Chapter 11

From what has been stated of the activity of mind among the inhabitants of this village, and especially politics, it will not be a subject of wonder, that there was a village coffee-house, on a small scale, in this place, and that the people sometimes met here, to smoke a pipe, and take a glass of beer and read a newspaper. It might be called a beer-house, if what was drank in it gave the name; for more ale was drank than coffee; but, in imitation of the larger towns it was called a coffee-house. It happened that the Captain wishing to learn the news of the coffee-house, took a walk there.

Teague, with what he had collected from the sale of the drugs, had been here before them; and taking on himself the air of a politician, had called for pipes and tobacco, and was looking over a gazette; not that he could read; but to induce people to believe that he read; occasionally also, as if unconscious of those around him, throwing out a sentence, in French; a little of which he had acquired as a parrot would language: such phrases, as sauve qui peut: ; tam pis pour lui; ; a la guillotine. Nor did he neglect the shrug of the shoulders, a habit of expressing the emotions of the mind, which remained still in some degree among the republicans, though it had been contracted under the monarchy, when people were afraid to speak out, and raised the back, when they did not dare to lift the voice; and dumb signs served instead of a viva voce declaration. This suited the bog-trotter and enabled him to conceal his ignorance. Not that he had the prudence to intend this; but imitating what he had seen abroad, he took up the character at home.

The attention of the benches was attracted by his physiognomy, and attitude; and in the opinion of some, he was taken for a French minister or consul; by others for an emigrant of distinction that had lost his property, for the sake of his title of nobility.

The Captain hearing these surmises, impelled by the natural candour of his mind, could not avoid explaining. It is neither French minister, nor consul, said he; but my bog-trotter, that I had detected some time ago, selling drugs, and passing himself for a physician. He might be qualified to be a horse doctor, but certainly not to practice on the human constitution. But what particularly excited indignation, was his purloining the medicines, taking and carrying away, what did not belong to him, and was aggravated by the circumstance, of the things being thrown into the open air, by the rioters who had broken the house, and dispersed the shop, to the great injury of the poor apothecary whose property they were. I had taken it on myself to chastise him, considering myself under obligation to restrain him, having been accessary to his coming to the village. And if you will give me leave gentlemen, and excuse the time and place, I will take the liberty to deal a few blows at this instant, as he cannot conveniently escape from the boxes before my stroke overtakes him.

Not giving time for reflection, or reply on the part of those present, he raised his baton, and was about to strike; Teague on the other hand, had up his heart of oak, also, if not to offend, at least, to defend, and parry the stroke; his countenance in the mean time argued submission: his words also, whether from fear, or respect, softening and conciliatory. God love your soul, said he, and be aisy; and not be after bating me before dese paple dat know nothing o’ de matter; dat will take you for an ould fool, bating and fighting for nothing. Just for making copper out o’ de offals of a farrier, selling dem to de paple when de mountebank himself ran off. It is a good job to be making a penny in hard times. If your honour will give me lave, I will introduce your honour, to dese paple dat have taken me for a French minister. I tought I had looked more like a papish praist. But as dey know best, it is all de same to me. I will drink your honour's health in a tankard of ale if your honour will plase to call for it. Dese shivil looking strangers, dat I never saw before, will like your honour better dan kicking and cuffing wid your shalelah and putting yourself in a passion wid a bog-trotter, dat never meant you any harm.

The address seemed reasonable; and those present interfering, the Captain consented to let him off, advising more honesty and fair dealing for the future. But, in his apology to the company for what might seem an impropriety in behaviour, he was led to give the history of the Hybernian, and the circumstance of his being in France, which accounted for his affecting the French manner, and occasional attempts at the language. This in the mean time led to a general conversation on the affairs of France, and the history of the revolution. Observations were made above the ordinary stile of beer-house conversation; and of which, though expressed in a desultory manner, as each one took the pipe from his mouth, or listened to the suggestions of others, it may be worth while to give a sample.

One of these who had a considerable fluency of tongue, and ready memory, observed, “That the loss of liberty in the course of that revolution was owing to the unskilfulness of those who conducted it.”

But in like situations, said another; is it reasonable to expect more skill? The mass of the people conducted the revolution, and is it in the nature of things, for them to stop at a proper point?

It is in the nature of things, said another; but it is a rare felicity. It is natural to distrust him who proposes to stop short of what seems a complete reform. The sovereign people is as liable to the impulse of passion, and as open to the insinuations of flatterers as an individual tyrant. The courtier devoid of principle, in the democratic hall, gets the ear of the populace, as he would that of a Prince, and abuses it.

I do not know well what a man can better do, said another, than just to fall in with the current of opinion, and when it changes, change with it. We are right, say the people. You are right says the man of prudence. We were wrong, say the people. You were wrong, says the same man. Who is ever displeased with a person that has been in the same error with himself?

That is true, said the Captain; but is there no such thing as public spirit? Is there not a spice of virtue to be found in a republic? Who would not devote himself for the public good? Were not Phocion, and Philopoemen time servers? I grant that it is not the way ultimately to make friends of them, and to have their confidence. Let school boys propose to rob a hen-roost, they will respect him who dissuaded, though it was not popular, but incurred the imputation of cowardice, and a want of spirit, at the time. Let them rob a garden, and be brought to punishment, they will revere him who had told them it was wrong, but was hurried along with them, and suffered by their fault. It is by these means that amongst the savages, strong minds obtain the ascendancy and are trusted by the nation. Great is the force of truth, and it will prevail. It requires great courage to bear testimony against an error in the judgment of the multitude; as it is attended with present disreputation. Yet courage is virtue, and is its own reward.

The great mischief of democracy is party, said an orator, who had taken the pipe from his teeth.

It is the great advantage of it, said his neighbour. It is the angel that descends at a certain season and troubles the pool of Bethsaida, that the lame person may be made whole. Were it not for party, all things would go one way; the commonwealth would stagnate.

But let one party obtain ascendancy, and does it not come to the same thing. All things will go one way then; or rather stand still.

Not so, said the Captain; no party can maintain power long. The ascendancy carries its overthrow along with it. The duration depends upon the judgment of the leaders of the councils. But the leaders, will find that they cannot lead, always. While they were struggling up the ascent, every one was willing to be helped, and took advice. But on the top of the precipice and hoop, and there is no restraining them. A leader of judgment, will always find it more difficult to manage his own people than to combat his adversaries. They cannot be brought to halt at a proper point; and their errors bring them down again, as those in power did before them.

However, this is wandering from the point, said a man in a black wig; we were talking of the French; who says that Bonaparte did not usurp the government?

I am of that opinion, said the Captain; for there was no government to usurp. He put down the directory, who had themselves put down the councils. The banishment to Cayenne, is a proof of this.

I agree with you, said an individual on the other side of the box or bench, as it rather might be called. It was the Mountainards that ruined the republic, at the very time they were running down the others under the charge of incivicism, and conspiracy against the republic.

Doubtless, said the Captain. It is in popular intemperance, that aristocracy, and despotism have their source.

At this instant the blowing of a horn announced the arrival of the post; the late papers were brought in and all began to read.