But to our subject,--the Model Prison, and the strange theory of life now in action there. That, for the present, is my share in the wide adventure of Philanthropism; the world's share, and how and when it is to be liquidated and ended, rests with the Supreme Destinies.
Several months ago, some friends took me with them to see one of the London Prisons; a Prison of the exemplary or model kind. An immense circuit of buildings; cut out, girt with a high ring-wall, from the lanes and streets of the quarter, which is a dim and crowded one. Gateway as to a fortified place; then a spacious court, like the square of a city; broad staircases, passages to interior courts; fronts of stately architecture all round. It lodges some thousand or twelve hundred prisoners, besides the officers of the establishment. Surely one of the most perfect buildings, within the compass of London. We looked at the apartments, sleeping-cells, dining-rooms, working-rooms, general courts or special and private: excellent all, the ne-plus-ultra of human care and ingenuity; in my life I never saw so clean a building; probably no Duke in England lives in a mansion of such perfect and thorough cleanness.
The bread, the cocoa, soup, meat, all the various sorts of food, in their respective cooking-places, we tasted: found them of excellence superlative. The prisoners sat at work, light work, picking oakum, and the like, in airy apartments with glass roofs, of agreeable temperature and perfect ventilation; silent, or at least conversing only by secret signs: others were out, taking their hour of promenade in clean flagged courts: methodic composure, cleanliness, peace, substantial wholesome comfort reigned everywhere supreme. The women in other apartments, some notable murderesses among them, all in the like state of methodic composure and substantial wholesome comfort, sat sewing: in long ranges of wash-houses, drying-houses and whatever pertains to the getting-up of clean linen, were certain others, with all conceivable mechanical furtherances, not too arduously working. The notable murderesses were, though with great precautions of privacy, pointed out to us; and we were requested not to look openly at them, or seem to notice them at all, as it was found to "cherish their vanity" when visitors looked at them. Schools too were there; intelligent teachers of both sexes, studiously instructing the still ignorant of these thieves.
From an inner upper room or gallery, we looked down into a range of private courts, where certain Chartist Notabilities were undergoing their term. Chartist Notability First struck me very much; I had seen him about a year before, by involuntary accident and much to my disgust, magnetizing a silly young person; and had noted well the unlovely voracious look of him, his thick oily skin, his heavy dull-burning eyes, his greedy mouth, the dusky potent insatiable animalism that looked out of every feature of him: a fellow adequate to animal-magnetize most things, I did suppose;--and here was the post I now found him arrived at. Next neighbor to him was Notability Second, a philosophic or literary Chartist; walking rapidly to and fro in his private court, a clean, high-walled place; the world and its cares quite excluded, for some months to come: master of his own time and spiritual resources to, as I supposed, a really enviable extent. What "literary man" to an equal extent! I fancied I, for my own part, so left with paper and ink, and all taxes and botherations shut out from me, could have written such a Book as no reader will here ever get of me. Never, O reader, never here in a mere house with taxes and botherations. Here, alas, one has to snatch one's poor Book, bit by bit, as from a conflagration; and to think and live, comparatively, as if the house were not one's own, but mainly the world's and the devil's. Notability Second might have filled one with envy.
The Captain of the place, a gentleman of ancient Military or Royal-Navy habits, was one of the most perfect governors; professionally and by nature zealous for cleanliness, punctuality, good order of every kind; a humane heart and yet a strong one; soft of speech and manner, yet with an inflexible rigor of command, so far as his limits went: "iron hand in a velvet glove," as Napoleon defined it. A man of real worth, challenging at once love and respect: the light of those mild bright eyes seemed to permeate the place as with an all-pervading vigilance, and kindly yet victorious illumination; in the soft definite voice it was as if Nature herself were promulgating her orders, gentlest mildest orders, which however, in the end, there would be no disobeying, which in the end there would be no living without fulfilment of. A true "aristos," and commander of men. A man worthy to have commanded and guided forward, in good ways, twelve hundred of the best common-people in London or the world: he was here, for many years past, giving all his care and faculty to command, and guide forward in such ways as there were, twelve hundred of the worst. I looked with considerable admiration on this gentleman; and with considerable astonishment, the reverse of admiration, on the work he had here been set upon.
This excellent Captain was too old a Commander to complain of anything; indeed he struggled visibly the other way, to find in his own mind that all here was best; but I could sufficiently discern that, in his natural instincts, if not mounting up to the region of his thoughts, there was a continual protest going on against much of it; that nature and all his inarticulate persuasion (however much forbidden to articulate itself) taught him the futility and unfeasibility of the system followed here. The Visiting Magistrates, he gently regretted rather than complained, had lately taken his tread-wheel from him, men were just now pulling it down; and how he was henceforth to enforce discipline on these bad subjects, was much a difficulty with him. "They cared for nothing but the tread-wheel, and for having their rations cut short:" of the two sole penalties, hard work and occasional hunger, there remained now only one, and that by no means the better one, as he thought. The "sympathy" of visitors, too, their "pity" for his interesting scoundrel-subjects, though he tried to like it, was evidently no joy to this practical mind. Pity, yes: but pity for the scoundrel-species? For those who will not have pity on themselves, and will force the Universe and the Laws of Nature to have no "pity on" them? Meseems I could discover fitter objects of pity!
In fact it was too clear, this excellent man had got a field for his faculties which, in several respects, was by no means the suitable one. To drill twelve hundred scoundrels by "the method of kindness," and of abolishing your very tread-wheel,--how could any commander rejoice to have such a work cut out for him? You had but to look in the faces of these twelve hundred, and despair, for most part, of ever "commanding" them at all. Miserable distorted blockheads, the generality; ape-faces, imp-faces, angry dog-faces, heavy sullen ox-faces; degraded underfoot perverse creatures, sons of _in_docility, greedy mutinous darkness, and in one word, of STUPIDITY, which is the general mother of such. Stupidity intellectual and stupidity moral (for the one always means the other, as you will, with surprise or not, discover if you look) had borne this progeny: base-natured beings, on whom in the course of a maleficent subterranean life of London Scoundrelism, the Genius of Darkness (called Satan, Devil, and other names) had now visibly impressed his seal, and had marked them out as soldiers of Chaos and of him,--appointed to serve in _his_ Regiments, First of the line, Second ditto, and so on in their order. Him, you could perceive, they would serve; but not easily another than him. These were the subjects whom our brave Captain and Prison-Governor was appointed to command, and reclaim to _other_ service, by "the method of love," with a tread-wheel abolished.
Hopeless forevermore such a project. These abject, ape, wolf, ox, imp and other diabolic-animal specimens of humanity, who of the very gods could ever have commanded them by love? A collar round the neck, and a cart-whip flourished over the back; these, in a just and steady human hand, were what the gods would have appointed them; and now when, by long misconduct and neglect, they had sworn themselves into the Devil's regiments of the line, and got the seal of Chaos impressed on their visage, it was very doubtful whether even these would be of avail for the unfortunate commander of twelve hundred men! By "love," without hope except of peaceably teasing oakum, or fear except of a temporary loss of dinner, he was to guide these men, and wisely constrain them,--whitherward? No-whither: that was his goal, if you will think well of it; that was a second fundamental falsity in his problem. False in the warp and false in the woof, thought one of us; about as false a problem as any I have seen a good man set upon lately! To guide scoundrels by "love;" that is a false woof, I take it, a method that will not hold together; hardly for the flower of men will love alone do; and for the sediment and scoundrelism of men it has not even a chance to do. And then to guide any class of men, scoundrel or other, _No-whither_, which was this poor Captain's problem, in this Prison with oakum for its one element of hope or outlook, how can that prosper by "love" or by any conceivable method? That is a warp wholly false. Out of which false warp, or originally false condition to start from, combined and daily woven into by your false woof, or methods of "love" and such like, there arises for our poor Captain the falsest of problems, and for a man of his faculty the unfairest of situations. His problem was, not to command good men to do something, but bad men to do (with superficial disguises) nothing.