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Narcissism, Fraudulence

Narcissism, Fraudulence

The phrase “confidence man,” or “con man,” was coined on the morning of July 8th, 1849, in the “Police Intelligence” section of the New York Herald. A short article there, entitled “Arrest of the Confidence Man,” detailed the apprehension of a crook named William Thompson, whose swindle involved approaching well-to-do individuals and engaging them in friendly conversation. After developing some rapport, Thompson would ask: “Have you confidence enough in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” As the Herald article has it, Thompson’s target, “at this novel request, supposing him to be some old acquaintance not at that moment recollected, allows him to take the watch, thus placing ‘confidence’ in the honesty of the stranger.”

Thompson was arrested by one of his former associates who saw him on the streets and summoned a police officer. Thompson was sentenced for larceny and fled Manhattan. He then returned to Albany and claimed the name Samuel Willis and resumed his confidence games. News of his exploits occasioned Herman Melville’s final novel, The Confidence Man, which takes place on April Fool’s Day, 1857. It is set on a Mississippi riverboat, called…

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