The varieties of the species are interminable; some of them are well known, and need no description—such as the book-worm, the bird-stuffer, the coin-taster, the picture-scrubber, &c.; but there are others whose tastes are singularly eccentric: of these I may mention the snuff-box collector, the cane-fancier, the ring-taker, the play-bill gatherer, to say nothing of one illustrious personage, whose passion for collecting a library of Bibles is generally known. But there is another individual of the species that I have not yet mentioned, whose morbid pleasure in collecting relics and memorials of the most revolting deeds of blood and crime is too well authenticated to be discredited. I believe that this variety, which I term “The Criminal Curiosity Hunter,” is unknown to every country in the world, except England.
How such a horrible taste should have been engendered here, is a question not easily solved. Physiologists are inclined to attribute it to our heavy atmosphere, which induces gloomy thoughts and fancies; while moralists assign as its cause, the sanguinary spirit of our laws, our brutal exhibitions of hanging, drawing and quartering, of gibbettings, whippings, brandings, and torturings, which degrade men’s natures, and give them a relish for scenes of blood and cruelty.
It happened that I had occasion to call on one of those “Criminal Curiosity Hunters” lately. He received me with extreme urbanity, and pointing to an old-fashioned-looking arm-chair, requested me to be seated.—I did so.
“I suppose, sir,” said he, with an air of suppressed triumph, “that you have no idea that you are now sitting in a remarkable chair?”
I assured him I was totally unconscious of the fact.
“I can tell you, then,” he replied, “that it was in that chair Fauntleroy, the banker, who was hanged for forgery, was sitting when he was arrested.”
“Fact, sir! I gave ten guineas for it. I thought also to have obtained the night-cap in which he slept the night before his execution, but another collector was beforehand with me, and bribed the turnkey to steal it for him.”
“I had no idea there could be any competition for such an article,” I observed.
“Ah! sir,” said he, with a deep sigh, “you don’t know the value of these interesting relics. I have been for upwards of thirty years a collector of them, and I have now as pretty a museum of Criminal Curiosities as you could desire to see.”
“It seems you have been indefatigable in your pursuit,” said I.
“Yes,” he replied, “when a man devotes himself to a great object, he must go to it heart and soul. I have spared neither time nor money in my pursuit; and since I became a collector, I have attended the execution of every noted malefactor throughout the kingdom.”
Perceiving that my attention was drawn to a common rope, which served as a bell-pull, he said—