From a series of interviews with Mr A G Bell at the Queen Adelaide Sanatorium, New York State.
He speaks about the irony of his confession.
Compiled and edited by Mr Latimer Naseby
I have since been told that it was the perfect crime. Can you believe such a thing? The path of science is strewn with fatal mishaps. Indeed Icarus the victim is better known than Daedalus the inventor. How could I have caused this disaster? I was obviously working in my own small laboratory in the garden. The irony Sir, I was congratulated upon my luck at surviving! The evil of it still oppresses me. I know I must account for myself in the afterlife, madman or not. I must face those poor people at last.
I made my confession even as the blaze was being extinguished. Needless to say, this was met with great astonishment by the officers I spoke to. It was assumed that I had been driven temporarily insane by the tragedy. Some kindly souls understood that I felt responsible, as it was my experiment that had caused the fire. Even my very confession was seen as evidence of my madness. Could a killer do such a thing as this and then be so calm? I was placed in a hospital, but I was not under arrest. I did receive the first of many doses of tincture of laudanum. This, I believe did help me bear the burden of my crime. It was some years before the mass of it fully crushed my heart. I will never escape that weight now.
I am told I was eventually charged with multiple murder. I had kept a journal, my intentions, all my plans were laid out clearly. I am a meticulous man, as you may gather. I had even kept the receipts for the explosive chemicals I had ordered. I did not attend the court, I was in no fit state to do so. I have not seen the transcripts either, but the proceedings have been described to me. Scientists, some known to me, were called to testify that I had indeed planned the destruction of the college. Many of the chemicals I had used are not naturally explosive. The exact details of the electrical triggering mechanism were suppressed. There is one quote I remember, but it brings me no pride. ‘If this was not such an evil plan, it would have been a work of genius.’
As you see Sir, I gained fame and recognition of my work. It was not how I intended to be remembered. That I have lived so long is not a comfort to me. I believe it to be part of my punishment. I have grown so old as to be able to read about myself in history books. They are far too kind to me, much too innocent. My telephone would have been a success, I’m sure of that. I’m also sure it would have caused misery and disaster in the summer of 1863. I have read that many telegraph operators died or were injured in that terrible summer. How many more would have perished in their own homes, talking on my telephone? To think, Mr Naseby, I had planned for my wires to be brought right into churches and concert halls!
And yet, Sir, I remained a scentist. I know that my calculations are utilised on the Optical Telegraph. I thought about it, you know, when I was planning to kill my poor colleagues. At that time, every sight, every event had special meaning for me. I would walk in the college gardens in the early dawn. I saw the beads of dew on the leaves and noticed how the new sunlight was refracted through them. I was being shown the path of light, even as I plunged further into the darkness.
Daguerreotype, aftermath of the Boston explosion 1859.
Reproduced by the kind permission of the Royal Institute of Photography, Kandahar.
This is another excerpt of an ongoing fiction work ‘Mr Faraday’s Cage & Other Tales of Obscure Science’. I will be publishing new parts twice weekly.