Madeleine Smith – Verdict & Aftermath

[Square Mile Murders Contents]


   THE Trial of Madeleine Smith at Edinburgh for alleged poisoning, which has so deeply engrossed the attention of the public for the better part of a fortnight, was yesterday brought to a termination by a verdict of Not Guilty on the first of the three counts in the indictment, and of Not Proven on the other two. This verdict was received by the crowds in the Court and its vicinity with strongly marked approval – a feeling which we have no doubt will be shared in by the public at large; for, however strongly the circumstances detailed in the course of the trial might seem to attach suspicion to the accused, every one who reflects on the danger of relying solely for proof of murder upon circumstantial evidence that is capable of any other possible explanation than that of the panel’s guilt, must have arrived at the conclusion that the evidence in this case failed in the essential requisite. Motive more than enough, indeed, is shown to have existed on the part of the unhappy prisoner for viewing the death of L’Angelier as a relief; the passionate entreaties and supplications in some of her letters, that he who had seduced and corrupted her would refrain from his base threat of divulging their intercourse, and of using her letters, which he appears to have carefully preserved for such a purpose, to expose her to public shame and degradation, would have warranted a belief of her being accessory to his death, if there had been proof that from no other hand than hers could the poison have reached him; but, while the first instance of the administration of poison charged against her appears to have failed entirely of proof, the circumstances from which the other two were to be inferred are shown to be explicable in more ways than one. whatever, therefore, may be the truth in respect to the events of this tragic and shocking affair, the decision of the Jury, that the circumstances proved before them did not warrant them in declaring that the prisoner was guilty of the murder charged against her, and in giving up her life as a forfeit in retribution, was a sound one. Even without the guilt of so terrible a crime, Madeleine Smith has ample cause for deep and life-long remorse and repentance in the ruin she has brought upon herself and the calamity which must more or less fall upon her family.

Montrose Standard, Friday 10th July, 1857, p.5.

   The trial of Madeleine Smith on a charge of poisoning a paramour has run the proverbial nine days of wonder and excitement, and the scandal of that affair must be already pulling on the public taste. Nevertheless, this protracted trial may appropriately be made the subject of some remarks now that it has been brought to a close. The judges, the jury, the counsel for the prosecution and the counsel for the defence have with great patience and assiduity discharged their respective duties, and everything has been done that could be done to make a fair and full investigation of the case, to vindicate the accused if innocent, and to avenge the dead if violently and murderously deprived of life. All these labours have had an incomplete end, and we know too well the currents of popular sentiment not to feel that the administration of justice will be severely criticised. Madeleine Smith moved in the middle ranks of society. Her father, indeed, was a tradesman, but a tradesman who lived in a style of wealth and refinement. Her lover, on the other hand, was poor and friendless. Few who truly sounded the depths of their own hearts could say that they wished this tale of love and crime to end upon a scaffold, but all who have met the proud man’s scorn, or have experienced the cold shade of poverty, will be apt to think that, had Madeleine Smith been a girl of the humblest rank, her trial would not have been so long, the facilities afforded for her defence would not have been so great, and her fate would have been different. It is desirable that all classes from the highest to the lowest should feel that impartial justice is embodied in the conclusions of the jury. 

   The evidence produced against the prisoner was not sufficient to support a verdict of guilty. The circumstances bore strongly against her without actually touching and connecting her with the awful deed of which she was accused. Though the ground about her feet and the whole material of her pitiful love story were furrowed and honeycombed by the tracks of crime, yet the utmost efforts of the prosecution failed to carry these up to a point which fully criminated the prisoner; and when the evidence began to be examined narrowly as a whole, gaps were found to exist which were inconsistent with a solid and logical conviction of guilt. Take, for example, by way of comparison, the case of Palmer, in which the evidence was even contended by some to be defective. Cook died of an unusual poison, rarely seen or purchased, and producing symptoms unlike any natural disease. Palmer was proved to have purchased and to be in possession of this poison at the period of Cook’s death. A strong motive to take away Cook’s life was not only established against him, but was traced out into actual deeds of robbery at the moment when the poisoned man was undergoing his last agonies. And, to crown all, the means of administration were most obvious, for Cook was a patient under Palmer’s medical treatment, and was taking pills and potions out of Palmer’s hand. L’Angelier, on the other hand, dies of arsenic, a common article of trade and manufactures. Madeleine Smith, like Palmer, is proved to have bought this poison a few days anterior to L’Angelier’s death; and her letters to the deceased and engagement to Mr Minnoch supply a motive, in the despair of her condition and the vehemence of her will and passion, for wishing to get rid of her lover, and more especially of the evidences of their intimacy. But the motive in the case of this young woman is defective, in so far as the sudden death of L’Angelier is certain to bring about the exposure which she wishes most earnestly to avoid. She knows that her letters are safely treasured up in his repositories. When he dies, they will fall into the hands of his landlady, his companions, his employers, of Miss Perry and his mother; and the whole scandal they contain be revealed. If she poisons him, that result, which will spoil all, must almost certainly ensue. Then, again, the means of administering the poison are obscure and doubtful. Though there is a strong presumption that the two young persons were together on the night L’Angelier was poisoned, yet the fact is not proved. The probability is, that she did not expect him that evening, as the engagement, which had twice failed, was for the night previous. Even if he got admission into her chamber, coffee or cocoa must have been boiled up with arsenic, and served as a refreshment amidst sleeping relatives and servants in such quantity as rendered the operation not only most difficult, but liable to be detected by L’Angelier himself in the very act. With respect both to clearness of motive, and facility and probability of administration, the proof is obviously very much weaker in the case of Miss Smith than in that of Palmer, and, indeed, in some links positively defective. If we believe this young woman to be guilty of the crime of murder, we must still, on a survey of the whole evidence, come to the conclusion that the accidental phases of events and circumstances have signally favoured her liberation from justice. It is remarkable that L’Angelier, though occasionally seen by domestics and by the night constable when visiting Miss Smith, was not seen or heard by any of these on the night he was poisoned. Neither the landlady nor the doctor had a word from the dying man as to where he had been or what he had been taking. These omissions are very striking when considered in connexion with the prisoner’s declaration, on her apprehension in March, that she did not see L’Angelier on the night in question. Even the contradictions of Miss Smith have sometimes an aspect rather favourable to her than otherwise, as, for example, when she told the druggists that the arsenic was for rats or for the gardener, and afterwards declares that she used it as a cosmetic, but did not wish to let that be known in the shops. It is well known that a lady seldom acknowledges the use of a cosmetic, and what is certainly contradictory has thus the characteristic of being probable. The jury, in our opinion, could not safely have doomed Madeleine Smith to the scaffold, and if Scotch law had not provided a middle position between conviction and absolution, the verdict, from the lapses in the evidence, must have been “not guilty.” 

   Between the two prominent persons in this deplorable drama the award of fate is not unequally adjusted without the capital sentence of the law. The one has lost his life, and left a rankling thorn in the heart of a poor disconsolate mother. The other has lost her character and virtue – her all – and dragged down a whole family along with her into humiliation and sorrow. Of the two catastrophes, appalling as both are, the latter seems to us fully the more heavy and disastrous; and there is little reason to dread that the crime of poisoning will receive any encouragement from the result of this trial. 

   The names of Emile L’Angelier and Madeleine Smith, indeed, will long survive in the criminal and romantic annals of this country as a terrible warning to the youth of both sexes against the snares and deceptions of illicit passion. The age and sex of the former render him most deeply culpable for the moral fall so painfully exhibited in the correspondence of Miss Smith. During the first few months of their intimacy the letters and conduct of the young woman breathe the utmost propriety and delicacy of sentiment, the most confiding trust in her parents, and the most girl-like simplicity and innocence. She repudiates in purity of language which the chastest in the land may envy the vile suggestions which he had been pouring into her mind as to the conduct of young ladies at boarding schools. She acquaints her father with the attachment she had formed, and on discovering his strong and unalterable objection to it, she bids adieu to L’Angelier in the most generous yet the most decisive terms. This was Madeleine Smith when that dreamy and sensuous foreigner first paid his addresses to her, and first gained her affection. On the renewal of their ill-starred intimacy an awful change soon becomes apparent. That her moral principle was weak, and that she yielded with dissolute facility to his embraces, is evident; but that she loved him with a strong and confiding love, and that she realised in her own mind the position and obligations of a wife, must also be admitted. The last passages of her correspondence are so irreconcileable and enveloped in so much mystery that one knows not what to make of them. They betray the agitations of a mind thoroughly adrift from all moral anchorage, and tossed on a sea of troubles by the opposite winds of an illicit love, of parental authority and worldly advantage, of shame, of fear, and despair. The deception of addressing her paramour in terms of endearment while closing with the offer of another suitor is indefensible and fathomless. But who can presume to criticise on moral grounds a mind in such a state as that of Madeleine Smith in this crisis of her history, and who can say that this new engagement was not one of those matrimonial affairs in which, from the selfishness and tyranny of parents and the insensibility of suitors, the hands of the fair are given without hearts? The letter of Miss Smith to L’Angelier imploring him not to denounce her to her father is the most vehement composition in the English or probably any language. No mere art or skill of letters could have thrown such a whirlwind of entreaty into words. It is the strong but natural utterance of passion which a giant might feel, and which a child might express. In that letter she says, “my heart is empty, cold.” This last note addressed by her to L’Angelier is in the exactly opposite strain. The works of dramatists and poets may be searched in vain for a tenderer example of the language of love than that brief missive in which she begins, “Why, my beloved, did you not come to me?” The sudden transition from a confession that her love was gone to this soft and amorous strain is undoubtedly very difficult of explanation; but that this young girl could warble so sweetly, like a bird wooing a mate to its cage, with a savage intent to murder him in her heart, is a riddle scarcely more easy to read. 

   It was the drear misfortune of a young woman thus constituted and thus moved to fall into the toils of the most disagreeable and unamiable of lovers. It is impossible, notwithstanding the interest excited by the sadness of his end, to avoid a feeling of contempt for the character and conduct of L’Angelier as disclosed in this trial. Though a great admirer of women, he never pays court to any pretty girl whose hand he might expect readily to obtain. From the first years, of which we have any account of him, his mind is romancing about “ladies.” His love for the sex, in so far as it is not merely sensual, is essentially selfish and ambitious. There is a want at once of pride, of honour, and of true affection in his proceedings. He humbles himself to the gutter in order to be introduced to Miss Smith, and no sooner has he established himself in her good graces than he becomes as hard as the nether millstone in the pursuit of his own vain and despicable object. After he has polluted her mind with boarding school secrets, he proceeds to correct her “bad habits.” When she announces to him the determination of her father, and bids him farewell, he wiles her back into his arms by mean-spirited threats “to rid the world and her of his presence” by suicide. At length when he gets possession of her person, and perpetrates the greatest injury which a man can inflict on any maiden, he begins to upbraid her, and turns moralist and censor. Not only eaten up of jealousy, he torments the woman who has trusted all to him with his suspicions, reproofs, and prohibitions. She must not walk in certain streets, and she must not speak to certain people, in order to satisfy this master of decorum and morality! Such conduct on the part of a person who had shown on his own side so little respect for his mistress, would be incredible were it not in perfect harmony with his predominant characteristic. Vanity, the most silly and most empty, was the master-spring of his nature; and, like all vain persons, the gratification of self over-ruled every feeling of his heart. It is not surprising that this same person was considered “moral and religious” in his circle, that he attended chapel, and read a prayer-book, for this was essential to that applause of the sex and of society, which is the breath of such abortive specimens of humanity. his miserable repinings in adversity, his elations and depressions, and his threats of suicide are all explained by the same key. Yet this poor and pitiable young man, to whom fortune seemed so unkind, could dress gaily, could admire his fine person, could promenade in our fashionable places, could talk of birth and carriages and noble friends, could eat so heartily as frequently to spoil his stomach, and could gather, through all the trials of a disastrous courtship, “a considerable deposit,” as the surgeons observe, “of sub-cutaneous fat!” But every weakness, every folly, and wickedness of L’Angelier could almost have been pardoned him but one. So grovelling was the spirit of this foreigner that he could threaten the young woman whom he had defiled and who yet had loved and trusted him with exposure to her father who had treated him with disdain! This is a blot which the loss of life itself cannot wipe away. 

   The sad tale, of which the world has now learned so much, will doubtless be wound up by many various morals, and there is one point on which, in conclusion, we would express an opinion. It will be said, perhaps, that this case teaches the necessity of drawing still closer the barriers of social exclusiveness. On the contrary, it is our belief that one of the greatest errors of which the parents of Miss Smith have to accuse themselves, is that of keeping on the outside a young man to whom their daughter had owned a strong attachment. By seeing and introducing him into their house they would have prevented the clandestine and midnight meetings in which so much danger lay, and from which so much bitter evil has sprung. If only aired in company with others, the probability is that so vain and weak a person would soon have been outshone in the estimation even of the wooed. It was the night-shade in which he was kept that gave Emile L’Angelier his baleful ascendancy over the heart and person of Madeleine Smith.

North British Daily Mail, Friday 10th July, 1857, p.2.







(From the Times.) 

   If romance and mystery can insure remembrance, the terrible case which was on Thursday concluded at Edinburgh will have an abiding place in the annals of criminal justice. Madeleine Smith, has, after nine days’ trial, been acquitted, and goes forth again free into the world. On the first charge of attempt to poison she has been found “Not Guilty,” while the second charge to the same effect and the actual murder have been declared “Not Proven.” The death of Pierre Emile L’Angelier is pronounced by the jury to be a mystery, which the evidence brought before them was unable to solve. Thus ends the case! Human justice acknowledges itself baffled, and ceases its attempt to unveil what perhaps is for ever destined to be hidden. 

   The last few years have certainly been a period full of startling crimes… Similarly unaccountable have been the crimes committed of late by women. While it is admitted on all hands that never at any former period were domestic manners so unexceptionable, we are shocked with the continual recurrence of attempts by women against the lives of husbands, paramours, and children. Poisoning especially has become almost a domestic institution. The friendly arsenic has always been ready in the cottage of the peasant or in the lodging of the mechanic, to rid the impatient wife of a tiresome husband, or the thrifty housewife of parents, or relations, who have become a burden. So, when it was announced that in a higher rank of life a similar crime had been committed, there was interest and excitement, but without surprise… A Scottish jury decides by a majority, and the majority has declared that the evidence is not sufficient to prove the prisoner guilty. But to the last there were many who believed that the opinion held by the minority would prevail, and that the unhappy girl would suffer the penalty of the crime alleged against her. 

   The dead man L’Angelier is not one whose fate there is any need to commiserate. His conduct to one who had been his victim was base and unmanly in the last degree, and can only be excused on the ground stated by the Lord Advocate, that by the law of Scotland an irregular marriage might be held to have taken place, and that L’Angelier had a right to consider Madeleine Smith as his wife and to prohibit her union with another man… By the beginning of the present year, however, her passion had cooled. A Mr Minnoch had proposed in all innocence to her, and in spite of stolen interviews and boarding-school heroics, she thought it better to have a solid Glasgow man of business than a French clerk on £30 a-year, who boasted to everybody of his successes with women in general, and herself in particular. 

   But L’Angelier had not notion of giving her up. He did not, it appears, insist on her marrying him, but he would not allow her to marry any one else. It was in vain that she wrote to him that their love had mutually grown cold, and that they had better forget each other. Emile would show her letters to her father and to Mr Minnoch if the match were not at once broken off. This was the motive for the crime alleged by the prosecution. Under the threats of the Frenchman, Madeleine is obliged to write back that the affair with Mr Minnoch is a false report. She seems desirous to get L’Angelier away, so that her marriage might take place before he could prevent it. L’Angelier, however, remains and persists in his threats. On the 9th of February she is distracted with terror. She implores him not to bring her to open shame, and solemnly declares that she has no other engagement – having, however, promised her hand to Mr Minnoch on the 28th of the previous month. Dates now become of importance. The prisoner for some reason or other feigns a renewal of her attachment of L’Angelier. She wishes to bring him back to her; the prosecution say that she may poison him – she says that she might coax him to give back the letters… That the prisoner administered poison on this 19th of February is the first charge of which she was found not guilty. Every Glasgow chemist’s books were searched, and no purchase of arsenic was proved prior to the 19th, so that with respect to this first day there was sufficient doubt to justify a verdict of full acquittal… Time passes on, and we must conclude there are more negotiations for the surrender of the letters, for Miss Smith still keeps on her engagement with Mr Minnoch… The prosecution aver that he is poisoned by the prisoner; she declares her innocence, and suggests that he must have done it himself in a fit of jealousy. Evidence is adduced that he was vain, foolish, and extravagant, always talking of love affairs, and threatening suicide when he was disappointed. 

   This is all the light that can be thrown on the terrible occurrence. That the jury should declare the crime not proven is hardly surprising; for the circumstances are as mysterious as any that have ever been related in a court of justice. If on the one hand the prisoner purchases arsenic, and thinks of her complexion for the first time when she is distracted with terror respecting her good name, on the other hand she buys it so openly that a juryman might well think her conduct incompatible with a murderous intention. In her first letter, after the purchase of arsenic in February, she tells her lover that “I am taking some stuff to bring back the colour.” Of course, the prosecution look upon this as a proof of consummate cunning; the defence declare it to be a corroboration of the prisoner’s statement. If L’Angelier indeed poisoned himself he must have been the most extraordinary of men; for he not only makes two unsuccessful attempts, and goes to the country for his health afterwards, but he relates how he was made ill by his paramour’s chocolate, says jokingly he would forgive her if even she were to poison him, and a month afterwards, just before he is supposed to poison himself, he tells his friends he is going to Blythswood Square, and actually loiters in the neighbourhood for the purpose of making the world believe he is poisoned there. Was L’Angelier likely to commit self-murder, and in such a manner as wilfully to bring on Madeleine Smith the suspicion of the deed? These questions are now beyond human investigation. The jury by their verdict have declared their inability to decide. In this verdict we must concur; yet we see no reason for the cheering and the manifestation of joy which greeted it. Madeleine Smith goes forth free from the penalties of the law – and that is all.

Edinburgh Evening Courant, Saturday 11th July, 1857, p.2 & 3.


   When Palmer startled the world with his crimes this subject engaged public attention, and when shortly afterwards Dove of Leeds destroyed his wife the same question arose; but after a few days’ discussion it was forgotten. Now again, however, it is painfully forced upon us by the case of L’Angelier, and we hope, therefore, that no further time will be lost in preventing the sale of these deadly substances as far as the law can reach in preventing such sale. Whether Miss Smith committed murder or not, there certainly is no question as to her having obtained arsenic; nor does it appear she had any trouble in getting it… So much of the dose as destroys life has passed away beyond the power of the doctor to discover. It is the sur-plussage which remains in the stomach and intestines that betrays the method resorted to destroy life. If those who administer it knew how to proportion the dose to the end in view, science would be powerless for the purpose of detection. This is a fact perhaps not new in science, but it is new in the striking prominence which this important trial has given it, and so far as it is so, it is not calculated to increase our security from crime. Besides, it may be said that these trials are read and reflected on by others than those who are moved by idle curiosity. There can be no doubt that Dove’s crime was almost entirely the result of his perusal of Palmer’s trial; promptings he might have had previously, but the time when he perpetrated it, and the agent by which he did it, were beyond doubt owing to the trial of Palmer and the facts that came out in that trial. 


   Murder by poisoning is the worst form of the worst crime. Palmer lured his victim to his house, and drugged him to death with as friendly a face and with as much indifference as an ordinary acquaintance would exhibit in giving a morning salutation to a friend. He did it with ease, as it was neither his first nor his second experiment. Dove attended to his wife in her illness, mixed the poison with her medicine, called her his “dear” as he handed it to her, and when she died wept as if the richest treasure of his heart was torn from him. But, if Madeleine Smith has done what is laid to her charge, she has surpassed all other criminals of the same kind in wickedness. Even Palmer beside her appears less a monster, than when he stood alone in the atrocity of his wickedness. We earnestly hope, for the honour of our common humanity, that this woman may be proved to be innocent of the crime laid to her charge; but whether she is or not, no time should be lost in placing every possible impediment in the way of the sale and purchase of poisonous drugs. We are satisfied that all necessary precautions are not taken; and in the absence of such precautions, we fear that crimes of this sort will grow more numerous, and become daily more difficult of detection. – Dumbarton Chronicle.

Glasgow Sentinel, Saturday 11th July, 1857, p.7.

   MISS SMITH’S TRIAL. – SUPPLIMENTARY EVIDENCE. – The Glasgow Herald of yesterday morning, says:- On Monday last, a gentleman from Glasgow went into Edinburgh, and had an interview with the Crown authorities, where he made a revelation of a startling character, which might have had an important bearing on the trial of Madeleine Smith, had it been offered at an earlier period. This gentleman stated, as we are informed that on a Sunday night about the time of L’Angelier’s death, and between twelve and one o’clock on that night he saw together two young persons, male and female, in the lane behind Mr Smith’s Blythswood Square house, uttering words of endearment, and that the young man was attired in a dress similar to that which is proved to have been worn by L’Angelier on the night in question. From other circumstances, the impression of this too-late witness is that the young female was not an ordinary street-walker, but a lady. We give this information as it has reached us from more than one authentic quarter. But it must not be forgotten that it is perfectly possible that the effect and character of such a revelation might have been materially altered and shaken under cross-examination. 

Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, Saturday 11th July, 1857, p.5.



(From the Saturday Review.) 

   The verdict in Madeleine Smith’s trial is “Not Proven.” It declares nothing. The case, then, as they say in Germany, shifts from the actual to the ideal. The guilt or innocence of the accused will henceforth be like Queen Mary’s guilt or innocence – it will be a moot point for moralists. As such we treat it. If we seem to assume the alternative of guilt, Madeleine Smith is to us only nominis umbra [shadow name]. She is an historical and debateable character; and an inquiry into her criminality becomes a question of purely moral and psychological interest. We say, then, that on the hypothesis of her guilt, it may be that no substantial harm has been done by the verdict. The result, lame and imperfect as it is, acknowledges that there are some things too terrible to be within the exact compass of human proof. Had this awful drama been thoroughly played out – had guilt received its perfect award here – had the death of the murderess, supposing her to be such, atoned, as people say, for her crime – it is possible that half the impressiveness of the lesson would have been lost. It would have descended from the highest tragedy to a comparatively common event. It may be that the most solemn lessons of life require an element of mystery and doubt. There are things which are better reserved for a higher tribunal. In the face of such a deed, for whatever purpose permitted, and for whatever end overruled, human authority retires. Even justice declines to interfere in the presence of something beyond our powers to deal with. The most inhuman, and perhaps unparalleled, of crimes is in some sort lifted above the legitimate sphere of human punishment. Madeleine Smith’s guilt, if it be guilt, is out of the reach of our righteous dealing. It was something better than heathen piety and reverence which made the poet represent Clytemnestra entering her dreadful appeal as one beyond man’s judgment. Even to those most convinced of the guilt of the accused, we say that things are best as they are. 

   To parallel this case with the familiar histories of Palmer and Rush, or with those of Brinvilliers and Laffarge, as is the fashion of the newspapers, is futile. Madeleine Smith’s case, if she is guilty, has that element which, so long as human nature is simply human, must enter into the wildest forms of crime, and which scarcely appears in the ordinary causes celebrés. It is as though the sexual passion were, in its consequences, necessary in the highest form of evil. Yet it is not any one single and simple passion – revenge, or lust, or avarice – which can end in such a catastrophe as this. It is in the mixture of motives, the complexity of passions, the conflict of sins – the seven devils wrestling with each other, as well as with the victim – that the unearthly grandeur as well as horror of the deed with which she was charged consists. Passion leads many a man to murder his mistress – jealousy leads many a woman to murder her lover, even in the very frenzy of affection – cold-blooded ambition and interest prompt to murder, in order to get rid of an inconvenient obstacle to respectability and a fair standing with the world – but, on the hypothesis of Madeleine Smith’s guilt, we have each and all, and yet none of them, as adequate motives. The problem to solve – and it is inscrutable, because, as far as we know, absolutely without example – is the coexistence of that burning intensity of mere sexual passion which indisputably led Madeleine Smith to discard every restraint, even of common decency, that frailty so generally throws over the acts of sin, with a cool-settled malignity of self-possession, a deliberate hypocrisy in counterfeiting rapturous affection, which, for the credit of human nature, is unparalleled. And yet this at least must have been so, if she is guilty. The counsel for the defence never accounted for the fact – an indisputable one – that the letters to Minnoch and the last letters to her seducer (if that is to be the word), with all the old passion at least pretended, were of the same date. Whether Madeleine Smith poisoned L’Angelier or not, her parallel correspondence with him and with Minnoch in March is established; and this is the moral anomaly in presence of which the fact of murder is a mere sequence. 

… To say that a man who had access at any hour of the night to Mr Smith’s house, could not, on one of these occasions, have removed her and married her with the easy liberality of the Scotch marriage law, is on the face of it absurd. But we do believe that, as a further knowledge of L’Angelier’s miserable character broke upon Madeleine Smith, the insight into the man who could hold this girl’s shame over her, and who could resist the terrific pathos of her shuddering, shivering appeals for mercy – appeals unequalled in the whole range of tragic vehemence – may account for this moral change. The deep fountains of her passion were, on discovering her paramour’s character, frozen up. She found that she had ventured everything upon an unworthy object, and the very depth of her love was changed, on the complete and perfect sense of utter loss, into the corresponding depth of hatred. 

   This is the real characteristic of women. In many cases of adultery, it is not half so much caused by guilty love on the woman’s part, as by unquenchable hatred towards the husband. This is what Lord Eldon meant when he said that in almost every such case the husband was to blame. It is no extenuation of Madeleine Smith’s guilt – we treat the case, of course, on abstract grounds, and assume her guilt only argumentatively, and for the sake of the moral problem – to dwell upon L’Angelier’s despicable character. All we say is, that it accounts for what the advocate calls “the inexplicable transition from the gentle loving girl to the savage grandeur of Medea.” It accounts, too, for something else which seems to strike shallow observers with much surprise. It accounts for what is called the improbability of the murder being committed by one who was all along in the man’s power, and whose only chance of recovering the letters was in his life. It is said that Madeleine Smith could not have murdered L’Angelier while the letters were in his possession, because then they would be sure to fall into the hands of those who would make, as they did, the most fatal use of them. But if our view is to be supported, it is not fear of detection which would operate either way. It is simple, naked vengeance – the solitary purpose to destroy an object of hatred – which would overrule a woman in such a case. It is not that she either thinks or cares for herself, so that she can but punish one against whom a whole hell of hatred is stirred up. And further, this view explains the icy self-possession of a prisoner under such circumstances. It is not mere bravado, not stupor, not unparalleled acting, not a mere superhuman effort of the strong will, which accounts for a guilty person supporting even such a trial as this with a jaunty and unconcerned air. We can quite believe that there are moral and spiritual conditions in which feeling is simply obliterated, and everything is swallowed up in one absorbing object – in which, as in the Eastern tale, the whole moral nature is converted into solid unimpressible black marble. Great wrong does this – affection utterly thrown away does this. The sheer despair of receding and retrieving the past produces an unnatural sense of calmness, and even satisfaction in crime… A mere desire to marry a richer suitor, and to stand well with society, would not explain the crime in such a character as we are considering. Hatred whose very intensity almost sanctifies it – and perhaps, when the moral sense is gone, lifts it into a sort of justice – would alone account for the deed, and account also for such easy demeanour at the trial. Hatred such as we can conceive hers, if guilty, to have been, does not pale the cheek or check the elastic step. One possessed by it is dead to all other sentiments. It does not interfere with animal life, and in its presence – in its possession, rather – all other existence is dead… 

   To recur to our first thought. we have said that if Madeleine Smith is guilty, it were perhaps well that human vengeance should retire from an unequal conflict with such crime. Mussat tacito justitia timore [Justice mutters in silent fear]. We do not say that such a criminal is best left of the avenging furies of conscience, and that a life of such punishment is the heaviest doom that we can in mercy inflict even upon her, if guilty. We dismiss this commonplace view. If guilty, she is beyond this sort of retribution. In such a case we have little to expect from the salutary terrors of remorse. As to repentance, we say nothing of it. But as regards society, we think that the lesson is better and more impressive as it stands. There are thousands who have fallen into the sin of this miserable pair. In all sorts of society, and among the most refined of our social respectabilities, as well as in the experience of our village poor, that particular frailty is – can we venture to deny it? – far from uncommon. How stands the warning? It may have reduced Madeleine Smith – the burning, passionate Juliet of decent society, fresh from the schoolroom, and in the very heart of all the domestic sanctities – to the murderess of L’Angelier. It must have reduced her to that profligate abasement of character which anyhow is a world’s wonder. It must have produced that degradation which, without a blush, could write the letters to L’Angelier, and which would have entered Minnoch’s house and home as a bride. It may have brought L’Angelier to his doom from the hands of his paramour – it must have brought him to a dog’s death, either at his own hands, or at those of somebody whom he had somehow foully wronged. And the simple fact that we have our desperate choice in this alternative of horrors, only shows what may be going on in the inmost core of all that is apparently pure and respectable.

Edinburgh Evening Courant, Tuesday 14th July, 1857, p.2.

From our Edinburgh Correspondent. 


EDINBURGH, Saturday Evening.      

   The trial which has so completely monopolised public attention for the last ten days has at length terminated; and the miserable girl, whose dark sad history has of late been the theme of universal talk and speculation, has been dismissed from the bar with nothing save her life and her freedom. Even these have been blighted and deprived of nearly all their value; for what is freedom to one who must bear about with her the burden of an accusation only half withdrawn, and whose character is so deeply stained? Yet life is sweet; and no one who saw the strange bewildered smile that passed over the face of Madeleine Smith when her acquittal was announced on Thursday last, and marked the eager, nervous way in which she clasped the friendly hands then held out to her, could fail to see that to her the close of the long trial was a great deliverance. Few, if any, I believe, will regret that it was otherwise. 


   The mystery connected with L’Angelier’s death may never be cleared away in this world. Madeleine Smith has gone forth from her long trial not free from suspicion, and although her conscience may have no heavier burden to bear, she carries to the distant land to which she takes her departure in the ensuing week, the recollection of the dreadful exposure to which the reading of her correspondence with L’Angelier subjected her. Whether that exposure, to the extent to which it was carried, was necessary, may be matter of doubt, and there is a decided difference of opinion about it – but in so far as it disclosed her state of feeling and her position, it affixed an indelible stain upon her character. Had the letters of her deceased lover been read, they would probably have been found to be much worse – one of them at least was worse than any of hers – but that does little to affect the case as regards her, and though free, her freedom has been purchased at a heavy price. 

… A morbid feeling is always stimulated by such notoriety as Miss Smith has acquired, and I am not surprised to hear that when it was known that she had left Edinburgh for her father’s country residence at Row on Thursday night, crowds assembled at the railway stations in the hope of seeing her. Yesterday, too, the house in Blythswood Square, now shut up, attracted a great number of visitors, and every bit of gossip about the case, no matter how improbable, is still seized upon with the utmost avidity. Woodcuts, which did duty for Mrs Mannering, are published in the viler class of penny papers as portraits of Miss Smith, and the trial is published in some six or seven different pamphlets to most of which hideous “likenesses” are prefixed. It will be some time before we are done with all this, but it is to be hoped that Madeleine Smith will know nothing of it, but be left on the other side of the ocean to ponder on her recent experiences and to profit by the terrible ordeal through which she has passed.

Inverness Advertiser and Ross-shire Chronicle, Tuesday 14th July, 1857, p.5.




   The circumstances of the ruse adopted by one of the Glasgow agents employed in the case for getting off Miss Smith unmolested by the vast crowd waiting in the Parliament Square and neighbourhood for her exit after trial were, we are told, as follow:- He had provided himself with the dress worn on the previous days of her trial by Miss Smith, and on her liberation from the bar he asked the Sergeant of Police in attendance whether he could find him a girl about the size of Miss Smith to personate her, and go through the ordeal of driving in a cab to the jail down the High Street. The sergeant immediately recollected a girl who had for several days importuned the police officers to get her a sight of the prisoner, saying she would give anything for the privilege. This girl was got, and being told that not only would she get a sight of Miss Smith, but also her dress and a douceur besides if she would represent her in a cab, in order to disperse the mob from the Square, she undertook the job, and was dressed (by Miss Smith herself) accordingly. In the meantime a rumour was circulated through the crowd that Miss Smith was to drive to the jail to change her dress before going at large, and orders were given to clear a space about the court-room doors. This being done, and the anxiety of the crowd raised to the utmost pitch by the perpetrators, up came the cab and out came the fabricated girl in nearly a fainting state, and being, with some little difficulty, got into the carriage along with the usual police, off drove the vehicle at a breakneck pace, followed by the whole rabble of expectants, and in a trice the Parliament Square and all the thoroughfares about it were completely cleared. Miss Smith then having been taken round through the Advocates’ Library, and put on a different dress with a coloured veil, quietly walked away, accompanied by her brother and another young gentleman, to the front of St Giles’ Church, where the cab was in waiting, and entering it quietly Jehu drove away to Slateford, where she met the Caledonian train to Glasgow, and was carried by it to that city. She proceeded, we believe, straight on to Rowaleyn, her father’s residence, near Helensburgh. – North British Mail.

Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Tuesday 14th July, 1857, p.4.

   The short interval that has elapsed since the announcement of the verdict in the extraordinary and exciting case of Miss Smith has brought forth a host of opinions from the press confirmatory of the view taken of it by the jury. The almost unanimous voice of the country, in the south as in the north, has pronounced it a fortunate thing that the practice of our Scottish courts has allowed in this case of a middle decision between the brand of guilt and the proclamation of innocence. It is felt that, extraordinary as has been the combination of circumstances which all lead to the presumption of Madeleine Smith having poisoned her paramour, the chain of attested facts is not so complete as to shut out the possibility of L’Angelier having come to his death by other agency than hers, and that, though there is only one small link to supply, a mere presumption, however irresistibly it may seem to press itself on us, must not, in a case of life and death, be allowed to supply it. At the same time it is felt that a verdict of “Not Guilty” would have accorded ill indeed with the extraordinary and revolting facts and scene which the evidence discloses. A verdict of “Not Proven,” therefore, leaving the accused still under the pressure of a heavy and, to one in her social position, most damaging suspicion, is generally felt to be the form of finding which most fairly and truly meets the necessities of the case. 

   It is urged that such a finding in relation to an accused person in Miss Smith’s sphere of life is equivalent to a condemnation, and must entail consequences substantially of a punitive character, the reply is that the jury and the charging judge are not responsible for these consequences. They leave the accused as they find her. Two of them, we are assured, were for finding her guilty on all the counts; and it may be that all of them were morally convinced of her guilt. It could, in such a case, be no part of their duty, seeing that the forms of Scottish law procedure gave them an alternative, to return a verdict less accordant with their convictions than the extreme criminatory finding which they avoided. The trial dismisses Madeleine Smith under a blasting suspicion; but that suspicion and all its attendant woes are not the fruit of the verdict, but of the facts disclosed in the trial. The verdict, indeed, evinces the suspicions entertained by the jurors, but their suspicions entail no consequences beyond those resulting from the suspicions of other men. Suspicion existed in strength before, and the trial has only had the effect of giving it more definite shape and form. 

   Some men, of a cast of mind which, with a propriety we shall not at present dispute, has been pronounced specially judicial, are rather prone, in exciting cases like the present, when shrinking from the error of arriving at a verdict not fully sustained by specifically proved facts, to retreat too facilely to the opposite extreme of adopting a persuasion of innocence where guilt has not been demonstrated. Things we have heard lead us to believe that the present case has not been unattended with phenomena of this description in the minds of persons whose perspicacity, dispassionateness, and integrity are not to be called in question. We are persuaded, nevertheless, that in the conviction of the great mass of sober and candid readers of the proceedings in the last trial the verdict of the jury will find an approving response. That there is a mystery in the case is not disputed; but the mystery does not arise from the impossibility of the accused’s guilt. And the two considerations on which the assumption of her innocence is chiefly rested, namely, that L’Angelier, having had the idea of Miss Smith’s poisoning him in his mind, was certain not to take any thing either potable or edible at her hand on the fatal 22d of March, and that Miss Smith could not hope, by L’Angelier’s removal, to shun the “open shame” she so piteously deprecated, while the damning correspondence remained in his desk, are, in our judgment, quite inadequate to sustain the conclusion. The evidence does not bear that L’Angelier had any belief of his sweetheart having intended to drug him, or that the idea of her poisoning him was anything more than the matter of a joke between him and his friend. And as for the futility of killing L’Angelier while the letters remained, we admit neither the force of the consideration, nor the likelihood of its influencing Madeleine Smith’s mind. Previously, she had found L’Angelier’s refusal to give up her letters the obstacle to their recovery. What more natural, under the passion and terror by which her letters show her to have been agitated, than that she should think them as good as in her own possession were the hand that held them fast relaxed by death. It is altogether too much to assume that every difficulty which suggests itself now to the dispassionate reader of the sad story would be present to her troubled and terrified mind. Now, even now, when the tragical events are contemplated after their occurrences, are we prepared to admit that the recovery of the letters, without their exposure, on L’Angelier’s death, should have been regarded as an impossibility even by a cool speculator in crime. Provided suspicion of compassing her paramour’s death did not attach to her, there were many pleas which she might feasibly have urged for the restoration, unexamined, of her voluminous correspondence.

Glasgow Chronicle, Wednesday 15th July, 1857, p.4.

   Mr Allsop, of the Crystal Palace Waxwork Exhibition, has obtained a full length figure of Miss Madeleine Smith, from sketches taken at the trial. – Liverpool Mercury


(From the Examiner.) 

   There can hardly be a doubt that the same hand which caused the two previous attacks of L’Angelier, whether his own hand or some other, also caused the final one of the 22d of March. The symptoms were precisely the same, and differing only in intensity. Is it probable that a man would attempt to poison himself, and twice fail from insufficient doses? It is stated, indeed, that L’Angelier frequently talked of destroying himself upon disappointment in his amours, but little weight is to be attached to such declarations, as it is a common propensity of young people to talk lightly of suicide whenever they have any care or trouble. And in his last illness L’Angelier manifested anxiety to live, and none of the despair which a man would have felt who had swallowed eighty grains of arsenic. On the other hand, it is alleged that L’Angelier suspected Madeleine Smith of having poisoned him in some coffee and cocoa which she gave to him, and that he avowed such to be his infatuation, that if she did succeed in poisoning him he could not blame her, or words to that effect. Very dexterously the Dean of Faculty endeavoured to turn this testimony in favour of his client, by asking whether it was probable or conceivable that L’Angelier, possessed of this suspicion, would take anything from the hands of Madeleine Smith. We cannot forget, however, Cooke’s suspicions of Palmer, expressed when the brandy and water prepared for him by the latter burnt his throat, and made him sick, but nevertheless he afterwards swallowed the medicines which Palmer handed to him, and his first cry when seized with his last illness was for the presence and succour of his suspected assassin. Madeleine Smith had purchased arsenic under false pretences, but not anterior to the two seizures of L’Angelier which did not terminate fatally. Her plea is that she bought the arsenic for a cosmetic. It is not of any importance that she did not use it properly for the cosmetic purposes, and that she made a wash of it instead of taking it internally… There are four very marked stages in Madeleine Smith’s correspondence with L’Angelier. The stage before her fall, in which there is nothing immodest; the stage after her fall, marked with passion bordering on licentiousness, and in which sensual allusions are of frequent occurrence; the stage of coolness and alienation, commencing with her new engagement; and the last stage, of ardent love again revived without any apparent cause. She tells L’Angelier plainly her feelings are changed to him, she invites rapture, and implores the return of her letters; but upon his taxing her with a new engagement, and refusing compliance with her entreaties for the return of her letters, she again resumes, or assumes, the old strain of passionate attachment, though nothing whatever had occurred to reanimate the love which had expired, according to her previous confession. And certainly this unaccountable change warranted the suspicion that she had a treacherous purpose for getting again on a footing of personal intercourse with the man she had endeavoured to fling off. He was in her way. He was the impediment to an advantageous match. The question was how to get rid of him, and yet recover the letters containing the secret of her shame. To poison the man would only effect one of these objects, and greatly imperil the other. The inquiry following a death by poison was sure to bring to light the letters, and even if the death had been ascribed to natural causes, there was hardly a chance the most remote that the guilty correspondence would escape discovery and publicity. Could Madeleine Smith run so desperate a chance, defeating the very object of the murder, for the discovery of the letters must have broken off the match with Mr Minnoch? The only answer to this argument is that guilt is often wanting in circumspection, and commits itself by eagerly pursuing an immediate object without a foreview of ulterior consequences. Here reasoning upon this most remarkable case must end, for all that might be said upon it cannot, must not, be said. The demeanour of Madeleine Smith on her trial has been the subject of much observation, and we cannot but wonder that the effect of it was not to repress the burst of applause upon the delivery of the verdict, which ought to have been received in a cold and solemn silence. Innocent of the crime charged, she should not have been so composed and indifferent when listening to statements relating to the cruel end of one she had so recently passionately loved. Who having an interest in the unhappy man could have heard unmoved his kind landlady’s account of his sufferings? But strange and unnatural to say, to Madeleine Smith alone his horrible death seems to have been no shock, no grief, and she demeaned herself on her trial as if L’Angelier had never had a place in her affections. If it had been a trial for poisoning a dog the indifference could not have been greater. There is no greater current fallacy than the confidence of innocence. Innocence labours under all the disadvantages of ignorance. It knows not what may or may not appear against it, in what circumstances it may not be entangled and committed to false appearances. Guilt is in possession of the facts of the whole case. Guilt knows the strong and weak places of the case, and how to rely on the one and guard the other. Of course there may be exceptions to this rule, of which Madeleine Smith must be one, but Palmer is an example on the other side, and many other equally remarkable instances might be named. It is safest not to draw any inference as to the guilt or innocence from demeanour, and the fault we find with that of Madeleine Smith has a bearing on what was quite foreign to the issue with which the Court was occupied. After what had passed between her and the deceased L’Angelier, her composure, in our view, wears the aspect of heartless callousness. But that will not prevent her taking her place amongst the celebrities, being run after by crowds, stuck in print-shop windows and illustrated newspapers, and modelled in wax. Nay more, she will have scores of candidates for her hand. The passion for notoriety is the insanity of the age throughout the civilised world.

Glasgow Chronicle, Wednesday 15th July, 1857, p.5.

   The dwelling-house of Mr Smith in Blythswood Square has been an object of great attraction to the public for some days past. On Sabbath evening last, hundreds of people were collected at the house, peering into the windows, examining the doors, and identifying the places referred to in the trial of Miss Smith. Groups of people have during the week been constantly observed engaged in a similar manner. On Thursday, the morbid feeling of a number of these foolish, gaping visitors carried them so far as to chip off bits of the stone wall, and scrape off quantities of the lime as relics. Some were actually dropping plummets of lead, fastened by a string, between the bars of the ground-floor window, apparently with the ludicrous idea of ascertaining how love-letters would look, when lying in the same spot. The house has been closed since the apprehension of Miss Smith. 

Glasgow Chronicle, Wednesday 15th July, 1857, p.6.



   “J. B.” writing in the Scotsman of yesterday says:- Might it not be possible to “improve the occasion” (as the phrase goes) of the late nauseous trial by the admixture of a little candour with mercy? L’Angelier was the only son of his mother at his death, and she a widow. We know how grief such as hers once moved God; and can it be right for us to add to her already fearful sorrow for his cruel and untimely death the needless agony of our unsupported strictures on the faults of his life? I say unsupported, because all the evidence against him proved nothing worse than that, like his race, he was a gascon. The trial goes to show that he eagerly sought an honourable and open introduction to the family of his mistress, therefore the clandestine impropriety did not originate or rest with him. Marriage he had also urged earnestly, and for the rest let us remember to what an unexampled ordeal of temptation he was exposed. Surely the men who in cheering Miss Smith forgot their sisters, wives, and daughters – ay, and their mothers too – might lay this to heart, and strive with a contrite public to repair the outrage on morality and decency, by showing mercy and charity to the helpless and afflicted mother of the “stranger” who perished among us.

Dundee, Perth, and Cupar Advertiser, Friday 17th July, 1857, p.4.


   On a thorough review of the case, we confess that we feel none of that morbid sympathy for the accused which several of our contemporaries within the last few days have evinced. From the correspondence read in court – and we must say that in the whole legal history of crime and passion no such documents ever were produced in evidence – we are inclined to the belief that the accused was as much the seducer as the seduced. With a just moral sense within us, whatever may appear reprehensible and bad in the character and conduct of L’Angelier, it is impossible we can look upon Miss Smith, through the lurid light of the evidence produced in court, as other than a wicked and abandoned woman, with a strong will, doubtless – (her firmness during the trial proved this) – directed only to serve the cravings of a lustful and sinful nature. We show no lack of charity in this limning her character. Her paramour is dead; he died of the agonies of arsenical poisoning. Whatever may have been his faults and failings, he has paid the penalty of death. In the absence of a single relation in this great city to say a word on his behalf, and a mother in a distant island to lament his loss, we claim for him at least some consideration and forbearance in the way of criticism – the living is entitled to none. Had she been condemned to death – had the account between paramour and lover been balanced by the ultimate penalty of a capital conviction – we would, beyond pointing the example as a warning to others, have considered charity and forbearance an act of duty. But she has left the bar of justice, and has gone forth again into society, through the absence of one little link in a chain of evidence which report says could now be supplied, otherwise the most conclusive of its kind ever offered in a court of law. She has escaped, and is spared that fate we have every reason to suppose she meted out to another. We may therefore speak out. It is not because she is highly connected – that she has moved in the so styled respectable circles of our city, and that the character of the order to which she belongs is compromised by her proceedings, that we should remain silent, or express a timorous and temporising opinion. Sitting morally, not judicially, on the case, now that anything we may say or do can in no way affect the decision of any tribunal but that of public opinion, we are bound to write as we feel, not in bated whispers, but in open and decided terms. Had Madeleine Smith been Betty Smith of the Old Wynd or the Goosedubbs, without wealth or influence at her back to defend her, and make the worse appear the better cause, instead of being Madeleine Smith of Blythswood Square, she might, in all probability, at this moment have been waiting in jail for the last finisher of the law to do his work.

Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, Saturday 18th July, 1857, p.3.

(From the Edinburgh Advertiser.) 

   We regret to add that the ‘enthusiasm’ in favour of Miss Smith, and the exuberant joy of her acquittal, were not confined to the Court in which she was tried. Strange to say, they seem to be the prevalent feeling throughout Edinburgh society. Will it be believed that some persons contemplate the possibility of a proposal being made, that a testimonial should be got up and presented to her, on her escape? A correspondent asks:- ‘Is this a healthy tone of public feeling? A deep and solemn silence would have better befitted the remembrance of the wretched L’Angelier’s case, who has, we may truly say, been accused and tried on the allegation of suicide, and not one word from his pen allowed to appear in evidence, while his lips are sealed in death. If there be a public dinner given to Miss Madeleine Smith in Edinburgh, I hope a vacant chair will be left opposite to her, as at the banquet of Macbeth, and we may guess how it ought to be filled! I hear that if Mr Minnoch refuse to marry her now, she is to prosecute him for a breach of promise.’

Arbroath Guide, Saturday 18th July, 1857, p.4.

   NEW FLOWER. – Among the prize plants at the Banff Horticultural Show, was a new variety, of the petunia. The plant was roared by Mr Duncan Balchera, who names it “Mimi Madeleine Smith.” The flower of the new variety is remarkable for its greenish hue, having the raddish purple colour common to petunias confined to a small portion in the centre. The plant carried the first prize in the class of petunias, and attracted a good deal of attention.

Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette, Saturday 25th July, 1857, p.4.

   RACING NOMENCLATURE. – We observe from Bell’s Life of Sunday last, that Mr F. Bell of the Hall, Thirsk, has named his filly, foaled by Hermit, out of La Femme Sage, Madeleine Smith! ‘What next, and next?’

Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser, Saturday 1st August, 1857, p.7.

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