« PreviousContinue »
fication ; and who shall decide which was the more successful? Hume, in one of his Essays, remarks, that there is no question that a boarding-school miss has often experienced as exquisite delight on finding herself the idol of a ball-room, as an orator when receiving the rapturous applauses of a delighted audience; and Colley Cibber says, that on hearing an old actor express admiration at one of his early performances on the stage, he felt so proud of the commendation, that he doubted whether “ Alexanıler himself, or Charles XII., when at the head of their first victorious armies, could feel a greater transport in their bosoms.” After reading this, some may perhaps think that Pope's epigram on Cibber* was not unmerited ; but when they consider that thieves feel a similar exultation, they may rather be inclined to pity poor human nature. In exemplification of what we have advanced, we request attention to the following extract from Vaux. Some of his acquaintances in Newgate had informed him that Mr. Bilger, a jeweller and goldsmith, was a good fiat.
“About 5 o'clock in the evening, I entered his shop, dressed in the most elegant style, having a valuable gold watch and appendages, a gold eye-glass, &c. I had posted my old friend and aid-de-camp, Bromley, at the door, in order to be in readiness to act as circumstances might require, and particularly to watch the motions of Mr. Bilger and his assistants on my quitting the premises. On my entrance, Mrs. Bilger issued from a back parlour behind the shop, and politely inquiring my business, I told her I wished to see Mr. Bilger ; she imme. diately rang a bell, which brought down her husband from the upper apart. ments. He saluted me with a low bow, and handed me a seat. I was glad to find no other person in the shop, Mrs. Bilger having again retired. I now as. sumed the air of a Bond-street lounger, and informed Mr. Bilger, that I had been recommended by a gentleman of my acquaintance to deal with him, have ing occasion for a very elegant diamond ring, and requested to see his assortment. Mr. Bilger expressed his concern that he happened not to have a single article of that description by him, but if I could without inconvenience call again, he would undertake in one hour to procure me a selection from his working-jeweller, to whom he would immediately despatch a messenger. I affected to feel somewhat disappointed; but, looking at my watch, after a moment's re
As many of our readers may not recollect it, we here insert it. Cibber, it should be borne in mind, was poet-laureate.
“ In merry old England, it once was a rule,
That Cibber will serve both for fool and for poet!"
“When Bayes thou play'st, thyself thou art ;
For that by nature fit,
of the ce have so
smaller der the sketche
in orde Mr. B truth,
Mr. Bil but he brooche
in my ing of monds.
flection, I said, Well, Mr. Bilger, I have an appointment at the Cannon coffeehouse, which requires my attendance, and if you will, without fail, have the articles ready, I may probably look in a little after six.' This he promised faithfully to do, declaring how much he felt obliged by my condescension; and I sauntered out of the shop, Mr. Bilger attending me in the most obsequious manner to the outer door. After walking a short distance, Bromley tapped me on the shoulder, and inquired what conduct I meant next to pursue ; for he had viewed my proceedings through a glass-door in the shop, and saw that I had not executed my grand design. I related to Bromley the result of my conversation with Mr. Bilger, and added that I meant to retire to the nearest public-house, where we could enjoy a pipe and a glass of negus, until the expiration of the hour to which I had limited myself
. We accordingly regaled ourselves at a very snug house, nearly opposite Bilger's, until about half after six, when I again repaired to the scene of action, leaving Bromley, as at first, posted at the door. Mr. Bilger received me with increased respect, and producing a small card box, expressed his sorrow that his workman had only been enabled to send three rings for my inspection, but that if they were not to my taste, he should feel honoured and obliged in taking my directions for having one made, and flattered himself he should execute the order to my satisfaction. I proceeded to examine the rings he produced, one of which was marked sixteen guineas, another nine guineas, and the third six guineas. They were all extremely beautiful; but I affected to consider them as too paltry, telling Mr. Bilger that I wanted one to present to a lady, and that I wished to have a ring of greater value than the whole three put together, as a few guineas would not be an object in the price. Mr. Bilger's son, who was also his partner, now joined us, and was desired by his father to sketch a draught in pencil of some fancy rings, agreeable to the directions ! should give him. The three rings I had viewed, were now removed to the end of the counter next the window, and I informed the young man that I wished to have something of a cluster, a large brilliant in the centre, surrounded with smaller ones; but repeated my desire that no expense might be spared to render the article strictly elegant, and worthy a lady's acceptance. The son having sketched a design of several rings on a card, I examined them with attention, and appeared in doubt which to prefer, but desired to see some loose diamonds, in order to form a better idea of the size, &c. of each ring described in the drawing. Mr. Bilger, however, declared he had not any by bim. It is probable he spoke truth, or he might have lost such numbers by showing them, as to deter him from exhibiting them in future. Without having made up my mind on the subject, I now requested to see some of his most fashionable brooches, or shirt-pins. Mr. Bilger produced a show-glass, containing a great variety of articles in pearl, but he had nothing of the kind in diamonds. I took up two or three of the brooches, and immediately sunk a very handsome one, marked three guineas, in my coat sleeve. I next purloined a beautiful clasp for a lady's waist, consisting of stones set in gold, which had the appearance and brilliancy of real diamonds, but marked only four guineas. I should probably have gone still deeper, but at this moment a lady coming in, desired to look at some ear-rings, and the younger Mr. Bilger immediately quitted his father to attend upon her at the other end of the shop. It struck me that now was my time for a decisive stroke. The card containing the diamond rings, procured from the maker, lying very near the show-glass I was viewing, and many small articles irregularly placed 'round about them, the candles not throwing much light on that particular spot, and Mr. Bilger's attention being divided between myself and the lady, to whom he frequently addressed himself
, I suddenly took the three rings from the card, and committed them to my sleeve, to join the brooch and lady's clasp; but had them so situated, that I could, in a moment, have released and replaced them on the counter, had an inquiry been made for them. I then looked at my watch, and observing that I was going to the theatre, told Mr. Bilger that I would not trouble him any further, as the articles before me were too tawdry and common to please me, but that I would put the card of draughts in my pocket-book, and if I did not meet with a ring of the kind I wanted, before Monday or Tuesday, I would certainly call again, and give him final directions. I was then drawing on my
proofs of treachery amongst their companions. Each, too, has furnished so many means of detection, by names of persons, dates, and places, that,-no attempt at refutation having been made by persons implicated, -we are to believe that they must, at any rate, contain much that is true. Neither Ward's nor Vidocq's Memoirs are so connected as Vaux's; but in Ward's case, this may be attributed to a want of scholarship, as he is evidently an ignorant man; and in Vidocq's, to a fondness for the marvellous, in consequence of which he has introduced many episodes. These episodes, accordingly, detract from the merit of the work, considered as a veritable narrative, they being garnished with more of the romantic than the regular account of his own performances.
After all, a degree of suspicion will attach to each of them, from the consideration that they are all avowed liars: If, indeed, there was proof, either external or internal, that they had become reformed characters, and, of course, abhorrers of deceit, we might value their self-condemnation as evidence of truth ; for what man of moral feeling would proclaim that he had been an habitual liar, except conscious that the avowal was incumbent on him to substantiate the truth ? This was done by Bunyan, the author of the Pilgrim's Progress, and by Cowper, the truly Christian poet :—they are respected accordingly. But in these narratives, except a little cant in Ward's, we find nothing approaching to a sense of shame or remorse. Vidocq, like Homer's Ulysses, has a lie ready for every occasion, and appears, like that hero, to regard himself as “the man for wisdom's various arts renowned.” Vaux is almost equal to him in this respect, and exults in the success of his deceptions. If cunning were wisdom, Ulysses, Vidocq, and Vaux, would form a trio of eminently wise men. But this sort of wisdom, how much soever valued by pagans, must be regarded by Christians, enlightened by the Gospel, as utterly unjustifiable, even when employed as a means for the attainment of some good; since they are never to do evil that good may come. Accordingly, those persons who make lies their refuge, must be liable to be doubted, even when they speak the truth. Still, it is possible, that a man's conscience may be so obdurate, as not to perceive the pravity of mendacity, when exercised for his supposed benefit, while he yet retains a regard for truth when engaged in relating his exploits to others. This, we think, is partly the case with
Their acknowledament of their acrecord of truth.
then, could believe a practised villain, if he professed himself untainted by mendacity? But if, after a plain ayowal of his constant resort to it, we find nothing contradictory in his relation, we may reasonably yield a qualified assent to it; since, as Lord Bacon remarks in his Essays, which come home to men's business and bosoms," a liar had need possess a good memory to prevent his contradicting himself. Where he is consistent throughout a long narrative, the natural deduction is, that he has mainly depended on his memory, rejecting, for the occasion, his temptation to beguile.*
After these preliminary considerations, the relevancy of which is obvious, we proceed to furnish our readers with a few extracts; not doubting, that to such of them as lead domestic, retired lives, it will afford gratification to learn something of the ways of others, who are entirely opposite in their habits,as opposite as the two electric poles, and, like them, “repelling and repelled.” One of the most observable points in these volumes, is the contamination of jails. When men are thrown together in a place where reputation is valueless, they have no inducement to conceal their vices. What is the consequence ? They delight in recounting to each other their nefarious exploits: thus conscience is more and more corrupted, and the young
and inexperienced are initiated into the skilful manoeuvres of adepts. Whoever has read the first edition of Ellwood's Life, (for the subsequent editions do not contain the passage,) may remember the amusing account he has given of the state of the common side of Newgate in the reign of Charles II. Ellwood was imprisoned in that persecuting reign, for adherence to his religious convictions as a Quaker, and had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with the ordinary behaviour and conversation of thieves in jail. He saw and lamented the evils incident to a promiscuous assemblage of old and young, of hardened villains and juvenile delinquents; but the remedy was reserved for the present age. That the remedy ought not to have been so long deferred, will be evident to every one who attends to Vaux's account of his first incarceration.
"On entering the gates of the gloomy receptacle to which I was now consigned, and which, on many accounts, has not been unaptly named the Bastile, the sensations I felt may be more easily felt than described. Besides that this was the first prison I had ever entered, every thing around me had an air of unspeakable horror. After being viewed and reviewed by the surly Cerberuses of this earthly Hell, I was conducted up some stairs to a long gallery, or passage,
Since the above was written, we have met with an old schoolfellow of Vaux's, and who also knew him in after life ; and from him we have learnt that Vaux's Memoirs have strong claim to credence, from the circumstance that the account of his early life appears to be correctly given, as also that part of his subsequent career which is known to our informant. He added, that his manners were quite fascinating.
six feet wide, having on either side a number of dismal cells, each about six feet by nine, formed entirely of stone, but having a small grated window near the roof, at the further end, which admitted a gloomy light, and overlooked a yard, in which other prisoners were confined, there was also a similar grate over the door ; but, owing to their height, both these apertures were very diffi. cult of access. The cells on the other side the passage were exactly similar, but overlooking another yard, and the doors were immediately opposite to each other. The only furniture of these dreary apartments was an iron bedstead, on which were a bed, blanket, and rug, but all of the coarsest kind. My conductor having given me a pitcher of water, without vouchsafing a word, locked the door, and left me in utter darkness.
“In order to amuse my mind during this solitary week, I climbed up to the grated aperture over the door of my cell, and listened to the conversation of the neighbouring prisoners; and, from their discourse, I acquired a more extensive knowledge of the various modes of fraud and robbery, wbich, I now found, were reduced to a regular system, than I should have done in seven years, had I continued at large. I was indeed astonished at what I heard ; and I clearly perceived that, instead of expressing contrition for their offences, their only consideration was, how to proceed with more safety, but increased vigour, in their future depredations. And here I was struck with the fallacious notions entertained by the projectors of this prison, which was reputed to be upon the plan of the benevolent and immortal Howard, who had recommended the confinement of offenders in separate cells, in order to prevent the effects of evil communication among persons who had not all attained an equal degree of depravity. This object, however, was not effected here ; for, being within hearing of each other, they could, by sitting up over the door as I have described, converse each with his opposite neighbour, and even form a line of communication, where the discourse became general, from one end of the gallery to the other. As a proof of what I have advanced, I knew several of the prisoners, then confined with me in this passage, who were at that time but striplings, and novices in villainy, and who, after several years continuance in their evil courses, at length became notorious offenders, and, having narrowly escaped a shameful death, are now prisoners for life in this colony."
As this subject is of great importance, we shall give a few more extracts connected with it. Crime, as Mr. Buxton has shown in his valuable Inquiry, is promoted, instead of being repressed, by such indiscriminate association. Corruption spreads by it, as surely as decomposition is assisted by heat and moisture. Ward thus describes the Baltimore jail:
“ About this time, I was ordered by the sheriff to be put into the criminal apartment, along with untried prisoners, hardened offenders, debtors, and among characters of the most abandoned and vicious stamp ;-men of all nations and all colours. Among this mass of vile and depraved men, I had to take up my abode. There was no example of moral rectitude here exhibited but that of my own! No restraint was put by our keepers, on their profane and vile language and conduct. Every one indulged to an excess in every species of the most disgusting practices, profaning and scandalizing every thing holy."
Vidocq's description of the Bagne at Brest, corresponds with the above:
“The Bagne is situated in the bosom of the bay ; piles of guns, and two pieces of cannon, mounted at the gates, pointed out to me the entrance, into which I was introduced, after having been examined by the two guards of the establishment. The boldest of the condemned, however hardened, have confessed, that it is impossible to express the emotions of horror, excited by the first appearance of this abode of wretchedness. Every room contains twenty night camp couches, called bancs (benches,) on which lie six hundred fettered