Odd Volume online

. (page 4 of 13)
Online LibraryVariousOdd Volume → online text (page 4 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

who pronounced the author to be “a clever fellow, and one as knew what’s
what.” This opinion, delivered in public by so great a judge, soon made
the round of Crutched-Friars; so that, whenever Thomas chanced to make
his appearance in public, the very shop-boys would whisper admiringly
after him, “I say, Jack, there goes a poet!”

Behold, then, our sensitive minstrel, the pride of his neighbourhood,
the “young Astyanax” of his family! As such, it became him to affect
eccentricity. Accordingly, he grew “melancholy and gentleman-like,”
eschewed his cravat, and even advised his father to addict himself
to Scott and Byron. But the old gentleman winced exceedingly at this
proposal. Recollections of a poetic apprentice he once had, who had for
some months carried on a very irregular flirtation with the till, came
thronging fast upon his mind, and spurred him at once to a refusal. But
what can resist the eternal solicitations of the shrewder sex? By
day his daughter, by night his wife, kept teazing him into gradual
compliance with their wishes. First he was prevailed on to dine at five,
instead of two o’clock; secondly, to listen to his daughter’s execution
of “Oh! ‘tis love, ‘tis love!” sung with a twist of the mouth peculiarly
provocative of that passion; and lastly (the severest cut of all), to
give _conversaziones_ to his son’s literary acquaintances.

At these parties, a strange and talented group never failed to present
themselves. All were men of genius, but exhibited, in their respective
persons, proofs of the amazing rancour that subsists between genius and
gentility. Among them was a lively Irishman, named O’Blarney, a reporter
for the daily press, with sandy hair, a nose that turned up like a
fish-hook, and a mouth which, from its extensive dimensions, afforded
the most copious facilities for grinning. This promising young Papist,
whose estates unfortunately lay in the most Protestant part of Ireland,
was the very gem of Mr. Spimkins’ parties; and as he mixed much in
fashionable society, and could beat even a negro in dancing, his
presence never failed to create a lively sensation at Crutched-Friars.
Another of the old gentleman’s guests was a rising versifier of
twenty-two, whose appearance would have been sentiment itself, had not
a pair of dingy whiskers, which grew back towards his ears, as if
enamoured of the latter’s unusual length, given him a slight touch of
the grotesque. As it was, his fine, open, full-blown face, resembled a
cherub on a country tomb-stone. It would be injustice to acknowledged
ability were I here to omit the mention of another poet, whose genius
taking an uxorious turn, exploded in admiring apostrophes to his wife.
This bard displayed infinite sweetness of versification - as the extracts
from the different reviews, inserted, accidentally, at the end of his
volume - assured him. There were no intemperate sallies, no startling
originality, no audacious imagery in his rhymes; all was sweetly and
agreeably uniform, like the features on a barber’s block. Such, with the
addition of three historians from St. Mary Axe, two political economists
from Long Acre, a pastoral writer from Wapping, and an essayist from
Houndsditch, were the _literati_ whose dazzling abilities illumined the
fortunate neighbourhood of Crutched-Friars. Old Spimkins, meanwhile, to
whom the whole scene was a novelty that well nigh took away his breath,
kept moving backwards and forwards among his guests, oscillating in
spirits, between a sigh and a smile; at one moment looking grave and
dignified, like the Scotch Highlander at a tobacconist’s; at another,
simpering sweetly and benignly, and perpetrating, whenever he ventured
on a remark, the strangest possible blunders. The three French consuls
he invariably mistook for the three per cent, consols; quoted Moore’s
Almanack in illustration of Moore’s Melodies; inquired whether those
two great poets, Hogg and Bacon, were not of the same family; and, when
asked his opinion of Crabbe, gave a decided preference to lobster.

This sort of work had continued for the best part of a year, during
which time the good-natured old grocer had been subjected to every
species of expence and annoyance; when one morning, towards the close
of October, news arrived that a literary gentleman, for whom his son
had persuaded him to become bail to a pretty considerable amount, had
presented him in return, with what is termed leg-bail - a species of
gratitude whereby the locomotive powers are exercised at the expense of
principle. The same post brought a letter from Miss Spinks at Newington,
with the intelligence that Sophy - the sprightly Sophy Spimkins - who had
been on a visit there for some days, had just set out with O’Blarney,
on a hasty visit of inspection to the latter’s estates at Monaghan. This
letter enclosed another from the fair fugitive herself, in which she
implored her father’s forgiveness for the “rash step” she had taken; but
assured him that immediately on her arrival at the old family castle,
she should become Mrs. O’Blarney, and return home the very instant
that her husband had secured his election for the county. The epistle
concluded with affectionate remembrances to the family circle, and a
hope that, when things were a little in order, her eldest sister would
be prevailed upon to accompany her back to Monaghan.

This intelligence, notwithstanding his son’s very sanguine anticipations
on the subject, annoyed poor Mr. Spimkins exceedingly; while, as if
to fill up the measure of his tribulation, his former acquaintance at
Crutched-Friars, finding that, for months past, he had shewn evident
symptoms of a wish to cut them, began in self-defence, to set up reports
injurious to his reputation. Rumours so circulated soon obtained belief.
First one customer dropped off - then a second - then a third - then a
fourth, fifth, and sixth - until at length the whole neighbourhood set it
down, confidently down in their minds, that the Spimkinses were a losing
family. Even the parish-clerk himself, a person of considerable local
authority, was heard to observe that they were getting too clever for
business - an opinion which, pronounced gravely and oracularly by a
gentleman in a double chin, produced an instantaneous effect.

But where all this time were the Spinkses? Where were they whose
patronage should have shielded, and whose kindness should have
cherished, the unfortunate but still interesting Spimkinses? Alas! they
had set out, only a few weeks before, for the Holy Land, with the
avowed intention of taking furnished lodgings for at least six months at

As if this, of itself, were not sufficiently vexatious, Miss Spimkins
took it into her head to espouse a gentleman for the very last thing
a lady usually thinks of looking for in a husband - his intellect.
The origin of her amour is curious. She had read in the Gentleman’s
Magazine, the “Confessions of a Wanderer,” who had been shipwrecked on
the Thames, at night-fall, off Chelsea Reach; which Confessions were
penned in so poetic a spirit, and described so feelingly the horrors
of the catastrophe, the hoarse dash of the waves - the howling of the
winds - and the subsequent encounter of the vessel against the fourth
arch of Battersea bridge, that the susceptible Miss Spimkins was
on thorns till she became acquainted with the author. This, by her
brother’s intervention, was soon brought about; an invitation to dinner
confirmed the intimacy; the lady, like _Desdemona_, loved the Wanderer
“for the perils he had passed;” and he, like _Othello_, “loved her that
she did pity them.” It has been well said, one marriage makes many:
scarcely had his sister embraced the nuptial state, when Thomas handed
to the same altar a widow lady, whom he had accidentally met at Margate,
and had mistaken for a person of quality, but who had since turned out
to be the leading tragic actress of Sadler’s Wells, at a rising salary
of eighteen shillings per week, exclusive of benefits. It is but justice
to add, that if this young lady brought her husband no fortune, she
brought him, what to a sensitive mind is infinitely preferable, two fine
boys, one of whom was breeched, the other yet in petticoats.

Such accumulated incidents - calamities he ungratefully called
them - occurring to old Spimkins at a period when the mind, having
lost the first elasticity of youth, is not yet mellowed down into the
philosophy of age, but stands, restless and unsettled, between the two,
in a sort of crepuscular condition, heaped “sackcloth and ashes on his
head.” He neglected his ledger, he neglected his house, he neglected
himself, and, worst of all, he neglected his customers. In fact, for
months together, he did nothing but sigh and swear. His family, even
in this exigency, could render him not the slightest assistance. His
daughter, who still lived with him, had, by a diligent cultivation of
the intellect, long since forgotten the household duties of a wife; her
husband, as the old man used often to remark, “was of no more use than
a cargo of damaged coffee;” and even Thomas - the inspired Thomas
himself - had dwindled down into a mere mortal, and now dwelt in aerial
seclusion up two pair of stairs at Pentonville. Thus widowed in
his age - for his wife, I should observe, had, three months since,
transferred herself from his to Abraham’s bosom - the disconsolate
grocer abruptly sold his business, pensioned off his daughter and her
“Wanderer,” and retired alone, on a small annuity, to a back street in
Islington - a memorable illustration of’ the March of Mind and its very
peculiar concomitants.

Here it was that I first became acquainted with him, and gleaned the
particulars of the history I have just ventured to sketch. Our intimacy
continued upwards of a year, during which period I will do my old friend
the justice to say, that I heard the anecdote of the poetic apprentice
who had robbed him, at least a dozen times. Now and then, when I
ventured to express my astonishment that a tradesman of his good sense,
who held such proper notions on the score of poetry and punctuality,
should have so far forgotten himself as to have encouraged the one, and
abandoned the other, to his own manifest ruin, the venerable sage would
answer, “True Sir, but it was all my wife’s doing. She kept perpetually
telling me that the Spinkses - who, one would have thought must have
been good judges, for they were capital customers, and always paid their
way - had pronounced my son to be a genius, and that it was a shame to
thwart his abilities; so I was over-persuaded, you see, to send him to
college, when, had he but stuck to business, who knows but he might have
become a common-councilman; or, perhaps, even in time a sheriff! But
there’s no doing any thing with poets. I remember an apprentice of mine,
once - - But I see you’re affected!” - and here the old man would pause,
shake the ashes from his pipe, and then revert to some less ungracious
topic. It was on one of these occasions, when, having concluded a longer
story than usual, he had stopped to take his customary allowance of
breath, that on waking from a nap which his affecting anecdotes rarely
failed to bring on, I found him stretched in an apoplectic fit upon the
floor. With some difficulty he was brought to his senses; but, a relapse
occurring in a few days, it became but too evident that, like the late
John Wesley, he had had a call - that, in short, his closing hour was
come. I was with him in his last extremity, and have every reason to
be satisfied with the Christian character of his exit. He swore most
incredibly at all poets; left Thomas his blessing and six half-crowns;
his daughter a MS. Essay, by the political economist of Houndsditch; and
then, with a convulsive jerk of his left leg, which lamed the bed-post
for life, set out on his travels to eternity, with the story of the
apprentice on his lips.

Of his three children, Thomas is the sole survivor. The “Wanderer’s”
wife was taken off, about a fortnight since, by dyspepsia, the
consequence of inordinate indulgence in tripe and toast-and-water; while
her sprightly sister, Sophy, threw herself headlong into a mill-pond at
Holyhead (having previously tied down her petticoats at the ankles), on
being informed by O’Blarney, in one of those confidential moments which
brandy-and-water seldom fails to elicit, that he was already the devoted
husband of three wives and a proportionate abundance of pledges, and
had quitted London, not so much with a view to visit any Irish
estates - which, as a matter of course, existed only in his fancy - as
to obviate the personal inconveniences likely to arise from the
circumstance of his having, in a moment of forgetfulness, appropriated
to his own use the purse and pocket-book of one of his most intimate
and valued acquaintances. The poor girl’s body was fished up, a few days
afterwards, by a Welsh clergyman, who was trolling in spectacles for
pike: and a coroner’s inquest having been summoned, the evidence of
O’Blarney was taken, from which it clearly appeared that the deceased
was at times insane, and, only two hours before her death, had made
three attempts to swallow a salt-cellar. The young Irishman deposed to
these and other facts with so much feeling, earnestness, and simplicity,
that the coroner complimented him highly on his humanity; and an account
of the inquest having been furnished by himself for the _North Wales
Chronicle_, it soon afterwards made the round of the London newspapers,
under the title of “Distressing Suicide.”

Of poor Thomas, my account, I grieve to say, must be equally
disheartening. An epic poem, on which he had been some months engaged,
having not only failed, but even contributed to introduce its publisher
to ready-furnished lodgings in the Fleet, he is now driven to the
necessity of jobbing for minor periodicals, thereby adding one more to
the already swollen catalogue of those who, mistaking the _ignis fatuus_
of vanity for the sober radiance of intellect, start off prematurely
on the voyage of life, without pilot to steer, compass to direct, or
ballast to steady their course.

When I called on the young man, a few mornings since, I was much struck
with his more than usually picturesque condition. Being always fond of
air, he had hired a back attic, overlooking two charming gardens filled
with clothes’-lines, and commanding a distant view of some brick-fields,
a pig, and an Irish hodman from Carrickfergus. His wife was seated at
the fire, watching a leg of mutton as it pirouetted before the grate, at
the end of a bit of whipcord: Fernando, her eldest boy, was riding with
manifest ecstacy on the back of an old chair: and her two other darling
babes, Alphonso and Eleonora, were fast asleep, on a turn-up bedstead,
in an adjoining room. Close by Thomas, who was busy writing reviews at a
deal table with three legs, was an elderly cotton shirt, hanging to
dry on a small wooden horse, quite a pony in its dimensions; and at the
further end of the room, near the door, stood a pot of half-and-half,
a pen’orth of pickled cabbage in a tea-cup, a twopenny French roll, a
black horn dinner knife, and a fork with two prongs, both of which were
broken. On observing these evident symptoms of domestic conviviality,
I abruptly hastened my departure; but, on my return home by way of
Crutched-Friars, could not refrain from stopping an instant in order
to survey my old friend’s establishment. It was in the most deplorable
condition possible. The voice of its till was mute; the very fixtures
themselves were removed; and advertisements, three deep, specifying in
large red characters the virtues of Daffy’s Elixir, were posted up, on
door, wall, and window-shutter. Altogether, the scene was of the most
affecting character, and forcibly impressed on my mind the calamities
attendant on what Shakspeare calls “ill-judged ambition.”


[Illustration: 116]


At the foot of the long range of the Mendip hills, standeth a village,
which, for obvious reasons, we shall conceal the precise locality of, by
bestowing thereon, the appellation of Stockwell. The principal trade
of the Stockwellites is in coals, which certain of the industrious
operative natives sedulously employ themselves in extracting from
our mother earth, while others are engaged in conveying the “black
diamonds,” to various adjacent towns, in carts of sundry shapes and
dimensions. The horses engaged in this traffic are of the Rosinante
species, and, too often, literally raw-boned.

Stockwell, moreover, hath its inn, or public house, a place of no small
importance, having for its sign a swinging creaking board whereon
is emblazoned the effigy of a roaring, red, and rampant lion. - High
towering above the said lion are the branches of a solitary elm, the
foot of which is encircled by a seat, especially convenient for those
guests whose taste it is to “blow a cloud” in the open air; and it is of
two individuals, who were much given thereon to enjoy their “_otium cum
dignitate_,” that we are about to speak.

George Syms had long enjoyed a monopoly in the shoemaking and cobbling
line (though latterly two oppositionists had started against him), and
Peter Brown was a man well to do in the world, being “the man wot”
shod the raw-boned horses before-mentioned, “him and his father, and
grandfather,” as the parish-clerk said, “for time immemorial.” These two
worthies were regaling themselves, as was their wonted custom, each with
his pint, upon a small table, which was placed for their accommodation,
when an elderly stranger, of a shabby genteel appearance, approached
the Lion, and inquired the road to an adjoining village. - “You are late,
Sir,” said George Syms. “Yes,” replied the stranger, “I am;” and he
threw himself on the bench, and took off his hat, and began to call
about him, notwithstanding his shabby appearance, with the air of one
who has money in his pocket to pay his way. “Three make good company,”
observed Peter Brown. “Ay, ay,” said the stranger. “Holloa, there! bring
me another pint! This walk has made me confoundedly thirsty. You may as
well make it a pot - and be quick!”

Messrs. Brown and Syms were greatly pleased with this additional guest
at their symposium; and the trio sat and talked of the wind, and the
weather, and the roads, and the coal trade, and drank and smoked to
their hearts’ content, till time began to hang heavy, and then the
stranger asked the two friends, if ever they played at tee-to-tum. “Play
at what?” asked Peter Brown. “Play at what?” inquired George Syms. “At
tee-to-tum,” replied the stranger, gravely taking a pair of spectacles
from one pocket of his waistcoat, and the machine in question from the
other. “It is an excellent game, I assure you. Rare sport, my masters!”
and he forthwith began to spin his teetotum upon the table, to the no
small diversion of George Syms and Peter Brown, who opined that the
potent ale of the ramping Red Lion had done its office. - “Only see how
the little fellow runs about!” cried the stranger, in apparent ecstacy.
“Holloa, there! Bring a lantern! There he goes, round and round - and now
he’s asleep - and now he begins to reel - wiggle-waggle - -down he tumbles!
What colour, for a shilling?” - “I don’t understand the game,” said Peter
Brown. “Nor I, neither,” quoth George Syms: “but it seems easy enough to
learn” - “Oh, ho!” said the stranger; “you think so, do you? But, let me
tell you that there’s a great deal more in it than you imagine. There
he is, you see, with as many sides as a modern politician, and as many
colours as an Algerine. - Come, let us have a game! This is the way!”
and he again sat the teetotum in motion, and capered about in exceeding
glee. “He, he, he!” uttered George Syms; and “Ha, ha, ha!” exclaimed
Peter Brown; and, being wonderfully tickled with the oddity of the
thing, they were easily persuaded by the stranger just to take a game
together for five minutes, while he stood by as umpire, with a stopwatch
in his hand.

When precisely five minutes had elapsed, although it was Peter Brown’s
spin, and the teetotum was yet going its rounds, and George Syms had
called out yellow, he demurely took it from the table and put it in his
pocket, and then, returning his watch to his fob, walked away into the
Red Lion, without as much as saying good-night. The two friends looked
at each other in surprise, and then indulged in a very loud and
hearty fit of laughter; and then paid their reckoning, and went away
exceedingly merry, which they would not have been, had they understood
properly what they had been doing.

In the meanwhile, the stranger had entered the house; and he found it
not very difficult to persuade them likewise to take a game at teetotum
for five minutes, which he terminated in the same unceremonious way as
that under the tree, and then desired to be shown the room wherein he
was to sleep. Mrs. Philpot immediately, contrary to her usual custom,
jumped up with great alacrity, lighted a candle, and conducted her guest
to his apartment; while Sally, contrary to _her_ usual custom, reclined
herself in her mistress’s great arm-chair, yawned three or four times,
and then exclaimed, “Heigho! it’s getting very late! I wish my husband
would come home!” Now as we are not fond of useless mysteries, we
think proper to tell the reader, that the teetotum in question had the
peculiar property of causing those who played therewith to lose all
remembrance of their former character, and to adopt that of their
antagonists in the game. During the process of spinning, the personal
identity of the two players was completely changed. Now, on the evening
of this memorable day, Jacob Philpot, the landlord of the rampant Red
Lion, had spent a few convivial hours with mine host of the Blue Boar,
a house on the road-side, about two miles from Stockwell; and the
two publicans had discussed the ale, grog, and tobacco, in the manner
customary with Britons, whose insignia are roaring, rampant red lions,
green dragons, blue boars, &c. Therefore, when Jacob came home, he began
to call about him, with the air of one who purposeth that his arrival
shall be no secret; and very agreeably surprised was he when Mrs.
Philpot ran out from the house, and assisted him to dismount, for
Jacob was somewhat rotund; and yet more did he marvel, when, instead
of haranguing him in a loud voice (as she had whilom done on similar
occasions, greatly to his discomfiture), she good-humouredly said that
she would lead his nag to the stable, and then go and call Philip
the ostler. “Humph!” said the host of the Lion, leaning with his back
against the door-post, “after a calm comes a storm. She’ll make up for
this presently, I’ll warrant.” But Mrs. Philpot put up the horse, and
called Philip, and then returned in peace and quietness, and attempted
to pass into the house, without uttering a word to her lord and master.

“What’s the matter with you, my dear?” asked Jacob Philpot; “a’nt you
well?” - “Yes, Sir,” replied Mrs. Philpot, “very well, I thank you. - But
pray take away your leg, and let me go into the house.” - “But didn’t you
think I was very late?” asked Jacob. “Oh! I don’t know,” replied Mrs.
Philpot; “when gentlemen get together, they don’t think how time goes.”
Poor Jacob was quite delighted, and, as it was dusk, and by no means,
as he conceived, a scandalous proceeding, he forthwith put one arm round
Mrs. Philpot’s neck, and stole a kiss, whereat she said, “Oh dear me!
how could you think of doing such a thing?” and immediately squeezed
herself past him, and ran into the house, where Sally sat, in the
armchair before mentioned, with a handkerchief over her head, pretending
to be asleep.

“Come, my dear,” said Jacob to his wife, “I’m glad to see you in such
good humour. You shall make me a glass of rum and water, and take some
of it yourself.” He then good-humouredly told her to go to bed, and he
would follow her presently, as soon as he had looked after his horse,
and pulled off his boots. This proposition was no sooner made, than
the good man’s ears were suddenly grasped from behind, and his head
was shaken and twisted about, as though it had been the purport of the
assailant to wrench it from his shoulders. Mrs. Philpot instantly made
her escape from the kitchen, leaving her spouse in the hands of the

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryVariousOdd Volume → online text (page 4 of 13)