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and looked very attentive and smiling. I then caused him
to make the letters bread, and in an instant Laura went
and brought him a piece : he smelled at it ; put it to his lips ;
cocked up his head with a most knowing look ; seemed to
reflect a moment ; and then laughed outright, as much as to


say, 'Aha! I understand now how something may be made
out of this.'

" It was now clear that he had the capacity and inclination
to learn, that he was a proper subject for instruction, and
needed only persevering attention. I therefore put him in
the hands of an intelligent teacher, nothing doubting of his
rapid progress."

Well may this gentleman call that a delightful moment, in
which some distant promise of her present state first gleamed
upon the darkened mind of Laura Bridgman. Throughout
his life, the recollection of that moment will be to him a
source of pure, unfading happiness; nor will it shine less
brightly on the evening of his days of Noble Usefulness.

The affection which exists between these two the master
and the pupil is as far removed from all ordinary care and
regard, as the circumstances in which it has had its growth,
are apart from the common occurrences of life. He is occupied
now, in devising means of imparting to her, higher knowledge ;
and of conveying to her some adequate idea of the Great
Creator of that universe in which, dark and silent and scent-
less though it be to her, she has such deep delight and glad

Ye who have eyes and see not, and have ears and hear not ;
ye who are as the hypocrites of sad countenances, and disfigure
your faces that ye may seem unto men to fast ; learn healthy
cheerfulness, and mild contentment, from the deaf, and dumb,
and blind! Self-elected saints with gloomy brows, this
sightless, earless, voiceless child may teach you lessons you
will do well to follow. Let that poor hand of hers lie gently
on your hearts ; for there may be something in its healing
touch akin to that of the Great Master whose precepts you
misconstrue, whose lessons you pervert, of whose charity and
sympathy with all the world, not one among you in his daily
practice knows as much as many of the worst among those
fallen sinners, to whom you are liberal in nothing but the
preachment of perdition !


As I rose to quit the room, a pretty little child of one of
the attendants came running in to greet its father. For the
moment, a child with eyes, among the sightless crowd, impressed
me almost as painfully as the blind boy in the porch had
done, two hours ago. Ah ! how much brighter and more
deeply blue, glowing and rich though it had been before,
was the scene without, contrasting with the darkness of so
many youthful lives within !

At SOUTH BOSTON, as it is called, in a situation excellently
adapted for the purpose, several charitable institutions are
clustered together. One of these, is the State Hospital for
the insane ; admirably conducted on those enlightened principles
of conciliation and kindness, which twenty years ago would
have been worse than heretical, and which have been acted
upon with so much success in our own pauper Asylum at
Hanwell. " Evince a desire to show some confidence, and
repose some trust, even in mad people,"" said the resident
physician, as we walked along the galleries, his patients
flocking round us unrestrained. Of those who deny or doubt
the wisdom of this maxim after witnessing its effects, if there
be such people still alive, I can only say that I hope I may
never be summoned as a Juryman on a Commission of Lunacy
whereof they are the subjects; for I should certainly find
them out of their senses, on such evidence alone.
- Each ward in this institution is shaped like a long gallery
or hall, with the dormitories of the patients opening from it
on either hand. Here they work, read, play at skittles, and
other games ; and when the weather does not admit of their
taking exercise out of doors, pass the day together. In one
of these rooms, seated, calmly, and quite as a matter of course,
among a throng of mad-women, black and white, were the
physician's wife and another lady, with a couple of children.
These ladies were graceful and handsome ; and it was not
difficult to perceive at a glance that even their presence there,


had a highly beneficial influence on the patients who were
grouped about them.

Leaning her head against the chimney-piece, with a great
assumption of dignity and refinement of manner, sat an
elderly female, in as many scraps of finery as Madge Wildfire
herself. Her head in particular was so strewn with scraps of
gauze and cotton and bits of paper, and had so many queer
odds and ends stuck all about it, that it looked like a bird's-
nest. She was radiant with imaginary jewels; wore a rich
pair of undoubted gold spectacles ; and gracefully dropped
upon her lap, as we approached, a very old greasy newspaper,
in which I dare say she had been reading an account of her
own presentation at some Foreign Court.

I have been thus particular in describing her, because she
will serve to exemplify the physician's manner of acquiring
and retaining the confidence of his patients.

" This," he said aloud, taking me by the hand, and advancing
to the fantastic figure with great politeness not raising her
suspicions by the slightest look or whisper, or any kind of
aside, to me : " This lady is the hostess of this mansion, sir.
It belongs to her. Nobody else has anything whatever to do
with it. It is a large establishment, as you see, and requires
a great number of attendants. She lives, you observe, in the
very first style. She is kind enough to receive my visits, and
to permit my wife and family to reside here ; for which it is
hardly necessary to say, we are much indebted to her. She
is exceedingly courteous, you perceive," on this hint she bowed
condescendingly, " and will permit me to have the pleasure of
introducing you : a gentleman from England, Ma'am : newly
arrived from England, after a very tempestuous passage : Mr.
Dickens, the lady of the house ! "

We exchanged the most dignified salutations with profound
gravity and respect, and so went on. The rest of the mad-
women seemed to understand the joke perfectly (not only in
this case, but in all the others, except their own), and be
highly amused by it. The nature of their several kinds of


insanity was made known to me in the same way, and we left
each of them in high good humour. Not only is a thorough
confidence established, by those means, between the physician
and patient, in respect of the nature and extent of their hallu-
cinations, but it is easy to understand that opportunities are
afforded for seizing any moment of reason, to startle them by
placing their own delusion before them in its most incongruous
and ridiculous light.

Every patient in this asylum sits down to dinner every day
with a knife and fork ; and in the midst of them sits the
gentleman, whose manner of dealing with his charges, I have
just described. At every meal, moral influence alone restrains
the more violent among them from cutting the throats of the
rest; but the effect of that influence is reduced to an abso-
lute certainty, and is found, even as a means of restraint, to
say nothing of it as a means of cure, a hundred times more
efficacious than all the strait-waistcoats, fetters, and hand-
cuffs, that ignorance, prejudice, and cruelty have manufactured
since the creation of the world.

In the labour department, every patient is as freely trusted
with the tools of his trade as if he were a sane man. In the
garden, and on the farm, they work with spades, rakes, and
hoes. For amusement, they walk, run, fish, paint, read, and
ride out to take the air in carriages provided for the purpose.
They have among themselves a sewing society to make clothes
for the poor, which holds meetings, passes resolutions, never
comes to fisty-cuffs or bowie-knives as sane assemblies have
been known to do elsewhere ; and conducts all its proceedings
with the greatest decorum. The irritability, which would
otherwise be expended on their own flesh, clothes, and furni-
ture, is dissipated in these pursuits. They are cheerful,
tranquil, and healthy.

Once a week they have a ball, in which the Doctor and
his family, with all the nurses and attendants, take an
active part. Dances and marches are performed alternately,
to the enlivening strains of a piano ; and now and then some


gentleman or lady (whose proficiency has been previously
ascertained) obliges the company with a song : nor does it
ever degenerate, at a tender crisis, into a screech or howl ;
wherein, I must confess, I should have thought the danger
lav. At an early hour they all meet together for these
festive purposes ; at eight o'clock refreshments are served ;
and at nine they separate.

Immense politeness and good breeding are observed through-
out. They all take their tone from the Doctor; and he
moves a very Chesterfield among the company. Like other
assemblies, these entertainments afford a fruitful topic of
conversation among the ladies for some days ; and the gentle-
men are so anxious to shine on these occasions, that they have
been sometimes found "practising their steps'" in private,
to cut a more distinguished figure in the dance.

It is obvious that one great feature of this system, is the
inculcation and encouragement, even among such unhappy
persons, of a decent self-respect. Something of the same
spirit pervades all the Institutions at South Boston.

There is the House of Industry. In that branch of it,
which is devoted to the reception of old or otherwise helpless
paupers, these words are painted on the walls : " WORTHY OF
BLESSINGS." It is not assumed and taken for granted that
being there they must be evil-disposed and wicked people,
before whose vicious eyes it is necessary to flourish threats
and harsh restraints. They are met at the very threshold
with this mild appeal. All within-doors is very plain and
simple, as it ought to be, but arranged with a view to peace
and comfort. It costs no more than any other plan of
arrangement, but it speaks an amount of consideration for
those who are reduced to seek a shelter there, which puts
them at once upon their gratitude and good behaviour.
Instead of being parcelled out in great, long, rambling wards,
where a certain amount of weazen life may mope, and pine,
and shiver, all day long, the building is divided into separate


rooms, each with its share of light and air. In these, the
better kind of paupers live. They have a motive for exertion
and becoming pride, in the desire to make these little
chambers comfortable and decent.

I do not remember one but it was clean and neat, and had
its plant or two upon the window-sill, or row of crockery
upon the shelf, or small display of coloured prints upon the
whitewashed wall, or, perhaps, its wooden clock behind
the door.

The orphans and young children are in an adjoining build-
ing; separate from this, but a part of the same Institution.
Some are such little creatures, that the stairs are of Lilli-
putian measurement, fitted to their tiny strides. The same
consideration for their years and weakness is expressed in
their very seats, which are perfect curiosities, and look like
articles of furniture for a pauper doll's-house. I can imagine
the glee of our Poor Law Commissioners at the notion of
these seats having arms and backs ; but small spines being
of older date than their occupation of the Board-room at
Somerset House, I thought even this provision very merciful
and kind.

Here again, I was greatly pleased with the inscriptions on
the wall, which were scraps of plain morality, easily remem-
bered and understood : such as " Love one another " " God
remembers the smallest creature in his creation : " and straight-
forward advice of that nature. The books and tasks of these
smallest of scholars, were adapted, in the same judicious
manner, to their childish powers. When we had examined
these lessons, four morsels of girls (of whom one was blind)
sang a little song, about the merry month of May, which I
thought (being extremely dismal) would have suited an
English November better. That done, we went to see their
sleeping-rooms on the floor above, in which the arrangements
were no less excellent and gentle than those we had seen
below. And after observing that the teachers were of a class
and character well suited to the spirit of the place, I took


leave of the infants with a lighter heart than ever I have
taken leave of pauper infants yet.

Connected with the House of Industry, there is also an
Hospital, which was in the best order, and had, I am glad
to say, many beds unoccupied. It had one fault, however,
which is common to all American interiors : the presence of
the eternal, accursed, suffocating, red-hot demon of a stove,
whose breath would blight the purest air under Heaven.

There are two establishments for boys in this same neigh-
bourhood. One is called the Boylston school, and is an
asylum for neglected and indigent boys who have committed
no crime, but who in the ordinary course of things would
very soon be purged of that distinction if they were not
taken from the hungry streets and sent here. The other is
a House of Reformation for Juvenile Offenders. They are
both under the same roof, but the two classes of boys never
come in contact.

The Boylston boys, as may be readily supposed, have very
much the advantage of the others in point of personal appear-
ance. They were in their school-room when I came upon
them, and answered correctly, without book, such questions
as where was England ; how far was it ; what was its popula-
tion ; its capital city ; its form of government ; and so forth.
They sang a song too, about a farmer sowing his seed : with
corresponding action at such parts as "'tis thus he sows,' 1
"he turns him round," "he claps his hands;" which gave it
greater interest for them, and accustomed them to act together,
in an orderly manner. They appeared exceedingly well-taught,
and not better taught than fed ; for a more chubby-looking
full-waistcoated set of boys, I never saw.

The juvenile offenders had not such pleasant faces by a
great deal, and in this establishment there were many boys
of colour. I saw them first at their work (basket-making,
and the manufacture of palm-leaf hats), afterwards in their
school, where they sang a chorus in praise of Liberty: an
odd, and, one would think, rather aggravating, theme for


prisoners. These boys are divided into four classes, each
denoted by a numeral, worn on a badge upon the arm. On
the arrival of a new-comer, he is put into the fourth or lowest
class, and left, by good behaviour, to work his way up into
the first. The design and object of this Institution is to
reclaim the youthful criminal by firm but kind and judicious
treatment; to make his prison a place of purification and
improvement, not of demoralisation and corruption ; to impress
upon him that there is but one path, and that one sober
industry, which can ever lead him to happiness ; to teach
him how it .may be trodden, if his footsteps have never yet
been led that way ; and to lure him back to it if they have
strayed : in a word, to snatch him from destruction, and
restore him to society a penitent and useful member. The
importance of such an establishment, in every point of view,
and with reference to every consideration of humanity and
social policy, requires no comment.

One other establishment closes the catalogue. It is the
House of Correction for the State, in which silence is strictly
maintained, but where the prisoners have the comfort and'
mental relief of seeing each other, and of working together.
This is the improved system of Prison Discipline which we
have imported into England, and which has been in successful
operation among us for some years past.

America, as a new and not over-populated country, has in
all her prisons, the one great advantage, of being enabled to
find useful and profitable work for the inmates ; whereas, with
us, the prejudice against prison labour is naturally very strong,
and almost insurmountable, when honest men who have not
offended against the laws are frequently doomed to seek em-
ployment in vain. Even in the United States, the principle
of bringing convict labour and free labour into a competition
which must obviously be to the disadvantage of the latter,,
has already found many opponents, whose number is not
likely to diminish with access of years.

For this very reason though, our best prisons would seem


at the first glance to be better conducted than those of
America. The treadmill is conducted with little or no noise ;
five hundred men may pick oakum in the same room, with-
out a sound ; and both kinds of labour admit of such keen
and vigilant superintendence, as will render even a word of
personal communication amongst the prisoners almost impos-
sible. On the other hand, the noise of the loom, the forge,
the carpenter's hammer, or the stonemason's saw, greatly
favour those opportunities of intercourse hurried and brief
no doubt, but opportunities still which these several kinds
of work, by rendering it r.ecessary for men to be employed
very near to each other, and often side by side, without any
barrier or partition between them, in their very nature present.
A visitor, too, requires to reason and reflect a little, before
the sight of a number of men engaged in ordinary labour,
such as he is accustomed to out of doors, will impress him
half as strongly as the contemplation of the same persons in
the same place and garb would, if they were occupied in
some task, marked and degraded everywhere as belonging
only to felons in jails. In an American state prison or
house of correction, I found it difficult at first to persuade
myself that I was really in a jail: a place of ignominious
punishment and endurance. And to this hour I very
much question whether the humane boast that it is not
like one, has its root in the true wisdom or philosophy of
the matter.

I hope I may not be misunderstood on this subject, for it
is one in which I take a strong and deep interest. I incline
as little to the sickly feeling which makes every canting lie
or maudlin speech of a notorious criminal a subject of news-
paper report and general sympathy, as I do to those good
old customs of the good old times which made England, even
so recently as in the reign of the Third King George, in
respect of her criminal code and her prison regulations, one
of the most bloody-minded and barbarous countries on the
earth. If I thought it would do any good to the rising


generation, I would cheerfully give my consent to the disin-
terment of the bones of any genteel highwayman (the more
genteel, the more cheerfully), and to their exposure, piece-
meal, on any sign-post, gate, or gibbet, that might be deemed
a good elevation for the purpose. My reason is as well
convinced that these gentry were as utterly worthless and
debauched villains, as it is that the laws and jails hardened
them in their evil courses, or that their wonderful escapes
were effected by the prison-turnkeys who, in those admirable
days, had always been felons themselves, and were, to the last,
their bosom-friends and pot-companions. At the same time
I know, as all men do or should, that the subject of Prison
Discipline is one of the highest importance to any community ;
and that in her sweeping reform and bright example to other
countries on this head, America has shown great wisdom, great
benevolence, and exalted policy. In contrasting her system
with that which AVC have modelled upon it, I merely seek to
show that with all its drawbacks, ours has some advantages
of its own.

The House of Correction which has led to these remarks,
is not walled, like other prisons, but is palisaded round about
with tall rough stakes, something after the manner of an
enclosure for keeping elephants in, as we see it represented
in Eastern prints and pictures. The prisoners wear a parti-
coloured dress ; and those who are sentenced to hard labour,
work at nail-making, or stone-cutting. When I was there,
the latter class of labourers were employed upon the stone
for a new custom-house in course of erection at Boston. They
appeared to shape it skilfully and with expedition, though
there were very few among them (if any) who had not
acquired the art within the prison gates.

The women, all in one large room, were employed in making
light clothing, for New Orleans and the Southern States.
They did their work in silence like the men ; and like them
were overlooked by the person contracting for their labour,
or by some agent of his appointment. In addition to this,


they arc every moment liable to be visited by the prison
officers appointed for that purpose.

The arrangements for cooking, washing of clothes, and so
forth, are much upon the plan of those I have seen at home.
Their mode of bestowing the prisoners at night (which is of
general adoption) differs from ours, and is both simple and
effective. In the centre of a lofty area, lighted by windows
in the four walls, are five tiers of cells, one above the other;
each tier having before it a light iron gallery, attainable by
stairs of the same construction and material : excepting the
lower one, which is on the ground. Behind these, back to
back with them and facing the opposite wall, are five corre-
sponding rows of cells, accessible by similar means : so that
supposing the prisoners locked up in their cells, an orficer
stationed on the ground, with his back to the wall, has half
their number under his eye at once ; the remaining half being
equally under the observation of another officer on the opposite
side ; and all in one great apartment. Unless this watch be
corrupted or sleeping on his post, it is impossible for a man
to escape ; for even in the event of his forcing the iron door
of his cell without noise (which is exceedingly improbable),
the moment he appears outside, and steps into that one of
the five galleries on which it is situated, he must be plainly
and fully visible to the officer below. Each of these cells
holds a small truckle bed, in which one prisoner sleeps ; never
more. It is small, of course ; and the door being not solid,
but grated, and without blind or curtain, the prisoner within
is at all times exposed to the observation and inspection of
any guard who may pass along that tier at any hour or
minute of the night. Ever^ day, the prisoners receive their
dinner, singly, through a trap in the kitchen wall ; and each
man carries his to his sleeping cell to eat it, where he is
locked up, alone, for that purpose, one hour. The whole of
this arrangement struck me as being admirable; and I hope
that the next new prison we erect in England may be built
on this plan.


I was given to understand that in this prison no swords or
fire-arms, or even cudgels, are kept ; nor is it probable that,
so long as its present excellent management continues, any
weapon, offensive or defensive, will ever be required within
its bounds.

Such are the Institutions at South Boston! In all of
them, the unfortunate or degenerate citizens of the State are
carefully instructed in their duties both to God and man ;
are surrounded by all reasonable means of comfort and happi-
ness that their condition will admit of; are appealed to, as
members of the great human family, however afflicted, indi-
gent, or fallen ; are ruled by the strong Heart, and not by
the strong (though immeasurably weaker) Hand. I have
described them at some length; firstly, because their worth
demanded it ; and secondly, because I mean to take them for
a model, and to content myself with saying of others we may
come to, whose design and purpose are the same, that in this
or that respect they practically fail, or differ.

I wish by this account of them, imperfect in its execution,
but in its just intention, honest, I could hope to convey to
my readers one-hundredth part of the gratification, the sights
I have described, afforded me.

To an Englishman, accustomed to the paraphernalia of
Westminster Hall, an American Court of Law, is as odd a
sight as, I suppose, an English Court of Law would be to

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 28) → online text (page 6 of 43)