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sweep. Him shouldest thou haply encounter, with
his dim visage pendent over the grateful steam,
regale him with a sumptuous basin (it will cost thee
but three half-pennies) and a slice of delicate bread
and butter (an added halfpenny) so may thy culi-
nary fires, eased of the o'er-charged secretions from
thy worse-placed hospitalities, curl up a lighter volume
to the welkin so may the descending soot never
taint thy costly well-ingredienced soups nor the
odious cry, quick- reaching from street to street, of
\h.z fired chimney, invite the rattling engines from ten
adjacent parishes, to disturb for a casual scintillation
thy peace and pocket !

I am by nature extremely susceptible of street
affronts ; the jeers and taunts of the populace ; the
low-bred triumph they display over the casual trip, or
splashed stocking, of a gentleman. Yet can I endure
the jocularity of a young sweep with something more
than forgiveness. In the last winter but one, pacing
along Cheapside with my accustomed precipitation
when I walk westward, a treacherous slide brought
me upon my back in an instant. I scrambled up with
pain and shame enough yet outwardly trying to face
it down, as if nothing had happened when the
roguish grin of one of these young wits encountered
me. There he stood, pointing me out with his dusky


finger to the mob, and to a poor woman (I suppose
his mother) in particular, till the tears for the exquis-
iteness of the fun (so he thought it) worked them-
selves out at the corners of his poor red eyes, red
from many a previous weeping, and soot-inflamed, yet
twinkling through all with such a joy, snatched out of

desolation, that Hogarth but Hogarth has got

him already (how could he miss him ?) in the March

to Finchley, grinning at the pye-man there he

stood, as he stands in the picture, irremovable, as if
the jest was to last for ever with such a maximum
of glee, and minimum of mischief, in his mirth for
the grin of a genuine sweep hath absolutely no malice
in it that I could have been content, if the honour
of a gentleman might endure it, to have remained his
butt and his mockery till midnight.

I am by theory obdurate to the seductiveness of
what are called a fine set of teeth. Every pair of
rosy lips (the ladies must pardon me) is a casket, pre-
sumably holding such jewels ; but, methinks, they
should take leave to " air " them as frugally as pos-
sible. The fine lady, or fine gentleman, who show
me their teeth, show me bones. Yet must I con-
fess, that from the mouth of a true sweep a display
(even to ostentation) of those white and shinning
ossifications, strikes me as an agreeable anomaly in
manners, and an allowable piece of foppery. It is,
as when


A sable cloud
Turns forth her silver lining on the night.

It is like some remnant of gentry not quite extinct ; a
badge of better days ; a hint of nobility : and,
doubtless, under the obscuring darkness and double
night of their forlorn disguisement, oftentimes lurketh
good blood, and gentle conditions, derived from lost
ancestry, and a lapsed pedigree. The premature ap-
prenticements of these tender victims give but too
much encouragement, I fear, to clandestine, and al-
most infantile abductions ; the seeds of civility and
true courtesy, so often discernible in these young
grafts (not otherwise to be accounted for) plainly hint
at some forced adoptions ; many noble Rachels mourn-
ing for their children, even in our days, countenance
the fact; the tales of fairy- spiriting may shadow a
lamentable verity, and the recovery of the young
Montagu be but a solitary instance of good fortune,
out of many irreparable and hopeless de filiations.

In one of the state-beds at Arundel Castle, a few
years since under a ducal canopy (that seat of
the Howards is an object of curiosity to visitors,
chiefly for its beds, in which the late duke was espe-
cially a connoisseur) encircled with curtains of de-
licatest crimson, with starry coronets inwoven folded
between a pair of sheets whiter and softer than the
lap where Venus lulled Ascanius was discovered by
chance, after all methods of search had failed, at noon-


day, fast asleep, a lost chimney-sweeper. The little
creature, having somehow confounded his passage
among the intricacies of those lordly chimneys, by
some unknown aperture had alighted upon this mag-
nificent chamber : and, tired with his tedious explora-
tions, was unable to resist the delicious invitement to
repose, which he there saw exhibited; so, creeping
between the sheets very quietly, laid his black head
upon the pillow, and slept like a young Howard.

Such is the account given to the visitors at the
Castle. But I cannot help seeming to perceive a
confirmation of what I have just hinted at in this
story. A high instinct was at work in the case, or
I am mistaken. Is it probable that a poor child of
that description, with whatever weariness he might
be visited, would have ventured, under such a pen-
alty, as he would be taught to expect, to uncover
the sheets of a Duke's bed, and deliberately to lay
himself down between them, when the rug, or the
carpet, presented an obvious couch, still far above
his pretensions is this probable, I would ask, if
the great power of nature, which I contend for, had
not been manifested within him, prompting to the
adventure? Doubtless this young nobleman (for
such my mind misgives me that he must be) was
allured by some memory, not amounting to full con-
sciousness, of his condition in infancy, when he was
used to be lapt by his mother, or his nurse, in just


such sheets as he there found, into which he was
now but creeping back as into his proper incunabula,
and resting-place. By no other theory, than by this
sentiment of a pre-existent state (as I may call it),
can I explain a deed so venturous, and, indeed,
upon any other system, so indecorous, in this tender,
but unseasonable, sleeper.

My pleasant friend JEM WHITE was so impressed
with a belief of metamorphoses like this frequently
taking place, that in some sort to reverse the wrongs
of fortune in these poor changelings, he instituted
an annual feast of chimney-sweepers, at which it
was his pleasure to officiate as host and waiter. It
was a solemn supper held in Smithfield, upon the
yearly return of the fair of St. Bartholomew. Cards
were issued a week before to the master-sweeps in
and about the metropolis, confining the invitation to
their younger fry. Now and then an elderly strip-
ling would get in among us, and be good-naturedly
winked at; but our main body were infantry. One
unfortunate wight, indeed, who, relying upon his
dusky suit, had intruded himself into our party, but
by tokens was providentially discovered in time to
be no chimney-sweeper (all is not soot which looks
so), was quoited out of the presence with universa
indignation, as not having on the wedding garment ;
but in general the greatest harmony prevailed. The
place chosen was a convenient spot among the pens,


at the north side of the fair, not so far distant as to
be impervious to the agreeable hubbub of that
vanity ; but remote enough not to be obvious to the
interruption of every gaping spectator in it. The
guests assembled about seven. In those little tem-
porary parlours three tables were spread with napery,
not so fine as substantial, and at every board a
comely hostess presided with her pan of hissing sau-
sages. The nostrils of the young rogues dilated at
the savour. JAMES WHITE, as head waiter, had charge
of the first table ; and myself, with our trusty com-
panion BIGOD, ordinarily ministered to the other two.
There was clambering and jostling, you may be sure,
who should get at the first table for Rochester in
his maddest days could not have done the humours
of the scene with more spirit than my friend. After
some general expression of thanks for the honour the
company had done him, his inaugural ceremony was
to clasp the greasy waist of old dame Ursula (the
fattest of the three), that stood frying and fretting,
half-blessing, half-cursing " the gentleman," and im-
print upon her chaste lips a tender salute, whereat
the universal host would set up a shout that tore the
concave, while hundreds of grinning teeth startled
the night with their brightness. O it was a pleasure
to see the sable younkers lick in the unctuous meat,
with his more unctuous sayings how he would fit
the tit bits to the puny mouths, reserving the lengthier


links for the seniors how he would intercept a
morsel even in the jaws of some young desperado,
declaring it " must to the pan again to be browned,
for it was not fit for a gentleman's eating" how
he would recommend this slice of white bread, or
that piece of kissing-crust, to a tender juvenile, ad-
vising them all to have a care of cracking their teeth,
which were their best patrimony, how genteelly he
would deal about the small ale, as if it were wine,
naming the brewer, and protesting, if it were not
good, he should lose their custom ; with a special
recommendation to wipe the lip before drinking.
Then we had our toasts " the King," the " Cloth,"
which, whether they understood or not, was equally
diverting and flattering ; and for a crowning sen-
timent, which never failed, " May the Brush super-
sede the Laurel." All these, and fifty other fancies,
which were rather felt than comprehended by his
guests, would he utter, standing upon tables, and
prefacing every sentiment with a " Gentlemen, give
me leave to propose so and so," which was a pro-
digious comfort to those young orphans ; every now
and then stuffing into his mouth (for it did not do
to be squeamish on these occasions) indiscriminate
pieces of those reeking sausages, which pleased them
mightily, and was the savouriest part, you may be-
lieve, of the entertainment.

Golden lads and lasses must,

As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.


JAMES WHITE is extinct, and with him these suppers
have long ceased. He carried away with him half
the fun of the world when he died of my world
at least. His old clients look for him among the
pens ; and, missing him, reproach the altered feast
of St. Bartholomew, and the glory of Smithfield de-
parted for ever.


THE all-sweeping besom of societarian reformation
your only modern Alcides' club to rid the time of its
abuses is uplift with many-handed sway to extir-
pate the last fluttering tatters of the bugbear MEN-
DICITY from the metropolis. Scrips, wallets, bags
staves, dogs, and crutches the whole mendicant
fraternity with all their baggage are fast posting out
of the purlieus of this eleventh persecution. From
the crowded crossing, from the corners of streets and
turnings of allies, the parting Genius of Beggary is
"with sighing sent."

I do not approve of this wholesale going to work,
this impertinent crusado, or be Hum ad extermina-
tionem, proclaimed against a species. Much good
might be sucked from these Beggars.

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 fellow-creatures, pa-


rochial 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 compas-
sionate admiration, with which we regard his Belisa-
rius 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 ale-
house 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 liege 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 eminence of
some sempstering shop-board?


In tale or history your Beggar is evei the just anti-
pode 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 earnest 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 " mere nature ; " and Cresseid, fallen from
a prince's love, must extend her pale arms, pale
with other whiteness than of beauty, supplicating
lazar arms 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 Co-
phetua wooes the beggar maid?

Pauperism, pauper, poor man, are expressions of
pity, but pity alloyed with contempt. No one prop-
erly contemns a beggar. Poverty is a comparative


thing, and each degree of it is mocked by its
"neighbour grice." Its poor rents and comings-in
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 im-
politic mention of his condition, his own being a
shade better, while the rich pass by and jeer at both.
No rascally comparative iasults 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 osten-
tation 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 in-
dependent 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.

Rags, which are the reproach of poverty, are the
Beggar's robes, and graceful insignia of his profes-
sion, 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 Quaker's. He is the
only man in the universe who is not obliged to study
appearances. The ups and downs of the world con-
cern him no longer. He alone continueth in one
stay. The price of stock or land affecteth him not.
The fluctuations of agricultural or commercial pros-
perity touch him not, o" 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 sights, 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 Signs 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 rush-
ing tide of greasy citizenry


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 whole-
some air and sun-warmth? immersed between four
walls, in what withering poor-house do they endure
the penalty of double darkness, where the chink of
the dropt half-penny 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 friend-
ship, in the sweetest of his poems, the Epitaphium
in Canem, or Dogs Epitaph. Reader, peruse it;
and say, 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 pas-
sengers through the daily thoroughfares of a vast
and busy metropolis.



Pauperis hie Iri requiesco Lyciscus, herilis,
Dum vixi, t.utela vigil columenque senectae,
Dux caeco fidus : nee, me ducente, solebat,
Prastenso hinc atque hinc baculo, per iniqua locorum
Incertam explorare viam ; sed fila secutus,
Quae dubios regerent passus, vestigia tuta
Fixit inoffenso gressu ; gelidumque sedile
In nudo nactus saxo, qua, praetereuntium
Unda frequens confluxit, ibi miserisque tenebras
Lamentis, noctemque oculis ploravit obortam.
Ploravit nee frustra ; obolum dedit alter et alter,
Queis corda et mentem indiderat natura benignam.
Ad latus mterea jacui sopitus herile,
Vel mediis vigil in somnis ; ad herilia jussa
Auresque atque aninum arrectus, seu frustula amice
Porrexit soeiasque dapes, seu longa diei
Taedia perpessus, reditum sub nocte parabat.
Hi mores, haec vita fuit, dum fata sinebant,
Dum neque languebam morbis, nee inerte senecta;
Quae tandem obrepsit, veterique satellite caecum
Orbavit dominum : prisci sed gratia facti
Ne tota intereat, longos deleta per annos,
Exiguum hunc Irus tumulum de cespite fecit,
Etsi inopis, non ingratae, munuscula dextrae ;
Carmine signavitque brevi, dominumque canemque
Quod memoret, fidumque canem dominumque benignum.

Poor Irus' faithful wolf-dog here I lie,

That wont to tend my old blind master's steps,

His guide and guard : nor, while my service lasted,

Had he occasion for that staff, with which

He now goes picking out his path in fear

Over the highways and crossings ; but would plant,

Safe in the conduct of my friendly string,

A firm foot forward still, till he had reach'd

His poor seat on some stone, nigh where the tide

Of passers by in thickest confluence flow'd :

To whom with loud and passionate laments

From morn to eve his dark estate he wail'd.


Nor wail'd to all in vain : some here and there,

The well-disposed and good, their pennies gave.

I meantime at his feet obsequious slept;

Not all-.nsleep in sleep, but heart and ear

Prick'd up at his least motion ; to receive

At his kind hand my customary crums,

And common portion in his feast of scraps ;

Or when night warn'd us homeward, tired and spent

With our long day and tedious beggary.

These were my manners, this my way of life,
Till age and slow disease me overtook,
And sever'd from my sightless master's side.
But lest the grace of so good deeds should die,
Through tract of years in mute oblivion lost,
This slender tomb of turf hath Irus reared,
Cheap monument of no ungrudging hand,
And with short verse inscribed it, to attest,
In long and lasting union to attest,
The virtues of the Beggar and his Dog.

These dim 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 pavements 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 make, 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 in-
fant 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 Antaeus, 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 tre-
mendous 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
Lapithan 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 want-
ing ; 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 griz-
zled in the service, but his good spirits no way im-
paired, 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 re-
move? or not rather a salutary and a touching ob-
ject, to the passers-by 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 (not 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

Online LibraryCharles LambCharles Lamb's essays → online text (page 14 of 32)