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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
THE BEQUEST OF
Vizetelly & Co. Printers, 135 Fleet Street, London.
NGLISH faces, and records of English character, make up the present volume. Leaving the artist and the writers to exhibit and indicate their own individual purpose, we would fain dwell awhile in the consideration of the general value and utility of a work, the aim of which is to preserve the impress of the present age; to record its virtues, its follies, its moral contradictions, and its crying wrongs. From such a work, it is obvious, that the student of human nature may derive the best of lore; the mere idling reader become at once amused and instructed; regards the feelings and habits
whilst even to the social antiquarian, who
It was no little satisfaction to the projectors of "HEADS OF THE PEOPLE," to find the public somewhat startled by the first appearance of the work; somewhat astonished at the gravity of its tone, the moral seriousness of its purpose. Many took up the first number only to laugh; and, we are proud to say, read on to think. A host of readers were disappointed : they purchased, as they thought, a piece of pleasantry, to be idly glanced at, and then flung aside: they found it otherwise. They believed that they were only called to see and hear the grinning face and vacant nonsense of a glib story-teller, and they discovered in their new acquaintance a depth and delicacy of sympathy, a knowledge of human life, and a wise gladness, a philosophic merriment, and honest sarcasm, that made them take him to their home as a fast friend. Nor was it in England only that the purpose of the work was thus happily acknowledged. It has not only been translated into French, but has formed the model of a national work for the essayists and wits of Paris. The "Heads of the People," of the numerous family of John Bull, are to be seen gazing from the windows of French shopkeepers, at our "natural enemies”—a circumstance not likely to aggravate the antipathy which, according to the profitable creed of bygone statemongers, Nature had, for some mysterious purpose, implanted in the breasts of the Briton and the Gaul!
The work will be pursued in the same straightforward, uncompromising, and, it is hoped, humanising spirit, that characterises the present volume. John Bull has too long rested in the comfortable self-complacency that he, above all other persons of the earth, enshrines in his own mind all the wisdom and the magnanimity vouchsafed to mortal man; that in his customs he is the most knowing, the least artificial, the most cordial, and the most exemplary of persons; and that in all the decencies of life, he, and he alone, knows and does that which is
"Wisest, discreetest, virtuousest, best;"
that he has no prejudices-none; or, if indeed he have any, that they exist and have been nurtured so very near his virtues, that if he cannot detect the slightest difference between them, it is not likely that any vagabond foreigner can make so tremendous a discovery. And then John boasts, and in no monosyllabic phrase, of his great integrity, of his unbending spirit to the merely external advantages of worldly follies: he looks to the man, and not the man's pocket! He he pays court to no man; no, he cries out in the market-place, that "honesty is the best policy," grasps his cudgel, looks loftily about him, swelling with the magnificence of the apothegm, and strides away to his beef and ale, with an almost overwhelming sense of all his many virtues.
Now, let the truth be told. John Bull likes a bit of petty-larceny as well as any body in the world: he likes it, however, with this difference; the iniquity must be made legal. Only solemnise a wrong by an act of parliament, and John Bull will stickle lustily for the abuse; will trade upon it, turn the market-penny with it, cocker it, fondle it, love it, say pretty words to it; yea, hug it to his bosom, and cry out "rape and robbery" if sought to be deprived of it.
Next, John has no slavish regard for wealth: to be sure not; and yet, though his back is as broad as a table, it is as lithe as a cane; and he will pucker his big cheeks into a reverential grin, and stoop and kiss the very hoofs of the golden calf, wherever it shall be set up before him. John will do this, and blush not; and having done it, he will straighten himself, wipe his lips with his cuff of broad-cloth, look magnanimous, and "damn the fellow that regards money."
And then for titles. Does John value titles? Hear the contemptuous roar with which, in the parlour of "The King's Head," he talks of them. "What's a title?" he will ask; "it's the man, eh?" And next week Lord Bubblebrain puts up for the county; and, condescending to ask John Bull for his vote, John stands almost awe-struck at his porch, smooths his hair, smiles, smirks, bows, and feels that there is a sort of white magic in the looks and words of a lord. He stammers out a promise of a plumper, bows his lordship to the gate, and then declares to his neighbours that "It warn't for the title he gave his vote-he should hope not; no, he wouldn't sell his country in that way. But Lord Bubblebrain is a gentleman, and knows what's right for the people." And then John's wife remarks, how affable his lordship was to the children, and especially to the sick baby; which John receives as a matter of course; shortly observing, that “ gentleman could do less; not that he gave his vote for any such doings."
And has John no virtues? A thousand! So many, that he can afford to be told of his weakness, his folly-yea, of the wrongs he does, the wrongs he suffers.
The ridiculous part of John's character is his love of an absurdity, an injustice-it may be, an acute inconvenience-from its very antiquity. "Why, what's the matter?" we asked last week of an old acquaintance, limping and pushing himself along, not unlike a kangaroo with the rheumatism; "What's the matter?" "Matter! corns-corns." "And why don't you have 'em cut?" "Cut!" cried our friend, with a look of surprise and inquiry. "Cut! why, it is now fifteen years that I have had these corns." There spoke John Bull: though he shall be almost at a stand-still, lame with corns, yet what a roaring does he make if you attempt
to cut them-and why? He has had them so many years. A wen upon his neck, if a wen of fifty years' growth, though it bent him double, would "be to him as a daughter."
John Bull has a numerous family; all more or less distinguished by the virtues, the humours, the follies, and the droll and melancholy contradictions of their papa. We here give some fifty of his children: we shall present the world with at least half-a-hundred more.