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public newspapers, and an infuriated mob loaded them with execrations on their way to Newgate, and clamoured for their conviction. But the Lord Mayor, Sir Crisp Gascoyne, having learned that Hall had afterwards retracted the evidence she gave on the trial, with praiseworthy humanity forwarded a memorial to the king, soliciting a respite, and thus their lives were saved.
In the course of Canning's trial for wilful and corrupt perjury, which took place in the month of April, 1754, Fielding's conduct in the examination of Hall did not escape observation. From the account of that examination, as quoted from "The Gentleman's Magazine," it is questionable whether, in his anxiety to secure the conviction of the presumed offenders, he did not display more of the zeal of the partizan than the impartiality of the magistrate. It may, indeed, be urged in his favour that he was deceived by the demeanour of Hall, and that he attributed her hesitation and prevarications to her fear of the vengeance of Wells and Squires. But it was complained of him, and with great justice, that, instead of taking her confession vivá voce, he allowed her to be sent out of the room with Canning's solicitor, when her evidence was reduced to writing, and was two hours in preparation. "After this," said Mr. Willes, the prosecuting counsel against Canning, "what mighty wonder is there that, when she came into the justice's presence again, she should repeat her lesson without the least hesitation?"
After a very lengthened trial, Elizabeth Canning was convicted, and sentenced to seven years' transportation— the highest punishment to which her offence was liable by law, and certainly not adequate to its enormity. Many of the aldermen, however, although the falsity of her story was proved beyond a doubt, strenuously advocated a milder punishment, eight of them voting for six months' imprisonment.
During the whole of the year 1753, the controversy
respecting the truth of Canning's story raged with extraordinary violence. The tranquillity of many households was disturbed-husbands differing from their wives, brothers from their sisters, children from their parents. Pamphlet after pamphlet issued from the press upon the all-absorbing question; and the little, lying servant-girl enjoyed the monstrous satisfaction of having set the whole country in a commotion. Fielding defended the opinion. which he had originally formed as a lawyer, in a pamphlet distinguished by the moderation of its tone.1 He was replied to by his indefatigable adversary, and the most active controversialist of the age, Sir John Hill, who, to do him justice, had, with some acuteness, taken the opposite side of the question from the very first. It is remarkable, however, that these old opponents displayed by no means the same amount of virulence and exasperation as many of the other combatants who engaged in this ridiculous but memorable paper war.
As to Canning, she persisted to her death's day in maintaining the truth of her story. Though great interest was exerted to procure a reversal of her sentence, it was carried into execution, and she was shipped to the plantations, never to return. She died at Weathersfield, in Connecticut, on the 22nd July, 1773; and the record of her death in "The Gentleman's Magazine" for that year is accompanied by the observation, "that notwithstanding the many strange circumstances of her story, none is so strange as that it should not be discovered in so many years where she had concealed herself during the time she had invariably declared she was at the house of Mother Wells."3
(1) A clear State of the Case of Elizabeth Canning. By H. Fielding, Esq. Published in March, 1753.
(2) The Story of Elizabeth Canning considered. By Dr. Hill. 1753. (3) Canning's address to the court, when called up to receive judgment, seems to amount to a qualified admission of her guilt. "Then Elizabeth Canning addressed the court with the following speech, in a low voice:-That she hoped they would be favourable to her; that she had no intent of swearing the gipsy's
The activity which Fielding displayed during the investigation of Canning's case subjected him to many illnatured comments. As a magistrate, perhaps, the only fault that could be found in him was that he was too active. His energy of character was not in the least degree abated by declining health and frequent attacks of bodily pain. Whenever work was to be done he was at his post; and the duties of the Westminster justice were then of a perilous and troublesome kind. Besides his attendance at Bow Street, his personal presence was often required in the vigorous execution of the laws. When desperate offenders were to be tracked, early and late, he was ready to give assistance and advice, and to head the officers of the law in any important movement. Some notion may be formed of the duties actually performed by Fielding, in the contemporary accounts of the police transactions of the period. On Tuesday, the 6th March, 1753, an attempt of his to arrest some highwaymen in a gaming-house is thus recorded:"About four this morning, Justice Fielding having intelligence that some highwaymen were to be at the masquerade, went into the gaming-room with the officers upon guard, and obliged all the company to unmask, and give an life away; and that what had been done was only defending herself; and desired to be considered as unfortunate."-State Trials, vol. xix. 673.
Mr. Serjeant Davy's reply in this case is the longest reported speech of that acute and eloquent advocate, and is well worth perusal. The address of the Recorder (W. Moreton, Esq.), in passing sentence, is also dignified and appropriate. "It is with horror," he said, addressing the prisoner-a girl under twenty!" I look back, and think of the evidence you gave at the trial of Mary Squires, whom you knew to be destitute and friendless, and therefore fixed upon her as a proper object to make a sacrifice of, at the dreadful expense of a false oath; this you preferred to the making a plain discovery to those who had a right to know where you really were those twenty-eight days of your pretended confinement at Wells'; and in this you were encouraged to persist, as well by that misapplied charity, which was bountifully given you in compassion to your supposed suffering, as by the advice of your mistaken friends, whom you had deluded and deceived into a belief of the truth of what you had falsely sworn."-State Trials, vol. xix. 673.
A person is said to have left Canning a legacy of £500; and during her passage to New England, Smollett relates that she was liberally supplied with every necessary, and secured an agreeable reception" in her place of exile.
account of themselves. It's supposed these fellows had notice of his coming before he could get up stairs, and so made off in the crowd, for none of them were taken. There had been deep gaming that night, and a plentiful circulation of bad guineas."
Such duties as these required both a clear head and an intrepid heart. For a dainty littérateur it would not have been a very congenial occupation; but a strong, healthyminded writer like Fielding engaged as readily in the task of arresting highwaymen and suppressing disturbances as in supporting by the pen, when need arose, the cause of law and order.
(1) The Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1753.
LAST EFFORTS IN THE PUBLIC SERVICE.-VOYAGE TO LISBON.
Ir now only remains for the biographer to present a few of the last melancholy incidents in the life of Henry Fielding, as they have been communicated by his own pen.1 In the beginning of August, 1753, having placed himself under the care of " Mr. Ranby, the king's premier serjeantsurgeon," he was ordered to Bath, to try the effect of the waters. On this journey he was preparing to depart, when important business detained him in town. This delay was productive of serious injury to his already shattered constitution. Repose at this period was most essential; for the duties of his office had been for some time more than usually severe; and he tells us that "he was almost fatigued to death with several long examinations, relating to five different murders, all committed within the space of a week, by different gangs of street robbers." The public had been much alarmed by these outrages, and the government had determined upon vigorous measures. such a period, an active magistrate like Fielding could not be spared, and a message was dispatched to him by the Duke of Newcastle, requesting an interview. Thus appealed to, notwithstanding his failing health, he obeyed the summons, and cheerfully set to work to prepare a plan for the suppression of street robberies, which met with the duke's approbation; and an order on the Treasury was given him for a sufficient sum to carry it into execution. The scheme was eminently successful; and though
(1) See "The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon" and the Introduction, from which the materials for this and the following chapter are principally taken.