Chapter 9

A noise of a different kind was now heard in another quarter. It was occasioned by a brick-bat which had fallen from the heavens, or the top of a chimney; or been thrown by some one, which is just as likely, and hit the stall of an honest Frenchman, who sold hair-powder. He construed it an insult, and insisted upon knowing what no one could inform him of; or if they could, was not disposed to do it; that is, whence it came? Diable! diable! Said he in a rage. Si j’etois, d’en la France. If I vere in my own contree--Le miserable police. Dish contree has une ver bad police.

A l’en enfer,--Foutre, Foutre, Foutre!

Parce que je suis un jacobin. I be de jacobin. Dish ish de enrage. Vill kill all de honest republican.

Ah! messieurs aristocrats; c’est que vous voulez me tuer--C’est une terrible conspiration. it ish van terrible conspiracy.

Civility to a foreigner induced the multitude to interpose, and endeavour to pacify. But strangers are jealous, and it was an hour before he could be persuaded by some that spoke the language, to believe that the thing might have been a matter of accident. He had threatened to make a representation to the government, and demand the interposition of the executive.

There is reason to think that he had dropped it; as we have seen no diplomatic correspondence on the subject.

A seller of patent medicines gave out that he had bought them from a chemist who had invented a new vegetable. Discovered, you mean, said a naturalist. No; Invented, said the patent doctor. He made it himself. I have some of the seeds in my pocket. Out of what did he make it? Hydrogen; oxygen; carbonic acid, and muriate of soda.

It is beyond my comprehension: what does the seed look like, said the naturalist? Coriander seed; or mustard, said the doctor. Here is a sample of it, giving him a grain or two.

And it is out of this you make your drops, said the naturalist? Certainly, said the doctor.

And a new seed will produce new drops, said the naturalist; and perform new cures in the world.

Undoubtedly, said the Doctor: what use could there be in inventing it, if it did not?

I wish he would invent a new planet, said the naturalist.

That he could do readily enough, said the Doctor; but there are more than are good already. They shed malign influences.

Aye, quo’ the Scotchman; there is such a thing as “evil stars.”

A company of village players were acting a pantomime. Harlequin represented a politician with the people on his back. Incurvated and groaning, he seemed to feel the pressure exceedingly.

I like burlesque very well, said a spectator. A man must imagine himself Atlas, forsooth, with the Heavens on his shoulders! The people would walk on their feet if he would let them alone. What matters it, if by attempting to sustain them, he gets his rump broke?

That is all the thanks a patriot ever got, said a wise man.

Are not the people strong enough of themselves, said the spectator?

Strength of mind is improveable, said the wise man. Hence strength of mind differs more than strength of body. The aggregate of mind is one thing, and a distinguished mind another. It is not so absurd, to suppose that one mind, in a particular case, may excel another. The social compact is a noble study. He who has devoted himself greatly to it, may be supposed to have made some progress. Why should he not have credit for his good intentions? Why make him the object of a public exhibition, because he thinks himself the support of the community? Public spirit ought to be supported, and hints well meant, well taken. It is but an innocent hypocondriasis for a man to apprehend that he is doing good, by his lucubrations. That he is a pillar of the commonwealth.

See how he grins, and balances, said the spectator, speaking of the Harlequin, because the people, in his opinion, are too much to the one side.

It is an easy thing to turn even virtue into ridicule, said the wise man. But selfishness was never an amiable quality. And can there be a nobler effort of benevolence than to seek the public good? If one individual misses it; another hits; and the principle is salutary. It is not him that sails with the wind of popular opinion that always consults the interests of the populace. At the same time, I am for keeping up the spirit of the people. It is the atmosphere of liberty. And though this atmosphere is the region of lightning and engenders storms, yet in it we breathe, and have our being. But I speak of the Angel that guides the hurricane; the good man of more temperate counsels; and who, from age, experience, or extent of thought, sees the consequence of things, and applies the prudence of restraint to the common mind in the violence of its emotions.

Why shall we censure such a man should he indulge the ambition of restraining the people; or rather of supporting them by counseling moderation. He is sometimes the best friend that reproves. A flatterer never was a friend. The caricature of a man having the people on his back, is an aristocratic fetch to discourage a love for the people, and a disposition to promote their real interest. This Harlequin is set on by the enemies of the people, and with a view to disparage republican exertions.

The spectator was silent.

While the Harlequin was acting The Oppressed Politician as the pantomime was called, a pedlar had thrown himself into nearly a similar position; and though it may appear strange, an accidental conjunction of attitude. He had got his stall on his back; and gave out that he had taken an oath, not to set it down, until the people at the fair, had bought off all his goods. He was on his hands, and feet, and bellowing like the bull of Phalaris, affecting to be overcome, with the load of his pack. The people, out of humanity; credulous to his distress, came from every quarter to hear his complaint, and ease him of his goods. A partner was handing out the merchandize, and disposing to the customer, as fast as he could come at the articles. The back-bent man, in the mean time, in his inclined posture, was gathering up the dollars, thrown upon the ground, and putting them into his hat; not omitting, the groans necessary to attract a continuance of commiseration.

Christian people, said he, ease me of my wares, or I shall have to break my back, or to break my oath.

You had better break your oath than your back, said a man passing by; I have no money to throw away upon a rogue.

A rogue! Said the burthened man. If I were a rogue I could break my oath; but it is conscience keeps me here. I cannot break my oath; and my back must be broke. Help good people help; buy my wares, and ease me of my load.

You son of a -----, said a rude man, cannot you stand up, and your pack will fall off?

Ay but it is my oath, said the Pedlar, that keeps it on, until all my goods be bought.

It ish a tam sheat, said an honest German; he ish a liar and a rogue. His pack ish light ash a feather; wid shilks, and such tings, dat weigh noting. He is tam sheat and a rogue.

I am muckle o’ your way o’ thinking, said Donald Bain, the weaver; it is a’ a stratagem, to get his hand in folks pockets, and wile awa’ the penny. The deel an aith has he ta’en. It is a’ a forgery.

It ish a devilish contrivance, said the German.

It is all de love of de monish, said a Jew. His conscience is monish; I go anoder way to de exchange dish morning.

Nevertheless credulity prevailed; and some continued to purchase.


If at the hundredth edition of this work, a century or two hence, it should be published with cuts, like Don Quixotte, and other books of an entertaining cast; the figure of the pedlar and his pack may afford a good drawing; and the Harlequin, at the same time, with the people on his back.

The moral of the distressed politician is obvious to every one. It is natural for us to suppose that the world cannot do without us. O what will they do when we are gone, is the language of almost every man’s heart in some way or other. I will venture to say there are chimney sweepers, who think that all will go to pot, when they drop off. Yet the world goes on its gudgeons, and all things that are therein revolve just as before!

What will we do for a general, said one to me, when Fayette deserted to Sedan.

What? when Dumourier went off, said another?

He may be yet in the ranks said I, who will terminate the revolution. It came nearly to pass; for the Corsican was at that time but in the low grade of what we call a subaltern.

I have reflected with myself whence it is that men of slow minds, and moderate capacities, and with less zeal and perhaps less principle, execute offices, and sustain functions with less exception, than others of more vigour and exertion; and I find it owing to a single secret; laissez nous faire; “let us be doing:’ that is, let subordinates, do a great deal themselves. “He is right;” it is well; and if it is wrong, self-love saves the error: men had rather be suffered to be wrong, than to be set right against their wills. What errors of stupidity have I seen in life, in the small compass of my experience, and the sphere of my information; and these errors the object of indulgence, because there was nothing said or done to wound the pride of the employer. This is a lesson to human pride and vanity. It is a lesson of prudence to the impetuous. The sun lets very planet take its course; and so did General Washington. That was the happy faculty that made him popular.

His fort was, in some degree, the laissez nous faire; “The not doing too much.”

Yet the lovers of an art, may be excused in being hurt when they see the artist err. The lovers of the public may deserve praise who wish to set the world right and do a little towards it. It is the error of vigorous minds, to say the least of it; and oftentimes, the excess of virtue.

Sometimes, it is an instinctive impulse of spirit that cannot be resisted. Alcibiades superseded in the command of the Athenian army, but remaining in the neighbourhood could not avoid pointing out to the generals who succeeded him and who were his enemies, that errors they were about to commit, and which advice, neglecting, they were overthrown with their forces, by the Lacedemonians under the conduct of Lysander, and disgraced. Moreau though superseded by the directory, and serving only as a volunteer, stepped forward to an unauthorised command, and saved the army on the defeat, and death of Joubert.

The critic will say, what use can there be in such representations? We do not write altogether for grave, or even grown men; our book is not for a day only. We mean it for the coming generation, as well as the present; and intending solid observations, we inter-lard pleasantry to make the boys read.