Page images
PDF
EPUB

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 “ Alexancier 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 flat.

“ 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 immediately 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, hav. 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 works ing-jeweller, to whom he would immediately despatch a messenger. 1 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 the king had his poet, and also his fool ;
But the times are so altered, I'd have you to know it,

That Cibber will serve both for fool and for poet!" Cibber seems so little to have minded this, and the rest of Pope's satire on him in the Dunciad, that he wrote another epigram nearly as pungent on himself! We give the following stanzas as a specimen of it.

“When Bayes thou play'st, thyself thou art ;

For that by nature fit,
No blockhead better suits the part,

Than such a coxcomb wit.
In Wronghead, too, thy brains we see

Who might do well at plough ;
As fit for Parliament was he,

As for the laurel thou."

flection, I said, Well, Mr. Bilger, I have an appointment at the Cannon coffee house, 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 him. 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

[graphic]

gloves, being anxious to quit the shop while I was well; but Mr. Bilger, who scemed delighted with the prospect of my custom, begged so earnestly that I would allow him to show me his brilliant assortment of gold watches, that I could not refuse to gratify bim, though I certainly incurred a great risk by my compliance. I therefore answered, — Really, Mr. Bilger, I am loath to give you that unnecessary trouble, as I have, you may perceive, a very good watch already, in point of performance ; though it cost me a mere trifle, only twenty guineas; but it answers my purpose as well as a more valuable one. However, as I may probably, before long, want an elegant watch for a lady, I dont care if I just run my eye over them.' Mr. Bilger replied, that the greater part of his stock were fancy watches, adapted for ladies, and he defied all London united, to exhibit a finer collection. He then took from his window a show-glass, containing about thirty most beautiful watches, some ornamented with pearls or diamonds, others elegantly enamelled, or chased in the most delicate style. They were of various prices, from thirty to one hundred guineas, and the old gentleman, rubbing his hands with an air of rapture, exclaimed, — There they are, sir,--a most fashionable assortment of goods ; allow me to recommend them; they're all a-going, sir-all a-going.' I smiled inwardly at the latter part of this speech, and thought to myself,

— I wish they were going, with all my heart, along with the diamond rings.' I answered, they were certainly very handsome, but I would defer a minute inspection of them till my next visit, when I should have more time to spare. These watches were ranged in exact order, in five parallel lines, and between each watch was placed a gold seal or other trinket appertaining to a lady's watch. It was no easy matter, therefore, to take away a single article without its being instantly missed, unless the economy of the whole had been previously deranged. I contrived, however, to displace a few of the trinkets, on pretence of admiring them, and ventured to secrete one very rich gold seal, marked six guineas. I then declared I could stay no longer, as I had appointed to meet a party at the theatre ; but that I would certainly call again in a few days, and lay out some money in return for the trouble I had given. Mr. Bilger expressed his thanks in the most respectful terms, and waited upon me to the door, where he took leave of me with a low congé, à la mode de France, of which country he was a native. I now put the best foot foremost, and having gained a remote street, turned my head, and perceived Bromley at my heels, who seized my hand, congratulating me on my success, and complimenting me on the address I had shown in this exploit; for he had witnessed all that passed, and knew that I had succeeded in my object, by the manner in which I quitted the shop. He informed me that Mr. Bilger had returned to his counter, and without attending to the arrangement of the articles thereon, had joined his son, who was still waiting upon the lady, and that he, Bromley, had finally left them both engaged with her.”

Who can fail to perceive, in the above narrative, the satisfaction of the author in displaying his adroitness ? His vanity seems to be as much gratified, as if he had been relating some performance meriting approbation. The feeling of shame is altogether alien to him. And thus, by Vidocq's account, it always is with thieves, they glorying as much in detailing their successful exploits, as if no ignominy could attach to them. Amongst his confederates too, and all of the same class, his reputation is proportionate to his daring and skill. Of this, take the following instance related by Vidocq.

" The incredible effrontery of Beaumont, almost surpasses belief. Escaped from the Bagne at Rochefort, where he was sentenced to pass twelve years of his life, he came to Paris, and scarcely had he arrived there, where he had alreadly practised, when, by way of getting his band in, he committed several triAing robberies, and when, by these preliminary steps, he had proceeded to ex. ploits more worthy of his ancient renown, he conceived the project of stealing

a treasure. No one will imagine that this was in the Central Office, now the Prefecture of Police!! It was already pretty difficult to procure impressions of the keys, but he achieved the first difficulty, and soon had in his possession all the means of effecting an opening; but to open was nothing ; it was necessary to open without being perceived, to introduce himself without fear of being disturbed, to work without witnesses, and go out again freely. Beaumont,

who had calculated all the difficulties that opposed him, was not dismayed. He had remarked that the private room of the chief officer, M. Henry, was nigh to the spot where he proposed to effect his entrance; he espied the propitious moment, and wished sincerely that some circumstance would call away so dangerous a neighbour for some time, and chance was subservient to his wishes. One morning, M. Henry was obliged to go out. Beaumont, sure that he would not return that day, ran to his house, put on a black coat, and in that costume, which, in those days, always announced a magistrate, or public functionary, presents himself at the entrance of the Central Office. The officer to whom he addressed himself, supposed of course that he was at least a commissary. On the invitation of Beaumont, he gave him a soldier, whom he placed as sentinel at the entrance to the narrow passage which leads to the depôt, and commanded not to allow any person to pass. No better expedient could be found for preventing surprise. Thus Beaumont, in the midst of a crowd of valuable objects, could, at his leisure, and in perfect security, choose what best pleased him; watches, jewels, diamonds, precious stones, &c. He chose those which he deemed most valuable, most portable, and as soon as he had made his selection, he dismissed the sentinel and disappeared.

“This robbery could not be long concealed, and the following day was discovered. Had thunder fallen on the police, they would have been less astonished than at this event. To penetrate to the very sanctuary! The holy of holies! The fact appeared so very extraordinary, that it was doubted. Yet it was evident that a robbery had taken place, and to whom was it to be attributed ? All the suspicions fell on the clerks, sometimes on one, sometimes on another, when Beaumont, betrayed by a friend, was apprehended, and sentenced second time. The robbery he had committed might be estimated at some hundred thousand francs, the greater part of which were found on him.

“ Beaumont enjoyed amongst his confraternity a colossal reputation; and even now, when a rogue boasts of his lofty exploits, Hold your

tongue,' they say, 'you are not worthy to untie the shoc-strings of Beaumont !' In effect, to bave robbed the police was the height of address.”

We now proceed to make the reader acquainted with the habits and exertions of police officers, who perform exploits equal in craft and danger to those of thieves. In order to detect the latter, they often resort to the vilest places, and associate with the vilest of mankind; assume various characters and occupations; and sometimes, perhaps,-stimulated by the hope of reward,- lead others to commit crimes in order to entrap them. Vidocq, however, professes in every case to have acted without any desire to entice. He says that he himself never proposed any scheme of robbery ; but took care to concur in such as were proposed by others. This declaration must, we suppose, be received with some qualification, as without an occasional suggestion, he would probably have been suspected in his designs. Be that as it may, he was eminently successful in securing villains; for having practised villainy himself, he knew their ways and devices, thus verifying the propriety of the maxim,-"Set a thief to catch a thief. Some of the convicts at Botany Bay make the best police-officers. Of this we have an instance in VOL. IX.-NO 17.

17

Barrington, the famous London pick-pocket, who rendered such essential services to the colony, that in his old age he was pensioned by the government. By what means Vidocq, after all his devotion, came to lose his office, he has not mentioned; an omission rather singular, which lays his character open to suspicion, especially as he has given the circumstances that first led him to offer himself to the police. These circumstances it may be proper to glance at, as they exhibit a view of the dangers attendant on a lawless course of life.

“ At this period, it seemed as if the whole world was leagued against me ; I was compelled to draw my purse-strings at every moment, and for whom? For creatures who, looking on my liberality as compulsory, were prepared to betray me as soon as I ceased to be a certain source of reliance. When I went home from my wife's, I had still another proof of the wretchedness affixed to the state of a fugitive galley-slave. Annette and my mother were in tears. During my absence, two drunken men had asked for me, and on being told that I was from home, they had broke forth in oaths and threats, which left me no longer in doubt of the perfidy of their intentions. By the description which Annette gave me of these two individuals, I easily recognised Blondy, and his comrade, Deluc. I had no trouble in guessing their names; and besides, they had left an address, with a formal injunction to send them forty francs, which was more than enough to disclose to me who they were, as there were not in Paris any other persons who could send me such an intimation. I was obedient, very obedient; only in paying my contribution to these two scoundrels, I could not help letting them know how inconsiderately they had behaved. Consider what a step you have taken,' said I to them ; 'they know nothing at my house, and you have told them all. My wife, who carries on the concern in her name, will perhaps turn me out, and then I must be reduced to the lowest ebb of misery::'Oh! you can come and rob with us,' answered the two rascals. I endeavoured to convince them, how much better it was to owe an existence to honest toil, than to be in incessant fears from the police, which, sooner or later, catches all malefactors in its nets. I added, that one crime generally leads to another ; that he would risk his neck who ran straight towards the guillotine ; and the termination of my discourse was, that they would do well to renounce the dangerous career on which they had entered. Not so bad!' cried Blondy, when I had fin. ished my lecture, 'not so bad.' 'But can you, in the mean time, point out to us any apartment that we can ransack? We are, you see, like Harlequin, and have more need of cash than advice ;' and they left me, laughing deridingly at me. I called them back, to profess my attachment to them, and begged them not to call again at my house. If that is all,' said Deluc, we will keep from that.' — Oh yes, we'll keep away,' added Blondy, since that is unpleasant to your mistress. But the latter did not stay away long : the very next day, at night-fall, he presented himself at my ware-house, and asked to speak to me privately. I took him into my own room. “We are alone ? said he to me, looking round at the room in which we were; and when he was assured that he had no witnesses, he drew from his pocket eleven silver forks, and two gold watches, which he placed on a stand. Four hundred francs for this would not be too much-the silver plate and the gold watches.-Come, tip us the needful.'· Four hundred francs !' said I, alarmed at so abrupt a total,- I have not so much money.'-'Never mind ; go and sell the goods.'-'But if it should be known!'—'That's your affair ; I want the ready; or if you like it better, I'll send you customers from the police-office ;-you know what a word would do ; --come, come,-the cash, the chink, and no gammon.' I understood the scoundrel but too well : I saw myself denounced, dragged from the state in which I had installed myself, and led back to the Bagne. I counted out the four hundred francs.”

Considering the danger in which Vidocq was placed, his offer

« PreviousContinue »