WE introduced this case, for the purpose of showing, that our constitution recognized courts, yet severer, according to the limits of their power, than the Old Bailey or Westminster-hall. These are Ecclesiastical Courts, or the tribunals of the dignified clergy; from which we most seriously warn our readers to beware, for though small may be the crime, great will be the punishment.
We have already given, the definition of "The Benefit of Clergy." When the rapacity of the priests arrived to the pitch we have stated, and it became necessary to check their impositions, they had resort to these Bishop's Courts, where, for an unguarded oath, or the slander of passion, laymen, like ourselves, may be liable to a gloomy imprisonment for so long a time as four years.
For offences far more injurious to community than the crime of William Carr, the court of King's Bench has sentenced offenders to only three month's imprisonment. That court, the pride of our laws, is merciful. It admits men to bail, for the purpose of allowing the accused, until the forms of law call for his appearance, an opportunity of earning bread for himself, and perhaps, as was the unhappy case of Carr, for a wife and three children. This court never, except in cases of flagrant breaches of the peace, or some enormous offence against the government, or perhaps a scandalous libel; in short, hardly in any case inferior to felony, does it sentence a man four years imprisonment! And now mark, reader, another difference between courts civil and ecclesiastic. The tender mercies of the church, as priests call their actions, will take no surety but the body that offends against its dignity, and there it must lie, without bail or mainprize, the number of years which a bishop, in his meekness and humanity, order the devoted layman to linger in a gloomy prison.
We are highly gratified at finding the case of Thomas Carr, noted by the philanthropic Howard, in his researches into the haunts of misery. Could we make our bishops into Howards, what a blessing would they prove to the land! Then would humanity, generosity, meekness, pity and comfort, be found in each prelate, going about, like Howard, searching the wretched out, and administering to their misfortunes. Howard—and if ever mortal was immortalized, it surely must be Howard—in his State of Prisons, contains the following observation on the case of William Carr: —
"In the old prison of Rothwell, in Yorkshire, I saw, both times I was there, one William Carr, a weaver: he had given a bad name to a woman, who, it is said, did not deserve a good one: She cited him to the Ecclesiastical Court and he was imprisoned. He had a wife and three children."
We shall conclude this hard case, with the singular curiosity of a copy of the formal part of the Ecclesiastical Writ, which deprives a layman of his liberty, without bail or mainprize; and, perhaps, for no other crime, as Mr. Howard insinuates, than telling a strumpet that she was a whore.
"Forasmuch as the Royal Power ought not to be wanting to the holy Church in its complaints. Attach William Carr, until he shall have made satisfaction to the holy Church, as well for the contempt, as for the injury by him done to it."
Mr. Howard adds, that this victim to the offended church, was released only by the insolvent act.