To the Editor of the Popular Science Monthly.
THE authors of "The Unseen Universe" tell us, as appears in a note in your January number, "It is probable that, before many years have passed, electricity will be called upon by an enlightened Legislature to produce absolutely indescribable torture, thrilling through every fibre of such miscreants"—in referring to "human brutes who vent their despicable passions in murderous assaults on women and children."
Evolution by reversion is not encouraging.
The refinement of scientific training, indicated by the above extract, is hardly in the direction of improving civilization.
It is suggested that the "human miscreants" are not the products of accident. May they not be examples of inherited disease, and therefore properly fit subjects for insane asylums, or other similar reformatories? How far may not society itself, in the locality of these human monsters, be responsible for their existence?
May we not hope that an "eye for an eye" is, in the order of healthy evolution, to disappear entirely from our penal correctives, including that relic of barbarism, capital punishment, even now rapidly disappearing from our statute-books, and in most States inflicted only for one grade of crime?
What is the object of all rational punishment? Certainly not vengeance—not vindictiveness.
Is it not, rather 1.—Restitution to society or to individuals, so far as possible, for loss or injury caused by criminals? 2. Protection of society from repetition of criminal acts? and, 3. Reformation of the culprit?
If the gallows, and "absolutely indescribable torture, thrilling through every fibre," provided by enlightened Legislatures, are the only infallible remedies, then, indeed, is our vaunted civilization a sad failure.
Let us revert to scientific inquisition at once, and have a commission of savants in this Centennial year of grace, to resurrect the beauties of Torquemada. Why not?
Richmond, Indiana, January 10, 1876.
ONE of the great characteristic elements of scientific knowledge is that it is progressive, and the nature of that progress is to arrive gradually at the establishment of truth. Science having fixed upon its methods—methods that have been vindicated in its history—goes on with the exploration of phenomena in all fields, by beginning with imperfect evidence and gradually working out its investigations to the completeness of proof and the firm establishment of facts and principles. This being so, it follows that those who lead in science, who are active in its preliminary work, are naturally the most obnoxious to all those classes who rest contented with the existing state of opinion and are the conservators of traditional belief. It has always been so. In every phase and stage of advancing science, it is those that push on with the pioneer work, who begin to question opinions long rooted, trusting to the wholesomeness of inquiry, and the validity of long-tested scientific procedure, that encounter denunciation as disturbers of the world's intellectual peace. It was those who initiated in-