Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

offences, and before a trial) are here immediately put in irons,* (and at night are fastened (two together) down to the flooring

of their cells, by a chain passed through the main link of each man's fetter, and padlocked to a strong iron staple in the floor; * and with this additional aggravation of their daily misery, are "left to pass the hours destined by Nature to ease and refresh

ment, upon loose straw only, scattered on the floor. A man may thus suffer six months imprisonment under the bare suspicion of a crime, from which, at the end of that dreary term, his Country may, perhaps, bonourably acquit him. Under circumstances of this kind i saw four prisoners bere on the 20th of Sept. 1808. The severities which may be practised under imprisonment, are justly reckoned by Judge Blackstone

as most dangerous, because the least public, and the least 'striking engine of arbitrary Government, for it is there that the prisoner's sufferings are forgotten or unknown.'

In Hereford Gaol, there are, in one of the courts, down eleven steps, two horrid dungeons, totally dark, which, it is said, are now never used. The felons have three close offensive sleeping rooms, which Mr. Nield found scattered over with loose straw, dirty and worn to dust. Here is likewise one room, justly denominated The Black-Hole, which, if not impenetrably dark, has no light or ventilation, save what is faintly admitted through a small aperture in the door. It is supplied with a barrack bed-stead and loose straw; and in this wretched sink-hole was found

[ocr errors]

a poor deranged man, in the most filthy and pitiable state that it is possible to conceive.' Mr. Nield was, however, subsequently informed that this wretched gaol was undergoing great alterations.

The most pitiable objects in the British gaols, are in general the Debtors. In some prisons within or near the Metropolis, as well as in others far remote, the Debtors have no bread, although it is granted to the Highwayman, the Housebreaker,

* Nothing (says Mr. Buxton,) can be more capricious than the existing practice with regard to irons.

In Chelmsford, and in Newgate, all for felony are ironed.
At Bury, and at Norwich, all are without irons.*
At Abingdon, the untried are not ironed.
At Derby, none but the untried are ironed.

At Cold-bath-fields, none but the untried, and those sent for reexamination are ironed.

At Winchester, all before trial are ironed; and those sentenced to transportation after trial.

At Chester, those alone of bad character are ironed whether tried or untried.'

s

<

**When I say none are ironed, it is to be understood, without they are refractory, or attempt to escape.'

and the Murderer; and medical assistance, which is provided for the latter, is withheld from the former : besides which, they suffer a variety of obstructions and hardships, to impede their discharge from custody, even after the Law has spent its force, or pitying creditors have forgiven the debts which had detained them.

But human suffering is a finite evil. A few wretched years nust at length terminate the merciless dominion of man over uis fellow, and if no day of jubilee ever dawns on the unhappy enant of the dungeon, there is the release of death. That #bich gives to Evil its true character of demon power and granleur, is its relation to the moral part of the human being : it is is this is enslaved, polluted, and debased, that its triumphs laim to be regarded as infinite. Mr. Howard made no scruple o affirm, and Mr. Buxton has done well to record the sentence on his title-page, that if it were the aim and wish of magistrates to effect the destruction, present and future, of young delinquents, they could not desire a more effectual method

than to confine them in our Prisons.' The best commenary on this affirmation, is supplied by the following affecting statement.

I could, if delicacy would allow it, mention the name of a person pho practised in the law, and who was connected by marriage with some very respectable families. He, for a fraud, was committed to Clerkenwell prison, and sent from thence to Newgate, in a coach, handcuffed to a noted housebreaker, who was afterwards cast for death. The first night, and the subsequent fortnight, he slept in the same bed with a highwayman on one side, and a man charged with wurder on the other. During that period, and long after, spirits were freely introduced. At first he abstained from them, but he joon found that either he must adopt the manners of his companions, or his life would be in danger. They already viewed him with some suspicion, as one of whom they knew nothing. He was in consequence put out of the protection of their internal law. Their code is a subject of some curiosity. When any prisoner commits an offence against the community, or against an individual, he is tried. Some one, generally the oldest and most dextrous thief, is appointed judge , a towel tied in knots is hung on each side of his head, in imitation of a wig. He takes his seat, if he can find one, with all form and decorum ; and to call him any thing but “ my lord,” is a high misdemeanour. A Jury is then appointed, and regularly sworn, and the culprit is brought up. Unhappily justice is not administered with quite the same integrity within the prison as without it. The most rifling bribe to the judge will secure an acquittal, but the neglect of his formality is a sure prelude to condemnation. The punishments are various ; standing in the pillory is the heaviest. The criminal's head is placed between the legs of a chair, and his arms stretched out are attached to it, he then carries about this machine; but any punishment, however heinous the offence, might be commuted into a

fine, to be spent in gin, for the use of the Judge and Jury. This mode of trial was the source of continual persecution to Mr. hardly a day passed without an accusation against him for moving something which ought not to be touched, or leaving a door open, or coughing maliciously, to the disturbance of his companions. The evidence was always clear, to the satisfaction of the Jury; and the Judge was incessant in his efforts to reform him, by inflicting the highest punishments. In short, self-preservation rendered it ne cessary for him to adopt the manners of his associates ; by insensible degrees he began to lose his repugnance to their society ; caught their flash terms, and sung their songs, was admitted to their revels

, and acquired, in place of habits of perfect sobriety, a taste for spirits ; and a taste so strong and so rooted, that even now he finds it difficult to resist the cravings of his diseased thirst for stimulants.

I conceive I cannot better illustrate the situation of Mr. than by a letter I received from his wife. Considerable suspicion must attach to the declaration of every person, however reputable his present conduct may be, who has been himself convicted of crime : I have, therefore, thought it right to suppress every part of his information which is not confirmed by other and creditable testimony, The artless statement of his wife, who has throughout conducted herself with unimpeachable propriety, and who laboured with her own hands to support her husband when in confinement, will hardly be rejected.

“ Sir, I cannot attempt to state to you the sufferings I have undergone, from the first period of my husband's persecution, to his final release. Passing over my having to attend him for near a month at the Clerkenwell prison, previous to his removal to Newgate for trial ; where, on my first visit to him, I found he had been so removed, handcuffed to a notorious offender; now become an inmate in the same ward with several others of the most dreadful sort, whose language and manners, whose female associates of the most abandoned description, and the scenes consequent with such lost wretches, prevented me from going inside but seldom, and I used to communicate with him through the bars from the passage ; but on my going one morning, I found he was ill, and unable to come down. Anxious to see him, I went to the ward, and there he lay, pale as death, very ill, and in a dreadful dirty state, the wretches making game of him, and enjoying my distress, and I learned he had been up with the others the whole night. Though they could not force him to gamble, he was compelled to drink; and I was afterwards obliged to let him have eight shillings to pay his share, otherwise he would have been stripped of his clothes. I was the more shocked, as knowing Mr. -'s firm mind and sober habits, up to this moment. I dreaded the consequences of such a relaxation and of such exam. ples. I saw his health declining ; I saw the destructive effects upon him of such association ; I found he was compelled to do as they did, and to think as they thought; for on his once attempting to remonstrate with them, his life was threatened, and he was afraid when he went to bed to go to sleep. Having this relation from him, and seeing him daily getting worse ; knowing his former strict principles and

steady habits, I felt every thing a wife could feel for a virtuous mans and an affectionate husband, forced into such society; and his irre

trievable ruin, even in this respect, presented itself to my view." : pp. 48–51.

If these extracts shall have the effect of rousing the attention of our readers to this important subject, they will answer their purpose. Let them remember upon whom will rest the guilt of all this misery and oppression, if they pass by on the other side. The Legislature who are alone competent to carry into effect any radical improvement, will yield to public opinion unequivocally expressed, and to that alone. The subject must be forced upon its consideration. Interests and prejudices are to be surmounted, which will die hard. Much may, however, in the mean time, be effected by active individuals in their respective counties and districts, to enforce the existing laws, and to mitigate the legalized abuses. The Second Part of Mr. Buxton's work, to which we earnestly recommend the attention of all our readers, will inform them what has been done, and is still doing, by individual exertion, to remedy the evils of the present system. In Newgate itself, which contains the very refuse of the capital, the result of only a year's experiment, as conducted by the Ladies' Committee, has been such as to astonish, as well as to impart the highest satisfaction to, the Grand Juries and superintending magistrates. I am well persuaded,' says Mr. Buxton, that

the evil exists only because it is unknown; that it arises not ' from insensibility on the part of the nation, but from ignorance.' (This apology for its continuance must be esteemed no longer

valid. The feelings of parents, the interests of masters, the indignation of the patriot, the principles of the Christian, all loudly forbid its continuance. It is not a question of mere humanity, as to whether crime shall receive a greater or less degree of punishment, though a criminal does not necessarily forfeit all his claims upon society. It is a question, in many cases, of absolute right, whether illegal severities shall be inflicted on the unconvicted; whether those who are presumed innocent, shall be sen

tenced to punishment before trial; whether punishment shall be I wantonly and arbitrarily increased, beyond the award of the law,

and irrespectively of the aggravation of the crime; whether starvation, cold, suffocation, and disease, ' corruption of morals

and contamination of mind,' shall be esteemed lawful punishments in the hands of the civil magistrate, or of the gaoler; whether the rights of society shall be violated by sending forth the discharged criminal in every respect necessarily a worse man in consequence of the application of the remedy for crime; whether, as in the case of debtors, a class of men weighed down it may be hy unavoidable misfortune, shall be subjected to the most dreadful injustice, and debarred the mercy extended to the most

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

depraved offender; whether, in fine, the moral and religious in terests of the imprisoned debtor or criminal, shall be totally abandoned, his reformation altogether precluded, and the laws de. signed for the protection of society, converted into a system of blind vengeance, and a means of spreading moral contagion. In whatever form we put it, the question as to the continued existence of the present system, must strike at once conviction upon the conscience, as admitting but of one reply. It is cruel, it is unjust, it is impolitic, it is pernicious. Let this be said and felt by the nation at large, and the time will come wheu the details of Mr. Nield's volume, and the painful recitals furnished by Mr. Buxton, may be consigned to history, together with the torture of the press-yard, and the horrors of the slave trade.

Mr. Buxton does not require our feeble thanks for the service he has rendered to society. Exertions likc his are attended by an over-payment of present satisfaction. Art. IV, 1. History of a Six Weeks' Tour through a part of France,

Switzerland, Germany, and Holland: with letiers descriptive of Sail round the Lake of Geneva, and of the Glaciers of Chamouni.

12mo. pp. 183. Price 5s. London, 1817. 2. A Walk through Switzerland, in September 1816. 12mo. pp. 242,

Price 8s. 1818. CONSIDERING the prodigious number of ladies and gen

tlemen who have visited the continent in search of novelty and the picturesque, and considering, moreover, the extreme facility with which “ journals," “ letters," and “ tours,” are fabricated, as well as the very natural desire which travellers in general feel, to shew the world how much they have seen, and how well they can describe the various wonders wbich they have encountered, we think that we have, on the whole, escaped tolerably well. We suspect, indeed, that the heavy sale of some of these laudable essays, has made a salutary impression, and that a wholesome dread of periodical criticism, has contributed to abate the excessive eagerness of the appetite for fame. We shall proceed briefly to investigate the merits of the two trim pocket volumes before us.

The first is a rather spirited sketch, and contains some passages of tolerably good description, mingled with a few attempts at subliipity, not quite so successful. To us, however, the va, lue of the book is considerably lessened by a strong suspicion that the dramatis personæ are fictitious, and that the little adventures introduced for the purpose of giving life and interest to the narration, are mere inventions of the Author. We may

be mistaken in this, and we can scarcely tell how the notion found its way into our minds, but we certainly began very early to suspect, and our misgivings were turned into something like

« FöregåendeFortsätt »