An Italian, who was indicted for the wilful Murder of Evan Morgan, and acquitted
AT the sessions held at the Old Bailey in November, 1769, Mr Baretti was brought to his trial, for the murder of Evan Morgan, on the 6th of October preceding; when the substance of the evidence against him was to the following effect.
Elizabeth Ward deposed, that, between nine and ten at night on the 6th of October, she heard a woman, whom she had never seen before, ask the prisoner to give her a glass of wine, and at the same time take hold of him in a manner inconsistent with decency: -- that the prisoner proceeded forward, but, soon turning back, doubled his fist and struck this deponent a violent blow on the face: -- that, on her screaming out, three men came up, and demanded 'how he could strike a woman,' and, shoving him once or twice, pushed him off the pavement. At this time, she said, Baretti drew a knife, while the men followed him, calling out 'Murder! he has a knife out!' and this deponent believed that the deceased was stabbed at this juncture.
The deposition of Thomas Patman was to the following effect. That he had been in company with a Mr Clark and the deceased on the night abovementioned; that he saw Mr Baretti strike a woman, whom he did not know, on the head; and, on her screaming out, Morgan and Clark pushed Patman, though not with much violence, against Baretti, who gave him a blow on the left side, in consequence of which the blood ran down into his shoe: -- that he then called out he was stabbed; that Baretti retreated; that Morgan followed him about half-way up Panton Street, where Morgan received a wound from the prisoner in Patman's presence, in consequence of which he fell to the ground.
The testimony of John Clark confirmed, in several particulars, that of the preceding evidence; but, on his being cross-examined, he acknowledged that Patman did not know he was stabbed till Mr Baretti ran into Panton Street. He likewise owned, that himself had sworn before the coroner, 'that Morgan collared Baretti before he knew Patman was wounded; and that one of the women said the prisoner ought to have a knock over the head with her patten.'
The evidence of Mr Lambert, a tallow-chandler in Panton Street, was to the following effect. He said, that Mr Baretti ran into a grocer's shop, opposite his house; that Patman was standing at the door, with the blood running down his shirt, and said that a gentleman in the shop had stabbed him. Mr Baretti had at that time a knife in one hand, and a silver case over the blade, which was bloody. Mr Lambert, who at that time was in the office of constable, called to Baretti to surrender, and, immediately running towards him, seized him, and took him into custody, in order to convey him before a magistrate.
Morgan having been carried to the Middlesex-hospital, one of the patients, who had been there at the time, declared, that he had heard the deceased say, that he saw a gentleman assault two women; on which, without intending to give offence, he went to assist them; when Baretti stabbed him in two places, and that he then turned round, and stabbed him a third time; and that the third wound hurt him more than the two former.
The testimony of Mr Wyatt, the surgeon who attended Morgan, imported, that the deceased had received three wounds, one of which, being in the belly, was the immediate occasion of his death. He farther said, that, while he was dressing Patman, Clark being present, and enquiring into what gave rise to the misfortune, Clark said, that they saw a gentleman abusing a lady who was acquainted with Morgan; that Morgan pushed Clark against Patman, and that Clark pushed him against the prisoner; that he was not struck by either of them, but he believed the woman damned him for a French bougre, and said he ought to have his head cloven with a patten.
A short time after this, Mr Wyatt demanded of Clark whether the woman was of his acquaintance; and he replied in the negative, and then denied that she was even acquainted with Morgan; though, not more than two minutes before, he had confessed that she was.
This being the substance of the evidence on the trial, Mr Baretti read the following defence, which will probably be deemed to give more insight into the real state of the case, than all that has preceded it.
'On Friday the 6th I spent the whole day at home, correcting my Italian and English dictionary, which is actually reprinting and working off; and upon another book in four volumes, which is to be published in February next, and has been advertised in the newspapers. I went a little after four to the club of royal academicians in Soho, where I stopped about half an hour, waiting for my friends, and warming myself in the club-room.
'Upon nobody's coming, I went to the Orange coffee house, to see if a letter was come for me (for my letters come there) but there was none. I went back to go to the club, and going hastily up the Haymarket, there was a woman at a door: they say there were two, but I took notice of but one, as I hope God will save me; there might have been two, though I only saw one; that is a fact. There was a woman eight or ten yards from the corner of Panton Street, and she clapped her hands with such violence about my private parts, that it gave me great pain. This I instantly resented, by giving her a blow on the hand, with a few angry words. The woman got up directly, raised her voice, and finding by my pronunciation I was a foreigner, she called me several bad names, in a most contumelious strain; among which, French bougre, d--ned Frenchman, and a woman-hater, were the most audible.
'I had not quite turned the corner, before a man made me turn back, by giving me a blow with his fist, and asking me how I dare strike a woman; another pushed him against me, and pushed me off the pavement; then three or four more joined them. I wonder I did not fall from the high step which is there. The pathway is much raised from the coachway. A great number of people surrounded me presently, many beating me, and all d--ning me on every side, in a most frightful manner. I was a Frenchman in their opinion, which made me apprehensive I must expect no favour nor protection, but all outrage and blows.
'There is generally a great puddle in the corner of Panton street, even when the weather is fine; but that day it had rained incessantly, which made it very slippery. I could plainly perceive my assailants wanted to throw me into the puddle, where I might be trampled on; so I cried out, murder! There was a space in the circle, from whence I ran into Panton Street, and endeavoured to get into the footway. I was in the greatest horror, lest I should run against some stones, as I have such bad eyes. I could not run so fast as my pursuers, so that they were upon me, continually beating and pushing me, some of them attempting to catch me by the hair-tail: if this had happened, I had been certainly a lost man. I cannot absolutely fix the time and place where I first struck. I remember, somewhere in Panton Street I gave a quick blow to one who beat off my hat with his fist.
'When I was in Oxendon Street, fifteen or sixteen yards from the Haymarket, I stopped, and faced about. My confusion was great, and seeing a shop open, I ran into it for protection, quite spent with fatigue. I am certainly sorry for the man; but he owed his death to his own daring impetuosity. Three then came into the shop, one of them cried to me to surrender myself to him, who was a constable. I asked them if they were honest men, and friends; they said yes. I put up my knife, desired them to arrest me, begged they would send for a coach, and take me to Sir John Fielding.
'I appeal to them how I behaved when I surrendered, and how thankful I was for their kind protection. Sir John heard what I and the men had to say. They sent me into a room below, from whence I dispatched a man to the club in Gerrard Street, when Sir Joshua Reynolds and other gentlemen came to me.
'A messenger was dispatched to the Middlesex hospital, where they said Morgan was carried. A surgeon came, and took his oath that Morgan was in danger. Sir John committed me to Tothill-fields-bridewell. Two gentlemen, as well as the constable, can witness to my behaviour when the coachman lost his way, which forced us to alight in the mire and darkness, in order to find the way to Tothill-fields bridewell. I humbly conceive this will shew I had no intention of escaping. That woeful night I passed without rest.
'My face had been observed to be hurt, while I was at Sir John Fielding's; and the constable was the first who took notice of a blow I had received on my chin. But when the heat and fear had subsided, I found a great pain in divers parts of my body. Mr Molini and Mr Low, being with me, desired me to let them see what was the matter with my back, which I complained of. I stripped, and they saw several bruises.
'This, my lord and gentlemen of the jury, is the best account I can give of my unfortunate accident: for what is done in two or three minutes, in fear and terror, is not to be minutely described; and the court and the jury are to judge. I hope your lordship, and every person present, will think that a man of my age, character, and way of life, would not spontaneously quit my pen, to engage in an outrageous tumult. I hope it will easily be conceived that a man almost blind could not but be seized with terror on such a sudden attack as this. I hope it will be seen that my knife was neither a weapon of offence or defence; I wear it to carve fruit and sweatmeats, and not to kill my fellow-creatures.
'It is a general custom in France not to put knives upon the table, so that even ladies wear them in their pockets for general use. I have continued to wear it after my return, because I have found it occasionally convenient. Little did I think such an event would ever have happened. Let this trial turn out as favourable as my innocence may deserve, still my regret will endure as long as life shall last.
'A man who has lived full fifty years, and spent most of that time in a studious manner, I hope, will not be supposed to have voluntarily engaged in so desperate an affair. I beg leave, my lord and gentlemen, to add one thing more. Equally confident of my own innocence, and English discernment to trace out truth, I did resolve to waive the privilege granted to foreigners by the laws of this kingdom: nor was my motive a compliment to this nation: my motive was my life and honour; that it should not be thought I received undeserved favour from a jury, part my own country. I chose to be tried by a jury of this country; for, if my honour is not saved, I cannot much wish for the preservation of my life. I will wait for the determination of this awful court with that confidence, I hope, which inno cence has a right to obtain. So God bless you all.'
Several gentlemen now appeared in behalf of Mr Baretti; among whom, Mr Lambert proved that he had received a blow, that his hat was lost, and that his face was swelled.
Mr Molini swore that, on the day after the affray, he had observed a swelling on Mr Baretti's cheek, and several bruises on his back and shoulder; and Mr Low deposed, that, when he visited Mr Baretti in prison, he had seen six or seven bruises on different parts of his body.
Justice Kelynge, major Alderton, and Mr Petrin, deposed, that some abandoned women, attended by bullies, had severally attacked them in an indelicate way in the Haymarket.
To the character of Mr Baretti appeared Sir Joshua Reynolds, doctor Johnson, Mr Fitzherbert, and Edmund Burke, esquire, all of whom represented him as a man of benevolence, sobriety, modesty, and learning. The honourable Mr Beauclerk, Mr Garrick, and Mr Molini, all confirmed this testimony, adding, that persons who travel in foreign countries are accustomed to carry such knives as that which had been unhappily made use of by the prisoner.
After considering the whole matter, the jury acquitted Mr Baretti of murder and manslaughter, and gave a verdict of 'Self-defence.'
This case of Mr Baretti may be deemed one of the extraordinary kind. It seems evident, from the depositions made on his trial, and from the substance of his defence, that he had been assaulted by people of abandoned character; but the question is, whether he had a right to defend himself with such a weapon as he made use of; however, we shall not presume to decide on this question, as the jury solemnly determined that he had, by the verdict they gave.
Mr Baretti's character was of the utmost service to him on this solemn occasion. His learning, his connexions, his disposition, were all of the highest importance to him; and though the alledged crime was no less than murder, we well remember that he was bailed by four gentlemen of distinguished character; so that he did not lay in Newgate even a single hour.
His generous refusal to accept of the usual favour of being tried by a jury composed of an equal number of foreigners with Englishmen, furnishes an admirable proof of his disdain of taking any advantage; nor is it a small presumptive proof of his innocence: and his declaration that his regret would endure as long as life should last, though the trial should turn out as favourably as innocence might deserve, is greatly in favour of his humanity: and indeed no man of liberal feelings can have been even the accidental occasion of the death of a fellow creature, without sincerely lamenting the misfortune.
The people of this country may wonder that Mr Baretti, an Italian by birth, should make his defence in such correct English: but it is to be remembered, that he had lived long among us, had studied our language with critical attention, and wrote it with a degree of purity scarce ever equalled by a Foreigner; to whom the English language, of all others, is said to be the most difficult of acquisition.
Upon the whole, this inference should be drawn from the present case:-- those who would consult their own safety should avoid giving offence to others in the streets. The casual passenger has, at least, a right to pass unmolested; and he or she that may insult him cannot deserve pity, whatever consequences may follow.
Foreign gentlemen, however, should consider, that the best method of escaping the fury of a mob is to take shelter in the first house they may see open: there are few people who could be so hard of heart as not to afford them protec tion; and we must think, for the honour of our country, that the generality would protect them against their assailants.
The number of abandoned women, who infest the streets of the metropolis every evening, are in some measure to be pitied; but, when they add insult to indecent application, they ought to be punished with the utmost severity. But what must those men think of themselves, whose seductive arts have reduced women to a state so deplorable? If they have any sensibility left, horror and remorse must seize their minds: yet, however great their sufferings, they are not deserving of pity.-- Violators of all the laws of honour, they have no claim to our compassion!