Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Last week (August 25, 1860)

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Many Englishmen may not know why the Sicilians and the Neapolitans dislike the Bourbons. A few words upon the subject just now may not be amiss, for the chances are, before these lines are published, the warning on the wall may have received practical fulfilment. Young Francis II., the pitiless son of a most pitiless father, has been weighed in the balance long since, and has been found wanting. The ships are waiting in the offing to take him away to Austria, the asylum of deposed kings. Empire has passed from his hands.

Now, in talking of Neapolitans and Sicilians, we are not speaking of people like ourselves. This quick, impulsive, sensuous race does not breed Hampdens and Sidneys. Northern nations are gluttonous, metaphysical, and hard to guide. The old Viking blood moves in our veins still, and the sturdy Saxon spirit fires us to action. Englishmen are discontented, and a Cromwell expounds their grievances, or they seek a home on the other side of the globe—say in North America, or in Australia. We are an unmanageable set. Not so with these warmer and more comfortable fellow-creatures of ours, who are content to bask all day under a Calabrian sun, and to wander about at night under the great moon which silvers over their beautiful bays and creeks, or to watch the fiery play of Vesuvius or Ætna. Give the peasant in these regions a handful of maccaroni and a slice of melon to sustain his body, and a little image of the Virgin all over spangles to inspire his poor soul with devout thoughts, and you have done enough for him. The maccaroni is his here—the little doll his hereafter. Of course this description does not apply to the number of highly intellectual and highly educated men whom Naples has produced. England and France might be proud to insert the names of many of the Neapolitan historians and men of science on their bead-roll of worthies. The tyranny of the Bourbons, however, has been so impartial that it has struck at both classes. It has paralysed the intellect and tortured the mere muscle of the country. With the story of Poerio and his companions so freshly before us no one would attempt to deny the cruelties that have been systematically practised by the Government of Naples upon the educated classes. But it has been the fashion to say that, however harsh the Government of the late and the present king has been wherever they found or suspected brains, still, on the whole, and as far as the peasantry were concerned, it was a good, sympathetic, rollicking sort of rule enough. Had this been so, both Ferdinand and Francis might have snapped their fingers at the advocates and men of letters. A hundred Garibaldis would not have sufficed to drive the young Bourbon from his throne if he had the peasantry of the country on his side. To say the least, there would have been two parties in the country; but the only Royalists in the country known as The Two Sicilies—leaving the Camarilla and the mere hangers-on about the court out of the question—have turned out to be Austrian recruits, and the rump of the Swiss regiments. This requires explanation.

Now a few words may not be amiss as to the causes of the discontent which seems to be universal. The mission of the Bourbons apparently is to put loyalty out of fashion. In France, in Spain, and now in Naples it is the same thing. When Murat had been disposed of at Pizzo, by the easy process of putting half-a-dozen balls through his head, the restored Bourbons had it for a while all their own way. Their own was to trust the management of their affairs to one of the vilest scoundrels who ever disgraced the human form. The name of this wretch was Canosa; he was the head of the secret police. To be sure, not much could have been expected from a royal race, who in the temporary eclipse of their fortunes had suffered Cardinal Ruffo to organise assassination into a system within the dominions which had been theirs yesterday, and might be theirs again to-morrow. Fra Diavolo was their trusted agent. This robber and cut-throat is a very romantic personage, when introduced upon the operatic stage: but in reality he was a most sanguinary ruffian. In the year 1821, Canosa caused the Sicilians to be murdered by hundreds for alleged complicity with the Carbonarist societies. Del Carretto was the successor of Canosa; now, here, upon very trustworthy authority—namely, that of the historian Colletta, is an account of what this man did in Sicily, in the year 1837—twenty-three years ago. “Order had been restored in Sicily, but he instantly instituted courts martial to try the offenders. A thousand of the Sicilians were summarily sentenced to death, and more than a hundred executed. The leaders had escaped, or fallen in conflict, but Del Carretto hoped, by the number of his victims, to strike terror, prove the magnitude of the revolt to Europe, and justify the subsequent acts of the Government, which had been already decided upon. Such was the haste with which the executions were conducted, that in one instance there was found one too many among the dead. A lad of fourteen perished, besides many priests and women, while to add to the horror of the scene, a band of music was ordered to play during the executions. Del Carretto passed his time in feasting and dances to which he invited the wives and daughters of those who had fled, or been compromised.” It is needless to say what was the object of these invitations. Now after 1848, these horrors were renewed. Can any one wonder that Garibaldi found so hearty a welcome in Sicily?

For forty long years this sort of work has been going on, both in the island and upon the mainland. For a few years after the Congress of Vienna, the Neapolitan Bourbons were kept quiet by the public opinion of civilised nations. But with 1820, the hanging, shooting, imprisonment in loathsome dungeons, and bodily torture, commenced. From 1820 to 1830, Ferdinand I., and Francis I., under the dark shade of the Austrian banners, had it all their own way. Then barricades were erected in Paris, and the nations of Europe had a short breathing-time. As a set-off against this, the late King of Naples, Ferdinand II., succeeded to the throne; and in the year 1833, when the revolutionary spirit had been somewhat stamped out in Europe, he opened his shambles. From 1833 to 1847, there were several attempts at revolution within the Neapolitan dominions—all put down in sanguinary fashion enough. This, however, does not appear very strongly to confirm the view that the humbler classes of Neapolitans were attached to the King’s government. With 1848, the revolutionary spirit again broke out yonder in Paris, at the end of the Rue des Capucines. The Tiberius again became the Policinello of Naples. For a short time he was hail-fellow-well-met with all classes of his subjects; but if there was one amongst them dearer than another to the Royal heart, it was the one who had given some evidence of liberal opinion. Wonderful to relate, he won back the confidence of his subjects; but the delusion was a short one. On the 15th of May, 1848, he got up a sham émeute in the streets of Naples, and turned his great guns upon his people—sent in his drunken soldiers as husbandmen, and the lazzaroni as gleaners. The pavements of Naples were red with human blood on that day—and then, for a while, there was terror and silence.

If any one wonders why the Neapolitans are not so quick as the friends of order and compromise might wish to believe in the promises of the son, let him consider how the father kept his word. On the 10th of February, 1848, this worthy sovereign, being in much the same kind of position as his son at the present moment, took a right Royal oath. Ferdinand II., being by the grace of God King of the Two Sicilies, of Jerusalem, and many other places, in the first place swore very heavily to defend the Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Religion—and, so far, no doubt he was sincere. He then went on with the swearing, as thus:—“I promise and swear to observe, and cause to be inviolably observed, the constitution of this Monarchy, promulgated and irrevocably sanctioned by me on the 10th day of February, 1848, for the same kingdom. I promise and swear to observe, and cause to be observed, all the laws actually in force, and the others which shall be successively sanctioned within the limits of the said constitution of the kingdom. I promise and swear never to do, nor to attempt, anything against the Constitution, and the laws which have been sanctioned, as well for the property as the persons of our most loving subjects. So may God help me, and preserve me in His holy keeping!” This is pretty hard swearing;—the gunners of the 15th of May were the commentators upon the Royal oath.

We are speaking of only twelve years ago. These matters are fresh in the recollection of the Neapolitan people. Trust to the word of a Neapolitan king! Why, upon the 24th of May, when he had blown a good number of his subjects off the face of the earth, and further hypocrisy was quite needless, Ferdinand II., of blessed memory, published another proclamation in which he declared it to be his fixed resolution “to maintain the constitution of the 10th of May pure and unstained by any kind of excess, which, being the only one compatible with the real and present wants of this part of Italy, will be the Holy Ark upon which the destinies of our most beloved people and our crown must repose.” After this preliminary falsehood, Ferdinand II., in an unctuous paternal kind of fashion, tells his subjects to resume their usual occupations, “to trust with effusion of mind to our loyalty, our religion, and our holy and spontaneous oath, and live in the fullest assurance, &c., &c.” The good King wanted to catch his loving subjects, and he caught them. In 1851, when Mr. Gladstone visited Naples, there were still between 15,000 and 20,000 state prisoners in the two Sicilies, although a good number had been worked off in the interval. Settembrini and the other leading prisoners of the time have left an account of what these prisons were; and how they were dragged through the streets by the hair of their heads, beaten, spat upon, pinioned for days together, and made to sit in chairs in the presence of soldiers, who told them they had orders to shoot them. Settembrini, after being sentenced to death, was confined in a room fifteen feet square with eight other persons—one of them a notorious assassin. Poerio, with fifteen others, was shut up in a small room, where they were chained two and two together. It is well to remember these things at the present time, when there seems a probability that the Neapolitans may be able to rid themselves of a family, where the son is like the father—and this is what the father did.

Ferdinand II. for a quarter of a century and more murdered and tortured his loving subjects, and Francis II. has only held the reins of empire for a short time, yet in this short time he has contrived to bombard Palermo, and do a few other acts which would lead one to dread the contingency of another 15th of May in Naples itself should he ever gain the upper hand again. Before concluding it is proper to recur to the fact that the government of the Two Sicilies has been—with short intervals—a government by the secret police. A rumour of disaffection is held to be a sufficient title for a man’s arrest. Special commissioners are appointed for political trials—one of whom is a lawyer, but without deliberative voice. The decisions of the commissioners are without appeal. The impeachment, the defence, and the trial of the accused are secret. The statements of the police prove the crime. The police may liberate or detain any individual in prison without sanction, and even though he has been acquitted of the charge on which he was originally arrested. The police may flog prisoners at their pleasure. Espionage is enforced so strictly, that not to be a spy is a crime. The police may penetrate into prisons, and extract confessions from prisoners. Such has been the Magna Charta of Naples in use for well-nigh half a century. Does not all this explain Garibaldi’s Sicilian successes?—and if the Royal authority at Naples should melt away upon his approach as wax before fire, who would wonder at it?

This miracle of the liberation of Italy from foreign and domestic tyranny has been so much a miracle, that one sometimes doubts if it had not been better if the march of events had not been quite so sudden. Last week there was talk of a simultaneous attack from two quarters upon the Papal forces, to be accompanied by a general rising of the Pope’s lieges, and, at the same time, Garibaldi was to disembark upon the mainland. On the other hand the Austrian has again been giving signs of life. Let us hope that Lord Palmerston’s speech upon the National Defences has not misled the opinion of the present Cabinet of Vienna as to the state of feeling between England and France, as some expressions of Lord Malmesbury’s misled their predecessors at the beginning of 1859. It is said that the Austrian army has repaired its losses, and could again hope to take the field with advantage, if not against France, at least against any military power which Italy could bring into the field.


Sir Richard Bethell, on Friday night, being engaged in a little passage of arms, or tongues, with his learned brother, Mr. Edwin James, said, that the peculiarity of the present session was, that it was a “singular” one. The singularity consisted in the fact that 650-odd gentlemen had been sitting together in council now for well-nigh seven months, and had not much to show as the result of their labours. No one can say that the members of the House of Commons have been idle. On the contrary, they have been the hardest-worked men in London—but they have done nothing. Like the King of France, in the old chronicle, they have marched up the hill, and down again—repeating the manoeuvre as often as you please. The toil of a session has produced a Penelope’s web at last. The very point at issue between the learned gentlemen on Friday night afforded a fair example of House of Commons work. With infinite labour and pains, the Attorney-General had introduced a Bill for the amendment of our Bankruptcy Law. There was an enormous amount of what was valuable in it. As it was mainly drawn in harmony with the views of the commercial classes, it seemed probable that it would endure for ten years at least, at which period of existence any English system of bankruptcy seems to reach the last stage of decrepitude. That would have been a great gain. The House of Commons very properly refused to pension off the existing officials on the extravagant scale proposed by the author of the measure. The Attorney-General got huffy. They declined to allow non-traders who might be debtors to the extent of 20l. to be made bankrupts with little or no ceremony. The Attorney-General got huffier still, and in his huff withdrew the bill. There was an end of that. Then the Government had introduced some seven or eight bills for the consolidation of the criminal law. They were sent down to the Lower House by the Peers at so late a period of the session that it was judged useless to proceed with them. This time the Solicitor-General was cast for the part of Saturn with a commission to devour his own progeny. It was so said, and so done. The Solicitor-General, as he looks into the waste-paper basket to which he has consigned these most useful measures, must say with a sigh, like Brummel’s valet with the tray-full of cravats, “These are Sir Richard’s failures!” These bills, however, were simply useful, and it would have been of the utmost advantage to the public if they could have been converted into Acts of Parliament. They had no political significance whatever. This, however, is not true of Lord John’s failure, which was the monster failure of the session. What about the Reform Bill? It came in like a lion, and went out like a lamb. As the event has shown, the cautious prophets who told us that we should find in the end that the English mind was indifferent to the subject, have turned out to be right. The bill is gone, and nobody cares to inquire where. Then, how much valuable time was consumed in the discussion of the excise duty on paper! The abolition was carried by the Nine Muses; but despite of this tuneful support—no sooner was the proposition brought under the notice of the Peers than it was summarily rejected. A collision between the Houses seemed imminent. Brave words were spoken, and tame deeds followed. Lord Palmerston proved himself to be the best slack-rope dancer of the age. His lordship’s lips flowed with milk and honey, for everybody’s benefit except poor Mr. Gladstone, whose financial labours were pronounced a failure. Mr. Gladstone walked out of the House while his leader was still speaking. It was decided by the quid-nuncs of the House that a dissolution of the Cabinet was imminent. Mr. Gladstone walked back again. So it has gone on throughout the session; and when it is at an end, we shall just have the Indian Forces Bill, the vote for the Fortifications, and the French Treaty, with its corollaries, to show as the practical result of labour done by 1000 legislators, who have been bending to the oar morning, noon, and night, for seven months. All the rest has been strenuous idleness—crank work. With considerable felicity of expression, Sir Richard Bethell has characterised the present as “a singular session.” May it never become plural!


The same story which had been told the other day before the police magistrates was repeated on Thursday last before Mr. Justice Williams and a jury. The result was, that William Godfrey Youngman was found guilty of the murder of his sweetheart, Mary Wells Streeter, and condemned to death. Had not the evidence produced in support of the indictment proved sufficient, there were three others hanging over the prisoner’s head. Besides killing the poor girl to whom he professed attachment, he had murdered his mother and his two young brothers. The matter happened on the morning of the 31st of July—just about three weeks ago—and already the murderer is convicted, and sentenced to death. We do these things expeditiously in our time. The story of the murder has been told often enough, and it is needless to go back to the shambles in Manor Place, where the wholesale slaughter took place. If we notice the subject at all, it is on account of the evidence given by Dr. Duncan, in whose service the prisoner had lived from the 18th of April until the 16th of July last. Now, after speaking to what little he knew about the facts of the case, Dr. Duncan gave it as his deliberate opinion, that it was possible for a man to have an impulse to destroy another, while at the same time possessed of his reason. “He might commit the act, although aware it was a wicked one;—in fact, he might be unable to control the impulse to destruction.” Now it is not a little remarkable, that in this instance, and despite of this testimony, the gentleman who conducted the prisoner’s defence—and who, to judge by the report, really did for him all that could be done, which was not much—seems to have felt that he could not substantiate the plea of insanity, and therefore did not produce any medical witnesses on the trial. We are accustomed in such cases, in the Criminal Courts, to the presence of such gentlemen as Dr. Conolly, Dr. Forbes Winslow, and others, who have devoted particular attention to the pathology of the human mind. No man of professional mark was forthcoming, although it had been elicited from the prisoner’s father, in cross-examination for the defence, that his wife’s mother was a lunatic, and that she had died in Peckham Lunatic Asylum; that one of his own brothers (that is, an uncle of the prisoner’s) had died in a lunatic asylum; and that his own father had been two or three times in a lunatic asylum. Surely, if all this was true, here was a very good foundation on which to rest a plea of insanity. All that would have been needed would have been to carry this kind of evidence one step further, and to have shown that at some period or other of his life the prisoner himself had given signs of mental aberration. Here was proved insanity on both sides—it may almost without stretch of propriety be said in such a case that the burden of proving sanity rested on the prosecution. What could be done was done. Dr. Duncan, in whose service he had lived for three months, was produced in the witness-box, and he stated that he had never noticed anything in the prisoner’s conduct which could suggest that his mind was in any way affected. “Of course,” said Dr. Duncan, “I saw him very frequently, and I did not notice anything peculiar about him.” More than this, it was shown that the prisoner had made a proposal to the Argus Insurance Company to insure poor Mary Wells Streeter’s life for 100l., and that on the 19th of July he came to the office in the company of a young woman who paid the premium. The policy was delivered to the prisoner. This was scarcely the act of a man whose mind was deranged. Ignorant of law he may have been, but it is most probable that the same degree of ignorance would be found in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred amongst all persons in his own class of life. Of course, it is not worth while to murder your mother, your two brothers, and the girl whom you are courting, for the sake of 100l.—(what is the exact sum for which murder does become a gainful speculation?)—but at least here was a motive such as would be likely to have weight with an unscrupulous ruffian in full possession of his reason. William Youngman, for aught we know to the contrary, was quite as sane at the time he committed the crime, and during his trial, as any other murderer who has stood in the dock at the Old Bailey.

It is needless to insist at length upon the point that in reality a jury must be told in all cases that every man is presumed to be sane, and to be possessed of a sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes until the contrary is proved to their satisfaction. This cannot be too emphatically expressed; but when this is done, surely the old doctrine, with regard to insanity as a plea in criminal cases, is lax enough, and favourable enough to a prisoner without introducing the modification proposed by Dr. Duncan. It is but justice, however, to Dr. Duncan to give him the benefit of a letter which he addressed to the editor of the “Times,” and which was published on Saturday last in the columns of that journal. In them he states that, so far from wishing to prove the prisoner irresponsible for his acts, “he was prepared to give a very positive opinion as to an entire absence of any symptom of insanity, or even eccentricity, during the period of his service.” So far in the particular case Dr. Duncan has put himself right with the public, but he adheres to his general doctrine. He gives it as his belief that a person “may have his intellect perfect, while his emotions, at the same time, have become morbidly deranged.” Again, he says, “The possibility of homicidal mania is no more to be discarded than the cleptomania, or the irresistible impulse so frequently indicated by some ladies of purloining.” If this be so, what is society to do with an offender who murders a fellow-creature, and pleads “irresistible impulse?” Every murderer may be acting under irresistible impulse. How is the intensity of the impulse to be measured? We do not profess to have a scientific knowledge of the pathology of the mind, but would suggest it as a probability, that wherever true homicidal mania exists, other symptoms of mental aberration will not be found wanting. In Oxford’s case, what Lord Denman said to the jury might, at first sight, bear out Dr. Duncan’s view; but how carefully the Chief Justice afterwards guarded his first proposition. “If some controlling disease is, in truth, the acting power within him which he cannot resist, then a man will not be responsible,” or, as Dr. Duncan puts it, “he may be unable to control the impulse to destruction.” Lord Denman, however, went on to say: “The question is, whether the prisoner was labouring under that species of insanity, which satisfies you that he was quite unaware of the nature, character, and consequences of the act he was committing; or, in other words, whether he was under the influence of a diseased mind, and was really unconscious at the time he was committing the act that it was a crime.” That is a very different thing. Consciousness, as above, or unconsciousness, is the true test of criminality, not the degree or intensity of the homicidal impulse. The old course is the proper one, which is simply to ask the jury if a prisoner has—or rather had at the time when the crime was committed—a sufficient degree of reason to know right from wrong. We might well tremble at the consequences if it was once established that a man’s mind might be right in all points, save a tendency to commit murder. It is idle in cases of insanity—as far as the administration of criminal law is concerned—to lose ourselves in fine-drawn distinctions. If a man knows what he is about when he commits a crime, he is amenable to justice, no matter how strong his inclination may be to violate the law.