Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 8.djvu/26

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16
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

exacted of her. Her health became so broken that, at the earnest solicitation of her relatives, the prison authorities took the case up, and secured her a pardon on condition that she left the State, and her relatives provided for her. But the transition from prison-life to the comforts of a home, and a life of ease, offered no attractions to the unfortunate woman. I believe she remained under the care of her relative—a devoted sister—but a few months, when she resumed, out of choice, her old mode of life, and is now serving out another sentence.

This case shows how irresistibly the deliberate acts of life flow in the channel which habit and mental traits mark out for them. The barriers which society, and fear of punishment, and love, place in the way of a career like this of Lena S——, are swept away, as it were, before a flood. This is the destiny of the fatalist, and the force of habit, an expression of the theory of least resistance, and the effects of heredity of the sociologist. Let us analyze the last case further, to illustrate the theory of least resistance, as modified by occupation and social condition. It presents a seeming contradiction. She moved on in her career of crime late in life, with her moral atmosphere charged with resistance to her progress. Contrasted with this was her criminal pupilage in early life. Her husband united pauperism and crime, and if originally her moral perceptions were clear—which I doubt—she thus found the best school to obscure these, and familiarize her with the criminal idea. With these faculties blunted and weakened, which serve to hedge in the impulses to evil, she proceeded to supply her wants by the method most familiar and easy. The thief looks upon the property of others in a peculiar way, and one that constitutes the essence of the crime. He believes in a sort of ownership which is mutual, and depends upon possession. This belief may become a fixed habit of mind. Originally it may have been easier to steal than to work, later it may become more impossible to work than to steal. Then came attempts at reform, made by others, with the life of ease and comfort, but the criminal grew wretched and drooped. There was but one life before her which met the demands of her nature—that was to wander from place to place and steal. This woman answered in no sense to the legal definition of the insane; she was not irresponsible for her acts, she knew their nature and the punishment which followed detection; but she simply did that which the most of us desire to do, follow the easier and pleasanter life. It has become the fashion of late to speak of criminals of this class as insane, but this theory cannot explain their irreclaimable condition. The real state, as it appears to me, is, that thoughts and acts move in the direction of least resistance. What began in this way, may be confirmed by habit, so that life may wear for itself channels from which it is impossible that its current may be driven.