“CIRCUMSTANCES made me what I am,” said a condemned criminal to a benevolent man who visited him in prison. “I was driven by necessity to steal.”
“Not so,” replied the keeper, who was standing by. “Rather say, that your own character made the circumstances by which you were surrounded. God never places upon any creature the necessity of breaking his commandments. You stole, because, in heart, you were a thief.”
The benevolent man reproved the keeper for what he called harsh words. He believed that, alone, by the force of external circumstances, men were made criminals. That, if society were differently arranged, there would be little or no crime in the world. And so he made interest for the criminal, and, in the end, secured his release from prison. Nor did his benevolence stop here. He took the man into his service, and intrusted to him his money and his goods.
“I will remove from him all temptation to steal,” said he, “by a liberal supply of his wants.”
“Have you a wife?” he asked of the man, when he took him from prison.
“No,” was replied.
“Nor any one but yourself to support?”
“I am alone in the world.”
“You have received a good education; and can serve me as a clerk. I therefore take you into my employment, at a fair salary. Will five hundred dollars be enough?”
“It will be an abundance,” said the man, with evident surprise at an offer so unexpectedly liberal.
“Very well. That will place you above temptation.”
“And I will be innocent and happy. You are my benefactor. You have saved me.”
“I believe it,” said the man of benevolence.
And so he intrusted his goods and his money to the man he had reformed by placing him in different circumstances.
But it is in the heart of man that evil lies; and from the heart’s impulses spring all our actions. That must cease to be a bitter fountain before it can send forth sweet water. The thief was a thief still. Not a month elapsed ere he was devising the means to enable him to get from his kind, but mistaken friend, more than the liberal sum for which he had agreed to serve him. He coveted his neighbour’s goods whenever his eyes fell upon them; and restlessly sought to acquire their possession. In order to make more sure the attainment of his ends, he affected sentiments of morality, and even went so far as to cover his purposes by a show of religion. And thus he was able to deceive and rob his kind friend.