LXXXV.-Old London Rogueries.
|It is profoundly interesting, philosophically as well as philanthropically, to think of the quantity of sheer simplicity, of the beautiful innocence and ignorance of infancy, that still survives in this years old world. Above all, the unsophisticated condition, as to many matters, of rustic England, in this noon, almost, of the century, is enough to fill with veneration whosoever will consider the evidences of it which are daily presented in that most instructive department of the public journals, the London Police Intelligence. A police reporter, indeed (or penny-a-liner, as he is sometimes, with too much levity, styled), is the truest historian of his age. And, as no other histories are half so true, so few are nearly so entertaining, or so useful either, as those which he indites: there only we have the manners of the time caught |
served up, as it were, piping hot-and human nature naturally delineated; everywhere else it is dressed up, varnished over, idealized, perhaps, or otherwise so metamorphosed or mystified, as hardly to be recognised for the same thing that is accustomed to see and to have to do with in its original condition of flesh and blood. Nay, your penny-a-liner--is not the greatest of historians merely, but the most penetrating of philosophers, going to the root of the matter, and the most instructive of poets and dramatists, not only
but low ones quite as well. All this he is by reason of the matter-of-fact spirit in which he works. For this is his distinction, that (to the shame of literature it must be confessed) he is the only description of-man of letters who is not in some sort, as such, a systematic liar. All other writers set themselves to embellish, elevate, refine truth and naturesome have gone the length of maintaining that this falsification, this lying, is the very soul and indispensable essence of the poetical, in all its forms; he alone takes down and communicates what he hears and sees simply as he hears and
| sees it- |
Sometimes, indeed, the penny-a-liner has not a proper understanding or feeling of this his high function; with a wholly vain and mistaken ambition he toils and tortures himself and his readers in attempting to give his police intelligence a poetical air; and then there ensues the wildest work. of the fraternity unhappily labouring under this distemper some short time ago had got on of the morning papers-or possibly it was an old hand whom the lunacy had suddenly seized; and if of the most interesting columns in the sheet had been every day printed from , as it is called, that is to say from the types thrown by some accident into complete disorder and confusion, it would not have been worse. There, where looked, and where alone could look, for the plain, unperverted truth of things, lay spread out and sprawling the most misbegotten mixture of jest and earnest, neither fish nor flesh, neither fact nor fiction, neither thing nor another. It was as absurd a proceeding as if the writer had sought to impart pungency to his reports by shaking a little cayenne pepper over each of them after he had written it out. Happily, the stock he had laid in of wit or slang, of -hand similes, immemorial puns, proverbs, quotations, and other such stray intellectual treasure, did not last long; and the police intelligence recovered its old trustworthy sobriety, greatly to the relief of all students of that most important as well as attractive department of modern literature. It is really not a field for the antics of ultra-vivacity. If a man be a genius, or think himself such, rather let him be set to report the debates in Parliament, where frequently a little additional animation would not do much harm.
But we were remarking that there is nothing of which this London Police Intelligence conveys a stronger impression than it does of the primitive simplicity and guilelessness, or gullibility, that still lingers, and indeed seems to be general, in the country parts of this kingdom, not excepting even those nearest to the metropolis. It appears, too, to be utterly unteachable. Pockets are carefully buttoned up, and the finest practitioner could scarcely hope to rival Mull'd Sack, the bold and handsome chimney-sweep, who contrived to rob Lady Fairfax, Oliver Cromwell, and Charles II.; but week after week comes the same unvarying history of some great gaping innocent of a farmer from Kent or Surrey accosted on the streets of the roaring Babel by another rustic, looking as honest and as stupid as himself, who perhaps persuades him that he belongs to the same parish, or is of his nearest relations (though he never heard of him before), and, at any rate, by this or some equally ingenious representation, easily seduces him into the next public-house. He may now consider himself as enacting before heaven and earth the interesting part of the mouse fairly within the trap, and enjoying the toasted cheese. As the sit over their tankard, a , to all appearance equally a stranger to both, in the most natural way in the world drops in and joins them, and soon, in the fulness of his heart, unbosoming himself to his new friends, informs them what a happy fellow he is in having just come into possession of a handsome little independence-his only uneasiness at the moment being occasioned by not knowing where to find a proper channel by which he may convey a small donation to the poor out of his new-found wealth, by way of showing his gratitude to Providence. What better can he do than entrust his charity to this honest farmer for the behoof of the parish to
| which he belongs? The other man from the country strongly, and quite disinterestedly, recommends this arrangement; the farmer himself, stirred by benevolence, vanity, and beer, modestly puts in his word in favour of it; it appears to be clearly a very advisable way of accomplishing the desired object. All that is necessary is that the farmer, to prove his respectability, should exhibit property of his own to the amount of the sum the generous stranger is about to confide to his care: straightway the , or , or is put down on the table by each party, by the in notes or sovereigns, by the other probably in the equally well engraved notes of the Bank of Elegance. Nothing, of course, could be more satisfactory; but let the good farmer learn to secure his cash more artificially against the dangers of the town; his friends will wrap up the whole for him in the way the thing should be done, and assist him to place it in his fob: does he not feel that, with it so folded and rammed down, he may laugh at all the pickpockets in London? And so he may, in good sooth, and sing too, upon Juvenal's principle-
for his pocket is no longer worth picking--it has been picked already-he is now what this old Latin poet facetiously calls vacant enough he looks on making that discovery; but, unfortunately, he is not , or in the presence of the thieves, for in no long time after the solemnity of replacing the money they both (having done their work) took themselves off-- the disappearing, and then the other going to see what was become of him-and left the self-satisfied benefactor of his parish
In this, or some such way as this, the process is now commonly managed: the thing aimed at is to get into actual contact with the man's cash; to induce him to unbutton his pocket, and make visible and palpable manifestation of its contents; which object achieved, there is no further difficulty; he is as certainly plucked as ever was Mrs. Glass's goose after due performance of the initiatory measure of the catching. Sometimes a very simple expedient is successfully employed. On merely being taunted with not being rich enough to produce a certain sum, the unsuspecting subject of the experiment triumphantly draws forth his hidden wealth, and has it of course extracted from his fingers in a moment by the gentlest of operations. This seems to be the very height and perfection of an ingenuous nature, and to be paralleled by nothing except the conduct of the fascinated bird in flying into the invitingly open mouth of the rattlesnake, if even that can match it. Yet, as we have said, instances of fullgrown men being deluded in some such manner as this are of every-day occurrence. And here Old Experience has been able to do nothing, any more than if he had undertaken the instruction of any of the inferior generations which, the philosophers tell us, are distinguished from the human animal chiefly by the want of the progressive tendency; he might as well have kept a school for birds or Bourbons (the only humanities that are made an exception to this rule of the philosophers). The process of deplumation we have been describing has been a standing London trick for some hundreds of years; and, if anything, it seems to be usually performed now-a-days less artistically and with more facility than in former times, as if the rustic visitors of the metropolis, of the class suited for
| being thus practised upon, by a singular privilege grew more and more innocent the farther the rest of the world shot a-head of the manners of the age of gold. The original slang name of this stratagem was Coney-catching. The readers of Shakspere will recollect Slender's angry complaint to Falstaff in the beginning of |
These last words, found in the quarto edition of the play, though omitted in the subsequent folio, exactly describe the particular mode of victimizing to which this term was appropriated. But both the name and the thing itself were at this time of very recent introduction, if we may trust what is both the most complete and the earliest information we have on the subject, that given by Robert Greene, the famous dramatist, poet, and miscellaneous pamphleteer, in his published in . In the Preface to this tract (the of which he wrote on the same subject, and the forerunner of many more by other popular pens of the day), Greene speaks of coney-catching as a new art,
His description has all the elaboration and formality of a scientific treatise.
The Setter then makes up to the man, and, entering into conversation with him, easily contrives to learn the part of the country he comes from, his name, and other particulars. This information, if he cannot himself prevail upon the countryman to go to drink with him, the Setter carries to his confederate, the Verser; who thereupon going off, crosses the Coney at some turning, and, meeting him full in the face, salutes him by his name, and inquires for all friends in the country. He is the near kinsman of some neighbour of the farmer's, in whose house he has been several times, though the amazed Coney, whose memory is surely none of the best, has entirely forgotten having ever before set eye upon him. But, at any rate, he is very well acquainted with his good neighbour, the cousin or uncle of the stranger. For his sake, the latter proposes that they should drink before they part.
continues the account,
For at this time, it seems, coney-catching was universally managed by the assistance of a pack, or, as the phrase was, a pair of cards.
| Greene defines it, in his Preface, to be |
seizing the occasion to run off into a strange disquisition about the invention of cards and dice by the people of Thebes, once upon a time when they were beleaguered and shut up in their town by the Lacedaemonians. But sometimes it will happen that the attempts of both Setter and Verser fail; that
In that case, continues our author,
Other stratagems are still in reserve if this should fail; but for these we must refer the reader to our author's own pages. In way or another the countryman can hardly escape falling into the snare. In no long time after the have got him into the tavern cards are called for, or produced by of them, and he soon begins to take an interest in certain tricks in which he is initiated, especially in a new game called Mum-chance, at which, by his connivance (secured while they were left alone together for a few minutes), the sharper cheats and plunders the other (who is, of course, as much a stranger to him as to the farmer) in most triumphant style. Then,
Invited by the Verser to come in and drink a cup of wine, he proposes to play a game at cards till his friend arrives.
saith the Verser,
saith the Barnacle.
The Verser's proposal of mumchance is readily assented to; as before, the countryman lends his assistance to trick and fleece the new-comer; the play runs higher and higher;
he is easily induced to exchange his subordinate and auxiliary part for that of a principal in the game. The natural result soon follows; he loses all his money, then he pawns
and, in the end, he finds himself stripped of everything, except, perhaps, the indispensable habiliments that cover him.
it seems, the practitioners of this species of knavery were accustomed to speak of it by the name of the coney-catching , or the coney-catching : the latter mode of expression in particular appears to have carried a high relish with it to these scorners of the law which other people were fools enough to be frightened at and to obey, but which they only laughed at while they rendered it a mock reverence,
| and professed not to transgress its requirements. They had also, Greene tells us, other laws: as, for instance, high law, which meant highway robbery; cheating law, which meant playing with false dice; versing law, which was the passing of false gold; figging law, or the cutting of purses and picking of pockets; Barnard's law, which he defines |
This last, in truth, seems to have been only a species of coney-catching; and from Greene's own account of the matter it may be doubted if the novelty which he claims for the latter art, the principal subject of his pamphlet, is not, after all, a mere trick of book-making--a pretension put forth to excite the more curiosity and interest in his readers, and to enhance in their estimation the importance of his exposures. In his Preface he makes the following statement:--
This, whatever distinctive name it might be called by, evidently was a mere variety of coney-catching, even if, with Greene, we take the employment of cards to be a part of the definition of that art. The whole mystery of this sort of roguery probably assumed a more scientific shape and aspect in the hands of this pamphleteer, and its other expounders whom his example called forth, than naturally or really belonged to it. The writer of a tract entitled which appeared in , years after Greene's death, seems to insinuate that the names at least given to the different performers by the original unfolder of the art of coney-catching were, to a great extent, of his own invention. This writer, however, who calls himself S. R., and was probably Samuel Rowlands, the author of a profusion of more prose and verse, has an object to serve in casting a slight upon the authority of his predecessor; for he has many hitherto unheard of curiosities of art of his own collecting to set before his readers. His new nomenclature of coney-catching will be most distinctly given in his own words.
This difference between them as to names, he admits at the same time
seeing that they concur as to things. But Greene, he thinks, might have improved his book by expatiating on various cheats which he has not noticed; for instance, the brewers' putting in willow leaves and brown buds into their wort instead of hops (the primitive or ruder form of the quassia and cocculus indicus adulteration)-or
--which is perhaps what Steevens was thinking of when he asserted that our ancestors made their sack sparkle by putting lime in the glass, in his note on the controverted passage in the where
says to Bardolph, according to reading,
but, according to another,
We do not know whether the authority of this old pamphlet may be accepted as lending some support to the latter reading.
continues our author,
This truly strange and marvellous artifice must, we apprehend, be reckoned among the lost inventions. We wonder if these cunning retailers of the olden time ever mixed shot as well as
| powder with their bottled ale--which doubtless would have greatly increased the effect. The coney-catchers, this writer says, |
by Greene's exposures, had invented a number of new tricks since his time. Some did
offering to recover bad debts.
the enumeration proceeds,
--on which, tempted by a low price, some present will at last put perhaps into the hand of the pretended merchant to secure the bargain. And then there follow many other rogueries, upon which we cannot attempt to enter--including
in the matter of a chop-chain--a story of
which is interpreted to mean
--a relation how
(that is, a thief)-the frauds of apprentices, &c., &c. There is some rare reading in this tract by Master Rowlands (if it be really of his penning)though he has not Greene's dramatic talent, or sharp, graphic style, but is in truth rather a heavy, lumbering writer, and, to speak it reverently, not a little of a blockhead.
We may here stop for a moment to notice the subject of the cant language in which the lawless population of those days conversed among themselves, as their successors still do. The names, as above given, for the different members of the cozening or swindling fraternity, and a few other terms that have been quoted, may be considered as belonging to this peculiar speech. Its origin, however, we believe, is not generally known. The earliest account we have found of it is in the very curious treatise entitled which was printed in . Harman, whose book is dedicated to Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury, was a country gentleman of Kent--a poor gentleman, as he describes himself, who had kept house for years before he drew up and published this treatise
and, although not uninfected by the pedantry of his time, of which his preference of the new and learned word or to the vulgar is a small specimen, he is a person of much penetration and sound sense, and he had taken great pains to collect his facts, as well as enjoyed very favourable opportunities of acquiring information not easily to be come at. It will be found that his treatise, which was reprinted at least times within years after its appearance, continued to supply the greater and most valuable portion of their materials to most of the pamphleteers who wrote on the same subject for half a century after, some of whom pilfer not merely his facts and the substance of his statements, but his language itself, without the least acknowledgment. As the
| is not known to have been reprinted after , till the modern impression (consisting only of a copies) was brought out in , it is probable that it had come to be generally forgotten in the next generation. Harman distinctly asserts that the cant language of the thieves and beggars was the deliberate invention of an individual in the early part of the century. |
(the meaning of these last words we do not profess to understand). In another place he states that they had
and he observes that no doubt they would in time change the words they then used for others; yet we believe nearly all the words of more frequent employment that composed the speech on its introduction will be found still to belong to it after the wear and tear of more than years. This may be ascertained by comparing the old vocabularies with those appended to several modern publications, such as the
the autobiographical &c. The earliest, probably, is that given by Harman at the end of his treatise, which he heads-
&c. Harman's vocabulary, with indeed nearly all the rest of his book, and with scarcely any new matter, is reprinted in a peculiarly impudent piece of plagiarism entitled
which appeared in , introduced by an address to the reader, declaring that the things there set down never yet were disclosed in any book on the same subject. This fraud is noticed in another pamphlet, entitled
&c., which was published in , and was doubtless the production of Rowlands, whose initials, S. R., are prefixed to it.
(the rogues), says this writer,
Rowlands (or S. R.) gives us a vocabulary, or dictionary, of cant words of his own, which he describes as enlarged from that of Harman. It has the addition of some curious cant rhymes. In his account of the origin of the thieves' language, Rowlands agrees with Harman, but is somewhat more specific, as if he had obtained his information in part from independent sources. He distinctly describes it as an artificial invention, and states that it was introduced in the time of a certain head or king of the beggars called Cock Lorrell, whose rule terminated in the year . The words, he observes, are chiefly of Latin, English, and Dutch derivation, mixed with a few drawn from the French and Spanish. Martin Mark-All's Defence is an answer to a production by a much more famous writer, Thomas Decker, poet, dramatist, and miscellaneous pamphleteer, entitled
| was published in , and long continued a popular favourite, as may appear from the circumstance of a new edition of it, described as |
having been brought out so late as in . It is, however, in great part borrowed without acknowledgment from Harman's and from Greene's At the end is what is called which contains nothing new; nor is there much more than what had long ago been stated by Harman, in a chapter headed
&c., with which Decker commences another pamphlet, published in , under the title of
Notwithstanding this profession, many things in this pamphlet also are stolen from Harman, though it also contains much curious matter which appears to be new. In treating of the cant language Decker says,
thus fixing its introduction to the same date assigned by Harman, the rest of whose account, indeed, he straightway goes on to abstract, with some alterations, for the most part merely colourable to disguise the theft.
It is a common misconception to confound this cant phraseology of our ordinary thieves and beggars, consisting of a few peculiar terms and modes of expression mixed with and engrafted upon the language of the country, to the grammatical forms of which it is entirely accommodated, with the wholly distinct and foreign speech of the Gypsy people. The latter is another language altogether, having as little connexion with the English as the Hindostanee has, to which indeed, or to its fountain-head, the Sanscrit, the Gypsy tongue appears to be nearly allied. The notion of the identity of the Gypsy and the cant tongues has been fostered not only by such works as the
where the list of cant words at the end is designated a
but by the higher authority of writers like Walter Scott, who, in his has throughout represented and his other Gypsy characters as conversing among themselves in the cant language, which he calls the language of their tribe. It is remarkable, by the bye, that Harman speaks of the Gypsies as utterly extirpated in England in his day.
This, as we have seen, was in . About half a century afterwards, however, Rowlands (or whoever was the author of
), in stealing Harman's description of the Gypsies in England, omits all that his predecessor says
|about their disappearance, and indeed expressly:speaks of them as still existing in the country. He says they came in in the time of the same King Cock Lorrell, in whose days the cant speech was invented. Other accounts concur in making the Gypsies to have made their appearance in England in the early part of the century.|
Harman's cursitors, or vagabonds, are mostly haunters of the villages, farms, and country parts; though often having intimate connexions, too, with London, and in some cases, as it would appear, their head-quarters there. He is very full and luminous on the Ruffler (or sturdy beggar), the Upright Man (a sort of chief or ruler in the begging and thieving community), the Prigger of Prances (horse-stealer), the Abraham Man (who pretended to have been insane, and to have suffered confinement in Bedlam, or some other house for lunatics), the Freshwater Mariner, or Whipjack (pretending to be a shipwrecked sailor), the Dummerer (feigner of dumbness), and many other varieties of the genus, old and young, male and female. But the Counterfeit Crank, or counterfeiter of the epilepsy, or falling evil, is almost the only of his characters whom he brings forward-upon the metropolitan scene. To this personage his chapter is devoted, and it contains, among other things, a long and amusing story of a Counterfeit Crank, who, early in the morning of All-Hallow-Day, , while the edition of the book was still in the press, and was not yet half printed, made his appearance under our author's
Harman, watching his proceedings, soon became convinced that he was an impostor, and, indeed, after some questioning, reduced him almost to confession; but, having taken to his heels, it was not without great difficulty and a long pursuit that he was at last overtaken, and fairly pinned in the house of an honest Kent yeoman, a good many miles from town. And, after all, though he was stripped to the skin, and merely an old cloak thrown over him, he quickly found an opportunity of again making his escape, and, naked as he was, scampered across the fields, and got snug into cover--somewhere in the vast impenetrable jungle of London. Nothing was heard of him for about a couple of months, but then, with matchless impudence, trusting to a new disguise, on the morning of New Year's Day, he presented himself a time in White Friars. But Harman's practised eye was too sharp for him; it was soon made apparent that he was the same rogue who had but so lately got out of the clutches of justice; on which he bolted off again at Ludgate; but this time he ran no farther than Fleet Bridge before he was caught. Being now sent to , he was put in the pillory at ,
concludes the narration,
An engraving of this picture, which, we presume, was the
that was carried before its original in his procession at the cart's-tail, is given by Harman, as an embellishment to this history of the
|Counterfeit Crank, whose name, it seems, was Nicholas Genings; and it is accompanied by another of Nicholas Blunt, an Upright Man, whose trim and comfortable attire and bold bearing present a striking contrast to the rags, and dirt, and feigned decrepitude of his companion. We insert copies of both.|
The chief lodging-houses resorted to by the thieves and wandering beggars of the London district in Harman's day are stated to have been |
Harman has even preserved, in a long list, the names of the principal Upright Men, and other descriptions of rogues, who then haunted the counties of Middlesex, Essex, Sussex, Surrey, and Kent. Among the common beggars of this district were, he tells us, about a Irish men and women, who had come over within the preceding years.
Many of these Irish, it is mentioned in another place, went about with counterfeited or forged begging-licences. Of the common beggars, called Paliards, or Clapperdoggers, and also of the Dummerers, many, too, it seems from other passages, were Welsh. , , and Barmesey (Bermondsey)
|street, are mentioned as the chief places of residence of the London tinkers, and the quarters in which property stolen by the vagrants who strolled the neighbouring country districts was most likely to be found.|
The old adage, that there is nothing new under the sun, would probably receive as ample illustration from the history of the rogueries of London, if we had the means of fully tracing it, as from any other region of human experience. It is wonderful how little inventive genius appears to have been called into action, as far as records go, in the contrivance of new tricks or ways of cheating during some hundreds of years. But, on the other hand, it must be confessed that very little has been required; no matter how long or how often any particular decoy or bait may have been used, it continues to catch the gudgeons as well as at :
Doubtless, if not exactly the pleasure, at least the disposition or capacity
The tendencies are evidently made for each other. It is a mistake to regard them as naturally hostile. They are what the logicians call antagonistic, or opposite but not contrary--that is to say, they press indeed in opposite directions, but it is so as to support each other, like the sets of rafters that form the roof of a house. We do not absolutely affirm that the coney-catcher is as indispensable to the coney as the coney is to the coney-catcher; but still we cannot help thinking that either would feel somewhat at a loss without the other-or, at any rate, that the beautiful balance and harmony of parts in the moral system would be considerably impaired by such an abstraction. It is difficult to conceive for what use or end the cheatable portion of the species could have been created if there were none to cheat them. Would they not be superfluities-incumbrances-violating and outraging by their very existence the and most beautiful principle of all cosmogonical philosophy, that nature does nothing in vain? But, besides, these cheats are, after all, perhaps, not of so opposite a disposition or character, in any sense, to the rogues as is commonly taken for granted. The difference between the is of circumstances and position, or, at most, of mere ability and opportunity, rather than of anything more essential. A fool and a knave are not so unlike another. On the hand, your knave is, on a large or high view, always a fool; on the other, your great fool would often be a great knave, if he only had the wit. Observe how the fool is for the most part cozened and cheated--not through his folly alone, but through that and his dishonesty together--not through his stupidity so much as his cupidity :--it is the latter commonly that bites at the hook which the cheat cunningly baits for him. If he were merely a fool, he would be comparatively difficult to catch-fools, it is truly said, are taken care of by heaven-pure folly and simplicity is armed and protected by its very want of any obtruding faculty or passion on which designing villany can take hold; it is a smooth-skinned eel which slips out of the hand that tries to grasp it. But such guilelessness is rare. How is the countryman entrapped in Greene's illustrations of coney-catching? Not, assuredly, by any aversion or scruple he has to join in cheating another person, however indisposed
| to have that operation performed on himself, and however he may, as he imagines, have all his senses and faculties awake and on the stretch for his own protection. If he had thought only of taking care of himself, bumpkin as he is, he might have been safe-he had capacity, or instinct, enough for self-preservation, if he had confined his ambition to that; what suspended his vigilance, and betrayed him, was his eagerness to draw another into the snare from which he thought he had himself escaped, and to share the dishonest gains of the coneycatcher in addition to getting scatheless out of his hands. And in all cases this is the propensity in his victim upon which the cheat counts most; it is the fool's own inclination to knavery, the wish without the wit, that principally makes him the knave's victim. Take another common London trick--that of money-dropping or ring-dropping. We have seen that Greene mentions this as of the lures employed by the Setter or the Verser to seduce the countryman into the public house, in his written in . The author of a little volume, entitled in a series of letters, published in , is, therefore, in error in telling us (in his Letter) that guinea-dropping, as he calls it, or sweetening, was a paltry little cheat that was recommended to the world about years before by a memorable gentleman that had since had the misfortune to be taken off, that is to say, hanged, for a misdemeanor on the highway. At this date the trick, it would appear, was commonly practised on country gentlemen, as it now is on servant girls from the country. Some half a century, perhaps, later, as we may gather from , which has no date, but in which many things are copied from the preceding authority with certain alterations in accommodation to the change of times, we find the country gentleman transformed into a plain countryman or farmer. And here is the description of the trick given by the famous blind magistrate, Sir John Fielding, in a little tract entitled |
which is found at the end of printed in
| :-- |
Thus, we see, if harmless countrymen, and other honest and respectable persons, were somewhat less keen in catching at advantages to which they are not entitled, less fond of a good bargain (to the extent of occasionally appropriating what does not belong to them), less disposed to indulge in pots of wine or ale at the expense of other people, a little more solicitous than they commonly are to restore any article of value or apparent value they may pick up to its proper owner, they would fall into fewer scrapes and mischances. They would seldomer burn their fingers if they did not so often thrust them into the fire-more especially to snatch their neighbours' chestnuts. This consideration, along with others, has sometimes inclined us to think that, after all, the best and most effective way of legislating against swindling and thieving might be to punish the party who has lost his property, and not him who has abstracted it--the man who has been foolish and careless enough to allow himself to be plundered or overreached, rather than the ingenious and dexterous practitioner who has contrived to throw him off his guard. This is no more than the principle upon which the wise Spartans of old proceeded.
If the protection of property be the object, it may be reasonably doubted whether it would not be attained under this system, at least quite as successfully as under that now in use. And even on grounds of natural propriety and justice, considered liberally and without prejudice, would there be anything so very objectionable in thus rewarding ingenuity and leaving negligence and thoughtlessness to their natural punishment? Is not clever knavery entitled to this much of protection and encouragement according to all the fundamental principles of the Rights of Man? To whom does anything whatever rightfully belong, if not to him whom superior art, courage, or
|perseverance has put in possession of it, and enabled to snatch it from another less highly endowed with these qualities? Which of the is likely either to preserve it most carefully, or to make the best use of it-he who could not keep it when he had it, or he who, without the original advantage which actual possession gives, yet succeeded in winning it? Which may be supposed to feel the greatest regard and attachment to it, and to be, in so far as that goes, the most worthy of holding and enjoying it? But, independently of these transcendental speculations, there is, as we have said, the more homely consideration that the person who is swindled or plundered is often at heart very nearly as great a rascal as the abler rogue who cheats him, and has, in the transaction between them, been only a loser instead of a winner at the same game, which he has played indeed less openly and boldly, and altogether in a more pitiful and sneaking style, as well as less skilfully and successfully, than the other. No, the cheat in these cases is not the only public nuisance, the only offender that the state ought to endeavour to put down or extirpate; the cheatee, his natural prey and victim, is also a description of person of the most detrimental character in any well-governed commonwealth; if the latter could be got rid of, the former too would soon die out; and sound legislation therefore will direct its attention as sedulously to the object as to the other. Laws against thieves and swindlers must be combined with the enlightenment and general moral elevation of the class of the people on whose imperfect knowledge, or imperfect honesty (oftentimes the consequence of imperfect knowledge), these depredators trade and live. And herein the press too may lend a useful helping hand, even by such details and exposures as we have just been giving.|
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|CHAPTER LXXVI: Beer|
|CHAPTER LXXVII: Banks|
|CHAPTER LXXVIII: The Fleet Prison|
|CHAPTER LXXIX: Fleet Marriages|
|CHAPTER LXXX: Westminster Abbey. No. 1, General History|
|CHAPTER LXXXI: Westminster Abbey. No. 2, The Coronation Chair|
|CHAPTER LXXXII: Westminster Abbey. No. 3, The Regal Mausoleums|
|CHAPTER LXXXIII: Westminster Abbey. No. 4, Poets' Corner|
|CHAPTER LXXXIV: Westminster Abbey. No. 5, A Walk Through the Edifice|
|CHAPTER LXXXV: Old London Rogueries|
|CHAPTER LXXXVI: London Burials|
|CHAPTER LXXXVII: London Fires|
|CHAPTER LXXXVIII: Billingsgate|
|CHAPTER LXXXIX: Something about London Churches at the Close of the Fourteenth Century|
|CHAPTER XC: Sketches of the history of Crime and Police in London|
|CHAPTER XCI: Old St. Paul's|
|CHAPTER XCII: Old St. Paul's, No. 2|
|CHAPTER XCIII: Somerset House|
|CHAPTER XCIV: The Old Bailey|
|CHAPTER XCV: Public Refreshment|
|CHAPTER XCVI: New St. Paul's, No. 1|
|CHAPTER XCVII: New St. Paul's, No. 2|
|CHAPTER XCVIII: Inns of Court: the Inner and Middle Temple|
|CHAPTER XCIX: Innos of Court. No. 2, Lincoln's Inn-Gray's Inn|
|CHAPTER C: The Reading Room of the British Museum, by James M'Turk, Esq.|