WHEN we hear of the commission of crimes by uneducated men, we are led to make some allowance for their ignorance, and the want of precept in their early years; but when men of liberal education descend to mean and vile practices, we are shocked at the debasement of human nature. Already has our duty too often depicted scholars expiating their sins at the gallows; and, here have, we to bring forward another instance of this unpleasant nature. Mr. Smith, like his countrymen Gahagan and Conner, received an excellent education, and, like them, used it for the basest purposes.
The father of this unfortunate man (and this circumstance renders his crimes still more odious) was a pious clergyman, and rector of Kilmore in Ireland, who himself gave his graceless son a tolerable idea of the learned languages at home, sent him to Trinity College, Dublin, to finish his education, and then placed him with an attorney of eminence.
His father dying before the expiration of his clerkship, he abandoned himself so much to his pleasures, that he was induced to commit a forgery on his master; in consequence of which he received a considerable sum: but, being afraid of detection, he resolved to quit his native country.
Hereupon he entered as captain's clerk on board a man of war, and behaved with propriety till about the time that, the ship was paid off, when he took to the dangerous practice of forging seamen's tickets: for the captain employing him to make out tickets for the men, he made several of them payable to himself, and disposed of them for above a hundred pounds, and likewise secreted about a hundred pounds more, which were due for wages to the seamen, and stole a sum of money belonging to the surgeon's mate; with all which he decamped.
Repairing to London, he took the name of Dawson, and served some time as clerk to an attorney; but his employer going into the country, and Smith knowing that he had capital connexions in Ireland, he forged a letter in his name, on a merchant in Dublin for 130l. and carrying it himself, received the sum demanded, partly in cash, and partly in bank-notes; on which he took his passage to England, and received the amount of the notes in London.
His appearance in the capital now becoming very dangerous, he strolled about the country till he was almost reduced to poverty, when he again went to Ireland, where he forged an order for the payment of 174l. 19s. which he received, and brought to England, though a King's- bench. warrant was issued for his apprehension in Ireland, and he was likewise indicted in that country.
Assuming a false name, he secreted himself more than half a year in England, when being reduced to poverty, he was met by a gentleman who knew him; who remarking on the meanness of his appearance, seemed surprised that, with his abilities, he should be destitute of the conveniences of life.
Smith told a deplorable tale of poverty; said that he was in a bad state of health, and unable to visit his friends in his present situation; on which the gentleman clothed him decently, gave him money, and recommended him to a physician, whose skill restored him to health in a short time.
Thus reinstated for the present in fortune and constitution, he no longer visited his benefactors, and was soon reduced to his former state of distress.
His friend again meeting him in the usual wretched plight, asked him the occasion of it; on which he said, that, being indebted for lodging, he was obliged to sell his clothes; and that he did not call to thank the physician, because his appearance was so exceedingly abject.
Hereupon his friend once more supplied him with clothes; on which he went to see the physician, who desired him to repose himself awhile, and conversed with him in the most social way. Smith arising as if to depart, presented a pistol to the doctor's face, and threatened his destruction if he did not instantly give him five guineas: but the other with great indifference, told him that he was an old man, not afraid of death; that he might act as he thought proper; but that if he perpetrated his design, the report of the pistol would be infallibly heard by his servants, and that the consequence would prove fatal to himself.
Having said this, the gentleman refused to deliver the money demanded; on which Smith was so terrified, that he dropped on his knees, wept with apparent concern for his offence, and begged pardon with such appearance of sincerity, that the physician's humanity was excited, and he gave him three guineas, with his best advice for the reformation of his conduct.
Not long after this, Smith casually meeting an acquaintance named Weeks, who stopped at a shop to receive 45l. for a bill of exchange, was paid only 10l. in part, being desired to call for the rest on a future day. Smith having witnessed what passed, forged Mr. Week's name to a receipt for the remaining 35l. which he received, and embarked for Holland before the villainy was discovered.
The next offence this malefactor committed, or rather, intended to commit, afforded the immediate occasion of his being brought to justice. Going to the seat of Sir Edward Walpole, near Windsor, and demanding to see him, he told him he had a bond from Sir Edward to a person named Paterson, who being in distressed circumstances, he (Smith) was commissioned to deliver the bond on a trifling consideration: but Sir Edward, knowing that no such bond subsisted, seized the villain, and committed him to the care of his servants, who conducted him before a magistrate, by whom he was committed to prison at Reading.
He was examined by different justices of the, peace on four successive days: but all that he confessed was, that he was born at Andover. This, however, could not be credited, as the tone of his voice testified that he was a native of Ireland; on which he was committed to the gaol at Reading, for farther examination.
Smith's transactions having rendered him the subject of public conversation, a suspicion arose that he (though then unknown) was the party who had defrauded Mr. Weeks; on which notice of the affair was sent to London: and Mr. Weeks going to Reading, knew him to be the person who had forged the receipt in his name.
Hereupon he was removed to Newgate, and the next sessions at the Old Bailey was capitally convicted; and though the jury recommended him to mercy, this could not be obtained, as his character was notorious, and there were five indictments against him.
From the time of his commitment, he behaved in the most penitent manner, expressing the utmost compunction for the crimes of which he had been guilty, and preparing for death with every sign of unfeigned repentance; though, for some time, he reflected on the Honourable Edward Walpole, as the author of his destruction, by an interception of the royal Mercy; but being assured that Sir Edward had not interposed to injure him, he took the whole blame of his misfortunes on himself.
He was so reduced in circumstances before the day of execution, and so utterly destitute of friends to procure him a decent interment, that he was induced to insert the following advertisement in the newspapers:
"In vain has mercy been entreated; the vengeance of heaven has overtaken me; I bow myself unrepining to the fatal stroke. Thanks to my all-gracious Creator: thanks to my most merciful Saviour, I go to launch into the unfathomable gulph of eternity !
"Oh! my poor soul! How strongly dost thou hope for the completion of eternal felicity! Almighty Jehovah, I am all resignation to thy blessed will. Immaculate Jesus! Oh send some ministering angel to conduct me to the bright regions of celestial happiness.
"As to my corporeal frame, it is unworthy of material notice; but for the sake of that reputable family from whom I am descended, I cannot refrain from anxiety, when I think how easily this poor body, in my friendless and necessitous condition, may fall into the possession of the surgeons, and perpetuate my disgrace beyond the severity of the law. So great an impoverishment has my long confinement brought upon me, that I have not a shilling left for subsistence, much less for the procuring the decency of an interment.
"Therefore, I do most fervently entreat the generosity of the humane and charitably compassionate, to afford me such a contribution as may be sufficient to protect my dead body from indecency, and to give me the consolation of being assured, that my poor ashes shall be decently deposited within the limits of consecrated ground.
"The deprivation of life is a sufficient punishment for my crimes, even in the rigorous eye of offended justice; after death has permitted my remains to pass without further ignominy; then why should inhumanity lay her butchering hands on an inoffensive carcase? Ah! rather give me the satisfaction of thinking I shall return to my parent dust, within the confines of a grave.
"Those who compassionate my deplorable situation, are desired to send their humane contributions to Mrs, Browning's, next door to the Golden Acorn, in Little Wild-street; and that Heaven may reward their charitable disposition, is the dying prayer of the lost and unhappy
When brought into the press-yard, and bound with a halter, he dropped upon his knees, and prayed very devoutly, and acknowledging his crimes, said, he died in charity with all mankind, and hoped for forgiveness at the great Tribunal; which, in the sublime lines of the poet, he thus addressed:
"Thee I will sing, Almighty Maker! thee,
"Father of all! Whether the rising sun
"Sheds forth his golden beams: or, when at night
"The moon unveils her orb; thou art my strength,
"My life, my glory, and my sure defence,
"My castle, my deliverance, my hope,
"My better hope, when dread affliction's hand
"Wide wasting, me o'erwhelms."
How melancholy the reflection that such abilities should have been thus prostituted!. It would be strange if this address, so calculated to impress the feeling heart, had not produced the intended effect. Mrs. Browning advertised, that the subscriptions of the humane were sufficient to answer the proposed end.