The Rationale of Punishment

Book II

Of Corporal Punishments

Chapter II


Section 1


It was an ingenious idea in the first legislator who invented these external and permanently visible punishments,---punishments which are inflicted without destroying any organ---without mutilation---often without physical pain; in all cases without any other pain than what is absolutely necessary,---which affect only the appearance of the criminal, and render that appearance less agreeable, which would not be punishments if they were not indications of his crimes.

The visible qualities of an object are its colour it and figure; there are therefore two methods of altering them:---1. Discolouration---2. Disfiguration.

1. Discolouration may be temporary or permanent. When temporary, it may be produced by vegetable or mineral dyes. I am not acquainted with an instance of its use as a punishment. It has always appeared to me that it might be very usefully employed as a precaution to hinder the escape of certain offenders, whilst they are undergoing other punishments.

Permanent discolouration might be produced by tattooing; the only method at present in use is branding. [1]

Tattooing is performed by perforating the skin with a bundle of sharp-pointed instruments, and, subsequently filling the punctures with coloured powder. Of all methods of discolouration, this is the most striking and the least painful. It was practised by the ancient Picts, and other savage nations, for the purpose of ornament.

Judicial branding is effected by the application of a hot iron, the end of which has the form which it is desired should be left imprinted on the skin. This punishment is appointed for many offenses in England, and among other European nations. How far this mark is permanent and distinct, I know not; but every one must have observed that accidental burnings often leave only a slight cicatrix---a scarcely sensible alteration in the colour and texture of the skin.

If it is desired to produce deformity, a part of the body should be chosen which is exposed to view, as the hand or the face; but if the object of the punishment is only to mark a conviction of a first offense, and to render the individual recognisable in case of a relapse, it will be better that the mark should be impressed upon some part of the body less ordinarily in view, whereby he will be spared the torment of its infamy, without taking away his desire to avoid falling again into the hands of Justice.

2. Disfigurement may in the same manner be either permanent or transient. It may be performed either on the person, or only on its dress.

When confined to the dress, it is not properly called disfigurement but, by a natural association of ideas, it has the same effect. To this head may be referred the melancholy robes and frightful dresses made use of by the Inquisition, to give to those who suffer in public a hideous or terrible appearance. Some were clothed in cloaks painted to represent flames; others were covered with figures of demons, and different emblems of future torments.

Shaving the head has been a punishment formerly used. It was part of the penance imposed upon adulterous women by the ancient French laws. The Chinese attach great importance to the length of their nails; cutting them might therefore be used as a penal disfigurement. Shaving the beard might be thus employed among the Russian peasants, or a part of the Jews.

The permanent means of disfigurement are more limited. The only ones which have been in use, and which may yet be employed in certain countries, were applied to certain parts of the head, which may be altered without destroying the functions which depend on those parts. The common law of England directs the nostrils to be slit, or the ears cut off, as the punishment for certain offenses. The first of these punishments has fallen into disuse: the second has been rarely employed in the last century. In the works of Pope, and his contemporary writers, may be seen how far their malignity was pleased by allusions to this species of punishment, which had been applied to the author of a libel in their times.

The cutting off and slitting of the nose, the eyelids, and the ears, were once in common use in Russia, without distinction of sex or rank. They were the common accompaniments of the knout and exile: but it ought to be observed that the punishment of death was very rare.

[RP, Book II, Chapter II] [RP, Book II, Chapter II, §2]