CRIMINAL JURISPRUDENCE IN RELATION TO-MENTAL- ORGANIZATION AND . SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY.
Par= est improbos coercere panto, nisi probes tfficias diseplina.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SPECTATOR.
SIR—In m): last communication I laid before your readers a series of facts calculated to impress them with a just estimate of the inefficiency of capital punishment, by showing the satisfaction with which it is usually contemplated by those who are labouring under homicidal tendencies. Other instances of the effect of this brutalizing infliction have been so fre- quently dwelt upon by the public press, that it is hardly necessary to dilate upon them here. It may be as well, however, just to allude to some of the most prominent objections which have been urged against its continuance, and which offer striking instances of the way in which the infliction of an unjust law inevitably recoils upon the society having recourse to it. 1st. With this view I may notice the acknowledged effecrof executions in exciting the destructive impulse coupled with the imitative tendency,* which is in a greater or less degree inherent in every human mind. his a well-known fact, that the class of persons by whom executions are attended, or by whom ac- counts of them are most eagerly read, are those who feel a peculiar kind of fasci- nation in witnessing the infliction of pain ; and this doss is more than any other predisposed to homicidal mania. It has been stated by Mr. EWART in the House of Commons, upon the most unquestionable testimony, that out of 167 persons who had been executed during a certain period, 164 had been present at execu- tions. The Ordinaries of Newgate affirm, that it is very rarely that any one suffers at the Old Bailey who has not previously been a witness at a similar scene. These facts are universally admitted and deplored; and yet capital pu- nishments are supported, by those who at the same time confess that the in- fliction of death in a secret manner presents, if possible, still more objectionable points, It seems strange that it should not occur to the persons who make these allowances, that it' the punishment itself were consistent with religion, benevolence, and justice, there must exist some mode in which it might be per- formed without outraging these fee.ings, and that the fact that no such mode- can be discovered, clearly shows that it is not founded in wisdom. The following is stated to have been the scene at the execution of the two men named BISHOP and WILLIAMS, on the 5th December 1831. By daybreak it was estimated that not fewer than 30,000 persons were assembled. Before proceeding to the scaffold, both prisoners confirmed their confessions. BISHOP mounted first. The moment he made his appearance, the most dreadful yells
• Ins work from the pen of M: I,. M. Meacau Cintorrosne, Inspector-General of Prisons, on the Reform or Prisous in France, published some few years back, the author alludes to the very remarkable tendency which is developed in society under certain circumstances to imitate atrocious deeds. Of the influence of imitation, two strange instances, among others, may be quoted. Under the Empire. a soldier killed himself in a particular sentry-box; and immediately many others acquired the suicidal mono- mania, and selected this box for the scene of self destruction. The Is x, in conse- quence, was burned, and the imitation at once ceased. Again, an invalided soldier hung himself at a particular door: in a fortnight afterwards twelve other hivalids chose the same door for the same purpose. The gate was then walled up, and the banging ceased to be epidemic in the hospital. These things are not peculiar to. Frenchmen. It is notorious in other countries, that instances of rare offences, remark. able tor their atrocity, for some singularity in their mote of execution, or otherwise calling largely on the public attention, are unifosmly followed up by successive item.- tions of the crime.
send booting s were heard amongst the crowd. NV/IMAM was Then taken out, and the groans and hisses were renewed. The moment the drop fell, the mob, Who had continued yelling and shouting, gave severer/ tremendous cheers!
I presume that those who contend for the advantages of public executions, do so on account of the moral feelings which they believe such exhibitions are likely to excite in the minds-of the spectators. coupled with the salutary dread which they are calculated to inspire, thereby deterring others from pursuing a similar course. Upon the degree of moral feeling excited by such occasions, the fact that in the above instance the mob, consisting of 30,000 persons, gave
4' several tremendous cheers" at a moment when the two unfortunate beings of 'a. race where all are sinful, were launched into the presence of an eternal
God, is a fearful commentary. t And regarding the " salutary, dread " to be inspired in the way of example, it will be sufficient to notice the fact, that for many subsequent months the newspapers teemed with accounts-of murders of a similar character to those for which these criminalssuffered, and which being of wnature previously unknown, were distinguished from ordinary homicides by a name derived from their original perpetrator. Those who have rightly studied the facts which everywhere abound relating to the excitingeauses of the various emotioneof the human mind, know that those who attendT executions from choice, do so with the view of gratifying the very propensities the activity of which it is ostensibly intended to suppress: The benevolent and religious are shocked at the infliction, and abstain from witnes- sing-it.
The Metropolitan Magazine for March 1840 contained a curious account of one of the natural results which arises from these exhibitions. It ran as follows. " Odd taste for Newgate ropes, and its consequences.—We knew a• healthy, robust, independent gentleman, who went some years since with the Sheriff into the interior of Neu-gate to visit a malefactor who was to be executed the same day. After the drop had fallen' he went with others to the break- fast-table; where he could think of nothing but the execution he had witnessed ; and before be left he requested the Sheriff to procure the rope with which the man had been suspended. It may be mentioned, that it was not an execution of gommon occurrence. Possessing one rope, it subsequently occurred to him, as the next much-talked of execution was to take place, that he would also have the rope used on that occasion. In the course of a short time he had a col- lection of ropes, labelled and deposited carefully in a drawer. About two years after the penchant for collecting ropes used at executions had manifested itself, it was observed by his friends that his conversation most frequently turned on the Subject of the executions be had witnessed, and the success be had met with in securing such a number of ropes ; which he usually brought out to exhibit to his friends, expatiating on the comparative merits or demerits of the sufferers, until at length his society became unbearable, and he received the sobriquet of the man with the pensile idea.- Be lived about fourteen years after witnessing the first execution ; at last putting an end to his own life by suspending his body-with one of the ropes he had collected from the common hangman." 2d. A strong point of objection is found to exist in the natural and intuitive disinclination of benevolent men to become the means of putting a fellow creature to death, and the consequent falsification of their duties as jurors ; by which means a culprit of the most dangerous kind is sometimes permitted to escape. This was well instanced in the recent case of GouLo : had the con- tingent-punishment been any thing short of death, it is most probable that he would never have received an acquittal. 3d. Another evil of this punishment is presented in the occasional instances. which-occur of parties suffering for crimes of-which they were innocent, society- being thus disabled from offering reparation for injuries which they have them- selves committed. It must also be remembered, that the more heinous the crime laid to the charge of the accused, the greater is the probability of an erroneous conviction, on account of the excited feelings of his accusers. 4th. The employment of death- punishment destroys one source of testi- znonial.proof. The death of one criminal is in a great measure an act of am- nesty in favour of all his accomplices. The "honour among thieves" feeling, can nerve a man to die like the wolf, in silence But amid the tedium of con- flnement, haunted by fancy's pictures of the liberty his equally culpable col- leagues are enjoying, his determination may relax, and information calculated to promote the ends of justice be obtained from him.: In the- last debate which occurred in the House of Commons on the motion for the abolition of capital punishments, Lord Jowls RUSSELL stated that he did not think that any substitute could be proposed for the punishment of death, by which the frequency of murders might be lessened; but as it is well known that there are countries where a substitution has been effected and fol- lowed by eminent success, this opinion seems to be entitled to little weight. It has been found that in all countries where capital punishments are rare, the tendencies of the people are always proportionably humane : indeed the punish- ment of death could not long exist under the authority of any government Which did not possess in by far too strong a degree the very propensity the morbid indulgence of which it is intended to repress. In Mrs. TROLLOPE'S Austria and the Austrians, I find the following pas- sage. It relates to the fate of a criminal convicted of a murder of more than ordinary ferocity ; and states that "Upon its being announced that it was the Emperor's intention to commute the punishment of death to that of im- prisonment, although the perpetration of the crime unquestionably spread abroad a universal feeling of horror in Vienna, where capital punishments are extremely rare, the satisfaction inspired by the news was very general." Will it be asserted that the satisfaction which was thus generally expressed arose from the delight which was felt at the prospect which it imparted to others of being enabled to commit murder without subjecting themselves to the punishment of death? did it not rather arise from the general respect for human life which had been generated by the rareness of this punishment? A striking instance of the general misapprehension which exists regarding the predisposing causes of crime, was exemplified in one stage of a debate which lately took place on Mr. FITZROY KELLY'S bill for the abolition of the punish- Ment of death in all cases excepting that of murder. This bill was thrown out on the 29th of July last. During its discussion, the opponents of the measure expressed the greatest desire in case the bill should pass, to retain the punish- ment of death for the crime of setting on fire or destroying the Queen's ships ; thus showing a total ignorance of one of the chief features of destructive mania. lb looking over a large number of cases, it will be found that in many instances the suicidal impulse has first manifested itself by setting buildings on fire. To- make suicide the consequence of this act, (as the law really does by holding out self-destruction as the penalty,) must only tend to stimulate the excited mind, and it may thus-in some cases become the actual cause of the commission of-the offence. Mr. WOODWARD, in relating a case of homicide the perpetra- tor of which was afterwards placed under his care, says—" On one occasion be felt that he must burn his barn: he instantly seized a firebrand, and ran to- wards it with the fullest intention of accomplishing his object : he was fortu- nately prevented by the interference of his friends. Much of the time his thoughts were occupied by the- contemplation of suicide, and the impressiost that he must commit homicide."
-1 At the last execution performed in London, the Police are said to have kept better order; but even to that occasion the destructive propensitrof the uneducated mob t, as stimulated to the highest point, and found vent in "a shoat or triumph" which hailed the moment when their slum brother appeared before them to meet the vengeance of the law.
# Spectator; llth-July 1840. The only point of objection to the abolition of capital punishment in cases, of murder, which seems to carry any real weight, is that in cases of highway- robbery, burglary, Sic., if the robber knew that the punishment would be the: same whether he murdered his victim or not, he would invariably do so in order to remove the danger of his evidence. This, however, offers only an apparent: obstacle. The treatment for any crime below that of Murder should not, even. if death punishment were abolished, be so severe as for murder itself. The; latter crime should involve as its penalty the doom of perpetual imprisonment since, although a person who has once committed this crime may be apparently cured of the tendency, it can never be safely predicated that the impulse may- not again arise under the sudden influence of external excitement. Be must. be kept from temptation, because the maniacal tendency may always be pre. sumed to lurk in the system ; and even if the patient were to be so far brought back to habits of self-control as to be no longer dangerous, the possibility of: his transmitting the fatal tendency to another generation should never be par- vatted. Although, therefore, in cases of murder, the confinement of the. patient should be effected with as much humanity as possible, it should never- on any pretence be remitted. Every effort should be made to bring his-mind to that state which should induce him to acknowledge the justness of his fate, and:: to be sensible that it is inflicted out of regard both for the welfare of himself:. and of society, and that revenge had no voice in the administration of his doom. That this course would operate powerfully in deterring others from the com- mission of the crime by which it became necessary, is well instanced in thee suppreseion of the regicidal mania which existed in France during so many years of the reign of the present King. In the early instances, the usual impo-• litic course of a revengeful trial and a sanguinary death was resorted to by the- authorities : it was not until that course was adandoned, and one of the of- fenders was consigned to the obscurity of a private madhouse, that the regicidal. epidemic appears to have been in any degree stayed. In lesser crimes the same necessity for perpetual restraint does not exist ;. and therefore the period of the incarceration of the criminal should be contin- gent entirely upon his own improvement, and certainly need rarely be so pro- longed as to terminate only with his life. In these cases, hope at all events- need never be abandoned.
If in reviewing the " difficulties" of this question Lord JOHN RUSSELL had:-
given expression to the difficulties (which, under the present system, should- arise in the mind of every man) regarding the justness of the infliction by society of capital punishments, or indeed any punishments whatever on those- persons who commit offences to which they have been stimulated by the insti- tutions of society itself, we should have had reason to hope for some good re- sult. By the tables which I have given of the murders committed in Great Britain from the year 1830 to 1835, it will be seen that a very large proportion have been committed by soldiers. It is also well known that the sympathetic crime of suicide is prevalent in a very disproportionate degree amongst this. class. In cases of English cities, where a very large proportion of the military are quartered, the ratio of suicides is greater than in the whole population of the country, but still much below that among the troops. On the, whole, the suicides among the Dragoon Guards and Dragoons are at least five times more numerous than among civilians. These men are trained to a life the duty of which consists chiefly in the exhibition of the destructive propensity. Accord- ing to the degree in which it is effective in battle, it is pronounced to be praise- worthy; and if, when the war is over and the soldier returns to his country; the propensity which has thus been excited, gratified, and applauded, should refuse to subside, and should at last assume a.vigour of action beyond the con- trol of the individual, he is then to be punished for the fatal effect of that very disease which it has been the effort of his fellow men. to stimulate to the utmost.
But it is not alone with regard to the crime of murder that these considents
tions should have been awakened in the mind of one to whom the administrw- tion of the government is confided. The large-majority of crime of all kinds its- committed by those who are not only the inheritors of defective organization, but who have also.been neglected by that society of whom, helpless as• they were, they had a right to demand guidance and protection.
There are, as I have shown, few amongst criminals' who possess-the power of reading or writing; and there are many classes trained up to meet the wants' of society, who, when their power of rendering their bitter and ill-paid service. is over, have no resource but in depravity and -crime. In the case of chimney- sweeps, who are brought up to an employment which is considered " indis- pensable by society, in order to save the expense of properly-constructed i chimnies, it s well known that-when they arrive at a certain size their period. of service is at an end, and they have then no choice, diseased and degraded as they are, but to fly to the occupations of thieves and vagabonds. Then only is it when men begin to reap from the depredations of these unhappy beings the just punishment which follows, under the operation of the moral laws of the world, as the result of their own culpable neglect—then only is it that they awaken to asense of what virtue, duty, and "responsibility" are, and that, after having been oblivious of their own duties, they preach to the unhappy victims of their neglect the duties which they, the victims, owe to them.
"1 am clear for hanging all criminal madmen," said an educated gentleman to a high officer of the criminal law in Scotland. Nearly the same sentiment lately appeared in one of the medical journals in the United States; and it was only a few years ago that the Attorney and Advocate-General of France, in a case of homicide, declared that the plea of insanity is dangerous—that it leads to encourage simulation and defraud jestice. Had these persons been aware that by the multiplication of public executions they increase the personal dan- ger of every member of society, by stimulating and fostering the destructive tendency—had they also known that their own liability to an accession of mania-- was by no means so limited as they had been accustomed to suppose it to be,- since the growth of a spiculse of bone pressing upon a certain part of the brain might induce in their own minds the tendency to similar acts—had they known that hepatic disorder, exposure to cold, intemperance or inanition, a blow on the head, over exercise of the mental powers, coup de solid, old age, and many other unthought-of conditions, might lead to a similar result either in themselves or in their children—that the effect of sudden terror or other violent emotions occurring to women during the period of gestation, frequently leads to the most fatal tendency of mind in their offspring—and that the advocates for the indis- criminate infliction of death might from these causes themselves become at some future day the parents of those who might exhibit "criminal madness "— it is probable that these considerations coming home to their feelings of selfish _regard would have operated so as to produce a more benevolent view of the duties of the law. When mankind, actuated, as it unfortunately is, by a pre- dominance of personal and selfish emotions, shall become more fully acquainted with the causes of insanity, and shall learn to regard the infliction as one to which all persons are more or less liable—and when each man shall consider that there is not a human mind, not even his own or that of any one of his dearest friends, which may not by some of the accidental causes which I have enumerated, become suddenly affected even to the most frightful extent of maniacal fury—we shall be more anxious that the subject should be rightly con- sidered, and that care should be taken never to inflict additional tortures upon those who ought only to be the objects of our sincerest pity: In conclusion, I may be permitted to repeat, that the true object of all cri- minal laws should be simply to remove offenders from the power of gratifsing the special tendencies from the action of which their errors of' conduct may haws arisen, and at the same time to stimulate those faculties-which Lava hitherto lain dormant and inefficient. This must in all eases he the most pain- ful operation that the criminal could undergo; but the object should be, by en- lightening the minds of those who are doomed to suffer it, to show that it is undertaken with no feeling of vengeance, but with the same certainty of pro- ducing a good result to the patients themselves, as would be felt in medically administering a specific for any ordinary disease. They should be taught to feel that the cure of the depraved mind (or, to speak more correctly, of its dis- ordered instrument) is the only thing that is aimed at, and that an eventual increase of comfort to themselves must be the result of the pain which is in- dicted; that the desire is not to administer punishment, but the reverse-to see, in fact, how far they can be saved from punishment by an effort to produce the cure or mitigation which is benevolently desired, by the indiction of the least possible amount of pain. It is happily known, that when those who are suffering from any unfortunate tendency of mind can be made to see and un- derstand an intention of this sort, many an offender will voluntarily submit to the necessary discipline. The pangs which are thus freely borne by that large portion of the Irish population who have been made to know the inevitable effects of gratifying the propensity for ardent spirits, and who, while this knowledge was imparted to them, had also their higher feelings of religion, faith, self-respect, &c. stimulated by the eloquent appeals of their benevolent countryman Father MATHEW, is a good illustration of this point. The almost universal ignorance which prevails at present of the fact that the dispositions of men are within the power of remedial treatment directed to the brain, is much to be deplored; but I am sanguine enough to believe that the time is not far di,tant when men will learn that the gratification of their lower passions by the blind punishment of unfortunate criminals is only worthy of the days when the lash and chain were considered to be the proper portion of the madman-that they will perceive that it is the duty of those who have inherited high endowments to show nothing but kindness and compassion to their less fortunate fellow-creatures, and to endeavour to raise them as nearly as possible to their own state-and that, if they neglect to do so, they will as- suredly share with the offenders themselves the evil consequences that may arise. Above all things, we should remember that a mitigation of the evil ten- dencies of the lowest mind is never impossible so long as lesion of the brain has not taken place ; and that when lesion has occurred, and improvement is no longer practicable, death will certainly result. To destroy the life of a fellow. creature in whom any improvement may be effected, must be an act of wicked- ness and barbarity ; and to destroy him when he has passed to the state ia which death is approaching from the hand of his Maker, must be not only bar- barous but impious. Under these views, when they shall be more effectively enforced and more amply illustrated, how much of increased happiness may be looked for! when the only object of the law shall be a consideration as to the means by which it can best work towards the permanent good and happiness of the offender, and when the injunctions of the Divine Teacher shall find a place in our hearts as frequently as they do now upon our lips, and our sole aim shall be to return good for evil!
In bringing this subject to a conclusion, I beg to acknowledge the letters of several correspondents who have been good enough to assure me of the sense which they entertain of its importance. It is also proper for me to remark, that my views regarding the treatment of criminals are in accordance with principles of moral philosophy which have been for some time before the pub- lic. Most of my readers are doubtless familiar with the treatise of Mr. GEORGE COHSE on the Constitution of Man : to those who are not so, and to whom these letters may have appeared in any degree valuable, I beg leave to recom- mend a consideration of its doctrines. M. B. S.