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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
Appendix S: Original Preface for "A Conneticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court"
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|(See Chapter clxxii)
My object has been to group together some of the most odious laws which
have had vogue in the Christian countries within the past eight or ten
centuries, and illustrate them by the incidents of a story.
There was never a time when America applied the death-penalty to more
than fourteen crimes. But England, within the memory of men still
living, had in her list of crimes 223 which were punishable by death!
And yet from the beginning of our existence down to a time within the
memory of babes England has distressed herself piteously over the
ungentleness of our Connecticut Blue Laws. Those Blue Laws should have
been spared English criticism for two reasons:
1. They were so insipidly mild, by contrast with the bloody and
atrocious laws of England of the same period, as to seem characterless
and colorless when one brings them into that awful presence.
2. The Blue Laws never had any existence. They were the fancy-work of
an English clergyman; they were never a part of any statute-book. And
yet they could have been made to serve a useful and merciful purpose; if
they had been injected into the English law the dilution would have given
to the whole a less lurid aspect; or, to figure the effect in another
way, they would have been coca mixed into vitriol.
I have drawn no laws and no illustrations from the twin civilizations of
hell and Russia. To have entered into that atmosphere would have
defeated my purpose, which was to show a great and genuine progress in
Christendom in these few later generations toward mercifulness--a wide
and general relaxing of the grip of the law. Russia had to be left out
because exile to Siberia remains, and in that single punishment is
gathered together and concentrated all the bitter inventions of all the
black ages for the infliction of suffering upon human beings. Exile for
life from one's hearthstone and one's idols--this is rack, thumb-screw,
the water-drop, fagot and stake, tearing asunder by horses, flaying
alive--all these in one; and not compact into hours, but drawn out into
years, each year a century, and the whole a mortal immortality of torture
and despair. While exile to Siberia remains one will be obliged to admit
that there is one country in Christendom where the punishments of all the
ages are still preserved and still inflicted, that there is one country
in Christendom where no advance has been made toward modifying the
medieval penalties for offenses against society and the State.