Although Jerrold and Dickens shared the same general outlook on life, they fell out in November 1849 over the issue of public hanging and, more broadly, capital punishment: Jerrold detested both, whereas Dickens sought merely to abolish the former. Dickens in youth had been a total abolitionist, in favour of eliminating entirely the inhumane practice of capital punishment and the savage spectacles of public hangings and (as he witnessed in Rome, and recorded in Pictures from Italy) other forms of public execution such as beheading. "But what is one to do about people who are thoroughly evil, anti-social, and wantonly destructive?" he wondered, and gradually formulated the position that the humane, private eradication of such "Savages of civilisation" (as he remarked in a private letter of 1864) as Sikes and Fagin in Oliver Twist is necessary for society to protect itself. However, in a series of editorial "letters" that he published when he and Jerrold were editing The Daily News in 1846, he had been firmly against both public and private capital punishment. Dickens's revising his position in middle age did not sit well with Jerrold the radical reformer. Their division of opinion led to a six-year estrangement between the two.
- The Punishment of Convicts in Nineteenth-Century England
- G. W. M. Reynolds’s opposition to capital punishment
- “Obscene jokes and filthy expressions. . . [at] the very foot of the gallows” — the corrupting effect of public executions
Last modified 3 August 2017