William Makepeace Thackeray.

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head and face. I am not ashamed to say that I could
look no more, but shut my eyes as the last dreadful act
was going on which sent this wretched guilty soul into
the presence of God.

If a public execution is beneficial and beneficial it is,


no doubt, or else the wise laws would not encourage
forty thousand people to witness it the next useful
thing must be a full description of such a ceremony, and
all its entourages^ and to this end the above pages are
offered to the reader. How does an individual man feel
under it ? In what way does he observe it, how does
he view all the phenomena connected with it, what
induces him, in the first instance, to go and see it, and
how is he moved by it afterwards ? The writer has dis-
carded the magazine * We ' altogether, and spoken face
to face with the reader, recording every one of the
impressions felt by him as honestly as he could.

I must confess, then (for * I ' is the shortest word, and
the best in this case), that the sight has left on my mind
an extraordinary feeling of terror and shame. It seems
to me that I have been abetting an act of frightful
wickedness and violence, performed by a set of men
against one of their fellows ; and I pray God that it may
soon be out of the power of any man in England to
witness such a hideous and degrading sight. Forty
thousand persons (say the Sheriffs), of all ranks and
degrees, mechanics, gentlemen, pickpockets, members
of both Houses of Parliament, street-walkers, newspaper-
writers, gather together before Newgate at a very early
hour ; the most part of them give up their natural quiet
night's rest, in order to partake of this hideous
debauchery, which is more exciting than sleep, or than
wine, or the last new ballet, or any other amusement
they can have. Pickpocket and Peer each is tickled by
the sight alike, and has that hidden lust after blood which
influences our race. Government, a Christian Govern-
ment, gives us a feast every now and then : it agrees
that is to say, a majority in the two Houses agrees that
for certain crimes it is necessary that a man should
be hanged by the neck. Government commits the
criminal's soul to the mercy of God, stating that here on
earth he is to look for no mercy ; keeps him for a fort-


night to prepare, provides him with a clergyman to
settle his religious matters (if there be time enough, but
Government can't wait) ; and on a Monday morning,
the bell tolling, the clergyman reading out the word of
God, *I am the resurrection and the life,' 'The Lord
giveth and the Lord taketh away,' on a Monday
morning, at eight o'clock, this man is placed under a
beam, with a rope connecting it and him ; a plank dis-
appears from under him, and those who have paid for
good places may see the hands of the Government agent,
Jack Ketch, coming up from his black hole, and seizing
the prisoner's legs, and pulling them, until he is quite
dead strangled .

Many persons, and well-informed newspapers, say that
it is mawkish sentiment to talk in this way, morbid
humanity, cheap philanthropy, that any man can get up
and preach about. There is the Observer, for instance,
a paper conspicuous for the tremendous sarcasm which
distinguishes its articles, and which falls cruelly foul of
the Morning Herald. 'Courvoisier is dead,' says the
Observer : ' he died as he had lived a villain ; a lie was
in his mouth. Peace be to his ashes. We war not with
the dead.' What a magnanimous Observer! From this,
Observer turns to the Herald, and says, 'Fiat justitia,
ruat coelum.' So much for the Herald.

We quote from memory, and the quotation from the
Observer possibly is, * De mortuis nil nisi bonum ; ' or,
' Omne ignotum pro magnifico ; ' or, * Sero nunquam
est ad bonos mores via ; ' or, * Ingenuas didicisse fideliter
artes emollit mores nee sinit esse feros : ' all of which
pithy Roman apophthegms would apply just as well.

1 Peace be to his ashes. He died a villain.' This is
both benevolence and reason. Did he die a villain ? The
Observer does not want to destroy him body and soul,
evidently, from that pious wish that his ashes should be
at peace. Is the next Monday but one after the
sentence the time necessary for a villain to repent in ?


May a man not require more leisure a week more
six months more before he has been able to make his
repentance sure before Him who died for us all ? for
all, be it remembered, not alone for the judge and
jury, or for the sheriffs, or for the executioner who is
pulling down the legs of the prisoner, but for him too,
murderer and criminal as he is, whom we are killing
for his crime. Do we want to kill him body and
soul ? Heaven forbid ! My Lord in the black cap
specially prays that Heaven may have mercy on him ;
but he must be ready by Monday morning.

Look at the documents which came from the prison
of this unhappy Courvoisier during the few days
which passed between his trial and execution. Were
ever letters more painful to read ? At first, his state-
ments are false, contradictory, lying. He has not
repented then. His last declaration seems to be honest,
as far as the relation of the crime goes. But read the
rest of his statement, the account of his personal
history, and the crimes which he committed in his
young days, then ' how the evil thought came to
him to put his hand to the work,' it is evidently the
writing of a mad, distracted man. The horrid gallows
is perpetually before him ; he is wild with dread and
remorse. Clergymen are with him ceaselessly; religious
tracts are forced into his hands ; night and day they
ply him with the heinousness of his crime, and exhorta-
tions to repentance. Read through that last paper of
his ; by Heaven, it is pitiful to read it. See the
Scripture phrases brought in now and anon ; the peculiar
terms of tract-phraseology (I do not wish to speak of
these often meritorious publications with disrespect) ;
one knows too well how such language is learned,
imitated from the priest at the bedside, eagerly seized
and appropriated, and confounded by the poor prisoner.

But murder is such a monstrous crime (this is the
great argument), when a man has killed another it is


natural that he should be killed. Away with your
foolish sentimentalists who say no it is natural. That
is the word, and a fine philosophical opinion it is
philosophical and Christian. Kill a man and you must
be killed in turn : that is the unavoidable sequjtur. You
may talk to a man for a year upon the subject, and he
will always reply to you, ' It is natural, and therefore
it must be done. Blood demands blood.'

Does it ? The system of compensations might be
carried on ad infinitum^ an eye for an eye, a tooth for
a tooth, as by the old Mosaic law. But (putting the
fact out of the question, that we have had this statute
repealed by the Highest Authority), why, because you
lose your eye, is that of your opponent to be extracted
likewise ? Where is the reason for the practice ? And
yet it is just as natural as the death dictum, founded
precisely upon the same show of sense. Knowing, how-
ever, that revenge is not only evil, but useless, we have
given it up on all minor points. Only to the last we
stick firm, contrary though it be to reason and to
Christian law.

There is some talk, too, of the terror which the sight
of this spectacle inspires, and of this we have endeavoured
to give as good a notion as we can in the above pages.
I fully confess that I came away down Snow Hill that
morning with a disgust for murder, but it was for the
murder I saw done. As we made our way through the
immense crowd, we came upon two little girls of eleven
and twelve years: one of them was crying bitterly, and
begged, for Heaven's sake, that some one would lead her
from that horrid place. This was done, and the children
were carried into a place of safety. We asked the elder
girl and a very pretty one what brought her into
such a neighbourhood ? The child grinned knowingly,
and said, * We've koom to see the mon hanged ! '
Tender law, that brings out babes upon such errands,
and provides them with such gratifying moral spectacles !


This is the 2oth of July, and I may be permitted for
my part to declare that, for the last fourteen days, so
salutary has the impression of the butchery been upon
me, I have had the man's face continually before my
eyes ; that I can see Mr. Ketch at this moment, with
an easy air, taking the rope from his pocket ; that I feel
myself ashamed and degraded at the brutal curiosity
which took me to that brutal sight ; and that I pray to
Almighty God to cause this disgraceful sin to pass from
among us, and to cleanse our land of blood.


IT is with the greatest satisfaction, my dear Robert, that
I have you as a neighbour, within a couple of miles of
me, and that I have seen you established comfortably in
your chambers in Fig-tree Court. The situation is not
cheerful, it is true ; and to clamber up three pairs of
black creaking stairs is an exercise not pleasant to a man
who never cared for ascending mountains. Nor did the
performance of the young barrister who lives under you
and, it appears, plays pretty constantly upon the
French horn give me any great pleasure as I sat and
partook of luncheon in your rooms. Your female
attendant or laundress, too, struck me from her personal
appearance to be a lady addicted to the use of ardent
spirits ; and the smell of tobacco, of which you say some
old college friends of yours had partaken on the night
previous, was, I must say, not pleasant in the chambers,
and I even thought might be remarked as lingering in
your own morning-coat. However, I am an old fellow.
The use of cigars has come in since my time (and, I
must own, is adopted by many people of the first fashion),
and these and other inconveniences are surmounted more
gaily by young fellows like yourself than by oldsters of
my standing. It pleased me, however, to see the picture
of the old house at home over the mantelpiece. Your
college prize-books make a very good show in your
bookcases ; and I was glad to remark in the looking-



glass the cards of both our excellent county Members.
The rooms, altogether, have a reputable appearance ; and
I hope, my dear fellow, that the Society of the Inner
Temple will have a punctual tenant.

As you have now completed your academical studies,
and are about to commence your career in London, 1
propose, my dear Nephew, to give you a few hints for
your guidance; which, although you have an undoubted
genius of your own, yet come from a person who has
had considerable personal experience, and, I have no
doubt, would be useful to you if you did not disregard
them, as, indeed, you will most probably do.

With your law studies it is not my duty to meddle.
I have seen you established, one of six pupils, in Mr.
Tapeworm's chambers in Pump Court, seated on a high-
legged stool on a foggy day, with your back to a blazing
fire. At your father's desire, I have paid a hundred
guineas to that eminent special pleader, for the advan-
tages which I have no doubt you will enjoy, while seated
on the high-legged stool in his back-room, and rest con-
tented with your mother's prediction that you will be
Lord Chief Justice some day. May you prosper, my
dear fellow ! is all I desire. By the way, I should like
to know what was the meaning of a pot of porter which
entered into your chambers as I issued from them at one
o'clock, and trust that it was not your thirst which
was to be quenched with such a beverage at such an

It is not, then, with regard to your duties as a law
student that I have a desire to lecture you, but in re-
spect of your pleasures, amusements, acquaintances, and
general conduct and bearing as a young man of the

I will rush into the subject at once, and exemplify my
morality in your own person. Why, sir, for instance,
do you wear that tuft to your chin, and those sham
turquoise buttons to your waistcoat ? A chin-tuft is a


cheap enjoyment certainly, and the twiddling it about, as
I see you do constantly, so as to show your lower teeth,
a harmless amusement to fill up your vacuous hours.
And as for waistcoat-buttons, you will say, ' Do not all
the young men wear them, and what can I do but buy
artificial turquoise, as I cannot afford to buy real
stones ? '

I take you up at once, and show you why you ought
to shave off your tip and give up the factitious jewellery.
My dear Bob, in spite of us and all the Republicans in
the world, there are ranks and degrees in life and
society, and distinctions to be maintained by each man
according to his rank and degree. You have no more
right, as I take it, to sport an imperial on your chin than
I have to wear a shovel-hat with a rosette. I hold a tuft
to a man's chin to be the centre of a system, so to speak,
which ought all to correspond and be harmonious the
whole tune of a man's life ought to be played in that

Look, for instance, at Lord Hugo Fitzurse seated in
the private box at the Lyceum, by the side of that
beautiful creature with the black eyes and the magnifi-
cent point-lace, who you fancied was ogling you through
her enormous spy-glasses. Lord Hugo has a tuft to his
chin, certainly ; his countenance grins with a perfect
vacuity behind it ; and his whiskers curl crisply round
one of the handsomest and stupidest countenances in the

But just reckon up in your own mind what it cost
him to keep up that simple ornament on his chin.
Look at every article of that amiable and most gentle-
manlike though, I own, foolish young man's dress,
and see how absurd it is of you to attempt to imitate
him. Look at his hands (I have the young nobleman
perfectly before my mind's eye now) ; the little hands
are dangling over the cushion of the box, gloved as
tightly and delicately as a lady's. His wristbands are


fastened up towards his elbows with jewellery. Gems
and rubies meander down his pink shirt-front and waist-
coat. He wears a watch with an apparatus of gimcracks
at his waistcoat-pocket. He sits in a splendid side-box,
or he simpers out of the windows at 4 White's,' or you
see him grinning out of a cab by the Serpentine
a lovely and costly picture, surrounded by a costly

Whereas you and I, my good Bob, if we want to see a
play, do not disdain an order from our friend the news-
paper editor, or to take a seat in the pit. Your watch is
your father's old hunting-watch. When we go in the
Park we go on foot, or at best get a horse up after
Easter, and just show in Rotten Row. We shall never
look out of 'White's' bow-window. The amount of
Lord Hugo's tailor's bill would support you and your
younger brother. His valet has as good an allowance as
you, besides his perquisites of old clothes. You cannot
afford to wear a dandy lord's cast-off old clothes, neither
to imitate those which he wears.

There is nothing disagreeable to me in the notion of
a dandy any more than there is in the idea of a peacock,
or a camelopard, or a prodigious gaudy tulip, or an
astonishingly bright brocade. There are all sorts of
animals, plants, and stuffs in Nature, from peacocks to
tomtits, and from cloth-of-gold to corduroy, whereof
the variety is assuredly intended by Nature, and cer-
tainly adds to the zest of life. Therefore, I do not say
that Lord Hugo is a useless being, or bestow the least
contempt upon him. Nay, it is right gratifying and
natural that he should be, and be as he is handsome and
graceful, splendid and perfumed, beautiful whiskered
and empty-headed, a sumptuous dandy and man of
fashion and what you young men have denominated
< A Swell.'

But a cheap Swell, my dear Robert (and that little
chin ornament, as well ascertain other indications which


I have remarked in your simple nature, lead me to insist
upon this matter rather strongly with you), is by no
means a pleasing object for our observation, although he
is presented to us so frequently. Try, my boy, and curb
any little propensity which you may have to dresses that
are too splendid for your station. You do not want light
kid-gloves and wristbands up to your elbows, copying
out Mr. Tapeworm's Pleas and Declarations ; you will
only blot them with lawyer's ink over your desk, and
they will impede your writing : whereas Lord Hugo
may decorate his hands in any way he likes, because he
has little else to do with them but to drive cabs, or
applaud dancing-girls' pirouettes, or to handle a knife and
fork or a toothpick as becomes the position in life which
he fills in so distinguished a manner. To be sure, since
the days of friend JEsop, Jackdaws have been held up to
ridicule for wearing the plumes of birds to whom Nature
has affixed more gaudy tails ; but as Folly is constantly
reproducing itself, so must Satire, and our honest Mr.
Punch has but to repeat to the men of our generation
the lessons taught by the good-natured Hunchback his

Shave off your tuft, then, my boy, and send it to the
girl of your heart as a token, if you like : and I pray
you abolish the jewellery, towards which I clearly see
you have a propensity. As you have a plain dinner
at home, served comfortably on a clean tablecloth, and
not a grand service of half-a-dozen entr'ees, such as we
get at our county Member's (and an uncommonly good
dinner it is too), so let your dress be perfectly neat,
polite, and cleanly, without any attempts at splendour.
Magnificence is the decency of the rich but it cannot
be purchased with half-a-guinea a day, which, when the
rent of your chambers is paid, I take to be pretty nearly
the amount of your worship's income. This point, I
thought, was rather well illustrated the other day, in an
otherwise silly and sentimental book which I looked over


at the Club, called the " Foggarty Diamond " (or some
such vulgar name). Somebody gives the hero, who is a
poor fellow, a diamond-pin : he is obliged to buy a new
stock to set off the diamond, then a new waistcoat, to
correspond with the stock, then a new coat, because
the old one is too shabby for the rest of his attire ;
finally, the poor devil is ruined by the diamond orna-
ment, which he is forced to sell, as I would recommend
you to sell your waistcoat studs, were they worth

But as you have a good figure and a gentlemanlike
deportment, and as every young man likes to be well
attired, and ought, for the sake of his own advantage and
progress in life, to show himself to the best advantage, I
shall take an early opportunity of addressing you on the
subject of tailors and clothes, which at least merit a letter
to themselves.


OUR ancestors, my dear Bob, have transmitted to you
(as well as every member of our family) considerable
charms of person and figure, of which fact, although you
are of course perfectly aware, yet, and equally of course,
you have no objection to be reminded ; and with these
facial and corporeal endowments, a few words respecting
dress and tailoring may not be out of place ; for nothing
is trivial in life, and everything to the philosopher has a
meaning. As in the old joke about a pudding which has
two sides, namely, an inside and an outside, so a coat or
a hat has its inside as well as its outside ; I mean, that
there is in a man's exterior appearance the consequence


of his inward ways of thought, and a gentleman who
dresses too grandly, or too absurdly, or too shabbily, has
some oddity, or insanity, or meanness in his mind, which
develops itself somehow outwardly in the fashion of his

No man has a right to despise his dress in this world.
There is no use in flinging any honest chance whatever
away. For instance, although a woman cannot be
expected to know the particulars of a gentleman's dress,
any more than we to be acquainted with the precise
nomenclature or proper cut of the various articles which
those dear creatures wear, yet to what lady in a society
of strangers do we feel ourselves most naturally inclined
to address ourselves ? to her or those whose appearance
pleases us ; not to the gaudy, overdressed Dowager or
Miss nor to her whose clothes, though handsome, are
put on in a slatternly manner, but to the person who
looks neat, and trim, and elegant, and in whose person
we fancy we see exhibited indications of a natural taste,
order, and propriety. If Miss Smith in a rumpled gown
offends our eyesight, though we hear she is a young lady
of great genius and considerable fortune, while Miss
Jones in her trim and simple attire attracts our admira-
tion ; so must women, on their side, be attracted or
repelled by the appearance of gentlemen into whose
company they fall. If you are a tiger in appearance, you
may naturally expect to frighten a delicate and timid
female ; if you are a sloven, to offend her : and as to be
well with women constitutes one of the chiefest happi-
nesses of life, the object of my worthy Bob's special
attention will naturally be, to neglect no precautions to
win their favour.

Yes : a good face, a good address, a good dress, are
each so many points in the game of life, of which every
man of sense will avail himself. They help many a man
more in his commerce with society than learning or
genius. It is hard often to bring the former into a


drawing-room : it is often too lumbering and unwieldy
for any den but its own. And as a King Charles's
spaniel can snooze before the fire or frisk over the
ottoman-cushions and on to the ladies' laps, when a
Royal elephant would And a considerable difficulty in
walking up the stairs, and subsequently in finding a seat ;
so a good manner and appearance will introduce you
into many a house where you might knock in vain for
admission with all the learning of Porson in your

It is not learning, it is not virtue, about which people
inquire in society. It is manners. It no more profits
me that my neighbour at table can construe Sanscrit and
say the ' Encyclopaedia " by heart, than that he should
possess half a million in the Bank (unless, indeed, he gives
dinners ; when, for reasons obvious, one's estimation of
him, or one's desire to please him, takes its rise in
different sources), or that the lady whom I hand down
to dinner should be as virtuous as Cornelia or the late
Mrs. Hannah More. What is wanted for the nonce
is, that folks should be as agreeable as possible in con-
versation and demeanour ; so that good-humour may be
said to be one of the very best articles of dress one can
wear in society ; the which to see exhibited in Lady
X.'s honest face, let us say, is more pleasant to behold in
a room than the glitter of Lady Z.'s best diamonds.
And yet, in point of virtue, the latter is, no doubt, a
perfect dragon. But virtue is a home quality : manners
are the coat it wears when it goes abroad.

Thus, then, my beloved Bob, I would have your
dining-out suit handsome, neat, well-made, fitting you
naturally and easily, and yet with a certain air of holiday
about it, which should mark its destination. It is not be-
cause they thought their appearance was much improved
by the ornament, that the ancient philosophers and
topers decorated their old pates with flowers (no wreath,
I know, would make some people's mugs beautiful ; and


I confess, for my part, I would as lief wear a horse-collar
or a cotton nightcap in society as a coronet of
polyanthuses or a garland of hyacinths) : it is not
because a philosopher cares about dress that he wears
it ; but he wears his best as a sign of a feast, as
a bush is the sign of an inn. You ought to mark
a festival as a red-letter day, and you put on your broad
and spotless white waistcoat, your finest linen, your
shiniest boots, as much as to say, c It is a feast ; here
I am, clean, smart, ready with a good appetite, de-
termined to enjoy.'

You would not enjoy a feast if you came to it unshorn,
in a draggle-tailed dressing-gown. You ought to be well
dressed, and suitable to it. A very odd and wise man
whom I once knew, and who had not (as far as one
could outwardly judge) the least vanity about his personal
appearance, used, I remember, to make a point of wear-

Online LibraryWilliam Makepeace ThackerayComplete works (Volume 22) → online text (page 9 of 31)