« PreviousContinue »
- The trials of the lords Balmerino and Kilmarnock are, fortunately for us, so well known, and the characters of those gallant rebels so well understood thanks to the lively letters of Horace Walpole, who certainly dealt with them before he got into his Anecdotage,-that we may be very well spared noticing them here. Balmerino joked to the very final flash of the axe, and made a sturdy sport of death, to the lasting delight of your surly, game Englishmen. Lord Lovat was of the same gay, satirical temper, and drank the health of the gentleman who brought the dead-warrant to him. He practised positions for execution, by placing his head on the foot of the bed, and talked at last of being ready for the part he had to play. Just before he ascended the scaffold, he said a short prayer on his knees, and drank a little burnt brandy and bitters. Before he laid his head on the block, his lordship presented a purse to the headsman, and assured him he should be angry if his axeship should so awkwardly cut, as to be compelled to come again. The man was true to the money, and struck off his lordship’s head at a blow.
There is a poor trial of poor Baretti, the dictionary man : but we authors make miserable convicts. To be sure, a tolerable calendar might be made of our trials in this world! : Several daring highwaymen follow, and crows, crapes, and centre-bits, are “ plenty as blackberries”—but our space is nearly consumed. The melancholy account of the two unfortunate Perreaus', for forgery upon Mr. Adair, with intent to defraud Drummond the banker, is written in a style of pathos perfectly subduing. They were both found guilty.-Death !The two brothers made a fair and manly defence, but Mrs. Rudd, that human adder in their path, was too wily for them, and they fell a sacrifice to her. They were all tenderness to each other, and to all around them. · The Ordinary seems to write as though his pen were dipped in tears. Mrs. Rudd, who had destroyed them, as we think, was brought to trial and
her Gracound Suite,
The trial of the Dutchess of Kingston closes the work. Thank heaven! her Grace's vices are not worth remembering. She was unfortunately found guilty of marrying one man too many; but she pleaded her privilege, and so glided out of the hands of the house of peers. The peers are certainly bad judges of a lady's case. . We had marked several interesting passages in the course of our journey through these four volumes, which we intended returning to explore ; but we must content ourselves with merely extracting a curious account of the punishment visited upon prisoners who refused to plead; and a singular piece of evidence, showing off an Irishman to advantage. The first account is of William Spiggott, a young man who refused pleading to his indictment.
“ Before he was put into the press, the Ordinary of Newgate endeavoured to dissuade him from hastening his own death in such a manner, and thereby depriving himself of that time which the law allowed him to repent in: to which he only answered, if you come to take care of my soul, I shall regard you ; but if you come about my body, I must desire to be excused, for I cannot hear one word. At the next visit the chaplain found him lying in the vault, upon the bare ground, with three hundred and fifty pounds weight upon his breast, and then prayed by him, and at several times asked him, why he would hazard his soul by such obstinate kind of self-murder. But all the answer that he made was, pray for me, pray for me. He sometimes lay silent under the pressure, as if insensible of pain, and then again would fetch his breath very quick and short. Several times he complained that they had laid a cruel weight upon his face, though it was covered with nothing but a thin cloth, which was afterwards removed, and laid more light and hollow; yet he still complained of the prodigious weight upon his face, which might be caused by the blood's being forced up thither, and pressing the veins as violently as if the force had been externally on his face.
“ When he had remained half an hour under this load, and fifty pounds weight more laid on, being in all four hundred, he told those that attended him he would plead.
“ Immediately the weights were at once taken off, the cords cut asunder, he was raised up by two men, some brandy was put into his mouth to revive him, and he was carried to take his trial.
“ The reasons he gave for enduring the press were, that his effects might be preserved for the good of his family, that none might reproach his children by telling them their father was hanged, and that Joseph Lindsey might not triumph in saying, he had sent him to Tyburn. He seemed to be much incensed against this Lindsey, for, says he, I was once wounded, and in danger of my life, by rescuing him when he was near being taken, and yet he afterwards made himself an evidence against me.” .
It is well for some of those who are connected with the modern Temple of Reason, that this manner of cold-pressing is not now applied to refractory printers.
The following whimsical evidence appears in the course of one J. Molony's trial for a street robbery.
“ Court. Mr. Young, by what light did you see the prisoners when they robbed you?
“ Mr. Young. I saw them plainly by the chairmen's lanthorn. When Carrick was going to rifle me, he bid one of them go over the way: but Molony asked Carrick what he sent him away for; and calling to the chairmen, d- nye, villains, says he, come back, or I will run ye through. And the chairman coming back, Molony stood over him with his sword. He bid the chairmen hold their hats before their face, but they held them a little on one side, so that they could see what was done.
“ Carrick. Pray, sir, which side of the chair was I on when you say I robbed you?
“ Mr. Young. On the left side.
“ Carrick. Now that is a lie, for I was on the right side. I shall catch you again presently. What coloured coat had I?
“ Mr. Young. Black.
“ Carrick. That is another damned lie of yours-for you know, Mr. Molony, that you and I changed wigs that night, and yours is a dark brown. Had I two pistols in one hand, or one in each hand?
“ Mr. Young. I saw but one pistol.
We miss, in these otherwise perfect volumes, the life and adventures of John Rann, alias Sixteen-string Jack, your only finished Filch of the age. We remember him to have been described thus, verbatim, in an old book of the day :
“Sixteen-string Jack was about twenty-four years of age, about five feet five inches high, wore his own hair, of a light brown colour, which combed over his forehead; remarkably clean, and particularly neat in his dress, which in two instances was very singular, that of always having sixteen strings to his breeches' knees, always of silk (by which means he acquired his name,) and a remarkable hat with strings, and a button on the crown. He was straight, of a genteel carriage, and made a very handsome appearance.”
Further, when at the Old Bailey, on the last occasion, he is described thus : “ his dress was entirely new, green buckskin breeches, ruffled shirt, and hat bound round with silver strings." Was not this varlet modelled for Filch ? He is surely fit to shine in one of Richardson's novels. Such a man would have done Pamela good.
We have now finished our survey. It is impossible to read the Annals of Newgate, without being struck with the straight, honest, cordial style of the Ordinary, which, without intending any play upon words, is indeed no ordinary style. It simply goes about its business, without any outward flourishings or needless circumlocutions. The proper words are, as Swift says, put in their proper places; and though we do not go the length of Lismahago's assertion, that the purest English is spoken at Edinburgh, we must say that, in our opinion, if a man be desirous of attaining a clean English style, he must seek it at Newgate. There is, indeed, a conciseness,-a shortness in the composition of the whole work before us, which
authors might study to advantage. The sentences are short and decisive, as the sentences in court : the passages are not flowery,—they smell but of wholesome rue. No attempt is made at graceful ornament or effect; on the contrary, the narratives are hung in the chains of strong iron English, and seem fitted powerfully to the malefactors they belong to. You meet with the words : “ the dead-warrant came down.”-Is not this hard sentence heavy as fate? Then the finale of “ executed at Tyburn,” is never or rarely omitted; but winds up the biography and the man as patly as possible..
At the same time, we have observed, that much of the true interest created by the Annals of Newgate, is traceable to the public places which are recorded, and the well known spots that are alluded to. The venues are well laid. The wondrous scenes of the several tragedies are “ familiar to us as household words." We read of Leicester-square--of Fleet-street-of St. Giles's--of Rotherhithe-with a double interest, because we have visited the very stones of the street, and can therefore bring the murders home to our very business and bosoms; (Lord Bacon's old-established bringing home, as our readers well know.) We like to read, that our common streets are so awful: we prize the neighbourly, bloody spots! .
Nor should the pictures that illustrate the book be passed over: they are very properly executed in the line manner, and in lines too, strong enough to hang the subjects. The inscriptions also, under each plate, seem to be histories of themselves, and to utter naked horror to the reader: for instance, we meet with “ Blake, alias Blueskin, attempting to cut the throat of Jonathan Wild, on the leads before the Old Sessions-house.” And, in another print, we have “ Captain Donellan rinsing the bottle after poisoning Sir Theodosius Boughton.” Every plate, in short, is thus pithily illustrated. • The Ordinary does not always waive the cracking of his little innocent waggeries; but we believe Ordinaries, out of the condemned hole, are right facetious men—and, strange as it may seem, their very calling makes them such. Why should they always be Newgatory in their spirits? The rogues of the present day describe the uneasy process of hanging, ás “ going out of the world with your ears stuffed with Cotton :'_The doctor will not easily shake off this jest. In the work before us, we read of one ruffian who “ would swear, while others were singing a penitential stave of Sternhold and Hopkins.” How could he, we would ask, or any one else, help swearing ?-In another place, the Ordinary, for once, becomes figurative; for, in speaking of the justices, he says, “ they preached to the winds, and were under the disagreeable necessity of reading the riot act.”
The confessions scattered plentifully throughout the four volumes are of the deepest interest, far superior to Rousseau's: thus beating that eminent Confessor on his own dunghill.
The long examination we have undergone, has left us nearly as jaded as a Common Serjeant at the fag-end of a tedious session. As we approach our end, we catch the trick of convicts, and begin to get serious. A few plain words, therefore, upon a subject which has been deeply impressed upon us in the course of reading this work : they may be taken as our confession, if the reader pleases.
In closing the book, we are naturally struck with horror at finding, that few of the criminals have exceeded the scanty age of twenty-five,—that they have, indeed, generally been removed from this world at twenty. It is to be inferred, therefore, that with them reflection has had little to do; and that, in most cases, they have been depraved for mere excitement sake, and that excitement indeed was necessary to the existence of their vices.
From this, does it appear that punishment by death has any terror,--any moral effect upon one miscreant on record ?No! The public exhibition of a young man dying resolutely, is rather a fearful display of courage, than an awful warning against crime. The depraved adore what is game; and to them a daring death is rather a stimulant than a dreadful shock to their vices : the halter sublimes the ruffian, and makes him a hero at the Debtors' Door :--the gallows, indeed, is but the tree on which desperate courage hideously blossoms !—The convict's piety in the condemned hole is insecure while a chance of reprieve remains; and the moment he escapes the rope, back he rushes to the herd. His solitary penitence, is fear, garbed in religion,-not a healthy consciousness of crime, not the pure, white repentance of a heart, open to the past, and hopeful for the future! Before capital offences are decreased, capital punishments must be altered. Our laws must lay aside the frequent rope, for the crimes in the hearts of criminals are of those stones, which constant dropping will not wear away. Solitary confinement will work incalculable good,-a bad, restless, young man, can bear death better than his own company. The pang of a moment can be steadily met; but patient punishment tames the most brutal-minded. Then, employment should be fully introduced into our prisons,—and the police of our metropolis better ordered: the rewards of officers should not depend on the increase or decrease of crime; at present the rope bears a premium. We are quite sure, that if those persons who are anxious for the amendment of the