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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/48

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38
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

quently gravitated toward it. About their work in shop or field,

the daily bread of their minds was to think and talk of crime in every shape that diseased minds and perverted natures can conjure it up. One would entertain his companions by detailing to them the story of some crime committed by himself, or of which he had knowledge, while every one listened attentively, like so many experts. The story ended, criticism began, and each one would indicate what he considered the weak points in the plan and its execution, and would suggest improvements here and there. One story always led to another, and, as might be expected, minds accustomed to this highly seasoned food soon rejected all other.

The total population of the island at the time of my visit was 2,562, about seven hundred of whom were not criminals, but the wives and children of convicts who were, by necessity or choice, accompanying husbands or parents in their exile and imprisonment. As already stated, the great majority of the convicts had been sent here for murder, and belonged to a low, brutal type of men. The general tendency of this intermingling of the innocent with the criminal, and of the less depraved of the convicts with the worst, is to reduce all to a common level, and that level the lowest.

In the ordinary experience of life a man seldom or never sinks so low that there is no hope for him, hope both subjective and objective, but of the worst of these convicts this is not true. The only priest of the island, after j'-ears of labor, went through his sacred, duties in a perfunctory manner, for, as he gave me to understand, he had long since come to realize that the seed he sowed fell into the fire. Speaking to him one day regarding the peculiar charm of the place, he replied: "Ah me! I can't see these things now, for though it is, externally, all that you see and say of it, this quiet, this seclusion, this beautiful and bountiful nature are turned by man into a stifling, suffocating hole—a stench in the nostrils of God."

But fortunately the attractiveness, the beauty and grandeur of nature as seen in the delightful landscapes, the tropical vegetation, the peculiar fauna and flora, the majesty of the ocean, the violence of the tempests, the charming caprice of clouds and sunshine, prevent one from brooding too long over these dark pictures of human depravity, while the convicts themselves not infrequently come like quaint figures in the foregrounds of beautiful pictures. But to see this beauty one must look through the eyes of a lover of nature.

For the true-hearted naturalist there is no such thing as solitude, but to those who see but little or nothing companionable or intelligible in landscapes, in forests and fields and oceans, and above all to the ignorant, Fernando de Noronha doubtless seems