The next volumes in the Famous Women Series will be:
THE COUNTESS OF ALBANY. By Vernon Lee. HARRIET MARTINEAU. By Mrs. Fenwick Miller. MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. By Elizabeth Robins Pennell.
GEORGE ELIOT. By Miss Blind. EMILY BRONTE. By Miss Robinson. GEORGE SAND. By Miss Thomas. MARY LAMB. By Mrs. Gilchrist. MARGARET FULLER. By Julia Ward Howe. MARIA EDGEWORTH. By Miss Zimmern. ELIZABETH FRY. By Mrs. E.R. Pitman.
MRS. E.R. PITMAN.
BOSTON: ROBERTS BROTHERS. 1884.
Copyright, 1884, BY ROBERTS BROTHERS.
UNIVERSITY PRESS: JOHN WILSON AND SON, CAMBRIDGE.
CHAPTER I. PAGE. LIFE AT EARLHAM, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. 1
LIFE'S EARNEST PURPOSE. 12
ST. MILDRED'S COURT. 23
A COUNTRY HOME. 29
BEGINNINGS AT NEWGATE. 39
NEWGATE HORRORS AND NEWGATE WORKERS. 52
EVIDENCE BEFORE THE HOUSE OF COMMONS. 75
THE GALLOWS AND ENGLISH LAWS. 97
CONVICT SHIPS AND CONVICT SETTLEMENTS. 112
VISITS TO CONTINENTAL PRISONS. 131
NEW THEORIES OF PRISON DISCIPLINE AND MANAGEMENT. 153
MRS. FRY IN DOMESTIC AND RELIGIOUS LIFE. 182
COLLATERAL GOOD WORKS. 212
EXPANSION OF THE PRISON ENTERPRISE—HONORS. 228
CLOSING DAYS OF LIFE. 253
LIFE AT EARLHAM, A HUNDRED YEARS AGO.
A hundred years ago, Norwich was a remarkable centre of religious, social and intellectual life. The presence of officers, quartered with their troops in the city, and the balls and festivities which attended the occasional sojourn of Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester, combined to make the quaint old city very gay; while the pronounced element of Quakerism and the refining influences of literary society permeated the generation of that day, and its ordinary life, to an extent not easily conceived in these days of busy locomotion and new-world travel. Around the institutions of the established Church had grown up a people loyal to it, for, as an old cathedral city, the charm of antiquity attached itself to Norwich; while Mrs. Opie and others known to literature, exercised an attraction and stimulus in their circles, consequent upon the possession of high intellectual powers and good social position. It was in the midst of such surroundings, and with a mind formed by such influences, that Elizabeth Fry, the prison philanthropist and Quaker, grew up to young womanhood.
She was descended from Friends by both parents: her father's family had been followers of the tenets of George Fox for more than a hundred years; while her mother was granddaughter of Robert Barclay, the author of the Apology for the People called Quakers. It might be supposed that a daughter of Quaker families would have been trained in the strictest adherence to their tenets; but it seems that Mr. and Mrs. John Gurney, Elizabeth's parents, were not "plain Quakers." In other words, they were calm, intellectual, benevolent, courteous and popular people; not so very unlike others, save that they attended "First-day meeting," but differing from their co-religionists in that they abjured the strict garb and the "thee" and "thou" of those who followed George Fox to unfashionable lengths, whilst their children studied music and dancing. More zealous brethren called the Gurneys "worldly," and shook their heads over their degenerate conduct; but, all unseen, Mrs. Gurney was training up her family in ways of usefulness and true wisdom; while "the fear of the Lord," as the great principle of life and action, was constantly set before them. With such a mother to mould their infant minds and direct their childish understandings, there was not much fear of the younger Gurneys turning out otherwise than well. Those who shook their heads at the "worldliness" of the Gurneys, little dreamt of the remarkable lives which were being moulded under the Gurney roof.
One or two extracts from Mrs. Gurney's diary will afford a fair insight into her character:—
If our piety does not appear adequate to supporting us in the exigencies of life, and I may add, death, surely our hearts cannot be sufficiently devoted to it. Books of controversy on religion are seldom read with profit, not even those in favor of our own particular tenets. The mind stands less in need of conviction than conversion. These reflections have led me to decide on what I most covet for my daughters, as the result of our daily pursuits. As piety is undoubtedly the shortest and securest way to all moral rectitude, young women should be virtuous and good on the broad, firm basis of Christianity; therefore it is not the tenets of any man or sect whatever that are to be inculcated in preference to those rigid but divine truths contained in the New Testament. As it appears to be our reasonable duty to improve our faculties, and by that means to render ourselves useful, it is necessary and very agreeable to be well-informed of our own language, and the Latin as being most permanent, and the French as being the most in general request. The simple beauties of mathematics appear to be so excellent an exercise to the understanding, that they ought on no account to be omitted, and are, perhaps, scarcely less essential than a competent knowledge of ancient and modern history, geography and chronology. To which may be added a knowledge of the most approved branches of natural history, and a capacity of drawing from nature, in order to promote that knowledge and facilitate the pursuit of it. As a great portion of a woman's life ought to be passed in at least regulating the subordinate affairs of a family, she should work plain work herself, neatly; understand the cutting-out of linen; also she should not be ignorant of the common proprieties of a table, or deficient in the economy of any of the most minute affairs of a family. It should be here observed that gentleness of manner is indispensably necessary in women, to say nothing of that polished behavior which adds a charm to every qualification; to both which, it appears pretty certain, children may be led without vanity or affectation by amiable and judicious instruction.
These observations furnish the key-note to Mrs. Gurney's system of training, as well as indicate the strong common-sense and high principles which actuated her. It was small wonder that of her family of twelve children so many of them should rise up to "call her blessed." Neither was it any wonder that Elizabeth, "the dove-like Betsy" of her mother's journal, should idolize that mother with almost passionate devotion.
Elizabeth was born on May 21st, 1780, at Norwich; but when she was a child of six years old, the Gurneys removed to Earlham Hall, a pleasant ancestral home, about two miles from the city. The family was an old one, descended from the Norman lords of Gourney-en-brai, in Normandy. These Norman lords held lands in Norfolk, in the time of William Rufus, and have had, in one line or another, representatives down to the present day. Some of them, it is recorded, resided in Somersetshire; others, the ancestors of Mrs. Fry, dwelt in Norfolk, generation after generation, perpetuating the family name and renown. One of these ancestors, John Gurney, embraced the principles of George Fox, and became one of the first members of the Society of Friends. Thus it came to pass that Quakerism became familiar to her from early childhood—indeed, was hereditary in the family.
Elizabeth tells us that her mother was most dear to her; that she seldom left her mother's side if she could help it, while she would watch her slumbers with breathless anxiety, fearing she would never awaken. She also speaks of suffering much from fear, so that she could not bear to be left alone in the dark. This nervous susceptibility followed her for years, although, with a shyness of disposition and reserve which was but little understood she refrained from telling her fears. She was considered rather stupid and dull, and, from being continually described as such, grew neglectful of her studies; while, at the same time, delicacy of health combined with this natural stupidity to prevent anything like precocious intelligence. Still, Elizabeth was by no means deficient in penetration, tact, or common-sense; she possessed remarkable insight into character, and exercised her privilege of thinking for herself on most questions. She is described as being a shy, fair child, possessing a poor opinion of herself, and somewhat given to contradiction. She says in her early recollections: "I believe I had not a name only for being obstinate, for my nature had a strong tendency that way, and I was disposed to a spirit of contradiction, always ready to see things a little differently from others, and not willing to yield my sentiments to them."
These traits developed, in all probability, into those which made her so famous in after years. Her faculty for independent investigation, her unswerving loyalty to duty, and her fearless perseverance in works of benevolence, were all foreshadowed in these early days. Add to these characteristics, the religious training which Mrs. Gurney gave her children, the daily reading of the Scriptures, and the quiet ponderings upon the passages read, and we cannot be surprised that such a character was built up in that Quaker home.
At twelve years of age Elizabeth lost her mother, and in consequence suffered much from lack of wise womanly training. The talents she possessed ripened and developed, however, until she became remarkable for originality of thought and action; while the spirit of benevolent enterprise which distinguished her, led her to seek out modes of usefulness not usually practiced by girls. Her obstinacy and spirit of contradiction became in later years gradually merged or transformed into that decision of character, and lady-like firmness, which were so needful to her work, so that obstacles became only incentives to progress, and persecution furnished courage for renewed zeal. Yet all this was tempered with tender, conscientious heart-searching into both motives and actions.
During her "teens" she is described as being tall and slender, peculiarly graceful in the saddle, and fond of dancing. She possessed a pleasing countenance and manner, and grew up to enjoy the occasional parties which she attended with her sisters. Still, from the records of her journal, we find that at this time neither the grave worship of Quakerism nor the gayeties of Norwich satisfied her eager spirit. We find too, how early she kept this journal, and from it we obtain the truest and most interesting glimpses into her character and feelings. Thus at seventeen years of age she wrote:—
I am seventeen to-day. Am I a happier or a better creature than I was this day twelvemonths? I know I am happier—I think I am better. I hope I shall be happier this day year than I am now. I hope to be quite an altered person; to have more knowledge; to have my mind in greater order, and my heart too, that wants to be put in order quite as much.... I have seen several things in myself and others I never before remarked, but I have not tried to improve myself—I have given way to my passions, and let them have command over me, I have known my faults and not corrected them—and now I am determined I will once more try with redoubled ardor to overcome my wicked inclinations. I must not flirt; I must not be out of temper with the children; I must not contradict without a cause; I must not allow myself to be angry; I must not exaggerate, which I am inclined to do; I must not give way to luxury; I must not be idle in mind. I must try to give way to every good feeling, and overcome every bad. I have lately been too satirical, so as to hurt sometimes: remember it is always a fault to hurt others.
I have a cross to-night. I had very much set my mind on going to the Oratorio. The Prince is to be there, and by all accounts it will be quite a grand sight, and there will be the finest music; but if my father does not wish me to go, much as I wish it, I will give it up with pleasure, if it be in my power, without a murmur.... I went to the Oratorio. I enjoyed it, but I spoke sadly at random—what a bad habit!
There is much difference between being obstinate and steady. If I am bid to do a thing my spirit revolts; if I am asked to do a thing, I am willing.... A thought passed my mind that if I had some religion I should be superior to what I am; it would be a bias to better actions. I think I am by degrees losing many excellent qualities. I am more cross, more proud, more vain, more extravagant. I lay it to my great love of gayety and the world. I feel, I know I am falling. I do believe if I had a little true religion I should have a greater support than I have now; but I have the greatest fear of religion, because I never saw a person religious who was not enthusiastic.
It will be seen that Elizabeth at this period enjoyed the musical and social pleasures of Norwich, while at the same time she had decided leanings towards the plain, religious customs of the Friends. It is not wonderful that her heart was in a state of unrest and agitation, that at times she scarcely knew what she longed for, nor what she desired to forsake. The society with which she was accustomed to mingle contained some known in Quaker parlance as "unbelievers"; perhaps in our day they would be regarded as holding "advanced opinions." One of the most intimate visitors at Earlham was a gentleman belonging to the Roman Catholic communion, but his acquaintance seemed rather to be a benefit than otherwise, for he referred the young Gurneys in all matters of faith to the "written word" rather than to the opinions of men or books generally. Another visitor, a lady afterwards known to literature as Mrs. Schimmelpenninck, was instrumental in leading them to form sound opinions upon the religious questions of the day. They were thus preserved from the wave of scepticism which was then sweeping over the society of that day.
Judging from her journal of this date, it is not easy to detect much, if any, promise of the future self-denying philanthropy. She seemed nervously afraid of "enthusiasm in religion"; even sought to shun anything which appeared different from the usual modes of action among the people with whom she mingled. A young girl who confessed that she had "the greatest fear of religion," because in her judgment and experience enthusiasm was always allied with religion, was not, one would suppose, in much danger of becoming remarkable for philanthropy. True, she was accustomed to doing good among the poor and sick, according to her opportunities and station; but this was nothing strange—all the traditions of Quaker life inculcate benevolence and kindly dealing—what she needed was "the expulsive power of a new affection." This "new affection"—the love of Christ—in its turn expelled the worldliness and unrest which existed, and gave a tone to her mental and spiritual nature, which, by steady degrees, lifted her up, and caused her to forget the syren song of earth. Not all at once,—in the story of her newborn earnestness we shall find that the habits and associations of her daily life sometimes acted as drawbacks to her progress in faith. But the seed having once taken root in that youthful heart, germinated, developed, and sprang up, to bear a glorious harvest in the work of reclaiming and uplifting sunken and debased humanity.
LIFE'S EARNEST PURPOSE.
There was no sharp dividing-line between worldliness and consecration of life in Elizabeth Gurney's case. The work was very gradually accomplished; once started into earnest living, she discerned, what was all unseen before, a path to higher destinies. Standing on the ruins of her former dead self, she strove to attain to higher things. The instrument in this change was a travelling Friend from America—William Savery.
These travelling Friends are deputed, by the Quarterly Meetings to which they belong, to visit and minister among their own body. Their commission is endorsed by the Yearly Meeting of the Ministers and Elders of the Society, before the Friend can extend the journey beyond his own country. The objects of these visits are generally relating to benevolent and philanthropic works, or to the increase of religion among the members of the Society. Joseph John Gurney himself visited America and the Continent upon similar missions, and in some of his journeys was accompanied by his illustrious sister.
William Savery was expected to address the Meeting of Friends at Norwich, and most, if not all, of the Gurney family were present. Elizabeth had been very remiss in her attendance at meeting; any and every excuse, in addition to her, at times, really delicate health, served to hinder attendance, until her uncle gently but firmly urged the duty upon her. Thenceforward she went a little more frequently, but still was far from being a pattern worshipper; and it will be conceded that few, save spiritual worshippers, could with profit join in the grave silence, or enjoy the equally grave utterances of ordinary meeting. But William Savery was no ordinary man, and the young people at Earlham prepared to listen to him, in case he "felt moved" to speak, with no ordinary attention. Giving an account of this visit, Richenda Gurney admitted that they liked having Yearly Meeting Friends come to preach, for it produced a little change; from the same vivacious pen we have an account of that memorable service. Memorable it was, in that it became the starting-point of a new career to Elizabeth Gurney.
The seven sisters of the Earlham household all sat together during that eventful morning, in a row, under the gallery. Elizabeth was restless as a rule when at meeting, but something in the tone of William Savery's voice arrested her attention, and before he had proceeded very far she began to weep. She continued to be agitated until the close of the meeting, when, making her way to her father, at the men's side of the house, she requested his permission to dine at her uncle's. William Savery was a guest there that day, and, although somewhat surprised at his daughter's desire, Mr. Gurney consented to the request. To the surprise of all her friends Elizabeth attended meeting again in the afternoon, and on her return home in the carriage her pent-up feelings found vent. Describing this scene, Richenda Gurney says: "Betsey sat in the middle and astonished us all by the great feelings she showed. She wept most of the way home. The next morning William Savery came to breakfast, and preached to our dear sister after breakfast, prophesying of the high and important calling she would be led into. What she went through in her own mind I cannot say, but the results were most powerful and most evident. From that day her love of the world and of pleasure seemed gone."
Her own account of the impressions made upon her reads just a little quaintly, possibly because of the unfamiliar Quaker phraseology. "To-day I have felt that there is a God! I have been devotional, and my mind has been led away from the follies that it is mostly wrapped up in. We had much serious conversation; in short, what he said, and what I felt, was like a refreshing shower falling upon earth that had been dried for ages. It has not made me unhappy; I have felt ever since humble. I have longed for virtue: I hope to be truly virtuous; to let sophistry fly from my mind; not to be enthusiastic and foolish but only to be so far religious as will lead to virtue. There seems nothing so little understood as religion."
Good resolutions followed, and determined amendment of life, as far as she conceived this amendment to be in accordance with the Bible. While in this awakened state of mind, a journey to London was projected. Mr. Gurney took her to the metropolis and left her in charge of a trustworthy attendant, in order that she might make full trial of "the world" which she would have to renounce so fully if she embraced plain Quakerism. Among the good resolutions made in view of this journey to London, we find that she determined not to be vain or silly, to be independent of the opinion of others, not to make dress a study, and to read the Bible at all available opportunities. It was perhaps wise in her father to permit this reasoning, philosophical daughter of his to see the gayeties of London life before coming to a final decision respecting taking up the cross of plain Quakerism; but had her mind been less finely balanced, her judgment less trained, and her principles less formed, the result might have been disastrous.
She went, and mingled somewhat freely with the popular life of the great city. She was taken to Drury Lane, the Covent Garden theatres, and to other places of amusement, but she could not "like plays." She saw some good actors; witnessed "Hamlet," "Bluebeard," and other dramas, but confesses that she "cannot like or enjoy them"; they seemed "so artificial." Then she somewhat oddly says that when her hair was dressed "she felt like a monkey," and finally concluded that "London was not the place for heartful pleasure." With her natural, sound common sense, her discernment, her intelligence and purity of mind, these amusements seemed far below the level of those fitted to satisfy a rational being—so far that she almost looked down on them with contempt. The truth was, that having tasted a little of the purer joy of religion, all other substitutes were stale and flat, and this although she scarcely knew enough of the matter to be able correctly to analyze her own feelings.
Among the persons Elizabeth encountered in the metropolis, are found mentioned Amelia Opie, Mrs. Siddons, Mrs. Inchbold, "Peter Pindar," and last, but by no means least, the Prince of Wales. Not that she really talked with royalty, but she saw the Prince at the opera; and she tells us that she admired him very much. Indeed, she did not mind owning that she loved grand company, and she certainly enjoyed clever company, for she much relished and appreciated the society of both Mrs. Opie and Mrs. Inchbald. This predilection for high circles and illustrious people was afterwards to bear noble fruit, seeing that she preached often to crowned heads, and princes. But just then she had little idea of the wonderful future which awaited her. She was only trying the experiment as to whether the world, or Christ, were the better master. Deliberately she examined and proved the truth, and with equal deliberation she came to the decision—a decision most remarkable in a girl so young, and so dangerously situated.
Her own review of this period of her life, written thirty years later, sums up the matter more forcibly and calmly than any utterance of a biographer can do. She wrote:—
Here ended this important and interesting visit to London, where I learned much, and had much to digest. I saw and entered many scenes of gaiety, many of our first public places, attended balls and other places of amusement. I saw many interesting characters in the world, some of considerable eminence in that day. I was also cast among the great variety of persons of different descriptions. I had the high advantage of attending several most interesting meetings of William Savery, and having at times his company and that of a few other friends. It was like the casting die of my life, however. I believe it was in the ordering of Providence for me, and that the lessons then learnt are to this day valuable to me. I consider one of the important results was the conviction of those things being wrong, from seeing them and feeling their effects. I wholly gave up, on my own ground, attending all public places of amusement. I saw they tended to promote evil; therefore, even if I could attend them without being hurt myself, I felt in entering them I lent my aid to promote that which I was sure, from what I saw, hurt others, led them from the paths of rectitude, and brought them into much sin. I felt the vanity and folly of what are called the pleasures of this life, of which the tendency is not to satisfy, but eventually to enervate and injure the mind. Those only are real pleasures which are of an innocent nature, and are used as recreations, subjected to the Cross of Christ. I was in my judgment much confirmed in the infinite importance of religion as the only real stay, guide, help, comfort in this life, and the only means of having a hope of partaking of a better. My understanding was increasingly opened to receive its truths, although the glad tidings of the Gospel were very little, if at all, understood by me. I was like the blind man, although I could hardly be said to have attained the state of seeing men as trees. I obtained in this expedition a valuable knowledge of human nature from the variety I met with; this, I think, was useful to me, though some were very dangerous associates for so young a person, and the way in which I was protected among them is in my remembrance very striking, and leads me to acknowledge that at this most critical period of my life the tender mercy of my God was marvelously displayed towards me, and that His all-powerful—though to me then almost unseen and unknown—hand held me up and protected me.
Self-abnegation and austerity were now to take the place of pleasant frivolities and fashionable amusements. Her conviction was that her mind required the ties and bonds of Quakerism to fit it for immortality. Not that she, in any way, trusted in her own righteousness; for she gives it as her opinion that, while principles of one's own making are useless in the elevation and refinement of character, true religion, on the contrary, does exalt and purify the character. Still the struggle was not over. Long and bitter as it had been, it became still more bitter; and the nightly recurrence of a dream at this period will serve to show how agitated was her mental and spiritual nature. Just emancipated from sceptical principles, accustomed to independent research, and deciding to study the New Testament rather than good books, when on the border-land of indecision and gloomy doubt, yet not wholly convinced or comforted, her sleeping hours reflected the bitter, restless doubt of her waking thoughts. A curious dream followed her almost nightly, and filled her with terror. She imagined herself to be in danger of being washed away by the sea, and as the waves approached her, she experienced all the horror of being drowned. But after she came to the deciding point, or, as she expressed it, "felt that she had really and truly got real faith," she was lifted up in her dream above the waves. Secure upon a rock, above their reach, she watched the water as it tossed and roared, but powerless to hurt her. The dream no more recurred; the struggle was ended, and thankful calm became her portion. She accepted this dream as a lesson that she should not be drowned in the ocean of this world, but should mount above its influence, and remain a faithful and steady servant of God.
Elizabeth's mind turned towards the strict practices of the Friends, as being those most likely to be helpful to her newly-adopted life. A visit paid to some members of the Society at Colebrook Dale, intensified and confirmed those feelings. She says in her journal that it was a dreadful cross to say "thee," and "thou," instead of speaking like other people, and also to adopt the close cap and plain kerchief of the Quakeress; but, in her opinion, it had to be done, or she could not fully renounce the world and serve God. Neither could she hope for thorough appreciation of these things in her beloved home-circle. To be a "plain Quaker," she must in many things be far in advance of father, sisters, and brothers; while in others she must tacitly condemn them. But she was equal to the demand; she counted the cost, and accepted the difficulties. At this time she was about nineteen years of age.
As a beginning, she left off many pleasures such as might have reasonably been considered innocent. For instance, she abandoned her "scarlet riding-habit," she laid aside all personal ornament, and occupied her leisure time in teaching poor children. She commenced a small school for the benefit of the poor children of the city, and in a short time had as many as seventy scholars under her care. How she managed to control and keep quiet so many unruly specimens of humanity, was a standing problem to all who knew her; but it seems not unlikely that those qualities of organization and method which afterwards distinguished her were being trained and developed. Added to these, must be taken into account the power which a strong will always has over weaker minds—an important factor in the matter. Still more must be taken into account the strong, earnest longing of an enthusiastic young soul to benefit those who were living around her. Earnest souls make history. History has great things to tell of men and women of faith; and Elizabeth Gurney's life-work colored the history of that age. A brief sentence from her journal at this time explains the attitude of her mind towards the outcast, poor, and neglected: "I don't remember ever being at any time with one who was not extremely disgusting, but I felt a sort of love for them, and I do hope I would sacrifice my life for the good of mankind." Very evidently, William Savery's prophesy was coming to pass in the determination of the young Quakeress to do good in her generation.
ST. MILDRED'S COURT.
After a visit in the north of England with her father and sisters, Elizabeth received proposals of marriage from Mr. Joseph Fry of London. His family, also Quakers, were wealthy and of good position; but for some time Elizabeth seemed to hesitate about entering on married life. Far from looking on marriage as the goal of her ambition, as is the fashion with many young women, she was divided in her mind as to the relative advantages of single and married life, as they might affect philanthropic and religious work. After consultation with her friends, however, the offer was accepted, and on August 19th, 1800, when she was little more than twenty years of age, she was married to Mr. Fry, in the Friends' Meeting House, at Norwich. Very quickly after bidding her school-children farewell, Mrs. Fry proceeded to St. Mildred's Court, London, her husband's place of business, where she commenced to take up the first duties of wedded life, and where several of her children were born.
The family into which she married was a Quaker family of the strictest order. So far from being singular by her orthodoxy of manners and appearance, she was, in the midst of the Frys, "the gay, instead of the plain and scrupulous one of the family." For a little time she experienced some difficulty in reconciling her accustomed habits with the straight tenets of her husband's household and connections, but in the end succeeded. It seems singular that one so extremely conscientious as Elizabeth Fry, should have been considered to fall behindhand in that self-denying plainness of act and speech which characterized others; but so it was. And so determined was she to serve God according to her light, that no mortification of the flesh was counted too severe provided it would further the great end she had in view. Her extreme conscientiousness became manifest in lesser things; such, for instance, as anxiety to keep the strict truth, and that only, in all kinds of conversation.
Thus, she wrote in her journal:—
I was told by —— he thought my manners had too much of the courtier in them, which I know to be the case, for my disposition leads me to hurt no one that I can avoid, and I do sometimes but just keep to the truth with people, from a natural yielding to them in such things as please them. I think doing so in moderation is pleasant and useful in society. It is among the things that produce the harmony of society; for the truth must not be spoken out at all times, at least not the whole truth. Perhaps I am wrong—I do not know if I am—but it will not always do to tell our minds.... I am one of those who try to serve God and Mammon. Now, for instance, if I wish to say anything I think right to anyone, I seldom go straight to the point, but mostly by some softening, round-about way, which, I fear, is very much from wishing to please man more than his Maker!
It is evident that Elizabeth Fry dared to be singular; very possibly only such self-renouncing singularity could have borne such remarkable fruits of philanthropy. It required some such independent, philosophical character as hers to strike out a new path for charitable effort.
During the continuance of the Yearly Meeting in London, the home in St. Mildred's Court was made a house of entertainment for the Friends who came from all parts of the country. It was a curious sight to see the older Friends, clad in the quaint costume of that age, as they mingled with the more fashionably or moderately dressed Quakers. The sightseers of London eighty years ago must have looked on amused at what they considered the vagaries of those worthy folks. The old Quaker ladies are described as wearing at that date a close-fitting white cap, over which was placed a black hood, and out of doors a low-crowned broad beaver hat. The gowns were neatly made of drab camlet, the waists cut in long peaks, and the skirts hanging in ample folds. For many years past these somewhat antiquated garments have been discarded for sober "coal-scuttles," and silk dresses of black or gray, much to the improvement of the fair wearer's appearance. These Friends were entertained at Mr. Fry's house heartily, and almost religiously. And doubtless many people who were of the "salt of the earth" were numbered among Mr. Fry's guests, while his young wife moved among them the embodiment of refined lady-like hospitality and high principle. Doubtless, too, the quiet home-talk of these worthy folks was only one degree less solemn and sedate than their utterances at Yearly Meeting.
Mrs. Fry followed up her chosen path in ministering to the sick and poor among the slums of London. She visited them at their homes, and traversed dirty courts and uninviting alleys in the quest of individuals needing succor. Sometimes she was made the instrument of blessing; but at other times, like all philanthropists, she was deceived and imposed upon. One day a woman accosted her in the street, asking relief, and holding an infant who was suffering evidently with whooping-cough. Mrs. Fry offered to go to the woman's house with the intention of investigating and relieving whatever real misery may have existed. To her surprise the mendicant slunk away as if unwilling to be visited; but Mrs. Fry was determined to track her, and at last brought her to earth. The room—a filthy, dirty, poverty-cursed one—contained a number of infants in every conceivable stage of illness and misery. Horror-stricken, Mrs. Fry requested her own medical attendant to visit this lazar-house; but on going thither next morning he found the woman and her helpless brood of infants gone. It then turned out that this woman "farmed" infants; deliberately neglected them till she succeeded in killing them off, and then concealed their deaths in order to continue to receive the wretched pittances allowed for their maintenance. Such scenes and facts as these must have opened the eyes of Mrs. Fry to the condition of the poorest classes of that day, and educated her in self-denying labor on their behalf.
She also took an interest in educational matters, and formed an acquaintance with Joseph Lancaster, the founder of the Monitorial system, and quickly turned her talents to account in visiting the workhouse and school belonging to the Society of Friends at Islington.
About this time, one sister was married to Mr. Samuel Hoare, and another to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton. Other members of her family passed away from this life; among them her husband's mother, and a brother's wife. Some time later Mr. Fry senior, died, and this event caused the removal of the home from St. Mildred's Court to Plashet, in Essex, the country seat of the family. Writing of this change, she said: "I do not think I have ever expressed the pleasure and comfort I find in a country life, both for myself and the dear children. It has frequently led me to feel grateful for the numerous benefits conferred, and I have also desired that I may not rest in, nor too much depend on, any of these outward enjoyments. It is certainly to me a time of sunshine."
A COUNTRY HOME.
The delight expressed in her diary upon her removal to Plashet, found vent in efforts to beautify the grounds. The garden-nooks and plantations were filled with wild flowers, gathered by herself and children in seasons of relaxation, and transferred from the coppices, hedgerows and meadows, to the grounds, which appeared to her to be only second in beauty to Earlham. Mrs. Fry was possessed of a keen eye for Nature's beauties. Quick to perceive, and eager to relish the delights of the fair world around, she took pleasure in them, finding relaxation from the many duties which clustered about her in the spot of earth on which her lot was cast. Her journal tells of trials and burdens, and sometimes there peeps out a sentence of regret that the ideal which she had formed of serving God, in the lost years of youth, had been absorbed in "the duties of a careworn wife and mother." Yet what she fancied she had lost in this waiting-time had been gained, after all, in preparation. This quiet, domestic life was not what she had looked forward to when in the first flush of youthful zeal. Still, she was thereby trained to deal with the young and helpless, to enter into sorrows and woes, and to understand and sympathize with quiet suffering. But the time was coming for more active outward service, and when the call came Elizabeth Fry was found ready to obey it.
Towards the end of 1809 her father died, after great suffering; summoned by one of her sisters, Elizabeth hurried down to Earlham to catch, if possible, his parting benediction. She succeeded in arriving soon enough to bear her much-loved parent company during his last few hours of life, and to hear him express, again and again, his confidence in the Saviour, who, in death, was all-sufficient for his needs. As he passed away, her faith and confidence could not forbear expression, and, kneeling at the bedside, she gave utterance to words of thanksgiving for the safe and happy ending of a life which had been so dear to her. The truth was, a burden had been weighing her down for some time past, causing her to question herself most seriously as to whether she were willing to obey "the inward voice" which prompted her to serve God in a certain way. This specific way was the way of preaching in Meeting, or "bearing testimony," as she phrased it, "at the prompting of the Holy Spirit." It will be remembered that this is a distinguishing peculiarity of the society which George Fox founded. Preaching is only permitted upon the spur of the moment, as people of the world would say, but at the prompting of the inward voice, as Quakers deem. Certainly no one ever became a preacher among the Friends "for a piece of bread." If fanatics sometimes "prophesied" out of the fullness of excited brains, or fervid souls, no place-hunter adopted the pulpit as a profession. Only, sometimes, it needs the presence of an overwhelming trial to bring out the latent strength in a person's nature; and this trial was furnished to Elizabeth Fry in the shape of her father's death. The thanksgiving uttered by her at his death was also publicly repeated at the funeral, probably with additional words, and from that time she was known as a "minister."
In taking this new departure she must not be confounded with some female orators of the present age, who often succeed in turning preaching into a hideous caricature. She was evidently ripening for her remarkable work, and while doing so was occasionally irresistibly impelled to give utterance to "thoughts that breathe and words that burn." Still, after reaching the quiet of Plashet, and reviewing calmly her new form of service, she thus wrote, what seemed to be both a sincere and common-sense judgment upon herself:—
I was enabled coming along to crave help; in the first place, to be made willing either to do or to suffer whatever was the Divine will concerning me. I also desired that I might not be so occupied with the present state of my mind as to its religious duties, as in any degree to omit close attention to all daily duties, my beloved husband, children, servants, poor, etc. But, if I should be permitted the humiliating path that has appeared to be opening before me, to look well at home, and not discredit the cause I desire to advocate.
Wise counsels these, to herself! No woman whose judgment is well-balanced, and whose womanly-nature is finely strung, but will regard the path to the rostrum with shrinking and dismay. Either the desire to save and help her fellow-creatures, "plucking them out of the fire," if need be, is so strong upon her as to overmaster all fear of man; or else the necessities and claims of near and dear ones lay compulsion upon her to win support for them. Therefore, while every woman can be a law unto herself, no woman can be a law unto her sisters in this matter. As proof of her singleness of heart, another passage may be quoted from Mrs. Fry's journal. It runs thus, and will be by no means out of place here, seeing that it bears particularly upon the new form of ministry then being taken up by her:—
May my being led out of my own family by what appears to me duties, never be permitted to hinder my doing my duty fully towards it, or so occupy my attention as to make me in any degree forget or neglect home duties. I believe it matters not where we are, or what we are about, so long as we keep our eye fixed on doing the Great Master's work.... I fear for myself, lest even this great mercy should prove a temptation, and lead me to come before I am called, or enter service I am not prepared for.... This matter has been for many years struggling in my mind, long before I married, and once or twice when in London I hardly knew how to refrain. However, since a way has thus been made for me it appears as if I dared not stop the work; if it be a right one may it go on and prosper, if not, the sooner stopped the better.
Very soon after penning these words, the Meeting of which she was a member acknowledged Mrs. Fry as a minister, and thus gave its sanction to her speaking in their religious assemblies.
But, not content with this form of service, she visited among her poor neighbors, bent on actively doing good. She secured a large room belonging to an old house, opposite her own dwelling, and established a school for girls on the Lancasterian pattern there. Very quickly, under the united efforts of Mrs. Fry, the incumbent of the parish, and a benevolent young lady named Powell, a school of seventy girls was established, and kept in a prosperous condition. This school was still in working order a few years ago.
Plashet House was a depot of charity. Calicoes, flannels, jackets, gowns, and pinafores were kept in piles to clothe the naked; drugs suited to domestic practice were stored in a closet, for healing the sick; an amateur soup-kitchen for feeding the hungry was established in a roomy out-building, and this long years before public soup-kitchens became the rage; whilst copies of Testaments were forthcoming on all occasions to teach erring feet the way to Heaven. But her charity did not stop with these things.
An unsavory locality known as "Irish Row," about half a mile off, soon attracted her attention. The slatternliness, suffering, shiftlessness, dirt and raggedness, were inducements to one of her charitable temperament to visit its inhabitants, having their relief and improvement in view; while her appreciation of the warm-heartedness and drollery of the Irish character afforded her genuine pleasure. Proximity to English life had not refined these Irish; their houses were just as filthy, their windows as patched and obscured with rags, their children just as neglected, and their pigs equally familiar with those children as if they had lived in the wilds of Connemara. Shillalahs, wakes, potatoes, and poverty were distinguishing characteristics of the locality; whilst its inhabitants were equally ready, with the free and easy volatility of the Irish mind, to raise the jovial song, or utter the cry of distress.
The priest and spiritual director of "Irish Row" found himself almost powerless in the presence of this mass of squalid misery. That Mrs. Fry was a Quaker and a Protestant, did not matter to him, provided she could assist in raising this debased little colony into something like orderly life and decency. So he cooperated with her, and with his consent she gave away Bibles and tracts, vaccinated and taught the children, as well as moved among them generally in the character of their good genius. When delicate and weak, she would take the carriage, filled with blankets and clothes for distribution, down to Irish Row, where the warm-hearted recipients blessed their "Lady bountiful" in terms more voluble and noisy than refined. Still, however unpromising, the soil bore good fruit. Homes grew more civilized, men, women, and children more respectable and quiet, while everywhere the impress of a woman's benevolent labors was apparent.
It was the annual custom of a tribe of gypsies to pitch their tents in a green lane near Plashet, on their way to Fairlop Fair. Once, after the tents were pitched, a child fell ill; the distracted mother applied to the kind lady at Plashet House for relief. Mrs. Fry acceded to the request, and not only ministered to the gypsies that season, but every succeeding year; until she became known and almost worshipped among them. Romany wanderers and Celtic colonists were alike welcome to her heart and purse, and vied in praising her.
About this time the Norwich Auxiliary Bible Society was formed, and Mrs. Fry went down to Earlham to attend the initial meeting. She tells us there were present the Bishop of Norwich, six clergymen of the Established Church, and three dissenting ministers, besides several leading Quakers and gentlemen of the neighborhood. The number included Mr. Hughes, one of the secretaries, and Dr. Steinkopf, a Lutheran minister, who, though as one with the work of the Bible Society, could not speak English. At some of these meetings she felt prompted to speak, and did so at a social gathering at Earlham Hall, when all present owned her remarkable influence upon them. These associations also increased in her that catholicity of spirit which afterwards seemed so prominent. Some of her brothers and sisters belonged to the Established Church of England; while in her walks of mercy she was continually co-operating with members of other sections of Christians. As we have seen, she worked harmoniously with all: Catholic and Protestant, Churchman and Dissenter.
On looking at her training for her special form of usefulness we find that afflictions predominated just when her mind was soaring above the social and conventional trammels which at one time weighed so much with her. We know her mostly as a prison philanthropist; but while following her career in that path, it will be wise not to forget the way in which she was led. By slow and painful degrees she was drawn away from the circles of fashion in which once her soul delighted. Then her nature seemed so retiring, and the tone of her piety so mystical, while she dreaded nervously all approach to "religious enthusiasm," that a career of publicity, either in prisons, among rulers, or among the ministers of her own Society, seemed too far away to be ever realized in fact and deed. Only He, who weighs thoughts and searches out spirits, knew or understood by what slow degrees she rose to the demands which presented themselves to her "in the ways of His requirings," even if "they led her into suffering and death." It was no small cross for such a woman thus to dare singularity and possibly odium.
BEGINNINGS IN NEWGATE.
It is said by some authorities that in her childhood Mrs. Fry expressed so great a desire to visit a prison that her father at last took her to see one. Early in 1813 she first visited Newgate, with the view of ministering to the necessities of the felons; and for all practical purposes of charity this was really her initial step. The following entry in her journal relates to a visit paid in February of that year. "Yesterday we were some hours with the poor female felons, attending to their outward necessities; we had been twice previously. Before we went away dear Anna Buxton uttered a few words of supplication, and, very unexpectedly to myself, I did also. I heard weeping, and I thought they appeared much tendered (i.e. softened); a very solemn quiet was observed; it was a striking scene, the poor people on their knees around us in their deplorable condition." This reference makes no mention of what was really the truth, that some members of the Society of Friends, who had visited Newgate in January, had so represented the condition of the prisoners to Mrs. Fry that she determined to set out in this new path. "In prison, and ye visited me." Little did she dream on what a distinguished career of philanthropy she was entering.
And Newgate needed some apostle of mercy to reduce the sum of human misery found there, to something like endurable proportions. We are told that at that date all the female prisoners were confined in what was afterwards known as the "untried side" of the jail, while the larger portion of the quadrangle was utilized as a state-prison. The women's division consisted of two wards and two cells, containing a superficial area of about one hundred and ninety yards. Into these apartments, at the time of Mrs. Fry's visit, above three hundred women were crammed, innocent and guilty, tried and untried, misdemeanants, and those who were soon to pay the penalty of their crimes upon the gallows. Besides all these were to be found numerous children, the offspring of the wretched women, learning vice and defilement from the very cradle. The penal laws were so sanguinary that at the commencement of this century about three hundred crimes were punishable with death. Some of these offences were very trivial, such as robbing hen-roosts, writing threatening letters, and stealing property from the person to the amount of five shillings. There was always a good crop for the gallows: hanging went merrily on, from assize town to assize town, until one wonders whether the people were not gallows-hardened. One old man and his son performed the duties of warders in this filthy, abominable hole of "justice." And the ragged, wretched crew bemoaned their wretchedness in vain, for no helping hand was held out to succor. They were "destitute of sufficient clothing, for which there was no provision; in rags and dirt, without bedding, they slept on the floor, the boards of which were in part raised to supply a sort of pillow. In the same rooms they lived, cooked, and washed. With the proceeds of their clamorous begging, when any stranger appeared among them, the prisoners purchased liquors from a tap in the prison. Spirits were openly drunk, and the ear was assailed by the most terrible language. Beyond the necessity for safe custody, there was little restraint upon their communication with the world without. Although military sentinels were posted on the leads of the prison, such was the lawlessness prevailing, that Mr. Newman, the governor, entered this portion of it with reluctance."
As Mrs. Fry and the "Anna Buxton" referred to,—who was a sister of Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton,—were about to enter this modern Inferno, the Governor of Newgate advised the ladies to leave their watches in his care lest they should be snatched away by the lawless wretches inside. But no such hesitating, half-hearted, fearful charity was theirs. They had come to see for themselves the misery which prevailed, and to dare all risks; and we do not find that either Mrs. Fry or her companion lost anything in their progress through the women's wards; watches and all came away safely, a fresh proof of the power of kindness. The revelations of the terrible woes of felon-life which met Mrs. Fry stirred up her soul within her. She emphatically "clothed the naked," for she set her family to work at once making green-baize garments for this purpose until she had provided for all the most destitute.
To remedy this state of things appeared like one of the labors of Hercules. Few were hopeful of the success of her undertaking, while at times even her undaunted spirit must have doubted. In John Howard's time the prisons of England had been distinguished for vice, filth, brutality, and suffering; and although some little improvement had taken place, it was almost infinitesimal. Old castles, or gate-houses, with damp, dark dungeons and narrow cells, were utilized for penal purposes. It was common to see a box fastened up under one of the narrow, iron-barred windows overlooking the street, with the inscription, "Pity the poor prisoners," the alms being intended for their relief and sustenance. Often the jail was upon a bridge at the entrance of a town, and the damp of the river added to the otherwise unhealthy condition of the place. Bunyan spoke, not altogether allegorically, but rather literally, of the foul "den" in which he passed a good twelve years of his life. Irons and fetters were used to prevent escape, while those who could not obtain the means of subsistence from their friends, suffered the horrors of starvation. Over-crowding, disease, riot, and obscenity united to render these places very Pandemoniums.
It seemed almost hopeless to deal with ferocious and abandoned women. One of them was observed, desperate with rage, tearing the caps from the heads of the other women, and yelling like a savage beast. By so much nearer as woman is to the angels, must be measured her descent into ruin when she is degraded. She falls deeper than a man; her degradation is more complete, her nature more demoralized. Whether Mrs. Fry felt unequal just then to the task, or whether family affliction pressed too sorely upon her, we do not know; her journal affords no solution of the problem, but certain it is that some three years passed by before any very active steps were taken by her to ameliorate to any decided extent the misery of the prisoners.
But the matter seethed in her mind; as she mused upon it, the fire burned, and the spirit which had to burst its conventional trammels and "take up the cross" in regard to dress and speech, looked out for other crosses to carry. Doing good became a passion; want, misery, sin and sorrow furnished claims upon her which she would neither ignore nor deny.
John Howard had grappled with the hydra before her, and finally succumbed to his exertions. As the period of his labors lay principally between the years 1774 and 1790, when the evils against which Mrs. Fry had to contend were intensified and a hundred times blacker, it cannot do harm to recall the condition of prisons in England during the last quarter of the eighteenth century; that is, during the girlhood of Elizabeth Fry. Possibly some echoes of the marvellous exertions of Howard in prison reform had reached her Earlham home, and produced, though unconsciously, an interest in the subject which was destined to bear fruit at a later period. At any rate, the fact cannot be gainsaid that she followed in his steps, visiting the Continent in the prosecution of her self-imposed task, and examining into the most loathsome recesses of prisons, lunatic asylums, and hospitals.
The penal systems of England had been on their trial; had broken down, and been found utterly wanting. Modern legislation and philanthropy have laid it down that reform is the proper end of all punishment; hence the "silent system," the "separate system," and various employments have been adopted. Hence, too, arose the framing of a system of education and instruction under the jail roof, so that on the discharge of prisoners they might be fitted to earn their own maintenance in that world which formerly they had cursed with their evil deeds. But it was not so in the era of John Howard, nor of Elizabeth Fry. Then, justice made short work with criminals and debtors. The former it hanged in droves, and left the latter to literally "rot" in prison. Two systems of transportation have been tried: the one previous to Howard's day succeeded in pouring into the American plantations the crime and vice of England; whilst the other, which succeeded him, did the same for Australia. After the breach between the American colonies and the mother-country, the system of transportation to the Transatlantic plantations ceased; it was in the succeeding years that the foul holes called prisons, killed their thousands, and "jail-fever" its tens of thousands.
Yet, in spite of hanging felons faster than any other nation in Europe, in spite of killing them off slowly by the miseries of these holes, crime multiplied more than ever. Gigantic social corruptions festered in the midst of the nation, until it seemed as if a war which carried off a few thousands or tens of thousands of the lower classes, were almost a blessing. Alongside the horrible evils for which Government was responsible, grew up multitudes of other evils against which it fought, or over which it exercised a strong and somewhat tyrannical upper-hand. In society there was a constant war going on between law and crime. Extirpation—not reform—was the end aimed at; the prison officials of that time looked upon a criminal as a helpless wretch, presenting fair game for plunder, torture and tyranny. The records in Howard's journals, and the annals of Mrs. Fry's labors, amply enlighten us as to the result of this state of things.
In Bedford jail the dungeons for felons were eleven feet below the ground, always wet and slimy, and upon these floors the inmates had to sleep. At Nottingham the jail stood on the side of a hill, while the dungeons were cut in the solid rock; these dungeons could only be entered after descending more than thirty steps. At Gloucester there was but one court for all prisoners, and, while fever was decimating them, only one day-room. At Salisbury the prisoners were chained together at Christmas time and sent in couples to beg. In some of the jails, open sewers ran through corridors and cells, so that the poor inmates had to fight for their lives with the vermin which nourished there. At Ely the prison was in such a ruinous condition that the criminals could not be safely kept; the warders, therefore, had had recourse to chains and fetters to prevent the escape of those committed to their charge. They chained prisoners on their backs to the floor, and, not content with this, secured iron collars round their necks as well as placed heavy bars across their legs. Small fear of the poor wretches running away after that! At Exeter the county jail was the private property of a gentleman, John Denny Rolle, who farmed it out to a keeper, and received an income of twenty pounds per annum for it. Yet why multiply instances! In all of them, dirt, cruelty, fever, torture and abuses reigned unchecked. Prisoners had no regular allowance of food, but depended on their means, family, or charity; the prisons were farmed by their keepers, some of whom were women, but degraded and cruel; many innocent prisoners were slowly rotting to death, because of their inability to pay the heavy fees exacted by their keepers; while the sleeping-rooms were so crowded at times, that it was impossible for the prisoners to lie down all together for sheer lack of space. Torture was prohibited by the law of England, but many inhuman keepers used thumb-screws and iron caps with obnoxious prisoners, for the amusement of themselves and their boon companions. Several cases of this kind are recorded.
So hideous an outcry arose against these horrors, that at last Parliament interfered, and passed two bills dealing with prisoners and their treatment. The first of these provided that when a prisoner was discharged for want of prosecution he should be immediately set free, without being called upon to defray any fees claimed by the jailer or sheriff; while the second bill authorized justices of the peace to see to the maintenance of cleanliness in the prisons. The first set at liberty hundreds of innocent persons who were still bound because they could not meet the ruinous fees demanded from them; while the second undoubtedly saved the lives of hundreds more. These were instalments of reform.
Thus it will easily be understood that whatever the condition of Newgate and other English prisons was, at the date of Mrs. Fry's labors, they were far better than in previous years. Some attempts had been made to render these pest-houses less horrible; but for lack of wise, intelligent management, and occupation for the prisoners, the wards still presented pictures of Pandemonium. It needed a second reformer to take up the work where Howard left it, and to labor on behalf of the convicts; for in too many cases they were looked upon as possessing neither right nor place on God's earth. In the olden days, some judges had publicly declared their preference for hanging, because the criminal would then trouble neither State nor society any further. But in spite of Tyburn horrors, each week society furnished fresh wretches for the gallows; whilst those who were in custody were almost regarded as "fore-doomed and fore-damned."
During the interval which elapsed between Mrs. Fry's short visits to Newgate in 1813, and the resumption of those visits in 1817, together with the inauguration of her special work among the convicts, she was placed in the crucible of trial. Death claimed several relatives; she suffered long-continued illness, and experienced considerable losses of property. All these things refined the gold of her character and discovered its sterling worth. Some natures grow hard and sullen under trial, others faithless and desponding, and yet others narrow and reserved. But the genuine gold of a noble disposition comes out brighter and purer because of untoward events; unsuspected resources are developed, and the higher nobility becomes discernable. So it was with Elizabeth Fry. The constitutional timidity of her nature vanished before the overpowering sense of duty; and literally she looked not at the seen, but at the unseen, in her calculations of Christian service. Yet another part of her discipline was the ingratitude with which many of her efforts were met. This experience is common to all who labor for the public weal; and from an entry in her journal we can but conclude that this "serpent's tooth" pierced her very sorely at times. "A constant lesson to myself is the ingratitude and discontent which I see in many." Many a reformer could echo these words. But the abiding trial seemed to be the remembrance of the loss of her little daughter, Elizabeth, who passed away after a week of suffering, and who was laid to rest in Barking churchyard. The memory of this five-year old child remained with her for many years a pure and holy influence, doubtless prompting her to deal tenderly with the young strayed ones whom she met in her errands of mercy. How often the memory of "the touch of a vanished hand, and the sound of a voice that is still," influences our intercourse with the living, so that while benefiting them we do it as unto and for the dead.
NEWGATE HORRORS AND NEWGATE WORKERS.
About Christmas 1816, or January 1817, Mrs. Fry commenced her leviathan task in good earnest. The world had been full of startling events since her first two or three tentative visits to Newgate; so startling were they, that even in the refined and sedate quietude of Quakerism there must have existed intense interest, excitement, and possibly fear. We know from Isaac Taylor's prolific pen, how absorbing was the idea of invasion by the French, how real a terror was Bonaparte, and how full of menace the political horizon appeared. Empires were rising and falling, wars and tumults were the normal condition of society; the Continent was in a state of agitation and warfare. Napoleon, the prisoner of Elba, had returned to Europe, collected an army, and, contesting at Waterloo the strength of England and Prussia, had fallen. He was now watched and guarded at St. Helena, while the civilized world began to breathe freely. The mushroom kingdoms which he had set up were fast tottering, or had fallen, while the older dynasties of Europe were feeling once more secure, because the man who hesitated not to sacrifice vast myriads of human lives to accomplish his own aggrandizement, was now bound, and, like a tiger in chains, could do nought save growl impotently.
Meanwhile the tide of prison-life went on, without much variation. Newgate horrors still continued; the gallows-crop never failed; and the few Acts of Parliament designed to ameliorate the condition of the prisoners in the jails had almost become dead letters. In 1815 a deputation of the Jail Committee of the Corporation of London visited several jails in order to examine into their condition, and to introduce a little improvement, if possible, into those under their care. This step led to some alterations; the sexes were separated, and the women were provided with mats to sleep upon. Visitors were restrained from having much communication with the prisoners, a double row of gratings being placed between the criminals and those who came to see them. Across the space between the gratings it was a common practice for the prisoners to push wooden spoons, fastened to long sticks, in order to receive the contributions of friends. Disgusting in its ways, vicious in act and speech, the social scum which crowded Newgate was repulsive, dangerous, and vile in the extreme.
It is evident that the circle to which Mrs. Fry belonged was still interested in philanthropic labors on behalf of the criminal classes, because we find that Sir Thomas F. Buxton, Mr. Hoare, and several other friends were busy, in the interval between 1813 and 1816, in establishing a society for the reformation of juvenile thieves. This matter of prison discipline was therefore engaging the attention of her immediate circle. Doubtless, while listening to them, she remembered most anxiously the miserable women whom she had visited some three years previously.
It seems that Mrs. Fry succeeded with the women by means of her care for the children. Low as they were in sin, every spark of maternal affection had not fled, and they craved for their little ones a better chance than they had possessed themselves. To a suggestion by Mrs. Fry that a school should be formed for the benefit of their little ones they eagerly acceded. This suggestion she left with them for consideration, engaging to come to a decision at the next visit.
At the next visit she found that the tears of joy with which they had welcomed the proposition were not feigned. The women had already chosen a school-mistress from among themselves. A young woman, named Mary Cormer, who had, although fairly educated, found her way to prison for stealing a watch, was the person chosen. It is recorded of this young woman that she became reformed during her stay in Newgate, and so exemplary did she behave in the character of teacher, that Government granted her a free pardon; which, however, she did not live long to enjoy.
It is pleasant to record that the officials aided and furthered this good work. An empty cell was granted for the school-room, and was quickly crammed with the youngest of the criminals. After this step had been taken, a young Friend named Mary Sanderson made her appearance at Newgate to assist, if it were possible, in the work, but was almost terrified away again. She informed Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton of her experiences and terrors at her first encounter with the women: "The railing was crowded with half-naked women, struggling together for the front situations with the most boisterous violence, and begging with the utmost vociferation." She felt as if she were going into a den of wild beasts, and she well recollects quite shuddering when the door was closed upon her, and she was locked in with such a herd of novel and desperate companions.
Could lasting good be effected there? It seemed hopeless. Indeed, at first it was scarcely dreamt of; but, the stone once set rolling, none knew where it would stop. Marvellous to say, some of the prisoners themselves asked for ministrations of this sort. Feeling that they were as low down in the mire as they could be, they craved a helping hand; indeed, entreated not to be left out from the benevolent operations which Mrs. Fry now commenced. The officers of Newgate despaired of any good result; the people who associated with Mrs. Fry, charitable as they were, viewed her plans as Utopian and visionary, while she herself almost quailed at their very contemplation. It also placed a great strain upon her nervous system to attend women condemned to death. She wrote: "I have suffered much about the hanging of criminals." And again: "I have just returned from a melancholy visit to Newgate, where I have been at the request of Elizabeth Fricker, previous to her execution to-morrow at 8 o'clock. I found her much hurried, distressed and tormented in mind. Her hands were cold, and covered with something like the perspiration which precedes death, and in an universal tremor. The women who were with her said she had been so outrageous before our going, that they thought a man must be sent for to manage her. However, after a serious time with her, her troubled soul became calmed." Another entry in the same journal casts a lurid light upon the interior of Newgate. "Besides this poor young woman, there are also six men to be hanged, one of whom has a wife near her confinement, also condemned, and seven young children. Since the awful report came down he has become quite mad from horror of mind. A straight waistcoat could not keep him within bounds; he had just bitten the turnkey; I saw the man come out with his hand bleeding as I passed the cell. I hear that another who has been tolerably educated and brought up, was doing all he could to harden himself through unbelief, trying to convince himself that religious truths were idle tales." Contemporary light is cast upon this matter by a letter which the Hon. G.H. Bennett addressed to the Corporation of London, relative to the condition of the prison. In it this writer observed:—
A man by the name of Kelly, who was executed some weeks back for robbing a house, counteracted, by his conversation and by the jests he made of all religious subjects, the labors of Dr. Cotton to produce repentance and remorse among the prisoners in the cells; and he died as he lived, hardened and unrepenting. He sent to me the day before his execution, and when I saw him he maintained the innocence of the woman convicted with him (Fricker, before mentioned), asserting that not her, but a boy concealed, opened the door and let him into the house. When I pressed him to tell me the names of the parties concerned, whereby to save the woman's life, he declined complying without promise of a pardon. I urged as strongly as I could the crime of suffering an innocent woman to be executed to screen criminal accomplices; but it was all to no effect, and he suffered, maintaining to the last the same story. With him was executed a lad of nineteen or twenty years of age, whose fears and remorse Kelly was constantly ridiculing.
About this time, Mrs. Fry noted in her journal the encouragement she had received from those who were in authority, as well as the eager and thankful attitude of the poor women themselves. Kindred spirits were being drawn around her, ready to participate in her labors of love. In one place she wrote almost deprecatingly of the publicity which those labors had won; she feared notoriety, and would, had it been possible, have worked on alone and unheralded. But perhaps it was as well that others should learn to cooeperate; the task was far too mighty for one frail pair of hands, while the increased knowledge and interest among the upper classes of society assisted in procuring the "sinews of war." For this was a work which could not be successfully carried on without pounds, shillings and pence. Clothing, books, teachers, and even officers had to be paid for out of benevolent funds, for not an idea of the necessity for such funds had ever crossed the civic mind.
A very cheering item, in April, 1817, was the formation of a ladies' society under the title of "An Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate." Eleven Quakeresses and one clergyman's wife were then banded together. We cannot find the names of these good women recorded anywhere in Mrs. Fry's journal. The object of this association was: "To provide for the clothing, instruction, and employment of the women; to introduce them to a knowledge of the Scriptures, and to form in them, as much as possible, those habits of sobriety, order and industry, which may render them docile and peaceable whilst in prison, and respectable when they leave it." Thus, stone by stone the edifice was being reared, step by step was gained, and everything was steadily advancing towards success. The magistrates and corporation of the city were favorable, and even hopeful; the jail officials were not unwilling to cooeperate, and ladies were anxious to take up the work. The last thing which remained was to get the assent and willing submission of the prisoners themselves to the rules which must be enforced, were any lasting benefit to be conferred; and to this last step Mrs. Fry was equal.
On a Sunday afternoon, quickly following the formation of the association, a new and strange meeting was convened inside the old prison walls. There were present the sheriffs, the ordinary, the governor, the ladies and the women. Doubtless they looked at each other with a mixture of wonder, incredulity, and surprise. The gloomy precincts of Newgate had never witnessed such a spectacle before; the Samaritans of the great city no longer "passed by on the other side," but, at last, had come to grapple with its vice and degradation.
Mrs. Fry read out several rules by which she desired the women to abide; explaining to them the necessity for their adherence to these rules, and the extent to which she invited cooeperation and assistance in their enforcement. Unanimously and willingly the prisoners engaged to be bound by them, as well as to assist each other in obedience. It will interest the reader to know what these rules were. They were:—
1. That a woman be appointed for the general supervision of the women.
2. That the women be engaged in needlework, knitting, or any other suitable employment.
3. That there be no begging, swearing, gaming, card-playing, quarrelling, or universal conversation. That all novels, plays, and other improper books be excluded; that all bad words be avoided, and any default in these particulars be reported to the matron.
4. That there be a good yard-keeper, chosen from among the women, to inform them when their friends come; to see that they leave their work with a monitor when they go to the grating, and that they do not spend any time there except with their friends. If any woman be found disobedient in these respects, the yard-keeper is to report the case to the matron.
5. That the women be divided into classes of not more than twelve, and that a monitor be appointed to each class.
6. That the monitors be chosen from among the most orderly of the women that can read, to superintend the work and conduct of the others.
7. That the monitors not only overlook the women in their own classes, but, if they observe any others disobeying the rules, that they inform the monitor of the class to which such persons may belong, who is immediately to report them to the matron, and the deviations be set down on a slate.
8. That any monitor breaking the rules shall be dismissed from her office, and the most suitable in the class selected to take her place.
9. That the monitors be particularly careful to see that women come with clean hands and faces to their work, and that they are quiet during their employment.
10. That at the ringing of the bell at nine o'clock in the morning, the women collect in the work-room to hear a portion of Scripture read by one of the visitors, or the matron; and that the monitors afterwards conduct the classes thence to their respective wards in an orderly manner.
11. That the women be again collected for reading at 6 o'clock in the evening, when the work shall be given in charge to the matron by the monitors.
12. That the matron keep an exact account of the work done by the women, and of their conduct.
As these rules were read out, the women were requested to raise their hands in token of assent. Not a hand but was held up. In just the same manner the names of the monitors were received, and the appointments ratified. After this business had been concluded, one of the visitors read the twenty-first chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel; and then ensued a period of solemn silence, according to the custom of the Society of Friends. After that the newly-elected monitors, at the heads of their classes, withdrew to their wards.
The work room was an old disused laundry, now granted by the sheriffs, and fitted up for the purpose. Repaired and whitewashed, it proved a capital vantage-ground whereon to give battle to the old giants of Ignorance, Crime and Vice, and ultimately to conquer them.
The next thing was to obtain a sufficiency of work, and at the same time funds to purchase materials. At first, the most imperative necessity existed for clothing. For a long time the most ample help came from Mrs. Fry's own family circle, although many others contributed various sums. Indeed, the Sheriffs of London on one occasion made a grant of L80 towards these objects, showing thus that, although punitive measures were more in their way, they were really glad to uphold the hands of anybody who would deal with the vexed problems which such hordes of criminals presented.
After the criminals themselves were clothed, their work went to provide garments for the convicts at Botany Bay. Some tradesmen to whom Mrs. Fry applied, willingly resigned these branches of their trade, in order to afford the opportunity of turning the women's industry to account. This was a decided step gained, as the Corporation then learnt how to make the prisoners' labors profitable, and at the same time to avert the mischiefs of vicious idleness.
The ladies tried the school for a month quietly, and found it so successful that they determined to lay a representation before the Sheriffs, asking that this newly-formed agency should be taken under the wing of the Corporation. They wisely considered that the efficiency and continuance of this part of their scheme would be better ensured if it were made part and parcel of the City prison system, than by leaving it to the fluctuating support and management of private benevolence.
In reply to this petition and representation, an answer was received appointing a meeting with the ladies at Newgate. The meeting took place, and a session was held according to the usual rules. The visiting officials were struck with surprise at the altered demeanor of the inhabitants of this hitherto styled "hell upon earth," and were ready to grant what Mrs. Fry chose to ask. The whole plan, both school and manufactory, was adopted as part of the prison system; a cell was granted to the ladies for punishment of refractory prisoners, together with power to confine them therein for short intervals; part of the matron's salary was promised out of the City funds, and benedictions and praises were lavished on the ladies. This assistance in the matter of a matron was a decided help, as, prior to her appointment, some of the ladies spent much of each day in the wards personally superintending operations. So determined were they to win success, that they even remained during meal times, eating a little refreshment which they brought with them. After this appointment, one or two ladies visited the prison for some time, daily, spending more or less time there in order to superintend and direct. Some months after this a system of work was devised for the "untried side," but for various reasons, the success in that department of Newgate was not as marked. It was found that as long as prisoners indulged any hope of discharge, they were more careless about learning industrious and orderly habits.
At this meeting with the civic authorities, Mrs. Fry offered several suggestions calculated to promote the well-being of the prisoners, sedately and gently explaining the reasons for the necessity of each. They ran thus:—
"1. Newgate in great want of room. Women to be under the care of women, matron, turnkeys, and inspecting committee.
"2. As little communication with their friends as possible; only at stated times, except in very particular cases.
"3. They must depend on their friends for neither food nor clothing, but have a sufficiency allowed them of both.
"4. That employment should be a part of their punishment, and be provided for them by Government. The earnings of work to be partly laid by, partly laid out in small extra indulgences, and, if enough, part to go towards their support.
"5. To work and have their meals together, but sleep separate at night, being classed, with monitors at the head of each class.
"Religious instruction. The kind attention we have had paid us.
"Great disadvantages arise from dependence upon the uncertainty and fluctuations of the Sheriff's funds; neither soap nor clothing being allowed without its aid, and the occasional help of charitable people."
Two extracts from the civic records prove how warmly the authorities received these suggestions, and in what esteem they held Mrs. Fry and her coadjutors.