Adam Martin’s great post at Aid Watch reminded me of Richard Bell’s work. I remember he mentioned something akin to the following: on the American frontier people were against young women reading current literature, for fear that they would be overwhelmed with the urge to commit suicide. Instead they encouraged reading classics and romantic era literature – talk about irony.
Also be sure to check out Mark Canuel’s The Shadow of Death: Literature, Romanticism, and the Subject of Punishment. Canuel argues that the romantics were critical in motivating social change away from corporal punishments. I wonder if his claim would also suffer criticism from a dose of the Martin via Levy-Peart Hypothesis. Smith and Bentham were some of the loudest critics against torture on economical / epistemic grounds.