As the ruffian had a sense of drama, so he was determined that his words should scald and bite the penitent. When the condemned pew was full of a Sunday his happiness was complete. Now his deep chest would hurl salvo on salvo of platitudes against the sounding-board; now his voice, lowered to a whisper, would coax the hopeless prisoners to prepare their souls. In a paroxysm of feigned anger he would crush the cushion with his clenched fist, or leaning over the pulpit side as though to approach the nearer to his victims, would roll a cold and bitter eye upon them, as of a cat watching caged birds. One famous gesture was irresistible, and he never employed it but some poor ruffian fell senseless to the floor. His stumpy fingers would fix a noose of air round some imagined neck, and so devoutly was the pantomime studied that you almost heard the creak of the retreating cart as the phantom culprit was turned off. But his conduct in the pulpit was due to no ferocity of temperament. He merely exercised his legitimate craft. So long as Newgate supplied him with an enforced audience, so long would he thunder and bluster at the wrongdoer according to law and the dictates of his conscience.
Many, in truth, were his triumphs, but, as he would mutter in his garrulous old age, never was he so successful as in the last exhortation delivered to Matthias Brinsden. Now, Matthias Brinsden incontinently murdered his wife because she harboured too eager a love of the brandy-shop. A model husband, he had spared no pains in her correction. He had flogged her without mercy and without result. His one design was to make his wife obey him, which, as the Scriptures say, all wives should do. But the lust of brandy overcame wifely obedience, and Brinsden, hoping for the best, was constrained to cut a hole in her skull. The next day she was as impudent as ever, until Matthias rose yet more fiercely in his wrath, and the shrew perished. Then was Thomas Pureney's opportunity, and the Sunday following the miscreant's condemnation he delivered unto him and seventeen other malefactors the moving discourse which here follows:
`We shall take our text,' gruffed the Ordinary `From out the Psalms: ``Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.'' And firstly, we shall expound to you the heinous sin of murder, which is unlawful (1) according to the Natural Laws, (2) according to the Jewish Law, (3) according to the Christian Law, proportionably stronger. By Nature 'tis unlawful as 'tis injuring Society: as 'tis robbing God of what is His Right and Property; as 'tis depriving the Slain of the satisfaction of Eating, Drinking, Talking, and the Light of the Sun, which it is his right to enjoy. And especially 'tis unlawful, as it is sending a Soul naked and unprepared to appear before a wrathful and avenging Deity without time to make his Soul composedly or to listen to the thoughtful ministrations of one (like ourselves) soundly versed in Divinity. By the Jewish Law 'tis forbidden, for is it not written (Gen. ix. 6): ``Whosoever sheddeth Man's Blood, by Man his Blood shall be shed''? And if an Eye be given for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth, how shall the Murderer escape with his dishonoured Life? 'Tis further forbidden by the Christian Law (proportionably stronger).
But on this head we would speak no word, for were not you all, O miserable Sinners, born not in the Darkness of Heathendom, but in the burning Light of Christian England?
`Secondly, we will consider the peculiar wickedness of Parricide, and especially the Murder of a Wife. What deed, in truth, is more heinous than that a man should slay the Parent of his own Children, the Wife he had once loved and chose out of all the world to be a Companion of his Days; the Wife who long had shared his good Fortune and his ill, who had brought him with Pain and Anguish several Tokens and Badges of Affection, the Olive Branches round about his Table? To embrew the hands in such blood is double Murder, as it murders not only the Person slain, but kills the Happiness of the orphaned Children, depriving them of Bread, and forcing them upon wicked Ways of getting a Maintenance, which often terminate in Newgate and an ignominious death.
`Bloodthirsty men, we have said, shall not live out half their Days. And think not that Repentance avails the Murderer. ``Hell and Damnation are never full'' (Prov. xxvii. 20), and the meanest Sinner shall find a place in the Lake which burns unto Eternity with Fire and Brimstone. Alas! your Punishment shall not finish with the Noose. Your ``end is to be burned'' (Heb. vi. 8), to be burned, for the Blood that is shed cries aloud for Vengeance.' At these words, as Pureney would relate with a smile of recollected triumph, Matthias Brinsden screamed aloud, and a shiver ran through the idle audience which came to Newgate on a Black Sunday, as to a bull-baiting. Truly, the throng of thoughtless spectators hindered the proper solace of the Ordinary's ministrations, and many a respectable murderer complained of the intruding mob. But the Ordinary, otherwise minded, loved nothing so well as a packed house, and though he would invite the criminal to his private closet, and comfort his solitude with pious ejaculations, he would neither shield him from curiosity, nor tranquillise his path to the unquenchable fire.
Not only did he exercise in the pulpit a poignant and visible influence. He boasted the confidence of many heroes. His green old age cherished no more famous memory than the friendship of Jonathan Wild. He had known the Great Man at his zenith; he had wrestled with him in the hour of discomfiture; he had preached for his benefit that famous sermon on the text: `Hide Thy Face from my sins, and blot out all my Iniquities'; he had witnessed the hero's awful progress from Newgate to Tyburn; he had seen him shiver at the nubbing-cheat; he had composed for him a last dying speech, which did not shame the king of thief-takers, and whose sale brought a comfortable profit to the widow. Jonathan, on his side, had shown the Ordinary not a little condescension. It had been his whim, on the eve of his marriage, to present Mr. Pureney with a pair of white gloves, which were treasured as a priceless relic for many a year. And when he paid his last, forced visit to Newgate, he gave the Chaplain, for a pledge of his esteem, that famous silver staff, which he carried, as a badge of authority from the Government, the better to keep the people in awe, and favour the enterprises of his rogues.
Only one cloud shadowed this old and equal friendship. Jonathan had entertained the Ordinary with discourse so familiar, they had cracked so many a bottle together, that when the irrevocable sentence was passed, when he who had never shown mercy, expected none, the Great Man found the exhortations of the illiterate Chaplain insufficient for his high purpose. `As soon as I came into the condemned Hole,' thus he wrote, `I began to think of making a preparation for my soul; and the better to bring my stubborn heart to repentance, I desired the advice of a man of learning, a man of sound judgment in divinity, and therefore application being made to the Reverend Mr. Nicholson, he very Christian-like gave me his assistance.' Alas! Poor Pureney! He lacked subtlety, and he was instantly baffled, when the Great Man bade him expound the text: `Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.' The shiftiest excuse would have brought solace to a breaking heart and conviction to a casuist brain. Yet for once the Ordinary was at a loss, and Wild, finding him insufficient for his purpose, turned a deaf ear to his ministrations. Thus he was rudely awakened from the dream of many sleepless nights. His large heart almost broke at the neglect.