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The Fertility of the Unfit   By: (1864-1936)

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The Fertility of the Unfit


W.A. CHAPPLE, M.D., Ch.B., M.R.C.S., D.P.H.





The problem with which Dr. Chapple deals in this book is one of extreme gravity. It is also one of pressing importance. The growth of the Criminal is one of the most ominous clouds on every national horizon. In spite of advances in criminology the rate of increase is so alarming that the "Unfit" threatens to be to the new Civilization what the Hun and Vandal were to the old. How to deal with this dangerous class is perhaps the most serious question that faces Sociologists at this hour. And something must be done speedily, else our civilization is in imminent peril of being swamped by the increasingly disproportionate progeny of the Criminal.

Various methods have from time to time been suggested to ward off this danger. In my judgment one of the most effective has yet to be tried in the Colony the system of indeterminate sentences. Nothing can be more futile than the present method of criminal procedure. After a certain stated period in gaol, we allow Criminals even of the most dangerous character to go out free without making the slightest effort to secure that they are fit to be returned to society. We quarantine the plague stricken or small pox ship, and keep the passengers isolated till the disease is eradicated. But we send up the Criminal only for a definite time, and at the end of that, he is allowed to go at large even though we may know he is a more dangerous character than when he entered the gaol. This is egregious folly.

Dr. Chapple's treatise, however, takes things as they are. He proposes to save society from the multiplication of its Criminals by a remedy of the most radical kind. When he was good enough to ask me to write a preface for his book I hesitated somewhat. I read the substance of it in MS.S. and was deeply impressed by it. But still I am in some doubt. I am not quite prepared to accept at once Dr. Chapple's proposed remedy. Neither am I prepared to reject it. I am simply an enquirer, trying to arrive at the truth regarding this clamant social problem. The time has certainly come when the issues raised in Dr. Chapple's book must be faced. It is very desirable therefore, that the public should have these put before it in a frank, cautious way, by experts who understand what they are writing about, and have a due sense of the grave responsibilities involved. Dr. Chapple's contribution seems to me very fully to satisfy these requirements. No doubt both his premises and conclusions are open to criticism at various points. It is, indeed, not unlikely that the plan whereby he proposes to limit the "fertility of the Unfit" may come with a sort of shock to some readers.

It is, perhaps, well that it should, for it may lead to thought and criticism. In any case, this policy of drift must be dropped and Dr. Chapple's remedy, or some other, promptly adopted. A preface is not the place to discuss the pro's and con's of Dr. Chapple's treatise. My main object in this foreword is to commend to the public who take an interest in this grave problem a discussion of it, which is alike timely and thorough and reverent. And this, I believe, readers will find in the following pages.


Dunedin ,

Dec. 9th, 1903.



You are aware that I gave your Treatise on the "Fertility of the Unfit" a very careful perusal. It is a subject to which I have devoted some attention, both at College and since I left College, and I feel competent to say that no finer work on the subject has been accomplished than that contained in your Treatise. I consider it of value, not only from a statistical point of view, but also from a point of view of scientific originality.

I have no doubt that if the work were published in New Zealand it would be read and bought by a large number of people... Continue reading book >>

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