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Computational Analysis, Author Attribution, and the Cheap Repository Tracts of the 18th Century

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The Highwayman


JAMES MACLEAN, commonly known

by the name of the Gentleman Highwayman, had handsome lodgings in St. James’s-street, London, at two guineas a week, and passed for an Irish gentleman of seven hundred pounds a year. He was charged with robbing a Mr. Higden, in the Salisbury coach, near Turnham-Green, on June the 26th, 1750, of his Portmanteau, and some money, and was detected by felling at his own lodgings, to a person who lived in Monmouth-street, Mr. Higdenís clothes, which having been advertised, occasioned the discovery. A quantity of wearing apparel, and twenty purses were found in his possession; also the blunderbuss, and a remarkable coat of lord Eglintonís, who was robbed the same morning. After Maclean had been in the Gate-house some days, he was willing to make a confession, and on August the 1st, was brought to the justice’s house, attended by a file of musketeers; where, before a large company of lords, ladies, &c. he owned that he, together with one Plunket, committed these and other robberies; and appeared so concerned, that many ladies shed tears. The above facts, and his confession, were brought against him at his trial, when he made a very artful and evasive defence; but the jury brought him in guilty, without going out of court. When he was called to receive sentence, he attempted to make an apology, but only said, “My Lord, I cannot speak!î – What he intended to offer, was next day publish in an advertisement, importing, that he hoped some circumstances might entitle him to such mercy as would remove him from being a disgrace to his family; and enable him to pass his days in penitence and obscurity.óNo pardon Was granted, but he was executed at Tyburn the 3d of October following.

This unhappy man was the son of a Clergyman of the kingdom of Ireland, who died some time before. He had at the time of his execution, a brother in the church, of respectable character.óMaclean was visited in prison by Dr. Allen, a pious divine, who published a particular account of his behaviour under condemnation. The doctor relates, that he found this wretched person under inexpressible agonies of mind, arising from a deep sense, not only of his own misery, but his guilt. He declared, that though most of those with whom he had lately conversed ridiculed all religion; yet the truths of Christianity had been so deeply rooted in his mind, by a pious education that he never entertained the least doubt about them, even while he was engaged in crimes of the most dreadful wickedness, by which it became his interest to disbelieve them. He declared also, that neither death, nor the violence and infamy with which, in his case, it would be attended, gave him least uneasiness; but expressed the most dreadful apprehensions of going into the presence of the Almighty, whose laws he had known, only to break them, and the motions of whose Holy Spirit he had so often felt, only to suppress them. The clergyman replied, that though these apprehensions were just, yet if he could be sincerely penitent, he might, through the merits and intercession of his blessed Saviour, be forgiven; and pressed him earnestly not to deceive himself; adding, it is impossible for me to know your heart; and your present circumstance make it very difficult for you yourself to know it. He then warned him of the great difficulty of obtaining a rational hope that a repentance was certain, which had no beginning till guilt was overtaken with punishment, and the terrors of death, were displayed before him.óMaclean felt the full force of this argument, but said, That if the utmost abhorrence of himself, for the enormities of his past life; if the deepest sense of his ingratitude to God, and the violation of his conscience, which always reproached him; if indignation at himself for the injuries he had done to society, and the distress which he had brought upon his relations were marks of sincere penitence, he hoped, that he was indeed a penitent sinner; and though he had but little time to live, and therefore was unable to shew his repentance by any fruits of it, yet if he knew any thing of his heart, he had no desire of life, but as it would afford him an opportunity of fulfilling the good resolutions which the near view of death, had produced. “What is life,î said he, “with loss of my good name! ówhat indeed is life with all its advantages ? I protest to you, sir, that I have had more satisfaction in one hourís conversation with you since my condemnation, than in all the gay vanities: I ever engaged in.îóIn one of these conversations, the doctor told him, that the defence which he made at his trial, was not a token of that sincerity of heart, which he so solemnly professed. To this he answered, That what he had done, on that. occasion, was by the advice of an attorney; that he had hopes of preserving his life, to prevent the disgrace which his death would bring upon his family, and to give him an opportunity of making some amends to society, by becoming an useful member of it, and to prove the sincerity of his repentance by his reformation.

Upon inquiring whether his father was really a clergyman in Ireland, he burst into a sudden flood of tears, and owned that he was; expressing, in the most affecting manner, his sorrow for those offences which he had committed, so contrary to the principles implanted in his mind by a tender and pious parent, which, he said, greatly increased his guilt.

He often lamented, that he had not been brought up to some employment that would have made industry necessary, instead of writing and accounts, which, as a genteeler business, had been chosen for him. And once he added, ì O, sir! I have often, in ì my necessities, before I had broken in ì upon my innocence, thought, that if I had learnt a mechanical trade, that would have employed my whole time, I should have been a happy man”

This gentleman told him, it had been reported that he had lived upon very ill terms with his wife, and that his cruelty hastened her death. He absolutely denied it, and indeed his wifeís mother took leave of him with great tenderness and uncommon affection, which proved that he had not behaved so ill to her daughter as had been said.

When he was asked whether he had any hopes of a respite, he answered, “Very little.î And being told, that the great number of robberies committed by persons of genteel appearance rendered it very improbable that he should be spared, he said he resigned himself to his fate, and desired his example might be pressed as a warning to young persons; adding, with great earnestness, “Glad shall I be, if as my life has been vile, my death might be usefulî He owned that his friends having once raised a little subscription to enable him to ship himself for Jamaica;, he carried it to the gaming- table at the masquerade, where at first he had some success, and hoped to win enough to buy a little poll in the army; but at length he lost his all. And having offended his friends by the abuse of their bounty, and disposed of whatever he could pawn or fell, he, by the persuasion of Plunket, took to the highway. With this man, who was his only accomplice, he committed many robberies ; but had always shuddered at the thoughts of murder, and was thankful to God, that he had not added the guilt of shedding innocent blood to his other heinous and manifold offences, both against God and man.

After the death warrant came down, no additional dejection appeared on his countenance, but rather a more steady and composed resignation.

He asked the clergyman whether he should receive the sacrament on the morning of his execution with the rest of the criminals; to which he readily consented, but said he hoped it was not necessary to warn him against considering it as a charm, passport, which he feared was too frequently done, to those who were grossly ignorant, or horridly stupid. A youth who had been condemned, but was afterwards ordered to be transported for life, chose to continue in the cell with Maclean ; and as they had opportunity, they instructed other prisoners who were ordered for execution before them, and endeavoured to prepare them for death. But Maclean was greatly shocked at the insensibility and profaneness of some, and pitied the souls which were going into eternity in so hopeless a state. These incidents the doctor, who attended him, improved as witnesses of his sincerity.

The day before his execution his friend received the following letter from Maclean’s brother, the worthy clergyman mentioned above:

“Sir, I received your melancholy letter, but the dismal news it contained had reached me before the letter arrived. I never thought any belonging to me would have loaded me with such heart-breaking affliction as the infamous crimes of him, whom I will now call brother no more, have brought upon me. How often, and how solemnly, have I warned him of the miserable consequences of an idle life, and alas! to no purpose!

“However that be, I have made all the application possible for his life; filled with shame and confusion, that I have been obliged to make demands so contrary to justice, and hardly knowing with what face to do it, in the character I bear as a minister of truth and righteousness.

“It is the interest off some friends I have made here, that can only save his life; they have lost no time in applying, and I hope their endeavours will be successful; but I still hope more, that if providence should so order events, as that he escape he utmost rigour of the law, and has that life lengthened which he does not deserve to enjoy any longer, I hope, or rather wish, that in such a case, he may have a proper sense and feeling of his enormous crimes, which lay ample foundation for drawing out the wretched remainder of his days in sorrow and repentance.

ìWith respect to myself, it would give me consolation, if I could hope this would be the end of his trial; it would comfort “me on his accounting as a man, because I will never acknowledge him in any nearer relation; and because, except such good offices as former ties and present humanity demand of me in his behalf, I am resolved never to have any further correspondence with him during this mortal life. I have given orders to look towards his subsistence, and what is necessary for it. – Your’s, J. Maclean”

“P.S. If you see my unhappy brother, let him know my compassion for his misery, as well as my indignation against his crimes; and also, that I shall omit nothing in my power to have his sufferings softened. He has, I fear, broken my heart and will make me draw on the rest of my days in sorrow.”

Such was the deep sorrow, and such the truly Christian spirit, of this good clergyman. At the sight of this letter Maclean fell into an agony of grief, and said, “O, my dear brother! I have broken his heart!” After some pause, as if in doubt whether he should read it or not, he said, “I have been long educated to sorrow, and cutting as this letter will be to my heart, I must read it.î And casting his eye on the word ìunhappily brother,î he cried out again in great anguish of mind, ìunhappy indeed!î and then endeavoring to compose himself, read the letter with feelings suitable to the solemnity of its contents, and desired to read it a second time. It was then proposed to the company, to unite in a solemn prayer to God for him. They consented; and though strangers to the prisoner, there was not a dry eye among them.

In the evening of the same day he took his last farewell of Mr. H. a friend to his brother, and of the good clergyman, and said, ìthis is the bitterness of death.î He eagerly embraced them both, dropped suddenly on his knees, and prayed to God to bless them all.

The following conversations occasionally took place between the pious Dr. Allen and the wretched Maclean. He once told him, that true repentance did not arise from a sense of lawful punishment, but from a living sense of the malignity of his sins, as offensive to a pure and holy God, as breaches of his sacred law, as violations of his own conscience; as injurious to his soul, and as contrary to justice and benevolence; in which ties, society was held together! And without which, there could be no living with safety and comfort in the world. ìoh!î replied he, ìI feel the weight of my crimes lying on my conscience in the views in which you have represented them. It is not death I fear, but ñooh!î said he, ì I dread to appear in the awful presence of God! How can such a wretch as I have been, hope for mercy!î ìI told him,î says his friend, ìhis fears and apprehensions were just; that it was no wonder that reflections on a life spent as his had been, should be very tormenting and uneasy, and that in the views of eternity ìhis flesh should tremble for fear of god; and that he should be afraid of his judgments;î that in these humiliations, the religion of all sinners, especially such as himself, must begin. ìif,î says he ìyou can be sincerely penitent, you may, through the merits and intercession of our lord Jesus Christ, be forgiven: but for Godís sake do not deceive yourself. It is impossible for me to know your heart; and the circumstances in which you now are, make it difficult for yourself to know it. Search it, therefore, to the bottom; and seriously enquire, what sorrow you have for your sins, independent of the shameful, untimely end to which they have brought you. Consider, that only is ìgodly sorrow, and worketh repentance unto salvation,î which would,î which would ìnever be counteracted, supposing your life was to be saved. He acknowledged,î says this pious man, ìthat he had only often a jealousy of himself arising from that consideration.î

In another conversation with him, he took occasion to talk over the parable of the prodigal son, in which he thought there was something peculiar to his circumstances. ìo, sir,î said the doctor, ì you have taken your journey into a far country, far from the way in which you were trained up by a pious father; far from the way in which, I understand, you have often been counseled by your worthy brother; and have spent your substance among harlots in riotous living, in gaming, in public diversions, in expensive and sordid, though too fashionable, pleasure; and when your own substance did not supply your extravagancies, you have made cruel inroads into the substance and property of others.î ñìit is true!î said he, ìit is true! This is a picture of what my life was for some years: such a prodigal have I been!î ñ the doctor replied, ìoh! Let me, sir, carry your thoughts farther into the parable, and beg you to consider, to what this course of life has brought you. Your circumstances are like a mighty famine in the land, and you more than begin to see yourself in want. All the companions of your loose hours desert you. They now slink away, hide their faces from you, give you up to the justice of the law, though they once flattered you with the hopes of get you a pardon, and are ashamed to have it thought they ever knew you. Indeed, their visits now would but distract you, and give you a keener sense of the misery of your condition. Could they even save your life, they could not restore your lost name and character, much less could they restore your innocence, peace of mind, and a good conscience.î

He replied, ìyour words, sir, are true: oh! They strike like daggers to my heart!î and after a violent burst of tears, he said, ìmy love of pleasure and of gay appearance, have undone me!î as soon as his mind was a little composed, the clergyman told him, that he did not make these representations merely to terrify him, but to give him as lively a sense as he could of the greatness of his crimes; and how stupid and foolish his way of life had been; and to induce him to take the same course the prodigal had done in the parable; a course on which all his safety and hope depended; and that was, ìto arise and go to his father, and to say unto him, Father! I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy Son.î

ìThe Father in the parable,î the doctor observed to him, ìis the God of heaven, whom you have offended, and from whom you have departed; and your desertion of him has brought you into these wretched circumstances. You have no help but in him, whom you have forsaken. Arise then, and go to him, to that offended father, in the Prodigalís temper of mind, and prostrate yourself before him with his words; and from this passage of scripture you have a warrant to expect your reception to be like what the Prodigalís was.î He then represented this in the strong terms of that passage of scripture which, he plainly saw, melted down his heart.

The doctor then opened to him, the design of our Saviourís coming into the world, the greatness of his love to sinners; and the necessity of believing in as the foundation of his hopes towards God. His heart as it were burned within him; and after that time there was more visible composure and serenity in his countenance. He would often say, with his eyes fixed upwards, ìo, god, though knowest the contrition of my heart: I hate and loath my sins; and I will not despair of thy mercy. I cast myself on thy mercy, o god, through the merits and intercession of my blessed Redeemer, and in thee I will trust.î

Such were some of the affecting conversations he had with this good clergyman.

Poor Maclean spent his last night in prayer and devotion. At getting into the cart, he said, ìo my God, I have forsaken thee! But yet I will trust in thee!î- a gentleman who saw him executed says, that just before the cart, in which he stood, was drawn from under him, as it was a very fine day, the sun shone bright, he looked all around him with great composure, and then said, ìI must never more behold this beauteous sun! ñ do thou, O sun of righteousness! Shine on my departing soul!î

This unhappy man shewed great signs of penitence, but none can presume to form a judgment of his salvation, or whether his repentance was genuine and sincere or not: that must be left to the great day, when the secrets of all menís hearts shall be revealed. Archbishop Tillotson has observed, that ìit is difficult for any man to be assured of the truth and reality of his repentance, when there is no sufficient opportunity to make a trial of the sincerity of it.î And of this opportunity to a dying malefactor must generally be deprived.

ìthere is, I think,î says another pious divine, ìno doubt of the sincerity of this condemned malefactor at the time Dr. Allen attended him; but the question is, What would his temper and conduct have been, had his life been spared for a number of years? He might have been a true penitent; may God grand that he was! And, through the merits of Christ, have been accepted as such! but as he did not live to ì bring forth those fruits meet for repentanceî which the gospel requires, it is beyond the knowledge of man to determine his future state.î

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