Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 17.djvu/131

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121
EDITOR'S TABLE.

is no such thing as altruistic suicide. Suicide is characterized by the intention to take one's own life. A voluntary death characterized by the intention to save life is certainly not suicide. To constitute suicide there must be criminal motive, just as in the case of any other crime. It must be felo de se; in its simplest statement, self-murder. This, in fact, is the definition of Blackstone: "The act of designedly destroying one's own life committed by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind; self-murder." It must be distinguished, that is, from simple voluntary death, as murder is distinguished from simple homicide. There must be the intent to destroy life from a selfish or malign motive. The unjustifiable motive in the case of the suicide is the selfish desire to terminate life, and thus avoid some present or threatened evil, without regard to the evil or unhappiness inflicted on survivors. In the strongest case that can be put, that of an aged man who feels that he is a burden on his friends (or those who should be such), a pure and unselfish motive would incline him rather to inflict that burden on them than the far heavier burden and disgrace of a (to him) criminal and (to them) criminating death.

For the rest—and to embrace under one head all Mr. Hopkins's illustrations of altruistic suicides, viz., heroes, martyrs, and engineers—the man who dies defending or maintaining a trust is in no sense a suicide. His death is made to him, by moral reasons, inevitable.

W. W. Lord.
Cooperstown, New York, March 10, 1880.
 

 

"ORIGIN OF CRIMINAL LAW."

Messrs. Editors.

Charles J. Buell calls attention in your April number to some statements in Mr. W. W. Billson's article, "The Origin of Criminal Law," illustrating the way in which early law-makers seem to have taken the revengeful feelings of the aggrieved parties into consideration in imposing punishments upon wrong-doers.

He says: "There appears to be something of this sort in the custom that will hold a man blameless if he shoot and kill the midnight robber who is merely trying to effect an entrance into his house, but will not hold him guiltless if he take the same sort of vengeance on the robber after he has once entered the house and stolen the goods and escaped with them."

This law is based upon a principle as far as possible from the idea of gratifying the injured party's sense of revenge.

When a man awakes in the night-time and finds another man trying to get into his house, he is not obliged to ask him if he intends to steal or murder. The man within may be timid; he may apprehend great personal danger; he may have the impression that an attempt is being made to murder him. The law protects him in acting upon such apprehension. This is simply self-defense. There is no question of anger or revenge about it.

Now, when the robber has made off with the goods, and all possible fear of personal violence has vanished, or can not possibly arise, it then becomes a question, merely, of the "prevention of crime." Society ignores all idea of carrying out the spirit of revenge that may fill the breast of the injured party—in fact punishes him, if he attempts to do so himself, as a criminal. Clearly, what-ever may have been the guiding principle of the ancient law-giver, our present legislators do not attempt to administer to personal resentment. The object and reasons for the existence of government have been inquired into, and a scientific basis is gradually building for the great modern structure to rest upon. The passions are found to be the most unsafe guides. Only a few rules of law, relating almost wholly to domestic relations, rest upon them. The consequence is, that these relations figure most disgustingly in the proceedings of courts.

Yours respectfully,
W. C. Albro, LL.B
Poughkeepsie, New York, March 19, 1880.
 

EDITOR'S TABLE.

MATTHEW ARNOLD ON COPYRIGHT.

THE question of international copyright, as we have maintained on all occasions, is for the people of this country a very serious one. It is commonly regarded that our present condition in respect to it is merely an imperfect state of things which nobody knows how to remedy, and which need not much disquiet us, as it is happily working very much to our advantage. Why, it is asked, should we pick a quarrel with our own bread and butter, especially when the bread is buttered so thickly on both sides?

The reason why the matter is grave