His misfortunes did not entirely prevent Heartfree from closing his eyes. On the contrary, he slept several hours the first night of his confinement. However, he perhaps paid too severely dear both for his repose and for a sweet dream which accompanied it, and represented his little family in one of those tender scenes which had frequently passed in the days of his happiness and prosperity, when the provision they were making for the future fortunes of their children used to be one of the most agreeable topics of discourse with which he and his wife entertained themselves. The pleasantness of this vision, therefore, served only, on his awaking, to set forth his present misery with additional horror, and to heighten the dreadful ideas which now crowded on his mind.
He had spent a considerable time after his first rising from the bed on which he had, without undressing, thrown himself, and now began to wonder at Mrs. Heartfree’s long absence; but as the mind is desirous (and perhaps wisely too) to comfort itself with drawing the most flattering conclusions from all events, so he hoped the longer her stay was the more certain was his deliverance. At length his impatience prevailed, and he was just going to despatch a messenger to his own house when his apprentice came to pay him a visit, and on his enquiry informed him that his wife had departed in company with Mr. Wild many hours before, and had carried all his most valuable effects with her; adding at the same time that she had herself positively acquainted him she had her husband’s express orders for so doing, and that she was gone to Holland.
It is the observation of many wise men, who have studied the anatomy of the human soul with more attention than our young physicians generally bestow on that of the body, that great and violent surprize hath a different effect from that which is wrought in a good housewife by perceiving any disorders in her kitchen; who, on such occasions, commonly spreads the disorder, not only over her whole family, but over the whole neighbourhood. — Now, these great calamities, especially when sudden, tend to stifle and deaden all the faculties, instead of rousing them; and accordingly Herodotus tells us a story of Croesus king of Lydia, who, on beholding his servants and courtiers led captive, wept bitterly, but, when he saw his wife and children in that condition, stood stupid and motionless; so stood poor Heartfree on this relation of his apprentice, nothing moving but his colour, which entirely forsook his countenance.
The apprentice, who had not in the least doubted the veracity of his mistress, perceiving the surprize which too visibly appeared in his master, became speechless likewise, and both remained silent some minutes, gazing with astonishment and horror at each other. At last Heartfree cryed out in an agony, “My wife deserted me in my misfortunes!” “Heaven forbid, sir!” answered the other. “And what is become of my poor children?” replied Heartfree. “They are at home, sir,” said the apprentice. “Heaven be praised! She hath forsaken them too!” cries Heartfree: “fetch them hither this instant. Go, my dear Jack, bring hither my little all which remains now: fly, child, if thou dost not intend likewise to forsake me in my afflictions.” The youth answered he would die sooner than entertain such a thought, and, begging his master to be comforted, instantly obeyed his orders.
Heartfree, the moment the young man was departed, threw himself on his bed in an agony of despair; but, recollecting himself after he had vented the first sallies of his passion, he began to question the infidelity of his wife as a matter impossible. He ran over in his thoughts the uninterrupted tenderness which she had always shewn him, and, for a minute, blamed the rashness of his belief against her; till the many circumstances of her having left him so long, and neither writ nor sent to him since her departure with all his effects and with Wild, of whom he was not before without suspicion, and, lastly and chiefly, her false pretence to his commands, entirely turned the scale, and convinced him of her disloyalty.
While he was in these agitations of mind the good apprentice, who had used the utmost expedition, brought his children to him. He embraced them with the most passionate fondness, and imprinted numberless kisses on their little lips. The little girl flew to him with almost as much eagerness as he himself exprest at her sight, and cryed out, “O papa, why did you not come home to poor mamma all this while? I thought you would not have left your little Nancy so long.” After which he asked her for her mother, and was told she had kissed them both in the morning, and cried very much for his absence. All which brought a flood of tears into the eyes of this weak, silly man, who had not greatness sufficient to conquer these low efforts of tenderness and humanity.
He then proceeded to enquire of the maid-servant, who acquainted him that she knew no more than that her mistress had taken leave of her children in the morning with many tears and kisses, and had recommended them in the most earnest manner to her care; she said she had promised faithfully to take care of them, and would, while they were entrusted to her, fulfil her promise. For which profession Heartfree expressed much gratitude to her, and, after indulging himself with some little fondnesses which we shall not relate, he delivered his children into the good woman’s hands, and dismissed her.
Being now alone, he sat some short time silent, and then burst forth into the following soliloquy:—
“What shall I do? Shall I abandon myself to a dispirited despair, or fly in the face of the Almighty? Surely both are unworthy of a wise man; for what can be more vain than weakly to lament my fortune if irretrievable, or, if hope remains, to offend that Being who can most strongly support it? but are my passions then voluntary? Am I so absolutely their master that I can resolve with myself, so far only will I grieve? Certainly no. Reason, however we flatter ourselves, hath not such despotic empire in our minds, that it can, with imperial voice, hush all our sorrow in a moment. Where then is its use? For either it is an empty sound, and we are deceived in thinking we have reason, or it is given us to some end, and hath a part assigned it by the all-wise Creator. Why, what can its office be other than justly to weigh the worth of all things, and to direct us to that perfection of human wisdom which proportions our esteem of every object by its real merit, and prevents us from over or undervaluing whatever we hope for, we enjoy, or we lose. It doth not foolishly say to us, Be not glad, or, Be not sorry, which would be as vain and idle as to bid the purling river cease to run, or the raging wind to blow. It prevents us only from exulting, like children, when we receive a toy, or from lamenting when we are deprived of it. Suppose then I have lost the enjoyments of this world, and my expectation of future pleasure and profit is for ever disappointed, what relief can my reason afford? What, unless it can shew me I had fixed my affections on a toy; that what I desired was not, by a wise man, eagerly to be affected, nor its loss violently deplored? for there are toys adapted to all ages, from the rattle to the throne; and perhaps the value of all is equal to their several possessors; for if the rattle pleases the ear of the infant, what can the flattery of sycophants give more to the prince? The latter is as far from examining into the reality and source of his pleasure as the former; for if both did, they must both equally despise it. And surely, if we consider them seriously, and compare them together, we shall be forced to conclude all those pomps and pleasures of which men are so fond, and which, through so much danger and difficulty, with such violence and villany, they pursue, to be as worthless trifles as any exposed to sale in a toy-shop. I have often noted my little girl viewing, with eager eyes, a jointed baby; I have marked the pains and solicitations she hath used till I have been prevailed on to indulge her with it. At her first obtaining it, what joy hath sparkled in her countenance! with what raptures hath she taken possession! but how little satisfaction hath she found in it! What pains to work out her amusement from it! Its dress must be varied; the tinsel ornaments which first caught her eyes produce no longer pleasure; she endeavours to make it stand and walk in vain, and is constrained herself to supply it with conversation. In a day’s time it is thrown by and neglected, and some less costly toy preferred to it. How like the situation of this child is that of every man! What difficulties in the pursuit of his desires! what inanity in the possession of most, and satiety in those which seem more real and substantial! The delights of most men are as childish and as superficial as that of my little girl; a feather or a fiddle are their pursuits and their pleasures through life, even to their ripest years, if such men may be said to attain any ripeness at all. But let us survey those whose understandings are of a more elevated and refined temper; how empty do they soon find the world of enjoyments worth their desire or attaining! How soon do they retreat to solitude and contemplation, to gardening and planting, and such rural amusements, where their trees and they enjoy the air and the sun in common, and both vegetate with very little difference between them. But suppose (which neither truth nor wisdom will allow) we could admit something more valuable and substantial in these blessings, would not the uncertainty of their possession be alone sufficient to lower their price? How mean a tenure is that at the will of fortune, which chance, fraud, and rapine are every day so likely to deprive us of, and often the more likely by how much the greater worth our possessions are of! Is it not to place our affections on a bubble in the water, or on a picture in the clouds? What madman would build a fine house or frame a beautiful garden on land in which he held so uncertain an interest? But again, was all this less undeniable, did Fortune, the lady of our manor, lease to us for our lives, of how little consideration must even this term appear! For, admitting that these pleasures were not liable to be torn from us, how certainly must we be torn from them! Perhaps tomorrow — nay, or even sooner; for as the excellent poet says —
Where is tomorrow? — In the other world.
To thousands this is true, and the reverse
Is sure to none.
But if I have no further hope in this world, can I have none beyond it? Surely those laborious writers, who have taken such infinite pains to destroy or weaken all the proofs of futurity, have not so far succeeded as to exclude us from hope. That active principle in man which with such boldness pushes us on through every labour and difficulty, to attain the most distant and most improbable event in this world, will not surely deny us a little flattering prospect of those beautiful mansions which, if they could be thought chimerical, must be allowed the loveliest which can entertain the eye of man; and to which the road, if we understand it rightly, appears to have so few thorns and briars in it, and to require so little labour and fatigue from those who shall pass through it, that its ways are truly said to be ways of pleasantness, and all its paths to be those of peace. If the proofs of Christianity be as strong as I imagine them, surely enough may be deduced from that ground only, to comfort and support the most miserable man in his afflictions. And this I think my reason tells me, that, if the professors and propagators of infidelity are in the right, the losses which death brings to the virtuous are not worth their lamenting; but if these are, as certainly they seem, in the wrong, the blessings it procures them are not sufficiently to be coveted and rejoiced at.
“On my own account, then, I have no cause for sorrow, but on my children’s! — Why, the same Being to whose goodness and power I intrust my own happiness is likewise as able and as willing to procure theirs. Nor matters it what state of life is allotted for them, whether it be their fate to procure bread with their labour, or to eat it at the sweat of others. Perhaps, if we consider the case with proper attention, or resolve it with due sincerity, the former is much the sweeter. The hind may be more happy than the lord, for his desires are fewer, and those such as are attended with more hope and less fear. I will do my utmost to lay the foundations of my children’s happiness, I will carefully avoid educating them in a station superior to their fortune, and for the event trust to that being in whom whoever rightly confides, must be superior to all worldly sorrows.”
In this low manner did this poor wretch proceed to argue, till he had worked himself up into an enthusiasm which by degrees soon became invulnerable to every human attack; so that when Mr. Snap acquainted him with the return of the writ, and that he must carry him to Newgate, he received the message as Socrates did the news of the ship’s arrival, and that he was to prepare for death.
But we must not detain our reader too long with these low characters. He is doubtless as impatient as the audience at the theatre till the principal figure returns on the stage; we will therefore indulge his inclination, and pursue the actions of the Great Wild.
There happened to be in the stage-coach in which Mr. Wild travelled from Dover a certain young gentleman who had sold an estate in Kent, and was going to London to receive the money. There was likewise a handsome young woman who had left her parents at Canterbury, and was proceeding to the same city, in order (as she informed her fellow-travellers) to make her fortune. With this girl the young spark was so much enamoured that he publickly acquainted her with the purpose of his journey, and offered her a considerable sum in hand and a settlement if she would consent to return with him into the country, where she would be at a safe distance from her relations. Whether she accepted this proposal or no we are not able with any tolerable certainty to deliver: but Wild, the moment he heard of his money, began to cast about in his mind by what means he might become master of it. He entered into a long harangue about the methods of carrying money safely on the road, and said, “He had at that time two bank-bills of a hundred pounds each sewed in his coat; which,” added he, “is so safe a way, that it is almost impossible I should be in any danger of being robbed by the most cunning highwayman.”
The young gentleman, who was no descendant of Solomon, or, if he was, did not, any more than some other descendants of wise men, inherit the wisdom of his ancestor, greatly approved Wild’s ingenuity, and, thanking him for his information, declared he would follow his example when he returned into the country; by which means he proposed to save the premium commonly taken for the remittance. Wild had then no more to do but to inform himself rightly of the time of the gentleman’s journey, which he did with great certainty before they separated.
At his arrival in town he fixed on two whom he regarded as the most resolute of his gang for this enterprise; and, accordingly, having summoned the principal, or most desperate, as he imagined him, of these two (for he never chose to communicate in the presence of more than one), he proposed to him the robbing and murdering this gentleman.
Mr. Marybone (for that was the gentleman’s name, to whom he applied) readily agreed to the robbery, but he hesitated at the murder. He said, as to robbery, he had, on much weighing and considering the matter, very well reconciled his conscience to it; for, though that noble kind of robbery which was executed on the highway was, from the cowardice of mankind, less frequent, yet the baser and meaner species, sometimes called cheating, but more commonly known by the name of robbery within the law, was in a manner universal. He did not therefore pretend to the reputation of being so much honester than other people; but could by no means satisfy himself in the commission of murder, which was a sin of the most heinous nature, and so immediately prosecuted by God’s judgment that it never passed undiscovered or unpunished.
Wild, with the utmost disdain in his countenance, answered as follows: “Art thou he whom I have selected out of my whole gang for this glorious undertaking, and dost thou cant of God’s revenge against murder? You have, it seems, reconciled your conscience (a pretty word) to robbery, from its being so common. Is it then the novelty of murder which deters you? Do you imagine that guns, and pistols, and swords, and knives, are the only instruments of death? Look into the world and see the numbers whom broken fortunes and broken hearts bring untimely to the grave. To omit those glorious heroes who, to their immortal honour, have massacred nations, what think you of private persecution, treachery, and slander, by which the very souls of men are in a manner torn from their bodies? Is it not more generous, nay, more good-natured, to send a man to his rest, than, after having plundered him of all he hath, or from malice or malevolence deprived him of his character, to punish him with a languishing death, or, what is worse, a languishing life? Murder, therefore, is not so uncommon as you weakly conceive it, though, as you said of robbery, that more noble kind which lies within the paw of the law may be so. But this is the most innocent in him who doth it, and the most eligible to him who is to suffer it. Believe me, lad, the tongue of a viper is less hurtful than that of a slanderer, and the gilded scales of a rattle-snake less dreadful than the purse of the oppressor. Let me therefore hear no more of your scruples; but consent to my proposal without further hesitation, unless, like a woman, you are afraid of blooding your cloaths, or, like a fool, are terrified with the apprehensions of being hanged in chains. Take my word for it, you had better be an honest man than half a rogue. Do not think of continuing in my gang without abandoning yourself absolutely to my pleasure; for no man shall ever receive a favour at my hands who sticks at anything, or is guided by any other law than that of my will.”
Wild then ended his speech, which had not the desired effect on Marybone: he agreed to the robbery, but would not undertake the murder, as Wild (who feared that, by Marybone’s demanding to search the gentleman’s coat, he might hazard suspicion himself) insisted. Marybone was immediately entered by Wild in his black-book, and was presently after impeached and executed as a fellow on whom his leader could not place sufficient dependance; thus falling, as many rogues do, a sacrifice, not to his roguery, but to his conscience.
Our hero next applied himself to another of his gang, who instantly received his orders, and, instead of hesitating at a single murder, asked if he should blow out the brains of all the passengers, coachman and all. But Wild, whose moderation we have before noted, would not permit him; and therefore, having given him an exact description of the devoted person, with his other necessary instructions, he dismissed him, with the strictest orders to avoid, if possible, doing hurt to any other person.
The name of this youth, who will hereafter make some figure in this history, being the Achates of our AEneas, or rather the Hephaestion of our Alexander, was Fireblood. He had every qualification to make second-rate GREAT MAN; or, in other words, he was completely equipped for the tool of a real or first-rate GREAT MAN. We shall therefore (which is the properest way of dealing with this kind of GREATNESS) describe him negatively, and content ourselves with telling our reader what qualities he had not; in which number were humanity, modesty, and fear, not one grain of any of which was mingled in his whole composition.
We will now leave this youth, who was esteemed the most promising of the whole gang, and whom Wild often declared to be one of the prettiest lads he had ever seen, of which opinion, indeed, were most other people of his acquaintance; we will however leave him at his entrance on this enterprize, and keep our attention fixed on our hero, whom we shall observe taking large strides towards the summit of human glory.
Wild, immediately at his return to town, went to pay a visit to Miss Laetitia Snap; for he had that weakness of suffering himself to be enslaved by women, so naturally incident to men of heroic disposition; to say the truth, it might more properly be called a slavery to his own appetite; for, could he have satisfied that, he had not cared three farthings what had become of the little tyrant for whom he professed so violent a regard. Here he was informed that Mr. Heartfree had been conveyed to Newgate the day before, the writ being then returnable. He was somewhat concerned at this news; not from any compassion for the misfortunes of Heartfree, whom he hated with such inveteracy that one would have imagined he had suffered the same injuries from him which he had done towards him. His concern therefore had another motive; in fact, he was uneasy at the place of Mr. Heartfree’s confinement, as it was to be the scene of his future glory, and where consequently he should be frequently obliged to see a face which hatred, and not shame, made him detest the sight of.
To prevent this, therefore, several methods suggested themselves to him. At first he thought of removing him out of the way by the ordinary method of murder, which he doubted not but Fireblood would be very ready to execute; for that youth had, at their last interview, sworn, D— n his eyes, he thought there was no better pastime than blowing a man’s brains out. But, besides the danger of this method, it did not look horrible nor barbarous enough for the last mischief which he should do to Heartfree. Considering, therefore, a little farther with himself, he at length came to a resolution to hang him, if possible, the very next session.
Now, though the observation — how apt men are to hate those they injure, or how unforgiving they are of the injuries they do themselves, be common enough, yet I do not remember to have ever seen the reason of this strange phaenomenon as at first it appears. Know therefore, reader, that with much and severe scrutiny we have discovered this hatred to be founded on the passion of fear, and to arise from an apprehension that the person whom we have ourselves greatly injured will use all possible endeavours to revenge and retaliate the injuries we have done him. An opinion so firmly established in bad and great minds (and those who confer injuries on others have seldom very good or mean ones) that no benevolence, nor even beneficence, on the injured side, can eradicate it. On the contrary, they refer all these acts of kindness to imposture and design of lulling their suspicion, till an opportunity offers of striking a surer and severer blow; and thus, while the good man who hath received it hath truly forgotten the injury, the evil mind which did it hath it in lively and fresh remembrance.
As we scorn to keep any discoveries secret from our readers, whose instruction, as well as diversion, we have greatly considered in this history, we have here digressed somewhat to communicate the following short lesson to those who are simple and well inclined: though as a Christian thou art obliged, and we advise thee, to forgive thy enemy, NEVER TRUST THE MAN WHO HATH REASON TO SUSPECT THAT YOU KNOW HE HATH INJURED YOU.
In order to accomplish this great and noble scheme, which the vast genius of Wild had contrived, the first necessary step was to regain the confidence of Heartfree. But, however necessary this was, it seemed to be attended with such insurmountable difficulties, that even our hero for some time despaired of success. He was greatly superior to all mankind in the steadiness of his countenance, but this undertaking seemed to require more of that noble quality than had ever been the portion of a mortal. However, at last he resolved to attempt it, and from his success I think we may fairly assert that what was said by the Latin poet of labour, that it conquers all things, is much more true when applied to impudence.
When he had formed his plan he went to Newgate, and burst resolutely into the presence of Heartfree, whom he eagerly embraced and kissed; and then, first arraigning his own rashness, and afterwards lamenting his unfortunate want of success, he acquainted him with the particulars of what had happened; concealing only that single incident of his attack on the other’s wife, and his motive to the undertaking, which, he assured Heartfree, was a desire to preserve his effects from a statute of bankruptcy.
The frank openness of this declaration, with the composure of countenance with which it was delivered; his seeming only ruffled by the concern for his friend’s misfortune; the probability of truth attending it, joined to the boldness and disinterested appearance of this visit, together with his many professions of immediate service at a time when he could not have the least visible motive from self-love; and above all, his offering him money, the last and surest token of friendship, rushed with such united force on the well-disposed heart, as it is vulgarly called, of this simple man, that they instantly staggered and soon subverted all the determination he had before made in prejudice of Wild, who, perceiving the balance to be turning in his favour, presently threw in a hundred imprecations on his own folly and ill-advised forwardness to serve his friend, which had thus unhappily produced his ruin; he added as many curses on the count, whom he vowed to pursue with revenge all over Europe; lastly, he cast in some grains of comfort, assuring Heartfree that his wife was fallen into the gentlest hands, that she would be carried no farther than Dunkirk, whence she might very easily be redeemed.
Heartfree, to whom the lightest presumption of his wife’s fidelity would have been more delicious than the absolute restoration of all his jewels, and who, indeed, had with the utmost difficulty been brought to entertain the slightest suspicion of her inconstancy, immediately abandoned all distrust of both her and his friend, whose sincerity (luckily for Wild’s purpose) seemed to him to depend on the same evidence. He then embraced our hero, who had in his countenance all the symptoms of the deepest concern, and begged him to be comforted; saying that the intentions, rather than the actions of men, conferred obligations; that as to the event of human affairs, it was governed either by chance or some superior agent; that friendship was concerned only in the direction of our designs; and suppose these failed of success, or produced an event never so contrary to their aim, the merit of a good intention was not in the least lessened, but was rather entitled to compassion.
Heartfree however was soon curious enough to inquire how Wild had escaped the captivity which his wife then suffered. Here likewise he recounted the whole truth, omitting only the motive to the French captain’s cruelty, for which he assigned a very different reason, namely, his attempt to secure Heartfree’s jewels. Wild indeed always kept as much truth as was possible in everything; and this he said was turning the cannon of the enemy upon themselves.
Wild, having thus with admirable and truly laudable conduct achieved the first step, began to discourse on the badness of the world, and particularly to blame the severity of creditors, who seldom or never attended to any unfortunate circumstances, but without mercy inflicted confinement on the debtor, whose body the law, with very unjustifiable rigour, delivered into their power. He added, that for his part, he looked on this restraint to be as heavy a punishment as any appointed by law for the greatest offenders. That the loss of liberty was, in his opinion, equal to, if not worse, than the loss of life; that he had always determined, if by any accident or misfortune he had been subjected to the former, he would run the greatest risque of the latter to rescue himself from it; which he said, if men did not want resolution, was always enough; for that it was ridiculous to conceive that two or three men could confine two or three hundred, unless the prisoners were either fools or cowards, especially when they were neither chained nor fettered. He went on in this manner till, perceiving the utmost attention in Heartfree, he ventured to propose to him an endeavour to make his escape, which he said might easily be executed; that he would himself raise a party in the prison, and that, if a murder or two should happen in the attempt, he (Heartfree) might keep free from any share either in the guilt or in the danger.
There is one misfortune which attends all great men and their schemes, viz. — that, in order to carry them into execution, they are obliged, in proposing their purpose to their tools, to discover themselves to be of that disposition in which certain little writers have advised mankind to place no confidence; an advice which hath been sometimes taken. Indeed, many inconveniences arise to the said great men from these scribblers publishing without restraint their hints or alarms to society; and many great and glorious schemes have been thus frustrated; wherefore it were to be wished that in all well-regulated governments such liberties should be by some wholesome laws restrained, and all writers inhibited from venting any other instructions to the people than what should be first approved and licensed by the said great men, or their proper instruments or tools; by which means nothing would ever be published but what made for the advancing their most noble projects.
Heartfree, whose suspicions were again raised by this advice, viewing Wild with inconceivable disdain, spoke as follows: “There is one thing the loss of which I should deplore infinitely beyond that of liberty and of life also; I mean that of a good conscience; a blessing which he who possesses can never be thoroughly unhappy; for the bitterest potion of life is by this so sweetened, that it soon becomes palatable; whereas, without it, the most delicate enjoyments quickly lose all their relish, and life itself grows insipid, or rather nauseous, to us. Would you then lessen my misfortunes by robbing me of what hath been my only comfort under them, and on which I place my dependence of being relieved from them? I have read that Socrates refused to save his life by breaking the laws of his country, and departing from his prison when it was open. Perhaps my virtue would not go so far; but heaven forbid liberty should have such charms to tempt me to the perpetration of so horrid a crime as murder! As to the poor evasion of committing it by other hands, it might be useful indeed to those who seek only the escape from temporal punishment, but can be of no service to excuse me to that Being whom I chiefly fear offending; nay, it would greatly aggravate my guilt by so impudent an endeavour to impose upon Him, and by so wickedly involving others in my crime. Give me, therefore, no more advice of this kind; for this is my great comfort in all my afflictions, that it is in the power of no enemy to rob me of my conscience, nor will I ever be so much my own enemy as to injure it.”
Though our hero heard all this with proper contempt, he made no direct answer, but endeavoured to evade his proposal as much as possible, which he did with admirable dexterity: this method of getting tolerably well off, when you are repulsed in your attack on a man’s conscience, may be stiled the art of retreating, in which the politician, as well as the general, hath sometimes a wonderful opportunity of displaying his great abilities in his profession.
Wild, having made this admirable retreat, and argued away all design of involving his friend in the guilt of murder, concluded, however, that he thought him rather too scrupulous in not attempting his escape and then, promising to use all such means as the other would permit in his service, took his leave for the present. Heartfree, having indulged himself an hour with his children, repaired to rest, which he enjoyed quiet and undisturbed; whilst Wild, disdaining repose, sat up all night, consulting how he might bring about the final destruction of his friend, without being beholden to any assistance from himself, which he now despaired of procuring. With the result of these consultations we shall acquaint our reader in good time, but at present we have matters of much more consequence to relate to him.
Fireblood returned from his enterprise unsuccessful. The gentleman happened to go home another way than he had intended; so that the whole design miscarried. Fireblood had indeed robbed the coach, and had wantonly discharged a pistol into it, which lightly wounded one of the passengers in the arm. The booty he met with was not very considerable, though much greater than that with which he acquainted Wild; for of eleven pounds in money, two silver watches, and a wedding-ring, he produced no more than two guineas and the ring, which he protested with numberless oaths was his whole booty. However, when an advertisement of the robbery was published, with a reward promised for the ring and the watches, Fireblood was obliged to confess the whole, and to acquaint our hero where he pawned the watches; which Wild, taking the full value of them for his pains, restored to the right owner.
He did not fail catchising his young friend on this occasion. He said he was sorry to see any of his gang guilty of a breach of honour; that without honour PRIGGERY was at an end; that if a prig had but honour he would overlook every vice in the world. “But, nevertheless,” said he, “I will forgive you this time, as you are a hopeful lad, and I hope never afterwards to find you delinquent in this great point.”
Wild had now brought his gang to great regularity: he was obeyed and feared by them all. He had likewise established an office, where all men who were robbed, paying the value only (or a little more) of their goods, might have them again. This was of notable use to several persons who had lost pieces of plate they had received from their grand-mothers; to others who had a particular value for certain rings, watches, heads of canes, snuff-boxes, &c., for which they would not have taken twenty times as much as they were worth, either because they had them a little while or a long time, or that somebody else had had them before, or from some other such excellent reason, which often stamps a greater value on a toy than the great Bubble-boy himself would have the impudence to set upon it.
By these means he seemed in so promising a way of procuring a fortune, and was regarded in so thriving a light by all the gentlemen of his acquaintance, as by the keeper and turnkeys of Newgate, by Mr. Snap, and others of his occupation, that Mr. Snap one day, taking Mr. Wild the elder aside, very seriously proposed what they had often lightly talked over, a strict union between their families, by marrying his daughter Tishy to our hero. This proposal was very readily accepted by the old gentleman, who promised to acquaint his son with it.
On the morrow on which this message was delivered, our hero, little dreaming of the happiness which, of its own accord, was advancing so near towards him, had called Fireblood to him; and, after informing that youth of the violence of his passion for the young lady, and assuring him what confidence he reposed in him and his honour, he despatched him to Miss Tishy with the following letter; which we here insert, not only as we take it to be extremely curious, but to be a much better pattern for that epistolary kind of writing which is generally called love-letters than any to be found in the academy of compliments, and which we challenge all the beaus of our time to excel either in matter or spelling.
“MOST DIVINE and ADWHORABLE CREETURE, — I doubt not but those IIs, briter than the son, which have kindled such a flam in my hart, have likewise the faculty of seeing it. It would be the hiest preassumption to imagin you eggnorant of my loav. No, madam, I sollemly purtest, that of all the butys in the unaversal glob, there is none kapable of hateracting my IIs like you. Corts and pallaces would be to me deserts without your kumpany, and with it a wilderness would have more charms than haven itself. For I hop you will beleve me when I sware every place in the univarse is a haven with you. I am konvinced you must be sinsibel of my violent passion for you, which, if I endevored to hid it, would be as impossible as for you, or the son, to hid your buty’s. I assure you I have not slept a wink since I had the hapness of seeing you last; therefore hop you will, out of Kumpassion, let me have the honour of seeing you this afternune; for I am, with the greatest adwhoration,
“Most deivine creeture, Iour most passionate amirer, Adwhorer, and slave, JONATHAN WYLD.”
If the spelling of this letter be not so strictly orthographical, the reader will be pleased to remember that such a defect might be worthy of censure in a low and scholastic character, but can be no blemish in that sublime greatness of which we endeavour to raise a complete idea in this history. In which kind of composition spelling, or indeed any kind of human literature, hath never been thought a necessary ingredient; for if these sort of great personages can but complot and contrive their noble schemes, and hack and hew mankind sufficiently, there will never be wanting fit and able persons who can spell to record their praises. Again, if it should be observed that the stile of this letter doth not exactly correspond with that of our hero’s speeches, which we have here recorded, we answer, it is sufficient if in these the historian adheres faithfully to the matter, though he embellishes the diction with some flourishes of his own eloquence, without which the excellent speeches recorded in antient historians (particularly in Sallust) would have scarce been found in their writings. Nay, even amongst the moderns, famous as they are for elocution, it may be doubted whether those inimitable harangues published in the monthly magazines came literally from the mouths of the HURGOS, &c., as they are there inserted, or whether we may not rather suppose one historian of great eloquence hath borrowed the matter only, and adorned it with those rhetorical showers for which many of the said HURGOS are not so extremely eminent.
But to proceed with our history; Fireblood, having received this letter, and promised on his honour, with many voluntary asseverations, to discharge his embassy faithfully, went to visit the fair Laetitia. The lady, having opened the letter and read it, put on an air of disdain, and told Mr. Fireblood she could not conceive what Mr. Wild meant by troubling her with his impertinence; she begged him to carry the letter back again, saying, had she known from whom it came, she would have been d — d before she had opened it. “But with you, young gentleman,” says she, “I am not in the least angry. I am rather sorry that so pretty a young man should be employed in such an errand.” She accompanied these words with so tender an accent and so wanton a leer, that Fireblood, who was no backward youth, began to take her by the hand, and proceeded so warmly, that, to imitate his actions with the rapidity of our narration, he in a few minutes ravished this fair creature, or at least would have ravished her, if she had not, by a timely compliance, prevented him.
Fireblood, after he had ravished as much as he could, returned to Wild, and acquainted him as far as any wise man would, with what had passed; concluding with many praises of the young lady’s beauty, with whom, he said, if his honour would have permitted him, he should himself have fallen in love; but, d — n him if he would not sooner be torn to pieces by wild horses than even think of injuring his friend. He asserted indeed, and swore so heartily, that, had not Wild been so thoroughly convinced of the impregnable chastity of the lady, he might have suspected his success; however, he was, by these means, entirely satisfied of his friend’s inclination towards his mistress.
Thus constituted were the love affairs of our hero, when his father brought him Mr. Snap’s proposal. The reader must know very little of love, or indeed of anything else, if he requires any information concerning the reception which this proposal met with. Not guilty never sounded sweeter in the ears of a prisoner at the bar, nor the sound of a reprieve to one at the gallows, than did every word of the old gentleman in the ears of our hero. He gave his father full power to treat in his name, and desired nothing more than expedition.
The old people now met, and Snap, who had information from his daughter of the violent passion of her lover, endeavoured to improve it to the best advantage, and would have not only declined giving her any fortune himself, but have attempted to cheat her of what she owed to the liberality of her relations, particularly of a pint silver caudle-cup, the gift of her grandmother. However, in this the young lady herself afterwards took care to prevent him. As to the old Mr. Wild, he did not sufficiently attend to all the designs of Snap, as his faculties were busily employed in designs of his own, to overreach (or, as others express it, to cheat) the said Mr. Snap, by pretending to give his son a whole number for a chair, when in reality he was intitled to a third only.
While matters were thus settling between the old folks the young lady agreed to admit Mr. Wild’s visits, and, by degrees, began to entertain him with all the shew of affection which the great natural reserve of her temper, and the greater artificial reserve of her education, would permit. At length, everything being agreed between their parents, settlements made, and the lady’s fortune (to wit, seventeen pounds and nine shillings in money and goods) paid down, the day for their nuptials was fixed, and they were celebrated accordingly.
Most private histories, as well as comedies, end at this period; the historian and the poet both concluding they have done enough for their hero when they have married him; or intimating rather that the rest of his life must be a dull calm of happiness, very delightful indeed to pass through, but somewhat insipid to relate; and matrimony in general must, I believe, without any dispute, be allowed to be this state of tranquil felicity, including so little variety, that, like Salisbury Plain, it affords only one prospect, a very pleasant one it must be confessed, but the same.
Now there was all the probability imaginable that this contract would have proved of such happy note, both from the great accomplishments of the young lady, who was thought to be possessed of every qualification necessary to make the marriage state happy, and from the truly ardent passion of Mr. Wild; but, whether it was that nature and fortune had great designs for him to execute, and would not suffer his vast abilities to be lost and sunk in the arms of a wife, or whether neither nature nor fortune had any hand in the matter, is a point I will mot determine. Certain it is that this match did not produce that serene state we have mentioned above, but resembled the most turbulent and ruffled, rather than the most calm sea.
I cannot here omit a conjecture, ingenious enough, of a friend of mine, who had a long intimacy in the Wild family. He hath often told me he fancied one reason of the dissatisfactions which afterwards fell out between Wild and his lady, arose from the number of gallants to whom she had, before marriage, granted favours; for, says he, and indeed very probable it is too, the lady might expect from her husband what she had before received from several, and, being angry not to find one man as good as ten, she had, from that indignation, taken those steps which we cannot perfectly justify.
From this person I received the following dialogue, which he assured me he had overheard and taken down verbatim. It passed on the day fortnight after they were married.
Jonathan. My dear, I wish you would lie a little longer in bed this morning.
Laetitia. Indeed I cannot; I am engaged to breakfast with Jack Strongbow.
Jonathan. I don’t know what Jack Strongbow doth so often at my house. I assure you I am uneasy at it; for, though I have no suspicion of your virtue, yet it may injure your reputation in the opinion of my neighbours.
Laetitia. I don’t trouble my head about my neighbours; and they shall no more tell me what company I am to keep than my husband shall.
Jonathan. A good wife would keep no company which made her husband uneasy.
Laetitia. You might have found one of those good wives, sir, if you had pleased; I had no objection to it.
Jonathan. I thought I had found one in you.
Laetitia. You did! I am very much obliged to you for thinking me so poor-spirited a creature; but I hope to convince you to the contrary. What, I suppose you took me for a raw senseless girl, who knew nothing what other married women do!
Jonathan. No matter what I took you for: I have taken you for better and worse.
Laetitia. And at your own desire too; for I am sure you never had mine. I should not have broken my heart if Mr. Wild had thought proper to bestow himself on any other more happy woman. Ha, ha!
Jonathan. I hope, madam, you don’t imagine that was not in my power, or that I married you out of any kind of necessity.
Laetitia. O no, sir; I am convinced there are silly women enough. And far be it from me to accuse you of any necessity for a wife. I believe you could have been very well contented with the state of a bachelor; I have no reason to complain of your necessities; but that, you know, a woman cannot tell beforehand.
Jonathan. I can’t guess what you would insinuate, for I believe no woman had ever less reason to complain of her husband’s want of fondness.
Laetitia. Then some, I am certain, have great reason to complain of the price they give for them. But I know better things. (These words were spoken with a very great air, and toss of the head.)
Jonathan. Well, my sweeting, I will make it impossible for you to wish me more fond.
Laetitia. Pray, Mr. Wild, none of this nauseous behaviour, nor those odious words. I wish you were fond! I assure you, I don’t know what you would pretend to insinuate of me. I have no wishes which misbecome a virtuous woman. No, nor should not, if I had married for love. And especially now, when nobody, I am sure, can suspect me of any such thing.
Jonathan. If you did not marry for love why did you marry?
Laetitia. Because it was convenient, and my parents forced me.
Jonathan. I hope, madam, at least, you will not tell me to my face you have made your convenience of me.
Laetitia. I have made nothing of you; nor do I desire the honour of making anything of you.
Jonathan. Yes, you have made a husband of me.
Laetitia. No, you made yourself so; for I repeat once more it was not my desire, but your own.
Jonathan. You should think yourself obliged to me for that desire.
Laetitia. La, sir! you was not so singular in it. I was not in despair. I have had other offers, and better too.
Jonathan. I wish you had accepted them with all my heart.
Laetitia. I must tell you, Mr. Wild, this is a very brutish manner in treating a woman to whom you have such obligations; but I know how to despise it, and to despise you too for shewing it me. Indeed I am well enough paid for the foolish preference I gave to you. I flattered myself that I should at least have been used with good manners. I thought I had married a gentleman; but I find you every way contemptible and below my concern.
Jonathan. D— n you, madam, have I not more reason to complain when you tell me you married for your convenience only?
Laetitia. Very fine truly. Is it behaviour worthy a man to swear at a woman? Yet why should I mention what comes from a wretch whom I despise.
Jonathan. Don’t repeat that word so often. I despise you as heartily as you can me. And, to tell you a truth, I married you for my convenience likewise, to satisfy a passion which I have now satisfied, and you may be d — d for anything I care.
Laetitia. The world shall know how barbarously I am treated by such a villain.
Jonathan. I need take very little pains to acquaint the world what a b — ch you are, your actions will demonstrate it.
Laetitia. Monster! I would advise you not to depend too much on my sex, and provoke me too far; for I can do you a mischief, and will, if you dare use me so, you villain!
Jonathan. Begin whenever you please, madam; but assure yourself, the moment you lay aside the woman, I will treat you as such no longer; and if the first blow is yours, I promise you the last shall be mine.
Laetitia. Use me as you will; but d — n me if ever you shall use me as a woman again; for may I be cursed if ever I enter into your bed more.
Jonathan. May I be cursed if that abstinence be not the greatest obligation you can lay upon me; for I assure you faithfully your person was all I had ever any regard for; and that I now loathe and detest as much as ever I liked it.
Laetitia. It is impossible for two people to agree better; for I always detested your person; and as for any other regard, you must be convinced I never could have any for you.
Jonathan. Why, then, since we are come to a right understanding, as we are to live together, suppose we agreed, instead of quarrelling and abusing, to be civil to each other.
Laetitia. With all my heart.
Jonathan. Let us shake hands then, and henceforwards never live like man and wife; that is, never be loving nor ever quarrel.
Laetitia. Agreed. But pray, Mr. Wild, why b — ch? Why did you suffer such a word to escape you?
Jonathan. It is not worth your remembrance.
Laetitia. You agree I shall converse with whomsoever I please?
Jonathan. Without controul. And I have the same liberty?
Laetitia. When I interfere may every curse you can wish attend me!
Jonathan. Let us now take a farewell kiss, and may I be hanged if it is not the sweetest you ever gave me.
Laetitia. But why b — ch? Methinks I should be glad to know why b — ch?
At which words he sprang from the bed, d-ing her temper heartily. She returned it again with equal abuse, which was continued on both sides while he was dressing. However, they agreed to continue steadfast in this new resolution; and the joy arising on that occasion at length dismissed them pretty chearfully from each other, though Laetitia could not help concluding with the words, why b — ch?
Thus did this dialogue (which, though we have termed it matrimonial, had indeed very little savour of the sweets of matrimony in it) produce at last a resolution more wise than strictly pious, and which, if they could have rigidly adhered to it, might have prevented some unpleasant moments as well to our hero as to his serene consort; but their hatred was so very great and unaccountable that they never could bear to see the least composure in one another’s countenance without attempting to ruffle it. This set them on so many contrivances to plague and vex one another, that, as their proximity afforded them such frequent opportunities of executing their malicious purposes, they seldom passed one easy or quiet day together.
And this, reader, and no other, is the cause of those many inquietudes which thou must have observed to disturb the repose of some married couples who mistake implacable hatred for indifference; for why should Corvinus, who lives in a round of intrigue, and seldom doth, and never willingly would, dally with his wife, endeavour to prevent her from the satisfaction of an intrigue in her turn? Why doth Camilla refuse a more agreeable invitation abroad, only to expose her husband at his own table at home? In short, to mention no more instances, whence can all the quarrels, and jealousies, and jars proceed in people who have no love for each other, unless from that noble passion above mentioned, that desire, according to my lady Betty Modish, of CURING EACH OTHER OF A SMILE.
We thought proper to give our reader a short taste of the domestic state of our hero, the rather to shew him that great men are subject to the same frailties and inconveniences in ordinary life with little men, and that heroes are really of the same species with other human creatures, notwithstanding all the pains they themselves or their flatterers take to assert the contrary; and that they differ chiefly in the immensity of their greatness, or, as the vulgar erroneously call it, villany. Now, therefore, that we may not dwell too long on low scenes in a history of the sublime kind, we shall return to actions of a higher note and more suitable to our purpose.
When the boy Hymen had, with his lighted torch, driven the boy Cupid out of doors, that is to say, in common phrase, when the violence of Mr. Wild’s passion (or rather appetite) for the chaste Laetitia began to abate, he returned to visit his friend Heartfree, who was now in the liberties of the Fleet, and appeared to the commission of bankruptcy against him. Here he met with a more cold reception than he himself had apprehended. Heartfree had long entertained suspicions of Wild, but these suspicions had from time to time been confounded with circumstances, and principally smothered with that amazing confidence which was indeed the most striking virtue in our hero. Heartfree was unwilling to condemn his friend without certain evidence, and laid hold on every probable semblance to acquit him; but the proposal made at his last visit had so totally blackened his character in this poor man’s opinion, that it entirely fixed the wavering scale, and he no longer doubted but that our hero was one of the greatest villains in the world.
Circumstances of great improbability often escape men who devour a story with greedy ears; the reader, therefore, cannot wonder that Heartfree, whose passions were so variously concerned, first for the fidelity, and secondly for the safety of his wife; and, lastly, who was so distracted with doubt concerning the conduct of his friend, should at this relation pass unobserved the incident of his being committed to the boat by the captain of the privateer, which he had at the time of his telling so lamely accounted for; but now, when Heartfree came to reflect on the whole, and with a high prepossession against Wild, the absurdity of this fact glared in his eyes and struck him in the most sensible manner. At length a thought of great horror suggested itself to his imagination, and this was, whether the whole was not a fiction, and Wild, who was, as he had learned from his own mouth, equal to any undertaking how black soever, had not spirited away, robbed, and murdered his wife.
Intolerable as this apprehension was, he not only turned it round and examined it carefully in his own mind, but acquainted young Friendly with it at their next interview. Friendly, who detested Wild (from that envy probably with which these GREAT CHARACTERS naturally inspire low fellows), encouraged these suspicions so much, that Heartfree resolved to attach our hero and carry him before a magistrate.
This resolution had been some time taken, and Friendly, with a warrant and a constable, had with the utmost diligence searched several days for our hero; but, whether it was that in compliance with modern custom he had retired to spend the honey-moon with his bride, the only moon indeed in which it is fashionable or customary for the married parties to have any correspondence with each other; or perhaps his habitation might for particular reasons be usually kept a secret, like those of some few great men whom unfortunately the law hath left out of that reasonable as well as honourable provision which it hath made for the security of the persons of other great men.
But Wild resolved to perform works of supererogation in the way of honour, and, though no hero is obliged to answer the challenge of my lord chief justice, or indeed of any other magistrate, but may with unblemished reputation slide away from it, yet such was the bravery, such the greatness, the magnanimity of Wild, that he appeared in person to it.
Indeed envy may say one thing, which may lessen the glory of this action, namely, that the said Mr. Wild knew nothing of the said warrant or challenge; and as thou mayest be assured, reader, that the malicious fury will omit nothing which can anyways sully so great a character, so she hath endeavoured to account for this second visit of our hero to his friend Heartfree from a very different motive than that of asserting his own innocence.
It hath been said then that Mr. Wild, not being able on the strictest examination to find in a certain spot of human nature called his own heart the least grain of that pitiful low quality called honesty, had resolved, perhaps a little too generally, that there was no such thing. He therefore imputed the resolution with which Mr. Heartfree had so positively refused to concern himself in murder, either to a fear of bloodying his hands or the apprehension of a ghost, or lest he should make an additional example in that excellent book called God’s Revenge against Murder; and doubted not but he would (at least in his present necessity) agree without scruple to a simple robbery, especially where any considerable booty should be proposed, and the safety of the attack plausibly made appear; which if he could prevail on him to undertake, he would immediately afterwards get him impeached, convicted, and hanged. He no sooner therefore had discharged his duties to Hymen, and heard that Heartfree had procured himself the liberties of the Fleet, than he resolved to visit him, and to propose a robbery with all the allurements of profit, ease, and safety.
This proposal was no sooner made than it was answered by Heartfree in the following manner:—
“I might have hoped the answer which I gave to your former advice would have prevented me from the danger of receiving a second affront of this kind. An affront I call it, and surely, if it be so to call a man a villain, it can be no less to shew him you suppose him one. Indeed, it may be wondered how any man can arrive at the boldness, I may say impudence, of first making such an overture to another; surely it is seldom done, unless to those who have previously betrayed some symptoms of their own baseness. If I have therefore shewn you any such, these insults are more pardonable; but I assure you, if such appear, they discharge all their malignance outwardly, and reflect not even a shadow within; for to me baseness seems inconsistent with this rule, OF DOING NO OTHER PERSON AN INJURY FROM ANY MOTIVE OR ON ANY CONSIDERATION WHATEVER. This, sir, is the rule by which I am determined to walk, nor can that man justify disbelieving me who will not own he walks not by it himself. But, whether it be allowed to me or no, or whether I feel the good effects of its being practised by others, I am resolved to maintain it; for surely no man can reap a benefit from my pursuing it equal to the comfort I myself enjoy: for what a ravishing thought, how replete with extasy, must the consideration be, that Almighty Goodness is by its own nature engaged to reward me! How indifferent must such a persuasion make a man to all the occurrences of this life! What trifles must he represent to himself both the enjoyments and the afflictions of this world! How easily must he acquiesce under missing the former, and how patiently will he submit to the latter, who is convinced that his failing of a transitory imperfect reward here is a most certain argument of his obtaining one permanent and complete hereafter! Dost thou think then, thou little, paltry, mean animal (with such language did he treat our truly great man), that I will forego such comfortable expectations for any pitiful reward which thou canst suggest or promise to me; for that sordid lucre for which all pains and labour are undertaken by the industrious, and all barbarities and iniquities committed by the vile; for a worthless acquisition, which such as thou art can possess, can give, or can take away?” The former part of this speech occasioned much yawning in our hero, but the latter roused his anger; and he was collecting his rage to answer, when Friendly and the constable, who had been summoned by Heartfree on Wild’s first appearance, entered the room, and seized the great man just as his wrath was bursting from his lips.
The dialogue which now ensued is not worth relating: Wild was soon acquainted with the reason of this rough treatment, and presently conveyed before a magistrate.
Notwithstanding the doubts raised by Mr. Wild’s lawyer on his examination, he insisting that the proceeding was improper, for that a writ de homine replegiando should issue, and on the return of that a capias in withernam, the justice inclined to commitment, so that Wild was driven to other methods for his defence. He therefore acquainted the justice that there was a young man likewise with him in the boat, and begged that he might be sent for, which request was accordingly granted, and the faithful Achates (Mr. Fireblood) was soon produced to bear testimony for his friend, which he did with so much becoming zeal, and went through his examination with such coherence (though he was forced to collect his evidence from the hints given him by Wild in the presence of the justice and the accusers), that, as here was direct evidence against mere presumption, our hero was most honourably acquitted, and poor Heartfree was charged by the justice, the audience, and all others who afterwards heard the story, with the blackest ingratitude, in attempting to take away the life of a man to whom he had such eminent obligations.
Lest so vast an effort of friendship as this of Fireblood’s should too violently surprize the reader in this degenerate age, it may be proper to inform him that, beside the ties of engagement in the same employ, another nearer and stronger alliance subsisted between our hero and this youth, which latter was just departed from the arms of the lovely Laetitia when he received her husband’s message; an instance which may also serve to justify those strict intercourses of love and acquaintance which so commonly subsist in modern history between the husband and gallant, displaying the vast force of friendship contracted by this more honourable than legal alliance, which is thought to be at present one of the strongest bonds of amity between great men, and the most reputable as well as easy way to their favour.
Four months had now passed since Heartfree’s first confinement, and his affairs had begun to wear a more benign aspect; but they were a good deal injured by this attempt on Wild (so dangerous is any attack on a GREAT MAN), several of his neighbours, and particularly one or two of his own trade, industriously endeavouring, from their bitter animosity against such kind of iniquity, to spread and exaggerate his ingratitude as much as possible; not in the least scrupling, in the violent ardour of their indignation, to add some small circumstances of their own knowledge of the many obligations conferred on Heartfree by Wild. To all these scandals he quietly submitted, comforting himself in the consciousness of his own innocence, and confiding in time, the sure friend of justice, to acquit him.
Wild having now, to the hatred he bore Heartfree on account of those injuries he had done him, an additional spur from this injury received (for so it appeared to him, who, no more than the most ignorant, considered how truly he deserved it), applied his utmost industry to accomplish the ruin of one whose very name sounded odious in his ears; when luckily a scheme arose in his imagination which not only promised to effect it securely, but (which pleased him most) by means of the mischief he had already done him; and which would at once load him with the imputation of having committed what he himself had done to him, and would bring on him the severest punishment for a fact of which he was not only innocent, but had already so greatly suffered by. And this was no other than to charge him with having conveyed away his wife, with his most valuable effects, in order to defraud his creditors.
He no sooner started this thought than he immediately resolved on putting it in execution. What remained to consider was only the quomodo, and the person or tool to be employed; for the stage of the world differs from that in Drury-lane principally in this — that whereas, on the latter, the hero or chief figure is almost continually before your eyes, whilst the under-actors are not seen above once in an evening; now, on the former, the hero or great man is always behind the curtain, and seldom or never appears or doth anything in his own person. He doth indeed, in this GRAND DRAMA, rather perform the part of the prompter, and doth instruct the well-drest figures, who are strutting in public on the stage, what to say and do. To say the truth, a puppet-show will illustrate our meaning better, where it is the master of the show (the great man) who dances and moves everything, whether it be the king of Muscovy or whatever other potentate alias puppet which we behold on the stage; but he himself keeps wisely out of sight: for, should he once appear, the whole motion would be at an end. Not that any one is ignorant of his being there, or supposes that the puppets are not mere sticks of wood, and he himself the sole mover; but as this (though every one knows it) doth not appear visibly, i.e., to their eyes, no one is ashamed of consenting to be imposed upon; of helping on the drama, by calling the several sticks or puppets by the names which the master hath allotted to them, and by assigning to each the character which the great man is pleased they shall move in, or rather in which he himself is pleased to move them.
It would be to suppose thee, gentle reader, one of very little knowledge in this world, to imagine them hast never seen some of these puppet-shows which are so frequently acted on the great stage; but though thou shouldst have resided all thy days in those remote parts of this island which great men seldom visit, yet, if thou hast any penetration, thou must have had some occasions to admire both the solemnity of countenance in the actor and the gravity in the spectator, while some of those farces are carried on which are acted almost daily in every village in the kingdom. He must have a very despicable opinion of mankind indeed who can conceive them to be imposed on as often as they appear to be so. The truth is, they are in the same situation with the readers of romances; who, though they know the whole to be one entire fiction, nevertheless agree to be deceived; and, as these find amusement, so do the others find ease and convenience in this concurrence. But, this being a subdigression, I return to my digression.
A GREAT MAN ought to do his business by others; to employ hands, as we have before said, to his purposes, and keep himself as much behind the curtain as possible; and though it must be acknowledged that two very great men, whose names will be both recorded in history, did in these latter times come forth themselves on the stage, and did hack and hew and lay each other most cruelly open to the diversion of the spectators, yet this must be mentioned rather as an example of avoidance than imitation, and is to be ascribed to the number of those instances which serve to evince the truth of these maxims: Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit. Ira furor brevis est, &c.
To return to my history, which, having rested itself a little, is now ready to proceed on its journey: Fireblood was the person chosen by Wild for this service. He had, on a late occasion, experienced the talents of this youth for a good round perjury. He immediately, therefore, found him out, and proposed it to him; when, receiving his instant assent, they consulted together, and soon framed an evidence, which, being communicated to one of the most bitter and severe creditors of Heartfree, by him laid before a magistrate, and attested by the oath of Fireblood, the justice granted his warrant: and Heartfree was accordingly apprehended and brought before him.
When the officers came for this poor wretch they found him meanly diverting himself with his little children, the younger of whom sat on his knees, and the elder was playing at a little distance from him with Friendly. One of the officers, who was a very good sort of a man, but one very laudably severe in his office, after acquainting Heartfree with his errand, bad him come along and be d — d, and leave those little bastards, for so, he said, he supposed they were, for a legacy to the parish. Heartfree was much surprized at hearing there was a warrant for felony against him; but he shewed less concern than Friendly did in his countenance. The elder daughter, when she saw the officer lay hold on her father, immediately quitted her play, and, running to him and bursting into tears, cried out, “You shall not hurt poor papa.” One of the other ruffians offered to take the little one rudely from his knees; but Heartfree started up, and, catching the fellow by the collar, dashed his head so violently against the wall, that, had he had any brains, he might possibly have lost them by the blow.
The officer, like most of those heroic spirits who insult men in adversity, had some prudence mixt with his zeal for justice. Seeing, therefore, this rough treatment of his companion, he began to pursue more gentle methods, and very civilly desired Mr. Heartfree to go with him, seeing he was an officer, and obliged to execute his warrant; that he was sorry for his misfortune, and hoped he would be acquitted. The other answered, “He should patiently submit to the laws of his country, and would attend him whither he was ordered to conduct him;” then, taking leave of his children with a tender kiss, he recommended them to the care of Friendly, who promised to see them safe home, and then to attend him at the justice’s, whose name and abode he had learned of the constable.
Friendly arrived at the magistrate’s house just as that gentleman had signed the mittimus against his friend; for the evidence of Fireblood was so clear and strong, and the justice was so incensed against Heartfree, and so convinced of his guilt, that he would hardly hear him speak in his own defence, which the reader perhaps, when he hears the evidence against him, will be less inclined to censure: for this witness deposed, “That he had been, by Heartfree himself, employed to carry the orders of embezzling to Wild, in order to be delivered to his wife: that he had been afterwards present with Wild and her at the inn when they took coach for Harwich, where she shewed him the casket of jewels, and desired him to tell her husband that she had fully executed his command;” and this he swore to have been done after Heartfree had notice of the commission, and, in order to bring it within that time, Fireblood, as well as Wild, swore that Mrs. Heartfree lay several days concealed at Wild’s house before her departure for Holland.
When Friendly found the justice obdurate, and that all he could say had no effect, nor was it any way possible for Heartfree to escape being committed to Newgate, he resolved to accompany him thither; where, when they arrived, the turnkey would have confined Heartfree (he having no money) amongst the common felons; but Friendly would not permit it, and advanced every shilling he had in his pocket, to procure a room in the press-yard for his friend, which indeed, through the humanity of the keeper, he did at a cheap rate.
They spent that day together, and in the evening the prisoner dismissed his friend, desiring him, after many thanks for his fidelity, to be comforted on his account. “I know not,” says he, “how far the malice of my enemy may prevail; but whatever my sufferings are, I am convinced my innocence will somewhere be rewarded. If, therefore, any fatal accident should happen to me (for he who is in the hands of perjury may apprehend the worst), my dear Friendly, be a father to my poor children;” at which words the tears gushed from his eyes. The other begged him not to admit any such apprehensions, for that he would employ his utmost diligence in his service, and doubted not but to subvert any villanous design laid for his destruction, and to make his innocence appear to the world as white as it was in his own opinion.
We cannot help mentioning a circumstance here, though we doubt it will appear very unnatural and incredible to our reader; which is, that, notwithstanding the former character and behaviour of Heartfree, this story of his embezzling was so far from surprizing his neighbours, that many of them declared they expected no better from him. Some were assured he could pay forty shillings in the pound if he would. Others had overheard hints formerly pass between him and Mrs. Heartfree which had given them suspicions. And what is most astonishing of all is, that many of those who had before censured him for an extravagant heedless fool, now no less confidently abused him for a cunning, tricking, avaricious knave.
However, notwithstanding all these censures abroad, and in despight of all his misfortunes at home, Heartfree in Newgate enjoyed a quiet, undisturbed repose; while our hero, nobly disdaining rest, lay sleepless all night, partly from the apprehensions of Mrs. Heartfree’s return before he had executed his scheme, and partly from a suspicion lest Fireblood should betray him; of whose infidelity he had, nevertheless, no other cause to maintain any fear, but from his knowing him to be an accomplished rascal, as the vulgar term it, a complete GREAT MAN in our language. And indeed, to confess the truth, these doubts were not without some foundation; for the very same thought unluckily entered the head of that noble youth, who considered whether he might not possibly sell himself for some advantage to the other side, as he had yet no promise from Wild; but this was, by the sagacity of the latter, prevented in the morning with a profusion of promises, which shewed him to be of the most generous temper in the world, with which Fireblood was extremely well satisfied, and made use of so many protestations of his faithfulness that he convinced Wild of the justice of his suspicions.
At this time an accident happened, which, though it did not immediately affect our hero, we cannot avoid relating, as it occasioned great confusion in his family, as well as in the family of Snap. It is indeed a calamity highly to be lamented, when it stains untainted blood, and happens to an honourable house — an injury never to be repaired — a blot never to be wiped out — a sore never to be healed. To detain my reader no longer, Miss Theodosia Snap was now safely delivered of a male infant, the product of an amour which that beautiful (O that I could say virtuous!) creature had with the count.
Mr. Wild and his lady were at breakfast when Mr. Snap, with all the agonies of despair both in his voice and countenance, brought them this melancholy news. Our hero, who had (as we have said) wonderful good-nature when his greatness or interest was not concerned, instead of reviling his sister-inlaw, asked with a smile, “Who was the father?” But the chaste Laetitia, we repeat the chaste, for well did she now deserve that epithet, received it in another manner. She fell into the utmost fury at the relation, reviled her sister in the bitterest terms, and vowed she would never see nor speak to her more; then burst into tears and lamented over her father that such dishonour should ever happen to him and herself. At length she fell severely on her husband for the light treatment which he gave this fatal accident. She told him he was unworthy of the honour he enjoyed of marrying into a chaste family. That she looked on it as an affront to her virtue. That if he had married one of the naughty hussies of the town he could have behaved to her in no other manner. She concluded with desiring her father to make an example of the slut, and to turn her out of doors; for that she would not otherwise enter his house, being resolved never to set her foot within the same threshold with the trollop, whom she detested so much the more because (which was perhaps true) she was her own sister.
So violent, and indeed so outrageous, was this chaste lady’s love of virtue, that she could not forgive a single slip (indeed the only one Theodosia had ever made) in her own sister, in a sister who loved her, and to whom she owed a thousand obligations.
Perhaps the severity of Mr. Snap, who greatly felt the injury done to the honour of his family, would have relented, had not the parish-officers been extremely pressing on this occasion, and for want of security, conveyed the unhappy young lady to a place, the name of which, for the honour of the Snaps, to whom our hero was so nearly allied, we bury in eternal oblivion; where she suffered so much correction for her crime, that the good-natured reader of the male kind may be inclined to compassionate her, at least to imagine she was sufficiently punished for a fault which, with submission to the chaste Laetitia and all other strictly virtuous ladies, it should be either less criminal in a woman to commit, or more so in a man to solicit her to it.
But to return to our hero, who was a living and strong instance that human greatness and happiness are not always inseparable. He was under a continual alarm of frights, and fears, and jealousies. He thought every man he beheld wore a knife for his throat, and a pair of scissars for his purse. As for his own gang particularly, he was thoroughly convinced there was not a single man amongst them who would not, for the value of five shillings, bring him to the gallows. These apprehensions so constantly broke his rest, and kept him so assiduously on his guard to frustrate and circumvent any designs which might be formed against him, that his condition, to any other than the glorious eye of ambition, might seem rather deplorable than the object of envy or desire.
There was in the gang a man named Blueskin, one of those merchants who trade in dead oxen, sheep, &c., in short, what the vulgar call a butcher. This gentleman had two qualities of a great man, viz., undaunted courage, and an absolute contempt of those ridiculous distinctions of meum and tuum, which would cause endless disputes did not the law happily decide them by converting both into suum. The common form of exchanging property by trade seemed to him too tedious; he therefore resolved to quit the mercantile profession, and, falling acquainted with some of Mr. Wild’s people, he provided himself with arms, and enlisted of the gang; in which he behaved for some time with great decency and order, and submitted to accept such share of the booty with the rest as our hero allotted him.
But this subserviency agreed ill with his temper; for we should have before remembered a third heroic quality, namely, ambition, which was no inconsiderable part of his composition. One day, therefore, having robbed a gentleman at Windsor of a gold watch, which, on its being advertised in the newspapers, with a considerable reward, was demanded of him by Wild, he peremptorily refused to deliver it.
“How, Mr. Blueskin!” says Wild; “you will not deliver the watch?” “No, Mr. Wild,” answered he; “I have taken it, and will keep it; or, if I dispose of it, I will dispose of it myself, and keep the money for which I sell it.” “Sure,” replied Wild, “you have not the assurance to pretend you have any property or right in this watch?” “I am certain,” returned Blueskin, “whether I have any right in it or no, you can prove none.” “I will undertake,” cries the other, “to shew I have an absolute right to it, and that by the laws of our gang, of which I am providentially at the head.” “I know not who put you at the head of it,” cries Blueskin; “but those who did certainly did it for their own good, that you might conduct them the better in their robberies, inform them of the richest booties, prevent surprizes, pack juries, bribe evidence, and so contribute to their benefit and safety; and not to convert all their labour and hazard to your own benefit and advantage.” “You are greatly mistaken, sir,” answered Wild; “you are talking of a legal society, where the chief magistrate is always chosen for the public good, which, as we see in all the legal societies of the world, he constantly consults, daily contributing, by his superior skill, to their prosperity, and not sacrificing their good to his own wealth, or pleasure, or humour: but in an illegal society or gang, as this of ours, it is otherwise; for who would be at the head of a gang, unless for his own interest? And without a head, you know, you cannot subsist. Nothing but a head, and obedience to that head, can preserve a gang a moment from destruction. It is absolutely better for you to content yourselves with a moderate reward, and enjoy that in safety at the disposal of your chief, than to engross the whole with the hazard to which you will be liable without his protection. And surely there is none in the whole gang who hath less reason to complain than you; you have tasted of my favours: witness that piece of ribbon you wear in your hat, with which I dubbed you captain. Therefore pray, captain, deliver the watch.” “D— n your cajoling,” says Blueskin: “do you think I value myself on this bit of ribbon, which I could have bought myself for sixpence, and have worn without your leave? Do you imagine I think myself a captain because you, whom I know not empowered to make one, call me so? The name of captain is but a shadow: the men and the salary are the substance; and I am not to be bubbled with a shadow. I will be called captain no longer, and he who flatters me by that name I shall think affronts me, and I will knock him down, I assure you.” “Did ever man talk so unreasonably?” cries Wild. “Are you not respected as a captain by the whole gang since my dubbing you so? But it is the shadow only, it seems; and you will knock a man down for affronting you who calls you captain! Might not a man as reasonably tell a minister of state, Sir, you have given me the shadow only? The ribbon or the bauble that you gave me implies that I have either signalised myself, by some great action, for the benefit and glory of my country, or at least that I am descended from those who have done so. I know myself to be a scoundrel, and so have been those few ancestors I can remember, or have ever heard of. Therefore, I am resolved to knock the first man down who calls me sir or right honourable. But all great and wise men think themselves sufficiently repaid by what procures them honour and precedence in the gang, without enquiring into substance; nay, if a title or a feather be equal to this purpose, they are substance, and not mere shadows. But I have not time to argue with you at present, so give me the watch without any more deliberation.” “I am no more a friend to deliberation than yourself,” answered Blueskin, “and so I tell you, once for all, by G— I never will give you the watch, no, nor will I ever hereafter surrender any part of my booty. I won it, and I will wear it. Take your pistols yourself, and go out on the highway, and don’t lazily think to fatten yourself with the dangers and pains of other people.” At which words he departed in a fierce mood, and repaired to the tavern used by the gang, where he had appointed to meet some of his acquaintance, whom he informed of what had passed between him and Wild, and advised them all to follow his example; which they all readily agreed to, and Mr. Wild’s d-tion was the universal toast; in drinking bumpers to which they had finished a large bowl of punch, when a constable, with a numerous attendance, and Wild at their head, entered the room and seized on Blueskin, whom his companions, when they saw our hero, did not dare attempt to rescue. The watch was found upon him, which, together with Wild’s information, was more than sufficient to commit him to Newgate.
In the evening Wild and the rest of those who had been drinking with Blueskin met at the tavern, where nothing was to be seen but the profoundest submission to their leader. They vilified and abused Blueskin, as much as they had before abused our hero, and now repeated the same toast, only changing the name of Wild into that of Blueskin; all agreeing with Wild that the watch found in his pocket, and which must be a fatal evidence against him, was a just judgment on his disobedience and revolt.
Thus did this great man by a resolute and timely example (for he went directly to the justice when Blueskin left him) quell one of the most dangerous conspiracies which could possibly arise in a gang, and which, had it been permitted one day’s growth, would inevitably have ended in his destruction; so much doth it behove all great men to be eternally on their guard, and expeditious in the execution of their purposes; while none but the weak and honest can indulge themselves in remissness or repose.
The Achates, Fireblood, had been present at both these meetings; but, though he had a little too hastily concurred in cursing his friend, and in vowing his perdition, yet now he saw all that scheme dissolved he returned to his integrity, of which he gave an incontestable proof, by informing Wild of the measures which had been concerted against him, in which he said he had pretended to acquiesce, in order the better to betray them; but this, as he afterwards confessed on his deathbed at Tyburn, was only a copy of his countenance; for that he was, at that time, as sincere and hearty in his opposition to Wild as any of his companions.
Our hero received Fireblood’s information with a very placid countenance. He said, as the gang had seen their errors, and repented, nothing was more noble than forgiveness. But, though he was pleased modestly to ascribe this to his lenity, it really arose from much more noble and political principles. He considered that it would be dangerous to attempt the punishment of so many; besides, he flattered himself that fear would keep them in order: and indeed Fireblood had told him nothing more than he knew before, viz., that they were all complete prigs, whom he was to govern by their fears, and in whom he was to place no more confidence than was necessary, and to watch them with the utmost caution and circumspection: for a rogue, he wisely said, like gunpowder, must be used with caution; since both are altogether as liable to blow up the party himself who uses them as to execute his mischievous purpose against some other person or animal.
We will now repair to Newgate, it being the place where most of the great men of this history are hastening as fast as possible; and, to confess the truth, it is a castle very far from being an improper or misbecoming habitation for any great man whatever. And as this scene will continue during the residue of our history, we shall open it with a new book, and shall therefore take this opportunity of closing our third.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50