Chapter 1

The Captain , was a man of about forty-five years of age, of good natural sense, and considerable reading: but in some things whimsical, owing perhaps to his greater knowledge of books than of the world; but, in some degree, also, to his having never married, being what they call an old bachelor, a characteristic of which is, usually, singularity and whim. He had the advantage of having had, in early life, an academic education; but having never applied himself to any of the learned professions, he had lived the greater part of his life on a small farm, which he cultivated with servants or hired hands, as he could conveniently supply himself with either. The servant that he had at this time, was an Irishman, whose name was Teague Oregan. I shall say nothing of the character of this man, because the very name imports what he was.

A strange idea came into the head of the Captain about this time; for, by the bye, I had forgot to mention that having been chosen captain of a company of militia in the neighbourhood, he had gone by the name of captain ever since; for the rule is, once a captain, and always a captain; but, as I was observing, the idea had come into his head, to saddle an old horse that he had, and ride about the world a little, with his man Teague at his heels, to see how things were going on here and there, and to observe human nature. For it is a mistake to suppose, that a man cannot learn man by reading him in a corner, as well as on the widest space of transaction. At any rate, it may yield amusement.

It was about a score of miles from his own house, that he fell in with what we call Races. The jockeys seeing him advance, with Teague by his side, whom they took for his groom, conceived him to be some person who had brought his horse to enter for the purse. Coming up and accosting him, said they, You seem to be for the races, sir; and have a horse to enter. Not at all said the Captain; this is but a common palfrey, and by no means remarkable for speed or bottom; he is a common plough horse which I have used on my farm for several years, and can scarce go beyond a trot; much less match himself with your blooded horses that are going to take the field on this occasion.

The jockeys were of opinion, from the speech, that the horse was what they call a bite, and that under the appearance of leanness and stiffness, there was concealed some hidden quality of swiftness uncommon. For they had heard of instances, where the most knowing had been taken in by mean looking horses: so that having laid two, or more, to one, they were nevertheless bitten by the bet; and the mean-looking nags, proved to be horses of a more than common speed and bottom. So that there is no trusting appearances. Such was the reasoning of the jockeys. They could have no idea, that a man could come there in so singular a manner, with a groom at his foot, unless he had some great object of making money by the adventure. Under this idea, they began to interrogate him with respect to the blood and pedigree of his horse: whether he was of the Dove, or the Bay mare that took the purse; and was imported by such a one at such a time? whether his sire was Tamerlane or Bajazet?

The Captain was irritated at the questions, and could not avoid answering—Gentlemen, said he, it is a strange thing that you should suppose that it is of any consequence what may be the pedigree of a horse. For even in men it is of no avail. Do we not find that sages have had blockheads for their sons; and that blockheads have had sages? It is remarkable, that as estates have seldom lasted three generations, so understanding and ability have seldom been transmitted to the second. There never was a greater man, take him as an orator and philosopher, than Cicero: and never was there a person who had greater opportunities than his son Marcus; and yet he proved of no account or reputation. This is an old instance, but there are a thousand others. Chesterfield and his son are mentioned. It is true, Philip and Alexander may be said to be exceptions; Philip of the strongest possible mind; capable of almost every thing we can conceive; the deepest policy and the most determined valour; his son Alexander not deficient in the first, and before him in the last; if it is possible to be before a man than whom you can suppose nothing greater. It is possible, in modern times, that Tippo Saib may be equal to his father Hyder Ali. Some talk of the two Pitts. I have no idea that the son is, in any respect, equal to old Sir William. The one is a laboured artificial minister: the other spoke with the thunder, and acted with the lightning of the gods. I will venture to say, that when the present John Adams's, and the Lee, and Jefferson, and Jay, and Henry, and other great men, who appear upon the stage at this time, have gone to sleep with their fathers, it is a hundred to one if there is any of their descendants who can fill their places. Were I to lay a bet for a great man, I would sooner pick up the brat of a tinker, than go into the great houses to chuse a piece of stuff for a man of genius. Even with respect to personal appearance, which is more in the power of natural production, we do not see that beauty always produces beauty; but on the contrary, the homeliest persons have oftentimes the best favoured offspring; so that there is no rule or reason in these things. With respect to this horse, therefore, it can be of no moment whether he is blooded or studded, or what he is. He is a good old horse, used to the plough, and carries my weight very well; and I have never yet made enquiry with respect to his ancestor, or affronted him so much as to cast up to him the defect of parentage. I bought him some years ago from Neil Thomas, who had him from a colt. As far as I can understand, he was of a brown mare that John M’Neis had; but of what horse I know no more than the horse himself. His gaits are good enough, as to riding a short journey of seven or eight miles: or the like: but he is rather a pacer than a trotter; and though his bottom may be good enough in carrying a bag to the mill, or going in the plough, or the sled, or the harrow, &c. yet his wind is not so good, nor his speed, as to be fit for the heats.

The jockeys thought the man a fool, and gave themselves no more trouble about him.

The horses were now entered, and about to start for the purse. There was Black and All-Black, and Snip, John Duncan’s Barbary Slim, and several others. The riders had been weighed, and when mounted, the word was given. It is needless to describe a race; every body knows the circumstances of it. It is sufficient to say, that from the bets that were laid, there was much anxiety, and some passion in the minds of those concerned: So, that as two of the horses, Black and All-Black, and Slim, came out near together; there was dispute and confusion. It came to kicking and cuffing in some places.

The Captain was a good deal hurt with such indecency amongst gentlemen, and advancing, addressed them in the following manner,--Gentlemen, this is an unequal and unfair proceeding. It is unbecoming modern manners, or even the ancient. For at the Olympic games of Greece, where were celebrated horse and chariot races, there was no such hurry scurry as this; and in times of chivalry itself, where men ate, drank, and slept on horseback, though there was a great deal of pell-melling, yet no such disorderly work as this. If men had a difference, they couched their lances, and ran full tilt at one another; but no such indecent expressions, as villain, scoundrel, liar, ever came out of their mouths. There was the most perfect courtesy in those days of heroism and honour; and this your horse-racing, which is a germ of the amusement of those times, ought to be conducted on the same principles of decorum and good breeding.

As he was speaking, he was jostled by some one in the crowd, and thrown from his horse; and had it not been for Teague, who was at hand, and helped him on again, he would have suffered damage. As it was, he received a contusion in his head, of which he complained much: and having left the race-ground, and coming to a small cottage, he stopped a little, to alight and dress the wound. An old woman who was there, thought they ought to take a little of his water, and see how it was with him; but the Captain having no faith in telling disorders by the urine, thought proper to send for a surgeon who was hard by, to examine the bruise, and apply bandages.

The surgeon attended, and examining the part, pronounced it a contusion of the cerebrum. But as there appeared but little laceration, and no fracture, simple or compound, the pia mater could not be injured; nor even could there be more than a slight impression on the dura mater; so that trepanning did not at all appear necessary,--a most fortunate circumstance; for a wound in the head, is of all places the most dangerous; because there can be no amputation to save life, there being but one head to a man, and that being the residence of the five senses, it is impossible to live without it. Nevertheless, as the present case was highly dangerous, as it might lead to a subsultus tendinum or lock-jaw, it was necessary to apply cataplasms in order to reduce inflammation, and bring about a sanative disposition of the parts. Perhaps it might not be amiss, to take an anodyne as a refrigerant.... Many patients had been lost by the ignorance of empirics prescribing bracers; whereas, in the first stage of a contusion, relaxing and antifebrile medicines are proper. A little phlebotomy was no doubt necessary, to prevent the bursting of the blood vessels.

The Captain hearing so many hard words and bad accounts of this case, was much alarmed. Nevertheless he did not think it could be absolutely so dangerous. For it seemed to him that he was not sick at heart or under any mortal pain. The surgeon observed, that in this case he could not himself be a judge. For the very part was affected by which he was to judge, viz. the head; that it was no uncommon thing for men in the extremest cases to imagine themselves out of danger; whereas in reality, they were in the greatest possible; that notwithstanding the symptoms were mild, yet from the contusion, a mortification might ensue. Hypocrates, who might be stiled an elementary physician, and has a treatise on this very subject, is of opinion, that the most dangerous symptom is a topical insensibility; but among the moderns, Sydenham considers it in another point of view, and thinks that where there is no pain, there is as great reason to suppose that there is no hurt, as that there is a mortal one. Be this as it may, antiseptic medicines might be very proper.

The Captain hearing so much jargon, and conscious to himself that he was by no means in so bad a state as this son of Escalapius would represent, broke out into some passion. It is, said he, the craft of your profession to make the case worse than it is, in order to increase the perquisites. But if there is any faith in you, make the same demand, and let me know your real judgment.

The surgeon was irritated with his distrust, and took it into his head to fix some apprehension in the mind of his patient, if possible, that his case was not without danger. Looking stedfastly at him for some time, and feeling his pulse; there is, said he, an evident delirium approaching. This argues an affection of the brain, but it will be necessary, after some soporiferous draughts, to put the patient to sleep. --Said the Captain, if you will give me about a pint of whiskey and water, I will try to go to sleep myself. A deleterious mixture, in this case, said the surgeon, cannot be proper; especially a distillation of that quality. The Captain would hear no more; but requesting the man of the cabin, to let him have the spirits proposed, drank a pint or two of grog, and having bound up his head with a handkerchief, went to bed.