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CHAPTER XIV.

PRESENT STATE OF CIVILISATION IN BRITAIN.

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Present State of Society contrasted with that of the last Century. - Former Indecorum of Manners. Street Outrages. Deficient Police. — Horrible Frequency of Capital Punishments. Gibbets in the Highways. Feeble Attempts in 1763 to organise a Constabulary Force. Destitute Class. Alteration in the Proportion of the several Classes of Society. Tendency of the last War, and the Increase of the Public Debt, to augment the Middle Class and to diminish the Upper. Effects of Steam Power. Condition of the Working Class. - Personal Property.

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IN the preceding pages we have shown, that the increase of civilisation in Great Britain has chiefly arisen from the industry and commercial activity of the population, and the liberal form of government that has been the result.

Since the reign of George III., time has been pregnant with most important events. These, however, are so fresh in the memory of every one, that recapitulation is needless. In every instance they have confirmed the paramount influence of public opinion, and the increase of civilisation. Another reason presents itself for not touching on these several events: they are so near to the pre

PRESENT STATE OF CIVILISATION IN BRITAIN. 291

sent time, have occupied so much the minds of men, and have been so warmly applauded or condemned by political parties, that to enlarge on them might have the appearance of political partisanship, which it has been the writer's anxious desire to avoid in

these pages.

Let us therefore proceed to take a bird's-eye view of the present state of civilisation in England, after which our attention will be directed to the condition of the most prominent states of Europe, and of the world.

The extraordinary improvement that has taken place of late years in this island may be ascertained by comparing the present state of society to that which is known to have existed within the last century. Let us advert to the general coarseness of manners formerly prevalent. We will not go so far back as the reign of the Stuarts, when a chief justice sitting on the bench could vituperate the accused before him in the grossest terms*, but come to a more recent period.† The wit and sarcasm of Addison and Steele were levelled against that general indecorum of manners which then characterised society. Novels and dramatic pieces current in that day could not, in their original state, be tolerated for a moment at the present time. The grossest habits

Address of C. J. Coke to Sir Walter Raleigh:-"Monster, viper, spider of hell," &c.

† Some of the following remarks are derived from an able paper by Mr. W. Weir, in Knight's "London."

were then common, and permitted in the best circles. Inebriety and a disregard of the decencies of life were the order of the day. That high, and even fastidious, sense of honour, propriety, and decorum which gives tone and elegance to society at present, from the highest personage in the realm to the verge of the lower class, were then unknown. Even in Italy, where a lax system of morality prevails, a sense of the elegant and beautiful, so generally diffused, and so sedulously cultivated by all classes, supplies, in some degree, the want of a sterner and more moral code. In the present state of society in Great Britain, we have the advantage of the former without the alloy of the latter. Within little more than half a century, the absence of literary or artistical tastes, the want of delicacy and decorum, and the rude and coarse amusements which were run after by the bulk of even the highest and most opulent classes in this country, till the middle of the 18th century, mainly contributed to the frequent acts of violence which present such a startling picture of social insecurity.* Want of order, and deficiency in police regulations, made the metropolis of England, within the last sixty years, and all the other

* The savage scenes at Hockley in the Hole, the brutal scenes at the Cockpit, the swindling at the Bowling Alley of Marylebone and elsewhere, and the vast number of small gambling houses, at which all comers were received, and which all men from the highest gentlemen to menial servants nightly frequented, are evidences of the state of society in the eighteenth century. Knight's London.

large towns in Great Britain, most insecure at night, and even during the day.

It would ill suit the object of our remarks to amplify this subject; brief facts, as in note below*, will best illustrate the condition of the metropolis. The riots of 1780 are evidence of the state of the police, and of the respect for private property and security of individuals.

Danger in perambulating the streets, annoyance to respectable persons, particularly females, and other public grievances arising from deficiency in the police, are so well known to have existed until within very few years, that it would be unnecessary to enter more fully into them, particularly as they are no longer felt, and the admirable constabulary system now introduced, and adopted in nearly every large town in the empire, has added much to the

*

"In 1778 there was a battle on Blackfriars Bridge between a party of soldiers and a band of smugglers, who made the Fleet Prison the depôt for their run goods for several years without molestation. In this contest the soldiers were only partially successful."

"On the 4th of June, 1779, George III.'s birth-day, some sailors quarrelled with a Jew, who retired to Duke's Place, followed by the men, who attacked his house, and two others, threw every thing out of the windows, broke the furniture, tore the beds, and left the house a perfect ruin; with the furniture three children sick of the small-pox were also thrown out of the window."

"The coaches that started from London when any celebrated highwayman was known to have taken the road, were attended by volunteer guards, who were paid for the occasion.”—Knight's Picture of London.

comfort and security of social life, as well as to the debt of gratitude we owe to those by whom it was instituted.

Let us allude to another topic arising from the improved state of society; that is, the infrequency of capital punishments now prevalent, when compared to former times—a manifest proof of the increase of civilisation. In this remark we hope not to be misunderstood, or thought to insinuate that the mawkish feeling, which asserts that an atrocious violater of the laws of his country is not to suffer the penalty of his crimes, can be vindicated. Far from it: the fault sometimes in human nature is, to go from one extreme to the other, and to imagine that, because too many capital punishments in the last century took place, all ought now to be abolished. Much as society is improved, it has not yet reached such a point of perfection. Although our laws were said to be formerly written in blood, care must be taken they are not now written in milk and water. To come, however, to the question of the singular change that has taken place in capital punishments since the increase of civilisation.

Harrison states, that in the reign of Henry VIII. there were hanged 72,000 rogues and thieves (besides other malefactors). This makes about two thousand a year. Yet Harrison com

* Book iii. chap. 11.

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