A Book of Scoundrels
by Charles Whibley
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Not only did he exercise in the pulpit a poignant and visible influence. He boasted the confidence of many heroes. His green old age cherished no more famous memory than the friendship of Jonathan Wild. He had known the Great Man at his zenith; he had wrestled with him in the hour of discomfiture; he had preached for his benefit that famous sermon on the text: 'Hide Thy Face from my sins, and blot out all my Iniquities'; he had witnessed the hero's awful progress from Newgate to Tyburn; he had seen him shiver at the nubbing-cheat; he had composed for him a last dying speech, which did not shame the king of thief-takers, and whose sale brought a comfortable profit to the widow. Jonathan, on his side, had shown the Ordinary not a little condescension. It had been his whim, on the eve of his marriage, to present Mr. Pureney with a pair of white gloves, which were treasured as a priceless relic for many a year. And when he paid his last, forced visit to Newgate, he gave the Chaplain, for a pledge of his esteem, that famous silver staff, which he carried, as a badge of authority from the Government, the better to keep the people in awe, and favour the enterprises of his rogues.

Only one cloud shadowed this old and equal friendship. Jonathan had entertained the Ordinary with discourse so familiar, they had cracked so many a bottle together, that when the irrevocable sentence was passed, when he who had never shown mercy, expected none, the Great Man found the exhortations of the illiterate Chaplain insufficient for his high purpose. 'As soon as I came into the condemned Hole,' thus he wrote, 'I began to think of making a preparation for my soul; and the better to bring my stubborn heart to repentance, I desired the advice of a man of learning, a man of sound judgment in divinity, and therefore application being made to the Reverend Mr. Nicholson, he very Christian-like gave me his assistance.' Alas! Poor Pureney! He lacked subtlety, and he was instantly baffled, when the Great Man bade him expound the text: 'Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.' The shiftiest excuse would have brought solace to a breaking heart and conviction to a casuist brain. Yet for once the Ordinary was at a loss, and Wild, finding him insufficient for his purpose, turned a deaf ear to his ministrations. Thus he was rudely awakened from the dream of many sleepless nights. His large heart almost broke at the neglect.

But if his more private counsels were scorned, he still had the joy of delivering a masterpiece from the pulpit, of using 'all the means imaginable to make Wild think of another world,' and of seeing him as neatly turned off as the most exacting Ordinary could desire. And what inmate of Newgate ever forgot the afternoon of that glorious day (May the 24th, 1725)? Mr. Pureney returned to his flock, fortified with punch and good tidings. He pictured the scene at Tyburn with a bibulous circumstance, which admirably became his style, rejoicing, as he has rejoiced ever since, that, though he lost a friend, the honest rogue was saved at last from the machinations of the thief-taker.

So he basked and smoked and drank his ale, retelling the ancient stories, and hiccuping forth the ancient sermons. So, in the fading twilight of life, he smiled the smile of contentment, as became one who had emptied more quarts, had delivered more harrowing discourses, and had lived familiarly with more scoundrels than any devil-dodger of his generation.



IT was midnight when Jack Sheppard reached the leads, wearied by his magical achievement, and still fearful of discovery. The 'jolly pair of handcuffs,' provided by the thoughtful Governor, lay discarded in his distant cell; the chains which a few hours since had grappled him to the floor encumbered the now useless staple. No trace of the ancient slavery disgraced him save the iron anklets which clung about his legs; though many a broken wall and shattered lock must serve for evidence of his prowess on the morrow. The Stone-Jug was all be-chipped and shattered. From the castle he had forced his way through a nine-foot wall into the Red Room, whose bolts, bars, and hinges he had ruined to gain the Chapel. The road thence to the roof and to freedom was hindered by three stubborn iron doors; yet naught stood in the way of Sheppard's genius, and he was sensible, at last, of the night air chill upon his cheek.

But liberty was not yet: there was still a fall of forty feet, and he must needs repass the wreckage of his own making to filch the blankets from his cell. In terror lest he should awaken the Master-Side Debtors, he hastened back to the roof, lashed the coverlets together, and, as the city clocks clashed twelve, he dropped noiselessly upon the leads of a turner's house, built against the prison's outer wall. Behind him Newgate was cut out a black mass against the sky; at his feet glimmered the garret window of the turner's house, and behind the winking casement he could see the turner's servant going to bed. Through her chamber lay the road to glory and Clare Market, and breathlessly did Sheppard watch till the candle should be extinguished and the maid silenced in sleep. In his anxiety he must tarry—tarry; and for a weary hour he kicked his heels upon the leads, ambition still too uncertain for quietude. Yet he could not but catch a solace from his splendid craft. Said he to himself: 'Am I not the most accomplished slip-string the world has known? The broken wall of every round house in town attests my bravery. Light-limbed though I be, have I not forced the impregnable Castle itself? And my enemies—are they not to-day writhing in distress ? The head of Blueskin, that pitiful thief, quivers in the noose; and Jonathan Wild bleeds at the throat from the dregs of a coward's courage. What a triumph shall be mine when the Keeper finds the stronghold tenantless!'

Now, unnumbered were the affronts he had suffered from the Keeper's impertinence, and he chuckled aloud at his own witty rejoinder. Only two days since the Gaoler had caught him tampering with his irons. 'Young man,' he had said, 'I see what you have been doing, but the affair betwixt us stands thus: It is your business to make your escape, and mine to take care you shall not.' Jack had answered coolly enough: 'Then let's both mind our own business.' And it was to some purpose that he had minded his. The letter to his baffled guardian, already sketched in his mind, tickled him afresh, when suddenly he leaps to his feet and begins to force the garret window.

The turner's maid was a heavy sleeper, and Sheppard crept from her garret to the twisted stair in peace. Once, on a lower floor, his heart beat faster at the trumpetings of the turner's nose, but he knew no check until he reached the street door. The bolt was withdrawn in an instant, but the lock was turned, and the key nowhere to be found. However, though the risk of disturbance was greater than in Newgate, the task was light enough: and with an iron link from his fetter, and a rusty nail which had served him bravely, the box was wrenched off in a trice, and Sheppard stood unattended in the Old Bailey. At first he was minded to make for his ancient haunts, or to conceal himself within the Liberty of Westminster; but the fetter-locks were still upon his legs, and he knew that detection would be easy as long as he was thus embarrassed. Wherefore, weary and an-hungered, he turned his steps northward, and never rested until he had gained Finchley Common.

At break of day, when the world re-awoke from the fear of thieves, he feigned a limp at a cottage door, and borrowed a hammer to straighten a pinching shoe. Five minutes behind a hedge, and his anklets had dropped from him; and, thus a free man, he took to the high road. After all he was persuaded to desert London and to escape a while from the sturdy embrace of Edgworth Bess. Moreover, if Bess herself were in the lock-up, he still feared the interested affection of Mistress Maggot, that other doxy, whose avarice would surely drive him upon a dangerous enterprise; so he struck across country, and kept starvation from him by petty theft. Up and down England he wandered in solitary insolence. Once, saith rumour, his lithe apparition startled the peace of Nottingham; once, he was wellnigh caught begging wort at a brew-house in Thames Street. But he might as well have lingered in Newgate as waste his opportunity far from the delights of Town; the old lust of life still impelled him, and a week after the hue-and-cry was raised he crept at dead of night down Drury Lane. Here he found harbourage with a friendly fence, Wild's mortal enemy, who promised him a safe conduct across the seas. But the desire of work proved too strong for prudence; and in a fortnight he had planned an attack on the pawnshop of one Rawling, at the Four Balls in Drury Lane.

Sheppard, whom no house ever built with hands was strong enough to hold, was better skilled at breaking out than at breaking in, and it is remarkable that his last feat in the cracking of cribs was also his greatest. Its very conception was a masterpiece of effrontery. Drury Lane was the thief-catcher's chosen territory; yet it was the Four Balls that Jack designed for attack, and watches, tie-wigs, snuff-boxes were among his booty. Whatever he could not crowd upon his person he presented to a brace of women. Tricked out in his stolen finery, he drank and swaggered in Clare Market. He was dressed in a superb suit of black; a diamond fawney flashed upon his finger; his light tie-periwig was worth no less than seven pounds; pistols, tortoise-shell snuff-boxes, and golden guineas jostled one another in his pockets.

Thus, in brazen magnificence, he marched down Drury Lane on a certain Saturday night in November 1724. Towards midnight he visited Thomas Nicks, the butcher, and having bargained for three ribs of beef, carried Nicks with him to a chandler's hard by, that they might ratify the bargain with a dram. Unhappily, a boy from the 'Rose and Crown' sounded the alarm; for coming into the chandler's for the empty ale-pots, he instantly recognised the incomparable gaol-thief, and lost no time in acquainting his master. Now, Mr. Bradford, of the 'Rose and Crown,' was a head-borough, who, with the zeal of a triumphant Dogberry, summoned the watch, and in less than half an hour Jack Sheppard was screaming blasphemies in a hackney-cab on his way home to Newgate.

The Stone-Jug received him with deference and admiration. Three hundred pounds weight of irons were put upon him for an adornment, and the Governor professed so keen a solicitude for his welfare that he never left him unattended. There was scarce a beautiful woman in London who did not solace him with her condescension, and enrich him with her gifts. Not only did the President of the Royal Academy deign to paint his portrait, but (a far greater honour) Hogarth made him immortal. Even the King displayed a proper interest, demanding a full and precise account of his escapes. The hero himself was drunk with flattery; he bubbled with ribaldry; he touched off the most valiant of his contemporaries in a ludicrous phrase. But his chief delight was to illustrate his prowess to his distinguished visitors, and nothing pleased him better than to slip in and out of his chains.

Confronted with his judge, he forthwith proposed to rid himself of his handcuffs, and he preserved until the fatal tree an illimitable pride in his artistry. Nor would he believe in the possibility of death. To the very last he was confirmed in the hope of pardon; but, pardon failing him, his single consolation was that his procession from Westminster to Newgate was the largest that London had ever known, and that in the crowd a constable broke his leg. Even in the Condemned Hole he was unreconciled. If he had broken the Castle, why should he not also evade the gallows? Wherefore he resolved to carry a knife to Tyburn that he might cut the rope, and so, losing himself in the crowd, ensure escape. But the knife was discovered by his warder's vigilance, and taken from him after a desperate struggle. At the scaffold he behaved with admirable gravity: confessing the wickeder of his robberies, and asking pardon for his enormous crimes. 'Of two virtues,' he boasted at the self-same moment that the cart left him dancing without the music, 'I have ever cherished an honest pride: never have I stooped to friendship with Jonathan Wild, or with any of his detestable thief-takers; and, though an undutiful son, I never damned my mother's eyes.'

Thus died Jack Sheppard; intrepid burglar and incomparable artist, who, in his own separate ambition of prison-breaking, remains, and will ever remain, unrivalled. His most brilliant efforts were the result neither of strength nor of cunning; for so slight was he of build, so deficient in muscle, that both Edgworth Bess and Mistress Maggot were wont to bang him to their own mind and purpose. And an escape so magnificently planned, so bravely executed as was his from the Strong Room, is far greater than a mere effect of cunning. Those mysterious gifts which enable mankind to batter the stone walls of a prison, or to bend the iron bars of a cage, were pre-eminently his. It is also certain that he could not have employed his gifts in a more reputable profession.


Of all the heroes who have waged a private and undeclared war upon their neighbours, Louis-Dominique Cartouche was the most generously endowed. It was but his resolute contempt for politics, his unswerving love of plunder for its own sake, that prevented him from seizing a throne or questing after the empire of the world. The modesty of his ambition sets him below Caesar, or Napoleon, but he yields to neither in the genius of success: whatever he would attain was his on the instant, nor did failure interrupt his career, until treachery, of which he went in perpetual terror, involved himself and his comrades in ruin. His talent of generalship was unrivalled. None of the gang was permitted the liberty of a free-lance. By Cartouche was the order given, and so long as the chief was in repose, Paris might enjoy her sleep. When it pleased him to join battle a whistle was enough.

Now, it was revealed to his intelligence that the professional thief, who devoted all his days and such of his nights as were spared from depredation to wine and women, was more readily detected than the valet-de-chambre, who did but crack a crib or cry 'Stand and deliver!' on a proper occasion. Wherefore, he bade his soldiers take service in the great houses of Paris, that, secure of suspicion, they might still be ready to obey the call of duty. Thus, also, they formed a reconnoitring force, whose vigilance no prize might elude; and nowhere did Cartouche display his genius to finer purpose than in this prudent disposition of his army. It remained only to efface himself, and therein he succeeded admirably by never sleeping two following nights in the same house: so that, when Cartouche was the terror of Paris, when even the King trembled in his bed, none knew his stature nor could recognise his features. In this shifting and impersonal vizard, he broke houses, picked pockets, robbed on the pad. One night he would terrify the Faubourg St. Germain; another he would plunder the humbler suburb of St. Antoine; but on each excursion he was companioned by experts, and the map of Paris was rigidly apportioned among his followers. To each district a captain was appointed, whose business it was to apprehend the customs of the quarter, and thus to indicate the proper season of attack.

Ever triumphant, with yellow-boys ever jingling in his pocket, Cartouche lived a life of luxurious merriment. A favourite haunt was a cabaret in the Rue Dauphine, chosen for the sanest of reasons, as his Captain Ferrand declared, that the landlady was a femme d'esprit. Here he would sit with his friends and his women, and thereafter drive his chariot across the Pont Neuf to the sunnier gaiety of the Palais-Royal. A finished dandy, he wore by preference a grey-white coat with silver buttons; his breeches and stockings were on a famous occasion of black silk; while a sword, scabbarded in satin, hung at his hip.

But if Cartouche, like many another great man, had the faculty of enjoyment, if he loved wine and wit, and mistresses handsomely attired in damask, he did not therefore neglect his art. When once the gang was perfectly ordered, murder followed robbery with so instant a frequency that Paris was panic-stricken. A cry of 'Cartouche' straightway ensured an empty street. The King took counsel with his ministers: munificent rewards were offered, without effect. The thief was still at work in all security, and it was a pretty irony which urged him to strip and kill on the highway one of the King's own pages. Also, he did his work with so astonishing a silence, with so reasoned a certainty, that it seemed impossible to take him or his minions red-handed.

Before all, he discouraged the use of firearms. 'A pistol,' his philosophy urged, 'is an excellent weapon in an emergency, but reserve it for emergencies. At close quarters it is none too sure; and why give the alarm against yourself?' Therefore he armed his band with loaded staves, which sent their enemies into a noiseless and fatal sleep. Thus was he wont to laugh at the police, deeming capture a plain impossibility. The traitor, in sooth, was his single, irremediable fear, and if ever suspicion was aroused against a member of the gang, that member was put to death with the shortest shrift.

It happened in the last year of Cartouche's supremacy that a lily-livered comrade fell in love with a pretty dressmaker. The indiscretion was the less pardonable since the dressmaker had a horror of theft, and impudently tried to turn her lover from his trade. Cartouche, discovering the backslider, resolved upon a public exhibition. Before the assembled band he charged the miscreant with treason, and, cutting his throat, disfigured his face beyond recognition. Thereafter he pinned to the corse the following inscription, that others might be warned by so monstrous an example: 'Ci git Jean Rebati, qui a eu le traitement qu'il meritait: ceux qui en feront autant que lui peuvent attendre le meme sort.' Yet this was the murder that led to the hero's own capture and death.

Du Chatelet, another craven, had already aroused the suspicions of his landlady: who, finding him something troubled the day after the traitor's death, and detecting a spot of blood on his neckerchief, questioned him closely. The coward fumbling at an answer, she was presently convinced of his guilt, and forthwith denounced him for a member of the gang to M. Pacome, an officer of the Guard. Straightly did M. Pacome summon Du Chtelet, and, assuming his guilt for certitude, bade him surrender his captain. 'My friend,' said he, 'I know you for an associate of Cartouche. Your hands are soiled with murder and rapine. Confess the hiding-place of Cartouche, or in twenty-four hours you are broken on the wheel.' Vainly did Du Chatelet protest his ignorance. M. Pacome was resolute, and before the interview was over the robber confessed that Cartouche had given him rendezvous at nine next day.

In the grey morning thirty soldiers crept forth guided by the traitor, 'en habits de bourgeois et de chasseur,' for the house where Cartouche had lain. It was an inn, kept by one Savard, near la Haulte Borne de la Courtille; and the soldiers, though they lacked not numbers, approached the chieftain's lair shaking with terror. In front marched Du Chatelet; the rest followed in Indian file, ten paces apart. When the traitor reached the house, Savard recognised him for a friend, and entertained him with familiar speech. 'Is there anybody upstairs?' demanded Du Chatelet. 'No,' replied Savard. 'Are the four women upstairs?' asked Du Chatelet again. 'Yes, they are,' came the answer: for Savard knew the password of the day. Instantly the soldiers filled the tavern, and, mounting the staircase, discovered Cartouche with his three lieutenants, Balagny, Limousin, and Blanchard. One of the four still lay abed; but Cartouche, with all the dandy's respect for his clothes, was mending his breeches. The others hugged a flagon of wine over the fire.

So fell the scourge of Paris into the grip of justice. But once under lock and key, he displayed all the qualities which made him supreme. His gaiety broke forth into a light-hearted contempt of his gaolers, and the Lieutenant Criminel, who would interrogate him, was covered with ridicule. Not for an instant did he bow to fate: all shackled as he was, his legs engarlanded in heavy chains—which he called his garters—he tempered his merriment with the meditation of escape. From the first he denied all knowledge of Cartouche, insisting that his name was Charles Bourguignon, and demanding burgundy, that he might drink to his country and thus prove him a true son of the soil. Not even the presence of his mother and brother abashed him. He laughed them away as impostors, hired by a false justice to accuse and to betray the innocent. No word of confession crossed his lips, and he would still entertain the officers of the law with joke and epigram.

Thus he won over a handful of the Guard, and, begging for solitude, he straightway set about escape with a courage and an address which Jack Sheppard might have envied. His delicate ear discovered that a cellar lay beneath his cell; and with the old nail which lies on the floor of every prison he made his way downwards into a boxmaker's shop. But a barking dog spoiled the enterprise: the boxmaker and his daughter were immediately abroad, and once more Cartouche was lodged in prison, weighted with still heavier garters.

Then came a period of splendid notoriety: he held his court, he gave an easy rein to his wit, he received duchesses and princes with an air of amiable patronage. Few there were of his visitants who left him without a present of gold, and thus the universal robber was further rewarded by his victims. His portrait hung in every house, and his thin, hard face, his dry, small features were at last familiar to the whole of France. M. Grandval made him the hero of an epic—'Le Vice Puni.' Even the theatre was dominated by his presence; and while Arlequin-Cartouche was greeted with thunders of applause at the Italiens, the more serious Francais set Cartouche upon the stage in three acts, and lavished upon its theme the resources of a then intelligent art. M. Le Grand, author of the piece, deigned to call upon the king of thieves, spoke some words of argot with him, and by way of conscience money gave him a hundred crowns.

Cartouche set little store by such patronage. He pocketed the crowns, and then put an end to the comedy by threatening that if it were played again the companions of Cartouche would punish all such miscreants as dared to make him a laughing stock. For Cartouche would endure ridicule at no man's hand. At the very instant of his arrest, all bare-footed as he was, he kicked a constable who presumed to smile at his discomfiture. His last days were spent in resolute abandonment. True, he once attempted to beat out his brains with the fetters that bound him; true, also, he took a poison that had been secretly conveyed within the prison. But both attempts failed, and, more scrupulously watched, he had no other course than jollity. Lawyers and priests he visited with a like and bitter scorn, and when, on November 27, 1721, he was led to the scaffold, not a word of confession or contrition had been dragged from him.

To the last moment he cherished the hope of rescue, and eagerly he scanned the crowd for the faces of his comrades. But the gang, trusting to its leader's nobility, had broken its oath. With contemptuous dignity Cartouche determined upon revenge: proudly he turned to the priest, begging a respite and the opportunity of speech. Forgotten by his friends, he resolved to spare no single soul: he betrayed even his mistresses to justice.

Of his gang, forty were in the service of Mlle. de Montpensier, who was already in Spain; while two obeyed the Duchesse de Ventadour as valets-de-pied. His confession, in brief, was so dangerous a document, it betrayed the friends and servants of so many great houses, that the officers of the Law found safety for their patrons in its destruction, and not a line of the hero's testimony remains. The trial of his comrades dragged on for many a year, and after Cartouche had been cruelly broken on the wheel, not a few of the gang, of which he had been at once the terror and inspiration, suffered a like fate. Such the career and such the fitting end of the most distinguished marauder the world has known. Thackeray, with no better guide than a chap-book, was minded to belittle him, now habiting him like a scullion, now sending him forth on some petty errand of cly-faking. But for all Thackeray's contempt his fame is still undimmed, and he has left the reputation of one who, as thief unrivalled, had scarce his equal as wit and dandy even in the days when Louis the Magnificent was still a memory and an example.



IF the seventeenth century was the golden age of the hightobyman, it was at the advent of the eighteenth that the burglar and street-robber plied their trade with the most distinguished success, and it was the good fortune of both Cartouche and Sheppard to be born in the nick of time. Rivals in talent, they were also near contemporaries, and the Scourge of Paris may well have been famous in the purlieus of Clare Market before Jack the Slip-String paid the last penalty of his crimes. As each of these great men harboured a similar ambition, so their careers are closely parallel. Born in a humble rank of life, Jack, like Cartouche, was the architect of his own fortune; Jack, like Cartouche, lived to be flattered by noble dames and to claim the solicitude of his Sovereign; and each owed his pre-eminence rather to natural genius than to a sympathetic training.

But, for all the Briton's artistry, the Frenchman was in all points save one the superior. Sheppard's brain carried him not beyond the wants of to-day and the extortions of Poll Maggot.

Who knows but he might have been a respectable citizen, with never a chance for the display of his peculiar talent, had not hunger and his mistress's greed driven him upon the pad? History records no brilliant robbery of his own planning, and so circumscribed was his imagination that he must needs pick out his own friends and benefactors for depredation. His paltry sense of discipline permitted him to be betrayed even by his brother and pupil, and there was no cracksman of his time over whose head he held the rod of terror. Even his hatred of Jonathan Wild was the result not of policy but of prejudice. Cartouche, on the other hand, was always perfect when at work. The master of himself, he was also the master of his fellows. There was no detail of civil war that he had not made his own, and he still remains, after nearly two centuries, the greatest captain the world has seen. Never did he permit an enterprise to fail by accident; never was he impelled by hunger or improvidence to fight a battle unprepared. His means were always neatly fitted to their end, as is proved by the truth that, throughout his career, he was arrested but once, and then not by his own inadvertence but by the treachery of others.

Yet from the moment of arrest Jack Sheppard asserted his magnificent superiority. If Cartouche was a sorry bungler at prison-breaking, Sheppard was unmatched in this dangerous art. The sport of the one was to break in, of the other to break out. True, the Briton proved his inferiority by too frequently placing himself under lock and key; but you will forgive his every weakness for the unexampled skill wherewith he extricated himself from the stubbornest dungeon. Cartouche would scarce have given Sheppard a menial's office in his gang. How cordially Sheppard would have despised Cartouche's solitary experiment in escape! To be foiled by a dog and a boxmaker's daughter! Would not that have seemed contemptible to the master breaker of those unnumbered doors and walls which separate the Castle from the freedom of Newgate roof?

Such, then, is the contrast between the heroes. Sheppard claims our admiration for one masterpiece. Cartouche has a sheaf of works, which shall carry him triumphantly to the remotest future.

And when you forget a while professional rivalry, and consider the delicacies of leisure, you will find the Frenchman's greatness still indisputable. At all points he was the prettier gentleman. Sheppard, to be sure, had a sense of finery, but he was so unused to grandeur that vulgarity always spoiled his effects. When he hied him from the pawnshop, laden with booty, he must e'en cram what he could not wear into his pockets; and doubtless his vulgar lack of reticence made detection easier. Cartouche, on the other hand, had an unfailing sense of proportion, and was never more dressed than became the perfect dandy. He was elegant, he was polished, he was joyous. He drank wine, while the other soaked himself in beer; he despised whatever was common, while his rival knew but the coarser flavours of life.

The one was distinguished by a boisterous humour, a swaggering pride in his own prowess; the wit of the other might be edged like a knife, nor would he ever appeal for a spectacle to the curiosity of the mob. Both were men of many mistresses, but again in his conduct with women Cartouche showed an honester talent. Sheppard was at once the prey and the whipping-block of his two infamous doxies, who agreed in deformity of feature as in contempt for their lover. Cartouche, on the other hand, chose his cabaret for the wit of its patronne, and was always happy in the elegance and accomplishment of his companions. One point of likeness remains. The two heroes resembled each other not only in their profession, but in their person. Though their trade demanded physical strength, each was small and slender of build. 'A little, slight-limbed lad,' says the historian of Sheppard. 'A thin, spare frame,' sings the poet of Cartouche. Here, then, neither had the advantage, and if in the shades Cartouche despises the clumsiness and vulgarity of his rival, Sheppard may still remember the glory of Newgate, and twit the Frenchman with the barking of the boxmaker's dog. But genius is the talent of the dead, and the wise, who are not partisans, will not deny to the one or to the other the possession of the rarer gift.


TO Haggart, who babbled on the Castle Rock of Willie Wallace and was only nineteen when he danced without the music; to Simms, alias Gentleman Harry, who showed at Tyburn how a hero could die; to George Barrington, the incomparably witty and adroit—to these a full meed of honour has been paid. Even the coarse and dastardly Freney has achieved, with Thackeray's aid (and Lever's) something of a reputation. But James Hardy Vaux, despite his eloquent bid for fame, has not found his rhapsodist. Yet a more consistent ruffian never pleaded for mercy. From his early youth until in 1819 he sent forth his Memoirs to the world, he lived industriously upon the cross. There was no racket but he worked it with energy and address. Though he practised the more glorious crafts of pickpocket and shoplifter, he did not despise the begging-letter, and he suffered his last punishment for receiving what another's courage had conveyed. His enterprise was not seldom rewarded with success, and for a decade of years he continued to preserve an appearance of gentility; but it is plain, even from his own narrative, that he was scarce an artist, and we shall best understand him if we recognise that he was a Philistine among thieves. He lived in an age of pocket-picking, and skill in this branch is the true test of his time. A contemporary of Barrington, he had before him the most brilliant of examples, which might properly have enforced the worth of a simple method. But, though he constantly brags of his success at Drury Lane, we take not his generalities for gospel, and the one exploit whose credibility is enforced with circumstance was pitiful both in conception and performance. A meeting of freeholders at the 'Mermaid Tavern,' Hackney, was the occasion, and after drawing blank upon blank, Vaux succeeded at last in extracting a silver snuff-box. Now, his clumsiness had suggested the use of the scissors, and the victim not only discovered the scission in his coat, but caught the thief with the implements of his art upon him. By a miracle of impudence Vaux escaped conviction, but he deserved the gallows for his want of principle, and not even sympathy could have let drop a tear, had justice seized her due. On the straight or on the cross the canons of art deserve respect; and a thief is great, not because he is a thief, but because, in filling his own pocket, he preserves from violence the legitimate traditions of his craft.

But it was in conflict with the jewellers that Vaux best proved his mettle. It was his wont to clothe himself 'in the most elegant attire,' and on the pretence of purchase to rifle the shops of Piccadilly. For this offence—'pinching' the Cant Dictionary calls it—he did his longest stretch of time, and here his admirable qualities of cunning and coolness found their most generous scope. A love of fine clothes he shared with all the best of his kind, and he visited Mr Bilger—the jeweller who arrested him—magnificently arrayed. He wore a black coat and waistcoat, blue pantaloons, Hessian boots, and a hat 'in the extreme of the newest fashion.' He was also resplendent with gold watch and eye-glass. His hair was powdered, and a fawney sparkled on his dexter fam. The booty was enormous, and a week later he revisited the shop on another errand. This second visit was the one flash of genius in a somewhat drab career: the jeweller was so completely dumfounded, that Vaux might have got clean away. But though he kept discreetly out of sight for a while, at last he drifted back to his ancient boozing-ken, and was there betrayed to a notorious thief-catcher. The inevitable sentence of death followed. It was commuted after the fashion of the time, and Vaux, having sojourned a while at the Hulks, sought for a second time the genial airs of Botany Bay.

His vanity and his laziness were alike invincible. He believed himself a miracle of learning as well as a perfect thief, and physical toil was the sole 'lay' for which he professed no capacity. For a while he corrected the press for a printer, and he roundly asserts that his knowledge of literature and of foreign tongues rendered him invaluable. It was vanity again that induced him to assert his innocence when he was lagged for so vulgar a crime as stealing a wipe from a tradesman in Chancery Lane. At the moment of arrest he was on his way to purchase base coin from a Whitechapel bit-faker: but, despite his nefarious errand, he is righteously wrathful at what he asserts was an unjust conviction, and henceforth he assumed the crown of martyrdom. His first and last ambition during the intervals of freedom was gentility, and so long as he was not at work he lived the life of a respectable grocer. Although the casual Cyprian flits across his page, he pursued the one flame of his life for the good motive, and he affects to be a very model of domesticity. The sentiment of piety also was strong upon him, and if he did not, like the illustrious Peace, pray for his jailer, he rivalled the Prison Ordinary in comforting the condemned. Had it only been his fate to die on the gallows, how unctuous had been his croak!

The text of his 'Memoirs' having been edited, it is scarce possible to define his literary talent. The book, as it stands, is an excellent piece of narrative, but it loses somewhat by the pretence of style. The man's invulnerable conceit prevented an absolute frankness, and there is little enough hilarity to correct the acid sentiment and the intolerable vows of repentance. Again, though he knows his subject, and can patter flash with the best, his incorrigible respectability leads him to ape the manner of a Grub Street hack, and to banish to a vocabulary those pearls of slang which might have added vigour and lustre to his somewhat tiresome page. However, the thief cannot escape his inevitable defects. The vanity, the weakness, the sentimentality of those who are born beasts of prey, yet have the faculty of depredation only half-developed, are the foes of truth, and it is well to remember that the autobiography of a rascal is tainted at its source. A congenial pickpocket, equipped with the self-knowledge and the candour which would enable him to recognise himself an outlaw and justice his enemy rather than an instrument of malice, would prove a Napoleon rather than a Vaux. So that we must e'en accept our Newgate Calendar with its many faults upon its head, and be content. For it takes a man of genius to write a book, and the thief who turns author commonly inhabits a paradise of the second-rate.


AS Captain Hind was master of the road, George Barrington was (and remains for ever) the absolute monarch of pickpockets. Though the art, superseding the cutting of purses, had been practised with courage and address for half a century before Barrington saw the light, it was his own incomparable genius that raised thievery from the dangerous valley of experiment, and set it, secure and honoured, upon the mountain height of perfection. To a natural habit of depredation, which, being a man of letters, he was wont to justify, he added a sureness of hand, a fertility of resource, a recklessness of courage which drove his contemporaries to an amazed respect, and from which none but the Philistine will withhold his admiration. An accident discovered his taste and talent. At school he attempted to kill a companion—the one act of violence which sullies a strangely gentle career; and outraged at the affront of a flogging, he fled with twelve guineas and a gold repeater watch. A vulgar theft this, and no presage of future greatness; yet it proves the fearless greed, the contempt of private property, which mark as with a stigma the temperament of the prig. His faculty did not rust long for lack of use, and at Drogheda, when he was but sixteen, he encountered one Price, half barnstormer, half thief. Forthwith he embraced the twin professions, and in the interlude of more serious pursuits is reported to have made a respectable appearance as Jaffier in Venice Preserved. For a while he dreamed of Drury Lane and glory; but an attachment for Miss Egerton, the Belvidera to his own Jaffier, was more costly than the barns of Londonderry warranted, and, with Price for a colleague, he set forth on a tour of robbery, merely interrupted through twenty years by a few periods of enforced leisure.

His youth, indeed, was his golden age. For four years he practised his art, chilled by no shadow of suspicion, and his immunity was due as well to his excellent bearing as to his sleight of hand. In one of the countless chap-books which dishonour his fame, he is unjustly accused of relying for his effects upon an elaborate apparatus, half knife, half scissors, wherewith to rip the pockets of his victims. The mere backbiting of envy! An artistic triumph was never won save by legitimate means; and the hero who plundered the Dulce of L—r at Ranelagh, who emptied the pockets of his acquaintance without fear of exposure, who all but carried off the priceless snuff-box of Count Orloff, most assuredly followed his craft in full simplicity and with a proper scorn of clumsy artifice. At his first appearance he was the master, sumptuously apparelled, with Price for valet. At Dublin his birth and quality were never questioned, and when he made a descent upon London it was in company with Captain W. H—n, who remained for years his loyal friend. He visited Brighton as the chosen companion of Lord Ferrers and the wicked Lord Lyttelton. His manners and learning were alike irresistible. Though the picking of pockets was the art and interest of his life, he was on terms of easy familiarity with light literature, and he considered no toil too wearisome if only his conversation might dazzle his victims. Two maxims he charactered upon his heart: the one, never to run a large risk for a small gain; the other, never to forget the carriage and diction of a gentleman.

He never stooped to pilfer, until exposure and decay had weakened his hand. In his first week at Dublin he carried off L1000, and it was only his fateful interview with Sir John Fielding that gave him poverty for a bedfellow. Even at the end, when he slunk from town to town, a notorious outlaw, he had inspirations of his ancient magnificence, and—at Chester—he eluded the vigilance of his enemies and captured L600, wherewith he purchased some months of respectability. Now, respectability was ever dear to him, and it was at once his pleasure and profit to live in the highest society. Were it not blasphemy to sully Barrington with slang you would call him a member of the swell-mob, but, having cultivated a grave and sober style for himself, he recoiled in horror from the flash lingo, and his susceptibility demands respect.

He kept a commonplace book! Was ever such thrift in a thief? Whatever images or thoughts flashed through his brain, he seized them on paper, even 'amidst the jollity of a tavern, or in the warmth of an interesting conversation.' Was it then strange that he triumphed as a man of fashionable and cultured leisure? He would visit Ranelagh with the most distinguished, and turn a while from epigram and jest to empty the pocket of a rich acquaintance. And ever with so tactful a certainty, with so fine a restraint of the emotions, that suspicion was preposterous. To catalogue his exploits is superfluous, yet let it be recorded that once he went to Court, habited as a clergyman, and came home the richer for a diamond order, Lord C—'s proudest decoration. Even the assault upon Prince Orloff was nobly planned. Barrington had precise intelligence of the marvellous snuff-box—the Empress's own gift to her lover; he knew also how he might meet the Prince at Drury Lane; he had even discovered that the Prince for safety hid the jewel in his vest. But the Prince felt the Prig's hand upon the treasure, and gave an instant alarm. Over-confidence, maybe, or a too liberal dinner was the cause of failure, and Barrington, surrounded in a moment, was speedily in the lock-up. It was the first rebuff that the hero had received, and straightway his tact and ingenuity left him. The evidence was faulty, the prosecution declined, and naught was necessary for escape save presence of mind. Even friends were staunch, and had Barrington told his customary lie, his character had gone unsullied. Yet having posed for his friends as a student of the law, at Bow Street he must needs declare himself a doctor, and the needless discrepancy ruined him. Though he escaped the gallows, there was an end to the diversions of intellect and fashion; as he discovered when he visited the House of Lords to hear an appeal, and Black Rod ejected him at the persuasion of Mr. G—. As yet unused to insult, he threatened violence against the aggressor, and finding no bail he was sent on his first imprisonment to the Bridewell in Tothill Fields. Rapid, indeed, was the descent. At the first grip of adversity, he forgot his cherished principles, and two years later the loftiest and most elegant gentlemen that ever picked a pocket was at the Hulks—for robbing a harlot at Drury Lane! Henceforth, his insolence and artistry declined, and, though to the last there were intervals of grandeur, he spent the better part of fifteen years in the commission of crimes, whose very littleness condemned them. At last an exile from St. James's and Ranelagh, he was forced into a society which still further degraded him. Hitherto he had shunned the society of professed thieves; in his golden youth he had scorned to shelter him in the flash kens, which were the natural harbours of pickpockets. But now, says his biographer, he began to seek evil company, and, the victim of his own fame, found safety only in obscene concealment.

At the Hulks he recovered something of his dignity, and discretion rendered his first visit brief enough. Even when he was committed on a second offence, and had attempted suicide, he was still irresistible, and he was discharged with several years of imprisonment to run. But, in truth, he was born for honour and distinction, and common actions, common criminals, were in the end distasteful to him. In his heyday he stooped no further than to employ such fences as might profitably dispose of his booty, and the two partners of his misdeeds were both remarkable.

James, the earlier accomplice affected clerical attire, and in 1791 'was living in a Westphalian monastery, to which he some years ago retired, in an enviable state of peace and penitence, respected for his talents, and loved for his amiable manners, by which he is distinguished in an eminent degree.' The other ruffian, Lowe by name, was known to his own Bloomsbury Square for a philanthropic and cultured gentleman, yet only suicide saved him from the gallows. And while Barrington was wise in the choice of his servants, his manners drove even strangers to admiration. Policemen and prisoners were alike anxious to do him honour. Once when he needed money for his own defence, his brother thieves, whom he had ever shunned and despised, collected L100 for the captain of their guild. Nor did gaoler and judge ever forget the respect due to a gentleman. When Barrington was tried and condemned for the theft of Mr. Townsend's watch at Enfield Races—September 15, 1790, was the day of his last transgression—one knows not which was the more eloquent in his respect, the judge or the culprit.

But it was not until the pickpocket set out for Botany Bay that he took full advantage of his gentlemanly bearing. To thrust 'Mr.' Barrington into the hold was plainly impossible, even though transportation for seven years was his punishment. Wherefore he was admitted to the boatswain's mess, was allowed as much baggage as a first-class passenger, and doubtless beguiled the voyage (for others) with the information of a well-stored mind. By an inspiration of luck he checked a mutiny, holding the quarter-deck against a mob of ruffians with no weapon but a marline-spike. And hereafter, as he tells you in his 'Voyage to New South Wales,' he was accorded the fullest liberty to come or go. He visited many a foreign port with the officers of the ship; he packed a hundred note-books with trite and superfluous observations; he posed, in brief, as the captain of the ship without responsibility. Arrived at Port Jackson, he was acclaimed a hero, and received with obsequious solicitude by the Governor, who promised that his 'future situation should be such as would render his banishment from England as little irksome as possible.' Forthwith he was appointed high constable of Paramatta, and, like Vautrin, who might have taken the youthful Barrington for another Rastignac, he ended his days the honourable custodian of less fortunate convicts. Or, as a broadside ballad has it,

He left old Drury's flash purlieus, To turn at last a copper.

Never did he revert to his ancient practice. If in his youth he had lived the double-life with an effrontery and elegance which Brodie himself never attained, henceforth his career was single in its innocence. He became a prig in the less harmful and more offensive sense. After the orthodox fashion he endeared himself to all who knew him, and ruled Paramatta with an equable severity. Having cultivated the humanities for the base purposes of his trade, he now devoted himself to literature with an energy of dulness, becoming, as it were, a liberal education personified. His earlier efforts had been in verse, and you wonder that no enterprising publisher had ventured on a limited edition. Time was he composed an ode to Light, and once recovering from a fever contracted at Ballyshannon, he addressed a few burning lines to Hygeia:

Hygeia! thou whose eyes display The lustre of meridian day;

and so on for endless couplets. Then, had he not celebrated in immortal verse his love for Miss Egerton, untimely drowned in the waters of the Boyne? But now, as became the Constable of Paramatta, he chose the sterner medium, and followed up his 'Voyage to New South Wales' with several exceeding trite and valuable histories.

His most ambitious work was dedicated in periods of unctuous piety to his Majesty King George III., and the book's first sentence is characteristic of his method and sensibility: 'In contemplating the origin, rise, and fall of nations, the mind is alternately filled with a mixture of sacred pain and pleasure.' Would you read further? Then you will find Fauna and Flora, twin goddesses of ineptitude, flitting across the page, unreadable as a geographical treatise. His first masterpiece was translated into French, anno VI., and the translator apologises that war with England alone prevents the compilation of a suitable biography. Was ever thief treated with so grave a consideration?

Then another work was prefaced by the Right Hon. William Eden, and all were 'embellished with beautiful coloured plates,' and ran through several editions. Once only did he return to poetry, the favoured medium of his youth, and he returned to write an imperishable line. Even then his pedantry persuaded him to renounce the authorship, and to disparage the achievement. The occasion was the opening of a theatre at Sydney, wherein the parts were sustained by convicts. The cost of admission to the gallery was one shilling, paid in money, flour, meat, or spirits.

The play was entitled The Revenge and the Hotel, and Barrington provided the prologue, which for one passage is for ever memorable. Thus it runs:

From distant climes, o'er widespread seas, we come, Though not with much eclat or beat of drum; True patriots we, for be it understood, We left our country for our country's good. No private views disgraced our generous zeal, What urged our travels was our country's weal; And none will doubt, but that our emigration Has proved most useful to the British nation.

'We left our country for our country's good.' That line, thrown fortuitously into four hundred pages of solid prose, has emerged to become the common possession of Fleet Street. It is the man's one title to literary fame, for spurning the thievish practice he knew so well, he was righteously indignant when The London Spy was fathered upon him. Though he emptied his contemporary's pockets of many thousands, he enriched the Dictionary of Quotations with one line, which will be repeated so long as there is human hand to wield a pen. And, if the High Constable of Paramatta was tediously respectable, George Barrington, the Prig, was a man of genius.



DAVID HAGGART was born at Canonmills, with no richer birthright than thievish fingers and a left hand of surpassing activity. The son of a gamekeeper, he grew up a long-legged, red-headed callant, lurking in the sombre shadow of the Cowgate, or like the young Sir Walter, championing the Auld Town against the New on the slopes of Arthur's Seat. Kipping was his early sin; but the sportsman's instinct, born of his father's trade, was so strong within him, that he pinched a fighting cock before he was breeched, and risked the noose for horse-stealing when marbles should have engrossed his boyish fancy. Turbulent and lawless, he bitterly resented the intolerable restraint of a tranquil life, and, at last, in the hope of a larger liberty, he enlisted for a drummer in the Norfolk Militia, stationed at the moment in Edinburgh Castle. A brief, insubordinate year, misspent in his country's service, proved him hopeless of discipline: he claimed his discharge, and henceforth he was free to follow the one craft for which nature and his own ambition had moulded him.

Like Chatterton, like Rimbaud, Haggart came into the full possession of his talent while still a child. A Barrington of fourteen, he knew every turn and twist of his craft, before he escaped from school. His youthful necessities were munificently supplied by facile depredation, and the only hindrance to immediate riches was his ignorance of flash kens where he might fence his plunder. Meanwhile he painted his soul black with wickedness. Such hours as he could snatch from the profitable conduct of his trade he devoted to the austere debauchery of Leith or the Golden Acre. Though he knew not the seduction of whisky, he missed never a dance nor a raffle, joining the frolics of prigs and callets in complete forgetfulness of the shorter catechism. In vain the kirk compared him to a 'bottle in the smoke'; in vain the minister whispered of hell and the gallows; his heart hardened, as his fingers grew agile, and when, at sixteen, he left his father's house for a sporting life, he had not his equal in the three kingdoms for cunning and courage.

His first accomplice was Barney M'Guire, who—until a fourteen stretch sent him to Botany Bay—played Clytus to David's Alexander, and it was at Portobello Races that their brilliant partnership began. Hitherto Haggart had worked by stealth; he had tracked his booty under the cloud of night. Now was the moment to prove his prowess in the eye of day, to break with a past which he already deemed ignoble. His heart leaped with the occasion: he tackled his adventure with the hot-head energy of a new member, big with his maiden speech. The victim was chosen in an instant: a backer, whose good fortune had broken the bookmakers. There was no thief on the course who did not wait, in hungry appetence, the sportsman's descent from the stand; yet the novice outstripped them all. 'I got the first dive at his keek-cloy,' he writes in his simple, heroic style, 'and was so eager on my prey, that I pulled out the pocket along with the money, and nearly upset the gentleman.' A steady brain saved him from the consequence of an o'erbuoyant enthusiasm. The notes were passed to Barney in a flash, and when the sportsman turned upon his assailant, Haggart's hands were empty.

Thereupon followed an infinite series of brilliant exploits. With Barney to aid, he plundered the Border like a reiver. He stripped the yeomen of Tweedside with a ferocity which should have avenged the disgrace of Flodden. More than once he ransacked Ecclefechan, though it is unlikely that he emptied the lean pocket of Thomas Carlyle. There was not a gaff from Newcastle to the Tay which he did not haunt with sedulous perseverance; nor was he confronted with failure, until his figure became a universal terror. His common method was to price a horse, and while the dealer showed Barney the animal's teeth, Haggart would slip under the uplifted arm, and ease the blockhead of his blunt. Arrogant in his skill, delighted with his manifold triumphs, Haggart led a life of unbroken prosperity under the brisk air of heaven, and, despite the risk of his profession, he remained two years a stranger to poverty and imprisonment. His worst mishap was to slip his forks into an empty pocket, or to encounter in his cups a milvadering horse-dealer; but his joys were free and frank, while he exulted in his success with a boyish glee. 'I was never happier in all my life than when I fingered all this money,' he exclaims when he had captured the comfortable prize of two hundred pounds. And then he would make merry at Newcastle or York, forgetting the knowing ones for a while, going abroad in white cape and tops, and flicking his leg like a gentleman with a dandy whip. But at last Barney and a wayward ambition persuaded him to desert his proper craft for the greater hazard of cracking a crib, and thus he was involved in his ultimate ruin. He incurred and he deserved the untoward fate of those who overlook their talents' limitation; and when this master of pickpockets followed Barney through the window of a secluded house upon the York Road, he might already have felt the noose tightening at his neck. The immediate reward of this bungled attack was thirty pounds, but two days later he was committed with Barney to the Durham Assizes, where he exchanged the obscurity of the perfect craftsman for the notoriety of the dangerous gaol-bird.

For the moment, however, he recovered his freedom: breaking prison, he straightway conveyed a fiddlestick to his comrade, and in a twinkling was at Newcastle again, picking up purses well lined with gold, and robbing the bumpkins of their scouts and chats. But the time of security was overpast. Marked and suspicious, he began to fear the solitude of the country; he left the horse-fair for the city, and sought in the budging-kens of Edinburgh the secrecy impossible on the hill-side. A clumsy experiment in shop-lifting doubled his danger, and more than once he saw the inside of the police-office. Henceforth, he was free of the family; he loafed in the Shirra-Brae; he knew the flash houses of Leith and the Grassmarket. With Jean Johnston, the blowen of his choice, he smeared his hands with the squalor of petty theft, and the drunken recklessness wherewith he swaggered it abroad hastened his approaching downfall.

With a perpetual anxiety to avoid the nippers his artistry dwindled. The left hand, invincible on the Cheviots, seemed no better than a bunch of thumbs in the narrow ways of Edinburgh; and after innumerable misadventures Haggart was safely lodged in Dumfries gaol. No sooner was he locked within his cell than his restless brain planned a generous escape. He would win liberty for his fellows as well as for himself, and after a brief council a murderous plot was framed and executed. A stone slung in a handkerchief sent Morrin, the gaoler, to sleep; the keys found on him opened the massy doors; and Haggart was free with a reward set upon his head. The shock of the enterprise restored his magnanimity. Never did he display a finer bravery than in this spirited race for his life, and though three counties were aroused he doubled and ducked to such purpose that he outstripped John Richardson himself with all his bloodhounds, and two days later marched into Carlisle disguised in the stolen rags of a potato-bogle.

During the few months that remained to him of life he embarked upon a veritable Odyssey: he scoured Scotland from the Border to St. Andrews, and finally contrived a journey oversea to Ireland, where he made the name of Daniel O'Brien a terror to well-doers. Insolent and careless, he lurched from prison to prison; now it was Armagh that held him, now Downpatrick, until at last he was thrust on a general charge of vagabondage and ill-company into Kilmainham, which has since harboured many a less valiant adventurer than David Haggart. Here the culminating disgrace overtook him: he was detected in the prison yard by his ancient enemy, John Richardson, of Dumfries, who dragged him back to Scotland heavily shackled and charged with murder. So nimble had he proved himself in extrication, that his captors secured him with pitiless severity; round his waist he carried an iron belt, whereto were padlocked the chains, clanking at his wrists and ankles. Thus tortured and helpless, he was fed 'like a sucking turkey in Bedlam'; but his sorrows vanished, and his dying courage revived at sight of the torchlight procession, which set forth from Dumfries to greet his return.

His coach was hustled by a mob, thousands strong, eager to catch sight of Haggart the Murderer, and though the spot where he slew Morrin was like fire beneath his passing feet, he carried to his cell a heart and a brain aflame with gratified vanity. His guilt being patent, reprieve was as hopeless as acquittal, and after the assured condemnation he spent his last few days with what profit he might in religious and literary exercises. He composed a memoir, which is a model of its kind; so diligently did he make his soul, that he could appear on the scaffold in a chastened spirit of prayerful gratitude; and, being an eminent scoundrel, he seemed a proper subject for the ministrations of Mr. George Combe. 'That is the one thing I did not know before,' he confessed with an engaging modesty, when his bumps were squeezed, and yet he was more than a match for the amiable phrenologist, whose ignorance of mankind persuaded him to believe that an illiterate felon could know himself and analyse his character.

His character escaped his critics as it escaped himself. Time was when George Borrow, that other picaroon, surprised the youthful David, thinking of Willie Wallace upon the Castle Rock, and Lavengro's romantic memory transformed the raw-boned pickpocket into a monumental hero, who lacked nothing save a vast theatre to produce a vast effect. He was a Tamerlane, robbed of his opportunity; a valiant warrior, who looked in vain for a battlefield; a marauder who climbed the scaffold not for the magnitude, but for the littleness of his sins. Thus Borrow, in complete misunderstanding of the rascal's qualities.

Now, Haggart's ambition was as circumscribed as his ability. He died, as he was born, an expert cly-faker, whose achievements in sleight of hand are as yet unparalleled. Had the world been one vast breast pocket his fish-hook fingers would have turned it inside out. But it was not his to mount a throne, or overthrow a dynasty. 'My forks,' he boasted, 'are equally long, and they never fail me.' That is at once the reason and the justification of his triumph. Born with a consummate artistry tingling at his finger-tips, how should he escape the compulsion of a glorious destiny? Without fumbling or failure he discovered the single craft for which fortune had framed him, and he pursued it with a courage and an industry which gave him not a kingdom, but fame and booty, exceeding even his greedy aspiration. No Tamerlane he, questing for a continent, but David Haggart, the man with the long forks, happy if he snatched his neighbour's purse.

Before all things he respected the profession which his left hand made inevitable, and which he pursued with unconquerable pride. Nor in his inspired youth was plunder his sole ambition: he cultivated the garden of his style with the natural zeal of the artist; he frowned upon the bungler with a lofty contempt. His materials were simplicity itself: his forks, which were always with him, and another's well-filled pocket, since, sensible of danger, he cared not to risk his neck for a purse that did not contain so much as would 'sweeten a grawler.' At its best, his method was always witty—that is the single word which will characterise it—witty as a piece of Heine's prose, and as dangerous. He would run over a man's pockets while he spoke with him, returning what he chose to discard without the lightest breath of suspicion. 'A good workman,' his contemporaries called him; and they thought it a shame for him to be idle. Moreover, he did not blunder unconsciously upon his triumph; he tackled the trade in so fine a spirit of analysis that he might have been the very Aristotle of his science. 'The keek-cloy,' he wrote, in his hints to young sportsmen, 'is easily picked. If the notes are in the long fold just tip them the forks; but if there is a purse or open money in the case, you must link it.' The breast-pocket, on the other hand, is a severer test. 'Picking the suck is sometimes a kittle job,' again the philosopher speaks. 'If the coat is buttoned it must be opened by slipping past. Then bring the lil down between the flap of the coat and the body, keeping your spare arm across your man's breast, and so slip it to a comrade; then abuse the fellow for jostling you.'

Not only did he master the tradition of thievery; he vaunted his originality with the familiar complacence of the scoundrel. Forgetting that it was by burglary that he was undone, he explains for his public glorification that he was wont to enter the houses of Leith by forcing the small window above the outer door. This artifice, his vanity grumbles, is now common; but he would have all the world understand that it was his own invention, and he murmurs with the pedantry of the convicted criminal that it is now set forth for the better protection of honest citizens. No less admirable in his own eyes was that other artifice which induced him to conceal such notes as he managed to filch in the collar of his coat. Thus he eluded the vigilance of the police, which searched its prey in those days with a sorry lack of cunning. In truth, Haggart's wits were as nimble as his fingers, and he seldom failed to render a profitable account of his talents. He beguiled one of his sojourns in gaol by manufacturing tinder wherewith to light the prisoners' pipes, and it is not astonishing that he won a general popularity. In Ireland, when the constables would take him for a Scot, he answered in high Tipperary, and saved his skin for a while by a brogue which would not have shamed a modern patriot. But quick as were his wits, his vanity always outstripped them, and no hero ever bragged of his achievements with a louder effrontery.

Now all you ramblers in mourning go, For the prince of ramblers is lying low, And all you maidens that love the game, Put on your mourning veils again.

Thus he celebrated his downfall in a ballad that has the true Newgate ring, and verily in his own eyes he was a hero who carried to the scaffold a dauntless spirit unstained by treachery.

He believed himself an adept in all the arts; as a squire of dames he held himself peerless, and he assured the ineffable Combe, who recorded his flippant utterance with a credulous respect, that he had sacrificed hecatombs of innocent virgins to his importunate lust. Prose and verse trickled with equal facility from his pen, and his biography is a masterpiece. Written in the pedlar's French as it was misspoken in the hells of Edinburgh, it is a narrative of uncommon simplicity and directness, marred now and again by such superfluous reflections as are the natural result of thievish sentimentality. He tells his tale without paraphrase or adornment, and the worthy Writer to the Signet, who prepared the work for the Press, would have asked three times the space to record one-half the adventures. 'I sunk upon it with my forks and brought it with me'; 'We obtained thirty-three pounds by this affair'—is there not the stalwart flavour of the epic in these plain, unvarnished sentences?

His other accomplishments are pallid in the light of his brilliant left hand. Once, at Derry—he attended a cock-fight, and beguiled an interval by emptying the pockets of a lucky bookmaker. An expert, who watched the exploit in admiration, could not withhold a compliment. 'You are the Switcher,' he exclaimed; 'some take all, but you leave nothing.' And it is as the Switcher that Haggart keeps his memory green.


'DAMN ye both! stop, or I will blow your brains out!' Thus it was that Harry Simms greeted his victims, proving in a phrase that the heroic age of the rumpad was no more. Forgotten the debonair courtesy of Claude Duval! Forgotten the lightning wit, the swift repartee of the incomparable Hind! No longer was the hightoby-gloak a 'gentleman' of the road; he was a butcher, if not a beggar, on horseback; a braggart without the courage to pull a trigger; a swashbuckler, oblivious of that ancient style which converted the misery of surrender into a privilege. Yet Harry Simms, the supreme adventurer of his age, was not without distinction; his lithe form and his hard-ridden horse were the common dread of England; his activity was rewarded with a princely treasure; and if his method were lacking in urbanity, the excuse is that he danced not to the brilliant measure of the Cavaliers, but limped to the clumsy fiddle-scraping of the early Georges.

At Eton, where a too-indulgent grandmother had placed him, he ransacked the desks of his school-fellows, and avenged a birching by emptying his master's pockets. Wherefore he lost the hope of a polite education, and instead of proceeding with a clerkly dignity to King's College, in the University of Cambridge, he was ignominiously apprenticed to a breeches-maker. The one restraint was as irksome as the other, and Harry Simms abandoned the needle, as he had scorned the grammar, to go upon the pad. Though his early companions were scragged at Tyburn, the light-fingered rascal was indifferent to their fate, and squandering such booty as fell to his share, he bravely 'turned out' for more. Tottenham Court Fair was the theatre of his childish exploits, and there he gained some little skill in the picking of pockets. But a spell of bad trade brought him to poverty, and he attempted to replenish an empty pocket by the childish expedient of a threatening letter.

The plan was conceived and executed with a futility which ensured an instant capture. The bungler chose a stranger at haphazard, commanding him, under penalty of death, to lay five guineas upon a gun in Tower Wharf; the guineas were cunningly deposited, and the rascal, caught with his hand upon the booty, was committed to Newgate. Youth, and the intercession of his grandmother, procured a release, unjustified by the infamous stupidity of the trick. Its very clumsiness should have sent him over sea; and it is wonderful that from a beginning of so little promise, he should have climbed even the first slopes of greatness. However, the memory of gaol forced him to a brief interlude of honesty; for a while he wore the pink coat of Colonel Cunningham's postillion, and presently was promoted to the independence of a hackney coach.

Thus employed, he became acquainted with the famous Cyprians of Covent Garden, who, loving him for his handsome face and sprightly gesture, seduced him to desert his cab for an easier profession. So long as the sky was fair, he lived under their amiable protection; but the summer having chased the smarter gentry from town, the ladies could afford him no more than would purchase a horse and a pair of pistols, so that Harry was compelled to challenge fortune on the high road. His first journey was triumphantly successful. A post-chaise and a couple of coaches emptied their wealth into his hands, and, riding for London, he was able to return the favours lavished upon him by Covent Garden. At the first touch of gold he was transformed to a finished blade. He purchased himself a silver-hilted sword, which he dangled over a discreet suit of black velvet; a prodigious run of luck at the gaming-tables kept his purse well lined; and he made so brilliant an appearance in his familiar haunts that he speedily gained the name of 'Gentleman Harry.' But the money, lightly won, was lightly spent. The tables took back more than they gave, and before long Simms was astride his horse again, flourishing his irons, and crying: 'Stand and deliver'! upon every road in England.

Epping Forest was his general hunting-ground, but his enterprise took him far afield, and if one night he galloped by starlight across Bagshot Heath, another he was holding up the York stage with unbridled insolence. He robbed, he roared, he blustered with praiseworthy industry; and good luck coming to the aid of caution, he escaped for a while the necessary punishment of his crimes. It was on Stockbridge Downs that he met his first check.

He had stopped a chariot, and came off with a hatful of gold, but the victims, impatient of disaster, raised the county, and Gentleman Harry was laid by the heels. Never at a loss, he condescended to a cringing hypocrisy: he whined, he whimpered, he babbled of reform, he plied his prosecutors with letters so packed with penitence, that they abandoned their case, and in a couple of days Simms had eased a collector at Eversey Bank of three hundred pounds. For this enterprise two others climbed the gallows, and the robber's pride in his capture was miserably lessened by the shedding of innocent blood.

But he forgot his remorse as speedily as he dissipated his money, and sentimentality neither damped his enjoyment nor restrained his energy. Even his brief visits to London were turned to the best account; and, though he would have the world believe him a mere voluptuary, his eye was bent sternly upon business. If he did lose his money in a gambling hell, he knew who won it, and spoke with his opponent on the homeward way. In his eyes a fuddled rake was always fair game, and the stern windows of St. Clement's Church looked down upon many a profitable adventure. His most distinguished journey was to Ireland, whither he set forth to find a market for his stolen treasure. But he determined that the road should bear its own charges, and he reached Dublin a richer man than he left London. In three months he was penniless, but he did not begin trade again until he had recrossed the Channel, and, having got to work near Chester, he returned to the Piazza fat with bank-notes.

With success his extravagance increased, and, living the life of a man about town, he was soon harassed by debt. More than once he was lodged in the Marshalsea, and as his violent temper resented the interference of a dun, he became notorious for his assaults upon sheriff's officers. And thus his poor skill grew poorer: forgetting his trade, he expected that brandy would ease his embarrassment. At last, sodden with drink, he enlisted in the Guards, from which regiment he deserted, only to be pressed aboard a man-of-war. Freed by a clever trick, he took to the road again, until a paltry theft from a barber transported him to Maryland. There he turned sailor, and his ship, The Two Sisters, being taken by a privateer, he contrived to scramble into Portugal, whence he made his way back to England, and to the only adventure of which he was master. He landed with no more money than the price of a pistol, but he prigged a prancer at Bristol horsefair, and set out upon his last journey. The tide of his fortune was at flood. He crammed his pockets with watches; he was owner of enough diamonds to set up shop in a fashionable quarter; of guineas he had as many as would support his magnificence for half a year; and at last he resolved to quit the road, and to live like the gentleman he was. To this prudence he was the more easily persuaded, because not only were the thief-takers eager for his capture, but he was a double-dyed deserter, whose sole chance of quietude was a decent obscurity.

His resolution was taken at St. Albans, and over a comfortable dinner he pictured a serene and uneventful future. On the morrow he would set forth to Dublin, sell his handsome stock of jewels, and forget that the cart ever lumbered up Tyburn Hill. So elated was he with his growing virtue, that he called for a second bottle, and as the port heated his blood his fingers tingled for action. A third bottle proved beyond dispute that only the craven were idle; 'and why,' he exclaimed, generous with wine, 'should the most industrious ruffler of England condescend to inaction?' Instantly he summoned the ostler, screaming for his horse, and before Redburn he had emptied four pockets, and had exchanged his own tired jade for a fresh and willing beast. Still exultant in his contempt of cowardice, he faced the Warrington stage, and made off with his plunder at a drunken gallop. Arrived at Dunstable, he was so befogged with liquor and pride, that he entered the 'Bull Inn,' the goal of the very coach he had just encountered. He had scarce called for a quartern of brandy when the robbed passengers thronged into the kitchen; and the fright gave him enough sobriety to leave his glass untasted, and stagger to his horse. In a wild fury of arrogance and terror, of conflicting vice and virtue, he pressed on to Hockcliffe, where he took refuge from the rain, and presently, fuddled with more brandy, he fell asleep over the kitchen fire.

By this time the hue and cry was raised; and as the hero lay helpless in the corner three troopers burst into the inn, levelled their pistols at his head, and threatened death if he put his hand to his pocket. Half asleep, and wholly drunk, he made not he smallest show of resistance; he surrendered all his money, watches, and diamonds, save a little that was sewn into his neckcloth, and sulkily crawled up to his bed-chamber. Thither the troopers followed him, and having restored some nine pounds at his urgent demand, they watched his heavy slumbers. For all his brandy Simms slept but uneasily, and awoke in the night sick with the remorse which is bred of ruined plans and a splitting head. He got up wearily, and sat over the fire 'a good deal chagrined,' to quote his own simple phrase, at his miserable capture. Escape seemed hopeless indeed; there crouched the vigilant troopers, scowling on their prey. A thousand plans chased each other through the hero's fuddled brain, and at last he resolved to tempt the cupidity of his guardians, and to make himself master of their fire-arms. There were still left him a couple of seals, one gold, the other silver, and watching his opportunity, Simms flung them with a flourish in the fire. It fell out as he expected; the hungry troopers made a dash to save the trinkets; the prisoner seized a brace of pistols and leapt to the door. But, alas, the pistols missed fire, Harry was immediately overpowered, and on the morrow was carried, sick and sorry, before the Justice. From Dunstable he travelled his last journey to Newgate, and, being condemned at the Old Bailey, he was hanged till he was dead, and his body thereafter was carried for dissection to a surgeon's in that same Covent Garden where he first deserted his hackney cab for the pleasures of the town.

'Gentleman Harry' was neither a brilliant thief nor a courteous highwayman. There was no touch of the grand manner even in his prettiest achievement. His predecessors had made a pistol and a vizard an overwhelming terror, and he did but profit by their tradition when he bade the cowed traveller stand and deliver. His profession, as he practised it, neither demanded skill nor incurred danger. Though he threatened death at every encounter, you never hear that he pulled a trigger throughout his career. If his opponent jeered and rode off, he rode off with a whole skin and a full pocket. Once even this renowned adventurer accepted the cut of a riding-whip across his face, nor made any attempt to avenge the insult. But his manifold shortcomings were no hindrance to his success. Wherever he went, between London and York, he stopped coaches and levied his tax. A threatening voice, an arched eyebrow, an arrogant method of fingering an unloaded pistol, conspired with the craven, indolent habit of the time to make his every journey a procession of triumph. He was capable of performing all such feats as the age required of him. But you miss the spirit, the bravery, the urbanity, and the wit, which made the adventurer of the seventeenth century a figure of romance.

One point only of the great tradition did Harry Simms remember. He was never unwilling to restore a trinket made precious by sentiment. Once when he took a gold ring from a gentleman's finger a gentlewoman burst into tears, exclaiming, 'There goes your father's ring.' Whereupon Simms threw all his booty into a hat, saying, 'For God's sake, take that or anything else you please.' In all other respects he was a bully, with the hesitancy of a coward, rather than the proper rival of Hind or Duval. Apart from the exercise of his trade, he was a very Mohock for brutality. He would ill-treat his victims, whenever their drunkenness permitted the freedom, and he had no better gifts for the women who were kind to him than cruelty and neglect. One of his many imprisonments was the result of a monstrous ferocity. 'Unluckily in a quarrel,' he tells you gravely, 'I ran a crab-stick into a woman's eye'; and well did he deserve his sojourn in the New Prison. At another time he rewarded the keeper of a coffee-house, who supported him for six months, by stealing her watch; and, when she grumbled at his insolence, he reflected, with a chuckle, that she could more easily bear the loss of her watch than the loss of her lover. Even in his gaiety there was an unpleasant spice of greed and truculence. Once, when he was still seen in fashionable company, he went to a masquerade, dressed in a rich Spanish habit, lent him by a Captain in the Guards, and he made so fine a show that he captivated a young and beautiful Cyprian, whom, when she would have treated him with generosity, he did but reward with the loss of all her jewels.

Moreover, he had so small a regard for his craft, that he would spoil his effects by drink or debauchery; and, though a highwayman, he cared so little for style, that he would as lief trick a drunken gamester as face his man on Bagshot Heath or beneath the shade of Epping Forest. You admire not his success, because, like the success of the popular politician, it depended rather upon his dupes than upon his merit. You approve not his raffish exploits in the hells of Covent Garden or Drury Lane. But you cannot withhold respect from his consistent dandyism, and you are grateful for the record that, engaged in a mean enterprise, he was dressed 'in a green velvet frock and a short lac'd waistcoat.' Above all, his picturesque capture at Hockcliffe atones for much stupidity. The resolution, wavering at the wine glass, the last drunken ride from St. Albans—these are inventions in experience, which should make Simms immortal. And when he sits 'by the fireside a good deal chagrined,' he recalls the arrest of a far greater man—even of Cartouche, who was surprised by the soldiers at his bedside stitching a torn pair of breeches. His autobiography, wherein 'he relates the truth as a dying man,' seemed excellent in the eyes of Borrow, who loved it so well that he imagined a sentence, ascribed it falsely to Simms, and then rewarded it with extravagant applause.

But Gentleman Harry knew how to tell a simple story, and the book, 'all wrote by myself while under sentence of death,' is his best performance. In action he had many faults, for, if he was a highwayman among rakes, he was but a rake among highwaymen.



HAGGART and Simms are united in the praise of Borrow, and in the generous applause of posterity. Each resumes for his own generation the prowess of his kind. Each has assured his immortality by an experiment in literature; and if epic simplicity and rapid narrative are the virtues of biography, it is difficult to award the prize. The Switcher preferred to write in the rough lingo, wherein he best expressed himself. He packs his pages with ill-spelt slang, telling his story of thievery in the true language of thieves. Gentleman Harry, as became a person of quality, mimicked the dialect wherewith he was familiar in the more fashionable gambling-dens of Covent Garden. Both write with out the smallest suggestion of false shame or idle regret, and a natural vanity lifts each of them out of the pit of commonplace on to the tableland of the heroic. They set forth their depredation, as a victorious general might record his triumphs, and they excel the nimblest Ordinary that ever penned a dying speech in all the gifts of the historian.

But when you leave the study for the field, the Switcher instantly declares his superiority. He had the happiness to practise his craft in its heyday, while Simms knew but the fag-end of a noble tradition. Haggart, moreover, was an expert, pursuing a difficult art, while Simms was a bully, plundering his betters by bluff. Simms boasted no quality which might be set off against the accurate delicacy of Haggart's hand. The Englishman grew rich upon a rolling eye and a rusty pistol. He put on his 'fiercest manner,' and believed that the world would deny him nothing. The Scot, rejoicing in his exquisite skill, went to work without fuss or bluster, and added the joy of artistic pride to his delight in plunder. Though Simm's manner seems the more chivalrous, it required not one tithe of the courage which was Haggart's necessity. On horseback, with the semblance of a fire-arm, a man may easily challenge a coachful of women. It needs a cool brain and a sound courage to empty a pocket in the watchful presence of spies and policemen. While Gentleman Harry chose a lonely road, or the cover of night for his exploits, the Switcher always worked by day, hustled by a crowd of witnesses.

Their hours of leisure furnish a yet more striking contrast. Simms was a polished dandy delighting in his clothes, unhappy if he were deprived of his bottle and his game. Haggart, on the other hand, was before all things sealed to his profession. He would have deserted the gayest masquerade, had he ever strayed into so light a frivolity, for the chance of lightening a pocket. He tasted but few amusements without the limits of his craft, and he preserved unto the end a touch of that dour character which is the heritage of his race. But, withal, he was an amiable decent body, who would have recoiled in horror from the drunken brutality of Gentleman Harry. Though he bragged to George Combe of his pitiless undoing of wenches, he never thrust a crab-stick into a woman's eye, and he was incapable of rewarding a kindness by robbery and neglect. Once—at Newcastle—he arrayed himself in a smart white coat and tops, but the splendour ill became his red-headed awkwardness, and he would have stood aghast at the satin frocks and velvet waistcoats of him who broke the hearts of Drury Lane. But if he were gentler in his life, Haggart was prepared to fight with a more reckless courage when his trade demanded it. It was the Gentleman's boast that he never shed the blood of man. When David found a turnkey between himself and freedom, he did not hesitate to kill, though his remorse was bitter enough when he neared the gallows. In brief, Haggart was not only the better craftsman, but the honester fellow, and though his hands were red with blood, he deserved his death far less than did the more truculent, less valiant Simms. Each had in his brain the stuff whereof men of letters are made: this is their parallel. And, by way of contrast, while the Switcher was an accomplished artist, Gentleman Harry was a roystering braggart.

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