The Culprit


'The Culprit', by Nathaniel Bloomfield* 

"Man hard of heart to Man! ....of horrid things
Most horrid; 'midst stupendous highly strange:
Yet oft his courtesies are smoother wrongs;
Pride brandishes the favours he confers,
And contumelious his Humanity.
What then his vengeance? bear it not, ye Stars,
And thou, pale Moon, turn paler at the sound:....
Man is to Man the sorest, surest Ill."


'Man hard of heart! of horrid things
Most horrid; and of strange most strange:'...
Thus the mournful Poet sings,
Experienc'd in Life's various range.

In the hopeful morn of Youth,
This serious Song I lov'd and learn'd,
Nor ever thought the mournful truth
Would ever thus by me be mourn'd.

Ne'er thought I ever thus should stand,
The butt of every tearful eye;
To raise the Culprit's trembling hand,
To heave the Culprit's anxious sigh.

Now the mournful truth to prove,
Gazing crouds around I see;
For sure 'tis cruel selfish love
That brings them here to gaze on me.

'Tis thus wherever human woe,
Wherever deep distress appears;
Thither curious gazers go,
To' insult the wretched with their tears.

E'en where hostile armies join
In the horrid frightful fray,
Where groaning mortals life resign,
I've heard their fellow-mortal say—

'Oh! for a safe and lofty stand,
Where I the Battle's rage might see;
When Carnage, with relentless hand,
Strews the Ground, or stains the Sea.' [1] 

When list'ning, with suspended breath,
A wretch his dreadful sentence hears,
In Martial Court, where worse than Death
The Military Culprit fears.

And when encircled by the band,
Lingering torments, public shame,
Severity's most ruthless hand
Lacerates his manly frame:

When many a hardy Soldier weeps,
And grieves that he's compell'd to stay;
Who perforce his station keeps,
Or would soon be far away;

Yet see beyond the circling guard,
Idle gazers flocking round,
To see and hear are pressing hard,
As if the spot were fairy ground.

What is it that a charm imparts?
Why do they press to hear and see?
Can it be that human hearts
Delight in human misery?

When the inexorable hour
Chills the hopeless convict's blood;
When sunk and drown'd his eve'ry power,
In sorrow's overwhelming flood:

To view the scene the many run,
And o'er the hapless wretch to sigh:
Nor once enquire the crime he has done;...
They only come to see him die.

Various cares mankind employ;
But to gaze on human woe
Seems the universal joy,
For which they all their cares forego.

Each from his pursuit departs,
Suffering, dying Man to see;
Surely there are human hearts
That joy in human misery.

Where fictitious tragic woe
Entertains the gaudy ring,
Each the horror can forego
And instant mental comfort bring.

When the spirits take alarm,
Prompt to anger, grief, or spleen,
Reason can dissolve the charm,
And say, 'tis a fictitious scene.

But to scenes of real woe,
Where a wretch is truely dying,
Wherefore do such numbers go.
What can be the joy of sighing?

Men of thought, who soar serene,
And loftily philosophize,
Will say, they seek the solemn scene,
To contemplate and sympathize.

And all the throng will tell you so:...
'Tis sympathy that brings them there;
They love to weep for others' woe,
And come but to enjoy a tear.

If to enjoy the tear that starts,
They run the sorrow'd scene to see—
Alas! for pity ... human hearts
Delight in human misery.

Still my wretched thought thus strays,
'Midst gloomy scenes and prospects drear;
My weary mind, in various ways
Seeking Hope, still finds Despair.

This thought a weight of woe imparts,
At once to sink a wretch like me;
What can I hope, if human hearts
Delight in human misery?

Tortur'd by severe suspense,
I the Jurors' Verdict wait;
Ere I may depart from hence,
Their decision seals my fate.

Now withdrawn, their close debate
Admits no curious, list'ening ear,
But the result's so big with fate,
The Culprit must in thought be there.

And now, led on by sad despair,
Does a frightful form obtrude;
Vindictive Spleen assumes the air
Of noble, manly Fortitude.

And thus I hear the Demon say,
'Let us not abuse our trust;
We must not be led away
For mercy's sake, to be unjust.'

Yet he'll profess no wrath to feel
'Gainst such a hapless wretch as I;
No !...but for the public weal,
'Tis expedient that I die.

And this his judgment once made known,
Self-love and self-conceit's so strong,
He'll rather let me die than own
That his opinion could be wrong.

Ye who the lore of distant climes
Canvass, latent truth to find;
Who hail our philosophic times,
And Man's emancipated mind:

Oh! ye who boast the enlighten'd age,
Who boast your right of thinking free...
If e'er ye learn the lessons sage
Taught in Affliction's school, like me,

Should you e'er a Culprit stand,
You'll wish mankind all Christians then;
If e'er you raise the Culprit's hand,
You'll wish the Jurors Christian Men.

When at the dread Confessional,
Men trembled from their early youth,
Taught to fear, on pain of Hell,
To utter more or less than Truth.

Then Faith could sharpest trials stand,
Man at threat'ning Death could smile,
If but his Pastor's lenient hand
Toucht him with the Holy Oil.

Full faith the solemn Oath obtain'd,
Man's mind was aw'd by priestly rule;
Steady to Truth he still remain'd,
Unless to priestly fraud a tool.

But where Church Discipline has ceas'd
To train men's minds in early youth,
Hard indeed the Culprit's case,
Whose fate depends on others' truth.

Even the man whose ways are wise,
Whose life is rul'd by Honour's laws;
Who owns, in philosophic guise,
A Deity...a first great cause:...

Yet boasts his mind no shackles wears:...
'Tis hard his solemn Oath to trust;
For, without future hopes and fears,
Know I if Conscience makes him just?...

And then, the' admitted evidence...
Ye Jurors, can his word be true?
Tempted; in his own defence,
To feign another's crime to you.

When venial crimes in Love's gay spring,
Prompt the youthful Female's sigh;
When her roses all take wing,
And Matrons sage her plight descry;

Blushing, weeping, she'll confess
The fault her faded cheeks discover:
But, to make her crime the less,
Imputes an outrage to her Lover.

So strong the power of pride and shame,
Her frailty she will still deny;
Rather than own herself to blame,
She lets the hapless Lover die.

Is Merit from his right debarr'd;
Or guiltless charg'd with foul offence?
A Knave but speaks the perjur'd word,
And laughs at injur'd Innocence.

Laughs he at detection too?
Yes...for he'll be but expos'd;
But set up to public view,
Should his falshood be disclos'd.

He such exposure dares defy;
Public shame is not his fear;
He who can vouch the solemn lie,
Would shew his forehead any where.

While Innocence meets punishment,
While Falshood can produce such woes,
Mercy's self must needs lament
Perjury not more punish'd goes.

Dubious may be the Culprit's case,
Though clear and open all his ways;
What Life is proof 'gainst dire disgrace,
If guileful hate his act pourtrays?

Ye Jurors cautiously proceed,
When the question's left to you,
Not 'Has the Culprit done the deed?'
But 'Was the deed a crime to do?' [2] 

Grudge not deliberation's time,
Lest you should be too severe;
When Justice must believe a crime,
She lends it her most tardy ear.

How short is this momentous hour!
O! how swift the minutes fly!
Soon the Jurors, arm'd with power,
Will come, to bid me live or die.

Pointed thoughts of Life and Death,
Anxious sore solicitude,
Shake my frame, suspend my breath,
When Terror's gloomy shades protrude.

But when hope cheers me with the sound
Of Mercy's voice, of Mercy's plea,
And tells me, Mercy will be found
Amongst the twelve to speak for me,

Rapt Fancy hears the Cherub plead:...
Propitious is the Culprit's fate,
If one, by tender mercy sway'd,
Among the jurors takes his seat.

One who will meek-ey'd Mercy's laws
Oppose to Rigour's doubtful rule...
Nor quit the hapless Culprit's cause,
Though sterner Judgements deem him fool.

Blessings that wait his heart, his tongue,
Cannot elate his tranquil breast:
He courts no blessing from the throng;
He is, and ever will be, blest.

He shall win the Jury's ear,
Pity glist'ning in his eye;
Let us not be too severe….
If we let the Culprit die,

Fruitlessly we may bewail
In future, should our hearts relent:
O! then let Mercy's voice prevail;
Mercy we can ne'er repent.

Mercy smiles, and every face
Reflects the Cherub's aspect meek;
Glowing with her resistless grace,
Mercy beams on every cheek.

Hope, thy presage cannot fail,
Bid my Mary cease to mourn;
Surely Mercy shall prevail,
And I to Love and Life return.

Shall I the lenient Verdict hear,
Thrilling through my shivering frame?
Ye Jurors, clad in smiles appear,
To realize this happy dream.

Their Deliberation's o'er,
How shall I the Crisis meet?
Hark! I hear the opening door :...
Silence and Awe attend their feet!

They enter…though no voice is heard,
Mercy in each face I see;
They speak…and in the single word
Is Life, and Love, and Liberty!

* Nathaniel Bloomfield, 'The Culprit', from An Essay on War, in Blank Verse; Honington Green, a Ballad . . . and Other Poems (London: Hurst, Vernor and Hood, 1803), pp. 43-59. BACK

[1] The sentiment of Lucretius—

Suave etium Martis certamina magna tueri
Per campos instructa, tua fine parte pericli.
Sweet to behold the Martial Contest spread,
Wide o'er the Plains, without thy share of Ill.
But the Philosophic Poet accounts for it by the heightened sense of safety; and not on the principle of Malevolence [note in original] BACK

[2] This question may come before the jury in Cases of Homicide, Assault and Battery, and other charges of that nature, which may be justifiable on circumstances: but in many if the fact is found, as in Forgery, &c. the criminality, with some very rare exceptions, is a legal inference necessarily arising from the fact. C. L. [Capel Lofft's note] BACK