Sivut kuvina

posal. But occasionally, and under the pressure of immediate danger, or a strong sense of duty on the part of the public functionaries, they do come out. For example, it was stated by Mr Millar, the head of the Glasgow police, in a letter read at the county meeting of Lanarkshire on 21st January 1843, on the subject of a police for the rural district of that and the adjoining counties, that in the three months immediately preceding that date, ninety-one cases of theft, chiefly by housebreaking, had been reported at the Glasgow policeoffice, committed in the neighbourhood of Glasgow, but beyond the police bounds; and that from his own information, and that of the other officers of his establishment, this number, great as it was, was not a third of the crimes of that description which had actually been committed during that period. On the other hand, it was stated by the Sheriff of the county at the same meeting, that in only fourteen of these ninety-one cases had any trace whatever been got of the delinquents. In other words, the number of instances in which any clue was obtained to the criminals was only fourteen out of 273, or one in twenty nearly. And yet this miserable driblet of one in twenty, exbibits in the criminal returns for Lanarkshire an increase of 75 per cent in seven years, or a duplication in ten.* This instance, to which hundreds of others might be added from all parts of the country, shows how extreme is the illusion of those who lay the flattering unction to their souls, that serious crime is not now more prevalent than it was formerly, but only better brought to light.

In truth, it has long been known, that in consequence of the relaxation of the severity of our criminal code, and the astonishing increase of serious crimes which cannot be passed over, a vast number of criminals are now disposed of in the police courts, and never appear in the criminal returns at all, who, twenty years ago, were deemed felons of the very highest class, and visited often with death, always with transportation. It was stated in Parliament as a subject of

* In a late trial for reset before the Sheriff Criminal Court in Glasgow, it came out in evidence that one hundred and thirty watches were found in the hands of one single resetter, with the numbers altered, or the maker's name effaced, and in twenty-one of these the theft or robbery was proved at the trial; but in not one of the hundred and thirty had the original offenders been apprehended or brought to justice.

complaint against the Lancashire magistrates, that during the insurrection of 1842 in that county, nearly ten thousand persons were imprisoned, and let go after a short confinement, without ever being brought to trial. During the disturbances in the same year, in Lanarkshire and many other counties of Scotland, (especially Ayrshire, Fife, and MidLothian) the accumulation of prisoners was so great, that not only were none detained for trial but those against whom the evidence was altogether conclusive, but that great numbers who had committed capital crimes, and a few years before would infallibly have been transported for fourteen years, were remitted for trial before the summary tribunals, and escaped with a month or two of imprisonment. We are getting on so fast, that nothing is more common now than to see hardened criminals, both in England and Scotland, disposed of by the police magistrates, and for capital crimes receive a few months' imprisonment. Their names and crimes never appear in the returns at all. There is no fault attaches to any one for this seeming laxity. The thing is unavoidable. If the class of cases were all sent to the higher tribunals which formerly were considered as alone to have cognisance of them, the judges, were they twice as numerous as they are, would sit in the criminal courts from one year's end to another, and the jails would still be choked up with untried criminals, numbers of whom would linger for years in confinement.

The Liberal party, in the beginning of the present century, were unanimous in imputing the vast increase of crime to the defects of our criminal law. The nominal severity of that system, it was said, and said justly, with its uncertain punishments and frequent opportunities of escape, afforded in fact a bounty on the commission of crime. Injured parties declined to give information for fear of being bound over to prosecute ; witnesses were reluctant to give evidence, judges caught at legal quibbles, juries violated their oaths, in order to save the accused from a punishment which all felt was disproportioned to the offence; and thus the great object of criminal jurisprudence, certainty of punishment, was entirely defeated. There was much truth in these observations, but much fallacy in the hope that their removal would effect any reduction in the number of offences. The object sought for was carried.

Humane principles were triumphant. The labours of Sir Samuel Romilly and Sir James Mackintosh, aided by the cautious wisdom and experienced ability of Sir R. Peel, produced a total revolution in our criminal jurisprudence. The old stain has been removed: we need no longer fear a comparison with the laws of Draco. For the last fifteen years, so many offences, formerly capital, have had that dreadful penalty removed, that the law in Great Britain, as now practically administered, is probably the mildest in Europe. Death is scarcely ever inflicted except for murder; in cases of housebreaking, or robbery even when attended with personal violence, it is never thought of. The executions in Great Britain now range from twentyfive to thirty-five only a-year, instead of a hundred and fifty or two hundred, which they formerly were.

And what has been the result? Has the promised and expected diminution of crime taken place, in consequence of the increased certainty of punishment, and the almost total removal of all reasonable or conscientious scruples at being concerned in a prosecution ? Quite the reverse. The whole prophecies and anticipations of the Liberal school have been falsified by the result. Crime, so far from declining, has signally increased ; and its progress has never been so rapid as during the last fifteen years, when the lenity of its administration has been at its maximum. An inspection of the returns of serious crimes already given, will completely demonstrate this.

Next, it was said that education would lay the axe to the root of crime ; that ignorance was the parent of vice; and, by diffusing the schoolmaster, you would extinguish the greater part of the wickedness which afflicted society ; that the providing of cheap, innocent, and elevating amusements for the leisure hours of the working-classes, would prove the best antidote to their degrading propensities ; and that then, and then only, would crime really be arrested, when the lamp of knowledge burned in every mechanic's workshop, in every peasant's cottage. The idea was plausible, it was seducing, it was amiable ; and held forth the prospect of general improvement of morals from the enlarged culture of mind. The present generation is generally, it may almost be said universally, imbued with these opinions; and the

efforts accordingly made for the instruction of the workingclasses during the last twenty-five years, have been unprecedented in any former period of our history. What have been the results? Has crime declined in proportion to the spread of education ? Are the best instructed classes the least vicious ? Has eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge diminished the power of the Tempter ? So far from it, the consequences, hitherto at least, have been melancholy and foreboding in the extreme.

The criminal returns of Great Britain and Ireland for the last twenty years, demonstrate that the uneducated criminals are about a third of the whole : in other words, the educated criminals are to the uneducated as two to one.* In Scotland, the educated criminals are about four times the uneducated ; in England, just double ; in Ireland, they are nearly equal. Nay, what is still more remarkable, while the number of uneducated criminals, especially in Scotland, is yearly diminishing, that of educated ones is yearly increasing.t

In France, the criminal returns have for long demonstrated that the amount of crime, in all the eighty-four departments of the monarchy, is just in proportion to the number of educated persons which each contains.

Of the

[ocr errors]

Table showing the instruction of criminals over the British Empire in 1841.

[blocks in formation]

England 9220 13,732 2,253 126 18,171 9,220


2,248 554 42 2,834 696 Ireland ... 7152 3,084 5,631

8,733 7,152 17,068 19,064

8,438 168

29,738 17,068 -PORTER's Progress of the Nation, iii. 201, 214, 215, 232.

+ Table showing the centesimal proportion of crime in relation to education in the under-mentioned years.

Unable to read

or write.




Not ascertained.


1836 1837 1838 1839 1840 1841 1812





2.68 2.18 2.08 2.60 2.45 2.27

100 100 100 100 100 100 100


- Parl. Papers, 5th May 1843. M'CULLOCH, Stat. of Great Britain, i. 476-7.

criminals actually brought before the Courts of Assize, which correspond to our Old Bailey and Circuit Courts, it appears that about four-sevenths are educated, and three-sevenths destitute of any instruction ; * which gives a greater proportion of criminals to the educated than the uneducated class, as three-fifths of the people are wholly uninstructed. + But what is most marvellous of all, the criminal returns of Prussia, the most universally educated country in Europe, where the duty of teaching the young is enforced by law upon parents of every description, and entire ignorance is wholly unknown, show that the proportion of criminals to the entire population is TWELVE TIMES greater than in France, where education of any sort has only been imparted to two-fifths of the community. These facts are startling—they run adverse to many preconceived ideas—they overturn many favourite theories; but they are not the less facts, and it is by facts alone that correct conclusions are to be drawn in regard to human affairs. In America, too, it appears from the criminal returns, many of which, in particular towns and states, are quoted in Buckingham's Travels, that the educated criminals are to the uneducated often as three, generally as two, to one. These facts completely settle the question ; although probably the whole present generation must descend to their graves before the truth on the subject it generally acknowledged.

But to any one who reflects on the principles of human nature, and the moving powers by which it is impelled, whether towards virtue or vice, such a result must appear

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors]
« EdellinenJatka »