Cornhill Magazine,  9 (1864), 210–18.

Extenuating Circumstances

[J Fitzjames Stephen]




Crime, Morality, Mental Illness, Nomenclature

    Suggests that 'congenital idiots, or others who from fits or any other cause have become idiotic', as well as 'those shallow, excitable, feeble-minded creatures who were in former days, and in certain secluded districts still are, known as half-witted ones, naturals, fools, Bedlam Toms, and the like' (211), generally deserve the 'recommendation to mercy' that is available to juries in criminal trials who find the defendant guilty (210). In 'idiotcy a man never knows, never can know, right from wrong, therefore he is intellectually unfree, and so far irresponsible'. Similarly, when the 'power of exercising choice in [...] volition is destroyed by brain disease' a man is rendered 'morally unfree'. Observes that the highly pertinent 'case of Dove (at York)', where the defendant's 'exceedingly feeble' intellect produced 'great doubts in the minds of thoughtful men as to the propriety of inflicting the capital punishment', will 'be in the memory of many of our readers'. (211)

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