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By Geoffrey Oldcastle, Gent.
“ AT THAT TRIUBUNAL STANDS THE WRITING TRIBE,
GEOFFREY OLDCASTLE TO HIS READERS, ACQUAINTING THEM WITH HIS BIRTH, PARENTAGE, EDUCATION, AND MANY OTHER URIO PARTICULARS.
My father was a tinker. I shall be sixty-two next birthday
Now pr’ythee, gentle reader, do not curl your lip in scorn, nor elevate your brow with supercilious surprise.
My father was a tinker. -But he was as honest a man as ever came from the hands of his Creator. By honest, I do not merely mean that he kept the eighth commandment.
You shall know what my father was, and then you may judge for yourself whether my apostate cheek ought meanly to redden at his name, because he was a tinker.
Jeremiah Oldcastle, of Fiskerton-upon-Trent, in the county of Nottingham, tinker, from the day he ate his last meal at the table of a kind uncle, who had brought up his brother's orphan boy as his own, never, I firmly believe, broke the bread which he had not first worked and paid for. I as firmly believe, he would have been choked with a piece no bigger than a hazel nut, cut from a parish loaf, or picked from the charitable fragments of a rich man's waste, dispensed by the bounty of his liveried almoner.
Geoffrey, my boy”—(I once asked him why I was called Geoffrey, but he only sighed, and boxed my ears,) “ Geoffrey, my boy,” he would say, member this through life--the man who earns his dinner before he eats it, will always sit down with an appetite: and what is better, he will never want a dinner to sit down to.”
It wrings my heart to think how little I profited by this excellent counsel. All my life I have been a lover of idleness, yet, all my life have I heen forced to toil : and notwithstanding my revered father's precept, the dinners I have most enjoyed, and eaten with an “ appetite keen as a wolf on the void plains of the north,” have been those for which I neither worked nor paid. Jeremiah had another peculiarity. He abhorred a lie. How he a cquired
this virtue I could never entirely make out to my satisfaction. The study of ethics had nothing to do with it; for though he put me to school, it was from no hereditary feeling of its utility, as I have reason to believe I was the first of our family who arrived at that distinction. But so it is. Many a caitiff spirit lurks beneath embroidery, and many a noble one has no better covering than a leathern jerkin. Your learned philosopher, skilled in subtle distinctions, expounds the virtues he practises, and because he can do so, is sometimes apt to magnify their quality; while your untutored follower of goodness, has no other concern about it than he has for the ripe cherry which he eats, because the flavor is pleasant; but wherefore it is pleasant he knows not; neither hath it ever entered his head to inquire.
Had Jeremiah been asked why he abhorred a lie, it is ten to one he would have been posed for a reason; for Jeremiah knew nothing of etiology. But I think I can see the rough honesty that would have sparkled in his eye and tinged his cheek, at a question which the throbbing particle of divinity within him would have told him as little needed an answer, as if he had been asked why he walked upon his legs instead of his head.
My father was a poor man, in the sense of worldly riches ; but a rich man in every other sense; for he ever had a few shillings more than he knew how to spend. And strange to say, instead of devising means to get rid of this surplus wealth, which is what most of us do in like circumstances, lengthening our wants as fast as we lengthen our purses, he, when he met with one poorer than himself, always had a shilling to slip into his hand, with a surly grumble, (which he never failed to bestow at the same time,) at the hardship of industrious men being forced to part with their earnings in that way to support idleness and extravagance. And then he would carol the first line, (it was all he knew,) of his favorite song,
“ The honest heart whose thoughts are clear,” or shrug his shoulders, and repeat his equally favorite proverb:
It would make one scratch where it doth not itch,
To see men live poor, that they may die rich. Lastly, my father was a brave, and by consequence, a humane, man; for cowardice and cruelty are inseparable; cruelty being the natural revenge of a coward upon the cause of his own fears. Well do I remember, (I was then about twelve years old,) two occasions, in which Jeremiah's bravery and humanity shone forth conspicuously. But it would be a long tale to tell.
Well then-Jeremiah Oldcastle, of Fiskerton upon Trent, in the county of Nottingham, tinker, was too proud to eat the bread of idleness; too honest to owe more than he could pay; too upright to tell a lie; too generous to see a fellow creature want that which he could spare ; too brave to stand by while the strong oppressed the weak; and too humane to be himself the oppressor even of a worm.
Yet, for all this, Jeremiah was hanged !
And now, gentle reader, tell memought my apostate cheek meanly to redden at his name
But what was he hanged for?
Honored be thy ashes, my dear father, where they lie in that humble grave, beside which I stood, and wept tears as sorrowful as ever fell from a son's eyes,
when I heard the crumbling dust descend upon thy coffin, telling my young heart that earth had returned to earth! Honored be thy ashes ! The marble sepulchres of kings hold not the dissolving elements of what was once the dwelling of a purer spirit than thine; and many a man's memory lives in the fame of a fair epitaph, who at the great day of account shall wish he might stand by thy side and be judged, as thou wilt be judged.
I have not the slightest objection to mention what my father was banged for.
He was hanged for want of a three-legged stool. “ That's very extraordinary” you will say.
It was extraordinary; very extraordinary: but very true, nevertheless.
In the back kitchen of our family mansion, about seven feet from the bricks, and two from the rafters, there was a strong oaken beam; strong enough, and long enough, to hang a dozen men. On the evening of the 10th of April, A.D. 1786, just as the sun was sinking behind the village church, and its rays were streaming through the latticed windows of the chancel, bathing, in momentary light, the dull, sombre verdure of an antique yew-tree that grew beneath, my father, in trying to slue a pig that had been killed, across this beam, slew himself
. It was supposed the fatal accident happened by the slipping of the three-legged stool from under his feet, just as he was about to slip the cord, by which the pig lung at his back, over his head on to the beam.' Certain it is, he and the pig were discovered face to face--the pig's as white as milk-his own as black as charcoal-both dead-. and the three-legged stool upset. I have always, therefore, when asked of what my father died, considered myself justified in saying, not only that he was hanged, but that he was hanged for want of a three-legged stool; because, if the three-legged stool had stood firm, there is no manner of doubt my father would. Besides, the verdict of the coroner's jury was given in these very words : “ Found hanging with a pig, by the upsetting of a three-legged stool.”
Again I say-Honored be his ashes! He deserved a better fate than to be hanged for any pig in Christendom.
My readers may think it strange I have said nothing about my mother. I do not know that I ever had a mother. Like a multitude of things, however, respecting which we neither have nor can have any positive know ledge, I could never entertain a reasonable doubt upon the subject. But who she was, my father forgot to tell me; and notwithstanding I constantly saw other boys with mothers, and it might be thought I should naturally wonder why I had not one, it did so happen I forgot to ask him. But heaven bless her! This is a beautiful world; and though it has sometimes used me scurvily enough, I should be an ungrateful varlet if I did not acknowledge the debt I owe her for bringing me into it.
I was fourteen when my father came to his untimely end.
Eight and forty summer suns have since passed over me. Ah me! Upon what a chequered path have they shone ! Now darkened-now brightened—but I, the while, treading cheerily along, because, at the darkest, hope, smiling like an angel of light, beckoned to where she was strewing roses. Oh God! It is thy PERFECTION, that thou canst have no hope; man's, that he can attain unto the end of his. That mysterious future--that to-morrow with its everlasting promise of bringing what to-day has not--that bland deceit, which beguiles us from the cradle to the grave, and there alone beguiles no longer, for the grave, alone, is certain-and beyond it, terrible, if we have beguiled ourselves in journeying thither--what a stagnant mass of fast-dying thoughts, of withering passions, of perishing desires we should be, were there no to-morrow, flowing like a perpetual spring of fresh waters through our hearts, sparkling and bubbling from their living fount! Imagine if you can bring your imagination to the point,-man created as he is in all things, save the power to “ look before and after ”_with the capacity to build up noble purposes, but without the faculty to fling his thoughts abroad, and fix their foundations in the time that is to come. The fabled torments of Tantalus would be Elysium, compared to such a state of being ; for what are the body's cravings, to the unsatisfied hunger, the insatiable thirst, of the soul ?
The reader and I are strangers to each other at present. He does not know, therefore, that I am subject to crotchets ; or, to express myself more intelligibly, that whenever my pen chooses to ramble into digressions, I seldom take the trouble to stop it. Without this explanation, he might wonder at that which he has just read.
What I intended, was to mention a few particulars of my own life, in order to satisfy that curiosity which we naturally feel respecting persons with whom we are about to form an intimacy. I shall do this as succinctly as possible.
My father died possessed of eleven pounds in a leather bag, which was found in a wooden bowl behind a Aitch of bacon. Besides this, his goods and chattels, stock in trade, tools, and other moveables, sold for thirty-two shillings. One of the churchwardens took charge of the whole, on my behalf, I being considered of too tender an age to be entrusted with so much property; and as every body said Mr. Wilkins was “a most worthy character,” every body who thought about me or my concerns, also said I was “ fortunate in falling into such hands."
Mr. Wilkins, who was my father's landlord_" but no more like my father than I to Hercules”-kept the White Hart. He kept me too, as his private secretary, finding I could write and read, in both which branches of education he was himself deficient; and, in the end, he kept my money. Three years I served him faithfully, and fulfilled, to the letter, my father's injunction, of working hard for every meal I ate ; not unfrequently getting the appetite without that which should accompany it. If the reader will take the trouble to imagine a willing lad, active, healthy, and industrious, and with nobody to help him, he may form some notion of what would fall to his share, in a distribution of domestic duties.
At the end of three years Mr. Wilkins died of a broken heart, in consequence, it was said, of the White Hart being broken up by the Bald-faced Stag, at the other end of the village : and then it was discovered, that if he had had any longer to live, he could not have lived any longer, without going to prison. My patrimony was no where to be found.
I had now, therefore, the whole world for my patrimony, and the whole human race for my brothers and sisters; so I resolved to take a view of my property and visit my relations. Happy is the man who can get up any fine morning he pleases, turn his back upon the place where he has once lived, and know, that if his own eyes be dry, none others are wet. Though he may miss some of the joys that wait on finer natures, and cling to gentle ties of kindred or affection, is he not also spared the pang, more lasting than the joys, and sharper than they are sweet? Not that I partook of this desolate felicity; for though no living creature had twisted the links of a chain that I must snap, there were a father's ashes in the churchyard through which I had to pass; and upon the grave that held them I gazed through a mist of tears, while fancy flung aside the earth, and invested the dry bones with lineaments of life.
As I intend, hereafter, to write my own biography, and publish it in these pages, it would only be imperfectly to forestal a pleasure, were I now to narrate, however briefly, the many strange vicissitudes that befel me from my seventeenth to my two-and-thirtieth year, when I first began to emerge from my difficulties in consequence of playing Romeo at the York theatre. Previously to that, I had written a tragedy, which was acted; at least the first act was acted,—for“ it was caviare to the general”—who laughed where they ought to have cried. I sat in the stage box myself, and held a white pocket handkerchief to my eyes at all the pathetic parts, as signals for the “ soft infection” to spread;—but it wouldn't do. The laughing infection was much more cortagious, than the soft one; and at last I laughed myself, when I saw my heroine, who had to die surrounded by her seven children, give the youngest urchin a slice of cake, to keep it quiet in the kneeling attitude of grief which the scene required.-- I called it “ The Forlorn Widow and her Seven Sons."
Shakspeare! Thou mighty one! Of all men else, I can comprehend that they were men-creatures of human mould like myself, though selected from a finer quality of that mould, and tempered with more ethereal elements—but thou
It would be useless to go on-because, to my thinking, he who could describe Shakspeare as Shakspeare ought to be described, making the description suit the man, must be a sort of Shakspeare himself; and I do not consider
that I have any pretensions to that character. Besides, I merely wished to mention, that when he wrote the following lines, all inspiration as he was, I question whether he foresaw they would make my fortune on the York stage, two hundred years afterwards.
“ I do remember an Apothecary,
And hereabouts be dwellsIf it please heaven to let me live, and pen, ink, and paper be not denied
the world shall know in what manner this line and three quarters, by one of those strange accidents which sometimes fall out in life, changed the whole color of mine.
These accidents, by the bye, are not so rare, if men did but know how to observe them. When the stream lies broad and fair before us, we are too apt to forget that it ever had a source, and that that source was as insignificant, perhaps, as the current derived from it is deep and spreading. Let any man who has sprung, like myself, from nothing, and become something, trace back carefully the degrees by which he ascended, and he will arrive at some one event, of apparently trifling import at the moment, which he will find was the well-head of his prosperity, the beginning which he can connect, link by link, with all that followed.
Take, as an example, the CANTERBURY MAGAZINE, which in all human probability, will prove a mine of wealth to me; for though I am far from sanguine in my expectations, I expect thus much, at least. Now what does the reader suppose was its origin? A mere chance conversation with the Editor of the Kentish OBSERVER, whom I never saw before, and whom I met by accident reading the tomb-stones in Thanington church yard, whither I had myself gone, (in my way to the continent last March,) at the request of a friend, to see in what state his grandfather's grave was. I noticed a tall, thin, sallow, gentlemanly looking man, with a hooked nose, apparently between thirty and forty, or hardly so much, dressed in a scarlet hunting jacket, as if he had just been following the hounds, leaning pensively upon an upright tombstone, and reading the inscription upon another that was lying at his feet.
Two strangers in a church yard are irresistibly moved to converse with each other ; probably because they consider themselves visitors, and not belonging to the place.
Pray sir” said I, after we had agreed that the wind was north easterly, —that the farmers wanted rain—and that there had been no snow last winter—“ Pray sir” said I, what sort of a place is Canterbury ?"
“ Like most other places,” was the laconic reply.
“We must speak by the card, or equivocation will undo us;'” quoth Mr. Editor, taking out his snuff box.
I offered him my card, which he received with a polite bow, and reading the address, repeated it aloud, interrogatively: “Mr. Geoffrey Oldcastle of St. Mary-Axe, London ?”
“ The same.” “A fishmonger ?” What followed, was said in a whisper; and a whisper it inust remain, till Lord Grey is dead.
There is no such thing as chance in the world. Every thing that happens has its assigned place and time, though philosophy cannot find them out; and well for us it is, that it cannot ; for all our happiness consists in not