« AnteriorContinuar »
character. Plato and his followers might wish to expel the drama, but with respect :-as a brave garrison is allowed to march out of a surrendered town with the honours of war :-modern fanatics, on the other hand, may seek to abolish it with ignominy: severe philosophers may be too cold to relish its illusions; and rigid morality may declaim against a department of literature, which has no immediate connexion with speculative ethics, or the practical duties of life: but the theatre, in the mean time, will continue and will flourish; will still be the delight of the many to whom it is addressed, the young, the gay, the feeling, the enthusiastic, all who have warmth of imagination or tenderness of heart. Such being the case, although I agree with Clericus, that many, perhaps most, existing plays have an immoral tendency, I should be loath to despair of the possibility of improvement; or to imagine that the influence of the drama can never be beneficial, As, Jeremy Collier has been so often quoted, I may be per mitted to deliver my sentiments in his words, and conclude our present discourse by referring to his introduction. “ The business of plays is to recommend virtue, and discountenance vice: to shew the uncertainty of human greatness, the sudden turns of fate : and the unhappy conclusions of violence and injustice : 'tis to expose the singularities of pride and fancy, to make folly and falsehood contemptible, and to bring every thing, that is ill, under infamy and neglect. This design has been oddly pursued by the English stage. Our poets write with a different view, and are gone into a different interest. 'Tis true, were their intentions fair, they might be serviceable to this purpose. They have in a great measure the springs of thought and inclination in their power. Show, music, action, and rhetoric are moving entertainments; and rightly employed would be very significant. But force and motion are things indifferent; and the use lies chiefly in the application.”—These few sentences contain in a small compass the whole matter in dispute : and the practical questions which they involve, and to which the present conversation has been preliminary, may well serve us for discussion on some future evening,
LETTER TO HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS THE DUKE OF YORK,
THE PUNISHMENT OF FLOGGING IN THE ARMY.
MY LORD DOKE,
A TRANSACTION has taken place within a few days in the north of England, which ought to have occurred in a ruder age, or in a more barbarous nation. Your Royal Highness is aware, that a soldier of the British Army has been sentenced to receive three hundred lashes for a misdemeanor ; that they were inflicted upon him with such merciless severity, “ that his back presented the appearance of having been scraped with a knife;" that in this shocking and deplorable condition he was shaken from Hull to York in a common cart; that a mortification ensued ; and that the consequence was death. Your Royal Highness is also aware, that the truth of this statement is supported, not by the mere hardy assertions of incendiary orations, or factious journalists ; but by a judicial investigation before the coroner, and the verdict of a jury.
In addressing your Royal Highness upon the subject, we write with every feeling of respect. You have not been wanting in your duty : although blame must attach itself somewhere, it cannot be fixed upon the conduct of your Royal Highness. On the present, as on all former occasions, you have shewn your active regard for the true in. terests, and general welfare, of the arıny; you have proved yourself that Commander-in-Chief, whose merits have been long appreciated and admired by all parties, and by all classes ; you have ordered the strictest and most rigorous examination into the whole affair. Let it rest, then, until the circumstances of excuse or palliation, if any such circumstances exist, have been urged by the parties implicated in the transaction.
Nor is it upon any single occurrence, however atrocious, or however lamentable, that we wish to offer our comments. Every fresh incident of the kind must indeed awaken within us the dormant feelings of horror, make the blood boil with indignation in our veins, and act as a powerful stimulus to the honest expression of our sentiments; but it is to the general system of flogging in the army and navy that we would direct our efforts, and the attention of an humane, enlightened, and generous people. We would prevent the possible recurrence of such an event by the total abolition of the practice. For this system, we know, and the impressment of our seamen, are in the eyes of many foreigners not only detrimental to our military and naval service, but two of the darkest stains upon our national character.
We repeat, that it is far from our intention to convey against your Royal Highness the slightest insinuation of reproach. We rather are emboldened to address you in your official capacity, from the manner in which you have confessedly discharged the high, and arduous and responsible duties of your station. If we spoke from what we have seen and known, we should be more disposed to speak the language of flattery, than the language of censure. In common with our fellow-citizens we acknowledge and feel the debt which is due to you from the country. We are sensible, too, that nothing which regards the British army can to your breast be a matter of indifference. Therefore it is, that we venture to break through ordinary forms, and appeal immediately to your Royal Highness upon a subject which must deserve your especial consideration; therefore it is, that we dare to hope, if we can establish the propositions, which we are about to lay down, for your encouragement, and even for your co-operation in effecting the alteration which we propose.
We reprobate the principle of flogging on two distinct grounds. We affirm, in the first place, that this method of punishment is execrable in itself, and repugnant to the fundamental maxims of equity and reason; and, in the second place, that, if we consider the point in an historical rather than a philosophical light, we shall find that no case of practical necessity, or practical benefit, can be made out in support of an adherence to the system.
In the first place, then, this method of punishment is repugnant to the fundamental maxims of equity and reason, and therefore execrable in itself. Now, we need not in. form your Royal Highness, that all punishment ought to be certain ; ought to be attended with as much mercy as is consistent with the ends of justice ; ought to conduce to the reformation of the offender; and ought to have a salutary influence upon others by the example. But the punishment of flogging is directly opposed to all and each of these rules; it is uncertain, it is cruel ; it must destroy every remaining principle of virtue and honour in the individual who suffers the infliction ; and can have no good effect upon the persons who witness it.
First, it is uncertain. This was one of the strongest and most insuperable objections urged against the pillory; because one man might be exposed in it with little inconvenience, while another might be maimed, and lacerated, and even killed in the space of half an hour; because, in fact, the law was not the dispenser of the measure of punishment, but the mob. The same argument is applieable in a very great degree to the case of flogging; it is to be hoped, then, that its use may be eventually attended with the same success in substituting some less objectionable method of legal retribution. But how is it uncertain? in what does the uncertainty consist? If a man is confined for three months upon bread and water in the house of correction, or if he is transported for seven years, -here, surely, the punishment is certain and determinate; where is the difference if a soldier is sentenced to receive three hundred lashes, and actually receives them? We will explain the difference; and would to Heaven the question did not admit so easy an answer! The punishment of flogging depends not merely upon the number of lashes, but upon the force with which they are inflicted. It depends, in short, upon the drummer, who performs the wretched office of scourging the body of a fellow-creature. Why, so does imprisonment depend in some degree upon the character of the jailer. Give this argument its full force; and to what does it amount ? To prove that punishment by imprisonment is uncertain; not that punishment by flogging is certain; to prove that there are two evils to be remedied instead of one. But there is this distinction to be observed : The jailer in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred, maintains the same behaviour towards all his prisoners; he knows none of them before they enter the prison, and may see none of them again when they have left it. But the drummer-to say nothing of the probability that he is inexperienced and unskilful in the task which he has to perform-to say nothing of the fact, that the strength of one drummer may be just half, or just double the strength of another-is always, or almost always, well acquainted with the culprit; he has lived with him as a companion ; he is his personal friend or his personal enemy. He may fear something from severity, and hope something for forbearance. He either favours him on account of the intimacy between them, or nerves his arm with the terrible force of private batred and revenge. But the orderly officer and the surgeon are standing by, to adjust the measure of the punishment, and see that the lashes are inflicted with the proper vigour, according to the nature of the offence, and the constitution of the sufferer. At best, then, the measure of the punishment depends upon the temper and passions, and present feelings of the officer and the surgeon of the regiment! And here again appears the uncertainty and inequality of the punishment: that one man will sink and die under the flagellation, which another might bear almost without a groan. But the truth is, that however well the presence of these persons may appear on paper, the restraint, in practice, is often utterly inefficient. The quantum of punishment will rest almost entirely in the hands of the drummer. But it is mere trifling to talk as if the point were doubtful. Let us look for a moment at the instance before us. Did the officers, who ordered the man to be flogged, mean to pass a sentence of death? or did they not? If they did, they are guilty of wilful murder. But they did not. Yet is not the poor fellow dead? Has he not suffered a punishment which it was never intended to inflict? Is this method of punishment, then, or is it not, undeniably, shockingly, fatally uncertain ? Will your Royal Highness ask yourself this question? Either it must be answered in the affirmative, or the unfortunate soldier must be restored to life. There is