« VorigeDoorgaan »
perhaps they will not all despise me. Perhaps I may catch up even one from the gulph, and that will be great gain; for is there upon earth a gem so precious as the human soul?'
Thus saying, I left them, and descended to the common prison, where I found the prisoners very merry, expecting my arrival; and each prepared with some gaol trick to play upon the doctor. Thus, as I was going to begin, one turned my wig awry, as if by accident, and then asked my pardon. A second, who stood at some distance, had a knack of spitting through his teeth, which fell in showers upon my book. A third would cry Amen in such an affected tone, as gave the rest great delight. A fourth had slyly picked my pocket of my spectacles. But there was one whose trick gave more universal pleasure than all the rest; for observing the manner in which I had disposed my books on the table before me, he very dexterously displaced one of them, and put an obscene jest-book of his own in the place. However, I took no notice of all that this mischievous group of little beings could do, but went on, perfectly sensible that what was ridiculous in my attempt would excite mirth only the first or second time, while what was serious would be permanent. My design succeeded, and in less than six days some were penitent, and all attentive.
It was now that I applauded my perseverance and address, at thus giving sensibility to wretches divested of every moral feeling, and now began to think of doing them temporal services also, by rendering their situation somewhat more comfortable. Their time had hitherto been divided between famine and excess, tumultuous riot and bitter repining. Their only employment was quarrelling among each other, playing at cribbage, and cutting tobacco stoppers. From this last mode of idle industry I took the hint of setting such as chose
to work at cutting pegs for tobacconists and shoemakers, the proper wood being bought by a general subscription, and when manufactured, sold by my appointment; so that each earned something every day: a trifle indeed, but sufficient to maintain him.
I did not stop here, but instituted fines for the punishment of immorality, and rewards for peculiar industry. Thus, in less than a fortnight, I had formed them into something social and humane, and had the pleasure of regarding myself as a legislator, who had brought men from their native ferocity into friendship and obedience.-The Vicar of Wakefield.
3. Indecencies of Antigallican feeling.
THE French have been long acknowledged to have much bravery: a great part of Europe has owned their superiority in this respect; and I know scarcely any country but that which has beaten them, that dares deny the contrary. short, I consider them in the same light with the subordinate characters in an epic poem, who are generally described as very terrible, only to heighten our idea of the hero who conquers them.
To beat the French, and to scold them too, is outheroding Herod; if we were not able to knock them o' the head, I should not be displeased if we shewed our resentment by addressing their ears with reproach; but as it is, we only resemble a country justice, who, not content with putting a culprit in the stocks, stands by to reproach him for getting there.
Jack Reptile is a professed Antigallican: he gets drunk with French wine three times a week. To convince the world of his detestation of Monsieur Soup-maîgre, he as
sures the company he has once, when he was young, boxed three Frenchmen, 6 one down t'other come on, and beat them all; he wonders how French scoundrels can live who eat nothing but salads and frogs the whole year round. Jack hates everything that is French, except their wine, and has been known to quarrel with some of his countrymen for wearing a bag-wig. His virulence against the enemy has even soured his disposition to his friends, and he seems never happy except when indulging invective.
If the present war or its causes happen to be the subject of conversation, he lays all the blame upon them alone, and can see neither avarice nor injustice in the planters of our side. If peace be the topic, 'his counsel is for open war;' nor can he think any terms honourable or advantageous that do not put us in possession, not only of all we have conquered, but almost all the enemy have to lose. Thus, while our soldiers earn victory abroad, Jack enjoys the price of it at home, and, unacquainted with the perils they endure, seems unmindful how long they undergo them. War gives him no uneasiness; he sits and soaks in profound security ; the distresses, the calamities of mankind, neither interrupt his tranquillity, nor lessen his draught; the miseries of his fellow-creatures, like the pictures of a battle, serve rather to excite pleasure than pain. Ten thousand fallen on one field make a curious article in the gazette. Hundreds sunk to the bottom by one broadside, furnish out the topic of the day, and zest his coffee: the very tempest guides him to his harbour. In short, he fancies he shews his loyalty by reproaches, and his courage by continuing the war.
What I would intend by all this, is to persuade my countrymen by the fire-side to behave with the same degree of merit with those in the field; while they cover us with glory abroad, let us not tarnish it by invectives at home. I
scarce read a periodical paper that is not filled with indecencies of this kind, and as many of these papers pass into other countries, what idea will they form, not only of our good sense but humanity, when they see us thus depreciating the enemies we have subdued? This, in fact, is lessening ourselves. An easy conquest is no very honourable one. I remember to have heard M. Voltaire observe, in a large company at his house at Monrion, that at the battle of Dettingen, the English exhibited prodigies of valour; but they soon lessened their well-bought conquest, by lessening the merits of those they had conquered. Their despising the French then, he continued to observe, was probably the cause of their defeat at Fontenoy: one army fought with all the security of presumption; the other with all the fury of men willing to rescue their character from undeserved contempt.-Essays.
4. A General Election.
THE English are at present employed in celebrating a feast which becomes general every seventh year; the parliament of the nation being then dissolved, and another appointed to be chosen. This solemnity falls infinitely short of our feast of the lanterns, in magnificence and splendour; it is also surpassed by others of the east in unanimity and pure devotion; but no festival in the world can compare with it for eating. Their eating, indeed, amazes me; had I five hundred heads, and were each head furnished with brains, yet would they all be insufficient to compute the number of cows, pigs, geese, and turkies, which upon this occasion die for the good of their country.
To say the truth, eating seems to make a grand ingredient in all English parties of zeal, business, or amusement.
When a church is to be built, or an hospital endowed, the directors assemble, and instead of consulting upon it, they eat upon it, by which means the business goes forward with success. When the poor are to be relieved, the officers appointed to dole out public charity, assemble and eat upon it nor has it ever been known, that they filled the bellies of the poor, till they had previously satisfied their own. But in the election of magistrates, the people seem to exceed all bounds; the merits of a candidate are often measured by the number of his treats; his constituents assemble, eat upon him, and lend their applause, not to his integrity or sense, but to the quantities of his beef and brandy.
And yet I could forgive this people their plentiful meals on this occasion, as it is extremely natural for every man to eat a great deal when he gets it for nothing; but what amazes me is, that all this good living no way contributes to improve their good-humour. On the contrary, they seem to lose their temper as they lose their appetites; every morsel they swallow, and every glass they pour down, serves to increase their animosity. Many an honest man, before as harmless as a tame rabbit, when loaded with a single election dinner, has become more dangerous than a charged culverin. Upon one of these occasions, I have actually seen a bloody-minded man-milliner sally forth at the head of a mob, determined to face a desperate pastry-cook, who was general of the opposite party.
But you must not suppose they are without a pretext for thus beating each other. On the contrary, no man here is so uncivilized as to beat his neighbour without producing very sufficient reasons. One candidate, for instance, treats with gin, a spirit of their own manufacture; another always drinks brandy imported from abroad. Brandy is a whole