THE next morning I communicated to my wife and children the scheme I ha_lanned of reforming the prisoners, which they received with universa_isapprobation, alleging the impossibility and impropriety of it; adding, tha_y endeavors would no way contribute to their amendment, but might probabl_isgrace my calling.
"Excuse me," returned I, "these people, however fallen, are still men, an_hat is a very good title to my affections. Good counsel rejected returns t_nrich the giver's bosom; and though the instruction I communicate may no_end them, yet it will assuredly mend myself. If these wretches, my children,
were princes, there would be thousands ready to offer their ministry; but i_y opinion the heart that is buried in a dungeon is as precious as that seate_pon a throne. Yes, my treasures, if I can mend them I will; perhaps they wil_ot all despise me. Perhaps I may catch up even one from the gulf, and tha_ill be great gain; for is there upon earth a gem so precious as the huma_oul ?"
Thus saying, I left them and descended to the common prison, where I found th_risoners very merry, expecting my arrival; and each prepared with some gao_rick to play upon the doctor. Thus, as I was going to begin, one turned m_ig awry, as if by accident, and then asked my pardon. A second, who stood a_ome distance, had a knack of spitting through his teeth, which fell i_howers upon my book. A third would cry "amen" in such an affected tone a_ave the rest great delight. A fourth had slily picked my pocket of m_pectacles. But there was one whose trick gave more universal pleasure tha_ll the rest; for, observing the manner in which I had disposed of my books o_he table before me, he very dexterously displaced one of them, and put a_bscene jest-book of his own in the place. However, I took no notice of al_hat this mischievous group of little beings could do, but went on, perfectl_ensible that what was ridiculous in my attempt would excite mirth only th_irst or second time, while what was serious would be permanent. My desig_ucceeded, and in less than six days some were patient and all attentive.
It was now that I applauded my perseverance and address, at thus givin_ensibility to wretches divested of every moral feeling, and now began t_hink of doing them temporal services also, by rendering their situatio_omewhat more comfortable. Their time had hitherto been divided between famin_nd excess, tumultuous riot and bitter repining. Their only employment wa_uarrelling-among each other, playing at cribbage, and cutting tobacco-
stoppers. From this last mode of idle industry I took the hint of setting suc_s chose to work at cutting pegs for tobacconists and shoemakers, the prope_ood being bought by a general subscription, and when manufactured, sold by m_ppointment; so that each earned something every day-a trifle, indeed, bu_ufficient to maintain him. I did not stop here, but instituted fines for th_unishment of immorality, and rewards for peculiar industry. Thus, in les_han a fortnight, I had formed them into something social and humane, and ha_he pleasure of regarding myself as a legislator, who had brought men fro_heir native ferocity into friendship and obedience.
And it were highly to be wished, that the legislative power would thus direc_he law rather to reformation than severity. That it would seem convinced tha_he work of eradicating crimes is not by making punishment familiar, bu_ormidable. Then, instead of our present prisons, which find or make me_uilty, which enclose wretches for the commission of one crime, and retur_hem, if returned alive, fitted for the perpetration of thousands; we shoul_ee, as in other parts of Europe, places of penitence and solitude, where th_ccused might be attended by such as could give them repentance if guilty, o_ew motives to virtue if innocent. And this, but not the increasin_unishments, is the way to mend a state; nor can I avoid even questioning th_alidity of that right which social combinations have assumed of capitall_unishing offences of a slight nature. In cases of murder their right i_bvious, as it is the duty of us all, from the law of selfdefence, to cut of_hat man who has shown a disregard for the life of another. Against such al_ature rises in arms; but it is not so against him who steals my property.
Natural law gives me no right to take away his life, as by that the horse h_teals is as much his property as mine. If, then, I have any right, it must b_rom a compact made between us, that he who deprives the other of his hors_hall die. But this is a false compact, because no man has a right to barte_is life any more than to take it away, as it is not his own. And besides, th_ompact is inadequate, and would be set aside even in a court of moder_quity, as there is a great penalty for a very trifling convenience, since i_s far better that two men should live than that one man should ride. But _ompact that is false between two men is equally so between a hundred or _undred thousand; for as ten millions of circles can never make a square, s_he united voice of myriads cannot lend the smallest foundation to falsehood.
It is thus that reason speaks, and untutored nature says the same thing.
Savages that are directed by natural law alone are very tender of the lives o_ach other; they seldom shed blood but to retaliate former cruelty.
Our Saxon ancestors, fierce as they were in war, had but few executions i_imes of peace; and in all commencing governments that have the print o_ature still strong upon them, scarcely any crime is held capital.
It is among the citizens of a refined community that penal laws, which are i_he hands of the rich, are laid upon the poor. Government, while it grow_lder, seems to acquire the moroseness of age; and as if our property wer_ecome dearer in proportion as it increased; as if the more enormous ou_ealth, the more extensive our fears, all our possessions are paled up wit_ew edicts every day, and hung. round with gibbets to scare every invader.
I cannot tell whether it is from the number of our penal laws, or th_icentiousness of our people, that this country should show more convicts in _ear than half the dominions of Europe united. Perhaps it is owing to both,
for they mutually produce each other. When, by indiscriminate penal laws, _ation beholds the same punishment affixed to dissimilar degrees of guilt,
from perceiving no distinction in the penalty, the people are led to lose al_ense of distinction in the crime, and this distinction is the bulwark of al_orality: thus the multitude of laws produce new vices, and new vices call fo_resh restraints.
It were to be wished, then, that power, instead of contriving new laws t_unish vice, instead of drawing hard the cords of society till a convulsio_ome to burst them, instead of cutting away wretches as useless before we hav_ried their utility, instead of converting correction into vengeance, it wer_o be wished that we tried the restrictive arts of government, and made la_he protector, but not the tyrant of the people. We should then find tha_reatures, whose souls are held as dross, only wanted the hand of a refiner;
we should then find that creatures now stuck up for long tortures, lest luxur_hould feel a momentary pang, might, if properly treated, serve to sinew th_tate in times of danger; that as their faces are like ours, their hearts ar_o too; that few minds are so base as that perseverance cannot amend; that _an may see his last crime without dying for it; and that very little bloo_ill serve to cement our security.