The sky was clear and the sun rose brightly and most placidly. T’was a time of wisdom, t’was an age of stubborn recklessness (drenched in gin!). T’was a period of unbridled villainy (accompanied by the most intransigent iniquities!), t’was an era of most shocking and depredatory calumnies. T’was an epoch of base depravity, t’was the season of iniquitous and unremorseful degeneracy!
T’was the semblance of the template of outer darkness (that which is referred to in the Revelations of that good book which the Goveen Brotherhood has so obdurately cast aside). That outer darkness in which there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth in repentance, t’is the interior of Newgate Prison. Only recently has hanging ad nauseum been done away with, and a much more humane treatment of the prisoner advocated.
Hence the imposition of voluntary solitary confinement and the introduction of studies in literature. In their beneficence the prison board have even employed a librarian, a Florence Nightingale of Culture, to deliver much received cultural wisdom (as well as the books) to those inmates requesting it and to those who have not.
“If you would but walk this way sirs, you will see a most excellent example of that which a few leaves of a leather bound copy of Plato’s Republic can achieve”
T’was ever the face of his lordships guide more pure of purpose and so all the more radiant? One wonders what could have come over the prison governor, to have allowed a damsel as pure and untainted as this, unfettered access to those whom some would liken to the denizens of the fifth inner circle of hell.
“Galahad! Galahad come forth!”
Galahad does indeed come forth sullenly at first and most eagerly once he discovers who it is who has called him forth, she of the patented boots and dainty ankles! Was ever Vulcan, blacksmith to the gods, more powerfully wrought? With muscular arms ending barely above the knees, and a sinewy back massive enough to obscure terrors most horribly wrought upon his victims in the dead of night, who could think that here lay a scholar of Plato? Of Pericles? Of Homer even? But he has read these and more.
“How are you this good morn?” the lady asks the domesticated soul most gently, as gently as if she were communing with her mother. Galahad’s small brown eyes rest upon those dainty ankles (barely to be seen above the boots) of his enquirer as gently as a set of light fingertips. T’is most disconcerting for Lord Elderberry to behold but Lord Wilberforce finds himself most entertained.
“I am good this morn miss, much better than I was the night afore last” he would say more, eager as he is to form a more intimate acquaintance with this angel of the Newgate wards, but the prison guard close armed with a most hefty bludger deters him.
“How do you find Plato Galahad?”
“I confess myself to be rather like Polemarchus missis” says Galahad looking anxiously at the prison guard close by him “I cannot eat I cannot drink for the scarcity of charmed conversation”.
The Florence Nightingale of Newgate Prison smilingly exhorts Galahad to continue on with his reading, for much study of Plato elevates the soul, and so the reformed Galahad is led sullenly back to the dark interior of his cell.
“I have heard tell of this inmate, is he not the Kennington Counterfeit?” asks Lord Wilberforce
“I heard when he was taken they found enough counterfeit coins under his bed to have stocked the counting houses of Lloyds!”
“T’is he” affirmed the prison guard morosely, ” But that t’weren’t all they found! There was pairs and pairs of patented ankle boots and of course” he looked disapprovingly at the librarian who stood a vision of radiant, petticoated womanhood “What was in em, but they couldn’t prove as he was the culprit and so they done him for counterfeiting”.
Took for murder but done for counterfeiting and now studying Plato! Lord Wilberforce glancing at the face of his host, a vision of innocence if ever there was one, suppresses the urge to roar with laughter. His host glancing suspiciously at him, continues her tour.
“Many arrive here in a most brutal and savage state, they display little if any remorse for the cruel deeds they have perpetrated against their victims. It can take many, many months of rehabilitation and indeed much study before they can be made to see the error of their ways.”
The cell they arrive at next contains a gentleman whose tall slender form and placid face fit well the notion of reformed criminality. There is an air of grandfatherly benevolence about him that is further reinforced by the horn rimmed spectacles perched a-top his nose. Once he was a most shocking example of the depths to which a life mired in depravity will drag you, but now he is reformed.
“Lucius a good morning to you, what is it you have their in your hand?”
“Good morning to you miss, tis a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy”
“This copy was sent to you? Tis not to be found in the prison library”
“T’was sent missis by a very old friend”
“Which part is it you read?” the librarian is intrigued, for one who has spent a decade in solitary confinement Lucius has selected very sophisticated reading material,
“Canto Six, of that part titled, Paradise, Miss”
“And what do you think of it?” she enquires loudly, for tis often the case that those who have spent any measure of time in solitary confinement, complain of deafness.
“I think it is all very well for literary folk to talk of paradise and yet avoid talk of duty and honour! I think that they know not by what ends paradise is achieved.”
“The book is six centuries old Lucius, and well worth the perusal, I am certain that you will find something there you approve of”
“I feel certain I shall, in time” replies Lucius and with a courtly bow he retreats into the sanctuary of his cell. The prison guard glances at him doubtfully, for if ever there was a denizen of hell tis he.
“Gentlemen if you would with me?” like the cherubim of God the librarian casts pools of light about her, as she travels each corridor of the prison, bestowing here a smile and there a copy of Homer’s Odyssey or The Decameron, of Pericles Speeches or Plato’s Republic. Rarely are any of the books returned with the muttering of an oath or flung back at her accompanied by a curse. In part this is because of the vicious beatings which must accompany such displays of ungentlemanly behavior and in part it is the maternal grace with which the prison librarian liberally bestows her gifts. Lord Elderberry finds himself much taken with this angel of grace whose slender form bound up in a navy blue gown makes her even more alluring to him.
“Do they keep you here all week? Have you no recourse to sunlight to fresh air?”
“Not all week, I am an employee of the British Museum I am lent here three days a week”
“Oh” replies his lordship surreptitiously,
“Well, well!” cried Lord Wilberforce once they were through the prison gates “Hardly enlightening but most entertaining!”
and so both lordships entered their Brougham Carriage thoroughly stimulated, and yet none the wiser as to why men impoverished by their position in society, ought to consider Pericles more palliative, than the improvement of the prison environment. T’is the era of obfuscation, tis the age of incorrigible disinclination, tis the season of vain pretension, tis the century of cretinous presumption.