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heart, and the conviction of the insecurity of our moral tenure is forced upon us.
If we were all of us to detail candidly our own experience, it would be found that many amongst us (most of us, perhaps,) had retained our fair character and reputation in the world, more from fortunate accidents, a happy concurrence of circumstances, than by any overpowering force of moral strength or clearness of judgment. There are times in the experience of nearly all men, when they have been very near committing some grievous misdeed, which would have cast them down from the high places of respectability; and it may have been a mere point of time, five minutes more or less, which has been the turning-point of their destiny. Things never look like what they really are, at the moment of their being done ; and there are times when we all of us think thoughts and feel inclined to commit actions, from which at ordinary times we should start with dismay and abhorrence. At such a crisis, it is the turning of a straw what we shall become; a look, —a tone,—a casual expression dropped in our hearing, a remembered epithet (though originally applied, it may be, to some quite different subject); nothing, in short, is too weak or trivial to be the means of turning the current of our actions, and saving us from shipwreck as by the breadth of a hair. There are moral casualties as well as physical ones, and AccIDENTs are not confined to breaking one's leg, or being run over by a carriage. It is this consciousness that lies at the bottom of the morbid curiosity about criminals.
The charm of criminal literature, the spell by which it holds us in spite of the revolting of our tastes and habits, is, that it shows the criminal in his human and social relationship ; — the steps by which he was led to the commission of the crime are shewn; the surrounding circumstances are brought to light; the reader is made to feel the moral magnetism of the temptation, and the crime ceases to be the abstract thing it is in the statute-book.
We recognise in the criminal a man like unto ourselves, and we feel a thrilling interest in learning by what steps he came to be an outcast, what temptations, what passions, what necessities brought him into that degraded isolation from us, and we each feel it a relief, a respite as from condemnation on ourselves, when we can stop at points of his history and say—“No, I could not have done so—with that act I can feel no sympathy—I must needs have done otherwise.”
The form in which sympathy with criminals gets manifested is often disgusting enough. There is nothing to be said of pic-nic parties to the scene of a horrid murder; to the relics of hanged scoundrels being sought and paid for at a higher rate than the relics of saints and martyrs were in old times; nor to irreverent, almost blasphemous exhibitions of the “happy death” and “hopeful end " of miscreants, at whose crimes we feel a horror. All that sort of thing is an unutterable abomination; still there must be a cause, it could not exist, except in right of being a genuine sentiment, a protest of the deep sympathy between man and man;–the voice of the universal brotherhood, which makes us all one nature. It is the beginning of a better spirit. Formerly when judicial torture was part of the administration of justice, criminals were not regarded as human beings, they were only an impersonation of evil deeds to be expiated in their person. It was in acqordance with the secret desire of seeing vengeance taken on an evil deed, which lies at the bottom in all human hearts, and the natural cowardice, which, even more than moral reprobation, instigates barbarous punishments ; each one hoped that thereby the evil might be frightened from his own door;-as a farmer nails up a dead kite over his barn, that his poultry may dwell safe under its shadow. Of late the feeling has been gaining ground that no man however bad ought to be put to death. The cowardly selfish impulse which made men formerly anxious to put away criminals, as the most compendious mode of preventing further danger, in the fear lest their own turn should come next, has given place to a better spirit.
Amongst the world's réprouvés, are often found individuals endued with far higher capacities and qualities, both of heart and intellect, than can be boasted by many who have been advanced to high consideration amongst the world's respectable children. It is always to the last a question, whether a man endowed with strong positive qualities shall become a scoundrel or a hero ;-for positive qualities always cut both ways, and unless there be great sagacity to guide them, it is a great chance whether the actions that spring from them will be wise or foolish. It is not the accident of a crime committed that makes a man a reprobate—a man's actions are only the tangible symptom and manifestation of the moral element in which he habitually dwells, which is the standard of what he really is, for a man is always greater both for better and worse, than anything he actually does. It may chance that the crime, the act, by which a man throws himself into collision with society, may be far less wicked than the previous silent, unobserved demoralisation in which his life has glided on;–it is that previous course of demoralisation that is fearful, that is fatal; —the accident of the crime which crowns the whole, is a symptom of the extent to which the moral deterioration has arrived, it is only the natural expression of a condition that has gone on unchecked and unheeded day after day. An act of crime has not unfrequently arisen from an incongruous display of better qualities, not worked out into stedfast principles; nor yet choked up, nor altogether stifled;—but acting in random impulses;–grains of gold that have not amalgamated with the baser material, and although precious in themselves, causing weakmess and failure by their want of unity and coherence. But that is as it may be.—Jonathan Wild, who is an authority on such matters, used to declare, that most men were ruined by not being wicked enough when they were about it: we only insist on the fact, that what is seen in action, is only a symptom of the inner life, from which it is thrown forth; as the Apostle says, “the things which are seen are not made from those which do appear.” There is an unfathomable depth of indolence lying at the bottom of the deep heart of man, in which the Mystery of Iniquity, and all the other Mysteries of Humanity, have their root. Whatever may be said of self-INTEREST as the moving spring of all men's actions, it is only true to a small extent; men are much more immediately influenced by their convenience than their interest. That which men find very inconvenient to do, can never arouse their sympathy or enthusiasm;-men are slow to believe their interest can lie in what is troublesome. In that sneaking, indolent sensualism, that tendency to what is convenient, easiest,-done at the moment, lies the germ of all crime; it is the element in which depravity developes itself; the rank, steaming hot-bed of all that is vile and refuse in Humanity. Physiologists say that an organ which has once got decayed, has a tendency to continue to perform its functions wrong (the mere force of habit) long after the disorder is remedied; the same tendency is seen through the whole economy. Men go on in a certain course, because they have begun;–theimpetus of one day throws them into the next ;-circumstances grow out of each other;-men are carried along by an imperceptible current, set in from their own previous acts, and they have no force in themselves to turn aside their course. “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 the 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 1
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 steal ; 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 lie 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 o 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