LETTER TO THE EDITOR
20-27 March 1712
To the Examiner.
Dorchester, March 21.
This Day there was a Tryal at our Assizes, in which something particular happen’d, that very well deserves a place among those Cases, which have been submitted to your equal and impartial Judgment. A poor half-starv’d Wretch was brought to the Bar in a Red Coat, and Indicted for Robbing a very honest Woman, a Widow, who, it seems, had been charitable to him, and often reliev’d him in his Necessities. He was charg’d with several other Facts, as stealing a Peck Loaf and an Ammunition Coat (the same he had then on) from one of his Comrades. The Evidence against him was very clear, and not a Man in the Court imagin’d he had any thing to offer in his Defence; but, to our great Surprize, when it came to his turn to speak for himself, in a very long and moving Harangue, the Prisoner deliver’d himself to the following effect:
‘That he had long serv’d Her Majesty: Had fought for the Protestant Religion: Had been at the Battles of Hochstet, Ramilly, Audenard and Mons: Had taken a new pair of Colours at Donawert; and when Lisle was surrender’d, was within two Miles of the Place: Had a lac’d Hat given him by a German Officer, in Consideration of his good Services, and was once offer’d to be made a Dutch Serjeant;’ with a great deal more to the same purpose.
This Defence was embelish’d with a very excellent and accurate Account of French Chains, Wooden Shooes, Popery, Pretender, and the Countess of Tyrconel. He concluded with an artful and modest Reqeust to the Court, That he mnight go for a Soldier, and humbly mov’d to be sent again into Flanders. We were sensibly touch’d with his Case, and surpriz’d to hear so many fine things from one of his Apeparance and Education. But, to our great Disappointment, notwithstanding his Eloquence and Address, and the Testimony of a Lieutenant, and one or two more Subalterns, who assur’d the Judge that he was a good Duty-Man, and had often distinguish’d himself as a Spy and a Centinel; nay, tho’ his Wife was very Clamorous, and the good Widow seem’d inclin’d not to insist on Restitution; yet theJury, according to the rigorous Letter of the Law, found him Guilty, and he is in a fair way to be hang’d.
Some of our Justices, especially two who live near Blandford in this County, seem to doubt whether a Gentleman of the Army, who has been at Blareghies, is within the Statute against Felony; and
Court-Martial, it would certainly be brought in Plunder or a Perquisite. For my own part, I must be under your Judgment, as a Prudent Man, whether I may not set my Hand to a Petition for a Reprieve at least, if not for a Pardon. If you please to direct my Caution in this Affair, I shall take it as a particular Favour, for I am, with much Esteem,
The Gentleman, whoever he be, that drew up this Letter, hath the Art of touching the Passions: I find my self so sensibly concerned for the Criminal, that I am very ready to set my Hand to a Petition for a Reprieve, that he may once more serve his Queen and Country. I fancy if this brave Fellow had not been defrauded of his Bread in Flanders, he would never have needed to steal a Peck Loaf in England. It is very unequal, that one Man must die for so small a Matter; and another, who purloins by Waggon-Loads, should live and flourish, only by the greatness of the Fact. I had not enter’d upon so stale and worn out a Topick, did I not observe half the Liels in Town stuffed every day with the Justification of a Person, who hath been proved as undeniably Guilty, as this poor Centinel could be, with his One Peck-Loaf. Caius Marius, from as mean a State as this Soldier’s, by such gallant Actions, was raised to be seven times Head of the Commonwealth; but had his General been as backward in distinguishing, encouraging or rewarding Merit, he might have perished in as much Obscurity. I doubt not but that there are many such brave Men, to whom their General owes his Glory, that do but carry a Musket still.
P.S. Sir, The Ordinary, and two or three other Divines, have been with the Condemn’d Criminal; but he has sent for the Chaplain of his Regiment, and since he came, persists in an Opinion, that he has a very hard Case. He talks of the Privileges the Romans had, and sems to be very well read in what relates to the Rewards that were bestow’d upon Soldiers in those Days, compar’d to the Hardships in ours.
According to the Notion I have of Military Discipline, a Soldier who takes a pair of Colours from the Enemy, hath signaliz’d himself enough to pretend to some degree of Preferment. Ours, doubtless, had met with it, if his hard Fortune had not thrown him under the Command of those, who were so taken up with providing for their own proper Merit, they could have no leisure to consider that of others: Of such active Particles, as are in our unhappy Criminal, was the Soul of Alexander the Great composed, which in him finding a proper Position, and necessary Circumstances, were able to conquer the World. [The Examiner]