Samuel G. (Samuel Griswold) Goodrich.

Lives of benefactors; online

. (page 14 of 21)
Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 14 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


part of the conspirators were for an immediate rising,
alleging that, in situations like theirs, delay was ruin.
Melchthal, on the contrary, employed every argument
he was master of, to combat such precipitate resolu-
tions.

The energy with which he spoke, brought over the
whole assembly to his opinion. All ideas of an im-
mediate aggression were laid aside, and the first day
of the new year was appointed for fhe execution of
the momentous project. This weighty business being
thus decided, every man returned to his accustomed
occupations, with as much apparent tranquillity as if
his only hope in the approaching year had been a
fertile season and an abundant crop.

An event, however, took place in the interval, which,
without the most unexampled prudence on the part of
the conspirators, would have destroyed their hopes
forever. We have alreadj' seen to what a degree of
insolence Gesler had carried his capiicious pride.
Presumption proved his ruin. William Tell, a name



208 WILLIAM TELL.

which will be ever celebrated in the annals of Helvetia,
had married the daughter of Walter Furst, and upon
that account, as well as from his enthusiastic attach-
ment to the cause of liberty, had been admitted a
member of the patriotic band.

Happening one day to pass through Altorf, thfc
sight of the hat influenced his indignation to such a
pitch against the governor, that he not only refused
obedience to his fantastic mandate, but treated the
magisterial ensign with contempt. Gesler was no
sooner informed of what had passed, than he com-
manded the bold plebeian to be dragged before him,
and, giving way to the suggestions of unbridled fury,
decreed that, as a punishment for his audacity, he
should, at the approaching festival, either pierce, with
an arrow, an apple placed upon the head of his son,
a boy of five or six years old, or should suffer imme-
diate death. So strange and inhuman a sentence
was little calculated either to soothe the minds of the
discontented populace, or to calm the resentment of
the offended palr%)t. For some moments he hesitated;
but, confident in his own unerring aim, after a little
reflection, he accepted the trial. To this, too, he was
doubtless, in part, prompted by the consideration that
a scene of such wanton cruelty must operate upon
the feelings of the spectators in a manner conformable
to his secret views.

On the appointed day, Gesler appeared in the
market place at Altorf, seated in his chair of state, and
encircled by his body-guard. His countenance be-
spoke the insolence of triumph. With a savage smile,
he ordered the culprit to be brought forward. Tell



WILLIAM TELL, 209

came with a resolute step. The attenth'e crowd, who
had been attracted from the remotest valleys to the
spot, trembled as he passed. He took his post. The
boy was stationed, by the governor's direction, at a
distance which appeared to him the most unfavorable
to the archer's skill. Tell grasped his bow. Mute
attention prevailed. Every heart beat Avith interest
and anxiety. He drew the string ; the arrow flew ;
the divided apple fell. Repeated peals announced
the joy of the spectators, and rebounded through the
adjacent rocks. The hero ran to his child, caught
him in his arms, and clasped him to his bosom. He
gave way to the eflusions of nature. Unable any
longer to suppress the violence of his emotions, he
turned to the governor, and, producing another arrow,
exclaimed, "Had viy boy fallen, this loas destined for
thee ! "

At once a prey to disappointment, rage, and shame,
Gesler commanded his soldiers again to seize the
bold offender. The populace interposed in vain. In
vain they resisted the guard. After a short conflict,
Tell was mastered, and, in order to secure him against
any attempts which might be made for his rescue,
Gesler commanded him to be conveyed to Kusnach,
a fortress on the opposite side of the lake. Fearing,
however> that the vmmerited rigor of his fate might
excito a sentiment of compassion in the bosoms of those
on whom he had imposed the execution of this harsh
decree, the governor resolved to accompany him in
person, and embarked with his attendants in the same
boat. But scarcely were they out of the reach of
the shore, when the clouds, which had been gathering
N 18*



210 WILLIAM TELL,

round the summit of St. Gothard, and to which Ges-
ler, blinded by excessive passion, had paid little
attention, burst in a furious tempest. The violence
of the storm precluded all possibility of returning, and
the surrounding rocks, which rise almost perpendicu-
larly from the level of the water, rendered all attempts
to land impracticable. The watermen sunk under
the labor of the oar, and, unable longer to contend
affainst the fury of the winds, gave in, and commended
themselves to Providence for protection.

In this fearful crisis, some one of the passengers,
recollecting that Tell had the reputation of being a
skilful pilot, suggested to the governor, as the only
expedient that was left, to prevail upon him to take
charge of the vessel, and to exert his power for their
mutual salvation. Gesler caught with eagerness at
the proposal. The prisoner was unbound and placed
at the helm. For some time he struggled manfully
against the storm, and took advantage of his local
knowledge, to weather its fury ; till, by degrees, he
approached the bank, at a spot where the receding
mountains leave a small promontory for man to save
himself from the fury of the waves. The courage of
the passengers now revived. They already thought
themselves secure. But, as Tell approached the
shore, having conducted the bark to the spot he wished,
he boldly plunged into the flood. With one hand he
seized the rock ; with the other he pushed back the
vessel, and left the affrighted tyrant, Avith his dis-
mayed companions, in a situation little short of
despair. The tempest, however, at length abated —
with difficulty they gained the shore. But the gov-



WILLIAM TELL. 211

ernor had escaped the waves, only to meet another
fate. Tell, who had escaped, met him on the road, a
little beyond Brunnen, and, in an instant, an arrow
laid him dead at his feet !

The news of this event ran like an electric spark
among the friends of liberty, and threatened to pre-
cipitate the movement contemplated by Furst and his
associates. But such was their prudence, that the
ferment subsided, and stratagem was adopted rather
than force. It was an important object to get posses-
sion of the strong castle of Rotzberg. Here dwelt a
maiden beloved by a Swiss youth named Wolfgang.
She was persuaded by her lover to admit him into
her room at night, by means of a ladder let down
from her window. He ascended, several of his com-
panions followed, and the castle was taken without
bloodshed.

Early on the following morning, a select party of
the brave inhabitants of Unterwalden met Landenberg,
as he was going from the castle of Sarnen to the
parish church, to be present at the celebration of mass
on new-year's day. They were loaded with presents,
which, according to the usages of those times, were
offered at this season to men in power. A troop of
thirty more lay in ambush near the walls, ready to
appear upon the first alarm. Delighted with the
liberality of the offering, which had been purposely
made more abundant than usual, the governor invited
them into the castle, and ordered them to be welcomed
with a hospitable glass. But no sooner had they
gained admittance into the court, than the expected
signal was given by a blast upon a horn. The men



212 WILLIAM TELL.

without flew to the assistance of their friends. They
seized upon the 'bridge and the magazine of arms
before the little garrison was prepared to resist. Ter-
rified by the suddenness of the attack, and ignorant
of the numbers by whom they were assailed, they
threw down their swords, and surrendered, upon the
promise of their lives.

The insurgents, who had now risen on all sides,
were everywhere equally fortunate. In the course
of one day, the castles of Sarnen and Rotzberg, in
Unterwalden, those of Schwanan and Kusnach, in
Schweitz, and the newly-erected fortress near Altorf,
in Uri, were taken and given up to the flames ; and
with them Avas every vestige of despotism effaced.
History exhibits few events more extraordinary than
this. Whether we consider the advantages which
were obtained, the means by which the conquest was
effected, or the humanity with which it was used, we
shall find equal cause for admiration and wonder;
at a moment when, flushed with victory and irritated
by the most wanton acts of oppression, much might
have been urged in defence of the insurgents, had
they overstept the bounds of moderation, and given
way to those excesses which are the common attend-
ants of recovered liberty. But all former animosities
were buried in oblivion. The prisoners were treated
with generosity, and, being conducted to the frontiers,
were released, upon a solemn promise that they would
never more pollute the land of freedom with their
venal step. Indeed, except in the single instance of
Gesler, who fell the victim of his own imprudence,
not one drop of blood was shed !



WILLIAM TELL. 213

The welcome intelligence flew with rapidity from
mountain to mountain. Every goatiierd immediately
threw aside his pipe and crook, and armed in the
common cause. Staufacher, Melchlhal, Tell, and
Walter Furst were received by their exulting coun-
trymen with every demonstration of gratitude which
the simplicity of rustic manners would allow. The
joy was universal. The opulent farmer set wide his
hospitable door to his poorer neighbor, and, amid the
festivity that prevailed, the names of their deliverers
resounded with blessings from every tongue. The
world, perhaps, never exhibited a spectacle more con-
genial to humanity. It was the triumph of innocence
over the unjust attempts of despotism.

Of the subsequent events of Toll's life we know
but little. He is said to have taken part in the war
which was afterwards waged with the Austrian gov-
ernment, and to have lost his life in an inundation,
about the year 1350. We may lament this barrenness
of detail, yet enough has been rescued from the obliv-
ion of the past, to excite our sympathy, to furnish a
lasting lesson to tyrants, and to show us that liberty
may find a champion even in the unlettered peasant,
in a dark age, and amid the wildest and most rugged
recesses of nature.





JOHN HOWARD,

Who has justly obtained a celebrity over the whole
civilized world for his extraordinary and unceasing
■>fforts in the cause of suffering humanity, and for
which he has been generally and justly entitled " the'
Benevolent Howard," was born about the year 1727,
at Clapton, in the parish of Hackney, a large village
immediately adjoining London. To this place his
father seems to have removed from the pursuit of his
business as an upholsterer, in Long Lane, Smithfield,
where he had acquired a considerable fortune. The
education of young Howard was extremely superficial ;
and when he left school, he was put as an apprentic*?



JOHN HOYv^ARD. 215

to a wholesale grocer in the city ; but this situation not
being at all to his taste, he embraced the opportunity,
on coming of age, of purchasing from his master the
remainder of his time. By his father's will, he was
not to be the possessor of his inheritance until he
reached his twenty-fourth year, and then he became
entitled to the sum of seven thousand pounds, in addi-
tion to the whole of his father's landed property, his
plate, furniture, pictures, &c.

Coming thus into the possession of a respectable
patrimony, he was now at liberty to follow out the
bent of his inclinations, which he did by setting out
on his travels through France and Italy. On his
return, being of delicate health and inclined to con-
sumption, he was put upon a rigorous regimen, Avhich
is said to have laid the foundation of that extraordi-
nary abstemiousness and indifference to the gratifica-
tion of his palate, which ever after so much distin-
guished him. In 1752, when twenty-five years of
age, he married a lady in her fifty-second year; a step
he took in consequence of having received from her
many marks of kind attention during a sickness Avith
which he was overtaken. The death of his wife in a
few years put an end to this somewhat imprudent
connexion. Soon after this event, he resolved upon
leaving England on another tour, with a view to divert
his mind from the melancholy reflections which that
lispensation of Providence had occasioned.

The country which Howard first intended to visit
was Portugal, then rendered particularly interesting
by the situation of its capital, still smoking in ruins
from the effects of a tremendous earthquake. A



216 JOHN HOWARD.

great part of its capital, Lisbon, and thousands of
its inhabitants, had been embowelled in the earth. It
was to this sublime spectacle that Mr. Howard's
attention Avas principally directed ; and he accordingly
took his passage in a vessel, which, unfortunately,
was captured by a French privateer. This event,"
unlucky in itself, gave a turn to the fate of the young
philanthropist, and proved ultimately beneficial to
mankind. His captors used him with great cruelty;
for, after having been kept forty hours without food
or water, he was carried into Brest, and confined,
with the other prisoners, in the castle of that place.
Here, after being cast, with the crew and the rest of
the passengers, into a filthy dungeon, and there kept a
considerable time without nourishment, a joint of mut-
ton was at length thrown into the midst of them, and,
for want of a knife, they were obliged to tear it in
pieces, and gnaw it like dogs. In this dungeon he
and his companions lay for six nights upon the floor,
with nothing but straw. He was afterwards removed
to Morlaix, and thence to Carpaix, Avhere he was two
months upon parole.

He had no sooner obtained his own freedom, than he
exerted all his influence to procure the liberation of
some of his fellow-countrymen. Whilst at Carpaix,
he obtained abundant evidence cf the English prison-
ers of war in France being treated with inhuman bar-
barity, and he did not rest till he influenced the gov-
ernment in their behalf. It is to this event that we
may refer the first excitement of his attention to
those who Avere sick, and in prison, which afterwards
occupied the greater part of sixteen years. Soon



JOHN HOWARD. 217

ifter his return to England, he formed a connection
with an amiable young lady, whom he married, and
with her assistance he carried into effect various
schemes of benevolence, for meliorating the condi-
tion of his tenantry and the poor in his neighborhood.
Of this valuable assistance he was, however, deprived,
by the death of his wife, soon after she had given
birth to a son.

In 1769-70, Mr. Howard paid a third and fourth
visit to the continent, and of which he has left various
memoranda, written in a strain of unaffected Chris-
tian piety. In 1773, while in his retirement in
England, he was created high sheriff of the county of
Bedford. In this office he had numberless opportuni-
ties of inspecting the condition of the jails and bride-
wells under his jurisdiction, of remedying grievances,
and alleviating the distresses of poor prisoners. The
more he saw of the condition of the English prisons,
the more he became anxious to pursue his investiga-
tions all over the countrj'. He proceeded upon tours
into several counties, and the scenes of misery which
came under his notice were truly deplorable. At
Salisbury, just without the prison gate, was a chain
passed through a round staple fixed in the wall, at
each end of which a debtor, padlocked by the leg,
stood offering to those who passed by, nets, laces,
purses, kc, made in the prison. At Winchester, Mr.
Howard saw a destructive dungeon for felons, eleven
steps under ground, dark, damp, and close. The
surgeon of the jail informed him that in this, twenty
prisoners had died of the jail fever in one year. One
of the places which Mr. Howard inspected in the
VI.— 19



218 JOHN HOWARD.

course of his journey, was the bridewell of Surry, at
Guilford, in which he found neither bedding, straw,
nor work. Soon after his return from making inves-
tigations into the condition of these abodes of vice
and misery, he was examined before a committee of
the house of commons, touching the knowledge he
had thus acquired ; and, being called to the bar, the
speaker acquainted him that the house was very sen-
sible of the humanity and zeal which had led him to
visit the several jails of this kingdom, and conveyed to
him the grateful thanks of the house and the country
for his benevolent exertions in behalf of the most
de.'ititute and outcast members of this community.

Mr. Howard continued, throughout the year 1773-74,
to inspect the prisons and bridewells of England, and,
on one occasion, 3xtended his tour of philanthropy
into Scotland and Ireland. In 1775, he proceeded to
the continent, for the purpose of examining the jails
in France, Holland, and part of Flanders, Germany,
and Switzerland, most of which he found under better
management than those in Great Britain. He was
particularly pleased with the prisons of Holland,
whjch presented a model, that, except in a few points,
he wished to have seen adopted in England, and
every nation on the globe. He found a good deal to
interest him in Germany. ' In the towns in that
country, he frequently saw the doors of sundry rooms
in the prisons marked, Ethiopia, India, Italy, France,
England, &c. On inquiring what such words meant,
he was informed that in these rooms, parents, by
the authority of the magistrates, confined their disso-
lute children, answering, in the mean while, to the



JOHN HOWARD. 219

inquiries which might be made after them, that they
were gone to whatever country might be written upon
the place of their confinement.

In travelling, Howard lived in the plainest manner;
generally carrying along with his luggage a tea-kcllle
and other utensils, as well as the materials for mak-
ing tea, of which he was fond, for its simple exhilar-
ating qualities. At the inns, however, he generally
ordered the best victuals and wines, so that there
might be no complaint as to his stinginess ; but these
luxuries he seldom tasted. When he considered
himself ill-treated by postilions, he punished them by
withholding extra fees ; but, to show that he did not
do so for the purpose of saving money, he sent his
servant to gather the poor of the place, and, in the
presence of the postilion, distributed among them the
sum he would have paid. These traits of character
becoming Avidely known, he was generally carefully
attended to wherever he travelled.

On one occasion, he happened to visit a monastery
at Prague, where he found the inmates feasting on a
day which ought to have been devoted to abstinence.
He was so much displeased with this breach of disci-
pline, that he threatened to proceed to Rome to inform
the Pope ; and it was only after tho monks had made
the most humiliating apology, and expressed their
contrition, that he promised to be silent on the subject
to the head of their church. In 1781, he again
departed from England on a tour of philanthropy, in
order to proceed through Denmark, Sweden, Russia,
and Poland, and some other countries in the north of
Europe, with the view of inspecting the prisons



220 JOHN IIOV/ARD.

and hospitals on his route. Copenhagen, Stockhohn,
Petersburg, and Moscow were respectively visited,
and in each he collected valuable information on the
state of the common jails, and modes of punishment.

Having thus visited every state of Europe, whence
he could hope to derive assistance for the completion
of the great design which animated him, except the
two southern kingdoms of Spain and Portugal, he
next directed his course thither, and on this journey
visited the prisons of Madrid, Lisbon, and other
populous towns. This tour being completed, he
returned to England, and finished his fourth general
inspection of the English jails, preparatory to the
publication of a second edition of his Appendix to the
State of Prisons, a work he had sometime before
given to the public. When these journeys were
finished, he summed up the number of miles Avhich,
in less than ten years, he had travelled in his OAvn
country and abroad, on the reform of prisons, bride-
wells, and hospitals, and found that they formed a
total of forty-two thousand and thirty-three.

When, in the spring of 1784, Howard had laid
before the public the result of his minute inspection
of the prisons, and many of the hospitals of his own
country, and of the principal states of Europe, he
retired to his estate at Cardington, in whose calm
seclusion he purposed to spend the remaining years
of his existence. He had now nothing to embitter his
peace but the conduct of his son, who, having been
sent to the University of Edinburgh, and placed under
the care of the venerable Dr. Blacklock, unhappily
contracted habits of dissipation and extravagance,



JOHN HOWARD. 221

which were his own ruin, and well-nigh broke his
father's heart.

After having devoted more than eleven years of his
valuable existence to the reformation of the jails, and
the improvement of the hospitals of his own country,
as well as those of foreign states, he determined again
to quit his home on a journey of benevolence, more
important to the interests of the human race, though
fraught with greater danger to himself, than any he
had yet undertaken. His plan was indeed the most
humane and beneficent that ever entered into the
mind of man, for it was to check the progress of
devouring pestilence, be inspecting the condition of
the principal lazarettos in Europe, and, if possible,
to throw light on the origin of that dreadful scourge
of mankind — the plague. On this tour of mercy, he
visited the Italian states, and from thence passed by
sea to Turkey, in which country he examined the
hospitals and prisons of Constantinople, Smyrna, and
other places. While on this expedition, being at sea,
the vessel was attacked by a Moorish privateer. In
the engagement which took place, he fought with
great bravery, and aided in repelling the attack of the
barbarians. When he arrived in Venice, he sub-
mitted, with the crew of the vessel, to the most
shocking privations in a loathsome lazaretto, in order
to acquire knowledge of the management of those
supposed to be laboring under plague. In all these
trials his cheerfulness never forsook him. Being
liberated in due course of time, he returned to Eng-
land, and resumed his inspection of the town and
county jails and bridewells. It is mentioned that he
19*



222 JOHN HO^VARD.

frequently exercised his liberality in relieving poor
debtors from confinement, by paying- their debts. " I
have often seen him come to his lodgings," says the
journal of his attendant in most of his tours, " in such
spirits and joy, Avhen he Avould say to me, ' I have
made a poor woman happy ; I have sent her husband
home to her and her children.' " He was exceedingly
methodical in spending his time. He generally
declined every invitation to dinner or to supper whilst
on his tours ; abstained from visiting every object of
curiosity, however attractive, and even from looking
mto a newspaper, lest his attention should be diverted
from the grand purpose in which he was engaged.

In 1789-90, Howard again proceeded on a journey —
which was the seventh and last — to the continent, to
reexamine the prisons and hospitals of Holland, part
of Germany, Prussia, and Russia. His plan was
to have spent three years abroad. One object of his
pursuit, and perhaps the principal one, was to obtain
further information respecting the plague, by extend
ing his visits to those parts of the world in which it
rages with the greatest virulence', and on some of
whose infectious coasts it is supposed to take its rise.
As soon as he had resolved to undertake this hazard-
ous journey, he became impressed with the belief that
it would be his last ; and when he to.ok leave of one
and another of his friends, he did it as one whose face
they would see no more on this side of the grave.
These feelings were sadly verified. The benevolent
Howard penetrated, in his journey, into the deserts of
Tartary, to the confines of the Euxine Sea, every-
where examining the prisons and hospitals, and doing



JOHN HOWARD. 223

all in his power to alleviate the sufferings of the


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibrarySamuel G. (Samuel Griswold) GoodrichLives of benefactors; → online text (page 14 of 21)