"This is an important, but not a difficult case. The plaintiff sues the defendant under _the law of England_ for falsely imprisoning him in a madhouse. The imprisonment is admitted, and the sufferings of the plaintiff not disputed. The question is, whether he was insane at the time of the act? Now, I must tell you, that in a case of this kind, it lies upon the defendant to prove the plaintiff's insanity, rather than on the plaintiff to prove his own sanity. Has the defendant overcome this difficulty? Illusion is the best proof of insanity; and a serious endeavour was certainly made to fasten an illusion on the plaintiff about a sum of L. 14,000. But the proof was weak, and went partly on an assumption that all error is hallucination; this is illusory, and would, if acted on, set one half the kingdom imprisoning the other half; and after all, they did not demonstrate that the plaintiff was _in error._ They advanced no _undeniable proof_ that Mr. Richard Hardie has not embezzled this L. 14,000. I don't say it was proved on the other hand that he did embezzle that sum. Richard Hardie sueing Alfred Hardie for libel on this evidence might possibly obtain a verdict; for then the burden of proof would lie on Alfred Hardie; but here it lies on those who say he is insane. The fact appears to be that the plaintiff imbibed a reasonable suspicion of his own father's integrity; it was a suspicion founded on evidence, imperfect, indeed, but of a sound character as far as it went. There had been a letter from Captain Dodd to his family, announcing his return with L. 14,000 upon him, and, while as yet unaware of this letter, the plaintiff heard David Dodd accuse Richard Hardie of possessing improperly L. 14,000, the identical sum. At least, he swears to this, and as Richard Hardie was not called to contradict him, you are at liberty to suppose that Richard Hardie had some difficulty in contradicting him on oath. Here, then, true or false, was a rational suspicion, and every man has a right to a rational suspicion of his neighbour, and even to utter it within due limits; and, if he overstep those, the party slandered has his legal remedy; but if he omits his legal remedy, and makes an attempt of doubtful legality not to confute, but to stifle, the voice of reasonable suspicion, shrewd men will suspect all the more. But then comes a distinct and respectable kind of evidence for the defendant; he urges that the plaintiff was going to sign away his property to his wife's relations. Now, this was proved, and a draft of the deed put in and sworn to. This taken singly has a very extraordinary look. Still, you must consider the plaintiff's reasonable suspicion that money belonging to the Dodds had passed irregularly to the Hardies, and then the wonder is diminished. Young and noble minds have in every age done generous, self-denying, and delicate acts. The older we get, the less likely we are to be incarcerated for a crime of this character; but we are not to imprison youth and chivalry merely because we have outgrown them. To go from particulars to generals, the defendant, on whom the proof lies, has advanced hearsay and conjecture, and not put their originators into the box. The plaintiff, on whom the proof does not lie, has advanced abundant evidence that he was sane at the time of his incarceration: this was proved to demonstration by friends, strangers, and by himself." Here the judge analysed the testimony of several of the plaintiff's witnesses.
"As to the parties themselves, it is curious how they impersonated, so to speak, their respective lines of argument. The representative of evidence and sound reasoning, though accused of insanity, was precise, frank, rational and dignified in the witness-box; and I think you must have noticed his good temper. The party, who relied on hearsay and conjecture, was as feeble as they are; he was almost imbecile, as you observed; and, looking at both parties, it really seems monstrous that the plaintiff should be the one confined as a lunatic, and the defendant allowed to run wild and lock up his intellectual superiors. If he means to lock them _all_ up, even you and I are hardly safe. (Laughter.) The only serious question, I apprehend, is on what basis the damages ought to be assessed. The plaintiffs counsel has made a powerful appeal to your passions, and calls for vengeance. Now I must tell you, you have no right to make yourselves ministers of vengeance, nor even to punish the defendant, in a suit of the kind: still less ought you to strike the defendant harder than you otherwise would--in the vague hope of punishing indirectly the true mover of the defendant and the other puppets. I must warn you against that suggestion of the learned counsel's. If the plaintiff wants vengeance, the criminal law offers it. He comes here, not for vengeance, but for compensation, and restoration to that society which he is every way fitted to adorn. More than this--and all our sympathies--it is not for us to give him. But then the defendant's counsel went too far the other way. His client, he says, is next door to an idiot, and so, forsooth, his purse must be spared entirely. This is all very well if it could be done without ignoring the plaintiff and his just claim to compensation. Why, if the defendant, instead of being weak-minded, were an idiot or a lunatic, it would protect him from punishment as a felon, but not from damages in a suit. A sane man is not to be falsely imprisoned by a lunatic without full compensation from the lunatic or his estate: _a fortiori,_ he is not to be so imprisoned by a mere fool without just compensation. Supposing your verdict, then, to be for the plaintiff, I think vindictive damages would be unfair, on this feeble defendant, who has acted recklessly, but under an error, and without malice, or bad faith. On the other hand, nominal or even unsubstantial damages would be unjust to the plaintiff; and perhaps leave in some minds a doubt that I think you do not yourselves entertain, as to the plaintiff's perfect sanity during the whole period of his life."
As soon as his lordship had ended, the foreman of the jury said their minds were quite made up long ago.
"We find for the plaintiff, with damages three thousand pounds."
The verdict was received with some surprise by the judge, and all the lawyers except Mr. Colt, and by the people with acclamation; in the midst of which Mr. Colt announced that the plaintiff had just gained his first class at Oxford. "I wish him joy," said the judge.
THE verdict was a thunder-clap to Richard Hardie: he had promised Thomas to bear him blameless. The Old Turks, into which he had bought at 72, were down to 71, and that implied a loss of five thousand pounds. On the top of all this came Mr. Compton's letter neatly copied by Colls: Richard Hardie was doubly and trebly ruined.
Then in his despair and hate he determined to baffle them all, ay, and sting the hearts of some of them once more.
He would give Peggy his last shilling; write a line to Alfred, another to Julia, assuring them he had no money, and they had killed him. And with that leave them both the solemn curse of a dying father, and then kill himself.