The Judges of the Secret Court: A Novel About John Wilkes Booth (New York Review Books Classics)

The Judges of the Secret Court: A Novel About John Wilkes Booth (New York Review Books Classics)

David Stacton

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 1590174526

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

David Stacton’s The Judges of The Secret Court is a long-lost triumph of American fiction as well as one of the finest books ever written about the Civil War. Stacton’s gripping and atmospheric story revolves around the brothers Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, members of a famous theatrical family. Edwin is a great actor, himself a Hamlet-like character whose performance as Hamlet will make him an international sensation. Wilkes is a blustering mediocrity on stage who is determined, however, to be an actor in history, and whose assassination of Abraham Lincoln will change America. Stacton’s novel about how the roles we play become, for better or for worse, the lives we lead, takes us back to the day of the assassination, immersing us in the farrago of bombast that fills Wilkes’s head while following his footsteps up to the fatal encounter at Ford’s Theatre. The political maneuvering around Lincoln’s deathbed and Wilkes’s desperate flight and ignominious capture then set the stage for a political show trial that will condemn not only the guilty but the—at least relatively—innocent. For as Edwin Booth broods helplessly many years later, and as Lincoln, whose tragic death and wisdom overshadow this tale, also knew, “We are all accessories before or after some fact. . . . We are all guilty of being ourselves.”

Like Grass Before the Scythe

Arms and Equipment of the Civil War
















anything happened to Mr. Lincoln? He must not laugh this way. It was tempting fate. Her own face became serious. Whatever they did, they must not laugh. Seeing the change in her expression, Lincoln gave up. There was nothing to be done with Mother in one of her moods. He blinked and looked at the crowds instead. Those who looked at the barouche as it went by, saw only that Mrs. Lincoln was herself again. She might begin by smiling graciously, she was overweaningly timid, but it seldom took more

the story is seen as acting a part. The narration is at once observing the performances and looking out through the performers’ eyes at the intended audience—which is sometimes only the performer himself, or herself, the audience that needs to be convinced, from whom the real self must be hidden. The failed conspirator Atzerodt—whom the narration has already labeled a “miserable troll”— has funked, pawned his unused revolvers, and is on a five-day drunken spree, going by the name of Atwood. “That

simply in black he stood there, holding them by his oratory. He was so afraid his voice might give out. All I want, he would say, is a grave. A little little grave, an obscure grave. He had always been adept at pathos. But he remembered now. Those lines were from the wrong play. They are spoken by Richard II, before he is betrayed by the pretended clemency of Bolingbroke into giving himself up, not by Richard III. He opened his eyes. He was rational again. Relieved, Herold went off for a

Negro would have, creaking, and without springs. Herold was on the seat with the driver, Lucas’s son. Mile after agonizing mile, Booth had lain on his back, staring at the pendulous sky which sagged over him like the dingy sateen lining of a cheap coffin lid. Now, marvellously, a pale sun was out. It was a resurrection. After this death, he would come into his own again. Booth sat up. Port Conway was a small enough town. Beyond it lay the Rappahannock, sparkling sedately in the April light, with

the White House. When they came back, there was Johnson’s signature all right, on the reverse of the last page. As for the clemency plea, that could now be taken out and buried in the official files. The execution was scheduled for the 7th of July, between noon and two in the afternoon. As an added precaution, Stanton suggested that the Commission need not read the verdict to the accused until the afternoon of the 6th. There was a leak, somewhere, to the press. Damn the press. The Defence

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