Among the many offenders whose names were mentioned in the course of these inquiries, was one who stood alone and unapproached in guilt and infamy, and whom Whigs and Tories were equally willing to leave to the extreme rigour of the law. On that terrible day which was succeeded by the Irish Night, the roar of a great city disappointed of its revenge had followed Jeffreys to the drawbridge of the Tower. His imprisonment was not strictly legal: but he at first accepted with thanks and blessings the protection which those dark walls, made famous by so many crimes and sorrows, afforded him against the fury of the multitude. Soon, however, he became sensible that his life was still in imminent peril. For a time he flattered himself with the hope that a writ of Habeas Corpus would liberate him from his confinement, and that he should be able to steal away to some foreign country, and to hide himself with part of his ill-gotten wealth from the detestation of mankind: but, till the government was settled, there was no Court competent to grant a writ of Habeas Corpus; and, as soon as the government had been settled, the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended. Whether the legal guilt of murder could be brought home to Jeffreys may be doubted. But he was morally guilty of so many murders that, if there had been no other way of reaching his life, a retrospective Act of Attainder would have been clamorously demanded by the whole nation. A disposition to triumph over the fallen has never been one of the besetting sins of Englishmen: but the hatred of which Jeffreys was the object was without a parallel in our history, and partook but too largely of the savageness of his own nature. The people, where he was concerned, were as cruel as himself, and exulted in his misery as he had been accustomed to exult in the misery of convicts listening to the sentence of death, and of families clad in mourning. The rabble congregated before his deserted mansion in Duke Street, and read on the door, with shouts of laughter, the bills which announced the sale of his property. Even delicate women, who had tears for highwaymen and housebreakers, breathed nothing but vengeance against him. The lampoons on him which were hawked about the town were distinguished by an atrocity rare even in those days. Hanging would be too mild a death for him: a grave under the gibbet too respectable a resting place: he ought to be whipped to death at the cart's tail: he ought to be tortured like an Indian: he ought to be devoured alive. The street poets portioned out all his joints with cannibal ferocity, and computed how many pounds of steaks might be cut from his well fattened carcass. Nay, the rage of his enemies was such that, in language seldom heard in England, they proclaimed their wish that he might go to the place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, to the worm that never dies, to the fire that is never quenched. They exhorted him to hang himself in his garters, and to cut his throat with his razor. They put up horrible prayers that he might not be able to repent, that he might die the same hardhearted, wicked Jeffreys that he had. lived.
His spirit, as mean in adversity as insolent and inhuman in prosperity, sank down under the load of public abhorrence. His constitution, originally bad, and much impaired by intemperance, was completely broken by distress and anxiety. He was tormented by a cruel internal disease, which the most skilful surgeons of that age were seldom able to relieve. One solace was left to him, brandy. Even when he had causes to try and councils to attend, he had seldom gone to bed sober. Now, when he had nothing to occupy his mind save terrible recollections and terrible forebodings, he abandoned himself without reserve to his favourite vice. Many believed him to be bent on shortening his life by excess. He thought it better, they said, to go off in a drunken fit than to be hacked by Ketch, or torn limb from limb by the populace.
Once he was roused from a state of abject despondency by an agreeable sensation, speedily followed by a mortifying disappointment. A parcel had been left for him at the Tower. It appeared to be a barrel of Colchester oysters, his favourite dainties. He was greatly moved: for there are moments when those who least deserve affection are pleased to think that they inspire it. ` Thank God,' he exclaimed, `I have still some friends left.' He opened the barrel; and from among a heap of shells out tumbled a stout halter.
It does not appear that one of the flatterers or buffoons whom he had enriched out of the plunder of his victims came to comfort him in the day of trouble. But he was not left in utter solitude. John Tutchin, whom he had sentenced to be flogged every fortnight for seven years, made his way into the Tower, and presented himself before the fallen oppressor. Poor Jeffreys, humbled to the dust, behaved with abject civility, and called for wine. ` I am glad, sir,' he said, `to see you.' ` And I am glad,' answered the resentful Whig, 'to see Your Lordship in this place.' ` I served my master,' said Jeffreys: ` I was bound in conscience to do so.' ` Where was your conscience,' said Tutchin, ` When you passed that sentence on me at Dorchester?' ` It was set down in my instructions,' answered Jeffreys, fawningly, ` that I was to show no mercy to men like you, men of parts and courage. When I went back to court I was reprimanded for my lenity.' Even Tutchin, acrimonious as was his nature, and great as were his wrongs, seems to have been a little mollified by the pitiable spectacle which he had at first contemplated with vindictive pleasure. He always denied the truth of the report that he was the person who sent the Colchester barrel to the Tower.
A more benevolent man, John Sharp, the excellent Dean of Norwich, forced himself to visit the prisoner. It was a painful task: but Sharp had been treated by Jeffreys, in old times, as kindly as it was in the nature of Jeffreys to treat any body, and had once or twice been able, by patiently waiting till the storm of curses and invectives had spent itself, and by dexterously seizing the moment of good humour, to obtain for unhappy families some mitigation of their sufferings. The prisoner was surprised and pleased. ` What,' he said, 'dare you own me now?' It was in vain; however, that the amiable divine tried to give salutary pain to that seared conscience. Jeffreys, instead of acknowledging his guilt, exclaimed vehemently against the injustice of mankind. 'People call me a murderer for doing what at the time was applauded by some who are now high in public favour. They call me a drunkard because I take punch to relieve me in my agony.' He would not admit that, as President of the High Commission, he had done any thing that deserved reproach. His colleagues, he said, were the real criminals; and now they threw all the blame on him. He spoke with peculiar asperity of Sprat, who had undoubtedly been the most humane and moderate member of the board.
It soon became clear that the wicked judge was fast sinking under the weight of bodily and mental suffering. Doctor John Scott, prebendary of Saint Paul's, a clergyman of great sanctity, and author of the Christian Life, a treatise once widely renowned, was summoned, probably on the recommendation of his intimate friend Sharp, to the bedside of the dying man. It was in vain, however, that Scott spoke, as Sharp had already spoken, of the hideous butcheries of Dorchester and Taunton. To the last Jeffreys continued to repeat that those who thought him cruel did not know what his orders were, that he deserved praise instead of blame, and that his clemency had drawn on him the extreme displeasure of his master.
Disease, assisted by strong drink and by misery, did its work fast. The patient's stomach rejected all nourishment. He dwindled in a few weeks from a portly and even corpulent man to a skeleton. On the eighteenth of April he died, in the forty-first year of his age. He had been: Chief Justice of the King's Bench at thirty-five, and Lord Chancellor at thirty-seven. In the whole history of the English bar there is no other instance of so rapid an elevation, or of so terrible a fall. The emaciated corpse was laid, with all privacy, next to the corpse of Monmouth in the chapel of the Tower.
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