Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/March 1894/The European Law of Torture
|THE EUROPEAN LAW OF TORTURE.|
IT is a startling anachronism to an American reader of 1894 to stumble upon a large vellum-bound law-book of the last century, prescribing in minute detail all the rules and conditions that must attend the proper infliction of intense physical pain on persons merely accused of any offense, and containing an appendix full of engravings, given by royal authority as working drawings to govern every operation of legal torture. Such a relic of an almost forgotten system of law rests in obscurity at the national capital, intruding its grim savagery of language and its coldly fiendish pictures upon a few minds accustomed to the modern idea of gentleness to every living being.
This book, printed in obsolete and barbaric German, with marginal syllabus in monastic Latin, seizes on the mind with a grasp of horror, and brings back the reader again and again to delve among its dry bones of ancient delusion and wrong. It reveals a wide field of ideas which not long ago ruled the "civilized" world, but now are forever put away. In fact, it exhibits with photographic accuracy the Inquisition of central Europe.
The prevalent idea of torture seems to be about as follows: That two or three centuries ago a wicked portion of a priesthood set up the Inquisition as a means of religious persecution, which, after all, was probably not nearly as bad as reported. Another class, somewhat better informed, can discourse at large of the Spanish and German Inquisitions, and describe their ghastly relics still shown in museums; while others, again, full of ignorant zeal, will denounce the whole subject as a base slander on human nature.
But comparatively few now realize the full truth that in various lands torture was the established method of authority to force prisoners to convict themselves of every sort of crime for more than a thousand years before the Holy Office was set up by churchmen; that it still survived in parts of Europe as an authorized court process for generations after they had abolished the Holy Office; and that the much-advertised doings of the Inquisition were but a few rough waves of that bloody ocean of wrong which flowed over Europe from the time of Herodotus down to the nineteenth century.
Books of reference give the facts mildly, softened from old authors inaccessible to the many. But one must beware of history written, perhaps, for partisan purposes or with sectarian bias. What is wanted to-day is scientific proof, impartial and unimpeachable. For this is a delicate matter of family history. In examining into the mental and moral condition of ancestors only three or four generations back, let us beware of hearsay evidence. But we shall be justified in the inquiry if we can obtain their own testimony and make them convict themselves in their own favorite style.
For this purpose the Constitutio Criminalis Theresiana, or criminal code of Austria and Hungary, put forth in 1769 under the imperial edict of Maria Theresa toward the close of her reign, outweighs a whole library of recent suppositions. This book contains three hundred and fifty folio pages, with one hundred and four articles or chapters arranged in two parts, prefaced by a lofty proclamation over her Majesty's hand and seal, ordaining and enacting it as the lawful code of her domain.
Part I is a general commentary upon crime and criminal process, beginning with this benevolent and modern principle: "The punishment of criminals is designed chiefly for the reformation of evil-doers." The subject of torture is reached in Article 38, where eleven large pages are devoted to an exhaustive treatise on its principles and practice. It is called in the text "die peinliche Frage," or the painful questioning. In this code of explicit directions reference is made to the pictures in the appendix, showing all the authorized apparatus for torture. They are drawn, lettered, and explained with the exactness of a patent drawing, and were not to be varied from in the least detail by the judicial operators. This treatise begins with the fundamental definition: "Torture is a lawful means of compulsion to bring to confession a denying malefactor, who, in the absence of full proof, has been strongly accused—or perchance to clear him from a burden of suspicion and accusation." This is paraphrased in the Latin note by saying that torture is a subsidiary means of tearing out the truth (eruendæ, veritatem).
Part II takes up the whole calendar of crimes, arranged in forty-eight distinct classes, giving to each a brief separate treatise combining principles, law, exceptions, penalties, and questions to be used in the trial. More than three fourths of these chapters specially prescribe torture to make the accused convict himself. From blasphemy, the greatest crime in the list, down to the most trivial, a suspected person could in nearly every case be visited with deathly torment upon mere suspicion.
Human progress exhibits no contrast more surprising than is seen between the mercifulness of to-day and the cruelty of the past. What do we now observe as proofs that mankind does not now approve nor enjoy the bodily suffering of fellow-creatures? Human slavery largely abolished, with the stocks and whipping post; cruel punishments prohibited by the Constitution; capital punishment done away in various sections; painless execution introduced; all minor penalties reduced to fines and restraint of liberty, with good sanitation of prisons; anæsthetic medical treatment everywhere in use; corporal punishment in schools becoming unfashionable; humane societies interfering to prevent ill treatment of children and dumb beasts; and, especially, we see prisoners on trial permitted to sit unfettered and at ease, attended by weeping relatives to excite sympathy; allowed unequal advantages over the prosecution in the selection of a jury; given the benefit of every doubt, often of the most fictitious; furnished all opportunities for acquittal which money and dishonest counsel can procure; allowed to testify in their own behalf; and never required to give an answer that would tend to criminate themselves.
In contrast with this picture, take the manner of conducting trials under the elaborate rules laid down in the Theresian code. A man accused of felony, such as arson, sedition, sorcery, or poisoning, must be arrested, jailed, and brought to trial. If two or more so-called witnesses made oath that they believed him guilty, though no positive proof could be found, the court decreed it a casus torturæ, a proper case for torture, and proceeded to apply some prescribed form of physical pain. An engraving shows one of the moderate methods. The victim's wrists are crossed behind the back and tied with a strong cord attached to a rope which passes over a pulley in the ceiling and down to a windlass. The Henkersknecht, or hangman's assistant, turns the windlass and the arms are strained upward, while the Scharfrichter (sharp judge, executioner) fiercely propounds the list of questions laid down in the code. In a trial for poisoning, for instance:
"Did you or did you not administer the poison that killed A. B.?
"When and where did you do it?
"For what reason?
"Who assisted or advised it?
"Who was present at the time?
"What sort of poison was it?
"Where and how did you procure it?
"Did the apothecary know your intended purpose?
"Have you ever poisoned others, or attempted it?
"What were the effects on the deceased?
"How long did he live after it? Was the body swollen? Did the nails turn blue or black? Did he froth at the mouth?" Et cetera.
The person undergoing torture (der Inquisit) of course stoutly denies each charge; so the servant gradually hoists him till he swings clear of the floor, with his arms undergoing backward dislocation, and the questions are thundered in his ears again and again as he whirls in dizzy agony. If able to persist in denial he is lowered for a brief rest, then raised again with a twenty-five pound weight attached to the cord that bound his ankles, and the questions are repeated. If the man has unusual strength of body and will, he may still remain obdurate; in which case Theresa's code requires a third hoisting with a forty-six-pound weight added. This may or may not draw from his screeching lips words of confession, which the eager scribe will record, to seal his fate on the gallows or at the stake; but it can hardly fail to cripple him for life.
This is but one of the many ways enacted and vividly depicted in this code for "tearing out the truth," or "putting him to the question," as Shakespeare and other English writers denominate similar practices of our ancestors; for quæstio (seeking or inquiry) was the mild legal term for such proceedings ever since the days of ancient Rome. Wherever Roman conquests spread and the code of Justinian was fastened upon new possessions, there the torture system was ingrafted. Perhaps it was nothing new to the Gauls and Germans, but Greece and Rome are generally held responsible for its wide prevalence in ancient times.
The dangerous privilege of using these "methods for the discovery of truth" was greatly abused, and often carried to a fatal extreme. Through ages of unrecorded tyranny the party in power put down its enemies and all opposing thought by such unbridled cruelty as no one now cares to contemplate. The public conscience seemed to approve the principle of torture as a divine prerogative of kings. Barons, judges, priests—in brief, all great robbers and politicians—cherished it. The more humane monarchs, such as the Empress Theresa, could only limit its cruelties by precise and moderate safeguards, exempting from all torture the sick and feeble, the old men, pregnant women, young children, and weak-minded, and providing that medical and surgical skill be always at hand to restore those who are near death, and reduce dislocations or fractures.
In some of the histories and cyclopædias are misleading statements that torture was abolished from the Austrian dominions about the middle of the last century, whereas this Austrian code was promulgated nineteen years later. Again, it is recorded of Maria Theresa, after an account of her general European war of seven years, ending in 1748, that "she now turned her attention to the internal affairs of her states. She introduced numerous reforms, alleviated the burdens of the peasantry, abolished torture, and promoted industry," Her code, however, proves otherwise; for she had reigned twenty-one years after the peace of 1748 when she re-enacted these laws to perpetuate these terrible outrages on human justice. Whether she abolished it at all in the remaining ten years of her life is open to doubt. Other statements from the same sources, regarding the continuance and decline of the Holy Inquisition, appear equally questionable.
The study of such customs suggests strange and difficult questions. What sort of minds had those people? Did they possess conscience? If so, was it anything like the conscience of the moderns, who cherish the same sacred books? Was human justice then a false moral guide? Is it a true one now? Is human nature the same from age to age, or can it reverse itself while standing on the same basis? Was the woman-heart tender and sympathetic in those days? Or what sort of women reared the monsters who kept up torture for twenty centuries?
The persistence of that legal crime, in spite of all the morals, philosophies, and religions that held sway through those ages, is a hard and stubborn fact. Its phenomena seem to fit no favorite theory of general progress. What a world of intellectual power, of tender morality, of spiritual zeal, has blazed as with heavenly fire through those ages of unjust torment, without taking any concern in that system! It stood forth above all such influences like an upheaval of archaic rock which all the tides and storms of progress had been powerless to beat down. Grecian culture and beauty did not care to assuage one pain. The magnanimity of Roman power did not hold out one merciful reform toward the suspected offender. Cicero wrote against the system, but all in vain.
The young nobility and students of Europe, flocking to great universities like Salerno in the middle ages, and learning from imported Arabic professors from milder Asia, do not seem to have acquired any noble horror of human cruelty. New religious sects arose and competed for public favor, but all were more ready to use torture than to condemn it. The leading minds of Europe were full of the New Testament, but they did not find legal torture referred to therein. Only the command not to suffer a witch to live seemed to fit the case,
A theory is greatly needed to harmonize these incongruous facts—a bright, clear, comprehensive, optimistic theory, creditable alike to humanity and the forces which guide human development. But such an explanation is not readily found. In default of a broad and able-bodied theory, fitted to carry us over all difficulties, one is left floundering among some unpleasant reflections. All races may have risen from barbarism. Before barbarism they may—just possibly—have come up from a still more brutish state. Yet this instinct of enjoying the torture of others can hardly be called a survival of brutishness, since animals do not seem to consciously practice cruelty; it is rather a distinguishing trait of mankind.
This element of savagery is a most persistent and incorrigible offender in the happy family of our virtues. How it has defied culture, development, moral training! In theory all advancing races should properly have this Canada thistle of our moral field pretty well eradicated by this time by the strong hand of social and religious development. But when it has been well dug out, burned up, and killed very dead, the weary reformer, resting on his hoe, sees the thorny shoots of human cruelty here and there pushing boldly up in new places, fresh from the ancient seeds of inherited brutality that still lurk in the soil. Yet he cheerfully begins anew, and attacks the inexhaustible evil with never-tiring zeal.
It is also depressing to reflect that all men have been savages in infancy; that children pass through the ascending grades of mere animal life; that each young pupil, rightly observed, has been a sample of slow or rapid evolution through the stages of cave-dweller, nomad, and barbarian, to the half-civilized or even a higher grade. The childhood of races reflects the development. of individuals. In the rapid march of the infant mind there comes a time when it gives pleasure to see and produce suffering. This part of the regular course is omitted by few, and in some cases is adopted as a ruling life-trait. This was probably the usual result in those early days.
Another discouraging obstacle to any pleasant theory is that apelike propensity for imitation which kept primitive races following the old tracks of their predecessors. Antiquated custom gave them inviolable laws, against which reason and justice might protest in vain. The mere imitative trait has sometimes ruled the action and belief of masses of mankind as surely and unthinkingly as it does a colony of the simian tribe or a community of cigarette-using boys.
A race of beings so tainted with original savagery, so ruled by imitation, and so averse to change, must have found it hard to abolish torture from the court-room. To accomplish the reform one of the grandest moral battles of the world had to be fought. An ethical rebellion against the allied powers of monarchy, hierarchy, and aristocracy had to be triumphantly carried through. Necessarily there were brave leaders, who went into the fray with their eyes open to the fate of Jerome and Huss, of an earlier age, who for having dared attack the sin of torture were burned alive by the offended Church.
It was but recently, speaking comparatively, that the Inquisition, both secular and ecclesiastical, was in full force, and that the reform mentioned was made successful. When the code before us was printed at Vienna, the present writer's grandfather was a youth of thirteen years. America was then already reformed from her imported sins against justice. The whirlwind of delusion which culminated at Salem had been over for seventy-seven years, and its reaction had blotted from the minds of most Americans much of the witch-belief of former ages. Benjamin Franklin had long been the ambassador of America to his king, pleading for political rights. England had partly reformed her cruel laws. Human torture was not legal in America, save under the cloak of African slavery.
Yet in the Theresian code. Article 38 is found filling eleven broad pages with the law of torture, as if it were a fundamental institution which would exist forever. It specifies the cases in which courts are warranted in using torture to induce confession, which seem worth giving in full:
When one is accused by one credible, sworn witness, aided by evidence of previous bad character.
When, after detection in the act, he boldly denies it.
When informed against by an accomplice.
When he has admitted the offense which was known to be committed.
When any two or more of the following causes concur to show guilt, though, singly they are not sufficient to incur torture, such as—
Previous bad character or worthless conduct.
Previous similar misdemeanors, either proved or rumored.
Being found in proximity to the crime.
Being seen with the appearance, dress, arms, or horse of the actual culprit, or approaching or leaving the spot.
The finding of any of his dress or weapons, or of his tracks in snow or earth.
His previous companionship or domicile with those who commit such acts.
Previous enmity, envy, or threats toward the injured person.
Dying declarations or sworn accusation by a person injured.
Absconding suddenly without good cause.
Altering his personal appearance, disguising, giving false excuses, etc.
To entitle the prosecution to obtain a decree for full torture of one accused of a capital crime (and most of the offenses were then capital), two or more of the above conditions must be shown to the satisfaction of the judge. The warrant must specify not only how many of the successive grades may be used, but just how long each process shall be applied. But in every case of torture a strange preliminary proceeding was required, called territion (territio, Schreckung), a mental torture, by terrifying the prisoner to extort confession through fear of pain. It was derived, like all the rest, from the ancients, whose law writers prescribed forms similar to those of the Austrian code.
Territion was of two grades—verbal and real. In verbal territion the judge exhorts the prisoner to confess, and tells him what pains await him; he describes the process vividly, with the executioner acting the scene in pantomime. The victim is fiercely seized by the hangman, dragged from the court-room down into the place of torment (Marter-ort),Sind. shown the painful machines and their use. The executioner seizes him again and pretends to be about to apply them.
Verbal territion failing to secure admission of guilt, he resorts to the real. He seizes the Inquisit once more, drags him to the rack, binds him in place, but does not apply the ropes or screws to any painful extent. Returning him then to the courtroom, they again solemnly warn him to confess his guilt, lest worse shall befall him. If he still remains obdurate, his day of grace is past; territion gives place to actual torture.
The code gives a few merciful limitations of this power. Idiots, invalids, feeble men over sixty, children, and, of course, all officials and clergy, are exempt; and women can only be subjected to the two milder grades, the other two being reserved for men accused of atrocious crimes.
Then comes a minute and intricate code of procedure for those very common and puzzling cases when the sufferer pleads guilty under torture, but reasserts his innocence after it, declaring that the pain irresistibly drove him to make a false confession to obtain a brief respite. In such cases the judge is forbidden to "put him to the question" anew till he has certified the conflicting statements to a higher court, and received new orders to proceed. But the good empress commands that "beyond three times shall no one be tortured; but he who endures it three times without confession, or who has each time recanted his confession, shall be set at liberty, because he is sufficiently cleansed from the accusations by the martyrdom endured. And the martyr can not say that injustice was done him, for the judge has the evidence to justify his action," etc.
The four grades are then defined, the first being the thumbscrew (polletrum, Daumstöcke). Two separate forms are pictured by life-size scale drawings; one sort was legal in Austria and one in Bohemia. It is a strong little vise, seven inches long, of two flat iron bars connected by screw bolts. The thumbs are to be inserted to the first joint, and the inner surfaces are armed with toothlike points. While the questions are asked one servant helps hold the vise and turn the nuts with a wrench or key, while another clasps the victim tight around the body to prevent contortions. A third may or may not be employed to increase the pain by hammering on the vise.
The picture of this scene is very effectively drawn. The conflict of stubborn wills between the roaring victim and the ironhearted bailiffs is fearful to witness. The judge is in no hurry; he gives the wrench an additional turn now and then till the very bones are crushed, and the clerk can triumphantly write down the confession of guilt.
The second grade, which is now seldom heard of, was the cord (fidicula). Its exact size and use are fully pictured. The arms of the accused are stretched forward with the palms together. A strong rope, like sash-cord, is looped upon the wrist, then wound tightly round both arms to the elbows, cutting deep into the flesh and tending to break the elbow joints. This was regarded more terrible than the thumb stocks. This was the Bohemian method; but another form was prescribed for Austria equally effective and ingenious.
The famous rack, which comprised the third grade, was of great utility in the "discovery of the truth." It was called equuleus, or little horse, by the Austrian as well as the Roman jurists. Four full-page engravings depict the exact form, size, mechanical construction, and practical use of this machine. It is a wide ladder of two strong poles with many rounds, and is fixed in a slanting position from the stone floor to the dungeon wall. The culprit must climb to the upper part and sit down; his wrists, previously bound behind his back, are tied to the fifth round. His feet are bound with a rope, which is drawn down by a windlass attached to the base of the ladder. As he is pulled downward his arms are twisted upward behind him. When fully carried out the desired result was complete dislocation of the shoulders, as the explanatory notes declare with great exactness of detail.
The Scharfrichter must stand on the rack beside the Inquisit, keeping one hand on the breast and one on the back to watch his vital condition; as his accusations are persistently denied, he signals to the windlass-man to apply more force, til] at last the arms are wrenched into a straight line with the body, tearing the ligaments and breast muscles from their attachments. Then, if the martyr is a hero who can endure still more without denying his faith, the judge may proceed to the fourth grade, if in Bohemia, though it was forbidden in Austria.
The final grade, ignis, or burning, is figured by several cuts, showing torches of candles bound together, eight in each torch, lighted and burning brightly, which the tormentor, bending over his broken victim, applies to the naked sides of the chest until a space about seven inches in diameter is burned to a blackened crisp. The law strictly forbids burning a larger space, or any other region of the body; but it allows the assistants to aggravate the anguish of suspension and of racking by beating with scourges.
These four grades are extended by equivalent tortures of other forms, such as the Spanische Stiefel, or iron boots. Two broad iron plates, curved to fit the shin and calf and extending between the knee and ankle, are connected by screw bolts at the margin to compress them together. The inner surface of each is studded by thirty blunt nails, half an inch long, to be forced into the flesh and bones. To increase the pain in special cases these plates may be hammered upon. One of the most realistic engravings shows a group of inquisitors applying this boot to an old man, who seems visibly shrieking for relief by death.
Yet there was one heinous sin for which torture had no terrors. Suicide had need of a different chapter in our book of justice. When some poor hunted soul had broken the jail of the body, driven from the certain cruelties of this life to the imagined terrors of the next, the torturers were exasperated and disappointed; yet something must be done to relieve their brutal fury, just as the mob of to-day invariably "riddles with bullets" the corpse of its victim. The chapter on suicide proclaims the great double sin of the deceased, denies him respectable burial (honesta sepultus), and dooms the poor remains to dog-burial (canina sepultus) at some cross-roads, with or without a stake driven through. It then proceeds to render his family infamous by attainder and to impoverish his heirs by confiscation of all their property. There being nothing left to destroy, Theresa's code here suspends hostilities against the suicide.
In the gradation of crimes, blasphemy was held infinitely worse than all others; while second in enormity was apostasy from the ruling faith. This is carefully limited to those who have been within the fold and have backslidden, thus excluding the different offense of heresy. The omission of heresy from the book shows that it fell within the special province of ecclesiastical courts, or else that there was a glimmering of spiritual toleration in those days.
The third great class of crimes, transcending in awfulness treason, murder, and all that follow, comprised the imaginary delusions called magic, witchcraft, and sorcery. There is an extreme effort made in this chapter by the solemn wise men of 1769 to be very judicious, calm, and reasonable. A full translation of this treatise on the ghastly joke called witchcraft, would form an exquisite satire on the self-complacent wisdom of that or any other age. It enjoins on judges great care to avoid the errors and foolish superstitions of the ignorant lower classes, and warns them never to convict, except upon positive proof that the accused is a genuine witch or sorcerer. It argues and establishes the actual existence of the black art, the evil eye, and possession by devils. Then it sets all the wheels and screws of torture at work against "all those God-forgetting wretches who commune with the devil, raise great storms, bring about cattle-plagues, or go sailing through the sky upon a goat."
The forty-odd other classes of crimes follow in descending order, each having a little chapter containing its special code and commentary, with the following usual subdivisions:
Definition and general principles of the offense.
Different gradations of its enormity.
Amount and character of evidence necessary for issuing the warrant and arresting the suspect.
Evidence requisite to show probability of guilt and justify use of torture on trial to secure confession.
List of special interrogatories for each crime, to be used before and during torture.
General and special directions to the magistrate for unusual cases.
List of possible circumstances tending to aggravate the offense and calling for additional severity. List of possible mitigating circumstances under which prosecution may be relaxed and penalties reduced.
Scale of punishments for different grades, and forms to be used in pronouncing sentence, after torture and conviction.
The irrepressible savage love of causing pain was shown by the methods of execution as well as those of examination and trial. A translation of the prescribed forms of final judgment exhibits a tediously elaborate array of fiendish methods to make death slow and agonizing, and strike terror into myriads of beholders. Though foreign to our present topic, they illustrate the ruling passion of that age.
The chapter on allowing the accused the privilege of attorney and defense, begins with the fine assertion that defense is to be denied to no one. Then comes an intricate list of conditions and exceptions, which narrows the privilege to a very small chance. The final condition, however, might well be adopted for the reform of modern courts: "Before the defensor takes up the case of a prisoner, he shall bind himself not to act dishonestly to suppress the truth, but to do everything in bona fide."
To determine guilt or innocence, the ancients that is, savage races in general have used all sorts of divination, more or less senseless or cunning. There were water tests, fire tests, poison tests, and exposure to wild beasts. One favorite fashion was by single combat, which has degenerated into the modern duel. The wager of battle, like all the rest, presumed the idea that the Deity would interfere to protect the guiltless. Races sprung from Viking stock were especially liable to this error, which even to-day is firmly rooted in the minds of whole nations when pugnaciously disposed.
In trying to account for judicial torture, some have held it a sequel and substitute for the wager of battle, showing a moral advance of ideas in the growth of the nation. But this theory hardly fits with the great antiquity and wide extent of the system. If torture was a sequel of the judicial duel, then it was a case of retrograde evolution; for the high moral features of the combat, such as faith in divine help, trust in a just cause, fair play, and championship of the innocent, were thrown aside. They were exchanged for a system of mean, cowardly cruelty, all the power of the rulers working out hatred upon one defenseless prisoner in the secrecy and safety of a dungeon vault.
It is also idle to claim that torture was based on that sophism credited to Jesuits of old, that it was lawful to do evil to attain a good result; for torture was ancient before Loyola began his work. On the other hand, it is idle to make the common assertion that all progress, conscience, and mercy were conferred on the world by some particular religious system or event. For it was such a system which maintained the tortures portrayed in the Theresian code, and which, during centuries of supreme control, had sole power to remove the curse, yet never took a step in that direction till driven by outside pressure.
There is a great work to be written by some student who can relate the decline and fall of that engine of tyranny. Many nations successively were freed from its terrors. It was a long and bitter war between the allied powers of kings and priests, and the true lovers of humanity. It was a secret war of ideas, and its weapons were the clandestine publications of daring freethinkers, secretly translated and circulated over Europe at the risk of a lingering death in the torture chamber.
Such a work would be a history full of joyous reading. One would fain learn everything about Beccaria, the first and greatest successful mover in that holy cause. We would confer all due honor upon Hommel, Voltaire, Howard, and those who helped spread the great Italian's burning words over the continent. Our copy of Theresa's code was printed five years after Beccaria had issued his great work for the abolition of capital punishment and torture. The conflict of the age had begun, but the great empress knew or heeded it not.
The old system left its marks on our language. Persistent questioning is called "inquisitive," and when one's acts are put under sharp inquiry they are "called in question." People who do not know what the rack was, complain of racking pains. Ladies "suffer excruciatingly," without thinking of the myriads who have really been excruciated, or put to death on the cross. The word torquere, applied by the Latins to the twisting of human limbs, gave us such words as torture, torment, and extortion. Ladies may now be called "bewitching" without being accused of actual dealings with Satan. In short, words once of deadly import are now the weakest of hyperbole.
Since these reforms of ancient abuses became universal, their ideas have been extended in America to an unwise and absurd degree. Sentimental mercy has not only destroyed the efficiency of courts of justice, but has impaired national confidence in them. A second reaction takes place, from the false mercy of maudlin sympathy with crime, to the deliberate and lawless fury of mobs and lynchers. The prevention of cruelty to animals is an absorbing "fad" with some who would not concern themselves with the heart-breaking tyranny of a drunken husband in the nearest house.
Yet evolution works steadily on. Whether it be a hundred years hence or a million, the day may come when every mortal in his strength and pride will be too noble to torment the weak or helpless.