MR. PAYNE AND THE BALT;FIT GIRL. T HE art of graphic
reporting, which has lately reached so high a pitch of excellence in this country, is a great gain to newspaper readers, especially in the dull season of the year ; but we are afraid it often diminishes instead of enhancing the reputation of our public men. Graphic reporters are the valets of public life ; no man is a hero to them ; every weak point of character is exposed to derision, every unguarded utterance pitilessly recorded by their avenging pencils. The sad result is that, as even the statesmen and judges of the land must feel, the charm of omniscience, of serene and unclouded wis- dom with which the popular faith used to invest them, has been rudely broken. It is only a Cromwell who can afford to be painted " with his warts ;" such plain-dealing is not very palatable to men who, however prudent and sagacious they may be, cannot refrain from playing the fool sometimes, and it would be better for them to do so in private, or before a select audience on whose discretion they could rely, than in presence of the whole civilized world represented by its delegates the graphic reporters. How few among our great public speakers can stand the test of having even their most carefully prepared orations accurately reported! Rashness is not one of the chief faults of Mr. Lowe, but that right honour- able gentleman must once or twice last session have been sorely tempted to wish that the practice were still favoured by the press of this country which obtains in distant colonies where shorthand is yet unknown, of allowing eloquent members of the Legislature to write out reports of their own speeches for publication. Graphic reporting, however, has of course less to do with deliberate speeches than with the thoughtless acts and sayings of the moment, and therefore it finds its choicest and most abundant material rather in the chequered pro- ceedings of the law courts, in which so great a variety of dramatis personce take part, than in the more monotonous discussions of the House of Commons. An important trial may be as productive of " sensational " incidents as any tragedy or comedy acted on the stage, and conscious of the all-watchful eye of the reporter on the look-out for effective scenes, judge, jury, counsel, witnesses, and prisoner occasionally play their parts as spiritedly as if they were all interested in obtaining the consent of a generous publicto the repetition of the performance for ahundred days in succession. So seductive is the influence of a love of display over even the most powerful minds, that it is not long since no less a personage that Sir A. Cockburn gratified the public taste for highly spiced reports by gravely complimenting the skill and mourning over the want of honesty of a convict witness who with cynical candour had explained the reasons of his success as a burglar, and who accepted the flattering observations of the Chief Justice with the calm dignity of a man conscious of his own transcendant merits, and commiserating decent society for the loss it had suffered in failing properly to appreciate his worth. If Chief Justice Cockburn could be betrayed into committing such a mistake, we cannot wonder at the seeming anxiety of such petty men as the Commissioners on Election Petitions to make a burlesque of their work byinterrupting every witness with remarks which a complacent court invariably receives with laughter, and which, duly recorded next day in the columns of the daily papers, help to maintain the belief of intelligent foreigners that electoral bribery and corruption is considered the best joke going in England. But the most flagrant offences against the laws of judicial propriety are of little account in comparison with the grievous irregularity of which Mr. Payne, the assistant-judge, is this week declared to have been guilty, in alleging his own prepossessions in favour of a prisoner as a reason for treating her more tenderly than if her personal appearance had not been at all captivating. A judge on the Bench may laugh or talk sentimental nonsense without doing much mischief to the
public interests, provided only he is careful to administer the laws justly and faithfully, but he is unworthy of his position if his fondness for claptrap and his desire to appear before the _ public in the character of a champion of beauty in distress induce him to show partiality to a " handsome and interest- ing" girl accused of a felony.
When last we had occasion to call attention to the caprices of Mr. Payne, it was not in his judicial, but in his poetical, character that he invited the notice of the critics. Several years ago he made himself notorious by reciting, at a festival in honour of the illustrious bug destroyer, Mr. Harper Twelve- trees, some verses which he had himself composed in honour of the faithful partner in joy and sorrow of that worthy and enterprising person. These verses were not, we believe, the only fruits of Mr. Payne's poetical genius, and, judging by internal evidence, we should be inclined to accuse him of the paternity of much of the sentimental jingle that may be heard any night in the music halls of the metropolis. It is a sad falling off for the intimate friend of Mr. Twelvetrees, the sacred poet of the domestic hearth, to become the defender of oppressed ballet girls, but Mr. Payne is evidently one of those gushing gentlemen who preserve till late in life the fresh feelings of youth in all their greenness, and when the fair Miss Simmons, attired in the fascinating costume of the corps de ballet, was brought before him on the charge of stealing a cloak, he was as sincerely awestruck with admira-
tion of charms as if he had been a country-bred youngster paying court to one of the three hundred fairies whose light- ness of foot in the dance is the pride and glory of the Alham- bra. "The might and majesty of loveliness" in the felon's dock quite overpowered him. The jury found that there were extenuating circumstances in the case, and, as the prisoner was very young, recommended her to mercy ; but the judge apparently took care to let every one know that this recom- mendation had weight with him chiefly because Miss Simmons had a pretty face. After addressing her, according to one report, in language which will do the girl more harm than if she had been sent to suffer the stern discipline of a prison for five years, he remanded her for further inquiry, and at a second interview remitted her sentence, and gave her back to her friends with the admonition to be careful not again to do any act that would expose her good name even to suspicion. It is quite clear that, supposing Miss Simmons to have been perfectly innocent of the crime laid to her charge, this way of treating an inexperienced and pretty girl may have ruined her for life. Unless she is unusually strong-minded, Miss Simmons is now probably convinced that the beauty she possesses is far more valuable to her than good conduct and integrity ; and, if she go on from bad to worse, relying always on the effect of her " fair hair, light blue eyes, small mouth, and regular features," to avert the just punishment of her errors, Mr. Payne will be chiefly responsible for the cata- strophe. Still worse results will follow from the creation of a legal precedent in favour of accepting the plea of personal beauty in mitigation of punishment. Women in general will not resent the arbitrary injustice of Mr. Payne's decision, because there is no woman so plain that she does not believe her charms are powerful enough to move the heart of the sternest judge, and therefore the release of Miss Simmons will only be accepted by womankind in general as a manly tribute to the superi- ority of the sex. But it is, nevertheless, a matter of some importance that the laws of this country should not be arbi- trarily administered according to the goodwill and pleasure of the men whom chance has raised to the Bench, but that there should be definite legal maxims to guide the conduct of the judge, and fixed punishments to be adjudged to certain crimes without respect of persons. A judge may think he does the State good service by refusing to send a pretty girl to prison ; but there is no unalterable standard of beauty, and the ballet girl who fascinated Mr. Payne may be a very common-place- looking young person in the eyes of a more severe judge. We think, therefore, that to ensure uniformity of procedure it is possibly the better plan to disregard the personal appearance of prisoners and the personal susceptibilities of judges, and to insist on a regular and equal administration of justice. Our institutions are not in so good repute with the world that we should choose the present time for consulting Mx. Payne's inclinations in a matter of this sort. It is already the popular belief on the Continent that our House of Commons is wholly the offspring of intimidation and bribery, that in our work- houses the poor are systematically destroyed by cruelty and starvation, and that, while every Prussian soldier is a pattern of intelligence and virtue, every British soldier is an ignorant brute. The catalogue of our national virtues will be almost complete when it is understood that British law, once so famous for its even-handedness, now inflicts punishments only on ugly female prisoners, and lets pretty girls go free.