The history of a modish marriage; the description of a coffee-house, and a very grave political debate on the good of the nation.
POMPEY was sold, as we have just observed, to an alehouse-keeper's daughter, for the valuable consideration of a pint of porter. This amiable young lady was then on the point of marriage with a hackney-coachman, and soon afterwards the nuptials were consummated to the great joy of the two ancient families, who were by this means sure of not being extinct. As soon as the ceremony was over at the Fleet, the new-married couple set out to celebrate their wedding at the Old Blue-Boar in Tyburn-Road, and the bride was conducted home at night dead-drunk to her new apartments in a garret in Smithfield.
This fashionable pair had scarce been married three days before they began to quarrel on a very fashionable subject. For the civil well-bred husband coming home one night from his station, and expecting the cow-heels to have been ready for his supper, found his lodgings empty, and his darling spouse abroad. At about eleven o'clock she came flouncing into the room, and telling him, with great gaietè de coeur, that she had been at the play, began to describe the several scenes of Hamlet prince of Denmark. Judge if this was not provocation too great for a hackney-coachman's temper. He fell to exercising his whip in a most outrageous manner, and she applying herself no less readily to more desperate weapons, a most bloody fray ensued between them; in which Automedon had like to have been stabbed with a penknife, and his fair spouse was obliged to keep her bed near a month with the bruises she received in this horrid rencounter.
Little Pompey now most sensibly felt the ill effects of his former luxury, which served only to aggravate the miseries of his present condition. The coarse fare he met with in roofless garrets, or cellars underground, were but indelicate morsels to one who had formerly lived on ragouts and fricassees; and he found it very difficult to sleep on hard and naked floors, who had been used to have his limbs cushioned up on sofas and couches. But luckily for him, his favour with his mistress procured him the hatred of his master, who sold him a second time to a nymph of Billingsgate for a pennyworth of oysters.
His situation indeed was not mended for the present by this means, but it put him in a way to be released the sooner from a course of life so ill-suited to his constitution or his temper. For this delicate fisherwoman, as she went her rounds, carried him one evening to a certain coffee-house near the Temple, where the lady behind the bar was immediately struck with his beauty, and with no great difficulty prevailed on the gentle water-nymph to surrender him for a dram of brandy.
His fortunes now began to wear a little better aspect, and he spent his time here agreeably enough in listening to the conversations and disputes that arose in the coffee-room among people of all denominations; for here assembled wits, critics, templars, politicians, poets, country squires, grave tradesmen, and sapient physicians.
The little consistories of wit claimed his first attention, being a dog of a natural turn for humour, and he took a pleasure to hear young Templars criticise the works of Shakespeare, call Mr. Garrick to account every evening for his action, extol the beauty of actresses, and the reputation of whores. Here the illustrious Mr, F——t (before he was yet exalted to the dignity of keeping a chariot and bay-horses, which perhaps may not be the highest exaltation he has yet to undergo) used to harangue to a club of his admirers, and like a great professor of impudence, teach them the principles of that immortal science. Here he conceived the first thought of giving tea, and milling chocolate; and here he laid the plan of all those mighty operations he has since achieved. The master of the coffee-house himself is a great adept in modern literature, and, I believe, reads lectures of wit to young Templars on their first appearance in town.
When he was tired of the clubs of humour, he would betake himself to another table, and listen to a junto of politicians, who used to assemble here in an evening with the most public-spirited views; namely, to settle the affairs of the nation, and point out the errors of the ministry. Here he has heard the government arraigned in the most abusive manner, for what the government never performed or thought of; and the lowest ribaldry of a dirty news-paper, cried up as the highest touches of Attic irony. He has heard sea-fights condemned by people who never saw the sea even through a telescope; and the general of an army called to account for his disposition of a battle, by men whose knowledge of war never reached beyond a cock-match.
A curious conversation of this kind happened one day in his hearing, which I shall beg leave to relate as a little specimen of coffee-house oratory. It happened at the end of the late rebellion; and the chief orator of the club began as usual with asserting, that the rebellion was promoted by the ministry for some private ends of their own. 'What was the reason,' said he, 'of its being disbelieved so long? Why was our army absent at such a critical conjuncture? Let any man tell me that. I should be glad to hear any man answer me these questions. D—mn it, they may think perhaps they are acting all this while in secret, and applaud themselves for their cunning; but I believe I know more than they would wish me to know. Thank God I can see a little, if I please to open my eyes, and if I ws in the House of Commons—'Zounds, old Walpole is behind the curtain still, notwithstanding his resignation, and the old game is playing over again, whatever they may pretend—There was a correspondence between Walpole and Fleury, to my knowledge, and they projected between them all the evils that have since happened to the nation.'
The company all seemed to agree with this eloquent gentleman's sentiments; and one of them ventured to say he believed the army was sent into Flanders, on purpose to be out of the way at the time of the insurrection. ''Zounds,' says the orator, 'I believe you are in the right, and the wind blew them over against their inclinations. Pox! what made What-d'ye-callum's army disperse as it did? let any body answer me that, if they are able. Don't you think they had orders from above to run away?—By G-d I do, if you don't, and I believe I could prove it too, if I was to set about it. Besides, if they have any desire of preventing future invasions from France, why don't they send out and burn all their shipping? Why don't they send out V-rn-n with a strong fleet, and let him burn all their shipping? I warrant him, if he had a proper commission in his pocket, he would not leave a harbour or a ship in France—but they know they don't dare do it for fear of discoveries; they are in league with the French ministry; or else, damme, can anything be so easy as to take and burn all the shipping in France?'
A gentleman, who had hitherto sat silent at the table, replied, with a sneer on his countenance, 'No, sir, nothing in the world can be so easy, except talking about it.' This drew the eyes of the company upon him, and every one began to wink at his neighbour, when the orator resumed the discourse in the following manner. 'Talk, sir? No, by G—d, we are come to that pass, that we don't dare talk now-a-days; things are come to such a pass, that we don't dare open our mouths.' 'Sir, said the gentleman, I think you have been talking already with great licentiousness; and let me add too, with great indecency on a very serious subject.' ''Zounds, sir, said the orator, may not I have the liberty of speaking my mind freely upon any subject that I please? why, we don't live in France, sir; you forget, surely—This is England, this is honest Old England, sir, and not a Mahometan empire; though God knows how long we shall continue so in the way we are going on—and yet, forsooth, we must not talk; our mouths are to be sewed up, as well as our purses taken from us—Here we are paying four shillings in the pound, and yet we must not speak our minds freely.' 'Sir, said the gentleman, undoubtedly you may speak your minds freely; but the laws of your country oblige you not to speak treason, and the laws of good-manners should dispose you to speak with decency and respect of your governors. You say, sir, we are come to that pass, that we dare not talk—I protest, that is very extraordinary; and if I was called upon to answer this declaration, I would rather say we are come to that pass now-a-days, that we talk with more virulence and ill-language than ever—we talk upon subjects, which it is impossible we should understand, and advance assertions, which we know to be false. Bold affirmations against the government are believed merely from the dint of assurance with which they are spoken, and the idlest jargon often passes for the soundest reasoning. Give me leave to say, you, sir, are a living example of the lenity of that government, which you are abusing for want of lenity, and your own practice in the strongest manner confutes your own assertions—but I beg we may call another subject.'
Here the orator having nothing more to reply, was resolved to retire from a place where he could no longer make a figure. Wherefore, flinging down his reckoning, and putting on his hat with great vehemence, he walked away muttering surlily to himself, 'things are come to a fine pass truly, if people may not have the liberty of talking.' The rest of the company separated soon afterwards, all of them harbouring no very favourable opinion of the gentleman, who had taken the courage to stand up in defence of the government. Some imagined he was a spy, others concluded he was a writer of the gazettes, and the most part were contented with only thinking him a fool.
The angry orator was no sooner got home to his family, and seated in his elbow-chair at supper, than he began to give vent to the indignation he had been collecting; ''Zounds,' said he, 'I have been called to account for my words to-night. I have been told by a jackanapes at the coffee-house, that I must not say what I please against the government. Talk with decency indeed! a fart of decency!—let them act with decency, if they have a mind to stop people's mouths—Talk with decency! d-mn 'em all, I'll talk what I please, and no king or minister on earth shall control me. Let 'em behead me, if they have a mind, as they did Balmerino, and t'other fellow, that died like a coward. Must I be catechized by a little sycophant that kisses the a–e of a minister? What is an Englishman, that dares not utter his sentiments freely?—Talk with decency! I wish I had kicked the rascal out of the coffee-house, and I will, if ever I meet him again, damme—Pox! we are come to a fine pass, if every little prating, pragmatical jackanapes is to contradict a true born Englishman.'
While his wife and daughters sat trembling at the vehemence of his speeches, yet not daring to speak, for fear of drawing his rage on themselves, he began to curse them for their silence; and addressing himself to his wife, 'why dost not speak,' cries he, 'what, I suppose, I shall have you telling me by-and-by too, that I must talk with decency?' 'My dear,' said the wife, with great humility, 'I know nothing at all of the matter.' 'No,' cries he, 'I believe not; but you might know to dress a supper, though, and be d-mned to you—Here's nothing that I can eat, according to custom. Pox, a man may starve with such a wife at the head of his family.'
When the cloth was removed, and he was preparing to fill his pipe, unfortunately he could not find his tobacco-stopper, which again set his choler at work. 'Go upstairs, Moll!' said he to one of his daughters, 'and feel in my old breeches pocket—Damme, I believe that scoundrel at the coffee-house has robbed me with his decency—Why do'st not stir, girl? what, hast got the cramp in thy toes? Why, papa,' said the girl flippantly, 'I am going as fast as I can.'—Upon which, immediately he threw a bottle at her head, and proceding from invectives to blows, he beat his wife, kicked his daughters, swore at his servants; and after all this, went reeling up to bed with curses in his mouth against the tyranny of the government.
Nothing can be more common than examples in this way, of people who preside over their families with the most arbitrary brutal severity, and yet are ready on all occasions to abuse the government for the smallest exertion of its power. To say the truth, I scarce know a man, who is not a tyrant in miniature, over the circle of his own dependants; and I have observed those in particular to exercise the greatest lordship over their inferiors, who are most forward to complain of oppression from their superiors. Happy is it for the world, that this coffee-house statesman was not born a king, for one may very justly apply to him the line of Martial,
Dic mihi! si fueris tu Leo, qualis eris?
["Tell me, if you became a lion, what sort of lion will you be?" Martial, Epigrams, Bok. XII no. 92]