In the second edition of this novel there were here inserted two “characters” of “Fighting Attie” and “Gentleman George,” omitted in the subsequent edition published by Mr. Bentley in the “Standard Novels.” At the request of some admirers of those eminent personages, who considered the biographical sketches referred to impartial in themselves, and contributing to the completeness of the design for which men so illustrious were introduced, they are here retained, though in the more honourable form of a separate and supplementary notice.
When he dies, the road will have lost a great man, whose foot was rarely out of his stirrup, and whose clear head guided a bold hand. He carried common-sense to its perfection, and he made the straight path the sublimest. His words were few, his actions were many. He was the Spartan of Tobymen, and laconism was the short soul of his professional legislation!
Whatever way you view him, you see those properties of mind which command fortune; few thoughts not confusing each other — simple elements, and bold. His character in action maybe summed in two phrases — “a fact seized, and a stroke made.” Had his intellect been more luxurious, his resolution might have been less hardy; and his hardiness made his greatness. He was one of those who shine but in action — chimneys (to adapt the simile of Sir Thomas More) that seem useless till you light your fire. So in calm moments you dreamed not of his utility, and only on the road you were struck dumb with the outbreaking of his genius. Whatever situation he was called to, you found in hire what you looked for in vain in others; for his strong sense gave to Attie what long experience ought, but often fails, to give to its possessors. His energy triumphed over the sense of novel circumstance, and he broke in a moment through the cobwebs which entangled lesser natures for years. His eye saw a final result, and disregarded the detail. He robbed his man. without chicanery; and took his purse by applying for it rather than scheming. If his enemies wish to detract from his merit — a merit great, dazzling, and yet solid — they may, perhaps, say that his genius fitted him better to continue exploits than to devise them; and thus that, besides the renown which he may justly claim, he often wholly engrossed that fame which should have been shared by others: he took up the enterprise where it ceased at Labour, and carried it onwards, where it was rewarded with Glory. Even this charge proves a new merit of address, and lessens not the merit less complicated the have allowed him before. The fame he has acquired may excite our emulation; the envy he has not appeased may console us for obscurity.
A stanza of Greek poetry — Thus, not too vigorously, translated by Mr. West —
“But wrapped in error is the human mind, And human bliss is ever insecure — Know we what fortune shall remain behind? Know we how long the present shall endure?”
For thee, Gentleman George, for thee, what conclusive valediction remains? Alas! since we began the strange and mumming scene wherein first thou went introduced, the grim foe hath knocked thrice at thy gates; and now, as we write — [In 1830]— thou art departed thence — thou art no more! A new lord presides to thine easy-chair, a new voice rings from thy merry board — thou art forgotten! thou art already, like these pages, a tale that is told to a memory that retaineth not! Where are thy quips and cranks; where thy stately coxcombries and thy regal gauds? Thine house and thy pagoda, thy Gothic chimney and thy Chinese sign-post — these yet ask the concluding hand. Thy hand is cold; their completion, and the enjoyment the completion yields, are for another! Thou sowest, and thy follower reaps; thou buildest, thy successor holds; thou plantest, and thine heir sits beneath the shadow of thy trees —
“Neque harum, quas colis, arborum
Te, praeter invisas cupressos,
Ulla brevem dominum sequetur!”
[“Nor will any of these trees thou didst cultivate follow thee, the shortlived lord, save the hateful Cyprus.”]
At this moment thy life — for thou veert a Great Man to thine order, and they have added thy biography to that of Abershaw and Sheppard — thy life is before us. What a homily in its events! Gayly didst thou laugh into thy youth, and run through the courses of thy manhood. Wit sat at thy table, and Genius was thy comrade. Beauty was thy handmaid; and Frivolity played around thee — a buffoon that thou didst ridicule, and ridiculing enjoy! Who among us can look back to thy brilliant era, and not sigh to think that the wonderful men who surrounded thee, and amidst whom thou wert a centre and a nucleus, are for him but the things of history, and the phantoms of a bodiless tradition? Those brilliant. suppers, glittering with beauty, the memory of which makes one spot (yet inherited by Bachelor Bill) a haunted and a fairy ground; all who gathered to that Armida’s circle — the Grammonts and the Beauvilliers and the Rochefoucaulds of England and the Road — who does not feel that to have seen these, though but as Gil Blas saw the festivities of his actors, from the sideboard and behind the chair, would have been a triumph for the earthlier feelings of his old age to recall? What, then, must it have been to have seen them as thou didst see — thou, the deceased and the forgotten! —— seen them from the height of thy youth and power and rank (for early wert thou keeper to a public), and reckless spirits, and lusty capacities of joy? What pleasures where sense lavished its uncounted varieties? What revellings where wine was the least excitement?
Let the scene shift. How stirring is the change! Triumph and glitter and conquest! For thy public was a public of renown; thither came the Warriors of the Ring — the Heroes of the Cross — and thou, their patron, wert elevated on their fame! “Principes pro victoria pugnant, comites pro Principe.”—[Chiefs for the victory fight — for chiefs the soldiers]— What visions sweep across us! What glories didst thou witness! Over what conquests didst thou preside! The mightiest epoch, the most wonderful events which the world, thy world, ever knew — of these was it not indeed, and dazzlingly thine —
“To share the triumph and partake the gale”?
Let the scene shift. Manhood is touched by age; but Lust is “heeled” by Luxury, and Pomp is the heir of Pleasure; gewgaws and gaud, instead of glory, surround, rejoice, and flatter thee to the last. There rise thy buildings; there lie, secret but gorgeous, the tabernacles of thine ease; and the earnings of thy friends, and the riches of the people whom they plunder, are waters to thine imperial whirlpool. Thou art lapped in ease, as is a silkworm; and profusion flows from thy high and unseen asylum as the rain poureth from a cloud. — Much didst thou do to beautify chimney-tops, much to adorn the snuggeries where thou didst dwell. Thieving with thee took a substantial shape; and the robberies Of the public passed into a metempsychosis of mortar, and became public-houses. So there and thus, building and planning, didst thou spin out thy latter yarn, till Death came upon thee; and when we looked around, lo! thy brother was on thy hearth. And thy parasites and thy comrades and thine ancient pals and thy portly blowens, they made a murmur, and they packed up their goods; but they turned ere they departed, and they would have worshipped thy brother as they worshipped thee — but he would not! And thy sign-post is gone and mouldered already; and to the Jolly Angler has succeeded the Jolly Tar! And thy picture is disappearing fast from the print-shops, and thy name from the mouths of men! And thy brother, whom no one praised while thou didst live, is on a steeple of panegyric built above the churchyard that contains thy grave. O shifting and volatile hearts of men! Who would be keeper of a public? Who dispense the wine and the juices that gladden, when the moment the pulse of the band ceases, the wine and the juices are forgotten?
To History — for thy name will be preserved in that record which, whether it be the calendar of Newgate or of nations, telleth its alike how men suffer and sin and perish — to History we leave the sum and balance of thy merits and thy faults. The sins that were thine were those of the man to whom pleasure is all in all: thou wert, from root to branch, sap and in heart, what moralists term the libertine; hence the light wooing, the quick desertion, the broken faith, the organized perfidy, that manifested thy bearing to those gentler creatures who called thee ‘Gentleman George.’ Never to one solitary woman, until the last dull flame of thy dotage, didst thou so behave as to give no foundation to complaint and no voice to wrong. But who shall say be honest to one, but laugh at perfidy to another? Who shall wholly confine treachery to one sex, if to that sex he hold treachery no offence? So in thee, as in all thy tribe, there was a laxness of principle, an insincerity of faith, even unto men: thy friends, when occasion suited, thou couldst forsake; and thy luxuries were dearer to thee than justice to those who supplied them. Men who love and live for pleasure as thou, are usually good-natured; for their devotion to pleasure arises from the strength of their constitution, and the strength of their constitution preserves them from the irritations of weaker nerves. So went thou good-natured and often generous; and often with thy generosity didst thou unite a delicacy that showed thou hadst an original and a tender sympathy with men. But as those who pursue pleasure are above all others impatient of interruption, so to such as interfered with thy main pursuit thou didst testify a deep, a lasting, and a revengeful anger. Yet let not such vices of temperament be too severely judged! For to thee were given man’s two most persuasive tempters, physical and moral — Health and Power! Thy talents, such as they were — and they were the talents of a man of the world — misled rather than guided thee, for they gave thy mind that demi-philosophy, that indifference to exalted motives, which is generally found in a clever rake. Thy education was wretched; thou hadst a smattering of Horace, but thou couldst not write English, and thy letters betray that thou went wofully ignorant of logic. The fineness of thy taste has been exaggerated; thou wert unacquainted with the nobleness of simplicity; thy idea of a whole was grotesque and overloaded, and thy fancy in details was gaudy and meretricious. But thou hadst thy hand constantly in the public purse, and thou hadst plans and advisers forever before thee; more than all, thou didst find the houses in that neighbourbood wherein thou didst build, so preternaturally hideous that thou didst require but little science to be less frightful in thy creations. If thou didst not improve thy native village and thy various homes with a solid, a lofty, and a noble taste, thou didst nevertheless very singularly improve. And thy posterity, in avoiding the faults of thy masonry, will be grateful for the effects of thy ambition. The same demi-philosophy which influenced thee in private life exercised a far benigner and happier power over thee in public. Thou wert not idly vexatious in vestries, nor ordinarily tyrannic in thy parish; if thou wert ever arbitrary it was only when thy pleasure was checked, or thy vanity wounded. At other times thou didst leave events to their legitimate course, so that in thy latter years thou wert justly popular in thy parish; and in the grave thy great good fortune will outshine thy few bad qualities, and men will say of thee with a kindly, not an erring judgment, “In private life he was not worse than the Rufers who came to this bar; in public life he was better than those who kept a public before him.” Hark! those huzzas! what is the burden of that chorus? Oh, grateful and never time-serving Britons, have ye modified already for another the song ye made so solely in honour of Gentleman George: and must we, lest we lose the custom of the public and the good things of the tap-room — roust we roar with throats yet hoarse with our fervour for the old words, our ardour for the new —
“Here’s to Mariner Bill, God bless him!
God bless him!
God bless him!
Here ‘s to Mariner Bill, God bless him!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06