29 JUNE 1912, Page 29



Sin,—You published a most important letter on June 1st signed St. M. Bolder°. Those who are fixing the details of the law ought to get him, or people like him, to help them. It is impossible to have too many safeguards, and they should be rigorously made. The groups of benevolent ladies who are furthering the movement are of an exceptional kind—they are ideal committees, they give personal care and attention to the feeble-minded. But this generation, with the eagerness and devotion which belong to starting a new thing, will pass away ; the well-meaning "Inquisition" with its sentence of perpetual imprisonment will remain ; and the inmates of the institutions will not be, as now, under extra-benevolent care, but under the average managing committee. We all know that committee, and how far it is to be trusted for power of diagnosis, for conscience, for tenderness, and for pluck. Yet these are the qualities specially needed in those who select and control the masters, matrons, and attendants of the feeble-minded. A steady proportion of the applicants for such posts choose the work because they are callous to suffer- ing and want high pay, and a certain proportion of these is always appointed for want of better, (Flaying once secured an engagement they are started on a career and can boast "experience.") It does not need sentimentality and pessimism ; it only needs a little common sense and working knowledge to know that under the new law there will be, after a time, much helpless misery. What I plead for is the appoint- ment of the right people now for making the safe- guarding amendments. Perception like that of St. M. Bolder°, which sees the difference in demeanour of the inmates of various institutions, is rare. The imagination to realize, having seen it, what it means to people to spend . their lives "cowed and overworked" with no hope of escape (English subjects under English law) is rarer; the heart to care is rarer still ; and the courage to do anything to try to alter it is the rarest of all. Let us choose people who remember these things to amend the law for us.

In the "days of England's greatness," before we were Socialists by compulsion, the village idiot, "a danger to him- self and the community," was free. He had his friends; a kindly farmer's wife would mother him; and he had his enemies—he would be teased or ducked in the horse-pond. But he bad compensations. The roads were his, to wander on at will. He had the sky and the hedges, he could follow his tastes, he could spend hours at a time talking to a field of turnips, or to the twittering birds. He was free. We have taken from him a great inheritance, on account of its "danger." Let us at least try herd to protect him, in detail and at every possible point, from future danger, remembering that his "right of appeal" is a mockery. Do not let us make his unhappiness certain, by refusing to admit that hypocrisy and cruelty are always round the corner waiting to slip in (and will slip in unless they are steadily watched and kept out) wherever there is absolute power over the helpless.—I am, 'Quite true; but do not let us forget what happened to the village idiot when she was a girl, and also how often other idiots need to follow in her steps. We must stop the breeding of the feeble-minded, but in doing so we must also, as "A. It." reminds, take care that we do not imprison and torture.—En. Spectator.]