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noble to see penitents weep and Magdalens pray. Not that she lived upon such food, but that she thought the utmost publicity necessary to her cause. Feeling it to be a Divine call, as indeed it was, she went about it with a prophet's simplicity and a prophet's fervor. Though her own sacrifices were not to compare with Sarah Martin's, nor her labors a tenth part of those of Dorothy Dix, she established several grand principles; as, that only women should superintend women in prison; that Christian influences were a necessity in prison discipline; and that the condition of female convicts in transport-ships required immediate amelioration.
Nor were these all her improvements. She became the representative of a religious party, which, from a perfectly independent position, assailed the gallows, pressed upon Parliament the mitigation of a bloodthirsty criminal code, exposed abuses with an unsparing hand, and elevated prison discipline into equal interest with slave emancipation. Partly under her patronage, too, the “ Society for the Improvement of Prison Discipline” came into being, the first Reformatory for boys was opened, and pamphlets swarmed upon the popular theme, Buxton's “Inquiry" running through six editions in a single year! The Parliamentary discussion of the subject did not languish, notwithstanding Romilly's lamented death ; Sir James Mackintosh taking up the mantle of this prophet of humanity, with such vigor as to defeat the government by a successful motion to investigate the criminal law.
Unfortunately, the Prison Discipline Society stumbled, countenanced the treadmill, sanctioned the social labor of criminals, after a division into five classes, which often threw a novice into the society of an old offender. But the year of our Lord 1824 was one of marked progress. One hundred out of five hundred English prisons were reformed. The “ Gaol Act” was a high-water mark to which juries and justices looked up; and, above all, John Clay began his molelike task of rooting under English crime, at the great penitentiary in Preston.
A Franciscan convent had been fashioned into the county House of Correction centuries before. And, just as Howard was leaving England for the last time, a new prison was built according to his ideas, on the spot where the Rev. Mr. Clay's life was to be spent. It was in fact a cheerful sort of factory. Labor was made as productive as possible; the burden upon the county was exceedingly light; the prisoners received half their earnings; the discipline in the yards was wretched, as might be supposed when much of it was administered by convicts ; smoking, gambling, thieving, sparring, were daily recreations; and beneath these, in what was for the time a model prison, far worse vices were partly concealed. For twenty years the Preston chaplain had to feel his way in the dark. He must institute various experiments, suppress petty abuses, invent as well as perform his work, struggle with the justices, who insisted that the machine worked well, quarrel with the Governor, who resented such interference, and be rewarded with the same feeling of helplessness which has attended all such efforts from the beginning. His first labor was to enforce cleanliness, and prevent vicious intercourse, especially with outside villains. Then he introduced a day school and a Sunday school. The next step was the employment of a Matron, with the passionate opposition of the Governor. Still he went on extending his efforts, though often on the point of resigning in disgust, until he became convinced that his religious influence was destroyed by the herding together of the prisoners in the yards. The influence of the men over one another was to harden them against his exhortations. The meal-times and the hospital afforded him almost the only opportunity of approaching the busy convicts. He became desponding, and at last omitted the Eucharist, which the “ Gaol Act” ordains shall be administered regularly in every penitentiary.
At length light came. In 1827 the American experiment in prison discipline attracted his attention. He had long urged upon the justices the necessity of entire separation as the only basis of discipline, and the only preparation for reform. Now he saw clearly how it could be accomplished, and redoubled his efforts with the magistrates, until, after seven years of constant entreaty, they yielded to his indefatigable importunity, and consented to try the “ Silent System,” — the system, that is, of associate labor through the day, and separa
tion only at night. But even this effort, simple as it seems, was so much beyond their strength, that the project slumbered seven years, until Parliament took the grand step of advance by appointing prison inspectors throughout the kingdom; and so accomplished a double task, dragging old abuses to light, and introducing a new system everywhere.
Still the Preston chaplain led the way. Thirty soldiers having been sentenced to confinement in his prison, he sought and obtained permission to experiment upon them. His daily worship in the chapel, his regular open-air exercise, his systematic instructions in the cell, worked like a charm. All improved, and some appeared to be reformed, by the discipline of silence. He felt encouraged to extend the experiment to those undergoing the first or the last month of their sentences, The magistrates were satisfied. More solitary cells were provided ; silence was enforced at work; the staff of officers was increased; the choleric old sailor was replaced by a Governor neither ashamed nor afraid to make improvements. And thus, after twenty-one years' perseverance, Mr. Clay succeeded in introducing a system which was to affect prison discipline through the English world, to make the moral restoration of prisoners perfectly feasible, and, without impairing the “terror to evil-doers," elevate the penitentiary into a school of morals and a missionary church. His annual reports, at first an offence to the board and the butt of the press, came to be relied upon by the ministry, and quoted without abridgment in the newspapers. Not only local magistrates approved them, but members of Parliament cited them ; high officials resorted to their author for reliable statistics upon other departments of inquiry; and a large portion of his latter time and strength was absorbed in supplying information which no living Englishman then knew how to procure. Lord Brougham even wrote him on one occasion, “ You have kept me awake half the night by your report.” The government Blue-Books copied a great part of his statements; and journals of education, reviews, and temperance publications helped to extend Mr. Clay's influence all over England.
He was really indefatigable. His own prison was his chief source of information ; but, unlike all the prison chaplains
whom we have ever known, he was fully informed as to the progress making abroad. He set himself to a thorough study of the criminal class. He even employed the more intelligent convicts in writing their memoirs, which he verified remarkably by the testimony of their former employers, of the police, and of their accomplices. In this way he liberated not a few from wholly undeserved punishment, while he visited upon other prisoners a retribution which they imagined they had escaped. His feelings never were suffered to master his judgment, nor his imagination to color his convictions. His practice was to take nothing on trust. His creed was a constant advance. His faith in humanity proved inexhaustible. “I have been taught repeatedly that I must never look on any case as hopeless.”
But how did he recover those whom even their parents abandoned ? “ By bringing to bear upon them every humanizing influence; by seeing where an opening exists into the boy's mind or heart, and availing himself of it; by being in earnest in favor of treating the prisoner as if he had something good in him. Acting on such principles, he had never been disappointed.” He was no doubt rarely adapted for his place. With his many accomplishments, his love of languages, his mechanical ability and artistic skill, - (an altar-piece painted by himself adorned the Preston Chapel,) — he might have been insignificant in any other station than that which Providence had assigned him. His early commercial training, his fondness for statistics, his central position at a time when his specialty was in a transition state, the unexampled care with which he rewrote every report, the necessity felt in all quarters for something trustworthy upon a subject of pressing concern, while the public would neither permit cruelty nor indulgence in the treatment of criminals, fastened upon John Clay an attention which hardly Howard himself had enjoyed.
Up to this time the English system, if system there was any, served to encourage crime, multiply pauperism, foster drunkenness, and throw upon the industrious tax-payer an ever-increasing burden. The ancient cruelties, scourging, branding, ear-cropping, the pillory, and the gibbet, were falling into disuse; transportation was to prove only a temporary relief; the “ hulks" were found to transform some men into fiends ; such poor reforms as the Gaol Act prompted neither succeeded in reducing the expense nor the numbers of prisoners : it was the time of all others for the chaplain of Preston — so patient yet so adventurous, so humane yet so opposed to indulgence, so thorough in principle yet so faithful to all details — to solve the problem of a thoroughly reformatory, yet thoroughly merciful, system of punishment.
In 1833 Mr. Crawford was sent out by the British government to get the light which American discovery could give. His examinations favored the Separate System; but as that was thought to be too costly for universal adoption, the Silent System, already at work at Wakefield in Yorkshire, was applied to the largest prison in England, Cold Bath Fields, under the efficient government of George L. Chesterton, whose “ Revelations of Prison Life" is the most entertaining work that has yet appeared upon the subject.*
In 1837 the immense number of capital offences was reduced to twelve, and afterwards to three ; and the discussion of the two American systems - Philadelphia and Auburn went on apace; without, however, the expected erection of reformed penitentiaries on either plan. Finally, the completion of the Pentonville prison in 1842, upon the Separate System as modified at Preston, and its perfect success, decided the course of prison discipline throughout England.
And so, having sketched very imperfectly the progress of English penology from before 1700 to the general introduction of its present system, we are concerned to show the peculiarities of Mr. Clay's method, because it unites the advantages without the disadvantages of our two opposite schemes, — the Silent and the Separate ; because it has proved itself thoroughly effective ; and because every step of the way was tested as we believe no similar experiment has ever been. The unenthusiastic Mr. Clay discovered for himself that “the religious reformation of the prisoner was the paramount
* Revelations of Prison Life ; with an Inquiry into Prison Discipline. By G. L. Chesterton, twenty-five years Governor of the House of Correction at Cold Bath Fields. Third Edition. London: Hurst and Brackett. 1857.