Invisible Ink: No 81 - Harry Hodge
Sunday 12 June 2011
In the modern age of phone-tapping and the super-injunction, one wonders what Harry Hodge would have said about the right to privacy.
Fascinated by criminology all his life, Hodge felt that a trial should be at least 20 years old before it could prove notable enough for public discussion.
Hodge was the managing director of William Hodge & Co, publishers and shorthand writers. He followed his forebears into the shorthand business in Scotland, and became one of the nation's leading experts.
For half a century he was a well-known figure in the Scottish courts, and published many legal works. In 1905 he launched the "Notable British Trials" series, which eventually extended to over 80 volumes. In 1941, Penguin started to repackage and sell the collected "Famous Trials", commissioned, collated and edited by Harry and later by his son James.
As the Hodges were based in Scotland, it made sense to start this catalogue of criminality with the sensational trial of Madeleine Smith, accused in 1857 of poisoning her lover with arsenic. Although the case against her was not proven, it was largely accepted that the 21-year-old beauty was a murderer. But Smith's lips remained sealed to the end of her life. The case was written up by F Tennyson Jesse, and set the elegant literary tone for the cases that followed. In the same volume we have Oscar Slater, "the right man convicted on the wrong clue", and the tragic, bizarre tale of Dr Crippen, whose crime and subsequent arrest play out like scenes from a pulp thriller.
These are reports written closer to the time of actual events, so they've yet to be overlaid with modern forensic research or ironic asides. In outlining Crippen's case, the author Filson Young sides with the doctor's murdered wife, the ghastly, tone-deaf music hall singer Belle, whereas we now have some sympathy for Crippen's impossible situation. Volume Four of "Famous Trials" was published at the end of the Second World War, and topically included the traitorous "Lord Haw Haw", William Joyce, pointing out that radio listeners found his voice more irritating than his politics. These days, we're aware that the same propaganda tactics were being used by the British government at the time.
Volume Seven is entirely dedicated to Oscar Wilde. The series was extended to cover war crimes, and John Mortimer selected the best cases for a 1984 volume. The rest are out of print.
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 Amber Roof: Sister of Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Roof launches fund-raising appeal for wedding and honeymoon
- 3 'Help me I'm trapped in a factory' messages keep being found on bottles of vitamin water
- 4 Right to die: Belgian doctors rule depressed 24-year-old woman has right to end her life
- 5 BP hit with record $18.7 billion fine over Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill
Game of Thrones season 6: Daenerys actress Emilia Clarke says '50/50 chance' Jon Snow is alive
Game of Thrones season 6: Release date, plots and dragons - everything we know so far
The last decade has produced just four UK festival headline acts
What if Nicolas Cage played every character in Game of Thrones?
Game of Thrones: Leaked season six script introduces new 'red priestess' and hints at Daenerys Targaryen's next chapter
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture
They are neither a 'state' nor 'Islamic': Why we shouldn't call them Isis, Isil or IS