Overruled eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 51 pages of information about Overruled.
has been invested by the popular historical imagination with all the extravagances of a Messalina or a Cenci.  Writers of belles lettres who are rash enough to admit that their whole life is not one constant preoccupation with adored members of the opposite sex, and who even countenance La Rochefoucauld’s remark that very few people would ever imagine themselves in love if they had never read anything about it, are gravely declared to be abnormal or physically defective by critics of crushing unadventurousness and domestication.  French authors of saintly temperament are forced to include in their retinue countesses of ardent complexion with whom they are supposed to live in sin.  Sentimental controversies on the subject are endless; but they are useless, because nobody tells the truth.  Rousseau did it by an extraordinary effort, aided by a superhuman faculty for human natural history, but the result was curiously disconcerting because, though the facts were so conventionally shocking that people felt that they ought to matter a great deal, they actually mattered very little.  And even at that everybody pretends not to believe him.


The worst of that is that busybodies with perhaps rather more than a normal taste for mischief are continually trying to make negligible things matter as much in fact as they do in convention by deliberately inflicting injuries—­sometimes atrocious injuries—­on the parties concerned.  Few people have any knowledge of the savage punishments that are legally inflicted for aberrations and absurdities to which no sanely instructed community would call any attention.  We create an artificial morality, and consequently an artificial conscience, by manufacturing disastrous consequences for events which, left to themselves, would do very little harm (sometimes not any) and be forgotten in a few days.

But the artificial morality is not therefore to be condemned offhand.  In many cases it may save mischief instead of making it:  for example, though the hanging of a murderer is the duplication of a murder, yet it may be less murderous than leaving the matter to be settled by blood feud or vendetta.  As long as human nature insists on revenge, the official organization and satisfaction of revenge by the State may be also its minimization.  The mischief begins when the official revenge persists after the passion it satisfies has died out of the race.  Stoning a woman to death in the east because she has ventured to marry again after being deserted by her husband may be more merciful than allowing her to be mobbed to death; but the official stoning or burning of an adulteress in the west would be an atrocity because few of us hate an adulteress to the extent of desiring such a penalty, or of being prepared to take the law into our own hands if it were withheld.  Now what applies to this extreme case applies also

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Overruled from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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