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Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 454 - Volume 18, New Series, September 11, 1852
Author: Various
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The member who headed the inquiry was Colonel Oglethorpe. He was a man of literary talent—a dashing and intrepid soldier, but still more renowned for his wide and active benevolence. It is to him that Pope alludes in the lines:

One driven by strong benevolence of soul, Shall fly like Oglethorpe from pole to pole.

A committee obtained by his influence, did not conduct its inquiry in easy state in St Stephen's, but appalled the guilty parties by immediately repairing to the prisons, and diving to the furthest recesses of their dungeons. In the Marshalsea, it found that even those who paid excessive fees for their lodgings, were laid in lairs above each other on boards set on tressels, where they were packed so close together, that many were believed to have died from mere deficiency of air. There was no doubt that many others, debtors, had come to a miserable end by starvation. Some were found in the last stage of attenuation. Those who could not provide for themselves, had nothing to feed on but a scanty charity-allowance from the benevolence of individuals, which, when distributed among the whole, furnished each with sometimes only a few peas in the day; and at intervals of several days, an ounce and a half of meat. 'When the miserable wretch,' say the committee in their report, 'hath worn out the charity of his friends, and consumed the money which he hath raised upon his clothes and bedding, and hath ate his last allowance of provisions, he usually in a few days grows weak for want of food, with the symptoms of a hectic fever; and when he is no longer able to stand, if he can raise 3d. a day to pay the fee of the common nurse of the prison, he obtains the liberty of being carried into the sick-ward, and lingers on for about a month or two, by the assistance of the above-mentioned prison portion of provision, and then dies.' The committee made more lifelike this horrible description of the state of the prison by describing the results of their efforts to relieve the sufferers. They said: 'On the giving food to these poor wretches—though it was done with the utmost caution, they being only allowed the smallest quantities, and that of liquid nourishment—one died; the vessels of his stomach were so disordered and contracted for want of use, that they were totally incapable of performing their office, and the unhappy creature perished about the time of digestion.' These prisoners were debtors, not criminals. We make our extracts from the reports, just after having heard in a scientific society an examination of the dietary of a large district of prisons. The difficulty appeared to be, to find the medium that would preserve health without making the criminal's living in some measure luxurious; and it appeared that, by almost every dietary in actual use in the district, the prisoners fattened; in fact, they profited so much in constitution by sobriety, good air, and regular food, however simple, that it was found a difficult matter to give them what might be considered a bare sufficiency, without raising their physical condition, and sending them out of prison with improved constitutions. So different is imprisonment for crime in the present age, from imprisonment for debt a hundred and twenty years ago.

The condition of many of the prisoners for debt in England, though few knew the actual extent of its horrors, was well known to be wretched, and several humane persons had made charitable bequests for their support. Colonel Oglethorpe's Committee made inquiry as to the employment of these charities, and disclosed incidents of singular villainy. It appeared, for instance, that in the Marshalsea there were several charities; and that the prisoners might be sure of benefiting by them, it was arranged that they should elect six constables, and that these constables should choose a steward, who was to receive and disburse the charities. Like a corporation, the steward had a seal which he appended to the receipts for the money received for the charities. The officers of the prison had carried on a systematic perversion of these charities, either through connivance of the steward elected by the constables, or by imposing on him. In the year 1722, however, it happened that a man named Matthew Pugh, an active, clever exponent of abuses, was chosen steward. He discovered several charities, the knowledge of which had been entirely suppressed, the proceeds being drawn by the officers of the prison. He found, that to facilitate their fraud, they had got a counterpart of the common seal, with which they certified the receipts. Pugh got a new seal made; and to prevent a new system of fraud being carried out, he got a safety-chest fixed to the prison wall, with six locks, requiring for opening it six separate keys, which were put into the hands of the six constables. The committee, in describing how audaciously these precautions were defeated, shew distinctly how slight were the checks on the conduct of prison-officers in the reign of George II. They say: 'But this public and just manner of receiving and disbursing the charities was disliked by the keeper and his servants; and they complained to the judge of the Palace Court, and gave information that the said Pugh was a very turbulent fellow, and procured a rule by which it was ordered, that Matthew Pugh should no longer be permitted to have access to the said prison or court; and the prisoners are allowed to choose another steward; and accordingly, John Grace, then clerk to the keeper, was chosen steward by those in the keeper's interest; but the constables, in behalf of the prisoners, refused to deliver up the keys of the chest, where their seal was, insisting that all receipts should be sealed as usual in a public manner, that they might know what money was received; and thereupon the said chest was broke down, and carried away by the said William Acton (the keeper) and John Grace.'—Parliamentary History, viii. 736. Hence the deaths from starvation reported by Colonel Oglethorpe's Committee.

The reports of the committee were varied by statements of atrocious cruelties committed on the prisoners, by their committal, whenever the prison-officers thought fit, to damp and loathsome dungeons full of filth, by heavy irons being forced on them, and even by the application of the thumbkins, and other such tortures as were applied in the previous century to the Covenanters. Thus, after narrating an attempt made to escape, and the severities used on those who had participated in it, the committee say: 'One of them was seen to go in (to the keeper's lodge) perfectly well, and when he came out again, he was in the greatest disorder; his thumbs were much swollen, and very sore; and he declared that the occasion of his being in that condition was, that the keeper, in order to extort from him a confession of the names of those who had assisted him and others in their attempt to escape, had screwed certain instruments of iron upon his thumbs, so close, that they had forced the blood out of them with exquisite pain. After this, he was carried into the strong room, where, besides the other irons which he had on, they fixed on his neck and hands an iron instrument called a collar, like a pair of tongs; and he being a large lusty man, when they screwed the said instrument close, his eyes were ready to start out of his head, the blood gushed out of his ears and nose, he foamed at the mouth, and he made several motions to speak, but could not: after these tortures, he was confined in the strong room for many days with a heavy pair of irons called sheers on his legs.'

It is not to be denied that some of the charges made by the committee were not ultimately confirmed. It is natural for humane men, becoming for the first time acquainted with extensive cruelties, to tinge their narrative with the indignation they feel, and thus give it a prejudiced and exaggerated tone. Even committees of the House of Commons are not entirely exempt from such failings. But for our purpose, which is that of noticing the progress of civilisation and humanity in the period that has elapsed since the inquiry, it is sufficient to know, that there must have been an extensive foundation in facts for the horrors detailed by the committee. If it could not be distinctly proved that an individual officer had murdered any prisoner by the use of a particular torture, yet the instruments of torture described in the above extract were in the prisons—they were seen and handled by the committee, who were not to suppose that they were kept for no use. They state, that it had become the practice for the keepers 'unlawfully to assume to themselves a pretended authority as magistrates, and not only to judge and decree punishments arbitrarily, but also to execute the same unmercifully.'

In the exercise of this authority, the keepers seem to have imitated the cruelties of the classical tyrant Mezentius, commemorated by Virgil as chaining the living to the dead, for the committee say: 'The various tortures and cruelties before mentioned not contenting these wicked keepers in their said pretended magistracy over the prisoners, they found a way of making within the prison a confinement more dreadful than the strong room itself, by coupling the living with the dead; and have made a practice of locking up debtors who displeased them in the yard with human carcasses. One particular instance of this sort of inhumanity, was of a person whom the keepers confined in that part of the lower yard which was then separated from the rest, whilst two dead bodies had lain there four days; yet was he kept there with them six days longer; in which time the vermin devoured the flesh from the faces, ate the eyes out of the heads of the carcasses, which were bloated, putrid, and turned green during the poor debtor's dismal confinement with them.'

Some of the accounts given by the committee are as grotesque, without being so horrible. A certain Captain John M'Phaedris had been a person of considerable fortune, and, like many of his contemporaries, had been a victim to the South-sea speculation, which appears to have made all the debtors' prisons more than usually full between the years 1720 and 1725. He refused to pay the exorbitant fees demanded by the keeper for accommodation, and maintained that they were illegal. To silence so troublesome a person, he was turned, unsheltered, into the yard, where he had to remain exposed to the weather day and night. 'He sat quietly,' said the committee, 'under his wrongs, and, getting some poor materials, built a little hut to protect himself as well as he could from the injuries of the weather.' The keeper, seeing this ingenious abode, exclaimed with an oath that the fellow made himself easy, and ordered the hut to be pulled down. 'The poor prisoner,' we are told, 'being in an ill state of health, and the night rainy, was put to great distress.'

In another instance, a prisoner had been committed to a cell so damp, as the witnesses described it, that they could sweep the water from the wall like dew from the grass. A feather-bed happened by some odd accident to be in the place, and the prisoner tore it up, and, for warmth, buried himself in the contents. Being covered with cutaneous sores, the feathers stuck to him, as if he had been subject to the operation of tarring and feathering. One Sunday, the door of the cell being left open, he rushed out, and entered the prison chapel during divine service—a horribly ludicrous figure. The committee, on the conclusion of the incident, say, 'he was immediately seized and carried back into the sad dungeon; where, through the cold, and the restraint, and for want of food, he lost his senses, languished, and perished.'

Such were the features of the system of mistreatment pursued in the London prisons, thirty years after the general liberties of the subject had been secured by the Revolution. We may in a subsequent paper advert to some of the particular cases which came under the attention of courts of justice.



LIFE-ASSURANCE OFFICES OF RECENT DATE.

The remarkable prosperity of life-assurance business in these realms—where alone it is a flourishing business—has naturally had the effect of causing 'offices' to multiply very fast. In the last eight years, 241 were projected, being at the rate of one for every twelve days nearly. Two or three bustling persons thereby obtain situations; there is a show of business for a time; but such concerns are often exceedingly weak, and the interests of the public are much imperiled by them. In consequence of an order of parliament, returns of the accounts of a large proportion of the recent offices have been made and published; so that the public may now form some opinion of the stability of these institutions. The general fact resulting is, that the greater number appear to have been started with small means, and are not now in hopeful circumstances. The business they have obtained is generally small in proportion to the expenses incurred; so that many of them are much behind the point at which they started.

Mr Robert Christie, of Edinburgh, has done the public the good service of publishing a small pamphlet in which the leading features of the accounts are presented in an intelligible form.[5] Here it appears that a life-assurance company will launch into business with an imposing name, a flourishing prospectus, and—L.3000! After three years, it will have received L.4000 of premiums. In that time, L.1300 will have been spent in salaries, L.600 in establishing agencies, L.700 in rent; in all, in expenses of management, upwards of L.5000, leaving little more than half the premium receipts to stand against the obligations towards the assured. There is one which has been in business upwards of four years, and which only possesses L.2869 of funds, out of which to pay policies represented by L.3094 of premiums, L.2379 of moneys received for investment, and L.1895 of deposits on shares. Another, which makes no small bustle in the world, received in two years and a half L.13,219 of premiums, spent in the same time L.6993, whereof L.1213 was for advertising, and L.539 for directors and auditors, and at the end of the period possessed, to make good its obligations, only L.7045, nearly one-half of which was composed of the original guarantee fund.

It is very likely that few or none of these establishments were commenced with a fraudulent design; but they were not required by the public, and their expenses have eaten them up. By most, if not all of them, loss and disappointment will be incurred. It is therefore highly desirable that the public should be warned against new offices generally. While there are so many old ones of perfectly established character both in England and Scotland—and we have some pride in remarking, that there is not one dangerous office known to us in the latter country—it is quite unnecessary to resort to any other.

FOOTNOTES:

[5] Letter to the Right Hon. Joseph W. Henley, M.P., President of the Board of Trade, regarding Life-Assurance Institutions. By Robert Christie, Esq. Edinburgh: Constable & Co.



ANECDOTE OF BURNS IN THE '93.

A public library had been established by subscription among the citizens of Dumfries in September 1792, and Burns, ever eager about books, had been from the first one of its supporters. Before it was a week old, he had presented to it a copy of his poems. He does not seem to have been a regularly admitted member till 5th March 1793, when 'the committee, by a great majority, resolved to offer to Mr Robert Burns a share in the library, free of any admission-money [10s. 6d.] and the quarterly contributions [2s. 6d.] to this date, out of respect and esteem for his abilities as a literary man; and they directed the secretary to make this known to Mr Burns as soon as possible, that the application which they understood he was about to make in the ordinary way might be anticipated.' This is a pleasing testimony to Burns as a poet, but still more so to Burns as a citizen and member of society. His name appears in September as a member of committee—an honour assigned by vote of the members.

On the 30th of this month, the liberal poet bestowed four books upon the library—namely, Humphry Clinker, Julia de Roubigne, Knox's History of the Reformation, and Delolme on the British Constitution. The present intelligent librarian, Mr M'Robert, reports, respecting the last-mentioned work, a curious anecdote, which he learned directly from the late Provost Thomson of Dumfries. Early in the morning after Delolme had been presented, Burns came to Mr Thomson's bedside before he was up, anxiously desiring to see the volume, as he feared he had written something upon it 'which might bring him into trouble.' On the volume being shewn to him, he looked at the inscription which he had written upon it the previous night, and, having procured some paste, he pasted over it the fly-leaf in such a way as completely to conceal it.

The gentleman who has been good enough to communicate these particulars, adds: 'I have seen the volume, which is the edition of 1790, neatly bound, with a portrait of the author at the beginning. Some stains of ink shine through the paper, indicating that there is something written on the back of the engraving; but the fly-leaf being pasted down upon it, there is nothing legible. On holding the leaf up to the light, however, I distinctly read, in the undoubted manuscript of the poet, the following words:—

"Mr Burns presents this book to the Library, and begs they will take it as a creed of British liberty—until they find a better. R. B."

'The words, "until they find a better," are evidently those which the poet feared "might bring him into trouble." Probably, if the inscription had not been written on the back of the engraving, he might have removed it altogether: at all events, his anxiety to conceal it shews what trivial circumstances were in those days sufficient to constitute a political offence.' Ay, and to think of this happening in the same month with the writing of Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled!

Fully to appreciate the feelings of alarm under which Burns acted on this occasion, it must be kept in view that the trial of Mr Thomas Muir for sedition had taken place on the 30th of August, when, in the evidence against him, appeared that of his servant, Ann Fisher, to the effect that he had purchased and distributed certain copies of Paine's Rights of Man. The stress laid upon that testimony by the crown-counsel had excited much remark. It might well appear to a government officer like Burns, that his own conduct at such a crisis ought to be in the highest degree circumspect. We do not know exactly the time when the incident which we are about to relate took place, but it appears likely to have been nearly that of Muir's trial. Our poet one day called upon his quondam neighbour, George Haugh, the blacksmith, and, handing him a copy of Paine's Common Sense and Rights of Man, desired him to keep these books for him, as, if they were found in his own house, he should be a ruined man. Haugh readily accepted the trust, and the books remained in possession of his family down to a recent period.—Chambers's Life and Works of Burns, Vol. IV., just published.



CURIOUS EXPERIMENT IN WOOL-GROWING.

The following is worthy of notice, as exemplifying what may be done, by judicious attention, to improve an important national staple:—

'In a lecture recently delivered by Mr Owen at the Society of Arts, the learned professor detailed the particulars of a highly interesting experiment, which resulted in the establishment of one of the very few instances in which the origination of a distinct variety of a domestic quadruped could be satisfactorily traced, with all the circumstances attending its development well authenticated. We must premise it by stating, that amongst the series of wools shewn in the French department of the Great Exhibition, were specimens characterised by the jury as a wool of singular and peculiar properties; the hair, glossy and silky, similar to mohair, retaining at the same time certain properties of the merino breed. This wool was exhibited by J. L. Graux, of the farm of Mauchamp, Commune de Juvincourt, and the produce of a peculiar variety of the merino breed of sheep, and it thus arose. In the year 1828, one of the ewes of the flock of merinos in the farm of Mauchamp, produced a male lamb, which, as it grew up, became remarkable for the long, smooth, straight, and silky character of the fibre of the wool, and for the shortness of its horns. It was of small size, and presented certain defects in its conformation which have disappeared in its descendants. In 1829, M. Graux employed this ram with a view to obtain other rams, having the same quality of wool. The produce of 1830 only included one ram and one ewe, having the silky quality of the wool; that of 1831 produced four rams and one ewe with the fleece of that quality. In 1833, the rams, with the silky variety of wool, were sufficiently numerous to serve the whole flock. In each subsequent year the lambs have been of two kinds—one preserving the character of the ancient race, with the curled elastic wool, only a little longer and finer than in the ordinary merinos; the other resembling the rams of the new breed, some of which retained the large head, long neck, narrow chest, and long flanks of the abnormal progenitor, whilst others combined the ordinary and better-formed body with the fine silky wool. M. Graux, profiting by the partial resumption of the normal type of the merino in some of the descendants of the malformed original variety, at length succeeded, by a judicious system of crossing and interbreeding, in obtaining a flock combining the long silky fleece with a smaller head, shorter neck, broader flanks, and more capacious chest. Of this breed the flocks have become sufficiently numerous to enable the proprietor to sell examples for exportation. The crossing of the Beauchamp variety with the ordinary merino has also produced a valuable quality of wool, known in France as the "Mauchamp Merino." The fine silky wool of the pure Mauchamp breed is remarkable for its qualities, as combining wool, owing to the strength as well as the length and fineness of the fibre. It is found of great value by the manufacturers of Cashmere shawls, being second only to the true Cashmere fleece in the fine flexible delicacy of the fabric, and of particular utility when combined with the Cashmere wool in imparting to the manufacture qualities of strength and consistence, in which the pure Cashmere is deficient. Although the quantity of the wool yielded by the Mauchamp variety is less than in the ordinary merinos, the higher price which it obtains in the French market—25 per cent. above the best merino wools—and the present value of the breed, have fully compensated M. Graux for the pains and care manifested by him in the establishment of the variety, and a council medal was awarded to him.'

We find the above abstract in the Critic (London Literary Journal); and our chief object in making the quotation, is to bring the subject under the notice of wool-growers in the home country, as well as in Australia. What, it may be asked, could not be done by every store-farmer following the example of M. Graux?



A DIRGE OF LOVE.

BY W. E. L.

Yes! she is dead: the splendour of her eyes Sleeps 'neath the lids for ever; on my sight Never again shall flash their high delight, Tender and rich with love's sweet ecstasies.

Never again, deep down from vulgar ken, Shall the pure gushing of her soul rejoice, And we stand silent, as to hear the voice Of waters falling to a soundless glen.

And scarce again from other lips shall come Such beauteous truths, such fresh imaginings, As, like the warm south-wind, upon their wings Bear off our fancy to their own bright home.

Yet am I calm: though hard it be to smooth Waters upshaken from the deepest deep; Though it be hard to watch, yet never weep, The darkening cynosure of passionate youth;

Yet am I calm. The heart I had to bring Was marred with imperfection and decay, Now the free spirit, riven from the clay, Drinks at the fountain whence all love must spring.

O passed from earthly to celestial love! O reft from me and from my clinging grasp, And circled straightway by the close, warm clasp Of seraph bosoms in the land above!

I will not weep thee more. But if I long Too sorrowfully for thy presence here, Not vainly on thy turf shall fall the tear, But thy dead name shall blossom into song.

* * * * *

Printed and Published by W. and R. CHAMBERS, High Street, Edinburgh. Also sold by W. S. ORR, Amen Corner, London; D. N. CHAMBERS, 55 West Nile Street, Glasgow; and J. M'GLASHAN, 50 Upper Sackville Street, Dublin.—Advertisements for Monthly Parts are requested to be sent to MAXWELL & CO., 31 Nicholas Lane, Lombard Street, London, to whom all applications respecting their insertion must be made.

THE END

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