Here’s a tale of intrigue, adultery, jealousy, duels, an illegitimate child, a supposed Spanish dancer who was mistress of a king, revenge and madness. No wonder Dickens wanted to know all about it as he writes in a letter from Paris in October, 1852 to his secretary at Household Words, Harry Wills:
‘I recollect Morton very well. Met him in Fleet Street, some twelve months ago. Have not seen a paper since Saturday, and want to know the details. I infer them from your general reference, and am quite amazed and shocked.’
What had shocked Dickens was the news that Savile Morton, a foreign correspondent for the Daily News, had been killed by Harold Elyott Bower at his house, 2 Rue de Seine, Paris. Bower had stabbed Morton because Bower’s wife had confessed in a delirious fever that Morton was the father of her recently-born youngest child.
On October 7th, Dickens writes again to Wills to say ‘I never heard of such a business altogether, as you unfold in the Morton case. When I met him in Fleet Street, he told me the whole story of the duel. I know the murderer, too.’
Morton was a well-connected Irish man and a known womaniser. Thackeray commented that he was always in ‘some feminine mischief’ and that he was ‘shocking about women. Directly I hear of his being fond of one I feel sorry for her. He lusts after her and leaves her.’ Morton fought a duel with Count Roger de Beauvoir, a French journalist, over the dancer and courtesan, Lola Montez, over whom another French Count had fought a duel in which his rival was killed. She was the mistress of King Ludwig of Bavaria – and he went mad. In 1851, Morton fought a duel in Paris with Forbes Campbell – another affair of the heart. Dugald Forbes Campbell was a literary man and adventurer by the sound of him who lived in Paris from time to time. His name appears in the insolvent debtors list in The London Gazette. Perhaps he spent all his money on Lola or some other lady.
Harold Elyott Bower had been a friend of Morton’s for twenty years since their time at Cambridge University. Bower was Paris correspondent for the Morning Post. After the murder, Bower fled to London, but returned to Paris to be tried before the Court of Assizes. He was acquitted on the grounds of the temporary insanity of ‘a jealous husband’.
Thackeray wrote of Morton that ‘I always thought and said he would come to a violent end.’ The writer, Edward Fitzgerald who called Morton ‘my wild Irishman’, pronounced his epitaph in a letter to a friend: ‘Didn’t he die in character?’
And M is for Emanuel Montero who appears in the pages of The Household Narrative of Current Events. I mention him only for the names of his victims, two sailors, Crimp and Crispin. Should I include a hairdresser in my next novel, I need look no further than Mr Crimp and his apprentice, Mr Crispin. I found a Mr Curll the other day – he might be useful, too.