In 1769, the colourful John Wilkes MP was repeatedly barred from taking up his seat in the Commons. William Pitt leapt to Wilkes’s defence in the Lords, not concealing his irritation that Lord Justice Mansfield had, in a speech of wit, learning and meticulous argument, completely misunderstood Pitt’s point.
THERE is one plain maxim, to which I have invariably adhered through life; that in every question, in which my liberty or my property were concerned, I should consult and be determined by the dictates of common sense.
I confess, my lords, that I am apt to distrust the refinements of learning, because I have seen the ablest and the most learned men equally liable to deceive themselves and to mislead others.
The condition of human nature would be lamentable indeed, if nothing less than the greatest learning and talents, which fall to the share of so small a number of men, were sufficient to direct our judgment and our conduct.
But providence has taken better care of our happiness, and given us, in the simplicity of common sense, a rule for our direction, by which we never shall be misled.