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solicitous to cover my neck. Another would inquire what news from *
* Assizes, (which you may guess, Mr. Editor, was the scene of my shame,) and whether the sessions was like to prove a maiden one. A third would offer to ensure me from drowning. A fourth would tease me with inquiries how I felt when I was swinging, whether I had not something like a blue flame dancing before my eyes. A fifth took a fancy never to call me anything but Lazarus. And an eminent bookseller and publisher--who, in his zeal to present the public with new facts, had he lived in those days, I am confident, would not have scrupled waiting upon the person himself last mentioned, at the most critical period of his existence, to solicit a few facts relative to resuscitation-had the modesty to of
guineas per sheet, if I would write, in his magazine, a physiological account of my feelings upon coming to myself.
But these were evils which a moderate fortitude might have enabled me to struggle with. Alas! Mr. Editor, the women, whose good graces I had always most assiduously cultivated, from whose softer minds I had hoped a more delicate and generous sympathy than I found in the men—the women began to shun me—this was the unkindest blow of all.
But is it to be wondered at? How couldst thou imagine, wretchedest of beings, that that tender creature Seraphina would Aling her pretty arms about that neck which previous circumstances had rendered infamous ? That she would put up with the refuse of the rope, the leavings of the cord ? Or that any analogy could subsist between the knot which binds true lovers, and the knot which ties malefactors ?
I can forgive that pert baggage Flirilla, who, when I complimented her one day on the execution which her eyes had done, replied, that, to be sure, Mr. * * was a judge of those things. But from thy more exalted mind, Celestina, I expected a more unprejudiced decision.
The person whose true name I conceal under this appellation, of all the women that I was ever acquainted with, had the most manly turn of mind, which she had improved by reading and the best conversation. Her understanding was not more masculine than her manners and whole disposition were delicately and truly feminine. She was the daughter of an officer who had fallen in the service of his country, leaving his widow and Celestina an only child, with a fortune sufficient to set them above want, but not to enable them to live in splendour. I had the mother's permission to pay my addresses to the young lady, and Celestina seemed to approve of my suit.
Often and often have I poured out my overcharged soul in he presence of Celestina, complaining of the hard and unfeeling prejudices of the world, and the sweet maid has again and again declared that no irrational prejudice should hinder ner from esteeming every man according to his intrinsic worth. Often has she repeated the consolatory assurance, that she could never consider as essentially ignominious an accident, which was indeed to be deprecated, but which might have happened to the most innocent of mankind. Then would she set forth some illustrious example, which her reading easily furnished, of a Phocion or a Socrates unjustly condemned; of a Raleigh or a Sir Thomas More, to whom late posterity nad done justice ; and by soothing my fancy with some such agreeable parallel, she would make me almost to triumph in my disgrace, and convert my shame into glory.
In such entertaining and instructive conversations the time passed on, till I importunately urged the mistress of my affections to name a day for our union. To this she obligingly consented, and I thought myself the happiest of mankind. But how was I surprised one morning on the receipt of the following billet from my charmer :
SIR, You must not impute it to levity, or to a worse failing, ingratitude, if, with anguish of heart, I feel myself compelled by irresistible arguments to recall a vow which I fear I made with too little consideration. I never can be yours. The reasons of my decision, which is final, are in my own breast, and you must everlastingly remain a stranger to them. self that I can never cease to esteem you as I ought.
At the sight of this paper, I ran in frantic haste to Celestina's lodgings, where I learned, to my infinite mortification, chat the mother and daughter were set off on a journey to a distant part of the country, to visit a relation, and were not expected to return in less than four months.
Stunned by this blow, which left me without the courage io solicit an explanation by letter, even if I had known where they were, (for the particular address was industriously concealed from me,) I waited with impatience the termination of the period, in the vain hope that I might be permitted to have a chance of softening the harsh decision by a personal inter view with Celestina after her reirn. But before three months
were at an end, I learned from the newspapers, that
be loved had given her hand to another!
Heart-broken as I was, I was totally at a loss to account for the strange step which she had taken; and it was not till some years
alter that I learned the true reason from a female relation of hers, to whom it seems Celestina had confessed in confidence, that it was no demerit of mine that had caused her to break off the match so abruptly, nor any preference which she might feel for
for she preferred me (she was pleased to say) to all mankind; but when she came to lay the matter closer to her heart, she found that she never should be able to bear the sight (I give you her
very words as they were detailed to me by her relation, the sight of a man in a nightcap, who had appeared on a public platform, it would lead to such a disagreeable association of ideas! And to this punctilio I was sacrificed.
To pass over an infinite series of minor mortifications, to which this last and heaviest might well render me callous, behold me here, Mr. Editor! in the thirty-seventh year of my existence, (the twelfth, reckoning from my reanimation,) cut off from all respectable connexions, rejected by the fairer half of the community--who in my case alone seem to have laid aside the characteristic pity of their sex; punished be cause I was once punished unjustly; suffering for no other reason than because I once had the misfortune to suffer without any cause at all. In no other country, I think, but ihis, could a man have been subject to such a life-long perse cution, when once his innocence had been clearly established.
Had I crawled forth a rescued victim from the rack in the horrible dungeons of the Inquisition—had I heaved myself up from a hall bastinado in China, or been torn from the just entering, ghastly empaling-stake in Barbary-had I dropped alive from the knout in Russia, or come off with a gashed neck from the half-mortal, scarce-in-time-retracted cimeter of an executioneering slave in Turkey-I might have borne about she remnant of this frame (the mangled trophy of reprieved innocence) with credit to myself, in any of those barbarous countries. No scorn, at least, would have mingled with the pity (small as it might be) with which what was left of me would have been surveyed.
The singularity of my case has often led me to inquire into the reasons of the general levity with which the subject of banging is treated as a topic in this country. I say as a topic for let the very persons who speak so lightly of the thing at a distance be brought to view the real scene-let the platform be bona fide exhibited, and the trembling culprit brought
forth--the case is changed; but as a topic of conversation, I appeal to the vulgar jokes which pass current in every street. But why mention them, when the politest authors have agreed in making use of this subject as a source of the ridiculous ? Swift, and Pope, and Prior are fond of recurring to it. Gay has built an entire drama upon this single foundation. The whole interest of the Beggars' Opera may be said to hang upon it. To such writers as Fielding and Smollett it is a perfect bon bouche. Hear the facetious Tom Brown, in his Comical Vieur of London and Westminster, describe the Order of the Show at one of the Tyburn Executions in his time :- - Mr. Ordinary visits his melancholy flock in Newgate by eight. Doleful procession up Holborn-hill about eleven. Men handsome and proper that were never thought so before, which is some comfort, however. Arrive at the fatal place by twelve. Burnt brandy, women, and Sabbath-breaking repented of. Some few penitential drops fall under the gallows. Sheriffs' men, parson, pickpockets, criminals, all very busy. The last concluding peremptory psalm struck up. Show over one by one." In this sportive strain does this misguided wit think proper to play with a subject so serious, which yet he would hardly have done if he had not known that there existed a predisposition in the habits of his unaccountable countrymen to consider the subject as a jest.
But what shall we say to Shakspeare, who, (not to mention the solution which the Gravedigger in Hamlet gives of his fellow-workman's problem,) in that scene in Measure for Measure, where the clown calls upon Master Barnardine to get up and be hanged, which he declines on the score of being sleepy, has actually gone out of his way to gratify this amiable propensity in his countrymen ; for it is plain, from the use that was to be made of his head, and from Abhorson's asking, " is the axe upon the block, sirrah ?” that beheading, and not hanging, was the punishment to which Barnurdine was destined. But Shakspeare knew that the axe and block were pregnant with no ludicrous images, and therefore falsified the historic truth of his own drama (if I may so speak) rather than he would leave out such excellent matter for a jest as the suspending of a fellow-creature in mid air has been ever esteemed to be by Englishmen.
One reason why the ludicrous never fails to intrude itself into our contemplations upon this mode of death, I suppose to be, the absurd posture into which a man is thrown who is condemned to dance, as the vulgar delight to express it, upon nothing. To see him whisking and wavering in the air,
-“ As the wind you know will wave a man ;'*.
to behold the vacant carcass, from which the life is newly dislodged, shifting between earth and heaven, the sport of every gust; like a weathercock, serving to show from which point the wind blows; like a maukin, fit only to scare away birds ; like a nest left to swing upon a bough when the bird is flown: these are uses to which we cannot without a mixture of spleen and contempt behold the human carcass reduced. We string up dogs, foxes, bats, moles, weasels. Man surely deserves a steadier death.
Another reason why the ludicrous associates more forcibly with this than with any other mode of punishment, I cannot help thinking to be, the senseless costume with which old prescription has thought fit to clothe the exit of malefactors in this country. Let a man do what he will to abstract from his imagination all idea of the whimsical, something of it will come across him when he contemplates the figure of a fellowcreature in the daytime (in however distressing a situation) in a nightcap. Whether it be that this nocturnal addition has something discordant with daylight, or that it is the dress which we are seen in at those times when we are “seen,” as the angel in Milton expresses it, “ least wise;" this I am afraid will always be the case ; unless, indeed, as in my instance, some strong personal feeling overpower the ludicrous altogether. To me, when I reflect upon the train of misfortunes which have pursued men through life, owing to that accursed drapery, the cap presents as purely frightful an object as the sleeveless yellow coat and devil-painted mitre of the San Benitos. An ancestor of mine, who suffered for his loyalty in the time of the civil wars, was so sensible of the truth of what I am here advancing, that on the morning of execution, no entreaties could prevail upon him to submit to the odious dishabille, as he called it, but he insisted upon wearing, and actually suffered in, the identical flowing periwig which he is painted in, in the gallery belonging to my uncle's seat in
-shire. Suffer me, Mr. Editor, before I quit the subject, to say a word or two respecting the minister of justice in this country ; in plain words, i mean the hangman. It has always appeared to me that, in the mode of inflicting capital punishments with us, there is too much of the ministry of the human hand. The guillotine, as performing its functions more of itself and sparing human agency, though a cruel and disgusting exhibition, in my mind, has many ways the advantage over our way.
Hieronimo in the Spanisn tragedy.