Part 8 out of 13
'Very,' said the stranger, laconically, looking at me for the first
'Would you like to see the newspaper?' said I, taking up one which
lay upon the window seat.
'I never read newspapers,' said the stranger, 'nor, indeed,--'
Whatever it might be that he had intended to say he left
unfinished. Suddenly he walked to the mantelpiece at the farther
end of the room, before which he placed himself with his back
towards me. There he remained motionless for some time; at length,
raising his hand, he touched the corner of the mantelpiece with his
finger, advanced towards the chair which he had left, and again
'Have you come far?' said he, suddenly looking towards me, and
speaking in a frank and open manner, which denoted a wish to enter
into conversation. 'You do not seem to be of this place.'
'I come from some distance,' said I; 'indeed, I am walking for
exercise, which I find as necessary to the mind as the body. I
believe that by exercise people would escape much mental misery.'
Scarcely had I uttered these words when the stranger laid his hand,
with seeming carelessness, upon the table, near one of the glasses;
after a moment or two he touched the glass with his finger as if
inadvertently, then, glancing furtively at me, he withdrew his hand
and looked towards the window.
'Are you from these parts?' said I at last, with apparent
'From this vicinity,' replied the stranger. 'You think, then, that
it is as easy to walk off the bad humours of the mind as of the
'I, at least, am walking in that hope,' said I.
'I wish you may be successful,' said the stranger; and here he
touched one of the forks which lay on the table near him.
Here the door, which was slightly ajar, was suddenly pushed open
with some fracas, and in came the stout landlord, supporting with
some difficulty an immense dish, in which was a mighty round mass
of smoking meat garnished all round with vegetables; so high was
the mass that it probably obstructed his view, for it was not until
he had placed it upon the table that he appeared to observe the
stranger; he almost started, and quite out of breath exclaimed,
'God bless me, your honour; is your honour the acquaintance that
the young gentleman was expecting?'
'Is the young gentleman expecting an acquaintance?' said the
There is nothing like putting a good face upon these matters,
thought I to myself; and, getting up, I bowed to the unknown.
'Sir,' said I, 'when I told Jenny that she might lay the table-
cloth for two, so that in the event of any acquaintance dropping in
he might find a knife and fork ready for him, I was merely jocular,
being an entire stranger in these parts, and expecting no one.
Fortune, however, it would seem, has been unexpectedly kind to me;
I flatter myself, sir, that since you have been in this room I have
had the honour of making your acquaintance; and in the strength of
that hope I humbly entreat you to honour me with your company to
dinner, provided you have not already dined.'
The stranger laughed outright.
'Sir,' I continued, 'the round of beef is a noble one, and seems
exceedingly well boiled, and the landlord was just right when he
said I should have such a dinner as is not seen every day. A round
of beef, at any rate such a round of beef as this, is seldom seen
smoking upon the table in these degenerate times. Allow me, sir,'
said I, observing that the stranger was about to speak, 'allow me
another remark. I think I saw you just now touch the fork; I
venture to hail it as an omen that you will presently seize it, and
apply it to its proper purpose, and its companion the knife also.'
The stranger changed colour, and gazed upon me in silence.
'Do, sir,' here put in the landlord; 'do, sir, accept the young
gentleman's invitation. Your honour has of late been looking
poorly, and the young gentleman is a funny young gentleman, and a
clever young gentleman; and I think it will do your honour good to
have a dinner's chat with the young gentleman.'
'It is not my dinner hour,' said the stranger; 'I dine considerably
later; taking anything now would only discompose me; I shall,
however, be most happy to sit down with the young gentleman; reach
me that paper, and, when the young gentleman has satisfied his
appetite, we may perhaps have a little chat together.'
The landlord handed the stranger the newspaper, and, bowing,
retired with his maid Jenny. I helped myself to a portion of the
smoking round, and commenced eating with no little appetite. The
stranger appeared to be soon engrossed with the newspaper. We
continued thus a considerable time--the one reading and the other
dining. Chancing suddenly to cast my eyes upon the stranger, I saw
his brow contract; he gave a slight stamp with his foot, and flung
the newspaper to the ground, then stooping down he picked it up,
first moving his forefinger along the floor, seemingly slightly
scratching it with his nail.
'Do you hope, sir,' said I, 'by that ceremony with the finger to
preserve yourself from the evil chance?'
The stranger started; then, after looking at me for some time in
silence, he said, 'Is it possible that you--?'
'Ay, ay,' said I, helping myself to some more of the round; 'I have
touched myself in my younger days, both for the evil chance and the
good. Can't say, though, that I ever trusted much in the
The stranger made no reply, but appeared to be in deep thought;
nothing farther passed between us until I had concluded the dinner,
when I said to him, 'I shall now be most happy, sir, to have the
pleasure of your conversation over a pint of wine.'
The stranger rose; 'No, my young friend,' said he, smiling, 'that
would scarce be fair. It is my turn now--pray do me the favour to
go home with me, and accept what hospitality my poor roof can
offer; to tell you the truth, I wish to have some particular
discourse with you which would hardly be possible in this place.
As for wine, I can give you some much better than you can get here:
the landlord is an excellent fellow, but he is an innkeeper after
all. I am going out for a moment, and will send him in, so that
you may settle your account; I trust you will not refuse me, I only
live about two miles from here.'
I looked in the face of the stranger--it was a fine intelligent
face, with a cast of melancholy in it. 'Sir,' said I, 'I would go
with you though you lived four miles instead of two.'
'Who is that gentleman?' said I to the landlord, after I had
settled his bill; 'I am going home with him.'
'I wish I were going too,' said the fat landlord, laying his hand
upon his stomach. 'Young gentleman, I shall be a loser by his
honour's taking you away; but, after all, the truth is the truth--
there are few gentlemen in these parts like his honour, either for
learning or welcoming his friends. Young gentleman, I congratulate
New acquaintance--Old French style--The portrait--Taciturnity--The
evergreen tree--The dark hour--The flash--Ancestors--A fortunate
man--A posthumous child--Antagonist ideas--The hawks--Flaws--The
pony--Irresistible impulse--Favourable crisis--The topmost branch--
Twenty feet--Heartily ashamed.
I found the stranger awaiting me at the door of the inn. 'Like
yourself, I am fond of walking,' said he, 'and when any little
business calls me to this place I generally come on foot.'
We were soon out of the town, and in a very beautiful country.
After proceeding some distance on the high-road, we turned off, and
were presently in one of those mazes of lanes for which England is
famous; the stranger at first seemed inclined to be taciturn; a few
observations, however, which I made appeared to rouse him, and he
soon exhibited not only considerable powers of conversation, but
stores of information which surprised me. So pleased did I become
with my new acquaintance that I soon ceased to pay the slightest
attention either to place or distance. At length the stranger was
silent, and I perceived that we had arrived at a handsome iron gate
and a lodge; the stranger having rung a bell, the gate was opened
by an old man, and we proceeded along a gravel path, which in about
five minutes brought us to a large brick house, built something in
the old French style, having a spacious lawn before it, and
immediately in front a pond in which were golden fish, and in the
middle a stone swan discharging quantities of water from its bill.
We ascended a spacious flight of steps to the door, which was at
once flung open, and two servants with powdered hair and in livery
of blue plush came out and stood one on either side as we passed
the threshold. We entered a large hall, and the stranger, taking
me by the hand, welcomed me to his poor home, as he called it, and
then gave orders to another servant, but out of livery, to show me
to an apartment, and give me whatever assistance I might require in
my toilet. Notwithstanding the plea as to primitive habits which I
had lately made to my other host in the town, I offered no
objection to this arrangement, but followed the bowing domestic to
a spacious and airy chamber, where he rendered me all those little
nameless offices which the somewhat neglected state of my dress
required. When everything had been completed to my perfect
satisfaction, he told me that if I pleased he would conduct me to
the library, where dinner would be speedily served.
In the library I found a table laid for two; my host was not there,
having as I supposed not been quite so speedy with his toilet as
his guest. Left alone, I looked round the apartment with inquiring
eyes; it was long and tolerably lofty, the walls from the top to
the bottom were lined with cases containing books of all sizes and
bindings; there was a globe or two, a couch, and an easy-chair.
Statues and busts there were none, and only one painting, a
portrait, that of my host, but not him of the mansion. Over the
mantelpiece, the features staringly like, but so ridiculously
exaggerated that they scarcely resembled those of a human being,
daubed evidently by the hand of the commonest sign-artist, hung a
half-length portrait of him of round of beef celebrity--my sturdy
host of the town.
I had been in the library about ten minutes, amusing myself as I
best could, when my friend entered; he seemed to have resumed his
taciturnity--scarce a word escaped his lips till dinner was served,
when he said, smiling, 'I suppose it would be merely a compliment
to ask you to partake?'
'I don't know,' said I, seating myself; 'your first course consists
of troutlets, I am fond of troutlets, and I always like to be
The dinner was excellent, though I did but little justice to it
from the circumstance of having already dined; the stranger also,
though without my excuse, partook but slightly of the good cheer;
he still continued taciturn, and appeared lost in thought, and
every attempt which I made to induce him to converse was signally
And now dinner was removed, and we sat over our wine, and I
remember that the wine was good, and fully justified the encomiums
of my host of the town. Over the wine I made sure that my
entertainer would have loosened the chain which seemed to tie his
tongue--but no! I endeavoured to tempt him by various topics, and
talked of geometry and the use of the globes, of the heavenly
sphere, and the star Jupiter, which I said I had heard was a very
large star, also of the evergreen tree, which, according to Olaus,
stood of old before the heathen temple of Upsal, and which I
affirmed was a yew--but no, nothing that I said could induce my
entertainer to relax his taciturnity.
It grew dark, and I became uncomfortable. 'I must presently be
going,' I at last exclaimed.
At these words he gave a sudden start; 'Going,' said he, 'are you
not my guest, and an honoured one?'
'You know best,' said I; 'but I was apprehensive I was an intruder;
to several of my questions you have returned no answer.'
'Ten thousand pardons!' he exclaimed, seizing me by the hand; 'but
you cannot go now, I have much to talk to you about--there is one
thing in particular--'
'If it be the evergreen tree at Upsal,' said I, interrupting him,
'I hold it to have been a yew--what else? The evergreens of the
south, as the old bishop observes, will not grow in the north, and
a pine was unfitted for such a locality, being a vulgar tree. What
else could it have been but the yew--the sacred yew which our
ancestors were in the habit of planting in their churchyards?
Moreover, I affirm it to have been the yew for the honour of the
tree; for I love the yew, and had I home and land, I would have one
growing before my front windows.'
'You would do right, the yew is indeed a venerable tree, but it is
not about the yew.'
'The star Jupiter, perhaps?'
'Nor the star Jupiter, nor its moons; an observation which escaped
you at the inn has made a considerable impression upon me.'
'But I really must take my departure,' said I; 'the dark hour is at
And as I uttered these latter words the stranger touched rapidly
something which lay near him--I forget what it was. It was the
first action of the kind which I had observed on his part since we
sat down to table.
'You allude to the evil chance,' said I; 'but it is getting both
dark and late.'
'I believe we are going to have a storm,' said my friend, 'but I
really hope that you will give me your company for a day or two; I
have, as I said before, much to talk to you about.'
'Well,' said I, 'I shall be most happy to be your guest for this
night; I am ignorant of the country, and it is not pleasant to
travel unknown paths by night--dear me, what a flash of lightning.'
It had become very dark; suddenly a blaze of sheet lightning
illumed the room. By the momentary light I distinctly saw my host
touch another object upon the table.
'Will you allow me to ask you a question or two?' said he at last.
'As many as you please,' said I; 'but shall we not have lights?'
'Not unless you particularly wish it,' said my entertainer; 'I
rather like the dark, and though a storm is evidently at hand,
neither thunder nor lightning has any terrors for me. It is other
things I quake at--I should rather say ideas. Now permit me to ask
And then my entertainer asked me various questions, to all of which
I answered unreservedly; he was then silent for some time, at last
he exclaimed, 'I should wish to tell you the history of my life--
though not an adventurous one, I think it contains some things
which will interest you.'
Without waiting for my reply he began. Amidst darkness and gloom,
occasionally broken by flashes of lightning, the stranger related
to me, as we sat at table in the library, his truly touching
'Before proceeding to relate the events of my life, it will not be
amiss to give you some account of my ancestors. My great-
grandfather on the male side was a silk mercer, in Cheapside, who,
when he died, left his son, who was his only child, a fortune of
one hundred thousand pounds and a splendid business; the son,
however, had no inclination for trade, the summit of his ambition
was to be a country gentleman, to found a family, and to pass the
remainder of his days in rural ease and dignity, and all this he
managed to accomplish; he disposed of his business, purchased a
beautiful and extensive estate for fourscore thousand pounds, built
upon it the mansion to which I had the honour of welcoming you to-
day, married the daughter of a neighbouring squire, who brought him
a fortune of five thousand pounds, became a magistrate, and only
wanted a son and heir to make him completely happy; this blessing,
it is true, was for a long time denied him; it came, however, at
last, as is usual, when least expected. His lady was brought to
bed of my father, and then who so happy a man as my grandsire; he
gave away two thousand pounds in charities, and in the joy of his
heart made a speech at the next quarter sessions; the rest of his
life was spent in ease, tranquillity, and rural dignity; he died of
apoplexy on the day that my father came of age; perhaps it would be
difficult to mention a man who in all respects was so fortunate as
my grandfather: his death was sudden it is true, but I am not one
of those who pray to be delivered from a sudden death.
'I should not call my father a fortunate man; it is true that he
had the advantage of a first-rate education; that he made the grand
tour with a private tutor, as was the fashion at that time; that he
came to a splendid fortune on the very day that he came of age;
that for many years he tasted all the diversions of the capital
that, at last determined to settle, he married the sister of a
baronet, an amiable and accomplished lady, with a large fortune;
that he had the best stud of hunters in the county, on which,
during the season, he followed the fox gallantly; had he been a
fortunate man he would never have cursed his fate, as he was
frequently known to do; ten months after his marriage his horse
fell upon him, and so injured him, that he expired in a few days in
great agony. My grandfather was, indeed, a fortunate man; when he
died he was followed to the grave by the tears of the poor--my
father was not.
'Two remarkable circumstances are connected with my birth--I am a
posthumous child, and came into the world some weeks before the
usual time, the shock which my mother experienced at my father's
death having brought on the pangs of premature labour; both my
mother's life and my own were at first despaired of; we both,
however, survived the crisis. My mother loved me with the most
passionate fondness, and I was brought up in this house under her
own eye--I was never sent to school.
'I have already told you that mine is not a tale of adventure; my
life has not been one of action, but of wild imaginings and strange
sensations; I was born with excessive sensibility, and that has
been my bane. I have not been a fortunate man.
'No one is fortunate unless he is happy, and it is impossible for a
being constructed like myself to be happy for an hour, or even
enjoy peace and tranquillity; most of our pleasures and pains are
the effects of imagination, and wherever the sensibility is great,
the imagination is great also. No sooner has my imagination raised
up an image of pleasure, than it is sure to conjure up one of
distress and gloom; these two antagonist ideas instantly commence a
struggle in my mind, and the gloomy one generally, I may say
invariably, prevails. How is it possible that I should be a happy
'It has invariably been so with me from the earliest period that I
can remember; the first playthings that were given me caused me for
a few minutes excessive pleasure: they were pretty and glittering;
presently, however, I became anxious and perplexed, I wished to
know their history, how they were made, and what of--were the
materials precious? I was not satisfied with their outward
appearance. In less than an hour I had broken the playthings in an
attempt to discover what they were made of.
'When I was eight years of age my uncle the baronet, who was also
my godfather, sent me a pair of Norway hawks, with directions for
managing them; he was a great fowler. Oh, how rejoiced was I with
the present which had been made me, my joy lasted for at least five
minutes; I would let them breed, I would have a house of hawks;
yes, that I would--but--and here came the unpleasant idea--suppose
they were to flyaway, how very annoying! Ah, but, said hope,
there's little fear of that; feed them well and they will never fly
away, or if they do they will come back, my uncle says so; so
sunshine triumphed for a little time. Then the strangest of all
doubts came into my head; I doubted the legality of my tenure of
these hawks; how did I come by them? why, my uncle gave them to me,
but how did they come into his possession? what right had he to
them? after all, they might not be his to give. I passed a
sleepless night. The next morning I found that the man who brought
the hawks had not departed. "How came my uncle by these hawks?" I
anxiously inquired. "They were sent to him from Norway, master,
with another pair." "And who sent them?" "That I don't know,
master, but I suppose his honour can tell you." I was even
thinking of scrawling a letter to my uncle to make inquiry on this
point, but shame restrained me, and I likewise reflected that it
would be impossible for him to give my mind entire satisfaction; it
is true he could tell who sent him the hawks, but how was he to
know how the hawks came into the possession of those who sent them
to him, and by what right they possessed them or the parents of the
hawks? In a word, I wanted a clear valid title, as lawyers would
say, to my hawks, and I believe no title would have satisfied me
that did not extend up to the time of the first hawk, that is,
prior to Adam; and, could I have obtained such a title, I make no
doubt that, young as I was, I should have suspected that it was
full of flaws.
'I was now disgusted with the hawks, and no wonder, seeing all the
disquietude they had caused me; I soon totally neglected the poor
birds, and they would have starved had not some of the servants
taken compassion upon them and fed them. My uncle, soon hearing of
my neglect, was angry, and took the birds away; he was a very good-
natured man, however, and soon sent me a fine pony; at first I was
charmed with the pony, soon, however, the same kind of thoughts
arose which had disgusted me on a former occasion. How did my
uncle become possessed of the pony? This question I asked him the
first time I saw him. Oh, he had bought it of a gypsy, that I
might learn to ride upon it. A gypsy; I had heard that gypsies
were great thieves, and I instantly began to fear that the gypsy
had stolen the pony, and it is probable that for this apprehension
I had better grounds than for many others. I instantly ceased to
set any value upon the pony, but for that reason, perhaps, I turned
it to some account; I mounted it and rode it about, which I don't
think I should have done had I looked upon it as a secure
possession. Had I looked upon my title as secure, I should have
prized it so much, that I should scarcely have mounted it for fear
of injuring the animal; but now, caring not a straw for it, I rode
it most unmercifully, and soon became a capital rider. This was
very selfish in me, and I tell the fact with shame. I was
punished, however, as I deserved; the pony had a spirit of its own,
and, moreover, it had belonged to gypsies; once, as I was riding it
furiously over the lawn, applying both whip and spur, it suddenly
lifted up its heels, and flung me at least five yards over its
head. I received some desperate contusions, and was taken up for
dead; it was many months before I perfectly recovered.
'But it is time for me to come to the touching part of my story.
There was one thing that I loved better than the choicest gift
which could be bestowed upon me, better than life itself--my
mother;--at length she became unwell, and the thought that I might
possibly lose her now rushed into my mind for the first time; it
was terrible, and caused me unspeakable misery, I may say horror.
My mother became worse, and I was not allowed to enter her
apartment, lest by my frantic exclamations of grief I might
aggravate her disorder. I rested neither day nor night, but roamed
about the house like one distracted. Suddenly I found myself doing
that which even at the time struck me as being highly singular; I
found myself touching particular objects that were near me, and to
which my fingers seemed to be attracted by an irresistible impulse.
It was now the table or the chair that I was compelled to touch;
now the bell-rope; now the handle of the door; now I would touch
the wall, and the next moment, stooping down, I would place the
point of my finger upon the floor: and so I continued to do day
after day; frequently I would struggle to resist the impulse, but
invariably in vain. I have even rushed away from the object, but I
was sure to return, the impulse was too strong to be resisted: I
quickly hurried back, compelled by the feeling within me to touch
the object. Now I need not tell you that what impelled me to these
actions was the desire to prevent my mother's death; whenever I
touched any particular object, it was with the view of baffling the
evil chance, as you would call it--in this instance my mother's
'A favourable crisis occurred in my mother's complaint, and she
recovered; this crisis took place about six o'clock in the morning;
almost simultaneously with it there happened to myself a rather
remarkable circumstance connected with the nervous feeling which
was rioting in my system. I was lying in bed in a kind of uneasy
doze, the only kind of rest which my anxiety on account of my
mother permitted me at this time to take, when all at once I sprang
up as if electrified; the mysterious impulse was upon me, and it
urged me to go without delay, and climb a stately elm behind the
house, and touch the topmost branch; otherwise--you know the rest--
the evil chance would prevail. Accustomed for some time as I had
been, under this impulse, to perform extravagant actions, I confess
to you that the difficulty and peril of such a feat startled me; I
reasoned against the feeling, and strove more strenuously than I
had ever done before; I even made a solemn vow not to give way to
the temptation, but I believe nothing less than chains, and those
strong ones, could have restrained me. The demoniac influence, for
I can call it nothing else, at length prevailed; it compelled me to
rise, to dress myself, to descend the stairs, to unbolt the door,
and to go forth; it drove me to the foot of the tree, and it
compelled me to climb the trunk; this was a tremendous task, and I
only accomplished it after repeated falls and trials. When I had
got amongst the branches, I rested for a time, and then set about
accomplishing the remainder of the ascent; this for some time was
not so difficult, for I was now amongst the branches; as I
approached the top, however, the difficulty became greater, and
likewise the danger; but I was a light boy, and almost as nimble as
a squirrel, and, moreover, the nervous feeling was within me,
impelling me upward. It was only by means of a spring, however,
that I was enabled to touch the top of the tree; I sprang, touched
the top of the tree, and fell a distance of at least twenty feet,
amongst the branches; had I fallen to the bottom I must have been
killed, but I fell into the middle of the tree, and presently found
myself astride upon one of the boughs; scratched and bruised all
over, I reached the ground, and regained my chamber unobserved; I
flung myself on my bed quite exhausted; presently they came to tell
me that my mother was better--they found me in the state which I
have described, and in a fever besides. The favourable crisis must
have occurred just about the time that I performed the magic touch;
it certainly was a curious coincidence, yet I was not weak enough,
even though a child, to suppose that I had baffled the evil chance
by my daring feat.
'Indeed, all the time that I was performing these strange feats, I
knew them to be highly absurd, yet the impulse to perform them was
irresistible--a mysterious dread hanging over me till I had given
way to it; even at that early period I frequently used to reason
within myself as to what could be the cause of my propensity to
touch, but of course I could come to no satisfactory conclusion
respecting it; being heartily ashamed of the practice, I never
spoke of it to any one, and was at all times highly solicitous that
no one should observe my weakness.'
Maternal anxiety--The baronet--Little zest--Country life--Mr.
Speaker!--The craving--Spirited address--An author.
After a short pause my host resumed his narration. 'Though I was
never sent to school, my education was not neglected on that
account; I had tutors in various branches of knowledge, under whom
I made a tolerable progress; by the time I was eighteen I was able
to read most of the Greek and Latin authors with facility; I was
likewise, to a certain degree, a mathematician. I cannot say that
I took much pleasure in my studies; my chief aim in endeavouring to
accomplish my tasks was to give pleasure to my beloved parent, who
watched my progress with anxiety truly maternal. My life at this
period may be summed up in a few words: I pursued my studies,
roamed about the woods, walked the green lanes occasionally, cast
my fly in a trout stream, and sometimes, but not often, rode a-
hunting with my uncle. A considerable part of my time was devoted
to my mother, conversing with her and reading to her; youthful
companions I had none, and as to my mother, she lived in the
greatest retirement, devoting herself to the superintendence of my
education, and the practice of acts of charity; nothing could be
more innocent than this mode of life, and some people say that in
innocence there is happiness, yet I can't say that I was happy. A
continual dread overshadowed my mind, it was the dread of my
mother's death. Her constitution had never been strong, and it had
been considerably shaken by her last illness; this I knew, and this
I saw--for the eyes of fear are marvellously keen. Well, things
went on in this way till I had come of age; my tutors were then
dismissed, and my uncle the baronet took me in hand, telling my
mother that it was high time for him to exert his authority; that I
must see something of the world, for that, if I remained much
longer with her, I should be ruined. "You must consign him to me,"
said he, "and I will introduce him to the world." My mother sighed
and consented; so my uncle the baronet introduced me to the world,
took me to horse-races and to London, and endeavoured to make a man
of me according to his idea of the term, and in part succeeded. I
became moderately dissipated--I say moderately, for dissipation had
but little zest for me.
'In this manner four years passed over. It happened that I was in
London in the height of the season with my uncle, at his house; one
morning he summoned me into the parlour, he was standing before the
fire, and looked very serious. "I have had a letter," said he;
"your mother is very ill." I staggered, and touched the nearest
object to me; nothing was said for two or three minutes, and then
my uncle put his lips to my ear and whispered something. I fell
down senseless. My mother was . . . I remember nothing for a long
time--for two years I was out of my mind; at the end of this time I
recovered, or partly so. My uncle the baronet was very kind to me;
he advised me to travel, he offered to go with me. I told him he
was very kind, but I would rather go by myself. So I went abroad,
and saw, amongst other things, Rome and the Pyramids. By frequent
change of scene my mind became not happy, but tolerably tranquil.
I continued abroad some years, when, becoming tired of travelling,
I came home, found my uncle the baronet alive, hearty, and
unmarried, as he still is. He received me very kindly, took me to
Newmarket, and said that he hoped by this time I was become quite a
man of the world; by his advice I took a house in town, in which I
lived during the season. In summer I strolled from one watering-
place to another; and, in order to pass the time, I became very
'At last I became as tired of dissipation as I had previously been
of travelling, and I determined to retire to the country, and live
on my paternal estate; this resolution I was not slow in putting
into effect; I sold my house in town, repaired and refurnished my
country house, and, for at least ten years, lived a regular country
life; I gave dinner parties, prosecuted poachers, was charitable to
the poor, and now and then went into my library; during this time I
was seldom or never visited by the magic impulse, the reason being
that there was nothing in the wide world for which I cared
sufficiently to move a finger to preserve it. When the ten years,
however, were nearly ended, I started out of bed one morning in a
fit of horror, exclaiming, "Mercy, mercy! what will become of me?
I am afraid I shall go mad. I have lived thirty-five years and
upwards without doing anything; shall I pass through life in this
manner? Horror!" And then in rapid succession I touched three
'I dressed myself and went down, determining to set about
something; but what was I to do?--there was the difficulty. I ate
no breakfast, but walked about the room in a state of distraction;
at last I thought that the easiest way to do something was to get
into Parliament, there would be no difficulty in that. I had
plenty of money, and could buy a seat; but what was I to do in
Parliament? Speak, of course--but could I speak? "I'll try at
once," said I, and forthwith I rushed into the largest dining-room,
and, locking the door, I commenced speaking: "Mr. Speaker," said
I, and then I went on speaking for about ten minutes as I best
could, and then I left off, for I was talking nonsense. No, I was
not formed for Parliament; I could do nothing there. What--what
was I to do?
'Many, many times I thought this question over, but was unable to
solve it; a fear now stole over me that I was unfit for anything in
the world, save the lazy life of vegetation which I had for many
years been leading; yet, if that were the case, thought I, why the
craving within me to distinguish myself? Surely it does not occur
fortuitously, but is intended to rouse and call into exercise
certain latent powers that I possess? and then with infinite
eagerness I set about attempting to discover these latent powers.
I tried an infinity of pursuits, botany and geology amongst the
rest, but in vain; I was fitted for none of them. I became very
sorrowful and despondent, and at one time I had almost resolved to
plunge again into the whirlpool of dissipation; it was a dreadful
resource, it was true, but what better could I do?
'But I was not doomed to return to the dissipation of the world.
One morning a young nobleman, who had for some time past showed a
wish to cultivate my acquaintance, came to me in a considerable
hurry. "I am come to beg an important favour of you," said he;
"one of the county memberships is vacant--I intend to become a
candidate; what I want immediately is a spirited address to the
electors. I have been endeavouring to frame one all the morning,
but in vain; I have, therefore, recourse to you as a person of
infinite genius; pray, my dear friend, concoct me one by the
morning!" "What you require of me," I replied, "is impossible; I
have not the gift of words; did I possess it I would stand for the
county myself, but I can't speak. Only the other day I attempted
to make a speech, but left off suddenly, utterly ashamed, although
I was quite alone, of the nonsense I was uttering." "It is not a
speech that I want," said my friend; "I can talk for three hours
without hesitating, but I want an address to circulate through the
county, and I find myself utterly incompetent to put one together;
do oblige me by writing one for me, I know you can; and, if at any
time you want a person to speak for you, you may command me not for
three but for six hours. Good-morning; to-morrow I will breakfast
with you." In the morning he came again. "Well," said he, "what
success?" "Very poor," said I; "but judge for yourself"; and I put
into his hand a manuscript of several pages. My friend read it
through with considerable attention. "I congratulate you," said
he, "and likewise myself; I was not mistaken in my opinion of you;
the address is too long by at least two-thirds, or I should rather
say, that it is longer by two-thirds than addresses generally are;
but it will do--I will not curtail it of a word. I shall win my
election." And in truth he did win his election; and it was not
only his own but the general opinion that he owed it to the
'But, however that might be, I had, by writing the address, at last
discovered what had so long eluded my search--what I was able to
do. I, who had neither the nerve nor the command of speech
necessary to constitute the orator--who had not the power of
patient research required by those who would investigate the
secrets of nature, had, nevertheless, a ready pen and teeming
imagination. This discovery decided my fate--from that moment I
became an author.'
Trepidations--Subtle principle--Perverse imagination--Are they
mine?--Another book--How hard!--Agricultural dinner--
Incomprehensible actions--Inmost bosom--Give it up--Chance
'An author,' said I, addressing my host; 'is it possible that I am
under the roof of an author?'
'Yes,' said my host, sighing, 'my name is so and so, and I am the
author of so and so; it is more than probable that you have heard
both of my name and works. I will not detain you much longer with
my history; the night is advancing, and the storm appears to be
upon the increase. My life since the period of my becoming an
author may be summed briefly as an almost uninterrupted series of
doubts, anxieties, and trepidations. I see clearly that it is not
good to love anything immoderately in this world, but it has been
my misfortune to love immoderately everything on which I have set
my heart. This is not good, I repeat--but where is the remedy?
The ancients were always in the habit of saying, "Practise
moderation," but the ancients appear to have considered only one
portion of the subject. It is very possible to practise moderation
in some things, in drink and the like--to restrain the appetites--
but can a man restrain the affections of his mind, and tell them,
so far you shall go, and no farther? Alas, no! for the mind is a
subtle principle, and cannot be confined. The winds may be
imprisoned; Homer says that Odysseus carried certain winds in his
ship, confined in leathern bags, but Homer never speaks of
confining the affections. It were but right that those who exhort
us against inordinate affections, and setting our hearts too much
upon the world and its vanities, would tell us how to avoid doing
'I need scarcely tell you that no sooner did I become an author
than I gave myself up immoderately to my vocation. It became my
idol, and, as a necessary consequence, it has proved a source of
misery and disquietude to me, instead of pleasure and blessing. I
had trouble enough in writing my first work, and I was not long in
discovering that it was one thing to write a stirring and spirited
address to a set of county electors, and another widely different
to produce a work at all calculated to make an impression upon the
great world. I felt, however, that I was in my proper sphere, and
by dint of unwearied diligence and exertion I succeeded in evolving
from the depths of my agitated breast a work which, though it did
not exactly please me, I thought would serve to make an experiment
upon the public; so I laid it before the public, and the reception
which it met with was far beyond my wildest expectations. The
public were delighted with it, but what were my feelings?
Anything, alas! but those of delight. No sooner did the public
express its satisfaction at the result of my endeavours, than my
perverse imagination began to conceive a thousand chimerical
doubts; forthwith I sat down to analyse it; and my worst enemy, and
all people have their enemies, especially authors--my worst enemy
could not have discovered or sought to discover a tenth part of the
faults which I, the author and creator of the unfortunate
production, found or sought to find in it. It has been said that
love makes us blind to the faults of the loved object--common love
does, perhaps--the love of a father to his child, or that of a
lover to his mistress, but not the inordinate love of an author to
his works, at least not the love which one like myself bears to his
works: to be brief, I discovered a thousand faults in my work,
which neither public nor critics discovered. However, I was
beginning to get over this misery, and to forgive my work all its
imperfections, when--and I shake when I mention it--the same kind
of idea which perplexed me with regard to the hawks and the gypsy
pony rushed into my mind, and I forthwith commenced touching the
objects around me, in order to baffle the evil chance, as you call
it; it was neither more nor less than a doubt of the legality of my
claim to the thoughts, expressions, and situations contained in the
book; that is, to all that constituted the book. How did I get
them? How did they come into my mind? Did I invent them? Did
they originate with myself? Are they my own, or are they some
other body's? You see into what difficulty I had got; I won't
trouble you by relating all that I endured at that time, but will
merely say that after eating my own heart, as the Italians say, and
touching every object that came in my way for six months, I at
length flung my book, I mean the copy of it which I possessed, into
the fire, and began another.
'But it was all in vain; I laboured at this other, finished it, and
gave it to the world; and no sooner had I done so, than the same
thought was busy in my brain, poisoning all the pleasure which I
should otherwise have derived from my work. How did I get all the
matter which composed it? Out of my own mind, unquestionably; but
how did it come there--was it the indigenous growth of the mind?
And then I would sit down and ponder over the various scenes and
adventures in my book, endeavouring to ascertain how I came
originally to devise them, and by dint of reflecting I remembered
that to a single word in conversation, or some simple accident in a
street or on a road, I was indebted for some of the happiest
portions of my work; they were but tiny seeds, it is true, which in
the soil of my imagination had subsequently become stately trees,
but I reflected that without them no stately trees would have been
produced, and that, consequently, only a part in the merit of these
compositions which charmed the world--for the did charm the world--
was due to myself. Thus, a dead fly was in my phial, poisoning all
the pleasure which I should otherwise have derived from the result
of my brain-sweat. "How hard!" I would exclaim, looking up to the
sky, "how hard! I am like Virgil's sheep, bearing fleeces not for
themselves." But, not to tire you, it fared with my second work as
it did with my first; I flung it aside, and, in order to forget it,
I began a third, on which I am now occupied; but the difficulty of
writing it is immense, my extreme desire to be original sadly
cramping the powers of my mind; my fastidiousness being so great
that I invariably reject whatever ideas I do not think to be
legitimately my own. But there is one circumstance to which I
cannot help alluding here, as it serves to show what miseries this
love of originality must needs bring upon an author. I am
constantly discovering that, however original I may wish to be, I
am continually producing the same things which other people say or
write. Whenever, after producing something which gives me perfect
satisfaction, and which has cost me perhaps days and nights of
brooding, I chance to take up a book for the sake of a little
relaxation, a book which I never saw before, I am sure to find in
it something more or less resembling some part of what I have been
just composing. You will easily conceive the distress which then
comes over me; 'tis then that I am almost tempted to execrate the
chance which, by discovering my latent powers, induced me to adopt
a profession of such anxiety and misery.
'For some time past I have given up reading almost entirely, owing
to the dread which I entertain of lighting upon something similar
to what I myself have written. I scarcely ever transgress without
having almost instant reason to repent. To-day, when I took up the
newspaper, I saw in a speech of the Duke of Rhododendron, at an
agricultural dinner, the very same ideas, and almost the same
expressions which I had put into the mouth of an imaginary
personage of mine, on a widely different occasion; you saw how I
dashed the newspaper down--you saw how I touched the floor; the
touch was to baffle the evil chance, to prevent the critics
detecting any similarity between the speech of the Duke of
Rhododendron at the agricultural dinner and the speech of my
personage. My sensibility on the subject of my writings is so
great that sometimes a chance word is sufficient to unman me, I
apply it to them in a superstitious sense; for example, when you
said some time ago that the dark hour was coming on, I applied it
to my works--it appeared to bode them evil fortune; you saw how I
touched, it was to baffle the evil chance; but I do not confine
myself to touching when the fear of the evil chance is upon me. To
baffle it I occasionally perform actions which must appear highly
incomprehensible; I have been known, when riding in company with
other people, to leave the direct road, and make a long circuit by
a miry lane to the place to which we were going. I have also been
seen attempting to ride across a morass, where I had no business
whatever, and in which my horse finally sank up to its saddle-
girths, and was only extricated by the help of a multitude of
hands. I have, of course, frequently been asked the reason of such
conduct, to which I have invariably returned no answer, for I scorn
duplicity; whereupon people have looked mysteriously, and sometimes
put their fingers to their foreheads. "And yet it can't be," I
once heard an old gentleman say; "don't we know what he is capable
of?" and the old man was right; I merely did these things to avoid
the evil chance, impelled by the strange feeling within me; and
this evil chance is invariably connected with my writings, the only
things at present which render life valuable to me. If I touch
various objects, and ride into miry places, it is to baffle any
mischance befalling me as an author, to prevent my books getting
into disrepute; in nine cases out of ten to prevent any
expressions, thoughts, or situations in any work which I am writing
from resembling the thoughts, expressions, and situations of other
authors, for my great wish, as I told you before, is to be
'I have now related my history, and have revealed to you the
secrets of my inmost bosom. I should certainly not have spoken so
unreservedly as I have done, had I not discovered in you a kindred
spirit. I have long wished for an opportunity of discoursing on
the point which forms the peculiar feature of my history with a
being who could understand me; and truly it was a lucky chance
which brought you to these parts; you who seem to be acquainted
with all things strange and singular, and who are as well
acquainted with the subject of the magic touch as with all that
relates to the star Jupiter or the mysterious tree at Upsal.'
Such was the story which my host related to me in the library,
amidst the darkness, occasionally broken by flashes of lightning.
Both of us remained silent for some time after it was concluded.
'It is a singular story,' said I, at last, 'though I confess that I
was prepared for some part of it. Will you permit me to ask you a
'Certainly,' said my host.
'Did you never speak in public?' said I.
'And when you made this speech of yours in the dining-room,
commencing with Mr. Speaker, no one was present?'
'None in the world, I double-locked the door; what do you mean?'
'An idea came into my head--dear me how the rain is pouring--but,
with respect to your present troubles and anxieties, would it not
be wise, seeing that authorship causes you so much trouble and
anxiety, to give it up altogether?'
'Were you an author yourself,' replied my host, 'you would not talk
in this manner; once an author, ever an author--besides, what could
I do? return to my former state of vegetation? no, much as I
endure, I do not wish that; besides, every now and then my reason
tells me that these troubles and anxieties of mine are utterly
without; foundation that whatever I write is the legitimate growth
of my own mind, and that it is the height of folly to afflict
myself at any chance resemblance between my own thoughts and those
of other writers, such resemblance being inevitable from the fact
of our common human origin. In short--'
'I understand you,' said I; 'notwithstanding your troubles and
anxieties you find life very tolerable; has your originality ever
been called in question?'
'On the contrary, every one declares that originality constitutes
the most remarkable feature of my writings; the man has some
faults, they say, but want of originality is certainly not one of
them. He is quite different from others--a certain newspaper, it
is true, the--I think, once insinuated that in a certain work of
mine I had taken a hint or two from the writings of a couple of
authors which it mentioned; it happened, however, that I had never
even read one syllable of the writings of either, and of one of
them had never even heard the name; so much for the discrimination
of the -. By the bye, what a rascally newspaper that is!'
'A very rascally newspaper,' said I.
Disturbed slumbers--The bed-post--Two wizards--What can I do?--Real
library--The Rev. Mr. Platitude--Toleration to Dissenters--Paradox-
-Sword of St. Peter--Enemy to humbug--High principles--False
concord--The damsel--What religion?--Further conversation--That
would never do!--May you prosper.
During the greater part of that night my slumbers were disturbed by
strange dreams. Amongst other things, I fancied that I was my
host; my head appeared to be teeming with wild thoughts and
imaginations, out of which I was endeavouring to frame a book. And
now the book was finished and given to the world, and the world
shouted; and all eyes were turned upon me, and I shrank from the
eyes of the world. And, when I got into retired places, I touched
various objects in order to baffle the evil chance. In short,
during the whole night, I was acting over the story which I had
heard before I went to bed.
At about eight o'clock I awoke. The storm had long since passed
away, and the morning was bright and shining; my couch was so soft
and luxurious that I felt loth to quit it, so I lay some time, my
eyes wandering about the magnificent room to which fortune had
conducted me in so singular a manner; at last I heaved a sigh; I
was thinking of my own homeless condition, and imagining where I
should find myself on the following morning. Unwilling, however,
to indulge in melancholy thoughts, I sprang out of bed and
proceeded to dress myself, and, whilst dressing, I felt an
irresistible inclination to touch the bed-post.
I finished dressing and left the room, feeling compelled, however,
as I left it, to touch the lintel of the door. Is it possible,
thought I, that from what I have lately heard the long-forgotten
influence should have possessed me again? but I will not give way
to it; so I hurried downstairs, resisting as I went a certain
inclination which I occasionally felt to touch the rail of the
banister. I was presently upon the gravel walk before the house:
it was indeed a glorious morning. I stood for some time observing
the golden fish disporting in the waters of the pond, and then
strolled about amongst the noble trees of the park; the beauty and
freshness of the morning--for the air had been considerably cooled
by the late storm--soon enabled me to cast away the gloomy ideas
which had previously taken possession of my mind, and, after a
stroll of about half an hour, I returned towards the house in high
spirits. It is true that once I felt very much inclined to go and
touch the leaves of a flowery shrub which I saw at some distance,
and had even moved two or three paces towards it; but, bethinking
myself, I manfully resisted the temptation. 'Begone!' I exclaimed,
'ye sorceries, in which I formerly trusted--begone for ever
vagaries which I had almost forgotten; good luck is not to be
obtained, or bad averted, by magic touches; besides, two wizards in
one parish would be too much, in all conscience.'
I returned to the house, and entered the library; breakfast was
laid on the table, and my friend was standing before the portrait
which I have already said hung above the mantelpiece; so intently
was he occupied in gazing at it that he did not hear me enter, nor
was aware of my presence till I advanced close to him and spoke,
when he turned round and shook me by the hand.
'What can possibly have induced you to hang up that portrait in
your library? it is a staring likeness, it is true, but it appears
to me a wretched daub.'
'Daub as you call it,' said my friend, smiling, 'I would not part
with it for the best piece of Rafael. For many a happy thought I
am indebted to that picture--it is my principal source of
inspiration; when my imagination flags, as of course it
occasionally does, I stare upon those features, and forthwith
strange ideas of fun and drollery begin to flow into my mind; these
I round, amplify, or combine into goodly creations, and bring forth
as I find an opportunity. It is true that I am occasionally
tormented by the thought that, by doing this, I am committing
plagiarism; though, in that case, all thoughts must be plagiarisms,
all that we think being the result of what we hear, see, or feel.
What can I do? I must derive my thoughts from some source or
other; and, after all, it is better to plagiarise from the features
of my landlord than from the works of Butler and Cervantes. My
works, as you are aware, are of a serio-comic character. My
neighbours are of opinion that I am a great reader, and so I am,
but only of those features--my real library is that picture.'
'But how did you obtain it?' said I.
'Some years ago a travelling painter came into this neighbourhood,
and my jolly host, at the request of his wife, consented to sit for
his portrait; she highly admired the picture, but she soon died,
and then my fat friend, who is of an affectionate disposition, said
he could not bear the sight of it, as it put him in mind of his
poor wife. I purchased it of him for five pounds--I would not take
five thousand for it; when you called that picture a daub, you did
not see all the poetry of it.'
We sat down to breakfast; my entertainer appeared to be in much
better spirits than on the preceding day; I did not observe him
touch once; ere breakfast was over a servant entered--'The Reverend
Mr. Platitude, sir,' said he.
A shade of dissatisfaction came over the countenance of my host.
'What does the silly pestilent fellow mean by coming here?' said
he, half to himself; 'let him come in,' said he to the servant.
The servant went out, and in a moment reappeared, introducing the
Reverend Mr. Platitude. The Reverend Mr. Platitude, having what is
vulgarly called a game leg, came shambling into the room; he was
about thirty years of age, and about five feet three inches high;
his face was of the colour of pepper, and nearly as rugged as a
nutmeg-grater; his hair was black; with his eyes he squinted, and
grinned with his lips, which were very much apart, disclosing two
very irregular rows of teeth; he was dressed in the true Levitical
fashion, in a suit of spotless black, and a neckerchief of spotless
The Reverend Mr. Platitude advanced winking and grinning to my
entertainer, who received him politely but with evident coldness;
nothing daunted, however, the Reverend Mr. Platitude took a seat by
the table, and, being asked to take a cup of coffee, winked,
grinned, and consented.
In company I am occasionally subject to fits of what is generally
called absence; my mind takes flight and returns to former scenes,
or presses forward into the future. One of these fits of absence
came over me at this time--I looked at the Reverend Mr. Platitude
for a moment, heard a word or two that proceeded from his mouth,
and saying to myself, 'You are no man for me,' fell into a fit of
musing--into the same train of thought as in the morning, no very
pleasant one--I was thinking of the future.
I continued in my reverie for some time, and probably should have
continued longer, had I not been suddenly aroused by the voice of
Mr. Platitude raised to a very high key. 'Yes, my dear sir,' said
he, 'it is but too true; I have it on good authority--a gone
church--a lost church--a ruined church--a demolished church is the
Church of England. Toleration to Dissenters!--oh, monstrous!'
'I suppose,' said my host, 'that the repeal of the Test Acts will
be merely a precursor of the emancipation of the Papists?'
'Of the Catholics,' said the Reverend Mr. Platitude. 'Ahem. There
was a time, as I believe you are aware, my dear sir, when I was as
much opposed to the emancipation of the Catholics as it was
possible for any one to be; but I was prejudiced, my dear sir,
labouring under a cloud of most unfortunate prejudice; but I thank
my Maker I am so no longer. I have travelled, as you are aware.
It is only by travelling that one can rub off prejudices; I think
you will agree with me there. I am speaking to a traveller. I
left behind all my prejudices in Italy. The Catholics are at least
our fellow-Christians. I thank Heaven that I am no longer an enemy
to Catholic emancipation.'
'And yet you would not tolerate Dissenters?'
'Dissenters, my dear sir; I hope you would not class such a set as
the Dissenters with Catholics?'
'Perhaps it would be unjust,' said my host, 'though to which of the
two parties is another thing; but permit me to ask you a question:
Does it not smack somewhat of paradox to talk of Catholics, whilst
you admit there are Dissenters? If there are Dissenters, how
should there be Catholics?'
'It is not my fault that there are Dissenters,' said the Reverend
Mr. Platitude; 'if I had my will I would neither admit there were
any, nor permit any to be.'
'Of course you would admit there were such as long as they existed;
but how would you get rid of them?'
'I would have the Church exert its authority.'
'What do you mean by exerting its authority?'
'I would not have the Church bear the sword in vain.'
'What, the sword of St. Peter? You remember what the founder of
the religion which you profess said about the sword, "He who
striketh with it . . . " I think those who have called themselves
the Church have had enough of the sword. Two can play with the
sword, Mr. Platitude. The Church of Rome tried the sword with the
Lutherans: how did it fare with the Church of Rome? The Church of
England tried the sword, Mr. Platitude, with the Puritans: how did
it fare with Laud and Charles?'
'Oh, as for the Church of England,' said Mr. Platitude, 'I have
little to say. Thank God, I left all my Church of England
prejudices in Italy. Had the Church of England known its true
interests, it would long ago have sought a reconciliation with its
illustrious mother. If the Church of England had not been in some
degree a schismatic church, it would not have fared so ill at the
time of which you are speaking; the rest of the Church would have
come to its assistance. The Irish would have helped it, so would
the French, so would the Portuguese. Disunion has always been the
bane of the Church.'
Once more I fell into a reverie. My mind now reverted to the past;
methought I was in a small comfortable room wainscoted with oak; I
was seated on one side of a fireplace, close by a table on which
were wine and fruit; on the other side of the fire sat a man in a
plain suit of brown, with the hair combed back from his somewhat
high forehead; he had a pipe in his mouth, which for some time he
smoked gravely and placidly, without saying a word; at length,
after drawing at the pipe for some time rather vigorously, he
removed it from his mouth, and, emitting an accumulated cloud of
smoke, he exclaimed in a slow and measured tone, 'As I was telling
you just now, my good chap, I have always been an enemy to humbug.'
When I awoke from my reverie the Reverend Mr. Platitude was
quitting the apartment.
'Who is that person?' said I to my entertainer, as the door closed
'Who is he?' said my host; 'why, the Reverend Mr. Platitude.'
'Does he reside in this neighbourhood?'
'He holds a living about three miles from here; his history, as far
as I am acquainted with it, is as follows. His father was a
respectable tanner in the neighbouring town, who, wishing to make
his son a gentleman, sent him to college. Having never been at
college myself, I cannot say whether he took the wisest course; I
believe it is more easy to unmake than to make a gentleman; I have
known many gentlemanly youths go to college, and return anything
but what they went. Young Mr. Platitude did not go to college a
gentleman, but neither did he return one: he went to college an
ass, and returned a prig; to his original folly was superadded a
vast quantity of conceit. He told his father that he had adopted
high principles, and was determined to discountenance everything
low and mean; advised him to eschew trade, and to purchase him a
living. The old man retired from business, purchased his son a
living, and shortly after died, leaving him what remained of his
fortune. The first thing the Reverend Mr. Platitude did, after his
father's decease, was to send his mother and sister into Wales to
live upon a small annuity, assigning as a reason that he was averse
to anything low, and that they talked ungrammatically. Wishing to
shine in the pulpit, he now preached high sermons, as he called
them, interspersed with scraps of learning. His sermons did not,
however, procure him much popularity; on the contrary, his church
soon became nearly deserted, the greater part of his flock going
over to certain dissenting preachers, who had shortly before made
their appearance in the neighbourhood. Mr. Platitude was filled
with wrath, and abused Dissenters in most unmeasured terms. Coming
in contact with some of the preachers at a public meeting, he was
rash enough to enter into argument with them. Poor Platitude! he
had better have been quiet, he appeared like a child, a very
infant, in their grasp; he attempted to take shelter under his
college learning, but found, to his dismay, that his opponents knew
more Greek and Latin than himself. These illiterate boors, as he
had supposed them, caught him at once in a false concord, and Mr.
Platitude had to slink home overwhelmed with shame. To avenge
himself he applied to the ecclesiastical court, but was told that
the Dissenters could not be put down by the present ecclesiastical
law. He found the Church of England, to use his own expression, a
poor, powerless, restricted Church. He now thought to improve his
consequence by marriage, and made up to a rich and beautiful young
lady in the neighbourhood; the damsel measured him from head to
foot with a pair of very sharp eyes, dropped a curtsey, and refused
him. Mr. Platitude, finding England a very stupid place,
determined to travel; he went to Italy; how he passed his time
there he knows best, to other people it is a matter of little
importance. At the end of two years he returned with a real or
assumed contempt for everything English, and especially for the
Church to which he belongs, and out of which he is supported. He
forthwith gave out that he had left behind him all his Church of
England prejudices, and, as a proof thereof, spoke against
sacerdotal wedlock and the toleration of schismatics. In an evil
hour for myself he was introduced to me by a clergyman of my
acquaintance, and from that time I have been pestered, as I was
this morning, at least once a week. I seldom enter into any
discussion with him, but fix my eyes on the portrait over the
mantelpiece, and endeavour to conjure up some comic idea or
situation, whilst he goes on talking tomfoolery by the hour about
Church authority, schismatics, and the unlawfulness of sacerdotal
wedlock; occasionally he brings with him a strange kind of being,
whose acquaintance he says he made in Italy; I believe he is some
sharking priest who has come over to proselytise and plunder. This
being has some powers of conversation and some learning, but
carries the countenance of an arch villain; Platitude is evidently
'Of what religion are you?' said I to my host.
'That of the Vicar of Wakefield--good, quiet, Church of England,
which would live and let live, practises charity, and rails at no
one; where the priest is the husband of one wife, takes care of his
family and his parish--such is the religion for me, though I
confess I have hitherto thought too little of religious matters.
When, however, I have completed this plaguy work on which I am
engaged, I hope to be able to devote more attention to them.'
After some further conversation, the subjects being, if I remember
right, college education, priggism, church authority, tomfoolery,
and the like, I rose and said to my host, 'I must now leave you.'
'Whither are you going?'
'I do not know.'
'Stay here, then--you shall be welcome as many days, months, and
years as you please to stay.'
'Do you think I would hang upon another man? No, not if he were
Emperor of all the Chinas. I will now make my preparations, and
then bid you farewell.'
I retired to my apartment and collected the handful of things which
I carried with me on my travels.
'I will walk a little way with you,' said my friend on my return.
He walked with me to the park gate; neither of us said anything by
the way. When we had come upon the road, I said, 'Farewell now; I
will not permit you to give yourself any further trouble on my
account. Receive my best thanks for your kindness; before we part,
however, I should wish to ask you a question. Do you think you
shall ever grow tired of authorship?'
'I have my fears,' said my friend, advancing his hand to one of the
iron bars of the gate.
'Don't touch,' said I, 'it is a bad habit. I have but one word to
add: should you ever grow tired of authorship follow your first
idea of getting into Parliament; you have words enough at command;
perhaps you want manner and method; but, in that case, you must
apply to a teacher, you must take lessons of a master of
'That would never do!' said my host; 'I know myself too well to
think of applying for assistance to any one. Were I to become a
parliamentary orator, I should wish to be an original one, even if
not above mediocrity. What pleasure should I take in any speech I
might make, however original as to thought, provided the gestures I
employed and the very modulation of my voice were not my own? Take
lessons, indeed! why, the fellow who taught me, the professor,
might be standing in the gallery whilst I spoke; and, at the best
parts of my speech, might say to himself, "That gesture is mine--
that modulation is mine." I could not bear the thought of such a
'Farewell,' said I, 'and may you prosper. I have nothing more to
I departed. At the distance of twenty yards I turned round
suddenly; my friend was just withdrawing his finger from the bar of
'He has been touching,' said I, as I proceeded on my way; 'I wonder
what was the evil chance he wished to baffle.'
Elastic step--Disconsolate party--Not the season--Mend your
draught--Good ale--Crotchet--Hammer and tongs--Schoolmaster--True
Eden life--Flaming Tinman--Twice my size--Hard at work--My poor
wife--Grey Moll--A Bible--Half-and-half--What to do--Half inclined-
-In no time--On one condition--Don't stare--Like the wind.
After walking some time, I found myself on the great road, at the
same spot where I had turned aside the day before with my new-made
acquaintance, in the direction of his house. I now continued my
journey as before, towards the north. The weather, though
beautiful, was much cooler than it had been for some time past; I
walked at a great rate, with a springing and elastic step. In
about two hours I came to where a kind of cottage stood a little
way back from the road, with a huge oak before it, under the shade
of which stood a little pony and a cart, which seemed to contain
various articles. I was going past--when I saw scrawled over the
door of the cottage, 'Good beer sold here'; upon which, feeling
myself all of a sudden very thirsty, I determined to go in and
taste the beverage.
I entered a well-sanded kitchen, and seated myself on a bench, on
one side of a long white table; the other side, which was nearest
to the wall, was occupied by a party, or rather family, consisting
of a grimy-looking man, somewhat under the middle size, dressed in
faded velveteens, and wearing a leather apron--a rather pretty-
looking woman, but sun-burnt, and meanly dressed, and two ragged
children, a boy and girl, about four or five years old. The man
sat with his eyes fixed upon the table, supporting his chin with
both his hands; the woman, who was next him, sat quite still, save
that occasionally she turned a glance upon her husband with eyes
that appeared to have been lately crying. The children had none of
the vivacity so general at their age. A more disconsolate family I
had never seen; a mug, which, when filled, might contain half a
pint, stood empty before them; a very disconsolate party indeed.
'House!' said I; 'House!' and then, as nobody appeared, I cried
again as loud as I could, 'House! do you hear me, House!'
'What's your pleasure, young man?' said an elderly woman, who now
made her appearance from a side apartment.
'To taste your ale,' said I.
'How much?' said the woman, stretching out her hand towards the
empty mug upon the table.
'The largest measure-full in your house,' said I, putting back her
hand gently. 'This is not the season for half-pint mugs.'
'As you will, young man,' said the landlady; and presently brought
in an earthen pitcher which might contain about three pints, and
which foamed and frothed withal.
'Will this pay for it?' said I, putting down sixpence.
'I have to return you a penny,' said the landlady, putting her hand
into her pocket.
'I want no change,' said I, flourishing my hand with an air.
'As you please, young gentleman,' said the landlady, and then,
making a kind of curtsey, she again retired to the side apartment.
'Here is your health, sir,' said I to the grimy-looking man, as I
raised the pitcher to my lips.
The tinker, for such I supposed him to be, without altering his
posture, raised his eyes, looked at me for a moment, gave a slight
nod, and then once more fixed his eyes upon the table. I took a
draught of the ale, which I found excellent; 'Won't you drink?'
said I, holding the pitcher to the tinker.
The man again lifted up his eyes, looked at me, and then at the
pitcher, and then at me again. I thought at one time that he was
about to shake his head in sign of refusal; but no, he looked once
more at the pitcher, and the temptation was too strong. Slowly
removing his head from his arms, he took the pitcher, sighed,
nodded, and drank a tolerable quantity, and then set the pitcher
down before me upon the table.
'You had better mend your draught,' said I to the tinker; 'it is a
sad heart that never rejoices.'
'That's true,' said the tinker, and again raising the pitcher to
his lips, he mended his draught as I had bidden him, drinking a
larger quantity than before.
'Pass it to your wife,' said I.
The poor woman took the pitcher from the man's hand; before,
however, raising it to her lips, she looked at the children. True
mother's heart, thought I to myself, and taking the half-pint mug,
I made her fill it, and then held it to the children, causing each
to take a draught. The woman wiped her eyes with the corner of her
gown, before she raised the pitcher and drank to my health.
In about five minutes none of the family looked half so
disconsolate as before, and the tinker and I were in deep
Oh, genial and gladdening is the power of good ale, the true and
proper drink of Englishmen. He is not deserving of the name of
Englishman who speaketh against ale, that is good ale, like that
which has just made merry the hearts of this poor family; and yet
there are beings, calling themselves Englishmen, who say that it is
a sin to drink a cup of ale, and who, on coming to this passage
will be tempted to fling down the book and exclaim, 'The man is
evidently a bad man, for behold, by his own confession, he is not
only fond of ale himself, but is in the habit of tempting other
people with it.' Alas! alas! what a number of silly individuals
there are in this world; I wonder what they would have had me do in
this instance--given the afflicted family a cup of cold water? go
to! They could have found water in the road, for there was a
pellucid spring only a few yards distant from the house, as they
were well aware--but they wanted not water; what should I have
given them? meat and bread? go to! They were not hungry; there was
stifled sobbing in their bosoms, and the first mouthful of strong
meat would have choked them. What should I have given them?
Money! what right had I to insult them by offering them money?
Advice! words, words, words; friends, there is a time for
everything; there is a time for a cup of cold water; there is a
time for strong meat and bread; there is a time for advice, and
there is a time for ale; and I have generally found that the time
for advice is after a cup of ale. I do not say many cups; the
tongue then speaketh more smoothly, and the ear listeneth more
benignantly; but why do I attempt to reason with you? do I not know
you for conceited creatures, with one idea--and that a foolish
one;--a crotchet, for the sake of which ye would sacrifice
anything, religion if required--country? There, fling down my
book, I do not wish ye to walk any farther in my company, unless
you cast your nonsense away, which ye will never do, for it is the
breath of your nostrils; fling down my book, it was not written to
support a crotchet, for know one thing, my good people, I have
invariably been an enemy to humbug.
'Well,' said the tinker, after we had discoursed some time, 'little
thought, when I first saw you, that you were of my own trade.'
Myself. Nor am I, at least not exactly. There is not much
difference, 'tis true, between a tinker and a smith.
Tinker. You are a whitesmith then?
Myself. Not I, I'd scorn to be anything so mean; no, friend,
black's the colour; I am a brother of the horse-shoe. Success to
the hammer and tongs.
Tinker. Well, I shouldn't have thought you had been a blacksmith
by your hands.
Myself. I have seen them, however, as black as yours. The truth
is, I have not worked for many a day.
Tinker. Where did you serve first?
Myself. In Ireland.
Tinker. That's a good way off, isn't it?
Myself. Not very far; over those mountains to the left, and the
run of salt water that lies behind them, there's Ireland.
Tinker. It's a fine thing to be a scholar.
Myself. Not half so fine as to be a tinker.
Tinker. How you talk!
Myself. Nothing but the truth; what can be better than to be one's
own master? Now a tinker is his own master, a scholar is not. Let
us suppose the best of scholars, a schoolmaster for example, for I
suppose you will admit that no one can be higher in scholarship
than a schoolmaster; do you call his a pleasant life? I don't; we
should call him a school-slave, rather than a schoolmaster. Only
conceive him in blessed weather like this, in his close school,
teaching children to write in copy-books, 'Evil communication
corrupts good manners,' or 'You cannot touch pitch without
defilement,' or to spell out of Abedariums, or to read out of Jack
Smith, or Sandford and Merton. Only conceive him, I say, drudging
in such guise from morning till night, without any rational
enjoyment but to beat the children. Would you compare such a dog's
life as that with your own--the happiest under heaven--true Eden
life, as the Germans would say,--pitching your tent under the
pleasant hedgerows, listening to the song of the feathered tribes,
collecting all the leaky kettles in the neighbourhood, soldering
and joining, earning your honest bread by the wholesome sweat of
your brow--making ten holes--hey, what's this? what's the man
Suddenly the tinker had covered his face with his hands, and begun
to sob and moan like a man in the deepest distress; the breast of
his wife was heaved with emotion; even the children were agitated,
the youngest began to roar.
Myself. What's the matter with you; what are you all crying about?
Tinker (uncovering his face). Lord, why to hear you talk; isn't
that enough to make anybody cry--even the poor babes? Yes, you
said right, 'tis life in the garden of Eden--the tinker's; I see so
now that I'm about to give it up.
Myself. Give it up! you must not think of such a thing.
Tinker. No, I can't bear to think of it, and yet I must; what's to
be done? How hard to be frightened to death, to be driven off the
Myself. Who has driven you off the roads?
Tinker. Who! the Flaming Tinman.
Myself. Who is he?
Tinker. The biggest rogue in England, and the cruellest, or he
wouldn't have served me as he has done--I'll tell you all about it.
I was born upon the roads, and so was my father before me, and my
mother too; and I worked with them as long as they lived, as a
dutiful child, for I have nothing to reproach myself with on their
account; and when my father died I took up the business, and went
his beat, and supported my mother for the little time she lived;
and when she died I married this young woman, who was not born upon
the roads, but was a small tradesman's daughter, at Gloster. She
had a kindness for me, and, notwithstanding her friends were
against the match, she married the poor tinker, and came to live
with him upon the roads. Well, young man, for six or seven years
I--as the happiest fellow breathing, living just the life you
described just now--respected by everybody in this beat; when in an
evil hour comes this Black Jack, this flaming tinman, into these
parts, driven as they say out of Yorkshire--for no good you may be
sure. Now there is no beat will support two tinkers, as you
doubtless know; mine was a good one, but it would not support the
flying tinker and myself, though if it would have supported twenty
it would have been all the same to the flying villain, who'll brook
no one but himself; so he presently finds me out, and offers to
fight me for the beat. Now, being bred upon the roads, I can fight
a little, that is with anything like my match, but I was not going
to fight him, who happens to be twice my size, and so I told him;
whereupon he knocks me down, and would have done me farther
mischief had not some men been nigh and prevented him; so he
threatened to cut my throat, and went his way. Well, I did not
like such usage at all, and was woundily frightened, and tried to
keep as much out of his way as possible, going anywhere but where I
thought I was likely to meet him; and sure enough for several
months I contrived to keep out of his way. At last somebody told
me that he was gone back to Yorkshire, whereupon I was glad at
heart, and ventured to show myself, going here and there as I did
before. Well, young man, it was yesterday that I and mine set
ourselves down in a lane, about five miles from here, and lighted
our fire, and had our dinner, and after dinner I sat down to mend
three kettles and a frying pan which the people in the
neighbourhood had given me to mend--for, as I told you before, I
have a good connection, owing to my honesty. Well, as I sat there
hard at work, happy as the day's long, and thinking of anything but
what was to happen, who should come up but this Black Jack, this
king of the tinkers, rattling along in his cart, with his wife,
that they call Grey Moll, by his side--for the villain has got a
wife, and a maid-servant too; the last I never saw, but they that
has, says that she is as big as a house, and young, and well to
look at, which can't be all said of Moll, who, though she's big
enough in all conscience, is neither young nor handsome. Well, no
sooner does he see me and mine, than, giving the reins to Grey
Moll, he springs out of his cart, and comes straight at me; not a
word did he say, but on he comes straight at me like a wild bull.
I am a quiet man, young fellow, but I saw now that quietness would
be of no use, so I sprang up upon my legs, and being bred upon the
roads, and able to fight a little, I squared as he came running in
upon me, and had a round or two with him. Lord bless you, young
man, it was like a fly fighting with an elephant--one of those big
beasts the show-folks carry about. I had not a chance with the
fellow, he knocked me here, he knocked me there, knocked me into
the hedge, and knocked me out again. I was at my last shifts, and
my poor wife saw it. Now my poor wife, though she is as gentle as
a pigeon, has yet a spirit of her own, and though she wasn't bred
upon the roads, can scratch a little; so when she saw me at my last
shifts, she flew at the villain--she couldn't bear to see her
partner murdered--and scratched the villain's face. Lord bless
you, young man, she had better have been quiet: Grey Moll no
sooner saw what she was about, than, springing out of the cart,
where she had sat all along perfectly quiet, save a little whooping
and screeching to encourage her blade:- Grey Moll, I say (my flesh
creeps when I think of it--for I am a kind husband, and love my
poor wife) . . .
Myself. Take another draught of the ale; you look frightened, and
it will do you good. Stout liquor makes stout heart, as the man
says in the play.
Tinker. That's true, young man; here's to you--where was I? Grey
Moll no sooner saw what my wife was about, than, springing out of
the cart, she flew at my poor wife, clawed off her bonnet in a
moment, and seized hold of her hair. Lord bless you, young man, my
poor wife, in the hands of Grey Moll, was nothing better than a
pigeon in the claws of a buzzard hawk, or I in the hands of the
Flaming Tinman, which when I saw, my heart was fit to burst, and I
determined to give up everything--everything to save my poor wife
out of Grey Moll's claws. 'Hold!' I shouted. 'Hold, both of you--
Jack, Moll. Hold, both of you, for God's sake, and I'll do what
you will: give up trade, and business, connection, bread, and
everything, never more travel the roads, and go down on my knees to
you in the bargain.' Well, this had some effect; Moll let go my
wife, and the Blazing Tinman stopped for a moment; it was only for
a moment, however, that he left off--all of a sudden he hit me a
blow which sent me against a tree; and what did the villain then?
why the flying villain seized me by the throat, and almost
throttled me, roaring--what do you think, young man, that the
flaming villain roared out?
Myself. I really don't know--something horrible, I suppose.
Tinker. Horrible, indeed; you may well say horrible, young man;
neither more nor less than the Bible--'A Bible, a Bible!' roared
the Blazing Tinman; and he pressed my throat so hard against the
tree that my senses began to dwaul away--a Bible, a Bible, still
ringing in my ears. Now, young man, my poor wife is a Christian
woman, and, though she travels the roads, carries a Bible with her
at the bottom of her sack, with which sometimes she teaches the
children to read--it was the only thing she brought with her from
the place of her kith and kin, save her own body and the clothes on
her back; so my poor wife, half distracted, runs to her sack, pulls
out the Bible, and puts it into the hand of the Blazing Tinman, who
then thrusts the end of it into my mouth with such fury that it
made my lips bleed, and broke short one of my teeth which happened
to be decayed. 'Swear,' said he, 'swear, you mumping villain, take
your Bible oath that you will quit and give up the beat altogether,
or I'll--and then the hard-hearted villain made me swear by the
Bible, and my own damnation, half-throttled as I was, to--to--I
can't go on -
Myself. Take another draught--stout liquor -
Tinker. I can't, young man, my heart's too full, and what's more,
the pitcher is empty.
Myself. And so he swore you, I suppose, on the Bible, to quit the
Tinker. You are right, he did so, the gypsy villain.
Myself. Gypsy! Is he a gypsy?
Tinker. Not exactly; what they call a half-and-half. His father
was a gypsy, and his mother, like mine, one who walked the roads.
Myself. Is he of the Smiths--the Petulengres?
Tinker. I say, young man, you know a thing or two; one would
think, to hear you talk, you had been bred upon the roads. I
thought none but those bred upon the roads knew anything of that
name--Petulengres! No, not he, he fights the Petulengres whenever
he meets them; he likes nobody but himself, and wants to be king of
the roads. I believe he is a Boss, or a--at any rate he's a bad
one, as I know to my cost.
Myself. And what are you going to do?
Tinker. Do! you may well ask that; I don't know what to do. My
poor wife and I have been talking of that all the morning, over
that half-pint mug of beer; we can't determine on what's to be
done. All we know is, that we must quit the roads. The villain
swore that the next time he saw us on the roads he'd cut all our
throats, and seize our horse and bit of a cart that are now
standing out there under the tree.
Myself. And what do you mean to do with your horse and cart?
Tinker. Another question! What shall we do with our cart and
pony? they are of no use to us now. Stay on the roads I will not,
both for my oath's sake and my own. If we had a trifle of money,
we were thinking of going to Bristol, where I might get up a little
business, but we have none; our last three farthings we spent about
the mug of beer.
Myself. But why don't you sell your horse and cart?
Tinker. Sell them! and who would buy them, unless some one who
wished to set up in my line; but there's no beat, and what's the
use of the horse and cart and the few tools without the beat?
Myself. I'm half inclined to buy your cart and pony, and your beat
Tinker. You! How came you to think of such a thing?
Myself. Why, like yourself, I hardly know what to do. I want a
home and work. As for a home, I suppose I can contrive to make a
home out of your tent and cart; and as for work, I must learn to be
a tinker, it would not be hard for one of my trade to learn to
tinker; what better can I do? Would you have me go to Chester and
work there now? I don't like the thoughts of it. If I go to
Chester and work there, I can't be my own man; I must work under a
master, and perhaps he and I should quarrel, and when I quarrel I
am apt to hit folks, and those that hit folks are sometimes sent to
prison; I don't like the thought either of going to Chester or to
Chester prison. What do you think I could earn at Chester?
Tinker. A matter of eleven shillings a week, if anybody would
employ you, which I don't think they would with those hands of
yours. But whether they would or not, if you are of a quarrelsome
nature you must not go to Chester; you would be in the castle in no
time. I don't know how to advise you. As for selling you my
stock, I'd see you farther first, for your own sake.
Tinker. Why! you would get your head knocked off. Suppose you
were to meet him?
Myself. Pooh, don't be afraid on my account; if I were to meet him
I could easily manage him one way or other. I know all kinds of
strange words and names, and, as I told you before, I sometimes hit
people when they put me out.
Here the tinker's wife, who for some minutes past had been
listening attentively to our discourse, interposed, saying, in a
low soft tone: 'I really don't see, John, why you shouldn't sell
the young man the things, seeing that he wishes for them, and is so
confident; you have told him plainly how matters stand, and if
anything ill should befall him, people couldn't lay the blame on
you; but I don't think any ill will befall him, and who knows but
God has sent him to our assistance in time of need?'
'I'll hear of no such thing,' said the tinker; 'I have drunk at the
young man's expense, and though he says he's quarrelsome, I would
not wish to sit in pleasanter company. A pretty fellow I should
be, now, if I were to let him follow his own will. If he once sets
up on my beat, he's a lost man, his ribs will be stove in, and his
head knocked off his shoulders. There, you are crying, but you
shan't have your will though; I won't be the young man's
destruction . . . If, indeed, I thought he could manage the tinker-
-but he never can; he says he can hit, but it's no use hitting the
tinker,--crying still! you are enough to drive one mad. I say,
young man, I believe you understand a thing or two, just now you
were talking of knowing hard words and names--I don't wish to send
you to your mischief--you say you know hard words and names; let us
see. Only on one condition I'll sell you the pony and things; as
for the beat it's gone, isn't mine--sworn away by my own mouth.
Tell me what's my name; if you can't, may I--'
Myself. Don't swear, it's a bad habit, neither pleasant nor
profitable. Your name is Slingsby--Jack Slingsby. There, don't
stare, there's nothing in my telling you your name: I've been in
these parts before, at least not very far from here. Ten years
ago, when I was little more than a child, I was about twenty miles
from here in a post-chaise, at the door of an inn, and as I looked
from the window of the chaise, I saw you standing by a gutter, with
a big tin ladle in your hand, and somebody called you Jack
Slingsby. I never forget anything I hear or see; I can't, I wish I
could. So there's nothing strange in my knowing your name; indeed,
there's nothing strange in anything, provided you examine it to the
bottom. Now what am I to give you for the things?
I paid Slingsby five pounds ten shillings for his stock in trade,
cart, and pony--purchased sundry provisions of the landlady, also a
wagoner's frock, which had belonged to a certain son of hers,
deceased, gave my little animal a feed of corn, and prepared to
'God bless you, young man,' said Slingsby, shaking me by the hand;
'you are the best friend I've had for many a day: I have but one
thing to tell you, Don't cross that fellow's path if you can help
it; and stay--should the pony refuse to go, just touch him so, and
he'll fly like the wind.'
Effects of corn--One night longer--The hoofs--A stumble--Are you
hurt?--What a difference--Drowsy--Maze of bushes--Housekeeping--
Sticks and furze--The driftway--Account of stock--Anvil and
It was two or three hours past noon when I took my departure from
the place of the last adventure, walking by the side of my little
cart; the pony, invigorated by the corn, to which he was probably
not much accustomed, proceeded right gallantly; so far from having
to hasten him forward by the particular application which the
tinker had pointed out to me, I had rather to repress his
eagerness, being, though an excellent pedestrian, not unfrequently
left behind. The country through which I passed was beautiful and
interesting, but solitary; few habitations appeared. As it was
quite a matter of indifference to me in what direction I went, the
whole world being before me, I allowed the pony to decide upon the
matter; it was not long before he left the high-road, being
probably no friend to public places. I followed him I knew not
whither, but, from subsequent observation, have reason to suppose
that our course was in a north-west direction. At length night
came upon us, and a cold wind sprang up, which was succeeded by a
I had originally intended to pass the night in the cart, or to
pitch my little tent on some convenient spot by the road's side;
but, owing to the alteration in the weather, I thought that it
would be advisable to take up my quarters in any hedge alehouse at
which I might arrive. To tell the truth, I was not very sorry to
have an excuse to pass the night once more beneath a roof. I had
determined to live quite independent, but I had never before passed
a night by myself abroad, and felt a little apprehensive at the
idea; I hoped, however, on the morrow, to be a little more prepared
for the step, so I determined for one night--only for one night
longer--to sleep like a Christian; but human determinations are not
always put into effect, such a thing as opportunity is frequently
wanting, such was the case here. I went on for a considerable
time, in expectation of coming to some rustic hostelry, but nothing
of the kind presented itself to my eyes; the country in which I now
was seemed almost uninhabited, not a house of any kind was to be
seen--at least I saw none--though it is true houses might be near
without my seeing them, owing to the darkness of the night, for
neither moon nor star was abroad. I heard, occasionally, the bark
of dogs; but the sound appeared to come from an immense distance.
The rain still fell, and the ground beneath my feet was wet and
miry; in short, it was a night in which even a tramper by
profession would feel more comfortable in being housed than abroad.
I followed in the rear of the cart, the pony still proceeding at a
sturdy pace, till methought I heard other hoofs than those of my
own nag; I listened for a moment, and distinctly heard the sound of
hoofs approaching at a great rate, and evidently from the quarter
towards which I and my little caravan were moving. We were in a
dark lane--so dark that it was impossible for me to see my own
hand. Apprehensive that some accident might occur, I ran forward,
and, seizing the pony by the bridle, drew him as near as I could to
the hedge. On came the hoofs--trot, trot, trot; and evidently more
than those of one horse; their speed as they advanced appeared to
slacken--it was only, however, for a moment. I heard a voice cry,
'Push on,--this is a desperate robbing place,--never mind the
dark'; and the hoofs came on quicker than before. 'Stop!' said I,
at the top of my voice; 'stop! or--' Before I could finish what I
was about to say there was a stumble, a heavy fall, a cry, and a
groan, and putting out my foot I felt what I conjectured to be the
head of a horse stretched upon the road. 'Lord have mercy upon us!
what's the matter?' exclaimed a voice. 'Spare my life,' cried
another voice, apparently from the ground; 'only spare my life, and
take all I have.' 'Where are you, Master Wise?' cried the other
voice. 'Help! here, Master Bat,' cried the voice from the ground;
'help me up or I shall be murdered.' 'Why, what's the matter?'
said Bat. 'Some one has knocked me down, and is robbing me,' said
the voice from the ground. 'Help! murder!' cried Bat; and,
regardless of the entreaties of the man on the ground that he would
stay and help him up, he urged his horse forward and galloped away
as fast as he could. I remained for some time quiet, listening to
various groans and exclamations uttered by the person on the
ground; at length I said, 'Holloa! are you hurt?' 'Spare my life,
and take all I have!' said the voice from the ground. 'Have they
not done robbing you yet?' said I; 'when they have finished let me
know, and I will come and help you.' 'Who is that?' said the
voice; 'pray come and help me, and do me no mischief.' 'You were
saying that some one was robbing you,' said I; 'don't think I shall
come till he is gone away.' 'Then you ben't he?' said the voice.
'Aren't you robbed?' said I. 'Can't say I be,' said the voice;
'not yet at any rate; but who are you? I don't know you.' 'A
traveller whom you and your partner were going to run over in this
dark lane; you almost frightened me out of my senses.'
'Frightened!' said the voice, in a louder tone; 'frightened! oh!'
and thereupon I heard somebody getting upon his legs. This
accomplished, the individual proceeded to attend to his horse, and
with a little difficulty raised him upon his legs also. 'Aren't
you hurt?' said I. 'Hurt!' said the voice; 'not I; don't think it,
whatever the horse may be. I tell you what, my fellow, I thought
you were a robber, and now I find you are not; I have a good mind--
' 'To do what?' 'To serve you out; aren't you ashamed--?' 'At
what?' said I; 'not to have robbed you? Shall I set about it now?'
'Ha, ha!' said the man, dropping the bullying tone which he had
assumed; 'you are joking--robbing! who talks of robbing? I wonder
how my horse's knees are; not much hurt, I think--only mired.' The
man, whoever he was, then got upon his horse; and, after moving him
about a little, said, 'Good night, friend; where are you?' 'Here I
am,' said I, 'just behind you.' 'You are, are you? Take that.' I
know not what he did, but probably pricking his horse with the spur
the animal kicked out violently; one of his heels struck me on the
shoulder, but luckily missed my face; I fell back with the violence
of the blow, whilst the fellow scampered off at a great rate.
Stopping at some distance, he loaded me with abuse, and then,
continuing his way at a rapid trot, I heard no more of him.
'What a difference!' said I, getting up; 'last night I was feted in
the hall of a rich genius, and to-night I am knocked down and mired
in a dark lane by the heel of Master Wise's horse--I wonder who
gave him that name? And yet he was wise enough to wreak his
revenge upon me, and I was not wise enough to keep out of his way.
Well, I am not much hurt, so it is of little consequence.'
I now bethought me that, as I had a carriage of my own, I might as
well make use of it; I therefore got into the cart, and, taking the
reins in my hand, gave an encouraging cry to the pony, whereupon
the sturdy little animal started again at as brisk a pace as if he
had not already come many a long mile. I lay half reclining in the
cart, holding the reins lazily, and allowing the animal to go just
where he pleased, often wondering where he would conduct me. At
length I felt drowsy, and my head sank upon my breast; I soon
aroused myself, but it was only to doze again; this occurred
several times. Opening my eyes after a doze somewhat longer than
the others, I found that the drizzling rain had ceased, a corner of
the moon was apparent in the heavens, casting a faint light; I
looked around for a moment or two, but my eyes and brain were heavy
with slumber, and I could scarcely distinguish where we were. I
had a kind of dim consciousness that we were traversing an
uninclosed country--perhaps a heath; I thought, however, that I saw
certain large black objects looming in the distance, which I had a
confused idea might be woods or plantations; the pony still moved
at his usual pace. I did not find the jolting of the cart at all
disagreeable, on the contrary, it had quite a somniferous effect
upon me. Again my eyes closed; I opened them once more, but with
less perception in them than before, looked forward, and, muttering
something about woodlands, I placed myself in an easier posture
than I had hitherto done, and fairly fell asleep.
How long I continued in that state I am unable to say, but I
believe for a considerable time; I was suddenly awakened by the
ceasing of the jolting to which I had become accustomed, and of
which I was perfectly sensible in my sleep. I started up and
looked around me, the moon was still shining, and the face of the
heaven was studded with stars; I found myself amidst a maze of
bushes of various kinds, but principally hazel and holly, through
which was a path or driftway with grass growing on either side,
upon which the pony was already diligently browsing. I conjectured
that this place had been one of the haunts of his former master,
and, on dismounting and looking about, was strengthened in that
opinion by finding a spot under an ash tree which, from its burnt
and blackened appearance, seemed to have been frequently used as a
fireplace. I will take up my quarters here, thought I; it is an
excellent spot for me to commence my new profession in; I was quite
right to trust myself to the guidance of the pony. Unharnessing
the animal without delay, I permitted him to browse at free will on
the grass, convinced that he would not wander far from a place to
which he was so much attached; I then pitched the little tent close
beside the ash tree to which I have alluded, and conveyed two or
three articles into it, and instantly felt that I had commenced
housekeeping for the first time in my life. Housekeeping, however,
without a fire is a very sorry affair, something like the
housekeeping of children in their toy houses; of this I was the
more sensible from feeling very cold and shivering, owing to my
late exposure to the rain, and sleeping in the night air.
Collecting, therefore, all the dry sticks and furze I could find, I
placed them upon the fireplace, adding certain chips and a billet
which I found in the cart, it having apparently been the habit of
Slingsby to carry with him a small store of fuel. Having then
struck a spark in a tinder-box and lighted a match, I set fire to
the combustible heap, and was not slow in raising a cheerful blaze;
I then drew my cart near the fire, and, seating myself on one of
the shafts, hung over the warmth with feelings of intense pleasure
and satisfaction. Having continued in this posture for a
considerable time, I turned my eyes to the heaven in the direction
of a particular star; I, however, could not find the star, nor
indeed many of the starry train, the greater number having fled,
from which circumstance, and from the appearance of the sky, I
concluded that morning was nigh. About this time I again began to
feel drowsy; I therefore arose, and having prepared for myself a
kind of couch in the tent, I flung myself upon it and went to
I will not say that I was awakened in the morning by the carolling
of birds, as I perhaps might if I were writing a novel; I awoke
because, to use vulgar language, I had slept my sleep out, not
because the birds were carolling around me in numbers, as they had
probably been for hours without my hearing them. I got up and left
my tent; the morning was yet more bright than that of the preceding
day. Impelled by curiosity, I walked about endeavouring to
ascertain to what place chance, or rather the pony, had brought me;
following the driftway for some time, amidst bushes and stunted
trees, I came to a grove of dark pines, through which it appeared
to lead; I tracked it a few hundred yards, but seeing nothing but
trees, and the way being wet and sloughy, owing to the recent rain,
I returned on my steps, and, pursuing the path in another
direction, came to a sandy road leading over a common, doubtless
the one I had traversed the preceding night. My curiosity
satisfied, I returned to my little encampment, and on the way
beheld a small footpath on the left winding through the bushes,
which had before escaped my observation. Having reached my tent
and cart, I breakfasted on some of the provisions which I had
procured the day before, and then proceeded to take a regular
account of the stock formerly possessed by Slingsby the tinker, but
now become my own by right of lawful purchase.
Besides the pony, the cart, and the tent, I found I was possessed
of a mattress stuffed with straw on which to lie, and a blanket to
cover me, the last quite clean and nearly new; then there was a
frying-pan and a kettle, the first for cooking any food which
required cooking, and the second for heating any water which I
might wish to heat. I likewise found an earthen teapot and two or
three cups; of the first I should rather say I found the remains,
it being broken in three parts, no doubt since it came into my
possession, which would have precluded the possibility of my asking
anybody to tea for the present, should anybody visit me, even
supposing I had tea and sugar, which was not the case. I then
overhauled what might more strictly be called the stock in trade;
this consisted of various tools, an iron ladle, a chafing-pan and
small bellows, sundry pans and kettles, the latter being of tin,
with the exception of one which was of copper, all in a state of
considerable dilapidation--if I may use the term; of these first
Slingsby had spoken in particular, advising me to mend them as soon
as possible, and to endeavour to sell them, in order that I might
have the satisfaction of receiving some return upon the outlay
which I had made. There was likewise a small quantity of block
tin, sheet tin, and solder. 'This Slingsby,' said I, 'is certainly
a very honest man, he has sold me more than my money's worth; I
believe, however, there is something more in the cart.' Thereupon
I rummaged the farther end of the cart, and, amidst a quantity of
straw, I found a small anvil and bellows of that kind which are
used in forges, and two hammers such as smiths use, one great, and
the other small.
The sight of these last articles caused me no little surprise, as
no word which had escaped from the mouth of Slingsby had given me
reason to suppose that he had ever followed the occupation of a
smith; yet, if he had not, how did he come by them? I sat down
upon the shaft, and pondered the question deliberately in my mind;
at length I concluded that he had come by them by one of those
numerous casualties which occur upon the roads, of which I, being a
young hand upon the roads, must have a very imperfect conception;
honestly, of course--for I scouted the idea that Slingsby would
have stolen this blacksmith's gear--for I had the highest opinion
of his honesty, which opinion I still retain at the present day,
which is upwards of twenty years from the time of which I am
speaking, during the whole of which period I have neither seen the
poor fellow nor received any intelligence of him.
New profession--Beautiful night--Jupiter--Sharp and shrill--The
Rommany chi--All alone--Three-and-sixpence--What is Rommany? Be
civil--Parraco tute--Slight start--She will be grateful--The
I passed the greater part of the day in endeavouring to teach