Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

The Illuminations.

The illuminations were really beautiful. He went up to the Castle, whence he saw a great part of the Old Town, and all Prince’s-street, lighted up in the most splendid manner. He crossed the Earth-mound into Prince’s-street. Walking down Prince’s-street, he saw a crowd of people gathered before the large illuminated window of a confectioner’s shop. As he approached nearer, he distinctly heard the voice of Tom Random, who was haranguing the mob. The device and motto which the confectioner displayed in his window displeased this gentleman, who, beside his public-spirited abhorrence of all men of a party opposite to his own, had likewise private cause of dislike to this confectioner, who had refused him his daughter in marriage.

It was part of Random’s new system of political justice to revenge his own quarrels.

The mob, who are continually, without knowing it, made the instruments of private malice, when they think they are acting in a public cause, readily joined in Tom Random’s cry of “Down with the motto! Down with the motto!”

Forester, who, by his lesson from the dancing dogs, had learned a little prudence, and who had just printed Henry Campbell’s Essay on the best Means of reforming Abuses, did not mix with the rabble, but joined in the entreaties of some peaceable passengers, who prayed that the poor man’s windows might be spared. The windows were, notwithstanding, demolished with a terrible crash, and the crowd, then alarmed at the mischief they had done, began to disperse. The constables, who had been sent for, appeared. Tom Random was taken into custody. Forester was pursuing his way to the dancing-master’s, when one of the officers of justice exclaimed, “Stop! — stop him! — he’s one of ’em: he’s a great friend of Mr. Random: I’ve seen him often parading arm in arm in High-street with him.”

This, alas! was too true: the constables seized Forester, and put him, with Tom Random, and the ringleader of the riot, into a place of confinement for the night.

Poor Forester, who was punished for the faults of his former friend and present enemy, had, during this long night, leisure for much wholesome reflection upon the danger of forming imprudent intimacies. He resolved never to walk again in High-street arm in arm with such a man as Tom Random.

The constables were rather hasty in the conclusion they drew from this presumptive evidence.

Our hero, who felt the disgrace of his situation, was not a little astonished at Tom Random’s consoling himself with drinking instead of philosophy. The sight of this enthusiast, when he had completely intoxicated himself, was a disgusting but useful spectacle to our indignant hero. Forester was shocked at the union of gross vice and rigid pretensions to virtue: he could scarcely believe that the reeling, stammering idiot whom he now beheld was the same being from whose lips he had heard declamations upon the omnipotence of intellect— from whose pen he had seen projects for the government of empires.

The dancing-master, who, in the midst of the illuminations, had regretted that his cards could not be printed, went early in the morning to inquire about them at the printer’s.

The printer had learnt that one of his boys was taken up amongst the rioters: he was sorry to find that Forester had gotten himself into such a scrape: but he was a very cautious snug man, and he did not choose to interfere: he left him quietly to be dealt with according to law.

The dancing-master, however, was interested in finding him out, because he was informed that Forester had sat up almost all night to print his cards, and that he had them now in his pocket.

M. Pasgrave at length gained admittance to him in his confinement: the officers of justice were taking him and Random before Mr. W——a magistrate, with whom informations had been lodged by the confectioner, who had suffered in his windows.

Pasgrave, when he beheld Forester, was surprised to such a degree, that he could scarcely finish his bow, or express his astonishment, either in French or English. “Eh, monsieur! mon Dieu! bon Dieu! I beg ten million pardons — I am come to search for a printer who has my cards in his pocket.”

“Here are your cards,” said Forester: “let me speak a few words to you.” He took M. Pasgrave aside. “I perceive,” said he, “that you have discovered who I am. Though in the service of a printer, I have still as much the feelings and principles of a gentleman as I had when you saw me in Dr. Campbell’s house. I have particular reasons for being anxious to remain undiscovered by Dr. Campbell, or any of his family: you may depend upon it that my reasons are not dishonourable. I request that you will not, upon any account, betray me to that family. I am going before a magistrate, and am accused of being concerned in a riot, which I did every thing in my power to prevent.”

“Ah! monsieur,” interrupted the dancing-master, “but you see de grand inconvenience of concealing your rank and name. You, who are comme il faut, are confounded with the mob: permit me at least to follow you to Mr. W—— the magistrate: I have de honneur to teach les demoiselles his daughters to dance; dey are to be at my ball — dey take one half dozen tickets. I must call dere wid my cards; and I shall, if you will give me leave, accompany you now, and mention dat I know you to be un homme comme il faut, above being guilty of an unbecoming action. I flatter myself I have some interest wid de ladies of de family, and dat dey will do me de favour to speak to monsieur leur cher père sur votre compte.”

Forester thanked the good-natured dancing-master, but he proudly said, that he should trust to his own innocence for his defence.

M. Pasgrave, who had seen something more of the world than our hero, and who was interested for him, because he had once made him a present of an excellent violin, and because he had sat up half the night to print the ball cards, resolved not to leave him entirely to his innocence for a defence: he followed Forester to Mr. W——‘s. The magistrate was a slow, pompous man, by no means a good physiognomist, much less a good judge of character. He was proud of his authority, and glad to display the small portion of legal knowledge which he possessed. As soon as he was informed that some young men were brought before him, who had been engaged the preceding night in a riot, he put on all his magisterial terrors, and assured the confectioner, who had a private audience of him, that he should have justice, and that the person or persons concerned in breaking his window or windows should be punished with the utmost severity that the law would allow. Contrary to the humane spirit of the British law, which supposes every man to be innocent till it is proved that he is guilty, this harsh magistrate presumed that every man who was brought before him was guilty till he was proved to be innocent. Forester’s appearance was not in his favour: he had been up all night; his hair was dishevelled; his linen was neither fine nor white; his shoes were thick-soled and dirty; his coat was that in which he had been at work at the printer’s the preceding day; it was in several places daubed with printers’ ink; and his unwashed hands bespoke his trade. Of all these circumstances the slow circumspect eye of the magistrate took cognizance one by one. Forester observed the effect which this survey produced upon his judge; and he felt that appearances were against him, and that appearances are sometimes of consequence. After having estimated his poverty by these external symptoms, the magistrate looked, for the first time, in his face, and pronounced that he had one of the worst countenances he ever beheld. This judgment once pronounced, he proceeded to justify, by wresting to the prisoner’s disadvantage every circumstance that appeared. Forester’s having been frequently seen in Tom Random’s company was certainly against him: the confectioner perpetually repeated that they were constant companions; that they were intimate friends; that they were continually walking together every Sunday; and that they often had come arm in arm into his shop, talking politics; that he believed Forester to be of the same way of thinking with Mr. Random; and that he saw him close behind him, at the moment the stones were thrown that broke the windows. It appeared that Mr. Random was at that time active in encouraging the mob. To oppose the angry confectioner’s conjectural evidence, the lad who threw the stone, and who was now produced, declared that Forester held back his arm, and said, “My good lad, don’t break this man’s windows: go home quietly; here’s a shilling for you.” The person who gave this honest testimony, in whom there was a strange mixture of the love of mischief and the spirit of generosity, was the very lad who fought with Forester, and beat him, about the dancing dogs. He whispered to Forester, “Do you remember me? I hope you don’t bear malice.” The magistrate, who heard this whisper, immediately construed it to the prisoner’s disadvantage. “Then, sir,” said he, addressing himself to our hero, “this gentleman, I understand, claims acquaintance with you; his acquaintance really does you honour, and speaks, strongly in favour of your character. If I mistake not, this is the lad whom I sent to the Tolbooth, some little time ago, for a misdemeanour; and he is not, I apprehend, a stranger to the stocks.”

Forester commanded his temper as well as he was able, and observed, that whatever might be the character of the young man who had spoken in his favour, his evidence would, perhaps, be thought to deserve some credit, when the circumstances of his acquaintance with the witness were known. He then related the adventure of the dancing dogs, and remarked, that the testimony of an enemy came with double force in his favour. The language and manner in which Forester spoke surprised all who were present; but the history of the dancing dogs appeared so ludicrous and so improbable, that the magistrate decidedly pronounced it to be “a fabrication, a story invented to conceal the palpable collusion of the witnesses.” Yet, though he one moment declared that he did not believe the story, he the next inferred from it, that Forester was disposed to riot and sedition, since he was ready to fight with a vagabond in the streets for the sake of a parcel of dancing dogs.

M. Pasgrave, in the meantime, had, with great good-nature, been representing Forester in the best light he possibly could to the young ladies, the magistrate’s daughters. One of them sent to beg to speak to their father. M. Pasgrave judiciously dwelt upon his assurances of Forester’s being a gentleman: he told Mr. W—— that he had met him in one of the best families in Edinburgh; that he knew he had some private reasons for concealing that he was a gentleman: “perhaps the young gentleman was reduced to temporary distress,” he said; but whatever might be these reasons, M. Pasgrave vouched for his having very respectable friends and connexions. The magistrate wished to know the family in which M. Pasgrave had met Forester; but he was, according to his promise, impenetrable on this subject. His representations had, however, the desired effect upon Mr. W——: when he returned to the examination of our hero, his opinion of his countenance somewhat varied; he despatched his other business; bailed Tom Random on high sureties; and, when Forester was the only person that remained, he turned to him with great solemnity; bade him sit down; informed him that he knew him to be a gentleman; that he was greatly concerned that a person like him, who had respectable friends and connexions, should involve himself in such a disagreeable affair; that it was a matter of grief and surprise to him, to see a young gentleman in such apparel; that he earnestly recommended to him to accommodate matters with his friends; and, above all things, to avoid the company of seditious persons. Much good advice, but in a dictatorial tone, and in cold, pompous language, he bestowed upon the prisoner, and at length dismissed him. “How different,” said Forester to himself, “is this man’s method of giving advice from Dr. Campbell’s!”

This lesson strongly impressed, however, upon our hero’s mind the belief, that external appearance, dress, manners, and the company we keep, are the usual circumstances by which the world judge of character and conduct. When he was dismissed from Mr. W——‘s august presence, the first thing he did was to inquire for Pasgrave: he was giving the magistrate’s daughters a lesson, and could not be interrupted; but Forester left a note for him, requesting to see him at ten o’clock the next day, at Mr. —— the bookseller’s. New mortifications awaited our hero: on his return to his master’s, he was very coldly received; Mr. —— let him know, in unqualified terms, that he did not like to employ any one in his work who got into quarrels at night in the public streets. Forester’s former favour with his master, his industry and talents, were not considered without envy by the rest of the journeymen printers; and they took advantage of his absence to misrepresent him to the bookseller: however, when Forester came to relate his own story, his master was convinced that he was not to blame; that he had worked extremely hard the preceding day; and that, far from having been concerned in a riot, he had done every thing in his power to prevent mischief. He desired to see the essay, which was printed with so much expedition: it was in the hands of the corrector of the press. The sheets were sent for, and the bookseller was in admiration at the extraordinary correctness with which it was printed; the corrector of the press scarcely had occasion to alter a word, a letter, or a stop. There was a quotation in the manuscript from Juvenal. Henry Campbell had, by mistake, omitted to name the satire and line, and the author from which it was taken, though he had left a blank in which they were to be inserted. The corrector of the press, though a literary gentleman, was at a stand. Forester immediately knew where to look for the passage in the original author: he found it, and inserted the book and line in their proper place. His master did not suffer this to pass unobserved; he hinted to him, that it was a pity a young man of his abilities and knowledge should waste his time in the mere technical drudgery of printing. “I should be glad now,” continued the bookseller, “to employ you as a corrector of the press, and to advance you, according to your merits, in the world; but,” glancing his eye at Forester’s dress, “you must give me leave to say, that some attention to outward appearance is necessary in our business. Gentlemen call here, as you well know, continually, and I like to have the people about me make a creditable appearance. You have earned money since you have been with me — surely you can afford yourself a decent suit of clothes and a cleaner shirt. I beg your pardon for speaking so freely; but I really have a regard for you, and wish to see you get forward in life.”

Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44