Imatges de pàgina

ruined as much wheat and seeds as would purchase fuel a whole year for a whole village ?

It cannot be urged, in extenuation of such a murder as we have described, that the artificer of death had no particular malice against the deceased; that his object was general, and his indignation levelled against offenders in the aggregate. Every body knows that there is a malice by implication of law.

'In general, any formal design of doing mischief may be called malice; and therefore, not such killing only as proceeds from premeditated hatred and revenge against the person killed, but also, in many other cases, such as is accompanied with those circumstances that show the heart to be perversely wicked, is adjudged to be of malice prepense.' 2 Haw. c. 31.

For, where the law makes use of the term, malice aforethought, as descriptive of the crime of murder, it is not to be understood in that narrow restrained sense in which the modern use of the word malice is apt to lead one, a principle of malevolence to particulars; for the law, by the term malice, malitia, in this instance, meaneth that the fact hath been attended with such circumstances as are the ordinary symptoms of a wicked heart regardless of social duty, and fatally bent upon

mischief.' -Fost. 256, 257.

Ferocity is the natural weapon of the common people. If gentlemen of education and property contend with them at this sort of warfare, they will probably be defeated in the end. If spring guns are generally set-if the common people are murdered by them, and the Legislature does not interfere, the posts of gamekeeper and lord of the manor will soon be posts of honour and danger. The greatest curse under heaven (witness Ireland) is a peasantry demoralised by the barbarity and injustice of their rulers.

It is expected by some persons, that the severe operation of these engines will put an end to the trade of a poacher. This has always been predicated of every fresh operation of severity, that it was to put an end to poaching. But if this argument is good for one thing, it is


good for another. Let the first pickpocket who is taken be hung alive by the ribs, and let him be a fortnight in wasting to death. Let us seize a little grammar boy, who is robbing orchards, tie his arms and legs, throw over him a delicate puff-paste, and bake him in a bunpan in an oven. If poaching can be extirpated by intensity of punishment, why not all other crimes ? If racks and gibbets and tenter-hooks are the best method of bringing back the golden age, why do we refrain from so easy a receipt for abolishing every species of wickedness ?' The best way of answering a bad argument is not to stop it, but to let it go on in its course till it leaps over the boundaries of common sense. There is a little book called Beccaria on Crimes and Punishments, which we strongly recommend to the attention of Mr. Justice Best. He who has not read it, is neither fit to make laws, nor to administer them when made.

As to the idea of abolishing poaching altogether, we will believe that poaching is abolished when it is found impossible to buy game; or when they have risen so greatly in price, that none but people of fortune can buy them. But we are convinced this never can and never will happen. All the traps and guns in the world will never prevent the wealth of the merchant and manufacturer from commanding the game of the landed gentleman. You may, in the pursuit of this visionary purpose render the common people savage, ferocious, and vindictive; you may disgrace your laws, by enormous punishments, and the national character by these new secret assassinations; but you will never separate the wealthy glutton from his pheasant. The best way is, to take what you want, and to sell the rest fairly and openly. This is the real spring gun and steel trap which will annihilate, not the unlawful trader, but the unlawful trade.

There is a sort of horror in thinking of a whole land filled with lurking engines of death — machinations against human life under every green tree – guns in every dusky dell and bosky bourn — the feræ naturâ, the lords of manors eyeing their peasantry as so

traps and many butts and marks, and panting to hear the click of the trap and to see the flash of the gun. How any human being, educated in liberal knowledge and Christian feeling, can doom to certain destruction a poor wretch, tempted by the sight of animals that naturally appear to him to belong to one person as well as another, we are at a loss to conceive. We cannot imagine how he could live in the same village, and see the widow and orphans of the man whose blood he had shed for such a trifle. We consider a person who could do this to be deficient in the very elements of morals — to want that sacred regard to human life which is one of the corner stones of civil society. If he sacrifice the life of man for his mere pleasures, he would do so, if he dared, for the lowest and least of his passions. He may be defended, perhaps, by the abominable injustice of the Game Laws

though we think and hope he is not. But there rests upon his head, and there is marked in his account, the deep and indelible sin of blood-guiltiness.


1. Thoughts on the Criminal Prisons of this Country, occasioned

by the Bill now in the House of Commons, for Consolidating and Amending the Laws relating to Prisons; with some Remarks on the Practice of looking to the Task-Master of the Prison rather than to the Chaplain for the Reformation of Offenders; and of purchasing the Work of those whom the Law has condemned to hard Labour as a Punishment, by allowing them to spend a Portion of their Earnings during their Imprison

ment. By George Holford, Esq. M.P. Rivington. 1821. 2. Gurney on Prisons. Constable and Co. 1819. 3. Report of Society for bettering the Condition of Prisons.

Bensley. 1820.

THERE are, in every county in England, large public schools, maintained at the expense of the county, for the encouragement of profligacy and vice, and for providing a proper succession of housebreakers, profligates, and thieves. They are schools, too, conducted without the smallest degree of partiality or favour; there being no man (however mean his birth, or obscure his situation,) who may not easily procure admission to them. The moment any young person evinces the slightest propensity for these pursuits, he is provided with food, clothing, and lodging, and put to his studies under the most accomplished thieves and cut-throats the county can supply. There is not, to be sure, a formal arrangement of lectures, after the manner of our Universities but the petty larcenous stripling, being left destitute of every species of employment, and locked up with accomplished villains as idle as himself, listens to their pleasant narrative of successful crimes, and pants for the hour of freedom, that he may begin the same bold and interesting career.

This is a perfectly true picture of the prison establishments of many counties in England, and was so,


[ocr errors]

till very lately, of almost all; and the effects so completely answered the design, that, in the year 1818, there were committed to the gaols of the United Kingdom more than one hundred and seven thousand persons ! a number supposed to be greater than that of all the commitments in the other kingdoms of Europe put together.

The bodily treatment of prisoners has been greatly improved since the time of Howard. There is still, however, much to do; and the attention of good and humane people has been lately called to their state of moral discipline.

It is inconceivable to what a spirit of party this has given birth ; —all the fat and sleek people—the enjoyers — the mumpsimus, and 'well as we are people, are perfectly outrageous at being compelled to do their duty; and to sacrifice time and money to the lower orders of mankind. Their first resource was, to deny all the facts which were brought forward for the purposes of amendment; and the alderman's sarcasm of the Turkey carpet in gaols was bandied from one hardhearted and fat-witted gentleman to another: but the advocates of prison-improvement are men in earnest not playing at religion, but of deep feeling, and of indefatigable industry in charitable pursuits. Mr. Buxton went in company with men of the most irreproachable veracity; and found, in the heart of the metropolis, and in a prison of which the very Turkey carpet alderman was an official visiter, scenes of horror, filth, and cruelty, which would have disgraced even the interior of a slaveship.

This dislike of innovation proceeds sometimes from the disgust excited by false humanity, canting hypocrisy, and silly enthusiasm. It proceeds also from a stupid and indiscriminate horror of change, whether of evil for good, or good for evil. There is also much party spirit in these matters. A good deal of these humane projects

* Report of Prison Society, xiv.

« AnteriorContinua »