Dickens, American Notes For General Circulation ( London: Chapman
and Hall, 1850).
PHILADELPHIA, AND ITS SOLITARY PRISON.
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 gentlemen’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 phenomens
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 circumstances 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 enquire 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 hat to expand, beneath its quakerly 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 involuntarily.
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 taste.
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
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 or 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 to 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 what 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 this 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
commended. 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 wile 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 though it would have been
very hard to say in what respect the man was the nobler animal of the
There was an English thief, who had been there but a few days out of
seven years: a villanous, 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
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
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 over-head, 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 Pittsburgh.
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 in my own life--out of
jail, prosperous, happy, surrounded by blessings, comforts, and good
fortune--and though 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 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
"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
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 mad!"
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 keenly.
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
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
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 add.
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
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
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 hearing.
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 concerned.
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,