On a famous evening Mr. Boffin called on his literary man in ordinary, Mr. Silas Wegg. He was in a cab, blocked up with books, and he called excitedly:
“Here! lend a hand, Wegg, I can’t get out till the way is cleared for me. This is the Annual Register, Wegg, in a cabful of wollumes. Do you know him?”
“Know the Animal Register, sir,” said the Impostor, who had caught the name imperfectly. “For a trifling wager, I think I could find any Animal in him, blindfold, Mr. Boffin.”
I shall never pretend to the minute knowledge affected by Mr. Wegg; but I have been glancing through an odd volume of the Register, and have certainly come across some very queer animals.
And the first of them is a literal animal, the swallow. The account quoted in the Register is from Barrington’s Miscellanies. It seems that during the winter the swallow hides itself under water. This is a well-known fact, and Linnæus is quoted in support of it, with many other witnesses. For example, Mr. Stephens, A.S.S. — there seems to me something ominous about these letters — used to pick up bunches of swallows or martins from a pond at Shrivenham, where his father was vicar. “The birds were carried into the kitchen, on which they soon afterwards flew about the room, in the presence of his father, mother, and others, particularly the Rev. Dr. Pye.”
I find it very hard to resist the Rev. Dr. Pye. There is something orthodox, comfortable and full-bodied in his style. I wish I could have seen him as he walked abroad, in wig, cassock, gown and bands, round of speech, I am sure.
But, indeed, a host of witnesses to the submersive habit of the swallow are cited, including a Brentford man and Sigismond, King of Poland. The Brentford man said he had caught specimens in the eyt opposite the town, and the King affirmed on his oath to Cardinal Commendon that he had frequently seen swallows which were found at the bottom of lakes.
And before we laugh, let us remember how many of us saw Russians, thousands of them, in England, in the year 1914. The Annual Register from which I am quoting is dated 1781.
And then there are the other Animals, the featherless bipeds. There is a full account of the trial of Lord George Gordon for High Treason on February 5, 1781, with a very vivid description of the scene at the doors of the House of Commons (see “Barnaby Rudge,” Chapter XLIX). And here I came across a very odd animal. There is a well-known passage in Boswell’s “Johnson” in which Johnson and Boswell decide that Fleet Street (or the town) is better than Greenwich Park (that is, the country). Boswell fortifies himself in this opinion “by the authority of a very fashionable baronet in the brilliant world, who, on his attention being called to the fragrance of a May evening in the country, observed, ‘This may be very well; but for my part, I prefer the smell of a flambeau at the playhouse.’” A footnote informs us that Mr. Boswell’s smart friend was Sir Michael Le Fleming. I have never heard more of him, and never expected to hear more of him. A learned Boswellian surmises that, on the evidence given, Sir Michael was probably an unprofitable friend for Boswell, and so the matter ended, as I thought. And here, to my amazement, the fashionable, brilliant and — may one surmise? — somewhat sophisticated baronet, makes his appearance in the Gordon trial. The Rev. Thomas Bowen was officiating as Chaplain to the House of Commons on June 2, 1780. Giving evidence, he says that, prayers ended, he sat under the gallery, near the door. In and out of the House comes Lord George, telling his supporters in the lobby what was going on within. This intelligence comes in gusts to the Chaplain, thus:
Lord George: “Mr. Burke, member for Bristol (the Burke) has said ——” and then the door was shut, and no more was heard.
Again: “Lord North calls you a mob”: “Mr. Rous has just moved that the civil power be sent for, but don’t you mind; keep yourselves cool; be steady ——” and so on, and so on. And then the Chaplain saw a gentleman go up to Lord George and speak to him, and as soon as Lord George saw who it was, he called to the people, “This is Sir Michael le Fleming; he has just been speaking for you.” He seemed to be remarkably pleased with Sir Michael, the witness testified: “patted or stroaked, his shoulder, and exhibited a kind of joy, which the witness knew not how to describe.”
Dear me! Who would have thought that Boswell’s brilliant, fashionable, playhouse-flambeau loving baronet was a stout Protestant after all?
But the most awe-inspiring of all the Animals in this Register of 1781 is a certain Mr. Lutterloh. He and his strange name and his strange career are to be found in the account of the arrest, trial, conviction and condemnation of Henry Francis de la Motte for treasonable practices. De la Motte was a French nobleman, with the queer title of Baron Deckham. He had been colonel of the regiment of Soubise in the last war, and had shown gallantry. He had lived beyond his income, and taken refuge in England, and had then, so said the prosecution, engaged in the treasonable practice of furnishing the French Government with information as to his Majesty King George’s forces and plans. He had resided in Bond Street, at a Mr. Otley’s, a woollen-draper, for some time. The story begins with Mr. De la Motte visiting the Secretary of State — of his free will or in response to a hint does not appear. On his way upstairs he dropped several papers full of guilty matters, which were picked up by the messengers and carried with him to the Secretary, Lord Hillsborough. Thereupon, De la Motte was immediately committed a close prisoner to the Tower on the charge of high treason. And here is the first shock: Would a man guilty of such practices fortify himself for a visit to the Secretary of State by stuffing his pockets with treasonable documents, and then carelessly strew the Secretary’s stairs with them, as if they were roses? But I lack space in which to tell the whole story of poor De la Motte — the evident source and prototype of Darnay in “The Tale of Two Cities.” I do not know whether he were guilty; but the case against him has an ill look — for the Government and its agents. The dignity and nobility of his demeanour during the trial were remarked by all, and after the dreadful sentence had been passed, Mr. Akerman, the gaoler, said that he never in his life saw a man in De la Motte’s position with more becoming firmness and fortitude. But the mysterious Mr. Lutterloh? After the examination of the papers which Mr. De la Motte had so thoughtfully dropped on the Secretary’s stairs, orders were issued for the apprehension of Henry Lutterloh, Esq., of Wickham, near Portsmouth. The messengers found Mr. Lutterloh ready booted to go a-hunting, but when he was told of the messengers’ business “he did not discover the least embarrassment.” His keys, his papers were all at their service. He was a German, who had lately taken a house near Portsmouth. He kept a pack of hounds, and was very popular with the neighbouring gentry.
And yet, as it turned out at the trial, Mr. Lutterloh had been a servant (discharged on suspicion of thieving), a chandler in Great Wild Street, Drury Lane, a bankrupt and a fugitive, and a book-keeper at the George Inn, Portsmouth. He confessed in the witness-box that the prisoner, De la Motte, had raised him from beggary to comfort by his generosity. But a powerful feeling came upon Mr. Lutterloh, urging him to make some restitution to the country he had injured. Also, he said, he felt a desire to enrich himself. And so he swore the generous French gentleman’s life away.
I am sure that Mr. Dunning and Mr. Peckham did their best for the defence. But I wish the prisoner’s solicitor could have briefed Mr. Stryver and Mr. Sydney Carton.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12