Baltimore Evening Sun (28 December 1911): 6.


Only 1,237 days more! Thus great boons perish, and Indian summer fades too soon!

Remark by the Hon. Thomas G. Boggs, cameriengo of the Sacred College of Prominent Baltimoreans:

The meeting of the National Business Association, which I attended in Chicago the other day, was one of the greatest fiascos I have ever witnessed.

Honest praise by a connoisseur. But why the qualifying “one”? What and where were the others? Let us have a list of them, good friend.

The election of the Maryland Anti-Vivisection Society to the Hon. the Sob Squad is gazetted.

Boil your drinking water! Buy a cemetery plot! Lay in a jug for New Year’s Eve! Save your children’s pennies for the tax-Mahon!

Reasons for annexing the estimable borough of Brooklyn:

1. It would give Baltimore 32 more saloons.

2. It would give Baltimore 5 more miles of unpaved street.

Marshal Farnan’s sensible suggestion that pickpockets be punished by amputating their fingers is not likely to get any attention from the Legislature of Maryland. It sums up the experience and reflection of an intelligent man, and therefore it is offensive, ipso facto, to lawmakers. Besides, even if the lawmakers were able to see its merit, the bawling of sentimentalists would make it impossible for them to put it into a law. A politiolan may safely laugh at reason, but he must beware of sentiment. The common people, whom he represents and visualizes, do all their thinking emotionally. A sob impresses them vastly, but they distrust and detest a syllogism.

However, as I have said, Marshal Farnan’s suggestion has sense in it, and some day, after mob rule has been overthrown and a natural aristocracy has seized the reins, it may be dug up and put into effect. The rise of democracy during the last 400 years has brought about a correlative augmentation of judicial sentimentality, and the result is that all the ingenious and varied punishments of a more clear-sighted age have disappeared. Today we have but two ways of punishing crime. One is that of killing the criminal–a punishment reserved for a few extra-heinous crimes and (with an accidental exception now and then) for poor men. The other way is that of compelling the criminal to live, for a definite time, in some given place. This last is the punishment commonly called imprisonment. It is a real punishment only to those criminals who hold to the old delusion that the joys of freedom outweigh its responsibilities, or to those who find the house in which they are confined less comfortable than the house they have left.

The so-called punishment of fining the criminal is really no punishment at all. On the contrary, it is a means of evading punishment--a scheme whereby the occasional criminal who can afford it is permitted to escape the just penalty of his crime by paying a bribe. The Chinese culprit bribes the judge personally; the American culprit bribes the judge as wiskinski for the community. The effect is exactly the same in the two cases; it makes no difference to the culprit what role the judge professes to play. All he knows is that, having money, he may go free, whereas if he were without money he would have to go to jail.

What we need, of course, is a revival of the fluent and scientific punishments of the feudal ages--punishments which bred ingenuity and honesty in judges, and worked exact justice. A medieval hudge had to keep his wits about him. His highest duty was that of making the punishment fit the crime. If, having one day punished a perjurer by cutting a schnitzel from the fellow’s tongue, he next day essayed to visit the same punishment upon a pickpocket, a kidnapper or a strolling actor, the superiors to whom he reported would probably set him down an osseocaput and take away his commission. He had to be alert--or quit.

But today a judge labors under no such incentive to intelligence. He is esteemed, not as he displays ingenuity, but as he suppresses ingenuity. He works entirely by rote. If the murderer before him is a pauper and friendless, he must pronounce sentence of death. If the murderer is rich and well-lawyered, he must grant the classical series of stays and appeals. If the drunkard has no money--seven days in jail. If the drunkard has a wad–a slice of that wad for the communal tin-bank. And in dealing with all intermediate crimes, he can impose only imprisonment, with the occasional alternative of accepting a bribe from an extra-opulent rogue. His sole discretion lies in determining the length of the imprisonment, and even here rigid laws limit his range of choice, and other laws condition and modify his choice after it is made.

How much better and saner the old system! How much better and saner the plan of Marshal Farnan! Cut off a pickpocket’s fingers and you at once make it impossible for him ever to pick pockets again. Here is the ideal combination of punishment and prevention. The crime is penalized and the criminal is cured. Imprisonment, it must be obvious, never cures a pickpocket. All it does is to forbid him, for a limited time, to practice his profession. As soon as he is liberated he goes back to that profession, and to it he clings until the last horn blows.

If, now, picking pockets is a profession that we are justified in suppressing, just as we have suppressed piracy, then it certainly follows that we should adopt the means best adapted to suppressing it. The physical disablement of the pickpocket is that means. It is not only the best means, but also the only means. Moral suasion will not do the trick. Imprisonment will not do it. Espionage will not do it. But mutilation will do it--and therefore Marshal Farnan, as a police officer of long experience and as a man of common sense, is in favor of mutilation.

But only, of course, theoretically. He knows very well, as all of us know, that the Legislature of Maryland will never adopt his plan. Sentiment stands against it–and sentiment is always an ass. We do not hesitate to send pickpockets to jail and there kill them in the shops, or to send them to the penitentiary and there convert them into consumtives, but at the simple, efficient, cleanly, humane and aseptic device of chopping off their watchhooks our virtuosi of virtue stand aghast.

Baltimore is the cow and the Legislature is the milkmaid. Laugh, suckers, laugh!