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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
Appendix K: A Substitute for Ruloff Have We a Sidney Among Us?
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|(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.
April 29, 1871.