THE door closed heavily, a key turned, a bolt was drawn, and I stood alone, and dumb with astonishment, at the foot of a narrow, spiral, stone staircase. It was the third door which had been locked behind me since I penetrated into the inner court of the prison Things were beginning to look suspicious. I here was nothing to do, however, but mount.
Half way up the dim winding path, I stopped in dismay; somebody was coming down. At that instant there appeared at the turn above me a villainous face, shaded by an unkempt shock of hair. The owner passed me silently, evidently astonished as I was trembling. There were others behind him--fourteen of them--all of varying degrees of suspiciousness and unpleasantness all equally silent. Their discretion will be explained in a moment. At their heels were a couple of police officers.
I continued to climb, bent half double by the length and steepness of the stairs, when a peremptory "Madame!" brought me into an erect position. A guard was barring my way. We regarded each other aggressively for a moment. Then I began to realize that the explanations belonged to my side, and I stammered: "Monsieur Bertillon ?" The name had power in it evidently, for the guard saluted me profoundly, called a porter, and I was whisked through one room which seemed peopled by police, and through another filled with half-clad men of the type I had seen on the stairway, and was put down before a superior who regarded me wonderingly, and asked me what I wanted.
"To see M. Bertillon and secure information on your system of identification and anthropometry," I explained.
The man smiled genially.
"We ask nothing better than that people should study our system," said he, " but we do not bring them up by the criminal staircase for the purpose. There is an honest man's entrance on the other side. Take a seat in M. Bertillon's office, and I will call him."
The humiliation of my entrance faded quickly, once I was in the narrow little office. Here the ungracious, hangdog look of the courts, passages, and staircasesI had traversed, disappeared. There was a peculiar individuality about the place--the look which a room takes when the utensils of one's trade are scattered about it. They were odd enough--these utensils of M. Bertillon's trade--maps of France dotted with bewildering figures and marks; rows of photographs of criminals, some of them better looking than the most upright man; a chromatic chart of the hair of the head: huge cases of notes; queer measuring-appliances; 'pictures from the Russian prison service, two volumes bearing the titles, " Anthropology," "Ethnology," "Criminology," ," and the names of Lubbock, Galton, Lombroso. It was a bright little room, in spite of its serious contents; for in the corner stood a tall green palm, and through the high window, whose sill was on a level with the chimney-pots and roofs of the mammoth pile formed by the Conciergerie and the Palais de Justice of Paris, one looked out on the dainty gold and black spire of that marvellous reliquary of Saint Louis, the Sainte Chapelle.
My observations were ended by the entrance of a tall man of slightly haughty bearing. He had a grave face, of long regular lines; a dark, almost melancholy eye, with the slight contraction of the lids peculiar to serious students, and a nervous trick of knitting his brow. This was M. Bertillon, the originator of the modern system of anthropometric identification; the man who has so mastered the peculiarities of the human anatomy and so classified and organized his is observations, that the prisoner who passes through his hands is subjected to measurements and descriptions that leave him forever "spotted." He may efface his tattoing, compress his chest, dye his hair, extract his teeth, scar his body, disimulate his height. It is useless.' The record against him is unfailing. He cannot pass the Bertillon archives without recognition; and, if he is at large, the relentless record may be made to follow him into every corner of the globe where there is a printing press, and every man who reads may become a detective furnished with information which will establish his identity. He is never again safe.
How this infallible Nemesis, this mathematically exact identifying machine, is constructed, was what I had come to learn.
"The System. is a little more complicated than the Chinese method of taking an impression of the lines which characterize the epidermis of the thumb," said M. Bertillon; "but you shall have an object lesson which will show you exactly how we work."
A few minutes later I was back in one of the rooms through which I had passed in entering, ready for my "lesson," By the courtesy, of M. Bertillon it was to be a private seance, and the place had been cleared of its doubtful looking characters, only the clerks remaining at their desks.
"Call the prisoner," said my guide, M. David of the service, and immediately the guard brought in a short, rather stout man, clad only in undershirt and trousers. His feet were bare. His face was not at all disagreeable, and his eyes were bright and dark. He seemed to be perfectly indifferent to what awaited him, and gave his name and country without hesitation
"He has been arrested for stealing rabbits at Robinson," said my guide. "Our business is to find out if he has ever been up before. We'll make the observations together, and you may, record them on this card," handing me a piece of card-board with many peculiar divisions and sub- divisions marked on it.
"Observations Anthropometriques," was the introductory heading, and ''height" the first division. The prisoner was directed to place himself against a high measuring board, bearing at the side a scale. A flat board was placed across the top of his head, and the height it marked noted.
"Five hundred and fifty-eight," said my guide. As I made my entry, a clerk in a high desk at the side repeated the number and wrote it in the book before him. " Of course," said M. David, " it is understood that it is one metre, 55.8 centimetres" (five feet' 1.34 inches).
Without changing his position, the arms of the prisoner were stretched at full length, and the third measure taken--one metre, fifty-nine centimetres (five feet, 2.6 inches). The second measure, the curvature of the spine, is rarely taken. The fourth, height of the trunk, followed--eighty three centimetres (two feet, 8,68 inches).
The next step was a little more complicated. The subject was ordered to sit down, and a jointed compass, furnished with a semi-circular scale divided into millimeters, was applied to his head, one foot being braced against the root of the nose, and the othermoved over back of the skull, in search of the point of greatest depth. When it was supposed to have been reached,the compass was set and again applied,to see if the foot could be moved freely all over the back of the head, touching without hurting, and without coming to a point which it could not pass. If such a point is reached, evidently there is a greater depth than the one before registered, and the instrument must be readjusted. After three trials the greatest depth was found, and 19.2 centimetres (7.56 inches) read out. In the same way the width was taken, 1. 7.3 (6.8' inches), and then followed measurements of the ear.
"These measurements of the head," said my guide, "are of extreme importance, because so sure. A tricky subject may expand his chest or shrink his stature, but he cannot add to or subtract from the length and breadth of the skull. And now for the foot."
The prisoner was told to step upon a stool, and throw back the right leg in such a way that the entire weigh should come upon the left foot. The measuring of the foot was followed by that of the left middle and little fingers and of the left forearm. "All good measures," observed my conductor; "for the rule rests against the bones, and no dissimulation possible on the part of the subject, and the chance for error on the part of the operator is little. And now for the eyes."
The man was placed in a strong, full light, and told to regard the operator in the face. The latter then raised the left eyelid slightly, and seemed to be making mental notes of what he saw
"But the eye changes," I objected. " That man's eye ought to be darker now, under the excitement of this examination."
"False notion, that of the eye changing so much," said my guide. "It is the ground of the iris which is affected chiefly by the light; and we do not base our classification on that. Here are the notes."
"Class 3-4: aureole, radiant, of medium chestnut; periphery, of medium greenish yellow; two circles equal."
" But where do you get all that information?" I queried. The gist of the answer I recieved was as follows:
The color of the eye is the result of the fusion of two elements, the shade of the ground of the iris and that of the aureole which surrounds the pupil. The usual method of classifying eyes in the past has been to regard them at a distance of three or four feet, and to marl; the result of the fusion of the two elements. Eyes thus studied are classified as blue, brown green, and gray, or as dark, medium, light. But there is little precision in this method. M. Bertillon resolved to study the eye close ahand, and to analyze each of the elements He found that the ground of the iris is rarely decided in shade, varying from a sky blue to a slate blue, and changing according to the intensity of the light and is, therefore, of little service in an exact description. The pigment of the aureole around the pupil is, however, more pronounced in color, and less variable in the light, and therefore better capable of serving as a basis of classification. By means of it the eye can be separated into seven sufficiently distinct classes. (I. Pale, or without pigment; that is, an eye in which the aureole, is absent or very insignificant, and in which the iris is marked by whitish striae. (2). Yellow aureole. (3). Orange aureole. (4). Chestnut aureole; (5). Maroon aureole in a circle or disk around the pupil. (6). Maroon aureole covering the iris irregularly. (7). Maroon aureole covering the entire iris. Each of these divisions may be further divided into light, medium, dark, according to the shade. The sub-divisions approach closely sometimes; thus an eye may appear to one person as a dark orange, which to another will seem light chestnut."
When there is a doubt, the two classes are marked: thus, in the case of our rabbit man, the class was three or four. After the class is decided, the arrangement of the aureole is noted. Is it a solid, definite circle ? Does it send off short rays ? Do the rays: touch the periphery? Do they cover the iris? Is it mottled by a different shade? All the mosaics, the festoons, the lace-like drapings of the aureole are noted. In the same way the color and the arrangement of the periphery of the iris are described. If there are striking peculiarities, they are added to the list.
"There are still two classes of points to be taken," said M. David, " the descriptions and the special marks and scars; but we have now all that is essential. You may go," to the prisoner.
"Our search," continued my guide, "is to be among the ninety thousand men who have passed through the office in the last ten years, the women and the boys being classified seperately. The principle of the classification is simple. Each one of the measures we havetaken is small, medium, or large. Thus, the stature of every man, the length of the foot, the length of the head, and of the finger is small, medium or large. But these terms are of no used in a scientific classification, unless the limits can be fixed by figures. By experimenting, M. Bertillon has been able to fix mathematical limits for the different classes of each measure, and so to fix them that the numbers in the divisions are approximately equal. Naturally, this result is reached only by restricting the medium to: much narrower boundaries than the small or large class. For example take the height. Under "small" we include everything from the dwarf, or alpha, as the lowest figure in each measure is called, up to one metre eighty- four centimetres (six feet' .4 inch inches ;the medium includes only those from one metre eighty-five centimetres (six feet, .8 inches) to one metre ninety centimetres (six feet, 2.8 inches); and the large from one metre ninetey-one centimetres (six feet, 3.2 inches) to the giant, or 'omega' as the greatest height is called. Our ninety thousand records, divided according to thesese limits, give us three classes of about thirty thousand each. You see the result. If you can show that a man has a stature of less than one metre, eighty-five centimetres, you know that he belongs to the ''small'' class in our archives, and you have erased sixty thousand records to begin with. It is simply a process of elimination? similar to that in use in the zoological and botanical sciences.
"But begin, and you will ill see how it works--but do not take the 'height,' which is marked first on your card. The order there is simply that which we have found to be the most convenient for making the measurements. To classify, we select the measures which are the surest; that is, those which do not vary with age: which the individual cannot charge; which are the most valuable from one person to another, and which the operators make the fewest errors in taking. experience has taught us that these are: (1) The length of the head; (2) the breadth of the head; (3) the middle finger; (4) the foot; (5) the fore-arm. But begin.
Several huge cases checkered with little boxes on whose ends were written a bewildering and intricate series of figures of "alphas" and "omegas," loomed before me. " Small " heads include everything from alpha to one hundred and eighty-four millimeters (7.24 inches), I had been told; "medium," those from one hundred and eighty-five (7.28 inches) to one hundred and ninety (7.48 inches); and " large," those from one hundred and ninety-one (7.52 inches) to omega. The card read one hundred and ninety-two millimeters (7.56 inches). Evidently it was a big-headed man who had stolen the rabbits. So I scanned the cases to find the portion, where the placards on the box-ends read "one hundred and ninety-one to omega." It was the work of a moment. "Right," said my guide. " Now you have only to deal with thirty thousand individuals. What is the width of the head?" "One hundred and seventy-three millimeters (6.81 inches)," I answered," and that means that he belongs in this third." I had wiped out twenty thousand more, and my list was reduced to ten thousand By locating the division of the middle finger my ten thousand was reduced to three thousand three hundred. By placing the foot, I subdivided the three thousand three hundred into three classes of one thousand one hundred each. By means of the forearm the one thousand one hundred was made about four hundred The height was taken as a sixth measure, the little finger as a seventh, and the ninety thousand was reduced to about sixty, which were divided into seven classes, according to the color of the eye. The card read 3-4. I watched my guide as he picked up class three, of less than a dozen slips. He ran over the cards, each of which bore the measurements, descriptions , and marks of the individual in the shorthand of the office, and in the center two photographs one, full-face the other clear profile. The first three could not have been the rabbit man, but the fourth I uttered an unprofessional " Oh ! " as my eyes fell upon it. My conductor laid it out with scientific reserve. "It is worth looking at," he said. In the middle of the fourth package I exclaimed a second time. Certainly here again was our subject.
"The point now is to see if the measurement either or both of these cards compare with those we have taken. What is the height ?"
"Five hundred and fifty-eight."
"I have five hundred and fifty-seven, but a variance of a millimeter is nothing. Outstretched arms?"
"Mine is 58. 5; near enough. "Trunk?" " Eighty three."
"I have 83.4. That might be."
"But you said the measures must be exact ?"
"Approximately exact. A certain variance is allowed for each measurement. Measure the same individual ten times in succession, and without fail you will have ten different sets of measures. It is almost impossible in two attempts to get the same figures in millimetres for the height, the bust, and the width of the ear. We have a scale beyond which the differences must not go either way, for the question is to know how great the differences may really be. An absolute similitude of figures, far from proving an identity, would disprove it. But go on."
And we did, and all of our figures were within the limits of variation allowed by the bureau, and the eyes were marked 3-4.
"Call the prisoner," ordered the guide "and we will see if the descriptions and marks on the card can be verified on his body."
The prisoner, being ordered to do so, rolled up the sleeve an his left arm.
"Mole, ten centimetres (3.94 inches) above the inside bend of the left arm, read M. David, applying a rule. There it was.
"Same arm. Mole on under surface thirteen centimetres (5.12 inches) above wrist." It was there.
"Same arm. Rectangular scar, one centimetre (.39 inch) in length, running obliquely from the outside of the under surface, nine centimetres (3.54 inches) above the wrist." There was no mistaking it.
"Left hand, rectilinear scar, one centimetre in length, on the outer face of the second phalanx of the third finger, running obliquely from the outer side of the finger." It was monotonously correct.
"Let us look at the face." Two bold scars stared at us from the forehead. An exact description of their size, length, and location was read from the card. The plea of non-identity, after all these tell-tale verifications, would certainly be flimsy.
"Come, come," said my guide, " you have been muré, and you gave your birthplace as Berlin. You were arrested for stealing that that, too. Own up, and save us further trouble."
The prisoner shook his head solemnly, " Shamais, shamais,, suis-she venu" ("Never, never, have I been here,") he said.
"At least?'' laughed M. David, "you told the truth when you said you were a German. There is no mistaking that accent. But, if you wish, we will examine the 'Descriptions ;'" and thereupon the forehead, the ear, and the nose of the man were compared with the data on the card. The system of classifying these features is one of the nicest parts of the system. The reproach which can be made to the ordinary description of the features is that it lacks precision. Ears are "big" or "little," "shell like " or "thick," they " stand out" or "set close ;" they are pierced or not: terms which are sufficient, perhaps, for popular expression; but sadly lacking for the scientist.
"A round chin, an oval face, gray eyes," says M. Ed. de Ryckere, "have never led to the recognition of any criminal save in the domain of romance."
To be exact, is M. Bertillon's first care. Take the ear. Its size is first considered and described, as small, medium, or large. As for the form, he considers each prominent anatomical part, and gives it fitting terms, the tripartite division being always followed: thus, the outer border is open, medium, or adherent; the exterior contour of the lobe is squared, medium, gulf-like; the profile of the antiragus is rectilineal, medium, indented; the degree of adherence of the lobe to the cheek is complete, medium, separate. In the same way is described the form of the lobe, the prominence of the antiragus and its inclination. No organ is superior to the ear to establish the identity of an individual, for the form is practically unchanging through life, and the ears of two individuals are ever alike
'The forehead is described according to its inclination, height, and breadth. Thus we have the receding, medium, and vertical inclinations: the low, medium, and great in height; the narrow, medium, and broad in width; and, naturally, all sorts of combinations result. As for the nose, its size is first considered: short, medium, large; then its form. Under the latter point are taken into consideration the bridge, concave, rectilinear, convex; and, when sinuous, concave-sinuous, rectilinear sinuous, convex-sinuous; and the base, elevated, horizontal, horizontal, descending.
By means of the descriptive notes on the card, and the profile and full face photographs; the comparison of these various features is quickly made. Thus, in the case of the rabbit-man, it took but an instant to show that his nose was that of the photograph, large, rectilinear -sinuous, horizontal; that his forehead was medium, high, and broad.
"Come up-stairs and see the photograph gallery," said my guide, " and talk with M. Bertillon."
We mounted the staircase into the mansard, and there, in a low gallery, found the famous anthropologist posing for a sculpture.
"To finish up," he said, " you have an object lesson in photography, for every subject who passes our office--and there are about one hundred a day--has his picture taken. Pose yourself in order to see just what is done."
I posed. The system of photography in use is peculiar to the service, and is the result of its experiments. It is free from all conventional operations, for the photograph is made simply to be recognized. The poses chosen are: A perfect profile, since that gives a sort of anatomical cut of the face; then a full face view, since there one has the habitual expression and the pose of the head. The picture is never retouched, since scars, moles, and spots are such infallible means of identification. Absolute uniformity is sought in the size, form, and style of the different photographs. In order that the distance may be invariable, the chair and camera are screwed to the floor, and there is a perfect system of adjustment. The light is thrown into the face. The result is hard on the subject. One does not care to display his judicial photograph, but for the purpose they are admirably, brutally exact.
With the photograph, the object lesson was done. M. Bertillon then talked of the results of the system as tested in Paris, and its extension in foreign lands. Since the service was organized in Paris ten years ago, upwards of five thousand old offenders have been recognized by means of it. In 1883 the number was forty-nine, in 1892 it had risen to six hundred and eighty. Of course there is a considerable economy in the prompt recognition of a former delinquent, for when an individual attempts to conceal his identity he is detained as a caution on an average of one hundred days, at an expense of about one franc a day. Five thousand persons identified promptly means therefore a saving of about five hundred thousand francs.
But there are still more practical results: the malefactors of a country where the system has been adopted are the first to realize the impossibility of escaping its records. Naturally they seek new territory. Thus the pickpockets of Paris have been materially decreased since anthropometry began its reign at the Palais de Justice. From sixty-five in 1885, their number fell to fourteen in 1890. This exodus of old offenders from France was sensibly felt in the police courts of the neighboring countries, especially in Belgium; and when the latter country adopted the Bertillon system, Switzerland at once followed. She saw that, otherwise, she was going to receive all the incorrigibles and vagabonds of both countries. The professor of penal law at the university of Berne said, in 1890:
"There is no more powerful motive for not committing a crime than the assurance that it will be followed by punishment."
So powerful is the method considered by penal authorities, that there has been a repeated demand that I be made international in all civilized countries.
But your archives, M. Bertillon?" I asked. "Are you not going to use your observations for purely scientific deductions, for anthropological conclusions, as, for instance, to establish a criminal type?"
"Undoubtedly," he responded, "the statistics of the service will be used more and more for ethnographical and anthropological statistics. I have already done something with them. Here is a chart showing the color of the eyes in the different parts of France, from the maroon of the Spanish border to the blue of the Channel; and there is another, giving the relative length and breadth of the head. As for the criminal type, that is a delicate question."
"Then you have never sought to confirm the doctrine of Lombroso's school, that certain anatomical characteristics indicate the criminal?"
"No; I do not feel convinced that it is the lack of symmetry in the visage, or the size of the orbit, or the shape of the jaw, which make a man an evil-doer. A certain characteristic may incapacitate him for fulfilling his duties, thus thrusting him down in the struggle for life, and he becomes a criminal because he is down. Lombroso, for example, might say that, since there is a spot on the eye of the majority of criminals, therefore the spot on the eye indicates a tendency to crime; not at all. The spot is a sign of defective vision, and the man who does not see well is a poorer workman than he who has a strong, keen eyesight He falls behind in his trade, loses heart, takes to bad ways, and turns up in the criminal ranks. It was not the spot on his eye which made him a criminal; it only prevented his having an equal chance with his comrades. The same thing is true of other so-called criminal signs. One needs to exercise great discretion in making anthropological deductions. Nevertheless, there is no doubt but that our archives have much to tell on all questions of criminal anthropology."