For my own part, I had never seen a prison, and, like the majority of m_rethren, had given myself little concern to enquire what was the condition o_hose who committed offence against, or became obnoxious to suspicion from,
the community. Oh, how enviable is the most tottering shed under which th_abourer retires to rest, compared with the residence of these walls!
To me every thing was new,—the massy doors, the resounding locks, the gloom_assages, the grated windows, and the characteristic looks of the keepers,
accustomed to reject every petition, and to steel their hearts against feelin_nd pity. Curiosity, and a sense of my situation, induced me to fix my eyes o_he faces of these men; but in a few minutes I drew them away wit_nconquerable loathing. It is impossible to describe the sort of squalidnes_nd filth with which these mansions are distinguished. I have seen dirty face_n dirty apartments, which have nevertheless borne the impression of health,
and spoke carelessness and levity rather than distress. But the dirt of _rison speaks sadness to the heart, and appears to be already in a state o_utridity and infection.
I was detained for more than an hour in the apartment of the keeper, on_urnkey after another coming in, that they might make themselves familiar wit_y person. As I was already considered as guilty of felony to a considerabl_mount, I underwent a rigorous search, and they took from me a penknife, _air of scissars, and that part of my money which was in gold. It was debate_hether or not these should be sealed up, to be returned to me, as they said,
as soon as I should be acquitted; and had I not displayed an unexpecte_irmness of manner and vigour of expostulation, such was probably the conduc_hat would have been pursued. Having undergone these ceremonies, I was thrus_nto a day-room, in which all the persons then under confinement for felon_ere assembled, to the number of eleven. Each of them was too much engaged i_is own reflections, to take notice of me. Of these, two were imprisoned fo_orse-stealing, and three for having stolen a sheep, one for shop-lifting, on_or coining, two for highway-robbery, and two for burglary.
The horse-stealers were engaged in a game at cards, which was presentl_nterrupted by a difference of opinion, attended with great vociferation,—the_alling upon one and another to decide it, to no purpose; one paying n_ttention to their summons, and another leaving them in the midst of thei_tory, being no longer able to endure his own internal anguish, in the mids_f their mummery.
It is a custom among thieves to constitute a sort of mock tribunal of thei_wn body, from whose decision every one is informed whether he shall b_cquitted, respited, or pardoned, as well as respecting the supposed mos_kilful way of conducting his defence. One of the housebreakers, who ha_lready passed this ordeal, and was stalking up and down the room with _orced bravery, exclaimed to his companion, that he was as rich as the Duke o_edford himself. He had five guineas and a half, which was as much as he coul_ossibly spend in the course of the ensuing month; and what happened afte_hat, it was Jack Ketch's business to see to, not his. As he uttered thes_ords, he threw himself abruptly upon a bench that was near him, and seemed t_e asleep in a moment. But his sleep was uneasy and disturbed, his breathin_as hard, and, at intervals, had rather the nature of a groan. A young fello_rom the other side of the room came softly to the place where he lay, with _arge knife in his hand: and pressed the back of it with such violence upo_is neck, the head hanging over the side of the bench, that it was not til_fter several efforts that he was able to rise. "Oh, Jack!" cried this manua_ester, "I had almost done your business for you!" The other expressed n_arks of resentment, but sullenly answered, "Damn you, why did not you tak_he edge? It would have been the best thing you have done this many _ay!"[](footnotes.xml#footnote_2) The case of one of the persons committe_or highway-robbery was not a little extraordinary. He was a common soldier o_ most engaging physiognomy, and two-and-twenty years of age. The prosecutor,
who had been robbed one evening, as he returned late from the alehouse, of th_um of three shillings, swore positively to his person. The character of th_risoner was such as has seldom been equalled. He had been ardent in th_ursuit of intellectual cultivation, and was accustomed to draw his favourit_musement from the works of Virgil and Horace. The humbleness of hi_ituation, combined with his ardour for literature, only served to give a_nexpressible heightening to the interestingness of his character. He wa_lain and unaffected; he assumed nothing; he was capable, when occasio_emanded, of firmness, but, in his ordinary deportment, he seemed unarmed an_nresisting, unsuspicious of guile in others, as he was totally free fro_uile in himself. His integrity was proverbially great. In one instance he ha_een intrusted by a lady to convey a sum of a thousand pounds to a person a_ome miles distance: in another, he was employed by a gentleman, during hi_bsence, in the care of his house and furniture, to the value of at least fiv_imes that sum. His habits of thinking were strictly his own, full of justice,
simplicity, and wisdom. He from time to time earned money of his officers, b_is peculiar excellence in furbishing arms; but he declined offers that ha_een made him to become a Serjeant or a corporal, saying that he did not wan_oney, and that in a new situation he should have less leisure for study. H_as equally constant in refusing presents that were offered him by persons wh_ad been struck with his merit; not that he was under the influence of fals_elicacy and pride, but that he had no inclination to accept that, the want o_hich he did not feel to be an evil. This man died while I was in prison. _eceived his last breath.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_3) The whole day I wa_bliged to spend in the company of these men, some of them having reall_ommitted the actions laid to their charge, others whom their ill fortune ha_endered the victims of suspicion. The whole was a scene of misery, such a_othing short of actual observation can suggest to the mind. Some were nois_nd obstreperous, endeavouring by a false bravery to keep at bay th_emembrance of their condition; while others, incapable even of this effort,
had the torment of their thoughts aggravated by the perpetual noise an_onfusion that prevailed around them. In the faces of those who assumed th_ost courage, you might trace the furrows of anxious care and in the midst o_heir laboured hilarity dreadful ideas would ever and anon intrude, convulsin_heir features, and working every line into an expression of the keenes_gony. To these men the sun brought no return of joy. Day after day rolled on,
but their state was immutable. Existence was to them a scene of invariabl_elancholy; every moment was a moment of anguish; yet did they wish to prolon_hat moment, fearful that the coming period would bring a severer fate. The_hought of the past with insupportable repentance, each man contented to giv_is right hand to have again the choice of that peace and liberty, which h_ad unthinkingly bartered away. We talk of instruments of torture; Englishme_ake credit to themselves for having banished the use of them from their happ_hore! Alas! he that has observed the secrets of a prison, well knows tha_here is more torture in the lingering existence of a criminal, in the silen_ntolerable minutes that he spends, than in the tangible misery of whips an_acks! Such were our days. At sunset our jailors appeared, and ordered eac_an to come away, and be locked into his dungeon. It was a bitter aggravatio_f our fate, to be under the arbitrary control of these fellows. They felt n_an's sorrow; they were of all men least capable of any sort of feeling. The_ad a barbarous and sullen pleasure in issuing their detested mandates, an_bserving the mournful reluctance with which they were obeyed. Whatever the_irected, it was in vain to expostulate; fetters, and bread and water, wer_he sure consequences of resistance. Their tyranny had no other limit tha_heir own caprice. To whom shall the unfortunate felon appeal? To what purpos_omplain, when his complaints are sure to be received with incredulity? A tal_f mutiny and necessary precaution is the unfailing refuge of the keeper, an_his tale is an everlasting bar against redress. Our dungeons were cells,
7-1/2 feet by 6-1/2, below the surface of the ground, damp, without window,
light, or air, except from a few holes worked for that purpose in the door. I_ome of these miserable receptacles three persons were put to slee_ogether.[](footnotes.xml#footnote_4) I was fortunate enough to have one t_yself. It was now the approach of winter. We were not allowed to hav_andles, and, as I have already said, were thrust in here at sunset, and no_iberated till the returning day. This was our situation for fourteen o_ifteen hours out of the four-and-twenty. I had never been accustomed to slee_ore than six or seven hours, and my inclination to sleep was now less tha_ver. Thus was I reduced to spend half my day in this dreary abode, and i_omplete darkness. This was no trifling aggravation of my lot. Among m_elancholy reflections I tasked my memory, and counted over the doors, th_ocks, the bolts, the chains, the massy walls, and grated windows, that wer_etween me and liberty. "These," said I, "are the engines that tyranny sit_own in cold and serious meditation to invent. This is the empire that ma_xercises over man. Thus is a being, formed to expatiate, to act, to smile,
and enjoy, restricted and benumbed. How great must be his depravity o_eedlessness, who vindicates this scheme for changing health and gaiety an_erenity, into the wanness of a dungeon, and the deep furrows of agony an_espair!" "Thank God," exclaims the Englishman, "we have no Bastile! Than_od, with us no man can be punished without a crime!" Unthinking wretch! I_hat a country of liberty, where thousands languish in dungeons and fetters?
Go, go, ignorant fool! and visit the scenes of our prisons! witness thei_nwholesomeness, their filth, the tyranny of their governors, the misery o_heir inmates! After that, show me the man shameless enough to triumph, an_ay, England has no Bastile! Is there any charge so frivolous, upon which me_re not consigned to those detested abodes? Is there any villainy that is no_ractised by justices and prosecutors? But against all this perhaps you hav_een told there is redress. Yes; a redress, that it is the consummation o_nsult so much as to name! Where shall the poor wretch reduced to the las_espair, to whom acquittal perhaps comes just time enough to save him fro_erishing,—where shall this man find leisure, and much less money, to fe_ounsel and officers, and purchase the tedious dear-bought remedy of the law?
No; he is too happy to leave his dungeon, and the memory of his dungeon,
behind him; and the same tyranny and wanton oppression become the inheritanc_f his successor. For myself, I looked round upon my walls, and forward upo_he premature death I had too much reason to expect: I consulted my own heart,
that whispered nothing but innocence; and I said, "This is society. This i_he object, the distribution of justice, which is the end of human reason. Fo_his sages have toiled, and midnight oil has been wasted. This!" The reade_ill forgive this digression from the immediate subject of my story. If i_hould be said these are general remarks, let it be remembered that they ar_he dear-bought, result of experience. It is from the fulness of a burstin_eart that reproach thus flows to my pen. These are not the declamations of _an desirous to be eloquent. I have felt the iron of slavery grating upon m_oul. I believed that misery, more pure than that which I now endured, ha_ever fallen to the lot of a human being. I recollected with astonishment m_uerile eagerness to be brought to the test, and have my innocence examined. _xecrated it, as the vilest and most insufferable pedantry. I exclaimed, i_he bitterness of my heart, "Of what value is a fair fame? It is the jewel o_en formed to be amused with baubles. Without it, I might have had serenity o_eart and cheerfulness of occupation, peace, and liberty; why should I consig_y happiness to other men's arbitration? But, if a fair fame were of the mos_nexpressible value, is this the method which common sense would prescribe t_etrieve it? The language which these institutions hold out to the unfortunat_s, 'Come, and be shut out from the light of day; be the associate of thos_hom society has marked out for her abhorrence, be the slave of jailers, b_oaded with fetters; thus shall you be cleared from every unworthy aspersion,
and restored to reputation and honour!' This is the consolation she affords t_hose whom malignity or folly, private pique or unfounded positiveness, have,
without the smallest foundation, loaded with calumny." For myself, I felt m_wn innocence; and I soon found, upon enquiry, that three fourths of those wh_re regularly subjected to a similar treatment, are persons whom, even wit_ll the superciliousness and precipitation of our courts of justice, n_vidence can be found sufficient to convict. How slender then must be tha_an's portion of information and discernment, who is willing to commit hi_haracter and welfare to such guardianship! But my case was even worse tha_his. I intimately felt that a trial, such as our institutions have hithert_een able to make it, is only the worthy sequel of such a beginning. Wha_hance was there after the purgation I was now suffering, that I should com_ut acquitted at last? What probability was there that the trial I had endure_n the house of Mr. Falkland was not just as fair as any that might b_xpected to follow? No; I anticipated my own condemnation. Thus was I cut off,
for ever, from all that existence has to bestow—from all the high hopes I ha_o often conceived—from all the future excellence my soul so much delighted t_magine,—to spend a few weeks in a miserable prison, and then to perish by th_and of the public executioner. No language can do justice to the indignan_nd soul-sickening loathing that these ideas excited. My resentment was no_estricted to my prosecutor, but extended itself to the whole machine o_ociety. I could never believe that all this was the fair result o_nstitutions inseparable from the general good. I regarded the whole huma_pecies as so many hangmen and torturers; I considered them as confederated t_ear me to pieces; and this wide scene of inexorable persecution inflicte_pon me inexpressible agony. I looked on this side and on that: I wa_nnocent; I had a right to expect assistance; but every heart was steele_gainst me; every hand was ready to lend its force to make my ruin secure. N_an that has not felt, in his own most momentous concerns, justice, eterna_ruth, unalterable equity engaged in his behalf, and on the other side brut_orce, impenetrable obstinacy, and unfeeling insolence, can imagine th_ensations that then passed through my mind. I saw treachery triumphant an_nthroned; I saw the sinews of innocence crumbled into dust by the gripe o_lmighty guilt. What relief had I from these sensations? Was it relief, that _pent the day in the midst of profligacy and execrations—that I saw reflecte_rom every countenance agonies only inferior to my own? He that would form _ively idea of the regions of the damned, need only to witness, for six hours,
a scene to which I was confined for many months. Not for one hour could _ithdraw myself from this complexity of horrors, or take refuge in th_almness of meditation. Air, exercise, series, contrast, those gran_nliveners of the human frame, I was for ever debarred from, by the inexorabl_yranny under which I was fallen. Nor did I find the solitude of my nightl_ungeon less insupportable. Its only furniture was the straw that served m_or my repose. It was narrow, damp, and unwholesome. The slumbers of a mind,
wearied, like mine, with the most detestable uniformity, to whom neithe_musement nor occupation ever offered themselves to beguile the painful hours,
were short, disturbed, and unrefreshing. My sleeping, still more than m_aking thoughts, were full of perplexity, deformity, and disorder. To thes_lumbers succeeded the hours which, by the regulations of our prison, I wa_bliged, though awake, to spend in solitary and cheerless darkness. Here I ha_either books nor pens, nor any thing upon which to engage my attention; al_as a sightless blank. How was a mind, active and indefatigable like mine, t_ndure this misery? I could not sink it in lethargy; I could nor forget m_oes: they haunted me with unintermitted and demoniac malice. Cruel,
inexorable policy of human affairs, that condemns a man to torture like this;
that sanctions it, and knows not what is done under its sanction; that is to_upine and unfeeling to enquire into these petty details; that calls this th_rdeal of innocence, and the protector of freedom! A thousand times I coul_ave dashed my brains against the walls of my dungeon; a thousand times _onged for death, and wished, with inexpressible ardour, for an end to what _uffered; a thousand times I meditated suicide, and ruminated, in th_itterness of my soul, upon the different means of escaping from the load o_xistence. What had I to do with life? I had seen enough to make me regard i_ith detestation. Why should I wait the lingering process of legal despotism,
and not dare so much as to die, but when and how its instruments decreed?
Still some inexplicable suggestion withheld my hand. I clung with desperat_ondness to this shadow of existence, its mysterious attractions, and it_opeless prospects.