The Law of Libel

'Perhaps the belief was true, but not the rumour.
Possibly belief and rumour were unfounded. But is it
so great a sin in a public journal to lend voice to the
people, etc? Where the absolute verity is nearly impossible
of attainment by the instituted tribunals, how much
more so by the poor journalist! He can only go upon
the rumour and the proof of rumour ought to absolve
him in court'. Comment of a Native paper
on a recent libel-suit. 

 To the State of Kot-Kumharsen where the wild dacoits abound, 
And the Barons live in castles on the hills,
Where the tiger and the cactus in alternate streaks are found, 
And the Raja cannot meet his monthly bills,
Where the Agent' Sahib Bahadur shoots the black-buck for his larder
From the tonga which he uses as machan,
Babar Bunkum Bandar Bose took his Harrilds and his Hoes, 
And proprieted the Bewaquf Tufan.

'Twas a paper for the masses who were nearly all Hindu, 
With a taint of touchy Thakur fighting blood;
'Twas a journal dealing largely with affairs that were not true,
And  disseminating ill-considered mud.
'Twas a pukka  People's issue, 'twas a four-page pica  tissue 
Of turtle-headed infants' ghouls and djinns,
And aspersions sepia brown on the mullah   of the town, 
And a record of the Agent's grosser sins.

It was read by all the Nation for a range of eighty miles,
It was studied in the only Middle School,
It exposed with crushing irony the Viceroy's many wiles 
And it always praised the King's 'enlightened rule'. 
For the silky-soft Diwan bought that Bewaquf Tufan
At a price beyond its market-value far,
And the Raja privy purse would the proper funds disburse 
When the Babu brought his nuzzer  to durbar.

So it cursed per M.A. Standard once a week, with monthly pauses 
For Dewali, Christmas Day and Durga Pujah,
And it published paper State reform in annotated clauses, 
And it yearly found its State subvention huger;
And the public puzzle-headed read its pica double-leaded, 
And talked of Kali Yugas and nukshan
For it printed all the rumours of administrative tumours 
And corruption did the Bewaquf Tufan.

Yea, it cursed the shining Agent as it cursed the British Raj, 
And it pounded every Viceroy into jelly,
And it swore the Public Works had slain a porker  in the Taj,
And shut the Jumma Masjid' up at Delhi;
And the yarns of want and war that it learned in the bazar
Were duly reproduced with running notes, 
But since the mild Diwan held the Bewaquf Tufan
It was death against the Barons owning votes.

But a noble sense of duty brought about the final smash, 
When a heavy falling-off among the readers
Led the silky sweet Diwan to haggle hotly o'er the cash, 
And suggest increased empressement in the leaders, 
For unlucky Bander Bose with a dripping pen arose
And stated (which was truth or very near)
Neither Pharphar nor Abana filled the Raja Sahib's Zenana, 
But he kidnapped wives within the British sphere.

'Twas the gossip of the City, it demanded cess unstinted, 
'Twas a duty half the Court had tried to fill,
It was truer than the rumour of the previous week that hinted 
At a Native–State–annexatory bill;
But that flossy–mild Diwan dropped the Bewaquf Tufan,
As we drop the pail of thrice–defiling tar,
And, since British law obtains but in British ruled domains, 
Said the Raja of the journal briefly,  'Mar!'

Woe is me for Habeas Corpus or a trial by jury­— 
Or the lesser risk of Judge and one appeal!
There was laughter 'mong the Barons—in the Raja's heart was fury—
In the Palace yard the clink of spur and steel;
And the Harrild and the Hoe heard the howl of' Birchee do!   
As the lean Mahratta lances raised the thatch;
And I grieve to say that same broke in twenty points of flame 
Through the medium of a common sulphur match.

So they fused, with execrations, quite a hundred pounds of plant,
And they hunted for the Staff without avail,
For the Journal to the Border made a record–cutting slant 
Till his women (under torture) showed his trail.
Then that Raja's Bodyguard rode relentlessly and hard, 
And they caught him, half a mile from British ground,
And the gentle thanda pench   with a double–action kench
Made him swoon and juice of chillies brought him round.

Then the Barons from their castles and the Raja from his throne 
Descended to elucidate the point
As to subtler forms of libel and the less obtrusive bone 
That a knee and rope and charpoy may disjoint.
'Curse not the King in bed for a bird shall tell', they said, 
'And specially avoid the use of print.'
And that unreported trial was succeeded by a phial 
Of mustard oil, a Kobiraf' and lint.

Now the Harrild and the Hoe are lying still at Kot-Kumharsen, 
The ashes of the office thatch among,
And since the lyric stage no more can count on David Carson,
I have ventured to compose this little song.
 How the law of libel runs under British flags and guns, 
Is a blot that every litho slang-sheet knows:
How that self-same law obtains in a petty King's domains 
Must be patent now to Bunkum Bander Bose.