Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

of the

i We cannot resist transcribing the following account of the prar ceedings of a criminal military tribunal at Rouen.

« Da the third day after our arrival in this city, we attended the trial of a man who belonged to one of the banditti which intest the country round this city, The court was held in the hall of the ancient parliament house, and was composed of three civil judges, (one of whom presided,) three military judges, and two citizens. The arrangements of the court, which was crowded, were excellent, and afforded uninterrupted accommodations to all its members, by separate doors and passages allotted to each, and also to the people, who were permitted to occupy the large area in front, which gradually rose from the last seats of the persons belonging to the court, and enabled every spectator to have a perfact view of the whole. Appropriate moral mottoes were inscribed in characters of gold upon the walls. The judges wore long laced bands, and robes of black, lined with light blue silk, with scarfs of blue and silver fringe, and sat upon an elevated semicircular bench, raised upon a tight of steps, placed in a large alcove, lined with tapestry. The secretaries and subordinate officers were seated below them. On the left the prisoner was placed, without irons, in the custody of two gendarmes, formerly called maréchaussées, who had their long swords drawn. These soldiers have a very military appearance, and are a fine and valuable body of men. I fear the respectable impression which I would wish to convey of them will suffer, when I inform my reader, that they are servants of the por lice, and answer to our Bow-street runners. The swiftness with which they purBue and apprehend offenders is surprising. We were regeived with politeness, and conducted to a convenient place for hearing and seeing all that passed. The accusateur general, whre sat on the left, wore a costume similar to that of the judges, without the scarf. He opened the trial by relating the circumstances, and declaiming upon the enormity of the offence, by which it appeared that the prisoner stood charged with robbery, accompanied with breach of hospitality; which, in that country, be the amount of the plunder ever so trifting, is at present capital. The adddess of the public accuser was very forid and vehement, and attended by violent gestures, occasionally graceful. The pleaders of Nonmandy are considered as the most eloquent men in France. I have heard several of them, but they appear to me to be too impassioned. Their motions in speaking frequently look like madness. He ransacked his language to furnish himself with reproachful epithets against the miserable wretch by the side of him, who, with his hands in his bosom, appeared to listen to him with great sang froid. The witnesses, who were kept separate previous to their giving their evidence, were numerons, and proved many robberies against him, attended with aggravated breaches of hospitality. The court entered into proofs of offences committed by the prisoner at different times, and upon different persons. The women who gave their testimony exhibited a striking distinction between the timidity of English females, confronting the many eyes of a crowded court of justice, and the calm self-possession with which the French ladies here delivered their unperturbed testimony. The charges were clearly proved, and the prin sober was called upon for his defence. Undismayed, and with all the practised hardihood of an Old Bailey felon, he calmly declared that be purchased the pile of booty, produced in the court, for sums of money, the amount of which he

did not then know, of persons he could not name, and in places which he did not remember. He had no advocate. The subject was next resumed, and closed by the official orator who opened it. The court retired, and the criminal was reconducted to the prison behind the hall. After an absence of about twenty minutes, a bell rang to announce the return of the judges, the prisoner entered now, escorted by a file of national guards, to hear his fate. The court then resumed its sitting. The president addressed the unhappy man, very briefly, recapitulated his offences, and read the decree of the republic upon them, by which he doomed him to lose his head at four o'clock that afternoon.

“ It was then ten minutes past one!! The face of this wretched being presented a fine subject for the pencil. His countenance was dark, marked, and melancholy; over it was spread the sallow tint of long imprisonment. His beard was unshorn, and he displayed an indifference to his fate which not a little surprised me. He immediately retired, and upon his return to his cell, a priest was sent for to prepare him for his doom. At present, in the provinces, ali criminal offences are tried before military tribunals, qualified, as I have described this to be, by a mixture of civil judges and bourgeois.”

Mr. Carr was, shortly after, a witness of the execution of this offender. • " Upon my return through the market place, I beheld the miserable wretch, at whose trial I was present in the morning, led out to execution. He was seated upon the bottom of a cart, stripped above to his shirt, which was folded back, his arms were pinioned close behind, and his hair was closely cropped, to prevent the stroke of the fatal knife from being impeded. A priest was seated in a chair beside him. As the object of my excursion was to contemplate the manners of the people, I summoned resolution to view this gloomy and painful spectacle, which seemed to excite but little sensation in the market place, where its petty traffic and concerns proceeded with their accustomed activity, and the women at their stalls, which extended to the foot of the scaffold, appeared to be impressed only with the solicitude of selling their vegetables to the highest bidder. A small body of the national guards, and a few boys and idlers surrounded the fatal spot. The guillotine, painted red, was placed upon a scaffold, of about five feet high. As soon as the criminal ascended the upper step which led to it, he mounted by the direction of the executioner, a little board, like a shutter, raised upright to receive him, to which he was strapped, turned down flat, and run into a small ring of iron, half opened, and made to admit the neck, the top part of which was then closed upon it, a black leather curtain was placed before the head, from which a valve depended, which communicated to a tub, placed under the scaffold to receive the blood, the executioner then touched a long thin iron rod, connected with the top of the instrument, and in a moment the axe descended, which was in the form of a square, cut diagonally, heavily charged with lead. The executioner and his assistants placed the body in a shell, half filled with sawdust, which was almost completely stained over with the brown blood of fornier executions; they then picked up the head, from a bag into which it had fallen, within the curtain, and having placed it in the same gloomy depository, lowered the whole down to the sextons, who, covering it with a pall, bore it off to the place of burial.

« The velocity of this mode of execution, can alone recommend it. The pangs of death are passed almost in the same moment which presents to the terrified 'eye of the sufferer the frightful apparatus of his disgraceful dissolution. It is a dreary subject to discuss, but surely it is a matter of deep regret, that, in England, criminals doomed to die, from the uncertain and lingering nature of their annihilation, are seen writhing in the convulsions of death, during a period dreadful to think of. It is said, that at the late memorable execution of an African governor for murder, the miserable delinquent was beheld for fifteen minutes, struggling with the torments of his untimely fate! The guillotine is far preferable to the savage mode, formerly used in France, of breaking the criminal upon the wheel, and leaving him afterwards to perish in the most poignant agonies.

" As I have alluded to the fate of governor W— , I will conclude this chapter, by relating an anecdote of the terror and infatuation of guilt, displayed in the conduct of this wretched man, in the presence of a friend of mine, from whom I received it.-A few years before he suffered, fatigued with life, and pursued by poverty, and the frightful remembrance of his offences, then almost forgotten by the world, he left the south of France for Calais, with an intention of passing over to England, to offer himself up to its laws, not without the cherished hope that a lapse of twenty years had swept away all evidence of his guilt.

“At the time of his arrival at this port town, the hotel in which Madame H w as waiting for a packet to Dover, was very crowded---the landlord re

quested of her, that she would be pleased to permit two gentlemen, who were going to England, to take some refreshment in her room; these persons proved to be the unfortunate Brooks, a king's messenger, charged with important dispatches to his court, and Governor W-----, The latter was dressed like a decayed gentleman, and bore about him all the indications of his extreme condition. They had not been seated at the table long, before the latter informed the former, with evident marks of perturbation, that his name was W------, that

having been charged in England with offences, which, if true, subjected him to * heavy punishment, he was anxious to place himself at the disposal of its laws, and

requested of him, as he was an English messenger, that he would consider him as his prisoner, and take charge of him.

« The messenger, who was much surprised by the application, told him, that he could not, upon such a représentation, take him into custody, unless he had an order from the Duke of Portland's office to that effect, and that, in order to obtain it, it would be proper for him to write his name, that it might be compared with his hand-writing in the office of the Secretary at War, which he offered to carry over with him. Governor

W s till pressed him to take him * into custody; the messenger more strongly declined it, by informing him that

he was the bearer of dispatches of great importance to his court, that he must immediately cross the Channel, and should hazard a passage, although the weather looked lowering, in an open boat, as no packets had arrived, and that consequently it was altogether impossible to take him over, but again requested him to write his name, for the purpose already mentioned; the governor consented; pens and paper were brought, but the hand of the murderer shook so dreadfully, that he could not worite it, and, in an agony of mind bordering upon frenzy, he rushed out of the room, and immediately left the town..

« The messenger entered the boat, and set sail; a storm quickly followed,

the boat sunk in sight of the pier, and all on board but one of the watermen perished !!!

« The great Disposer of human destiny, in vindication of his eternal justice, rescued the life of this infatuated delinquent from the waves, and from a sudden death, to resign him to the public and merited doom of the laws."

The anecdote of Governor Wall may be perfectly authentic so far as respects himself, but we should apprehend that the king's messenger could not, in this case, have been Mr. Brooks, as his death took place under somewhat different circumstances, of which the following relation we know to be correct.

Brooks and Magistre, two messengers, who were conveying dispatches to Lord Malmsbury at Eisle, were both drowned in sight of Calais Pier; they were going in a boat from the pacquet which had conveyed them from Dover, the surge running so high that the captain would not attempt to make the Pier with his vessel-the boat was upset, and all but one seaman were drowned. This misfortune was caused by the anxiety of Brooks, who was ever eager to do his duty in spite of danger. The captain of the vessel pointed out to him the rashness of the attempt, but Brooks persevered, and, by holding out a promise of reward, persuaded some of the crew to hazard the enterprize. The result was the fatal catastrophe related. The Impetus, A Poem, on the threatened Invasion. By George

Van Straubenzee. 8vo. Hatchard. 1803.
Hail! sons of Britain, free-born Britons hail !
Ye hearts of oak, who conqu’rors proudly sail;
The least dismay'd of all the human race---
What dangers threaten which you dare not face,
Whose courage, skill, superior on the main,
View'd Gallia’s navy with a cool disdain ?
The hoarse waves echo victories long known,
And British seamen for their sov'reign own.

Ye soldiers who, invincible in fight,
On to the battle with resistless might,
Undaunted courage, dangers you surmount,

And many a triumph Britain's bards recount. Mr. Van Straubenzee thus endeavours to give an additional Impetus to the patriotism of Englishmen. We will not say that these are the best lines which the present circumstances of the country have produced, but the freedom and spirit of the versification in general shew that the author's talents are above mediocrity, and the ardour he manifests in the common cause cannot be too much commended.

THE BRITISH STAGE.

Imitatio vite, speculum consuetudinis, imago veritatis. Cicero.
The Imitation of Life.--The Mirror of Manners---The Representation of Truth.

[ocr errors]

THE DRAMATIC ESSAYIST.

No. IV.

ON TRAGEDY. BY DR. BLAIR.

[Continued from page 121.] After the view which we have taken of the rise of tragedy, and of the nature of the ancient chorus, with the advantages and inconveniencies attending it, our way is cleared for examining, with more advantage, the three unities of action, place, and time, which have generally been considered as essential to the proper conduct of the dramatic fable.

Of these three, the first, unity of action, is, beyond doubt, far the most important. In treating of epic poetry, I have already exa plained the nature of it; as consisting in a relation which all the incidents introduced bear to some design or effect, so as to combine naturally into one whole. This unity of subject is still more essential to tragedy, than it is to epic poetry. For a multiplicity of plots, or actions, crowded into so short a space as tragedy allows, must, of necessity, distract the attention, and prevent passion from rising to any height. Nothing, therefore, is worse conduct in a tragic poet, than to carry on two independent actions in the same play; the effect of which is, that the mind being suspended and divided between them, cannot give itself up entirely either to the one or the other. There may, indeed, be underplots; that is, the persons introduced may have different pursuits and designs; but the poet's art must be shown in managing these, so as to render them subservient to the main action. They ought to be connected with the catastrophe of the play, and to conspire in bringing it forward. If there be any intrigue which stands separate and independent, and which may be left out without affecting the unravelling of the plot, we may always conclude this to be a faulty violation of unity. Such episodes are not permitted here, as in epic poetry.

We have a clear example of this defect in Mr. Addison's Cato. The subject of this tragedy is the death of Cato; and a very noble personage Cato is, and supported by the author with much dignity.

B BVOL. XVI.

« PreviousContinue »