A Book of Remarkable Criminals HTML version

"The silent workings, and still more the explosions, of human passion which bring
to light the darker elements of man's nature present to the philosophical observer
considerations of intrinsic interest; while to the jurist, the study of human nature
and human character with its infinite varieties, especially as affecting the
connection between motive and action, between irregular desire or evil
disposition and crime itself, is equally indispensable and difficult."
--Wills on Circumstantial Evidence.
I REMEMBER my father telling me that sitting up late one night talking with
Tennyson, the latter remarked that he had not kept such late hours since a
recent visit of Jowett. On that occasion the poet and the philosopher had talked
together well into the small hours of the morning. My father asked Tennyson
what was the subject of conversation that had so engrossed them. "Murders,"
replied Tennyson. It would have been interesting to have heard Tennyson and
Jowett discussing such a theme. The fact is a tribute to the interest that crime
has for many men of intellect and imagination. Indeed, how could it be
otherwise? Rob history and fiction of crime, how tame and colourless would be
the residue! We who are living and enduring in the presence of one of the
greatest crimes on record, must realise that trying as this period of the world's
history is to those who are passing through it, in the hands of some great
historian it may make very good reading for posterity. Perhaps we may find some
little consolation in this fact, like the unhappy victims of famous freebooters such
as Jack Sheppard or Charley Peace.
But do not let us flatter ourselves. Do not let us, in all the pomp and circumstance
of stately history, blind ourselves to the fact that the crimes of Frederick, or
Napoleon, or their successors, are in essence no different from those of
Sheppard or Peace. We must not imagine that the bad man who happens to
offend against those particular laws which constitute the criminal code belongs to
a peculiar or atavistic type, that he is a man set apart from the rest of his fellow-
men by mental or physical peculiarities. That comforting theory of the Lombroso
school has been exploded, and the ordinary inmates of our prisons shown to be
only in a very slight degree below the average in mental and physical fitness of
the normal man, a difference easily explained by the environment and conditions
in which the ordinary criminal is bred.
A certain English judge, asked as to the general characteristics of the prisoners
tried before him, said: "They are just like other people; in fact, I often think that,
but for different opportunities and other accidents, the prisoner and I might very
well be in one another's places." "Greed, love of pleasure," writes a French
judge, "lust, idleness, anger, hatred, revenge, these are the chief causes of
crime. These passions and desires are shared by rich and poor alike, by the
educated and uneducated. They are inherent in human nature; the germ is in
every man."