Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Appendix K

A Substitute for Ruloff have We a Sidney Carton Among Us?

(See Chapter lxxxii)

To EDITOR of ‘Tribune’.

SIR — I believe in capital punishment. I believe that when a murder has been done it should be answered for with blood. I have all my life been taught to feel this way, and the fetters of education are strong. The fact that the death — law is rendered almost inoperative by its very severity does not alter my belief in its righteousness. The fact that in England the proportion of executions to condemnations is one to sixteen, and in this country only one to twenty-two, and in France only one to thirty-eight, does not shake my steadfast confidence in the propriety of retaining the death-penalty. It is better to hang one murderer in sixteen, twenty-two, thirty-eight than not to hang any at all.

Feeling as I do, I am not sorry that Ruloff is to be hanged, but I am sincerely sorry that he himself has made it necessary that his vast capabilities for usefulness should be lost to the world. In this, mine and the public’s is a common regret. For it is plain that in the person of Ruloff one of the most marvelous of intellects that any age has produced is about to be sacrificed, and that, too, while half the mystery of its strange powers is yet a secret. Here is a man who has never entered the doors of a college or a university, and yet by the sheer might of his innate gifts has made himself such a colossus in abstruse learning that the ablest of our scholars are but pigmies in his presence. By the evidence of Professor Mather, Mr. Surbridge, Mr. Richmond, and other men qualified to testify, this man is as familiar with the broad domain of philology as common men are with the passing events of the day. His memory has such a limitless grasp that he is able to quote sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph, chapter after chapter, from a gnarled and knotty ancient literature that ordinary scholars are capable of achieving little more than a bowing acquaintance with. But his memory is the least of his great endowments. By the testimony of the gentlemen above referred to he is able to critically analyze the works of the old masters of literature, and while pointing out the beauties of the originals with a pure and discriminating taste is as quick to detect the defects of the accepted translations; and in the latter case, if exceptions be taken to his judgment, he straightway opens up the quarries of his exhaustless knowledge, and builds a very Chinese wall of evidence around his position. Every learned man who enters Ruloff’s presence leaves it amazed and confounded by his prodigious capabilities and attainments. One scholar said he did not believe that in matters of subtle analysis, vast knowledge in his peculiar field of research, comprehensive grasp of subject, and serene kingship over its limitless and bewildering details, any land or any era of modern times had given birth to Ruloff’s intellectual equal. What miracles this murderer might have wrought, and what luster he might have shed upon his country, if he had not put a forfeit upon his life so foolishly! But what if the law could be satisfied, and the gifted criminal still be saved. If a life be offered up on the gallows to atone for the murder Ruloff did, will that suffice? If so, give me the proofs, for in all earnestness and truth I aver that in such a case I will instantly bring forward a man who, in the interests of learning and science, will take Ruloff’s crime upon himself, and submit to be hanged in Ruloff’s place. I can, and will do this thing; and I propose this matter, and make this offer in good faith. You know me, and know my address.

SAMUEL LANGHORNE. April 29, 1871.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05