A TALE WHICH HOLDETH CHILDREN FROM PLAY & OLD MEN FROM THE CHIMNEY CORNER —SIR PHILIP SIDNEY
The FORTUNES OF NIGEL
by Sir WALTER SCOTT Bart
But why should lordlings all our praise engross? Rise, honest man, and sing the Man of Ross.
Having, in the tale of the Heart of Mid-Lothian, succeeded in some degree in awakening an interest in behalf of one devoid of those accomplishments which belong to a heroine almost by right, I was next tempted to choose a hero upon the same unpromising plan; and as worth of character, goodness of heart, and rectitude of principle, were necessary to one who laid no claim to high birth, romantic sensibility, or any of the usual accomplishments of those who strut through the pages of this sort of composition, I made free with the name of a person who has left the most magnificent proofs of his benevolence and charity that the capital of Scotland has to display.
To the Scottish reader little more need be said than that the man alluded to is George Heriot. But for those south of the Tweed, it may be necessary to add, that the person so named was a wealthy citizen of Edinburgh, and the King's goldsmith, who followed James to the English capital, and was so successful in his profession, as to die, in 1624, extremely wealthy for that period. He had no children; and after making a full provision for such relations as might have claims upon him, he left the residue of his fortune to establish an hospital, in which the sons of Edinburgh freemen are gratuitously brought up and educated for the station to which their talents may recommend them, and are finally enabled to enter life under respectable auspices. The hospital in which this charity is maintained is a noble quadrangle of the Gothic order, and as ornamental to the city as a building, as the manner in which the youths are provided for and educated, renders it useful to the community as an institution. To the honour of those who have the management, (the Magistrates and Clergy of Edinburgh), the funds of the Hospital have increased so much under their care, that it now supports and educates one hundred and thirty youths annually, many of whom have done honour to their country in different situations.
The founder of such a charity as this may be reasonably supposed to have walked through life with a steady pace, and an observant eye, neglecting no opportunity of assisting those who were not possessed of the experience necessary for their own guidance. In supposing his efforts directed to the benefit of a young nobleman, misguided by the aristocratic haughtiness of his own time, and the prevailing tone of selfish luxury which seems more peculiar to ours, as well as the seductions of pleasure which are predominant in all, some amusement, or even some advantage, might, I thought, be derived from the manner in which I might bring the exertions of this civic Mentor to bear in his pupil's behalf. I am, I own, no great believer in the moral utility to be derived from fictitious compositions; yet, if in any case a word spoken in season may be of advantage to a young person, it must surely be when it calls upon him to attend to the voice of principle and self-denial, instead of that of precipitate passion. I could not, indeed, hope or expect to represent my prudent and benevolent citizen in a point of view so interesting as that of the peasant girl, who nobly sacrificed her family affections to the integrity of her moral character. Still however, something I hoped might be done not altogether unworthy the fame which George Heriot has secured by the lasting benefits he has bestowed on his country.
It appeared likely, that out of this simple plot I might weave something attractive; because the reign of James I., in which George Heriot flourished, gave unbounded scope to invention in the fable, while at the same time it afforded greater variety and discrimination of character than could, with historical consistency, have been introduced, if the scene had been laid a century earlier. Lady Mary Wortley Montague has said, with equal truth and taste, that the most romantic region of every country is that where the mountains unite themselves with the plains or lowlands. For similiar reasons, it may be in like manner said, that the most picturesque period of history is that when the ancient rough and wild manners of a barbarous age are just becoming innovated upon, and contrasted, by the illumination of increased or revived learning, and the instructions of renewed or reformed religion. The strong contrast produced by the opposition of ancient manners to those which are gradually subduing them, affords the lights and shadows necessary to give effect to a fictitious narrative; and while such a period entitles the author to introduce incidents of a marvellous and improbable character, as arising out of the turbulent independence and ferocity, belonging to old habits of violence, still influencing the manners of a people who had been so lately in a barbarous state; yet, on the other hand, the characters and sentiments of many of the actors may, with the utmost probability, be described with great variety of shading and delineation, which belongs to the newer and more improved period, of which the world has but lately received the light.
The reign of James I. of England possessed this advantage in a peculiar degree. Some beams of chivalry, although its planet had been for some time set, continued to animate and gild the horizon, and although probably no one acted precisely on its Quixotic dictates, men and women still talked the chivalrous language of Sir Philip Sydney's Arcadia; and the ceremonial of the tilt-yard was yet exhibited, though it now only flourished as a Place de Carrousel. Here and there a high- spirited Knight of the Bath, witness the too scrupulous Lord Herbert of Cherbury, was found devoted enough to the vows he had taken, to imagine himself obliged to compel, by the sword's-point, a fellow- knight or squire to restore the top-knot of ribbon which he had stolen from a fair damsel;[Footnote: See Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Memoirs.] but yet, while men were taking each other's lives on such punctilios of honour, the hour was already arrived when Bacon was about to teach the world that they were no longer to reason from authority to fact, but to establish truth by advancing from fact to fact, till they fixed an indisputable authority, not from hypothesis, but from experiment.
The state of society in the reign of James I. was also strangely disturbed, and the license of a part of the community was perpetually giving rise to acts of blood and violence. The bravo of the Queen's day, of whom Shakspeare has given us so many varieties, as Bardolph, Nym, Pistol, Peto, and the other companions of Falstaff, men who had their humours, or their particular turn of extravaganza, had, since the commencement of the Low Country wars, given way to a race of sworders, who used the rapier and dagger, instead of the far less dangerous sword and buckler; so that a historian says on this subject, "that private quarrels were nourished, but especially between the Scots and English; and duels in every street maintained; divers sects and peculiar titles passed unpunished and unregarded, as the sect of the Roaring Boys, Bonaventors, Bravadors, Quarterors, and such like, being persons prodigal, and of great expense, who, having run themselves into debt, were constrained to run next into factions, to defend themselves from danger of the law. These received countenance from divers of the nobility; and the citizens, through lasciviousness consuming their estates, it was like that the number [of these desperadoes] would rather increase than diminish; and under these pretences they entered into many desperate enterprizes, and scarce any durst walk in the street after nine at night."[Footnote: history of the First Fourteen Years of King James's Reign. See Somers's Tracts, edited by Scott, vol. ii. p.266.]
The same authority assures us farther, that "ancient gentlemen, who had left their inheritance whole and well furnished with goods and chattels (having thereupon kept good houses) unto their sons, lived to see part consumed in riot and excess, and the rest in possibility to be utterly lost; the holy state of matrimony made but a May-game, by which divers families had been subverted; brothel houses much frequented, and even great persons, prostituting their bodies to the intent to satisfy their lusts, consumed their substance in lascivious appetites. And of all sorts, such knights and gentlemen, as either through pride or prodigality—had consumed their substance, repairing to the city, and to the intent to consume their virtue also, lived dissolute lives; many of their ladies and daughters, to the intent to maintain themselves according to their dignity, prostituting their bodies in shameful manner. Ale-houses, dicing-houses, taverns, and places of iniquity, beyond manner abounding in most places."
Nor is it only in the pages of a puritanical, perhaps a satirical writer, that we find so shocking and disgusting a picture of the coarseness of the beginning of the seventeenth century. On the contrary, in all the comedies of the age, the principal character for gaiety and wit is a young heir, who has totally altered the establishment of the father to whom he has succeeded, and, to use the old simile, who resembles a fountain, which plays off in idleness and extravagance the wealth which its careful parents painfully had assembled in hidden reservoirs.
And yet, while that spirit of general extravagance seemed at work over a whole kingdom, another and very different sort of men were gradually forming the staid and resolved characters, which afterwards displayed themselves during the civil wars, and powerfully regulated and affected the character of the whole English nation, until, rushing from one extreme to another, they sunk in a gloomy fanaticism the splendid traces of the reviving fine arts.
From the quotations which I have produced, the selfish and disgusting conduct of Lord Dalgarno will not perhaps appear overstrained; nor will the scenes in Whitefriars and places of similar resort seem too highly coloured. This indeed is far from being the case. It was in James I.'s reign that vice first appeared affecting the better classes in its gross and undisguised depravity. The entertainments and amusements of Elizabeth's time had an air of that decent restraint which became the court of a maiden sovereign; and, in that earlier period, to use the words of Burke, vice lost half its evil by being deprived of all its grossness. In James's reign, on the contrary, the coarsest pleasures were publicly and unlimitedly indulged, since, according to Sir John Harrington, the men wallowed in beastly delights; and even ladies abandoned their delicacy and rolled about in intoxication. After a ludicrous account of a mask, in which the actors had got drunk, and behaved themselves accordingly, he adds, "I have much marvelled at these strange pageantries, and they do bring to my recollection what passed of this sort in our Queen's days, in which I was sometimes an assistant and partaker: but never did I see such lack of good order and sobriety as I have now done. The gunpowder fright is got out of all our heads, and we are going on hereabout as if the devil was contriving every man should blow up himself by wild riot, excess, and devastation of time and temperance. The great ladies do go well masqued; and indeed, it be the only show of their modesty to conceal their countenance, but alack, they meet with such countenance to uphold their strange doings, that I marvel not at aught that happens."[Footnote: Harrington's Nugae Antique, vol. ii. p. 352. For the gross debauchery of the period, too much encouraged by the example of the monarch, who was, in other respects, neither without talent nor a good-natured disposition, see Winwood's Memorials, Howell's Letters, and other Memorials of the time; but particularly, consult the Private Letters and Correspondence of Steenie, alias Buckingham, with his reverend Dad and Gossip, King James, which abound with the grossest as well as the most childish language. The learned Mr. D'Israeli, in an attempt to vindicate the character of James, has only succeeded in obtaining for himself the character of a skilful and ingenious advocate, without much advantage to his royal client]
Such being the state of the court, coarse sensuality brought along with it its ordinary companion, a brutal degree of undisguised selfishness, destructive alike of philanthropy and good breeding; both of which, in their several spheres, depend upon the regard paid by each individual to the interest as well as the feelings of others. It is in such a time that the heartless and shameless man of wealth and power may, like the supposed Lord Dalgarno, brazen out the shame of his villainies, and affect to triumph in their consequences, so long as they were personally advantageous to his own pleasures or profit.
Alsatia is elsewhere explained as a cant name for Whitefriars, which, possessing certain privileges of sanctuary, became for that reason a nest of those mischievous characters who were generally obnoxious to the law. These privileges were derived from its having been an establishment of the Carmelites, or White Friars, founded says Stow, in his Survey of London, by Sir Patrick Grey, in 1241. Edward I. gave them a plot of ground in Fleet Street, to build their church upon. The edifice then erected was rebuilt by Courtney, Earl of Devonshire, in the reign of Edward. In the time of the Reformation the place retained its immunities as a sanctuary, and James I. confirmed and added to them by a charter in 1608. Shadwell was the first author who made some literary use of Whitefriars, in his play of the Squire of Alsatia, which turns upon the plot of the Adelphi of Terence.
In this old play, two men of fortune, brothers, educate two young men, (sons to the one and nephews to the other,) each under his own separate system of rigour and indulgence. The elder of the subjects of this experiment, who has been very rigidly brought up, falls at once into all the vices of the town, is debauched by the cheats and bullies of Whitefriars, and, in a word, becomes the Squire of Alsatia. The poet gives, as the natural and congenial inhabitants of the place, such characters as the reader will find in the note. [Footnote: "Cheatly, a rascal, who by reason of debts dares not stir out of Whitefriars, but there inveigles young heirs of entail, and helps them to goods and money upon great disadvantages, is bound for them, and shares with them till he undoes them. A lewd, impudent, debauched fellow, very expert in the cant about town.
"Shamwell, cousin to the Belfords, who, being ruined by Cheatly, is made a decoy-duck for others, not daring to stir out of Alsatia, where he lives. Is bound with Cheatly for heirs, and lives upon them a dissolute debauched life.
"Captain Hackum, a blockheaded bully of Alsatia, a cowardly, impudent, blustering fellow, formerly a sergeant in Flanders, who has run from his colours, and retreated into Whitefriars for a very small debt, where by the Alsatians he is dubb'd a captain, marries one that lets lodgings, sells cherry-brandy, and is a bawd.
"Scrapeall a hypocritical, repeating, praying, psalm-singing, precise fellow, pretending to great piety; a godly knave, who joins with Cheatly, and supplies young heirs with goods, and money."—Dramatis Personae to the Squire of Alsatia, SHADWELL'S Works, vol. iv.] The play, as we learn from the dedication to the Earl of Dorset and Middlesex, was successful above the author's expectations, "no comedy these many years having filled the theatre so long together. And I had the great honour," continues Shadwell, "to find so many friends, that the house was never so full since it was built as upon the third day of this play, and vast numbers went away that could not be admitted." [Footnote: Dedication to the Squire of Alsatia, Shadwell's Works, vol. iv.] From the Squire of Alsatia the author derived some few hints, and learned the footing on which the bullies and thieves of the Sanctuary stood with their neighbours, the fiery young students of the Temple, of which some intimation is given in the dramatic piece.
Such are the materials to which the author stands indebted for the composition of the Fortunes of Nigel, a novel, which may be perhaps one of those that are more amusing on a second perusal, than when read a first time for the sake of the story, the incidents of which are few and meagre.
The Introductory Epistle is written, in Lucio's phrase, "according to the trick," and would never have appeared had the writer meditated making his avowal of the work. As it is the privilege of a masque or incognito to speak in a feigned voice and assumed character, the author attempted, while in disguise, some liberties of the same sort; and while he continues to plead upon the various excuses which the introduction contains, the present acknowledgment must serve as an apology for a species of "hoity toity, whisky frisky" pertness of manner, which, in his avowed character, the author should have considered as a departure from the rules of civility and good taste.
ABBOTSFORD. 1st July, 1831.
CAPTAIN CLUTTERBUCK TO THE REVEREND DR. DRYASDUST
I readily accept of, and reply to the civilities with which you have been pleased to honour me in your obliging letter, and entirely agree with your quotation, of "Quam bonum et quam jucundum!" We may indeed esteem ourselves as come of the same family, or, according to our country proverb, as being all one man's bairns; and there needed no apology on your part, reverend and dear sir, for demanding of me any information which I may be able to supply respecting the subject of your curiosity. The interview which you allude to took place in the course of last winter, and is so deeply imprinted on my recollection, that it requires no effort to collect all its most minute details.
You are aware that the share which I had in introducing the Romance, called THE MONASTERY, to public notice, has given me a sort of character in the literature of our Scottish metropolis. I no longer stand in the outer shop of our bibliopolists, bargaining for the objects of my curiosity with an unrespective shop-lad, hustled among boys who come to buy Corderies and copy-books, and servant girls cheapening a pennyworth of paper, but am cordially welcomed by the bibliopolist himself, with, "Pray, walk into the back-shop, Captain. Boy, get a chair for Captain Clutterbuck. There is the newspaper, Captain—to-day's paper;" or, "Here is the last new work—there is a folder, make free with the leaves;" or, "Put it in your pocket and carry it home;" or, "We will make a bookseller of you, sir, and you shall have it at trade price." Or, perhaps if it is the worthy trader's own publication, his liberality may even extend itself to— "Never mind booking such a trifle to you, sir—it is an over-copy. Pray, mention the work to your reading friends." I say nothing of the snug well-selected literary party arranged round a turbot, leg of five-year-old mutton, or some such gear, or of the circulation of a quiet bottle of Robert Cockburn's choicest black—nay, perhaps, of his new ones. All these are comforts reserved to such as are freemen of the corporation of letters, and I have the advantage of enjoying them in perfection. But all things change under the sun; and it is with no ordinary feelings of regret, that, in my annual visits to the metropolis, I now miss the social and warm-hearted welcome of the quick-witted and kindly friend who first introduced me to the public; who had more original wit than would have set up a dozen of professed sayers of good things, and more racy humour than would have made the fortune of as many more. To this great deprivation has been added, I trust for a time only, the loss of another bibliopolical friend, whose vigorous intellect, and liberal ideas, have not only rendered his native country the mart of her own literature, but established there a Court of Letters, which must command respect, even from those most inclined to dissent from many of its canons. The effect of these changes, operated in a great measure by the strong sense and sagacious calculations of an individual, who knew how to avail himself, to an unhoped-for extent, of the various kinds of talent which his country produced, will probably appear more clearly to the generation which shall follow the present.
I entered the shop at the Cross, to enquire after the health of my worthy friend, and learned with satisfaction, that his residence in the south had abated the rigour of the symptoms of his disorder. Availing myself, then, of the privileges to which I have alluded, I strolled onward in that labyrinth of small dark rooms, or crypts, to speak our own antiquarian language, which form the extensive back- settlements of that celebrated publishing-house. Yet, as I proceeded from one obscure recess to another, filled, some of them with old volumes, some with such as, from the equality of their rank on the shelves, I suspected to be the less saleable modern books of the concern, I could not help feeling a holy horror creep upon me, when I thought of the risk of intruding on some ecstatic bard giving vent to his poetical fury; or it might be, on the yet more formidable privacy of a band of critics, in the act of worrying the game which they had just run down. In such a supposed case, I felt by anticipation the horrors of the Highland seers, whom their gift of deuteroscopy compels to witness things unmeet for mortal eye; and who, to use the expression of Collins,
——"heartless, oft, like moody madness, stare, To see the phantom train their secret work prepare."
Still, however, the irresistible impulse of an undefined curiosity drove me on through this succession of darksome chambers, till, like the jeweller of Delhi in the house of the magician Bennaskar, I at length reached a vaulted room, dedicated to secrecy and silence, and beheld, seated by a lamp, and employed in reading a. blotted revise, [Footnote: The uninitiated must be informed, that a second proof-sheet is so called.] the person, or perhaps I should rather say the Eidolon, or representative Vision of the AUTHOR OF WAVERLEY! You will not be surprised at the filial instinct which enabled me at once to acknowledge the features borne by this venerable apparition, and that I at once bended the knee, with the classical salutation of, Salve, magne parens! The vision, however, cut me short, by pointing to a seat, intimating at the same time, that my presence was not expected, and that he had something to say to me.
I sat down with humble obedience, and endeavoured to note the features of him with whom I now found myself so unexpectedly in society. But on this point I can give your reverence no satisfaction; for, besides the obscurity of the apartment, and the fluttered state of my own nerves, I seemed to myself overwhelmed by a sense of filial awe, which prevented my noting and recording what it is probable the personage before me might most desire to have concealed. Indeed, his figure was so closely veiled and wimpled, either with a mantle, morning-gown, or some such loose garb, that the verses of Spenser might well have been applied—
"Yet, certes, by her face and physnomy, Whether she man or woman only were, That could not any creature well descry."
I must, however, go on as I have begun, to apply the masculine gender; for, notwithstanding very ingenious reasons, and indeed something like positive evidence, have been offered to prove the Author of Waverley to be two ladies of talent, I must abide by the general opinion, that he is of the rougher sex. There are in his writings too many things
"Quae maribus sola tribuuntur,"
to permit me to entertain any doubt on that subject. I will proceed, in the manner of dialogue, to repeat as nearly as I can what passed betwixt us, only observing, that in the course of the conversation, my timidity imperceptibly gave way under the familiarity of his address; and that, in the concluding part of our dialogue, I perhaps argued with fully as much confidence as was beseeming.
Author of Waverley. I was willing to see you, Captain Clutterbuck, being the person of my family whom I have most regard for, since the death of Jedediah Cleishbotham; and I am afraid I may have done you some wrong, in assigning to you The Monastery as a portion of my effects. I have some thoughts of making it up to you, by naming you godfather to this yet unborn babe—(he indicated the proof-sheet with his finger)—But first, touching The Monastery—How says the world— you are abroad and can learn?
Captain Clutterbuck. Hem! hem!—The enquiry is delicate—I have not heard any complaints from the Publishers.
Author. That is the principal matter; but yet an indifferent work is sometimes towed on by those which have left harbour before it, with the breeze in their poop.—What say the Critics?
Captain. There is a general—feeling—that the White Lady is no favourite.
Author. I think she is a failure myself; but rather in execution than conception. Could I have evoked an esprit follet, at the same time fantastic and interesting, capricious and kind; a sort of wildfire of the elements, bound by no fixed laws, or motives of action; faithful and fond, yet teazing and uncertain——
Captain. If you will pardon the interruption, sir, I think you are describing a pretty woman.
Author. On my word, I believe I am. I must invest my elementary spirits with a little human flesh and blood—they are too fine-drawn for the present taste of the public.
Captain. They object, too, that the object of your Nixie ought to have been more uniformly noble—Her ducking the priest was no Naiad- like amusement.
Author. Ah! they ought to allow for the capriccios of what is, after all, but a better sort of goblin. The bath into which Ariel, the most delicate creation of Shakspeare's imagination, seduces our jolly friend Trinculo, was not of amber or rose-water. But no one shall find me rowing against the stream. I care not who knows it—I write for general amusement; and, though I never will aim at popularity by what I think unworthy means, I will not, on the other hand, be pertinacious in the defence of my own errors against the voice of the public.
Captain. You abandon, then, in the present work—(looking, in my turn, towards the proof-sheet)—the mystic, and the magical, and the whole system of signs, wonders, and omens? There are no dreams, or presages, or obscure allusions to future events?
Author. Not a Cock-lane scratch, my son—not one bounce on the drum of Tedworth—not so much as the poor tick of a solitary death-watch in the wainscot. All is clear and above board—a Scots metaphysician might believe every word of it.
Captain. And the story is, I hope, natural and probable; commencing strikingly, proceeding naturally, ending happily—like the course of a famed river, which gushes from the mouth of some obscure and romantic grotto—then gliding on, never pausing, never precipitating its course, visiting, as it were, by natural instinct, whatever worthy subjects of interest are presented by the country through which it passes—widening and deepening in interest as it flows on; and at length arriving at the final catastrophe as at some mighty haven, where ships of all kinds strike sail and yard?
Author. Hey! hey! what the deuce is all this? Why,'tis Ercles' vein, and it would require some one much more like Hercules than I, to produce a story which should gush, and glide, and never pause, and visit, and widen, and deepen, and all the rest on't. I should be chin- deep in the grave, man, before I had done with my task; and, in the meanwhile, all the quirks and quiddities which I might have devised for my reader's amusement, would lie rotting in my gizzard, like Sancho's suppressed witticisms, when he was under his master's displeasure.—There never was a novel written on this plan while the world stood.
Captain. Pardon me—Tom Jones.
Author. True, and perhaps Amelia also. Fielding had high notions of the dignity of an art which he may be considered as having founded. He challenges a comparison between the Novel and the Epic. Smollett, Le Sage, and others, emancipating themselves from the strictness of the rules he has laid down, have written rather a history of the miscellaneous adventures which befall an individual in the course of life, than the plot of a regular and connected epopeia, where every step brings us a point nearer to the final catastrophe. These great masters have been satisfied if they amused the reader upon the road; though the conclusion only arrived because the tale must have an end— just as the traveller alights at the inn, because it is evening.
Captain. A very commodious mode of travelling, for the author at least. In short, sir, you are of opinion with Bayes—"What the devil does the plot signify, except to bring in fine things?"
Author. Grant that I were so, and that I should write with sense and spirit a few scenes unlaboured and loosely put together, but which had sufficient interest in them to amuse in one corner the pain of body; in another, to relieve anxiety of mind; in a third place, to unwrinkle a brow bent with the furrows of daily toil; in another, to fill the place of bad thoughts, or to suggest better; in yet another, to induce an idler to study the history of his country; in all, save where the perusal interrupted the discharge of serious duties, to furnish harmless amusement,—might not the author of such a work, however inartificially executed, plead for his errors and negligences the excuse of the slave, who, about to be punished for having spread the false report of a victory, saved himself by exclaiming—"Am I to blame, O Athenians, who have given you one happy day?"
Captain. Will your goodness permit me to mention an anecdote of my excellent grandmother?
Author. I see little she can have to do with the subject, Captain Clutterbuck.
Captain. It may come into our dialogue on Bayes's plan.—The sagacious old lady—rest her soul!—was a good friend to the church, and could never hear a minister maligned by evil tongues, without taking his part warmly. There was one fixed point, however, at which she always abandoned the cause of her reverend protege—it was so soon as she learned he had preached a regular sermon against slanderers and backbiters.
Author. And what is that to the purpose?
Captain. Only that I have heard engineers say, that one may betray the weak point to the enemy, by too much ostentation of fortifying it.
Author. And, once more I pray, what is that to the purpose?
Captain. Nay, then, without farther metaphor, I am afraid this new production, in which your generosity seems willing to give me some concern, will stand much in need of apology, since you think proper to begin your defence before the case is on trial.-The story is hastily huddled up, I will venture a pint of claret.
Author. A pint of port, I suppose you mean?
Captain. I say of claret—good claret of the Monastery. Ah, sir, would you but take the advice of your friends, and try to deserve at least one-half of the public favour you have met with, we might all drink Tokay!
Author. I care not what I drink, so the liquor be wholesome.
Captain. Care for your reputation, then,—for your fame.
Author. My fame?—I will answer you as a very ingenious, able, and experienced friend, being counsel for the notorious Jem MacCoul, replied to the opposite side of the bar, when they laid weight on his client's refusing to answer certain queries, which they said any man who had a regard for his reputation would not hesitate to reply to. "My client," said he-by the way, Jem was standing behind him at the time, and a rich scene it was-"is so unfortunate as to have no regard for his reputation; and I should deal very uncandidly with the Court, should I say he had any that was worth his attention."-I am, though from very different reasons, in Jem's happy state of indifference. Let fame follow those who have a substantial shape. A shadow-and an impersonal author is nothing better-can cast no shade.
Captain. You are not now, perhaps, so impersonal as here-tofore. These Letters to the Member for the University of Oxford—Author. Show the wit, genius, and delicacy of the author, which I heartily wish to see engaged on a subject of more importance; and show, besides, that the preservation of my character of incongnito has engaged early talent in the discussion of a curious question of evidence. But a cause, however ingeniously pleaded, is not therefore gained. You may remember, the neatly-wrought chain of circumstantial evidence, so artificially brought forward to prove Sir Philip Francis's title to the Letters of Junius, seemed at first irrefragable; yet the influence of the reasoning has passed away, and Junius, in the general opinion, is as much unknown as ever. But on this subject I will not be soothed or provoked into saying one word more. To say who I am not, would be one step towards saying who I am; and as I desire not, any more than a certain justice of peace mentioned by Shenstone, the noise or report such things make in the world, I shall continue to be silent on a subject, which, in my opinion, is very undeserving the noise that has been made about it, and still more unworthy of the serious employment of such ingenuity as has been displayed by the young letter-writer.
Captain. But allowing, my dear sir, that you care not for your personal reputation, or for that of any literary person upon whose shoulders your faults may be visited, allow me to say, that common gratitude to the public, which has received you so kindly, and to the critics, who have treated you so leniently, ought to induce you to bestow more pains on your story.
Author. I do entreat you, my son, as Dr. Johnson would have said, "free your mind from cant." For the critics, they have their business, and I mine; as the nursery proverb goes—
"The children in Holland take pleasure in making What the children in England take pleasure in breaking."
I am their humble jackal, too busy in providing food for them, to have time for considering whether they swallow or reject it.—To the public, I stand pretty nearly in the relation of the postman who leaves a packet at the door of an individual. If it contains pleasing intelligence, a billet from a mistress, a letter from an absent son, a remittance from a correspondent supposed to be bankrupt,—the letter is acceptably welcome, and read and re-read, folded up, filed, and safely deposited in the bureau. If the contents are disagreeable, if it comes from a dun or from a bore, the correspondent is cursed, the letter is thrown into the fire, and the expense of postage is heartily regretted; while all the time the bearer of the dispatches is, in either case, as little thought on as the snow of last Christmas. The utmost extent of kindness between the author and the public which can really exist, is, that the world are disposed to be somewhat indulgent to the succeeding works of an original favourite, were it but on account of the habit which the public mind has acquired; while the author very naturally thinks well of their taste, who have so liberally applauded his productions. But I deny there is any call for gratitude, properly so called, either on one side or the other.
Captain. Respect to yourself, then, ought to teach caution.
Author. Ay, if caution could augment the chance of my success. But, to confess to you the truth, the works and passages in which I have succeeded, have uniformly been written with the greatest rapidity; and when I have seen some of these placed in opposition with others, and commended as more highly finished, I could appeal to pen and standish, that the parts in which I have come feebly off, were by much the more laboured. Besides, I doubt the beneficial effect of too much delay, both on account of the author and the public. A man should strike while the iron is hot, and hoist sail while the wind is fair. If a successful author keep not the stage, another instantly takes his ground. If a writer lie by for ten years ere he produces a second work, he is superseded by others; or, if the age is so poor of genius that this does not happen, his own reputation becomes his greatest obstacle. The public will expect the new work to be ten times better than its predecessor; the author will expect it should be ten times more popular, and 'tis a hundred to ten that both are disappointed.
Captain. This may justify a certain degree of rapidity in publication, but not that which is proverbially said to be no speed. You should take time at least to arrange your story.
Author. That is a sore point with me, my son. Believe me, I have not been fool enough to neglect ordinary precautions. I have repeatedly laid down my future work to scale, divided it into volumes and chapters, and endeavoured to construct a story which I meant should evolve itself gradually and strikingly, maintain suspense, and stimulate curiosity; and which, finally, should terminate in a striking catastrophe. But I think there is a demon who seats himself on the feather of my pen when I begin to write, and leads it astray from the purpose. Characters expand under my hand; incidents are multiplied; the story lingers, while the materials increase; my regular mansion turns out a Gothic anomaly, and the work is closed long before I have attained the point I proposed.
Captain. Resolution and determined forbearance might remedy that evil.
Author. Alas! my dear sir, you do not know the force of paternal affection. When I light on such a character as Bailie Jarvie, or Dalgetty, my imagination brightens, and my conception becomes clearer at every step which I take in his company, although it leads me many a weary mile away from the regular road, and forces me leap hedge and ditch to get back into the route again. If I resist the temptation, as you advise me, my thoughts become prosy, flat, and dull; I write painfully to myself, and under a consciousness of flagging which makes me flag still more; the sunshine with which fancy had invested the incidents, departs from them, and leaves every thing dull and gloomy. I am no more the same author I was in my better mood, than the dog in a wheel, condemned to go round and round for hours, is like the same dog merrily chasing his own tail, and gambolling in all the frolic of unrestrained freedom. In short, sir, on such occasions, I think I am bewitched.
Captain. Nay, sir, if you plead sorcery, there is no more to be said—he must needs go whom the devil drives. And this, I suppose, sir, is the reason why you do not make the theatrical attempt to which you have been so often urged?
Author. It may pass for one good reason for not writing a play, that I cannot form a plot. But the truth is, that the idea adopted by too favourable judges, of my having some aptitude for that department of poetry, has been much founded on those scraps of old plays, which, being taken from a source inaccessible to collectors, they have hastily considered the offspring of my mother-wit. Now, the manner in which I became possessed of these fragments is so extraordinary, that I cannot help telling it to you.
You must know, that, some twenty years since, I went down to visit an old friend in Worcestershire, who had served with me in the—— Dragoons.
Captain. Then you have served, sir?
Author. I have—or I have not, which signifies the same thing— Captain is a good travelling name.—I found my friend's house unexpectedly crowded with guests, and, as usual, was condemned—the mansion being an old one—to the haunted apartment. I have, as a great modern said, seen too many ghosts to believe in them, so betook myself seriously to my repose, lulled by the wind rustling among the lime-trees, the branches of which chequered the moonlight which fell on the floor through the diamonded casement, when, behold, a darker shadow interposed itself, and I beheld visibly on the floor of the apartment—
Captain. The White Lady of Avenel, I suppose?—You have told the very story before.
Author. No—I beheld a female form, with mob-cap, bib, and apron, sleeves tucked up to the elbow, a dredging-box in the one hand, and in the other a sauce-ladle. I concluded, of course, that it was my friend's cook-maid walking in her sleep; and as I knew he had a value for Sally, who could toss a pancake with any girl in the country, I got up to conduct her safely to the door. But as I approached her, she said,—"Hold, sir! I am not what you take me for;"—words which seemed so opposite to the circumstances, that I should not have much minded them, had it not been for the peculiarly hollow sound in which they were uttered.—"Know, then," she said, in the same unearthly accents, "that I am the spirit of Betty Barnes."—"Who hanged herself for love of the stage-coachman," thought I; "this is a proper spot of work!"— "Of that unhappy Elizabeth or Betty Barnes, long cook-maid to Mr. Warburton, the painful collector, but ah! the too careless custodier, of the largest collection of ancient plays ever known—of most of which the titles only are left to gladden the Prolegomena of the Variorum Shakspeare. Yes, stranger, it was these ill-fated hands That consigned to grease and conflagration the scores of small quartos, which, did they now exist, would drive the whole Roxburghe Club out of their senses—it was these unhappy pickers and stealers that singed fat fowls and wiped dirty trenchers with the lost works of Beaumont and Fletcher, Massinger, Jonson, Webster—what shall I say?—even of Shakspeare himself!"
Like every dramatic antiquary, my ardent curiosity after some play named in the Book of the Master of Revels, had often been checked by finding the object of my research numbered amongst the holocaust of victims which this unhappy woman had sacrificed to the God of Good Cheer. It is no wonder then, that, like the Hermit of Parnell,
"I broke the bands of fear, and madly cried, 'You careless jade!'—But scarce the words began, When Betty brandish'd high her saucing-pan."
"Beware," she said, "you do not, by your ill-timed anger, cut off the opportunity I yet have to indemnify the world for the errors of my ignorance. In yonder coal-hole, not used for many a year, repose the few greasy and blackened fragments of the elder Drama which were not totally destroyed. Do thou then"—Why, what do you stare at, Captain? By my soul, it is true; as my friend Major Longbow says, "What should I tell you a lie for?"
Captain. Lie, sir! Nay, Heaven forbid I should apply the word to a person so veracious. You are only inclined to chase your tail a little this morning, that's all. Had you not better reserve this legend to form an introduction to "Three Recovered Dramas," or so?
Author. You are quite right—habit's a strange thing, my son. I had forgot whom I was speaking to. Yes, Plays for the closet, not for the stage—
Captain. Right, and so you are sure to be acted; for the managers, while thousands of volunteers are desirous of serving them, are wonderfully partial to pressed men.
Author. I am a living witness, having been, like a second Laberius, made a dramatist whether I would or not. I believe my muse would be Terry-fied into treading the stage, even if I should write a sermon.
Captain. Truly, if you did, I am afraid folks might make a farce of it; and, therefore, should you change your style, I still advise a volume of dramas like Lord Byron's.
Author. No, his lordship is a cut above me—I won't run my horse against his, if I can help myself. But there is my friend Allan has written just such a play as I might write myself, in a very sunny day, and with one of Bramah's extra-patent pens. I cannot make neat work without such appurtenances.
Captain. Do you mean Allan Ramsay?
Author. No, nor Barbara Allan either. I mean Allan Cunningham, who has just published his tragedy of Sir Marmaduke Maxwell, full of merry-making and murdering, kissing and cutting of throats, and passages which lead to nothing, and which are very pretty passages for all that. Not a glimpse of probability is there about the plot, but so much animation in particular passages, and such a vein of poetry through the whole, as I dearly wish I could infuse into my Culinary Remains, should I ever be tempted to publish them. With a popular impress, people would read and admire the beauties of Allan—as it is, they may perhaps only note his defects—or, what is worse, not note him at all.—But never mind them, honest Allan; you are a credit to Caledonia for all that.—There are some lyrical effusions of his, too, which you would do well to read, Captain. "It's hame, and it's hame," is equal to Burns.
Captain. I will take the hint. The club at Kennaquhair are turned fastidious since Catalan! visited the Abbey. My "Poortith Cauld" has been received both poorly and coldly, and "the Banks of Bonnie Doon" have been positively coughed down—Tempora mutantur.
Author. They cannot stand still, they will change with all of us. What then?
"A man's a man for a' that."
But the hour of parting approaches.
Captain. You are determined to proceed then in your own system? Are you aware that an unworthy motive may be assigned for this rapid succession of publication? You will be supposed to work merely for the lucre of gain.
Author. Supposing that I did permit the great advantages which must be derived from success in literature, to join with other motives in inducing me to come more frequently before the public,—that emolument is the voluntary tax which the public pays for a certain species of literary amusement—it is extorted from no one, and paid, I presume, by those only who can afford it, and who receive gratification in proportion to the expense. If the capital sum which these volumes have put into circulation be a very large one, has it contributed to my indulgences only? or can I not say to hundreds, from honest Duncan the paper-manufacturer, to the most snivelling of the printer's devils, "Didst thou not share? Hadst thou not fifteen pence?" I profess I think our Modern Athens much obliged to me for having established such an extensive manufacture; and when universal suffrage comes in fashion, I intend to stand for a seat in the House on the interest of all the unwashed artificers connected with literature.
Captain. This would be called the language of a calico-manufacturer.
Author. Cant again, my dear son—there is lime in this sack, too— nothing but sophistication in this world! I do say it, in spite of Adam Smith and his followers, that a successful author is a productive labourer, and that his works constitute as effectual a part of the public wealth, as that which is created by any other manufacture. If a new commodity, having an actually intrinsic and commercial value, be the result of the operation, why are the author's bales of books to be esteemed a less profitable part of the public stock than the goods of any other manufacturer? I speak with reference to the diffusion of the wealth arising to the public, and the degree of industry which even such a trifling work as the present must stimulate and reward, before the volumes leave the publisher's shop. Without me it could not exist, and to this extent I am a benefactor to the country. As for my own emolument, it is won by my toil, and I account myself answerable to Heaven only for the mode in which I expend it. The candid may hope it is not all dedicated to selfish purposes; and, without much pretensions to merit in him who disburses it, a part may "wander, heaven-directed, to the poor."
Captain. Yet it is generally held base to write from the mere motives of gain.
Author. It would be base to do so exclusively, or even to make it a principal motive for literary exertion. Nay, I will venture to say, that no work of imagination, proceeding from the mere consideration of a certain sum of copy-money, ever did, or ever will, succeed. So the lawyer who pleads, the soldier who fights, the physician who prescribes, the clergyman—if such there be—who preaches, without any zeal for his profession, or without any sense of its dignity, and merely on account of the fee, pay, or stipend, degrade themselves to the rank of sordid mechanics. Accordingly, in the case of two of the learned faculties at least, their services are considered as unappreciable, and are acknowledged, not by any exact estimate of the services rendered, but by a honorarium, or voluntary acknowledgment. But let a client or patient make the experiment of omitting this little ceremony of the honorarium, which is cense to be a thing entirely out of consideration between them, and mark how the learned gentleman will look upon his case. Cant set apart, it is the same thing with literary emolument. No man of sense, in any rank of life, is, or ought to be, above accepting a just recompense for his time, and a reasonable share of the capital which owes its very existence to his exertions. When Czar Peter wrought in the trenches, he took the pay of a common soldier; and nobles, statesmen, and divines, the most distinguished of their time, have not scorned to square accounts with their bookseller.
"O if it were a mean thing, The gentles would not use it; And if it were ungodly, The clergy would refuse it."
Author. You say well. But no man of honour, genius, or spirit, would make the mere love of gain, the chief, far less the only, purpose of his labours. For myself, I am not displeased to find the game a winning one; yet while I pleased the public, I should probably continue it merely for the pleasure of playing; for I have felt as strongly as most folks that love of composition, which is perhaps the strongest of all instincts, driving the author to the pen, the painter to the pallet, often without either the chance of fame or the prospect of reward. Perhaps I have said too much of this. I might, perhaps, with as much truth as most people, exculpate myself from the charge of being either of a greedy or mercenary disposition; but I am not, therefore, hypocrite enough to disclaim the ordinary motives, on account of which the whole world around me is toiling unremittingly, to the sacrifice of ease, comfort, health, and life. I do not affect the disinterestedness of that ingenious association of gentlemen mentioned by Goldsmith, who sold their magazine for sixpence a-piece, merely for their own amusement.
Captain. I have but one thing more to hint.—The world say you will run yourself out.
Author. The world say true: and what then? When they dance no longer, I will no longer pipe; and I shall not want flappers enough to remind me of the apoplexy.
Captain. And what will become of us then, your poor family? We shall fall into contempt and oblivion.
Author. Like many a poor fellow, already overwhelmed with the number of his family, I cannot help going on to increase it—"'Tis my vocation, Hal."—Such of you as deserve oblivion—perhaps the whole of you—may be consigned to it. At any rate, you have been read in your day, which is more than can be said of some of your contemporaries, of less fortune and more merit. They cannot say but that you had the crown. It is always something to have engaged the public attention for seven years. Had I only written Waverley, I should have long since been, according to the established phrase, "the ingenious author of a novel much admired at the time." I believe, on my soul, that the reputation of Waverley is sustained very much by the praises of those, who may be inclined to prefer that tale to its successors.
Captain. You are willing, then, to barter future reputation for present popularity?
Author. Meliora spero. Horace himself expected not to survive in all his works—I may hope to live in some of mine;—non omnis moriar. It is some consolation to reflect, that the best authors in all countries have been the most voluminous; and it has often happened, that those who have been best received in their own time, have also continued to be acceptable to posterity. I do not think so ill of the present generation, as to suppose that its present favour necessarily infers future condemnation.
Captain. Were all to act on such principles, the public would be inundated.
Author Once more, my dear son, beware of cant. You speak as if the public were obliged to read books merely because they are printed— your friends the booksellers would thank you to make the proposition good. The most serious grievance attending such inundations as you talk of, is, that they make rags dear. The multiplicity of publications does the present age no harm, and may greatly advantage that which is to succeed us.
Captain. I do not see how that is to happen.
Author. The complaints in the time of Elizabeth and James, of the alarming fertility of the press, were as loud as they are at present— yet look at the shore over which the inundation of that age flowed, and it resembles now the Rich Strand of the Faery Queen—
——"Besrrew'd all with rich array, Of pearl and precious stones of great assay; And all the gravel mix'd with golden ore."
Believe me, that even in the most neglected works of the present age, the next may discover treasures.
Captain. Some books will defy all alchemy.
Author. They will be but few in number; since, as for the writers, who are possessed of no merit at all, unless indeed they publish their works at their own expense, like Sir Richard Blackmore, their power of annoying the public will be soon limited by the difficulty of finding undertaking booksellers.
Captain. You are incorrigible. Are there no bounds to your audacity?
Author. There are the sacred and eternal boundaries of honour and virtue. My course is like the enchanted chamber of Britomart—
"Where as she look'd about, she did behold How over that same door was likewise writ, Be Bold—Be Bold, and everywhere Be Bold. Whereat she mused, and could not construe it; At last she spied at that room's upper end Another iron door, on which was writ— BE NOT TOO BOLD."
Captain. Well, you must take the risk of proceeding on your own principles.
Author. Do you act on yours, and take care you do not stay idling here till the dinner hour is over.—I will add this work to your patrimony, valeat quantum.
Here our dialogue terminated; for a little sooty-faced Apollyon from the Canongate came to demand the proof-sheet on the part of Mr. M'Corkindale; and I heard Mr. C. rebuking Mr. F. in another compartment of the same labyrinth I have described, for suffering any one to penetrate so far into the penetralia of their temple.
I leave it to you to form your own opinion concerning the import of this dialogue, and I cannot but believe I shall meet the wishes of our common parent in prefixing this letter to the work which it concerns.
I am, reverend and dear Sir, Very sincerely and affectionately Yours,
THE FORTUNES OF NIGEL
Knifegrinder. Story? Lord bless you! I have none to tell, sir. Poetry of the Antijacobin.
THE FORTUNES OF NIGEL
Now Scot and English are agreed, And Saunders hastes to cross the Tweed, Where, such the splendours that attend him, His very mother scarce had kend him. His metamorphosis behold, From Glasgow frieze to cloth of gold; His back-sword, with the iron hilt, To rapier, fairly hatch'd and gilt; Was ever seen a gallant braver! His very bonnet's grown a beaver. The Reformation.
The long-continued hostilities which had for centuries separated the south and the north divisions of the Island of Britain, had been happily terminated by the succession of the pacific James I. to the English Crown. But although the united crown of England and Scotland was worn by the same individual, it required a long lapse of time, and the succession of more than one generation, ere the inveterate national prejudices which had so long existed betwixt the sister kingdoms were removed, and the subjects of either side of the Tweed brought to regard those upon the opposite bank as friends and as brethren.
These prejudices were, of course, most inveterate during the reign of King James. The English subjects accused him of partiality to those of his ancient kingdom; while the Scots, with equal injustice, charged him with having forgotten the land of his nativity, and with neglecting those early friends to whose allegiance he had been so much indebted.
The temper of the king, peaceable even to timidity, inclined him perpetually to interfere as mediator between the contending factions, whose brawls disturbed the Court. But, notwithstanding all his precautions, historians have recorded many instances, where the mutual hatred of two nations, who, after being enemies for a thousand years, had been so very recently united, broke forth with a fury which menaced a general convulsion; and, spreading from the highest to the lowest classes, as it occasioned debates in council and parliament, factions in the court, and duels among the gentry, was no less productive of riots and brawls amongst the lower orders.
While these heart-burnings were at the highest, there flourished in the city of London an ingenious but whimsical and self opinioned mechanic, much devoted to abstract studies, David Ramsay by name, who, whether recommended by his great skill in his profession, as the courtiers alleged, or, as was murmured among the neighbours, by his birthplace, in the good town of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, held in James's household the post of maker of watches and horologes to his Majesty. He scorned not, however, to keep open shop within Temple Bar, a few yards to the eastward of Saint Dunstan's Church.
The shop of a London tradesman at that time, as it may be supposed, was something very different from those we now see in the same locality. The goods were exposed to sale in cases, only defended from the weather by a covering of canvass, and the whole resembled the stalls and booths now erected for the temporary accommodation of dealers at a country fair, rather than the established emporium of a respectable citizen. But most of the shopkeepers of note, and David Ramsay amongst others, had their booth connected with a small apartment which opened backward from it, and bore the same resemblance to the front shop that Robinson Crusoe's cavern did to the tent which he erected before it.
To this Master Ramsay was often accustomed to retreat to the labour of his abstruse calculations; for he aimed at improvements and discoveries in his own art, and sometimes pushed his researches, like Napier, and other mathematicians of the period, into abstract science. When thus engaged, he left the outer posts of his commercial establishment to be maintained by two stout-bodied and strong-voiced apprentices, who kept up the cry of, "What d'ye lack? what d'ye lack?" accompanied with the appropriate recommendations of the articles in which they dealt.
This direct and personal application for custom to those who chanced to pass by, is now, we believe, limited to Monmouth Street, (if it still exists even in that repository of ancient garments,) under the guardianship of the scattered remnant of Israel. But at the time we are speaking of, it was practised alike by Jew and Gentile, and served, instead of all our present newspaper puffs and advertisements, to solicit the attention of the public in general, and of friends in particular, to the unrivalled excellence of the goods, which they offered to sale upon such easy terms, that it might fairly appear that the venders had rather a view to the general service of the public, than to their own particular advantage.
The verbal proclaimers of the excellence of their commodities, had this advantage over those who, in the present day, use the public papers for the same purpose, that they could in many cases adapt their address to the peculiar appearance and apparent taste of the passengers. [This, as we have said, was also the case in Monmouth Street in our remembrance. We have ourselves been reminded of the deficiencies of our femoral habiliments, and exhorted upon that score to fit ourselves more beseemingly; but this is a digression.] This direct and personal mode of invitation to customers became, however, a dangerous temptation to the young wags who were employed in the task of solicitation during the absence of the principal person interested in the traffic; and, confiding in their numbers and civic union, the 'prentices of London were often seduced into taking liberties with the passengers, and exercising their wit at the expense of those whom they had no hopes of converting into customers by their eloquence. If this were resented by any act of violence, the inmates of each shop were ready to pour forth in succour; and in the words of an old song which Dr. Johnson was used to hum,—
"Up then rose the 'prentices all, Living in London, both proper and tall."
Desperate riots often arose on such occasions, especially when the Templars, or other youths connected with the aristocracy, were insulted, or conceived themselves to be so. Upon such occasions, bare steel was frequently opposed to the clubs of the citizens, and death sometimes ensued on both sides. The tardy and inefficient police of the time had no other resource than by the Alderman of the ward calling out the householders, and putting a stop to the strife by overpowering numbers, as the Capulets and Montagues are separated upon the stage.
At the period when such was the universal custom of the most respectable, as well as the most inconsiderable, shopkeepers in London, David Ramsay, on the evening to which we solicit the attention of the reader, retiring to more abstruse and private labours, left the administration of his outer shop, or booth, to the aforesaid sharp- witted, active, able-bodied, and well-voiced apprentices, namely, Jenkin Vincent and Frank Tunstall.
Vincent had been educated at the excellent foundation of Christ's Church Hospital, and was bred, therefore, as well as born, a Londoner, with all the acuteness, address, and audacity which belong peculiarly to the youth of a metropolis. He was now about twenty years old, short in stature, but remarkably strong made, eminent for his feats upon holidays at foot-ball, and other gymnastic exercises; scarce rivalled in the broad-sword play, though hitherto only exercised in the form of single-stick. He knew every lane, blind alley, and sequestered court of the ward, better than his catechism; was alike active in his master's affairs, and in his own adventures of fun and mischief; and so managed matters, that the credit he acquired by the former bore him out, or at least served for his apology, when the latter propensity led him into scrapes, of which, however, it is but fair to state, that they had hitherto inferred nothing mean or discreditable. Some aberrations there were, which David Ramsay, his master, endeavoured to reduce to regular order when he discovered them, and others which he winked at—supposing them to answer the purpose of the escapement of a watch, which disposes of a certain quantity of the extra power of that mechanical impulse which puts the whole in motion.
The physiognomy of Jin Vin—by which abbreviation he was familiarly known through the ward—corresponded with the sketch we have given of his character. His head, upon which his 'prentice's flat cap was generally flung in a careless and oblique fashion, was closely covered with thick hair of raven black, which curled naturally and closely, and would have grown to great length, but for the modest custom enjoined by his state in life and strictly enforced by his master, which compelled him to keep it short-cropped,—not unreluctantly, as he looked with envy on the flowing ringlets, in which the courtiers, and aristocratic students of the neighbouring Temple, began to indulge themselves, as marks of superiority and of gentility.
Vincent's eyes were deep set in his head, of a strong vivid black, full of fire, roguery, and intelligence, and conveying a humorous expression, even while he was uttering the usual small-talk of his trade, as if he ridiculed those who were disposed to give any weight to his commonplaces. He had address enough, however, to add little touches of his own, which gave a turn of drollery even to this ordinary routine of the booth; and the alacrity of his manner—his ready and obvious wish to oblige—his intelligence and civility, when he thought civility necessary, made him a universal favourite with his master's customers.
His features were far from regular, for his nose was flattish, his mouth tending to the larger size, and his complexion inclining to be more dark than was then thought consistent with masculine beauty. But, in despite of his having always breathed the air of a crowded city, his complexion had the ruddy and manly expression of redundant health; his turned-up nose gave an air of spirit and raillery to what he said, and seconded the laugh of his eyes; and his wide mouth was garnished with a pair of well-formed and well-coloured lips, which, when he laughed, disclosed a range of teeth strong and well set, and as white as the very pearl. Such was the elder apprentice of David Ramsay, Memory's Monitor, watchmaker, and constructor of horologes, to his Most Sacred Majesty James I.
Jenkin's companion was the younger apprentice, though, perhaps, he might be the elder of the two in years. At any rate, he was of a much more staid and composed temper. Francis Tunstall was of that ancient and proud descent who claimed the style of the "unstained;" because, amid the various chances of the long and bloody wars of the Roses, they had, with undeviating faith, followed the House of Lancaster, to which they had originally attached themselves. The meanest sprig of such a tree attached importance to the root from which it derived itself; and Tunstall was supposed to nourish in secret a proportion of that family pride, which had exhorted tears from his widowed and almost indigent mother, when she saw herself obliged to consign him to a line of life inferior, as her prejudices suggested, to the course held by his progenitors. Yet, with all this aristocratic prejudice, his master found the well-born youth more docile, regular, and strictly attentive to his duty, than his far more active and alert comrade. Tunstall also gratified his master by the particular attention which he seemed disposed to bestow on the abstract principles of science connected with the trade which he was bound to study, the limits of which were daily enlarged with the increase of mathematical science.
Vincent beat his companion beyond the distance-post, in every thing like the practical adaptation of thorough practice, in the dexterity of hand necessary to execute the mechanical branches of the art, and doubled-distanced him in all respecting the commercial affairs of the shop. Still David Ramsay was wont to say, that if Vincent knew how to do a thing the better of the two, Tunstall was much better acquainted with the principles on which it ought to be done; and he sometimes objected to the latter, that he knew critical excellence too well ever to be satisfied with practical mediocrity.
The disposition of Tunstall was shy, as well as studious; and, though perfectly civil and obliging, he never seemed to feel himself in his place while he went through the duties of the shop. He was tall and handsome, with fair hair, and well-formed limbs, good features, well- opened light-blue eyes, a straight Grecian nose, and a countenance which expressed both good-humour and intelligence, but qualified by a gravity unsuitable to his years, and which almost amounted to dejection. He lived on the best of terms with his companion, and readily stood by him whenever he was engaged in any of the frequent skirmishes, which, as we have already observed, often disturbed the city of London about this period. But though Tunstall was allowed to understand quarter-staff (the weapon of the North country) in a superior degree, and though he was naturally both strong and active, his interference in such affrays seemed always matter of necessity; and, as he never voluntarily joined either their brawls or their sports, he held a far lower place in the opinion of the youth of the ward than his hearty and active friend Jin Vin. Nay, had it not been for the interest made for his comrade, by the intercession of Vincent, Tunstall would have stood some chance of being altogether excluded from the society of his contemporaries of the same condition, who called him, in scorn, the Cavaliero Cuddy, and the Gentle Tunstall.
On the other hand, the lad himself, deprived of the fresh air in which he had been brought up, and foregoing the exercise to which he had formerly been accustomed, while the inhabitant of his native mansion, lost gradually the freshness of his complexion, and, without showing any formal symptoms of disease, grew more thin and pale as he grew older, and at length exhibited the appearance of indifferent health, without any thing of the habits and complaints of an invalid, excepting a disposition to avoid society, and to spend his leisure time in private study, rather than mingle in the sports of his companions, or even resort to the theatres, then the general rendezvous of his class; where, according to high authority, they fought for half-bitten apples, cracked nuts, and filled the upper gallery with their clamours.
Such were the two youths who called David Ramsay master; and with both of whom he used to fret from morning till night, as their peculiarities interfered with his own, or with the quiet and beneficial course of his traffic.
Upon the whole, however, the youths were attached to their master, and he, a good-natured, though an absent and whimsical man, was scarce less so to them; and when a little warmed with wine at an occasional junketing, he used to boast, in his northern dialect, of his "twa bonnie lads, and the looks that the court ladies threw at them, when visiting his shop in their caroches, when on a frolic into the city." But David Ramsay never failed, at the same time, to draw up his own tall, thin, lathy skeleton, extend his lean jaws into an alarming grin, and indicate, by a nod of his yard-long visage, and a twinkle of his little grey eye, that there might be more faces in Fleet Street worth looking at than those of Frank and Jenkin. His old neighbour, Widow Simmons, the sempstress, who had served, in her day, the very tip-top revellers of the Temple, with ruffs, cuffs, and bands, distinguished more deeply the sort of attention paid by the females of quality, who so regularly visited David Ramsay's shop, to its inmates. "The boy Frank," she admitted, "used to attract the attention of the young ladies, as having something gentle and downcast in his looks; but then he could not better himself, for the poor youth had not a word to throw at a dog. Now Jin Vin was so full of his jibes and jeers, and so willing, and so ready, and so serviceable, and so mannerly all the while, with a step that sprung like a buck's in Epping Forest, and his eye that twinkled as black as a gipsy's, that no woman who knew the world would make a comparison betwixt the lads. As for poor neighbour Ramsay himself, the man," she said, "was a civil neighbour, and a learned man, doubtless, and might be a rich man if he had common sense to back his learning; and doubtless, for a Scot, neighbour Ramsay was nothing of a bad man, but he was so constantly grimed with smoke, gilded with brass filings, and smeared with lamp- black and oil, that Dame Simmons judged it would require his whole shopful of watches to induce any feasible woman to touch the said neighbour Ramsay with any thing save a pair of tongs."
A still higher authority, Dame Ursula, wife to Benjamin Suddlechop, the barber, was of exactly the same opinion.
Such were, in natural qualities and public estimation, the two youths, who, in a fine April day, having first rendered their dutiful service and attendance on the table of their master and his daughter, at their dinner at one o'clock,—Such, O ye lads of London, was the severe discipline undergone by your predecessors!—and having regaled themselves upon the fragments, in company with two female domestics, one a cook, and maid of all work, the other called Mistress Margaret's maid, now relieved their master in the duty of the outward shop; and agreeably to the established custom, were soliciting, by their entreaties and recommendations of their master's manufacture, the attention and encouragement of the passengers.
In this species of service it may be easily supposed that Jenkin Vincent left his more reserved and bashful comrade far in the background. The latter could only articulate with difficulty, and as an act of duty which he was rather ashamed of discharging, the established words of form—"What d'ye lack?—What d'ye lack?—Clocks— watches—barnacles?—What d'ye lack?—Watches—clocks—barnacles?— What d'ye lack, sir? What d'ye lack, madam?—Barnacles—watches— clocks?"
But this dull and dry iteration, however varied by diversity of verbal arrangement, sounded flat when mingled with the rich and recommendatory oratory of the bold-faced, deep-mouthed, and ready- witted Jenkin Vincent.—"What d'ye lack, noble sir?—What d'ye lack, beauteous madam?" he said, in a tone at once bold and soothing, which often was so applied as both to gratify the persons addressed, and to excite a smile from other hearers.—"God bless your reverence," to a beneficed clergyman; "the Greek and Hebrew have harmed your reverence's eyes—Buy a pair of David Ramsay's barnacles. The King— God bless his Sacred Majesty!—never reads Hebrew or Greek without them."
"Are you well avised of that?" said a fat parson from the Vale of Evesham. "Nay, if the Head of the Church wears them,—God bless his Sacred Majesty!—I will try what they can do for me; for I have not been able to distinguish one Hebrew letter from another, since—I cannot remember the time—when I had a bad fever. Choose me a pair of his most Sacred Majesty's own wearing, my good youth." "This is a pair, and please your reverence," said Jenkin, producing a pair of spectacles which he touched with an air of great deference and respect, "which his most blessed Majesty placed this day three weeks on his own blessed nose; and would have kept them for his own sacred use, but that the setting being, as your reverence sees, of the purest jet, was, as his Sacred Majesty was pleased to say, fitter for a bishop than for a secular prince."
"His Sacred Majesty the King," said the worthy divine, "was ever a very Daniel in his judgment. Give me the barnacles, my good youth, and who can say what nose they may bestride in two years hence?—our reverend brother of Gloucester waxes in years." He then pulled out his purse, paid for the spectacles, and left the shop with even a more important step than that which had paused to enter it.
"For shame," said Tunstall to his companion; "these glasses will never suit one of his years."
"You are a fool, Frank," said Vincent, in reply; "had the good doctor wished glasses to read with, he would have tried them before buying. He does not want to look through them himself, and these will serve the purpose of being looked at by other folks, as well as the best magnifiers in the shop.—What d'ye lack?" he cried, resuming his solicitations. "Mirrors for your toilette, my pretty madam; your head- gear is something awry—pity, since it is so well fancied." The woman stopped and bought a mirror.—"What d'ye lack?—a watch, Master Sergeant—a watch that will go as long as a lawsuit, as steady and true as your own eloquence?"
"Hold your peace, sir," answered the Knight of the Coif, who was disturbed by Vin's address whilst in deep consultation with an eminent attorney; "hold your peace! You are the loudest-tongued varlet betwixt the Devil's Tavern and Guildhall."
"A watch," reiterated the undaunted Jenkin, "that shall not lose thirteen minutes in a thirteen years' lawsuit.—He's out of hearing—A watch with four wheels and a bar-movement—a watch that shall tell you, Master Poet, how long the patience of the audience will endure your next piece at the Black Bull." The bard laughed, and fumbled in the pocket of his slops till he chased into a corner, and fairly caught, a small piece of coin.
"Here is a tester to cherish thy wit, good boy," he said.
"Gramercy," said Vin; "at the next play of yours I will bring down a set of roaring boys, that shall make all the critics in the pit, and the gallants on the stage, civil, or else the curtain shall smoke for it."
"Now, that I call mean," said Tunstall, "to take the poor rhymer's money, who has so little left behind."
"You are an owl, once again," said Vincent; "if he has nothing left to buy cheese and radishes, he will only dine a day the sooner with some patron or some player, for that is his fate five days out of the seven. It is unnatural that a poet should pay for his own pot of beer; I will drink his tester for him, to save him from such shame; and when his third night comes round, he shall have penniworths for his coin, I promise you.—But here comes another-guess customer. Look at that strange fellow—see how he gapes at every shop, as if he would swallow the wares.—O! Saint Dunstan has caught his eye; pray God he swallow not the images. See how he stands astonished, as old Adam and Eve ply their ding-dong! Come, Frank, thou art a scholar; construe me that same fellow, with his blue cap with a cock's feather in it, to show he's of gentle blood, God wot—his grey eyes, his yellow hair, his sword with a ton of iron in the handle—his grey thread-bare cloak— his step like a Frenchman—his look like a Spaniard—a book at his girdle, and a broad dudgeon-dagger on the other side, to show him half-pedant, half-bully. How call you that pageant, Frank?"
"A raw Scotsman," said Tunstall; "just come up, I suppose, to help the rest of his countrymen to gnaw old England's bones; a palmerworm, I reckon, to devour what the locust has spared."
"Even so, Frank," answered Vincent; "just as the poet sings sweetly,—
'In Scotland he was born and bred, And, though a beggar, must be fed.'"
"Hush!" said Tunstall, "remember our master."
"Pshaw!" answered his mercurial companion; "he knows on which side his bread is buttered, and I warrant you has not lived so long among Englishmen, and by Englishmen, to quarrel with us for bearing an English mind. But see, our Scot has done gazing at St. Dunstan's, and comes our way. By this light, a proper lad and a sturdy, in spite of freckles and sun-burning.—He comes nearer still, I will have at him."
"And, if you do," said his comrade, "you may get a broken head—he looks not as if he would carry coals."
"A fig for your threat," said Vincent, and instantly addressed the stranger. "Buy a watch, most noble northern Thane—buy a watch, to count the hours of plenty since the blessed moment you left Berwick behind you.—Buy barnacles, to see the English gold lies ready for your gripe.—Buy what you will, you shall have credit for three days; for, were your pockets as bare as Father Fergus's, you are a Scot in London, and you will be stocked in that time." The stranger looked sternly at the waggish apprentice, and seemed to grasp his cudgel in rather a menacing fashion. "Buy physic," said the undaunted Vincent, "if you will buy neither time nor light—physic for a proud stomach, sir;—there is a 'pothecary's shop on the other side of the way."
Here the probationary disciple of Galen, who stood at his master's door in his flat cap and canvass sleeves, with a large wooden pestle in his hand, took up the ball which was flung to him by Jenkin, with, "What d'ye lack, sir?—Buy a choice Caledonian salve, Flos sulphvr. cum butyro quant. suff."
"To be taken after a gentle rubbing-down with an English oaken towel," said Vincent.
The bonny Scot had given full scope to the play of this small artillery of city wit, by halting his stately pace, and viewing grimly, first the one assailant, and then the other, as if menacing either repartee or more violent revenge. But phlegm or prudence got the better of his indignation, and tossing his head as one who valued not the raillery to which he had been exposed, he walked down Fleet Street, pursued by the horse-laugh of his tormentors.
"The Scot will not fight till he see his own blood," said Tunstall, whom his north of England extraction had made familiar with all manner of proverbs against those who lay yet farther north than himself.
"Faith, I know not," said Jenkin; "he looks dangerous, that fellow—he will hit some one over the noddle before he goes far.—Hark!—hark!— they are rising."
Accordingly, the well-known cry of, "'Prentices—'prentices—Clubs— clubs!" now rang along Fleet Street; and Jenkin, snatching up his weapon, which lay beneath the counter ready at the slightest notice, and calling to Tunstall to take his bat and follow, leaped over the hatch-door which protected the outer-shop, and ran as fast as he could towards the affray, echoing the cry as he ran, and elbowing, or shoving aside, whoever stood in his way. His comrade, first calling to his master to give an eye to the shop, followed Jenkin's example, and ran after him as fast as he could, but with more attention to the safety and convenience of others; while old David Ramsay, with hands and eyes uplifted, a green apron before him, and a glass which he had been polishing thrust into his bosom, came forth to look after the safety of his goods and chattels, knowing, by old experience, that, when the cry of "Clubs" once arose, he would have little aid on the part of his apprentices.