Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/668

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
652
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

The dangerous privilege of using these "methods for the discovery of truth" was greatly abused, and often carried to a fatal extreme. Through ages of unrecorded tyranny the party in power put down its enemies and all opposing thought by such unbridled cruelty as no one now cares to contemplate. The public conscience seemed to approve the principle of torture as a divine prerogative of kings. Barons, judges, priests—in brief, all great robbers and politicians—cherished it. The more humane monarchs, such as the Empress Theresa, could only limit its cruelties by precise and moderate safeguards, exempting from all torture the sick and feeble, the old men, pregnant women, young children, and weak-minded, and providing that medical and surgical skill be always at hand to restore those who are near death, and reduce dislocations or fractures.

In some of the histories and cyclopædias are misleading statements that torture was abolished from the Austrian dominions about the middle of the last century, whereas this Austrian code was promulgated nineteen years later. Again, it is recorded of Maria Theresa, after an account of her general European war of seven years, ending in 1748, that "she now turned her attention to the internal affairs of her states. She introduced numerous reforms, alleviated the burdens of the peasantry, abolished torture, and promoted industry," Her code, however, proves otherwise; for she had reigned twenty-one years after the peace of 1748 when she re-enacted these laws to perpetuate these terrible outrages on human justice. Whether she abolished it at all in the remaining ten years of her life is open to doubt. Other statements from the same sources, regarding the continuance and decline of the Holy Inquisition, appear equally questionable.

The study of such customs suggests strange and difficult questions. What sort of minds had those people? Did they possess conscience? If so, was it anything like the conscience of the moderns, who cherish the same sacred books? Was human justice then a false moral guide? Is it a true one now? Is human nature the same from age to age, or can it reverse itself while standing on the same basis? Was the woman-heart tender and sympathetic in those days? Or what sort of women reared the monsters who kept up torture for twenty centuries?

The persistence of that legal crime, in spite of all the morals, philosophies, and religions that held sway through those ages, is a hard and stubborn fact. Its phenomena seem to fit no favorite theory of general progress. What a world of intellectual power, of tender morality, of spiritual zeal, has blazed as with heavenly fire through those ages of unjust torment, without taking any concern in that system! It stood forth above all such influences like an upheaval of archaic rock which all the tides and storms of