Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER I.: THE OCCASION OF THIS COMMENTARY. - An Essay on Crimes and Punishments
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CHAPTER I.: THE OCCASION OF THIS COMMENTARY. - Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria, An Essay on Crimes and Punishments 
An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. By the Marquis Beccaria of Milan. With a Commentary by M. de Voltaire. A New Edition Corrected. (Albany: W.C. Little & Co., 1872).
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THE OCCASION OF THIS COMMENTARY.
Having read, with infinite satisfaction, the little book on Crimes and Punishments, which in morality, as in medicine, may be compared to one of those few remedies, capable of alleviating our sufferings; I flattered myself that it would be a means of softening the remains of barbarism in the laws of many nations; I hoped for some reformation in mankind, when I was informed, that, within a few miles of my abode, they had just hanged a girl of eighteen, beautiful, well made, accomplished, and of a very reputable family.
She was culpable of having suffered herself to be got with child, and also, of having abandoned her infant. This unfortunate girl, flying from her father’s house, is taken in labour, and, without assistance, is delivered of her burden by the side of a wood. Shame, which in the sex is a powerful passion, gave her strength to return home, and to conceal her situation. She left her child exposed; it is found the next morning; the mother is discovered, condemned and executed.
The first fault of this unhappy victim ought to have been concealed by the family, or rather claims the protection of the laws, because it was incumbent on her seducer to repair the injury he had done; because weakness hath a right to indulgence; because concealing her pregnancy may endanger her life; because declaring her condition destroys her reputation, and because the difficulty of providing for her infant is a great additional misfortune.
Her second fault is more criminal. She abandons the fruit of her weakness, and exposes it to perish.
But because a child is dead, is it absolutely necessary to kill the mother? She did not kill the child. She flattered herself, that some passenger would have compassion on the innocent babe. It is even possible that she might intend to return and provide for it; a sentiment so natural in the breast of a mother, that it ought to be presumed. The law in the country of which I am speaking is, indeed, positively against her. But is it not an unjust, inhuman, and pernicious law? Unjust, because it makes no distinction between her who murders, and her who abandons her infant; inhuman, because it punishes with death a too great desire of concealing a weakness; pernicious, because it deprives the state of a fruitful subject, in a country that wants inhabitants.
Charity hath not yet established, in that nation, houses of reception for exposed infants. Where charity is wanting, the law is always cruel. It were much better to prevent, than to think only of punishing these frequent misfortunes. The proper object of jurisprudence is, to hinder the commission of crimes, rather than condemn to death a weak woman, when it is evident that her transgression was unattended with malice, and that she hath already been severely punished by the pangs of her own heart.
Insure, as far as possible, a resource to those who shall be tempted to do evil, and you will have less to punish.