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[-245-] 

CHAPTER CCX.

HOLFORD'S STUDIES

    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 temples.
    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 recovery.
    "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 Gustavus IV.
    "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 his cheeks.
    "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.,
    OF FRANCE.
    "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 prey.
    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 the people.
    [-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 degradation."
    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 deed!
    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 all-absorbing passion!
    "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 fatal aspirations!
    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 development.
    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 usurpers thereof.
    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.

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