As these undisciplined Armies have no particular Enemies to encounter, but Cleanliness and good Manners, so nothing is more entertaining to them, than the dead Carcasses of Dogs and Cats, or, for want of them, Rags, and all Trompery that is capable of imbibing Dirt. These, well trampled in Filth, and, if possible, of the worst Sort, are, by the Ringleaders, flung as high and as far as a strong Arm can carry them, and commonly directed where the Throng is the thickest; Whilst these ill-boding Meteors are shooting thro' the Air, the Joy and Satisfaction of the Beholders is visible in every Countenance and Gesture; and more audibly express'd by the great Shouts that accompany them in their Course; and, as the Projectiles come nearer the Earth, are turn'd into loud Laughter, which is more or less violent in Proportion to the Mischief promis'd by the Fall. And to see a good Suit of Cloaths spoiled by this piece of Gallantry, is the tip-top of their Diversion, which they seldom go home without enjoying: For tho' no People in their Senses would venture among them on Foot, in any tolerable Dress, yet there are young Rakes of Fortune, who care not what they lavish or destroy. Of these the maddest Sort will often, after a Night's Debauch, mix with Crowds, and thrust themselves in the Midst of the most abominable Rabble, where they seldom fail of meeting with such Adventures.
Tho' before setting out, the Prisoners took care to swallow what they could, to be drunk, and stifle their Fear; yet the Courage that strong Liquours can give, wears off, and the Way they have to go being considerable, they are in Danger of recovering, and, without repeating the Dose, Sobriety would often overtake them: For this Reason they must drink as they go; and the Cart stops for that Purpose three or four, and sometimes half a dozen Times, or more, before they come to their Journey's End. These Halts always encrease the Numbers about the Criminals; and more prodigiously, when they are very notorious Rogues. The whole March, with every incident of it, seems to be contribved on Purpose, to take off and divert the Thoughts of the Condemned from the only Thing that should employ them. Thousands are pressing to mind the Looks of them. Their quondam Companions, more eager than others, break through all Obstacles to take Leave: And here you may see young Villains, that are proud of being so, (if they knew any of the Malefactors) tears the Cloaths off their Backs, by squeezing and creeping thro' the Legs of Men and Horses, to shake Hands with him, and not to lose, before so much Company, the Reputation there is in having had such a valuable Acquaintance. It is incredible what a Scene of Confusion all this often makes, which yet grows worse near the Gallows; and the violent Efforts of the most sturdy and resolute of the Mob on one Side, and the potent Endeavours of rugged Gaolers, and others, to beat them off, on the other; the terrible Blows that are struck, the Heads that are broke, the Pieces of swingeing Sticks, and Blood, that fly about, the Men that are knock'd down and trampled upon, are beyond Imagination; whilst the Dissonance of Voices, and the Variety of Outcries, for different Reasons, that are heard there, together with the Sound of more distant Noises, make up a Discord not to be parallel'd. If we consider, besides all this, the mean Equipages of the Sheriffs Officers, and the scrubby Horses that compose the Cavalcade, the Irregularity of the March, and the Want of Order among all the Attendants, we shall be forced to confess, that these Processions are very void of that decent Solemnity that would be required to make them awful. At the very Place of Execution, the most remarkable Scene is a vast Multitude on Foot, intermixed with many Horsemen and Hackney-Coaches, all very dirty, or else cover'd with Dust, that are either abusing one another, or else staring at the Prisoners, among whom there is commonly very little Devotion; and in that, which is practis'd and dispatch'd there, of Course, there is as little good Sense as there is Melody. It is possible that a Man of extraordinary Holiness, by anticipating the Joys of Heaven, might embrace a violent Death in such Raptures, as would dispose him to the singing of Psalms: But to require this Exercise, or expect it promiscuously of every Wretch that comes to be hang'd, is as wild and extravagant as the Performance of it is commonly frightful and impertinent: Besides this, there is always at that Place, such a mixture of Oddnesses and Hurry, that from what passes, the best dispos'd Spectator seldom can pick out any thing that is edifying or moving.
Here I must observe, that the Possibility of Pardons and Reprieves, that often come very late, and which, with or without Grounds, most Criminals continue to hope for, 'till they are hang'd, is another great Clog, that keeps attach'd to the World those that are less abandon'd, and more relenting than the Generality of them; and who, without that Hindrance, would, in all Probability, prepare themselves for certain Death, which overtakes many whilst they are still doubting of it. The Ordinary and Executioner, having performed their different Duties, with small Ceremony, and equal Concern, seem to be tired, and glad it is over.
The Tragedy being ended, the next Entertainment is a Squabble between the Surgeons and the Mob, about the dead Bodies of the Malefactors that are not to be hanged in Chains. They have suffer'd the Law, (cries the Rabble,) and shall have no other Barbarities put upon them: We know what you are, and will not leave them before we see them buried. If the others are numerous, and resolute enough to persist in their Enterprize, a Fray ensues: From whence I shall take an Opportunity of saving something upon the Occasion of it. I have no Design that savours of Cruelty, or even Indecency, towards a human Body; but shall endeavour to demonstrate, that the superstitious Reverence of the Vulgar for a Corpse, even of a Malefactor, and the strong Aversion they have against dissecting them, are prejudicial to the Publick: For as Health and sound Limbs are the most desirable of all Temporal Blessings, so we ought to encourage the Improvement of Physick and Surgery, wherever it is in our Power. The Knowledge of Anatomy is inseparable from the Studies of either; and it is al|most impossible for a Man to understand the Inside of our Bodies, without having seen several of them skilfully dissected. Kings and Princes are open'd, and have their Hearts and Bowels taken out, and embalm'd. It is not then Ignominious, much less offensive to the dead Body, which may be interred with as much Decency, after Dissection, as if it never had been touch'd. But suppose that many of our common Thieves were not to be buried at all, and some of them made Skeletons; and that several Parts of others, variously prepared, should be preserved for the Instruction of Students? What if it was a Disgrace to the surviving Relations of those, who had Lectures read upon their Bodies, and were made use of for Anatomical Preparations? The Dishonour would seldom reach beyond the Scum of the People; and to be dissected, can never be a greater Scandal than being hanged. The University of Leyden in Holland have a Power given them by the Legislature to demand, for this Purpose, the Bodies of ordinary Rogues executed within that Province; but, with us, it is the general Complaint of all Professors of Anatomy, that they can get none to dissect: Where then shall we find a readier Supply; and what Degree of People are fitter for it than those I have named? When Persons of no Possessions of their own, that have slipp'd no Opportunity of wronging whomever they could, die without Restitution, indebted to the Publick, ought not the injur'd Publick to have a Title to, and the Disposal of, what the others have left? And is any Thing more reasonable, than that they should enjoy that Right, especially when they only make use of it for commendable Purposes? What is done for the common Good, every Member of the Society may, at one time or other, receive an Advantage from; and therefore quarrelsome People, that love fighting, act very preposterously and inconsistent with their Interest, when they venture to have their Bones broke, for endeavouring to deprive Surgeons of the Means to understand the Structure of them.
British Journal, 13 March 1725