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rural districts. If we could abolish the market for stolen property, we should go far to put an end to stealing, and any change which makes the disposal of stolen property more difficult operates to check the commission of crime. To attain this happy result nothing is needed save to insist upon restitution in every case. And this can be achieved by means which, in principle at least, nine-tenths of the community would unreservedly approve. Let the prisoner be required to disclose what he has done with his booty. And if he refuses, or fails to satisfy the court that it is out of his power to do so, let there be but one sentence-imprisonment for life. Many people would hold that a suitable punishment for an impenitent thief would be to crucify him. But torture can never be used without injury to the society which has recourse to it. Were it otherwise, no one who can gauge the bitter distress and misery which, day by day, these miscreants cause by their crimes, would hesitate to compel restitution, even by means of thumbscrews or the rack. The parable of the widow's mite may receive a new reading here. When the rich lose of their abundance, there is plenty of noise about it, albeit their cheque books are at hand to make good their loss. But every day that passes humble folk are ruthlessly, heartlessly, robbed of all their little treasures, and no one seems to care. In a primitive state of society the thief would risk being hanged on the nearest tree. But civilisation teaches us to trust the State to do the hanging. And such is the manner in which the State discharges the duty that it is often easier to get the thief into the dock than to get his victim into the witness-box. The person who receives least consideration in a criminal court is the unfortunate citizen who is aggrieved by the prisoner's crime.
Some eighteen years ago I had an experience of this kind myself. A woman who had been in my service for years, and who for several successive summers had been left in charge of my house, had a 'follower,' a man whom I had at one time befriended. This man became corrupted by an 'habitual criminal,' an old thief, who incited him to rob me. They plied the woman with drink, and then raided the house, carrying off everything that was portable. Summoned back to London by telegram, I put the case in the hands of the police; in a few days the thieves were arrested, and in due course they were tried and convicted. The one man did everything in his power to make amends for his crime, and through his help I recovered nearly the whole of his share of the plunder. But the old criminal refused to say a word. Before sentence he was mute, and when afterwards visited by the police he was insolent. It was known that he had pledged my things at pawnshops all over London, and many of the articles were traced and restored to me. But in the absence of the details he refused to give, the bulk of his share was
lost irretrievably. I am at times reminded of the crime, for some of the stolen treasures were of such a kind that it was impossible to replace them; and the lapse of time has not cooled my indignation at their loss. But it is not upon the thief that my indignation expends itself-he only followed the instincts of his type, the instincts of a beast of prey-but upon the judge who sentenced him, or, rather, upon the system which, in sentencing him, he was administering. If a solicitor who, in the legitimate course of his business, got possession of documents belonging to me refused without lawful excuse to return them, a competent court would order their restoration, and enforce the order by committing him to gaol indefinitely. But when an habitual criminal steals my goods, the court acts on the archaic figment that the crime is a matter entirely between the Crown and the thief, and in sentencing the prisoner ignores both my wrongs and my rights.
In this particular case there was not a single point in the prisoner's favour. He was an habitual criminal. He had already served two long terms of imprisonment for larceny, and he was actually subject to the provisions of the seventh section of the Prevention of Crimes Act. Moreover, he acted under no pressure of want, nor could any plea of sudden impulse be urged in mitigation of punishment. For he was in employment at the time, earning good wages, and his crime was planned and carried out with the utmost deliberation. And lastly, though he refused to make any amends for his offence, he was under no obligation of any kind to those to whom he parted with the property. But the law takes no account of all this. Had the man acted differently his sentence would have been modified. As the case stood, it was merely 'larceny after previous conviction,' and the sentence passed upon him was that which three judges out of four would have imposed, namely, five years' penal servitude-the minimum term at that time allowed by the statute.
One feature in this case of mine makes it singularly apt for my present purpose. The penitent thief not only kept a note of every pawnbroker whom he had visited in pledging my things, but also made efforts to track his impenitent accomplice when out on the same errand. And he made no secret of it that what induced him to take this action was the belief that, if caught, his helping the police to recover the property would obtain for him a mitigation of sentence.
The scheme I advocate would generally operate in this way There is no comradeship between a thief and his fence.' The receiver always drives a hard bargain, and takes every advantage of him. And if the habitual criminal refuses to betray him, it is because his help is essential to enable the thief to follow the calling which he intends to resume the moment he regains his liberty. But
if imprisonment for life were the ordinary fate of an impenitent thief, the criminal would generally develop a statutory penitence at the moment of his arrest; receivers of stolen property would be brought to justice, and the present organisation of crime, which owes its success entirely to the methods I here assail, would be broken up under the influence of general distrust.
In this article I have said nothing about the élite of the criminal profession. Such men live well. They can name their favourite wine, and they know a good cigar. A trip to Brighton is an ordinary incident in their easy lives; and a winter visit to Monte Carlo is nothing out of the way. They are responsible for the elaborate frauds, the great forgeries, the jewel larcenies and bank robberies which now and then startle the public. All I have urged applies to them, of course, with special emphasis. But I have purposely based my argument upon ordinary types, and cases such as are of daily occurrence. Nor have I embarrassed my argument by discussing the vexed question of inequality of sentences. In recent years there have been men in judicial positions who have openly repudiated the Prevention of Crimes Act, and the code of which it is a part; thus vying with the criminals they have sentenced in their contempt for the laws of their country. And from time to time public indignation is aroused by seeming levity in the penalties imposed upon bad offenders. But these are mere eccentricities and blots upon our system of punishing crime; and my object has been to attack the system itself. I impugn it as being false in principle and mischievous in practice.
One cause of the reproach which justly rests upon what is called 'the Christian religion'—I do not refer to Christianity—is the sale of indulgences in pre-Reformation times. The Church, in fixing a tariff for acts of immorality or crime, not only encouraged the vicious to give rein to their evil passions, but lowered the standard of morals in Europe. And many a criminal trial in England to-day is fitted to produce results as deplorable. The distinguished jurist I have quoted lays stress upon the importance of fostering public indignation against heinous crimes; but all such wholesome. sentiment is now discouraged by the action of our criminal courts. The law is daily brought into contempt with those to whom it ought to be a terror; and the community is taught to look on the criminal as an object, not of reprobation, but only of pity. In the case of some offenders who, under our present methods, are consigned to prison, the pity is well bestowed; but in the case of not a few an agitation to lynch the convict would betoken a healthier state of public opinion. I am not here alluding to crimes in which the thief resorts to acts of violence. Of course my remark applies to such. But throughout these pages I am dealing only with offences against property. And I venture the opinion that when it can be
proved that men, acting under no pressure of want, or excitement of passion, calmly, deliberately, and with great premeditation, plan and perpetrate crimes of this character, the gallows should be deprived of its legitimate prey only because more merciful methods would be adequate to deal with them. That such criminals should escape with penalties which affect them so little that they fail even to produce a statutory repentance tends both to deprave the public conscience and to encourage incipient offenders to enter upon a criminal career.
Until a very recent period every outbreak of epidemic disease led to panic and prayer-meetings: epidemic crime still leads to panic, but abuse of the police takes the place of the prayer-meetings. The abuse is less intelligent even than the panic. When an outbreak of fever occurs, we do not abuse the doctors. We know, what our fathers did not know, that it is due to causes which are definite and preventable; and we take the means which science and common sense suggest to check the spread of the disease, and to prevent a recurrence of it. But in this matter of crime neither science or common sense is allowed a hearing. When, after repeated warnings, a man has proved himself to be a moral leper, an outlaw, a criminal in character and habitual practice, to set him at liberty is quite as stupid and as wicked as it would be to allow a small-pox patient to go at large in the community.
Crime of a certain type, I again repeat, is an ineradicable evil. And even that blot upon our complex civilisation, though it cannot be effaced, might be considerably lessened. Nothing is more certain than that men can be made immoral by Act of Parliament; and bad laws, such for example, as the drink code, are responsible for a large share of the crime of the country. And yet no one who has opportunities of studying day by day the criminal returns from the metropolis can fail to feel wonder and admiration at the proof they give of the peaceableness and honesty of the mass of the population. But we shall never be rid of the lawless and vicious; and even among the honest and the peaceable, the pressure of poverty and the taint of insanity will always account for a certain amount of crime. But the fact remains that systematic, organised crime against property is entirely the creature of our present penal system. A single prison would suffice to hold the entire gang of known criminals who now keep the community in a state of siege, and a single wing of any one of our gaols would more than suffice to provide for the band of outlaws who may be described as the aristocracy of crime in England. But while we are ready to sacrifice any number of valuable lives on the battlefield, to attain results that are often doubtful and sometimes worthless, the inalienable right of these human beasts of prey, not only to life but to liberty, is maintained with all the blind fervour of a religious superstition.
If some small share of the labour and cost successfully expended upon keeping cholera and the plague from our shores, or even in stamping out rabies among dogs, were diverted in this direction, organised crime might be abolished in a single decade. The task would be a far easier one than that which sanitary science has accomplished. For while the germs of disease are subtle and secret, the criminals are known and easily detected. And there can be no crimes without criminals: no really bad offences without really bad offenders; and really bad offenders might in a very few years be made as rare as wolves.'