Images de page

middle of the seventeenth century. The court in Newgate, now called the press yard, derives its name from having been the place in which the "peine forte et dure” was inflicted.

As additional evidence of the sanguinary character of the English penal code, and the unjust inequality between crime and punishment, we insert the opinions of two moderate politicians, both eminently qualified to give a sound judgment on this question : "Among the variety of actions," said Sir John Anstruther, in a speech he delivered in the House of Commons in 1811, “that men are daily liable to commit, no less than two hundred have been declared by act of parliament to be felonies without benefit of clergy, or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death.

When we inquire into the nature of the crimes of which this dreadful catalogue is composed, we shall find it to contain transgressions which scarcely deserve corporal punishment; we shall find it to omit atrocious enormities, and so to blend all distinctions of guilt, as to inflict the same punishment on the offender who steals to the amount of a few shillings in a shop, as upon the malefactor who murders his father."

Mr. Roscoe, in his tract on Penal Jurisprudence, has the following remarks : “To commit a murder,ếor to free a person froma arrest ; to burn a dwelling-house and its inhabitants,-or to burn a hay-stack; to commit a parricide-or to obstruct a revenue-officer in the seizure of prohibited goods; to break into a dwelling-house at midnight,--or to cut down or otherwise destroy a tree in a garden ; to poison a family,--or to wound or maim a cow; all these offences,” continues our author, liable to the same punishment-death.”

Notwithstanding the extreme severity of the penal code, crime has been more prevalent in England than in any other country, a convincing proof that the severity of punishment defeats its own object. When offences, comparatively trifling, are declared by law to be capital crimes, parties injured will not prosecute, witnesses will not give evidence, juries will not convict, and judges will not condemn. The result has a two-fold bad effect, first, on society at large, secondly, on the individual culprit. In the former case, public justice is mocked at by the escape of the offender, and the law rendered a dead letter. In the second case, the offender himself, deriding the impotency of justice, and buoyed up by a false confidence, proceeds from petty misdemeanours to flagrant crimes, and at last terminates his career on the scaffold. But if punishments were milder and more fairly proportioned to the injury inflicted, juvenile delinquents would be arrested in their career, by suffering some mitigated form of chastisement, for it is now generally agreed that the certainty of punishment is infinitely more efficacious than the severity.

Nor is this the only evil of a sanguinary penal code. It has a direct tendency to kindle the most cruel and ferocious passions in all who are disposed to violate the law, and convert a thief into a murderer. Suppose


a highwayman to stop a traveller on the road and demand his money. He knows perfectly well that, if he is detected, he will be hanged; therefore, self-preservation renders it necessary for him to take the life, as well as the property of his victim. Now, if the law affixed a minor punishment to simple robbery on the highway, the great probability is, that motives of humanity would induce the highwayman ,to abstain from imbruing his hands in blood. But is it rational to suppose that, after having committed the first offence, he would hesitate to secure his own personal safety by perpetrating the blacker crime? We are firmly of opinion, that, except in cases where the offender is of an extremely vicious and merciless disposition, very few individuals robbed on the highway would also be murdered, but so long as the same punishment is affixed to both crimes, there can be very little chance of escape; for the highwayman, having to make the choice of two evils, either of sacrificing his victim or placing his own life in jeopardy, very naturally elects the alternative which conduces most to his own advantage. It is clearly against his interest to be merciful, for the person robbed may, at some future date, identify and bring him to the gallows. Is it not, then, clear that this injudicious severity of the penal code, and the disproportion between crime and punishment, operates as a direct incentive to murder! Does not the case we have supposed, to illustrate our argument, exemplify the common saying familiar to every wrong-doer, “I may as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb."

England, who proudly puts herself forward in the van of civilization, has lagged behind the continental nations in the cause of humanity. Leopold, grand duke of Tuscany, imbibed the principles of Beccaria, and abolished the punishment of death throughout his dominions, in 1786. Frederick the Great abolished it in Prussia. It was put an end to in Austria by the emperor Joseph ; and discontinued at Geneva in 1756, and in Sweden in 1773. Even in barbarous Russia there is no capital punishment for any crime but treason, and the mildness of the criminal code has no doubt tended to hasten the civilization of that country, for it is certain that frequent public exhibitions of spilling human blood engenders a ferocious and demoralizing spirit among the populace.

All crime is the offspring of the animal passions and the animal principles of action. These can only be regulated and controlled by the rational principles of action. As prevention is in all cases belter that cure, it becomes our legislators to inquire, whether an extensive system of national education would not prove more efficacious in repressing crime than a sanguinary penal code. Beccaria is of opinion, that no government has a right to punish its own subjects, unless it has previously taken care to instruct them in the knowledge of the laws and the duties of public and private life. The strong mind of William Penn grasped at both these objects, and provisions to secure their attainment were interwoven with his system of punishments. His laws enjoined all parents and guardians

10 instruct the children under their care, so as to enable them to read and write the Scriptures at the time they arrived at twelve years of age ; and he further directed that a copy of the laws (at that time simple and concise) should be used as a school book. Similar provisions were introduced into the laws of Connecticut, and the select men were ordered to see that “none suffer so much barbarism in their families, as to want such learning and instruction.” The children were to be “ taught the laws against capital offences," as those at Rome were accustomed to commit the twelve tables to memory. These were regulations in the pure spirit of a virtuous republic, which, considering the youth as the property of the stale, does not permit a parent to bring up a child in ignorance.

It is the custom in all existing schools to teach children the catechism, the creed, and the more prominent articles of the Christian faith. So far as this instruction goes, it deserves every praise, but the preceptor is too apt to think that this constitutes his whole duty. Herein we apprehend consists a most fatal error, for it is far from sufficient to instil into the minds of youth a knowledge of the forms and ceremonies of religion. Children ought to be made, in early life, to imbibe the fundamental principles of Christianity, and apply them to all that they read of in history, and to all that they may observe of the current affairs of the day. For what is the test of true greatness in a Christian mind? It is loving our neighbour as ourselves, and doing unto others that which we would have others do unto us. The Christian scholar ought to study history in this spirit, and then he would be able to distinguish the real benefactors of the human race from those who have usurped their place. Kings and military conquerors would then sink into insignificance and contempt, while poets and philosophers who have enlightened the human mind, navigators who have discovered unknown worlds, and mechanics who have invented useful tools, would become the only models for imitation. . What were Cæsar and Alexander compared with Columbus and Cook? What value to society were all the knights of Christendom compared with a Davey, an Arkwright, and a Watt? The fame of the one class depends on their having shed blood in torrents ; the glory of the other class is based on having opened new and inexhaustible sources of human happiness. Which is more worthy of the attention of a Christian pupil in a Christian seminary? In this mode, education ought to proceed, for knowledge, thus conveyed, assumes at once a practical character and the reasoning faculties are at once developed. Habits of early reflection are thus formed, and the child, instead of halting on the threshold, begins to see not only the right and wrong of actions, but the proximate and remote consequences of actions, and is thus, from the dawn of reason, habituated to test every character, and every opinion, and every deed, by the only unerring standard -the religion of Christ.

We are decidedly of opinion that national education is the proper duty

[ocr errors]

of the state. Every child, being an infant citizen, about to become useful or injurious to his country, has a clear right to be instructed in his future duties, and if the legislature refuses or neglects to train the youth of the nation up in virtue, we contend that they act most tyrannically if they hang them, when men, for their vices. Parliament vote annually large sums of money for the support of naval and military academies : we do not blame them for the encouragement thus given to the future armed force of the country; but why not extend this principle, and maintain schools for the instruction of the future civil force of the countrythe children of mechanics and labourers ? The judges are paid high salaries to pronounce sentence on criminals; why not pay a competent remuneration to persons qualified to teach youth to abstain from crime? Millions have been expended to erect gaols ; why not devote an equal amount to building schools? But, alas ! the rulers of nations have paid scarcely any attention to the moral and intellectual culture of the population : they have reared the people as savages, and then punished them for not being civilized; they have familiarized them with the sight of public executions, and then reproached them with being lawless and blood-thirsty; they have neglected to cultivate the rational principles of action, and then hanged their citizens for obeying the impulses of the animal passions.

Criminal jurisprudence has been hitherto founded on a complete per. version of justice. We define justice to be the reciprocal interchange of equivalents. The sportsman breaks in his dog before he expects him to find game; the huntsman trains his horse before he rides him in the chase;

the farmer tills and dresses his land before he expects to reap & crop. Now all these operations are educational, and they involve the idea of justice. Without the previous labour, no beneficial result could be obtained, nor is any indeed ever expected by the sportsman, the huntsman, or the farmer. They might, in fact, as rationally expect that the effect would precede the cause. Why then should we not apply similar principles to human nature? Why should we not recognize the injustice of demanding good order from the ignorant, without teaching them their duties? And if we do admit the injustice of such a system, why not forthwith and energetically insist on the legislature establishing a solid and comprehensive plan of national education ?

We have more than once heard a criminal, after sentence, remonstrate with the judge against the infliction of punishment, defending himself on the plea of being ignorant of the law; to which the judges invariably reply: “You were bound to know the law," an answer which we have always felt as most taunting and most unfeeling. How are these poor wretches to learn a system, which it requires the undivided study of a long life to comprehend? And when the judges pronounce sentence, they usually tell the culprit that “he is unfit to live in this world, and must

forthwith prepare for another;" a sentiment most unchristian, as if men too sinful to remain in this wicked world, were in a condition to be launched into eternity.

That severity of punishment is inoperative to repress crime is no new doctrine. It was lamented by the great Lord Coke, in his days. We must endeavour to take away the motives and inducements to crime, by diffusing knowledge, and thus raising the moral standard of the people. We shall close these brief remarks by citing the opinion of Lord Coke, introduced into the Epilogue to his Third Institute.

"True it is that we have found, by woful experience, that it is not frequent punishment that doth prevent like offences; Melior est enim Justitia veré præveniens, quam severe puniens, agreeing with the rule of the physician, for the safety of the body, Præstat cautela, quam medela; and it is a certain rule, that, videbis ea sæpe committi, quæ sæpe vindicantur, those offences are often committed which are often punished ; for the frequency of the punishment makes it so familiar, as it is not feared. For example, what a lamentable case it is to see so many Christian men and women strangled on that cursed tree of the gallows ? insomuch, as if in a large field a man might see together all the Christians that, but in one year, throughout England, came to that untimely and ignominious death if there were any spark of grace or charity in him, it would make his heart to bleed for pity and compassion. But the consideration of this preventing justice were worthy of the wisdom of parliament ; and in the mean time expert and wise men to make preparation for the same, as the text saith, Ut benedicat eis Dominus. Blessed shall he be that layeth the first stone of the building, more blessed that proceeds in it, most of all that finisheth it, to the glory of God, and the honour of our king and nation.”



If, after the lapse of eighteen centuries, the truth may be published without offence, a philosopher might, in the following terms, censure Cæsar without calumniating him, and applaud him without exciting his blushes.

Cæsar had one predominant passion,-it was the love of glory; and he passed forty years of his life in seeking opportunities to foster and encourage it. His soul, entirely absorbed in ambition, did not open itself to other impulses. He cultivated letters, but he did not love them with enthusiasm, because he had not leisure to become the first orator of Rome. He corrupted the one half of the Roman ladies, but his heart had no concern in the fiery ardour of his senses. In the arms of Cleopatra, he thought of Pompey; and this singular man, who disdained to have a partner in the empire of the world, would have blushed to have been for one instant the slave of a woman.

« PrécédentContinuer »