« PreviousContinue »
need, when it is fully ascertained that the parents or nearest relatives are not in a condition to discharge them adequately? And, again, supposing their system to be correct in principle, may it not, on the other hand, be attended by so many evil consequences when reduced to practice as to justify its rejection ?
Human law, in asserting that we are bound to take care of our own offspring, does but echo the conclusion at which reason must arrive, and which the concurrent testimony of nature and of revelation proclaims to be correct; and we cannot but feel that society, even in cases of urgency, is more moved by a species of innate compassion for the helpless innocence of childhood than by any sympathy for the erring parents who, in one class of instances, indulge their own heartless sensuality unmindful of the ties of natural affection, or in another class are thoughtless enough to contract a matrimonial alliance without any obvious prospect of supporting the probable issue of the connexion. Of whom, then, may we ask, does that society consist which is so ready to burden itself with the children of these individuals? Does it not mainly consist of those members of the community who have to support families of their own ? And how many of these under the Roman Catholic system actually may be under the necessity of denying themselves and their own children a portion of their hardly-earned sustenance, not merely to contribute towards the maintenance of the offspring of those still poorer than themselves, but even to assist in supporting the illegitimate or the deserted progeny of the rich profligate-a privation to which they must quietly submit or choose the more painful and humiliating alternative of breaking up the most tender ties of the household and the house, and 'Alinging their own little ones upon the fatherhood and the protection of the public. The most worthy are those who are made to suffer—as if, indeed, a premium were held out for the destruction of domestic affection.
The honest poor man is forced to assist in the support of those whose shameless and heartless parents have not been driven to abandon them by the pressure of penury and distress. Furthermore, among those members of society who have no families of their own to provide for, how many individuals, though moving in respectable spheres, yet hesitate to establish a domestic hearth for themselves, and forego the endearments for which they sigh, simply because they dread to incur the attendant responsibility whilst they are not fully assured that they can command the means required to bring up a family properly; yet these, too, are at the same time compelled to contribute their share towards the support of the children of others less worthy and less considerate than themselves. Thus, then, the scheme is unjust in its operation; nor does the state evince much consistency in principle, in acting upon the Roman Catholic system. Millions of money from the public treasury are here spent with a lavish hand at the mere application of unknown individuals without the least previous investigation as to the justice and necessity of the demand, whilst in all other cases of distress the most scrupulous economy and precaution is observed before a single sou is granted. The system, moreover, however laudable in design, tends in a great measure to encourage depravity of morals and of manners, and to increase illicit intercourse between the sexes, the state showing itself ready to meet the evil consequences, to palliate the crime, to remove the attendant difficulties, and to conceal the names and the disgrace of the delinquents,--thus taking away those very circumstances which, if not counteracted, are in themselves the principal checks to licentious indulgence, especially on the part of females.
But, exclaim the advocates of the Roman Catholic system, the German system, however correct in theory and principle, is so replete in practice with fatal results, as to render its adoption altogether impossible, the evil consequences resulting by far outbalancing the benefits to be derived from it. That system, they say, is calculated to drive many a wretched mother to the desperate act of infanticide, either to conceal from the public gaze the fruit of her sin, or to rid herself of the burden of maternal duties. Nor are there wanting, they add, facts which sufficiently confirm the alleged inference.
This objection to the German system appears, indeed, at first sight, well founded, as it is hardly possible, with our present habits of feeling and thinking, to suppose that even the most callous mother could divest herself of all natural yearnings after the fruit of her womb; or, if she could do so, that she would be able to set aside the fear of capital punishment in case of discovery, and become the murderess of her own infant, if she knew that she might so readily find the means of removing the causes by which she might otherwise be prompted to the atrocious act. The question here, however, is not one of theoretical probability, but one of real effects. The accounts of those frequent cases of infanticide which have occurred in remote, perhaps barbarous, countries, or in past ages, we shall not take into account as going to prove the fallacy or the correctness of the system, as far different causes than shame, disgrace, and misery, may be assigned as the motives which have led to the perpetration of the crime. Brutal ferocity, frantic hatred against the faithless father, or even a mistaken notion of compassion towards the illegitimate child, and a desire to rescue it from the painful and disgraceful position it must subsequently occupy in society, may, in many instances,
have given rise to infanticide. Religious fanaticism, too, has more than once stained the hand of the parent in the blood of the child; nor is history deficient in instances where whole castes or sects have attempted to exterminate their
progeny from false notion of honor, or the deep-rooted prejudices of national superstition. In order to form a correct judgment as to the expediency and respective merits of the two systems, it is necessary to prove by figures and numerical tables that the number of infanticides in a certain period of time is greater in those civilized countries where the Protestant system prevails than in those where the Roman Catholic system is introduced, although these countries share in
same moral and physical conditions. Such a comparison is, we believe, the only satisfactory method of arriving at the truth in the matter in question, and we shall therefore try to elicit it from the published official criminal statistics in various states.
According to the ‘Documens Statistiques sur la France, publiés par le Ministre du Commerce,' the population of France amounted in 1831 to 32,569,223 souls, and the cases of infanticide occurring during the period between 1826 and 1835 inclusive of these years, amounted to 984, or about 98 annually. Now, taking the medium number of the population during that period to have been thirty-two millions, the proportion of infanticide to the whole population would thus be as 1 to 326,530.
Again, in Catholic Ireland, where Foundling Hospitals of a somewhat similar character exist in the larger towns, the number of infanticides from 1826 to 1832 inclusive, was 175, or 25 yearly. Taking the average number of the population during that period to have amounted to 7,500,000 (in 1830 it was 7,767,000), the proportion of infanticides to the entire population would thus be as 1 to 300,000.
In England, on the other hand, where the German system is now acted upon, there occurred in the twenty-four years from 1810 to 1833, no more than 339 cases of infanticide, or rather more than fourteen annually; and as the average population of England and Wales, according to the censuses of 1810, 1820, and 1830, may be estimated during that period at 12,012,275, the proportion of infanticides to the population was therefore as ] to 856,581. It must not, however, be concealed that in Ireland there was scarcely any secured provision for the destitute poor, whilst in England the parish relief and the workhouse were available for almost all, and that whether their distress arose from sickness or misfortune, or from their own misconduct and idleness. Whilst, therefore, in England the offspring of the really necessitous were in some degree provided for, together with their parents, in Ireland the Foundling Hospital afforded the sole wretched asylum for the miserable children only, and
the mother might deem it better that her little one should be at once destroyed than for it to be sacrificed to lingering and pining sickness, and to the cold charity of strangers. The facts are, nevertheless, sufficient to show that though the doors of the hospital are open to all, yet the Catholic system does not satisfactorily accomplish the object proposed.
In Würtemburg, by the accounts in Memminger's Annals, the number of cases of infanticide varies on rather a disproportionate scale. From 1834 to 1836 inclusive, there occurred but four cases, whilst in the preceding eighteen months there were twenty. The fluctuation is the more striking as there were, apparently, not the slightest alterations in progress either in the laws or in the political or commercial situation of the country. It requires therefore more time and experience before any standard proportion can be properly and fairly deduced. At present Würtemburg exhibits a proportion of 1 to 400,000.
In Bade five or six instances occurred from 1830 to 1834 inclusive, presenting a proportion of I to 230,000.
The above proportions, though deduced from occurrences neither numerous enough in facts nor sufficiently comprehensive in time to point out with absolute certainty the proportion between the population and the cases of infanticide in the various countries, -yet nevertheless are adequate to show clearly that the absence of Foundling Hospitals does not by any means increase the instances of child-murder. The result to which our inquiry thus far brings us gains additional confirmation from the evidence of the two following most remarkable facts. When in the years 1834–5, twenty-four departments in France had, by way of economy and experiment, very materially reduced the number of those hospitals, the consequence was that the number of infanticides was found decreased in thirteen departments; stationary in one; and increased only in ten, at the same time that the proportion had risen considerably in the other fifty-four departments, where no correspondent reduction of these establishments had taken place—for though the proportion had undergone, during that period, a diminution of 18.5 per cent. in 25 of the latter departments, it had nevertheless increased by 40.5 per cent. in the remaining 29. Our second fact relates to Belgium, where the five provinces which possess Foundling Hospitals exhibited, in the period from the commencement of 1826 to the end of 1829, a proportion of infanticides to the population, in the ratio of 1 to 109,942, while in the other four provinces, where no such institutions exist, the proportion during that period was only 1 to 136,662.
The apprehended increase of infanticides, which the advocates of the Catholic system advance as their principal objection to the plan of the Germans, appears evidently to rest upon hollow ground in point of experience, and nothing can indeed be more preposterous than the supposition that the thousands of foundlings who are received in the hospitals would, but for this timely means of escape, have suffered a violent death at the hands of their mothers. Even the advocates of the Catholic system themselves, such as Terme and Monfalcon, so far from maintaining that the Protestant countries present more cases of infanticide than the Catholic, appear even to assert that the very reverse is the fact, and that, indeed, more infanticides occur in the latter than in the former. This too ample concession, however, we can scarcely admit, as it is not assuredly fully borne out by the statistical tables. Perhaps we shall be more accurately conveying the real feeling and opinion of our authors, though not exactly so expressed, if we say that the tendency to infanticide is greater in Catholic than in Protestant countries, as indeed it may well be when the unnatural disposition has been so long and so systematically fostered.
The increase of desertion or exposure of children by their parents, another evil which the advocates of the Catholic system apprehend may result from the opposite arrangements, cannot be at all better substantiated or, indeed, supported by any facts whatever. Such occurrences, on the contrary, hardly ever take place in Germany, and very rarely in England; and the great noise and excitement it creates whenever a child is discovered to have been deserted in either of these countries plainly show the strangeness of the phenomenon. The example of Mayence is another striking refutation of that argument. From the year 1799 to 1811, a period of twelve years, when that place was the centre of the military operations of agitated Europe, and consequently the seat of seduction, debauchery, and moral depravity, only thirty children had been deserted by their parents, while from the 7th of November, 1811, till March 1815, a period of only three years and four months (during which interval a foundling hospital was supported), more than 516 children had been deposited at the institution. Now taking the same average proportion of desertions as that which prevailed before the establishment of the institutions, there would in this period, have been only about eight children forsaken; 508 extra children therefore were thus caused to be deprived of parental care, and to be exposed to all the evil influences, both moral and physical, which necessarily attend such institutions —the remedy being certainly the less preferable than the malady. In taking the above as a fair average proportion, we are probably, moreover, exceeding the truth ; for Mayence was then no longer the seat of military operations, and the absence of the majority of the troops much more than compensates for the trifling increase which the standing population would undergo.