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[-THE GREAT METROPOLIS, VOLUME 2-]
[-216-] CHAPTER IV.
Origin of the name—Erection of the building—Description of the interior—Classification of the prisoners—The chapel—” Condemned Sermons.”—General Remarks—State of a prisoner’s mind the night before his execution—Preparations for an execution—Miscellaneous observations.
is situated close to the Old Bailey: it may be said, indeed, to form a part of
the same building. There is an open space of about thirty yards square between
them ; but the two places are joined together by a strong high wall. Newgate, as
everybody knows, is the great metropolitan prison for criminal offences. It is
the largest prison in the country, perhaps in the world. I shall afterwards have
occasion to [-217-] speak of its size in connexion with the number of prisoners that are
sometimes confined in it at once. It is a large massy building. Its exterior has
all the appearance of an indefinite durability. One would suppose that even Time
himself, whom Lord Bacon personifies as the great innovator, could hardly make
an impression on Newgate. It is supposed to have derived its name from the
circumstance of a gate leading through the city walls having been put up in the
thirteenth century,—which was called New Gate, to distinguish it from Lud
Gate. It is generally believed by metropolitan antiquarians to have been the
principal prison in London for upwards of five centuries past. The previous
Newgate was destroyed by the great fire of 1666. The present building was
commenced in 1776. Beckford, the well known patriot, and father of the
celebrated author of “ Vathek,” the builder of Fonthill Abbey, having been
Lord Mayor at the time, was chosen by his fellow citizens to lay the foundation
stone. What the expenses of the building were, I have not [-218-] been able to
ascertain; but they must have been very great; for independently of what was
contributed towards them by the corporation of London—to whose exertions in
the matter the citizens owed the erection of the edifice —government made a
grant of 50,0001. to assist in building the place. I shall, by-and-bye,
have to speak of the existing state of the interior of Newgate. Before the
erection of the present edifice, Newgate was so unhealthy a place as to prove
fearfully destructive of human life. It was scarcely ever without some fatal
disease, generated by the want of air, the putrid water the prisoners had to
drink, their crowding together, and the utter disregard of cleanliness
manifested by those who had charge of the apartments. There was then a
well-known disease peculiar to the place called the gaol distemper. Of this
disease, a popular writer of the middle of last century says, that the prisoners
daily died by dozens, and that cart-loads of men were carried out and thrown
into a pit in the churchyard of Christ Church. Thus the pestilence [-219-] not only
often anticipated the work of the executioner on those who would have been
doomed to expiate their crimes by their lives, but others, whose offences were
of so venial a nature as not to expose them to capital punishment, were, in many
cases, swept away within a few days of their crossing the precincts of the
prison. And once dead, not the slightest decency was observed as to the disposal
of their bodies. The same authority states that they were thrown into the earth
as if they had been so many brute beasts. Nor was the gaol distemper, of which I
have been speaking, confined to the inmates of the prison: it sometimes went
beyond the walls. The effluvia which was emitted in hot weather was so great and
offensive, that the inhabitants in the neighbourhood were constrained to
memorialise the government on the subject. They, in many cases, caught the
infection. On one occasion it penetrated into the sessions house, and produced
the most frightful results. Two of the judges, the lord mayor, several of the
jury, and various other persons, to the number [-220-] of sixty altogether, were seized
by the disease, and suddenly carried off by it. It was its fatal consequences to
others which first specially attracted the attention of the corporation of the
city to the horrible state of the interior of New-gate, and led to those
exertions on their part which ended in the erection of the present
edifice,—thus affording another illustration of the scriptural maxim, that
good is often brought out of evil.
The present building was scarcely finished, though occupied by several hundred prisoners at the time, when, in the riots of 1780, it was attacked by the mob, who liberated the prisoners and destroyed everything combustible in the place. The injury thus done to the building was repaired at the expense of parliament. The building was completed in 1782. In length, it measures three hundred feet, and the walls are fifty feet in height. At the time I write, the interior is undergoing great alterations. It has often done so before. What, therefore, is true of it as regards the arrangements, the classifica-[-221-]tion of the prisoners, &c., at one time, is not so at another. Under the existing arrangements the interior of the prison is divided into three stations.* (*I am here assuming, that the same arrangements in this respect will be continued after the present alterations have been completed.) The locality of the first of these is the north wing, or that part of the building nearest Smithfield market, which has three yards, with sleeping and day-rooms attached. The first yard and the rooms belonging to it are occupied by grown-up convicts under sentence of transportation; the second yard and rooms, are set apart for the boys, who have also a school-room; the third yard and rooms, are used as the infirmary and convalescent wards for the male prisoners. The second station is in the centre of the building, and has also three yards, with day and sleeping-rooms attached. The first of these yards and rooms are occupied by persons under sentence of imprisonment for misdemeanors and felonies; and the other two yards and rooms are tenanted by those male [-222-] prisoners who have not yet been tried. The press yard, with the attached cells for the reception of criminals condemned to death—of which cells I shall afterwards have to speak— are also locally connected with this part of Newgate. The remaining or third station forms the south wing, or that part of the building which is nearest to Ludgate Hill. There all the female prisoners are confined. They have two yards allotted them, each of which has sleeping wards and day-rooms attached. One of the two yards is occupied by females who are awaiting their trials. Connected with this department of Newgate, there is a school for girls. The upper story of this yard is used as an infirmary for females. The second yard and attached apartments are reserved for females under sentence of transportation for felonies and misdemeanors.
The number of night-rooms in Newgate is thirty-three. The number of inmates in them, after dark, varies from fifteen to thirty. The number of day-rooms or wards is only ten; so [-223-] that when the prison is full, there will sometimes be upwards of forty persons in each. The principal wards and rooms in the several stations of the prison are each about thirty-eight feet in length, and fifteen wide; the smaller ones measure twenty-four by fifteen feet.
The most painfully interesting part of Newgate to a stranger who visits it, is that in which the places, technically called the condemned cells, are situated. These cells are appropriated for the reception of those who are under sentence of death. Of these cells there are three tiers, and in each tier there are five cells, making the entire number of these gloomy abodes fifteen.
They are situated on the north side of the prison, and adjoining the house of the Ordinary, abutting Newgate-street. When a prisoner is convicted of a capital offence he is removed to this part of Newgate, there to remain until the Recorder has made his report to his Majesty. In case of a commutation of sentence, the prisoners are transferred to the transport-yard, pre-[-224-]paratory to their removal to the hulks. Those, on the other hand, against whom the fatal sentence is to be carried into execution, are suffered to remain until that moment arrives. In the day-time the prisoners are allowed to congregate together in a large apartment called the day-room; but at night each is shut up in his own cell The condemned cells are all situated on the first and second floors. Connected, as already stated, with these cells, are two large rooms called day-rooms; one on the ground floor opening into the press-yard, and the other immediately above it, The lower is used by capital convicts; while the upper room is reserved for devotional and sacramental purposes. The condemned cells measure nine feet by seven feet; each of them has a small window guarded with iron stanchions. The windows have severally a sliding shutter to admit light and air, should the prisoner wish it. They are near the ceiling, but do not show more light than is barely sufficient to enable the prisoner to read or write. The great majority of the unhappy inmates are [-225-] without education, and of uncultivated habits. They have no means of profitably employing their leisure hours, and consequently chiefly spend their time in the use of the coarsest possible language, and in condemning the laws which have condemned them. There are, however, to this as to every other rule, some exceptions. The walls of each cell being whitewashed every two years, and the prisoners being allowed the use of pencils, some of them give expression to their feelings and sentiments in their peculiar situation, by writing them on the walls. Any person who is permitted to visit Newgate may learn, from the inscriptions on the walls, many interesting facts illustrative of the various phases which human nature assumes. While some of these inscriptions are of a character which show the utter depravity of the parties writing them, there are others which indicate the deepest penitence. Texts of scripture and passages from hymns, are among the modes of expressing their feelings and sentiments most frequently used by the latter class [-226-] of prisoners. In some few instances, however, where the parties have a taste for poetry, they give utterance to their views in lines indited by themselves. The following lines were written about twenty years since by a young man then under sentence of death for forgery:—
“Thou hapless wretch! whom justice calls
To dwell within these dreary walls.
Know, guilty man, this very cell
May be to thee the porch to hell!
Thy sins confessed—thy guilt forgiven— Mysterious change !—it leads to Heaven
These lines were written under very peculiar and affecting circumstances. The unhappy man was only twenty-two years of age at the time. He was a gentleman both by education and manners. The offence for which he was convicted, and eventually executed, was that of having committed a forgery on the Gravesend bank, to the extent of 741. He had been induced to do this solely from an anxiety to learn the Hebrew language, for which he had a great aptitude. As soon as he got the money he re-[-227-]paired to a monastery in the South of France, and entered himself as a student there, under one of the professors celebrated for his knowledge of the Hebrew language. His retreat being discovered, he was brought back to England, tried, and convicted. He had spent but little of the money when he was apprehended; but notwithstanding this fact, in conjunction with his most amiable disposition and exemplary morals, such was the sanguinary character of our criminal jurisprudence at that period, that he was doomed to suffer the extreme penalty of the law. I may mention as an extraordinary proof of the singularly excellent character of this young man, whose name I forbear to mention, lest some of his relatives may still survive, that hearing his friends were making great exertions to procure a commutation of his sentence, he strenuously resisted it on the ground that as another young man had been executed a few days previously for precisely the same offence, there would be an injustice in allowing him to escape. His fate excited the deepest regret in [-228-] the minds of all who were acquainted with the circumstances; and the inhabitants of Gravesend, where he had lived for many years, erected a handsome monument to his memory.
Formerly the practice in Newgate, on the night previous to the execution of prisoners, was to shut them up in cells on the ground floor. From these they proceeded along a dark narrow passage to the place of execution. Anything more gloomy than those cells it were impossible to imagine. They have all the appearance of subterraneous holes. They are now used as places of lumber. The Rev. Dr. Dodd was shut up in one of these cells the night before his execution. I could not look into his cell without the most painful feelings.
One very interesting part of Newgate is the chapel in which divine service is performed in the presence of the prisoners. When what is termed a “condemned sermon” is to be preached in it—that is to say, a sermon previous to an execution—the chapel becomes a place of peculiar interest both to the prisoners, and to many [-229-] persons from without.* (*Formerly admission was to be obtained to the chapel to hear a condemned sermon preached, on paying half-a-crown; but no admission money is now received.) On such occasions there is always a crowd of persons at the felons’ door, waiting to obtain admission when the service is about to commence. Though the chapel is only capable of accommodating 400 persons with comfort, 700 or 800 will sometimes be wedged into it when a condemned sermon is to be preached. People are attracted by two things on such occasions. The one is a desire to hear a sermon under such circumstances, and the other is a curiosity to see the poor unhappy creature about to be hurried into the presence of his Creator. There is a gallery in the chapel which is appropriated to strangers on such occasions. Another gallery is set apart for the female prisoners, who are shut out from the view of the male prisoners by a curtain. In the body of the chapel are the male prisoners. The “condemned pew,” or the pew which is appropriated to the unfortunate man whose days are [-230-] numbered, is in the centre. It is black all over, which only serves to heighten, by contrast, the unearthly paleness of the miserable occupant. The pulpit and reading-desk are hung with black, and the whole appearance of the place, conjoined with the associations which arise in one’s mind, produces the deepest solemnity of feeling. No man could remain any time in it without feeling his mind overwhelmed with an undefinable melancholy, even on those occasions when no “condemned sermon” is to be preached. What then must be one’s emotions when he sees before him a fellow-creature within a few hours of being ushered into the presence of the Divine Being, and hears a sermon which has an almost exclusive reference to the culprit’s situation?
I am not sure whether, after all, these “ condemned sermons” are judicious. The miserable parties to whose circumstances they are intended to apply, are not in a condition, in one case out of a hundred perhaps, to profit by them. Any one who reflects for a moment on [-231-] the situation of such persons, must at once come to this conclusion. But the matter is not one of mere inference. Every person who has been present while these sermons were being delivered, must have seen in the appearance of the parties, that they were insensible to what was going on. With very few exceptions, indeed, they cannot walk into the pew set apart for them without support, and when they are in it, it is with difficulty they can retain a sitting position. Their tottering frames, their wild and vacant look, and indeed their aspect altogether, force the conviction on every spectator’s mind, that they are incapable of attending to the sermon. The sound of the preacher’s voice rings in the ear of the wretched beings for whom the discourse is specially intended, but his words have no meaning in them. But even supposing there was nothing, in the fact of their trembling on the very verge of eternity, to unfit them for paying, the requisite attention to the solemn admonitions of the preacher, the circumstance of their being constantly stared at [-232-] by the strangers, and the other prisoners, would of itself be sufficient to discompose them. Would it not be much better to allow them to remain in their cells while service is being performed in the presence of the other prisoners, and then, on its close, to let the Ordinary speak to them in private? Their minds, in such circumstances, would be much more susceptible of devout impressions.
I have often thought, when reflecting on the subject of “ condemned sermons,” that at the very time such sermons are being preached before one or more unhappy creatures doomed to death, there are, it may be, hundreds of others throughout the Christian world who are also heating their last sermon, though unconscious of it. The thought is one which is well fitted to awaken in the mind a train of serious reflections; but it would be out of place in a work of this nature to indulge in it.
In the chapel in Newgate, divine service is performed in precisely the same way as in any of the established churches in the metropolis. [-233-] There is a clerk, a communion altar, an organ, &c,, for the due performance of the ritual of the church. The Rev. Ordinary being himself a rigid churchman, is strictly observant of all the formularies which the church enjoins on those in her communion. In reading the liturgy, his fine sonorous voice—now, owing to advanced years, it is not so effective—was formerly the admiration of all who heard it. Its varied and powerful intonations, conjoined with the solemnity of the speaker’s aspect, and the affecting associations connected with the place, were strikingly calculated to produce a deep impression on the minds of all present. Even now, there are few clergymen in the church who can read the service with greater effect.
The condition of Newgate as regards its moral relations, is still far from being what it ought to be; but a very marked improvement has taken place in this respect within the last twenty years. Before that time it was a perfect hotbed of all descriptions of crime. It were impossible to form an idea of the amount of in[-234-] jury which it has, from first to last, done to its inmates. Boys and girls of tender ages were formerly committed to Newgate for offences of the most trifling nature. They were, with very few exceptions, committed for the first offence, the police magistrates making no distinction between the mere tyro in crime, and the most confirmed criminal. The youthful creature who, it may have been, stole a penny-worth of bread to administer to the cravings of hunger, and who knew not even in thought what crime, in strict propriety of speech meant, was doomed to mingle in Newgate with the most depraved and hardened offenders in the metropolis. Evil communications have, under any circumstances, a tendency to corrupt good manners. In Newgate the destruction of all moral feeling on the part of those who entered it with any, was an almost inevitable result. What else could be expected where a simple unsuspecting youth was doomed to associate with some of the worst characters in London? Escape from the contagion of such evil example [-235-] as was there hourly set them, from the moment they crossed the threshold of the place, could be little short of miraculous. The worst language was constantly heard, and the person who refused to take part in the shocking conversations of the vilest of the inmates, was persecuted beyond endurance. The leaders in crime were constantly talking of their great exploits that way; and as they were a sort of heroes in the eyes of the majority, those who entered Newgate comparatively innocent, came out fired by an ambition, as they considered it, of imitating the achievements of the worst of the inmates. There, too, the mere novice was, in a few days, instructed in the ways of crime much more perfectly, than he would have been by years of study and practice out of doors. The cases were consequently innumerable in which youths who went into Newgate without anything like a propensity to the commission of crime,—with, indeed, an entire horror of it, altogether irrespective of its penal consequences,—Came out with their minds so depraved as to fit them [-236-] for undertaking the most daring enterprises, and committing the most fearful atrocities. Thus Newgate actually promoted objects the very reverse of those it professed to have in view. Instead of repressing crime, it proved a most fertile nursery of it in its worst forms. Mrs. Fry, of whose labours in Newgate I shall have to speak presently, in her evidence before a committee of the House of Commons in 1818, has one short passage which of itself speaks volumes as to the state of morals in Newgate previous to the time I have mentioned. “Women,” she says, “who came in weeping over their deviations—some small deviations perhaps—by the time of their trial or dismissal would sometimes become so barefaced and wicked as to laugh at the very same things, and to be fitted for almost any crime. I understand that before we went into the prison it was considered a reproach to be a modest woman.”
The same excellent lady says in another part of her evidence, which was limited to the female side of the prison, that there she witnessed the [-237-] most dreadful proceedings. There were begging, swearing, gaming, fighting, singing, and dancing, and scenes too revolting to be described. Matters, it is unnecessary to say, were still worse on the male side of the prison. It was when such was the moral condition of Newgate, that Mrs. Fry, who is an honour alike to her species and her country, first began her philanthropic labours in it. The reformation which she has effected is incalculably great. The amount of good she has, from first to last, accomplished by her benevolent exertions within the walls of Newgate, will never be known in this world. Her’s was a quiet, unobtrusive philanthropy. In her labours of mercy she shrunk from the public gaze. How many hours of her life she has spent amidst the physically and morally repulsive scenes of the interior of Newgate, is not known to the public. But I may mention, having had it from the lips of one of her most intimate friends, that for many years a large portion of her time was spent within the walls of that prison. Her’s, indeed, was philanthropy [-238-] worthy of the name. It was a philanthropy based, as all true philanthropy must be, on the religion of Him who ever went about doing good. And her labours of love were as judicious as they were laudable. She first established a school for the instruction of the children of the convicts, and then she undertook the care of the female convicts themselves. What an amount of moral courage, self-denial, and patient endurance, must have been necessary for the accomplishment of such objects as this excellent woman contemplated!
But though, by the indefatigable and zealous labours of Mrs. Fry, assisted by other benevolent ladies whom she organised into a committee, an incalculable amount of good has been done in Newgate, there is still room for great improvement. It will never be made what it is intended to be—a place for the correction of offenders and the repression of crime, so long as the system of allowing the prisoners to associate together is continued. They will necessarily corrupt one another, and employ their time in [-239-] forming new schemes for the commission of crime, as soon as they have regained their liberty. That they deem imprisonment in Newgate no great punishment, if, indeed, it be any punishment at all, is proved by the fact of so many of them being returned within a few months of their liberation. There are many instances on record of criminals spending full one-half of their time in Newgate, until, as they themselves say, a new leaf is turned over by their being transported beyond seas. Not many years ago, a youth under twenty, was found in Newgate for the thirteenth time. The separation of the prisoners from one another; in other words, solitary confinement, is the only thing which will ever invest Newgate, or any other gaol, with sufficient terror to a criminal’s mind, to deter him from the commission of crime. The solitary system has been tried in other places, and found most effectual. I am glad to understand that it is in contemplation to resort to it in London. I am satisfied it will be followed here, as in [-240-] other places, by a very great and permanent diminution of crime.
In Newgate, there is a stated clergyman called the Ordinary* (*The Rev. Mr. Cotton is now, and has been for many years, the Ordinary of Newgate.), for administering to the spiritual wants of the prisoners. Divine service is performed every sabbath-day in the chapel belonging to the place: the prisoners are all obliged to be present. The Ordinary whose heart is in the work of endeavouring to convert sinners, will always find scope enough in the interior of Newgate for his most indefatigable exertions. The inmates are of necessity precisely that class of persons who, of all others, stand most in need of spiritual instruction and spiritual admonition. But the most solemn and affecting part of the Ordinary’s duty is, to administer to the exigencies of those on whom the sentence of death is about to be executed. This is not only a duty of an awfully solemn nature, but it is one which, for its due perform-[-241-]ance, pre-eminently requires a sound judgment as well as warm Christian affection. It is one, in the performance. of which the Ordinary is usually assisted by one or more ministers of various denominations, or by some private individuals whose breasts burn with Christian compassion for the souls of the unhappy persons who are about to be ushered into the presence of their Maker. There lives not the man who can more cordially venerate than I do, those philanthropic individuals who spend so much of their time in endeavouring to enlighten the minds of those in Newgate who are standing on the verge of eternity, in matters of a spiritual kind. But I am afraid that their good offices are sometimes deficient in Christian prudence. I confess it has always appeared to me a matter which ought to be one of deep concern to Christians, that almost all the culprits who are executed, mount the scaffold with the most entire persuasion, that all is safe as regards their future destinies. In most cases they have had only a few conversations with their spiritual advisers, before [-242-] they seem to be as much satisfied that their absence from the earth will be their presence in heaven, as that they are about to close their connexion with all things below for ever. This is a matter of such general occurrence, that it has become a daily remark, that if a man wishes to make sure of the way to heaven he has only to go by the gallows. I am aware that the abuse of a thing is no argument against the thing itself; and that though some men were on this account to think lightly of the commission of crimes against society, that would be no reason for not communicating spiritual instruction, and administering, within proper limits, spiritual consolation, to persons condemned to death. But I much fear that when the cases are so numerous in which men who have been guilty of the grossest crimes, both against the Deity and their fellow-men, thus ascend the scaffold with so entire a confidence in a happy hereafter, there must be something injudicious in the way in which the duties of a spiritual monitor are discharged. I am not [-243-] without my apprehensions that men make their exit out of the world, at the Old Bailey, with the most entire persuasion that all is well, whose minds have not been sufficiently enlightened on the great matters which pertain to their souls and eternity, and whose hearts have not undergone that change which the scriptures declare to be essential to salvation. To me it would be much more satisfactory if, in the majority of cases, I saw the unfortunate individuals who are doomed to die on the scaffold, look forward to their appearance before the great white throne, with fear and trembling. For sinners of the greatest magnitude, as such individuals usually are, this, in my view of the matter, would be, in most cases, a more becoming frame of mind, than the entire confidence and perfect composure which are so common. Death-bed repentances are proverbially doubtful; and I much fear that there are many of those who mount the scaffold without the dread of a hereafter, who would, were their sentences to be reversed and themselves [-244-] again turned loose on society, be found to be essentially the same persons they were before. I am much afraid, in other words, that their confidence is in many cases a false confidence, generated by the grievously mistaken, but best-intentioned representations of those who have conversed with them on spiritual matters. I fear that the mercy of the Almighty is sometimes dwelt upon to the almost entire exclusion of sin’s sinfulness, the magnitude of the party’s guilt, and of the necessity of heartfelt contrition and brokenness of spirit to everlasting happiness. That is not true Christian charity which would, in such a case, gloss over the culprit’s sins against his Maker, or only dwell on them in general terms. Enlightened Christian benevolence would, while pressing on the criminal’s attention the glorious truth that there is salvation for the very chief of sinners, seek to impress his mind with a deep sense of the enormity of his own guilt. I know of no spectacle in the world of a more awfully affecting character, than that of a person about [-245-] to be ushered into the presence of his Maker, with the most entire persuasion that all is well, while he has never had a single overwhelming conviction of sin. That of the man who leaves the world without any thought at all about his future destiny, is, undoubtedly, affecting enough; but it is not to be compared with the case which I have just supposed. I fear that those who are on the eve of being executed at the Old Bailey, have, in many cases, the language of “ Peace, peace” whispered in their ears, before their minds have been sufficiently impressed with a sense of their spiritual danger. This is a mistaken leniency. Surely if there be a case in which faithfulness is required, it is in that of a criminal of no ordinary magnitude, about to be ushered into the eternal world. Let those whose Christian philanthropy prompts them to converse with persons sentenced to death, point out to them the all-sufficiency of the finished work of Emmanuel for sinners of the deepest dye; hilt let them guard against anything which would have tendency to inspire a false confidence in the mercy of the Almighty. [-246-] If I understand the theology of revelation aright, it may be laid down as a general principle, that where there are not convictions of sin, and brokenness of spirit on account of it, there can be no salvation. I know that there may be different degrees as regards the force of these convictions and the depth of the contrition; but those, to say the least of it, are doubtful cases, especially at the Old Bailey, where these feelings are not sufficiently marked to strike the mind of one who converses with the doomed culprit on spiritual matters. I am sure it can hardly be necessary to say, that in these observations I have no particular persons nor particular cases in my eye. They have been dictated solely by the painful apprehension which has arisen in my own mind, from what I read and hear of persons expiring on the scaffold, whether at the Old Bailey or elsewhere, that the calmness with which such persons die is in many cases the consequence of a false confidence arising from ignorance of the magnitude of their own guilt, and the awful enormity of sin.
[-247-] Perhaps there are few more affecting things in the world than to spend with a man sentenced to death, the last night of his sentence. I have heard from the lips of one who has spent many such nights with unhappy men in Newgate, statements as to their feelings and conduct of the most deeply touching kind. Occasionally culprits are to be found who remain hardened to the last. They have lived in the disbelief of a future state of rewards and punishments; and they cling to their wretched infidelity to the last. There are others, who as they have lived in utter recklessness of everything religious, never having bestowed a thought as to whether Christianity be true or not, so in that state of awful recklessness they die. But instances of either kind are exceedingly rare. The atheist or deist has his mental perceptions on religious subjects greatly improved, when the immediate prospect of another world is before him. The evidences in favour of Christiaitity which he formerly laughed to scorn, as no evidences at all, now commend themselves to his mind with all the force of an [-248-] irresistible conviction; and he dares no more doubt the truth of that religion, than he dare doubt the fact that his days are numbered, and that he is standing on the very brink of eternity. The man who had been as thoughtless before about a future state and his own probable destiny, as the brutes that perish, is now the subject of an overwhelming anxiety. Let any one stretch his imagination to the utmost, and try to picture to himself what must be the state of mind of such persons the night previous to their execution. However vivid may be one’s imagination, it will fall infinitely short of the fearful reality. Perhaps the history of mankind affords no example of the human mind being in a condition so solemn and appalling. The wretched party knows that he has but a few hours to live. Conscience summons up from the depths of the past, all the transgressions of the greatest magnitude he has committed, whether against his Maker or his fellow-men. To the latter he can now make no atonement; and even though he may cherish the hope that his guilt is expiated [-249-] in the sight of Him into whose presence he is about to be ushered, yet this hope will not prevent his feeling, in all their acuteness, the agonies of remorse. The mind is, as it were, torn by the conflicting claims of the two worlds; by the claims of that he is about to leave, and those of the world into which he is on the eve of being hurried. He has relatives and friends: it may be he has parents alive, or that he has a wife and children. How must the thought of parting for ever from them, coupled with that of the circum stances under which he is about to close his life, agitate his bosom! Never to see them more in time, were of itself under any circumstances an awfully affecting consideration; but to reflect that he bequeaths to them the disgrace of dying by the hands of the public executioner, and that they can never recur to his memory without the most painful feelings, are thoughts that give a terrible additional poignancy to his mental distress. Then there is the thought of suffering an ignominious death next day in the presence of thousands. That is a thought which [-250-] constantly haunts his mind and harasses it beyond all conception. Contemporaneous with such reflections are his thoughts about the world he is about to enter. Where the unhappy man has no hope, what must be his state of mind in the immediate prospect of eternity! I will not dwell on such a topic it is indescribably terrible. Even where he has hope, there will be an overwhelming awe on his mind, at the thought of being in a few hours before the tribunal of his Judge. With a mind so exercised, is it to be wondered at that the last night of one’s existence in Newgate should be spent in a state of frenzy? His brain reels; his lips are compressed; his tongue is parched with a burning thirst; in his eye there is a vacant, unearthly expression; his complexion has, a spectral appearance; he is incapable of remaining for any time in one position, or in one place; his hair stands on end; a cold perspiration bathes his face; the clamminess of death is already on his skin; his whole appearance and demeanour show that his bosom is the seat of the most tumultuous emotions. [-251-] The gloomy aspect of his cell is in striking accordance with the sadness of his soul. The little glimmering light allowed him, only serves to let him see the horrors of his situation. He feels himself already as effectually shut out from the world as if he were no longer in it. The silence which reigns around him is awful He might almost hear the falling of a pin. His own hurried breathing alarms him. He starts at the sound of every movement he makes. His very shadow frightens him. The bell of St. Paul’s strikes the hour; his breast palpitates at the sound, as if it were a summons to him to appear that instant in the presence of his Maker. The deep and solemn tones of the bell, made more solemn by the awfulness of his situation, remind him with a terrible reality that he has but a few hours to live. When he can so far compose himself, he turns to his bible; that book which perhaps he has not opened for a long series of years. The recollection of his youthful days when, at school or at home, he had used at stated intervals to read certain portions of the inspired vo-[-252-]lume, rushes on his mind, and he bitterly reproaches himself for having disregarded its heavenly precepts. He muses on these touching topics for a little, and then kneels down on his cold floor to implore the Divine mercy. The picture is altogether frightful to contemplate: it is no imaginary one: it rather falls immeasurably short of the reality.
It is true that as there are exceptions to every rule, so there are to this. As before stated, some men remain hardened to the last; doing violence equally to the laws of friendship and the claims of religion. The very brutes themselves, could they be made sensible of their approaching death, would betray more feeling than do some of those unhappy men who are doomed by the laws of their country to suffer by the hands of the public executioner. It may be in the recollection of some that when Thistlewood and the other Cato Street conspirators were executed in 1819, for high treason, some of them into only conducted themselves with a brute insensibility to their situation, the night before their deaths, but that [-253-] when on the scaffold, and within a few moments of being in the presence of their Maker, they made wry faces at the spectators with a view of making them laugh, and played the buffoon until the cord encircled their necks.
And I have heard of others who, with nothing of the spirit of bravado in them, as in this case, have felt and acted up to the last moment of their existence, as if on the morning of their execution they were only going to attend their usual avocations. This was not, with the persons to whom I refer, the effect of any miscalled philosophical notion: it arose from an easiness of mind which not even the immediate prospect of death itself could affect. One who was an eye-witness of the fact has informed me, that on a young man being brought out for execution, a good many years ago, at Newgate, he discovered on his way to the scaffold, that one of the laces of his half-boots was loose, and having got the permission of the officers, he bestowed nearly a minute in adjusting it. In the course of doing so, he found that he had missed one of the [-254-] holes of the boot through which he should have put the cord, on which he immediately undid the whole and put the string quite right. The young man had always been remarkable for his attention to “tidiness,” as he called it. The least disarrangement of any part of his dress, though that dress, from his circumstances in life, was always homely enough, made him quite unhappy; it seemed to be the only thing which ever disturbed the equanimity of his mind. What a singular illustration this circumstance affords, of the ruling passion being strong in death!
The execution of a human being at any place, and under any circumstances, is an occurrence of an awfully interesting kind. One at the Old Bailey possesses, from a variety of adventitious circumstances which I need not mention, a peculiarly fearful interest. The first preliminary step towards it is that of reading, in the hearing of the convicts, the sermon which the Rev. Dr. Dodd preached to his fellow-prisoners immediately before he himself was offered up a sa-[-255-]crifice to the Moloch of a sanguinary criminal jurisprudence. This and other devotional services suited to the awful occasion, being over, the condemned party is shut up in the cell for the night. If he can so far compose his mind, under the melancholy circumstances in which he is placed, as to close his eyes in sleep, he is sure to be awakened at between four and five o’clock in the morning, by the sound of the horses’ feet and the wheels of the vehicle, which drag forth from the court-yard. the apparatus for his execution. And what an awakening must that be! Poets talk of the sound of the death-knell; what are their images to this? To awake, it may be from a pleasant dream of a long and happy life and there are abundant instances of the kind—and to find, that his first conscious impression is, that the sounds which have disturbed his slumbers, are sounds which denote the immediate proximity of an ignominious death,—is surely one of the most terrible situations in which a human being can be placed! The very transition, in the supposed case, from [-256-] visions of a joyful nature to a sense of the party’s impending doom, can only serve to heighten the awfulness of that doom. The “heavy noise” caused by the clattering of the horses’ hoofs, and the rattling of the wheels of the ponderous vehicle, employed to carry out to the front of the building the materials out of which the gallows is to be erected,—is regarded by the turnkeys and other officers of the place, as the signal for their rising from their beds and performing the functions which severally belong to them, in the affecting spectacle about to be exhibited. Before six, all is bustle and activity in and about the prison. About that hour, Mr. Baker, a pious dissenter, repairs to the cell of the prisoner about to suffer, and admonishes him of a fact with which he is already but too well acquainted, namely, that he has but an hour or two to live. Mr. Baker then endeavours to take advantage of the awful circumstances in which the unhappy man is placed, to impress his mind with the great truths of religion, and to urge him to improve the few mo-[-257-]ments that remain to him of life, in making up his peace, through faith in the atoning blood of a Saviour, with the Being before whose tribunal he is about to appear. Mr. Baker not only admonishes, but prays with and for the unhappy man. Prayer is, or at least it ought to be, at any time, a solemn exercise; but what must be the solemnity which pervades a true Christian’s mind, when he is interceding at a throne of grace for an immortal spirit which he knows will have a sentence of everlasting happiness or endless misery passed upon it before two hours have elapsed! The Rev. Dr. Cotton, the Ordinary of the prison, arrives before seven, to administer the sacrament of the supper to the unhappy man, should he be disposed to receive it. Then come the Sheriffs and Under-sheriffs, accompanied by some of their friends who maybe desirous of witnessing an execution. A few minutes before the time appointed for bringing the unhappy party on the scaffold, all those who have been admitted into the interior of Newgate are conducted to a part of the prison called the [-258-] press-room, where Mr. Cope desires them to remain and make as little noise as possible until the prisoner comes in, which is usually four or five minutes afterwards. That is a time of deep and awful interest, even to those who are only to be witnesses of the dreadful drama about to be enacted. Often have the hearts of persons of the greatest nerve been known to quail, and their limbs to quiver, while spending these few minutes in such circumstances. There is something in the deep gloom of the room, together with the massy ponderous appearance of the walls of the prison, which are seen out of the window, which accords with the sadness of soul caused by the contemplation of the scene which is on the eve of being exhibited. The prisoner is brought into the press-room, and on being led up to a table in the centre, undergoes the process of pinioning. This is not done, as is generally supposed, by the executioner. It is the duty always of the Sheriffs’ officers, who are in this case the assistants to the executioner, to pinion the hands of the culprit. Perhaps it were [-259-] impossible to conceive a more solemn or affecting spectacle than that of the procession into the press-room, previous to the prisoner’s undergoing the preparations for his execution. The Sheriffs and Under-sheriffs carrying their staves first enter the apartment. The Rev. Ordinary, whose appearance is remarkably venerable, follows; and last of all comes the unhappy being himself. The preliminary arrangements in the press-room for the execution seldom occupy more than two or three minutes. The whole of those present then form themselves into regular order, and move in due procession through the dark passages of the prison towards the gallows.
There is something solemn and impressive in the appearance of a funeral procession: how much deeper must be the impressiveness, and greater the solemnity, of such a procession as this! There is one who acts a part in it who in a few minutes will cease to exist. His connexion with the world is on the eve of closing for ever, and that, too, tinder circumstances of the most awful kind. The Rev. Ordinary reminds [-260-] the unhappy man of the fact, by reading aloud the burial service of the church. Contemporaneously with the first step the procession takes, the Rev. Gentleman pronounces in distinct and sonorous tones—” I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though be were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me, shall never die,” &c. Perhaps there are not more expressive passages in the Scriptures, than those which the church has selected as part of her burial service. They have a solemnising effect when delivered with feeling and propriety over the grave of a departed fellow being. * (* Let me not be understood from this as approving of the funeral service of the church. I regard it as a thing which is altogether unwarranted in Scripture to represent Jesus as the resurrection and the life of all who die, indiscriminately.) How much more solemn must that service be when said over a living being just on the threshold of eternity! The Rev. Ordinary continues pronouncing the service of the church until the Sheriffs, the Under-sheriffs, himself, and [-261-] the prisoner, reach the scaffold, when the voice of the Rev. Gentleman is drowned amidst the noise caused by the assembled thousands of spectators. The prisoner then ascends the steps which lead to the eminence called the drop, whence he is to be plunged into the ocean of eternity. The executioner, who before this time has nothing to do with the wretched individual, now takes charge of him, and proceeds to complete the remaining arrangements necessary to his final exit. The executioner places him in the exact spot where the fatal work may be completed. The rope is adjusted, the cap is drawn over his head down to his chin, and the signal is put into his hand, Mr. Cotton then resumes the reading of the burial service
“Man that is born of a woman bath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth, as it were a shadow, and never continueth in one stay. In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour but of thee, O Lord! who for our sins art justly displeased. [-262-] Yet, O Lord God most holy! O Lord most mighty! O holy and most merciful Saviour! deliver us not into the pains of eternal death !“ The signal is then given, and in a few moments the prisoner is in eternity.
If one could suppose a man—and there have been instances of the kind, though extremely rare—if one could suppose a man to retain his entire self-possession while standing on the drop immediately before its falling, the thoughts which would under such circumstances crowd on his mind, would necessarily be of a most solemn nature. To think that he is this moment in perfect health—it may be in the prime of life—and that the next his body will be a piece of inanimate clay, and his spirit in the presence of the Supreme Being; to think that this moment he is surrounded by his fellow-beings on earth, and the next will be amidst the innumerable company of angels and the spirits of departed saints, or else consigned to the abodes of everlasting despair,—these are thoughts which are surely adapted, if anything could be, to [-263-] inspire the mind with feelings of the deepest awe. Whatever may be the destiny of the man who thus expires on the scaffold, how great and sudden must be the transition he undergoes!
The spectacle of the execution of a human being ought to be one of a deeply affecting nature to all who behold it. It is so to every spectator of a well regulated mind. To the vast majority, however, of those thousands who witness such scenes, it has nothing affecting in it. They look upon it precisely in the same light as if it were a drama got up for their special amusement. And rather than be deprived of the sight they will pay for a view of it,—just as they would for admission to a theatre. So early as five o’clock on an execution morning, you will see crowds of persons trooping from all parts of the metropolis towards the Old Bailey. The leading thoroughfares present continued streams of them. They are, with very few exceptions, the most depraved and the most criminal of the population. Their uproarious conduct, their shouts of laughter, their vile expressions, their [-264-] imprecations on themselves and on each other. all show that in the scale of morals they are but a few removes from the brute creation.
The scenes which used to be exhibited on the scaffold, were sometimes of a most deeply touching nature, regarded merely in reference to this world. One who was on the scaffold on the occasion of an execution for a very trifling felony, lately mentioned to me that the unhappy man, on reaching the eminence from whence he was to drop into eternity, said he had just one remaining wish ungratified, and that was to get one last look of his wife before he died. He added he was sure that no earthly power would have prevented her from being among the crowd. As he uttered the words he looked eagerly around on the assemblage. His eye, strange as it may seem, did actually recognise his wife; he kissed his hand to her, gave her a most benignant smile, and looked up to heaven as if invoking the Divine blessing on her behalf. He sobbed out to the Rev. Gentleman who was present to administer the last offices of religion to [-265-] him, that he could now die contented; in less than a minute his spirit was before the throne of the Eternal.
Another instance of a very affecting nature, arising also from the devoted attachment of the prisoner to his wife, occurred some ten or twelve years since, in the case of a member of the Society of Friends; the only one of their members, I may mention as an act of justice to that excellent body of men, who had suffered on the scaffold for a century before. The unfortunate individual in question was executed for forgery. Immediately before the cap was put on his head, which, as before stated, is among the last of the preparations for the awful impending catastrophe, he desired the Rev. Ordinary to take from his pocket,—not being able to do it himself in consequence of his hands being pinioned, —a farewell letter he had received the previous evening from his wife. The Rev. Gentleman having given him the letter, the unhappy man raised it with his pinioned hands to his mouth, loaded it with the most affectionate kisses, and [-266-] then depositing it in his bosom, gave the fatal signal, and in a few moments was in another world.
Talk of the romance of fiction! Will any one point out to me in the wide range of fiction anything more deeply touching than the simple unvarnished incidents I have mentioned in the two cases just given? Alas! that ever the laws or judges of England, should have doomed such men to suffer an ignominious death for offences of so trivial a nature!
Novelists would occasionally find excellent materials for their works, in Newgate. I shall only mention one strikingly romantic case which fell under the personal observation of Mr. C an acquaintance of my own. About twelve years since, two men were executed for uttering a 5l. note, knowing it to be forged. My acquaintance happened to be present at the execution. In the course of an hour or so after it was over, he chanced to meet with a person he knew, with whom he entered into conversation on the subject of the drama which had been enacted at [-267-] Newgate. Mr. C had been expressing his regret at the unfortunate circumstance of two men being doomed to lose their lives for the simple utterance of a forged 5l. note the other treated the thing with levity, and indulged in a variety of coarse unfeeling jokes on the subject. “Did they swing in excellent style? Did their heels dangle nicely in the air ?“ he inquired. Mr. C—, in the first instance, reproved him for his ill-timed jokes on so melancholy a subject. This only made him worse. At length, worked up to a temporary excitement, my acquaintance left the other quite hastily, telling him, as he quitted the house in which they had met, that he had better take care lest he himself should share the same fate as the two unfortunate men, before he quitted the world. Mr. C—— soon after went to the country, and did not return to town for four months. On his arrival, he heard that an execution was to take place the following morning, but without being aware who the party was. He resolved on being present. He was so. About an hour before [-268-] the execution he went into the cell of the prisoner, accompanied by several other persons. At first he did not recognise the prisoner; but he had not been in the apartment many seconds, when the prisoner advanced to him, and addressing him by his name, begged to be allowed to speak privately to him. The governor of the place acceded to the prisoner’s request; but begged him to be as quick as possible, as he had now so short a period to live. “Mr. C-,” said he, “do you recollect when you and I met, in the Red Lion, a few months ago?” Mr. C- answered in the affirmative. “And the nature of our conversation?” Mr. C- said he did. “Well then, that evening I purchased of a Jew, and uttered the flash five pound note for the utterance of which I am now about to lose my life. I have been most earnestly desiring to see you to express my deep regret for the improper language I made use of regarding the two men who were then executed. I am now about to suffer for the very same offence.”
Of late, as I shall afterwards have occasion [-269-] to state more particularly, there has not been any great sacrifice of life at the Old Bailey. It was far different formerly. From the middle of the last century downwards to a few years since, the annals of our London criminal jurisprudence present us with one continued stream of human blood. The executions have often in the course of that period been between fifty and sixty per annum. The Bank of England alone could boast – for there parties connected with that establishment who used to talk of the thing if it had been a matter for boasted – the Bank could boast, year after years, of sacrificing its thirty or forty victims to the forgery of its notes. I know nothing more painful in British history, - or which ought to make us more ashamed of our country – that the fact of so many of our fellow-men being offered up to the Juggernaut of a sanguinary statute book. Laws are generally supposed to be made for the protection of human life; for a course of years it seemed as [-270-] if our laws had been made for its extinction. The destruction of life in this country, and in the metropolis especially, was truly frightful. The most trifling offences were punished with death. Even in cases where, morally, there was no guilt at all, and where, even legally, every circumstance attendant on the commission of the offence was in favour of the prisoner,—even in these cases nothing would satisfy the Draconian spirit of our criminal jurisprudence, but the life of the party. Who can look back on the execution of Dr. Dodd, coupled with a knowledge of the circumstances under which at unfortunate man suffered, without feelings of the deepest pain, and of shame for a country that could have tolerated such things? Dr. Dodd merely forged the name of a nobleman with whom he was on terms of the closest intimacy, for a small sum to meet some pressing demand; and even this was done, not with the view of defrauding any one, but under the most assured conviction, that by the time the bill had become due, he would be able to meet it, and [-271-] consequently no one ever know anything about it. Yet for this offence our sanguinary laws were inexorable in demanding the life of the unfortunate divine. Some time after came the execution of a poor woman, whose melancholy story is so touchingly related in a speech for the modification of our then criminal jurisprudence, by the late Sir William Meredith. She had gone into a draper’s shop and had taken up, if I remember rightly, a small piece of flannel, worth eighteen pence, which she intended to pawn for as much as would purchase a fourpenny loaf of bread to save herself and her infant at the breast, from starvation. What made the case of this poor woman the more affecting was, that she was young and beautiful, was an entire stranger to crime, and had been in comfortable circumstances, but had been reduced to utter destitution from the circumstances of her husband having been seized by a press-gang, and put on board a-man-of-war. Without entering into details, I may mention that the judges of that period seemed to have such a penchant, as the French [-272-] say, for human blood, that various cases of executions for stealing two or three penny tarts from a confectioner’s shop, are on record. Not even youth was any protection against the Draconian spirit of the laws and those entrusted with the administration of them. For the most trivial acts of felony, mere boys were then doomed to suffer on the scaffold. What must have been the constitution of the minds of those judges who could sanction executions for such offences, it is difficult to conceive, The very thought, one would suppose, that such things should be, must have made every one shudder in whose breast there was left one trace of humanity. And yet the judges of a former time could, so far as we are aware, be parties to such transactions day after day, and year after year, without one single compunctious visiting.
But a better day has dawned on us. The rigour of our criminal code has been greatly relaxed.
It is a most gratifying circumstance that there have been so few executions in London of late [-273-] years, compared with the number at previous periods. With the single exception of one unfortunate man who suffered in March last, there has been no execution in London for four years past. This happy diminution in the number of executions is principally owing to the recent alteration in the criminal code, which abolishes capital punishments in the case of so many offences to which they were formerly annexed. The result of the experiment made by the legislature as to the efficiency of secondary punishments to repress crime—for I believe the legislature only viewed the matter as an experiment— has been a complete confirmation of the views of those philanthropic individuals who, for some years previously, had laboured with a zeal and assiduity which exceed all praise, to soften the rigours of our criminal code. I have here especially in my eye, the “ Society for the Diffusion of Information on Capital Punishments.” Circumstances have made me better acquainted with the labours of this Society than the public generally can be, and I should not be doing jus-[-274-]tice to my own feelings, did I not take this opportunity of expressing my conviction, that the annals of benevolence afford but few parallels to the purity of motive in which that Society had its origin, and to the untiring perseverance with which, for a series of years, it laboured to promote its humane objects. It has always sought to shun rather than to court the public gaze. If ever a Society did good by stealth, it is the Society in question. It has pursued the quiet and even tenor of its way, amidst circumstances of a most discouraging nature— so discouraging, indeed, that nothing but the consciousness of being engaged in a most righteous cause, could have supported it under them. The great truth which this Society has laboured so earnestly to impress on the legislature and the country, is, that putting out of view the injustice and inhumanity of sanguinary punishments, a lenient criminal code is much better adapted to repress or diminish crime. The result has most conclusively proved the truth of the position. There has been a very great diminution in the number of those [-275-]offences which, previous to the last few years, were punished with death, since the alteration referred to came into operation. I intended to have gone into details on this subject; but that would occupy too much space. It is, besides, unnecessary, as the parliamentary returns in which the fact is established, are already before the country. I may be told that this diminution in the number of offences, formerly capital, but now no longer so, is to be ascribed to a decrease of crime consequent on the improved circumstances of the country, and that it is not the result of the greater efficiency of secondary punishments. There is one very short but very conclusive answer to this: there has been in the very same period an increase in all the minor offences, in other words, to those to which the extreme penalty of the law was not before annexed. But, therefore, for the superior efficacy of milder punishments, why should there not have been a corresponding increase in the offences which were formerly capital?
But the position that a lenient system of [-276-] criminal jurisprudence is more efficacious than a sanguinary one, is as much in accordance with philosophy as it is with experience. The injured party, under our previous Draconian code, rather, in many cases, passively submitted to the injury than prosecute the offender, when they knew that his death would be the result of a conviction. And juries, on the same just and humane principle, hesitated to convict, even where the evidence was quite conclusive. The consequence was, that the offender often escaped altogether. Hence criminals, under the former system, speculated on the chances of escaping punishment, even should they be detected in the commission of the offence. This, of course, was holding out a strong temptation to crime. Now, however, that the punishment is more proportioned to the crime, the injured party have no scruples in prosecuting, and juries unhesitatingly convict where the evidence is clear. Criminals, therefore, now know that they have no chance of escape in so far as the prosecutor or the jury are concerned; they know that their punish-[-277-]ment is certain; and the certainty, not the severity of punishment, has always been found to be the great preventive of crime. The history of all other countries, as well as our own, in which the effect of sanguinary and lenient punishments has been severally tried, concurs in proving that the latter is most calculated to repress crime.
The great argument urged by the advocates of capital punishments in favour of the enforcement of the extreme penalty, has always been the necessity of an example. The facts already stated, have abundantly proved that executions have never operated in the way of salutary example; and a moment’s reflection might have served to convince any one that they never could. The foot of the gallows is not the place to learn one’s duty, either to the Deity or to society. The spectacle of an execution necessarily tends to harden or brutalise the mind. All experience shows, that the more a man becomes familiarised with death, under any form, the less he thinks of it. In the case of [-278-] the spectator was always withdrawn from the offence itself, to indulge in sympathy with the offender,—he being regarded as a victim to a sanguinary system of criminal jurisprudence. Even when the executions are for murder, those executions do not operate by way of example. It is too notorious to be denied, that the utmost levity is manifested by many of the spectators. Numbers of them, indeed, attend those painful spectacles with no other view than that of picking pockets, or otherwise practising their light-fingered profession.
The scenes which were sometimes exhibited at the Old Bailey when our criminal code existed in all its unmitigated rigour, were of the most shocking nature. On one occasion, about twenty years since, no fewer than twenty-one human beings were executed there on one morning, and all for secondary offences. Let any one only fancy that he sees all those unfortunate persons suspended for an hour in the air, in the midst of one of our most crowded thoroughfares, and he will be able to form some idea of [-279-] what must have been the shock which every humane mind must have received, who accidentally, or otherwise, was fated to witness so barbarous a spectacle. It consists with my own private knowledge, that in some cases strangers coming from the country, who knew nothing of there being executions at the particular time, have had their feelings so shocked by suddenly witnessing such sights, as never afterwards entirely to recover from the effects of the scene. To me it appears as clear as any moral proposition can be, that revelation, justice, humanity, and even social expediency, all loudly proclaim, that no crime but that of wilfully taking the life of a fellow-creature, ought to be punished with death. Whether even the murderer ought to die by the hands of the executioner, is a question with many of the most excellent and enlightened men in the country. They think that the Divine Being has never delegated to man the right of shedding the blood of a fellow-man; and that solitary imprisonment would answer all the ends of justice. On this point I [-280-] will express no opinion of my own, not being quite decided either way. It is one, however, which is deserving the most serious attention of the legislature and the country.
I cannot close my chapter on Newgate, without a word or two respecting two of the leading individuals connected with it. I allude to the Rev. Dr. Cotton, the Ordinary, and Mr. Baker. Dr. Cotton is a man who is deeply imbued with the spirit of that religion whose minister he is. There is something serious in his very appearance. His countenance is grave, and his demeanour is of that nature which becomes his sacred office. His white, long, flowing hair, coupled with his advanced years, impart something of an unusually venerable aspect to his appearance. He is indefatigable in his attention to the duties of his office; and the respect with which he invariably inspires all who come in contact with him, often procures him access to criminals who peremptorily refuse to admit of the visits of other pious individuals. He has, there can be no question, [-281-] been the means of doing much good within the walls of Newgate.
Of Mr. Baker I may say the same. His Christian philanthropy has been productive of great spiritual benefit to the unhappy individuals who, since he began to visit Newgate, have been sentenced to death. He is a man of a kind and benevolent heart, and spares no amount of personal exertion where there is even the chance of doing good. His manners are conciliatory in no ordinary degree, and have often paved the way to the minds of culprits, when a sterner or more unbending exhibition of conduct, would have failed to secure attention. He is respected by all about the place, as well as by those of the unfortunate inmates who have occasion to come in contact with him. He has been the instrument of much spiritual good within the walls of Newgate: it is to be hoped he will yet be the instrument of a great deal more. He is not officially connected with the place; but performs all his labours gratuitously from the pure desire of doing good.
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