Byron foregrounds the question that libel trials unavoidably confronted in the decades that followed the 1792 Libel Act: can public opinion be represented in the courtroom? Foregrounding the irreducible disjunction between popular opinion and individual testimony, Byron's Vision stages a judicial performance that many contemporary readers must have recognized well.

Yale University


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"The King v. Mann." The Times, March 20, 1820.

"The King v. Mary Ann Carlile." The Times, November 16, 1821.

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(1.) "The King against John Hunt, 1824," in Reports of State Trials: New Series (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1889), 2:104. Subsequent citations to this trial are cited in the text.

(2.) Byron, The Vision of Judgment, in Lord Byron: The Complete Poetical Works, eds. Jerome J. McGann and Barry Weller (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), vol. 6:309-45, line 515. Line references from this edition hereafter will be cited parenthetically in the text.

(3.) Susan J. Wolfson, "The Vision of Judgment and the Visions of 'Author,'" in The Cambridge Companion to Byron, ed. Drummond Bone (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 171-85; Peter Cochran, Byron and Bob: Lord Byron's Relationship with Robert Southey (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010), 137-262.

(4.) Alastair W. Thomson, "'In my Turn': Byron's The Vision of Judgment," English Studies 75, no. 6 (1994): 523.

(5.) Emrys Jones, "Byron's Visions of Judgment," The Modern Language Review 76, no. 1 (1981): 1-19; C. J. Rawson, "Byron's Vision of Judgment, xxv Pope, and Hobbess Homer," The Byron Journal 11, no. 1 (1983): 48-51; Peter Cochran, "The Vision of Judgment and the Waverley Novels," Notes and Queries 39, no. 2 (1992): 168-72, and "One Ton per Square Foot: The Antecedents of The Vision of Judgment," The Keats-Shelley Review 19 (2005): 64-756.

(6.) Charles E. Robinson, Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976), 190-95; Peter Cochran, "Byron and Shelley: Radical Incompatibles," Romanticism on the Net 43 (2006).

(7.) Eliza Butler, Byron and Goethe (London: Bowes and Bowes, 1956); Fred Parker, "Between Satan and Mephistopheles: Byron and the Devil," Cambridge Quarterly 35, no. 1 (2006): 21-22.

(8.) William Walling, "Tradition and Revolution: Byron's Vision of Judgment," The Wordsworth Circle 3, no. 4 (1972): 223-31; Gary Dyer, British Satire and the Politics of Style, 1789-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 90-93; Jonathan Gross, "Flyting in the Declaration of Independence and The Vision of Judgment," The Byron Journal 35, no. 1 (2007): 41-459.

(9.) Bernard Blackstone, Byron: A Survey (London: Longman, 1975), 279-85; Angus Calder, Byron (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1987), 49-65; Peter Cochran, "The Vision of Blasphemous Judgement," The Keats-Shelley Review 9 (1995): 37-50; Tim Fulford, "Poetic Hells and Pacific Edens," Romanticism on the Net 32-33 (2003-2004).

(10.) Peter A. Schock, "'I will war, at least in words': Byron and the Rhetoric of Opposition," in Contemporary Studies on Lord Byron, ed. William D. Brewer (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2001), 95-120.

(11.) T. J. Matheson, "'A Strange Melange of Good and Evil': Tolerance and the Moral Nature of Man in Byron's The Vision of Judgment," The Byron Journal 20, no. 1 (1992): 59-70; Timothy Ruppert, "Byron's Idea of Tolerance in The Vision of Judgment," The Keats-Shelley Review 25, no. 2 (2011): 137-46.

(12.) Kelsall, Byron's Politics (Brighton: Harvester Press, 1987), 119-45.

(13.) Peterfreund, "The Politics of 'Neutral Space' in Byron's Vision of Judgment," Modern Language Quarterly 40, no. 3 (1979): 275-91.

(14.) Bentham, "The Elements of the Art of Packing, as Applied to Special Juries, Particularly in the Case of Libel Law," in The Works of Jeremy Bentham, ed. John Bowring (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1995), 5:66.

(15.) William Wickwar, The Struggle for the Freedom of the Press, 1819-1832 (New York: Johnson Reprint Corp., 1972), 46-47.

(16.) "A Treatise on the Offence of Libel," Edinburgh Review 22, no. 43 (1813): 73; "Sir Francis Burdett," The Times, February 13, 1821. All articles from The Times are available through The Times Digital Archive,

(17.) "Trial of Joseph Swann," The Times, January 22, 1820.

(18.) "Varieties, Literary and Philosophical," The Monthly Magazine 54, no. 376 (January 1823): 538.

(19.) Trial of William Vamplue, February 1822, Old Bailey Proceedings Online, www (U8220220-125), accessed 6 January 2014; William Hone, "Trial by Jury and the Liberty of the Press," in The Three Trials of William Hone (London: William Hone, 1818), 12.

(20.) Wade, The Black Book (London: John Fairburn, 1820), 333.

(21.) Gilmartin, Print Politics: The Press and Radical Opposition in Early Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 115.

(22.) "The King v. Richard Carlile," The Times, October 12, 1819.

(23.) "The Trial of Sir Francis Burdett," The Times, March 24, 1820.

(24.) "The King v. William Hone," The Times, December 19, 1817; "Carlile's Trial for Publishing Palmer's 'Principles of Nature,"' The Times, October 16, 1819; "Trial of Joseph Shaw for Libel," The Times, January 29, 1820; "The King v. Harvey and Chapman," The Times, November 10, 1823.

(25.) "'The Vision of Judgment'--The King v. Hunt," The Times, January 16, 1824.

(26.) "The King v. John Hunt," The Times, February 22, 1821.

(27.) "The King v. Davidson," The Times, October 24, 1820.

(28.) "Protest Against the Passing of the Newspaper Stamp Bill," The Morning Chronicle, December 31, 1819.

(29.) "Trial of Hugh Fitzpatrick for a Libel," Reports of State Trials 31 (1813): 1190-91.

(30.) Gilmartin, Print Politics, 115.

(31.) "The King v. James Williams," The Times, November 26, 1817; "The King v. Mann," The Times, March 20, 1820; "Rex v. Blacow, Clerk," The Times, September 17, 1821; "The King v. Mary Ann Carlile," The Times, November 16, 1821.

(32.) "Lord Charles Spencer Churchill v. Hunt," The Times, June 3, 1819; "Carlile's Trial--Third Day," The Times, October 15, 1819.

(33.) "The King against Harvey and Chapman, 1823" in Reports of State Trials: New Series (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1889), 2:6.

(34.) "The Trial of Sir Francis Burdett, 1820," in Reports of State Trials, 2:15.

(35.) "The King against Harvey and Chapman," 2:34.

(36.) "Political Libel--The King v. J. H. Brandis," The Times, August 3, 1820.

(37.) Clive Emsley, "An Aspect of Pitt's 'Terror': Prosecutions for Sedition during the 1790s," Social History 6, no. 2 (1981): 169.

(38.) "Death of the Trial by Jury in Cases of Alleged Libel," The Black Dwarf 1, no. 45 (December 3, 1817): 736-41; "Packing of Special Juries," The Black Dwarf 10, no. 23 (June 4, 1823): 789-98; Thomas Wooler, An Appeal to the Citizens of London Against the Alleged Lawful Mode of Packing Special Juries (London: T. J. Wooler, 1817).

(39.) Bentham, "The Elements of the Art of Packing," 76.

(40.) "Seditious Libel," The Times, January 22, 1820; "King v. Sarah Hough," The Times, January 29, 1820.

(41.) Thomas Wooler, A Verbatim Report of the Two Trials of Mr. T.J. Wooler (London: T. J. Wooler, 1817), 104.

(42.) "Sir Francis Burdett," The Times, February 13, 1821.

(43.) "A Treatise on the Offence of Libel," 72.

(44.) "A Treatise on the Offence of Libel," 74.

(45.) Byron's Letters and Journals, ed. Leslie A. Marchand (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 1:102; see also 1:91, 1:241, 3:29, 3:38-39, 4:150, 7:144, 10:124. Subsequent citations to this work are cited in the text as BLJ.

(46.) In fact, William Hone had published his own parody of Southey's Vision, entitled "A New Vision, by Robert Southey Esq!," more than a year before Byron's Vision appeared in print.

(47.) Schock, '"I will war, at least in words,"' 95.

(48.) See Andrew Rutherford, Byron: A Critical Study (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1961), 235; Ian Jack, English Literature, 1815-1832 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), 75.

(49.) See Cochran, "The Vision of Blasphemous Judgement," 49--50.

(50.) Ruppert, "Byron's Idea of Tolerance," 143.

(51.) Robert Southey, A Vision of Judgement (London: Longman, 1821), 2.

(52.) Beaty, Byron the Satirist (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1985), 192.

(53.) Thomson, "In my Turn," 527. Though he does not expand on the implications of the form, Beaty is one of the few critics to discuss the poem as a "legal procedure" (Byron the Satirist, 186).

(54.) While the heavenly setting of the poem implies that the case will be ultimately adjudicated by God, it is nonetheless significant that the trial involves no jury. Though radical writers often complained about packed juries and special juries, nearly all writers (from a wide political range) continued to champion the jury--when properly constituted--as a "palladium" of British liberty ("Trial by Jury," The Times, November 12, 1809). A slogan at many meetings and assemblies on legal and parliamentary reform, "Trial by Jury" was widely celebrated (figuratively and sometimes literally) as the foundation of the judicial system. As such, it is not surprising that Byron excludes this institution from his sweeping parody. In fact, the absence of a jury emphasizes the role played by readers of the poem, who are repeatedly encouraged to judge for themselves--to act as the jury. This dynamic manifests not only in the conspicuous ambiguity of the conclusion, but in the moral ambiguity, theological uncertainty, and parenthetical heteroglossia of the poetic voice, a voice that, unlike Southey's, never asks the reader simply to "judge with [his] judgment" (802). Unlike contemporary libel trials, which regularly cited the attitude of the "average reader," The Vision refuses to reduce the heterogeneity of the people to a jury or a phrase. In this way, Byron both affirms the decisive importance of public opinion and maintains the prohibitive multiplicity of "the people."

(55.) Kelsall, Byron's Politics, 126.

(56.) Cochran, Byron and Bob, 178.

(57.) "The Morning Chronicle," The Morning Chronicle, April 20, 1810; "Middlesex Meeting," The Morning Post, April 27, 1810; "The Liberty of the Press," The Belfast News-Letter, July 28, 1829.

(58.) Kelsall, Byron's Politics, 128.

(59.) Kelsall, Byron's Politics, 141.

(60.) Kelsall, Byron's Politics, 141.

(61.) William Shakespeare, "Sonnets," in The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1974), 55:1-2.

(62.) See "The Trial of Sir Francis Burdett," The Times, March 24, 1820.
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