Page images

derations. Nay, it hath been said, and not without foundation, that the dissensions which existed between Great Britain and her American dependencies, and which terminated in a fratricidal war, and the creation of a new state in the latter part of the last century, had no small influence over the mind of Lord Mansfield in the cases we have already referred to, and that the political and judicial sentiments were closely allied. We, however, must now conclude the observations which the topic has suggested to us. We may, peradventure, take another opportunity of examining the history of the constitutions which are now in operation in Canada, Australia, and other of our more important colonies. Whether we do this or not, we may in the mean time commend Mr. Bell's volume for attentive perusal. Those who have read Lord Grey's work, will find in Mr. Bell's a commentary thereon both useful and interesting.

The ideas of statesmen of a past generation in respect to colonies have been superseded, even as we have ventured to suggest the legal decisions of the last century would be, if occasion should arise for their reconsideration. A transition period is not the term to apply to that which we are living in, with regard especially to the colonial world. With relation to the obstacles overcome, the direction taken, and the acceleration of pace reached, it partakes more of the character of revolution.

Sir James Mackintosh has shewn how our constitution was not made, but grew; its development in regard to colonies, its elasticity, variety, and adaptability to circumstances, will, we hope, be successfully put to the test for many years yet to come.

1 Note to Campbell v. Hall, 20 State Trials 333 (anno 1774).




1. Reports of the Directors of Convict Prisons for the year 1858. 2. Fifth Annual Report of the Directors of Convict Prisons in

Ireland for the year ending 31st December, 1858. 3. Second Report of the Inspector appointed under the Act 5 & 6

William IV., c. 38, to visit the different Reformatory Schools

of Great Britain. 1859. 4. Transactions of the National Association for the Promotion of

Social Science for 1857-8.-Punishment and Reformation Department. London: J. W. Parker & Son.

THE reformation of adults is not unfrequently styled impos

a new course.


sible. The ductile mind of the child may, it is said, be drawn from vice to virtue; the half-formed habits of evil may in course of time be replaced by others of a better tendency : but the hard nature of the older criminal, like the gnarled and aged tree, may be broken indeed, but can never be trained to

This argument, which is purely metaphysical, admits of a similar rejoinder. The child who is early turned from crime, has tasted the excitement, but not the subsequent misery; he

still look back with regret.

"At their age,” says the Rev. Sydney Turner inspector of Reformatories), " there is little of experience, and still less of judgment or conscience to work upon; and though their youth makes them, on the one side, more open to impression, it renders them also more unstable, and more apt to fall again under vicious influences."* Upon the elder man, on the contrary, the pleasures of excess have palled—the cup has been drained to the dregs. He regards his former life with remorse, or at least with distaste, and turns gladly to a calmer and less fevered existence.

Again, supposing the case of the adult criminal hopeless, are

* Report, page 11.

we prepared to deny hope to the vicious ? Crime is an offence against human enactments, but are not vice and crime equally opposed to Divine law ?

The vicious man, perhaps, in the antecedents and circumstances of his life, has been constantly surrounded by better influences, and yet has been proof against them. The criminal, it may be, has never had a fair chance of being other than what he is : who shall say he will hold back when the opportunity is afforded? But granted for a moment that the door is open to the vicious alone, the difficulty of definition immediately presents itself. Vice and crime are sometimes convertible terms. An Act of Parliament, such as that for the protection of women, has made the fashionable vice of one generation a crime in the next.

Surely then there can be in theory no primâ facie reason for denying the possibility of reformation to the adult criminal ; and it will be our business to inquire whether the efforts made of late years in this direction have, in practice, been wholly ineffectual. In early ages, prisons were chiefly instruments of vengeance and torture, in which captives of war and political opponents shared the fate of robbers and assassins. Even in far later times, debtors and offenders of every grade were herded together; and jails, instead of being preventives, were the schools and nurseries of crime, into which people might be forced by misfortune, to emerge hopelessly corrupt and abandoned. In those days, the more desperate criminals, though every hand was raised and every heart steeled against them, yet enjoyed a certain prestige which was not without its attractions. Pirates and highwaymen, like the anorai of ancient, and the klephts of modern Greece, looked upon their career less as a crime than as a dangerous game played against society, to the loss of which they gloried in submitting with equanimity.

It is cheering, amid this night of cruelty and folly, to see one ray of light in the true direction, and that from a quarter in which we should have scarcely expected it. Just a century ago, some years before Howard commenced his labours, Goldsmith,

in his Vicar of Wakefield, had anticipated the principles of the modern system, by making the imprisoned vicar institute fines for the punishment of immorality, and rewards for peculiar industry, and by venturing to suggest, “ that creatures, whose souls are held as dross, only wanted the hand of a refiner ; that few minds are so base as that perseverance cannot amend." Yet, long afterwards, prisons continued to be profitable to the jailer alone. Places of amusement to the utterly vicious, they were terrible only to the better disposed; who were possibly the majority, yet who, as in schools and even larger communities, yielded to the violence of a turbulent minority, claiming to be the public opinion of their miserable world. Transportation mitigated and perpetuated this state of things, till at length a more enlightened policy, roused by the difficulty of getting rid of criminals, suggested a means of keeping people out of prison, instead of maintaining them in it; and a system of greater strictness and better classification replaced the no system which had hitherto prevailed.

The crank, the tread-wheel, the solitary cell, and all the appliances for crushing men's souls and bodies, made the jail no longer a place of amusement, yet nevertheless did not diminish crime. In spite of all the objections to the present method as too indulgent, men more frequently returned to prison under the system of mere severity. And no wonder ; they were driven to despair-and despair does not mend the character ; ii frequently seems, on the contrary, to bring out its worst points, as the accounts of plagues and shipwrecks abundantly prove. Again the means adopted were too entirely artificial. Men were treated not as rational beings, but as it were inorganic matter; hence nothing but a mechanical impression was made upon them. Train a living branch in any direction, it will eventually stiffen in it; but the steel spring flies back whenever the pressure upon it is removed. “Naturam expellas furcâ tamen usque recurret.” Again the mistake was made of

supposing good prison characters to be necessarily good characters ; whereas the fact was generally the reverse. The utter reprobate


being restrained by no principle from counterfeiting repentance, there were no bounds to his hypocrisy. The very tokens as it was supposed of good, proved his worthlessness; and on his release, which was too often accelerated by pretended amendment, he would naturally compensate himself for long restraint, by returning with avidity to a more congenial life. Others, again, who had conformed to the regulations from no unworthy motives, but chiefly perhaps from a submissive spirit, left the prison as it were with no character at all. Their minds were a blank. They were as unfit to mix again with the world as nuns escaped from a convent, and generally relapsed into crime, because powerless to resist the temptation which quickly presented itself. After a careful analysis of this system, we are driven to the conclusion that it would be scarcely possible for perverse ingenuity to have invented any thing less calculated to attain the object in view. Entire surrender of will was expected to teach self-control and decision of character ! Enforced idleness was intended as a preparation for active work; and the total annihilation of individuality was supposed to fit a man for the distinct part assigned to him in the great drama of life!

This failure of mere severity suggested to many benevolent men the possibility of attaining the desired object by means of a milder treatment. The acknowledged success of their experiment, and the efficacy, and at the same time the inadequacy, of voluntary institutions for this purpose, naturally induced the authorities of the country to adopt the same principle, and led gradually to the present more merciful system, which though still in its infancy has already justified by its results the anticipations of its promoters. “I have never heard of any one case,” says Mr. Barwick Baker, writing of voluntary reformatories, “in which an adult Reformatory has been tried, and has not succeeded beyond all reasonable hopes of its founders."* Our own belief is, that when prisons and workhouses have become what they ought to be, the voluntary institutions which have been the means of directing public attention to these subjects,

* Transactions, 1858, page 405.

« PreviousContinue »