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A short time since a tradesman, arrested for “ taxed costs,” was cast into prison, and compelled to take the benefit of the “ act for the relief of insolvent debtors.” He had been defendant in an action for the recovery of a disputed account, amounting to 171. 14s.; acknowledging a debt of 91. 175. 6d., he paid that sum into court, and a verdict was given against him for an additional sum of 1l. 14s. ld. and costs, amounting to 821. 15s. 11d.! 201. he had paid to his own attorney in the matter, thus making the law costs amount to the enormous sum of one hundred and two pounds, fifteen shillings, and eleven pence for the recovery of one pound, fourteen shillings, and one penny! This action was tried in the Court of Exchequer before my Lord Chief Baron Lyndhurst. Pursued by the lawyer for the taxed costs, the defendant was utterly ruined, and has now, with a family of children, after ten or twelve weeks'imprisonment, to commence the world again without credit and without friends, both having taken flight as he entered these gates.
A gentleman, upon whose veracity I can rely with the greatest confidence, declared to me, some time ago, that for an original disputed debt of eighteen pounds, he had already paid sixty-two! and that he was still indebted, in the same action, seventy pounds more!
Comment upon a system which upholds and sanctifies such diabolical wickedness as I have here related is unnecessary. The world is becoming daily more enlightened, and such facts (for mine are no supposititious tales, no fictions, no exaggerations, but plain, well-authenticated, positive facts) come home to every man's understanding:
Law is an incubus that is fast destroying all the energies of this once great country; the infatuation of such men as Lord Lyndhurst, with his strong, masterly mind, is dreadfully lamentable. How miserably wide asunder are his Lordship’s words and actions, profession and practice; in his famous speech in opposition to the" Local Courts Bill,”' his Lordship said, “ It was monstrous that a poor man should be driven into an expensive court for the recovery of a small sum ;” and, with the same breath, directed all his power against, what the journals of the day aptly enough, styled “the poor man's Bill." Why, his Lordship knows perfectly well, there is nothing upon earth so expensive as law; nothing so ruinous to the man who embarks in it; and, if indeed his Lordship really had been in ignorance upon the subject before, he can no longer make the same plea, whilst the appalling information given by Lord Brougham to his Lordship during the debate upon that Bill stands upon record.
We hear much of the boasted laws of Great Britain, that they tend equally to the poor as to the rich,” “that the fountain of justice is open to all," but every-day facts are in diametrical opposition to these assertions, and one fact, upon such a point, outweighs a thousand arguments. I maintain, and defy any person to contradict me with truth, that, in the administration of law, the poor cannot partake of its benefits; they can be shared only by the wealthy! And those persons who have not money to throw away amongst lawyers, must of necessity put up with loss and robbery !
Into what volumes are our law-books swollen ? Who can read—who can understand and reconcile them one to another? Surely common law should be common sense—but who will say that that is always the case? Who will be bold enough to come forward and declare, that
either common sense or justice bore any part in the cases I have just cited ? How often are things so perverted, as to make the law the means of the greatest oppression ? I have met with a writer who declares,
more property has been sunk by means of law than by any the most wholesale system of plunder known! Look at the frightful expense entailed upon the recovery of just debts ; and as to greater matters, what with writs, agents at Westminster Hall, attornies in the country, the dreadful round from one court to another, the assizes and the bar, it is next to a miracle if debtor and creditor, plaintiff and defendant, be not irretrievably ruined.”
It is really quite alarming to behold the swarms of attornies with which the three kingdoms abound; and to think of the vast sum that must be raised for their maintenance.
I would not be supposed to denounce the whole profession-far from such an intention, I must declare that I have known, and am still acquainted with many of its members who are highly honourable men and ornaments to society; but I attack the system (against which no force of language can be sufficiently severe) which enables so large a number of disreputable persons to plunder and thrive upon the distresses of the public.
When the statute-law is brought into shorter and more comprehensible compass; when judgment can be obtained with moderate attendance and expense, that men may not be ruined by the law from which they seek redress; and when gentlemen of the law are in earnest to obtain such for their clients, the legal institutions of the country will be revered, and professors of the law respected.
A sort of prison destiny appears to be the lot of some men. An individual now in this place has been a prisoner in “ The King's Bench” eleven, and in “ The Fleet” nine years. This man is now about five-and forty, having passed half his life in prison. Of what use is he to society? None-nay worse, he is a burden upon it, a drone in the hive of humanity.” The lower class of persons confined for small debts, from which stated periods of imprisonment clear them, having once entered these contaminating precincts, become hardened and careless hereafter, acquire dissolute and idle habits, lose all susceptibility of shame, and frequently return three and four times within as many years into this place of captivity and vice.
In close communion with a society so diversified and ever-varying as is this--with men different in their pursuits, principles, habits, tempers, and callings, as are their countenances, the philosopher may pass uncontaminated, and find abundant food for useful and interesting contemplation ; but who will dare to say that the young, the gay, and the thoughtless can escape uncorrupted-unhardened ? It is an undisputed fact, that no person is benefited by confinement in a gaol with a mixed multitude; and it is equally certain, that many-very many, acquire habits of iniquity there which they never again can shake off.
(To be Continued.)
THE MACHINERY OF CRIME IN ENGLAND. INTELLIGENT foreigners, who have visited our country with a view to study the minutiæ of our institutions, and to witness their practical application, with their effects upon the morals and conditions of the people, have concurred in expressing their astonishment at the want of system, unison, and co-operation among our public functionaries, in all that relates to the prevention of crime, and to the moralization of the poor. If we put any machinery in work to check crime, and improve the morals of the lower orders, we are sure to let some part of the mechanism be out of order; or we allow some contiguous power to lie idle, though its exertions may be material to the main design; or we do much worse, in permitting some antagonist power to operate actively in neutralizing our efforts and destroying the effects of all our labours. We have no préfets or sou-préfets to our counties, no public prosecutors, nor public, responsible functionaries of any sort; and our local domestic administration goes far to establish the truth of the saying, that“ what is every body's business is nobody's business." We have lords lieutenants of counties, whose functions, excepting militia and honorary patronage, are nominal; sheriffs, who are most awful and important officers, according to the black letter theory of our constitution, and who are mere vestiges of functions, pageants, or walking gentlemen in the social hospitality of county administration, and we have deputy sheriffs, whom the law declares shall not be attornies or lawyers, and who shall not be in their office above one year, (23 Hen. VI. c. 8,) and yet they are almost invariably in office for life as a matter of routine, and not only are they lawyers, but it would be impossible for their functions to be exercised were they not lawyers. To this we must add, that we have an unpaid, honorary, and irresponsible magistracy, whose duties are exclusively, technically legal, and who are yet, on an average, not brought up to the law, and know little or nothing of the law, though our laws are of a character which require talents devoted through a life of arduous study to their bare comprehension.
The clergy may evince their zeal and discretion in moralizing the poor and in ameliorating their condition : they may“ stoop to truth and moralize their song"—they may waive doctrines, and make religion the great sanction and incentive of morals; our lay-magistracy may descant on all the sources of vice and demoralization, they may digest schemes of general education, anathematize beer-shops, lament the reduction of the duties on ardent spirits, show a discreet and laudable zeal in licensing and supervising public-houses, and they may even give up, or at least modify the game laws, for the sake of moralizing the poor and checking crime; and yet, with all this self-devotion, zeal, study, and active exertion, they leave unscathed, or they even connive at or positively encourage, the great, and almost only remaining source of all crimes and petty offences. Distress and wayward natures will produce crimes and offences; but the source of distress, the school, almost the only remaining school in which wayward natures are fostered, encouraged, stimulated, and supplied with the means of crime, and with all the motives and facilities of minor offences, is either totally neglected, connived at, or, we are ashamed to say, in some cases encouraged, innocently and blindly encouraged, but still encouraged, by the magistracy.
A cotemporary publication, the “United Service Journal,” in two
articles of considerable power*, has exposed the flagitious character of what is vulgarly called the “Prize Ring” or “ Fancy” of pugilism. That publication has laid bare the nefarious crimes of pugilists, with their legal consequences, the gallows or the gaol; and it has as ably exposed, that what the gulled public imagine to be fights, are merely mock exhibitions, got up by the swell mob, black legs, and keepers of flashhouses, solely with three views,—to swindle one class of persons by false betting,—to rob another by picking pockets,—and to give a harvest out of the general result to those ex-pugilists who keep public-houses, as foci where all the schemes are originated and matured, and where the plunder is calculated and distributed. With this part of the subject we have nothing to do. With fighters, as fighters, we have no
The “ United Service Journal” has exposed the excessive frauds of “ the Ring," and the unmixed villany or dupery of all that are directly or indirectly connected with it under the name of the FANCY. Our sole object is to depict it as the great and principal remaining source of crime,--the great mocker, circumventor, and baffler of the police and magistracy. The fighters, the mock fighters, for there have been no real fighters for very many years, have found their level. Their occupation is gone—but the craft exists as a nursery, and solely as a nursery of every species of crime and offence, from the picking of a pocket, or the robbing of a hen-roost, to the burglary, the highway violence and the murder.
The United Service Journal has scrutinized and laid bare the 'concoction and machinery of a fight. Our subject has no relation to fighting, pugilism, the ring, or fancy-our sole object is police and moralization, and further than the ring or fancy is connected with domestic crime and offence—with the inefficacy of our magisterial system, -our article has no relation to the subject.
A fight, or what is called a fight-for there has not been for very many years, and never can be again, a bona fide fight,-is got up by three classes of persons ;—the low black legs, the swell mob, and those ex-pugilists, and others, who keep gambling-houses, brothels, and flashhouses. The game of the respective parties is manifest. The object of the black legs is to take in the flats, which they do superbly; to take in each other as far as they can, and this can involves immense ramifications of which the public is not aware. The object of the swell mob is, of course, merely the picking of pockets, with its collateralisms of highway robbery, violence, and swindling in all its grades and degrees. Of course the flash public-house keeper, almost always an ex-pugilist, makes the common harvest of all. All the schemes, from beginning to end, are concocted on his premises; whichever side may win or lose, he is sure to be the gainer, merely by keeping the den of accommodation, by supplying liquor, not to the fancy, for they, of course, are wary, but to the dupes of the fancy, who are plied plenteously. The one side must have cool heads and full stomachs, the other inflamed brains and eventually empty pockets. To these dens of infamy all persons of
propense nature to crime resort, in order to find companions, friends, instructors, trainers, and capitalists or master thieves to direct their labours, to afford them the field of exertion, to employ their services in subordinate grades, or to advance them the capital or means of their trade. On this
* In the Numbers for January and February last.
point the conduct of the magistracy is extraordinary. Everything connected with the ring is so exclusively the germ, seminary, college, and hospital of crime, that even the sparring matches in the Fives Courts and Tennis Courts of London the magistrates were obliged to suppress. These muffled mockeries were turned to good account by the Knights of the Post. The tradesmen and respectable householders in the neighbourhood of these exhibitions were so injured by them, and exposed to depredations, that the police were implored to suppress them, by persons who wrote anonymously, and who candidly confessed that they dared not appear either individually or collectively, so dangerous was it to be obnoxious to these wretches. At one of the last of these exhibitions near the Haymarket, the new police lined the approaches to the place of offence. They thus protected passengers, defended the neighbouring shops, and they even entered the court, and took into custody several of the pickpockets who were at their vocations. The magistrates forthwith suppressed the cloaca of crimes. After this virtue and vigour, is it possible to be believed, that the ex-pugilists and other keepers of such public-houses advertised that these sparringmatches would take place in their respective rooms ?--and in those rooms are they carried on to this day by advertisement, and without any
interference of the magistrates, though the magistrates are the licensers of such houses. The evil has been increased a thousand fold: whilst these exhibitions took place, at certain intervals, and en masse, at certain places, the foci could be under the surveillance of the police; but now that they are carried on in private rooms, in innumerable public-houses, and at night, they are beyond the cognizance of the police; and even the dread of a certain degree of publicity, the greatest of all checks to crime and of protection to the public, is now removed.
After all means of defrauding the public at the flash-houses are exhausted, after the sporting papers have exhausted puffs and paragraphs, the locality of a fight is fixed. The first travellers (before the Anatomy Bill was passed) used to be the resurrection men, in their light carts. They pitched on the graves they intended to rob after the fight. At the fight they made money by letting out their carts for spectators of the fight to stand in, and on their way home they plundered all poultryyards, and all honest old dames who were so innocent as to hang out linen in the line that the fancy had to travel. The immense number of thieves of every description that repair to fights with these light carts is often wonderful. They always come home full of stolen property.
The person employed to make the ring, or erect the stage, is the Commissary-general. When waste ground or common cannot be found, a field is hired of a farmer, who is never or very seldom paid, and if he insists on his money he gets unmercifully beaten * The claim is resisted on the plea that the ground was let out for an illegal object. At
* A celebrated boxer, Bill Gibbons, long held this office. When Huffey White, who was hanged for horse-stealing, and Macoul, who died in Edinburgh jail, under sentence of death, had robbed the Glasgow bank to such an immense amount, Macoul placed part of the notes in his friend Bill Gibbons' custody: Gibbons gave evidence against him on his trial. At the very next fight, directly he appeared as commissary-general, the swell-mob surrounded him, beat him in a dreadful manner, and carried him in a state of insensibility, and amidst horrible execrations, to throw him in the river :-(the fight was at Moulsey Hurst.) The fellow was
April.--VOL. XL, NO, CLX.