« ForrigeFortsett »
than it acquires, must gradually decay; and every being that continues to be fed, and ceases to labour, takes away something from the public stock.
The confinement, therefore, of any man in the sloth and darkness of a prison, is a loss to the nation, and no gain to the creditor. For of the multitudes who are pining in those cells of misery, a very small part is suspected of any fraudulent act by which they retain what belongs to others. The rest are imprisoned by the wantonness of pride, the malignity of revenge, or the acrimony of disappointed expectation.
If those, who thus rigourously exercise the power which the law has put into their hands, be asked, why they continue to imprison those whom they know to be unable to pay them: one will answer, that his debtor once lived better than himself; another, that his wife looked above her neighbours, and his children went in silk clothes to the dancing-school; and another, that he pretended to be a joker and a wit. Some will reply, that if they were in debt they should meet with the same treatment; some, that they owe no more than they can pay, and need therefore give no account of their actions. Some will confess their resolution, that their debtors shall rot in jail; and some will discover, that they hope, by cruelty, to wring the payment from their friends.
The end of all civil regulations is to secure private happiness from private malignity; to keep individuals from the power of one another; but this end is apparently neglected, when a man, irritated with loss, is allowed to be the judge of his own cause, and to assign the punishment of his own pain; when the distinction between guilt and unhappiness, between casuality and design, is intrusted to eyes blinded with interest, to understandings depraved by resentment.
Since poverty is punished among us as a crime, it ought at least to be treated with the same lenity as other crimes; the offender ought not to languislı, at the will of him whom he has offended, but to be allowed some appeal to the justice of his country. There can be no reason, why any debtor should be imprisoned, but that he may be compelled to payment; and a term should therefore be fixed, in which the creditor should exhibit his accusation of concealed property. If such property can be discovered, let it be given to the creditor; if the charge is not offered, or cannot be proved, let the prisoner be dismissed.
Those who made the laws have apparently supposed, that every deficiency of payment is the crime of the debtor. But the truth is, that the creditor alway shares the act, and often more than shares the guilt of improper trust. It seldom happens that any man imprisons another but for debts which he suffered to be contracted, in hope of advantage to himself, and for bargains in which he proportioned his profit to his own opinion of the hazard; and there is no reason why one should punish the other for a contract in which both concurred.
Many of the inhabitants of prisons may justly complain of harder treatment. He that once owes more than he can pay, is often obliged to bribe his creditor to patience, by increasing his debt. Worse and worse commodities, at a higher and higher price, are forced upon him; he is inpoverished by compulsive traffic, and at last overwhelmed, in the conmon receptacles of misery, by debts which, without his own consent, were accumulated on his head. To the relief of this distress no other objection can be made, but that by an easy dissolution of debts, fraud will be left without punishment, and imprudence without awe, and that when insolvency shall be no longer punishable, credit will cease..
From the Idler,
IMPRISONMENT PRODUCTIVE OF DEPRAVITY IN
MORALS. The monastic institutions have been often blamed, as tending to' retard the increase of mankind. And perhaps retirement ought rarely to be permitted, except to those whose employment is consistent with abstraction, and who, though solitary, will not be idle; to those whom infirmity makes useless to the commonwealth, or to those who have paid their due proportion to society, and who, having lived for others, may be honourably dismissed to live for themselves. But whatever be the evil or the folly of these retreats, those have no right to censure them whose prisons contain greater numbers than the monasteries of other countries. It is, surely, less foolish and less criminal to permit inaction than compel it; to comply with doubtful opinions of happiness, than condemn to certain and apparent misery; to indulge the
extravagances of erroneous piety, than to multiply and enforce temptations to wickedness.
The misery of gaols is not half their evil; they are filled with every corruption which poverty and wickedness can generate between them; with all the shameless and profligate enormities that can be produced by the impudence of ignominy, the rage of want, and the malignity of despair. In a prison the awe of the public eye is lost, and the power of the law is spent; there are few fears, there are nu blushes. . The lewd inflame the lewd, the audacious harden the audacious. Every one fortifies himself as he can against his own sensibility, endeavours to practise on others the arts which are practised on himself; and gains the kindness of his associates by similitude of manners.
Thus some sink amidst their misery, and others survive only to propagate villany. It may be hoped that our lawgivers will at length take away from us this power of starving and depraving one another: but, if there be any reason why this inveterate evil should not be removed in our age, which true policy has enlightened beyond any former time, let those, whose writings form the opinions and the practices of their contemporaries, endeavour to transfer the reproach of such imprisonment from the debtor to the creditor, till universal infamy shall pursue the wretch, whose wantonness of power, or revenge of disappoint. ment, condemns another to torture and to ruin; till he shall be hunted through the world as an enemy to man, and find in riches no shelter from contempt.
Surely, he whose debtor las perished in prison, though he may acquit himself of deliberate murder, must at least have his mind clouded with discon. tent, when he considers how much another has suffered from him; when he thinks on the wife bewailing her husband, or the children begging the bread which their father would have earned. If there are any made so obdurate by avarice or cruelty, as to revolve these consequences without dread or pity, I must leave them to be awakened by some other power, for I write only to human beings.
From the Idler.
OF BRITISH JURIES. The method of trials by juries is generally looked upon as one of the most excellent branches of our constitution. In theory it certainly appears in that light. According to the original establishment, the jurors are to be men of competent fortunes in the neighbourhood; and are to be so avowedly indifferent between the parties concerned, that no reasonable exception can be made to them on either side. In treason the person accused has a rlght to challenge five-and-thirty, and in felony twenty, without showing cause of challenge. Nothing can be more equitable. No prisoner can desire a fairer field. But the misfortune is, that our juries are often composed of men of mean estates and low understandings, and many difficult points of law are brought before them, and submitted to their verdict, when perhaps they are not capable of determining properly and judiciously such nice matters of justice, although the