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Title: In Jail with Charles Dickens
Author: Trumble, Alfred
Language: English
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  In Jail with Charles Dickens.

                              IN JAIL WITH
                            CHARLES DICKENS

                             ALFRED TRUMBLE
                       EDITOR OF "THE COLLECTOR"


                          SUCKLING & GALLOWAY

                            COPYRIGHT, 1896,
                           FRANCIS P. HARPER.

  Printed in America.


Readers of Charles Dickens must all have remarked the deep and abiding
interest he took in that grim accessory to civilization, the prison. He
not only went jail hunting whenever opportunity offered, but made a
profound study of the rules, practices and abuses of these institutions.
Penology was, in fact, one of his hobbies, and some of the most powerful
passages in his books are those which have their scene of action laid
within the shadow of the gaol. It was this fact which led to the
compilation of the papers comprised in the present volume.

The writer had been a student of Dickens from the days when the
publication of his novels in serial form was a periodical event. When he
first visited England, many of the landmarks which the novelist had, in
a manner, made historical, were still in existence, but of the principal
prisons which figure in his works Newgate was the only one which existed
in any approximation to its integrity. The Fleet and the King's Bench
were entirely swept away; of the Marshalsea only a few buildings
remained, converted to ordinary uses. In this country, however, the two
jails which interested him, still remain, with certain changes that do
not impair their general conformance to his descriptions.

These papers, therefore, consist of personal knowledge, as a voluntary
visitor, be it understood, of Newgate. The Tombs in New York, and the
Eastern District Penitentiary in Philadelphia, supplemented by
references to the records. For the Fleet, Marshalsea, and Kings Bench,
the writer is indebted to the chronicles and descriptions of Peter
Cunningham, John Timbs, Leigh Hunt, and other ingenious and interesting
historians of the London of the early Victorian era. In connection with
the paper relating to the Eastern District Penitentiary of Philadelphia,
his thanks are due for the assistance and information rendered by Mr.
Michael J. Cassidy, the Warden.

                                                         ALFRED TRUMBLE.

  New York, March 1896.


              CHAPTER I.
  NEWGATE WITHOUT,               1

              CHAPTER II.
  NEWGATE WITHIN,               40

              CHAPTER III.
  THE FLEET PRISON,             73

              CHAPTER IV.
  THE MARSHALSEA,              106

              CHAPTER V.
  THE KING'S BENCH,            134

              CHAPTER VI.
  THE NEW YORK TOMBS,          161

              CHAPTER VII.

In Jail with Charles Dickens.


Newgate was the first prison to which Charles Dickens gave any literary
attention. An account of a visit to it appears among the early "Sketches
by Boz." It is also the only one of the London jails of which he has
left us graphic descriptions, or briefer, spirited sketches, which
preserves to-day so much of its original character as to be identifiable
in detail by the student of his works. The Fleet and the King's Bench
have disappeared. The Marshalsea may only be recognized by slight
surviving landmarks. But the sombre and sullen bulk of Newgate rears
itself in the heart of London, a sinister monument to the horrors bred
by a civilization rotten of its own over-ripeness, in the forcing-bed of
the most magnificent, wonderful and monstrously terrible city of the

If external gloom could exercise an influence to deter anyone from the
commission of crime of which it is a part of the penalty, Newgate would
never have any inmates. Surrounded at the time of my introductory visit
to it, as an accidental but not legally involuntary visitor, by low
public-houses, poor shops and a tumble-down market, all bearing the
grime of age and the marks of decay, as if the frown of the great jail
had blighted them; with the foul, miry lane of Newgate street, and the
scarcely-cleaner Old Bailey, alive with muddy carts and shabby people,
skulking roughs, draggled women and squalling children, no man who had
no business there would care, once having seen it, to seek it out again.
Being then new in London, I had been begriming myself among the old
books of St. Paul's Churchyard until I was tired and thirsty, and
strolling along Ludgate Hill in quest of refreshment, turned into the
second street I came to. A few steps more and I found myself stopping at
another street corner to look at an immense and grim mass of gray stone
towering loftily in the fog, with little windows here and there along
its frowning wall. They were so small that they might have been mere
spaces where the builders had forgotten to put in a block of granite, if
it had not been for the strong, rusty bars that crossed them. I asked a
man who came out of a public-house wiping his mouth on the back of his
hand what place that was. He stared at me in evident amazement for a
minute, and then said, shortly, in an aggravated tone of voice, poking a
finger, still moist from his libation, at it, like a dagger:

"Newgate, that is."

He went along, shaking his head in a dubious way and looking back
several times at me, clearly either suspicious of the genuineness of my
stupendous ignorance, or unable to comprehend how anyone could be
ignorant of the identity of the famous jail. I have no doubt that it was
vastly stupid of me. In fact, I experienced a certain feeling of
contempt for myself, now that I knew what the place was, and that it was
the place of which I had read so much that I almost had its history by
heart; but after all, London is a "very considerable-sized town," as I
once had a Chicago acquaintance generously admit, and one could scarcely
be expected to know it like a guide-book, within forty-eight hours after
making first acquaintance with its bitter beer, its bloody beef, and its
beds into whose coverlids the essence of the fog seemed to have
penetrated, if, indeed, the sheets were not woven out of the fog itself.

Newgate, in its external appearance, at least, is an ideal prison. Its
aspect, whether purposely or through the adaptation of its construction
to its uses, is thoroughly jail-like. The few openings in the walls, the
empty blind niches, which might have been left there for statues of
great felons never set up in them; the entrance, with its festooned
fetters carved in stone as an ornament to the gloomy and forbidding
portal, all are appropriate to and a significant part of it. Within a
few feet of where I stood when I viewed it first was the spot where the
scaffold used to be put up. Here, on the occasion of an execution, as
one may read in Chapter 52 of "Oliver Twist," the space before the
prison was cleared, and a few strong barriers painted black thrown
across the road to break the pressure of the crowd, while the more
favored portion of the audience occupied every post of vantage, at
windows and housetops, that commanded a view of the ghastly show. Here,
as Oliver noted when he came away from his last interview with Fagin at
the dawn of day: "A great multitude had already assembled; the windows
were filled with people smoking and playing cards to beguile the time;
the crowd was pushing, quarreling and joking. Everything told of life
and animation, but one dark cluster of objects in the very centre of
all--the black stage, the crossbeam, the rope, and all the hideous
apparatus of death."

Prisoners of old were executed on Tyburn Hill in public, or on some
occasions, when it was especially desired to enforce an example, as
close as possible to the scene of guilt. Those who were punished for
participation in the Gordon Riots of 1780 were swung off in the various
parts of the city where their crimes were committed. In 1793 the common
places of execution were changed to the Old Bailey, in front of Newgate.
There the first culprit was executed on December 9 of that year. Hanging
was brisk when George III was king. Between February and December, 1785,
ninety-six persons suffered by the trap arrangement now in common use
the world over, which was then known as the "new drop." Previous to that
time it had been the custom to perch the candidates for the halter on a
cart, which was driven from under them at the fatal signal, while
someone hung on to their legs to choke them more speedily and surely--an
expeditious practice quite frequently resorted to by Judge Lynch in
America in after years, and still not entirely out of use for
extemporaneous executions. In "Barnaby Rudge" (volume 2, chapter 19)
Dickens gives the most detailed description of a Newgate execution which
occurs in his works. The passage is well worth quoting at length:

  "The time wore on. The noises in the streets became less frequent by
  degrees until the silence was scarcely broken, save by the bells in
  the church towers marking the progress, softer and more stealthily
  while the city slumbered, of that Great Watcher with the hoary head,
  who never sleeps or rests. In the brief interval of darkness and
  repose which feverish towns enjoy, all busy sounds were hushed; and
  those who awoke from dreams lay listening in their beds, and longed
  for dawn, and wished the dead of the night were passed.

  "Into the street, outside the gaol's main wall, workmen came
  straggling, at this solemn hour, in groups of two or three, and,
  meeting in the centre, cast their tools upon the ground and spoke in
  whispers. Others soon issued from the gaol itself, bearing on their
  shoulders planks and beams: these materials being all brought forth,
  the rest bestirred themselves, and the dull sound of hammers began to
  echo through the stillness.

  "Here and there among this knot of laborers, one with a lantern or a
  smoky link stood by to light his fellows at their work; and by its
  doubtful aid some might be seen dimly, taking up the pavement of the
  road, while others held upright great posts, or fixed them in holes
  thus made for their reception. Some dragged slowly on toward the rest
  an empty cart, which they brought rumbling from the prison yard, while
  others erected strong barriers across the street. All were busily
  engaged. Their dusky figures moving to and fro at that unusual hour,
  so active and so silent, might have been taken for those of shadowy
  creatures toiling at midnight on some ghostly, unsubstantial work,
  which, like themselves, would vanish with the first gleam of day, and
  leave but morning mist and vapor.

  "While it was yet dark a few lookers-on collected, who had plainly
  come there for that purpose and intended to remain; even those who had
  to pass the spot on their way to some other place, lingered, and
  lingered yet, as though the attraction of that were irresistible.
  Meanwhile the noise of the saw and mallet went on briskly, mingled
  with the clattering of boards on the stone pavement of the road, and
  sometimes with the workmen's voices as they called to one another.
  Whenever the chimes of the neighboring church were heard--and that was
  every quarter of an hour--a strong sensation, instantaneous and
  indescribable, but perfectly obvious, seemed to pervade them all.

  "Gradually a faint brightness appeared in the East, and the air, which
  had been very warm through the night, felt cool and chilly. Though
  there was no daylight yet, the darkness was diminished, and the stars
  looked pale. The prison, which had been a mere black mass, with little
  shape or form, put on its usual aspect; and ever and anon a solitary
  watchman could be seen upon its roof, stopping to look down upon the
  preparations in the street. This man, from forming, as it were, a part
  of the gaol, and knowing, or being supposed to know, all that was
  passing within, became an object of much interest, and was eagerly
  looked for, and as awfully pointed out as if he had been a spirit.

  "By and by the feeble light grew stronger, and the houses, with their
  signboards and inscriptions, stood plainly out in the dull gray of the
  morning. Heavy stage-wagons crawled from the inn yard opposite, and
  travelers peeped out, and, as they rolled sluggishly away, cast many a
  backward look toward the gaol. And now the sun's first beams came
  glancing into the street, and the night's work, which in its various
  stages and in the varied fancies of the lookers-on had taken a hundred
  shapes, wore its own proper form--a scaffold and gibbet.

  "As the warmth of the cheerful day began to shed itself upon the
  scanty crowd the murmur of tongues was heard, shutters were thrown
  open, the blinds drawn up, and those who had slept in rooms over
  against the prison, where places to see the execution were let at high
  prices, rose hastily from their beds. In some of the houses people
  were busy taking out the window-sashes for the better accommodation of
  the spectators; in others, the spectators were already seated, and
  beguiling the time with cards, or drink, or jokes among themselves.
  Some had purchased seats upon the housetops, and were already crawling
  to their stations from parapet and garret window. Some were yet
  bargaining for good places, and stood in them in a state of
  indecision, gazing at the slowly-swelling crowd, and at the workmen as
  they rested listlessly against the scaffold--affecting to listen with
  indifference to the proprietor's eulogy of the commanding view his
  house afforded, and the surpassing cheapness of his terms.

  "A fairer morning never shone. From the roofs and the upper stories of
  the buildings the spires of the city churches and the great cathedral
  dome were visible, rising up beyond the prison into the blue sky, and
  clad in the color of light summer clouds, and showing in the clear
  atmosphere their every scrap of tracery and fretwork, and every niche
  and loophole. All was lightness, brightness and promise, excepting in
  the street below, into which (for it lay yet in the shadow) the eye
  looked down into a dark trench, where, in the midst of so much life
  and hope and renewal of existence, stood the terrible instrument of
  death. It seemed as if the very sun forbore to look upon it.

  "But it was better, grim and sombre in the shade, than when, the day
  being more advanced, it stood confessed in full glare and glory of the
  sun, with its black paint blistering and its nooses dangling in the
  light like loathsome garlands. It was better in the solitude and gloom
  of midnight, with a few forms clustering about it, than in the
  freshness and the stir of the morning, the centre of an eager crowd.
  It was better haunting the street like a spectre, when men were in
  their beds, and influencing, perchance, the city's dreams, than
  braving the broad day, and thrusting its obscene presence upon the
  waking senses.

  "Five o'clock had struck--six, seven and eight. Along the two main
  streets, at either end of the crossway, a living stream had now set
  in, rolling to the marts of gain and business. Carts, coaches, wagons,
  trucks and barrows, forced a passage through the outskirts of the
  throng and clattered onward in the same direction. Some of these,
  which were public conveyances, and had come from a short distance in
  the country, stopped, and the driver pointed to the gibbet with his
  whip, though he might have spared himself the pains, for the heads of
  all the passengers were turned that way without his help, and the
  coach windows were stuck full of staring eyes. In some of the carts
  and wagons women might be seen, glancing fearfully at the same
  unsightly thing; and even little children were held up above the
  peoples' heads to see what kind of a toy a gallows was and to learn
  how men were hanged.

  "Two rioters were to die before the prison, who had been concerned in
  the attack upon it; and one directly after in Bloomsbury Square. At
  nine o'clock a strong body of military marched into the street, and
  formed and lined a narrow passage into Holborn, which had been
  indifferently kept all night by constables. Through this another cart
  was brought (the one already mentioned had been employed in the
  construction of the scaffold), and wheeled up to the prison gate.
  These preparations made, the soldiers stood at ease; the officers
  lounged to and fro in the alley they had made, or talked together at
  the scaffold's foot; and the concourse which had been rapidly
  augmenting for some hours, and still received additions every minute,
  waited with an impatience which increased with every chime of St.
  Sepulchre's clock for twelve at noon.

  "Up to this time they had been very quiet, comparatively silent, save
  when the arrival of some new party at a window, hitherto unoccupied,
  gave them something to look at or to talk of. But, as the hour
  approached, a buzz and a hum arose, which, deepening every moment,
  soon swelled into a roar, and seemed to fill the air. No words, or
  even voices, could be distinguished in this clamor, nor did they speak
  much to each other; though such as were better informed on the topic
  than the rest would tell their neighbors, perhaps, that they might
  know the hangman when he came out, by his being the shorter one; and
  that the man that was to suffer with him was named Hugh; and that it
  was Barnaby Rudge who would be hanged in Bloomsbury Square.

  "The hum grew, as the time drew near, so loud that those who were at
  the windows could not hear the church clock strike, though it was
  close at hand. Nor had they any need to hear it either, for they could
  see it in the peoples' faces. So surely as another quarter chimed
  there was a movement in the crowd--as if something had passed over
  it--as if the light upon them had been changed--in which the fact was
  readable as on a brazen dial, figured by a giant's hand.
  Three-quarters past eleven. The murmur now was deafening, yet every
  man seemed mute. Look where you would among the crowd, you saw
  strained eyes and lips compressed; it would have been difficult for
  the most vigilant observer to point this way or that, and say that
  yonder man had cried out. It were as easy to detect the motion of the
  lips in a sea-shell.

  "Three-quarters past eleven. Many spectators who had retired from the
  windows came back refreshed, as though their watch had just begun.
  Those who had fallen asleep aroused themselves; and every person in
  the crowd made one last effort to better his position, which caused a
  press against the sturdy barriers that made them bend and yield like
  twigs. The officers, who until now had kept together, fell into their
  several positions, and gave the words of command. Swords were drawn,
  muskets shouldered, and the bright steel, winding its way among the
  crowd, gleamed and glittered in the sun like a river. Along this
  shining path two men were hurrying on, leading a horse, which was
  speedily harnessed to the cart at the prison door. Then a profound
  silence replaced the tumult that had so long been gathering, and a
  breathless pause ensued. Every window was now choked up with heads;
  the housetops teemed with people clinging to chimneys, peering over
  gable-ends, and holding on where the sudden loosening of any brick or
  stone would dash them down into the street. The church-tower, the
  church-roof, the churchyard, the prison-leads, the very waterspouts
  and lampposts, every inch of room swarmed with human life.

  "At the first stroke of twelve the prison bell began to toll. Then the
  roar, mingled now with cries of 'Hats off!' and 'Poor fellows!'--and,
  from some specks in the great concourse, with a shriek or groan--burst
  forth again. It was terrible to see--if anyone in that distraction of
  excitement could have seen--the world of eager eyes all strained upon
  the scaffold and the beam."

The Newgate gallows in "Barnaby Rudge" was set up for the ruffian Hugh,
the bastard of Sir John Chester and his gypsy light-o-love, and for
Dennis the hangman, who had been concerned as leaders in the attack on
the prison by the Gordon Rioters. "Two cripples--both were boys--one
with a leg of wood, one who dragged his twisted body along with the help
of a crutch, were hanged in Bloomsbury Square, where they had helped to
sack Lord Mansfield's house, and other rioters in other parts of the
town, in despoiling which they had been conspicuous." It may be recalled
that the mother of Hugh herself had died on the scaffold, at Tyburn, for
the crime of passing forged notes. To descend from the realm of romance
to that of reality, the most memorable executions in the Old Bailey were
those of Mrs. Phipoe, the murderess, in 1797; of Governor Wall of
Trinidad, for murder, on Jan. 28, 1802; of Halloway and Haggerty, the
murderers, on Feb. 22, 1807, when thirty spectators were trampled to
death; of Bellingham, the assassin of a member of Parliament, Percival,
on May 18, 1812; of the Cato Street Conspirators, who were cut down and
decapitated on the scaffold in the presence of the multitude, on May 1,
1820; of Fauntleroy, the banker, hanged for forging in 1824; of the
assassin Greenacre, in 1837; of Courvoiser, who murdered Lord William
Russell, in 1840; and of Franz Müller, the railway murderer, who was
extradited from this country, as will doubtless be remembered by many,
and sent to his doom in 1864. That same year seven pirates were also
suspended in the Old Bailey. Since then executions have been carried out
privately within the walls of the prison.

A contemporary of Dickens, in the "Ingoldsby Legends," has given us a
picture, in a different vein, of the same period and subject. He has
told us, in his own rattling verse, how my Lord Tomnoddy, having nothing
to do, and being deucedly bored, learned from his faithful Tiger Tim
that Greenacre was to be hanged at Newgate; here was indeed a sensation
for His Lordship: "To see a man swing, at the end of a string, with his
neck in a noose, will be quite a new thing." So he hires the whole first
floor of the Magpie and Stump, opposite the jail, and invites his
friends to come and help him see a man die in his shoes. They help him
so effectually during the night, what with "cold fowl and cigars,
pickled onions in jars, Welsh rabbits and kidney, rare work for jaws,
and very large lobsters with fine claws," and the like, not to mention
gin-toddy and cold and hot punch, that they fall asleep and lose the
show after all, when, as they cannot have the man hung over again, they
go home to bed in hackney coaches and a state of deep disgust. Another
contemporary, of more ample renown, Thackeray to wit, gave some
attention to the matter. In July, 1840, he published, in Frazer's
Magazine, a paper called "Going to see a man hanged." The man was
Courvoiser; and Thackeray, unlike Lord Tomnoddy, did not fall asleep
over the feast, and so did see him mount the scaffold.

Surgeons' Hall used to stand close to Newgate and the Old Bailey, and
the victims of the halter were handed over to the doctors for
dissection. The corpse of wicked Lord Ferrers, who was executed in 1760
at Tyburn for murdering his steward, was taken in his own landau and six
to the Burgeons' Theatre to be cut up. After having been disemboweled,
in conformance with the sentence, the body of the bad lord was put on
show in the first floor window, to be hissed and hooted at by the mob.
The account of the Ferrers execution, by the way, provides a curious
picture of the time. Ferrers dressed himself in his wedding suit to be
hanged. He had the harness of his horses decorated with ribbons. On the
way to Tyburn from the Tower, my Lord intimated a desire for some wine,
being thirsty. The Sheriff, who was in the coach with him, declined to
allow him to refresh himself. "Then," said the Earl, taking a bite of
pigtail tobacco from a plug which he had in his pocket, "I must be
content with this." He harbored no malice against the Sheriff, however,
for he presented him with his watch as they neared Tyburn. To the
Chaplain he gave five guineas, and to the executioner the same sum. The
executioner had to pull him by the legs to effectually strangle him, and
while the body swung for an hour on the gallows, the sheriffs and their
friends had luncheon on the platform within reach of it. "The
executioners fought for the rope," says the chronicler, "and the one who
lost it, cried."

But we have wandered far from Newgate in this wicked company. Old
Newgate, upon a portion of whose site the present jail stands, was built
in the reign of King John. It derived its name from the fact that London
was then a walled city, and the jail was erected close to the newest
gate in the fortification. It was, in fact, at first a mere tower or
appendage of the gate. Newgate was used as a State prison long before
the Tower. One of the many captives of this sort which it held was
William Penn. The founder of Pennsylvania spent six months there for the
atrocious offense of street preaching. Defoe spent some time here on
account of a political tract, and wrote several others while in
confinement. Dr. Dodd wrote his successful comedy, "Sir Roger de
Coverly," in Newgate. One of the last persons confined here for
political offense was Mr. Hobhouse, afterward Lord Broughton. The street
used to be filled with people when he took his exercise on the roof, who
watched and cheered at his hat, which was all they could see of him
above the wall. An odd circumstance about Mr. Hobhouse's imprisonment is
that Byron had prophesied it in the remark that "having foamed himself
into a reformer, he would subside in Newgate." Among the famous
prisoners here we find Savage, the poet, for murder; Jack Sheppard,
whose remarkable escape, very much exaggerated upon fact, you may have
read of from Mr. Ainsworth's pen; and Jonathan Wild, who, by the by,
once lived nearly opposite the court-house, in the Old Bailey; Catherine
Hayes, the abandoned heroine of Thackeray's novel; Mrs. Brownrigg, the
fiend who tortured her serving-maids; Astlett, the Bank of England
clerk, who committed forgeries for over $1,500,000, and many more. Lord
George Gordon, familiar to all who have read "Barnaby Rudge," died in
1793, of gaol-fever, in one of the cells of Newgate, after several years
of confinement, for libelling the Queen of France. The poor, mad lord,
whose rioters had turned the jail into a ruin once, found it strong
enough to hold him and his fantastic visions securely in the end. Here
is Dickens's description of the attack upon the prison, caused by him,
commencing in the second volume of "Barnaby Rudge," Chapter Fifth.

  "It was about six o'clock in the evening when a vast mob poured into
  Lincoln's Inn Fields by every avenue, and divided, evidently in
  pursuance of a previous design, into several parties. It must not be
  understood that this arrangement was known to the whole crowd, but
  that it was the work of a few leaders, who, mingling with these men as
  they came upon the ground, and calling to them to fall into this or
  that party, effected it as rapidly as if it had been determined on by
  a council of the whole number, and every man had known his place.

  "It was perfectly notorious to the assemblage that the largest body,
  which comprehended about two-thirds of the whole, was designed for the
  attack on Newgate. It comprehended all the rioters who had been
  conspicuous in any of their former proceedings; all those whom they
  recommended as daring hands and fit for the work; all those whose
  companions had been taken in the riots; and a great number of people
  who were relatives or friends of the felons in the gaol. This last
  class included not only the most desperate and utterly abandoned
  villains in London, but some who were comparatively innocent. There
  was more than one woman there, disguised in man's attire, and bent on
  the rescue of a child or a brother. There were the two sons of a man
  who lay under the sentence of death, and who was to be executed, along
  with three others, the next day but one. There was a great party of
  boys, whose fellow pickpockets were in the prison; and, at the skirts
  of all, a score of miserable women, outcasts from the world, seeking
  to release some other fellow creature as miserable as themselves, or
  moved by general sympathy, perhaps, God knows, with all who were
  without hope and wretched.

  "Old swords, and pistols without ball or powder; sledge-hammers,
  knives, axes, saws, and weapons pillaged from the butcher shops; a
  forest of iron bars and wooden clubs; long ladders for scaling the
  walls, each carried on the shoulders of a dozen men; lighted torches,
  tow smeared with pitch, and tar, and brimstone; staves roughly plucked
  from a fence and paling; and even crutches taken from crippled beggars
  on the streets composed their arms. When all was ready, Hugh and
  Dennis, with Simon Tappertit between them, led the way. Roaring and
  chafing like an angry sea, the crowd pressed after them."

They halt upon the way to drag Gabriel Varden from his shop, in order to
compel him to pick the lock of the prison gate. They march him at the
head of the mob to the jail. They find that their visit was not wholly
unexpected, "for the governor's house, which fronted the street, was
strongly barricaded, the wicket of the prison gate was closed up, and at
no loophole or grating was any person to be seen." The governor,
inspecting the mob from the roof of his house, is summoned to surrender
his charge. He refuses. The rabble call on the locksmith to pick the
locks. He defies them, and is dragged away barely in time to save his
life by Joe Willets and Edward Chester, who are in the mob in disguise.
Then the assault on the jail begins.

  "Hammers began to rattle on the walls, and every man strove to reach
  the prison and be among the foremost rank. Fighting their way through
  the press and struggle as desperately as if they were in the midst of
  the enemies rather than their own friends, the two men retreated with
  the blacksmith between them, and dragged him through the very heart of
  the concourse.

  "And now the strokes begin to fall like hail upon the gate and on the
  strong building; for those who could not reach the door spent their
  fierce rage on any thing, even on the great blocks of stone, which
  shivered their weapons into fragments, and made their hands and arms
  tingle as if the walls were active in their resistance and dealt them
  back their blows. The clash of the iron ringing upon iron mingled with
  the deafening tumult, and sounded high above it, as the great
  sledge-hammers rattled on the nailed and plated door; the sparks flew
  off in showers; men worked in gangs, and at short intervals relieved
  each other, that all their strength might be devoted to the work; but
  there stood the portal still, as grim and dark and as strong as ever,
  and, saving for the dints on its shattered surface, quite unchanged.

  "While some brought all their energies to bear upon this toilsome
  task, and some, rearing ladders against the prison, tried to clamber
  to the summit of the walls they were too short to scale; and some,
  again, engaged a body of police, and beat them back and trod them
  under foot by force of numbers; others besieged the house on which the
  gaoler had appeared, and, driving in the door, brought out his
  furniture and piled it up against the prison gate to make a low fire
  which should burn it down. As soon as this device was understood, all
  those who had labored hitherto cast down their tools and helped to
  swell the heap, which reached half way across the street, and was so
  high that those who threw more fuel on the top got up by ladders. When
  all the keeper's goods were flung upon this costly pile to the last
  fragment, they smeared it with pitch and tar and rosin they had
  brought, and sprinkled it with turpentine. To all the woodwork round
  the prison doors they did the like, leaving not a joist or a beam
  untouched. This infernal christening performed, they fired the pile
  with lighted matches and with blazing tow, and then stood by and
  waited the result.

  "The furniture being very dry, and rendered more combustible by wax
  and oil, besides the arts they had used, took fire at once. The flames
  roared high and fiercely, blackening the prison wall and twining up
  its lofty front like burning serpents. At first they crowded around
  the blaze, and vented their exultation only in their looks; but when
  it grew hotter and fiercer; when it crackled and leaped, and roared
  like a great furnace; when it shone upon the opposite houses, and
  lighted up not only the pale and wondering faces at the windows, but
  the inmost corners of each habitation; when through the deep red heat
  and glow the fire was seen sporting and toying with the door, now
  clinging to its obdurate surface, now gliding off with fierce
  inconstancy and roaring high into the sky, anon returning to fold it
  in its burning grasp and lure it to its ruin; when it shone and
  gleamed so brightly that the church clock of St. Sepulchre's, so often
  pointing to the hour of death, was legible as in broad day, and the
  vane upon its steeple-top glittered in the unwonted light like some
  thing richly jeweled; when blackened stone and sombre brick grew ruddy
  in the deep reflection, and windows shone like burnished gold, dotting
  the longest distance in the fiery vista with their specks of
  brightness; when wall and tower and roof and chimney-stack seemed
  drunk, and in the flickering glare appeared to reel and stagger; when
  scores of objects, never seen before, burst out upon the view, and
  things the most familiar put on some new aspect, then the mob began to
  join the whirl, and with loud yells and shouts and clamor, such as is
  happily seldom heard, bestirred themselves to feed the fire and keep
  it at its height.

  "Although the heat was so intense that the paint on the houses over
  against the prison parched and crackled up, and swelling into boils,
  as it were, from an excess of torture, broke and crumbled away;
  although the glass fell from the window sashes, and the lead and iron
  on the roofs blistered the incautious hand that touched them, and the
  sparrows in the eaves took wing, and, rendered giddy by the smoke,
  fell fluttering down upon the blazing pile, still the fire was tended
  increasingly by busy hands, and round it men were going always. They
  never slackened in their zeal or kept aloof, but pressed upon the
  flames so hard that those in front had much ado to save themselves
  from being thrust in; if one man swooned or dropped, a dozen struggled
  for his place, and that, although they knew the pain and thirst and
  pressure to be unendurable. Those who fell down in fainting fits and
  were crushed or hurt were carried to an inn yard close at hand and
  dashed with water from a pump, of which buckets full were passed from
  man to man among the crowd; but such was the strong desire of all to
  drink, and such the fighting to be first, that, for the most part, the
  whole contents were spilled upon the ground, without the lips of a man
  being moistened.

  "Meanwhile, and in the midst of all the roar and outcry, those who
  were nearest to the pile heaped up again the burning fragments that
  came toppling down, and racked the fire about the door, which,
  although a sheet of flame, was still a door, fast locked and barred,
  and kept them out. Great pieces of burning wood were passed, besides,
  above the people's heads to such as stood above the ladders, and some
  of these, climbing up to the topmost stave, and holding on with one
  hand by the prison wall, exerted all their skill and force to cast
  these firebrands on the roof or down into the yards within. In many
  instances their efforts were successful, which occasioned a new and
  appalling addition to the horrors of the scene, for the prisoners
  within, seeing from between their bars that the fire caught in many
  places and thrived fiercely, and being all locked up in strong cells
  for the night, began to know that they were in danger of being burnt
  alive. This terrible fear, spreading from cell to cell and from yard
  to yard, vented itself in such dismal cries and wailings, and in such
  dreadful shrieks for help, that the whole gaol resounded with the
  noise, which was loudly heard even above the shouting of the mob and
  roaring of the flames, and was so full of agony and despair that it
  made the boldest tremble.

  "It was remarkable that these cries began in that quarter of the gaol
  which fronted Newgate street, where it was well known that the men who
  were to suffer death on Thursday were confined. And not only were
  these four, who had a short time to live, the first to whom the dread
  of being burnt occurred, but they were, throughout, the most
  importunate of all; for they could be plainly heard, notwithstanding
  the great thickness of the walls, crying that the wind set that way,
  and that the flames would shortly reach them; and calling to officers
  of the gaol to come and quench the fire from a cistern which was in
  their yard, and full of water. Judging from what the crowds from
  without the walls could hear from time to time, these four doomed
  wretches never ceased to call for help; and that with as much
  distraction, and in as great a frenzy of attachment to existence, as
  though each had an honored, happy life before him, instead of
  eight-and-forty hours of miserable imprisonment, and then a violent
  and shameful death.

  "But the anguish and suffering of the two sons of one of these men,
  when they heard, or fancied they heard, their father's voice, is past
  description. After wringing their hands, and rushing to and fro as if
  they were stark mad, one mounted on the shoulders of his brother, and
  tried to clamber up the face of the high wall, guarded at the top with
  spikes and points of iron. And when he fell among the crowd he was not
  deterred by his bruises, but mounted up again, and fell again, and
  when he found the feat impossible began to beat the stones and tear
  them with his hands, as if he could in that way make a breach in the
  strong building and force a passage in. At last they cleft their way
  among the mob about the door, though many men, a dozen times their
  match, had tried in vain to do so, and were seen in, yes in, the fire,
  striving to pry it down with crowbars.

  "Nor were they alone affected by the outcry from within the prison.
  The women who were looking on shrieked loudly, beat their hands
  together, stopped their ears and many fainted; the men who were not
  near the walls and active in the siege, rather than do nothing, tore
  up the pavement of the street, and did so with a haste and fury that
  could not have been surpassed if that had been their gaol and they
  were near their object. Not one living creature in the throng was for
  an instant still. The whole great mass were mad.

  "A shout! Another! Another yet, though few knew why or what it meant.
  But those around the gate had seen it slowly yield and drop from its
  topmost hinge. It hung on that side but by one, but it was upright
  still, because of the bar and its having sunk of its own weight into
  the heap of ashes at its foot. There was now a gap at the top of the
  doorway through which could be descried a gloomy passage, cavernous
  and dark. Pile up the fire!

  "It burnt fiercely. The door was red hot and the gap wider. They
  vainly tried to shield their faces with their hands, and standing, as
  if in readiness for a spring, watched the place. Dark figures, some
  crawling on their hands and knees, some carried in the arms of others,
  were seen to pass along the roof. It was plain that the gaol could
  hold out no longer. The keeper and his officers and their wives and
  children were escaping. Pile up the fire!

  "The door sank down again; it settled deeper in the cinders, tottered,
  yielded, was down.

  "As they shouted again they fell back for a moment and left a clear
  space about the fire that lay between them and the gaol entry. Hugh
  leaped upon the blazing heap, and scattering a train of sparks into
  the air, and making the dark lobby glitter with those that hung upon
  his dress, dashed into the gaol.

  "The hangman followed. And then so many rushed upon their track that
  the fire got trodden down and thinly strewed about the street; but
  there was no need of it now, for, inside and out, the prison was in

The rioters celebrated the capture of Newgate in roaring style. They
commanded and compelled the citizens all around the place to illuminate
their houses from bottom to top, as if for a glorious national event,
and at a time of public gayety and joy. "When this last task had been
achieved the shouts and cries grew fainter; the clank of the fetters,
which had resounded on all sides as the prisoners escaped, was heard no
more; all the noises of the crowd subsided into a hoarse and sullen
murmur as it passed into the distance; and when the human tide had
rolled away, a melancholy heap of smoking ruins marked the spot where it
had lately chafed and roared." Among the spectators of the capture of
Newgate was the poet Crabbe, then a young man seeking his fortune in
London, and he has left a description of it in his journal. Dr. Johnson
records the fact that "on Wednesday I walked with Dr. Scott (Lord
Stowell) to look at Newgate and found it in ruins, with the fire yet
glowing. As I went by, the Protestants were plundering the Sessions
House in the Old Bailey. There were not, I believe, a hundred; but they
did their work at leisure, in full security, without sentinels, without
trepidation, as men lawfully employed, in full day."

At the period of the Gordon Riots, Newgate was in the course of
reconstruction. The present prison was designed by George Dance, R. A.,
the architect of the Mansion House and other public buildings. The
famous Lord Mayor Beckford, father of the author of "Vathek," laid the
foundation stone on May 23, 1770, this being his last public act. Work
seems to have progressed slowly on it, for the newer portion was only in
part completed when the Gordon mob stormed the older sections. This
event served as a warning, however. Within two years Newgate was in
stronger shape than ever; and substantially in the shape which, after
the passage of more than a century, it still presents to the world.

Newgate serves to London the purpose of a reception prison for offenders
awaiting trial and for those condemned to death, and the executions of
the great city are performed within its walls. The Old Bailey Court,
which is an adjunct to it, is practically a part of the mountain of
masonry which sends its bleak shadow over Newgate street and the Old
Bailey. It is separated from it only by a yard, across which prisoners
are led to be tried. The court-house, known colloquially, in London, as
the Old Bailey, and politely as the Central Criminal Court, was built in
1773, was destroyed with Newgate in the Gordon Riots, but rebuilt and
enlarged in 1809 by the taking in of Surgeons' Hall. The Court is a
square hall, with a gallery for visitors. At one side is the chief seat
for the judge, with a canopy overhead surmounted by the royal arms, and
a gilded sheathed sword on the crimson wall. Opposite is the prisoners'
dock, with the stairs descending into the covered passageway, which
gives access by the way of the Press Yard to Newgate. To the left of the
dock is the witness-stand, and further to the left the jury box. The
counsel occupy the body of the court below. The Old Bailey Court
formerly sat at seven in the morning, but now sittings do not commence
until ten. It tries crimes of every kind, from treason to petty larceny
and offenses on the high seas, but only the heaviest ones are brought to
judgment before this branch of the Sessions. What is called the New
Court, adjoining the old one, sits upon the lighter misdemeanors. The
Judges at the Old Bailey are nominally the Lord Mayor, who is, in fact,
only a gorgeous dummy to open the court with true dignity, the Sheriff,
the Lord Chancellor, and a long list of Judges, Aldermen, Recorders and
so on. Of these the real Judges are the Recorder and Common Sergeant,
and the Judge of the Sheriff's Court. The law Judges take part when
knotty legal questions come in dispute, or when the trial is for a
capital offense which may cost the prisoner his life. A curious old
custom at the Bailey is that one Alderman must be present at every
sitting of the Court.

Above the Old Court is a stately dining-room where, during the Old
Bailey sittings, the Sheriffs used to give Judges and Court officials,
and a few privileged visitors, dinners of rump steak and marrow
puddings, according to a bill of fare provided by custom. The custom, I
believe, is kept up still. There are two dinners, at 3 and 5 o'clock
respectively, and a historic court chaplain is told of who for ten years
ate both of these meals each day.

There is a reverse to this pleasant picture of the Old Bailey. For many
years it was a most unhealthy place to hold court in. The jail fevers
which decimated Newgate's population always found their way into the
court room. In 1750 the fever caused the death of several judges and
Lord Mayor Pennant himself, and whenever there was an epidemic there are
records of its effect among the potentates of the Old Bailey. In Chapter
7 of "A Tale of Two Cities," in connection with the trial of Charles
Darnay, Dickens writes of the Old Bailey Court: "They hanged at Tyburn
in those days, so the street outside of Newgate had not obtained the
infamous notoriety that has since attached to it. But the gaol was a
vile place, in which most kinds of debauchery and villainy were
practiced, and where dire diseases were bred, that came into the Court
with the prisoners, and sometimes rushed straight from the dock at my
Lord Chief Justice himself, and pulled him off the bench. It had more
than once happened that the judge in the black cap pronounced his own
doom as certainly as the prisoner's, and even died before him." In the
course of the same chapter he describes the accused as standing quiet
and attentive, with his hands resting on the slab of wood forming the
shelf of the prisoner's dock, "so composedly that they had not displaced
a leaf of the herbs with which it was strewn. The Court was all bestrewn
with herbs, and sprinkled with vinegar, as a precaution against gaol air
and gaol fever." In 1770, Mr. Ackerman, one of the keepers, testified
before the House of Commons, which had the question of rebuilding the
prison before it, that in the spring of 1750, the jail distemper had
spread to the Sessions House, now the Old Bailey, and had caused the
death, in addition to two Judges, and the Lord Mayor already alluded to,
of several of the jury and others to the number of over sixty persons.

The surroundings of Newgate are full of historical memories. Just off
Giltspur street, but a step away, is Cock lane, where the ghost walked.
Along Newgate street, going from the Old Bailey to Cheapside, was the
noble old charity of Christ's Hospital, otherwise famous as the
Blue-Coat School, rich in works of art and richer in the recollections
of such scholars within its cloisters as Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Leigh
Hunt, Richardson, who wrote "Clarissa Harlowe," and many more. Along the
same street opens Queen's Head Passage, in which Dolly's chop-house,
which is a part of the commercial history of England, stands, and Ivy
Lane, where Dr. Johnson established his club of that name. Newgate
Market, between Newgate street and Paternoster Row, is the great meat
market of London. It is what is known as the carcass market, and for
many years was the chief source of slaughtered meat supply to the retail
butchers of London. At a certain hour of the morning Newgate street was
a veritable butchers' exchange. Newgate market was originally a meat
market, but its convenient proximity to Smithfield, which lies on the
other side of Newgate, only a few streets off, led to its conversion to
its later uses. Smithfield was the historic cattle market of London.
Here in the past were slaughtered beasts for food, and men and women for
their opinions. The beasts had the better part of the bargain. They were
killed before they were cooked. The human victims of Smithfield Shambles
were roasted and boiled alive. In chapter 21 of "Oliver Twist" we find a
description of Smithfield when Sykes is carrying Oliver off to assist in
the burglary at Chertsey.

  "It was market morning. The ground was covered nearly ankle deep with
  filth and mire, and a thick steam perpetually rising from the reeking
  bodies of the cattle, and mingling with the fog, which seemed to rest
  upon the chimney tops, hung heavily above. All the pens in the centre
  of the large area, and as many temporary ones as could be crowded into
  the vacant space, were filled with sheep; tied up to posts by the
  gutter side were long lines of beasts and oxen three or four deep.
  Countrymen, butchers, drovers, hawkers, boys, thieves, idlers,
  vagabonds of every low grade, were mingled together in a dense mass;
  the whistling of the drovers, the barking of the dogs, the bellowing
  and the plunging of the oxen, the bleating of the sheep, the grunting
  and the squeaking of the pigs, the cries of the hawkers, the shouts,
  oaths, and quarreling on all sides, the ringing of bells and roar of
  voices that issued from every public house, the crowding, pushing,
  driving, beating, whooping, yelling, the hideous and discordant din
  that resounded from every corner of the market, and the unwashed,
  unshaven, squalid and dirty figures constantly running to and fro, and
  bursting in and out of the throng, rendered it a stunning and
  bewildering scene which quite confounded the senses."

It may be remembered too, vide "Great Expectations," chapter 20, that
when Pip came up to London to find his guardian, Mr. Jaggers, he
beguiled that time while awaiting his return to his office by wandering
about the neighborhood, and so "came into Smithfield, and the shameful
place being all asmear with filth and fat and blood and foam, seemed to
stick to me. So I rubbed it off with all possible speed by turning into
a street where I saw the great black dome of St. Paul's bulging at me
from behind a grim stone building which a bystander said was Newgate
prison." Whenever he writes of the jail, he does so in the same spirit.
His earliest impressions of it struck the keynote for his whole life's
view of it. What those early impressions were one may discover in that
paper of the "Sketches by Boz" which, in their collected shape, bears
the number 24, and has for title, "Criminal Courts."

  "We shall never forget the mingled feelings of awe and respect with
  which we used to gaze on the exterior of Newgate in our schoolboy
  days. How dreadful its rough, heavy walls, and how massive the doors
  appeared to us--the latter looking as if they were made for the
  express purpose of letting people in and never letting them out again.
  Then the fetters over the debtor's door, which we used to think were a
  bona fide set of irons just hung up there for convenience sake, ready
  to be taken down at a moment's notice and rivetted on the limbs of
  some refractory felon. We were never tired wondering how the hackney
  coachman on the opposite stand could cut jokes in the presence of such
  horrors, and drink pots of half-and-half so near the last drop.

  "Often have we strayed here in session's time to catch a glimpse of
  the whipping place or that dark building on one side of the yard in
  which is kept the gibbet with all of its dreadful apparatus, and on
  the door of which we half expected to see a brass plate with the
  inscription, 'Mr. Ketch,' for we never imagined that the distinguished
  functionary could by possibility live anywhere else. The days of those
  childish dreams have passed away, and with them many other boyish
  ideas of gayer nature. But we shall retain so much of our original
  feeling that to this hour we never pass the building without something
  like a shudder."


The entrance to Newgate is through the keeper's lodge, which, with the
house in which the keeper lives, occupies the centre of what has been
well called "this vast quarry of stone." It fronts on the Old Bailey.
The prisoner's quarters are in the wings, which extend from either side
of the keeper's quarters. In the gloomy office, men with that
indescribable prison air all such officials bear, lounge about, and come
and go on business. There is iron everywhere, from the huge bolts on the
outer doors, and the door inside of them, to the barred windows and
other doors beyond number, that open and shut with a sullen clangor that
goes echoing through the stone passages as if it would never die away.
The smell of the jail is as powerful in its way as these evidences of
its actual strength. It blows into your face in a strong breath when the
door opens for you, and you find it lingering about you hours after your
visit has been made. Some scientist ought to analyze this odor of the
prison. It is unique. A soldier's barracks, a hospital, a ship's
forecastle--all places, in short, where men live in close quarters--have
an odor that tells of their origin; but the scent of the jail is
different from all, and as horrible as the thing it recalls to you
whenever you breathe it, or fancy you do.

"What London pedestrian is there," writes Dickens, in chapter 24 in the
"Sketches by Boz," "who has not, at some time or other, cast a hurried
glance through the wicket at which the prisoners are admitted into this
gloomy mansion, and surveyed the few objects he could discern, with an
indescribable feeling of curiosity. The thick door, plated with iron,
and mounted with spikes just low enough to enable you to see leaning
over them an ill-looking fellow, in a broad-brimmed hat, Belcher
handkerchief and top-boots; with a brown coat, something between a
great-coat and a 'sporting' jacket, on his back, and an immense key in
his left hand. Perhaps you are lucky enough to pass just as the gate is
being opened; then, you see on the other side of the lodge another gate,
the image of its predecessor, and two or three more turnkeys, who look
like multiplications of the first one, seated around a fire, which just
lights up the white-washed apartment sufficiently to enable you to catch
a glimpse of these different objects." In the next paper of the same
series, he conducts us within the lodge. "One side is plentifully
garnished with a choice collection of heavy sets of irons, including
those worn by the redoubtable Jack Sheppard--genuine; and those said to
have been graced by the sturdy limbs of the no less celebrated Dick
Turpin--doubtful. From this lodge a heavy oaken gate, bound with iron,
studded with nails of the same material, and guarded by another turnkey,
opens on a few steps, if we remember right, which terminate in a narrow
and dismal stone passage, running parallel with the Old Bailey and
leading to the different yards, through a number of tortuous and
intricate windings, guarded in their turn by huge gates and gratings,
whose appearance is sufficient to dispel at once the slightest hope of
escape that any newcomer may have entertained; and the very recollection
of which, on eventually traversing the place again, involves one in a
maze of confusion."

The old Newgate which the Gordon rioters sacked was a horrible place.
The cells were mere black caves, which riddled the tremendous masonry
like a stone honeycomb. In these at one time, while a contagious fever
was raging, 800 prisoners were confined. The captives were packed in
these dens like slaves in the hold of their prison-ship. Mrs. Frye
describes the women as "swearing, gaming, fighting, singing, dancing,
drinking, and dressing up in men's clothes," and as late as 1838
gambling with cards, dice and draughts was common among the male
prisoners. Jail distempers now and then purged this sink of vileness of
a portion of its inmates, till at last, in 1858, the reconstruction of
its cellular system was completed. Even with that, however, Newgate is
anything but a perfect jail. In the earlier Dickens era it preserved
many of its ancient characteristics. In "Great Expectations," when
Wemmick takes Pip to visit it, we read: "At that time gaols were much
neglected, and the period of exaggerated reaction consequent on all
public wrong-doing--and which is always its longest and heaviest
punishment--was still far off. So, felons were not lodged and fed better
than soldiers (to say nothing of paupers), and seldom set fire to their
prisons with the excusable object of improving the flavor of their soup.
It was visiting time when Wemmick took me in; and a potman was going his
rounds with beer; and the prisoners behind the bars in the yards were
buying beer, and talking to friends; and a frowsy, ugly, disorderly,
depressing scene it was." The earlier description, "A Visit to Newgate,"
in the Boz "Sketches," thus depicts the women's side of the jail:

  "The buildings in the prison--or in other words the different
  wards--form a square, of which the four sides abut respectively on the
  Old Bailey, the old College of Physicians (now forming a part of
  Newgate Market), the Sessions House and Newgate street. The
  intermediate space is divided into several paved yards, in which the
  prisoners take such air and exercise as can be had in such a place.
  These yards, with the exception of that in which the prisoners under
  the sentence of death are confined, run parallel with Newgate street,
  and consequently from the Old Bailey, as it were, to Newgate Market.
  Turning to the right, we came to a door composed of thick bars of
  wood, through which were discernible, passing to and fro in a narrow
  yard, some twenty women. One side of this yard is railed at a
  considerable distance, and formed into a kind of iron cage, about five
  feet and ten inches in height, roofed at the top, and defended in the
  front by iron bars, from which the friends of the female prisoners
  communicate with them. Two or three women were standing at different
  parts of the grating conversing with their friends, but a very large
  portion of the prisoners appeared to have no friends at all, beyond
  such of their old companions as might happen to be within the walls.
  We were conducted up a clean and well lighted flight of stone steps to
  one of the wards. A description of one is a description of the whole.

  "It was in a spacious, bare, whitewashed apartment, lighted, of
  course, by windows looking into the interior of the prison, but far
  more light and airy than one could reasonably expect to find in such a
  situation. There was a large fire, with a deal table before it, round
  which ten or a dozen women were seated on wooden forms at dinner.
  Along both sides of the room ran a shelf; below it, at regular
  intervals, a row of large hooks were fixed in the wall, on each of
  which was hung the sleeping mat of a prisoner; her rug and blanket
  being folded up, and placed on the shelf above. At night these mats
  are placed upon the floor, each beneath the hook on which it hangs
  during the day; and the ward is made to thus answer the purposes both
  of a day room and a sleeping apartment. Over the fireplace was a large
  sheet of pasteboard, on which were displayed a variety of texts from
  Scripture, which were also scattered about the room in scraps about
  the size and shape of the copy slips which are used in schools. On the
  table was a sufficient provision of a kind of stewed beef and brown
  bread, in pewter dishes which are kept perfectly bright, and displayed
  on shelves in great order and regularity when not in use.

  "In every ward of the female side a wards-woman is appointed to
  preserve order, and a similar regulation is adopted among the males.
  The wards-men and wards-women are all prisoners, selected for good
  conduct. They alone are allowed the privilege of sleeping on
  bedsteads: a small stump bedstead being placed in every ward for the

This, in itself, was a vast improvement on the style of the last century
in Newgate. Then the prisoner had no comfort unless he paid roundly for
it. His cell contained a stone bench or two, on which the first comer
might make his bed. The rest slept on the floor. Once in a great while a
truss of straw was tossed in to them, as it might have been to a beast
in a stall. This straw remained until it rotted to a pulp. Then another
truss was used to scatter over it. So, in time, the prisoners slept on a
veritable dunghill, the compost being generally left to fester till it
bred a fever, when it would be carted off, to disseminate the germs of
disease which it had engendered, outside the jail walls; and the same
process was begun over again. In the matter of cleanliness a change for
the better had been made in Dickens's time; but one great evil of the
jail was the herding together of the prisoners in the wards. Here the
possibly innocent learned evil lessons from the guilty; the depraved
could deprave those not yet wholly debased; the gaol became, in short,
not so much a place of punishment for crime as a powerful breeder of it,
and many a man and boy, and woman and girl, who went into Newgate for a
trivial offense, emerged from it a full-fledged and incorrigible
lawbreaker. So outrageous did this condition of things become that many
thoughtful men began seriously to question whether the means of
restricting crime, as practiced in Newgate, were not really worse than
the crime itself. In the sketch already quoted, Dickens says:

  "They (the men's wards) are provided, like the wards of the women's
  side, with mats and rugs, which are disposed of in the same manner
  during the day; the only very striking difference between their
  appearance and that of the wards inhabited by the women is the utter
  absence of employment. Huddled on two opposite forms by the fireside
  sit twenty men, perhaps; here a boy in livery; there a man in a rough
  great-coat and top-boots; further on, a desperate-looking fellow in
  his shirtsleeves, with an old Scotch cap upon his shaggy head; near
  him again, a tall ruffian in a smock-frock; next to him a miserable
  being of distressed appearance, with his head resting on his hand--all
  alike in one respect, all idle and listless; when they do leave the
  fire, sauntering moodily about, lounging in the windows, or leaning
  against the wall, vacantly swinging their bodies to and fro. With the
  exception of an old man reading a newspaper, in two or three instances
  this was the case in every ward we entered. The only communication
  these men have with their friends is through two close iron gratings,
  with an intermediate space of about a yard in width between the two,
  so that nothing can be handed across, nor can the prisoner have any
  communication by touch with the person who visits him. The married men
  have a separate grating at which to see their wives, but its
  construction is the same."

When the prisoners had visitors a keeper always sat in the space between
the gratings, so that private communication was practically impossible.
The only exception was made in favor of lawyers in visiting their
clients; but prisoners of note could secure the privilege of privacy
through the pressure of official influence on the head keeper. In fact,
during later years an effort, only partially successful, was made in
Newgate to grade the prisoners according to their criminal standard, and
to keep the classes apart. So, persistent and desperate offenders were
assigned to one ward and those less confirmed in crime to another, while
boys and youths were separated from the older prisoners, whose influence
on them could not be but for evil. Under the more humane management of
the present century Newgate was even provided with a school. "A portion
of the prison," says Boz, in his "Visit," "is set apart for boys under
fourteen years of age." "In a tolerable sized room, in which were
writing materials and some copybooks, was the school-master with a
couple of his pupils; the remainder having been fetched from an
adjoining apartment, the whole were drawn up in a line for our
inspection. There were fourteen of them in all, some with shoes, some
without; some in pinafores without jackets, others in jackets without
pinafores, and one in scarce anything at all. The whole number, without
an exception, we believe, had been committed for trial on charges of
pocket-picking; and fourteen such terrible little faces we never beheld.
There was not a glance of honesty, not a wink expressive of anything but
the gallows and the hulks, in the whole collection. As to anything like
shame or contrition, that was entirely out of the question. They were
evidently quite gratified at being thought worth the trouble of looking
at; their idea appeared to be that we had come to see Newgate as a grand
affair, and that they were an indispensable part of the show; and every
boy as he 'fell in' to the line actually seemed as pleased and important
as if he had done something excessively meritorious in getting there at

Dickens had made a close study of this type of London gamin, as we have
discovered in his Artful Dodger, Master Bates, and other demoralizing
and diverting characterizations. In the Boz sketch called "Criminal
Courts" he describes the trial of such an imp at the Old Bailey court:

  "A boy of thirteen is tried, say, for picking the pocket of some
  subject of Her Majesty, and the offense is about as clearly proved as
  an offense can be. He is called upon for his defence, and contents
  himself with a little declamation about the jurymen and his country;
  asserts that all the witnesses have committed perjury, and hints that
  the police force generally have entered into a conspiracy against him.
  However probable his statement may be, it fails to convince the Court,
  and some such scene as the following takes place:

  "Court: Have you any witnesses to speak for your character, boy?

  "Boy: Yes, my Lord; fifteen gen'lm'n is a vaten outside, and vos
  avaten all day yesterday, vich they told me the night afore my trial
  vos a coming on.

  "Court: Inquire for these witnesses.

  "Here a stout beadle runs out, and vociferates for the witness at the
  very top of his voice; for you hear his cry grow fainter and fainter
  as he descends the steps into the courtyard below. After an absence of
  five minutes he returns, very warm and hoarse, and informs the Court
  of what he knew perfectly well before--namely, that there are no such
  witnesses in attendance. Hereupon the boy sets up a most awful
  howling, screws the lower part of the palms of his hands into the
  corners of his eyes, and endeavors to look the picture of injured
  innocence. The jury at once find him 'guilty,' and his endeavors to
  squeeze out a tear are redoubled. The governor of the gaol then
  states, in reply to an inquiry from the bench, that the prisoner has
  been under his care twice before. This the urchin resolutely denies in
  some such terms as: 'S'elp me, gen'lm'n, I never vos in trouble
  afore--indeed, my Lord, I never vos. It's all a howen to my having a
  twin brother, vich has wrongfully got into trouble, and vich is so
  exactly like me, that no one ever knows the difference atween us.'

  "This representation, like the defence, fails in producing the desired
  effect, and the boy is sentenced, perhaps, to seven years'
  transportation. Finding it impossible to excite compassion, he gives
  vent to his feelings in an imprecation bearing reference to the eyes
  of 'old big vig,' and as he declines to take the trouble of walking
  from the dock, is forthwith carried out, congratulating himself on
  having succeeded in giving everybody as much trouble as possible."

In a similar vein, when the Artful Dodger falls into the toils ("Oliver
Twist," Chapter 43) he asserts himself.

  "It was indeed Mr. Dawkins, who, shuffling into the office with the
  big coat sleeves tucked up as usual, his left hand in his pocket, and
  his hat in his right hand, preceded the gaoler, with a rolling gait
  altogether indescribable, and taking his place in the dock, requested
  in an audible voice to know what he was placed in 'that 'ere
  disgraceful situation for.'

  "'Hold your tongue, will you?' said the gaoler.

  "'I'm an Englishman, ain't I?' rejoined the Dodger. 'Where are my

  "'You'll get your privileges soon enough,' retorted the gaoler, 'and
  pepper with 'em.'

  "'We'll see what the Secretary of State for the Home Affairs has got
  to say to the beaks, if I don't,' replied Mr. Dawkins.

  "'Now then. Wot is this here business? I shall thank the madg'strates
  to dispose of this little affair, and not to keep me while they read
  the paper, for I've got an appointment with a gentleman in the city,
  and as I'm a man of my word and very punctual in business matters,
  he'll go away if I ain't there to my time, and then p'raps there won't
  be an action for damages against them as kept me away. Oh, no,
  certainly not.'

  "At this point the Dodger, with a show of being very particular with a
  view to the proceedings to be had thereafter, desired the gaoler to
  communicate 'the names of them two files as was on the bench,' which
  so tickled the spectators, that they laughed almost as heartily as
  Master Bates could have done if he had heard the request.

  "'Silence there,' cried the gaoler.

  "'What is this?' inquired one of the magistrates.

  "'A pocket-picketing case, your worship.'

  "'Has the boy ever been here before?'

  "'He ought to have been, a many times,' replied the gaoler. 'He has
  been pretty well everywhere else. I know him well, your worship.'

  "'Oh, you know me, do you?' cried the Artful, making a note of the
  statement. 'Werry good. That's a case of deformation of character, any

  "Here there was another laugh, and another cry for silence.

  "'Now then, where are the witnesses?' said the clerk.

  "'Ah, that's right,' added the Dodger. 'Where are they? I should like
  to see 'em.'

  "This wish was immediately gratified, for a policeman stepped forward
  who had seen the prisoner attempt the pocket of an unknown gentleman
  in the crowd, and indeed take a handkerchief therefrom, which, being a
  very old one, he deliberately put back again, after trying it on his
  own countenance. For this reason he took the Dodger into custody as
  soon as he could get near him, and the said Dodger being searched, had
  upon his person a silver snuff-box, with the owner's name engraved
  upon the lid. This gentleman had been discovered upon reference to the
  Court Guide, and being then and there present, swore that the
  snuff-box was his, and that he had missed it on the previous day, the
  moment he had disengaged himself from the crowd before referred to. He
  had also remarked a young gentleman in the throng, particularly active
  in making his way about, and that the young gentleman was the prisoner
  before him.

  "'Have you anything to ask this witness, boy?' said the magistrate.

  "'I wouldn't abase myself by descending to hold no conversation with
  him,' replied the Dodger.

  "'Have you anything to say at all?'

  "'Do you hear his worship ask if you've anything to say?' inquired the
  gaoler, nudging the silent Dodger with his elbow.

  "'I beg your pardon,' said the Dodger, looking up with an air of

  "'Did you mean to say anything, you young shaver?'

  "'No,' replied the Dodger, 'not here, for this ain't the shop for
  justice; besides which, my attorney is a breakfasting this morning
  with the Wice-President of the House of Commons; but I shall have
  something to say elsewhere, and so will he, and so will a wery
  numerous and 'spectable circle of acquaintances as'll make them beaks
  wish they'd never been born, or that they'd got their footman to hang
  'em up to their own hat-pegs afore they let 'em come out this morning
  to try it upon me. I'll----'

  "'There. He's fully committed,' interposed the clerk. 'Take him away.'

  "'Oh, ah. I'll come on,' replied the Dodger, brushing his hat with the
  palm of his hand. 'Ah (to the bench) it's no use your looking
  frightened; I won't show you no mercy, not a ha'porth of it. You'll
  pay for this, my fine fellers. I wouldn't be you for something; I
  wouldn't go free now, if you was to fall down on your knees and ask
  me. Here, carry me off to prison. Take me away.'

  "With these last words, the Dodger suffered himself to be led off by
  the collar, threatening, till he got into the yard, to make a
  parliamentary business of it, and then grinning in the officer's face
  with glee and self approval."

To such scholars as these, all the schools that could be crowded into
Newgate would be of no avail. Their biographies are summed up by
Magwitch, in "Great Expectations," who, blandly admitting to have been
brought up to be "a warmint," says:

  "'In gaol and out of gaol, in gaol and out of gaol, in gaol and out of
  gaol. That's my life. I've been done everything to, pretty
  well--except hanged. I've been locked up as much as a silver
  tea-kettle. I've been carted here and carted there, and put out of
  this town and put out of that town. I've no more notion where I was
  born than you have, if so much. I first became aware of myself down in
  Essex, a-thieving turnips for a living. Summun had run away from me--a
  man, a tinker--and he'd took the fire with him and left me very cold.

  "'I knowed my name to be Magwitch, christened Abel. How did I know it?
  Much as I knowed the birds' names in the hedges to be chaffinch,
  sparrer, thrush. I might have thought that it was all lies together,
  only, as the birds' names come out true, I suppose mine did.

  "'So fur as I could find, there warn't a soul that see young Abel
  Magwitch, with as little on him as in him, but what caught fright at
  him, and either drove him off or took him up. I was took up, took up,
  took up, to that extent that I reg'larly growed up took up.'"

One of the most curious episodes of Newgate is connected with the
hanging of the Rev. W. Dodd, for forgery, on Friday, June 6, 1777. The
clerical malefactor preached his own funeral sermon in the chapel of the
prison before he was led out to die, the text being from Acts XV, 23.
The theatre of this remarkable valedictory went up in the smoke of the
Gordon Riots, but there is a chapel in the reconstructed jail:
"situated," says Boz, "at the back of the governor's house; the latter
having no windows looking into the interior of the prison. Whether the
associations connected with the place--the knowledge that here a portion
of the burial is, on some dreadful occasions, performed over the quick
and not over the dead--cast over it a still more gloomy and sombre air
than art has imparted to it, we know not, but its appearance is very
striking. The meanness of its appointments--the bare scanty pulpit, with
the paltry painted pillars on either side--the women's gallery with its
great heavy curtains--the men's with its unpainted benches and dingy
front--the tottering little table at the altar, with the commandments on
the wall above it, scarcely legible through lack of paint, and dust and
damp--so unlike the velvet and gilding, the marble and the wood of a
modern church--are strange and striking. There is one object, too, which
rivets the attention and fascinates the gaze, and from which we may turn
horror-stricken in vain, for the recollection of it will haunt us waking
and sleeping for a long time afterward. Immediately below the reading
desk, on the floor of the chapel, and forming the most conspicuous
object in the little area, is the 'condemned pew': A huge black pen in
which the wretched people, who are singled out for death, are placed on
the last Sunday preceding their execution, in sight of all their fellow
prisoners, from many of whom they may have been separated but a week
before, to hear prayers for their own souls, to join in the responses of
their own burial service, and to listen to an address warning their
recent companions to take example by their own fate and urging
themselves, while there is yet time--nearly four-and-twenty hours--to
'turn and flee from the wrath to come.' At one time--and at no distant
period either--the coffins of the men about to be executed, were placed
in that pew, upon the seat by their side, during the whole service." The
chapel has been rearranged since the time in which Boz wrote, and the
ghastliest part of its show done away with.

In the condemned ward Boz found "five-and-twenty or thirty prisoners,
all under sentence of death, awaiting the result of the recorder's
report--men of all ages and appearances, from a hardened old offender
with swarthy face and grizzly beard of three days' growth, to a handsome
boy not fourteen years old, and of singularly youthful appearance even
for that age, who had been condemned for burglary." It must be
remembered that they hanged men for all sorts of offenses in England
then, which made the population of the condemned ward abundant around
sessions time, when the trials were on. The death penalty was as common
then as it is now rare in its infliction. "The room was large, airy and
clean. One or two decently dressed men were brooding with a dejected air
over the fire; several little groups of two or three had been engaged in
conversation at the upper end of the room, or in the windows; and the
remainder were crowded around a young man seated at a table, who
appeared to be engaged in teaching the younger ones to write. On the
table lay a Testament, but there were no tokens of its having been in
recent use. In the press-room below were the men, the nature of whose
offense rendered it necessary to separate them, even from their
companions in guilt. It is a long sombre room, with two windows sunk in
the stone wall, and here the wretched men are pinioned on the mornings
of their execution, before moving toward the scaffold."

"A few paces up the yard," he goes on, "and forming a continuation of
the building, lie the condemned cells. The entrance is by a narrow and
obscure staircase, leading to a dark passage, in which a charcoal stove
casts a lurid light over the objects in its immediate vicinity, and
diffuses something like a warmth around. Prior to the recorder's report
being made, all the prisoners under the sentence of death are removed
from the day room at five o'clock in the afternoon, and locked up in
these cells, where they are allowed a candle until ten o'clock; and here
they remain until seven the next morning. When the warrant for the
prisoner's execution arrives, he is removed to the cells, and confined
in one of them until he leaves it for the scaffold. He is at liberty to
walk in the yard; but both in the walks and in his cell, he is
constantly attended by a turnkey, who never leaves him on any pretence."
The cell was "a stone dungeon eight feet long by six feet wide, with a
bench at the upper end, under which were a common rug, a Bible and a
prayer-book. An iron candle-stick was fixed into the wall at the side;
and a small high window at the back admitted as much air and light as
could struggle in between a double row of heavy, crossed iron bars." It
was in one of these dens ("Oliver Twist," Chapter 52) that Fagin spent
his last hours.

  "They led him through a paved room under the court, where some
  prisoners were waiting till their turns came, and others were talking
  to their friends, who crowded around a gate which looked into the open
  yard. There was nobody there to speak to him; but, as he passed, the
  prisoners fell back to render him more visible to the people who were
  clinging to the bars; and they assailed him with opprobrious names,
  and screeched and hissed. He shook his fist, and would have spat upon
  them; but his conductors hurried him on, through a gloomy passage
  lighted by a few dim lamps, into the interior of the prison.

  "Here he was searched, that he might not have about him the means of
  anticipating the law; this ceremony performed, they led him to one of
  the condemned cells, and left him there--alone.

  "He sat down on a stone bench opposite the door, which served for a
  seat and bedstead; and casting his bloodshot eyes upon the ground,
  tried to collect his thoughts. After a while, he began to remember a
  few disjointed fragments of what the judge had said; though it seemed
  to him, at the time, that he could not hear a word. These gradually
  fell into their proper places, and by degrees suggested more; so that
  in a little time he had the whole almost as it was delivered. To be
  hanged by the neck, till he was dead--that was the end. To be hanged
  by the neck till he was dead.

  "As it came on very dark, he began to think of all the men he had
  known who had died upon the scaffold; some of them through his means.
  They rose up, in such quick succession, that he could hardly count
  them. He had seen some of them die--and had joked, too, because they
  died with prayers upon their lips. With what a rattling noise the drop
  went down; and how suddenly they changed from strong and vigorous men
  to dangling heaps of clothes.

  "Some of them might have inhabited that very cell--sat upon that very
  spot. It was very dark; why didn't they bring a light? The cell had
  been built for many years. Scores of men must have passed their last
  hours there. It was like sitting in a vault strewn with dead
  bodies--the cap, the noose, the pinioned arms, the faces that he knew,
  even beneath that hideous veil. Light--Light.

  "At length, when his hands were raw with beating against the heavy
  door and walls, two men appeared: one bearing a candle, which he
  thrust into an iron candle-stick fixed against the wall; the other
  dragging a mattress on which to pass the night; for the prisoner was
  to be left alone no more.

  "Then came night--dark, dismal, silent night. Other watchers are glad
  to hear the clocks strike, for they tell of life and coming day. To
  the Jew they brought despair. The boom of every iron bell came laden
  with one deep, hollow sound--Death. What availed the noise and bustle
  of cheerful morning, which penetrated even there, to him? It was
  another form of knell, with mockery added to its warning.

  "The day passed off--day. There was no day; it was gone as soon as
  come--and night came on again; night so long, and yet so short, long
  in its dreadful silence, and short in its fleeting hours. At one time
  he raved and blasphemed; and at another howled and tore his hair.
  Venerable men of his own persuasion had come to pray beside him, but
  he had driven them away with curses. They renewed their charitable
  efforts, and he beat them off.

  "Saturday night. He had only one more night to live, and as he thought
  of this, the day broke--Sunday.

  "It was not until the night of this last awful day, that a withering
  sense of his helpless, desperate state came in its full intensity upon
  his blighted soul; not that he had ever held any defined or positive
  hope of mercy, but that he had never been able to consider more than
  dim probability of dying so soon. He had spoken little to either of
  the two men, who relieved each other in attendance upon him; and they,
  for their parts, made no efforts to arouse his attention. He sat
  there, awake, but dreaming. Now he started up, every minute, and with
  gasping mouth and burning skin, hurried to and fro in such a paroxysm
  of fear and wrath that even they--used to such sights--recoiled from
  him with horror. He grew so terrible, at last, in all the tortures of
  his evil conscience that one man could not bear to sit there, eyeing
  him alone; and so the two kept watch together.

  "He cowered down upon his stone bed, and thought of the past. He had
  been wounded with some missiles from the crowd on the day of his
  capture, and his head was bandaged with a linen cloth. His red hair
  hung down upon his bloodless face; his beard was torn and twisted into
  knots; his eyes shone with a terrible light; his unwashed flesh
  crackled with the fever that burnt him up. Eight--nine--ten. If it was
  not a trick to frighten him, and those were the real hours treading on
  each other's heels, where would he be, when they came around again?
  Eleven! Another struck, before the voice of the previous hour had
  ceased to vibrate. At eight, he would be the only mourner in his own
  funeral train; at eleven----

  "Those dreadful walls of Newgate, which had hidden so much misery and
  unspeakable anguish, not only from the eyes, but, too often and too
  long, from the thoughts, of men, never held so dreaded a spectre as
  that. The few who lingered as they passed, and wondered what the man
  was doing, who was to be hung to-morrow, would have slept but ill that
  night if they could have but seen him.

  "From early in the evening until nearly midnight, little groups of two
  and three presented themselves at the lodge-gate, and inquired, with
  anxious faces, whether any reprieve had been received. These being
  answered in the negative, communicated the welcome intelligence to the
  clusters in the street, who pointed out to one another the door from
  which he must come out, and showed where the scaffold would be built,
  and, walking with unwilling steps away, turned back to conjure up the
  scene. By degrees they fell off, one by one; and for an hour in the
  dead of the night, the street was left to solitude and darkness."

When Mr. Brownlow and Oliver appeared at the wicket, and presented an
order of admission to the prisoner, signed by one of the Sheriffs, they
were immediately admitted to the lodge.

  "The condemned criminal was seated on his bed, rocking himself from
  side to side, with a countenance more like that of a snared beast than
  the face of a man. His mind was evidently wandering to his old life,
  for he continued to mutter, without appearing conscious of their
  presence otherwise than as a part of his vision.

  "'Fagin,' said the gaoler.

  "'That's me,' cried the Jew, falling, instantly into the attitude of
  listening he assumed upon his trial. 'An old man, my Lord; a very old

  "'Here,' said the turnkey, laying his hand upon his breast to keep him
  down. 'Here's somebody wants to see you, to ask you some questions, I
  suppose. Fagin, Fagin, are you a man?'

  "'I shan't be one long,' replied the Jew, looking up with a face
  retaining no human expression but rage and terror. 'Strike them all
  dead! What right have they to butcher me?'"

Since hanging by wholesale went out in England, Newgate has had no use
for condemned wards, nor for its great number of condemned cells. The
former are now broken up into cells, or used as exercise rooms or
offices. Most of the latter are now punishment cells, in which
refractory prisoners are confined. The demoralizing system of
confinement in gangs has been done away with also, the cells in which
the prisoners froze in cold weather have been made comfortable, and the
standard of the management of the jail raised in every way. Such
prisoners as may be condemned to death--there are only a few a year now,
where in Dickens's boyhood there were several every week--are kept apart
from their fellows and from each other. They are confined in an ordinary
cell until they are convicted. Then they are transferred to a strong
cell in the old condemned cell ward, and thence they travel to the

Between the Old Bailey Court House and the condemned ward of Newgate is
a yard called the Press Yard. The name has a hideous origin. This spot
was for many years the scene of one of the most terrible tortures ever
inflicted by the cruelty of man upon his kind, the awful torture of
"Pressing to Death." This torture was imposed on prisoners held for
higher crimes, like treason and felonies, who refused to answer in
court. Nowadays, this would be construed into contempt of court. Until a
century ago it was held an offense so hideous as to warrant death by
torture. Nowadays we do not ask a prisoner to criminate himself. Then,
if he did not, he was tortured; if he did he was punished anyway. The
prisoner condemned to be pressed was stripped naked, except, for
decency's sake, a cloth around the loins, and laid on his back on the
pavement. Then iron weights were piled upon a board placed on his body,
in increasing number, and on a diet of three morsels of bread a day and
three draughts of water, he was left to perish miserably. He never
needed a full day's rations. Sometimes he lasted for hours, and at
others, as in the case of Mayor Strangeways, who was pressed for the
murder of John Fussel in 1659, he died in a few moments. This poor
wretch was stoned by the mob in the prison yard while undergoing the
torture. Highwaymen, house-breakers, forgers, utterers of forged and
counterfeit money, as well as murderers and traitors, were pressed to
death. Brutal and callous as the era was, the shocking practice excited
such denunciation in time that the victims were finally subjected to the
torture privately in the room known as the Press Room whose door opens
into the Press Yard. But the practice of pressing was kept up until as
late as 1770.

The Press Yard to this day is devoted to quite as gloomy and deadly, if
less revolting, service under sanction of the law. It is here that the
executions of Newgate are performed. The gallows is set up close to the
door out of which the prisoner is brought. There is no march to the
gibbet through a throng of spectators as in most of our own jails. The
doomed man gets his last glimpse of the sky through a stone funnel down
which no ray of sunlight ever finds its way. As far as I remember, from
my London days, the only sign the outer world has of the work going on
within the prison walls is the hoisting of a black flag over the lodge,
and I know not if even this ceremonial is still observed. From the
gallows to the grave in Newgate used to be but a step. There was an old
burying ground in the prison, now disused, which was opened in 1820.
Thistlewood and the other Cato Street Conspirators were the first
criminals buried in it. They were buried in the night on the day of
their execution, without services, and many others like them in after
years. A pit and a shroud of quicklime were the appropriate Newgate

The ingenious fancy of Mr. Ainsworth has made Jack Sheppard's escape
from Newgate one of the chief episodes of his famous book. The simple
facts of his hero's evasion from the gaol are much less romantic,
considering the number of prisoners it held. The escapes from Newgate
were very few, and in almost every instance they owed a great measure of
their success to the connivance of officials within the walls. Until the
tidal wave of prison reform swept it clean of its old, corrupt
practices, Newgate was managed largely for the benefit and profit of its
guardians, from the keeper down. Each official was an adept at the art
of extortion, and every palm that held a key was troubled with the itch.
The prisoner could purchase most things he might desire, and even the
chance of liberty was not beyond price. It was only the chance to be
sure; his keeper would wink at the effort, but he must take the risk of
being stopped upon his way by others, unless he could fairly buy his
passage from his dungeon to the lodge gate. A few--a very few--did this,
and got away. Generally the escapes were mere attempts, frustrated
before the last barrier was passed. The most remarkable escape made from
the prison, because it was accomplished without aid within or without
the walls, was that of the Sweep. This ruffian, from practice in his
trade of climbing chimneys, actually contrived to scale the rough stone
wall in an angle of one of the jail yards, by working himself up with
his back and feet, until he reached the leads, over which he made his
way to the roof of a house in Newgate street, which he entered through
the scuttle, and so went down stairs and into the street. Since that
time the inner walls of Newgate have been smoothed, so that even a fly
could not crawl up them, and spiked at the top to make assurance doubly


Half a century ago, a stroller about the London streets whose loiterings
carried him to the Fleet Market, could not but notice in the brick wall
that extended along what is now entitled Farringdon street, facing the
market, a wide-grated window, set in a framework of granite blocks.
Under the arched top of the framework, between it and the grating, a
stone slab or panel bore the carved inscription: "Please Remember Poor
Debtors, Having No Allowance." Through the grating one might look into a
squalid, dark room, with a rough wooden bench fastened to one wall, and
during the hours of daylight some miserable human creature, like a caged
and starved beast, always glared from behind the bars upon the street,
repeating, in the voice of wheedling mendicancy, the appeal cut in the
stone above his head. There was a broad sill to the window, and an
opening in the bars, like those of the counter windows in a modern bank,
through which the jailed beggar could pass out and draw in a wooden box,
in which the charitably inclined might drop an obolus as they passed by.

This was what was called "the grate" of the Fleet Prison, one of the
wickedest and most pestilential gaols that ever cursed the earth; and
the grimmest satire upon this jail into which men were thrust for not
paying money which they owed, was that among these debtors there were
many whose absolute inability to pay was demonstrated by the fact that
they would, literally, have starved there but for the chance charity of
the public. Apropos of this point Dickens, in chapter xiv, volume II, of
"Pickwick," says:

  "The poor side of the debtors' prison is, as its name imports, that in
  which the most miserable and abject class of debtors are confined. A
  prisoner, having declared upon the poor, pays neither rent nor
  chummage. His fees upon entering and leaving the gaol are reduced in
  amount, and he becomes entitled to a share of some small quantities of
  food--to provide which a few charitable persons have, from time to
  time, left trifling legacies in their wills. Most of our readers will
  remember that, until a very few years past, there was a kind of iron
  cage in the wall of the Fleet Prison, within which was posted some man
  who, from time to time, rattled a money box, and exclaimed in a
  mournful voice: 'Pray remember the poor debtors.' The receipts of this
  box, when there were any, were divided among the poor prisoners, and
  the men on the poor side relieved each other in this degrading office.

  "Although this custom has been abolished and the cage is now boarded
  up, the miserable and destitute condition of these unhappy persons
  remains the same. We no longer suffer them to appeal at the prison
  gates to the charity and compassion of the passers-by; but we still
  have unblotted on leaves of our statute-book, for the reverence and
  admiration of the succeeding ages, the just and wholesome law which
  declares that the sturdy felon shall be fed and clothed, and that the
  penniless debtor shall be left to die in starvation and nakedness.
  This is no fiction. Not a week passes over our heads but, in every one
  of our prisons for debt, some of these men must inevitably expire in
  the slow agonies of want, if they were not relieved by their fellow

The custom of beggary at the prison gate, it may as well be remarked
here, was a relic of the ancient prison of the Fleet, to which allusion
is made in several of the old English comedies. Leigh Hunt, in his
pleasant divagations upon London called "The Town," remarks upon the
practice in connection with Ludgate Prison, and, indeed, it was common
to all the town jails in which debtors were incarcerated, without
municipal provisions for their support. In the last century, as John
Timbs tells us, there was additional provision for the relief of the
paupers of the prison, in what was known as the "Running Box." In this
case a man ran to and fro in the neighboring streets to the prison,
shaking a box, and begging passengers to put money into it for the poor
prisoners in the Fleet, while on his back he carried a capacious covered
basket, to hold such broken victuals as the charitable might choose to
spare for him.

Hard by the paupers' grating of the Fleet was a grimy and gloomy
doorway, heavily framed in stone, which, like the brick of the prison
wall, sweated a sort of fungoid scum, originally a rank, unhealthy green
in color, but, thanks to London fogs and soft-coal smoke, soon converted
into the semblance of a thin glaze or varnish of liquid soot. The door
stone was worn as smooth as glass, and even in the fairest weather was
perilously greased with street slime. On either panel of the doorway was
carved a huge numerical figure. The rude wit of the town called this the
"Fleet Halter," which, once it was about a man's neck, held him almost
as tight and fast as its rival noose at Tyburn. Fastidious debtors who
preferred to preserve a fiction of respectability in their
correspondence, were wont to have their letters addressed to them at 9
Fleet Market, for 9 was the halter-hinting number of the gateway to the

It was through this gateway that the tipstaff preceded Mr. Pickwick, as
you may read in chapter xii. of the second volume which chronicles that
immortal gentleman's adventures, "looking over his shoulder to see that
his charge was following close at his heels;" and in the gate-lodge,
which they entered through a door at the left, Mr. Pickwick sat for his
portrait to the assembled turnkeys, so that he might be remembered
should he take the fancy to stroll out of the doors without a license.
There was in this lodge "a heavy gate guarded by a stout turnkey with
the key in his hand," and when Mr. Pickwick's likeness was completed, he
passed through this inner gate, and down a short flight of steps, and
"found himself, for the first time in his life, within the walls of a
debtor's prison."

The Fleet in those days consisted principally of one long brick pile,
which ran parallel with the Fleet Market, now Farringdon street, with an
open court around it, bounded by a lofty wall, over which, here and
there, one could see the sooty chimney-tops and the smoky sky. The
buildings were four stories in height above the ground, with a story
half under ground among the foundations. No architectural art had been
wasted on the exterior of the structure, and no sanitary ingenuity or
sentimental seeking after the comfort of the inmates had been expended
upon the interior. The one aim of the constructors had been to so divide
the space as to cram within it the greatest possible number of persons.
To this end, each floor was traversed by a single hallway or passage, "a
long narrow gallery, dirty and low, and very dimly lighted by a window
at each remote end," on either hand of which opened doors of innumerable
single rooms, which rarely, however, failed to do duty as lodgings for
less than several tenants. The floors, as Mr. Tom Roker explained to Mr.
Pickwick when he inducted him into the prison, were distinguished as the
hall flight, the coffee-room flight, the third flight and the top
flight. All the rooms on these floors were let by the week, at prices
adjusted to their presumed desirability and the capacity of the lessee's
purse, and governed by the number of tenants who entered upon them.

The basement rooms, even, formed a source of revenue to the warden. This
sunken story, which received its light from the low-browed windows whose
sills were level with the slabs of the prison yard, was known as
Bartholomew Fair. Here misery might welter in its offal at the fee of
one-and-threepence a week if it still held itself above the abject
degradation of the Common Side, whose inmates took their turn at begging
at the grate. The Common Side was a building apart from the main range,
which latter was known as the Warden Side. Here there was no rent to
pay. The prisoners bunked in gangs, like emigrants on an ocean passage.
As to Bartholomew Fair, let Dickens describe it himself (vide
"Pickwick," chapter xiii, volume II):

  "'Oh!' replied Mr. Pickwick, looking down a dark and filthy staircase
  which appeared to lead to a range of damp and gloomy stone vaults
  beneath the ground, 'And these, I suppose, are the little cellars
  where the prisoners keep their small quantities of coals? Unpleasant
  places to have to go down to, but very convenient, I daresay.' 'Yes, I
  shouldn't wonder if they was convenient,' replied Mr. Roker, 'seeing
  that a few people live there pretty snug. That's the Fair, that is!'
  'My friend,' said Mr. Pickwick, 'you don't really mean to say that
  human beings live down these wretched dungeons?' 'Don't?' replied Mr.
  Roker, with indignant astonishment; 'why shouldn't I?' 'Live down
  there?' exclaimed Mr. Pickwick. 'Live down there? Yes, and die down
  there, too, wery often.'"

Nominally, each prisoner in the Fleet on the Warden Side was entitled to
a room at the charge of 1s. 3d. a week. Actually, however, he never got
one on any floor above the level of Bartholomew Fair. Each room was made
to quarter from two to four tenants in the space designed for one, so
that it, at full seasons, actually produced at least a crown a week
rental. This system, which was excused on the plea of overcrowding of
the jail by commitments of the courts, was called "chummage," and the
system produced another curious practice of prison life. If one or more
prisoners occupied a room and another was "chummed" on them, they could
buy him off by paying him a few shillings a week, and so keep the room
to themselves. He, out of the money they paid him, paid in his turn for
inferior quarters elsewhere. Thus, a prisoner who was willing to pay
full rent for a room to the warden, and buy off anyone who might be
chummed upon him, could have a dirty box of a chamber to himself, at the
average cost of a first-class parlor and bedroom outside the walls.
Prisoners who had been a certain number of years in the jail had a
prescriptive right to a room to themselves, and most of these rented
their apartments at good rates to new comers, and took beds for
themselves in the common lodgings.

When Mr. Pickwick entered the Fleet as a resident (vide volume II,
chapter xiv) he was chummed on "27 in the third," whose door was to be
distinguished by the likeness of a man being hung and smoking a pipe the
while, done in chalk upon the panel. Not liking his company of three
here he, as may be recalled, rented the room of a chancery prisoner, in
which he settled down. For the use of this room he paid £1 a week, and
for the furniture, which he hired from a keeper, £1 3s. more. These
figures may serve as an indication of the rates prevailing in the Fleet
fifteen years before it was demolished. The episode of Mr. Pickwick's
investigatory experiences in this connection is worth quoting, as a part
of the panorama of prison life. There was only one man in the room upon
which he was chummed, and he "was leaning out of the window as far as he
could without overbalancing himself, endeavoring, with great
perseverance, to spit upon the crown of the hat of a personal friend
upon the parade below." He expressed his disgust at having had the
newcomer chummed upon him, and summoned his two room-mates, who were a
bankrupt butcher and a drunken chaplain out of orders, the expectoratory
gentleman himself being a professional blackleg.

  "'It's an aggravating thing, just as we got the beds so snug,' said
  the chaplain, looking at the dirty mattresses, each rolled up in a
  blanket, which occupied one corner of the room during the day, and
  formed a kind of slab on which were placed an old cracked basin, ewer
  and soap-dish of common yellow earthenware with a blue flower; 'very

  "Mr. Martin (the butcher) expressed the same opinion, in rather
  stronger terms.

  "Mr. Simpson (the 'leg) after having let a variety of expletive
  adjectives loose upon society, without any substantive to accompany
  them, tucked up his sleeves and began to wash greens for dinner.

  "While this was going on Mr. Pickwick had been eyeing the room, which
  was filthily dirty and smelt intolerably close. There was no vestige
  of either carpet, curtain or blind. There was not even a closet in it.
  Unquestionably, there were but few things to put away if there had
  been one, but, however few in number, or small in individual amount,
  still, remnants of loaves, and pieces of cheese, and damp towels, and
  scraps of meat, and articles of wearing apparel, mutilated crockery,
  and bellows without nozzles, and toasting-forks without prongs, do
  present somewhat of an uncomfortable appearance when they are
  scattered about the floor of a small apartment, which is the common
  sitting and sleeping room of three idle men.

  "'I suppose that this can be managed somehow,' said the butcher, after
  a pretty long silence. 'What will you take to go out?'

  "'I beg your pardon,' replied Mr. Pickwick, 'what did you say? I
  hardly understood you.'

  "'What will you take to be paid out?' said the butcher. 'The regular
  chummage is two-and-six; will you take three bob?'

  "'And a bender,' suggested the clerical gentleman.

  "'Well, I don't mind that; it's only a twopence apiece more,' said Mr.
  Martin; 'What do you say now? We'll pay you out for three-and-sixpence
  a week; come!'

  "'And stand a gallon of beer down,' chimed in Mr. Simpson. 'There!'

  "'And drink it on the spot,' said the chaplain; 'NOW!'

  "After this introductory preface the three chums informed Mr.
  Pickwick, in a breath, that money was in the Fleet just what money was
  out of it; that it would instantly procure him almost anything he
  desired; and that supposing he had it, and had no objection to spend
  it; if he only signified his wish to have a room to himself, he might
  take possession of one, furnished and fitted to boot, in half an
  hour's time.

  "With this the parties separated, very much to their mutual
  satisfaction, Mr. Pickwick once more retracing his steps to the lodge,
  and the three companions adjourned to the coffee-room, there to expend
  the five shillings which the clerical gentleman, with admirable
  prudence and foresight, had borrowed of him for the purpose.

  "'I knowed it,' said Mr. Roker with a chuckle, when Mr. Pickwick
  stated the object with which he had returned. 'Lord, why didn't you
  say at first that you was willing to come down handsome?'"

Those who could afford to sleep well in the Fleet, as sleeping went in
such places, might feed well enough, too. They could be served in the
coffee-room, and if they preferred to eat in privacy, there was a
cookshop in the prison; and there were, besides, messengers who could be
sent on errands of purchase outside the walls. In every case the charges
were extortionate, for the one object of the prison was to squeeze the
debtor dry by fair means or foul. But when the law sanctions such
outrages as the Fleet itself, the minor offenses by which the greater
burden is mitigated to its victims may be condoned. There was a taproom
in the prison where beer and wine were to be had, but the traffic in
spirits was forbidden, and even the conveyance of them to the prisoners
from without prohibited under heavy penalties; "and such commodities
being highly prized by the ladies and gentlemen confined therein"
("Pickwick" volume II, chapter xvii), "it had occurred to some
speculative turnkey to connive, for certain remunerative considerations,
at two or three prisoners retailing the favorite articles of gin for
their own profit and advantage." The spirit dispensaries were known in
the jargon of the jail as "whistling-shops," and what with the strong
waters they provided, and the malt liquors of the taproom, it was safe
to assume that the bulk of such prisoners in the Fleet as were not dying
for the want of sufficient food were perishing of a superfluity of

The poor debtors who still had the price of "a chamber-pot of coals" and
a scrag of mutton, could have it in from the market and cook it for
themselves in their rooms or, for a penny or two, at the common kitchen
in the prison-yard. In default of sufficient capital to this end they
must live off bread and cheese, or cold meat, or hope, or, as many
doubtless did, on the porter from the taproom. To secure the means of
subsistence and indulgence they begged from the visitors. The sharper
old residents borrowed from the shallower newcomers, and, as a matter of
course, theft went hand in hand with mendicancy. Of this shadowy side of
a picture, dark enough, in all conscience, in its lightest spots,
Dickens gives us a glimpse in chapter xiv of volume II, where Mr.
Pickwick encounters Mr. Alfred Jingle on the Common Side, and Mr. Jeb
Trotter, returning from pawning his master's last coat, with a scrap of
meat for his dinner. And Mr. Jingle's own summary of the prevailing
state of things at that period and place may serve as a description of
the condition and prospects of his neighbors.

  "'Lived on a pair of boots--whole fortnight. Silk umbrella--ivory
  handle--week. Nothing soon--lie in bed--starve--die--inquest--little
  bone-house--poor prisoner--common necessaries--hush it up--gentlemen
  of jury--warden's tradesmen--keep it snug--natural death--coroner's
  order--workhouse funeral--serve him right--all over--drop the

In 1749 the son of the architect, Dance, who built old Buckingham House
and Guy's Hospital, was imprisoned in the Fleet for debt. He wrote and
published a poem called "The Humors of the Fleet," which has an interest
for comparison with what the prison became later. The book had a
frontispiece showing the prison-yard, a newcomer treating the jailer and
cook and others to drink; racket-players at their game; and in one
corner of the yard a pump and a tree. When the Fleet was rebuilt after
the riots, there were two exercise grounds within the walls. One, the
smaller, was on the side toward Farringdon street, denominated and
called "The Painted Ground," from the fact of its walls having once
displayed the "semblances of various men-of-war in full sail, and other
artistical effects, produced, in bygone days, by some imprisoned
draughtsman in his leisure hours." On the other side of the prison was
the larger yard where racket was played and games of skittles bowled
beneath a shed. Here might be seen the characterless "characters" of the
place, in which every prison is sure to abound. Smokers and other idlers
loitered about the steps leading to the racket ground, draining their
pots as they watched the game. Here Mr. Smangle "made a light and
wholesome breakfast on a couple of cigars" Mr. Pickwick had paid for,
and here Mr. Weller, with a pint of beer and the day before yesterday's
paper, divided his time between dipping into the news and the noggin,
the skittle game and the affections of a young lady who was peeling
potatoes at one of the jail windows, on that memorable morning when Mr.
Stiggins called upon him and sampled the port wine in the coffee-room
snuggery. Here you might hear the roar of the great babel without; and
from the same point see one or two of its churches aspiring above the
'chevaux-de-frise' of the prison walls. There was a torrent-like fury
about the busy hum of the town in contrast with the stagnant life within
the brick walls; and, as if to keep up the mockery, they verged upon the
yard of the Belle Sauvage Inn, where travelers constantly came and went
on their journeys, free, if they chose, to roam around the world. In
chapter xvii of volume II, Dickens sketches a vivid picture of the daily
scene in the jail-yard.

  "Sauntering or sitting about, in every possible attitude of listless
  idleness, were a number of debtors, the major part of whom were
  waiting in prison until their day of 'going up' before the Insolvent
  Court should arrive, while others had been remanded for various terms,
  which they were idling away as they best could. Some were shabby, some
  were smart, many dirty, a few clean; but there they all lounged, and
  loitered, and slunk about, with as little spirit or purpose as the
  beasts in the menagerie. Lolling from the windows which commanded a
  view of this promenade were a number of persons, some in noisy
  conversation with their acquaintances below, and others playing bat
  all with some adventurous throwers outside, and others looking on at
  the racket players, or watching the boys as they cried the game.
  Dirty, slipshod women passed and repassed on their way to the cooking
  house in one corner of the yard; children screamed, and fought, and
  played together in another; the tumbling of the skittles and the
  shouts of the players mingled perpetually with these and a hundred
  other sounds, and all was noise and tumult."

To this picture of the Fleet by day, it is worth while to add one of the
after dark, from chapter xii, of volume II.

  "It was getting dark; that is to say, a few gas jets were kindled in
  this place, which was never light, by way of compliment to the evening
  which had set in outside. As it was rather warm some of the tenants of
  the numerous little rooms which opened into the gallery on either hand
  set their doors ajar. Mr. Pickwick peeped into them, as he passed
  along, with curiosity and interest. Here, four or five great hulking
  fellows, just visible through a cloud of tobacco smoke, were engaged
  in noisy and riotous conversation over half-emptied pots of beer, or
  playing at all fours with a very greasy pack of cards. In the
  adjourning room some solitary tenant might be seen poring, by the
  light of a feeble tallow candle, over a bundle of soiled and tattered
  papers, yellow with dust, and dropping with age, writing, for the
  hundredth time, some lengthened statement of his grievances for the
  perusal of some great man whose eyes it would never reach, or whose
  heart it would never touch. In a third a man and his wife and a whole
  crowd of children might be seen making up a scanty bed on the ground,
  or upon a few chairs for the younger ones to pass the night in. And in
  a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth, and a seventh the noise, and the
  beer, and the tobacco smoke, and the cards all came over again in
  greater force than before. In the galleries themselves, and more
  especially on the staircases, there lingered a great number of people
  who came there, some because their rooms were foul and hot, and the
  greater part because they were restless and uncomfortable and not
  possessed with the secret of knowing exactly what to do with
  themselves. There were many classes of people here, from the laboring
  man and his fustian jacket to the broken-down spendthrift in his shawl
  dressing-gown, most appropriately out at the elbows; but there was the
  same air about them all--a sort of listless, gaol-bird, careless
  swagger; a vagabondish, who's-afraid sort of bearing which is wholly
  indescribable in words, but which any man can understand in a moment,
  if he wish, by setting foot in the nearest debtors' prison, and
  looking at the very first group of people he sees there."

The Fleet Prison was staggering along on its last legs, like some gouty
monster whose swollen joints were rotting asunder of internal
corruption, when Dickens gave it a place in the fiction of picturesque
fact. But it had a long history behind it, a history dating from the
time when the Fleet creek, now a noisome sewer under the foundations of
the jail, was a pretty little river, winding down from a verdant and
fertile country. When the town had grown toward and around it, the Fleet
river had become silted and clogged up into a foul and sluggish stream,
and was such a nuisance that it was arched over, and a market built upon
the arches. But below the market it still remained an open stream, where
colliers' barges unloaded their cargoes at Sea-Coal lane, and what is
now Bridge street was a sluggish, polluted canal, whose reek infected
the air. The gaol took its name from the stream upon whose banks it was
built. The exact date of its foundation is unknown, but by various
records it was formerly held in conjunction with the Manor of Leveland,
in Kent, and with "the King's House at Westminster," the whole being a
part of the ancient possessions of the See of Canterbury, traceable in a
grant from the Archbishop Lanfranc, soon after the accession of William
the Conqueror. The wardenship or sergeantcy of the prison was anciently
held by several eminent personages, who also had custody of the king's
palace at Westminster. It was "a place," in the worst sense of the
phrase, for, as long ago as 1586, the persons to whom the warden had
underlet it were guilty of cruelty and extortion, crimes, however, quite
characteristic of the Court of Star Chamber, of which the Fleet was at
this time the prison. Up to this period its history is little better
than a sealed book, the burning of the prison by the followers of Wat
Tyler seeming to have been the only very noticeable event during the
above interval. In the reigns of Edward VI and of Mary, the Fleet was
tenanted by several victims of religious bigotry. One of the most
venerated of British martyrs, Bishop Hopper, was twice committed to the
Fleet, which he only quitted in 1555 for the stake and the fire, in the
chief town in his diocese, Gloucester. His captivity was truly wretched;
he slept upon "a little pad of straw" with a rotten covering; "his
chamber was vile and stinking," just as it might have been had he been a
poor debtor in 1825.

The fees belonging to the warden of the Fleet and his officers, in the
reign of Elizabeth, were very heavy. An archbishop, duke or duchess had
to pay for a commitment fee and the first week's "dyett," £21 10s.; a
lord, spiritual or temporal, £10 5s. 10d.; a knight, £5; an esquire, £3
6s. 8d.; and even a poor man in the wards, "that hath a part at the box,
to pay for his fee, having no dyett, 7s. 4d." The warden's charge for
lawful license "to go abroad" was 20d. per diem. Thus, as may be seen,
the fleecing and flayings, the inhumanities and the injustices which
characterized the later years of the prison were hereditary to it.

From the reign of Elizabeth to the sixteenth year of King Charles I,
1641, the Star Chamber Court was in full activity, and several bishops
and other persons of distinction were imprisoned in the Fleet for their
religious opinions. Thither, too, were consigned political victims of
the Star Chamber, two of the most interesting cases of this period being
those of Prynne and Lilburne. Prynne was taken out of the prison, and,
after suffering pillory, branding, and mutilation of the nose and ears,
was remanded to the Fleet. Lilburne--"Freeborn John"--and his printer
were committed to the Fleet for libel and sedition; and the former was
"smartly whipped" at the cart's tail, from the prison to the pillory
place between Westminster Hall and the Star Chamber; and he was
subsequently "doubled ironed" in the prison wards. Another tenant of the
Fleet at this period was James Howel, the author of the "Familiar
Letters," several of which are dated from the prison. From a letter "To
the Earl of B----," from the Fleet, Nov. 20, 1643, we gather that Howel
was arrested "one morning betimes" by five men armed with "swords,
pistols and bils," and some days after committed to the Fleet; and he
says, "as far as I see, I must lie at anchor in this Fleet a long time,
unless some gentle gale blow thence to make me launch out." Then we find
him consoling himself in the reflection that the English "people" are in
effect but prisoners, as all other islanders are. There are other
letters by Howel, dated from the Fleet in 1645-1646 and 1647.

The prison was burnt on September 4, 1666, during the Great Fire, when
the prisoners were removed to Carom or Caroon House, in South Lambeth,
until the Fleet was rebuilt on the original site. After the abolition of
the Star Chamber, in 1641, the Fleet had become a prison for debtors
only, and for contempt of the Court of Chancery, Common Pleas and
Exchequer. It appears that the prison had been used for the confinement
of debtors from the 13th century, at least, a petition from John
Trauncy, a debtor in the Fleet, A. D. 1290, being still preserved. When
the Star Chamber was abolished, the warden's power of exacting enormous
fees by putting in irons does not appear to have ceased also, for the
wardens continued to exercise their tyranny, "not only in extorting
exorbitant fees, but in oppressing prisoners for debt, by loading them
with irons, worse than if the Star Chamber were still existing." In 1696
the cruelties and the extortions of the wardens were made public, but it
was not until 1727 that the enormity of the system of mismanagement came
fully before the public, and indescribable was the excitement and horror
it caused. A Parliamentary committee was then appointed, and the result
of their labors was the committal of Wardens Bambridge and Huggins, and
some of their servants, to Newgate. They were tried for different
murders, yet all escaped by the verdict of "Not Guilty." Hogarth has,
however, made them immortal in their infamy, in his picture of Bambridge
under examination, whilst a prisoner is explaining how he has been
tortured. Twenty years after, it is said, Bambridge cut his throat. In
consequence of these proceedings the Court of Common Pleas, January 17,
1729, established a new list of fees to be taken, and modified the rules
and orders for the government of the Fleet. The rents, perquisites, and
profits of the office at the above period were £4,632 18s. 8d. per
annum. James Gambier succeeded Bambridge in the wardenship, was
succeeded by John Garth, and to him followed John Eyles, and in 1758
Eyles's son succeeded him in the office, which he held for sixty-two
years. He was succeeded in 1821 by his deputy, Nixon, who died in 1822.
The next appointed was W. R. H. Brown, he being the last of the wardens
of the prison.

In the riots of 1780 the Fleet was destroyed by fire, and the prisoners
liberated by the mob; consequently a great part of the papers and prison
records were lost, though there remain scattered books and documents of
several centuries back. Although he does not deal specifically with the
attack on the prison at this period, Dickens in "Barnaby Rudge" (volume
II, chapter ii) gives a brief but picturesque description of the
surroundings of the gaol as they were at the time of the Gordon riots.

  "Fleet Market at that time was a long, irregular row of wooden sheds
  and pent houses occupying the centre of what is now called Farringdon
  street. They were jumbled together in a most unsightly fashion in the
  middle of the road to the great obstruction of the thoroughfare and
  the annoyance of passengers who were fain to make their way as best
  they could among the carts, barrows, baskets, trucks, casks, hulks,
  and benches, and to jostle with porters, hucksters, wagoners and a
  motley crowd of buyers, sellers, pickpockets, vagrants and idlers. The
  air was perfumed with the stench of rotten leaves and faded fruit, the
  refuse of the butchers' stalls, and offal and garbage of a hundred
  kinds. It was indispensable to most public conveniences in those days
  that they should be public nuisances likewise, and Fleet Market
  maintained the principle to admiration."

Further on, in chapter ix of the same work, he summarizes a peculiar
episode in the history of the gaol at the same period.

  "The gates of the King's Bench and the Fleet Prison, being opened at
  the usual hour, were found to have notices affixed to them announcing
  that the rioters would come that night to burn them down. The wardens,
  too well knowing the likelihood there was of this promise being
  fulfilled, were fain to set their prisoners at liberty, and gave them
  leave to move their goods; so all day such of them as had any
  furniture were occupied in conveying it, some to this place, some to
  that, and not a few to the brokers' shops, where they gladly sold it
  for any wretched price those gentry chose to give. There were some
  broken men among these debtors who had been in gaol so long, and were
  so miserable and destitute of friends, so dead to the world, and
  utterly forgotten and uncared for, that they implored their gaolers
  not to set them free, and to send them, if need were to some other
  place of custody. But they refusing to comply, lest they should incur
  the anger of the mob, turned them into the streets where they wandered
  up and down, hardly remembering the ways untrodden by their feet so
  long, and crying--such abject things those rotten-hearted gaols had
  made them--as they slunk off in their rags and dragged their slipshod
  feet along the pavement."

In spite of the concession of the Warden, the mob, as has been stated,
burned the Fleet down, and it was in the successor to the den which had
risen on the ruins left by the great fire of 1666 that Mr. Pickwick
prosecuted his studies of prison life and character.

Among the curiosities of the London Archives are over a ton of books
registering the Fleet Marriages between 1686 and 1754, which are in the
Registry Office of the Bishop of London, where they were deposited by
the Government, which purchased them in 1821. These Fleet Marriages were
the scandal and disgrace of their time. While they lasted the debtor's
gaol was the Gretna Green of London. There were no end of hard-living
parsons flung into the Fleet for debt, and as these men were always
paupers in purse, they were put to strange shifts to keep themselves in
meat and drink--especially the latter. The idea to convert clandestine
marriages into a source of gain, once originated, with men who had
neither money, character or liberty to lose, was not long in spreading.
At first the ceremony was performed within the prison chapel. Then they
became too numerous and the business too extensive for the confines of
the gaol, and every tavern around the prison had its marriage mill, and
a parson who in the rules of the prison was permitted to go at large
within certain limits, to grind the mill for anyone who listed. These
clerical vagabonds employed touts, who roved about the market and the
adjacent streets drumming up custom for the parson, who sat swigging
while he waited for trade, very much as the slop-shop salesman of to-day
seeks for custom passing on the sidewalk. Tennant relates that in
walking the street in his youth, on the side next to this prison: "I
have often been tempted by the question, 'Sir, will you be pleased to
walk in and be married.'" Along this most lawless space was frequently
hung up the sign of a male and female hand conjoined, with "Marriages
Performed Within" written beneath. A dirty fellow invited you in. The
parson was seen walking before his shop, a squalid, profligate figure,
clad in a tattered plaid night-gown, with a fiery face, and ready to
couple you for a dram of gin or roll of tobacco. "The Grub Street
Journal," in January, 1735, says: "There are a set of drunken, swearing
parsons, with their myrmidons, who wear black coats and pretend to be
clerks and registers of the Fleet, and who ply about Ludgate Hill,
pulling or forcing people to some peddling ale-house or brandy shop to
be married; even on a Sunday stopping them as they go to church and
almost tearing the clothes off their backs."

Competition in the business was fierce. While the Fleet parsons sent
their pullers-in forth to scour the streets, they hung their signs out
in the windows under the shadow of the prison wall. Thus at one corner
might be seen a window, "Weddings performed here cheap." The business
was advertised in the newspapers. The marriage taverns lined Fleet Lane
and Fleet Ditch. Two of them--the Bull and Garter and the King's
Head--were kept by warders of the prison. The parson and the landlord
divided the fee between them, after deducting a shilling for the tout
who brought the customers in. If a marriage was desired to be secret it
was not entered on the register of the house. Otherwise it was, for a
small fee, written down in a book which each tavern kept. Thus a
profligate man could victimize a confiding girl with impunity. Men and
women might commit bigamy at will, since any name they chose to give,
along with their fee, satisfied the parson, and they could have the
"ceremony" kept unregistered, or dated back as they chose. The law held
a married woman free of the responsibility of her debts, while a single
woman could be arrested and locked up for them. All a woman of free life
had to do to defraud her creditors was to get some man to marry her at
the Fleet. Then she could not be prosecuted. As for the man, the
creditors had to find him before they could proceed against him.

Women of quality who had led extravagant lives did not hesitate at the
same shift. There were parsons who kept husbands in hire at five
shillings each. There is record of one fellow having been "married" to
four women in one day. There is also a record of women, dressed as men,
being hired out as mock husbands for the occasion. All classes were fish
for the Fleet parson's net. Drunken sailors and soldiers were united to
the gin-perfumed fairies of the market; roués fetched their silly,
girlish victims in coaches to the altar reeking of stale beer and
brandy; and great men of the realm utilized the functions of the
clerical mountebanks to a similar result. In five months--from October,
1704, to February, 1705--2,954 marriages were recorded at the Fleet. How
many went unrecorded can only be surmised. The church strove in vain to
eradicate the scandal, and it required an Act of Parliament to put an
end to it in 1754.

The Fleet marriages provided Dickens with no material, although other
and less distinguished romancers have found use for them, with more or
less effect. In fact, Dickens rarely wrote without a distinct object,
and in "Pickwick," desultory and irregular as the thread of the
narrative is, he had such a purpose when he took the Fleet in hand. At
the time he wrote of it (1836) the monstrosity was at its worst. The
prevalent system of imprisonment for debt rendered the hideous gaol a
tool at the hands of a vengeful enemy, and in those of a rapacious and
dishonest man. The outrages to which it lent itself, at the call of
swindling lawyers and commercial extortioners, had commenced to attract
public attention. That the chapters on the Fleet in "Pickwick" bore a
share in arousing the general indignation which forced the Government
into action cannot be questioned. They shaped the popular sentiment and
gave it a war-cry. But the good work was not to be done in a day. It
required an Act of Parliament, debated on and contested with the usual
ponderous procrastinativeness, to rid the earth of the Fleet. The Act
was at last passed in 1842, and by it the prison was abolished, and its
inmates were drafted into the Queen's Prison. The Fleet was later sold
to the Corporation of the City of London, and in the spring of 1846 it
was razed to the ground. Its site to-day is marked by business
buildings, whose ceaseless industry makes a strange monument for the
stagnant and idle life of which the spot was once the scene.


It was a good seven years--or an evil seven--for many a poor debtor,
after the Fleet was legislated out of existence, before its younger
brother on the other side of the river followed it. The Marshalsea was
not officially abolished until 1849, and even then it escaped the doom
of extinction meted out to the Fleet, and prolonged its material
existence into our own day. What had been a frowsy jail became a frowsy
shelter for a community scarcely poorer than that which had once
inhabited it; albeit this newer community enjoyed the advantage of being
miserable in freedom from the restrain of barred windows and
spike-topped walls.

Of the prison, Dickens sketches a good description in Chapter 6 of the
first volume of "Little Dorrit." "Thirty years ago," he says, "there
stood, a few doors short of the church of St. George, in the borough of
Southwark, on the left-hand side of the way going southward, the
Marshalsea Prison. It was an oblong pile of barrack buildings,
partitioned into squalid rooms standing back to back, so that there were
no back rooms; environed by a narrow paved yard, hemmed by high walls
duly spiked on the top. Itself a close and confined prison for debtors,
it contained within it a much closer and more confined gaol for
smugglers. Offenders against the revenue laws, and defaulters to the
excise or customs, who had incurred fines which they were unable to pay,
were supposed to be incarcerated behind an iron-plated door, closing up
a second prison, consisting of a strong cell or two, and a blind alley
some yard and a half wide, which formed the mysterious termination of
the very limited skittle ground in which the Marshalsea debtors bowled
down their troubles. Supposed to be incarcerated there, because the time
had rather outgrown the strong cells and the blind alley. In practice
they come to be considered a little too bad, though in theory they were
quite as good as ever; which may be observed to be the case at the
present day with other cells that are not at all strong, and with other
blind alleys that are stone blind. Hence the smugglers habitually
consorted with the debtors (who received them with open arms) except at
certain constitutional moments when somebody came from some office, to
go through the form of overlooking something, which neither he nor
anybody else knew anything about. On these truly British occasions, the
smugglers, if any, made a feint of walking into the strong cells and the
blind alley, while this somebody pretended to do his something, and made
a reality of walking out again as soon as he hadn't done it--nearly
epitomising the administration of the most of the public affairs in our
own right, tight little island."

The Marshalsea had several notable neighbors in its own line of trade.
One of these was Horsemonger Lane Gaol, the county jail for Surrey. It
was a sturdy, thick-set prison, with a massive-looking lodge and
powerful walls. Executions took place on the roof of the lodge, the
gallows being set up there, and the drop cut in the roof itself. These
hangings were a popular show in their day, and the tenants of the houses
across the way from the jail used to reap a harvest by letting their
front windows to sightseers. It is said that they would commonly make a
year's rent, and often more, out of the morbid curiosity of the town on
one of these occasions. What the occasions were like, Dickens has left
us an idea in his famous letter to the "Times," on the occasion of the
execution of the Mannings, husband and wife, on November 13, 1849.
Dickens and John Foster attended this ghastly raree-show. Here is a
description of it:

  "I was a witness to the execution of the Mannings in Horsemonger Lane.
  I went there with the intention of observing the crowd gathered to
  behold it, and I had excellent opportunities of doing so; at intervals
  all through the night, and continuously from daybreak until the
  spectacle was over. I believe that a sight so inconceivably awful as
  the wickedness and levity of the immense crowd collected at that
  execution could be imagined by no man, and could be presented in no
  heathen land under the sun. The horrors of the gibbet and of the crime
  which brought these wretched murderers to it, faded in my mind before
  the atrocious bearing, looks and language of the assembled spectators.
  When I came upon the scene, at midnight, the shrillness of the cries
  and howls that were raised from time to time, denoting that they came
  from a concourse of boys and girls already assembled in the best
  places, made my blood run cold. As the night went on, screeching and
  laughing and yelling, in strong chorus of parodies on negro melodies,
  with substitutions of 'Mrs. Manning' for 'Susannah,' and the like,
  were added to these. When the day dawned, thieves, low prostitutes,
  ruffians and vagabonds of every kind flocked on to the ground, with
  every variety of offensive and foul behaviour. Fightings, faintings,
  whistlings, imitations of Punch, brutal jokes, tumultuous
  demonstrations of indecent delight when swooning women were dragged
  out of the crowd by the police with their dresses disordered, gave a
  new zest to the general entertainment. When the sun rose brightly, as
  it did, it gilded the thousands upon thousands of upturned faces, so
  inexpressibly odious in their brutal mirth or callousness, that a man
  had cause to feel ashamed of the shape he wore, and to shrink from
  himself, as fashioned in the image of the devil. When the two
  miserable creatures who attracted all this ghastly sight about them
  were turned quivering into the air, there was no more emotion, no more
  pity, no more thought that two immortal souls had gone to judgment, no
  more restraint in any of the previous obscenities than if the name of
  Christ had never been heard in the world, and there was no belief
  among men but that they perished like beasts. I have seen, habitually,
  some of the sources of general contamination and corruption, and I
  think there are not many phases of London life that could surprise me.
  I am solemnly convinced that nothing that ingenuity could devise to be
  done in this city, in the same compass of time, could work such ruin
  as one public execution, and I stand astounded and appalled by the
  wickedness it exhibits. I do not believe that any community can
  prosper where such a scene of horror and demoralization as was enacted
  this morning outside Horsemonger Lane Gaol is presented at the very
  doors of the good citizens, and is passed by unknown or forgotten."

This letter created a tremendous sensation, and started a whole flood of
literature, condemnatory and demanding the abolishment of public
hangings; but they were not finally done away with until nearly twenty
years later. Apropos of Horsemonger Lane, readers of "Little Dorrit" may
recall that it was here that John Chivery resided, assisting his mother
"in the conduct of a snug tobacco business, which could usually command
a neat connection within the college walls"--the college being a polite
title for the Marshalsea, whose inmates were, by natural association,
technically known among themselves as collegians.

  "The tobacco business around the corner of Horsemonger Lane was
  carried on in a rural establishment one story high, which had the
  benefit of the air from the yards of the Horsemonger Lane Gaol, and
  the advantage of a retired walk under the wall of that pleasant
  establishment. The business was of too modest a character to support a
  life-sized Highlander, but it maintained a little one on the bracket
  on the door post, who looked like a fallen cherub that had found it
  necessary to take to a kilt."

It was from the stock of this establishment that John Chivery produced
the cigars of which he made a Sunday offering on the altar of the Father
of the Marshalsea, who not only "took the cigars and was glad to get
them," but "sometimes even condescended to walk up and down the yard
with the donor, and benignantly smoke one in his society." It was also
from this establishment that he issued forth on the memorable Sunday,
"neatly attired in a plum-colored coat, with as large a collar of black
velvet as his figure could carry; a silken waistcoat, bedecked with
golden sprigs, a chaste neckerchief much in vogue in that day,
representing a preserve of lilac pheasants on a buff ground; pantaloons,
so highly decorated with side stripes that each leg was a three-stringed
lute; and a hat of state, very high and hard," not to mention a pair of
white kid gloves, and a cane like a little finger post, surmounted by an
ivory hand, to propose to Little Dorrit on the Iron Bridge.

Another of the famous Southwark gaols was the King's Bench, but in
justice to Mr. Micawber, it demands a chapter to itself. To return to
the Marshalsea, it may be remarked that Dickens knew it by such early
experience that he was qualified to write about it, even more
exhaustively than he did in "Little Dorrit." While he was still a boy,
in 1822, his father endured a period of compulsory retirement behind its
lock, and the future chronicler of the jail lodged in a cheap garret
near by, an episode of his life which he has introduced in "David
Copperfield," in connection with the Micawbers and the King's Bench.
Every morning, as soon as the gates were opened, the boy went to the
Marshalsea, where his mother had joined his father, to breakfast. In the
evening he would go to the jail from the blacking factory, where he was
employed, to get his supper. The family got along quite gayly while the
elder Dickens's affairs were in the courts. He had an income on which
they lived and kept a servant, a workhouse girl, from whom the novelist
is said to have drawn his character of The Marchioness in "Old Curiosity
Shop." The girl and the boy had to leave the prison before ten, when the
gate was locked for the night, and they became great friends. On
holidays he would go to the seminary on Tenterden street, where his
sister Fanny was at school, and fetch her to spend the day in the family
circle, escorting her back in the evening. How freely he used his
Marshalsea experiences in "David Copperfield," and transferred to Mr.
Micawber the actualities of his own family life, may be appreciated from
the passage, written by himself and quoted by Foster, relating to his
first visit to his father in the jail:

  "My father was waiting for me in the lodge, and we went up to his room
  (on the top story but one) and cried very much, and he told me, I
  remember, to take warning by the Marshalsea, and to observe that if
  any man had twenty pounds a year, and spent nineteen pounds nineteen
  shillings and sixpence, he would be happy; but that a shilling spent
  the other way would make him wretched. I see the fire we sat before
  now, with two bricks in the rusted grate, one on each side to prevent
  its burning too many coals. Some other debtor shared the room with
  him, who came in by-and-by; and, as the dinner was a joint-stock
  repast, I was sent up to Captain Porter in the room overhead, with Mr.
  Dickens's compliments, and I was his son, and could he, Captain P.,
  lend me a knife and fork. Captain P. lent me a knife and fork, with
  his compliments in return. There was a very dirty lady in his room,
  and two wan girls, his daughters, with shock heads of hair. I thought
  I should not have liked to borrow Captain Porter's comb. The Captain
  himself was in the last extremities of shabbiness, and if I could draw
  at all, I would draw an accurate portrait of the old, old brown
  great-coat he wore, with no other coat below it. His whiskers were
  large. I saw his bed rolled up in a corner, and what plates and dishes
  and pots he had on a shelf; and I knew (God knows how) that the two
  girls with the shock heads were Captain Porter's natural children, and
  that the dirty lady was not married to Captain P. My timid, wondering
  station on his threshold was not occupied more than a couple of
  minutes, I daresay; but I came down into the room below with all this
  as surely in my knowledge as the knife and fork were in my hand."

It was into this familiar scene that Dickens introduced Mr. William
Dorrit, a very amiable and very helpless middle-aged gentleman, who was
"going out again directly. Necessarily he was going out again directly,
because the Marshalsea lock never turned upon a debtor who was not. He
brought in a portmanteau with him, which he doubted it worth while to
unpack, he was so perfectly clear--like all the rest of them, the
turnkey on the lock said--that he was going out again directly. He was a
shy, retiring man, well-looking, though in an effeminate style; with a
mild voice, curling hair, and irresolute hands--rings upon the fingers
those days, not one of which was left" upon them a little while
after--when the drunken doctor, fetched in haste, ushered Little Dorrit
into the world, with the assistance of Mrs. Bangham and the brandy
bottle. The doctor was a type of one class of tenants to be found in
every debtors' prison. He lived in a wretched, ill-smelling room under
the roof, with a puffy, red-faced chum, who helped to pass the time
playing all fours, with pipe and brandy trimmings. "The doctor's friend
was in the positive stage of hoarseness, puffiness, all fours, tobacco,
dirt and brandy; the doctor in the comparative--hoarser, puffier, more
red-faced, more all foury, tobaccoer, dirtier and brandier. The doctor
was amazingly shabby in a torn, darned, rough weather sea jacket, out at
the elbows, and eminently short of buttons (he had been in his time the
experienced surgeon carried by a passenger ship), the dirtiest white
trowsers conceivable by mortal man, carpet slippers and no visible
linen. 'Childbed?' said the doctor (to Mr. Dorrit, who had come to
summon him) 'I'm the boy!' With that the doctor took a comb from the
chimneypiece, and stuck his hair upright--which appeared to be his way
of washing himself--produced a professional case or chest, of the most
abject appearance, from the cupboard where his cup and saucer and coals
were, settled his chin in a frowsy wrapper round his neck, and became a
ghastly medical scarecrow."

To enter the public establishment of which he was destined to become the
patriarch, Mr. William Dorrit had passed through an open outer gate on
High street in the Borough, to give Southwark its more familiar name;
had crossed a little court-yard, ascended a couple of stone steps,
traversed a narrow entry, and been admitted by a string of locked doors
into the prison lodge. Here he had waited, as the form and practice of
the proceeding required, until his arrival was registered, and the
tipstaff, who had kindly guided and guarded his feet to this harbor of
refuge from the cares of the world which works for a living, had
received a receipt for his safe delivery. Through another door at the
rear of the lodge, which was built in the wall of the jail itself, he
was conducted to what was to be his home for half the lifetime allotted
to mortal man. Before him was the jail court, the aristocratic court,
where the pump was; and facing the lofty wall which divided it from the
street, the barrack, on the next to the top floor of which he found the
shabby room in which the child of the Marshalsea was to be born. Debtors
were playing at racket and skittles in the court, and grouped around the
entrance to the snuggery or tap-room at the further end of the barrack.
There were "the collegian in the dressing gown, who had no coat, the
stout greengrocer collegian in the corduroy kneebreeches, who had no
cares, the collegian in the seaside slippers, who had no shoes, and the
lean clerk collegian in buttonless black, who had no hopes; the man with
many children and many burdens, whose failure astonished everybody; the
man of no children and large resources, whose failure astonished nobody;
the people who were always going out to-morrow, and always putting it
off; the slatternly women at the windows, gossiping shrilly, the smudgy
children playing noisily; all those people in fine who belong to such a
place, not forgetting the nondescript messengers, go-betweens and errand
runners, who formed a class by themselves."

Every debtors' prison had its corps of such attendants, who came and
went in the service of the inmates whose liberty ended at the lodge
door. "The shabbiness of these attendants upon shabbiness, the poverty
of the insolvent waiters on insolvency, was a sight to see. Such
threadbare coats and trowsers, such fusty gowns and shawls, such
squashed hats and bonnets, such boots and shoes, such umbrellas and
walking sticks, never were seen in Rag Fair. All of them wore the
cast-off clothes of other men and women; were made up of patches and
pieces of other peoples' individuality, and had no sartorial existence
of their own proper. Their walk was the walk of a race apart. They had a
peculiar way of doggedly slinking around the corner, as if they were
eternally going to the pawnbroker's. When they coughed, they coughed
like people accustomed to be forgotten on the doorsteps and draughty
passages, waiting for answers to letters in faded ink, which gave the
recipients of those manuscripts great mental disturbance and no
satisfaction. As they eyed the stranger in passing, they eyed him with
borrowing eyes--hungry, sharp, speculative as to his softness if they
were accredited to him, and the likelihood of his standing something
handsome. Mendicity on commission stooped in their high shoulders,
shambled in their unsteady legs, buttoned and pinned and darned and
dragged their clothes, frayed their button-holes, leaked out of their
figures in dirty ends of tape, and issued from their mouths in alcoholic

In spite of occasional touches such as this, the comparative brightness
of Dickens's picture of the Marshalsea, as contrasted with the gloom and
horror of his delineation of the Fleet, has been frequently commented
upon, but there was a reason for this in fact. Squalid and miserable
enough the Marshalsea was, but it was still more merciful and humane a
house of confinement than the other. Extortions were common to all such
places, but they were carried to their worst extent at the Fleet. The
Marshalsea, moreover, was a smaller prison, its population came and went
at shorter intervals than that of the Fleet, and it did not include so
heavy a percentage of the baser elements of society as festered in the
social cesspool opposite the Fleet Market. Very few debtors remained in
the gaol for an extended period. The average generation of a Marshalsea
prisoner was, as Dickens himself says, three months. The case of the
Father of Marshalsea--which, by the way, was based on that of a real
prisoner in the last century--was unique. "The affairs of this debtor
were perplexed by a partnership of which he knew no more than that he
had invested money in it, by legal matters of assignment and settlement,
conveyance here and conveyance there, suspicion of unlawful preference
of creditors in this direction, and of mysterious spiriting away of
property in that." In short, Mr. William Dorrit's affairs were so
tangled up that even the lawyers could not untwist them, and finally
they gave him up, and in the inextricable entanglement he remained
fettered to the Marshalsea as if he had never been a part of any world
beyond its confining wall. "Crushed at first by his imprisonment" (vide
Chapter 6, Volume I, "Little Dorrit"), "he had soon found a dull relief
in it. He was under lock and key; but the lock and key that kept him in
kept numbers of his troubles out. If he had been a man with strength of
purpose to face these troubles and fight them, he might have broken the
net that held him, or broken his heart; but, being what he was, he
languidly slipped into this smooth descent and never took one step
upward. He had unpacked the portmanteau long ago; and his elder children
played regularly about the yard, and everyone knew the baby and claimed
a kind of proprietorship in her." The title conferred upon him by a
turnkey he came to hear with pride, and under it he levied the tribute
of selfish and ungrateful beggary upon the goodnatured subjects over
whom he presumed to rule.

There was a certain snugness about the Marshalsea which was not to be
found in the Fleet. There the company was too numerous and heterogeneous
to form any social combination. In the smaller prison a specie of club
system was kept up. The tap-room, or snuggery, was a public room where
meat and drink might be procured, and where a fire was maintained for
the use of the prisoners who did not wish to cook in their rooms. The
furnace was kept fed by assessment of those who used it. At the club,
which met nightly, each man paid his own scot. The requisite for
membership was the possession of the price of the potations served to
the member. The club was of indefinite proportions and individuality.
Its members came with the tipstaves and went with the orders of release
issued by the courts. The general form of its management was that which
used to be known as the "free and easy." If any person present was a
mimic, a singer, a musician, or otherwise gifted with a pleasing or
popular accomplishment, he might be called upon to display it for the
general good. Poor debtors, who could do something to amuse, might have
their beer free at the charge of the more solvent collegians whom they
consented to divert. There is a legend of a comedian, broken down by
drink, who was sent to the Marshalsea and who lived off the fat of the
jail for several years, until he died of it, all through the discreet
application of his mimetic and comic powers in the snuggery club. Once
in a while the club would perform a piece of serious business. Sometimes
it would draft a memorial against imprisonment for debt to the Throne or
Judges, which neither Throne nor Judges saw or read, of course.
Sometimes it would issue patriotic manifestoes to Parliament, of which
Parliament remained equally ignorant. When a popular member secured his
release the club would present him with a memorial, properly engrossed
and framed, of its esteem. Mr. Dorrit received such a memorial when he
came into his fortune and resigned his paternal supremacy over the
college; and in return he treated the whole jail to a refection in the
Pump Yard, as you may read in the last chapter of the first volume of
the record of his prison patriarchy. But one drop of bitterness flavored
the cup of the Marshalsea Club. Its festivities were limited by the
public hours of the prison. The clangor of the jail bell announced the
closing of the gates at ten o'clock at night, and warned all visitors to
retire or be locked in until morning. Such experience befell Mr. Arthur
Clennam when he made his first visit to the Dorrits' at home.

  "The stoppage of the bell, and the quiet in the prison, were a warning
  to depart. But he had remained too late. The inner gate was locked and
  the lodge closed. This brought them to the tavern establishment at the
  upper end of the prison, where the collegians had just vacated their
  social evening club. The apartment on the ground floor in which it was
  held was the Snuggery: the presidential tribune of the chairman, the
  pewter pots, glasses, pipes, tobacco ashes and general flavor of
  members were still as that convivial institution had left them on its
  adjournment. The Snuggery had two of the qualities popularly held to
  be essential for grog for ladies, in respect that it was hot and
  strong; but in the third point of analogy, requiring plenty of it, the
  Snuggery was defective; being but a cooped-up apartment.

  "The unaccustomed visitor from the outside naturally assumed everybody
  to be prisoners--landlord, waiter, barmaid, potboy and all. Whether
  they were or not did not appear; but they all had a weedy look. The
  keeper of the chandler's shop in the front parlor, who took in
  gentlemen boarders, lent his assistance in making the bed. He had been
  a tailor in his time, and had kept a phaeton, he said. It was evident,
  from the general tone of the whole party, that they had come to regard
  insolvency as the normal state of mankind, and the payment of debts a
  disease that occasionally broke out. In this strange scene, and with
  these strange spectres flitting about him, Arthur Clennam looked on
  the preparations as if they were a part of a dream. Pending the while
  the long initiated Tip, with an awful enjoyment of the Snuggery's
  resources, pointed out the common kitchen fire maintained by
  subscription of the collegians, the boiler for hot water, supported in
  the same manner, and other premises generally tending to the deduction
  that the way to be healthy, wealthy and wise was to come to the

  "The two tables put together in a corner were, at length, converted
  into a very fair bed; and the stranger was left to the Windsor chairs,
  the presidential tribune, the beery atmosphere, sawdust, pipelights,
  spittoons and repose. But the last item was long, long, long in
  linking itself to the rest. The novelty of the place, the coming upon
  it without preparation, the sense of being locked up, kept him waking
  and unhappy. Speculations, too, bearing on the strangest relations
  towards the prison, but always concerning the prison, ran like
  nightmares through his mind while he lay awake. Whether coffins were
  kept ready for people who might die there, where they were kept, how
  they were kept, where people who died in prison were buried, how they
  were taken out, what forms were observed, whether an implacable
  creditor could arrest the dead? As to escaping, what chances were
  there of escape? Whether a prisoner could scale the walls with a cord
  and grapple? How he would descend on the other side; whether he could
  alight on a housetop, steal down a staircase, let himself out at a
  door, and get lost in the crowd? As to fire in the prison, if one were
  to break out while he lay there?

  "The morning light was in no hurry to climb the prison wall and look
  in at the Snuggery windows; and when it did come, it would have been
  more welcome if it had come alone, instead of bringing a rush of rain
  with it. But the equinoctial gales were blowing out at sea, and the
  impartial southwest wind, in its flight, would not neglect even the
  narrow Marshalsea. While it roared through the steeple of St. George's
  church, and twirled all the cowls in the neighborhood, it made a swoop
  to beat the Southwark smoke into the gaol; and, plunging down the
  chimneys of the few collegians who were yet lighting their fires, half
  suffocated them.

  "Heartily glad to see the morning through little rested by the night,
  he turned out as soon as he could distinguish objects about him, and
  paced the yard for two heavy hours before the gaol was opened. The
  walls were so near to one another, and the wild clouds hurried over
  them so fast, that it gave him a sensation like the beginning of
  seasickness to look up at the gusty sky. The rain, carried aslant by
  flaws of wind, blackened that side of the central building which he
  had visited last night, but left a narrow dry trough under the lee of
  the wall, where he walked up and down among the waifs of straw and
  dust and paper, the waste droppings of the pumps and the stray leaves
  of yesterday's greens. It was as haggard a view of life as a man need
  look upon."

By the arrangement of the walls, all that the prisoners in the
Marshalsea could see out of doors was the sky. The view from the barred
windows of the uppermost rooms was cut off by the higher line of the
wall topped with its chevaux-de-frise. But Little Dorrit's own room,
being in the Warden's house, had a somewhat freer prospect. "A garret
and a Marshalsea garret without compromise was Little Dorrit's room,"
but "the housetops and the distant country hills were discernible over
the walls in the clear morning." Since the prison has been put to
ordinary uses, such of the wall as is left has been lowered so that the
view except from the lower windows is not obstructed. The sharp and
cruel spikes that reddened in the sunrise like the bloody fangs of a
savage beast, are gone. Poverty looks out of the old windows without
having to peep between iron bars, and in the prison where the smugglers
did not abide a factory is busy. The place, when I saw it, had changed
but little since Dickens himself visited it in 1857, and wrote:

  "I found the outer front court-yard, often mentioned here,
  metamorphosed into a butter shop; and I then almost gave up every
  brick of the gaol for lost. Wandering, however, down a certain
  adjacent 'Angel Court, leading to Bermondsey,' I came to 'Marshalsea
  Place,' the houses in which I recognized; not only the great block of
  the former prison, but as preserving the rooms that arose in my mind's
  eye when I became Little Dorrit's biographer. A little further on, I
  found the older and smaller wall, which used to inclose the pent-up
  inner prison, where nobody was put except for ceremony. But whosoever
  goes into Marshalsea Place, turned out of Angel Court, leading to
  Bermondsey, will find his feet on the very paving stones of the
  extinct Marshalsea Gaol; will see its narrow yard to the right and to
  the left, very little altered, if at all, except that the walls were
  lowered when the place got free; will look upon the rooms in which the
  debtors lived; and will stand among the crowding ghosts of many

The Marshalsea has a history nearly as ancient as the Fleet. Stow tells
us that it was so called as "pertaining to the Marshalls of England." In
it were confined all manners of marauders, with a special tendency
towards persons who had been guilty of piracy and other offenses on the
high seas. Some authorities place its foundation as far back as the
Twelfth Century. It was a prison of considerable extent in 1377, when a
mob of sailors broke into it and murdered a gentleman who had been
incarcerated there for killing one of their comrades in a pot-house
brawl. Three years later, Wat Tyler, in the course of his rebellion,
seized and hanged the Marshal of the Marshalsea. The official title of
the Warden of the prison was, by the way, Marshal. When Bishop Bonner
was deprived of his see of London for his adherence to the Church of
Rome, he was sent to the Marshalsea. He lived there ten years, and there
dying, in 1569, he was buried at midnight in St. George's Church hard
by. This ancient prison occupied another site on the same street as the
later structure. Under Henry VIII, Mary, and Elizabeth, it was the
second prison in importance in London, being inferior only to the Tower.
Here Christopher Brooke, the poet, was confined for being concerned in
the wedding of Dr. Donne, and here George Wither was a prisoner for one
of his satires against the Government aggressions and the abuse of the
royal prerogative. The Nonconformist confessors were divided up among
the Southwark prisons, and the Marshalsea received its share of them.
John Udall, the Puritan martyr, fell a victim to its gaol fever. Its
blight extended through many generations, and the shadow of its walls
darkened many useful lives for no crime worse than the accident of
failure that may come to any man. A false system ground its abject
shabbiness, its haggard anxiety, and hopeless stupor of energies, into
natures that might, but for it, have triumphed over care, and converted
the defeat of to-day into the victory of to-morrow. "Changeless and
barren, looking ignorantly at all seasons with its fixed, pinched face
of poverty and care, the prison had not a touch of any of these beauties
in it. Blossom what would, its bricks and bars bore uniformly the same
dead crop."

Long before "Little Dorrit" was projected, Dickens introduced the
Marshalsea to his readers; even before he introduced the Fleet, indeed.
The ceremony was performed in Volume I chapter 21 of the "Pickwick
Papers," in the sketch called "The Old Man's Tale about the Queer
Client." Here is the passage:

  "In the Borough High street, near St. George's Church, and on the same
  side of the way, stands, as most people know, the smallest of our
  debtors' prisons--the Marshalsea. Although in later times it has been
  a very different place from the sink of filth and dirt it once was,
  even its improved condition holds out but little temptation to the
  extravagant or consolation to the improvident. The condemned felon has
  as good a yard for air and exercise in Newgate as the insolvent debtor
  in the Marshalsea Prison.

  "It may be my fancy, or it may be that I cannot separate the place
  from the old recollections associated with it, but this part of London
  I cannot bear. The street is broad, the shops are spacious, the noise
  of the passing vehicles, the footsteps of a perpetual stream of
  people--all the busy sounds of traffic resound in it from morn to
  midnight, but the streets around are mean and close; poverty and
  debauchery lie festering in the crowded alleys; want and misfortune
  are penned up in the narrow prison; an air of gloom and dreariness
  seems, in my eyes at least, to hang about the scene, and to impart to
  it a squalid and sickly hue.

  "Many eyes that have long since closed in the grave, have looked
  around upon that scene lightly enough, when entering the gate of the
  old Marshalsea Prison for the first time; for despair seldom comes
  with the first severe shock of misfortune. A man has confidence in
  untried friends, he remembers the many offers of assistance so freely
  made by his boon companions when he wanted them not, he has hope--the
  hope of happy inexperience--and however he may bend beneath the first
  shock, it springs up in his bosom, and flourishes there for a brief
  space, until it droops beneath the blight of disappointment and
  neglect. How soon have those same eyes, deeply sunken in the head,
  glared from faces wasted with famine, and sallow from confinement, in
  days when it was no figure of speech to say that the debtors rotted in
  prison, with no hope of release, and no prospect of liberty. The
  atrocity in its full extent no longer exists, but there is enough of
  it left to give rise to occurrences that make the heart bleed."


In the "Pickwick Papers" the Fleet Prison was made to serve as an
important feature of the story. In "Little Dorrit," the story as far as
its human interest, humor and pathos are concerned, centres in the
Marshalsea. The introduction of the King's Bench into "David
Copperfield" is entirely episodic, but it makes one of the most
brilliant chapters in the book, and, from its personal connection with
the author's own life, one of the most important. That Dickens drew
largely on his own experience for the material in "David Copperfield"
has been abundantly shown by many commentators. Without being an
autobiography, the book gives one many glimpses into the real life of
its author. He transfers scenes and changes names a trifle, as he was
fond of doing, but the private memoranda furnished by him of his early
toil and trials afford a key to much that one reads in "Copperfield" in
the flimsy disguise of fiction. Thus, he adapts the knowledge of the
Marshalsea, which he acquired while his father was a prisoner there, to
the fictitious figure and fortunes of old Dorrit; and he bestows on Mr.
Micawber, in the King's Bench, the traits displayed by his father in the
Marshalsea. A recent compiler of odds and ends of Dickens personalia,
sapiently undertakes to show that the elder Dickens must have been
incarcerated in the King's Bench and not in the Marshalsea, because Mr.
Micawber was locked up there. Unfortunately for this arrangement,
Dickens himself had distinctly disproved it in advance. Some years
before he wrote "Copperfield"--probably before he even thought of
writing it--he jotted down a number of personal facts, many of which
were used in Forster's biography. These notes demonstrate positively
that in it, as in "Dorrit," he pursued his favorite plan of
interchanging occurrences, scenes and characters, without, however,
departing from the main facts, which he had grafted in this fashion on
the inventions of his fantasy. At the very commencement of the King's
Bench interlude in "David Copperfield" this becomes apparent.

  "At last Mr. Micawber's difficulties came to a crisis, and he was
  arrested one morning and carried over to the King's Bench Prison in
  the Borough. He told me, as he went out of the house, that the God of
  day had now gone down upon him--and I really thought his heart was
  broken, and mine too. But I heard, afterwards, that he was seen to
  play a lively game of skittles before noon.

  "On the first Sunday after he was taken there I was to go and see him
  and have dinner with him. I was to ask my way to such a place, and
  just short of that place I should see such another place, and just
  short of that I should see a yard, which I was to cross, and keep
  straight on until I saw a turnkey. All this I did, and when at last I
  did see a turnkey (poor little fellow that I was), and thought how,
  when Roderick Random was in a debtor's prison, there was a man there
  with nothing on but an old rug, the turnkey swam before my dimmed eyes
  and my beating heart.

  "Mr. Micawber was waiting for me within the gate, and we went up to
  his room (top story but one) and cried very much. He solemnly conjured
  me, I remember, to take warning by his fate; and to observe that if a
  man had twenty pounds a year for his income, and spent nineteen
  pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence, he would be happy, but that
  if he spent twenty pounds one he would be miserable. After which he
  borrowed a shilling from me for porter, gave me a written order on
  Mrs. Micawber for the amount and put away his pocket handkerchief and
  cheered up.

  "We sat before a little fire, with two bricks put within the rusted
  grate, one on each side, to prevent its burning too many coals until
  another debtor, who shared the room with Mr. Micawber, came in from
  the bakehouse with a loin of mutton, which was our joint stock repast.
  Then I was sent up to 'Captain Hopkins,' in the room overhead, with
  Mr. Micawber's compliments, and I was his young friend, and would
  Captain Hopkins lend me a knife and fork.

  "Captain Hopkins lent me a knife and fork with his compliments to Mr.
  Micawber. There was a very dirty little lady in his little room, and
  two wan girls, his daughters, with shock heads of hair. I thought it
  was better to borrow Captain Hopkins's knife and fork than Captain
  Hopkins's comb. The Captain himself was in the last extremity of
  shabbiness, with large whiskers, and an old, old brown great coat,
  with no other coat below it. I saw his bed rolled up in a corner; and
  what plates and dishes and pots he had, on a shelf; and I divined (God
  only knows how) that though the two girls with the shock heads of hair
  were Captain Hopkins's children, the dirty little lady was not married
  to Captain Hopkins. My timid station on the threshold was not occupied
  more than a couple of minutes at most; but I came down again with all
  this in my knowledge as surely as the knife and fork were in my hand."

Compare this with Dickens's description of his actual visit to his
father in the Marshalsea. The difference is only that of a slight
rounding off or modifying of a sentence in the "Copperfield" version. In
the case of Captain Hopkins, whose real name was Captain Porter, one may
note how the actual suggested the fictitious title. The association
between porter and hops is evident and direct. The real experiences of
the Dickens's, at this period, in and out of jail, parallel those
credited to the Micawbers. Mrs. Dickens and the family camped in Gower
street just as Mrs. Micawber and the children camped in Windsor Terrace.
The Dickenses even had a workhouse girl for servant, like the Micawbers,
and little Charles made journeys to the pawnshop and the old book-stall
in real life, just as David did in the story. Throughout this portion of
biography and book the entries go side by side. For example:


  "At last my mother and her encampment in Gower street north, broke up
  and went to live in the Marshalsea. The key of the house was sent back
  to the landlord, who was very glad to get it; and I (small Cain that I
  was, except that I had never done harm to anyone) was handed over as a
  lodger to a reduced old lady, long known to our family, in Little
  College street, Camden town. I felt keenly living so cut off from my
  parents, my brothers and sisters. One Sunday night I remonstrated with
  my father on this head, so pathetically and with so many tears, that
  his kind nature gave away. A back attic was found for me at the house
  of an insolvent court-agent, who lived in Lant street, in the Borough,
  where Bob Sawyer lodged many years afterwards. A bed and bedding were
  sent over for me and made up on the floor. The little window had a
  pleasant prospect of a timber yard; and when I took possession of my
  new abode I thought it was a paradise."


  "At last Mrs. Micawber resolved to move into the prison, where Mr.
  Micawber had now secured a room to himself. So I took the key of the
  house to the landlord, who was very glad to get it; and the beds were
  sent over to the King's Bench, except mine, for which a little room
  was hired outside the walls in the neighborhood of that institution,
  very much to my satisfaction, since the Micawbers and I had become too
  used to one another in our troubles to part. The Orfling was likewise
  accommodated with an inexpensive lodging in the same neighborhood.
  Mine was a quiet back garret, with a sloping roof, commanding a
  pleasant prospect of a timber yard; and when I took possession of it,
  with the reflection that Mr. Micawber's troubles had come to a crisis
  at last, I thought it quite a paradise."

As Dickens told Forster, his family had no want of bodily comforts in
the Marshalsea. His father's income, still going on, was amply
sufficient for that; and in every respect, indeed, but elbow room, they
lived more comfortably in prison than they had done for a long time
while out of it. As he told the public in "David Copperfield": "I was
now relieved of much of the weight of Mr. and Mrs. Micawber's cares; for
some relatives or friends had engaged to help them at their present
pass, and they lived more comfortably in the prison than they had lived
for a long time out of it." As Forster tells us, directly from Dickens's
own statements to him: "They were waited on still by the
maid-of-all-work from Bayham street, the orphan girl of the Chatham
workhouse, from whose sharp little worldly and also kindly ways he took
his first impression of the Marchioness in the 'Old Curiosity Shop.' She
also had a lodging in the neighborhood that she might be early on the
scene of her duties; and when Charles met her, as he would do
occasionally, in his lounging place by London bridge, he would occupy
the time before the gates opened by telling her quite astonishing
fictions about the wharves and the Tower." As David Copperfield tells

  "I used to breakfast with them, now, in virtue of some arrangement, of
  which I have forgotten the details. I forget, too, at what hour the
  gates were opened in the morning, admitting of my going in, but I know
  that I was often up at six o'clock, and that my favorite lounging
  place in the interval was the old London Bridge, where I was wont to
  sit in one of the stone recesses, watching the people go by, or to
  look over the balustrades at the sun shining in the water, and
  lighting up the golden flame on the top of the Monument. The Orfling
  met me here sometimes, to be told some astonishing fictions respecting
  the wharves and the Tower; of which, I can say no more than I hope I
  believed them myself. In the evening I used to go back to the prison,
  and walk up and down the parade with Mr. Micawber; or play casino with
  Mrs. Micawber and hear reminiscences of her mamma and her papa."

Charles Dickens's father's "attempts to avoid going through the courts
having failed, all needful ceremonies had to be undertaken to obtain the
benefit of the Insolvent Debtors' Act." Mrs. Micawber informed David
that "her family had decided that Mr. Micawber should apply for his
release under the Insolvent Debtors' Act, which would set him free, she
expected, in about six weeks." The elder Dickens, while awaiting his
discharge from the Marshalsea, had drawn up a petition to the throne for
the appropriation of a sum of money to enable the prisoners to drink His
Majesty's health on His Majesty's forthcoming birthday. "I mention the
circumstance," writes Dickens in his autobiographical jottings, "because
it illustrates to me my early interest in observing people. When I went
to the Marshalsea of a night, I was always delighted to hear from my
mother what she knew about the histories of the different debtors in the
prison; and when I heard of this approaching ceremony, I was so anxious
to see them all come in, one after another (though I knew the greater
part of them already, to speak to, and they me), that I got leave of
absence on purpose, and established myself in the corner near the
petition. It was stretched out, I recollect, on a great ironing board,
under the window, which in another part of the room made a bedstead at
night. The internal regulations of the place, for cleanliness and order,
and for the government of a common room in the ale-house, where hot
water and some means of cooking, and a good fire, were provided for all
who paid a very small subscription, were excellently administered by a
governing committee of debtors, of which my father was chairman for the
time being. As many of the principal officers of this body as could be
got into the small room without filling it up supported him, in front of
the petition; and my old friend, Captain Porter (who had washed himself
to do honor to the solemn occasion), stationed himself close to it, to
read it to all who were unacquainted with its contents. The door was
then thrown open, and they began to come in, in long file, several
waiting on the landing outside, while one entered, affixed his
signature, and went out. To everybody in succession Captain Porter said:
'Would you like to hear it read?' If he weakly showed the least
disposition to hear it, Captain Porter, in a loud, sonorous voice, gave
him every word of it. I remember a certain luscious roll he gave to such
words as Majesty--gracious Majesty--your gracious Majesty's unfortunate
subjects--your Majesty's well-known munificence--as if the words were
something real in his mouth, and delicious to taste; my poor father
meanwhile listening with a little of an author's vanity, and
contemplating (not severely) the spikes on the opposite wall. Whatever
was comical in this scene, and whatever was pathetic, I sincerely
believe I perceived in my corner, whether I demonstrated it or not,
quite as well as I should perceive it now. I made out my own little
character and story for every man who put his name to the sheet of
paper. I might be able to do that now, more truly; not more earnestly or
with closer interest. Their different peculiarities of dress, of face,
of gait, of manner, were written indelibly upon my memory. I would
rather have seen it than the best play ever played; and I thought about
it afterwards over the pots of paste-blacking, often and often. When I
looked, with my mind's eye, into the Fleet prison during Mr. Pickwick's
incarceration, I wonder whether half-a-dozen men were wanting from the
Marshalsea crowd that came filing in again to the sound of Captain
Porter's voice." Here is the same scene, transferred to the King's

  "By way of going in for anything that might be on the cards, I call to
  mind that Mr. Micawber, about this time, composed a petition to the
  House of Commons, praying for an alteration of the law of imprisonment
  for debt. I set down this remembrance here, because it is an instance
  to myself of the manner in which I fitted my old books to my altered
  life, and made stories for myself out of the streets, and out of men
  and women; and how some main points in the character I shall
  unconsciously develop, I suppose, in writing my life, were gradually
  forming all the time.

  "There was a club in the prison, in which Mr. Micawber, as a
  gentleman, was a great authority. Mr. Micawber had stated his idea of
  this petition to the club, and the club had strongly approved the
  same. Wherefore Mr. Micawber (who was a thoroughly good-natured man,
  and as active a creature about anything but his own affairs as ever
  existed, and never so happy as when he was busy about something that
  could never be any profit to him) set to work at the petition,
  invented it, engrossed it on an immense sheet of paper, spread it out
  on the table, and appointed a time for all the club, and all within
  the wall if they chose, to come up to his room and sign it.

  "When I heard of this approaching ceremony, I was so anxious to see
  them all come in, one after another, though I knew the greater part of
  them already, and they me, that I got an hour's leave of absence from
  Murdstone and Grinby's, and established myself in a corner for that
  purpose. As many of the principal members of the club as could be got
  into the small room without filling it supported Mr. Micawber in front
  of the petition, while my old friend Captain Hopkins (who had washed
  himself to do honor to the solemn occasion) stationed himself close to
  it, to read it to all who were unacquainted with its contents. The
  door was then thrown open, and the general population began to come
  in, in a long file; several waiting outside, while one entered,
  affixed his signature, and went out. To everybody in succession
  Captain Hopkins said: 'Have you read it?' 'No.' 'Would you like to
  hear it read?' If he weakly showed the least disposition to hear it,
  Captain Hopkins, in a loud, sonorous voice, gave him every word of it.
  The Captain would have read it 20,000 times if 20,000 people would
  have heard him, one by one. I remember a certain luscious roll he gave
  to such phrases as; 'the peoples' representatives in Parliament
  assembled,' 'your petitioners therefore approach your honorable
  house,' 'His Gracious Majesty's unfortunate subjects,' as if the words
  were something real in his mouth and delicious to taste, Mr. Micawber,
  meanwhile, listening with a little of an author's vanity and
  contemplating (not severely) the spikes on the opposite wall.

  "As I walked to and fro daily between Southwark and Blackfriars, and
  lounged about at meal times in obscure streets, the stones of which
  may, for anything I know, be worn at this moment by my childish feet,
  I wondered how many of these people were wanting in the crowd that
  used to come filing before me in review again, to the echo of Captain
  Hopkins's voice. When my thoughts go back now to that slow agony of my
  youth, I wonder how much of the histories I invented for such people
  hangs like a mist of fancy over well-remembered facts. When I tread
  the old ground, I do not wonder that I seem to see and pity, going on
  before me, an innocent romantic boy, making his imaginative world out
  of such strange experiences and sordid things."

The fortunate acquisition of a legacy of considerable amount released
the elder Dickens from the Marshalsea. "In due time Mr. Micawber's
petition was ripe for hearing, and that gentleman was ordered to be
discharged under the Act. Mr. Micawber returned to the King's Bench when
his case was over, as some fees were to be settled, and some formalities
observed, before he could be actually released. The club received him
with transport, and held a harmonic meeting that evening in his honor;
while Mrs. Micawber and I had a lamb's fry in private, surrounded by the
sleeping family." But you may read all there is to be read of the
Micawbers and the King's Bench in the first volume of "David
Copperfield," Chapters 11 and 12, and compare it, if you choose, with
the early passages of "The Life of Charles Dickens," by John Forster,
Volume I.

Dickens's presentations of the Fleet and the Marshalsea had, it will be
noted, the interest of description as well as of personal association
with the characters of the stories for which they provided a part of the
scenario. The King's Bench is an entirely personal episode. The figure
of Mr. Micawber obscures all view of the prison. It poses on the merest
suggestion of a background of barred windows and spiked walls. For this
there are two reasons to be found. In the first place, all of the
debtors' prisons of London were alike in their general features. They
differed only in degrees and details of misery. In the Fleet and in the
Marshalsea Dickens had exposed all that fell within his vocation to
expose. Moreover, the necessity for invoking public obloquy upon the
dens had passed away with the revision of the laws for debt. To have
elaborated the material details of the life in the King's Bench would
have been to repeat a twice-told tale. Apart from this, Dickens had made
no special study of the King's Bench Prison. His memories of the
Marshalsea were indelibly imprinted on his mind. It had been a part of
his own life. He had explored the Fleet with the purpose of lending what
aid he could toward its abolishment. His boyish wanderings had made him
familiar enough with the external aspect of the King's Bench, and he had
visited it on at least one occasion when an acquaintance was
incarcerated there. But, after the Fleet and Marshalsea, its familiar
features made no appeal to him. What could he say or write of it that
had not been said or written by him already?

The King's Bench Prison of Micawber's time stood in the Borough Road. It
was much more roomy and endurable than the Marshalsea, and much less
wretched than the Fleet. It was enclosed by a wall thirty-five feet
high, garnished with the usual chevaux-de-frise, and was entered through
a stone lodge three stories in height. The jail buildings themselves
carried four stories, and were broken up into nearly 250 rooms, with a
chapel, and out-buildings for officials and for cookery and other
necessities. The courtyard was comparatively spacious, and was
especially famous for its racket games. Some champion scores of the day
were scored by the collegians at the King's Bench, who certainly had
time enough for practice to perfect themselves in the sport. Like the
Fleet and the Marshalsea, the King's Bench had its tap-room and its
coffee-room, its poor side and its pay side, and its club, which
nightly, over a pipe and pot, forgot for a few hours that the jail yard
was not all out-of-doors. The prison derived its title from the fact
that it was the gaol of the High Court of Justice, over which royalty
was supposed to sit as supreme judge. So it became the Queen's Bench
when England was ruled by a queen, and under the Commonwealth, when
royalty was not recognized, bore the name of the Upper Bench Prison.

The original King's Bench Prison was situated in Southwark as early as
the reign of Richard II. It was broken into and sacked by the Kentish
rebels under Wat Tyler, who, on this occasion, performed a similar
service to the old Marshalsea close at hand. It was to the King's Bench
that Chief Justice Gascoigne so intrepidly committed the Prince of
Wales, afterward Henry V; and down to the time of Oldys the room in
which the wild young crony of Sir John Falstaff spent his term in gaol,
was known as the Prince of Wales's Chamber. The old King's Bench seems
to have been a decidedly easy-going jail. In 1579 we learn from the
chronicles that the prisoners used to eat in a little low parlor next
the street, and that they always had an audience staring at them through
the barred windows, such as nowadays honors the repasts of the wild
beasts in the zoo. During this year the prisoners petitioned for an
enlargement of the prison and for a chapel, both of which requests seem
to have been granted. Defoe, who sampled the King's Bench as well as
Newgate and the Fleet, describes it as "not near so good" as the latter
little prison, and complained that "to a man who had money the Bench was
only the name of a prison." Indeed, the license of the seventeenth and
the eighteenth centuries in the King's Bench would be hardly credible to
persons accustomed only to the rigid discipline of modern jail
management. In all the debtors' gaols of this period, the gambler and
the swindler, the pickpocket, and even the footpads, who robbed by
violence, plied their trades. Drunkenness was universal, and the
commitment of loose women and the freedom of entry from without made
worse debaucheries than those of the bottle easy of indulgence. At
certain periods of their history the prisons seem to have been nothing
less than vast bagnio-taverns, only the restriction upon the egress of
the debtors distinguishing them from the common resorts of the town. The
authorities of the jail were not supersensitive in their morality,
provided their purses were kept filled. Wealth might riot, if it paid
the piper, as readily and freely as poverty might rot for the
wherewithal to buy a crust of bread. Roderick Random's naked debtor
shivering in a scrap of worn-out carpet was no fiction of the King's
Bench, nor Captain Blazer's banquets to his fair friends from over the
river a romance.

Smollet knew the Bench well enough. He had spent a term of probation
behind its walls, and wrote "Sir Launcelot Greaves" within its rules.
John Wilkes lay by the heels for one of his libels under its smoky roof,
and hither came the mob to release him in 1768. The mob assembled in St.
George's Field for the purpose, and thus in 1780 the Gordon Rioters
gathered, who, a few days later, burst the prison gates and turned 700
prisoners loose before they put the rotten and reeking old jail to the
torch. Combe was a prisoner under the rules of the King's Bench when he
wrote "Dr. Syntax," and Haydon drew his idea of "The Mock Election" from
a burlesque enacted among the prisoners while he was locked up in the
jail for debt. A volume could be filled with the curious and
characteristic events and personal episodes of the prison from the days
of Wat Tyler down to 1862, when the last debtor passed out at the lodge
gate, and the brief career of the King's Bench as a military prison
began. Its history covered really that of two prisons, for after the
attack of 1780 by the rioters, the old site was abandoned and another
chosen for the rebuilding of the jail. In one of Dickens's last strolls
in Southwark, he noticed the fact that no vestige of the King's Bench
remained, but that a huge structure devoted to model homes for
workingmen redeemed its unlamented grave from the uselessness which had
made it a blight during many centuries. In Chapter 14 of Volume 2 of
"Nicholas Nickleby," by the way, Dickens adverts to a feature of the law
of which the King's Bench was one of the outgrowths, in connection with
the first visit of Nicholas to Madeline Bray.

  "The place to which Mr. Cheeryble had directed him was a row of mean
  and not over cleanly houses, situated within the 'Rules' of the King's
  Bench Prison, and not many hundred paces distant from the obelisk in
  St. George's Fields. The Rules are a certain liberty adjoining the
  prison, and comprising some dozen streets in which debtors who can
  raise money to pay large fees, from which their creditors do not
  derive any benefit, are permitted to reside by the wise provisions of
  the same enlightened laws which leave the debtor who can raise no
  money to starve in gaol, without food, clothing, lodging, or warmth,
  which are provided for felons convicted of the most atrocious crimes
  that can disgrace humanity. There are many pleasant fictions of the
  law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or
  practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal
  value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally
  obtainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture
  of their pockets.

  "To the row of houses indicated to him by Mr. Charles Cheeryble,
  Nicholas directed his steps without much troubling his head about such
  matters as these; and at this row of houses--after traversing a very
  dirty and dusty suburb of which minor theatricals, shell-fish,
  ginger-beer, spring vans, green grocery and brokers' shops appeared to
  compose the main and most prominent features--he at length arrived
  with a palpitating heart. There were small gardens in the front which,
  being wholly neglected in all other respects, served as little pens
  for the dust to collect in, until the wind came around the corner and
  blew it down the road. Opening the rickety gate which, dangling on its
  broken hinges, before one of these, half admitted and half repulsed
  the visitor, Nicholas knocked at the street door with a faltering

  "It was, in truth, a shabby house outside, with very dim parlor
  windows and very small show of blinds, and very dirty muslin curtain
  dangling across the lower panes on very loose and limp strings.
  Neither, when the door was opened, did the inside appear to belie the
  outward promise, as there was a faded carpeting on the stairs and
  faded oil-cloth in the passage; in addition to which discomforts a
  gentleman Ruler was smoking hard in the front parlor (though it was
  not yet noon), while the lady of the house was busily engaged in
  turpentining the disjointed fragments of a tent-bedstead at the door
  of the back parlor, as if in preparation for the reception of some new
  lodger who had been fortunate enough to engage it."

The Fleet had its rules like the King's Bench, but there was no such
legalized stretching of the bounds of confinement tolerated at the
Marshalsea. There the prisoner was supposed to remain a close prisoner
within the walls until the courts ordained his release. In fact,
however, if he had money he might buy sly periods of liberty under the
eye of the keeper, and this abuse of his office brought the Marshal and
his subordinates many a sovereign above their legitimate emoluments. One
young gentleman of sporting proclivities, who was committed to the
Marshalsea while his lawyer was settling up the wreck of his handsome
patrimonial estate, afterwards published an account of his experiences
as a detained debtor. From this it appears that during the entire term
of his detention he was a regular spectator at the cock fights, dog
fights and prize fights, of the day, and that he kept his wherry on the
Thames, and went out for a row whenever he felt the need of air and
exercise. The keeper who accompanied him on these excursions, and who
was of a sporting turn himself, left the prison to enter his employ, and
was his faithful henchman at the time he printed his book, in the most
genteel and elegant style, for circulation among his friends.

It is curious to note that even to our own day, and in our own country,
this system of prison favoritism is not entirely unknown. If a man is
arrested on a judgment for debt, he can, if he knows the way, save
himself from being locked up for a night at least by paying the
sheriff's deputy for it. To be sure the deputy will have to be in his
company until he is duly handed over at Ludlow street Jail, and properly
receipted for, but there are such things as double bedded rooms in New
York hotels. In the same way, it is shrewdly suspected, prisoners in
Ludlow street who can pay for it can enjoy a night out once in a while.
It used to be so at least; and by the evidence brought out by
investigations in the past it was not even an unusual occurrence. It is
popularly believed, by the way, that there is no such thing in New York
state as imprisonment for debt. Some native realist in the line of
fiction ought to take a turn over to the east side of the commercial
metropolis of the United States, and weave his experiences of the Ludlow
street cage into some such shape as Dickens did his of the Fleet, the
Marshalsea, and the King's Bench.


Dickens may fairly be said to have begun his sight-seeing in America by
going to jail. He commenced with those in Boston, and wherever else he
found a prison he had a look at it. The interest he took in penal
reform, which rendered him familiar with nearly every gaol in England,
did not desert him when he made his first voyage across the Atlantic. In
the "American Notes," among a number of minor and comparatively
unimportant observations, most of which are, in fact, long out of date,
and lost in the changed conditions of jail construction, discipline and
government, there are two descriptions, which retain their interest. The
first in order of occurrence in the book, relates to a prison as famous
throughout America as Newgate is in Great Britain, and which, indeed, is
the closest approach we have to the gloomy criminal cage of London. You
may find it in a description of a walk about New York in Chapter 6:

  "What is this dismal-fronted pile of bastard Egyptian, like an
  enchanter's palace in a melodrama? A famous prison called the Tombs.
  Shall we go in?

  "So. A long, narrow and lofty building, stove-heated as usual, with
  four galleries, one above the other, going round it, and communicating
  by stairs. Between the two sides of each gallery, and in its center, a
  bridge for the greater convenience of crossing. On each of these
  bridges sits a man, dozing or reading, or talking to an idle
  companion. On each tier are two opposite rows of small iron doors.
  They look like furnace doors, but are cold and black, as though the
  fires within had all gone out. Some two or three are open, and women
  with drooping heads bent down are talking to the inmates. The whole is
  lighted by a skylight, but it is fast closed; and from the roof there
  dangle, limp and drooping, two useless windsails.

  "A man with keys appears to show us round. A good-looking fellow, and
  in his way civil and obliging.

  "'Are those black doors the cells?'


  "'Are they all full?'

  "'Well, they're pretty nigh full, and that's a fact and no two ways
  about it.'

  "'Those at the bottom are unwholesome, surely.'

  "'Why, we do only put colored people in 'em. That's the truth.'

  "'When do the prisoners take exercise?'

  "'Well, they do without it pretty much.'

  "'Do they never walk in the yard?'

  "'Considerable seldom.'

  "'Sometimes, I suppose?'

  "'Well, it's rare they do. They keep pretty bright without it.'

  "'But suppose a man were here for a twelve-month? I know this is only
  a prison for criminals who are charged with some grave offenses, while
  they are awaiting trial, or are under remand, but the law affords
  criminals many means of delay. What with motions for new trials,
  arrest of judgment and what not, a prisoner might be here for twelve
  months, I take it, might he not?'

  "'Well, I guess he might.'

  "'Do you mean to say that in all that time he would never come out at
  that little iron door for exercise?'

  "'He might walk some, perhaps--not much.'

  "'Will you open one of the doors?'

  "'All, if you like.'

  "The fastenings jar and rattle, and one of the doors turns slowly on
  its hinges. Let us look in. A small, bare cell, into which the light
  enters through a high chink in the wall. There is a rude means of
  washing, a table, and a bedstead. Upon the latter sits a man of sixty,
  reading. He looks up for a moment, gives an impatient, dogged shake,
  and fixes his eyes upon his book again. As we withdraw our heads the
  door closes on him, and is fastened as before. This man has murdered
  his wife and will probably be hanged.

  "'How long has he been here?'

  "'A month.'

  "'When will he be tried?'

  "'Next term.'

  "'When is that?'

  "'Next month.'

  "'In England, if a man is under sentence of death even, he has air and
  exercise at certain periods of the day.'


  "With what stupendous and untranslatable coolness he says this, and
  how loungingly he leads on to the woman's side, making, as he goes, a
  kind of castanet of the key on the stair rail.

  "Each cell-door on this side has a square aperture in it. Some of the
  women peep anxiously through it at the sound of footsteps; others
  shrink away in shame. For what offense can that lonely child, of ten
  or twelve years old, be shut up here? Oh, that boy? He is the son of a
  prisoner we saw just now; is a witness against his father, and is
  detained here for safe keeping until the trial, that's all.

  "But it is a dreadful place for the child to pass the long days and
  nights in. This is rather hard treatment for a young witness, is it
  not? What says our conductor?

  "'Well, it ain't a very rowdy life, and that's a fact.'

  "Again he clinks his metal castanet and leads us leisurely away. I
  have a question to ask him as we go.

  "'Pray, why do they call this place the Tombs?'

  "'Well, it's the cant name.'

  "'I know it is. Why?'

  "'Some suicides happened here when it was first built. I expect it
  came about from that.'"

It did not "come about from that" by any means. The Tombs was a
comparatively new prison when Dickens saw it first. It was erected under
an authorization of the Common Council of the city of New York, issued
in 1833. At that time, Mr. John L. Stevens, of the Hoboken family who
still keep up seigneurial state on the bank of the Hudson, having
recently returned from an extended tour through Asia and the Holy Land,
issued an account of his travels, with many illustrations of the rare
and curious things he had seen. Among these was a representation of an
ancient Egyptian tomb, accompanied by a full and accurate description.
The majestic proportions and sombre beauty of this mortuary structure so
impressed the committee of the Common Council who had the selection of
plans for the new jail that they adopted it as their model, and the
general appearance and construction of the building was made to conform
as closely as the necessities of its use permitted to Stevens's design.
As it stands it is probably the finest specimen of Egyptian architecture
of its order to be found outside of Egypt itself, and the filth, squalor
and grimy ugliness that hem it in only serve to accentuate its
architectural beauty. Its official title is the City Prison, but the one
by which it is best known was derived from the character of the edifice
in "Stevens's Travels," after which it was planned.

From an artistic point of view the selection of a site for the Tombs was
singularly unfortunate. At the date of its erection its location was
upon the upper outskirts of the city. Now the town has grown beyond it
miles upon miles. For years it stood in the heart of the lowest and most
dangerous criminal district. Even now its surroundings of
tenement-houses, workshops, dirty streets harboring dirty shops of the
basest order, are anything but inviting to the sightseer. Through
Leonard and Franklin streets, which bound its lower and upper ends, one
catches eastward glimpses of Baxter street festooned with the sidewalk
displays of the old clo' shops, and westward sees the passing life of
Broadway. Elm street in the rear and Centre street in front of it abound
in sour-savored groggeries and the shabby hang-dog offices of the lower
order of criminal lawyers who practice at the bar of the Tombs court.
The streets swarm with the children of the tenements, which line them
with towering piles of unclean brick and mortar; and the pedestrians who
navigate them, and who hang about the outside of the prison, as if held
there by a spell and only awaiting their turn to pass within its walls,
are for the most part of that skulking, evil class which knows the
interior of the jail quite as well as its outer barriers, and the ways
which lead to its frowning gate. For many years the passenger traffic of
the New York Central Railroad was embarked at a depot occupying the
block above the Tombs. Travelers were here taken on board cars which
were dragged by mules or horses up to Fourth avenue and Twenty-sixth
street, where the locomotive replaced the teams as a motor. As the town
grew the railroad removed its station to the site of the present Madison
Square Garden building, and converted the old depot into a
freight-house, in and out of which lines of cars drawn by long tandems
of mules clanked day and night the year round. Now the freight depot is
gone, and an enormous granite structure, which accommodates the various
criminal courts, rises on its site. Between this building and the Tombs
an enclosed bridge for the passage of prisoners to and from court spans
the street.

The Tombs itself was built in the basin of a little lake which was once
one of the romantic spots of Manhattan Island, and a favorite resort of
the angler and the pleasure seeker. The lake was known as the Collect
Pond, a corruption of the Dutch title "Kalckhoek," or Shell Point, from
a beach of shells which existed on its margin. The Collect was a
fresh-water pond, fed by natural springs, and having an outlet by small
streams into both the North and East rivers. Thus the pond and its
creeks actually cut Manhattan Island in half and made two islands of it.
There were pleasure houses on the hillocks around the Collect, and on an
island, in its centre, the city powder house was erected. The course of
time worked the usual changes upon it for the worse. Tanners set up
their tan pits near it, the city garbage was dumped into it, and among
the marshes to the eastward the criminal colony, since infamous as the
Five Points, commenced to form itself. There was still water enough in
it in 1796 for John Fitch to experiment in navigating the first
steamboat America ever saw, but a few years later, to give employment to
clamorous and starving labor, at a period of industrial and commercial
stagnation, the city ordered the hills around it to be leveled and the
pond filled up with the earth removed from them. In spite of the
reduction of the ground to the westward, the site remained much lower
than the grade of Broadway, and the Tombs roof is scarcely above the
line of that thoroughfare. To support the ponderous mass of Maine
granite, which constituted the prison, a forest of piles was sunk deep
in the sodden soil. The work of construction occupied five years, so
that the prison had been in use scarcely four years when Dickens made
his visit to it--and, while its outer walls remain substantially the
same, its internal construction has been vastly augmented and improved.
When he saw it the city watch-house occupied part of the building; and
he makes a record of a night visit to "those black sties" where "men and
women, against whom no crime is proved, lie all night in perfect
darkness, surrounded by the noisome vapors which encircle that flagging
lamp you light us with, and breathing this filthy and offensive stench."
The watch-house was on the Franklin street side of the jail, and was
long kept up as a police station. Now it is used as a common room for
the confinement of vagrants and drunkards picked up on the streets,
pending their confinement to the penal institutions.

Of another old and hideous institution which one cannot disassociate
with the Tombs, in spite of the abolition of it which has been decreed
by law, Dickens wrote:

  "The prison yard, in which he pauses now, has been the scene of
  terrible performances. Into this narrow, grave-like place men are
  brought out to die. The wretched creature stands beneath the gibbet on
  the ground; the rope is about his neck; and when the sign is given a
  weight at its other end comes running down and swings him up into the
  air--a corpse. The law requires that there be present at this dismal
  spectacle the judge, the jury, and citizens to the amount of
  twenty-five. From the community it is hidden. To the dissolute and bad
  the thing remains a frightful mystery. Between the criminal and them
  the prison wall is interposed as a thick and gloomy veil. It is the
  curtain to his bed of death, his winding sheet and grave. From him it
  shuts out life and all the motives to unrepenting hardihood in that
  last hour, which its mere sight and presence is often all sufficient
  to sustain. There are no bold eyes to make him bold; no ruffians to
  uphold a ruffian's name before. All beyond the pitiless stone wall is
  unknown space."

At the time of Dickens's visit (1842) London was still the scene of
public hangings, and the privacy with which the executions in the Tombs
were conducted furnished him with a text for one of his protests against
the existing state of things at home. The Tombs hangings were private,
as he stated, but they were not unattended by morbid interest on the
part of the mob. On the morning of an execution, the obscene streets all
about would swarm with obscene life. From their festering dens in the
Five Points, and from the remoter haunts of vice and crime which had
grown up with the growth of the town, the social banditti came in a
scowling, ribald and revolting legion. They camped on doorsteps before
dawn, and all the groggeries drove a roaring trade. They beguiled the
time with gloating reminiscences of their criminal lives, and watched
the jail roof for a signal that the ghastly work within was done.
Curiously enough, nature had provided them with a sign as certain as the
running up of the black flag upon the wall of Newgate. A great number of
pigeons had found lodgment in the Tombs yard, nesting in cotes which had
been put up for them along the inner jail walls and in the eaves of the
buildings themselves. Long immunity from human aggressions had rendered
them fearless, and when the audience gathered for an execution, under
the gray shadow of the jail walls, the pigeons were equally certain to
assemble, cooing and pluming themselves in the sunlight above. When, at
the fatal moment, the heavy thud of the executioner's axe denoted the
severing of the cord which supported the counterweights and sent the
victim whirling to his death, the birds, startled by the sound, would
rise upward in flurried flight, circle about a couple of times and
settle at their perches again. It was by this confused and frightened
movement of the pigeons above the walls that the waiting rabble knew the
unseen tragedy of the law was done.

A moment later the race of reporters and messenger boys from the prison
gate to the newspaper offices close by would begin, and in half an hour
all the ghastly details of the event, described with such
circumstantiality and such sensational exaggeration as the horror-hungry
public was expected to crave for, would be hawked at every street corner
and carried by swift runners and overdriven wagons to the most distant
quarters of the town. To such extreme was this practice stretched that,
on the occasions of later executions in the Tombs, reporters would
actually be sent to spend the night in prison, and to record the last
hours of a worthless brute whose just doom should have been a swift
death and complete oblivion. Evil as the influence of a public hanging
may have been, it may be doubted if it was any worse than the practice
of the press in investing the attendant circumstances of a vile and
dangerous wretch's end with the mock heroism of cheap bravado and the
clap-trap sentiment of literary fustian. The law providing for the
execution of criminals by electricity, and in secret, has performed one
public service, at least, in doing away with these outdoor gatherings at
the Tombs on hanging day.


In Philadelphia Dickens made a special request for permission to visit
the great prison of the State, remarking that it and the Falls of
Niagara were the two objects he most wished to see in America.
Exceptional facilities were afforded him to gratify his desire, and make
his investigation as thorough as he chose. Nothing was concealed from
him, and his account and opinion of the Eastern State Penitentiary
("American Notes," Chapter 7) created a vast deal of comment in their
day. He put himself on record as a violent opponent of the solitary
system, and while he intended to make this chapter the strongest, it was
really one of the weakest in the book. He had assailed the outrages of
the debtors' prisons of London manfully. Over the Philadelphia system he
became almost hysterical. In the former he had actual evils and wrongs
and outrages to combat. In the latter his grievance was largely founded
on sentimentality and purely personal feeling. He describes his visit:

  "In the outskirts stands a great prison called the Eastern
  Penitentiary, conducted on a plan peculiar to the State of
  Pennsylvania. The system here is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary
  confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel and wrong.

  "I was accompanied to this prison by two gentlemen officially
  connected with its management, and passed the day in going from cell
  to cell and talking with the inmates. Every facility was afforded me
  that the utmost courtesy could suggest. Nothing was concealed or
  hidden from my view, and every piece of information that I sought was
  openly and frankly given. The perfect order of the building cannot be
  praised too highly, and of the excellent motives of all who are
  immediately concerned in the administration of the system there can be
  no kind of question.

  "Between the body of the prison and the outer wall there is a spacious
  garden. Entering it by a wicket in the massive gate, we pursued the
  path before us to its other termination, and passed into a large
  chamber, from which seven long passages radiate. On either side of
  each is a long, long row of low cell-doors with a certain number over
  every one. Above a gallery of cells like those below, except that they
  have no narrow yard attached (as those in the ground tier have), and
  are somewhat smaller. The possession of two of these is supposed to
  compensate for the absence of so much air and exercise as can be had
  in the dull strip attached to each of the others, in an hour's time
  every day; and, therefore, every prisoner in this upper story has two
  cells, adjoining and communicating with each other.

  "Standing at the central point and looking down these dreary passages,
  the dull repose and quiet that prevails is awful. Occasionally there
  is a drowsy sound from some lone weaver's shuttle or shoemaker's last,
  but it is stilled by the thick walls and heavy dungeon door, and only
  serves to make the general stillness more profound. Over the head and
  face of every prisoner who comes into this melancholy house a black
  hood is drawn; and in this dark shroud, an emblem of the curtain
  dropped between him and the living world, he is led to the cell from
  which he never again comes forth until his whole term of imprisonment
  has expired. He never hears of wife or children, home or friends; the
  life or death of any single creature. He sees the prison officers,
  but, with that exception, he never looks upon a human countenance, or
  hears a human voice. He is a man buried alive, to be dug out in the
  slow rounds of years, and, in the meantime, dead to everything but
  torturing anxieties and horrible despair.

  "His name, and crime, and term of suffering are unknown, even to the
  officer who delivers him his daily food. There is a number over his
  cell-door, and in a book, of which the governor of the prison has one
  copy and the moral instructor another, this is the index to his
  history. Beyond these pages the prison has no record of his existence;
  and though he live to be in the same cell ten weary years, he has no
  means of knowing, down to the very last hour, in what part of the
  building it is situated; what kind of men there are about him; whether
  in the long winter nights there are living people near, or he is in
  some lonely corner of the great gaol, with walls and passages, and
  iron doors between him and the nearest sharer in its solitary horrors.

  "Every cell has double doors--the outer one of sturdy oak, the other
  of grated iron, wherein there is a trap through which his food is
  handed. He has a bible and a slate and pencil, and, under certain
  restrictions, has sometimes other books, provided for the purpose, and
  pen and ink and paper. His razor, plate and can, and basin hang upon
  the wall, or shine upon the little shelf. Fresh water is laid on in
  every cell, and he can draw it at his pleasure. During the day his
  bedstead turns up against the wall and leaves more space for him to
  work in. His loom, or bench, or wheel is there, and there he labors,
  sleeps and wakes and counts the seasons as they change, and grows

Over the inmates of this Philadelphia gaol Dickens exuded a great deal
of sympathy and sentiment. He invested each man he wrote about with a
pathos that made good reading at any rate, and no doubt sincerely
believed all that he wrote. To a man of a convivial and companionable
nature like himself the idea of a life of solitude was naturally
horrible. To a man fond of long walks among other men the enforced
absence of exercise as well as of companionship was naturally dreadful.
To Charles Dickens, in short, a term of imprisonment in the Eastern
Penitentiary would unquestionably have been the cruelest torture. He
would, in all likelihood, have worn his life out speedily here, like a
wild bird in a cage, or have laid violent hands upon himself, or have
become a madman. To the felons whom he visited, men for the most part of
blunt sensibilities and brutal natures, he credited the same qualities
as belonged to his own refined and sensitive composition, and he put
himself in their place and spoke for them from his own standpoint. How
far he was led astray by this was shown by the case of the character
long known as "Dickens's Dutchman." Of this fellow he wrote:

  "In another cell there was a German, sentenced to five years'
  imprisonment for larceny, two of which had just expired. With colors
  procured in the same manner (extracted from dyed yarn given him to
  weave) he had painted every inch of the walls and ceiling quite
  beautifully. He had laid out the few feet of ground behind him with
  exquisite neatness, and had made a little bed in the centre, that
  looked, by the bye, like a grave. The taste and ingenuity he had
  displayed in everything was most extraordinary, and yet a more
  dejected, heartbroken, wretched creature it would be difficult to
  imagine. I never saw such a picture of forlorn affliction and distress
  of mind. My heart bled for him, and when the tears ran down his
  cheeks, and he took one of the visitors aside to ask, with his
  trembling hands nervously clutching at his coat to detain him, whether
  there was no hope of his dismal sentence being commuted, the spectacle
  was really too painful to witness. I never saw or heard any kind of
  misery that impressed me more than the wretchedness of this man."

This was the Dickensesque of it, and it gave its unfortunate subject an
international notoriety. Now mark the plain, unvarnished facts.

The name of "Dickens's Dutchman" was Charles Langheimer. He was
sentenced to the Eastern Penitentiary for the first time on May 15,
1840, and it was while he was serving this term that Dickens saw him. On
June 25, 1852, he came back on a year's sentence, and on Feb. 24, 1855,
he was a third time convicted, for two years on this occasion. On April
4, 1861, he came again for a year, on March 12, 1872, he was returned
for two years, on Sept. 9, 1875, and on April 4, 1877, he began two
terms of a year each. On Sept. 10, 1879, he received a three years'
term, and he was no sooner through with this than he was once more
convicted and sent up for a year, in 1882. In the intervals of the
sixteen years he spent in this one prison, since his first conviction,
he had served five terms in other prisons, three in the County Jail, of
Philadelphia, one in the Baltimore Penitentiary, and one in New York. In
plain English, the man was a confirmed pauper and thief. He lived by
mendicancy, and from time to time he would commit some larceny, for
which offense all his sentences were imposed on him, merely in order to
be sent to jail to be cared for--just as he might have gone on a
vacation from his regular and miserable life upon the chance of charity.

In view of Dickens's positive and unqualified expression of sentiment in
regard to him, the most curious fact of his life remains to be noted.
This is that, fourteen years after Dickens's own death, he returned
voluntarily to the penitentiary, where he had ended a year's term only a
few months before, and begged to be taken in. This place, so dreadful to
the impressionable novelist, was the only approach to home the poor
wretch knew. He was in a deplorable condition, was nearly eighty years
of age, and had a horror of the almshouse. The inspectors consented that
he should have his wish, and he was cared for for a month, until his
death, which occurred on March 14, 1884. It is interesting to know that
Dickens died at the age of fifty-eight years. This "picture of forlorn
affliction and distress of mind," this "dejected, heartbroken, wretched
creature," who was born eight years before Dickens, survived him nearly
twice that period, and outlived him, in the mere number of his years, by
twenty-two. It may be remembered, in connection with the Fleet Prison
episode of "Pickwick," that Sam Weller adverts to the almost identical
case of an old prisoner, to whom the jail had become such a home that
the fear of being locked out of it eventually deterred him from taking
the sly tastes of liberty which the turnkeys were willing to allow him.

The Eastern State Penitentiary is, in this day, admitted to be one of
the model penal institutions of the world. When built it was in the
northern suburb, but it is now in the heart of Philadelphia. It occupies
an entire block, comprising ten or twelve acres, and its site was
originally known as Cherry Hill, a name which is often locally applied
to the jail itself. The ground is elevated, and from the gateway tower a
fine panorama of the vast city, spreading about for miles, may be
obtained. All that is visible externally is a massive granite wall, some
thirty-five feet high, slightly relieved or buttressed with towers at
the angles and on the front. The enclosure is square, and the entrance,
in the centre of the front wall, is by a lofty portal, defended by a
heavy outer gate, in which there is a wicket, and an inner gate, and
dominated by a tower taller than the others. Within the walls the ranges
of cells radiate from an octagonal central building, which is crowned
with an observatory. To simplify the description it may be said that
this central building forms the hub from which branch branch forth the
spokes of this enormous wheel. A system of lighting the entire grounds
by night is provided in a lantern of special ingenious construction, in
the tower below the observatory or lookout. There are some detached
buildings on the grounds, used for mechanical and culinary purposes. The
living apartments of the warden and his family, offices, etc., are in
the front building. The outer and inner gates of the prison are never
opened at the same time. Even a visitor or an official becomes in a
manner a prisoner when he leaves the street.

Dickens's general description of the prison is good enough, but some of
his statements are more picturesque than precise. Prisoners are not shut
off from intercourse by letter, or even personally, with their families.
They do see various persons connected with the prison, although they
cannot see other prisoners. Even this, which Dickens thought so cruel,
and the concealment of their faces when they are brought in to the jail,
is a precaution born of benevolence and mercy. The idea is that after a
man has served a term at Cherry Hill and been discharged he may go where
he will, and if he wishes to live an honest life no man can point him
out as an ex-convict. Except in the private record of the prison, known
only and accessible only to a few responsible persons, John Jimpson
never existed in the Eastern State Penitentiary. The keepers, the
doctor, the jail attendants only knew him as No. 99. The librarian never
issued books to John Jimpson, but to No. 99. The nurses in the infirmary
never attended him when he was sick, but cared for No. 99. No one but
the warden knew whether the letters sent to him by his wife or family or
friends were meant for No. 99 or No. 199. As far as the stigma of his
crime and its punishment can be effaced it is effaced. He loses his
social identity when he enters the prison, and puts it on when he comes
out, like a new suit of clothes.

It is a rule of the prison that each convict, when he enters, shall be
taught a useful trade, if he has not one already. He then has a daily
task set, and all that he can or cares to produce above this task is
credited to him, and the money is paid to him when he departs. The
illiterate convicts are taught to read and write. Those who display
intelligence are encouraged to cultivate it. Convicts of superior
education--such, for instance, as can produce literary work or paint
pictures--are permitted the means to do so. The entire system of the
prison is reformatory as well as punitive; the idea is not merely to
cage a social beast, but to tame him and train him, so that he may be of
use to the world when he has served his term of isolation.

The idea of separate confinement--the Philadelphia Idea, as it has been
called--originated nearly a century ago. In an admirable sketch of the
origin and history of the Eastern District Penitentiary, compiled by Mr.
Richard Vaux, president of the board of Inspectors, the history of
Pennsylvania's system of prison discipline and management is given in
brief but interesting style. In 1776 the common jail of Philadelphia was
as horrible a den as the worst of London jails at its worst. An attempt
was made by Richard Wistar, one of the famous family of that name, to
reform it, but in 1777 the British army occupied the city and the good
work was, perforce, suspended. In 1787 it was taken up again, and the
Philadelphia Prison Society was formed. The first president of the
society was Bishop William White, the first Protestant Episcopal
Archbishop of Pennsylvania, and he held the office for forty years. The
society's first work was to have the chain gangs, employed at cleaning
the streets and repairing the roads, abolished. The next was to secure a
separation of the sexes in the common jail. Then the separation of
actual criminals and of persons merely accused but not yet found guilty
of crime demanded attention. So, by degrees, the idea of separate
confinement took shape. In 1790 a law was passed by which this principle
was put to the test, and finally, in 1821, the Legislature authorized
the construction of the State Penitentiary for the Eastern district of

At this date the site of the present Penitentiary was a farm, remarkable
for its grove of fine cherry trees. It belonged to the Warner family.
The farm-house was a cheery old colonial mansion, and it is worth noting
that when the Warners sold the land they reserved the right to remove
the mantels and fireplaces from the house. The place was purchased in
1821. The plans of several competing architects were submitted to the
board appointed by the Legislature, and that of John Haviland was
selected. The cornerstone of the Penitentiary was laid in 1823, and it
was opened for the reception of convicts in 1829. Up to that time about
$340,000 had been expended on it, but since then the necessary
enlargements and improvements have brought its cost up to probably
$1,000,000 or more. If Dickens could revisit it in the flesh to-day he
would find it a much more extensive establishment than the one he
criticised so severely and unjustly; and his confidence in himself would
perhaps be shaken when he read the record of his woebegone "Dutchman."

                                THE END.


List of changes from the printed edition (in parentheses the original

p. 5: removed stray period (when George III. was king)

p. 7: "others" for "other" (while others erected)

p. 8: "workmen's" for "workmens'" (with the workmens' voices)

p. 11: "street" for "stret" (marched into the stret)

p. 17: "landau" for "landeau" (in his own landeau and six)

p. 21: "ladders" for "ladlers" (long ladlers for scaling)

p. 23: "besieged" for "beseiged" (others beseiged the house)

p. 26: "buckets full" for "bucketsfull" (of which bucketsfull were

p. 33: "Sergeant" for "Sargeant" (Recorder and Common Sargeant)

p. 41: "indescribable" for "indiscribable" (with an indiscribable

p. 44: inserted space (forming a part of NewgateMarket)

p. 52: added final closing quote mark (as much trouble as possible.)

p. 54: added period (Werry good That's a case)

p. 54: added final closing quote mark (I should like to see 'em.)

p. 55: removed final closing quote mark (the prisoner before him.")

p. 57: added final period (I suppose mine did)

p. 59: "pew" for "pen" (the 'condemned pen')

p. 59: "huge" for "hugh" (A hugh black pen)

p. 64: removed duplicate "desperate" (helpless, desperate, desperate

p. 65: added period (linen cloth His red)

p. 67: changed opening double quote to single quote ("Here's somebody)

p. 76: "divagations" for "divigations" (in his pleasant divigations)

p. 77: "preferred" for "prefered" (debtors who prefered to preserve)

p. 80: added period (the charge of 1s. 3d a week)

p. 84: "gallon" for "galllon" (And stand a galllon)

p. 84: "Wat" for "Watt" (followers of Watt Tyler)

p. 94: added period (£3 6s 8d.)

p. 94: added period (7s 4d.)

p. 95: "Westminster" for "Westminister" (between Westminister Hall)

p. 95: guessed "are" as missing word (There other letters by Howel)

p. 102: removed duplicate "of" (the shadow of of the prison)

p. 125: "made" for "maade" (when he maade his first visit)

p. 126: "Clennam" for "Clenham" (Arthur Clenham looked)

p. 129: added missing opening quote (I came to Marshalsea Place,')

p. 137: added missing comma after "porter" (for porter gave me)

p. 137: "handkerchief" for "handerchief" (his pocket handerchief)

p. 139: removed duplicate "to" (a room to to himself)

p. 142: apostrophe for comma (Insolvent Debtors, Act)

p. 147: added missing opening quote ('No.' Would you like)

p. 171: "Hopkins's" for "Hopkin's" (of Captain Hopkin's voice)

p. 153: "rotten" for "rotton" (the rotton and reeking)

p. 154: "huge" for "hugh" (but that a hugh structure)

p. 171: "Dickens's" for "Dicken's" (At the time of Dicken's visit)

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "In Jail with Charles Dickens" ***

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