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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Psychology and Crime » CHAPTER III IS THERE A CRIMINAL TYPE?
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Is there a criminal type? After years of close observation, during which I have formed many friendships with criminals, I can only answer this question in the words that I have answered it before, and say that, physically, I have not found any evidence to show that a criminal type exists. In saying this I know that I shall run counter to the teaching of a good many people, and probably run counter to public opinion. For the criminal class and the criminal type have been written about so largely, and talked about so frequently, that the majority of people have come to the conclusion that our criminals come from a particular order of society, and that the poorest; or that there exists a type of people whose physical appearance gives outward and visible signs that proclaim the inward criminal mind.

I believe both these ideas to be entirely wrong. I was confirmed in my opinion last year when I visited many of the largest prisons in the United States; for I found there, as I have found in England, a complete absence among the prisoners of those physical and facial peculiarities that we are taught to believe differentiate criminals from ordinary citizens.


Speaking on this subject to the American Congress at Washington on October 4, 1910, Sir Evelyn Ruggles-Brise, K.C.B., the esteemed chairman of our Prison Commissioners, made the following statement—

“There is no criminal type. Nothing in the past has so retarded progress as the conviction, deeply rooted and widespread, that the criminal is a class by himself, different from all others, with a tendency to crime, of which certain peculiarities of body are the outward and visible signs.

“This superstition, for such I think it must be called, was, you know, strengthened and encouraged by the findings of the Italian school.

“It is not based upon disinterested and exact investigation, and not only has the progress of the science of criminal anthropology been retarded by this conception, but it accounts for the unfavourable and sceptical attitude which we still find in many places towards any attempt to reform the criminal.

“It is my own belief that the assumed co-relation between the mental and physical characteristics of a man is a superstition and fallacy. I do not believe that a murderer can be revealed by his frontal curve, or a thief by his bulging forehead or the shape of his nose. In England, we have been at great pains during the last two or three years to disprove, by scientific and exact investigations, this popular conception of a criminal. We have personally examined three thousand of our worst convicts, men sentenced to penal [36]servitude and guilty of every form of crime. With regard to each we have collected and tabulated no less than ninety-six statements, that is, measurements, family history, mental and bodily characteristics, etc. The tabulation is now proceeding at the Biometric Laboratory, University College, London, under the direction of Dr. Karl Pearson. The results will be published shortly, and we are only able at present to say that so far no evidence whatever has emerged from this investigation confirming the existence of criminal types such as Lombroso and his disciples have asserted.

“And, in fact, both with regard to measurements and the presence of physical anomalies in criminals, these statistics present a startling conformity with similar statistics of the law-abiding. I thought it might interest this assembly to know that this investigation has been undertaken.

“Its results will be what most of us would have anticipated, but it will be a scientific result, and will serve to break down the vulgar superstition that criminals are a special type, and as such, in many cases beyond the reach of reform.”

We await with some interest the declaration of results, but, too, I feel confident that no evidence will be forthcoming to prove that criminals can be detected by certain peculiarities of the head and face. Low foreheads, square jaws, scowling eyes, big, wide ears, and stubby beards do not denote criminality; receding foreheads, almost absence of chin and weak eyes do not indicate it either.


Emphatically I say that all these peculiarities may be quite consistent with honour and honesty, with industry and self-respect. Yet I am persuaded that all these things would tell against the unhappy prisoner, if he, although innocent, stood charged with serious crime.

And I am equally sure that if he were guilty, and the evidence proved him guilty, that his peculiarities would add very considerably to the length of his sentence. Sometimes a judge or magistrate will so far forget his dignity and say, alluding to the prisoner’s appearance, “I can see the sort of man you are.” And his sentence is measured accordingly.

On the other hand, the basest criminality is quite consistent with a well-shaped head, a well-developed body, a handsome face and a clear skin. Some of the most persistent, dangerous and unscrupulous criminals I have ever met have been fine, handsome men, accompanied either in the dock or out of it with fine-looking women.

Indeed, dangerous criminals are all the more dangerous when possessed of health and good looks. Yet I venture to say that health and beauty, when charged with serious and repeated crime, gets off with a much lighter sentence than affliction and ugliness! I have frequently known stupid, half-witted and repulsive-looking criminals far more severely dealt with than clever, dangerous rogues of more prepossessing appearance.

For the thick head does not interest us; the possessor does not excite our sympathy in the [38]least. Nevertheless “thick head” may be far less guilty, far more worthy of compassion, and a much better fellow than the good-looking but complete scoundrel who does interest us. But his thick-headedness is against him; he is estimated and punished accordingly.

When standing in front of some hundreds of prisoners, all clothed in the depressing prison uniform, all exhibiting in their faces the well-known and easily recognised prison pallor, they all look pretty much alike, excepting those who suffer from deformities or physical deprivations. But closer observation and personal contact very quickly shows that the prisoners differ as much and as widely as ordinary citizens differ.

Could we remove their prison clothing, dress them as ordinary citizens dress, and mingle them with a mass of ordinary citizens, I venture to say that no scientist would be able to detect the criminals by the formation of their heads or the size of their ears. I do not maintain that men who possess queer-shaped heads do not commit crime. This is far from being the case. Unfortunately they do, and very serious crime too; but I do maintain that the perpetration of crime was caused not by the shape of their heads, but by causes that exist independently of it. We have, of course, a very large number of degenerates, but every degenerate does not possess an ill-formed head. Neither is every degenerate a criminal. Many of them are happy enough, and innocent enough when they can get enough to [39]eat and places wherein to sleep. But when deprived of these things they may steal, beg, sleep out, or commit some other offence that brings them within the meshes of the law, and become criminals. They become criminals not because they possess criminal minds, but because there is no place for them in our social and industrial life; because their necessities cannot be supplied in any other way.

To classify such people as criminals is about as wise and just as classifying babes as criminals! Though they form a considerable proportion of our prison population, they are not to be detected by their ill-shaped heads, for some that are declared to be feeble-minded are quite up to the ordinary standard of beauty.

But there is another kind of degeneracy that cannot be mistaken, because it can be easily ascertained and established. I now refer to the physical measurements of prisoners. For many years it has been noted both in Europe and America that juvenile prisoners are much inferior in height, weight, muscular strength and capacity to the average height, weight and strength of the industrial population of similar age. Our own Prison Commissioners have for ten years conducted an examination in Pentonville prison of all prisoners between the ages of 16 years and 21 years. They have given us the results in words and figures that compel thought. Once more I give their words: “They are as a class two inches shorter and fourteen pounds lighter than the [40]average industrial population of similar ages, and 28 per cent. of them suffer from some disease, affliction, or deprivation,” and the Commissioners add that the highest proportion of reconvictions comes from among them, being no less than 40 per cent.

As nearly 1400 of such prisoners pass through Pentonville every year, and as, moreover, the examination extended over a series of years, it will be admitted that the results may be taken as not only correct with regard to Pentonville, but taken also as an accurate description of our youthful prisoners generally, so far as large towns are concerned.

I am permitted to visit Pentonville and other prisons frequently for the purpose of addressing the prisoners, so that I see prisoners in the bulk, and I see many of them separately too.

I am persuaded that the findings of the medical authorities of that particular prison give a pretty accurate description of prisoners generally. Retarded growth, ill-nourished bodies and general weakness have a thousand times more to do with crime than ill-shaped heads. Over the causes of the latter we have no control, but over the causes that lead to stunted and ill-nourished bodies we may have, and ought to have, complete control.

But the great bulk of them have not criminal minds, and though a very limited number of them show a tendency to deeds of passion or cruelty, the vast majority find their way into prison simply because they are helpless outside prison. They [41]must eat, drink and sleep, and to procure these things they follow the line of least resistance, and beg or steal.

Their lack of stature, wisdom and muscle renders them incapable of contending with their more robust fellows, for industrial life demands either technical skill or robust health; having neither, they are crowded out of every occupation.

Such men form a great proportion of our prisoners, but they present a problem that the sociologist rather than the Psychologist is called upon to solve, for they are the direct product of defective social, economic, industrial, educational and domestic conditions. To sociologists, then, I point out these things in the hope that more attention will be given to them, for it will be an ill day for us if the serious interest and attention of England is diverted from causes, and concentrated on effects.

It does not of course follow that because a man is below the normal height and weight that he is necessarily a weakling, for many little men are marvels of virility and physique, possessing great brain power and convincing personality. Of such men I have nothing to say excepting that when one does become a criminal, he is likely to be a clever and determined criminal. As I search my mind, and bring to my memory the numerous criminals that I have associated with, I am conscious of the fact that nearly all the clever, determined and successful were small-sized men, light of step, quick of action, upright in carriage, [42]of good appearance. But they possessed plenty of vitality, their eyes did not betray them, neither did their heads, ears or chins “give them away.”

Four of the most complete burglars I ever knew were men of this stamp. Three of them are now in prison, and though the fourth sometimes comes to see me and produces evidence to show that he is getting a decent living, I shall not be surprised if he too suddenly disappears. One of the cleverest, coolest and most perfect criminals I ever knew was of very small size, straight in body if crooked in mind. While I am persuaded that physically there exists no such thing as a criminal type, I am still more persuaded that socially there exists no such thing as a “criminal class.”

Real crime exists altogether apart from bodily conformation or from social standing. It may be said, and with truth, that the prison population is largely recruited from the ranks of the poor. But it must be borne in mind that the great mass of the people are poor, many of them being very poor. The number of the rich or well-to-do is but small compared with the number of poor.

It is quite natural, then, that the bulk of prisoners should come from the class that overwhelmingly predominates. If the numbers of affluent and the poor could be exactly ascertained, I believe that it would be found that the poor do not contribute more than a proportionate share of the country’s criminals.


Poverty itself is but rarely a decisive factor in the perpetration of crime, though environment is. In poor countries crime is not rampant, for Ireland, the poorest of the British Isles, shows a much lower ratio of crime than England, Scotland or Wales. Even in the terrible slums of London, where the poverty is intense, where misery and suffering abound, where thousands of men and women are but a single day in advance of starvation, where absolute destitution is always in evidence, the number of real and confirmed criminals does not exceed a fair proportion when the number of the inhabitants are taken into consideration. I feel bound to say this much for the very poor in our London slums. During many years’ close acquaintance, I have found them to be as law-abiding and honest as any portion of the community in proportion to numbers. When their environment and temptations are considered, their rectitude, to me, is a matter of great wonder.

There are criminals amongst them, but after all they are the exceptions, and the worst criminals that are amongst them are those who have descended from higher social stations.

Man for man and woman for woman, my experience has taught me that slum-dwellers are not below the average population in honesty and industry.

I say this appears marvellous at first thought, but in reality it is not so, for wealth and leisure are not unmixed blessings. Probably they are as likely to produce criminals, or even more so, than [44]poverty and care. The criminal ranks, then, are by no means recruited from the poor alone, for all classes and every station contribute their proportion.

To speak of the very poor as the “criminal classes” is wrong and misleading. The term can only be applicable to the blighted, helpless weaklings constantly in prison, who have neither wit, courage, nor strength to conceive and carry out anything approaching organised crime. These, it must be admitted, come largely from the poor, for they are the product of poverty. The term might also be used with regard to men and women who live by organised crime, and who mean to live by crime: who, despising and refusing every respectable mode of life, apply their talents, energy, courage, presence of mind, knowledge of business, society and social custom to the one purpose of their lives.

To such men and women no other life has the slightest attraction. Comfortable ease to them is monotonous, and to them honest persevering endeavour, though successful, has no charms. Of this class the poor furnish but few, but every station of life, not excluding the Church and the universities, contributes more or less, for concerted crime demands more knowledge than the poor possess.

Swindling, to be successful, must be done on a large scale, and requires exact knowledge. Forgery demands skill and education. Long firms, bogus company promoting and blackmailing [45]require characteristics and knowledge that the poor do not possess. Jewel-thieves and pickpockets that operate at high-class functions have not graduated in the slums, but in more respectable life. But these men are real criminals, dangerous and persistent criminals; they plan and scheme, pursue and wait for the accomplishment of a criminal object. Decidedly they form a criminal class, yet, singular to say, they do not largely come from what are termed the “criminal classes.”

I would like to pursue what I believe would prove a very interesting inquiry, so I ask: In what way do the crimes of the poor and ignorant differ from the crimes committed by those who have been educated and once possessed social standing?

Briefly, leaving out murder, the crimes of the poor and ignorant are burglaries, larcenies, assaults, felonies, wilful damage, vagabondage; while to the educated swindling, conspiracy, long firms, bogus companies, forgeries, and blackmailing may be attributed. If we compare the two lists for one moment only, we see that the crimes of the educated classes reveal malice aforethought, and betray criminal mind and intention.

Impulsive or instinctive crimes, and crimes of passion, are more numerous amongst the ignorant than the educated. But such crimes do not betray a long-drawn-out criminal intention. The exigencies of the moment, sudden passion or temptation, [46]momentary folly and the influence of drink account for most of the crimes committed by the ignorant. But these things do not conduce in any marked degree to the commission of crime by educated people; as I have said, their crime is generally pre-planned, not instinctive! Probably the proportion of criminals per number of men and women who comprise the different stations of life is about the same for every rank, though I am sure that the statement will be considered absolute heresy.

But it must be remembered that rich criminals are more likely to escape detection, arrest and punishment than the criminals of the poor. They are still more likely to plan numerous transactions that technically do not come within the meshes of criminal law, but which morally are as dishonest and rascally as any crime against property can possibly be. The ethics of commercial life are more than strange, for a bogus company promoter would probably be appalled should his son be charged with forgery or burglary, or his daughter with obtaining goods by false pretences. It is not, then, to be wondered at, that considering how many educated men are engaged in ventures that are financially unsound and morally bankrupt, that a number of them step over the line that divides the domain of civil jurisdiction from the province of criminal law.

The real wonder is that a great many more do not take that step.


After all, it seems a wise arrangement for the sorrows, difficulties and temptations of life to be evenly distributed amongst the rich and the poor, the educated and the ignorant, though, to be sure, the ignorant are more likely to get within the meshes of the law, not because of their inherent criminality, but because of their ignorance which does not enable them to be dishonest without suffering the penalty. It is, I am sure, good for us that socially there exists no criminal class. I am glad that probity and honesty of life are not the monopoly of education and wealth, and I am also glad that if criminals we must have, that the rich and educated should furnish a proportionate share. The very poor have enough to bear and to suffer without having exclusive right to the shame and suffering that always attend discovered criminality. And it is well that no one section of the community can lift up its hands and proclaim its innocence. But all this leads me to say that there is no criminal class.


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