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GIBBON'S ECCENTRICITY, AUThor should be known. The eccentricity of his character forms an antidote against his subtle attack on the venerable system of our coinmon Chris. tianity.
My dear young Friend,
WIMBLEDON COMMON; GIBBET OF ABBRSHAW; HIS CHARACTER
AND EXIT; REFLECTIONS ON CAPITAL PUNISHMENTS; GYPSBY TRIBE; ORIGIN AND HISTORY ; WIMBLEDON; ITS PLBASANT SITUATION ; JOHN HORNB TOOKB; HISTORY, CHARACTER,
AND DEATH; HIS EPITAPH AND ANECDOTES; BARNBS; ITS CURIOUS ROSB TOMB; BEAUTIFUL STANZAS ON A ROSB ; HORRIBLE MUR. DER OF FRENCH EMIGRANTS; BARN-BLMS; KIT-CAT CLUB
ITS HISTORY; HBINBGGER; CHARACTER AND ANECDOTES; MORTLAKE; BPITAPH OF VISCOUNTESS SIDMOUTH, AND OF ALVERMAN DARBBR; CONJUROR DEE; SHEEN; ITS HOLY MONASTERY; SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE; CHARACTER AND DEATH; ODB ON SOLI. TUDE; DEAN SWIFT; LAST ILLNESS AND DEATH; MBDITATION ON A BROOMSTICK; ANECDOTES ; INVENTORY OF HIS GOODS ; RIS CHARACTER OF HIS OWN WORKS.
MY DEAR YOUNG FRIEND, PASSING on from Putney, we skirt Wimbledon Common, a spacious tract of ground, on which highwaymen used formerly to perpetrate their midnight depredations. Hence (like Hounslow Heath, on the opposite side of the river), it was once deformed by a hideous range of gibbets, the reproach and disgrace of a civilized country. The last poor wretch whose body was here suspended on the ignominious tree, as unworthy of heaven and of earth, was one Abershaw, who, by his depraved deeds, had been the terror of the metropolis and its vicinity. He was executed in
ABERSHAW THE HIGHWAYMAN.
August, 1795, on Kennington Common. The daring spirit which he manifested, on his way to the gallows, was the subject of general conversation. And yet the chaplain to the gaol had administered to this man the Sacrament-an ordinance expressly instituted for the devout and obedient followers of Christianity. I could not help animadverting, in one of the public prints, on this profanation of the Lord's Supper. This drew from the chaplain the late Rev. W. Winkworth) a long but frank explanation of his conduct; acknowledging that he had been deceived, in the present instance, by feigned professions of penitence; and confessing that, in dubious cases, the practice had been better omitted.
That highwaymen, however, should they escape the dread sentence of the law, are not absolutely incurable, two curious instances may be adduced. It is said that a witty old Puritan divine, being on a journey, met three highwaymen, who, dismounting, plundered him. The reverend gentleman begged hard to have some of his money returned, as he was going to pay a bill in London. The highwaymen, pleased with his manner, gave him back all his money upon condition that, as they went along, he would preach a sermon to them. The preacher, taking back his money, began : "GENTLEMEN; you are ibe most like the old Apostles of any men in the world !They were wanderers upon the earth; and so are you :--they had neither lands nor tenements that they could call their own; as,
1 presume, you have not :-- they were despised of all but those of their own profession; and so, I believe, are you :--they were unalterably fixed in the princi.
REFORMATION OF HIGHWAYMEN.
ples they professed; and, I dare swear, so are you :they were often hurled into prisons, were persecuted by the people, and endured great hardships; all of which sufferings, I presume, have been undergone by you their profession brought them all to untimely deaths; and, if you continue in your course, so will yours bring you. But in this particular point, beloved, you differ mightily ;-the APOSTLES ascended from the fatal tree into Heaven; where, I am afraid, you will never come:-and, as their deaths were compensated with eternal glory, YOURS will be rewarded with eternal shame and misery, unless you mend your manners !". The singular ingenuity and bold fidelity of the preacher, it is said, terminated in their reformation. But another, an instance more modern, and, perhaps, better authenticated, shall be taken from the correspondence of the late patriotic Dr. Lettson, who thus writes to a correspondeut:-" Hitherto I have escaped depredators and robbers pretty well, not having been attacked above four times in twenty years. The last time was by a highwayman who appeared so much like a gentleman, that I advised him to call upon me in town, and accept my purse and assistance, to extricate him from present embarrassment, if that had induced him to so rash a step as the highway. In three weeks' time, he took the resolution to call at my house. I instantly knew him; and, after many fruitless attempts to serve him effectually, I took the liberty of addressing the Queen, and instantly succeeded. He is now an officer in the army, has been twice in the
Gazette promotions, and is as amiable and as deserva ing an officer as any in the army!”
That there should, however, be laws and that these laws should, on certain occasions, be rigorously executed—will not be denied. But our criminal code is inscribed in characters of blood. There are one hundred and fifty capital offences on our Statute Book; though of the numbers convicted at the several circuits, twice a year, few are left for execution. It would be far bet: er were there fewer crimes to which the punishment of death was annexed; but, wherever the penalty fell, let it take its due course, for the benefit of the community. At present, offenders multiply, to the annoyance and terror of society. The hope of avoiding detection, the difficulty of conviction, and the uncertainty of punishment, have on the minds of bad men a most pernicious operation. Let only the penalty be more adequate to the crime, and be unequivocally felt where incurred-then a speedy amelioration will be perceptible in the manners of the lower classes of society.
Passing along, we looked out in vain for a gypsey cump, on this wide-extended common, where it is no unusual spectacle, as well as at Norwood, an adjacent district in this county-
Hast thou not noted, on the by-way side,