One matter in connection with the publication of the Town Crier may be mentioned as being curious, and perhaps a little surprising. It is this: that during the many years that the paper was conducted by its original promoters it steered clear of libel actions. In only one case was an action even threatened, and this was disposed of by an accepted little explanation and apology. We often used to hear rumours that Alderman, Councillor, or Mr. Somebody intended wreaking vengeance upon writers who had belaboured or ridiculed him; but these threats ended in nothing, and the first proprietors of the Town Crier never had to pay even a farthing damages as the result of law proceedings. This is something to record, because papers of a satirical character necessarily sail pretty close to the wind in the way of provoking touchy people to fly to law to soothe their wounded feelings and pay out their supposed persecutors.
I confess I often used to shiver slightly in my shoes when I considered the possible consequences of what I myself and others had written in the Town Crier. The law of libel is a wide-spreading net, anything that brings a man into ridicule or contempt or damages him in his trade or profession being libellous. To criticize adversely a painter, actor, or singer is necessarily damaging, and is really a libel, but to sustain an action real damage must be proved, or it must be shown that malice and ill-will have prompted the objectionable adverse opinions. But, as we know, there are certain pettifogging men of law who are ever ready to encourage people to bring actions for libel for the mere sake of getting damages. I believe I have thus stated the case correctly, but I am not a “limb of the law,” not even an amputated limb, or a law student. I speak from what I have seen in the Libel Acts and in the judgments I have read. Having been one of the Press gang for many years, I have never thought my liberties quite safe, and have often felt that any day I might be brought up to the bar for judgment. But I escaped, even when I was writing for the Town Crier, and have escaped since. But let me not boast. Before these lines are read my ordinary clothes may be required of me.
On the shelves of my small library are some bound volumes of the early numbers of the Birmingham Town Crier, in which are some pencil marks. If I should sooner or later have to retire to live en pension at Winson Green, or at the Bromsgrove or other Union, I hope to be able to take these cherished books with me to look at from time to time, and to keep green my memory of past pleasant days.
ITS VARIED AND ODD TRADES.