The Ladies’ Man with the Ghastly Face


Post-Mortem Sketch of John Williams
Post-Mortem Sketch of John Williams

Describing the appearance of the 19th century murderer John Williams, Thomas de Quincey wrote, “One fact, however, was striking, and fell in with the impression of his natural tiger character, that his face wore at all times a bloodless ghastly pallor. ‘You might imagine,’ said my informant, ‘that in his veins circulated not red life-blood, such as could kindle into the blush of shame, of wrath, of pity– but a green sap that welled from no human heart.’ His eyes seemed frozen and glazed, as if their light were all converged upon some victim lurking in the far background. So far his appearance might have repelled; but, on the other hand, the concurrent testimony of many witnesses, and also the silent testimony of facts, showed that the oiliness and snaky insinuation of his demeanor counteracted the repulsiveness of his ghastly face, and amongst inexperienced young women won for him a very favorable reception.”

The Notebook of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey

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