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The Contemporary Review, Volume 36, September 1879

Vjera Sassulitch was borne away in triumph


The

flogging practices of this tyrannic head of the "Third Section" are still in every one's recollection. In referring to the knouting applied to Bogoljuboff, Vjera Sassulitch's counsel gave the following description:--

"The sufferer whose human dignity is to be insulted, knows not why he is to be punished. He thinks indignation will lend him strength to resist those who throw themselves upon him. But he is grasped by the iron grip of jailers' hands; he is dragged down; and in the midst of the regular counting of the strokes by the leader of the execution, a deep groan is heard--a groan not arising from mere physical pain, but from the soul's grief of a down-trodden, outraged man. At last, silence reigned again. The sacred act was accomplished!"

It was the brooding over such disgrace and affront to which a political prisoner had been subjected in the very capital by an official whose department is under the Czar's direct control that pressed the weapon of revenge into the hands of a tender woman--not so much for her own past miseries as for those of a still suffering fellow-man.

Trepoff had been attacked by Vjera Sassulitch in his own Cabinet, in the very midst of his minions. The jury which tried her was composed almost exclusively of Aulic Councillors and such-like titled dignitaries. Prince Gortschakoff sat among the audience; so

did the pick and flower of the upper classes of St. Petersburg. Who could doubt, in presence of the open avowal of the accused, that the verdict would be "Guilty?"

Strange to say, even among the officially faultless remarks of the Public Prosecutor there were some curious admissions. "I, for my part," Mr. Kessel said, "fully believe the statements made by Vjera Sassulitch. I believe that facts appeared to her in the light in which they have been placed here; and _I am ready to accept the feelings of Vjera Sassulitch as facts_. The Court, however, is bound to measure these feelings, as soon as they are converted into deeds, by the standard of the law." Through the summing up of the Judge there ran a strong vein of interpretations favourable to the accused. "An accused person," he remarked, "could certainly not be looked upon as an infallible commentator on the event with which he or she was connected. At the same time it had to be noted that criminals were to be divided into two groups: those who are led by selfish impulses, and who therefore, in the majority of cases, try to mask the truth by lying statements; and those who commit an act from no motive of personal profit, and who entertain no wish to hide anything of the deed they have done. You, gentlemen of the jury, are in a position to judge how far the statements of Vjera Sassulitch merit your confidence, and to which type of transgressors she most nearly comes up."

This was a clear hint to any intelligent jury; and the jury of Aulic Councillors were intelligent men. Going over all the details of the case, the Judge made a great many more remarks in the same spirit. The audience, who had frequently cheered the eloquence of counsel to such an extent that the President of the Tribunal had to warn them, were on the tip-toe of expectation. When the Foreman brought in the verdict: "No; she is _not_ guilty!" the Hall of Justice--for justice had for once been done--rang with enthusiastic applause. Vjera Sassulitch was borne away in triumph.


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