Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/24

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
14
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

so lowered the moral tone as to render them unfit, as a class, to contend with the difficulties of life, and exhibit the same degree of morality as the unmarried woman. Much of this result must depend upon the unavoidable social position of the married woman—one not at all calculated to test either her morality or self-reliance. The duties of maternity and domesticity inseparable from her position, do not fortify her against evil in her changed relation to society. On the contrary, with the burden of children upon her, in the time of need, she looks upon crime less as a positive than as a comparative evil. With the true woman, there is no chance for hesitation in the choice between crime in its minor forms and her maternal feelings. But the marriage relation has other influences in forming woman's character as a criminal. The intimacy of the wife with a bad husband, who, if not a criminal, at least may be capable of infusing lax moral notions in the wife, would, if she were left a widow, surely bear fruit. We need a more intimate knowledge of many facts in order to fully understand this question of widowhood in its relation to crime. It is doubtful if returns of crime from less densely populated places than New York City would furnish results at all parallel to those in relation to widows. The most plausible explanation I can give is, that these figures represent cases of absolute destitution.

There are many other relations that marriage bears to woman's career as a criminal, but which are beyond the scope of a magazine article., All that relates to infanticide, and the prevalence of the crime of the period, among the single and married, ought, I believe, in writings of a popular character, to be omitted, except possibly the grave words of warning. Upon this subject I have written all that I thought prudent several years ago, and to which I refer the reader.[1] The well-known lines of Pope upon the effect of familiarity with vice, are certainly very true to-day. It is by a too familiar view of even the shadow of crime, that in certain minds the criminal idea may be developed. We need but abolish the mental barriers to crime to step from the criminal idea to the criminal act.

Instinctive recoil from the criminal idea without any mental reservation is the characteristic of moral health. It is upon the morally healthy minds that unfavorable social conditions may have most deplorable effect. One in whom the tendency to crime exists as a latent mental quality, requires no social conditions for its development. Whatever his or her occupation or social condition may be, this latent quality is liable to assume active existence, and shape the destiny of the individual. There is one quality that the criminal exhibits which defines him as a class, and is the only trait by the existence of which he becomes the member of a class. This is the liability, after the first outbreak, to commit repeated offenses. I find no term which expresses

  1. "The Detection of Criminal Abortion, and a Study of Fœticidal Drugs." James Campbell, Boston, 1872.