“I now revisited England, and was born at London. My father was one of the magistrates of that city. He had eleven children, of whom I was the eldest. He had great success in trade, and grew extremely rich, but the largeness of his family rendered it impossible for him to leave me a fortune sufficient to live well on independent of business. I was accordingly brought up to be a fishmonger, in which capacity I myself afterwards acquired very considerable wealth.
“The same disposition of mind which in princes is called ambition is in subjects named faction. To this temper I was greatly addicted from my youth. I was, while a boy, a great partisan of prince John’s against his brother Richard, during the latter’s absence in the holy war and in his captivity. I was no more than one-and-twenty when I first began to make political speeches in public, and to endeavor to foment disquietude and discontent in the city. As I was pretty well qualified for this office, by a great fluency of words, an harmonious accent, a graceful delivery, and above all an invincible assurance, I had soon acquired some reputation among the younger citizens, and some of the weaker and more inconsiderate of a riper age. This, cooperating with my own natural vanity, made me extravagantly proud and supercilious. I soon began to esteem myself a man of some consequence, and to overlook persons every way my superiors.
“The famous Robin Hood, and his companion Little John, at this time made a considerable figure in Yorkshire. I took upon me to write a letter to the former, in the name of the city, inviting him to come to London, where I assured him of very good reception, signifying to him my own great weight and consequence, and how much I had disposed the citizens in his favor. Whether he received this letter or no I am not certain; but he never gave me any answer to it.
“A little afterwards one William Fitz–Osborn, or, as he was nicknamed, William Long–Beard, began to make a figure in the city. He was a bold and an impudent fellow, and had raised himself to great popularity with the rabble, by pretending to espouse their cause against the rich. I took this man’s part, and made a public oration in his favor, setting him forth as a patriot, and one who had embarked in the cause of liberty: for which service he did not receive me with the acknowledgments I expected. However, as I thought I should easily gain the ascendant over this fellow, I continued still firm on his side, till the archbishop of Canterbury, with an armed force, put an end to his progress: for he was seized in Bowchurch, where he had taken refuge, and with nine of his accomplices hanged in chains.
“I escaped narrowly myself; for I was seized in the same church with the rest, and, as I had been very considerably engaged in the enterprise, the archbishop was inclined to make me an example; but my father’s merit, who had advanced a considerable sum to queen Eleanor towards the king’s ransom, preserved me.
“The consternation my danger had occasioned kept me some time quiet, and I applied myself very assiduously to my trade. I invented all manner of methods to enhance the price of fish, and made use of my utmost endeavors to engross as much of the business as possible in my own hands. By these means I acquired a substance which raised me to some little consequence in the city, but far from elevating me to that degree which I had formerly flattered myself with possessing at a time when I was totally insignificant; for, in a trading society, money must at least lay the foundation of all power and interest.
“But as it hath been remarked that the same ambition which sent Alexander into Asia brings the wrestler on the green; and as this same ambition is as incapable as quicksilver of lying still; so I, who was possessed perhaps of a share equal to what hath fired the blood of any of the heroes of antiquity, was no less restless and discontented with ease and quiet. My first endeavors were to make myself head of my company, which Richard I had just published, and soon afterwards I procured myself to be chosen alderman.
“Opposition is the only state which can give a subject an opportunity of exerting the disposition I was possessed of. Accordingly, king John was no sooner seated on his throne than I began to oppose his measures, whether right or wrong. It is true that monarch had faults enow. He was so abandoned to lust and luxury, that he addicted himself to the most extravagant excesses in both, while he indolently suffered the king of France to rob him of almost all his foreign dominions: my opposition therefore was justifiable enough, and if my motive from within had been as good as the occasion from without I should have had little to excuse; but, in truth, I sought nothing but my own preferment, by making myself formidable to the king, and then selling to him the interest of that party by whose means I had become so. Indeed, had the public good been my care, however zealously I might have opposed the beginning of his reign, I should not have scrupled to lend him my utmost assistance in this struggle between him and pope Innocent the third, in which he was so manifestly in the right; nor have suffered the insolence of that pope, and the power of the king of France, to have compelled him in the issue, basely to resign his crown into the hands of the former, and receive it again as a vassal; by means of which acknowledgment the pope afterwards claimed this kingdom as a tributary fief to be held of the papal chair; a claim which occasioned great uneasiness to many subsequent princes, and brought numberless calamities on the nation.
“As the king had, among other concessions, stipulated to pay an immediate sum of money to Pandulph, which he had great difficulty to raise, it was absolutely necessary for him to apply to the city, where my interest and popularity were so high that he had no hopes without my assistance. As I knew this, I took care to sell myself and country as high as possible. The terms I demanded, therefore, were a place, a pension, and a knighthood. All those were immediately consented to. I was forthwith knighted, and promised the other two.
“I now mounted the hustings, and, without any regard to decency or modesty, made as emphatical a speech in favor of the king as before I had done against him. In this speech I justified all those measures which I had before condemned, and pleaded as earnestly with my fellow-citizens to open their purses, as I had formerly done to prevail with them to keep them shut. But, alas! my rhetoric had not the effect I proposed. The consequence of my arguments was only contempt to myself. The people at first stared on one another, and afterwards began unanimously to express their dislike. An impudent fellow among them, reflecting on my trade, cried out, ‘Stinking fish;’ which was immediately reiterated through the whole crowd. I was then forced to slink away home; but I was not able to accomplish my retreat without being attended by the mob, who huzza’d me along the street with the repeated cries of ‘Stinking fish.’
“I now proceeded to court, to inform his majesty of my faithful service, and how much I had suffered in his cause. I found by my first reception he had already heard of my success. Instead of thanking me for my speech, he said the city should repent of their obstinacy, for that he would show them who he was: and so saying, he immediately turned that part to me to which the toe of man hath so wonderful an affection, that it is very difficult, whenever it presents itself conveniently, to keep our toes from the most violent and ardent salutation of it.
“I was a little nettled at this behavior, and with some earnestness claimed the king’s fulfilling his promise; but he retired without answering me. I then applied to some of the courtiers, who had lately professed great friendship to me, had eat at my house, and invited me to theirs: but not one would return me any answer, all running away from me as if I had been seized with some contagious distemper. I now found by experience, that as none can be so civil, so none can be ruder than a courtier.
“A few moments after the king’s retiring I was left alone in the room to consider what I should do or whither I should turn myself. My reception in the city promised itself to be equal at least with what I found at court. However, there was my home, and thither it was necessary I should retreat for the present.
“But, indeed, bad as I apprehended my treatment in the city would be, it exceeded my expectation. I rode home on an ambling pad through crowds who expressed every kind of disregard and contempt; pelting me not only with the most abusive language, but with dirt. However, with much difficulty I arrived at last at my own house, with my bones whole, but covered over with filth.
“When I was got within my doors, and had shut them against the mob, who had pretty well vented their spleen, and seemed now contented to retire, my wife, whom I found crying over her children, and from whom I had hoped some comfort in my afflictions, fell upon me in the most outrageous manner. She asked me why I would venture on such a step, without consulting her; she said her advice might have been civilly asked, if I was resolved not to have been guided by it. That, whatever opinion I might have conceived of her understanding, the rest of the world thought better of it. That I had never failed when I had asked her counsel, nor ever succeeded without it; — with much more of the same kind, too tedious to mention; concluding that it was a monstrous behavior to desert my party and come over to the court.
“An abuse which I took worse than all the rest, as she had been constantly for several years assiduous in railing at the opposition, in siding with the court-party, and begging me to come over to it; and especially after my mentioning the offer of knighthood to her, since which time she had continually interrupted my repose with dinning in my ears the folly of refusing honors and of adhering to a party and to principles by which I was certain of procuring no advantage to myself and my family.
“I had now entirely lost my trade, so that I had not the least temptation to stay longer in a city where I was certain of receiving daily affronts and rebukes. I therefore made up my affairs with the utmost expedition, and, scraping together all I could, retired into the country, where I spent the remainder of my days in universal contempt, being shunned by everybody, perpetually abused by my wife, and not much respected by my children.
“Minos told me, though I had been a very vile fellow, he thought my sufferings made some atonement, and so bid me take the other trial.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50