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Eugene Aram

Eugene Aram

Aram, Eugene, 1704-59, English philologist, b. Yorkshire. A self-taught linguist, Aram was the first to identify the Celtic languages as related to the other languages of Europe. In 1758, while at work on an Anglo-Celtic lexicon, he was arrested and later hanged for the murder—14 years earlier—of his friend Daniel Clark. The story of his crime inspired Thomas Hood's poem The Dream of Eugene Aram, and Bulwer-Lytton's novel Eugene Aram.
Eugene Aram (1704 - August 6, 1759), English philologist, but also infamous as the murderer celebrated by Hood in his ballad, The Dream of Eugene Aram, and by Bulwer Lytton in his romance of Eugene Aram, was born of humble parents at Ramsgill, Yorkshire.

He received little education at school, but manifested an intense desire for learning. While still young, he married and settled as a schoolmaster at Netherdale, and during the years he spent there, he taught himself both Latin and Greek.

In 1734 he removed to Knaresborough, where he remained as schoolmaster till 1745. In that year a man named Daniel Clark, an intimate friend of Aram, after obtaining a considerable quantity of goods from some of the tradesmen in the town, suddenly disappeared. Suspicions of being concerned in this swindling transaction fell upon Aram. His garden was searched, and some of the goods found there. As, however, there was not evidence sufficient to convict him of any crime, he was discharged, and soon after set out for London, leaving his wife behind.

For several years he travelled through parts of England, acting as usher in a number of schools, and settled eventually at the Grammar School at King's Lynn, in Norfolk. During his travels he had amassed considerable materials for a work he had projected on etymology, entitled A Comparative Lexicon of the English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and Celtic Languages. He was undoubtedly an original philologist, who realized, what was then not yet admitted by scholars, the affinity of the Celtic language to the other languages in Europe, and could dispute the then accepted belief that Latin was derived from Greek.

Aram's writings show that he had grasped the right idea on the subject of the Indo-European character of the Celtic language, which was not established until JC Prichard published his book, Eastern Origin of the Celtic Traditions, in 1831. But he was not destined to live in history as a pioneer of a new philology. In February 1758 a skeleton was dug up at Knaresborough, and some suspicion arose that it might be Clark's. Aram's wife had more than once hinted that her husband and a man named Houseman knew the secret of Clark's disappearance.

Houseman was at once arrested and confronted with the bones that had been found. He affirmed his innocence, and, taking up one of the bones, said, "This is no more Dan Clark's bone than it is mine." His manner in saying this roused suspicion that he knew more of Clark's disappearance contested that he had been present at the murder of Clark by him and another man, Terry, of whom nothing further is heard. He also gave information as to the place where the body had been buried in St Roberts Cave, a well-known spot near Knaresborough. A skeleton was dug up here, and Aram was immediately arrested, and sent to York for trial. Houseman was admitted as evidence against him.

Aram conducted his own defense, and did not attempt to overthrow Houseman's evidence, though there were some discrepancies in that; but made a skillful attack on the fallibility of circumstantial evidence in general, and particularly of evidence drawn from the discovery bones. He brought forward several instances where bones had been found in caves, and tried to show that the bones found at St Robert's Cave were probably those of some hermit who had taken up his abode there.

He was found guilty, and condemned to be executed on the August 6 1759, three days after his trial. While in his cell he confessed his guilt, and threw new light on the motives for his crime, by asserting that he had uncovered a criminal intimacy between Clark and his own wife. On the night before his execution he made an unsuccessful attempt at suicide by opening the veins in his arm.

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