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prisoner, who stands in a kind of waich-box close beside the door of entrance on the right, and to whose “ attending ears, the unaccustomed softness of the clink sounds
“ More silver-sweet than lovers tongues at night ;" and who lists up his looks from their usual leaden commerce with the ground, to see what manner of person that may be who parts with other coin than mere cumbersome copper, in return for nothing better than thanks.
If, on passing the above-named sentinel, we are reminded of being within the walls of a prison, it is by nothing but those walls themselves,- which rise to a most ambitious height, and will no consent to be overlooked than be looked over. They occupy the whole right side of the great open court in which we now stand, but have lost all that character of puritanical plainness which belongs 10 the outside of them, by being here marked out into compartments, lined, numbered, and otherwise prepared, for the noble game of rackets,— which game constitutes the main business and amusement of the inhabitants of the prison. The centre of each of the three compartments into which this part of the wall is divided, is covered with white cement, in the form of an enormous circular mark, or bull's-eye, for the balls to strike against ; and this, together with the innumerable small patches of white left by the striking of the chalked balls,—which grow more and more numerous towards the centre point, till they there efface each other and leave nothing but a bright white focus,-produce a very singular effect.
Opposite to this wall is the great continuous and regular building in which the rooms of the prisoners are situated. This consists of a plain face of brick-work, reaching from end to end of the court-leaving, however, a passage round it at either extremity, and its flat face broken in the centre by a portion wirich projects a foot or so in front of the rest, and forms the chapel. This portion has a pair of plain doors of entrance, and is terminated at top by a pediment; but all the rest of the face is merely pierced into regular ranges of windows, and on the ground-floor into small arches without doors, which serve as entrances to the different galleries into which the whole interior of the building is equally divided.
I do not mean to take you a single step within these entrances; for to say nothing of any such enterprise leading us much too far, and detaining us too long, it would inevitably disturb, if not altogether destroy, that agreeable complacency with which I have determined that we will look on all that may chance to come before us in the course of these Epistles. That complacency encountered considerable danger from the almost tearful gratitude which appeared in the looks of the gentleman (for there was nothing in his niere appearance and manner which might have prevented him from passing for one elsewhere,) who hield his hand to us as we entered, aud to whom the unexpected “godsend,” of a shilling instead of a halfpenny, was capable of conveying more pleasure thay that other “godsend” which reached us the other day, of certain millions of Anstrian gold, has yet done or will do 10 any one of his Majesty's subjects. Even this sight, wbich had good for its origin, , and pleasure for its end, went nigh to overset my friendly and phi
losophical determination of turning every thing I may send you " to favour and prettiness.” What then would be the consequence, if I were to venture within the perilous precincts where it is more than probable that all the careless looks, and it may be forced smiles, which present themselves to our observation here without, are changed into their sad opposiies, and the true óó secrets of the prison-house" are disclosed ?-No:-imprisonment, where one can see the udobstructed light of heaven above us, and feel the fresh air blow upon us as we walk, is a mere word,-striking unpleasantly enough on the ear, and through that reaching to the imagination : but there it stops. The only real prisons are those within the prison. There, indeed, between the four walls of a cell, imprisonment makes itself felt; there, and there only, the word becomes a thing, and enters the very heart and soul. From them, therefore, we will henceforth keep aloof even in thought; forgetting or disbelieving (as we readily may from the scene around us) that in this prison there are any such places.
There is a singular difference between the English and all other civilized nations, in this respect,-that it is impossible for any given number of English people to be domiciliated for any length of time on a particular spot, without each one impressing something of his or her personal character even on the external appearance of the place they inhabit : so that, however uniform the character of the place may be in itself, it will never look so if inhabited by English. I pointed out to you something of this in the little garden-plots that front the houses in the Belvedere-row which looks upon the outer walls of this singular spot. But the windows of the prisoners' rooms within the walls offer still more numerous and various illustrations of the remark. The whole face of the building, as I have said, consists of one uniform piece of plain brickwork, pierced by regular ranges of windows, all alike in themselves; and yet, in point of effect, no iwo out of the whole are alike, and there is scarcely one that does not speak either a history or a prophecy in regard to the inhabitants of it. Those of the lower range, if not the inost characteristic in this respect, are the most conspicuous,-nearly the whole of thein being employed in displaying indications of the particular calling of the occupier; and almost all those callings carried on in what in my part of the world is denominated a chandler’s-shop-including, among the thousand and one trades which that comprehensive title takes in, that of an eating-house! Conceive a vendor of “
every thing in the world," as Mathews says,—including cold boiled beer, and all that sort of thing, "-exercising his profession in a space of eight feet by eight ! Not a very fatiguing exercise, one should think. And conceive of the locale in which such an exercise takes place being called, in letters each half as large as itself, “ YORK AND LINCOLN HOUSE!" This reminds me (though I'm sure I don't know why) of a writer who, in seeking to give a familiar illustration of some particular smell, tells us that it recalls to his memory that of a baker's shop at Balsora. Another writes up,
“The best shop in the Bench;"at once with an eye to alliteration, and on the principle of condensation adopted by the Libliopole who, determining to rival Lackington in his own realm, wrote up," the cheapest bookseller in Finsbury” the former having held himself forth as “the cheapest bookseller in the world.” I will not detain you by enumerating the various visible “ signs and figures” by which each of these rivals, together with about a dozen others of similar pretensions, seek to supersede his fellows. Suffice it, that all agree in the expressive particulars of a couple of red herrings—a plate of periwinkles-a loaf of bread, attended by twin twopenny ones to match-a little basket of Barcelonas—a cake of gingerbread-a square of pipe-clay—and two tobacco-pipes, crossed in conformity with the line of beauty.
But it is the upper windows of this building which display the most characteristic marks of the minds, manners, and habits of their occupants : though these latter marks are far from being sufficiently conspicuous to strike the eye of common observers : for which reason, my good cousin, it becomes the more incumbent on me to point them out to you! Observe, then, yonder dingy casement, dim with the dust of half a year; the upper portion shaded by a strip of tattered green stuff, that once formed part of a female vestment, but now does the office of a curtain ; while the two broken panes have their fractures filled up with pieces of dirty rag, that seem to have undergone a no less degrading change of condition. The only other noticeable object about this window is a half-washed napkin, hanging outside from the cill to dry,-held there by the closed casement. There is no occasion to look through this window, to see the kind of inhabitants on whom it throws a sort of murky twilight. They consist of a half-pale, halfpimpled sot, cowering over his pipe, and seeming to watch the expiring ashes of his fire; a neagre and half-clothed mother, seated on the corner of an unmade bed, angrily hushing a squalling infant; while two or three other children, “ pictures in litile” of squalid wretchedness, are playing about upon the uncarpeted and unswept floor, and siniling at one another through their dirt.
The window to the right of this indicates inhabitants a stage above those just described : above them if it be but in the desire for comforts which they have not either the heart or the industry to achieve. Its curtain is rudely nailed up into the form of a festoon ; the unbroken panes have been wiped just clean enough to show how dirty they are, and the broken ones are pasted up with paper ; and on the cill outside are placed a leafless geranium and a pot of orange mint.
The next step (but a very wide one) in the scale of would-be comfort and respectability, is to be seen at that window to the right, beside which the bird-cage hangs, containing a prisoner to a prisoner. The curtains are trim and neat—ihe glass clean and clear--the cill whitewashed—and at each end of it a pot containing scarlet runners, with strings to train them up, and make them form a little arch over the centre of the casement. The inhabitants of this room have evidently made up their minds to stay here through the summer, and make the best of a lot that they could not avoid, but have not deserved. The husband is working at his trade, and now and then (when he forgets where he is singing as he works; the neatly-dressed wife is plying her needle all day long; and the clean-washed children, when not “ lear'ning their books," are playing in the court below, as gaily and happily
as they did in their little garden at home. It was the misfortune, not the misconduct of these people, that brought them and keeps them here.
The only other class whose character I shall venture to sketch to you, by means of the indications afforded by the outward appearance of their domiciles, is that, an example of which inhabits yonder room, whose window overlooks the chapel-doors. The sash has been newly painted; the panes are as clean and bright as those of a country parsonage; white dimity curtains, somewhat scanty, but arranged with an eye to effect, hang on either side, and are surmounted by a fringed festoon ; the lower panes (although there are no overlookers) are shaded by neat strips of white muslin; and outside the window is a little green cross-barred rail-work, to give room for the flora domestica which forms the inost characteristic portion of this display, and consists of mignonette, geranium, and Brompton stocks, two pots of each, finished in the centre by a large broad-leaved myrtle, that has evidently, like its owners, seen better days,” and is now preserved, as they preserve their spirits and their pride, in the hope of seeing those days again. The last paragraph will explain to you the character of the inmates of this room, if its external indications have not already done so. They little thought, twelve months ago, of being in a prison ; and therefore they do not think of being in one twelve months hence. This preserves that happy self-respect, and that wise desire for the respect of others, which together constitute the surest guarantee for the deserving of them both : of both, too, be assured these prisoners have hitherto deserved and attained no little share, in the limited sphere in which they have moved, -otherwise the mere fear of a prison, much more the reality of it, would have produced that most fatal and irremediable of all its effects, which begins in paralyzing the hope of better things, and ends in destroyall efforts towards their attainment.
But I am bestowing more time than I (or perhaps than you) have to spare, upon the mere frame-work of the picture that I promised to place before
you. I will merely take a glance at the rest of it, and then proceed to the animated figures which“ move and have their being” within it. I have shewn you the two portions which form the sides of the oblong square of the grand court. The end at which you enter consists of the building forming the hall of entrance, and to the right of that a detached erection, called the Strong-room-for refractory pa
ts, I suppose. But the opposite end of the court presents the most remarkable portion of the mere inanimate objects connected with the building ; for here is situated the market. And of all the evidences that we have yet encountered of the kind of place we are in, commend me to this as the most eloquent and decisive. Turning round the projecting extremity of the great building, you see before you a row of stalls, consisting of a butcher's, a fishmonger's, and a green grocer's; and I will venture to say that, on any given day, the produce of them all united would scarcely furnish a moderate dinner to a moderate-sized family. Think of a butcher, and a jolly one too, sitting in full costuine and in all the pride of place, with a shoulder of lean mutton and a scrag of ditto, hanging at a due distance from each other above his head, and two separate chops and a kidney spread out on the board before
him! I suppose he spares himself the trouble of asking “What d'ye buy?”
One would scarcely think, after seeing the market, (every stall of which matches the above) that there was any need of a public kitchen in the prison. But there is such an establishment, situated in the corder of this part of the court; and it has an air of emptiness and silence about it exactly in keeping with the market from which it derives its (want of occupation. Passing the stalls of the market, and the front of the public kitchen, we now come upon the back front of the building already described, between which and the enclosing wall there is but a narrow passage. Traversing this, and passing at ihe opposite extremity a coffee-house and tavern, which seems a tolerable pendant for the market and kitchen at the other end, we again emerge upon the great court, at the point where we entered.
And here, my dear Frank, I almost fear to proceed in my epistleso hopeless does the task seem of sketching in an intelligible manner, and from a mere passing glance, the multiplicity of different figures that flit before me in this most comprehensive of microcosms; for it seems to have drawn together into one focus specimens of every known class in the community, and of a great many more besides. As my visit was paid, too, on the first fine day of the spring, all were abroad upon the Mall in front of the principal building, either basking in the new sunshine on the benches placed here and there, or stretching their legs and their faculties at the same time, as they paced the pavé, arm in arm or singly, in the characters of “ prisoners at large.” I must only attempt to glance at a few of them as they catch my eye; for to describe even a single example of every class, would require a volume instead of the remainder of a sheet. And, first, of the groups, which consist for the most part of trios. Look at yonder well-conditioned person, flanked on either side by the happy individuals on whom he is pleased to bestow the benefit of his morning company and conversation, and who in return are prepared to laugh at his jokes as heartily to-day as if they had not heard them every day during the last week. He is a person whom nothing, not even a prison, can put out of sorts, and who thrives as well there as he would in a palace—so imperturbable is his self-complacency. In fact, practically speaking, he knows but little difference in regard to localities. With him, the pleasantest place in the world is that in which he happens to be, and the pleas“ntest person in it-himself. And this latter proposition is admitted by all who associate with him ; because those by whom it would not be admitted see at a glance that he is not for them, nor they for him. In short, wherever, or with whomsoever he may be, he must be aut Cæsar aut nullus—or, in terms more appropriate to the taste of his admirers, “cock of the walk.” There is a compactness in his person, too, and a trimness in his attire, which make his general appearance not unlike that of the gallant biped above named, when clipped for the cock-pit. His features are finely cut, and in his youth must have been, what the ladies call handsome. A widow of five-and-thirty, or a maiden of fiveand-forty, would think them so still. His whiskers (which do not match his dark hair, but are somewhat foxy) are trained almost to meet each other in a point, at the extremity of his chin ; and when he turns VOL. X. No, 56.-1825.