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Charles Dickens > American Notes > Chapter VII

American Notes

Chapter VII


THE journey from New York to Philadelphia, is made by railroad, and
two ferries; and usually occupies between five and six hours. It
was a fine evening when we were passengers in the train: and
watching the bright sunset from a little window near the door by
which we sat, my attention was attracted to a remarkable appearance
issuing from the windows of the gentleman's car immediately in
front of us, which I supposed for some time was occasioned by a
number of industrious persons inside, ripping open feather-beds,
and giving the feathers to the wind. At length it occurred to me
that they were only spitting, which was indeed the case; though how
any number of passengers which it was possible for that car to
contain, could have maintained such a playful and incessant shower
of expectoration, I am still at a loss to understand:
notwithstanding the experience in all salivatory phenomena which I
afterwards acquired.

I made acquaintance, on this journey, with a mild and modest young
quaker, who opened the discourse by informing me, in a grave
whisper, that his grandfather was the inventor of cold-drawn castor
oil. I mention the circumstance here, thinking it probable that
this is the first occasion on which the valuable medicine in
question was ever used as a conversational aperient.

We reached the city, late that night. Looking out of my chamber-
window, before going to bed, I saw, on the opposite side of the
way, a handsome building of white marble, which had a mournful
ghost-like aspect, dreary to behold. I attributed this to the
sombre influence of the night, and on rising in the morning looked
out again, expecting to see its steps and portico thronged with
groups of people passing in and out. The door was still tight
shut, however; the same cold cheerless air prevailed: and the
building looked as if the marble statue of Don Guzman could alone
have any business to transact within its gloomy walls. I hastened
to inquire its name and purpose, and then my surprise vanished. It
was the Tomb of many fortunes; the Great Catacomb of investment;
the memorable United States Bank.

The stoppage of this bank, with all its ruinous consequences, had
cast (as I was told on every side) a gloom on Philadelphia, under
the depressing effect of which it yet laboured. It certainly did
seem rather dull and out of spirits.

It is a handsome city, but distractingly regular. After walking
about it for an hour or two, I felt that I would have given the
world for a crooked street. The collar of my coat appeared to
stiffen, and the brim of my bat to expand, beneath its quakery
influence. My hair shrunk into a sleek short crop, my hands folded
themselves upon my breast of their own calm accord, and thoughts of
taking lodgings in Mark Lane over against the Market Place, and of
making a large fortune by speculations in corn, came over me

Philadelphia is most bountifully provided with fresh water, which
is showered and jerked about, and turned on, and poured off,
everywhere. The Waterworks, which are on a height near the city,
are no less ornamental than useful, being tastefully laid out as a
public garden, and kept in the best and neatest order. The river
is dammed at this point, and forced by its own power into certain
high tanks or reservoirs, whence the whole city, to the top stories
of the houses, is supplied at a very trifling expense.

There are various public institutions. Among them a most excellent
Hospital - a quaker establishment, but not sectarian in the great
benefits it confers; a quiet, quaint old Library, named after
Franklin; a handsome Exchange and Post Office; and so forth. In
connection with the quaker Hospital, there is a picture by West,
which is exhibited for the benefit of the funds of the institution.
The subject is, our Saviour healing the sick, and it is, perhaps,
as favourable a specimen of the master as can be seen anywhere.
Whether this be high or low praise, depends upon the reader's

In the same room, there is a very characteristic and life-like
portrait by Mr. Sully, a distinguished American artist.

My stay in Philadelphia was very short, but what I saw of its
society, I greatly liked. Treating of its general characteristics,
I should be disposed to say that it is more provincial than Boston
or New York, and that there is afloat in the fair city, an
assumption of taste and criticism, savouring rather of those
genteel discussions upon the same themes, in connection with
Shakspeare and the Musical Glasses, of which we read in the Vicar
of Wakefield. Near the city, is a most splendid unfinished marble
structure for the Girard College, founded by a deceased gentleman
of that name and of enormous wealth, which, if completed according
to the original design, will be perhaps the richest edifice of
modern times. But the bequest is involved in legal disputes, and
pending them the work has stopped; so that like many other great
undertakings in America, even this is rather going to be done one
of these days, than doing now.

In the outskirts, stands a great prison, called the Eastern
Penitentiary: conducted on a plan peculiar to the state of
Pennsylvania. The system here, is rigid, strict, and hopeless
solitary confinement. I believe it, in its effects, to be cruel
and wrong.

In its intention, I am well convinced that it is kind, humane, and
meant for reformation; but I am persuaded that those who devised
this system of Prison Discipline, and those benevolent gentlemen
who carry it into execution, do not know what it is that they are
doing. I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the
immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment,
prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers; and in guessing
at it myself, and in reasoning from what I have seen written upon
their faces, and what to my certain knowledge they feel within, I
am only the more convinced that there is a depth of terrible
endurance in it which none but the sufferers themselves can fathom,
and which no man has a right to inflict upon his fellow-creature.
I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the
brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and
because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye
and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are
not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can
hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment
which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay. I hesitated
once, debating with myself, whether, if I had the power of saying
'Yes' or 'No,' I would allow it to be tried in certain cases, where
the terms of imprisonment were short; but now, I solemnly declare,
that with no rewards or honours could I walk a happy man beneath
the open sky by day, or lie me down upon my bed at night, with the
consciousness that one human creature, for any length of time, no
matter what, lay suffering this unknown punishment in his silent
cell, and I the cause, or I consenting to it in the least degree.

I was accompanied to this prison by two gentlemen officially
connected with its management, and passed the day in going from
cell to cell, and talking with the inmates. Every facility was
afforded me, that the utmost courtesy could suggest. Nothing was
concealed or hidden from my view, and every piece of information
that I sought, was openly and frankly given. The perfect order of
the building cannot be praised too highly, and of the excellent
motives of all who are immediately concerned in the administration
of the system, there can be no kind of question.

Between the body of the prison and the outer wall, there is a
spacious garden. Entering it, by a wicket in the massive gate, we
pursued the path before us to its other termination, and passed
into a large chamber, from which seven long passages radiate. On
either side of each, is a long, long row of low cell doors, with a
certain number over every one. Above, a gallery of cells like
those below, except that they have no narrow yard attached (as
those in the ground tier have), and are somewhat smaller. The
possession of two of these, is supposed to compensate for the
absence of so much air and exercise as can be had in the dull strip
attached to each of the others, in an hour's time every day; and
therefore every prisoner in this upper story has two cells,
adjoining and communicating with, each other.

Standing at the central point, and looking down these dreary
passages, the dull repose and quiet that prevails, is awful.
Occasionally, there is a drowsy sound from some lone weaver's
shuttle, or shoemaker's last, but it is stifled by the thick walls
and heavy dungeon-door, and only serves to make the general
stillness more profound. Over the head and face of every prisoner
who comes into this melancholy house, a black hood is drawn; and in
this dark shroud, an emblem of the curtain dropped between him and
the living world, he is led to the cell from which he never again
comes forth, until his whole term of imprisonment has expired. He
never hears of wife and children; home or friends; the life or
death of any single creature. He sees the prison-officers, but
with that exception he never looks upon a human countenance, or
hears a human voice. He is a man buried alive; to be dug out in
the slow round of years; and in the mean time dead to everything
but torturing anxieties and horrible despair.

His name, and crime, and term of suffering, are unknown, even to
the officer who delivers him his daily food. There is a number
over his cell-door, and in a book of which the governor of the
prison has one copy, and the moral instructor another: this is the
index of his history. Beyond these pages the prison has no record
of his existence: and though he live to be in the same cell ten
weary years, he has no means of knowing, down to the very last
hour, in which part of the building it is situated; what kind of
men there are about him; whether in the long winter nights there
are living people near, or he is in some lonely corner of the great
jail, with walls, and passages, and iron doors between him and the
nearest sharer in its solitary horrors.

Every cell has double doors: the outer one of sturdy oak, the
other of grated iron, wherein there is a trap through which his
food is handed. He has a Bible, and a slate and pencil, and, under
certain restrictions, has sometimes other books, provided for the
purpose, and pen and ink and paper. His razor, plate, and can, and
basin, hang upon the wall, or shine upon the little shelf. Fresh
water is laid on in every cell, and he can draw it at his pleasure.
During the day, his bedstead turns up against the wall, and leaves
more space for him to work in. His loom, or bench, or wheel, is
there; and there he labours, sleeps and wakes, and counts the
seasons as they change, and grows old.

The first man I saw, was seated at his loom, at work. He had been
there six years, and was to remain, I think, three more. He had
been convicted as a receiver of stolen goods, but even after his
long imprisonment, denied his guilt, and said he had been hardly
dealt by. It was his second offence.

He stopped his work when we went in, took off his spectacles, and
answered freely to everything that was said to him, but always with
a strange kind of pause first, and in a low, thoughtful voice. He
wore a paper hat of his own making, and was pleased to have it
noticed and commanded. He had very ingeniously manufactured a sort
of Dutch clock from some disregarded odds and ends; and his
vinegar-bottle served for the pendulum. Seeing me interested in
this contrivance, he looked up at it with a great deal of pride,
and said that he had been thinking of improving it, and that he
hoped the hammer and a little piece of broken glass beside it
'would play music before long.' He had extracted some colours from
the yarn with which he worked, and painted a few poor figures on
the wall. One, of a female, over the door, he called 'The Lady of
the Lake.'

He smiled as I looked at these contrivances to while away the time;
but when I looked from them to him, I saw that his lip trembled,
and could have counted the beating of his heart. I forget how it
came about, but some allusion was made to his having a wife. He
shook his head at the word, turned aside, and covered his face with
his hands.

'But you are resigned now!' said one of the gentlemen after a short
pause, during which he had resumed his former manner. He answered
with a sigh that seemed quite reckless in its hopelessness, 'Oh
yes, oh yes! I am resigned to it.' 'And are a better man, you
think?' 'Well, I hope so: I'm sure I hope I may be.' 'And time
goes pretty quickly?' 'Time is very long gentlemen, within these
four walls!'

He gazed about him - Heaven only knows how wearily! - as he said
these words; and in the act of doing so, fell into a strange stare
as if he had forgotten something. A moment afterwards he sighed
heavily, put on his spectacles, and went about his work again.

In another cell, there was a German, sentenced to five years'
imprisonment for larceny, two of which had just expired. With
colours procured in the same manner, he had painted every inch of
the walls and ceiling quite beautifully. He had laid out the few
feet of ground, behind, with exquisite neatness, and had made a
little bed in the centre, that looked, by-the-bye, like a grave.
The taste and ingenuity he had displayed in everything were most
extraordinary; and yet a more dejected, heart-broken, wretched
creature, it would be difficult to imagine. I never saw such a
picture of forlorn affliction and distress of mind. My heart bled
for him; and when the tears ran down his cheeks, and he took one of
the visitors aside, to ask, with his trembling hands nervously
clutching at his coat to detain him, whether there was no hope of
his dismal sentence being commuted, the spectacle was really too
painful to witness. I never saw or heard of any kind of misery
that impressed me more than the wretchedness of this man.

In a third cell, was a tall, strong black, a burglar, working at
his proper trade of making screws and the like. His time was
nearly out. He was not only a very dexterous thief, but was
notorious for his boldness and hardihood, and for the number of his
previous convictions. He entertained us with a long account of his
achievements, which he narrated with such infinite relish, that he
actually seemed to lick his lips as he told us racy anecdotes of
stolen plate, and of old ladies whom he had watched as they sat at
windows in silver spectacles (he had plainly had an eye to their
metal even from the other side of the street) and had afterwards
robbed. This fellow, upon the slightest encouragement, would have
mingled with his professional recollections the most detestable
cant; but I am very much mistaken if he could have surpassed the
unmitigated hypocrisy with which he declared that he blessed the
day on which he came into that prison, and that he never would
commit another robbery as long as he lived.

There was one man who was allowed, as an indulgence, to keep
rabbits. His room having rather a close smell in consequence, they
called to him at the door to come out into the passage. He
complied of course, and stood shading his haggard face in the
unwonted sunlight of the great window, looking as wan and unearthly
as if he had been summoned from the grave. He had a white rabbit
in his breast; and when the little creature, getting down upon the
ground, stole back into the cell, and he, being dismissed, crept
timidly after it, I thought it would have been very hard to say in
what respect the man was the nobler animal of the two.

There was an English thief, who had been there but a few days out
of seven years: a villainous, low-browed, thin-lipped fellow, with
a white face; who had as yet no relish for visitors, and who, but
for the additional penalty, would have gladly stabbed me with his
shoemaker's knife. There was another German who had entered the
jail but yesterday, and who started from his bed when we looked in,
and pleaded, in his broken English, very hard for work. There was
a poet, who after doing two days' work in every four-and-twenty
hours, one for himself and one for the prison, wrote verses about
ships (he was by trade a mariner), and 'the maddening wine-cup,'
and his friends at home. There were very many of them. Some
reddened at the sight of visitors, and some turned very pale. Some
two or three had prisoner nurses with them, for they were very
sick; and one, a fat old negro whose leg had been taken off within
the jail, had for his attendant a classical scholar and an
accomplished surgeon, himself a prisoner likewise. Sitting upon
the stairs, engaged in some slight work, was a pretty coloured boy.
'Is there no refuge for young criminals in Philadelphia, then?'
said I. 'Yes, but only for white children.' Noble aristocracy in

There was a sailor who had been there upwards of eleven years, and
who in a few months' time would be free. Eleven years of solitary

'I am very glad to hear your time is nearly out.' What does he
say? Nothing. Why does he stare at his hands, and pick the flesh
upon his fingers, and raise his eyes for an instant, every now and
then, to those bare walls which have seen his head turn grey? It
is a way he has sometimes.

Does he never look men in the face, and does he always pluck at
those hands of his, as though he were bent on parting skin and
bone? It is his humour: nothing more.

It is his humour too, to say that he does not look forward to going
out; that he is not glad the time is drawing near; that he did look
forward to it once, but that was very long ago; that he has lost
all care for everything. It is his humour to be a helpless,
crushed, and broken man. And, Heaven be his witness that he has
his humour thoroughly gratified!

There were three young women in adjoining cells, all convicted at
the same time of a conspiracy to rob their prosecutor. In the
silence and solitude of their lives they had grown to be quite
beautiful. Their looks were very sad, and might have moved the
sternest visitor to tears, but not to that kind of sorrow which the
contemplation of the men awakens. One was a young girl; not
twenty, as I recollect; whose snow-white room was hung with the
work of some former prisoner, and upon whose downcast face the sun
in all its splendour shone down through the high chink in the wall,
where one narrow strip of bright blue sky was visible. She was
very penitent and quiet; had come to be resigned, she said (and I
believe her); and had a mind at peace. 'In a word, you are happy
here?' said one of my companions. She struggled - she did struggle
very hard - to answer, Yes; but raising her eyes, and meeting that
glimpse of freedom overhead, she burst into tears, and said, 'She
tried to be; she uttered no complaint; but it was natural that she
should sometimes long to go out of that one cell: she could not
help THAT,' she sobbed, poor thing!

I went from cell to cell that day; and every face I saw, or word I
heard, or incident I noted, is present to my mind in all its
painfulness. But let me pass them by, for one, more pleasant,
glance of a prison on the same plan which I afterwards saw at

When I had gone over that, in the same manner, I asked the governor
if he had any person in his charge who was shortly going out. He
had one, he said, whose time was up next day; but he had only been
a prisoner two years.

Two years! I looked back through two years of my own life - out of
jail, prosperous, happy, surrounded by blessings, comforts, good
fortune - and thought how wide a gap it was, and how long those two
years passed in solitary captivity would have been. I have the
face of this man, who was going to be released next day, before me
now. It is almost more memorable in its happiness than the other
faces in their misery. How easy and how natural it was for him to
say that the system was a good one; and that the time went 'pretty
quick - considering;' and that when a man once felt that he had
offended the law, and must satisfy it, 'he got along, somehow:' and
so forth!

'What did he call you back to say to you, in that strange flutter?'
I asked of my conductor, when he had locked the door and joined me
in the passage.

'Oh! That he was afraid the soles of his boots were not fit for
walking, as they were a good deal worn when he came in; and that he
would thank me very much to have them mended, ready.'

Those boots had been taken off his feet, and put away with the rest
of his clothes, two years before!

I took that opportunity of inquiring how they conducted themselves
immediately before going out; adding that I presumed they trembled
very much.

'Well, it's not so much a trembling,' was the answer - 'though they
do quiver - as a complete derangement of the nervous system. They
can't sign their names to the book; sometimes can't even hold the
pen; look about 'em without appearing to know why, or where they
are; and sometimes get up and sit down again, twenty times in a
minute. This is when they're in the office, where they are taken
with the hood on, as they were brought in. When they get outside
the gate, they stop, and look first one way and then the other; not
knowing which to take. Sometimes they stagger as if they were
drunk, and sometimes are forced to lean against the fence, they're
so bad:- but they clear off in course of time.'

As I walked among these solitary cells, and looked at the faces of
the men within them, I tried to picture to myself the thoughts and
feelings natural to their condition. I imagined the hood just
taken off, and the scene of their captivity disclosed to them in
all its dismal monotony.

At first, the man is stunned. His confinement is a hideous vision;
and his old life a reality. He throws himself upon his bed, and
lies there abandoned to despair. By degrees the insupportable
solitude and barrenness of the place rouses him from this stupor,
and when the trap in his grated door is opened, he humbly begs and
prays for work. 'Give me some work to do, or I shall go raving

He has it; and by fits and starts applies himself to labour; but
every now and then there comes upon him a burning sense of the
years that must be wasted in that stone coffin, and an agony so
piercing in the recollection of those who are hidden from his view
and knowledge, that he starts from his seat, and striding up and
down the narrow room with both hands clasped on his uplifted head,
hears spirits tempting him to beat his brains out on the wall.

Again he falls upon his bed, and lies there, moaning. Suddenly he
starts up, wondering whether any other man is near; whether there
is another cell like that on either side of him: and listens

There is no sound, but other prisoners may be near for all that.
He remembers to have heard once, when he little thought of coming
here himself, that the cells were so constructed that the prisoners
could not hear each other, though the officers could hear them.

Where is the nearest man - upon the right, or on the left? or is
there one in both directions? Where is he sitting now - with his
face to the light? or is he walking to and fro? How is he dressed?
Has he been here long? Is he much worn away? Is he very white and
spectre-like? Does HE think of his neighbour too?

Scarcely venturing to breathe, and listening while he thinks, he
conjures up a figure with his back towards him, and imagines it
moving about in this next cell. He has no idea of the face, but he
is certain of the dark form of a stooping man. In the cell upon
the other side, he puts another figure, whose face is hidden from
him also. Day after day, and often when he wakes up in the middle
of the night, he thinks of these two men until he is almost
distracted. He never changes them. There they are always as he
first imagined them - an old man on the right; a younger man upon
the left - whose hidden features torture him to death, and have a
mystery that makes him tremble.

The weary days pass on with solemn pace, like mourners at a
funeral; and slowly he begins to feel that the white walls of the
cell have something dreadful in them: that their colour is
horrible: that their smooth surface chills his blood: that there
is one hateful corner which torments him. Every morning when he
wakes, he hides his head beneath the coverlet, and shudders to see
the ghastly ceiling looking down upon him. The blessed light of
day itself peeps in, an ugly phantom face, through the unchangeable
crevice which is his prison window.

By slow but sure degrees, the terrors of that hateful corner swell
until they beset him at all times; invade his rest, make his dreams
hideous, and his nights dreadful. At first, he took a strange
dislike to it; feeling as though it gave birth in his brain to
something of corresponding shape, which ought not to be there, and
racked his head with pains. Then he began to fear it, then to
dream of it, and of men whispering its name and pointing to it.
Then he could not bear to look at it, nor yet to turn his back upon
it. Now, it is every night the lurking-place of a ghost: a
shadow:- a silent something, horrible to see, but whether bird, or
beast, or muffled human shape, he cannot tell.

When he is in his cell by day, he fears the little yard without.
When he is in the yard, he dreads to re-enter the cell. When night
comes, there stands the phantom in the corner. If he have the
courage to stand in its place, and drive it out (he had once:
being desperate), it broods upon his bed. In the twilight, and
always at the same hour, a voice calls to him by name; as the
darkness thickens, his Loom begins to live; and even that, his
comfort, is a hideous figure, watching him till daybreak.

Again, by slow degrees, these horrible fancies depart from him one
by one: returning sometimes, unexpectedly, but at longer
intervals, and in less alarming shapes. He has talked upon
religious matters with the gentleman who visits him, and has read
his Bible, and has written a prayer upon his slate, and hung it up
as a kind of protection, and an assurance of Heavenly
companionship. He dreams now, sometimes, of his children or his
wife, but is sure that they are dead, or have deserted him. He is
easily moved to tears; is gentle, submissive, and broken-spirited.
Occasionally, the old agony comes back: a very little thing will
revive it; even a familiar sound, or the scent of summer flowers in
the air; but it does not last long, now: for the world without,
has come to be the vision, and this solitary life, the sad reality.

If his term of imprisonment be short - I mean comparatively, for
short it cannot be - the last half year is almost worse than all;
for then he thinks the prison will take fire and he be burnt in the
ruins, or that he is doomed to die within the walls, or that he
will be detained on some false charge and sentenced for another
term: or that something, no matter what, must happen to prevent
his going at large. And this is natural, and impossible to be
reasoned against, because, after his long separation from human
life, and his great suffering, any event will appear to him more
probable in the contemplation, than the being restored to liberty
and his fellow-creatures.

If his period of confinement have been very long, the prospect of
release bewilders and confuses him. His broken heart may flutter
for a moment, when he thinks of the world outside, and what it
might have been to him in all those lonely years, but that is all.
The cell-door has been closed too long on all its hopes and cares.
Better to have hanged him in the beginning than bring him to this
pass, and send him forth to mingle with his kind, who are his kind
no more.

On the haggard face of every man among these prisoners, the same
expression sat. I know not what to liken it to. It had something
of that strained attention which we see upon the faces of the blind
and deaf, mingled with a kind of horror, as though they had all
been secretly terrified. In every little chamber that I entered,
and at every grate through which I looked, I seemed to see the same
appalling countenance. It lives in my memory, with the fascination
of a remarkable picture. Parade before my eyes, a hundred men,
with one among them newly released from this solitary suffering,
and I would point him out.

The faces of the women, as I have said, it humanises and refines.
Whether this be because of their better nature, which is elicited
in solitude, or because of their being gentler creatures, of
greater patience and longer suffering, I do not know; but so it is.
That the punishment is nevertheless, to my thinking, fully as cruel
and as wrong in their case, as in that of the men, I need scarcely

My firm conviction is that, independent of the mental anguish it
occasions - an anguish so acute and so tremendous, that all
imagination of it must fall far short of the reality - it wears the
mind into a morbid state, which renders it unfit for the rough
contact and busy action of the world. It is my fixed opinion that
those who have undergone this punishment, MUST pass into society
again morally unhealthy and diseased. There are many instances on
record, of men who have chosen, or have been condemned, to lives of
perfect solitude, but I scarcely remember one, even among sages of
strong and vigorous intellect, where its effect has not become
apparent, in some disordered train of thought, or some gloomy
hallucination. What monstrous phantoms, bred of despondency and
doubt, and born and reared in solitude, have stalked upon the
earth, making creation ugly, and darkening the face of Heaven!

Suicides are rare among these prisoners: are almost, indeed,
unknown. But no argument in favour of the system, can reasonably
be deduced from this circumstance, although it is very often urged.
All men who have made diseases of the mind their study, know
perfectly well that such extreme depression and despair as will
change the whole character, and beat down all its powers of
elasticity and self-resistance, may be at work within a man, and
yet stop short of self-destruction. This is a common case.

That it makes the senses dull, and by degrees impairs the bodily
faculties, I am quite sure. I remarked to those who were with me
in this very establishment at Philadelphia, that the criminals who
had been there long, were deaf. They, who were in the habit of
seeing these men constantly, were perfectly amazed at the idea,
which they regarded as groundless and fanciful. And yet the very
first prisoner to whom they appealed - one of their own selection
confirmed my impression (which was unknown to him) instantly, and
said, with a genuine air it was impossible to doubt, that he
couldn't think how it happened, but he WAS growing very dull of

That it is a singularly unequal punishment, and affects the worst
man least, there is no doubt. In its superior efficiency as a
means of reformation, compared with that other code of regulations
which allows the prisoners to work in company without communicating
together, I have not the smallest faith. All the instances of
reformation that were mentioned to me, were of a kind that might
have been - and I have no doubt whatever, in my own mind, would
have been - equally well brought about by the Silent System. With
regard to such men as the negro burglar and the English thief, even
the most enthusiastic have scarcely any hope of their conversion.

It seems to me that the objection that nothing wholesome or good
has ever had its growth in such unnatural solitude, and that even a
dog or any of the more intelligent among beasts, would pine, and
mope, and rust away, beneath its influence, would be in itself a
sufficient argument against this system. But when we recollect, in
addition, how very cruel and severe it is, and that a solitary life
is always liable to peculiar and distinct objections of a most
deplorable nature, which have arisen here, and call to mind,
moreover, that the choice is not between this system, and a bad or
ill-considered one, but between it and another which has worked
well, and is, in its whole design and practice, excellent; there is
surely more than sufficient reason for abandoning a mode of
punishment attended by so little hope or promise, and fraught,
beyond dispute, with such a host of evils.

As a relief to its contemplation, I will close this chapter with a
curious story arising out of the same theme, which was related to
me, on the occasion of this visit, by some of the gentlemen

At one of the periodical meetings of the inspectors of this prison,
a working man of Philadelphia presented himself before the Board,
and earnestly requested to be placed in solitary confinement. On
being asked what motive could possibly prompt him to make this
strange demand, he answered that he had an irresistible propensity
to get drunk; that he was constantly indulging it, to his great
misery and ruin; that he had no power of resistance; that he wished
to be put beyond the reach of temptation; and that he could think
of no better way than this. It was pointed out to him, in reply,
that the prison was for criminals who had been tried and sentenced
by the law, and could not be made available for any such fanciful
purposes; he was exhorted to abstain from intoxicating drinks, as
he surely might if he would; and received other very good advice,
with which he retired, exceedingly dissatisfied with the result of
his application.

He came again, and again, and again, and was so very earnest and
importunate, that at last they took counsel together, and said, 'He
will certainly qualify himself for admission, if we reject him any
more. Let us shut him up. He will soon be glad to go away, and
then we shall get rid of him.' So they made him sign a statement
which would prevent his ever sustaining an action for false
imprisonment, to the effect that his incarceration was voluntary,
and of his own seeking; they requested him to take notice that the
officer in attendance had orders to release him at any hour of the
day or night, when he might knock upon his door for that purpose;
but desired him to understand, that once going out, he would not be
admitted any more. These conditions agreed upon, and he still
remaining in the same mind, he was conducted to the prison, and
shut up in one of the cells.

In this cell, the man, who had not the firmness to leave a glass of
liquor standing untasted on a table before him - in this cell, in
solitary confinement, and working every day at his trade of
shoemaking, this man remained nearly two years. His health
beginning to fail at the expiration of that time, the surgeon
recommended that he should work occasionally in the garden; and as
he liked the notion very much, he went about this new occupation
with great cheerfulness.

He was digging here, one summer day, very industriously, when the
wicket in the outer gate chanced to be left open: showing, beyond,
the well-remembered dusty road and sunburnt fields. The way was as
free to him as to any man living, but he no sooner raised his head
and caught sight of it, all shining in the light, than, with the
involuntary instinct of a prisoner, he cast away his spade,
scampered off as fast as his legs would carry him, and never once
looked back.

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