A case of seduction, and attempted assassination
THE history of Mr. Henry Stent's wrongs and sufferings -- excited by the elopement of his wife with a man whom he had ever treated as his private friend -- and of the murderous deed on which the injured husband resolved, to avenge his injuries, furnishes a most appalling commentary on the dreadful effects produced by the abuse of friendship, and the violation of the sacred duties of wedded life. The wretched woman who deserted her home, parents, and friends, for the guilty intercourse of a villain, was most comfortably situated in life, and blessed with an affectionate and indulgent husband. The heartless seducer was a man somewhat advanced in years, also married, and the father of a large family. The complicated events arising out of this melancholy tale, might almost be mistaken for the romantic ravings of a German poet, did not the notoriety of the circumstances place them beyond all shadow of doubt, and prove them "not only possible, but true." Well might the guilty sufferer exclaim -–
Oh, what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practice to deceive!
Mr. Stent was a respectable butcher, residing at Pimlico, and at the time of the seduction of his wife, was about twenty-eight years old; his wife twenty-six, and they had been married about seven years. They had lived in the greatest harmony and comfort, Stent himself being of a remarkably mild and tranquil disposition, singularly partial to his wife, and if guilty of any error towards her, it was in an excess of fondness.
The miscreant whose diabolical machinations destroyed their peace for ever, was a fellow named Sweeting, who resided in the adjoining house, and was upon terms of family intimacy with them, frequently visiting, and receiving the visits of Mr. and Mrs. Stent. By what means he first acquired an influence over the mind of his wretched victim does not appear, but the following is a specimen of the arts which he used to complete his triumph over her, and to induce her entirely to desert the man whose confidence she had already abused.
A short time previous to the elopement, Mrs. Stent had been afflicted with an indisposition which rendered country air desirable. She was in consequence sent down to the house of an uncle of her husband, a farmer, within three miles of Uxbridge. While in this situation, she was repeatedly visited by Sweeting, both publicly and privately, and from thence he endeavoured by every possible argument to induce her to elope; urging his illicit passion with unceasing violence. Still, however, the unhappy woman resisted his importunities. Whether he had at that time accomplished her seduction, does not appear, but in order to work upon her mind, and to incline her to place a more implicit belief in the strength of his unnatural affection, he went through the farce of hanging himself to a tree in the neighbourhood, as if in despair at her cruelty. From this perilous situation he took especial care to be providentially relieved; and he was still bent upon an imaginary death, and pretended to quench the flame by which he was devoured in the canal; but here, too, he contrived to be rescued from the crime of self-destruction.
These feats were performed anonymously; he would not disclose his name, or the cause of his contempt of life; but he took care that Mrs. Stem should not remain in ignorance of the ordeal through which he had passed; and at length the poor woman became so alarmed by these occurrences that she returned to town. In a few days afterwards she fled from her husband and her fate remained involved in obscurity, except that it was suspected Sweeting was the partner of her flight, as he had disappeared from his home about the same time. Sweeting had four children living, and his wife was far advanced in pregnancy with a fifth. On the evening previous to the morning fixed on for the elopement, Mr. and Mrs. Stent were invited to meet a party at Sweeting's house, who, after tea, engaged Stent in a game of cards, while his wife returned home, packed up all the moveables on which she could lay her hands, clothes, plate, and money, and removed them to another place. After she had accomplished this object, she returned and finished the evening in the most convivial manner. The next morning she eloped.
About three weeks after, Sweeting returned to his wife in the dead of night, and demanded what money she had in her possession. She denied that she had any; but he persisted that she had, and insisted upon having it. The poor woman urged the proximity of her confinement, and the calls of her other children. He was, however, deaf to these arguments; he shut the door, and with dreadful threats forced her to strip herself, and from her stays ripped sixty pounds, with which he went off. His unhappy wife was soon afterwards seized with the pains of child-birth, and was delivered.
The agonies of her mind on this occasion exceeded those of her body; and Nature gave way to the full tide of misery which had burst upon her; she became raving mad! Her neighbour Stent was sent for, to assist in clothing her in a straight waistcoat, and in an hour afterwards she died in his arms! Her death was soon followed by that of her helpless infant. Thus did vice triumph over the happiness of an innocent family! The death of the mother and infant was succeeded by the death of another child. Whatever property remained was soon dissipated in the necessary expenditures of the funerals, and the support of the surviving children, who were subsequently removed to the workhouse, where they remained a burthen to the parish.
What were the sensations of the guilty father when this heart-rending tale reached his ears, it is impossible to say; but if a shadow of feeling remained in his bosom, his misery could not be less than his crime; nor could Mrs. Stent, who was the partner in his flight and the participator in his infamy, be less exposed to the horrors of remorse.
The guilty woman, and her infamous paramour, fled to France, from whence it appears they returned to England very soon afterwards, and then sailed to America. The unnatural bonds of licentious attachment have, however, but a very weak hold, either of the slaves or the victims of its lawless influence, and Mrs. Stent found full soon that she was fated to add to the list of dupes and outcasts. In a foreign country, far removed from the reach of help, cut off by her own act from protector or friend, she fatally felt the extent of her crimes, and consequent degradation. The brute who had seduced her from home, from husband, and from fame, treated her as the wretch he had made her, while to the poignancy of her bodily sufferings were superadded the mental torments produced by a despairing consciousness of guilt.
At length remorse, mingled perhaps with somewhat of real penitence, induced the wretched woman to think of returning home, to throw herself at the feet of her injured husband, and to make some atonement by her future conduct for the deep and irreparable injuries she had committed. Her sated seducer gladly availed himself of the opportunity of getting rid of the degraded being who had now become a burden to him, and readily agreed to her return; first extorting from her a promise that she would for ever conceal the circumstance of his being the partner of her flight, and fiercely threatening, that if she ever disclosed the fact, he would return and cut her throat.
The ship in which she took her passage to England encountered severe storms and perils on the voyage, but Providence was pleased to save the miserable woman from a watery grave, to endure sufferings a thousand times more appalling than, in the ordinary course of things, surround the bed of death itself, or even haunt the culprit who pays the forfeit of his life to the violated laws of society.
On her arrival at Liverpool, she took the stage to London; and being set down at the Saracen's Head Inn, Snow-hill, retired to a room, from whence, in the wild phrenzy of conscious guilt and hopeless despair, she addressed the following letter to her injured husband:--
"August, 5, 1819.
"You, no doubt, will be offended at my writing to you, one that I have used so ill; but, believe me, I have considered of my crime, and will repent, if possible. Oh, Henry! I have suffered more than I can tell you in crossing the seas; there was nothing but storms and trouble, and the ship was lost. But you, perhaps, already know that I have put my trust in God for safety in crossing them again, and have got safe to England once more, to throw myself at your feet, and implore your pity, if you cannot pardon me; but oh! for one moment consider before my doom is fixed. Indeed, I am penitent, and sorry for my sins, and hope you will hear my prayer for mercy, as well as that God which I have offended. But if my story was told by any other than me, you would see what a villain he was. If you find you cannot forgive -- but oh! that thought makes me tremble -- do not let my dear father and mother know you have heard of me, for that would bring their trouble afresh to their minds, (that is, if their lives are spared), and I hope I have not got that to answer for.
"All I wish is, to pass the remainder of my days in obscurity, or in the workhouse, if you think proper, or in any other place; do not desert me, for God's sake, do not. I have come from America, landed on Tuesday morning, and at night left Liverpool; and this morning got to the Saracen's Head, where I shall await your answer with the greatest distress. If you please to let me have some of the clothes I left, as I have not a gown to wear. Oh! Henry, think well before you say what shall be my fate; only ask your own heart. Do not tell any body that you know of my being in England, but think what a journey for a lone woman to take. I do not know when you will get this, but, if you can, let me know to-night what is to be my lot. Indeed, I will be content on bread and water, if I can but obtain your forgiveness. Oh! Henry, be not deaf to my prayers; I know it is a crime, I have often heard you say you never would forgive; only write to say you will pardon me, and do what you like after; but do not let any of my friends know that I have wrote to you -- grant me that request, if you cannot grant any more. Let me know, for I had only £2 5s. to bring me to London.
The frightful part of our tale now advances; and who shall account for the errors of man's imperfect nature, when all its "milk of human kindness' is "turned to gall," by the cold-blooded baseness of the supposed private friend; by the deliberate whoredom of the wife of his bosom; by the lascivious abandonment of her, who, having vowed to "love, to honour, and obey," has participated in the joys of his youth, in the anxieties of his manhood -- and then, betraying the partner of her vows, and her loyalty to the marriage bed, coolly and deliberately throws herself into the arms of a villain? Stent had felt, and deeply felt, the wound that had been inflicted on him, the effects of which still burned and rankled even in his very heart's core. He had felt the desolation of his domestic fire-side; he had known the want of the anxious attendant, in those moments of worldly care from which no human being is exempt; he had vainly sought for repose upon his "widowed bed of fire," and had felt a mockery of his misfortunes in the domestic mementos of his former happy days. He had witnessed, too, the death-bed of the wife of the seducer of his wife, and he had seen the helplessness of infants, deserted by their natural protector, struggling in the last agonies of mortal disease, or stretching out their little hands in supplication for food, while their unnatural parent was squandering in licentiousness that which should have placed them out of the reach of want. With folded arms and quivering lips, how oft had he paced the streets at midnight, ruminating on his injuries, and impotently panting for the power of vengeance. Twelve months of familiarity with wretchedness had at length somewhat closed, if it had not effectually sealed the wounds by which his soul had been pierced, when, in a moment unexpected and unannounced, the prime agent of all his sufferings was as it were at his feet, and full and ample means of vengeance within his grasp. Common feeling cannot but shudder at the dreadful resolve upon which, in desperation, and impelled by a full sense of all his injuries, he rushed; but let us rather yearn in pity over the man who is tried as he had been tried, than look to the culprit who avenged his wrongs as he avenged them. Christian charity must induce us to conclude that the intellect had given way before the rolling torrent of injury by which it had been assailed, and that the hand was but the involuntary agent of a deed on which an incompetent mind had resolved.
In the dreadful state of mind here described, he hurried to the inn from whence his wretched wife had despatched the letter which had newly lighted up the smothering embers of his fury; was shown into the room wherein she was sitting, and instantly commenced a fierce and bloody attack upon the person of the profligate woman. Fortunately, her screams of terror and cries for mercy were heard by the attendants, and several individuals rushed into the room in time enough to save her life, although she was dreadfully cut and mangled in the bloody encounter.
The fury of the unhappy man evaporated with the knowledge of his having punished the offender against the honour of his bed and his peace of mind; he calmly surrendered himself into the hands of justice, and was conveyed, without a struggle, to the Gilrspur-street Counter, from whence he immediately despatched the following letter to his sister.
"Dear Eliza. --
I have been at the Saracen's-Head, and seen Maria, and from what has passed between us, I am now in Giltspur-street Compter. I must leave it to you to break the matter in the best way you can to our dear father and mother.
On the other side was written, "I have stabbed her, but would not put that on the other side for fear of shocking you too suddenly. It is of no use to come to-night, as you cannot be admitted but shall be glad to see some of you in the morning."
The next morning he was brought up before the sitting magistrate at Guildhall for examination, and the following particulars of the dreadful affair were given in evidence, together with the affecting details of the conduct of his suffering and repentant wife.
Previously to the arrival of the Magistrate, a messenger had been despatched from the office to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, to learn the state of the wife, and whether she was able to make her deposition; to this inquiry the following note was returned: --
"This is to certify, that Mrs. Stent has passed a good night, and is better this morning, but cannot be considered out of danger at present. As rest is a principal object in the treatment of her case, it would be better to defer her examination.
"There is no immediate danger to he apprehended. "H. BENWELL, House-Surgeon.
"Aug. 6, 1 o'clock."
The prisoner was then placed at the bar; he was respectably dressed in black, with a white waistcoat, and appeared perfectly cool and collected, but without any appearance of impudence or bravado.
The first witness called was Thomas Pithouse, waiter at the Saracen's-head, who stated, that the woman came to the inn by their Liverpool coach, between 10 and 11 o'clock on Thursday morning, had breakfast, and desired to be furnished with paper, &c. to write a letter; she wrote one, which was sent by a porter to Pimlico; -- she remained within doors the remainder of the day; and about half-past six in the afternoon, after she had had her tea, the prisoner arrived, and on inquiring for Mrs. Stent, was shown into the room to her; there were no other persons in the room but themselves. Shortly after, he (the witness) being in the passage leading to the back yard, heard a violent shriek, and immediately a second; and before he and his fellow servant could get to the room door, a third; they both rushed into the room; his fellow servant was first, who immediately cried out, "Thomas, the man has got a knife;" the woman at the same time cried out, "Oh, he will kill me!"
His companion then made a snatch to get the knife, but missed his hold; the man then altered the direction of the knife, and grasping it full in his hand, stabbed the woman with great violence in the throat. He then said, "I have accomplished my purpose; I wish for nothing but to suffer; I know I shall suffer." The wife replied, "Yes, you have, Henry, and I freely forgive you; come and kiss me." The prisoner then knelt down and kissed her twice, which she returned, saying, "I hope the law will not take hold of you; you are the best of husbands, and I am the very worst of wives, and I hope my fate will be a warning to all bad wives." She was then taken on a shutter to the hospital, and in her way thither she was continually calling on her dear Henry, wishing him to kiss her, and begging him to give her his hand; one of the persons attending took hold of her extended hand, which she then closed most affectionately, saying, "God bless you! I shall now die happy!" mistaking the stranger's hand for that of her husband.
At this part of the evidence, which was given with much feeling on the part of the witness, the prisoner's fortitude seemed to be quitting him, his lip quivered, the big tear stood in his eye, and his whole countenance evinced that he was greatly agitated and affected; but after a short interval he recovered his composure. Thomas Turner, the porter, said he was the first person in the room; he saw the wife on her back on the floor, and the man kneeling on her stomach; on his coming in, the man rose up, and perceiving he had a knife, he (the witness) drew back, and before he could get to the prisoner to seize him, he stabbed the woman in the neck, as described by Pithouse; he then said, "Don't be alarmed, I will not hurt any of you; I have accomplished my purpose:" he then let the knife drop from his hand. On the witness observing to him, what a rash man he was to commit such a deed, and that he had signed his own death-warrant, the prisoner replied, he was perfectly satisfied; she had been a base woman; on which his wife said, "Indeed I have, I freely forgive you, and hope no harm will come to you." This witness also corroborated Pithouse's account of the affecting scene that subsequently took place between the husband and wife, and the expression of penitence and affection used by the latter while being conveyed to the hospital.
Hodson, an assistant in Giltspur-street Compter, was sent for to take the prisoner. On his entering the room, Stent immediately said, "I am the man," and surrendered himself without making the smallest resistance. On searching him there were found only a few shillings, part of a razor-case, which he had used as a sheath for the knife while in his pocket, and the letter he had received from his wife in the morning.
Hodson also produced the knife with which the bloody deed was committed; it was one of the common sticking-knives for killing calves, and it was covered with blood up to the hilt; the point and the edge appeared turned, as if it had struck against a bone; the woman having been stabbed in the side and stomach before the witness got into the room.
This being the whole of the evidence at that time to be produced, the prisoner was asked if he wished to say any thing for himself, on which he bowed respectfully to the Alderman, and simply replied, "No, Sir." He was then remanded till the following Monday, and was conveyed back to the Compter in a coach, accompanied by his brother and his cousin.
The inquirers at St. Bartholomew's-hospital the following day were informed, that Mrs. Stent had passed another good night, and that she was, upon the whole, much better. Thus it would appear, that from the first she was likely to recover the effects of the wounds of the body, however painful might be those of the mind. She was visited by her sisters and other members of her family, who felt it a duty, whatever had been her failings, to offer her the consolations of affection in her melancholy situation. She had received five stabs: one on her arm, another on her hand, a third on her breast, a fourth on the right side, and a fifth in her neck. That in the right side was considered the most dangerous.
Mr. Stent remained resigned to his fate. He said he anticipated death; and, indeed, would welcome it as a relief from the misery he had felt ever since his wife's desertion. He was surprised on hearing that he had inflicted more than one wound, and said he was only conscious of having given one stab. His friends endeavoured to console him; but he said he needed not consolation, as his mind was perfectly easy; he still seemed to feel an affection for his wife, and hoped that if she was to die she might not linger in pain. The crime of which she had been guilty, he said, was one that he could not forgive; and the love he bore her rendered it the more agonizing to his feelings. The unhappy man seemed painfully alive to his dishonour, and to the ingratitude with which he had been treated.
On the 9th of August, the day to which he had been remanded, he was brought before the sitting magistrate at Guildhall for a second examination, and on his being placed at the bar, Mr. Paine, the clerk to the magistrates, observed, that no further proceedings could he had against the prisoner till it was ascertained whether his wife was out of danger, as in that case the mode of committal would be different from what it would otherwise be in case of her death. He then read the following certificate of her present condition: --
"Mrs. Stent continued to improve till towards yesterday morning, when she had an attack of inflammation of the lungs, from which, however, she is now recovering. She cannot be examined for the present.
"H. BENWELL, House-Surgeon.
"St. Bartholomew's Hospital,
"Aug. 9, 1819."
Mr. Alderman Waithman inquired if there was any additional evidence to be produced.
Mr. Paine said, it might be necessary to have the testimony of another of the waiters at the Saracen's Head, George King, the person who witnessed Mrs. Stent's arrival there, and first attended upon her; as also that of the Surgeon, to state the nature of the wounds she had received. Her friends, he understood, had seen her, and he suggested that probably they were in attendance; but upon their being called no one appeared.
The Alderman then informed the prisoner, that he would be remanded to the ensuing Wednesday, when, if he thought proper, he might be assisted by his solicitor or counsel; to which Stent replied, that he believed that would not be necessary but at the trial. He then bowed respectfully to the magistrate, and retired from the bar.
A few minutes after, it was notified to the Alderman, that the father of Mrs. Stent was in Court, and, upon being introduced to the magistrate, he expressed his sorrow at the shocking occurrence that had taken place: he had no wish to pursue the husband, but his daughter, he supposed, must be bound over. He had seen her that morning, and found her considerably better; she was quite calm in her mind, and expressed her hopes that no harm would come to her husband. He was then informed that Stent was remanded to Wednesday, and withdrew.
An immense crowd was assembled in the Guildhall-yard, all eager to get a sight of the prisoner, but no symptoms of indignation were indicated towards him either at his arrival or on his return. The prisoner conducted himself with the utmost composure.
On Wednesday the examination was resumed, and on Stent's being placed at the bar, Mr. Paine, the clerk, said, he had caused the necessary inquiry to be made at St. Bartholomew's-hospital, and had received a certificate of the situation of Mrs. Stent's health, which he read as follows: --
"This is to certify, that Mrs. Stent is improving fast. The wounds are nearly healed, and I have no doubt but that in a few days I shall be able to pronounce her out of danger.
"H. BENWELL, House Surgeon.
"St. Bartholomew's Hospital,
Under these circumstances, he conceived it would be necessary to remand the prisoner until the wife was in a condition to attend at the office, and give her deposition; in the interim the chain of evidence might be rendered more complete, by the examination of the other waiter, and the porter, who carried the letter to the post, whom he had desired to attend.
George King, a waiter at the Saracen's Head, was then examined. He stated, that he attended Mrs. Stent on her arrival at the inn, showed her into a back-room usually appropriated to passengers, where she ordered breakfast and a sheet of paper to write a letter; she did so, and desired him to send the porter to take it to the post: he complied with her directions, and nothing further occurred till the arrival of Mr. Stent, at about half an hour past six. Witness was the first person that saw him; he inquired if there was not a young woman there who came by the coach from Liverpool? Witness replied in the affirmative, and showed him into the room to her: there was no one else in the room but herself. On his opening the door, Mrs. Stent, who was sitting in a far part of the room, immediately rose from her seat, and came to meet her husband. Witness heard nothing that passed then, for he shut the door directly and retired. He then proceeded to state, that he heard the shrieks in common with his fellow servants, and ran to give assistance. He saw no blow struck, but observed the bloody knife lying on the floor. He also corroborated the other witnesses in their account of the expressions of self-accusation which fell from Mrs. Stent. He left the parties in care of his fellow-servants, and went to the Compter for an officer.
The porter who took the letter was in attendance; King said, all that he knew was, that he took the letter from Mrs. Stent, who asked him if he thought it would be delivered that night.
Mr. Alderman Rothwell, addressing the prisoner, said, "My poor man, I feel your unhappy situation exceedingly, and in order to prevent your feelings from being harrassed, as they must be, by being thus frequently brought up, I shall remand you to Saturday, by which time, probably, your wife will be well enough to attend, and make her deposition, and this unfortunate and distressing affair, as far as the magistrate is concerned, be finally closed."
The prisoner maintained his usual composure throughout; but his brother, who stood near him, was greatly affected, and at the commencement of the Alderman's address, burst into a violent flood of tears. Such general interest had this unhappy affair excited, that a considerable crowd was assembled in the Guildhall-yard before eleven o'clock in the morning; the justice-room was filled with persons of respectability, and the outer doors of the office were obliged to be kept shut during the examination, to prevent further inconvenience. The prisoner was conveyed from and to the Compter in a coach, accompanied by his brother and his cousin.
An immense concourse of persons assembled on the Saturday, to which day the further examination of the melancholy affair had been adjourned, in front of the Justice-room, Guildhall, in expectation that Mrs. Stent would be brought up to give her evidence against her husband. Upon the arrival of Alderman Rothwell, however, a certificate was received from Mr. Benwell, House Surgeon of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, from whence it appeared, that although Mrs. Stent was in a state of convalescence, yet that, from the state of her body, the agitation which would naturally result from her appearing in public might be productive of injurious consequences. Under these circumstances it was thought advisable to delay the final examination a few days longer, and the prisoner was not brought up.
Both Mrs. Stent and her father declared their intention not to prosecute. This, however, could make no difference as to the course of justice; for the king would become the prosecutor, and the evidence of Mrs. Stent might be altogether dispensed with. As, however, from the fact of the prisoner having been in the room with his wife ten minutes before an alarm was given, a doubt might arise as to the cause of the assault, which might operate favourably for the prisoner. The magistrate was bound to take cognizance of the offence, and it was indispensable that Mr. Stent should, at all events be committed for trial.
Mrs. Stent being at length pronounced sufficiently recovered to be able to appear in public and give her evidence, the final examination took place at Guildhall, on Wednesday, the 18th of August.
It being generally known that Stent was to undergo his final examination, and that his wife was sufficiently recovered from her wounds to be able to attend and give her deposition, a great concourse of people was collected together in the Guildhall yard, as early as ten o'clock in the morning, and before eleven all the avenues to the justice-room were so completely stopped up as to render it very difficult for the officers in attendance to open a passage for the admittance of those whose presence was required. The office itself was crowded to excess with persons of respectability of both sexes, immediately after the doors were opened. Mrs. Stent, accompanied by her father and sister, arrived in a coach from the hospital, about a quarter before 11 o'clock, and were permitted to remain in the magistrate's parlour till their presence was required. Her appearance was by no means interesting; she was short of stature, had light blue eyes, small nose, and fair complexion. She looked remarkably pale, and was more annoyed than fatigued by the curiosity of the surrounding spectators; her voice and manners were remarkably mild and fascinating.
The prisoner, Stent, was conveyed from the Compter in a coach, in custody of Hirdsfield the officer, accompanied by his cousin and Mr. Bryant, a friend of the family, and alighted at the office exactly at 12 o'clock. The sitting magistrate, Alderman J. J. Smith. arrived only a few minutes before him.
Henry Benwell, Esq., the House-Surgeon at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, was then examined. He stated, that Maria Stent was brought to the hospital between six and seven o'clock on the evening of Thursday the 5th of August inst.; he saw her directly; she was very faint and cold, but perfectly sensible. On examining her, he found she had received several wounds; there were three on her neck and right breast, one on her right arm, one on her right side, and one on her left thumb. One wound on the neck had penetrated the windpipe, and that on the side had penetrated the right lobe of the lungs; from this last mentioned wound she bled most profusely. This wound, and that which had injured the windpipe, were the most serious; the others were small and of little consequence. He at first apprehended considerable danger; Mrs. Stent, however, continued getting better till the Sunday morning following, when he was called up at seven o'clock, in consequence of an attack of inflammation on his patient's lungs; from this, however, she had now recovered: the wounds were not yet perfectly healed. but he considered her now out of danger. He had not seen the knife with which the stabs were given, but from all appearances they must have been made by a sharp instrument.
The depositions of Thomas Turner, the porter, George King and Thomas Pithouse, waiters at the Saracen's Head-inn, were severally read over, signed, and sworn to, and the parties bound over in recognizances of £40 each to attend and give evidence on the trial. Mrs. Stent was then introduced, and accommodated with a chair at the desk near to the Alderman. She was dressed in a blue spotted cotton gown, with a shawl over her shoulders, and wore a black poke bonnet, nearly concealing her face; from this circumstance, and her continually holding her head down, very few of the spectators were gratified by a view of her countenance.
Alderman Smith addressed her with great feeling, and informed her it was necessary she should be sworn. She replied mildly, but firmly, "Very well, Sir." The oath was then administered. She then stated, in answer to the different questions put by the Alderman, that she was the wife of the prisoner; that she arrived in London from Liverpool on the day in question; that she wrote a letter to her husband, and that he came to her at the Saracen's Head about six o'clock in the evening. In answer to the question, "What happened after her husband arrived," she replied very distinctly, that she was so agitated on seeing her husband that she could recollect nothing after she saw him, till she found herself undressed in the hospital. in giving this evidence, she was particularly guarded in not saying too much, making no extraneous observations, but confining her answers strictly to the questions, and frequently giving them in a single word; as, when asked -- how she found herself when she came to her recollection, she replied, "Wounded." When asked, "Where?" she said, "Principally in the neck." She persisted, when re-questioned, that she had no recollection of any thing that passed in the interview with her husband.
Mr. Alderman Smith, addressing Mr. Beecher, Mrs. Stent's father, said, much as he might regret the circumstances, a serious crime had been committed; and it was necessary some person should he bound over to prosecute. Mrs. Stent, being a married woman, could not; the nearest relation was the party generally looked to; and as he stood in that relation, he wished to know if he was willing to be so bound over. Mr. Beecher replied, if it was necessary, he was very sorry for it; it was a most unfortunate business, and he had no wish to pursue the husband. Mrs. Stent, bursting into tears, laid her hand on her father's arm, and said in a most beseeching tone, "Don't you, father."
Mr. Harmer, to whom the father seemed to look for advice, said, "You have your option." On which Mrs. Stent said still more earnestly, "Then, don't you, father." On which Mr. Beeeher declined to be bound over, and Hirdsfield, the officer, who took the prisoner into custody, was then bound over as the prosecutor.
Mr. Beecher was then asked by the magistrate, if he would enter into recognizance for the appearance of his daughter; he replied, he would be answerable for her forthcoming.
Mrs. Stent was permitted to withdraw into the parlour with her father and sister. Shortly after, Mr. Harmer brought a request from her to the Alderman, to be permitted to see her husband for a few minutes before he was sent back.
Mr. Alderman Smith said, he could not refuse such a request only on account of the agitation it would occasion to both of them. Mrs. Stent again begged, for God's sake, to let her speak to him for a minute. The magistrate said, it was painful to deny her, but he thought it would be too much for the feelings of both of them; but she should have permission to visit him at the Compter, with which she appeared more content, and shortly afterwards returned in a coach to the Hospital.
The Alderman addressing the prisoner told him, it was the opinion of his solicitor, that he should not say anything in his defence at present. The magistrate had every regard to his feelings in the painful situation he was placed, but he must be committed for trial. His wish, however, to remain in the Compter, until the sessions commenced, should be complied with. The prisoner then bowed respectfully, and was removed from the bar.
During the whole of this painful examination, the prisoner maintained his usual composure, which was not in the least altered on the appearance of his wife. The only period at which he showed any agitation was during the reading of that part of Pithouse's evidence, where he described the affecting conduct of Mrs. Stent while being carried to the hospital. The prisoner had been much affected at the time this evidence was given originally. He expressed no further resentment against his wife, but desired never to speak to her or see her again, and wished the officer to let him stand down while she was present, that he might not be forced to see her.
Although very strongly urged and recommended by her friends to delay her interview with her husband, until they were each recovered from the agitation of the long and affecting final examination, such was the anxiety of Mrs. Stent to see him, that she would not be persuaded to defer her visit, but would stop at the Compter on her return from the Justice-room to St. Bartholomew's-hospital. Mr. Teague, the Governor of the Compter, having no intimation of her visit, was from home at the time, and Mrs. Stent was obliged to wait patiently in his apartments till his return, as none of the officers felt themselves warranted to allow of the interview without his permission. On his return, at four o'clock, he readily complied with her request, but with the condition that the interview took place in his presence, and that her husband consented to the meeting. Mr. Stent was accordingly informed of his wife's desire to see him, and replied he had no objection, but wished that some friends he had with him should also be present. Mr. Teague then showed Mrs. Stent and her sister into the Committee-room, where her husband and his friends were also immediately introduced. On his entrance she seized his hand, kissed him very affectionately, and inquired, with great apparent eagerness, after his health, and how he had borne his confinement. He replied to her with kindness and affability, but seemed carefully to avoid any thing like the appearance of returning affection. The struggle with himself was evidently great, while she pressed his hand and moistened it with her tears. After some further conversation, in which she informed him she had been much fatigued in the hospital by the kindness of numerous friends, and the visits of other persons from curiosity, and that she meant to go home to her father's, she asked his permission to see him again; to which he replied he had no objection. She then again kissed him and took her leave.
By nine o'clock the next morning she was at the Compter, and again saw her husband, in the presence of Mr. Teague; the interview was short, and at her departure she obtained his consent to see her again. At neither of these visits did Mrs. Stent venture the slightest allusion to her own misconduct, or her husband's severity; she seemed well aware that he still remained too much irritated against her, and wished to accustom him to the sight of her without resentment. Stent, agreeably to his own request, remained in the Giltspur-street Compter, in the interval between his commitment and trial, where he conducted himself with the greatest propriety; devoting nearly the whole of his time to reading and devotional exercises. He, however, occasionally engaged in imparting instruction to his less-informed companions in prison. Upon the whole, although his firmness never forsook him, he maintained a dejected spirit. He was constantly visited by his wife, who gradually advanced to a perfect state of convalescence; but on no occasion whatever did he evince the slightest desire to renew his confidence with, or unbosom his feelings to her; in fact, he occasionally directed that Mrs. Stent should not be admitted to him.
There was, however, another cause, which seemed to actuate the mind of Stent; and he desponded under it the more, as one of those dreadful results of his wife's infidelity. His father, an aged but independent man, it appears, immediately after the lamentable transaction at the Saracen's Head, undertook the management of his son's affairs. In performing these duties, the old man had the misfortune to fail from his chaise and dislocate his hip so dangerously, that mortification was apprehended, and this misfortune produced a kind of agony in the mind of his son.
As the period for his being brought to trial advanced, some benevolent individuals undertook to make the necessary arrangements for his defence, and on the 17th of September, 1819, he was put to the bar at the Old Bailey.
The court was crowded with females. A London jury having been called, the prisoner was arraigned upon an indictment, charging him in the usual form with having inflicted divers wounds upon the person of his wife, Maria, on the 5th of August last, with intent to kill and murder her, or to do her some grevious bodily harm. He pleaded, Not Guilty. The jury was then sworn. There was no counsel for the prosecution, and Mr. Justice Best called Maria Stent: the wife of the prisoner stood up in the witness-box, and was sworn. She was plainly dressed, and wore a large Leghorn hat, which tended much to conceal her features: she seemed to be greatly agitated. Mrs. Stent was now addressed by Mr. Justice Best, when the entreated that she might not be called on to give evidence against the best of husbands.
Mr. Justice Best. -- I am extremely sorry to give you pain; but it is my duty to ask you some questions, which it will be your duty to answer. Is your name Maria Stent? -- Yes.
Is the prisoner your husband? Look at him. (Here the witness turned towards the prisoner with a look of great anguish.) -- Yes.
I believe you separated from him for some time? -- Yes.
When did you leave him? -- On the 29th of August, 1818.
Where did you go to? -- To France.
When did you return to England? -- I returned to London in August 1819, from Liverpool, and went to the Saracen's Head.
Where did the prisoner live at that time? -- At Pimlico.
Did you send any letter or message to him? -- I sent a letter.
In the course of that day did you see your husband? -- Yes.
Where? -- At the Saracen's Head.
What time of the day? -- Between seven and eight.
As you recollect, state what passed. -- I have no recollection of what passed.
Did any thing happen? -- Yes.
What do you first recollect? -- Being in bed at St. Bartholomew's-hospital.
What was the matter with you? -- I was wounded. Where were you wounded? -- In the neck.
Any where else? -- Yes, there were other wounds. Have you any recollection of the prisoner's coming into the room to you at the Saracen's-head? -- Yes.
Who came in with him? -- I do not recollect.
Were you alone in the room? -- Yes.
Before you went into the room, had you any wound? -- No.
Cross-examined by Mr. Alley -- Your feelings overpowered you when you saw your husband, and you have not the least recollection of what happened afterwards? -- Yes.
You said you did not wish to give evidence against the prisoner, because he was the best of husbands? -- Yes.
How long were you away from him? -- About twelve months.
(Here the witness sat down, and seemed extremely anxious to hide herself from public observation.)
The evidence of King, Pithouse, and Turner, to the effect already stated in the examinations before the magistrates, was then given, after which, Mr. Justice Best informed the prisoner, that if he had anything to say in his defence, the period had now arrived for so doing. The prisoner said he would leave his case entirely in the hands of his counsel.
A vast number of witnesses were then called on behalf of the prisoner, all of whom appeared to be persons of great respectability. They stated, that they had known him for many years, and had always believed him to be a kind-hearted, humane, good-natured man as any in existence, and a particularly affectionate and indulgent husband. It was impossible, in fact, to imagine testimony more favourable than was given by these persons, who all seemed actuated by the strongest sympathy towards the prisoner.
Mr. Justice Best proceeded to sum up the evidence. He deeply regretted the important and painful duty which, in the present case, devolved upon himself as well as upon the jury; painful, however, as that duty was, he felt no doubt that they would discharge it in a proper manner. The learned judge then explained the law upon the subject. From the evidence detailed, and which he should again read over to them, no doubt could remain on the mind of any unprejudiced person that the crime charged upon the prisoner came within the provisions of that most excellent act of parliament introduced by the late lamented Chief Justice of the King's-bench, for the protection of the subject's life. Though it did not appear in evidence upon the present occasion, the fact, however, might be fairly assumed, that Mrs. Stent, the unhappy woman who appeared before them on that day, had forsaken her husband, and by proving unfaithful to his bed, had inflicted upon him the most poignant anguish, the most acute suffering, that a man devoted to a wife could possibly endure. This, however, could by no means be admitted as a justification of his crime. The law of the land upon this subject proceeded upon the same principles as the religion of the country, which was Christianity. If a husband detected his wife in the very fact, in flagrante delicto, as it were, and that at the moment he plunged some deadly weapon into her bosom, so as to occasion death, it would not be considered murder. The law, like the religion of the country, making fair allowance for the frailties of human nature, considered the husband, with such provocation immediately before his eyes, as no longer under the guidance of reason, and of course not accountable for his acts. Here, however, the circumstances were quite different. A considerable time had elapsed since the elopement of the first witness, and on her return she manifested those symptoms of her repentance -- that appearance of returning affection -- which might well be supposed to disarm vengeance, and prevent that ferocious purpose which the prisoner appeared to have deliberately contemplated. Even while her blood was flowing from the wounds he had inflicted, she still entreated him to kiss her, and in that kiss conveyed a pardon to her assailant. Under circumstances such as these, the law did not admit of the same excuse as when a husband detected his wife in the very fact. Sufficient time having been given for cool reflection on one side, and for repentance on the other, the law, proceeding on the same principle as the benign religion which it imitated, did not allow vengeance to be inflicted with impunity. After some further observations, which the leaned judge delivered with great talent and feeling, he summed up the evidence at length.
The Jury then retired, and after consulting for about half an hour, returned with a verdict of guilty, but recommended the prisoner strongly to mercy, on account of his good character.
Mr. Justice Best -- The recommendation shall certainly be forwarded.
A petition, most numerously and respectably signed, was presented to the Prince Regent, on behalf of Stent, who, in consideration of all the circumstances, was graciously pleased to commute the sentence of death for two years' imprisonment.