A Book of Scoundrels by Charles Whibley

Even in his lifetime he was generously styled the Great. The scourge of London, he betrayed and destroyed every man that ever dared to live upon terms of friendship with him. It was Jonathan that made Blueskin a thief, and Jonathan screened his creature from justice only so long as clemency seemed profitable. At the
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  • 1897
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Even in his lifetime he was generously styled the Great. The scourge of London, he betrayed and destroyed every man that ever dared to live upon terms of friendship with him. It was Jonathan that made Blueskin a thief, and Jonathan screened his creature from justice only so long as clemency seemed profitable. At the first hint of disobedience Blueskin was committed to Newgate. When he had stood his trial, and was being taken to the Condemned Hole, he beckoned to Wild as though to a conference, and cut his throat with a penknife. The assembled rogues and turnkeys thought their Jonathan dead at last, and rejoiced exceedingly therein. Straightway the poet of Newgate’s Garland leaped into verse:

Then hopeless of life,
He drew his penknife,
And made a sad widow of Jonathan’s wife. But forty pounds paid her, her grief shall appease, And every man round me may rob, if he please.

But Jonathan recovered, and Molly, his wife, was destined a second time to win the conspicuous honour that belongs to a hempen widow.

As his career drew to its appointed close, Fortune withheld her smiles. `People got so peery,’ complained the great man, `that ingenious men were put to dreadful shifts.’ And then, highest tribute to his greatness, an Act of Parliament was passed which made it a capital offence `for a prig to steal with the hands of other people’; and in the increase of public vigilance his undoing became certain. On the 2nd of January, 1725, a day not easy to forget, a creature of Wild’s spoke with fifty yards of lace, worth 40, at his Captain’s bidding, and Wild, having otherwise disposed of the plunder, was charged on the 10th of March that he `did feloniously receive of Katharine Stetham ten guineas on account and under colour of helping the said Katharine Stetham to the said lace again, and did not then, nor any time since, discover or apprehend, or cause to be apprehended and brought to Justice, the persons that committed the said felony.’ Thus runs the indictment, and, to the inexpressible relief of lesser men, Jonathan Wild was condemned to the gallows.

Thereupon he had serious thoughts of `putting his house in order’; with an ironical smile he demanded an explanation of the text: `Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree’; but, presently reflecting that `his Time was but short in this World, he improved it to the best advantage in Eating, Drinking, Swearing, Cursing, and talking to his Visitants.’ For all his bragging, drink alone preserved his courage: `he was very restless in the Condemned Hole,’ though `he gave little or no attention to the condemned Sermon which the purblind Ordinary preached before him,’ and which was, in Fielding’s immortal phrase, `unto the Greeks foolishness.’ But in the moment of death his distinction returned to him. He tried, and failed, to kill himself; and his progress to the nubbing cheat was a triumph of execration. He reached Tyburn through a howling mob, and died to a yell of universal joy.

The Ordinary has left a record so precious and so lying, that it must needs be quoted at length. The great Thief-Catcher’s confession is a masterpiece of comfort, and is so far removed from the truth as completely to justify Fielding’s incomparable creation. `Finding there was no room for mercy (and how could I expect mercy, who never showed any)’–thus does the devil dodger dishonour our Jonathan’s memory!–`as soon as I came into the Condemned Hole, I began to think of making a preparation for my soul. . . . To part with my wife, my dear Molly, is so great an Affliction to me, that it touches me to the Quick, and is like Daggers entering into my Heart.’ How tame the Ordinary’s falsehood to the brilliant invention of Fielding, who makes Jonathan kick his Tishy in the very shadow of the Tree! And the Reverend Gentleman gains in unction as he goes: `In the Cart they all kneeled down to prayers and seemed very penitent; the Ordinary used all the means imaginable to make them think of another World, and after singing a penitential Psalm, they cry’d Lord Jesus Christ receive our Souls, the cart drew away and they were all turned off. This is as good an account as can be given by me.’ Poor Ordinary! If he was modest, he was also untruthful, and you are certain that it was not thus the hero met his death.

Even had Fielding never written his masterpiece, Jonathan Wild would still have been surnamed `The Great.’ For scarce a chap- book appeared in the year of Jonathan’s death that did not expose the only right and true view of his character. `His business,’ says one hack of prison literature, `at all times was to put a false gloss upon things, and to make fools of mankind.’ Another precisely formulates the theory of greatness insisted upon by Fielding with so lavish an irony and so masterly a wit. While it is certain that The History of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild is as noble a piece of irony as literature can show, while for the qualities of wit and candour it is equal to its motive, it is likewise true that therein you meet the indubitable Jonathan Wild. It is an entertainment to compare the chap-books of the time with the reasoned, finished work of art: not in any spirit of pedantry–since accuracy in these matters is of small account, but with intent to show how doubly fortunate Fielding was in his genius and in his material. Of course the writer rejoiced in the aid of imagination and eloquence; of course he embellished his picture with such inspirations as Miss Laetitia and the Count; of course he preserves from the first page to the last the highest level of unrivalled irony. But the sketch was there before him, and a lawyer’s clerk had treated Jonathan in a vein of heroism within a few weeks of his death. And since a plain statement is never so true as fiction, Fielding’s romance is still more credible, still convinces with an easier effort, than the serious and pedestrian records of contemporaries. Nor can you return to its pages without realising that, so far from being `the evolution of a purely intellectual conception,’ Jonathan Wild is a magnificently idealised and ironical portrait of a great man.





THEY plied the same trade, each with incomparable success. By her, as by him, the art of the fence was carried to its ultimate perfection. In their hands the high policy of theft wanted nor dignity nor assurance. Neither harboured a single scheme which was not straightway translated into action, and they were masters at once of Newgate and the Highway. As none might rob without the encouragement of his emperor, so none was hanged at Tyburn while intrigue or bribery might avail to drag a half-doomed neck from the halter; and not even Moll herself was more bitterly tyrannical in the control of a reckless gang than the thin-jawed, hatchet-faced Jonathan Wild.

They were statesmen rather than warriors–happy if they might direct the enterprises of others, and determined to punish the lightest disobedience by death. The mind of each was readier than his right arm, and neither would risk an easy advantage by a misunderstood or unwonted sleight of hand. But when you leave the exercise of their craft to contemplate their character with a larger eye, it is the woman who at every point has the advantage. Not only was she the peerless inventor of a new cunning; she was at home (and abroad) the better fellow. The suppression of sex was in itself an unparalleled triumph, and the most envious detractor could not but marvel at the domination of her womanhood. Moreover, she shone in a gayer, more splendid epoch. The worthy contemporary of Shakespeare, she had small difficulty in performing feats of prowess and resource which daunted the intrepid ruffians of the eighteenth century. Her period, in brief, gave her an eternal superiority; and it were as hopeless for Otway to surpass the master whom he disgraced, as for Wild to o’ershadow the brilliant example of Moll Cutpurse.

Tyrants both, they exercised their sovereignty in accordance with their varying temperament. Hers was a fine, fat, Falstaffian humour, which, while it inspired Middleton, might have suggested to Shakespeare an equal companion of the drunken knight. His was but a narrow, cynic wit, not edged like the knife, which wellnigh cut his throat, but blunt and scratching like a worn-toothed saw.

She laughed with a laugh that echoed from Ludgate to Charing Cross, and her voice drowned all the City. He grinned rarely and with malice; he piped in a voice shrill and acid as the tricks of his mischievous imagination. She knew no cruelty beyond the necessities of her life, and none regretted more than she the inevitable death of a traitor. He lusted after destruction with a fiendish temper, which was a grim anticipation of De Sade; he would even smile as he saw the noose tighten round the necks of the poor innocents he had beguiled to Tyburn. It was his boast that he had contrived robberies for the mere glory of dragging his silly victims to the gallows. But Moll, though she stood half-way between the robber and his prey, would have sacrificed a hundred well-earned commissions rather than see her friends and comrades strangled. Her temperament compelled her to the loyal support of her own order, and she would have shrunk in horror from her rival, who, for all his assumed friendship with the thief, was a staunch and subtle ally of justice.

Before all things she had the genius of success. Her public offences were trivial and condoned. She died in her bed, full of years and of honours, beloved by the light-fingered gentry, reverenced by all the judges on the bench. He, for all the sacrifices he made to a squint-eyed law, died execrated alike by populace and police. Already Blueskin had done his worst with a pen-knife; already Jack Sheppard and his comrades had warned Drury Lane against the infamous thief-catcher. And so anxious, on the other hand, was the law to be quit of their too zealous servant, that an Act of Parliament was passed with the sole object of placing Jonathan’s head within the noose. His method, meagre though masterly, lulled him too soon to an impotent security. She, with her larger view of life, her plumper sense of style, was content with nothing less than an ultimate sovereignty, and manifestly did she prove her superiority.

Though born for the wimple, she was more of a man than the breeched and stockinged Jonathan, whose only deed of valiance was to hang, terrier-like, by his teeth to an evasive enemy. While he cheated at cards and cogged the dice, she trained dogs and never missed a bear-baiting. He shrank, like the coward that he was, from the exercise of manly sports; she cared not what were the weapons–quarterstaff or broadsword–so long as she vanquished her opponent. She scoured the town in search of insult; he did but exert his cunning when a quarrel was put upon him. Who, then, shall deny her manhood? Who shall whisper that his style was the braver or the better suited to his sex?

As became a hero, she kept the best of loose company: her parlour was ever packed with the friends of loyalty and adventure. Are not Hind and Mull Sack worth a thousand Blueskins? Moreover, plunder and wealth were not the only objects of her pursuit: she was not merely a fence but a patriot, and she would have accounted a thousand pounds well lost, if she did but compass the discomfiture of a Parliament-man. Indeed, if Jonathan, the thief-catcher, limped painfully after his magnificent example, Jonathan the man and the sportsman confessed a pitiful inferiority to the valiant Moll. Thus she avenged her sex by distancing the most illustrious of her rivals; and if he pleads for his credit a taste for theology, hers is the chuckle of contemptuous superiority. She died a patriot, bequeathing a fountain of wine to the champions of an exiled king; he died a casuist, setting crabbed problems to the Ordinary. Here, again, the advantage is evident: loyalty is the virtue of men; a sudden attachment to religion is the last resource of the second-rate citizen and of the trapped criminal.



A SPARE, lean frame; a small head set forward upon a pair of sloping shoulders; a thin, sharp nose, and rat-like eyes; a flat, hollow chest; shrunk shanks, modestly retreating from their snuff-coloured hose–these are the tokens which served to remind his friends of Ralph Briscoe, the Clerk of Newgate. As he left the prison in the grey air of morning upon some errand of mercy or revenge, he appeared the least fearsome of mortals, while an awkward limp upon his left toe deepened the impression of timidity. So abstract was his manner, so hesitant his gait, that he would hug the wall as he went, nervously stroking its grimy surface with his long, twittering fingers. But Ralph, as justice and the Jug knew too well, was neither fool nor coward. His character belied his outward seeming. A large soul had crept into the case of his wizened body, and if a poltroon among his ancestors had gifted him with an alien type, he had inherited from some nameless warrior both courage and resource.

He was born in easy circumstances, and gently nurtured in the distant village of Kensington. Though cast in a scholar’s mould, and very apt for learning, he rebelled from the outset against a career of inaction. His lack of strength was never a check upon his high stomach; he would fight with boys of twice his size, and accept the certain defeat in a cheerful spirit of dogged pugnacity. Moreover, if his arms were weak, his cunning was as keen-edged as his tongue; and, before his stricken eye had paled, he had commonly executed an ample vengeance upon his enemy. Nor was it industry that placed him at the top of the class. A ready wit made him master of the knowledge he despised.

But he would always desert his primer to follow the hangman’s lumbering cart up Tyburn Hill, and, still a mere imp of mischief, he would run the weary way from Kensington to Shoe Lane on the distant chance of a cock-fight. He was present, so he would relate in after years, when Sir Thomas Jermin’s man put his famous trick upon the pit. With a hundred pounds in his pocket and under his arm a dunghill cock, neatly trimmed for the fray, the ingenious ruffian, as Briscoe would tell you, went off to Shoe Lane, persuaded an accomplice to fight the cock in Sir Thomas Jermin’s name, and laid a level hundred against his own bird. So lofty was Sir Thomas’s repute that backers were easily found, but the dunghill rooster instantly showed a clean pair of heels, and the cheat was justified of his cunning.

Thus Ralph Briscoe learnt the first lessons in that art of sharping wherein he was afterwards an adept; and when he left school his head was packed with many a profitable device which no book learning could impart. His father, however, still resolute that he should join an intelligent profession, sent him to Gray’s Inn that he might study law. Here the elegance of his handwriting gained him a rapid repute; his skill became the envy of all the lean-souled clerks in the Inn, and he might have died a respectable attorney had not the instinct of sport forced him from the inkpot and parchment of his profession. Ill could he tolerate the monotony and restraint of this clerkly life. In his eyes law was an instrument, not of justice, but of jugglery. Men were born, said his philosophy, rather to risk their necks than ink their fingers; and if a bold adventure puts you in a difficulty, why, then, you hire some straw-splitting attorney to show his cunning. Indeed, the study of law was for him, as it was for Falstaff, an excuse for many a bout and merry-making. He loved his glass, and he loved his wench, and he loved a bull- baiting better than either. It was his boast, and Moll Cutpurse’s compliment, that he never missed a match in his life, and assuredly no man was better known in Paris Garden than the intrepid Ralph Briscoe.

The cloistered seclusion of Gray’s Inn grew daily more irksome. There he would sit, in mute despair, drumming the table with his fingers, and biting the quill, whose use he so bitterly contemned. Of winter afternoons he would stare through the leaded window-panes at the gaunt, leafless trees, on whose summits swayed the cawing rooks, until servitude seemed intolerable, and he prayed for the voice of the bearward that summoned him to Southwark. And when the chained bear, the familiar monkey on his back, followed the shrill bagpipe along the curious street, Briscoe felt that blood, not ink, coursed in his veins, forgot the tiresome impediment of the law, and joined the throng, hungry for this sport of kings. Nor was he the patron of an enterprise wherein he dared take no part. He was as bold and venturesome as the bravest ruffler that ever backed a dog at a baiting. When the bull, cruelly secured behind, met the onslaught of his opponents, throwing them off, now this side, now that, with his horns, Briscoe, lost in excitement, would leap into the ring that not a point of the combat should escape him.

So it was that he won the friendship of his illustrious benefactress, Moll Cutpurse. For, one day, when he had ventured too near the maddened bull, the brute made a heave at his breeches, which instantly gave way; and in another moment he would have been gored to death, had not Moll seized him by the collar and slung him out of the ring. Thus did his courage ever contradict his appearance, and at the dangerous game of whipping the blinded bear he had no rival, either for bravery or adroitness. He would rush in with uplifted whip until the breath of the infuriated beast was hot upon his cheek, let his angry lash curl for an instant across the bear’s flank, and then, for all his halting foot, leap back into safety with a smiling pride in his own nimbleness.

His acquaintance with Moll Cutpurse, casually begun at a bull- baiting, speedily ripened, for her into friendship, for him into love. In this, the solitary romance of his life, Ralph Briscoe overtopped even his own achievements of courage. The Roaring Girl was no more young, and years had not refined her character unto gentleness. It was still her habit to appear publicly in jerkin and galligaskins, to smoke tobacco in contempt of her sex, and to fight her enemies with a very fury of insolence. In stature she exceeded the limping clerk by a head, and she could pick him up with one hand, like a kitten. Yet he loved her, not for any grace of person, nor beauty of feature, nor even because her temperament was undaunted as his own. He loved her for that wisest of reasons, which is no reason at all, because he loved her. In his eyes she was the Queen, not of Misrule, but of Hearts. Had a throne been his, she should have shared it, and he wooed her with a shy intensity, which ennobled him, even in her austere regard. Alas! she was unable to return his passion, and she lamented her own obduracy with characteristic humour. She made no attempt to conceal her admiration. `A notable and famous person,’ she called him, confessing that, `he was right for her tooth, and made to her mind in every part of him.’ He had been bred up in the same exercise of bull-baiting, which was her own delight; she had always praised his towardliness, and prophesied his preferment. But when he paid her court she was obliged to decline the honour, while she esteemed the compliment.

In truth, she was completely insensible to passion, or, as she exclaimed in a phrase of brilliant independence, `I should have hired him to my embraces.’

The sole possibility that remained was a Platonic friendship, and Briscoe accepted the situation in excellent humour. `Ever since he came to know himself,’ again it is Moll that speaks, `he always deported himself to me with an abundance of regard, calling me his Aunt.’ And his aunt she remained unto the end, bound to him in a proper and natural alliance. Different as they were in aspect, they were strangely alike in taste and disposition. Nor was the Paris Garden their only meeting-ground.

His sorry sojourn in Gray’s Inn had thrown him on the side of the law-breaker, and he had acquired a strange cunning in the difficult art of evading justice. Instantly Moll recognised his practical value, and, exerting all her talent for intrigue, presently secured for him the Clerkship of Newgate. Here at last he found scope not only for his learning, but for that spirit of adventure that breathed within him. His meagre acquaintance with letters placed him on a pinnacle high above his colleagues. Now and then a prisoner proved his equal in wit, but as he was manifestly superior in intelligence to the Governor, the Ordinary, and all the warders, he speedily seized and hereafter retained the real sovereignty of Newgate.

His early progress was barred by envy and contempt. Why, asked the men in possession, should this shrivelled stranger filch our privileges? And Briscoe met their malice with an easy smile, knowing that at all points he was more than their match. His alliance with Moll stood him in good stead, and in a few months the twain were the supreme arbiters of English justice. Should a highwayman seek to save his neck, he must first pay a fat indemnity to the Newgate Clerk, but, since Moll was the appointed banker of the whole family, she was quick to sanction whatever price her accomplice suggested. And Briscoe had a hundred other tricks whereby he increased his riches and repute. There was no debtor came to Newgate whom the Clerk would not aid, if he believed the kindness profitable. Suppose his inquiries gave an assurance of his victim’s recovery, he would house him comfortably, feed him at his own table, lend him money, and even condescend to win back the generous loan by the dice-box.

His civility gave him a general popularity among the prisoners, and his appearance in the Yard was a signal for a subdued hilarity. He drank and gambled with the roysterers; he babbled a cheap philosophy with the erudite; and he sold the necks of all to the highest bidder. Though now and again he was convicted of mercy or revenge, he commonly held himself aloof from human passions, and pursued the one sane end of life in an easy security. The hostility of his colleagues irked him but little. A few tags of Latin, the friendship of Moll, and a casual threat of exposure frightened the Governor into acquiescence, but the Ordinary was more difficult of conciliation. The Clerk had not been long in Newgate before he saw that between the reverend gentleman and himself there could be naught save war. Hitherto the Ordinary had reserved to his own profit the right of intrigue; he it was who had received the hard-scraped money of the sorrowing relatives, and untied the noose when it seemed good to him. Briscoe insisted upon a division of labour. `It is your business,’ he said, `to save the scoundrels in the other world. Leave to me the profit of their salvation in this.’ And the Clerk triumphed after his wont: freedom jingled in his pocket; he doled out comfort, even life, to the oppressed; and he extorted a comfortable fortune in return for privileges which were never in his gift.

Without the walls of Newgate the house of his frequentation was the `Dog Tavern.’ Thither he would wander every afternoon to meet his clients and to extort blood-money. In this haunt of criminals and pettifoggers no man was better received than the Newgate Clerk, and while he assumed a manner of generous cordiality, it was a strange sight to see him wince when some sturdy ruffian slapped him too strenuously upon the back. He had a joke and a chuckle for all, and his merry quips, dry as they were, were joyously quoted to all new-comers. His legal ingenuity appeared miraculous, and it was confidently asserted in the Coffee House that he could turn black to white with so persuasive an argument that there was no Judge on the Bench to confute him. But he was not omnipotent, and his zeal encountered many a serious check. At times he failed to save the necks even of his intimates, since, when once a ruffian was notorious, Moll and the Clerk fought vainly for his release. Thus it was that Cheney, the famous wrestler, whom Ralph had often backed against all comers, died at Tyburn. He had been taken by the troopers red-handed upon the highway. Seized after a desperate resistance, he was wounded wellnigh to death, and Briscoe quoted a dozen precedents to prove that he was unfit to be tried or hanged. Argument failing, the munificent Clerk offered fifty pounds for the life of his friend. But to no purpose: the valiant wrestler was carried to the cart in a chair, and so lifted to the gallows, which cured him of his gaping wounds.

When the Commonwealth administered justice with pedantic severity, Briscoe’s influence still further declined. There was no longer scope in the State for men of spirit; even the gaols were handed over to the stern mercy of crop-eared Puritans; Moll herself had fallen upon evil times; and Ralph Briscoe determined to make a last effort for wealth and retirement. At the very moment when his expulsion seemed certain, an heiress was thrown into Newgate upon a charge of murdering a too importunate suitor. The chain of evidence was complete: the dagger plunged in his heart was recognised for her own; she was seen to decoy him to the secret corner of a wood, where his raucous love-making was silenced for ever. Taken off her guard, she had even hinted confession of her crime, and nothing but intrigue could have saved her gentle neck from the gallows. Briscoe, hungry for her money-bags, promised assistance. He bribed, he threatened, he cajoled, he twisted the law as only he could twist it, he suppressed honest testimony, he procured false; in fine, he weakened the case against her with so resistless an effrontery, that not the Hanging Judge himself could convict the poor innocent.

At the outset he had agreed to accept a handsome bribe, but as the trial approached, his avarice increased, and he would be content with nothing less than the lady’s hand and fortune. Not that he loved her; his heart was long since given to Moll Cutpurse; but he knew that his career of depredation was at an end, and it became him to provide for his declining years. The victim repulsed his suit, regretting a thousand times that she had stabbed her ancient lover. At last, bidden summarily to choose between Death and the Clerk, she chose the Clerk, and thus Ralph Briscoe left Newgate the richest squire in a western county. Henceforth he farmed his land like a gentleman, drank with those of his neighbours who would crack a bottle with him, and unlocked the strange stores of his memory to bumpkins who knew not the name of Newgate. Still devoted to sport, he hunted the fox, and made such a bull-ring as his youthful imagination could never have pictured. So he lived a life of country ease, and died a churchwarden. And he deserved his prosperity, for he carried the soul of Falstaff in the shrunken body of Justice Shallow.




HE stood six feet ten in his stockinged feet, and was the tallest ruffian that ever cut a purse or held up a coach on the highway. A mass of black hair curled over a low forehead, and a glittering eye intensified his villainous aspect; nor did a deep scar, furrowing his cheek from end to end, soften the horror of his sudden apparition. Valiant men shuddered at his approach; women shrank from the distant echo of his name; for fifteen years he terrorised Scotland from Caithness to the border; and the most partial chronicler never insulted his memory with the record of a good deed.

He was born to a gentle family in the Calendar of Monteith, and was celebrated even in boyhood for his feats of strength and daring. While still at school he could hold a hundredweight at arm’s-length, and crumple up a horseshoe like a wisp of hay. The fleetest runner, the most desperate fighter in the country, he was already famous before his name was besmirched with crime, and he might have been immortalised as the Hercules of the seventeenth century, had not his ambition been otherwise flattered. At the outset, though the inclination was never lacking, he knew small temptation to break the sterner laws of conduct. His pleasures were abundantly supplied by his father’s generosity, and he had no need to refrain from such vices as became a gentleman. If he was no drunkard, it was because his head was equal to the severest strain, and, despite his forbidding expression, he was always a successful breaker of hearts. His very masterfulness overcame the most stubborn resistance; and more than once the pressure of his dishonourable suit converted hatred into love. At the very time that he was denounced for Scotland’s disgrace, his praises were chanted in many a dejected ballad. `Gilderoy was a bonny boy,’ sang one heart-broken maiden:

Had roses till his shoon,
His stockings were of silken soy, Wi’ garters hanging doon.

But in truth he was admired less for his amiability than for that quality of governance which, when once he had torn the decalogue to pieces, made him a veritable emperor of crime.

His father’s death was the true beginning of his career. A modest patrimony was squandered in six months, and Gilderoy had no penny left wherewith to satisfy the vices which insisted upon indulgence. He demanded money at all hazards, and money without toil. For a while his more loudly clamant needs were fulfilled by the amiable simplicity of his mother, whom he blackmailed with insolence and contempt. And when she, wearied by his shameless importunity, at last withdrew her support, he determined upon a monstrous act of vengeance. With a noble affectation of penitence he visited his home; promised reform at supper; and said good-night in the broken accent of reconciliation. No sooner was the house sunk in slumber than he crawled stealthily upstairs in order to forestall by theft a promised generosity. He opened the door of the bed-chamber in a hushed silence; but the wrenching of the cofferlid awoke the sleeper, and Gilderoy, having cut his mother’s throat with an infamous levity, seized whatever money and jewels were in the house, cruelly maltreated his sister, and laughingly burnt the house to the ground, that the possibility of evidence might be destroyed.

Henceforth his method of plunder was assured. It was part of his philosophy to prevent detection by murder, and the flames from the burning walls added a pleasure to his lustful eye. His march across Scotland was marked by slaughtered families and ruined houses. Plunder was the first cause of his exploits, but there is no doubt that death and arson were a solace to his fierce spirit; and for a while this giant of cruelty knew neither check nor hindrance. Presently it became a superstition with him that death was the inevitable accompaniment of robbery, and, as he was incapable of remorse, he grew callous, and neglected the simplest precautions. At Dunkeld he razed a rifled house to the ground, and with the utmost effrontery repeated the performance at Aberdeen. But at last he had been tracked by a company of soldiers, who, that justice might not be cheated of her prey, carried him to gaol, where after the briefest trial he was condemned to death.

Gilderoy, however, was still master of himself. His immense strength not only burst his bonds, but broke prison, and this invincible Samson was once more free in Aberdeen, inspiring that respectable city with a legendary dread. The reward of one hundred pounds was offered in vain. Had he shown himself on the road in broad daylight, none would have dared to arrest him, and it was not until his plans were deliberately laid, that he crossed the sea. The more violent period of his career was at an end. Never again did he yield to his passion for burning and sudden death; and, if the world found him unconquerable, his self-control is proved by the fact that in the heyday of his strength he turned from his unredeemed brutality to a gentler method. He now deserted Scotland for France, with which, like all his countrymen, he claimed a cousinship; and so profoundly did he impose upon Paris with his immense stature, his elegant attire, his courtly manners (for he was courtesy itself, when it pleased him), that he was taken for an eminent scholar, or at least a soldier of fortune.

Prosperity might doubtless have followed a discreet profession, but Gilderoy must still be thieving, and he reaped a rich harvest among the unsuspicious courtiers of France. His most highly renowned exploit was performed at St. Denis, and the record of France’s humiliation is still treasured. The great church was packed with ladies of fashion and their devout admirers. Richelieu attended in state; the king himself shone upon the assembly. The strange Scotsman, whom no man knew and all men wondered at, attracted a hundred eyes to himself and his magnificent equipment. But it was not his to be idle, and at the very moment whereat Mass was being sung, he contrived to lighten Richelieu’s pocket of a purse. The king was a delighted witness of the theft; Gilderoy, assuming an air of facile intimacy, motioned him to silence; and he, deeming it a trick put upon Richelieu by a friend, hastened, at the service-end, to ask his minister if perchance he had a purse of gold upon him. Richelieu instantly discovered the loss, to the king’s uncontrolled hilarity, which was mitigated when it was found that the thief, having emptied the king’s pocket at the unguarded moment of his merriment, had left them both the poorer.

Such were Gilderoy’s interludes of gaiety; and when you remember the cynical ferocity of his earlier performance, you cannot deny him the credit of versatility. He stayed in France until his ominous reputation was too widely spread; whereupon he crossed the Pyrenees, travelling like a gentleman, in a brilliant carriage of his own. From Spain he carried off a priceless collection of silver plate; and he returned to his own country, fatigued, yet unsoftened, by the grand tour. Meanwhile, a forgetful generation had not kept his memory green. The monster, who punished Scotland a year ago with fire and sword, had passed into oblivion, and Gilderoy was able to establish for himself a new reputation. He departed as far as possible from his ancient custom, joined the many cavaliers, who were riding up and down the country, pistol in hand, and presently proved a dauntless highwayman. He had not long ridden in the neighbourhood of Perth before he met the Earl of Linlithgow, from whom he took a gold watch, a diamond ring, and eighty guineas. Being an outlaw, he naturally espoused the King’s cause, and would have given a year of his life to meet a Regicide. Once upon a time, says rumour, he found himself face to face with Oliver Cromwell, whom he dragged from his coach, set ignominiously upon an ass, and so turned adrift with his feet tied under the beast’s belly. The story is incredible, not only because the loyal historians of the time caused Oliver to be robbed daily on every road in Great Britain, but because our Gilderoy, had he ever confronted the Protector, most assuredly would not have allowed him to escape with his life.

Tired of scouring the highway, Gilderoy resolved upon another enterprise. He collected a band of fearless ruffians, and placed himself at their head. With this army to aid, he harried Sutherland and the North, lifting cattle, plundering homesteads, and stopping wayfarers with a humour and adroitness worthy of Robin Hood. No longer a lawless adventurer, he made his own conditions of life, and forced the people to obey them. He who would pay Gilderoy a fair contribution ran no risk of losing his sheep or oxen. But evasion was impossible, and the smallest suspicion of falsehood was punished by death. The peaceably inclined paid their toll with regret; the more daring opposed the raider to their miserable undoing; the timid satisfied the utmost exactions of Gilderoy, and deemed themselves fortunate if they left the country with their lives.

Thus Scotland became a land of dread; the most restless man within her borders hardly dare travel beyond his byre. The law was powerless against this indomitable scourge, and the reward of a thousand marks would have been offered in vain, had not Gilderoy’s cruelty estranged his mistress. This traitress–Peg Cunningham was her name–less for avarice than in revenge for many insults and infidelities, at last betrayed her master. Having decoyed him to her house, she admitted fifty armed men, and thus imagined a full atonement for her unnumbered wrongs. But Gilderoy was triumphant to the last. Instantly suspecting the treachery of his mistress, he burst into her bed-chamber, and, that she might not enjoy the price of blood, ripped her up with a hanger. Then he turned defiant upon the army arrayed against him, and killed eight men before the others captured him.

Disarmed after a desperate struggle, he was loaded with chains and carried to Edinburgh, where he was starved for three days, and then hanged without the formality of a trial on a gibbet, thirty feet high, set up in the Grassmarket. Even then Scotland’s vengeance was unsatisfied. The body, cut down from its first gibbet, was hung in chains forty feet above Leith Walk, where it creaked and gibbered as a warning to evildoers for half a century, until at last the inhabitants of that respectable quarter petitioned that Gilderoy’s bones should cease to rattle, and that they should enjoy the peace impossible for his jingling skeleton.

Gilderoy was no drawing-room scoundrel, no villain of schoolgirl romance. He felt remorse as little as he felt fear, and there was no crime from whose commission he shrank. Before his death he confessed to thirty-seven murders, and bragged that he had long since lost count of his robberies and rapes. Something must be abated for boastfulness. But after all deduction there remains a tale of crime that is unsurpassed. His most admirably artistic quality is his complete consistence. He was a ruffian finished and rotund; he made no concession, he betrayed no weakness. Though he never preached a sermon against the human race, he practised a brutality which might have proceeded from a gospel of hate. He spared neither friends nor relatives, and he murdered his own mother with as light a heart as he sent a strange widow of Aberdeen to her death. His skill is undoubted, and he proved by the discipline of his band that he was not without some talent of generalship. But he owed much of his success to his physical strength, and to the temperament, which never knew the scandal of hesitancy or dread.

A born marauder, he devoted his life to his trade; and, despite his travels in France and Spain, he enjoyed few intervals of merriment. Even the humour, which proved his redemption, was as dour and grim as Scotland can furnish at her grimmes: and dourest. Here is a specimen will serve as well as another: three of Gilderoy’s gang had been hanged according to the sentence of a certain Lord of Session, and the Chieftain, for his own vengeance and the intimidation of justice, resolved upon an exemplary punishment. He waylaid the Lord of Session, emptied his pockets, killed his horses, broke his coach in pieces, and having bound his lackeys, drowned them in a pond. This was but the prelude of revenge, for presently (and here is the touch of humour) he made the Lord of Session ride at dead of night to the gallows, whereon the three malefactors were hanging. One arm of the crossbeams was still untenanted. `By my soul, mon,’ cried Gilderoy to the Lord of Session, `as this gibbet is built to break people’s craigs, and is not uniform without another, I must e’en hang you upon the vacant beam.’ And straightway the Lord of Session swung in the moonlight, and Gilderoy had cracked his black and solemn joke.

This sense of fun is the single trait which relieves the colossal turpitude of Gilderoy. And, though even his turpitude was melodramatic in its lack of balance, it is a unity of character which is the foundation of his greatness. He was no fumbler, led away from his purpose by the first diversion; his ambition was clear before him, and he never fell below it. He defied Scotland for fifteen years, was hanged so high that he passed into a proverb, and though his handsome, sinister face might have made women his slaves, he was never betrayed by passion (or by virtue) to an amiability.



THE `Green Pig’ stood in the solitude of the North Road. Its simple front, its neatly balanced windows, curtained with white, gave it an air of comfort and tranquillity. The smoke which curled from its hospitable chimney spoke of warmth and good fare.

To pass it was to spurn the last chance of a bottle for many a weary mile, and the prudent traveller would always rest an hour by its ample fireside, or gossip with its fantastic hostess. Now, the hostess of the little inn was Ellen Roach, friend and accomplice of Sixteen-String Jack, once the most famous woman in England, and still after a weary stretch at Botany Bay the strangest of companions, the most buxom of spinsters. Her beauty was elusive even in her triumphant youth, and middle-age had neither softened her traits nor refined her expression. Her auburn hair, once the glory of Covent Garden, was fading to a withered grey; she was never tall enough to endure an encroaching stoutness with equanimity; her dumpy figure made you marvel at her past success; and hardship had furrowed her candid brow into wrinkles. But when she opened her lips she became instantly animated. With a glass before her on the table, she would prattle frankly and engagingly of the past. Strange cities had she seen; she had faced the dangers of an adventurous life with calmness and good temper. And yet Botany Bay, with its attendant horrors, was already fading from her memory. In imagination she was still with her incomparable hero, and it was her solace, after fifteen years, to sing the praise and echo the perfections of Sixteen-String Jack.

`How well I remember,’ she would murmur, as though unconscious of her audience, `the unhappy day when Jack Rann was first arrested.

It was May, and he came back travel-stained and weary in the brilliant dawn. He had stopped a one-horse shay near the nine- mile stone on the Hounslow Road–every word of his confession is burnt into my brain–and had taken a watch and a handful of guineas. I was glad enough of the money, for there was no penny in the house, and presently I sent the maid-servant to make the best bargain she could with the watch. But the silly jade, by the saddest of mishaps, took the trinket straight to the very man who made it, and he, suspecting a theft, had us both arrested. Even then Jack might have been safe, had not the devil prompted me to speak the truth. Dismayed by the magistrate, I owned, wretched woman that I was, that I had received the watch from Rann, and in two hours Jack also was under lock and key. Yet, when we were sent for trial I made what amends I could. I declared on oath that I had never seen Sixteen-String Jack in my life; his name came to my lips by accident; and, hector as they would, the lawyers could not frighten me to an acknowledgment. Meanwhile Jack’s own behaviour was grand. I was the proudest woman in England as I stood by his side in the dock. When you compared him with Sir John Fielding, you did not doubt for an instant which was the finer gentleman. And what a dandy was my Jack! Though he came there to answer for his life, he was all ribbons and furbelows. His irons were tied up with the daintiest blue bows, and in the breast of his coat he carried a bundle of flowers as large as a birch-broom. His neck quivered in the noose, yet he was never cowed to civility. `I know no more of the matter than you do,’ he cried indignantly, `nor half so much neither,’ and if the magistrate had not been an ill-mannered oaf, he would not have dared to disbelieve my true-hearted Jack. That time we escaped with whole skins; and off we went, after dinner, to Vauxhall, where Jack was more noticed than the fiercest of the bloods, and where he filled the heart of George Barrington with envy. Nor was he idle, despite his recent escape: he brought away two watches and three purses from the Garden, so that our necessities were amply supplied. Ah, I should have been happy in those days if only Jack had been faithful. But he had a roving eye and a joyous temperament; and though he loved me better than any of the baggages to whom he paid court, he would not visit me so often as he should. Why, once he was hustled off to Bow Street because the watch caught him climbing in at Doll Frampton’s window. And she, the shameless minx, got him off by declaring in open court that she would be proud to receive him whenever he would deign to ring at her bell. That is the penalty of loving a great man: you must needs share his affection with a set of unworthy wenches. Yet Jack was always kind to me, and I was the chosen companion of his pranks.

`Never can I forget the splendid figure he cut that day at Bagnigge Wells. We had driven down in our coach, and all the world marvelled at our magnificence. Jack was brave in a scarlet coat, a tambour waistcoat, and white silk stockings. From the knees of his breeches streamed the strings (eight at each), whence he got his name, and as he plucked off his lace-hat the dinner-table rose at him. That was a moment worth living for, and when, after his first bottle, Jack rattled the glasses, and declared himself a highwayman, the whole company shuddered. “But, my friends,” quoth he, “to-day I am making holiday, so that you have naught to fear.” When the wine ‘s in, the wit ‘s out, and Jack could never stay his hand from the bottle. The more he drank, the more he bragged, until, thoroughly fuddled, he lost a ring from his finger, and charged the miscreants in the room with stealing it. “However,” hiccupped he, “’tis a mere nothing, worth a paltry hundred pounds–less than a lazy evening’s work. So I’ll let the trifling theft pass.” But the cowards were not content with Jack’s generosity, and seizing upon him, they thrust him neck and crop through the window. They were seventeen to one, the craven-hearted loons; and I could but leave the marks of my nails on the cheek of the foremost, and follow my hero into the yard, where we took coach, and drove sulkily back to Covent Garden.

`And yet he was not always in a mad humour; in fact, Sixteen- String Jack, for all his gaiety, was a proud, melancholy man. The shadow of the tree was always upon him, and he would make me miserable by talking of his certain doom. “I have a hundred pounds in my pocket,” he would say; “I shall spend that, and then I shan’t last long.” And though I never thought him serious, his prophecy came true enough. Only a few months before the end we had visited Tyburn together. With his usual carelessness, he passed the line of constables who were on guard.

“It is very proper,” said he, in his jauntiest tone, “that I should be a spectator on this melancholy occasion.” And though none of the dullards took his jest, they instantly made way for him. For my Jack was always a gentleman, though he was bred to the stable, and his bitterest enemy could not have denied that he was handsome. His open countenance was as honest as the day, and the brown curls over his forehead were more elegant than the smartest wig. Wherever he went the world did him honour, and many a time my vanity was sorely wounded. I was a pretty girl, mind you, though my travels have not improved my beauty; and I had many admirers before ever I picked up Jack Rann at a masquerade. Why, there was a Templar, with two thousand a year, who gave me a carriage and servants while I still lived at the dressmaker’s in Oxford Street, and I was not out of my teens when the old Jew in St. Mary Axe took me into keeping. But when Jack was by, I had no chance of admiration. All the eyes were glued upon him, and his poor doxy had to be content with a furtive look thrown over a stranger’s shoulder. At Barnet races, the year before they sent me across the sea, we were followed by a crowd the livelong day; and truly Jack, in his blue satin waistcoat laced with silver, might have been a peer. At any rate, he had not his equal on the course, and it is small wonder that never for a moment were we left to ourselves.

`But happiness does not last for ever; only too often we were gravelled for lack of money, and Jack, finding his purse empty, could do naught else than hire a hackney and take to the road again, while I used to lie awake listening to the watchman’s raucous voice, and praying God to send back my warrior rich and scatheless. So times grew more and more difficult. Jack would stay a whole night upon the heath, and come home with an empty pocket or a beggarly half crown. And there was nothing, after a shabby coat that he hated half so much as a sheriff’s officer. “Learn a lesson in politeness,” he said to one of the wretches who dragged him off to the Marshalsea. “When Sir John Fielding’s people come after me they use me genteelly; they only hold up a finger, beckon me, and I follow as quietly as a lamb. But you bluster and insult, as though you had never dealings with gentlemen.” Poor Jack, he was of a proud stomach, and could not abide interference; yet they would never let him go free. And he would have been so happy had he been allowed his own way. To pull out a rusty pistol now and again, and to take a purse from a traveller–surely these were innocent pleasures, and he never meant to hurt a fellow-creature. But for all his kindness of heart, for all his love of splendour and fine clothes, they took him at last.

`And this time, too, it was a watch which was our ruin. How often did I warn him: “Jack,” I would say, “take all the money you can. Guineas tell no tale. But leave the watches in their owners’ fobs.” Alas! he did not heed my words, and the last man he ever stopped on the road was that pompous rascal, Dr. Bell, then chaplain to the Princess Amelia. “Give me your money,” screamed Jack, “and take no notice or I’ll blow your brains out.” And the doctor gave him all that he had, the mean- spirited devil-dodger, and it was no more than eighteenpence. Now what should a man of courage do with eighteenpence? So poor Jack was forced to seize the parson’s watch and trinkets as well, and thus it was that a second time we faced the Blind Beak.

When Jack brought home the watch, I was seized with a shuddering presentiment, and I would have given the world to throw it out of the window. But I could not bear to see him pinched with hunger, and he had already tossed the doctor’s eighteenpence to a beggar woman. So I trudged off to the pawnbroker’s, to get what price I could, and I bethought me that none would know me for what I was so far away as Oxford Street. But the monster behind the counter had a quick suspicion, though I swear I looked as innocent as a babe; he discovered the owner of the watch, and infamously followed me to my house.

`The next day we were both arrested, and once more we stood in the hot, stifling Court of the Old Bailey. Jack was radiant as ever, the one spot of colour and gaiety in that close, sodden atmosphere. When we were taken from Bow Street a thousand people formed our guard of honour, and for a month we were the twin wonders of London. The lightest word, the fleetest smile of the renowned highwayman, threw the world into a fit of excitement, and a glimpse of Rann was worth a king’s ransom. I could look upon him all day for nothing! And I knew what a fever of fear throbbed behind his mask of happy contempt. Yet bravely he played the part unto the very end. If the toasts of London were determined to gaze at him, he assured them they should have a proper salve for their eyes. So he dressed himself as a light-hearted sportsman. His coat and waistcoat were of pea- green cloth; his buckskin breeches were spotlessly new, and all tricked out with the famous strings; his hat was bound round with silver cords; and even the ushers of the Court were touched to courtesy. He would whisper to me, as we stood in the dock, “Cheer up, my girl. I have ordered the best supper that Covent Garden can provide, and we will make merry to-night when this foolish old judge has done his duty.” The supper was never eaten. Through the weary afternoon we waited for acquittal. The autumn sun sank in hopeless gloom. The wretched lamps twinkled through the jaded air of the court-house. In an hour I lived a thousand years of misery, and when the sentence was read, the words carried no sense to my withered brain. It was only in my cell I realised that I had seen Jack Rann for the last time; that his pea-green coat would prove a final and ineffaceable memory.

`Alas! I, who had never been married, was already a hempen widow; but I was too hopelessly heartbroken for my lover’s fate to think of my own paltry hardship. I never saw him again. They told me that he suffered at Tyburn like a man, and that he counted upon a rescue to the very end. They told me (still bitterer news to hear) that two days before his death he entertained seven women at supper, and was in the wildest humour. This almost broke my heart; it was an infidelity committed on the other side of the grave. But, poor Jack, he was a good lad, and loved me more than them all, though he never could be faithful to me.’ And thus, bidding the drawer bring fresh glasses, Ellen Roach would end her story. Though she had told it a hundred times, at the last words a tear always sparkled in her eye. She lived without friend and without lover, faithful to the memory of Sixteen- String Jack, who for her was the only reality in the world of shades. Her middle-age was as distant as her youth. The dressmaker’s in Oxford Street was as vague a dream as the inhospitable shore of Botany Bay. So she waited on to a weary eld, proud of the `Green Pig’s’ well-ordered comfort, prouder still that for two years she shared the glory of Jack Rann, and that she did not desert her hero, even in his punishment.




THEIR closest parallel is the notoriety which dogged them from the very day of their death. Each, for his own exploits, was the most famous man of his time, the favourite of broadsides, the prime hero of the ballad-mongers. And each owed his fame as much to good fortune as to merit, since both were excelled in their generation by more skilful scoundrels. If Gilderoy was unsurpassed in brutality, he fell immeasurably below Hind in artistry and wit, nor may he be compared to such accomplished highwaymen as Mull Sack or the Golden Farmer. His method was not elevated by a touch of the grand style. He stamped all the rules of the road beneath his contemptuous foot, and cared not what enormity he committed in his quest for gold. Yet, though he lived in the true Augustan age, he yielded to no one of his rivals in glorious recognition. So, too, Jack Rann, of the Sixteen Strings, was a near contemporary of George Barrington. While that nimble-fingered prig was making a brilliant appearance at Vauxhall, and emptying the pockets of his intimates, Rann was riding over Hounslow Heath, and flashing his pistol in the eye of the wayfarer. The very year in which Jack danced his last jig at Tyburn, Barrington had astonished London by a fruitless attempt to steal Prince Orloff’s miraculous snuff- box. And not even Ellen Roach herself would have dared to assert that Rann was Barrington’s equal in sleight of hand. But Rann holds his own against the best of his craft, with an imperishable name, while a host of more distinguished cracksmen are excluded even from the Newgate Calendar.

In truth, there is one quality which has naught to do with artistic supremacy; and in this quality both Rann and Gilderoy were rich beyond their fellows. They knew (none better) how to impose upon the world. Had their deserts been even less than they were, they would still have been bravely notorious. It is a common superstition that the talent for advertisement has but a transitory effect, that time sets all men in their proper places.

Nothing can be more false; for he who has once declared himself among the great ones of the earth, not only holds his position while he lives, but forces an unreasoning admiration upon the future. Though he declines from the lofty throne, whereon his own vanity and love of praise have set him, he still stands above the modest level which contents the genuinely great. Why does Euripides still throw a shadow upon the worthier poets of his time? Because he had the faculty of displacement, because he could compel the world to profess an interest not only in his work but in himself. Why is Michael Angelo a loftier figure in the history of art than Donatello, the supreme sculptor of his time? Because Donatello had not the temper which would bully a hundred popes, and extract a magnificent advertisement from each encounter. Why does Shelley still claim a larger share of the world’s admiration than Keats, his indubitable superior? Because Shelley was blessed or cursed with the trick of interesting the world by the accidents of his life.

So by a similar faculty Gilderoy and Jack Rann have kept themselves and their achievements in the light of day. Had they lived in the nineteenth century they might have been the vendors of patent pills, or the chairmen of bubble companies. Whatever trade they had followed, their names would have been on every hoarding, their wares would have been puffed in every journal. They understood the art of publicity better than any of their contemporaries, and they are remembered not because they were the best thieves of their time, but because they were determined to interest the people in their misdeeds. Gilderoy’s brutality, which was always theatrical, ensured a constant remembrance, and the lofty gallows added to his repute; while the brilliant inspiration of the strings, which decorated Rann’s breeches, was sufficient to conquer death. How should a hero sink to oblivion who had chosen for himself so splendid a name as Sixteen- String Jack?

So far, then, their achievement is parallel. And parallel also is their taste for melodrama. Each employed means too great or too violent for the end in view. Gilderoy burnt houses and ravished women, when his sole object was the acquisition of money. Sixteen-String Jack terrified Bagnigge Wells with the dreadful announcement that he was a highwayman, when his kindly, stupid heart would have shrunk from the shedding of a drop of blood. So they both blustered through the world, the one in deed, the other in word; and both played their parts with so little refinement that they frightened the groundlings to a timid admiration. Here the resemblance is at an end. In the essentials of their trade Gilderoy was a professional, Rann a mere amateur. They both bullied; but, while Sixteen-String Jack was content to shout threats, and pick up half-a-crown, Gilderoy breathed murder, and demanded a vast ransom. Only once in his career did the `disgraceful Scotsman’ become gay and debonair. Only once did he relax the tension of his frown, and pick pockets with the lightness and freedom of a gentleman. It was on his voyage to France that he forgot his old policy of arson and pillage, and truly the Court of the Great King was not the place for his rapacious cruelty. Jack Rann, on the other hand, would have taken life as a prolonged jest, if Sir John Fielding and the sheriffs had not checked his mirth. He was but a bungler on the road, with no more resource than he might have learned from the common chap-book, or from the dying speeches, hawked in Newgate Street. But he had a fine talent for merriment; he loved nothing so well as a smart coat and a pretty woman. Thieving was no passion with him, but a necessity. How could he dance at a masquerade or court his Ellen with an empty pocket? So he took to the road as the sole profession of an idle man, and he bullied his way from Hounslow to Epping in sheer lightness of heart. After all, to rob Dr. Bell of eighteenpence was the work of a simpleton. It was a very pretty taste which expressed itself in a pea-green coat and deathless strings; and Rann will keep posterity’s respect rather for the accessories of his art than for the art itself. On the other hand, you cannot imagine Gilderoy habited otherwise than in black; you cannot imagine this monstrous matricide taking pleasure in the smaller elegancies of life. From first to last he was the stern and beetle-browed marauder, who would have despised the frippery of Sixteen-String Jack as vehemently as his sudden appearance would have frightened the foppish lover of Ellen Roach.

Their conduct with women is sufficient index of their character. Jack Rann was too general a lover for fidelity. But he was amiable, even in his unfaithfulness; he won the undying affection of his Ellen; he never stood in the dock without a nosegay tied up by fair and nimble fingers; he was attended to Tyburn by a bevy of distinguished admirers. Gilderoy, on the other hand, approached women in a spirit of violence. His Sadic temper drove him to kill those whom he affected to love. And his cruelty was amply repaid. While Ellen Roach perjured herself to save the lover, to whose memory she professed a lifelong loyalty, it was Peg Cunningham who wreaked her vengeance in the betrayal of Gilderoy. He remained true to his character, when he ripped up the belly of his betrayer. This was the closing act of his life.

Rann, also, was consistent, even to the gallows. The night before his death he entertained seven women at supper, and outlaughed them all. The contrast is not so violent as it appears. The one act is melodrama, the other farce. And what is farce, but melodrama in a happier shape?



THOMAS PURENEY, Archbishop among Ordinaries, lived and preached in the heyday of Newgate. His was the good fortune to witness Sheppard’s encounter with the topsman, and to shrive the battered soul of Jonathan Wild. Nor did he fall one inch below his opportunity. Designed by Providence to administer a final consolation to the evil-doer, he permitted no false ambition to distract his talent. As some men are born for the gallows, so he was born to thump the cushion of a prison pulpit; and his peculiar aptitude was revealed to him before he had time to spend his strength in mistaken endeavour.

For thirty years his squat, stout figure was amiably familiar to all such as enjoyed the Liberties of the Jug. For thirty years his mottled nose and the rubicundity of his cheeks were the ineffaceable ensigns of his intemperance. Yet there was a grimy humour in his forbidding aspect. The fusty black coat, which sat ill upon his shambling frame, was all besmirched with spilled snuff, and the lees of a thousand quart pots. The bands of his profession were ever awry upon a tattered shirt. His ancient wig scattered dust and powder as he went, while a single buckle of some tawdry metal gave a look of oddity to his clumsy, slipshod feet. A caricature of a man, he ambled and chuckled and seized the easy pleasures within his reach. There was never a summer’s day but he caught upon his brow the few faint gleams of sunlight that penetrated the gloomy yard. Hour after hour he would sit, his short fingers hardly linked across his belly, drinking his cup of ale, and puffing at a half-extinguished tobacco-pipe. Meanwhile he would reflect upon those triumphs of oratory which were his supreme delight. If it fell on a Monday that he took the air, a smile of satisfaction lit up his fat, loose features, for still he pondered the effect of yesterday’s masterpiece. On Saturday the glad expectancy of to-morrow lent him a certain joyous dignity. At other times his eye lacked lustre, his gesture buoyancy, unless indeed he were called upon to follow the cart to Tyburn, or to compose the Last Dying Speech of some notorious malefactor.

Preaching was the master passion of his life. It was the pulpit that reconciled him to exile within a great city, and persuaded him to the enjoyment of roguish company. Those there were who deemed his career unfortunate; but a sense of fitness might have checked their pity, and it was only in his hours of maudlin confidence that the Reverend Thomas confessed to disappointment. Born of respectable parents in the County of Cambridgeshire, he nurtured his youth upon the exploits of James Hind and the Golden Farmer. His boyish pleasure was to lie in the ditch, which bounded his father’s orchard, studying that now forgotten masterpiece, `There’s no Jest like a True Jest.’ Then it was that he felt `immortal longings in his blood.’ He would take to the road, so he swore, and hold up his enemies like a gentleman. Once, indeed, he was surprised by the clergyman of the parish in act to escape from the rectory with two volumes of sermons and a silver flagon. The divine was minded to speak seriously to him concerning the dreadful sin of robbery, and having strengthened him with texts and good counsel, to send him forth unpunished. `Thieving and covetousness,’ said the parson, `must inevitably bring you to the gallows. If you would die in your bed, repent you of your evildoing, and rob no more.’ The exhortation was not lost upon Pureney, who, chastened in spirit, straightly prevailed upon his father to enter him a pensioner at Corpus Christi College in the University of Cambridge, that at the proper time he might take orders.

At Cambridge he gathered no more knowledge than was necessary for his profession, and wasted such hours as should have been given to study in drinking, dicing, and even less reputable pleasures. Yet repentance was always easy, and he accepted his first curacy, at Newmarket, with a brave heart and a good hopefulness. Fortunate was the choice of this early cure. Had he been gently guided at the outset, who knows but he might have lived out his life in respectable obscurity? But Newmarket then, as now, was a town of jollity and dissipation, and Pureney yielded without persuasion to the pleasures denied his cloth. There was ever a fire to extinguish at his throat, nor could he veil his wanton eye at the sight of a pretty wench. Again and again the lust of preaching urged him to repent, yet he slid back upon his past gaiety, until Parson Pureney became a byword. Dismissed from Newmarket in disgrace, he wandered the country up and down in search of a pulpit, but so infamous became the habit of his life that only in prison could he find an audience fit and responsive.

And, in the nick, the chaplaincy of Newgate fell vacant. Here was the occasion to temper dissipation with piety, to indulge the twofold ambition of his life. What mattered it, if within the prison walls he dipped his nose more deeply into the punch-bowl than became a divine? The rascals would but respect him the more for his prowess, and knit more closely the bond of sympathy. Besides, after preaching and punch he best loved a penitent, and where in the world could he find so rich a crop of erring souls ripe for repentance as in gaol? Henceforth he might threaten, bluster, and cajole. If amiability proved fruitless he would put cruelty to the test, and terrify his victims by a spirited reference to Hell and to that Burning Lake they were so soon to traverse. At last, thought he, I shall be sure of my effect, and the prospect flattered his vanity. In truth, he won an immediate and assured success. Like the common file or cracksman, he fell into the habit of the place, intriguing with all the cleverness of a practised diplomatist, and setting one party against the other that he might in due season decide the trumpery dispute. The trusted friend of many a distinguished prig and murderer, he so intimately mastered the slang and etiquette of the Jug, that he was appointed arbiter of all those nice questions of honour which agitated the more reputable among the cross-coves. But these were the diversions of a strenuous mind, and it was in the pulpit or in the closet that the Reverend Thomas Pureney revealed his true talent.

As the ruffian had a sense of drama, so he was determined that his words should scald and bite the penitent. When the condemned pew was full of a Sunday his happiness was complete. Now his deep chest would hurl salvo on salvo of platitudes against the sounding-board; now his voice, lowered to a whisper, would coax the hopeless prisoners to prepare their souls. In a paroxysm of feigned anger he would crush the cushion with his clenched fist, or leaning over the pulpit side as though to approach the nearer to his victims, would roll a cold and bitter eye upon them, as of a cat watching caged birds. One famous gesture was irresistible, and he never employed it but some poor ruffian fell senseless to the floor. His stumpy fingers would fix a noose of air round some imagined neck, and so devoutly was the pantomime studied that you almost heard the creak of the retreating cart as the phantom culprit was turned off. But his conduct in the pulpit was due to no ferocity of temperament. He merely exercised his legitimate craft. So long as Newgate supplied him with an enforced audience, so long would he thunder and bluster at the wrongdoer according to law and the dictates of his conscience.

Many, in truth, were his triumphs, but, as he would mutter in his garrulous old age, never was he so successful as in the last exhortation delivered to Matthias Brinsden. Now, Matthias Brinsden incontinently murdered his wife because she harboured too eager a love of the brandy-shop. A model husband, he had spared no pains in her correction. He had flogged her without mercy and without result. His one design was to make his wife obey him, which, as the Scriptures say, all wives should do. But the lust of brandy overcame wifely obedience, and Brinsden, hoping for the best, was constrained to cut a hole in her skull. The next day she was as impudent as ever, until Matthias rose yet more fiercely in his wrath, and the shrew perished. Then was Thomas Pureney’s opportunity, and the Sunday following the miscreant’s condemnation he delivered unto him and seventeen other malefactors the moving discourse which here follows:

`We shall take our text,’ gruffed the Ordinary `From out the Psalms: “Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days.” And firstly, we shall expound to you the heinous sin of murder, which is unlawful (1) according to the Natural Laws, (2) according to the Jewish Law, (3) according to the Christian Law, proportionably stronger. By Nature ’tis unlawful as ’tis injuring Society: as ’tis robbing God of what is His Right and Property; as ’tis depriving the Slain of the satisfaction of Eating, Drinking, Talking, and the Light of the Sun, which it is his right to enjoy. And especially ’tis unlawful, as it is sending a Soul naked and unprepared to appear before a wrathful and avenging Deity without time to make his Soul composedly or to listen to the thoughtful ministrations of one (like ourselves) soundly versed in Divinity. By the Jewish Law ’tis forbidden, for is it not written (Gen. ix. 6): “Whosoever sheddeth Man’s Blood, by Man his Blood shall be shed”? And if an Eye be given for an Eye, a Tooth for a Tooth, how shall the Murderer escape with his dishonoured Life? ‘Tis further forbidden by the Christian Law (proportionably stronger).

But on this head we would speak no word, for were not you all, O miserable Sinners, born not in the Darkness of Heathendom, but in the burning Light of Christian England?

`Secondly, we will consider the peculiar wickedness of Parricide, and especially the Murder of a Wife. What deed, in truth, is more heinous than that a man should slay the Parent of his own Children, the Wife he had once loved and chose out of all the world to be a Companion of his Days; the Wife who long had shared his good Fortune and his ill, who had brought him with Pain and Anguish several Tokens and Badges of Affection, the Olive Branches round about his Table? To embrew the hands in such blood is double Murder, as it murders not only the Person slain, but kills the Happiness of the orphaned Children, depriving them of Bread, and forcing them upon wicked Ways of getting a Maintenance, which often terminate in Newgate and an ignominious death.

`Bloodthirsty men, we have said, shall not live out half their Days. And think not that Repentance avails the Murderer. “Hell and Damnation are never full” (Prov. xxvii. 20), and the meanest Sinner shall find a place in the Lake which burns unto Eternity with Fire and Brimstone. Alas! your Punishment shall not finish with the Noose. Your “end is to be burned” (Heb. vi. 8), to be burned, for the Blood that is shed cries aloud for Vengeance.’ At these words, as Pureney would relate with a smile of recollected triumph, Matthias Brinsden screamed aloud, and a shiver ran through the idle audience which came to Newgate on a Black Sunday, as to a bull-baiting. Truly, the throng of thoughtless spectators hindered the proper solace of the Ordinary’s ministrations, and many a respectable murderer complained of the intruding mob. But the Ordinary, otherwise minded, loved nothing so well as a packed house, and though he would invite the criminal to his private closet, and comfort his solitude with pious ejaculations, he would neither shield him from curiosity, nor tranquillise his path to the unquenchable fire.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

His vanity and his laziness were alike invincible. He believed himself a miracle of learning as well as a perfect thief, and physical toil was the sole `lay’ for which he professed no capacity. For a while he corrected the press for a printer, and he roundly asserts that his knowledge of literature and of foreign tongues rendered him invaluable. It was vanity again that induced him to assert his innocence when he was lagged for so vulgar a crime as stealing a wipe from a tradesman in Chancery Lane. At the moment of arrest he was on his way to purchase base coin from a Whitechapel bit-faker: but, despite his nefarious errand, he is righteously wrathful at what he asserts was an unjust conviction, and henceforth he assumed the crown of martyrdom. His first and last ambition during the intervals of freedom was gentility, and so long as he was not at work he lived the life of a respectable grocer. Although the casual Cyprian