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

Letter III: The Murderer

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It may not be a digression here to ask what has become of the children of the weird genius I have sketched above. Mrs. Booth, against whom calumny has had no word to say, now resides with her daughters in Nineteenth street, New-York. John S. Clarke dwells in princely style in Philadelphia, with the daughter whom he married; he is the business partner of Edwin Booth, and they are likely to become as powerful managers as they have been successful "stars." Edwin Booth, who is said to have the most perfect physical head in America, and whom the ladies call the beau ideal of the melancholy Dane, dwells also on Nineteenth street. He has acquired a fortune, and is, without doubt, a frankly loyal gentleman. He could not well be otherwise from his membership in the Century Club where literature and loyalty, are never dissolved. Correct and pleasing without being powerful or brilliant, he has led a plain and appreciated career, and latterly, to his honor, has been awakening among dramatic authors some emulation by offering handsome compensations for original plays. Junius Brutus Booth, the oldest of them all, most resembles in feature his wild and wayward father; he is not as good an actor as was Wilkes, and kept in the West, that border civilization of the drama; he now lies, on a serious charge of complicity, in Capitol Hill jail. Joseph Booth tried the stage as an utility actor and promptly failed. The best part he ever had to play was Orson in the "Iron Chest," and his discomfiture was signal; then he studied medicine but grew discouraged, and is now in California in an office of some sort. A son of Booth by his first wife became a first class lawyer in Boston. He never recognized the rest of the family. Wilkes Booth, the third son, was shot dead on Wednesday for attempting to escape from the consequences of murder. Such are the people to whom one of the greatest actors of our time gave his name and lineaments. But I have anticipated the story:

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Although her family was large, it was not so hard sailing with Mrs. Rosalie Booth as may be inferred. Her husband's gains had been variably great, and they owned a farm of some value near Baltimore. The boys had plain but not sufficient schooling, though by the time John Wilkes grew up Edwin and Junius were making some little money and helping the family. So Wilkes was sent to a better school than they, where he made some eventful acquaintances. One of these won his admiration as much in the playground as in subsequent life upon the field of battle; this was Fitzhugh Lee, son of the great rebel chieftain. I have not heard that Lee ever had any friendship for young Wilkes, but his port and name were enough to excite a less ardent imagination--the son of a soldier already great, and a descendant of Washington. Wilkes Booth has often spoken of the memory of the young man, envied his success, and, perhaps, boasted of more intimacy than he ever had. The exemplars of young Wilkes, it was soon seen, were anything but literary. He hated school and pent-up life, and loved the open air. He used to stroll off to fish, though that sort of amusement was too sedentary for his nature, but went on fowling jaunts with enthusiasm. In these latter he manifested that fine nerve, and certain eye, which was the talk of all his associates; but his greatest love was the stable; He learned to ride with his first pair of boots, and hung around the grooms to beg permission to take the nags to water. He grew in later life to be both an indurated and a graceful horseman. Toward his mother and sisters he was affectionate without being obedient. Of all the sons, Wilkes was the most headstrong in-doors, and the most contented away from home. He had a fitful gentleness which won him forgiveness, and of one of his sisters he was particularly fond, but none had influence over him. He was seldom contentious, but obstinately bent, and what he willed, to did in silence, seeming to discard sympathy or confidence. As a boy he was never bright, except in a boy's sense; that is, he could run and leap well, fight when challenged, and generally fell in with the sentiment of the crowd. He therefore made many companions, and his early days all passed between Baltimore city and the adjacent farm.

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

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