This article investigates the construction of the legal subject in narratives from the London treason trials of 1794. John Hillier, John Martin, Thomas Holcroft, Rev. Jeremiah Joyce, and John Thelwall, all of whom were accused of treason, wrote narratives describing their arrests, imprisonments and, finally, acquittals. Sitting at the intersection of law and literature, these narratives usurp authority from a legal system in crisis and use the opportunity to shape juridical subjectivity. Since much of the concern of the defense in the trials was to assert rational analysis in response to the wild imaginings of the court, it is no surprise that the figure of the legal subject presented by the accused is, in part, a solidly rational one. But perhaps less predictable and more significant is the inclusion of sensibility, especially as a source of agency for reform. Each of the accused asserts himself as a sympathetic figure, capable of compassion for others, and gleans authority from this emotional strength. The accused forge an alliance between emotion and the law that moves beyond the rhetorical pathos of a trial and surfaces in the new guardian of the law: the figure of civility.
Johnson, Nancy E.
"Fashioning the Legal Subject: Narratives from the London Treason Trials of 1794,"
3, Article 6.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/ecf/vol21/iss3/6
Nancy E. Johnson is an associate professor in the Department of English at the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is the author of The English Jacobin Novel on Rights, Property and the Law: Critiquing the Contract (2004).