Popular Science Monthly/Volume 55/June 1899/A Study of Luigi Luccheni (Assassin of the Empress of Austria)


THERE is not an enlightened person in the world who does not deplore the anarchist crime committed last summer by Luccheni in Geneva upon the unfortunate Empress of Austria. With grief is associated the duty of inquiring what could have been the origin of a misdeed which besides being cruel had the vice of being absurd, falling as it did upon a poor woman near the tomb, who was ready to welcome death, and who had no political influence, by an assassin who had not suffered any offense from her or from her government, and who further had the impudence to boast of his crime as if it had been a heroic act. We begin our inquiry by seeking for an explanation of the act by means of a study of the person of the murderer in conformity with the rules of the anthropological school.

Luigi Luccheni is the illegitimate son of a Parmesan servant now living in America, and her master, who lived in the Parmesan territory, a priest, unbalanced and intemperate, who sent her when she was pregnant to Paris to be confined. There she abandoned her newborn babe to a foundling asylum. The child was sent thence to his native country and placed, PSM V55 D212 Luigi Luccheni.pngFig. 1.—Luigi Luccheni. till he was nine years old, with a Parmesan family named Monici, of whom the father was a shoemaker, very poor and intemperate, and the mother immoral.

After he was nine years old he was put with a family named Nicasi, good people, but very poor—peasants, or rather mendicants, so that he too became a mendicant, wandering with his comrades through the streets and pilfering till he was thirteen years old. It appears from what Dr. Guerini, of Parma, writes me that during this time he had epileptic fits. When twelve years old he went to school, where he appeared bright but impulsive, and on one occasion in his anger destroyed the portrait of the king.

From the age of fourteen to that of nineteen he was a servant, and had two masters, and wandered in Liguria, Switzerland, and Austria, where he was arrested, sent back to his country, and prohibited from showing himself in the east. He then entered the military service, where he conducted himself very well, incurring only light punishments for assaulting a comrade and for helping a sergeant get out of the barracks at night. He was so liked by his superiors and comrades that when, three years afterward, in 1897, he left the army. Captain the Prince do Vera engaged him as his servant. In this service he exhibited great affection for children, and, what is strange, he was so good a monarchist that he was scandalized that at the commemoration of the deceased Cavolotti, in Naples, the orator was permitted to praise him as a political man without interruption from the delegate.

One day, irritated because he had been denied some permission, he abruptly took his leave, declaring that he was not born to be a servant, and returned to Switzerland to work as a marble polisher. But even from Switzerland he kept continually imploring his old employer to take him back, declaring in a letter which revealed symptoms of a persistent delirium that "he probably would not receive him again because he did not go to mass"; which indicates substantially that he had not that repugnance for the antianarchical life of a servant which he manifested previously and afterward.[1]

Whether all at once or not he became an extreme anarchist. He signed and composed anarchist hymns. Suspected by his comrades of not being zealous enough, and also perhaps of being a spy, he decided to strike a blow against some prince; he chose the empress as his victim possibly because he had suffered his first annoyance in Austria. He, who had never killed a fly, had a rude instrument prepared—a file; practiced for a considerable time, perhaps a month, at striking with it, and having committed the crime, tried to escape. When stopped by two citizens he did not resist, and behaved in a very different way from common criminals, therein exhibiting a tinge of insanity. He, for example, although he knew French very well, denied it and demanded an interpreter in the interrogations. He sang and laughed continually, and was glad that he had dealt his victim a good blow, and that he had struck deep with the instrument, boasting that he had used a file instead of a dagger. He was, besides, solicitous of publicity, declaring to the reporters and the judges that he had done the deed all alone, that he had left his captain to accomplish his idea, that he had been an anarchist for thirteen years, etc. In two ungrammatical and very long letters to the journal Bon Marzio, in N'aples, chosen evidently because he had seen it at his master's, he declared that he was not a criminal born, as Lombroso would have it, nor a madman, and that he had not been incited by misery but by conviction, because, if all would do as he had done, middle-class society would soon disappear. He knew that this single assassination would be of no avail, but he had, nevertheless, committed it for an example.

He wrote to the President of the Swiss Confederation that he would rather be tried at Lucerne, because the death penalty was in force there, and repeated the statement to the judges; he wrote to his master that he was more worthy of him than ever; he replied to the reporters and the judges who reproached him with having killed a helpless woman, that as for that, if she had been a child, but a prince, he would have killed her all the same. At another time he said, in a wild way: "I killed her because she did not work; whoever does not work should not eat, and I was not going to work for her"—a reason which would be as good for the slaughter of several million persons.

Curious and important is the remark of Luccheni that "Crispi would not have killed her because he was a thief"; an evident proof of the complete lack of moral sense in anarchists,[2] who like primitive men confound the crime with the deed, and regard criminality as a sort of merit, a seal of fraternity; which demonstrates that the anarchistic practice, if not its theory, is an equivalence of crimes.

When asked if he had never committed blood-crimes, he replied that he had never had anything to do with courts, not even as a witness—which was found to be true—but "I entertained the idea this time, and acted upon it."

Luccheni is a man of medium stature, about 1.63 metre, with very thick, light chestnut hair, stout, with dark-gray, half-closed eyes, roundish ears, heavy eyebrows, voluminous cheek bones and jaw prognatic, low forehead, very brachycephalic (cephalic index 88). He has, therefore, a number of characteristics of degeneration common to epileptics and insane criminals. On the other hand, his handwriting, with its minute characters, especially in the writing of past years, indicates a mild feminine disposition, with little energy of character.

PSM V55 D214 Extract of letter from Luccheni.png
Fig. 2.—Extract from a Letter by Luccheni.

This is especially seen in an autograph of 1896, which was procured for me by Dr. Guerini, who got it from his patient (see Fig. 2). This characteristic, which was extremely conspicuous in Caserio when he was near his crime, was also apparent in the assailant of General Rocha. I have likewise observed it to be very conspicuous in epileptics and hysterical persons; and it corresponds, according as they are in their psychical spasm or out of it, with a real double personality provoked by their disease. In one, as I have shown in L'Uomo Delinquente, they write signatures that cover a whole page in their larger diameter, while the signature in the normal state is often smaller than the average (see Fig. 3).

The same double personality that is apparent in the writing is attested in the psychology. We have seen that Luccheni was kind to children, that he was a good servant, characteristics quite opposed to the anarchistic nature, and a genial companion; a man who in Africa was enthusiastically fond of military life; who, a little while before, when he was in the service of the captain, had expressed extreme monarchical sentiments; and finally, when he had become an anarchist, again asked his master to be restored to his service. This double personality is another of the essential characteristics of hysteria and epilepsy.

I have recently studied an epileptoid degenerate who has a sound mind, and, at least in his normal state, is quiet and gentle. But as soon as he has taken hardly more than ninety grammes of alcohol (96° proof) he becomes a wild anarchist, with fierce impulses and hallucinations, of which he has no recollection two hours afterward, or even charges them to his comrades. In this case a double personality is revealed, the demonstration of which is completed by alterations of the visual field and of the touch.

We have, then, in Luccheni a degenerate and probably epileptic person descended from an alcoholic father. Although he affirms that he is not insane or a criminal born, he is a little of both, for he is epileptic and hysterical, so that his denial is already a beginning of a proof of disease. Luccheni also confirms what I have tried to demonstrate in my Delitto politico—that the most frequent organic cause of similar morbid impulses of a political character is hystero-epilepsy; for not only do the declarations of some of his countrymen point to epilepsy, and the characteristics of degeneration in the skull confirm it, but his inheritance from an alcoholic father and that impulsiveness and that double personality, which make him pass from the gentlest of men to the crudest, and which is reflected in the macrography alternating with the micrography of the intervals between the spasms, are accumulative evidence of it.

I have demonstrated the hysterical and epileptic basis in the anarchists and regicides Felicot, Monges, and Caserio, and particularly in a vagabond anarchist, full of cranial anomalies, who told me, when I questioned him concerning political reforms, "Do not speak to me of them, for as soon as I begin to think about them I am taken with a vertigo and fall down"; so that it seems to me possible to establish a psycho-epileptic equivalent in extreme political innovators, an equivalent which is further manifest in their vanity, rising sometimes to megalomania, in their intermittent geniality, and especially in their great impulsiveness. There was also latent in Luccheni an indirect disposition to suicide, which I have found in other political criminals, like Oliva, Nobiling, and Passananti,[3] who, having conceived a dislike for the king, made an attempt on his life; and especially in Henry, who rejected the defense of his advocate and his mother based on the insanity of his father, remarking that it was the advocate's business to defend, his to die; and in that Roumanian who was photographed in a portrait that I have reproduced, in the act of committing suicide.[4] Luccheni, too, believed he would be condemned to death, and was much disappointed when he learned that there was no such penalty in the canton where he committed the crime.

It may have been morbid vanity that prompted the exclamation he was heard to make, "I wanted to kill some great person, so as to get my name in the papers" (Gautier).

But while an organic, individual cause was good for a third in Luccheni's crime, he was much more influenced by the atmosphere in which he lived. An illegitimate child, left in one of those nurseries which are real nests of crime and graver disorders, then consigned to a very poor and not always moral family of mendicant habits, having learned nothing except to beg and wander, he found such modes of subsistence as he could (notice the uncertainty and plurality of his occupations, indicating lack of assiduity—servant, soldier, marble polisher, and in the beginning peasant); he found, we might say, as the most constant condition the infelicity which radiated around him from every quarter, and, reflecting the worst, urged him to this way of suicide. We should recollect, too, what Frattini said: "Was it hunger brought me to this?" and the anarchist whom Hamon speaks of: "When I began to question the unfortunates of the hospital, it had a frightful effect on me; I comprehended the need of solidarity and became an anarchist"; and as another one said to the same Hamon: "I became an anarchist when I saw my comrades begging for work with their faces bathed in tears, and was indignant over it." Caserio wept when he thought of the lot of his Lombard companions in misery. These criminals by passion, by altruism, are, as Burdeau wrote, veritable philanthropic assassins. They kill recklessly for the love of men.

Epilepsy and hysteria in Luccheni are explained by his abrupt passage from one condition to the other, and by the conversion of factional passion in him into a criminal act. But there are epileptics and criminals everywhere; yet persons thus disordered in Norway and Sweden are not transformed into anarchists; nor in Switzerland
PSM V55 D217 Macro and micrographic writing by the same epileptic.png
Fig. 8.—Macrographic and Micrographic Writing by the same Epileptic.

and England, whither people resort from all parts of the world, and where, when anarchy shows itself, it is like a meteor falling to the earth from the extra-planetary regions—wholly isolated and opposed to the world around it.

The most important cause of this transformation is the misery that weighs upon our unfortunate country, evidence of which comes in from every side even upon those who are not miserable themselves. If even in the latest days Luccheni had been living comfortably, he could not, with the excessively morbid altruism that dominated him, have failed to feel this misery, which is so profound and general in Italy.

Not much erudition is required to demonstrate the immense economical embarrassment of Italy as contrasted with other countries when it is known that we pay about five hundred times its value for salt, that bread is growing dearer every day, and that the amount consumed diminishes one tenth every year in these lands.

It was, therefore, with justice that Scarfoglio said in explaining the origin of anarchism, "A good fifth of the population of Italy are still living in a savage state, dwelling in cabins that the Papuans would not live in, accommodating themselves to a food which the Shillooks would refuse, having a vision and an idea of the world not much more ample than that of the Kaffirs, and running over the land desiring and seeking servitude."

It may be added that it is because of this condition—that is, of the defective civilization that results from it—that there is everywhere a weakened revulsion and diminished horror at blood-crimes, so that there are now sixty homicides for every one hundred thousand inhabitants.

We may learn from this what the true remedies should be. The idea of conquering anarchy by killing anarchists is not valid, because every epileptic has another ready to take his place, because anarchistic crimes are to a great extent simply indirect suicides, and because anarchists think as little of their own lives as of the life of another. It is rather necessary to change the direction of the disease by changing the miserable conditions in which it originates.

Not for humanity, therefore, not for exalted social theories, but in our direct interest, we ought to make a complete change. The suppression of a dozen anarchists is like killing a thousand microbes without disinfecting the surroundings that contain milliards of them; it is that we should look, if we want to be better, to breaking up the large estates, and ameliorating the conditions of agriculture and operative industry, and this in the interest of the governing classes.

Typhus, cholera, and plague, it is true, attack chiefly the poor, but from these the contagion extends also to the rich; and from the unhealthy habitations in which the rich man permits beggars to crowd and suffer, the miasm, as if in revenge, is propagated to marble palaces.

That imbecile idea of some European nations, who, instead of disinfecting the medium, find it better to put down the doctors who propose remedies, can not make itself at home except among peoples who are destined to perish.[5]Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Archives di Psichiatria.

  1. It appears that he afterward made the strange request for an anarchist to be appointed guard of the prison, and was irritated when it was denied. (See A. Gautier, Le procès Luccheni. Vienna, 1899.)
  2. See my Delitto politico, Part III, and Gli Anarcici, second edition.
  3. See my Delitto politico, 1890.
  4. Ibid.
  5. To the charges made against me by M. Gautier (Le procès Luccheni, 1899) of having formulated a diagnosis without seeing the patient, which was therefore inexact, and of having described characteristics of degeneration which did not exist, I answer with the pages of Forel, certainly the most eminent alienist of our time, who had him under his eyes during the whole process, and whose diagnosis differs but little from mine.