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Propose your schemes, ye senatorian band,
A single jail, in Alfred's golden reign,
3dly. The frequency of crime in England is occasioned
the uncertainty of punishment. The law is not in fault ; it is wisely contrived to prevent them, by holding forth certain punishment ; but that punishment has been rendered so uncertain, or rather the suspension of it so certain, as to prevent the operation of the laws.(a)
I remember to have seen a fellow at Bristol, who was by trade a viper-catcher. He produced, and opened, a large box, with about one hundred vipers in it, into which he put his hand, and took them up, at least, half a dozen in a bunch. I trembled at the sight, expecting, every instant, to see the inan bitten : but my fears were soon reinoved, by being told, that all their fangs were cut out; so that if I had pleased, 1 could myself have handled these horrid creatures with all safety.(6)
Methinks, that our criminal laws are reduced to the state of the aforesaid vipers : their sting is gone, their fangs are out, their terror is lost; and our viper-catchers seem to have so contrived the matter, as that the laws shall hurt nobody who chuses to sport with them. (c)
(a) Page 34.
(6) Page 35.
Since I began these sheets, I have had some conversation with an eminent barrister, upon these subjects; and he furnished me with an anecdote, which abundantly illustrates what has been said. (g)
Some years ago, when he went the Norfolk circuit, lie accidentally had occasion to see a fellow who had been capitally convicted, and having received sentence of death, was remanded to prison. It seems he had been an old offender, and before had had some hair-breadth 'scapes for his life. My friend expostulated with him, and asked him how he could venture again on his old practices, after so many escapes? “Ah, sir," said the fellow," that's the very thing; there are so many “ chances for us, and so few against us, that I never thought “of coming to this. First,” said he, "there are many chances
against being discovered' ; so many more that we are not “taken ; and if taken, not convicted ; and if convicted, not
banged; that I thought myself very safe, with at least
twenty to one in my favour."(h) ( The argument which this villain used, is, no doubt in the thoughts of all the rogues in the kingdom, who find equal encouragement to persist in their evil courses, with this fellow; for the newspapers assure them, on relating the conviction and condemnation of the criminals, at the several assize-towns, that, “ they were all reprieved before their Lordships left the town." I will not say always, but this is most usually the case (i).
A soldier in one of the last encampments, took to marauding, and stole whatever he pleased from the poor cottagers, whose misfortune it was to dwell in the neighbourhood of the camp. He particularly fixed on a little garden belonging to two oli people, a man and his wife, and used to come in open day, in
(g) Page 36.
(h) Page 37
(i) Page 38
the sight of the owners, and take their cabbages, and other such-like things, for his own purposes ;
old woman had often remonstrated with him on these occasions, but only got oaths and curses, and threats for her pains. One night (in the middle of the night it was) this villain forced open the door ; these poor people were in bed ; and he dragged the woman out of bed, to her infinite terror and astonishment, made her tell where their money was, and robbed them of their little all, which amounted to five shillings. These circumstances appeared to demonstration on the trial, and the fellow was convicted of this atrocious and shocking fact. He received sentence of death. He was reprieved * before the judge left the town! (a)
At an assizes after this, an highwayman was convicted, on the clearest evidence, of a most audacious robbery in the day time. Three ladies were together in a chariot, two of them very young. The robber overtook the chariot, and, with the most horrid oaths and imprecations, swore he would blow out the coachman's brains if he did not stop. On the chariot being stopped, the villain held a cocked pistol to the breast of one of the young ladies, for about a minute and an half, (this the coachman swore positively)and, in this situation, he plundered the ladies of some money. During this transaction, we may well suppose the terror of the young lady to be
* If this affair had happened in a rich and opulent family, and the lady of the house had been dragged out of bed at midnight, and the house robbed—what judge would have dared to reprieve the offender?, yet, if it had been done in that case, it would not have been so injurious as in this, because the rich can afford, in a great measure, to defend their houses, by dogs, servants, arms, &c. whereas the poor have no defence, but the law. If this be with. keld, they are totally defenceless.
(a) Page 53.
very great, and to be not a little heightened by the fellow's threatening to shoot a poor woman, who stopped by the side of the carriage, if she did not walk on. (h)
The perpetrator of the above audacious fact, was an old offender, who had twice before been indicted, tried, and convicted of highway robbery-once at an assizes for the same county, in the year 1777, for robbing a gentleman on the highway, of 221. 128. judgment was respited at that assizes, because he was sick, and could not be brought up to receive sentence; but he afterwards received his Majesty's most gracious and free pardon. (0) Afterwards at the Old Bailey, in Sept. session 1782, he was, together with a comrade of his, convicted again of a robbery on the highway, and again received sentence of death; he was respited; and, in December sessions following, received his Majesty's mercy, on condition of transportation to Africa, during his natural life. Afterwards, viz. on Sept. 17th, 1783, he again received his Majesty's free pardon, and was discharged. Some months after
this, viz. in May 1784, this incorrigible villain committed the i robbery on the highway, mentioned above, on the three ladies,
of which he was, after an impudent alibi defence, convicted on the clearest evidence; received sentence of death; and was reprieved before the judge left the town *!!! (k)
* The good effects of this kind of lenity, were felt, in the coun. ty where this happened, very early after the said assizes. Three post-chaises were robbed at noon day, in their way to London ; and, some time after, a lady in her carriage was robbed at eleven o'clock in the morning. Another was robbed in the day time, within a few yards of her own door. Afterwards three ladies in a post chaise were robbed at one o'clock at noon (Nor. 6th. 1781,) by two highwaymen whom I saw pursued, and heard they were taken, a few miles off, by the pursuers.
(h) Page 55. (i) Page 56. (k) Page 57.
No other reason can be conceived for this, but the total relaxation of discipline, the little consideration that is paid to the peace and quiet of the public, and the almost certainty of escape from death, with which the minds of robbers are impressed. (1)
The public have an undoubted right to look up to the judges of the land for protection and safety; and those laws, which are the birthright of every subject, from the highest to the lowest, ought to be employed in the defence of their persons and properties from violence and outrage of every kind : if this be not the case, every man must stand in dread of perpetual injury; and has a right to complain, in the loudest and strongest terms, of those, who, instead of preventing these disorders, are little better than accessaries * before the fact, to the daily commission of them.
Parcendi rabies, so far from deserving the sacred name of mercy, is in fact the highest cruelty.fm)
* This sentiment is finely touched by our inimitable Shakespearey-Measure for Measure, Act I. Scene 4.
FRE. It rested in your grace
DUKE. I do fear, too dreadful:
(1) Page 64. (m) Page 69.