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forehead, and about the eyes and mouth; and, in certainly
This description, it will be perceived, applies to the usual appearance of the condemned, as they attend from week to week in the chapel. But on the Sunday preceding the execution there is a service, called the condemned service,' which is conducted with peculiar solemnity, and is designed to make a strong impression on the minds of the whole congregation. Besides the sermon, which is adapted to the occasion, and always concludes with a direct address to the wretched persons who are appointed for death, appropriate hymns are sung; and if the execution is to take place, as is generally the case, the next morning, (Monday being the stated day from a humane consideration to murderers, who are condemned on Saturday, that they may thus gain the respite of the intervening Sunday,) part of the burial service is performed.
The following description of such a scene, as presented on a particular Sunday, is then given by Mr. Wakefield, premising, that not a circumstance is stated, which he has not witnessed. Having first mentioned the various classes, which form the congregation; the sheriffs, attended by their
; under sheriffs, in their full state, accompanied by a few friends, drawn thither by curiosity; the prisoners not yet tried; the school-master and his pupils, or the young offenders; those who are sentenced to transportation, among whom are the late companions of the condemned men; and, finally, the women ; he thus proceeds:
‘Let us turn to the “ condemned pew,"containing the persons ordered for execution. They are four in number. The first is a youth, about eighteen apparently. He is to die for stealing in a dwelling-house goods valued at more than £5. His features have no felonious cast; on the contrary, they are handsome, intelligent, and even pleasing. Craft, and fear, and debauchery have not yet had time to put decided marks on him. He
N. S. VOL. VII. NO. I,
steps boldly, with his head upright, looks to the women's gallery, and smiles. His intention is to pass for a brave fellow with those who have brought him to this untimely end; but the attempt fails : fear is stronger in him than vanity. Suddenly his head droops; and, as he sits down, his bent knees tremble and knock together. The second is an older criminal, on whose countenance villain is distinctly written. He has been sentenced to death before, but reprieved, and transported for life. Having incurred the penalty of death by the act, in itself innocent, of returning to England, he is now about to die for a burglary committed since his return. His glance at the sheriffs and the Ordinary tells of scorn and defiance. But even this hardened ruffian will wince at the most trying moment, as we shall see presently. The third is a sheep-stealer, a poor ignorant creature, in whose case there are mitigating points, but who is to be hanged, in consequence of some report having reached the ear of the Secretary of State, that this is not his first offence ; and, secondly, because, of late, a good many sheep have been stolen by other people. He is quite content to die; indeed, the exertions of the chaplain and others have brought him firmly to believe, that his situation is enviable, and that the gates of heaven are open to receive him. Now observe the fourth, that miserable old man in a tattered suit of black. He is already half dead.* He is said to be a clergyman of the Church of England, and has been convicted of forgery. The great efforts made to save his life, not only by his friends, but by many utter strangers, fed him with hope until his doom was sealed. He is now under the influence of despair. He staggers towards the
pew, reels into it, stumbles forward, flings himself on the ground, and, by a curious twist of the spine, buries his head under his body. The sheriffs shudder; their inquisitive friends crane forward ; the keeper frowns on the excited congregation ; the lately smirking footmen close their eyes and forget their liveries; the Ordinary clasps his hands; the turnkeys cry “Hush"; and the old clerk lifts up his cracked voice, saying, “Let us sing to the praise and glory of God.”
People of London ! is there any scene in any play so striking as this tragedy of real life, which is acted eight times a year in the midst of your serene homes !
• They sing the Morning Hymn, which of course reminds the condemned of their prospect for to-morrow morning. Eight o'clock to-morrow morning is to be their last moment. They come to the burial service.
The youth, who, alone of those for
* Rev. Mr. Fenn.
whom it is intended, is both able and willing to read, is, from want of practice, at a loss to find the place in his prayer-book. The Ordinary observes him, looks to the sheriffs, and says aloud, “ The Service for the Dead !" The youth's hands tremble as they hold the book upside-down. The burglar is heard to mutter an angry oath. The sheep-stealer smiles, and, extending his arms upwards, looks with a glad expression to the roof of the chapel. The forger has never moved.'
- pp. 159 - 162. He thus speaks of the effect of the exhortation at the close of the sermon, upon the audience generally, and upon the wretched objects of it:
The sermon of this day, whether eloquent or plain, useful or useless, must produce a striking effect at the moment of its de
For a while the preacher addresses himself to the congregation at large, who listen attentively, — excepting the clergyman and the burglar, of whom the former is still rolled up at the bottom of the condemned pew, whilst the eyes of the latter are wandering round the chapel, and one of them is occasionally winked, impudently, at some acquaintance amongst the prisoners for trial. At length the Ordinary pauses ; and then, in a deep tone, which, though hardly above a whisper, is audible to all, says "Now to you, my poor fellow-mortals, who are about to suffer the last penalty of the law.” But why should I
' repeat the whole ?
It is enough to say, that in the same solemn tone he talks for about ten minutes of crimes, punishment, bonds, shame, ignominy, sorrow, sufferings, wretchedness, pangs, childless parents, widows, and helpless orphans, broken and contrite hearts, and death to-morrow morning for the benefit of society. What happens ? The dying men are dreadfully agitated. The young stealer in a dwelling-house no longer has the least pretence to bravery. He grasps the back of the pew; his legs give way; he utters a faint groan, and sinks on the floor. Why does no one stir to help him ? Where would be the use? The hardened burglar moves not, nor does he speak; but his face is of an ashy paleness; and, if you look carefully, you may see blood trickling from his lip, which he has bitten unconsciously, or from rage, to rouse his fainting courage, The
sheepstealer is in a frenzy. He throws his hands far from him and shouts aloud, “Mercy, good Lord ! mercy is all I ask. The Lord in his mercy come! There! there! I see the Lamb of God! Oh! how happy! Oh! this is happy!" Meanwhile, the clergyman, still bent into the form of a sleeping dog, struggles violently, - his feet, logs, hands, and arms, even the muscles of his back, move with a quick jerking motion, not naturally,
but, as it were, like the affected part of a galvanized corpse. Suddenly he utters a short, sharp scream, and all is still.
The silence is short. As the Ordinary proceeds “to conclude," the women set up a yell, which is mixed with a rustling noise, occasioned by the removal of those whose hysterics have ended in fainting. The sheriffs cover their faces; and one of their inquisitive friends blows his nose with his glove. The keeper tries to appear unmoved; but his eye wanders anxiously over the combustible assembly. The children round the communion table stare and gape with childish wonder. The two masses of prisoners for trial undulate and slightly murmur; while the capital convicts, who were lately in that black pew, appear
faint with emotion.
. This exhibition lasts for some minutes, and then the congregation disperses; the condemned returning to the cells ; the forger carried by turnkeys; the youth sobbing aloud convulsively, as a passionate child ; the burglar muttering curses and savage expressions of defiance; whilst the poor sheep-stealer shakes hands with the turnkeys, whistles merrily, and points upwards with madness in his look.' pp. 162 – 166.
After these heart-withering descriptions, on which neither our limits, nor inclination, permit us to enlarge, the writer appeals to the reader, whom he has thus made a fellow-spectator of the scene: Of what use are the public religious ceremonies, in which persons about to be hanged are made to play a part?' And connecting this with all he had previously stated (pages 152-157), we readily concur with him in the conclusion, that they can be of no peculiar benefit to the condemned ; and that every good influence which could be derived from religion, might be bestowed without any public ceremonies. All that this writer shows of the impression made by the chapel service, both on the miserable wretches themselves, who are actually executed,
, and on their more fortunate fellow-prisoners, whose sentence is commuted, or whose crimes expose them to a less punishment, confirms the conviction we had already entertained, that the religious services of a prison should be private, addressed immediately to the individual, in the deep silence and retirement of his cell. The shame, fear, anguish, or even religious frenzy produced in these last stages of earthly misery, these hours of darkness, in the bosoms of the unhappy victims, are no fit spectacles for the public gaze. While on the other hand, the curiosity, pity, and various emotions in the minds of their fellow-prisoners, must materially diminish, if not wholly
destroy, the good influence of religious services upon both. Let not their penitence or despair, their stupid indifference, or unutterable distress, be exposed at any period or in any shape, either within the dreary walls of their prison, or when their hour is come to die on the scaffold. Let all the instruction and solace, which such wretchedness demands, and Christian truth will admit, be administered within the privacy of their cells. Let the unhappy man be attended by the clergyman of his choice, and his spiritual friends be permitted to administer even to the last, as their prudence and benevolence may suggest, the strength and consolation, which Christian truth and Christian sympathy may supply. But let the last religious services, which his own wishes, his peculiar faith, or the decorum of circumstances may require, be performed within the prison ; so that when he is led forth to the scaffold, it shall be only to die. And nothing shall remain for the public gaze, or the public compassion, but the spectacle of his death.
It is in this mode, we believe, that executions are universally conducted in France; and no one who has witnessed them will doubt its superior efficacy, whether as an exhibition of justice, or as suited to produce the desired moral influence. The delay, eagerness of curiosity, dangers from crowds, and temptations to crime, — to add nothing of the improper length and objectionable character, not seldom to be noticed, in the religious services of such occasions, -all conspire to make public executions, as usually conducted in this country, any thing but solemn or instructive.
We must here especially protest against that loathsome exhibition of religious frenzy, which in the shape of exulting hopes, special assurances of pardon, and of immediate salvation, has been sometimes witnessed among us. express our astonishment, that it is even permitted. What can more effectually defeat the ends of justice, than to present malefactors before the public, in their prisons, or on the scaffold, as if they were martyrs, dying joyfully in Jesus, and ascending from the gallows to glory ? Such exhibitions are as revolting as they are unnecessary. Let the criminal, we repeat, receive all the spiritual help that his sad condition and a true interest for his soul will suggest. But let him not be encouraged to think, that because his offences are to be punished by man, he at once becomes a regenerate child of