« PreviousContinue »
rupted; their souls, it may be, ruined eternally-and all for what? To save a few shillings, which we would freely give to any one who needed it; or to deck our persons with some prohibited article of dress? I fully believe, there is not a lady in Britain, who would not take the costly shawl from her shoulders, and present it to the person whom she could thereby save from such misery as we have described ; though the consequence were, that she should never wear another: and yet we expose to such misery hundreds and thousands of our fellow-creatures: and, when it is named to us, think it quite enough to say, • French goods are prohibited, and we must have them, because”-most sufficient reason because we like them best !"
THERE was somewhere I need not tell exactly where-a very extensive prison-house, in which immense numbers of persons were confined under suspicion, for they had not yet been tried, of manifold misdemeanours, some in the overt act, and others in hidden disaffection towards a government to which they allowed allegiance. From the babbling infant, who had come there for his father's crimes, before himself could have committed any, to the hoary head of age, bowing already to the grave that was waiting to receive him: from the coarse, unthinking peasant, who had followed where others led, to the lofty and commanding spirit, that must answer for many a crime beside his own. Every age was here, and sex and nation-every complexion and condition of mankind were assembled in this vast prison-house, to wait till it should please the sovereign, (for in that country there was no Habeas Corpus Act) to come from his far-distant court, and judge the prisoners for the crimes of which they stood accused.
Around this strange abode, there was a wall too high for any foot to scale, too thick for any one to discover what might be doing beyond it. Within the limit, the imprisoned seemed to walk at large. There was space for all to live and move at ease; but not without perpetually crossing each other's way, and coming in near and frequent contact; and if any would have fled from his fellows, he could
not, for the wall was round him and about him, and he might not pass it. There were paths many, and ways many, but the impervious barrier was the issue of them all, and “no farther," was the fatal check upon their else unrestricted motions. Suspected of unequal crimes, but as yet untried and unconvicted, they were not distinguished from each other by any anticipatory punishments, seeming to suffer promiscuously the hardships, inseparable from their state of durance and disgrace. And not few, indeed, were these. Famine, and want, and pain, and misery, were there. Some eyes looked upwards in untold despair, as if still to demand of Heaven what it had become impossible to bestow. Some were on the ground in deep despondency, as if they loathed to meet the sunbeam that had shone on scenes now lost to them for ever.
Their very pleasures, when they seemed to flourish most, were but as that baleful tree, very fair to look upon, that drops pestilence and death on all who venture to repose beneath its branches. For while the parent sat, fondly administering to the needs and pleasures of a beautiful family, one by one he saw them sink beneath the hardships of their condition, till there were none remaining. And the bosom that had brought with it all that was need ful to its happiness, in sweet possession of which, whatever was suffered was scarcely felt, and whatever was wanting was not missed, was doomed to see the pestilential vapour of the prison arise, and chill to death the frame of its beloved. Industry toiled hard, and sowed its seed, and forgot in labour, as others in pleasure, the dangers of his state; and when he should have reaped the fruit, the winds of heaven, from which his prison-house was all unsheltered, had blighted it, and he was left to want. Some, who once had friends and families, and homes, sat here apart from all, and laid claim to nothing, and found regard of none; and some, whom all caressed and all bowed down to, and who seemed to abound in every thing, fed secretly on the ashes of affliction, and fasted from all but tears, consumed by memory of something past, or dread of some halfseen future.
The lofty and capacious intellect was there, working its own misery with its own greatness, to which there was nothing to respond, and which nothing in that small space could satisfy. And feebleness, and ignorance, and imbecility, were there also, suffering contempt, neglect, and scorn, for deficiencies not of their own choosing. And though there were some on whose cheek the bloom was fresh, and in whose eye the beam of joy was bright, they were regarded by the more experienced, as but the less conscious victims of as sure a fate: for it was known they could not evade, though they might forget, the consequences of their suspected character. And to all, and to each, besides the unequal sufferings of their actual state, there remained the approaching judgment, to which they were reserved, coming they knew not when, threatening they knew not what; more awful for its uncertainty, more appalling for the obscurity that hung upon the issue.
Does not the question forcibly suggest itself, how would these prisoners conduct themselves towards each other? Involved in one common calamíty, standing in the same fearful predicament, compelled, willing or unwilling, to remain together, to take of the same scanty comforts, and abide the same but too sufficient illseach one liable to whatever the other was enduring, and no one secure from succeeding to his neighbour's wo.
How does it seem
they would deport themselves to each other in this strange condition; which had brought them together without their leave, and forced them to abide each other's company, without any choice of theirs ? Reason, and common sense, and feeling, nay, and selfinterest itself, are agreed upon the answer: kindness, courtesy, and pity, would be the tone of such society. They would not all love each other : dissimilar habits, uncongenial tempers, varieties of intellect and condition, would make that impossible. They would not all esteem each other; for defect of moral worth in some, in others native imbecility or deformity of character, would render them no objects of esteem. But there would surely prevail in this society a tone of benevolence and courtesy, the result of a participated destiny.
The untried criminal would not begin beforehand the punishment of his fellow-criminals, by treating them according to the measure of their supposed, though yet undecided guilt. However much unlike, no one could stand off from another as a being with whom he had no feelings or interests in common. The common misery, the common danger, would create a fellowship between the most opposite characters, that would claim a word, a look at least of kindness, as they went by each other, or sat down together in the narrow limits of their prison-house. It would seem that one could scarcely have a concern in which the others felt no interest; a painful feeling that the others would not wish to spare; a desire the others would not wish to gratify-from sympathy, if not for love; from pity, if not from esteem. And least of all would those who had most hope of pardon and favour from the sovereign, when he came, look coldly on those with whom it might fare worse. A sense of their own danger would