« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
to have led a more peaceful life, and the success of Robinson Crusoe proved that he need not depend on politics for either fame or pecuniary reward.
De Foe's writing is the perfection of realism. When he tells a story we feel that it is true; we believe it in spite of knowledge to the contrary. In his own time his stories were accepted as fact, and even to this day it is a disputed question whether some of his novels were not drawn from authentic manuscript, or others taken down from the lips of the narrator. The way in which he gives all the little details of the story, the exact dates, the dress of his characters, the minute descriptions, all make it a reality. Who could ever doubt the truth of a word of Robinson Crusoe while reading the story? And the Account of the Great Plague, The Life of Colonel Jack, The Adventures of Captain Singleton, The Appearance of Mrs. Veal's Ghost to one Mrs. Bargrave, are all equally realistic.
He wrote two hundred and ten different works, and at last died poor. He was always rising and falling in fortune, one can hardly tell how or why, and says of himself towards the last :
"No man has tasted different fortunes more;
His style cannot be too much admired in this age of superlatives and exaggerated writing. It is the honest English of every-day life, — simple, direct, and not manysyllabled. And though he wrote on homely matters, and often of vicious men and women, he wrote with good sense and in the interests of morality. His works are accurate as well as realistic, and often are more valuable than history as a picture of the times.
From the great literary men of his time De Foe stands apart. The rest were united by bonds of friendship and interest. Pope, Gay, and Swift were warm friends; Addison and Steele are almost inseparable in our thoughts. It is true that there was once a quarrel and some coldness between Pope and Addison; but they still belonged to the
same set, and were of one brotherhood. They were all, except De Foe, members of the Scriblerus Club; they hobnobbed together at Will's Coffee-house. But De Foe stands aloof, an object of ridicule and dislike. Pope satirized him in the Dunciad; Gay laughed at him; the Scriblerus Club thought very poorly of his writings; and by those men who should have recognized him as their peer and companion, he was underrated and disregarded. For this, as well as for the gratitude we feel to the author of Robinson Crusoe, our hearts warm with sympathy towards De Foe, the author of that immortal book of our childhood.
But De Foe has other heroes, besides Robinson Crusoe, whose fortunes we follow with breathless interest through a whole volume. One of these is Colonel Jack, a poor boy, deserted in infancy by heartless parents, and given over to a nurse, at whose death he is thrown helpless and alone on the streets of London. Without a roof over his head, he lives as he can, and thinks himself happy when, on a winter's night, he finds lodging in the warm ashes and cinders of a glass manufactory, where he finds a crowd of boys as wretched as himself, who come there to sleep. Here he meets with an older boy, a young pickpocket, precocious in crime, who undertakes to teach little Jack a trade by which he can live like a prince. There are few stories more touching than that of the poor boy's first beginnings in crime. It reminds me very much of the story of Oliver Twist, and his adventure with the Artful Dodger, in Charles Dickens's novel. But I shall let Jack tell a part of his story in his own words:
COLONEL JACK'S FIRST EXPERIENCE IN CRIME.
Well, upon the persuasions of this lad, I walked out with him, a poor innocent boy, and (as I remember my very thoughts perfectly well) I had no evil in my intentions. I had never stolen anything in my life; and if a goldsmith had left me in his shop with heaps of money strewed all round me, and bade me look after it, I should not have touched it, I was so honest; but the subtle tempter baited his hook for me, as I was a child, in a manner suitable to my childishness, for I never took this picking
of pockets to be dishonesty ; but, as I have said before, I looked on it as a kind of trade that I was to be bred up to, and so I entered upon it till I became hardened in it beyond the power of retreating; and thus I was made a thief involuntarily, and went on a length that few boys do without coming to the common period of that kind of life, I mean to the transport-ship or to the gallows.
"The first day I went abroad with my new instructor, he carried me directly into the city; and as we went first to the water-side, he led me into the long room at the custom-house. We were but a couple of ragged boys at best, but I was much the worse; my leader had a shirt, a hat and a neckcloth; as for me, I had neither of the three, nor had I spoiled my manners so much as to have a hat on my head since my nurse died, which was now some years. His orders to me were to keep always in sight and near him, but not close to him; nor to take any notice of him at any time till he came to me; and if any hurly-burly happened, I should by no means know him, or pretend to have anything to do with him. I observed my orders to a tittle, while he peered into every corner, and had his eye upon everybody. I had my eye directly upon him, but went always at a distance, looking as it were for pins, and picking them up out of the dust as I found them, and then sticking them on my sleeve, where I had at last got forty or fifty good pins; but still my eye was upon my comrade, who, I observed, was very busy among the crowds of people that stood at the board doing business with the officers.
"At length he comes over to me and stooping, as if he would take up a pin close to me, he put something into my hand and said, ‘Put that up, and follow me downstairs quickly;' he did not run, but shuffled along apace through the crowd, and went down, not the great stairs which we came in at, but a little narrow staircase at the other end of the long room. I followed, and he found I did, and so went on, not stopping below as I expected, nor speaking one word to me, till through innumerable narrow passages, alleys, and dark ways, we were got up into Fenchurch Street, and through Billiter Lane into Leadenhall Street, and from thence into Leadenhall Market."
In a quiet place in the market, it not being market-day, the two boys look over the spoil which the elder thief has thus thrust into little Jack's hands. It is a gentleman's lettercase, full of checks and bills, besides many private notes.
Most of the bills are too large for them, but they find one note, the smallest of all, which the elder presents for payment, and gets the money on it. Then they divide the spoil, and Jack gets his share. From that hour trouble begins with the poor little vagabond. He has no place to put his money; his ragged pockets are full of holes, and he has no roof over his head, no box, drawer, or any crevice to hide his gains in.
"Nothing could be more perplexing than this money was to me all that night. I carried it in my hand a good while, for it was in gold, all but fourteen shillings; and that is to say it was in four guineas, and that fourteen shillings was more difficult to carry than four guineas. At last I sat down and pulled off one of my shoes and put the four guineas into that, but after I had gone a while my shoe hurt me so that I could not go on; so I was fain to sit down again and take it out of my shoe and carry it in my hand; then I found a dirty linen rag in the street, and I took that up and wrapped it up together, and carried it in
that a good way. I have often since heard people say when they have been talking of money that they could not get in, 'I wish I had it in a foul clout.' In truth I had mine in a foul clout, for it was foul according to the letter of that saying; but it served me till I came to a convenient place, and then I sat down and washed the cloth in the kennel, and so then put my money in again. Well, I carried it home with me to my lodg ing in the glass house, and when I went to go to sleep I knew not what to do with it. If I had let any of the black crew I was with know of it, I should have been smothered in the ashes for it, or robbed of it, or some trick or other put upon me for it; so I knew not what to do, but lay with it in my hand, and my hand in my bosom, but then sleep went from my eyes. Oh, the weight of human care! I, a poor beggar boy could not sleep as soon as I had but a little money to keep, who before that, could have slept upon a heap of brick-bats, stones, or cinders or anywhere, as sound as a rich man does on his down bed, and sounder too.
"Every now and then, dropping asleep, I would dream that my money was lost, and start like one frighted; then, finding it fast in my hand, try to go to sleep again, but could not for a long while; then start and drop again. At last a fancy came into my head that if I fell asleep I should dream of the money and talk of it in my sleep, and tell that I had money; which if
I should do and one of the rogues should hear me, they would pick it out of my bosom, and out of my hand without waking me; and after that thought I could not sleep a wink more; so that I passed that night over in care and anxiety enough, and this, I may safely say, was the first night's rest that I lost by the cares of this life and the deceitfulness of riches.
"As soon as it was day, I got out of the hole we lay in, and rambled abroad in the fields towards Stepney, and there I mused and considered what I should do with this money, and many a time I wished I had not had it; for after all my ruminating upon it, and what course I should take with it, or where I should put it, I could not hit upon any one thing, or any possible method to secure it, and it perplexed me so that at last, as I said just now, I sat down and cried heartily.
"When my crying was over, the case was the same. I had the money still, and what to do with it I could not tell. At last it came into my head that I would look out for some hole in a tree, and see to hide it there till I should have occasion for it. Big with this discovery, as I then thought it, I began to look for a tree; but there were no trees in the fields about Stepney or Mile-End that looked fit for my purpose; and if there were any that I began to look narrowly at, the fields were so full of people that they would see if I went to hide anything there, and I thought the people eyed me, as it were, and that two men in particular followed me to see what I intended to do.
"This drove me further off, and I crossed the road at MileEnd, and in the middle of the town went down a lane that goes away to the Blind Beggar's in Bethnal Green; when I came a little way in the lane, I found a foot-path over the fields, and in those fields several trees for my turn, as I thought; at last one tree had a little hole in it, pretty high out of my reach, and I climbed up the tree to get it, and when I came there, I put my hand in, and found, as I thought, a place very fit. So I placed my treasure there and was mightily well satisfied with it; but, behold, putting my hand in to lay it more commodiously, as I thought, of a sudden it slipped away from me, and I found the tree was hollow, and my little parcel was fallen in quite out of my reach, and how far it might go in I knew not, so that in a word my money was quite gone, irrevocably lost; there could be no room as much as to hope ever to get it again, for it was a vast, great tree.
"As young as I was, I was now sensible what a fool I was before, that I could not think of ways to keep my money, but I must come thus far to throw it into a hole where I could not