Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

clusion that the lowest class of peasants and workmen have not more than 130 words at their command; of course, they know the sense of a few more when they hear them—but not of many. It is with great difficulty that an educated man can make himself understood by them at all. In talking with the prisoners in their cells—though not unused to the dialects of the north of England-it was often difficult to make them comprehend the sense of questions which were asked ; and in some cases it would have been impossible to get replies without the aid of the chaplain in translating very simple terms into phraseology still more radical.

CHAPTER XXII.

Lancaster Castle.

AFTER Windsor, Lancaster Castle is perhaps the most imposing baronial edifice in England. It combines the various beauties of fine situation, massive proportions, and picturesque form. The eminence on which it stands is commanding; and from the valley traversed by the North-Western line of railway, the towers, terraces, and battlements present a right royal and withal a formidable aspect. Nor is the castle merely a striking object in itself; the view from its towers is one of the most varied and delightful in the kingdom. Let not the lake-tourist pass it by unheeded.

From the seat of old John of Gaunt, a slight elevation from the platform of the ancient Saxon Tower, the eye may wander over an extent and variety of landscape rarely to be paralleled. To the east and south, passing the old town of Lancaster itself, an undulating scene is opened out, dotted with parks and interspersed with busy towns, until the landscape is bounded by hill and sky in the far distance. Westward lies Morecomb Bay, three or four miles off, with Fleetwood and Furness Abbey on its shores, and the ruins of the ancient fortress called Piel Castle on a prominent island in the front; to the north the eye rests on the rich and picturesque scenery of the lakes, the view being bounded only by Helvellyn and the hills of Cumberland. Truly, it is a glorious and charming sight!

But what have the prisoners to do with all these beauties? Not much certainly-for they never see them. To them the princely castle is but a very miserable sort of prison ; its commanding position only bringing to them the discomfort of more than a usual amount of exposure to the weather. It is very grand, and, of course, very uncomfortable. Such is the common combination. Grandeur is mostly chilly. And, like the slaves of great princes, these poor wretches get all the inconveniences, while they miss all the pleasures of their exalted position. Prison scenery varies very little. Grim and lofty walls, a fraction of sky (it is pleasant, however, to see even that fraction blue and bright)—the teeth of the tread-wheel—the whitewash of the cells,—these are the chief elements of the picturesque which the English prisons afford to their occupants. We know better than to give intellectual luxuries to our prisoners. With us it is always a point to bound the range of view by the outer wall. In some foreign prisons it is not so. Total seclusion from nature is not considered essential in order to induce a man to forsake the evil of his ways and return to a purer and healthier condition of mind. Who does not remember the education of the heart which Silvio Pellico underwent

in the Venetian prison ? And who has not dwelt with horror on the seclusion of Baron Trenck? But we do not pretend to say that the less rigorous plan is the better one : our education has not been so far neglected as that we can for a moment suspect the superior wisdom and justice of everything English. No, heaven be thanked ! we have not fallen so low as that. Does not every little Anglo-Saxon know that all the virtues, charities, and humanities under the sun are crowded into this selected corner of the earth, and that whatever we do is “ wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best ?" Be content and grateful, therefore, ye happy debtors, felons, vagrants, and deserters, who inhabit the regal residence of the great princes of the house of Lancaster. You feel the frosts, and are denied the sun—the storms howl wildly round about your dwelling, and the gentle moving of the waters is hidden from your sight-you feel the thorns of nature, and are refused to scent the rose : all this is truebut what then? Is it not for your good ? Mindgood and body-good, no doubt.

What have you to do with sunshine and shade-with hill and valley— with sea and lake? You were not sent to Lancaster Castle to “babble o

green

fields." Certainly not, but to pay your debts and mend

your

morals. And what has “ nature” to do with either ?

Lancaster Castle has long been a prison. From a feudal stronghold to a house of correction the transition is curious, but easy. In its day of pride the lordly residence was a gaol as well as a palace. The keep-donjon, dungeon—was always an important part of the baronial pile ; and cells and chambers— in which the silence and separation were more rigidly enforced than modern science can be got to approve of— were regularly provided for the repose of the chieftain's foes, and not unfrequently also for his too troublesome friends. Every powerful robber had then a private Bastille and Spielberg for his amusement and convenience ;—and this generally in his own house. When the chief quitted his residence, the objects of his solicitude did not quit it with him : and in course of time the deserted castle became a common gaol.

The great residence of the princes of the line of Gaunt is an important place for debtors from the whole of the county and duchy of Lancaster. Its ancient history is not our object now : the associations connected with its name at present are anything but romantic. The honest but struggling shop-keeper of Manchester, or Liverpool, has perhaps never heard of its historic glories. But, when times are bad, he thinks of it with a shudder, as the suspected Russian does of Siberia, or the bankrupt gamester of Waterloobridge. He dreams of it with agony and fear, as the poor do of the workhouse, and the criminal of the gallows. It is the great ogre in his path. But to the dishonest man-has it no terrors for him and for his class ? No; to him it is only a means : a mere resting-point in the way to fortune. “Three removes are as bad as a fire,” says Old Richard :

- Three failures are as good as a fortune,” says the more modern author of the “Way to Wealth."

« AnteriorContinuar »