John Howard

Before leaving England to proceed on his tour to the south of Europe, Mr, Howard broke up his establishment at Stoke Newington, and, with that generosity which was so natural to him, made a distribution among the poorer people of the neighborhood of those articles of furniture for which he had now no necessity. The old gardner already mentioned used to relate that his dividend of the furniture on this occasion consisted of a bedstead and bedding complete, a table, six new chairs, and a scythe. A few weeks after this distribution of his furniture, Mr. Howard set sail in the Hanover, a Lisbon packet. Unfortunately, the vessel never reached her destination, being captured during her voyage by a French privateer. The crew and passengers were treated with great cruelty by their captors, being kept for forty hours under hatches without bread or water. They were carried into Brest, and confined all together in the castle of that place as prisoners of war. Here their sufferings were increased; and after lying for many hours in their dungeon without the slightest nourishment, they had a joint of mutton thrown in amongst them, which, not having a knife to cut it, they were obliged to tear with the hands, and gnaw like dogs. For nearly a week they lay on straw in their damp and unwholesome dungeon, after which they were separated, and severally disposed of. Mr. Howard was removed first to Morlaix, and afterwards to Carpaix, where he was allowed for two months to go about on parole - an indulgence usually accorded to officers only, but which Mr. Howard's manners and behavior procured for him from the authorities. He was even furnished, it is said, with the means of returning to England, that he might negotiate his own exchange for some French naval officer, a prisoner of war in the hands of the English. This exchange was happily accomplished, and Mr. Howard was once more at liberty, and in England. His short captivity in France, however, was not without its good effects, by interesting him strongly in the condition of those unfortunate men who, chancing like himself to be captured at sea during war, were languishing in dungeons both in France and England, and atoning by their sufferings for the mutual injuries or discords of the nations to which they belonged. Mr. Howard's imprisonment may be said to have first given a specific direction to his philanthropic enthusiasm. In his 'Account of the State of Prisons,' published a considerable time afterwards, he subjoins the following note to a passage in which he contrasts the favorable treatment which prisoners of war usually receive, with the cruelties which domestic prisoners experience I must not be understood here to mean a compliment to the French. How they then treated English prisoners of war I knew by experience in 1756, when a Lisbon packet in which I went passenger, in order to make the tour of Portugal, was taken by a French privateer. Before we reached Brest, I suffered the extremity of thirst, not having, for above forty hours, one drop of water, nor hardly a morsel of food. In the castle of Brest I lay for six nights upon straw; and observing how cruelly my countrymen were used there and at Morlaix, whither I was carried next, during the two months I was at Carpaix upon parole I corresponded with the English prisoners at Brest, Morlaix, and Dinnan. At the last of these towns were several of our ship's crew and my servant. I had sufficient evidence of their being treated with such barbarity, that many hundreds had perished, and that thirty-six were buried in a hole at Dinnan in one day. When I came to England, still on parole, I made known to the Commissioner of Sick and Wounded Seamen the sun dry particulars, which gained their attention and thanks. Remonstrance was made to the French court; our sailors had redress; and those who were in the three prisons mentioned above were brought home in the first cartel-ships. Perhaps what I suffered on this occasion increased my sympathy with the unhappy people whose case is the subject of this book.' In Mr. Howard's conduct, as here described by himself, we discern the real characteristic of active philanthropy. How few men are there who, like him, would have turned a personal misfortune to such good account; and who, while enduring sufferings themselves, would have occupied their thoughts with the means of putting an end, for all time coming, to the system which permitted such sufferings! Most men would have occupied the time of their imprisonment with sighs and lamentations; and once at liberty, they would have returned gleefully to the enjoyment of their homes, without troubling themselves about their less fortunate fellow-sufferers whom they had left behind, or at least without conceiving that their exertions could do anything for their benefit. But it is the characteristic of men like Howard, when once their attention is called to a wrong, not to rest until they have seen it rectified.