BLTC Press Titles


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Vanity Fair

William Thackery


The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner


The Bhagavad Gita

Anonymous


The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite


Last studies in criminology

by Henry Brodribb Irving

Excerpt:

Adolf Beck

The case of Adolf Beck made history in English law. It led to the constitution of a court of Criminal Appeal. It is melancholy to think that the long-drawn-out agony of this unfortunate Norwegian should have been necessary to bring about a reform which logic and common sense demanded, and only legal conservatism and the unreasoning indifference of the public had so long postponed. The case is also a startling instance of that ' persistent, inexplicable, fundamental, pre-ordained, irreducible iniquity,' in which some existences are steeped; ' a thousand coincidences that might have been contrived in hell, blending and joining together to work the ruin of an innocent man; while truth, chained down by fate, dumbly shrinking, as we do when wrestling with nightmare, is unable to put forth a single gesture that shall rend the veil of night.' These words of Masterlinck were inspired by the case of Lesurques; they apply with perhaps even greater force to that of Adolf Beck. There are many circumstances in the administration of justice in France, under the Directory, which make it easy to explain the error committed in the case of Lesurques. But that of Beck occurred in a country priding itself on its administration of justice, and the comparative rarity in its legal annals of judicial error, in the teeth of all those safeguards by which our system was supposed to protect an innocent man from wrongful conviction. Never did 'murderous fatality ' hunt down more surely its pre-ordained victim.

Of the innocence of Beck there can be no question. ' There is no shadow of foundation,' said the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into his case, ' for any of the charges made against Mr Beck, or any reason for supposing that he had any connection whatever with them.' No problem of guilt or innocence arises. The interest of the story of Adolf Beck's ill luck lies rather in marking the circumstances which one by one, through no fault of his own, struck the man down, and every time he tried to rise, flung him back into the clutches of a system which, it is evident, can in certain conditions become a terrible instrument of torture for helpless innocence. It is no part of this story to apportion blame. In Beck's case no one person was to blame in the sense of seeking deliberately to commit or, after it had been committed, stifle an act of injustice. All concerned in the tragedy seem the blind creatures of a relentless fate bent on compassing the ruin of Adolf Beck.

Beck may fairly be described as an unlucky man. Nothing in life had succeeded with him. Born in Norway in 1841, he had been educated as a chemist. He preferred, however, to go to sea, and in 1865 or 1866 arrived in England, where he obtained employment as clerk to a ship-broker. In 1868 he left England for South America and there for a short time appeared as a public singer. He was wounded in a revolutionary outbreak in Monte Video. After that he was employed variously in ship-broking, and buying and selling houses. In 1885 Beck returned to England. He made £8000 as commission on the sale of a Spanish railway concession, and with part of that sum bought a copper property in Norway. But the enterprise was not successful, and in 1893 Beck was obliged to borrow £900 from a hotel proprietor in Covent Garden. Mr G. R. Sims, who knew Beck for many years, describes him as a deeply religious man, soft hearted and impulsively generous, who had earned the friendship and esteem of many well-known people at home and abroad. ' I have never known Adolf Beck,' wrote Mr Sims,' do a mean or unkindly act. Amid all his persecutions and trouble I have known him do many kindly and generous ones.' Beck spoke and wrote English imperfectly.

In 1895 Beck was living in a flat in Victoria Street. On the evening of December 16th, in that year, he was standing at the street door looking for a newspaper boy, when a woman came up to him and said, ' What have you done with my watch ?' Beck replied, ' Madam, I do not know you, you are mistaken.' The woman persisted in her accusation. Beck threatened to give her into custody. The woman still persisting, Beck said, ' Come with me,' and together they went up to a policeman. Beck said that the woman was annoying him by making a false accusation against him and asked the policeman to take her in charge. All three went to the nearest police station. There the woman repeated her statement, and Beck, from the accuser, found himself the accused. A little later two other women were brought into the station, both of whom identified Beck as a man who had robbed them. He was detained in custody.


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