The Ashburton Guardian. COUNTY AGRICULTURAL & SPORTING RECORDER TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 1880.
For a week past the chief topic of talk in every coterie in the county has been the charge of libel preferred by Mr. E. G. Crisp, solicitor, against Mr. Joseph Ivess, proprietor of the “Ashburton Mail.” Wliile the case was pending, of course, it was not our place to make any remark one way or other on the subject. The case is decided so far as the Resident Magistrate is concerned, and will probably now go before a higher Court. We are not surprised at this result, nor will we be surprised to learn, when the case comes before the Supreme Court, that the judgment is adverse to the defendant. Still, to a great extent Mr. Ivess is entitled to public sympathy. According to his lights, he pounced upon what he believed to be a great wrong to the public, and, as out of the fullness of the heart the mouth speaketh, so we may measure the depths of Mr. Ivess’ feeling by the strength of his language. Possibly the strength of his feelings caused the promptness with which he moved in the matter of Miss Callaghan’s letter, but it is never safe to utter judgment against a man until a fair chance has been given to the supposed offender to clear himself, and the full facts of the case are available. In Mx*. Crisp’s case, at the first blush, and supposing that the £IOO salary he received covered all costs, there was an apparent reason for any defaulting ratepayer feeling indignant when a charge for a letter making the demand was made in addition to the rates he owed. We confess to having ourselves thought there was something out of joint when we first heard of the charge, for the understanding around the Council table seemed to be that the salary paid to their solicitor covered all costs. But then we knew Mr. Crisp, and believed him to be a gentleman, and so waited until he should explain his conduct to the Council before we delivered om-selves upon it. We had the same chance to attack Mr. Crisp that the “Mail” had, axxd the same reason for that matter, but chose to be more cautious and more just, and gave the Boi-ough Solicitor that fair play which every man is entitled to. The “ Mail” did not do so, and the x'esult is a charge of libel. The evidence given in the case goes to show that Mr. Crisp was only acting as any other solicitor would have acted under the circumstances, and the blame lies less with him, if any lies with him at all, than with the Borough Council, the terms of whose contract were not clear enough as to what charges were to be made by the solicitor they engaged. We pass over the fact elicited in Court that Mr. Ivess helped to stir up the question by injudicious meddling, in concocting Miss Callaghan’s letter to the Council, and ho thus, to a certain extent, laid himself open to a charge of hunting up an opportunity to make the attack out of which all the proceedings have arisen. We oxxly hope this little escapade will be a lesson to him that it is a difficult thing to combine the position of a fair journalist and a consistent public man. To be a journalist worthy of the name a man requires unflinching pluck, and the courage of his own opinions, but to these be must rt dd, if he would command the respect rt his constituents, prudence and caution and a kind toleratioxx of those who honestly differ from him in opinion. When he has a wrong to redress—provided he has found out that a real wrong exists—he must attack that wrong and the perpetrators of it, fearing not a man because of his position and influence, but boldly defending the right, and if he admits of any respect of persons at all, his leaning ought to be to the side of the weak. He ought to slxow due respect for constituted authority, but when constituted authority makes a palpable error, or is guilty of a wilful wrong, his pen should know no stint compatible with the language of a gentleman, and his denunciation should be as vigorous as fair and square criticism will allow. The press is perhaps the greatest power in modern civilisation, and while its freedom is assured tfie liberty of the subject will be well conserved; but while its liberty makes it an all-potent power for good, that liberty run mad and degenerating into license will change it into an equally potent agency of evil. It is well that all liberty is bounded by the law that keeps it within the region of liberty, and out of that of license, otherwise we should soon have reason to wish for less liberty. This laiv of libel which has just been put in operation against Mr. Ivess is the barrier civilisation has put between the liberty of
the press and the license of the press—and we never hear that law attacked until it has been put in motion. But the man who knows he is right, and- knows it because he has left no means of proof untried, will seldom have cause to fear the law of libel, if he attacks a wrong-doer courageously, yet honorably and temperately, after due search for and elicitation of the truth.
In our issue of this morning Mr. Ivess tenders an apology to Mr. Harry Friedlander for the charges he brought against him in the article out of which the libel case now pending arose. The apology is full and unreserved, and doubtless will be satisfactory to Mr. Friedhinder. Surely the case between Mr. Crisp and Mr. Ivess might be settled in the same way, for there is no necessity whatever that the aid of the Supreme Court should be called in to settle the case. The glorious uncertainties of law may perhaps clear Mr. Ivess before the higher Court, while the same uncertainties may commit him to prison. Under any circumstances both lie and Mr. Crisp have been put to much trouble, and will be put to more should the case go on, while a host of witnesses, heartily sick of the case already, will be required to waste still more time over it. And we think all could be and no honor lost to Mr. Ivess, could he and Mr. Crisp settle the case as between them in the way it has been settled as between Mr. Ivess and Mr. Friedlander. Mr. Crisp is not the good hearted man we have always known him if he refuses to be content with an apology now that the case has been heard before the R,M.
In another column will be found a letter signed “ Ratepayer,” .on the subject of the proposed division of the Longbeach district into Wards. We agree with a great deal of what our correspondent states. To begin with, the ratepayers about Waterton and Wheatstone did not elect only their own men until their spending power had come nearly to an end, the great bulk of the large Government grants having by that time been expended. As to “Ratepayer’s” complaint of the dry land having to pay for making drains in the Longbeach swamp, there is some modicum of truth in it. The Longbeach swamps cover a very large area of country, the dry lands comparatively little. All the roads necessary for the dry land have long ago been made. There is not a landowner between the the Ashburton and Hinds on the shingly land who has not a well formed road on the frontage to his section ; but there is a tremendous acreage of swamp which is as yet inaccessible. “ Ratepayer ” appears to consider that the expenditure of the Road Board money in drainage is a misappropriation of funds, but it is far from it. It is, in fact, one of the Boards most important duties to see to the proper drainage of roads. And the dry districts of Longbeach have certainly no right to find fault with their share of the expenditure. The Great South road, a large portion of Graham’s, Ford’s, the Longbeach, Winslow, and other roads, are certainly in the dry district, and have cost a good round sum of money ; and, chain for chain, we do not think the cost in a large number of instances has varied to any considerable extent. So far as our correspondent’s complaint as to the assessment is concerned, we must agree with him ; but as the assessor has had his roll condemned, and has been ordered to prepare a fresh one, it would bo premature to pass a judgment on a document still in embryo ; besides, “Ratepayer” lias the Rating Act to guide him as to the proper method of lodging appeals, if he considers he is charged too much or his neighbor too little. As to the contemplated movement in the direction of still further dividing the district, we have already expressed our opinions on the inadvisableness of that course. The Longbeach Road District as at present constituted is paying a good salary for a clerk and surveyor, who, to say the least of it, can have very little to do, seeing that no contracts are in existence. There is no money to spend, and if a split takes place it will only lead to the appointment of another officer to shave the duties of the present one, while additional buildings and office expenditure will be required.