Chapter 5

The mind of man is active, and the great secret of managing it, is to find employment for it. L'ennui, for which we have not a correspondent English word, is the feeling of a vacant mind. We had a phrase in the old Saxon, and which still exists in that dialect of it which we call broad Scotch which hits it exactly; it is to think lang.


O' woe, quo he, were I as free
As when I first saw this country,
How blythe and merry would I be,
And I wad never think lang.


The mind inactive loses its spring; and it ought to be the study of all who are concerned in the early education of youth, to devise employment for them; and in communities, to find means of occupying the grown persons. This is to keep the man from pursuits that are injurious to himself or to others. Where an army is not to be raised, and soldiers enlisted, the making turnpike roads, and digging canals, is an excellent substitute for this draught of the superfluity of population, and a proportion of society who have not the foresight, or perseverance to devise employment for themselves. Hence it is that they are mustered in elections by the ambitious, for their own private views, and these are they who are made use of to call out for a change of the constitution; Not that all who make use of them for this purpose, mean more than to advance themselves by the aid of the confusion which they excite. For when men are out of power, they wish the drawing of the lottery to begin again, and the prizes drawn to go for nothing. The blanks that are drawn do not give satisfaction-- Not but that the common people are of themselves sufficiently disposed to novelty. A desire for a change is the characteristic of the multitude, at all times. And even if a man has no prospect of ameliorating his condition, it helps a little that it is not always the same. Though the next plank is as hard as that on which a man lies, it is pleasant to roll upon it. It is a great misfortune, when a restless spirit has a faculty of haranguing; and still more so, if he has ideas, and can get himself placed at the head of a paper. He is restrained by feelings of delicacy only in proportion as he wants terms to express himself. If one of these should happen to be of the kingdom emphatically so called, because it has been but nominally a kingdom for some ages, he brings the same licence into his paper, that he showed at the fairs of Liffy, or Tipperary, with a shamrock in his hat and a shillelah in his hand. Yet there is in the history of that people in their own country, something greatly to be valued: their hospitality, and generosity. An Irishman has no mean vices.-- He is brave and open in his enmity; and sets the law at defiance, at the same time with the public opinion.


It is an old adage, an ounce of prevention, is worth a pound of cure: or, as the mock doctor of Smollet has it, Bestum est curare distemprum ante habestum.


It is but a slovenly way of reforming a man, to hang him. Some indeed have their doubts whether it is lawful to hang a man at all, or take away life in society. Certainly nothing can justify it, but the necessity of self-preservation. If a man had killed five hundred, and the remainder can be safe, the necessity of taking away the life of the murderer ceases; and it is unlawful to put him to death. But where a man kills one, a presumption arises that he will kill two, and it is on the principle of prevention that he is suspended, or otherwise taken from society. Banishment is unquestionably the proper mulct to him who has forfeited the benefits of society. But the culprit may come back, and repeat his blows; or he may commit mischief in the place to which he is sent, or to which he may come! or another society may refuse to receive him. But the Jewish lawgivers said, "Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed:" but if that is to be taken strictly, hanging is no shedding blood; and yet the murderer is hung, not beheaded.


The meaning is predictive; and as much as to say, that in the natural course of things, the taking the life of a man, leads to the loss of a man's own. But taking it even as injunctive, and as pointing out that punishment which retributary justice ought to inflict, it must be taken as applicable to the Jews in the wilderness, whose unsettled life did not admit of places of confinement sufficiently safe to secure offenders. While they were journeying from Kadesh Barnea to Cushanrishatharim, they must be at a loss what to do with the malefactor; and therefore it saved trouble to despatch him from the world. In a country where the sitting is permanent, to borrow a phrase from the French national assembly, and where strong buildings can be erected like the old or new jail of Philadelphia, what necessity can there be to put a man out of the world? He can be put to work, and to make some amends to the community for the life he has taken away, and the expence of bringing him to punishment. As for himself, is he not more punished by solitude, or labour, than by the infliction of death? It does not follow, that if left to a man's self, he would prefer confinement to death, that for this reason, the punishment is lighter. He has not resolution to consult future happiness, by the enduring present pain. But if it is left to a man to consider whether he would wish to have his enemy confined, or to undergo instant death, would he be willing that his adversary should escape vengeance by getting speedily out of the world? It might be a satisfaction to him that the murderer should go to hell; but he is not sure that he would go there; and when he has him in a work-house, he is sure that he must work. Besides, who can be of so diabolical a nature, as to be reconciled even to a murderer going to hell; and why not allow him space and opportunity to repent, as much as the short life of man will allow, in a cell of confinement with nothing but bread and water, at least until he gives signs of repentance? Be this as it may, from all the examination I have been able to give my own mind, I would think a man more punished who had murdered, to see him in a cell, than on a gallows; what I would think if I had been murdered myself, supposing me still to have the feelings of humanity in another state, is a different question. I might wish to have my adversary with me there; in order to retaliate, and to have the gratification of retributary vengeance. Unquestionably it must be a feeling of this nature, and a putting one's self in the place of a murdered person, that can lead to an idea that is but justice to the dead, that the murderer should die. It is but an innovation in the common law of our ancestors, the Saxons, to put to death, when a compensation could be made to the public, and to the relations of the deceased for the injury done, in taking away the life of an individual.


It seems to be a dictate of nature; for the early ages of man in all countries, sanctions this mode of atoneing for injuries, not excepting murder itself. Where there was a community of goods, compensation could not be made in this way, and confinement and hard labour would be the only punishment.


But, be this as it may, if life must go for life, I dislike the mode of taking it. The sus. per col. is an ugly minute on the docket. I do not know that they could have done better before the invention of gun powder; for beheading is not much better; if not rather more shocking, from the mutilation of the body. --I would prefer shooting; at least if I was to die myself by the order of the law, that would be my choice; and through the breast rather than the head; for I would not chuse to have the human countenance disfigured. I saw once four deserters shot, sitting on their coffins, and their graves dug beside them, and yet with these terrific circumstances, I thought them killed prettily in comparison of being put to death by the halter. --The guillotine is too appalling on account of the apparatus. --My mode of death, were it left to my choice, I mean death forced, would be to fall by a pistol shot by the hand of a mild compassionate female, drest in white muslin, who would have fortitude to be unmoved; because, in that case, death would be presented with as little terror as the nature of the case would admit. "To paint death as we do, is an injustice," says the duc de Ligne. "We should represent it in the shape of a tall, venerable, mild and serene matron with traces of beauty left on her countenance, and her arms opened gracefully to receive us. This is an emblem of an eternal repose after a sad life, replete with anxieties and storms."


I will admit, that the sudden impression, the theatrical effect, so to speak, of a public execution, is calculated to strike the multitude; but it is passing, and as to the deterring from the commission of crimes, no punishment can have any great effect. All depends upon the ways and means preventing; caution a priore, is the most effectual. I have weighed a good deal in my mind, the speeches of Julius Caesar and Cato in the Roman Senate, on the sentence to be passed on the conspirators, the associates of Cataline. That of Cato prevailed, which was for the putting them to death; and with good reason, on that occasion, which was in the midst of an insurrection, and when a confidence in the power of government was necessary to be expressed, and the audacious intimidated, shewing them what those who had the administration dared to do, against those who had so many of the populace on their side; and because also, in those perturbed times, there was no secure keeping them; they might have got out of custody in a short time, and have gone to increase the numbers of the traitors. Self preservation, in this case necessity, dictated the putting out of life; yet it is remarkable, with what delicacy the Roman consul expresses the event, walking down to the Forum after their execution: "Vixeunt," they have lived. The Greeks also, in their mode of expressing the last offices, speak of having accompanied the departed, a little way on their journey. "Odou emarmenen," the appointed journey. What an impression must we have of the manners of those times, when torture preceded death; and death itself, was accompanied with all the horror of circumstances? May not the time come, when the putting to death at all, unless in extreme cases, such as those alluded to, will be felt as the proof of an uncivilized state of society; and a remnant of barbarity still retained by the prejudices of the vulgar?