Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/84

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50
JOHN BOYLE O'REILLY.

sentence of five, years, and various other sentences afterwards, aggregating altogether some forty-two years, and died in prison at last at the age of seventy. He became such a confirmed jail-bird that on the expiration of one term of imprisonment, he would immediately commit some new theft, in order that he might be returned to his old quarters. Which is a complete demonstration of the value of the system, as a reformatory agent, in the eyes of its worshipers.

Happily we are not without the evidence of better authorities on the subject than either the humane novelist, who studied it as a mere visitor, or the poor debased and brutalized "Dutchman," whom it so successfully unfitted for a life of freedom. John Mitchell, the iron-willed patriot, whom no physical torture could subdue, confesses that when the door of his cell first closed on him, and he realized the full meaning of "solitary confinement," he flung himself upon his bed and "broke into a raging passion of tears—tears bitter and salt, but not of base lamentation for my own fate. The thoughts and feelings that have so shaken me for this once, language was never made to describe."

Michael Davitt says:

The vagrant sunbeam that finds its way to the lonely occupant of a prison cell, but speaks of the liberty which others enjoy, of the happiness that falls to the lot of those whom misfortune has not dragged from the pleasures of life; the cries, the noise, and uproar of London which penetrate the silent corridors, and re-echo in the cheerless cells of Millbank, are so many mocking voices that come to laugh at the misery their walls inclose, and arouse the recollection of happier days to probe the wounds of present sorrow.
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A circumstance in connection with the situation of Millbank may (taken with what I have already said on that prison) give some faint idea of what confinement there really means. Westminster Tower clock is not far distant from the penitentiary, so that its every stroke is as distinctly heard in each cell as if it were situated in one of the prison yards. At each quarter of an hour, day and night, it chimes a bar of "Old Hundredth," and those solemn tones strike on the ears of the