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perate, contemplated in the light of a punishment, so much as in that of a remaining alternative which, in some form or other, is inevitable, while the ignominy of a violent death, is not regarded as greater than the igooming of any other punishment.
The attaching the penalty of death, moreover, to crimes of so very different a degree of enormity, takes away all distinctive and peculiar ignominy from that particular punishment; and as to the suffering, that is considered as in itself short, and, by the infidel, too often as final.
The frequency of public executions, has, there is reason to believe, a very injurious influence on the character of the population. By familiarizing them to the awful spectacle, it lessens their dread of a similar fate, and bardens them in crime. Nothing is more notorious than the commission of theft under the very gallows, and one very remarkable circumstance is on record,-our readers may depend upon the fact,—which shews that punishments of this description may, so far from deterring others, suggest the commission of crime. A young man who was capitally convicted of forgery in 1802, confessed, that the first thought of the crime was conceived at seeing a man executed for the same offence. He went home from the spectacle, and, on the same day, committed the forgery. Another fact scarcely less remarkable, bas occurred at the recent sessions. Two young men, brothers under 25 years of age, were executed on the 25th of the present month, for stealing on the River Thames, their brother having been executed not fourteen months ago, for whom their agonized mother, when she took leave of them, was still in mourning !
But would any punishment, it may be said, prove more availing than the punishment of death? This is not the question. If the destruction of the offender is found not to avail in lessening the multiplication of offences, it is no longer necessary, and if not necessary, it ceases to be justifiable. Ther are some considerations, however, which tend to shew that a mitigated penalty, inflicted with certainty, would be likely to have a more beneficial influence upon society. In the first place, death is a punishment the outward array and terrors of which are indeed, visible, and upon cultivated and religious minds these have a powerful effect, but what it is to the offender, is unknown, unrealized, unseen. The horrors of conscience which go before it, the waking pangs which succeed, form no part of the sentence of the law, and occupy no definite place in the mind of the spectator. All that acts upon his fears, is, what passes before him, and this he gazes upon with stupid curiosity, and comes away determined, by eluding detection, rather than by refraining from crime, to live as long as he can. Corporal punishment, solitary imprisonment, hard fare and hard
labour-these are sensible, tangible consequences, which can be realized by the most grossly stupid and obdurate, and the idea of permanent endurance is one which comes in more direct contradiction to their love of idleness and ease. It is as much more substantially the object of dread, as a Bow-street officer is more an object of alarm than a church-yard spectre. Death itself would often be the object of their deliberate though madly ignorant preference; the dread of death is not therefore likely to be the most efficacious consideration to deter them from setting the laws of their country at defiance.
Besides, although the execution of a malefactor may fail to awaken any salutary fear, it is sure to excite commiseration for his fate;-unless, indeed, some circumstances quite unconnected with his deserving to suffer in the eye of the law,—the unnatural heinousness of bis crimes, or the atrocity of his character, -change that commiseration into a brutal sort of vio dictive satisfaction. In any other case, guilty as he may be, and anpitied as wculd in all probability be his sufferings, were the penalty any thing short of death, were he consigned to labour or imprisonment, when he is brought out to die, poor fellow,' is the general sentiment of the mob. An undue, an immoral sympathy, which drowns all abhorrence of his offence, and which amounts, in many cases, to a dissatisfaction with the administrators of the laws, as if they were guilty of injustice, takes place in the minds of the spectators. The very end of the punishment, the only end when the reformation of the culprit is for ever precluded, is thus counteracted by the sanguinary severity of the sentence. The malefactor is perhaps applauded for his beroisin, or bis resignation, or his penitence at the fatal drop, and many thiok rather of emulating his behaviour, should they ever be called to suffer, than of taking warning by his fate. These are not speculations, but notorious facts ; facts not of accidental occurrence, but arising out of the constitution of our nature.
It furnishes another very powerful argument against the policy of capital punishments, especially in the case of forgery and other crimes, the penalty of which is regulated by other considerations than their intrinsic atrocity,--that in a very large proportion of cases, persons are deterred from the prosecution of the criminal, who is suffered to escape with absolute impunity, in consequence of their reluctance, not to punish, but to destroy, to destroy soul and body, the individual who bas injured them. This acknowledged fact is entirely subversive of the plea that might be raised on the ground of the certainty which attends the infliction of death in cases of forgery, for the consequent preventive efficacy of the penalty. Very few private individuals will be found, who will take measures to bring the culprit who has wronged them, to justice.
In the case, however, of forgeries committed upon the Bank, detection, prosecution, and suffering, follow, it may be said, with unerring certainty. The Law Committee of the Bank, have it is believed, uniforioly adhered to their determination never to interpose, in cases of conviction, on behalf of the offender. To a Committee of this kind, invested with no royal prerogative, and inaccessible to private feelings, who possess neither the power to pardon, nor the inclination to spare, justice comes in the shape of an absolute unmodified duty. But froin this very circumstance arises a powerfulargument against the indiscriminating severity of the law. The general plea for the retaining of the punishment of death as the penalty of so great a multiplicity of offences, is, that the laws cannot take cognizance of the different shades of the same offence; that to deter froin the crime, the maximum of punishment which may be due, is taken as tlie standard, but that the power of mitigation rests in the hands of the judge, while, as a last resource in any instance of doubtful criminality, the prerogative of remitting the penalty, remains with the Crowd. In the case of forgery, when the Bank of England is the party, all this ingenuity of reasoning becomes null and void. The maximum of punishment is previously determined upon, and to any intercessions on behalf of the criminal for the mitigation of his penalty, the answer is, The Bank will not interfere. Under the present circumstances of the intimate connexion between the Government and the Bank, the understood will of the Bank, especially when opposed by the feeble representations of individuals, is a final rule of decision. low great soever may be the humanity of the Minister, or the repuguance of the Monarch to issue the fatal warrant, it is a Bank case, and there is no hope of mercy.
Does not such a statement as this imperiously call upon every friend of humanity to awake to the consideration of this interesting subject? When it is recollected, with how much ease, and at an expence far less than the annual cost of their prosecutions, this opulent body might render forgery a crime indefinitely difficult, by employing some skilful engraver to frame their notes, or by introducing some vignette which every common journeyman artist might not be able to imitate,-an expedient which some of the country bankers bave found an effectual check to their notes being forged,-- when we think how the difficulty of passing forged notes would be increased by the facility of detecting them, which must be in inverse proportion to the ease with which the original is copied, how are we to explain this total indiffference of a body of respectable individuals in their corporate capacity, to every consideration but the certain punishment of crimes they are at no adequate pains to prevent ?
By far the greater wumber of culprits, whose names appear on
the recent registers, are novices in crime, many of them young
in age, their characters hopeful, at least not irreclaimable bad their lives been spared; but what is still more distressing, in several instances, they have been the hired agents and tools of principals in the offence of forging, who either contrive to elude detection, or are suffered to escape. The execution of lads for uttering forged potes, when the legal presumption that they are the forgers, is at variance with the obvious features or ascertained circumstances of their case, being disproved by their youth, their incompetency, their babits, and their known accomplices,-is an excess of severity which it is most earnestly to be hoped, for the credit of our country, for the sake of humanity, a British Parliament will not much longer suffer to remain legal.
The infliction of capital punishments on boys and even cbildren, is a separate consideration, wbich gives additional importance to the present subject, If capital punishments bad a preventive efficacy, why not, it might then be said, bang children, to deter children froin crime? Nature revolts from the inhuman sugges · tion ; but there is no occasion to call in feeling to supply an answer. Capital punishments bave no such efficacy, and if they bad, are the minds of children, or of thoughtless lads, likely to be impressed by the force of example, when, in many instances, they are but the tools of boary villains, who sell them to the officer without compunction, and if not, they are the uneducated, uncivilized, neglected offspring of conviets and reprobates ? Is the gate of mercy to be closed against ihose to whoin the doors of knowledge were never opened? and is that country which gave them birth, to find them nothing better than a scaffold and a grave? . Is all attempt to reform the criminal to be abandoned, when the criminal has not yet attained the years of man? The writer bas himself seen a child of nine years old in one of our gaols, who bad been double-ironed for execution, and there are politicians who think such an example inigtit be of service to the country!-God forbid it!
With regard to the prevention of forgery, a far more humane and salutary way of lessening the frequency of the crimne, would be to compel the Bank to resume their cash payments and to call in all their ove and two pound notes, which are, in by far the larger proportion of instances, what are counterfeited.
In order, however, to obtain satisfactory evidence, that capital punishments are not necessary, that the reformation of the most atrocious offender is not morally impossible, nor practically difficult, that the destruction of individual life is not therefore warranted by any principle either of sound policy, or of
This, however, was not a Bank case; the crime was theft; and the child was respited. Vol. IX. N. S.
common humanity, we have only to look to the policy adopted by other nations, in particular to the criminal code and prison discipline of the United States of America. Upon this subject ample details will, it is probable, be shortly laid before the public. In the mean time, we have thought it our duty to take this opportunity of drawing the attention of our readers to a subject which, unpolluted by the taint of party, unconnected with any political opinions, addresses itself with the strongest claims to consideration, to every one who has a heart to feel and a soul to be savedl.
The case of Vartie was one of peculiar interest. Even bis prosecutors interceded for his life, and every effort was made to save him. His youth, his former irreproachable character, his engaging manners, his classical attainments and attachment to study, all conspired to awaken no ordinary interest in bis behalf. He was a criminal and deserved punishment: he was not depraved, and might have been reclaimed. Under almost any other circumstances, although dissatisfaction may arise with regard to the conduct of a Minister, Englishmen still feel it to be their bounden duty to acquiesce with complacency in the laws. In this anomalous case only, of the infliction of capital punishment, when the crime, how prejudicial soever its consequences to society, is of no proportionate guilt, it is of the laws we complain ; of the 'administrators we do not.
We cannot speak with cordial approbation of the present publication. Poor Vartie's letters do him less credit ihan his behaviour during personal interviews. It is painful to notice the flippancy, the vanity, and the very inadequate views of religion exhibited in the Memoir; nor are the Letters to Mr. Rudge of a quite satisfactory nature. But before the fatal day arrived, be had, we trust, imbibed from the perusal of the Scriptures, from re. ligious instruction and prayer, clearer perceptions of the revealed salvation, and a deeper sense of contrition for his offences. We saw the lines he bad written on the walls of his last abode, and it is a hope we need not express, that he bas ere this, through 'the atonement of Him who died on the tree, realized the blessed alternative.
Tu, fata quem dura huc trahunt, infelix, audi,