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Divine law of the elimination of the unfit. And while it is both our privilege and our duty to modify and check the operation of that law in the case not only of the weak but of the wicked, it is no less our duty to respect the great purpose which underlies it. Medical skill, for example, saves unnumbered lives that Nature would claim as a prey, but Nature exacts a relentless vengeance if we permit the diseased or the feeble in mind or body to spread infection or to propagate their kind.
But this is a digression. If men would study the Mosaic law unbiassed by the prejudice which malice or ignorance is apt to raise in the religious sphere, they would discover that it is not only the most equitable but the most merciful code of ancient or modern times; for, unlike our 'Christian' code, which is based on pagan precedents, it is permeated by severity toward the wicked, but by mercy toward the weak. It is wholly free from the imbecility which marks our punishment of crime system. It deals with the offender and not with the offence. And as the result chance crimes, the outcome of sudden temptation or untoward circumstances, were treated with a leniency wholly unknown to English law until very recent times; but stern severity was meted out to the deliberate or high-handed offender. The doom of the Sabbath-breaker is the typical instance given us of a high-handed offence (Numbers xv. 30, 32). Regarded per se the act of gathering firewood on the Sabbath was a trivial offence, and if committed ignorantly it would have been met by a public acknowledgment; for such is the significance of the ritual prescribed in a preceding verse (v. 27). But here there is no suggestion of ignorance or mistake. With full knowledge that Sabbath observance was the law of the commonwealth the man deliberately and ostentatiously broke that law before all the people. It was not a case of refusing to do what violated conscience, but of deliberately setting himself against the law and trampling on it. It was in fact an offence of the type which, if tolerated, would make civil society impossible. But, let theorists judge of it as they please, the fact remains that this code, which decreed the death of the deliberate law-breaker, was sanctioned by Christ in His teaching. Certain it is, therefore, that there is nothing un-Christian in adopting drastic measures of repression for criminals of the class for whom the Prevention of Crime Bill was framed.
The humanity-mongers may here seek to excite an ignorant prejudice by picturing the horrors of having people put to death after every Sabbath for gathering firewood on the day of rest. But not another instance of the kind is recorded in the Pentateuch. As already noticed, the act, if committed inadvertently or in ignorance, was treated with leniency as marked as was the severity meted out to the anarchist who offended deliberately and on principle.
The effect of such a law, intelligently and firmly administered is to suppress the crimes against which it is directed. When dining with some American gentlemen one evening in the year after the Chicago Exhibition they told me there had been 2000 homicides in that city during the year; and they questioned me about such crimes in London. I reminded them that the population of London was more than three times as large as that of Chicago ; 'and yet,' I added, “we have not so many crimes.' I asked them what number of murders they would expect in a population of over 6,000,000. After discussing the matter together for some time they suggested 300 to 400. They were absolutely incredulous when I told them that during my official life at Scotland Yard the annual number of murders in the Metropolis was from twelve to twenty. That conversation reached America, and soon afterwards I received a letter from a well-known public man asking me if it was correctly reported, and what explanation I could offer of such extraordinary facts. And a similar application was made to me later by one of the learned societies. I replied that London, like Chicago, harboured a horde of the worst criminals in the world, but that it differed from Chicago in that we had an efficient police, and that a murderer, if apprehended, was brought to trial expeditiously, and if condemned was sent to the gallows speedily and with certainty. What other explanation can possibly be offered of the fact that in this huge province of brick, which contains thousands of the riffraff of the world, life is safer than in any other large city in Christendom?
And a law which adjudged the death penalty to the professional burglar would not greatly increase the labours of the hangman, but it would put an end to the trade of the burglar. And the effect of the death sentence would be far more efficacious in suppressing burglary than in preventing murder ; for while murders are due to hate, or to some wilder passion, not uncommonly inflamed by drink, crimes against property are committed only for gain; and a 'good burglar ' must be sober and cool-headed. Not one murder in a dozen, moreover, is deliberate in the full sense in which that term may be applied to every burglary committed by a professional. And this explains why in the case of the burglar no reversion to the death sentence is needed. In adopting crime as his profession ‘he calculates and accepts its risks. If then its risks be so increased as to outweigh its advantages he will not become reckless and desperate, as hysterical humanitarians suppose, but he will give up the business. As Mr. Gladstone said in commending his Bill to Parliament, ‘our object is to prove to these men that a life of crime will not pay.'
The whole passage is well worth quoting. Here it is :
We do not anticipate that the mere withdrawal of habitual criminals will have a sensible influence on crime. We attach more importance to the deterrent effect of the powers given by this Bill. Men of the class for whose benefit this Rill is designed are usually skilled and competent, and if they think fit they
will have no difficulty in earning an honest livelihood. Our object is to prove to these men that a life of crime will not pay.
As I have already shown, the effect of the statute, as distinguished from the Bill, is to prove to these men more plainly than ever that crime will pay. The professional criminal of the doctrinaire humanitarian is a poor wretch whom a hard world has forced into a career of crime. But the real professional is correctly described by the Home Secretary's words. And when Mr. Gladstone disparaged the effect which would be produced by the withdrawal' of these men, his object was probably to bring the deterrent value of his scheme into stronger relief. The number of really skilled professionals is ludicrously small. Upon one occasion during my Home Office days something went amiss with the key of the office safe in one of our large convict prisons, and when search was made among the convicts for a 'cracksman' to open the lock the only man who could be found to undertake the job was a fellow who had worked in a safe-maker's factory. The ordinary burglar could no more open a safe than he could forge a bank note; and the ordinary thief who roams the streets at night is quite incapable of breaking into a house that is properly secured. The men who have the dexterity needed for offences of this kind are few in number; they are well known to the police ; an it stands to reason that the operation of the Prevention of Crime Bill would in a few years have secured for us immunity from their crimes. The dangers of the battle-field do not hinder men from becoming soldiers; but if war involved the death of all engaged in it enlistment would cease. And so here, the chance of a term of imprisonment will not deter those who love adverture and hate work from taking to a criminal career. But make it clear to such men that persistence in crime will involve a permanent loss of liberty, and they will become 'moral by Act of Parliament.'
I have enforced and exemplified this in my previous articles on this subject, and in my book entitled Criminals and Crime; and a reference to what I have there written will show that, so far from my being opposed to humane treatment even for outlaws, the provision of an asylum prison for them is precisely the scheme I have been advocating for years. My protest against the Prevention of Crime Act is that it eliminates from the scheme the very element which alone would make it efficacious and therefore justifiable, the element, namely, of indeterminate detention. The professional criminal, I believe, could thus be suppressed.
But the clock has been put back by the recent legislation. The reforms which justice and reason demand will be delayed by the passing of this unfortunate enactment. It is merely a question of delay, however; and the delay would matter little were it not that the maudlin sentiment excited on behalf of these outlaws by their friends the sham humanitarians diverts attention from the case of
unfortunate offenders of a different type, our treatment of whom is a
a disgrace to modern civilisation. If the professional unemployed received their due-starvation and the lash--the workless workers and the deserving poor generally would come by their own. And so here, if the professional criminals were eliminated the public might be induced to consider the case of the wretched victims of our punishment of crime system, who constitute the mass of our prison population.
Among all who speak with authority on the crime problem my proposals for the elimination of the professional criminal have received unqualified approval. But the reforms I advocate for the amelioration of the lot of prisoners generally are regarded by many as extreme and impracticable. And yet I am confident that such reforms will not be long delayed. The need of them is increased every day by legislation like the Children's Act of last year, which adds to the long list of petty statutory offences of a non-criminal kind. Such offenders are still to be committed to gaols which are not deemed good enough for the professionals. And while for the gallows-birds of the Prevention of Crime Act new quarters are about to be erected in the Isle of Wight, the victims of the short sentence system—that delight of the sham philanthropists—are kennelled in cells which ought to be used only for the punishment of the idle and the refractory. Drastic reforms are needed both in prison-building and in the treatment of prisoners; and the fiasco of the new statute may be made the starting point of a new crusade for their accomplishment.
OUR CONSCRIPTS AT CRÉCY
EVEN in the aristocratic Froissart's narrative the real heroes of Crécy are the archers. They stood like a wall; their shafts pierced steel plates, brought down horse and man in helpless confusion, and cleared the way for certain rascals that went afoot with long knives, and slew and murdered many as they lay on the ground, both earls, barons, knights, and esquires.' The whole affair seems clearer than daylight to us who read of it now in our arm-chairs ; and we scarcely pause to waste a moment's pity on the French knights who charged so valiantly up that hillside, only to be met again and again by those withering volleys, and at last to have their throats ignominiously cut by the Welsh footmen. These poor benighted Frenchmen, we feel, suffered only the inexorable penalty of their own folly; they might have known, as we all know from our cradles, how irresistible was the English archery. And yet, even among well-read Englishmen of the present day, few could give any definite answer to the question : 'How did Edward the Third bring this irresistible force of archery to Crécy, and combine it so skilfully with his mailed chivalry and his light infantry, while Philippe de Valois commanded only a mob of feudal levies, untrained townsfolk, and foreign mercenaries ?' The general impression seems to be that England, the land of manliness and liberty, produced archers by some sort of spontaneous generation. It was natural they should grow with us, and not in France, just as mushrooms spring up in one field rather than in another; let us, therefore, thank God for creating us in His own image as Englishmen, and for decreeing that we need never train for war, but shall always ' muddle through all right'! Such was the leading thought of that speech in which the late Lord Salisbury, by a double blunder, exhorted the nation to imitate the volunteer archers of Crécy and the volunteer riflemen of modern Switzerland. Such, again, was the ruling idea of that Oxford tutor and military specialist who argued that Crécy was won, not by English organisation, but by the longbow; as though that historic weapon had been warranted, like Mr. Winkle’s gun, to go off of its own accord and kill something'! The last eight years, however, have seen a healthy change in public opinion. The British public is more willing now to