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Memoirs of the Rev. Samuel Parr
Ch IV. 1809-1812

Ch. I. 1747-1752
Ch. II. 1752-1761
Ch. III. 1761-1765
Ch. IV. 1765-1766
Ch. V. 1767-1771
Ch. VI. 1771
Ch. VII. 1771-1776
Ch. VIII. 1771-1776
Ch. IX. 1776-1777
Ch. X. 1779-1786
Ch. XI. 1779-1786
Ch. XII. 1779-1786
Ch. XIII. 1780-1782
Ch. XIV. 1786-1789
Ch. XV. 1786-1790
Ch. XVI. 1776-1790
Ch. XVII. 1787
Ch. XVIII. 1789
Ch. XIX. 1790-1792
Ch. XX. 1791-1792
Ch. XXI. 1791-1796
Ch. XXII. 1794-1795
Ch. XXIII. 1794
Ch. XXIV. 1794-1800
Ch. XXV. 1794-1800
Ch. XXVI. 1800-1803
Ch. XXVII. 1801-1803
Ch. XXVIII. 1800-1807
Vol. II Contents
Ch I. 1800-1807
Ch II. 1807-1810
Ch III. 1809
‣ Ch IV. 1809-1812
Ch V. 1810-1813
Ch VI. 1811-1815
Ch VII. 1812-1815
Ch VIII. 1816-1820
Ch IX. 1816-1820
Ch X. 1816-1820
Ch XI. 1816-1820
Ch XII. 1816-1820
Ch XIII. 1816-1820
Ch XIV. 1819
Ch XV. 1820-1821
Ch XVI. 1816-1820
Ch XVII. 1820-1824
Ch XVIII. 1820-1824
Ch XIX. 1820-1824
Ch XX. 1820-1825
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Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
A.D. 1809—1812.
Dr. Parr’s attention to the administration of justice—His compassionate concern for criminals—His forbearance to prosecute—His exertions to mitigate severity of punishment—His visits to Warwick gaol—His attendance on the condemned—His care to provide for the defence of the accused—Case of a clergyman tried for murder—Of another clergyman capitally accused—Case of a youthful pilferer, stated in a letter to Mr. Roscoe.

On the subject of the penal code—a subject of such paramount importance to every civilised community—Dr. Parr has offered to the public the fruit of much careful reading, much close observation, and much deep reflection, in the long and valuable disquisition, of which some account is given in the preceding chapter. No subject, indeed, more frequently engaged his attention; or excited in his mind, whenever adverted to, stronger emotions of sorrow and indignation. “Is it possible,” he would say, “for any reflecting and benevolent person, without shame and grief, and even horror, to examine a statute-book like ours?—where death is commissioned to keep the keys of so many cells, and to shake a dreadful dart in so many directions.” Happily, however, the fact is, that common reason and equity wage a perpetual war with the positive institutions of the land; that the malefactors, annually executed, fall far
short of the number annually condemned; and that thus the barbarous spirit of law is powerfully controlled by the just and humane spirit of the times. In full accordance with that spirit, directed to so great and good an object, Dr. Parr was always watchful of every opportunity to correct or to palliate, as far as individual exertions can, the wrongs and mischiefs which he so deeply deplored.

He often complained that the higher orders did not yet sufficiently sympathise with the lower, at the sight of evils, which little affect themselves; and that growing wealth and luxury have produced, among all ranks, an unfeeling temper towards the crowds of miserable beings, who are driven by want to crime; and who ought, therefore, to be regarded as more unfortunate than guilty. Considering the strong and almost irresistible temptations, to which the poor and destitute are left exposed, he looked upon many a criminal, doomed by the law to die, “as far less sinning than sinned against;” and when he heard of such an one being led to execution, he would sometimes repeat the words, which the pious and excellent Boerhaave is said to have uttered on similar occasions: “May not this man be better than I?”1

1 “On the days, when the prisons of this great city are emptied into the grave, let every spectator of the dreadful procession put the same question to his own heart—May not this man be less culpable than I am? For who can congratulate himself upon a life, passed without some act more mischievous to the peace and prosperity of others, than the theft of a piece of money?”—Johnson’s Rambler, No. 114.


Impressed with these sentiments of compassionate concern for unhappy criminals, and shuddering at the cruel and remorseless spirit of English law, Dr. Parr adopted a course, which many would think a dereliction of public duty, by declining, in his own case, to prosecute, and by inducing others, in similar circumstances, to exercise the same forbearance. In justification of himself, however, he could appeal to the authority of Dr. Johnson, who observes, “that the necessity of submitting the conscience to human laws is not so plainly evinced, nor so generally allowed, but that the pious, the tender, and the just will always scruple to concur with them, in an act, which private judgment condemns.”1—Dr. Parr thus feelingly and forcibly explains his own sentiments, in reference to his own conduct:

“Three times, let me confess, I have suffered the most painful struggles, between the sense of private and public duty; and three times, dreading the severity of our laws, I have yielded to my humanity conspiring with my reason, when they forbad me, without real necessity, to shed the blood even of the unrighteous. One of the offenders, after leaving my family, ventured upon other crimes in other places; a second, by my suggestion, entered into the army: I have not been able to trace the conduct of the third. But under a deep conviction of my responsibility to the tribunal of Heaven I shall ever look back with approbation to my forbearance.”2

In cases of capital conviction, if circumstances

1 Rambler, No. 114. 2 Characters of Fox, p. 402.

of extenuation came to his knowledge,
Dr. Parr did not, like too many, pity and slumber; but he instantly and strenuously exerted his endeavours to procure remission of the last dreadful penalty, which human laws can inflict. Among severed instances, within the writer’s recollection, one is related by Dr. Parr himself, as occurring whilst he resided at Norwich; when, in consequence of a powerful appeal, addressed to the Duke of Portland, a respite was granted, which was speedily followed by a free pardon. It was ever afterwards pleasing to him to reflect that the act of grace, thus obtained, was well-deserved and well-requited.

“Eagerly do I embrace this opportunity,” says Dr. Parr, “of paying a public and grateful testimony to the memory of an illustrious person, lately deceased. Disregarding the difference of our political sentiments, he, at my request, gave the fullest effect to my exertions for saving an unfortunate person, who had committed the crime for which he was on the point of suffering death, but was guiltless of some aggravations, hastily imputed to him; and who, by the diligence, the sobriety and honesty, which he has uniformly manifested for the space of twenty-five years from the time of his liberation, has fully justified the opinion I had entertained of him, and amply repaid to society the mercy shown him by the executive government.”1

During the earlier periods of his residence at Hatton, Dr. Parr was accustomed frequently to

1 Characters of Fox, p. 464.

visit the county-jail at Warwick; exploring those abodes of human misery and vice, in search of opportunities for the exercise of his ardent and active humanity. At that time, the state of prisons became an object of serious attention to the parliament and the public, in consequence of the representations and remonstrances of the benevolent
Howard—so gloriously immortalised as the “prisoner’s friend;” and, no doubt, in Dr. Parr’s frequent visits to Warwick jail, he would mark with an observant eye, and watch with a lively interest, the progress of those improvements in its arrangement and discipline, which, then commencing, have since been carried here, and also in every part of England, to an extent, gratifying to humanity, and honourable to the country. His most anxious inquiries, however, were directed to the cases of the prisoners; of such, in particular, as might be in any way recommended to his notice; and he was always glad to impart, wherever it was desired or needed, his advice or his admonition, his encouragement or his bounty.

But it was to the deplorable case of condemned convicts, to which his attention was most of all attracted; and for these so strongly were his sympathetic feelings excited, as often to destroy for a time all the peace and composure of his own mind. “Ah!” he would say, “had I pronounced the ‘dreadful notes’ of a sentence which I heard this morning, it would have torn my heart with anguish; and the recollection of it would have disturbed my slumbers for weeks, months, and years.” On one occasion, when, in the assize-court of
Warwick, his “soul had been harrowed up” by the sound of “those dreadful notes,” instantly turning to a friend who was with him, and hastening away, he said—“Come! let us go out of this slaughter-house!”1

But, agonised as were his feelings, when he beheld man doomed by his fellow-man to die—and that, too, as he thought sometimes rashly and unwarrantably—yet these feelings were absorbed in compassion for human wretchedness, and in the desire of administering the soothing comforts, which kind sympathy and religious hope afford, in the last and worst extremities. For many years, therefore, Dr. Parr imposed upon himself the task, however painful, of visiting, advising, and consoling, in the gloomy dungeons of Warwick jail, the miserable beings, awaiting their awful fate from the hand of the executioner. Thus he describes his own feelings and reflections, on these distressing occasions:—

“Such are the fixed and serious sentiments of one, who for many years has been an attentive observer of judicial proceedings; of one, who is no stranger to the pleas, usually urged for the rigour of our laws; of one, who has thought it the charitable duty of his order to prepare malefactors for eternity, by lessons of resignation and repentance; of one who, while he soothed them by consolation, when they were about to taste the bitterness of death, rarely failed to explore the deepest recesses of their hearts; of one who, upon a view of all circumstances, has been yet more

1 New Monthly Mag. May, 1805.

rarely satisfied with the justice of that sentence, which doomed his fellow-creatures to die—to go, they knew not whither—to be sent to their last account, with all their imperfections on their head,—when, from the scantiness of their education, the untowardness of their habits, the inquietude of their spirits, and the shortened span of their existence, little or no reckoning could be made. Oh! horrible!—most horrible!”1

In the discharge of his painful office, dreadful was the example of human obduracy, which he was sometimes forced to witness; produced, as he always maintained, by the combined effects of laws too severe, of a police too remiss, and of moral discipline and instruction, especially in the case of young offenders, either insufficiently applied, or wholly neglected. Speaking of one, who had been capitally convicted and executed—upon whom he had bestowed much pious care with little apparent success, but who had met his fate with an intrepidity which passed with the spectators for fortitude—he remarked, that “his intrepidity was without the calmness of resignation, and without the sanctity of repentance; and yet there were some loose and floating notions of virtue.”—Another lamentable case is thus described by himself:—

“A recent instance of deplorable obduracy has fallen within my notice. A youth of twenty-two had deserted more than once, and betook himself to robbery. He anticipated death, as the probable punishment of his thievery or his desertion. He

1 Characters of Fox, Notes, p. 358.

neither cared, nor professed to care, at what time, or in what manner, it might overtake him. He despaired. He plundered: He defied the wrath of man. He frowned at the mention of God. He laughed at a violent death, as the affair of a moment; and without showing the smallest symptoms of shame, or compunction, or terror, he underwent the sentence of the law. Thus was he cut off from existence, at a time when, from his youth and his strength, he might have been compelled to be useful; and he was hurried into eternity, for which he was but little prepared. Are these light considerations? He must be something more, or something less than man, who would dare to call them so.”1

The reader will probably recollect the deep interest which Dr. Parr felt in the case of a man of much excellence of character, who was hurried, in a moment of sudden irritation, into a crime, for which he suffered death—as related in a former part of the present work.2 To this unhappy individual, there is an affecting allusion in the following passage:—

“To a very enlightened man, who thought himself unjustly condemned, I had occasion to state the principle of submission to private wrong for public good, and to enforce it by the example of Socrates, and other examples, yet more sacred; and I pressed them with so much earnestness, as to prevent an act of suicide, which my unhappy friend was determined to perpetrate, on the morn-

1 Characters of Fox, Notes, p. 394. 2 Vol. i. p. 373.

ing of his execution. ‘Memoriam quoque ipsam cum voce perdidissemus, si tam oblivisci in nostra potestate esset, quam tacere.’ That silence I have hitherto preserved upon an event most afflicting to my soul; and I have now found a proper opportunity for breaking it.”1

Dr. Parr’s anxiety to perform with due effect the benevolent office, which, on these melancholy occasions, he took upon himself, is apparent in the following passage:—

“Some years ago,” says he, “when I was accustomed to visit persons under sentence of death, I often felt the want of a proper service. I could not persuade myself to read some prayers, and some exhortations, which I found in books. They seemed to me either unintelligible or unprofitable to offenders, whether obdurate or penitent. I cannot help wishing, therefore, that a form of prayer, annexed to the old Irish Prayer Book, may be introduced by authority into the English Prayer Book. The topics are, indeed, very pertinent; the language is simple and solemn; and a spirit of the most rational and most pure devotion prevails through the whole.”2

After the short detail now given, the reader may easily conceive the high satisfaction with which Dr. Parr hailed an event, bearing a most favourable aspect upon a cause, which lay so near his heart. This was the formation of a society, the professed object of which is, “the diffusion of knowledge respecting the punishment of death, and the improvement of prison discipline.” Of

1 Characters of Fox, Notes, p. 411. 2 Ibid. p. 707.

this society, Dr. Parr immediately became a member; and he bequeathed to it the sum of nineteen guineas at his death. Amongst its most ardent and active members conspicuously appears
Basil Montagu, Esq., whose name has already been mentioned in these pages, and to whom Dr. Parr has borne honourable testimony in the following terms:—

“My very ingenious and benevolent friend, Mr. Basil Montagu, has sent to the press a large collection of the opinions, which many distinguished writers upon the penal code of England and other countries have delivered, in recommendation of other punishments, as substituted for death. He has been much commended, I am told, by professional men, for his publications on subjects connected with the studies and duties of his profession. I esteem him highly for his literary attainments and personal virtues. Gladly, too, would any advocate for the reform of the penal code acknowledge such a man as συνεργον του χόπου της αγαπης.”1

In our courts of justice is sometimes exhibited a spectacle, from which Dr. Parr always turned with disgust and dismay. It is when a whole sable tribe of lawyers appear arrayed, on the side of a criminal prosecution, against a friendless individual, unsupported by a single legal adviser. It is true, in such cases the presiding judge is presumed to sustain the office of counsel for the prisoner. But, with the humane and judicious Blackstone, Dr. Parr always thought the express appointment of an advocate to conduct the de-

1 Characters of Fox, p. 799.

fence, in this case, so essential to the fair administration of justice, as to demand the interposition of the legislature. In order to supply that serious deficiency, it is well known that, on many occasions, Dr. Parr procured legal advice, at his own expense, for those who could not procure it for themselves. One or two instances occur to the writer’s recollection.

At the Warwick assizes, in the spring of 1812, a clergyman of the Church of England, who had long resided in that town, and who was subject to fits of derangement, was tried for shooting the servant girl of the house, in which he lodged. The public feeling was strongly excited against him; and it was most important to provide for his defence, in the best possible manner. He had some small property, but no command of present supplies; and no one seemed willing to advance the necessary sums, as it was supposed there would be much uncertainty or difficulty in obtaining repayment. At length the unfortunate case was stated to Dr. Parr, who instantly and eagerly ordered the best legal advice to be secured; desired that no expense should be spared; and declared himself responsible 1 for the whole amount, which exceeded 100l. That sum he paid on demand. The unhappy man was acquitted on the plea of insanity; and at a subsequent, though somewhat distant period, the money was repaid by his trustees.

1 “Ille se interposuit; pecuniamque sine fœnore, sine ulla stipulatione, credidit. Ita aperuit se non fortunæ sed hominibus, solere esse amicum.”—Corn. Nepos.


Oh a still later occasion, another clergyman was tried at Warwick assizes, capitally charged with a heinous and revolting crime. The popular indignation was high and clamorous; and the accused was wholly destitute of the means of providing for his own defence. But no sooner was the case made known to Dr. Parr than, with all his usual ardour, he interposed, and generously advanced the sum required. “Horror of crime,” he said on that occasion, “can never destroy the claims of justice, and ought never to extinguish the feelings of humanity. Every accused person, whether guilty or not, ought, in the means of defending himself, to be put upon a level with his accusers; especially where the laws are so remorseless, and the penalty so dreadful.”—It should be added that, of the persons benefited, in the two instances now referred to, the former was but slightly known to Dr. Parr, and the latter entirely unknown.

The case of an unfortunate youth, guilty of petty theft, is related by Dr. Parr, with all the warm feelings of compassionate concern so peculiarly characteristic, in the following letter to Mr. Roscoe:—

“Dear and most esteemed Mr. Roscoe—The bearer is an Irish lad, who has no friend in the world, or the world’s law. He is about twenty years old. He was brought into my neighbourhood by his parents, who have deserted him. He was unknown; he was unassisted; he was unemployed. In danger of starving, he, on Thursday night,
opened the door of my carriage, which was at an inn in Leamington. He found in it a pair of gaiters, a large coachman’s great-coat, and a small great-coat. He took away the small great-coat. The robbery was discovered late at night; and the proprietor of the inn the next morning began to inquire. He traced the offender to a neighbouring village. He seized and secured him; and the poor wretch immediately confessed his crime; and conducted his pursuer, who was the constable, to the house of a country tailor, with whom he had left the coat to be mended. Last night the constable came to me for orders. I heard the story with anguish. My servant shall not prosecute. The constable is compelled to bring the poor creature before a justice; and I am endeavouring, by previous communication with his worship, to stop further proceedings, that the poor fellow may not be sent to jail. Ample is the punishment already inflicted by menaces, reproaches, and confinement in a dark. room. His terrors, I am told, are unexampled. If I can manage with the justice, I shall pay his passage to Liverpool, when all must depend on your humane protection. Pray have him sent forward to Ireland; and, like the Samaritan, I will pay you what is laid out when I go your way again, or before. I must take this letter with me to Warwick. My spirits are disturbed by this affair; and my house is beset by those, who are come to me about it.——My dear friend, I add a line or two just to say that I have rescued the poor creature from the
gripe of the law. I commend him to the mercy of God, and to you as the instrument of that mercy. Accept my best wishes to all who are near and dear to you. I am, most unfeignedly, respectfully, and affectionately, your friend.—

S. Parr.”