A journey from this world to the next, by Henry Fielding

Chapter XXII

What happened to Julian in the person of a tailor.

“Fortune now stationed me in a character which the ingratitude of mankind hath put them on ridiculing, though they owe to it not only a relief from the inclemencies of cold, to which they would otherwise be exposed, but likewise a considerable satisfaction of their vanity. The character I mean was that of a tailor; which, if we consider it with due attention, must be confessed to have in it great dignity and importance. For, in reality, who constitutes the different degrees between men but the tailor? the prince indeed gives the title, but it is the tailor who makes the man. To his labors are owing the respect of crowds, and the awe which great men inspire into their beholders, though these are too often unjustly attributed to other motives. Lastly, the admiration of the fair is most commonly to be placed to his account.

“I was just set up in my trade when I made three suits of fine clothes for king Stephen’s coronation. I question whether the person who wears the rich coat hath so much pleasure and vanity in being admired in it, as we tailors have from that admiration; and perhaps a philosopher would say he is not so well entitled to it. I bustled on the day of the ceremony through the crowd, and it was with incredible delight I heard several say, as my clothes walked by, ‘Bless me, was ever anything so fine as the earl of Devonshire? Sure he and Sir Hugh Bigot are the two best dressed men I ever saw.’ Now both those suits were of my making.

“There would indeed be infinite pleasure in working for the courtiers, as they are generally genteel men, and show one’s clothes to the best advantage, was it not for one small discouragement; this is, that they never pay. I solemnly protest, though I lost almost as much by the court in my life as I got by the city, I never carried a suit into the latter with half the satisfaction which I have done to the former; though from that I was certain of ready money, and from this almost as certain of no money at all.

“Courtiers may, however, be divided into two sorts, very essentially different from each other; into those who never intend to pay for their clothes; and those who do intend to pay for them, but never happen to be able. Of the latter sort are many of those young gentlemen whom we equip out for the army, and who are, unhappily for us, cut off before they arrive at preferment. This is the reason that tailors, in time of war, are mistaken for politicians by their inquisitiveness into the event of battles, one campaign very often proving the ruin of half-a-dozen of us. I am sure I had frequent reason to curse that fatal battle of Cardigan, where the Welsh defeated some of king Stephen’s best troops, and where many a good suit of mine unpaid for, fell to the ground.

“The gentlemen of this honorable calling have fared much better in later ages than when I was of it; for now it seems the fashion is, when they apprehend their customer is not in the best circumstances, if they are not paid as soon as they carry home the suit, they charge him in their book as much again as it is worth, and then send a gentleman with a small scrip of parchment to demand the money. If this be not immediately paid the gentleman takes the beau with him to his house, where he locks him up till the tailor is contented: but in my time these scrips of parchment were not in use; and if the beau disliked paying for his clothes, as very often happened, we had no method of compelling him.

“In several of the characters which I have related to you, I apprehend I have sometimes forgot myself, and considered myself as really interested as I was when I personated them on earth. I have just now caught myself in the fact; for I have complained to you as bitterly of my customers as I formerly used to do when I was the tailor: but in reality, though there were some few persons of very great quality, and some others, who never paid their debts, yet those were but a few, and I had a method of repairing this loss. My customers I divided under three heads: those who paid ready money, those who paid slow, and those who never paid at all. The first of these I considered apart by themselves, as persons by whom I got a certain but small profit. The two last I lumped together, making those who paid slow contribute to repair my losses by those who did not pay at all. Thus, upon the whole, I was a very inconsiderable loser, and might have left a fortune to my family, had I not launched forth into expenses which swallowed up all my gains. I had a wife and two children. These indeed I kept frugally enough, for I half starved them; but I kept a mistress in a finer way, for whom I had a country-house, pleasantly situated on the Thames, elegantly fitted up and neatly furnished. This woman might very properly be called my mistress, for she was most absolutely so; and though her tenure was no higher than by my will, she domineered as tyrannically as if my chains had been riveted in the strongest manner. To all this I submitted, not through any adoration of her beauty, which was indeed but indifferent. Her charms consisted in little wantonnesses, which she knew admirably well to use in hours of dalliance, and which, I believe, are of all things the most delightful to a lover.

“She was so profusely extravagant, that it seemed as if she had an actual intent to ruin me. This I am sure of, if such had been her real intention, she could have taken no properer way to accomplish it; nay, I myself might appear to have had the same view: for, besides this extravagant mistress and my country-house, I kept likewise a brace of hunters, rather for that it was fashionable so to do than for any great delight I took in the sport, which I very little attended; not for want of leisure, for few noblemen had so much. All the work I ever did was taking measure, and that only of my greatest and best customers. I scare ever cut a piece of cloth in my life, nor was indeed much more able to fashion a coat than any gentleman in the kingdom. This made a skillful servant too necessary to me. He knew I must submit to any terms with, or any treatment from, him.

“He knew it was easier for him to find another such a tailor as me than for me to procure such another workman as him: for this reason he exerted the most notorious and cruel tyranny, seldom giving me a civil word; nor could the utmost condescension on my side, though attended with continual presents and rewards, and raising his wages, content or please him. In a word, he was as absolutely my master as was ever an ambitious, industrious prime minister over an indolent and voluptuous king. All my other journeymen paid more respect to him than to me; for they considered my favor as a necessary consequence of obtaining his.

“These were the most remarkable occurrences while I acted this part. Minos hesitated a few moments, and then bid me get back again, without assigning any reason.”

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37