Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

continued to say, “ Do your worst, troubles and long struggles with peand be d-d!" And as his hands cuniary difficulties, to maintain my were being fastened together, he said, caste in society, my mind and active with an oath, addressing the gaoler, resolution at length gave way, when * You have chiselled us out of the I fell into a state of despondency. bell tolling last night; suppose you In this condition I first thought of and the sexton over the way make suicide; but wanting courage to comthat all right between you ?"

mit the act, I lingered on in hopelessThis was an allusion to a former ness and despair, yet every day decustom of tolling St. Sepulchre's bell siring death to come to my relief and on the eve of an execution,-a custom free me from a life that seemed to be that had its rise out of a bequest. unendurable. Hope of sudden or Robert Dowe, in 1706, gave 501. to

accidental death then came to my the end that the vicar and church- relief, when, instead of viewing death wardens of St. Sepulchre's parish as a remote contingency, I brought should for ever, previously to every the probabilities of its approach as execution at Newgate, cause a bell to being near at hand. Each morning, be tolled, and certain words to be as I awoke to the consciousness of delivered to the prisoner in the form being environed with insurmountand manner specified in the terms of able difficulties, I almost reproached the gift. An annual sum of 1l. 6s. 8d. my God with perpetuating my existis now paid to the sexton, who em- ence; and asked myself, as if all men ploys a person to go to Newgate on were conscious of my unworthiness, the night previous to every execution, whether it was probable that some when he offers to perform the pre- one might not shoot me in the course seribed duty, which is always declined. of the ensuing day. After remaining The words of the exhortation are, for some months in this condition of "You prisoners that are within,

mind, it all of a sudden occurred to Who, for your wickedness and sin,

me, that as the ultimatum of the puafter many mercies shewn you, are ap

nishment for the crime of forgery pointed to die to-morrow in the forenoon, was death, why I should not take give ear and understand that to-morrow the chance of daring the alternative; morning the greatest bell of St. Sepul- that is, of obtaining a sufficient sum cbre's shall toll for you in form and of money, through the means of a manner of a passing-bell, as used to be forgery, to relieve myself from all tolled for those appointed to death, to difficulties, or meet that fate I had the end that all godly people bearing that bell, and knowing it is for you

so long mentally courted, namely,

death. In this mood,” he concluded, going to your death, may be stirred up

“I committed the act for which I am heartily to pray God to bestow grace and

to suffer death." mercy whilst you live," &c.

Being asked, if the punishment for Another bequest in the same pa- the crime of forgery had been any rish provides a new shroud for every thing short of death, whether he malefactor executed at Newgate. The should have committed the act ? he knowledge of these rights appears to replied, “ Certainly not ; I took the have entered into the very walls of dice-box in hand knowing that the Newgate, most of the condemned chances of the throw were against speaking of them with levity. Hor- me, yet preferring, in my then state rible as all this is, together with the of mind, the stake of death on which manner in which the majority of event to cast the dies to any other. condemned persons meet death, can It was not my object to play a game philosophy explain it ?

against a life of slavery, but to obLet us not, however, omit a state- tain a victory over my difficulties or ment made by the forger :

die in the attempt. Now I find death ** I can," said he one morning, as to present itself to the mind as being he came from his cell, “explain why the climax of all ills, more especially it is that men commit crime punish- a violent and an ignominious one. able with death, even when they re- Yet, changed as I am since my inflect on the consequences that may carceration in these cells, I have not result from the act. My own case dwelt much on the latter point. It

to this consideration. is death itself, and death only, that Harassed and worn out as I was by now presses on the mind, like a huge

has led me

bag of sand, which no consideration, In giving publicity to these papers, no thought, not even sleep, forced on the object is to present our readers some, as it occasionally is, by weari- with a view of criminal characters, ness of thinking on it, can for a mo- as they have been seen in the conment lighten the inertness of its demned cells while awaiting the exepressure. Previously to my coming cution of the judgment of the court. under the sentence of the law, when- We record facts, together with an ever I thought of the punishment of occasional reference to the effects of death, it presented itself to me that, the then existing criminal laws, in the event of my failing to obtain omitting a description of many harthe money on the forged document, rowing scenes which the rigid execuas a dernier ressort it was the most tion of those laws brought under our desirable of all others. Probably all view—scenes that have moved and that have gone before me, and have beguiled tears from the eye of the trodden in my path, together with oldest janitor in the prison, such as others travelling a different road, the valedictory interviews between though converging to the one point, the doomed and their parents, wives, namely, the fatal drop, pausing to children, or other near and dear take only a momentary prospective relatives. view of the punishment of death, One of these scenes occurred in have looked on it as I unhappily did, the case of the forger, who had been - that is, an alternative to be pre

united to a sensitive and accomferred to a lengthened and otherwise plished lady-for such she still was, disgraceful penalty. An impetuous although the wife of a felon—a scene mind, rendered desperate by adverse that alike defies the imagination of circumstances, viewing the prospect the most powerful writer in the inof death through the medium of a tensity school of fiction, or the signs troubled atmosphere, and the tiatter- they use to convey their ideas. Who ing lens of the chances of impunity, but those who feel know any thing is easily brought to dare the risk of of the agony the mind endures under committing a forgery, and probably these accumulated causes of woes? all other crimes, according to the Not even those who have felt them; orbit in which individuals are pro- for feelings, like ideas, are passing pelled at the commencement of their things, fading away with time. career."

An hour being appointed for the This view of the punishment of last earthly interview, pale and tremdeath by criminals will cease to sur- bling, the wife with three children prise us, if we reflect that the finest entered to them the tomb of a living of poetical and moral writers, not to being, who had been their only love mention those of a religious nature, and hope in this world-—he whose describe death as being the termina

solicitude to insure their happiness tion of man's woes. The criminal, was the cause of their misery. After as he imbibes the same idea, whether an absence, it is natural to rush into from books or in his contact with the the arms of those we love; but disworld, stops not to reflect that death grace and consequent shame make is never spoken of by good and wise strange havoc with the impulses of men as being desirable to any but the the heart. pious and the virtuous :

“Do you forgive me, Maria ?" said

the husband, keeping aloof from his " But conscious worth and innocence

wife, as if his touch would be pollurepays

tion. Our sufferings yet, and Providence is

“ Would that others could as kind In sending death terminate

readily forgive !" replied the agowoes."

nised wife, sinking on a seat near

to her. Since the forger gave his opinion " Ah, you mean God! Ah, have that the punishment of death was you prayed for me, Maria ? Do you rather an inducement than a restraint think there is hope for me? Speak! on the crime of forgery, the extreme I have been a great sinner-a wicked penalty of the law has been abrogated, sinner, Maria. Yet do not tell these, and the soundness of his reason been your children, what a bad man their proved by the decrease of the crime. father was. But wherefore are they

to

our

here? Is not my punishment suffi- It was evening before the wife and ciently heavy without bringing my her children could be conveyed home; children to reproach me ?"

the latter, while at the prison and on The gaoler reminded the bewil- their road, asking their agonised modered man that he had expressed a

ther a number of questions regarding wish to see them.

their father, every one of which pene“ Yes-true!" he ejaculated ; “but trated the soul, and caused her furI have been mad, and have not reco- ther anguish. It was the first time vered my senses. Maria, your hus- the subject of death had been forced band is mad!"

on their attention, and they were too Maria heard him not ; she was young to have any thing but a conlving senseless on the floor. The fused notion of it, now they had children, aged six, eight, and ten, learned that their father was doomed were crying over her, thinking that in a few hours to meet it before the their unhappy and evidently dis- public gaze. In all these cases, the tracted father had been the cause of truth is that the wife and children her death.

of the offenders are the only parties Both husband and wife had thou- really punished. Even the hanging. sands of questions to ask, and more itself falls with a heavier weight of matter to communicate, but the in- suffering on the sensibilities of an terview was ended. Several hours attached wife than it does on the elapsed ere the wife was restored to actual culprit, whose sense of pain perfect consciousness; and it was late has a termination. The wife, torin the evening before her doomed tured with the picture of the scene husband could be brought to resume of strangulation on her imagination, his preparations for the fate that in vain, when worn out with distress awaited him the following morning: of mind, secks repose; the excited "Shall I not see him once more ?". and deranged nerves keep the fancy inquired the wife, as she slowly re- at work; she dreams that they have corered her recollection : "only once

laid her dead husband, cold and more—only one look! I am now clammy, by her side, and awakes in prepared, and can command my terror at being so near one whose feelings."

absence a short time since was her This privilege was denied her, as only trouble. The hours, as the such interviews rarely answer any morning approaches, are counted ; purpose but to distract the mind of then minutes are watched. The fathe one whose business it is to forget tal period arrives— the clock strikes the world and all its attractions, and eight-she sees the signal — hears to agonise the feelings of the other, the drop fall— feels the jerk—the who stand in need of all the resolu- sensation of choking-and swoons, tion they possess to sustain the cala- again to revive to the consciousness mities attendant on a catastrophe so

that all is desolation and misery fatal to their worldly prospects.

around her!

TIIE LAST NEW LIFE OF SIIAKSPEARE.*

What a lovely little place is this a scene, perfect and entire, snatched Stratford-on-Avon, with its antique from the Elizabethan age. With houses and silent streets; its fine old a mixture of curiosity and decathedral-looking church, its winding light we sought out the lathaway river, its noble woodland scenery, mansion, half hid among the elmand its host of Shakspeare associa- trees, by the side of which the poet tions, that seem to fill the air and could slide unperceived. We ascendshine on the whole like a halo over ed to the humble door, still opened a saint in some sweet Italian or by an oaken latch, and entering, Spanish picture! The country is found the ancient wooden seat that, now clothed in summer beauty; the by no great stretch of fancy, we fields, bounded by their neat plashed may conclude had often received the hedges and full-blown hedge-rows, youthful poet and his rustic beauty. are green as an emerald; the elms The walls of timber and plaster are tower up in their pride of foliage, and covered outside with roses, and the every cottage porch and window is garden is studded with old applegarlanded with roses. The “ gentle trees. The Hathaways were a comShakspeare," as his contemporaries fortable people. The garden and delighted to call him, must have in- orchard led to ample fields and insensibly, from year to year, imbibed closures, and in this sunny retreat the prevailing character of his native they long enjoyed an inheritance of scenery. Among the Alps he might peace.

These rural cottages seem have been a hunter bold; or if he fitted to last for ages-as long as the took up the pen, he would have proud castles, under which many of dashed off some wild romance redo- them once sought protection. The lent of crags, castles, and waterfalls. timber is all good, sound oak, solid Here he could not choose but be and abundant, from floor to roof; gentle. Ile was subdued by the the doors and window-frames are of genius of the spot, like Coleridge's the same hardy material, and the Genevieve by the thrilling music, the plaster or bricks which fill up the doleful tale, and the “rich and balmy panels seem bedded in adamant. cve.” Ile was a worshipper of na- Full three centuries does Ann Hathture, and he drank in the lovely away's cottage appear to have borne landscape that nature had spread the winter's blast and the summer's before his young cyes and heart. sun, that shines among these retired Through many a year he trod these nooks and gardens as if with a more fields, in wondering and delighted intense lustre, ripening every thing infancy, and in his hot and restless into luxuriant beauty. The old cotyouth, forced prematurely into man- tagc, its orchard, and wall-roses (the Mood by the strength of his passions latter should be as sacred and celeand the poverty of his lot, that shewed brated as those of Pæstum), and the him the primal curse of man, to earn rural paths that lead to it ought to

[ocr errors]

patrimonial estate of Asbies, the pride conscious of the black bottle that graced and the support of the family (it was his table through the long hours of the dower of the poet's mother), was midnight among the wilds of Westheavily mortgaged ; and among his moreland. We remember once passfellows and townsmen John Shak- ing a night with this most eloquent speare was a “ broken man," exempt- dissertator and conversationist. The ed, on the score of necessity, from winds, keen and cutting as a scythe, paying the customary contributions swept the North Bridge of Edinto the poor. Five younger children burgh ; but snugly seated in the than the poet also lived, and must Rainbow, we bade defiance to its have filled the humble household at blasts. Hour after hour glided on times with more than mirth. Heavy the stream of talk, welling out from and painful, therefore, must his early the capacious overflowing cells of lot have pressed on the mind of the Thought and Memory, that a single poet, while his genius was yet shaping word, a hint, or token, could stir its golden visions and opening its and agitate. De Quincey seems to blossoms, soon to ripen into fruit live in the past, and the past has worthy of paradise. We conceive him few such admirers or painters. When only to have tasted of pure, exalted fully kindled up and warmed on his enjoyment when he escaped, as it subject, his whole talk is poetry; were, from his uncongenial destiny, and his slight, attenuated frame, and roamed among the sequestered pale countenance, and massive foreand woodland scenery of his native head, with the singular sweetness vale. The vista of life, tinged with and melody of his voice and language, the hues of hope and fancy, would impress one as if a voice from the open bright before him, and the con- dead

- from some

" old man elosciousness of superior powers, then quent"— had risen to tell us of the struggling into light, would soothe hidden world of thought, and inand gratify his youthful ambition. agination, and knowledge.

We shall liberally suppose the reader to have read all the lives of

“No plant that grows on mortal soil, Shakspeare prefixed to the various

Nor in the glistering foil

Set off to the world, nor in broad rumour editions of his works. A goodly

lies.” library they would form, from Nicholas Rowe down to Thomas Camp

This is to exhibit the Opium Eater bell! Few and uncertain are the

in his best vein, and the picture is facts, yet commentators and bio- not overcharged. From such a source graphers go on stringing their hypo- we expected an interesting sketch of theses, apparently in love with a sub- Shakspeare's life some ingenious ject that is exhaustless and never

speculation and philosophising, a little tiring. We have ourselves read all wayward criticism or captious obthe lives of Shakspeare that we could

jection, as the wind might sitbuy, borrow, or steal ; and in the and we have not been disappointed. most operose, as in the most frivolous, About twenty close-printed, doublewe have always met with something columned quarto pages, has Mr. De to interest or amuse. The last that Quincey presented to his readers on has fallen into our hands is one by

the subject of Shakspeare, running that curiously meditative and subtle up his story even from his boyish spirit, Thomas De Quincey, who has

days, and descanting on every salient thrust an admirable and ingenious point and prominent circumstance in

The memoir into a grave and ponderous that brief but glorious life. work, the Encyclopædia Britannica, narrative, of course, is merely a few where it shines among treatises on

facts — a slender thread on which to the Senses, Serpents, and Ship-build- hang a string of pearls. ing. The Opium Eater must be a

Shakspeare was baptised on the new man. The dreamy languor of

25th of April; and, according to his former state seems to have passed

tradition, he was born two days preaway; and he is as alert and vigorous,

vious, on the 23d, St. George's Day. and as zealous in his researches and

Mr. De Quincey says, investigations, as if he had all his

" One only argument has struck us life, like Milton, risen at the first for supposing that the 22d might be the

crowing of the cool and hoon un.

dou na

the erranter. third. which

« ElőzőTovább »