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LONDON [Vol. II]
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It was midnight.
In a garret, belonging to a house in the same court
where Crankey Jem resided, sate Henry Holford.
He was alone. His elbow rested on the table, and his
hand supported his feverish head — for dark thoughts filled the
brain of that young man.
The flickering light of a single candle fell upon the
pages of an old volume, which he was reading with intense interest.
His cheeks were pale, — his lips were
dry, — his throat was parched, — and his eyeballs glared
with unnatural lustre.
He did not feel athirst — else there was
water handy to assuage the craving: — nor did he hear his heart
beating violently, nor experience the feverish and rapid throbbing of his
No: — his whole thoughts — his
entire feelings — him every sensation. — all were
absorbed in the subject of his study.
And that the reader may fully comprehend the nature of
those impulses which were now urging this strange young man on to the
perpetration of a deed that was destined to give a terrible celebrity to his
name, we must quote the passage on which his mind was so intently fixed: —
"THE ASSASSINATION OF GUSTAVUS III., OF SWEDEN.* [-*From
Evans' and Forbes' 'Geographical Grammar Edition of 1814]
"The nobles were discontented with the general
conduct of the King; and a conspiracy was planned against him under his own
roof. His wars had compelled him to negotiate large loans, and to impose upon
his subjects heavy taxes. The nobles took advantage of that circumstance to
prejudice the minds of many of the people against the sovereign who had laboured
so long for their real good. On the 16th of March, 1792, he received an
anonymous letter, warning him of his immediate danger from a plot that was laid
to take away his life, requesting him to remain at home, and avoid balls for a
year; and assuring him, that if he should go to the masquerade for which he was
preparing, he would he assassinated that very night. The King read the note with
contempt, and at a late hour entered the ball-room. After some time he sat down
in a box with the Count of Essen, and observed he was not deceived in his
contempt for the letter, since, had there been any design against his life, the
time could be more favourable than that moment. He then mingled, without
apprehension, among the crowd; and just as he was preparing to retire with the
Prussian ambassador, he was surrounded by several persons in masks, one of whom
fired a pistol at the back of the King, and lodged the contents in his body. A
scene of dreadful confusion ensued. The conspirators, amidst the general tumult
and alarm, had time to retire to other parts of the room but one of them had
previously dropped his pistols and a dagger close by the wounded King. A general
order was given to all the company to unmask, and the doors were immediately
closed; but no person appeared with any particular distinguishing marks of
guilt. The King was immediately conveyed to his apartment; and the surgeon,
after extracting a ball and some slugs, gave favourable hopes of his Majesty's
"Suspicions immediately fell upon such of the
nobles as had been notorious for their opposition to the measures of the court.
The anonymous letter was traced up to Colonel Liljehorn, Major in the King's
Guards, and he was immediately apprehended. But the most successful clue that
seemed to offer was in consequence of the weapons which had fallen from the
assassin. An order was issued, directing all the armourers, gunsmiths, and
cutlers, in Stockholm, to give every information in their power to the officers
of justice, concerning the weapons. A gun-smith who had repaired the pistols
readily recognised them to be the same which he had repaired some time since for
a nobleman of the name of Ankarstrom, a captain in the army; and the cutler who
had made the dagger, referred at once to the same person.
"The King languished from the 17th to the 29th of
March. At first, the reports of his medical attendants were favourable; but on
the 28th a mortification was found to have taken place, which terminated his
existence in a few hours. On opening his body a square piece of lead and two
rusty nails were found unextracted within the ribs.
"During his illness, and particularly after he was
made acquainted with the certainty of his approaching dissolution, Gustavus
continued to display that unshaken courage which he had manifested on every
occasion during his life. A few hours before his decease, he made some
alterations in the arrangement of public affairs. He had before, by his will,
appointed a council of regency, but convinced, by recent experience, how little
he could depend on the attachment of his nobles, and being also aware of the
necessity of a strong government in difficult times, he appointed his brother,
the Duke of Sudermania, sole regent, till his son, who was then about fourteen,
should have attained the age of eighteen years. His last words were a
declaration of pardon to the conspirators against his life. The actual murderer
alone was excepted, and he was excepted only at the strong instance of the
regent, and those who surrounded him Majesty in his dying moments. Immediately
on the death of the King the young prince was proclaimed by the title of
"Ankarstrom was no sooner apprehended, than he
confessed with an air of triumph, that he was the person 'who had endeavoured to
liberate his country from a [-246-]
monster and a tyrant.' Suspicions at the same time fell on the Counts horn and
Ribbing, Baron Pechlin, Baron Ehrensvard, Baron Hartsmandorf, Von Angerstrom the
Royal Secretary, and others; and these suspicions were confirmed by the
confession of Ankarstrom. After a very fair and ample trial, this man was
condemned to be publicly and severely whipped on three successive days, his
right hand and his head to be cut off, and his body impaled: which sentence he
suffered on the 17th of May. His property was given to his children, who,
however, were compelled to change their name."
"Ankarstrom was a martyr — a
hero!" exclaimed Holford, aloud; his imagination excited by the preceding
narrative, and all the morbid feelings of his wrongly-biassed mind aroused at
the idea of the terrible renown that attached itself to the name of a regicide.
Then, — although the garret in which he sate
was so cold that ice floated on the water in the pitcher, and the nipping chill
of a February night came through the cracked panes and ill-closed lattice, while
the snow lay thick upon the slanting tiles immediately above his head, — that
young man's entire frame glowed with a feverish heat, which shone with sinister
lustre in his eyes, and appeared in the two deep-red hectic spots which marked
"Yes — Ankarstrom was a hero!" he
exclaimed. "Oh! how he must have despised the efforts of the torturers to
wring from him a groan: — how he must have scorned the array of
penalties which were sought to be made so terrible! And Ravaillac — the
regicide beneath whose hand fell Henry IV. of France — Oh! how well
is every word of his history treasured up in my mind. But Francis Damien — Ah!
his fate was terrible indeed! And yet I am not afraid to contemplate it — even
though such a one should be in store for me."
Then hastily turning to the "History of
France," in the volume which he was reading, he slowly and in measured
terms repeated aloud the following passage:-
"ATTEMPTED ASSASSINATION OF LOUIS XV.,
"In the year 1717, one Francis Damien, an unhappy
wretch, whose sullen mind, naturally unsettled, was inflamed by the disputes
between the King and his Parliament concerning religion, formed the desperate
resolution of attempting the life of his Sovereign. In the dusk of the evening,
as the King prepared to enter his coach, he was suddenly, though slightly,
wounded, with a penknife, between the fourth and fifth ribs, in the presence of
his son, and in the midst of his guards. The daring assassin had mingled with
the crowd of courtiers, but was instantly betrayed by his distracted
countenance. He declared it was never his intention to kill the King: but that
he only meant to wound him, that God might touch his heart, and incline him to
restore the tranquillity of his dominions by re-establishing the Parliament, and
banishing the Archbishop of Paris, whom he regarded as the source of the present
commotions. In these frantic and incoherent declarations he persisted, amidst
the most exquisite tortures; and after human ingenuity had been exhausted in
devising new modes of torment, his judges, tired out with his obstinacy,
consigned him to a death, the inhumanity of which might fill the hearts of
savages with horror: he was conducted to the common place of execution, amidst a
vast concourse of the populace; stripped naked, and fastened to the scaffold by
iron manacles. One of his hands was then burnt in liquid flaming sulphur; his
thighs, legs, and arms, were torn with red hot pincers: boiling oil, melted
lead, resin, and sulphur, were poured into the wounds; and, to complete the
terrific catastrophe, he was torn to pieces by horses!"
"And they call him an unhappy wretch!"
exclaimed Holford, pushing the book from him: "no — no! He must
have had a great and a powerful mind to have dared to attempt to kill a King!
And his name is remembered in history! Ah! that thought must have consoled him
in the midst of those infernal torments. What is more delightful than the
conviction of emerging from vile obscurity, and creating a reputation — although
one so tarnished and disfigured that the world shrinks from it with loathing!
Yes: — better to be a Turpin or a Barrington — a Claude
du Val or a Jack Sheppard, than live unknown, and die without exciting a
sensation. But it would be glorious — oh! how glorious to be ranked
with Ankarstrom, Ravaillac, Damien, Felton, Guy Fawkes, Fieschi, and that
gallant few who have either slain, or attempted the lives of, monarchs or great
men! I am miserable, — poor,-obscure, — and without a
hope of rising by legitimate means. I have seen the inside of a palace — and
am doomed to drag on my wretched existence in this garret. I have partaken of
the dainties that came from the table of a sovereign — and, were I
hungry now, a sorry crust is all that my cupboard would afford. I have listened
to the musical voice of that high-bon lady whose name I scarcely dare to breathe
even to myself — and now the cold blast of February comes with its
hoarse sound to grate upon my ears in this miserable — miserable
garret! Oh! why was my destiny cast in so lowly a sphere? What has been my
almost constant occupation — with some few brighter intervals — since
I was twelve years old? A pot-boy — a low, degraded pot-boy: the
servant of servants — the slave of slaves — forced to
come and go at the beck and call of the veriest street-sweeper that frequented
the tap-room! Ah! my God — when I think of all this humiliation, I
feel that my blood boils even up to my very brain — my eyes and
cheeks appear to be upon fire-I seem as if my senses were leaving me!"
And, as he spoke, he clenched his fists and ground his
teeth together with a ferocious bitterness, which indicated the fearfully morbid
condition of his mind.
For he was enraged against fortune who had made him poor
and humble-against the world for keeping him so-and against royalty and
aristocracy for being so much happier and so incomparably more blessed than the
section of society to which he belonged.
And in his vanity — for his soaring
disposition made him vain — he conceived that he possessed elements
of greatness, which the world, with a wilful blindness, would not see; or which
adverse circumstances would not suffer to develop themselves.
He deemed himself more persecuted than others moving in
the same sphere: his restless, diseased, and excited mind, had conjured up a
thousand evils to which he thought himself the marked — the special
He had seen, in his visits to the palace, so much of the
highest eminence of luxury, pleasure, happiness, and indolent enjoyment, that he
looked around with horror and affright when he found himself hurled back again
into the lowest depths of obscurity, privation, and cheerlessness of life.
He had at intervals feasted his eyes so greedily with
all the fascination, the glitter, the gorgeousness, the splendour, the ease, and
the voluptuousness, of the Court, that he could not endure the contemplation of
the fearful contrast which was afforded by the every-day and familiar scenes of
starvation, penury, misery, and ineffectual toil that marked the existence of
[-247-] The moral condition of Henry Holford was a
striking proof of the daring flights of which the human mind is capable. On the
very first occasion of his visit to the palace, he had allowed himself to be
carried away by all the wildest emotions and the strangest impressions that were
produced by the novelty of what he then saw and heard. Royalty had been ever
associated, in his vulgar conception, with something grand and handsome in man,
and something wonderfully beautiful in woman. Thus, when he first saw the Queen,
he was prepared to admire her: — he admired her accordingly; and
that feeling increased to a degree the insolence of which at times overawed and
terrified even himself.
By another wayward inclination of his unhealthy but
enthusiastic mind, he had from the first been prepared to dislike the Prince;
and this feeling increased in violence with those circumstances which each
successive visit to the royal abode developed. At length — as if his
evil destiny must infallibly hurry him on to some appalling catastrophe — he
was discovered by the Prince in the detestable condition of an eaves-dropper,
and was ignominiously driven forth from that dwelling where his mind had
gradually collected the elements of a most unnatural excitement.
He knew that any attempt to repeat his visits would be
frustrated by the precautions which were certain to have been adopted to prevent
future intrusions of a like nature; and he now felt precisely as one who is
compelled suddenly to abandon a habit to which he had become wedded. Strange as
it may appear, the morbid excitement attendant upon those visits to the palace
was as necessary to Holford's mental happiness as tobacco, opium snuff or strong
liquors are to so many millions of individuals.
With a person in such a state of mind, the first impulse
was bitter hatred against the one who had deprived him of a source of
pleasurable excitement; and in that vengeful feeling were absorbed all those
rational reflections which would have convinced him that his own insolent
intrusion — his own unpardonable conduct — had provoked
the treatment he had received. He never paused to ask himself by what right he
had entered the palace and played the ignoble part of a listener to private
conversation and a spy upon the hallowed sanctity of domestic life: — the
dominant idea in his mind was his ignominious expulsion.
"Fate has now filled my cup of bitterness to the
brim," he would say to himself; "and all that remains for me to do is
to avenge myself on him whom my destiny has made the instrument of this crowning
By degrees the mind of that young man found its gloomy
broodings upon vengeance associating themselves with other sentiments. He
gradually blended this idea of revenge with the ardent desire of breaking those
trammels which kept his name imprisoned in the silent cavern of obscurity. The
two sentiments at length united in his imagination and his pulse beat
quickly — and his eyes flashed fire, when he surveyed the
possibility of gratifying his thirst for vengeance and suddenly rendering his
name notorious at the same moment, and by one desperate — fearful
The reader cannot now be at a loss to comprehend how
this wretchedly mistaken young man was brought to study the history of those
regicides who have gained an infamous renown in the annals of nations.
And as he dwelt with an insane enthusiasm upon those
narratives, the feeling of admiration — nay, adoration — which
he had once experienced towards the Queen, was merged in the terrible longing
for a diabolical notoriety that now became his predominating — his
"Yes!" he exclaimed, as he pushed the book
away from him, that night on which we have introduced the reader to his garret:
"I will be talked about — my name shall be upon every tongue!
Obscurity shall no longer enshroud me: its darkness is painful to my soul. I
will do a deed that shall make the Kingdom ring from one end to the other with
the astounding tidings: — the newspapers shall struggle with all the
eagerness of competition to glean the most trivial facts concerning me; — and
when the day arrives for me to appear before my judges, the great nobles and the
high-born ladies of England shall crowd in the tribunal to witness the trial of
the pot-boy Henry Holford!"
The act on which the young man was now resolved,
appeared not to him in its real light as an atrocious crime — a
damnable deed that would arouse a yell of execration from one end of the land to
the other: — it seemed, on the contrary, a glorious achievement of
which he would have reason to be proud.
Alas! how strangely constituted is the human mind,
which, in any state of being, could cherish such monstrous delusions — such
But is there no blame to be attached to society for this
development of ideas so morbid even on the part of one single individual? is
there nothing in the constitution of that society which gives encouragement, as
it were, to those detestable sentiments?
Let us see.
Enough has been said in the more serious and reasoning
parts of this work to prove that society is in a vitiated — a
false — and an artificial condition. The poor are too poor, and the
rich too rich: the obscure are too low, and the exalted too high. The upper
classes alone have opportunities of signalising themselves: the industrious
millions have no chance of rising in the State. Interest procures rank in the
Navy — money buys promotion in the Army — and interest
and money united obtain seats in the Legislative Assembly. Interest and money,
then, remain to the exclusive few: the millions have neither — nor
are they even stimulated by a national system of Education. An aristocrat of
common abilities may rise to eminence in some department of the State, with but
little trouble: but a son of toil, however vast his natural talents, has not a
single chance of starting from obscurity through the medium of their proper
This is true: and we defy the most subtle reasoner on
behalf of the oligarchy to refute those positions.
Now, such being the case, — with a dominant
aristocracy on one hand, and the oppressed millions on the other, — is
it not evident that every now and then some member of the latter class will
brood upon the vast, the astounding contrast until feelings of a deplorably
morbid nature become excited in his mind? How could it be otherwise? Ireland,
with its agrarian outrages and its frequent instances of assassination, proves
the fact. England, with its incendiary fires in periods of deep distress,
affords additional corroboration.
[-248-] We deplore that such should be the case; and not
for a moment do we advocate such means of vindicating just rights against the
But if these instances of outbreaking revenge — if
these ebullitions of indomitable resentment do now and then occur, no
small portion of the blame must be charged against that aristocracy which
maintains itself on an eminence so immeasurably above the depths in which the
masses are compelled to languish. And when the poor creature who is goaded to
desperation, does strike — can we wonder if, in the madness
of his rage, he deals his blows indiscriminately, or against an innocent person?
He may even aim at royalty itself — although, in every really
constitutional country, the sovereign is little more than a mere puppet, the
Prime Minister of the day being the virtual ruler of the nation.
From what we have said, it is easy to perceive how the
contemplation of the splendid luxury of the palace first unhinged and unsettled
the mind of Henry Holford.
We must now go a step farther.
Society manifests a most inordinate and pernicious
curiosity in respect to criminals who perpetrate an unusual offence. This
curiosity passes all legitimate bounds. The newspapers, with a natural attention
to pecuniary interests, obey the cravings of that feeling by serving up the most
highly-seasoned food to suit the peculiar appetite. Portraits of the guilty one
are exhibited in every picture-shop. Apposite allusions are introduced into
dramatic representations; and even the presiding genius of a "Punch and
Judy show" mingles the subject with his humorous outpourings. If the
criminal make an attack upon royalty, he goes through the important but
mysterious ordeal of an examination at the Home Office, whence the reporters for
the press are excluded. On his appearance at Bow Street, the magisterial
tribunal is "crowded with gentlemen and ladies, who were accommodated with
Seats upon the bench," as the journals say; and when the finale comes at
the Central Criminal Court, the fees for admission to the gallery rise to two or
three guineas for each individual.
Thus the criminal is made into a hero!
Now is not all this sufficient to turn the head of one
whose mind is already partially unhinged?
Society, then, is to blame in many ways for the
development of those morbid feelings which, in the present instance, actuated
Henry Holford in his desperate purpose.
chapter < | THE MYSTERIES OF
LONDON [Vol. II]
| > next chapter >