A SERIOUS BALLAD.
But a bold pheasantry, their country's pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.
BILL BLOSSOM was a nice young
And drove the Bury coach;
But bad companions were his bane,
And egg'd him on to poach.
They taught him how to net the birds,
And how to noose the hare;
And with a wiry terrier,
He often set a snare.
Each "shiny night" the moon was bright,
To park, preserve, and wood
He went, and kept the game alive,
By killing all he could.
Land-owners, who had rabbits, swore
That he had this demerit—
Give him an inch of warren, he
Would take a yard of ferret.
At partridges he was not nice;
And many, large and small,
Without Hall's powder, without lead,
Were sent to Leaden-Hall.
He did not fear to take a deer
From forest, park, or lawn;
And without courting lord or duke,
Used frequently to fawn.
Folks who had hares discovered snares—
His course they could not stop:
No barber he, and yet he made
Their hares a perfect crop.
To pheasant he was such a foe,
He tried the keepers' nerves;
They swore he never seem'd to have
Jam satis of preserves.
The Shooter went to beat; and found
No sporting worth a pin,
Unless he tried the covers made
Of silver, plate, or tin.
In Kent the game was little worth,
In Surrey not a button;
The Speaker said he often tried
The Manors about Sutton.
No county from his tricks was safe;
In each he tried his lucks,
And when the keepers were in Beds,
He often was at Bucks.
And when he went to Bucks, alas!
They always came to Herts;
And even Oxon used to wish
That he had his deserts.
But going to his usual Hants,
Old Cheshire laid his plots:
He got entrapp'd by legal Berks,
And lost his life in Notts.
SKETCHES ON THE ROAD.
Read! it's very easy to say read.—THE
I have trusted to a reed.—OLD
the last cry was a waterman's, and went all through the vowels.
The Portsmouth Rocket pulled up, and a middle-aged,
domestic-looking woman, just handsome enough for a plain cook at an
ordinary, was deposited on the dickey; two trunks, three bandboxes, a
bundle, and a hand-basket, were stowed in the hind boot. "This is
where I'm to go to," she said to the guard, putting into his hand a slip
of paper. The guard took the paper, looked hard at it, right side
upwards, then upside down, and then he looked at the back; he in the
meantime seemed to examine the consistency of the fabric between his
finger and thumb; he approached it to his nose as if to smell out its
meaning ; I even thought that he was going to try the sense of it by
tasting, when, by a sudden jerk, he gave the label with its direction to
the winds, and snatching up his key-bugle began to play "O where, and O
where," with all his breath.
I defy the metaphysicians to explain by what vehicle I
travelled to the conclusion that the guard could not read; but I felt as
morally sure of it as if I had examined him in his a—b—ab. It was a
prejudice not very liberal; but yet it clung to me, and fancy persisted in
sticking a dunce's cap on his head. Shakspeare says that "he who
runs may read," and I had seen him run a good shilling's worth after an
umbrella that dropped from the coach; it was a presumptuous opinion
therefore to form, but I formed it notwithstanding—that be was a perfect
stranger to all those booking-offices where the clerks are schoolmasters.
Morally speaking, I had no earthly right to clap an ideal Saracen's Head
on his shoulders; but, for the life of me, I could not persuade myself
that he had more to do with literature than the Blue Boar.
Women are naturally communicative: after a little while the
female in the dickey brought up, as a military man would say, her reserve,
and entered into recitative with the guard during the pauses of the
key-bugle. She informed him in the course of conversation, or rather
dickey gossip, that she was an invaluable servant, and, as such, had been
bequeathed by a deceased master to the care of one of his relatives at
Putney, to exert her vigilance as a housekeeper, and to overlook every
thing for fifty pounds a year. "Such places," she remarked, "is not
to be found every day in the year."
The last sentence was prophetic!
"If it's Putney," said the guard, "it's the very place we're
going through. Hold hard, Tom, the young woman wants to get down."
Tom immediately pulled up; the young woman did get down, and her two
trunks, three bandboxes, her bundle, and her hand-basket were ranged round
her. "I've had a very pleasant ride," she said, giving the fare with
a smirk and a curtsey to the coachman, "and am very much
obliged,"—dropping a second curtsey to the guard,—"for other civilities.
The boxes and things is quite correct, and won't give further trouble, Mr.
Guard, except to be as good as pint out the house I'm going to." The
guard thus appealed to, for a moment stood all aghast; but at last his
wits came to his aid, and he gave the following lesson in geography.
"You're all right—ourn a'n't a short stage, and can't go
round setting people down at their own doors; but you're safe enough at
Putney—don't be alarmed, my dear—you can't go out of it. It's all
Putney, from the bridge we've just come over, to that windmill you almost
can't see t'other side of the common."
"But, Mr. Guard, I've never been in Putney before, and it
seems a scrambling sort of a place. If the coach can't go round with
me to the house, can't you stretch a pint and set me down in sight of it?
"It's impossible—that's the sum total; this coach is timed to
a minute, and can't do more for outsides if they was all Kings of
"I see how it is," said the female, bridling up, while the
coachman, out of patience, prepared to do quite the reverse; "some people
are very civil, while some people are setting beside 'em, in dickies; but
give me the paper again, and I'll find my own ways."
"It's chucked away," said the guard, as the coach got into
motion; "but just ask the first man you meet—any body will tell you."
"But I don't know who or where to ask for," screamed the lost
woman after the flying Rocket; "I can't read; but it was all down in the
paper as is chucked away."
A loud flourish of the bugle to the tune of "My Lodging is on
the Cold Ground" was the only reply; and as long as the road remained
straight, I could see "the Bewildered Maid" standing in the midst of her
baggage, as forlorn as Eve, when, according to Milton,
"The world was all before her, whereto choose
"We thought she never would ride it out, and expected
her every moment to go to pieces."
"THERE you go, you villain—that's the
way to run over people! There's a little boy in the road—you'd
better run over him, for you won't call out to him, no, not you,
for a brute as you are! You think poor people an't common
Christians,—you grind the faces of the poor, you do. Ay, cut away,
do—you'll be Wilful Murdered by the Crowner some day! I'll keep up
with you and tell the gentlemen on the top! Women wasn't created for
you to gallop over like dirt, and scrunch their bones into compound
fractions. Don't get into his coach, ma'am! he's no respect for the
sects—he'll lay you up in the hospital for months and months, he will, the
inhumane hardhearted varmin!"
The speaker, a little active old woman, had run parallel with the coach
some fifty yards, when it stopped to take up a lady, who was as prompt as
ladies generally are, in giving dinner instructions to the cook, and
setting domestic lessons to the housemaid, besides having to pack a
parcel, to hunt for her clogs, to exchange the cook's umbrella for her
own, and to kiss all her seven children. Mat, thus reduced to a
door-mat, was unable to escape the volley which the Virago still poured in
upon him; but he kept a most imperturbable face and silence till he was
fairly seated again on the box.
"There gentlemen," said he, pointing at the assailant with
his whip; "that's what I call gratitude. Look at her figure now, and
look at what it was six months ago. She never had a waist till I run
"I hope, friend, thee art not very apt to make these
experiments on the human figure," said an elderly quaker on the roof.
"Not by no means," answered Mat; "I have done very little in the
accidental line—nothing worth mentioning. All the years I've been on
the road, I've never come to a kill on the spot; them sort o'things
belongs to Burrowes, as drives over one with the Friend in Need, and he's
got quite a name for it. He's called 'Fatal Jack.' To be sure,
now I think of it, I was the innocent cause of death to one person, and
she was rather out of the common." "You fractured her limbs, p'r'aps?"
inquired one of the outsides. "No such thing," said Mat, "there was
nothing fractious in the case; as to running over her limbs, it was the
impossible thing with a woman born without legs and arms." "You must
allude to Miss Biffin," said the outsider—"the Norfolk phenomenon."
"Begging your pardon," said Mat, "it was before the Phenomenon was
started. It was one of the regular old long-bodied double coaches,
and I drove it myself. Very uneasy they were; for springs at that
time hadn't much spring in 'em; and nobody on earth had thought of
Macadaming Piccadilly. You could always tell whether you were on the
stones, or off, and no mistake. I was a full hour behind time—for
coaches in them days wasn't called by such names as Chronometers and
Regulators, and good reason why. So I'd been plying a full hour
after time, without a soul inside, except a barrel of natives for a
customer down the road: at last, a hackney-coach pulls up, and Jarvey and
the waterman lifts Miss Biffin into my drag. Well, off I sets with a
light load enough, and to fetch up time astonished my team into a bit of a
gallop—and it wasn't the easiest thing in the world to keep one's seat on
the box, the coach jumped so over the stones. Well, away I goes,
springing my rattle till I come to the gate at Hyde Park Corner, where one
of my insides was waiting for me—and not very sorry to pull up, for the
breath was almost shook out of my bellows. Well, I opens the door,
and what do I see lying together at the bottom of the coach, but Miss
Biffin bruised unsensible, and the head out of the barrel of oysters!"
"I do hope, friend," said the elderly Quaker, "'that thou
didst replace them on their seats."
"To be sure I did," answered Mat, "I'd the oysters took it
quietly enough, without opening their mouths; but it didn't go quite so
smooth with Miss B. She talked of an action for damages, and
consulted counsel; but, Lard bless you, when it came to taking steps agin
us, she hadn't a leg to stand upon!"
This here, your honour, upon wheels, is the true genuine real
"THE Nelson," I repeated to myself, as I read that
illustrious name on the dickey of the vehicle—"the Nelson." My fancy
instantly converted the coach into a first-rate, the leaders and wheelers
into sea-horses, the driver into Neptunus, brandishing a trident, and the
guard into a Triton blowing his wreathed shell. There was room for
one on the box, so I climbed up, and took my seat beside the coachman.
"Now, clap on all sail," said I, audibly, "I am proud to be one of the
crew of the great Nelson, the hero of Aboukir."
"Begging your pardon, Sir," said the coachman, "the Hero an't a booker at
Mrs. Nelson's: it goes from some other yard." Gracious powers! what
a tumble down stairs for an idea! As for mine, it pitched on its
head, as stunned and stupefied as if it had rolled down the whole flight
at the Monument, "I have made a Bull, indeed," I exclaimed, as the noted
inn at Aldgate occurred to my memory; "but we are the slaves of
association," I continued, addressing the coachman, "and the name of
Nelson identified itself with the Union Jack."
"I really can't say," replied the coachman, very civilly,
"whether the name of Mrs. Nelson is down to the Slave Associations or not:
but as for Jack, if you mean Jack Bunce, he's been off the Union these six
months. Too fond of the Bar, Sir," (here he tipped me the
most significant of winks) "to keep his seat on the Bench."
"I alluded, my good fellow, to Nelson, the wonder of the
maritime world—the dauntless leader when yard was opposed to yard, and
seas teemed with blood."
"We're all right—as right as a trivet,'' said the coachman,
after a pause of perplexity; "I thought our notions were getting rather
wide apart, and that one of us wanted putting straight; but I see what you
mean, and quite go along with your opinion, step for step. To be
sure, Mrs. Nelson has done the world and all for coaching; and the Wonder
is the crack of all the drags in London, and so is the Dauntless,
let yard turn out agin yard, as you say, any day you like. And as
for leaders, and teams full of blood, there's as pretty a sprinkling of
blood in the tits I'm now tooling of—"
"The vehicles of the proprietress, and the appearance of the
animals, with their corresponding caparisons," said I, "have often
gratified my visual organs and elicited my mental plaudits."
"That's exactly what I says," replied the coachman, very
briskly, "there's no humbug nor no nonsense about Mrs. Nelson. You
never see her a-standing a-foaming and fretting in front o' the Bank, with
a regular mob round her, and looking as if she'd bolt with the
Quicksilver. And you never see her painted all over her body,
wherever there's room for 'em, with Saracen Heads and Blue Boars, and
Brown Bears, from her roller bolts to her dickey and hind boot.
She's plain and neat, and nothin else—and is fondest of having her body of
a claret colour, pick'd out with white, and won't suffer the Bull no
where, except on the backgammon-board."
I know not how much further the whimsical description might
have gone, if a strapping, capless, curly-headed lass, running with all
her might and main, had not addressed a screaming retainer to the
coachman. With some difficulty he pulled up, for he had been tacitly
giving me a proof that the craft of his Nelson was a first-rate,
with regard to its rate of travelling.
"If you please, Mr. Stevens," said the panting damsel,
holding up something towards the box—"if you please, Mr. Stevens, mother's
gone to Lonnon—in the light cart—and will you be so kind as to give
Mr. Stevens took the article with a smile, and I fancied with
a sly squeeze of the hand that delivered it.
"If such a go had been any one's but your mother's, Fanny,"
he slyly remarked, "I should have said it was somebody in love." The
Dispatch was too strictly timed to allow of further parley; the horses
broke, or were rather broken, into a gallop, in pursuit of the mother of
Fanny, the Flower of Waltham; and the pin secretly acting as a spur, we
did the next five miles in something like twenty minutes.
In spite, however, of this unusual speed, we never overtook
Mrs. Merryweather and her cart till we arrived at the Basing-House, where
we found her chirping over a cup of ale; as safe and sound as if linchpins
had never been invented; in fact, she made as light of the article, when
it was handed to her, as if it had been only a pin out of her gown!
"Well, I must say one thing for Mrs. Nelson," said our coachman, as he
resumed his seat on the box, "and that's this. There's no pinning at
the Bull. She sets her face against every thing but the patent
boxes. She may come to a runaway with a bolter—or drop the
ribbons—or make a mistake in clearing a gate, by being a little lushy—but
you'll never see Mrs. Nelson laying flat on her side in the middle of the
road, with her insides gone to smash, and her outsides well distributed,
because she's been let go out of the yard without one of her pins."
To Waterloo, with sad ado,
And many a sigh and groan,
Amongst the dead, came Patty Head,
To look for Peter Stone.
"O prithee tell, good sentinel,
If I shall find him here?
I'm come to weep upon his corse,
My Ninety-Second dear!
"Into our town a serjeant came,
With ribands all so fine,
A-flaunting in his cap—alas!
His bow enlisted mine!
"They taught him how to turn his toes,
And stand as stiff as starch;
I thought that it was love and May,
But it was love and March!
"A sorry March indeed to leave
The friends he might have kep',—
No March of Intellect it was,
But quite a foolish step.
"O prithee tell, good sentinel,
If hereabout he lies?
I want a corpse with reddish hair,
And very sweet blue eyes."
Her sorrow on the sentinel
Appear'd to deeply strike:—
"Walk in," he said, "among the dead,
And pick out which you like."
And soon she picked out Peter Stone,
Half turned into a corse;
A cannon was his bolster, and
His mattrass was a horse.
"O Peter Stone, O Peter Stone,
Lord here has been a skrimmage!
What have they done to your poor breast
That used to hold my image?"
"O Patty Head, O Patty Head,
You're come to my last kissing;
Before I'm set in the Gazette
As wounded, dead, and missing!
"Alas! a splinter of a shell
Right in my stomach sticks;
French mortars don't agree so well
With stomachs as French bricks.
"This very night a merry dance
At Brussels was to be;—
Instead of opening a ball,
A ball has open'd me.
"Its billet every bullet has,
And well it does fulfil it;—
I wish mine hadn't come so straight,
But been a 'crooked billet.'
"And then there came a cuirassier
And cut me on the chest;—
He had no pity in his heart,
For he had steel'd his breast.
"Next thing a lancer, with his lance,
Began to thrust away;
I call'd for quarter, but, alas!
It was not Quarter-day.
"He ran his spear right through my arm,
Just here above the joint;—
O Patty dear, it was no joke,
Although it had a point.
"With loss of blood I fainted off,
As dead as women do—
But soon by charging over me,
The Coldstream brought me to.
"With kicks and cuts, and balls and blows,
I throb and ache all over;
I'm quite convinc'd the field of Mars
Is not a field of clover!
"O why did I a soldier turn
For any royal Guelph?
I might have been a Butcher, and
In business for myself!
"O why did I the bounty take
(And here he gasp'd for breath)
My shillingsworth of 'list is nail'd
Upon the door of death!
"Without a coffin I shall lie
And sleep my sleep eternal:
Not ev'n a shell—my only chance
Of being made a Kernel!
"O Patty dear, our wedding bells
Will never ring at Chester!
Here I must lie in Honour's bed,
That isn't worth a tester!
"Farewell, my regimental mates,
With whom I used to dress!
My corps is changed, and I am now
In quite another mess.
"Farewell, my Patty dear,
I have No dying consolations,
Except, when I am dead, you'll go
And see th' Illuminations."
POEMS, BY A POOR GENTLEMAN
There, in a lonely room, from bailiffs snug,
The Muse found Scroggins stretched beneath a rug.
and poverty begin with the same letter, and, in more respects than one,
are "as like each other as two P's."—Nine tailors are the making of a man,
but not so the nine Muses. Their votaries are notoriously only
water-drinkers, eating mutton cold, and dwelling in attics. Look at
the miserable lives and deaths recorded of the poets. "Butler," says
Mr. D'Israeli, "lived in a cellar, and Goldsmith in a Deserted Village.
Savage ran wild,—Chatterton was carried on St. Augustine's Back like a
young gypsey; and his half-starved Rowley always said heigho, when
he heard of gammon and spinach. Gray's days were ode-ious, and Gay's
gaiety was fabulous. Falconer was shipwrecked. Homer was a
blind beggar, and Pope raised a subscription for him, and went snacks.
Crabbe found himself in the poor-house, Spenser couldn't afford a great
coat, and Milton was led up and down by his daughters, to save the expense
of a dog."
seems all but impossible to be a poet, in easy circumstances. Pope
has shown how verses are written by Ladies of Quality—and what execrable
rhymes Sir Richard Blackmore composed in his chariot. In a hay-cart
he might have sung like a Burns.
As the editors of magazines and annuals (save one) well know, the truly
poetical contributions which can be inserted, are not those which come
post free, in rose-coloured tinted paper, scented with musk, and sealed
with fancy wax. The real article arrives by post, unpaid, sealed
with rosin, or possibly with a dab of pitch or cobbler's wax, bearing the
impression of a halfpenny, or more frequently of a button,—the paper is
dingy, and scant—the hand-writing has evidently come to the author by
nature—there are trips in the spelling, and Priscian is a little scratch'd
or so—but a rill of the true Castalian runs through the whole composition,
though its fountain-head was a broken tea cup, instead of a silver
standish. A few years ago I used to be favoured with numerous poems
for insertion, which bore the signature of Fitz-Norman; the crest on the
seal had probably descended from the Conquest, and the packets were
invariably delivered by a Patagonian footman in green and gold. The
author was evidently rich, and the verses were as palpably poor; they were
declined, with the usual answer to correspondents who do not answer, and
the communications ceased—as I thought for ever, but I was deceived; a few
days back one of the dirtiest and raggedest of street urchins delivered a
soiled whity brown packet, closed with a wafer, which bore the impress of
a thimble. The paper had more the odour of tobacco than of rose
leaves, and the writing appeared to have been perpetrated with a skewer
dipped in coffee-grounds; but the old signature of Fitz-Norman had the
honour to be my "very humble servant" at the foot of the letter. It
was too certain that he had fallen from affluence to indigence, but the
adversity which had wrought such a change upon the writing implements had,
as usual, improved his poetry. The neat crowquill never traced on
the superfine Bath paper any thing so unaffected as the following:
WRITTEN UNDER THE FEAR OF BAILIFFS.
of all the noxious things
That wait upon the poor,
Most cruel is that Felon-Fear,
That haunts the "Debtor's Door!"
Saint Sepulchre's begins to toll,
The Sheriffs seek the cell:
So I expect their officers,
And tremble at the bell!
I look for beer, and yet I quake
With fright at every tap;
And dread a double-knock, for oh
I've not a single rap!
WRITTEN IN THE WORKHOUSE.
OH, blessed ease! no more of heaven I ask:
The overseer is gone—that vandal elf—
And hemp, unpick'd, may go and hang itself;
While I, untask'd, except with Cowper's Task,
In blessèd literary leisure bask,
And lose the workhouse, saving in the works
Of Goldsmiths, Johnsons, Sheridans, and Burkes;
Eat prose and drink of the Castalian flask;
The themes of Locke, the anecdotes of Spence,
The humorous of Gay, the Grave of Blair—
Unlearned toil, unletter'd labours hence!
But, hark! I hear the master on the stair—
And Thomson's Castle, that of Indolence,
Must be to me a castle in the air.
"A change came o'er the spirit of my dream."—BYRON.
METHOUGHT—for Fancy is the strangest gadder
When sleep all homely mundane ties hath riven—
Methought that I ascended Jacob's ladder,
With heartfelt hope of getting up to Heaven:
Some bell, I knew notwhence, was sounding seven
When I set foot upon that long one-pair;
And still I climbed when it had chimed eleven,
Nor yet of landing-place became aware;
Step after step in endless flight seem'd there;
But on, with steadfast hope, I struggled still,
To gain that blessèd haven from all care,
Where tears are wiped, and hearts forget their ill,
When, lo! I wakened on a sadder stair—
Tramp—tramp—tramp—tramp—upon the Brixton
FUGITIVE LINES ON PAWNING MY WATCH.
"Aurum pot-a-bile:"—Gold biles the pot.—FREE
then, my golden repeater,
We're come to my Uncle's old shop;
And hunger won't be a dumb-waiter,
The Cerberus growls for a sop!
To quit thee, my comrade diurnal,
My feelings will certainly scotch;
But oh! there's a riot internal,
And Famine calls out for the Watch!
Oh! hunger's a terrible trial,
I really must have a relief,—
So here goes the plate of your dial
To fetch me some Williams's beef!
As famish'd as any lost seaman,
I've fasted for many a dawn,
And now must play chess with the Demon,
And give it a check with a pawn.
I've fasted, since dining at Buncle's,
Two days with true Perceval zeal—
And now must make up, at my Uncle's,
By getting a duplicate meal.
No Peachum it is, or young Lockit,
That rifles my fob with a snatch;
Alas! I must pick my own pocket,
And make gravy-soup of my watch!
So long I have wander'd a starver,
I'm getting as keen as a hawk;
Time's long hand must take up a carver,
His short hand lay hold of a fork.
Right heavy and sad the event is,
But oh! it is Poverty's crime;
I've been such a Brownrigg's Apprentice,
I thus must be "out of my Time."
Alas! when in Brook Street the Upper
In comfort I lived between walls,
I've gone to a dance for my supper—
But now I must go to Three Balls!
Folks talk about dressing for dinner,
But I have for dinner undrest;
Since Christmas, as I am a sinner,
I've eaten a suit of my best.
I haven't a rag or a mummock
To fetch me a chop or a steak;
I wish that the coats of my stomach
Were such as my Uncle would take!
When dishes were ready with garnish
My watch used to warn with a chime—
But now my repeater must furnish
The dinner in lieu of the time!
My craving will take no denials,
I can't fob it off, if you stay,
So go,—and the old Seven Dials
Must tell me the time of the day.
Your chimes I shall never more hear 'em,
To part is a Tic Douloureux!
But Tempus has his edax rerum,
And I have my Feeding-Time too!
Farewell then, my golden repeater,
We're come to my Uncle's old shop—
And Hunger won't be a dumb-waiter,
The Cerberus growls for a sop!
"None despise puns but those who cannot make them."—SWIFT.
TO THE EDITOR OF THE COMIC ANNUAL.
As I am but an occasional reader in the temporary indulgence
of intellectual relaxation, I have but recently become cognizant of the
metropolitan publication of Mr. Murray's Mr. Croker's Mr. Boswell's Dr.
Johnson: a circumstance the more to be deprecated, for if I had been
simultaneously aware of that amalgamation of miscellaneous memoranda, I
could have contributed a personal quota of characteristic colloquial
anecdotes to the biographical reminiscences of the multitudinous
lexicographer, which, although founded on the basis of indubitable
veracity, have never transpired among the multifarious effusions of that
stupendous complication of mechanical ingenuity, which, according to the
technicalities in usage in our modern nomenclature, has obtained the
universal cognomen of the press. Expediency imperiously dictates
that the nominal identity of the hereditary kinsman, from whom I derive my
authoritative responsibility, shall be inviolably and umbrageously
obscured; but in future variorum editions his voluntary addenda to the
already inestimable concatenation of circumstantial particularisation
might typographically be discriminated from the literary accumulations of
the indefatigable Boswell and the vivacious Piozzi, by the significant
classification of Boz, Poz, and Coz.
In posthumously eliciting and philosophically elucidating the
phenomena of defunct luminaries, whether in reference to corporeal,
physiognomical, or metaphysical attributes, justice demands the strictest
scrupulosity, in order that the heterogeneous may not preponderate over
the homogeneous in the critical analysis. Metaphorically speaking, I
am rationally convinced that the operative point I am about to develope
will remove a pertinacious film from the eye of the biographer of the
memorable Dr. Johnson; and especially with reference to that reiterated
verbal aphorism so preposterously ascribed to his conversational
inculcation, namely, that "he who would make a pun would pick a pocket;"
however irrelevant such a doctrinarian maxim to the irrefrangible fact,
that in that colossal monument of etymological erudition erected by the
stupendous Doctor himself (of course implying his inestimable Dictionary),
the paramount gist, scope, and tendency of his laborious researches was
obviously to give as many meanings as possible to one word. In
order, however, to place hypothesis on the immutable foundation of fact, I
will, with your periodical permission, adduce a few Johnsonian repartees
from my cousin's anecdotical memorabilia, which will perspicuously evolve
the synthetical conclusion, that the inimitable author of Rasselas did not
dogmatically predicate such an aggravated degree of moral turpitude in the
perpetration of a double entendre.
Apologistically requesting indulgence for the epistolary
laxity of an unpremeditated effusion,
I remain, Sir,
Your very humble obedient servant,
October 1, 1833.
"Do you really believe, Dr. Johnson," said a Lichfield lady,
"in the dead walking after death?"—"Madam," said Johnson, "I have no
doubt on the subject; I have heard the Dead March in Saul." "You
really believe then, Doctor, in ghosts?" "Madam," said Johnson, "I
think appearances are in their favour."
The Doctor was notoriously very superstitious. The same
lady once asked him—"if he ever felt any presentiment at a winding sheet
in the candle?"—"Madam," said Johnson, "if a mould candle it
doubtless indicates death, and that somebody will go out like a snuff;
but whether at Hampton Wick or in Greece must depend upon the graves."
Dr. Johnson was not comfortable in the Hebrides. "Pray,
Doctor, how did you sleep?" inquired a benevolent Scotch hostess, who was
so extremely hospitable that some hundreds always occupied the same
bed.—"Madam," said Johnson, "I had not a wink the whole night long; sleep
seemed to flee from my eyelids, and to bug from all the rest
of my body."
The Doctor and Boswell once lost themselves in the Isle of
Muck, and the latter said they must "spier their way at the first
body they met." "Sir," said Dr. Johnson, "you're a scoundrel: you
may spear anybody you like, but I am not going to 'run a-Muck and tilt at
all I meet."'
"What do you think of whisky, Dr. Johnson?" hiccuped Boswell
after emptying a sixth tumbler of toddy. "Sir," said the Doctor, "it
penetrates my very soul like 'the small-still voice of conscience,'
and doubtless the worm of the still is 'the worm that never dies."'
Boswell afterwards inquired the Doctor's opinion on illicit distillation,
and how the great moralist would act in an affray between the Smugglers
and the Excise. "If I went by the letter of the Law I should
assist the Customs, but according to the spirit I should stand by
The Doctor was always very satirical on the want of timber in
the North. "Sir," he said to the young Laird of Icombally, who was
going to join his regiment, "may Providence preserve you in battle, and
especially your nether limbs. You may grow a walking-stick here, but
you must import a wooden leg." At Dunsinane the old prejudice broke
out. "Sir," said he to Boswell, "Macbeth was an idiot; he ought to
have known that every wood in Scotland might be carried in a man's hand.
The Scotch, Sir, are like the frogs in the fable: if they had a Log they
would make a King of it."
Boswell one day expatiated at some length on the moral and
religious character of his countrymen, and remarked triumphantly that
there was a Cathedral at Kirkwall, and the remains of a Bishop's Palace.
"Sir," said Johnson, it must have been the poorest of Sees: take your
Rum and Egg and Mull altogether, and they won't provide
for a Bishop."
East India company is the worst of all company. A Lady
fresh from Calcutta once endeavoured to curry Johnson's favour by talking
of nothing but howdahs, doolies, and bungalows, till the Doctor took, as
usual, to tiffin. "Madam," said he, in a tone that would have
scared a tiger out of a jungle, "India's very well for a rubber or for a
bandana, or for a cake of ink; but what with its Bhurtpore, Pahlumpore,
Barrackpore, Hyderapore, Singapore, and Nagpore, its Hyderabad, Astrabad,
Bundlebad, Sindbad, and Guzzaratbadbad, it's a poor and bad
Master M., after plaguing Miss Seward and Dr Darwin, and a
large tea party at Lichfield, said to his mother that he would be good if
she would give him an apple. "My dear child," said the parent,
feeling herself in the presence of a great moralist, "you ought not to be
good on any consideration of gain, for 'virtue is its own reward.'
You ought to be good disinterestedly and without thinking what you are to
get for it." "Madam," said Dr. Johnson, "you are a fool; would you
have the boy good for nothing?"
The same lady once consulted the Doctor on the degree of
turpitude to be attached to her son's robbing an orchard. "Madam,"
said Johnson, "it all depends upon the weight of the boy. I remember
my schoolfellow Davy Garrick, who was always a little fellow, robbing a
dozen of orchards with impunity, but the very first time I climbed up an
apple tree, for I was always a heavy boy, the bough broke with me, and it
was called a judgment. I suppose that's why Justice is represented
with a pair of scales."
Caleb Whitefoord, the famous punster, once, inquired
seriously of Dr. Johnson, whether he really considered that a man ought to
be transported, like Barrington, the pickpocket, for being guilty of a
double meaning? "Sir," said Johnson, "if a man means well, the more
he means the better."