Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/January 1900/A Paradoxical Anarchist

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WHILE I have had the privilege of making several indirect studies of anarchists by means of the data furnished by legal processes, the journals, and the handwriting of the subjects, I have only rarely been able to examine one directly and make those measurements and craniological determinations upon him without which any study can be only approximate, or, we might even say, hypothetical. I had, however, an opportunity a short time ago to observe a real anarchist in person, and study him according to the methods of my criminological clinic. The results have been singular, and it seems to me that they should cast some light upon the dark world of these agitators, and especially upon the phenomena of the strange contradictions presented in their life; manifestations which jurists and police officers, intent only on achieving the judicial triumph of a conviction, consider and call simulations and falsehoods.

He was a fellow who had caused a great excitement, during the crowded days of the exposition at Turin, by saying that he wanted to kill the king. In fact, he gave himself up to the police, saying that the anarchists of Alexandria were seeking the assassination of the king, and had written him a letter directing him to arm himself, but that he, wishing anything else than to commit regicide, had surrendered in order to denounce the scheme. There was no real basis of criminal intent, but our police put him in prison, and there I found him.

His physiognomy presented all the characteristics of the born criminal and of the foolhardy and sanguinary anarchist. He had flaring ears, premature and deep wrinkles, small, sinister eyes sunk back in their orbits, a hollowed flat nose, and small beard—in short, he presented an extraordinary resemblance to Ravachol, as may be seen from their portraits.

The cranium was a little smaller than the normal, and the upper part of the skull was much rounded and deformed, with a cephalic index of 91—considerably more rounded than the head of Luccheni. The horizontal fold of the PSM V56 D0327 Francesco Chiesa.png hand was of a type much like that of Ravachol.

I add that the biological study, which was made directly, and therefore more satisfactorily than was practicable with Caserio and Luccheni, revealed a series of very singular anomalies; a touch six times more obtuse than the normal—six millimetres on. the right, five on the left; a remarkably blunt sensitiveness to pain and dull perception of location; an extraordinarily reduced visual field, particularly in the left eye; a somewhat tremulous handwriting, and slight defects of articulation in speech; and thin hair. There was nothing very striking in his affective nature. He spoke kindly of his parents, whom he would be glad to see. But he had a blunt moral sense, and had committed frequent thefts, especially against his family, so that he had been put into a house of correction. And it was just while he was still in this establishment, at sixteen years of age, that he pretended to have been invited to attend a meeting of about thirty anarchists at Brescia, where he was made to swear, kissing a dagger, to kill the king. He described the room, and spoke of the individual persons present, and then said that he thought no more of the matter after he returned to the house; but a few days ago it had come into his mind to go to the post office, and there he had found a letter from the anarchists of Alexandria, urging him to arm himself to kill the king. He repeated this story minutely and with great persistence, notwithstanding the postal authorities denied having given him the letter, in the face of the asseverations of the prefects that there were not thirty anarchists in Brescia, where he was in correction, and although all the facts were against him. Observe that he was in prison, that he had been there three months, and that he was told he would be likely to stay there as long as he adhered to his story.

Efforts to account for the phenomenon were unsuccessful, because his friends and relatives made no mention of any traces of insanity. Light began to break upon the case when it was learned that he had attempted suicide, a few years before, in grief at the death of his mother, and also that on the day before he gave himself up he had stolen a small sum from his drunken brother. These, however, were only distant hints. The matter was fully explained when, after he had drunk a litre of wine in the prison, he began to exclaim, "Viva l'anarchio!" (Hurrah for anarchy!), "Morte al Re!" (Death to the king!), to kiss a dagger, to break various things against imaginary guards, and, after a short period of quiet, to swear and forswear himself that his companions had done what he had done, that they had shouted for anarchy, PSM V56 D0328 Ravachol.pngRavachol. had broken the vases, and had desired to kill the king.

This cleared up the matter at once for me, but I wished to complete the elucidation with an experiment. I began by giving him ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty grammes of alcohol, up to eighty. I observed that his personality began to change after forty grammes. He became somewhat insolent and suspicious, and had vague delirious imaginings of persecutions. When invited to sing anarchistic songs he refused, evidently fearing to compromise himself, but sang them voluntarily in an undertone. When the dose of alcohol was increased to ninety grammes his personality seemed immediately to undergo a full change; his touch became twice as fine (three millimetres), and his visual field increased threefold; he declared that there was a spy around. When put into his cell he sang anarchistic hymns, threatened death to the king, bandied a box as if brandishing a dagger, climbed to a window and insulted the sentinel, resisted five men who tried to disarm him, and continued in this condition for eight hours.

The next day he denied having done any of these things, avowed that he was a good monarchist and a good citizen, and declared distinctly that he had not done what he had done, PSM V56 D0329 Visual field affected alcohol consumption.pngVisual Field (Left Eye) of Chie. . . Giac. . .
The line —————— indicates the normal visual field left eye).
The line —————— indicates the visual field (left eye) under alcoholic excitement.
in the face of the concurrent testimony of several witnesses. On renewing the experiment a few days afterward with eighty grammes of alcohol, the same series of phenomena recurred—a real anarchistic raving, a genuine mania for regicide, which would certainly have ended in some act if he had not been restrained by force; and this person, who had at first presented an evident obtusity of touch and an extraordinary contraction of the visual field, now exhibited an almost normal touch of three millimetres and a visual field enlarged to triple its extent when he was sober.

On the day after this he recollected none of all the things that had happened the day before. This double personality was determined in him by alcohol, as it is in others by misery or by fanaticism, while it rests with all upon a congenital basis. The fact helps us to explain how some inoffensive man may have a type of physiognomy quite similar to that of Ravachol, showing how often there are true criminals in potency, whose physiognomy, or rather the anomalies of it, bears a prophetic relation to the crime which breaks out on the first determining circumstance. And we have here another explanation of such contradictory characters as those of Ravachol, Caserio, and Luccheni, who, having been once well behaved, end by becoming criminals.


Applied science was defined by Sir W. Roberts Austen, in his presidential address to the Iron and Steel Institute, 1899, as "nothing but the application of pure science to particular classes of problems."