Ex-Classics Home Page

The Newgate Calendar - CONCLUDING NOTE


by the Editors.

   THUS have we endeavoured, and we hope not unsuccessfully, to complete this work, in conformity to the proposals originally offered to the public. We trust we have not omitted any trials of great importance, nor inserted many of a trifling nature.

   Those who wish well to Society will be pleased to see vice exposed in every shape, and reprobated under all the variety of forms it may assume. Too much cannot be said to discountenance its propagation, or to enhance the charms of true religion and virtue.

   To advance these important purposes should be the aim and end of every publication. The book that does not tend to make people wiser and better is a nuisance to society, and a disgrace to the press.

   As the reformation of prisoners, rather than the punishment of them, should be the great aim of our legislators, we beg leave to submit to our readers some extracts from letters written by a gentleman to a Member of Parliament, both of them of the most amiable private characters, and both of them zealous promoters of every public good.

   Jonas Hanway, Esq; in a letter to Sir Charles Bunbury, says, 'In the general view of our prisons, I beg leave to make a few remarks, which to those who have not considered the subject may carry some degree of information. Of all the abuses which ever crept into civil society, professing Christianity, considering the evil propensities of the common run of our malefactors, the tap-house seems to stand in a distinguished rank. What reformation can be expected, where it is the interest of the keeper of a prison to promote inebriety and dissipation of thought? If he is suffered to sell strong liquors for his own emolument, he will be tempted to shut his gates against every one who would relieve the real crying wants of those who are in need, and open them wide to all such as will supply the means of drunkenness. There can be no good reason for an indulgence, which, scattering the thoughts, will create a desperate repugnance to the calls of heaven. When the foul ought to tremble, as being on the verge of eternity, such a conduct is abominable beyond all expression.

   'Doth not the magistrate prostitute his authority, in granting licences, on the puerile presumption that he shall increase the revenue? Or is it that knowing how scanty the allowance is to the keepers of prisons, he gives them a liberty which he knows cannot be used without the most deadly consequences, even that of promoting the very temper and disposition which encouraged the malefactor to commit the crime for which he is imprisoned! This conduct is reproachable in the highest degree. The magistrate ought rather to refuse the licence, and represent the necessity of allowing keepers of prisons salaries suitable to the importance of their office.

   'The conversion of a house, which ought to be a scene of sorrow and repentance, into jollity, and carelessness to all events, is one of the chief causes of the evil with which we are so sorely afflicted. If this is not remedied, can any expedient restore good discipline and true economy in prisons? If some prisoners should be thus deprived of a comfort they might be entitled to, it would be far better than granting an indulgence, so pregnant with mischief to the generality.

   'By an act of the third of his present majesty, no jailer in Ireland is to sell ale, beer, or any other liquor, by himself or any other person, under the penalty of L.5 for every offence; and I am assured it operates happily in preventing the ordinary bad effects. With us the case is different; for every capital prison is a public-house; and though spirituous liquors, commonly so called, are prohibited, yet, under the name of cordials, I am told they pass; or at least that by the force of wine, and malt liquor, all the bad effects of intoxication are continued.

   'Among the several grievances which rise in judgment against us, are the fees demanded of malefactors, now softened, but not abolished. The want of medical assistance -- the deficiency of baths -- inattention to cleanliness -- foul air for want of ventilation -- want of a change of clean washed and well-dried garments, with a regular change of linen -- where these are wanting, death must be a familiar guest to a prisoner. Even the regular washing of hands and feet is of consequence. A proper regard to diet, according to the apparent wants of prisoners, is necessary to the preservation of life in prisons, more than in other places; and the defect often operates like a plague.'

   That a reform in the management of our prisons is necessary, no man of common sense can doubt; and it remains with the wisdom of legislature to provide a remedy for the evil.

   Perhaps the keeping prisoners separate from each other, and totally denying all the means of intemperance, would go far towards effecting that reformation which is so much wanted. As matters now stand, the man charged with felony is repeatedly visited by the most abandoned of his acquaintance, and they mutually harden each other in vice. These visits should be very unfrequent, and never permitted but in the presence of the keeper or his deputy, who should be people of the most unexceptionable character, and take care that not an improper word is uttered.

   To drop, however, this subject, let us conclude this volume by a fervent wish that the readers of it may carefully and steadily avoid every vice therein recorded, every folly therein exposed. Let honesty be the prevailing, the ruling, principle among us; let us be humbly content in the situation which Providence hath allotted us; not seeking to possess ourselves of the property of others; and paying a devout reverence to that divine command, the authority of which no one will deny:

   'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor ANYTHING that is his.'


Back to Introduction