Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/581

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

author, nor did he know when it was to appear. The work of Mr. Croll on "Climate and Time" was published in London about six months later, or in the spring of 1875; and Mr. Merriman's articles, from which Mr. Norton is accused of borrowing, first appeared in "The Popular Science Monthly" for April and June, 1876, nearly a year and a half after the receipt of Mr. Norton's paper.—Editors.

 

 

EDITOR'S TABLE.

VENGEANCE IN PUNISHMENT.

THOSE dainty purists who "do not like the word Sociology and are therefore hindered from taking interest in the science that passes under the name, may get a glimpse of one of its problems in unobjectionable form by reading the able paper of a practical lawyer which opens the present "Monthly." Of all the questions by which modern society is agitated, there is none more momentous than that of the public treatment of crime and criminals. No man can be found so stupid as to maintain that the present practice is satisfactory; and but few have the wisdom to indicate anything that is really much better. In this state of affairs the first thing required is to understand how present conditions were reached; and what is the nature of those changes that have brought past amelioration, and may lead on to a still better state. Only when the laws of social progress are discovered and made widely known can they be conformed to by communities with solid and lasting advantage.

We have a system of penal laws for the protection of individual rights and the conservation of society by punishing prescribed offenses; and the general notion is, that this system is coeval with government, and was originally instituted essentially in its present form and for its present purpose. This, however, is a great mistake, as is instructively shown by Mr. Billson. He points out that the first rude governments have only a concern for themselves. Government arose in tribal antagonisms, was a militant organization against external foes, and recognized no crimes except such as treason, cowardice, desertion, or such acts as injured itself. There was, at first, not the slightest idea of protecting citizens against crime by punishing private offenses. Individuals were left to redress their own grievances. Murder, for example, was a private wrong, to be privately avenged by a relative of the victim, who was at liberty to kill the murderer. Government had no internal police or judicial processes, and the rule of punishment was that of private personal vengeance. Society, as a consequence, was torn by internal feuds and bloody violence, and was ruled by the spirit of retaliation and revenge. Mr. Billson shows us the extent and atrocity and tenacity of this system, and how criminal law arose out of the necessity of regulating the excesses of malignant blood-avengement.

This chapter in the criminal history of society has a grave significance as interpreting the spirit by which crime is still treated. For, although civilized society has made great advances in framing penal codes on principles of justice, and although government has abolished private retaliation, and itself assumes the prerogative of punishing crime, it has not outgrown the vindictive passions of the barbarous past. The practice of dueling, a vestige of the old private avengement of wrong, is not extinct; and in the prison-treatment and public execution of criminals we still see survivals of the old savage feeling of vengeance that has not yet died out of the community. By the abolition of torture we have conceded