Works in the Bulletin 1912

The Victorian State executive recently ordered the flogging of a sex-maniac, who is under sentence of imprisonment "for life".

Whene'er I read some savage tale
   Of punishment devised
By tyrants in an olden day,
   When serfs were victimised,
I reverently tell myself:-
   "Thank God, we're civilised!"

Thank God, those idols, grimmer far Than gods of wood or stone, Unthinking Hate and brute Revenge, With all the seeds they've sown, Are cast to earth, and Reason sits With Mercy on the throne.
Calm Reason sits upon the throne And fashions righteous laws, And in our blessed Age of Light It ever bids us pause And, ere we plan the remedy, Unearth the Primal Cause.
It seeks not, in a brutish rage, To flog the witless fool; The rack, the pillory are gone, The witches' ducking stool; And Reason builds no gallows for Heredity's poor tool.
"Reform lies not in punishment!" So saith the modern sage. "No remedy for evil holds Blind Hate or Savage Rage. The whipping-post, the darkened cell Are of a darkre age."
So Reason saith; so Mercy saith; And, having said, withdraw. (O brothers in this Noble Age That there should be a flaw!) And to the vacant throne there steps The thing men call the Law.
The Law devised by kings long-dead And superstitious priests, Whose code considered but revenge, With bloody rites and feasts -- The ancient Law, bequeathed by men Scarce risen from the beasts.
But e'en before such kings and priests Infested our poor earth, Long ages ere some bleeding wretch Excited their loud mirth, A thing, half man, with crooked brain, It chanced, was given birth.
And lo! this thing begat him sons, And their sons sons again. And on and on, till sturdier And cleaner grew the strain. Till in the breed, for many an age, The taint had dormant lain.
For countless ages it, mayhap, The fatal taint had missed, Till, in our day, a babe was born With some strange mental twist. A thing for all men's sympathy -- A foredoomed atavist.
And that he sinned against our code And harmed a fellow-man (Lord knows what Nature is about To work on such a plan!) Lo, he is seized on by the Law And placed beneath the ban!
And what has reason now to say, Chief of our modern gods? And Mercy? "Keep the man apart, But harm not such poor clods?" "Nay," saith the Law, "we'll truss him up And scourge his back with rods!"
And so they take the last poor son Of all that tainted host, And try to exorcise the taint There at the whipping-post. This is the Age of Reason, friends! It is our proudest boast.
And what of those great men on high Who said this thing should be? What of the Law's high officers Who voiced the brute decree? Shall such ones not become the mark For scornful obloquy?
Nay, gentle brothers, blame them not -- Blame is the whip of fools -- For here again we mark in them Heredity's poor tools, The eld rings with their sires' demand, Calling for ducking stools.
And so, when all is said and done, We end where we began. We must leave Nature to proceed With her age-honored plan. E'en I who speak may be the son Of some strange-fashioned man.
Because he had a twisted form A man of old was slain; They flog him in our Age of Light For his poor twisted brain; And, 'spite my words, the chances are They'll do the same again.
Still, when I read some savage tale Of punishment devised By tyrants of an olden day, When serfs were victimised, I feel it in my heart to say - "Thank God, we're civilised."

The Bulletin, 14 November 1912, p8

Copyright © Perry Middlemiss 2002-05