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Art. IV. An Inquiry, whether Crime and Misery are produced or
prevented, by our present System of Prison Discipline. Illustrated by Descriptions of the Borough Compter; Tothill Fields ; The Jails at St. Albans, and at Guilford; The Jail at Bury ; The Maison de Force at Ghent; The Philadelphia Prison; The Penitentiary at Millbank; and the Proceedings of the Ladies' Committee at Newgate. By Thomas Fowell Buxton. 8vo. pp. vii, 141. Price 5s.
London, 1818. IT T is remarkable how very little the admiration of virtuous
characters, partakes in most persons, of the efficacy of a motive. Admiration is a pleasureable emotion, and those points in the biographical records of eminent individuals which strike with any force on the imagination, do not fail to excite this emotion on the same principle as the other emotions of taste are awakened by correspondent qualities of sublimity or beauty : and here, very frequently, the effect terminates. As a sentiment, it may have a more or less salutary tendency, according to the description of character on which it fixes; but the active principles of our nature lie too deep to be set in motion by the sen timental admiration of example. The ethical systems of heathen wisdon presented a standard of virtuous conduct in many respects approximating to excellence; there was, however, this fatal deficiency; the necessity of adequate motive was left unprovided for, and this will always constitute the incurable deficiency of merely ethical systems.
There are few public characters in modern times, on which the mind dwells with more complacent adıniration, than on that of John Howard ; none, of whom (to use an improper phrase) his country has more reason to be proud. His example is the theme of our school books, as one of the most illustrious of the English Nepos. But what has been the effect of all this admiration? Has it in any proportion of instances given birth to a practical sense of the obligations which attach to every man, according to his sphere of opportunity, to go and do likewise ? Not indeed, to forsake his home and his country on the angelmission of benevolence, but to contribute at home his share of exertion or influence to the carrying forward of the great work of Reform, which in one branch of our National Institutions Howard so nobly commenced. Has any such feeling of emulation become general? On the contrary, have not the labours of that inestimable man, which by exhibiting what the perse verance of an individual can accomplish, were so well adapted to encourage
well as to excite a combination of active exertion in the same cause, rather had the effect of seeming to supersede our concerning ourselves about the object which many take for granted he did all but perfectly accomplish?
It would be idle to ask why the larger part of society take no interest in works of public utility ; but we cannot help regarding it as rather remarkable, that in a country like our own, in which there certainly prevails to a considerable extent a disposition to benevolent exertion, a subject so immensely important,-in soine of its relations of infinite importance,-should have been almost entirely lost sight of; that in Howard's native country, the state of the Prisons should still be such as to reflect disgrace on the Legislature, and on the public at large, upon whom the final responsibility devolves. There must be some erroneous notion at the bottom of this immoral indifference. Mr. Buxton adverts, indeed, to some prevailing misapprehensions in reference to the very design of imprisonnent, wbich people are apt to take for granted must uniformly be punishment, pot siinply safe detention ; and similar misapprehensions are entertained with regard to the proper object, at least one chief object, of punishment itself. In this country, there has taken place, to a fearful extent, an utter disregard, a tacit abandonment of tire moral interests of the delinquent. The reformation of the criminal, which is assuredly one great means of the prevention of crime, has been almost wholly merged in the vindictive terrors of the penal code. And what is the consequence? Punishment has become ove of the most fertile sources of crime; and the increase of delinquency bas at length reached a ratio at which thinking men have begun to take alarm. This alarm has induced a more general inquiry into the causes wbich have long been secretly at work in fostering the growing mischief, and men are surprised at being forced to recognise among those very causes of crime, the laws and institutions on which they have been indolently and unfeelingly relying for its prevention and remedy.
But why have they so long taken it for granted, in the face of opposing facts, that this class of public objects was one which did not stand in need of the vigilant attention of benevolence? Why have these erroneous notions so long escaped theexamination to which they are now doomed to submit? With intentions the furthest possible from mingling political feelings with such a discussion, we must declare our opinion, that the explanation can be supplied, only by referring to the doctrine so industriously propagated, that the community at large have nothing to do in the way of control, with the political institutions of the country. The odium which attaches to all measures of reform, as an uncalled for and dangerous interference with the established laws and prerogatives of society, is the shadowy dragon which guards the golden fruits of Corruption. Let but the notion which some persons would deduce from the institutes of Christianity, once gain possession of the mind,--that obedience to the constituted magistracy, “ the
powers that be," forbids all attempts to disturb the abuses which have grown up in the State, and to control the administrators of the laws;- let a man once be brought to believe that his social duties as a citizen and a Christian, exclude all responsibility and concern in reference to the political institutions which he contributes to support in all their bearings upon the temporal and eternal interests of his fellow-creatures ; a spell is cast upon his conscience which it will not be very easy to reverse. There is no established evil in which upon this principle he may not be brought passively to acquiesce. War, slavery, perjury, corruption in all its forms, have upon this ground continued to receive the support of men who, in their private capacities, fear an oath, and are neither inhuman nor unjust; but to them Reform, connected as it must in all cases necessarily be, with an opposition more or less marked to the will of the individuals of whose conduct it seems to imply a tacit reproof, or whose interests it crosses, that is to say the will of those on whom are devolved the prerogatives and the responsibility of power, always appears an undertaking in which it would be risking their characters to embark, and from uniting in wbieh, conscientious reasons are always at hand to procure their self-discharge.
It is not to be supposed, that Howard escaped the odium and the opposition which await every man who is the first to raise his voice against any particular abuse in the social institutions of his country. He was a reformer, a radical reformer, and his exertions went to bring to light, a mass of corruption, mismanagement, and cruelty, the very exposure of which was a strong libel upon Government, and upon that particular branch of its administration which it is esteemed the worst species of libel to bring into disesteem. Nothing could have a more direct tendency to offend the feelings or to diminish the popularity of the agents of administration, than the publications which laid open to the world, the secrets of the prison-system. It required courage as well as principle singly to engage and persevere in such an adventure.* We may put it to any man, whether it is possible, that a political adherent to Administration, or an individual who should have embraced the notion that existing institutions claim only his unvarying support, should have acted as Howarı did, in fearlessly dragging to light the abuses of power. Howard was not a party-man; his motives were above suspicion; but had they been less equivocal, bis character would have been by so much the less excellent; but his exertions, by what
* His exclamation on one occasion of trying disappointment, sufficiently bespeaks the discouragements under which he had frequently to labour.
“ Have I not reason, with a sigh, to say, I labour « in vain and spend my strength for nought? But I have resolved, " by the help of God, to give myself wholly to the work."
motive soever they had been prompted, would have deserved, equally deserved, the thanks of his country. Actiods of tbe most noble and beneficial nature, have not unfrequently their source in mixed inotives. We may go further, and affirun that corrupt motive has had a very considerable sbare in' bringing about the most important improvements in society; and under the present circumstances of human nature, the ethiciency of motives, cannot be expected to be in proportion to their purity. Let then enthusiasm, vanity, opposition, be admitted to have, in any particular instance, a specific influence, as actuating principles : still, the direction which they assume, may be good, the conduct which they assist in producing, exemplary. And it is the more necessary thus to distinguish between the conjectured motives and the measures themselves, because nothing is more easy than to bring a man's motives into undeserved suspicion. The greater part of the world are incredulous as to the existence, or at least as to the operation of any motives of which tbey are not themselves susceptible, and when they do not understand the motive by which a man is actuated, they will not fail to impute to bim a bad one. With regard to such an individual as Howard, whose fame has now become natioval property, it is freely conceded that his motives were pure, although there are to be found persons even now, who regard his exertions as having been of little use to society. With regard to those who are not beyond the reach of detraction, the example of Howard will not be sufficient to protect thein either from opposition or from misrepresentation, as visionary theorists or dangerous innovators. When we recoilect how the abolition of the Slave Trade itself was opposed, both within and out of Parliament ; how that great work of Reform was deprecated as fraught with danger to the interests of the State, and its advocates charged with fanaticism; what measures of redress and melioration can we expect to find attempted without exciting the hostile fears and prejudices of the interested, the ignorant, and the unfeeling?
From the time of Howard, to the present, the only individual who claims to be distinguished as having trodden in some measure in the steps of that eminent philanthropist, is Mr. Nield, one of His Majesty's acting justices of the peace for the counties of Buckingham, Kent, Middlesex, and for the city and liberty of Westminster. This gentleman, who is also treasurer to the Society for the Relief of Persons imprisoned for small debts, and who has twice travelled into every corner of the island, for the purpose of inspecting the gaols, published in the year 1812, the result of his observations in a quarto volume, which now lies before us, and which he sent forth, animated with the hope of 'giving permanency and improvement to that reform in our pri* sons which was so ably begun by bis excellent predecessor, Mr.
• Howard.' In concluding his work, the labour of many years,' Mr. Neild expresses his regret, that his numerous visits bad • not the patronage of Government to invigorate their ardour;' that many prisons proved to be difficult of access; and that the information he sought was not easily obtained. On this account, he is aware that he may be chargeable with omissions. He had frequently been solicited to visit the prisons in Ireland, the state of which cannot be supposed to be less defective than those of England and Wales, but having failed,' says Mr. N. in my • application for authority in this my native country, I could ' entertain but little hope of success in a remoter sphere; where
I might have to combat the opposition of those, whose interest ' was but too likely to prevent that reformation of abuses, on which their personal ease and emolument might depend.'
The readers of Mr. Nield's valuable work, will not feel surprise that obstacles were thrown in the way of his obtaining the information he sought, nor will they fail to estimate aright the motives which would lead to the anxious protection of the abuses he has made public. Many of the details in this volume, though presented with extreme simplicity, must make the reader half ashamed of the laws under which such abominations can gain protection. In many of the county gaols, important improvements have, indeed, been going forward; new gaols both wholesome and secure, have been erected instead of the old ones which were in these respects the most flagrantly objectionable, and gaol fees, that most nefarious abuse, have been in a considerable number of such cases, abolished. In the other branches of management, Mr. Nield, however, noticed but few improvements, and the larger number of prisons remained in a state scarcely distinguishable from that in which they were found by Mr. Howard. We shall have occasion presently to advert to a few instances.
The present publication is an appeal to the public which must be felt. It proceeds from an eloquent pen, and is most eloquent with facts. It purports to be an inquiry whether crime and misery are produced or prevented by our present system of
prison discipline.' To enable the reader to form his decision upon this bold and startling question, it first leads him into the interior of the jails mentioned in the title-page, selected as being in the vicinity of the metropolis, and there shews him how by the greatest possible degree of misery, you produce the
greatest possible degree of wickedness; and then, in the Second Part, in order to prove that the continuation of these evils is as unnecessary as it is detrimental to the best interests of Society,—that cruelty to your prisoner is impolicy to yourself, it adduces counter-facts in favour of the efficacy of an opposite systein, in which classification, industry, and religious instruction,