LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of William Roscoe
Chapter XVI. 1819
William Roscoe to Étienne Dumont, [1825]

Vol I. Contents
Chapter I. 1753-1781
Chapter II. 1781-1787
Chapter III. 1787-1792
Chapter IV. 1788-1796
Chapter V. 1795
Chapter VI. 1796-1799
Chapter VII. 1799-1805
Chapter IX. 1806-1807
Chapter X. 1808
Chapter XI. 1809-1810
Vol II. Contents
Chapter XII. 1811-1812
Chapter XIII. 1812-1815
Chapter XIV. 1816
Chapter XV. 1817-1818
Chapter XVI. 1819
Chapter XVII. 1820-1823
Chapter XVIII. 1824
Chapter XIX. 1825-1827
Chapter XX. 1827-1831
Chapter XXI.
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“Although it is now many years since I had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, at the same time with that of our late excellent and ever lamented friend, Sir Samuel Romilly, yet I have never ceased to feel a sincere interest in your welfare, and to participate in the efforts in which you have been continually employed, for improving the condition of society, and regulating its concerns upon better principles than the fallacious and temporising expedients at present so generally resorted to. That the progress made in such an undertaking must be slow, you have been too well aware; but, although all is not accomplished, much has been done; and if we
may judge from the circumstances that daily occur, a wiser policy and a better spirit is rapidly diffusing itself in every department of life, from the connections and relations of states, to the regulation of our lowest, and, till of late years, most neglected internal establishments. Amongst the latter of these may be enumerated our prisons and places of punishment, which have, for some years past, attracted the notice of so many able and excellent men, amongst whom none have distinguished themselves more than yourself, as well by your own labours as by the extension you have given to those of
Mr. Bentham, to whom every friend of improvement must feel the highest obligations, although he may not always assent to the peculiar mode of discipline which he has endeavoured to promote. Amongst the persons last alluded to, if I were to say I consider myself as an humble associate, I should think it an arrogant assumption, being, in fact, nothing more than an interloper; or, to place myself in the most favourable light, a kind of amicus curiæ, who suddenly rises up to express some sentiment which he thinks important to the cause in hand, and which he can no longer restrain. With these feelings I published two tracts or pamphlets, in 1819 and 1822, under the title of ‘Observations on Penal Jurisprudence,’ which have been little read and less noticed; but, as I am aware that nothing can be accom-
plished without perseverance, and as the advocates of a cruel and inefficient system of criminal discipline are indefatigable in their exertions, and have even induced many of the friends of the reformatory system, both in England and America, to abandon their primitive object, and resort to the ancient plan of preventing crimes by the influence of terror alone, by which a retrograde step has unfortunately been made in this great undertaking, I have again returned to the charge, and in a
third part of my Observations, now just published, have endeavoured to show that vindictive and exemplary punishments are wholly irreconcileable with reformatory discipline; and that it is by the influence of the latter alone that we can ever hope to produce any effect in the diminution of crime.

“Of this tract I now take the liberty of offering a copy to your acceptance, in the hope that you will find it, on the whole, consistent with the opinions which you yourself have so much more effectually advocated; and this step I have been induced to take at this moment, from having observed in the Bibliothèque Universelle, for February, 1825, an article on prison discipline, in which large extracts are made from your report in 1822, to the representative council of Geneva, on the establishment of a penitentiary for that canton; in which the objections to the employment of that brutalising engine, the tread-wheel,
and the advantages of productive labour, and a milder discipline, are stated in that spirit of candour and impartiality by which all your writings are so eminently distinguished.

“That your recommendations have contributed to promote the establishment of a more humane and more effectual system of prison discipline in that enlightened community, consoles me, in some degree, for the regret and anxiety I have lately felt on receiving from Mr. Hopkins, of New York, one of the three commissioners appointed by the legislature of that state, to report on the discipline of their prisons, a copy of their report, in which they have recommended an entire alteration, amounting to the abandonment of the reformatory system, and the establishment of a severe and unremitting plan of compulsory labour, under the immediate discipline of the lash, and the dread of solitary confinement; both of which the jailer may inflict at his own pleasure, so that the former shall not exceed thirty-nine lashes, and the latter twelve months, at any one time!

“On receiving this document, I lost no time in transmitting to the commissioners, and several of my friends in New York, the hasty remarks of which I now enclose you a copy; which will, however, I fear, be too late to be of any avail, even if I could flatter myself that they would be likely to produce any effect upon the public de-
liberations of a state, which, as it was one of the first to adopt a reformatory system, and carry it almost to its perfection, is the first to abandon it. But I fear I have already intruded upon you at too great a length. Have the goodness to attribute it not only to the deep interest I take in the subject, but also to the pleasure I feel in addressing myself to one whom I esteem, as well on his own account, as the common friend of several persons of the highest worth and talents, who are now no more, but whose memories will ever be endeared to us both by the most affectionate and most lasting recollections.”