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Chapter 97

He writes against the Minister, by whose Instigation he is arrested, and moves himself by habeas corpus into the Fleet.

My lady having prolonged her stay beyond the period of a common visit, and repeated her protestations in the most frank and obliging manner, took her leave of our adventurer, who promised to pay his respects to her in a few days at her own house. Meanwhile, he resumed his task; and having finished a most severe remonstrance against Sir Steady, not only with regard to his private ingratitude, but also to his maladministration of public affairs, he sent it to the author of a weekly paper, who had been long a professed reformer in politics, and it appeared in a very few days, with a note of the publisher, desiring the favour of further correspondence with the author.

The animadversions contained in this small essay were so spirited and judicious, and a great many new lights thrown upon the subject with such perspicuity, as attracted the notice of the public in an extraordinary manner, and helped to raise the character of the paper in which it was inserted. The minister was not the last who examined the performance, which, in spite of all his boasted temper, provoked him to such a degree, that he set his emissaries at work, and by dint of corruption, procured a sight of the manuscript in Peregrine’s own handwriting, which he immediately recognised; but, for further confirmation of his opinion, he compared it with the two letters which he had received from our adventurer. Had he known the young gentleman’s talents for declamation were so acute, perhaps he would never have given him cause to complain, but employed him in the vindication of his own measures; nay, he might still have treated him like some other authors whom he had brought over from the opposition, had not the keenness of this first assault incensed him to a desire of revenge. He, therefore, no sooner made this discovery, than he conveyed his directions to his dependent, the receiver-general, who was possessed of Pickle’s notes. Next day, while our author stood within a circle of his acquaintance, at a certain coffee-house, holding forth with great eloquence upon the diseases of the state, he was accosted by a bailiff, who, entering the room with five or six followers, told him aloud that he had a writ against him for twelve hundred pounds, at the suit of Mr. Ravage Gleanum.

The whole company were astonished at this address, which did not fail to discompose the defendant himself, who, as it were instinctively, in the midst of his confusion, saluted the officer across the head with his cane; in consequence of which application, he was surrounded and disarmed in an instant by the gang, who carried him off to the next tavern in the most opprobrious manner. Nor did one of the spectators interpose in his behalf, or visit him in his confinement with the least tender of advice or assistance; such is the zeal of coffee-house friendship. This stroke was the more severe upon our hero, as it was altogether unexpected; for he had utterly forgot the debt for which he was arrested. His present indignation was, however, chiefly kindled against the bailiff, who had done his office in such a disrespectful manner; and the first use he made of his recollection in the house to which they conducted him, was to chastise him for the insolence and indecency of his behaviour. This task he performed with his bare fists, every other weapon being previously conveyed out of his reach; and the delinquent underwent his discipline with surprising patience and resignation, asking pardon with great humility, and protesting before God, that he had never willingly and wittingly used any gentleman with ill manners, but had been commanded to arrest our adventurer according to the express direction of the creditor, on pain of forfeiting his place.

By this declaration Peregrine was appeased, and, out of a delirium of passion, waked to all the horrors of reflection. All the glory of his youth was now eclipsed, all the blossoms of his hope were blasted, and he saw himself doomed to the miseries of a jail, without the least prospect of enlargement, except in the issue of his lawsuit, of which he had, for some time past, grown less and less confident every day. What would become of the unfortunate, if the constitution of the mind did not permit them to bring one passion into the field against another? passions that operate in the human breast, like poisons of a different nature, extinguishing each other’s effect. Our hero’s grief reigned in full despotism, until it was deposed by revenge, during the predominancy of which he considered everything which had happened as a circumstance conducive to its gratification. “If I must be prisoner for life,” said he to himself, “if I must relinquish all my gay expectations, let me at least have the satisfaction of clanking my chains so as to interrupt the repose of my adversary; and let me search in my own breast for that peace and contentment, which I have not been able to find in all the scenes of my success. In being detached from the world, I shall be delivered from folly and ingratitude, as well as exempted from an expense, which I should have found it very difficult, if not impracticable, to support; I shall have little or no temptation to misspend my time, and more undisturbed opportunity to earn my subsistence, and prosecute revenge. After all, a jail is the best tub to which a cynic philosopher can retire.”

In consequence of these comfortable reflections, he sent a letter to Mr. Crabtree, with an account of his misfortune, signifying his resolution to move himself immediately into the Fleet, and desiring that he would send him some understanding attorney of his acquaintance, who would direct him into the steps necessary to be taken for that purpose. The misanthrope, upon the receipt of this intimation, sent in person to a lawyer, whom he accompanied to the spunging-house whither the prisoner had by this time retired. Peregrine was, under the auspices of his director, conducted to the judges’ chamber, where he was left in the custody of a tipstaff; and, after having paid for a warrant of habeas corpus, by him conveyed to the Fleet, and delivered to the care of the warden.

Here he was introduced to the lodge, in which he was obliged to expose himself a full half-hour to the eyes of all the turnkeys and door-keepers, who took an accurate survey of his person, that they might know him again at first sight; and then he was turned loose into the place called the master’s side, having given a valuable consideration for that privilege. This is a large range of building, containing some hundreds of lodging-rooms for the convenience of the prisoners, who pay so much per week for that accommodation. In short, this community is like a city detached from all communication with the neighbouring parts, regulated by its own laws, and furnished with peculiar conveniences for the use of the inhabitants. There is a coffee-house for the resort of gentlemen, in which all sorts of liquors are kept, and a public kitchen, where any quantity of meat is sold at a very reasonable rate, or any kind of provision boiled and roasted gratis, for the poor prisoners. Nay, there are certain servants of the public, who are obliged to go to market, at the pleasure of individuals, without fee or reward from those who employ them. Nor are they cooped up, so as to be excluded from the benefit of fresh air, there being an open area, of a considerable extent, adjacent to the building, on which they may exercise themselves in walking, skittles, bowls, and a variety of other diversions, according to the inclination of each.

Our adventurer being admitted a denizen of this community, found himself bewildered in the midst of strangers, who, by their appearance, did not at all prepossess him in their favour; and, after having strolled about the place with his friend Cadwallader, repaired to the coffee-house, in order to be further informed of the peculiar customs which it was necessary for him to know. There, while he endeavoured to pick up intelligence from the bar-keeper, he was accosted by a person in canonicals, who very civilly asked if he was a new-comer. Being answered in the affirmative, he gave him the salutation of welcome to the society, and, with great hospitality, undertook to initiate him in the constitutions of the brotherhood. This humane clergyman gave him to understand, that his first care ought to be that of securing a lodging; telling him there was a certain number of apartments in the prison let at the same price, though some were more commodious than others; and that when the better sort became vacant, by the removal of their possessors, those who succeeded in point of seniority had the privilege of occupying the empty tenements preferable to the rest of the inhabitants, howsoever respectable they might otherwise be. That, when the jail was very much crowded, there was but one chamber allotted for two lodgers; but this was not considered as any great hardship on the prisoners; because, in that case, there was always a sufficient number of males, who willingly admitted the females to a share in their apartments and beds. Not but the time had been, when this expedient would not answer the occasion; because, after a couple had been quartered in every room, there was a considerable residue still unprovided with lodging; so that, for the time being, the last-comers were obliged to take up their habitation in Mount Scoundrel, an apartment most miserably furnished, in which they lay promiscuously, amidst filth and vermin, until they could be better accommodated in due course of rotation.

Peregrine, hearing the description of this place, began to be very impatient about his night’s lodging; and the parson, perceiving his anxiety, conducted him, without loss of time, to the warden, who forthwith put him in possession of a paltry chamber, for which he agreed to pay half a crown a week. This point being settled, his director gave him an account of the different methods of eating, either singly, in a mess, or at an ordinary, and advised him to choose the last, as the most reputable, offering to introduce him next day to the best company in the Fleet, who always dined together in public.

Pickle having thanked this gentleman for his civilities, and promised to be governed by his advice, invited him to pass the evening at his apartment; and, in the meantime, shut himself up with Crabtree, in order to deliberate upon the wreck of his affairs. Of all his ample fortune nothing now remained but his wardrobe, which was not very sumptuous, about thirty guineas in cash, and the garrison, which the misanthrope counselled him to convert into ready money for his present subsistence. This advice, however, he absolutely rejected, not only on account of his having already bestowed it upon Hatchway during the term of his natural life, but also with a view of retaining some memorial of the commodore’s generosity. He proposed, therefore, to finish in this retreat the translation which he had undertaken, and earn his future subsistence by labour of the same kind. He desired Cadwallader to take charge of his movables, and send to him such linen and clothes as he should have occasion for in his confinement. But, among all his difficulties, nothing embarrassed him so much as his faithful Pipes, whom he could no longer entertain in his service. He knew Tom had made shift to pick up a competency in the course of his ministration; but that reflection, though it in some measure alleviated, could not wholly prevent the mortification he should suffer in parting with an affectionate adherent, who was by this time become as necessary to him as one of his own members, and who was so accustomed to live under his command and protection, that he did not believe the fellow could reconcile himself to any other way of life.

Crabtree, in order to make him easy on that score, offered to adopt him in the room of his own valet, whom he would dismiss; though he observed, that Pipes had been quite spoiled in our hero’s service. But Peregrine did not choose to lay his friend under that inconvenience, knowing that his present lacquey understood and complied with all the peculiarities of his humour, which Pipes would never be able to study or regard; he therefore determined to send him back to his shipmate Hatchway, with whom he had spent the fore part of his life. These points being adjusted, the two friends adjourned to the coffee-house, with a view of inquiring into the character of the clergyman to whose beneficence our adventurer was so much indebted. They learned he was a person who had incurred the displeasure of the bishop in whose diocese he was settled, and, being unequal in power to his antagonist, had been driven to the Fleet, in consequence of his obstinate opposition; though he still found means to enjoy a pretty considerable income, by certain irregular practices in the way of his function, which income was chiefly consumed in acts of humanity to his fellow-creatures in distress.

His eulogium was scarce finished, when he entered the room, according to appointment with Peregrine, who ordering wine and something for supper to be carried to his apartment, the triumvirate went thither; and Cadwallader taking his leave for the night, the two fellow-prisoners passed the evening very sociably, our hero being entertained by his new companion with a private history of the place, some particulars of which were extremely curious. He told him, that the person who attended them at supper, bowing with the most abject servility, and worshipping them every time he opened his mouth, with the epithets of your lordship and your honour, had, a few years before, been actually a captain in the guards; who, after having run his career in the great world, had threaded every station in their community, from that of a buck of the first order, who swaggers about the Fleet in a laced coat, with a footman and w —, to the degree of a tapster, in which he was now happily settled. “If you will take the trouble of going into the cook’s kitchen,” said he, “you will perceive a beau metamorphosed into a turnspit; and there are some hewers of wood and drawers of water in this microcosm who have had forests and fishponds of their own. Yet, notwithstanding such a miserable reverse of fortune, they are neither objects of regard nor compassion, because their misfortunes are the fruits of the most vicious extravagance, and they are absolutely insensible of the misery which is their lot. Those of our fellow-sufferers, who have been reduced by undeserved losses, or the precipitation of inexperienced youth, never fail to meet with the most brotherly assistance, provided they behave with decorum, and a due sense of their unhappy circumstances. Nor are we destitute of power to chastise the licentious, who refuse to comply with the regulations of the place, and disturb the peace of the community with riot and disorder. justice is here impartially administered by a court of equity, consisting of a select number of the most respectable inhabitants, who punish all offenders with equal judgment and resolution, after they have been fairly convicted of the crimes laid to their charge.”

The clergyman having thus explained the economy of the place, as well as the cause of his own confinement, began to discover signs of curiosity touching our hero’s situation; and Pickle, thinking he could do no less for the satisfaction of a man who had treated him in such a hospitable manner, favoured him with a detail of the circumstances which produced his imprisonment; at the same time gratifying his resentment against the minister, which delighted in recapitulating the injuries he had received. The parson, who had been prepossessed in favour of our youth at first sight, understanding what a considerable part he had acted on the stage of life, felt his veneration increase; and, pleased with the opportunity of introducing a stranger of his consequence to the club, left him to his repose, or rather to ruminate on an event which he had not as yet seriously considered.

I might here, in imitation of some celebrated writers, furnish out a page or two, with the reflections he made upon the instability of human affairs, the treachery of the world, and the temerity of youth; and endeavour to decoy the reader into a smile, by some quaint observation of my own, touching the sagacious moraliser: but, besides that I look upon this practice as an impertinent anticipation of the peruser’s thoughts, I have too much matter of importance upon my hands, to give the reader the least reason to believe that I am driven to such paltry shifts, in order to eke out the volume. Suffice it then to say, our adventurer passed a very uneasy night, not only from the thorny suggestions of his mind, but likewise from the anguish of his body, which suffered from the hardness of his couch, as well as from the natural inhabitants thereof, that did not tamely suffer his intrusion. In the morning he was waked by Pipes, who brought upon his shoulder a portmanteau filled with necessaries, according to the direction of Cadwallader; and, tossing it down upon the floor, regaled himself with a quid, without the least manifestation of concern. After some pause, “You see, Pipes,” said his master, “to what I have brought myself.” “Ey, ey,” answered the valet, “once the vessel is ashore, what signifies talking? We must bear a hand to tow her off, if we can. If she won’t budge for all the anchors and capstans aboard, after we have lightened her, by cutting away her masts, and heaving our guns and cargo overboard, why then, mayhap a brisk gale of wind, a tide, or current setting from shore, may float her again in the blast of a whistle. Here is two hundred and ten guineas by the tale in this here canvas bag; and upon this scrap of paper — no, avast — that’s my discharge from the parish for Moll Trundle — ey, here it is — an order for thirty pounds upon the what-d’ye-call-’em in the city; and two tickets for twenty-five and eighteen, which I lent, d’ye see, to Sam Studding to buy a cargo of rum, when he hoisted the sign of the commodore at St. Catherine’s.” So saying, he spread his whole stock upon the table for the acceptance of Peregrine; who, being very much affected with this fresh instance of his attachment, expressed his satisfaction at seeing he had been such a good economist, and paid his wages up to that very day. He thanked him for his faithful services, and, observing that he himself was no longer in a condition to maintain a domestic, advised him to retire to the garrison, where he would be kindly received by his friend Hatchway, to whom he would recommend him in the strongest terms.

Pipes looked blank at this unexpected intimation, to which he replied, that he wanted neither pay nor provision, but only to be employed as a tender; and that he would not steer his course for the garrison, unless his master would first take his lumber aboard. Pickle, however, peremptorily refused to touch a farthing of the money............

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