King of the Beggars - Chapter VII.

Chapter VII.

He is Crowned King of the Beggars

            It was about this time the good old king of the mendicants, (under which title we comprehend the community of the Gypsies, as well as every other order of mendicants, vulgarly called beggars,) named Clause Patch, well known in the city of London, and most parts of England, finished a life of true glory, being spent in promoting the welfare of his people. A little before his death, finding the decays of nature increase every day, and his final dissolution approach, he called together all his children, to the number of eighteen, and summoned as many of his subjects as were within a convenient distance, being willing that the last spark of his life should go out in the service of his people; this summons was obeyed with heavy hearts by his loving subjects, and, at the day and place appointed, a great number assembled together.

            The venerable old king was brought in a high chair, and placed in the midst of them, his children standing next to him, and his subjects behind them.—Reader, if thou hast ever seen that famous picture of Seneca bleeding to death in the bath, with his friends and disciples standing round him (a picture in the possession of the earl of Exeter, at his seat near Stamford, in Lincolnshire,) then mayest thou form some idea of this assembly: such was the lively grief, such the profound veneration, such the solemn attention that appeared in every countenance; but we can give thee no adequate idea of the inward joy which the good old king felt at his seeing such unfeigned marks of love in his subjects, which he considered as so many testimonies of his own virtues; for, certain it is that, when kings are fathers of their people, their subjects will have for them more than the filial love or veneration of sons. The mind of man cannot conceive anything so august, as that of a king beloved by his subjects. Could kings but taste this pleasure at their first mounting the throne, instead of drinking of the intoxicating cup of power, we should see them considering their subjects as children, and themselves the fathers, to nourish, instruct, and provide for them as a flock, and themselves the shepherds to bring them to pleasant pastures, refreshing streams, and secure folds.—For some time the king of the mendicants sat contemplating these emotions of his subjects, then bending forward, thus addressed them:

            "Children and friends, or rather may I call you all my children, as I regard you all with a parental love, I have taken you from your daily employments, that you may all eat and drink with me before I die. I am not courtier enough yet, however, to make my favours an honest loss to my friends; but, before you depart, the book shall be examined, and every one of you shall receive from my privy purse, the same sum that you made by your business this day of the last week. Let not this honest act of generosity displease my heirs; it is the last waste I shall make of their stores: the rest of what I die possessed of is theirs by right, but my counsel, though directed to them only, shall be of public good to all. The good success, my dear children, with which it has pleased heaven to bless my industry in this our calling, has given me the power of bestowing one hundred pounds on each of you, a small, but improvable fortune, and of most use, as it is a proof that every one of you may gain as much as the whole, if your own idleness or vice prevent it not;—mark by what means! Our community, like people of other professions, live upon the necessities, the passions, or the weaknesses of their fellow-creatures. The two great passions of the human breast are vanity and pity; both these have great power in men's actions, but the first the greater far; and he who can attract these the most successfully, will gain the largest fortune.

            "There was a time when rules for doing this were of more worth to me than gold; but now I am grown old, my strength and senses fail me, and I am past being an object of compassion. A real scene of affliction moves few hearts to pity: dissembled wretchedness is what most reaches the human mind, and I am past dissembling. Take therefore among you, the maxims I have laid down for my own guide, and use them with as much success as I have done.

            "Be not less friends because you are brothers, or of the same profession: the lawyers herd together in their inns, the doctors in their college, the mercers on Ludgate-hill, and the old clothes-men in Monmouth-street: what one has not among these another has; and among you the heart of him who is not moved by one lamentable object, will probably be so by another; and that charity which was half awakened by the first, will relieve a second, or a third. Remember this, and always people a whole street with objects skilled in scenes of different distress, placed at proper distances: the tale that moves not one heart, may surprise the next,—the obdurate passer-by of the first must be made of no human matter if he feels no part of the distress that twenty different tales have heaped together; and be assured, that where it is touched with a kindred misfortune, it will bestow.

            "Remember, that where one gives out of pity to you, fifty give out of kindness to themselves, to rid them of your troublesome application; and for one that gives out of real compassion, five hundred do it out of ostentation. On these principles, trouble people most who are most busy, and ask relief where many see it given, and you'll succeed in your attempt. Remember that the streets were made for people to walk, and not to converse in: keep up their ancient use; and whenever you see two or three gathered together, be you amongst them, and let them not hear the sound of their own voices till they have bought off the noise of yours. When self-love is thus satisfied, remember social virtue is the next duty, and tell your next friend where he may go and obtain the same relief, by the same means.

            "Trouble not yourselves about the nobility: prosperity has made them vain and insensible: they cannot pity what they cannot feel.

            "The talkers in the street are to be tolerated on different conditions, and at different prices; if they are tradesmen, their conversation will soon end, and may be well paid for by a halfpenny: if an inferior clings to the skirt of a superior, he will give twopence rather than be pulled off; and when you are happy enough to meet a lover and his mistress, never part with them under sixpence, for you may be sure they will never part from one another.

            "So much regards communities of men; but when you hunt single, the great game of all is to be played. However much you ramble in the day, be sure to have some street near your home, where your chief residence is, and all your idle time is spent, for the night. Here learn the history of every family, and whatever has been the latest calamity; of that provide a brother or a sister that may pretend the same. If the master of one house has lost a son, let your eldest brother attack his compassion on that tender side, and tell him he has lost the sweetest, hopefullest, and dutifullest child, that was his only comfort: what would the answer be, but, aye, poor fellow! I know how to pity thee in that; and a shilling be in as much haste to fly out of his pocket as the first tear from his eye.

            "Is the master of a second house sick, waylay his wife from morning till night, and tell her you will pray, morning, noon, and night for his recovery. If he dies, grief is the reigning passion for the first fortnight, let him have been what he would: grief leads naturally to compassion, so let your sister thrust a pillow under her coats, tell her she is a poor disconsolate widow, left with seven small children, and that she lost the best husband in the world; and you may share considerable gains.

            "Whatever people seem to want, give it them largely in your address to them: call the beau sweet gentleman, bless even his coat or periwig, and tell him they are happy ladies where he is going. If you meet with a schoolboy-captain, such as our streets are full of, call him noble general; and if the miser can be any way got to strip himself of a farthing, it will be by the name of charitable sir.

            "Some people show you in their looks the whole thoughts of their heart, and give you a fine notice how to succeed with them: if you meet a sorrowful countenance with a red coat, be sure the wearer is a disbanded officer: let a female always attack him, and tell him she is the widow of a poor marine, who had served twelve years, and then broke his heart because he was turned out without a penny; if you see a plain man hang down his head as he comes out of some nobleman's gate, say to him, Good worthy sir, I beg your pardon, but I am a poor ruined tradesman, that once was in a good business, but the great people would not pay me. And if you see a pretty woman with a dejected look, send your sister that is at hand, to complain to her of a bad husband, that gets drunk and beats her; that runs to whores, and has spent all her substance: there are but two things that can make a handsome woman melancholy: the having a bad husband, or the having no husband at all; if the first of these is the case, one of the former crimes will touch her to the quick, and loosen the strings of her purse; in the other, let a second distressed object tell her she was to have been married well, but that her lover died a week before; one way or other the tender heart of the female will be melted, and the reward will be handsome. If you meet a homely, but dressed-up lady, pray for her lovely face, and beg a penny; if you see a mark of delicacy by the drawing up of the nose, send somebody to show her a sore leg, a scalded head, or a rupture. If you are happy enough to fall in with a tender husband leading his big wife to church, send companions that have but one arm, or two thumbs, or tell her of some monstrous child you have brought forth, and the good man will pay you to be gone, if he gives slightly, it is but following, getting before the lady, and talking louder, and you may depend upon his searching his pocket to better purpose a second time. There are many more things of which I have to speak, but my feeble tongue will not hold out. Profit by these: they will be found sufficient, and if they prove to you, my children, what they have been to me these eighteen years, I shall not repine at my dissolution."

            Here he paused for some time, being almost spent: then, recovering his voice and spirits, he thus began again: "As I find the lamp of life is not quite extinguished, I shall employ the little that remains in saying a few words of my public conduct as your king. I call heaven to witness, that I have loved you all with a paternal love: these now feeble limbs and broken spirits have been worn out in providing for your welfare, and often have these dim eyes watched while you have slept, with a father's care for your safety. I call you all to witness that I have kept an impartial register of your actions, and no merit has passed unnoticed. I have, with a most exact hand, divided to every man his due portion of our common stock, and have had no worthless favourite nor useless officer to eat the honey of your labour. And for all these I have had my reward, in seeing the happiness, and having the love of all my subjects. I depart, therefore, in peace, to rest from my labours; it remains only that I give you my last advice, which is, that in choosing my successor, you pay no partial regard to my family, but let him only that is most worthy rule over you." He said no more, but, leaning back in his chair, died without a sigh.

            Never was there a scene of more real distress, or more unfeigned grief, than now appeared among his children and subjects. Nothing was heard but sighs and exclamations for their loss. When the first transports of their grief were over, they sent the sorrowful news to all the houses that were frequented by their community in every part of the kingdom; at the same time summoning them to repair to the city of London on a certain day, in order to proceed to the election of a new king.

            Before the day appointed for the election a vast concourse of mendicants flocked from all parts of the kingdom to the city of London; for every member of the community has a right to vote in the choice of their king, as they think it inconsistent with that of natural liberty, which every man is born heir to, to deny anyone the privilege of making his own choice in a matter of so great importance.

            Here, reader, as thou wilt be apt to judge from what thou hast seen, thou already expectest a scene of riot and debauchery; to see the candidates servilely cringing, meanly suing, and basely bribing the electors, depriving themselves of sense and reason, and selling more than Esau did for a mess of pottage; for, what is birthright, what is inheritance, when put in the scale against that choicest blessing, public liberty! O, Liberty! thou enlivener of life, thou solace of toils, thou patron of virtue, thou encourager of industry, thou spring of justice, thou something more than life, beyond the reach of fancy to describe, all hail! It is thou that beamest the sunshine in the patriot's breast; it is thou that sweetenest the toil of the labouring mechanic! thou dost inspire the ploughman with his jocund mirth, and thou tunest the merry milk-maid's song; thou canst make the desert smile, and the barren rock to sing for joy; by thy sacred protection the poorest peasant lies secure under the shadow of his defenceless cot, whilst oppression at a distance gnashes with her teeth, but dares not show her iron rod; and power, like the raging billows, dashes its bounds with indignation, but dares not overpass them. But where thou art not, how changed the scene! how tasteless, how irksome labour! how languid industry! Where are the beauteous rose, the gaudy tulip, the sweet-scented jessamine? where the purple grape, the luscious peach, the glowing nectarine? wherefore smile not the valleys with their beauteous verdure, nor sing for joy with their golden harvest? All are withered by the scorching sun of lawless power! Where thou art not, what place so sacred as to be secure? or who can say, this is my own! This is the language only of the place where thou delightest to dwell; but, as soon as thou spreadest thy wings to some more pleasing clime, power walks abroad with haughty strides, and tramples upon the weak, whilst oppression, with its heavy hand, bows down the unwilling neck to the yoke.—O, my Country! alas, my Country! thou wast once the chosen seat of liberty; her footsteps appeared in thy streets, thy palaces, thy public assemblies: she exulted in thee: her voice, the voice of joy and gladness was heard throughout the land: with more than a mother's love she held forth her seven-fold shield to protect thee, the meanest of her sons; whilst justice, supported by law, rode triumphant by her side with awful majesty, and looked into fear and trembling every disturber of the public quiet. O, thou whom my soul loveth, wherefore dost thou sit dejected, and hidest thy face all the day long?—Canst thou ask the reason of my grief? See, see, my generous hardy sons are become foolish, indolent, effeminate, thoughtless; behold, how with their own hands they have loaded me with shackles: alas! hast thou not seen them take the rod from my beloved sister, Justice, and give it to the sons of blood and rapine? Yet a little while I mourn over lost and degenerate sons, and then with hasty flight fix my habitation in some more happy clime.

            Though the community of the Gypsies at other times give themselves up to mirth and jollity with perhaps too much licence, yet nothing is reckoned more infamous and shameful amongst them than to appear intoxicated during the time of an election, and it very rarely happens that any of them are so, for they reckon it a choice of so much importance, that they cannot exert in it too much judgment, prudence, and wisdom; they therefore endeavour to have their faculties strong, lively, penetrating, and clear at that time. Their method of election is different from that of most other people, though, perhaps, it is the best contrived of any, and attended with the fewest inconveniences. We have already observed, that none but those who have long been members of the community, are well acquainted with the institution of it, and have signalized themselves by some remarkable actions, are permitted to offer themselves as candidates. These are obliged, ten days before the election, to fix up in some place of their public resort an account of those actions, upon the merit of which they found their pretensions of becoming candidates; to which they must add their opinions on liberty, and the office and duties of a king. They must, during these ten days, appear every day at the place of election, that their electors may have an opportunity of forming some judgment from the lineaments and prognostics of their countenance. A few days before the election, a little white ball, and as many black ones as with the white one will equal the number of candidates, are given to each elector.

            When the day of election is come, as many boxes are placed as there are candidates, with the name of the particular candidate written on the box which is appropriated to him; these boxes are quite closed, except a little opening at the top, which is every night, during the election, locked up under the keys and seals of each candidate, and of six of the most venerable old men in the community; it is in the little opening at the top of these boxes, that the elector puts in the little ball we have just now mentioned; at the same time he puts his white ball into the box of the candidate whom he chooses to be his king, he puts a black ball into the boxes of all the other candidates; and when they have all done so, the boxes are broken open, and the balls counted in presence of all the candidates, and of as many electors as choose it, by the old men above mentioned; and he who has the greatest number of white balls is always duly chosen. By this means no presiding officer has it in his power to make one more than two, which sometimes happens in the elections amongst other communities, who do not use this form. There are other innumerable advantages attending this manner of election, and it is likely to preserve public liberty the longest; for, first, as the candidates are obliged to fix up publicly an account of those actions upon the merit of which they become candidates, it deters any but those who are truly worthy from offering themselves; and, as the sentiments which each of them gives upon public liberty, and the duty and office of a king, is immediately entered in their public register, it stands as a public witness against, and a check upon that candidate who is chosen, to deter him from a change of sentiments and principles; for, though in some countries this is known to have little effect, and men have on a sudden, without any alteration in the nature of things, shamelessly espoused those principles and sentiments, which they had vehemently all their life before opposed, yet in this community, where there is so high a sense of honour and shame kept up, it must necessarily be none of the least binding obligations. Secondly, by this method of balloting, or giving their votes by balls, the elector's choice is more free and unbiassed; for, as none but himself can know the candidate he gives his white ball to, there can be no influence of fear, interest, ties of blood, or any other cause, to oblige him to give his vote contrary to his judgment; even bribes, if they were known amongst these people, would lose their effect under this method of voting; because few candidates would choose to bribe, when they could have no security or knowledge whether the bribed elector might have put a black ball instead of a white one into his box.

            Our hero was now one of the candidates, and exhibited to the electors so long a list of bold and ingenious stratagems which he had executed, and made so graceful and majestic an appearance in his person, that he had a considerable majority of white balls in his box, though there were ten candidates for the same honour; upon which he was declared duly elected, and hailed by the whole assembly, King of the Mendicants. The public register of their actions being immediately committed to his care, and homage done him by all the assembly, the whole concluded with great feasting and rejoicing, and the electors sang the following ode:

I.

Cast your nabs [caps] and cares away,
This is Maunders' holiday;
In the world look out and see,
Where so blest a king as he!

II.

At the crowning of our king,
Thus we ever dance and sing;
Where's the nation lives so free,
And so merrily as we!

III.

Be it peace, or be it war,
Here at liberty we are:
Hang all Harmenbecks, [constables] we cry,
We the Cuffin Queres [Justices of teh peace] defy.

IV.

We enjoy our ease and rest,
To the field we are not press'd;
And when taxes are increased,
We are not a penny sess'd.

V.

Nor will any go to law
With a Maunder [beggar] for a straw;
All which happiness, he brags,
Is only owing to his rags.

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