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CHAPTER X “Celebrated Trials” and John Thurtell
 Borrow’s first book was Faustus, and his second was Romantic Ballads1, the one being published, as we have seen, in 1825, the other in 1826.  This chronology has the appearance of ignoring the Celebrated2 Trials, but then it is scarcely possible to count Celebrated Trials [67a] as one of Borrow’s books at all.  It is largely a compilation3, exactly as the Newgate Calendar and Howell’s State Trials are compilations4.  In his preface to the work Borrow tells us that he has differentiated5 the book from the Newgate Calendar [67b] and the State Trials [67c] by the fact that he had made considerable compression.  This was so, and in fact in many cases he has used the blue pencil rather than the pen—at least in the earlier volumes.  But Borrow attempted something much more comprehensive than the Newgate Calendar and the State Trials in his book.  In the former work the trials range from 1700 to 1802; in the latter from the trial of Becket in 1163 to the trial of Thistlewood in 1820.  Both works are concerned solely6 with this country.  Borrow went all over Europe, and the trials of Joan of Arc, Count Struensee, Major André, Count Cagliostro, Queen Marie Antoinette, the Duc d’Enghien, and Marshal Ney, are included in his volumes.  Moreover, while what may be called state trials are numerous, including many of the cases in Howell, the greater number are of a domestic nature, including nearly p. 68all that are given in the Newgate Calendar.  In the first two volumes he has naturally mainly state trials to record; the later volumes record sordid7 everyday crimes, and here Borrow is more at home.  His style when he rewrites the trials is more vigorous, and his narrative8 more interesting.  It is to be hoped that the exigent publisher, who he assures us made him buy the books for his compilation out of the £50 that he paid for it, was able to present him with a set of the State Trials, if only in one of the earlier and cheaper issues of the work than the one that now has a place in every lawyer’s library.  
The third volume of Celebrated Trials, although it opens with the trial of Algernon Sidney, is made up largely of crime of the more ordinary type, and this sordid note continues through the three final volumes.  I have said that Faustus is an allegory of “man’s inhumanity to man.”  That is emphatically, in more realistic form, the distinguishing feature of Celebrated Trials.  Amid these records of savagery9, it is a positive relief to come across such a trial as that of poor Joseph Baretti.  Baretti, it will be remembered, was brought to trial because, when some roughs set upon him in the street, he drew a dagger10, which he usually carried “to carve fruit and sweetmeats,” and killed his assailant.  In that age, when our law courts were a veritable shambles11, how cheerful it is to find that the jury returned a verdict of “self-defence.”  But then Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, Dr. Johnson, and David Garrick gave evidence to character, representing Baretti as “a man of benevolence12, sobriety, modesty13, and learning.”  This trial is an oasis14 of mercy in a desert of drastic punishment.  Borrow carries on his “trials” to the very year before the date of publication, and the last trial in the book is that of “Henry Fauntleroy, Esquire,” for forgery15.  Fauntleroy was a quite respectable banker of unimpeachable16 character, to whom had fallen at a very early age the charge of a banking17 business that was fundamentally unsound.  It is clear that he had honestly endeavoured to put things on a better footing, that he lived simply, and had no gambling18 or other vices19.  At a crisis, however, he forged a document, in other words signed a transfer of stock which he had no right to do, the “subscribing witness” to his power of attorney being Robert Browning, a clerk in the Bank of England, and father of p. 69the distinguished20 poet.  Well, Fauntleroy was sentenced to be hanged—and he was duly hanged at Newgate on 30th October, 1824, only thirteen years before Queen Victoria came to the throne!
Borrow has affirmed that from a study of the Newgate Calendar and the compilation of his Celebrated Trials he first learned to write genuine English, and it is a fact that there are some remarkably21 dramatic effects in these volumes, although one here withholds22 from Borrow the title of “author” because so much is “scissors and paste,” and the purple passages are only occasional.  All the same I am astonished that no one has thought it worth while to make a volume of these dramatic episodes, which are clearly the work of Borrow, and owe nothing to the innumerable pamphlets and chap-books that he brought into use.  Take such an episode as that of Schening and Harlin, two young German women, one of whom pretended to have murdered her infant in the presence of the other because she madly supposed that this would secure them bread—and they were starving.  The trial, the scene at the execution, the confession23 on the scaffold of the misguided but innocent girl, the respite24, and then the execution—these make up as thrilling a narrative as is contained in the pages of fiction.  Assuredly Borrow did not spare himself in that race round the bookstalls of London to find the material which the grasping Sir Richard Phillips required from him.  He found, for example, Sir Herbert Croft’s volume, Love and Madness, the supposed correspondence of Parson Hackman and Martha Reay, whom he murdered.  That correspondence is now known to be an invention of Croft’s.  Borrow accepted it as genuine, and incorporated the whole of it in his story of the Hackman trial.
But after all, the trial which we read with greatest interest in these volumes is that of John Thurtell, because Borrow had known Thurtell in his youth, and gives us more than one glimpse of him in Lavengro and The Romany Rye.
Rarely in our criminal jurisprudence has a murder trial excited more interest than that of John Thurtell for the murder of Weare—the Gill’s Hill Murder, as it was called.  Certainly no murder of modern times has had so many indirect literary associations.  Borrow, Carlyle, Hazlitt, Walter Scott, and Thackeray are among those who have given it p. 70lasting fame by comment of one kind or another; and the lines ascribed to Theodore Hook are perhaps as well known as any other memory of the tragedy:
They cut his throat from ear to ear,
   His brain they battered25 in,
His name was Mr. William Weare,
   He dwelt in Lyon’s Inn.
Carlyle’s division of human beings of the upper classes into “noblemen, gentlemen, and gigmen,” which occurs in his essay on Richter, and a later reference to gigmanhood which occurs in his essay on Goethe’s Works, had their inspiration in an episode in the trial of Thurtell, when the question being asked, “What sort of a person was Mr. Weare?” brought the answer, “He was always a respectable person.”  “What do you mean by respectable?” the witness was asked.  “He kept a gig,” was the reply, which brought the word “gigmanity” into our language. [70]
I have said that John Thurtell and two members of his family became subscribers for Borrow’s Romantic Ballads, and it is certain that Borrow must often have met Thurtell, that is to say looked at him from a distance, in some of the scenes of prize-fighting which both affected27, Borrow merely as a youthful spectator, Thurtell as a reckless backer of one or other combatant.  Thurtell’s father was an alderman of Norwich living in a good house on the Ipswich Road when the son’s name rang through England as that of a murderer.  The father was born in 1765 and died in 1846.  Four years after his son John was hanged he was elected Mayor of Norwich, in recognition of his violent ultra-Whig or blue and white political opinions.  He had been nominated as mayor both in 1818 and 1820, but it was perhaps the extraordinary “advertisement” of his son’s shameful28 death that gave the citizens of Norwich the necessary enthusiasm to elect Alderman Thurtell as mayor in 1828.&nbs............
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