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IN PRESENTING this English version of the condensed memoirs of Henry Sanson and his family, a few prefatory remarks from the Translator are necessary.

Several years have now passed since this work was issued in French in Paris. Its appearance excited far more curiosity than the records of an ordinary executiener could have commanded. In fact the author was a personage in his own way. He was the lineal descendant of a race of headsmen through whose hands every State victim, as well as every common criminal, had passed during two centuries. They had exercised their functions for nearly two hundred years. They had hung, beheaded, quartered, and tortured from father to son without interruption, and the social position of the first of the race, previous to the assumption of the executioner's office, had placed his descendants on a somewhat higher level than the men belonging to the bloody profession. It was thought by all, that the last of the Sansons could not but have interesting things to relate. It is for the readers of the present version to decide whether this idea was justified.

Howbeit, these memoirs are chiefly conspicuous for their historical interest. This alone would entitle them to a peculiar place. They certainly cannot be classed in the literature of horrors, and the Translator may be permitted to say that, had his opinion been different, he would not have put his pen at the service of such work. A certain amount of morbidness is obviously inseparable from a book of such a kind; but this, which the Translator has endeavoured to palliate, is redeemed by the constant link which unites the dark tales Sanson has to unfold with historical dramas.

The Translator has no sympathy for Sanson or his book, and he claims none for him. He may even say, without prejudicing these memoirs, that he credits neither the Executioner's emphatic and sentimental expressions of hatred for the principle he represents, nor the manifold virtues Sanson ascribes to his ancestors. He finds, as everybody must do, difficulty in believing that an individual need cut heads when he is compelled to do so neither by necessity nor by law, and Sanson's lamentations have left him unshaken in his belief.

But authenticity may justly be claimed for these memoirs. After proper research and inquiry, the Translator has no reason to doubt it. Sanson was not a profound scholar, but he knew enough to hold a pen

and note his impressions in the crude style in which the French version is indited. That the Executioner may have received assistance is possible, though the uncouthness of his work argues against the theory; that the authorship is genuine, at least in spirit, has been proved by Sanson himself, who on several occasions publicly contradicted reports that the memoirs published under his name were fictitious. Whatever opinions may be entertained of them, they are inspired, and in all probability written, by no other than the man who bore the historical name of Sanson.

It only remains for the Translator to state that wherever the ‘Recollections' seemed to him to wander from the special object they have in view, he has not scrupled to abridge them.


On March 18, 1847, I returned to my residence from one of the long walks of which I have always been fond. I had but just crossed the threshold when the porter gave me a letter.

I immediately recognised the large envelope and seal of which the sight had even sent a thrill through my frame. I took the ominous message with a trembling hand, and expecting that it contained one of those sinister orders I was bound to obey, I entered my house and went to my study, where I broke the fatal seal.


A strange and indefinable sentiment took possession of me. I raised my eyes to the portraits of my ancestors; I scanned all those dark, thoughtful faces, whereon was depicted the very despair which had hitherto haunted me. I looked at my grandfather, dressed in a shooting costume, leaning on his gun and stroking his dog-perhaps the only friend he had. I looked at my father,

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