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Crime And Its Correctives
by [?]

It is singular with what tenacity that amusing though mischievous superstition keeps its hold upon the human mind–that grave bona fide personification of abstractions and the funny delusion that it is possible to hate or love them. Sin is not a thing; there is no existing object corresponding to any of the mere counter-words that are properly named abstract nouns. One can no more hate sin or love virtue than one can hate a vacuum (which Nature–itself imaginary–was once by the scientists of the period solemnly held to do) or love one of the three dimensions. We may think that while loving a sinner we hate the sin, but that is not so; if anything is hated it is other sinners of the same kind, who are not quite so close to us.

“But,” says Citizen Goodheart, who thinks with difficulty, “shall I throw over my friend when he is in trouble?” Yes, when you are convinced that he deserves to be in trouble; throw him all the harder and the further because he is your friend. In addition to his particular offense against society he has disgraced you. If there are to be lenity and charity let them go to the criminal who has foreborne to involve you in his shame. It were a pretty state of affairs if an undetected scamp, fearing exposure, could make you a co-defendant by so easy a precaution as securing your acquaintance and regard. Don’t throw the first stone, of course, but when convinced that your friend is a proper target, heave away with a right hearty good-will, and let the stone be of serviceable dimensions, scabrous, textured flintwise and delivered with a good aim.

The French have a saying to the effect that to know all is to pardon all; and doubtless with an omniscient insight into the causes of character we should find the field of moral responsibility pretty thickly strewn with extenuating circumstances very suitable indeed for consideration by a god who has had a hand in besetting “with pitfall and with gin” the road we are to wander in. But I submit that universal forgiveness would hardly do as a working principle. Even those who are most apt and facile with the incident of the woman taken in adultery commonly cherish a secret respect for the doctrine of eternal damnation; and some of them are known to pin their faith to the penal code of their state. Moreover there is some reason to believe that the sinning woman, being “taken,” was penitent–they usually are when found out.

I care nothing about principles–they are lumber and rubbish. What concerns our happiness and welfare, as affectible by our fellowmen, is conduct “Principles, not men,” is a rogue’s cry; rascality’s counsel to stupidity, the noise of the duper duping on his dupe. He shouts it most loudly and with the keenest sense of its advantage who most desires inattention to his own conduct, or to that forecast of it, his character. As to sin, that has an abundance of expounders and is already universally known to be wicked. What more can be said against it, and why go on repeating that? The thing is a trifle wordworn, whereas the sinner cometh up as a flower every day, fresh, ingenious and inviting. Sin is not at all dangerous to society; it is the sinner that does all the mischief. Sin has no arms to thrust into the public treasury and the private; no hands with which to cut a throat; no tongue to wreck a reputation withal. I would no more attack it than I would attack an isosceles triangle, a vacuum, or Hume’s “phantasm floating in a void.” My chosen enemy must be something that has a skin for my switch, a head for my cudgel–something that can smart and ache and, if so minded, fight back. I have no quarrel with abstractions; so far as I know they are all good citizens.