« IndietroContinua »
it was considered that I had intended to insult masters and the whole school by my barefaced-no, not bare-facedimpudence. I believe serious thoughts were entertained of expelling me ere I had well entered on my schoolship; and if I had then taken a flight back, there should have been two lamentable flights, mine and the breechesmaker for I was hot enough for revenge, and none so small but that they may find means of annoying.
As it was, I was so badgered about my exposition, that I had to fight no less than three battles the very first day to defend the honours of my mouse-coloured leathers. But time is a great stretcher, and so he stretched my breeches. The flight of time did that which the sedentary Flight never did. Time, as my early copybook, set by that greatest of calligraphers, the German, Jansen Von Splutterinck, saith, maketh all things easy, and so he made my breeches. Henceforth I shall be of the opinion of the currier in the fable, "There's nothing like leather." Kings that have
been made kings from low degree, have kept their poor breeches in remembrance of their humble state. I might have kept mine in remembrance of my humbled state, and as monuments of my after knowledge. A heathen would have made them the subject of an apotheosis. If some have been celebrated as having seen the "Siege of Bulleyn," mine had witnessed the siege of Troy. They had sat down many a day with "the seven against Thebes." Taking into account, my dear Eusebius, the seas of ink that have been spilt upon themthe Greek with which they have been bespattered the versification that has been made upon them, and those engraftings of buds from the tree of knowledge, of which I have spoken_ I may, without fear of contradiction, say of them, that, wherever they may be, there must be the seat of learning. So that, "take them for all in all, I ne'er shall look upon their like again."
My dear Eusebius, yours as ever.
THOUGHTS UPON ASSES.
"TWOPENCE more, and up goes the donkey!" The words shot through us like a spell! fast and far flocked the excited multitude-man, boy, woman, girl, and hobble-de-hoy of either sex ;-the cabman from his stand, the sweeper from his crossing, the dog's-meat man from his truck, and the apple-wife from her stall;the exquisite and the shirtless, the delicately tripping miss and the sturdy tramper of St Giles's ;-the new policeman, forgetful for once of the duties of office, the very pickpocket for a moment neglectful of his opportuDity. It seemed as though that mysterious voice had summoned together by some magic a representative of every caste and calling beneath the sun, to form at last a true national convention. "What a thing," soliloquized we inwardly, as we elbowed our way into the thickest of the throng, "What a thing is a crowd! What a lesson for the great and the haughty! What a spectacle to moralize! What a picture of the troubled course of human existence! A cease
less struggle for self, careless of the comforts and the happiness of others, feeling nought for their miseries, their pangs, their"
"Beg your pardon, sir," said a jolly seventeen-stone butcher on our right, "but I'm afeard I trod rayther heavyish on your toes just now.
Our theory was done for-squashed in a moment;-selfishness was not omnipotent, and the milk of human kindness had not all turned sour. We turned round to the apologizing vender of meats, and looked him full in the face; we would have said "Don't mention it!" but the remark struck us as being behind time.
"Curiosity," said we mildly, "has been the bane of the race, from the days of grandmother Eve upwards." The man of the skyblue jerkin starred with grease-spots looked as if the heaven of his intellect was somewhat clouded.
"Sir?" said he enquiringly. "What we mean to say," said we, "is".
"One penny more, and up goes the
A hand, clothed in a rich coating of dirt, rose rapidly from the centre to clutch the proffered desideratum,and a sort of applauding murmur passed among the nearest witnesses of our generosity
"Three cheers for the patriotic cove in the brass barnacles!' shouted an embryo Barrington from the extreme gauche. We had given five guineas and a half for them at Dollond's that very morning!
After all," said we, applying ourselves once more to the destroyer of beeves-who was, as we have above noticed, as fat as any mortal" who slays fat oxen" ought to be-"What is it we are to see after all this noise? quid tanto dignum feret." Half a second more, and we should have thrown away the whole line, but our friend saved us the waste.
"Ferret, sir! Lord love you! do you take him for a rat-catcher? it's only a donkey as that chap's a-going to balance on the top of his ladder!"
"Then for once in our lives,"
said we, 66 we shall see a dead donkey!"
"Not this time, sir," said the butcher, with a smile which bespoke the deepest commiseration for our simplicity; "unless the hanimal should be suddenly taken hapoplectic. That ere's a pretty tolerable strong pair of lungs for a beast as is departed."
And truly, as he spoke, there arose the most hearty, healthbetokening, unequivocal heech-haw which ever greeted our ears in the not-over-much-frequented-by-donkeys Gracious heaven! and we had been contributing, unwittingly, to the torture of an unhappy animal that is itself the meekest, mildest, most unoffending of brutes!—that never so much as with malice-prepense and aforethought set foot upon a worm; and we must needs add our mite to the huge sum of suffering which its patient merit of the unworthy
takes, in this its much enduring existence !
If, now, it had been a dead donkey, said we, inwardly, as we made our escape from the still-thickening crowd
for, as to stopping to see the show, we would almost as soon have stopped to look at our maternal parent dangling by the neck in the Old Bailey, after having been convicted upon our own evidence-if, now, it had been a dead donkey; but, pshaw! we might have known it wasn't a dead donkey! How could it have been a dead donkey? We might just as reasonably have expected to see a mermaid, or a dodo, or a hippogriff, or the great sea-serpent himself. We do not believe that Methuselah, nay, we do not believe that the Wandering Jew him self, (and he will soon be twice as old as the antediluvian,) ever set eyes upon such a thing in the whole course of his peregrinations ;-there is no such thing! That rigmarole of Sterne's about the dead ass is concocted only, like an impostor's begging-letter, to draw tears from the eyes of the over-credulous and tender-hearted. The libellous scoundrels who charged Mike Scales with vending a defunct jackass for veal, stand, by their very accusation, convicted of falsehood. What really becomes of superannuated donkeys we do not profess to know, though we have our private opinion on the subject, as indeed there are few matters on which we have not. We believe, then, that donkeys are deathless, -not, by any means, that they live for ever, but that they do not die,—or, to use the expressive phraseology of a gentleman who has been of late much before the public, that they do not become "dead, cold, moist, unpleasant bodies;"-that, like the husband of Aurora, that ill-starred victim of an oversight, they fade away gradually and slowly, and almost imperceptibly, till, at their appointed moment, they cease to exist, blending with unsubstantial air, hastening to be resolved into the elements, vanishing like a morning-dream, leaving not a wreck behind! It is our confident creed that those venerable grandsires of the race, whom we sometimes light upon standing fixed and motionless in bylanes, by the side of an overgrown thistle, and reduced to the extreme degree of asinine emaciation, are don
theless, till we have satisfactory demonstration of their mortality, we shall hold to our exhalation theory, empty as it may appear. At any rate it is, as Shelley says,
"A modest creed, and yet Pleasant, if one considers it;" inasmuch as its tendency is to throw around the long-eared tribe a sort of charm-to invest them with somewhat of a poetical interest, of which, Heaven knows, they stand in sufficient need; but which, we believe in our conscience, and which we hope, before we have done, to prove, they deserve in a far greater degree than the world allows them to enjoy.
The deeming a donkey an object to be contemned, we take to be as decided a vulgar error as any which Sir Thomas Brown, long ago, so laboriously combated. We have not the slightest sympathy with that ridicu lous old Dogberry in his indignation at the epithet bestowed upon him ;we do not see any disgrace, even in "as pretty a piece of man's flesh as any in Messina," being "written down an ass;"-though, of course, we cannot be surprised that his vulgar soul should have adopted a vulgar prejudice. The marvel to us is rather how the prejudice ever entered into any soul at all;-its existence is a psychological curiosity;-and like us, when west and astonished at that mystery of mysteries-a reel within a bottle" we wonder how the devil it got there." We should like to know by what right Esop, and Gay, and all the fablemongers, from Jotham upwards, have pitched upon one unhappy animal, and made him a mock, and a byword, and a laughing-stock for all succeeding generations to crack their "fool-born jests" upon. Now, in a goose there really is something ridiculous ;-his very waddle is vainglorious; he stretches out his head,
and elevates its antipodes with all the pride of a peacock; his hiss is most superlatively self-complacent and contemptuous-it is eloquent of irrepressible misanthropy; a child can see through his pretensions to dignity; his folly breaks out in the very means which he takes to hide it. But an ass; pshaw! there is no deceit about an ass; he stands before us even as nature made him, rough, homely, and honest; he pretends not to beauty which he does not possess; he makes no ostentatious display of his sagacity; he is content to slip through existence as peaceably and silently as we will let him; he wants but little, and he gets it; he can teach as many lessons as the ant, and he finds, if possible, fewer disciples. Yes! the world may sneer as it likes, but an ass is no fool; we rather take him for a philosopher. How many requisites for greatness does he not possess? Urge him, scold him, beat him, kick him-the Man of Uz himself was not more enduring! He looks at you all the while, as much as to say, "I can't help it, so you must go on as long as you please, though you must be aware this sort of treatment isn't, by any means, gen. tlemanlike." Does he feel it repugnant to the dictates of his concience to take some particular course? only observe his unswerving strength of purpose! He cares not for the "vultus instantis tyranni;" he blenches not from his fixed resolve for threats or thumps; he yields not to the more insidious attacks of persuasion and blandishment; and, by a miserable perversion of epithets, his resolution is stigmatized as stubbornness, his conscientious scruples degraded into obstinate perversity. He is abstemious, partly it must be owned, by obligation; but he suffers compulsion with such an unaffected good grace, that nature must have as much to do with the mat
ter as necessity. He will eat any thing and every thing, a thistle or a macaroon; and, if we mistake not, there is somewhere or other on record a certain noodle, who departed this life in a guffaw, occasioned by seeing his ass composedly appropriate some figs laid by for his own private consumption. Is there any pride about a donkey? Not a scruple, not the infinitesimal particle of a grain; only satisfy him that the path you wish him to take is the path
of duty, and what burden will he refuse to bear? Carrots or children, soot-bags or spinster,-'tis all one to Jack. He trudges on in the same unmurmuring fashion, with an occasional swish of the tail, and a constant drooping of the head, poring upon the ground on which he treads, as intensely as the most zealous stone-smiter that ever wandered over the country, hammer in hand, in the wake of Dr Buckland. No waster of time is he (we mean the ass, not the professor) in gaping and staring about him. Leave him to himself for hours if you will, and at your return fear not to miss him. There he stands, motionless as a statue; he has been in a brown study the whole time, revolving in his meditative soul things human and asinine; chewing the cud of fancy, which for him, we fear, possesses nought but bitterness.
We pity an ass so deeply that we almost suspect we love him. But then his bray! No, we cannot for the life of us get over that. The squeaking of an ungreased waggon-wheel-the shovelling up of cinders under the grate-an amateur fiddler-a professional bagpiper-a cat in a gutterthe roaring of a spoiled child in a passion-the voice of a bumbailiff— sounds all, and especially the last, to agonize man's tortured ear and shuddering frame-are "musical as is Apollo's lute," in comparison with the uplifted voice of a jackass. Were we over so partial, we could here nothing extenuate; were we ever so spiteful, we could hardly be suspected of setting down aught in malice. We never could discover that it has even the single argument of utility to allege in its defence it is the most unmeaning gratuitous piece of discord in nature! There the rascal stands-not another ass within a mile of him-with his head for once stuck up in the air, bellowing away for no earthly object that we can perceive, save his own will, and, we were going to add, pleasure, but we doubt if even the strongest self-admiration could go so far as that. Nature, when she moulded his ears, must have counterbalanced the excess of length by the deficiency of delicacy, or he could never fail of being scared, like Fear," at the sound himself had made." We do not feel quite sure that a spirit of revenge, however uncongenial to his nature generally, is not at the bottom of the matter; and
that, painful as it must be to his own feelings, he cannot resist availing himself of this his only means of wreaking upon mankind his multifarious wrongs and persecutions.
We were saying, or going to say, how much we commiserated a donkey, when the bare mention of his voice sent us flying off at a tangent, much as the reality is wont to do when it strikes upon our unlucky tympanum. And, truly, if he be not a pity-deserving object, we know of nothing which is so. It seems to us to be a notion inherent in the mind of the many, that it is not only allowable, but an absolute matter of obligation and duty, to abuse, cuff, kick, lash, spur, and otherwise maltreat a jackass ad libitum, which said ad libitum, in the case of the unhappy sufferer under consideration, means always ad infinitum. One can't turn him out for an hour on a common, be it ever so wide, or up a lane, be it ever so retired, but two or three imps of boys, who can see opportunities for mischief even through a millstone, are sure to spy him out, and then his torments begin. Three or four of the villains at least on his back at once, shouting at him like young Stentors, whacking him with sticks purloined from the nearest hedge, drumming upon his helpless ribs with their hobnailed heels, till perchance, at last, some one more exquisitely mischievous than his fellows, seizes an opportunity of inserting beneath his unguarded tail a furze bush plentiful in prickles, whereby stung at once to frenzy, with one irresistible plunge he lays his tormentors sprawling on their mother earth, and rushes off, alas! hugging closely, in his ignorance, the invisible cause of his anguish.
Look at him in the hands of the chimney-sweeper in the country-look at him in the cart of the costermonger in the town-look at him in the donkey race at a country fair, and observe the intense zeal with which he is bela boured on such interesting occasions, when no jockey is permitted to ride his own "hanimal! Look at him, above all, on Blackheath, or Hampstead Heath, or any other heath in the environs of the metropolis !—look at him at Margate, Ramsgate, or any other marine emporium of shrimps and yellow slippers, to which, thick-crammed in emulous steamboats, the sons
and daughters of Cockaigne make their hebdomadal resort from the clamour of Cheapside, and the suffocation of St Mary-Axe! Count, if you can, the unceasing detachments of enterprising Amazons whom he is destined daily to initiate into the delights and dangers of donkey-womanship! Admire their innocent wonder at his un
willingness to go; and how calmly and placidly they listen to the thick descending strokes of the driver's cudgel, never dreaming, merciful
souls! that the said strokes can be in the slightest degree unpleasant! How they squeak, and giggle, and scream, with interestingly-assumed terror, when at last the ill-fated wretch is goaded into a pace bearing a distant resemblance to a trot; and how they not unfrequently contrive to lose their balance, and tumble off, to the now real dismay of themselves, the infinite delight of the attendant, and the sole and serious inconvenience of the donkey, whose misfortune it is to expiate, by a world of hard names, and still harder belabouring, the awkwardness of his fair and floundering burden.
Most sincerely, we repeat, do we compassionate him; and, thank goodness, we do not stand alone in our pity, ay, and-for why should we not speak it boldly?—in our love for donkeys! No, we have many an honoured name to enrol in our "band of brothers,' even without being obliged to have recourse to the lists of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty; though we fear there may be here and there among us an enemy in the camp under the guise of a friend-a wolf or two in sheep's clothing. For instance, there is a minstrel, and a minstrel, too, of no mean popularity, who sings in one of those simple and touching ballad strains to which the people most love to hearken
"Oh! if I had a donkey wot wouldn't go, Do you think I'd wallop him? Oh! no! no!
nial of the anticipated imputation would have been weak and powerless, contrasted with the indignant interrogation,
"Oh! if I had a donkey wot wouldn't go, Do you think I'd wallop him?" The poet has not stopped to pick his words he has scorned to sacrifice feeling at the shrine of elegance-he speaks in the unmeasured, off-hand, heart-gushing language of honest sincerity. Mark, too, how he answers his own question,—.
"Do you think I'd wallop him? Oh! no! no!"
Was there ever any thing more en. thusiastic ?—No circumlocution-no beating about the bush: in one moment, with a single syllable, he sets us at ease as to his sentiments on the subject, and then, and not till then, he shows, us in bold, broad, and beautiful outline, the kindly course of treatment he would adopt, if he were blest enough to possess a donkey, and that not only a simple donkey, but-(a temptation by which the patience even of Job was unassailed)-a —a donkey, "wot wouldn't go."
"I'd give him some hay, and I'd cry, 'gee woh!'"
Good food and kind words! Donkeylovers as we are, we could not find in our heart to utter so much as one syllable in defence of the ill-conditioned ass that could remain insensible to the blandishments of such a master! "Well now," we think we hear some good, kind, simple, unsuspicious soul exclaim, "Surely you don't mean to tell us there is any wolf in sheep's clothing here!" We would gladly think so we would give any thing to
be able to think so we have set out
every argument we could muster in favour of the sincerity of the poet; and we, who have convinced others, are ourselves, after all, unconvinced. We may be uncharitable-we would fain
I'd give him some hay, and I'd cry, 'gee! hope we are so-but, in spite of our
With a 'kim aup, Neddy!'" Could any thing be imagined more energetic? He is too well aware that almost every man's hand is against a jackass, and he is in an agony of fear lest the world should set him down, as a matter of course, among the persecuting majority:-a plain prosaic de
teeth, we are still unsatisfied. In the gorgeous dreams of Fairyland, which we would give worlds to believe true, there is ever an intrusive, halfwaking sort of consciousness, that the flowers on which we tread, the palaces in which we revel, the delights in which we are lapped, are but an unreal and fleeting mockery. And somewhat thus is it here. We are delight