Imágenes de páginas

statute-book ; as inconsistent with the spirit of a later age; and as repugnant to the law of nature, which could inflict no severer punishment upon the most atrocious of crimes. As recently as 1785, no fewer than ninety-five persons were executed in London for this offence alone; and on one occasion the hideous spectacle was exhibited of twenty hanging from the same gibbet. The result of such barbarity was, that, in order to evade the capital sentence, juries committed a pious fraud, and found the property of less value than the statute required. But if severe laws were never executed, the consequence was that crimes constantly increased, and more particularly the crimes of juvenile offenders.

On moving the third reading of the bill, on the 15th of March, Sir Samuel called attention to the great number of persons of tender age who had recently been sentenced to death for petty larency. At that very moment, he said, a boy, not ten years of age, was lying in Newgate with this doom recorded against him; and the Recorder of London was reported to have declared that it was intended to enforce the law strictly in future, to interpose some check, if possible, to the increase of youthful depravity. The bill passed the Commons, but was again thrown out by the Lords, though supported by the Dukes of Sussex and Gloucester. Nor was it until 1821 that the peers could be persuaded to assent to this humane measure.

Other reforms initiated by Sir Samuel Romilly have long since been carried out. The system of raising money by State lotteries, –a singularly demoralising practice ; the use of spring guns for the protection of game; the penalties inflicted on insolvent debtors, have all been abolished. A general and, on the whole, a thorough revision of our criminal law has

been accomplished. The slave trade has for half-a-century ceased to be a reproach on the name and fame of England; and for even a longer period Catholics have ceased to suffer the disabilities imposed upon them by the tyranny of bigotry. These were objects which Sir Samuel had deeply at heart,—for which he laboured with admirable disinterestedness and splendid energy; and his efforts must not be the less cordially acknowledged because he did not live to share in the joy of victory.

A great tribute to his public services and high character was paid him in 1818, when, on the dissolution of Parliament, he was put in nomination as one of the candidates for Westminster. Though he took no personal part in the election, he was returned at the head of the poll with 5339 votes. Sir Francis Burdett, his colleague, polled 5328, against the 4808 of the Tory candidate, Sir Murray Maxwell, who was defeated. The spirit in which he accepted this honour will best be understood from the following passage in one of bis private memoranda :*—

“ The honour which has lately been conferred on me, that of being elected to represent the city of Westminster in Parliament, has in some respects added to my means of being useful. It has drawn upon me an additional portion of public attention ; it has placed me, as it were, in a more conspicuous theatre; and has given some importance to my actions, and even to my speeches. It has, however, at the same time, brought with it some difficulties to which I was not before exposed. I seem to be not quite so much the master of my own conduct as I used to be. Chosen by popular election to represent the metropolis, which on all great questions of public interest has, of late years, taken the lead in supporting the claims and pretensions of the people, it will be expected of me that I shall maintain such pretensions more strenuously than I have ever done before ; that I should pay my court to the people, and be ever ready to attend the call of those who shall think proper, as they have been accustomed to do, to summon popular meetings on great public questions as they may occur.

* Memoirs, iii. 411-13.

“I feel, however, no inclination to act any such part. I am the servant of the people, but I am determined not to be their slave; and I should think the proud distinction which has been conferred on me had lost half its value if it had been obtained, or was to be preserved, by acting the part of a factious demagogue. I do not say that I will attend no popular meetings, but I will attend them only on extraordinary occasions, and when these occur I will endeavour to temper the violence and to remove the prejudices which I may find prevailing there. No conduct can, in my eyes, be more criminal than that of availing one's self of the prejudiced clamours of the ignorant or misinformed to accomplish any political purpose, however good or desirable in itself. If I use strong language, and take a bold part for the people, it shall be in the House of Commons, not in Palace Yard. If I cannot serve those of my fellow-citizens who are in the humblest situations of life, at least I will not injure them. I will be careful, not by inflaming their passions, and encouraging them to enter upon courses of which the danger would exclusively be theirs, to draw ruin upon their heads."

Sir Samuel Romilly was exceptionally happy in his domestic relations. His wife was a woman of many graces, with a refined taste and an accomplished mind; in every way a suitable helpmate, sympathising with her husband's objects, sharing bis aspirations, and by her thoughtful partnership lightening the burden of his labours. He loved her with the devotedness of a passionate lover and the confidence of an attached husband. It is something of the irony of fate that she who made all the light and joy of his life was to prove the immediate instrument of his death. The satisfaction he naturally experienced at the honour conferred upon him by the constituency of Westminster was not a little clouded by the anxiety his wife's declining health began to cause him. Towards the close of the summer be repaired with her to East Cowes Castle, the seat of his friend, Mr. Nash, in the Isle of Wight, in the hope that the milder air would improve her condition. There, as her disease fluctuated, his mind continued in a state of alarming disquietude, pulsating from hope to despair, and from despair to hope. On the 27th of September he wrote to his friend Dumont :

[ocr errors]


“Since I last wrote to you Anne has been worse, and was certainly considered by both her medical attendants as being in some danger. She is at present a little better; but, for myself, I still apprehend the worst. I take care to let neither her nor the poor children see the anxiety I feel; but it costs me a good deal. With all this, do not suppose that I have not quite resolution enough to undergo everything, and to preserve my health for my

children's sake.”

On the receipt of this letter, Mr. Dumont seems to have started for Cowes, where he found Lady Romilly so much improved as to be able to spend two or three hours daily in the society of her family and friends. Unfortunately, this improvement was only temporary. A severe

A relapse followed, and several days of acute suffering; during which, we are told, her husband's anguish could be equalled only by the pious fortitude and resolution with which he strove to control his emotions.

But the nervous strain was excessive. Night after night he passed sleeplessly, or, if he slept, it was to be disturbed by such terrible dreams that he awoke unrefreshed and profoundly shaken. At times he believed his faculties to be injured, and began to entertain fears of mental derangement, whilst still discharging with anxious regularity the duties he owed to his God, his country, his family. Struggling against the agony that threatened to overwhelm him, he devoted to his children and friends the time that remained to him from his attendance in the sick chamber of his wife. With Mr. Dumont he held the most intimate and unrestrained conversations, discussing his projects for the future, and his plans for the education and establishment of his children.

There is something sadly significant in the last few entries in his diary.* He was evidently unable to sit down and record the day's events with his usual calm

ness :

Sept. 3rd. Arrived at Cowes.

12th. Anne went into the sea-bath.
13th. Taken ill.
14th. Sailed with Mr. Fazakerley to Southampton.
16th. Consulted with Mr. Bloxam [a local medical

19th. [Dr.] Royet and William arrived, and Mr.

Oct. 9th. Slept for the first time after many sleepless

10th. Relapse of Anne.”

Relapse of Anne !" These are the last few but most significant words. Having written them, he laid down his pen, as if he felt that his life's record was closed.

About the middle of October his sister, to whom he

* Memoirs, iii. 368.

« AnteriorContinuar »