BLTC Press Titles


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Mortal Coils

Aldous Huxley


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison


The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky


Famous trials of the century

by James Beresford Atlay

Excerpt:

PEEFACE

The happy inspiration has recently befallen Mr. Stephen, who by right of birth possesses a vested interest in the subject, to form an anthology from out the State Trials, and to present those unlucky individuals whose library shelves lack the encyclopedic volumes compiled by the late Mr. Howells with a selection from the most fascinating human documents in the English language. He is to be congratulated alike on the conception and the execution of the task; and they who first make acquaintance with these realms of gold through the medium of his pages, may fling up their hands, like Keats on first dipping into Chapman's Homer, with the additional advantage .over the former poet that the * holy original' happens to be in their native tongue.

In prosecuting the researches the result of which is embodied in the present volume, I have had no such quarry to work from. The State Trials break off short in the year 1820; and though some ten or twelve years ago a committee of highly distinguished jurists was appointed to continue them, the result from the point of view of the humble student of crime has been lamentable. The mountain has laboured, the Treasury has paid the bill, and those gifted gentlemen who devil for the Law Officers are the only beneficiaries. The members of the Bar to whom once in a lifetime it chances to have to advise on questions of constitutional law are few in number, and that wide class who have read their Howells for ' example of life and instruction of manners,' find in the ' New Series' even more indifferent fare than is wont to be served up in sequels.

The criminal annals of the last eighty years remain for the most part buried in the files of the daily press, and it has occurred to me that a selection from those trials, which in their day have merited the designation of causes fibres, might evoke a certain amount of interest in the general public. I have written neither for the schoolroom nor the law student, and my object has been to show that the drama of real life does not fall behind the boldest imaginative efforts of the detective novelist. The selection has been purely arbitrary; and should any measure of encouragement be afforded to the writer, there remains a rich harvest of stories ripe for the telling. One merit I venture to claim, and that is that every page in this volume has been written with the contemporary record before me.

The disproportionate space occupied by the Tichborne Trials demands a word of apology. I am only too sadly conscious that it is out of drawing, but the curious fact remains that, though a most interesting and accurate version of the case is to bo found in French, there has hern, to the best of my knowledge, no attempt made in this couutry to give any coherent and continuous account of the most romantic and extraordinary episode in our legal history. There are those still living who could indeed a tale unfold, but it is unlikely that their silence will ever be broken, and I have ventured to rush in where others far better qualified refuse to tread.

With the exception of the Tichborne and Thurtell trials, all the cases in this book have appeared in the pages of the CornhUl Magazine, and I have to express to Messrs. Smith, Elder and Co. my gratitude for their courtesy in allowing me to reproduce them.

J. B. ATLAY. Lincoln's Isx,

August 1899.

I

WEAKE AND THURTELL

Three miles to the north of the little Hertfordshire town of Elstree the St. Albans and Watford roads meet; and the angle between them forms a network of enclosed fields and narrow, crooked lanes, with here and there a cottage or small farmhouse. Through one of these lanes Mr. Philip Smith, farmer, of Kemp Row, in the parish of Aldenham, was returning with his wife and another woman from a visit to a neighbour named Nicholls about eight o'clock in the evening of Friday the 24th of October 1823. To reach their homes it was necessary to pass along a byroad leading to the highway from Radlet to High Cross, and the party had scarcely gone two hundred yards down it, when the report of a gun or pistol was heard some fields away, followed by groans and cries of distress. Almost immediately afterwards they heard the sound of wheels coming along a steep lane to the north of them, known as Gill's Hill lane. The wheels stopped, voices were heard in altercation, then they died away, and the vehicle resumed its course. The first instinct of Mr. Smith was to proceed across the fields and ascertain whether the disturbance was the result of accident or foul play, but the terrified women restrained him, and he contented himself with the philosophical observation that, 4 If any one has shot a person, he is gone before now.' The approach of the vehicle confirmed him in this view: either help had come to the injured man, or the assailing party had been reinforced; so the Smith family went on their way, Mr. Smith remarking that it was very likely 'some of those Gill's Hill folk skylarking to frighten people.'


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