John Howard

The following recollections of Mr. Howard's habits at this period, by the Rev. Mr. Townsend, who resided with him at Cardington for a short period, in the interval between the secession from the Old Meeting-house, and the erection of the new one, may be interesting: He found him,' he said, not disposed to talk much; he sat but a short time at table, and was in motion during the whole day. He was very abstemious; lived chiefly on vegetables, ate little animal food, and drank no wine or spirits. He hated praise; and when Mr. Townsend once mentioned to him his labors of benevolence ' - not those general ones for which he is now so celebrated, but his exertions for the improvement of the condition of the people in his neighborhood - ' he spoke of them slightingly, as a whim of his, and immediately changed the subject.' He was at all times,' adds his biographer, Mr. Brown, remarkably neat in his dress, but affected no singularity in it. Though he never thought it right to indulge in the luxuries of life, he did not despise its comforts. Wine or fermented liquors of any kind he himself never drank; but they were always provided, and that of the best quality, for his friends who chose to take them. He always maintained an intercourse of civility with some of the most considerable persons in the country, and was on visiting terms with the greater part of the country gentlemen around him, and with the most respectable inhabitants of the town of Bedford, churchmen and dissenters. His aversion to mix much with promiscuous assemblies was the result of his religious principles and habits, which taught him that this was no very profitable method of spending his time; yet however uncomplying he might be with the freedoms and irregularities of polite life, he was by no means negligent of its received forms; and though he might be denominated a man of scruples and singularities, no one would dispute his claim to the title of a gentleman.'

From these details our readers will be able to fancy Mr. Howard as he was in the year 1773 - a widower country gentleman, of plain, upright, methodical habits, aged about forty-six; devout and exemplary in his conduct, and a dissenter by profession, but without any strong prejudices for or against any sect; temperate and economical, but the very reverse of parsimonious; fond of traveling, and exceedingly attentive to what fell under his observation; of a disposition overflowing with kindness at the aspect of a miserable object, and prompting him to go out in search of wretchedness, and to distribute over his whole neighborhood the means of comfort and happiness. Such was Mr. Howard in the year 1773; and if he had then died, his name would never have been so celebrated as it is over the world, but would only have been remembered in the particular district where his lot was cast, as the names of many benevolent landlords and good men are locally remembered all over the country. Fortunately, however, a circumstance happened which opened for this unostentatious benefactor of a village a career of world-wide philanthropy. This was his election, in the year 1773, to the important office of high-sheriff of the county of Bedford. Regarding the special circumstances which led to his election to such a post, we have no information. It may be mentioned, however, that, in accepting the office, he subjected himself to the liability of a fine of L500 - the laws which disqualified dissenters from holding such offices not having been yet repealed, although they were practically set at defiance by the increasing liberality of the age. A story was indeed once current that Mr. Howard, on his nomination to the office, stated to earl Bathurst, then lord chancellor, his scruples about accepting it, arising from the fact of his not being a member of the Church of England; and that lord Bathurst, in reply, gave him an assurance of indemnification, in case any malicious person should endeavor to put the law in force against him. This story, however, does not appear to have been well-founded.

The duties of a high-sheriff in England are important and various. To him are addressed the writs commencing all actions, and he returns the juries for the trial of men's lives, liberties, lands and goods. He executes the judgments of the courts. In his county he is the principal conservator of the peace. He presides in his own court as a judge; and he not only tries all causes of forty shillings in value, but also questions of larger amount. He presides at all elections of members of parliament and coroners. He apprehends all wrongdoers, and for that purpose, he is entitled to break open outer-doors to seize the offender. He defends the county against riot, or rebellion, or invasion. The sheriff takes precedence of all persons in the county. He is responsible for the execution of criminals. He receives and entertains the judges of assize, on whom he is constantly in attendance whilst they remain in his shire. To assist him in the performance of his duties, the sheriff employs an under-sheriff, and also a bailiff and jailers, from whom he takes security for their good conduct. Such was the office to which, fortunately for society, Mr. Howard was appointed at the annual election of sheriffs in the year 1773.