Story type: Essay
There are times when language seems made, as Talleyrand would say, to conceal thought; times when in no known tongue can one body forth his indignation or express a tithe of his contempt–he gropes in vain for invectives that bear upon their sulphurous wings an adumbration of his anger. One must sometimes stand speechless before a subject, else burn his lips with blasphemy or befoul them with billingsgate. Two months ago my attention was called to a precious pair of attorneys at San Antonio, Texas, who seem to have not only touched the profoundest depths of subter-brutish degradation, but to have wallowed there like swine in an open sewer, proud of their own dishonor, infatuated with their rank disgrace. Time and again I have been requested to hold them up to the scorn of human-kind, and time and again I have essayed the subject only to find the product of my pen unprintable–it would have melted the type and burned a hole in an asbestos mailbag. But indignation cools as the days run, philosophy asserts itself, and perchance I can speak of these offenders in language sufficiently polite to escape the attention of the police. The facts may be summarized as follows: A modest, well-behaved German girl named Wulff was brutally assaulted and raped on a lonely road by a negro named Robinson, who decoyed her to the place of her undoing by telling her mother that he had been commissioned by a reputable white woman to secure a serving-maid. His victim dragged herself back to her mother’s door, and, half dead with grief and fright, related the awful story of her despoilment. The lying coon was apprehended and tried for his hellish crime. There could not be the slightest doubt regarding his guilt. He was fully identified. His general bad character was amply proven. The doctors declared that the child had been forcibly despoiled. The neighbors testified that she had returned to her home with torn and muddy clothing, half strangled and crying. The good character of plaintiff was demonstrated beyond peradventure of a doubt. Yet in San Antonio, that Mecca of Southern chivalry, there stood forth two white-skinned lawyers to defend the lecher. These were McAnderson and E. D. Henry. Do not forget these names–they represent the sum and crown of infamy. They are names with which to conjure evil spirits. By one shameful act they have been “damned to everlasting fame.” Henceforth when babes are naughty their mothers will affright them with these foul bogey-men. In almighty Milton’s catalogue of unclean demons there is naught so damnable. These two champions of a rape-fiend first attempted to establish an alibi, to prove that the girl was lying about their sweet-scented protege–that she was laying claim to a sexual distinction which she did not deserve. That having failed miserably, the attorneys changed their tactics. They knew that their client was guilty, yet were anxious to turn the black son of Perdition loose upon society. They admitted that he had debauched the girl, but insisted that it was with her consent–that this modest little German maid was the black brute’s mistress. They scared up a brace of worthless brutes who testified to having seen plaintiff bathing naked in a creek with the prisoner at the bar. It was quickly demonstrated that these fellows were guilty of deliberate falsehood. The perjured witnesses were impeached. To say that defendant’s attorneys did not know when they placed these witnesses on the stand that they would exploit a foul calumny cooked up for the occasion, were to brand them as hopeless fools. If they did know it they were knaves–and they are welcome to impale themselves on either horn of the dilemma they like. They next attempted to badger and browbeat the poor girl into an admission that she had made an assignation with the Senegambian. The local papers in reporting the case said the language used by these chivalrous (?) Southern gentlemen to the plaintiff was unprintable. They secured no admission of guilt–not one word that could be distorted to her discredit; but they did succeed in driving the child into hysterics with their brutal insults and damnable innuendos. Remember that this was not Muckle-Mouth Meg who was thus publicly accused of criminal intimacy with a coon, but a 16-year old maid of respectable family who was seeking a situation as housemaid to assist her mother. But the foul-mouthed and foul-minded creatures who had undertaken to save the neck of the ravisher cared naught for a young girl’s reputation. The villain Robinson was given a life-term in the penitentiary–and his attorneys expressed themselves as “satisfied with the verdict.” Why were they satisfied? Because they knew that their client deserved to hang like a sheep-stealing hound. It was a brutal confession that in questioning the good name of Miss Wulff, in branding her as the mistress of a black, they were guilty of a more heinous crime than the beast who defiled her body. And this actually happened in San Antonio, a city whose very name thrills every fibre of American manhood–a city from whose turrets the flags of five nations have proudly fluttered–a city whose every foot of soil has been time and again baptised with the blood of the brave–a city that twice within the century has put Thermopylae to shame! Yet I am told that these unclean birds, who befoul so fair a nest are allowed to live in San Antonio, to walk her streets, to elbow her proud sons and look her proud daughters in the face! How have the mighty fallen! There was a time when to have breathed a word against the good name of an honest girl, howsoever humble, would have meant the bowie-knife’s fearful plunge and a dead face staring at the stars. It were curious to reflect what would have happened had the victim of Ethiopian lust been Lady Vere de Vere instead of a scullery maid! What would have happened? Why, the brute would have been torn limb from limb and his carcass fed to the buzzards, while any man who dared hint that she was his paramour would have been hanged higher than Haman. “The trail of the serpent is over us all,” the golden calf has become our supreme god, and even in the South it now matters much whether a woman seeking justice be clothed in gowns of Worth or linsey-wolsey.
I once discovered in Massachusetts what I considered to be the world’s meanest man. It was Rev. Spenser B. Meeser, engineer of a Worcester gospel-mill. He was a beggar’s brat who had been clothed, fed and educated by old Stephen Girard’s bounty, but when he grew to manhood–or doghood–he puked on the grave of his benefactor because the latter elected to be an Atheist instead of a bigoted Baptist. I could not at the time conceive of anything meaner wearing the name of man, of a crime blacker than base ingratitude, of aught more damnable than calumniation of the honored dead; but Massachusetts will have to surrender the pennant of infamy to the South. Texas has succeeded in producing two men, either of whom is infinitely meaner than Meeser. The latter did no more than insult the memory of the man whose bread he had broken, and he did this as an excuse for not contributing a little money towards building him a monument. The meanness of Meeser was solely mercenary–he found it easier to slander the dead than to give up a dollar. The San Antonio lawyers sought to turn a black rape-fiend loose to defile the women of the South, to endanger their own daughters; and to perpetrate this crime strove with tooth and nail to commit one even more damnable.
Fifty years ago Macaulay wrote of Bertrand Barere: “When we put everything together, poltroonery, baseness, effrontery, mendacity, barbarity, the result is something which in a novel we should condemn as caricature, and to which, we venture to say, no parallel can be found in history.” It is indeed a pity the great essayist did not live to contemplate this pair of Texas attorneys. He would have learned, doubtless to his surprise, that “the Anacreon of the guillotine” was a pretty decent fellow–by comparison. Barere was a monster born of a reign of blood. He gave the friends of his youth to the guillotine. So terrible was his savagery that he became known as “the Witling of Terror.” He was an able-bodied and enterprising liar who never told the truth unless by accident; but in his most demoniac moods it did not occur to him to prove recreant to his race, to torture children that he might enjoy their agony, to brand innocent girls, who could scarce look upon their own budding bosoms without a blush, as the depraved paramours of syphilitic Senegambians. Ah Macaulay! from thy Seventh Heaven, reserved for the lords of intellect–the children of genius, who needs must be the favorites of Omniscience–shake down a drop of cold water upon the blistered lips of Bertrand Barere, for they did not frame the supreme falsehood–nor did he strive to unchain a black lecher that he might imperil the honor of the ladies of his native land. Despite all his sin and shame, he would have looked upon that dishonored daughter of the Caucasian race and cried for vengeance.
Carlyle, greatest of critics, the supreme lord of literature–that Scottish Arcturus before whom even Shakespeare’s glorious star pals its ineffectual fires–awards the palm of correlated cussedness to Cagliostro; yet the “count” was merely a successful swindler and professional pander. He plucked rich dupes, but I find not in his long catalogue of crime that he slandered youthful serving maids–for a consideration. He was advocate for many an unclean thing, but it is not recorded that he ever took a fee from a negro rape-fiend–that he ever defended a lecherous son of Ham who had dared raise his wolfish eyes to the fair face of Japhet’s humblest daughter. Even when put on trial for his own worthless life he did not seek to save himself by the perjured testimony of the sons of slaves.
Cagliostro, Barere and Meeser–the positive, comparative and superlative of infamy hitherto! but we must turn to “Grand old Texas” to find unblushing effrontry and irremediable rascality. Some months ago a creature named Otis, who conducts somewhere in Southern California a putrid abortion miscalled a newspaper, declared in his columns that Southern women are often paramours of black bucks, and that the frequent lynching of so-called rape-fiends are due to discovery of these unnatural liaisons. But as Otis commanded a company of coons during the war–a job which no gentleman would have accepted to save his immortal soul–and as he has a head shaped like a gourd and a face strongly suggestive of a degenerate simian, his foolish lies only produced a general laugh; yet here are two alleged Southern gentlemen, certifying in open court that Otis’ cowardly falsehoods have a broad foundation of fact! In the whole world’s history there is but one other instance of such shameless infamy, and that too belongs to Texas. When the 14-year old “ward of the Baptist church” was debauched at its chief storm center of bigotry and bile, Baylor University, the sweet scented son-in-law of President Burleson tried to make it appear that she was enciente by a Senegambian–that young and innocent girls committed to its care were so poorly guarded that it was possible for them to have nigger babies!–Yet this defamer of Baptist womanhood has not yet been introduced to a rope by the male students, attacked from the rear by Baylor trustees, or told to leave town! Fortunately the young lady was able to refute this slander of the University and its inmates by putting a white baby in evidence–the pickaninny specialty having been reserved by Providence for the manager of the Baptist missionary board.
One cannot help asking if Miss Wulff has no male relatives, or if gunpowder is no longer sold in the Alamo City. As I understand it, her people are late from the Fatherland–have yet to learn that in some cases society expects a man to overlook the law, to kill as unclean curs those who thus defame a female member of their family. It is possible that there are other shyster lawyers as mean, other bipedal coyotes as contemptible as those under consideration; but if so they have not yet been called to the attention of the ICONOCLAST. True it is, however, that the average attorney cares more for victory than for virtue. Howsoever honest and upright he may be in private life, the moment he enters the court-room he becomes an unnatural monster, willing to accept the devil as client and win his case at any cost. It is likewise true that the courts allow too large a liberty to lawyers in the examination of witnesses for the opposition, permitting them to call in question the honor of men of well-known probity and cast suspicion on the character of women full as good as their wives in order to make an impression on the jury that will redound to the interest of cut-throat clients. It has come to such a pass in this so-called chivalrous country that sensitive women will submit to almost any wrong rather than seek redress in our courts of law, where they are liable to be subjected to studied insult by unconscionable shysters. It were well for the people to take this matter in hand and make it plain to all concerned that courts do not exist for the express purpose of enabling blackguard lawyers to pocket fat fees for aiding professional criminals to escape the legitimate consequence of their crimes, but to secure even and exact justice–to insist that henceforth these legal parasites be compelled to treat them with common courtesy. It might be well for the South to vary the program by lynching fewer rape-fiends and more shysters lawyers.