"MERRIE ENGLAND"—NO MORE!
THE last generation,—the generation succeeding that
in which the eloquent philanthropist and the sceptical gentleman lived and
conversed,—did it witness any verification of the serious prophecy uttered
in that winter evening's conversation in the streets of Leicester?
The following brief but truthful sketch will furnish an answer.
On an April morning in 'forty-two—now thirty-two years
bygone,—a group of five or six destitute-looking men were standing on a
well-known space in Leicester, where the frustrum of a Roman milestone
(surmounted, in true Gothic style, with a fantastic cross) was preserved
with an iron palisade, and where the long narrow avenue of Barkby Lane
enters the wide trading street called Belgrave Gate. The paleness
and dejection of the men's faces, as well as the ragged condition of their
clothing, would have told how fearfully they were struggling with poverty
and want, if their words had not been overheard.
"Never mind the lad, John," said the tallest and somewhat the
hardest-featured man of the party; "he can't be worse off than he would
have been at home, let him be where he will. What's the use of
grieving about him? He was tired of pining at home, no doubt, and
has gone to try if he can't mend his luck. You'll hear of him again,
soon, from some quarter or other."
"But I can't satisfy myself about him, in that way, George,"
replied the man to whom this rough exhortation was addressed; "if the
foolish lad be drawn into company that tempts him to steal, I may have to
hear him sentenced to transportation, and that would be no joke, George."
"I see nothing so very serious, even in that," observed
another of the group; " I would as lief [Ed.—"willingly"] be
transported tomorrow as stay here to starve, as I've done for the last six
"It would seem serious to me, though," rejoined John, "to see
my own child transported."
"Why, John, to men that scorn to steal, in spite of
starvation," resumed George, "it's painful to see any child, or man
either, transported: but where's the real disgrace of it? The man
that pronounces the sentence is,—very likely—a bigger villain than him
that's called 'the criminal.' Disgrace is only a name—a mere name,
you know, John."
"I'm aware there's a good deal o' truth in that," replied
John; "the names of things would be altered a good deal, if the world was
set right: but, as wrong as things are now, yet I hope my lad will never
steal, and have to be sentenced to transportation. I've often heard
him cry for bread, since he was born, and had none to give him; but I
would sooner see him perish with hunger than live to hear him transported,
for I think it would break my heart;—and God Almighty forbid I ever should
have to hear it!"
"Goddle Mitey!" said George, pronouncing the syllables in a
mocking manner, and setting up a bitter laugh, which was joined by every
member of the group, except the mournful man who had just spoken; "who
told thee there was One? Thy grandmother and the parsons.
Don't talk such nonsense any more, John! it's time we all gave it over:
they've managed to grind men to the dust with their priestcraft, and we
shall never be righted till we throw it off!"
"No, no," chimed in another, immediately; "they may cant and
prate about it: but, if their God existed, He would never permit us to
suffer as we do!"
"Well, I'm come seriously to the same conclusion," said one
who had not spoken before, and was the palest and thinnest of the group:
"I think all their talk about a Providence that disposes the lot of men
differently here, 'for His great mysterious purpose,' as they phrase it,
is mere mysterious humbug, to keep us quiet. What purpose could a
Being have, who, they say, is as infinitely good as He is infinitely
powerful, in placing me where I must undergo insult and starvation, while
he places that man,—the oppressor and grinder, who is riding past now, in
his gig,—in plenty and abundance?"
"Right, Benjamin," said George; "they can't get quit of their
difficulty, quibble as they may: if they bedaub us with such nicknames as
'Atheistical Socialists,' we can defy them to make the riddle plainer by
their own Jonathan Edwards, that they say good Robert Hall read over
thirteen times, and pronounced 'irrefragable."'
"Just so," resumed Benjamin, "whether man be called a
'Creature of Circumstance,' or a 'Creature of Necessity,' it amounts to
the same thing. And, then, none of the Arminian sects can make out a
case: they only prove the same thing as the Calvinist and the Socialist,
when their blundering argument is sifted to the bottom."
"So that, if there be a Providence," continued George, "it
has appointed, or permitted,—which they like, for it comes to the
same,—that old K——should fling the three dozen hose in your face last
November, and that you should be out of work, and pine ever since; it
appointed that I should get a few potatoes or a herring by begging, or go
without food altogether, some days since Christmas; and that each of us
here, though we were willing to work, should have to starve; while it
appointed that the mayor should live in a fine house, and swell his
riches, by charging whole frame-rents, month after month, to scores
of poor starving stockingers that had from him but half weeks' work."
"And, with all their talk about piety," rejoined Benjamin, "I
think there is no piety at all in believing in the existence of such a
Providence: and since it appears it can't be proved that Providence is of
any other character, if there be One at all, I think it less impious to
believe in None."
John stood by while this conversation was going on; but he
heard little of it,—for his heart was too heavy with concern for his
child,—and, in a little time he took his way, silently and slowly, towards
other groups of unemployed and equally destitute men, who were standing on
the wider space of ground, at the junction of several streets,—a locality
known by the names of "Coal-hill," and "the Haymarket," from the nature of
the merchandise sold there, at different periods, in the open air.
"Have you found the lad yet?" said one of John's
acquaintances, when he reached the outermost group.
"No, William," replied the downcast father; "and I begin to
have some very troublesome fears about him, I'll assure you."
"But why should you, John?" expostulated the other; "he's
only gone to try if he can't mend himself——Look you, John!" he said,
pointing excitedly at what he suddenly saw; "there he goes, with the
The father ran towards the soldier and his child; and every
group on the Coal-hill was speedily in motion when they saw and heard the
father endeavouring to drag oft the lad from the soldier, who seized the
arm of his prize, and endeavoured to detain him. An increasing crowd
soon hemmed in the party,—a great tumult arose,—and three policemen were
speedily on the spot.
"Stick to your resolution, my boy!" cried the soldier,
grasping the lad's arm with all his might; "you'll never want bread or
clothes in the army."
"But he'll be a sold slave, and must be shot at, like a dog!"
cried the father, striving to rescue his child,—a pale, tall stripling,
who seemed to be but sixteen or seventeen years of age,
"Man-butcher!—Blood-hound!" shouted several voices in the
crowd: whereat the policemen raised their staves, and called aloud to the
crowd to "stand back!"
"I demand in the Queen's name, that you make this fellow
loose his hold of my recruit!" said the soldier in a loud, angry tone, to
the policemen; two of whom seemed to be about obeying him, when a dark,
stern-browed man among the crowd, of much more strong and sinewy
appearance than the majority of the working multitude who composed it,
stepped forward, and said,
"Let any policeman touch him that dare! If they do they
shall repent it! There's no law to prevent a father from taking hold
of his own child's arm to hinder him from playing the fool!"
The men in blue slunk back at these words; and the soldier
himself seemed intimidated at perceiving the father's cause taken tip by
an individual of such determination.
"Tom," said the determined man to the lad, "have you taken
the soldier's money?"
"Not yet," answered the lad, after a few moments' hesitation.
"Then he shall have my life before he has thee!" said the
father, whose heart leaped at the answer, and infused so much strength
into his arm, that with another pull he brought off his lad, entirely,
from the soldier's hold. The crowd now burst into a shout of
triumph; and when the soldier would have followed, to recapture his
victim, the stern-browed man confronted him with a look of silent
defiance; and the red-coat, after uttering a volley of oaths, walked off
amidst the derision of the multitude.
"Don't you think you were a fool, Tom, to be juggled with
that cut-throat?" said the stern-browed man to the lad, while the crowd
gathered around him and his father.
"I wasn't so soon juggled," replied the lad; "he's been at me
this three months; but I never yielded till this morning, when I felt
almost pined to death, and he made me have some breakfast with him,—but
he'll not get hold of me again!"
"That's right, my lad!" said one of the crowd; "the bloody
rascals have not had two Leicester recruits these two years; and I hope
they'll never have another."
"No, no, our eyes are getting opened," said another
workingman; "they may be able to kill us off by starvation, at home; but I
hope young and old will have too much sense, in future, to give or sell
their bodies to be shot at, for tyrants."
"Ay, ay, we should soon set the lordlings fast, if all
workingmen refused to go for soldiers," said another.
"So we should, Smith," said a sedate-looking elderly man;
"that's more sensible than talking of fighting when we've no weapons, nor
money to buy 'em, nor strength to use 'em."
"Then we shall wait a long while for the Charter, if we wait
till we get it by leaving 'em no soldiers to keep us down," said a young,
bold-looking man, with a fiery look; "for they'll always find plenty of
Johnny Raws ready to 'list in the farming districts."
"And we shall wait a longer while still if we try to get it
by fighting, under our present circumstances," answered the elderly man,
in a firm tone; "that could only make things worse, as all such fool's
tricks have ended before."
"You're right, Randal, you're right!" cried several voices in
the crowd; and the advocate of the bugbear, "physical force," said not
another word on the subject.
"No, no, lads!" continued the "moral force" man, "let us go
on, telling 'em our minds, without whispering,—and let us throw off their
cursed priestcraft,—and the system will come to an end,—and before long.
But fighting tricks would be sure to fail; because they're the
strongest,—and they know it."
"Yes, it must end,—and very soon," observed another
working-man; "the shopkeepers won't be long before they join us; for they
begin to squeak most woefully."
"The shopkeepers, lad!" said the dark-looking man, who had
confronted the soldier; "never let us look for their help: there is not a
spark of independence in any of 'em: they have had it in their power, by
their votes, to have ended misrule, before now, if they had had the will."
"Poor devils! they're all fast at their bankers', and dare no
more vote against their tyrants than they dare attempt to fly," said
"There is no dependence on any of the middle-class," said the
dark-looking man; "they're as bad as the aristocrats. You see this
last winter has passed over, entirely, without any subscription for the
poor, again,—as severe a winter as it has been."
"Ay, and work scarcer and scarcer, every day," said another.
"They say there are eight hundred out of work now, in
Leicester," said the elderly, sedate man, who had spoken before; "and I
heard a manufacturer say there would be twice as many before the summer
went over: but he added, that the people deserved to be pinched, since
they would not join the Corn Law Repealers."
A burst of, indignation, and some curses and imprecations,
"Does he go to chapel?" asked one.
"Yes; and he's a member of the Charles Street meeting," said
the elderly man.
"There's your religion again!"—"There's your saintship!"—"There's
your Christianity!"—"There's their Providence and their Goddle Mitey!"—were
the varied indignant exclamations among the starved crowd, as soon as the
answer was heard.
"I should think they invented the Bastile Mill while they
were at chapel!" said one.
"Is it smashed again?" asked another.
"No; but it soon will be," answered the man who confronted
These, and similar observations, were uttered aloud, in the
open street, at broad day, by hundreds of starved, oppressed, and insulted
frame-work knitters, who thus gave vent to their despair. Such
conversations were customary sounds in John's ears, and, having recovered
his son, he took him by the arm, after this brief delay, and, walking
slowly back towards the Roman milestone, the two bent their steps down the
narrow street called Barkby Lane.
After threading an alley, they reached a small wretchedly
furnished habitation; and the lad burst into tears, as his mother sprung
from her laborious employ at the wash-tub, and threw her arms round his
neck and kissed him. Two or three neighbours came in, in another
minute, and congratulating the father and mother on their having found
their son, a conversation followed on the hatefulness of becoming "a paid
cutthroat for tyrants," the substance of which would have been as
unpleasing to "the powers that be" as the conversation in the street, had
they heard the two. The entry, into the squalid looking house, of
another neighbour, pale and dejected beyond description, gave a new turn
to the homely discourse.
"Your son has come back, I see, John," said the new-comer, in
a very faint voice: "I wish my husband would come home."
"Thy husband, Mary!" said John; "why, where's he gone?
Bless me, woman, how ill you look!—What's the matter?"
The woman's infant had begun to cry while she spoke; and she
had bared her breast, and given it to the child: but—Nature was exhausted!
there was no milk;—and, while the infant struggled and screamed, the woman
She recovered, under the kindly and sympathetic attention of
the neighbours; and the scanty resources of the group were laid under
contribution for restoring some degree of strength, by means of food, to
the woman and her child. One furnished a cup of milk, another a few
spoonfuls of oatmeal, another brought a little bread; and when the child
was quieted, and the mother was able, she commenced her sad narrative.
She had not, she said, tasted food of any kind for a day and two nights:
she had pawned or sold every article of clothing, except what she had on,
and she was without a bonnet entirely: nor had her husband any other
clothes than the rags in which he had gone out, two hours before, with the
intent to try the relieving officer, once more, for a loaf, or a trifle of
money: to complete their misery, they owed six weeks' rent for the room in
which lay the bag of shavings that formed their bed; and, if they could
not pay the next week's rent, they must turn out into the street, or go
into the Bastile.
Her recital was scarcely concluded, when the sorrowful
husband returned. He had been driven away by the relieving officer,
and threatened with the gaol, if he came again, unless it was to bring his
wife and child with him to enter the Union Bastile!—and the man sat down
And then the children of misery mingled their
consolations,—if reflections drawn from despair could be so called,—and
endeavoured to fortify the heart of the yielding man, by reminding him
that they would not have to starve long, for life, with all its miseries,
would soon be over.
"I wonder why it ever begun!" exclaimed the man who had been
yielding to tears, but now suddenly burst out into bitter language: "I
think it's a pity but that God had found something better to do than to
make such poor miserable wretches as we are!"
"Lord! What queer thoughts thou hast, Jim!" said the
woman who had previously fainted, and she burst into a half-convulsive
"Indeed, it's altogether a mystery to me," said the man who
had so recently found his son; "we seem to be born for nothing but
trouble. And then the queerest thing is that we are to go to hell,
at last, if we don't do everything exactly square. My poor father
always taught me to reverence religion; and I don't like to say anything
against it, but I'm hard put to it, at times, Jim, I'll assure ye.
It sounds strange, that we are to be burnt for ever, after pining and
starving here; for how can a man keep his temper, and be thankful, as they
say we ought to be, when he would work and can't get it, and, while he
starves, sees oppressors ride in their gigs, and build their great
"It's mere humbug, John, to keep us down: that's what it is!"
said Jim: "one of these piety-mongers left us a tract last week; and what
should it contain but that old tale of Bishop Burnet, about the widow that
somebody who peeped through the chinks of the window-shutters saw kneeling
by a table with a crust of bread before her, and crying out in rapture,
'All this and Christ!' I tell thee what, John, if old Burnet had
been brought down from his gold and fat living, and had tried it himself,
I could better have believed him. It's a tale told like many others
to make fools and slaves of us: that's what I think. Ay, and I told
the long-faced fellow so that fetched the tract. He looked very
sourly at me, and said the poor did not use to trouble themselves about
politics in his father's time, and everybody was more comfortable then
than they are now. 'The more fools were they,' said I: 'if the
poor had begun to think of their rights sooner, instead of listening to
religious cant, we should not have been so badly off now:' and away he
went, and never said another word."
"But I don't like to give way to bad thoughts about religion,
after all, Jim," said John: "it's very mysterious—the present state of
things: but we may find it all explained in the next life."
"Pr'ythee, John," exclaimed the other, interrupting him,
impatiently, "don't talk so weakly. That's the way they all wrap it
up; and if a guess in the dark and a 'maybe' will do for an argument, why,
anything will do. Until somebody can prove to me that there is
another life after this, I shall think it my duty to think about this
only. Now just look at this, John! If there be another life
after this, why, the present is worth nothing: every moment here ought to
be spent in caring for eternity; and every man who really believes in such
a life would not care how he passed this, so that he could but be making
preparation for the next: isn't that true, John?"
"To be sure it is, Jim ; and what o' that?"
"Why, then, tell me which of 'em believes in such a life.
Do you see any of the canting tribe less eager than others to get better
houses, finer chairs and tables, larger shops, and more trade? Is
old Sour-Godliness in the north, there, more easily brought to give up a
penny in the dozen to save a starving stockinger than the grinders that
don't profess religion? I tell thee, John, it's all fudge: they
don't believe it themselves, or else they would imitate Christ before they
tell us to be like Him!"
Reader! the conversation shall not be prolonged, lest the
object of this sketch should be mistaken. These conversations are
real: they are no coinages. Go to Leicester, or any other of the
suffering towns of depressed manufacture, where men compete with each
other in machinery till human hands are of little use, and rival each
other in wicked zeal to reduce man to the merest minimum of subsistence.
If the missionary people—and this is not said with a view to question the
true greatness and utility of their efforts—if they would be consistent,
let them send their heralds into the manufacturing districts, and first
convert the "infidels" there, ere they send their expensive messengers to
India. But let it be understood that the heralds must be furnished
with brains, as well as tongues; for whoever enters Leicester, or any
other of the populous starving hives of England, must expect to find the
deepest subjects of theology, and government, and political economy, taken
up with a subtlety that would often puzzle a graduate of Oxford or
Cambridge. Whoever supposes the starving "manufacturing masses" know
no more, and can use no better language, than the peasantry in the
agricultural counties, will find himself egregiously mistaken. 'Tis
ten to one but he will learn more of a profound subject in one hour's
conversation of starving stockingers than he would do in ten lectures of a
university professor. Let the missionary people try these quarters,
then; but let their heralds "know their business" ere they go, or they
will make as slow progress as Egede and the Moravians among the
Greenlanders. One hint may be given. Let them begin with the
manufacturers; and if they succeed in making real converts to Christianity
in that quarter, their success will be tolerably certain among the
working-men, and tolerably easy in its achievement.
There is no "tale" to finish about John or his lad, or Jim
and his wife. They went on starving,—begging,—receiving threats of
imprisonment,—tried the "Bastile " for a few weeks,—came out and had a
little work,—starved again; and they are still going the same miserable
round, like thousands in "merrie England,"—1842.
POSTSCRIPTUM.—The foregoing sketch may be read with
unpleasant feelings, by some who open these pages. And the author
has no wish to hurt the feelings of any one. But he dare not omit
this sketch. He feels that Truth demands its insertion.
History—when it is duly written—will have to tell of these miseries of
working-men in the Past, and of the dread unbelief to which misery and
despair drove them. "Free Trade," and prosperity of trade, have
brought about a beneficial change. Heaven grant it may
SETH THOMPSON, THE STOCKINGER;
"WHEN THINGS ARE AT THE WORST THEY
BEGIN TO MEND."
LEICESTERSHIRE stockingers call that a false
proverb. "People have said so all our lives," say they; "but,
although we have each and all agreed, every day, that things were at the
worst, they never begun to mend yet!" This was not their language
fourscore years ago, but it was their daily language, but two-and-thirty
years ago; and the sketch that follows will show it.
Seth Thompson was the only child of a widow, by the time that
he was six years old, and became a "winding boy," in a shop of
half-starved framework-knitters at Hinckley,—a kindred lot with hundreds
of children of the same age, in Leicestershire. Seth's mother was a
tender mother to her child; but he met tenderness in no other quarter.
He was weakly, and since that rendered him unable to get on with his
winding of the yarn as fast as stronger children, he was abused and beaten
by the journeymen, while the master stockinger, for every slight flaw in
his work,—though it always resulted from a failure of strength rather than
carelessness,—unfeelingly took the opportunity to "dock" his paltry wages.
Since her child could seldom add more than a shilling or
fifteen-pence to the three, or, at most, four shillings, she was able to
earn herself,—and she had to pay a heavy weekly rent for their humble
home,—it will readily be understood that neither widow Thompson nor Seth
were acquainted with the meaning of the word "luxury," either in food or
habits. A scanty allowance of oatmeal and water formed their
breakfast, potatoes and salt their dinner, and a limited portion of bread,
with a wretchedly diluted something called "tea" as an accompaniment,
constituted their late afternoon or evening meal; and they knew no variety
for years, winter or summer. The widow's child went shoeless in the
warm season, and the cast-off substitutes he wore in winter, together with
lack of warmth in his poor mother's home, and repulses from the shop fire
by the master and men while at work, subjected him, through nearly the
whole of every winter, to chilblains and other diseases of the feet.
Rags were his familiar acquaintances, and, boy-like, he felt none of the
aching shame and sorrow experienced by his mother when she beheld his
destitute covering, and reflected that her regrets would not enable her to
amend his tattered condition.
Seth's mother died when he reached fifteen, and expressed
thankfulness, on her death-bed, that she was about to quit a world of
misery, after being permitted to live till her child was in some measure
able to struggle for himself. In spite of hard usage and starvation,
Seth grew up a strong lad, compared with the puny youngsters that form the
majority of the junior population in manufacturing districts. He was
quick-witted, too, and had gathered a knowledge of letters and syllables,
amidst the references to cheap newspapers and hourly conversation on
politics by starving and naturally discontented stockingers. From a
winding-boy, Seth was advanced to the frame, and, by the time he had
reached seventeen, was not only able to earn as much as any other
stockinger in Hinckley, when he could get work, but, with the usually
improvident haste of the miserable and degraded, married a poor "seamer,"
who was two years younger than himself.
Seth Thompson at twenty-one, with a wife who was but
nineteen, had become the parent of four children; and since he had never
been able to bring home to his family more than seven shillings in one
week, when the usual villainous deductions were made by master and
manufacturer, in the shape of "frame-rent" and other "charges,"—since he
had often had but half-work, with the usual deduction of whole
charges, and had been utterly without work for six several periods, of
from five to nine weeks each, during the four years of his married
life,—the following hasty sketch of the picture which this "home of an
Englishman" presented one noon, when a stranger knocked at the door, and
it was opened by Seth himself, will scarcely be thought overdrawn:—
Except a grey deal table, there was not a single article
within the walls which could be called "furniture," by the least propriety
of language. This stood at the farther side of the room, and held a
few soiled books and papers, Seth's torn and embrowned hat, and the
mother's tattered straw bonnet. The mother sat on a three-legged
stool, beside an osier cradle, and was suckling her youngest child while
she was eating potatoes and salt from an earthen dish upon her knee.
Seth's dish of the same food stood on a seat formed of a board nailed
roughly across the frame of a broken chair; while, in the centre of the
floor, where the broken bricks had disappeared and left the earth bare,
the three elder babes sat squatted round a board whereon boiled potatoes
in their skins were piled,—a meal they were devouring greedily, squeezing
the inside of the root into their mouths with their tiny hands, after the
mode said to be practised in an Irish cabin. An empty iron pot stood
near the low expiring fire, and three rude logs of wood lay near it,—the
children's usual seats when they had partaken their meal. A
description of the children's filthy and bedaubed appearance with the
potato starch, and of the "looped and windowed raggedness" that formed
their covering, could only give pain to the reader. Seth's clothing
was not much superior to that of his offspring; but the clean cap and
cotton handkerchief of the mother, with her own really beautiful but
delicate face and form, gave some relief to the melancholy picture.
Seth blushed, as he took up his dish of potatoes, and offered
the stranger his fragment of a seat. And the stranger blushed, too,
but refused the seat with a look of so much benevolence that Seth's heart
glowed to behold it; and his wife set down her porringer, and hushed the
children that the stranger might deliver his errand with the greater ease.
"Your name is Thompson, I understand," said the stranger;
"pray, do you know what was your mother's maiden name?"
"Greenwood,—Martha Greenwood was my poor mother's maiden
name, sir," replied Seth, with the tears starting to his eyes.
The stranger seemed to have some difficulty in restraining
similar feelings; and gazed, sadly, round upon the room and its squalid
appearance, for a few moments, in silence.
Seth looked hard at his visitor, and thought of one whom his
mother had often talked of; but did not like to put an abrupt question,
though he imagined the stranger's features strongly resembled his
"Are working people in Leicestershire usually so
uncomfortably situated as you appear to be?" asked the stranger, in a tone
of deep commiseration which he appeared to be unable to control.
Seth Thompson and his wife looked uneasily at each other, and
then fixed their gaze on the floor.
"Why, sir," replied Seth, blushing more deeply than before,
"we married very betime, and our family, you see, has grown very fast; we
hope things will mend a little with us when some o' the children are old
enough to earn a little. We've only been badly off as yet, but you'd
find a many not much better off, sir, I assure you, in Hinckley and
The stranger paused again, and the working of his features
manifested strong inward feeling.
"I see nothing but potatoes," he resumed; "I hope your meal
is unusually poor to-day, and that you and your family generally have a
little meat at dinner."
"Meat, sir!" exclaimed Seth; "we have not known what it is to
set a bit of meat before our children more than three times since the
first was born; we usually had a little for our Sunday dinner when we were
first married, but we can't afford it now!"
"Good God!" cried the stranger, with a look that demonstrated
his agony of grief and indignation, "is this England,—the happy England,
that I have heard the blacks in the West Indies talk of as a Paradise?"
"Are you my mother's brother? Is your name Elijah
Greenwood?" asked Seth Thompson, unable longer to restrain the question.
"Yes," replied the visitor, and sat down upon Seth's rude
seat, to recover his self-possession.
That was a happy visit for poor Seth Thompson and his wife
and children. His mother had often talked of her only brother who
went for a sailor when a boy, and was reported to be settled in some
respectable situation in the West Indies, but concerning whom she never
received any certain information. Elijah Greenwood had suddenly
become rich, by the death of a childless old planter, whom he had
faithfully served, and who had left him his entire estate. England
was Elijah's first thought, when this event happened; and, as soon as he
could settle his new possession under some careful and trusty
superintendence till his return, he had taken ship, and come to his native
country and shire. By inquiry at the inn, he had learnt the
afflictive fact of his sister's death, but had been guided to the
poverty-stricken habitation of her son.
That was the last night that Seth Thompson and his children
slept on their hard straw sacks on the floor,—the last day that they wore
rags and tatters, and dined upon potatoes and salt. Seth's uncle
placed him in a comfortable cottage, bought him suitable furniture, gave
him a purse of £50 for ready money, and promised him a half-yearly
remittance from Jamaica, for the remainder of his, the uncle's, life, with
a certainty of a considerable sum at his death.
Seth and his wife could not listen, for a moment, to a
proposal for leaving England, although they had experienced little but
misery in it, their whole lives. The uncle, however, obtained from
them a promise that they would not restrain any of their children from
going out to Jamaica; and did not leave them till he had seen them fairly
and comfortably settled, and beheld what he thought a prospect of comfort
for them in the future. Indeed, on the very morning succeeding that
in which Seth's new fortune became known, the hitherto despised stockinger
was sent for by the principal manufacturer of hosen, in Hinckley, and
offered "a shop of frames," in the language of the working men; that is,
he was invited to become a "master," or one who receives the "stuff" from
the capitalist or manufacturer, and holds of him, likewise, a given number
of frames,—varying from half-a-dozen to a score or thirty, or even more;
and thus becomes a profit-sharing middleman between the manufacturer and
the labouring framework-knitters. Seth accepted the offer, for it
seemed most natural to him to continue in the line of manufacture to which
he had been brought up; and his uncle, with pleasurable hopes for his
prosperity, bade him farewell !
"Well, my dear," said Seth to his wife, as they sat down to a
plentiful dinner, surrounded with their neatly-dressed and happy children,
the day after the uncle's departure, "we used to say we should never prove
the truth of the old proverb, but we have proved it at last: times came to
the worst with us, and began to mend."
"Thank God! we have proved it, my love," replied the wife;
"and I wish our poor neighbours could prove it as well."
Seth sighed,—and was silent.
Some years rolled over, and Seth Thompson had become a
well-informed and deep-thinking man, but one in whom was no longer to be
found that passionate attachment to his native country which he once felt.
The manufacturer under whom he exercised the office of "master" had
borrowed the greater part of Seth's uncle's remittances, as regularly as
they arrived; and as Seth received due interest for these loans, and
confided that the manufacturer's wealth was real, he believed he was
taking a prudent way of laying up enough for the maintenance of his old
age, or for meeting the misfortunes of sickness, should they come.
But the manufacturer broke; and away went all that Seth had placed in his
hands. Every week failures became more frequent,—employ grew more
scarce daily, for trade was said to decrease, though machinery
increased,—discontent lowered on every brow,—and the following sketch of
what was said at a meeting of starving framework-knitters held in Seth
Thompson's shop but a month before he quitted England for ever, may serve
to show what were his own reflections, and those of the suffering beings
About twenty working men had assembled, and stood in three or
four groups,—no "chairman" having been, as yet, chosen, since a greater
number of attendants was expected.
"I wish thou would throw that ugly thing away, Timothy!" said
a pale, intellectual looking workman, to one whose appearance was rendered
filthy, in addition to his ragged destitution, by a dirty pipe stuck in
his teeth, and so short, that the head scarcely projected beyond his nose.
"I know it's ugly, Robert," replied the other in a tone
between self-accusation and despair,—"but it helps to pass away time.
I've thrown it away twice,—but I couldn't help taking to it again last
week, when I had nought to do. I think I should have hanged myself
if I had not smoked a bit o' 'bacco."
"Well, I'm resolute that I'll neither smoke nor drink any
more," said a third; "the tyrants can do what they like with us, as long
as we feed their vices by paying taxes. If all men would be o' my
mind there would soon be an end of their extravagance,—for they would have
nothing to support it."
"Indeed, James," replied the smoker, "I don't feel so sure
about your plan as you seem to be, yourself: you'll never persuade all
working-men to give up a sup of ale or a pipe, if they can get hold of
either; but, not to talk of that, what's to hinder the great rascals from
inventing other taxes if these fail?"
"They couldn't easily be hindered, unless we had all votes,"
said the first speaker, "we're well aware of that; but it would put 'em
about, and render the party more unpopular that wanted to put on a new
"I don't think that's so certain, either," replied the
smoker; "depend on't, neither Whigs nor Tories will run back from the
support of taxes. D'ye ever read of either party agreeing to 'stop
the supplies,' as they call it, or join in any measure to prevent taxes
from being collected till grievances are redressed?"
"No, indeed, not we," chimed another, lighting his short pipe
by the help of his neighbour's, and folding his arms, with a look of
something like mock bravery; "and, for my part, I don't think they ever
will be redressed till we redress 'em ourselves!"
"Ah, Joseph!" said the pale-looking man, shaking his head,
"depend upon it that's all a dream! How are poor starvelings like
us, who have neither the means of buying a musket, nor strength to march
and use it, if we had it,—how are we to overthrow thousands of disciplined
troops with all their endless resources of ammunition?—It's all a dream,
Joseph! depend on't."
"Then what are we to do, lie down and die?" asked the other:
but looked as if he were aware he had spoken foolishly, under the impulse
"I'm sure I often wish to die," said another, joining the
conversation in a doleful tone; "I've buried my two youngest, and the
oldest lad's going fast after his poor mother; one can't get bread enough
to keep body and soul together!"
"Well, if it hadn't been for Seth Thompson's kindness," said
another, "I believe I should have been dead by this time. I never
felt so near putting an end to my life as I did last Sunday morning.
I've been out o' work now, nine weeks; and last Saturday I never put a
crumb in my mouth, for I couldn't get it, and I caught up a raw potato in
the street last Sunday morning, and ate it for sheer hunger. Seth
Thompson saw me, and—God bless his heart!—he called me in and gave me a
cup of warm coffee and some toast, and slipped a shilling into my hand."
And the man turned aside to dash away his tears.
"Ay, depend upon it, we shall miss Seth, when he leaves us,"
said several voices together.
"It's many a year since there was a master in Hinckley like
him," said the man with the short black pipe, "and, I fear when he is
gone, the whole grinding crew will be more barefaced than ever with their
extortions and oppressions of poor men. Seth knew what it was to be
nipped himself when he was younger; that's the reason that he can feel for
others that suffer."
"It isn't always the case, though," said another; "look at
skin-flint Jimps, the glove-master; I remember him when he was as ragged
as an ass's colt; and where is there such another grinding villain as
Jimps, now he is so well off?"
"The more's the shame for a man that preaches and professes
to be religious," said the smoker.
"It was but last Saturday forenoon," resumed the man who had
mentioned Jimps, the glove-master, "that he docked us two-pence a dozen,
again: and when I asked him if his conscience wouldn't reproach him when
he went to chapel, he looked like a fiend, and said, 'Bob! I knew
what it was to be ground once; but it's my turn to grind now!"'
"And they call that religion, do they?" said the smoker, with
"It won't mend it to swear, my lad," said the
intellectual-looking man; "we know one thing,—that whatever such a fellow
as this does that professes religion, he doesn't imitate the conduct of
"I believe religion's all a bag of moonshine," said the
smoker, "or else they that profess it would not act as they do."
"Don't talk so rashly, Tim," replied the other; "we always
repent when we speak in ill-temper. Religion can't cure hypocrites,
man, though it turns drunkards and thieves into sober and honest men; it
does not prove that religion is all a bag of moonshine, because some
scoundrels make a handle of it. Truth's truth, in spite of all the
scandal that falsehood and deceit brings upon it."
"Isn't it time we got to business?" said one of the group.
"I don't think it will be of any use to wait longer," said
another; "there will not be more with us, if we wait another hour; the
truth is, that men dare not attend a meeting like this, for fear of being
turned off, and so being starved outright;—there's scarcely any spirit
left in Hinckley."
"I propose that Seth Thompson takes the chair," said another,
taking off his ragged hat, and speaking aloud.
A faint clapping of hands followed, and Seth took a seat upon
a raised part of one of the frames at the end of the shop, and opened the
meeting according to the simple but businesslike form, which working-men
are wont to observe in similar meetings in the manufacturing districts.
"I feel it would scarcely become me to say much, my friends,"
he said, "since I am about to leave you. I thought, at one time,
that nothing could ever have driven me to leave Old England; but it seems
like folly to me, now, to harbour an attachment to a country where one
sees nothing but misery, nor any chance of improvement. I would not
wish to damp your spirits; but if I were to tell you how much uneasiness I
have endured for some years past, even while you have seen me apparently
well off and comfortable, you would not wonder that I am resolved to quit
this country, since I have the offer of ease and plenty, though in a
foreign clime. I tell you, working men, that I had power over Mr.
——, by the moneys I had lent him, or I should have been turned out of this
shop years ago. Week by week have we quarrelled, because I would not
practise the tyrannies and extortions upon working men that he recommended
and urged. It is but a hateful employ to a man of any feeling,—is
that of a master-stockinger under an avaricious and inhuman hosier.
But, if the master's situation be so far from being a happy one, I need
not tell you that I know full well, by experience, how much more miserable
is that of the starved and degraded working-man. Indeed, indeed,—I
see no hope for you, my friends,—yet I repeat, I would not wish to damp
your spirits. Perhaps things may mend yet; but I confess I see no
likelihood of it, till the poor are represented as well as the rich."
It might produce weariness to go through all the topics that
were touched upon by Seth and others. They were such as are
familiarly handled, daily, in the manufacturing districts; ay, and with a
degree of mental force and sound reasoning,—if not with polish of
words,—that would make some gentlefolk stare, if they were to hear the
sounds proceeding from the haggard figures in rags who often utter them.
The "deceit" of the Reform Bill, as it is usually termed by manufacturing
"operatives"; the trickery of the Whigs; the corruption and tyranny of the
Tories; the heartlessness of the manufacturers and "the League"; and the
right of every sane Englishman of one and twenty years of age to a vote in
the election of those who have to govern him, were each and all broadly,
and unshrinkingly, and yet not intemperately, asserted.
One or two, in an under-tone, ventured to suggest that it
might be advantageous to try, once more, to act with the AntiCorn Law men,
since many of the members of the League professed democracy; and, if that
were done, working-men would not fear to attend a meeting such as that
they were then holding. But this was scouted by the majority; and a
proposal was at length made in a written form, and seconded,"—That a
branch of an association of working-men, similar to one that was stated to
have been just established at Leicester, should be formed." The
motion was put and carried,—a committee, and secretary, and treasurer,
were chosen,—and the men seemed to put off their dejection, and grow
energetic in their resolution to attempt their own deliverance from
misery, in the only way that they conceived it could ever be substantially
effected: but their purpose came to the ears of the manufacturers on the
following day, threats of loss of work were issued, and no association was
Seth Thompson took his family to the West Indies, pursuant to
the many and urgent requests contained in his uncle's letters, and soon
entered upon the enjoyment of the plenty in store for him. Hinckley
stockingers remain in their misery still; and, perhaps, there is scarcely
a place in England where starving working-men have so little
hope,—although "things," they say, "have come to the worst,"—that "they"
will ever "begin to mend."—1842.
POSTSCRIPTUM.—I am glad, indeed, that I am able to
say, now, "things have begun to mend"—even at Hinckley. The poor
stockingers have a share in the prosperity which has, at length, visited
SAM SIMKINS, THE RUN-AWAY;
VILLAINY AS A REFUGE FROM THE TORTURES
SAM SIMKINS was a wild lad,
but whose fault was it that he became so? That was the significant
question which uniformly followed the commemoration of his history among
the old women of the village where he was born, and where, after the early
death of his father and mother, he was apprenticed, by the parish, to Mr.
Jonas Straitlace, the saddler and collar-maker. The village was not
more than half-a-dozen miles from Birmingham; and to that town Sam usually
trudged once or twice in the working part of the week on his master's
business errands, and, invariably, accompanied his master thither twice on
the Sunday, to attend the ministry of a Calvinistic teacher.
With the exception of a very restricted number of hours for
sleep, these were the only portions of Sam's existence that could come
within the name of relaxation. Some people gave Sam's master the
title of a "money-grub"; but Mr. Jonas Straitlace himself modestly laid
claim to the character of one who was "diligent in business, fervent in
spirit, and—" the reader knows the rest. In brief, he was one of the
too numerous description of folk who cast their sour into the sweets of
innocent enjoyment on every occasion within their compass, and strive to
throw a universal pall over the world by keeping their fellow-creatures in
mind that the next life alone is worth a moment's thought,—and yet, daily
and hourly illustrate their own gloomy lesson by grasping at the dirt
called money as eagerly as if they believed they could carry it with them
over the ford of the grave, and that it would be still more current coin
in the next life than in this. Strict rates of charge to his
customers in an age of competition prevented Straitlace from extending his
business; but the consequence was, that he grew more pinching towards
himself, and still more towards his apprentice, in allowing the body its
proper amount of sustenance, or the general constitution its necessary
share of healthful unbending. Sam was pinched in his measure of
food, and watched while he ate it, lest the spoon should travel so slowly
to his mouth as to prevent his return to labour after the lapse of an
appointed number of minutes; he was "alarumed" up at five in winter, and
at four in summer, and kept at the bench till eight; and what went down
more hardly with Sam than either scant food or sleep, or unceasingly
painful toil, was the fact that his master's vinegared piety overflowed
with such zeal for Sam's spiritual welfare as to compel him to spend the
remaining time till ten, every working-day evening, in reading one book.
Nay, the lad, in spite of the remembrance that every other apprentice in
the village was allowed, at least, an hour's holiday-time, each day, would
have felt it to be some amelioration of his captive lot, had he been
allowed to derive such amusement from the book as it might afford; but
Straitlace's zeal for Sam's happiness in the next life, taught him that he
must use even this extreme resort to mortify the lad in the present state
of existence, and, therefore, Sam must read nothing but the Prophets, in
one division of the book, and the Epistles in the other.
Such was the discipline to which Mr. Jonas Straitlace
subjected Sam Simkins from the age of nine, when the parish placed the lad
under his care, to fifteen. Straitlace had one invariable answer to
all who remonstrated with him on the undue severity, the imprisoning
strictness, he exercised towards his apprentice:—"Train up a child in the
way he should go," he would say, quoting the whole text, "that's a Bible
reason for what I do: it doesn't allow me to parley with flesh and blood:
I must obey it."
Mr. Jonas Straitlace had found that fine moral pearl in the
great Oriental treasure-house of the wisdom-jewels of ages, and he was too
sordidly ignorant to know that the originator of the maxim never intended
the "should go" to be left to the judicature either of brain-sick zealots
and morbid pietists, or of rash experimenters and fanciful speculatists.
But what cared Straitlace about the legitimate and fair interpretation of
the text ? His ready quotation of it served his purpose: it kept
"meddlers," as he called them, at arm's length, and secured the links of
that grinding slavery which held Sam to his task, and brought money into
It would be a heart-sickening detail, that of the incidental
miseries Sam experienced in these six years: suffice it to say, his chain
was tightened till it snapped. He contrived to form an acquaintance
in Birmingham who advised him to "cut" his tyrant-master, and "cut " him
he did. Yet, Mr. Jonas Straitlace knew the value of Sam's earnings
too well to be inclined to give up his bird without trying to catch it
again. He set out for Birmingham, made enquiry, and learned that
Sam, in spite of being minuted by his master's watch, had contrived almost
uniformly, on his errands, to spend a quarter of an hour in a certain low
public-house, and that he had done this habitually for more than a
twelvemonth past. Straitlace bent his steps to this resort, and, by
his crafty mode of questioning, ascertained from the landlord that Sam had
that very morning been in his house with one "Jinks,"—yet that was not the
man's right name, the landlord added, but only a name he went by.
"And pray who is this Jinks?" asked Straitlace.
"He was once a man in great trust, sir," answered the
landlord with some solemnity: "he was head clerk in a first-rate lawyer's
office in this town. But it was found out at last, that J inks had 'bezzled
a good deal o' money belonging to the firm; and so he was sent to gaol for
a couple o' year; nay, he was very near being hanged. And so when he
came out o' limbo, you understand, why nobody would trust, or hardly look
on him; and he's now got from bad to worse."
"What mean you by that?" asked Jonas.
"The least said is the soonest mended," replied the landlord.
"I wish you could tell me where I could see this man," said
Straitlace : "the lad is my apprentice, and this man will do him no good:
besides, I am losing money by his absence."
The landlord stared, bit his lip, with a look that told he
wished he had not talked so fast, and then made answer that he was busy
that morning, and, besides, it was ten thousand to one whether Jinks could
be found in his hiding-hole, if they were to go to it:—"and, more than
all," he added, "there is no believing him, he is such a fellow to thump:
he tells so many lies, poking his eyes into every corner, and never
looking in your face all the while, that I often think Jinks must find it
hard to invent new ones."
Straitlace was versed sufficiently in human character to
discern that the prattling landlord was made of squeezable materials, and
so he urged his questions and entreaties until he had won his point, and
the landlord undertook to conduct him to "Jinks's hiding hole."
Threading an alley in one of the dingiest streets in the
town, they wound through several crooked passages, and arrived at a
paltry-looking small square. From a corner of this dirty and
half-ruined quadrangle, the landlord advanced along a path that could
scarcely be supposed to lead to a human dwelling. It was what is
designated a "twitchel" in the midland counties, being barely wide enough
to admit one person at a time,—and was the boundary line of two rows of
buildings, the eaves of which overhung it, and rendered the passage as
gloomy as if it were scarcely yet twilight. Straitlace scrambled
with difficulty after his conductor, and over the heaps of cinders, broken
pots, and oyster and mussel shells which lay along this dark track; and
when they came to the end of it, and had descended half-a-dozen stone
steps, they arrived at what looked like the door of a cellar. Here
the landlord shook his fist at Straitlace, and compressed his features, as
a signal for his companion to keep strict silence. He then tapped,
very gently, at the door; but though he repeated his timid knock, no one
"Jinks! Jinks! I say," he whispered through the
key-hole, after he had knocked the third time.
"Who's there?" said a sharp, angry voice.
"It's only me, Jinks:—I want to speak t' ye," answered the
"You lie, Jemmy Jolter:—there's more than you only," retorted
Jinks, with a snarl so sudden and crabbed that it flung the other entirely
off his guard.
"Well—but—but," Jemmy stammered; "this person wants to see
you about that youth that was with you this morning, Jinks, and——"
"Whew! Jemmy Jolter, you've let it out again," replied
the strange voice within: "get home, ye long-tongued fool, get home! what
fool is that beside ye to employ such a sieve to carry water?"
"Oh, very well, Jinks," said the weak landlord, turning round
in dudgeon: "a time may come when you may want a good turn doing, you
"I'll let you in, by yourself, Jemmy, if you like," said the
keeper of this questionable garrison, fearful of losing the good offices
of the landlord; "or I'll admit that verjuice-faced fellow who stands
beside you, with the white apron round him."
The outer party here looked at each other with some alarm, on
finding they were each seen so plainly by one who was to them invisible.
"You don't think I shall advise a respectable man and a
stranger to come into such a den as yours, alone,—do ye, Jinks?" said the
other, in a voice of displeasure.
"Then you may both keep out," retorted the concealed speaker;
"at any rate, you'll both be safe there. Twist my withers, if ever I
admit two clients into chambers at once! No, no! it wouldn't do,
Jemmy! What I say here goes into only one pair of ears besides my
"I'll venture alone, if he'll only admit me," said
Straitlace, his eagerness to learn something of Sam, and, if possible, to
recover the possession of him, subduing the repugnance he felt against
trusting himself alone in such suspicious company.
The door was slightly opened in a moment; and before the
landlord could remonstrate, Straitlace was admitted, and the bolts were
again closed within. Jinks seized his visitor by the hand, and
rapidly pulled him up a dark stair. Straitlace's mind misgave him,
as he reached the top of the ascent: it conducted to a narrow apartment in
which there was no furniture but a broken chair, and a strong wooden
bench; while a bottle, and an earthen pot, with some discoloured papers,
covered the end of a barrel which appeared to serve the wretched habitant
of the room for a table. There was no fire in the dirty grate, and
viewed through the murky light admitted by the small window which was
half-obscured with papers, patching the broken panes, the appearance of
the squalid chamber sent a shuddering feeling over Straitlace's skin.
"Well, and so now you are admitted to my sanctum sanctorum,—what's
your will?" asked Jinks, with a grin of derision, and seating himself on
the broken chair.
Straitlace was not a timid man; but the dark skin, projecting
teeth, and overhanging brows of the figure before him, and, more than all,
the diabolical fire of his eyes, really affrighted him, and he remained
"Don't stare at me in that way, you fool," said the grim
figure, savagely; "I'm not a wizard, though I do deal with the devil
sometimes. What d'ye want to know about Sam Simkins?"
Straitlace was amazed at the effrontery of the fellow, in
turn: "I insist upon it, that you tell me where he is, since you seem to
know," he said, his displeasure giving him a little spirit.
"Whew!" was the only answer made by the grim figure, who
turned the empty pot towards the light, and then looked into it, and then
looked at Straitlace, who was 'born sooner than yesterday,' as they say in
the midlands; but who was not disposed to show that he penetrated the
meaning of the spunger's masonic sort of hint.
"I insist upon knowing where you have concealed my
apprentice," said Straitlace, trying to put on a bold look.
"I've neither concealed him, nor shall I snitch, and tell you
where he is, if you ape the bully," replied Jinks, with cold mockery.
"Then, as sure as you sit there, you villain," answered
Straitlace, thinking he should lose the end of his errand entirely, if he
did not keep up the appearance of determination, "I'll have you before a
magistrate, and imprison you till the boy is produced."
"I advise you to be cool," answered Jinks, with a look of
such peculiar devilry that it made Straitlace feel chill with fear: "you
wouldn't get me before a magistrate if you were to try. And,
besides, there's more than one can light a match; and your cottage will
burn, you know,—ay, and your collars and old saddle traps too."
Straitlace dared not threaten now; he found that the fellow
knew him; and he felt the peril of the ground he stood on. He sank
on the bench, and gazed timidly and silently at the broken-down lawyer's
clerk, who evidently enjoyed his triumph.
"You're cooler, I see," resumed Jinks, and then looked into
the earthen pot again.
"I don't mind a trifle, by way of recompense," said
Straitlace, torturing his tongue to frame the words, "if you'll only
assist me in recovering my apprentice."
"Rayther sensible that," answered Jinks tauntingly; but still
looked into the empty pot.
Straitlace overcame his own master-passion for the instant,
and placed a half-crown beside the empty drinking cup; but Jinks instantly
pushed it off the barrel, into the floor, in contempt. Straitlace
felt the blood rush to his neck and face, but once more struggled with his
own reluctance, took up the half-crown, and laid down a half-sovereign in
"Sensible,—very!" observed Jinks, slowly; and then suddenly
starting up, said, "Now, Mister Jonas Straitlace, what will you give to
have this stray dog of yours put quietly into your hands, muzzled and
collared, so that you may take him home safely?"
"Isn't that enough?" said the other leeringly.
"Two whole sovereigns into my hands to-morrow morning at
seven,—here,—at the bottom of the steps,—and you have him.
Otherwise, there's your road, Mr. Jonas Straitlace," returned Jinks, and
pointed to the stairs.
The saddler saw he was in a most disadvantageous position for
making a choice, and hesitated.
"I've other clients, and have no time to fool away upon you,"
rejoined Jinks: "speak the word! yes or no," and moved towards the steps.
"Then I'll be here at that time," answered Straitlace, with a
mental reservation; and he had scarcely uttered the words when three
knocks were distinctly given under his feet; but Jinks seized his hand,
hurried him down the steps, and thrust him out, and bolted the door behind
him, with a strength and speed that caused him to turn round and stare at
the closed door with wonder, when he stood once more in the twitchel.
The landlord seized his arm, and recalled him to the
remembrance of where he was. Straitlace evaded the landlord's
inquiries as to the result of his errand, persuaded that he could best
carry into effect the scheme which had suggested itself to him, with other
aid than that of a person who appeared to have some connection with Jinks.
He marked the way to the door, and paid particular observance to the
passages, and to the exact locality of the street, and thanking the
landlord for his trouble, took his way home, somewhat to the surprise of
the landlord himself, who had expected he would return to the
On the night succeeding the morning in which Straitlace had
been admitted to that squalid chamber, the narrow space itself was changed
into a hold of guilty riot and thievish conspiracy. The fumes of
tobacco which filled the room would have rendered respiration impossible
to any but the actual participators in that scene of infamy; the fag of
smoke being so dense that the human beings there assembled seemed to be
kneaded into the thick vapour rather than surrounded by it. The
struggling flames of a fire which had just been kindled, and was covered
by a huge iron vessel, nearly choked up the draught of the narrow chimney,
and threw an uncertain light upon the figures which nearly filled the
narrow room. The singular being who was the habitual tenant of the
chamber sat in his broken chair close by the fire, augmenting the gross
sociality of his associates by the vehemence with which he consumed
tobacco in a wooden pipe; but adding not a word to their busy
conversation. A strong coarse-looking woman, crouched immediately
before the fire, was alternately attempting to clear a passage for its
progress, and slicing onions from her apron to put into the caldron.
Her short clay pipe, with the filthy black cup scarcely protruding beyond
her nose, showed her attachment to the favourite excitement of her
depraved companions. Behind her stood the barrel, before described
as the only substitute for a table in Jinks's room, and upon the end of it
was placed a large metal jug of spirits, which the various members of the
group lifted to their lips, by turns, as inclination moved them.
The confused conversation was suspended in a moment by three
distinct and measured raps being given at the door below; and Jinks jumped
up, exclaiming, "That's the young'un I told you of: I'll let him in."
And he darted down the steps, unbolted the door, pulled in Sam Simkins,
and, in the lapse of scarcely three minutes, introduced him to the
villainous company. The fellows gazed at Sam, and one swore that he
only looked like a starved rat, and another said he was more like a
stunted badger; but all agreed that he looked likely to be useful, for he
had a hawk's eye in his head. Sam felt somewhat loutish at the
unrestrained gaze of the thieves; but Jinks placed him on the bench next
to his own chair, chucked him under the chin, and holding the metal jug to
his mouth, told him to drink. Sam did drink a little, and thought
the draught scorched his throat; yet in a few minutes he felt a flow of
spirits that completely banished his bashfulness.
"And so you've cut the starve-gut rascal, eh, young'un?" said
an impudent-looking fellow who sat on the farther end of the bench, and
who was, at once, the most frequent visitor to the jug, and the most eager
talker in the villainous conclave.
"What the devil was he to do else?" said Jinks, seeming to
wish to keep off from the lad the assailment of questions by the gang:
"was he to stay and be pined outright ?—Bess," he continued, addressing
the woman, "isn't the stuff ready?"
"The can's empty," said the fellow who had just spoken,
interrupting Jinks: "we'll have it filled again."
"Not to night," said Jinks, with an oath.
"Not to-night!—why not, old hang-dog; why not, I say?" asked
the other, dropping his pipe, and looking as if he would fell his opposer.
"Because there's a job on hand that requires cool brains, ye
guzzling ape!" answered Jinks, in a tone which showed he was not to be
frightened by the bully, his brother in roguery. "Wide-mouthed Bob
will be here directly, and we must then prepare for business."
"What can he be about to be so late, I wonder?" cried the
woman, who was still squatting before the fire: "the broth's ready, and I
shall pour it out if he doesn't come in a crack. Hark!" she
said,—and the quarrelsome crew were silent: there there he is!"
Jinks started from his broken chair at the sound of a
whistle, hurried down the steps, and was speedily in his old position
again, while the new comer was welcomed with shouts of "Give us your hand,
captain!—success to ye!"
"Silence, you fools!" said he who was thus saluted: "d'ye
mean to bring the bull-dogs upon us?" And he took up the jug, but
finding it empty, he looked discontented. Jinks, however, seized the
jug, removed the barrel from the spot on which it stood, pulled up a
trap-door, and descended, and then returned with the jug refilled, with
the usual rapidity that characterised his movements.
"Ay, ay, you know who's come now, old juggler," said the
bully, tauntingly, to Jinks, as he again appeared from the subterraneous
room, with the vessel full of brandy.
"Yes, and I know that they have a right to the sugar-candy
that are the first to put their fingers into the fire to get it," said
Jinks, showing his ugly teeth very forbiddingly; "and not every skinking
coward that ties his neck to his heels to save it when there's work to be
The bully returned no answer, seeming conscious that his
cowardice deserved the rebuke.
"Get the supper-tools out, Jinks," said the woman, and took
the boiling caldron from the fire.
Jinks climbed upon his chair, and reaching down a large
wooden bowl, from its concealment in the ceiling of the room, placed it
upon the end of the barrel, and sat down again.
"Why, you old brute, do ye think we are going to pig it all
out of one trough, on a night like this?" exclaimed the woman, pouring out
the stew into the bowl:—"reach every man his pap-spoon and dish, or I'll
spoil your grinding before you begin!" and she aimed a blow, with a brazen
ladle, at Jinks's scalp, which he evaded, and reached forth a set of
basins and spoons from the same strange repository.
The steamy flavour of Bess's cookery speedily attracted the
appetites of her companions. Limbs of fowl and game, mingled with
the soup, showed the illicit source from which such a company had obtained
the raw provisions for the meal. Bess poured out half a basin of the
stew first, for the individual who was called "captain," and filling up
the vessel with brandy from the jug, handed it to the leader, with a
coarse coaxing smile. She then served the rest, in the order they
sat, beginning with Jinks, and not forgetting the lad. Sam smacked
his lips at such a treat, and congratulated himself on having taken the
advice of Jinks, and run away from his master. He soon disposed of
the contents of his basin; and then felt strongly attracted to notice the
appearance and behaviour of him whom the thieves acknowledged as their
The personal appearance of Wide-mouthed Bob rendered the
dependence of the crew upon his presence and enterprise, Sam thought, a
matter of no wonder. His stature was full six feet, and the great
breadth of his chest and shoulders, and extreme length of his arms,
terminated by hands of monstrous size, gave demonstrations of unusual
physical power. The width of his mouth was the most striking feature
in his face, and had procured for him the common nickname by which Jinks
had first mentioned him during the evening. The forbidding glance of
his large eyes, from under a low forehead, and brows as shaggy as if they
pertained to an ass's colt, with the bull-dog shape of his head, at the
sides, causing his ears to stand forward after a form scarcely human, were
also peculiarities in the features of the captain-burglar.
His third basin being despatched by this powerful animal, for
such his peculiarity of frame seemed to warrant his being termed, the
conversation took a turn for business. Robberies of a cheese
warehouse, a flour shop, a liquor vault, and even of the subterranean
workshop of a "smasher," or maker and vendor of false coin, were planned.
The only debate was, which was to be undertaken first; and as there was
some difficulty in settling this point, the captain called for the jug to
be replenished. Jinks descended once more, but returned with only
half the vessel full, and, setting it down, declared the barrel below was
"Then that determines the point," observed Wide-mouthed Bob:
"we must make our way direct to the brandy cellar." The gang
immediately assented,—the liquor was shared; and in a few minutes, all,
save Jinks, and the woman and the lad, descended by the stairs, and
departed on their lawless enterprise.
Sam Simkins had fallen asleep some time before the departure
of the gang, but was awakened by Jinks, as soon as he had bolted the door
and re-ascended the steps, to receive his first wholesale lesson in
villainy. The lad felt the lesson very unwelcome to his nature, at
the beginning; but the remembrance of the horrors from which he had
escaped, and the promise and prospect of a wild freedom, and a continuance
of the good fare he had met among the thieves, soon subdued the inward
whisper that he was going wrong. Jinks and the woman were most
successful in their schooling of Sam, while they dwelt upon his master's
conduct towards him:—
"But did the nigger-driver never let you play a bit, Sam?"
asked the woman: "you say you always dropped work at eight, and went to
bed at ten:—what did ye in the two hours, my lad?"
"I used to read Jeremiah, and the rest of the prophet-books
in the Bible, and Romans, and Corinthians, and them ere parts of the
Testament," answered Sam: "mester would na let me read owt else, unless I
managed to do it slily."
"And what did ye think to what you read, Sam?" asked Jinks,
suddenly dropping his pipe, and looking at the lad with an air of new
"He, he!" snivelled the lad, and twisted his thumbs 'with a
loutish look,—"I could na make owt on 'em!"
"How the deuce were ye likely?" said Jinks: "that Paul would
puzzle a Philadelphia lawyer, for he was a devilish longheaded fellow, and
no mistake; as for Jeremiah, and the rest of 'em, I know little about 'em!
but it was an ugly slavish way of using you, my lad:—you'll find the
difference now. All that you have to do is to mind your P's and Q's,
and I'll warrant ye, it'll be a merry life for ye."
The lad snivelled again, and felt wonderfully pleased.
"Now hark ye, Sam," continued Jinks, "who had your master in
the house, besides himself and you?"
"The missus," answered Sam; "but hur never taks no notice o'
nowt, hur's ower deeaf."
"Capital!" exclaimed Jinks, cracking his thumb and finger;
and then the lad received instruction as to his first grand act of
villainy, and while he was receiving it, Bess prepared the caldron, once
Three hours elapsed, and the whistle of Wide-mouthed Bob was
heard again. Jinks performed his porter's office as before, and the
captain and three others of the gang speedily tugged up the stairs a
couple of kegs of liquor, which were as speedily concealed in the
"Where's the rest of the birds?" asked the woman.
"Sent 'em home to roost," replied the captain; "and now you
and all of us must cut, old girl, and leave Jinks to his cage."
"But not before we've tasted the new broach," said the woman.
"No more tasting of it, this morning," answered Bob; "we
shall soon be blown, if we carry on that game; we'll have breakfast and
The word of the leader was law. The stew was again
poured up; and when it was devoured, Sam having his share as before, the
chief burglar, and the other three thieves, with the woman, departed; and
Sam Simkins also set out on the errand for which Jinks had lately bestowed
instruction upon him.
At eight the following morning, Mr. Jonas Straitlace appeared
in the twitchel, as before, and summoned the attention of Jinks by a bold
rap. Jinks was speedily at the door, and Straitlace was again
admitted into the thievish head-quarters.
"Now for the chink!" said the broken-down lawyer.
"But where's the lad?" asked Straitlace.
"The moment you down with the dust, that moment I tell you
where he is, safe and sound, and nearer home than you think of; so that
you'll have very little trouble to seek him," answered Jinks.
"When I find the lad I'll pay you," said the saddler; "you
may be deceiving me."
"Why, goose!" said Jinks, "what d'ye take me for?—let that
sneaking fellow, who stands squeezed up in the corner there below, be
witness between us."
Straitlace turned pale; but Jinks was at the bottom of the
stair in a moment, and again ascended, bringing up a man dressed in a
thick top coat that covered his under dress.
"Now, let this constable be witness between us," said Jinks :
"he's a respectable man, and you could not have brought a better man with
Straitlace was amazed; but he summoned resolution, and said,
"Constable, I insist upon your taking this man into custody, for having
either decoyed away from me, or concealed, or harboured, my runaway
The constable put on a very stupid look, and answered,"Why,
as to that, I've no proof of any part of it, you know, and I decline to
Straitlace felt confounded at the fact of his own man, as he
had deemed the constable, deserting him, and stood staring in amazement.
"Now, Mister Jonas Straitlace," said Jinks, "I'd have you to
remember that I don't give professional advice for nought, any more than
other lawyers. You came here to ask my help and instruction, and I
engaged to give it you for two sovereigns: pay me that down, and I
undertake that you shall find your apprentice at home when you return."
The saddler felt enraged at the villain's impudence, but the
constable was against him: "If you made that bargain you had better keep
it," said the functionary, "and if this man breaks it, then I shall be
witness to it." And Straitlace felt he was so awkwardly fixed in
that suspicious place, and between the two, that he gave Jinks the two
sovereigns. Had he kept a strict watch upon the motions of the
constable and Jinks he would have seen them share the booty, ere they
hurried down; the stair.
Straitlace reached home, and found that Sam had returned, but
was again departed. His deaf wife could only tell that she had
scolded him, and made him get to work in the shop without his breakfast;
but she did not know when he went off again. The condition of the
"till," in the shop, fully proclaimed the way in which Sam had employed
himself during his brief stay. It had been forcibly wrested from its
place, though strongly fixed, and robbed of its contents, which were not
great, but were sufficient to destroy, by their loss, the peace of Mr.
Straitlace's spiritual mind for many a day after.
Straitlace sat down to his work instead of going again in
search of Sam Simkins. Of what value would a thief be to me? was one
question he asked himself; and—shall I spend in law, to prosecute him,
more money than I have thrown away already? was another. A few days
after, he met the constable in Birmingham, and related his disaster.
"You act wisest to keep quiet," said the constable: "it seems the man kept
his word in sending the lad home,—so that I don't see how you could have
the law of him, there; and as for the young scoundrel, he would do you no
Straitlace did not know whether there was any soundness in
the man's observation about law; but he was loath to spend more money or
lose his time,—so he gave Sam up.
The lad returned to Jinks's "hiding-hole," and received great
commendations for the clever way in which he had used the "jemmy," or
small steel crowbar, which Jinks had entrusted to him. The robbery
of his master's till was his first performance with this crack tool that
old gaol-birds chirp so much of; but it was not his last, by many a score.
He progressed in skill till he became the favourite comrade of
Wide-mouthed Bob, and the two were the terror of the neighbourhood for
It could serve no virtuous purpose to detail his thieveries;
and as for the character of the company he kept, the sketch foregoing may
suffice to show what it was. He was, at length, sent over-sea for
life, in company with the leader and two others of the gang; while Jinks
escaped, only to decoy more lads into vice, and train them for the hulks
or the gallows; but Mr. Jonas Straitlace, through the grinding of his
customers, lost them,—so that he took no more apprentices to train up, in
his own peculiar way, for Jinks's second training and perfecting process.
THE OLD CORPORATION.
THOSE words "odd," and "singular," and "eccentric,"
what odd, singular, eccentric sort of words they are, reader! How
often they mean nothing—being thrown out, as descriptions of character, by
drivelling Ignorance, who scrapes them up as the dregs,—the mere siftings
left at the bottom of his vocabulary, when he has expended his scant
collection of more definite images-in-syllables. And how much more
often are they affixed to the memories of the living or dead, who have
been real brothers among men, and have thus earned these epithets from
jaundiced envy, or guilty selfishness, or heartless pride and tyranny.
How little it commends to us, either our common nature, or such corrupt
fashioning as ages of wrong have given it, that, if we would become
acquainted with a truly good man,—a being to love and to knit the heart
unto,—we must seek for him among the class of character which the
world—woe worth it!—calls " odd," or " singular," or " eccentric!"
Yet so it is, the best of mankind, those, most veritably, "of
whom the world was not worthy," have been, in their day, either the butt
for the sneers of silliness, or the object of envy's relentless hate, or
they have toiled and toiled, perhaps unto martyrdom, beneath the
withering, blasting frown of pride and oppression. Ay, and let us be
honest with ourselves, and confess, that though years or hard experience
may have bettered our own natures,—for we are all too much like that kind
of fruit which takes long days and many weathers to ripen it, so as to
bring forth its most wholesome flavour,—let us be honest, I say, with
ourselves, and confess, that we were as foolishly willing as others, in
our youth, to laugh at what the varlet world calls oddness, and
singularity, and eccentricity. Some of us, however, now see matters
in a somewhat different light. We have discovered that there is some
marrow of meaning in many of those old saws we once thought so tiresome
and dry,—such as, "All is not gold that glitters," and, "Judge not a nut
by the shell," and the like; and we say within ourselves, when we are in a
moralising mood (as you and I are now, reader), that, if we were young
again, we would not join the world in laughing as we used to laugh with
it, at certain queer folk who dwell in our memories,—for we begin to have
a shrewd suspicion that they were among the true "diamonds in the rough"
of human character.
And, to be truly candid with ourselves, reader, have not you
and I found out, by this time, that we are, to all intents and purposes,
as "odd," and as "singular," and as "eccentric" as other folk? Is
not the jewel of the truth this,—as pointless as the saying may look at
first sight,—that—All men are singular? Hath not every man his likes
and his dislikes, his whims and his caprices, his fancies and his hobbies,
his faults and his failings? And are not these found so strangely
interwoven in our daily thinkings, and sayings, and doings, that they may
well make observers ponder upon them, if they had not enough of similar
employment at home. Nay, if some one unnatural sort of thought, or
impression, or habit, which each of us have, could be seen, at all times,
by everybody, in its true dimensions, would it not look as uncouth as one
of those huge boulders of primary rock tumbled down from the mass, and
left sticking out from some late-formed strata of marl, quite at a
distance from its proper place, that the geologists talk of? Would
not the thought, or impression, or habit, if our most attached friends
could see it in its proper moral bulk, dwarf many of our "excellencies,"
as then partiality phrases it, and really render us poor deformed things,
in their judgment?
"What, then, do ye mean to preach us into the belief that it
is a crime for us ever to have a hearty, harmless laugh, at a queer fellow
when we chance to see him?" Not exactly so, my lads; but we ought
never to forget that we are queer fellows ourselves. Nor ought we to
fail in the reflection that, if we were fully acquainted with that queer
fellow, it might happen we should discover him to be of infinitely more
moral value than ten thousand of the smooth-trimmed estimables in the eye
of the world, who conform to all its precepts so obediently that they
never anger it. And, much more, if we know enough of the "queer
fellow" to be aware that a true, warm, glowing, fraternal heart for his
fellow-creatures beats in his bosom, notwithstanding a few outward traits
of somewhat striking difference from the crowd, why, then, it becomes our
bounden duty,—I will not say, never to smile at his peculiarities, for
that sort of puritanism will not make us better men,—but to dwell upon his
virtues and excellencies,—to extol them, yea, to enthrone them, whenever
he is seen or heard, or talked of, by those with whom we company.
Perhaps political party is more universal than any other bad
influence without, in misguiding Englishmen into ill-natured, or
contemptuous, or depreciatory judgments of their neighbours and
fellow-townsmen. The last thirty or forty years, especially, have
engendered a superabundance of this foul canker; so many new rivalries
have sprung up with the great changes in political and municipal
institutions; and men, from the mightiest to the meanest, have been caught
up, and whirled along, in many instances so involuntarily, into the rush
and torrent of change. And yet, how the lapse of these dozen or
fifteen years hath altered the judgment of many of us, with regard to some
men and their party-cries. What a wide-spread "liberal" laudation,
for instance, there was about the famous definition of a Tory, in the
Times,—and yet how soon it became its own "duck-legged drummerboy,"
and all that! Nay, how soon did some of the very chiefs of the
potential reforming party,—from idols of the multitude,—by their refusal
to complete what they had begun, and, indeed, in some instances, by their
open manifestation of a will to undo what they had done,—become its scoff
and scorn, nay, even its detestation!
And then the old "Guilds," or "Corporations," to which the
new "Town-Councils" have succeeded,—what a general tendency to
exaggeration there was in the mode of judging of them, and in the tone of
talking and writing about them, especially in the public prints. How
witty were the newspaper people in their conceits of conserving, or
pickling, or embalming an alderman, and having him placed in the British
Museum as a curiosity for antiquaries to form profound speculations upon,
some ten or twelve centuries into futurity! Ay, and how eloquently
abusive was the prevailing Whig strain about "nests of corruption," and
"rotten lumber," and "fine pickings," and "impositions, and frauds, and
dark rogueries of the self-elect!" And how the scale has turned,
since, in the greater share of boroughs, where the poor and labouring
classes threw up their hats for joy at "municipal reform,"—and now mutter
discontent at the pride of upstarts who, they say, have become insolent
oppressors,—or openly, as in the manufacturing districts, denounce what
they term the relentless and grinding tyrannies of the recreant
middle-classes whom municipal honours have drawn off, they assert, from
their hot-blooded radicalism, and converted into cold, unfeeling,
merciless wielders of magisterial or other local power.
There was, it cannot be denied, in the droll trappings and
antiquated mummeries of the old guilds,—in their ermined scarlet cloaks,
and funny cocked hats, and in their maces and staves,—and above all, in
the starch, and march, and swelling, and strut, and pomposity, with which
these were worn or borne,—much that was calculated to tickle the spectator
into mirth; but, really, when one thinks of it, are the horse-hair wig of
a bishop, a judge, or a barrister, the robe and coronet of a peer, or the
crown and sceptre of a king or queen, less like playthings for upgrown
children than were the "regalia" and antique habits of the old
corporation-men? Was Cromwell so far beside the mark when he called
the Speaker's mace a "fool's bauble"? and might not the expression be
applied with as much fitness to many other "ensigns of office," as they
And again: though it is true that a grand uncurtaining of
robbery,—for that is the plain English of it,—was made in some, at least,
of the old boroughs, by the inquest of that parliamentary commission which
preceded the sweeping away of the old corporations,—yet are we not, now,
become conscious, that amid the party heat and animosity of the period,
much private excellence was over-shaded or forgotten in the rage of public
censure,—nay, that much virtue was denied, even where it was known to
exist, lest the recognition of it should mar the scheme for overthrowing
the party to which that virtue was attached?
This is a long exordium for a fugitive sketch, and it is time
to say it has sprung from reflections created in the mind of an imprisoned
"conspirator" and "mover of sedition," by the flitting across his cell, in
his imagination, of sundry bygone shapes with whom he was, more or less,
familiar at one period of his changeful life. It is the "Old
Corporation" of the ancient and time-honoured city of Lincoln, of which
the writer speaks—and though wit might discover among its members many a
foible that would form a picture to "make those laugh whose lungs are
tickled o' the sere," yet generosity, and justice, no less, must confess,
that after the most searching inquiry and exposure, they were neither
individually nor collectively stained with the acts of peculation and
embezzlement, nor application of public funds to political party purposes,
which were so heavily, and, no doubt, truly charged on some of the old
guilds in other parts of the country.
Yet they were, as a body, supporters of the ancien régime,
as was natural: they had been inured, the greater part of them, through
nearly the whole of their lives, to look upon the established state of
things as the best and fittest;—and, no doubt, the majority of them
conscientiously believed it to be so,—failing, through the confined and
stinted nature of their social training, to reflect that what was
productive to themselves, the few, of pleasure or comfort, might confer no
benefits on the many,—but rather be a source, to these, of deep and
increasing suffering. Passing by many a picture that starts to
memory of "mayoralty," and its ludicrous airs of greatness, and many a
reminiscence of grave joke and lighter whimsicality, —of burlesque
importance, and mirth-moving earnestness about trifles,—recollection
dwells with consolated interest on more durable limnings of simple,
uncorrupted manners, and warm hearts, and really expansive natures, that
belonged to some of that "Old Corporation."
There is one comes before me, vividly, at this moment,—while
that sweet robin-red-breast hops into my day-room [Ed.—in Stafford Goal],
and bends his neck to look at me so knowingly and friendlily in my
loneliness, as he doth, almost daily;—and the loved bird's image consorts
delightfully with him I was thinking of,—for, above all things, the fine,
noble-hearted, yet meek and gentle old alderman, loved to be thought and
esteemed an ornithologist! That was his pride, his loftiest
aim, his highest ambition,—as far as reputation or a name was the subject
of his thought. As for his charities, and enlarged acts of sympathy
for his suffering fellow-creatures, his deeds of mercy and goodness, he
strove to hide them, performing them often by stealth, and half denying
the performance of them, when admiration of his beneficence kindled praise
of it in his hearing. Ah! it is too true: he relieved wretchedness
till his purse was scanty, and his circumstances were straitened; and
then,—and then,—in spite of his aldermanic dignity, in spite of his
"respectable" family connections, and even the respectability of his own
practice and profession, as a surgeon,—he was mentioned as the "odd,"—the
"singular,"—the "eccentric" Mr. Hett!
That is the world. Who would have dreamt that
Alderman Hett was odd, or singular, or eccentric, had he kept his money,
instead of giving it to the distressed?
But the kind-hearted old man thirsted for reputation as an
ornithologist. Well, and in good sooth, he had some solid claim
to it. Birds were his passion; and you seldom met any one who knew
so much about them. I know not whether his relatives keep the book
of drawings which the good man showed to me, as he had showed it to
hundreds, with so much innocent pride;—taking care to relate how it had
been begun when he was a young apprentice, and had taken him years to
complete; above all, that it was the product of early hours stolen from
sleep, and had never robbed his professional duties of their proper share
of attention. They ought to keep it, however, and to value it too.
Not for the sake of any surpassing excellence in the portraitures of birds
with which it was filled; for, although the good old man was so proud of
the "real birds," which he used to observe it contained, yet they
were embodied to the eye somewhat in Chinese taste, as clearly as I can
remember: rather with exactitude of pencillings and shades, than with
skill in the "drawing" or attitude of the bird, or observance of rules of
perspective, or "fore-shortening," or any of the intricacies of art.
But the heart—the heart of the good man whose hand performed these curious
and laborious limnings—should stamp a precious value on the book that
Nor was it a mere unmeaning hobby, this love of the feathered
tribe which was so strong in the benevolent alderman. He was another
Gilbert White in diligence of observation on their habits in the woods and
fields, and on the heath and the moor. In his rural rides as a
surgeon, he was ever learning some fact relative to their economy, and he
most diligently chronicled it. And at the return of the season, he
was as punctually periodical as the fall of the leaf in acquainting his
friendly circle with his impressions relative to the severity or the
openness of the ensuing winter, from his observations on the feathered
tribe. Many of these "prognostications," as some people called them,
although he never assumed the character of a prophet himself, were
registered in the Stamford Mercury, the long-established and
ably-conducted medium of information for the extensive though
thinly-peopled district of Lincolnshire; and they so seldom failed to be
realised, that the ornithological surgeon was often complimented on his
prophecies. "Nay," he would reply, "I am no prophet: I only go by
Nature's books: you may do the same, if you'll read them."
Was it his diligent and loving perusal of these books which
imbued him with that never-failing zeal to relieve the miserable? was it
by his continued drinking of the lessons of bounty and care discoverable
in those books, that kept open, to his latest day, the sluices of his
beneficent heart,—so that the icy influences of the world never froze them
up,—but they were left to well out goodness, and tenderness, and pity, for
the poor, and hungry, and sick, and miserable, to the end of his life ?
One cannot suppress a persuasion of this kind; and it seems
next to impossible but that Gilbert White must have gladdened the poor of
his "Selborne," to the very extent of his means, and, perhaps, sometimes
beyond it,—secretly, humbly, and unobtrusively,—while his amiable mind was
displaying so simply and charmingly, in that correspondence with Tennant
and Barrington, its devoted love and admiration of the characters in
"Nature's books." This thought maybe but a prejudice of the
imagination; but such prejudices are less criminal than the prejudices of
the judgment or understanding, and one feels unwilling to have them
removed in a case like this: we have, alas! too many examples of evil
contradictions in the characters we thirst to love,—and our worship even
of the noblest intelligences,—such as Bacon,—is too often checked by them.
In the devoted reader of "Nature's books," however, of whom
we are immediately speaking, there was a delightful harmony of character.
"I cannot pay you yet, Mr. Hett,"—said a poor woman to him, as I walked by
his side, along the High Street of St. Botolph's parish, listening to his
autumnal chronicle,—"I cannot pay you yet, sir, for my husband is out of
work."—"Pr'ythee, never mind, woman," replied the good man. "Make
thyself easy, and get that poor boy a pair of shoes, before thou pays
me!"—"God bless you, sir!" replied the poor woman, with her ragged and
shoeless lad, and dropped a curtsy, while the grateful tear rolled down
her cheek. I looked, with an impulse of admiration, at the face of
the good alderman, as we passed along, and the tears were coursing each
other adown his face likewise !
And how often have I heard,—what, indeed, well-nigh' every
citizen of old Lincoln had either heard, or witnessed,—of his bounteous
relief of famishing and clotheless families he was called to attend during
the sickness of a child or father, or the mother's agony of Nature.
One thought presents itself painfully: it is, that while he manifested so
true a fraternity with man, and lived a life of so much private,
unobtrusive blessing,—he was so frequently the victim of encroaching and
designing knaves. His ready loans of money, in his wealthiest days,
to needy tradesmen, were often punctually and honestly returned; but he
was too often victimised. And there is one image now crosses me,
very legibly,—that used to haunt and pester the good-hearted man, even up
to the period of his straitness,—ever goading him with some plea of
difficulty, and essaying to squeeze out of him another sum, under the
unprincipled name of a loan. He was a "limb of the law," who had
been "done up" in his profession, for his want of honesty. And yet I
have some misgivings whether that human being were so morally culpable as
his life of shuffle, and deceit, and meanness, would lead one to think;
for I remember how often I noticed the large indentation across his bald
head, caused by some accident, in which the bone of the skull had been
bent or broken, and consequently, the brain injured. His career is
at an end, however; and whatever might be the true solution of the problem
of his idiosyncrasy, one cannot help feeling a regret that the best and
finest natures should so often, in this world, become a prey to the
worst,—as in the case of this vile practiser, who often boasted over his
brandy, in the presence of some base associate, that he had gulled the
Memory calls up another form less distinctly, since it
belonged to one who was much nearer the end of his course: and the
impression of his identity depends more on what others said of him than on
anything like personal or intimate acquaintance with his character.
From some unskilfulness of speech, or want of grace in outward demeanour,
or some other mark that the world thought "odd," or "singular," or
"eccentric," he had gained the odd, singular, and eccentric, but very
distinctive sobriquet of Alderman Lob. He was a bulky sort of
man externally, talked thick, yet talked a great deal; was laid up with
the gout often, and passed his closing years totally within doors as an
invalid: but many a poverty-stricken habitant of Lincoln found weekly
relief at his door; and more than one aged and infirm creature prayed for
the lengthening out of his life, in the fear they would be left destitute,
or be compelled to go into the workhouse, when they could no longer depend
on the weekly charity of Alderman Cotton.
The master-spirit of that old guild, Alderman Charles
Hayward, though too acute, and too successful in the acquirement of wealth
to leave room for the world to term him eccentric, possessed some high
qualities that rise in kindly answer to the record memory gives of the
bitter things spoken of him by party. He had been the "town-clerk"
of the guild, and even then wielded the principal power in it, being
really its master, though nominally its servant; and only laid aside the
black gown and quill to don an alderman's ermined cloak, because he had
become too wealthy either to desire longer to reap the salary, or undergo
the fatigue and labour of his first office.
His attention to every man in whom he discerned superior
ability, without regard to conventional grade, and often in defiance of
its rules; his real liberality in giving aid to honest industry wherever
he found it; his munificence in assisting either the "charities" which are
the just pride of old Lincoln, or any plan for presenting its citizens
with amusement that combined usefulness: these were among his life-long
acts. And, in spite of the keen raillery with which his shrewd
penetration of character often led him to visit the vulgar conceit or
affectation of some with whom his office brought him into frequent
contact, all bore testimony to his intelligence and honour. Nay,
although he was one who never professed any fervid sympathy with popular
progress, and therefore was not likely to become a favourite with a people
so strongly political as the Lincoln cits had now become, yet so deeply
did they regard him as a man who, by the excellence of his understanding,
had done honour to their city in bearing one of its chief offices, that a
general and reverential sorrow was expressed when his end approached, for
it was seen, in his wasted frame and fading eye, many months before the
fatal moment came.
Perhaps their knowledge of the one bitter draught that was
mingled with his life's chalice, during the concluding years of his
course, served greatly to soften their thoughts towards the intellectual
chief of the old municipal institution, even while many of them rejoiced
at the overthrow of the institution itself. His tenderly beloved and
highly accomplished daughter, his only child,—faded and died; and,
therewith, the charm of life seemed broken for him. How often was
this a subject of kindly-spirited converse among citizens as he passed;
and how reflectingly did they note what they learned to be his own
poignant observations on that heart-rending bereavement!—his pithy and
thrilling confessions that he had toiled for nothing! that life was only a
scene of disappointment!—that he had used unceasing exertion to attain
wealth; but he had, now, neither "chick nor child" to leave it to!
So fertile is life in affording moral nurture and correction to all
hearts!—creating sympathy with the sorrowful brother, with him to whom the
bitter cup is appointed; but infusing a salutary admonition, meanwhile,
not to set our hearts too passionately on things of clay lest we doom
ourselves also to drink of that bitterness!
He who was esteemed the most "odd," the most "singular," the
most "eccentric" member of that Old Corporation, lingered long after its
demise; and by the popularity of his character, as the only radical
alderman of the Old, became a town councillor, and eventually a mayor,
under the New municipal institution. How rife were the stories of
his furious attacks upon the "self-elect" of the olden time!—and what a
rich hue of the burlesque was thrown around the pictures that were given
of him in daily conversation! Yet, who did not, in spite of his
slenderness of intellect, love him for his incorruptible honesty, and,
above all, for his unfailing benevolence? Oh! there was not a human
being,—beggar, pauper, distressed stranger, or townsman,—who ever went
from his door unrelieved; nor could he pass, in the street, a
fellow-creature whose appearance led him to suppose he had found a real
sufferer, but he must inquire into it, even unsolicited. The
abhorrent enactments of the New Poor Law,—how he hated them!—and how
staggered he felt in his reforming faith, when the "liberal"
administration urged the passing of the strange Malthusian measure!
"I cannot understand it!" he would exclaim, in the hearing of the numerous
participants in his English hospitality; "I never thought that Reform was
to make the poor more miserable, and the poorest of the poor most
miserable: it is a mystery to me! Surely it is a mistake in Lord
Grey and Lord Brougham!" So good old Alderman Wriglesworth thought
and said; but he did not live to see the "liberal" lawmakers either
correct their mistake, or acknowledge that they had made one,—though
agonised thousands pealed that sad truth in their ears!
A STORY OF
A FATHER'S SACRIFICE OF HIS CHILD AT THE
SHRINE OF MAMMON.
"SIRRAH! you have nothing to do but to get on in the
world. You may do that, if you will. The way is open for you,
as it was for me; so get up to London, and try. There's twenty
pounds for you: I'll give you twenty thousand, as soon as you show me one
thousand of your own; but I won't give you another farthing till you prove
to me that you know the value of money, and can get it yourself. And
mark me, sir! if you haven't the nouse to make something out in the world,
you shall live and die a beggar, for me; for I'll leave all I have to your
sisters, and cut you off with a shilling. There, sir! there's your
road! Good morning!"
And so saying, Mr. Ned Wilcom, senior, pushed Mr. Ned Wilcom,
junior, his only son, out of his counting-house, and shut the door upon
him. That was an awkward way for a rich Leeds merchant to receive a
son on the completion of his apprenticeship as a draper, and at the early
age of twenty. Yet it was no worse than young Ned expected.
Nor did it break his heart as it would have broken the heart of a lad who
had been more tenderly nurtured. Ned Wilcom never saw his father
occupied with any other thought, act, employ, or pleasure, but what
pertained to money-getting; nor ever heard his father pass an encomium on
any human character in his life, save on such as succeeded in piling
together large fortunes from small beginnings, or enriched themselves by
outwitting their neighbours. From the age of nine to sixteen, he had
only seen his father twice a year—Midsummer and Christmas; and having lost
his mother when a mere infant, he never knew or felt the softening
influences of maternal affection. The artificial life of a
boarding-school, during those seven years, infused a good deal of craft,
and nearly as large a measure of heartlessness, into Ned's nature—for it
was not originally of such tendencies. The master and ushers were
hypocrites and tyrants, only differing in grade; and if there were a lad
with a little more gentleness, humanity, and openness about him than the
rest, Ned observed that he soon "went to the wall" among his school
fellows. And so, with one influence or other, Ned Wilcom left school
with the firm persuasion that the world was a general battle-field, where
the weak and the virtuous were destined to become the prey of the strong
and the crafty; and, all things considered, Ned resolved to take sides
with the winning party.
Such were Ned's resolves at sixteen; and they were by no
means changed in their direction, or weakened in their vigour, by an
apprenticeship in a dashing and aspiring draper's shop in Liverpool during
the succeeding four years. To that seaport he was accompanied, per
coach, by his father; whose parting words then were, that he was to
remember that "he was going to be taught how to make money, the only thing
worth learning;" and, until he received the summary benediction already
rehearsed, Ned did not see his father again. It is true, he received
from home a half-yearly letter, but it never harped on more than one
string, and that was the old one; so that, drawing his inferences from
these premises, Ned Wilcom was not surprised to be dismissed in five
minutes, with twenty pounds, and to have the counting-house door shut in
his face by his own father.
Within a week after his arrival in London, Ned Wilcom found a
situation; and it was one to his heart's content—as he told his father in
a letter of five lines, for he knew his parent too well to trouble him
with a longer epistle. The lad's ambition could only have been more
highly gratified by a reception into the establishment of Swan and Edgar,
in the Quadrant, or the superb "Waterloo House" in Cockspur Street, for he
had obtained a place in that immensest of show-shops which attracts the
stranger crowds in St. Paul's Churchyard, where the business was of a less
select nature than in the two rival first-rate shops at the West End, and
was therefore a more fitting field for the exercise of such knowledge and
tact as Ned had acquired in Liverpool. And all went on exceedingly
well with Ned for several weeks. It is true, the discipline of the
establishment was somewhat more rigorous than in the house he had quitted:
but he was prepared to expect it. He was compelled to "look sharp
about him"; but he had heard in the country that that would be the case.
The matter of vianding, the exact minute of remaining out in the evening,
the amount of exertion and energy in discharging his duties, all was so
exactly defined, measured, and timed, that to a mere raw apprentice from
the country, or to one whose mind was less determinately girt up to make
his way, the situation would have seemed any thing but pleasant.
Ned, however, felt quite at home, for he had yoked his will to his
necessities; and in lieu of indulging the slightest disposition to grumble
at his lot, set success before himself, and determined to achieve it.
With a mind so fully made up, a handsome figure, a winning address, and a
fair portion of natural shrewdness, Ned was sure to conduct himself in
such a way as to please his employers. In fact, in the course of a
dozen or fifteen weeks, he became the decided favourite with the manager
of the concern, and, of course, experienced proportionate pecuniary
But a woeful change awaited Ned Wilcom, despite these fair
prospects. His eagerness to succeed had urged him to stretch his
powers beyond their strength, and his resolve to economise, so as to win
the means of early independence, induced him to deny himself too rigidly
of under-clothing, and the consequence was, that a nervous lassitude and a
severe cold at once attacked him. He bore up some days; but was a
little shocked to observe a change of look in the manager, and to overhear
a little whispering by way of comment on his lack of energy. Five
days had passed; but on the morning of the sixth, it was with extreme
difficulty he rose from bed, and so lethargic were his faculties, that he
felt it utterly impossible to put on appearances of excessive
complaisance, or to display the customary grimaces of civility.
Towards noon, excessive pains in the head and chest drove him from the
shop; and without saying a word to any one, he sought his sleeping-room,
and threw him self on his bed. Here he was found in a state of
insensibility, in the course of half an hour was undressed, and put into
bed. Ned refused the cool offers of extra diet made him, when he
came to his senses, and when visited by the manager, said he had no doubt
he would be quite well by the next morning. The manager elevated his
brows, said he hoped so, and walked away immediately.
When the morning came, however, the youth was so weak that he
felt he would be utterly incapable of exertion if he went downstairs; yet
he would have attempted it, had not one who had been much longer in the
establishment than himself—though Ned had passed him by, in
preferment—stepped into his bedroom, and most pressingly persuaded him not
to think of going down. So Ned put off his half resolve to go down,
and threw himself again on the bed. But what was his surprise,
grief, and disgust, on seeing this very individual step again into his
room in the course of five minutes, to announce with the most marble
coldness of look, that the manager desired Mr. Wilcom would get up and
make out his account—for it was against rule for any one to remain on the
establishment who was unable to attend to business. "Immediately,"
was the only word the messenger added, turning back as he was about to
quit the room, and then departing with a wicked sneer upon his face.
Poor Ned! he felt he was in a hard case; but his native pride was too
great to permit him to weep, or give way. Indignation strung his
nerves for the nonce; he bounced up—dressed himself- though he trembled
like one in the palsy—made out his account—went downstairs, and presented
it—was paid, by the manager's order—and quitted the premises, in the lapse
of fifteen minutes.
Occupied with the vengeful feeling that was natural after
such cruel treatment—though it was but an every-day fact, with drapers'
assistants, in London—the youth had arrived in Fleet Street ere he
bethought him that he had left his clothes behind him, and had not made up
his mind as to where he was going. Faintness began to come over him,
and he was compelled to cling to a window for support. Two
passengers on the causeway stopped, and began to address him
sympathetically; the rest of the living stream swept on, without staying
to notice him. A cabman, however, less from sympathy than from the
hope of employ, speedily brought his vehicle to the edge of the slabs, and
jumping from his seat with the reins in his hand, asked if he could be of
any service to the gentleman. Ned felt it was not a time for
prolonged consideration, and earnestly, though feebly, desired the cabman
to convey him to some decent boarding-house. One of the persons
supporting him saw that his state did not permit questioning, and
prevented the cabman's asking where he would be driven to, by telling the
man to proceed at once to a number he mentioned in Bolt Court. The
same individual walked by the side of the cab for the little way that it
was to the entry of the court, and then helped to support Ned to the
house. A sick man, however, was not likely to meet with a very
hearty welcome in a London boarding-house; and, in spite of the entreaties
of the person who accompanied him, the youth would have had the door shut
upon him, had he not roused all his remaining vigour, and assured the
keeper of the establishment, not only that he would soon be well, but that
he was able to pay for what he might need. With such assurances he
was reluctantly received, and supported upstairs to a bed-room.
Presence of mind served him to give order for fetching his portmanteau
from the establishment he had just quitted; and it was well that it was
so, for he became insensible almost immediately. A fever ensued of
some weeks' continuance; and, at the end of it, when Ned regained his
consciousness, he found himself reduced to a state of emaciation, and
under medical attendance, with a deeply reduced purse.
These were concomitants of a nature to bring great pain to
the mind of one like Ned Wilcom; and it was with a severe struggle that he
shut out despair, and encouraged himself to believe that, though so
grievously frustrated in his commencing hopes of independence, the
prospect of success would again bud, and finally blossom. After
ascertaining from his physician that his state would bear a removal to a
less expensive lodging, Ned wrote home to his father, and informed him of
his unfortunate condition, and of what had led to it. Mr. Wilcom,
senior, was a little surprised to receive a second letter from his son so
soon, for "he had no notion," as he used to say, "of lads perpetually
writing home, like unweaned babies that wanted pap;" and he, therefore,
broke the seal of poor Ned's letter with no remarkable degree of good
humour. The length of the letter, when opened, caused the
money-getting father to throw it aside with an indescribable curl of the
lip and nose and a loud "Pshaw!"—and that was all the attention the poor
youth's epistle received for the five next succeeding days, that is to
say, until Sunday came, and the merchant thought he had time to look at
it. The next morning Ned Wilcom received his father's answer : it
"Yours came to hand last Monday. If your illness was
brought on by want of caution, it ought to teach, you prudence. If
you have been unlucky, you are only like many more; and, as your
grandfather used to say, the best way and the manliest, with troubles, is
to grin and abide by them. Wish you better.
Your humble servant,
"EDWARD WILCOM, senior.
The letter dropped from Ned's hand like a lump of lead too
heavy to hold. With all his knowledge of his father's nature and
habits, he had not expected this. Indeed, Ned's uninterrupted good
health, through the whole of his brief space of life, had prevented the
possibility of his testing his father's tenderness before. For some
hours, the youth experienced misery he had never known till then; and was
so completely paralysed with the sense of his wretched and deserted state,
that the physician, who made his usual call in the afternoon, could obtain
no intelligent answer to his questions; and though by no means one whose
heart overflowed with the milk of human kindness, felt constrained, in a
sympathising tone, to ask if anything extraordinary had occurred to his
patient. Ned pointed to the letter which lay on the floor, and in
spite of the hardness of feeling into which he had trained himself, burst
into a flood of tears.
Nature was thus sufficiently relieved to enable the youth to
answer the physician's inquiries as to his father's wealth, habits, and so
on, with a slight but very significant additional query as to the extent
of Ned's remaining stock of money. The conclusion was not any
promise of help, but cool advice to remove, forthwith, to a cheaper
lodging; or, which the physician remarked, would be far more prudent, to
an hospital. The latter alternative Ned could not brook then, so he
did remove to a cheaper lodging; but his feebleness disappeared so slowly,
and the contents of his slender purse so rapidly, that he was compelled to
enter an hospital, after discharging his medical attendant's bill, and
finding himself possessed but of one sovereign, at the end of another
For six dreary months Ned Wilcom's feeble state compelled him
to remain an inmate of this charitable establishment; and though his wants
were amply provided for, and his complaints and sufferings were met with
prompt and sympathising kindness and attention, yet his spirit was greatly
soured. He ventured one more letter to his father, but it received
no greater welcome than the former one; and, in the bitterness of his
soul, Ned cursed the parent who could thus treat his child, and resolved
never to write home again, as long as he lived.
At length, he was strong enough to leave his refuge, and
without staying to be told that he must go, he went. Once more, he
took a cheap lodging, but a much cheaper one, as far as price went, than
before, and in one of the purlieus of Lambeth, where he would have scorned
almost to set his foot, when he first arrived in London. Though his
scanty sovereign would have recommended instant search for a situation,
his great weakness, and his looking-glass, told him he must take, at
least, one week's further rest. He took it, and then commenced
inquiry for a situation, not at the establishment where his misfortunes
commenced, neither at any of the first-rate fashionable shops.
Sourness of spirit kept him at a distance from the cathedral churchyard;
and the somewhat seedy condition, even of his best suit, debarred his
admission, he believed, at any of the "tip-top" houses. So he sought
to be engaged in some more humble establishment; but, alas! his pallid
face and sunken eye, his hollow voice and feeble step, were against him;
and a shake of the head, or a hard stare, with a decided negative, was the
invariable answer to his applications.
To shorten the melancholy story of his deeper descent into
wretchedness—at the end of the tenth week after his departure from the
hospital, he was so far restored to strength as to be able to walk
upright, to speak in his natural tone of firmness, and would have been
competent to have discharged the duties of a draper's assistant in any
shop in the metropolis; but every article of clothing he had possessed,
except two shirts, two pairs of stockings, and the outer suit he
constantly wore, were all in pawn, and he was, now, absolutely—penniless!
It was when the eleventh week began, and the dreaded Monday
morning returned, when his weekly lodging-rent should be paid, that Ned
stealthily descended from his attic, and passed, unobserved, by his
landlady, from the front door, to wander he knew not whither—except to
avoid shame. By the Marsh Gate he passed, and through the New Cut,
and over Blackfriars' Bridge, and, losing the remembrance of where he was,
he wandered from street to street, till, suddenly, in Old Street, he was
awoke to the sense of delight—a feeling he had long been a stranger to—by
seeing a half-crown at the edge of the pavement, as he sauntered along
with his head dropped on his chest. He snatched it up with
inconceivable eagerness: no one was near to whom he could suppose it
belonged, had his necessity permitted him to think of asking for its
proper owner; and galled by a complete abstinence of two whole days, he
hurried to the very first appearance of food that met his eye—a stall of
"How d'ye sell them?—what d'ye call them?" were the questions
he put to the poor ragged man who stood by this stall of strange vendibles
that Ned had seen poverty-stricken children and females stand to eat, but
had never tasted them himself. ,
"Ve calls 'em vilks, sir," answered the 'man, "six a penny:
shall I open ye a penn'orth o' fresh uns, sir?"
"Oh! these will do—let me have a dozen," said Ned Wilcom, and
seized, and devoured a couple in a moment.
"La! stop, sir!" cried the man—"you vants winegar to 'em!"—and
he took the old broken bottle of earthenware, with the cork and a hole in
it, and would fain have poured some of the horrible adulteration upon the
shell-fish, but the very smell of it was too much for the youth's senses.
He devoured the dozen; but though the first mouthful had seemed delicious,
he had some difficulty in gulping the last; and had not proceeded twenty
paces from the stall, after receiving the change for his half-crown,
before he felt half overcome with sickness and nausea. He was about
to pass by a dram-shop—but the thought suddenly struck him that a small
glass of brandy would dispel the sickness; and he stepped in and called
for one. An elderly female was sipping a very small glass of liquor,
when Ned crossed the threshold, but passed out immediately, after giving
him a keen glance, as he gave his call, and laid a shilling on the
dram-shop counter. By this woman he was immediately accosted, when
he quitted the dram-shop:—
"Have you taken coffee this morning, sir?" said she, with a
short courtesy; "I shall be happy to accommodate you, if you have not,
sir: my house is just here, sir"—and so saying she led the way into Bath
Street, at the corner of St. Luke's, and Ned, half-helplessly, followed;
for though the brandy had dispelled the sickness, it seemed to have given
a wolvish strength to his two days' hunger.
A younger female, tawdrily clad, but possessing features of
sufficient power to attract Ned's especial gaze; was the only apparent
occupant of the low habitation into which the elderly woman led the way.
Breakfast was speedily prepared, in a somewhat humble mode, but Ned was
too hungry to be delicate. The younger woman was soon engaged so
freely and familiarly in conversation with the youth, as to venture a
mirthful observation on his good appetite. Ned's heart glowed too
warmly with the fitful delight of having found the half-crown and the
means of a breakfast, to permit him to cultivate secrecy. He told it
outright—the fact that he had fasted two days, and found the half-crown
but half an hour before on the pavement. What will not the tongue
tell, when the heart has been suddenly and unexpectedly unbondaged, though
it be but temporarily, from deep-during sorrow?
And then, of course, that confession led to others, and the
whole story of Ned's life and parentage, of his sickness and harsh
treatment, and of his sufferings and deprivations, till that moment, were
unfolded. And then came the formidable question—What did he now
intend to do?—and it was one that brought back the full sense of his
misery, for his half-crown was reduced already to a shilling; and he knew
not what must become of him when that was spent—unless he stood in the
streets to beg!
The evil moment that was to seal Ned's ruin was come.
The elderly female at a glance given her by the younger, which the youth's
misery prevented his observing, threw on her shawl, and went out.
She returned—but it was after two hours had passed; and Ned
Wilcom, who, when he entered London, believed himself heir to a
gentleman's fortune and rank, had become the slave of a prostitute, and
had pledged himself to take lessons from her in the practice of
dishonesty. That very afternoon, he entered on his guilty
profession: she hung on his arm, and as they entered a crowded
thoroughfare she taught him to purloin, successively, a handkerchief, a
book, and a watch, from the pockets of passengers.
The perfect security with which his first thefts were
accomplished, and the galling remembrance of his past indignities, added
to the new fascination above mentioned, stifled the reproaches of Ned
Wilcom's conscience, when the hour of reflection came. He advanced
in the downward path, until he became a daring burglar, and a skilful
adept at swindling, under the name of card-playing, in addition to his
more petty practice on pockets. Some idea of his son's fate, at
length reached the brutal and sordid mind of Wilcom the elder. He
commissioned a friend, two or three times, on his London journey, to make
strict inquiry as to the accuracy of the reports concerning Ned. The
youth avoided the search as much as possible, but could not prevent the
truth from reaching his native town.
The catastrophe approached in another year. The papers
contained an account of Ned's apprehension for a series of daring
robberies: his father's acquaintances boldly and honestly reprehended his
unparental cruelty; and though the Mammon-worshipping wretch was unmoved
for some time, at length he dashed up to town to "see what all the noise
was about," as he said. He arrived soon enough to see his son at the
bar as a degraded criminal; and before he had gazed upon him for more than
five minutes, heard him sentenced to transportation for life! Ned
was immediately reconducted to his cell, while his father fell senseless
in the Court; and though he was taken home the following week, it was to
be a helpless, doating paralytic, and a proverb to the end of his life.