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A Book of Scoundrels by Charles Whibley

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I desire to thank the Proprietors of the `National
Observer,' the `New Review,' the `Pall Mall
Gazette,' and `Macmillan's Magazine,' for
courteous permission to reprint certain chapters of
this book.















There are other manifestations of greatness than to relieve
suffering or to wreck an empire. Julius Csar and John Howard
are not the only heroes who have smiled upon the world. In the
supreme adaptation of means to an end there is a constant
nobility, for neither ambition nor virtue is the essential of a
perfect action. How shall you contemplate with indifference the
career of an artist whom genius or good guidance has compelled to
exercise his peculiar skill, to indulge his finer aptitudes? A
masterly theft rises in its claim to respect high above the
reprobation of the moralist. The scoundrel, when once justice is
quit of him, has a right to be appraised by his actions, not by
their effect; and he dies secure in the knowledge that he is
commonly more distinguished, if he be less loved, than his
virtuous contemporaries.

While murder is wellnigh as old as life, property and the pocket
invented theft, late-born among the arts. It was not until
avarice had devised many a cunning trick for the protection of
wealth, until civilisation had multiplied the forms of portable
property, that thieving became a liberal and an elegant
profession. True, in pastoral society, the lawless man was eager
to lift cattle, to break down the barrier between robbery and
warfare. But the contrast is as sharp between the savagery of
the ancient reiver and the polished performance of Captain Hind
as between the daub of the pavement and the perfection of

So long as the Gothic spirit governed Europe, expressing itself
in useless ornament and wanton brutality, the more delicate
crafts had no hope of exercise. Even the adventurer upon the
road threatened his victim with a bludgeon, nor was it until the
breath of the Renaissance had vivified the world that a gentleman
and an artist could face the traveller with a courteous demand
for his purse. But the age which witnessed the enterprise of
Drake and the triumph of Shakespeare knew also the prowess of the
highwayman and the dexterity of the cutpurse. Though the art
displayed all the freshness and curiosity of the primitives,
still it was art. With Gamaliel Ratsey, who demanded a scene
from Hamlet of a rifled player, and who could not rob a
Cambridge scholar without bidding him deliver an oration in a
wood, theft was already better than a vulgar extortion. Moll
Cutpurse, whose intelligence and audacity were never bettered,
was among the bravest of the Elizabethans. Her temperament was
as large and as reckless as Ben Jonson's own. Neither her tongue
nor her courage knew the curb of modesty, and she was the
first to reduce her craft to a set of wise and imperious rules.
She it was who discovered the secret of discipline, and who
insisted that every member of her gang should undertake no other
enterprise than that for which nature had framed him. Thus she
made easy the path for that other hero, of whom you are told that
his band was made up `of several sorts of wicked artists, of whom
he made several uses, according as he perceived which way every
man's particular talent lay.' This statesman--Thomas Dun was his
name--drew up for the use of his comrades a stringent and stately
code, and he was wont to deliver an address to all novices
concerning the art and mystery of robbing upon the highway.
Under auspices so brilliant, thievery could not but flourish, and
when the Stuarts sat upon the throne it was already lifted above
the level of questioning experiment.

Every art is shaped by its material, and with the variations of
its material it must perforce vary. If the skill of the cutpurse
compelled the invention of the pocket, it is certain that the
rare difficulties of the pocket created the miraculous skill of
those crafty fingers which were destined to empty it. And as
increased obstacles are perfection's best incentive, a finer
cunning grew out of the fresh precaution. History does not tell
us who it was that discovered this new continent of roguery.
Those there are who give the credit to the valiant Moll Cutpurse;
but though the Roaring Girl had wit to conceive a thousand
strange enterprises, she had not the hand to carry them out, and
the first pickpocket must needs have been a man of action.
Moreover, her nickname suggests the more ancient practice, and it
is wiser to yield the credit to Simon Fletcher, whose praises are
chanted by the early historians.

Now, Simon, says his biographer, was `looked upon to be the
greatest artist of his age by all his contemporaries.' The son
of a baker in Rosemary Lane, he early deserted his father's oven
for a life of adventure; and he claims to have been the first
collector who, stealing the money, yet left the case. The new
method was incomparably more subtle than the old: it afforded an
opportunity of a hitherto unimagined delicacy; the wielders of
the scissors were aghast at a skill which put their own
clumsiness to shame, and which to a previous generation would
have seemed the wildest fantasy. Yet so strong is habit, that
even when the picking of pockets was a recognised industry, the
superfluous scissors still survived, and many a rogue has hanged
upon the Tree because he attempted with a vulgar implement such
feats as his unaided forks had far more easily accomplished.

But, despite the innovation of Simon Fletcher, the highway was
the glory of Elizabeth, the still greater glory of the Stuarts.
`The Lacedmonians were the only people,' said Horace Walpole,
`except the English who seem to have put robbery on a right
foot.' And the English of the seventeenth century need fear the
rivalry of no Lacedmonian. They were, indeed, the most
valiant and graceful robbers that the world has ever known. The
Civil War encouraged their profession, and, since many of them
had fought for their king, a proper hatred of Cromwell sharpened
their wits. They were scholars as well as gentlemen; they
tempered their sport with a merry wit; their avarice alone
surpassed their courtesy; and they robbed with so perfect a
regard for the proprieties that it was only the pedant and the
parliamentarian who resented their interference.

Nor did their princely manner fail of its effect upon their
victims. The middle of the seventeenth century was the golden
age, not only of the robber, but of the robbed. The game was
played upon either side with a scrupulous respect for a potent,
if unwritten, law. Neither might nor right was permitted to
control the issue. A gaily attired, superbly mounted highwayman
would hold up a coach packed with armed men, and take a purse
from each, though a vigorous remonstrance might have carried him
to Tyburn. But the traveller knew his place: he did what was
expected of him in the best of tempers. Who was he that he
should yield in courtesy to the man in the vizard? As it was
monstrous for the one to discharge his pistol, so the other could
not resist without committing an outrage upon tradition. One
wonders what had been the result if some mannerless reformer had
declined his assailant's invitation and drawn his sword. Maybe
the sensitive art might have died under this sharp rebuff. But
none save regicides were known to resist, and their resistance
was never more forcible than a volley of texts. Thus the High-
toby-crack swaggered it with insolent gaiety, knowing no worse
misery than the fear of the Tree, so long as he followed the
rules of his craft. But let a touch of brutality disgrace his
method, and he appealed in vain for sympathy or indulgence. The
ruffian, for instance, of whom it is grimly recorded that he
added a tie-wig to his booty, neither deserved nor received the
smallest consideration. Delivered to justice, he speedily met
the death his vulgarity merited, and the road was taught the
salutary lesson that wigs were as sacred as trinkets hallowed by

With the eighteenth century the highway fell upon decline. No
doubt in its silver age, the century's beginning, many a
brilliant deed was done. Something of the old policy survived,
and men of spirit still went upon the pad. But the breadth of
the ancient style was speedily forgotten; and by the time the
First George climbed to the throne, robbery was already a sordid
trade. Neither side was conscious of its noble obligation. The
vulgar audacity of a bullying thief was suitably answered by the
ungracious, involuntary submission of the terrified traveller.
From end to end of England you might hear the cry of `Stand and
deliver.' Yet how changed the accent! The beauty of gesture,
the deference of carriage, the ready response to a legitimate
demand--all the qualities of a dignified art were lost for ever.
As its professors increased in number, the note of aristocracy,
once dominant, was silenced. The meanest rogue, who could
hire a horse, might cut a contemptible figure on Bagshot Heath,
and feel no shame at robbing a poor man. Once--in that Augustan
age, whose brightest ornament was Captain Hind--it was something
of a distinction to be decently plundered. A century later there
was none so humble but he might be asked to empty his pocket. In
brief, the blight of democracy was upon what should have remained
a refined, secluded art; and nowise is the decay better
illustrated than in the appreciation of bunglers, whose exploits
were scarce worth a record.

James Maclaine, for instance, was the hero of his age. In a
history of cowards he would deserve the first place, and the
`Gentleman Highwayman,' as he was pompously styled, enjoyed a
triumph denied to many a victorious general. Lord Mountford led
half White's to do him honour on the day of his arrest. On the
first Sunday, which he spent in Newgate, three thousand jostled
for entrance to his cell, and the poor devil fainted three times
at the heat caused by the throng of his admirers. So long as his
fate hung in the balance, Walpole could not take up his pen
without a compliment to the man, who claimed to have robbed him
near Hyde Park. Yet a more pitiful rascal never showed the white
feather. Not once was he known to take a purse with his own
hand, the summit of his achievement being to hold the horses'
heads while his accomplice spoke with the passengers. A poltroon
before his arrest, in Court he whimpered and whinnied for
mercy; he was carried to the cart pallid and trembling, and not
even his preposterous finery availed to hearten him at the
gallows. Taxed with his timidity, he attempted to excuse himself
on the inadmissible plea of moral rectitude. `I have as much
personal courage in an honourable cause,' he exclaimed in a
passage of false dignity, `as any man in Britain; but as I knew I
was committing acts of injustice, so I went to them half loth and
half consenting; and in that sense I own I am a coward indeed.'

The disingenuousness of this proclamation is as remarkable as its
hypocrisy. Well might he brag of his courage in an honourable
cause, when he knew that he could never be put to the test. But
what palliation shall you find for a rogue with so little pride
in his art, that he exercised it `half loth, half consenting'?
It is not in this recreant spirit that masterpieces are achieved,
and Maclaine had better have stayed in the far Highland parish,
which bred him, than have attempted to cut a figure in the larger
world of London. His famous encounter with Walpole should have
covered him with disgrace, for it was ignoble at every point; and
the art was so little understood, that it merely added a leaf to
his crown of glory. Now, though Walpole was far too well-bred to
oppose the demand of an armed stranger, Maclaine, in defiance of
his craft, discharged his pistol at an innocent head. True, he
wrote a letter of apology, and insisted that, had the one pistol-
shot proved fatal, he had another in reserve for himself. But
not even Walpole would have believed him, had not an amiable
faith given him an opportunity for the answering quip: `Can I do
less than say I will be hanged if he is?'

As Maclaine was a coward and no thief, so also he was a snob and
no gentleman. His boasted elegance was not more respectable than
his art. Fine clothes are the embellishment of a true
adventurer; they hang ill on the sloping shoulders of a poltroon.

And Maclaine, with all the ostensible weaknesses of his kind,
would claim regard for the strength that he knew not. He
occupied a costly apartment in St. James's Street; his morning
dress was a crimson damask banjam, a silk shag waistcoat, trimmed
with lace, black velvet breeches, white silk stockings, and
yellow morocco slippers; but since his magnificence added no jot
to his courage, it was rather mean than admirable. Indeed, his
whole career was marred by the provincialism of his native manse.

And he was the adored of an intelligent age; he basked a few
brief weeks in the noonday sun of fashion.

If distinction was not the heritage of the Eighteenth Century,
its glory is that now and again a giant raised his head above the
stature of a prevailing rectitude. The art of verse was lost in
rhetoric; the noble prose, invented by the Elizabethans, and
refined under the Stuarts, was whittled away to common sense by
the admirers of Addison and Steele. Swift and Johnson, Gibbon
and Fielding, were apparitions of strength in an amiable,
ineffective age. They emerged sudden from the impeccable
greyness, to which they afforded an heroic contrast. So, while
the highway drifted--drifted to a vulgar incompetence, the craft
was illumined by many a flash of unexpected genius. The
brilliant achievements of Jonathan Wild and of Jack Sheppard
might have relieved the gloom of the darkest era, and their
separate masterpieces make some atonement for the environing
cowardice and stupidity. Above all, the Eighteenth Century was
Newgate's golden age; now for the first time and the last were
the rules and customs of the Jug perfectly understood. If
Jonathan the Great was unrivalled in the art of clapping his
enemies into prison, if Jack the Slip-string was supreme in the
rarer art of getting himself out, even the meanest criminal of
his time knew what was expected of him, so long as he wandered
within the walled yard, or listened to the ministrations of the
snuff-besmirched Ordinary. He might show a lamentable lack of
cleverness in carrying off his booty; he might prove a too easy
victim to the wiles of the thief-catcher; but he never fell short
of courage, when asked to sustain the consequences of his crime.

Newgate, compared by one eminent author to a university, by
another to a ship, was a republic, whose liberty extended only so
far as its iron door. While there was no liberty without, there
was licence within; and if the culprit, who paid for the smallest
indiscretion with his neck, understood the etiquette of the
place, he spent his last weeks in an orgie of rollicking
lawlessness. He drank, he ate, he diced; he received his
friends, or chaffed the Ordinary; he attempted, through the well-
paid cunning of the Clerk, to bribe the jury; and when every
artifice had failed he went to Tyburn like a man. If he knew not
how to live, at least he would show a resentful world how to die.

`In no country,' wrote Sir T. Smith, a distinguished lawyer of
the time, `do malefactors go to execution more intrepidly than in
England'; and assuredly, buoyed up by custom and the approval of
their fellows, Wild's victims made a brave show at the gallows.
Nor was their bravery the result of a common callousness. They
understood at once the humour and the delicacy of the situation.
Though hitherto they had chaffed the Ordinary, they now listened
to his exhortation with at least a semblance of respect; and
though their last night upon earth might have been devoted to a
joyous company, they did not withhold their ear from the
Bellman's Chant. As twelve o'clock approached--their last
midnight upon earth--they would interrupt the most spirited
discourse, they would check the tour of the mellowest bottle to
listen to the solemn doggerel. `All you that in the condemn'd
hole do lie,' groaned the Bellman of St. Sepulchre's in his
duskiest voice, and they who held revel in the condemned hole
prayed silence of their friends for the familiar cadences:

All you that in the condemn'd hole do lie,
Prepare you, for to-morrow you shall die,
Watch all and pray, the hour is drawing near,
That you before th' Almighty must appear.
Examine well yourselves, in time repent
That you may not t' eternal flames be sent;
And when St. Pulchre's bell to-morrow tolls,
The Lord above have mercy on your souls.
Past twelve o'clock!

Even if this warning voice struck a momentary terror into their
offending souls, they were up betimes in the morning, eager to
pay their final debt. Their journey from Newgate to Tyburn was a
triumph, and their vanity was unabashed at the droning menaces of
the Ordinary. At one point a chorus of maidens cast wreaths upon
their way, or pinned nosegays in their coats, that they might not
face the executioner unadorned. At the Crown Tavern they quaffed
their last glass of ale, and told the landlord with many a leer
and smirk that they would pay him on their way back. Though
gravity was asked, it was not always given; but in the Eighteenth
Century courage was seldom wanting. To the common citizen a
violent death was (and is) the worst of horrors; to the ancient
highwayman it was the odd trick lost in the game of life. And
the highwayman endured the rope, as the practised gambler loses
his estate, without blenching. One there was, who felt his leg
tremble in his own despite: wherefore he stamped it upon the
ground so violently, that in other circumstances he would
have roared with pain, and he left the world without a
tremor. In this spirit Cranmer burnt his recreant right hand,
and in either case the glamour of a unique occasion was a
stimulus to courage.

But not even this brilliant treatment of accessories availed to
save the highway from disrepute; indeed, it had become the
profitless pursuit of braggarts and loafers, long before the
abolition of the stage-coach destroyed its opportunity. In the
meantime, however, the pickpocket was master of his trade. His
strategy was perfect, his sleight of hand as delicate as long,
lithe fingers and nimble brains could make it. He had discarded
for ever those clumsy instruments whose use had barred the
progress of the Primitives. The breast-pocket behind the
tightest buttoned coat presented no difficulty to his love of
research, and he would penetrate the stoutest frieze or the
lightest satin, as easily as Jack Sheppard made a hole through
Newgate. His trick of robbery was so simple and yet so
successful, that ever since it has remained a tradition. The
collision, the victim's murmured apology, the hasty scuffle, the
booty handed to the aide-de-camp, who is out of sight before
the hue and cry can be raised--such was the policy advocated two
hundred years ago; such is the policy pursued to day by the few
artists that remain.

Throughout the eighteenth century the art of cly-faking held its
own, though its reputation paled in the glamour of the highway.
It culminated in George Barrington, whose vivid genius persuaded
him to work alone and to carry off his own booty; it still
flourished (in a silver age) when the incomparable Haggart
performed his prodigies of skill; even in our prosaic time some
flashes of the ancient glory have been seen. Now and again
circumstances have driven it into eclipse. When the facile
sentiment of the Early Victorian Era poised the tear of sympathy
upon every trembling eyelid, the most obdurate was forced to
provide himself with a silk handkerchief of equal size and value.

Now, a wipe is the easiest booty in the world, and the Artful
Dodger might grow rich without the exercise of the smallest
skill. But wipes dwindled, with dwindling sensibility; and once
more the pickpocket was forced upon cleverness or extinction.

At the same time the more truculent trade of housebreaking was
winning a lesser triumph of its own. Never, save in the hands of
one or two distinguished practitioners, has this clumsy, brutal
pursuit taken on the refinement of an art. Essentially modern,
it has generally been pursued in the meanest spirit of gain.
Deacon Brodie clung to it as to a diversion, but he was an
amateur, without a clear understanding of his craft's
possibilities. The sole monarch of housebreakers was Charles
Peace. At a single stride he surpassed his predecessors; nor has
the greatest of his imitators been worthy to hand on the candle
which he left at the gallows. For the rest, there is small
distinction in breaking windows, wielding crowbars, and battering
the brains of defenceless old gentlemen. And it is to such
miserable tricks as this that he who two centuries since rode
abroad in all the glory of the High-toby-splice descends in these
days of avarice and stupidity. The legislators who decreed that
henceforth the rope should be reserved for the ultimate crime of
murder were inspired with a proper sense of humour and
proportion. It would be ignoble to dignify that ugly enterprise
of to-day, the cracking of suburban cribs, with the same
punishment which was meted out to Claude Duval and the immortal
Switcher. Better for the churl the disgrace of Portland than the
chance of heroism and respect given at the Tree!

And where are the heroes whose art was as glorious as their
intrepidity? One and all they have climbed the ascent of Tyburn.

One and all, they have leaped resplendent from the cart. The
world, which was the joyous playground of highwaymen and
pickpockets, is now the Arcadia of swindlers. The man who once
went forth to meet his equal on the road, now plunders the
defenceless widow or the foolish clergyman from the security of
an office. He has changed Black Bess for a brougham, his pistol
for a cigar; a sleek chimney-pot sits upon the head, which once
carried a jaunty hat, three-cornered; spats have replaced the
tops of ancient times; and a heavy fur coat advertises at once
the wealth and inaction of the modern brigand. No longer does he
roam the heaths of Hounslow or Bagshot; no longer does he track
the grazier to a country fair. Fearful of an encounter, he
chooses for the fields of his enterprise the byways of the
City, and the advertisement columns of the smugly Christian
Press. He steals without risking his skin or losing his
respectability. The suburb, wherein he brings up a blameless,
flat-footed family, regards him as its most renowned benefactor.
He is generally a pillar (or a buttress) of the Church, and
oftentimes a mayor; with his ill-gotten wealth he promotes
charities, and endows schools; his portrait is painted by a
second-rate Academician, and hangs, until disaster overtakes him,
in the town-hall of his adopted borough.

How much worse is he than the High-toby-cracks of old! They were
as brave as lions; he is a very louse for timidity. His conduct
is meaner than the conduct of the most ruffianly burglar that
ever worked a centre-bit. Of art he has not the remotest
inkling: though his greed is bounded by the Bank of England, he
understands not the elegancies of life; he cares not how he
plumps his purse, so long as it be full; and if he were capable
of conceiving a grand effect, he would willingly surrender it for
a pocketed half-crown. This side the Channel, in brief, romance
and the picturesque are dead; and in France, the last refuge of
crime, there are already signs of decay. The Abb Bruneau
caught a whiff of style and invention from the past. That other
Abb--Rosslot was his name--shone forth a pure creator: he
owed his prowess to the example of none. But in Paris crime is
too often passionel, and a crime passionel is a crime with a
purpose, which, like the novel with a purpose, is conceived
by a dullard, and carried out for the gratification of the

To whitewash the scoundrel is to put upon him the heaviest
dishonour: a dishonour comparable only to the monstrously
illogical treatment of the condemned. When once a hero has
forfeited his right to comfort and freedom, when he is deemed no
longer fit to live upon earth, the Prison Chaplain, encouraging
him to a final act of hypocrisy, gives him a free pass (so to
say) into another and more exclusive world. So, too, the
moralist would test the thief by his own narrow standard,
forgetting that all professions are not restrained by the same
code. The road has its ordinances as well as the lecture-room;
and if the thief is commonly a bad moralist, it is certain that
no moralist was ever a great thief. Why then detract from a
man's legitimate glory? Is it not wiser to respect `that deep
intuition of oneness,' which Coleridge says is `at the bottom of
our faults as well as our virtues?' To recognise that a fault in
an honest man is a virtue in a scoundrel? After all, he is
eminent who, in obedience to his talent, does prodigies of valour
unrivalled by his fellows. And none has so many opportunities of
various eminence as the scoundrel.

The qualities which may profitably be applied to a cross life are
uncommon and innumerable. It is not given to all men to be
light-brained, light-limbed, light-fingered. A courage which
shall face an enemy under the starlight, or beneath the shadow of
a wall, which shall track its prey to a well-defended lair,
is far rarer than a law-abiding cowardice. The recklessness that
risks all for a present advantage is called genius, if a
victorious general urge it to success; nor can you deny to the
intrepid Highwayman, whose sudden resolution triumphs at an
instant of peril, the possession of an admirable gift. But all
heroes have not proved themselves excellent at all points. This
one has been distinguished for the courtly manner of his attack,
that other for a prescience which discovers booty behind a coach-
door or within the pocket of a buttoned coat. If Cartouche was a
master of strategy, Barrington was unmatched in another branch;
and each may claim the credit due to a peculiar eminence. It is
only thus that you may measure conflicting talents: as it were
unfair to judge a poet by a brief experiment in prose, so it
would be monstrous to cheapen the accomplishments of a
pickpocket, because he bungled at the concealment of his gains.

A stern test of artistry is the gallows. Perfect behaviour at an
enforced and public scrutiny may properly be esteemed an effect
of talent--an effect which has not too often been rehearsed.
There is no reason why the Scoundrel, fairly beaten at the last
point in the game, should not go to his death without swagger and
without remorse. At least he might comfort himself with such
phrases as `a dance without the music,' and he has not often been
lacking in courage. What he has missed is dignity: his
pitfalls have been unctuosity, on the one side, bravado on the
other. It was the Prison Ordinary, who first misled him into the
assumption of a piety which neither preacher nor disciple
understood. It was the Prison Ordinary, who persuaded him to
sign his name to a lying confession of guilt, drawn up in
accordance with a foolish and inexorable tradition, and to
deliver such a last dying speech as would not disappoint the mob.

The set phrases, the vain prayer offered for other sinners, the
hypocritical profession of a superior righteousness, were neither
noble nor sincere. When Tom Jones (for instance) was hanged, in
1702, after a prosperous career on Hounslow Heath, his biographer
declared that he behaved with more than usual `modesty and
decency,' because he `delivered a pretty deal of good advice to
the young men present, exhorting them to be industrious in their
several callings.' Whereas his biographer should have discovered
that it is not thus that your true hero bids farewell to frolic
and adventure.

As little in accordance with good taste was the last appearance
of the infamous Jocelin Harwood, who was swung from the cart in
1692 for murder and robbery. He arrived at Tyburn insolently
drunk. He blustered and ranted, until the spectators hissed
their disapproval, and he died vehemently shouting that he would
act the same murder again in the same case. Unworthy, also, was
the last dying repartee of Samuel Shotland, a notorious bully of
the Eighteenth Century. Taking off his shoes, he hurled them
into the crowd, with a smirk of delight. `My father and mother
often told me,' he cried, `that I should die with my shoes on;
but you may all see that I have made them both liars.' A great
man dies not with so mean a jest, and Tyburn was untouched to
mirth by Shotland's facile humour.

On the other hand, there are those who have given a splendid
example of a brave and dignified death. Brodie was a sorry
bungler when at work, but a perfect artist at the gallows. The
glory of his last achievement will never fade. The muttered
prayer, unblemished by hypocrisy, the jest thrown at George
Smith--a metaphor from the gaming-table--the silent adjustment of
the cord which was to strangle him, these last offices were
performed with an unparalleled quietude and restraint. Though he
had pattered the flash to all his wretched accomplices, there was
no trace of the last dying speech in his final utterances, and he
set an example of a simple greatness, worthy to be followed even
to the end of time. Such is the type, but others also have given
proof of a serene temper. Tom Austin's masterpiece was in
another kind, but it was none the less a masterpiece. At the
very moment that the halter was being put about his neck, he was
asked by the Chaplain what he had to say before he died. `Only,'
says he, `there's a woman yonder with some curds and whey, and I
wish I could have a pennyworth of them before I am hanged,
because I don't know when I shall see any again.' There is a
brave irrelevance in this very human desire, which is beyond

Valiant also was the conduct of Roderick Audrey, who after a
brief but brilliant career paid his last debt to the law in 1714.

He was but sixteen, and, says his biographer, `he went very
decent to the gallows, being in a white waistcoat, clean napkin,
white gloves, and an orange in one hand.' So well did he play
his part, that one wonders Jack Ketch did not shrink from the
performance of his. But throughout his short life, Roderick
Audrey--the very name is an echo of romance!--displayed a
contempt for whatever was common or ugly. Not only was his
appearance at Tyburn a lesson in elegance, but he thieved, as
none ever thieved before or since, with no other accomplice than
a singing-bird. Thus he would play outside a house, wherein he
espied a sideboard of plate, and at last, bidding his playmate
flutter through an open window into the parlour, he would follow
upon the excuse of recovery, and, once admitted, would carry off
as much silver as he could conceal. None other ever attempted so
graceful an artifice, and yet Audrey's journey to Tyburn is even
more memorable than the story of his gay accomplice.

But it is not only the truly great who have won for themselves an
enduring reputation. There are men, not a few, esteemed, like
the popular novelist, not for their art but for some foolish
gift, some facile trick of notoriety, whose actions have tickled
the fancy, not the understanding of the world. The coward
and the impostor have been set upon a pedestal of glory either by
accident or by the whim of posterity. For more than a century
Dick Turpin has appeared not so much the greatest of highwaymen,
as the Highwaymen Incarnate. His prowess has been extolled in
novels and upon the stage; his ride to York is still bepraised
for a feat of miraculous courage and endurance; the death of
Black Bess has drawn floods of tears down the most callous
cheeks. And the truth is that Turpin was never a gentleman of
the road at all! Black Bess is as pure an invention as the
famous ride to York. The ruffian, who is said to have ridden the
phantom mare from one end of England to the other, was a common
butcher, who burned an old woman to death at Epping, and was very
properly hanged at York for the stealing of a horse which he
dared not bestride.

Not one incident in his career gives colour to the splendid myth
which has been woven round his memory. Once he was in London,
and he died at York. So much is true; but there is naught to
prove that his progress from the one town to the other did not
occupy a year. Nor is there any reason why the halo should have
been set upon his head rather than upon another's. Strangest
truth of all, none knows at what moment Dick Turpin first shone
into glory. At any rate, there is a gap in the tradition, and
the chap-books of the time may not be credited with this vulgar
error. Perhaps it was the popular drama of Skelt which put
the ruffian upon the black mare's back; but whatever the date of
the invention, Turpin was a popular hero long before Ainsworth
sent him rattling across England. And in order to equip this
butcher with a false reputation, a valiant officer and gentleman
was stripped of the credit due to a magnificent achievement. For
though Turpin tramped to York at a journeyman's leisure, Nicks
rode thither at a stretch--Nicks the intrepid and gallant, whom
Charles II., in admiration of his feat, was wont to call

This valiant collector, whom posterity has robbed for Turpin's
embellishment, lived at the highest moment of his art. He knew
by rote the lessons taught by Hind and Duval; he was a fearless
rider and a courteous thief. Now, one morning at five of the
clock, he robbed a gentleman near Barnet of 560, and riding
straight for York, he appeared on the Bowling Green at six in the
evening. Being presently recognised by his victim, he was
apprehended, and at the trial which followed he pleaded a
triumphant alibi. But vanity was too strong for discretion,
and no sooner was Swiftnicks out of danger, than he boasted, as
well he might, of his splendid courage. Forthwith he appeared a
popular hero, obtained a commission in Lord Moncastle's regiment,
and married a fortune. And then came Turpin to filch his glory!
Nor need Turpin have stooped to a vicarious notoriety, for he
possessed a certain rough, half conscious humour, which was not
despicable. He purchased a new fustian coat and a pair of
pumps, in which to be hanged, and he hired five poor men at ten
shillings the day, that his death might not go unmourned. Above
all, he was distinguished in prison. A crowd thronged his cell
to identify him, and one there was who offered to bet the keeper
half a guinea that the prisoner was not Turpin; whereupon Turpin
whispered the keeper, `Lay him the wager, you fool, and I will go
you halves.' Surely this impudent indifference might have kept
green the memory of the man who never rode to York!

If the Scoundrel may claim distinction on many grounds, his
character is singularly uniform. To the anthropologist he might
well appear the survival of a savage race, and savage also are
his manifold superstitions. He is a creature of times and
seasons. He chooses the occasion of his deeds with as scrupulous
a care as he examines his formidable crowbars and jemmies. At
certain hours he would refrain from action, though every
circumstance favoured his success: he would rather obey the
restraining voice of a wise, unreasoning wizardry, than fill his
pockets with the gold for which his human soul is ever hungry.
There is no law of man he dares not break but he shrinks in
horror from the infringement of the unwritten rules of savagery.
Though he might cut a throat in self-defence, he would never walk
under a ladder; and if the 13th fell on a Friday, he would starve
that day rather than obtain a loaf by the method he best
understands. He consults the omens with as patient a
divination as the augurs of old; and so long as he carries an
amulet in his pocket, though it be but a pebble or a polished
nut, he is filled with an irresistible courage. For him the
worst terror of all is the evil eye, and he would rather be
hanged by an unsuspected judge than receive an easy stretch from
one whose glance he dared not face. And while the anthropologist
claims him for a savage, whose civilisation has been arrested at
brotherhood with the Solomon Islanders, the politician might
pronounce him a true communist, in that he has preserved a
wholesome contempt of property and civic life. The pedant,
again, would feel his bumps, prescribe a gentle course of
bromide, and hope to cure all the sins of the world by a
municipal Turkish bath. The wise man, respecting his
superstitions, is content to take him as he finds him, and to
deduce his character from his very candid history, which is
unaffected by pedant or politician.

Before all things, he is sanguine; he believes that Chance, the
great god of his endeavour, fights upon his side. Whatever is
lacking to-day, to-morrow's enterprise will fulfil, and if only
the omens be favourable, he fears neither detection nor the
gallows. His courage proceeds from this sanguine temperament,
strengthened by shame and tradition rather than from a self-
controlled magnanimity; he hopes until despair is inevitable, and
then walks firmly to the gallows, that no comrade may suspect the
white feather. His ambition, too, is the ambition of the
savage or of the child; he despises such immaterial
advantages as power and influence, being perfectly content if he
have a smart coat on his back and a bottle of wine at his elbow.
He would rather pick a lock than batter a constitution, and the
world would be well lost, if he and his doxy might survey the
ruin in comfort.

But if his ambition be modest, his love of notoriety is
boundless. He must be famous, his name must be in the mouths of
men, he must be immortal (for a week) in a rough woodcut. And
then, what matters it how soon the end? His braveries have been
hawked in the street; his prowess has sold a Special Edition; he
is the first of his race, until a luckier rival eclipses him.
Thus, also, his dandyism is inevitable: it is not enough for him
to cover his nakedness--he must dress; and though his taste is
sometimes unbridled, it is never insignificant. Indeed, his
biographers have recorded the expression of his fancy in coats
and small-clothes as patiently and enthusiastically as they have
applauded his courage. And truly the love of magnificence, which
he shares with all artists, is sincere and characteristic. When
an accomplice of Jonathan Wild's robbed Lady M----n at Windsor,
his equipage cost him forty pounds; and Nan Hereford was arrested
for shoplifting at the very moment that four footmen awaited her
return with an elegant sedan-chair.

His vanity makes him but a prudish lover, who desires to woo less
than to be wooed; and at all times and through all moods he
remains the primeval sentimentalist. He will detach his life
entirely from the catchwords which pretend to govern his actions;
he will sit and croon the most heartrending ditties in
celebration of home-life and a mother's love, and then set forth
incontinently upon a well-planned errand of plunder. For all his
artistry, he lacks balance as flagrantly as a popular politician
or an advanced journalist. Therefore it is the more remarkable
that in one point he displays a certain caution: he boggles at a
superfluous murder. For all his contempt of property, he still
preserves a respect for life, and the least suspicion of
unnecessary brutality sets not only the law but his own fellows
against him. Like all men whose god is Opportunity, he is a
reckless gambler; and, like all gamblers, he is monstrously
extravagant. In brief, he is a tangle of picturesque qualities,
which, until our own generation, was incapable of nothing save

The Bible and the Newgate Calendar--these twain were George
Borrow's favourite reading, and all save the psychologist and the
pedant will applaud the preference. For the annals of the
`family' are distinguished by an epic severity, a fearless
directness of speech, which you will hardly match outside the
Iliad or the Chronicles of the Kings. But the Newgate
Calendar did not spring ready-made into being: it is the result
of a curious and gradual development. The chap-books came first,
with their bold type, their coarse paper, and their clumsy,
characteristic woodcuts--the chap-books, which none can
contemplate without an enchanted sentiment. Here at last you
come upon a literature, which has been read to pieces. The very
rarity of the slim, rough volumes, proves that they have been
handed from one greedy reader to another, until the great
libraries alone are rich enough to harbour them. They do not
boast the careful elegance of a famous press: many of them came
from the printing-office of a country town: yet the least has a
simplicity and concision, which are unknown in this age of
popular fiction. Even their lack of invention is admirable: as
the same woodcut might be used to represent Guy, Earl of Warwick,
or the last highwayman who suffered at Tyburn, so the same
enterprise is ascribed with a delightful ingenuousness to all the
heroes who rode abroad under the stars to fill their pockets.

The Life and Death of Gamaliel Ratsey delighted England in
1605, and was the example of after ages. The anecdote of the
road was already crystallised, and henceforth the robber was
unable to act contrary to the will of the chap-book. Thus there
grew up a folk-lore of thievery: the very insistence upon the
same motive suggests the fairytale, and, as in the legends of
every country, there is an identical element which the
anthropologists call `human'; so in the annals of adventure there
is a set of invariable incidents, which are the essence of
thievery. The industrious hacks, to whom we owe the
entertainment of the chap-books, being seedy parsons or lawyers'
clerks, were conscious of their literary deficiencies: they
preferred to obey tradition rather than to invent ineptitudes.
So you may trace the same jest, the same intrigue through the
unnumbered lives of three centuries. And if, being a
philosopher, you neglect the obvious plagiarism, you may induce
from these similarities a cunning theory concerning the
uniformity of the human brain. But the easier explanation is, as
always, the more satisfactory; and there is little doubt that in
versatility the thief surpassed his historian.

Had the chap-books still been scattered in disregarded corners,
they would have been unknown or misunderstood. Happily, a man of
genius came in the nick to convert them into as vivid and
sparkling a piece of literature as the time could show. This was
Captain Alexander Smith, whose Lives of the Highwaymen,
published in 1719, was properly described by its author as `the
first impartial piece of this nature which ever appeared in
English.' Now, Captain Smith inherited from a nameless father no
other patrimony than a fierce loyalty to the Stuarts, and the
sanguine temperament which views in horror a well-ordered life.
Though a mere foundling, he managed to acquire the rudiments, and
he was not wholly unlettered when at eighteen he took to the
road. His courage, fortified by an intimate knowledge of the
great tradition, was rewarded by an immediate success, and he
rapidly became the master of so much leisure as enabled him to
pursue his studies with pleasure and distinction. When his
companions damned him for a milksop, he was loftily contemptuous,
conscious that it was not in intelligence alone that he was their
superior. While the Stuarts were the gods of his idolatry, while
the Regicides were the fiends of his frank abhorrence, it was
from the Elizabethans that he caught the splendid vigour of his
style; and he owed not only his historical sense, but his living
English to the example of Philemon Holland. Moreover, it is to
his constant glory that, living at a time that preferred as well
to attenuate the English tongue as to degrade the profession of
the highway, he not only rode abroad with a fearless courtesy,
but handled his own language with the force and spirit of an
earlier age.

He wrote with the authority of courage and experience. A
hazardous career had driven envy and malice from his dauntless
breast. Though he confesses a debt to certain `learned and
eminent divines of the Church of England,' he owed a greater debt
to his own observation, and he knew--none better--how to
recognise with enthusiasm those deeds of daring which only
himself has rivalled. A master of etiquette, he distributed
approval and censure with impartial hand; and he was quick to
condemn the smallest infraction of an ancient law. Nor was he
insensible to the dignity of history. The best models were
always before him. With admirable zeal he studied the manner
of such masters as Thucydides and Titus Livius of Padua. Above
all, he realised the importance of setting appropriate speeches
in the mouths of his characters; and, permitting his heroes to
speak for themselves, he imparted to his work an irresistible air
of reality and good faith. His style, always studied, was
neither too low nor too high for his subject. An ill-balanced
sentence was as hateful to him as a foul thrust or a stolen

Abroad a craftsman, he carried into the closet the skill and
energy which distinguished him when the moon was on the heath.
Though not born to the arts of peace, he was determined to prove
his respect for letters, and his masterpiece is no less pompous
in manner than it is estimable in tone and sound in reflection.
He handled slang as one who knew its limits and possibilities,
employing it not for the sake of eccentricity, but to give the
proper colour and sparkle to his page; indeed, his intimate
acquaintance with the vagabonds of speech enabled him to compile
a dictionary of Pedlar's French, which has been pilfered by a
whole battalion of imitators. Moreover, there was none of the
proverbs of the pavement, those first cousins of slang, that
escaped him; and he assumed all the licence of the gentleman-
collector in the treatment of his love-passages.

Captain Smith took the justest view of his subject.
For him robbery, in the street as on the highway,
was the finest of the arts, and he always revered it for its
own sake rather than for vulgar profit. Though, to deceive the
public, he abhorred villainy in word, he never concealed his
admiration in deed of a `highwayman who robs like a gentleman.'
`There is a beauty in all the works of nature,' he observes in
one of his wittiest exordia, `which we are unable to define,
though all the world is convinced of its existence: so in every
action and station of life there is a grace to be attained, which
will make a man pleasing to all about him and serene in his own
mind.' Some there are, he continues, who have placed `this
beauty in vice itself; otherwise it is hardly probable that they
could commit so many irregularities with a strong gust and an
appearance of satisfaction.' Notwithstanding that the word
`vice' is used in its conventional sense, we have here the key to
Captain Smith's position. He judged his heroes' achievements
with the intelligent impartiality of a connoisseur, and he
permitted no other prejudice than an unfailing loyalty to
interrupt his opinion.

Though he loved good English as he loved good wine, he was never
so happy as when (in imagination) he was tying the legs of a
Regicide under the belly of an ass. And when in the manner of a
bookseller's hack he compiled a Comical and Tragical History of
the Lives and Adventures of the most noted Bayliffs, adoration
of the Royalists persuaded him to miss his chance. So brave a
spirit as himself should not have looked complacently upon the
officers of the law, but he saw in the glorification of the
bayliff another chance of castigating the Roundheads, and
thus he set an honorific crown upon the brow of man's natural
enemy. `These unsanctified rascals,' wrote he, `would run into
any man's debt without paying him, and if their creditors were
Cavaliers they thought they had as much right to cheat 'em, as
the Israelites had to spoil the Egyptians of their ear-rings and
jewels.' Alas! the boot was ever on the other leg; and yet you
cannot but admire the Captain's valiant determination to
sacrifice probability to his legitimate hate.

Of his declining years and death there is no record. One likes
to think of him released from care, and surrounded by books,
flowers, and the good things of this earth. Now and again,
maybe, he would muse on the stirring deeds of his youth, and more
often he would put away the memory of action to delight in the
masterpiece which made him immortal. He would recall with
pleasure, no doubt, the ready praise of Richard Steele, his most
appreciative critic, and smile contemptuously at the baseness of
his friend and successor, Captain Charles Johnson. Now, this
ingenious writer was wont to boast, when the ale of Fleet Street
had empurpled his nose, that he was the most intrepid highwayman
of them all. `Once upon a time,' he would shout, with an
arrogant gesture, `I was known from Blackheath to Hounslow, from
Ware to Shooter's Hill.' And the truth is, the only `crime' he
ever committed was plagiarism. The self-assumed title of
Captain should have deceived nobody, for the braggart never
stole anything more difficult of acquisition than another man's
words. He picked brains, not pockets; he committed the greater
sin and ran no risk. He helped himself to the admirable
inventions of Captain Smith without apology or acknowledgment,
and, as though to lighten the dead-weight of his sin, he never
skipped an opportunity of maligning his victim. Again and again
in the very act to steal he will declare vaingloriously that
Captain Smith's stories are `barefaced inventions.' But doubt
was no check to the habit of plunder, and you knew that at every
reproach, expressed (so to say) in self-defence, he plied the
scissors with the greater energy. The most cunning theft is the
tag which adorns the title-page of his book:

Little villains oft submit to fate
That great ones may enjoy the world in state.

Thus he quotes from Gay, and you applaud the aptness of the
quotation, until you discover that already it was used by Steele
in his appreciation of the heroic Smith! However, Johnson has
his uses, and those to whom the masterpiece of Captain Alexander
is inaccessible will turn with pleasure to the General History
of the lives and adventures of the most Famous Highwaymen,
Murderers, Street-Robbers, &c., and will feel no regret that for
once they are receiving stolen goods.

Though Johnson fell immeasurably below his predecessor in
talent, he manifestly excelled him in scholarship. A sojourn at
the University had supplied him with a fine assortment of Latin
tags, and he delighted to prove his erudition by the citation of
the Chronicles. Had he possessed a sense of humour, he might
have smiled at the irony of committing a theft upon the historian
of thieves. But he was too vain and too pompous to smile at his
own weakness, and thus he would pretend himself a venturesome
highwayman, a brave writer, and a profound scholar. Indeed, so
far did his pride carry him, that he would have the world believe
him the same Charles Johnson, who wrote The Gentleman Cully and
The Successful Pyrate. Thus with a boastful chuckle he would

Johnson, who now to sense, now nonsense leaning,
Means not, but blunders round about a meaning

Thus, ignoring the insult, he would plume himself after his
drunken fashion that he, too, was an enemy of Pope.

Yet Johnson has remained an example. For the literature of
scoundrelism is as persistent in its form as in its folk-lore.
As Harman's Caveat, which first saw the light in 1566, serves
as a model to an unbroken series of such books, as The London
Spy, so from Johnson in due course were developed the Newgate
Calendar, and those innumerable records, which the latter half
of the Eighteenth Century furnished us forth. The celebrated
Calendar was in its origin nothing more than a list of
prisoners printed in a folio slip. But thereafter it became the
Malefactor's Bloody Register, which we know. Its plan and
purpose were to improve the occasion. The thief is no longer
esteemed for an artist or appraised upon his merits: he is the
awful warning, which shall lead the sinner to repentance.
`Here,' says the preface, `the giddy thoughtless youth may see as
in a mirror the fatal consequences of deviating from virtue';
here he may tremble at the discovery that `often the best talents
are prostituted to the basest purposes.' But in spite of `the
proper reflections of the whole affair,' the famous Calendar
deserved the praise of Borrow. There is a directness in the
narration, which captures all those for whom life and literature
are something better than psychologic formul. Moreover, the
motives which drive the brigand to his doom are brutal in their
simplicity, and withal as genuine and sincere as greed, vanity,
and lust can make them. The true amateur takes pleasure even in
the pious exhortations, because he knows that they crawl into
their place, lest the hypocrite be scandalised. But with years
the Newgate Calendar also declined, and at last it has followed
other dead literatures into the night.

Meanwhile the broadside had enjoyed an unbroken and prosperous
career. Up and down London, up and down England, hurried the
Patterer or Flying Stationer. There was no murder, no theft, no
conspiracy, which did not tempt the Gutter Muse to doggerel.
But it was not until James Catnach came up from Alnwick to London
(in 1813), that the trade reached the top of its prosperity. The
vast sheets, which he published with their scurvy couplets, and
the admirable picture, serving in its time for a hundred
executions, have not lost their power to fascinate. Theirs is
the aspect of the early woodcut; the coarse type and the
catchpenny headlines are a perpetual delight; as you unfold them,
your care keeps pace with your admiration; and you cannot feel
them crackle beneath your hand without enthusiasm and without
regret. He was no pedant--Jemmy Catnach; and the image of his
ruffians was commonly as far from portraiture, as his verses were
remote from poetry. But he put together in a roughly artistic
shape the last murder, robbery, or scandal of the day. His
masterpieces were far too popular to live, and if they knew so
vast a circulation as 2,500,000 they are hard indeed to come by.
And now the art is wellnigh dead; though you may discover an
infrequent survival in a country town. But how should Catnach,
were he alive to-day, compete with the Special Edition of an
evening print?

The decline of the Scoundrel, in fact, has been followed by the
disappearance of chap-book and broadside. The Education Act,
which made the cheap novel a necessity, destroyed at a blow the
literature of the street. Since the highwayman wandered, fur-
coated, into the City, the patterer has lost his occupation.
Robbery and murder have degenerated into Chinese puzzles,
whose solution is a pleasant irritant to the idle brain. The
misunderstanding of Poe has produced a vast polyglot literature,
for which one would not give in exchange a single chapter of
Captain Smith. Vautrin and Bill Sykes are already discredited,
and it is a false reflection of M. Dupin, which dazzles the eye
of a moral and unimaginative world. Yet the wise man sighs for
those fearless days, when the brilliant Macheath rode vizarded
down Shooter's Hill, and presently saw his exploits set forth,
with the proper accompaniment of a renowned and ancient woodcut,
upon a penny broadside.



JAMES HIND, the Master Thief of England, the fearless Captain of
the Highway, was born at Chipping Norton in 1618. His father, a
simple saddler, had so poor an appreciation of his son's
magnanimity, that he apprenticed him to a butcher; but Hind's
destiny was to embrue his hands in other than the blood of oxen,
and he had not long endured the restraint of this common craft
when forty shillings, the gift of his mother, purchased him an
escape, and carried him triumphant and ambitious to London.

Even in his negligent schooldays he had fastened upon a fitting
career. A born adventurer, he sought only enterprise and
command: if a commission in the army failed him, then he would
risk his neck upon the road, levying his own tax and imposing his
own conditions. To one of his dauntless resolution an
opportunity need never have lacked; yet he owed his first
preferment to a happy accident. Surprised one evening in a
drunken brawl, he was hustled into the Poultry Counter, and there
made acquaintance over a fresh bottle with Robert Allen, one of
the chief rogues in the Park, and a ruffian, who had mastered
every trick in the game of plunder. A dexterous cly-faker, an
intrepid blade, Allen had also the keenest eye for untested
talent, and he detected Hind's shining qualities after the first
glass. No sooner had they paid the price of release, than Hind
was admitted of his comrade's gang; he took the oath of fealty,
and by way of winning his spurs was bid to hold up a traveller on
Shooter's Hill. Granted his choice of a mount, he straightway
took the finest in the stable, with that keen perception of
horse-flesh which never deserted him, and he confronted his first
victim in the liveliest of humours. There was no falter in his
voice, no hint of inexperience in his manner, when he shouted the
battle-cry: `Stand and deliver!' The horseman, fearful of his
life, instantly surrendered a purse of ten sovereigns, as to the
most practised assailant on the road. Whereupon Hind, with a
flourish of ancient courtesy, gave him twenty shillings to bear
his charges. `This,' said he, `is for handsale sake '; and thus
they parted in mutual compliment and content.

Allen was overjoyed at his novice's prowess. `Did you not see,'
he cried to his companions, `how he robbed him with a grace?'
And well did the trooper deserve his captain's compliment, for
his art was perfect from the first. In bravery as in gallantry
he knew no rival, and he plundered with so elegant a style, that
only a churlish victim could resent the extortion. He would as
soon have turned his back upon an enemy as demand a purse
uncovered. For every man he had a quip, for every woman a
compliment; nor did he ever conceal the truth that the means were
for him as important as the end. Though he loved money, he still
insisted that it should be yielded in freedom and good temper;
and while he emptied more coaches than any man in England, he was
never at a loss for admirers.

Under Allen he served a brilliant apprenticeship. Enrolled as a
servant, he speedily sat at the master's right hand, and his
nimble brains devised many a pretty campaign. For a while
success dogged the horse-hoofs of the gang; with wealth came
immunity, and not one of the warriors had the misfortune to look
out upon the world through a grate. They robbed with dignity,
even with splendour. Now they would drive forth in a coach and
four, carrying with them a whole armoury of offensive weapons;
now they would take the road apparelled as noblemen, and attended
at a discreet distance by their proper servants. But
recklessness brought the inevitable disaster; and it was no less
a personage than Oliver Cromwell who overcame the hitherto
invincible Allen. A handful of the gang attacked Oliver on his
way from Huntingdon, but the marauders were outmatched, and the
most of them were forced to surrender. Allen, taken red-handed,
swung at Tyburn; Hind, with his better mount and defter
horsemanship, rode clear away.

The loss of his friend was a lesson in caution, and
henceforth Hind resolved to follow his craft in solitude. He
had embellished his native talent with all the instruction that
others could impart, and he reflected that he who rode alone
neither ran risk of discovery nor had any need to share his
booty. Thus he began his easy, untrammelled career, making time
and space of no account by his rapid, fearless journeys. Now he
was prancing the moors of Yorkshire, now he was scouring the
plain between Gloucester and Tewkesbury, but wherever he rode, he
had a purse in his pocket and a jest on his tongue. To recall
his prowess is to ride with him (in fancy) under the open sky
along the fair, beaten road; to put up with him at the busy,
white posthouse, to drink unnumbered pints of mulled sack with
the round-bellied landlord, to exchange boastful stories over the
hospitable fire, and to ride forth in the morning with the joyous
uncertainty of travel upon you. Failure alone lay outside his
experience, and he presently became at once the terror and the
hero of England.

Not only was his courage conspicuous; luck also was his constant
companion; and a happy bewitchment protected him for three years
against the possibility of harm. He had been lying at Hatfield,
at the George Inn, and set out in the early morning for London.
As he neared the town-gate, an old beldame begged an alms of him,
and though Hind, not liking her ill-favoured visage, would have
spurred forward, the beldame's glittering eye held his horse
motionless. `Good woman,' cried Hind, flinging her a crown,
`I am in haste; pray let me pass.' `Sir,' answered the witch,
`three days I have awaited your coming. Would you have me lose
my labour now?' And with Hind's assent the sphinx delivered her
message: `Captain Hind,' said she, `your life is beset with
constant danger, and since from your birth I have wished you
well, my poor skill has devised a perfect safeguard.' With this
she gave him a small box containing what might have been a
sundial or compass. `Watch this star,' quoth she, `and when you
know not your road, follow its guidance. Thus you shall be
preserved from every peril for the space of three years.
Thereafter, if you still have faith in my devotion, seek me
again, and I will renew the virtue of the charm.'

Hind took the box joyfully; but when he turned to murmur a word
of gratitude, the witch struck his nag's flanks with a white
wand, the horse leapt vehemently forward, and Hind saw his
benefactress no more. Henceforth, however, a warning voice spoke
to him as plainly as did the demon to Socrates; and had he but
obeyed the beldame's admonition, he might have escaped a violent
death. For he passed the last day of the third year at the siege
of Youghal, where; deprived of happy guidance, he was seriously
wounded, and whence he presently regained England to his own

So long as he kept to the road, his life was one long comedy.
His wit and address were inexhaustible, and fortune never
found him at a loss. He would avert suspicion with the tune of a
psalm, as when, habited like a pious shepherd, he broke a
traveller's head with his crook, and deprived him of his horse.
An early adventure was to force a pot-valiant parson, who had
drunk a cup too much at a wedding, into a rarely farcical
situation. Hind, having robbed two gentlemen's servants of a
round sum, went ambling along the road until he encountered a
parson. `Sir,' said he, `I am closely pursued by robbers. You,
I dare swear, will not stand by and see me plundered.' Before
the parson could protest, he thrust a pistol into his hand, and
bade him fire it at the first comer, while he rode off to raise
the county. Meanwhile the rifled travellers came up with the
parson, who, straightway, mistaking them for thieves, fired
without effect, and then, riding forward, flung the pistol in the
face of the nearest. Thus the parson of the parish was dragged
before the magistrate, while Hind, before his dupe could furnish
an explanation, had placed many a mile between himself and his

Though he could on occasion show a clean pair of heels, Hind was
never lacking in valiance; and, another day, meeting a traveller
with a hundred pounds in his pocket, he challenged him to fight
there and then, staked his own horse against the money, and
declared that he should win who drew first blood. `If I am the
conqueror,' said the magnanimous Captain, `I will give you ten
pounds for your journey. If you are favoured of fortune, you
shall give me your servant's horse.' The terms were
instantly accepted, and in two minutes Hind had run his adversary
through the sword-arm. But finding that his victim was but a
poor squire going to London to pay his composition, he not only
returned his money, but sought him out a surgeon, and gave him
the best dinner the countryside could afford.

Thus it was his pleasure to act as a providence, many a time
robbing Peter to pay Paul, and stripping the niggard that he
might indulge his fervent love of generosity. Of all usurers and
bailiffs he had a wholesome horror, and merry was the prank which
he played upon the extortionate money-lender of Warwick. Riding
on an easy rein through the town, Hind heard a tumult at a street
corner, and inquiring the cause, was told that an innkeeper was
arrested by a thievish usurer for a paltry twenty pounds.
Dismounting, this providence in jack-boots discharged the debt,
cancelled the bond, and took the innkeeper's goods for his own
security. And thereupon overtaking the usurer, `My friend!' he
exclaimed, `I lent you late a sum of twenty pounds. Repay it at
once, or I take your miserable life.' The usurer was obliged to
return the money, with another twenty for interest, and when he
would take the law of the innkeeper, was shown the bond duly
cancelled, and was flogged wellnigh to death for his pains.

So Hind rode the world up and down, redressing grievances like an
Eastern monarch, and rejoicing in the abasement of the evildoer.
Nor was the spirit of his adventure bounded by the ocean.
More than once he crossed the seas; the Hague knew him, and
Amsterdam, though these somnolent cities gave small occasion for
the display of his talents. It was from Scilly that he crossed
to the Isle of Man, where, being recommended to Lord Derby, he
gained high favour, and received in exchange for his jests a
comfortable stipend. Hitherto, said the Chronicles, thieving was
unknown in the island. A man might walk whither he would, a bag
of gold in one hand, a switch in the other, and fear no danger.
But no sooner had Hind appeared at Douglas than honest citizens
were pilfered at every turn. In dismay they sought the
protection of the Governor, who instantly suspected Hind, and
gallantly disclosed his suspicions to the Captain. `My lord!'
exclaimed Hind, a blush upon his cheek, `I protest my innocence;
but willingly will I suffer the heaviest penalty of your law if I
am recognised for the thief.' The victims, confronted with their
robber, knew him not, picturing to the Governor a monster with
long hair and unkempt beard. Hind, acquitted with apologies,
fetched from his lodging the disguise of periwig and beard.
`They laugh who win!' he murmured, and thus forced forgiveness
and a chuckle even from his judges.

As became a gentleman-adventurer, Captain Hind was staunch in his
loyalty to his murdered King. To strip the wealthy was always
reputable, but to rob a Regicide was a masterpiece of well-doing.

A fervent zeal to lighten Cromwell's pocket had brought the
illustrious Allen to the gallows. But Hind was not one whit
abashed, and he would never forego the chance of an encounter
with his country's enemies. His treatment of Hugh Peters in
Enfield Chace is among his triumphs. At the first encounter the
Presbyterian plucked up courage enough to oppose his adversary
with texts. To Hind's command of `Stand and deliver!' duly
enforced with a loaded pistol, the ineffable Peters replied with
ox-eye sanctimoniously upturned: `Thou shalt not steal; let him
that stole, steal no more,' adding thereto other variations of
the eighth commandment. Hind immediately countered with
exhortations against the awful sin of murder, and rebuked the
blasphemy of the Regicides, who, to defend their own infamy,
would wrest Scripture from its meaning. `Did you not, O monster
of impiety,' mimicked Hind in the preacher's own voice, `pervert
for your own advantage the words of the Psalmist, who said,
``Bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of
iron''? Moreover, was it not Solomon who wrote: ``Men do not
despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is
hungry''? And is not my soul hungry for gold and the Regicides'
discomfiture?' Peters was still fumbling after texts when the
final argument: `Deliver thy money, or I will send thee out of
the world!' frightened him into submission, and thirty broad
pieces were Hind's reward.

Not long afterwards he confronted Bradshaw near Sherborne, and,
having taken from him a purse fat with Jacobuses, he bade the
Sergeant stand uncovered while he delivered a discourse upon
gold, thus shaped by tradition: `Ay, marry, sir, this is the
metal that wins my heart for ever! O precious gold, I admire and
adore thee as much as Bradshaw, Prynne, or any villain of the
same stamp. This is that incomparable medicament, which the
republican physicians call the wonder-working plaster. It is
truly catholic in operation, and somewhat akin to the Jesuit's
powder, but more effectual. The virtues of it are strange and
various; it makes justice deaf as well as blind, and takes out
spots of the deepest treason more cleverly than castle-soap does
common stains; it alters a man's constitution in two or three
days, more than the virtuoso's transfusion of blood can do in
seven years. `Tis a great alexiopharmick, and helps poisonous
principles of rebellion, and those that use them. It
miraculously exalts and purifies the eyesight, and makes traitors
behold nothing but innocence in the blackest malefactors. `Tis a
mighty cordial for a declining cause; it stifles faction or
schism, as certainly as the itch is destroyed by butter and
brimstone. In a word, it makes wise men fools, and fools wise
men, and both knaves. The very colour of this precious balm is
bright and dazzling. If it be properly applied to the fist, that
is in a decent manner, and a competent dose, it infallibly
performs all the cures which the evils of humanity crave.' Thus
having spoken, he killed the six horses of Bradshaw's coach, and
went contemptuously on his way.

But he was not a Cavalier merely in sympathy, nor was he content
to prove his loyalty by robbing Roundheads. He, too, would
strike a blow for his King, and he showed, first with the royal
army in Scotland, and afterwards at Worcester, what he dared in a
righteous cause. Indeed, it was his part in the unhappy battle
that cost him his life, and there is a strange irony in the
reflection that, on the self-same day whereon Sir Thomas Urquhart
lost his precious manuscripts in Worcester's kennels, the neck of
James Hind was made ripe for the halter. His capture was due to
treachery. Towards the end of 1651 he was lodged with one
Denzys, a barber, over against St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet
Street. Maybe he had chosen his hiding-place for its
neighbourhood to Moll Cutpurse's own sanctuary. But a pack of
traitors discovered him, and haling him before the Speaker of the
House of Commons, got him committed forthwith to Newgate.

At first he was charged with theft and murder, and was actually
condemned for killing George Sympson at Knole in Berkshire. But
the day after his sentence, an Act of Oblivion was passed, and
Hind was put upon trial for treason. During his examination he
behaved with the utmost gaiety, boastfully enlarging upon his
services to the King's cause. `These are filthy jingling spurs,'
said he as he left the bar, pointing to the irons about his legs,
`but I hope to exchange them ere long.' His good-humour remained
with him to the end. He jested in prison as he jested on the
road, and it was with a light heart that he mounted the scaffold
built for him at Worcester. His was the fate reserved for
traitors: he was hanged, drawn, and quartered, and though his
head was privily stolen and buried on the day of execution, his
quarters were displayed upon the town walls, until time and the
birds destoyed{sic} them utterly.

Thus died the most famous highwayman that ever drew rein upon an
English road; and he died the death of a hero. The unnumbered
crimes of violence and robbery wherewith he might have been
charged weighed not a feather's weight upon his destiny; he
suffered not in the cause of plunder, but in the cause of Charles
Stuart. And in thus excusing his death, his contemporaries did
him scant justice. For while in treasonable loyalty he had a
thousand rivals, on the road he was the first exponent of the
grand manner. The middle of the seventeenth century was, in
truth, the golden age of the Road. Not only were all the
highwaymen Cavaliers, but many a Cavalier turned highwayman.
Broken at their King's defeat, a hundred captains took pistol and
vizard, and revenged themselves as freebooters upon the King's
enemies. And though Hind was outlaw first and royalist
afterwards, he was still the most brilliant collector of them
all. If he owed something to his master, Allen, he added from
the storehouse of his own genius a host of new precepts, and was
the first to establish an enduring tradition.

Before all things he insisted upon courtesy; a guinea stolen
by an awkward ruffian was a sorry theft; levied by a gentleman of
the highway, it was a tribute paid to courage by generosity.
Nothing would atone for an insult offered to a lady; and when it
was Hind's duty to seize part of a gentlewoman's dowry on the
Petersfield road, he not only pleaded his necessity in eloquent
excuse, but he made many promises on behalf of knight-errantry
and damsels in distress. Never would he extort a trinket to
which association had given a sentimental worth; during a long
career he never left any man, save a Roundhead, penniless upon
the road; nor was it his custom to strip the master without
giving the man a trifle for his pains. His courage, moreover,
was equal to his understanding. Since he was afraid of nothing,
it was not his habit to bluster when he was not determined to
have his way. When once his pistol was levelled, when once the
solemn order was given, the victim must either fight or
surrender; and Hind was never the man to decline a combat with
any weapons and in any circumstances.

Like the true artist that he was, he neglected no detail of his
craft. As he was a perfect shot, so also he was a finished
horseman; and his skill not only secured him against capture, but
also helped him to the theft of such horses as his necessities
required, or to the exchange of a worn-out jade for a mettled
prancer. Once upon a time a credulous farmer offered twenty
pounds and his own gelding for the Captain's mount. Hind struck
a bargain at once, and as they jogged along the road he
persuaded the farmer to set his newly-purchased horse at the
tallest hedge, the broadest ditch. The bumpkin failed, as Hind
knew he would fail; and, begging the loan for an instant of his
ancient steed, Hind not only showed what horsemanship could
accomplish, but straightway rode off with the better horse and
twenty pounds in his pocket. So marvellously did his reputation
grow, that it became a distinction to be outwitted by him, and
the brains of innocent men were racked to invent tricks which
might have been put upon them by the illustrious Captain. Thus
livelier jests and madder exploits were fathered upon him than
upon any of his kind, and he has remained for two centuries the
prime favourite of the chap-books.

Robbing alone, he could afford to despise pedantry: did he meet a
traveller who amused his fancy he would give him the pass-word
(`the fiddler's paid,' or what not), as though the highway had
not its code of morals; nor did he scruple, when it served his
purpose, to rob the bunglers of his own profession. By this
means, indeed, he raised the standard of the Road and warned the
incompetent to embrace an easier trade. While he never took a
shilling without sweetening his depredation with a joke, he was,
like all humorists, an acute philosopher. `Remember what I tell
you,' he said to the foolish persons who once attempted to rob
him, the master-thief of England, `disgrace not yourself for
small sums, but aim high, and for great ones; the least will
bring you to the gallows.' There, in five lines, is the
whole philosophy of thieving, and many a poor devil has leapt
from the cart to his last dance because he neglected the counsel
of the illustrious Hind. Among his aversions were lawyers and
thief-catchers. `Truly I could wish,' he exclaimed in court,
`that full-fed fees were as little used in England among lawyers
as the eating of swine's flesh was among the Jews.' When you
remember the terms of friendship whereon he lived with Moll
Cutpurse, his hatred of the thief-catcher, who would hang his
brother for `the lucre of ten pounds, which is the reward,' or
who would swallow a false oath `as easily as one would swallow
buttered fish,' is a trifle mysterious. Perhaps before his death
an estrangement divided Hind and Moll. Was it that the Roaring
Girl was too anxious to take the credit of Hind's success? Or
did he harbour the unjust suspicion that when the last descent
was made upon him at the barber's, Moll might have given a
friendly warning?

Of this he made no confession, but the honest thief was ever a
liberal hater of spies and attorneys, and Hind's prudence is
unquestioned. A miracle of intelligence, a master of style, he
excelled all his contemporaries and set up for posterity an
unattainable standard. The eighteenth century flattered him by
its imitation; but cowardice and swagger compelled it to limp
many a dishonourable league behind. Despite the single
inspiration of dancing a corant upon the green, Claude Duval,
compared to Hind, was an empty braggart. Captain Stafford
spoiled the best of his effects with a more than brutal vice.
Neither Mull-Sack nor the Golden Farmer, for all their long life
and handsome plunder, are comparable for an instant to the robber
of Peters and Bradshaw. They kept their fist fiercely upon the
gold of others, and cared not by what artifice it was extorted.
Hind never took a sovereign meanly; he approached no enterprise
which he did not adorn. Living in a true Augustan age, he was a
classic among highwaymen, the very Virgil of the Pad.




THE most illustrious woman of an illustrious age, Moll Cutpurse
has never lacked the recognition due to her genius. She was
scarce of age when the town devoured in greedy admiration the
first record of her pranks and exploits. A year later Middleton
made her the heroine of a sparkling comedy. Thereafter she
became the favourite of the rufflers, the commonplace of the
poets. Newgate knew her, and Fleet Street; her manly figure was
as familiar in the Bear Garden as at the Devil Tavern; courted
alike by the thief and his victim, for fifty years she lived a
life brilliant as sunlight, many-coloured as a rainbow. And she
is remembered, after the lapse of centuries, not only as the
Queen-Regent of Misrule, the benevolent tyrant of cly-filers and
heavers, of hacks and blades, but as the incomparable Roaring
Girl, free of the playhouse, who perchance presided with Ben
Jonson over the Parliament of Wits.

She was born in the Barbican at the heyday of England's
greatness, four years after the glorious defeat of the Armada,
and had to her father an honest shoemaker. She came into the
world (saith rumour) with her fist doubled, and even in the
cradle gave proof of a boyish, boisterous disposition. Her
girlhood, if the word be not an affront to her mannish character,
was as tempestuous as a wind-blown petticoat. A very `tomrig and
rump-scuttle,' she knew only the sports of boys: her war-like
spirit counted no excuse too slight for a battle; and so valiant
a lad was she of her hands, so well skilled in cudgel-play, that
none ever wrested a victory from fighting Moll. While other
girls were content to hem a kerchief or mark a sampler, Moll
would escape to the Bear Garden, and there enjoy the sport of
baiting, whose loyal patron she remained unto the end. That
which most bitterly affronted her was the magpie talk of the
wenches. `Why,' she would ask in a fury of indignation, `why
crouch over the fire with a pack of gossips, when the highway
invites you to romance? Why finger a distaff, when a
quarterstaff comes more aptly to your hand?'

And thus she grew in age and stature, a stranger to the soft
delights of her sex, her heart still deaf to the trivial voice of
love. Had not a wayward accident cumbered her with a kirtle, she
would have sought death or glory in the wars; she would have gone
with Colonel Downe's men upon the road; she would have sailed to
the Spanish Main for pieces of eight. But the tyranny of
womanhood was as yet supreme, and the honest shoemaker, ignorant
of his daughter's talent, bade her take service at a
respectable saddler's, and thus suppress the frowardness of her
passion. Her rebellion was instant. Never would she abandon the
sword and the wrestling-booth for the harmless bodkin and the
hearthstone of domesticity. Being absolute in refusal, she was
kidnapped by her friends and sent on board a ship, bound for
Virginia and slavery. There, in the dearth of womankind, even so
sturdy a wench as Moll might have found a husband; but the
enterprise was little to her taste, and, always resourceful, she
escaped from shipboard before the captain had weighed his anchor.

Henceforth she resolved her life should be free and chainless as
the winds. Never more should needle and thread tempt her to a
womanish inactivity. As Hercules, whose counterpart she was,
changed his club for the distaff of Omphale, so would she put off
the wimple and bodice of her sex for jerkin and galligaskins. If
she could not allure manhood, then would she brave it. And
though she might not cross swords with her country's foes, at
least she might levy tribute upon the unjustly rich, and confront
an enemy wherever there was a full pocket.

Her entrance into a gang of thieves was beset by no difficulty.
The Bear Garden, always her favourite resort, had made her
acquainted with all the divers and rumpads of the town. The
time, moreover, was favourable to enterprise, and once again was
genius born into a golden age. The cutting of purses was an
art brought to perfection, and already the more elegant practice
of picking pockets was understood. The transition gave scope for
endless ingenuity, and Moll was not slow in mastering the theory
of either craft. It was a changing fashion of dress, as I have
said, which forced a new tactic upon the thief; the pocket was
invented because the hanging purse was too easy a prey for the
thievish scissors. And no sooner did the world conceal its
wealth in pockets than the cly-filer was born to extract the
booty with his long, nimble fingers. The trick was managed with
an admirable forethought, which has been a constant example to
after ages. The file was always accompanied by a bull:, whose
duty it was to jostle and distract the victim while his pockets
were rifled. The bung, or what not, was rapidly passed on to the
attendant rub, who scurried off before the cry of STOP THIEF!
could be raised.

Thus was the craft of thieving practised when Moll was enrolled a
humble member of the gang. Yet nature had not endowed her with
the qualities which ensure an active triumph. `The best signs
and marks of a happy, industrious hand,' wrote the hoyden, `is a
long middle finger, equally suited with that they call the fool's
or first finger.' Now, though she was never a clumsy jade, the
practice of sword-play and quarterstaff had not refined the
industry of her hands, which were the rather framed for strength
than for delicacy. So that though she served a willing
apprenticeship, and eagerly shared the risks of her chosen
trade, the fear of Newgate and Tyburn weighed heavily upon her
spirit, and she cast about her for a method of escape. Avoiding
the danger of discovery, she was loth to forego her just profit,
and hoped that intelligence might atone for her sturdy, inactive
fingers. Already she had endeared herself to the gang by
unnumbered acts of kindness and generosity; already her
inflexible justice had made her umpire in many a difficult
dispute. If a rascal could be bought off at the gallows' foot,
there was Moll with an open purse; and so speedily did she
penetrate all the secrets of thievish policy, that her counsel
and comfort were soon indispensable.

Here, then, was her opportunity. Always a diplomatist rather
than a general, she gave up the battlefield for the council
chamber. She planned the robberies which defter hands achieved;
and, turning herself from cly-filer to fence, she received and
changed to money all the watches and trinkets stolen by the gang.

Were a citizen robbed upon the highway, he straightway betook
himself to Moll, and his property was presently returned him at a
handsome price. Her house, in short, became a brokery. Hither
the blades and divers brought their purchases, and sought the
ransom; hither came the outraged victims to buy again the jewels
and rings which thievish fingers had pinched. With prosperity
her method improved, until at last her statesmanship controlled
the remotest details of the craft. Did one of her gang get to
work overnight and carry off a wealthy swag, she had due
intelligence of the affair betimes next morning, so that,
furnished with an inventory of the booty, she might make a just
division, or be prepared for the advent of the rightful owner.

So she gained a complete ascendency over her fellows. And when
once her position was assured, she came forth a pitiless
autocrat. Henceforth the gang existed for her pleasure, not she
for the gang's; and she was as urgent to punish insubordination
as is an empress to avenge the heinous sin of treason. The
pickpocket who had claimed her protection knew no more the
delight of freedom. If he dared conceal the booty that was his,
he had an enemy more powerful than the law, and many a time did
contumacy pay the last penalty at the gallows. But the faithful
also had their reward, for Moll never deserted a comrade, and
while she lived in perfect safety herself she knew well how to
contrive the safety of others. Nor was she content merely to
discharge those duties of the fence for which an instinct of
statecraft designed her. Her restless brain seethed with plans
of plunder, and if her hands were idle it was her direction that
emptied half the pockets in London. Having drilled her army of
divers to an unparalleled activity, she cast about for some fresh
method of warfare, and so enrolled a regiment of heavers, who
would lurk at the mercers' doors for an opportunity to carry off
ledgers and account-books. The price of redemption was fixed
by Moll herself, and until the mercers were aroused by
frequent losses to a quicker vigilance, the trade was profitably

Meanwhile new clients were ever seeking her aid, and, already
empress of the thieves, she presently aspired to the friendship
and patronage of the highwaymen. Though she did not dispose of
their booty, she was appointed their banker, and vast was the
treasure entrusted to the coffers of honest Moll. Now, it was
her pride to keep only the best company, for she hated stupidity
worse than a clumsy hand, and they were men of wit and spirit who
frequented her house. Thither came the famous Captain Hind, the
Regicides' inveterate enemy, whose lofty achievements Moll, with
an amiable extravagance, was wont to claim for her own. Thither
came the unamiably notorious Mull Sack, who once emptied
Cromwell's pocket on the Mall, and whose courage was as
formidable as his rough-edged tongue. Another favourite was the
ingenious Crowder, whose humour it was to take the road habited
like a bishop, and who surprised the victims of his greed with
ghostly counsel. Thus it was a merry party that assembled in the
lady's parlour, loyal to the memory of the martyred king, and
quick to fling back an offending pleasantry.

But the house in Fleet Street was a refuge as well as a resort,
the sanctuary of a hundred rascals, whose misdeeds were not too
flagrantly discovered. For, while Moll always allowed discretion
to govern her conduct, while she would risk no present
security for a vague promise of advantages to come, her secret
influence in Newgate made her more powerful than the hangman and
the whole bench of judges. There was no turnkey who was not her
devoted servitor, but it was the clerk of Newgate to whom she and
her family were most deeply beholden. This was one Ralph
Briscoe, as pretty a fellow as ever deserted the law for a bull-
baiting. Though wizened and clerkly in appearance, he was of a
lofty courage; and Moll was heard to declare that had she not
been sworn to celibacy, she would have cast an eye upon the
faithful Ralph, who was obedient to her behests whether at Gaol
Delivery or Bear Garden. For her he would pack a jury or get a
reprieve; for him she would bait a bull with the fiercest dogs in
London. Why then should she fear the law, when the clerk of
Newgate and Gregory the Hangman fought upon her side?

For others the arbiter of life and death, she was only thrice in
an unexampled career confronted with the law. Her first occasion
of arrest was so paltry that it brought discredit only on the
constable. This jack-in-office, a very Dogberry, encountered
Moll returning down Ludgate Hill from some merry-making, a
lanthorn carried pompously before her. Startled by her attire he
questioned her closely, and receiving insult for answer, promptly
carried her to the Round House. The customary garnish made her
free or the prison, and next morning a brief interview with
the Lord Mayor restored Moll to liberty but not to forgetfulness.

She had yet to wreak her vengeance upon the constable for a
monstrous affront, and hearing presently that he had a rich uncle
in Shropshire, she killed the old gentleman (in imagination) and
made the constable his heir. Instantly a retainer, in the true
garb and accent of the country, carried the news to Dogberry, and
sent him off to Ludlow on the costliest of fool's errands. He
purchased a horse and set forth joyously, as became a man of
property; he limped home, broken in purse and spirit, the hapless
object of ridicule and contempt. Perhaps he guessed the author
of this sprightly outrage; but Moll, for her part, was far too
finished a humorist to reveal the truth, and hereafter she was
content to swell the jesting chorus.

Her second encounter with justice was no mere pleasantry, and it
was only her marvellous generalship that snatched her career from
untimely ruin and herself from the clutch of Master Gregory. Two
of her emissaries had encountered a farmer in Chancery Lane.
They spoke with him first at Smithfield, and knew that his pocket
was well lined with bank-notes. An improvised quarrel at a
tavern-door threw the farmer off his guard, and though he
defended the money, his watch was snatched from his fob and duly
carried to Moll. The next day the victim, anxious to repurchase
his watch, repaired to Fleet Street, where Moll generously
promised to recover the stolen property. Unhappily security
had encouraged recklessness, and as the farmer turned to leave he
espied his own watch hanging among other trinkets upon the wall.
With a rare discretion he held his peace until he had called a
constable to his aid, and this time the Roaring Girl was lodged
in Newgate, with an ugly crime laid to her charge.

Committed for trial, she demanded that the watch should be left
in the constable's keeping, and, pleading not guilty when the
sessions came round, insisted that her watch and the farmer's
were not the same. The farmer, anxious to acknowledge his
property, demanded the constable to deliver the watch, that it
might be sworn to in open court; and when the constable put his
hand to his pocket the only piece of damning evidence had
vanished, stolen by the nimble fingers of one of Moll's officers.

Thus with admirable trickery and a perfect sense of dramatic
effect she contrived her escape, and never again ran the risk of
a sudden discovery. For experience brought caution in its train,
and though this wiliest of fences lived almost within the shadow
of Newgate, though she was as familiar in the prison yard as at
the Globe Tavern, her nightly resort, she obeyed the rules of
life and law with so precise an exactitude that suspicion could
never fasten upon her. Her kingdom was midway between robbery
and justice. And as she controlled the mystery of thieving so,
in reality, she meted out punishment to the evildoer. Honest
citizens were robbed with small risk to life or property.
For Moll always frowned upon violence, and was ever ready to
restore the booty for a fair ransom. And the thieves, driven by
discipline to a certain humanity, plied their trade with an
obedience and orderliness hitherto unknown. Moll's then was no
mean achievement. Her career was not circumscribed by her trade,
and the Roaring Girl, the daredevil companion of the wits and
bloods, enjoyed a fame no less glorious than the Queen of

`Enter Moll in a frieze jerkin and a black safeguard.' Thus in
the old comedy she comes upon the stage; and truly it was by her
clothes that she was first notorious. By accident a woman, by
habit a man, she must needs invent a costume proper to her
pursuits. But she was no shrieking reformer, no fanatic spying
regeneration in a pair of breeches. Only in her attire she
showed her wit; and she went to a bull-baiting in such a dress as
well became her favourite sport. She was not of those who `walk
in spurs but never ride.' The jerkin, the doublet, the
galligaskins were put on to serve the practical purposes of life,
not to attract the policeman or the spinster. And when a
petticoat spread its ample folds beneath the doublet, not only
was her array handsome, but it symbolised the career of one who
was neither man nor woman, and yet both. After a while, however,
the petticoat seemed too tame for her stalwart temper, and she
exchanged it for the great Dutch slop, habited in which unseemly
garment she is pictured in the ancient prints.

Up and down the town she romped and scolded, earning the name
which Middleton gave her in her green girlhood. `She has the
spirit of four great parishes,' says the wit in the comedy, `and
a voice that will drown all the city.' If a gallant stood in the
way, she drew upon him in an instant, and he must be a clever
swordsman to hold his ground against the tomboy who had laid low
the German fencer himself. A good fellow always, she had ever a
merry word for the passer-by, and so sharp was her tongue that
none ever put a trick upon her. Not to know Moll was to be
inglorious, and she `slipped from one company to another like a
fat eel between a Dutchman's fingers.' Now at Parker's Ordinary,
now at the Bear Garden, she frequented only the haunts of men,
and not until old age came upon her did she endure patiently the
presence of women.

Her voice and speech were suited to the galligaskin. She was a
true disciple of Maltre Franois, hating nothing so much as
mincing obscenity, and if she flavoured her discourse with many a
blasphemous quip, the blasphemy was `not so malicious as
customary.' Like the blood she was, she loved good ale and wine;
and she regarded it among her proudest titles to renown that she
was the first of women to smoke tobacco. Many was the pound of
best Virginian that she bought of Mistress Gallipot, and the
pipe, with monkey, dog, and eagle, is her constant emblem. Her
antic attire, the fearless courage of her pranks, now and again
involved her in disgrace or even jeopardised her freedom; but
her unchanging gaiety made light of disaster, and still she
laughed and rollicked in defiance of prude and pedant.

Her companion in many a fantastical adventure was Banks, the
vintner of Cheapside, that same Banks who taught his horse to
dance and shod him with silver. Now once upon a time a right
witty sport was devised between them. The vintner bet Moll
20 that she would not ride from Charing Cross to Shoreditch
astraddle on horseback, in breeches and doublet, boots and spurs.

The hoyden took him up in a moment, and added of her own devilry
a trumpet and banner. She set out from Charing Cross bravely
enough, and a trumpeter being an unwonted spectacle, the eyes of
all the town were clapped upon her. Yet none knew her until she
reached Bishopsgate, where an orange-wench set up the cry, `Moll
Cutpurse on horseback!' Instantly the cavalier was surrounded by
a noisy mob. Some would have torn her from the saddle for an
imagined insult upon womanhood, others, more wisely minded,
laughed at the prank with good-humoured merriment. Every minute
the throng grew denser, and it had fared hardly with roystering
Moll, had not a wedding and the arrest of a debtor presently
distracted the gaping idlers. As the mob turned to gaze at the
fresh wonder, she spurred her horse until she gained Newington by
an unfrequented lane. There she waited until night should cover
her progress to Shoreditch, and thus peacefully she returned
home to lighten the vintner's pocket of twenty pounds.

The fame of the adventure spread abroad, and that the scandal
should not be repeated Moll was summoned before the Court of
Arches to answer a charge of appearing publicly in mannish
apparel. The august tribunal had no terror for her, and she
received her sentence to do penance in a white sheet at Paul's
Cross during morning-service on a Sunday with an audacious
contempt. `They might as well have shamed a black dog as me,'
she proudly exclaimed; and why should she dread the white sheet,
when all the spectators looked with a lenient eye upon her
professed discomfiture?' For a halfpenny,' she said, `she would
have travelled to every market-town of England in the guise of a
penitent,' and having tippled off three quarts of sack she
swaggered to Paul's Cross in the maddest of humours. But not all
the courts on earth could lengthen her petticoat, or contract the
Dutch slop by a single fold. For a while, perhaps, she chastened
her costume, yet she soon reverted to the ancient mode, and to
her dying day went habited as a man.

As bear baiting was the passion of her life, so she was
scrupulous in the care and training of her dogs. She gave them
each a trundle-bed, wrapping them from the cold in sheets and
blankets, while their food would not have dishonoured a
gentleman's table. Parrots, too, gave a sense of colour and
companionship to her house; and it was in this love of pets,
and her devotion to cleanliness, that she showed a trace of
dormant womanhood. Abroad a ribald and a scold, at home she was
the neatest of housewives, and her parlour, with its mirrors and
its manifold ornaments, was the envy of the neighbours. So her
trade flourished, and she lived a life of comfort, of plenty
even, until the Civil War threw her out of work. When an
unnatural conflict set the whole country at loggerheads, what
occasion was there for the honest prig? And it is not surprising
that, like all the gentlemen adventurers of the age, Moll
remained most stubbornly loyal to the King's cause. She made the
conduit in Fleet Street run with wine when Charles came to London
in 1638; and it was her amiable pleasantry to give the name of
Strafford to a clever, cunning bull, and to dub the dogs that
assailed him Pym, Hampden, and the rest, that right heartily she
might applaud the courage of Strafford as he threw off his unwary

So long as the quarrel lasted, she was compelled to follow a
profession more ancient than the fence's; for there is one
passion which war itself cannot extinguish. When once the King
had laid his head `down as upon a bed,' when once the Protector
had proclaimed his supremacy, the industry of the road revived;
and there was not a single diver or rumpad that did not declare
eternal war upon the black-hearted Regicides. With a laudable
devotion to her chosen cause, Moll despatched the most
experienced of her gang to rob Lady Fairfax on her way to
church; and there is a tradition that the Roaring Girl,
hearing that Fairfax himself would pass by Hounslow, rode forth
to meet him, and with her own voice bade him stand and deliver.
One would like to believe it; yet it is scarce credible. If
Fairfax had spent the balance of an ignominious career in being
plundered by a band of loyal brigands, he would not have had time
to justify the innumerable legends of pockets emptied and pistols
levelled at his head. Moreover, Moll herself was laden with
years, and she had always preferred the council chamber to the
battlefield. But it is certain that, with Captain Hind and Mull
Sack to aid, she schemed many a clever plot against the
Roundheads, and nobly she played her part in avenging the
martyred King.

Thus she declined into old age, attended, like Queen Mary, by her
maids, who would card, reel, spin, and beguile her leisure with
sweet singing. Though her spirit was untamed, the burden of her
years compelled her to a tranquil life. She, who formerly never
missed a bull-baiting, must now content herself with tick-tack.
Her fortune, moreover, had been wrecked in the Civil War. Though
silver shells still jingled in her pocket, time was she knew the
rattle of the yellow boys. But she never lost courage, and died
at last of a dropsy, in placid contentment with her lot.
Assuredly she was born at a time well suited to her genius. Had
she lived to-day, she might have been a `Pioneer'; she might even
have discussed some paltry problem of sex in a printed obscenity.

In her own freer, wiser age, she was not man's detractor, but
his rival; and if she never knew the passion of love, she was
always loyal to the obligation of friendship. By her will she
left twenty pounds to celebrate the Second Charles's restoration
to his kingdom; and you contemplate her career with the single
regret that she died a brief year before the red wine, thus
generously bestowed, bubbled at the fountain.



WHEN Jonathan Wild and the Count La Ruse, in Fielding's
narrative, took a hand at cards, Jonathan picked his opponent's
pocket, though he knew it was empty, while the Count, from sheer
force of habit, stacked the cards, though Wild had not a farthing
to lose. And if in his uncultured youth the great man stooped to
prig with his own hand, he was early cured of the weakness: so
that Fielding's picture of the hero taking a bottle-screw from
the Ordinary's pocket in the very moment of death is entirely
fanciful. For `this Machiavel of Thieves,' as a contemporary
styled him, left others to accomplish what his ingenuity had
planned. His was the high policy of theft. If he lived on terms
of familiar intimacy with the mill-kens, the bridle-culls, the
buttock-and-files of London, he was none the less the friend and
minister of justice. He enjoyed the freedom of Newgate and the
Old Bailey. He came and went as he liked: he packed juries, he
procured bail, he manufactured evidence; and there was scarce an
assize or a sessions passed but he slew his man.

The world knew him for a robber, yet could not refuse his
brilliant service. At the Poultry Counter, you are told, he laid
the foundations of his future greatness, and to the Poultry
Counter he was committed for some trifling debt ere he had fully
served his apprenticeship to the art and mystery of buckle-
making. There he learned his craft, and at his enlargement he
was able forthwith to commence thief-catcher. His plan was
conceived with an effrontery that was nothing less than genius.
On the one side he was the factor, or rather the tyrant, of the
cross-coves: on the other he was the trusted agent of justice,
the benefactor of the outraged and the plundered. Among his
earliest exploits was the recovery of the Countess of G--d--n's
chair, impudently carried off when her ladyship had but just
alighted; and the courage wherewith he brought to justice the
murderers of one Mrs. Knap, who had been slain for some trifling
booty, established his reputation as upon a rock. He at once
advertised himself in the public prints as Thief-Catcher General
of Great Britain and Ireland, and proceeded to send to the
gallows every scoundrel that dared dispute his position.

His opportunities of gain were infinite. Even if he did not
organise the robbery which his cunning was presently to discover,
he had spies in every hole and corner to set him on the felon's
track. Nor did he leave a single enterprise to chance: `He
divided the city and suburbs into wards or divisions, and
appointed the persons who were to attend each ward, and kept them
strictly to their duty.' If a subordinate dared to disobey
or to shrink from murder, Jonathan hanged him at the next assize,
and happily for him he had not a single confederate whose neck he
might not put in the halter when he chose. Thus he preserved the
union and the fidelity of his gang, punishing by judicial murder
the smallest insubordination, the faintest suspicion of rivalry.
Even when he had shut his victim up in Newgate, he did not leave
him so long as there was a chance of blackmail. He would make
the most generous offers of evidence and defence to every thief
that had a stiver left him. But whether or not he kept his
bargain--that depended upon policy and inclination. On one
occasion, when he had brought a friend to the Old Bailey, and
relented at the last moment, he kept the prosecutor drunk from
the noble motive of self-interest, until the case was over. And
so esteemed was he of the officers of the law that even this
interference did but procure a reprimand.

His meanest action marked him out from his fellows, but it was
not until he habitually pillaged the treasures he afterwards
restored to their grateful owners for a handsome consideration,
that his art reached the highest point of excellence. The event
was managed by him with amazing adroitness from beginning to end.

It was he who discovered the wealth and habit of the victim; it
was he who posted the thief and seized the plunder, giving a
paltry commission to his hirelings for the trouble; it was he who
kept whatever valuables were lost in the transaction; and as he
was the servant of the Court, discovery or inconvenience was
impossible. Surely the Machiavel of Thieves is justified of his
title. He was known to all the rich and titled folk in town; and
if he was generally able to give them back their stolen valuables
at something more than double their value, he treated his clients
with a most proper insolence. When Lady M--n was unlucky enough
to lose a silver buckle at Windsor, she asked Wild to recover it,
and offered the hero twenty pounds for his trouble. `Zounds,
Madam,' says he, `you offer nothing. It cost the gentleman who
took it forty pounds for his coach, equipage, and other expenses
to Windsor.' His impudence increased with success, and in the
geniality of his cups he was wont to boast his amazing rogueries:
`hinting not without vanity at the poor Understandings of the
Greatest Part of Mankind, and his own Superior Cunning.'

In fifteen years he claimed 10,000 for his dividend of
recovered plunderings, and who shall estimate the moneys which
flowed to his treasury from blackmail and the robberies of his
gang? So brisk became his trade in jewels and the precious
metals that he opened relations with Holland, and was master of a
fleet. His splendour increased with wealth: he carried a silver-
mounted sword, and a footman tramped at his heels. `His table
was very splendid,' says a biographer: `he seldom dining under
five Dishes, the Reversions whereof were generally charitably
bestow'd on the Commonside felons.' At his second marriage with
Mrs. Mary D--n, the hempen widow of Scull D--n, his humour
was most happily expressed: he distributed white ribbons among
the turnkeys, he gave the Ordinary gloves and favours, he sent
the prisoners of Newgate several ankers of brandy for punch.
`Twas a fitting complaisance, since his fortune was drawn from
Newgate, and since he was destined himself, a few years later, to
drink punch--`a liquor nowhere spoken against in the
Scriptures'--with the same Ordinary whom he thus magnificently
decorated. Endowed with considerable courage, for a while he had
the prudence to save his skin, and despite his bravado he was
known on occasion to yield a plundered treasure to an accomplice
who set a pistol to his head. But it is certain that the
accomplice died at Tyburn for his pains, and on equal terms
Jonathan was resolute with the best. On the trail he was savage
as a wild beast. When he arrested James Wright for a robbery
committed upon the persons of the Earl of B--l--n and the Lord
Bruce, he held on to the victim's chin by his teeth--an exploit
which reminds you of the illustrious Tiger Roche.

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