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My second reason for not getting out of my thraldom by committing suicide, was, that I often heard the parson say* in his sermons, there was no crime so great as that of self-murder. I therefore availed myself of his doctrine, and chose the lesser evil of stealing, instead of starving, or throwing myself from one of the bridges.
When, however, I was younger, and used to think more of the many strange doctrines I heard from the pulpit, and went to see men executed, I thought it very odd logic, that if a man could not lawfully deprive himself of life, that should be made lawful to take away the lives of thousands by the hands of man. I once mentioned these, my scruples, when I first took office, to our Newgate Ordinary; who told me to do as he did, bow to the necessity of the thing, and not inquire too nicely into the conduct of our superiors. This way of settling the matter, however, never quite satisfied me, although I for a time fell into it, always when I was called to duty, thinking upon that law of necessity, which, according to the parson's rule, reverses the order of all things, and converts wrong into right, and vice versa.
In my latter days, although I was never given to put much faith in what great men or the parson said, yet I must confess, when I thought of my own life, that it was a great comfort to me to hear them all justify so many measures upon the plea of necessity.
“ Who would believe, that wicked earth,
Where nature only brings us forth,
Should be a nursery for heaven.” Yes; for when the Secretary of State is hard of heart, and will not, for a parent or a wife on their knees, vouchsafe the life of a wretch in this world, in steps the puritanical parson and grants him a full and free one for the next.
“ Such is the parson's arbitrary power,
It were defect in judgment to go lower.” Heaven is peremptorily called upon to forgive those sins which guilty man will not, and the unhappy culprit is assured of receiving that mercy and forbearance from the Deity, which man, judging from his actions, has no faculties to comprehend.
But I must go on with my story, or I shall get myself into a dispute with the learned, when I know I shall have the worst of the argument, because they can twist the subject about in any direction but the straight one. I cannot, however, resist making a few remarks in this place on myself, and the cause which placed me under the tyrant law of necessity.
I call upon all the world, who are disposed to view things as they are, and can reason justly upon the affairs of life, to bear in mind that my situation, on coming into existence, was not one of choice, but was, like thousands of others, the result, most probably, of some great man's wantonness in his youth, or it may be in his more advanced years. He seduced, I have reason to presume, my mother by fair promises, deceiving and abandoning her to the gibes and sneers of the world, which, together with the frowns of her family and sex, overthrew her reason. She had still enough of the parent left to deposit me in a basket, and offer up to Heaven an incoherent prayer for my preservation, and then threw
. If any of my readers should wonder at one of my course of life going often to church, I beg to remind them, that the number of times I had been in prison compelled me to hear more sermons in my time, than one in a thousand does voluntarily , besides, when a buzman, we often did a good stroke of business at churcb, especially when a bishop or a nob preaclied.
herself into the waters, becoming food for the fishes of the sea, one of which, a few weeks after gorging himself repeatedly upon the body of her whose soul was fled to heaven, there to await for justice, may be served up to my worthy father's table, and pronounced at dinner to be a fish of a most delicious and superior quality. This is horrible to think on, but great men, and those who are educated to emulate greatness, have monstrous and strange stomachs; they seek their own enjoyment, but leave the innocent products of their fruition to
Want, worldly want, that hungry, meagre fiend,
Was at my heels, and chased me in view. While I may suppose my father became a great parliamentary character, framing and supporting, with lengthy speeches, the enactment of rigid laws against the poor, and all criminals in general, forgetful that he brought five more besides myself into life, placing us all in such a situation, and compelling us to pursue a course in society, which make, these very laws needful for its protection.
Unmindful, too, that no statutes can convert us into any thing than that we are, and which our wise and moral parent made us by his vices, which, however, does not in any way interfere with his subsequently marrying and becoming the father of another family, every member of which he is proud to own, and acquires a name for being a good man, and a worthy member of the community. Such is the path of your legislative moralist.
“ Like gaudy ships, the obsequious billows fall,
And rise again, to lift you in your pride ;
To those, who, like me, have felt the cruel conduct of libidinous fathers, I need offer no apology for this break in my narrative, to which I now
“ I have,” said the party from whom I was receiving my instructions, “ three jobs on hand, this is the list,"—showing me a paper; "the one selected for you is of very easy performance; a stage coach is to be robbed, and the booty is supposed to amount to some thousands."
“Good God !" I exclaimed, “ do you call this an easy job?”
“Nothing so easy,” he rejoined, as you will see. You are to be only a looker on, and yet the affair cannot be completed without you, or some one in your place ; the fact is, our party must occupy all the inside seats, and one is assigned to you. Here are your instructions in writing, with a ten-pound note; provide yourself with a cloak, having a good high collar to it; you will find your advantage in possessing such a one to crouch the face into occasionally, and mind, upon all country jobs carry your money about you, because, should there be any accident, you should always possess the means of crossing the country as rapidly as possible, but upon this occasion the thing is as good as done. You will see by your instructions, that you are to proceed to Birmingham, and immediately book yourself, for an inside place, for next Thursday, by the
coach for London ; take your seat in the coach early, but do not notice any one you see until the coach is on its journey, and then wait to be spoken to, and for instructions how to act subsequently.
“ The money now given you, together with that you received yesterday, is charged to your account, and will be deducted from your regulars when the affair is ended; but in the share allowed you will not be permitted to have a voice, as the parties have one rule from which they never deviate. When you arrive again in town, pass one whole week in your own way, only avoiding your former associates, and keep respect.
able company ; when the week is elapsed, go to No. 4,
street, it is a seed shop, and inquire if there be any letter left for Mr. Hodson: if you receive one, of course you will obey the orders therein, but if you do not, call every other day, until you do have one handed to you in that name. Now give me your address, in case of any sudden call of business, but that very rarely happens. Slowly and sure is the motto of our firm. Good bye.” So saying, he left me, as he said, to proceed to Brighton.
The following morning, (Monday,) I quitted London by a Birmingham coach, and immediately went to the inn as directed, and booked myself a place for the ensuing Thursday, on which day I entered the coach at the appointed time, when I found two persons already seated. The driver was just expressing his impatience at the non-arrival of the remaining fare, when two gentlemen came up; one got into the coach hastily, while the other came to wish him farewell and shake hands, looking at the same time round to the passengers, nodded his head significantly to his companion, and departed. This motion of the head I understood to convey a communication that all was right; for although the party was unknown to me, it afterwards appeared that he had a knowledge of my person, and came for the purpose of recognising me, and assuring themselves that every thing was duly prepared for the rob. bery, which was effected when we were about thirty miles on the road, towards London, in the following manner. At the time I am speaking of, it was the practice of a banker at Birmingham to send up every month cash and bank-notes to redeem their own local notes, which were made payable in London, and which during the intervals had been presented at their agent's for payment. The better to ensure the safe conveyance of these sums of money, the proprietors of the banking-house had contracted with the coach-masters at Birmingham for a small strong iron box, which was built in the body of the coach, having two peculiarly complicated locks to it, the duplicate keys of which were in the hands of the banker's agents in London. My employers had possessed themselves of these facts, as also the precise day on which the money was to be transmitted ; they, therefore, had made several journeys in the coach, and provided themselves with keys, to unlock the box without any difficulty, previously to undertaking the robbery.
As I said before, the contents of the box, or secret drawer, was extracted about thirty miles from Birmingham, by one of the parties merely unlocking it, and removing the property into a small travelling trunk, which he carried with him for the purpose. Before we arrived at Oxford this passenger was represented by us as having been taken suddenly ill ; another, personating the character of a surgeon, said, as the gentleman was upon urgent business, and must proceed, if possible, the next day by post-chaise to town, that he would, out of kindness, stay and accompany him thither. In consequence of this arrangement, made in the hearing of the coachman and guard, they were both left at Woodstock ; and my third companion, when we arrived at Oxford, made some inquiries respecting a relation of his who was at one of the colleges, and found an excuse, from the information he obtained, to decline proceeding any further that night ; leaving me, as per arrangement, to be dropped at Henley-upon-Thames, to which place I pretended to be going as my place of residence, having told the book-keeper in the first instance, that I was destined to that town. When I got out of the coach, which I managed to do at the gate of a large house, on the Fair-mill, before we got into the town of Henley, I crossed the country to Marlow, and took a chaise into the high-road for London; then getting into the first coach which passed, I was in a few hours at my lodgings in town.
At the end of the week I went to the place appointed, and was presented with a letter in the name of Hodson, in which I was desired to be at the Mermaid at Hackney the following day at two o'clock. As I was about to enter the house I was addressed again by a stranger, who said, “Mr. Hodson, I believe?" I hesitated for a moment. “It's all right,' he continued, “ the last affair went off clean and well; I have come to speak with you about another little job.”. He then informed me that he had brought me eighty pounds, my share having been laid at one hundred pounds; deducting therefore the twenty pounds received, the eighty pounds made the balance due. I had seen by the public papers that the booty obtained amounted to upwards of five thousand pounds; but when I considered the part I had taken in the affair, and the large number that must necessarily participate in sharing the money, I could not but be satisfied. The next affair, however, he wished me to engage in acted as a drawback upon the good humour in which he had put me. I was the next day to proceed to a small town in Essex, to commit a robbery by myself. It was known to our joint stock company, (as I ever afterwards called the parties,) that a certain dealer in cattle generally carried from three to five hundred pounds about his person, so secured, as that nothing but violence on the part of those who went after it could accomplish the robbery; and to these extremities, by the laws of the company, we could not go, the fundamental principle of their system being to use art, and not force. In conformity therefore to this rule, the planning agent, who was now with me, had concerted a mode of obtaining it, which was left for me to execute. It appeared that although the dealer in cattle carried the money about with him during the day, that he deposited it in a cupboard situated in his own bed-room every night, securely locking the door, then placing the key under his pillow. Duplicate keys for entering the cottage and opening the cupboard were provided, and it only required a delicate hand and a light tread to abstract the money from the cupboard when he was asleep, there being nobody in the house except himself and an old woman, who slept in another room. My employer told me I had been selected for this affair because they knew I had, from my boyhood, been bred a sneak. Having given me my instructions, with the keys for making the entry into the house, he informed me that a person would, with a horse and chaise, be in readiness at my order, to attend at any spot to convey me speedily out of the neighbourhood; he then left me, adding, that I was to deliver to the person who drove the horse the money which I obtained, untouched.
This was not an adventure to my taste; the thoughts of coming in such close contact with a sturdy grazier, in which one of us must get the worst of it, gave me some concern, for I considered it next to an impossibility to bring away the money without waking him, in which case I could not doubt but he would have a struggle for his cash. Such was my objection to the adventure, that I am now certain, valuable as was the company's connexion which I had now formed, I should have given them up rather than have embarked in it, had it not so happened that about this time I became a convert to the doctrine of fatalism. A few weeks before this order came I had formed an intimacy with a servant girl, and very foolishly had, at her earnest solicitation, paid several visits to fortune-tellers; her motive for persuading me to go to these cheats, who occasion more mischief in society than any class of robbers, was, that she might through them be told who and what I was, together with an account of my temper, and whether I should make a good husband, &c. I verily believe, in London, that not one man in a thousand knows any thing of society but what transpires in his own immediate walk of life, although all write and talk as familiarly of the social compact, of the character, feelings, habits, and moral intluences of all the classes, as if they were gifted with omnipresence, and omniscience to boot. Our great
men in parliament talk a great deal about the influence of the Lancasterian schools, and the march of intellect; giving themselves credit for the advance of the people's mind, but I can tell them this is a great blunder. The people, I know, are wiser than they used to be ; but then it is in spite, and not in consequence of the schools for the poor man's children; and I very much question whether any of the poor are made better by their present mode of education; it is the mechanic, the artizan, and all the working classes, which are just above the charity provincial schools, which have made the step in knowledge, and not the poor. Let the prisons be all visited in one day throughout England, and an account taken of where the prisoners were taught when children, to read, &c. When this shall be done, (it would be wise if it were made a part of the system to report this to the public annually,) the effects of national schools would soon be made apparent. I have indulged in these observations because I am about to make a communication which is but little known to the world at large, viz., that nineteen-twentieths of the servant girls in London entirely commit themselves to the direction of fortune tellers, and these girls are generally drawn from the public schools : what is more singular, they never part with the propensity when grown up, for when married they are constant and regular customers, going from week to week to learn how to manage their husbands, how many children they are to have, how many will live, whether they will survive their husbands, and, if so, how many times they are to be married, and what period of their lives is destined to trouble, and what to happiness.
Then, again, every removal from one house to another is looked upon as an event; so also are all quarrels with neighbours or relations considered subjects worthy to lay before the cunning man; but more especially all suspicions or questions of jealousy, which latter subjects are always accompanied with anxious inquiries whether there is likely to be any counteraction by other men falling in love with them; then they must have his stature, complexion, colour of his eyes, hair, &c., so that when they meet with such a man, they consider themselves called upon by destiny to immediately fall in love, and surrender the peace of their family into the hands of any scoundrel to make spoil of.
The men fortune tellers boast that they have numerous applications from very respectable married ladies; and I know that they have, but the majority of those they deem the most profitable customers, are girls educated at charity-schools, who have, through fortunate marriages, or the success of their husbands subsequently in trade, risen up to wealth, which does not produce good sense, and which the schools have taken care they shall not obtain through their assistance.
At the period of my life to which I am alluding, I was as great a fool as any girl, being devoted to one of these astrologers; he got such a hold of me, that he persuaded me I should find out my father and mother, together with all their history. In consequence of this delusion, I spent a great deal of my leisure hours with the man, who failed not to squeeze me pretty often for drink, &c., in the end making me a confirmed fatalist. As I said before, I looked upon every thing which happened as preordained, and thought it could not turn out otherwise by the order of nature; this got such a hold of me, that I was never easy for one day, until I was told what was to happen the next: I was therefore at no time twenty-four hours together away from the astrologer's horoscope. At length my fascinator having a wish to go into the country, sold his concern for two hundred pounds, and in some measure set me free, although until very lately I have never overcome the notions he fixed upon my mind, and which influenced all my after life, particularly my taking office at the Old Bailey, as will in the sequel be seen. The man who bought the fortune-telling connexion for two hundred pounds, afterwards told me
Sept. 1835.–VOL. XIV.—NO. LII.