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Murder As A Fine Art
by [?]


A new paper on Murder as a Fine Art might open thus: that on the model of those Gentlemen Radicals who had voted a monument to Palmer, etc., it was proposed to erect statues to such murderers as should by their next-of-kin, or other person interested in their glory, make out a claim either of superior atrocity, or, in equal atrocity, of superior neatness, continuity of execution, perfect preparation or felicitous originality, smoothness or curiosa felicitas (elaborate felicity). The men who murdered the cat, as we read in the Newgate Calendar, were good, but Williams better who murdered the baby. And perhaps (but the hellish felicity of the last act makes us demur) Fielding was superior. For you never hear of a fire swallowing up a fire, or a rain stopping a deluge (for this would be a reign of Kilkenny cats); but what fire, deluge, or Kilkenny cats could not do, Fielding proposed, viz., to murder the murderers, to become himself the Nemesis. Fielding was the murderer of murderers in a double sense–rhetorical and literal. But that was, after all, a small matter compared with the fine art of the man calling himself Outis, on which for a moment we must dwell. Outis–so at all events he was called, but doubtless he indulged in many aliases–at Nottingham joined vehemently and sincerely, as it seemed, in pursuit of a wretch taxed with having murdered, twelve years previously, a wife and two children at Halifax, which wretch (when all the depositions were before the magistrate) turned out to be the aforesaid Mr. Outis. That suggests a wide field of speculation and reference.[1]

Note the power of murderers as fine-art professors to make a new start, to turn the corner, to retreat upon the road they have come, as though it were new to them, and to make diversions that disarm suspicion. This they owe to fortunate obscurity, which attests anew the wonderful compensations of life; for celebrity and power combine to produce drawbacks.

A foreigner who lands in Calcutta at an hour which nobody can name, and endeavours to effect a sneaking entrance at the postern-gate[2] of the governor-general’s palace, may be a decent man; but this we know, that he has cut the towing-rope which bound his own boat to the great ark of his country. It may be that, in leaving Paris or Naples, he was simply cutting the connection with creditors who showed signs of attachment not good for his health. But it may also be that he ran away by the blaze of a burning inn, which he had fired in order to hide three throats which he had cut, and nine purses which he had stolen. There is no guarantee for such a man’s character. Have we, then, no such vauriens at home? No, not in the classes standing favourably for promotion. The privilege of safe criminality, not liable to exposure, is limited to classes crowded together like leaves in Vallombrosa; for them to run away into some mighty city, Manchester or Glasgow, is to commence life anew. They turn over a new leaf with a vengeance. Many are the carpenters, bricklayers, bakers’ apprentices, etc., who are now living decently in Bristol, Newcastle, Hull, Liverpool, after marrying sixteen wives, and leaving families to the care of twelve separate parishes. That scamp is at this moment circulating and gyrating in society, like a respectable te-totum, though we know not his exact name, who, if he were pleased to reveal himself in seventeen parts of this kingdom, where (to use the police language) he has been ‘wanted’ for some years, would be hanged seventeen times running, besides putting seventeen Government rewards into the pockets of seventeen policemen. Oh, reader, you little know the unutterable romances perpetrated for ever in our most populous empire, under cloud of night and distance and utter poverty, Mark that–of utter poverty. Wealth is power; but it is a jest in comparison of poverty. Splendour is power; but it is a joke to obscurity. To be poor, to be obscure, to be a baker’s apprentice or a tailor’s journeyman, throws a power about a man, clothes him with attributes of ubiquity, really with those privileges of concealment which in the ring of Gyges were but fabulous. Is it a king, is it a sultan, that such a man rivals? Oh, friend, he rivals a spiritual power.