Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter VIII.

Common Sense. What is the end of punishment as regards the individual punished?

Custom. To make him better!

Common Sense. How do you punish young offenders who are (from their youth) peculiarly alive to example, and whom it is therefore more easy either to ruin or reform than the matured?

Custom. We send them to the House of Correction, to associate with the d — dest rascals in the country!

Dialogue between Common Sense and Custom. — Very scarce.

As it was rather late in the day when Paul made his first entree at Bridewell, he passed that night in the “receiving-room.” The next morning, as soon as he had been examined by the surgeon and clothed in the customary uniform, he was ushered, according to his classification, among the good company who had been considered guilty of that compendious offence, “a misdemeanour.” Here a tall gentleman marched up to him, and addressed him in a certain language, which might be called the freemasonry of flash, and which Paul, though he did not comprehend verbatim, rightly understood to be an inquiry whether he was a thorough rogue and an entire rascal. He answered half in confusion, half in anger; and his reply was so detrimental to any favourable influence he might otherwise have exercised over the interrogator, that the latter personage, giving him a pinch in the ear, shouted out, “Ramp, ramp!” and at that significant and awful word, Paul found himself surrounded in a trice by a whole host of ingenious tormentors. One pulled this member, another pinched that; one cuffed him before, and another thrashed him behind. By way of interlude to this pleasing occupation, they stripped him of the very few things that in his change of dress he had retained. One carried off his handkerchief, a second his neckcloth, and a third, luckier than either, possessed himself of a pair of carnelian shirt-buttons, given to Paul as a gage d’amour by a young lady who sold oranges near the Tower. Happily, before this initiatory process — technically termed “ramping,” and exercised upon all new-comers who seem to have a spark of decency in them — had reduced the bones of Paul, who fought tooth and nail in his defence, to the state of magnesia, a man of a grave aspect, who had hitherto plucked his oakum in quiet, suddenly rose, thrust himself between the victim and the assailants, and desired the latter, like one having authority, to leave the lad alone, and go and be d — d.

This proposal to resort to another place for amusement, though uttered in a very grave and tranquil manner, produced that instantaneous effect which admonitions from great rogues generally work upon little. Messieurs the ravmpers ceased from their amusements; and the ringleader of the gang, thumping Paul heartily on the back, declared he was a capital fellow, and it was only a bit of a spree like, which he hoped had not given any offence.

Paul, still clenching his fist, was about to answer in no pacific mood, when a turnkey, who did not care in the least how many men he locked up for an offence, but who did not at all like the trouble of looking after any one of his flock to see that the offence was not committed, now suddenly appeared among the set; and after scolding them for the excessive plague they were to him, carried off two of the poorest of the mob to solitary confinement. It happened, of course, that these two had not taken the smallest share in the disturbance. This scene over, the company returned to picking oakum; the tread-mill, that admirably just invention by which a strong man suffers no fatigue and a weak one loses his health for life, not having been then introduced into our excellent establishments for correcting crime. Bitterly and with many dark and wrathful feelings, in which the sense of injustice at punishment alone bore him up against the humiliations to which he was subjected — bitterly and with a swelling heart, in which the thoughts that lead to crime were already forcing their way through a soil suddenly warmed for their growth, did Paul bend over his employment. He felt himself touched on the arm; he turned, and saw that the gentleman who had so kindly delivered him from his tormentors was now sitting next to him. Paul gazed long and earnestly upon his neighbour, struggling with the thought that he had beheld that sagacious countenance in happier times, although now, alas! it was altered not only by time and vicissitudes but by that air of gravity which the cares of manhood spread gradually over the face of the most thoughtless — until all doubt melted away, and he exclaimed —

“Is that you, Mr. Tomlinson? How glad I am to see you here!”

“And I,” returned the quondam murderer for the newspapers, with a nasal twang, “should be very glad to see myself anywhere else.”

Paul made no answer; and Augustus continued —

“‘To a wise man all places are the same,’— so it has been said. I don’t believe it, Paul — I don’t believe it. But a truce to reflection! I remembered you the moment I saw you, though you are surprisingly grown. How is my friend MacGrawler? — still hard at work for ‘The Asinaeum’?”

“I believe so,” said Paul, sullenly, and hastening to change the conversation; “but tell me, Mr. Tomlinson, how came you hither? I heard you had gone down to the North of England to fulfil a lucrative employment.”

“Possibly! The world always misrepresents the actions of those who are constantly before it.”

“It is very true,” said Paul; “and I have said the same thing myself a hundred times in ‘The Asinaeum,’ for we were never too lavish of our truths in that magnificent journal. ‘T is astonishing what a way we made three ideas go.”

“You remind me of myself and my newspaper labours,” rejoined Augustus Tomlinson. “I am not quite sure that I had so many as three ideas to spare; for, as you say, it is astonishing how far that number may go, properly managed. It is with writers as with strolling players — the same three ideas that did for Turks in one scene do for Highlanders in the next; but you must tell me your history one of these days, and you shall hear mine.”

“I should be excessively obliged to you for your confidence,” said Paul, “and I doubt not but your life must be excessively entertaining. Mine, as yet, has been but insipid. The lives of literary men are not fraught with adventure; and I question whether every writer in ‘The Asinaeum’ has not led pretty nearly the same existence as that which I have sustained myself.”

In conversation of this sort our newly restored friends passed the remainder of the day, until the hour of half-past four, when the prisoners are to suppose night has begun, and be locked up in their bedrooms. Tomlinson then, who was glad to re-find a person who had known him in his beaux jours, spoke privately to the turnkey; and the result of the conversation was the coupling Paul and Augustus in the same chamber, which was a sort of stone box, that generally accommodated three, and was — for we have measured it, as we would have measured the cell of the prisoner of Chillon — just eight feet by six.

We do not intend, reader, to indicate, by broad colours and in long detail, the moral deterioration of our hero; because we have found, by experience, that such pains on our part do little more than make thee blame our stupidity instead of lauding our intention. We shall therefore only work out our moral by subtle hints and brief comments; and we shall now content ourselves with reminding thee that hitherto thou hast seen Paul honest in the teeth of circumstances. Despite the contagion of the Mug, despite his associates in Fish Lane, despite his intimacy with Long Ned, thou hast seen him brave temptation, and look forward to some other career than that of robbery or fraud. Nay, even in his destitution, when driven from the abode of his childhood, thou hast observed how, instead of resorting to some more pleasurable or libertine road of life, he betook himself at once to the dull roof and insipid employments of MacGrawler, and preferred honestly earning his subsistence by the sweat of his brain to recurring to any of the numerous ways of living on others with which his experience among the worst part of society must have teemed, and which, to say the least of them, are more alluring to the young and the adventurous than the barren paths of literary labour. Indeed, to let thee into a secret, it had been Paul’s daring ambition to raise himself into a worthy member of the community. His present circumstances, it may hereafter be seen, made the cause of a great change in his desires; and the conversation he held that night with the ingenious and skilful Augustus went more towards fitting him for the hero of this work than all the habits of his childhood or the scenes of his earlier youth. Young people are apt, erroneously, to believe that it is a bad thing to be exceedingly wicked. The House of Correction is so called, because it is a place where so ridiculous a notion is invariably corrected. The next day Paul was surprised by a visit from Mrs. Lobkins, who had heard of his situation and its causes from the friendly Dummie, and who had managed to obtain from Justice Burnflat an order of admission. They met, Pyramus and Thisbe like, with a wall, or rather an iron gate, between them; and Mrs. Lobkins, after an ejaculation of despair at the obstacle, burst weepingly into the pathetic reproach —

“O Paul, thou hast brought thy pigs to a fine market!”

“‘T is a market proper for pigs, dear dame,” said Paul, who, though with a tear in his eye, did not refuse a joke as bitter as it was inelegant; “for, of all others, it is the spot where a man learns to take care of his bacon.”

“Hold your tongue!” cried the dame, angrily. “What business has you to gabble on so while you are in limbo?”

“Ah, dear dame,” said Paul, “we can’t help these rubs and stumbles on our road to preferment!”

“Road to the scragging-post!” cried the dame. “I tells you, child, you’ll live to be hanged in spite of all my care and ‘tention to you, though I hedicated you as a scholard, and always hoped as how you would grow up to be an honour to your —”

“King and country,” interrupted Paul. “We always say, honour to king and country, which means getting rich and paying taxes. ‘The more taxes a man pays, the greater honour he is to both,’ as Augustus says. Well, dear dame, all in good time.”

“What! you is merry, is you? Why does not you weep? Your heart is as hard as a brickbat. It looks quite unnatural and hyena-like to be so devil-me-careish!” So saying, the good dame’s tears gushed forth with the bitterness of a despairing Parisina.

“Nay, nay,” said Paul, who, though he suffered far more intensely, bore the suffering far more easily than his patroness, “we cannot mend the matter by crying. Suppose you see what can be done for me. I dare say you may manage to soften the justice’s sentence by a little ‘oil of palms;’ and if you can get me out before I am quite corrupted — a day or two longer in this infernal place will do the business — I promise you that I will not only live honestly myself, but with people who live in the same manner.”

“Buss me, Paul,” said the tender Mrs. Lobkins, “buss me — Oh! but I forgits the gate. I’ll see what can be done. And here, my lad, here’s summat for you in the mean while — a drop o’ the cretur, to preach comfort to your poor stomach. Hush! smuggle it through, or they’ll see you.”

Here the dame endeavoured to push a stone bottle through the bars of the gate; but, alas! though the neck passed through, the body refused, and the dame was forced to retract the “cretur.” Upon this, the kind-hearted woman renewed her sobbings; and so absorbed was she in her grief that seemingly quite forgetting for what purpose she had brought the bottle, she applied it to her own mouth, and consoled herself with that elixir vitae which she had originally designed for Paul.

This somewhat restored her; and after a most affecting scene the dame reeled off with the vacillating steps natural to woe, promising, as she went, that if love or money could shorten Paul’s confinement, neither should be wanting. We are rather at a loss to conjecture the exact influence which the former of these arguments, urged by the lovely Margaret, might have had upon Justice Burnflat.

When the good dame had departed, Paul hastened to repick his oakum and rejoin his friend. He found the worthy Augustus privately selling little elegant luxuries, such as tobacco, gin, and rations of daintier viands than the prison allowed; for Augustus, having more money than the rest of his companions, managed, through the friendship of the turnkey, to purchase secretly, and to resell at about four hundred per cent, such comforts as the prisoners especially coveted.

[A very common practice at the Bridewell. The Governor at the Coldbath–Fields, apparently a very intelligent and active man, every way fitted for a most arduous undertaking, informed us, in the only conversation we have had the honour to hold with him, that he thought he had nearly or quite destroyed in his jurisdiction this illegal method of commerce.]

“A proof,” said Augustus, dryly, to Paul, “that by prudence and exertion even in those places where a man cannot turn himself he may manage to turn a penny.”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31