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tract, wbich is now inserted in the 2d vol. of the doctor's works. It is written in the true spirit of philanthropy, and contains many judicious and important observations. But differing in opinion from the amiable and respectable author on one essential point, I availed myself of the privilege granted me, and transmitted my sentiments to Mr. Loft, without reserve, trusting they would be communicated to Dr. Jebb, whose friendly correspondence I sometimes enjoyed. But the melancholy event of his death occurred about the time when my letter arrived; and it was delivered to Lord Chedworth, as chairman, for the consideration of the justices at the quarter session. If you think such a mite towards the general stock of public information, on a subject which now happily interests the physician, the philosopher, and the statesman, in almost every country of Europe, will be an acceptable contribution, the publication of it in your Repository will oblige your constant reader,
Copy of a letter from Dr. Percival to Capel Loft, Esq. of
Treston Hall, near Bury, in Suffolk, on the subject of Prisons.
Manchester, Jan. 26, 1786.
Permit me to return my grateful acknowledgments for your very obliging letter; which, though dated Sept. 22, 1785, arrived only three weeks ago, together with an interesting tract on the construction and polity of prisons. I admire the ability, and honour the patriotic zeal, which this little work displays; and perhaps I shall but evince my respect for the editor, by offering to him such comments or remarks as the perusal of it has suggested to my mind.
Though under the form of a query, it seems to be laid down as a postulatum, that, when infection has once taken place in a prison inclosed by high walls, it will continue to exert its baneful powers with various degrees of malignity, notwithstanding all the cautions which may be employed to counteract its influence : and it is therefore recommended, as essential to salubrity, that a dry moat, with shelving sides, like a line of circumvallation, should surround, at a proper distance, the place of confinement; that from the bottom of this moat a wall should be raised, twenty-five feet in height; but that the top of it should not exceed the level of the soil. I apprehend that this mode of inclosure is impracticable in large towns, where an extent of land adequate to it, with a
proper drainage, can seldom be obtained; that it would diminish the terrors of imprisonment to the spectators without, and to the malefactors within ; that it might afford means of dangerous communication between them; that it is in no situation indispensably necessary; and that the forcible manner in which it is urged, by such respectable authorities, may render the visitation of most gaols, on their present unalterable construction, too alarming to be undertaken by any honorary inspectors, whether delegated in rotation from the magistracy, as Mr. Howard recommends, or appointed by authority of parliament. I shall not trespass either on your time, or my own, by engaging in the discussion of each of these topics : but I feel it incumbent on me to submit to your candid consideration the reasons which lead me to controvert the opinion, that walls above the level of the inhabited surface are incompatible with the necessary ventilation of a prison."
Ever since the receipt of your letter, I have paid particular attention to the action of the wind in the court-yard at the back of my dwelling-house, which is a quadrangular area of about 3240 square feet, in the centre of which are planted a few trees and shrubs. On the north side it is screened by the house, which is three stories high, and eighteen yards in length. The south side is occupied by a stable, coach-house, &c. On each of the other sides, lower offices are erected; but behind these, considerable buildings rise, the property of my neighbours. This area, therefore, is as much secluded from ventilation as the courte yards in inany of our prisons; yet I have uniformly observed, that a very gentle wind suffices to give motion to the shrubs, and even to blow about the straw and other light bodies on the flagged pavement, with which it is environed. The sunshine also, on the calmest day, cannot fail, by the heat which it communicates, to dissipate the noxious vapours, and renovate the air. And every shower of rain performs the same salutary office.
The means of obviating contagion, or the antidotes to it, where it subsists, seem to be three-fold. Ist, Such as weaken its energy by dilution, or by a minute division of its particles. 2diy, Such as operate solely on the human body, by counteracting its susceptibility of infection. 3dly, Such as affect the poison itself, rendering it innoxious, by producing some chemical or other change in its nature. Á familiar analogy may at once illustrate and confirm this proposition. It is well known, that a grain of tartar emetic will excite vomiting. But if this antimonial preparation be
dissolved in a very large portion of water, the emetic power which it possessed will be destroyed. The same loss of power will ensue if a dose of opium be administered either previously or in conjunction with it, by which the stomach will become insensible to its action. And lastly, if an alkaline salt be added to it, the decomposition thus produced will render it inert. A knowledge of these several correctives of contagion is interesting to the magistrate as well as to the physician. But the most important of them, and what is now chiefly to be considered, is dilution, which may, I trust, be accomplished, so as to obviate the communication of infection, by smaller supplies of fresh air, than you seem to apprehend.
Contagion, like all other poisons, must subsist in some definite quantity, or degree of concentration, to be capable of producing its deleterious effects. And though the minimum, or least point of activity, under which, when reduced by diffusion, it becomes innoxious, hath not, and perhaps cannot, be precisely ascertained ; yet we have sufficient evidence to satisfy us that this subsists at no great distance from its source. Dr. Mackenzie, who practised physic thirty years in the cities of Smyrna, and Constantinople, assures us, that he was never afraid to go into a large house: wherein a person lay under the plague, provided the patient was confined to one room. And the Rev. Thomas Dawes, chaplain to the British factory at Aleppo, in his account of a dreadful pestilence which raged with such violence in that place in the years 1761, and 1762, that from two to three hundred persons were buried daily, relates that the plague twice broke out in two houses adjoining to that in which the British Consul lived: but although, according to the custom of the East, they constantly slept during the months of July and August, in the open air on the house-top, and a Franciscan friar, whose bed was only six yards distant from that of Mr. Dawes, (both being placed near a wall eight feet high, by which the terraces of the two houses were separated,) died of the disease after two days illness, yet he and all the family escaped infection. I shall recite a more remarkable fact from the authority of my late honoured friend, Sir John Pringle, which still further illustrates what has been advanced. In the year 1750, on the 7th of May, the sessions commenced at the Old Bailey, and continued several days, during which time more criminals were tried, and a greater multitude was present, than usual. This court is only thirty feet square ; and the corruption of the air was aggravated by the foul steams of the bail-dock, and
of two rooms opening into it, in which the prisoners were the whole day crowded together, till they were brought forth to take their trial. The bench consisted of six persons, four of whom died of the gaol distemper, together with two or three of the counsel, one of the under sheriffs, several of the Middlesex jury, and above forty other persons. It is to be noted, that the Chief Justice, who sat at the Lord Mayor's right-hand, escaped; whilst his lordship, with the rest of the bench on his left, was seized with the infection ; that the Middlesex jury, on the same side of the court, lost many, whilst the London jury, opposite to them, received no injury; and that of the multitude present, but one or two, or at most a small number, of those that were on the side of the court to the Lord Mayor's right-hand, were taken ill. Sir John Pringle ascribes this partial action of contagion to the opening of a window at the end of the court, most distant from the bench, by which he deems it probable that the poisonous miasms were directed to, and accumulated in, that part of the hall where the fatality so remarkably occurred. And I think we are equally warranted to conclude, from his narrative, that the air of the whole court must have been contaminated, and that a moderate degree of dilution sufficed to render the contagious particles innoxious.
Thus far I had written more than a month ago, as you will perceive by the date of my letter. Successive and very urgent engagements have dissipated my thoughts on this interesting subject, and still continue to engross my time.
I hope you will not infer from the observations, which I have with much freedom suggested to you, that I regard the ventilation of gaols as an object of little importance; for it appears to me to claim the most serious attention, so far as it can be rendered compatible with essential purposes of confinement. And I rejoice to find that Mr. Blackburne, an ingenious architect now employed in this country, and in various other parts of England, in the erection of new prisons, purposes to surround them with a wall of no great height, but covered at the top with chevaux de frise, which will afford perfect security, at the same time that it is pervious to the wind.
I meant to have offered to you some hints concerning the accommodation, clothing, diet, indulgences, and medical treatment of the prisoners, as they relate to the prevention or cure of the gaol distemper. But I have at present no leisure to digest my thoughts; and it is probable they would convey little information to one who has so fully considered
these subjects. When you see Dr. Jebb, be pleased to present my best respects to him: he has a claim to the warm esteem of every lover of his country.
This letter will be conveyed to you by Mr. Blackburne. I am called to a meeting of our magistrates, which is to be held to-day for the purpose of conferring with him on the erection of a new prison here.
I have the honour to be, with very cordial respect, Sir, your most faithful, humble servant, 1787, Sept.
LXXVII. A Provincial dislike to Game, how to be accounted for.
MR. URBAN, IF
you ask a countryman in the south-west part of the kingdom to dine, he objects to any kind of game which comes to your table, and says, in his provincial dialect, I never eats hollow fowl; under which term he includes hares and rabbits, as well as wild fowl, and every kind of poultry. It is in vain to inquire whence this dislike proceeds, for he can tell you no more, than that he derives it from his father. Cæsar, it is very remarkable, describes the inhabitants of this country as having exactly the same prejudice. They estcemed it (says he) a crime to eat hares, poultry, or geese ; they kept them nevertheless for amusement. “ Leporem, et gallinam, et anserem gustare fas non putant : hæc tamen alunt, animi voluptatisque causa.” De Bell. Gall. lib. 5. c. 12. Had the generality of our people been descendants of the Britons whom Cæsar encountered, there would have been then little difficulty in accounting for this superstition, as it might reasonably be supposed to be the remains of a druidical inhibition continued to this time. But history allows of no such solution; for the Saxons found the southern end of our island, deserted by the Romans and ravaged by the Picts, in such a state of desolation, that, so far from adopting the customs of the few surviving natives, they gave new names to the rivers and mountains, and even to the villages and cities. Now we have the authority of Cæsar for asserting, that the Germans, from whom our Saxon ancestors are descended, had no connection with the Druids, but that they had religious rites and ceremonies of