Case Summary: Villers v Monsley
Villers v Monsley (1769) 2 Wils. K.B. 403; 95 E.R. 886
Monsley published the following letter:
Old Villers, so strong of brimstone you smell,
As if not long since you had got out of hell ;
But this damnable smell I can no longer bear,
Therefore I desire you would come no more here ;
You old stinking, old nasty, old itchy old toad,
If you come any more, you shall pay for your board,
You'll therefore take this as a warning from me,
And never more enter the doors, while they belong to J. P.
"Wilncoat, December 4, 1767."
The imputation was that Villers' smelt badly and he had a disease.
Wilmot Lord C.J.
Wilmot Lord C.J. held at page 887:
...if any man deliberately or maliciously publishes any thing in writing concerning another which renders him ridiculous, or tends to hinder mankind from associating or having intercourse with him, an action well lies against such publisher.
In applying the rule, Wilmot had the view that this case was no different case which found imputations leprosy and plague to be libellous.(887) He also stated at page 887:
Nobody will eat, drink, or have any intercourse with a person who has the itch and stinks of brimstone; therefore I think this libel actionable, and that judgment must be for the plaintiff.
Gould J. held at 887:
...there is a distinction between libels and words ; a libel is punishable both criminally and by action, when speaking the words would not be punishable in either way ; for speaking rogue and rascal of any one, an action will not lie; but if those words were written and published of anyone, I doubt not an action would lie.
He applied the rule by stating:
If one man should say of another that he has the itch, without more, an action would not lie; but if be should write those words of another, and publish them maliciously, as in the present case, I have no doubt at all but the action well lies.
He then explains the rationale for rendering such imputations libellous:
What is the reason why saying a man has the leprosy or plague is actionable? It is because the having of either cuts a man off from society ; so the writing and publishing maliciously that a man has the itch and stinks of brimstone, cuts him off from society.
[Image: The Country of Warwick Court House in England]