« AnteriorContinuar »
“ Resolutions” are of small avail, for there is an imperceptible accumulation of force in every day; men become entangled in the routine of small unimportant circumstances, which bind one day to another, and make to-morrow the corollary of to-day, and which bears down the spasmodic energy of a moment's resolve. It was Mirabeau who used to say, “ Men's habits are far stronger than their vices.”
On the other hand, men are indisposed, to a degree which makes it almost impossible to continue a series of efforts ; they have not sufficient force of will ; and it requires them to be bound by some law, as in the case of soldiers, and reduced in some sort to the level of machines, before a definite purpose can be long and steadily followed. In novels and melodrames, the villains are wound up by a machinery of certain definite passions; and they continue to act to the fall of the curtain, with the preordained regularity of clock-work ; but in real life, men have not the strength nor tlie sagacity to lay elaborate plans of villany, and act steadily upon them. Their intentions grow up from accidental circumstances; they allow themselves to drift, rather than steer their own course, and few clearly discern whitherward they tend. At the end of his career the man himself often is the person most surprised at the act which made the catastrophe to his life's drama. If the generality of men were strong of will and steady of purpose, the world could not go on with the small amount of virtue which it makes to suffice at present. It would be like the latent strength that lies in animals, which they do not recognise in themselves, and therefore we dwell safely amongst them, and govern them easily ; but let any one fancy how it would be, if some fine morning they awoke to the consciousness of their own strength !
CRIME is the bad inheritance of the whole human race ;-it is not the monopoly of any one class ;-the ranks of criminals have been recruited from men of all grades ;--still the majority of open criminals is found amongst the poorest and most degraded class : those who have to endure the greatest bodily privations, who enjoy the fewest pleasures, and whose only notion of enjoyment is a rude uncultivated sensualism (for some classes have not even their animal senses fully awakened). There is always a feeling of surprise, when more highly educated or better-endowed individuals throw themselves out of the current, and become transgressors against law and order.
There is plenty of legislature for disorders when they come to actual crimes ; plenty both of law and justice ; there are prisons for those who stcal ; the hulks, transportation, and ropes to hang those whose transgressions have become too flagrant and inconvenient to be tolerated any longer. The whole apparatus of executive justice, from the judge on the bench to the policeman on duty, is highly effective, imposing, and the mark of a most civilized, wellordered state. Doubtless when evils come to be heard in the shape of actual crimes, they must be grappled with ; executive justice is blind, and deals with tangible facts alone ; she has no concern with causes. When a man becomes too troublesome to society there are conveniences for putting him out of the way; removing him,—as one would an excrescence or a cancer. But we say again, these crimes are only symptomatic of the disorders that lic out of sight, and for which no remedy is provided ;for which no justice has legislated.
If we examine a little the condition in which by far the largest class of men are born and brought up, we shall wonder, not that crime abounds, but that the best of society should be allowed to dwell so safely as they do, “none making them afraid.”
Most people have at times passed through the streets occupied by the lower classes, and sickened at the dirt, the squalidness, and misery they saw. The experience of most people will furnish them with an average specimen brick of these abodes of wretchedness; but few realise the condition in which those of the lower class are born and must die. Story-books and tracts for poor people talk of being born “of poor but virtuous parents,” as if that were a necessary antithesis ; but what are the elements out of which the poor are to educe their virtue ? Let any one read Mr. Chadwick's books of the Evidence before the Commissioners for Enquiring into the State of the Poor," under various phases of their lot; and some idea may then be formed of what it is to be born of poor parents, and the sort of influences and environments likely to aid them in their pursuit of virtue ! The Moloch-like statistics of one town alone, (Birmingham,) where “ half the total number of deaths registered are those of children under five years of age,” is one of the smallest evils arising from the accumulation of physical suffering and every variety of bodily privation. Let any one go into the streets allotted to the dwellings of the poor, and even the better sort will be found narrow, dark, unpaved, undrained, full of unutterable filth allowed to accumulate and
putrefy; the houses are all of them small, stained with smoke and dirt, no traces of paint or whitewash to sweeten them; they are filled with the heavy atmosphere laden with the smell of all the congregated impurities around ; and the dwellers in these places are obliged to endure all this, for they cannot alter the state of their streets, nor even of their houses. We blame the poor for being dirty ; and Provident Visitors and Benevolent Society Ladies exhort them to cleanliness; but they are condemned to dirt from the actual absence of all water from their houses, and they have no means either of obtaining or of keeping any, except at an expense above their means, or at a cost of exertion—much more energetic than can reasonably be looked for—to fetch it from a distance. They cannot deliver themselves from all this,-it is their destiny,--they cannot afford to live in better places, and they must, besides, be near their work ; and those who build the abodes of the poor are either too ignorant or too avaricious to include any of the comforts, or as we should consider them, necessaries, of existence. Bad as the streets are, there are places still worse: narrow alleys, close courts, “ in the lowest depths a lower still ;”—and miserable as are the houses with their small close rooms, yet a poor family cannot even possess one of them ; several herd together, till, as one who has been much amongst them testifies, “ that the state of many of the districts where the poor dwell, renders it impossible for decent people to continue the habits they may have formed under better auspices ; for that the environments tend to destroy the common decencies of human creatures. And it must be remembered that all this is far more terrible in its naked reality than can be even surmised from the vague general indications we alone venture to give,—and it is not with reference to the bodily privations and hardships that we have referred to this condition of the "every-housc-his-castle,” in which such a large proportion of the people dwell, (for the poor are by far the most numerous class) but it is for its effect on their MORAL and mental condition—it has never been taken into consideration, in legislating for crime. The growth of crime can never be checked whilst ail this continues ; the poor cannot ameliorate themselves, so they come into the world not only predestined to suffer more than the average amount of human ill, but many of them to be actually imprisoned, transported, and hanged, for what is, in great measure, the natural
NO, XX. - VOL. IV.
growth and consequence of their position. It is a statistical fact, not a theory at all, “ that in the worst and most neglected districts, live, and from birth have lived, that portion of the population out. of which come, not only the thieves and pickpockets, and those other degraded and profligate persons who are the pests of society; but also, in general, our great criminals, violent and reckless men, who every now and then perpetrate, in cold blood, deeds which fill the whole country with horror.”* Cause and effect must follow each other, though we may not be able always to trace the line of connexion. The effect of an action or of a fact is never still-born ; and when the largest class of the community live under the influences we have alluded to, till their soul is stupefied out of them, and their bodies unhealthy, debased, till they have begun to. depart from the very type of humanity, —is it any wonder that crime flourishes? Is it not, rather, wonderful that the fair daylight structure of society is allowed to repose so tranquilly, girt round as it is with this abyss of dark unutterable suffering, and the elements of all loathsome things ?
It is fortunate for the other portion of society that the people who are condemned to this state of things are in general too. brutally apathetic to be engaged in active criminality long together. They are in a state of moral decomposition, induced by their circumstances, and their very energy to be vicious is fitful and indolent. But this ocean of guilt and darkness with which we are encompassed, surges up from time to time, instinct with human souls, leaving them stranded, and wrecked, and discovered to the eyes of all men. Then society takes cognizance of their existence, but it is only to cast them from her for ever. There are no conveniences for restoring them to the exercise of their moral functions, to the state of HUMANITY from which they have deteriorated.
A criminal is a word of fear to the well-to-do-in-the-world members of the community—there is more cowardice than moral reprobation in the punishment inflicted on him ;-—there is a sentiment of self-preservation in the zeal for justice to take its course—“c'est faire à la fois, le bien public et particulier, chef d'oeuvre de morale."
In words, criminals who are aux prises with justice, are exhorted. to profit by their sentence, and reforın and lead a new life—but even supposing that the breath of moral life followed the words of the judge, under what practical possibility is a convicted felon to lead
* See Dr. S. Smith's “ Evidence before the Commissioners for Inquiring into the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts--1844,"
the life of an honest man ? Justice takes no heed of him before his crime,--her connexion with bim ccases, at the expiration of his sentence; and with his name written in the Recorder's Book, with the odour of the Criminal Court clinging to him like the scent of the grave,-how is he to obtain admission into the ranks of honest men-even supposing him suddenly and miraculously endowed with the moral strength to become one ?
It is social destruction to gaze face to face on a judge in the awful exercise of his functions. His exhortation to a prisoner, either to amend his life, or attend to his soul, is like the “Extreme Unction” -never administered till there is no chance of recovery. It is virtually casting him adrift on the wilds of rascaldom ; for after condemnation there is a deep fixed between society and the criminal, and no man having once crossed over may repass it.
Thus one class of men scem born to a horrible primogeniture of crime ;-brought up in brutality, their senses steeped in want, filth, licentiousness, and all unutterable forms of demoralisation, they excel in wickedness.
They do not, as we said before, monopolise crime ; the ranks of criminals have been recruited by men of talent, education, birth, rank, and possessors of some virtue too ; touch of nature makes the whole world akin,” and that holds true of the evil as well as the good of humanity.
The demoralising process, though carried on under different forms, is essentially the same in all classes.
Life itself is a constant struggle against dissolution, against the tendency to break the combination which holds us together in a visible form. The process of moral decomposition is the ceasing to struggle, to keep thoughts, words, and actions, in a state of coherency-an indulgence of the disposition “ to live at ease a ceasing to hold ourselves in control, or, in the words of the Apostle, ceasing “to live like those who must give an account.' When men have once fallen into this helpless, indolent state, all trouble is odious to them—they have gone so far towards dissolution that the germ, the possibility of crime is developed in them ; their whole nature is softened, and becomes easily tainted by any ill temptation that may
beset them. Great crimes are seldom contemplated afar off ; they are given into by little and little : the current has set in that way, and the man floats along with it, and is ever drifted on towards it, until only the brief space of the actual fact separates him.