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CHAPTER I.: INTRODUCTION—TWO REFORMING SHRIEVALTIES. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 5 (Scotch Reform, Real Property, Codification Petitions) 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 5.
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INTRODUCTION—TWO REFORMING SHRIEVALTIES.
Turner and Skinner, anno 1783-4.
In the year 1784, Sir Barnard Turner, and Mr. Thomas Skinner (See City Characters,) the late celebrated auctioneer, afterwards alderman of London, finding themselves Sheriffs of London and Middlesex, charged as such with duties of no inconsiderable importance, conceived what to many grave and learned persons of that time, “friends to social order and our holy religion,” was looked upon of course as a theoretic and speculative fancy; viz. that of making things “better than well,” by applying their minds to the fulfilment of those same duties. The state of things appertaining to that department having presented itself to their eyes as being in divers particulars susceptible of improvement, they made in that view what arrangements had occurred to them as being in their own power, and in a tract of forty 8vo pages* —gave an account of what they had done themselves, together with a statement of such other things as, if done by others, presented, in their view of the matter, a prospect of being of use.
In addition to some regulations, partly executed, partly recommended, having for their objects the health and good behaviour of prisoners, the changes thus spoken of under the name of “alterations and amendments,” consisted of three innovations—one respecting the disposal of goods taken in execution in civil actions, the two others respecting the place and mode of putting criminals to death.
1. On their entrance into the shrievalty, they had found lodged, by customary negligence, in the hands of the sheriffs’ officers—a class of men, whose hearts are universally recognised as standing, in a peculiar degree, exposed to the inroads of hard-heartedness and corruption—the function of nominating persons, at whose disposal, in the name and character of appraisers, goods taken in execution were regularly placed by these their patrons: and of the general result of this arrangement a tolerably adequate conception may be formed from one individual case, in which, according to the report given of it by these sheriffs, the value of the property so taken, being about five times the amount of the debt, and the whole having been taken from the debtor, no more than a tithe of it, viz. half the amount of the debt, had found its way into the pocket of the creditor; the other nine-tenths having, in some regular and established, but unascertained or at least undivulged proportions, been shared between the minister of justice, and his official nominee and associate above mentioned.
To this grievance the remedy they applied was one which, though in principle, and in the character of a regularly-established remedy, applicable by all persons on all occasions not altogether an unexceptionable one, proved, in the individual hands in question, there is reason to think, a beneficial one: the nomination which they had found, as above, in the hands of their officers, was taken out of those low-stationed and impure hands, into their own: and forasmuch as in that station men are not only too highly and conspicuously elevated, but moreover too frequently changed, to be much in danger of engaging with success in the organization of any regular plan for the extraction of lucre from so impure a source, the mischief, if not altogether eradicated, must naturally have been considerably diminished.
On what footing the matter stands at present, it has not fallen into my way to learn. At that time, as the evil genius of the discarded functionaries would have it, both sheriffs were upright as well as public-spirited men: and Skinner, being, in relation to the branch of business in question, in a pre-eminent degree an intelligent one, knew where to find his like.
At present, the magnificent edifice, now erecting in the centre of the city under the name of the Auction Mart, presents the idea of a more radical cure.
2. On the ground of capital punishment, the place and mode of execution furnished to these reformers two other opportunities for casting their honest mite into the treasury of justice.
On those melancholy occasions, on which to save the trouble of reforming them, and adjusting punishment in quality as well as quantity to delinquency, malefactors of the most diversified descriptions are involved in one indiscriminating destruction, the operation was in those days regularly preceded (it seems not easy to say why) by a procession of two or three miles length, in the course of which, whatever effect could have been expected from the concluding tragedy was more than countervailed by the intervening disorders. Struck with the incongruity of this surplusage of locomotion, our reformers fixed the ceremony to the well-assorted spot to which it remains attached at present: a spot immediately contiguous to the place of confinement from which the victims then used to be, as they still are, taken for the appointed sacrifice.
At that same time, the fatal operation being performed, as mechanicians say, by hand, was performed in that coarse and uncertain manner, by which the sufferings of the patients were exposed to receive unintentional increase. It was to this happily associated pair of humble and unambitious reformers, that the machinery, now applied to that purpose, and still known by the almost burlesque but sole existing name of the New Drop, owed its establishment. Under English justice, the intended object, as well as effect of it, corresponds exactly with that of the guillotine, under the anarchical tyranny of revolutionary France. For, in the design of the humane, as well as scientific, inventor, whose name it has perpetuated, that instrument (a French edition of our Halifax Maiden) had no other object than that of diminishing, in each instance, the suffering produced by those executions, the multitude of which depended on other hands.
To any one who has been accustomed to observe how slow, in every department of government, from the highest down to the lowest, the pace of reform is, and how thickly beset with obstacles the paths which it has to traverse, it may be apt to appear difficult to conceive by what strange accident, even in so low a sphere, a change, which had for its result, as well as for its object, the good of the many, should have been suffered to take effect.
As to the innovation which consisted in the disturbance given to the official arrangement, by which so quiet and regular a division had been made of the property of the debtor between the officer and the appraiser—in the fact of its having been suffered to take effect, and that too without opposition from above, he may behold a certain proof of two things: viz. 1. That there was no individual existing in any such station as that of a judge or other considerable law-officer, into whose hands so much as a single penny of the profit that used to be thus extracted, was ever felt to have found its way; and that, in particular, if in the disposal of any of the property in question, any errors were ever committed by any one of these inferior ministers of justice, no Chief-Justice of the King’s Bench had ever considered himself as having gained, or conceived himself as being in a way to gain, to the amount of £1434 : 15 : 6 a-year, or any part of that sum, nor any Chief-Justice of the Common Pleas, £733 : 3 : 11 a-year, or any part of that sum, nor any attorney-general that or any other sum by contributing to the manufacture, or effecting or permitting the correction of any of these errors: 2. That neither did there exist among any of those exalted personages, any individual whose pride had found itself by any accident engaged in the protection of the abuses or inconveniences thus removed.
3. As to the procession from Newgate to Tyburn, the thieves, whose practice found itself diminished by the abolition of this ceremony—these unlicenced depredators—not one of whom ever had or ever would have found any difficulty, other than from want of money, in his endeavours to purchase a toss-up for impunity on pretence of some error, bearing no more rational relation to his case than to that of the first homicide—found themselves unable in their conjunct capacity to make any such case as on the ground of precedent would, in point of decency, have warranted any gentleman of the long robe, in the character of judge, counsel, or member of parliament, to stand up in support of it.
4. As to the new drop, the dying agonies of the patients destined to be relieved by it, not having found, in a long robe or in any high situation, any person possessing any such interest in their continuance, as is possessed by such a multitude of personages in high situations and long robes, in the continuance of the living agonies of so many thousands who are kept so regularly immured in forced idleness, by their authority and for the sake of their profit and their ease, and the only persons whose co-operation towards this reform was necessary, being the surveyor and the carpenter, whose sensibility to the advantages of it was beyond dispute, thus it was that this reform too found its way into existence unopposed.
In a word, barring opposition from superior power, accomplishment being within the power of the reformers themselves, and no interest intervening in any tangible shape to call down opposition from above, the reforms, such as they were, were carried into effect.
By these circumstances, when rightly considered and put together, the known facts of the case may be found to stand divested of that air of fable, by which, to a first glance, they may have seemed obscured.
Phillips and x. Anno 1807-8.
From that year (1784) to 1807, nature took time to rest herself: and, in all those three-and-twenty years, though of abuse, in a considerable variety of shapes, there could not, during any part of that time, have been any deficiency, it appears not that in the series of worthy and respectable gentlemen, who succeeded each other in that office, there had been so much as one, to whom the idea had occurred, of occupying himself in any such theoretic and speculative task, as the attempting to make any defalcation from the mass: no—not a thought about any such matter, in the breast of any one of the units in so many pairs of functionaries, any more than if, instead of paying his £2000 or £3000 for the privilege of discharging the functions of his office, he had, like a pair of Honourable Knoxes, received his £10,023 a-year; or like an Earl of Buchinghamshire, his £11,094, or like a pair of Lord Seymours, his £12,511, or like a pair of Percevals (one behind the other) his £38,574 (“subject” alas! to “deduction,”) for the trouble of bearing the official title of it: practice not being, in any part of all this time, in any degree, or by any body, neglected—practice, to wit in essentials, such as going to court, riding about in a gilt chariot, giving and eating dinners, and the like.
Africa, in times of old, had the reputation of producing such singularities as could be exhibited on four legs. In modern times, England has among nations been noted for producing singularities on half the number of legs.
In the shrievalty year 1807-8, the spirit of reform having passed, as hath been seen, three-and-twenty years of repose on the pillows, or in the graves, of Sir Barnard and Mr. Skinner, made its appearance, in the character of a giant refreshed, in the body of Mr. Phillips, a publishing bookseller of the first eminence, who, on receiving from his Majesty’s sword the customary honour, changed his appellation into that of Sir Richard Phillips.
In the nature of the shrievalty there is a sort of mystery, in consequence of which he, who does not look well to his words, and even he who does, will be in continual danger of falling into one or other of two heresies, which, like Scylla and Charybdis, lie in wait for him, one on the side of grammar, the other on the side of legal and curious learning. In London and Middlesex, taken together, there is never one sheriff only; there are always two sheriffs. The same two respectable gentlemen who, in the city of London, constitute two sheriffs, and thereby two persons, constitute, in the county of Middlesex, but one sheriff, and thereby, in legal abracadabra, like man and wife, but one person;—or else vice versâ;—for, such is the frailty of unlearned memory, that as often as, in relation to this article, one minute finds me in possession of orthodoxical truth, the next minute finds me dispossessed of it.
In the artificial and involuntary fraternity contracted by him on this occasion, it was not the lot of Sir Richard to find any such felicity as that which had attended Sir Barnard and Mr. Skinner.
Bishop Burnet—or, if not he, some other self-reported eye-witness, whose name, if found, would not, to the present purpose, add much to the stock of our useful knowledge, tells us of a pair of twins whom he saw living in Holland, and whose misfortune it was to stand connected by bonds of fraternity closer by much than either of them wished; viz. by an adhesion of some sort or other, in the region of the back-bone, constituting thence, instead of two bipeds, one unfortunate quadruped.
At the age of about twenty, one person of this unhappily-connected pair paid the debt of nature. The condition of the survivor is too deplorable to be dwelt on anywhere, especially in this place. All that is here wanted of him is to serve as a type of one-half of our quadruped, or double biped sheriff.
In his pilgrimage through the thorny region of reform, Sir Richard was not long ere he found himself in the disastrous plight above alluded to. Into the body of his twin colleague, Mr. x, either the beneficent spirit above spoken of had never made its entrance, or had soon made its retreat, leaving it in the condition of a carcase, which, if not dead in law, was dead to the purpose of rendering, in any degree, less pernicious the condition of the law. At every step he took, our knight found himself with this everlasting colleague at his back, exhibiting, in no other form than that of the vis inertia, except now and then a kick or two, any signs of life.
As to Mr. x, I borrow, on this occasion for his use, one of the names employed by mathematicians for the designation of their unknown quantities, not thinking it necessary to him to possess any other introduction to “Prince Posterity” than what he has secured to himself by his own picture, as drawn by himself and published by Sir Richard, in that work of his, of which mention has been already made.
As to Sir Richard—what things he did—what other things he tried to do, and would have done, but for the giants and dragons he had to encounter in his way—all the while with this mass of proud flesh at his back—matters of that sort belong not exactly to this place: any more than the sort of requital he met with, in another character (see p. 111,) from a pair of learned brethren, whom he found so much more perfect in the art of “dwelling together in unity,” than he and his.
Of the list of his achievements and less successful endeavours, one alone belongs, by any direct title at least, to this history; viz. the discovery, made by him, of the pitch of perfection, at which the art of packing (that master art of which the elements have been endeavoured to be delivered as above,) has been carried in the application made of it to special juries.
Beholding in the Court of Exchequer, as above, the great manufactory or workshop, in which it was carried on, and seeing more to admire in the ingenuity displayed in it, than in the purposes to which he saw it applied, he addressed a letter to the chief conductor of that important branch of business, noticing the state of the art, together with such observations as had been suggested by it.
At this time he was either charitable enough to suppose—or, (what seems the more probable interpretation of the two) decorous enough to seem to suppose, that the mode in which the business was conducted was a secret to the pre-eminently learned as well as skilful person, under whose auspices and authority he found it going on. But, if such was ever really his belief, it was not long before he found himself obliged to take his leave of it.
[* ]The title of it is—“An Account of some Alterations and Amendments attempted in the Duty and Office of Sheriff of the County of Middlesex and Sheriffs of the City of London, during the Sheriffalty of Sir Barnard Turner, and Thomas Skinner, Esq.—London: Printed by Stephen Clark, No. 15, Brokers Row, Moorfields, 1784.” No bookseller’s name.