In former times the government made it easy for any mother to resign her infant to the care of the state. This was done properly and with a good object in view, which was to prevent infanticide. It was intended that mothers should not only find it easy to cast off their children in this manner, but that it might be done with secrecy. A box was placed outside of the hospital and a bell-handle was near it, and all that the mother had to do was, to place her babe in the box and pull the bell. No one saw her, no questions could be asked, and the box sliding upon grooves was drawn inside the wall. The mother could leave some mark upon the dress of the child, or if this was not done, an exact inventory of the effects of the little stranger was always recorded in the hospital, that in after years the child might be identified by its parents if they wished. The numbers that were deposited in the Paris hospital were very great under those pleasant regulations. It is not strange, and one cannot escape the conviction, that such a system afforded a temptation to the women, and indeed men of the good classes to sin. A woman might escape to a great extent the penalty of a wicked deed. It held out a premium to immorality. But on the other hand it prevented infanticide to a great extent. The reasons why the government revoked the regulations were, first, that they encouraged the increase of illegitimate children, and second, the great expense to the state, and the last consideration was the one which had most weight.
It was found upon trying the new system, that infanticide increased with considerable rapidity, as the morning exhibitions at La Morgue greatly indicated. When we consider, too, that the majority of the infanticides are unquestionably not detected, the body of the child being hid from the sight, and the vast amount of injury which results to the mothers from the attempt to destroy unborn children, we cannot wonder that French philanthropists have been inclined to return to the old system. Infanticide is one of the most horrible of crimes, and its growth among a people is accompanied by as rapid a growth of vice of every other kind. In England where a foundling hospital could not be endured for a moment, the crime of infanticide is increasing every year, and the number of murdered children is already an army of martyrs.
The safest way is, perhaps, for the government to leave the whole matter with the people, and not either encourage illegitimacy or attempt to prevent infanticide, except by punishment. Upon the heads of the guilty ones be their own blood. But there certainly should be asylums for those children who cannot be supported by their poverty-stricken parents.
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