VISITS TO CONTINENTAL PRISONS.
Contrary to the general practice of mankind in matters of pure benevolence, Mrs. Fry looked around for new worlds to conquer, in the shape of yet unfathomed prison miseries. Many, if not most people, would have rested upon the laurels already won, and have been contented with the measures of good already achieved. Not so with the philanthropist whose work we sketch. Like an ever-widening stream, her life rolled on, full of acts of mercy, growing wider and broader in its channel of operations and its schemes of mercy. In pursuance of these schemes she visited prisons at Nottingham, Lincoln, Wakefield, Leeds, Doncaster, Sheffield, York, Durham, Newcastle, Carlisle, Lancaster, Liverpool, and most other towns of any size in England. She extended these journeys, at different times, into Scotland and Ireland, examining into the condition of prisons and prisoners with the deepest interest. It was her usual custom to form ladies' prison-visiting societies, wherever practicable, and to communicate to the authorities subsequently her views and suggestions in letters, dealing with these matters in detail.
But her fame was not confined within the limits of the British Isles. Communications reached her from St. Petersburg, from Hamburg, from Brussels, from Baden, from Paris, Berlin, and Potsdam; all tending to show that enquiry was abroad, that nations and governments as well as individuals were waking up to a sense of their responsibilities. Both rulers and legislators were beginning to see that preventing crime was wiser than punishing it, that the reformation of the criminal classes was the great end of punitive measures. This conviction reached, it was comparatively easy for the philanthropists to work.
Before proceeding to the Continent, however, we find notes of one or two very interesting visits to the Channel Isles. Her first visit was made in 1833, and, to her surprise, she found that the islands had most thoroughly ignored the prison teachings and improvements which had been gaining so much ground in the United Kingdom. The reason of this was not far to seek. Acts of Parliament passed in England had no power in the Channel Isles; as part of the old Duchy of Normandy, they were governed by their own laws and customs. The inhabitants, in their appearance, manners, language, and usages, resemble the French more than they do the English. Nothing deterred, however, Mrs. Fry made a tour of inspection, and then according to her custom sent the result of her inquiries, and the conclusions at which she had arrived, in the form of a letter to the authorities. That letter is far too long for reproduction in extenso, but a few of its leading recommendations were:—
1st. A full sufficiency of employment, proportioned to the age, sex, health and ability of each prisoner.
2d. A proper system of classification, including the separation of men from women, of tried from untried prisoners, and of debtors from criminals.
3d. A fixed and suitable dietary for criminals, together with an absolute prohibition of intoxicating drinks.
4th. A suitable prison dress with distinctive badges.
5th. A complete code of regulations binding on all officials.
6th. The appointment of a visiting committee to inspect the prison regularly and frequently.
7th. Provision to be made for the instruction of criminals in the common branches of education, and for the performance of divine service at stated seasons by an appointed chaplain.
After adverting to the fact that the island was independent of British control, she alluded to "the progressive wisdom of the age" in respect to prison discipline and management, and urged the authorities to be abreast of the times in adopting palliative measures. The whole penal system of the islands required to be renewed, and it promised to be a work of time before this could be effected. We find that Mrs. Fry exerted herself for many years to this end; but it was not until after the lapse of years, and after two visits to the islands, that she succeeded.
The hospital at Jersey seemed to be a curious sort of institution designed to shelter destitute sick and poor, as well as to secure the persons of small offenders, and lunatics. Punishment with fetters was inflicted in this place upon all those who tried to escape, so that it was a sort of prison. Mrs. Fry's quick eye detected many abuses in its management, and her pen suggested remedies for them.
At Guernsey, the same irregularities and abuses appeared, and were attacked in her characteristic manner. In both these islands, as well as in Sark, she inaugurated works of charity and religion, thus sowing imperishable seed destined to bear untold fruit. Finally, after more visits from herself, and special inspectors appointed by Government, a new house of correction was built in Jersey, while other improvements necessary to the working out of her prison system were, one by one, adopted.
In January, 1838, she paid her first visit to France, being accompanied on this journey by her husband, by Josiah Forster, and by Lydia Irving, members of the Society of Friends. True to her instinct, she found her way speedily into the prisons of the French capital, examining, criticising, recommending and teaching. She could not speak much French, but some kind friend always interpreted her observations. From her journal it seems that solemn prayer for Divine guidance and blessing occupied the forenoon of the first day in Paris; after that, visits of ceremony were paid to the English Ambassador, and of friendship to other persons. Among the prisons visited were the St. Lazare Prison for women, containing 952 inmates, La Force Prison for men, the Central Prison at Poissy, and that of the Conciergerie. The first-named, that of St. Lazare, was visited several times, and portions of Scripture read, as at Newgate. The listeners were very much affected, manifesting their feelings by frequent exclamations and tears. Lady Granville, Lady Georgina Fullerton, and some other ladies accompanied Mrs. Fry to this prison on one visit, when all agreed that much good would result from the appointment and work of a Ladies' Committee. Hospitals, schools, and convents also came in for a share of attention; and after discussing points of interest connected with the prisons with the Prefect of Police, she concluded by obtaining audience of the King, Queen and Duchess of Orleans.
On the journey homeward the party visited the prisons of Caen, Rouen and Beaulieu, distributing copies of the Scriptures to the prisoners. She notices with much delight the united feeling in respect of benevolent objects which existed between Roman Catholics and herself. Her own words are "a hidden power of good at work amongst them; many very extraordinary Christian characters, bright, sober, zealous Roman Catholics and Protestants."
In the commencement of 1839, the low state of the funds of the different benevolent societies formed in connection with her prison labors, exercised her faith. None ever carried into practice more fully the old monkish maxim Labor est orare. Refuges had been formed, at Chelsea for girls, and at Clapham for women, while the Ladies' Society and the convict-ships demanded funds incessantly. A fancy sale was held in Crosby Hall, "conducted in a sober, quiet manner," which realized over a thousand pounds for these charities. After recording the fact with thankfulness, Mrs. Fry paid her second visit to the Continent, going as far as Switzerland on her errand of mercy.
At Paris she was received affectionately by those friends who had listened to her voice on her previous visit. Baron de Girando and other philanthropists gathered around her, oblivious of the distinctions of creeds and churches, and bent only on accomplishing a successful crusade against vice and misery.
Among the hospitals inspected by her were the hospital of St. Louis for the plague, leprosy, and other infectious disorders; the Hospice de la Maternite, and the Hospice des Enfans Troves. This latter was founded by St. Vincent de Paul for the bringing up of foundlings, but had fallen into a state of pitiable neglect. From the unnatural treatment which these poor waifs received, the mortality had reached a frightful pitch. It seemed, from Mrs. Fry's statements, that the little creatures were bound up for hours together, being only released from their "swaddlings" once in every twelve hours for any and every purpose. The sound in the wards could only be compared to the faint and pitiful bleating of lambs. A lady who frequently visited the institution said that she never remembered examining the array of clean white cots that lined the walls without finding at least one dead babe. "In front of the fire was a sloping stage, on which was a mattress, and a row of these little creatures placed on it to warm and await their turn to be fed from the spoon by a nurse. After much persuasion, one that was crying piteously was released from its swaddling bands; it stretched its little limbs, and ceased its wailings." Supposing these children of misfortune survived the first few weeks of such a life they were sent into the country to be reared by different peasants; but there again a large percentage died from infantile diseases. Mrs. Fry succeeded in securing some ameliorations of the treatment of the babes; but sisters, doctors, superior, and all, seemed bound by the iron bands of custom and tradition.
The Archbishop of Paris was somewhat annoyed at her proceedings and expressed his displeasure; it seemed more, however, to be directed against her practice of distributing the Scriptures, than really against her prison work.
At Nismes, under the escort of five armed soldiers, because of the known violence of the desperadoes whom she visited, she inspected the Maison Centrale, containing about 1,200 prisoners. She interceded for some of them that they might be released from their fetters, undertaking at the same time that the released prisoners should behave well. At a subsequent visit, after holding a religious service among these felons, the same men thanked her with tears of gratitude.
Much to her delight, she discovered a body of religionists who held principles similar to those of the Society of Friends. They were descendants of the Camisards, a sect of Protestants who took refuge in the mountains of the Cevennes during the persecution which followed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and were descended originally from the Albigenses. Their three most distinguished pastors were Claude Brousson, who took part in the sufferings at the general persecution of the Protestants; Jean Cavalier, the soldier-pastor who led his flock to battle, and who now sleeps in an English graveyard; and Antoine Court, who formed this "church in the desert," into a more compact body. The first of these pastors was hanged for "heresy" at Montpellier, in 1698; but he, together with his successors, labored so devoutly and so ardently, that the persecuted remnant rose from the dust and proved themselves valiant for the truth as they had received and believed it. It was not possible that the seed of a people which had learnt the sermons preached to them off by heart, and written the texts on stone tablets, in order to pass them from one mountain village to another, could ever die out. The descendants of those martyrs had come down through long generations, to nourish at last openly in Nismes. Mrs. Fry recognized in them the kindred souls of faithful believers. After this, the party spent a fortnight at a little retired village called Congenies, where they welcomed many others of their own creed. A house with "vaulted rooms, whitewashed and floored with stone," sheltered them during this quaint sojourn, while the villagers vied with each other in contributing to their comforts.
At Toulon they visited the "Bagnes," or prison for the galley slaves. These poor wretches fared horribly, while the loss of life among them was terrible. They worked very hard, slept on boards, and were fed upon bread and dry beans. At night they were ranged in a long gallery, and in number from one hundred to two hundred, were all chained to the iron rod which ran the entire length of the gallery. By day they worked chained together in couples.
At Marseilles a new kind of prison was inspected by her; this was a conventual institution and refuge for female penitents, under the control of the nuns of the order of St. Charles, who to the three ordinary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, added that of converting souls. Superintending ladies in the city, who bore the title of "directresses," were not even permitted to see the women immured there; indeed, only one was permitted to enter the building in order to look after the necessary repairs, and even she was strictly restrained from seeing a penitent or sister. It seemed hopeless in the face of these facts to expect admission, but Mrs. Fry's name and errand prevailed. Accompanied by one of these nominal directresses, she was admitted and shown into a large, plainly-furnished parlor. After she had waited some little time, the Lady Superior presented herself at the grating, and prepared to hear the communications of her visitors. In the course of the conversation which passed, it appeared that there were over one hundred penitents in the convent, who mostly became servants after their reclamation. It seemed that they "were not taught to read or write, neither was the least morsel of pencil, paper, pen, ink, or any other possible material for writing permitted, from the fear of their communicating with people without." The Superior admitted that portions of the Bible were suitable to the inmates, such as the Parables and Psalms, but said that as a whole the Scriptures were not fit to be put into the hands of people in general. Mrs. Fry departed from this "home of mystery and darkness," very unsatisfied and sad. She next visited a boys' prison, conducted by the Abbe Fisceaux, which excited her admiration.
At the "Maison Penitentiaire" at Geneva, the arrangements appeared to be as complete as possible, and most praiseworthy. The treatment varied in severity, according to the guilt of the criminals, who were divided into four classes. They were in all cases there for long terms of imprisonment, but were allowed either Catholic or Protestant versions of the Scriptures, according to their faith. After paying short visits to Lausanne, Berne, and Zurich, the party returned home.
As her life passed on and infirmities grew apace, it seemed that Mrs. Fry's zeal and charity grew also, for she planned and schemed to do good with never-flagging delight. Early in 1840, she departed again for the Continent, accompanied this time by her brother, Samuel Gurney, and his daughter, by William Allen and Lucy Bradshaw. During this journey and a subsequent one, she had much intercourse with royal and noble personages. At Brussels they had a pleasant audience of the King, who held an interesting conversation with them on the state of Belgian prisons. A large prison for boys at Antwerp specially drew forth their commendations; it seemed admirably arranged and conducted, while every provision was made for the instruction and improvement of the lads. At Hameln, in Hanover, they found one of the opposite class, a men's prison, containing about four hundred inmates, but all heavily chained "to the ground, until they would confess their crimes, whether they had committed them or not." One wonders if this treatment still prevails in the Hameln of Robert Browning's ballad. At Hanover they waited on the Queen by special command, and during a long interview many interesting and important subjects were brought forward.
At Berlin they were received by royalty in the most cordial way. Mrs. Fry's niece, in a letter, gives a vivid account of the assembly at the royal palace specially invited to meet the Quakeress and her party.
The Princess William has been very desirous to give her sanction, as far as possible, to the Ladies' Committee for visiting the prison, that my aunt had been forming; and, to show her full approbation, had invited the Committee to meet her at her palace. So imagine about twenty ladies assembling here, at our hotel, at half-past twelve o'clock to-day, beautifully dressed; and, further fancy us all driving off and arriving at the palace. The Princess had also asked some of her friends, so we must have numbered about forty. Such a party of ladies, and only our friend Count Groeben to interpret. The Princess received us most kindly, and conducted us herself to the top of the room; we talked some time, whilst awaiting the arrival of other members of the royal family. The ladies walked about the suite of rooms for about half an hour, taking chocolate, and waiting for the Crown Princess, who soon arrived. The Princess Charles was also there, and the Crown Prince himself soon afterwards entered. I could not but long for a painter's eye to have carried away the scene. All of us seated in that beautiful room, our aunt in the middle of the sofa, the Crown Prince and Princess and the Princess Charles on her right; the Princess William, the Princess Marie, and the Princess Czartoryski on the left; Count Groeben sitting near her to interpret, the Countesses Boehlem and Dernath by her. I was sitting by the Countess Schlieffen, a delightful person, who is much interested in all our proceedings. A table was placed before our aunt, with pens, ink, and paper, like other committees, with the various rules our aunt and I had drawn up, and the Countess Boehlem had translated into German, and which she read to the assembly. After that my aunt gave a concise account of the societies in England, commencing every fresh sentence with "If the Prince and Princesses will permit." When business was over, my aunt mentioned some texts, which she asked leave to read. A German Bible was handed to Count Groeben, the text in Isaiah having been pointed out that our good aunt had wished for, "Is not this the fast that I have chosen," etc. The Count read it, after which our aunt said, "Will the Prince and Princesses allow a short time for prayer?" They all bowed assent and stood, while she knelt down and offered one of her touching, heart-felt prayers for them—that a blessing might rest on the whole place, from the King on his throne to the poor prisoner in the dungeon; and she prayed especially for the royal family; then for the ladies, that the works of their hands might be prospered in what they had undertaken to perform. Many of the ladies now withdrew, and we were soon left with the royal family. They all invited us to see them again, before we left Berlin, and took leave of us in the kindest manner.
One result of the reception accorded Mrs. Fry by royalty was the amelioration of the condition of the Lutherans. It came about in this way: in the course of her inquiries and intercourse among the people of the Prussian dominions, she discovered that adherents to the Lutheran Church were subject to much petty persecution on behalf of their faith. True they were not dealt with so cruelly as in former times, but frequently, at that very day, they were imprisoned, or suffered the loss of property because of their religious opinions. The matter lay heavily on Mrs. Fry's benevolent heart, and, seizing the opportunity, she spoke to the Crown Prince at the meeting just described, on the behalf of the persecuted Christians. The Crown Prince listened most attentively, and advised her to lay the matter before the King in any way she deemed proper. A petition was therefore drawn up by William Allen, translated into German, and with much fear and trembling presented to His Majesty. The following day the King's chaplain was sent bearing the "delightful intelligence" that the petition had been received; further, the King had said that "he thought the Spirit of God must have helped them to express themselves as they had done."
About this time we find the following entry in her journal: "I have been poorly enough to have the end of life brought closely before me, and to stimulate me in faith to do quickly what my Lord may require me." Accordingly, engagements and undertakings multiplied, and 1841 witnessed another brief visit to the continent of Europe. She seemed more and more to get the conviction that she must lose no time while about her Master's business, and such her prison, asylum and hospital labors most assuredly were. The shadows of life's evening were gathering around her, and heart and flesh beginning to fail, but no efforts of charity or mercy might be found lacking.
On this visit her brother, Joseph John Gurney, and two nieces accompanied her. Soon after arriving at the Hague, Mrs. Fry and Mr. Gurney, being introduced to the King by Prince Albert, were commanded to attend at a royal audience. This the travellers did, and, after about an hour's conversation, departed highly gratified. Another day they spent some time with the Princess of Orange, the Princess Frederick, and other members of the royal house: all these personages were anxious to hear about the work of prison reform, and to aid in it. After this they departed for Amsterdam, Bremen, and other places; but their journey resembled a triumphal progress more than anything else. The peasantry followed the carriage shouting Mrs. Fry's name, and begging for tracts. Sometimes, in order to get away, she was compelled to shake hands with them all, and speak a few words of kindly greeting.
They extended the journey into Denmark, and were treated with marked honor from the first. The Queen engaged apartments for the travellers at the Hotel Royal, and on some occasions took Mrs. Fry to see schools and other places, in her own carriage. On a subsequent day, when dining with the King and Queen, Mrs. Fry and Mr. Gurney laid before their Majesties the condition of persecuted Christians; the sad state of prisons in his dominions; they also referred to the slavery in the Danish colonies in the West Indies. Mr. Gurney having only recently returned from that part of the world, he had much to tell respecting the spiritual and social state of those colonies. Mrs. Fry records that at dinner she was placed between the King and Queen, who both conversed very pleasantly with her.
At Minden, they had varied experiences of travelling and travellers' welcomes. "I could not but be struck," says Mrs. Fry in her journal, "with the peculiar contrast of my circumstances: in the morning traversing the bad pavement of a street in Minden, with a poor, old Friend in a sort of knitted cap close to her head; in the evening surrounded by the Prince and Princesses of a German Court." The members of the Prussian royal family were anxious to see her and hear from her own lips an account of her labors in the cause of humanity. The representatives of the House of Brandenburgh welcomed Mrs. Fry beyond her most sanguine expectations; indeed, it would be nearer the truth to say that in her lowly estimate of herself, she almost dreaded to approach royal or noble personages, and that therefore she craved for no honor, but only tolerance and favor. She never sought an interview with any of these personages, but to benefit those who could not plead for themselves. Her letters home exhibit no pride, boastfulness, or triumph; all is pure thankfulness that one so unworthy as she deemed herself to be should accomplish so much. Writing to her grandchildren she says:
"We dined at the Princess William's with several of the royal family. The Queen came afterwards and appeared much pleased at my delight on hearing that the King had stopped religious persecutions in the country, and that several other things had been improved since our last visit. It is a very great comfort to believe that our efforts for the good of others have been blessed. Yesterday we paid a very interesting visit to the Queen, then to Prince Frederick of Holland and his Princess, sister to the King of Prussia; with her we had much serious conversation upon many important subjects, as we also had with the Queen.... Although looked up to by all, they appear so humble, so moderate in everything. I think the Christian ladies on the Continent dress far more simply than those in England. The Countess appeared very liberal, but extravagant in nothing. To please us she had apple dumplings, which were quite a curiosity; they were really very nice. The company stood still before and after dinner, instead of saying grace. We returned from our interesting meeting at the Countess's, about eleven o'clock in the evening. The royal family were assembled and numbers of the nobility; after a while the King and Queen arrived, the poor Tyrolese flocked in numbers. I doubt such a meeting ever having been held anywhere before,—the curious mixture of all ranks and conditions. My poor heart almost failed me. Most earnestly did I pray for best help, and not unduly to fear man. The royal family sat together, or nearly so; the King and Queen, Princess William, and Princess Frederick, Princess Mary, Prince William, Prince Charles, Prince Frederick of the Netherlands, young Prince William, besides several other princes and princesses not royal. Your uncle Joseph spoke for a little while, explaining our views on worship. Then I enlarged upon the changes that had taken place since I was last in Prussia; mentioned the late King's kindness to these poor Tyrolese in their affliction and distress; afterwards addressed these poor people, and then those of high rank, and felt greatly helped to speak the truth to them in love. They finished with a hymn."
Her last brief visit to the Continent was paid in 1843, and spent wholly in Paris. Mrs. Fry was particularly interested in French prisons, as well as in the measures designed to ameliorate the condition of those who tenanted them. Reformation had become the order of the day there as in England; the Duchess of Orleans, the Grand Duchess of Mecklenburg, M. Guizot, the Duc de Broglie, M. de Tocqueville, M. Carnot, and other high and noble personages were much interested in the subject. A bill to sanction the needful reforms was introduced to the Chamber of Deputies by the Minister of the Interior, and ably supported by him in a speech of great lucidity and power. Said he, when laying it before the Chamber: "Our subject is not entirely to sequestrate the prisoner nor to confine him to absolute solitude. Some of the provisions of the bill will mitigate the principle of solitary confinement in a manner which was suggested by the Commission of 1840, and should not pass unnoticed by the Chamber. Convicts sentenced to more than twelve years' hard labor, or to perpetual hard labor, after having gone through twelve years of their punishment, or when they shall have attained the age of seventy, will be no longer separated from others, except during the night." The bill further provided, besides this mitigation of the solitary confinement system, that the "Bagnes," where galley slaves had hitherto labored, should be replaced by houses of hard labor, and that smaller prisons should be erected for minor offenses instead of sending criminals convicted of them to the great central prisons. The bill was certainly destined to effect a total revolution in the management of such places as St. Lazare and similar prisons, in addition to giving solid promise of improvement in the punitive system of France.
During this brief final visit to the French capital, Mrs. Fry entered on her sixty-third year, aged and infirm in body, but still animated by the master passion of serving the sad and sorrowful. Her brother, Joseph John Gurney, together with his wife, were with her in Paris, but they pursued their journey into Switzerland, while she returned home in June, feeling that life's shadows were lengthening apace, and that not much time remained to her in which to complete her work. The impressions she had made on the society of the gay city had been altogether good. Like the people who stared at the pilgrims passing through Vanity Fair, the Parisians wondered, and understood for the first time that here was a lady who did indeed pass through things temporal, "with eyes fixed on things eternal"; and whose supreme delight lay, not in ball-rooms, race-courses, or courts, but in finding out suffering humanity and striving to alleviate its woes. Doubtless many of the gay Parisians shrugged their shoulders and smiled good-humoredly at the "illusion," "notion," "fanaticism," or whatever else they called it; they were simply living on too low a plane of life to understand, or to criticise Mrs. Fry. Except animated by somewhat of fellow-feeling, none can understand her career even now. It stands too far apart from, too highly lifted above, our ordinary pursuits and pleasures, to be compared with anything that less philanthropic-minded mortals may do. It called for a far larger amount of self-denial than ordinary people are capable of; it demanded too much singleness of purpose and sincerity of speech. Had Mrs. Fry not come from a Quaker stock she might have conformed more to the ways and manners of fashionable society; had she possessed less of sterling piety, she might have sought to serve her fellow-creatures in more easy paths. As a reformer, she was sometimes misunderstood, abused, and spoken evil of. It was always the case and always will be, that reformers receive injustice. Only, in some cases, as in this one, time reverses the injustice, and metes out due honor. As a consequence, Elizabeth Fry's name is surrounded with an aureola of fame, and her self-abnegation affords a sublime spectacle to thoughtful minds of all creeds and classes; for, simply doing good is seen to be the highest glory.
NEW THEORIES OF PRISON DISCIPLINE AND MANAGEMENT.
Mrs. Fry's opinions on prison discipline and management were necessarily much opposed to those which had obtained prior to her day. No one who has followed her career attentively, can fail to perceive that her course of prison management was based upon well arranged and carefully worked out principles. In various letters, in evidence before committees of both Houses of Parliament, and in private intercourse, Mrs. Fry made these principles and rules as fully known and as widely proclaimed as it was possible to do. But, like all reformers, she felt the need of securing a wider dissemination of them. Evidence given before committees, was, in many points, deferred to; private suggestions and recommendations were frequently adopted, but a large class of inquirers were too far from the sphere of her influence to be moved in this way. For the sake of these, and the general public, she deemed it wise to embody her opinions and rules in a treatise, which gives in small compass, but very clearly, the rationale of her treatment of prisoners; and lays down suggestions, hints, and principles upon which others could work. Within about seventy octavo pages, she discourses practically and plainly on the formation of Ladies' Committees for visiting prisons, on the right method of proceeding in a prison after the formation of such a committee, on female officers in prisons, on separate prisons for females, on inspection and classification, on instruction and employment, on medical attendance, diet, and clothing, and on benevolent efforts for prisoners who have served their sentences. It is easy to recognize in these pages the Quakeress, the woman, and the Christian. She recommends to the attention of ladies, as departments for doing good, not only prisons, but lunatic asylums, hospitals and workhouses. At the same time she strongly recommends that only orderly and experienced visitors should endeavor to penetrate into the abodes of vice and wickedness, which the prisons of England at that day mostly were. Among other judicious counsels for the conduct of these visitors occur the following, which read as coming from her own experience. That this was the case we may feel assured; Mrs. Fry was too wise and too womanly not to warn others from the pit-falls over which she had stumbled, or to permit anyone to fall into her early mistakes:—
"Much depends on the spirit in which the worker enters upon her work. It must be the spirit not of judgment but of mercy. She must not say in her heart, 'I am holier than thou'; but must rather keep in perpetual remembrance that 'all have sinned,' and that, therefore, great pity is due from us even to the greatest transgressors among our fellow-creatures, and that in meekness and love we ought to labor for their restoration. The good principle in the hearts of many abandoned persons may be compared to the few remaining sparks of a nearly extinguished fire. By means of the utmost care and attention, united with the most gentle treatment, these may yet be fanned into a flame; but under the operation of a rough and violent hand they will presently disappear and be lost forever. In our conduct with these unfortunate females, kindness, gentleness, and true humility ought ever to be united with serenity and firmness. Nor will it be safe ever to descend, in our intercourse with them, to familiarity, for there is a dignity in the Christian character which demands, and will obtain, respect; and which is powerful in its influence even over dissolute minds.... Neither is it by any means wise to converse with them on the subject of the crimes of which they are accused or convicted, for such conversation is injurious both to the criminals themselves and to others who hear them; and, moreover, too frequently leads them to add sin to sin, by uttering the grossest falsehoods. And those who engage in the interesting task of visiting criminals must not be impatient if they find the work of reformation a very slow one.... Much disadvantage will accrue generally from endeavors on the part of visiting ladies to procure the mitigation of the sentences of criminals. Such endeavors ought never to be made except where the cases are remarkably clear, and then through the official channels. Deeply as we must deplore the baneful effects of the punishment of death, and painful as we must feel it to be that our fellow-creatures, in whose welfare we are interested, should be prematurely plunged into an awful eternity, yet, while our laws continue as they are, unless they can bring forward decided facts in favor of the condemned, it is wiser for the visiting ladies to be quiet, and to submit to decrees which they cannot alter."
In reference to the choice of officers, she strongly insists that all officers—superior and inferior—shall be females. She prefers a widow for the post of matron, because of her superior knowledge of the world and of life; and never should she or her subordinates be chosen "because the situation is suited to their wants, but because they are suited to fill the situation." She holds it of the first importance that the matrons should not only be of a superior station in life, but that they should be decidedly religious. This little book was written in 1827, but from her insistence upon this as a first requisite in proper dealing with female prisoners, it appears likely that the then recent act of George IV., had not been commonly complied with. This act provides that a "matron shall be appointed in every prison in which female prisoners shall be confined, who shall reside in the prison; and it shall be the duty of the matron constantly to superintend the female prisoners." Again, another clause of the Act says, "Females shall in all cases be attended by female officers." That these provisions had only been partially carried out, is proved by her words relative to this clause: "Since the passing of the late Act of Parliament for the regulations of prisons, our large jails have been generally provided with a matron and female turnkeys; but it is much to be regretted that in many smaller prisons no such provisions have yet been adopted. Nor ought it to be concealed that the persons selected to fill the office of matron are, in various instances, unsuited to their posts; and in other cases are unfitted for its fulfillment, by residing out of prison."
With respect to the classification of prisoners, Mrs. Fry recommends four classes or divisions which should comprise the total:—1st. Prisoners of previous good character, and guilty only of venial crimes. This class, she suggests, should be allowed to dress a little better and be put to lighter labors than the others. From their ranks, also, should temporary officers be selected, while small pecuniary rewards might be with propriety offered. 2d. Prisoners convicted of more serious crimes. These should be treated with more strictness; but it should be possible for a prisoner, by constant good conduct and obedience to rules, to rise into the first class. 3d. In this class the privileges were to be considerably diminished, while the 4th class consisted only of hardened offenders, guilty of serious crimes, and of those who had been frequently committed. "This class must undergo its peculiar privations and hardships." Still, that hope may not entirely give place to despair, Mrs. Fry recommends that even these criminals should be eligible for promotion to the upper classes upon good behavior. It will be seen that this system partook somewhat of Captain Machonochie's merit, or good-mark system, introduced by him with such remarkable success into Norfolk Island.
Among other suggestions relative to the classification of prisoners we find one recommending the wearing of a ticket by each woman. Every ticket was to be inscribed with a number, which number should agree with the corresponding number on the class list. Each class list was to be kept by the matron or visitors, and was to include a register of the conduct of the prisoners. In the case of convicts on board convict-ships proceeding to the penal settlements, Mrs. Fry recommended that not only should the women wear these tickets, but that every article of clothing, every book, and every piece of bedding should be similarly numbered; even the convicts' seats at table should be distinguished by the same numbers in order to prevent disputes, and to promote order and regularity.
She considered the most thorough, vigilant, and unremitting inspection essential to a correct system of prison discipline; by this means she anticipated that an effectual, if slow, change of habits might be produced.
With regard to the instruction of prisoners, she held decided views as to the primary importance of Scriptural knowledge. The Bible, and the Bible alone, was to be the text-book for this purpose, while nothing sectarian was to be admitted; but in their fullest sense, "the essential and saving principles of our common Christianity were to be inculcated." She recommended reading, writing, arithmetic, and needlework, the last to carry with it a little remuneration, in order to afford the women some encouragement. While acknowledging the wisdom of the Act of Parliament which provided that prayers should be read daily in all prisons, she strongly urges visitors and chaplains to teach privately "that true religion and saving faith are in their nature practical, and that the reality of repentance can be proved only by good works and by an amendment in life and conversation."
For the employment of prisoners she recommends such occupations as patchwork, knitting stockings, making articles of plain needlework, washing, ironing, housework, cooking, spinning, and weaving. It should in all cases be constant, and in the worst cases, disciplinary labor. She recommends, under strict limitations, the treadmill for hardened, refractory, and depraved women, but only for short periods. All needleworkers especially should receive some remuneration for their work, which remuneration should be allowed to accumulate for their benefit by such time as their sentences expire, in order that when they leave prison they may possess a little money wherewith to commence the world afresh. Her words are: "The greater portion of their allotted share of earnings, however, must be reserved for them against the time of their leaving prison and returning to the world. The possession of a moderate sum of money will then be found of essential importance as the means of preventing an almost irresistible temptation, the temptation of want and money, to the renewal of criminal practices. And if, in laboring for this remuneration the poor criminal has also gained possession of the habit of industry, and has learned to appreciate the sweets of regular employment, it is more than probable that this temptation may never occur again."
Mrs. Fry quotes largely from the Act of Parliament, relative to the matters of diet, medical attendance, clothing, bedding, and firing. It seemed to be the fact that the provisions of this Act did not extend to prisons which were exclusively under local jurisdiction; she therefore recommends lady visitors and committees to see them enforced as much as possible. While preserving even-handed justice between criminals and the country whose laws they have outraged, by suggesting that their treatment should be sufficiently penal to be humiliating, that their hair should be cut short, and all personal ornaments forbidden, she pleads earnestly for proper bedding and firing. She says: "During inclement weather, diseases are sometimes contracted by the unfortunate inmates of our jails, which can never afterwards be removed. I believe it has sometimes happened that poor creatures committed to prison for trial, have left the place of their confinement, acquitted of crime, and yet crippled for life."
From the same volume we find that Government had then inaugurated a wiser, kinder system of dealing with the convicts destined for the colonies. By the new regulations, females were allowed to take out with them all children under the age of seven years; while a mother suckling an infant was not compelled to leave England until the child was old enough to be weaned. Again, the convicts were not to be manacled in any way during their removal from the prison to the convict-ship; "but as the rule is often infringed, it is desirable that ladies of the committee should be vigilant on the subject, and should represent all cases to the governor of the prison, and afterwards, if needful, to the visiting magistrates." Further, the Government, or the boroughs, had to provide the transports with needful clothing for the voyage; and, at the end of it, the surgeon's or matron's certificate of good behavior was sufficient to ensure employment for most of the women. Altogether it seems certain that a new era for prisoners had dawned, and new ideas prevailed in regard to them. How much Mrs. Fry's labors had contributed to this state of things will never be fully known; but her work was almost accomplished.
This little book, which is a perfect Vade Mecum of prison management, was written in the interest of lady visitors, and for their use. It is still interesting, as showing Mrs. Fry's own mode of procedure, and the principles upon which she acted. The few quotations given in this chapter will, however, suffice for the general reader. She concludes with a pregnant sentence: "Let our prison discipline be severe in proportion to the enormity of the crimes of those on whom it is exercised, and let its strictness be such as to deter others from a similar course of iniquity, but let us ever aim at the diminution of crime through the just and happy medium of the REFORMATION OF CRIMINALS."
Not only in the published page, but in other ways—in fact in every possible way—did Mrs. Fry continue to proclaim the need of a new method of ordering criminals, and also of so treating them, that they should be fitted to return to society improved and not degraded by their experience of penal measures. In 1832, she was called upon to give evidence before another committee of the House of Commons, upon the best mode of enforcing "secondary punishments" so as to repress crime. On this occasion she dwelt particularly upon the points noticed in her book published five years previously, and added one or two more. For instance, while advocating complete separation at night, she quite as earnestly contended against what was known as the "solitary system." On this point she maintained that "solitude does not prepare women for returning to social and domestic life, or tend so much to real improvement, as carefully arranged intercourse during part of the day with one another under the closest superintendence and inspection, combined with constant occupation, and solitude at night." In her evidence there occurs the following passage:—
Every matron should live upon the spot, and be able to inspect them closely by night and by day; and when there are sufficient female prisoners to require it, female officers should be appointed, and a male turnkey never permitted to go into the women's apartments. I am convinced when a prison is properly managed it is unnecessary, because, by firm and gentle management, the most refractory may be controlled by their own sex. But here I must put in a word respecting ladies' visiting. I find a remarkable difference depending upon whether female officers are superintended by ladies or not. I can tell almost as soon as I go into the prison whether they are or not, from the general appearance both of the women and their officers. One reason is that many of the latter are not very superior women, not very high, either in principle or habits, and are liable to be contaminated; they soon get familiar with the prisoners, and cease to excite the respect due to their office; whereas, where ladies go in once, or twice, or three times a week, the effect produced is decided. Their attendance keeps the female officers in their places, makes them attend to their duty, and has a constant influence on the minds of the prisoners themselves. In short, I may say, after sixteen years' experience, that the result of ladies of principle and respectability superintending the female officers in prisons, and the prisons themselves, has far exceeded my most sanguine expectations. In no instance have I more clearly seen the beneficial effects of ladies' visiting and superintending prisoners than on board convict-ships. I have witnessed the alterations since ladies have visited them constantly in the river. I heard formerly of the most dreadful iniquity, confusion, and frequently great distress; latterly I have seen a very wonderful improvement in their conduct. And on the voyage, I have most valuable certificates to show the difference of their condition on their arrival in the colony. I can produce, if necessary, extracts from letters. Samuel Marsden, who has been chaplain there a good many years, says it is quite a different thing: that they used to come in a most filthy, abominable state, hardly fit for anything; now they arrive in good order, in a totally different situation. And I have heard the same thing from others. General Darling's wife, a very valuable lady, has adopted the same system there; she has visited the prison at Paramatta, and the same thing respecting the officers is felt there as it is here. On the Continent of Europe, in various parts—St. Petersburg, Geneva, Turin, Berne, Basle, and some other places—there are corresponding societies, and the result is the same in every part. In Berlin they are doing wonders—I hear a most satisfactory account; and in St. Petersburg, where, from the barbarous state of the people, it was said it could not be done, the conduct of the prisoners has been perfectly astonishing—an entire change has been produced.
On the 22d of May, 1835, Mrs. Fry was desired to attend the Select Committee of the House of Lords, appointed to inquire into the state of the several jails and houses of correction in England and Wales. She went, accompanied by three ladies, co-workers, and escorted by Sir T. Fowell Buxton. The Duke of Richmond was chairman of the committee, which included some twelve or fifteen noblemen. An eyewitness wrote afterwards respecting Mrs. Fry's behavior and manner: "Never, should I think, was the calm dignity of her character more conspicuous. Perfectly self-possessed, her speech flowed melodiously, her ideas were clearly expressed, and if another thought possessed her besides that of delivering her opinions faithfully and judiciously upon the subjects brought before her, it was that she might speak of her Lord and Master in that noble company."
The principal topics treated of in her evidence before this committee were connected with the general state of female prisons. Among other things, she urged the want of more instruction, but that such instruction should not be given privately and alone to women; that the treadmill was an undesirable punishment for women; that matrons were required to be suitable in character, age, and capability for the post; that equality in labor and diet was needed; and she insisted on the imperative necessity of Government inspectors in both Scotch and English prisons and convict-ships. She enlarged upon these matters in the manner the subject demanded, and gave the committee the impression of being in solemn earnest. Her quiet, Christian dignity impressed all who listened to her voice, while the most respectful consideration was paid to her suggestions. In reply to a question touching the instruction of the prisoners, she says:—
I believe the effect of religious and other instruction is hardly to be calculated on; and I may further say that, notwithstanding the high estimation and reverence in which I held the Holy Scriptures, before I went to the prisons, as believing them to be written by inspiration of God, and therefore calculated to produce the greatest good, I have seen, in reading the Scripture to those women, such a power attending them, and such an effect on the minds of the most reprobate, as I could not have conceived. If anyone wants a confirmation of the truth of Christianity let him go and read the Scriptures in prison to poor sinners; you there see how the Gospel is exactly adapted to the fallen condition of man. It has strongly confirmed my faith; and I feel it to be the bounden duty of the Government and the country that these truths shall be administered in the manner most likely to conduce to the real reformation of the prisoner. You then go to the root of the matter, for though severe punishment may in a measure deter them and others from crime, it does not amend the character and change the heart; but if you have altered the principles of the individual, they are not only deterred from crime because of the fear of punishment, but they go out, and set a bright example to others.
Both the silent and solitary systems were condemned by her as being particularly liable to abuse. She considered the silent system cruel, and especially adapted to harden the heart of a criminal even to moral petrefaction. But the strongest protest was made against solitary confinement. Upon every available opportunity she spoke against it to those who were in power. Unless the offense was of a very aggravated nature, she doubted the right of any man to place a fellow-creature in such misery. Some intercourse with his fellow-creatures seemed imperatively necessary if the prisoner's life and reason were to be preserved to him, and his mind to be kept from feeding upon the dark past. To dark cells she had an unconquerable aversion. Sometimes she would picture the possibility of the return of days of persecution, and urge one consideration founded upon the self-interest of the authorities themselves. "They may be building, though they little think it, dungeons for their children and their children's children if times of religious persecution or political disturbance should return." For this reason, if for no other, she urged upon those who were contemplating the erection of new prisons, the prime necessity of constructing those prisons so as to enable them to conform to the requirements of humanity.
Her opinions and reasons for and against the solitary system of confinement are well given in a communication sent to M. de Beranger after a visit to Paris, during which the subject of prison-management had formed a staple theme of discussion in the salons of that city. With much practical insight and clearness of reasoning, Mrs. Fry marshalled all the stock arguments, adding thereto such as her own experience taught.
In favor of the solitary system were to be urged:—
1st. The prevention of all contamination by their fellow-prisoners.
2d. The impossibility of forming intimacies calculated to be injurious in after life.
3d. The increased solitude, which afforded larger opportunities for serious reflection and, if so disposed, repentance and prayer by the criminal.
4th. The prevention of total loss of character on the part of the prisoner, seeing that the privacy of the confinement would operate against the recognition of him by fellow-prisoners upon regaining their liberty.
Against it the following reasons could be urged—
1st. The extreme liability to ill-treatment or indulgence, according to the mood and disposition of the officers in charge.
2d. The extreme difficulty of obtaining a sufficiently large number of honest, high-principled, just men and women, to carry out the solitary system with impartiality, firmness, and, at the same time, kindness. This reason was strongly corroborated by the governors of Cold Bath Fields Prison, and the great Central Prison at Beaulieu. Their own large experience had taught them the difficulty of securing officers in all respects fit to be trusted with the administration of such a system.
3d. The very frequent result of the administration of this system by incompetent or unfit officers would be the moral contamination of the prisoners.
4th. The enormous expense of providing officers and accommodation sufficient to include all the criminals of the country.
5th. The certainty of injury to body and mind from the continuance of solitude for life. The digestive and vocal organs, and the reason would inevitable suffer. In proof she quoted the notorious imbecility of the aged monks of La Trappe: "We are credibly informed of the fact (in addition to what we have known at home) that amongst the monks of La Trappe few attain the age of sixty years without having suffered an absolute decay of their mental powers, and fallen into premature childishness."
6th. The danger lest increased solitude instead of promoting repentance, should furnish favorable hours for the premeditation of new crimes, and so confirm the criminal in hardened sin.
7th. The impossibility of fitting the prisoners for returning to society under the system; whereas by teaching them useful employments and trades, and training them to work in company for remuneration, habits and customs may be induced which should aid in a life-long reformation.
Two or three years after the enunciation of these principles and reasons, Mrs. Fry addressed a valuable communication to Colonel Jebb in reference to the new Model Prison at Pentonville, then (1841,) in course of construction:—
We were much interested by our visit to this new prison. We think the building generally does credit to the architect, particularly in some important points, as ventilation, the plan of the galleries, the chapel, etc., and we were also much pleased to observe the arrangement for water in each cell, and that the prisoner could ring a bell in case of wanting help.
The points that made us uneasy were, first, the dark cells, which we consider should never exist in a Christian and civilized country. I think having prisoners placed in these cells a punishment peculiarly liable to abuse. Whatever restrictions may be made for the governor of a jail, and however lenient those who now govern, we can little calculate upon the change the future may produce, or how these very cells may one day be made use of in case of either political or religious disturbance in the country, or how any poor prisoner may be placed in them in case of a more severe administration of justice.
I think no person should be placed in total darkness; there should be a ray of light admitted. These cells appear to me calculated to excite such awful terror in the mind, not merely from their darkness but from the circumstance of their being placed within another cell, as well as being in such a dismal situation.
I am always fearful of any punishment, beyond what the law publicly authorizes, being privately inflicted by any keeper or officer of a prison; for my experience most strongly proves that there are few men who are themselves sufficiently governed and regulated by Christian principle to be fit to have such power entrusted to their hands; and further, I observe that officers in prisons have generally so much to try and to provoke them that they themselves are apt to become hardened to the more tender feelings of humanity. They necessarily also see so much through the eyes of those under them, turnkeys and inferior officers, (too many of whom are little removed either in education or morals from the prisoners themselves,) that their judgments are not always just.
The next point that struck us was, that in the cells generally the windows have that description of glass in them that even the sight of the sky is entirely precluded. I am aware that the motive is to prevent the possibility of seeing a fellow-prisoner; but I think a prison for separate confinement should be so constructed that the culprits may at least see the sky—indeed, I should prefer more than the sky—without the liability of seeing fellow-prisoners. My reason for this opinion is, that I consider it a very important object to preserve the health of mind and body in these poor creatures, and I am certain that separate confinement produces an unhealthy state both of mind and body. Therefore everything should be done to counteract this influence, which I am sure is baneful in its moral tendency; for I am satisfied that a sinful course of life increases the tendency to mental derangement, as well as to bodily disease; and I am as certain that an unhealthy state of mind and body has generally a demoralizing influence; and I consider light, air, and the power of seeing something beyond the mere monotonous walls of a cell highly important. I am aware that air is properly admitted, also light; still I do think they ought to see the sky, the changes in which make it a most pleasant object for those who are closely confined.
When speaking of health of body and mind, I also mean health of soul, which is of the first importance, for I do not believe that a despairing or stupefied state is suitable for leading poor sinners to a Saviour's feet for pardon and salvation.
Mrs. Fry held quite as decided opinions upon lunatic asylums and their keepers. It was something terrible to her to know that poor demented creatures lay pining, chained and ill-treated, in dungeons; knowing no will but the caprice of their keepers. She spared no efforts to improve their condition; by tongue and pen she sought to enforce new principles and modes of action, in relation to lunatics, into the mind of those who had to govern them. So incessant were her labors to attain the ends she had set before her, that there was not a country in Europe which she did not influence. Almost daily communications were coming in from France, Denmark, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, and other countries, detailing the success of the new plans which she had introduced and recommended to the respective Governments. A regular correspondence was kept up between her and Mr. Venning of St. Petersburg, by order of the Empress of Russia, who took the greatest interest in the benevolent enterprise. From some letters given in the Memoirs of Mrs. Fry it seems that the Empress felt a true Womanly compassion for the inmates of the Government Lunatic Asylum, and inaugurated a system of more rational treatment. How far her influence on behalf of the imprisoned and insane was induced and fostered by the English Quakeress, was never fully known until after her death, when a most interesting letter, addressed to the children of Mrs. Fry, was published. This letter was sent to them by Mr. John Venning, brother to Walter Venning, who had opened the correspondence, but who had, like the benevolent lady with whom it was maintained, "passed over to the majority." From this correspondence it was found that the Emperor and Empress of Russia, the Princess Sophia Mestchersky, Prince Galitzin, and many ladies of high rank, had been stirred up to befriend those who had fallen under the strong arm of the law, and to make their captivity more productive, if possible, of good results.
Not only so, but lunatics, more helpless than prisoners, had been cared for, as the outcome of Mrs. Fry's visits to St. Petersburg, and her communications with the powers that were at that era. With these preliminary words of explanation, the subjoined letter speaks for itself:—
I cheerfully comply with your desire to be furnished with some of the most striking and useful points contained in your late beloved mother's correspondence with myself in Russia, relative to the improvement of the Lunatic Asylum in St. Petersburg. I the more readily engage in this duty, because I am persuaded that its publication may, under the Lord's blessing, prove of great service to many such institutions on the Continent, as well as in Great Britain.... I begin by stating that her correspondence was invaluable, as regarded the treatment and management of both prisoners and insane people. It was the fruit of her own rich practical experience communicated with touching simplicity, and it produced lasting benefits to these institutions in Russia. In 1827, I informed your dear mother that I had presented to the Emperor Nicholas a statement of the defects of the Government Lunatic Asylum, which could only be compared to our own old Bedlam in London, fifty years since; and that the dowager Empress had sent for me to the Winter Palace, when she most kindly, and I may say, joyfully, informed me that she and her august son, the Emperor, had visited together this abode of misery. They were convinced of the necessity, not only of having a new building, but also of a complete reform in the management of the insane; and further that the Emperor had requested her to take it under her own care, and to appoint me the governor of it. I must observe that in the meantime the old asylum was immediately improved, as much as the building allowed, for the introduction of your dear mother's admirable system. Shortly after, I had the pleasure of accompanying the Empress to examine a palace-like house—Prince Sherbatoff's—having above two miles of garden, and a fine stream of water running through the grounds, situated only five miles from St. Petersburg. The next day an order was given to purchase it. I was permitted to send the plan of this immense building to your dear mother for her inspection, as well as to ask from her hints for its improvement. Two extensive wings were recommended, and subsequently added for dormitories. The wings cost about L15,000, and in addition to this sum from the Government, the Emperor, who was always ready to promote the cause of benevolence, gave three thousand pounds for cast-iron window-frames, recommended by your dear mother, as the clumsy iron bars which had been used in the old institution had induced many a poor inmate, when looking at them, to say with a sigh, "Sir, prison, prison!" Your dear mother, also strongly recommended that all, except the violent lunatics, should dine together at a table covered with a cloth, and furnished with plates and spoons.
The former method of serving out the food was most disgusting. This new plan delighted the Empress, and I soon received an order to meet her at the asylum. On her arrival she requested that a table should be covered, and then desired me to go round and invite the inmates to come and dine. Sixteen came immediately, and sat down. The Empress approached the table, and ordered one of the upper servants to sit at the head of it and to ask a blessing. When the servant arose to do this, they all stood up. The soup, with small pieces of meat, was then regularly served; and as soon as dinner was finished, they all rose up spontaneously and thanked the Empress for her motherly kindness. I saw that the kind Empress was deeply moved, and turning to me she said, "Mon Cher, this is one of the happiest days of my life." The next day the number increased at table, and so it continued increasing. After your dear mother's return from Ireland, where she had been visiting, among other institutions, the lunatic asylums, she wrote me a letter on the great importance of supplying the lunatics with the Scriptures. This letter deserved to be written in letters of gold; I sent it to the Imperial family; it excited the most pleasing feelings and marked approbation. The court physician, His Excellency Dr. Riehl, a most enlightened and devoted philanthropist, came to me for a copy of it. It removed all the difficulty there had been respecting giving the Holy Scriptures to the inmates. I was therefore permitted to furnish them with copies, in their various languages. It may be useful to state the result of this measure, which was considered by some to be a wild and dangerous proceeding. I soon found groups collected together, listening patiently and quietly to one of their number reading the New Testament. Instead of disturbing their minds, it soothed and delighted them. I have witnessed a poor lunatic, a Frenchman, during an interval of returning reason, reading the New Testament in his bed-room, with tears running down his cheeks; also a Russian priest, a lunatic, collected a number together, while he read to them the Word of God.
On one occasion I witnessed a most interesting scene. On entering the institution, I found a young woman dying; her eyes were closed, and she was apparently breathing her last breath. I ordered one of the servants of the institution to read very loud to her that verse, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Dr. K—— observed, "Sir, she is almost dead, and it is useless." On my urging its being done, lo! to the astonishment of all present, she opened her eyes and smiled. I said: "Is it sweet, my dear?" She nodded assent. "Shall it be read to you again?" A smile and nod of the head followed. She evidently possessed her reason at that moment, and who can trace, or limit, the operation of the Holy Spirit, on the reading of God's own Word even in her circumstances?
When I received a letter from your mother I always wrote it out in French, and presented it in that language to the Empress; and when she had read it, it was very encouraging to see with what alacrity she ordered one of her secretaries to translate it into Russian, and then deliver it to me to be conveyed to the asylum, and entered into the journal there, for immediate adoption. I remember on one occasion, taking a list of rules, at least fourteen in number, and the same day were confirmed by the Empress. These rules introduced the following important arrangements; viz., the treating the inmates, as far as possible as sane persons, both in conversation and manners toward them; to allow them as much liberty as possible; to engage them daily to take exercise in the open air; to allow them to wear their own clothes and no uniform prison-dress; also to break up the inhuman system of permitting the promiscuous idle curiosity of the public, so that no one was allowed to see them without permission; a room, on entering the asylum, was prepared for one at a time, on certain days, to see their relations. The old cruel system drew forth many angry expressions from the poor lunatics: "Are we, then, wild beasts, to be gazed at?"
The Empress made a present to the institution of a piano-forte; it had also a hand-organ, which pleased the poor inmates exceedingly. On one occasion the Empress, on entering the asylum, observed that the inmates appeared unusually dull, when she called them near, and played on the hand-organ herself an enlivening tune.
Another important rule of your mother's was, most strictly to fulfill whatever you promise to any of the inmates, and, above all, to exercise patience, gentleness, kindness, and love towards them; therefore, to be exceedingly careful as to the character of the keepers you appoint. These are some of the pleasing results of your mother's work. The dowager Empress, on one occasion, conversing about your mother, said: "How much I should like to see that excellent woman, Madame Fry, in Russia;" and often did I indulge that wish. What a meeting it would have been, between two such devoted philanthropists as your mother and the dowager Empress, who was daily devoting her time and fortune to doing good.... Although the Empress was in her sixty-ninth year, I had the felicity of accompanying her in no less than eleven of her personal visits to the Lunatic Asylum, say from February to October, 1828. On the 24th of October she died, to the deep-felt regret of the whole empire. Rozoff, a young lunatic, as soon as he heard it, burst into tears. She would visit each lunatic, when bodily afflicted, and send an easy chair for one, and nicely-dressed meat for others; and weekly send from the palace wine, coffee, tea, sugar and fruit for their use.
Among the many striking features in your mother's correspondence, her love to the Word of God, and her desire for its general circulation, were very apparent. Evidently, that sacred book was the fountain whence she herself derived all that strength and grace to carry on her work of faith and labor of love, which her Divine Master so richly blessed.... In December 1827, when accompanying the Emperor Nicholas through the new Litoffsky Prison, he was not only well pleased to find every cell fully supplied with the Scriptures—the rich result of his having confirmed the late Emperor Alexander's orders to give the Scriptures gratis to all the prisoners—but on seeing some Jews in the prison he said to me: "I hope you also furnish these poor people with them, that they may become Christians; I pity them." I witnessed a most touching scene on the Emperor's entering the debtors' room; three old, venerable, gray-headed men fell on their knees and cried, "Father, have mercy on us!" The Emperor stretched out his hand in the peculiar grandeur of his manner, and said: "Rise; all your debts are paid; from this moment you are free"; without knowing the amount of the debts, one of which was very considerable. I hope this feeble attempt to detail a little of your dear mother's useful work may be acceptable, leaving you to make what use of it you think proper.
Such testimonies as these must have been peculiarly grateful to Mrs. Fry's family, because it is natural to desire not only success in any good work, but also grateful remembrance and appreciation, of it. Sometimes, however, the reverse was the case; even those whom she had endeavored to serve had turned out ungrateful, impudent and hardened. Yet her loving pity followed even them: still, like the Lord whom she served, she loved them in spite of their repulsiveness and ingratitude. And when some notably ungrateful things were reported to her respecting the female convicts on board the Amphitrite, she only prayed and sorrowed for them the more. Especially was this the case when she heard that the ship had gone down on the French coast, bearing to their tomb beneath the sad sea waves, the 120 women, with their children, being conveyed in her to New South Wales. Not one hard thought did she entertain of them: all was charity, sorrow and tenderness. And if for one little moment her new theories as to the treatment of criminals seemed to be broken down, never for an instant did she set them aside. She knew that perfection could only be attained after many long years of trial and probation. While undermining the old ideas, she set herself an equally gigantic task in establishing the new.
MRS. FRY IN DOMESTIC AND RELIGIOUS LIFE.
Hitherto our little monograph has dealt mainly with Mrs. Fry's public life and work. Possibly, however, the reader may now feel curious to know how she bore the strain of private responsibilities; how as a wife, mother, neighbor, and Christian, she performed the duties which usually fall to people in those positions. It does not appear that she was wanting in any of them.
As the wife of a city merchant, as the mistress, until reverses came, of a large household, as the mother of a numerous family of boys and girls, and as the plain Friend, and minister among Friends, she seems to have fulfilled the duties which devolved upon her with quiet, cheerful simplicity, persevering conscientiousness, and prayerful earnestness. She was much the same in sunshine and in shadow, in losses and in prosperity; her only anxiety was to do what was right. From the revelations of her journal we find that self-examination caused her frequently to put into the form of writing, the questions which harassed her soul. There can be no reasonable doubt that she was harassed as all over-conscientious people are—with the fear and consciousness that her duties were not half done. How few of this class ever contemplate themselves or their works with anything like satisfaction! A short extract from her journal penned during the first years of her wedded life affords the key to this self-examination, a self-examination which was strictly continued as long as reason held her sway. This entry is entitled "Questions for Myself."
"First.—Hast thou this day been honest and true in performing thy duty towards thy Creator in the first place, and secondly towards thy fellow-creatures; or hast thou sophisticated and flinched?
"Second.—Hast thou been vigilant in frequently pausing, in the hurry and career of the day, to see who thou art endeavoring to serve: whether thy Maker or thyself? And every time that trial or temptation assailed thee, didst thou endeavor to look steadily at the Delivering Power, even to Christ who can do all things for thee?
"Third.—Hast thou endeavored to perform thy relative duties faithfully; been a tender, loving, yielding wife, where thy own will and pleasure were concerned, a tender yet steady mother with thy children, making thyself quickly and strictly obeyed, but careful in what thou requirest of them; a kind yet honest mistress, telling thy servants their faults, when thou thinkest it for their or thy good, but never unnecessarily worrying thyself or them about trifles, and to everyone endeavoring to do as thou wouldst be done unto?"
A life governed by these principles, and measured by these rules, was not likely to be otherwise than strictly, severely, nervously good. We use the word "nervously" because here and there, up and down the pages of her journal are scattered numerous passages full of such questions as the above. None ever peered into their hearts, or searched their lives more relentlessly than she did. Upright, self-denying, just, pure, charitable, "hoping all things, bearing all things, believing all things," she judged herself by a stricter law than she judged others; condemning in herself what she allowed to be expedient, if not lawful, in others, and laying bare her inmost heart before her God. After she had done all that she judged it to be her duty to do, she humbly and tearfully acknowledged herself to be one of the Lord's most "unprofitable servants." It would be useless to endeavor to measure such a life by any rules of worldly polity or fashions. An extract written at this time, relative to the welfare and treatment of servants, may be of use in showing how she permitted her sound sense and practical daily piety to decide for her in emergencies and anxieties growing out of the "mistress and servant" question. "At this time there is no set of people I feel so much about as servants; as I do not think they have generally justice done to them. They are too much considered as another race of beings, and we are apt to forget that the holy injunction holds good with them: 'As ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.' I believe in striving to do so we shall not take them out of their station in life, but endeavor to render them happy and contented in it, and be truly their friends, though not their familiars or equals, as to the things of this life. We have reason to believe that the difference in our stations is ordered by a wiser than ourselves, who directs us how to fill our different places; but we must endeavor never to forget that in the best sense we are all one, and, though our paths may be different, we have all souls equally valuable, and have all the same work to do, which, if properly considered, should lead us to have great sympathy and love, and also a constant care for their welfare, both here and hereafter. We greatly misunderstand each other (I mean servants and masters in general); I fully believe, partly from our different situations in life, and partly from our different educations, and the way in which each party is apt to view the other. Masters and mistresses are greatly deficient, I think, in a general way; and so are most servants towards them; it is for both to keep in view strictly to do unto others as they would be done unto, and also to remember that we are indeed all one with God."
As the mother of a large family, Mrs. Fry endeavored to do her duty faithfully and lovingly. Twelve sons and daughters were given to her, trained by her more or less, with reference not only to their temporal welfare, but their spiritual also. In all the years of motherhood many cares attached themselves to her. Illness, the deaths of near relatives, and of one little child, the marriage of some of her children out of the Society of Friends, losses in business, and consequent reduction of household comforts and pleasures, the censure which sometimes followed her most disinterested acts, and the exaggerated praise of others, all combined to try her character and her spirit. Through it all she moved and lived, like one who was surrounded with an angelic company of witnesses; desirous only of laying up such a life-record that she could with calmness face it in "that day for which all other days are made."
One after another the little fledglings came to the home-nest, to be cared for, trained up, and fitted for their peculiar niches in life. But in 1815, a new sorrow came to the fireside; the angel reaper Death cut down the little Elizabeth, the seventh child, nearly five years of age, and the special darling of the band. Her illness was very short, scarcely lasting a week; but even during that illness her docile, intelligent spirit exhibited itself in new and more endearing phases. Death was only anticipated during the last few hours of life, and when the fatal issue appeared but too certain the parents sat in agonized silence, watching the darling whom they could not save. Mrs. Fry begged earnestly of the Great Disposer of life and death that he would spare the child, if consonant with His holy will; but when the end came, and the child had passed "through the pearly gates into the city" she uttered an audible thanksgiving that she was at last where neither sin, sorrow, nor death could have any dominion. No words can do justice to this event like her own, written in her journal at that time. The pages recall all a mother's love and yearning tenderness, together with a Christian's strong confidence:—
It has pleased Almighty and Infinite Wisdom to take from us our most dear and tenderly-beloved child little Betsy, between four and five years old. In receiving her, as well as giving her back again, we have, I believe, been enabled to bless the Sacred Name. She was a very precious child, of much wisdom for her years, and, I can hardly help believing, much grace; liable to the frailty of childhood, at times she would differ with the little ones and rather loved her own way, but she was very easy to lead though not one to be driven. She had most tender affections, a good understanding for her years, and a remarkably staid and solid mind. Her love was very strong, and her little attentions great to those she loved, and remarkable in her kindness to servants, poor people, and all animals; she had much feeling for them; but what was more, the bent of her mind was remarkably toward serious things. It was a subject she loved to dwell upon: she would often talk of "Almighty God," and almost everything that had connection with Him. On Third Day, after some suffering of body from great sickness, she appeared wonderfully relieved ... and, began by telling me how many hymns and stories she knew, with her countenance greatly animated, a flush on her cheeks, her eyes very bright, and a smile of inexpressible content, almost joy. I think she first said, with a powerful voice,—
How glorious is our Heavenly King, Who reigns above the sky;
and then expressed how beautiful it was, and how the little children that die stand before Him; but she did not remember all the words of the hymn, nor could I help her. She then mentioned other hymns, and many sweet things ... her heart appeared inexpressibly to overflow with love. Afterwards she told me one or two droll stories, and made clear and bright comments as she went along; then stopped a little while, and said in the fullness of her heart, and the joy of a little innocent child.... "Mamma, I love everybody better than myself, and I love thee better than anybody, and I love Almighty much better than thee, and I hope thee loves Almighty much better than me."... I appeared to satisfy her that it was so. This was on Third Day morning, and she was a corpse on Fifth Day evening; but in her death there was abundant cause for thanksgiving; prayer appeared indeed to be answered, as very little if any suffering seemed to attend her, and no struggle at last, but her breathing grew more and more slow and gentle, till she ceased to breathe at all. During the day, being from time to time strengthened in prayer, in heart, and in word, I found myself only led to ask for her that she might be for ever with her God, whether she remained much longer in time or not; but, that if it pleased Infinite Wisdom her sufferings might be mitigated, and as far as it was needful for her to suffer that she might be sustained. This was marvellously answered beyond anything we could expect from the nature of the complaint.... I desire never to forget this favor, but, if it please Infinite Wisdom, to be preserved from repining or unduly giving way to lamentation for losing so sweet a child.... I have been permitted to feel inexpressible pangs at her loss, though at first it was so much like partaking with her in joy and glory, that I could not mourn if I would, only rejoice almost with joy unspeakable and full of glory. But if very deep baptism was afterwards permitted me, like the enemy coming in as a flood; but even here a way for escape has been made, my supplication answered ... and the bitter cup sweetened; but at others my loss has touched me in a manner almost inexpressible, to awake and find my much-loved little girl so totally fled from my view, so many pleasant pictures marred. As far as I am concerned, I view it as a separation from a sweet source of comfort and enjoyment, but surely not a real evil. Abundant comforts are left me if it please my kind and Heavenly Father to provide me power to enjoy them, and continually in heart to return him thanks for His unutterable loving kindness to my tenderly-beloved little one, who had so sweet and easy a life and so tranquil a death.... My much-loved husband and I have drunk this cup together in close sympathy and unity of feeling. It has at times been very bitter to us both; but as an outward alleviation, we have, I believe, been in measure each other's joy and helpers. The sweet children have also tenderly sympathized; brothers, sisters, servants, and friends, have been very near and dear in showing their kindness not only to the darling child, but to me, and to us all.... We find outwardly and inwardly, "the Lord did provide."
The little lost Betsey, who "just came to show how sweet a flower for Paradise could bloom," was thenceforth a sacred memory; for from that day they had a connecting link between their household and the skies. Very frequently, even in the midst of her multifarious engagements, her thoughts wandered off to the little grave in Barking burying-ground, where rested the remains of the dear child, and, perchance, a tenderer tone crept into her voice as she dealt with the outcast children of prisons and reformatories. Soon after this event the elder boys and girls went to school among their relatives, and only the youngest were left at Plashet House with her. As a new baby came within six months after little Betsey's death, the motherly hands were still full. She found, however, time to write letters of wise and mother-like counsels.
My much-loved girls:—Your letters received last evening gave us much pleasure. I anxiously hope that you will now do your utmost in whatever respects your education, not only on your own account, but for our sake. I look forward to your return with so much comfort, as useful and valuable helpers to me, which you will be all the more if you get forward yourselves. I see quite a field of useful service and enjoyment for you, should we be favored to meet under comfortable circumstances in the spring. I mean that you should have a certain department to fill in the house, amongst the children and the poor, as well as your own studies and enjoyments; I think there was not often a brighter opening for two girls. Plashet is, after all, such a home, it now looks sweetly; and your little room is almost a temptation to me to take it for a sitting-room for myself, it is so pretty and so snug; it is newly furnished, and looks very pleasant indeed. The poor, and the school, will, I think, be glad to have you home, for help is wanted in these things. Indeed, if your hearts are but turned the right way, you may, I believe, be made instruments of much good, and I shall be glad to have the day come that I may introduce you into prisons and hospitals.... This appears to me to be your present business—to give all diligence to your present duties; and I cannot help believing, if this be the case, that the day will come when you will be brought into much usefulness.
As the years rolled on, her boys went to school also; but they were followed by a loving mother's counsels. From her correspondence with them we cull a few extracts to prove how constant and tender was her care over them, and how far-reaching her anxieties. Two or three specimens will suffice.
Upon the departure of each of her boys for boarding-school she wrote out and gave him a copy of the following rules. They are valuable, as showing how carefully she watched over their mental and moral welfare.
"1st. Be regular, strict in attending to religious duties; and do not allow other boys around thee to prevent thy having some portion of time for reading at least a text of Scripture, meditation and prayer; and if it appear to be a duty, flinch not from bowing the knee before them, as a mark of thy allegiance to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Attend diligently when the holy Scriptures are read, or to any other religious instruction, and endeavor in Meeting to seek after a serious waiting state of mind, and to watch unto prayer. Let First Day be well employed in reading proper books, etc., but also enjoy the rest of innocent recreation, afforded in admiring the beauties of nature; for I believe this is right in the ordering of a kind Providence that there should be some rest and recreation in it. Show a proper, bold, and manly spirit in maintaining among thy play-fellows a religious character, and strict attention to all religious duties. Remember these texts to strengthen thee in it. 'For whosoever shall be ashamed of Me, and My words, of him shall the Son of Man be ashamed, when He shall come in His own glory, in His Father's, and of the holy angels.' 'But I say unto you, whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God; but he that denieth Me before man shall be denied before the angels of God.' Now, the sooner the dread laugh of the world loses its power, the better for you.... But strongly as I advise thee thus faithfully maintaining thy principles and doing thy duty, I would have thee very careful of either judging or reproving others; for it takes a long time to get the beam out of our own eye, before we can see clearly to take the mote out of our brother's eye. There is for one young in years, much greater safety in preaching to others by example, than in word, or doing what is done in an upright, manly spirit, 'unto the Lord, and not unto man.'
"2d. I shall not speak of moral conduct, which, if religious principles be kept to, we may believe will be good; but I shall give certain hints that may point out the temptations to which schools are particularly liable. I have observed a want of strict integrity in school-boys, as it respects their schoolmasters and teachers—a disposition to cheat them, to do that behind their backs which they would not do before their faces, and so having two faces. Now, this is a subject of the utmost importance—to maintain truth and integrity upon all points. Be not double-minded in any degree, but faithfully maintain, not only the upright principle on religious ground, but also the brightest honor, according to the maxims of the world. I mourn to say I have seen the want of this bright honor, not only in school-boys, but in some of our highly-professing society; and my belief is that it cannot be too strictly maintained, or too early begun. I like to see it in small things, and in great; for it marks the upright man. I may say that I abhor anything like being under-handed or double-dealing; but let us go on the right and noble principle of doing to others as we would have others do to us; therefore, in all transactions, small and great, maintain strictly the correct, upright, and most honorable practice. I have heard of boys robbing their neighbors' fruit, etc.; I may truly say that I believe there are very few in the present day would do such things, but no circumstances can make this other than a shameful deviation from all honest and right principles. My belief is, that such habits begun in youth end mostly in great incorrectness in future life, if not in gross sin; and that no excuse can be pleaded for such actions, for sin is equally sin, whether committed by the school-boy or those of mature years, which is too apt to be forgotten, and that punishment will follow."
In a letter to her eldest son she begs him to try to be a learned man, not to neglect the modern languages; but so to improve his time at school that he may become in manhood a power for good; and then, by various thoughtful kindnesses manifests her unwearying care for his welfare.
She gratefully acknowledges, in another communication to a sister, the assistance which that sister rendered in educating some of the elder girls, for a time, so enabling Mrs. Fry herself to be set free for the multitude of other duties awaiting her.
As years rolled by, an acute cause of sorrow to her was the marriage of one, then another of her numerous family out of the Society. They mostly married into families connected with the Church of England; but as the Society of Friends disunite from membership all who marry out of it, and as parents are blamed for permitting such unions, her sorrow was somewhat heavy. She even anticipated being cut off from the privilege of ministry in the Society; but to the credit of that Society, it does not appear that it silenced her in return for the forsaking, by her children, of "the old paths." Whether Quakerism was too old-fashioned and strict for the young people, or the attractions of families other than Friends more powerful, we cannot say. However, it seems that the young folks grew up to be useful and God-fearing in the main, so that the Church universal lost nothing by their transference into other communions.