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This serial story was originally written for The New-York Weekly Magazine. It appeared in five issues—nos. 94, 96, 97, 99 and 100—spanning April-May 1797.

 

The New-York Weekly Magazine;

OR, MISCELLANEOUS REPOSITORY.

Vol. II.]

WEDNESDAY,  April 19, 1797.

[No. 94.

For the New-York Weekly Magazine.


THE CRIMINAL.


“And now, which way so ere I look or turn

Scenes of incessant horror strike my view;

I hear my famish’d babes expiring groan,

I hear my wife the bursting sigh renew!”

Ah! cruel fortune, thou hast driven me to this! Ah, my father! thou wilt not relieve my wants, because I wedded the woman of my choice and not of thine. Once was I stiled my father’s darling, the son for whom he only lived; and yet, for acting once contrary to his will, he banished me his presence, with a pension barely sufficient to support life—That pension now has ceased; for what reason I am totally ignorant. An amiable wife and two children are perishing for want, and unless I bring them something, they cannot exist. I went to my father’s house, with an intent of informing him of our wretched condition: I sent in my name, he would not see me!—Must my babes starve? They are young, and my wife lies ill—and I am indeed a wretch for thus joining her to poverty!—

Here I am alone on this dreary heath—and what have I brought with me?—A pistol charged with death.—What light was that?—My fears transform every thing into enemies—It is the sun! Why dost thou shed thy beams on one, whom dire necessity hath made the foe of man?—

* * * * * *

Here I am, plunged yet deeper in this forest’s gloom, like the insidious serpent thirsting for his prey. On man—on a being formed like myself, am I to avenge my want of bread?—My family must live—despair, do what thou wilt!——

—Hark! what noise is that? Sure it resembled a horse’s tread. Undone man, what fate hath bid thee pass this way? He approaches—how unlike me.—Serenity is pictured in his countenance. He little thinks, that like the harmless bird who flies unto the fowler’s snare, he is hastening to destruction. Oh! My wife!—My children!—He comes!—

—“Stop, traveller!”——

L. B.


For the New-York Weekly Magazine.


THE CRIMINAL.


(Continued from page 335.)

O moment for reflection! O innocence forever fled!—My children are satisfied, and—I am miserable. O God of nature, hear my cries! I would ask of thee forgiveness, for oh! the deed of yesterday hangs heavy on my soul. What have I done?—I stopped the stranger, and asked his purse: he refused. I clapt the murderous weapon to his breast and demanded it—he hesitated.——In imagination I viewed my family perishing for food. I could not wait—The flint struck—the stranger fell—and—O earth hide me in thy bosom!—Wretch! how do the words escape my lips—I beheld my father.——

When reason had regained its seat, I found myself in company with my children, relieving their wants from out my father’s purse.

My wife questioned me as to the manner of my procuring the unexpected boon. The truth I did not evade; but I related to her every circumstance, except that the murdered person was the author of my being. She shuddered at the tale. “O my husband!” she uttered, “why did you not inform me of your intention? Sooner would I have perished of hunger, than the crime should have been committed.” “Alas!” I returned, “while yet conscious innocence held thine eyelids closed, the deed was perpetrated.

“O my Euphemia! thou knowest not the extent of my villainy! If thou didst, thou wouldest shun my sight, and think me a devil that had assumed the form of man. What crime is worse than——But stop, thy feeble frame cannot now stand the shock.—Summon all thy fortitude; soon will the awful tidings sound dreadful in thine ears.”

L. B.


For the New-York Weekly Magazine.


THE PRISON.


(A continuation of the CRIMINAL, from page 351.)


Within the gloomy walls of a prison, far excluded from the glance of man, was immured, him that once had basked in the sunshine of prosperity, him that had been the darling pride of a doating father, and him, reader, that was the next heir to a peerage. But he had woefully broken through the laws of his country; Despair, that haggard fiend, had sent him, like the beast of prey, to obtain assistance unlawfully; and wholly guided by her dictates, he had unknowingly murdered his parent.———

——Spare your anathemas, ye advocates for monarchy, ye who think sanguinary laws are as necessary as the glittering baubles of a crown; who imagine the life of the offender is requisite to expiate his crime—and consider whether solitary imprisonment is not far more just. Common humanity would urge you to reply in the affirmative. Then throw aside the tyranny of custom, and for once let your bosoms swell with philanthropy.

Him, who is the subject of this tale, lived in an age when no breast was actuated by these considerations, when man paid the most implicit obedience to the gilded trappings of royalty, when no such thing as civil or religious liberty existed.

No ray of light found entrance into his dismal cell: the wisdom of the contriver had situated it many yards beneath the surface of the earth. In one corner there had originally been placed a bundle of straw, which had served the purpose of a bed to many whom fate had singled out to pay with their lives the forfeit of their crimes; but nought now remained save here and there a scattering one. On his legs were bound enormous shackles, under the weight of which a Sampson would have groaned: nor were his hands exempt from the galling fetters—and as for his body, it was nearly cased in iron.—Unhappy victim of despotic cruelty!—

In this dungeon, until he had the “inestimable privilege of a trial by jury,” he was doomed to receive an earnest of what he was to expect. With a soul undaunted he patiently bore it all. Now and then his wife and helpless children would call for a tear of pity, which was all he could bestow. He would reflect on the crime he had committed; and discovered to what lengths misery would lead a man—to the commission of what in his cooler moments he would spurn from him with horror.

L. B.


For the New-York Weekly Magazine.


THE SENTENCE.


[A continuation of the Criminal, from page 359.]


The sun, as usual, had bedecked the east with his golden beams, and the major part of mankind were pleased with the prospect. But the hero of this piece had enjoyed none of its enlivening rays, since he had been exiled from the world, until this morning: The gratings of the locks, and opening of the doors which secured the entrance into his cell, roused him to reflect that perhaps this was the day on which his fate was to be decided: his conjectures were right; he was to be tried this day by the laws of his country.

The attendants on the court had now penetrated into the place of his confinement, and the smith was set to work in loosening his fetters. Owing to the length of time, and their not being sufficiently large, the skin adhered thereto; and on their being knocked off, it accompanied them. Indeed, if there had been present one disinterested person, he would have inferred that a barbarous punishment, formerly practiced by eastern monarchs, had found entrance into a civilized country.

Being now freed from the galling irons, the culprit, safely guarded by the officers of justice, was in a few minutes conducted before her impartial seat.

In due time, and in the usual form, did the stern dispenser of justice commence the solemn interrogatory of “Guilty, or not Guilty?” As the prisoner had duly weighed in his own breast the answer he was to make, in an audible voice he replied in the negative.

——Say not, misjudging mortal, that this unfortunate being was to blame in what he uttered, for truth dropped from his lips. True, indeed, his hand, guided by desperation, had done the deed. Despair, that haggard fiend, actuated every feeling; reason had deserted his breast—The man was entirely annihilated. At this juncture his hand had perpetrated what his heart would have abhorred to have thought on.—Call this not sophistry, ye, who hold to the mild precepts of christianity; consider it well, and then let unbiased reason have its full scope.

The council for the prosecution set forth in its blackest colours the dreadful nature of the crime of murder; and concluded with assuring the jury, that unless they brought the prisoner in guilty, they would act contrary to every law, human and divine.

——The prisoner had no one to speak for him——

The learned Judge proceeded to give his opinion, in which it can truly be said he acted not the impartial part.

* * * * * * * * * *

A verdict was returned, agreeable to the wish of the court, which being done, sentence was passed in usual form, not forgetting, at the close, to entreat the compassion of the Deity. It seemed to breathe forth pity, but it was only the semblance; and the same Judge had pronounced it before this, times out of number.

L. B.


For the New-York Weekly Magazine.


THE CRIMINAL.

[Concluded from page 375.]


A LAUNCH INTO ETERNITY.

—First marched forth those that guarded the law from violation; then followed the culprit bound in a cart, attended by a clergyman, who was using his pious endeavours to smooth the passage into another world. They reached the tree. The ladder was placed, and after a few minutes spent in the solemn duties of religion, he ascended it. With the consciousness of a heart in which every virtue glowed, and with a fortitude which the virtuous only possess, he calmly surveyed the surrounding multitude, and signified his wish to be heard: they eagerly lent their attention, while he painted to them the cause of his disgrace, and the misery of his family which had led him to the act. He said he could not endure the idea of seeing them perish before his eyes; and when their distress was at its highest pitch, and when he could get no help from those who would have befriended him with all they were worth when he needed it not, he had sallied forth on the highway, determined to alleviate their distresses—but his intentions were not to shed blood—driven to desperation by experiencing a refusal, (when on his knees he solicited the boon) he had done the deed.——

The people were all attention, and when he ended, their streaming eyes spoke the sentiments of their hearts.

The moments were precious. The cord was fastened to the wood, and after a few moments spent in devotion, the curtain of life dropped.

Scarcely was the solemn scene closed, when a murmur was heard among the croud, and shortly after a female rushed to the spot. It was his wife. Heavens! what a shock for her delicate frame! She had but just recovered from an illness she had fallen into when they had dragged her husband from her arms. She saw him now when life sat quivering at his lips, and then in unison their spirits ascended to that bright world of bliss.

* * * * * * * * * * *

——What substantial benefit, what real advantage do ye derive from dooming to death one that has perpetrated the dreadful crime of murder? Does his death restore to life the person murdered? Does it allay the grief of the distressed family?——No!——What then is it that makes you give your tacit consent to a measure which is hostile to every principle of equity—derogatory to every principle of humanity? Is it because this severe law was first given in thunderings, from Mount Sinai, to a people, who while beholding with their eyes the glory of the Deity, yet worshipped the work of their own hands? Throw aside prejudice, and that fellest tyranny, custom, until then you will never view things in their proper sphere.

Would not solitary imprisonment in a lonely cell, far excluded from every pitying eye, for a term of years, be more just? He might be compelled to labor, and his earnings go to maintain the family which through his means has lost its support. Thus they who have suffered by his misconduct might reap some advantage: whereas, by taking his life they must be left to pine in want and wretchedness. If after continuing in this state for some years, it be discovered that a thorough change is wrought, and the offender has become a reasonable creature, then let him be discharged—the debt is fully paid. But should he after this again imbrue his hands in the blood of his fellow men, then let rigorous imprisonment for life be the penalty—he is no longer fit to associate with human beings.

L. B.

New-York, April 4, 1797.

NEW-YORK: Printed by JOHN TIEBOUT, No. 358, Pearl-Street, for THOMAS BURLING, Jun. & Co. Subscriptions for this Magazine (at 6s. per quarter) are taken in at the Printing-Office, and at the Circulating Library of Mr. J. FELLOWS, No. 60, Wall-Street.

The original of this text has been in the public domain for years
in the U.S. and most other parts of the world.
All I’ve done is put it online.