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On the uncertainty of the signs of murder in the case of bastard children   By: (1718-1783)

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Transcriber's Note: Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the bottom of this document.

ON

THE UNCERTAINTY

OF

THE SIGNS OF MURDER

IN THE CASE OF

BASTARD CHILDREN.

BY THE LATE

WILLIAM HUNTER, M.D. F.R.S.

PHYSICIAN EXTRAORDINARY TO THE QUEEN,

AND MEMBER OF THE ROYAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES AT PARIS.

London: PRINTED FOR J. CALLOW, CROWN COURT, PRINCES STREET, SOHO.

1818.

TO THE

Members of the Medical Society .

Read July 14, 1783.

GENTLEMEN,

In the course of the present year, one of our friends, distinguished by rank, fortune, and science, came to me upon the following occasion: In the country, he said, a young woman was taken up, and committed to jail to take her trial, for the supposed murder of her bastard child. According to the information which he had received, he was inclined to believe, from the circumstances, that she was innocent; and yet, understanding that the minds of the people in that part of the country were much exasperated against her, by the popular cry of a cruel and unnatural murder, he feared, though innocent, she might fall a victim to prejudice and blind zeal. What he wished, he said, was to procure an unprejudiced enquiry. He had been informed that it was a subject which I had considered in my lectures, and made some remarks upon it, which were not perhaps sufficiently known, or enough attended to; and his visit to me was, to know what these remarks were. I told him what I had commonly said upon that question. He thought some of the observations so material, that he imagined they might sometimes be the means of saving an innocent life: and if they could upon the present occasion do so, which he thought very possible, he was sure I would willingly take the trouble of putting them upon paper. Next day I sent them to him in a letter, which I said he was at liberty to use as he might think proper. Some time afterwards he told me that he had great pleasure in thanking me for the letter, and telling me that the trial was over; that the unfortunate young woman was acquitted, and that he had reason to believe that my letter had been instrumental. This having been the subject of some conversation one evening at our medical meeting, you remember, Gentlemen, that you thought the subject interesting, and desired me to give you a paper upon it. I now obey your command.

In those unhappy cases of the death of bastard children, as in every action indeed that is either criminal or suspicious, reason and justice demand an enquiry into all the circumstances; and particularly to find out from what views and motives the act proceeded. For, as nothing can be so criminal but that circumstances might be added by the imagination to make it worse; so nothing can be conceived so wicked and offensive to the feelings of a good mind, as not to be somewhat softened or extenuated by circumstances and motives. In making up a just estimate of any human action, much will depend on the state of the agent's mind at the time; and therefore the laws of all countries make ample allowance for insanity. The insane are not held to be responsible for their actions.

The world will give me credit, surely, for having had sufficient opportunities of knowing a good deal of female characters. I have seen the private as well as the public virtues, the private as well as the more public frailties of women in all ranks of life. I have been in their secrets, their counsellor and adviser in the moments of their greatest distress in body and mind. I have been a witness to their private conduct, when they were preparing themselves to meet danger, and have heard their last and most serious reflections, when they were certain they had but a few hours to live... Continue reading book >>




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