If, from conviction of his own guilt and a consciousness that it may be fully proved against him, the prisoner plead guilty to the indictment, it is considered as the highest species of conviction, and as soon as it is entered on record the Court proceeds to judgment without further proceedings on the indictments. But if the prisoner plead not guilty, and put himself for trial upon his country, then a jury of twelve men are to pass upon the defendant, and upon their verdict he is either to be acquitted or convicted.
And with respect to this jury, the English Law appears again more equitable than perhaps any other in the world, for in this case as the jury comes severally to the Book to be sworn, to try impartially between the King and the prisoner of the bar, according to the evidence that is given upon the indictment, the prisoner is even then at liberty to except against, or as the law term it, to challenge, twenty of the jury peremptorily, and as many more as he thinks fit on showing just cause. So also, if the prisoner be an alien, the jury are to be half aliens and half English. So tender is our constitution, not only of the lives of its natural born subjects, but, also of those who put themselves under its protection, that it has taken every precaution which the wit of man could devise to prevent prejudice, partiality, or corruption from mingling in any degree with the sentences pronounced upon offenders, or in the proceedings upon which they are founded.
Last of all we are to speak of the evidence or testimony which is to be given for or against the prisoner at the time of his trial. And first with respect to the evidence offered for the Crown; if it shall appear that the person swearing shall gain any great and evident advantage by the event of the trial in which he swears, he shall not be admitted as a good witness against the prisoner. Thus in the case of Rhodes, tried some years ago for forging letters of attorney for transferring South Sea Stock belonging to one Mr. Heysham, the prosecutor, Mr. Heysham, was not admitted to swear himself against the prisoner because in case of conviction six thousand pounds stock must have replaced to his account. But to this, though a general rule, there are some exceptions on which the compass of this discourse will not permit us to dwell. It is also a rule that a husband or wife cannot be admitted to testify against the prisoner, but to this also there are some exceptions, as in the Lord Audley's case, where he was charged with holding his lady until his servant committed a rape upon her by his command. Also in marriages contracted by force against the form of the Statute; in that case it is provided that the woman, though a wife, may be admitted as evidence, as also in some other cases which we have not room to mention.
Persons convicted of perjury, forgery, etc., are not to be admitted as legal witnesses, but that the record of their contrition must be produced at the time the objection is made, for the Court mil take no notice of hearsay and common fame in such respect. An infidel, also, that is one who believes neither the Old nor New Testament, cannot be a witness, and some other disabilities there are which being uncommon, we shall not dwell upon here Yet it is necessary to take notice that whatever is offered as proof against the defendant, shall be heard openly before him, that he may have an opportunity of falsifying it, if he be able; and as in all cases, except high treason, no council is permitted to the prisoner except in matters of law, because every man is supposed to be capable of defending himself as to matters of fact, yet the Court is always council for the prisoner and never fails of instructing and informing him of whatever may conduce to his benefit or advantage; and if any difficult points of Law arise, council are assigned him, and are permitted to argue in his behalf with the same freedom that those do who are appointed by the Crown.
From this succinct account of the method in use in England, of doing justice in criminal cases, I flatter myself my readers will very clearly see how valuable those privileges are which we enjoy as Englishmen; how equitable the proceedings of our Courts of Justice; and how well constructed every part of our constitution is for the preservation of the lives and liberties of its subjects. If there remained room for us to compare the judicious proceedings in use here with those slight, rigorous and summary methods which are practised in other countries, the value of these blessings which we enjoy would be considerably enhanced. But as this Preface already exceeds its intended length, we must refer this to a more proper opportunity, and conclude with putting our readers in mind that by the careful perusal of this and the Preface to the First Volume, they will have competent notion of the Crown Law, the reasons on which it is founded, the method in which it is prosecuted, and the judgments on criminals which are inflicted thereby; matters highly useful in themselves, as well as absolutely necessary to be known, in order to a proper understanding of the following pages.
 This was Mervyn, Lord Audley, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, a man of loathsome profligacy, who was tried by his peers on charges of unnatural offences, and executed, in 1631.
The Life of WILLIAM SPERRY, Footpad and Highwayman
There is not anything more extraordinary in the circumstances of those who from a life of rapine and plunder come to its natural catastrophe, a violent and ignominious death, than that some of them from a life of piety and religion, have on a sudden fallen into so opposite a behaviour, and without any stumbles in the road of virtue take, as it were, a leap from the precipice at once.
This malefactor, William Sperry, was born of parents in very low circumstances, who afforded him and his brother scarce any education, until having reached the age of fourteen years, he and his younger brother before mentioned, were both decoyed by one of the agents for the plantations, to consent to their being transported to America, where they were sold for about seven years. After the expiration of the term, William Sperry went to live at Philadelphia, the capital of Pennsylvania, one of the best plantations the English have in America, which receives its name from William Penn, the famous Quaker who first planted it. Here, being chiefly instigated thereto by the great piety and unaffected purity of morals in which the inhabitants of that colony excel the greater part of the world, Sperry began with the utmost industry to endeavour at retrieving his reading; and the master with whom he lived favouring his inclinations, was at great pains and some expense to have him taught writing. Yet he did not swerve in his religion, nor fall into Quakerism, the predominant sect here, but went constantly to the Church belonging to the religion by Law established in England, read several good books, and addicted himself with much zeal to the service of God. Removing from the house of his kind master to that of another planter, he abated nothing in his zeal for devotion, but went constantly from his master's house to church at West Chester, which was near five miles from his home.
Happening, not long after, to have the advantage of going in a trading vessel to several ports in America, he addicted himself with great pleasure to this new life. But his happiness therein, like all other species of human bliss, very shortly faded, for one morning just as the day began to dawn, the vessel in which he sailed was clapped on board, and after a very short struggle taken by Low, the famous pirate. Sperry, being a brisk young lad, Low would very fain have taken him into his crew, but the lad having still virtuous principles remaining, earnestly entreated that he might be excused. On the score of his having discovered to Low a mutinous conspiracy of his crew, the generosity of that pirate was so great that, finding no offer he could make made any impression, he caused him to be set safe on shore in the night, on one of the Leeward Islands.
Notwithstanding that Sperry did not at that time comply with the instigations of the pirate, yet his mind was so much poisoned by the sight of what passed on board, that from that time he had an itching towards plunder and the desire of getting money at an easier rate than by the sweat of his brow. While these thoughts were floating in his head, he was entertained on board one of his Majesty's men-of-war, and while he continued in the Service, saw a pirate vessel taken; and the men being tried before a Court of Admiralty in New England, every one of them was executed except five, who manifestly appeared to have been forced into the pirates' service. One would have thought this would have totally eradicated all liking for that sort of practice, but it seems it did not. For as soon as Sperry came home into England and had married a wife, by which his inclinations were chained, though he had no ability to support her, and falling into very great necessities, he either tempted others or associated himself with certain loose and abandoned young men, for as he himself constantly declared, he was not led into evil practices by the persuasions of any. However it were, the deeds he committed were many, and he became the pest of most of the roads out to the little villages about London, particularly towards Hampstead, Islington and Marylebone, of some of which as our papers serve we shall inform you.
Sperry and four more of his associates hearing that gaming was very public at Hampstead, and that considerable sums were won and lost there every night, resolved to share part of the winnings, let them light where they would. In order to this, they planted themselves in a dry ditch on one side of the foot-road just as evening came on, intending when it was darker to venture into the coach road. They had hardly been at their posts a quarter of an hour before two officers came by. Some were for attacking them, but Sperry was of a contrary opinion. In the meanwhile they heard one of the gentlemen say to the other, There's D—— M——, the Gamester, behind us, he has won at least sixty guineas to-night. Sperry and his crew had no further dispute whether they should rob the gentlemen in red or no, but resolved to wait the coming of so rich a prize.
It was but a few minutes before M—— appeared in sight. They immediately stepped into the path, two before him, and two behind, and watching him to the corner of a hedge, the two who were behind him caught him by the shoulders, turned him round, and hurrying him about ten yards, pushed him into a dry ditch. This they had no sooner done, but they all four leaped down upon him and began to examine his pockets, M—— thought to have talked them out of a stricter search by pretending he had lost a great deal of money at play, and had but fifty shillings about him, which with a silver watch and a crystal ring he deemed very ready to deliver; and it very probably would have been accepted if they had not had better intelligence, but one of the oldest of the gang, perceiving after turning out all his pockets that they could discover nothing of value, began to exert the style of a highwayman upon an examination, and addressed the gamester in these terms.
Nobody but such a rogue as you would have given gentlemen of our faculty so much trouble. Sir, we have received advice by good hands from Belsize that you won sixty guineas to-day at play. Produce them immediately, or we shall take it for granted you have swallowed them; and in such a case, Sir, I have an instrument ready to give us an immediate account of the contents of your stomach.
M——, in a dreadful fright, put his hand under his arm, and from thence produced a green purse with a fifty pound bank-note and eighteen guineas. This they had no sooner taken than, tying him fast to a hedge stake, they ran across the fields in search of another booty. They spun out the time, being a moonlight night, until past eleven, there being so much company on the road that they found it impossible to attack without danger.
As they were returning home, they heard the noise of a coach driving very hard, and upon turning about saw it was that of Sir W—— B——, himself on the box, two ladies of pleasure in the coach, and his servants a great way behind. One of them seized the horse on one side, and another on the other, but Sir W—— drove so very hard that the pull of the horses brought them both to the ground, and he at the same time encouraging them with his voice and the smack of his whip. So he drove safe off without any hurt, though they fired two pistols after him.
About three weeks after this they were passing down Drury Lane, and observing a gentleman going with one of the fine ladies of the Hundreds into a tavern thereabouts, one of the gang who knew him, and that he had married a lady with a great fortune to whom his father was guardian, and that they lived altogether in a great house near Lincoln's Inn Fields, immediately thought on a project. They slipped into an alehouse, where he wrote an epistle to the old gentleman, informing him that they had a warrant to apprehend a lewd woman who was with child by his son, but that she had made her escape, and was now actually with him at a certain tavern in Drury Lane, wherefore being apprehensive of disturbance, and being unwilling to disgrace his family, rather than take rougher methods, they had informed him, in order that by his interposition the affair might be made up.
As soon as they had written this letter, they dispatched one of their number to carry it and deliver it, as if by mistake, to the young gentleman's wife. This had the desired effect, for in less than half an hour came the father, the wife, and another of her trustees, who happened to be paying a visit there when the letter came. They no sooner entered the tavern but hearing the voice of the gentleman they asked for, without ceremony they opened the door, and finding a woman there, all was believed, and there followed a mighty uproar. Two of the rogues who were best dressed, had slipped into the next room and called for half a pint. As if by accident they came out at the noise, and under pretence of enquiring the occasion, took the opportunity of picking the gentleman's pockets of twenty-five guineas, one gold watch, and two silver snuff-boxes, which it is to be presumed were never missed until the hurry of the affair was over.
The last robbery Sperry committed was upon one Thomas Golding, not far from Bromley, who not having any money about him, Sperry endeavoured to make it up by taking all his clothes. Being apprehended for this, at the next sessions at the Old Bailey he was convicted for this offence, and having no friends, could not entertain the least hopes of pardon. From the time that he was convicted, and, indeed, from that of his commitment, he behaved like a person on the brink of another world, ingenuously confessing all his guilt, and acknowledging readily the justice of that sentence by which he was doomed to death. His behaviour was perfectly uniform, and as he never put on an air of contempt towards death, so, at its nearest approach he did not seem exceedingly terrified therewith, but with great calmness of mind prepared for his dissolution.
On the day of his execution his countenance seemed rather more cheerful than ordinarily, and he left this world with all exterior signs of true penitence and contrition, on Monday, the 24th of May, 1725, at Tyburn, being then about twenty-three years of age.
 There was great competition to secure white labour in the American plantations. Infamous touts circulated amongst the poor, and any who were starving or wished for personal reasons to emigrate engaged themselves with a ship-master or an office-keeper to allow themselves to be sold for a term of years in return for their passage money. On arrival at their destination these poor wretches were sent to the plantations and lived as slaves until the term for which they had contracted had expired. In Virginia and Maryland, where most of them went, they were driven to work on the tobacco fields with the negroes, and were worse treated than the blacks, as being only leasehold property whereas the negroes were freehold.
 Captain Edward Low was one of the bloodied of the pirates. He served under Lowther until 1722, when he smarted on his own account. After many atrocities he was taken by the French and hanged, some time in 1724. A full account of him is given in my edition of Johnson's History of the Pirates, issued in the same series as the present volume.
 Belsize House was opened as a place of amusement, about 1720, by a certain Howell, who called himself the Welsh Ambassador. At first it was a fashionable resort, but it soon became the haunt of gamblers and harpies of both sexes.
The Life of ROBERT HARPHAM, a Coiner
In my former volume I have taken occasion, in the life of Barbara Spencer, to mention the laws against coining as they stand at present in this kingdom. I shall not, therefore, detain my readers here with the unnecessary introduction, but proceed to inform them that a multitude of false guineas being talked of—the natural consequence of a few being detected—great pains were taken by the officers belonging to the Mint for detecting those by whom such frauds had been committed.
It was not long before information was had of one Robert Harpham and Thomas Broom, who were suspected of being the persons by whom such false guineas had been made. Upon these suspicions search warrants were granted, and a large engine of iron was discovered at Harpham's house, with other tools supposed to be made use of for that purpose. On this, the mob immediately gave out that a cart-load of guineas had been carried from thence, because those instruments were so cumberous as to be fetched in that manner; though the truth, indeed, was that no great number of false guineas had been coined, though the instruments undoubtedly were fitted and made use of for that purpose. Harpham, who well knew what evidence might be produced against him, never flattered himself with hopes after he came to Newgate, but as he believed he should die, so he prepared himself for it as well as he could.
At his trial the evidence against him was very full and direct. Mr. Pinket deposed flatly that the instruments produced in Court, and which were sworn to be taken from the prisoner's house, could not serve for any other purpose than that of coining. These instruments were an iron press of very great weight, a cutting instrument for forming blanks, an edging tool for indenting, with two dies for guineas and two dies for half-guineas. To strengthen this, William Fornham deposed in relation to the prisoners' possession, and Mr. Gornbey swore directly to his striking a half-guinea in his presence. Mr. Oakley and Mr. Tardley deposing further, that they flatted very considerable quantities of a mixed metal for the prisoner, made up of brass, copper, etc., sometimes to the quantity of 30 or 40 pound weight at a time.
The defence he made was very weak and trifling, and after a very short consideration the jury brought him in guilty of the indictment, and he, never entertaining any hopes of pardon, bent all his endeavours in making his peace with God. Some persons in the prison had been very civil to him, and one of them presuming thereon, asked him wherein the great secret of his art of coining lay? Mr. Harpham thanked him for the kindnesses he had received of him, but said that he should make a very bad return for the time afforded him by the law of repentance, if he should leave behind him anything of that kind which might farther detriment his country. Some instances were also made to him that he should discover certain persons of that same profession with himself, who were likely to carry on the same frauds long after his decease. Mr. Harpham, notwithstanding the answer he had made to the other gentleman, refused to comply with this request; for he said that the instruments seized would effectually prevent that, and he would not take away their lives and ruin their families, when he was sure they were incapacitated from coining anything for the future. However, that he might discharge his conscience as far as he could, he wrote several pathetic letters to the persons concerned; earnestly exhorting them for the sake of themselves and their families to leave off this wicked employment, and not hazard their lives and their salvation in any further attempt of that sort.
Having thus disengaged himself from all worldly concerns, he dedicated the last moments of his life entirely to the service of God; and having, received the Sacrament the day before his execution, he was conveyed the next noon to Tyburn in a sledge, where he was not a little disturbed, even in the agonies of death, by the tumult and insults the mob offered to Jonathan Wild, which he complained much of and seemed very uneasy at. He suffered on the same day with the last mentioned malefactor, appealing to be about two- or three-and-forty years of age.
The Life of the famous JONATHAN WILD, Thief-Taker
As no person in this collection ever made so much noise as the person we are now speaking of, so never any man, perhaps, in any condition of life whatever had so many romantic stories fathered upon him in his life, or so many fictitious legendary accounts published of him after his death. It may seem a low kind of affectation to say that the memoirs we are now giving of Jonathan Wild are founded on certainty and fact; and that though they are so founded, they are yet more extraordinary than any of those fabulous relations pushed into the world to get a penny, at the time of his death, when it was a proper season for vending such forgeries, the public looking with so much attention on his catastrophe, and greedily catching up whatever pretended to the giving an account of his actions. But to go on with the history in its proper order.
Jonathan Wild was the son of persons in a mean and low state of life, yet for all that I have ever heard of them, both honest and industrious. Their family consisted of three sons and two daughters, whom their father and mother maintained and educated in the best manner they could from their joint labours, he as carpenter, and she by selling fruit in Wolverhampton market, in Staffordshire, which in future ages may perhaps become famous as the birth place of the celebrated Mr. Jonathan Wild. He was the eldest of the sons, and received as good an education as his father's circumstances would allow him, being bred at the free-school to read and write, to both of which having attained to a tolerable degree, he was put out an apprentice to a buckle-maker in Birmingham.
He served his time with much fidelity, and came up to town in the service of a gentleman of the long robe, about the year 1704, or perhaps a little later. But not liking his service, or his master being not altogether so well pleased with him, he quitted it and retired to his old employment in the country, where he continued to work diligently for some time. But at last growing sick of labour, and still entertaining a desire to taste the pleasures of London, up hither he came a second time, and worked journey-work at the trade to which he was bred. But this not producing money enough to support those expenses Jonathan's love of pleasure threw him into, he got pretty deeply in debt; and some of his creditors not being endued with altogether as much patience as his circumstances required, he was suddenly arrested, and thrown into Wood-street Compter.
Having no friends to do anything for him, and having very little money in his pocket when this misfortune happened, he lived very hardly there, scarce getting bread enough to support him from the charity allowed to prisoners, and from what little services he could render to prisoners of the better sort in the gaol. However, as no man wanted address less than Jonathan, so nobody could have employed it more properly than he did upon this occasion; he thereby got so much into the favour of the keepers, that they quickly permitted him the liberty of the gate, as they call it, and he thereby got some little matter for going on errands. This set him above the very pinch of want, and that was all; but his fidelity and industry in these mean employments procured him such esteem amongst those in power there, that they soon took him into their ministry, and appointed him an under-keeper to those disorderly persons who were brought in every night and are called, in their cant, "rats."
Jonathan now came into a comfortable subsistence, having learnt how to get money of such people by putting them into the road of getting liberty for themselves. But there, says my author, he met with a lady who was confined on the score of such practices very often, and who went by the name of Mary Milliner; and who soon taught him how to gain much greater sums than in this way of life, by methods which he until then never heard of, and will I am confident, to this day carry the charms of novelty to most of my readers. Of these the first she put upon him was going on what they call the "twang," which is thus managed: the man who is the confederate goes out with some noted woman of the town, and if she fall into any broil, he is to be at a proper distance, ready to come into her assistance, and by making a sham quarrel, give her an opportunity of getting off, perhaps after she has dived for a watch or a purse of guineas, and was in danger of being caught in the very act. This proved a very successful employment to Mr. Wild for a time. Moll and he, therefore, resolved to set up together, and for that purpose took lodgings and lived as man and wife, notwithstanding Jonathan then had a wife and a son at Wolverhampton and the fair lady was married to a waterman in town.
By the help of this woman Jonathan grew acquainted with all the notorious gangs of loose persons within the bills of mortality, and was also perfectly versed in the manner by which they carried on their schemes. He knew where and how their enterprises were to be gone upon, and after what manner they disposed of their ill-got goods, when they came into their possession. Having always an intriguing head Wild set up for a director amongst them, and soon became so useful to them that though he never went out upon any of their lays, yet he got as much or more by their crimes as if he had been a partner with them, which upon one pretence or other he always declined.
He had long ago got rid of that debt for which he had been imprisoned in the Compter, and having by his own thought projected a new manner of life, he began in a very little time to grow weary of Mrs. Milliner, who had been his first instructor. What probably contributed thereto was the danger to which he saw himself exposed by continuing a bully in her service; however, they parted without falling out, and as he had occasion to make use of her pretty often in his new way of business, so she proved very faithful and industrious to him in it, though she still went on in her old way.
'Tis now time, that both this and the remaining part of the discourse may be intelligible, to explain the methods by which thieves became the better for thieving where they did not steal ready money; and of this we will speak in the clearest and most concise manner that we can.
It must be observed that anciently when a thief had got his booty he had done all that a man in his profession could do, and there were multitudes of people ready to help them off with whatever effects he had got, without any more to do. But this method being totally destroyed by an Act passed in the reign of King William, by which it was made felony for any person to buy goods stolen, knowing them to be so, and some examples having been made on this Act, there were few or no receivers to be met with. Those that still carried on the trade took exorbitant sums for their own profit, leaving those who had run the hazard of their necks in obtaining them, the least share of the plunder. This (as an ingenious author says) had like to have brought the thieving trade to naught; but Jonathan quickly thought of a method to put things again in order, and give new life to the practices of the several branches of the ancient art and mystery called stealing. The method he took was this.
As soon as any considerable robbery was committed, and Jonathan received intelligence by whom, he immediately went to the thieves, and instead of offering to buy the whole or any part of the plunder, he only enquired how the thing was done, where the persons lived who were injured, and what the booty consisted in that was taken away. Then pretending to chide them for their wickedness in doing such actions, and exhorting them to live honestly for the future, he gave it them as his advice to lodge what they had taken in a proper place which he appointed them, and then promised he would take some measures for their security by getting the people to give them somewhat to have them restored them again. Having thus wheedled those who had committed a robbery into a compliance with his measures, his next business was to divide the goods into several parcels, and cause them to be sent to different places, always avoiding taking them into his own hands.
Things being in this position, Jonathan, or Mrs. Milliner went to the persons who were robbed, and after condoling the misfortune, observed that they had an acquaintance with a broker to whom certain goods were brought, some of which they suspected to be stolen, and hearing that the person to whom they thus applied had been robbed they said they thought it the duty of one honest body to another to inform them thereof, and to enquire what goods they were they lost, in order to discover whether those they spoke of were the same or no. People who had such losses are always ready, after the first fit of passion is over, to hearken to anything that has a tendency towards recovering their goods. Jonathan or his mistress therefore, who could either of them play the hypocrite nicely, had no great difficulty in making people listen to such terms; in a day or two, therefore, they were sure to come again with intelligence that having called upon their friend and looked over the goods, they had found part of the goods there; and provided nobody was brought into trouble, and the broker had something in consideration of his care, they might be had again. He generally told the people, when they came on this errand, that he had heard of another parcel at such a place, and that if they would stay a little, he would go and see whether they were such as they described theirs to be which they had lost.
This practice of Jonathan's, if well considered, carries in it a great deal of policy; for first it seemed to be an honest and good-natured act to prevail on evil persons to restore the goods which they had stole; and it must be acknowledged to be a great benefit to those who were robbed thus to have their goods again upon a reasonable premium, Jonathan or his mistress all the while taking apparently nothing, their advantages arising from what they took out of the gratuity left with the broker, and out of what they had bargained with the thief to be allowed of the money which they had procured him. Such people finding this advantage in it, the rewards were very near as large as the price now given by receivers (since receiving became too dangerous), and they reaped a certain security also by the bargain.
With respect to Jonathan, the contrivance placed him in safety, not only from all the laws then in being, but perhaps would have secured him as securely from those that are made now, if covetousness had not prevailed with him to take bolder steps than these; for in a short time he began to give himself out for a person who made it his business to procure stolen goods to their right owners. When he first did this he acted with so much art and cunning that he acquired a very great reputation as an honest man, not only from those who dealt with him to procure what they had lost, but even from those people of higher station, who observing the industry with which he prosecuted certain malefactors, took him for a friend of Justice, and as such afforded him countenance and encouragement.
Certain it is that he brought more villains to the gallows than perhaps any man ever did, and consequently by diminishing their number, made it much more safe for persons to travel or even to reside with security in their own houses. And so sensible was Jonathan of the necessity there was for him to act in this manner, that he constantly hung up two or three of his clients at least in a twelvemonth, that he might keep up that character to which he had attained; and so indefatigable was he in the pursuit of those he endeavoured to apprehend, that it never happened in all his course of acting, that so much as one single person escaped him. Nor need this appear so great a wonder, if we consider that the exact acquaintance he had with their gangs and the haunts they used put it out of their power almost to hide themselves so as to avoid his searches.
When this practice of Jonathan's became noted, and the people resorted continually to his house in order to hear of the goods which they had lost, it produced not only much discourse, but some enquiries into his behaviour. Jonathan foresaw this, and in order to evade any ill consequence that might follow upon it, upon such occasions put on an air of gravity, and complained of the evil disposition of the times, which would not permit a man to serve his neighbours and his country without censure. For do I not, quoth Jonathan, do the greatest good, when I persuade these wicked people who have deprived them of their properties, to restore them again for a reasonable consideration. And are not the villains whom I have so industriously brought to suffer that punishment which the Law, for the sake of its honest subjects, thinks fit to inflict upon them—in this respect, I say, does not their death show how much use I am to the country? Why, then, added Jonathan, should people asperse me, or endeavour to take away my bread?
This kind of discourse served, as my readers must know, to keep Wild safe in his employment for many years, while not a step he took, but trod on felony, nor a farthing did he obtain but what deserved the gallows. Two great things there were which contributed to his preservation, and they were these. The great readiness the Government always shows in detecting persons guilty of capital offences; in which case we know 'tis common to offer not only pardon, but rewards to persons guilty, provided they make discoveries; and this Jonathan was so sensible of that he did not only screen himself behind the lenity of the Supreme Power, but made use of it also as a sort of authority, and behaved himself with a very presuming air. And taking upon him the character of a sort of minister of Justice, this assumed character of his, however ill-founded, proved of great advantage to him in the course of his life. The other point, which, as I have said, contributed to keep him from any prosecutions on the score of these illegal and unwarrantable actions, was the great willingness of people who had been robbed to recover their goods, and who, provided for a small matter they could regain things for a considerable worth, were so far from taking pains to bring the offenders to justice that they thought the premium a cheap price to get off.
Thus by the rigour of the magistrate, and the lenity of the subject, Jonathan claimed constant employment, and according as wicked persons behaved, they were either trussed up to satisfy the just vengeance of the one, or protected and encouraged, that by bringing the goods they stole he might be enabled to satisfy the demands of the other. And thus we see the policy of a mean and scandalous thief-taker, conducted with as much prudence, caution, and necessary courage, as the measures taken by even the greatest persons upon earth; nor perhaps is there, in all history, an instance of a man who thus openly dallied with the laws, and played with capital punishment.
As I am persuaded my readers will take a pleasure in the relation of Jonathan's maxims of policy, I shall be a little more particular in relation to them than otherwise I should have been, considering that in this work I do not propose to treat of the actions of a single person, but to consider the villainies committed throughout the space of a dozen years, such especially as have reached to public notice by bringing the authors of them to the gallows. But Mr. Wild being a man of such eminence as to value himself in his life-time on his superiority to meaner rogues; so I am willing to distinguish him now he is dead, by showing a greater complaisance in recording his history than that of any other hero in this way whatsoever.
Nor, to speak properly, was Jonathan ever an operator, as they call it, that is a practicer in any one branch of thieving. No, his method was to acquire money at an easier rate, and if any title can be devised suitable to his great performance, it must be that of Director General of the united forces of highwaymen, housebreakers, footpads, pickpockets, and private thieves. Now, according to my promise, for the maxims by which he supported himself in this dangerous capacity.
In the first place, he continually exhorted the plunderers that belonged to his several gangs, to let him know punctually what goods they at any time took, by which means he had it in his power to give, for the most part, a direct answer to those who came to make their enquiries after they had lost their effects, either by their own carelessness, or the dexterity of the thief. If they complied faithfully with his instructions, he was a certain protector on all occasions, and sometimes had interest enough to procure them liberty when apprehended, either in the committing a robbery, or upon the information of one of the gang. In such a case Jonathan's usual pretence was that such a person (who was the man he intended to save) was capable of making a larger and more effectual information, for which purpose Jonathan would sometimes supply him with memorandums of his own, and thereby establish so well the credit of his discovery, as scarce to fail of producing its effect.
But if his thieves threatened to become independent, and despise his rules, or endeavour for the sake of profit to vend the goods they got some other way without making application to Jonathan; or if they threw out any threatening speeches against their companions; or grumbled at the compositions he made for them, in such cases as these Wild took the first opportunity of talking to them in a new style, telling them that he was well assured they did very ill acts and plundered poor honest people, to indulge themselves in their debaucheries; that they would do well to think of amending before the Justice of their country fell upon them; and that after such warning they must not expect any assistance from him, in case they should fall under any misfortune. The next thing that followed after this fine harangue was that they were put into the information of some of Jonathan's creatures; or the first fresh fact they committed and Jonathan was applied to for the recovery of the goods, he immediately set out to apprehend them, and laboured so indefatigably therein that they never escaped him. Thus he not only procured the reward for himself, but also gained an opportunity of pretending that he not only restored goods to the right owners, but also apprehended the thief as often as it was in his power. As to instances, I shall mention them in a proper place.
I shall now go on to another observation, viz., that in those steps of his business which was most hazardous, Jonathan made the people themselves take the first steps by publishing advertisements of things lost, directing them to be brought to Mr. Wild, who was empowered to receive them and pay such a reward as the person that lost them thought fit to offer; and in this capacity Jonathan appeared no otherwise than as a person on whose honour these sort of people could rely; by which, his assistance became necessary for retrieving whatever had been pilfered.
After he had gone on in this trade for about ten years with success, he began to lay aside much of his former caution, and gave way to the natural vanity of his temper; taking a larger house in Old Bailey than that in which he formerly lived; giving the woman who he called his wife, abundance of fine things; keeping open office for restoring stolen goods; appointing abundance of under-officers to receive goods, carry messages to those who stole them, bring him exact intelligence of the several gangs and the places of their resort, and in fine, for such other purposes as this, their supreme governor, directed. His fame at last came to that height that persons of the highest quality would condescend to make use of his abilities, when at an installation, public entry, or some other great solemnity they had the misfortune of losing watches, jewels, or other things, whether of great real or imaginary value.
But as his methods of treating those who applied to him for his assistance has been much misrepresented, I shall next give an exact and impartial account thereof, that the fabulous history of Jonathan Wild may not be imposed upon posterity.
In the first place, then, when a person was introduced to Mr. Wild's office, it was first hinted to him that a crown must be deposited by way of fee for his advice; when this was complied with a large book was brought out; then the loser was examined with much formality, as to the time, place, and manner that the goods became missing; and then the person was dismissed with a promise of careful enquiries being made, and of hearing more concerning them in a day or two. When this was adjusted, the person took his leave, with great hopes of being acquainted shortly with the fruits of Mr. Wild's industry, and highly satisfied with the methodical treatment he had met with.
But at the bottom this was all grimace. Wild had not the least occasion for these queries, except to amuse the persons he asked, for he knew beforehand all the circumstances of the robbery much better than they did. Nay, perhaps, he had the very goods in the house when the folks came first to enquire for them; though for reasons not hard to guess he made use of all this formality before he proceeded to return them. When, therefore, according to his appointment, the enquirer came the second time, Jonathan took care to amuse him by a new scene. He was told that Mr. Wild had indeed made enquiries, but was very sorry to communicate the result of them; the thief, truly, who was a bold impudent fellow, rejected with scorn the offer which pursuant to the loser's instructions had been made him, insisted that he could sell the goods at a double price, and in short would not hear a word of restitution unless upon better terms. But notwithstanding all this, says Jonathan, if I can but come to the speech of him, I don't doubt bringing him to reason.
At length, after one or two more attendances, Mr. Wild gave the definite answer, that provided no questions were asked and so much money was given to the porter who brought them, the loser might have his things returned at such an hour precisely. This was transacted with all outward appearances of friendship and honest intention on his side, and with great seeming frankness and generosity; but when the client came to the last article, viz., what Mr. Wild expected for his trouble, then an air of coldness was put on, and he answered with equal pride and indifference, that what he did was purely from a principle of doing good. As to a gratuity for the trouble he had taken, he left it totally to yourself; you might do it in what you thought fit. Even when money was presented to him he received it with the same negligent grace, always putting you in mind that it was your own act, that you did it merely out of your generosity, and that it was no way the result of his request, that he took it as a favour, not as a reward.
By this dexterity in his management he fenced himself against the rigour of the law, in the midst of these notorious transgressions of it, for what could be imputed to Mr. Wild? He neither saw the thief who took away your goods, nor received them after they were taken; the method he pursued in order to procure you your things again was neither dishonest or illegal, if you will believe his account on it, and no other than his account could be gotten. According to him it was performed after this manner: after having enquired amongst such loose people as he acknowledged he had acquaintance with, and hearing that such a robbery was committed at such a time, and such and such goods were taken, he thereupon had caused it to be intimated to the thief that if he had any regard for his own safety he would cause such and such goods to be carried to such a place; in consideration of which, he might reasonably hope such a reward, naming a certain sum. If it excited the thief to return the goods, it did not thereby fix any guilt or blame upon Jonathan; and by this description, I fancy my readers will have a pretty clear idea of the man's capacity, as well as of his villainy.
Had Mr. Wild continued satisfied with this way of dealing in all human probability he might have gone to his grave in peace, without any apprehensions of punishment but what he was to meet within a world to come. But he was greedy, and instead of keeping constant to this safe method, came at last to take the goods into his own custody, giving those that stole them what he thought proper, and then making such a bargain with the loser as he was able to bring him up to, sending the porter himself, and taking without ceremony whatever money had been given him. But as this happened only in the two last years of his life, it is fit I should give you some instances of his behaviour before, and these not from the hearsay of the town, but within the compass of my own knowledge.
A gentleman near Covent Garden who dealt in silks had bespoke a piece of extraordinary rich damask, on purpose for the birthday suit of a certain duke; and the lace-man having brought such trimming as was proper for it, the mercer had made the whole up in a parcel, tied it at each end with blue ribbon, sealed with great exactness, and placed on one end of the counter, in expectation of his Grace's servant, who he knew was directed to call for it in the afternoon. Accordingly the fellow came, but when the mercer went to deliver him the goods, the piece had gone, and no account could possibly he had of it. As the master had been all day in the shop, so there was no possibility of charging anything either upon the carelessness or dishonesty of servants. After an hour's fretting, therefore, seeing no other remedy, he even determined to go and communicate his loss to Mr. Wild, in hopes of receiving some benefit by his assistance, the loss consisting not so much in the value of the things as in the disappointment it would be to the nobleman not to have them on the birthday.
Upon this consideration a hackney-coach was immediately called, and away he was ordered to drive directly to Jonathan's house in the Old Bailey. As soon as he came into the room, and had acquainted Mr. Wild with his business, the usual deposit of a crown being made, and the common questions of the how, when, and where, having been asked, the mercer being very impatient, said with some kind of heat, Mr. Wild, the loss I have sustained, though the intrinsic value of the goods be very little, lies more in disobliging my customer. Tell me, therefore, in a few words, if it be in your power to serve me. If it is, I have thirty guineas here ready to lay down, but if you expect that I should dance attendance for a week or two, I assure you I shall not be willing to part with above half the money. Good sir, replied Mr. Wild, have a little more consideration. I am no thief, sir, nor no receiver of stolen goods, so that if you don't think fit to give me time to enquire, you must e'en take what measures you please.
When the mercer found he was like to be left without any hopes, he began to talk in a milder strain, and with abundance of intreaties fell to persuading Jonathan to think of some method to serve him, and that immediately. Wild stepped out a minute or two, as if to the necessary house; as soon as he came back he told the gentleman, it was not in his power to serve him in such a hurry, if at all; however, in a day or two he might be able to give him some answer. The mercer insisted that a day or two would lessen the value of the goods one half to him, and Jonathan insisted, as peremptorily, that it was not in his power to do anything sooner.
At last a servant came in a hurry, and told Mr. Wild there was a gentleman below desired to speak with him. Jonathan bowed and begged the gentleman's pardon, told him he would wait on him in one minute, and without staying for a reply withdrew, and clapped the door after him. In about five minutes he returned with a very smiling countenance, and turning to the gentleman, said, I protest sir, you are the luckiest man I ever knew. I spoke to one of my people just now, to go to a house where I know some lifters resort, and directed him to talk of the robbery that had been committed in your house, and to say that the gentleman had been with me and offered thirty guineas, provided the things might be had again, but declared, if he did not receive them in a very short space, he would give as great a reward for the discovery of the thief, whom he would prosecute with the utmost severity. This story has had its effect, and if you go directly home, I fancy you'll hear more news of it yourself than I am able to tell you. But pray, sir, remember one thing; that the thirty guineas was your own offer. You are at free liberty to give them, or let them alone; do which you please, 'tis nothing to me; but take notice, sir, that I have done all for you in my power, without the least expectation of gratuity.
Away went the mercer, confounded in his mind, and wondering where this affair would end. But as he walked up Southampton Street a fellow overtook him, patted him on the shoulder, and delivered him the bundle unopened, telling him the price was twenty guineas. The mercer paid it him directly, and returning to Jonathan in half an hour's time, readily expressed abundance of thanks to Mr. Wild for his assistance, and begged him to accept of the ten guineas he had saved him, for his pains. Jonathan told him that he had saved him nothing, but supposed that the people thought twenty demand enough, considering that they were now pretty safe from prosecution. The mercer still pressed the ten guineas upon Jonathan, who after taking them out of his hand returned him five of them, and assured him that was more than enough, adding: 'Tis satisfaction enough, sir, to an honest man that he is able to procure people their goods again.
This, you will say, was a remarkable instance of his moderation. I will join to it as extraordinary an account of his justice, equity, or what else you will please to call it. It happened thus.
A lady whose husband was out of the kingdom, and had sent over to her draughts for her assistance to the amount of between fifteen hundred and two thousand pounds, lost the pocket-book in which they were contained, between Bucklersbury and Magpie alehouse in Leadenhall Street, where the merchant lived upon whom they were drawn. She however, went to the gentleman, and he advised her to go directly to Mr. Jonathan Wild. Accordingly to Jonathan she came, deposited the crown, and answered the questions she asked him. Jonathan then told her that in an hour or two's time, possibly, some of his people might hear who it was that had picked her pocket. The lady was vehement in her desires to have it again, and for that purpose went so far at last as to offer an hundred guineas. Upon that Wild made answer, Though they are of much greater value to you, madam, yet they cannot be worth anything like it to them; therefore keep your own counsel, say nothing in the hearing of my people, and I'll give you the best, directions I am able for the recovery of your notes. In the meanwhile, if you will go to any tavern near, and endeavour to eat a bit of dinner, I will bring you an answer before the cloth is taken away. She said she was unacquainted with any house thereabouts, upon which Mr. Wild named the Baptist Head. The lady would not be satisfied unless Mr. Wild promised to eat with her; he at last complied, and she ordered a fowl and sausages at the house he had appointed.
She waited there about three quarters of an hour, when Mr. Wild came over and told her he had heard news of her book, desiring her to tell out ten guineas upon the table in case she should have an occasion for them. As the cook came up to acquaint her that the fowl was ready, Jonathan begged she would see whether there was any woman waiting at his door.
The lady, without minding the mystery, did as he desired her, and perceiving a woman in a scarlet riding-hood walk twice or thrice by Mr. Wild's house, her curiosity prompted her to go near her. But recollecting she had left the gold upon the table upstairs, she went and snatched it up without saying a word to Jonathan, and then running down again went towards the woman in the red hood, who was still walking before his door. It seems she had guessed right, for no sooner did she approach towards her but the woman came directly up to her, and presenting her pocket book, desired she would open it and see that all was safe. The lady did so, and answering it was alright, the woman in the red riding-hood said, Here's another little note for you, madam; upon which she gave her a little billet, on the outside of which was written ten guineas. The lady delivered her the money immediately, adding also a piece for herself, and returning with a great deal of joy to Mr. Wild, told him she had got her book, and would now eat her dinner heartily. When the things were taken away, she thought it was time to go to the merchant.
Thinking it would be necessary to make Mr. Wild a handsome present, she put her hand in her pocket, and with great surprise found her green purse gone, in which was the remainder of fifty guineas she had borrowed of the merchant in the morning. Upon this she looked very much confused, but did not speak a word. Jonathan perceived it, asked if she was not well. I am tolerably in health, sir, answered she, but I am amazed that the woman took but ten guineas for the book, and at the same time picked my pocket of thirty-nine.
Mr. Wild hereupon appeared in as great a confusion as the lady, and said he hoped she was not in earnest, but if it were so, begged her not to disturb herself, she should not lose one farthing. Upon which Jonathan begging her to sit still, stepped over to his own house and gave, as may be supposed, necessary directions, for in less than half an hour a little Jew (called Abraham) that Wild kept, bolted into the room, and told him the woman was taken, and on the point of going to the Compter. You shall see, Madam, said Jonathan, turning to the lady, what exemplary punishment I'll make of this infamous woman. Then turning himself to the Jew, Abraham, says he, was the green purse of money taken on her? Yes sir, replied his agent. O la! then said the lady, I'll take the purse with all my heart; I would not prosecute the poor wretch for the world. Would not you so, Madam, replied Wild. Well, then, we'll see what's to be done. Upon which he first whispered his emissary, and then dispatched him.
He was no sooner gone than Jonathan told the lady that she would be too late at the merchant's unless they took coach; which thereupon they did, and stopped over against the Compter gate by the Stocks Market. She wondered at all this, but by the time they have been in a tavern a very little space, back comes Jonathan's emissary with the green purse and the gold in it. She says, sir, said the fellow to Wild she has only broke a guinea of the money for garnish and wine, and here's all the rest of it. Very well, says Jonathan, give it to the lady. Will you please to tell it, madam? The lady accordingly did, and found there were forty-nine. Bless me! says she. I think the woman's bewitched, she has sent me ten guineas more than I should have had. No, Madam, replied Wild, she has sent you back again the ten guineas which she received for the book; I never suffer any such practices in my way. I obliged her, therefore, to give up the money she had taken as well as that she had stole. And therefore I hope, whatever you may think of her, that you will not have a worse opinion of your humble servant for this accident.
The lady was so much confounded and confuted at these unaccountable incidents, that she scarce knew what she did; at last recollecting herself, Well, Mr. Wild, says she; I think the least I can do is to oblige you to accept of these ten guineas. No, replied he, nor of ten farthings. I scorn all actions of such a sort as much as any man of quality in the kingdom. All the reward I desire, Madam, is that you will acknowledge I have acted like an honest man, and a man of honour. He had scarce pronounced these words, before he rose up, made her a bow, and went immediately down stairs.
The reader may be assured there is not the least mixture of fiction in this story, and yet perhaps there was not a more remarkable one which happened in the whole course of Jonathan's life. I shall add but one more relation of this sort, and then go on with the series of my history. This which I am now going to relate happened within a few doors of the place where I lived, and was transacted in this manner.
There came a little boy with vials in a basket to sell to a surgeon who was my very intimate acquaintance. It was in the winter, and the weather cold, when one day after he had sold the bottles that were wanted, the boy complained he was almost chilled to death with cold, and almost starved for want of victuals. The surgeon's maid, in compassion to the child, who was not above nine or ten years old, took him into the kitchen, and gave him a porringer of milk and bread, with a lump or two of sugar in it. The boy ate a little of it, then said he had enough, gave her a thousand blessings and thanks, and marched off with a silver spoon, and a pair of forceps of the same mettle, which lay in the shop as he passed through. The instrument was first missed, and the search after it occasioned their missing the spoon; and yet nobody suspected anything of the boy, though they had all seen him in the kitchen.
The gentleman of the house, however, having some knowledge of Jonathan Wild, and not living far from the Old Bailey, went immediately to him for his advice. Jonathan called for a bottle of white wine and ordered it to be mulled; the gentleman knowing the custom of his house, laid down the crown, and was going on to tell him the manner in which the things were missed, but Mr. Wild soon cut him short by saying, Sir, step into the next room a moment; here's a lady coming hither. You may depend upon my doing anything that is in my power, and presently we'll talk the thing over at leisure. The gentleman went into the room where he was directed, and saw, with no little wonder, his forceps and silver spoon lying upon the table. He had hardly taken them up to look at them before Jonathan entered. So, sir, said he, I suppose you have no further occasion for my assistance. Yes, indeed, I have, said the surgeon, there are a great many servants in our family, and some of them will certainly be blamed for this transaction; so that I am under a necessity of begging another favour, which is, that you will let me know how they were stolen? I believe the thief is not far off, quoth Jonathan, and if you'll give me your word he shall come to no harm, I'll produce him immediately.
The gentleman readily condescended to this proposition, and Mr. Wild stepping out for a minute or two, brought in the young vial merchant in his hand. Here, sir, says Wild, do you know this hopeful youth? Yes, answered the surgeon, but I could never have dreamt that a creature so little as he, could have had so much wickedness in him. However, as I have given you my word, and as I have my things again, I will not only pass by his robbing me, but if he will bring me bottles again, shall make use of him as I used to do. I believe you may, added Jonathan, when he ventures into your house again.
But it seems he was therein mistaken, for in less than a week afterwards the boy had the impudence to come and offer his vials again, upon which the gentleman not only bought of him as usual, but ordered two quarts of milk to be set on the fire, put into it two ounces of glister sugar, crumbled it with a couple of penny loaves, and obliged this nimble-fingered youth to eat it every drop up before he went out of the kitchen door, and then without farther correction hurried him about his business.
This was the channel in which Jonathan's business usually ran, but to support his credit with the magistrates, he was forced to add thief-catching to it, and every sessions or two, strung up some of the youths of his own bringing-up to the gallows. But this, however, did not serve his turn; an honourable person on the Bench took notice of his manner of acting, which being become at last very notorious, an Act of Parliament was passed, levelled directly against such practices, whereby persons who took money for the recovery of stolen goods, and did actually recover such goods without apprehending the felon, should be deemed guilty in the same degree of felony with those who committed the fact in taking such goods as were returned. And after this became law, the same honourable person sent to him to warn him of going on any longer at his old rate, for that it was now become a capital crime, and if he was apprehended for it, he could expect no mercy.
Jonathan received the reproof with abundance of thankfulness and submission, but what was strange, never altered the manner of his behaviour in the least; but on the contrary, did it more openly and publicly than ever. Indeed, to compensate for this, he seemed to double his diligence in apprehending thieves, and brought a vast number of the most notorious amongst them to the gallows, even though he himself had bred them up in the art of thieving, and given them both instructions and encouragement to take that road which was ruinous enough in itself, and by him made fatal.
Of these none were so open and apparent a case as that of Blake, alias Blueskin. This fellow had from a child been under the tuition of Jonathan, who paid for the curing his wounds, whilst he was in the Compter, allowed him three and sixpence a week for his subsistence, and afforded his help to get him out of there at last. Yet as soon after this he abandoned him to his own conduct in such matters, and in a short space caused him to be apprehended for breaking open the house of Mr. Kneebone, which brought him to the gallows. When the fellow came to be tried Jonathan, indeed, vouchsafed to speak to him, and assured him that his body should be handsomely interred in a good coffin at his own expense. This was strange comfort, and such as by no means suited Blueskin: he insisted peremptorily upon a transportation pardon, which be said he was sure Jonathan had interest enough to procure him. But Wild assured him that he had not, and that it was in vain for him to flatter himself with such hopes, but that he had better dispose himself to thinking of another life; in order to which, good books and such like helps should not be wanting.
All this put Blueskin at last into such a passion that though this discourse happened upon the leads at the Old Bailey; in the presence of the Court then sitting, Blake could not forbear taking a revenge for what he took to be an insult on him. And therefore, without ado, he clapped one hand under Jonathan's chin, and with the other, taking a sharp knife out of his pocket, cut him a large gash across the throat, which everybody at the time it was done judged mortal. Jonathan was carried off, all covered with blood, and though at that time he professed the greatest resentment for such usage, affirming that he had done all that lay in his power for the man who had so cruelly designed against his life; yet when he afterwards came to be under sentence of death, he regretted prodigiously the escape he had made then from death, often wishing that the knife of Blake had put an end to his life, rather than left him to linger out his days till so ignominious a fate befell him.
But it was not only Blake who had entertained notions of putting him to death. He had disobliged almost the whole group of villains with whom he had concern, and there were numbers of them who had taken it into their heads to deprive him of life. His escapes in the apprehending such persons were sometimes very narrow; he received wounds in almost every part of his body, his skull was twice fractured, and his whole constitution so broken by these accidents and the great fatigue he went through, that when he fell under the misfortunes which brought him to his death, he was scarce able to stand upright, and was never in a condition to go to chapel.
But we have broke a little into the thread of our history, and must therefore go back in order to trace the causes which brought on Jonathan's last adventures, and finally his violent death. This we shall now relate in the clearest and concisest manner that the thing will allow; being well furnished for that purpose, having to personal experience added the best intelligence that could be procured, and that, too, from persons the most deserving of credit.
The practices of this criminal in the manner we have before mentioned continued long after the Act of Parliament; and in so notorious a manner, at last, that the magistrates in London and Middlesex thought themselves obliged by the duty of their office to take notice of him. This occasioned a warrant to be granted against him by a worshipful alderman of the City, upon which Mr. Wild being apprehended somewhere near Wood Street, he was carried into the Rose Sponging-house. There I myself saw him sitting in the kitchen at the fire, waiting the leisure of the magistrate who was to examine him.
In the meantime the crowd was very great, and, with his usual hypocrisy, Jonathan harangued them to this purpose. I wonder, good people, what it is you would see? I am a poor honest man, who have done all I could do to serve people when they have had the misfortune to lose their goods by the villainy of thieves. I have contributed more than any man living to bringing the most daring and notorious malefactors to justice. Yet now by the malice of my enemies, you see I am in custody, and am going before a magistrate who I hope will do me justice. Why should you insult me, therefore? I don't know that I ever injured any of you? Let me intreat you, therefore, as you see me lame in body, and afflicted in mind, not to make me more uneasy than I can bear. If I have offended against the law it will punish me, but it gives you no right to use me ill, unheard, and unconvicted.
By this time the people of the house and the Compter officers had pretty well cleared the place, upon which he began to compose himself, and desired them to get a coach to the door, for he was unable to walk. About an hour after, he was carried before a Justice and examined, and I think was thereupon immediately committed to Newgate. He lay there a considerable time before he was tried; at last he was convicted capitally upon the following fact, which appeared on the evidence, exactly in the same light in which I shall state it.
He was indicted on the afore-mentioned Statute, for receiving money for the restoring stolen goods, without apprehending the persons by whom they were stolen. In order to support this charge, the prosecutrix, Catherine Stephens, deposed as follows:
On the 22nd of January, I had two persons come in to my shop under pretence of buying some lace. They were so difficult that I had none below would please them, so leaving my daughter in the shop, I stepped upstairs and brought down another box. We could not agree about the price, and so they went away together. In about half an hour I missed a tin box of lace that I valued at L50. The same night and the next I went to Jonathan Wild's house; but meeting with him at home, I advertised the lace that I had lost with a reward of fifteen guineas, and no questions asked. But hearing nothing of it, I went to Jonathan's house again, and then met with him at home. He desired me to give him a description of the persons that I suspected, which I did, as near as I could; and then he told me, that he would make enquiry, and bid me call again in two or three days. I did so, and then he said that he had heard something of my lace, and expected to know more of the matter in a very little time.
I came to him again on that day he was apprehended (I think it was the 15th of February). I told him that though I had advertised but fifteen guineas reward, yet I would give twenty or twenty-five guineas, rather than not have my goods. Don't be in such a hurry, says Jonathan, I don't know but I may help you to it for less, and if I can I will; the persons that have it are gone out of town. I shall set them to quarrelling about it, and then I shall get it the cheaper. On the 10th of March he sent me word that if I could come to him in Newgate, and bring ten guineas in my pocket, he would help me to the lace. I went, he desired me to call a porter, but I not knowing where to find one, he sent a person who brought one that appeared to be a ticket-porter. The prisoner gave me a letter which he said was sent him as a direction where to go for the lace; but I could not read, and so I delivered it to the porter. Then he desired me to give the porter the ten guineas, or else (he said) the persons who had the lace would not deliver it. I gave the porter the money; he returned, and brought me a box that was sealed up, but not the same that was lost. I opened it and found all my lace but one piece.
Now, Mr. Wild, says I, what must you have for your trouble? Not a farthing, says he, not a farthing for me. I don't do these things for worldly interest, but only for the good of poor people that have met with misfortunes. As for the piece of lace that is missing, I hope to get it for you ere long, and I don't know but that I may help you not only to your money again, but to the thief too. And if I can, much good may it do you; and as you are a good woman and a widow, and a Christian, I desire nothing of you but your prayers, and for these I shall be thankful. I have a great many enemies, and God knows what may be the consequence of this imprisonment.
The fact suggested in the indictment was undoubtedly fully proved by this disposition, and though that fact happened in Newgate, and after his confinement, yet it still continued as much and as great a crime as if it had been done before; the Law therefore condemned him upon it. But even if he had escaped this, there were other facts of a like nature, which inevitably would have destroyed him; for the last years of his life, instead of growing more prudent, he undoubtedly became less so, for the blunders committed in this fact, were very little like the behaviour of Jonathan in the first years in which he carried on this practice, when nobody behaved with greater caution, as nobody ever had so much reason to be cautious. And though he had all along great enemies, yet he had conducted his affairs so that the Law could not possibly lay hold of him, nor his excuses be easily detected, even in respect of honesty.
When he was brought up to the bar to receive sentence, he appeared to be very much dejected, and when the usual question was proposed to him: What have you to say why judgment of death should not pass upon you? he spoke with a very feeble voice in the following terms.
My Lord, I hope even in the sad condition in which I stand, I may pretend to some little merit in respect to the service I have done my country, in delivering it from some of the greatest pests with which it was ever troubled. My Lord, I have brought many bold and daring malefactors to just punishment, even at the hazard of my own life, my body being covered with scars I received in these undertakings. I presume, my Lord, to say I have done merit, because at the time the things were done, they were esteemed meritorious by the government; and therefore I hope, my Lord, some compassion may be shown on the score of those services. I submit myself wholly to his Majesty's mercy, and humbly beg a favourable report of my case.
When Sir William Thomson (now one of the barons of his Majesty's Court of Exchequer), as Recorder of London, pronounced sentence of death, he spoke particularly to Wild, put him in mind of those cautions he had had against going on in those practices rendered capital by Law, made on purpose for preventing that infamous trade of becoming broker for felony, and standing in the middle between the felon and the person injured, in order to receive a premium for redress. And when he had properly stated the nature and aggravations of his crime, he exhorted him to make a better use of that small portion of time, which the tenderness of the law of England allowed sinners for repentance, and desired he would remember this admonition though he had slighted others. As to the report he told him, he might depend on Justice, and ought not to hope for any more.
Under conviction, no man who appeared upon other occasions to have so much courage, ever showed so little. He had constantly declined ever coming to chapel, under pretence of lameness and indisposition; when clergymen took the pains to visit him and instruct him in those duties which it became a dying man to practice, though he heard them without interruption, yet he heard them coldly. Instead of desiring to be instructed on that head, he was continually suggesting scruples and doubts about a future state, asking impertinent questions as to the state of souls departed, and putting frequent cases of the reasonableness and lawfulness of suicide, where an ignominious death was inevitable, and the thing was perpetrated only to avoid shame. He was more especially swayed to such notions he pretended, from the examples of the famous heroes of antiquity, who to avoid dishonourable treatment, had given themselves a speedy death. As such discourses were what took up most of the time between his sentence and death, so that occasioned some very useful lectures upon this head from the charitable divines who visited him; but though they would have been of great use in all such cases for the future, yet being pronounced by word of mouth only, they are now totally lost. One letter indeed was written to him by a learned person on this head, of which a copy has been preserved, and it is with great pleasure that I give it to my readers, it runs thus:
A letter from the Reverend Dr. —— to Mr. Wild in Newgate.
I am very sorry that after a life so spent as yours is notoriously known to have been, you should yet, instead of repenting of your former offences, continue to swell their number even with greater. I pray God that it be not the greatest of all sins, affecting doubts as to a future state, and whether you shall ever be brought to answer for your actions in this life, before a tribunal in that which is to come.
The heathens, it must be owned, could have no certainty as to the immortality of the soul, because they had no immediate revelation; for though the reasons which incline us to the belief of those two points of future existence and future tribulation be as strong as any of the motives are to other points in natural religion, yet as none return from that land of darkness, or escape from the shadow of death to bring news of what passeth in those regions whither all men go, so without a direct revelation from the Almighty no positive knowledge could be had of life in the world to come, which is therefore properly said to be derived to us through Christ Jesus, who in plain terms, and with that authority which confounded his enemies, the Scribes and Pharisees, taught the doctrine of a final judgment, and by affording us the means of grace, raised in us at the same time the hopes of glory.
The arguments, therefore, which might appear sufficient unto the heathens, to justify killing themselves to avoid what they thought greater evils, if they had any force then must have totally lost it now. Indeed, the far greater number of instances which history has transmitted us, show that self-murder, even then, proceeded from the same causes as at present, viz., rage, despair, and disappointment. Wise men in all ages despised it as a mean and despicable flight from evils the soul wanted courage and strength to bear. This has not only been said by philosophers, but even by poets, too; which shows that it appeared a notion, not only rational, but heroic. There are none so timorous, says Martial, but extremity of want may force upon a voluntary death; those few alone are to be accounted brave who can support a life of evil and the pressing load of misery, without having recount to a dagger.
But if there were no more in it than the dispute of which was the most gallant act of the two, to suffer, or die, it would not deserve so much consideration. The matter with you is of far greater importance, it is not how, or in what manner you ought to die in this world, but how you are to expect mercy and happiness in that which is to come. This is your last stake, and all that now can deserve your regard. Even hope is lost as to present life, and if you make use of your reason, it must direct you to turn all your wishes and endeavours towards attaining happiness in a future state. What, then, remains to be examined in respect of this question is whether persons who slay themselves can hope for pardon or happiness in the sentence of that Judge from whom there is no appeal, and whose sentence, as it surpasses all understanding, so is it executed immediately.
If we judge only from reason, it seems that we have no right over a life which we receive not from ourselves, or from our parents, but from the immediate gift of Him who is the Lord thereof, and the Fountain of Being.
To take away our own life, then, is contradicting as far as we are able the Laws of Providence, and that disposition which His wisdom has been pleased to direct. It is as though we pretended to have more knowledge or more power than he; and as to that pretence which is usually made use of, that Life is meant as a blessing, and that therefore when it becomes an evil, we may if we think fit resign it, it is indeed but a mere sophistry. We acknowledge God to be infinite in all perfections, and consequently in wisdom and power; from the latter we receive our existence in this Life, and as to the measure it depends wholly on the former; so that if we from the shallow dictates of our reason contemptuously shorten that term which is appointed us by the Almighty, we thereby contradict all His laws, throw up all right to His promises, and by the very last act we are capable of, put ourselves out of His protection.
This I say is the prospect of the fruits of suicide, looked on with the eye only of natural religion; and the opinion of Christians is unanimous in this respect, that persons who wilfully deprive themselves of life here, involve themselves also in death everlasting. As to your particular case, in which you say 'tis only making choice of one death rather than another, there are also the strongest reasons against it, The Law intends your death, not only for the punishment of your crimes, but as an example to deter others. The Law of God which hath commanded that the magistrates should not bear the sword in vain, hath given power to denounce this sentence against you; but that authority which you would assume, defeats both the law of the land in its intention, and is opposite also unto the Law of God. Add unto all this, the example of our blessed Saviour, who submitted to be hung upon a tree, tho' He had only need of praying to His Father to have sent Him thousands of Angels; yet chose He the death of a thief, that the Will of God, and the sentence even of an unrighteous judge might be satisfied.
Let, then, the testimony of your own reason, your reverence towards God, and the hopes which you ought to have in Jesus Christ, determine you to await with patience the hour of your dissolution, dispose you to fill up the short interval which yet remains with sincere repentance, and enable you to support your sufferings with such a Christian spirit of resignation, as may purchase for you an eternal weight of glory. In the which you shall always be assisted with my Prayers to God.
Who am, etc.
Jonathan at last pretended to be overcome with the reasons which had been offered to him on the subject of self-murder. But it plainly appeared that in this he was a hypocrite; for the day before his execution, notwithstanding the keepers had the strictest eye on him imaginable, somebody conveyed to him a bottle of liquid laudanum, of which having taken a very large quantity, he hoped it would forestall his dying at the gallows. But as he had not been sparing in the dose, so the largeness of it made a speedy effect, which was perceived by his fellow-prisoners seeing he could not open his eyes at the time that prayers were said to them as usual in the condemned hold. Whereupon they walked him about, which first made him sweat exceedingly, and he was then very sick. At last he vomited, and they continuing still to lead him, he threw the greatest part of the laudanum off from his stomach. Notwithstanding that, he continued very drowsy, stupid and unable to do anything but gasp out his breath until it was stopped by the halter.
He went to execution in a cart, and instead of expressing any kind of pity or compassion for him, the people continued to throw stones and dirt all the way along, reviling and cursing him to die last, and plainly showed by their behaviour how much the blackness and notoriety of his crimes had made him abhorred, and how little tenderness the enemies of mankind meet with, when overtaken by the hand of Justice.
When he arrived at Tyburn, having by that gathered a little strength (nature recovering from the convulsions in which the laudanum had thrown him), the executioner told him he might take what time he pleased to prepare his death. He therefore sat down in the cart for some small time, during which the people were so uneasy that they called out incessantly to the executioner to dispatch him, and at last threatened to tear him to pieces if he did not tie him up immediately. Such a furious spirit was hardly ever discovered in the populace upon such an occasion. They generally look on blood with tenderness, and behold even the stroke of Justice with tears; but so far were they from it in this case that had a reprieve really come, 'tis highly questionable whether the prisoner could ever have been brought back with safety, it being far more likely that as they wounded him dangerously in the head in his passage to Tyburn, they would have knocked him on the head outright, if any had attempted to have brought mm back.
Before I part with Mr. Wild, 'tis requisite that I inform you in regard to his wives, or those who were called his wives, concerning whom so much noise has been made. His first was a poor honest woman who contented herself to live at Wolverhampton, with the son she had by him, without ever putting him to any trouble, or endeavouring to come up to Town to take upon her the style and title of Madam Wild, which the last wife he lived with did with the greatest affection. The next whom he thought fit to dignify with the name of his consort, was the afore-mentioned Mrs. Milliner, with whom he continued in very great intimacy after they lived separately, and by her means carried on the first of his trade in detecting stolen goods. The third one was Betty Man, a woman of the town in her younger days, but so suddenly struck with horror by a Romish priest that she turned Papist; and as she appeared in her heart exceedingly devout and thoroughly penitent for all her sins, it is to be hoped such penitence might merit forgiveness, however erroneous the principle might be of that Church in the communion of which she died. Wild ever retained such an impression of the sanctity of this woman after her decease, and so great veneration for her, that he ordered his body to be buried next hers in Pancras Churchyard, which his friends saw accordingly performed, about two o'clock in the morning after his execution.
The next of Mr. Wild's sultana's was Sarah Perrin, alias Graystone, who survived him; then there was Judith Nunn, by whom he had a daughter, who at the time of his decease might be about ten years old, both mother and daughter being then living. The sixth and last was no less celebrated as Mrs. or Madam Wild, than he was remarkable by the style of Wild the Thief-catcher, or, by way of irony, of Benefit Jonathan. Before her first marriage this remarkable damsel was known by the name of Mary Brown, afterwards by that of Mrs. Dean, being wife to Skull Dean who was executed about the year 1716 or 1717 for housebreaking. Some malicious people have reported that Jonathan was accessory to hanging him merely for the sake of the reward, and the opportunity of taking his relict, who, whatever regard she might have for her first husband, is currently reported to have been so much affected with the misfortunes that happened to the latter, that she twice attempted to make away with herself, after she had the news of his being under sentence of death. However, by this his last lady, he left no children, and but two by his three other wives were living at the time of his decease.
As to the person of the man, it was homely to the greatest degree. There was something remarkably villainous in his face, which nature had imprinted in stronger terms than perhaps she ever did upon any other; however, he was strong and active, a fellow of prodigious boldness and resolution, which made the pusillanimity shown at his death more remarkable. In his life-time he was not at all shy in owning his profession, but on the contrary bragged of it upon all occasions; into which perhaps he was led by that ridiculous respect which was paid him, and the meanness of spirit some persons of distinction were guilty of in talking to him freely.
Common report has swelled the number of malefactors executed through his means to no less than one hundred and twenty; certain it is that they were very numerous in reality as in his own reckoning. The most remarkable of them were these: White, Thurland, and Dunn, executed for the murder of Mrs. Knap, and robbing Thomas Mickletwait, Esq.; James Lincoln and Robert Wilkinson, for robbing and murdering Peter Martin, the Chelsea Pensioner (but it must be noted that they denied the murder even with their last breath); James Shaw, convicted by Jonathan, for the murder of Mr. Pots, though he had been apprehended by others; Humphrey Angier, who died for robbing Mr. Lewin, the City Marshal; John Levee and Matthew Flood, for robbing the Honourable Mr. Young and Colonel Cope, of a watch and other things of value; Richard Oakey, for robbing of Mr. Betts, in Fig Lane; John Shepherd and Joseph Blake, for breaking the house of Mr. Kneebone; with many others, some of which, such as John Malony and Val Carrick, were of an older date.