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The most learned philosopher of the whole collection, who had been expelled the university for atheism, had made great progress in a refutation of Lord Bolingbroke's metaphysical works, which is said to be equally ingenious and orthodox; but in the meantime he has been presented to the grand-jury as a public nuisance, for having blasphemed in an alehouse on the Lord's day. The Scotchman gives lectures on the pronunciation of the English language, which he is now publishing by subscription.
The Irishman is a political writer, and goes by the name of My Lord Potatoe. He wrote a pamphlet in vindication of a minister, hoping his zeal would be rewarded with some place or pension; but finding himself neglected in that quarter, he whispered about that the pamphlet was written by the minister himself, and he published an answer to his own production. In this he addressed the author under the title of your lordship with such solemnity, that the public swallowed the deceit, and bought up the whole impression. The wise politicians of the metropolis declared they were both masterly performances, and chuckled over the flimsy reveries of an ignorant garreteer as the profound speculations of a veteran statesman, acquainted with all the secrets of the Cabinet. The imposture was detected in the sequel, and our Hibernian pamphleteer retains no part of his assumed importance but the bare title of my lord, and the upper part of the table at the potatoe ordinary in Shoe-Lane.
Opposite to me sat a Piedmontese, who had obliged the public with a humorous satire, entitled The Balance of the English Poets, a performance which evinced the great modesty and taste of the author, and, in particular, his intimacy with the elegancies of the English language. The sage who laboured under the ȧygopoßia, or horror of green fields, had just finished a treatise on practical agriculture, though in fact he had never seen corn growing in his life, and was so ignorant of grain, that our entertainer, in the face of the whole company, made him own that a plate of hominy was the best rice pudding he had ever
The stutterer had almost finished his travels through Europe and part of Asia, without ever budging beyond the liberties of the King's Bench, except in term time, with a tipstaff for his companion; and as for little Tim Cropdale, the most facetious member of the whole society, he had happily wound up the catastrophe of a virgin tragedy, from the
exhibition of which he promised himself a large fund of profit and reputation. Tim had made shift to live many years by writing novels, at the rate of five pounds a volume; but that branch of business is now engrossed by female authors, who publish merely for the propagation of virtue, with so much ease, and spirit, and delicacy, and knowledge of the human heart, and all in the serene tranquillity of high life, that the reader is not only enchanted by their genius, but reformed by their morality.
After dinner we adjourned into the garden, where I observed Mr. S- gave a short separate audience to every individual, in a small remote filbert walk, from whence most of them dropped off one after another, without further ceremony; but they were replaced by fresh recruits of the same class, who came to make an afternoon's visit; and, among others, a spruce bookseller, called Birkin, who rode his own gelding, and made his appearance in a pair of new jemmy boots, with massy spurs of plate. It was not without reason that this midwife of the muses used to exercise on horseback, for he was too fat to walk afoot, and he underwent some sarcasms from Tim Cropdale, on his unwieldy size and inaptitude for motion. Birkin, who took umbrage at this poor author's petulance, in presuming to joke upon a man so much richer than himself, told him he was not so unwieldy but that he could move the Marshalsea court for a writ, and even overtake him with it, if he did not very speedily come and settle accounts with him respecting the expense of publishing his last Ode to the King of Prussia, of which he had sold but three, and one of them was to Whitefield the Methodist. Tim affected to receive this intimation with good humour, saying he expected in a post or two, from Potsdam, a poem of thanks from his Prussian majesty, who knew very well how to pay poets in their own coin; but, in the mean time, he proposed that Mr. Birkin and he should run three times round the garden for a bowl of punch, to be drunk at Ashley's in the evening, and he would run boots against stockings. The bookseller, who valued himself upon his mettle, was persuaded to accept the challenge, and he forthwith resigned his boots to Cropdale, who, when he had put them on, was no bad representation of Captain Pistol in the play. Everything being adjusted, they started together with great impetuosity, and, in the second round, Birkin had clearly the advantage, larding the lean earth as he puff'd along. Cropdale had no mind to
contest the victory further, but in a twinkling disappeared through the back-door of the garden, which opened into a private lane that had communication with the high road. The spectators immediately began to halloo, "Stole away!" and Birkin set off in pursuit of him with great eagerness; but he had not advanced twenty yards in the lane, when a thorn, running into his foot, sent him hopping back again into the garden roaring with pain, and swearing with vexation. When he was delivered from this annoyance by the Scotchman, who had been bred to surgery, he looked about him wildly, exclaiming, “Sure, the fellow won't be such a rogue as to run clear away with my boots!" Our landlord, having reconnoitred the shoes he had left, which indeed hardly deserved that name, “Pray," said he, "Mr. Birkin, wa 'nt your boots made of calf skin?" "Calf skin or cow skin," replied the other, "I'll find a slip of sheep-skin that will do his business. I lost twenty pounds by his farce, which you persuaded me to buy. I am out of pocket five pounds by his d--'d ode; and now this pair of boots, bran new, cost me thirty shillings as per receipt. But this affair of the boots is felony-transportation. I'll have the dog indicted at the Old Bailey-I will, Mr. S. I will be revenged, even though I should lose my debt in consequence of his conviction."
Mr. S― said nothing at present, but accommodated him with a pair of shoes, then ordered his servant to rub him down, and comfort him with a glass of rum punch, which seemed in a great measure to cool the rage of his indignation. "After all," said our landlord, “this is no more than a humbug in the way of wit, though it deserves a more respectable epithet when considered as an effort of invention. Tim, being, I suppose, out of credit with the cordwainer, fell upon this ingenious expedient to supply the want of shoes, knowing that Mr. Birkin, who loves humour, would himself relish the joke upon a little recollection. Cropdale literally lives by his wit, which he has exercised upon all his friends in their turns. He once borrowed my pony for five or six days to go to Salisbury, and sold him in Smithfield at his return. This was a joke of such a serious nature, that, in the first transports of my passion, I had some thoughts of prosecuting him for horse-stealing; and, even when my resentment had, in some measure subsided, as he industriously avoided me, I vowed I would take satisfaction on his ribs with the first opportunity. One day, seeing him at some distance in the street, coming towards me, I began to
prepare my cane for action, and walked in the shadow of a porter, that he might not perceive me soon enough to make his escape; but, in the very instant I had lifted up the instrument of correction, I found Tim Cropdale metamorphosed into a miserable blind wretch, feeling his way with a long stick from post to post, and rolling about two bald unlighted orbs, instead of eyes. I was exceedingly shocked at having so narrowly escaped the concern and disgrace that would have attended such a misapplication of vengeance; but next day Tim prevailed upon a friend of mine to come and solicit my forgiveness, and offer his note, payable in six weeks, for the price of the pony. This gentleman gave me to understand, that the blind man was no other than Cropdale, who, having seen me advancing, and guessing my intent, had immediately converted himself into the object aforesaid. I was so diverted at the ingenuity of the evasion, that I agreed to pardon the offence, refusing his note, however, that I might keep a prosecution for felony hanging over his head, as a security for his future good behaviour; but Timothy would by no means trust himself in my hands till the note was accepted. Then he made his appearance at my door as a blind beggar, and imposed in such a manner upon my man, who had been his old acquaintance and pot-companion, that the fellow threw the door in his face, and even threatened to give him the bastinado. Hearing a noise in the hall, I went thither, and, immediately recollecting the figure I had passed in the street, accosted him by his own name, to the unspeakable astonishment of the footman.”
Birkin declared he loved a joke as well as another; but asked if any of the company could tell where Mr. Cropdale lodged, that he might send him a proposal about restitution, before the boots should be made away with. "I would willingly give him a pair of new shoes," said he, "and half a guinea into the bargain, for the boots, which fitted me like a glove, and I shan't be able to get the fellows of them till the good weather for riding is over." The stuttering wit declared, that the only secret which Cropdale ever kept was the place of his lodgings; but he believed that, during the heats of summer, he commonly took his repose upon a bulk. "Confound him!" cried the bookseller, "he might as well have taken my whip and spurs: in that case, he might have been tempted to steal another horse, and then he would have rid to the devil of course.' After coffee, I took my leave of Mr. S
with proper acknow
ledgments of his civility, and was extremely well pleased with the entertainment of the day, though not yet satisfied with respect to the nature of this connexion betwixt a man of character in the literary world and a parcel of authorlings, who, in all probability, would never be able to acquire any degree of reputation by their labours. On this head, I interrogated my conductor, Dick Ivy, who answered me to this effect: " One would imagine S― had some view to his own interest, in giving countenance and assistance to those people whom he knows to be bad men as well as bad writers; but, if he has any such view, he will find himself disappointed, for, if he is so vain as to imagine he can make them subservient to his schemes of profit or ambition, they are cunning enough to make him their property in the meantime. There is not one of the company you have seen to-day (myself excepted) who does not owe him particular obligations. One of them he bailed out of a spunging-house and afterwards paid the debt-another he translated into his family and clothed, when he was turned out half-naked from gaol, in consequence of an act for the relief of insolvent debtors—a third, who was reduced to a woollen nightcap, and lived upon sheep's trotters, up three pair of stairs backward, in Butcher Row, he took into present pay and free quarters, and enabled him to appear as a gentleman, without having the fear of sheriff's officers before his eyes. Those who are in distress he supplies with money when he has it, and with his credit when he is out of cash. When they want business, he either finds employment for them in his own service, or recommends them to booksellers, to execute some project he has formed for their subsistence. They are always welcome to his table (which, though plain, is plentiful), and to his good offices as far as they will go; and, when they see occasion, they make use of his name with the most petulant familarity, nay, they do not even scruple to arrogate to themselves the merit of some of his performances, and have been known to sell their own lucubrations as the produce of his brain. The Scotchman you saw at dinner once personated him at an alehouse in West Smithfield, and, in the character of Shad his head broke by a cow-keeper, for having spoke disrespectfully of the Christian religion; but he took the law of him in his own person, and the assailant was fain to give him ten pounds to withdraw his action."
I have dwelt so long upon authors, that you will perhaps suspect I