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Title: Extracts from Gosschen's Diary
Author: Anonymous
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606631.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Extracts from Gosschen's Diary

[The following striking narrative is translated from the MS. Memoirs
of the late Rev. Dr Gottlieb Michael Gosschen, a Catholic clergyman of
great eminence in the city of Ratisbonne. It was the custom of this
divine to preserve, in the shape of a diary, a regular account of all
the interesting particulars which fell in his way, during the exercise
of his sacred profession. Two thick small quartos, filled with these
strange materials, have been put into our hands by the kindness of
Count Frederick von Lindnbumenberg, to whom the worthy father
bequeathed them. Many a dark story, well fitted to be the groundwork
of a romance,--many a tale of guilty love and repentance,--many a
fearful monument of remorse and horror, might we extract from this
record of dungeons and confessionals. We shall from time to time do
so, but sparingly, and what is still more necessary, with selection.]

NEVER had a murder so agitated the inhabitants of this city as that of
Maria von Richterstein. No heart could be pacified till the murderer
was condemned. But no sooner was his doom sealed, and the day fixed
for his execution, than a great change took place in the public
feeling. The evidence, though conclusive, had been wholly
circumstantial. And people who, before his condemnation, were as
assured of the murderer's guilt as if they had seen him with red
hands, began now to conjure up the most contradictory and absurd
reasons for believing in the possibility of his innocence. His own
dark and sullen silence seemed to some, an indignant expression of
that innocence which he was too proud to avow,--some thought they saw
in his imperturbable demeanour, a resolution to court death, because
his life was miserable, and his reputation blasted,--and others, the
most numerous, without reason or reflection, felt such sympathy with
the criminal, as almost amounted to a negation of his crime. The man
under sentence of death was, in all the beauty of youth, distinguished
above his fellows for graceful accomplishments, and the last of a
noble family. He had lain a month in his dungeon, heavily laden with
irons. Only the first week he had been visited by several
religionists, but he then fiercely ordered the jailor to admit no more
"men of God,"--and till the eve of his execution, he had lain in dark
solitude, abandoned to his own soul.

It was near midnight when a message was sent to me by a magistrate,
that the murderer was desirous of seeing me. I had been with many men
in his unhappy situation, and in no case had I failed to calm the
agonies of grief, and the fears of the world to come. But I had known
this youth--had sat with him at his father's table--I knew also that
there was in him a strange and fearful mixture of good and evil--I was
aware that there were circumstances in the history of his progenitors
not generally known--nay, in his own life--that made him an object of
awful commiseration--and I went to his cell with an agitating sense of
the enormity of his guilt, but a still more agitating one of the depth
of his misery, and the wildness of his misfortunes.

I entered his cell, and the phantom struck me with terror. He stood
erect in his irons, like a corpse that had risen from the grave. His
face, once so beautiful, was pale as a shroud, and drawn into ghastly
wrinkles. His black-matted hair hung over it with a terrible
expression of wrathful and savage misery. And his large eyes, which
once were black, glared with a light in which all colour was lost, and
seemed to fill the whole dungeon with their flashings. I saw his
guilt--I saw what was more terrible than his guilt--his insanity--not
in emaciation only--not in that more than death-like whiteness of his
face--but in all that stood before me--the figure, round which was
gathered the agonies of so many long days and nights of remorse and
phrenzy--and of a despair that had no fears of this world or its
terrors, but that was plunged in the abyss of eternity.

For a while the figure said nothing. He then waved his arm, that made
his irons clank, motioning me to sit down on the iron frame-work of
his bed; and when I did so, the murderer took his place by my side.

A lamp burned on a table before us--and on that table there had been
drawn by the maniac--for I must indeed so call him--a decapitated
human body--the neck as if streaming with gore--and the face writhed
into horrible convulsions, but bearing a resemblance not to be
mistaken to that of him who had traced the horrid picture. He saw that
my eyes rested on this fearful mockery--and, with a recklessness
fighting with despair, he burst out into a broken peal of laughter,
and said, "to-morrow will you see that picture drawn in blood!"

He then grasped me violently by the arm, and told me to listen to his
confession,--and then to say what I thought of God and his eternal

"I have been assailed by idiots, fools, and drivellers, who could
understand nothing of me nor of my crime,--men who came not here that
I might confess before God, but reveal myself to them,--and I drove
the tamperers with misery and guilt out of a cell sacred to insanity.
But my hands have played in infancy, long before I was a murderer,
with thy gray hairs, and now, even that I am a murderer, I can still
touch them with love and with reverence. Therefore my lips, shut to
all beside, shall be opened unto thee.

"I murdered her. Who else loved her so well as to shed her innocent
blood? It was I that enjoyed her beauty--a beauty surpassing that of
the daughters of men,--it was I that filled her soul with bliss, and
with trouble,--it was I alone that was privileged to take her life. I
brought her into sin--I kept her in sin--and when she would have left
her sin, it was fitting that I, to whom her heart, her body, and her
soul belonged, should suffer no divorcement of them from my bosom, as
long as there was blood in her's,--and when I saw that the poor
infatuated wretch was resolved--I slew her;--yes, with this blessed
hand I stabbed her to the heart.

"Do you think there was no pleasure in murdering her? I grasped her by
that radiant, that golden hair,--I bared those snow-white breasts--I
dragged her sweet body towards me, and, as God is my witness, I
stabbed, and stabbed her with this very dagger, ten, twenty, forty
times, through and through her heart. She never so much as gave one
shriek, for she was dead in a moment,--but she would not have shrieked
had she endured pang after pang, for she saw my face of wrath turned
upon her,--she knew that my wrath was just, and that I did right to
murder her who would have forsaken her lover in his insanity.

"I laid her down upon a bank of flowers,--that were soon stained with
her blood. I saw the dim blue eyes beneath the half-closed lids,--that
face so changeful in its living beauty was now fixed as ice, and the
balmy breath came from her sweet lips no more. My joy, my happiness,
was perfect. I took her into my arms--madly as I did on that night
when first I robbed her of what fools called her innocence--but her
innocence has gone with her to heaven--and there I lay with her
bleeding breasts prest to my heart, and many were the thousand kisses
that I gave those breasts, cold and bloody as they were, which I had
many million times kissed in all the warmth of their loving
loveliness, and which none were ever to kiss again but the husband who
had murdered her.

"I looked up to the sky. There shone the moon and all her stars.
Tranquillity, order, harmony, and peace, glittered throughout the
whole universe of God. 'Look up, Maria, your favourite star has
risen.' I gazed upon her, and death had begun to change her into
something that was most terrible. Her features were hardened and
sharp,--her body stiff as a lump of frozen clay,--her fingers rigid
and clenched,--and the blood that was once so beautiful in her thin
blue veins was now hideously coagulated all over her corpse. I gazed
on her one moment longer, and, all at once, I recollected that we were
a family of madmen. Did not my father perish by his own hand? Blood
had before been shed in our house. Did not that warrior ancestor of
ours die raving in chains? Were not those eyes of mine always unlike
those of other men? Wilder--at times fiercer--and oh! father, saw you
never there a melancholy, too woful for mortal man, a look sent up
from the darkness of a soul that God never visited in his mercy?

"I knelt down beside my dead wife. But I knelt not down to pray. No: I
cried unto God, if God there be--'Thou madest me a madman! Thou
madest me a murderer! Thou foredoomedst me to sin and to hell! Thou,
thou, the gracious God whom we mortals worship. There is the
sacrifice! I have done thy will,--I have slain the most blissful of
all thy creatures;--am I a holy and commissioned priest, or am I an
accursed and infidel murderer?'

"Father, you start at such words! You are not familiar with a madman's
thoughts. Did I make this blood to boil so? Did I form this brain? Did
I put that poison into my veins which flowed a hundred years since in
the heart of that lunatic, my heroic ancestor? Had I not my being
imposed, forced upon me, with all its red-rolling sea of dreams; and
will you, a right holy and pious man, curse me because my soul was
carried away by them as a ship is driven through the raging darkness
of a storm? A thousand times, even when she lay in resigned love in my
bosom, something whispered to me, 'Murder her!' It may have been the
voice of Satan--it may have been the voice of God. For who can tell
the voice of heaven from that of hell? Look on this blood-crusted
dagger--look on the hand that drove it to her heart, and then dare to
judge of me and of my crimes, or comprehend God and all his terrible

"Look not away from me. Was I not once confined in a madhouse? Are
these the first chains I ever wore? No. I remember things of old, that
others may think I have forgotten. Dreams will disappear for a long,
long time but they will return again. It may have been some one like
me that I once saw sitting chained, in his black melancholy, in a
madhouse. I may have been only a stranger passing through that wild
world. I know not. The sound of chains brings with it a crowd of
thoughts, that come rushing upon me from a dark and far-off world. But
if it indeed be true, that in my boyhood I was not as other happy
boys, and that even then the cloud of God's wrath hung around me,--
that God may not suffer my soul everlastingly to perish.

"I started up. I covered the dead body with bloody leaves, and tufts
of grass, and flowers. I washed my hands from blood--I went to sleep--
I slept--yes, I slept--for there is no hell like the hell of sleep,
and into that hell God delivered me. I did not give myself up to
judgment. I wished to walk about with the secret curse of the murder
in my soul. What could men do to me so cruel as to let me live? How
could God curse me more in black and fiery hell than on this green and
flowery earth? And what right had such men as those dull heavy-eyed
burghers to sit in judgment upon me, in whose face they were afraid to
look for a moment, lest one gleam of it should frighten them into
idiocy? What right have they, who are not as I am, to load me with
their chains, or to let their villain executioner spill my blood? If I
deserve punishment--it must rise up in a blacker cloud under the hand
of God in my soul.

"I will not kneel--a madman has no need of sacraments. I do not wish
the forgiveness nor the mercy of God. All that I wish is the
forgiveness of her I slew; and well I know that death cannot so change
the heart that once had life, as to obliterate from THINE the merciful
love of me! Spirits may in heaven have beautiful bosoms no more; but
thou, who art a spirit, wilt save him from eternal perdition, whom
thou now knowest God created subject to a terrible disease. If there
be mercy in heaven, it must be with thee. Thy path thither lay through
blood: so will mine. Father! thinkst thou that we shall meet in
heaven. Lay us at least in one grave on earth."

In a moment he was dead at my feet. The stroke of the dagger was like
lightning, and--


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