BECCARIA (CESAR BONESANA, MARQUIS OR), author of the well known treatise on Crimes and Pu nishments, was born at Milan in the year 1735. His early studies were carried on in the College of the Jesuits at Parma. He possessed a quick apprehen sion ; but, being naturally taciturn, and inclined to reflection, he seldom communicated the progress of his ideas, and was with difficulty prevailed upon to complete his exercises. It is related, as another pe culiarity of his disposition, that he never received praise from his teachers without betraying evident marks of pain and humiliation. These unusual indi cations susceptible mind, which, outstripping the coarse of his instructors, delighted in its own pur suits, and derived little complacency from a sense of its actual attainments, gave him, to common ob servers, a certain air of slowness, and even of stupi dity ; and characterized his features and deportment during the whole of his life. Having left the col lege at the age of seventeen, he applied himself, with unremitting diligence, to the study of Mathematics, and the Philosophy of Man.
His understanding appears to have been very early capable of embracing the most general views, and his breast to have been warmed by those benevolent wishes for the enlargement of human happiness, the sincerity and the strength of which are often so se verely tried by the events and passions of maturer life. His propensity to the study of Jurisprudence, and Political Philosophy, was first excited or con firmed by the Lettres Persannee of Montesquieu ; a production capable, indeed, of alluring a less en thusiastical mind than that of Beccaria. But his in dustry, in the pursuit of knowledge, appears to have been chiefly stimulated by the patriotic and honour able desire of diffusing instruction among his coun trymen, particularly the inhabitants of Milan, whom he represents, in one of his letters, as abandoned to a state of lamentable and universal ignorance. In the prosecution of these laudable designs, he fortu nately possessed the confidence, and was encouraged by the protection, of Count Firmiani, then governor of that part of the Austrian dominions ; an accom plished nobleman, who, with comprehensive views of policy, concurred in every plan which was calculated for improving the state of the provinces, and the condition of their inhabitants.
Becuaria first appeared as an author in the year 1762, when he published some observations on the Derangement of the Currency in the Milanese States, and a plan for its amendment. Soon after this he established a small literary society at Milan, in con. cert with some associates of character and senti ments similar to his own ; among others, Alessandro and Pietro Verri, who likewise contributed at that time, by their talents and public spirit, to distinguish the reign of Maria Teresa in Lombardy. • Assisted by these friends, and countenanced by Firmiani, he commenced a periodical publication under the name of the cap ; a plan said to have been suggested to them by the celebrity of Addison's Spectator, and the general belief of its influence on the opinions and taste of the people of England. Various papers, contributed by the members of this society, on sub jects of literature, ethics, and physical science, were published during the years 1764 and 1765.
But by far the most remarkable production to which this society gave rise, and that by which the reputation of' Beccaria has been chiefly perpetuated among other nations, was the treatise on Crimes and Punishments (Dei Delitti e Dells Pate). This essay is said to have been undertaken at the earnest solicitation of Verri, who then die cbfrged the functions of Protector of Prisoners (Protettore de' Careered) at the Court of Milan. It was written at the house of his brother, Peter Verri, where the meetings of the society were held;' and in concert with him the author, every evening, revised and corrected what he had written during the day. In this manner the work was completed within two months, and was printed in the course of the year 1764, with the mark of the Lucca press. • In this small but noted work, the author appears as the advocate of reason and sound policy, no less than of humanity. It was his purpose, by examining the foundation, the objects, and consequently the boundaries of penal law, to expose the inefficacy, as well as injustice, of many provisions in the judicial code of his own country, and in those of other Eu ropean nations ; and which, derived from remote times, and established under a different order of so ciety, had been perverted and debased during suc cessive ages of barbarism. The authority of positive institutions formed almost the only basis of law, even in countries the farthest advanced in civilization ; and that authority was in many of them drawn too servilely from the Roman system. Montesquieu had • already thrown many penetrating glances at the foundation and structure of these ancient fabrics ; but it was still reserved for others to scrutinize them more closely, and to draw forth, and present to ge neral view, those direct inferences which that exami nation suggested. In no part were the existing codes
more defective and vicious, than in the department of the criminal law ; and it was to this, accordingly, that Beccaria's attention was exclusively directed. Nor does he offer the work as a general system, or theory, even of penal law ; in which light it would be found every way imperfect ; but only as an attempt to analyze parts of a system which he found actually existing. Among the most prominent of those points to which his reasoning is applied, are, the due pro portion between crime and punishment, and the vio lations of that proportion, whether by unnecessary. severity of punishments, or the want of a scale and distribution of them suited to the amount and dan ger of particular offences—the inconsistency of cer tain rules then established on the subject of legal Evidence—Secret Accusations—Fictitious Crimes —the use of Torture as an instrument for the disco _ very of trutli—Imprisonment not authorized by law, or of uncertain duration—and the sale of offices of justice, along with other vices in the constitution of the courts. In treating these various topics, he sel dom deduces his argument from remote sources, or pursues it to refinements. That some propositions are advanced in the course of the work, which are of a questionable nature, cannot be denied ; and there are particular illustrations which have an ex clusive reference to certain forms of government then existing in the Italian states. But, in general, the author reasons on few and acknowledged prin ciples, and makes his appeal to the universal feelings of mankind. As one of the most important conclu sions which result from his reasoning, or rather as concentrating a number of these conclusions, he closes his book with the following proposition : " In order that a punishment may not be an act of violence, of one, or of many, against an individual member of society, it is essential that it should be public, prompt, and necessary, the least possible in the given case, and determined by the law. ' His style, in this work, with exception of one or two passages, where he intentionally addresses him self only to the lesser number, is uniformly per spicuous, and, like that of all his other writings, though Often eloquent, is unadorned. He employs, in some parts of it, that species of ridicule which, on a similar occasion, had been used with so great effect by Montesquieu. Thus, while treating the sub ject of Torture, he proposes, among others, the fol lowing query, in the form of a mathematical pro blem : " The force of the muscles, and the sensibility of the nerves, of an innocent person being given, it is required to find the degree of pain necessary to make him confess himself guilty of a given crime ?" Peculiar traits are to be found, likewise, in other passages, of the writer's dispositions and train of sentiment. Thus having, in a later edition, modified, under that part which relates to Fraudulent Bank ruptcy, some sentiments which he had originally ex pressed, but which, on reflection, appeared to him self too severe, he adds, in a note, " I am ashamed of what I formerly wrote on this subject. I have been accused of irreligion, without deserving it ; I have been accused of disaffection to the government, and deserved it as little ; I was guilty of a real attack upon the rights of humanity, and I have been re proached by nobody." If many of the views exhibited in this work are now divested of novelty ; and if, through the gene ral adoption of them by the most cultivated nations, we are led to forget that they were once hidden, or excluded, such is the fate of all improvement, as well as of all discovery. Nor does it detract from the true character of this interesting performance, that in some enlightened countries, and in the more propitious climates of political liberty, many of the important doctrines which it inculcated were already recognised in the systems of the law.t Beccaria was among the first by whom these principles were publicly avowed, under a government in whose insti tutions they had no place, and over whose judicial administration they exercised no influence ; and, when the age and country in which he wrote are considered, the boldness of his statements is not less to be admired than the justness of his reasoning. It is his honourable distinction, likewise, and that of the friends who shared his labours and his views, to ' have preserved, in the prosecution of those objects, an unblemished loyalty towards their prince ; and, while combating, with manly perseverance, the er rors which prevailed in fundamental principles of the legislation, to have abstained from all attacks which might either directly weaken the authority of the laws, or disturb the administration of the go vernment.