The Life of MATTHIAS BRINSDEN
Though all offences against the laws of God and the land are highly criminal in themselves, as well as fatal in their consequences, yet there is certainly some degree in guilt; and petty thieveries and crimes of a like nature seem to fall very short in comparison of the atrocious guilt of murder and the imbrueing one's hands in blood, more especially when a crime of so deep a dye in itself is heightened by aggravating circumstances.
Matthias Brinsden, who is to be the subject of our present narration, was a man in tolerable circumstances at the time the misfortune happened to him for which he died. He had several children by his wife whom he murdered, and with whom he had lived in great uneasiness for a long time. The deceased Mrs. Brinsden was a woman of a great spirit, much addicted to company and not a little to drinking. This had occasioned many quarrels between her and her husband on the score of those extravagancies she was guilty of, Mr. Brinsden thinking it hard that she should squander away his money when he had a large family, and scarce knew how to maintain it.
Their quarrels frequently rose to such a height as to alarm the neighbourhood, the man being of a cruel, and the woman of an obstinate temper, and it seemed rather a wonder that the murder had not ensued before than that it happened when it did, they seldom falling out and fighting without drawing blood, or having some grievous accident or other happening therefrom. Once he burnt her arms with a red-hot iron, and but a week before her death he ran a great pair of scissors into her skull, which covered her with blood, and made him and all who saw her think he had murdered her then. But after bleeding prodigiously she came a little to herself, and on the application of proper remedies recovered. Brinsden, in the meanwhile fled, and was hardly prevailed with to return, upon repeated assurances that she was in no danger, promising himself that if she escaped with life then, he would never suffer himself to be so far transported with passion as to do her an injury again.
The fatal occasion of that quarrel which produced the immediate death of the woman, warm with liquor, and in the midst of passion, and which soon after brought on a shameful and ignominious end to the man himself, happened by Mrs. Brinsden's drinking cheerfully with some company at home, and after their going away, demanding of her husband what she should have for supper? He answered, bread and cheese; to which the deceased replied that she thought bread and cheese once a day was enough, and as she had eaten it for dinner, she would not eat it for supper. Brinsden said, she should have no better than the rest of his family, who were like to be contented with the same, except his eldest daughter for whom he had provided a pie, and towards whom on all occasions he showed a peculiar affection, occasioned as he said, from the care she took of his other children and of his affairs, though malicious and ill-natured people gave out that it sprang from a much worse and, indeed, the basest of reasons.
On the discourse I have mentioned between him and his wife, Mrs. Brinsden in a violent passion declared she would go to the general shop and sup with her friends, who were gone from her but a little before. He, therefore, having got between her and the door, having the knife in his hand with which he cut the bread and cheese, and she still persisting with great violence in endeavouring to go out, he threw her down with one hand and stabbed her with the other. This is the account of this bloody action as it was sworn against him at his trial by his own daughter, though he persisted in it that what she called throwing down was only gently laying her on the bed after she received the blow, which as he averred happened only by chance, and her own pressing against him as the knife was in his hand. However that was, he sent for basilicon and sugar to dress the wound, in hopes she might at least recover so far as to declare there was no malice between them, but those endeavours were in vain, for she never spoke after.
In the meanwhile, Brinsden took occasion during the bustle that this sad accident occasioned, and fled to one Mr. Kegg's at Shadwell Dock, where, though for some small space he continued safe, yet the terrors and apprehensions he was under were more choking and uneasy than all the miseries he experienced after his being taken up. Such is the weight of blood, and such the dreadful condition of the wicked.
At his trial he put on an air of boldness and intrepidity, saying that though the clamour of the town was very strong against him, yet he hoped it would not make an impression to his disadvantage on the jury, since the death of his wife happened with no premeditated design. The surgeon who examined the wound, having deposed that it was six inches deep, he objected to his evidence by observing that the knife, when produced in Court, was not quite so long. He pleaded also, very strongly, the insupportable temper of his wife, and said she was of such a disposition that nothing would do with her but blows. But all this signifying little, the evidence of this daughter appearing also full and direct against him, the jury showed very small regard to his excuses, and after a short reflection on the evidence, they found him guilty.
Under sentence he behaved himself indolently and sottishly, doing nothing but eat his victuals and doze in his bed; thinking it at the same time a very great indignity that he should be obliged to take up with those thieves and robbers who were in the same state of condemnation with himself, always behaving himself towards then very distantly, and as if it would have been a great debasement to him if he had joined with them in devotion.
His daughter who had borne witness against him at his trial, came to him at chapel and begged his forgiveness, even for having testified the truth. At first he turned away from her with much indignation; the second day she came, after great entreaty and persuasion of his friends, he at last muttered out, "I forgive you." But the girl coming the third day and earnestly desiring he would kiss her, which at first he refused, and at last turning to her and weeping lamentably, he took her in his arms, and said: "For Christ's sake, my child, forgive me. I have robbed you of your own mother. Be a good child, rather die than steal, never be in a passion, but curb your anger. Honour your mistress, for she will be both a father and a mother to you. Pray for your father and think of him as well as you can."
At the place of execution he composed himself to suffer with as much patience as he could, and while the rest threw books and handkerchiefs to their friends, he seemed wrapped up in a profound meditation, out of which he drew himself as soon as prayers began and assisted with much cheerfulness and attention. When they were ended he stood up and desiring the Ordinary to repeat after him the following speech, which he dictated word for word as I have transcribed it, seeming most passionately affected with the reflection the world had cast on himself and daughter, as my readers will perceive from the speech itself. After the making of which, he was immediately turned off, on the sixteenth of July, 1722.
The last speech of Matthias Brinsden
I was born of kind parents, who gave me learning, and went apprentice to a fine-drawer. I had often jars which might increase a natural waspishness in my temper. I fell in love with Hannah, my late wife, and after much difficulty won her, she having five sisters at the same time. We had ten children (half of them dead) and I believe we loved each other dearly, but often quarrelled and fought. Pray good people mind, I had no malice against her, nor thought to kill her, two minutes before the deed, but I designed only to make her obey me thoroughly, which the Scripture says all wives should do. This I thought I had done, when I cut her skull on Monday, but she was the same again by Tuesday.
Good people, I request you to observe that though the world has spitefully given out that I carnally and incestuously lay with my eldest daughter, I here solemnly declare, as I am entering into the presence of God, I never knew whether she was man or woman, since she was a babe. I have often taken her in my arms, often kissed her, sometimes given her a cake or a pie, when she did any particular service beyond what came to her share, but never lay with her, or carnally knew her, much less had a child by her. But when a man is in calamities and is hated like me, the women will make surmises into certainties. Good Christians pray for me, I deserve death, I am willing to die, for though my sins are great, God's mercies are greater.
Source: Hayward, Lives of the Most Remarkable Criminals