« PrécédentContinuer »
proper objects of that punishment. As examples of the hap-hazard way in which this selection is made, the author tells us, that last year, in the February session, in one batch of men under sentence of death, there were an unusual number of old and known desperate offenders, particularly one man, named Allen, cognomenized "Jack the Painter." He had rendered himself famous for the number of burglaries he had been known to commit. The Recorder, when he passed sentence of death upon him, in a most emphatic manner exhorted him to prepare for death, telling him he had no hopes of mercy. There were also two other burglars, from the neighbourhood of Southgate, who were likewise known to have been guilty of a number of atrocious robberies; yet, when the Recorder brought down the report from the council to the prison, on Wednesday, the 13th of April, it appeared that all the old and desperate men had been passed over, and all respited except a young man, aged twenty-two, of the name of Ellis, who was left to suffer on the following Tuesday morning. This young man, although convicted of stealing a quantity of woollen goods, was, notwithstanding, known to the court to have been only the receiver of them, having a guilty knowledge of their being stolen; but, as he refused to impeach the parties who had committed the robbery, or those of whom he bought them, he was, under Sir Robert Peel's act, tried and convicted for the burglary, a part of the goods having been found in his possession. He did not deny his guilt as a receiver.
From these, and other facts mentioned in this work, the inevitable inference is produced, that the trials at the Old Bailey are nothing short of being a lottery, and that the selections made by the Privy Council are no better. The author does not mean even to suggest, that, so far as the council is concerned, the abuses which he discovers can be traced to corrupt influence; he attributes them to a want of correct information. It would be impossible, he says, to presume that any sinister influence could be allowed to operate on such a body, or that there is any deficiency amongst them of those intellectual and percipient faculties, which would lead them to a correct judgment in a matter of such grave importance as the life or death of a fellow creature. But, if the council is free from such irregular domination, the Secretary of State's office unfortunately cannot boast of the like exemption, and, practically speaking, the cases of pardon, through the instrumentality of interest, setting aside altogether the question of merits in the prisoner, are of continual Occurrence. It is stated by the present author, that the manner in which noblemen and others of aristocratical interest are induced to interfere in these cases, is not unfrequently at the solicitation of a favourite servant—a butler, a valet, or lady's-maid, who are rendered unhappy by a brother or cousin being under a heavy sentence of the law, and naturally enough avail themselves of their proximity to power, and entreat their masters and mistresses so importunately to interpose with their good offices, that, even for their own sakes, they
interfere;-for, what man can be happy, if the people immediately attendant on his person are miserable? Not a few have escaped through electioneering interest. When the condemned party has a father or brothers possessed of votes for a borough, the member is speedily given to understand that a pardon for their relation would bind the whole family for ever to his interest in the borough: but these instances will of course be now less rare, as the mode of returning members under the reformed system will place them above the minacious arguments of a family of voters. So sensible is Mr. Capper of the use which has been made of this species of interest, that, whenever he hears of an application made by a member of parliament on behalf of a prisoner under sentence, he is sure to inquire the birthplace of the culprit; and, by connecting the place with the one from whence the applicant is returned to parliament, is enabled to draw his inference of the motives which have induced him to interpose; although it makes very little difference in the result.
With great justice is it contended by this writer, that the practice of granting pardons at all is impolitic and founded on wrong principles; for, the facility and frequency with which they are granted, and the commutations into which they are occasionally converted, have destroyed and rendered null and void the whole end of our criminal code, which requires, above all things, towards its efficacy, as a preventive of crime, that it should be ceaselessly and uniformly certain in its terrible visitations.
A very valuable chapter follows, on the sanguinary character of our penal code, in which the author considers the moral effects of executions, and the treatment of malefactors who are under sentence of death in the prison of Newgate; the latter consideration being pursued, in particular, in reference to its connexion with religion. There is no truth more satisfactorily made out than that the severity of punishment does not proportionably intimidate from the commission of crime. It has been supposed that the dread of execution has induced many convicts to surrender their minds to serious meditations, and that they become fully penitent at the approach of their ignominious death. But it is the experience of the author that there is no such thing, in nineteen cases out of twenty, as true repentance. The following statement is only a specimen of the condition of the minds of many convicts.
'The last man I conversed with who suffered had been a master butcher at one period of his life, of respectability; but, failing in trade, he became connected with some sheep-stealers, who carried on their depredations in the way described under the head of Crimes, Sheep and Cattle Stealing. He was the agent in London, who took them from the drovers to dispose of, after which he and the stealers shared the proceeds. I have selected this case because the man was rather well-informed and somewhat educated, being between forty and fifty years of age. At the time he was awaiting the decision of the council he became very much indisposed, and was removed from the cell-yard to the infirmary, being afflicted with VOL. IV. (1833) no. I.
ascites; here almost every day, as I passed, I held some conversation with him on the nature and cause of his complaint, and of the probable result of his fate. On the day when it was known the report would come down from the council, I asked him how he was; he replied, "My health is now of no consequence, as I shall be out of all pain before this day week: I know there is no chance for me." I said, "If you have throughout been assured of this, I think I never saw a man take it easier." He answered, Why, sir, it's of no use fretting one's self about what can't be avoided." I rejoined, "I am happy to see you so prepared and resigned; but, to be very candid with you, from your jollity and happiness over your pipe and beer, I did not give you credit for so much reflexion, or for possessing so much sense of religion." "Ha!" he cried, "that's just what I want to speak to you about. Now, do you think, within your own mind, that we shall ever be conscious of any thing after death?" I of course used every argument I was master of to convince him of another state of existence. He exclaimed, "What! you too can gammon as well as the parson: that's what they do; they take your life away, and then think to make_you amends by telling you of another and a better world; for my part, I am very well satisfied with this, if they would let me stay in it." That same day the order for his execution came down, and he was removed into the cells, from whence, in a few days afterwards, he was led to the fatal drop, preserving the same coolness of manner as on the day I held the above colloquy with him on futurity and the immortality of the soul. However the facts themselves may be lamented, it is of importance that the truth should always be told. Death is at all times terrible, but must be more so when it is violent and disgraceful: most who suffer are frightened when it draws near their last hour: but fear is not penitence, nor is it repentance for their sins. The fact is, and it should be generally known to the world, that not one statement in one hundred given to the public, of the conduct and penitence of malefactors who suffer death, is founded in fact; and in this place I may as well explain to the reader how it happens that the world is deceived on this head, and in what manner the public papers are made unconscious instruments in giving circulation to the most abominable falsehoods, on the subject of malefactors and their conduct.'
The method which is now in practise, to afford religious consolation to the convicts, is by no means calculated to produce the sort of solemn impression which is so desirable in these unfortunate persons. On the contrary, the system on which the convicts are attended by the ministers of religion, tends only to distract the prisoner, and bring religion and its sovereign comforts altogether into contempt. For example, if a convict be marked out for death on a given day, the prison is constantly beset with applications for admittance, by persons who wish to be allowed to administer consolation to the unhappy malefactors: these applications are generally made by dissenters, but many ministers of the orthodox church do occasionally apply for admission. Now, it must be understood, that, in matters of religion, as well as on other questions, the bench of aldermen are divided into two parties; one high church, and the other the high evangelics, as they denominate themselves: the zeal of the latter party leads them to persuade themselves that a man cannot, with any
reasonable prospect of salvation, go out of this world without imbibing a large portion of their doctrine; this conduct, under other circumstances, might be considered laudable zeal, but here it is not only officiousness, but highly detrimental to the peace of mind of the poor wretches whom they affect to be so anxious to serve; for, it frequently happens that members of different churches are introduced into the cells of Newgate by permission of the several aldermen, or in their company, after which they generally claim, and are allowed, free access to the cells (the governor of Newgate, for the time being, viewing the aldermen as his masters). At all hours of the day these persons are to be found administering spiritual advice to the malefactors.
It appears even that very often whilst the ordinary is engaged with the convict in his cell, the Rev. Mr., of the chapel of makes a knocking at the door for admittance, so ardent is the enthusiasm of the various sectarian ministers. This holy zeal manifests itself on the part of those gentlemen in various very gross irregularities. In Essex, for instance, the author remembers to have seen a dissenting clergyman accompanying a convict to the scaffold. At the moment the unfortunate man was about to be launched into eternity, the minister turned round to the populace, and vociferated to the people, "Behold a happy man!" pointing to the sufferer; this he repeated several times, with a stentorian voice, adding, "that, so sure was he of the malefactar's going to heaven, that he at that moment envied him his situation !!”
The author devotes a considerable space to the subject of prison discipline and secondary punishment, commencing with a chapter on the character of the men who generally commit crime, and the best mode of disposing of the offender. In speaking of the treatment of convicts, he particularly notices the recent work of Bishop Whately, entitled, "Thoughts on Secondary Punishments," in which he says, "that this redoubted teacher of christianity has taken upon himself the ungracious task of urging the legislature to acts of further cruelty against his fellow men." After examining his criticism of Dr. Whately's book, we do not hesitate to say it is unjust and uncandid, and that it manifests much more a disposition to find fault with the right reverend prelate, than ability to detect error. We, therefore, pass over this portion of the work to reach the very interesting chapters on juvenile offenders. On the subject here announced, many volumes might be written, shewing the habits and characters of the boys, and the processes whereby they are brought into the commission of crime, their previous state of life, and the circumstances which impel them to crime. As a general rule, the author objects to any sentence which would place under the restrictions of the law a youth under fourteen years of age, for more than seven years, because at such an age he can hardly be regarded as morally responsible for his acts; and the only justification that could be alledged for punishing him at all would be, that, by confinement of one
description or another, he would cease to be an instrument in the hands of those who had first urged him to commit depredations, as is usually the case. If on the first offence which is prosecuted, such delinquents are secured, and if they are kept during the term of their minority in a state where opportunities of instruction are afforded them, much advantage may be the result; but, to make them when they become men, undergo a penalty which they merited when boys, as is the case when transportation for life or for fourteen years, is the award of a judge on youths, is a cruelty unknown even to the cold and cruel legislation of antient times. The Roman Law, as our author aptly observes, of the twelve tables, ordained that an open theft should be whipped with rods, and condemned to slavery, if he had attained the age of puberty; or only whipped if he was not of ripe age. We are, probably, the first and only nation on the face of the earth who, in in the adult, punish the crimes done in infancy. The Old Bailey Court, however, in proportion to the numbers, as often sentence boys as men to transportation for fourteen years and life.
The absurdity, too, of passing sentence of death on boys under fourteen years of age, is evident on the slightest inspection. The author has known five in one session in this awful situation; one for stealing a comb almost valueless, two for a child's sixpenny story-book, another for a man's stock, and the fifth for pawning his mother's shawl. In four of these cases the boys put their hands through a broken pane of glass in a shop-window, and stole the articles for which they were sentenced to death, and subsequently transported for life. This act, in legal technicality, is house-breaking. The law presumes they break the glass, and it is probable in most instances they do so. In two of the cases here named, however, the prosecutrix's daughter told the writer that there was only a piece of brown paper to supply the place of that which once had been glass. In the latter case, the unfortunate mother caused her son to be apprehended, in the hopes of persuading the magistrate to recommend him to the Refuge for the Destitute, or some other charitable institution. She, however, in the course of her examination, said she was from home, and that the house was locked up at the time of the shawl being taken, which was afterwards found at a pawnbroker's. This made it housebreaking; and, in spite of all the mother's efforts, he was condemned to death. He is now in the Penitentiary.
The grand cause of the failure of all efforts on the part of the criminal courts to put down juvenile delinquency, is contained in the mistaken views of the legal authorities as to the effects of punishment on youthful offenders. The author heard the chairman of the Middlesex sessions, lately address a boy in the following manner:-" Prisoner, what can we do with you? we have done every thing to reclaim you; we have imprisoned you over and over again, and given you frequent floggings, yet all is of no use: the