Page images
PDF
EPUB

real philosophy. If any man thoroughly believed in the humanizing principle that "there is a soul of goodness in things evil,” it was Charles Lamb. He was born in London in 1775; educated at Christ's Hospital ; laboured as a clerk in London till 1825; and died in the neighbourhood of London in 1834. There he drew the materials for his Essays. In one of his letters he says, I often shed tears in the motley Strand, for feeling of joy at so much life." His prose works have been published in three volumes : his poems in one volume.]

66

The all-sweeping besom of societarian reformation-your only modern Alcides' club to rid the time of its abuses—is uplift with manyhanded sway to extirpate the last fluttering tatters of the bugbear Mendicity from the metropolis. Scrips, wallets, bags-staves, dogs, and crutches the whole mendicant fraternity, with all their baggage, are fast posting out of the purlieus of this eleventh persecution. From the crowded crossivg, from the corners of streets and turnings of alleys, the parting genius of beggary is "with sighing sent.”

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

They were the oldest and the honourablest form of pauperism. Their appeals were to our common nature ; less revolting to an in. genuous mind than to be a suppliant to the particular humours or caprice of any fellow-creature, or set of fellow-creatures, parochial or societarian. Theirs were the only rates uninvidious in the levy, ungrudged in the assessment.

There was a dignity springing from the very depth of their desolation; as to be naked is to be so much nearer to the being a man, than to go in livery.

The greatest spirits have felt this in their reverses; and when Dionysius from king turned schoolmaster, do we feel any thing towards him but contempt ? Could Vandyke have made a picture of him, swaying a ferula for a sceptre, which would have affected our minds with the same heroic pity, the same compassionate admiration, with which we regard his Belisarius begging for an obolum ? Would the moral have been more graceful, more pathetic ?

The Blind Beggar in the legend - the father of pretty Bessywhose story doggrel rhymes and alehouse signs cannot so degrade or attenuate, but that some sparks of a lustrous spirit will shine through the disguisements—this noble Earl of Cornwall (as indeed he was) and memorable sport of fortune, fleeing from the unjust sentence of his liege lord, stript of all, and seated on the flowering green of Bethnal, with his more fresh and springing daughter by his side, illumining his

rags and his beggary,– would the child and parent have cut a better figure, doing the honours of a counter, or expiating their fallen condition upon the three-foot eminence of some sempstering shop-board ?

In tale or history your Beggar is ever the first antipode to your King. The poets and romancical writers (as dear Margaret Newcastle would call them), when they would most sharply and feelingly paint a reverse of fortune, never stop till they have brought down their hero in good earnest to rags and the wallet. The depth of the descent illustrates the height he falls from. There is no medium which can be presented to the imagination without offence. There is no breaking the fall. Lear, thrown from his palace, must divest him of his garments, till he answer mere nature,” and Cresseid, fallen from a prince's love, must extend her pale arms, pale with other whiteness than of beauty, supplicating lazar alms with bell and clap-dish.

The Lucian wits knew this very well; and, with a converse policy, when they would express scorn of greatness without the pity, they show us an Alexander in the shades cobbling shoes, or a Semiramis getting up foul linen.

How would it sound in song, that a great monarch had declined his affections upon the daughter of a baker! Yet do we feel the imagination at all violated when we read the “true ballad” where king Cophetua woos the beggar maid?

Pauperism, pauper, poor man, are expressions of pity, but pity alloyed with contempt. No one properly contemns a beggar. Poverty is a comparative thing, and each degree of it is mocked by its “neighbour grice.” Its poor rents and comings-in are soon summed up and told. Its pretences to property are almost ludicrous. Its pitiful attempts to save excite a smile. Every scornful companion can weigh his trifle-bigger purse against it. Poor man reproaches poor man in the streets with impolitic mention of his condition, his own being a shade better, while the rich pass by and jeer at both. No rascally comparative insults a Beggar, or thinks of weighing purses with him. He is not in the scale of comparison. He is not under the measure of property. He confessedly hath none, any more than a dog or a sheep. No one twitteth him with ostentation above his means. No one accuses him of pride, or upbraideth him with mock humility. None jostle with him for the wall, or pick quarrels for precedency. No wealthy neighbour seeketh to eject him from his tenement. No man sues him. No man goes to law with him. If I were not the independent gentleman that I am, rather than I would be a retainer to the great, a led captain, or a poor relation, I would choose, out of the delicacy and true greatness of my mind, to be a Beggar.

Rags, which are the reproach of poverty, are the Beggar's robes and graceful insignia of his profession, his tenure, his full dress, the suit in which he is expected to show himself in public. He is never out of the fashion, or limpeth awkwardly behind it. He is not required to put on court mourning. He weareth all colours, fearing none. His costume hath undergone less change than the Quakers'. He is the only man in the universe who is not obliged to study appearances. The

ups and downs of the world concern him no longer. He alone continueth in one stay. The price of stock or land affecteth him not. The fluctuation of agricultural or commercial prosperity toucheth him not, or at worst, but change his customers. He is not expected to become bail or surety for any one. No man troubleth him with questioning his religion or politics. He is the only free man in the universe. :

The Mendicants of this great city were so many of her rights, her lions. I can no more spare them than I could the Cries of London. No corner of a street is complete without them. They are as indispensable as the Ballad Singer; and in their picturesque attire as ornamental as the signs of old London. They were the standing morals, emblems, mementos, dial-mottos, the spital sermons, the books for children, the salutary checks and pauses to the high and rushing tide of greasy citizenry;

« Look Upon that poor and broken bankrupt there."

Above all, those old blind Tobits that used to line the wall of Lincoln's Inn Garden, before modern fastidiousness had expelled them, casting up their ruined orbs to catch a ray of pity, and (if possible) of light, with their faithful Dog Guide at their feet-whither are they

[ocr errors]

fled ? or into what corners, blind as themselves, have they been driven, out of the wholesome air and sun-warmth ? Immured between four walls, in what withering poor-house do they endure the penalty of double darkness, where the chink of the dropt halfpenny no more consoles their forlorn bereavement, far from the sound of the cheerful and hope-stirring tread of the passenger ? Where hang their useless staves ? and who will farm their dogs ? Have the overseers of St. L-caused them to be shot ? or were they tied up in sacks, and dropt into the Thames, at the suggestion of B- the mild rector of ?

Well fare the soul of unfastidious Vincent Bourne, most classical, and at the same time most English, of the Latinists !- who has treated of this human and quadrupedal alliance, this dog and man friendship, in the sweetest of his poems, the Epitaphium in Canem, or, Dog's Epitaph. Reader, peruse it; and say, if customary sights, which could call up such gentle poetry as this, were of a nature to do more harm or good to the moral sense of the passengers through the daily thoroughfares of a vast and busy metropolis.

Pauperis hic Iri requiesco Lyciscus, herilis,
Dum vixi, tutela vigil columenque senectæ,
Dux cæco fidus: nec, me ducente, solebat,
Prætenso hinc atque hinc baculo, per iniqua locorum
Incertam explorare viam ; sed fila secutus,
Quæ dubios regerent passûs, vestigia tuta
Fixit inoffenso gressu ; gelidumque sedile
In nudo nactus saxo, quà prætereuntium
Unda frequens confluxit, ibi miserisque tenebras
Lamentis, noctemque oculis ploravit obortam.
Ploravit nec frustra ; obolum dedit alter et alter,
Queis corda et mentem indiderat natura benignam.
Ad latus interea jacui sopitus herile,
Vel mediis vigil in somnis; ad herilia jussa
Auresque atque animum arrectus, seu frustula amicè
Porrexít sociasque dapes, seu longa diei
Tædia perpessus, reditum sub nocte parabat.

Hi mores, hæc vita fuit, dum fata sinebant,
Dum neque languebam morbis, nec inerte senectâ ;

Quæ tandem obrepsit, veterique satellite cæcum
Orbavit dominum: prisci sed gratia facti
Ne tota intereat, longos deleta per annos,
Exiguum hunc Irus tumulum de cespite fecit,
Etsi inopis, non ingratæ, munuscula dextræ ;
Carmine signavitque brevi, dominumque canemque
Quod memoret, fidumque canem dominumque benignum.

Poor Irus' faithful wolf-dog here I lie,
That wont to tend my old blind master's steps,
His guide and guard; nor, while my service lasted,
Had he occasion for that staff, with which
He now goes picking out his path in fear
O'er the highways and crossings ; but would plant,
Safe in the conduct of my friendly string,
A firm foot forward till he had reach'd
His poor seat on some stone, nigh where the tide
Of passers by in thickest confluence flow'd :
To whom with loud and passionate laments
From morn to eve his dark estate he wail'd.
Nor wail'd to all in vain : some here and there,
The well-disposed and good, their pennies gave.
I meantime at his feet obsequious slept ;
Not all-asleep in sleep, but heart and ear
Prick'd up at his least motion ; to receive
At his kind hand my customary crumbs,
And common portion in his feast of scraps ;
Or when night warn'd us homeward, tired and spent
With our long day and tedious beggary.

These were my manners, this my way of life,
Till
age

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

« PreviousContinue »