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Crime And Its Correctives
by [?]


SOCIOLOGISTS have been debating the theory that the impulse to commit crime is a disease, and the ayes appear to have it–not the impulse but the decision. It is gratifying and profitable to have the point settled: we now know “where we are at,” and can take our course accordingly. It has for a number of years been known to all but a few back-number physicians–survivals from an exhausted regime–that all disease is caused by bacilli, which worm themselves into the organs that secrete health and enjoin them from the performance of that rite. The medical conservatives mentioned attempt to whittle away the value and significances of this theory by affirming its inadequacy to account for such disorders as broken heads, sunstroke, superfluous toes, home-sickness, burns and strangulation on the gallows; but against the testimony of so eminent bacteriologists as Drs. Koch and Pasteur their carping is as that of the idle angler. The bacillus is not to be denied; he has brought his blankets and is here to stay until evicted, and eviction can not be wrought by talking. Doubtless we may confidently expect his eventual suppression by a fresher and more ingenious disturber of the physiological peace, but the bacillus is now chief among ten thousand evils and it is futile to attempt to read him out of the party.

It follows that in order to deal intelligently with the criminal impulse in our afflicted fellow-citizens we must discover the bacillus of crime. To that end I think that the bodies of hanged assassins and such persons of low degree as have been gathered to their fathers by the cares of public office or consumed by the rust of inactivity in prison should be handed over to the microscopists for examination. The bore, too, offers a fine field for research, and might justly enough be examined alive. Whether there is one general–or as the ancient and honorable orders prefer to say, “grand”–bacillus, producing a general (or grand) criminal impulse covering a multitude of sins, or an infinite number of well defined and several bacilli, each inciting to a particular crime, is a question to the determination of which the most distinguished microscopist might be proud to devote the powers of his eye. If the latter is the case it will somewhat complicate the treatment, for clearly the patient afflicted with chronic robbery will require medicines different from those that might be efficacious in a gentleman suffering from constitutional theft or the desire to represent his District in the Assembly. But it is permitted to us to hope that all crimes, like all arts, are essentially one; that murder, arson and conservatism are but different symptoms of the same physical disorder, back of which is a microbe vincible to a single medicament, albeit the same awaits discovery.

In the fascinating theory of the unity of crime we may not unreasonably hope to find another evidence of the brotherhood of man, another spiritual bond tending to draw the various classes of society more closely together.

From time to time it is said that a “wave” of some kind of crime is sweeping the country. It is all nonsense about “waves” of crime. Occasionally occurs some crime notable for its unusual features, or for the renown of those concerned. It arrests public attention, which for a time is directed to that particular kind of crane, and the newspapers, with business-like instinct, give, for a season, unusual prominence to the record of similar offenses. Then, self-deceived, they talk about a “wave,” or “epidemic” of it. So far is this from the truth that one of the most noticeable characteristics of crime is the steady and unbroken monotony of its occurrence in certain forms. There is nothing so dull and unvarying as this tedious uniformity of repetition. The march of crime is never retarded, never accelerated. The criminals appear to be thoroughly well satisfied with their annual average, as shown by the periodical reports of their secretary, the statistician.