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A History of English Prose Fiction by Tuckerman

One class of constables was described by Fielding in Amelia


the article; otherwise he had

it made unrecognizable by skilled workmen whom he employed for the purpose, and presented it to a faithful follower, or disposed of it in the regular course of business. It is impossible not to notice a certain resemblance between Johnathan Wild and Defoe's English Tradesman. The practical turn of mind, the absence of sentiment so characteristic of the times, are to be seen alike in the thief, the tradesman, and the gentleman. Conducted on purely business principles, like a mercer's shop or a marriage between noble families, without hatred or affection, anger or generosity, the work went on. Wild dealt in human lives with the same cold, money-making calculation which directed the disposal of a stolen watch. When public complaints were made, that although many robberies were committed few thieves were apprehended, Wild supplied the gallows with thieves who were useless to him or lukewarm in his interest. When a large reward was offered for the apprehension of a criminal, Wild was usually able to deliver the man. If he was unable to do so, or was friendly to the criminal, he still secured the reward by giving false information against an innocent person, and supported his assertions by the perjury of his subordinates. By these methods he soon grew rich. He carried a silver wand which he asserted to be a badge of office given him by the government, and entered into secret leagues with corrupt magistrates. After a time he called himself a gentleman, and wore a sword, the first use
of which was to cut off his wife's ear. At last he was detected in aiding the escape of a highwayman confined in Newgate, and being deprived of his power, he was easily convicted. He was hung in 1725, and on his way to the scaffold was almost pelted to death by the mob.

The impunity with which Wild followed his long career of crime was not unusual. The authorities were inefficient and corrupt. Fielding, himself a police justice, makes a magistrate say in "Amelia": "And to speak my opinion plainly, such are the laws and such the method of proceeding that one would almost think our laws were made for the protection of rogues, rather than for the punishment of them." The laws bore hardly upon the poor and spared the rich. "The parson," complained Defoe in the "Poor Man's Plea," "preaches a thundering sermon against drunkenness, and the justice of the peace sets my poor neighbor in the stocks, and I am like to be much the better for either, when I know perhaps that this same parson and this same justice were both drunk together but the night before." The magistrates and constables were as much in need of reform as the laws. "The greatest criminals in this town," said Walpole,[147] "are the officers of justice; there is no tyranny they do not exercise, no villany of which they do not partake." Many of the magistrates were never impartial, except, as Fielding said: "when they could get nothing on either side." One class of constables was described by Fielding in "Amelia."[148] The watchmen


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