Imagens das páginas



number of cells, and made numerous notes from the communications of their inmates. We give a few as specimens of all :—1. Had previously been transported; served his time at Woolwich. Dreadfully hard-worked there, but preferred it, with all its hardships, to the compulsory idleness of Reading. Offence, house-breaking ; sudden temptation. Was just about to marry a woman with whom he lived. A sort of chivalry about him; most vexed with him. self at having been induced to rob a poor family through a false representation. 2. An educated

Crime, forgery. At first found confinement very irksome : likes it now. Has improved his mind very

is reading Sir Thomas Browne. Too much study hurt him at first, till he got some work. Is learning tailor-craft, with a view to set up that business in the colony. Had a bad memory; could recollect ideas but not words. Has now acquired great facility for verbal acquisitions ; learns a chapter in a few minutes. Finds great comfort in the sounds heard in the corridors of the prison ; they remind him that the world is not far off. 3. An old offender ; has been in Northleach and Oxford prisons. Seems to be in a good state of mind, and given up to indolence. Has great fear of Oxford Gaol ; it gives too much work, and too little food, he thinks. Here, no work, plenty to eat. Likes this much better, but would prefer to have some work to do. Man of weak character, and uninformed. 4. Longs for work. 5. Was a brickmaker, Has been here three months ; has no

[ocr errors]

objection to it. Been here before. Evidently thinks it better than his former rough employment. Dawdling manner; getting light-headed. 6. Wants something to do. 7. Stealing a watch ; first offence. Greatly depressed ; wants something to engage his energies, work or books. 8. Stalwart fellow, knitting. Yawning and stretching his limbs as we entered. Greedily desirous of hard, heavy work. Cannot think ; does not know how. Mind a blank. 9. Navvy, dawdling over a text ; wants a spade and hard work. 10. Is employed in cleaning the corridors—hard workprefers it to the cell and idleness.

These half-score of cases are taken promiscuously from a mass of notes, all of the same character. Not a man did we speak with who did not express a wish to have some work to do:

More work, and harder, 'tis we want,

was the burden of every plaint. Of course the advocates of Reading Gaol will object, that prisoners are not to have what they want. Just so; the criminal has forfeited by his crime the right of bandying words with the law; but the more completely he is stript of the power to act for himself, the more incumbent is it for society to act wisely and prudently for him. That they do this in Berkshire, we are compelled to doubt. The “no workmuch Gospel" system may act well in a very few cases ; but for the great majority of prisoners, we are convinced that it is infinitely mischievous.

Consider what must be the effect of eighteen or twenty months of this compulsory idleness. The seclusion—the constant dependence of the prisoner on his attendants—the warm air of the cell : these of themselves produce a certain lassitude, a prostration of physical energy, which is sufficiently perilous to men whose destiny it is to gain their daily bread by the sweat of their brow. But to add to these compulsory idleness, seems the very end of absurdity. And why is labour denied ? Because work is considered deteriorating ? No; but because it is supposed to afford a relief from “the demon Thought." Thought-intro and retro-spection—is at Reading the agent of redemption. If a man can be got to reflect on his past, it is believed that he must improve. One would be inclined to fancy, that the ancient spirit of the place still hovered about the councilboard of Reading Gaol. The logic of Mr. Field beats that of Descartes. It is generally admitted now that Cogito, ergo sum, does not warrant the inference Cogito, ergo Deus est; but the chaplain of Reading pushes the syllogism still further : “I think, therefore I am reformed.” As a piece of “collegiate” dilletantism, this would be extravagant enough ; but what shall be said of it when we find it applied in actual life?

Say you force your criminal to think. What then ? Are you sure that his thoughts will turn in the right direction ? Are there not evil thoughts as well as good ? Can a man cogitate profitably whose mind is empty, or filled only with memories of what it is for his soul's interest that he should

forget? We speak from a rather wide induction when we say that few of the really criminal order can be left in worse company than that of their own thoughts. In most cases, the great object should be to cut the offender off mentally and bodily from his past life. Let any man ask himself, whether good can come from forcing the memory to give up his past lapses for fresh cogitation. Nearly all that the criminal knows, it is for the advantage of society that he should forget as soon as possible. No good can come of raking in the piled-up moral filth. Before reflection is desirable, his mind should be re-stored, and with purer, healthier material for thought. In solitude a man can only digest the knowledge he has. He cannot make fresh. If left to himself, he can only think of what he has seen and felt; review the incidents of each robbery and licentious revel. But you give him religious instruction. Yes; you dragoon him into virtue. You show him that he has been a bad fellow from a text; as if he did not know that without. You give him the New Testament learn by heart, and you

believe you are teaching him a love of the sacred writings ! Amiable delusion! How many men date their dislike to Virgil, to the day when they were compelled to learn a book for some school-boy fault? How many men abhor the gentle satirist of Roman life for a similar reason ? Criminals are human. Give a man a Gospel to learn for having stolen a pair of boots, and we will answer that the Gospel will become the object of his hearty detestation for life. Every one must have known this feeling :

Then farewell Horace, whom I hated so,

Not for his fault, but mine. But this is not the only danger to be apprehended from a compelled acquaintance with the Scriptures. Can no bad use be made of the knowledge so acquired? I have seen many instances of this in prisons. I remember one of the worst of criminals, who felt a sort of demoniacal delight in distorting the sacred text. He could quote hundreds of texts, and on all points; but he quoted them only in defence of his own evil deeds. Every one is aware how ingeniously this may be done by a little garbling. There was no abomination for which he could not plead the authority of the Bible. The Rev. Mr. Clay, of Preston, has furnished me with the following case of the same kind :

“P. C. has for some time constituted the most distressing case in the corridor. He was sentenced, in August last, to twelve months' imprisonment for an assault with intent,' &c. About eight years ago C. deserted his wife and children, and went to live with another woman by whom he has a family. He has been committed four times for offences arising out of this adulterous connexion : viz. twice for neglect of family, and twice for "want of sureties,' at the instance of his paramour, on whose daughter, aged about twelve, he committed the assault for which he is now imprisoned. It appeared

« AnteriorContinuar »