Page images
PDF
EPUB

are founded. Not that we believe, any more than our author, that these houses have any tendency to diminish the sum of prostitution in society, for by what means could they effectuate this blessing? It must be obvious that they are intended only as a refuge for those who have already resigned themselves to prostitution, and could therefore never be designed to prevent their so doing. The numbers of females too that they save, are far too inconsiderable (even suppose the demand for them in the market were by this means to be diminished) to give rise to any well-founded hopes on this head. We admit too, that Penitentiary Houses are an evil: they afford at best but a reception for profligacy. But we shall endeavour te shew that they are less evils than would be endured by any attempt of the vain visionaries of perfection to suppress them, and that they keep a mean course between an open encouragement of prostitution, and what is as bad,-a malignant intolerance of it. We must premise however, that we are not quite so certain as our author, that Magdalenhospitals, “ in the result of their operations, will never lessen but increase” the number of prostitutes. We can by no means bring ourselves to believe that they altogether produce the effect for which he stigmatizes them, and hold out inducements 5 to vain curiosity, and vain presumption,” that when tired of a life of guilt, they may resort to the comforts of a Magdalen. The moral purgations to which they have recourse in these institutions—the meanness of dress—the austerity of manners--and the constant labour--render them institutions, which the generality of women, from the temperament of their minds, would rather fly from than enter. The

his doctrines, by which of course they will suffer nothing.-Whilst on this note, we might as well remark, that most of the charitable institutions in London have funds of their own, and are not alto. gether dependent on voluntary subscription for their support. The precarious nature of the latter mode of subscription, is the strongest argument against it.

contempt with which they are usually treated, even by such pious men as Mr. Hale, is not likely to correct this aversion. Still less is it likely to be effaced, by the exquisite pleasure of hearing perpetually of flames and darkness, and of being regularly sentenced to them twice a day! But even if we suppose an institution to be founded, which gives no violent shock to the habits and feelings of those about to enter it--which, on the contrary, treats them not as its victims, but its children we do not conceive that any ill effects would result to society from its establishment. The end such foundations propose to themselves, is either to restore those who enter them to their friends, or to fit them for lives of active industry; and the means by which this end is produced, arę moral and religious discipline. The objects held out by Penitentiaries, then, are not boons which are desirable: they are at best evils, which rarely operate as motives to man in the contemplation of action. One of the usual motives indeed that instigates the human breast to activity, arises from pleasures we seek: but to suppose a being, endowed with reason, and capable of reflection, quitting with deliberation, character, society, and happiness, through the low desire of sheltering itself with the victims of disgrace, in the walls of a hospital-to suppose this being possessed of a heart so callous and brutified too, as to leave all that renders us respectable to others, or dear to our. selves, for the purpose of being degraded in its own family, or driven into servitude with strangers-is to alter the usual motives of human actions, and the nature of man. Mr. Ilale however, after Mr. Colquhoun, asserts, that most of the abandoned females in this city (whatever may be their outward appearances) were once in servitude. To them then a restoration to labour can be no hardship, and a Penitentiary no evil, whilst " the vain curiosity of a life yet untried,” and the “ vain presumption" in their own prospects of success, might have prompted them, as they will prompt others, to embrace prostitution, from which, if unprosperous, they can so easily

escape. But we will ask, would this“ vain curiosity,” or this “ vain presumption,” in the youthful mind, be the less, although there was no Penitentiary? Do we not find these, in every trade, and in every profession, forcing men into chances, from which it is as one to one thousand, if they obtain success; and yet in which, want of success might prove their ruin? Let us not conceal the truth through the fear of censure. It is because the wages of prostitution are, in some instances, higher than the wages of servitude, that many pass from the one statę to the other, relying as they do, in their good fortune, and desirous as they are of mending their condition. They are human beings, and are subject to the fallacies and failings of our nature. But is it on this account, that if they become wiser and repent their errors, they are at that very time, to be forced for a settlement (7) from parish to parish, and finally imprisoned in a poor-house for life? Or are they, with guilt on their minds, and with consciences awakened to the horrors of their situation, to be driven to madness (61) in the solitary cell of a prison? That heart must indeed be callous, and that mind dead to sensibility, which would persecute and torture fiftythousand * women, whose condition is the most wretched and helpless in society! But besides these considerations, the argument of the author proves too much, and refutes itself. Thousands, who earn the wages of infamy by prostitution, would never submit to the multiplied evils of their condition, were it greatly alleviated by the blessings of a Penitentiary. There would no longer be prostitutes to croud our streets, and infest our public places of resort, did the good held out by a hospital for Magdalens, much more than compensate for the wretched. ness they endure in their first situation.

It seems bowever, that in one of the hospitals for penitent prostitutes in this metropolis, they bestow donatives on the

Colq. on Police.

females, who, restored to servitude, conduct themselves pru. dently and virtuously in their situation. We agree with Mr. Hale, that this policy is foolish in the extreme! If these females be really sincere in their professions of penitence, they will spurn at a bounty which seems to suppose them actuated by ayaricious motives ; or at any rate, supposing them incapable of heroic conduct, a donative to these is useless, at the same time that it diminishes the society's funds for active good. But if on the contrary, they be insincere, then does the donative act as a bounty on hypocrisy, and a reward for yice.

But even if we suppose the establishment of Penitentiaries to act indirectly as an incentive to prostitution--still are there no reasons that would incline us to adopt them, and to relieve the wretched females who wander in our streets ? Is there no instance in which we might adopt a less evil to avoid a greater? And in so doing, should we not be sanctioned by the principles of an enlightened prudence ? The laws that spurn from them the unhappy race of women who live by prostitution-which will not permit them a house to dwell in at home, and yet whip them for vagrants if they wander abroad --those laws which would thus compel them to quit an existence that is odious, and rest (where alone they may) in the grave, call forth in those who obey them, such savage principles, as it is in the power of Christianity only, and its institutions, to soften. The Penitentiary Hospitals tend then to counteract the ill effects of a bad system of legislation, and restore the feelings of nature to our bosoms. And is it nothing in an institution, to promote benevolence, even although it be extended to the most degraded of human beings? Is it nothing, to hold out the principle to society, that even the most vile of its members are yet endowed with feeling, with sentiment, and with reason-are, in short, human-and are entitled to our compassion? Were the doctrines of benevolence universally inculcated, in every law, and in every institution in states, how many crimes would be prevented---bow much happiness be promoted in the world! In the grand principles of benevolence, indeed, the law of God and man coincides. It can never be said then, that Penitentiaries are not to be supported by precept or example” from the word of Godfrom those sacred writings that were hymned to the earth with strains of peace and good-will to our kind, and which announced to us the tidings, that angels round the throne of glory rejoice when one sinner is converted to repentance. It was Heaven itself that said to the penitent,“ Sin no more:but it accompanied not its reproof with maledictions: it hurled not its bolt against the trembling convict. Well would it be for many, if, in decrying vice, they remembered the lesson it inculcates; if, in censuring the failings of their fellowcreatures, they forgot not that themselves are but men. The wretches whom the pamphleteer would pursue with the vengeance of the law, are, we suppose, endowed with feeling, and if persecuted by the laws-proscribed by opinion-deserted by good men—and detested by bad; would they, does he believe, be inclined to virtue, to which they have no inducement, or be hardened in vice and iniquity? Is there nothing to fear from confirmed wickedness, nothing to be dreaded from outcast malice? The policy is always bad, which places any class of human beings without the pale of mercy. It takes from them all retrospect of the melancholy past, and all hopes of the future. It goads them on to the insensibility of vice, or to the madness of desperation. Fortunately for the species, expediency and humanity are always co-ordinate with each other. It is only in a code, ruthless and vengeful, that they are separated, and that the sad example of persecution, often so fatal to the institutors of laws, is held out to the people.

But even supposing we were to follow the advice of Mr. Ilale, and to awaken “ the sleeping lions of the law” against the prostitutes of London, does he really think, that by these

« PreviousContinue »