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RESPONSIBILITY OF CRIMINALS
Mano, who has examined the matter very carefully, found the proportion 77 per cent., and by taking into consideration a large range of abnormal characters in the parents, the proportion of criminals with bad heredity rose to 90 per cent. He found that an unusually large proportion of the parents had died from cerebrospinal diseases and from phthisis. Sichard, examining nearly 4000 German criminals in the prison of which he is Director, found an insane, epileptic, suicidal, and alcoholic heredity in 36·8 per cent. incendiaries, 32'2 per cent. thieves, 28.7 per cent. sexual offenders, 23.6 per cent. sharpers. Penta found, among the parents of 184 criminals, only 4 to 5 per cent. who were quite healthy.":
We do not know much of the family history of the villain Guido, but we know that his mother was a dragon, and his brother Girolamo a bad, licentious man. He had his notions about heredity too, and thought his faults were not his own, as he did not make himself. How far was he right, if right at all? "Legal opinion and practice as regards the responsibility of criminals for their acts are not in accord with the teachings of medical science."2 Mr. Justice Brett once said, on a trial for murder," "The man may be mad. I assume that he is so in the medical
1 The Criminal, pp. 92, 93.
2 Woodman and Tidy, Forensic Medicine, p. 871.
SUPREMACY OF CONSCIENCE
sense of the term; but the question here is, whether he is so mad as to be absolved from the consequences of what he has done? He is not so absolved, though he is mad, if he be not so mad as not to know what he was doing, or not to know that he was doing wrong." This common-sense principle of our law is no doubt a far safer one for the community than the more scientific medical view. In the poem Halbert and Hob, the story of which we have told above, the poet makes Halbert hear the voice of conscience speaking in his heart. The son, warned by the father, relaxes his hold of the old man's throat. Heredity and insanity notwithstanding, the Divine Monitor made itself heard in these degraded souls, and the supremacy of conscience was vindicated in both cases. Browning intends to teach us here that the moral sense asserts itself in the most degenerate souls.
Nor can we study the case of Count Guido and his ingenious defence, full of casuistry and fox-like cleverness, without recognizing that had he bent his mind to virtue as he had devoted his abilities to evil and selfishness, he could have extricated himself from the bondage of his heredity. The question arises, how far we can justify the ways of God to man when we know that mortals are hourly born into the world so heavily handicapped in their physical and mental constitutions that they are bound to succumb to
OUR INNER SENSE
temptation and fail in life's race. Is any one not actually insane-and such a one by the hypothesis would not be likely to argue about it-justified in believing that "he is as completely the result of his nature, and impelled to do what he does as the needle turns to the pole, or the puppet obeys the pull of the string "? Has God the right, according to our best human judgment, to send into the world those who are as certain to break the moral law as the elements are certain to obey the natural law? We cannot imagine that a just God would act thus; the question is, has the God in whom we believe actually done anything of the sort ? We must not skip difficulties. Browning never does that. He declares that in every man there is an eye instructed by an inner sense to distinguish the light of heaven from the dark of hell, and that the worst man living has a conscience that tells him what right is, though he may never obey it.1 The obscuration of that light, and the hardening of the heart against that voice, are the acts of the man and not the fault of God. That heredity may hinder us is true enough; it is not less true that heredity on the whole helps us far more than it impedes. If the good and bad traits of the parent were not transmitted to the child, every one born into the world would have to start the business of 1 Christmas Eve.
HOW HEREDITY HELPS
life on his own account, without any capitalized experience. There could be no such thing as progress. We should have to learn everything afresh, and every child would be worse off intellectually than the child of prehistoric man. A child may be a congenital idiot, but then he is not a responsible being, and has a claim on the sympathy and charity of the world. He may by the fault or affliction of his parents be the subject of epilepsy and other diseases which tend to weaken if not destroy his responsibility. Browning does not discuss exceptional, pathological cases like these, which after all are, for practical purposes, a negligible quantity in the argument. Short of actual mental disease, we have to face the problem how far the descent of bad tendencies from parent to child affects that person's position before his Creator. Browning says, admitting the hereditary tendency to evil, which may sometimes amount to a double dose of original sin, there is for compensation in every one a supernatural monitor warning and enlightening us" a reason out of nature" to turn hard hearts soft.1
1 Halbert and Hob.
"Is it proper to pray?" asks St. Thomas Aquinas, and in answering the question he says: "We must so lay down the utility of prayer as neither to attribute any fatality to the course of human history, subject as it is to Providence ; nor, again, reckon the divine arrangement to be alterable." God is All-wise, All-good, Allmighty.
"How then should man, the all-unworthy, dare
Yet man -the foolish, weak, and wicked—pray! Urges 'My best were better, didst Thou know!"">2 This is a fair example of the popular objection to prayer made by those who have no claim to tell us what prayer really is. No thoughtful Christian desires to substitute his will for God's, nor does prayer consist merely in begging from the Supreme some coveted boon.
1 Summa, Pt. II.—II., Qu. lxxxiii., Art 2.