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4. Retrospect of Criminal Anthropology

  • Havelock Ellis (a1)

The greater part of the “Archives d'Anthropologie Criminelle” for last September is devoted to a medico-legal and criminological study of the events connected with the murder of President Carnot. It is drawn up by Drs. Lacassagne, Oilier, Coutagne, and others who conducted the autopsy and had some opportunity of examining Caserio. The latter, born at Malta-Visconti in Lombardy, was 20 years of age. His father was epileptic. Caserio emphatically denied that there was any insanity in the family, but the point was never really investigated; it has been stated that two uncles are in an asylum. Caserio's face, as may be seen from the portraits given, is rather pleasant; a few signs of physical degeneration are noted about his person, but they are of trifling character. There was a continuous smile, of spasmodic character, on his lips. He was tall, upper part of body well developed and muscular, head rather small and brachycephalic. His expression was gentle, but rendered ferocious by political discussion. It is noted that he had the lean and pallid air dreaded by Cæsar. His education was very elementary, but he was an insatiable reader, depriving himself of sleep to study politics. His memory, visual in character, was extremely good. His intelligence was quick and clear, but superficial, easily accepting paradoxes and sophisms, and regarding anarchism as the universal panacea. His chief characteristic was his impulsive, energetic will. He had a very strong vagabond impulse and could never remain long in the same place. He was taciturn and solitary, and certainly had no confederates. His indifference to women was complete; he had, as he put it, “married anarchism.” He was one of those individuals, remarks Lacassagne, whose blood is like flowing dynamite. Whatever feelings of affection he may have possessed were subordinated to his devotion to the poor and suffering. He had never seen the President before plunging the dagger up to the hilt in his abdomen, and he once remarked that if he had caught his victim's mild, affrighted gaze an instant earlier his arm would have been powerless. Lacassagne decides that Caserio was not insane, that he was “un fanatique assassin” and responsible.

In the following number of the “Archives” Lacassagne prints a long letter addressed to him by Dr. Régis of Bordeaux, who is the author of a remarkable book on regicides. Régis criticizes with much acuteness and moderation many of Lacassagne's statements and conclusions, pointing out contradictions and bringing forward other facts that Lacassagne had ignored. He attaches importance to the marked religious fervour of Caserio in early life, as a sign of the morbid exaltation which he afterwards placed at the service of anarchism. He points out that no real psychiatric examination was ordered by the authorities, and that Caserio's counsel was only able to base his defence on “the general theories of Maudsley and Lombroso.” He suggests that Lacassagne has been to some extent unconsciously influenced by the universal wave of indignation which passed over Lyons and the whole of France; in this connection he mentions that Tamburini, Biffi, and Lombroso had first declared that Passanante, the would-be assassin of King Humbert, was responsible, but that Passanante was afterwards consigned to an asylum at the recommendation of the same experts, and is now in the last stages of dementia. Taking Caserio's history point by point, he shows that in main outline it corresponds to that of regicides generally, and concludes that the right place for Caserio would have been a criminal lunatic asylum.

Caserio certainly cannot be described as an instinctive criminal or a moral imbecile. He was a political criminal, though of an extreme and unbalanced kind. In a country like England, where political idealism is tolerated, he would probably have remained a harmless enthusiast.

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The British Journal of Psychiatry
  • ISSN: -
  • EISSN: 2514-9946
  • URL: /core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry
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4. Retrospect of Criminal Anthropology

  • Havelock Ellis (a1)
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