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

Letter III: The Murderer

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I have looked over this play, his best and favorite one, to see how closely the career of the crookback he so often delineated resembled his own.

How like that fearful night of Richard on Bosworth field must have been Booth's sleep in the barn at Port Royal, tortured by ghosts of victims all repeating.

    "When I was mortal my anointed body
    By thee was punched full of deadly holes:
    Think on the Tower and me! Despair and die!"

Or this, from some of Booth's female victims:

    "Let me sit heavy on thy soul to-morrow!
    I that was washed to death with fulsome wine;
    Poor Clarence, by thy guile betrayed to death:
    To-morrow in the battle think on me; despair and die!"

These terrible conjurations must have recalled how aptly the scene as often rehearsed by Booth, sword in hand, where, leaping from his bed, he cries in horror:

    "Give me another horse! bind up my wounds!
    Have mercy, Jesu! Soft! I did but dream.
    Oh! coward conscience how thou dost afflict me!
    The lights burn blue. It is now dead midnight!
    Cold, flareful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
    What do I fear? Myself! there is none else by:
    Is there a murderer here? No!--Yes!--I am!
    Then fly,--what from myself?

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    My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
    And every tongue brings in a several tale.
    And every tale condemns me for a villain!
    Perjury, perjury in the highest degree:
    Murder, stern murder in the direst degree:
    All several sins, all used in each degree.
    Throng to the bar, crying all, Guilty! guilty!"

By these starring engagments, Booth made incredible sums. His cashbook, for one single season, showed earnings deposited in bank of twenty-two odd thousand dollars. In New York he did not get a hearing, except at a benefit or two: where he played parts not of his selection. In Philadelphia his earlier failure predisposed the people to discard him, and they did. But he had made enough, and resolved to invest his winnings, The oil fever had just begun; he hired an agent, sent him to the western districts and gave him discretionary power; his investments all turned out profitable.

Booth died, as far as understood without debts. The day before the murder he paid an old friend a hundred dollars which he had borrowed two days previously. He banked at Jay Cook's in Washington, generally; but turned most of his funds into stock and other matters. He gave eighty dollars eight month's ago for a part investing with others in a piece of western oil land. The certificate for this land he gave to his sister. Just before he died his agent informed him that the share was worth fifteen thousand dollars. Booth kept his accounts latterly with great regularity, and was lavish as ever, but took note of all expenditures, however irregular. He was one of those men whom the possession of money seems to have energized; his life, so purposeless long before, grew by good fortune to a strict computation with the world. Yet what availed so sudden reformation, and of what use was the gaining of wealth, to throw one's life so soon away, and leap from competence to hunted infamy.

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

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