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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/676

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

was such a system which maintained the tortures portrayed in the Theresian code, and which, during centuries of supreme control, had sole power to remove the curse, yet never took a step in that direction till driven by outside pressure.

There is a great work to be written by some student who can relate the decline and fall of that engine of tyranny. Many nations successively were freed from its terrors. It was a long and bitter war between the allied powers of kings and priests, and the true lovers of humanity. It was a secret war of ideas, and its weapons were the clandestine publications of daring freethinkers, secretly translated and circulated over Europe at the risk of a lingering death in the torture chamber.

Such a work would be a history full of joyous reading. One would fain learn everything about Beccaria, the first and greatest successful mover in that holy cause. We would confer all due honor upon Hommel, Voltaire, Howard, and those who helped spread the great Italian's burning words over the continent. Our copy of Theresa's code was printed five years after Beccaria had issued his great work for the abolition of capital punishment and torture. The conflict of the age had begun, but the great empress knew or heeded it not.

The old system left its marks on our language. Persistent questioning is called "inquisitive," and when one's acts are put under sharp inquiry they are "called in question." People who do not know what the rack was, complain of racking pains. Ladies "suffer excruciatingly," without thinking of the myriads who have really been excruciated, or put to death on the cross. The word torquere, applied by the Latins to the twisting of human limbs, gave us such words as torture, torment, and extortion. Ladies may now be called "bewitching" without being accused of actual dealings with Satan. In short, words once of deadly import are now the weakest of hyperbole.

Since these reforms of ancient abuses became universal, their ideas have been extended in America to an unwise and absurd degree. Sentimental mercy has not only destroyed the efficiency of courts of justice, but has impaired national confidence in them. A second reaction takes place, from the false mercy of maudlin sympathy with crime, to the deliberate and lawless fury of mobs and lynchers. The prevention of cruelty to animals is an absorbing "fad" with some who would not concern themselves with the heart-breaking tyranny of a drunken husband in the nearest house.

Yet evolution works steadily on. Whether it be a hundred years hence or a million, the day may come when every mortal in his strength and pride will be too noble to torment the weak or helpless.