There is a prevailing belief that the conduct of man is absolutely under his control, and that his will is a pilot that can, in spite of winds and tides, reach any port desired. All this is, in my judgment, a mistake. It is a denial of the integrity of nature. It is based upon the supernatural and miraculous, and as long as this mistake remains the corner-stone of criminal jurisprudence, reformation will be impossible.
We must take into consideration the nature of man – the facts of mind – the power of temptation – the limitations of the intellect – the force of habit – the result of heredity – the power of passion – the domination of want – the diseases of the brain – the tyranny of appetite – the cruelty of conditions – the results of association – the effects of poverty and wealth, of helplessness and power. Until these subtle things are understood – until we know that man, in spite of all, can certainly pursue the highway of the right, society should not impoverish and degrade, should not chain and kill those who, after all, may be the helpless victims of unknown causes that are deaf and blind.
We know something of ourselves – of the average man – of his thoughts, passions, fears and aspirations – something of his sorrows and his joys, his weakness, his liability to fall – something of what he resists – the struggles, the victories and the failures of his life. We know something of the tides and currents of the mysterious sea – something of the circuits of the wayward winds – but we do not know where the wild storms are born that wreck and rend. Neither do we know in what strange realm the mists and clouds are formed that darken all the heaven of the mind, nor from whence comes the tempest of the brain in which the will to do, sudden as the lightning’s flash, seizes and holds the man until the dreadful deed is done that leaves a curse upon the soul. We do not know. Our ignorance should make us hesitate. Our weakness should make us merciful. Quoting the prayer of the Buddhist: “I pray thee to have pity on the vicious – thou hast already had pity on the virtuous by making them so.”