The Project Gutenberg EBook of Nuts and Nutcrackers, by Charles James Lever This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org Title: Nuts and Nutcrackers Author: Charles James Lever Illustrator: Phiz. Release Date: March 18, 2010 [EBook #31685] Language: English Character set encoding: UTF-8 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK NUTS AND NUTCRACKERS *** Produced by Irma Spehar and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net (This file was produced from images generously made available by The Internet Archive/American Libraries.)
ILLUSTRATED BY “PHIZ.”
Wm. S. ORR AND Co., PATERNOSTER ROW;
WILLIAM CURRY, Jun., AND Co., DUBLIN.
BRADBURY AND EVANS, PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS.
|AN OPENING NUT||vii|
|A NUT FOR MEN OF GENIUS||1|
|A NUT FOR CORONERS||15|
|A NUT FOR “TOURISTS”||19|
|A NUT FOR LEGAL FUNCTIONARIES||22|
|A NUT FOR “ENDURING AFFECTION”||31|
|A NUT FOR THE POLICE AND SIR PETER||37|
|A NUT FOR THE BUDGET||44|
|A NUT FOR REPEAL||49|
|A NUT FOR NATIONAL PRIDE||55|
|A NUT FOR DIPLOMATISTS||64|
|A NUT FOR FOREIGN TRAVEL||71|
|A NUT FOR DOMESTIC HAPPINESS||77|
|A NUT FOR LADIES BOUNTIFUL||82|
|A NUT FOR THE PRIESTS||85|
|A NUT FOR LEARNED SOCIETIES||87|
|A NUT FOR THE LAWYERS||92|
|A NUT FOR THE IRISH||99|
|A NUT FOR VICEREGAL PRIVILEGES||102|
|RICH AND POOR—POUR ET CONTRE||109|
|A NUT FOR ST. PATRICK’S NIGHT||114|
|A NUT FOR “GENTLEMAN JOCKS”||119|
|A NUT FOR YOUNGER SONS||123|
|A NUT FOR THE PENAL CODE||128|
|A NUT FOR THE OLD||131|
|A NUT FOR THE ART UNION||133|
|A NUT FOR THE KINGSTOWN RAILWAY||137|
|A NUT FOR THE DOCTORS||141|
|A NUT FOR THE ARCHITECTS||145|
|A NUT FOR A NEW COLONY||148|
|A “SWEET” NUT FOR THE YANKEES||153|
|A NUT FOR THE SEASON—JULLIEN’S QUADRILLES||157|
|A NUT FOR “ALL IRELAND”||163|
|A NUT FOR “A NEW COMPANY”||168|
|A NUT FOR “THE POLITICAL ECONOMISTS”||175|
|A NUT FOR “GRAND DUKES”||180|
|A NUT FOR THE EAST INDIA DIRECTORS||183|
|A FILBERT FOR SIR ROBERT PEEL||185|
|“THE INCOME TAX”||186|
|A NUT FOR THE “BELGES”||189|
|A NUT FOR WORKHOUSE CHAPLAINS||192|
|A NUT FOR THE “HOUSE”||197|
|A NUT FOR “LAW REFORM”||200|
|A NUT FOR “CLIMBING BOYS”||203|
|A NUT FOR “THE SUBDIVISION OF LABOUR”||206|
|A NUT FOR A “NEW VERDICT”||212|
|A NUT FOR THE REAL “LIBERATOR”||216|
|A NUT FOR “HER MAJESTY’S SERVANTS”||221|
|A NUT FOR THE LANDLORD AND TENANT COMMISSION||225|
|A NUT FOR THE HUMANE SOCIETY||228|
If Providence, instead of a vagabond, had made me a justice of the peace, there is no species of penalty I would not have enforced against a class of offenders, upon whom it is the perverted taste of the day to bestow wealth, praise, honour, and reputation; in a word, upon that portion of the writers for our periodical literature whose pastime it is by high-flown and exaggerated pictures of society, places, and amusements, to mislead the too credulous and believing world; who, in the search for information and instruction, are but reaping a barren harvest of deceit and illusion.
Every one is loud and energetic in his condemnation of a bubble speculation; every one is severe upon the dishonest features of bankruptcy, and the demerits of un-trusty guardianship; but while the law visits these with its pains and penalties, and while heavy inflictions follow on those breaches of trust, which affect our pocket, yet can he “walk scatheless,” with port erect and visage high who, for mere amusement—for the passing pleasure of the moment—or, baser still, for certain pounds per sheet, can, present us with the air-drawn daggers of a dyspeptic imagination for the real woes of life, or paint the most common-place and tiresome subjects with colours so vivid and so glowing as to persuade the unwary reader that a paradise of pleasure and enjoyment, hitherto unknown, is open before him. The treadmill and the ducking-stool, “me judice,” would no longer be tenanted by rambling gipsies or convivial rioters, but would display to the admiring gaze of an assembled multitude the aristocratic features of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, the dark whiskers of D’Israeli, the long and graceful proportions of Hamilton Maxwell, or the portly paunch and melo-dramatic frown of that right pleasant fellow, Henry Addison himself.
You cannot open a newspaper without meeting some narrative of what, in the phrase of the day, is denominated an “attempted imposition.” Count Skryznyzk, with black moustachoes and a beard to match, after being the lion of Lord Dudley Stuart’s parties, and the delight of a certain set of people in the West-end—who, when they give a tea-party, call it a soirée, and deem it necessary to have either a Hindoo or a Hottentot, a Pole, or a Piano-player, to interest their guests—was lately brought up before Sir Peter Laurie, charged by 964 with obtaining money under false pretences, and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment and hard labour at the treadmill.
The charge looks a grave one, good reader, and perhaps already some notion is trotting through your head about forgery or embezzlement; you think of widows rendered desolate, or orphans defrauded; you lament over the hard-earned pittance of persevering industry lost to its possessor; and, in your heart, you acknowledge that there may have been some cause for the partition of Poland, and that the Emperor of the Russias, like another monarch, may not be half so black as he is painted. But spare your honest indignation; our unpronounceable friend did none of these. No; the head and front of his offending was simply exciting the sympathies of a feeling world for his own deep wrongs; for the fate of his father, beheaded in the Grand Place at Warsaw; for his four brothers, doomed never to see the sun in the dark mines of Tobolsk; for his beautiful sister, reared in the lap of luxury and wealth, wandering houseless and an outcast around the palaces of St. Petersburg, wearying heaven itself with cries for mercy on her banished brethren; and last of all, for himself—he, who at the battle of Pultowa led heaven-knows how many and how terrific charges of cavalry,—whose breast was a galaxy of orders only outnumbered by his wounds—that he should be an exile, without friends, and without home! In a word, by a beautiful and highly-wrought narrative, that drew tears from the lady and ten shillings from the gentleman of the house, he became amenable to our law as a swindler and an impostor, simply because his narrative was a fiction.
In the name of all justice, in the name of truth, of honesty, and fair dealing, I ask you, is this right? or, if the treadmill be the fit reward for such powers as his, what shall we say, what shall we do, with all the popular writers of the day? How many of Bulwer’s stories are facts? What truth is there in James? Is that beautiful creation of Dickens, “Poor Nell,” a real or a fictitious character? And is the offence, after all, merely in the manner, and not the matter, of the transgression? Is it that, instead of coming before the world printed, puffed, and hot-pressed by the gentlemen of the Row, he ventured to edite himself, and, instead of the trade, make his tongue the medium of publication? And yet, if speech be the crime, what say you to Macready, and with what punishment are you prepared to visit him who makes your heart-strings vibrate to the sorrows of Virginius, or thrills your very blood with the malignant vengeance of Iago? Is what is permissible in Covent Garden, criminal in the city? or, stranger still, is there a punishment at the one place, and praise at the other? Or is it the costume, the foot-lights, the orange-peel, and the sawdust—are they the terms of the immunity? Alas, and alas! I believe they are.
Burke said, “The age of chivalry is o’er;” and I believe the age of poetry has gone with it; and if Homer himself were to chant an Iliad down Fleet Street, I’d wager a crown that 964 would take him up for a ballad-singer.
But a late case occurs to me. A countryman of mine, one Bernard Cavanagh, doubtless, a gentleman of very good connections, announced some time ago that he had adopted a new system of diet, which was neither more nor less than going without any food. Now, Mr. Cavanagh was a stout gentleman, comely and plump to look at, who conversed pleasantly on the common topics of the day, and seemed, on the whole, to enjoy life pretty much like other people. He was to be seen for a shilling—children half-price; and although Englishmen have read of our starving countrymen for the last century and a-half, yet their curiosity to see one, to look at him, to prod him with their umbrellas, punch him with their knuckles, and otherwise test his vitality, was such, that they seemed just as much alive as though the phenomenon was new to them. The consequence was, Mr. Cavanagh, whose cook was on board wages, and whose establishment was of the least expensive character, began to wax rich. Several large towns and cities, in different parts of the empire, requested him to visit them; and Joe Hume suggested that the corporation of London should offer him ten thousand pounds for his secret, merely for the use of the livery. In fact, Cavanagh was now the cry, and as Barney appeared to grow fat on fasting, his popularity knew no bounds. Unfortunately, however, ambition, the bane of so many other great men, numbered him also among its victims. Had he been content with London as the sphere of his triumphs and teetotalism, there is no saying how long he might have gone on starving with satisfaction. Whether it is that the people are less observant there, or more accustomed to see similar exhibitions, I cannot tell; but true it is they paid their shillings, felt his ribs, walked home, and pronounced Barney a most exemplary Irishman. But not content with the capital, he must make a tour in the provinces, and accordingly went starring it about through Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, and all the other manufacturing towns, as if in mockery of the poor people who did not know the secret how to live without food.
Mr. Cavanagh was now living—if life it can be called—in one of the best hotels, when, actuated by that spirit of inquiry that characterises the age, a respectable lady, who kept a boarding-house, paid him a visit, to ascertain, if possible, how far his system might be made applicable to her guests, who, whatever their afflictions, laboured under no such symptoms as his.
She was pleased with Barney,—she patted him with her hand; he was round, and plump, and fat, much more so, indeed, than many of her daily dinner-party; and had, withal, that kind of joyous, rollicking, devil-may-care look, that seems to bespeak good condition;—but this the poor lady, of course, did not know to be an inherent property in Pat, however poor his situation.
After an interview of an hour long she took her leave, not exhibiting the usual satisfaction of other visitors, but with a dubious look and meditative expression, that betokened a mind not made up, and a heart not at ease; she was clearly not content, perhaps the abortive effort to extract a confession from Mr. Cavanagh might be the cause, or perhaps she felt like many respectable people whose curiosity is only the advanced guard to their repentance, and who never think that in any exhibition they get the worth of their money. This might be the case, for as fasting is a negative process, there is really little to see in the performer. Had it been the man that eats a sheep; “à la bonne heure!” you have something for your money there: and I can even sympathize with the French gentleman who follows Van Amburgh to this day, in the agreeable hope, to use his own words, of “assisting at the soirée, when the lions shall eat Mr. Van Amburgh.” This, if not laudable is at least intelligible. But to return, the lady went her way, not indeed on hospitable thoughts intent, but turning over in her mind various theories about abstinence, and only wishing she had the whole of the Cavanagh family for boarders at a guinea a-week.
Late in the evening of the same day this estimable lady, whose inquiries into the properties of gastric juice, if not as scientific, were to the full as enthusiastic as those of Bostock or Tiedeman himself, was returning from an early tea, through an unfrequented suburb of Manchester, when suddenly her eye fell upon Bernard Cavanagh, seated in a little shop—a dish of sausages and a plate of ham before him, while a frothing cup of porter ornamented his right hand. It was true, he wore a patch above his eye, a large beard, and various other disguises, but they served him not: she knew him at once. The result is soon told: the police were informed; Mr. Cavanagh was captured; the lady gave her testimony in a crowded court, and he who lately was rolling on the wheel of fortune, was now condemned to foot it on a very different wheel, and all for no other cause than that he could not live without food.
The magistrate, who was eloquent on the occasion, called him an impostor; designating by this odious epithet, a highly-wrought and well-conceived work of imagination. Unhappy Defoe, your Robinson Crusoe might have cost you a voyage across the seas; your man Friday might have been a black Monday to you had you lived in our days. 964 is a severer critic than The Quarterly, and his judgment more irrevocable.
We have never heard of any one who, discovering the fictitious character of a novel he had believed as a fact, waited on the publisher with a modest request that his money might be returned to him, being obtained under false pretences; much less of his applying to his worship for a warrant against G. P. R. James, Esq., or Harrison Ainsworth, for certain imaginary woes and unreal sorrows depicted in their writings: yet the conduct of the lady towards Mr. Cavanagh was exactly of this nature. How did his appetite do her any possible disservice? what sins against her soul were contained in his sausages? and yet she must appeal to the justice as an injured woman: Cavanagh had imposed upon her—she was wronged because he was hungry. All his narrative, beautifully constructed and artfully put together, went for nothing; his look, his manner, his entertaining anecdotes, his fascinating conversation, his time—from ten in the morning till eight in the evening—went all for nothing: this really is too bad. Do we ask of every author to be the hero he describes? Is Bulwer, Pelham, and Paul Clifford, Eugene Aram, and the Lady of Lyons? Is James, Mary of Burgundy, Darnley, the Gipsy, and Corse de Leon? Is Dickens, Sam Weller, Quilp, and Barnaby Rudge?—to what absurdities will this lead us! and yet Bernard Cavanagh was no more guilty than any of these gentlemen. He was, if I may so express it, a pictorial—an ideal representation of a man that fasted: he narrated all the sensations want of food suggests; its dreamy debility, its languid stupor, its painful suffering, its stage of struggle and suspense, ending in a victory, where the mind, the conqueror over the baser nature, asserts its proud and glorious supremacy in the triumph of volition; and for this beautiful creation of his brain he is sent to the treadmill, as though, instead of a poet, he had been a pickpocket.
If Bulwer be a baronet; if Dickens’ bed-room be papered with bank-debentures; then do I proclaim it loudly before the world, Bernard Cavanagh is an injured man: you are either absurd in one case, or unjust in the other; take your choice. Ship off Sir Edward to the colonies; send James to Swan River; let Lady Blessington card wool, or Mrs. Norton pound oyster-shells; or else we call upon you, give Mr. Cavanagh freedom of the guild; call him the author of “The Hungry One;” let him be courted and fêted—you may ask him to dinner with an easy conscience, and invite him to tea without remorse. Let a Whig-radical borough solicit him to represent it; place him at the right hand of Lord John; let his picture be exhibited in the print-shops, and let the cut of his coat and the tie of his cravat be so much in vogue, that bang-ups à la Barney shall be the only things seen in Bond-street: one course or the other you must take. If the mountain will not go to Mahomet, Mahomet must go to the mountain: or in other words, if Bulwer descend not to Barney, Barney must mount up to Bulwer. It is absurd, it is worse than absurd, to pretend that he who so thoroughly sympathises with his hero, as to embody him in his own thoughts and acts, his look, his dress, and his demeanour, that he, I say, who so penetrated with the impersonation of a part, finds the pen too weak, and the press too slow, to picture forth his vivid creations, should be less an object of praise, of honour, and distinction, than the indolent denizen of some drawing-room, who, in slippered ease, dictates his shadowy and imperfect conceptions—visions of what he never felt, dreamy representations of unreality.
“The poet,” as the word implies, is the maker or the creator; and however little of the higher attributes of what the world esteems as poetry the character would seem to possess, he who invents a personage, the conformity of whose traits to the rule of life is acknowledged for its truth, he, I say, is a poet. Thus, there is poetry in Sancho Panza, Falstaff, Dugald Dalgetty, and a hundred other similar impersonations; and why not in Bernard Cavanagh?
Look for a moment at the effects of your system. The Caraccis, we are told, spent their boyish years drawing rude figures with chalk on the doors and even the walls of the palaces of Rome: here the first germs of their early talent displayed themselves; and in those bold conceptions of youthful genius were seen the first dawnings of a power that gave glory to the age they lived in. Had Sir Peter Laurie been their cotemporary, had 964 been loose in those days, they would have been treated with a trip to the mill, and their taste for design cultivated by the low diet of a penitentiary. You know not what budding genius you have nipped with this abominable system: you think not of the early indications of mind and intellect you may be consigning to prison: or is it after all, that the matter-of-fact spirit of the age has sapped the very vitals of our law-code, and that in your utilitarian zeal you have doomed to death all that bears the stamp of imagination? if this be indeed your object, have a good heart, encourage 964, and you’ll not leave a novelist in the land.
Good reader, I ask your pardon for all this honest indignation; I know it is in vain: I cannot reform our jurisprudence; and our laws, like the Belgian revolution, must be regarded “comme un fait accompli;” in other words, what can’t be cured must be endured. Let us leave then our friend the Pole to perform his penance; let us say adieu to Barney, who is at this moment occupying a suite of apartments in the Penitentiary, and let us turn to the reverse of the medal, I mean to those who would wile us away by false promises and flattering speeches to entertain such views of life as are not only impossible but inconsistent, thus rendering our path here devoid of interest and of pleasure, while compared with the extravagant creations of their own erring fancies. Yes, princes may be trusted, but put not your faith in periodicals. Let no pictorial representations of Alpine scenery, under the auspices of Colburn or Bentley, seduce you from the comforts of your hearth and home: let no enthusiastic accounts of military greatness, no peninsular pleasures, no charms of campaigning life, induce you to change your garb of country gentleman for the livery of the Horse-Guards,—“making the green one red.”
Be not mystified by Maxwell, nor lured by Lorrequer; let no panegyrics of pipe-clay and the brevet seduce you from the peaceful path in life; let not Marryat mar your happiness by the glories of those who dwell in the deep waters; let not Wilson persuade you that the “Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life” have any reference to that romantic people, who betake themselves to their native mountains with a little oatmeal for food and a little sulphur for friction; do not believe one syllable about the girls of the west; trust not in the representations of their blue eyes, nor of their trim ankles peering beneath a jupe of scarlet—we can vouch it is true, for the red petticoat, but the rest is apocryphal. Fly, we warn you, from Summers in Germany, Evenings in Brittany, Weeks on the Rhine; away with tours, guide-books, and all the John Murrayisms of travels. A plague upon Egypt! travellers have a proverbial liberty of conscience, and the farther they go, the more does it seem to stretch; not that near home matters are much better, for our “Wild Sports” in Achill are as romantic as those in Africa, and the Complete Angler is a complete humbug.
There is no faith—no principle in any of these men. The grave writer, the stern moralist, the uncompromising advocate of the inflexible rule of right, is a dandy with essenced locks, loose trousers, and looser morals, who breakfasts at four in the afternoon, and spends his evenings among the side scenes of the opera; the merry writer of whims and oddities, who shakes his puns about like pepper from a pepper-castor, is a misanthropic, melancholy gentleman, of mournful look and unhappy aspect: the advocate of field-sports, of all the joyous excitement of the hunting-field, and the bold dangers of the chase, is an asthmatic sexagenarian, with care in his heart and gout in his ankles; and lastly, he who lives but in the horrors of a charnel-house, whose gloomy mind finds no pleasure save in the dark and dismal pictures of crime and suffering, of lingering agony, or cruel death, is a fat, round, portly, comely gentleman, with a laugh like Falstaff, and a face whose every lineament and feature seems to exhale the merriment of a jocose and happy temperament. I speak not of the softer sex, many of whose productions would seem to have but little sympathy with themselves; but once for all, I would ask you what reliance, what faith can you place in any of them? Is it to the denizen of a coal mine you apply for information about the Nassau balloon? Do you refer a disputed point in dress to an Englishman, in climate to a Laplander, in politeness to a Frenchman, or in hospitality to a Belgian? or do you not rather feel that these are not exactly their attributes, and that you are moving the equity for a case at common law? exactly in the same way, and for the same reason, we repeat it, put not your faith in periodicals, nor in the writers thereof.
How ridiculous would it appear if the surgeon-general were to open a pleading, or charge a jury in the Queen’s Bench, while the solicitor-general was engaged in taking up the femoral artery! What would you say if the Archbishop of Canterbury were to preside over the artillery-practice at Woolwich, while the Commander of the Forces delivered a charge to the clergy of the diocese? How would you look if Justice Pennefather were to speak at a repeal meeting, and Daniel O’Connell to conduct himself like a loyal and discreet citizen? Would you not at once say the whole world is in masquerade? and would you not be justified in the remark? And yet this it is which is exactly taking place before your eyes in the wide world of letters. The illiterate and unreflecting man of under-bred habits and degenerate tastes will write nothing but a philosophic novel; the denizen of the Fleet, or the Queen’s Bench, publishes an ascent of Mont Blanc, with a glowing description of the delights of liberty; the nobleman writes slang; the starving author, with broken boots and patched continuations, will not indite a name undignified by a title; and after all this, will you venture to tell me that these men are not indictable by the statute for obtaining money under false pretences?
I have run myself out of breath; and now, if you will allow me a few moments, I will tell you what, perhaps, I ought to have done earlier in this article, namely, its object.
It is a remarkable feature in the complex and difficult machinery of our society, that while crime and the law code keep steadily on the increase, moving in parallel lines one beside the other, certain prejudices, popular fallacies—nuts, as we have called them at the head of this paper—should still disgrace our social system; and that, however justice may be administered in our courts of law, in the private judicature of our own dwellings we observe an especial system of jurisprudence, marked by injustice and by wrong. To endeavour to depict some instances of this, I have set about my present undertaking. To disabuse the public mind as to the error, that what is punishable in one can be praiseworthy in another; and what is excellent in the court can be execrable in the city. Such is my object, such my hope. Under this title I shall endeavour to touch upon the undue estimation in which we hold certain people and places—the unfair depreciation of certain sects and callings. Not confining myself to home, I shall take the habits of my countrymen on the Continent, whether in their search for climate, economy, education, or enjoyment; and, as far as my ability lies, hold the mirror up to nature, while I extend the war-cry of my distinguished countrymen, not asking “justice for Ireland” alone, but “justice for the whole human race.” For the gaoler as for the guardsman, for the steward of the Holyhead as for him of the household; from the Munster king-at-arms to the monarch of the Cannibal Island—“nihil à me alienum puto;” from the priest to the plenipotentiary; from Mr. Arkins to Abd-el-Kader: my sympathy extends to all.
I had nearly attained to man’s estate before I understood the nature of a coroner. I remember, when a child, to have seen a coloured print from a well-known picture of the day, representing the night-mare. It was a horrible representation of a goblin shape of hideous aspect, that sat cowering upon the bosom of a sleeping figure, on whose white features a look of painful suffering was depicted, while the clenched hands and drawn-up feet seemed to struggle with convulsive agony. Heaven knows how or when the thought occurred to me, but I clearly recollect my impression that this goblin was a coroner. Some confused notion about sitting on a corpse as one of his attributes had, doubtless, suggested the idea; and certainly nothing contributed to increase the horror of suicide in my eyes so much as the reflection, that the grim demon already mentioned had some function to discharge on the occasion.
When, after the lapse of years, I heard that the eloquent and gifted member for Finsbury was a being of this order, although I knew by that time the injustice of my original prejudices, yet, I confess I could not look at him in the house, without a thought of my childish fancies, and an endeavour to trace in his comely features some faint resemblance to the figure of the night-mare.
This strange impression of my infancy recurred strongly to my mind a few days since, on reading a newspaper account of a sudden death.—The case was simply that of a gentleman who, in the bosom of his family, became suddenly seized with illness, and after a few hours expired. What was their surprise! what their horror! to find, that no sooner was the circumstance known, than the house was surrounded by a mob, policemen were stationed at the doors, and twelve of the great unwashed, with a coroner at their head, forced their entry into the house of mourning, to deliberate on the cause of death. I can perfectly understand the value of this practice in cases where either suspicion has attached, or where the circumstances of the decease, as to time and place, would indicate a violent death; but where a person, surrounded by his children, living in all the quiet enjoyment of an easy and undisturbed existence, drops off by some one of the ills that flesh is heir to, only a little more rapidly than his neighbour at next door, why this should be a case for a coroner and his gang, I cannot, for the life of me, conceive. In the instance I allude to, the family offered the fullest information: they explained that the deceased had been liable for years to an infirmity likely to terminate in this way. The physician who attended him corroborated the statement; and, in fact, it was clear the case was one of those almost every-day occurrences where the thread of life is snapped, not unravelled. This, however, did not satisfy the coroner, who had, as he expressed it, a “duty to perform,” and, who, certainly had five guineas for his fee: he was a “medical coroner,” too, and therefore he would examine for himself. Thus, in the midst of the affliction and bereavement of a desolate family, the frightful detail of an inquest, with all its attendant train of harrowing and heart-rending inquiries, is carried on, simply because it is permissible by the law, and the coroner may enter where the king cannot.
We are taught in the litany to pray against sudden death; but up to this moment I never knew it was illegal. Dreadful afflictions as apoplexy and aneurism are, it remained for our present civilisation to make them punishable by a statute. The march of intellect, not satisfied with directing us in life, must go a step farther and teach us how to die. Fashionable diseases the world has been long acquainted with, but an “illegal inflammation,” and a “criminal hemorrhage” have been reserved for the enlightened age we live in.
Newspapers will no longer inform us, in the habitual phrase, that Mr. Simpkins died suddenly at his house at Hampstead; but, under the head of “Shocking outrage,” we shall read, “that after a long life of great respectability and the exhibition of many virtues, this unfortunate gentleman, it is hoped in a moment of mental alienation, went off with a disease of the heart. The affliction of his surviving relatives at this frightful act may be conceived, but cannot be described. His effects, according to the statute, have been confiscated to the crown, and a deodand of fifty shillings awarded on the apothecary who attended him. It is hoped, that the universal execration which attends cases of this nature may deter others from the same course; and, we confess, our observations are directed with a painful, but we trust, a powerful interest to certain elderly gentlemen in the neighbourhood of Islington.” Verb. sat.
Under these sad circumstances it behoves us to look a little about, and provide against such a contingency. It is then earnestly recommended to heads of families, that when registering the birth of a child, they should also include some probable or possible malady of which he may, could, would, should, or ought to die, in the course of time. This will show, by incontestable evidence, that the event was at least anticipated, and being done at the earliest period of life, no reproach can possibly lie for want of premeditation. The register might run thus:—
Giles Tims, son of Thomas and Mary Tims, born on the 9th of June, Kent street, Southwark—dropsy, typhus, or gout in the stomach.
It by no means follows, that he must wait for one or other of these maladies to carry him off. Not at all; he may range at will through the whole practice of physic, and adopt his choice. The registry only goes to show, that he does not mean to sneak out of the world in any under-bred way, nor bolt out of life with the abrupt precipitation of a Frenchman after a dinner party. I have merely thrown out this hint here as a warning to my many friends, and shall now proceed to other and more pleasing topics.
Among the many incongruities of that composite piece of architecture, called John Bull, there is nothing more striking than the contrast between his thorough nationality and his unbounded admiration for foreigners. Now, although we may not entirely sympathize with, we can understand and appreciate this feature of his character, and see how he gratifies his very pride itself, in the attentions and civilities he bestows upon strangers. The feeling is intelligible too, because Frenchmen, Germans, and even Italians, notwithstanding the many points of disparity between us, have always certain qualities well worthy of respect, if not of imitation. France has a great literature, a name glorious in history, a people abounding in intelligence, skill, and invention; in fact, all the attributes that make up a great nation. Germany has many of these, and though she lack the brilliant fancy, the sparkling wit of her neighbour, has still a compensating fund in the rich resources of her judgment, and the profound depths of her scholarship. Indeed, every continental country has its lesson for our benefit, and we would do well to cultivate the acquaintance of strangers, not only to disseminate more just views of ourselves and our institutions, but also for the adoption of such customs as seem worthy of imitation, and such habits as may suit our condition in life; while such is the case as regards those countries high in the scale of civilisation, we would, by no means, extend the rule to others less happily constituted, less benignly gifted. The Carinthian boor with his garment of sheep-wool, or the Laplander with his snow shoes and his hood of deerskin, may be both very natural objects of curiosity, but by no means subjects of imitation. This point will doubtless be conceded at once; and now, will any one tell me for what cause, under what pretence, and with what pretext are we civil to the Yankees?—not for their politeness, not for their literature, not for any fascination of their manner, nor any charm of their address, not for any historic association, not for any halo that the glorious past has thrown around the common-place monotony of the present, still less for any romantic curiosity as to their lives and habits—for in this respect all other savage nations far surpass them. What then is, or what can be the cause?
Of all the lions that caprice and the whimsical absurdity of a second-rate set in fashion ever courted and entertained, never had any one less pretensions to the civility he received than the author of ‘Pencillings by the Way’—poor in thought, still poorer in expression, without a spark of wit, without a gleam of imagination—a fourth-rate looking man, and a fifth-rate talker, he continued to receive the homage we were wont to bestow upon a Scott, and even charily extended to a Dickens. His writings the very slip-slop of “commerage,” the tittle-tattle of a Sunday paper, dressed up in the cant of Kentucky; the very titles, the contemptible affectation of unredeemed twaddle, ‘Pencillings by the Way!’ ‘Letters from under a Bridge!’ Good lack! how the latter name is suggestive of eaves-dropping and listening; and how involuntarily we call to mind those chance expressions of his partners in the dance, or his companions at the table, faithfully recorded for the edification of the free-born Americans, who, while they ridicule our institutions, endeavour to pantomime our manners.
For many years past a number of persons have driven a thriving trade in a singular branch of commerce, no less than buying up cast court dresses and second-hand uniforms for exportation to the colonies. The negroes, it is said, are far prouder of figuring in the tattered and tarnished fragments of former greatness, than of wearing the less gaudy, but more useful garb, befitting their condition. So it would seem our trans-Atlantic friends prefer importing through their agents, for that purpose, the abandoned finery of courtly gossip, to the more useful but less pretentious apparel, of common-place information. Mr. Willis was invaluable for this purpose; he told his friends every thing that he heard, and he heard every thing that he could; and, like mercy, he enjoyed a duplicate of blessings—for while he was delighted in by his own countrymen, he was dined by ours. He scattered his autographs, as Feargus O’Connor did franks; he smiled; he ogled; he read his own poetry, and went the whole lion with all his might; and yet, in the midst of this, a rival starts up equally desirous of court secrets, and fifty times as enterprising in their search; he risks his liberty, perhaps his life, in the pursuit, and what is his reward? I need only tell you his name, and you are answered—I mean the boy Jones; not under a bridge, but under a sofa; not in Almacks, obtaining it at second-hand, but in Buckingham Palace—into the very apartment of the Queen—the adventurous youth has dared to insinuate himself. No lady however sends her album to him for some memento of his genius. His temple is not defrauded of its curls to grace a locket or a medallion; and his reward, instead of a supper at Lady Blessington’s, is a voyage to Swan River. For my part, I prefer the boy Jones: I like his singleness of purpose: I admire his steady perseverance; still, however, he had the misfortune to be born in England—his father lived near Wapping, and he was ineligible for a lion.
To what other reason than his English growth can be attributed the different treatment he has experienced at the hands of the world. The similarity between the two characters is most striking. Willis had a craving appetite for court gossip, and the tittle-tattle of a palace: so had the boy Jones. Willis established himself as a listener in society: so did the boy Jones. Willis obtruded himself into places, and among people where he had no possible pretension to be seen: so did the boy Jones. Willis wrote letters from under a bridge: the boy Jones eat mutton chops under a sofa.
The pet profession of England is the bar, and I see many reasons why this should be the case. Our law of primogeniture necessitates the existence of certain provisions for younger children independently of the pittance bestowed on them by their families. The army and the navy, the church and the bar, form then the only avenues to fortune for the highly born; and one or other of these four roads must be adopted by him who would carve out his own career. The bar, for many reasons, is the favourite—at least among those who place reliance in their intellect. Its estimation is high. It is not incompatible but actually favourable to the pursuits of parliament. Its rewards are manifold and great; and while there is a sufficiency of private ease and personal retirement in its practice, there is also enough of publicity for the most ambitiously-minded seeker of the world’s applause and the world’s admiration. Were we only to look back upon our history, we should find perhaps that the profession of the law would include almost two-thirds of our very greatest men. Astute thinkers, deep politicians, eloquent debaters, profound scholars, men of wit, as well as men of wisdom, have abounded in its ranks, and there is every reason why it should be, as I have called it, the pet profession.
Having conceded so much, may I now be permitted to take a nearer view of those men so highly distinguished: and for this purpose let me turn my reader’s attention to the practice of a criminal trial. The first duty of a good citizen, it will not be disputed, is, as far as in him lies, to promote obedience to the law, to repress crime, and bring outrage to punishment. No walk in life—no professional career—no uniform of scarlet or of black—no freemasonry of craft or calling can absolve him from this allegiance to his country. Yet, what do we see? The wretch stained with crime—polluted with iniquity—for which, perhaps, the statute-book contains neither name nor indictment—whose trembling lips are eager to avow that guilt which, by confessing, he hopes may alleviate the penalty—this man, I say, is checked in his intentions—he is warned not, by any chance expression, to hazard a conviction of his crime, and told in the language of the law not to criminate himself. But the matter stops not here—justice is an inveterate gambler—she is not satisfied when her antagonist throws his card upon the table confessing that he has not a trump nor a trick in his hand—no, like the most accomplished swindler of Baden or Boulogne, she assumes a smile of easy and courteous benignity, and says, pooh, pooh! nonsense, my dear friend; you don’t know what may turn up; your cards are better than you think; don’t be faint-hearted; don’t you see you have the knave of trumps, i. e., the cleverest lawyer for your defender; a thousand things may happen; I may revoke, that is, the indictment may break down; there are innumerable chances in your favour, so pluck up your courage and play the game out.
He takes the advice, and however faint-hearted before, he now assumes a look of stern courage, or dogged indifference, and resolves to play for the stake. He remembers, however, that he is no adept in the game, and he addresses himself in consequence to some astute and subtle gambler, to whom he commits his cards and his chances. The trepidation or the indifference that he manifested before, now gradually gives way; and however hopeless he had deemed his case at first, he now begins to think that all is not lost. The very way his friend, the lawyer, shuffles and cuts the cards, imposes on his credulity and suggests a hope. He sees at once that he is a practised hand, and almost unconsciously he becomes deeply interested in the changes and vacillations of the game he believed could have presented but one aspect of fortune.
But the prisoner is not my object: I turn rather to the lawyer. Here then do we not see the accomplished gentleman—the finished scholar—the man of refinement and of learning, of character and station—standing forth the very embodiment of the individual in the dock? possessed of all his secrets—animated by the same hopes—penetrated by the same fears—he endeavours by all the subtle ingenuity, with which craft and habit have gifted him, to confound the testimony—to disparage the truth—to pervert the inferences of all the witnesses. In fact, he employs all the stratagems of his calling, all the ingenuity of his mind, all the subtlety of his wit for the one end—that the man he believes in his own heart guilty, may, on the oaths of twelve honest men, be pronounced innocent.
From the opening of the trial to its close, this mental gladiator is an object of wonder and dread. Scarcely a quality of the human mind is not exhibited by him in the brilliant panorama of his intellect. At first, the patient perusal of a complex and wordy indictment occupies him exclusively: he then proceeds to cross-examine the witnesses—flattering this one—brow-beating that—suggesting—insinuating—amplifying, or retrenching, as the evidence would seem to favour or be adverse to his client. He is alternately confident and doubtful, headlong and hesitating—now hurried away on the full tide of his eloquence he expatiates in beautiful generalities on the glorious institution of trial by jury, and apostrophizes justice; or now, with broken utterance and plaintive voice, he supplicates the jury to be patient, and be careful in the decision they may come to. He implores them to remember that when they leave that court, and return to the happy comforts of their home, conscience will follow them, and the everlasting question crave for answer within them—were they sure of this man’s guilt? He teaches them how fallacious are all human tests; he magnifies the slightest discrepancy of evidence into a broad and sweeping contradiction; and while, with a prophetic menace, he pictures forth the undying remorse that pursues him who sheds innocent blood, he dismisses them with an affecting picture of mental agony so great—of suffering so heart-rending, that, as they retire to the jury-room, there is not a man of the twelve that has not more or less of a personal interest in the acquittal of the prisoner.
However bad, however depraved the human mind, it still leans to mercy: the power to dispose of another man’s life is generally sufficient for the most malignant spirit in its thirst for vengeance. What then are the feelings of twelve calm, and perhaps, benevolent men, at a moment like this? The last words of the advocate have thrown a new element into the whole case, for independent of their verdict upon the prisoner comes now the direct appeal to their own hearts. How will they feel when they reflect on this hereafter? I do not wish to pursue this further. It is enough for my present purpose that, by the ingenuity of the lawyer, criminals have escaped, do escape, and are escaping, the just sentence on their crimes. What then is the result? the advocate, who up to this moment has maintained a familiar, even a friendly, intimacy with his client in the dock, now shrinks from the very contamination of his look. He cannot bear that the blood-stained fingers should grasp the hem of his garment, and he turns with a sense of shame from the expressions of a gratitude that criminate him in his own heart. However, this is but a passing sensation; he divests himself of his wig and gown, and overwhelmed with congratulations for his brilliant success, he springs into his carriage and goes home to dress for dinner—for on that day he is engaged to the Chancellor, the Bishop of London, or some other great and revered functionary—the guardian of the church, or the custodian of conscience.
Now, there is only one thing in all this I would wish to bring strikingly before the mind of my readers, and that is, that the lawyer, throughout the entire proceeding, was a free and a willing agent. There was neither legal nor moral compulsion to urge him on. No; it was no intrepid defence against the tyranny of a government or the usurpation of power—it was the assertion of no broad and immutable principle of truth or justice—it was simply a matter of legal acumen and persuasive eloquence, to the amount of fifty pounds sterling.
This being admitted, let me now proceed to consider another functionary, and observe how far the rule of right is consulted in the treatment he meets with—I mean the hangman. You start, good reader, and your gesture of impatience denotes the very proposition I would come to. I need scarcely remind you, that in our country this individual has a kind of prerogative of detestation. All other ranks and conditions of men may find a sympathy, or at least a pity, somewhere, but for him there is none. No one is sufficiently debased to be his companion,—no one so low as to be his associate! Like a being of another sphere, he appears but at some frightful moments of life, and then only for a few seconds. For the rest he drags on existence unseen and unheard of, his very name a thing to tremble at. Yet this man, in the duties of his calling, has neither will nor choice. The stern agent of the law, he has but one course to follow; his path, a narrow one, has no turning to the right or to the left, and, save that his ministry is more proximate, is less accessory to the death of the criminal than he who signs the warrant for execution. In fact, he but answers the responses of the law, and in the loud amen of his calling, he only consummates its recorded assertion. How then can you reconcile yourself to the fact, that while you overwhelm the advocate who converts right into wrong and wrong into right, who shrouds the guilty man, and conceals the murderer, with honour, and praise, and rank, and riches, and who does this for a brief marked fifty pounds, yet have nothing but abhorrence and detestation for the impassive agent whose fee is but one. One can help what he does—the other cannot. One is an amateur—the other practices in spite of himself. One employs every energy of his mind and every faculty of his intellect—the other only devotes the ingenuity of his fingers. One strains every nerve to let loose a criminal upon the world—the other but closes the grave over guilt and crime!
The king’s counsel is courted. His society sought for. He is held in high esteem, and while his present career is a brilliant one in the vista before him, his eyes are fixed upon the ermine. Jack Ketch, on the other hand, is shunned. His companionship avoided, and the only futurity he can look to, is a life of ignominy, and after it an unknown grave. Let him be a man of fascinating manners, highly gifted, and agreeable; let him be able to recount with the most melting pathos the anecdotes and incidents of his professional career, throwing light upon the history of his own period—such as none but himself could throw;—let him speak of the various characters that have passed through his hands, and so to say, “dropped off before him”—yet the prejudice of the world is an obstacle not to be overcome; his calling is in disrepute, and no personal efforts of his own, no individual pre-eminence he may arrive at in his walk, will ever redeem it. Other men’s estimation increases as they distinguish themselves in life; each fresh display of their abilities, each new occasion for the exercise of their powers, is hailed with renewed favour and increasing flattery; not so he,—every time he appears on his peculiar stage, the disgust and detestation is but augmented,—vires acquirit eundo,—his countenance, as it becomes known, is a signal for the yelling execrations of a mob, and the very dexterity with which he performs his functions, is made matter of loathing and horror. Were his duties such as might be carried on in secret, he might do good by stealth and blush to find it fame; but no, his attributes demand the noon-day and the multitude—the tragedy he performs in, must be played before tens of thousands, by whom his every look is scowled at, his every gesture scrutinized. But to conclude,—this man is a necessity of our social system. We want him—we require him, and we can’t do without him. Much of the machinery of a trial might be dispensed with or retrenched. His office, however, has nothing superfluous. He is part of the machinery of our civilisation, and on what principle do we hunt him down like a wild beast to his lair?
Men of rank and title are daily to be found in association, and even intimacy with black legs and bruisers, grooms, jockeys, and swindlers; yet we never heard that even the Whigs paid any attention to a hangman, nor is his name to be found even in the list of a Radical viceroy’s levee. However, we do not despair. Many prejudices of this nature have already given way, and many absurd notions have been knocked on the head by a wag of great Daniel’s tail. And if our friend of Newgate, who is certainly anti-union in his functions, will only cry out for Repeal, the justice that is entreated for all Ireland may include him in the general distribution of its favours. Poor Theodore Hook used to say, that marriage was like hanging, there being only the difference of an aspirate between halter and altar.
y dear reader, if it does not insult your understanding by the self-evidence of the query, will you allow me to ask you a question—which of the two is more culpable, the man who, finding himself in a path of dereliction, arrests himself in his downward career, and, by a wonderful effort of self-restraint, stops dead short, and will suffer no inducement, no seduction, to lead him one step further; or he, who, floating down the stream of his own vicious passions, takes the flood-tide of iniquity, and, indifferent to every consequence, deaf to all remonstrance, seeks but the indulgence of his own egotistical pleasure with a stern determination to pursue it to the last? Of course you will say, that he who repents is better than he who persists; there is hope for the one, there is none for the other. Yet would you believe it, our common law asserts directly the reverse, pronouncing the culpability of the former as meriting heavy punishment, while the latter is not assailable even by implication.
That I may make myself more clear, I shall give an instance of my meaning. Scarcely a week passes over without a trial for breach of promise of marriage. Sometimes the gay Lothario, to use the phrase of the newspapers, is nineteen, sometimes ninety. In either case his conduct is a frightful tissue of perjured vows and base deception. His innumerable letters breathing all the tenderness of affectionate solicitude, intended but for the eyes of her he loves, are read in open court; attested copies are shown to the judge, or handed up to the jury-box. The course of his true love is traced from the bubbling fountain of first acquaintance to the broad river of his passionate devotion. Its rapids and its whirlpools, its placid lakes, its frothy torrents, its windings and its turnings, its ebbs and flows, are discussed, detailed, and descanted on with all the hacknied precision of the craft, as though his heart was a bill of exchange, or the current of his affection a disputed mill-stream. And what, after all, is this man’s crime? knowing that love is the great humanizer of our race, and feeling probably how much he stands in need of some civilizing process, he attaches himself to some lovely and attractive girl, who, in the reciprocity of her affection, is herself benefited in a degree equal to him. If the soft solicitude of the tender passion, if its ennobling self-respect, if its purifying influence on the heart, be good for the man, how much more so is it for the woman. If he be taught to feel how the refined enjoyments of an attractive girl’s mind are superior to the base and degenerate pursuits of every-day pleasure, how much more will she learn to prize and cultivate those gifts which form the charm of her nature, and breathe an incense of fascination around her steps. Here is a compact where both parties benefit, but that they may do so to the fullest extent, it is necessary that no self-interest, no mean prospect of individual advantage, should interfere: all must be pure and confiding. Love-making should not be like a game of écarté with a black leg, where you must not rise from the table, till you are ruined. No! it should rather resemble a party at picquet with your pretty cousin, when the moment either party is tired, you may throw down the cards and abandon the game.
This, then, is the case of the man; he either discovers that on further acquaintance the qualities he believed in were not so palpable as he thought, or, if there, marred in their exercise by opposing and antagonist forces, of whose existence he knew not, he thinks he detects discrepancies of temperament, disparities of taste; he foresees that in the channel where he looked for deep water there are so many rocks, and shoals, and quicksands, that he fears the bark of conjugal happiness may be shipwrecked upon them; and, like a prudent mariner, he resolves to lighten the craft by “throwing over the lady.” Had this man married with all these impending suspicions on his mind, there is little doubt he would have made a most execrable husband; not to mention the danger that his wife should not be all amiable as she ought. He stops short—that is, he explains in one, perhaps in a series of letters, the reasons of his new course. He expects in return the admiration and esteem of her, for whose happiness he is legislating, as well as for his own; and oh, base ingratitude! he receives a letter from her attorney. The gentlemen of the long robe—newspaper again—are in ecstasies. Like devils on the arrival of a new soul, they brighten up, rub their hands, and congratulate each other on a glorious case. The damages are laid at five thousand pounds; and, as the lady is pretty, and can be seen from the jury-box, being fathers themselves, they award every sixpence of the money.
I can picture to myself the feeling of the defendant at such a moment as this. As he stands alone in conscious honesty, ruminating on his fate—alone, I say, for, like Mahomet’s coffin, he has no resting-place; laughed at by the men, sneered at by the women, mulcted of perhaps half his fortune, merely because for the last three years of his life he represented himself in every amiable and attractive trait that can grace and adorn human nature. Who would wonder, if, like the man in the farce, he would register a vow never to do a good-natured thing again as long as he lives; or what respect can he have for a government or a country, where the church tells him to love his neighbour, and the chief justice makes him pay five thousand for his obedience.
I now come to the other case, and I shall be very brief in my observations. I mean that of him, who equally fond of flirting as the former, has yet a lively fear of an action at law. Love-making with him is a necessity of his existence—he is an Irishman, perhaps, and it is as indispensable to his temperament as train-oil to a Russian. He likes sporting, he likes billiards, he likes his club, and he likes the ladies; but he has just as much intention of turning a huntsman at the one, or a marker at the other, as he has of matrimony. He knows life is a chequered table, and that there could be no game if all the squares were of one colour. He alternates, therefore, between love and sporting, between cards and courtship, and as the pursuit is a pleasant one, he resolves never to give up. He waxes old, therefore, with young habits, adapting his tastes to his time of life; he does not kneel so often at forty as he did at twenty, but he ogles the more, and is twice as good-tempered. Not perhaps as ready to fight for the lady, but ten times more disposed to flatter her. She may love him, or she may not; she may receive him as of old, or she may marry another. What matters it to him? All his care is that he shouldn’t change. All his anxiety is, to let the rupture, if there must be one, proceed from her side. He knows in his heart the penalty of breach of promise, but he also knows that the Chancellor can issue no injunction compelling a man to marry, and that in the courts of love the bills are payable at convenience.
Here, then, are the two cases, which, in conformity with the world’s opinion, I have dignified with every possible term of horror and reproach. In the one, the measure of iniquity is but half filled; in the other, the cup is overflowing at the brim. For the lesser offence, the law awards damages and defamation: for the greater, society pronounces an eulogy upon the enduring fidelity of the man thus faithful to a first love.
If a person about to buy a horse should, on trying him for an hour or two, discover that his temper did not suit him, or that his paces were not pleasant, and should in consequence restore him to the owner: and if another, on the same errand, should come day after day for weeks, or months, or even years, cantering him about over the pavement, and scouring over the whole country; his answer being, when asked if he intended to purchase, that he liked the horse exceedingly, but that he hadn’t got a stable, or a saddle, or a curb-chain, or, in fact, some one or other of the little necessaries of horse gear; but that when he had, that was exactly the animal to suit him—he never was better carried in his life. Which of these two, do you esteem the more honest and more honourable?
When you make up your mind, please also to make the application.
When the Belgians, by their most insane revolution, separated from the Dutch, they assumed for their national motto the phrase “L’union fait la force.” It is difficult to say whether their rebellion towards the sovereign, or this happy employment of a bull, it was, that so completely captivated our illustrious countryman, Dan, and excited so warmly his sympathies for that beer-drinking population. After all, why should one quarrel with them? Nations, like individuals, have their coats-of-arms, their heraldic insignia, their blazons, and their garters, frequently containing the sharpest sarcasm and most poignant satire upon those who bear them; and in this respect Belgium is only as ridiculous as the attorney who assumed for his motto “Fiat justitia.” Time was when the chivalrous line of our own garter, “Honi soit qui mal y pense,” brought with it, its bright associations of kingly courtesy and maiden bashfulness: but what sympathy can such a sentiment find in these degenerate days of railroads and rack-rents, canals, collieries, and chain-bridges? No, were we now to select an inscription, much rather would we take it from the prevailing passion of the age, and write beneath the arms of our land the emphatic phrase, “Push along, keep moving.”
If Englishmen have failed to exhibit in machinery that triumphant El Dorado called perpetual motion, in revenge for their failure, they resolved to exemplify it in themselves. The whole nation, from John o’ Groat to Land’s End, from Westport to Dover, are playing cross-corners. Every body and every thing is on the move. A dwelling-house, like an umbrella, is only a thing used on an emergency; and the inhabitants of Great Britain pass their lives amid the smoke of steam-boats, or the din and thunder of the Grand-Junction. From the highest to the lowest, from the peer to the peasant, from the lord of the treasury to the Irish haymaker, it is one universal “chassée croissée.” Not only is this fashionable—for we are told by the newspapers how the Queen walks daily with Prince Albert on “the slopes”—but stranger still, locomotion is a law of the land, and standing still is a statutable offence. The hackney coachman, with wearied horses, blown and broken-winded, dares not breathe his jaded beasts by a momentary pull-up, for the implacable policeman has his eye upon him, and he must simulate a trot, though his pace but resemble a stage procession, where the legs are lifted without progressing, and some fifty Roman soldiers, in Wellington boots, are seen vainly endeavouring to push forward. The foot-passenger is no better off—tired perhaps with walking or attracted by the fascinations of a print-shop, he stops for an instant: alas, that luxury may cost him dear, and for the momentary pleasure he may yet have to perform a quick step on the mill. “Move on, sir. Keep moving, if you please,” sayeth the gentleman in blue; and there is something in his manner that won’t be denied. It is useless to explain that you have nowhere particular to go to, that you are an idler and a lounger. The confession is a fatal one; and however respectable your appearance, the idea of shoplifting is at once associated with your pursuits. Into what inconsistencies do we fall while multiplying our laws, for while we insist upon progression, we announce a penalty for vagrancy. The first principle of the British constitution, however, is “keep moving,” and “I would recommend you to go with the tide.”
Thank heaven, I have reached to man’s estate—although with a heavy heart I acknowledge it is the only estate I have or ever shall attain to; for if I were a child I don’t think I should close my eyes at night from the fear of one frightful and terrific image. As it is, I am by no means over courageous, and it requires all the energy I can summon to combat my terrors. You ask me, in all likelihood, what this fearful thing can be? Is it the plague or the cholera? is it the dread of poverty and the new poor-law? is it that I may be impressed as a seaman, or mistaken for a Yankee? or is it some unknown and visionary terror, unseen, unheard of, but foreshadowed by a diseased imagination; No; nothing of the kind. It is a palpable, sentient, existent thing—neither more nor less than the worshipful Sir Peter Laurie.
Every newspaper you take up announces that Sir Peter, with a hearty contempt for the brevity of the fifty folio volumes that contain the laws of our land, in the plenitude of his power and the fulness of his imagination, keeps adding to the number; so that if length of years be only accorded to that amiable individual in proportion to his merits, we shall find at length that not only will every contingency of our lives be provided for by the legislature, but that some standard for personal appearance will also be adopted, to which we must conform as rigidly as to our oath of allegiance.
A few days ago a miserable creature, a tailor we believe, some decimal fraction of humanity, was brought up before Sir Peter on a trifling charge of some kind or other. I forget his offence, but whatever it was, the penalty annexed to it was but a fine of half-a-crown. The prisoner, however, who behaved with propriety and decorum, happened to have long black hair, which he wore somewhat “en jeune France” upon his neck and shoulders; his locks, if not ambrosial, were tastefully curled, and bespoke the fostering hand of care and attention. The Rhadamanthus of the police-office, however, liked them not: whether it was that he wore a Brutus himself, or that his learned cranium had resisted all the efficacy of Macassar, I cannot say; but certain it is, that the tailor’s ringlets gave him the greatest offence, and he apostrophised the wearer in the most solemn manner:
“I have sat,” said he, “for ——,” as I quote from memory I sha’n’t say how many, “years upon the bench, and I never yet met an honest man with long hair. The worst feature in your case is your ringlets. There is something so disgusting to me in the odious and abominable vice you have indulged in, that I feel myself warranted in applying to you the heaviest penalty of the law.”
The miserable man, we are told, fell upon his knees, confessed his delinquency, and, being shorn of his locks in the presence of a crowded court, his fine was remitted, and he was liberated.
Now, perhaps, you will suppose that all this is a mere matter of invention. On the faith of an honest man I assure you it is not. I have retrenched considerably the pathetic eloquence of the magistrate, and I have left altogether untouched the poor tailor’s struggle between pride and poverty—whether, on the one hand, to suffer the loss of his half-crown, or, on the other, to submit to the desecration of his entire head. We hear a great deal about a law for the rich, and another for the poor; and certainly in this case I am disposed to think the complaint might not seem without foundation. Suppose for a moment that the prisoner in this case had been the Honourable Augustus Somebody, who appeared before his worship fashionably attired, and with hair, beard, and moustache far surpassing in extravagance the poor tailor’s; should we then have heard this beautiful apostrophe to “the croppies,” this thundering denunciation of ringlets? I half fear not. And yet, under what pretext does a magistrate address to one man, the insulting language he would not dare apply to another? Or let us suppose the rule of justice to be inflexible, and look at the result. What havoc would Sir Peter make among the Guards? ay, even in the household of her Majesty how many delinquents would he find? what a scene would not the clubs present, on the police authorities dropping suddenly down amongst them with rule and line to determine the statute length of their whiskers, or the legal cut of their eye-brows? Happy King of Hanover, were you still amongst us, not even the Alliance would insure your mustachoes. As for Lord Ellenborough, it is now clear enough why he accepted the government of India, and made such haste to get out of the country.
Now we will suppose that as Sir Peter Laurie’s antipathy is long hair, Sir Frederick Roe may also have his dislikes. It is but fair, you will allow, that the privileges of the bench should be equal. Well, for argument’s sake, I will imagine that Sir Frederick Roe has not the same horror of long hair as his learned brother, but has the most unconquerable aversion to long noses. What are we to do here? Heaven help half our acquaintance if this should strike him! What is to be done with Lord Allen if he beat a watchman! In what a position will he stand if he fracture a lamp? One’s hair may be cut to any length,—it may be even shaved clean off; but your nose.—And then a few weeks,—a few months at farthest, and your hair has grown again: but your nose, like your reputation, can only stand one assault. This is really a serious view of the subject; and it is a somewhat hard thing that the face you have shown to your acquaintances for years past, with pleasure to yourself and satisfaction to them, should be pronounced illegal, or curtailed in its proportions. They have a practice in banks if a forged note be presented for payment, to mark it in a peculiar manner before restoring it to the owner. This is technically called “raddling.” Something similar, I suppose, will be adopted at the police-office, and in case of refusal to conform your features to the rule of Roe, you will be raddled by an officer appointed for the purpose, and sent forth upon the world the mere counterfeit of humanity.
What a glorious thing it would be for this great country, if, having equalized throughout the kingdom the weights, the measures, the miles, and the currency, we should, at length attain to an equalization in appearance. The “facial angle” will then have its application in reality, and, instead of the tiresome detail of an Old Bailey trial, we shall hear a judge sum up on the externals of a prisoner, merely directing the attention of the jury to the atrocious irregularity of his teeth, or the assassin-like sharpness of his under-jaw. Honour to you, Sir Peter, should this great improvement grow out of your innovation; and proud may the country well be, that acknowledges you among its lawgivers!
Let men no longer indulge in that absurd fiction which represents justice as blind. On the contrary, with an eye like Canova’s, and a glance quick, sharp, and penetrating as Flaxman’s, she traces every lineament and every feature; and Landseer will confess himself vanquished by Laurie. “The pictorial school of judicial investigation” will now become fashionable, and if Sir Peter’s practice be but transmitted, surgeons will not be the only professional men who will commence their education with the barbers.
remember once coming into Matlock, on the top of the “Peveril of the Peak,” when the coachman who drove our four spanking thorough-breds contrived, in something less than five minutes, to excite his whole team to the very top of their temper, lifting the wheelers almost off the ground with his heavy lash, and, thrashing his leaders till they smoked with passion, he brought them up to the inn door trembling with rage, and snorting with anger. What the devil is all this for, thought I. He guessed at once what was passing in my mind, and, with a knowing touch of his elbow, whispered:—
“There’s a new coachman a-going to try ’em, and I’ll leave him a precious legacy.”
This is precisely what the Whigs did in their surrender of power to the Tories. They, indeed, left them a precious legacy:—without an ally abroad, with discontent and starvation at home, distant and expensive wars, depressed trade, and bankrupt speculation, form some portion of the valuable heritage they bequeathed to their heirs in power. The most sanguine saw matter of difficulty, and the greater number of men were tempted to despair at the prospects of the Conservative party; for, however happily all other questions may have terminated, they still see, in the corn-law, a point whose subtle difficulty would seem inaccessible to legislation. Ah! could the two great parties, that divide the state, only lay their heads together for a short time, and carry out that beautiful principle that Scribe announces in one of his vaudevilles:—
And why, after all, should not the collective wisdom of England be able to equal in ingenuity the conceptions of a farce-writer? Meanwhile, it is plain that political dissensions, and the rivalries of party, will prevent that mutual good understanding which might prove so beneficial to all. Reconciliations are but flimsy things at best; and whether the attempt be made to conciliate two rival churches, two opposite factions, or two separate interests of any kind whatever, it is usually a failure. It, therefore, becomes the duty of every good subject, and, à fortiori, of every good Conservative, to bestir himself at the present moment, and see what can be done to retrieve the sinking fortune of the state. Taxation, like flogging in the army, never comes on the right part of the back. Sometimes too high, sometimes too low. There is no knowing where to lay it on. Besides that, we have by this time got such a general raw all over us, there isn’t a square inch of sound flesh that presents itself for a new infliction. Since the first French Revolution, the ingenuity of man has been tortured on the subject of finance; and had Dionysius lived in our days, instead of offering a bounty for the discovery of a new pleasure, he would have proposed a reward to the man who devised a new tax.
Without entering at any length into this subject, the consideration of which would lead me into all the details of our every-day habits, I pass on at once to the question which has induced this inquiry, while I proclaim to the world loudly, fearlessly, and resolutely, “Eureka!”—I’ve found it. Yes, my fellow-countrymen, I have found a remedy to supply the deficient income of the nation, not only without imposing a new tax, or inflicting a new burden upon the suffering community, but also without injuring vested rights, or thwarting the activity of commercial enterprise. I neither mulct cotton or corn; I meddle not with parson or publican, nor do I make any portion of the state, by its own privations, support the well-being of the rest. On the contrary, the only individual concerned in my plan, will not be alone benefited in a pecuniary point of view, but the best feelings of the heart will be cultivated and strengthened, and the love of home, so characteristically English, fostered in their bosoms. I could almost grow eloquent upon the benefits of my discovery; but I fear, that were I to give way to this impulse, I should become so fascinated with myself, I could scarcely turn to the less seductive path of simple explanation. Therefore, ere it be too late, let me open my mind and unfold my system:
Any one who ever heard of Sir Isaac Newton and his apple will acknowledge this, and something of the same kind led me to the very remarkable fact I am about to speak of.
One of the Bonaparte family—as well as I remember, Jerome—was one night playing whist at the same table with Talleyrand, and having dropped a crown piece upon the floor, he interrupted the game, and deranged the whole party to search for his money. Not a little provoked by a meanness which he saw excited the ridicule of many persons about, Talleyrand deliberately folded up a bank-note which lay before him, and, lighting it at the candle, begged, with much courtesy, that he might be permitted to assist in the search. This story, which is authentic, would seem an admirable parody on a portion of our criminal law. A poor man robs the community, or some member of it (for that comes to the same thing) to the amount of one penny. He is arrested by a policeman, whose salary is perhaps half-a-crown a-day, and conveyed to a police-office, that cost at least five hundred pounds to build it. Here are found three or four more officials, all salaried—all fed, and clothed by the State. In due course of time he is brought up before a magistrate, also well paid, by whom the affair is investigated, and by him he is afterwards transmitted to the sessions, where a new army of stipendiaries all await him. But his journey is not ended. Convicted of his offence, he is sentenced to seven years’ transportation to one of the most remote quarters of the globe. To convey him thither the government have provided a ship and a crew, a supercargo and a surgeon; and, to sum up in one word, before he has commenced the expiation of his crime, that penny has cost the country something about three hundred pounds. Is not this, I ask you, very like Talleyrand and the Prince?—the only difference being, that we perform in sober earnest, what he merely exhibited in sarcasm.
Now, my plan is, and I prefer to develop it in a single word, instead of weakening its force by circumlocution. In lieu of letting a poor man be reduced to his theft of one penny—give him two pence. He will be a gainer by double the amount—not to speak of the inappreciable value of his honesty—and you the richer by 71,998 pence, under your present system expended upon policemen, magistrates, judges, gaolers, turnkeys, and transports. Examine for a moment the benefits of this system. Look at the incalculable advantages it presents—the enormous revenue, the pecuniary profit, and the patriotism, all preserved to the State, not to mention the additional pleasure of disseminating happiness while you transport men’s hearts, not their bodies.
Here is a plan based upon the soundest philanthropy, the most rigid economy, and the strictest common sense. Instead of training up a race of men in some distant quarter of the globe, who may yet turn your bitterest enemies, you will preserve to the country so many true-born Britons, bound to you by a debt of gratitude. Upon what ground—on what pretext—can you oppose the system? Do you openly confess that you prefer vice to poverty, and punishment to prevention? Or is it your pleasure to manufacture roguery for exportation, as the French do politeness, and the Irish linen?
I offer the suggestion generously, freely, and spontaneously. If the heads of the government choose to profit by the hint, I only ask in return, that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces in his place the immense reduction of expenditure, that he will also give notice of a motion for a bill to reward me by a government appointment. I am not particular as to where, or what: I only bargain against being Secretary for Ireland, or Chief Justice at Cape Coast Castle.
When the cholera first broke out in France, a worthy prefect in a district of the south published an edict to the people, recommending them by all means to eat well-cooked and nutritious food, and drink nothing but vin de Bourdeaux, Anglice, claret. The advice was excellent, and I take it upon me to say, would have found very few opponents in fact, as it certainly did in principle. When the world, however, began to consider that filets de bœuf à la Marengo, and “dindes truffées,” washed down with Chateau Lafitte or Larose, were not exactly within the reach of every class of the community, they deemed the prefect’s counsel more humane than practicable, and as they do at every thing in France when the tide of public opinion changes, they laughed at him heartily, and wrote pasquinades upon his folly. At the same time the ridicule was unjust, the advice was good, sound, and based on true principles, the only mistake was, the difficulty of its practice. Had he recommended as an antiseptic to disease, that the people should play short whist, wear red night-caps, or pelt stones at each other, there might have been good ground for the disfavour he fell into; such acts, however practicable and easy of execution, having manifestly no tendency to avert the cholera. Now this is precisely the state of matters in Ireland at this moment: distress prevails more or less in every province and in every county. The people want employment, and they want food. Had you recommended them to eat strawberries and cream in the morning, to drink lemonade during the day, take a little chicken salad for dinner, with a light bread pudding and a glass of negus afterwards, avoiding all stimulant and exciting food—for your Irishman is a feverish subject—you might be laughed at perhaps for your dietary, but certes it would bear, and bear strongly too, upon the case in question. But what do you do in reality? The local papers teem with cases of distress: families are starving; the poor, unhoused and unfed, are seen upon the road sides exposed to every vicissitude of the season, surrounded by children who cry in vain for bread. What, I ask, is the measure of relief you propose? not a public subscription; no general outburst of national charity—no public work upon a grand scale to give employment to the idle, food to the hungry, health to the sick, and hope to all. None of these. Your panacea is the Repeal of the Union; you purpose to substitute for those amiable jobbers in College-green, who call themselves Directors of the Bank of Ireland, another set of jobbers infinitely more pernicious and really dishonest, who will call themselves Directors of Ireland itself; you talk of the advantage to the country, and particularly of the immense benefits that must accrue to the capital. Let us examine them a little.
Dublin, you say, will be a flourishing city, inhabited by lords and ladies: wealth, rank, and influence will dwell in its houses and parade its streets. The glare of lamps, the crash of carriages, all the pride, pomp, and circumstances of fashion, will flow back upon the long-deserted land, and Paris and London will find a rival to compete with them, in this small city of the west. Would that this were so; would that it could be! This, however, is the extent of what you promise yourselves: you may ring the changes as you please, but the “refrain” of your song is, that Dublin shall “have its own again.” Well, for argument’s sake, I say, be it so. The now silenced squares shall wake to the echoes of thundering equipages, peers and prelates shall again inhabit the dwellings long since the residence of hotel-keepers, or still worse, those little democracies of social life, called boarding-houses. Your theatre shall be crowded, your shops frequented, and every advantage of wealth diffused through all the channels of society, shall be yours. As far as Dublin is concerned, I say—for, mark me, I keep you to this original point, in the land of your promise you have strictly limited the diffusion of your blessings by the boundary of the Circular road; even the people at Ringsend and Ballybough bridge are not to be included, unless a special bill be brought in for their benefit. Still the picture is a brilliant one: it would be a fine thing to see all the pomp and ceremony of proud popery walk the land at noon-day, with its saints in gold, and its relics in silver; for of course this is included in the plan. Prosperous Ireland must be Catholic Ireland, and even Spain and Belgium will hide their diminished heads when compared with the gorgeous homage rendered to popery at home. The “gentlemen of Liffey-street chapel,” far better-looking fellows than any foreign priest you’ll meet with from Trolhatten to Tivoli, will walk about in pontificalibus; and all the exciting enthusiasm that Romanism so artfully diffuses through every feature of life, will introduce itself among a people who have all the warm temper and hot blood of the south, with the stern determination and headlong impulse of the north of Europe. By all of which I mean to say, that in points of strong popery, Dublin will beat the world, and that before a year of such prosperity be past, she will have the finest altars, the fattest priests, and the longest catalogue of miracles in Europe. Lord Shrewsbury need not then go to the Tyrol for an “estatica,” he’ll find one nearer home worth twice the money. The shin-bone of St. Januarius, that jumped out of a wooden box in a hackney coach, because a gentleman swore, will be nothing to the scenes we’ll witness; and if St. Patrick should sport his tibia at an evening party of Daniel O’Connell’s, it would not in the least surprise me. These are great blessings, and I am fully sensible of them. Now let me pass on to another, which perhaps I have kept last as it is the chief of all, or as the late Lord Castlereagh would have said, the “fundamental feature upon which my argument hinges.”
A very common topic of Irish eloquence is, to lament over the enormous exportation of cattle, fowl, and fish, that continually goes forward from Ireland into England. I acknowledge the justness of the complaint—I see its force, and appreciate its value. It is exactly as though a grocer should exclaim against his misery, in being compelled to part with his high-flavoured bohea, his sparkling lump sugar, and his Smyrna figs, or our publisher his books, for the base lucre of gain. It is humiliating, I confess; and I can well see how a warm-hearted and intelligent creature, who feels the hardship of an export trade in matters of food, must suffer when the principle is extended to a matter of genius; for, not content with our mutton from Meath, our salmon from Limerick, and our chickens from Carlow; but the Saxon must even be gratified with the soul-stirring eloquence of the Great Liberator himself, with only the trouble of going near St. Stephen’s to hear him. I say near—for among the other tyrannies of the land, he is compelled to shout loud enough to be heard in all the adjacent streets. Now this is too bad. Take our prog—take even our poteen, if you will; but leave us our Penates; this theft, which embodies the antithesis of Shakspeare, is not only “trash,” but “naught enriches them, and makes us poor indeed.”
Repeal the union, and you remedy this. You’ll have him at home with you—not masquerading about in the disguise of a gentleman—not restricted by the habits of cultivated and civilised life—not tamed down into the semblance and mockery of good conduct—no longer the chained-up animal of the menagerie, but the roaring, rampant lion, roaming at large in his native forest—not performing antics before some political Van Amburgh—not opening his huge jaws, as though he would devour the Whigs, and shutting them again at the command of his keeper—but howling in all the freedom of his passion, and lashing his brawny sides with his vigorous “tail.” Haydn, the composer, had an enormous appetite; to gratify which, when dining at a tavern, he ordered a dinner for three. The waiter delayed in serving, as he said the company hadn’t yet arrived, but Haydn told him to bring it up at once, remarking, as he patted complacently his paunch, “I am de compagnie myself.” Such will you have the case in your domestic parliament—Dan will be the company himself. No longer fighting in the ranks of opposition, or among the supporters of a government—no more the mere character of a piece, he will then be the Jack Johnson of the political world, taking the money at the door—in which he has had some practice already—he will speak the prologue, lead the orchestra, prompt the performers, and announce a repetition of the farce every night of the week for his own benefit. Only think what he is in England with his “forty thieves” at his back, and imagine what he will be in Ireland without one honest man to oppose him. He will indeed then be well worth seeing, and if Ireland had no other attraction, foreigners might visit us for a look at the Liberator.
He is a droll fellow, is Dan, and there is a strong dash of native humour in his notion of repeal. What strange scenes, to be sure, it would conjure up. Only think for a moment of the absentee lord, an exiled peer, coming back to Dublin after an absence of half his lifetime, vainly endeavouring to seem pleased with his condition, and appear happy with his home. Like an insolvent debtor affecting to joke with the jailer, watch him simulating so much as he can of habits he has long forgotten, while his ignorance of his country is such, that he cannot direct his coachman to a street in the capital. What a ludicrous view of life would this open to our view! While all these men, who have been satisfied hitherto to send their sympathies from Switzerland, and their best wishes for Ireland by an ambassador’s bag, should now come back to writhe beneath the scourge of a demagogue, and the tyranny of a man who wields irresponsible power.
All Ireland would present the features of a general election—every one would be fascinating, courteous, affable, and dishonest. The unpopular debater in England might have his windows smashed. With us, it would be his neck would be broken. The excitement of the people will be felt within the Parliament; and then, fostered by all the rancour of party hate, will be returned to them with interest. The measure discussed out of doors by the Liberator, will find no one hardy enough to oppose it within the House, and the opinions of the Corn Exchange will be the programme for a committee. A notice of a motion will issue from Merrion-square, and not from a seat in Parliament; and wherever he moves through the country, great Daniel, like a snail, will carry “his house” on his back. “Rob me the Exchequer, Hal!” will be the cry of the priesthood, and no men are better deserving of their hire; and thus, wielding every implement of power, if Ireland be not happy, he can only have himself to blame for it.
National Pride must be a strong feeling, and one of the very few sentiments which are not exhausted by the drain upon them; and it is a strange thing, how the very fact upon which one man plumes himself, another would regard as a terrible reproach. A thorough John Bull, as he would call himself, thinks he has summed up, in those few emphatic words, a brief description of all that is excellent in humanity. And as he throws out his chest, and sticks his hand with energy in his breeches pocket, seems to say, “I am not one of your frog-eating fellows, half-monkey, half-tiger, but a true Briton.” The Frenchman, as he proclaims his nation, saying, “Je suis F-r-r-r-rançais,” would indicate that he is a very different order of being, from his blunt untutored neighbour, “outre mer;” and so on to the end of the chapter. Germans, Italians, and Spaniards, and even Americans, think there is some magic in the name of their fatherland—some inherent nobility in the soil: and it was only lately I read in a French paper an eloquent appeal from a general to his soldiers, which concluded by his telling them, to remember, that they were “Mexicans.” I devoutly trust that they understood the meaning of his phrase, and were able, without difficulty, to call to mind the bright prerogative alluded to; for upon my conscience, as an honest man, it would puzzle me sorely to say what constitutes a Mexican.
But the absurdity goes further still: for, not satisfied with the bounties of Providence in making us what we are, we must indulge a rancorous disposition towards our neighbours for their less-favoured destiny. “He behaved like a Turk,” is an every-day phrase to indicate a full measure of moral baseness and turpidity. A Frenchman’s abuse can go no further than calling a man a Chinese, and when he says, “tu es un Pekin,” a duel is generally the consequence. I doubt not that the Turks and the Chinese make use of retributive justice, and treat us no better than we behave to them.
Civilisation would seem rather to have fostered than opposed this prejudice. In the feudal ages, the strength of a brawny right arm, the strong hand that could wield a mace, the firm seat in a saddle, were the qualities most in request; and were physical strength more estimated than the gifts of a higher order, the fine distinctions of national character either did not exist, or were not attended to. Now, however, the tournament is not held on a cloth of gold, but on a broad sheet of paper; the arms are not the lance and the dagger, but the printing-press. No longer a herald in all the splendour of his tabard proclaims the lists, but a fashionable publisher, through the medium of the morning papers, whose cry for largess is to the full as loud. The result is, nations are better known to each other, and, by the unhappy law of humanity, are consequently less esteemed. What signifies the dislike our ancestors bore the French at Cressy or Agincourt compared to the feeling we entertain for them after nigh thirty years of peace? Then, indeed, it was the strong rivalry between two manly natures: now, the accumulated hate of ages is sharpened and embittered by a thousand petty jealousies that have their origin in politics, military glory, society, or literature; and we detest each other like quarterly reviewers. The Frenchman visits England as a Whig commissioner would a Tory institution—only anxious to discover abuses and defects—with an obliquity of vision that sees everything distorted, or a fecundity of imagination that can conjure up the ills he seeks for. He finds us rude, inhospitable, and illiterate; our habits are vulgar, our tastes depraved; our House of Commons is a riotous mob of under-bred debaters; our army an aristocratic lounge, where merit has no chance against money; and our literature—God wot!—a plagiarism from the French. The Englishman is nearly as complimentary. The coarseness of French habits is to him a theme of eternal reprobation; the insolence of the men, the indelicacy of the women, the immorality of all, overwhelm him with shame and disgust: the Chamber of Deputies he despises, as a contemptible parody on a representative body, and a speech from the tribune a most absurd substitute for the freedom of unpremeditated eloquence: the army he discovers to be officered by men, to whom the new police are accomplished gentlemen; and, in fact, he sums up by thinking that if we had no other competitors in the race of civilisation than the French, our supremacy on land, is to the full as safe, as our sovereignty over the ocean. Here lie two countries, separated by a slip of sea not much broader than an American river, who have gone on for ages repeating these and similar puerilities, without the most remote prospect of mutual explanation and mutual good-will.
“I hate prejudice, I hate the French,” said poor Charles Matthews, in one of his inimitable representations, and really the expression was no bad summary of an Englishman’s faith. On the other hand, to hate and detest the English is the sine quâ non of French nationality, and to concede to them any rank in literature, morals, or military greatness, is to derogate from the claims of his own country. Now the question is, are the reproaches on either side absolutely just? They are not. Secondly, if they be unfair, how comes it that two people pre-eminently gifted with intelligence and information, should not have come to a better understanding, and that many a long year ago? Simply from this plain fact, that the opinions of the press have weighed against those of individuals, and that the published satires on both sides have had a greater currency and a greater credit than the calm judgment of the few. The leading journals in Paris and in London have pelted each other mercilessly for many a year. One might forgive this, were the attacks suggested by such topics as stimulate and strengthen national feeling; but no, the controversy extends to every thing, and, worse than all, is carried on with more bitterness of spirit, than depth of information. The reviewer “par excellence” of our own country makes a yearly incursion into French literature, as an Indian would do into his hunting-ground. Resolved to carry death and carnage on every side, he arms himself for the chase, and whets his appetite for slaughter by the last “bonne bouche” of the day. We then have some half introductory pages of eloquent exordium on the evil tendency of French literature, and the contamination of those unsettled opinions in politics, religion, and morals, so copiously spread through the pages of every French writer. The revolution of 1797 is adduced for the hundredth time as the origin of these evils; and all the crime and bloodshed of that frightful period is denounced as but the first step of the iniquity which has reached its pinnacle, in the novels of Paul de Kock. To believe the reviewer, French literature consists in the productions of this writer, the works of George Sand, Balzac, Frédéric Soulié, and a few others of equal note and mark. According to him, intrigue, seduction, and adultery, are the staple of French romance: the whole interest of every novel turning on the undiscovered turpitude of domestic life; and the great rivalry between writers, being, to try which can invent a new future of depravity and a new fashion of sin. Were this true, it were indeed a sad picture of national degradation; was it the fact that such books, and such there are in abundance, composed the light literature of the day—were to be found in every drawing-room—to be seen in every hand—to be read with interest and discussed with eagerness—to have that wide-spread circulation which must ever carry with it a strong influence upon the habits of those who read. Were all this so, I say it would be, indeed, a deplorable evidence of the low standard of civilisation among the French. What is the fact, however? Simply that these books have but a limited circulation, and that, only among an inferior class of readers. The modiste and the grisette are, doubtless, well read in the mysteries of Paul de Kock and Madame du Deffant; but in the cultivated classes of the capital, such books have no more currency than the scandalous memoirs of our own country have in the drawing-rooms of Grosvenor-square or St. James’s. Balzac has, it is true, a wide-spread reputation; but many of his books are no less marked by a powerful interest than a touching appeal to the fine feelings of our nature. Alfred de Vigny, Eugéne Sue, Victor Hugo, Leon Gozlan, Paul de Muset, Alexandre Dumas, and a host of others, are all popular, and, with the exception of a few works, unexceptionable on every ground of morality; but these, after all, are but the skirmishers before the army. What shall we say of Guizot, Thiers, Augustin Thierry, Toqueville, Mignet, and many more, whose contributions to history have formed an era in the literature of the age?
The strictures of the reviewers are not very unlike the opinions of the French prisoner, who maintained that in England every one eat with his knife, and the ladies drank gin, which important and veracious facts he himself ascertained, while residing in that fashionable quarter of the town called St. Martin’s-lane. This sweeping mode of argument, à particulari, is fatal when applied to nations. Even the Americans have suffered in the hands of Mrs. Trollope and others; and gin twist, bowie knives, tobacco chewing, and many similarly amiable habits, are not universal. Once for all, then, be it known, there is no more fallacious way of forming an opinion regarding France and Frenchmen, than through the pages of our periodical press, except by a short residence in Paris—I say short, for if a little learning be a dangerous thing, a little travelling is more so; and it requires long experience of the world, and daily habit of observation, to enable any man to detect in the ordinary routine of life the finer and more distinctive traits that have escaped his neighbour; besides, however palpable and self-evident the proposition, it demands both tact and time to see that no general standard of taste can be erected for all nations, and, that to judge of others by your own prejudices and habits, is both unfair and absurd. To give an instance. No English traveller has commented on the French Chamber of Deputies, without expending much eloquence and a great deal of honest indignation on the practice of speaking from a tribune, written orations being in their opinion a ludicrous travestie on the freedom of debate. Now what is the fact; in the whole French Chamber there are not ten, there are not five men who could address the house extempore; not from any deficiency of ability—not from any want of information, logical force, and fluency—the names of Thiers, Guizot, Lamartine, Dupin, Arago, &c. &c. are quite sufficient to demonstrate this—but simply from the intricacy and difficulty of the French language. A worthy alderman gets up, as the phrase is, and addresses a speech of some three quarters of an hour to the collective wisdom of the livery; and although he may be frequently interrupted by thunders of applause, he is never checked for any solecisms in his grammar: he may drive a coach and six through Lindley Murray; he may inflict heaven knows how many fractures on poor Priscian’s head, yet to criticise him on so mean a score as that of mere diction, would not be thought of for a moment. Not so in France: the language is one of equivoque and subtlety; the misplacement of a particle, the change of a gender, the employment of any phrase but the exact one, might be at any moment fatal to the sense of the speaker, and would inevitably be so to his success. It was not very long since, that a worthy deputy interrupted M. Thiers by alleging the non-sequitur of some assertion, “Vous n’est pas consequent,” cried the indignant member, using a phrase not only a vulgarism in itself, but inapplicable at the time. A roar of laughter followed his interruption. In all the journals of the next day, he was styled the deputy consequent; and when he returned to his constituency the ridicule attached to his blunder still traced his steps, and finally lost him his election.
“Thank God I am a Briton,” said Nelson; a phrase, doubtless, many more of us will re-echo with equal energy; but while we are expressing our gratitude let our thankfulness extend to this gratifying fact, that the liberty of our laws is even surpassed by the licence of our language. No obscure recess of our tongue is so deep that we cannot by habeas corpus right bring up a long-forgotten phrase, and provided the speaker have a meaning and be able to convey it to the minds of his hearers, we are seldom disposed to be critical on the manner, if the matter be there. Besides this, there are styles of eloquence so imbued with the spirit of certain eras in French history, that the discussion of any subject of ancient or modern days, will always have its own peculiar character of diction. Thus, there is the rounded period and flowing sententiousness of Louis XIV., the more polished but less forcible phraseology of the regency itself, succeeded by the epigrammatic taste and pointed brevity introduced by Voltaire. The empire left its impress on the language, and all the literature of the period wore the esprit soldatesque; and so on down to the very days of the barricades, each changing phase of political life had its appropriate expression. To assume these with effect, was not of course the gift of every man, and yet to have erred in their adoption, would have been palpable to all; here then is one important difference between us, and on this subject alone I might cite at least twenty more. The excitable Frenchman scarcely uses any action while speaking, and that, of the most simple and subdued kind. The phlegmatic Englishman stamps and gesticulates with all the energy of a madman. We esteem humour; they prefer wit: we like the long consecutive chain of proof that leads us step by step to inevitable conviction; they like better some brief but happy illustration that, dispensing with the tedium of argument, presents a question at one glance before them. They have that general knowledge of their country and its changes, that an illustration from the past is ever an effective weapon of the orator; while with us the force would be entirely lost from the necessity of recounting the incident to which reference was made.
Man is the most imitative of all animals: nothing can surpass the facility he possesses of simulating his neighbour; and I question much if the press, in all the plentitude of its power, has done as much for the spread of good or evil, as the spirit of mimicry so inherent in mankind. The habits of high life are transmitted through every grade of society: and the cheesemonger keeps his hunters, and damns his valet, like my lord; while his wife rolls in her equipage, and affects the graces of my lady. So long as wealth is present, the assumption of the tastes and habitudes of a different class, can merely be looked upon as one of those outbreaks of vanity in which rich but vulgar people have a right, if they like, to indulge. Why shouldn’t they have a villa at Twickenham—why not a box at the opera—a white bait dinner at Blackwall—a yacht at Southampton? They have the money to indulge their caprice, and it is no one’s affair but their own. They make themselves ridiculous, it is true; but the pleasure they experience counterbalances the ridicule, and they are the best judges on which side lies the profit. Wealth is power: and although the one may be squandered, and the other abused, yet in their very profusion, there is something that demands a kind of reverence from the world; and we have only to look to France to see, that when once you abolish an hereditary noblesse, your banker is then your great man.
We may smile, if we please, at the absurd pretensions of the wealthy alderman and his lady, whose pompous mansion and splendid equipage affect a princely grandeur; yet, after all, the knowledge that he is worth half a million of money, that his name alone can raise the credit of a new colony, or call into existence the dormant energy of a new region of the globe, will always prevent our sarcasm degenerating into contempt. Not so, however, when poverty unites itself to these aspirings, you feel in a moment that the poor man has nothing to do with such vanities; his poverty is a scanty garment, that, dispose it as he will, he can never make it hang like a toga; and we have no compassion for him, who, while hunger gnaws his vitals, affects a sway and dominion his state has denied him. Such a line of conduct will often be offensive—it will always be absurd—and the only relief presented by its display, is in the ludicrous exhibition of trick and stratagem by which it is supported. Jeremy Diddler, after all, is an amusing person; but the greater part of the pleasure he affords us is derived from the fact, that, cunning as he is in all his efforts to deceive us, we are still more so, for we have found him out.
Were I to characterise the leading feature of the age, I should certainly say it is this pretension. Like the monkeys at Exeter ’Change, who could never bear to eat out of their own dish, but must stretch their paws into that of their neighbour, so every man now-a-days wishes to be in that place most unsuitable to him by all his tastes, habits, and associations, and where once having attained to, his life is one of misery and constraint. The hypocrisy of simulating manners he is not used to, is not more subversive of his self-respect, than his imitation is poor, vulgar, and unmeaning.
Curran said that a corporation was, a “thing that had neither a body to be kicked, nor a soul to be damned.” And, verily, I begin to think that masses of men are even more contemptible than individuals. A nation is a great household; and if it have not all the prestige of rank, wealth, and power, it is a poor and miserable thing. England and France, Germany and Russia, are the great of the earth; and we look up to them in the political world, as in society we do to those whose rank and station are the guarantees of their power. Many other countries of Europe have also their claims upon us, but still smaller in degree. Italy, with all its association of classical elegance—Spain, whose history shines with the solemn splendour of an illuminated missal, where gold and purple are seen blending their hues, scarce dimmed by time; but what shall we say of those newly-created powers, which springing up like mushroom families, give themselves all the airs of true nobility, and endeavour by a strange mockery of institutions and customs of their greater neighbours, to appear of weight and consequence before the world. Look, for instance, to Belgium the bourgeois gentilhomme of politics, which, having retired from its partnership with Holland, sets up for a gentleman on its private means. What can be more ludicrous than its attempts at high-life, its senate, its ministry, its diplomacy; for strange enough the ridicule of the individual can be traced extending to a nation, and when your city lady launched into the world, displays upon her mantelpiece the visiting cards of her high neighbours, so the first act of a new people is, to open a visiting acquaintance with their rich neighbours, and for this purpose the first thing they do is to establish a corps of diplomacy.
Now your city knight may have a fat and rosy coachman, he may have a tall and portly footman, a grave and a respectable butler; but whatever his wealth, whatever his pretension, there is one functionary of a great household he can never attain to—he can never have a groom of the chambers. This, like the “chasseur” abroad, is the appendage of but one class, by constant association with whom its habits are acquired, its tastes engendered, and it would be equally absurd to see the tall Hungarian in all the glitter of his hussar costume, behind the caleche of a pastrycook, as to hear the low-voiced and courteous minion of Devonshire House announce the uncouth, unsyllabled names, that come east of St. Dunstan’s.
So, in the same way, your new nations may get up a king and a court, a senate, an army, and a ministry, but let them not meddle with diplomacy—the moment they do this they burn their fingers: your diplomate is like your chasseur, and your groom of the chambers; if he be not well done, he is a miserable failure. The world has so many types to refer to on this head, there can be no mistake. Talleyrand, Nesselrode, Metternich, Lord Whitworth, and several more, have too long given the tone to this peculiar walk to admit of any error concerning it; however, your little folk will not be denied the pleasures of their great acquaintance. They will have their diplomacy, and they will be laughed at: look at the Yankees. There is not a country in Europe, there is not a state however small, there is not a Coburgism with three thousand inhabitants and three companies of soldiers, where they haven’t a minister resident with plenipotentiary powers extending to every relation political and commercial, although all the while the Yankees would be sorely puzzled to point out on the map the locale of their illustrious ally, and the Germans no less so to find out a reason for their embassy. Happily on this score, the very bone and marrow of diplomacy is consulted, and secrecy is inviolable; for, as your American knows no other tongue save that spoken on the Alleghanies, he keeps his own counsel and theirs also.
Have you never in the hall of some large country house, cast your eye, on leave-taking, at the strange and motley crew of servants awaiting their masters—some well fed and handsomely clothed, with that look of reflected importance my lord’s gentleman so justly wears; others, in graver, but not less respectable raiment, have that quiet and observant demeanour so characteristic of a well-managed household. While a third class, strikingly unlike the other two, wear their livery with an air of awkwardness and constraint, blushing at themselves even a deeper colour than the scarlet of their breeches. They feel themselves in masquerade—they were at the plough but yesterday, though they are in powder now. With the innate consciousness of their absurdity, they become fidgetty and uneasy, and would give the world for “a row” to conceal the defaults of their breeding. Just so, your petty “diplomate” suffers agony in all the quiet intercourse of life. The limited opportunities of small states have circumscribed his information. He is not a man of the world, nor is he a political character, for he represents nothing; nothing, therefore, can save him from oblivion or contempt, save some political convulsion where any meddler may become prominent; he has thus a bonus on disturbance: so long as the company behave discreetly, he must stay in his corner, but the moment they smash the lamps and shy the decanters, he emerges from his obscurity and becomes as great as his neighbour. For my part, I am convinced that the peace and quietness of Europe as much depends on the exclusion of such persons from the councils of diplomacy, as the happiness of every-day life does upon the breeding and good manners of our associates.
And what straits, to be sure, are they reduced to, to maintain this absurd intercourse, screwing the last shilling from the budget to pay a Chargé d’affaires, with an embroidered coat, and a decoration in his button-hole.
The most amusing incidents might be culled from such histories, if one were but disposed to relate them.
Balzac mentions, in one of his novels, the story of a physician who obtained great practice, merely by sending throughout Paris a gaudily-dressed footman, who rang at every door, as it were, in search of his master; so quick were the fellow’s movements, so rapid his transitions, from one part of the city to the other, nobody believed that a single individual could ever have sufficed for so many calls; and thus, the impression was, not only that the doctor was greatly sought after, but that his household was on a splendid footing. The Emperor of the Brazils seems to have read the story, and profited by the hint, for while other nations are wasting their thousands in maintaining a whole corps of diplomacy, he would appear like the doctor to have only one footman, whom he keeps moving about Europe without ceasing: thus The Globe tells us one day that the Chevalier de L——, the Brazilian ambassador, has arrived in London to resume his diplomatic functions; The Handelsbad of the Hague mentions his departure from the Dutch Court; The Allgemeine Zeitung announces the prospect of his arrival at Vienna, and The Moniteur Parisien has a beautiful article on the prosperity of their relations with Mexico, under the auspices of the indefatigable Chevalier: “non regio terræ,” exempt from his labours. Unlike Sir Boyle Roche, he has managed to be not only in two, but twenty places at once, and I should not be in the least surprised to hear of his negotiations for sulphur at Naples, at the same moment that he was pelting snowballs in Norway. Whether he travels in a balloon or on the back of a pelican, he is a wonderful man, and a treasure to his government.
The multiplicity of his duties, and the pressing nature of his functions, may impart an appearance of haste to his manner, but it looks diplomatic to be peremptory, and he has no time for trifling.
Truly, Chevalier de L——, thou art a great man—the wandering Jew was but a type of thee.
Of all the popular delusions that we labour under in England, I scarcely know of one more widely circulated, and less founded in fact, than the advantages of foreign travel. Far be it from me to undervalue the benefits men of education receive by intercourse with strangers, and the opportunities of correcting by personal observation the impressions already received by study. No one sets a higher price on this than I do; no one estimates more fully the advantages of tempering one’s nationality by the candid comparison of our own institutions with those of other countries; no one values more highly the unbiassed frame of mind produced by extending the field of our observation, and, instead of limiting our experience by the details of a book, reading from the wide-spread page of human nature itself. So conscious, indeed, am I of the importance of this, that I look upon his education as but very partial indeed who has not travelled. It is not, therefore, against the benefits of seeing the world I would inveigh—it is rather against the general application of the practice to the whole class of our countrymen and countrywomen who swarm on the continent. Unsuited by their tastes—unprepared by previous information—deeming a passport and a letter of credit all-sufficient for their purpose—they set out upon their travels. From their ignorance of a foreign language, their journey is one of difficulty and embarrassment at every step. They understand little of what they see, nothing of what they hear. The discomforts of foreign life have no palliation, by their being enabled to reason on, and draw inferences from them. All the sources of information are hermetically sealed against them, and their tour has nothing to compensate for its fatigue, and expense, save the absurd detail of adventure to which their ignorance has exposed them.
It is not my intention to rail in this place against the injury done to the moral feeling of our nation, by intimate association with the habits of the Continent. Reserving this for a more fitting time, I shall merely remark at present, that, so far as the habits of virtue are concerned, more mischief is done among the middle class of our countrymen, than those of a more exalted sphere.
Scarcely does the month of May commence, when the whole tide of British population sets in upon the coast of France and Flanders. To watch the crowded steamers as they arrive in Antwerp, or Boulogne, you would say that some great and devastating plague had broken out in London, and driven the affrighted inhabitants from their homes. Not so, however: they have come abroad for pleasure. With a credit on Coutts, and the inestimable John Murray for a guide, they have devoted six weeks to France, Belgium, and the Rhine, in which ample time they are not only to learn two languages, but visit three nations, exploring into cookery, customs, scenery, literature, and the arts, with the same certainty of success that they would pay a visit to Astley’s. Scarcely are they launched upon their travels when they unite into parties for personal protection and assistance. The “morgue Britannique,” so much spoken of by foreigners, they appear to have left behind them; and sudden friendships, and intimacies, spring up between persons whose only feeling in common is that of their own absurd position. Away they go sight-seeking in clusters. They visit cathedrals, monuments, and galleries; they record in their journals the vulgar tirades of a hired commissionaire; they eat food they detest, and they lie down to sleep discontented and unhappy. The courteous civility of foreigners, the theme of so much eulogy in England, they now find out to be little more than selfishness, libertinism, and impertinence. They see the country from the window of a diligence, and society from a place at the table d’hôte, and truly both one and the other are but the vulgar high roads of life. Their ignorance of the language alone protects them from feeling insulted at the impertinences directed at themselves and their country; and the untutored simplicity of their nature saves them the mortification of knowing that the ostentatious politeness of some moustached acquaintance is an exhibition got up by him for the entertainment of his friends.
Poor John Bull, you have made great sacrifices for this tour. You have cut the city, and the counting-house, that your wife may become enamoured of dress, and your daughter of a dancing-master—that your son may learn to play roulette and smoke cigars, and that you yourself may ramble some thousand miles over paved roads, without an object to amuse, without an incident to attract you. While this is a gloomy picture enough, there is another side to the medal still worse. John Bull goes home generally sick of what he has seen, and much more ignorant of the Continent than when he set out. His tour, however, has laid in its stock of foreign affectation, that renders his home uncomfortable; his daughters pine after the flattering familiarities of their whiskered acquaintances at Ems, or Wiesbaden; and his sons lose all zest for the slow pursuit of competence, by reflecting on the more decisive changes of fortune, that await on rouge et noir. Yet even this is not the worst. What I deplore most of all, is the false and erroneous notions continental nations procure of our country, and its habits, from such specimens as these. The Englishman who, seen at home, at the head of his counting-house, or in the management of his farm, presents a fine example of those national traits we are so justly proud of—honest, frank, straightforward in all his dealings, kind and charitable in his affections; yet see him abroad, the sphere of his occupations exists no longer—there is no exercise for the manly habits of his nature: his honesty but exposes him to be duped; his frankness degenerates into credulity; the unsuspecting openness of his character makes him the butt of every artful knave he meets with; and he is laughed at from Rotterdam to Rome for qualities which, exercised in their fitting sphere, have made England the greatest country of the universe. Hence we have the tone of disparagement now so universally maintained about England, and Englishmen, from one end of the Continent to the other. It is not that our country does not send forth a number of men well qualified to induce different impressions of their nation; but unfortunately, such persons move only in that rank of foreign society where these prejudices do not exist; and it is among a different class, and unhappily a more numerous one also, that these undervaluing opinions find currency and belief.
There is nothing more offensive than the continual appeal made by Frenchmen, Germans, and others, to English habits, as seen among this class of our countrymen. It is in vain that you explain to them that these people are neither among the more educated nor the better ranks of our country. They cannot comprehend your distinction. The habits of the Continent have produced a kind of table-land of good-breeding, upon which all men are equals. Thus, if you rarely meet a foreigner ignorant of the every-day convenances of the world, you still more rarely meet with one unexceptionably well-bred. The table d’hôte, like the mess in our army, has the effect of introducing a certain amount of decorum that is felt through every relation of life; and, although the count abroad is immeasurably beneath the gentleman at home, here, I must confess, that the foreign cobbler is a more civilized person than his type in England. This is easily understood: foreign breeding is not the outward exhibition of an inward principle—it is not the manifestation of a sense of mingled kindness, good taste, and self-respect—it is merely the rigid observance of a certain code of behaviour that has no reference whatever to any thing felt within; it is the mere popery of politeness, with its saint-worship, its penances, and its privations. An Englishman makes way for you to accommodate your passage; a foreigner—a Frenchman I should say—does so for an opportunity to flourish his hat or to exhibit an attitude. The same spirit pervades every act of both; duty in one case, display in the other, are the ruling principles of life; and, where persons are so diametrically different, there is little likelihood of much mutual understanding or mutual esteem. To come back, however, the great evil of this universal passion for travelling lies in the opportunity afforded to foreigners, of sneering at our country, and ridiculing our habits. It is in vain that our institutions are models of imitation for the world—in vain that our national character stands pre-eminent for good-faith and fidelity—in vain the boast that the sun never sets upon a territory that girths the very globe itself, so long as we send annually our tens of thousands out upon the Continent, with no other failing than mere unfitness for foreign travel, to bring down upon us the sneer, and the ridicule, of every ignorant and unlettered Frenchman, or Belgian, they meet with.
Our law code would, were its injunctions only carried out in private life, effect most extraordinary reformations in our customs and habits. The most singular innovations in our tastes and opinions would spring out of the statutes. It was only a few days ago where a man sought reparation for the greatest injury one could inflict on another, the great argument of the defendant’s counsel was based on the circumstance that the plaintiff and his wife had not been proved to have lived happily together, except on the testimony of their servants. Great stress was laid upon this fact by the advocate; and such an impression did it make on the minds of the jury, that the damages awarded were a mere trifle. Now, only reflect for a moment on the absurdity of such a plea, and think how many persons there are whose quiet and unobtrusive lives are unnoticed beyond the precincts of their own door—nay, how many estimable and excellent people who live less for the world than for themselves, and although, probably for this very reason, but little exposed to the casualty in question, would yet deem the injustice great that placed them beyond the pale of reparation because they had been homely and domestic.
Civilisation and the march of mind are fine things, and doubtless it is a great improvement that the criminal is better lodged, and fed, in the prison, than the hungry labourer in the workhouse. It is an admirable code that makes the debt of honour, the perhaps swindled losses of the card-table, an imperative obligation, while the money due to toiling, working industry, may be evaded or escaped from. Still, it is a bold step to invade the privacy of domestic life, to subvert the happiness we deem most national, and to suggest that the world has no respect for, nor the law no belief in, that peaceful course in life, which, content with its own blessings, seeks neither the gaze of the crowd, nor the stare of fashion. Under the present system, a man must appear in society like a candidate on the hustings—profuse in protestations of his happiness and redolent of smiles; he must lead forth his wife like a blooming debutante, and, while he presents her to his friends, must display, by every endeavour in his power, the angelic happiness of their state. The coram publico endearments, so much sneered at by certain fastidious people, are now imperative; and, however secluded your habits, however retiring your tastes, it is absolutely necessary you should appear a certain number of times every year before the world, to assure that kind-hearted and considerate thing, how much conjugal felicity you are possessed of.
It is to no purpose that your man-servant and your maid-servant, and even the stranger within your gates, have seen you in the apparent enjoyment of domestic happiness: it is the crowd of a ball-room must testify in your favour—it is the pit of a theatre—it is the company of a steam-boat, or the party on a railroad, you must adduce in evidence. They are the best—they are the only judges of what you, in the ignorance of your heart, have believed a secret for your own bosom.
Your conduct within-doors is of little moment, so that your bearing without satisfy the world. What a delightful picture of universal happiness will England then present to the foreigner who visits our salons! With what ecstasy will he contemplate the angelic felicity of conjugal life! Instead of the indignant coldness of a husband, offended by some casual levity of his wife, he will now redouble his attentions, and take an opportunity of calling the company to witness that they live together like turtle-doves. He knows not how soon, if he mix much in fashionable life, their testimony may avail him; and the loving smile he throws his spouse across the supper-table is worth three thousand pounds before any jury in Middlesex.
Romance writers will now lose one stronghold of sentiment. Love in a cottage will possess as little respect as it ever did attraction for the world. The pier at Brighton, a Gravesend steamer, Hyde Park on a Sunday, will be the appropriate spheres for the interchange of conjugal vows. No absurd notions of solitude will then hold sway. Alas! how little prophetic spirit is there in poetry! But a few years ago, and one of our sirens of song said,
Not a word of it! The appropriate place is amid the glitter of jewels, the glare of lamps, the crush of fashion, and the din of conversation. The private boxes of the opera are even too secluded, and your happiness is no more genuine, until recognised by society, than is an exchequer bill with the mere signature of Lord Monteagle.
The benefits of this system will be great. No longer will men be reduced to the cultivation of those meeker virtues that grace and adorn life; no more will they study those accomplishments that make home happy and their hearth cheerful. A winter at Paris and a box at the Varietés will be more to the purpose. Scribe’s farces will teach them more important lessons, and they will obtain an instructive example in the last line of a vaudeville, where an injured husband presents himself at the fall of the curtain, and, as he bows to the audience, embraces both his wife and her lover, exclaiming, “Maintenant je suis heureux—ma femme—mon meilleur ami!” He then may snap his fingers at Charles Phillips and Adolphus: he has not only proved his affection to his wife, but his confidence in his friend. Let him lay the damages at ten thousand, and, with a counsel that can cry, he’ll get every shilling of the money.
Jean Jacques tells us, that when his wife died every farmer in the neighbourhood offered to console him by one of their daughters; but that a few weeks afterwards his cow having shared the same fate, no one ever thought of replacing his loss by the offer of another; thereby proving the different value people set upon their cows and children—this seems absurd enough, but is it a bit more so, than what is every day taking place in professional life? How many parsons are there who would not lend you five pounds, would willingly lend you their pulpit, and the commonest courtesy from a hospital surgeon is, to present his visitor with a knife and entreat him to carve a patient. He has never seen the individual before, he doesn’t know whether he be short-sighted, or nervous, or ignorant, or rash, all he thinks of, is doing the honours of the institution; and although like a hostess, who sees the best dish at her table mangled by an unskilful carver, he suffers in secret, yet is she far too well-bred to evince her displeasure, but blandly smiles at her friend, and says “No matter, pray go on.” This, doubtless, is highly conducive to science; and as medicine is declared to be a science of experiment, great results occasionally arise from the practice. Now that I am talking of doctors—what a strange set they are, and what a singular position do they hold in society; admitted to the fullest confidence of the world, yet by a strange perversion, while they are the depositaries of secrets that hold together the whole fabric of society, their influence is neither fully recognised, nor their power acknowledged. The doctor is now what the monk once was, with this additional advantage, that from the nature of his studies and the research of his art, he reads more deeply in the human heart, and penetrates into its most inmost recesses. For him, life has little romance; the grosser agency of the body re-acting ever on the operations of the mind, destroy many a poetic daydream and many a high-wrought illusion. To him alone does a man speak “son dernier mot:” while to the lawyer the leanings of self-respect will make him always impart a favourable view of his case. To the physician he will be candid, and even more than candid—yes, these are the men who, watching the secret workings of human passion, can trace the progress of mankind in virtue and in vice; while ministering to the body they are exploring the mind, and yet, scarcely is the hour of danger passed, scarcely the shadow of fear dissipated, when they fall back to their humble position in life, bearing with them but little gratitude, and, strange to say, no fear!
The world expects them to be learned, well-bred, kind, considerate, and attentive, patient to their querulousness, and enduring under their caprice; and, after all this, the humbug of homœopathy, the preposterous absurdity of the water cure, or the more reprehensible mischief of Mesmerism, will find more favour in their sight than the highest order of ability accompanied by great natural advantages.
Every man—and still more, every woman—imagine themselves to be doctors. The taste for physic, like that for politics, is born with us, and nothing seems easier than to repair the injuries of the constitution, whether of the state or the individual. Who has not seen, over and over again, physicians of the first eminence put aside, that the nostrum of some ignorant pretender, or the suggestion of some twaddling old woman, should be, as it is termed, tried? No one is too stupid, no one too old, no one too ignorant, too obstinate, or too silly, not to be superior to Brodie and Chambers, Crampton and Marsh; and where science, with anxious eye and cautious hand, would scarcely venture to interfere, heroic ignorance would dash boldly forward and cut the Gordian difficulty by snapping the thread of life. How comes it that these old ladies, of either sex, never meddle with the law? Is the game beneath them, where the stake is only property, and not life? or is there less difficulty in the knowledge of an art whose principles rest on so many branches of science, than in a study founded on the basis of precedent? Would to heaven the “Ladies Bountiful” would take to the quarter-sessions and the assizes, in lieu of the infirmaries and dispensaries, and make Blackstone their aid-de-camp—vice Buchan retired.
here would be no going through this world if one had not an India-rubber conscience, and one could no more exist in life without what watch-makers call accommodation, in the machinery of one’s heart, than a blue-bottle fly could grow fat in the shop of an apothecary. Every man’s conscience has, like Janus, two faces—one looks most plausibly to the world, with a smile of courteous benevolence, the other with a droll leer seems to say, I think we are doing them. In fact, not only would the world be impossible, and its business impracticable, but society itself would be a bear-garden without hypocrisy.
Now, the professional classes have a kind of licence on this subject; just as a poet is permitted to invent sunsets, and a painter to improvise clouds and cataracts, so a lawyer dilates upon the virtues or attractions of his client, and a physician will weep you good round substantial tears, at a guinea a drop, for the woes of his patient; but the church, I certainly thought, was exempt from this practice. A paragraph in a morning paper, however, disabused my ignorance in the most remarkable manner. The Roman Catholic hierarchy have unanimously decided that all persons following the profession of the stage, are to be considered without the pale of the church, they are neither to be baptized nor confirmed, married nor buried; they may get a name in the streets, and a wife there also, but the church will neither bless the one, nor confirm the other; in fact, the sock and the buskin are proclaimed in opposition to Christianity, and Madame Lafarge is not a bit more culpable than Robert Macaire. A few days since, one of the most fashionable churches in Paris was crowded to suffocation by the attraction of high mass, celebrated with the assistance of the whole opera choir, with Duprez at their head. The sum contributed by the faithful was enormous, and the music of Mozart was heard to great effect through the vaulted aisles of Notre Dame, yet the very morning after, not an individual of the choir could receive the benediction of the church—the rationale of all which is, that the Dean of Notre Dame, like the Director of the Odeon, likes a good house and a heavy benefit. He gets the most attractive company he can secure, and although he makes no scruple to say they are the most disreputable acquaintances, still they fill the benches, and it will be time enough to damn them when the performance is over!
Whenever the respectable Whigs are attacked for their alliance with O’Connell, they make the same reply the priest would probably do in this circumstance—How can we help it? We want a mob; if he sings, we have it—we know his character as well as you; so only let us fill our pockets, and then —— I do not blame them in the least, if the popery of their politics has palled upon the appetite; if they can work no more miracles of reform and revolution, I do not see how they can help calling in aid from without.
Dan, however, will not consent, like Duprez, to be damned when he is done with; he insists on a share of the profits, and, moreover, to be treated with some respect too. He knows he is the star of the company, and can make his own terms; and, even now, when the house is broken up, and the manager beggared, and the actors dismissed, like Matthews, he can get up a representation all to himself, and make a handsome thing of it besides.
If one could see it brought about something in the fashion of Sancho’s government of Barrataria, I should certainly like to see O’Connell on the throne of Ireland for about twenty-four hours, and to salute King Dan, par la grace de diable, king of Erin, just for the joke’s sake!
We laugh at the middle ages for their trials by ordeal, their jousts, their tournaments, their fat monasteries, and their meagre people; but I am strongly disposed to think, that before a century pass over, posterity will give us as broad a grin for our learned societies. Of all the features that characterise the age, I know of none so pre-eminently ridiculous, as nine-tenths of these associations would prove; supported by great names, aided by large sums, with a fine house, a library and a librarian, they do the honours of science pretty much as the yeomen of the guard do those of a court on a levee day, and they bear about the same relation to literature and art, that do the excellent functionaries I have mentioned, to the proceedings around the throne.
An old gentleman, hipped by celibacy, and too sour for society, has contracted a habit of looking out of his window every morning, to observe the weather: he sees a cloud very like a whale, or he fancies that when the wind blows in a particular direction, and it happens to rain at the same time, that the drops fall in a peculiarly slanting manner. He notes down the facts for a month or two, and then establishes a meteorological society, of which he is the perpetual president, with a grant from Parliament to extend its utility. Another takes to old volumes on a book-stall; and becoming, as most men are who have little knowledge of life, fascinated with his own discoveries, thinks he has ascertained some curious details of ancient history, and communicating his results to others as stupid and old as himself, they dub themselves antiquarians, or archæologists, and obtain a grant also.
Now, one half of these societies are neither more nor less than most impertinent sarcasms on the land we live in. The man who sets himself down deliberately to chronicle the clouds in our atmosphere, and jot down the rainy days in our calendar, is, to my thinking, performing about as grateful a task, as though he were to count the carbuncles on his friend’s nose. We have, it is true, a most abominable climate: the sun rarely shows himself, and, when he does, it is through a tattered garment of clouds, dim and disagreeable; but why throw it in our teeth? and, still more, why pay a body of men to publish the slander? Then again, as to history, all the world knows that since the Flood the Irish have never done any thing else than make love, illicit whiskey, and beat each other. What nonsense, then, to talk about the ancient cultivation of the land, of its high rank in literature, and its excellence in art. A stone bishop, with a nose like a negro, and a crosier like a garden-rake, are the only evidences of our ancestors’ taste in sculpture; and some doggrel verses in Irish, explaining how King Phelim O’Toole cheated a brother monarch out of his small-clothes, are about the extent of our historic treasures. But, for argument’s sake, suppose it otherwise; imagine for a moment that our ancestors were all that Sir William Betham and Mr. Petrie would make them—I do not know how other people may feel, but I myself deem it no pleasant reflection to think of their times and look at our own. What! we were poets and painters, architects, historians, and musicians! What have we now among us to represent these great and mighty gifts? I am afraid, except our Big Beggarman, we have not a single living celebrity; and is this a comfortable reflection, is this a pleasing thought, that while, fourteen hundred years ago, some Irish Raphael and some Galway Grisi were the delight of our illustrious ancestors—that while the splendour of King Malachi, with his collar of gold, astonished the ladies in the neighbourhood of Trim—we have nothing to boast of, save Dan for Lord Mayor, and Burton Bindon’s oysters? Once more, I say, if what these people tell us be facts, they are the most unpalatable facts could be told to a nation; and I see no manner of propriety or good-breeding in replying to a gipsy who begs for a penny, by the information, that “his ancestors built the Pyramids.”
Again, if our days are dark, our nights are worse; and what, in Heaven’s name, have we to do with an observatory and a telescope as long as the Great Western? The planets are the most expensive vagabonds to the Budget, and the fixed stars are a fixed imposition. Were I Chancellor of the Exchequer, I’d pension the Moon, and give the Great Bear a sum of money as compensation. Do not tell me of the distresses of the people, arising from cotton, or corn, China, or Chartists—it is our scientific institutions are eating into the national resources. There is not an egg-saucepan of antiquity that does not cost the country a plum, and every wag of a comet’s tail may be set down at half-a-million. I warrant me the people in the Moon take us a deuced deal more easily, and give themselves very little trouble to make out the size of Ireland’s eye or the height of Croaghpatrick. No, no; let the Chancellor of the Exchequer come down with a slapping measure of retrenchment, and make a clear stage of all of them. Every man with money to buy a cotton umbrella is his own meteorologist; and a pocket telescope, price eight-and-fourpence, is long enough, in all conscience, for any man in a climate like ours; or, if such a course seem too peremptory, call on these people for their bill, and let there be a stated sum for each item. At Dolly’s chop-house, you know to the exact farthing how much your beefsteak and glass of ale will cost you; and if you wish, in addition, a slice of Stilton with your XX, you consult your pocket before you speak. Let not the nation be treated worse than the individual: let us first look about us, and see if a year of prosperity and cheap potatoes will permit us the indulgence of obtaining a new luminary or an old chronicle; then, when we know the cost, we may calculate with safety. Suppose a fixed star, for instance, be set down at ten pounds; a planet at five; Saturn has so many belts, I would not give more than half-a-crown for a new one; and, as for an eclipse of the sun, I had rather propose a reward for the man who could tell us when we could see him palpably.
For the present I merely throw out these suggestions in a brief, incomplete manner, intending, however, to return to the subject on another occasion.
uthors have long got the credit of being the most accomplished persons going—thoroughly conversant not only with the features of every walk and class in life, but also with their intimate sentiments, habits of thought, and modes of expression. Now, I have long been of opinion, that in all these respects, lawyers are infinitely their superiors. The author chooses his characters as you choose your dish, or your wine at dinner—he takes what suits, and leaves what is not available to his purpose. He then fashions them to his hand—finishing off this portrait, sketching that one—now bringing certain figures into strong light, anon throwing them into shadow: they are his creatures, who must obey him while living, and even die at his command. Now, the lawyer is called on for all the narrative and descriptive powers of his art, at a moment’s notice, without time for reading or preparation; and worse than all, his business frequently lies among the very arts and callings his taste is most repugnant to. One day he is to be found creeping, with a tortoise slowness through all the wearisome intricacy of an equity case—the next he is borne along in a torrent of indignant eloquence, in defence of some Orange processionist or some Ribbon associate: now he describes, with the gravity of a landscape gardener, the tortuous windings of a mill-stream; now expatiating in Lytton Bulwerisms over the desolate hearth and broken fortunes of some deserted husband. In one court he attempts to prove that the elderly gentleman whose life was insured for a thousand at the Phœnix, was instrumental to his own decease, for not eating Cayenne with his oysters; in another, he shows, with palpable clearness, that being stabbed in the body, and having the head fractured, is a venial offence, and merely the result of “political excitement” in a high-spirited and warm-hearted people.
These are all clever efforts, and demand consummate powers, at the hand of him who makes them; but what are they to that deep and critical research with which he seems, instinctively, to sound the depths of every scientific walk in life, and every learned profession. Hear him in a lunacy case—listen to the deep and subtle distinctions he draws between the symptoms of mere eccentricity and erring intellect—remark how insignificant the physician appears in the case, who has made these things the study of a life long—hear how the barrister confounds him with a hail-storm of technicals—talking of the pineal gland as if it was an officer of the court, and of atrophy of the cerebral lobes, as if he was speaking of an attorney’s clerk. Listen to him in a trial of supposed death by poison; what a triumph he has there, particularly if he be a junior barrister—how he walks undismayed among all the tests for arsenic—how little he cares for Marsh’s apparatus and Scheele’s discoveries—hydro-sulphates, peroxydes, iodurates, and proto-chlorides are familiar to him as household words. You would swear that he was nursed at a glass retort, and sipped his first milk through a blow-pipe. Like a child who thumps the keys of a pianoforte, and imagines himself a Liszt or Moschelles, so does your barrister revel amid the phraseology of a difficult science—pelting the witnesses with his insane blunders, and assuring the jury that their astonishment means ignorance. Nothing in anatomy is too deep—nothing in chemistry too subtle—no fact in botany too obscure—no point in metaphysics too difficult. Like Dogberry, these things are to him but the gift of God; and he knows them at his birth. Truly, the chancellor is a powerful magician; and the mystic words by which he calls a gentleman to the bar, must have some potent spell within them. The youth you remember as if it were yesterday, the lounger at evening parties, or the chaperon of riding damsels to the Phœnix, comes forth now a man of deep and consummate acquirement—he whose chemistry went no further than the composition of a “tumbler of punch,” can now perform the most difficult experiments of Orfila or Davy, or explain the causes of failure in a test that has puzzled the scientific world for half a century. He knows the precise monetary value of a deserted maiden’s affections—he can tell you the exact sum, in bank notes, that a widow will be knocked down for, when her heart has been subject to but a feint attack of Cupid. With what consummate skill, too, he can show that an indictment is invalid, when stabbing is inserted for cutting; and when the crown prosecutor has been deficient in his descriptive anatomy, what a glorious field for display is opened to him. Then, to be sure, what droll fellows they are!—how they do quiz the witness as he sits trembling on the table—what funny allusions to his habits of life—his age—his station—turning the whole battery of their powers of ridicule against him—ready, if he venture to retort, to throw themselves on the protection of the court. And truly, if a little Latin suffice for a priest, a little wit goes very far in a law court. A joke is a universal blessing: the judge, who, after all, is only “an old lawyer,” loves it from habit: the jury, generally speaking, are seldom in such good company, and they laugh from complaisance; and the bar joins in the mirth, on that great reciprocity principle, which enables them to bear each other’s dulness, and dine together afterwards. People are insane enough to talk of absenteeism as one of the evils of Ireland, and regret that we have no resident aristocracy among us—rather let us rejoice that we have them not, so long as the lawyers prove their legitimate successors.
How delightful in a land where civilization has still some little progress before it, and where the state of crime is not quite satisfactory—to know that we have those amongst us who know all things, feel all things, explain all things, and reconcile all things—who can throw such a Claude Lorraine light over right and wrong, that they are both mellowed into a sweet and hallowed softness, delightful to gaze on. How the secret of this universal acquirement is accomplished I know not—perhaps it is the wig.
What set me first on this train of thought, was a trial I lately read, where a cross action was sustained for damage at sea—the owners of the brig Durham against the Aurora, a foreign vessel, and vice versâ, for the result of a collision at noon, on the 14th of October. It appeared that both vessels had taken shelter in the Humber from stress of weather, nearly at the same time—that the Durham, which preceded the Prussian vessel, “clewed up her top-sails, and dropped her anchor rather suddenly; and the Aurora being in the rear, the vessels came in collision.” The question, therefore, was, whether the Durham came to anchor too precipitately, and in an unseamanlike manner; or, in other words, whether, when the “Durham clewed up top-sails and let go her anchor, the Aurora should not have luffed up, or got sternway on her,” &c. Nothing could possibly be more instructive, nor anything scarcely more amusing, than the lucid arguments employed by the counsel on both sides. The learned Thebans, that would have been sick in a ferry-boat, spoke as if they had circumnavigated the globe. Stay-sails, braces, top-gallants, clews, and capstans they hurled at each other like bon bons at a carnival; and this naval engagement lasted from daylight to dark. Once only, when the judge “made it noon,” for a little refection, did they cease conflict, to renew the strife afterwards with more deadly daring, till at last so confused were the witnesses—the plaintiff, defendant, and all, that they half wished, they had gone to the bottom, before they thought of settling the differences in the Admiralty Court. This was no common occasion for the display of these powers so peculiarly the instinctive gift of the bar, and certainly they used it with all the enthusiasm of a bonne bouche.
How I trembled for the Aurora, when an elderly gentleman, with a wart on his nose, assured the court that the Durham had her top-sail backed ten minutes before the anchor fell; and then, how I feared again for the Durham, as a thin man in spectacles worked the Prussian about in a double-reefed mainsail, and stood round in stays so beautifully. I thought myself at sea, so graphic was the whole description—the waves splashed and foamed around the bulwarks, and broke in spray upon the deck—the wind rattled amid the rigging—the bulkheads creaked, and the good ship heaved heavily in the trough of the sea, like a mighty monster in his agony. But my heart quailed not—I knew that Dr. Lushington was at the helm, and Dr. Haggard had the look-out a-head—I felt that Dr. Robinson stood by the lee braces, and Dr. Addison waited, hatchet in hand, to cut away the mainmast. These were comforting reflections, till I was once more enabled to believe myself in her Majesty’s High Court of Admiralty.
Alas! ye Coopers—ye Marryats—ye Chamiers—ye historians of storm and sea-fight, how inferior are your triumphs compared with the descriptive eloquence of a law court. Who can pourtray the broken heart of blighted affection, like Charles Phillips in a breach of promise? What was Scott compared to Scarlett?—how inferior is Dickens to Counsellor O’Driscoll?—here are the men, who, without the trickery of trade, ungilt, unlettered, and unillustrated, can move the world to laughter and to tears. They ask no aid from Colburn, nor from Cruikshank—they need not “Brown” nor Longman. Heaven-born warriors, doctors, chemists, and anatomists—deep in every art, learned in every science—mankind is to them an open book, which they read at will, and con over at leisure—happy country, where we have you in abundance, and where your talents are so available, that they can be had for asking.
We certainly are a very original people, and contrive to do everything after a way of our own! Not content with cementing our friendships by fighting, and making the death of a relative the occasion of a merry evening, we even convert the habits we borrow from other lands into something essentially different from their original intention, and infuse into them a spirit quite national.
The echo which, when asked “How d’ye do, Paddy Blake?” replied, “Mighty well, thank you,” could only have been an Irish echo. Any other country would have sulkily responded, “Blake—ake—ake—ake,” in diminuendo to the end of the chapter. But there is a courtesy, an attention, a native politeness on our side of the channel, it is in vain to seek elsewhere. A very strong instance in point occurs in a morning paper before me, and one so delightfully characteristic of our habits and customs, it would be unpardonable to pass it without commemoration. At an evening concert at the Rotundo, we are informed that Mr. Knight—I believe his name is—enchanted his audience by the charming manner he sung “Molly Astore.” Three distinct rounds of applause followed, and an encore that actually shook the building, and may—though we are not informed of the circumstance—have produced very remarkable effects in the adjacent institution; upon which Mr. Knight, with his habitual courtesy, came forward and sang—what, think ye, good reader? Of course you will say, “Molly Astore,” the song he was encored for. Alas! for your ignorance;—that might do very well in Liverpool or Manchester, at Bath, Bristol, or Birmingham—the poor benighted Saxons there might like to get what they asked so eagerly for; but we are men of very different mould, and not accustomed to the jog-trot subserviency of such common-sense notions; and accordingly, Mr. Knight sang “The Soldier Tired”—a piece of politeness on his part that actually convulsed the house with acclamations; and so on to the end of the entertainment, “the gentleman, when encored, invariably sang a new song”—I quote the paper verbatim—“which testimony of his anxiety to meet the wishes of the audience afforded universal satisfaction.”
Now, I ask—and I ask it in all the tranquillity of triumph—show me the country on a map where such a studied piece of courteous civility could have been practised, or which, if attempted, could have been so thoroughly, so instantaneously appreciated. And what an insight does it give us into some of the most difficult features of our national character. May not this Irish encore explain the success with which Mr. O’Connell consoles our “poverty” by attacks on the clergy, and relieves our years of scarcity by creating forty-shilling freeholders. We ask for bread; and he tells us we are a great people—we beg for work, and he replies, that we must have repeal of the union—we complain of our poverty, and his remedy is—subscribe to the rent. Your heavy-headed Englishman—your clod-hopper from Yorkshire—or your boor from Northumberland, would never understand this, if you gave him a life-long to con over it. Norfolk pudding to his gross and sensual nature would seem better than the new registration bill; and he’d rather hear the simmering music of the boiled beef for his dinner, than all the rabid ruffianism of a repeal meeting.
But to come back to ourselves. What bold and ample views of life do our free-and-easy habits disclose to us, not to speak of the very servant at table, who will often help you to soup, when you ask for sherry, and give you preserves, when you beg for pepper. What amiable cross-purposes are we always playing at—not bigotedly adhering to our own narrow notions, and following out our own petty views of life, but eagerly doing what we have no concern in, and meritoriously performing for our friends, what they had been well pleased, we’d have let alone.
This amiable waywardness—this pleasing uncertainty of purpose—characterises our very climate; and the day that breaks in sunshine becomes stormy at noon, calm towards evening, and blows a hurricane all night. So the Irishman that quits his home brimful of philanthropy is not unlikely to rob a church before his return. But so it is, there is nobody like us in any respect. We commemorate the advent of a sovereign by erecting a testimonial to the last spot he stood on at his departure; and we are enthusiastic in our gratitude when, having asked for one favour, we receive something as unlike it as possible.
Our friends at the other side are beginning to legislate for us in the true spirit of our prejudices; and when we have complained of “a beggared proprietary and a ruined gentry,” they have bolstered up our weakness with the new poor law. So much for an Irish encore.
“The sixth of Anne, chap. seventeen, makes it unlawful to keep gaming-houses in any part of the city except the ‘Castle,’ and prohibits any game being played even there except during the residence of the Lord Lieutenant. This act is still on the statute book.”—Dublin Paper.
One might puzzle himself for a very long time for an explanation of this strange morceau of legislation, without any hope of arriving at a shadow of a reason for it.
That gaming should be suppressed by a government is in no wise unnatural; nor should we feel any surprise at our legislature having been a century in advance of France, in the due restriction of this demoralizing practice. But that the exercise of a vice should be limited to the highest offices of the state is, indeed, singular, and demands no little reflection on our part to investigate the cause.
Had the functions of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland been of that drowsy, tiresome, uninteresting nature, that it was only deemed fair by the legislature to afford him some amusing pastime to distract his “ennui” and dispel his melancholy, there might seem to have been then some reason for this extraordinary enactment. On the contrary, however, every one knows that from the remotest times to the present, every viceroy of Ireland has had quite enough on his hands. Some have been saving money to pay off old mortgages, others were farming the Phœnix; some took to the King Cambyses’ vein, like poor dear Lord Normanby—raked up all the old properties and faded finery of the Castle, and with such material as they could collect, made a kind of Drury-lane representation of a court. And very lately, and with an originality so truly characteristic of true genius, Lord Ebrington struck out a line of his own, and slept away his time with such a persevering intensity of purpose, that “the least wide-awake” persons of his government became actually ashamed of themselves. But to go back. What, I would ask, was the intention of this act? I know you give it up. Well, now, I have made the matter the subject of long and serious thought, and I think I have discovered it.
Have you ever read, in the laws of the smaller German states, the singular rules and regulations regarding the gaming-table? If so, you will have found how the entire property of the “rouge et noir” and “roulette” is vested in certain individuals in return for very considerable sums of money, paid by them to the government, for the privilege of robbing the public. These honourable and estimable people farm out iniquity as you would do your demesne, selling the cheatable features of mankind, like the new corn law, on the principle of “a general average.” The government of these states, finding—no uncommon thing in Germany—a deficiency in their exchequer, have hit upon this ready method of supplying the gap, by a system which has all the regularity of a tax, with the advantage of a voluntary contribution. These little kingdoms, therefore, of some half-dozen miles in circumference, are nothing more than rouge et noir tables, where the grand duke performs the part of croupier, and gathers in the gold. Now, I am convinced that something of this kind was intended by our lawgivers in the act of parliament to which I have alluded, and that its programme might run thus—that “as the office of Lord Lieutenant in Ireland is one of great responsibility, high trust, and necessarily demanding profuse expenditure; and that, as it may so happen that the same should, in the course of events, be filled by some Whig-Radical viceroy of great pretension and little property; and that as the ordinary sum for maintaining his dignity may be deemed insufficient, we hereby give him the exclusive liberty and privilege of all games of chance, skill, or address, in the kingdom of Ireland, whether the same may be chicken-hazard, blind hookey, head and tail, &c.—thimble-rigging was only known later—to be enjoyed by himself only, or by persons deputed by him; such privilege in nowise to extend to the lords justices, but only to exist during the actual residence and presence of the Lord Lieutenant himself.”—See the Act.
I cannot but admire the admirable tact that dictated this portion of legislation; at the same time, it does seem a little hard that the chancellor, the archbishop, and the other high functionaries, who administer the law in the absence of the viceroy, should not have been permitted the small privilege of a little unlimited loo, or even beggar-my-neighbour, particularly as the latter game is the popular one in Ireland.
There would seem, too, something like an appreciation of our national character in the spirit of this law, which, unhappily for England, and Ireland, too, has not always dictated her enactments concerning us. It is well known that we hate and abhor anything in the shape of a legal debt. Few Irishmen will refuse you the loan of five pounds; still fewer can persuade themselves to pay five shillings. The kingdom of Galway has long been celebrated for its enlightened notions on this subject, showing how much more conducive it is to personal independence and domestic economy, to spend five hundred pounds in resisting a claim, than to satisfy it by the payment of twenty. Accordingly, had any direct taxation of considerable amount been proposed for the support of viceregal dignity, the chances are—much as we like show and glitter, ardently as we admire all that gives us the semblance of a state—we should have buttoned up our pockets, and upon the principle of those economical little tracts, that teach us to do so much for ourselves, every man would have resolved to be “his own Lord Lieutenant;” coming, however, in the shape of an indirect taxation, a voluntary contribution to be withheld at pleasure, the thing was unobjectionable.
You might not like cards, still less the company—a very possible circumstance, the latter, in some times we wot of not long since—Well, then, you saved your cash and your character by staying at home; on the other hand, it was a comfort to know that you could have your rubber of “shorts” or your game at écarté, while at the same time you were contributing to the maintenance of the crown, and discharging the devoirs of a loyal subject. It is useless, however, to speculate upon an obsolete institution; the law has fallen into disuse, and the more is the pity. How one would like to have seen Lord Normanby, with that one curl of infantine simplicity that played upon his forehead, with that eternal leer of self-satisfied loveliness that rested on his features, playing banker at rouge et noir, or calling the throws at hazard. I am not quite so sure that the concern would have been so profitable as picturesque. The principal frequenters of his court were “York too;” Lord Plunket was a “downy cove;” and if Anthony Blaek took the box, most assuredly “I’d back the caster.” Now and then, to be sure, a stray, misguided country gentleman—a kind of “wet Tory”—used to be found at that court; just as one sees some respectable matronly woman at Ems or Baden, seated in a happy unconsciousness that all the company about her are rogues and swindlers, so he might afford some good sport, and assist to replenish the famished exchequer. Generally speaking, however, the play would not have kept the tables; and his lordship would have been in for the wax-lights, without the slightest chance of return.
As for his successor, “patience” would have been his only game; and indeed it was one he had to practise whilst he remained amongst us. Better days have now come: let us, therefore, inquire if a slight modification of the act might not be effected with benefit, and an amendment, somewhat thus, be introduced into the bill:—“That the words ‘Lord Mayor’ be substituted for the words ‘Lord Lieutenant;’ and that all the privileges, rights, immunities, &c., aforesaid, be enjoyed by him to his sole use and benefit; and also that, in place of the word ‘Castle,’ the word ‘Mansion-house’ stand part of this bill”—thus reserving to his lordship all monopoly in games of chance and address, without in anywise interfering with such practices of the like nature exercised by him elsewhere, and always permitted and conceded by whatever government in power.
Here, my dear countrymen, is no common suggestion. I am no prophet, like Sir Harcourt Lees; but still I venture to predict, that this system once legalised at the Mayoralty, the tribute is totally unnecessary. The little town of Spa, with scarce 10,000 inhabitants, pays the Belgian government 200,000 francs per annum for the liberty: what would Dublin—a city so populous and so idle? only think of the tail!—how admirably they could employ their little talent as “bonnets,” and the various other functionaries so essential to the well-being of a gambling-house; and, lastly, think of great Dan himself, with his burly look, seated in civic dignity at the green cloth, with a rake instead of a mace before him, calling out, “Make your game, gentlemen, make your game”—“Never venture, never win”—“Faint heart,” &c., &c.
How suitable would the eloquence that has now grown tiresome, even at the Corn Exchange, be at the head of a gaming-table; and how well would the Liberator conduct a business whose motto is so admirably expressed by the phrase, “Heads, I win; tails, you lose.” Besides, after all, nothing could form so efficient a bond of union between the two contending parties in the country as some little mutual territory of wickedness, where both might forget their virtues and their grievances together. Here you’d soon have the violent party-man of either side, oblivious of everything but his chance of gain; and what an energy would it give to the great Daniel to think that, while filling his pockets, he was also spoiling the Egyptians! Instead, therefore, of making the poor man contribute his penny, and the ragged man two-pence, you’d have the Rent supplied without the trouble of collection; and all from the affluent and the easy, or at least the idle, portion of the community.
This is the second time I have thrown out a suggestion—and all for nothing, remember—on the subject of afinance; and little reflection will show that both my schemes are undeniable in their benefits. Here you have one of the most expensive pleasures a poor country has ever ventured to afford itself—a hired agitator, pensioned, without any burden on the productive industry of the land; and he himself, so far from having anything to complain of, will find that his revenue is more than quadrupled.
Look at the question, besides, in another point of view, and see what possible advantages may arise from it. Nothing is so admirable an antidote to all political excitement as gambling: where it flourishes, men become so inextricably involved in its fascinations and attractions that they forget everything else. Now, was ever a country so urgently in want of a little repose as ours? and would it not be well to purchase it, and pension off our great disturbers, at any price whatever? Cards are better than carding any day; short whist is an admirable substitute for insurrection; and the rattle of a dice-box is surely as pleasant music as the ruffian shout for repeal.
I was a king upon a throne this minute, an’ I wanted to have a smoke for myself by the fireside—why, if I was to do my best, what could I smoke but one pen’orth of tobacco, in the night, after all?—but can’t I have that just as asy?
“If I was to have a bed with down feathers, what could I do but sleep there?—and sure I can do that in the settle-bed above.”
Such is the very just and philosophical reflection of one of Griffin’s most amusing characters, in his inimitable story of “The Collegians”—a reflection that naturally sets us a thinking, that if riches and wealth cannot really increase a man’s capacity for enjoyment with the enjoyments themselves, their pursuit is, after all, but a poor and barren object of even worldly happiness.
As it is perfectly evident that, so far as mere sensual gratifications are concerned, the peer and the peasant stand pretty much on a level, let us inquire for a moment in what the great superiority consists which exalts and elevates one above the other? Now, without entering upon that wild field for speculation that power (and what power equals that conferred by wealth?) confers, and the train of ennobling sentiment suggested by extended views of philanthropy and benevolence—for, in this respect, it is perfectly possible the poor man has as amiable a thrill at his heart in sharing his potato with a wandering beggar, as the rich one has in contributing his thousand pounds’ donation to some great national charity—let us turn rather to the consideration of those more tangible differences that leave their impress upon character, and mould men’s minds into a fashion so perfectly and thoroughly distinct.
To our thinking, then, the great superiority wealth confers lies in the seclusion the rich man lives in from all the grosser agency of every-day life—its make-shifts, its contrivances, its continued warfare of petty provision and continual care, its unceasing effort to seem what it is not, and to appear to the world in a garb, and after a manner, to which it has no just pretension. The rich man knows nothing of all this: life, to him, rolls on in measured tread; and the world, albeit the changes of season and politics may affect him, has nothing to call forth any unusual effort of his temper or his intellect; his life, like his drawing-room, is arranged for him; he never sees it otherwise than in trim order; with an internal consciousness that people must be engaged in providing for his comforts at seasons when he is in bed or asleep, or otherwise occupied, he gives himself no farther trouble about them; and, in the monotony of his pleasures, attains to a tranquillity of mind the most enviable and most happy.
Hence that perfect composure so conspicuous in the higher ranks, among whom wealth is so generally diffused—hence that delightful simplicity of manner, so captivating from its total absence of pretension and affectation—hence that unbroken serenity that no chances or disappointments would seem to interfere with; the knowledge that he is of far too much consequence to be neglected or forgotten, supports him on every occasion, and teaches that, when anything happens to his inconvenience or discomfort, that it could not but be unavoidable.
Not so the poor man: his poverty is a shoe that pinches every hour of the twenty-four; he may bear up from habit, from philosophy, against his restricted means of enjoyment; he may accustom himself to limited and narrow bounds of pleasure; he may teach himself that, when wetting his lips with the cup of happiness, that he is not to drink to his liking of it: but what he cannot acquire is that total absence of all forethought for the minor cares of life, its provisions for the future, its changes and contingencies—hence he does not possess that easy and tranquil temperament so captivating to all within its influence; he has none of the careless abandon of happiness, because even when happy he feels how short-lived must be his pleasure, and what a price he must pay for it. The thought of the future poisons the present, just as the dark cloud that gathers round the mountain-top makes the sunlight upon the plain seem cold and sickly.
All the poor man’s pleasures have taken such time and care in their preparation that they have lost their freshness ere they are tasted. The cook has sipped so frequently at the pottage, he will not eat of it when at table. The poor man sees life “en papillotes” before he sees it “dressed.” The rich man sees it only in the resplendent blaze of its beauty, glowing with all the attraction that art can lend it, and wearing smiles put on for his own enjoyment. But if such be the case, and if the rich man, from the very circumstance of his position, imbibe habits and acquire a temperament possessing such charm and fascination, does he surrender nothing for all this? Alas! and alas! how many of the charities of life lie buried in the still waters of his apathetic nature! How many of the warm feelings of his heart are chilled for ever, for want of ground for their exercise! How can he sympathise who has never suffered? how can he console who has never grieved? There is nothing healthy in the placid mirror of that glassy lake; uncurled by a breeze, unruffled by a breath of passion, it wants the wholesome agitation of the breaking wave—the health-giving, bracing power of the conflicting element that stirs the heart within, and nerves it for a noble effort.
All that he has of good within him is cramped by convenance and fashion; for he who never feared the chance of fortune, trembles, with a coward’s dread, before the sneer of the world. The poor man, however, only appeals to this test on a very different score. The “world” may prescribe to him the fashion of his hat, or the colour of his coat—it may dictate the locale of his residence, and the style of his household, and he may, so far as in him lies, comply with a tyranny so absurd; but with the free sentiments of his nature—his honest pride, his feeling sympathy—with the open current of his warm affection he suffers no interference: of this no man shall be the arbiter. If, then, the shoals and quicksands of the world deprive him of that tranquil guise and placid look—the enviable gift of richer men—he has, in requital, the unrestricted use of those greater gifts that God has given him, untrammelled by man’s opinion, uncurbed by the control of “the world.”
Each supports a tyranny after his own kind:—
The rich man—above the dictates of fashion—subjects the thoughts of his mind and the meditations of his heart to the world’s rule.
The poor man—below it—keeps these for his prerogative, and has no slavery save in form.
Happy the man who, amid all the seductions of wealth, and all the blandishments of fortune, can keep his heart and mind in the healthy exercise of its warm affections and its generous impulses. But still happier he, whose wealth, the native purity of his heart—can limit his desires to his means, and untrammelled by ambition, undeterred by fear of failure, treads the lowly but peaceful path in life, neither aspiring to be great, nor fearing to be humble.
There is no cant offends me more than the oft-repeated criticisms on the changed condition of Ireland. How very much worse or how very much better we have become since this ministry, or that measure—what a deplorable falling off!—what a gratifying prospect! how poor! how prosperous! &c. &c. Now, we are exactly what and where we used to be: not a whit wiser nor better, poorer nor prouder. The union, the relief bill, the reform and corporation acts, have passed over us, like the summer breeze upon the calm water of a lake, ruffling the surface for a moment, but leaving all still and stagnant as before. Making new laws for the use of a people who would not obey the old ones, is much like the policy of altering the collar or the cuffs of a coat for a savage, who insists all the while on going naked. However, it amuses the gentlemen of St. Stephen’s; and, I’m sure I’m not the man to quarrel with innocent pleasures.
To me, looking back, as my Lord Brougham would say, from the period of a long life, I cannot perceive even the slightest difference in the appearance of the land, or the looks of its inhabitants. Dublin is the same dirty, ill-cared-for, broken-windowed, tumble-down concern it used to be—the country the same untilled, weed-grown, unfenced thing I remember it fifty years ago—the society pretty much the same mixture of shrewd lawyers, suave doctors, raw subalterns, and fat, old, greasy country gentlemen, waiting in town for remittances to carry them on to Cheltenham—that paradise of Paddies, and elysium of Galway belles. Our table-talk the old story, of who was killed last in Tipperary or Limerick, with the accustomed seasoning of the oft-repeated alibi that figures at every assizes, and is successful with every jury. These pleasant topics, tinted with the party colour of the speaker’s politics, form the staple of conversation; and, “barring the wit,” we are pretty much what our fathers were some half century earlier. Father Mathew, to be sure, has innovated somewhat on our ancient prejudices; but I find that what are called “the upper classes” are far too cultivated and too well-informed to follow a priest. A few weeks ago, I had a striking illustration of this fact brought before me, which I am disposed to quote the more willingly as it also serves to display the admirable constancy with which we adhere to our old and time-honoured habits. The morning of St. Patrick’s day was celebrated in Dublin by an immense procession of teetotallers, who, with white banners, and whiter cheeks, paraded the city, evidencing in their cleanly but care-worn countenances, the benefits of temperance. On the same evening a gentleman—so speak the morning papers—got immoderately drunk at the ball in the Castle, and was carried out in a state of insensibility. Now, it is not for the sake of contrast I have mentioned this fact—my present speculation has another and very different object, and is simply this:—How comes it, that since time out of mind the same event has recurred on the anniversary of St. Patrick at the Irish court? When I was a boy I remember well “the gentleman who became so awfully drunk,” &c. Every administration, from the Duke of Rutland downwards, has had its drunken gentleman on “St. Patrick’s night.” Where do they keep him all the year long?—what do they do with him?—are questions I continually am asking myself. Under what name and designation does he figure in the pension list? for of course I am not silly enough to suppose that a well-ordered government would depend on chance for functionaries like these. One might as well suppose they would calculate on some one improvising Sir William Betham, or extemporaneously performing “God save the Queen,” on the state trumpet, in lieu of that amiable individual who distends his loyal cheeks on our great anniversaries. No, no. I am well aware he is a member of the household, or at least in the pay of the government. When the pope converts his Jew on Holy Thursday, the Catholic church have had ample time for preparation: the cardinals are on the look-out for weeks before, to catch one for his holiness—a good respectable hirsute Israelite, with a strong Judas expression to magnify the miracle. But then the Jew is passive in the affair, and has only to be converted patiently—whereas “the gentleman” has an active duty to discharge; he must imbibe sherry, iced punch, and champagne, at such a rate that he can be able to shock the company, before the rooms thin, with his intemperate excess. Besides, to give the devil—the pope, I mean—his Jew, they snare a fresh one every Easter. Now, I am fully persuaded that, at our Irish court, the same gentleman has performed the part for upwards of fifty years.
At the ancient banquets it was always looked upon as a triumph of Amphitryonism when a guest or two died the day after of indigestion, from over eating. Now, is it not possible that our classic origin may have imparted to us the trait I am speaking of, and that “the gentleman” is retained as typical of our exceeding hilarity and consummate conviviality—an evidence to the “great unasked” that the festivities within doors are conducted on a scale of boundless profusion and extravagance—that the fountains from which honour flows, run also with champagne, and that punch and the peerage are to be seen bubbling from the same source.
It is a sad thing to think that the gifted man, who has served his country so faithfully in this capacity for so long a period, must now be stricken in years. Time and rum must be telling upon him; and yet, what should we do were we to lose him?
In the chapel of Maria Zell, in Styria, there is a portly figure of St. Somebody, with more consonants than I find it prudent to venture on from mere memory; the priest is rolling his eyes very benignly on the frequenters of the chapel, as they pass by the shrine he resides in. The story goes, that when the saint ceases winking, some great calamity will occur to the commune and its inhabitants. Now, the last time I saw him, he was in great vigour, ogled away with his accustomed energy, and even, I thought—perhaps it was a suspicion on my part—had actually strained his eyeballs into something like a squint, from actual eagerness to oblige his votaries—a circumstance happily of the less moment in our days, as a gifted countryman of ours could have remedied the defect in no time. But to return; my theory is, that when we lose our tipsy friend it’s all up with us; “Birnam wood will then have come to Dunsinane;” and what misfortunes may befal us, Sir Harcourt Lees may foresee, but I confess myself totally unable to predicate.
Were I the viceroy, I’d not sleep another night in the island. I’d pack up the regalia, send for Anthony Blake to take charge of the country, and start for Liverpool in the mail-packet.
Happily, however, such an event may be still distant; and although the Austrians have but one Metternich, we may find a successor to our “Knight of St. Patrick.”
“The Honourable Fitzroy Shuffleton,” I quote The Morning Post, “who rode Bees-wing, came in a winner amid deafening cheers. Never was a race better contested; and although, when passing the distance-post, the Langar colt seemed to have the best of it, yet such was Mr. Shuffleton’s tact and jockeyship, that he shot a-head in advance of his adversary, and came in first.” I omit the passages descriptive of the peculiar cleverness displayed by this gifted gentleman. I omit also that glorious outbreak of newspaper eloquence, in which the delight of his friends is expressed—the tears of joy from his sisters—the cambric handkerchiefs that floated in the air—the innumerable and reiterated cries of “Well done!—he’s a trump!—the right sort!” &c. &c., so profusely employed by the crowd, because I am fully satisfied with what general approbation such proofs of ability are witnessed.
We are a great nation, and nowhere is our greatness more conspicuous than in the education of our youth. The young Frenchman seems to fulfil his destiny, when, having drawn on a pair of the most tight-fitting kid gloves, of that precise shade of colour so approved of by Madame Laffarge, he saunters forth on the Boulevard de Gand, or lounges in the coulisse of the opera.
The German, whose contempt not only extends to glove-leather, but clean hands, betakes himself early in life to the way he should go, and from which, to do him justice, he never shows any inclination to depart. A meerschaum some three feet long, and a tobacco bag like a school-boy’s satchel, supply his wants in life. The dreamy visions of the unreal woes, and the still more unreal greatness of his country, form the pabulum for his thoughts; and he has no other ambition, for some half dozen years of his life, than to boast his utter indifference to kings and clean water.
Now, we manage matters somewhat better. Our young men, from the very outset of their career, are admirable jockeys; and if by any fatality, like the dreadful revolution of France, our nobles should be compelled to emigrate from their native land, instead of teaching mathematics and music, the small sword and quadrilles, we shall have the satisfaction of knowing that we supply stable-boys to the whole of Europe.
Whatever other people may say or think, I put a great value on this equestrian taste. I speak not here of the manly nature of horse exercise—of the noble and vigorous pursuits of the hunting field. No; I direct my observations solely to the heroes of Ascot and Epsom—of Doncaster and Goodwood. I only speak of those whose pleasure it is to read no book save the Racing Calendar, and frequent no lounge but Tattersall’s; who esteem the stripes of a racing-jacket more honourable than the ribbon of the Bath, and look to a well-timed “hustle” or “a shake” as the climax of human ability. These are fine fellows, and I prize them. But if it be not only praiseworthy, but pleasant, to ride for the Duke’s cup at Goodwood, or the Corinthian’s at the Curragh, why not extend the sphere of the utility, and become as amiable in private as they are conspicuous in public life?
We have seen them in silk jackets of various hues, with leathers and tops of most accurate fitting, turn out amid the pelting of a most pitiless storm, to ride some three miles of spongy turf, at the hazard of their necks, and the almost certainty of a rheumatic fever; and why, donning the same or some similar costume, will they not perform the office of postillion, when their fathers, or mayhap, some venerated aunt, is returning by the north road to an antiquated mansion in Yorkshire? The pace, to be sure, is not so fast—but it compensates in safety what it loses in speed—the assemblage around is not so numerous, or the excitement so great; but filial tenderness is a nobler motive than the acclamations of a mob. In fact, the parallel presents all the advantages on one side: and the jockey is as inferior to the postillion as the fitful glare of an ignis-fatuus is to the steady brilliancy of a gas-lamp.
An Englishman has a natural pride in the navy of his country—our wooden walls are a glorious boast; but, perhaps, after all, there is nothing more captivating in the whole detail of the service, than the fact that even the highest and the noblest in the land has no royal road to its promotion, but, beginning at the very humblest step, he must work his way through every grade and every rank, like his comrades around him. Many there are now living who remember Prince William, as he was called—late William the Fourth, of glorious memory—sitting in the stern seats of a gig, his worn jacket and weather-beaten hat attesting that even the son of a king had no immunity from the hardships of the sea. This is a proud thought for Englishmen, and well suited to gratify their inherent loyalty and their sturdy independence. Now, might we not advantageously extend the influence of such examples, by the suggestion I have thrown out above? If a foreigner be now struck by hearing, as he walks through the dockyard at Plymouth, that the little middy who touches his hat with such obsequious politeness, is the Marquis of ——, or the Earl of ——, with some fifty thousand per annum, how much more astonished will he be on learning that he owes the rapidity with which he traversed the last stage to his having been driven by Lord Wilton—or that the lengthy proportions, so dexterously gathered up in the saddle, belong to an ex-ambassador from St. Petersburgh. How surprised would he feel, too, that instead of the low habits and coarse tastes he would look for in that condition in life, he would now see elegant and accomplished gentlemen, sipping a glass of curaçoa at the end of a stage; or, mayhap, offering a pinch of snuff from a box worth five hundred guineas. What a fascinating conception would he form of our country from such examples as this! and how insensibly would not only the polished taste and the high-bred depravity of the better classes be disseminated through the country; but, by an admirable reciprocity, the coarsest vices of the lowest would be introduced among the highest in the land. The race-course has done much for this, but the road would do far more. Slang is now but the language of the élite—it would then become the vulgar tongue; and, in fact, there is no predicting the amount of national benefit likely to arise from an amalgamation of all ranks in society, where the bond of union is so honourable in its nature. Cultivate, then, ye youth of England—ye scions of the Tudors and the Plantagenets—with all the blood of all the Howards in your veins—cultivate the race-course—study the stable—read the Racing Calendar. What are the precepts of Bacon or the learning of Boyle compared to the pedigree of Grey Momus, or the reason that Tramp “is wrong?” “A dark horse” is a far more interesting subject of inquiry than an eclipse of the moon, and a judge of pace a much more exalted individual than a judge of assize.
Douglas Jerrold, in his amusing book, “Cakes and Ale,” quotes an exquisite essay written to prove the sufficiency of thirty pounds a-year for all a man’s daily wants and comforts—allowing at least five shillings a quarter for the conversion of the Jews—and in which every outlay is so nicely calculated, that it must be wilful eccentricity if the pauper gentleman, at the end of the year, either owes a shilling or has one. To say the least of it, this is close shaving; and, as I detest experimental philosophy, I’d rather not try it. At the same time, in this age of general glut, when all professions are overstocked—when you might pave the Strand with parsons’ skulls, and thatch your barn with the surplus of the college of physicians; when there are neither waste lands to till and give us ague and typhus, nor war to thin us—what are we to do? The subdivision of labour in every walk in life has been carried to its utmost limits: if it takes nine tailors to make a man, it takes nine men to make a needle. Even in the learned professions, as they are called, this system is carried out; and as you have a lawyer for equity, another for the Common Pleas, a third for the Old Bailey, &c., so your doctor, now-a-days, has split up his art, and one man takes charge of your teeth, another has the eye department, another the ear, a fourth looks after your corns; so that, in fact, the complex machinery of your structure strikes you as admirably adapted to give employment to an ingenious and anxious population, who, until our present civilization, never dreamed of morselling out mankind for their benefit.
As to commerce, our late experiences have chiefly pointed to the pleasure of trading with nations who will not pay their debts,—like the Yankees. There is, then, little encouragement in that quarter. What then remains I scarcely know. The United Services are pleasant, but poor things by way of a provision for life. Coach-driving, that admirable refuge for the destitute, has been smashed by the railroads; and there is a kind of prejudice against a man of family sweeping the crossings. For my own part, I lean to something dignified and respectable—something that does not compromise “the cloth,” and which, without being absolutely a sinecure, never exacts any undue or extraordinary exertion,—driving a hearse, for instance: even this, however, is greatly run upon; and the cholera, at its departure, threw very many out of employment. However, the question is, what can a man of small means do with his son? Short whist is a very snug thing—if a man have natural gifts,—that happy conformation of the fingers, that ample range of vision, that takes in everything around. But I must not suppose these by any means general—and I legislate for the mass. The turf has also the same difficulties,—so has toad-eating; indeed these three walks might be included among the learned professions.
As to railroads, I’m sick of hearing of them for the last three years. Every family in the empire has at least one civil engineer within its precincts; and I’m confident, if their sides were as hard as their skulls, you could make sleepers for the whole Grand Junction by merely decimating the unemployed.
Tax-collecting does, to be sure, offer some little prospect; but that won’t last. Indeed, the very working of the process will limit the advantages of this opening,—gradually converting all the payers into paupers. Now I have meditated long and anxiously on the subject, conversing with others whose opportunities of knowing the world were considerable, but never could I find that ingenuity opened any new path, without its being so instantaneously overstocked that competition alone denied every chance of success.
One man of original genius I did, indeed, come upon, and his career had been eminently successful. He was a Belgian physician, who, having in vain attempted all the ordinary modes of obtaining practice, collected together the little residue of his fortune, and sailed for Barbadoes, where he struck out for himself the following singularly new and original plan:—He purchased all the disabled, sick, and ailing negroes that he could find; every poor fellow whose case seemed past hope, but yet to his critical eye was still curable, these he bought up; they were, of course, dead bargains. The masters were delighted to get rid of them—they were actually “eating their heads off;” but the doctor knew, that though they looked somewhat “groggy,” still there was a “go” in them yet.
By care, skill, and good management, they recovered under his hands, and frequently were re-sold to the original proprietor, who was totally unconscious that the sleek and shining nigger before him had been the poor, decrepid, sickly creature of some weeks before.
The humanity of this proceeding is self-evident: a word need not be said more on that subject. But it was no less profitable than merciful. The originator of the plan retired from business with a large fortune, amassed, too, in an inconceivably short space of time. The shrewdest proprietor of a fast coach never could throw a more critical eye over a new wheeler or a broken-down leader, than did he on the object of his professional skill; detecting at a glance the extent of his ailments, and calculating, with a Babbage-like accuracy, the cost of keep, physic, and attendance, and setting them off, in his mind, against the probable price of the sound man. What consummate skill was here! Not merely, like Brodie or Crampton, anticipating the possible recovery of the patient, but estimating the extent of the restoration—the time it would take—ay, the very number of basins of chicken-broth and barley-gruel that he would devour, ad interim. This was the cleverest physician I ever knew. The present altered condition of West Indian property has, however, closed this opening to fortune, in which, after all, nothing short of first-rate ability could have ensured success.
I have just read over the preceding “nut” to my old friend, Mr. Synnet, of Mulloglass, whose deep knowledge of the world makes him no mean critic on such a subject. His words are these:—
“There is some truth in what you remark—the world is too full of us. There is, however, a very nice walk in life much neglected.”
“And what may that be?” said I, eagerly.
“The mortgagee,” replied he, sententiously.
“I don’t perfectly comprehend.”
“Well, well! what I mean is this: suppose, now, you have only a couple of thousand pounds to leave your son—maybe, you have not more than a single thousand—now, my advice is, not to squander your fortune in any such absurdity as a learned profession, a commission in the Line, or any other miserable existence, but just look about you, in the west of Ireland, for the fellow that has the best house, the best cellar, the best cook, and the best stable. He is sure to want money, and will be delighted to get a loan. Lend it to him: make hard terms, of course. For this—as you are never to be paid—the obligation of your forbearance will be the greater. Now, mark me, from the day the deed is signed, you have snug quarters in Galway, not only in your friend’s house, but among all his relations—Blakes, Burkes, Bodkins, Kirwans, &c., to no end; you have the run of the whole concern—the best of living, great drink, and hunting in abundance. You must talk of the loan now and then, just to jog their memory; but be always ‘too much the gentleman’ to ask for your money; and it will even go hard, but from sheer popularity, they will make you member for the county. This is the only new thing, in the way of a career, I know of, and I have great pleasure in throwing out the suggestion for the benefit of younger sons.”
It has often struck me that the monotony of occupation is a heavier infliction than the monotony of reflection. The same dull round of duty, which while it demands a certain amount of labour, excludes all opportunity of thought, making man no better than the piston of a steam-engine, is a very frightful and debasing process. Whereas, however much there may be of suffering in solitude, our minds are not imprisoned; our thoughts, unchained and unfettered, stroll far away to pleasant pasturages; we cross the broad blue sea, and tread the ferny mountain-side, and live once more the sunny hours of boyhood; or we build up in imagination a peaceful and happy future.
That the power of fancy and the play of genius are not interrupted by the still solitude of the prison, I need only quote Cervantes, whose immortal work was accomplished during the tedious hours of a captivity, unrelieved by one office of friendship, uncheered by one solitary ray of hope.
Taking this view of the matter, it will be at once perceived how much more severe a penalty solitary confinement must be, to the man of narrow mind and limited resources of thought, than to him of cultivated understanding and wider range of mental exercise. In the one case, it is a punishment of the most terrific kind—and nothing can equal that awful lethargy of the soul, that wraps a man as in a garment, shrouding him from the bright world without, and leaving him nought save the darkness of his gloomy nature to brood over. In the other, there is something soothing amid all the melancholy of the state, in the unbroken soaring of thought, that, lifting man above the cares and collisions of daily life, bear him far away to the rich paradise of his mind-made treasures—peopling space with images of beauty—and leave him to dream away existence amid the scenes and features he loved to gaze on.
Now, to turn for the moment from this picture, let us consider whether our government is wise in this universal application of a punishment, which, while it operates so severely in one case, may really be regarded as a boon in the other.
The healthy peasant, who rises with the sun, and breathes the free air of his native hills, may and will feel all the infliction of confinement, which, while it chains his limbs, stagnates his faculties. Not so the sedentary and solitary man of letters. Your cell becomes his study: the window may be somewhat narrower—the lattice, that was wont to open to the climbing honeysuckle, may now be barred with its iron stanchions; but he soon forgets this. “His mind to him a palace is,” wherein he dwells at peace. Now, to put them on something of a par, I have a suggestion to make to the legislature, which I shall condense as briefly as possible. Never sentence your man of education, whatever his offence, to solitary confinement; but condemn him to dine out, in Dublin, for seven or fourteen years—or, in murder cases, for the term of his natural life. For slight offences, a week’s dinners, and a few evening parties might be sufficient—while old offenders and bad cases, might be sent to the north side of the city.
It may be objected to this—that insanity, which so often occurs in the one case, would supervene in the other; but I rather think not. My own experience could show many elderly people of both sexes, long inured to this state, who have only fallen into a sullen and apathetic fatuity; but who, bating deafness and a look of dogged stupidity, are still reasoning beings—what they once were, it is hard to say.
But I take the man who, for some infraction of the law, is suddenly carried away from his home and friends—the man of mind, of reading, and reflection. Imagine him, day after day, beholding the everlasting saddle of mutton—the eternal three chickens, with the tongue in the midst of them; the same travesty of French cookery that pervades the side-dishes—the hot sherry, the sour Moselle: think of him, eating out his days through these, unchanged, unchangeable—with the same cortège of lawyers and lawyers’ wives—doctors, male and female—surgeons, subalterns, and, mayhap, attorneys: think of the old jokes he has been hearing from childhood still ringing in his ears, accompanied by the same laugh which he has tracked from its burst in boyhood to its last cackle in dotage: behold him, as he sits amid the same young ladies, in pink and blue, and the same elderly ones, in scarlet and purple; see him, as he watches every sign and pass-word that have marked these dinners for the long term of his sentence, and say if his punishment be not indeed severe.
Then think how edifying the very example of his suffering, as, with pale cheek and lustreless eye—silent, sad, and lonely—he sits there! How powerfully such a warning must speak to others, who, from accident or misfortune, may be momentarily thrown in his society.
The suggestion, I own, will demand a much more ample detail, and considerable modification. Among other precautions, for instance, more than one convict should not be admitted to any table, lest they might fraternize together, and become independent of the company in mutual intercourse, &c.
These may all, however, be carefully considered hereafter: the principle is the only thing I would insist on for the present, and now leave the matter in the hands of our rulers.
Of all the virtues which grace and adorn the inhabitants of these islands, I know of none which can in anywise be compared with the deep and profound veneration we show to old age. Not content with paying it that deference and respect so essentially its due, we go even further, and by a courteous adulation would impose upon it the notion, that years have not detracted from the gifts which were so conspicuous in youth, and that the winter of life is as full of promise and performance, as the most budding hours of spring-time.
Walk through the halls of Greenwich and Chelsea—or, if the excursion be too far for you, as a Dubliner, stroll down to the Old Man’s Hospital, and cast your eyes on those venerable “fogies,” as they are sometimes irreverently called, and look with what a critical and studious politeness the state has invested every detail of their daily life. Not fed, housed, or clothed like the “debris” of humanity, to whom the mere necessaries of existence were meted out, but actually a species of flattering illusion is woven around them. They are dressed in a uniform; wear a strange, quaint military costume; are officered and inspected like soldiers; mount guard; answer roll-call, and mess as of yore.
They are permitted, from time to time, to clean and burnish pieces of ordnance, old, time-worn, and useless as themselves, and are marched certain short and suitable distances to and from their dining-hall, with all the “pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war.” I like all this. There is something of good and kindly feeling in perpetuating the delusion that has lasted for so many years of life, and making the very resting-place of their meritorious services recall to them the details of those duties, for the performance of which they have reaped their country’s gratitude.
The same amiable feeling, the same grateful spirit of respect, would seem, from time to time, to actuate the different governments that wield our destinies, in their promotions to the upper house.
Some old, feeble, partizan of the ministry, who has worn himself to a skeleton by late sittings; dried, like a potted herring, by committee labour; hoarse with fifty years’ cheering of his party, and deaf from the cries of “divide” and “adjourn” that have been ringing in his ears for the last cycle of his existence, is selected for promotion to the peerage. He was eloquent in his day, too, perhaps; but that day is gone by. His speech upon a great question was once a momentous event, but now his vote is mumbled in tones scarce audible.—Gratefully mindful of his “has been,” his party provide him with an asylum, where the residue of his days may be passed in peace and pleasantness.
Careful not to break the spell that has bound him to life, they surround him with some semblance of his former state, suited in all respects to his age, his decrepitude, and his debility; they pour water upon the leaves of his politics, and give him a weak and pleasant beverage, that can never irritate his nerves, nor destroy his slumbers. Some insignificant bills—some unimportant appeals—some stray fragments that fall from the tables of sturdier politicians, are his daily diet; and he dozes away the remainder of life, happy and contented in the simple and beautiful delusion that he is legislating and ruling—just as warrantable the while, as his compeer of Chelsea, in deeming his mock parades the forced marches of the Peninsula, and his Sunday guards the dispositions for a Toulouse or a Waterloo.
The battle between the “big and little-endians” in Gulliver, was nothing to the fight between the Destructives and Conservatives of the Irish Art Union. A few months since the former party deciding that the engraved plate of Mr. Burton’s picture should be broken up; the latter protesting against the Vandalism of destroying a first-rate work of art, and preventing the full triumph of the artist’s genius, in the circulation of a print so creditable to himself and to his country.
The great argument of the Destructives was this:—We are the devoted friends of art—we love it—we glory in it—we cherish it: yea, we even give a guinea a-year a-piece for the encouragement of a society established for its protection and promotion;—this society pledging themselves that we shall have in return—what think ye?—the immortal honour of raising a school of painting in our native country?—the conscientious sense of a high-souled patriotism?—the prospect of future estimation at the hands of a posterity who are to benefit by our labours? Not at all: nothing of all this. We are far too great materialists for such shadowy pleasures; we are to receive a plate, whose value is in the direct ratio of its rarity, “which shall certainly be of more than the amount of our subscription,” and, maybe, of five times that sum. The fewer the copies issued, the rarer (i. e., the dearer) each impression. We are the friends of art—therefore, we say, smash the copper-plate, destroy every vestige of the graver’s art, we are supplied, and heaven knows to what price these engravings may not subsequently rise!
Now, I like these people. There is something bold, something masterly, something decided, in their coming forward and fighting the battle on its true grounds. There is no absurd affectation about the circulation of a clever picture disseminating in remote and scarce-visited districts the knowledge of a great man and a great work; there is no prosy nonsense about encouraging the genius of our own country, and showing with pride to her prouder sister, that we are not unworthy to contend in the race with her. Nothing of this.—They resolve themselves, by an open and candid admission, into a committee of printsellers, and they cry with one voice—“No free trade in ‘The Blind Girl’—no sliding scale—no fixed duty—nothing save absolute, actual prohibition!” It is with pride I confess myself of this party: perish art! down with painting! to the ground with every effort of native genius! but keep up the price of our engraving, which, with the rapid development of Mr. Burton’s talent, may yet reach ten, nay, twenty guineas for an impression. But in the midst of my enthusiasm, a still small voice of fear is whispering ever:—Mayhap this gifted man may live to eclipse the triumphs of his youthful genius: it may be, that, as he advances in life, his talents, matured by study and cultivation, may ascend to still higher flights, and this, his early work, be merely the beacon-light that attracted men in the outset of his career, and only be esteemed as the first throes of his intellect. What is to be done in this case? It is true we have suppressed “The Blind Girl;” we have smashed that plate; but how shall we prevent him from prosecuting those studies that already are leading him to the first rank of his profession? Disgust at our treatment may do much; but yet, his mission may suggest higher thoughts than are assailable by us and our measures. I fear, now, that but one course is open; and it is with sorrow I confess, that, however indisposed to the shedding of blood, however unsuited by my nature and habits to murderous deeds, I see nothing for us but—to smash Mr. Burton.
By accepting this suggestion, not only will the engravings, but the picture itself, attain an increased value. If dead men are not novelists, neither are they painters; and Mr. Burton, it is expected, will prove no exception to the rule. Get rid of him, then, at once, and by all means. Let this resolution be brought forward at the next general meeting, by any leader of the Destructive party, and I pledge myself to second and defend it, by every argument, used with such force and eloquence for the destruction of the copper-plate. I am sure the talented gentleman himself will, when he is put in possession of our motives, offer no opposition to so natural a desire on our part, but will afford every facility in his power for being, as the war-cry of the party has it, “broken up and destroyed.”
If the wise Calif who studied mankind by sitting on the bridge at Bagdad, had lived in our country, and in our times, he doubtless would have become a subscriber to the Kingstown railway. There, for the moderate sum of some ten or twelve pounds per annum, he might have indulged his peculiar vein, while wafted pleasantly through the air, and obtained a greater insight into character and individuality, inasmuch as the objects of his investigation would be all sitting shots, at least for half an hour. Segur’s “Quâtre Ages de la Vie” never marked out mankind like the half-hour trains. To the uninitiated and careless observer, the company would appear a mixed and heterogeneous mass of old and young, of both sexes—some sickly, some sulky, some solemn, and some shy. Classification of them would be deemed impossible. Not so, however; for, as to the ignorant the section of a mountain would only present some confused heap of stone and gravel, clay and marl; to the geologist, strata of divers kinds, layers of various ages, would appear, all indicative of features, and teeming with interests, of which the other knew nothing: so, to the studious observer, this seeming commixture of men, this tangled web of humanity, unravels itself before him, and he reads them with pleasure and with profit.
So thoroughly distinctive are the classes, as marked out by the hour of the day, that very little experience would enable the student to pronounce upon the travellers—while so striking are the features of each class, that “given one second-class traveller, to find out the contents of a train,” would be the simplest problem in algebra. As for myself, I never work the equation: the same instinct that enabled Cuvier, when looking at a broken molar tooth, to pronounce upon the habits, the size, the mode of life and private opinions of some antediluvian mammoth, enables me at a glance to say—“This is the apothecaries’ train—here we are with the Sandycoves.”
You are an early riser—some pleasant proverb about getting a worm for breakfast, instilled into you in childhood, doubtless inciting you: and you hasten down to the station, just in time to be too late for the eight o’clock train to Dublin. This is provoking; inasmuch as no scrutiny has ever enabled any traveller to pry into the habits and peculiarities of the early voyager. Well, you lounge about till the half-after, and then the conveniency snorts by, whisks round at the end, takes a breathing canter alone for a few hundred yards, and comes back with a grunt, to resume its old drudgery. A general scramble for places ensues—doors bang—windows are shut and opened—a bell rings—and, snort! snort! ugh, ugh, away you go. Now—would you believe it?—every man about you, whatever be his age, his size, his features, or complexion, has a little dirty blue bag upon his knees, filled with something. They all know each other—grin, smile, smirk, but don’t shake hands—a polite reciprocity—as they are none of the cleanest: cut little dry jokes about places and people unknown, and mix strange phrases here and there through the dialogue, about “demurrers and declarations, traversing in prox and quo warranto.” You perceive it at once—it is very dreadful; but they are all attorneys. The ways of Providence are, however, inscrutable; and you arrive in safety in Dublin.
Now, I am not about to take you back; for at this hour of the morning you have nothing to reward your curiosity. But, with your leave, we’ll start from Kingstown again at nine. Here comes a fresh, jovial-looking set of fellows. They have bushy whiskers, and geraniums in the button-hole of their coats. They are traders of various sorts—men of sugar, soap, and sassafras—Macintoshes, molasses, mouse-traps—train-oil and tabinets. They have, however, half an acre of agricultural absurdity, divided into meadow and tillage, near the harbour, and they talk bucolic all the way. Blindfold them all, and set them loose, and you will catch them groping their way down Dame-street in half an hour.
9½.—The housekeepers’ train. Fat, middle-aged women, with cotton umbrellas—black stockings with blue fuz on them; meek-looking men, officiating as husbands, and an occasional small child, in plaid and the small-pox.
10.—The lawyers’ train. Fierce-looking, dictatorial, categorical faces look out of the window at the weather, with the stern glance they are accustomed to bestow on the jury, and stare at the sun in the face, as though to say—“None of your prevarication with me; answer me, on your oath, is it to rain or not?”
10½.—The return of the doctors. They have been out on a morning beat, and are going home merry or mournful, as the case may be. Generally the former, as the sad ones take to the third class. These are jocose, droll dogs; the restraint of physic over, they unbend, and chat pleasantly, unless there happen to be a sickly gentleman present, when the instinct of the craft is too strong for them; and they talk of their wonderful cures of Mr. Popkins’s knee, or Mr. Murphy’s elbow, in a manner very edifying.
11.—The men of wit and pleasure. These are, I confess, difficult of detection; but the external signs are very flash waistcoats, and guard-chains, black canes, black whiskers, and strong Dublin accents. A stray governess or two will be found in this train. They travel in pairs, and speak a singular tongue, which a native of Paris might suppose to be Irish.
hould you ask, Who is the greatest tyrant of modern days? Mr. O’Connell will tell you—Nicholas, or Espartero. An Irish Whig member will reply, Dan himself. An attaché at an embassy would say, Lord Palmerston,—“’Tis Cupid ever makes us slaves!” A French deputé of the Thiers party will swear it is Louis Philippe. Count D’Orsay will say, his tailor. But I will tell you it is none of these: the most pitiless autocrat of the nineteenth century is—the President of the College of Physicians.
Of all the unlimited powers possessed by irresponsible man, I know of nothing at all equal to his, who, mero motu, of his own free will and caprice, can at any moment call a meeting of the dread body at whose head he stands, assemble the highest dignitaries of the land—archbishops and bishops, chancellors, chief barons, and chief remembrancers—to listen to the minute anatomy of a periwinkle’s mustachios, or some singular provision in the physiology of a crab’s breeches-pocket: all of whom, luto non obstante, must leave their peaceful homes and warm hearths to “assist” at a meeting in which, nine cases out of ten, they take as much interest as a Laplander does in the health of the Grand Lama; or Mehemet Ali in the proceedings of Father Mathew.
By nine o’clock the curtain rises, displaying a goodly mob of medical celebrities: the old ones characterised by the astute look and searching glance, long and shrewd practice in the world’s little failings ever confers; the young ones, anxious, wide awake, and fidgetty, not quite satisfied with what services they may be called on to render in candle-snuffing and crucible work; while between both is your transition M.D.—your medical tadpole, with some practice and more pretension, his game being to separate from the great unfeed, and rub his shoulders among the “dons” of the art, from whose rich board certain crumbs are ever falling, in the shape of country jaunts, small operations, and smaller consultings. Through these promiscuously walk the “gros bonnets” of the church and the bar, with now and then—if the scene be Ireland—a humane Viceroy, and a sleepy commander of the forces. Round the room are glass cases filled with what at first blush you might be tempted to believe were the ci-devant professors of the college, embalmed, or in spirits; but on nearer inspection you detect to be a legion of apes, monkeys, and ourangoutangs, standing or sitting in grotesque attitudes. Among them, pleasingly diversified, you discover murderers’ heads, parricides’ busts in plaster, bicephalous babies, and shapeless monsters with two rows of teeth. Here you are regaled with refreshments “with what appetite you may,” and chat away the time, until the tinkle of a small bell announces the approach of the lecture.
For the most part, this is a good, drowsy, sleep-disposing affair of an hour long, written to show, that from some peculiarity lately discovered in the cerebral vessels, man’s natural attitude was to stand on his head; or that, from chemical analysis just invented, it was clear, if we live to the age of four hundred years and upwards, part of our duodenum will be coated with a delicate aponeurosis of sheet iron.
Now, with propositions of this kind I never find fault. I am satisfied to play my part as a biped in this breathing world, and to go out of it too, without any rivalry with Methuselah. But I’ll tell you with what I am by no means satisfied,—nor shall I ever feel satisfied—nor do I entertain any sentiment within a thousand miles of gratitude to the man who tells me, that food—beef and mutton, veal, lamb, &c.—are nothing but gas and glue. The wretch who found out the animalculæ in clean water was bad enough. There are simple-minded people who actually take this as a beverage: what must be their feelings now, if they reflect on the myriads of small things like lobsters; with claws and tails, all fighting and swallowing each other, that are disporting in their stomachs? But only think of him who converts your cutlet into charcoal, and your steak into starch! It may stick to your ribs after that, to be sure; but will it not stick harder to your conscience? With what pleasure do you help yourself to your haunch, when the conviction is staring you in the face, that what seems venison is but adipose matter and azote? That you are only making a great Nassau balloon of yourself when you are dreaming of hard condition, and preparing yourself for the fossil state when blowing the froth off your porter.
Of latter years the great object of science would appear to be an earnest desire to disenchant us from all the agreeable and pleasant dreams we have formed of life, and to make man insignificant without making him humble. Thus, one class of philosophers labour hard to prove that manhood is but monkeyhood—that a slight adaptation of the tail to the customs of civilized life has enabled us to be seated; while the invention of looking-glasses, bear’s grease, cold cream, and macassar, have cultivated our looks into the present fashion.
Another, having felt over our skulls, gravely asserts, “There is a vis à tergo of wickedness implanted in us, that must find vent in murder and bloodshed.” While the magnetic folk would make us believe that we are merely a kind of ambulating electric-machine, to be charged at will by the first M. Lafontaine we meet with, and mayhap explode from over-pressure.
While such liberties are taken with us without, the case is worse within. Our circulation is a hydraulic problem; our stomach is a mill—a brewing vat—a tanner’s yard—a crucible, or a retort. You yourself, in all the resplendent glory of your braided frock, and your decoration of the Guelph, are nothing but an aggregate of mechanical and chemical inventions, as often going wrong as right; and your wife, in the pride of her Parisian bonnet, and robe à la Victorine, is only gelatine and adipose substance, phosphate of lime, and a little arsenic.
Now, let me ask, what remains to us of life, if we are to be robbed of every fascination and charm of existence in this fashion? And again—has medical science so exhausted all the details of practical benefit to mankind, that it is justified in these far-west explorations into the realms of soaring fancy, or the gloomy depths of chemical analysis? Hydrophobia, consumption, and tetanus are not so curable that we can afford to waste our sympathies on chimpanzees: nor is this world so pleasant that we must deny ourselves the advantage of all its illusions, and throw away the garment in which Nature has clothed her nakedness. No, no. There was sound philosophy in Peter, in the “Tale of a Tub,” who assured his guests that whatever their frail senses might think to the contrary, the hard crusts were excellent and tender mutton; but I see neither rhyme nor reason in convincing us, that amid all the triumphs of turtle and white bait, Ardennes ham and pâté de Strasbourg, our food is merely coke and glue, roach, lime, starch, and magnesia.
“God made the country,” said the poet: but in my heart I believe he might have added—“The devil made architects.” Few cities—I scarcely know of one—can boast of such environs as Dublin. The scenery, diversified in its character, possesses attraction for almost every taste: the woody glade—the romantic river—the wild and barren mountain—the cultivated valley—the waving upland—the bold and rocky coast, broken with promontory and island—are all to be found, even within a few miles of the capital; while, in addition, the nature of our climate confers a verdure and a freshness unequalled, imparting a depth and colour to the landscape equal to the beauty of its outline.
Whether you travel inland or coastwise, the country presents a succession of sites for building, there being no style of house for which a suitable spot cannot readily be found; and yet, with all this, the perverse taste of man has contrived, by incongruous and ill-conceived architecture, to mar almost every point of view, and destroy every picturesque feature of the landscape.
The liberty of the subject is a bright and glorious prerogative; and nowhere should its exercise be more freely conceded than in those arrangements an individual makes for his own domestic comfort, and the happiness of his home.
That one man likes a room in which three people form a crowd, and that another prefers an apartment spacious as Exeter Hall, is a matter of individual taste, with which the world has nothing whatever to do. Your neighbour in the valley may like a cottage not larger than a sugar-hogshead, with rats for company and beetles for bed-fellows; your friend on the hill-side may build himself an imaginary castle, with armour for furniture, and antique weapons for ornaments;—with all this you have no concern—no more than with his banker’s book, or the thoughts of his bosom: but should the one or the other, either by a thing like a piggery, or an incongruous mass like a jail, destroy all the beauty and mar all the effect of the scenery for miles round, far beyond the precincts of his own small tenure—should he outrage all the principles of taste, and violate every sentiment of landscape beauty, by some poor and contemptible, or some pretentious and vulgar edifice—then, do I say, you are really aggrieved; and against such a man you have a just and equitable complaint, as one interfering with the natural pleasures and just enjoyments to which, as a free citizen of a free state, you have an indubitable, undeniable right.
That waving, undulating meadow, hemmed in with its dark woods, and mirrored in the fair stream that flows peacefully beneath it, was never, surely, intended to be disfigured with a square house like a salt-box, and a verandah like a register-grate: the far-stretching line of yellow coast that you see yonder, where the calm sea is sleeping, land-locked by those jutting headlands, was never meant to be pock-marked with those vile bathing lodges, with green baize draperies drying before them.
Was that bold and granite-sided mountain made thus to be hewed out into parterres for polyanthuses, and stable-lanes for Cockneys’ carmen?—or is the margin of our glorious bay, the deep frame-work of the bright picture, to be carved into little terraces, with some half-dozen slated cabins, or a row of stiff-looking, Leeson-street-like houses, with brass knockers and a balcony? Forbid it, heaven! We have a board of wide and inconvenient streets, who watch over all the irregularities of municipal architecture, and a man is no more permitted to violate the laws of good taste, than he is suffered to transgress those of good morals. Why not have a similar body to protect the fairer part of the created globe? Is Pill-lane more sacred than Bray-head? Has Copper-alley stronger claims than the Glen-of-the-Downs? Is the Cross-poddle more classic ground than Poolaphuca?
If you happen to pass by Dodd’s auction-room, on any Wednesday, towards the hour of three in the afternoon, the chances are about seven to one that you hear a sharp, smart voice articulating, somewhat in this fashion:—“A very handsome tea-service, ladies. What shall I say for this remarkably neat pattern? One tea-pot, one sugar-bowl, one slop-basin, and twelve cups and saucers.—Show them round, Tim,” &c.
Now it is with no intention of directing the public eye to the “willow pattern,” that I have alluded to this circumstance. It is simply, because that thereby hangs an association, and I have never heard the eloquent expatiator on china, without thinking of the Belgian navy, which consists of—“One gun-boat, one pinnace, one pilot, one commodore, and twelve little sailors.” Unquestionably, there never was a cheaper piece of national extravagance than this, nor do I believe that any public functionary enjoys a more tranquil and undisturbed existence than the worthy “ministre de la marine,” whose duty it is to preside over the fleet I have mentioned. Once, and once only do I remember that his quiet life was shaken by the rude assault of political events: it was when the imposing force under his sway undertook a voyage of discovery some miles down the Scheldt, which they did alike to the surprise and admiration of the whole land.
After a day’s peaceful drifting with the river’s current, they reached the fort of Lillo, where, more majorum, as night was falling, they prudently dropped anchor, having a due sense of the danger that might accrue “from running down a continent in the dark.” There was, besides, a feeling of high-souled pride in anchoring within sight, under the guns, as it were, of the Dutch fort—the insolent Dutch, whom they, with some aid from France—as the Irishman said of his marriage, for love, and a trifle of money—had driven from their country; and, although the fog rendered everything invisible, and the guns were spiked, still the act of courage was not disparaged; and they fell to, and sang the Brabançon, and drank Flemish beer till bed-time.
Happy and patriotic souls! little did you know, that amid your dreams of national greatness, some half-dozen imps of Dutch middies were painting out the magnificent tricolor streaks that adorned your good craft, and making the whole one mass of dirty black.
Such was the case, however; and when day broke, those brilliant emblems of Belgian independence had vanished, and in their place a murky line of pitch now stood.
Homeward they bent their course, sadder and wiser men; and, to their credit be it spoken, having told their sorrows to their sage minister, they have lived a life of happy retirement, and never strayed beyond the peaceful limits of the Antwerp basin.
Far be from me the unworthy object of drawing before the public gaze the blissful and unpretending service, that shuns the noontide glitter of the world’s applause, and better loves the quiet solitude of their own unobtrusive waters; and had they thus remained, nothing would have tempted me to draw them from their obscurity. But alas! national ambition has visited even the seclusion of this service. Not content with coasting voyages, some twelve miles down their muddy river—not satisfied with lording it over fishing smacks and herring wherries, this great people have resolved on becoming a maritime power in blue water, and running a race of rivalry with England, France, and Russia; and to it they have set in right earnest.
They began by purchasing a steam-vessel, which happens to turn out on such a scale of size, as to be inadmissible into any harbour they possess. By dint of labour, time, cost, and great outlay, they succeeded, after four months, in getting her into dock. But alas! if it took that time to admit her, it takes six months to let her out again; and, when out, what are they to do with her?
When Admiral Dalrymple turned farmer, he mentions in one of his letters, the sufferings his unhappy ignorance of all agricultural pursuits involved him in, and feelingly tells us: “I have given ten pounds for a dunghill, and would now willingly give any man twenty, to tell me what to do with it.” This was exactly the case with the Belgians. They had bought a steam-ship, they put coals in her, and a crew; and then, for the life and soul of them, they did not know what to do with them.
They desired an export trade—a débouché for their Namur cutlery and Verviers’ frieze. But where could they go? They had no colonies. Holland had, to be sure: but then, they had quarrelled with Holland, and there was no use repining. “What can’t be cured,” &c. Besides, if they had lost a colony, they had gained a cardinal; and if they had no merchantmen, they had at least high-mass; and if they were excluded from Batavia, why they had free access to the “Abbé Boon.”
There were, however, some impracticable people engaged in traffic, who would not listen to these great advantages, and who were obstinate enough to suppose that the country was as prosperous when it had a market for its productions, as it was when it had none. And although the priests, who have multiplied some hundredfold since the revolution, were willing “to consume” to any extent, yet, unhappily, they were not as profitable customers as their ci-devant friends beyond sea.
Nothing then remained but to have a colony, and after much consideration, long thought, and anxious deliberation, it was announced to the chamber that the Belgians had a colony, and that the colony was called “Guatemala.”
When Sancho Panza appealed to Don Quixote, to realise his promised dream of greatness, you may remember, he always asked for an island: “Make me governor of an island!” There was something defined, accurate, and tangible, as it were, in the sea-girt possession, that suggested to the honest squire’s mind the idea of perfect, independent rule. And in the same way, the Belgians desired to have an island.
Some few, less imaginative, suspected, however, that an island must always have its limit to importation quicker attained than a continent, and they preferred some vast, unexplored tract, like India, or Central America, where the consumption of corduroy and cast-iron might have an unexhausted traffic for centuries.
Now, it is a difficult condition to find out that spot on a map which should realise both expectations. Happily, however, M. Van de Weyer had to deal with a kind and confiding people, whose knowledge of geography is about equal to a blind man’s appreciation of scarlet or sky-blue. Not only, therefore, did he represent to one party, the newly-acquired possession as an island, and to the other as a vast continent, but he actually shifted its locale about the globe, from the tropics to the north-pole, with such admirable dexterity, that not only is all cavil silenced about its commercial advantages, but its very climate has an advocate in every taste, and an admirer in every household. Steam-engines, therefore, are fabricated; cannon are cast; railroads are in preparation; broadcloth is weaving; flax is growing; lace is in progress, all through the kingdom, for the new colony of Guatemala,—whose only inhabitants are little grateful for the profound solicitude they are exciting, inasmuch as, being but rats and sea-gulls, their modes of living and thinking give them a happy indifference about steam-travelling, and the use of fine linen.
No matter;—the country is prospering—shares are rising—speculations are rife—loans are effected every day in the week, and M. Van de Weyer sleeps in the peaceful composure of a man who knows in his heart, that even if they get their unwieldy craft to sea, there is not a man in the kingdom who could, by any ingenuity, discover the whereabout of the far-famed Guatemala.
Lord Chesterfield once remarked that a thoroughly vulgar man could not speak the most common-place word, nor perform the most ordinary act, without imparting to the one and the other a portion of his own inborn vulgarity. And exactly so is it with the Yankees; not a question can arise, no matter how great its importance, nor how trivial its bearings, upon which, the moment they express an opinion, they do not completely invest with their own native coarseness, insolence, and vulgarity. The boundary question was made a matter of violent invective and ruffian abuse; the right of search was treated with the same powers of ribaldry towards England; and now we have these amiable and enlightened citizens defending the wholesale piracy of British authors, not on the plausible but unjust pretext of the benefit to be derived from an extended acquaintance with English literature; but, only conceive! because, if “English authors were invested with any control over the republication of their own books, it would be no longer possible for American editors to alter and adapt them as they do now to the American taste.” However incredible this may seem, the passage formed part of a document actually submitted to congress, and favourably received by that body. This is not the place for me to dwell on the unprincipled usurpation by which men who have contributed nothing to the production of a work, assume the power of reaping its benefits, and profiting by its success. The wholesale robbery of English authors has been of late well and ably exposed. The gifted and accomplished author of “Darnley” and “The Gipsy” has devoted his time and his talents to the subject; and although the world at large have few sympathies with the wrongs of those who live to please them, yet the day is not distant when the rights of a large and influential body, who stamp the age with the image of their own minds, can be no longer neglected, and the security of literary property must become at least as great as of mining scrip, or the shares in a railroad.
My present business is with the Yankee declaration, that English authors to be readable in America must be passed through the ordeal of re-writing. I scarcely think that the annals of impertinence and ignorance could equal this. What! is it seriously meant that Scott and Byron, Wordsworth, Southey, Rogers, Bulwer, James, Dickens, and a host of others, must be converted into the garbage of St. Giles, or the fœtid slang of Wapping, before they can pass muster before an American public? Must the book reek of “gin twist,” “cock tail,” and fifty other abominations, ere it reach an American drawing-room? Must the “bowie-knife and the whittling-stick” mark its pages; and the coarse jest of some tobacco-chewing, wild-cat-whipping penny-a-liner disfigure and sully the passages impressed with the glowing brilliancy of Scott, or the impetuous torrent of Byron’s genius? Is this a true picture of America? Is her reading public indeed degraded to this pass? I certainly have few sympathies with brother Jonathan. I like not his spirit of boastful insolence, his rude speech, or his uncultivated habits; but I confess I am unwilling to credit this. I hesitate to believe in such an amount of intellectual depravity as can turn from the cultivated writings of Scott and Bulwer to revel in the coarseness and vulgarity of a Yankee editor, vamping up his stolen wares with oaths from the far west, or vapid jests from life in the Prairies. Again, what shall I say of those who follow this traffic? Is it not enough to steal that which is not theirs, to possess themselves of what they have no right or claim to? Must they mangle the corpse when they have extinguished life? Must they, while they cheat the author of his gain, rob him also of his fair fame? “He who steals my purse steals trash,” but how shall I characterise that extent of baseness that dares to step in between an author and his reputation—inserting between him and posterity their own illiterate degeneracy and insufferable stupidity?
Would not the ghost of Sir Walter shudder in his grave at the thought of the fair creations of his mind—Jeanie Deans and Rebecca—Yankeefied into women of Long Island, or damsels from Connecticut? Is Childe Harold to be a Kentucky-man? and are the vivid pictures of life Bulwer’s novels abound in, to be converted into the prison-discipline school of manners, that prevail in New York and Boston, where, as Hamilton remarks, “the men are about as like gentlemen, as are our new police?” What should we say of the person who having stolen a Rembrandt or a Vandyke from its owner, would seek to legalise his theft by daubing over the picture with his own colours—obliterating every trace of the great master, and exulting that every stroke of his brush defaced some touch of genius, and that beneath the savage vandalism of his act, every lineament of the artist was obliterated? I ask you, would not mere robbery be a virtue beside such a deed as this? Who could compare the sinful promptings to which want and starvation give birth to, to the ruffian profligacy of such barbarity? And now, when I tell you, that not content with this, not satisfied to desecrate the work, the wretch goes a step farther and stabs its author—what shall I say of him now, who, when he had defaced the picture, marred every effect, distorted all drawing, and rendered the whole a chaotic mass of indistinguishable nonsense, goes forth to the world, and announces, “This is a Rembrandt, this is a Vandyke: ay, look at it and wonder: but with all its faults, and all its demerits, it is cried up above our native artists; it has got the seal of the old world’s approval upon it, and in vain we of younger origin shall dare to dissent from its judgments.” Now, once more, I say, can you show the equal of this moral turpitude? and such I pledge myself is the conduct of your transatlantic pirates with respect to British literature. Mr. Dickens, no mean authority, asserts that in the same sheet in which they boast the sale of many thousand copies of an English reprint, they coarsely attack the author of that very book, and heap scurrility and slander on his head.
Yes, such is the fact; not satisfied with robbery, they murder reputation also. And then we find them expatiating in most moving terms over the superiority of their own neglected genius!
very curious paper might be made by any one who, after an absence of some years from Ireland, should chronicle his new impressions of the country, and compare them with his old ones. The changes time works everywhere, even in a brief space, are remarkable, but particularly so in a land where everything is in a state of transition—where the violence with which all subjects are treated, the excited tone people are wont to assume on every topic, are continually producing their effects on society—dismembering old alliances—begetting new combinations. Such is the case with us here; and every year evidences by the strange anomalies it presents in politics, parties, public feeling, and private habits, how little chance there is for a prophet to make a character by his predictions regarding Ireland. He would, indeed, be a skilful chemist who would attempt the analysis of our complex nature; but far greater and more gifted must he be, who, from any consideration of the elements, would venture to pronounce on the probable results of their action and re-action, and declare what we shall be some twenty years hence.
Oh, for a good Irish “Rip van Winkle,” who would at least let us look on the two pictures—what we were, and what we are. He should be a Clare man—none others have the same shrewd insight into character, the same intuitive knowledge of life; none others detect, like them, the flaws and fractures in human nature. There may be more mathematical genius in Cork, and more classic lore in Kerry; there may be, I know there is, a more astute and patient pains-taking spirit of calculation in the northern counties; but for the man who is only to have one rapid glance at the game, and say how it fares—to throw a quick coup-d’œil on the board, and declare the winner, Clare for ever!
Were I a lawgiver, I would admit any attorney to practise who should produce sufficient evidence of his having served half the usual time of apprenticeship in Ennis. The Pontine marshes are not so prolific of fever, as the air of that country of ready-witted intelligence and smartness; and now, ere I return from my digression, let me solemnly declare, that, for the opinion here expressed, I have not received any money or moneys, nor do I expect to receive such, or any place, pension, or other reward, from Tom Steele or any one else concerned.
Well, we have not got this same western “Rip van Winkle,” nor do I think we are likely to do so, for this simple reason, that if he were a Clare man, he’d never have been caught “napping;” so, now, let us look about us and see if, on the very surface of events, we shall not find something to our purpose. But where to begin, that’s the question: no clue is left to the absentee of a few years by which to guide his path. He may look in vain even for the old landmarks which he remembered in boyhood; for somehow he finds them all in masquerade. The goodly King William he had left in all the effulgence of his Orange livery, is now a cross between a river-god and one of Dan’s footmen. Let him turn to the Mansion-house to revive his memory of the glorious hip, hip, hurra’s he has shouted in the exuberance of his loyalty, and straightway he comes plump against Lord Mayor O’Connell, proceeding in state to Marlborough-street chapel. He asks who are these plump gentlemen with light blue silk collars, and well-rounded calves, whose haughty bearing seems to awe the beholders, and he is told that he knew them of old, as wearing dusky black coats and leather shorts; pleasant fellows in those days, and well versed in punch and polemics. The hackney-coaches have been cut down into covered cars, and the “bulky” watchmen reduced to new police. Let him turn which way he will—let it be his pleasure to hear the popular preacher, the eloquent lawyer, or the scientific lecturer, and if his memory be only as accurate as his hearing, he will confess “time’s changes;” and when he learns who are deemed the fashionable entertainers of the day—at whose boards sit lords and baronets most frequently, he will exclaim with the poet—
Well, well, it’s bad philosophy, and bad temper, too, to quarrel with what is; nowhere is the wisdom of Providence more seen than in the universal law, by which everything has its place somewhere; the gnarled and bent sapling that would be rejected by the builder, is exactly the piece adapted for the knee timber of a frigate; the jagged, ill-formed rock that would ill suit the polished portico, is invaluable in a rustic arch; and, perhaps, on the same principle, dull lawyers make excellent judges, and the people who cannot speak within the limits of Lindley Murray, are admirable public writers and excellent critics; and as Doctor Pangloss was a good man “because he knew what wickedness was,” so nothing contributes to the detection of faults in others, like the daily practice of their commission by ourselves; and never can any man predict failure to another with such eloquence and impressiveness, as when he himself has experienced what it is to “be damned.”
Here I am in another digression, and sorry am I not to follow it out further; but for the present I must not—so now, to try back: I will suppose my absentee friend to have passed his “day in town,” amazed and surprised at the various changes about him; I will not bewilder him with any glance at our politics, nor puzzle him with that game of cross corners by which every one seems to have changed his place; nor attempt any explanation of the mysterious doctrine by which the party which affects the strongest attachment to the sovereign should exult in any defeat to her armies; nor how the supporters of the government contribute to its stability, by rabid attacks on its members, and absurd comparisons of their own fitness for affairs, with the heads of our best and wisest. These things he must have remembered long ago, and with respect to them, we are pretty much as we were; but I will introduce him to an evening party—a society where the élite of Dublin are assembled; where, amid the glare of wax lights, and the more brilliant blaze of beauty, our fairest women and most gifted and exalted men are met together for enjoyment. At first blush there will appear to him to have been no alteration nor change here. Even the very faces he will remember are the same he saw a dozen years ago: some pursy gentlemen with bald foreheads or grey whiskers who danced before, are now grown whisters; a few of the ladies, who then figured in the quadrille, have assumed the turban, and occupy an ottoman; the gay, laughing, light-hearted youth he formerly hobnobbed with at supper, is become a rising barrister, and has got up a look of learned pre-occupation, much more imposing to his sister than to Sir Edward Sugden; the wild, reckless collegeman, whose name was a talisman in the “Shades,” is now a soft-voiced young physician, vibrating in his imitation of the two great leaders in his art, and alternately assuming the “Epic or the Lake” school of physic. All this may amuse, but cannot amaze him: such is the natural current of events, and he ought to be prepared for it. The evening wears on, however; the frigid politeness and ceremonious distance which we have for some years back been borrowing from our neighbours, and which seem to suit our warmer natures pretty much as a suit of plate armour would a danseuse in a ballet—this begins to wear off, and melt away before the genial heat of Irish temperament; “the mirth and fun grow fast and furious;” and a new dance is called for. What, then, is the amazement, shall I say the horror, of our friend to hear the band strike up a tune which he only remembered as associated with everything base, low, and disgraceful; which, in the days of his “libertine youth,” he only heard at riotous carousals and roistering festivals; whose every bar is associated with words—ay, there’s the rub—which, in his maturer years, he blushes to have listened to! he stares about him in wonderment; for a moment he forgets that the young lady who dances with such evident enjoyment of the air, is ignorant of its history; he watches her sparkling eye and animated gesture, without remembering that she knows nothing of the associations at which her partner is, perhaps, smirking; he sees her vis-à-vis exchanging looks with his friend, that denote their estimation of the music; and in very truth, so puzzled is he, he begins to distrust his senses. The air ceases, and is succeeded by another no less known, no less steeped in the same class of associations, and so to the conclusion. These remembrances of past wickedness go on “crescendo,” till the finale caps the whole with a melody, to which even the restraints of society are scarcely able to prevent a humming accompaniment of concurring voices, and—these are the Irish Quadrilles! What can account for this? What special pleading will find an argument in its favour? When Wesley objected to all the good music being given to the devil, he only excused his adoption of certain airs which, in their popular form, had never been connected with religious words and feelings; and in his selection of them, was rigidly mindful to take such only as in their character became easily convertible to his purpose: he never enlisted those to which, by an unhappy destiny, vulgarising and indelicate associations have been so connected as to become inseparably identified; and although the object is widely different, I cannot see how, for the purposes of social enjoyment, we should have diverged from his example. If we wished a set of Irish quadrilles, how many good and suitable airs had we not ready at our hands? Is not our national music proverbially rich, and in the very character of music that would suit us? Are there not airs in hundreds, whose very names are linked with pleasing and poetic memories, admirably adapted to the purpose? Why commit the choice, as in this case, to a foreigner who knew nothing of them, nor of us? And why permit him to introduce into our drawing-rooms, through the means of a quadrille band, a class of reminiscences which suggest levity in young men, and shame in old ones? No, no; if the Irish quadrilles are to be fashionable, let it be in those classic precincts where their merits are best appreciated, and let Monsieur Jullien’s popularity be great in Barrack-street!
From Carrickfergus to Cape Clear, the whole island is on the “qui vive” as to whether her gracious majesty the queen will vouchsafe to visit us in the ensuing summer. The hospitable and magnificent reception which awaited her in Scotland has given a more than ordinary impulse to every plan by which we might evince our loyalty, and exhibit ourselves to our sovereign in a point of view not less favourable than our worthy neighbours across the sea.
At first blush, nothing would seem more easy to accomplish than this. A very cursory glance at Mr. O’Connell’s speeches will convince any one that a land more favourably endowed by nature, or blessed with a finer peasantry, never existed: with features of picturesque beauty dividing the attention of the traveller, with the fertility of the soil; and, in fact, presenting such a panorama of loveliness, peace, plenty, and tranquillity, that a very natural doubt might occur to Sir Robert Peel’s mind in recommending this excursion to her majesty, lest the charms of such an Arcadia should supersede the more homely attractions of England, and “our ladye the queene” preferring the lodge in the Phœnix to the ancient towers of Windsor, fix her residence amongst us, and thus at once repeal the Union.
It were difficult to say if some vision of this kind did not float across the exalted imagination of the illustrious Daniel, amid that shower of fortune’s favours such a visit would inevitably bring down—baronetcies, knighthood, deputy-lieutenancies would rain upon the land, and a general epidemic of feasting and festivity raise every heart in the island, and nearly break Father Mathew’s.
If the Scotch be warm in their attachment, our affections stand at a white heat; if they be enthusiastic, we can go clean mad; and for that one bepraised individual who boasted he would never wash the hand which had the honour to touch that of the queen, we could produce a round ten thousand whose loyalty, looking both ways, would enable them, under such circumstances, to claim superiority, as they had never washed theirs since the hour of their birth.
Notwithstanding all these elements of hospitality, a more mature consideration of the question would show how very difficult it would be to compete successfully with the visit to Scotland. Clanship, the remains of feudalism, and historical associations, whose dark colours have been brought out into glowing brightness under the magic pencil of Scott—national costume and national customs—the wild sports of the wilder regions—all conspired to give a peculiar interest to this royal progress; and from the lordly Baron of Breadalbane to the kilted Highlander upon the hills, there was something of ancient splendour and by-gone homeliness mixed up together that may well have evoked the exclamation of our queen, who, standing on the terrace at Drummond, and gazing on the scene below her, uttered—“How grand!”
Now, unfortunately in many, if not in all these advantages, we have no participation. Clanship is unknown amongst us,—only one Irishman has a tail, and even that is as ragged an appendage as need be. Our national costume is nakedness; and of our national customs, we may answer as the sailor did, who, being asked what he had to say in his defence against a charge of stealing a quadrant, sagely replied—“Your worship, it’s a damn’d ugly business, and the less that’s said about it the better.”
Two doubts press upon us—who is to receive her Majesty; and how are they to do it? They who have large houses generally happen to have small fortunes, and among the few who have adequate means, there is scarcely one who could accommodate one half of the royal suite. In Scotland, everything worthy of being seen lies in a ring-fence. The Highlands comprise all that is remarkable in the country; and thus the tour of them presents a quick succession of picturesque beauty without the interval of even half a day’s journey devoid of interest. Now, how many weary miles must her Majesty travel in Ireland from one remarkable spot to another—what scenes of misery and want must she wade through from the south to the west. Would any charms of scenery—would any warmth of hospitality—repay her for the anguish such misery must inflict upon her, as her eye would range over the wild tract of country where want and disease seem to have fixed their dwelling, and where the only edifice that rises above the mud-cabin of the way-side presents the red brick front of a union poor-house? These, however, are sad topics—what are we to do with the Prince? His Royal Highness loves sporting: we have scarcely a pheasant—we have not one capercailzie in the island; but then we have our national pastimes. If we cannot turn out a stag to amuse him, why we can enlarge a tithe-proctor; and, instead of coming home proud that he has bagged a roe, he shall exult in having brought down a rector. How poor and insignificant would any battue be in comparison with a good midnight burning—how contemptible the pursuit of rabbits and hares, when compared with a “tithe affray,” or the last collision with the military in Tipperary. I have said that the Scotch have a national costume; but if semi-nakedness be a charm in them, what shall be said of us, who go the “whole hog?” The details of their ancient dress—their tartan, their kilt, their philabeg, that offered so much interest to the royal suite—how shall they vie with the million-coloured patches of an Irishman’s garment? or what bonnet that ever flaunted in the breeze is fit to compare with the easy jauntiness of Paddy’s caubeen, through which, in lieu of a feather, a lock of his hair is floating?
Then, again, how will the watch-fires that blazed upon the mountains pale before the glare of a burning haggard; and what cheer that ever rose from Highland throats will vie with the wild yell of ten thousand Black-feet on the march of a midnight marauding? No, no; it is quite clear the Scotch have no chance with us. Her Majesty may not have all her expectations fulfilled by a visit to Ireland; but most assuredly a “touch of our quality” will show her many things no near country could present, and the probability is, she will neither have time nor leisure for a trip to New Zealand.
Everything that indicates nationality will then have its reward. Grave dignitaries of the Church will practise the bagpipes, and prothonotaries will refresh their jig-dancing; whatever is Irish, will be la vogue; and, instead of reading that her Majesty wore a shawl of the Gordon tartan, manufactured at Paisley, we shall find that the Queen appeared in a novel pattern of rags, devised at Mud Island; while his Royal Highness will compliment the mildness of our climate by adopting our national dress. What a day for Ireland that will be!—we shall indeed be “great, glorious, and free;” and if the evening only concludes with the Irish Quadrilles, I have little doubt that her Majesty will repeat her exclamation of “How grand!” as she beholds the members of the royal suite moving gracefully to the air of “Stonybatter.”
Let us, then, begin in time. Let there be an order of council to preserve all the parsons, agents, tithe-proctors, and landlords till June; let there be no more shooting in Tipperary for the rest of the season; let us “burke” Father Mathew, and endeavour to make our heads for the approaching festivities; and what between the new poor-law and the tariff, I think we shall be by that time in as picturesque a state of poverty as the most critical stickler for nationality would desire.
By no one circumstance in our social condition is a foreigner more struck than by the fact that there is not a want, an ailing, an incapacity for which British philanthropy has not supplied its remedy of some sort or other. A very cursory glance at the advertising columns of the Times will be all-sufficient to establish this assertion. Mental and bodily infirmities, pecuniary difficulties, family afflictions, natural defects, have all their separate corps of comforters; and there is no suffering condition in life that has not a benevolent paragraph specially addressed to its consolation. To the “afflicted with gout;” to “all with corns and bunions;” to “the friends of a nervous invalid”—who is, by the bye, invariably a vicious madman; to “the childless;” to “those about to marry.” Such are the headings of various little crumbs of comfort by which the active philanthropy of England sustains its reputation, and fills its pocket. From tooth-powder to tea-trays—from spring-mattrasses to fictitious mineral waters—from French blacking to the Widow Welch’s Pills—all have their separate votaries; and it would be difficult to conceive any real or imaginary want unsupplied in this prolific age of contrivance.
A gentleman might descend from the moon, like our clever friend, “The Commissioner,” and, by a little attention to these plausible paragraphs, become as thoroughly John Bull in all his habits and observances as though he were born within St. Pancras. “A widow lady with two daughters would take a gentleman to board, where all the advantages and comforts of a private family might be found, within ten minutes’ walk from Greenwich. Unexceptionable references will be given and expected on either side.” Here, without a moment’s delay, he might be domiciled in an English family; here he might retire from all the cares and troubles of life, enjoying the tranquil pleasures of the widow’s society, with no other risk or danger, save that of falling in love with one or both of the fair daughters, who have “a taste for music,” and “speak French.”
It is said that few countries offer less resources to the stranger than England; which I stoutly deny, and assert that no land has set up so many sign-posts by which to guide the traveller—so many directions by which to advise his course. With us there is no risk of doing anything inappropriate, or incompatible with your station, if you will only suffer yourself to be borne along on the current. Your tailor knows not only the precise shade of colour which suits your complexion, but, as if by intuition, he divines the exact cut that suits your condition in life. Your coachmaker, in the same way, augurs from the tone of your voice, and the contour of your features, the shade of colour for your carriage; and should you, by any misfortune, happen to be knighted, the Herald’s-office deduce, from the very consonants of your name, the quantum of emblazonry they can bestow on you, and from how far back among the burglars and highwaymen of antiquity they can venture to trace you. Should you, however, still more unfortunately, through any ignorance of etiquette, or any inattention to those minor forms of breeding with which every native is conversant, offer umbrage, however slight and unintentional, to those dread functionaries, the “new police;” were you by chance to gaze longer into a jeweller’s window than is deemed decorous; were you to fall into any reverie which should induce you to slacken your pace, perchance to hum a tune, and thus be brought before the awful “Sir Peter,” charged by “G 743” with having impeded the passengers—collected a crowd—being of suspicious appearance, and having refused “to tell who your friends were”—the odds are strongly against you that you perform a hornpipe upon the treadmill, or be employed in that very elegant chemical analysis, which consists in the extraction of magnesia from oyster-shells.
Now, let any man consider for a moment what a large, interesting, and annually-increasing portion of our population there is, who, from certain peculiarities attending their early condition, have never been blessed with relatives or kindred—who, having no available father and mother, have consequently no uncles, aunts, or cousins, nor any good friends. Here the law presses with a fearful severity upon the suffering and the afflicted, not upon the guilty and offending. The state has provided no possible contingencies by which such persons are to escape. A man can no more create a paternity than he can make a new planet. I have already said that with wealth at his disposal, ancestry and forefathers are easily procured. He can have them of any age, of any country, of any condition in life—churchmen or laymen—dignitaries of the law or violators of it;—’tis all one, they are made to order. But let him be in ever such urgent want of a near relative; let it be a kind and affectionate father, an attached and doting mother, that he stands in need of—he may study The Times and The Herald—he may read The Chronicle and The Globe, in vain! No benevolent society has directed its philanthropy in this channel; and not even a cross-grained uncle or a penurious aunt can be had for love or money.
Now this subject presents itself in two distinct views—one as regards its humanity, the other its expediency. As the latter, in the year of our Lord, 1844, would seem to offer a stronger claim on our attention, let us examine it first. Consider them how you will, these people form the most dangerous class of our population—these are the “waifs and strays” of mankind. Like snags and sawyers in the Mississippi, having no voyage to perform in life, their whole aim and destiny seems to be the shipwreck of others. With one end embedded in the mud of uncertain parentage, with the other they keep bobbing above the waves of life; but let them rise ever so high, they feel they cannot be extricated.
If rich, their happiness is crossed by their sense of isolation; for them there are no plum-pudding festivals at Christmas, no family goose-devourings at Michaelmas. They have none of those hundred little ties and torments which weary and diversify life. They have acres, but they have no uncles—they have gardens and graperies, but they cannot raise a grandfather—they may have a future, but they have scarcely a present; and they have no past.
Should they be poor, their solitary state suggests recklessness and vice. It is the restraint of early years that begets submission to the law later on, and he who has not learned the lesson of obedience when a child, is not an apt scholar when he becomes a man. This, however, is a part of the moral and humane consideration of the question, and like most other humane considerations, involves expense. With that we have nothing to do; our present business is with the rich; for their comfort and convenience our hint is intended, and our object to supply, on the shortest notice, and the most reasonable terms, such relatives of either sex as the applicant shall stand in need of.
Let there be, therefore, established a new joint stock company to be called the “Grand United Ancestral, Kindred, and Blood Relation Society”—capital any number of pounds sterling. Actuaries—Messrs. Oliver Twist and Jacob Faithful.
Only think of the benefits of such a company! Reflect upon the numbers who leave their homes every morning without parentage, and who might now possess any amount of relatives they desire before night. Every one knows that a respectable livelihood is made by a set of persons whose occupation it is to become bails at the different police offices, for any class of offence, and to any amount. They exercise their calling somewhat like bill-brokers, taking special pains always to secure themselves against loss, and make a trifle of money, while displaying an unbounded philanthropy. Here then is a class of persons most appropriate for our purpose: fathers, uncles, first cousins, even grandfathers, might be made out of these at a moment’s notice. What affecting scenes, too, might be got up at Bow-street, under such circumstances, of penitent sons, and pardoning parents, of unforgiving uncles and imploring nephews. How would the eloquence of the worshipful bench revel, on such occasions, for its display. What admonitions would it not pour forth, what warnings, what commiseration, and what condolings. Then what a satisfaction to the culprit to know that all these things were managed by a respectable company, who were “responsible in every case for the good conduct of its servants.” No extortion permitted—no bribery allowed; a regular rate of charges being printed, which every individual was bound, like a cab-man, to show if required.
So much for a father, if respectable; so much more, if professional; or in private life, increased premium. An angry parent, we’ll say two and sixpence; sorrowful, three shillings; “deeply afflicted and bound to weep,” five shillings.
A widowed mother, in good weeds, one and sixpence; do, do, in a cab, half a crown; and so on.
How many are there besides who, not actually in the condition we speak of, would be delighted to avail themselves of the benefits of this institution. How many moving in the society of the west end, with a father a tobacconist or a cheesemonger in the city, would gladly pay well for a fashionable parent supposed to live upon his estate in Yorkshire, or entertaining, as the Morning Post has it, a “distinguished party at his shooting lodge in the Highlands.” What a luxury, when dining his friends at the Clarendon, to be able to talk of his “Old Governor” hunting his hounds twice a week, while, at the same moment, the real individual was engaged in the manufacture of soap and short sixes. What happiness to recommend the game-pie, when the grouse was sent by his Uncle, while he felt that the only individual who stood in that capacity respecting him, had three gilt balls over his door, and was more conversant with duplicates than double barrels.
But why pursue a theme whose benefits are self-evident, and come home to every bosom in the vast community. It is one of “the wants of our age,” and we hope ere long to see the “fathers” as much respected in Clerkenwell or College-street, as ever they were in Clongowes or Maynooth.
This is the age of political economists and their nostrums. Every newspaper teems with projects for the amelioration of our working classes, and the land is full of farming societies, temperance unions, and a hundred other Peter Purcellisms, to improve its social condition; the charge to make us
remaining with that estimable and irreproachable individual who tumbles in Lower Abbey-street.
The Frenchman’s horse would, it is said, have inevitably finished his education, and accomplished the faculty of existing without food, had he only survived another twenty-four hours. Now, the condition of Ireland is not very dissimilar, and I only hope that we may have sufficient tenacity of life to outlive the numerous schemes for our prosperity and advancement.
Nothing, indeed, can be more singular than the manner of every endeavour to benefit his country. We are poor—every man of us is only struggling; therefore, we are recommended to build expensive poorhouses, and fill them with some of ourselves. We have scarcely wherewithal to meet the ordinary demands of life, and straightway are told to subscribe to various new societies—repeal funds—agricultural clubs—O’Connell tributes—and Mathew testimonials. This, to any short-sighted person, might appear a very novel mode of filling our own pockets. There are one-idea’d people in the world, who can only take up the impression which, at first blush, any subject suggests; they, I say, might fancy that a continued system of donation, unattended by anything like receipt, is not exactly the surest element of individual prosperity. I hope to be able to controvert this plausible, but shallow theory, and to show—and what a happy thing it is for us—to show that, not only is our poverty the source of our greatest prosperity, but that if by any accident we should become rich, we must inevitably be ruined; and to begin—
Absenteeism is agreed on all hands to be the bane of Ireland. No one, whatever be his party prejudices, will venture to deny this. The high-principled and well-informed country gentleman professes this opinion in common with the illiterate and rabid follower of O’Connell; I need not, therefore, insist further on a proposition so universally acknowledged. To proceed—of all people, none are so naturally absentees as the Irish; in fact, it would seem that one great feature of our patriotism consists in the desire to display, in other lands, the ardent attachment we bear our own. How can we tell Frenchmen, Italians, Germans, Russians, Swedes, and Swiss, how devoted we are to the country of our birth, if we do not go abroad to do so? How can we shed tears as exiles, unless we become so? How can we rail about the wrongs of Ireland and English tyranny, if we do not go among people, who, being perfectly ignorant of both, may chance to believe us? These are the patriotic arguments for absenteeism; then come others, which may be classed under the head of “expediency reasons,” such as debts, duns, outlawries, &c. Thirdly, the temptations of the Continent, which, to a certain class of our countrymen, are of the very strongest description—Corn Exchange politics, vulgar associates, an air of bully, and a voice of brogue, will not form such obstacles to success in Paris, as in Dublin. A man can scarcely introduce an Irish provincialism into his French, and he would be a clever fellow who could accomplish a bull under a twelvemonth. These, then, form the social reasons; and from a short revision of all three, it will be seen that they include a very large proportion of the land—Mr. O’Connell talks of them as seven millions.
It being now proved, I hope, to my reader’s satisfaction, that the bent of an Irishman is to go abroad, let us briefly inquire, what is it that ever prevents him so doing? The answer is an easy one. When Paddy was told by his priest that whenever he went into a public-house to drink, his guardian angel stood weeping at the door, his ready reply was, “that if he had a tester he’d have been in too;” so it is exactly with absenteeism; it is only poverty that checks it. The man with five pounds in his pocket starts to spend it in England; make it ten, and he goes to Paris; fifteen, and he’s up the Rhine; twenty, and Constantinople is not far enough for him! Whereas, if the sum of his wealth had been a matter of shillings, he’d have been satisfied with a trip to Kingstown, a chop at Jude’s, a place in the pit, and a penny to the repeal fund; all of which would redound to his patriotism, and the “prosperity of Ireland.”
The same line of argument applies to every feature of expense. If we patronise “Irish manufacture,” it is because we cannot afford English. If we like Dublin society, it is upon the same principle; and, in fact, the cheap pleasures of home, form the sheet-anchor of our patriotism, and we are only “guardian angels,” because “we haven’t a tester.”
Away then with any flimsy endeavours to introduce English capital or Scotch industry. Let us persevere in our present habits of mutual dislike, attack, and recrimination; let us interfere with the projects of English civilisation, and forward, by every means in our power, the enlightened doctrines of popery, and the patriotic pastime of parson-shooting, for even in sporting we dispense with a “game license;” let no influx of wealth offer to us the seduction of quitting home, and never let us feel with our national poet that “Ireland is a beautiful country to live out of.”
od help me but I have always looked upon a “grand duke” pretty much in the same light that I have regarded the “Great Lama,” that is to say, a very singular and curious object of worship in its native country. How any thing totally destitute of sovereign attributes could ever be an idol, either for religious or political adoration, is somewhat singular, and after much pains and reflections on the subject, I came to the opinion, that German princes were valued by their subjects pretty much on the principle the Indians select their idols, and knowing men admire thorough-bred Scotch terriers—viz., not their beauty.
Of all the cant this most canting age abounds in, nothing is more repulsive and disgusting than the absurd laudation which travellers pour forth concerning these people, by the very ludicrous blunder of comparing a foreign aristocracy with our own. Now, what is a German grand duke? Picture to yourself a very corpulent, moustached, and befrogged individual, who has a territory about the size of the Phœnix Park, and a city as big and as flourishing as the Blackrock; the expenses of his civil list are defrayed by a chalybeate spring, and the budget of his army by the license of a gambling-house, and then read the following passage from “Howitt’s Life in Germany,” which, with that admirable appreciation of excellence so eminently their characteristic, the newspapers have been copying this week past—
“You may sometimes see a grand duke come into a country inn, call for his glass of ale, drink it, pay for it, and go away as unceremoniously as yourself. The consequence of this easy familiarity is, that princes are everywhere popular, and the daily occurrence of their presence amongst the people, prevents that absurd crush and stare at them, which prevails in more luxurious and exclusive countries.”
That princes do go into country inns, call for ale, and drink it, I firmly believe; a circumstance, however, which I put the less value upon, inasmuch as the inn is pretty much like the prince’s own house, the ale very like what he has at home, and the innkeeper as near as possible, in breeding, manner, and appearance, his equal. That he pays for the drink, which our author takes pains to mention, excites all my admiration; but I confess I have no words to express my pleasure on reading that “he goes away again,” and, as Mr. Howitt has it, “as unceremoniously as yourself,” neither stopping to crack the landlord’s crown, smash the pewter, break the till, nor even put a star in the looking-glass over the fire-place, a condescension on his part which leads to the fact, that “princes are everywhere popular.”
Now, considering that Mr. Howitt is a Quaker, it is somewhat remarkable the high estimate he entertains of this “grand ducal” forbearance. What he expected his highness to have done when he had finished his drink, I am as much at a loss to conjecture, as what trait we are called upon to admire in the entire circumstance; when the German prince went into the inn, and knocking three times with a copper kreutzer on the counter, called for his choppin of beer, he was exactly acting up to the ordinary habits of his station, as when the Duke of Northumberland, on his arriving with four carriages at the “Clarendon,” occupied a complete suite of apartments, and partook of a most sumptuous dinner. Neither more nor less. His Grace of Alnwick might as well be lauded for his ducal urbanity as the German prince for his, each was fulfilling his destiny in his own way, and there was not anything a whit more worthy of admiration in the one case, than in the other.
But three hundred pounds per annum, even in a cheap country, afford few luxuries; and if the Germans are indifferent to cholic, there might be, after all, something praiseworthy in the beer-drinking, and here I leave it.
hen the East India Directors recalled Lord Ellenborough, and replaced him by Sir Henry Harding, the impression upon the public mind was, as was natural it should be, that the course of policy adopted by the former, was such as met not their approval, and should not be persisted in by his successor.
To supersede one man by another, that he might perform the very same acts in the same way, would be something too ludicrous and absurd. When John Bull chassées the Tories, and takes to the Whigs, it is because he has had enough of Peel, and wants to try a stage with Lord John, who handles the ribbons differently, and drives another sort of a team; a piebald set of screws they are, to be sure, but they can go the pace when they are at it; and, as the road generally lies downhill, they get along right merrily. But John would never think of a change, if the pace were to be always the same. No; he’d just put up with the set he had, and take his chance. Not so your India Directors. They are quite satisfied with everything; all is right, orderly, and proper; but still they would rather that another man were at the head of affairs, to do exactly what had been done before. “What are you doing, Peter?”—“Nothing, sir.” “And you, Jem, what are you about?”—“Helping Peter, sir.” That is precisely the case, and Sir Henry is gone out to help Lord Ellenborough.
Such a line of proceeding is doubtless singular enough, and many sensible people there are, who cannot comprehend the object and intention of the wise Directors; while, by the press, severe imputations have been thrown upon their consistency and intelligence, and some have gone so far as to call their conduct unparalleled.
This, however, is unjust. The Old Almanack, as Lord Brougham would call it, has registered a not inapplicable precedent; and, in the anxious hope of being remembered by the “Old Lady,” I hasten to mention it:—
When Louis XIV. grew tired of Madame la Vallière, and desired to replace her by another in his favour, he committed the difficult task of explanation on the subject, to his faithful friend and confessor, Bossuet. The worthy Bishop undertook his delicate mission with diffidence; but he executed it with tact. The gentle La Vallière wept bitterly; she knew nothing of the misfortune that menaced her. She believed that her star still stood in the ascendant, and fancied (like Lord Ellenborough) that her blandishments were never more acknowledged. “Whence, then, this change?” cried she, in the agony of her grief. “How have I offended him?”
“You mistake me, my daughter,” said Mons. de Méaux. “His Majesty is most tenderly attached to you; but religious scruples—qualms of conscience—have come upon him. ‘C’est par la peur du diable,’ that he consents to this separation.”
Poor Louise dried her tears; the case was bad enough, but there was one consolation—it was religion, and not a rival, had cost her a lover; and so she began her preparations for departure with a heart somewhat less heavy. On the day, however, of her leave-taking, a carriage, splashed and travel-stained, arrived at the “petite porte” of the Palace; and as instantaneously ran the rumour through the household that his Majesty’s new mistress had arrived: and true it was, Madame de Maintenon had taken her place beside the fauteuil of the King.
“So, Mons. de Bossuet,” said La Vallière, as he handed her to her carriage—“so, then, his Majesty has exiled me, ‘par la peur du diable.’”
The Bishop bowed in tacit submission and acquiescence.
“In that case,” resumed she, “c’est par complaisance au diable, that he accepts Madame de Maintenon.”
Sir Robert Peel was never more triumphant than when, in the last session of Parliament, he rebuked his followers for a casual defection in the support of Government, by asking them what they had to complain of. Are we not on the Treasury benches? said the Right Honourable Baronet. Do not my friend Graham and myself guide and direct you?—do we not distribute the patronage and the honours of the government,—take the pay—and rule the kingdom—what more would you have? Ungrateful bucolics, you know not what you want! The apostrophe was bold, but not original. I remember hearing of a West country farmer having ridden a long day’s journey on a poor, ill-fed hack, which, as evening drew near, showed many symptoms of a fatal knock-up. The rider himself was well tired, too, and stopped at an ale-house for a moment’s refreshment, while he left the jaded beast standing at the door. As he remounted his saddle, a few minutes after, he seized his reins briskly, flourished his whip (both like Sir Robert), and exclaimed:—“I’ve had two glasses of spirits.—Let us see if you won’t go after that.”
Among the many singular objections which have been made to the new property tax, I find Mr. C. Buller stating in the House, that his greatest dislike to the project lay in the exceedingly small amount of the impost.
might have been the text of the honourable and learned gentleman’s oration. After setting forth most eloquently the varied distresses of the country—its accumulating debt and heavy taxation—he turns the whole weight of his honest indignation against the new imposition, because, forsooth, it is so “little burdensome, and will inflict so slight an additional load upon the tax-payer.” There is an attempt at argument, however, on the subject, which is somewhat amusing; for he continues not only to lament the smallness of the new tax, but the “slight necessity that exists” even for that. Had we some great national loss to make up, the deficiency of which rendered a call on the united people necessary, then, quoth he, how happily we should stand forward in support of the Constitution. In fact, he deplores, in the most moving terms, that ill off as the country is, yet it is not one-half so bad as it might be, or as he should like to see it. Ah! had we only some disastrous Continental war, devastating our commerce—ruining our Colonies, and eating into the very heart of our national resources—how gladly I should pay this Income Tax; but to remedy a curable evil—to restore, by prompt and energetic measures, the growing disease of the State—is a poor, pettifogging practice, that has neither heroism nor fame to recommend it. I remember hearing that at one of those excellent institutions, so appropriately denominated Magdalen Asylums, a poor, but innocent girl, presented herself for admission, pleading her lonely and deserted condition, as a plea for her reception. The patroness, an amiable and excellent person—but somewhat of the complexion of the honourable and learned Member for Liskeard—asked at once, whether she had resolved on a total reformation of her mode of life. The other replied, that her habits had been always chaste and virtuous, and that her character had been invariably above reproach. “Ah, in that case,” rejoined the lady, “we can’t admit you; this institution is expressly for the reception of penitents. If you could only qualify for a week or so, there is no objection to your admission.”
Is not this exactly Mr. Buller’s proposition? “Let us have the Whigs back for a few years longer; let us return to our admirable foreign policy; and when we have successfully embroiled ourselves with America, lost Canada, been beaten in China, driven out of our Eastern possessions, and provoked a war with France, then I’m your man for an Income Tax; lay it on only heavily; let the nation, already bowed down under the heavy burden of its calamities, receive in addition the gracious boon of enormous taxation.” Homœopathy teaches us that nothing is so curative in its agency, as the very cause of our present suffering, or something as analogous to it as possible; and, like Hahnemann, Mr. Buller administers what the vulgar call “a hair of the dog that bit us,” as the most sovereign remedy for all our evils.
The country is like a sick man with a whitlow, for the cure of which his physician prescribes a slight, but clearly necessary, operation. Another medical Dr. Buller is, however, standing by. He at once insinuates his veto; remarks upon the trivial nature of the disease—the unpainful character of the remedy; “but wait,” adds he—“wait till the inflammation extends higher; have patience till the hand becomes swollen and the arm affected; and then, when your agony is beyond endurance, and your life endangered, then we’ll amputate the limb high up, and mayhap you may recover, after all.”
As for me, it is the only occasion I’m aware of, where a successful comparison can be instituted between honour and the Whigs; for assuredly neither have “any skill in surgery.”
very one knows that men in masses, whether the same be called boards, committees, aggregate, or repeal meetings, will be capable of atrocities and iniquities, to which, as individuals, their natures would be firmly repugnant. The irresponsibility of a number is felt by every member, and Curran was not far wrong when he said, a “corporation was a thing that had neither a body to be kicked, nor a soul to be damned.”
It is, indeed, a melancholy fact, that nations partake much more frequently of the bad than the good features of the individuals composing them, and it requires no small amount of virtue to flavour the great caldron of a people, and make its incense rise gratefully to heaven. For this reason, we are ever ready to accept with enthusiasm anything like a national tribute to high principle and honour. Such glorious bursts are a source of pride to human nature itself, and we hail with acclamation these evidences of exalted feeling, which make men “come nearer to the gods.” The greater the sacrifice to selfish interests and prejudices, the more do we prize the effort. Think for a moment what a sensation of surprise and admiration, wonderment, awe, and approbation it would excite throughout Europe, if, by the next arrival from Boston, came the news that “the Americans had determined to pay their debts!” That at some great congress of the States, resolutions were carried to the effect, “that roguery and cheating will occasionally lower a people in the estimation of others, and that the indulgences of such national practices may be, in the end, prejudicial to national honour;” “that honesty, if not the best, may be good policy, even in a go-a-head state of society;” “that smart men, however a source of well-founded pride to a people, are now and then inconvenient from the very excess of their smartness;” “that seeing these things, and feeling all the unhappy results which mistrust and suspicion by foreign countries must bring upon their commerce, they have determined to pay something in the pound, and go a-head once more.” I am sure that such an announcement would be hailed with illuminations from Hamburg to Leghorn. American citizens would be cheered wherever they were found; pumpkin pie would figure at royal tables, and twist and cocktail be handed round with the coffee; our exquisites would take to chewing and its consequences; and our belles, banishing Rossini and Donizetti, would make the air vocal with the sweet sounds of Yankee Doodle. One cannot at a moment contemplate what excesses our enthusiasm might not carry us to; and I should not wonder in the least if some great publisher of respectable standing might not start a pirated reprint of the New York Herald.
Let me now go back and explain, if my excitement will permit me, how I have been led into such extravagant imaginings. I have already remarked, that nations seldom gave evidence of noble bursts of feeling; still more rarely, I regret to say, do they evince any sorrow for past misconduct—any penitence for by-gone evil.
This would be, indeed, the severest ordeal of a people’s greatness; this, the brightest evidence of national purity. Happy am I to say such an instance is before us; proud am I to be the man to direct public attention to the fact. The following paragraph I copy verbatim from the Times.
“On the 18th of June, the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, a black flag was hoisted by the Belgians at the top of the monument erected on the field where the battle was fought.”
A black flag, the emblem of mourning, the device of sorrow and regret, waves over the field of Waterloo! Not placed there by vanquished France, whose legions fought with all their chivalry; not hoisted by the proud Gaul, on the plain where, in defeat, he bit the dust; but in penitence of heart, in deep sorrow and contrition, by the Belgians who ran—by the people who fled—by the soldiers who broke their ranks and escaped in terror.
What a noble self-abasement is this; how beautifully touching such an instance of a people’s sorrow, and how affecting to think, that while in the halls of Apsley House the heroes were met together to commemorate the glorious day when they so nobly sustained their country’s honour, another nation should be in sackcloth and ashes, in all the trappings of woe, mourning over the era of their shame, and sorrowing over their degradation. Oh, if a great people in all the majesty of their power, in all their might of intellect, strength, and riches, be an object of solemn awe and wonder, what shall we say of one whose virtues partake of the humble features of every-day life, whose sacrifice is the tearful offering of their own regrets?
Mr. O’Connell may declaim, and pronounce his eight millions the finest peasantry in the world—he may extol their virtues from Cork to Carrickfergus—he may ring the changes over their loyalty, their bravery, and their patriotism; but when eulogising the men who assure him “they are ready to die for their country,” let him blush to think of the people who can “cry” for theirs.
The bane and antidote of England is her immense manufacturing power—the faculty that enables her to inundate the whole habitable globe with the products of her industry, is at once the source of her prosperity and poverty—her millionnaire mill-owners and her impoverished thousands. Never was the skill of machinery pushed to the same wonderful extent—never the results of mechanical invention so astoundingly developed. Men are but the presiding genii over the wonder-working slaves of their creative powers, and the child, is the volition that gives impulse to the giant force of a mighty engine. Subdivision of labour, carried to an extent almost incredible, has facilitated despatch, and induced a higher degree of excellence in every branch of mechanism—human ingenuity is racked, chemical analysis investigated, mathematical research explored—and all, that Mr. Binns, of Birmingham, may make thirteen minikin pins—while Mr. Sims, of Stockport, has been making but twelve. Let him but succeed in this, and straightway his income is quadrupled—his eldest son is member for a manufacturing borough, his second is a cornet in the Life Guards—his daughter, with a fortune of one hundred thousand pounds, is married to the heir of a marquisate—and his wife, soaring above the murky atmosphere of the factory, breathes the purer air of western London, and advertises her soirées in the Morning Post. The pursuit of wealth is now the grand characteristic of our age and country; and the headlong race of money-getting seems the great feature of the day. To this end the thundering steamer ploughs the white-crested wave of the broad Atlantic—to this end the clattering locomotive darts through the air at sixty miles the hour—for this, the thousand hammers of the foundry, the ten thousand wheels of the factory are at work—and man, toiling like a galley-slave, scarce takes time to breathe in his mad career, as with straining eyeballs and outstretched hands, he follows in the pursuit of lucre.
Now, men are imitative creatures; and strange enough, too, they are oftentimes disposed from the indulgence of the faculty to copy things, and adapt them to purposes very foreign to their original destination. This manufacturing speed, this steeple-chase of printed calico and Paisley wear, is all very well while it is limited to the districts where it began. That two hundred and seventy thousand white cotton night-caps, with a blue tassel on every one of them, can be made in twenty-four hours at Messrs. Twist and Tredlem’s factory, is a very gratifying fact, particularly to all who indulge in ornamental head-gear—but we see no reason for carrying this dispatch into the Court of Chancery, and insisting that every nod of the woolsack is to decide a suit at law. Yet have the lawyer and the physician both adopted the impetuous practices of the manufacturing world, and Haste, red haste! is now the cry.
Lord Brougham’s Chancery practice was only to be equalled by one of Lord Waterford’s steeple-chases. He took all before him in a fly—he rode straight, plenty of neck, baulked nothing—up leap or down leap, sunk fence or double ditch, post and rail, or quickset, stone wall, or clay bank, all one to him—go it he would. Others might deny his judgment; he wanted to get over the ground, and that he did do.
The West-end physician, in the same way, visits his fifty patients daily, walks his hospital, delivers a lecture to old ladies about some “curious provision” of nature in the palm of the human hand (for fee-taking); and devoting something like three minutes and twelve seconds to each sick man’s case, pockets some twenty thousand per annum by his dispatch.
Speed is now the El Dorado. Jelly is advertised to be made in a minute, butter in five, soup seasoned and salted in three seconds of time. Even the Quakers—bless their quiet hearts!—couldn’t escape the contagion, and actually began to walk and talk with some faint resemblance to ordinary mortals. The church alone maintained the even tenor of its way, and moved not in the wild career of the whirlwind world about it. Such was my gratulation, when my eye fell upon the following passage of the Times. Need I say with what a heavy heart I read it? It is Mr. Rushton who speaks:—
“In the month of December, 1841, he heard that a man had been found dead in the streets of Liverpool; that all the property he possessed had been taken from his person, and that an attempt to trace his identity had been made in vain. He was taken to the usual repository for the dead, where an inquest had been held upon him, and from the ‘dead house,’ as it was called, he was removed to the workhouse burial-ground. The man who drove the hearse on the occasion was very old, and not very capable of giving evidence. His attendant was an idiot. It had been represented to Mr. Hodgson and himself that the dead man had been taken in the clothes in which he died and put into a coffin which was too small for him; that a shroud was put over him; that the lid of the coffin would not go down; and that he was taken from the dead-house and buried in the parochial ground, no funeral rites having been performed on the occasion. It had also been communicated to Mr. Hodgson and himself that, after two days, the clergyman who was instructed to perform those rites over the paupers, came and performed one service for the dead over all the paupers who had been buried in the intermediate time.”
Now, without stopping to criticise the workhouse equipage, which appears to be driven by a man too old to speak, with an idiot for his companion; nor even to advert to the scant ceremony of burying a man in his daily dress, and in a coffin that would not close on him—what shall we say of the “patent parson power” that buries paupers in detachments, and reads the service over platoons of dead? The reverend chaplain feeling the uncertainty of human life, and knowing how frail is our tie to existence, waits in the perfect conviction of a large party before he condescends to appear. Knowing that dead men tell no tales, he surmises also that they don’t run away, and so he says to himself—these people are not pressed for time, they’ll be here when I come again—it is a sickly season, and we’ll have a field-day on Saturday. Cheap soup for the poor, says Mrs. Fry. Cheap justice, says O’Connell. Cheap clothing, says a tailor who makes new clothes from old, with a machine called a devil—but cheap burial is the boast of the Liverpool chaplain, and he is the most original among them.
I have long been of opinion that a man may attain to a very respectable knowledge of Chinese ceremonies and etiquette before he can learn one half the usages of the honourable house. Seldom does a debate go forward without some absurd interruption taking place in a mere matter of form. Now it is a cry of “Order, order,” to some gentleman who is subsequently discovered not to have been in the least disorderly, but whom the attack has so completely dumfounded, that he loses his speech and his self-possession, and sits down in confusion, to be sneered at in the morning papers, and hooted by his constituents when he goes home.
Now some gifted scion of aristocracy makes an essay in braying and cock-crowing, both permitted by privilege, and overwhelms the speaker with the uproar. Now it is that intolerable nuisance, old Hume, shouting out “divide,” or “adjourn;” or it is Colonel Sibthorpe who counts the house. These ridiculous privileges of members to interfere with the current of public business because they may be sleepy or stupid themselves, are really intolerable, besides being so numerous that the first dozen years of a parliamentary life will scarcely teach a man a tithe of them. But of all these “rules of the house,” the most unjust and tyrannical is that which compels a man to put up with any impertinence because he has already spoken. It would seem as if each honourable member “went down” with a single ball cartridge in his pouch, which, when fired, the best thing he could do was to go home and wait for another distribution of ammunition; for by remaining he only ran the risk of being riddled without any power to return the fire.
A case of this kind happened a few evenings since:—A Mr. Blewitt—I suppose the composer—made a very absurd motion, the object of which was to inquire “What office the Duke of Wellington held in the present government, and whether he was or was not a member of the cabinet.” Without referring the learned gentleman to a certain erudite volume called the Yearly Almanack and Directory, Sir Robert Peel proceeded to explain the duke’s position. He eulogised, as who would not? his grace’s sagacity and his wisdom; the importance of his public services, and the great value the ministers, his confrères, set upon a judgment which, in a long life, had so seldom been found mistaken; and then he concluded by quoting from one of the duke’s recent replies to some secretary or other who addressed him on a matter foreign to his department—“That he was one of the few men in the present day who did not meddle in affairs over which they have no control.” “A piece of counsel,” quoth Sir Robert, “I would strenuously advise the honourable member to apply to his own case.”
Now we have already said that we think Blewitt—though an admirable musician—seems to be a very silly man. Still, if he really did not know what the duke represented in her Majesty’s government—if he really were ignorant of what functions he exercised, the information might have been bestowed upon him without a retort like this. In the first place, his query, if a foolish, was at least a civil one; and in the second, it was his duty to understand a matter of this nature: it therefore came under his control, and Sir Robert’s application of the quotation was perfectly uncalled-for. Well; what followed? Mr. Blewitt rose in wrath to reply, when the house called out, “Spoke, spoke!” and Blewitt was muzzled; the moral of which is simply this—you ask a question in the house, and the individual addressed has a right to insult you, you having no power of rejoinder, under the etiquette of “spoke.” Any flippancy may overturn a man at this rate; and the words “loud laughter,” printed in italics in the Chronicle, is sure to renew the emotion at every breakfast table the morning after.
Now I am sorry for Blewitt, and think he was badly treated.
f all the institutions of England there is scarcely one more lauded, and more misunderstood, than trial by jury. At first blush, nothing can seem fairer and less objectionable than the unbiassed decision of twelve honest men, sworn to do justice. They hear patiently the evidence on both sides; and in addition to the light derivable from their own intelligence, they have the directing charge of the judge, who tells them wherein the question for their decision lies, what are the circumstances of which they are to take cognizance, and by what features of the case their verdict is to be guided. Yet look at the working of this much-boasted privilege. One jury brings in a verdict so contrary to all reason and justice, that they are sent back to reconsider it by the judge; another, more refractory still, won’t come to any decision at all, and get carted to the verge of the county for their pains; and a third, improving on all former modes of proceeding, has adopted a newer and certainly most impartial manner of deciding a legal question. “Court of Common Pleas, London, July 6.—The Chief Justice (Tindal) asked the ground of objection, and ten of the jurymen answered that in the last case one of their colleagues had suggested that the verdict should be decided by tossing up!” Here is certainly a very important suggestion, and one which, recognising justice as a blind goddess, is strictly in conformity with the impersonation. Nothing could possibly be farther removed from the dangers of undue influence than decisions obtained in this manner. Not only are all the prejudices and party bearings of individual jurors avoided, but an honest and manly oblivion of all the evidence which might bias men if left to the guidance of their poor and erring faculties, is thus secured. It is human to err, says the poet moralist; and so the jurymen in question discovered, and would therefore rather refer a knotty question to another deity than Justice, whom men call Fortune. How much would it simplify our complex and gnarled code, the introduction of this system? In the next place, juries need not be any longer empannelled, the judge could “sky the copper” himself. The only question would be, to have a fair halfpenny. See with what rapidity the much-cavilled court would dispatch public business! I think I see our handsome Chief of the Common Pleas at home here, with his knowing eye watching the vibrations of the coin, and calling out in his sonorous tone, “Head—the plaintiff has it. Call another case.” I peep into the Court of Chancery, and behold Sir Edward twirling the penny with more cautious fingers, and then with his sharp look and sharper voice, say, “Tail! Take a rule for the defendant.”
No longer shall we hear objections as to the sufficiency of legal knowledge possessed by those in the judgment-seat. There will be no petty likings for this, and dislikings for that court; no changes of venue; no challenges of the jury; even Lord Brougham himself, of whom Sir Edward remarked, “What a pity it was he did not know a little law, for then he would have known a little of everything”—even he might be a chancellor once more. What a power of patronage it would give each succeeding ministry to know that capacity was of no consequence; and that the barrister of six years’ standing could turn his penny as well as the leader in Chancery. Public business need never be delayed a moment; and if the Chief Baron were occupied in chamber, the crier of the court could perform his functions till he came back again.
ne man may lead a horse to the water, but ten cannot make him drink, sayeth the adage; and so it might be said, any one might devise an act of parliament—but who can explain all its intentions and provisions—define its powers—and illustrate its meanings? One clause will occasionally vitiate another; one section completely contradict the preceding one; the very objects of the legislature are often so pared away in committee, that a mere shadowy outline remains of what the original framer intended; and were it not for the bold hand of executive justice, the whole might be inoperative. The judge, happily, supplies the deficiency of the lawmaker—and the thing were perfect, if judges were not, like doctors, given to differ—and thus, occasionally, disseminate somewhat opposite notions of the statutes of the land.
Such being the case, it will not be deemed impertinent of one, who desires to conform in all respects to the law, to ask, from time to time, of our rulers and governors, certain questions, the answers to which, should he happily receive them, will be regarded by him as though written on tables of brass.
Now, in a late session of parliament, some humane member brought in a bill to interdict the sweeping of chimneys by all persons small enough for the purpose, and ingeniously suggested supplying their place by others, whose size would have inevitably condemned them to perish in a flue. Never had philanthropist a greater share of popularity. Little sweeps sang his praises along the streets—penny periodicals had verses in his honour—the “song of the soot” was set to music—and people, in the frenzy of their enthusiasm, so far forgot their chimneys, that scarcely a street in town had not, at least, one fire every night in the week. Meanwhile, the tender sweeplings had lost their occupation, they had pronounced their farewell to the brush—what was to become of them? Alas, the legislature had not thought of that point; for, they were not influential enough to claim compensation. I grieve to think, but there is too much reason to fear, that many of them betook themselves to the ancient vocation of pickpockets. Yes, as Dr. Watts has it—
The divisional police-offices were filled each morning with small “suttees”—whose researches after handkerchiefs and snuff-boxes were of the most active kind; while their full-grown brethren, first impacted in a funnel of ten inches by eight, were cursing the Commons, and consigning to all manner of misfortune the benevolent framer of the bill.
Now, I cannot help asking myself, was this the intention of the legislature—did they really mean that big people should try to penetrate where little ones were not small enough to pass?—or was it some piece of conciliation to the climbing boys, that they should see their masters grilled and wasted, in revenge for “the disabilities they had so long laboured under?” This point of great difficulty—and after much thought and deliberation, I have come to one solution of the whole question, and I only hope it may prove the right one. It is this. The bill is a parable—the climbing boy, and the full-grown sweep—and the chimney, and the householder, and the machine, are mere types which I would interpret thus:—the householder is John Bull, a good-natured, easy fellow, liking his ease, and studying his comfort—caring for his dinner, and detesting smoke above all things; he wishes to have his house neat and orderly, neither confusion nor disturbance—but his great dread is fire; the very thought of it sets him a-trembling all over. Now, for years past, he has remarked that the small sweeps, who mount so glibly to the top of the flue, rarely do anything but make a noise—they scream and shout for ten minutes, or so, and then come down, with their eyes red, and their noses bloody, and cry themselves sick, till they get bread-and-butter. John is worried and fretted at all this; he remembers the time a good-sized sweep used to go up and rake down all the soot in no time. These were the old Tory ministers, who took such wise and safe precautions against fire, that an insurance-office was never needed. “Not so now,” quoth John; “’od! rabbit it, they’ve got their climbing boys, who are always bleating and bawling, for the neighbourhood to look at them—and yet, devil a bit of good they do the whole time.”
And now, who are these? you would ask. I’ll tell you—the “Climbing Boys” are the Howicks, and the Clements—the Smith O’Briens and the D’Israelis, and a host of others, scraping their way upwards, through soot and smoke, that they may put out their heads in high places, and cry “’weep! ’weep!” and well may they—they’ve had a dirty journey—and black enough their hands are, I warrant you, before they got there.
To get rid of these, without offending them, John brings in his philanthropic bill, making it penal to employ them, or to have any other than the old legitimate sweeps, that know every turn of the flue, and have gone up and down any time these twenty years. No new machine for him—no Whig contrivance, to scrape the bricks and burn the house—but the responsible full-grown sweeps—who, if the passage be narrow, have strength to force their way, and take good care not to get dust in their eyes in the process.
Such is my interpretation of the bill, and I only trust a discerning public may agree with me.
I forget the place, and the occasion also, but I have a kind of misty recollection of having once, in these nutting excursions of mine, been excessively eloquent on the subject of the advantages derivable from division of labour.
Not a walk or condition in life is there to which it has not penetrated; and while natural talents have become cultivated from finding their most congenial sphere of operation, immense results have accrued in every art and science where a higher degree of perfection has been thus attained. Your doctor and your lawyer now-a-days select the precise portion of your person or property they intend to operate on. The oculist and the aurist, and the odontalgist and the pedicurist, all are suggestive of various local sufferings, by which they bound their skill; and so, the equity lawyer and the common-law lawyer, the special pleader and the bar orator, have subdivided knavery, without diminishing its amount. Even in literature, there are the heavy men who “do” the politics, and the quiet men who do the statistics, and the rough-and-ready men, who are a kind of servants-of-all-work, and so on. In universities, there is the science man and the classical man, the man of simple equations and the man of spondees. Painting has its bright colourists and its more sombre-loving artists, and so on—the great camps of party would seem to have given the impulse to every condition of life, and “speciality” is the order of the day.
No sooner is a new discovery made, no matter whether in the skies above, or the dark bowels of the earth, than an opportunity of disagreement is sure to arise. Two, mayhap three, gentlemen, profess diversity of opinion; followers are never lacking, let any one be fool enough to turn leader—and straightway there comes out a new sect, with a Greek name for a title.
It is only the other day, men began to find out that primitive rocks, and basalt, ochre, and sandstone, had lived a long time, and must surely know something of antiquity—if they only could tell it. The stones, from that hour, had an unhappy time of it—men went about in gangs with hammers and crowbars, shivering this and shattering that—picking holes in respectable old rocks, that never had a word said against them, and peeping into “quarts,” like a policeman.
Men must be quarrelsome, you’d say, if they could fight about paving-stones—but so they did. One set would have it that the world was all cinders, and another set insisted it was only slack—and so, they called themselves Plutonians and Neptunians, and made great converts to their respective opinions.
Gulliver tells us of “Big-endians” and “Little-endians,” who hated each other like poison; and thus it is, our social condition is like a row in an Irish fair, where one strikes somebody, and nobody thinks the other right.
Oh! for the happy days of heretofore, when the two kings of Brentford smelled at one nosegay. It couldn’t happen now, I promise you.
One of their majesties would have insisted on the petals, and the other been equally imperative regarding the stamina: they’d have pushed their claims with all the weight of their influence, and there would have been soon little vestige of a nosegay between them.
But to come back, for all this is digression. The subdivision of labour, with all its advantages, has its reverse to the medal. You are ill, for instance. You have been dining with the Lord Mayor, and hip-hipping to the health of her Majesty’s ministers; or drinking, mayhap, nine times nine to the independence of Poland, or civil and religious liberty all over the globe—or any other fiction of large dinners. You go home, with your head aching from bad wine, bad speeches, and bad music; your wife sees you look excessively flushed; your eyes have got an odd kind of expression, far too much of the white being visible; a half shut-up look, like a pastry-cook’s shop on Sunday; there are evident signs, from blackness of the lips, that in your English ardour for the navy you have made a “port-hole” of your mouth; in fact, you have a species of semi-apoplectic threatening, that bodes ill for the insurance company.
A doctor is sent for—he lives near, and comes at once—with a glance he recognises your state, and suggests the immediate remedy—the lancet.
“Fetch a basin,” says somebody, with more presence of mind than the rest.
“Not so fast,” quoth the medico. “I am a pure physician—I don’t bleed: that’s the surgeon’s affair. I should be delighted to save the gentleman’s life—but we have a bye-law against it in the college. Nothing could give me more pleasure than to cure you, if it wasn’t for the charter. What a pity it is! I’m sure I wish, with all my heart, the cook would take courage to open a vein, or even give you a bloody nose with the cleaver.”
Do you think I exaggerate here? Try the experiment—I only ask that.
Sending for the surgeon does not solve the difficulty; he may be a man who cuts corns and cataracts—who only operates for strabismus, or makes new noses for Peninsular heroes. In fact, if you don’t hit the right number—and it’s a large lottery—you may go out of the world without even the benefit of physic.
This great system, however, does not end with human life. The coroners—resolved not to be behind their age—have made a great movement, and shown themselves men worthy of the enlightened era they live in. Read this:—
“On Friday morning last, a man named Patrick Knowlan, a private in the 3rd Buffs, was discovered lying dead close beneath the platform of a wharf at the bottom of Holborn-lane, Chatham. It would appear that deceased had mistaken his way, and fallen from the wharf, which is used for landing coals from the river, a depth of about eight feet, upon the muddy beach below, which was then strewn with refuse coal. There was a large and severe wound upon the left temple, and a piece of coal was sticking in the left cheek, close below the eye. The whole left side of the face was much contracted. He had evidently, from the state of his clothes, been covered with water, which overflows this spot at the period of spring tides. Although nothing certain is known, it is generally supposed that he mistook Holborn-lane for the West-lane, which leads to the barracks, and that walking forward in the darkness he fell from the wharf. Mr. Lewis, the coroner for the city of Rochester, claims jurisdiction over all bodies found in the water at this spot; and as the unfortunate man had evidently been immersed, he thought this a proper case for the exercise of his office, and accordingly summoned a jury to sit upon the body at ten o’clock on Friday morning—but on his going to view the deceased, he found that it was at the King’s Arms, Chatham, in the hands of Bines, the Chatham constable, as the representative of Mr. Hinde, one of the coroners for the eastern division of the county of Kent, who refused to give up the key of the room, but allowed Mr. Lewis and his jury to view the body. They then returned to the Nag’s Head, Rochester, and having heard the evidence of John Shepherd, a fisherman, who deposed that a carter, going on to the beach for coals, at half-past seven o’clock on Friday morning, found the body as already described, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Found dead.’ Mr. Hinde, the county coroner, held another inquest upon the deceased, at the King’s Arms; and after taking the evidence of William Whittingham, the carter who found the body, and Frederick Collins, a corporal of the 3rd Buffs, who stated that he saw the deceased on the evening preceding his death, and he was then sober, the jury returned a verdict of ‘Accidental death;’ each of the coroners issued a warrant for the interment of the body. The disputed jurisdiction, it is believed, will now be submitted to the decision of a higher court, in order to settle what is here considered a vexata quæstio.”—Maidstone Journal.
Is not this perfect? Only think of land coroners and water coroners—imagine the law defining the jurisdiction of the Tellurian as far forth into the sea as he could sit on a corpse without danger, and the Neptunian ruling the waves beyond in absolute sway—conceive the “solidist” revelling in all the accidents that befall life upon the world’s highways, and the “fluidist” seeking his prey like a pearl diver, five fathoms low, beneath “the deep, deep sea.” What a rivalry theirs, who divide the elements between them, and have nature’s everlasting boundaries to define the limits of their empire.
I hope to see the time when these great functionaries of law shall be provided with a suitable costume. I should glory to think of Mr. Hinde accoutred in emblems suggestive of earth and its habits—a wreath of oak leaves round his brows; and to behold Mr. Lewis in a garment of marine plants and sea shells sit upon his corpse, with a trident in his right hand. What a comfort for the man about to take French leave of life, that he could know precisely the individual he should benefit, and be able to go “by land” or “water,” as his taste inclined him.
I have no time here to dwell upon the admirable distinctions of the two verdicts given in the case I allude to. When the great change I suggest is fully carried out, the difficulty of a verdict will at once be avoided, for the jury, like boys at play, will only have to cry out at each case—“wet or dry.”
There would be probably too much expense incurred in poor localities by maintaining two officials; and I should suggest, in such cases, an amphibious coroner—a kind of merman, who should enjoy a double jurisdiction, and, as they say of half-bred pointers, be able “to take the water when required.”
Money-getting and cotton-spinning have left us little time for fun of any kind in England—no one has a moment to spare, let him be ever so droll, and a joke seems now to be esteemed a bonâ fide expenditure; and as “a pin a day” is said to be “a groat a year,” there is no calculating what an inroad any manner of pleasantry might not make into a man’s income. Book-writers have ceased to be laughter-moving—the stage has given it up altogether, except now and then in a new tragedy—society prefers gravity to gaiety—and, in fact, the spirit of comic fun and drollery would seem to have died out in the land—if it were not for that inimitable institution called trial by jury. Bless their honest hearts! jurymen do indeed relieve the drab-coloured look of every-day life—they come out in strong colour from the sombre tints of common-place events and people. Queer dogs! nothing can damp the warm ardour of their comic vein—all the solemnity of a court of justice—the look of the bar and the bench—the voice of the crier—the blue bags of briefs—the “terrible show,” has no effect on their minds—“ruat cœlum,” they will have their joke.
It is in vain for the judge, let him be ever so rigid in his charge, to tell them that their province is simply with certain facts, on which they have to pronounce an opinion of yea or nay. They must be jurymen, and “something more.” It’s not every day Mr. Sniggins, of Pimlico, is called upon to keep company with a chief-justice and sergeant learned in the law—Popkins don’t leave his shop once a week to discuss Coke upon Littleton with an attorney-general. No: the event to them is a great one—there they sit, fawned on, and flattered by counsel on both sides—called impartial and intelligent, and all that—and while every impertinence the law encourages has been bandied about the body of the court, they remain to be lauded and praised by all parties, for they have a verdict in their power, and when it comes—what a thing it is!
There is a well-known story of an English nobleman, desiring to remain incog. in Calais, telling his negro servant—“If any one ask who I am, Sambo, mind you say, ‘a Frenchman.’” Sambo carried out the instruction by saying—“My massa a Frenchman, and so am I.” This anecdote exactly exemplifies a verdict of a jury—it cannot stop short at sense, but must, by one fatal plunge, involve its decision in absurdity.
Hear what lately happened in the north of Ireland. A man was tried and found guilty of murder—the case admitted no doubt—the act was a cold-blooded, deliberate assassination, committed by a soldier on his sergeant, in the presence of many witnesses. The trial proceeded; the facts were proved; and—I quote the local newspaper—
“The jury retired, and were shut up when the judge left the court, at half-past seven. At nine, his lordship returned to court, when the foreman of the jury intimated that they had agreed. They were then called into court, and having answered to their names, returned a verdict of guilty, but recommended the prisoner to mercy upon account of the close intimacy that existed between the parties at the time of the occurrence.”
Now, what ever equalled this? When the jury who tried Madame Laffarge for the murder of her husband, returned a verdict of guilty, with that recommendation to mercy which is implied by the words “des circonstances attenuantes,” Alphonse Karr pronounced the “extenuating circumstances,” to be the fact, that she always mixed gum with the arsenic, and never gave him his poison “neat.”
But even they never thought of carrying out their humanity farther by employing the Belfast plea, that she had been “intimate with him” before she killed him. No, it was reserved for our canny northerns to find out this new secret of criminal jurisprudence, and to show the world that there is a deep philosophy in the vulgar expression, a blood relation—meaning thereby that degree of allianceship which admits of butchery, and makes killing no murder; for if intimacy be a ground of mercy, what must be friendship, what brotherhood, or paternity?
Were this plea to become general, how cautious would men become about their acquaintances—what a dread they would entertain of becoming intimate with gentlemen from Tipperary!
I scarcely think the Whigs would throw out such lures for Dan and his followers, if they could consider these consequences; and I doubt much—taking everything into consideration, that the “Duke” would see so much of Lord Brougham as he has latterly.
“Whom can a man make free with, if not with his friends?” saith Figaro; and the Belfast men have studied Beaumarchais, and only “carried out his principle,” as the Whigs say, when they speak of establishing popery in Ireland, to complete the intention of emancipation.
Lawyers must have been prodigiously sick of all the usual arguments in defence of prisoners in criminal cases many a year ago. One of the cleverest lawyers and the cleverest men I ever knew, says he would hang any man who was defended on an alibi, and backed by a good character. Insanity is worn out; but here comes Belfast to the rescue, with its plea of intimacy. Show that your client was no common acquaintance—prove clearly habits of meeting and dining together—display a degree of friendship between the parties that bordered on brotherhood, and all is safe. Let your witness satisfy the jury that they never had an altercation or angry word in their lives, and depend upon it, killing will seem merely a little freak of eccentricity, that may be indulged with Norfolk Island, but not punished with the gallows.
“Guilty, my lord, but very intimate with the deceased,” is a new discovery in law, and will hereafter be known as “the Belfast verdict.”
hen Solomon said there was nothing new under the sun, he never knew Lord Normanby. That’s a fact, and now to show cause.
No attribute of regal, and consequently it may be inferred of viceregal personages, have met such universal praise from the world, as the wondrous tact they would seem to possess, regarding the most suitable modes of flattering the pride and gratifying the passions of those they govern.
It happens not unfrequently, that they leave this blessed privilege unused, and give themselves slight pains in its exercise; but should the time come when its exhibition may be deemed fit or necessary, their instinctive appreciation is said never to fail them, and they invariably hit off the great trait of a people at once.
Perhaps it may be the elevated standard on which they are placed, gives them this wondrous coup-d’œil, and enables them to take wider views than mortals less eminently situated; perhaps it is some old leaven of privileges derivable from right divine. But no matter, the thing is so.
Napoleon well knew the temper of Frenchmen in his day, and how certain short words, emblematic of their country’s greatness and glory, could fascinate their minds and bend them to his purpose. In Russia, the czar is the head of the church, as of the state, and a mere word from him to one of his people is a treasure above all price. In Holland, a popular monarch taps some forty puncheons of schnapps, and makes the people drunk. In Belgium, he gets up a high mass, and a procession of virgins. In the States, a rabid diatribe against England, and a spice of Lynch Law, are clap-trap. But every land has its own peculiar leaning—to be gratified by some one concession or compliment in preference to every other.
Now, when Lord Normanby came to Ireland, he must have been somewhat puzzled by the very multiplicity of these expectations. It was a regular “embarras de richesses.” There was so much to give, and he so willing to give it!
First, there was discouragement to be dealt out against Protestants—an easy and a pleasant path; then the priests were to be brought into fashion—a somewhat harder task; country gentlemen were to be snubbed and affronted; petty attorneys were to be petted and promoted; all claimants with an “O” to their names were to have something—it looked national; men of position and true influence were to be pulled down and degraded, and so on. In fact, there was a good two years of smart practice in the rupture of all the ties of society, and in the overthrow of whatever was respectable in the land, before he need cry halt.
Away he went then, cheered by the sweet voices of the mob he loved, and quick work he made of it. I need not stop to say, how pleasant Dublin became when deserted of all who could afford to quit it; nor how peaceful were the streets which no one traversed—ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant. The people, like Oliver, “asked for more;” ungrateful people! not content with Father Glynn at the viceroy’s table, and the Bishop of “Mesopotamia” in the council, they cried, like the horseleech’s daughters, “Give! give!”
“What would they have, the spalpeens?” said Pierce Mahony; “sure ain’t we destroying the place entirely, and nobody will be able to live here after us.”
“What do they want?” quoth Anthony Blake; “can’t they have patience? Isn’t the church trembling, and property not worth two years’ purchase?”
“Upon my life!” whispered Lord Morpeth, “I can’t comprehend them. I fear we have been only but too good-natured!—don’t you think so?”
And so they pondered over their difficulties, but never a man among them could suggest a remedy for their new demand, nor make out a concession which had not been already made.
“Did you butter Dan?” said Anthony.
“Ay, and offered him the ‘rolls’ too,” said Sheil.
“It’s no use,” interposed Pierce; “he’s not to be caught.”
“Couldn’t ye make Tom Steele Bishop of Cashel?”
“He wouldn’t take it,” groaned the viceroy.
“Is Mr. Arkins a privy councillor?”
“No; but he might if he liked. There’s no use in these trifles.”
“Eureka, gents, I have it!” cried my lord; “order post-horses for me this instant—I have it!”
And so he had, and by that act alone he stamped himself as the first man of his party.
Swift philosophised on the satiric touch of building a madhouse, as the most appropriate charity to Ireland; but what would he have said had he heard that the greatest favour its rulers could bestow—the most flattering compliment to national feeling—was to open the gaols, to let loose robbers and housebreakers, highwaymen and cutthroats—to return burglars to their afflicted homes, and bring back felons to their weeping families. Some sneering critic will object to it, as scarcely complimentary to a country to say—“these gentlemen are only thieves—murderers; they cannot hurt your morals. They were sentenced to transportation, but why should we spread vice among innocent bushmen, and disseminate wickedness through Norfolk Island? Let them loose where they are, they know the ways of the place, they’ll not murder the ‘wrong man;’ depend upon it, too, the rent won’t suffer by their remaining.” And so my lord took off the hand-cuffs, and filed the fetters; and the bondsmen, albeit not all “hereditary,” went free. Who should be called the Liberator, I ask, after this? Is it your Daniel, who promises year after year, and never performs; or you, my lord, who strikes off real chains, not metaphorical ones, and liberates real captives, not figurative slaves?
It was, indeed, a “great day for Ireland” when the villains got loose; and must have been a strong lesson on the score of domestic duty to many a roving blade, who preferred spending that evening at home, to venturing out after dark. My lord covered himself with laurels, and albeit they were gathered, as Lord Wellesley said, in the “Groves of Blarney,” they well became the brow they ornamented.
I should scarcely have thought necessary to ring a pæan of praise on this great governor, if it were not for a most unaccountable attack his magnanimous and stupendous mercy, as Tom Steele would call it, has called forth from some organ of the press.
This print, calling itself The Cork Constitution, thus discourseth:—
“Why, of 16 whom he pardoned, and of 41 whose sentences he commuted in the gaol of our own city, 13 were re-committed, and of these no fewer than 10 were in due time transported. One of the latter, Mary Lynch, was subsequently five times committed, and at last transported; Jeremiah Twomey, alias Old Lock, was subsequently six times committed, and finally transported, while two others were twice committed. These are a specimen of the persons whom his lordship delighted to honour. Of the whole 57 (who were liberated between January, 1835, and April, 1839), there were, at the time of their sentences being commuted, or themselves discharged, 34 under sentence of transportation, and two under sentence of death. In the county gaol, 47 prisoners experienced the benefit of viceregal liberality. Of these 18 had been under sentence of transportation, 11 of them for life; but how many of them it became the duty of the government to introduce a second or third time to the notice of the judge, or what was their ultimate destiny, we are, unfortunately, not informed. The recorder, we observe, passed sentence of transportation yesterday on a fellow named Corkery, who had some years ago been similarly sentenced by one of the judges, but for whose release his worship was unable to account. The explanation, however, is easy. Corkery was one of the scoundrels liberated by Lord Normanby, and he has since been living on the plunder of the citizens, on whom that vain and visionary viceroy so inconsiderately let him loose.”
Now I detest figures, and, therefore, I won’t venture to dispute the man’s arithmetic about the “ten in due time transported,” nor Corkery, nor Mary Lynch, nor any of them.
I take the facts on his own showing, and I ground upon them the most triumphant defence of the calumniated viceroy. What was it, I ask, but the very prescience of the lord lieutenant we praise in the act? He liberated a gaol full of ruffians, not to inundate the world with a host of felons and vagabonds, but, simply, to give them a kind of day-rule.
“Let them loose,” cried my lord; “take the irons off—devil a long they’ll be free. Mark my words, that fellow will murder some one else before long. Thank you, Mary Lynch, it is a real pleasure to me to restore you to liberty;” and then, sotto, “you’ll have a voyage out, nevertheless, I see that. Open the gates—pass out, gentlemen highwaymen. Don’t be afraid, good people of Cork, these are infernal ruffians, they’ll all be back again before six months. It’s no consequence to me to see you at large, for I have the heartfelt conviction that most of you must be hanged yet.”
Here is the true defence of the viceroy, here the real and well-grounded explanation of his conduct; and I hope when Lord Brougham attacks his noble friend—which of course he will—that the marquis will hurl back on him, with proud triumph, this irresistible mark of his united foresight and benevolence.
If a fair estimate were at any moment to be taken of the time employed in the real business of the country, and that consumed by public characters in vindicating their conduct, recapitulating their good intentions, and glossing over their bad acts, it would be found that the former was to the latter as the ratio of Falstaff’s bread to the “sack.”
A British House of Commons is in fact nineteen out of every twenty hours employed in the pleasant personalities of attack and defence. It is something that the “noble baron” said last session, or the “right hon. baronet” didn’t say in the present one, engrosses all their attention; and the most animated debates are about certain expressions of some “honourable and learned gentleman,” who always uses his words in a sense different from the rest of the nation.
If this satisfies the public and stuffs the newspapers, perhaps I should not repine at it; but certainly it is very fatiguing and tiresome to any man with a moderately good memory to preserve the excellent traditions each ministry retains of their own virtues, and how eloquently the opposition can hold forth upon the various good things they would have done, had they been left quietly on the treasury benches. Now how much better and more business-like would it be if, instead of leaving these gentlemen to dilate and expatiate on their own excellent qualities, some public standards were to be established, by which at a glance the world at large could decide on their merits and examine into their fitness for office at a future period. Your butler and your coachman, when leaving your service, do not present themselves to a new master with characters of their own inditing, or if they did they would unquestionably require a very rigid scrutiny. What would you say if a cook who professes herself a perfect treasure of economy and excellence, warrants herself sober, amiable, and cleanly—who, without other vouchers for her fitness than her own, would dilate on her many virtues and accomplishments, and demand to be taken into your service because she has higher taste for self-panegyric than her rival. Such a thing would be preposterous in the kitchen, but it is exactly what takes place in parliament, and there is but one remedy for it. Let her majesty’s servants, when they leave their places, receive written characters, like those of less exalted persons. These documents would then be on record when the applicants sought other situations, and could be referred to with more confidence by the nation than if given by the individuals themselves.
How easily would the high-flown sentiments of any of the “outs” be tested by a simple comparison with his last character—how clearly would pretension be measured by what he had done in his last place. No long speeches, no four-hour addresses would be required at the hustings then. Show us your character, would be the cry—why did he leave his mistress? the question.
The petty subterfuges of party would not stand such a test as this; all the little miserable explanations—that it was a quarrel in the kitchen, that the cook said this and the footman said that, would go for nothing. You were turned out, and why?—that’s the bone and sinew of the matter.
To little purpose would my Lord John remind his party that he was going to do every thing for every body—to plunder the parsons and pay the priests—to swamp the constitution and upset the church—respectable people would take time to look at his papers; they would see that he was an active little busy man, accustomed to do the whole work of a family single-handed; that he was in many respects attentive and industrious, but had a following of low Irish acquaintances whom he let into the house on every occasion, and that then nothing escaped them—they smashed the furniture, broke the looking-glasses, and kicked up a regular row: for this he was discharged, receiving all wages due.
And then, instead of suffering long-winded panegyrics from the member for Tiverton, how easily would the matter be comprehended in one line—“a good servant, lively, and intelligent, but self-sufficient, and apt to take airs. Turned off for quarrelling with the French valet next door, and causing a difference between the families.”
Then again, how decisively the merits of a certain ex-chancellor might be measured in reading—“hired as butler, but insisted on cleaning the carriage, and scratched the panels; would dress the dinner, and spoiled the soup and burned the sauce; never attended to his own duties, but spent his time fighting with the other servants, and is in fact a most troublesome member of a household. He is, however, both smart and intelligent, and is allowed a small pension to wait on company days.”
Trust me, this plan, if acted on—and I feel it cannot be long neglected—will do more to put pretension on a par with desert, than all the adjourned debates that waste the sessions; it would save a world of unblushing self-praise and laudation, and protect the country from the pushing impertinence of a set of turned-off servants.
Every one knows the story of the man who, at the penalty of losing his head in the event of failure, promised the caliph of Bagdad that he would teach his ass to read in the space of ten years, trusting that, ere the time elapsed, either the caliph, or the ass, or he himself, would die, and the compact be at an end. Now, it occurs to me that the wise policy of this shrewd charlatan is the very essence of all parliamentary commissions. First, there is a grievance—then comes a debate—a very warm one occasionally, with plenty of invective and accusation on both sides—and then they agree to make a drawn game of it, and appoint “a Commission.”
Nothing can be more plausible in appearance than such a measure; nor could any man, short of Hume himself, object to so reasonable a proceeding as a patient and searching inquiry into the circumstances and bearings of any disputed question. The Commission goes to work: if a Tory one, consisting usually of some dumb country gentlemen, who like committee work;—if Whig, the suckling “barristers of six years’ standing:” and at it they go. The newspapers announce that they are “sitting to examine witnesses”—a brief correspondence appears at intervals, to show that they have a secretary and a correspondent, a cloud then wraps the whole concern in its dark embrace, and not the most prying curiosity is ever able afterwards to detect any one fact concerning the commission or its labours, nor could you hear in any society the slightest allusion ever made to their whereabouts.
It is, in fact, the polite mode of interment applied to the question at issue—the Commissioners performing the solemn duties of undertakers, and not even the most reckless resurrectionist being found to disturb the remains. Before the report should issue, the Commissioners die off, or the question has taken a new form; new interests have changed all its bearings; a new ministry is in power, or some more interesting matter has occupied the place it should fill in public attention; and if the Report was even a volume of “Punch,” it might pass undetected.
Now and then, however, a Commission will issue for the real object of gleaning facts and conveying information; and then the duties are most uncomfortable, and but one course is open, which is, to protract the inquiry, like the man with the ass, and leave the result to time.
In a country like ours, conflicting interests and opposing currents are ever changing the landmarks of party; and the commissioners feel that with years something will happen to make their labours of little consequence, and that they have only to prolong the period, and all is safe.
At this moment, we have what is called a “Landlord and Tenant Commission” sitting, or sleeping, as it may be. They have to investigate diverse, knotty, and puzzling points, about people who want too much for their land, and others who prefer paying nothing for it. They are to report, in some fashion, respecting the prospects of estated gentlemen burdened with rent-charges and mortgages, and who won’t improve properties they can scarcely live on—and a peasantry, who must nominally pay an exaggerated rent, depending upon the chance of shooting the agent before the gale-day, and thus obtaining easier terms for the future.
They are to investigate the capabilities of waste lands, while cultivated lands lie waste beside them; they must find out why land-owners like money, and tenants hate paying it; and why a people hold life very cheap when they possess little means to sustain it.
Now these, take them how you will, are not so easy of solution as you may think. The landlord, for his own sake, would like a thriving, well-to-do, contented tenantry; the tenants, for their sakes, would like a fair-dealing, reasonable landlord, not over griping and grabbing, but satisfied with a suitable value for his property. They both have no common share of intelligence and acuteness—they have a soil unquestionably fruitful, a climate propitious, little taxation, good roads, abundant markets; and yet the one is half ruined in his house and the other wholly beggared in his hovel—each averring that the cause lies in the tithes, the tariff, the poor-rate, or popery, the agent or the agitation: in fact, it is something or other which one favours and the other opposes—some system or sect, some party or measure, which one advocates and the other denounces; and no matter though its influence should not, in the remotest way, enter into the main question, there is a grievance—that’s something; and as Sir Lucius says, “it’s a mighty pretty quarrel as it stands”—not the less, that certain partizans on either side assist in the mêlée, and the House of Commons or the Association Hall interfere with their influence.
If, then, the Commissioners can see their way here, they are smart fellows, and no small praise is due to them. There are difficulties enough to puzzle long heads; and I only hope they may be equal to the task. Meanwhile, depopulation goes on briskly—landlords are shot every week in Tipperary; and if the report be but delayed for some few months longer, a new element will appear in the question—for however there may remain some pretenders to perpetuity of tenure, the landlords will not be there to grant the leases. Let the Commissioners, then, keep a look-out a-head—much of the embarrassment of the inquiry will be obviated by only biding their time; and if they but delay their report till next November, there will be but one party to legislate for in the island.
If my reader will permit me to refer to my own labours, I would wish to remind him of an old “Nut” of mine, in which I endeavoured to demonstrate the defective morality and economy of our penal code—a system, by which the smallest delinquent is made to cost the state several hundreds of pounds, for an offence frequently of some few pennies in value; and a theft of a loaf is, by the geometrical scale of progressive aggrandisement, gradually swelled into a most expensive process, in which policemen, station-houses, inspectors, magistrates, sessions, assizes, judges, crown prosecutors, gaols, turnkeys, and transports, all figure; and the nation is left to pay the cost of this terrible array, for the punishment of a crime the prevention of which might, perhaps, have been effected for two-pence.
I do not now intend to go over the beaten track of this argument; my intention is simply to refer to it, and adduce another instance of this strange and short-sighted policy, which prefers waiting to acting, and despises cheap, though timely interference with evil, and indulges in the somewhat late, but more expensive process of reparation.
And to begin. Imagine—unhappily you need exercise no great stretch of the faculty, the papers teem with too many instances—imagine a poor, woe-begone, miserable creature, destitute and friendless, without a home, without a meal; his tattered clothing displaying through every rent the shrunken form and wasted limbs to which hunger and want have reduced him. See him as night falls, plodding onwards through the crowded thoroughfares of the great city; his lack-lustre eye glazed and filmy; his pale face and blue lip actually corpse-like in their ghastliness. He gazes at the passers-by with the vacant stare of idiotcy. Starvation has sapped the very intellect, and he is like one in some frightful vision; a vague desire for rest—a dreamy belief that death will release him—lives in the place of hope; and as he leans over the battlements of the tall bridge, the plash of the dark river murmurs softly to his ear. His despair has conjured up a thousand strange and flitting fancies, and voices seem to call to him from the dull stream, and invite him to lie down and be at peace. Meanwhile the crowd passes on. Men in all the worldliness of their hopes and fears, their wishes, their expectations, and their dreads, pour by. None regard him, who at that moment stands on the very brink of an eternity, whither his thoughts have gone before him. As he gazes, his eye is attracted by the star-like spangle of lights in the water. It is the reflection of those in the house of the Humane Society; and he suddenly remembers that there is such an institution; and he bethinks him, as well as his poor brain will let him, that some benevolent people have called this association by this pleasing title, and the very word is a balm to his broken heart.
“Humane Society!” Muttering the words, he staggers onwards; a feeling too faint for hope still survives; and he bends his wearied steps towards the building. It is indeed a goodly edifice; Portland stone and granite, massive columns and a portico, are all there; and Humanity herself is emblematised in the figures which decorate the pedestal. The man of misery stands without and looks up at this stately pile; the dying embers emit one spark, and for a second, hope brightens into a brief flicker. He enters the spacious hall, on one side of which a marble group is seen representing the “good Samaritan;” the appeal comes home to his heart, and he could cry, but hunger has dried up his tears.
I will not follow him in his weary pilgrimage among the liveried menials of the institution, nor shall I harass my reader by the cold sarcasm of those who tell him that he has mistaken the object of the association: that their care is not with life, but death; that the breathing man, alive, but on the verge of dissolution, has no interest for them; for their humanity waits patiently for his corpse. It is true, one pennyworth of bread—a meal your dog would turn from—would rescue this man from death and self-murder. But what of that—how could such humble, unobtrusive charity inhabit a palace? How could it pretend to porters and waiting-men, to scores of officials, visiting doctors, and physicians in ordinary? By what trickery could a royal patron be brought to head the list of benefactors to a scheme so unassuming? Where would be the stomach-pumps and the galvanic batteries for science?—where the newspaper reports of a miraculous recovery?—where the magazine records of suspended animation?—or where that pride and pomp and circumstance of enlightened humanity which calls in chemistry to aid charity, and makes electricity the test of benevolence? No, no; the hungry man might be fed, and go his way unseen, untrumpeted—there would be no need of this specious plausibility of humanity which proclaims aloud—Go and drown yourself; stand self-accused and condemned before your Creator; and if there be but a spark of vitality yet remaining, we’ll call you back to life again—a starving suicide! No effort shall be spared—messengers shall fly in every direction for assistance—the most distinguished physician—processes the most costly—experiments the most difficult—care unremitting—zeal untiring, are all yours. Cordials, the cost of which had sustained you in life for weeks long, are now poured down your unconscious throat—the limbs that knew no other bed than straw, are wrapped in heated blankets—the hand stretched out in vain for alms, is now rubbed by the jewelled fingers of a west-end physician.
Men, men, is this charity?—is the fellow-creature nought?—is the corpse everything?—is a penny too much to sustain life?—is a hundred pounds too little to restore it? Away with your stuccoed walls and pillared corridors—support the starving, and you will need but little science to reanimate the suicide.
BRADBURY AND EVANS, PRINTERS, WHITEFRIARS