CHAPTER XIII. PROSECUTIONS AND PRESCRIPTIONS.Where there is no capital punishment, as in Michigan, a man’s innocence may be discovered subsequently to conviction, and justice done to him for the error of the law. Such a case actually happened not long ago in Michigan, where a prisoner’s innocence was clearly proved after ten years’ imprisonment. Where capital punishment exists, there is no such hope; nor is there any remedy if, as in the case of Lewis, who was hung in 1831, another man thirty-three years afterwards confesses himself the murderer. It is impossible to preclude all chances of such errors of justice. Illustrative of this is the story of the church organist near Kieff, who murdered a farmer with a pistol he stole from a priest. After his crime he placed the pistol in the sacristy, and then, when he had prevented the priest from giving evidence against him by the act of confession, went and denounced the priest as the culprit. The priest, in spite of his protestations of innocence, was sentenced to hard labour for life; and when, twenty years afterwards, the organist confessed his guilt on his deathbed, and the priest’s liberation was applied for, it was found that he had died only a few months before.
CHAPTER XIV. CRIMINAL ATTEMPTS, ACCOMPLICES, IMPUNITY.CHAPTER XL. OF THE TREASURY.
CHAPTER XIX. THE PROMPTNESS OF PUNISHMENTS.
It is not easy in the days of a milder administration of penal laws than a century ago the most sanguine could have dreamed of to do full justice to those who laboured, as Beccaria and his friends did, at the peril of their lives and liberties, for those very immunities which we now enjoy. We cannot conceive that it should ever have been necessary to argue against torture, or that it should have been a bold thing to do so; still less can we conceive that it should ever have had its defenders, or that men should have been contented with the sophism, that it was indeed an evil, but an evil which was necessary and inevitable.
Need it be said that the House of Lords paused, as they were entreated to do, and that they paused and paused again, in a manner more suggestive of the full stop than the comma, generally out of deference to the same authority? Romilly was indignant that so many prelates voted against his bills; but could they have done otherwise, when the best legal authorities in England urged that it would be fatal to vote for them?—when they were gravely told that if a certain bill passed, they would not know whether they stood on their heads or on their feet?
The voice of a philosopher is too feeble against the noise and cries of so many followers of blind custom, but the few wise men scattered over the face of the earth will respond to me from their inmost hearts; and, amid the many obstacles that keep it from a monarch, should truth perchance arrive in spite of him at his throne, let him know that it comes there attended by the secret wishes of all men; let him know that before his praises the bloody fame of conquerors will be silenced, and that posterity, which is just, will assign him the foremost place among the pacific triumphs of a Titus, an Antonine, or a Trajan.They who have thought that the criminal’s intention was the true measure of crimes were in the wrong. For the intention depends on the actual impression of things upon a man, and on his precedent mental disposition, things which vary in all men and in each man, according to the very rapid succession of his ideas, his passions, and his circumstances. It would, therefore, be necessary to form not only a particular code for each citizen, but a fresh law for every crime. Sometimes with the best intentions men do the greatest evil to society; and sometimes with the very worst they do it the greatest good.CHAPTER XVIII. INFAMY.
The following letter by Beccaria to the Abbé Morellet in acknowledgment of the latter’s translation of his treatise is perhaps the best introduction to the life and character of the author. The letter in question has been quoted by Villemain in proof of the debt owed by the Italian literature of the last century to that of France, but from the allusions therein contained to Hume and the ‘Spectator’ it is evident that something also was due to our own. Beccaria had spent eight years of his youth in the college of the Jesuits at Parma, with what sense of gratitude this letter will show. The following is a translation of the greater part of it:—
I know that those general principles which tend to enlighten and improve the human race are not absolutely useless … that the enlightenment of nations is not without some effect on their rulers … provided that the prerogative of the latter, their power, their security, their authority, their safety, is not touched thereby.… I know well that this general enlightenment, so much boasted of, is a beautiful and glorious chimera, with which philosophers love to amuse themselves, but which would soon disappear if they would open history, and see therefrom to what causes improved institutions are due. The nations of antiquity have passed, and those of the present will pass, before philosophy and its influence have reformed a single government.Accordingly he made a rapid journey back, leaving his companion to visit England alone; this expedition to Paris being the only event that ever broke the even tenor of his life. His French friends rather deserted him, Morellet in his memoirs going even so far as to speak of him as half-mad. But it was to his friendship with the Verris that this journey to Paris was most disastrous, and nothing is more mournful than the petty jealousies which henceforth completely estranged from him his early friends. The fault seems to have rested mainly with the two brothers, whose letters (only recently published) reveal an amount of bitterness against Beccaria for which it is difficult to find any justification, and which disposes for ever of all claims of their writers to any real nobleness of character. They complain to one another of Beccaria’s Parisian airs, of his literary pride, of his want of gratitude; they rejoice to think that his reputation is on the wane; that his illustrious friends at Paris send him no copies of their books; that he gets no letters from Paris; nay, they even go so far as to welcome the adverse criticisms of his ‘Dei Delitti,’ and to hope that his ‘golden book’ is shut up for ever. Alessandro writes to his brother that all his thoughts are turned to the means of mortifying Beccaria; and the revenge the brothers think most likely to humiliate him is for Alessandro to extend the limits of his travels, so as to compare favourably with Beccaria in the eyes of the Milanese. They delight in calling him a madman, an imbecile, a harlequin; they lend a ready ear to all that gossip says in his discredit. In the most trifling action Pietro sees an intended slight, and is especially sore where his literary ambition is touched. It angers him that Beccaria should receive praise for the Apology written against Facchinei, the work having been entirely written by himself, with some help from his brother, but with not so much as a comma from the hand of Beccaria. Some books which Beccaria had brought to him from Paris he imagined were really gifts to him from the authors; he believed that D’Alembert had sent him his ‘Mélanges’ of his own accord, not at the request of Beccaria, as the latter had represented; but even Alessandro admits that it was concerning the books, as Beccaria had said. In short, the whole correspondence shows that Pietro Verri was extremely jealous of the success which he himself had helped his friend to attain, and that disappointed literary vanity was the real explanation of his suddenly transmuted affection.详情
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