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SONNETS

UPON THE PUNISHMENT OF DEATH.

IN SERIES.

I.

SUGGESTED BY THE VIEW OF LANCASTER CASTLE
(ON THE ROAD FROM THE SOUTH).

THIS Spot at once unfolding sight so fair

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Of sea and land, with yon gray towers that still Rise as if to lord it over air

up Might soothe in human breasts the sense of ill, Or charm it out of memory; yea, might fill The heart with joy and gratitude to God. For all his bounties upon man bestowed: Why bears it then the name of " Weeping Hill?" Thousands, as toward yon old Lancastrian Towers, A prison's crown, along this way they past For lingering durance or quick death with shame, From this bare eminence thereon have cast Their first look, - blinded as tears fell in showers Shed on their chains; and hence that doleful name.

II.

TENDERLY do we feel by Nature's law

For worst offenders: though the heart will heave
With indignation, deeply moved we grieve,

In after thought, for him who stood in awe
Neither of God nor man, and only saw,
Lost wretch, a horrible device enthroned
On proud temptations, till the victim groaned
Under the steel his hand had dared to draw.
But oh! restrain compassion, if its course
As oft befalls, prevent or turn aside

Judgments and aims and acts whose higher source
Is sympathy with the unforewarned, who died
Blameless, with them that shuddered o'er his

grave,

And all who from the law firm safety crave.

III.

THE Roman Consul doomed his sons to die
Who had betrayed their country. The stern word
Afforded (may it through all time afford)
A theme for praise and admiration high.
Upon the surface of humanity

He rested not; its depth his mind explored;
He felt; but his parental bosom's lord

Was Duty, -Duty calmed his agony.

And some, we know, when they by wilful act

A single human life have wrongly taken, Pass sentence on themselves, confess the fact, And, to atone for it, with soul unshaken Kneel at the feet of Justice, and, for faith Broken with all mankind, solicit death.

IV.

Is Death, when evil against good has fought
With such fell mastery that a man may dare
By deeds the blackest purpose to lay bare,
Is Death, for one to that condition brought,
For him, or any one, the thing that ought
To be most dreaded? Lawgivers, beware,
Lest, capital pains remitting till ye spare
The murderer, ye, by sanction to that thought
Seemingly given, debase the general mind,
Tempt the vague will tried standards to disown,
Nor only palpable restraints unbind,

But

upon Honor's head disturb the crown, Whose absolute rule permits not to withstand In the weak love of life his least command.

V.

NOT to the object specially designed,
Howe'er momentous in itself it be,
Good to promote or curb depravity,
Is the wise Legislator's view confined.

His Spirit, when most severe, is oft most kind;

As all Authority in earth depends

On Love and Fear, their several powers he blends,
Copying with awe the one Paternal mind.
Uncaught by processes in show humane,

He feels how far the act would derogate
From even the humblest functions of the State,
If she, self-shorn of Majesty, ordain

That never more shall hang upon her breath
The last alternative of Life or Death.

VI.

YE brood of conscience, Spectres! that frequent The bad man's restless walk, and haunt his bed, Fiends in your aspect, yet beneficent

-

In act, as hovering Angels when they spread
Their wings to guard the unconscious Innocent, —
Slow be the Statutes of the land to share

A laxity that could not but impair
Your power to punish crime, and so prevent.
And ye, Beliefs! coiled serpent-like about
The adage on all tongues, " Murder will out,"
How shall your ancient warnings work for good
In the full might they hitherto have shown,
If for deliberate shedder of man's blood
Survive not Judgment that requires his own?

VII.

BEFORE the world had passed her time of youth,
While polity and discipline were weak,

The precept eye

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Came forth, a light, though but as of daybreak,
Strong as could then be borne. A Master meek
Proscribed the spirit fostered by that rule,

Patience his law, long-suffering his school,
And love the end, which all through peace must
seek.

But lamentably do they err who strain
His mandates, given rash impulse to control
And keep vindictive thirstings from the soul,
So far that, if consistent in their scheme,
They must forbid the State to inflict a pain,
Making of social order a mere dream.

VIII.

FIT retribution, by the moral code
Determined, lies beyond the State's embrace;
Yet, as she may, for each peculiar case
She plants well-measured terrors in the road
Of wrongful acts. Downward it is and broad,
And, the main fear once doomed to banishment,
Far oftener then, bad ushering worse event,
Blood would be spilt that in his dark abode
Crime might lie better hid. And, should the change
Take from the horror due to a foul deed,

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