Erewhon HTML version

Current Opinions
This is what I gathered. That in that country if a man falls into ill health, or catches any
disorder, or fails bodily in any way before he is seventy years old, he is tried before a jury
of his countrymen, and if convicted is held up to public scorn and sentenced more or less
severely as the case may be. There are subdivisions of illnesses into crimes and
misdemeanours as with offences amongst ourselves--a man being punished very heavily
for serious illness, while failure of eyes or hearing in one over sixty-five, who has had
good health hitherto, is dealt with by fine only, or imprisonment in default of payment.
But if a man forges a cheque, or sets his house on fire, or robs with violence from the
person, or does any other such things as are criminal in our own country, he is either
taken to a hospital and most carefully tended at the public expense, or if he is in good
circumstances, he lets it be known to all his friends that he is suffering from a severe fit
of immorality, just as we do when we are ill, and they come and visit him with great
solicitude, and inquire with interest how it all came about, what symptoms first showed
themselves, and so forth,--questions which he will answer with perfect unreserve; for bad
conduct, though considered no less deplorable than illness with ourselves, and as
unquestionably indicating something seriously wrong with the individual who
misbehaves, is nevertheless held to be the result of either pre-natal or post-natal
The strange part of the story, however, is that though they ascribe moral defects to the
effect of misfortune either in character or surroundings, they will not listen to the plea of
misfortune in cases that in England meet with sympathy and commiseration only. Ill luck
of any kind, or even ill treatment at the hands of others, is considered an offence against
society, inasmuch as it makes people uncomfortable to hear of it. Loss of fortune,
therefore, or loss of some dear friend on whom another was much dependent, is punished
hardly less severely than physical delinquency.
Foreign, indeed, as such ideas are to our own, traces of somewhat similar opinions can be
found even in nineteenth-century England. If a person has an abscess, the medical man
will say that it contains "peccant" matter, and people say that they have a "bad" arm or
finger, or that they are very "bad" all over, when they only mean "diseased." Among
foreign nations Erewhonian opinions may be still more clearly noted. The
Mahommedans, for example, to this day, send their female prisoners to hospitals, and the
New Zealand Maories visit any misfortune with forcible entry into the house of the
offender, and the breaking up and burning of all his goods. The Italians, again, use the
same word for "disgrace" and "misfortune." I once heard an Italian lady speak of a young
friend whom she described as endowed with every virtue under heaven, "ma," she
exclaimed, "povero disgraziato, ha ammazzato suo zio." ("Poor unfortunate fellow, he
has murdered his uncle.")
On mentioning this, which I heard when taken to Italy as a boy by my father, the person
to whom I told it showed no surprise. He said that he had been driven for two or three