« VorigeDoorgaan »
They were the oldest and the honourablest form of pauperism. Their appeals were to our common nature; less revolting to an ingenuous mind than to be a suppliant to the particular humours or caprice of any fellow-creature, or set of fellowcreatures, parochial or societarian. Theirs were the only rates uninvidious in the levy, ungrudged in the assessment.
There was a dignity springing from the very depth of their desolation; as to be naked is to be so much nearer to the being a man, than to go in livery.
The greatest spirits have felt this in their reverses ; and when Dionysius from king turned schoolmaster, do we feel any thing towards him but contempt ? Could Vandyke have made a picture of him, swaying a ferula for a sceptre, which would have affected our minds with the same heroic pity, the same compassionate admiration, with which we regard his Belisarius begging for an obolum ? Would the moral have been more graceful, more pathetic ?
The Blind Beggar in the legend—the father of pretty Bessy—whose story doggrel rhymes and alehouse signs cannot so degrade or attenuate, but that some sparks of a lustrous spirit will shine through the disguisements—this noble Earl of Cornwall (as indeed he was) and memorable sport of fortune, fleeing from the unjust sentence of his liego lord, stript of all
, and seated on the flowering green of Bethnal, with his more fresh and springing daughter by his side, illumining his rags and his beggary —would the child and parent have cut a better figure, doing the honours of a counter, or expiating their fallen condition upon the three-foot cminence of some sempstering shop-board ?
In tale or history your Beggar is ever the first antipode to your King. The poets and romancical writers (as dear Margaret Newcastle would call them), when they would most sharply and feelingly paint a reverse of fortune, never stop till they have brought down their hero in good carnest to rags and the wallet. The depth of the descent illustrates the height he falls from. There is no medium which can be presented to the imagination without offence. There is no breaking the fall. Lear, thrown from his palace, must divest him of his garments, till he answer nature," and Cresseid, fallen from a prince's love, must extend her pale arms, pale with other whiteness than of beauty, supplicating lazar alms with bell and clap-dish.
The Lucian wits knew this very well ; and, with a converse policy, when they would express scorn of greatness without the pity, they show us an Alexander in the shades cobbling shoes, or a Semiramis getting up foul linen.
How would it sound in song, that a great monarch had declined his affections upon the daughter of a baker! Yet do we feel the imagination at all violated when we read the “true ballad” where king Cophetua woes the beggar maid ?
Pauperism, pauper, poor man, are expressions of pity, but pity alloyed with contempt. No one properly contemps a beggar. Poverty is a comparative thing, and cach degree of it is mocked by its “neighbour grice.” Its poor rents and comingsin are soon summed up and told. · Its pretences to property are almost ludicrous. Its pitiful attempts to save excite a smile. Every scornful companion can weigh his trifle-bigger purse against it. Poor man reproaches poor man in the streets with impolitic mention of his condition, his own being a shade better, while the rich pass by and jeer at both. No rascally comparative insults a Beggar, or thinks of weighing purses with him. He is not in the scale of comparison. He is not under the measure of property. He confessedly hath none, any more than a dog or a sheep. No one twitteth him with ostentation above his means. No one accuses him of pride, or upbraideth him with mock humility. None jostle with him for the wall, or pick quarrels for precedency. No wealthy neighbour seeketh to eject him from his tenement. No man sues him. No man goes to law with him. If I were not the independent gentleman that I am, rather than I would be a retainer to the great, a
led captain, or a poor relation, I would choose, out of the delicacy and true greatness of my mind, to be a Beggar.
Rays, which are the reproach of poverty, are the Beggar's robes and graceful insignia of his profession, his tenure, his full dress, the suit in which he is expected to show himself in public. He is never out of the fashion or limpeth awkwardly behind it. He is not required to put on court mourning. He weareth all colours, fearing none. His costume hath undergone less change than the Quakers'. He is the only man in the universe who is not obliged to study appearances. The ups and downs of the world concern him no longer. He alone continueth in one stay. The price of stock or land affecteth him not. The fluctuation of agricultural or commercial prosperity toucheth him not, or at worst, but change his customers. He is not expected to become bail or surety for any one. No man troubleth him with questioning his religion or politics. He is the only free man in the universe.
The Mendicants of this great city were so many of her rights, her lions. I can no more spare them than I could the Cries of London. No corner of a street is complete without them. They are as indispensable as the Ballad Singer; and in their picturesque attire as ornamental as the sigus of old London. They were the standing morals, emblems, mementos, dial mottos, the spital sermons, the books for children, the salutary checks and pauses to the high and rushing tide of greasy citizenry;
-“ Look Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there." Above all, those old blind Tobits that used to line the wall of Lincoln's Inn Garden, before modern fastidiousness had expelled them, casting up their ruined orbs to catch a ray of pity, and (if possible) of light, with their faithful Dog Guide at their feet - whither are they fled? or into what corners, blind as themselves, have they been driven, out of the wholesome air and sun-warmth? Iminured between four walls, in what withering poor-house do they endure the penalty of double darkness, where the chink of the dropt halfpenny no more consoles their forlorn bereavement, far from the sound of the cheerful and hope-stirring tread of the passenger? Where hang their useless staves ? and who will farm their dogs! Have the overseers of St. L-caused them to be shot? or were they tied up in sacks, and dropt into the Thames, at the suggestion of B- -, the mild rector of - ?
Well fare the soul of unfastidious Vincent Bourne, most classical, and at the same time most English of the Latinists !—who has treated of this human and quadrupedal alliance, this dog and man friendship, in the sweetest of his poems, the Epituphium in Canem, or Dog's Epitaph.
if customary sights, which could call up such gentle poetry as this, were of a nature to do more harm or good to the moral sense of the passengers through the daily thoroughfares of a vast and busy metropolis.
Pauperis hic Iri requiesco Lyciscus, herilis,
Ad latus interea jacui sopitus herile,
Hi mores, hæc vita fuit, dum fata sinebant,
These were my manners, this my way of life,
The virtues of the Beggar and his Dog. These diin eyes have in vain explored for some months past a well-known figure, or part of the figure, of a man, who used to glide his comely upper half over the Javements of London, wheeling along with most ingenious celerity upon a machine of wood; a spectacle to natives, to foreigners, and to children. He was of a robust inake, with a florid sailor-like complexion, and his head was bare to the storm and sunshine. He was a natural curiosity, a speculation to the scientific, a prodigy to the simple. The infant would stare at the mighty man brought down to his own level. The common cripple would despise his own pusillanimity, viewing the hale stoutness, and hearty heart, of this half-limbed giant. Few but must have noticed him ; for the accident, which brought him low, took place during the riots of 1780, and he has been a groundling so long. He seemed earth-born, an Antæus, and to suck in fresh vigour from the soil which he neighboured. He was a grand fragment ; as good as an Elgin marble. The nature, which should have recruited his reft legs and thighs, was not lost, but only retired into his upper parts, and he was half a Hercules. I heard a tremendous voice thundering and growling, as before an earthquake, and casting down my eyes, it was this mandrake reviling a steed that had started at his portentous appearance. He seemed to want but his just stature to have rent the offending quadruped in shivers. He was as the man-part of a Centaur, from which the horse-half had been cloven in some dire Lapithæan controversy. He moved on, as if he could have made shift with yet half of the body portion which was left him. The os sublime was not wanting ; and he threw out yet a jolly countenance upon the heavens. Forty-and-two-years had he driven this out of door trade, and now that his hair is grizzled in the service, but his good spirits no way impaired, because he is not content to exchange his free air and exercise for the restraints of a poor-house, he is expiating his contumacy in one of those houses (ironically christened) of correction.
Was a daily spectacle like this to be deemed a nuisance which called for legal interference to remove ? or not rather a salutary and a touching object to the passersby in a great city? Among her shows, her museums, and supplies for ever-gaping curiosity (and what else but an accumulation of sights—endless sights—is a great city; or for what else is it desirable ?) was there not room for one Lusus (pot Nature, indeed, but) Accidentium? What if in forty-and-two years' going about, the man had scraped together enough to give a portion to his child (as the rumour ran) of a few hundreds—whom had he injured ? Whom had he imposed upon ? The contributors had enjoyed their sight for their pennies. What if after being exposed all day to the heats, the rains, and the frosts of heaven-shuffling his ungainly trunk along in an elaborate and painful motion-he was enabled to retire at night to enjoy himself at a club of his fellow-cripples over a dish of hot meat and vegetables, as the charge was gravely brought against him by a clergyman deposing before a House of Commons' Committee—was this, or was his truly paternal consideration, which (if a fact) deserved a statue rather than a whipping-post, and is inconsistent at least with the exaggeration of nocturnal orgies which he has been slandered with —a reason that he should be deprived of his chosen, harmless, nay edifying, way of life, and be committed in hoary age for a sturdy vagabond ?
There was a Yorick once, whom it would not have shamed to have sat down at the cripples' feast, and to have thrown in his benediction, ay, and his mite too, for a companionable symbol. · Age, thou hast lost thy breed."
Half of these stories about the prodigious fortunes made by begging are (I verily believe) misers' calumnies. One was much talked of in the public papers some time since, and the usual charitable inferences deduced. A clerk in the Bank was surprised with the announcement of a five hundred pound legacy left him by a person whose name he was a stranger to. It seems that in his daily morning walks from Peckham (or some village thereabouts) where he lived, to his office, it had been his practice for the last twenty years to drop his half-penny duly into the hat of some blind Bartimeus, that sate begging alms by the wayside in the Borough. The good old beggar recognised his daily benefactor by the voice only; and, when he died, left all the amassings of his alms (that had been half a century perhaps in the accumulating) to his old Bank friend. Was this a story to purse up people's hearts, and
pennies, against giving an alms to the blind ?-or not rather a beautiful moral of well directed charity on the one part, and noble gratitude upon the other?
I sometimes wish I had been that Bank clerk.
I seem to remember a poor old grateful kind of creature, blinking, and looking up with his no eyes in the sun,
Is it possible I could have steeled my purse against him?
Reader, do not be frightened at the hard words, imposition, imposture-give, and usk no questions. “ Cast thy bread upon the waters.” Some have unawares (like this Bank clerk) entertained angels.
Shut not thy purse-strings always against painted distress. Act a charity sometimes. When a poor creature (outwardly and visibly such) comes before thee, do not stay to inquire whether the “ seven small children,” in whose name he implores thy assistance, have a veritable existence. Rake not into the bowels of unwelcome truth to save a halfpenny. It is good to believe him. If he be not all that he pretendeth, give, and under a personate father of a family, think (if thou pleasest) that thou hast relieved an indigent bachelor. When they come with their counterfeit looks, and mumping tones, think them players. You pay your money to see a comedian feign these things, which, concerning these poor people, thou canst not certainly tell whether they are feigned or not.
20.-THE FIRST MAN.
BUFFON. [The Comte de Buffon, the most eloquent if not the most accurate of naturalists, was born in 1707, and died in 1788. More than two thirds of his fourscore years were passed in unremitting literary labour. He was rich, luxurious, fond of display-yet he went to bed every night at nine o'clock, and began his appointed task every morning at six. In his latter yenu's, when asked how he could have done so much, he replied, “ Have I not spent fifty years at my desk?” The passage which we translate from his chapter on “ Man” will give a notion of the fertility of his imagination, under the guidance of science.]
The first man describes his first movements, his first sensations, and his first ideas, after the creation.
I recollect that moment full of joy and perplexity, when, for the first time, I was aware of my singular existence; I did not know what I was, where I was, or where I came from. I opened my eyes : how my sensations increased! the light, the vault of heaven, the verdure of the earth, the crystal of the waters, every thing interested me, animated me, and gave me an inexpressible sentiment of pleasure. I thought at first that all these objects were in me, and made a part of myself. I was confirming myself in this idea, when I turned my eyes towards the sun: its brilliancy distressed me; I involuntarily closed my eyelids, and I felt a slight sensation of grief. In this moment of darkness I thought I had lost my entire being.
Afflicted and astonished, I was thinking of this great change, when suddenly I heard sounds: the singing of the birds, the murmuring of the air, formed a concert the sweet influence of which touched my very soul; I listened for a long time, and I soon felt convinced that this harmony was myself. Intent upon and entirely occupied with this new part of my existence, I had already forgotten light, that other portion of my being, the first with which I had become acquainted, when I reopened my eyes. What happiness to possess once more so many brilliant objects ! My pleasure surpassed what I had felt the first time, and for awhile suspended the charming effect of sound.
I fixed my eyes on a thousand different objects; I soon discovered that I night