Page images

laws, in their present state ; but it is carried too far. If plough-tackle in the field, or cloth in the tenters, have intrinfically a certain worth ; yet they should be fenced by penalties, in a much greater proportion to their worth, because the one cannot be easily removed, and the other is prepared for the packer by the morning ait. The same reasoning will apply to the horse and the ox; nor was the reply of the judge, on this account, improper : • Friend,' says he, you are not banged for itealing this horse, but that horses may not be ftolen.' Some other reasons ought to be alledged to lessen the mafs of absurdity, which the Observer seems to have detected in our penal laws; yet he has thown sufficient intricacy to require explanation, and sufficient injustice to be corrected.

In his attempts to combat the author of the Thoughts on other grounds, he is more successful. What he says on the fubject of alleviating punishment, deserves attention: if there are but few similar instances, they will certainly lessen the force of his antagonist's objections.

• The writer has taken pains to collect together a great variety of instances of villains having abused the royal mercy : and he does not feem to have found one folitary instance of a man's having been reclaimed by pardon, and saved from an ignominious death to become a useful and worthy member of fociety. Nor would it be very surprising if he knew of no such jnkance ; because, in the history of the vulgar, as well as of the great, it is the daring and the proftigate who make the moft confpicuous figure. The crimes of the highwayman and of the conqueror, of Cæsar and of Cartouche, command the notice of mankind; while no regard is paid to the virtues of the peaceful patriot, or of the induftrious mechanic, who never fep out of the

Secretüm iter, et falkentis femita vita." « The reformed thief, who fincerely resolves to atone for his past crimes by his induttry, and by the regular performance of all his focial duties, from the moment he forms that resolution ceases tò attract the public attention. It does not follow, therefore, because the writer has found no such inftance, that many do not exift. One has lately appeared, where one would lat have fought for it, even at the Old Bailey. In the year 3782, a man was convicted of a robbery, and was condemned to die ; but, as there appeared in his case some favourable circumstances, his fentence was mitigated, and he was sent for feven years to work upon the Thames. In last May, however, be was again arraigned at the bar of the court for having been found at large before the term of his punishment had expired, and was again condemned to die. And, what the writer of the Thoughts will probably exclaim, can be said in favour of fo incorrigible a villain ? --The facts proved upon his trial, and

which are these: the moment he had escaped from the lighter, he addressed himself to a watchmaker, whom he entreated to teach him his bufiness: the request was granted ; and the fugitive applied himself to his new trade with fach indefatigable afiduity, that in a few weeks he gained fufficient to support himself; and from that time, till the moment he was taken, he had enployed himself in such unremitting labour, that he had not itirred out of his room for eight months together.'

The Observer attacks him also in his other positions. If the punishment certainly followed the offence, offences would be less numerous; but, adds our author, we can never attain this certainty. Evidence will be sometimes circumstantial, and sometimes deficient: the offender, like the gamester, will continue to play with the odds against him, till he falls into the pit prepared for him. Yet it cannot be denied, if conviction was not alleviated by many circumstances, and if punishment always followed it, the laws would be a greater source of tertor, and more effectual, in their first great object, that of preventing crimes. It would then only remain a question, whether this approximation to security would be adequately compensated by more numerous sufferers ; and this question muft ultimately revert to the original one. We gain, therefore, nothing by shifting our position : what follows is, however, more pointed and pertinent.

• The fyftem so earnestly recommended has been tried, tried in this very country, and tried without the least success; for, in the cases of forgery, and robbing the mail, the law has been always executed with the utmost severity, that the most unfeel. ing rigourists could wish, ministers being even afraid to pardon fuch offenders, on account of the clamours of trading people, governed by fordid paflions, and by the rage of intereft; and yet those crimes were never more frequent in England than they have been during the last twenty years. From this expejience we may, I think, fairly conclude, that the measure, if adopted, could not be efficacious : let us, in the next place, fee how far it would be just or legal.'

Much may be alledged in opposition to this argument; for, within the period limited, the situation of the kingdom, in every respect, has led more strongly, has held out a greater temptation to these crimes than in former ages; and it must ftill remain to be examined, whether the number of culprits has borne an adequate proportion. In our opinion, however, this argument is a very weighty one, and deserves great regard, as it is a partial trial of the suggested plan.

The Observer next examines the authorities of Plato and Cicero, Montesquieu and Beccaria, which were adduced in the Thoughts. From the passages referred to, it is pretty


clear, when they speak of the strict execution, it is of mild and gentle laws. The juries, our author thinks, would also defeat the intention of the judge, if every convict were certainly punished; for conviction would not be so frequent, and the jurymen would quiet their consciences on a perjury, which was the means of preventing murder.' Those who have attended the Old Bailey, or even perused a sessions paper, will readily agree with him : it is not easy, in many cases, to guess at the foundation of a verdict, except it be to alleviate the punishment; and this tenderness forms no part of the oath of a juror.

We have mentioned the principal circumstances in which these authors differ. The necessity of publishing the design, by which every convict is necessarily and unavoidably punithed, we have formerly insisted on; and, with respect to the privilege of reprieving, exercised by the judges, their opi. nions are not very different. It is properly observed, in the work before us, that, if the king has the power of pardoning, a reprieve is generally necessary for his exerting that power.

Having stated the arguments, with those observations which, after mature reflection, have occurred to us; having candidly and dispassionately placed the dispute on what seems its proper basis, we ought not to decide. Each author concludes, that a remedy is wanting; and neither will probably approve of the means suggested by the other. We have enlarged on the subject, if posible, to render it of importance ; to draw the attention of others not yet engaged in its consideration, and to procure additional security for the quiet, the industrious, or the helpless part of mankind. The mischief is alarming it is at our own doors, and requires a speedy and effectual remedy. We fully agree with our author, in first recommend. ing a thorough and complete revision of our penal laws. In other respects, we suspect his plans are not sufficiently efficacious to crush the evil.-We have already hinted, that robbery is become a system: it is supported and carried on by numerous subordinate agents, who by concealments, advice, information, and other means, concur, unsuspected, in the most vil. lainous designs. We fear, that the most vigorous and violent measures will alone succeed ; but we shall extract some judi. cious remarks from our author : if they will not remove the nuisance, they may lessen it.

• The means of removing this evil are plain and obvious to fupply the poor with employment; to prevent them from plunging into drunkenness, gaming and idleness, which are the forerunners of every other vice ; and, above all, to suppress


those disorderly houses and seminaries of thieves, which are nos torious to all the officers of the police, but which it is the interest of all of them should continue, and should thrive. But to effect all this, one of two things is absolutely necessary; either gentlemen of character, of property, and of education, must in every part of the kingdom undertake the very important duties of justices of the peace (for by fuch alone can those duties be properly discharged) or fome different syitem of police from that which now prevails must be established.

To suppose that they, who make the office of justice of the peace a lucrative employment, will ever execute that office properly, is to suppose, that men engaged in a profitable trade will exert themselves to the utmost to ruin that trade, or to abridge its profits. That a mercenary justice fincerely wishes the reformation of the lower ranks of mankind, is what no one can imagine, but he who is credulous enough to believe, that there are African traders, who in their hearts lament the hard. fhips and cruelties which negro flaves undergo.

* If indeed persons of the description which I have mentioned cannot be found to act in the commission of the peace, some other fyftem of police must be resorted to. Not, however, a system confined merely to the metropolis, as if it were matter of indifference what vices were suffered to range through every other part of the kingdom; nor one fupported only by extraordinary and formidable powers lodged in the hands of new-erected magistrates appointed by the crown ; but some general and permanent system, founded upon the principles of our ancient constitution.'

We must now take our leave of the subject till additional information shall induce us to resume it. We must again confess that we have received much information from this little volume ; and are only sorry that we cannot join in the praises of the letter annexed, with the warmth of our Observer.

A Philofophical, Historical, and Moral Elay on Old Maids,

In Three Volumes, 8vo. 1oś. 6d. Cadell. THIS very respectable fifterhood has at last found a friend,

an advocate, a panegyrist; he is sufficiently interested in their favour to examine the various effects which neg. lect, or extreme delicacy, which disappointed love, or over. weening ambition may have produced; while as causes, though apparently opposite, and seemingly inconsistent, they have concurred in promoting a state of joyless celibacy. But he does not leave his subject imperfect : the office which has been long delayed, is now completely executed ; and the HistorIAN OF THE OLD Maids examines their fituation in the most remote eras, draws each secluded vestal into view,


displays each venerable monastic in the glare of day. Could the retired nun have anticipated the moment, when her calm repose was thus radely to be disturbed-Could the hermit, whose object was to be concealed from all mortal eyes, have suspected that his retirement would be invaded, and his errors exposed in open day, how acute would have been their feelings, how poignant their terrors ! but, on the other hand, could the panegyrist of virginity have supposed, that in the moft fathionable circles, and in the most sceptical age, that his rude labours would have been read with admiration, a, dorned by the most exquisite polish of a language in its higha eft state of refinement, his heart would have glowed with the unexpected honour; he would have triumphed in reflecting, that he has to live again, even on the verge of oblivion.

But we can now only ascertain their feelings by conjecture ; fo that we must no longer wander in these pleasing but vifionary fades, where the imagination embodies every rifing fancy, and gives to airy nothings the attendant frailties of huma, pity.

Our author, in his enquiry, has taken a moft extenfive circuit, and has exhausted the philosophy, the history, and the morality of old maids, Perhaps he would have pleased us more, if he had pleased us less; but as this is, we believe, the only modern work on the subject, as it is a system, and, like all other fýttems, must be the standard to which every thing of the kind is to be referred, we ought not to complain of its bulk; if the author had been a German, three huge folios might have been the result of his enquiries. When we say, that this is the only modern work, we ought to have mentioned a collection of periodical essays, under the title of the Old Maid, in which there are some attempts,

! to unfold The fage and serious doctrine of virginity.' But the light occasional effusions of this author are not to be compared with the fyftematical enquiries of our present historian,

The essay is dedicated to Mrs, Carter, who, like Diana, is reverenced in a three-fold character, as poet, philosopher, and old maid. The Introduction follow's, in which the his. torian of the Old Maids (we beg for particular reasons to be allowed to hạil him with this șitle) gives a detail of his plan, in such a concise manner that we haļl beg leave to transcribe it.

• I devote anyself, with a new species of Quixotism, to the fervice of ancient virginity. It is my intention, in the follow

« PreviousContinue »