John Howard

His visits to the jails of the counties adjoining Bedford had only disclosed to him those depths of misery which he was yet to sound. Looking into the prisons,' he says, I beheld scenes of calamity which I became daily more and more anxious to alleviate. In order, therefore, to gain a more perfect knowledge of the particulars and extent of it, by various and accurate observation, I visited most of the county jails in England.' This more extensive tour was begun in December 1773, and by the 17th of that month he had inspected the jails of the counties of Hertford, Berks, Wilts, Dorset, Hants, and Sussex; occupying, therefore, it will be perceived, a much less space of time in his survey than most official commissioners, and yet probably doing the work much better. The next six weeks he appears to have spent at Cardington with his son, then about eight years of age, and at home no doubt on his Christmas vacation; but towards the end of January 1774, his philanthropic tour was resumed. The jails of Rutland shire were first visited, then those of York: on his journey southward from York he passed through the shires of Lincoln, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex, visiting the prisons of each: a fortnight was then devoted to an examination of the monster prisons of London: from London he set out on a journey to the western counties, inspected the jails of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Hereford, and Monmouth; and, after a short absence, returned to London, having, in the course of three months of expeditious and extensive, but most thorough scrutiny, acquired more knowledge of the state of English prisons than was possessed by any other man then living. Such is the effect of having a definite object in view, and attending exclusively to it. If we measure ability by mere largeness of intellect, there were undoubtedly hundreds of abler men than Howard then alive in England; but what is the lazy and languid greatness of these intellectual do-nothings compared with the solid greatness of a man like Howard, who, gifted by God with a melting love for his fellow-men, laboriously and steadily pursued one object, made himself master of one department, and dragged into daylight one class of social abuses till then unknown or unheeded?

It happened by a fortunate conjunction, that at the time Mr. Howard was pursuing his prison inquiries, a few members of the legislature were interesting themselves in the same subject. In the previous session of parliament a bill had been introduced into the House of Commons by Mr. Popham, member for Taunton, proposing the payment of jailors, not by fees from the prisoners, as heretofore, but out of the county rates. The bill had been dropped in committee on the second reading; but the subject of prison management was resumed next session, the principal movers in the inquiry being Mr. Popham, and Mr. Howard's intimate friends, Mr. St. John and Mr. Whitbread. It would appear that it had been in consequence of consultations with Mr. Howard that these gentlemen broached the subject in parliament at so early a period in the session; at all events, we find Mr. Howard immediately after his return from his western tour, examined before a committee of the whole House regarding his knowledge of the state of English prisons. So full and valuable were the details submitted to the committee by Mr. Howard, that on the House being resumed, the chairman of the committee, Sir Thomas Clavering, reported that he was directed by the committee to move the House that John Howard, Esq. be called in to the bar, and that Mr. Speaker do acquaint him that the Esq., are very sensible of the humanity and zeal which have led him to visit the several jails of this kingdom, and to communicate to the House the interesting observations he has made upon that subject.' The motion was adopted unanimously; and Mr. Howard had, accordingly, the honor of receiving the public thanks of the House for his philanthropic exertions. To show however, how little the spirit which animated these exertions was under stood or appreciated, we may mention that it is related that during his examination before the committee, one member put the question to him, At whose expense he traveled?'