Edward Gibbon on Modern Life: Police Corruption

Civil Order was maintained in those days by a general assembly of Constables, most of them distinguished by their Valour, and readiness to give even their lives in the cause of general Security. However, just as the Costermonger’s Barrow, glistering with wholesome Hesperidin bounty, might be poisoned by a single blemish’t Globe that lay conceal’d within, so also was the Constabulary contaminated by hidden and scheming Malefactors. These would place a desirable object, be it either a luxurious Pocket-Watch or a negligible Turnip, by stealth within their innocent quarry’s Hovel. Then, in the presence of marveling Witnesses, they would Theatrically discover it, feigning glib astonishment, with such dark Rhetorickal utterances as “What have we here?” or “Thou shalt likely endure no fewer than Ten Years Servitude for this.” Having convey’d their bewildered prisoner to the Gaol, such spurious confessions as they could not obtain by civil Interrogation, they would wrest from him by means of brutish Coercion. At length, the unfortunate ruffian would emerge from the Dungeon, wearing the crimson Stripes and sooty Contusions of undeserved chastisement. If challenged upon this by the concern’d Chaplain or indignant Advocate, the Constables would lightly say, “He hath fallen upon the stairs.” or “He hath by unhappy accident collided with a Door.” Further, such Inveterate Reprobates as had riches within their grasp, were cordially invited to dispense portions to the Constables, in exchange for continuing indemnity from Arrest. This shameful bounty the Constables would solicit not through outright entreaty, but rather through subtle observations, such as “I would winter upon the shores of Spain…” or “The Ruinous cost of Meat is redoubling apace!”

For the complete Edward Gibbon on Modern Life, click here.

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