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Some Erewhonian Trials
In Erewhon as in other countries there are some courts of justice that deal with special
subjects. Misfortune generally, as I have above explained, is considered more or less
criminal, but it admits of classification, and a court is assigned to each of the main heads
under which it can be supposed to fall. Not very long after I had reached the capital I
strolled into the Personal Bereavement Court, and was much both interested and pained
by listening to the trial of a man who was accused of having just lost a wife to whom he
had been tenderly attached, and who had left him with three little children, of whom the
eldest was only three years old.
The defence which the prisoner's counsel endeavoured to establish was, that the prisoner
had never really loved his wife; but it broke down completely, for the public prosecutor
called witness after witness who deposed to the fact that the couple had been devoted to
one another, and the prisoner repeatedly wept as incidents were put in evidence that
reminded him of the irreparable nature of the loss he had sustained. The jury returned a
verdict of guilty after very little deliberation, but recommended the prisoner to mercy on
the ground that he had but recently insured his wife's life for a considerable sum, and
might be deemed lucky inasmuch as he had received the money without demur from the
insurance company, though he had only paid two premiums.
I have just said that the jury found the prisoner guilty. When the judge passed sentence, I
was struck with the way in which the prisoner's counsel was rebuked for having referred
to a work in which the guilt of such misfortunes as the prisoner's was extenuated to a
degree that roused the indignation of the court.
"We shall have," said the judge, "these crude and subversionary books from time to time
until it is recognised as an axiom of morality that luck is the only fit object of human
veneration. How far a man has any right to be more lucky and hence more venerable than
his neighbours, is a point that always has been, and always will be, settled proximately by
a kind of higgling and haggling of the market, and ultimately by brute force; but however
this may be, it stands to reason that no man should be allowed to be unlucky to more than
a very moderate extent."
Then, turning to the prisoner, the judge continued:- "You have suffered a great loss.
Nature attaches a severe penalty to such offences, and human law must emphasise the
decrees of nature. But for the recommendation of the jury I should have given you six
months' hard labour. I will, however, commute your sentence to one of three months,
with the option of a fine of twenty-five per cent. of the money you have received from the
insurance company."
The prisoner thanked the judge, and said that as he had no one to look after his children if
he was sent to prison, he would embrace the option mercifully permitted him by his
lordship, and pay the sum he had named. He was then removed from the dock.