LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

William Godwin: his Friends and Contemporaries
Ch. XI. 1798
John Arnot to Peter Reid, 24 April 1798

Contents Vol. I
Ch. I. 1756-1785
Ch. II. 1785-1788
Ch. III. 1788-1792
Ch. IV. 1793
Ch. V. 1783-1794
Ch. VI. 1794-1796
Ch. VII. 1759-1791
Ch. VII. 1791-1796
Ch. IX. 1797
Ch. X. 1797
Ch. XI. 1798
Ch. XII. 1799
Ch. XIII. 1800
Contents Vol. II
Ch. I. 1800
Ch. II. 1800
Ch. III. 1800
Ch. IV. 1801-1803
Ch. V. 1802-1803
Ch. VI. 1804-1806
Ch. VII. 1806-1811
Ch. VIII. 1811-1814
Ch. IX. 1812-1819
Ch. X. 1819-1824
Ch. XI. 1824-1832
Ch. XII. 1832-1836
Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Produced by CATH
Cambo [Northumberland], April 24, 1798.

. . . “At some distance from the village of Elsdon, through which I passed to-day, I observed a large post erected on the top of the hill. I conceived it might be an intimation about the roads leading to such a place. Being thirsty, I went into a house near it to buy some milk. I sat down to drink it, and inquired what the post meant ’Tis a Gibbet, Sir.’ ‘A Gibbet! why was it erected amongst the hills?’ ‘For murder; an old woman was killed there, and two men and a woman were hanged for it, upon that gibbet.’

“What a train of horrid ideas did that introduce into my mind. I looked at the man who told it me; he is a sour-looking fellow. His wife, a little shrew, in a red jacket, was present. I thought her a devil. I took care to keep my stick near me, it was my only means of defence. I felt a strong aversion to them both, and was glad to get away.

“I went up to the gibbet. The bones are still hanging, kept together with iron. This, no doubt, is intended as a conspicuous monument of retributive justice. Is it thought this will have a good effect? I cannot help being of an opposite opinion. Surely the people who live near it cannot be happy. They cannot even feel easy and contented till their minds become hardened. The ideas of hanging and of murder must first become familiar to them. I don’t like them. Let me get away from this place.

“I walked as fast as I could, but could not walk long. I was fatigued, and my right foot began to give me pain. I sat down, therefore, upon a stone at the roadside, pulled out my little octave flute, and began to play a tune, but it only added to my melancholy. I looked around. This is a wild, barren country; no trees to be seen, no bushes or enclosures, no fine cultivated fields. All is a dreary waste; this gibbet its only ornament; the sheep its inhabitants. They were feeding within a few yards of me. I looked on them with an emotion which I never felt before. Ah! innocent people, as Thomson calls you, how much happier are you than man—man who butchers you and his fellow-creatures indiscriminately.

“Such is the nature of the present state of society. It punishes, with the utmost severity, crimes to which it holds out irresistible temptations.”