THE COMIC ANNUAL.
THE ROPE DANCER,
AN EXTRAVAGANZA, —AFTER RABELAIS.
I AM going, my masters, to tell you a strange
romantic, aye nec-romantic, sort of story—and yet every monosyllable of it
is as true as the Legend of Dumpsius. If you should think otherwise,
I cannot help it. All I can say is, you are not experte credo, or
expert at believing.
You must know, then, that on a certain day, of a certain
year, certain officers went on certain information, to a certain house, in
a certain court, in a certain city, to take up a certain Italian for a
certain crime. What gross fools are they who say there is nothing
certain in this world! However in they went, with a crash and a
dash, and a grip and a grapple, and if they did not take him by the scruff
of the neck, like a dog, there is no truth in St. Winifred's Well.
He made no resistance, not so much as a left-hander, though he was by
trade a smasher. As for any verbal defence he never so much as
attempted to lay a lie, much less to hatch one. There he was, caught
in the very thing, act and fact, as poor a devil as need be to be making
money. He was as dead as any die he had about him: as sure of a
gallows and a rope, as if he had paid for them down on the nail of
before-hand. Oh, ye city Crœsuses,
what think ye of a man having his quantum suffocate of twisted hemp for
making money! For my own part, if I was to swing for saying so, I'd
cry out like a Stentor, that one of God's images ought not to be made
worm's meat of for only washing the King's face. 'Twould be a very
hard-boiled case, and yet, 'fore Gog and Magog, so it was. For
gilding a brass farthing he was to change twelve stone of good human flesh
to a clod of clay; to change a jolly, laughing, smiling, grinning, crying,
wondering, staring, face-making face for a mere caput mortuum; to change
prime tripe, delicate cow-heel, succulent trotters, for a mouthful of
dust; to change a garret for a grave; to change a neckcloth for a halter.
Zounds! what a deal of change for a bad half sovereign! Well, there
he was, caught like a rat, and going for a titbit to the furr'd Law-Cats,
and without so much as giving a squeak for his life. The
counterfeits were on him, so he had nothing to utter. I verily
believe, if you had found him in twice as many melting pots, and
crucibles, and dies, and white or brown gravy to boot, he could not have
coined an excuse. As I said before, he was found with the mould
upon him, and that, as the sexton of St. Sepulchre will tell you, is
as good as a burial to you any day of your life. He was legally
dead, and could not look, like other men, upon the sun as his sunin-law,
so he wisely shook hands with himself, and bade good bye to himself, and
did not attempt with his tongue to lick the cub of guilt into a child of
grace. All he asked, was to be allowed to take with him a little
reptile, or insect of same sort that he had brought over from Italy,
belike to be a solace to his captivity; for Baron Trenck, you know, made a
bon-camarade of a prison rat, and Monsieur F., in the Bastile, as you know
equally, made a long-standing friend of a daddy-long-legs. We live
in a world of whims. We eat them, and drink them, and court them,
and marry them, take them to bed and board with us, and why not to prison?
So Tonio begged for his whim to keep him company, and as it was a small
gentle looking whim, neither so fierce as a lion, nor so huge as an
elephant, and moreover as it was a whim no ways dangerous to Church or
State, he was allowed to take it with him in a little box, which he
carried in his bosom.
Now, if curiosity should itch to know what his whim was like,
let it be known, once for all, that it was like neither a toad, nor a
spider, nor a viper, nor a snail, nor a black beetle, nor a newt, but
something between the size of a crocodile and a cricket. And as for
the manner of its going, it either flew, or swam, or hopped, or crawled,
or lay still like an oyster, for the Newgate Calendar does not say which.
Why it was not a monkey, or a tortoise, or a marmot, Tonio being an
Italian, you must ask of the Foreign Secretary at the Court of the King of
May I transmigrate—when Brahma passes my soul into the parish
of St. Brute—may I transmigrate, I say, into a butcher's daughter's
pet-lamb, if it was not a piteous sight to see Tonio going off between the
two law terriers to have an hour's wearing of that last cravat, which
never goes to a laundress, but always hangs upon a line of its own.
It must be owned, that he had his whim, but for all the whims that ever
were whimmed I wouldn't have had his crick i' the neck. Let me, I
say, stand on terra firma; I'm content with the look-out I have of life
without coveting a bird'seye view. Old Haman, when he was forty
cubits high, had not a better prospect of this world than I have from the
ground floor. Poor Tonio! It was a sorry sight; and if I
didn't pity him, from my soul, may I be an hour behind time for seeing the
next hanging bout, and all through getting, by mistake, into a blunderbus.
A blunderbus, my masters, is the wrong omnibus.
Well, law took its course as usual, that is to say, like a greyhound after
a hare. Tony was put up, so-ho'd, run after, run over, run before,
turned, tumbled and mumbled, scud and scut, and gripped by the jugulars.
But that's a scurvy simile to another I have, lapped up in pancakes, so
give the calendar a shove backwards, and suppose it Shrovetide, and poor
Tony stuck up in dock by way of a shy-cock for the law limbs to shy at.
You never saw such pelting in your life; no, not even when St. Swithin
took it into her watery head to rain cats and dogs! First, the
Foreman of the Grand Jury jerked a true bill at him, that took effect on
his head. Thereupon the Clerk of Arraigns pitched a heavy indictment
in his very teeth, so that it shivered into thirteen separate counts.
Then the Council for the Crown heaved a brief of forty folios into the pit
of his stomach; anon opening a masked battery, he threw in sworn witnesses
in a volley like bomb-shells, and when they exploded there flew out from
them two melting pots, four moulds, nine bulls, and seven-and-twenty hogs,
and every hog of them weighed in evidence upwards of ninety stone.
Finally, the Chief Pitcher himself pitched at him his great wig, and his
fur gown, and his gold chain, and his mace, and his great inkstand, and
the King's crown, and the lion and the unicorn, every thing in short he
could catch up, and then, taking both hands, he heaved at him the Statutes
at Large; not content with which he took next to pelt him with pairs of
missiles at once. For instance, a horse and a hurdle, a gallows and
a halter, a shovel-hat and a condemned sermon, a last dying speech and an
elm coffin, and, last of all, may I die of the pip the next time I eat
oranges, if he didn't cast at him the whole steeple of St. Sepulchre,
death-bell and all, as if it had been only a snow-ball.
Never was St. Stephen so pelted. No wonder in the world, that under
such a huge heap of rubbish, he became utterly dumbfounded, bamboozled,
obfuscated, mizmazed, spifliicated, flummockst, and flabbergasted; seeing
which the Chief Pitcher, as usual, inquired whether he had the
infinitesimal of a word to say against being strangled into a blackamoor,
with the very eyes of his head giving notice to quit. What matter
that Tony had a bramble in his mind that bore reasons like blackberries,
and ripe ones too; as for example, that a tight rope round the gullet is
very bad for the health, and particularly when one's health requires to
take pills, or even boluses, three times a day? I say, he might have
given a thousand such reasonable reasons against hanging, but the very
momentous minute of opening his mouth, the Chief Pitcher pitched into it a
prodigious great bung, as dab and apt and cleverly as if he had played at
nothing else but chuckfarthing and pitch-in-the-hole ever since he was
fourteen. So the mummy of silence being preserved, the Merlinising
began, and hey presto! before you could say Herman Boaz, the big wig was
turned into a black cap! After that you may tell the world that our
Judges are no conjurors. Thus the trial ended, and Tony's sentence,
as taken in the hieroglyphical short-hand, ran thus: namely, "that he was
to be sent on a Black Monday to the Deaf and Dumb School that is kept in a
All this time, mark you, he had the whim with him in the
dock, and to look at it now and then seemed his only comfort in life, how
it whisked and frisked, and looked about it, and fed heartily, as if there
had been no such thing as law or law-cats in the blessed world; and when
Tony went back, like a volume of felony, to be bound in stone, the whim
still went with him to his cell, and from his cell to the press-room, and
from the press-room to the debtor's door, and from the debtor's door to
death's door itself, which opens on the scaffold, as you turn off to the
right hand or the left, in your way to nobody knows where. To take
such a whim of a reptile with one to the gallows, seems whimsical enough;
but the Emperor Adrian, if you read the classics, had such a vagabondish,
blandish, little animal, his animula vagula blandula, to be with him on
Well, Friday came, and Saturday, and Sunday, and Sunday's
night; he was posting to eternity with four bolters. I will bet the
whole national debt he would have given eighteen pence a mile, and
half-a-crown to the boy, to have been posting on any other road. All
the favour the law allowed him was to have an Ordinary at eight instead of
an ordinary at one, a very ordinary favour to a man who was about to leave
off dining. But the devil ought to have his due, and so should the
Lord Mayor and the Sheriffs. As they had neglected Tony a little, by
not being with the other gossips at his christening, to usher him into
this world, they attended very ceremoniously to show him out of it, each
in his gilt coach; and with regard to the coachmen, the footmen, and even
the very horses themselves, they were all Malthusians. Of course the
Recorder brought the hanging-warrant, and if you would know what the
hanging-warrant was like, it was like a map of Cheshire with the
Mersey left out.
I forgot to tell you, that before it came to this pass, the
Ordinary came oftentimes to the cell where Tony was, to pray, besides whom
there was an Extraordinary, who examined him on his points of faith.
And the points of faith were these; namely, whether he believed the moon
to be of green cheese, and as to the size of the mites thereon.
Secondly, if he believed the puppet play of Punch and Judy to be a type of
the fall of Nineveh; and thirdly, concerning the lions in Pilgrim's
Progress, whether they were bred at Mr. Wombwell's or Mr. Cross's, or at
the Tower of London. To all of which Tony giving decidedly serious
answers, he was pronounced fit to die, and quite prepared to have his neck
stretched, as long as the throttle of a claret-bottle when the wine is
Accordingly, on the morning of Monday, Time laid his long hand upon Tony's
collar, and gave him eight distinct hints that his hour was come for being
ornithologised by sentence of the great Law Bird, genus Black-cap, into
the jail bird, genus Wryneck. Never was there such mobbing to see a
hanging. Half the Londoners that morning went without their
breakfasts to be in time for the Old Bailey. Trot, trot, trot,
canter and full gallop; away through Piccadilly; push on there, in the
Strand, hey down Holborn Hill, with a yoicks in Cheapside, and a hark
forward, in Newgate-street, and a tally ho! in West Smithfield. They
all meant to be in at the death. Never was there such a race, to see
a man whose race was run losing it by a neck. And the order of the
running was thus. The Royal Humane Society got in first at the Drop,
and had an excellent front row. The Society for Preventing Cruelty
to Animals was a good second; and may I die, if the Law Life Assurance
hadn't the assurance to come third. Next came the Philanthropic
Society, with the Society of Good Samaritans barely a length behind; and
then the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, neck and neck with the
London Benevolent Society; all racing till they panted again, to see Tony
put out of breath. You never saw such a chevy! Luckily there
was no Anniversary at St.Paul's, so the Sons of the Clergy cantered in
with all the children of all the parishes that had any charity, to see an
execution put in for the debt of Nature. Also the Medical Society
came to see one die by the New Dropsy; and all the Knights of the Garter,
with their orders, it being a collar-day, wherefore they wore their
garters according to the fashion of Miss Bailey; and all the Foreign
Ambassadors. Seeing which, Tony put on a good face, and walked
stoutly up the ladder, saying softly to himself, "the eyes of Europe are
upon you." All being ready, with the Ordinary on the right hand, and
the Extraordinary on the left, and the Great Constrictor a little behind,
Tony (who had his whim with him) was asked how he felt himself, and how
his father and mother did, and all his little brothers and sisters; to
which he answered thankfully, that they were all very well, and that for
his own part, he felt very comfortable, and died in the faith of St. Vitus.
Now the faith of St. Vitus is not exactly the faith of the Church of
England, nor, in faith, do I well know what faith it is; but the Ordinary
took no objection to it, for he was a man in favour of universal
toleration, remembering the saying of the heathen Priest of Apollo to the
Bishop of Magnum Bonum, "You have your thology, and let me have
mythology." So the Ordinary held his peace, but the
Extraordinary would fain have argued the point regularly and methodically,
according to the dogmatical manner of Cerberus, namely, in a discourse
with three heads; and if he had once begun to spin the triple yarn of
controversy, prosyversy, and viceversy into a cable, there is no saying on
oath whether the other rope might have been used to this day.
Seeing, therefore, how matters stood, Master Strangulator pushed in, with
an elbowing manner, and began begging pardon of Tony for the part he was
about to perform, who forgave him very readily, requesting him moreover to
shake hands, and by Gog and Magog, such a shake was never shaked since the
Shakers became a sect!
At the first grapple of their fingers, the Strangulator
pulled away his hand with a jerk, as if a bear's palm had been palmed upon
him instead of a human paw. Then, after making a frightful face, he
gave a mighty great spring or vault upwards, a deal higher than the
gallows, when, on coming down, he alighted with his legs astraddle upon
the beam, where he kept posturing for some five minutes; now rowing with
his arms and legs, like a fish, now hanging with his head downwards, first
by one leg and then by the other, then by one hand, and then again by his
chin; you never saw a rope-dancer or tumbler of them all, at Bartlemy's or
Astley's, more nimble. Then coming down to the stage with a bound,
he threw three summersets forward, and then three backwards, as quick as
thought. Anon, after standing for a minute in the first position, he
fell a-dancing with all his might and main, and as fast as he could lift
his feet, like a bear upon a hotted floor. Never was such a spring
danced round about the gallows-tree; Gilderoy was a fool to him. You
may guess how the Lord Mayor and Sheriffs, and the Ordinary and the
Extraordinary, stared at such a caper, till their eyes grew as big as
owls'; and still more when they saw Tony, after making a round O of his
mouth, fall to bouncing and bounding like another Oscar Byrne! Shade
of Holbein, what a Dance of Death! Only think of Jack Ketch and the
condemned dancing face to face on the drop, now poussetting, now setting
to each other, now allemanding, now waltzing, and then, Father of Vestris
what a tableau! Tony figuring, opera-fashion, on one leg, with
Cheshire poising on tip-toe on the calf of the other! As for his
whim, it was jerked out of the box at the first frisk, and had enough to
do, you may be sure, to scuttle out of the way of the skipping and
hopping; as it was, the poor reptile got more kicks than ha'pence.
In the meantime the Humanes, and the Samaritans, and the Benevolents, and
the rest of the mob, did not stand and look on quite as mum as if it had
been an overbrimming Quaker's meeting, with a collection afterwards at the
door for the Deaf and Dumb. They chuckled, and crowed, and laughed
till they brayed again; and roared, and bellowed, and shouted, and
shrieked like hyænas in hysterics.
"Huzza! huzzaw! Go it Jack! That's your sort! encore—ancore—anker—ancoore,—bravo—brawvo
—bravoo—brawvoo! Well done Tony—Tony for ever—Tony for my
money!—keep it up! It's better than dancing upon nothing." If
Laporte had been there, who knows what offer he might have made them; for
Taglioni herself never danced so—that is to say, gratis, and without
music. On they jigged, however, without let or stint, and may I hang
my hat up for ever, if the same whim did not suddenly take the marshal,
janitor, or head gaoler, however unfit for dancing, seeing that one of his
legs was made of the same flesh as my oak table. Timber or not, he
balanced on it for a whole minute, while the other foot's great toe, far
above his hip, pointed exactly at the clock of St. Sepulchre, and then
swinging his arms like a horizontal windmill, he spun off into a whirlwind
of pirouettes that made one giddy to look at. That done, he struck
in between the other two with a reel step, and they immediately began to
work out a dancing sum in the rule of three, which requires only one
figure, namely, a figure of eight. Scuffle, shuffle, in and out, the
three Kirk Alloway witches could not have footed it better. In fact,
there was no resisting it. The whim took the very Ordinary himself,
though less boisterously at first, by reason of the gravity of his
calling, wherefore, taking a graceful grip with either hand of his
cassock, he only glided off, to begin with, into the minuet de la cour.
However, as the dancing grew more fast and furious, he gradually danced,
in spite of himself, having been classically bred, into the College
Hornpipe, and I defy any one to say they ever saw it better danced, or
more briskly, by the very Doctors of Oxford and Cambridge. Mother of
Almack's, what a quadrille! What a ball! The three Fates,
though winders of thread, and spinsters in ordinary, had never seen such a
Cotton ball! It was the strangest capriccio, the rarest mad morrice
that ever was danced; one minute a mazurka, then a polonaise then a
gallopade, then a fandango, then a bolero, then a saraband, then a
guaracha, then a Highland fling! Sometimes the Strangulator, by help
of the halter which he waved this way and that, seemed executing the shawl
dance; anon he double-shuffled like Dusty Bob. One minute Tony
appeared as measuring his steps with a duchess dowager of the time of
Louis the Fourteenth; the next he was snapping his fingers with Maggie
Lauder to the tune of Tullochgorum. You fancied one minute, that the
Ordinary was dancing a pas seul, to the music of Haydn's slow movement,
and before you could say Jack Robinson (now Earl of Ripon) he started off
into as grotesque a burlesque as ever was flung, and floundered, and
flounced, and bounced, and shuffled, and scuffled, and draggled, and
wiggle-waggled, shambled, gambolled, scrambled, and skimble-skambled by
Grimaldi in Mother Goose. Blessed were they who were born to behold
it, though but from the mother's arms. It was worth going five miles
to see, the first mile trundling a coach-wheel, the second picking up
eggs, the third hopping on one leg, the fourth backwards, and the fifth
jumped in a sack. If any man think otherwise, may he dance a country
dance, that is to say, in a ten acre meadow, with a mohawking bully of a
bull for a partner.
The whim next seized the Extraordinary, and he danced like a
dancing Fakir. He jumped, and thumped, and twirled, and whirled, and
so did the rest, till the great drops rolled down their foreheads, for it
was in the very middle of the dogdays, and verily if Sirius did not become
a dancing dog it was not for want of masters. The clock struck nine,
and still they were at it, cross hands, down the middle, and back
again—'twas a mercy the bolt held. Chassez-croisez, dos-a-dos!—it
was getting- on for ten, and yet they never yet called a fresh set ! high
time, my masters, for authority to interfere; but the Head of the
Corporation had no sooner set the foot of the corporation on the scaffold,
than the whole of the corporation gave way to the whim, and was carried
off with a swagger into the medley, as if it had been the great ball at
Easter. There, I say, was the Mayor of London, scarlet cloak, and
fur, and gold chain and all, capering like a climbing boy on the first of
May. If you had seen that morris danced, 'tis long odds, Londoners,
you would not have known your own May'r from a Hobbyhorse.
The Sheriffs came next, and they gave in to the same whim and
danced, and so did three Phrenologists who were in waiting to take a cast
of the skull, and another old woman who had got upon the scaffold to be
stroked on the neck for a wen. Though her dancing day was over, she
hobbled her best, and so did a Jew who came up to haggle for the
criminal's clothes, and likewise an amateur in hangings, who meant to bid
high for a piece of the rope. These all danced, and God knows how
many more might have joined the corps de ballet, but for a certain leap
that was leaped by the Lord Mayor, and which knocked the whim on the head.
Now the Lord Mayor's weight in the city, in mere flesh, was a matter of
sixteen stone (on the loth of November a little more), and his gold chain
was seventy-five pounds, as good Troy weight as if Priam had weighed it
himself. He had besides in his pocket, two hundred and fifty
thousand pounds in gold, ninety-five thousand pounds in silver, and five
thousand seven hundred pounds in copper, more-over in his fob was an old
family watch, formerly the clock of St. Dunstan, equal to ninety-five
pounds and a half. Lastly, he carried on his person a huge bunch of
keys, house keys, warehouse keys, shop keys, cellar keys, and particularly
wine cellar keys, cupboard keys, and especially pantry keys, and above all
the Master Key of the city, which at any old iron shop would have been
reckoned at a hundred pounds. Only think, my masters, when such a
corporate body jumped, only think, I say, with what a confounding,
astounding, crashing, smashing, flattening, pancake-making sole of a foot
it would come down on any reptile short of a crocodile. No wonder then
that Tony's whim was completely atomised, obliterated, and annihilated,
which it was so utterly, that if you were to search on the gallows
to-morrow, with a solar microscope to help you, I don't believe, on my
soul, that you would find the least article or particle of the cuticle
SALLY SIMPKIN'S LAMENT;
OR, JOHN JONES'S KIT-CAT-ASTROPHE.
"He left his body to the sea,
And made a shark his legatee."
"OH! what is that comes gliding in,
And quite in middling haste?
It is the picture of my Jones,
And painted to the waist.
"It is not painted to the life,
For where's the trowsers blue?
Oh Jones, my dear!—Oh dear! my Jones,
What is become of you?"
"Oh! Sally dear, it is too true,—
The half that you remark
Is come to say my other half
Is bit off by a shark!
"Oh! Sally, sharks do things by halves,
Yet most completely do!
A bite in one place seems enough,
But I've been bit in two.
"You know I once was all your own,
But now a shark must share!
But let that pass—for now, to you
I'm neither here nor there.
"Alas! death has a strange divorce
Effected in the sea,
It has divided me from you,
And even me from me!
"Don't fear my ghost will walk o'nights
To haunt, as people say;
My ghost can't walk, for, oh! my legs
Are many leagues away!
"Lord! think when I am swimming round,
And looking where the boat is,
A shark just snaps away a half,
Without "a quarter's notice."
"One half is here, the other half is near
Oh! Sally, I have got the whole
Atlantic for my waist.
"But now, adieu—a long adieu!
I've solved death's awful riddle,
And would say more, but I am doomed
To break off in the middle!"
A TALE OF THE GREAT PLAGUE.
"This is one of the pest discretions."—SIR
five or six years after that deplorable great Plague of London, there
befel a circumstance which, as it is not set forth in Defoe his history of
the pestilence, I shall make bold to write down herein, not only on
account of the strangeness of the event, but also because it carries a
moral pick-a-back, as a good story ought to do.
It is a notoriously known fact, as collected from the bills
of mortality, that there died of the plague in the mere metropolis a
matter of some hundreds of thousands of human souls; yet notwithstanding
this most awful warning to evil doers, the land did nevertheless bring
forth such a rank crop of sin and wickedness, that the like was never
known before or after; the city of London, especially, being overrun with
bands of thieves and murtherers, against whom there was little or no
check, the civical police having been utterly disbanded and disrupt during
the ravages of the pestilence. Neither did men's minds turn for some
time towards the mere safeguard of property, being still distracted with
personal fears, for although the pest had, as it were, died of the excess
of its own violence, yet from time to time there arose flying rumours of
fresh breakings out of the malady. The small-pox and the malignant
fever being the prolific parents of such like alarms. Accordingly
many notable robberies and divers grievous murthers having been acted with
impunity during the horrible crisis of the pest, those which had before
been wicked were now hardened, and became a thousand times worse, till the
city and the neighbourhood thereof seemed given in prey to devils, who had
been loosened for a season from the everlasting fetters of the law.
Now four of these desperadoes having met together at the Dolphin in
Deptford, they laid a plot together to rob a certain lone mansion house
which stood betwixt the Thames marshes and the Forest of Hainault, and
which was left in the charge of only one man, the family being gone off to
another mansion house in the county of Wiltshire, for the sake of a more
wholesome air. And the manner of the plot was this; one of the
villains going in a feigned voice was to knock at the front-door and beg
piteously for a night's shelter, and then the door, being opened, the
other knaves were to rush in and bind the serving-man, or murther him, as
might seem best, and so taking his keys they were to ransack the house,
where they expected to find a good store of plate. Accordingly one
Friday, at the dead of the night, they set forth, having for leader a
fellow that was named Blackface, by reason of a vizard which he wore
always on such errands, diverting themselves by the way with laying out
each man his share of the booty in the manner that pleased him best, wine
and the women of Lewkener's Lane coming in you may be sure for the main
burthen of the song. At last they entered the fore-court of the
house which they were to rob, and which was as silent as death, and as
dark, excepting a glimmer from one window towards the top. Blackface
then, as agreed upon, began to beat at the door, but being flushed with
drink, instead of entreating for an entrance, he shouted out to the
serving-man, bidding him with many terrible oaths to come down and to
render up his keys, for that they were come to relieve him of his charge.
"In the name of God, any masters," cried the serving-man from
the window, "what do you want here?"
"We are come," returned Blackface, "to relieve you of your
trust, so throw us down your keys."
"An that be all," said the serving-man, whose name was Adams,
"wait but a little while and you shall have the keys and my place to boat.
Come again but a few hours hence and you shall find me dead, when you may
do with me and my trust as you list."
"Come, come," cries Blackface, " no preaching, but come down
and open, or we will bring fire and faggot to the door."
"Ye shall not need," answered Adams, "hearken only to what I
say, and you shall have free passage; but I give you fair warning, though
I be but a single man, and without weapon, and sick even unto death, yet
shall your coming in cost you as many lives as ye bear amongst you, for
within these walls there is a dismal giant that hath slain his thousands,
even the plague." At these dreary words the courage of the robbers
was taken somewhat aback, but Blackface spirited them on, saying it was no
doubt an invention to deter them from the spoil.
"Alas," answered Adams, who overheard their argument, "what I
say is the solemn and sorrowful truth, and which I am speaking for the
last time, for I shall never see to-morrow's blessed sun. As for the
door, I will open it to you with my own hands, beseeching you for your own
sakes to stand a little apart, and out of the taint of my breath, which is
sure destruction. There is one child herein a dead corpse, as you
shall behold if you have so much courage, for it lieth unburied in the
hall." So saying be descended, and presently flung open the hall
door, the villains withdrawing a little backward, and they saw verily by
the light of a rush wick which he carried, that he was lapt only in a
white sheet, and looking very pale and ghostlike, with a most dismal black
circle round each of his eyes.
"If ye disbelieve me still," he said, "look inwards when I draw back from
the door, and ye shall see what was a living child this day, but is now a
corpse hastening to corruption. Alas, in the midst of life we are in
death: she was seized at play." With these words he drew aside, and
the robbers; looking through the door, perceived it was even as he said,
for the dead body of the child was lying on the hall table, with the same
black ring round its eyes, and dressed in brocade and riband as though
death had carried it off, even as he said, in its holiday clothes.
"Now," said Adams, after they had gazed awhile, "here be the keys,"
therewithal casting towards them a huge bunch, but the villains would now
no more meddle with them than with so many aspics or scorpions, looking on
them in truth as the very keys of death's door. Accordingly, after
venting a few curses on their ill luck, they began to depart in very ill
humour, when Adams again called to them to hear his last words.
"Now," said he, "though ye came hither with robbery, and
perchance murder in your hearts, against me, yet as a true Christian will
I not only forgive your wicked intents, but advise you how to shun that
miserable end which my own life is coming to so very suddenly.
Although your souls have been saved from sin, yet, doubtless ye have not
stood so long in this infected air without peril to the health of your
bodies, wherefore, by the advice of a dying man, go straightway from this
over to Laytonstone, where there be tan pits, and sit there for a good
hour amidst the strong smell of the tan, and which hath more virtue as a
remedy against the infection of the plague, than even tobacco or the odour
of drugs. Do this and live, for the poison is strong and subtle, and
seizeth, ere one can be aware, on the springs of life." Thereupon,
he uttered a dismal groan, and began yelling so fearfully that the robbers
with one accord took to flight, and never stopped till they were come to
Laytonstone, and into the tanner's very yard, where they sat down and
stooped over the pit, snuffing up the odours with all the relish of men in
whose nostrils it was as the breath of life. In which posture they
had been sitting half an hour, when there entered several persons with a
lantern, and which they took to be the tanner and his men, and to whom,
therefore, they addressed themselves, begging pardon for their boldness,
and entreating leave to continue awhile in the tan-yard to disinfect
themselves of the plague; but they had hardly uttered these words, when
lo! each man was suddenly seized upon, and bound in a twinkling, the
constables, for such they were, jeering them withal, and saying the plague
had been too busy to come itself, but had sent them a gallows and a halter
instead, which would serve their turn. Whereupon, most of the rogues
became very chopfallen, but Backface swore he could die easy but for one
thing upon his mind, and that was, what had become of the dead child and
the man dying of the plague, both of which he had seen with his own eyes.
Hereupon, the man with a lantern turned the light upon his own face, which
the rogues knew directly to be the countenance of Adams himself, but
without any of those black rings round the eyes, and for which he
explained he had been indebted to a little charcoal. "As for the
dead child," he said, "you must enquire, my masters, of the worshipful
company of Barber Surgeons, and they will tell you of a certain waxen
puppet of Hygeia, the Goddess of Health, which used to be carried at their
pageants, and when it fell into disuse was purchased of them by my Lady
Dame Ellinor Wood, for a plaything to her own children. So one head
you see is worth four pair of hands, and your whole gang, tall, and strong
knaves though you be, have been overmatched by one old man and a doll."
OVER THE WAY.
"I sat over against a window where there stood a pot with very
pretty flowers; and I had my eyes fixed on it, when on a sudden the window
opened, and a young lady appeared whose beauty struck me."
the flames of an unhappy lover
About my heart and on my vitals prey;
I've caught a fever that I can't get over,
Over the way!
Oh! why are eyes of hazel? noses Grecian!
I've lost my rest by night, my peace by day,
For want of same brown Holland or Venetian,
Over the way!
I've gazed too often, till my heart's as lost
As any needle in a stack of hay:
Crosses belong to love, and mine is crossed
Over the way!
I cannot read or write, or thoughts relax—
Of what avail Lord Althorp or Earl Grey?
They cannot ease me of my window-tax
Over the way!
Even on Sunday my devotions vary,
And from St. Bennet Fink they go astray
To dear St. Mary Overy—the Mary
Over the way!
Oh! if my godmother were but a fairy,
With magic wand, how I would beg and pray
That she would change me into that canary
Over the way!
I envy every thing that's near Miss Lindo,
A pug, a poll, a squirrel, or a jay—
Blest bluebottles! that buz about the window
Over the way!
Even at even, for there be no shutters,
I see her reading on, from grave to gay,
Some tale or poem, till the candle gutters
Over the way!
And then—oh! then—while the clear waxen taper
Emits, two stories high, a starlike ray,
I see twelve auburn curls put into paper
Over the way!
But how breathe unto her my deep regards,
Or ask her for a whispered aye or nay,—
Or offer her my hand, some thirty yards
Over the way?
Cold as the pole she is to my adoring;—
Like Captain Lyon, at Repulse's Bay,
I meet an icy end to my exploring
Over the way!
Each dirty little Savoyard that dances
She looks on—Punch—or chimney-sweeps in May,
Zounds! wherefore cannot I attract her glances
Over the way?
Half out she leans to watch a tumbling brat,
Or yelping cur, run over by a dray;
But I'm in love—she never pities that!
Over the way!
I go to the same church—a love lost labour;
Haunt all her walks, and dodge her at the play;
She does not seem to know she has a neighbour
Over the way!
At private theatres she never acts;
No Crown and Anchor balls her fancy sway;
She never visits gentlemen with tracts
Over the way!
To billets-doux by post she shows no favour—
In short, there is no plot that I can lay
To break my window-pains to my enslaver
Over the way!
I play the flute—she heeds not my chromatics—
No friend an introduction can purvey;
I wish a fire would break out in the attics
Over the way!
My wasted form ought of itself to touch her;
My baker feels my appetite's decay;
And as for butchers' meat—oh! she's my butcher
Over the way!
At beef I turn; at lamb or veal I pout;
I never ring now to bring up the tray;
My stomach grumbles at my dining out
Over the way!
I'm weary of my life; without regret
I could resign this miserable clay
To lie within that box of mignonette
Over the way!
I've fitted bullets to my pistol-bore ;
I've vowed at times to rush where trumpets bray,
Quite sick of number one—and number four
Over the way!
Sometimes my fancy builds up castles airy,
Sometimes it only paints a ferme orneé,
A horse—a cow—six fowls—a pig—and Mary,
Over the way!
Sometimes I dream of her in bridal white,
Standing before the altar, like a fay;
Sometimes of balls, and neighbourly invite
Over the way!
I've coo'd with her in dreams, like any turtle,
I've snatch'd her from the Clyde, the Tweed, and Tay;
Thrice I have made a grove of that one myrtle
Over the way!
Thrice I have rowed her in a fairy shallop
Thrice raced to Gretna in a neat "po-shay,"
And shower'd crowns to make the horses gallop
Over the way!
And thrice I've started up from dreams appalling
Of killing rivals in a bloody fray—
There is a young man very fond of calling
Over the way!
Oh! happy man—above all Kings in glory,
Whoever in her ear may say his say,
And add a tale of love to that one story
Over the way!
Nabob of Arcot—Despot of Japan
Sultan of Persia—Emperor of Cathay—
Much rather would I be the happy man
Over the way!
With such a lot my heart would be in clover—
But what—O horror!—what do I survey!
Postilions and white favours!—all is over
Over the way!
SUMMER.—A WINTER ECLOGUE.
A Back Parlour at Camberwell. Sylvanus is seated at
the breakfast-table, and greeteth his friend Civis.
SYL.—A good morrow to you, friend Civis,
and a hearty welcome!—How hath sleep dealt with you through the night?
CIV.—Purely indeed, and with rare
pastoral dreams. I have done nothing but walk through pleasant
groves, or sit me down under shady boughs, the whole livelong night.
A foretaste, my friend, of the rural delights yet to come, in strolling
with you, amongst the dainty shades of this your verdant retreat.
How have I yearned all through the month of June, to be a Jack'i-the-Green
again amidst your leaves here! You know my prospect in town.
SYL .—Aye, truly; I did once spend, or
rather misspend a whole week there in the dog-days. You looked out
opposite on a scorching brick front of six stories, with a south
aspect—studded with I know not how many badges of Assurance from fire, and
not without need—for the shop windows below seemed all a-blaze with
geranium-coloured silks, at that time the mode, and flamme d'enfer.
The left-hand shop, next door, was all red, likewise, with regiments of
lobsters, in their new uniforms; beyond that, a terrible flaring Red Lion,
newly done up with paint. At the next door, a vender of red morocco
pocket-books—my eyes were in a scarlet fever, the whole time of my
CIV.—A true picture, I confess.
We are, indeed, a little strong in the warm tints; but they give the more
zest to your suburban verdure. All the way down overnight, I thought
only of the two tall elm trees beside your gate, and which have always
been to my city optics as refreshing as a pair of green spectacles.
Surely of all spots I have seen, Camberwell is the greenest, as the poet
says, that ever laid hold of Memory's waist.
SYL.—It hath been greener aforetime.
But I pray you sit down and fall to.—Shall I help you to some of this
relishing salted fish?
CIV.—By your good leave, Sylvanus, I
will first draw up these blinds. My bedroom, you know, looks out
only to the road, and I am longing to help my eyes, to a little of what,
as a citizen, I may truly call the green fat of nature.
SYL.—Nay, Civis—I pray you let the
blinds alone. The rolls are getting cold. This ham is
excellently well cured, and the eggs are new-laid. Come, take a
CIV.—I beseech your patience for one
moment. There!—the blind is up. What a brave flood of
sunshine—and what a glorious blue sky!—What a rare dainty day to roam
abroad in, dallying with the Dryads!—But what do I behold! Oh, my
Sylvanus, the Dryads are stripped of their green kirtles—stark naked!
The trees are all bare, God help me! as bare as the "otomies in Surgeons'
SYL.—You would take no forewarning—I
bade you not pull up the blind. It was my intent to have broken the
truth to you, after you had made a full meal; but now you must to
breakfast with what appetite you may!
CIV.—As I hope to see Paradise—there is
not a green bough between this and Peckham!
SYL.—No truly, not a twig! I
would not advise any forlorn Babes to die in our woods, for Cock Robin
would be painfully perplext to provide them with a pall. Alas! were
a Butterfly to be born in our bowers, there is not a leaf to swaddle it
CIV.—Miserable man that I am, to have
come down so late, or rather that winter should have arrived thus early!
Ungenial climate! untimely Boreas!
SYL.—Blame not Boreas, nor winter
neither. Boiling heat had more part than freezing point in this
havoc. To think that even summer now-a-days should go by steam.
CIV.—You speak in Sphynxian riddles!
O my Sylvanus, tell me in plain English prose what has become of the green
emeralds of the forest?
SYL.—Destroyed in one day by a swarm of
locusts. Not the locusts of scripture, such as were eaten by St.
John in the wilderness, but a new species. I caught one in the fact,
on the very elm tree you wot of, and which it had stripped to the bone,
saving one bough.
CIV.—I am glad, with all my heart, that
you have him secure, for I delight to gaze on the wonders of nature, even
of the destructive kinds. You shall show me your new locust.
Of course you thrusted a pin through the body, and fixed it down to a cork
after the manner of the entomologists?
SYL.—No, truly; for it knocked me down
after the manner of the pugilists, and so made its escape.
CIV.—How! be they so huge, then?
To my fancy, they seem more like flying dragons than locusts.
SYL.—It is true, notwithstanding.
Some of them which I have seen, measured nearly six feet in length;
others, that were younger, from three to five. One of these last,
the Minimi, or small fry, I likewise took captive, though not without some
shrewd kicking and biting, and striking with its fore-paws.
CIV.—The smallest of animals will do so
to escape from bondage. I take for granted you knocked him on the
head, for the sake of peace.
SYL.—No, indeed. I had not the
heart; the visage was so strangely human,—ape or monkey could not look
more like a man in the face. And then it cried and whined for all
the world like a mere boy.
CIV.—It would have been a kind of petty
murder to slay him. I do not think I could commit Monkeycide myself.
They look, as lady Macbeth says, so like our Fathers. To kill an ape
would plant the whole stings of an apiary in my conscience. I pray
you go on with the description.
SYL.—Willingly, and according to the
system of the great Linnæus. Antennæ
or horns he had none, thus differing from the common locust, but in lieu
thereof, sundry bunches and tufts of coarse red hair; eyes brown, and
tending inwards towards the proboscis or snout. Two fore-legs or
arms terminating in ten palpi or feelers, and the same number of toes or
claws on the hinder feet. On grasping truncus, or the trunk, it was
cased in a loose skin resembling corduroy, the same being most curiously
furnished with sundry bags or pouches, into which, like the provident
pelican, it stuffed the forage it had collected from the trees.
CIV.—With submission, Sylvanus, to your
better judgment, I should have taken this same Locust, from your
description, to have been actually a mere human boy.
SYL.—Between ourselves, he was—though
of what nation or parentage I know not. To use his own heathenish
jargon, he was doing "a morning fake on the picking lay for a cove wot add
a teacrib in the monkery."
CIV.—A strange gibberish, but I do
remember that Peter the Wild Boy was wont to discourse in the same uncouth
fashion. Poor savage of the woods! I do feel for his pitiful
estate; but what could move him to pluck off all the green emeralds of the
SYL.—To make sham Hyson and mock
Souchong. Even in June you would have deemed it was November, there
were so many ragged Guys collecting gunpowder. Oh Civis, thou hast
no notion of the tea-trade that hath been carried on in these parts.
Many times I have believed myself to be dwelling in Canton, and that my
name was Hum. Thrice I have caught myself marvelling at the huge
feet of Mrs. S., and have groped behind my nape for the national pigtail.
CIV.—Sylvanus, spare me. I have
but one green week in the year, and here it is all blotted out of the
calendar. I pray you do not jest with me. What hath become of
the leaves of yon sycamore?
SYL.—Plucked by a Blackamoor who
preferred it to the climbing of chimneys.
CIV.—And yonder Ashes, which I could
mourn for in appropriate sackcloth?
SYL.—Stripped by the select young
gentlemen of Seneca-house, who left the politer branches of education for
the purpose. Scholars, you know, will play truant gratis, and these
had the opportunity of performing it at twopence the hour. One
Saturday they did turn their half holiday into a whole one, and were found
by the geographical master picking Chinese Pekoe and Padre on the sloe
bushes and willows of Peckham Rye.
CIV.—Oh, my Sylvanus, such then is the
cause of the desolation I survey. To think that I may have myself
helped to swallow the verdure that I should now be sitting under.
That the green Druidical leaves, instead of clothing the Dryads, should be
assisting in the sweeping of my own Kidderminster carpets!
SYL.—Verily so it is. The great
god Pan is dead, and Pot will reign in his stead.
CIV.—Such a misfortune was never before
read in a tea-cup! Oh, my Sylvanus, what is to become of patriotism
or love of the country, when the best part of the country is turned to
SYL.—I have heard by way of rumour that
Mistress Shakerly of our village attributes her palsy to a dash of aspen
in her British Congo; indeed there be shrewd doubts abroad whether the
great Projector hath been at all reforming by turning over a new leaf.
Mr. Fairday, the notable chemist, hath sworn solemnly on his affidavit,
that the tea is strongly emetical, having always acted upon his stomach as
tea and turn out.
CIV.—Of a verity it ought to be tested
by the doctors.
SYL.—They have tested it, and tasted it
to boot. Dr. Budd, the Pennyroyal Professor of Botany, bath ranked
it with the rankest of poisons, after experimenting its destructive
virtues on select tea parties of his relations and friends.
CIV.—And I doubt not Dr. Rudd, of the
same Royal College, hath added a confirmation to this christening.
SYL.—You know the proverb.
Doctors' opinions do not keep step, or match together, better than their
horses. Dr. Rudd hath given this beverage with cream of tartar and
sugar of lead to consumptives, and hath satisfied himself morally and
physically that phthisic does not begin with tea.
CIV.—Dr. Rudd is an ass! Oh, my
Sylvanus, I am sick at heart! Only two days since I did purchase a
delectable book of poems, called "Foliage," purposely to read under your
trees, but how can I enjoy it, when the very foliage of nature is, as the
booksellers say, out of print. "Bare ruin'd quires where late the
sweet birds sung."
SYL.—My friend, take comfort.
This tea-tray will not be brought up another year, for the counterfeit
herb hath all been seized, and condemned to be burnt in the yard of the
CIV.—I am glad o'nt, for it will be, as
the French say, "a feu-de-joie;" and verily all the little singing-birds
ought to collect on the chimneypots to chaunt a Tea Deum. In the
meantime I must borrow Job's patience under my boils, though they be of
the size of kettles, and have boiled away my summer at a gallop.
Possibly you may have fewer locusts another season; but by way of
precaution, the next time I come down by the stage I shall attend to an
old stage direction in Macbeth, namely, "Enter the army with their green
boughs in their hands."