Page images

of development owing to the multiplication of institutes supported by public funds or endowments derived from superfluous wealth. The once solitary worker-a Pasteur, a Lister, a Koch-is now represented by an institute, which offers permanent appointments and is also a stepping-stone to others. Social reform has not got quite so far; but it is coming along at a rapid pace.

The two books at the head of this article illustrate the process. Mr and Mrs Webb are pioneers in this profession, to which they have long devoted themselves by virtue of a natural bent and special faculties. Now they have many younger imitators, and though social reform hardly yet provides a career of itself, it is beginning to do so. The first book on the list, which is published by arrangement simultaneously with Mr and Mrs Webb's volume, is a product of the professional movement initiated by them. The undertaking was originally instigated by the Labour Research Committee, which may be called a Pasteur Institute for Social Reform in the embryonic stage, but with promise of growth and development to full professional stature. When this organisation and others analogous to it are established on a firm and permanent basis by endow. ment, we may confidently expect them to act like the scientific institutes and attract occupational reformers in increasing numbers. And endowment will not be lacking. It has been forthcoming for the production of this book, which aims at the reform of prisons, and there is plenty of other evidence that persons of means are ready to give financial support to such endeavours no less than to the advancement of science.

Whether endowed research or endowed reform is likely to achieve very much is another question on which some doubt is permissible. Experience goes to show that real researchers and reformers are born, not made. They are driven by an inward fire, and though timely aid may greatly promote their success, which is liable to be hindered by lack of means and appliances, that is quite a different thing from providing a regular career for those who lack the true ardour of the chase, inspired by vivid consciousness of a specific quarry and intense desire to secure it. Subsidised and systematised effort tends to assume a routine character, or to spend


itself in directions chosen without any definite idea of a goal or how to reach it. Exceptions occur, no doubt, but those are the tendencies. Institutional workers generally proceed upon set lines already laid down, without vision of their own; or look about for something to take up, without greatly caring what it is. Most of their work consists in confirming or contradicting some one else's previous work; and though this may serve a useful purpose in helping to sift out the truth or to complete an inquiry, the result is rarely commensurate with the expenditure of energy.

These general observations are suggested by the contrast between the early prison reformers and the modern ones presented in these two books. Mr and Mrs Webb, whose work is mainly historical, begin with the first and end with the second school of reformers; the other book is wholly the work of the second school. The great pioneer in the 18th century was John Howard. He had an intellectual predecessor in the Marquis de Beccaria, whose famous book on 'Crimes and Punishments' was published at Milan in 1764. Beccaria was not a practical reformer, but a sociologist and original thinker, who founded the utilitarian school and coined the phrase 'greatest happiness of the greatest number,' commonly attributed to Bentham. His book was a revelation; it attracted keen and widespread interest and was promptly translated into other languages, including English, in which it ran quickly through several editions. It is a classic, so lofty in aim, so just in thought, that the principles expounded in it are as valid to-day as when they were written. Indeed, Beccaria's vision provided for continuous change and progressive mitigation of severity in punishment, as social standards change, and he is, therefore, never out of date. His concluding observation was-

'that the severity of punishments ought to be in proportion to the state of the nation. Among a people hardly yet emerged from barbarity, they should be most severe, as strong impressions are required; but in proportion as the minds of men become softened by their intercourse in society, the severity of punishments should be diminished, if it be intended that the necessary relation between the object and the sensation should be maintained' (English Translation, 5th edition, 1777).

John Howard, whether influenced by Beccaria or not, followed hard upon his heels by taking up a particular part of the problem on its practical side. In 1773 he entered on the investigation and reformation of prisons, to which he was to devote so many laborious years. He was led to do so in the performance of his duties as high sheriff of Bedford, which brought him officially into contact with crime and punishment in real life. Being a deeply religious man, who took his religion seriously and applied it in his daily life, he was not content with the routine duties of his office; but, having heard cases tried in court, he took an interest in them and was moved to follow them up. Accordingly he visited the local gaol, for which he felt officially responsible, and found gross abuses of various kinds prevailing. No one, apparently, had looked into the matter or knew what was going on, though in the same year a private Bill had been introduced into Parliament to facilitate the discharge from gaol of persons acquitted in court, but unable to pay the gaolers' fees. No one before Howard seems to have realised, in spite of occasional inquiries and particular revelations, the effects of the system which made gaol-keeping a speculative business, dependent on the fees extracted from prisoners, and often taken up by ex-criminals. Howard rightly regarded it as a prime source of abuses, including the prolonged detention of innocent persons, and held its abolition to be an indispensable step towards reform. Once started on this path he pursued it with unfaltering resolution. and certainty of aim, sparing no expenditure of time or money or labour. He found an Augean stable and set to work to cleanse it.

But though his motives were essentially humanitarian the spirit that he brought to bear on the task he had set himself was far removed from impulsive senti. mentalism or excitement. It was, on the contrary, remarkably calm, sober, and restrained. His first care was to make sure of his ground by a thorough examination of the facts, and to accomplish this he was content with nothing less than direct personal observation. His investigations, which were both comprehensive and minute, involved a series of journeys extending over several years, in the course of which he visited prisons

everywhere, at first in Great Britain and Ireland but eventually throughout Europe. His object was not to make out a case by selected evidence, but to ascertain the truth and master the subject in all its aspects, with a view to reaching broad and judicial conclusions. It was his sober and detailed presentation of precise facts that impressed public opinion, gained the ear of the influential personages, and created an atmosphere favourable to reform. There was nothing extreme or narrow in his mental composition, nor was he a man of one idea. As

a rural landlord he initiated and encouraged improved housing, sanitation, education, temperance, allotments; and his interest in public health, aroused probably by prison experiences, induced him to spend several years in the investigation of plague, camp fever, and other epidemic disorders on the same plan of direct observation. His work was brought to an end by a fatal attack of camp fever caught in Russia on his last journey of investigation.


[ocr errors]

Such was the man who set going in the 18th century the practical reform of prisons, which was carried on in the 19th by his followers, who adopted the same methods of collecting facts by personal observation. Mr and Mrs Webb write of him in a tone of rather languid patronage, and, indeed, neither his character nor his methods had much in common with those of the modern school, who start with preconceived ideas and make out a case by selected and second-hand evidence. English Prisons To-day' is a typical example. The inquiry, of which it is the outcome, was instituted, we are told, by the Executive of the Labour Research Department, who considered that the moment was opportune for a detailed investigation of the working and effects of the English prison system.' Why? The reasons given are that there had been no inquiry since the Departmental Committee of 1894-95, and an exceptional fund of evidence was available in the prison experiences of a large number of men and women able to observe and record their observations, who had been imprisoned as suffragists or anti-militarists or for other political offences.' It appears from internal evidence that the writers themselves belong to this group, whose views on imprisonment, law, and authority in general have been

widely advertised by their impassioned resistance to all three. They would hardly claim freedom from bias in approaching the subject, and the desire to make out a case is conspicuous in their handling of it.

The first part of the book is devoted to the prison system and consists of twenty-eight chapters, in which the details of prison life are systematically and minutely examined for the purpose of discovering defects. Every chapter but three concludes with a list of defects; there are no merits at all, and any improvements that may have been introduced in recent years are studiously belittled. No detail is too slight or trivial to escape the scrutiny of the writers, who make the worst of everything by a liberal use of disparaging epithets. For instance, the appearance of the prisons is 'grim, ugly, and forbidding,' and their external features 'strike chill into the heart.' 'Few prisoners who approach them for the first time do so without a sense of hopelessness and terror.' How do they know that? Do prisoners in fact see much of the exterior when they are brought in? The architecture in general is 'depressing and inhuman'; prison buildings have a 'hope-destroying, forbidding aspect.' Do prisoners care a straw what the aspect is? They would want to get out just the same and fly from the spot if it looked like the Taj Mahal. It is admitted that at Wormwood Scrubs, once the gates are passed, the entrance might be that to a college, with a well-kept lawn, flower-beds, and a background of Gothic architecture, and that other prisons have similarly pleasing entrances. Do prisoners like them any better than those devoid of such adornment ? Objection might be taken with greater force to pleasing exteriors and interiors as a mockery and an insult to persons who only want to get out; and no doubt if they were provided that objection would be raised. Bars gilded and tied up with blue ribbons may look pretty to the spectators outside, but they are rather a bitter jest to the caged animal.

The impression made by these trivialities is that the purpose of the writers is to find fault, and this is confirmed all through the book. After the disparaging remarks about the exterior the cells are treated in a similar manner. Now, the cells are, of course, really important, and serious criticism would be thoroughly

« PreviousContinue »