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THERE are a few curiosities of our existing
criminal law that wait to be, as Sir Matthew
Hale would say, laid flat. A good many
have been laid flat since his time; for that
famous Judge and Historian of the Pleas of
the Crown lived in Stuart days, and died in
the year sixteen hundred and seventy-six.
A great many, he tells us, had been laid flat
when he lived; for instance, it had ceased to
be felony and death to sell a horse to a

Jack Cade, if Shakespeare knew his mind,
meant that when he was king it should be
felony to drink small beer; and that, we
may say, looking at some actual cases, would
have been no great sharpening of law. We
have now not more executions in the country
every year than used to be provided often in
a single morning only. Seventy or eighty
years ago, there were never less than a dozen
culprits hung in a row after every Old Bailey
sessions; and Townsend, the Bow Street
runner, said that he remembered a sessions
of seventeen hundred and eighty-three, when
Serjeant Adair was Recorder, after which
forty were hanged at two executions. In
earlier time, the lightest heed was taken of
the punishment of death. It was no rare
and solemn sentence, but staple judicial
routine, that might be enlivened with a joke
when possible, to colour its monotony. Thus,
Lord Bacon tells of his father Sir Nicholas,
that when appointed a Judge on the northern
circuit, " He was by one of the malefactors
mightily importuned for to save his life;
which, when nothing he had said did avail,
he at length desired his mercy on account of
kindred, ' Prithee,' said my Lord Judge, ' how
came that in? '' Why, if it please you, my
lord, your name is Bacon, and mine is Hog;
and in all ages Hog and Bacon have been so
near kindred, that they are not to be
separated.'—' Ay, but,' replied Judge Bacon, 'you
and I cannot be kindred except you be
hanged; for Hog is not Bacon until it be
well hanged.'"

Of course crime was not lessened by
extreme severity. As for the punishment of
death, Mr. Harmer, a great gaol solicitor,
said, in his evidence before the Criminal Law
Commission, " In the course of my experience,
I have found that the punishment of death
has no terror on a common thief. I have
very often heard thieves express their great
dislike of being sent to the House of
Correction, or the hulks, but I never heard one
say that he was afraid of being hanged."
Mr. Amos, Downing Professor of the Laws
at Cambridge (upon whose recent very
interesting sketch, Ruins of Time Exemplified in
Sir Matthew Hale's History of the Pleas of
the Crown, this article is wholly founded),
suggests also the case of a person in a
respectable station of life, who lived during the last
century in Holborn Court, Gray's Inn, and
was for a long time in the habit of breaking
open and robbing chambers in the Inns of
Court, without any suspicion attaching to
him. It is remarkable that, during this
period, he always went to Abingdon's coffee-
house, in Holborn, on an execution-day, to
see from thence the prisoners pass by in their
carts to Tyburn. At no other time did he
frequent that coffee-house.

The result of ordering men to do what
they will not, or cannot do, is, when action of
some kind is enforced, commonly absurd.
The law used to compel jurymen, if they
acquitted any accused man of murder, not
merely to acquit him, but to name the guilty
person. Whenever they could not do this to
the satisfaction of their consciences, the juries
declared that the real murderer was John-a-
Noakes. That person of whom we speak so
often as Jack Noakes in friendly tones, has
been declared guilty by jury after jury of a
series of horrible atrocities. Away with
him, then! Let him be laid flat! When
larcenies were grand and petty, and a few
shillings more or less in the value of a stolen
article made the question one of life or death
to the thief; juries used, in the most open
way, to deal in what were called by
Blackstone pious perjuries. It was a common
thing for them to find that five-pound-notes,
or ten-pound-notes of the Bank of England,
were articles of the value of twelve pence,
four shillings and sixpence, or twenty-nine
shillings, as the humanity of the case
required. In fact, the result of the too great
stringency of law was a great laxity of
practice, illustrated in the happiest way by the
bleachers, who petitioned parliament to
PROTECT them by withdrawing the