Saturday Evening Post
The Bogey Man Banished
The murders and uncleaner crimes which fill the papers every day are so much alike that they are apt to pall on us. Considered as literature the heroes are too common-place. We are surprised to find that the man who banged his friend’s head to a jelly the other day, or put strychnia in his coffee, bought his clothes from our own tailor and is known to our own chums as a clever amusing fellow.Are we really then all cut from the same cloth? Even the judges on the bench seem to confuse the sheep and the goats. One complimented a murderer the other day as a good father and a useful citizen—and what is more, he told the truth; and another, when a shameless woman calmly told the whole country how, day after day, she had disgraced her innocent daughters condoled with her upon her “heavy sorrows.”
Our fathers dealt in no such compliments. The judge put rue and tansy between him and the prisoner during the trial to ward off contagion from body and soul, and at the end recounted his crimes, held him up as a monster to the world, and put on the black cap while he prayed to God to have mercy on his soul.
An old chronicle of Newgate tells us how a murderer’s dead body was placed standing on a high black car with his bloody clothes and ax, and, escorted by regiments of soldiers, all the police and bands of music, was drawn through the massed streets, stopping at last where Drury Lane intersects the Strand. There a deep pit was dug and the quartered body, with a stake driven through the heart, was lowered into it amid a roar of execration from all London.
There was no mincing matters of as to the character of that fellow!
Does our modern change of attitude come from our growth in charity or simply from a better knowledge of ourselves? We have begun to find out that we are all like the Centaur, part man and part brute.
We begin to see, too, that most ill-doing is the result not of any abnormal, monstrous vice in us, but of virtues grown rank and poisonous. A flower run rampant kills the soil as much as any weed. The miser is at first only wisely prudent; the spendthrift only generous; passions which end in divorces and murders come into the lives of men who in their boyhood were more affectionate and impulsive than their fellows.
We all, if we have any mother wit, have found this out, and hence we have almost ceased to teach our boys of little fenced-in roads to little fenced-in heavens belonging to our own little sect, with all the rest of God’s children shut out.
But we show them Smith in the dock and Pratt on the gallows and say, “You, too—but for the goodness of God and the power of fight that is in you.”