The Tower of London.
Selected writings of A. Jackson Howe.
The Tower of London! What monstrous horrors have been endured within this citadel of royalty! For over eight hundred years a legion of famous prisoners have passed its gates, many of them never to emerge again. It has been used alternately as a royal residence, a prison, and a museum. In its precincts kings have resided, royal heirs have been born, royalty has kept court, and kings have received their royal brides—and some of these here saw the light for the last time. In its confines Chaucer, an officer of the court, composed "The Testament of Love," and the lamented but unreliable Raleigh wrote his "History of the World" and then lost his head. What an array of crimes has the moldering walls of London Tower encompassed: a poor, weak monarch seared to his death; the Duke of Clarence drowned in a butt of Malmsey wine; the two young royal princes smothered, and the heads of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Protector Lord Somerset, and Lady Jane Grey lost to appease the hateful whims of royal brutes! Through its noted Traitor's Gate have passed to their death some of the most loyal and worthy subjects of unworthy monarchs—
- "an array of victims of tyranny—heroes who have passed"
- "On through that gate, through which before
Went Sydney, Russell, Raleigh, Cranmer, More."
Dr. Howe visited this famous prison in 1886, and the following sketch is a part of his London Letter to the Journal at that time.—Ed. Gleaner.
THE TOWER OF LONDON.—I have read so much of cruelties practiced in the Tower of London that I could not forego a visit to that famous or infamous fort and prison. It stands on the banks of the Thames, a little to the east of the city of London. The citadel is in a plat of twelve acres of ground; and there is a moat surrounding all. In feudal times when dissatisfied barons felt the encroachments of royalty they would drive the king into this stronghold and there exact redress. And here, too, kings imprisoned rivals, inflicting upon them the most horrible tortures, sometimes putting out their eyes, and then confining them to underground dungeons for years and years. If a body was to be turned over for burial by friends it would sound better if no marks of violence were visible on it. To bring such a death about a red hot rod was forced into the bowels per anum. To think of such a cruelty is enough to make one's blood cry out "shame!" even at this remote day when there is a humane queen and all is Christian and serene. On what monstrous wrongs is the Government of Great Britain founded! The history of the nation is simply astounding. In the manifestation of violence the story of blood challenges any that can be told of the worst barbarians. Call up the strangling of the child princess in the Tower. When I read that crime in my boyhood I vowed to raze the prison to the ground! Now, I am here—why do I not keep the youthful promise? Well, there are great burly soldiers, nicknamed "beefeaters," standing round, and those crimes were committed centuries ago. The present generation is not to blame for what was done so long ago. The present rulers have no share in the audacious crimes of Richard III. But I hate the sight of that old tower. It calls up a calendar of wrongs that move the spirit to vengeance. For a small sum I was permitted to enter parts of the armory, for that is what it chiefly is at present. Here are suits of armor worn by kings in feudal times; also helmets, halberds, spears, and battle-axes—big and heavy—regular head splitters. To be the king of England in those times meant business. No toying with pretty actresses, but hard work on bloody fields. There is a robust chivalry in such reigning that moves a remnant of heroic spirit within, and makes one admit there is a captivating grandeur in the sound and circumstance of war. But the methods of carrying on war have changed. How long would that once impregnable castle stand under a fire of modern artillery ? Why, it would tumble like a cob-house at the first onset. The Tower is a fortress no longer, but a memento of what a fort once was. As such it is an object of curiosity. The armor within is as much a relic of the past as the ditch which enclosed the grounds. It is said that the walls of subterranean dungeons contain touching inscriptions cut by hopeless State prisoners who spent their lives hoping against hope. What plots were concocted to release unfortunate victims of hate and jealousy; and how many sacrificed their lives in vain attempts to rescue a friend or relative. All is quiet now, and the grass grows on turf that has a thousand times been irrigated with human blood. May this monument of State crimes remind the powers that be that later experiences have taught a better way of governing men than was once practiced in Merrie England! But war is not over. At Woolwich are cunning devices for killing men; and there is no evidence that right is usurping might. The surplus wealth of England is to be consumed in strengthening her batteries. And how is this going to end ? Is not the time coming, a few centuries hence, when these now formidable batteries will be preserved in some old fortress as mementos of the feebleness of the preceding generations? If this be not probable it is certainly possible. Perhaps the art of peace will be so aesthetically cultivated that an Arcadian state of quiet and love-feasting will be attained. Rather, may not commercial interests ensure perpetual peace ? I begin to believe there is a hope for peace on the ground that wars don't pay—that they are bankrupting.—HOWE, Eclectic Medical Journal, 1886.