Page images

many others, were killed by jail fever when attending the Dorsetshire Assizes, and the High Sheriff of Somersetshire perished through the same cause. In the Scotch rebellion no less than 200 men in a single regiment were infected by some deserters. The army and navy, indeed, through the operation of the pressgang, which seized numbers just released from prison, was peculiarly exposed to the contagion, and it was said by a good judge, that the mortality produced by the jail fever was greater than that produced by all other causes combined. In 1750 the disease raged to such an extent in Newgate that at the Old Bailey Assizes two judges, the Lord Mayor, an alderman, and many of inferior rank were its victims. From that time sweetsmelling herbs were always placed in the prisoner's dock to counteract the contagion.1

Something was done by new prison regulations, and by the removal and prosecution of some of the worst offenders, to remedy the evil; but still the condition of the prisons continued till a much later period a disgrace to English civilisation. The miseries of the imprisoned debtor were commemorated in the poetry of Thomson, and by the pencil of Hogarth, and they furnished the subject of some of the most pathetic pages of Fielding and Smollett. As late as 1741 it was announced that two prisoners had died of extreme want in the Marshalsea in Dublin, and that several others were reduced to the verge of starvation. In 1759 Dr. Johnson computed the number of imprisoned debtors at not less than 20,000,3 and asserted that one of four died every year from the treatment they underwent.

The exposure of the abuses in the English prisons by no means exhausted the philanthropic energies of Oglethorpe. Like Berkeley, his imagination was directed towards the West, and he conceived the idea of founding a colony in which poor debtors on attaining their freedom might find a refuge. A charter

Howard on Prisons, Introduction. Lawrence's Life of Fielding, pp. 296


2 Dublin Gazette, March 17-21, 1740-41.


Idler, No. 38. Johnson afterwards. in reprinting the Idler, admitted that he had found reasons to question the accuracy of this calculation.

was obtained in 1732. Private subscriptions flowed largely in, and with the consent of Berkeley the proceeds of the sale of some lands, which Parliament had voted for the Bermuda scheme, were appropriated to the new enterprise. Early in 1733 the colony of Georgia was founded, and Oglethorpe for many years was its governor. Besides giving a refuge to needy classes from England the colony was intended to exercise a civilising and missionary influence upon the surrounding Indians; and in its charter Oglethorpe inserted a most memorable clause, absolutely prohibiting the introduction of slaves. Georgia became a centre of the Moravian sect, the scene of the early labours of the Wesleys, and afterwards of Whitefield, and the asylum of many of the poor Protestants who had been driven, on account of their religion, from the bishopric of Salzburg. The administration of Oglethorpe was marred by some faults of temper and of tact, but it was on the whole able, energetic, and fortunate. When hostilities broke out with Spain he conducted the war with brilliant courage and success, and he succeeded in materially diminishing the atrocities which had hitherto accompanied Indian warfare. He became a general and served in the Jacobite rebellion of 1745, but was repulsed with some loss at the village of Clifton; and though acquitted by a court of inquiry, his conduct during this campaign threw a certain shadow over his military reputation. He succeeded, in 1749, in carrying through Parliament a Bill exempting the Moravians in England from the necessity of violating their religious sentiments by taking oaths or bearing arms. He was one of the first men who recognised the rising genius of Johnson; and in his old age he was the intimate friend of Johnson, Goldsmith, and Burke. His singularly varied and useful life terminated in 1785.1

With these exceptions, probably the only considerable trace

Wright's Life of Oglethorpe. See, too, the many allusions to him in Boswell's Johnson. H. Walpole always depreciates Oglethorpe. Pope has devoted a well-known couplet to him.


One driven by strong benevolence of soul Shall fly like Oglethorpe from pole to pole. Imitation of Horace, Ep. ii. See, too, Wesley's Journal and Tyerman's Life of Wesley.

of warm and disinterested philanthropy in the sphere of politics during the period I am describing was the vote of 100,000l. in 1755 for the relief of the distressed Portuguese, after the great earthquake at Lisbon. In no respect does the legislation of this period present a more striking contrast to that of the nineteenth century than in the almost complete absence of attempts to alleviate the social condition of the poorer classes, or to soften the more repulsive features of English life. The public press had not yet undertaken that minute and searching investigation into abuses, which is the most useful of all its functions; and the general level of humanity in the community was little, if at all, higher than in the preceding generation. The graphic and terrible picture which is given in 'Roderick Random' of the hardships endured by the common sailors on board a man-of-war, was derived from the actual experience of the author, when serving in 1741 as surgeon's mate in the expedition against Carthagena'; and those who read it will hardly wonder that it was found impossible in time of war to man the royal navy without having constant recourse to the press-gang.' The condition of the army was little better. It appears from a memorial drawn up in 1707 that the garrison of Portsmouth was reduced by death or desertion to half its former number in less than a year and a half, through sickness, want of firing, and bad barracks, and the few new barracks that were erected were built with the most scandalous parsimony, and crowded to the most frightful excess.3 The African slave-trade was still an

That it is not exaggerated is abundantly shown by Lind's Essay on the Health of Seamen, which was first published in 1757. This author says (ch. i.), 'I have known 1,000 men confined together in a guardship, some hundreds of whom had neither a bed nor so much as a change of linen. I have seen many of them brought into hospital in the same clothes and shirts they had on when pressed several months before.'

2 Pelham, in 1749, endeavoured to abolish impressment by maintaining

a reserve of 3,000 seamen, who were to receive a pension in time of peace. and to be called into active service in time of war; but the Bill was violently opposed and eventually dropped (Coxe's Life of Pelham, ii. 66-70). A somewhat similar measure, but on a larger scale, had actually passed under William, but it was repealed in the ninth year of Anne (Macpherson's Annals of Commerce, ii. 683).

Clode's Military Forces of the Crown, i. 222.

important branch of British enterprise. A few isolated voices, as we shall hereafter see, had been raised against it, but they had as yet made no sensible impression on the public mind, and no less a statesman than the elder Pitt made its development a main object of his policy. The penal code was not only atrociously sanguinary and continually aggravated by the addition of new offences; it was also executed in a manner peculiarly fitted to brutalise the people. In some respects, it is true, it may be compared favourably with the criminal procedures of the Continent. English law knew nothing of torture or of arbitrary imprisonment, or of the barbarous punishment of the wheel, and no English executions were quite so horrible as those which took place in the Cevennes in the early years of the eighteenth century, or as the prolonged and hideous agonies. which Damiens endured for several hours, in 1757. But this is about all that can be said. Executions in England till very lately have been a favourite public spectacle-it may almost be said a public amusement-and in the last century everything seemed done to make the people familiar with their most frightful aspects. A ghastly row of heads of the rebels of 1745 mouldered along the top of Temple Bar. Gallows were erected in every important quarter of the city, and on many of them corpses were left rotting in chains. When Blackstone wrote, there were no less than 160 offences in England punishable with death, and it was a very ordinary occurrence for ten or twelve culprits to be hung on a single occasion, for forty or fifty to be condemned at a single assize. In 1732 no less than seventy persons received sentence of death at the Old Bailey, and in the same year we find no less than eighteen persons hung in one day in the not very considerable town of Cork. Often the criminals staggered intoxicated to the gallows, and some of the most noted were exhibited for money by


1 Andrews' Eighteenth Century, p.

2 Dublin Weekly Journal, April 22, 1732. See, too, Madden's Hist. of Periodical Literature in Ireland, i.

258; and for an almost equally striking instance in 1787 at Worcester, Robert's Social Hist. of the Southern Counties, p. 152.

the turnkeys before their execution. No less than 200l. are said to have been made in this manner in a few days when Sheppard was prisoner in Newgate.' Dr. Dodd, the unhappy clergyman who was executed for forgery, was exhibited for two hours in the press-room at a shilling a-head before he was led to the gallows.2

[ocr errors]

6 The executions of criminals,' wrote a Swiss traveller in the beginning of the eighteenth century, 'return every six weeks regularly with the sessions. The criminals pass through the streets in carts, dressed in their best clothes, with white gloves and nosegays, if it be the season. Those that die merrily or that don't at least show any great fear of death, are said to die like gentlemen; and to merit this encomium most of them die like beasts, without any concern, or like fools, having no other view than to divert the crowd. .. Though there is something very melancholy in this, yet a man cannot well forbear laughing to see these rogues set themselves off as heroes by an affectation of despising death. The frequent executions, the great numbers that suffer together, and the applauses of the crowd, may contribute something to it, and the brandy which they swallow before their setting out helps to stun them.'3 Women who were found guilty of murdering their husbands, or of the other offences comprised under the terms high or petit treason, were publicly burnt, by a law which was not abolished till 1790. A stake ten or eleven feet high was planted in the ground. An iron ring was fastened near the top, and from it the culprit was hung while the faggots were kindled under her feet. The law enjoined that she should be burnt alive, but in practice the sentence was usually miti

[blocks in formation]
« PreviousContinue »