Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

his head as he talks, so as to remove this latter feature from the comfortable cushion of cross-barred muslin in which it reposes, you perceive that all the lower portion of his visage denies itself to the visits of the razor. His hat (which is the newest article of his wardrobe) is worked into the smartest of cocks, and stuck half off the left side of his face, so as to shew some short locks of dark curly hair-nearly all that he has left, if the secret concealed beneath his hat were known. His coat is of bottle-green, single breasted, and cut so short in the skirt as to hover on the limits of a jacket. You may see, too, by the worn condition of the pockets, that if his arms were not occupied with those of his companions, there would be a hand stuck in each. His waistcoat is not visible, and I would not swear that he has one on-his laundress having been entrusted with his smartest (to say nothing of its being his only one) in anticipation of the friend who has promised to “ take a chop" with bim to-morrow, and of whom he proposes to borrow the sum of two pounds ten shillings, more or less. Au reste, he is en deshabilie, his srowsers being of a faded nankeen, not a liule the worse at once for washing and for the want of it; and his slippers of drab leather to match in both respects. Of the companions of this noticeable person I need not speak particularly; for a toad-eater (which contrives to fourish even here, where a toad itself would die of starvation) is the same sneaking-looking animal, whether you meet with it in a palace or a jail.

Yonder little withered Frenchman, who is standing still for a moment, and looking on the ground, as is a thought had just struck him, (as the phrase is,) affords a good contrast to the well-conditioned and well-fed comeliness of the person just described. Poverty seems to have chosen him for her board-and-bed-fellow, but time has knit their acquaintance so long and so closely together, that he seems in some sort grown fond of her; and it is her discipline, not that of “ sharp misery,' which has “worn him to the bone." At any rate, there is a happy twinkle in his eye, and a self-possessed repose in his air, which indicate any thing but active discontent; and if he can but succeed in getting the allotted sixpence a day from his creditors, he 'll be a made man. If his politics may be judged of by his costume, it belongs to the most ancien” of “regimes." His coat is of once-black cloth, every separate thread of which is as bare as the wearer's bones, and as brown as bis skin. It is buttoned close up at the throat by a single button, and from thence descends loosely to the heels, concealing every thing that is not beneath it; except when he walks stoopingly along, with his hands crossed behind him, in which case it flies open on either side, and discovers the remains of a pair of flannel pantaloons, which seem to be the better rather than the worse for wear, inasmuch as they have grown twice too large for the wearer. His hose are of white-worsted worn black, and his shoes (which are shoes and slippers in one) of black leather worn white.

One would suppose that the inmates of this place were collected together for the express purpose of affording contrasts to each other. Who would imagine that the gentle little creature I have just described is formed of the same flesh and blood as yonder big-boned, blustering bully; the terror and torment of the prison. I should think he must be, to all but the few who can read “ coward” in his eye ? Jocky boots, with painted tops, corduroys, and a thick Witney coat, are all that is visible of his dress, except a yellow and red Belcher round his neck, and a whitybrown radical on bis head, the edges of which are worn down to the brown-paper foundation, and the form altogether indefinite. He has just lost a pot of porter to that little knowing-looking kiddy-one of the “light-weights” of the ring--and is doing his best to bluster out of the bet." But the little one seems to know him better than the bystanders, and looks as if he was on the point of insinuating that he 'll “have it out of his bones," if he won't pay in any other way; and this argumentum baculinum is, for him, the only one that carries any persuasion with it.

What is that still young, but faded and haggard-looking person, who passes by the above noisy wranglers, without seeming to know that they are there? His slim, but well-turned form, the cut of his shabby-genteel attire, and the air of his head, bespeak something above the bour. geois, but below the man of blood and breeding ; and there is a sort of undecided character about his face, which seems to indicate that he has been all his life hovering, as it were, between two classes of society, without feeling sure to which he belonged, and therefore not being satisfied to belong to either. This, I fear, has been his bane.

He is evidently married, too. It is written in the lines of his brow, and about the descending corners of his mouth. And his wife, like himself

, bas contrived to lift berself out of the class in which she was born, without attaining to any other; and (to pursue my conjectures as far as in reason I may) it is the necessity of keeping up a certain appear. ance,” which is entailed by this mischievously fastidious refinement in the tastes of this couple, that has at last lost him his situation in a public office, and brought them here. What is to become of them dow, is more than he seems to dare think upon, and more than I dare trust myself to conjecture, unless I would end this epistle in a strain very different from that of its beginning.

But the truth is, I must cease-my separate sketches altogether, and finish by a general glance, or I see no end to it at all. Let me observe, then, in regard to the prevalent costumes of this place, first, that the inmates indulge in every conceivable variety, with the exception of those which are worn out of doors. Perhaps the Bench does not contain a single person who, if he were by any accident to be seen outside, would not immediately be recognised as a bencher, by every little boy in the neighbourhood.

In the next place, you may almost infallibly determine the length of a prisoner's confinement from the look of his clothes. You will observe, in exactly the same class of persons, a regular gradation of shabbiness, from that of a nionth upwards : I say upwards, rather than downwards, because I suppose prisoners rise in the scale of their companions' estimation in proportion to the length of time they remain here. A new man, that smells of the fresh air, is almost as unpalatable to them, by comparison with themselves, as a free one that may walk out and taste it.

With respect to the particular fashions that are most patronised here, frock coats have the decided preference, because they supersede the superfluity of a waistcoat, not to mention the shirt, which is by no

means an indispensable article of prison attire. Next in favour to the frock is the short single-breasted jacket, because this is a form to which (like invalids in the army) any class of coat may be reduced, when it is no longer capable of doing duty in the regular line. Moreover, the jacket has an air about it indicative of riding on horseback, and is therefore worn here somewhat on the same principle on which cockneys wear spurs to their hessians, and carry horsewhips in their hands; namely, precisely because they are not going to ride.

As to the head gear, that is pretty equally divided between the travelling-cap, the white hat, the black hat, and no hat at all ; many preferring the latter fashion, probably on account of the air it gives them of being at home.

It only remains for me to endeavour, if possible, to convey to you a notion of the distinctive and characteristic expression of countenance which prevails almost universally, in the inhabitants of this singular spot; a sort of look which, as it never is and cannot possibly be acquired elsewhere, deserves to be designated as, par excellence, the prison look. And yet this look must be the result of so many contradicting feelings, that I can scarcely hope to make it intelligible to you by a description; and indeed I am by no means sure that I should succeed in making it obvious to you, even if I could point it out to your eyes as an actual appearance. You would, I doubt, be apt to reiterate upon me the words that I remember having once put into your mouth against myself, and tell me that I was, as usual, looking further into the millstone than the actual thickness of the millstone itself. But I have promised to describe to you, not what you or any one else is bound to see in the objects examined, but what they appear to me; and if, in fulfilling this promise, I present more than would otherwise exist for you, why you ought to be so much the more obliged to me. The prison look, then, of which I have spoken above, seems to be made up of the following particulars, all blended together in proportions more or less noticeable, but all present, and all modifying each other, according to their greater or less prevalence : Item, a sinister and selfinvolved cast about the eyes, as if their owner was in the habit of turning them inwards upon himself before he permitted them to judge of other people. Item, a contracted brow, bearing upon it an involuntary half-frown, which is balanced by a not involuntary half-smile, almost perpetually upon the lips. (So true is it that “a man may smile and be a villain,” that in fact he cannot be much of a villain unless he is a perpetual smiler.) Item, an assumed air of easy superiority among equals in station, which is strangely contrasted by a co-existing air of conscious degradation and inferiority. Item, a studied nonchalance of manner before strangers and free men : as if it were not a mark of superiority rather than otherwise, to be able to owe more than one is able to pay !

Leaving you to digest these somewhat contradictory expressions into one homogeneous look, I remain, my dear Frank, your loving cousin,

TERENCE TEMPLETON.

KING HAROLD.

"KING Harold! the Norman is on his way!
I have seen him, my liege, in his battle array-
Full sixty thousand in harness and helm
From Pevensey march o'er thy English realm,
And William the Bastard is leading them on-
King of England make speed, or thy sceptre is gone!
O hasten thy journey by night and by day,
Leave the northerns behind thee and hurry away!"
Thus to Harold a Kentish noble said,
As he bow'd to the monarch bis snow-plumed head,
And sprang from his courser with gory spur,
Of the tidings the weary messenger.

He's from Stamford gone, and city and hold
Pour out his axemen and slingers bold;
His soldiers in brass and steel shine bright,
And his men at arms are a goodly sight;
For their courage is high as an eagle's way
When she soars in the noon of a cloudless day,
And their hearts are link'd like the steel they wear,
And their honour is pure as their swords' blue glare.
They have enter'd Kent, where the wooded vales
Echo trampling steeds and wild clarion peals ;
And their ardours increase as the foe draws nighế
“Our England, and Harold, and home" is their cry!
“Our England,” fais realm! they defend thee in vain,
And “ Harold” shall bleed with the weltering slain,
And “home”-the charm it possess'd will be gone,
When the foot of the victor hath trampled it down
The dwelling that stands by the wild-wood tree
No more shall look smiling or shelter the free,
But the law of the curfew, the forest, the strong,
Envemon “sweet home” that enchanted so long.
How damp'd then their ardours, how hopeless their swords,
Had fate but unfolded her dark records!
Up, warriors, in ignorance, and hie to your death,
'Twill be something to sell at the dearest, your breath.

The sun of that morning on ocean is bright,
And the headlands are bathed in its rosy light;
The deep-blue sky in the morning's pearl
Is kissing the billow's snow-white curl ;
And the landscape, like beauty reposing, lies
Enwrapp'd in the robe of its witcheries.
The black ships are drawn on the distant strand,
Where the billows roll gently asleep on the land ;
There is peace over heaven and ocean, the storm
Of ambition alone shall the green land deform;
For the Norman masses, more rude than the shore
Whence they sail'd, have awaken'd the battle's roar.
Now they wind through long valleys and woods, now appear
On the hill-tops, that bristle with helmet and spear,
Then darken and flash in the sunbeams afar,
And eclipse all its crimes by the splendour of war.
Who are they on yon heights, where the standards unfold
To the scant breeze of morn their emblazonings of gold,
On the hill's roomy summit that gather and lour,
A thunderstorm hush'd in its blackness of power ?

They 're the hosts of King Harold-he watches the foe,
And tracks his long march through the valleys below.
There is courage and conduct and might's lofty will,
With England's rich crown to be won on that hill.
Methinks it the Bastard would bear it away,
He must pour the blood of his bravest to-day!
The Norman approaches, the battle is made,
A sepulchred stillness is over the glade-
Slow moves as in death-march, his columns' tread,
Valkyriurs advancing to choose out the dead.
One step—now another—now shouts and uproar,
The clang of the battle, the rush of the gore,
From the red lips of slaughter that gorge their repast,
As imagining mercy decreed it their last-
All rush on the terrified sense like the sound
Of a stifled volcano uplifting the ground.
But the Norman is foild-he advances again-
Again he retires-his valour is vain.
Eve comes !

There was carpage enough on that day,
When the crown of fair England was rifled away;
When the Norman shaft drank up the blood of her king,
And the land rang with shrieks and with sorrowing.
O long till'd was the soil for her foes, and her plaius
Saw her sons bow'd down in the victor's chains;
Yet they broke them at last, and the links when free,
They hurl'd at all tyrants and tyranny !*

SECOND LETTER FROM MR. MARK HIGGINBOTHAM.

Rings, gaudes, conceits, Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats."--SHAKSPEARE. However fastidious, and even morbid, might have been my feelings at the assumption of my present degrading appellation, my mortification was rendered more acute by the apprehension that the fortune which it brought me would be speedily dissipated, and that I should live to bear the brand of my hateful and ridiculous name without retaining any portion of the wealth which could alone reconcile me to its infliction. Had my wife's deceased uncle poured his gold into the pitchers of the Belides, it could not more fluently have leaked away. She has imbibed the unfortunate notion that we must dazzle and outblaze the keen eye of ridicule by our magnificence, and draw down the unlifted finger of scorn by the weight of our purses; as if we could propitiate envy by supplying it with fresh food, or blunt the shafts of malice by incasing ourselves in golden armour. My dear," I exclaimed, “ this is only attempting to smother a fire with gunpowder. Fine trappings do but emblazon deformity, and the sun himself, splendid as he is, cannot prevent mortals from prying into the spots upon his disk. We had inuch better be modest and appropriate, humble ourselves down to our name, pocket our money with the indignity it brings us, and henceforward be .content to dwell in decencies for ever.

“Heavens !” ejaculated my spouse with a horrent look, " to

66

* De Lolme was of opinion that the measures taken by William I. for binding his English subjects were the causes that brought about our free constitution.

« НазадПродовжити »