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and smile at the wretched beings whom they sentenced to death. Perhaps of all such anecdotes the most thoroughly sickening is that which describes the conduct of Jeffreys, when, as Recorder of London, he passed sentence of death on his old and familiar friend, Richard Langhorn, the Catholic barrister—one of the victims of the Popish Plot phrensy. It is recorded that Jeffreys, not content with consigning his friend to a traitor's doom, malignantly reminded him of their former intercourse, and with devilish ridicule admonished him to prepare his soul for the next world. The authority which gives us this story adds, that by thus insulting a wretched gentleman and personal associate, Jeffreys, instead of rousing the disgust of his auditors, elicted their enthusiastic applause,
In a note to a passage in one of the Waverley Novels, Scott tells a story of an old Scotch judge, who, as an enthusiastic chess-player, was much mortified by the success of an ancient friend, who invariably beat him when they tried their powers at the beloved game. After a time the humiliated chess-player had his day of triumph. His conqueror happened to commit murder, and it became the judge's not altogether painful duty to pass upon him the sentence of the law. Having in due form and with suitable solemnity commended his soul to the divine mercy, he, after a brief pause, assumed his ordinary colloquial tone of voice, and nodding humorously to his old friend, observed—“And noo, Jammie, I think ye'll alloo that I hae checkmated you for ance.”
Of all the bloodthirsty wearers of the ermine, no one, since the opening of the eighteenth century, has fared worse than Sir Francis Page—the virulence of whose tongue and the cruelty of whose nature were marks for successive satirists. In one of his Imitations of Horace, Pope says
“Slanderer, poison dread from Delia’s rage,
In the same spirit the poet penned the lines of the 'Dunciad'
“Mortality, by her false guardians drawn,
Powerless to feign insensibility to the blow, Sir Francis openly fitted this black cap to his dishonored head by sending his clerk to expostulate with the poet. The illchosen ambassador performed his mission by showing that, in Sir Francis's opinion, the whole passage would be sheer nonsense, unless ‘Page' were inserted in the vacant place. Johnson and Savage took vengeance on the judge for the judicial misconduct which branded the latter poet a murderer; and Fielding, in ‘Tom Jones,' illustrating by a current story the offensive levity of the judge's demeanor at capital trials, makes him thus retort on a horse-stealer: “Ay! thou art a lucky fellow; I have traveled the circuit these forty years, and never found a horse in my life; but I'll tell thee what, friend, thou wast more lucky than thou didst know of; for thou didst not only find a horse, but a halter too, I promise thee.” This scandal to his professional order was per
” mitted to insult the humane sentiments of the nation for a long period. Born in 1661, he died in 1741, whilst he was still occupying a judicial place; and it is said of him, that in his last year he pointed the ignominious story of his existence by a speech that soon ran the round of the courts. In answer to an inquiry for his health, the octogenarian judge observed, “My dear sir—you see how
it fares with me; I just manage to keep hanging on, hanging on.” This story is ordinarily told as though the old man did not see the unfavorable significance of his words; but it is probable that he uttered them wittingly and with a sneer—in the cynicism and shamelessness of
A man of finer stuff and of various merits, but still famous as a 'hanging judge,' was Sir Francis Buller, who also made himself odious to the gentler sex by maintaining that husbands might flog their wives, if the chastisement were administered with a stick not thicker than the operator's thumb. But the severity to criminals, which gave him a place amongst hanging judges, was not a consequence of natural cruelty. Inability to devise a satisfactory system of secondary punishments, and a genuine conviction that ninety-nine out of every hundred culprits were incorrigible, caused him to maintain that the gallows-tree was the most efficacious as well as the cheapest instrument that could be invented for protecting society against malefactors. Another of his stern dicta was, that previous good character was a reason for increasing rather than a reason for lessening a culprit's punishment; “For," he argued, "the longer a prisoner has enjoyed the good opinion of the world, the less are the excuses for his misdeeds, and the more injurious is his conduct to public morality."
In contrast to these odious stories of hanging judges are some anecdotes of great men, who abhorred the atrocities of our penal system, long before the worst of them were swept away by reform. Lord Mansfield has never been credited with lively sensibilities, but his humanity was so shocked by the bare thought of killing a man for committing a trifling theft, that he on one occasion ordered a jury to find that a stolen trinket was of less value than forty shillings—in order that the thief might escape the capital sentence. The prosecutor, a dealer in jewelry, was so mortified by the judge's leniency, that
he exclaimed, “What, my lord, my golden trinket not worth forty shillings? Why, the fashion alone cost me twice the money!" - Removing his glance from the vindictive tradesman, Lord Mansfield turned towards the jury, and said, with solemn gravity, “ As we stand in need of God's mercy, gentlemen, let us not hang a man for fashion's sake."
Tenderness of heart was even less notable in Kenyon than in Murray; but Lord Mansfield's successor was at least on one occasion stirred by a pathetic consequence of the bloody law against persons found guilty of trivial theft. On the Home Circuit, having passed sentence of death on a poor woman who had stolen property to the value of forty shillings in a dwelling-house, Lord Kenyon saw the prisoner drop lifeless in the dock, just as he ceased to speak. Instantly the Chief Justice sprang to his feet, and screamed in a shrill tone, “I don't mean to hang you-do you hear!-don't you hear?-Good ! will nobody tell her that I don't mean to hang her?”
One of the humorous aspects of a repulsive subject is seen in the curiosity and fastidiousness of prisoners on trial for capital offences with regard to the professional status of the judges who try them. A sheep-stealer of the old bloody days liked that sentence should be passed upon him by a Chief Justice; and in our own time murderers awaiting execution, sometimes grumble at the unfairness of their trials, because they have been tried by judges of inferior degree. Lord Campbell mentions the case of a sergeant, who, whilst acting as Chief Justice Abbott's deputy, on the Oxford circuit, was reminded that he was merely a temporary' by the prisoner in the dock. Being asked in the usual way if he had aught to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him, the prisoner answered—“ Yes; I have been tried before a journeyman judge.”
LIKE commendable for its subtlety and inoffensive
humor was the pleasantry with which young Philip Yorke (afterwards Lord Hardwicke), answered Sir Lyttleton Powys's banter on the Western Circuit. An amiable and upright, but far from brilliant judge, Sir Lyttleton had a few pet phrases—amongst them, “I humbly conceive," and "Look, do you see"-which he sprinkled over his judgments and colloquial talk with ridiculous profuseness. Surprised at Yorke's sudden rise into lucrative practice, this most gentlemanlike worthy was pleased to account for the unusual success by maintaining that young Mr. Yorke must have written a lawbook, which had brought him early into favor with the inferior branch of the profession. “Mr. Yorke,” said the venerable justice, whilst the barristers were sitting over their wine at a ‘judges' dinner,' I cannot well account for your having so much business, considering how short a time you have been at the bar: I humbly conceive you must have published something; for look you, do you see, there is scarcely a cause in court but you are employed in it on one side or the other. I should therefore be glad to know, Mr. Yorke, do you see, whether this be the case." Playfully denying that he possessed any celebrity as a writer on legal matters, Yorke, with an assumption of candor, admitted that he had some thoughts of lightening the labors of lawstudents by turning Coke upon Littleton into verse. Indeed, he confessed that he had already begun the work of versification. Not seeing the nature of the reply, Sir Lyttleton Powys treated the droll fancy as a