Wednesday, November 22, 2023

The Late Tragedy, published March 17, 1859

We have omitted to comment upon the late horrid tragedy, and the circumstances which lead to it, from an aversion to enter into details which are revolting to modesty, and the exhibition of which in the columns of a newspaper only serve to minister to a depraved taste. We have also felt disinclined to pass judgment upon the living or the dead, until a legal investigation shall have cleared up all doubt as to the facts of the case. We cannot justify homicide except in self-defence; but, on the other hand, we have no inclination to join in the hue and cry against a man who, according to the published statements, had received the deepest provocation to bloodshed which it is possible to imagine. It is in vain to urge that he had time for reflection after learning his disgrace, and before meeting the destroyer of his peace. The few hours of exasperation which intervened would rather serve to madden with despair, and to drive him to blood retribution.

It has not been without surprise, mingled with disgust, that we have noticed the pharisaical comments of certain newspapers upon this bloody and disgraceful affair. They, good souls, are shocked and horrified beyond measure at the evidence which it affords of the unparalleled depravity of Washington society. They resolve to edify the pure and virtuous communities in which they flourish, and at the same time turn an honest penny, by furnishing the minutest details of Washington feculence, accompanied in several cases with pictorial illustrations. These pictures are in the highest degrees tempting, by the associations they awaken, to the prurient curiosity of their readers, and serve to diffuse still wider the taste for that species of literature which commands itself to the economical by its boasted quality of cheapness, and which possesses such a charm for the ignorant and vicious-the later especially.

We will not undertake to vindicate Washington society for all that is pure and praiseworthy. We have political corruption in abundance, and the tendency to social corruption needs to rebuke of the press and the pulpit; but we state the fact with pleasure that no newspaper in Washington lives and thrives by pandering to a depraved taste in the people for scandalous and criminal details.

It may be, and probably is, owning to the smallness of our population, that the corruption of Washington society is not yet so far advanced as to need such organs for its expression; or it may be that the superior skill and enterprise which are so conspicuously displayed at the commercial metropolis, in the art of portraying vice and crime in attractive colors, has a repressive effect upon the undeveloped genius of the political centre. But, at any rate, the fact is as we have stated it; and we trust that the day may be distant when a different state of things shall exist.

SOURCE: The National Era, Washington, D. C., March 17, 1859, p. 2

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