A Self-Educated Man, with remarkable Linguistic Attainments, who was executed at York on 6th of August, 1759, for a Murder discovered Fourteen Years after its Commission.
EUGENE ARAM was born in a village called Netherdale, in Yorkshire, in the year 1704, of an ancient family, one of his ancestors having served the office of High Sheriff for that county in the reign of Edward III. The vicissitudes of fortune had, however, reduced them, as we find the father of Eugene a poor but honest man, by profession a gardener, in which humble walk in life he was, nevertheless, greatly respected.
The sweat of his brow alone, we must conclude, was insufficient both to rear and educate his offspring. From the high erudition of the unfortunate subject under consideration, he may be truly called a prodigy. He was self-taught. In the infancy of Aram his parents removed to another village, called Shelton, near Newby, in the said county; and when about six years of age, his father, who had laid by a small sum from his weekly labour, made a purchase of a little cottage in Bondgate, near Ripon.
When he was about thirteen or fourteen years of age he went to his father in Newby, and attended him in the family there till the death of Sir Edward Blackett. It was in the house of this gentleman, to whom his father was gardener, that his propensity for literature first appeared. He was indeed always of a solitary disposition, and uncommonly fond of retirement and books; and here he enjoyed all the advantages of leisure and privacy. He applied himself at first chiefly to mathematical studies, in which he attained considerable proficiency.
At about sixteen years of age he was sent to London, to the house of Mr Christopher Blackett, whom he served for some time in the capacity of book-keeper. After continuing here a year or more he was taken with the smallpox, and suffered severely under that distemper. He afterwards returned into Yorkshire, in consequence of an invitation from his father, and there continued to prosecute his studies, but found in polite literature much greater charms than in mathematics; which occasioned him now to apply himself chiefly to poetry, history and antiquities. After this he was invited to Netherdale, where he was employed in a school. He then married. But this marriage proved an unhappy connection; for to the misconduct of his wife he afterwards attributed the misfortunes that befell him. In the meanwhile, having perceived his deficiency in the learned languages, he applied himself to the grammatical study of the Latin and Greek tongues; after which he read, with great avidity and diligence, all the Latin classics, historians and poets. He then went through the Greek Testament; and lastly, ventured upon Hesiod, Homer, Theocritus, Herodotus and Thucydides, together with all the Greek tragedians. In 1734 William Norton, Esq., a gentleman who had a friendship for him, invited him to Knaresborough. Here he acquired a knowledge of Hebrew, and read the Pentateuch in that language. In 1744 he returned to London, and served the Rev. Mr Plainblanc as usher in Latin and writing, in Piccadilly; and, with this gentleman's assistance, acquired a knowledge of the French language. He was afterwards employed as an usher and tutor in several different parts of England, during which time he became acquainted with heraldry and botany. He also ventured upon Chaldee and Arabic, the former of which he found easy, from its near connection with the Hebrew.
He then investigated the Celtic, as far as possible, in all its dialects; and having begun to form collections, and make comparisons between the Celtic, the English, the Latin, the Greek and the Hebrew, and found a great affinity between them, he resolved to proceed through all these languages, and to form a comparative lexicon. But, amid these learned labours and inquiries, it appears that Aram committed a crime which could not naturally have been expected from a man of so studious a turn, as the inducement that led him to it was merely gain of wealth, of which the scholar is seldom covetous. On the 8th of February, 1745, he, in conjunction with a man named Richard Houseman, murdered one Daniel Clarke, a shoemaker at Knaresborough.
This unfortunate man, having married a woman of good family, ostentatiously circulated a report that his wife was entitled to a considerable fortune, which he should soon receive. Thereupon Aram and Richard Houseman, conceiving hopes of making advantage of this circumstance, persuaded Clarke to make an ostentatious show of his own riches, to induce his wife's relations to give him that fortune of which he had boasted. There was sagacity, if not honesty, in this advice, for the world in general are more free to assist persons in affluence than those in distress.
Clarke was easily induced to comply with a hint so agreeable to his own desires; on which he borrowed, and bought on credit, a large quantity of silver plate, with jewels, watches, rings, etc. He told the persons of whom he purchased that a merchant in London had sent him an order to buy such plate for exportation; and no doubt was entertained of his credit till his sudden disappearance in February, 1745, when it was imagined that he had gone abroad, or at least to London, to dispose of his ill-acquired property.
When Clarke got possession of these goods, Aram and Houseman determined to murder him, in order to share the booty; and on the night of the 8th of February, 1745, they persuaded Clarke to walk with them in the fields, in order to consult with them on the proper method to dispose of the effects.
On this plan they walked into a field, at a small distance from the town, well known by the name of St Robert's Cave. When they came into this field, Aram and Clarke went over a hedge towards the cave, and, when they had got within six or seven yards of it, Houseman (by the light of the moon) saw Aram strike Clarke several times, and at length beheld him fall, but never saw him afterwards. This was the state of the affair, if Houseman's testimony on the trial might be credited.
The murderers, going home, shared Clarke's ill-gotten treasure, the half of which Houseman concealed in his garden for a twelvemonth, and then took it to Scotland, where he sold it. In the meantime Aram carried his share to London, where he sold it to a Jew, and then engaged himself as an usher at an academy in Piccadilly, where, in the intervals of his duty in attending on the scholars, he made himself master of the French language, and acquired some knowledge of the Arabic and other Eastern languages.
After this he was usher at other schools in different parts of the kingdom, but as he did not correspond with his friends in Yorkshire it was presumed that he was dead.
Thus had nearly fourteen years passed on without the smallest clue being found to account for the sudden exit of Clarke.
In the year 1758 a labourer was employed to dig for stone to supply a lime-kiln, at a place called Thistle Hill, near Knaresborough, and, having dug about two feet deep, he found the bones of a human body, and the bones being still joined to each other by the ligatures of the joints, the body appeared to have been buried double. This accident immediately became the subject of general curiosity and inquiry. Some hints had been formerly thrown out by Aram's wife that Clarke was murdered, and it was well remembered that his disappearance was very sudden.
This occasioned Aram's wife to be sent for, as was also the coroner, and an inquisition was entered into, it being believed that the skeleton found was that of Daniel Clarke. Mrs Aram declared that she believed Clarke had been murdered by her husband and Richard Houseman. The latter, when he was brought before the coroner, appeared to be in great confusion, trembling, changing colour and faltering in his speech during the examination. The coroner desired him to take up one of the bones, probably to observe what further effect that might produce; and Houseman, accordingly taking up one of the bones, said "This is no more Dan Clarke's bone than it is mine."
These words were pronounced in such a manner as convinced those present that they proceeded not from Houseman's supposition that Clarke was alive but from his certain knowledge where his bones really lay, Accordingly, after some evasions, he said that Clarke was murdered by Eugene Aram, and that the body was buried in St Robert's Cave, near Knaresborough. He added further, that Clarke's head lay to the right, in the turn at the entrance of the cave; and a skeleton was accordingly found there exactly in the posture he described. In consequence of this confession search was made for Aram, and at length he was discovered in the situation of usher to an academy at Lynn, in Norfolk. He was brought from thence to York Castle; and on the 13th of August, 1759, was brought to trial at the county assizes. He was found guilty on the testimony of Richard Houseman, who being arraigned, and acquitted, became an evidence against Aram; and whose testimony was corroborated by Mrs Aram, and strong circumstantial evidence. The plunder which Aram was supposed to have derived from the murder was estimated at not more than one hundred and sixty pounds.
Aram's defence was both ingenious and able, and would not have disgraced any of the best lawyers of the day. He thus addressed the Court:
"My Lord, I know not whether it is of right or through some indulgence of your Lordship that I am allowed the liberty at this bar, and at this time, to attempt a defence, incapable and uninstructed as I am to speak; since, while I see so many eyes upon me, so numerous and awful a concourse fixed with attention and filled with I know not what expectancy, I labour not with guilt, my Lord, but with perplexity; for, having never seen a court but this, being wholly unacquainted with law, the customs of the Bar, and all judiciary proceedings, I fear I shall be so little capable of speaking with propriety in this place that it exceeds my hope if I shall be able to speak at all.
"I have heard, my Lord, the indictment read, wherein I find myself charged with the highest crime, with an enormity I am altogether incapable of -- a fact, to the commission of which there goes far more insensibility of heart, more profligacy of morals, than ever fell to my lot; and nothing possibly could have admitted a presumption of this nature but a depravity not inferior to that imputed to me. However, as I stand indicted at your Lordship's bar, and have heard what is called evidence adduced in support of such a charge, I very humbly solicit your Lordship's patience, and beg the hearing of this respectable audience, while I, single and unskilful, destitute of friends and unassisted by counsel, say something, perhaps like argument, in my defence. I shall consume but little of your Lordship's time. What I have to say will be short; and this brevity, probably, will be the best part of it. However it is offered with all possible regard and the greatest submission to your Lordship's consideration and that of this honourable Court.
"First, my Lord, the whole tenor of my conduct in life contradicts every particular of the indictment: yet had I never said this, did not my present circumstances extort it from me, and seem to make it necessary? Permit me here, my Lord, to call upon malignity itself, so long and cruelly busied in this prosecution, to charge upon me any immorality of which prejudice was not the author. No, my Lord, I concerted no schemes of fraud, projected no violence, injured no man's person or property. My days were honestly laborious, my nights intensely studious; and I humbly conceive my notice of this, especially at this time, will not be thought impertinent or unseasonable, but at least deserving of some attention; because, my Lord, that any person, after a temperate use of life, a series of thinking and acting regularly,and without one single deviation from sobriety, should plunge into the very depth of profligacy precipitately and at once, is altogether improbable and unprecedented, absolutely inconsistent with the course of things. Mankind is never corrupted at once. Villainy is always progressive, and declines from right step by step, till every regard of probity is lost, and every sense of all moral obligation totally perishes.
"'Again, my Lord, a suspicion of this kind, which nothing but malevolence could entertain and ignorance propagate, is violently opposed by my very situation at that time with respect to health; for, but a little space before, I had been confined to my bed, and suffered under a very long and severe disorder, and was not able, for half-a-year together, so much as to walk. The distemper left me indeed, yet slowly, and in part, but so macerated, so enfeebled, that I was reduced to crutches; and so far from being well about the time I am charged with this fact, I have never to this day perfectly recovered. Could then a person in this condition take anything into his head so unlikely, so extravagant? -- I, past the vigour of my age, feeble and valetudinary, with no inducement to engage, no ability to accomplish, no weapon wherewith to perpetrate such a deed, without interest, without power, without motive, without means. Besides, it must needs occur to everyone that an action of this atrocious nature is never heard of but when its springs are laid open. It appears that it was to support some indolence or supply some luxury; to satisfy some avarice or oblige some malice; to prevent some real or some imaginary want: yet I lay not under the influence of these. Surely, my Lord, I may, consistently with both truth and modesty, affirm thus much; and none who have any veracity and knew me will ever question this.
"In the second place, the disappearance of Clarke is suggested as an argument of his being dead; but the uncertainty of such an inference from that, and the fallibility of all conclusions of such a sort from such a circumstance, are too obvious and too notorious to require instances; yet superseding many, permit me to produce a very recent one, and that afforded by this Castle.
"In June, 1757, William Thompson, for all the vigilance of this place, in open daylight and double-ironed, made his escape, and, notwithstanding an immediate inquiry set on foot, the strictest search, and all advertisement, was never heard of since. If, then, Thompson got off unseen, through all these difficulties, how very easy it was for Clarke, when none of them opposed him! But what would be thought of a prosecution commenced against anyone seen last with Thompson?
"Permit me next, my Lord, to observe a little upon the bones which have been discovered. It is said (which perhaps is saying very far) that these are the skeleton of a man. It is possible, indeed, it may be; but is there any certain known criterion which incontestably distinguishes the sex in human bones? Let it be considered, my Lord, whether the ascertaining of this point ought not to precede any attempt to identify them.
"The place of their depositum, too, claims much more attention than is commonly bestowed upon it; for, of all places in the world, none could have mentioned any one wherein there was greater certainty of finding human bones than a hermitage, except he should point out a churchyard; hermitages, in time past, being not only places of religious retirement, but of burial too: and it has scarce or never been heard of, but that every cell now known contains or contained these relics of humanity, some mutilated and some entire. I do not inform, but give me leave to remind your Lordship that here sat solitary Sanctity, and here the hermit or the anchoress hoped that repose for their bones when dead they here enjoyed when living.
"All the while, my Lord, I am sensible this is known to your Lordship, and many in this court, better than to me; but it seems necessary to my case that others, who have not at all perhaps adverted to things of this nature, and may have concern in my trial, should be made acquainted with it. Suffer me then, my Lord, to produce a few of many evidences that these cells were used as repositories of the dead, and to enumerate a few in which human bones have been found, as it happened in this question; lest to some that accident might seem extraordinary, and consequently occasion prejudice.
"1. The bones, as was supposed, of the Saxon saint, Dubritius, were discovered buried in his cell at Guy's Cliff, near Warwick; as appears from the authority of Sir William Dugdale.
"2. The bones thought to be those of the anchoress Rosia were but lately discovered in a cell at Royston, entire, fair and undecayed, though they must have lain interred for several centuries; as is proved by Dr Stukely.
"3. But my own country -- nay, almost this neighbourhood -- supplies another instance; for in January, 1747, were found, by Mr Stovin, accompanied by a reverend gentleman, the bones, in part, of some recluse, in the cell at Lindholm, near Hatfield. They were believed to be those of William of Lindholm, a hermit, who had long made this cave his habitation.
"4. In February, 1744, part of Woburn Abbey being pulled down, a large portion of a corpse appeared, even with the flesh on, and which bore cutting with a knife; though it is certain this had lain above two hundred years, and how much longer is doubtful, for this abbey was founded in 1145, and dissolved in 1538 or 1539.
"What would have been said, what believed, if this had been an accident to the bones in question?
"Further, my Lord, it is not yet out of living memory that at a little distance from Knaresborough, in a field, part of the manor of the worthy and patriot baronet who does that borough the honour to represent it in Parliament, were found, in digging for gravel, not one human skeleton only, but five or six, deposited side by side, with each an urn placed at its head, as your Lordship knows was usual in ancient interments.
"About the same time, and in another field, almost close to this borough, was discovered also, in searching for gravel, another human skeleton; but the piety of the same worthy gentleman ordered both pits to be filled up again, commendably unwilling to disturb the dead.
"Is the invention of these bones forgotten, then, or industriously concealed, that the discovery of those in question may appear the more singular and extraordinary, whereas, in fact, there is nothing extraordinary in it. My Lord, almost every place conceals such remains. In fields, in hills, in highway sides, in commons, lie frequent and unsuspected bones; and our present allotments for rest for the departed are but of some centuries.
"Another particular seems not to claim a little of your Lordship's notice, and that of the gentlemen of the jury; which is, that perhaps no example occurs of more than one skeleton being found in one cell: and in the cell in question was found but one; agreeable, in this, to the peculiarity of every other known cell in Britain. Not the invention of one skeleton, but of two, would have appeared suspicious and uncommon. But it seems another skeleton has been discovered by some labourer, which was full as confidently averred to be Clarke's as this. My Lord, must some of the living, if it promotes some interest, be made answerable for all the bones that earth has concealed and chance exposed? And might not a place where bones lay be mentioned by a person by chance as well as found by a labourer by chance? Or is it more criminal accidentally to name where bones lie than accidentally to find where they lie?
"Here, too, is a human skull produced, which is fractured; but was this the cause, or was it the consequence, of death? was it owing to violence, or was it the effect of natural decay? If it was violence, was that violence before or after death? My Lord, in May, 1732, the remains of William, Lord Archbishop of this province, were taken up, by permission, in this cathedral, and the bones of the skull were found broken; yet certainly he died by no violence offered to him alive that could occasion that fracture there.
"Let it be considered, my Lord, that, upon the dissolution of religious houses and the commencement of the Reformation, the ravages of those times affected both the living and the dead. In search after imaginary treasures, coffins were broken up, graves and vaults dug open, monuments ransacked and shrines demolished; and it ceased about the beginning of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. I entreat your Lordship, suffer not the violence, the depredations and the iniquities of those times to be imputed to this.
"Moreover, what gentleman here is ignorant that Knaresborough had a castle, which, though now a ruin, was once considerable both for its strength and garrison. All know it was vigorously besieged by the arms of the Parliament; at which siege, in sallies, conflicts, flights, pursuits, many fell in all the places round it, and, where they fell, were buried, for every place, my Lord, is burial-earth in war; and many, questionless, of these rest yet unknown, whose bones futurity shall discover.
"I hope, with all imaginable submission, that what has been said will not be thought impertinent to this indictment, and that it will be far from the wisdom, the learning and the integrity of this place to impute to the living what zeal in its fury may have done -- what nature may have taken off, and piety interred -- or what war alone may have destroyed, alone deposited.
"As to the circumstances that have been raked together, I have nothing to observe but that all circumstances whatever are precarious, and have been but too frequently found lamentably fallible; even the strongest have failed. They may rise to the utmost degree of probability, yet they are but probability still. Why need I name to your Lordship the two Harrisons recorded by Dr Howel, who both suffered upon circumstances because of the sudden disappearance of their lodger, who was in credit, had contracted debts, borrowed money, and went off unseen, and returned a great many years after their execution? Why name the intricate affair of Jacques de Moulin, under King Charles II., related by a gentleman who was counsel for the Crown? And why the unhappy Coleman, who suffered innocently, though convicted upon positive evidence, and whose children perished for want, because the world uncharitably believed the father guilty? Why mention the perjury of Smith, incautiously admitted King's evidence, who, to screen himself, equally accused Faircloth and Loveday of the murder of Dun; the first of whom, in 1749, was executed at Winchester; and Loveday was about to suffer at Reading, had not Smith been proved perjured, to the satisfaction of the Court, by the Governor of Gosport Hospital?
"Now, my Lord, having endeavoured to show that the whole of this process is altogether repugnant to every part of my life; that it is inconsistent with my condition of health about that time; that no rational inference can be drawn that a person is dead who suddenly disappears; that hermitages are the constant depositories of the bones of a recluse; that the proofs of this are well authenticated; that the revolutions in religion or the fortunes of war have mangled or buried the dead -- the conclusion remains, perhaps, no less reasonable than impatiently wished for. I, at last, after a year's confinement, equal to either fortune, put myself upon the justice, the candour and the humanity of your Lordship; and upon yours, my countrymen, gentlemen of the jury."
The delivery of this address created a very considerable impression in court; but the learned judge having calmly and with great perspicuity summed up the evidence which had been produced, and having observed upon the prisoner's defence, which he declared to be one of the most ingenious pieces of reasoning that had ever fallen under his notice, the jury, with little hesitation, returned a verdict of guilty. Sentence of death was then passed upon the prisoner, who received the intimation of his fate with becoming resignation. After his conviction he confessed the justice of his sentence to two clergymen who were directed to attend him - - a sufficient proof of the fruitlessness of the efforts to prove him innocent which the morbid sentimentality of late writers has induced them to attempt. Upon an inquiry being made of him as to his reason for committing the crime, he declared that he had reason to suspect Clarke of having had unlawful intercourse with his wife; and that at the time of his committing the murder he had thought that he was acting rightly, but that he had since thought that his crime could not be justified or excused.
In the hopes of avoiding the ignominious death which he was doomed to suffer, on the night before his execution he attempted to commit suicide by cutting his arm in two places with a razor, which he had concealed for that purpose. This attempt was not discovered until the morning, when the jailer came to lead him forth to the place of execution, and he was then found almost expiring from loss of blood. A surgeon was immediately sent for, who found that he had wounded himself severely on the left arm, above the elbow and near the wrist, but he had missed the artery, and his life was prolonged only in order that it might be taken away on the scaffold. When he was placed on the drop he was perfectly sensible, but was too weak to be able to join in devotion with the clergyman who attended him.
He was executed at York, on the 16th of August, 1759, and his body was afterwards hung in chains in Knaresborough Forest.
The following papers were afterwards found in his handwriting on the table in his cell. The first contained reasons for his attempt upon his life, and was as follows:
"What am I better than my fathers? To die is natural and necessary. Perfectly sensible of this, I fear no more to die than I did to be born. But the manner of it is something which should, in my opinion, be decent and manly. I think I have regarded both these points. Certainly no man has a better right to dispose of a man's life than himself; and he, not others, should determine how. As for any indignities offered to my body, or silly reflections on my faith and morals, they are, as they always were, things indifferent to me. I think, though contrary to the common way of thinking, I wrong no man by this, and hope it is not offensive to that eternal Being that formed me and the world: and as by this I injure no man, no man can be reasonably offended. I solicitously recommend myself to that eternal and almighty Being, the God of Nature, if I have done amiss. But perhaps I have not; and I hope this thing will never be imputed to me. Though I am now stained by malevolence and suffer by prejudice, I hope to rise fair and unblemished. My life was not polluted, my morals irreproachable, and my opinions orthodox. I slept sound till three o'clock, awoke, and then wrote these lines: Come, pleasing rest! eternal slumbers, fall! Seal mine, that once must seal the eyes of all. Calm and composed my soul her journey takes; No guilt that troubles, and no heart that aches. Adieu, thou sun! all bright, like her, arise! Adieu, fair friends, and all that's good and wise!
The second was in the form of a letter, addressed to a former companion, and was in the following terms:-- MY DEAR FRIEND,-- Before this reaches you I shall be no more a living man in this world, though at present in perfect bodily health; but who can describe the horrors of mind which I suffer at this instant? Guilt -- the guilt of blood shed without any provocation, without any cause but that of filthy lucre -- pierces my conscience with wounds that give the most poignant pains! 'Tis true the consciousness of my horrid guilt has given me frequent interruptions in the midst of my business or pleasures, but yet I have found means to stifle its clamours, and contrived a momentary remedy for the disturbance it gave me by applying to the bottle or the bowl, or diversions, or company, or business; sometimes one and sometimes the other, as opportunity offered. But now all these and all other amusements are at an end, and I am left forlorn, helpless and destitute of every comfort; for I have nothing now in view but the certain destruction both of my soul and body. My conscience will now no longer suffer itself to be hoodwinked or browbeat; it has now got the mastery: it is my accuser, judge and executioner, and the sentence it pronounceth against me is more dreadful than that I heard from the Bench, which only condemned my body to the pains of death, which are soon over. But Conscience tells me plainly that she will summon me before another tribunal, where I shall have neither power nor means to stifle the evidence she will there bring against me; and that the sentence which will then be denounced will not only be irreversible, but will condemn my soul to torments that will know no end.
Oh! had I but hearkened to the advice which dear-bought experience has enabled me to give, I should not now have been plunged into that dreadful gulf of despair which I find it impossible to extricate myself from; and therefore my soul is filled with horror inconceivable. I see both God and man my enemies, and in a few hours shall be exposed a public spectacle for the world to gaze at. Can you conceive any condition more horrible than mine? Oh, no, it cannot be! I am determined, therefore, to put a short end to trouble I am no longer able to bear, and prevent the executioner by doing his business with my own hand, and shall by this means at least prevent the shame and disgrace of a public exposure, and leave the care of my soul in the hands of eternal mercy. Wishing you all health, happiness and prosperity, I am, to the last moment of my life, yours, with the sincerest regard,