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LIFE AND CHARACTER
WHO WAS EXECUTED IN DUMFRIES, ON 21st OCTOBER, 1807, FOR THE CRIMES OF ROBBERY AND MURDER.
A TRUE NARRATIVE.
"Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall."
MAITLAND SMITH, the unfortunate subject of this narrative, was a native of Scotland, and was born in the year 1775, of poor but honest parents, in the parish of Penpont, in that district of Dumfries-shire to which the river Nith has given its name. He was early sent to the parochial school, which was at that time ably taught by a son of Mr. Keyden, the minister of the parish. Like other children of his station in this part of the United Kingdom, he enjoyed for several years the advantage of this useful institution, which was, however, sometimes interrupted during the summer months, for the purpose of his earning a trifling sum, by tending the cattle of a neighbouring farmer.
At the age of ten years, he was received into the family of Captain Maitland, of Eccles, his father's landlord, after whom he had been named, and who had promised to take an interest in his future prospects. In this place he remained for six months, in the capacity of under servant. Being displeased, however, with his situation, and probably not having given entire satisfaction to his patron, he was taken home during the winter half-year, and again sent to school; but he was too fond of play, and of a disposition too unsteady and rambling to make much progress in learning. Of exercises indeed which required strength and agility, he was passionately fond; and there was not a boy of his own age at school who could equal him in running, wrestling, or throwing the stone. His ambition to excel in those active amusements for which nature seemed remarkably to have endowed him, showed an ardent and aspiring mind, and strongly marked the general bent of his future character.
The following summer, Maitland's father engaged him with a Captain, at the farm of B, in that neighbourhood, as a cow-boy. This gentleman, who had formerly commanded a vessel in the Guinea trade, joined to an excellent heart, and a strong attachment to the
ordinances of religion, some remarkable peculiarities of temper and manner. Though he was an indulgent master, and did not scruple at times to converse familiarly with his servants, yet he expected from them all that formality of respect and submission, to which he had been accustomed at sea. He conceived a strong attachment for young Smith, and took great pleasure in instructing him both in the principles of religion and in what he called good manners. He made him regularly attend church during the winter months, and obliged him to commit both the Shorter and Mother's Cate
chisms accurately to memory. Of one of these he constantly heard him repeat a third part every Sabbath evening, questioning him at the same time respecting the discourses he had heard at church: a practice which parents and instructors would do well to imitate. With respect to his manners or behaviour, the captain taught him to be respectful and attentive to his superiors, and obliging and polite to all. When he was sent on an errand, the exact minute was pointed out to him when he was expected to return; and if at any time he transgressed the prescribed limits he was under the necessity of giving the most minute account of the reasons for his stay. On such occasions, the truth was
extracted from him by a very singular expedient. As he had, in some instances, discovered a propensity to invent excuses for neglect of duty, it struck his master that this might probably be prevented in future, by taking advantage of his ignorance and superstition. The captain always carried about his person a small pocket compass, which he had observed the boy to view with a kind of fearful curiosity. This instrument he determined to make use of, in order to effect his purpose; and when he found it necessary to question Smith respecting his conduct, he took the compass out of his pocket, and opening it mysteriously, told the boy, that if he did not steadily adhere to the truth, the trembling of the needle would give him notice. The scheme succeeded; the boy was completely deceived, and during the whole time he remained in this family, the dread of the discoveries which the compass might make would not suffer him to conceal from his master anything on which he was questioned.
This is one of those ingenious contrivances which were formerly so common in the education of children, but which have of late years been principally confined to the lower ranks of life; and it is mentioned here, not for the pur
se of approbation, but of censure. Before we
venture to frighten our children into obedience by telling them lies, we should ask ourselves whether or not it be consistent with our Christian profession, "to do evil that good may come;" and we should inquire what effect the discovery of this system of deceit (for it is not possible to keep it always concealed) is likely to produce on the moral and religious character of their young minds. It may, indeed, be easier to terrify an innocent and credulous child into compliance, by working on his superstitious fears, than either to soothe him into good humour, or to exert the strong hand of authority; but what must he think of a parent, when he begins to think at all, who can thus sport with the sacred laws of truth; or how can he be expected to be himself properly impressed with an honest indignation against hypocrisy and falsehood, when he sees these very vices avowedly practised by those to whom he has been taught to look up with reverence and affection? He is brought to this dreadful alternative, either to abhor his parents as liars, or to become himself a liar! Let those to whom God has committed the sacred charge of training up the infant mind, think seriously of this.
It may be proper to mention another error: } into which this good-hearted, but ill-judging