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A Book of Remarkable Criminals by Irving

There was born to John Peace in Sheffield a son


The

only possible reason that can be suggested for so singular an omission is the fact that in the strict order of alphabetical succession the biography of Charles Peace would have followed immediately on that of George Peabody. It may have been thought that the contrast was too glaring, that even the exigencies of national biography had no right to make the philanthropist Peabody rub shoulders with man's constant enemy, Peace. To the memory of Peace these few pages can make but poor amends for the supreme injustice, but, by giving a particular and authentic account of his career, they may serve as material for the correction of this grave omission should remorse overtake those responsible for so undeserved a slur on one of the most unruly of England's famous sons.

From the literary point of view Peace was unfortunate even in the hour of his notoriety. In the very year of his trial and execution, the Annual Register, seized with a fit of respectability from which it has never recovered, announced that "the appetite for the strange and marvellous" having considerably abated since the year 1757 when the Register was first published, its "Chronicle," hitherto a rich mine of extraordinary and sensational occurrences, would become henceforth a mere diary of important events. Simultaneously with the curtailment of its "Chronicle," it ceased to give those excellent summaries of celebrated trials which for many years had been a feature of its volumes. The

question whether "the appetite for the strange and marvellous" has abated in an appreciable degree with the passing of time and is not perhaps keener than it ever was, is a debatable one. But it is undeniable that the present volumes of the Annual Register have fallen away dismally from the variety and human interest of their predecessors. Of the trial and execution of Peace the volume for 1879 gives but the barest record.

Charles Peace was not born of criminal parents. His father, John Peace, began work as a collier at Burton-on-Trent. Losing his leg in an accident, he joined Wombwell's wild beast show and soon acquired some reputation for his remarkable powers as a tamer of wild animals. About this time Peace married at Rotherham the daughter of a surgeon in the Navy. On the death of a favourite son to whom he had imparted successfully the secrets of his wonderful control over wild beasts of every kind, Mr. Peace gave up lion-taming and settled in Sheffield as a shoemaker.

It was at Sheffield, in the county of Yorkshire, already famous in the annals of crime as the county of John Nevison and Eugene Aram, that Peace first saw the light. On May 14, 1832, there was born to John Peace in Sheffield a son, Charles, the youngest of his family of four. When he grew to boyhood Charles was sent to two schools near Sheffield, where he soon made himself remarkable, not as a scholar, but for his singular aptitude in a variety of other employments such as making paper models, taming cats, constructing a peep-show, and throwing up a heavy ball of shot which he would catch in a leather socket fixed on to his forehead.

The course of many famous men's lives has been changed by what appeared at the time to be an unhappy accident. Who knows what may have been the effect on Charles Peace's subsequent career of an accident he met with in 1846 at some rolling mills, in which he was employed? A piece of red hot steel entered his leg just below the knee, and after eighteen months spent in the Sheffield Infirmary he left it a cripple for life. About this time Peace's father died. Peace and his family were fond of commemorating events of this kind in suitable verse; the death of John Peace was celebrated in the following lines:


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