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The inauguration of a Criminological Society in Adelaide was a welcome sign to me of the growing public interest in methods of prison discipline and treatment. I was one of the foundation members of the society, and attended every meeting during its short existence. My one contribution to the lectures delivered under its auspices was on "Heredity and Environment." This was a subject in which I had long been interested, holding the view that environment had more to do with the building up of character than heredity had to do with its decadence. How much or how little truth there is in the cynical observation that the only believers in heredity nowadays are the fathers of very clever sons I am not prepared to say. I do say, however, that with the cruel and hopeless law of heredity as laid down by Zola and Ibsen I have little sympathy. According to these pessimists, who ride heredity to death, we inherit only the vices, the weaknesses, and the diseases of our ancestors. If this, however, were really the case, the world would be growing worse and not better, as it assuredly is, with every succeeding generation. The contrary view taken of the matter by Ibsen's fellowcountryman, Bjornsen, appears to me to be so much more commonsense and humanizing. He holds that if we know that our ancestors drank and gambled to excess, or were violent-tempered or immoral, we can quite easily avoid the pitfall, knowing it to be there. Too readily wrongdoers are prepared to lay their failings at the door of ancestors, society, or some other blamable source, instead of attributing them, as they should do, to their own selfish and weak indulgence and lack of self-control. Heredity, though an enormous factor in our constitution, need not be regarded as an over-mastering fate, for each human being has an almost limitless parentage to draw upon. Each child has both a father and a mother, and two grandparents on both sides, increasing as one goes back. But, besides drawing on a much wider ancestry than the immediate parents, we have more than we inherit, or where could the law of progress operate? Each generation, each child who is born, comes into a slightly different world, fed by more experience, blown upon by fresh influences. And each individual comes into the world, not with a body merely, but with a soul; and this soul is susceptible to impressions, not only from the outer material world but from the other souls also impressed by the old and the new, by the material and the ideal.
"The History of the Jukes" is continually cited as proving the power and force of heredity. Most people who read the book through, however, instead of merely accepting allusions one-sided and defective to it, see clearly that it forms the strongest argument for change of environment that ever was brought forward. The assumed name of Jukes is given to the descendants of a worthless woman who emigrated to America upwards of a century and a half ago, and from whom hundreds of criminals, paupers, and prostitutes have descended. But how were the Jukes' descendants dealt with during this period? No helping hand removed the children from their vicious and criminal surroundings known as one of the crime-cradles of the State of New York. Neither church nor school took them under its protecting care. Born and reared in the haunts of vice and crime, nothing but viciousness and criminality could be expected as a result. Without going, so far as a wellknown ex-member of our State Legislature, whose antagonism to the humanitarian treatment of prisoners led him to the belief that "there wasn't nothin' in 'erry-ditty,' it was all tommy rot," I still hold to the belief that environment plays the larger part in the formation of character. Every phase of criminal reform is, I candidly admit, dealing with effects rather than causes. Effects, however, must be dealt with, and the more humanely they are dealt with the better for society at large. So long as society shuts its eyes to the social conditions under which the masses of the people live, move, and have their being as tending towards lowering rather than uplifting the individual and the community, the supply of cases for criminal treatment will unfortunately show little tendency to decrease. The work before reformers of the world is to prevent the creation of criminals by changing the environment of those with criminal tendencies as well as to seek to alleviate the resulting disease by methods of criminal reform.
Many interesting lectures were given by prominent citizens under the auspices of the society, which did a great deal to awaken the public conscience on the important question of criminal reform. The Rev. J. Day Thompson, who was then in the zenith of his intellectual power and a noble supporter of all things that tended to the uplifting of humanity, dealt with the land question in relation to crime. He gave a telling illustration of his point--which I thought equally applicable to the question of environment in relation to prison reform--that no permanent good could result from social legislation until society recognised and dealt with the root of the social evil, the land question. "In a lunatic asylum," he said, "it is the custom to test the sanity of patients by giving them a ladle with which to empty a tub of water standing under a running tap. 'How do you decide?' the warder was asked. 'Why, them as isn't idiots stops the tap.'" It was the Rev. J. Day Thompson who first called me the "Grand Old Woman" of South Australia. When he left Adelaide for the wider sphere of service open to him in England I felt that we had lost one of the most cultured and able men who had ever come among us, and one whom no community could lose without being distinctly the poorer for his absence.
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An Autobiography -by- Catherine Helen SpenceBottom Content goes here. Wikipedia content requires these links..... Wikipedia content is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.