The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 4
Lecture XIII. Treatment of Criminals Continued
Lecture XIII. Treatment of Criminals Continued.
Criminals in whom the moral and intellectual organs are considerably developed—Influence of external circum-stances on this class—Doctrine of regeneration—Importance of attending to the functions of the brain in reference to this subject, and the treatment of criminals—Power of society over the conduct of men possessing brains of the middle class—Case of a criminal made so by circumstances—Expediency of keeping certain men from temptation—Thefts by post-office officials—Aid furnished by Phrenology, in selecting persons to fill confidential situations—Punishment of criminals—objects of Punishment—Its legitimate ends are to protect society by example, and to reform the offenders—Means of effecting these purposes—Confinement—Employment-Unsatisfactory state of our existing prisons—Moral improvement of criminals.
The second class of heads to which I direct your attention, is that in which the organs of the animal propensities, of the moral sentiments, and of the intellectual faculties, are all large, and nearly in equilibrium. In individuals, thus constituted, the large organs of the propensities gives rise to vivid manifes- page 70 tations of the animal feelings, but the large organs of the moral sentiments and intellect produce also strong moral emotions and intellectual perceptions. In practical conduct such persons are, to a remarkable extent, the creatures of external circumstances. If one of them, born of profligate parents, be trained to idleness, intoxication, and crime, his whole lower organs will thus, from infancy, be called into vivid action, while his moral sentiments will receive no proportionate cultivation. His intellectual faculties, denied all rational and useful instruction, will be employed only in serving and assisting the propensities; they will be sharpened to perpetrate crime, and to elude punishment. Such an individual will be prepared to become a habitual criminal, and he will be the more dangerous to society on account of the considerable degree in which he possesses moral and intellectual faculties. These will give him an extent of intelligence and plausibility, which will enable him only the more successfully to deceive, or probably to obtain access to places of trust, in which he may commit the more extensive peculations.
If, on the other hand, an individual thus constituted be placed from infancy in the bosom of a moral, intelligent, and religious family, who shall present few or no temptations to his propensities, but many powerful and agreeable excitements to his higher faculties; if he shall have passed the period of youth under this influence, and in early manhood have been ushered into society with all the advantages of a respectable profession, and a high character, and been received and cherished by the virtuous as one of themselves; then his moral and intellectual faculties may assume and maintain the ascendency during life.
If, again, an individual of this class have been religiously educated, but, in early youth, have left home, and been much thrown upon the world;—that is to say, left to associate with persons of indifferent characters and dispositions, he may gradually deteriorate. In the dawn of manhood and blaze of his passions, his conduct may be not a little profligate and disreputable: But as he advances in life, the energy of the animal organs may begin to decay; or they may be exhausted by excessive indulgence; or he may suffer afflictions in his health, in his family, or in his worldly circumstances (all which have a tendency, for the time, to quell the energy of the animal passions); and under the influence of these combined causes and circumstances, his moral organs may recover their activity, his early religious impressions may resume their ascendency, and he may come forth a repentant sinner, and a reformed man.
In religion, this process is generally called regeneration. According to my observation, the men who are converted and reformed from habitual profligacy, and who continue, afterwards, permanently moral and religious characters, possess this combination of brain. They become profligate at first, from the energetic action of their large organs of the animal propensities; and when subsequently they become respectable Christians, they act under the control of their moral and intellectual powers.
I am aware, that, in making this statement, I am treading on delicate ground; because many sincere and excellent persons believe that these results flow from the influence of the Holy Spirit, and that the Holy Spirit operates in regenerating sinners altogether independently of the laws of organization; in short, that the influence is supernatural. I do not at all dispute the power of God to operate independently of the natural laws: the very idea of his being omnipotent, implies power to do according to his pleasure, in all circumstances and times; but it appears to me that, the age of miracles being past, it does not now please God to operate on the human mind either independently of, or in contradiction to, the laws of organization instituted by himself. This reduces the question, not to one respecting God's power, for we all grant this to be boundless, but to one of fact,—whether it pleases Him actually to manifest his power over the human mind, always in harmony with,—or sometimes independently of,—and at other times in contradiction to, the laws of organization; and this fact, like any other, must be determined by experience and observation. I humbly report the results of my own observations; and say that, although I have seen a number of men of renewed lives, I have never met with one possessing a brain of the lowest character, who continued moral amidst the ordinary temptations of the world. Such men occasionally appear moral for a time; but they do not remain steadfast in the paths of virtue when temptation is presented. On the contrary, I have uniformly seen regenerated men who maintained their position, possess a brain in which the organs of the animal propensities, the moral sentiments, and the intellect, were all considerably developed; so that in these instances, the influence of religion seemed to me to operate completely in harmony with the organic laws. That influence cast the balance in favour of the higher sentiments, gave them the permanent ascendency, and hence produced the regenerated character.
These observations can be met, not by argument, but by counter facts. If any one will shew me cases in which men possessing the defective brains of idiots, or the diseased brains of insanity, have, by any religious influences, been converted into rational and pious Christians, he will completely overthrow my conclusions; because such facts would shew unequivocally that it does please God, in some instances, to operate on the mind, even in our day, independently of, or in contradiction to, the laws of organization. Nay, if examples shall be produced of men possessing the worst brains, becoming permanently, by the influence of religion, excellent practical Christians amidst external temptations, I shall yield the point. But no such examples have yet been exhibited. On the contrary, we see individuals whose heads are less than thirteen inches in circumference at the level of the eyebrows and occipital spine, continue irretrievable idiots through life; and we see madmen continue insane until their brains are restored to health by natural means. Nay, farther, I was told by the late Rev. Dr Andrew Thomson, who attended Mary Mackinnon, the mistress of a brothel, while under sentence of death for murder, that he found it impossible, on account of her great natural incapacity, to convey to her any precise views or feelings of religion, or of the heinousness of her crime, and that he was greatly grieved to observe that nearly all he said fell powerless on her mind; or if it did rouse any feeling, this lasted only for a moment. If you examine the development of her head, as shewn in the cast, you will find that the moral and intellectual organs are very deficient. In regard to moral, intellectual, and religious impressions, she was in a condition similar to that in which a person with an extremely small organ of Tune would find himself in relation to music. Either he could not perceive the melody at all; or, if he did, the impression would die instantly when the instrument ceased to sound in his ears.
Perhaps some of you may be of opinion that this is a discussion which belongs more to theology than to moral philosophy. In reply, I remark, that the question regarding what is the scriptural doctrine touching regeneration belongs to theology, and I avoid all discussion of it; but the question, does any religious influence act independently of, or in contradiction to, the laws of organization, is one which belongs to page 71 philosophy. Indeed, it teaches a fundamental point in moral philosophy; because, if the laws of nature, on which alone philosophy rests, are liable, in the case of mind, to be traversed by influences of any kind operating independently of, or in contradiction to them, moral philosophy can have no foundation. There may be a theology comprising a code of moral duty, founded on Scripture; but assuredly there can be no philosophy of morals founded on nature. In like manner, there can be no natural religion; because all our scientific observations and conclusions will be constantly liable to be falsified, and rendered worse than useless, by a supernatural influence producing results entirely independent of, or in contradiction to, the causes which are presented in nature for the guidance of our understandings. This question, therefore, is not only important, but, as I have said, fundamental in a course of moral philosophy; and I could not consistently avoid introducing it. Many theologians deny that any sound philosophy of morals can be drawn from the study of nature; and found morals, as well as religion, exclusively on revelation. This opinion leads them to shut their eyes to many most important facts in nature, and to depreciate their value. It appears to me that they err in this conclusion; and that theology will be improved, when divines become acquainted with the constitution of the human faculties, their dependence on organization, and the natural laws of man in general.
I beg you to observe, that this question here assumes a different aspect from that in which it is generally presented to your consideration. In the discussions which commonly take place on it, we find arguments and opinions stated against arguments and opinions; and the result is mere unprofitable disputation. In the present case, I adduce facts,—in other words, God's will written in his works; and these are placed, not against the Bible (for, be it observed, there is no declaration in Scripture that any religious influences operate independently of, or in contradiction to, the natural laws), but against human inferences unwarrantably (as it appears to me) drawn from Scripture, that this is the case. We place facts in nature against human interpretations of Scripture; and these too, deduced at first, and now insisted on, by men who were, and are, entirely ignorant of the facts in question.
A second reason for introducing this subject is, that I consider it to be of great importance that religious persons should be correctly informed concerning the facts. If you examine the lists of the members of the most useful and benevolent societies in all parts of the country, and especially of prison-discipline societies, you will discover that individuals distinguished for their religious character form a large and a highly influential portion of them. These persons act boldly and conscientiously on their own principles; and if, in any respect, their views happen to be erroneous, they become, by their very sincerity, union, and devotion, the most formidable enemies to improvement. In consequence of profound ignorance of the facts in nature which I have stated, this class of persons, or at least many of them, are alarmed at the doctrine of the influence of the brain on the mental dispositions, and oppose the practical application of it in criminal legislation, in prison-discipline, and in schools; and they obstinately refuse to inquire into the facts, because they imagine that they have the warrant of Scripture for maintaining that they cannot be true. This conduct is unphilosophical, and sheds no lustre on religion. It impedes the progress of truth, and retards the practical application of the natural laws to the removal of one of the greatest evils with which society is afflicted. This is no gratuitous supposition on my part; because I know; from the best authority, that within these few weeks, when the Prison-discipline Society of this city was formed, religious men specially objected to the admission of an individual into that society, because he was known to be a phrenologist, and to hold the opinions which I am here expounding; in other words, an individual who had studied and observed the natural laws in regard to the influence of the brain on the mental dispositions, was deliberately excluded from that society, lest he should attempt to point out to its members the advantages to be derived from knowing and obeying the laws of God !*
Thirdly, I introduce this subject because, from the extensive observations which have been made by Dr Gall, Dr Spurzheim, and their followers, during the last five-and-thirty years in many parts of the world, I have the most complete conviction that the facts which I now state are true, and that they will inevitably prevail; and that, whenever they do prevail, the enemies of religion will be furnished with a new weapon with which to assail her, by the opposition which religious persons are now making to improvements in the treatment of criminals, in ignorance, as I have said, of these facts, and of their inevitable consequences. They will point to that opposition, and proclaim, as they have often done, that Religion sets herself forward as the enemy of all philosophy, and of every moral and social improvement which does not emanate from her own professors. Such an accusation will be unfounded when directed against religion; because it will be applicable only to religious men who are, at the same time, ill-informed and dogmatical. But only the enlightened and the candid will give effect to this distinction; and it therefore becomes every sincere friend to the best and holiest of causes, not to give occasion to the scoffer to point the finger of contempt at its resisting truth.
To return to the subject from which we have digressed, I observe, that in the case of this class of brains, in which the organs of the propensities, moral sentiments, and intellectual faculties, are nearly in equilibrium, society enjoys a great power in producing good or evil. If, by neglecting education, by encouraging the use of intoxicating liquors, by permitting commercial convulsions attended with extreme destitution, society allows individuals possessing this combination of mental organs to be thrown back, as it were, on their animal propensities, it may expect to rear a continual succession of criminals. If, by a thorough and all-pervading training and education, moral, religious, and intellectual; by well regulated social institutions providing steady employment, with adequate remuneration; and also by affording opportunities for innocent recreation, this class of men shall be led to seek their chief enjoyments from their moral and intellectual faculties, and to restrain their animal propensities, they may be effectually saved from vice. It is from this class that the great body of criminals arises; and as their conduct is determined, to a great extent, by their external circumstances, the only means of preventing them from becoming criminals, is, to fortify their higher faculties by training and education, and to remove external temptation by introducing improvements, as far as possible, into our social habits and institutions.
* I could name important Institutions, supported by public subscriptions, which have been brought to an admirable state of efficiency by aid of the lights which Phrenology sheds on the human mind in health and in disease; but which aid is carefully concealed from the public, although candidly acknowledged in private, lest, were the fact avowed, the evangelical subscribers should withdraw their contributions! 1840.
The way to prevent crime, in cases like this, is to avoid presenting temptation to men whose defective moral organs do not enable them to withstand it. Phrenology will certainly come to the assistance of society in this respect, because it affords the means of determining beforehand, whether any great moral deficiency exists. The chief officers of the post-office in Britain frequently have persons pressed on them to act in subordinate stations, who are recommended not by their own fitness but by influential political patrons; and the consequence is, that scarcely a day closes in which one or more capital felonies have not been committed, in abstracting money from letters. I called the attention of Sir Edward Lees, late secretary of the Edinburgh post-office, to the aid which Phrenology might afford towards the remedy of this evil, by enabling the Government to select individuals in whom the moral and intellectual organs so decidedly predominate over those of the animal propensities, that they would be free from internal temptations to steal, and of course be more able to resist the external temptations presented by their situations. lie visited the Museum of the Phrenological Society, where I shewed him the skulls and busts of many executed criminals, from Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and enabled him to compare them with the skulls and busts of virtuous men: he acknowledged that the difference was so palpable that it was impossible to avoid the perception of it, and that he could not see any sufficient reason why Phrenology, if borne out by large experience, should not be applied in this manner; but added, truly, that, being only a subordinate functionary, he had no power to carry so great an innovation into practice.*
The reason why I introduce these facts is, to press on your attention the dereliction of social duty which the better constituted members of society commit, while they neglect to use the light which Providence presents to their eyes. If official persons place men in whom the animal faculties predominate, or in whom the balance between them and the moral powers only hangs in equilibrium, in external circumstances in which temptations are presented to the inferior faculties stronger than they are able to resist, a great portion of the guilt of their offences lies with those who thus expose them to trial; and although the criminal law does not recognise this as guilt, the natural law clearly does so. Loss, annoyance, and sometimes ruin, ensue from these depredations; and if the municipal law held those responsible for the evils who appointed the delinquents to office, the natural chastisements for placing improper persons in situations of trust would reach the primary offenders.
It may appear hard, that these punishments should have been inflicted for so many generations, while men did not possess any adequate means of discriminating natural dispositions, so as to be able to avoid them. This difficulty presents itself in regard to all the natural laws; and the only answer that can be offered is, that it has pleased Providence to constitute man a progressive being, and to subject him to a rigid discipline in his progress to knowledge. Our ancestors suffered and died under the ravages of the smallpox, until they discovered vaccination; and we lately suffered helplessly under cholera, because we have not yet found out its causes and remedies. There are merchants who employ Phrenology in the selection of clerks, warehousemen, and other individuals in whom confidence must be placed, and they have reaped the advantages of its lights.
I may here remark, that the number of really inferior brains is not great; and that of all the countless thousands who are entrusted with property, and have the power of appropriating or misapplying it, the number who actually do so is comparatively small. Still, those who do not know how to judge of dispositions from the brain, are left under an habitual uncertainty whether any particular individual, on whose fidelity their fortunes depend, and whom they had always regarded as an example of the highest class, may be found, on some unlucky day, to belong to the inferior order.
I repeat, then, that the first step towards preventing, and thereby diminishing, crimes, is to avoid placing men with inferior brains in external circumstances of temptation, which they are not calculated to resist. The second is, to give every possible vigour to the moral and intellectual faculties, by so exercising and instructing them, as to cast the balance of power and activity in their favour. And the third is, to improve, as sedulously as possible, our social institutions, so as to encourage the activity of the higher powers, and diminish that of the inferior faculties, in all the members of society.
* If the Post-Office and other public authorities would order accurate casts to be made from the heads of all their servants who are convicted of embezzlement, and compare them with the heads of those who have maintained the highest character for tried integrity, they would see a difference that would force them to believe in the influence of organization on the mental dispositions: but while the patronage of Government is wielded chiefly as a means of rewarding political subserviency, the public interests must give way to those of party politicians.
We have seen that men of the middle class of cerebral development (and most criminals belong to it) are led into crime in consequence of the ascendency, for the time, of their animal propensities; but that, nevertheless, they possess, to a considerable extent, also moral sentiments and intellect. In treating them as criminals, we may have various objects in view. First, our object may be revenge, or the desire to inflict suffering on them because they have made society suffer. This is the feeling of savages, and of all rude and naturally cruel minds: and if we avow this as our principle of action, and carry it consistently into effect, we should employ instruments of torture, and put our criminals to a cruel and lingering death. But the national mind is humanized beyond the toleration of this practice. I humbly think, however, that as we profess to be humane, we should entirely discard the principle of vengeance from our treatment, as unchristian, unphilosophical, and inexpedient, and not allow it to mingle even covertly, as I fear it still does, with our system of criminal legislation.
Or, secondly, our object may be, by inflicting suffering on criminals, to deter other men from offending. This is the general and popular notion of the great end of punishment; and when applied to men of the middle class of faculties, it is not without foundation. Individuals who are strongly solicited by their animal propensities, and have a very great deficiency of the moral and intellectual faculties,—that is to say, criminals of the lowest grade of brain,—are not alive even to the fear of punishment. You will find them committing capital felonies, while they are attending the execution of their previous associates for similar offences. Their moral and intellectual organs are so deficient, that they possess no adequate controlling power over their propensities to enable them to profit by example. The terror of punishment, therefore, scarcely produces an appreciable effect on their conduct; and some persons, drawing their observations from this class alone, have concluded, as a general Tule, that suffering inflicted on one offender does not deter any other individual from committing crime. But I respectfully differ from this opinion. Wherever the organs of the moral and reflecting faculties possess considerable development, example does produce some effect: and the higher the moral and intellectual faculties rise in power, the more completely efficacious does it become. What one of us would not feel it as an enormous evil, to be dragged to prison; to be locked up, night and day, in the society of the basest of mankind; to be publicly tried at the bar of a criminal court, and subsequently transported as a felon to a distant colony? Most of us instinctively feel that death itself, in an honourable form, would be perfect bliss, compared with such a fate. If, therefore, any of us ever felt, for a moment, tempted to infringe the criminal law, unquestionably the contemplation of such appalling consequences of guilt would operate, to a considerable extent, in steadying our steps in virtue. But the error is very great, of supposing that all men are constituted with such nice moral sensibilities as these. Superior minds feel in this manner, solely because their moral and intellectual organs are large; and the same feelings do not operate to the same extent in the case of men possessing inferior brains.
Laws have been enacted, in general, by men possessing the best class of brains, and they have erroneously imagined that punishment would have the same effect on all other individuals which it would have on themselves. While, therefore, I consider it certain that the fear of punishment does operate beneficially on the waverers, I regard its influence as much more limited than is generally believed. A man who has a tendency to commit crime, will be capable of anticipating the consequences of offending, with a degree of precision corresponding to the extent of his intellectual endowments; but in the same proportion will his capacity for eluding them, by superior address, increase; whence there is a counteracting influence, even in the possession of intellect. The faculty chiefly addressed by the prospect of punishment, is Fear, or Cautiousness; and although, in some men, this is a powerful sentiment, yet, in many, the organ is deficient, and there is little consciousness of the feeling.
On the whole, therefore, the conclusion at which I arrive on this point is, that the condition of convicted criminals should be such as should be felt to be a very serious abridgment of the enjoyments of moral and industrious men; and this it must necessarily be, even under the most improved method of treating them; but I do not consider it advisable that one pang of suffering should be added to their lot for the sake of deterring others, if that pang be not calculated to prove beneficial to themselves. Indeed, it is a questionable point in morals, whether society is at all warranted in inflicting on one of its members suffering which can do him no good, solely with a view to benefit itself by deterring others, at his expense, from committing crime. It appears to me that this is unjust, and, therefore, inadmissible; and it is still less defensible, because it is unnecessary.
Thirdly, our object in criminal legislation may be, at once to protect society by example, and to reform the offenders themselves. This appears to me to be the only real and legitimate object of criminal law in a Christian country, and the question arises, How may it best be accomplished?
A condemned criminal is necessarily an individual who has been convicted of abusing his animal propensities, and thereby inflicting evil on society. He has proved by his conduct, that his moral and intellectual powers do not possess sufficient energy, in all circumstances, to restrain his propensities. Restraint, therefore, must be supplied by external means; in other words, he must, both for his own sake and for that of society, be taken possession of, and prevented from doing mischief; he must be confined. Now, this first step of discipline itself affords a strong inducement to waverers to avoid crime; because, to the idle and dissolute, the lovers of ease and pleasure, confinement is a sore evil; one which they dread more than a severe but shorter infliction of pain. This measure is recommended, therefore, by three important considerations,—that it serves to protect society, to reform the criminal, and to deter other men from offending.
* The text was written in 1835-6, and an improvement has since taken place in the management of British prisons. A prison act has been passed, appointing Boards for the direction of prisons in Scotland, and Mr Frederick Hill, a gentleman distinguished for humanity and intelligence, has been named Inspector of them. 1841.
The improvement of prisons in both sections of the Island Steadily proceeds; but still the true philosophy of prison discipline is little understood. 1846.
The proper treatment is to separate them, as much as possible, from each other; and while they are in each other's society, to prevent them, by the most vigilant superintendence, from communicating immoral ideas and impressions to each other's minds. In the next place, they should be all regularly employed; because nothing tends more directly to sub-due the inordinate activity of the animal propensities than labour. It occupies the mind, and physiologically it drains off, by the muscles, from the brain, the nervous energy, which, in the case of criminals, is expended by their large organs of the propensities. The greater the number of the higher faculties that the labour stimulates, the more beneficial it will be. Mounting the steps of a treadmill exercises merely the muscles, and acts on the mind by exhausting the nervous energy and producing the feeling of fatigue. It does not excite a single moral or intellectual faculty. Working as a weaver or shoemaker would employ more of the intellectual powers; the occupations of a carpenter or blacksmith are still more ingenious; while that of a machine-maker stands higher still in the scale of mental requirement. Many criminals are so deficient in intellect, that they are not capable of engaging in ingenious employments; but my proposition is, that, wherever they do enjoy intellectual talent, the more effectually it is drawn out, cultivated, and applied to useful purposes, the more will their powers of self-guidance and control be increased.
Supposing the quiescence of the animal propensities to be secured by restraint and by labour, the next object obviously is, to impart vigour to their moral and intellectual faculties, so that they may be rendered capable of mingling with society at a future period, without relapsing into crime. The moral and intellectual faculties can be cultivated only by exercising them on their natural objects, and in their legitimate fields. If any relative of ours possessing an average development of the bones and muscles. of the legs, had nevertheless, through sheer indolence, lost the use of them and become incapable of walking, should we act wisely, with a view to his recovery, if we fixed him in an armchair, from which it was impossible for him to rise? Yet, when we lock up criminals in prison, amidst beings who never give expression to a moral emotion without its becoming a subject of ridicule; when we exclude from their society all moral and intelligent men calculated to rouse and exercise their higher faculties; and when we provide no efficient means for their instruction; do we not, in fact, as effectually deprive all their superior powers of the means of exercise and improvement, as we would do the patient with feeble legs, by pinioning him down to a chair? All this must be reversed. Effectual means must be provided for instructing criminals in duty and knowledge, and for exercising their moral and intellectual faculties. This can be done only by greatly increasing the numbers of higher minds that hold communion with them; by rendering their labour the means of purchasing the stores which they consume; and by encouraging them to read and to exercise all their best powers in every practicable manner. The influence of visiters in jails, in ameliorating the character of criminals, is explicable on such grounds. The individuals who undertake this duty are, in general, prompted to it by the vivacity of their own moral feelings; and the manifestation of these towards the criminals excites the corresponding faculties in them into action. On the same principle on which the presence of profligate associates cultivates and strengthens the propensities, does the society of virtuous men excite and strengthen the moral powers.
By this treatment the offender would be restored to society with his inferior feelings tamed, his higher powers invigorated, his understanding enlightened, and his whole mind and body trained to industrious habits. If this should not afford society a more effectual protection against his future crimes, and be more in consonance with the dictates of Christianity than our present treatment, I stand condemned as a vain theorist; but if it would have these blessed effects, I humbly entreat of you to assist me in subduing that spirit of ignorance and dogmatism which represents these views as dangerous to religion and injurious to society, and presents every obstacle to their practical adoption.*
* The prisons in the United States of America are conducted in a manner greatly superior to those of Great Britain and Ireland: but even they admit of improvement. I shall add some remarks on them to the next Lecture.