« PreviousContinue »
were pleasures compared to what many of the adventuring poor every day endure without murmuring. They ate, drank, and slept; they bad slaves to attend them; and were sure of subsistence for life : while many of their fellow-creatures are obliged to wander without a friend to comfort or assist them, and even without shelter from the severity of the season.
I have been led into these reflections from accidentally meeting, some days ago, a poor fellow, whom I knew when a boy, dressed in a sailor's jacket, and begging at one of the outlets of the town with a wooden leg. I knew him to have been honest and industrious when in the country, and was curious to learn what had reduced him to his present situation. Wherefore, after having given him what I thought proper, I desired to know the history of his life and misfortunes, and the manner in which he was reduced to his present distress. The disabled soldier (for. such he was, though dressed in a sailor's habit), scratching his head, and leaning on his crutch, put himself in an attitude to comply with my request, and gave me his history as follows :
“As for my misfortunes, master, I can't pretend to have gone through any more than other folks ; for, except the loss of my limb, and my being obliged to beg, I don't know any reason, thank Heaven! that I have to complain: there is Bill Tibbs, of our regi. ment, he has lost both his legs, and an eye to boot; but, thank Heaven, it is not so bad with me yet.
“I was born in Shropshire; my father was a labourer, and died when I was five years old; so I was put upon the parish. As he had been a wandering sort of a man, the parishioners were not able to tell to what parish I belonged or where I was born, so they sent me to another parish, and that parish sent me to a third. I thought in my heart, they kept sending me about so long, that they would not let me be born in any parish at all ; but at last, however, they fixed me.
I had some disposition to be a scholar, and was resolved at least to know my letters; but the master of the workhouse put me to business as soon as I was able to handle a mallet; and here I lived an easy kind of life for five years. I only wrought ten hours in the day, and had my meat and drink provided for my labour. It is true, I was not suffered to stir out of the house, for fear, as they said, I should run away; but what of that, I had the liberty of the whole house, and the yard before the door, and that was enough for
I was then bound out to a farmer, where I was up both early and late ; but I ate and drank well, and liked my business well enough till he died, when I was obliged to provide for myself; so I was resolved to go seek my fortune.
“ In this manner I went from town to town, worked when I could get employment, and starved when I could get done: when happen
ing one day to go through a field belonging to a justice of peace, I spied a hare crossing the path just before me; and I believe the devil put it in my head to fling my stick at it :-well, what will you have on't? I killed the hare, and was bringing it away, when the justice himself met me; he called me poacher and a villain ; and, collaring me, desired I would give an account of myself. I fell upon my knees, begged his worship’s pardon, and began to give a full account of all that I knew of my breed, seed, and generation ; but, though I gave a very true account, the justice said I could give no account; and so I was indicted at the sessions, found guilty of being poor, and sent up to London to Newgate, in order to be transported as a vagabond.
People may say this and that of being in jail ; but, for my part, I found Newgate as agreeable a place as ever I was in all
life. I had my belly full to eat and drink, and did no work at all. This kind of life was too good to last for ever; so I was taken out of prison, after five months; put on board a ship, and sent off, with two hundred more, to the plantations. We had but an indifferent passage; for, being all confined in the hold, more than a hundred of our people died for want of sweet air; and those that remained were sickly enough, God knows. When we came ashore, we were sold to the planters, and I was bound for seven years more.
As I was no scholar (for I did not know my letters), I was obliged to work among the negroes; and I served out my time, as in duty bound to do.
“When my time was expired, I worked my passage home, and glad I was to see Old England again, because I loved my country. I was afraid, however, that I should be indicted for a vagabond once more, so I did not much care to go down into the country, but kept about the town, and did little jobs when I could get them.
“I was very happy in this manner for some time, till one evening, coming home from work, two men knocked me down, and then desired me to stand. They belonged to a press-gang: I was carried before the justice, and, as I could give no account of myself, I had my choice left, whether to go on board a man of war, or list for a soldier : I chose the latter ; and, in this post of a gentleman, I served two campaigns in Flanders, was at the battles of Val and Fontenoy, and received but one wound, through the breast here; but the doctor of our regiment soon made me well again.'
“When the peace came on I was discharged ; and as I could not work, because my wound was sometimes troublesome, I listed for a landman in the East-India Company's service. I have fought the French in six pitched battles; and I verily believe, that, if I could read or write, our captain would have made me a corporal. But it was not my good fortune to have any promotion, for I soon fell sick, and so got leave to return home again, with forty pounds in my pocket. This was at the beginning of the present war, and I hoped to be set on shore, and to have the pleasure of spending my money; but the government wanted men, and so I was pressed for a sailor before ever I could set foot on shore.
“ The boatswain found me, as he said, an obstinate fellow : he swore he knew that I understood my business well, but that I shammed Abraham to be idle; but, God knows, I knew nothing of sea-business, and he beat me without considering what he was about. I had still, however, my forty pounds, and that was some comfort to me under every beating; and the money I might have had to this day, but that our ship was taken by the French, and so I lost my money.
“Our crew was carried into Brest, and many of them died, because they were not used to live in a jail; but for my part, it was nothing to me, for I was seasoned. One night, as I was asleep on the bed of boards, with a warm blanket about me (for I always lored to lie well), I was awakened by the boatswain, who had a dark lantern in his hand : “ Jack,' says he to me, will you knock out the French sentries' brains ?'-'I don't care,' says I, striving to keep myself awake, 'if I lend a hand.'—' Then follow me,' says he, "and I hope we shall do their business.'-So up I got, and tied my blanket (which was all the clothes I had) about my middle, and went with him to fight the Frenchmen. I hate the French, because they are all slaves, and wear wooden shoes.
Though we had no arms, one Englishman is able to beat five French at any time; so we went down to the door, where both the sentries were posted, and, rushing upon them, seized their arms in a moment, and knocked them down. From thence nine of us ran together to the quay; and, seizing the first boat we met, got out of the harbour, and put to sea. We had not been here three days before we were taken up by the Dorset privateer, who were glad of so many good hands, and we consented to run our chance. However, we had not as much luck as we expected. In three days we fell in with the Pompadour privateer, of forty guns, while we had but twenty-three; and so to it we went, yard-arm and yard-arm. The fight lasted for three hours, and I verily believe we should have taken the Frenchman, had we but had some more men left behind : but, unfortunately, we lost all our men just as we were going to get the victory.
“I was once more in the power of the French, and I believe it would have gone hard with me had I been brought back to Brest; but, by good fortune, we were retaken by the Viper. I had almost forgot to tell you, that, in that engagement, I was wounded in two places : I lost four fingers of the left hand, and my leg was shot off.
If I had had the good fortune to have lost my leg and the use of my hand on board a king's ship, and not on board a privateer, I should have been entitled to clothing and maintenance during the rest of my life; but that was not my chance : one man is born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and another with a wooden ladle. However, blessed be God! I enjoy good health, and will for ever love liberty and Old England,—Liberty, Property, and Old England for ever, huzza !”
Thus saying, he limped off, leaving me in admiration at his intrepidity and content; nor could I avoid acknowledging, that an habitual acquaintance with misery serves better than philosophy to teach us to despise it.
201. A FABLE.
Once upon a time, a Giant and a Dwarf were friends, and kept together. They made a bargain that they would never forsake each other, but go seek adventures. The first battle they fought was with two Saracens, and the Dwarf, who was very courageous, dealt one of the champions a most angry blow. It did the Saracen but very little injury, who lifting up his sword, fairly struck off the poor Dwarf's arm. He was now in a woeful plight; but the Giant coming to his assistance, in a short time left the two Saracens dead on the plain, and the Dwarf cut off the dead man's head out of spite. They then travelled on to another adventure. This was against three bloody-minded Satyrs, who were carrying away a damsel in distress. The Dwarf was not quite so fierce now as before ; but for all that, struck the first blow; which was returned by another, that knocked out his eye: but the Giant was soon up with them, and had they not fled, would certainly have killed them every one. They were all very joyful for this victory, and the damsel who was relieved fell in love with the Giant, and married him. They now travelled far, and farther than I can tell, till they met with a company of robbers. The Giant, for the first time, was foremost now; but the Dwarf was not far behind. The battle was stout and long. Wherever the Giant came, all fell before him ; but the Dwarf had like to have been killed more than once. At last the victory declared for the two adventurers : but the Dwarf lost his leg. The Dwarf had now lost an arm, a leg, and an eye, while the Giant was without a single wound. Upon which he cried out to his little companion : “My little hero, this is glorious sport; let us get one victory more, and then we shall have honour for ever.”—“No," cries the Dwarf, who was by this time grown wiser, “no, I declare off; I'll fight no more: for I find in every battle that you get all the honour and rewards, but all the blows fall upon me.”
202. FROM THE TRAVELLER.'
FRANCE. To kinder skies, where gentler manners reign, I turn; and France displays her bright domain. Gay sprightly land of mirth and social ease, Pleased with thyself, whom all the world can please, How often have I led thy sportive choir, With tuneless pipe, beside the murmuring Loire ! Where shading elms along the margin grew, And freshen'd from the wave the zephyr flew; And haply, though my harsh touch, faltering still, But mock'd all tune, and marr’d the dancer's skill, Yet would the village praise my wondrous power, And dance, forgetful of the noontide hour. Alike all ages. Dames of ancient days Have led their children through the mirthful maze; And the gay grandsire, skill'd in gestic lore, Has frisk'd beneath the burden of threescore.
So blest a life these thoughtless realms display, Thus idly busy rolls their world away ; Theirs are those arts that mind to mind endear, For honour forms the social temper here : Honour, that praise which real merit gains Or e’en imaginary worth obtains, Here passes current; paid from hand to hand, It shifts in splendid traffic round the land : From courts, to camps, to cottages it strays, And all are taught an avarice of praise ; They please, are pleased, they give to get esteem, Till, seeming blest, they grow to what they seem.
But while this softer art their bliss supplies, It gives their follies also room to rise ; For praise too dearly loved, or warmly sought, Enfeebles all internal strength of thought; And the weak soul, within itself unblest, Leans for all pleasure on another's breast. Hence ostentation here, with tawdry art, Pants for the vulgar praise which fools impart ; Here vanity assumes her pert grimace, And trims her robes of frieze with copper lace ; Here beggar pride defrauds her daily cheer, To boast one splendid banquet once a year; The mind still turns where shifting fashion draws, Nor weighs the solid worth of self-applause.