Monday, May 14, 2012

On this day in history...the birthday of Charles Peace

Peace, after sipping on a bitter beer.
Ain't too often that this American gets to share a thing or to with a man confident enough to claim, and strong enough to prove, "I am not an American, I am the American." Unfortunately for me, another of Mark Twain's quotes suits me a bit more than this bravado. When Twain wrote, "Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid" might have been anticipating a post or two of mine. But, today, we celebrate the 180th birthday of Charles Peace on This Day in History here at the The History of Europe Podcast.

Charles Peace was born in Sheffield, England. His life of crime has been romantacized and retold in works that range from Sherlock Holmes to Mark Twain's final work, Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven. Peace was a strange fellow, but a pretty darn good burglar. He had a robbing and killing spree that would span England. For his crimes he'd spend time in penalty servitude and at prisons in London, Southeast England and even in Gibraltar. He spent some time stateside where he undoubtedly continued his crime spree, but we don't have any strong records of this. Its just that his character seemed to have demanded him steal something in his few years in America. Eventually, his burglary and murders to keep from getting caught would end up with him caught and executed.

Peace was a bit of a wild man. He staged dramatic robberies and shot wide at people to get them to leave him alone when his plans didn't quite go off as he imagined they would. When this warning shot didn't have the desired effect of creating cowardice in the police that pursued him, he'd shoot to kill. In this, he ended up getting an innocent man sentenced to death for one of his crimes. He was in the courtroom to see the guilty verdict. He did have a couple of endearing and redemptive qualities though. He taught himself to play the violin and in spite of only playing on one string, was a bit of a virtuoso at it. In a slightly redeeming quality, he did exonerate the lucky man who had been found guilty of his crime and luckily, the innocent dude's sentence had been changed to life in penal servitude. The innocent man was released after serving three hard years.

As he was going to his death he happened to pass a preacher that was "ministering" to the condemned. When the preacher nonchalantly read a passage about eternal damnation in his casual and disinterested way, Charles Peace looked at the man and said, "Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worth while living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that". It would seem that this pointed words did nothing to sap the apathy of the Church of England. For some reason I have this notion of lukewarm water and spewing come to mind...

No comments:

Post a Comment