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Jonathan Wild, born about 1682 and executed at Tyburn in 1725, was one of the most notorious criminals of his age. His resemblance to the hero in Fielding’s satire of the same name is general rather than particular. The real Jonathan (whose legitimate business was that of a buckle-maker) like Fielding’s, won his fame, not as a robber himself, but as an informer, and a receiver of stolen goods. His method was to restore these to the owners on receipt of a commission, which was generally pretty large, pretending that he had paid the whole of it to the thieves, whom for disinterested motives he had traced. He was a great organiser, and he controlled various bands of robbers whose lives he did not hesitate to sacrifice, when his own was in danger. Naturally he was so hated by many of his underlings that it is a wonder he was able to maintain his authority over them as many years as he did. His rascality had been notorious a long time before his crimes could actually be proved. He was executed at last according to the statute which made receivers of stolen goods equally guilty with the stealers.
Beyond this general resemblance, the adventures of the real Jonathan, so far as we know them, are not much like those of the fictitious. True, the real Jonathan’s married life was unhappy, though his quarrel with his wife did not follow so hard upon his wedding as the quarrel of Fielding’s hero and the chaste Laetitia. Not until a year from his marriage did the real Jonathan separate from his spouse, after which time he lived, like Fielding’s, not always mindful of his vows of faithfulness. Like Fielding’s, too, he was called upon to suppress rebellions in his gangs, and once he came very near being killed in a court of justice by one Blake, alias Blueskin. Apart from these misadventures, the experiences of Fielding’s Wild seem to be purely imaginary. “My narrative is rather of such actions which he might have performed,” the author himself says, [Footnote: Introduction to Miscellanies, 1st ed., p. xvii.] “or would, or should have performed, than what he really did. ... The Life and Actions of the Late Jonathan Wild, got out with characteristic commercial energy by Defoe, soon after the criminal’s execution, is very different from Fielding’s satirical narrative, and probably a good deal nearer the truth.”
Jonathan Wild was published as the third volume of the Miscellanies “by Henry Fielding, Esq.” which came out in the spring of 1743. From the reference to Lady Booby’s steward, Peter Pounce, in Book II., it seems to have been, as Mr. Austin Dobson has observed, and as the date of publication would imply, composed in part at least subsequently to Joseph Andrews, which appeared early in 1742. But the same critic goes on to say that whenever completed, Jonathan Wild was probably “planned and begun before Joseph Andrews was published, as it is in the highest degree improbable that Fielding, always carefully watching the public taste, would have followed up that fortunate adventure in a new direction by a work so entirely different from it as Jonathan Wild.” [Footnote: Henry Fielding, 1900, p. 145.] Mr. Dobson’s surmise is undoubtedly correct. The “strange, surprising adventures” of Mrs. Heartfree belong to a different school of fiction from that with which we commonly associate Fielding. They are such as we should expect one of Defoe’s characters to go through, rather than a woman whose creator had been gratified only a year before at the favourable reception accorded to Fanny and Lady Booby and Mrs. Slipslop.
That Jonathan Wild is for the most part a magnificent example of sustained irony, one of the best in our literature, critics have generally agreed. The comparison steadfastly insisted upon between Jonathan Wild’s greatness and the greatness which the world looks up to, but which without being called criminal is yet devoid of humanity, is admirable. Admirable, too, is the ironical humour, in which Fielding so excelled, and which in Jonathan Wild he seldom drops. It would take too long to mention all the particularly good ironical passages, but among them are the conversation between Wild and Count La Ruse, and the description of Miss Tishy Snap in the first book; the adventures of Wild in the boat at the end of the second book; and, in the last, the dialogue between the ordinary of Newgate and the hero, the death of Wild, and the chapter which sets forth his character and his maxims for attaining greatness. And yet as a satire Jonathan Wild is not perfect. Fielding himself hits upon its one fault, when, in the last book, after the long narrative of Mrs. Heartfree’s adventures by sea and by land, he says, “we have already perhaps detained our reader too long ... from the consideration of our hero.” He has detained us far too long. A story containing so much irony as Jonathan Wild should be an undeviating satire like A Tale of a Tub. The introduction of characters like the Heartfrees, who are meant to enlist a reader’s sympathy, spoils the unity. True, the way they appear at first is all very well. Heartfree is “a silly fellow,” possessed of several great weaknesses of mind, being “good-natured, friendly, and generous to a great excess,” and devoted to the “silly woman,” his wife. But later Fielding becomes so much interested in the pair that he drops his ironical tone. Unfortunately, however, in depicting them, he has not met with his usual success in depicting amiable characters. The exemplary couple, together with their children and Friendly, are much less real than the villain and his fellows. And so the importance of the Heartfrees in Jonathan Wild seems to me a double blemish. A satire is not truth, and yet in Mr. and Mrs. Heartfree Fielding has tried—though not with success—to give us virtuous characters who are truly human. The consequence is that Jonathan Wild just fails of being a consistently brilliant satire.
As to its place among Fielding’s works, critics have differed considerably. The opinion of Scott found little in Jonathan Wild to praise, but then it is evident from what he says, that Scott missed the point of the satire. [Footnote: Henry Fielding in Biographical and Critical Notices of Eminent Novelists. “It is not easy to see what Fielding proposed to himself by a picture of complete vice, unrelieved by anything of human feeling. ...”]. Some other critics have been neither more friendly than Sir Walter, nor more discriminating, in speaking of Jonathan Wild and Smollett’s Count Fathom in the same breath, as if they were similar either in purpose or in merit. Fathom is a romantic picaresque novel, with a possibly edifying, but most unnatural reformation of the villainous hero at the last; Jonathan Wild is a pretty consistent picaresque satire, in which the hero ends where Fathom by all rights should have ended,—on the gallows. Fathom is the weakest of all its author’s novels; Jonathan Wild is not properly one of Fielding’s novels at all, but a work only a little below them. For below them I cannot help thinking it, in spite of the opinion of a critic of taste and judgment so excellent as Professor Saintsbury’s. When this gentleman, in his introduction to Jonathan Wild, in a recent English edition of Fielding’s works, says that: “Fielding has written no greater book,” he seems to me to give excessive praise to a work of such great merit that only its deserved praise is ample.
A great satire, I should say, is never the equal of a great novel. In the introductions which I have already written, in trying to show what a great novel is, I have said that an essential part of such a book is the reality of its scenes and characters. Now scenes and characters will not seem real, unless there is in them the right blend of pleasure and pain, of good and bad; for life is not all either one thing or the other, nor has it ever been so. Such reality is not found in a satire, for a satire, as distinguished from a novel, both conceals and exaggerates: it gives half-truths instead of whole truths; it shows not all of life but only a part; and even this it cannot show quite truly, for its avowed object is to magnify some vice or foible. In doing so, a satire finds no means so effective as irony, which makes its appeal wholly to the intellect. A good novel, on the contrary, touches the head and the heart both; along with passages which give keen intellectual enjoyment, it offers passages which move its reader’s tears. Still, a good novelist without appreciation of irony cannot be imagined, for without the sense of humour which makes irony appreciated, it is impossible to see the objects of this world in their right proportions. Irony, then, which is the main part of a satire, is essential to a good novel, though not necessarily more than a small part of it. Intellectually there is nothing in English literature of the eighteenth century greater than A Tale of a Tub or the larger part of Gullivers Travels; intellectually there is nothing in Fielding’s works greater than most of Jonathan Wild; but taken all in all, is not a novel like Tom Jones, with its eternal appeal to the emotions as well as the intellect, greater than a perfect satire? Even if this be not admitted, Jonathan Wild, we have already seen, is not a perfect satire. For a work of its kind, it is too sympathetically human, and so suffers in exactly the opposite way from Vanity Fair, which many people think is kept from being the greatest English novel of the nineteenth century because it is too satirical.
No, I cannot agree with Professor Saintsbury that “Fielding has written no greater book” than Jonathan Wild. It was unquestionably the most important part of the Miscellanies of 1743. Its brilliancy may make it outrank even that delightful Journal of the Voyage to Lisbon. A higher place should not be claimed for it. Mr. Dobson, in his Henry Fielding, has assigned the right position to Jonathan Wild when he says that its place “in Fielding’s works is immediately after his three great novels, and this is more by reason of its subject than its workmanship,” which if not perfect, is yet for the most part excellent.
G. H. MAYNADIER.
CHAPTER ONE — SHEWING THE WHOLESOME USES DRAWN FROM RECORDING THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THOSE WONDERFUL PRODUCTIONS OF NATURE CALLED GREAT MEN.
As it is necessary that all great and surprising events, the designs of which are laid, conducted, and brought to perfection by the utmost force of human invention and art, should be produced by great and eminent men, so the lives of such may be justly and properly styled the quintessence of history. In these, when delivered to us by sensible writers, we are not only most agreeably entertained, but most usefully instructed; for, besides the attaining hence a consummate knowledge of human nature in general; of its secret springs, various windings, and perplexed mazes; we have here before our eyes lively examples of whatever is amiable or detestable, worthy of admiration or abhorrence, and are consequently taught, in a manner infinitely more effectual than by precept, what we are eagerly to imitate or carefully to avoid.
But besides the two obvious advantages of surveying, as it were in a picture, the true beauty of virtue and deformity of vice, we may moreover learn from Plutarch, Nepos, Suetonius, and other biographers, this useful lesson, not too hastily, nor in the gross, to bestow either our praise or censure; since we shall often find such a mixture of good and evil in the same character that it may require a very accurate judgment and a very elaborate inquiry to determine on which side the balance turns, for though we sometimes meet with an Aristides or a Brutus, a Lysander or a Nero, yet far the greater number are of the mixt kind, neither totally good nor bad; their greatest virtues being obscured and allayed by their vices, and those again softened and coloured over by their virtues.
Of this kind was the illustrious person whose history we now undertake; to whom, though nature had given the greatest and most shining endowments, she had not given them absolutely pure and without allay. Though he had much of the admirable in his character, as much perhaps as is usually to be found in a hero, I will not yet venture to affirm that he was entirely free from all defects, or that the sharp eyes of censure could not spy out some little blemishes lurking amongst his many great perfections.
We would not therefore be understood to affect giving the reader a perfect or consummate pattern of human excellence, but rather, by faithfully recording some little imperfections which shadowed over the lustre of those great qualities which we shall here record, to teach the lesson we have above mentioned, to induce our reader with us to lament the frailty of human nature, and to convince him that no mortal, after a thorough scrutiny, can be a proper object of our adoration.
But before we enter on this great work we must endeavour to remove some errors of opinion which mankind have, by the disingenuity of writers, contracted: for these, from their fear of contradicting the obsolete and absurd doctrines of a set of simple fellows, called, in derision, sages or philosophers, have endeavoured, as much as possible, to confound the ideas of greatness and goodness; whereas no two things can possibly be more distinct from each other, for greatness consists in bringing all manner of mischief on mankind, and goodness in removing it from them. It seems therefore very unlikely that the same person should possess them both; and yet nothing is more usual with writers, who find many instances of greatness in their favourite hero, than to make him a compliment of goodness into the bargain; and this, without considering that by such means they destroy the great perfection called uniformity of character. In the histories of Alexander and Caesar we are frequently, and indeed impertinently, reminded of their benevolence and generosity, of their clemency and kindness. When the former had with fire and sword overrun a vast empire, had destroyed the lives of an immense number of innocent wretches, had scattered ruin and desolation like a whirlwind, we are told, as an example of his clemency, that he did not cut the throat of an old woman, and ravish her daughters, but was content with only undoing them. And when the mighty Caesar, with wonderful greatness of mind, had destroyed the liberties of his country, and with all the means of fraud and force had placed himself at the head of his equals, had corrupted and enslaved the greatest people whom the sun ever saw, we are reminded, as an evidence of his generosity, of his largesses to his followers and tools, by whose means he had accomplished his purpose, and by whose assistance he was to establish it.
Now, who doth not see that such sneaking qualities as these are rather to be bewailed as imperfections than admired as ornaments in these great men; rather obscuring their glory, and holding them back in their race to greatness, indeed unworthy the end for which they seem to have come into the world, viz. of perpetrating vast and mighty mischief?
We hope our reader will have reason justly to acquit us of any such confounding ideas in the following pages; in which, as we are to record the actions of a great man, so we have nowhere mentioned any spark of goodness which had discovered itself either faintly in him, or more glaringly in any other person, but as a meanness and imperfection, disqualifying them for undertakings which lead to honour and esteem among men.
As our hero had as little as perhaps is to be found of that meanness, indeed only enough to make him partaker of the imperfection of humanity, instead of the perfection of diabolism, we have ventured to call him THE GREAT; nor do we doubt but our reader, when he hath perused his story, will concur with us in allowing him that title.
CHAPTER TWO — GIVING AN ACCOUNT OF AS MANY OF OUR HERO’S ANCESTORS AS CAN BE GATHERED OUT OF THE RUBBISH OF ANTIQUITY, WHICH HATH BEEN CAREFULLY SIFTED FOR THAT PURPOSE.
It is the custom of all biographers, at their entrance into their work, to step a little backwards (as far, indeed, generally as they are able) and to trace up their hero, as the ancients did the river Nile, till an incapacity of proceeding higher puts an end to their search.
What first gave rise to this method is somewhat difficult to determine. Sometimes I have thought that the hero’s ancestors have been introduced as foils to himself. Again, I have imagined it might be to obviate a suspicion that such extraordinary personages were not produced in the ordinary course of nature, and may have proceeded from the author’s fear that, if we were not told who their fathers were, they might be in danger, like prince Prettyman, of being supposed to have had none. Lastly, and perhaps more truly, I have conjectured that the design of the biographer hath been no more than to shew his great learning and knowledge of antiquity. A design to which the world hath probably owed many notable discoveries, and indeed most of the labours of our antiquarians.
But whatever original this custom had, it is now too well established to be disputed. I shall therefore conform to it in the strictest manner.
Mr. Jonathan Wild, or Wyld, then (for he himself did not always agree in one method of spelling his name), was descended from the great Wolfstan Wild, who came over with Hengist, and distinguished himself very eminently at that famous festival, where the Britons were so treacherously murdered by the Saxons; for when the word was given, i.e. Nemet eour Saxes, take out your swords, this gentleman, being a little hard of hearing, mistook the sound for Nemet her sacs, take out their purses; instead therefore of applying to the throat, he immediately applied to the pocket of his guest, and contented himself with taking all that he had, without attempting his life.
The next ancestor of our hero who was remarkably eminent was Wild, surnamed Langfanger, or Longfinger. He flourished in the reign of Henry III., and was strictly attached to Hubert de Burgh, whose friendship he was recommended to by his great excellence in an art of which Hubert was himself the inventor; he could, without the knowledge of the proprietor, with great ease and dexterity, draw forth a man’s purse from any part of his garment where it was deposited, and hence he derived his surname. This gentleman was the first of his family who had the honour to suffer for the good of his country: on whom a wit of that time made the following epitaph:—
O shame o’ justice! Wild is hang’d, For thatten he a pocket fang’d, While safe old Hubert, and his gang, Doth pocket o’ the nation fang.
Langfanger left a son named Edward, whom he had carefully instructed in the art for which he himself was so famous. This Edward had a grandson, who served as a volunteer under the famous Sir John Falstaff, and by his gallant demeanour so recommended himself to his captain, that he would have certainly been promoted by him, had Harry the fifth kept his word with his old companion.
After the death of Edward the family remained in some obscurity down to the reign of Charles the first, when James Wild distinguished himself on both sides the question in the civil wars, passing from one to t’other, as Heaven seemed to declare itself in favour of either party. At the end of the war, James not being rewarded according to his merits, as is usually the case of such impartial persons, he associated himself with a brave man of those times, whose name was Hind, and declared open war with both parties. He was successful in several actions, and spoiled many of the enemy: till at length, being overpowered and taken, he was, contrary to the law of arms, put basely and cowardly to death by a combination between twelve men of the enemy’s party, who,
after some consultation, unanimously agreed on the said murder.
This Edward took to wife Rebecca, the daughter of the above- mentioned John Hind, esq., by whom he had issue John, Edward, Thomas, and Jonathan, and three daughters, namely, Grace, Charity, and Honour. John followed the fortunes of his father, and, suffering with him, left no issue. Edward was so remarkable for his compassionate temper that he spent his life in soliciting the causes of the distressed captives in Newgate, and is reported to have held a strict friendship with an eminent divine who solicited the spiritual causes of the said captives. He married Editha, daughter and co-heiress of Geoffry Snap, gent., who long enjoyed an office under the high sheriff of London and Middlesex, by which, with great reputation, he acquired a handsome fortune: by her he had no issue. Thomas went very young abroad to one of our American colonies, and hath not been since heard of. As for the daughters, Grace was married to a merchant of Yorkshire who dealt in horses. Charity took to husband an eminent gentleman, whose name I cannot learn, but who was famous for so friendly a disposition that he was bail for above a hundred persons in one year. He had likewise the remarkable humour of walking in Westminster-hall with a straw in his shoe. Honour, the youngest, died unmarried: she lived many years in this town, was a great frequenter of plays, and used to be remarkable for distributing oranges to all who would accept of them.
Jonathan married Elizabeth, daughter of Scragg Hollow, of Hockley- in-the-Hole, esq.; and by her had Jonathan, who is the illustrious subject of these memoirs.
CHAPTER THREE — THE BIRTH, PARENTAGE, AND EDUCATION OF MR. JONATHAN WILD THE GREAT.
It is observable that Nature seldom produces any one who is afterwards to act a notable part on the stage of life, but she gives some warning of her intention; and, as the dramatic poet generally prepares the entry of every considerable character with a solemn narrative, or at least a great flourish of drums and trumpets, so doth this our Alma Mater by some shrewd hints pre- admonish us of her intention, giving us warning, as it were, and crying—
—Venienti occurrite morbo.
Thus Astyages, who was the grandfather of Cyrus, dreamt that his daughter was brought to bed of a vine, whose branches overspread all Asia; and Hecuba, while big with Paris, dreamt that she was delivered of a firebrand that set all Troy in flames; so did the mother of our great man, while she was with child of him, dream that she was enjoyed in the night by the gods Mercury and Priapus. This dream puzzled all the learned astrologers of her time, seeming to imply in it a contradiction; Mercury being the god of ingenuity, and Priapus the terror of those who practised it. What made this dream the more wonderful, and perhaps the true cause of its being remembered, was a very extraordinary circumstance, sufficiently denoting something preternatural in it; for though she had never heard even the name of either of these gods, she repeated these very words in the morning, with only a small mistake of the quantity of the latter, which she chose to call Priapus instead of Priapus; and her husband swore that, though
he might possibly have named Mercury to her (for he had heard of such an heathen god), he never in his life could anywise have put her in mind of that other deity, with whom he had no acquaintance.
Another remarkable incident was, that during her whole pregnancy she constantly longed for everything she saw; nor could be satisfied with her wish unless she enjoyed it clandestinely; and as nature, by true and accurate observers, is remarked to give us no appetites without furnishing us with the means of gratifying them; so had she at this time a most marvellous glutinous quality attending her fingers, to which, as to birdlime, everything closely adhered that she handled.
To omit other stories, some of which may be perhaps the growth of superstition, we proceed to the birth of our hero, who made his first appearance on this great theatre the very day when the plague first broke out in 1665. Some say his mother was delivered of him in an house of an orbicular or round form in Covent-garden; but of this we are not certain. He was some years afterwards baptized by the famous Mr. Titus Oates.
Nothing very remarkable passed in his years of infancy, save that, as the letters TH are the most difficult of pronunciation, and the last which a child attains to the utterance of, so they were the first that came with any readiness from young master Wild. Nor must we omit the early indications which he gave of the sweetness of his temper; for though he was by no means to be terrified into compliance, yet might he, by a sugar-plum, be brought to your purpose; indeed, to say the truth, he was to be bribed to anything, which made many say he was certainly born to be a great man.
He was scarce settled at school before he gave marks of his lofty and aspiring temper; and was regarded by all his schoolfellows with that deference which men generally pay to those superior geniuses who will exact it of them. If an orchard was to be robbed Wild was consulted, and, though he was himself seldom concerned in the execution of the design, yet was he always concerter of it, and treasurer of the booty, some little part of which he would now and then, with wonderful generosity, bestow on those who took it. He was generally very secret on these occasions; but if any offered to plunder of his own head, without acquainting master Wild, and making a deposit of the booty, he was sure to have an information against him lodged with the schoolmaster, and to be severely punished for his pains.
He discovered so little attention to school-learning that his master, who was a very wise and worthy man, soon gave over all care and trouble on that account, and, acquainting his parents that their son proceeded extremely well in his studies, he permitted his pupil to follow his own inclinations, perceiving they led him to nobler pursuits than the sciences, which are generally acknowledged to be a very unprofitable study, and indeed greatly to hinder the advancement of men in the world: but though master Wild was not esteemed the readiest at making his exercise, he was universally allowed to be the most dexterous at stealing it of all his schoolfellows, being never detected in such furtive compositions, nor indeed in any other exercitations of his great talents, which all inclined the same way, but once, when he had laid violent hands on a book called Gradus ad Parnassum, i. e. A step towards Parnassus, on which account his master, who was a man of most wonderful wit and sagacity, is said to have told him he wished it might not prove in the event Gradus ad Patibulum, i. e. A step towards the gallows.
But, though he would not give himself the pains requisite to acquire a competent sufficiency in the learned languages, yet did he readily listen with attention to others, especially when they translated the classical authors to him; nor was he in the least backward, at all such times, to express his approbation. He was wonderfully pleased with that passage in the eleventh Iliad where Achilles is said to have bound two sons of Priam upon a mountain, and afterwards to have released them for a sum of money. This was, he said, alone sufficient to refute those who affected a contempt for the wisdom of the ancients, and an undeniable testimony of the great antiquity of priggism.[Footnote: This word, in the cant language, signifies thievery.] He was ravished with the account which Nestor gives in the same book of the rich booty which he bore off (i.e. stole) from the Eleans. He was desirous of having this often repeated to him, and at the end of every repetition he constantly fetched a deep sigh, and said IT WAS A
When the story of Cacus was read to him out of the eighth Aeneid he generously pitied the unhappy fate of that great man, to whom he thought Hercules much too severe: one of his schoolfellows commending the dexterity of drawing the oxen backward by their tails into his den, he smiled, and with some disdain said, HE COULD HAVE TAUGHT HIM A BETTER WAY.
He was a passionate admirer of heroes, particularly of Alexander the Great, between whom and the late king of Sweden he would frequently draw parallels. He was much delighted with the accounts of the Czar’s retreat from the latter, who carried off the inhabitants of great cities to people his own country. THIS, he said, WAS NOT ONCE THOUGHT OF BY Alexander; BUT added, PERHAPS HE DID NOT WANT THEM.
Happy had it been for him if he had confined himself to this sphere; but his chief, if not only blemish, was, that he would sometimes, from an humility in his nature too pernicious to true greatness, condescend to an intimacy with inferior things and persons. Thus the Spanish Rogue was his favourite book, and the Cheats of Scapin his favourite play.
The young gentleman being now at the age of seventeen, his father, from a foolish prejudice to our universities, and out of a false as well as excessive regard to his morals, brought his son to town, where he resided with him till he was of an age to travel. Whilst he was here, all imaginable care was taken of his instruction, his father endeavouring his utmost to inculcate principles of honour and gentility into his son.
CHAPTER FOUR — MR. WILD’S FIRST ENTRANCE INTO THE WORLD. HIS ACQUAINTANCE WITH COUNT LA RUSE.
An accident soon happened after his arrival in town which almost saved the father his whole labour on this head, and provided master Wild a better tutor than any after- care or expense could have furnished him with. The old gentleman, it seems, was a FOLLOWER of the fortunes of Mr. Snap, son of Mr. Geoffry Snap, whom we have before mentioned to have enjoyed a reputable office under the Sheriff of London and Middlesex, the daughter of which Geoffry had intermarried with the Wilds. Mr. Snap the younger,
being thereto well warranted, had laid violent hands on, or, as the vulgar express it, arrested one count La Ruse, a man of considerable figure in those days, and had confined him to his own house till he could find two seconds who would in a formal manner give their words that the count should, at a certain day and place appointed, answer all that one Thomas Thimble, a taylor, had to say to him; which Thomas Thimble, it seems, alleged that the count had, according to the law of the realm, made over his body to him as a security for some suits of cloaths to him delivered by the said Thomas Thimble. Now as the count, though perfectly a man of honour, could not immediately find these seconds, he was obliged for some time to reside at Mr. Snap’s house: for it seems the law of the land is, that whoever owes another 10 pounds, or indeed 2 pounds, may be, on the oath of that person, immediately taken up and carried away from his own house and family, and kept abroad till he is made to owe, 50 pounds, whether he will or no; for which he is perhaps afterwards obliged to lie in gaol; and all these without any trial had, or any other evidence of the debt than the above said oath, which if untrue, as it often happens, you have no remedy against the perjurer; he was, forsooth, mistaken.
But though Mr. Snap would not (as perhaps by the nice rules of honour he was obliged) discharge the count on his parole, yet did he not (as by the strict rules of law he was enabled) confine him to his chamber. The count had his liberty of the whole house, and Mr. Snap, using only the precaution of keeping his doors well locked and barred, took his prisoner’s word that he would not go forth.
Mr. Snap had by his second lady two daughters, who were now in the bloom of their youth and beauty. These young ladies, like damsels in romance, compassionated the captive count, and endeavoured by all means to make his confinement less irksome to him; which, though they were both very beautiful, they could not attain by any other way so effectually as by engaging with him at cards, in which contentions, as will appear hereafter, the count was greatly skilful.
As whisk and swabbers was the game then in the chief vogue, they were obliged to look for a fourth person in order to make up their parties. Mr. Snap himself would sometimes relax his mind from the violent fatigues of his employment by these recreations; and sometimes a neighbouring young gentleman or lady came in to their assistance: but the most frequent guest was young master Wild, who had been educated from his infancy with the Miss Snaps, and was, by all the neighbours, allotted for the husband of Miss Tishy, or Laetitia, the younger of the two; for though, being his cousin- german, she was perhaps, in the eye of a strict conscience, somewhat too nearly related to him, yet the old people on both sides, though sufficiently scrupulous in nice matters, agreed to overlook this objection.
Men of great genius as easily discover one another as freemasons can. It was therefore no wonder that the count soon conceived an inclination to an intimacy with our young hero, whose vast abilities could not be concealed from one of the count’s discernment; for though this latter was so expert at his cards that he was proverbially said to PLAY THE WHOLE GAME, he was no match for master Wild, who, inexperienced as he was, notwithstanding all the art, the dexterity, and often the fortune of his adversary, never failed to send him away from the table with less in his pocket than he brought to it, for indeed Langfanger himself could not have extracted a purse with more ingenuity than our young hero.
His hands made frequent visits to the count’s pocket before the latter had entertained any suspicion of him, imputing the several losses he sustained rather to the innocent and sprightly frolick of Miss Doshy, or Theodosia, with which, as she indulged him
with little innocent freedoms about her person in return, he thought himself obliged to be contented; but one night, when Wild imagined the count asleep, he made so unguarded an attack upon him, that the other caught him in the fact: however, he did not think proper to acquaint him with the discovery he had made, but, preventing him from any booty at that time, he only took care for the future to button his pockets, and to pack the cards with double industry.
So far was this detection from causing any quarrel between these two prigs,[Footnote: Thieves] that in reality it recommended them to each other; for a wise man, that is to say a rogue, considers a trick in life as a gamester doth a trick at play. It sets him on his guard, but he admires the dexterity of him who plays it. These, therefore, and many other such instances of ingenuity, operated so violently on the count, that, notwithstanding the disparity which age, title, and above all, dress, had set between them, he resolved to enter into an acquaintance with Wild. This soon produced a perfect intimacy, and that a friendship, which had a longer duration than is common to that passion between persons who only propose to themselves the common advantages of eating, drinking, whoring, or borrowing money; which ends, as they soon fail, so doth the friendship founded upon them. Mutual interest, the greatest of all purposes, was the cement of this alliance, which nothing, of consequence, but superior interest, was capable of dissolving.
CHAPTER FIVE — A DIALOGUE BETWEEN YOUNG MASTER WILD AND COUNT LA RUSE, WHICH, HAVING EXTENDED TO THE REJOINDER, HAD A VERY QUIET, EASY, AND NATURAL CONCLUSION.
One evening, after the Miss Snaps were retired to rest, the count thus addressed himself to young Wild: “You cannot, I apprehend, Mr. Wild, be such a stranger to your own great capacity, as to be surprised when I tell you I have often viewed, with a mixture of astonishment and concern, your shining qualities confined to a sphere where they can never reach the eyes of those who would introduce them properly into the world, and raise you to an eminence where you may blaze out to the admiration of all men. I assure you I am pleased with my captivity, when I reflect I am likely to owe to it an acquaintance, and I hope friendship, with the greatest genius of my age; and, what is still more, when I indulge my vanity with a prospect of drawing from obscurity (pardon the expression) such talents as were, I believe, never before like to have been buried in it: for I make no question but, at my discharge from confinement, which will now soon happen, I shall be able to introduce you into company, where you may reap the advantage of your superior parts.
“I will bring you acquainted, sir, with those who, as they are capable of setting a true value on such qualifications, so they will have it both in their power and inclination to prefer you for them. Such an introduction is the only advantage you want, without which your merit might be your misfortune; for those abilities which would entitle you to honour and profit in a superior station may render you only obnoxious to danger and disgrace in a lower.”
Mr. Wild answered, “Sir, I am not insensible of my obligations to you, as well for the over-value you have set on my small abilities, as for the kindness you express in offering to introduce me among my superiors. I must own my father hath often persuaded
me to push myself into the company of my betters; but, to say the truth, I have an aukward pride in my nature, which is better pleased with being at the head of the lowest class than at the bottom of the highest. Permit me to say, though the idea may be somewhat coarse, I had rather stand on the summit of a dunghill than at the bottom of a hill in Paradise. I have always thought it signifies little into what rank of life I am thrown, provided I make a great figure therein, and should be as well satisfied
with exerting my talents well at the head of a small party or gang, as in the command of a mighty army; for I am far from agreeing with you, that great parts are often lost in a low situation; on the contrary, I am convinced it is impossible they should be lost. I have often persuaded myself that there were not fewer than a thousand in Alexander’s troops capable of performing what Alexander himself did.
“But, because such spirits were not elected or destined to an imperial command, are we therefore to imagine they came off without a booty? or that they contented themselves with the share in common with their comrades? Surely, no. In civil life, doubtless, the same genius, the same endowments, have often composed the statesman and the prig, for so we call what the vulgar name a thief. The same parts, the same actions, often promote men to the head of superior societies, which raise them to the head of lower; and where is the essential difference if the one ends on Tower-hill and the other at Tyburn? Hath the block any preference to the gallows, or the ax to the halter, but was given them by the ill-guided judgment of men? You will pardon me, therefore, if I am not so hastily inflamed with the common outside of things, nor join the general opinion in preferring one state to another. A guinea is as valuable in a leathern as in an embroidered purse; and a cod’s head is a cod’s head still, whether in a pewter or a silver dish.”
The count replied as follows: “What you have now said doth not lessen my idea of your capacity, but confirms my opinion of the ill effect of bad and low company. Can any man doubt whether it is better to be a great statesman or a common thief? I have often heard that the devil used to say, where or to whom I know not, that it was better to reign in Hell than to be a valet-de-chambre in Heaven, and perhaps he was in the right; but sure, if he had had the choice of reigning in either, he would have chosen better. The truth therefore is, that by low conversation we contract a greater awe for high things than they deserve. We decline great pursuits not from contempt but despair. The man who prefers the high road to a more reputable way of making his fortune doth it because he imagines the one easier than the other; but you yourself have asserted, and with undoubted truth, that the same abilities qualify you for undertaking, and the same means will bring you to your end in both journeys—as in music it is the
same tune, whether you play it in a higher or a lower key. To instance in some particulars: is it not the same qualification which enables this man to hire himself as a servant, and to get into the confidence and secrets of his master in order to rob him,