'Well, young gentleman,' said Taggart to me one morning, when we chanced to be alone a few days after the affair of the cancelling, 'how do you like authorship?'
'I scarcely call authorship the drudgery I am engaged in,' said I.
'What do you call authorship?' said Taggart.
'I scarcely know,' said I; 'that is, I can scarcely express what I think it.'
'Shall I help you out?' said Taggart, turning round his chair, and looking at me.
'If you like,' said I.
'To write something grand,' said Taggart, taking snuff; 'to be stared at—lifted on people's shoulders—'
'Well,' said I, 'that is something like it.'
Taggart took snuff. 'Well,' said he, 'why don't you write something grand?'
'I have,' said I.
'What?' said Taggart.
'Why,' said I, 'there are those ballads.'
Taggart took snuff.
'And those wonderful versions from Ab Gwilym.'
Taggart took snuff again.
'You seem to be very fond of snuff,' said I, looking at him angrily.
Taggart tapped his box.
'Have you taken it long?'
'What snuff do you take?'
'And you find it of use?
Taggart tapped his box.
'In what respect?' said I.
'In many—there is nothing like it to get a man through; but for snuff I should scarcely be where I am now.'
'Have you been long here?'
'Dear me,' said I; 'and snuff brought you through? Give me a pinch—pah, I don't like it,' and I sneezed.
'Take another pinch,' said Taggart.
'No,' said I, 'I don't like snuff.'
'Then you will never do for authorship; at least for this kind.'
'So I begin to think—what shall I do?'
Taggart took snuff.
'You were talking of a great work—what shall it be?'
Taggart took snuff.
'Do you think I could write one?'
Taggart uplifted his two forefingers as if to tap, he did not however.
'It would require time,' said I, with a half sigh.
Taggart tapped his box.
'A great deal of time; I really think that my ballads—'
Taggart took snuff.
'If published, would do me credit. I'll make an effort, and offer them to some other publisher.'
Taggart took a double quantity of snuff.
Francis Ardry—That won't do, sir—Observe my gestures—I think you improve—Better than politics—Delightful young Frenchwoman—A burning shame—Magnificent impudence—Paunch—Voltaire—Lump of sugar.
Occasionally I called on Francis Ardry. This young gentleman resided in handsome apartments in the neighbourhood of a fashionable square, kept a livery servant, and, upon the whole, lived in very good style. Going to see him one day, between one and two, I was informed by the servant that his master was engaged for the moment, but that, if I pleased to wait a few minutes, I should find him at liberty. Having told the man that I had no objection, he conducted me into a small apartment which served as antechamber to a drawing-room; the door of this last being half open, I could see Francis Ardry at the farther end, speechifying and gesticulating in a very impressive manner. The servant, in some confusion, was hastening to close the door; but, ere he could effect his purpose, Francis Ardry, who had caught a glimpse of me, exclaimed, 'Come in—come in by all means'; and then proceeded, as before, speechifying and gesticulating. Filled with some surprise, I obeyed his summons.
On entering the room I perceived another individual, to whom Francis Ardry appeared to be addressing himself; this other was a short spare man of about sixty; his hair was of badger gray, and his face was covered with wrinkles—without vouchsafing me a look, he kept his eye, which was black and lustrous, fixed full on Francis Ardry, as if paying the deepest attention to his discourse. All of a sudden, however, he cried with a sharp, cracked voice, 'That won't do, sir; that won't do—more vehemence—your argument is at present particularly weak; therefore, more vehemence—you must confuse them, stun them, stultify them, sir'; and, at each of these injunctions, he struck the back of his right hand sharply against the palm of the left. 'Good, sir—good!' he occasionally uttered, in the same sharp, cracked tone, as the voice of Francis Ardry became more and more vehement. 'Infinitely good!' he exclaimed, as Francis Ardry raised his voice to the highest pitch; 'and now, sir, abate; let the tempest of vehemence decline—gradually, sir; not too fast. Good, sir—very good!' as the voice of Francis Ardry declined gradually in vehemence. 'And now a little pathos, sir—try them with a little pathos. That won't do, sir—that won't do,'—as Francis Ardry made an attempt to become pathetic,—'that will never pass for pathos—with tones and gesture of that description you will never redress the wrongs of your country. Now, sir, observe my gestures, and pay attention to the tone of my voice, sir.'
Thereupon, making use of nearly the same terms which Francis Ardry had employed, the individual in black uttered several sentences in tones and with gestures which were intended to express a considerable degree of pathos, though it is possible that some people would have thought both the one and the other highly ludicrous. After a pause, Francis Ardry recommenced imitating the tones and the gestures of his monitor in the most admirable manner. Before he had proceeded far, however, he burst into a fit of laughter, in which I should, perhaps, have joined, provided it were ever my wont to laugh. 'Ha, ha!' said the other, good-humouredly, 'you are laughing at me. Well, well, I merely wished to give you a hint; but you saw very well what I meant; upon the whole I think you improve. But I must now go, having two other pupils to visit before four.'
Then taking from the table a kind of three-cornered hat, and a cane headed with amber, he shook Francis Ardry by the hand; and, after glancing at me for a moment, made me a half bow, attended with a strange grimace, and departed.
'Who is that gentleman?' said I to Francis Ardry, as soon as were alone.
'Oh, that is—' said Frank, smiling, 'the gentleman who gives me lessons in elocution.'
'And what need have you of elocution?'
'Oh, I merely obey the commands of my guardians,' said Francis, 'who insist that I should, with the assistance of —-, qualify myself for Parliament; for which they do me the honour to suppose that I have some natural talent. I dare not disobey them; for, at the present moment, I have particular reasons for wishing to keep on good terms with them.'
'But,' said I, 'you are a Roman Catholic; and I thought that persons of your religion were excluded from Parliament?'
'Why, upon that very thing the whole matter hinges; people of our religion are determined to be no longer excluded from Parliament, but to have a share in the government of the nation. Not that I care anything about the matter; I merely obey the will of my guardians; my thoughts are fixed on something better than politics.'
'I understand you,' said I; 'dog-fighting—well, I can easily conceive that to some minds dog-fighting—'
'I was not thinking of dog-fighting,' said Francis Ardry, interrupting me.
'Not thinking of dog-fighting!' I ejaculated.
'No,' said Francis Ardry, 'something higher and much more rational than dog-fighting at present occupies my thoughts.'
'Dear me,' said I, 'I thought I had heard you say that there was nothing like it!'
'Like what?' said Francis Ardry.
'Dog-fighting, to be sure,' said I.
'Pooh,' said Francis Ardry; 'who but the gross and unrefined care anything for dog-fighting? That which at present engages my waking and sleeping thoughts is love—divine love—there is nothing like that. Listen to me, I have a secret to confide to you.'
And then Francis Ardry proceeded to make me his confidant. It appeared that he had had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of the most delightful young Frenchwoman imaginable, Annette La Noire by name, who had just arrived from her native country with the intention of obtaining the situation of governess in some English family; a position which, on account of her many accomplishments, she was eminently qualified to fill. Francis Ardry had, however, persuaded her to relinquish her intention for the present, on the ground that, until she had become acclimated in England, her health would probably suffer from the confinement inseparable from the occupation in which she was desirous of engaging; he had, moreover—for it appeared that she was the most frank and confiding creature in the world—succeeded in persuading her to permit him to hire for her a very handsome first floor in his own neighbourhood, and to accept a few inconsiderable presents in money and jewellery. 'I am looking out for a handsome gig and horse,' said Francis Ardry, at the conclusion of his narration; 'it were a burning shame that so divine a creature should have to go about a place like London on foot, or in a paltry hackney coach.'
'But,' said I, 'will not the pursuit of politics prevent your devoting much time to this fair lady?'
'It will prevent me devoting all my time,' said Francis Ardry, 'as I gladly would; but what can I do? My guardians wish me to qualify myself for a political orator, and I dare not offend them by a refusal. If I offend my guardians, I should find it impossible—unless I have recourse to Jews and money-lenders—to support Annette; present her with articles of dress and jewellery, and purchase a horse and cabriolet worthy of conveying her angelic person through the streets of London.'
After a pause, in which Francis Ardry appeared lost in thought, his mind being probably occupied with the subject of Annette, I broke silence by observing, 'So your fellow-religionists are really going to make a serious attempt to procure their emancipation?'
'Yes,' said Francis Ardry, starting from his reverie; 'everything has been arranged; even a leader has been chosen, at least for us of Ireland, upon the whole the most suitable man in the world for the occasion—a barrister of considerable talent, mighty voice, and magnificent impudence. With emancipation, liberty, and redress for the wrongs of Ireland in his mouth, he is to force his way into the British House of Commons, dragging myself and others behind him—he will succeed, and when he is in he will cut a figure; I have heard—himself, who has heard him speak, say that he will cut a figure.'
'And is—competent to judge?' I demanded.
'Who but he?' said Francis Ardry; 'no one questions his judgment concerning what relates to elocution. His fame on that point is so well established, that the greatest orators do not disdain occasionally to consult him; C—- himself, as I have been told, when anxious to produce any particular effect in the House, is in the habit of calling in—for a consultation.'
'As to matter, or manner?' said I.
'Chiefly the latter,' said Francis Ardry, 'though he is competent to give advice as to both, for he has been an orator in his day, and a leader of the people; though he confessed to me that he was not exactly qualified to play the latter part—"I want paunch," said he.'
'It is not always indispensable,' said I; 'there is an orator in my town, a hunchback and watchmaker, without it, who not only leads the people, but the mayor too; perhaps he has a succedaneum in his hunch: but, tell me, is the leader of your movement in possession of that which—wants?'
'No more deficient in it than in brass,' said Francis Ardry.
'Well,' said I, 'whatever his qualifications may be, I wish him success in the cause which he has taken up—I love religious liberty.'
'We shall succeed,' said Francis Ardry; 'John Bull upon the whole is rather indifferent on the subject, and then we are sure to be backed by the Radical party, who, to gratify their political prejudices, would join with Satan himself.'
'There is one thing,' said I, 'connected with this matter which surprises me—your own lukewarmness. Yes, making every allowance for your natural predilection for dog-fighting, and your present enamoured state of mind, your apathy at the commencement of such a movement is to me unaccountable.'
'You would not have cause to complain of my indifference,' said Frank, 'provided I thought my country would be benefited by this movement; but I happen to know the origin of it. The priests are the originators, 'and what country was ever benefited by a movement which owed its origin to them?' so says Voltaire, a page of whom I occasionally read. By the present move they hope to increase their influence, and to further certain designs which they entertain both with regard to this country and Ireland. I do not speak rashly or unadvisedly. A strange fellow—a half- Italian, half-English priest,—who was recommended to me by my guardians, partly as a spiritual, partly as a temporal guide, has let me into a secret or two; he is fond of a glass of gin and water—and over a glass of gin and water cold, with a lump of sugar in it, he has been more communicative, perhaps, than was altogether prudent. Were I my own master, I would kick him, politics, and religious movements, to a considerable distance. And now, if you are going away, do so quickly; I have an appointment with Annette, and must make myself fit to appear before her.'
Progress—Glorious John—Utterly unintelligible—What a difference.
By the month of October I had, in spite of all difficulties and obstacles, accomplished about two-thirds of the principal task which I had undertaken, the compiling of the Newgate lives; I had also made some progress in translating the publisher's philosophy into German. But about this time I began to see very clearly that it was impossible that our connection should prove of long duration; yet, in the event of my leaving the big man, what other resource had I—another publisher? But what had I to offer? There were my ballads, my Ab Gwilym, but then I thought of Taggart and his snuff, his pinch of snuff. However, I determined to see what could be done, so I took my ballads under my arm, and went to various publishers; some took snuff, others did not, but none took my ballads or Ab Gwilym, they would not even look at them. One asked me if I had anything else—he was a snuff-taker—I said yes; and going home, returned with my translation of the German novel, to which I have before alluded. After keeping it for a fortnight, he returned it to me on my visiting him, and, taking a pinch of snuff, told me it would not do. There were marks of snuff on the outside of the manuscript, which was a roll of paper bound with red tape, but there were no marks of snuff on the interior of the manuscript, from which I concluded that he had never opened it.
I had often heard of one Glorious John, who lived at the western end of the town; on consulting Taggart, he told me that it was possible that Glorious John would publish my ballads and Ab Gwilym, that is, said he, taking a pinch of snuff, provided you can see him; so I went to the house where Glorious John resided, and a glorious house it was, but I could not see Glorious John—I called a dozen times, but I never could see Glorious John. Twenty years after, by the greatest chance in the world, I saw Glorious John, and sure enough Glorious John published my books, but they were different books from the first; I never offered my ballads or Ab Gwilym to Glorious John. Glorious John was no snuff-taker. He asked me to dinner, and treated me with superb Rhenish wine. Glorious John is now gone to his rest, but I—what was I going to say?—the world will never forget Glorious John.
So I returned to my last resource for the time then being—to the publisher, persevering doggedly in my labour. One day, on visiting the publisher, I found him stamping with fury upon certain fragments of paper. 'Sir,' said he, 'you know nothing of German; I have shown your translation of the first chapter of my Philosophy to several Germans: it is utterly unintelligible to them.' 'Did they see the Philosophy?' I replied. 'They did, sir, but they did not profess to understand English.' 'No more do I,' I replied, 'if that Philosophy be English.'
The publisher was furious—I was silent. For want of a pinch of snuff, I had recourse to something which is no bad substitute for a pinch of snuff, to those who can't take it, silent contempt; at first it made the publisher more furious, as perhaps a pinch of snuff would; it, however, eventually calmed him, and he ordered me back to my occupations, in other words, the compilation. To be brief, the compilation was completed, I got paid in the usual manner, and forthwith left him.
He was a clever man, but what a difference in clever men!
The old spot—A long history—Thou shalt not steal—No harm—Education—Necessity—Foam on your lip—Apples and pears—What will you read?—Metaphor—The fur cap—I don't know him.
It was past midwinter, and I sat on London Bridge, in company with the old apple-woman: she had just returned to the other side of the bridge, to her place in the booth where I had originally found her. This she had done after frequent conversations with me; 'she liked the old place best,' she said, which she would never have left but for the terror which she experienced when the boys ran away with her book. So I sat with her at the old spot, one afternoon past midwinter, reading the book, of which I had by this time come to the last pages. I had observed that the old woman for some time past had shown much less anxiety about the book than she had been in the habit of doing. I was, however, not quite prepared for her offering to make me a present of it, which she did that afternoon; when, having finished it, I returned it to her, with many thanks for the pleasure and instruction I had derived from its perusal. 'You may keep it, dear,' said the old woman, with a sigh; 'you may carry it to your lodging, and keep it for your own.'
Looking at the old woman with surprise, I exclaimed, 'Is it possible that you are willing to part with the book which has been your source of comfort so long?'
Whereupon the old woman entered into a long history, from which I gathered that the book had become distasteful to her; she hardly ever opened it of late, she said, or if she did, it was only to shut it again; also, that other things which she had been fond of, though of a widely different kind, were now distasteful to her. Porter and beef-steaks were no longer grateful to her palate, her present diet chiefly consisting of tea, and bread and butter.
'Ah,' said I, 'you have been ill, and when people are ill, they seldom like the things which give them pleasure when they are in health.' I learned, moreover, that she slept little at night, and had all kinds of strange thoughts; that as she lay awake many things connected with her youth, which she had quite forgotten, came into her mind. There were certain words that came into her mind the night before the last, which were continually humming in her ears: I found that the words were, 'Thou shalt not steal.'
On inquiring where she had first heard these words, I learned that she had read them at school, in a book called the primer; to this school she had been sent by her mother, who was a poor widow, and followed the trade of apple-selling in the very spot where her daughter followed it now. It seems that the mother was a very good kind of woman, but quite ignorant of letters, the benefit of which she was willing to procure for her child; and at the school the daughter learned to read, and subsequently experienced the pleasure and benefit of letters, in being able to read the book which she found in an obscure closet of her mother's house, and which had been her principal companion and comfort for many years of her life.
But, as I have said before, she was now dissatisfied with the book, and with most other things in which she had taken pleasure; she dwelt much on the words, 'Thou shalt not steal'; she had never stolen things herself, but then she had bought things which other people had stolen, and which she knew had been stolen; and her dear son had been a thief, which he perhaps would not have been but for the example which she set him in buying things from characters, as she called them, who associated with her.
On inquiring how she had become acquainted with these characters, I learned that times had gone hard with her; that she had married, but her husband had died after a long sickness, which had reduced them to great distress; that her fruit trade was not a profitable one, and that she had bought and sold things which had been stolen to support herself and her son. That for a long time she supposed there was no harm in doing so, as her book was full of entertaining tales of stealing; but she now thought that the book was a bad book, and that learning to read was a bad thing; her mother had never been able to read, but had died in peace, though poor.
So here was a woman who attributed the vices and follies of her life to being able to read; her mother, she said, who could not read, lived respectably, and died in peace; and what was the essential difference between the mother and daughter, save that the latter could read? But for her literature she might in all probability have lived respectably and honestly, like her mother, and might eventually have died in peace, which at present she could scarcely hope to do. Education had failed to produce any good in this poor woman; on the contrary, there could be little doubt that she had been injured by it. Then was education a bad thing? Rousseau was of opinion that it was; but Rousseau was a Frenchman, at least wrote in French, and I cared not the snap of my fingers for Rousseau. But education has certainly been of benefit in some instances; well, what did that prove, but that partiality existed in the management of the affairs of the world—if education was a benefit to some, why was it not a benefit to others? Could some avoid abusing it, any more than others could avoid turning it to a profitable account? I did not see how they could; this poor simple woman found a book in her mother's closet; a book, which was a capital book for those who could turn it to the account for which it was intended; a book, from the perusal of which I felt myself wiser and better, but which was by no means suited to the intellect of this poor simple woman, who thought that it was written in praise of thieving; yet she found it, she read it, and—and—I felt myself getting into a maze; what is right, thought I? what is wrong? Do I exist? Does the world exist? if it does, every action is bound up with necessity.
'Necessity!' I exclaimed, and cracked my finger-joints.
'Ah, it is a bad thing,' said the old woman.
'What is a bad thing?' said I.
'Why to be poor, dear.'
'You talk like a fool,' said I, 'riches and poverty are only different forms of necessity.'
'You should not call me a fool, dear; you should not call your own mother a fool.'
'You are not my mother,' said I.
'Not your mother, dear?—no, no more I am; but your calling me fool put me in mind of my dear son, who often used to call me fool—and you just now looked as he sometimes did, with a blob of foam on your lip.'
'After all, I don't know that you are not my mother.'
'Don't you, dear? I'm glad of it; I wish you would make it out.'
'How should I make it out? who can speak from his own knowledge as to the circumstances of his birth? Besides, before attempting to establish our relationship, it would be necessary to prove that such people exist.'
'What people, dear?'
'You and I.'
'Lord, child, you are mad; that book has made you so.'
'Don't abuse it,' said I; 'the book is an excellent one, that is, provided it exists.'
'I wish it did not,' said the old woman; 'but it shan't long; I'll burn it, or fling it into the river—the voices at night tell me to do so.'
'Tell the voices,' said I, 'that they talk nonsense; the book, if it exists, is a good book, it contains a deep moral; have you read it all?'
'All the funny parts, dear; all about taking things, and the manner it was done; as for the rest, I could not exactly make it out.'
'Then the book is not to blame; I repeat that the book is a good book, and contains deep morality, always supposing that there is such a thing as morality, which is the same thing as supposing that there is anything at all.'
'Anything at all! Why ain't we here on this bridge, in my booth, with my stall and my—'
'Apples and pears, baked hot, you would say—I don't know; all is a mystery, a deep question. It is a question, and probably always will be, whether there is a world, and consequently apples and pears; and, provided there be a world, whether that world be like an apple or a pear.'
'Don't talk so, dear.'
'I won't; we will suppose that we all exist—world, ourselves, apples, and pears: so you wish to get rid of the book?'
'Yes, dear, I wish you would take it.'
'I have read it, and have no farther use for it; I do not need books: in a little time, perhaps, I shall not have a place wherein to deposit myself, far less books.'
'Then I will fling it into the river.'
'Don't do that; here, give it me. Now what shall I do with it? you were so fond of it.'
'I am so no longer.'
'But how will you pass your time; what will you read?'
'I wish I had never learned to read, or, if I had, that I had only read the books I saw at school: the primer or the other.'
'What was the other?'
'I think they called it the Bible: all about God, and Job, and Jesus.'
'Ah, I know it.'
'You have read it; is it a nice book—all true?'
'True, true—I don't know what to say; but if the world be true, and not all a lie, a fiction, I don't see why the Bible, as they call it, should not be true. By the bye, what do you call Bible in your tongue, or, indeed, book of any kind? as Bible merely means a book.'
'What do I call the Bible in my language, dear?'
'Yes, the language of those who bring you things.'
'The language of those who did, dear; they bring them now no longer. They call me fool, as you did, dear, just now; they call kissing the Bible, which means taking a false oath, smacking calf-skin.'
'That's metaphor,' said I; 'English, but metaphorical; what an odd language! So you would like to have a Bible,—shall I buy you one?'
'I am poor, dear—no money since I left off the other trade.'
'Well, then, I'll buy you one.'
'No, dear, no; you are poor, and may soon want the money; but if you can take me one conveniently on the sly, you know—I think you may, for, as it is a good book, I suppose there can be no harm in taking it.'
'That will never do,' said I, 'more especially as I should be sure to be caught, not having made taking of things my trade; but I'll tell you what I'll do—try and exchange this book of yours for a Bible; who knows for what great things this same book of yours may serve?'
'Well, dear,' said the old woman, 'do as you please; I should like to see the—what do you call it?—Bible, and to read it, as you seem to think it true.'
'Yes,' said I, 'seem; that is the way to express yourself in this maze of doubt—I seem to think—these apples and pears seem to be—and here seems to be a gentleman who wants to purchase either one or the other.'
A person had stopped before the apple-woman's stall, and was glancing now at the fruit, now at the old woman and myself; he wore a blue mantle, and had a kind of fur cap on his head; he was somewhat above the middle stature; his features were keen, but rather hard; there was a slight obliquity in his vision. Selecting a small apple, he gave the old woman a penny; then, after looking at me scrutinisingly for a moment, he moved from the booth in the direction of Southwark.
'Do you know who that man is?' said I to the old woman.
'No,' said she, 'except that he is one of my best customers: he frequently stops, takes an apple, and gives me a penny; his is the only piece of money I have taken this blessed day. I don't know him, but he has once or twice sat down in the booth with two strange-looking men—Mulattos, or Lascars, I think they call them.'
Bought and exchanged—Quite empty—A new firm—Bibles—Countenance of a lion—Clap of thunder—A truce with this—I have lost it—Clearly a right—Goddess of the Mint.
In pursuance of my promise to the old woman, I set about procuring her a Bible with all convenient speed, placing the book which she had intrusted to me for the purpose of exchange in my pocket. I went to several shops, and asked if Bibles were to be had: I found that there were plenty. When, however, I informed the people that I came to barter, they looked blank, and declined treating with me; saying that they did not do business in that way. At last I went into a shop over the window of which I saw written, 'Books bought and exchanged': there was a smartish young fellow in the shop, with black hair and whiskers; 'You exchange?' said I. 'Yes,' said he, 'sometimes, but we prefer selling; what book do you want?' 'A Bible,' said I. 'Ah,' said he, 'there's a great demand for Bibles just now; all kinds of people are become very pious of late,' he added, grinning at me; 'I am afraid I can't do business with you, more especially as the master is not at home. What book have you brought?' Taking the book out of my pocket, I placed it on the counter: the young fellow opened the book, and inspecting the title-page, burst into a loud laugh. 'What do you laugh for?' said I, angrily, and half clenching my fist. 'Laugh!' said the young fellow; 'laugh! who could help laughing?' 'I could,' said I; 'I see nothing to laugh at; I want to exchange this book for a Bible.' 'You do?' said the young fellow; 'well, I daresay there are plenty who would be willing to exchange, that is, if they dared. I wish master were at home; but that would never do, either. Master's a family man, the Bibles are not mine, and master being a family man, is sharp, and knows all his stock; I'd buy it of you, but, to tell you the truth, I am quite empty here,' said he, pointing to his pocket, 'so I am afraid we can't deal.'
Whereupon, looking anxiously at the young man, 'What am I to do?' said I; 'I really want a Bible.'
'Can't you buy one?' said the young man; 'have you no money?'
'Yes,' said I, 'I have some, but I am merely the agent of another; I came to exchange, not to buy; what am I to do?'
'I don't know,' said the young man, thoughtfully laying down the book on the counter; 'I don't know what you can do; I think you will find some difficulty in this bartering job, the trade are rather precise.' All at once he laughed louder than before; suddenly stopping, however, he put on a very grave look. 'Take my advice,' said he; 'there is a firm established in this neighbourhood which scarcely sells any books but Bibles; they are very rich, and pride themselves on selling their books at the lowest possible price; apply to them, who knows but what they will exchange with you?'
Thereupon I demanded with some eagerness of the young man the direction to the place where he thought it possible that I might effect the exchange—which direction the young fellow cheerfully gave me, and, as I turned away, had the civility to wish me success.
I had no difficulty in finding the house to which the young fellow directed me; it was a very large house, situated in a square; and upon the side of the house was written in large letters, 'Bibles, and other religious books.'
At the door of the house were two or three tumbrils, in the act of being loaded with chests, very much resembling tea-chests; one of the chests falling down, burst, and out flew, not tea, but various books, in a neat, small size, and in neat leather covers; Bibles, said I,—Bibles, doubtless. I was not quite right, nor quite wrong; picking up one of the books, I looked at it for a moment, and found it to be the New Testament. 'Come, young lad,' said a man who stood by, in the dress of a porter, 'put that book down, it is none of yours; if you want a book, go in and deal for one.'
Deal, thought I, deal,—the man seems to know what I am coming about,—and going in, I presently found myself in a very large room. Behind a counter two men stood with their backs to a splendid fire, warming themselves, for the weather was cold.
Of these men one was dressed in brown, and the other was dressed in black; both were tall men—he who was dressed in brown was thin, and had a particularly ill-natured countenance; the man dressed in black was bulky, his features were noble, but they were those of a lion.
'What is your business, young man?' said the precise personage, as I stood staring at him and his companion.
'I want a Bible,' said I.
'What price, what size?' said the precise-looking man.
'As to size,' said I, 'I should like to have a large one—that is, if you can afford me one—I do not come to buy.'
'Oh, friend,' said the precise-looking man, 'if you come here expecting to have a Bible for nothing, you are mistaken—we—'
'I would scorn to have a Bible for nothing,' said I, 'or anything else; I came not to beg, but to barter; there is no shame in that, especially in a country like this, where all folks barter.'
'Oh, we don't barter,' said the precise man, 'at least Bibles; you had better depart.'
'Stay, brother,' said the man with the countenance of a lion, 'let us ask a few questions; this may be a very important case; perhaps the young man has had convictions.'
'Not I,' I exclaimed, 'I am convinced of nothing, and with regard to the Bible—I don't believe—'
'Hey!' said the man with the lion countenance, and there he stopped. But with that 'Hey' the walls of the house seemed to shake, the windows rattled, and the porter whom I had seen in front of the house came running up the steps, and looked into the apartment through the glass of the door.
There was silence for about a minute—the same kind of silence which succeeds a clap of thunder.
At last the man with the lion countenance, who had kept his eyes fixed upon me, said calmly, 'Were you about to say that you don't believe in the Bible, young man?'
'No more than in anything else,' said I; 'you were talking of convictions—I have no convictions. It is not easy to believe in the Bible till one is convinced that there is a Bible.'
'He seems to be insane,' said the prim-looking man; 'we had better order the porter to turn him out.'
'I am by no means certain,' said I, 'that the porter could turn me out; always provided there is a porter, and this system of ours be not a lie, and a dream.'
'Come,' said the lion-looking man, impatiently, 'a truce with this nonsense. If the porter cannot turn you out, perhaps some other person can; but to the point—you want a Bible?'
'I do,' said I, 'but not for myself; I was sent by another person to offer something in exchange for one.'
'And who is that person?'
'A poor old woman, who has had what you call convictions,—heard voices, or thought she heard them—I forgot to ask her whether they were loud ones.'
'What has she sent to offer in exchange?' said the man, without taking any notice of the concluding part of my speech.
'A book,' said I.
'Let me see it.'
'Nay, brother,' said the precise man, 'this will never do; if we once adopt the system of barter, we shall have all the holders of useless rubbish in the town applying to us.'
'I wish to see what he has brought,' said the other; 'perhaps Baxter, or Jewell's Apology, either of which would make a valuable addition to our collection. Well, young man, what's the matter with you?'
I stood like one petrified; I had put my hand into my pocket—the book was gone.
'What's the matter?' repeated the man with the lion countenance, in a voice very much resembling thunder.
'I have it not—I have lost it!'
'A pretty story, truly,' said the precise-looking man, 'lost it! You had better retire,' said the other.
'How shall I appear before the party who intrusted me with the book? She will certainly think that I have purloined it, notwithstanding all I can say; nor, indeed, can I blame her,—appearances are certainly against me.'
'They are so—you had better retire.'
I moved towards the door. 'Stay, young man, one word more; there is only one way of proceeding which would induce me to believe that you are sincere.'
'What is that?' said I, stopping and looking at him anxiously.
'The purchase of a Bible.'
'Purchase!' said I, 'purchase! I came not to purchase, but to barter; such was my instruction, and how can I barter if I have lost the book?'
The other made no answer, and turning away I made for the door; all of a sudden I started, and turning round, 'Dear me,' said I, 'it has just come into my head, that if the book was lost by my negligence, as it must have been, I have clearly a right to make it good.'
'Yes,' I repeated, 'I have clearly a right to make it good; how glad I am! see the effect of a little reflection. I will purchase a Bible instantly, that is, if I have not lost—' and with considerable agitation I felt in my pocket.
The prim-looking man smiled: 'I suppose,' said he, 'that he has lost his money as well as book.'
'No,' said I, 'I have not'; and pulling out my hand I displayed no less a sum than three half-crowns.
'Oh, noble goddess of the Mint!' as Dame Charlotta Nordenflycht, the Swede, said a hundred and fifty years ago, 'great is thy power; how energetically the possession of thee speaks in favour of man's character!'
'Only half-a-crown for this Bible?' said I, putting down the money, 'it is worth three'; and bowing to the man of the noble features, I departed with my purchase.
'Queer customer,' said the prim-looking man, as I was about to close the door—'don't like him.'
'Why, as to that, I scarcely know what to say,' said he of the countenance of a lion.
The pickpocket—Strange rencounter—Drag him along—A great service—Things of importance—Philological matters—Mother of languages—Zhats!
A few days after the occurrence of what is recorded in the last chapter, as I was wandering in the City, chance directed my footsteps to an alley leading from one narrow street to another in the neighbourhood of Cheapside. Just before I reached the mouth of the alley, a man in a greatcoat, closely followed by another, passed it; and, at the moment in which they were passing, I observed the man behind snatch something from the pocket of the other; whereupon, darting into the street, I seized the hindermost man by the collar, crying at the same time to the other, 'My good friend, this person has just picked your pocket.'
The individual whom I addressed, turning round with a start, glanced at me, and then at the person whom I held. London is the place for strange rencounters. It appeared to me that I recognised both individuals—the man whose pocket had been picked and the other; the latter now began to struggle violently; 'I have picked no one's pocket,' said he. 'Rascal,' said the other, 'you have got my pocket-book in your bosom.' 'No, I have not,' said the other; and, struggling more violently than before, the pocket-book dropped from his bosom upon the ground.
The other was now about to lay hands upon the fellow, who was still struggling. 'You had better take up your book,' said I; 'I can hold him.' He followed my advice; and, taking up his pocket-book, surveyed my prisoner with a ferocious look, occasionally glaring at me. Yes, I had seen him before—it was the stranger whom I had observed on London Bridge, by the stall of the old apple-woman, with the cap and cloak; but, instead of these, he now wore a hat and greatcoat. 'Well,' said I, at last, 'what am I to do with this gentleman of ours?' nodding to the prisoner, who had now left off struggling. 'Shall I let him go?'
'Go!' said the other; 'go! The knave—the rascal; let him go, indeed! Not so, he shall go before the Lord Mayor. Bring him along.'
'Oh, let me go,' said the other: 'let me go; this is the first offence, I assure ye—the first time I ever thought to do anything wrong.'
'Hold your tongue,' said I, 'or I shall be angry with you. If I am not very much mistaken, you once attempted to cheat me.'
'I never saw you before in all my life,' said the fellow, though his countenance seemed to belie his words.
'That is not true,' said I; 'you are the man who attempted to cheat me of one-and-ninepence in the coach-yard, on the first morning of my arrival in London.'
'I don't doubt it,' said the other; 'a confirmed thief'; and here his tones became peculiarly sharp; 'I would fain see him hanged—crucified. Drag him along.'
'I am no constable,' said I; 'you have got your pocket-book,—I would rather you would bid me let him go.'
'Bid you let him go!' said the other almost furiously, 'I command—stay, what was I going to say? I was forgetting myself,' he observed more gently; 'but he stole my pocket-book;—if you did but know what it contained.'
'Well,' said I, 'if it contains anything valuable, be the more thankful that you have recovered it; as for the man, I will help you to take him where you please; but I wish you would let him go.'
The stranger hesitated, and there was an extraordinary play of emotion in his features: he looked ferociously at the pickpocket, and, more than once, somewhat suspiciously at myself; at last his countenance cleared, and, with a good grace, he said, 'Well, you have done me a great service, and you have my consent to let him go; but the rascal shall not escape with impunity,' he exclaimed suddenly, as I let the man go, and starting forward, before the fellow could escape, he struck him a violent blow on the face. The man staggered, and had nearly fallen; recovering himself, however, he said, 'I tell you what, my fellow; if I ever meet you in this street in a dark night, and I have a knife about me, it shall be the worse for you; as for you, young man,' said he to me; but, observing that the other was making towards him, he left whatever he was about to say unfinished, and, taking to his heels, was out of sight in a moment.
The stranger and myself walked in the direction of Cheapside, the way in which he had been originally proceeding; he was silent for a few moments, at length he said, 'You have really done me a great service, and I should be ungrateful not to acknowledge it. I am a merchant; and a merchant's pocket-book, as you perhaps know, contains many things of importance; but, young man,' he exclaimed, 'I think I have seen you before; I thought so at first, but where I cannot exactly say: where was it?' I mentioned London Bridge and the old apple-woman. 'Oh,' said he, and smiled, and there was something peculiar in his smile, 'I remember now. Do you frequently sit on London Bridge?' 'Occasionally,' said I; 'that old woman is an old friend of mine.' 'Friend?' said the stranger, 'I am glad of it, for I shall know where to find you. At present I am going to 'Change; time, you know, is precious to a merchant.' We were by this time close to Cheapside. 'Farewell,' said he, 'I shall not forget this service. I trust we shall soon meet again.' He then shook me by the hand and went his way.
The next day, as I was seated beside the old woman in the booth, the stranger again made his appearance, and, after a word or two, sat down beside me; the old woman was sometimes reading the Bible, which she had already had two or three days in her possession, and sometimes discoursing with me. Our discourse rolled chiefly on philological matters.
'What do you call bread in your language?' said I.
'You mean the language of those who bring me things to buy, or who did; for, as I told you before, I shan't buy any more; it's no language of mine, dear—they call bread pannam in their language.'
'Pannam!' said I, 'pannam! evidently connected with, if not derived from, the Latin panis; even as the word tanner, which signifieth a sixpence, is connected with, if not derived from, the Latin tener, which is itself connected with, if not derived from, tawno or tawner, which, in the language of Mr. Petulengro, signifieth a sucking child. Let me see, what is the term for bread in the language of Mr. Petulengro? Morro, or manro, as I have sometimes heard it called; is there not some connection between these words and panis? Yes, I think there is; and I should not wonder if morro, manro, and panis were connected, perhaps derived from, the same root; but what is that root? I don't know—I wish I did; though, perhaps, I should not be the happier. Morro—manro! I rather think morro is the oldest form; it is easier to say morro than manro. Morro! Irish, aran; Welsh, bara; English, bread. I can see a resemblance between all the words, and pannam too; and I rather think that the Petulengrian word is the elder. How odd it would be if the language of Mr. Petulengro should eventually turn out to be the mother of all the languages in the world; yet it is certain that there are some languages in which the terms for bread have no connection with the word used by Mr. Petulengro, notwithstanding that those languages, in many other points, exhibit a close affinity to the language of the horse-shoe master: for example, bread, in Hebrew, is Laham, which assuredly exhibits little similitude to the word used by the aforesaid Petulengro. In Armenian it is—'
'Zhats!' said the stranger, starting up. 'By the Patriarch and the Three Holy Churches, this is wonderful! How came you to know aught of Armenian?'
New acquaintance—Wired cases—Bread and wine—Armenian colonies—Learning without money—What a language—The tide—Your foible—Learning of the Haiks—Old proverb—Pressing invitation.
Just as I was about to reply to the interrogation of my new-formed acquaintance, a man with a dusky countenance, probably one of the Lascars, or Mulattos, of whom the old woman had spoken, came up and whispered to him, and with this man he presently departed, not however before he had told me the place of his abode, and requested me to visit him.
After the lapse of a few days, I called at the house which he had indicated. It was situated in a dark and narrow street, in the heart of the City, at no great distance from the Bank. I entered a counting-room, in which a solitary clerk, with a foreign look, was writing. The stranger was not at home; returning the next day, however, I met him at the door as he was about to enter; he shook me warmly by the hand. 'I am glad to see you,' said he, 'follow me, I was just thinking of you.' He led me through the counting-room, to an apartment up a flight of stairs; before ascending, however, he looked into the book in which the foreign- visaged clerk was writing, and, seemingly not satisfied with the manner in which he was executing his task, he gave him two or three cuffs, telling him at the same time that he deserved crucifixion.
The apartment above stairs, to which he led me, was large, with three windows, which opened upon the street. The walls were hung with wired cases, apparently containing books. There was a table and two or three chairs; but the principal article of furniture was a long sofa, extending from the door by which we entered to the farther end of the apartment. Seating himself upon the sofa, my new acquaintance motioned to me to sit beside him, and then, looking me full in the face, repeated his former inquiry. 'In the name of all that is wonderful, how came you to know aught of my language?'
'There is nothing wonderful in that,' said I; 'we are at the commencement of a philological age, every one studies languages; that is, every one who is fit for nothing else; philology being the last resource of dulness and ennui, I have got a little in advance of the throng, by mastering the Armenian alphabet; but I foresee the time when every unmarriageable miss, and desperate blockhead, will likewise have acquired the letters of Mesroub, and will know the term for bread, in Armenian, and perhaps that for wine.'
'Kini,' said my companion; and that and the other word put me in mind of the duties of hospitality. 'Will you eat bread and drink wine with me?'
'Willingly,' said I. Whereupon my companion, unlocking a closet, produced, on a silver salver, a loaf of bread, with a silver-handled knife, and wine in a silver flask, with cups of the same metal. ' I hope you like my fare,' said he, after we had both eaten and drunk.
'I like your bread,' said I, 'for it is stale; I like not your wine, it is sweet, and I hate sweet wine.'
'It is wine of Cyprus,' said my entertainer; and, when I found that it was wine of Cyprus, I tasted it again, and the second taste pleased me much better than the first, notwithstanding that I still thought it somewhat sweet. 'So,' said I, after a pause, looking at my companion, 'you are an Armenian.'
'Yes,' said he, 'an Armenian born in London, but not less an Armenian on that account. My father was a native of Ispahan, one of the celebrated Armenian colony which was established there shortly after the time of the dreadful hunger, which drove the children of Haik in swarms from their original country, and scattered them over most parts of the eastern and western world. In Ispahan he passed the greater portion of his life, following mercantile pursuits with considerable success. Certain enemies, however, having accused him to the despot of the place, of using seditious language, he was compelled to flee, leaving most of his property behind. Travelling in the direction of the west, he came at last to London, where he established himself, and where he eventually died, leaving behind a large property and myself, his only child, the fruit of a marriage with an Armenian Englishwoman, who did not survive my birth more than three months.'
The Armenian then proceeded to tell me that he had carried on the business of his father, which seemed to embrace most matters, from buying silks of Lascars, to speculating in the funds, and that he had considerably increased the property which his father had left him. He candidly confessed that he was wonderfully fond of gold, and said there was nothing like it for giving a person respectability and consideration in the world: to which assertion I made no answer, being not exactly prepared to contradict it.
And, when he had related to me his history, he expressed a desire to know something more of myself, whereupon I gave him the outline of my history, concluding with saying, 'I am now a poor author, or rather philologist, upon the streets of London, possessed of many tongues, which I find of no use in the world.'
'Learning without money is anything but desirable,' said the Armenian, 'as it unfits a man for humble occupations. It is true that it may occasionally beget him friends; I confess to you that your understanding something of my language weighs more with me than the service you rendered me in rescuing my pocket-book the other day from the claws of that scoundrel whom I yet hope to see hanged, if not crucified, notwithstanding there were in that pocket-book papers and documents of considerable value. Yes, that circumstance makes my heart warm towards you, for I am proud of my language—as I indeed well may be—what a language, noble and energetic! quite original, differing from all others both in words and structure.'
'You are mistaken,' said I; 'many languages resemble the Armenian both in structure and words.'
'For example?' said the Armenian.
'For example,' said I, 'the English.'
'The English!' said the Armenian; 'show me one word in which the English resembles the Armenian.'
'You walk on London Bridge,' said I.
'Yes,' said the Armenian.
'I saw you look over the balustrade the other morning.'
'True,' said the Armenian.
'Well, what did you see rushing up through the arches with noise and foam?'
'What was it?' said the Armenian. 'What was it?—you don't mean the tide?'
'Do I not?' said I.
'Well, what has the tide to do with the matter?'
'Much,' said I; 'what is the tide?'
'The ebb and flow of the sea,' said the Armenian.
'The sea itself; what is the Haik word for sea?'
The Armenian gave a strong gasp; then, nodding his head thrice, 'You are right,' said he, 'the English word tide is the Armenian for sea; and now I begin to perceive that there are many English words which are Armenian; there is —- and —-; and there again in French, there is —- and —- derived from the Armenian. How strange, how singular—I thank you. It is a proud thing to see that the language of my race has had so much influence over the languages of the world.'
I saw that all that related to his race was the weak point of the Armenian. I did not flatter the Armenian with respect to his race or language. 'An inconsiderable people,' said I, 'shrewd and industrious, but still an inconsiderable people. A language bold and expressive, and of some antiquity, derived, though perhaps not immediately, from some much older tongue. I do not think that the Armenian has had any influence over the formation of the languages of the world, I am not much indebted to the Armenian for the solution of any doubts; whereas to the language of Mr. Petulengro—'
'I have heard you mention that name before,' said the Armenian; 'who is Mr. Petulengro?'
And then I told the Armenian who Mr. Petulengro was. The Armenian spoke contemptuously of Mr. Petulengro and his race. 'Don't speak contemptuously of Mr. Petulengro,' said I, 'nor of anything belonging to him. He is a dark mysterious personage; all connected with him is a mystery, especially his language; but I believe that his language is doomed to solve a great philological problem—Mr. Petulengo—'
'You appear agitated,' said the Armenian; 'take another glass of wine; you possess a great deal of philological knowledge, but it appears to me that the language of this Petulengro is your foible: but let us change the subject; I feel much interested in you, and would fain be of service to you. Can you cast accounts?'
I shook my head.
'I have an idea that I could write books,' said I; 'but, as to keeping them—' and here again I shook my head.
The Armenian was silent some time; all at once, glancing at one of the wire cases, with which, as I have already said, the walls of the room were hung, he asked me if I was well acquainted with the learning of the Haiks. 'The books in these cases,' said he, 'contain the masterpieces of Haik learning.'
'No,' said I; 'all I know of the learning of the Haiks is their translation of the Bible.'
'You have never read Z—-?'
'No,' said I, 'I have never read Z—-.'
'I have a plan,' said the Armenian; 'I think I can employ you agreeably and profitably; I should like to see Z—- in an English dress; you shall translate Z—- If you can read the Scriptures in Armenian, you can translate Z—-. He is our Esop, the most acute and clever of all our moral writers—his philosophy—'
'I will have nothing to do with him,' said I.
'Wherefore?' said the Armenian.
'There is an old proverb,' said I, '"that a burnt child avoids the fire." I have burnt my hands sufficiently with attempting to translate philosophy, to make me cautious of venturing upon it again'; and then I told the Armenian how I had been persuaded by the publisher to translate his philosophy into German, and what sorry thanks I had received; 'And who knows,' said I, 'but the attempt to translate Armenian philosophy into English might he attended with yet more disagreeable consequences?'
The Armenian smiled. 'You would find me very different from the publisher.'
'In many points I have no doubt I should,' I replied; 'but at the present moment I feel like a bird which has escaped from a cage, and, though hungry, feels no disposition to return. Of what nation is the dark man below stairs, whom I saw writing at the desk?'
'He is a Moldave,' said the Armenian; 'the dog (and here his eyes sparkled) deserves to be crucified, he is continually making mistakes.'
The Armenian again renewed his proposition about Z—-, which I again refused, as I felt but little inclination to place myself beneath the jurisdiction of a person who was in the habit of cuffing those whom he employed, when they made mistakes. I presently took my departure; not, however, before I had received from the Armenian a pressing invitation to call upon him whenever I should feel disposed.
What to do—Strong enough—Fame and profit—Alliterative euphony—Excellent fellow—Listen to me—A plan—Bagnigge Wells.
Anxious thoughts frequently disturbed me at this time with respect to what I was to do, and how support myself in the Great City. My future prospects were gloomy enough, and I looked forward and feared; sometimes I felt half disposed to accept the offer of the Armenian, and to commence forthwith, under his superintendence, the translation of the Haik Esop; but the remembrance of the cuffs which I had seen him bestow upon the Moldavian, when glancing over his shoulder into the ledger or whatever it was on which he was employed, immediately drove the inclination from my mind. I could not support the idea of the possibility of his staring over my shoulder upon my translation of the Haik Esop, and, dissatisfied with my attempts, treating me as he had treated the Moldavian clerk; placing myself in a position which exposed me to such treatment would indeed be plunging into the fire after escaping from the frying-pan. The publisher, insolent and overbearing as he was, whatever he might have wished or thought, had never lifted his hand against me, or told me that I merited crucifixion.
What was I to do? turn porter? I was strong; but there was something besides strength required to ply the trade of a porter—a mind of a particularly phlegmatic temperament, which I did not possess. What should I do? enlist as a soldier? I was tall enough; but something besides height is required to make a man play with credit the part of soldier, I mean a private one—a spirit, if spirit it can be called, which will not only enable a man to submit with patience to insolence and abuse, and even to cuffs and kicks, but occasionally to the lash. I felt that I was not qualified to be a soldier, at least a private one; far better be a drudge to the most ferocious of publishers, editing Newgate lives, and writing in eighteenpenny reviews—better to translate the Haik Esop, under the superintendence of ten Armenians, than be a private soldier in the English service; I did not decide rashly—I knew something of soldiering. What should I do? I thought that I would make a last and desperate attempt to dispose of the ballads and of Ab Gwilym.
I had still an idea that, provided I could persuade any spirited publisher to give these translations to the world, I should acquire both considerable fame and profit; not, perhaps, a world-embracing fame such as Byron's; but a fame not to be sneered at, which would last me a considerable time, and would keep my heart from breaking;—profit, not equal to that which Scott had made by his wondrous novels, but which would prevent me from starving, and enable me to achieve some other literary enterprise. I read and re-read my ballads, and the more I read them the more I was convinced that the public, in the event of their being published, would freely purchase, and hail them with the merited applause. Were not the deeds and adventures wonderful and heart-stirring—from which it is true I could claim no merit, being but the translator; but had I not rendered them into English, with all their original fire? Yes, I was confident I had; and I had no doubt that the public would say so. And then, with respect to Ab Gwilym, had I not done as much justice to him as to the Danish ballads; not only rendering faithfully his thoughts, imagery, and phraseology, but even preserving in my translation the alliterative euphony which constitutes one of the most remarkable features of Welsh prosody? Yes, I had accomplished all this; and I doubted not that the public would receive my translations from Ab Gwilym with quite as much eagerness as my version of the Danish ballads. But I found the publishers as intractable as ever, and to this day the public has never had an opportunity of doing justice to the glowing fire of my ballad versification, and the alliterative euphony of my imitations of Ab Gwilym.
I had not seen Francis Ardry since the day I had seen him taking lessons in elocution. One afternoon as I was seated at my table, my head resting on my hands, he entered my apartment; sitting down, he inquired of me why I had not been to see him.
'I might ask the same question of you,' I replied. 'Wherefore have you not been to see me?' Whereupon Francis Ardry told me that he had been much engaged in his oratorical exercises, also in escorting the young Frenchwoman about to places of public amusement; he then again questioned me as to the reason of my not having been to see him.
I returned an evasive answer. The truth was, that for some time past my appearance, owing to the state of my finances, had been rather shabby; and I did not wish to expose a fashionable young man like Francis Ardry, who lived in a fashionable neighbourhood, to the imputation of having a shabby acquaintance. I was aware that Francis Ardry was an excellent fellow; but, on that very account, I felt, under existing circumstances, a delicacy in visiting him.
It is very possible that he had an inkling of how matters stood, as he presently began to talk of my affairs and prospects. I told him of my late ill success with the booksellers, and inveighed against their blindness to their own interest in refusing to publish my translations. 'The last that I addressed myself to,' said I, 'told me not to trouble him again unless I could bring him a decent novel or a tale.'
'Well,' said Frank, 'and why did you not carry him a decent novel or a tale?'
'Because I have neither,' said I; 'and to write them is, I believe, above my capacity. At present I feel divested of all energy—heartless, and almost hopeless.'
'I see how it is,' said Francis Ardry, 'you have overworked yourself, and, worst of all, to no purpose. Take my advice; cast all care aside, and only think of diverting yourself for a month at least.'
'Divert myself!' said I; 'and where am I to find the means?'
'Be that care on my shoulders,' said Francis Ardry. 'Listen to me—my uncles have been so delighted with the favourable accounts which they have lately received from T—- of my progress in oratory, that, in the warmth of their hearts, they made me a present yesterday of two hundred pounds. This is more money than I want, at least for the present; do me the favour to take half of it as a loan—hear me,' said he, observing that I was about to interrupt him; 'I have a plan in my head—one of the prettiest in the world. The sister of my charmer is just arrived from France; she cannot speak a word of English; and, as Annette and myself are much engaged in our own matters, we cannot pay her the attention which we should wish, and which she deserves, for she is a truly fascinating creature, although somewhat differing from my charmer, having blue eyes and flaxen hair; whilst, Annette, on the contrary—But I hope you will shortly see Annette. Now, my plan is this—Take the money, dress yourself fashionably, and conduct Annette's sister to Bagnigge Wells.'
'And what should we do at Bagnigge Wells?'
'Do!' said Francis Ardry. 'Dance!'
'But,' said I, 'I scarcely know anything of dancing.'
'Then here's an excellent opportunity of improving yourself. Like most Frenchwomen, she dances divinely; however, if you object to Bagnigge Wells and dancing, go to Brighton, and remain there a month or two, at the end of which time you can return with your mind refreshed and invigorated, and materials, perhaps, for a tale or novel.'
'I never heard a more foolish, plan,' said I, 'or one less likely to terminate profitably or satisfactorily. I thank you, however, for your offer, which is, I daresay, well meant. If I am to escape from my cares and troubles, and find my mind refreshed and invigorated, I must adopt other means than conducting a French demoiselle to Brighton or Bagnigge Wells, defraying the expense by borrowing from a friend.'
Singular personage—A large sum—Papa of Rome—We are Christians—Degenerate Armenians—Roots of Ararat—Regular features.
The Armenian! I frequently saw this individual, availing myself of the permission which he had given me to call upon him. A truly singular personage was he, with his love of amassing money, and his nationality so strong as to be akin to poetry. Many an Armenian I have subsequently known fond of money-getting, and not destitute of national spirit; but never another, who, in the midst of his schemes of lucre, was at all times willing to enter into a conversation on the structure of the Haik language, or who ever offered me money to render into English the fables of Z—- in the hope of astonishing the stock-jobbers of the Exchange with the wisdom of the Haik Esop.
But he was fond of money, very fond. Within a little time I had won his confidence to such a degree that he informed me that the grand wish of his heart was to be possessed of two hundred thousand pounds.
'I think you might satisfy yourself with the half,' said I. 'One hundred thousand pounds is a large sum.'
'You are mistaken,' said the Armenian, 'a hundred thousand pounds is nothing. My father left me that or more at his death. No, I shall never be satisfied with less than two.'
'And what will you do with your riches,' said I, 'when you have obtained them? Will you sit down and muse upon them, or will you deposit them in a cellar, and go down once a day to stare at them? I have heard say that the fulfilment of one's wishes is invariably the precursor of extreme misery, and forsooth I can scarcely conceive a more horrible state of existence than to be without a hope or wish.'
'It is bad enough, I daresay,' said the Armenian; 'it will, however, be time enough to think of disposing of the money when I have procured it. I still fall short by a vast sum of the two hundred thousand pounds.'
I had occasionally much conversation with him on the state and prospects of his nation, especially of that part of it which still continued in the original country of the Haiks—Ararat and its confines, which, it appeared, he had frequently visited. He informed me that since the death of the last Haik monarch, which occurred in the eleventh century, Armenia had been governed both temporally and spiritually by certain personages called patriarchs; their temporal authority, however, was much circumscribed by the Persian and Turk, especially the former, of whom the Armenian spoke with much hatred, whilst their spiritual authority had at various times been considerably undermined by the emissaries of the Papa of Rome, as the Armenian called him.
'The Papa of Rome sent his emissaries at an early period amongst us,' said the Armenian, 'seducing the minds of weak-headed people, persuading them that the hillocks of Rome are higher than the ridges of Ararat; that the Roman Papa has more to say in heaven than the Armenian patriarch, and that puny Latin is a better language than nervous and sonorous Haik.'
'They are both dialects,' said I, 'of the language of Mr. Petulengro, one of whose race I believe to have been the original founder of Rome; but, with respect to religion, what are the chief points of your faith? you are Christians, I believe.'
'Yes,' said the Armenian, 'we are Christians in our way; we believe in God, the Holy Spirit, and Saviour, though we are not prepared to admit that the last personage is not only himself, but the other two. We believe . . .' and then the Armenian told me of several things which the Haiks believed or disbelieved. 'But what we find most hard of all to believe,' said he, 'is that the man of the mole-hills is entitled to our allegiance, he not being a Haik, or understanding the Haik language.'
'But, by your own confession,' said I, 'he has introduced a schism in your nation, and has amongst you many that believe in him.'
'It is true,' said the Armenian, I that even on the confines of Ararat there are a great number who consider that mountain to be lower than the hillocks of Rome; but the greater number of degenerate Armenians are to be found amongst those who have wandered to the west; most of the Haik churches of the west consider Rome to be higher than Ararat—most of the Armenians of this place hold that dogma; I, however, have always stood firm in the contrary opinion.
'Ha! ha!'—here the Armenian laughed in his peculiar manner—'talking of this matter puts me in mind of an adventure which lately befell me, with one of the emissaries of the Papa of Rome, for the Papa of Rome has at present many emissaries in this country, in order to seduce the people from their own quiet religion to the savage heresy of Rome; this fellow came to me partly in the hope of converting me, but principally to extort money for the purpose of furthering the designs of Rome in this country. I humoured the fellow at first, keeping him in play for nearly a month, deceiving and laughing at him. At last he discovered that he could make nothing of me, and departed with the scowl of Caiaphas, whilst I cried after him, 'The roots of Ararat are deeper than those of Rome.'
The Armenian had occasionally reverted to the subject of the translation of the Haik Esop, which he had still a lurking desire that I should execute; but I had invariably declined the undertaking, without, however, stating my reasons. On one occasion, when we had been conversing on the subject, the Armenian, who had been observing my countenance for some time with much attention, remarked, 'Perhaps, after all, you are right, and you might employ your time to better advantage. Literature is a fine thing, especially Haik literature, but neither that nor any other would be likely to serve as a foundation to a man's fortune: and to make a fortune should be the principal aim of every one's life; therefore listen to me. Accept a seat at the desk opposite to my Moldavian clerk, and receive the rudiments of a merchant's education. You shall be instructed in the Armenian way of doing business—I think you would make an excellent merchant.'
'Why do you think so?'
'Because you have something of the Armenian look.'
'I understand you,' said I; 'you mean to say that I squint!'
'Not exactly,' said the Armenian, 'but there is certainly a kind of irregularity in your features. One eye appears to me larger than the other—never mind, but rather rejoice; in that irregularity consists your strength. All people with regular features are fools; it is very hard for them, you'll say, but there is no help: all we can do, who are not in such a predicament, is to pity those who are. Well! will you accept my offer? No! you are a singular individual; but I must not forget my own concerns. I must now go forth, having an appointment by which I hope to make money.'
Wish fulfilled—Extraordinary figure—Bueno—Noah—The two faces—I don't blame him—Too fond of money—Were I an Armenian.
The fulfilment of the Armenian's grand wish was nearer at hand than either he or I had anticipated. Partly owing to the success of a bold speculation, in which he had some time previously engaged, and partly owing to the bequest of a large sum of money by one of his nation who died at this period in Paris, he found himself in the possession of a fortune somewhat exceeding two hundred thousand pounds; this fact he communicated to me one evening about an hour after the close of 'Change; the hour at which I generally called, and at which I mostly found him at home.
'Well,' said I, 'and what do you intend to do next?'
'I scarcely know,' said the Armenian. 'I was thinking of that when you came in. I don't see anything that I can do, save going on in my former course. After all, I was perhaps too moderate in making the possession of two hundred thousand pounds the summit of my ambition; there are many individuals in this town who possess three times that sum, and are not yet satisfied. No, I think I can do no better than pursue the old career; who knows but I may make the two hundred thousand three or four?—there is already a surplus, which is an encouragement; however, we will consider the matter over a goblet of wine; I have observed of late that you have become partial to my Cyprus.'
And it came to pass that, as we were seated over the Cyprus wine, we heard a knock at the door. 'Adelante!' cried the Armenian; whereupon the door opened, and in walked a somewhat extraordinary figure—a man in a long loose tunic of a stuff striped with black and yellow; breeches of plush velvet, silk stockings, and shoes with silver buckles. On his head he wore a high-peaked hat; he was tall, had a hooked nose, and in age was about fifty.
'Welcome, Rabbi Manasseh,' said the Armenian. 'I know your knock—you are welcome; sit down.'
'I am welcome,' said Manasseh, sitting down; 'he—he—he! you know my knock—I bring you money—bueno!'
There was something very peculiar in the sound of that bueno—I never forgot it.
Thereupon a conversation ensued between Rabbi Manasseh and the Armenian, in a language which I knew to be Spanish, though a peculiar dialect. It related to a mercantile transaction. The Rabbi sighed heavily as he delivered to the other a considerable sum of money.
'It is right,' said the Armenian, handing a receipt. 'It is right; and I am quite satisfied.'
'You are satisfied—you have taken money. Bueno, I have nothing to say against your being satisfied.'
'Come, Rabbi,' said the Armenian, 'do not despond; it may be your turn next to take money; in the meantime, can't you be persuaded to taste my Cyprus?'
'He—he—he! senor, you know I do not love wine. I love Noah when he is himself; but, as Janus, I love him not. But you are merry; bueno, you have a right to be so.'
'Excuse me,' said I; 'but does Noah ever appear as Janus?'
'He—he—he!' said the Rabbi, 'he only appeared as Janus once—una vez quando estuvo borracho; which means—'
'I understand,' said I; 'when he was . . .' and I drew the side of my right hand sharply across my left wrist.
'Are you one of our people?' said the Rabbi.
'No,' said I, 'I am one of the Goyim; but I am only half enlightened. Why should Noah be Janus when he was in that state?'
'He—he—he! you must know that in Lasan akhades wine is janin.'
'In Armenian, kini,' said I; 'in Welsh, gwin; Latin, vinum; but do you think that Janus and janin are one?'
'Do I think? Don't the commentators say so? Does not Master Leo Abarbenel say so in his Dialogues of Divine Love'?
'But,' said I, 'I always thought that Janus was a god of the ancient Romans, who stood in a temple open in time of war, and shut in time of peace; he was represented with two faces, which—which—'
'He—he—he!' said the Rabbi, rising from his seat; 'he had two faces, had he? And what did those two faces typify? You do not know; no, nor did the Romans who carved him with two faces know why they did so; for they were only half enlightened, like you and the rest of the Goyim. Yet they were right in carving him with two faces looking from each other—they were right, though they knew not why; there was a tradition among them that the Janinoso had two faces, but they knew not that one was for the world which was gone and the other for the world before him—for the drowned world and for the present, as Master Leo Abarbenel says in his Dialogues of Divine Love. He—he—he!' continued the Rabbi, who had by this time advanced to the door, and, turning round, waved the two forefingers of his right hand in our faces; 'the Goyims and Epicouraiyim are clever men, they know how to make money better than we of Israel. My good friend there is a clever man, I bring him money, he never brought me any; bueno, I do not blame him, he knows much, very much; but one thing there is my friend does not know, nor any of the Epicureans, he does not know the sacred thing—he has never received the gift of interpretation which God alone gives to the seed—he has his gift, I have mine—he is satisfied, I don't blame him, bueno.'
And, with this last word in his mouth, he departed.
'Is that man a native of Spain?' I demanded.
'Not a native of Spain,' said the Armenian, 'though he is one of those who call themselves Spanish Jews, and who are to be found scattered throughout Europe, speaking the Spanish language transmitted to them by their ancestors, who were expelled from Spain in the time of Ferdinand and Isabella.'
'The Jews are a singular people,' said I.
'A race of cowards and dastards,' said the Armenian, 'without a home or country; servants to servants; persecuted and despised by all.'
'And what are the Haiks?' I demanded.
'Very different from the Jews,' replied the Armenian; 'the Haiks have a home—a country, and can occasionally use a good sword; though it is true they are not what they might be.'
'Then it is a shame that they do not become so,' said I; 'but they are too fond of money. There is yourself, with two hundred thousand pounds in your pocket, craving for more, whilst you might be turning your wealth to the service of your country.'
'In what manner?' said the Armenian.
'I have heard you say that the grand oppressor of your country is the Persian; why not attempt to free your country from his oppression—you have two hundred thousand pounds, and money is the sinew of war?'
'Would you, then, have me attack the Persian?'
'I scarcely know what to say; fighting is a rough trade, and I am by no means certain that you are calculated for the scratch. It is not every one who has been brought up in the school of Mr. Petulengro and Tawno Chikno. All I can say is, that if I were an Armenian, and had two hundred thousand pounds to back me, I would attack the Persian.'
'Hem!' said the Armenian.
The one half-crown—Merit in patience—Cementer of friendship—Dreadful perplexity—The usual guttural—Armenian letters—Much indebted to you—Pure helplessness—Dumb people.
One morning on getting up I discovered that my whole worldly wealth was reduced to one half-crown—throughout that day I walked about in considerable distress of mind; it was now requisite that I should come to a speedy decision with respect to what I was to do; I had not many alternatives, and, before I had retired to rest on the night of the day in question, I had determined that I could do no better than accept the first proposal of the Armenian, and translate under his superintendence the Haik Esop into English.
I reflected, for I made a virtue of necessity, that, after all, such an employment would be an honest and honourable one; honest, inasmuch as by engaging in it I should do harm to nobody; honourable, inasmuch as it was a literary task, which not every one was capable of executing. it was not every one of the booksellers' writers of London who was competent to translate the Haik Esop. I determined to accept the offer of the Armenian.
Once or twice the thought of what I might have to undergo in the translation from certain peculiarities of the Armenian's temper almost unsettled me; but a mechanical diving of my hand into my pocket, and the feeling of the solitary half-crown, confirmed me; after all, this was a life of trial and tribulation, and I had read somewhere or other that there was much merit in patience, so I determined to hold fast in my resolution of accepting the offer of the Armenian.
But all of a sudden I remembered that the Armenian appeared to have altered his intentions towards me: he appeared no longer desirous that I should render the Haik Esop into English for the benefit of the stock- jobbers on Exchange, but rather that I should acquire the rudiments of doing business in the Armenian fashion, and accumulate a fortune, which would enable me to make a figure upon 'Change with the best of the stock- jobbers. 'Well,' thought I, withdrawing my hand from my pocket, whither it had again mechanically dived, 'after all, what would the world, what would this city, be without commerce? I believe the world, and particularly this city, would cut a very poor figure without commerce; and then there is something poetical in the idea of doing business after the Armenian fashion, dealing with dark-faced Lascars and Rabbins of the Sephardim. Yes, should the Armenian insist upon it, I will accept a seat at the desk, opposite the Moldavian clerk. I do not like the idea of cuffs similar to those the Armenian bestowed upon the Moldavian clerk; whatever merit there may be in patience, I do not think that my estimation of the merit of patience would be sufficient to induce me to remain quietly sitting under the infliction of cuffs. I think I should, in the event of his cuffing me, knock the Armenian down. Well, I think I have heard it said somewhere, that a knock-down blow is a great cementer of friendship; I think I have heard of two people being better friends than ever after the one had received from the other a knock-down blow.'
That night I dreamed I had acquired a colossal fortune, some four hundred thousand pounds, by the Armenian way of doing business, but suddenly awoke in dreadful perplexity as to how I should dispose of it.
About nine o'clock next morning I set off to the house of the Armenian; I had never called upon him so early before, and certainly never with a heart beating with so much eagerness; but the situation of my affairs had become very critical, and I thought that I ought to lose no time in informing the Armenian that I was at length perfectly willing either to translate the Haik Esop under his superintendence, or to accept a seat at the desk opposite to the Moldavian clerk, and acquire the secrets of Armenian commerce. With a quick step I entered the counting-room, where, notwithstanding the earliness of the hour, I found the clerk, busied as usual at his desk.
He had always appeared to me a singular being, this same Moldavian clerk. A person of fewer words could scarcely be conceived: provided his master were at home, he would, on my inquiring, nod his head; and, provided he were not, he would invariably reply with the monosyllable No, delivered in a strange guttural tone. On the present occasion, being full of eagerness and impatience, I was about to pass by him to the apartment above, without my usual inquiry, when he lifted his head from the ledger in which he was writing, and, laying down his pen, motioned to me with his forefinger, as if to arrest my progress; whereupon I stopped, and, with a palpitating heart, demanded whether the master of the house was at home. The Moldavian clerk replied with his usual guttural, and, opening his desk, ensconced his head therein.
'It does not much matter,' said I; 'I suppose I shall find him at home after 'Change; it does not much matter, I can return.'
I was turning away with the intention of leaving the room; at this moment, however, the head of the Moldavian clerk became visible, and I observed a letter in his hand, which he had inserted in the desk at the same time with his head; this he extended towards me, making at the same time a sidelong motion with his head, as much as to say that it contained something which interested me.
I took the letter, and the Moldavian clerk forthwith resumed his occupation. The back of the letter bore my name, written in Armenian characters; with a trembling hand I broke the seal, and, unfolding the letter, I beheld several lines also written in the letters of Mesroub, the Cadmus of the Armenians.
I stared at the lines, and at first could not make out a syllable of their meaning; at last, however, by continued staring, I discovered that, though the letters were Armenian, the words were English; in about ten minutes I had contrived to decipher the sense of the letter; it ran somewhat in this style:—
'MY DEAR FRIEND—The words which you uttered in our last conversation have made a profound impression upon me; I have thought them over day and night, and have come to the conclusion that it is my bounden duty to attack the Persians. When these lines are delivered to you, I shall be on the route to Ararat. A mercantile speculation will be to the world the ostensible motive of my journey, and it is singular enough that one which offers considerable prospect of advantage has just presented itself on the confines of Persia. Think not, however, that motives of lucre would have been sufficiently powerful to tempt me to the East at the present moment. I may speculate, it is true, but I should scarcely have undertaken the journey but for your pungent words inciting me to attack the Persians. Doubt not that I will attack them on the first opportunity. I thank you heartily for putting me in mind of my duty. I have hitherto, to use your own words, been too fond of money-getting, like all my countrymen. I am much indebted to you; farewell! and may every prosperity await you.'
For some time after I had deciphered the epistle, I stood as if rooted to the floor. I felt stunned—my last hope was gone; presently a feeling arose in my mind—a feeling of self-reproach. Whom had I to blame but myself for the departure of the Armenian? Would he have ever thought of attacking the Persians had I not put the idea into his head? he had told me in his epistle that he was indebted to me for the idea. But for that, he might at the present moment have been in London, increasing his fortune by his usual methods, and I might be commencing under his auspices the translation of the Haik Esop, with the promise, no doubt, of a considerable remuneration for my trouble; or I might be taking a seat opposite the Moldavian clerk, and imbibing the first rudiments of doing business after the Armenian fashion, with the comfortable hope of realising, in a short time, a fortune of three or four hundred thousand pounds; but the Armenian was now gone, and farewell to the fine hopes I had founded upon him the day before. What was I to do? I looked wildly around, till my eyes rested on the Moldavian clerk, who was writing away in his ledger with particular vehemence. Not knowing well what to do or to say, I thought I might as well ask the Moldavian clerk when the Armenian had departed, and when he thought that he would return. It is true it mattered little to me when he departed, seeing that he was gone, and it was evident that he would not be back soon; but I knew not what to do, and in pure helplessness thought I might as well ask; so I went up to the Moldavian clerk, and asked him when the Armenian had departed, and whether he had been gone two days or three. Whereupon the Moldavian clerk, looking up from his ledger, made certain signs, which I could by no means understand. I stood astonished, but, presently recovering myself, inquired when he considered it probable that the master would return, and whether he thought it would be two months or—my tongue faltered—two years; whereupon the Moldavian clerk made more signs than before, and yet more unintelligible; as I persisted, however, he flung down his pen, and, putting his thumb into his mouth, moved it rapidly, causing the nail to sound against the lower jaw; whereupon I saw that he was dumb, and hurried away, for I had always entertained a horror of dumb people, having once heard my another say, when I was a child, that dumb people were half demoniacs, or little better.
Kind of stupor—Peace of God—Divine hand—Farewell, child—The fair—Massive edifice—Battered tars—Lost! lost!—Good-day, gentlemen.
Leaving the house of the Armenian, I strolled about for some time; almost mechanically my feet conducted me to London Bridge, to the booth in which stood the stall of the old apple-woman; the sound of her voice aroused me, as I sat in a kind of stupor on the stone bench beside her; she was inquiring what was the matter with me.
At first, I believe, I answered her very incoherently, for I observed alarm beginning to depict itself upon her countenance. Rousing myself, however, I in my turn put a few questions to her upon her present condition and prospects. The old woman's countenance cleared up instantly; she informed me that she had never been more comfortable in her life; that her trade, her honest trade—laying an emphasis on the word honest—had increased of late wonderfully; that her health was better, and, above all, that she felt no fear and horror 'here,' laying her hand on her breast.
On my asking her whether she still heard voices in the night, she told me that she frequently did; but that the present were mild voices, sweet voices, encouraging voices, very different from the former ones; that a voice, only the night previous, had cried out about 'the peace of God,' in particularly sweet accents; a sentence which she remembered to have read in her early youth in the primer, but which she had clean forgotten till the voice the night before brought it to her recollection.
After a pause, the old woman said to me, 'I believe, dear, that it is the blessed book you brought me which has wrought this goodly change. How glad I am now that I can read; but oh what a difference between the book you brought to me and the one you took away! I believe the one you brought is written by the finger of God, and the other by—'
'Don't abuse the book,' said I, 'it is an excellent book for those who can understand it; it was not exactly suited to you, and perhaps it had been better that you had never read it—and yet, who knows? Peradventure, if you had not read that book, you would not have been fitted for the perusal of the one which you say is written by the finger of God'; and, pressing my hand to my head, I fell into a deep fit of musing. 'What, after all,' thought I, 'if there should be more order and system in the working of the moral world than I have thought? Does there not seem in the present instance to be something like the working of a Divine hand? I could not conceive why this woman, better educated than her mother, should have been, as she certainly was, a worse character than her mother. Yet perhaps this woman may be better and happier than her mother ever was; perhaps she is so already—perhaps this world is not a wild, lying dream, as I have occasionally supposed it to be.'
But the thought of my own situation did not permit me to abandon myself much longer to these musings. I started up. 'Where are you going, child?' said the woman, anxiously. 'I scarcely know,' said I; 'anywhere.' 'Then stay here, child,' said she; 'I have much to say to you.' 'No,' said I, 'I shall be better moving about'; and I was moving away, when it suddenly occurred to me that I might never see this woman again; and turning round I offered her my hand, and bade her good-bye. 'Farewell, child,' said the old woman, 'and God bless you!' I then moved along the bridge until I reached the Southwark side, and, still holding on my course, my mind again became quickly abstracted from all surrounding objects.
At length I found myself in a street or road, with terraces on either side, and seemingly of interminable length, leading, as it would appear, to the south-east. I was walking at a great rate—there were likewise a great number of people, also walking at a great rate; also carts and carriages driving at a great rate; and all—men, carts, and carriages—going in the selfsame direction, namely to the south-east. I stopped for a moment and deliberated whether or not I should proceed. What business had I in that direction? I could not say that I had any particular business in that direction, but what could I do were I to turn back? only walk about well-known streets; and, if I must walk, why not continue in the direction in which I was to see whither the road and its terraces led? I was ere in a terra incognita, and an unknown place had always some interest for me; moreover, I had a desire to know whither all this crowd was going, and for what purpose. I thought they could not be going far, as crowds seldom go far, especially at such a rate; so I walked on more lustily than before, passing group after group of the crowd, and almost vying in speed with some of the carriages, especially the hackney-coaches; and, by dint of walking at this rate, the terraces and houses becoming somewhat less frequent as I advanced, I reached in about three-quarters of an hour a kind of low dingy town, in the neighbourhood of the river; the streets were swarming with people, and I concluded, from the number of wild-beast shows, caravans, gingerbread stalls, and the like, that a fair was being held. Now, as I had always been partial to fairs, I felt glad that I had fallen in with the crowd which had conducted me to the present one, and, casting away as much as I was able all gloomy thoughts, I did my best to enter into the diversions of the fair; staring at the wonderful representations of animals on canvas hung up before the shows of wild beasts, which, by the bye, are frequently found much more worthy of admiration than the real beasts themselves; listening to the jokes of the merry-andrews from the platforms in front of the temporary theatres, or admiring the splendid tinsel dresses of the performers who thronged the stages in the intervals of the entertainments; and in this manner, occasionally gazing and occasionally listening, I passed through the town till I came in front of a large edifice looking full upon the majestic bosom of the Thames.
It was a massive stone edifice, built in an antique style, and black with age, with a broad esplanade between it and the river, on which, mixed with a few people from the fair, I observed moving about a great many individuals in quaint dresses of blue, with strange three-cornered hats on their heads; most of them were mutilated; this had a wooden leg—this wanted an arm; some had but one eye; and as I gazed upon the edifice, and the singular-looking individuals who moved before it, I guessed where I was. 'I am at—' said I; 'these individuals are battered tars of Old England, and this edifice, once the favourite abode of Glorious Elizabeth, is the refuge which a grateful country has allotted to them. Here they can rest their weary bodies; at their ease talk over the actions in which they have been injured; and, with the tear of enthusiasm flowing from their eyes, boast how they have trod the deck of fame with Rodney, or Nelson, or others whose names stand emblazoned in the naval annals of their country.'
Turning to the right, I entered a park or wood consisting of enormous trees, occupying the foot, sides, and top of a hill which rose behind the town; there were multitudes of people among the trees, diverting themselves in various ways. Coming to the top of the hill, I was present' y stopped by a lofty wall, along which I walked, till, coming to a small gate, I passed through, and found myself on an extensive green plain, on one side bounded in part by the wall of the park, and on the others, in the distance, by extensive ranges of houses; to the south-east was a lofty eminence, partially clothed with wood. The plain exhibited an animated scene, a kind of continuation of the fair below; there were multitudes of people upon it, many tents, and shows; there was also horse- racing, and much noise and shouting, the sun shining brightly overhead. After gazing at the horse-racing for a little time, feeling myself somewhat tired, I went up to one of the tents, and laid myself down on the grass. There was much noise in the tent. 'Who will stand me?' said a voice with a slight tendency to lisp. 'Will you, my lord?' 'Yes,' said another voice. Then there was a sound as of a piece of money banging on a table. 'Lost! lost! lost!' cried several voices; and then the banging down of the money, and the 'lost! lost! lost!' were frequently repeated; at last the second voice exclaimed, 'I will try no more; you have cheated me.' 'Never cheated any one in my life, my lord—all fair—all chance. Them that finds, wins—them that can't finds, loses. Anyone else try? Who'll try? Will you, my lord?' and then it appeared that some other lord tried, for I heard more money flung down. Then again the cry of 'lost! lost!'—then again the sound of money, and so on. Once or twice, but not more, I heard 'Won! won!' but the predominant cry was 'Lost! lost!' At last there was a considerable hubbub, and the words 'Cheat!' 'Rogue!' and 'You filched away the pea!' were used freely by more voices than one, to which the voice with the tendency to lisp replied, 'Never filched a pea in my life; would scorn it. Always glad when folks wins; but, as those here don't appear to be civil, not to wish to play any more, I shall take myself off with my table; so, good-day, gentlemen.'
Singular table—No money—Out of employ—My bonnet—We of the thimble—Good wages—Wisely resolved—Strangest way in the world—Fat gentleman—Not such another—First edition—Not very easy—Won't close—Avella gorgio—Alarmed look.
Presently a man emerged from the tent, bearing before him a rather singular table; it appeared to be of white deal, was exceedingly small at the top, and with very long legs. At a few yards from the entrance he paused, and looked round, as if to decide on the direction which he should take; presently, his eye glancing on me as I lay upon the ground, he started, and appeared for a moment inclined to make off as quick as possible, table and all. In a moment, however, he seemed to recover assurance, and, coming up to the place where I was, the long legs of the table projecting before him, he cried, 'Glad to see you here, my lord.'
'Thank you,' said I, 'it's a fine day.'
'Very fine, my lord; will your lordship play? Them that finds, wins—them that don't finds, loses.'
'Play at what?' said I.
'Only at the thimble and pea, my lord.'
'I never heard of such a game.'
'Didn't you? Well, I'll soon teach you,' said he, placing the table down. 'All you have to do is to put a sovereign down on my table, and to find the pea, which I put under one of my thimbles. If you find it,—and it is easy enough to find it,—I give you a sovereign besides your own: for them that finds, wins.'