The scene is probably laid at Newmarket, and in this motley group of peers — pick-pockets — butchers — jockies — rat-catchers — gentlemen — gamblers of every denomination, Lord Albemarle Bertie, being the principal figure, is entitled to precedence. In the March to Finchley, we see him an attendant at a boxing match; and here he is president of a most respectable society assembled at a cockpit. What rendered his lordship’s passion for amusements of this nature very singular, was his being totally blind. In this place he is beset by seven steady friends, five of whom at the same instant offer to bet with him on the event of the battle. One of them, a lineal descendant of Filch, taking advantage of his blindness and negligence, endeavours to convey a bank note, deposited in our dignified gambler’s hat, to his own pocket. Of this ungentlemanlike attempt his lordship is apprised by a ragged post-boy, and an honest butcher: but he is so much engaged in the pronunciation of those important words, Done! Done! Done! Done! and the arrangement of his bets, that he cannot attend to their hints; and it seems more than probable that the stock will be transferred, and the note negociated in a few seconds.
A very curious group surround the old nobleman, who is adorned with a riband, a star, and a pair of spectacles. The whole weight of an overgrown carpenter being laid upon his shoulder, forces our illustrious personage upon a man beneath; who being thus driven downward, falls upon a fourth, and the fourth, by the accumulated pressure of this ponderous trio, composed of the upper and lower house, loses his balance, and tumbling against the edge of the partition, his head is broke, and his wig, shook from the seat of reason, falls into the cockpit.
A man adjoining enters into the spirit of the battle — his whole soul is engaged. From his distorted countenance, and clasped hands, we see that he feels every stroke given to his favourite bird in his heart’s core — ay, in his heart of hearts! A person at the old peer’s left hand is likely to be a loser. Ill-humour, vexation, and disappointment are painted in his countenance. The chimney-sweeper above, is the very quintessence of affectation. He has all the airs and graces of a boarding-school miss. The sanctified quaker adjoining, and the fellow beneath, who, by the way, is a very similar figure to Captain Stab, in the Rake’s Progress, are finely contrasted.
A French marquis on the other side, astonished at this being called amusement, is exclaiming Sauvages! Sauvages! Sauvages! — Engrossed by the scene, and opening his snuff-box rather carelessly, its contents fall into the eyes of a man below, who, sneezing and swearing alternately, imprecates bitter curses on this devil’s dust, that extorts from his inflamed eyes, “A sea of melting pearls, which some call tears.”
Adjoining is an old cripple, with a trumpet at his ear, and in this trumpet a person in a bag-wig roars in a manner that cannot much gratify the auricular nerves of his companions; but as for the object to whom the voice is directed, he seems totally insensible to sounds, and if judgment can be formed from appearances, might very composedly stand close to the clock of St. Paul’s Cathedral, when it was striking twelve.
The figure with a cock peeping out of a bag, is said to be intended for Jackson, a jockey; the gravity of this experienced veteran, and the cool sedateness of a man registering the wagers, are well opposed by the grinning woman behind, and the heated impetuosity of a fellow, stripped to his shirt, throwing his coin upon the cockpit, and offering to back Ginger against Pye for a guinea.
On the lower side, where there is only one tier of figures, a sort of an apothecary, and a jockey, are stretching out their arms, and striking together the handles of their whips, in token of a bet. An hiccuping votary of Bacchus, displaying a half-emptied purse, is not likely to possess it long, for an adroit professor of legerdemain has taken aim with a hooked stick, and by one slight jerk, will convey it to his own pocket. The profession of a gentleman in a round wig is determined by a gibbet chalked upon his coat. An enraged barber, who lifts up his stick in the corner, has probably been refused payment of a wager, by the man at whom he is striking.
A cloud-capt philosopher at the top of the print, coolly smoking his pipe, unmoved by this crash of matter, and wreck of property, must not be overlooked: neither should his dog be neglected; for the dog, gravely resting his fore paws upon the partition, and contemplating the company, seems more interested in the event of the battle than his master.
Like the tremendous Gog, and terrific Magog, of Guildhall, stand the two cock-feeders; a foot of each of these consequential purveyors is seen at the two extremities of the pit.
As to the birds, whose attractive powers have drawn this admiring throng together, they deserved earlier notice:
Each hero burns to conquer or to die,
What mighty hearts in little bosoms lie!
Having disposed of the substances, let us now attend to the shadow on the cockpit, and this it seems is the reflection of a man drawn up to the ceiling in a basket, and there suspended, as a punishment for having betted more money than he can pay. Though suspended, he is not reclaimed; though exposed, not abashed; for in this degrading situation he offers to stake his watch against money, in another wager on his favourite champion.
The decorations of this curious theatre are, a portrait of Nan Rawlins, and the King’s arms.
In the margin at the bottom of the print is an oval, with a fighting cock, inscribed royal sport.
Of the characteristic distinctions in this heterogeneous assembly, it is not easy to speak with sufficient praise. The chimney-sweeper’s absurd affectation sets the similar airs of the Frenchman in a most ridiculous point of view. The old fellow with a trumpet at his ear, has a degree of deafness that I never before saw delineated; he might have lived in the same apartment with Xantippe, or slept comfortably in Alexander the copper-smith’s first floor. As to the nobleman in the centre, in the language of the turf, he is a mere pigeon; and the peer, with a star and garter, in the language of Cambridge, we must class as — a mere quiz. The man sneezing — you absolutely hear; and the fellow stealing a bank note — has all the outward and visible marks of a perfect and accomplished pick-pocket; Mercury himself could not do that business in a more masterly style.
Tyers tells us that “Pope, while living with his father at Chiswick, before he went to Binfield, took great delight in cock-fighting, and laid out all his school-boy money, and little perhaps it was, in buying fighting cocks.” Lord Orrery observes, “If we may judge of Mr. Pope from his works, his chief aim was to be esteemed a man of virtue.” When actions can be clearly ascertained, it is not necessary to seek the mind’s construction in the writings: and we must regret being compelled to believe that some of Mr. Pope’s actions, at the same time that they prove him to be querulous and petulant, lead us to suspect that he was also envious, malignant, and cruel. How far this will tend to confirm the assertion, that when a boy, he was an amateur of this royal sport, I do, says Mr. Ireland, not pretend to decide: but were a child, in whom I had any interest, cursed with such a propensity, my first object would be to correct it: if that were impracticable, and he retained a fondness for the cockpit, and the still more detestable amusement of Shrove Tuesday, I should hardly dare to flatter myself that he could become a merciful man. — The subject has carried me farther than I intended: I will, however, take the freedom of proposing one query to the consideration of the clergy — Might it not have a tendency to check that barbarous spirit, which has more frequently its source in an early acquired habit, arising from the prevalence of example, than in natural depravity, if every divine in Great Britain were to preach at least one sermon every twelve months, on our universal insensibility to the sufferings of the brute creation?
Wilt thou draw near the nature of the Gods,
Draw near them then in being merciful;
Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09