Johnson on Torture: A Legal Footnote to the Life

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Johnsonian News Letter


On 5 August 1763, Johnson and Boswell set out together from London for the Essex port of Harwich. Boswell was to embark on a year in Utrecht studying the civil law, and Johnson had agreed to see him on to his packet boat. On the road with Johnson, Boswell's Dutch legal education began before he even left England: ·
Having stopped a night at Colchester, Johnson talked of that town with veneration, for having stood a siege for Charles the First. The Dutchman alone now remained with us. He spoke English tolerably well; and thinking to recommend himself to us by expatiating on the superior­ ity of the criminal jurisprudence of this country over that of Holland, he inveighed against the barbarity of putting an accused person to the torture, in order to force a con­ fession. But Johnson was as ready for this, as for the Inquisition. "Why, Sir, you do not, I find, understand the law of your own country. The torture in Holland is con­ sidered as a favour to an accused person; for no man is put to the torture there, unless there is as much evidence against him as would amount to conviction in England. An accused person among you, therefore, has one chance more to escape punishment, than those who are tried among us." (Life 1.466-67)


Published as:
Sider Jost, Jacob. "Johnson on Torture: A Legal Footnote to the Life." Johnsonian News Letter 60, no.1 (2009): 44-6.

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