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Almost all the jails of England present the same appearance -a high wall without and a hive of cells within. Nothing could be more funereal than the aspect of these prisons, where spiders and justice spread their webs, and where John Howard, that ray of light, had not yet penetrated. All, like the old Gehanna of Brussels, might well have been designated Treurenberg--the house of tears.
Men felt before such buildings, at once so savage and comfortless, such agony as the ancient navigators suffered before the hell of slaves mentioned by Plautus, islands of creaking chains, ferricrepidite insula, when they passed near enough to hear the clank of the fetters.
The Southwark Jail, an old place for exorcisms and torture, was originally used solely for the imprisonment of sorcerers, as is indicated in two verses engraved on a defaced stone at the foot of the wicket,
" Sunt arreptitii, vexati dæmone multo
Est energumenus quem dæmon possidet unus."
Lines which make a delicate distinction between the demoniac and the possessed by a devil.
At the bottom of this inscription, nailed flat against the wall, was a stone ladder, which had been originally made of wood, but had been changed into stone by being buried in earth of petrifying qualities in a place called Apsley Gowois, near Woburn Abbey.
The prison of Southwark, now demolished, opened into two streets between which a gate formerly served as means of communication. It had two doors. In the large street a door, apparently destined for the authorities; and in the lane the door of punishment, destined for the rest of the living and for the dead also, because when a prisoner in the jail died it was by that issue the corpse was carried out. A liberation as good as another. Death is release into infinity.
It was by the gate of punishment that Gwynplaine had been taken into the prison. The lane, as we have said, was nothing but a little road, paved with flints, confined between two opposite walls. There is one of this nature at Brussels called “Rue d'une Personne."
The two walls were unequal in height. The high one was the prison; the low one, the cemetery-an enclosure for the mortuary remains of the jail—was not higher than the ordinary stature of a man. In it was a gate almost opposite the prison wicket. The dead had only to cross the street; the cemetery was but twenty steps from the jail.
To the high one was affixed a moveable ladder; on the low was sculptured a Death's head. Neither of these walls made its opposite neighbour more cheerful.
WHAT KIND OF MAGISTRACY WAS UNDER THE WIGS OF FORMER DAYS.
Any one looking at that moment at the other side of the prison —the side of the façade-would have perceived the great street of Southwark, and might have remarked, stationed before the monumental and official entrance of the jail, a travelling carriage, recognised as such by its imperial. A few curious people surrounded this carriage. On it was a coat of arms, and a personage was seen to descend from it and enter the prison. “Probably a magistrate," conjectured the crowd. Many of the magistrates in England were noble, and almost all had the right of bearing arms. In France blazon and robe are almost dissevered. The Duke Saint-Simon says, in speaking of magistrates, “ People of that class.” In England a gentleman is not despised for being a judge.
Travelling magistrates exist in England; they are called judges of circuit, and nothing was easier than to recognise in this kind of carriage the vehicle of a judge on circuit. That which was less comprehensible was, that the supposed magistrate got down, not from the carriage itself, but from the box, a place which is not habitually occupied by the owner. Another unusual thing. They travelled at that period in England in two ways. By coach, at the rate of a shilling for five miles, and post, paying three halfpence per mile, and twopence to the postillion after each stage. A private carriage, whose owner desired to travel by relays, paid as many shillings per horse per mile as the horseman paid pence. The carriage drawn up before the jail at Southwark, being harnessed with four horses and two postillions, displayed princely state. Finally, that which excited and disconcerted conjectures to the utmost, was the circumstance that this carriage was sedulously shut up. The blinds of the windows were pulled up. The glass was darkened by blinds; every opening by which the eye might have penetrated was masked. From without nothing within could be seen, and it is probable that from within, nothing. could be seen without. However, it did not seem probable that anyone was in the carriage.
Southwark being in Surrey, the prison belonged to the jurisdiction of the sheriff of the county.
These distinct jurisdictions were very frequent in England. Thus, for example, the Tower of London was not supposed to be situated in any county; that is to say, that, legally, it was considered to be in air. The Tower recognised no authority of jurisdiction except in its
own constable, who was qualified as custos turris. The Tower had its jurisdiction, its church, its court of justice, and its government apart.
The authority of the custos or constable extended, out of London, over twenty-one hamlets. As in Great Britain legal singularities engraft one on another, the office of the master gunner of England is derived from the Tower of London. Other legal customs seem still more whimsical. Thus the English Court of Admiralty consults and applies the laws of Rhodes and Oleron, a French island which was once English.
The sheriff of a county was a person highly considered. He was always an esquire, and sometimes a knight. He was called spectabilis in the old deeds, “a man to be looked at," a kind of intermediate title between illustris and clarissimus,-less than the first, more than the second. Long ago the sheriffs of the counties were chosen by the people ; but Edward II., and after him Henry VI., having claimed this nomination for the crown, the sheriff became a royal emanation.
All received their commissions from majesty, except the sheriff of Westmoreland, whose office was hereditary, and the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, who were elected by the livery in the common hall. Sheriffs of Wales and Chester possessed certain fiscal prerogatives. All these appointments still exist in England, but, subjected little by little to the friction of manners and ideas, they have not the same aspect as formerly. It was the duty of the sheriff of the county to escort and protect the judges on circuit. As we have two arms, he had two officers; his right arm the under sheriff, his left arm the justice of the quorum. The justice of the quorum, assisted by the bailiff of the hundred, termed wapentake, apprehended, examined, and under the responsibility of the sheriff imprisoned, that they might be tried by the judges of circuit, thieves, murderers, rebels, vagabonds, and all sorts of felons.
The shade of difference between the under-sheriff and the justice of the quorum, in their hierarchical service towards the sheriff, was that the under-sheriff accompanied, and the justice of the quorum assisted.
The sheriff held two courts, one fixed and central, the county court, and a moveable court, the sheriff's turn. Thus was represented unity and ubiquity. He might as judge be aided and informed. on legal questions by the serjeant of the coif, called sergens coifa, who is a serjeant-at-law, and who wore under his black skull-cap a fillet of white Cambray linen.
The sheriff delivered the jails. When he arrived at one of the
cities in his province, he had the right of summary trial of the prisoners, of which he might cause either their release or their execution. This was called a jail delivery. The sheriff presented bills of indictment to the twenty-four members of the grand jury. If they approved, they wrote above, billa vera; if the contrary, they wrote ignoramus. Then the accusation was annulled, and the sheriff had the privilege of tearing up the bill. If during the deliberation a juror died, this legally acquitted the prisoner and made him innocent, and the sheriff, who had the privilege of arresting the accused, could also set him at liberty.
That which made the sheriff singularly feared and esteemed was that he had the charge of executing all the orders of her majesty, a fearful latitude. An arbitrary power lodges in such commissions.
The officers termed vergers, and the coroners making part of the sheriff's cortége, and the clerks of the road lending him help, with the gentlemen on horseback and the servants in livery, made a handsome suite. The sheriff, says Chamberlayne, is the “life of justice, of law, and of the country.”
In England an insensible demolition pulverises and dissevers constantly laws and customs. You must understand in our day that neither the sheriff, the wapentake, nor the justice of the quorum could exercise their functions as they did then. There was in the England of the Past a certain confusion of powers, and ill-defined attributes resulted in their overstepping their real powers at times, which would be impossible in the present day. The usurpation of power by police and justices has ceased. We believe that even the word wapentake has changed its ineaning. It implied a magisterial function; then it signified a territorial division; it specified the centurion ; it now specifies the hundred (centum).
Moreover, in those days the sheriff of the county, combined with something more and something less, and condensed in his authority, at once royal and municipal, the two magistrates called formerly in France the civil lieutenant of Paris and the lieutenant of police. The civil lieutenant of Paris, Monsieur, is pretty well described in this old police note :—“The civil lieutenant had no dislike to domestic quarrels, because he always has the pickings."(22nd July, 1704.) As to the lieutenant of police, he was a redoubtable person, multiple and vague. The best personification of him was René d'Argenson, who, as was said by Saint-Simon, showed in his face the three judges of hell united.
These three judges of hell sat, as has already been seen, at Bishopsgate, London.