Wlliam Gilmore Simms
Southward Ho! A Spell of Sunshine >> Chapter III >> Page 26

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Page 26

Novel (Romance) | Redfield | 1854
Transcription 26 SOUTHWARD 110!
most extreme penalties would suffice to prevent the repetition
of the offence. The nature of the necessity seemed to justify, with many, the sanguinary decision. The principle urged was,
that the punishment was to be graduated rather by the facility
of crime than by its turpitude. Thus, horse-stealing is in some
regions rated with murder, simply because, from the nature of
beast and country, it is supposed that horses may be more easily
stolen than men slain. Men are usually assumed to incline to
defend their lives ; but it would be an extreme case where a
horse, once bridled and saddled, would offer any resistance to
his own abduction. He would rather facilitate the designs upon
his own innocence by the use of his own legs. The oysters,
more simple, more confiding than the horse even, are still more
at the mercy of the marauder. His crime is, accordingly, in
proportion to the weakness, the good faith, the confiding sim-
plicity of the creature, whose midnight slumbers he invades.
These arguments were well urged by one of the Jersey oyster-
men, who had once filled the station of a chancellor of one of
the supreme courts in one of the states. A passion for Cognac
had lost him his elevation, and, in the caprices of fortune, he
had passed from equity to oysters. The transition, now-a-days,
is hardly one to surprise or startle. He used his old experience,
whenever he could get a chance to practise upon an audience,
and made a monstrous long speech upon this occasion ; and
very touching indeed was the picture which he drew of the ten-
der character, the virgin innocence, the exposed situation, the
helplessness of the oyster�its inabilities for self-defence, and
the virtues which commended it to all persons of proper sympa-
thies and a genuine humanity which were of a sort, also, to
provoke the horrid appetites of a class of desperates who per-
petually roamed about, like the evil beasts described in scrip-
ture, seeking only what they might devour. Our ex-chancellor
argued that the oyster was to be protected from invasion ; that
prevention was always better than cure ; that the punishment
of the criminal was the only proper process of prevention ; that
law was only valuable for its effects in terrorem ; that the rights
of eminent domain in Jersey, along the whole oyster region in-
vaded, conferred upon her the right of summary punishment, at
her discretion, as the necessary incident of her sovereignty; and