The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
The idea that tyrannized over my mind, for some weeks before my departure, was the immense distance to London. I conceived that the journey had to be, as it were, to the extremity of the globe. To my surprise, the flying carriage, in which I was transported, took me there, after breakfast, in time for dinner. I seemed sped by enchantment; for, oh! indeed, space, time, place, men, manners, power, numbers, wealth, no longer cohered in my bewildered brain, whilst I partook of a public dinner, bestowed by myself on my own behalf, in a chophouse, honoured by the presence of two hundred people that had never seen me before.
Arrived in this traditionary metropolis, I thought to invest my money and my talents, in some way that should be profitable. My first object was to obtain lodgings—respectable and cheap. I had heard of the extortion practised at hotels, and I ventured not within their flattering precincts. Then, as I was a stranger, there was great danger of my falling into a bad neighbourhood. I heard, however, that there were large archiepiscopal possessions in one part of the city. I was certain that all houses within their limits would be orderly, if not, indeed, religious. "Happy," thought I, "is the kingdom that has a National Church."page 9
No time was lost by me in taking apartments in one of the humblest streets of the sacred locality. To my dismay, I soon found that my neighbours, before, behind, and on both sides, and my fellow-tenants above and below me, were thieves and lax characters of both sexes. It was evident, in a few hours, that unless I devoted my property and services to them, my life would be in jeopardy.
On the night after my arrival, whilst indulging in a pipe, pot of porter, and a pleasant performance, in one of the great Music Saloons common to the metropolis,—huge, fanciful buildings these were, as lofty as the tallest of our forest trees, and as spacious as the area in which our Witenagemot meets,—I made the friendship of a man who knew everybody and every place in London, and who promised soon to show me how to dispose of my money and talents to advantage.
He first made me change my lodgings to a better street; and, as my old landlord refused to take less than a month's notice for the vacating of my rooms, I paid the money forward for that time; and, that it might not be quite lost, my Friend resolved to occupy them himself for that time.
My Friend soon introduced me to several public places, where fortunes were made. All his companions had, or said they had, made their fortunes; and he soon initiated me into the processes by which this was effected.
These were chiefly games and speculations. One favourite game was called Billiards, which was played on a large oblong table, at the corners and sides of which were small pockets; and the skill consisted in page 10 projecting balls into those, by blows from the end of a stick. Another game was Skittles, in which nine pieces of wood were set up, and a large bowl was thrown at them from a distance. A similar method was pursued in a game by two men, with their closed hands instead of bowls, which they hurled at each other's face as rapidly and forcibly as possible. Speed in horses, (which was a royal game,) and patronised by many of their monarchs; men running in competition, and pulling in light boats, were also games in high estimation. But the one most popular, was that played by fifty-two pieces of cards, in four sets, grotesquely characterized. There were many ways of playing with these, but a great advantage consisted in commencing near the hour of midnight, and after plentiful libations of spirituous liquors.
I was very successful in my skill and speculations,—especially in the last mentioned game. I won, not only when I won, but when I lost. To lose twenty golden pieces, was generally equivalent to winning thirty. The system was to place the winnings in one pocket, and pay the losings out of another. All these arts are now obsolete, or I might have had more to say respecting them.
Whilst engaged in these undertakings, I chanced to meet with one of the servants of the Religious Chief, who was endowed with the large ecclesiastical possessions that I have before mentioned. He was a gentle, pious, and earnest man. He severely condemned the manner in which I accumulated money, although it was clone on his master's estate, and his master's income, indirectly, but in the largest part, page 11 arose from the countenance given to the practices by which I was enriched. He bade me look into the Holy Book, which my father and mother had greatly loved, and which is the light and rule of our Tribes. I was confounded, and heart-stricken. My Friend laughed at me. The good man talked of restitution: my Friend said the restitution should be to himself, since I had earned my gains through him. The next day I lightened my heart and purse by following their joint advice, and in so doing I found myself nearly a beggar.
On the evening of the second day after making restitution, I was sent for to the bedside of my Friend, who lay ill of a fever.
It had been a drizzling, murky, muddy day. The cold and damp entered into one's very bones, and into the very marrow within them. Nevertheless, the obscure street in which my Friend lived was crowded and noisy, so as I had never previously seen it. I met the good man coming from my Friend's rooms; and, before asking how he was, or remarking on the weather, I inquired the reason of the strange commotion. He looked at me severely, as he passed by, and answered, "This is the fruit of your wicked industry." I thought he joked seriously.
I now observed that all the people were drunk—fighting, swearing, lying in the gutters, torturing catgut, and anything but thankful. The house door was open; and, as I ascended the stairs, I stumbled over prostrate men and women, intoxicated and demented; and scattered about were many golden pieces.
A great statesman had given a new explication of page 12 another great statesman's policy; using his method, I may say, that all around me was—fiddle and fuddle.
Entering the room, I beheld—the landlord senseless in a corner; the woman-nurse, who had to attend my Friend, gin-struck by the bedside; and my Friend on the bed delirious.
Thus had it happened. My Friend, on receiving my money, had bought drink and drunk it assiduously, till brain fever seized him. The symptoms were known to the neighbourhood as well as the physician. When he was brought home, all the people of the street,—men, women, and boys,—rushed upon him, ransacked his garments, ravished the residue of his gold, and spent it as he had spent it. I was now in the midst of their wild carnival.