THE CRUELTY OF PECUNIARY CRIME.
WE entirely agree, though not always for the same reasons, with the correspondents who so frequently denounce the lenity of the Magistrates towards those found guilty of cruel crimes. The wife-beaters, the men who commit aggravated assaults almost equivalent to murders, and especially the criminals guilty of torture to children, are constantly let off with ludicrously inadequate sentences, sentences which in no degree help either to protect the feeble or to strengthen the conviction among the rougher classes that such offences are grave crimes. But we con- fess we are not equally in sympathy with a feeling which the same correspondents sometimes express, that crimes against property are punished far too severely. No doubt larcenies occasionally are so punished, and isolated cases of theft under strong tempta- tion, but in the great majority of graver cases the Magistrates, and especially the Judges, are right in the severe sentences they billet. There is, we are happy to say, an abhorrence of direct, brutal, physical cruelty growing up among us, which sometimes leads the enthusiastic to forget how terrible the effects of indirect cruelty may be, what tortures innocent persons may suffer from elaborate thefts, and how completely without moral excuse an educated thief, not pressed by hunger, must always be.
The regular lawyer's excuse for the severity of our laws against skilful forms of theft, such as embezzlement, forgery, and fraud, is well known, and is as far as it goes unanswerable. It is neces- sary to punish such crimes severely, because the motive which prompts them exists in almost all human beings, and the temp- tation to commit them is scattered all around. Speaking broadly, all men desire to get money. Nine-tenths of them, at least, would rather acquire it with a minimum of exertion. And a very large' proportion of them, even though honest under the strong coer- cion of the law, or through the vigorous conscience which the law builds up, do not at heart care much whether they get it by fair or by unfair means. There are extraordinary shades of differ- ence in the degree of unfairness to which men will consent—a swindler, for example, declining to rob his blind mother—but to some shade a vast number of very respectable persons would, as all experience shows, without the law descend. At the same time, the provocation to this crime is perpetual, so perpetual that
special inducements would seem not to be needed at all. The murderer must have a cause for murdering, the brute must have
a victim near, the ravisher needs opportunity, but the forger, or the swindler, or the cheat is always provoked and always ready. There is always property to be obtained, and he is always want- ing it. In the presence of a passion so general and so easily,
gratified, the law must be made strong, or society would go to pieces, one-half of it being tempted by impunity to prey pee-, petually upon the other. There would be perpetual social wars, ending in a rapid destruction, not only of property, but of the desire to accumulate what it was so inordinately difficult to keep. Civilisation would perish, as in some districts the practice a horticulture dies away, because exertion always ends when ne)
tangible result of exertion can be obtained or preserved. This reason is unanswerable, and is always quoted by statesmen as sufficient answer to any plea for reducing the penalties on pecuniary crime, but it is not, as some writers of recent letters seem to fancy, the only justification for the laws. They forget or have never thought what a scoundrel an educated thief, what-
ever branch of thieving he pursues, must necessarily be. He, almost alone among criminals, must perform his crimes in cold, blood. He must, whether he is forger, embezzler, or only,
cheat, plan his crime down to its smallest details, cooly, soberly, with deliberation and with all his faculties at their utmost stretch. A man cannot forge in a passion, or under terror, re when nearly blind with drink. He must carefully foresee the consequences of his act, must be careful to avoid all haste er-
passion, and must be utterly indifferent to any suffering he may
inflict, however, disproportionate to the gain to himself. The larger his operations the greater intellect they require, the More
cool and composed must be his judgment, and the greater the
amount of torment the Innocent will suffer. The defaulting banker, the lawyer who bolts with his clients' money, the forger who ruins a firm, the embezzler who destroys a family, constantly inflicts as much suffering as the most violent of the brutes whom the Magistrates, moved by some reasoning we have never been.
able to follow, so frequently let off with inadequate sentences.
We abhor the brute who half murders his wife, but he is scarcely more cruel than the defaulter who deliberately does acts which send whole families previously decent and respectable to the workhouse or the asylum. We detest the brutal rough, but is he more brutal than the agent who quietly swindles an aged clergy- man out of his all, and sends him to die and his children to live, as paupers upon public charity ? We are all agreed
to hang the murderer, but is he so much worse than the man—
we have known the case—who for years deliberately eats up old servants' savings, and leaves them, in dozens at a time, to suicide, starvation, or the Union ? There is not a criminal lawyer in the country who does not know of cases where swindlers have de- stroyed whole families, have wrecked the happiness of dozens of persons, and have inflicted sufferings which in their long duration are as much worse than physical pain as misgovernment is worse than war, merely that they themselves might lead lives a little easier than they otherwise would have done. A fraudulent banker, a swindling attorney, a successful forger scatters misery broadcast, misery as acute as any ever inflicted by the rough who kicks his wife half dead, or beats a casual passer-by into a long
and dangerous illness. Take the old Anglo-Indian graduate—, we know of such a case—who after forty years of most honour-
able labour returns to England with a competence, to be swindled in the first month out of the whole by a rascally agent, and left for another quarter of a century a poverty-stricken pensioner on the charity of a friend. Which suffered most, he or the murderer's victim ? Charles Reade, the novelist, has not in the least over- strained his grimly humorous catalogue of some of the minor
consequences which followed the fall of Hardie's bank, a fall produced by the banker's habitual theft of his clients' securities for purposes of speculation :- "Mr. Esgar, a respectable merchant, had heavy engagements, to meet which his money lay at the old Bank. Living at a distance, he
-did not hear the news till near dinner-time, and he had promised to take his daughters to a ball that night. He did so, left them there, went home, packed up their clothes and valuables, and next day levanted with them to America, taking all the money ,he could scrape • together in London, and so he passed his ruin on to others. Egger was
• meet those who wear their honesty long, but loose ; it was his first dieloyal act in business. Dishonesty made me dishonott,' was his excuse. Valeat quantum."
"John Shaw, a steady footman, had saved and saved, from twenty- one years old to thirty-eight, for 'Footman's Paradise,' a public-house. He was now engaged to a comely barmaid, who sympathised with him therein, and he had just concluded a bargain for the Rose and Crown' in the suburbs. Unluckily—for him—the money had not been paid over. The blow fell ; he lost his all,—not his money only, but his wasted life. He could not be twenty-one again, sp he hanged himself within forty-eight hours, and was buried by the parish, grumbling a little, pitying none." "Jami3a and Peter William Scott, and Joel Paton were poor ishermen, and Anglo-Saxon heroes,—that'a heroes with an oye to the main chance; they risked their lives at sea to save a ship and get sal- vage; failing there, they risked their lives all the same, like fine fellows as they were, to save the crew. They succeeded, but ruined their old • beat. A. eubsoription was raised, and prospered so, that a boat-builder built them a new one on tick, price eighty-five pounds ; and the pub- licans said, Drink, boys, drink, the subscription will cover all; it is up to 120 already.' The subscription-money was swallowed with the rest, • end thoUglo-Sarron heroes hauled to prison."
"Tool to the national vice, and went to the national dogs, Thema* Fisher. a saving Unman, and a bachelor : so I expect no pity for him." "To the same goal, by the same road, dragging their families, went UNA**. Henry Sowlamore, a curate ; Philip Hall, a linendraper ; Neil , Rtath a shoemaker; Simon Harris, a greengrocer; and a few more ; ut titma above were all prudeAt, laborious men, who took a friendly , glass, but seldom exceeded, until Hardie's bankruptcy drove them to the devil of drink for comfort."
ct Turned professional. thief, Joseph Looks, working locksmith, who pod aaved Limey enough to hey .a shop awl good-will; and now lost it every penny."
"Turned Atheist, and burnt the family Bible before his weeping wife and terrified children and gaping servant-girl, Mr. Williams, a Stmda,y-selmol teacher, known hitherto only as a mild, respectable man, a teetotaller, and a good parent and husband. He did not take to drinking, but he did to cursing, and forebade his own flesh and blood ever to enter a church again. This man became an outcast, shunned by all."
"Three elderly sisters, the Misses Lumley, well born and bred, lived together on their funds, which, small singly, united made a decent com- petence. Two of them had refused marriage in early life for fear the third should fall into less tender hands than theirs. For Miss Blanche Lunley was a cripple ; disorder of the spine had robbed her of the power to walk or even stand upright, leaving her two active little hands, and a heart as nearly angelic as we are likely to sea here on earth." [She died of pity for her sisters fate.]
It is nonsense to say that a criminal of this kind does not fore- see the consequences of his crimes. He knows what want of money means, for it is his dread of it which helps to indurate his own hard egotism. He knows his victim's affairs, for he could not otherwise rob him to advantage. And he foresees the suffer- ing he must cause, or he would not take, as he constantly does, such elaborate precautions to avert or elude his victim's vengeance. Cruelty does not cease to be cruelty because it is of the callous instead of the violent sort, nor is a thief better than a brae, because the thief would as lief rob one man as another, while the brnte has usually one special victim. "Rely on it," said an ex- perienced Judge to the writer, the "worst men, as men, who come before me, the most cruel, the most base, the most hopeless of improvement are the professional swindlers, the men who make such good defences, and look so neat and clean. They are worse than professional gamblers, who are more cruel than almost any other men." There might be something of the horror of base crimes, as distinguished from the horror for violent crimes, about the speaker, an old and consistent Tory ; but he was right, to a degree which it is not well that society, even out of a philanthropic motive and for a passing moment, should forget.