Page images

ing season, and, more trying still, the coldness of the world, awaken towards her a sense of gratitude, and invest her name with an interest which must attach to anything from her pen.

The chosen and almost exclusive sphere of woman is home, in the warmth of the family hearth. Rarely is she able to mingle with effect in the active labors which influence mankind. With incredulity we admire the feminine expounder of the Roman law, illustrating by her lectures the Universities of Padua and Bologna, and the charities of St. Elizabeth of Hungary are legendary in the dim distance; though, in our own day, the classical productions of the widow of Wyttenbach, crowned Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Marburg, and most especially the beautiful labors of Mrs. Fry, recently closed by death, are examples of the sway exerted by the gentler sex beyond the charmed circle of domestic life. Among these Miss Dix will receive a place which her modesty would forbid her to claim. Her name will be enrolled among benefactors. It will be pronounced with gratitude, when heroes in the strifes of politics and of war are disregarded or forgotten.

"Can we forget the generous few

Who, touched with human woe, redressive sought
Into the horrors of the gloomy jail,

Unpitied and unheard, where misery moans,
Where sickness pines?"

Miss Dix's labors embrace penitentiaries, jails, almshouses, poor-houses, and asylums for the insane, throughout the Northern and Middle States, all of which she has visited, turning a face of gentleness towards crime, comforting the unfortunate, softening a hard lot, sweetening a bitter cup, while she obtained information of

[ocr errors]

their condition calculated to awaken the attention of the public. This labor of love she has pursued earnestly, devotedly, sparing neither time nor strength, neglecting no person, abject or lowly, frequenting the cells of all, and by word and deed seeking to strengthen their hearts. The melody of her voice still sounds in our ears, as, standing in the long corridor of the Philadelphia Penitentiary, she read a Psalm of consolation; nor will that scene be effaced quickly from the memory of any then present. Her Memorials, addressed to the Legislatures of different States, have divulged a mass of facts, derived from personal and most minute observation, particularly with regard to the treatment of the insane, which must arouse the sensibilities of a humane people. In herself alone she is a whole Prison Discipline Society. To her various efforts may be applied, without exaggeration, those magical words in which Burke commemorated the kindred charity of Howard, when he says that he travelled, "not to survey the sumptuousness of palaces or the stateliness of temples, not to make accurate measurements of the remains of ancient grandeur nor to form a scale of the curiosity of modern art, not to collect medals or collate manuscripts, but to dive into the depths of dungeons, to plunge into the infection of hospitals, to survey the mansions of sorrow and pain, to take the gauge and dimensions of misery, depression, and contempt, to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken, and to compare and collate the distresses of all men."

Her "Remarks" contain general results on different points connected with the discipline of prisons: as, the duration of sentences; pardons and the pardoning

power; diet of prisoners; water; clothing; ventilation; heat; health; visitors' fees; dimensions of lodging-cells in the State penitentiaries; moral, religious, and general instruction in prisons; reformation of prisoners; penitentiary systems of the United States; and houses of refuge for juvenile offenders. It would be interesting and instructive to examine the conclusions on all these important topics having the sanction of her disinterested experience; but our limits restrict us, on the present occasion, to a single topic.

We are disposed to take advantage of the interest Miss Dix's publication may excite, and also of her name, which is an authority, to say a few words on a question much agitated, and already the subject of many books, -the comparative merits of what are called the Pennsylvania and Auburn Penitentiary Systems. This question is, perhaps, the most important of all that grow out of Prisons; for it affects, in a measure, all others. It involves both the construction of the prison, and its administration.

The subject of Prison Discipline, and particularly the question between the two systems, has of late years occupied the attention of jurists and philanthropists in no ordinary degree. The discussion has been conducted in all the languages of Europe, to such an extent that the titles alone of the works would occupy considerable space in a volume of Bibliography. We have before us, for instance, a list of no less than eleven in Italian. But we must go back to the last century, if we would trace the origin of the controversy.

To Howard, a man of true greatness, whose name will stand high on the roll of the world's benefactors, belongs the signal honor of first awakening the sympa

thies of the English people in this work of benevolence. By his travels and labors he became familiar with the actual character of prisons, and was enabled to spread before the public an accumulation of details which fill the reader with horror and disgust. The condition of prisons at that time in England was appalling. Of course there was no system; nor was there any civilization in the treatment of prisoners. Everything was bad. As there was no care, so there was no cleanliness, on which so much depends, and there was no classification or separation of any kind. All commingled, so that the uncleanness of one befouled all, and the wickedness of one contaminated all. While this continued, all hope of reform was vain. Therefore, with especial warmth, Howard pleaded for the separation of prisoners, especially at night, "wishing to have so many small rooms or cabins that each criminal may sleep alone," 1 and called attention to the fact he had observed in Holland, that "in most of the prisons for criminals there are so many rooms that each prisoner is kept separate." 2

The importance of the principle of separation was first recognized at Rome, as long ago as 1703, by Clement XI., in the foundation of the Hospital of St. Michael, or the House of Refuge, where a separate dormitory was provided for each prisoner. Over the portal of this asylum, in letters of gold, were inscribed the words of wisdom which Howard adopted as the motto of his labors, and which indicate the spirit that should preside over the administration of all prisons: Parum est improbos coercere pana, nisi probos efficias disciplina, — It is of small consequence to coerce the wicked by pun

1 Howard, State of the Prisons, p. 22.

2 Ibid., p. 45.

ishment, unless you make them good by discipline. The first and most important step in this discipline is to remove prisoners from all evil influence,-which can be done only by separation from each other, and by filling their time with labor.

In furtherance of this principle, and that he might reduce it to practice, Howard, in conjunction with Sir William Blackstone, as early as 1779, drew an Act of Parliament, the preamble to the fifth section of which is an enunciation of the cardinal truth at the foundation of all effective prison discipline.

"Whereas," says the Act, "if many offenders, convicted of crimes for which transportation hath been usually inflicted, were ordered to solitary imprisonment, accompanied by well-regulated labor and religious instruction, it might be the means, under Providence, not only of deterring others from the commission of the like crimes, but also of reforming the individuals," etc. Noble words! Here, for the first time in English legislation, the reformation of the prisoner is proposed as a distinct object. This Act, though passed, was unfortunately never carried into execution, through the perverseness, it is said, of one of the persons associated with Howard as commissioner for erecting a suitable prison.

As early as 1790 a law was passed in Pennsylvania, which is of importance in the history of this subject, showing appreciation of the principle of seclusion with labor. In the preamble it is declared, that previous laws for the punishment of criminals had failed of success, "from the communication with each other not being sufficiently restrained within the places of confinement, and it is hoped that the addition of unremitted solitude to laborious employment, as far as it can

« PreviousContinue »