Libel, * libellus, criminal law. A malicious defamation expressed either in printing or writing, or by signs or pictures, tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, with intent to provoke the living; or the reputation of one who is alive, and to expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule. Hawk. b. 1, c. 73, s. 1; Wood's Inst, 444; 4 Bl. Com. 150; 2 Chitty, Cr. Law, 867; Holt on Lib. 73; 5 Co. 125; Salk. 418; Ld. Rgym. 416; 4. T. R. 126; 4 Mass. R. 168; 9 John. 214; 1 Den. Rep. 347; 2 Pick. R. 115; 2 Kent, Com. 13. It has been defined perhaps with more precision to be a censorious or ridiculous writing, picture or sign made with a malicious or mischievous intent, towards government magistrates or individuals. 3 John. Cas. 354; 9 John. R. 215; 5 Binn. 340.

2. In briefly considering this offence, we will inquire, 1st. By what mode of expression a libel may be conveyed. 2d. Of what kind of defamation it must consist. 3d. How plainly it must be expressed. 4th. What mode of publication is essential.

3. - 1. The reduction of the slanderous matter to writing, or printing, is the most usual mode of conveying it. The exhibition of a picture, intimating that which in print would be libelous, is equally criminal. 2 Camp. 512; 5 Co. 125; 2 Serg. & Rawle 91. Fixing a gallows at a man's door, burning him in effigy, or exhibiting him in any ignominious manner, is a libel. Hawk. b. 1, c. 73, s. 2,; 11 East, R. 227.

4. - 2. There is perhaps no branch of the law which is so difficult to reduce to exact, principles, or to compress within a small compass, as the requisites of a libel. All publications denying the Christian religion to be true; 11 Serg. & Rawle, 394; Holt on Libels, 74; 8 Johns. R. 290; Vent. 293; Keb. 607; all writings subversive of morality and tending to inflame the passions by indecent language, are indictable at common law. 2 Str. 790; Holt on Libels, 82; 4 Burr. 2527. In order to constitute a libel, it is not necessary that anything criminal should be imputed to the party injured; it is enough if the writer has exhibited him in a ludicrous point of view; has pointed him out as an object of ridicule or disgust; has, in short, done that which has a natural tendency to excite him to revenge. 2 Wils. 403; Bacon's Abr. Libel, A 2; 4 Taunt. 355; 3 Camp. 214; Hardw. 470; 5 Binn. 349. The case of Villars v. Monsley, 2 Wils. 403, above cited, was grounded upon the following verses, which were held to be libelous, namely:

"Old-Villers, so strong of brimstone you smel,
As if not long since you had got out of hel,
But this damnable smell I no longer can bea,
Therefore I desire you would come no more here;
You, old stinking; old nasty, old itchy, old toa,
If you come any more you shall pay for your boar,
You'll therefore take this as a warning from m,
And never enter the doors, while they belong to J. P.
Wilncot, December 4, 1767."

5. Libels against the memory of the dead which have a tendency to create a breach of the peace by inciting the friends and relatives of the deceased to avenge the insult of the fanlily, render their authors liable to legal animadversion. 5 co. 123; 5 Binn. 281; 2 Chit. Cr. Law, 868; 4 T. R. 186.

6. - 3. If the matter be understood as scandalous, and is calculated to excite ridicule or abhorrence against the party intended, it is libelous, however it may be expressed. 5 East, 463; 1 Price, 11, 17; Hob. 215; Chit. Cr. Law, 868; 2 Campb. 512.

7. - 4. The malicious reading of a libel to one or more persons, it being on the shelves in a bookstore, as other books, for sale; and where the defendant directed the libel to be printed, took away some and left others; these several acts have been held to be publications. The sale of each copy; where several copies have been sold, is a distinct publication, and a fresh offence. The publication must be malicious; evidence of the malice may be either express or implied. Express proof is not necessary: for where a man publishes a writing which on the face of it is libelous, the law presumes he does so from that malicious intention which constitutes the offence, and it is unnecessary, on the part of the prosecution, to prove any circumstance from which malice may be inferred. But no allegation, however false and malicious, contained in answers to interrogatories, in affidavits duly made, or any other proceedings, in courts of justice, or petitions to the legislature, are indictable. 4 Co. 14; 2 Burr. 807; Hawk. B. 1, c. 73, s. 8; 1 Saund. 131, n. 1; 1 Lev. 240; 2 Chitty's Cr. Law, 869; 2 Serg. & Rawle, 23. It is no defence that the matter published is part of a document printed by order of the house of commons. 9 A. &E. 1.

8. The publisher of a libel is liable to be punished criminally by indictment; 2 Chitty's Cr. Law, 875; or is subject to an action on the case by the party grieved. Both remedies may be pursued at the same time. Vide) generally, Holt on Libels; Starkie on Slander; 1 Harr. Dig. Case, I.; Chit. Cr. L. Index, h. t.; Chit. Pr. Index, h. t.

* From Bouvier's Law Dictionary, 1856 Edition. Please see Bouvier's Legal Abbreviations & Abbreviated References for help with obscure nomenclature & references.

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