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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth George Alfred Townsend

Letter III: The Murderer

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"They say that the South has found that 'last ditch' which the North have so long derided. Should I reach her in safety, and find it true, I will proudly beg permission to triumph or die in that same 'ditch' by her side." The swamp near which he died may be called, without unseemly pun--a truth, not a bon mot--the last ditch of the rebellion.

None of the printed pictures that I have seen do justice to Booth. Some of the cartes de visite get him very nearly. He had one of the finest vital heads I have ever seen. In fact, he was one of the best exponents of vital beauty I have ever met. By this I refer to physical beauty in the Medician sense--health, shapeliness, power in beautiful poise, and seemingly more powerful in repose than in energy. His hands and feet were sizable, not small, and his legs were stout and muscular, but inclined to bow like his father's. From the waist up he was a perfect man; his chest being full and broad, his shoulders gently sloping, and his arms as white as alabaster, but hard as marble. Over these, upon a neck which was its proper column, rose the cornice of a fine Doric face, spare at the jaws and not anywhere over-ripe, but seamed with a nose of Roman model, the only relic of his half-Jewish parentage, which gave decision to the thoughtfully stern sweep of two direct, dark eyes, meaning to woman snare, and to man a search warrant, while the lofty square forehead and square brows were crowned with a weight of curling jetty hair, like a rich Corinthian capital. His profile was eagleish, and afar his countenance was haughty. He seemed throat full of introspections, ambitious self-examinings, eye-strides into the future, as if it withheld him something to which he had a right. I have since wondered whether this moody demeanor did not come of a guilty spirit, but all the Booths look so.

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Wilkes spoke to me in Washington for the first time three weeks before the murder. His address was winning as a girl's, rising in effect not from what he said, but from how he said it. It was magnetic, and I can describe it therefore by its effects alone. I seemed, when he had spoken, to lean toward this man. His attitude spoke to me; with as easy familiarity as I ever observed he drew rear and conversed. The talk was on so trite things that it did not lie a second in the head, but when I left him it was with the feeling that a most agreeable fellow had passed by.

The next time the name of Wilkes Booth recurred to me was like the pistol shot he had fired. The right hand I had shaken murdered the father of the country.

Booth was not graceful with his feet, although his ordinary walk was pleasant enough. But his arms were put to artistic uses; not the baser ones like boxing, but all sorts of fencing, manual practice, and the handling of weapons.

In his dress, he was neat without being particular. Almost any clothes could fit him; but he had nothing of the exquisite about him; his neckties and all such matters were good without being gaudy. Nature had done much for him. In this beautiful palace an outlaw had builded his fire, and slept, and plotted, and dreamed.

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The Life, Crime and Capture of John Wilkes Booth
George Alfred Townsend

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