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

Letter III: The Murderer

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The beauty of this man and his easy confidentiality, not familiar, but marked by a mild and even dignity, made many women impassioned of him. He was licentious as men, and particularly as actors go, but not a seducer, so far as I can learn. I have traced one case in Philadelphia where a young girl who had seen him on the stage became enamored of him.

She sent him bouquets, notes, photographs and all the accessories of an intrigue. Booth, to whom such things were common, yielded to the girl's importunities at last and gave her an interview. He was surprised to find that so bold a correspondent was so young, so fresh, and so beautiful. He told her therefore, in pity, the consequences of pursuing him; that he entertained no affection for her, though a sufficient desire, and that he was a man of the world to whom all women grew fulsome in their turn.

"Go home," he said, "and beware of actors. They are to be seen, not to be known."

The girl, yet more infatuated, persisted. Booth, who had no real virtue except by scintillations, became what he had promised, and one more soul went to the isles of Cyprus.

In Montgomery, if I do not mistake, Booth met the woman from whom he received a stab which he carried all the rest of his days. She was an actress, and he visited her. They assumed a relation creditable only in La Boheme, and were as tender as love without esteem can ever be. But, after a time, Booth wearied of her and offered to say "good by." She refused--he treated her coldly; she pleaded--he passed her by.

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Then, with a jealous woman's frenzy, she drew a knife upon him and stabbed him in the neck, with the intent to kill him. Being muscular, he quickly disarmed her, though he afterward suffered from the wound poignantly.

Does it not bring a blush to our faces that a good, great man, like he who has died--our President--should have met his fate from one so inured to a life of ribaldry? Yet, only such an one could have been found to murder Abraham Lincoln.

The women persecuted Booth more than he followed them. He was waylaid by married women in every provincial town or city where he played. His face was so youthful, yet so manly, and his movements so graceful and excellent, that other than the coarse and errant placed themselves in his way. After his celebrated Boston engagement, women of all ages and degrees pressed in crowds before the Tremont House to see him depart. Their motives were various, but whether curiosity or worse, exhibiting plainly the deep influence which Booth had upon the sex. He could be anywhere easy and gentlemanly, and it is a matter of wonder that with the entry which he had to many well-stocked homes, he did not make hospitality mourn and friendship find in his visit shame and ruin. I have not space to go into the millionth catalogue of Booth's intrigues, even if this journal permitted further elucidation of so banned a subject. Most of his adherents of this class were, like Heine's Polish virgins, and he was very popular with those dramatic ladies--few, I hope and know, in their profession--to whom divorce courts are superfluous. His last permanent acquaintance was one Ella Turner, of Richmond, who loved him with all the impetuosity of that love which does not think, and strove to die at the tidings of his crime and fight. Happy that even such a woman did not die associated with John Wilkes Booth. Such devotion to any other murderer would have earned some poet's tear. But the daisies will not grow a whole rod from his grave.

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

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