Page images
PDF
EPUB

street, under the careful management of Mr. Redifer. The mail, for London, is dispatched every night, Saturday excepted, and another arrives every morning from the metropolis, with the exception of Monday. Letters are received here until nine o'clock every night, the box until then being open ; but after that time, one penny is paid for every letter delivered between nine and half-past nine o'clock, and from half-past nine until ten sixpence. The mail is sealed and sent off every night, with the above exception, precisely at ten o'clock. The mail from London arrives here about five o'clock in the morning, and the letters, sufficent time being allowed for their sorting, are distributed without delay. Those who wish to have their letters at an hour earlier than the routine of business at the office can, in its own arrangements, command, may be so accommodated by sending their servants for such letters in the morning early, and prior to their being given out for correct and general distribution.

ADVENTURES OF A BEGGAR.

“ He, not unmindful of his usual art,

Seeks every shape that magic can impart.”'

With whatever degree of astonishment the inhabitants of Covent Garden may view the miraculous transfigurations of Harlequin in a Christmas pantomine, I, for my part have long since mellowed down the loud horse-laugh into a sober smile. Not that I wish iny readers to entertain any lofty ideas of my superior gravity, or to imagine that any thing, however wonderful or ridiculous, is incapable of discomposing the dignified arrangement of Solomon Gildrig's muscles. Nor indeed am I desirous that they should conceive me able to scrutinize into all the mysterious devices of raising a blue devil, changing a turtle into an alderman, or a pincushion into an old maid. On the contrary, I am by nature inclined to sympathize with Pantaloon in all his misfortunes, and to laugh heartily at the clown's griinaces.

But as novelty is generally the principal ingredient in such entertainments, when that is withdrawn, of course they become insipid and uninteresting; and, to a person of common observation, what novelty can a pantomine afford, when, however ludicrous its delusions, however various its characters, we find the original in every part of England ! As my less sagacious readers may perhaps be unable to discover my meaning, it may be necessary to let them know that I allude to a race of mortals, who, under divers shapes, solicit public charity, by the affecting appeal of “A half-penny your honour !--please to remember a poor old man ! "&c &c.

These gentry, like cameleons, vary their colour every minute, and though they manage to acquire a more substantial beverage than air, yet, like those animals, they continually stand in one situation, and take in all the flies that may chance to come within their reach. They look upon themselves as a more dignified race of actors ; and as they are at the daily expence and trouble of entertaining the public by their inventions, think, no doubt. with some appearance of justice, that their meritorious exertions ought to be rewarded by no trifling compensation. Indeed their performance is far superior to the modern style of acting, and is carried on with true classical purity. Thus, in strict conformity with the rules of the ancient tragedy in the days of Thespis, they seldom allow more then one actor to appear upon the stage at once, who is sometimes accompanied by a chorus of children, enveloped in rags and dirt, pouring forth lamentations with Doric simplicity. I have known some of their prime actors who could surpass even Kemble in a tragedy_groan, and by whose superior dignity and expression, the young Roscius himself, that star of the first magnitude in the hemisphere of Covent Garden, would be eclipsed.

Nor is it to the more peaceful employment of feigning unheard-of misfortunes, bewailing the loss of what they never enjoyed, or inventing terrible adventures, that they universally confine their talents. On the contrary, still having in view the progressive improvement of the Greek tragedy, they sometimes introduce a plurality of actors ; when, for instance, under the characters of ring-droppers, they trepan some unfortunate rustic into a public-house, make him half-drunk as a proof of their honesty, then knock him down, rifle his pockets, cut his throat, and escape through the window. This, however, and many other tragedies of a similar nature, are generally used to divert the tediousness of a winter's evening : whereas the tragi-comedians are always confined to the day time.

Not long since I was accosted in the street by a venerable old man, apparently bending under a weight of years and accumulated miseries, whose hoary locks, encircling a countenance moistened with tears, gave so melancholy and touching an appearance to his whole figure, that, before he could speak, I had already put my hand into my pocket, with a full intention of relieving his necessities to the utmost of my power.

“ For the love of God,” cried he, in broken English, « have compassion upon a poor stranger who -.” He was proceeding, when I threw a piece of gold into his hat, and turned away, followed by every blessing that gratitude could bestow.

Not many weeks after this incident, curiosty led me into the court at the Old Bailey. Among the prisoners at the bar, I observed a man apparently about forty years of age, who stood with an air of undaunted resolution, while the Recorder was passing sentence of transportation upon him. His appearance attracted my notice, and I had a faint idea that his features were not altogether unknown to me. As he passed out of the court, I, looked stedfastly upon him ; his eye caught mine ; he started back; and the expression of his countenance recalled to my recollection the old man whom I have mentioned. My curiosity being awakened by this idea, I went next day to the prison appointed for the reception of the condemned, and after some little trouble gained admission to the prisoner. He seemed astonished at my appearance. I asked him whether he had not onee imposed upon my credulity under the disguise of an old man. He burst into a loud fit of laughter ; and confessed that he had imposed upon so many under different characters, that although he could not recollect that particular circumstance, yet it was far from being improbable.

I had often heard of the curious adventures which this sort of men undergo, and the various stratagems to which they have recourse, in order to extort charity from the more credulous part of their fellow-creatures. Thinking therefore, that my

condemned friend was not likely to be troubled with any qualms of conscience, or fears of detection, as the extent of his honesty had already been sufficiently proved, I begged of him to favour me with an account of his adventures, since he had first entered into the world. Without any further preamble, he immediately began in the following words :

My father was an honest labourer, whose sole possessions consisted of a small cottage, and an acre of land on the banks of the Tweed, and a wife and two children, of whom I am the eldest. My mother, who was a notable, industrious sort of a woman, had managed to scrape together a little money by washing, which she laid out by having us taught to read and write at a day school, in a little village not far from our abode. Here I first shewed that inclination to idleness and play that has brought mc into this situation ; for while my brother was continually improving himself, I played the truant, and spent my time in sauntering about the country with some of my idle school-fellows. In this manner I passed my childish years. When I was about fourteen years old, my father persuaded a rich old farmer in the neighbourhood to take me into his family as a servant. In this situation I was under-strapper to a large family for four years, and grew every day more and more tired of my constant drudgery. Often, with tears in my eyes, did I beg my father to take me home again, but in vain : for he was afraid of shewing the leastdiscontent towards so rich and powerful a neighbour. But the hour of deliverance was not so far off as I thought.

“One day, while I was sitting npon a gate at the bottom of the farm-yard, and considering by what means I could manage to get away from so disagreeable a situation, an old woman, bent with age and covered with rags, came up to me, and offered to tell my fortune for sixpence. I had but one; my curiosity was great, and I gave it to her. She told me a number of fine things, and amongst others, that I should visit foreign conntries; which indeed is the only circumstance that ever has or is likely to come true. She then enquired whether I liked my place at the farmer's? I told her how disagreeable it was ; and she offered to make my fortune for me, if I would leave my master's service, and meet her that night in the neighbouring forest at a particular hour. Without any hesitation I promised to followed her advice, and she went away.

As soon as the appointed hour arrived, I set out with my oaken staff, a small wallet containing a few necessaries, and some money which I had the precaution to steal from my mistress. I met the old woman on the borders of the forest. She ordered me to follow her in silence. I obeyed, and in this manner we proceeded nearly two miles.

“ At length we came to a deep recess in the bosom of the forest, where I perceived about a dozen ill-looking men, and women round a large fire. Overcome with fear, I was on the point of running back, when the old woman seized my hand, and led me forward into the midst of the assembly. I soon found that they were a company of those useful members of society, who make it their employment to disencumber their neighbours from any of those superfiuities which fortune often showers down in such profusion upon her favourites. In a word they were as clever a society of gypsies, as any young fellow of good expectations ever attached himself to.

“ But not to detain you longer than is necessary with useless descriptions, let it suffice to say, that I was initiated into all their arts; liked their mode of life, and surpassed them all in the execution of various stratagems, by which I have managed to cheat people out of their money with unexampled success. My first attempt was in the character of a poor boy, who had been unfortunately shipwrecked in the northern seas. With a sorrowful countenance I related my unheard-of sufferings, jumbled together most dreadful circumstances that my imagination

could suggest, and was delighted to perceive with what ease the story was swallowed by every person whom I addressed.

To whatever apprehensions I might at first have given way, they entirely vanished before the success of this hazardous enterprize. It was treated with the greatest generosity by several gentlemen, to whom I related my miserable condition, and I returned to my associates with more than twenty guineas in my pocket. Thus encouraged, I prepared for another expedition, which was attended with greater success than even the first. I sallied forth with the old woman who had first persuaded me to leave my master's: and dressing myself as a young country wench, went boldly into the house of every gentleman within the country. I said that I was the old woman's daughter; that we had lived for many years in the north of Wales; that our cottage had been suddenly burnt to the ground, and we had narrrowly escaped with our lives, and were now endeavouring to get a little money to enable us to proceed to London, where my mother's sister was living. To this piteous account we both added a sufficent quantity of tears, which so awakened the charity of our hearers, that in a short time we might have bought a cottage in North Wales, and lived very comfortably on the produce of our labour but we chose rather to return to our companions.

“ In this manner have I lived in different parts of the kingdom near twenty years. I have played every character in the least calculated to open the hand of charity ; and I have been under every disguise, and executed every stratagem that cunning could invent to cheat unguarded credulity. I have preached to the elect in a tub at Gloucester ; have frequently been moved by the spirit at a Quaker's meeting; have sat whole hours in the synagogue

to pick my neighbour's pockets; and have sold holy-water, nails from the cross, the hair of St. Christopher, and the blood of St Swithen, to several worthy Roman Catholics, who believed that I had just returned from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Still more remarkable have been my escapes from the hands of justice ; and I should certainly never have fallen into the present misfortune, had I not forgotten my usual prudence, and joined a gang of pickpockets when in liquor. As it is, I must take a journey to Botany Bay; and if I should ever return, will, by the blessing of fortune, retire upon what I have earned by a life of successful roguery.

« PreviousContinue »