Imatges de pÓgina

the place, and if he found he had been in an error in any thing, he fhould be perfectly ready to acknowledge it.

Mr. WILBERFORCE began by justifying certain parts of his fpeech in a former debate upon the fame fubject, to which the honourable gentleman who fpoke laft had alluded. When he then mentioned that he had vifited the prifons, about which fuch glaring mifrepresentations were fent abroad, he did not mean to fay that he had vifited them fince the prifoners, whofe fufferings are now fo much exaggerated, were confined in them; nor was he induced to vifit them from any particular grounds or motives of idle curiofity, but that he might obtain general information refpecting the plan on which they were built, and the principle upon which their regulations were conducted, hoping that if he had room to approve of them, he might be enabled to extend the benefit of them to other parts of the country. The honourable gentleman has faid that he had feen with his own eyes, and heard with his own ears, the ill state of the prifons and the cruel hardships fuffered by the prifoners; but those who were well read in human nature must often have observed that those who labour under the influence of any ftrong prejudice frequently deceive themselves, and imagine that they hear and fee what perfons free from such prejudice would never think of. Indeed, he . must think the honourable gentleman as incapable of conviction, Since he perfevered in his former affertions without adducing any one fingle argument or fact in corroboration of what he had advanced. The honourable gentleman also denies that he had thrown out any reflection upon Lord Kenyon. That learned Lord was well known to be extremely jealous of his character, and unless he had good grounds for ufing the language he before referred to, that learned Lord would not have thanked the keeper of those prifons in terms of fuch praise for the propriety of his conduct—a conduct which, he said, called for a general tribute of gratitude to fuppofe, therefore, that the learned Lord would have beftowed fuch marked approbation where, it was contended, no fuch approbation was deferved, was doubtlefs throwing fomething like a reflection upon the learned Lord's judgement and fincerity. He was likewife told by the honourable gentleman that on this subject he had displayed much religious facetioufnefs mixed with Chriftian rancour; these were epithets which were rarely given to the fubftantives here made ufe of, at leaft from his vocabulary he was led to think fo; for Chriftian rancour was furely ill applied, and as to religious facetioufnefs, he was ready to agree that a religious man might at times be facetious, but it was equally true that a man might be very irreligious and very dull. However, fuch a man

might take a hint from the advice of Pope, and endeavour to enliven his dullness by the admixture of a few religious ingredients. But a word on the question now before the Houfe. It is faid that we ought not to take away that guard to which we owe the fecurity of our rights, of our liberties, and of our happiness; furely not, upon flight and capricious grounds. When, however, it is obvious that we have enemies both without and within, enemies of formidable ftrength, and of formidable malice: when we fee Members of that Houfe, he would not fay, who aided, but who appear at least to become friendly to perfons of such a stamp and character, then most undoubtedly it becaine the wisdom and the vigilance of that House to take every measure that could keep us on our guard, and not to relax in any of our exertions to counteract and baffle the wicked defigns and machinatians of fuch enemies: we should not, as has been weir faid, hefitate to facrifice a part of that, the whole of which we may fecure and hereafter enjoy by means of that seasonable facrifice. The honourable gentleman was alfo pleased to speak

th of his own and of his (Mr. Wilberforce's) humanity; for his port, he night fairly fay, that he never came forward in fupport of any menfure, with nothing but the word humanity in his mouth,— nor did he endeavour to gain his point upon false grounds: he, on the contrary, brought forward ftrong facts, to which he added the plea of humanity. The perfons whose cause is now so pathetically pleaded might heretofore have been objects of humane compaffion. But where was the honourable gentleman's humanity and friendfhip for them before they were accufed of high treafon ? Where was the honourable gentleman's curious anxiety to visit the prisons and pry into their regulations before the State Prifoners were confined in them? Has he examined into the treatment of vagrants with equal folicitude? He did not, however, urge these observations with a view to blame the honourable gentleman's humanity and fympathies; he merely urged them to fhew that his humanity and fympathy on the prefent occafion fhould not have hurried him to bring grave accusations against respectable characters without having examined into the grounds upon which they ftood, and without any other apparent proof than the influence of ftrong prejudice.

Mr. NATHANIEL JEFFERYS faid, when the fufpenfion of the Habeas Corpus was moved last year, he had given it his fupport, with many gentlemen on the fame fide of the House, from an impreffion on their minds of the danger threatening the country from treason, an apprehenfion strongly enforced by the affurances of Minifters that fuch danger exifted. Many gentlemen who then fupported the measure now oppofed its continuation by faying the

fame inducement no longer exifted. Mr. Jefferys agreed with them, that the fame inducement no longer did exift-the inducement laft year was an apprehenfion of treafon; the inducement now was the experience of the existence of treafon, fupported by strong facts at Maidstone and elsewhere. Mr. Jefferys faid, he reprefented a very populous manufacturing city, and believed he was fpeaking the fentiments of ninety-nine out of a hundred, of a very large body of people, by giving his fupport to the bill now before the House.

With respect to the prison alluded to, Mr. Jefferys said, not having feen it, he could give no opinion, but he thought it his duty to ftate, that, during the recefs, in an extenfive journey, he had, from general motives of information, vifited the prifons of many large towns through which he passed, and was astonished at the accommodation, tenderness, and humanity, with which the prifoners were treated; one in particular he begged leave to mention to the honour of the county, the prifon at Lancaster Caftle, where the prisoners were maintained with an attention to humanity and tenderness in a degree more resembling the fituation of perfons rewarded for good deeds than fuffering punishment for crimes.

Sir FRANCIS BURDETT contended, that every affertion he had made was grounded upon facts-nor could he fee much delicacy in the manner of an honourable gentleman (Mr. Wilberforce), who thought proper to throw out infinuations refpecting the motives which guided his conduct, and that of his honourable friend's. He would now proceed as he had proceeded before, and adduce new facts in proof of his former affertions; in order to do so, however, he must beg the indulgence of the Houfe would permit him to read feveral papers which had lately been addressed to him. The honourable Baronet then read feveral papers (we believe sent him by the prifoners from Manchester), the general purport of which was to describe the hardships which they have suffered in the prifon at Cold-bath Fields; among which they enumerated their being confined in folitary cells, measuring only eight feet by fix, where they could not obtain any thing like a bed without paying a fhilling for it; where they were left without fire or candle, expofed to cold weather, in a narrow space where the wet continued to flow down the walls, a fituation in which they were compelled to linger for feven months; that far different treatment had been promifed them by the Privy Council; and though they had repeatedly written to Mr. Floud, the Magistrate, entreating him to fee that promise realifed, they could obtain no other redrefs than that Mr. Floud would fee them if they wished to speak with him on public affairs;

but that as to their private fituation, it was not in his power to make any alteration in it. The honourable Baronet could not fee that the charge of any particular species of guilt could afford any juftification for fuch harsh and cruel treatment. As to the letter read by an honourable gentleman on a former night, refpecting the regulations of the prifons, and the comforts enjoyed by the prifoners, to his mind it appeared exceedingly exaggerated; that letter represented the table of the prifoners to be as fumptuous as that of the gentleman who wrote it; and as he was a churchman, it might be well fuppofed, as the honourable gentleman had before obferved, that the table of the clergy is generally well provided. The letter, in fhort, reprefented thefe places of confinement rather as wearing the appearance of an hospital than of a prison; but was not this, if true, a luxury that ill fuited a place of correction, where legal chaftisement should be inflicted, not where luxuries fhould be enjoyed? But much he wished that none but legal correction had been reforted to. If, after a due investigation of the matter, he fhould find that the arguments he had advanced on the fubject of the ill treatment of the prifoners were not grounded on fact, he not only would be ready, as an honourable gentleman had advised him, to make an amende honorable to the Houfe for the uncalled-for trouble he had given them, but he should alfo enjoy the happiness of having his feelings relieved from the idea that fuch foul atrocities had been practifed in a country he was taught to look upon as free and humane,in England,--in the country that gave him birth; if that investigation was not refifted by the Houfe, it was his wish that proper evidence fhould be called to the bar, in order to have the whole matter cleared up to the general fatisfaction of the country, and as fuch was his wifh, he would not now detain the Houfe by any farther observations.

Mr. WILBERFORCE explained the nature of the letters which he had read, the contents of which he believed to be true, because he knew the gentleman who wrote them to be a man of ftrict veracity.

Mr. BURDON faid, that when he had spoken before upon the question now before the Houfe, his obfervations were fummary, and his statements rather short; but thefe ftatements were not merely the offspring of a fickly brain: he had taken the trouble fully to investigate the truth of them; and from what he had to fay, the Houfe would fee whether the treatment experienced by the prifoners in question deferved the very strong denomination of atrocities, which the honourable Baronet has thought proper to give it. He had feen the letter from Mrs. Defpard, which appeared in one


of the newspapers; and as foon as he faw it, he felt it his duty to inquire minutely into the causes of her complaints. With that view he went and had a long converfation with Colonel Defpard, the refult of which, he trufted, would fave the honourable Baronet the trouble of looking for that information which he feemed fo anxious to obtain. In the interview which he had with Colonel Defpard, in the prefence of the governor of the prifon, the Colonel informed him, that he was as well, in every circumftance, as the nature of a prison would admit. Indeed he was determined to make no complaint, as he enjoyed all the comforts which were recommended by the Secretary of State, and he did not expect more. It was true, that in the month of September he had a chilbain on his heel; but fo little did he think of it, that he would not employ the furgeon of the prifon to relieve it. He was, he faid, an old foldier, and placed little confidence in the profeffors of medicine he would therefore doctor his heel himself. As foon as his com-plaints were known, he was immediately removed to a room where he had fire, candles, &c. and every accommodation he could fairly expect. He had frequent interviews with his wife, with whom he was permitted to converse for almost any length of time. He had not any knowledge of the letter written by her complaining of his ill treatment, or if he had, he would have disapproved of it. Now as to the dampness of the cells, he (Mr. Burdon) could safely aver, that it was a moft unfounded affertion. He had examined them himself; they were raised confiderably above the ground, and not exposed to wet of any kind. The walls were moreover thick, and well white-washed. The beds were also faid to be but two feet wide, and to be expofed to the damp walls. This affertion was as groundless as the former; they neither touched the walls, nor were they expofed to any inclemency of the weather. What then could be the effect of agitating a question like the prefent, but to traduce the fair character of refpectable men, and particularly of the Magiftrates, whose conduct should not be lightly arraigned, but on the contrary, should meet with our countenance and support? Did it not go to injure the credit and character of that eminently humane man, who laboured fo long and fo ftrenuously in meliorating the state of prisons throughout the country? If thefe charges could be Jiftened to, would they not tarnish the well-earnt glory of that celebrated man? As to the propriety of continuing the fufpenfion of the Habeas Corpus, he was fure there could reft no doubt in any candid and unbiaffed mind: the ground of that propriety might, indeed, be changed-but the change only tended to render it


« AnteriorContinua »