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In view of all the difficulties of the subject, we cannot but think, that respect for the laws, confidence in the legal tribunals, and the peace of society, will be best secured by the entire abolition of the punishment of death. Juries shrink with a just and natural horror from the idea of taking the life of a human being who has been hurried into crime by a terrible and inscrutable malady, brought upon him by the act of God. The indications of the disease may be so faint, that even the medical witnesses will hesitate to pronounce the man insane. But the reluctance to take life under any circumstances impels the jurors to avail themselves of the slightest doubt, and the accused is acquitted, though he has committed an unprovoked murder, attended with circumstances of such shocking barbarity, that the feelings of the whole community have been strongly excited against him, and the demand for condign punishment has been loud and incessant. The more terrible the nature of the crime, the more savage and motiveless, the more destitute of palliating circumstances, the greater is the probability that no one but a madman could have committed it. So reason the persons who are charged with the awful responsibility of deciding upon the fate of the accused, and to whom alone are directly made known the multitude of little facts, which obscurely intimate the derangement of his intellect. But the community at large, acquainted only with the broad and obvious features of the case, reason far differently. They murmur that the laws are not enforced, that guilt is triumphant, and the life of no man is secure. And yet, so wavering and inconsistent is this popular judgment, that, if the person has been convicted and sentenced, before the gibbet can be erected, a morbid sympathy for his case affects the minds of men, and they now clamor as loudly for his pardon, as they formerly did for his condemnation.
Acquittals on the ground of insanity have been frequent of late, both in England and this country, and much uneasiness is felt, lest the administration of the laws should fail to do justice to the accused, or to prevent the commission o crime. The recent cases of Oxford and McNaughton in London, which excited so much clamor, that the Lords required the twelve judges to declare what was the law respecting insanity, and thus to quiet the public mind, – and
those of Mercer at Philadelphia, and of Abner Rogers at Boston, have done much to develope this feeling. The cry now is, that there will be a reaction, and that juries will no longer listen to the vague plea so easily preferred, that the accused was not of sound mind, and therefore not amenable to punishment. Yet, in most cases, the subsequent history of the accused has shown that the suspicion of insanity was well founded. Abner Rogers, after his acquittal, was removed to Worcester hospital, where the indications of his malady became very apparent, and the close of his life left no doubt upon the subject. One day, when the inmates of the institution were collected together in the chapel, a fit of frenzy came upon him, and, before he could be prevented, he plunged through a window, which was fifteen feet from the ground, and was killed by the fall. The concurring testimony of all keepers of lunatic asylums is, that, in the cases of persons committed to their charge, who had been acquitted of crime, because believed to be insane, with hardly an exception, such decided symptoms of mania have appeared, that it was held unsafe to dismiss them from the institution. Dr. Woodward had doubts in one case, but expresses himself with perfect conviction respecting all the others. His evidence upon this head, and that of several others equally well qualified to form an opinion, are given in a note by Dr. Ray, to which we refer our readers.
Still, the belief is general, that insanity may be feigned, or eccentricity or waywardness may be mistaken for it, and thus crime will escape the retribution which is its due. The existence of this belief tends to impair confidence in the action of the legal tribunals, and is, therefore, in itself an evil of no slight magnitude. Take away the punishment of death, and the whole difficulty disappears. Then, if the plea of insanity be brought forward, the only question will be, whether the accused ought to be incarcerated for life in a prison or a lunatic asylum ; and so far as the safety of the community is concerned, the determination of this question is a matter of no importance. The jury will come to the consideration of it with minds entirely free from bias or prejudice. In England, we believe, the insane homicide is never again permitted to go at large, and this certainly ought to be the rule in our own country. The admitted maxim, that the certainty of punishment is of much greater weight in de
terring from crime than its severity, adds much force to these considerations.
Mr. Sampson, an English writer of some authority upon criminal jurisprudence, even endeavours to prove, that the operation of the law, as it now stands, is to awaken and encourage the homicidal propensity. His arguments derive weight from the explanations we have endeavoured to give of the nature and tendency of the different forms of mental disease. The sight of an execution, or even the knowledge that one has taken place, tends to develope the destructive impulse in the minds of those who are prone to it, and to excite that obscure operation of sympathy which was alluded to in speaking of the cases of suicide from the monument. Thus the punishment, instead of having a beneficial effect upon the minds of those who labor under homicidal tendencies, actually stimulates them to the crime.
“ He infers, from an attentive examination of the subject, that, at least in two out of three instances, suicide has been attempted previously to the perpetration of the murder, and that the state of mind which impels them to commit murder renders them desirous of self-destruction. Those who are found most frequently at executions are persons in whom the destructive propensity is in a state of morbid excitability. The fact mentioned by Mr. Ewart in the House of Commons, and referred to by Mr. Sampson, certainly strengthens his position. It appears, that, out of 167 persons who had been executed during a certain period, 164 were found to have been present at executions.” Winslow on Insanity, p. 81.
We have considered but a small number of the topics which are treated at length in Dr. Ray's valuable and interesting work. His views in relation to all of them are entitled to much respect, from the abundant opportunities which he has enjoyed for observation, and from the candor, acuteness, and sound judgment, which he displays in discussing all the mooted points of his subject. The book abounds with curious information and food for thought, and may be heartily commended to the attention of the general student, as well as of those whose professional pursuits give them an immediate interest in the matters of which it treats. - No. 126.
Art. II. - An Address delivered before the Society of the
Alumni of Harvard University, on their Anniversary,
CA The Alumni of Harvard University were peculiarly fortunate in selecting, as the orator for their recent anniversary, one whom many years of intimate connection with that institution had made conversant with its history, condition, claims, and wants, and who had gained the right to speak with authority of the duties of the graduates to their Alma Mater, by his own faithful services on her boards of instruction and supervision, and by untiring devotion to her interests. His address is full of valuable suggestions with reference to college discipline, and bears throughout the tokens of sound discretion and great practical wisdom. It is, at the same time, a scholarly production, rich in classical and literary allusions and quotations, and bearing numerous marks of the liberal tastes and pursuits to which the author's life has been consecrated. We avail ourselves of its appearance, to fulfil a long cherished purpose of presenting our views of the present condition and wants of our venerable University ; and, in doing this, we shall refer freely to the address before us, in illustration and corroboration of our statements.
The means of liberal education now presented at Cambridge are undoubtedly more ample than at any previous period, and far surpass those enjoyed at any other literary institution on this side of the Atlantic, The chairs of instruction, with hardly an exception, are filled by men of well known and eminent scholarship in their respective departments, and of exemplary diligence and zeal in the cultivation of literature and science. The library, meagre as it is when compared with those of European universities, is beyond comparison more valuable than any other in America, and has of late increased with unexampled rapidity. In point of scientific collections and apparatus, Harvard, though for a time behind Yale, must now, with her new and splendidly furnished observatory, take precedence in the department of astronomy, and in that of natural science is fast gaining ground on her only competitor. The standard of qualifications for admission at Cambridge has been greatly raised
within a few years, and the examinations are so rigorously conducted, as to make the admission of the few dunces and drones who enter there a miracle. The amount of learning, which may be acquired there by industrious and ambitious students, is much larger and more various, than it formerly was; and the instruction given to such students is as thorough and faithful as could be desired. The courses of lectures annually delivered there comprise a very extended circle of liberal studies ; they are all accurate and able expositions of the branches of knowledge, to which they respectively appertain; and some of them add the attraction of commanding eloquence to that of profound learning, while others, no less valuable and useful, serve, indeed, to remind the hearer, that the Muses do not always dwell together. In fine, our University may now be said to lack no desirable facility for the cultivation of any branch of knowledge, that can properly come within the range of a collegiate course.
But, notwithstanding the superior advantages which it offers, (and which, we are glad to see, are embraced, the present year, by an unusually large number of professional students,) Harvard College, in the most populous part of the whole country, has remained stationary as to the number of undergraduates, for twenty or thirty years, while the younger New England colleges are every year admitting larger and larger classes. Nay, more, considered as the college of Massachusetts and New England, Harvard has been constantly losing patronage. Were it not for the more than quadrupled population of Boston and its environs, the Cambridge catalogues would have exhibited an annual decrease for the last twenty years. Twenty years ago, about one fifth of the undergraduates were from Boston, and about one fourth from places within ten miles of the College. Now, about one third are from Boston, and not far from one half come from towns within ten miles of Cambridge. Meanwhile, the catalogues of other colleges have shown an annually increasing number of students, who, coming from the immediate vicinity of Cambridge, must needs have had some peculiarly stringent reason for resorting to colleges situated one, two, or three hundred miles distant from their homes.
This state of things is not to be accounted for by the increased number of colleges; for there has been but one new college established in New England for the last twenty years;