chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF LONDON
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IN a well furnished room, on the first-floor of the Home
Office, sate the Secretary of State for that Department.
The room was spacious and lofty. The walls were hung with the
portraits of several eminent statesmen who had, at different times, presided
over the internal policy of the country. A round table stood in the middle of
the apartment; and at this table, which groaned beneath a mass of papers, was
seated the Minister.
At the feet of this functionary was a wicker basket, into
which he threw the greater portion of the letters addressed to him, and over
each of which he cast a glance of such rapidity that he must either have been a
wonderfully clever man to acquire a notion of the contents of those documents by
means of so superficial a survey, or else a very neglectful one to pay so little
attention to affairs which were associated with important individual interests
or which related to matters of national concern.
The time-piece upon the mantel struck twelve, when a low
knock at the door of the apartment elicited from the Minister an invitation to
A tall, thin, middle-aged, sallow-faced person, dressed in
black, glided noiselessly into the room, bowed obsequiously to the Minister, and
took his seat at the round table.
This was the Minister's private secretary.
The secretary immediately mended a pen, arranged his
blotting-paper in a business-like fashion before him, spread out his foolscap
writing paper, and then glanced towards his master, as much as to say, "I
"Take that pile of correspondence, if you please,"
said the Minister, "and run your eye over each letter."
"Yes, my lord," said the Secretary; and he glanced
cursorily over the letters alluded to, one after the other, briefly mentioning
their respective objects as he proceeded. " This letter, my lord, is from
the chaplain of Newgate. It sets forth that there is a man of the name of
William Lees at present under sentence of death in that prison; that William
Lees, in a fit of unbridled passion, which bordered upon insanity, murdered his
wife; that the conduct of the deceased was sufficient to provoke the most
temperate individual to a similar deed; that he had no interest in killing her;
and that he committed the crime in a moment over which he had no control."
"Do you remember anything of the case?" demanded
the Home Secretary. "For my part, I have no time to read trials."
"Yes, my lord," replied the Secretary. "This
William Lees is a barber; and his wife was of vile and most intemperate habits.
He murdered her in a fit of exasperation caused by the discovery that she had
pledged every thing moveable in the house, to obtain the means of buying
"Oh! a barber - eh?" said the Home Secretary,
"Yes, my lord. Your lordship will remember that young
Medhurst, who assassinated a school-fellow in a fit of passion, was only
condemned to three years' imprisonment."
"Ah! but that was quite a different thing,"
exclaimed the Minister. "Medhurst was a gentleman; but this man is only a
"True, my lord - very true," said the Secretary.
"I had quite forgotten that."
"Make a memorandum, that the law in the case of William
Lees must take its course."
"Yes, my lord;" - and the Secretary, having
endorsed the note upon the letter, referred to another document. " This, my
lord, is a petition from a political prisoner confined in a county gaol, and who
sets forth that he is compelled to wear the prison dress, associate with felons
of the blackest character, and eat the prison allowance. He humbly submits "
"He may submit till he is tired," interrupted the
Minister. "Make a memorandum to answer the petition to the effect that her
Majesty's Secretary of State for the Home Department does not see any ground
for interfering in the matter."
"Very good, my lord. This letter is from a pauper in the
Union, stating that he has, been cruelly assaulted, beaten, and ill-used by
the master; that he has applied in vain to the Poor Law Commissioners for
redress; and that he now ventures to submit his case to your lordship."
"Make a note to answer that the fullest inquiries shall
be immediately instituted," said the Minister.
"Shall I give the necessary instructions for the
inquiry, my lord?" asked the Secretary.
"Inquiry!" repeated the Minister: "are you mad? Do you
really imagine that I shall be foolish [-286-] enough to permit any inquiry at all? Such a step would be
almost certain to end in substantiating the pauper's charge against the master;
and then there would be a clamour from one end of the country to the other
against the New Poor Laws. We must smother all such affairs whenever we can but
by writing to say that the fullest inquiries shall be instituted, I shall be
armed with a reply to any member who might happen to bring the case before
Parliament. My answer to the charge would then be that her Majesty's Government
had instituted a full inquiry into the matter, and had ascertained that the
pauper was a quarrelsome, obstreperous, end disorderly person, who was not to be
believed upon his oath."
" True, my lord," said the Secretary, evidently struck by
this display of ministerial wisdom. "The next letter, my lord, is from a
clerk in the Tax Office, Somerset House. He complains that his income is too
small, and that the Commissioners of Taxes refuse to augment it. He states in
pretty plain terms, that unless he receives an augmentation, be shall not
hesitate to publish the fact, that the Dividend Books of the Bank of England are
removed to the Tax-Office every six months, in order that an account of every
fundholder's stock in the government securities may be taken for the information
of the Treasury and the Tax Commissioners: he adds that such so announcement would convulse the whole
nation with alarm at the awful state of espionnage under which the people exist;
and he states these grounds as a reason for purchasing his silence by means of
an increase of salary."
"This is serious - very serious," said the Minister:
"but the letter should have been addressed to the Chancellor of the
Exchequer. You must enclose it to my colleague."
"Yes, my lord," replied the Secretary.
At this moment a gentle knock was heard at the door of the
The Secretary hastened to respond to the summons, and
admitted two persons dressed in plain but decent attire. One was a short, stout,
red-faced, consequential-looking man: the other was a tall, raw-boned, ungainly
person, and seemed quite confounded at the presence in which he found himself.
The former of these individuals was an inspector of police:
the latter was a common police-officer. Indeed, the reader has been already
introduced to them, in the fourteenth chapter of this narrative.
Having ushered these individuals into the room, the private
secretary hastened to breathe a few words in an under tone to the ear of his
"Oh! these are the men, are they?" said the Minister aloud.
"Yes, my lord," replied the Secretary; then, addressing the
police-officers, he exclaimed, " Step forward, my men - step forward. There
- that's right: now sit down at that side of the table, and let the one who
can write best make notes of the instructions that will be immediately given to
Both the Minister and Secretary were cautious enough not to
give those instructions in their own handwriting.
The men sate down, as they were desired; and the inspector
whispered to his companion an order to assume the duties of amanuensis on the
"You are aware, my good fellows," said the Minister, "that
there is to be a great political meeting to-morrow evening somewhere in
"Yes, my lord," replied the inspector.
"It is necessary to the purposes of her Majesty's
Government," continued the Minister, "that discredit
should be thrown upon all political meetings where very liberal sentiments are
"Yes, my lord," said the inspector. " Shall Crisp put that
down, my lord?"
"There is no necessity to make a note of my
observations, only of my instructions," answered the Minister, with a smile.
"The best method of throwing discredit upon those meetings is to create a
disturbance. You, Mr. Inspector, will therefore take care and have at least a
dozen of your men in plain clothes at the assembly to-morrow evening."
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
"You will direct your men, Mr. Inspector, to applaud
most vehemently all the inflammatory parts of the speeches made upon the
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
"You will contrive that Mr. Crisp, whom my secretary
states to be a proper man for the purpose, shall himself make a speech to-morrow
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
"This speech must be of the most violent and
inflammatory kind: it must advocate the use of physical force, denounce the
aristocracy, the government, and the parliament in the most blood-thirsty terms;
it need not even spare her most gracious Majesty. Let the cry be Blood; and let
your men, Mr. Inspector, applaud with deafening shouts, every period in this
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
"The well-disposed portion of the audience will
remonstrate. Your men in plain clothes can thus readily pick a quarrel; and a
quarrel may be easily made to lead to blows. Then let a posse of constables in
uniform rush in, and lay about them with their bludgeons most unsparingly. The
more broken heads and limbs, the better. Be sure to have some of the audience
taken into custody; and on the following morning, appear against them before the
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
"You will take especial care to denounce the individuals
so captured, as the ringleaders of the riot, and the ones who made themselves
most conspicuous in applauding the inflammatory speeches uttered on the occasion
- especially those which advocated rebellion, bloodshed, and death to
monarchy and aristocracy."
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
"If the magistrate asks you - as be will be certain to do,"
continued the Minister, "whether you are acquainted with the prisoners at
the bar, you can say that they are well known to the police as most dangerous
and disorderly characters."
"Yes, my lord. Put that down, Crisp."
" You see," said the Minister, turning towards his own
private secretary, " it is ten to one that the individuals so arrested will
be respectable tradesmen ; and as they will thus obtain a taste of the treadmill
(for we must send our private instructions to the magistrates at Lambeth Street,
to that effect) the warning will be a most salutary one throughout the whole
district - especially at a moment when the Spitalfields weavers are reduced to
desperation by their dreadfully distressed condition."
"Of course, my lord," replied the Secretary. "Such a
proceeding will sicken men of political meetings. Has your lordship any farther
instructions for these officers?"
"None," said the Minister. "I may, however, add, that if
they acquit themselves well in this respect, the inspector shall become a superintendent, and the constable a
[-287-] "Thank your lordship," exclaimed the inspector.
"You may put
that down, too, Crisp - and express your gratitude to his lordship for his
Mr. Crisp acted in all respects as he was desired; and having
each made an awkward bow, the two officers retired.
"Now proceed with the correspondence," said the Minister.
"Yes, my lord," replied the Secretary. "Here
is a letter from the mayor of stating that the experiment of making the prisoners, tried and untried,
who are confined in the goal of that town, wear black masks whenever they are
compelled to mingle together, works well. The mayor moreover states, that out of
two hundred prisoners subjected to the solitary system, since the introduction
of the plan into the goal, only nineteen have gone mad, and of those only three
have died raving. He therefore recommends the solitary system. He adds that all
personal identity is now destroyed in the prison, and prisoners are known by
numbers instead of by their names. He concludes by inquiring whether these
regulations shall continue in force?"
"Most assuredly," answered the Minister. "Make a
note that a reply is to be sent to that effect. I am glad the system of solitary
confinement, black cloth masks, and numbers instead of names, works well. I
shall gradually apply it to every criminal prison in England. At the same time.
I must endeavour to throw the odium of the introduction of that system upon the
justices in quarter sessions assembled - in case I should be assailed on the
subject in the House."
"Certainly, my lord. This letter is from the secret
agent, sent down to Manchester to inquire into the constitution and principles
of the Independent Order of Rechabites. He obtained admission. into a lodge,
and was regularly initiated a member of the Brotherhood. He finds that the
Rechabites are about eighty thousand in number, having lodges in all the great
cities and towns of England, with the head-quarters at Manchester. The Order is
not political; but is formed of sections of the Teetotal Societies. The
government need not entertain any fears of this combination. The agent sends up
a detailed account of the secrets and signs connected with the Order,
accompanied by a copy of the rules and regulations."
"These Teetotalers must not be encouraged. They are
seriously injuring the Excise-revenues. Proceed."
"This letter, my lord, is from the principal agent sent
down into the mining districts, to encourage a spirit of discontent amongst the
pitmen. He says that he has no doubt of being enabled to produce a disturbance
in the north, and thus afford your lordship the wished-for opportunity of
sending more troops in that direction. When once over-awed by the presence of a
formidable number of bayonets, the pitmen will be compelled to submit to the
terms dictated by the coal-mine proprietors; and your lordship's aims will be
"I am glad of that, The coal-mine proprietors ire rich and
influential men, whom it is necessary to conciliate," said the Minister. "
"Here is a letter," my lord, continued the Secretary,
"from Sir Joseph Gosborne, stating that his daughter, Miss Gosborne, was
taken into custody yesterday morning on an accusation of stealing a jar of
anchovies from an oilman's shop. The magistrate refused to take bail, and
remanded the young lady until next Monday. Sir Joseph is anxious that his
daughter should be admitted to bail, because, in that case, should he fail to settle
the prosecutor, he can keep his daughter out of the way when the day of trial
arrives, and pay the money for the estreated recognizances. He is moreover
desirous that the case should be sent to the Sessions, because, if by any
accident the matter should go to trial, a verdict of acquittal is certain at the
hands of a Clerkenwell jury, but by no means sure with an Old Bailey one."
"Make a memorandum to write to the magistrate who will
hear the case next Monday, to take bail - moderate bait, mind - and to refer the
matter to the Sessions. We must not refuse to oblige Sir Joseph Gosborne."
While the private secretary was still writing, a servant
entered and informed the Minister that Mr. Teynham was waiting, and solicited an
"Ah! the new magistrate at Marlborough Street," exclaimed
the Home Secretary. "Show him in."
Mr. Teynham, a middle-aged gentleman attired in black, was
introduced accordingly. He bowed very low to the Minister, and, when desired to
take a chair, obsequiously seated himself upon the very edge.
"I have recommended you to Her Majesty, Mr. Teynham,"
said the Minister, "as a fit and proper person to fill the situation of
police-magistrate and justice of the peace at the Marlborough Street Court; and
her Majesty has been most graciously pleased to confirm the appointment."
Mr. Teynham bowed very low, and became entangled in a
labyrinth of acknowledgments, with, which "deep gratitude" - "sense of duty" -
"impartial distribution of justice," and such like phrases were blended.
"It is necessary," said the Minister, after a pause, "that
I should give you a few instructions with respect to the functions upon which
you are about to enter. You are aware, Mr. Teynham that the young gentlemen
of the aristocracy are occasionally addicted to wrenching off knockers, pulling
down bells, and other innocent little pranks of a similar nature. These are
delicate cases to deal with, Mr. Teynham ; - but I need scarcely inform you
that the treadmill is not for the aristocracy."
"I understand, my lord. A trifling fine, with a
reprimand - and a little wholesome advice "
"Precisely, Mr. Teynham - precisely!" cried the Minister:
that you understand your business well. The nice discrimination which you
possess will always teach you whether you have a gentleman to deal with, or not.
If a low person choose to divert himself with aristocratic amusements, punish
him - do not spare him - send him to the treadmill. In the same way that game is
preserved for the sport of the upper classes, so must the knockers and the bells
be saved from spoliation by the lower orders."
"I fully comprehend your lordship," said the newly-made
magistrate. "I should like, however, to know your lordship's sentiments in
"Speak, Mr. Teynham," said the Minister, with the most
condescending affability, or the most affable condescension - whichever the
reader likes best.
"Suppose, my lord, that a young nobleman or well-born
gentleman wrenches off a knocker, and throws it into the street then suppose, my
lord, that a poor man, passing by, picks up the knocker and carries it off to a
marine-store dealer's to sell it for old iron, in order to procure his family a
meal ; and then if your lordship will be kind enough to suppose that both those
persons are brought up [-288-] before me - the nobleman for wrenching off the knocker and
throwing it away, and the poor man for picking it up and selling it, - how am I to
act in such a case?"
"Very ingenious - very ingenious, indeed, Mr. Teynham," -
said the Minister: " you will make an excellent magistrate! Your course in
the case propounded is clear; the nobleman is fined five shillings for being
drunk and disorderly - because all noblemen and gentlemen who wrench off knockers
are drunk and disorderly; and the poor man must be committed to the House of
Correction for three months. Nothing is plainer, Mr. Teynham."
"Nothing, my lord. Has your lordship any farther
instructions ? "
"Oh! decidedly," returned the Minister. "When any
individual connected with a noble or influential family gets into a scrape, and
is brought before you, hear the case in private, and exclude the reporters.
Again, never commit such a person for trial, unless you are absolutely
compelled. Let him go upon bail: it will be ten to one if you are ever troubled
any more with the case. There is another point to which I must direct your
attention. The practice of shoplifting among ladies has increased lately to a
fearful degree. But, after all, it is only a little eccentricity -
might almost call it an amiable weakness. The fact is, that many ladies will go
into a shop, purchase a hundred-guinea shawl, and secrete an eighteen penny
pair of gloves. Prudent husbands and fathers avert the tradesman, with whom
their wives and daughters deal, beforehand; and these trifling abstractions are
duly entered in the running accounts; but now and then a lady does get taken up.
In such a case you must show her every possible distinction. Order her a chair
in the dock; and before the business comes on, permit her to remain with her
friends in the 'magistrates' private room.' Then, if the prosecutor hesitates in
giving his evidence, fly into a passion, tell him that he is prevaricating and
not worthy to be believed upon his oath, and indignantly dismiss the case. The
accused lady can then step into her carriage, and drive ff comfortably home."
"Your lordship's instructions shall be complied with to the
very letter," said Mr. Teynham.
"In a word," continued the Minister, " you must always
shield the upper classes as much as possible; and in order to veil their little
peccadilloes, bring out the misdeeds of the lower orders in the boldest relief.
This is the only way to support the doctrine that the poor must be governed by
the rich. Whenever young boys or girls appear as witnesses, ask them if they
know the value of an oath; and if they reply in the negative, expatiate upon the
frightful immorality prevalent among the poorer classes, so that the reporters
may record your observations. This does good - and enables the Bishops to make
long speeches in the House of Lords on the necessity of religious instruction,
and the want of more churches. If you attend to these remarks of mine, Mr.
Teynham, you will make an excellent magistrate."
"Your lordship may rely upon me," was the submissive answer.
"There is one more point - I had almost forgotten it,"
said the Home Secretary. " You must invariably take the part of the
police. Remember that the oath of one police-officer is worth the oaths of a
dozen defendants. This only applies to the collision of the police with the
lower orders, mind. As a general rule, remember that the police are always sit the right when the poor are concerned, and always
in the wrong when the rich are brought before you. And now, Mr. Teynham, I have
nothing more to say."
The newly-made magistrate rose, bowed several times, and
withdrew, walking obsequiously upon the points of his toes for fear his boots
should creak in the awful presence of the Home Secretary.
But if his worship were thus meek and lowly before his
patron, he afterwards avenged himself for that constraint, when seated in the
magisterial chair, upon the poor devils that appeared before him!
The private secretary was about to proceed with the
correspondence addressed from different quarters to the Minister, when a
servant entered the room, and placed a card upon the table before this great
officer of state.
"The Earl of Warrington?" said the Minister. " I
will receive him."
The servant withdrew, and the private secretary retired to an
In a few moments the Earl of Warrington was announced.
When the usual civilities had been exchanged between the two
noblemen, the Earl of Warrington said, " I have called, my lord, upon a
matter which, I hope from the knowledge I have of your lordship's character,
will be considered by you as one of importance to the whole nation."
"The estimate your lordship forms of any business can be
no mean guide to my own opinion," answered the Minister.
"I am not quite aware whether I am acting in accordance
with official etiquette, to bring the matter alluded to under the notice of your
lordship, or whether it would have been more regular in me to have addressed
myself direct to the Postmaster-General or the Prime Minister; but as I have
the honour of being better acquainted with your lordship than with any of your
colleagues in the administration, I made up my mind to come hither."
"I shall be most happy to serve your lordship in any way
in my power," said the Minister.
"Than I shall at once come to the point," continued the
Earl of Warrington. "A friend of mine - a lady who resides in London - has corresponded for some
months past with a lady living in the state of Castelcicala; and there is every
reason to believe that the letters addressed to my friend in London. have been
opened during the transit."
"Indeed," said the Minister, not a muscle of whose
countenance moved as he heard this communication. "May I ask what is the
nature of the proofs that such is the fact?"
"I believe," returned the Earl of Warrington, "that the
letters have been opened at the English Post-office."
"The English Post-office!" ejaculated the Minister, with
an air of great surprise - whether real or affected, we must leave our readers to
"Yes, my lord - the English Post-office," said the Earl of
Warrington, firmly. "The proofs are these; - and, extracting the letters
from his pocket, he pointed out to the Minister the same appearances which he
had ere now explained to Mrs. Arlington."
"On this last letter," said the Minister, "I perceive the ducal
arms of Castelcicala."
"The present Grand Duchess of that State is the
correspondent of Mrs. Arlington, to whom, your lordship may perceive, these
letters are addressed. Now as the documents are entirely of a private nature "
"And her Serene Highness is a relative of your lordship,
I believe?" observed the Minister inquiringly."
"Which circumstance, united with my friendship For Mrs.
Arlington, has determined me to inquire into this matter - nay, to sift it to the
"Your lordship can scarcely suppose that the contents of
letters are violated by the sanction of the Post-Master General?" said the
Minister, darting a keen glance upon the earl.
"I will not take upon myself to accuse any individual
directly," was the answer.
" Nor is it worth while to scrutinise a matter which will
probably terminate in the discovery that the impertinent curiosity of some clerk
has led to the evil complained of," said the Minister.
"No, my lord - this violation of private correspondence
has been conducted too systematically to be the work of a clerk surrounded by
prying eyes and hurried with the fear of detection every moment. Here are two
distinct coats of wax on several of the letters; and yet the impressions of the
original seals are retained. Those impressions were not taken by officia1
process in an instant, nor without previous preparation."
"Then whom does your lordship suspect?" inquired the Minister, with a
trifling uneasiness at manner.
"I come to ask your lordship to furnish me with a clue to this mystery, and not to supply one. Were
I acquainted with the real truth, I should know what course to pursue."
"And what course would that be?"
"In the next session of Parliament, I would rise in my place in the
House of Lords, and proclaim to the whole nation - nay, to the entire
world - the disgraceful fact, that England, the land of vaunted freedom, possesses an
institution where the most sacred ties of honour are basely violated and trampled under foot."
"But suppose, my lord - I only say suppose," cried the
Minister, "that her Majesty's government should consider it vitally
important to English interests to be acquainted with the contents of certain
letters, - suppose, I say, my lord, that such were the case, - would you then
think it necessary to publish your discovery,- presuming that your lordship has
made such discovery, - of that necessary proceeding on the part of her Majesty's
[-290-] "I am afraid that your lordship has now afforded
clue to the mystery which has perplexed me," said the Earl of Warrington coldly.
"And as a nobleman devoted to your country, your
lordship must recognise the imperious necessity of adopting such a course, at
times, as the one now made known to you."
"As a nobleman devoted to my country," exclaimed the
Earl of Warrington proudly, "I abhor and detest all underhand means of
obtaining information which serves as a guide for diplomatic intrigue, but which
in nowise affects the sterling interests of the state."
"Your lordship speaks warmly," said the Minister.
"And were I in my place in Parliament, I should speak
more warmly - far more warmly still. I am, however, here in your lordship's
apartment, and the laws of courtesy do not permit me to express my feelings as I
elsewhere should do - and as I elsewhere shall do."
"Your lordship will reflect," said the Minister, now
really alarmed, - "your lordship will reflect - maturely - seriously "
requires no reflection to teach me my duty."
"But, my dear earl "
"The peace of the country frequently depends upon the
information which we acquire in this manner."
"Then had the peace of the country better be
occasionally menaced, than that the sacred envelope of a letter should be
"Your lordship is too severe," said the Minister.
"No - my lord: I am not, under the circumstances, severe enough. Behold the
gross injustice of the system. The law forbids us to transmit sealed letters
through any other medium than the Post-office; and yet that very Post-office is
made the scene of the violation of those sacred missives. My lord, it is
impossible to defend so atrocious a proceeding. Now, my lord, I have spoken as
warmly as I feel."
"Really, my dear earl, you must not permit this little
business to go any further. You shall have for your friends every satisfaction
they require: their correspondence shall be strictly inviolate in future. And
now, my lord," continued the Minister, with a smile whose deceptive blandness Mr.
Greenwood would have envied, "let me request attention to another point.
The Premier has placed your lordship's name on the list of peers who are to be
raised to a more elevated rank ere the opening of the next session; and your
lordship may exchange your coronet of an earldom against that of a
"Her Majesty's government," replied the earl with
chilling - freezing hauteur, "would do well to reserve that honour in respect
to me, until it may choose to reward me when I shall have performed a duty that
I owe my country, and exposed a system to express my full sense of which I dare
not now trust my tongue with epithets. Good morning, my lord."
And the Earl of Warrington walked proudly from the room.
On the following day a cabinet council was held at the Home
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