John Pooledoune, the Victim of Improvements!

It was on a fine warm day in June, several years before Beulah Spa was invented, that, eviting leafy Hampstead, and airy Highgate, and woody Hornsey, John Pooledoune, with a party of companions, sought the delights of a rural ramble and pic-nic, amid the sylvan scenery of Norwood. Of the journey thither, the sporting there, the banquet on the grass, the hilarious after-dinner bumpers, the casting away of bottles, and the wide-spread waste of orts, there is no occasion to speak; suffice it to state, that the frolic and profusion attracted a visit from a couple of dark-haired and bright-glancing Gipsies, whose sojourn was thereabouts, and who, though reckless of the present, were, or pretended to be, deeply read in the future. Their appearance added to the merriment of the occasion; and, with that natural curiosity which belongs to human nature, our revellers agreed to have a peep into futurity palmed upon them, at the small cost of a few silver coins. One after another were their lines submitted to Sibyllic inspection; and loud were their laughs as the pretty "brows of Egypt" bent over their destinies, and told of coming estates, and wives, and children, and, sooth to add, little amours and indiscretions which nevertheless promised pleasures hardly less acceptable to the expectant listeners. At length it fell to the turn of Jack Pooledoune, who was indeed so well off in the world, that he had little either to hope or to fear from the fickle goddess; when, all at once, a sudden chill crept over the group, "a change came o'er the spirit of their dream," and the hitherto gay and giggling priestesses of mystery assumed aspects of horror and dismay. What before was curiosity was now intense interest. Whence the cause of this awful alteration?—why had mirth in a moment given place to these boding looks and signs of terror? Time and our tale will show; and we have only here to record the prediction reluctantly wrung from one of the distraught and shuddering Gipsies.

"Oh! strange unfortunate Fortunate!" she exclaimed as she conned John Pooledoune's hand,

"By making rich, made poor; By making happy, miserable; By amending, hurt; by curing, slain;

never Lost on earth, alive or dead, yet Found by numbers; bodiless corpse; The Victim of Improvement, for ever to improve;—

"No hand to close thy eyes, No eye to see thy grave, No grave to give thee rest,— Strange Being!

Dead; resembling Death, yet keeping thy place among the dead and the living; thy end shall not be an ending, and every one shall know that thou art and art not!"

With this fearful prophecy the Gipsies took to their heels; and Jack, with an oath at their impudent mummery, shied half a half-quartern loaf at their retreating heads. The iced punch was speedily resumed; but, so strong is the hold of superstition upon us, even when wine and  punch have infused a factitious courage, it was found impossible to re-animate the convivial festival, and the party returned to town, either in silent abstraction, or reverting to and commenting on the oddness of the Gipsy foolery!

Old Roger Pooledoune was one of the busiest and most substantial of hosiers in the ward of Cheap; a respectable citizen, whose heart and soul were in his business, to which he attended from morning to night as if, instead of toil, it were pleasure; and indeed it did comprehend the mighty pleasure of profit, the be-all and the end-all of many a cit. Stockings, stocks, and socks, braces, collars, gloves, nightcaps, and garters, were all the same to honest Roger; and he would serve his customers with equal cordiality with every one of these articles, from the price of a grey groat to the cost of sterling gold. Thus he dealt and throve. His shop was never empty, for his commodities were reputed to be of good quality; and, in process of years, his industry was rewarded with such increase, that his neighbours declared him to be a warm man, and guessed his worth at no less than thirty thousand pounds. Nor were they far wrong.

Roger, like a man ignorant of Malthus, had in the midst of all his occupations found leisure to court and win a wife; and, in due process, a certain portion of the stock in the warehouse, namely, some very small socks, gaiters, &c. had to be transferred gratis to the nursery, where Isabella, Matilda, and Margaret, and last, John Pooledoune, the only son, the fruits of his marriage-bed, required such equipments from their fond father,—the fonder in consequence of the last family event having made him a widower. Twenty years had elapsed since that period of mingled joy and woe, of birth and death,—the conjunction of the two extremes of human life,—when it occurred to the corporation of the city of London that it would be a vast improvement in the approaches thereto, and accommodation to the traffic thereof, to have a new bridge thrown across the bosom of old Father Thames, just where it suited a company of keen-sighted, speculative, and money-making gentry to have that operation performed for the public and their own benefit. It so happened that the site so agreeable to them was exceedingly disagreeable to Roger Pooledoune, inasmuch as it created a necessity for carrying a street, as it were the string of a bow, direct to the bridge, not only leaving his shop at the farthest bend of the said bow, but plunging it into an unfrequented valley, or cul de sac, at which it was irksome to look from the popular balustrades of the recent direct and splendid erections. Old Roger, it is true, claimed and received a handsome,—a very handsome, and neighbourly, and citizen-like compensation: for his loss in the daily sale of nightcaps and garters was estimated at the sum of fourteen thousand eight hundred and seventy-seven pounds sixteen shillings and fivepence three farthings: but, like Othello, his occupation was gone. The money obtained in a lump was not like the money gained by slow and minute degrees. He became uncomfortable, uneasy, irritable; he would gaze up towards the new street to the new bridge, and, counting the passing crowds, would calculate on the proportional passing demand for ready-made hosiery of every description. The whole was diverted into another channel: he could not bear the sight, he could not endure the idea; and so he pined, and he sickened, and he died, for want of a brisk retail.

The disposition of the defunct hosier's property was such as might be expected from a wealthy and prudent tradesman. He had sunk the fourteen thousand and odd pounds in annuities on his three daughters, and so tied them up, that none but themselves—nor brother, nor friend, nor husband, nor lover—could receive the half-yearly dividends; and, if loan or mortgage were attempted upon them, they were forfeited for ever. Thus were they provided with inalienable competencies for the terms of their natural lives. To John was left the residue, which, when the good will of the shop was with good will disposed of for nothing, everything else settled, and affairs wound up, was ascertained to amount to the neat round sum of two-and-thirty thousand pounds; and thus warmly provided, the gipsy foredoomed Victim of Improvements began the world, his own master, and for himself alone.

John Pooledoune had received what is called a first-rate "commercial and classical education," at a boarding-school near Deptford, where these identical words were painted in capital letters on a board which ran along the entire façade of the building. He had thus been prepared for more general and severer pursuits; and accordingly, about that era when the first drum was beat for the March of Intellect, he enrolled himself in the ranks for the diffusion of knowledge, and, to speak comparatively, soon reached the distinction of a halbert in the cause. He became a leading man in the Mechanics' Institutes, attended lectures on every possible subject at least five evenings in every week, was elected a member of the Society of Arts and of the Statistical Society, joined the British Association at Bristol, and, in fine, adopted the most admired course to become a utilitarian of the first water. He was acknowledged to be an independent, and sensible, and well-informed individual; he needed neither favour nor assistance, had plenty of ready money in the funds, and was courted and caressed accordingly. He was, in short, a faultless monster.

But not only had Fortune been kind to him; Nature was equally liberal: he was well-proportioned in lith and limb; stout, healthy, and well-looking. If not a perfect, but, rather, as George the Fourth would say, an ungentlemanly gentleman, he was not a vulgar plebeian; and, altogether, hardly ever did a man start in the middle walks of life with so fair a promise of prosperity and happiness. John Pooledoune had the silver spoon to his mouth,—the salt of the earth to his portion.

With such qualities, and to such a character, inactivity was impossible. Inclination and means led to projects of utility, and John was determined to benefit mankind by his efforts in promoting the ingenious conceptions of the clever and the "talented." His apartments were encumbered with models, his chairs and his tables laden with plans; nay, he even fancied at times that he was himself an inventor. It was, to be sure, only in a small way, but it kept the ruling passion in a blaze; and when he took out his first patent for a broom to eat its own dust, his ecstasies had nearly laid him with the dust, to which he was thus made doubly akin.

It is wonderful to behold how many of our species, full of the most extraordinary and indubitable inventions, from which indescribable riches must accrue, languish in abject poverty: to such, a John  Pooledoune is a god-send, even though it may be that in the issue he is reduced to fraternization. He was the friend of projectors, the believer in perfectibility, but singularly unlucky in nearly all his undertakings. Of these we must mention a few, the leading incidents of a brief career.

We have alluded to the patent for a dust-consuming broom, with which John was so marvellously elated. The worst of it was, that it involved him in a law-suit with Mr. Pratt, who clearly proved to the judge and jury that he had perfected a similar besom five years before. It was in vain that John's counsel argued that his broom acted transversely, not horizontally; and possessed a vertical, not a rotary action; in vain he asserted that new brooms swept cleanest: the verdict was for the plaintiff; and the infringement of the right to use a useless brush cost Mr. Pooledoune within a trifle of a thousand pounds. The lawyers and attorneys declared that it was a shameful verdict, and advised Mr. Pooledoune to move for a new trial; but he had sense enough to be satisfied with one.

Misfortunes, we are told, never come single. Like crows, if you see one alight on a field, you may be pretty sure there will soon be a few more, and probably a flock; and so it fell out with our hero's mischances.

A company was formed upon the most admirable principles to supply the metropolis with pure water instead of the abomination hitherto imbibed from the polluted river, the grand recipient of the filth of a million and a half of nasty people. It was to be brought from Tonbridge Wells, laid on in crystal pipes, and supplied with a bounty that defied competition. John Pooledoune became a large shareholder and a director; but somehow or other the stream did not run smooth, the crystal pipes broke, and so did the company; and John, being a responsible person, got out with the largest share—of the loss. He next embarked in gas works, the most prosperous that ever were demonstrated by calculations and estimates on the tables printed by the projectors. But this design, alas! also failed: the gas dissolved into thin air; and another troublesome and expensive law-suit proved that the thousands of tons of coke which had been consumed were utterly wasted, as their use in that particular way, custom, and manner, was not sanctioned by Coke upon Lyttleton.—See Vesey's Reports, div. 4, cap. 3, lib. 2, page 1.

This was another rather severe blow upon Mr. Pooledoune, who began to reflect on the uncertainty of all pursuits of the kind. "I will not," said he to himself, "risk any more considerable sums in such plans. Houses and lands," said he, "are certain, real, visible, tangible property: I will buy an estate and build a house upon it." Accordingly, day after day did he examine those oracles of truth, the morning newspapers; and particularly that portion of them which is the truest of the true, the advertisements of the auctioneers. Long did he ponder over the most desirable of investments, the most eligible of sites, the paradises of nature, the soils which scantily concealed inexhaustible mines, the views of hanging woods whose trees never changed their fruits: long did he balance which it were best to possess; and at last he was fortunate enough to be allowed to purchase one of George Robins' most extraordinary bargains, an estate which was positively "given away". It was nevertheless dear enough to the  buyer; and the seller had not so much reason as might be imagined to be dissatisfied with the prodigal liberality of his agent on the occasion. The land was found to be susceptible of no inconsiderable improvement; and the charming, picturesque, indescribably interesting, and gothically elegant, fine, ancient mansion, was in truth little better than an inconvenient and incongruous pile of ruins. But as Mr. Pooledoune had, from the first, intended to cultivate the earth in his own way, and to erect a mansion upon his own design, these slight discrepancies did not so much signify. The titles were actually good, and old Hurlépoer Hall was regularly transferred, made over, granted, and assigned to its new proprietor, John Pooledoune, esquire. It is a proud thing to be an esquire, the owner of broad acres, to walk over fields you can call your own, to speak of your domain and your country house, of your Hurlépoer Hall, and the parts and appurtenances thereunto pertaining. Never did John Pooledoune feel so elevated as when he arrived in a post-chaise to take possession of his beautiful estate. It was only an amusing drawback, which served to occupy his time, that he had to pull down the old hall and re-edify it in a modern style. There was ready money, and the work went briskly on, till at last a handsome villa stood where Hurlépoer, or at least some of its walls, had outbraved the winds and rains two hundred winters. It was christened Hosiery Hall by some of the poor and envious landlords round about; but it was nevertheless a very pretty place, and constructed on the most novel and approved principles of architecture. The foundations were laid in Roman cement, the timbers were steeped to saturation in Kyan's anti-dry-rot composition, and the roof was of patent cast-iron. Nor had Mr. P. during the season been inattentive to the cultivation of his ground. The steward, a positive, ignorant, and impracticable ass, was dismissed the service, for insisting upon sowing wheat, and barley, and oats; laying certain portions fallow, and turnip-cropping other parts. The squire taking affairs into his own hands, the farm-horses were sold, and a wonderfully perfect steam-plough put into operation. Instead of turnips, the cow-cabbage was introduced, and room left about every plant to allow it to extend to its full dimensions of from eighteen to twenty-two feet in diameter. The corn-arable was converted into plantations of beetroot for the manufacture of sugar, and a thousand hogsheads for its reception were ordered of the coopers. Everything went on tolerably well for a while, except the plough, which always refused to move up hill or to go straight on the level, and very soon denied motion in any manner, or in any direction. Mr. Pooledoune, incensed at this misconduct, which he attributed to the stupidity of the ploughman and the malice of the quondam driver, who had no longer any horses to drive, and consequently went whistling alongside, occasionally eyeing his useless whip, as if he would gladly apply it to his master's back, in a moment of anger took the stilts himself, to show the boors how it ought to be done. He poked the fire and filled the kettle, and off set the machine with a run. Unluckily there was a great stone in the line of the furrow, against which the plough was dashed with so much force that it tilted up, and, throwing down its unfortunate holder, dashed the burning coals and boiling steam all over his body. Dreadfully scalded, it was many weeks before the squire was sufficiently convalescent to leave his  room; and when he did once again visit his ci-devant green fields, it was as a cripple from the severe accident. The melancholy of autumn, too, was upon the scene,—a melancholy untempered to him by the sight of sweeps of ripened grain, (the yellow gold of nature,) and the busy hum of harvest. The season had been unusually dry, and the soil was chalky. Owing to this the cow-cabbages had not flourished, and only one here and there was visible, and about the ordinary size of a tailor's dinner, though with plenty of room to grow larger if it liked. The cultivation of the beetroot was hardly more successful; still there was wherewithal to try the experiment of sugar-making, and to this our sanguine hero turned with his indomitable spirit. The process went on, and the roots were crushed;—so, speedily, were his hopes. Twenty-seven barrels of bad molasses was the produce of above eight hundred acres of the best land belonging to Hurlépoer Hall. It was a year of dead loss, and there was nothing left for it but to get through the winter as comfortably as possible, and prepare for taking the field in the spring with greater experience, and a more improved system throughout.

It is a well-known fact with regard to the weather in England, that if there be a balance of good and bad, the latter never fails to occupy its fair proportion of foulness. As the summer had been unusually warm and dry, the winter turned out unusually cold and wet. The rain hardly ceased during four months, the country was a swamp, and there was not even enough for a dry joke in the parish. One night the storm descended, hail was shaken and lightning glanced from the wings of the mighty tempest: it was a perfect hurricane, (for hurricanes are so called when they are most fearfully outrageous,) and blew great guns. In the midst of the rattling, and spouting, and howling, a dreadful crash was heard by the inhabitants of Hurlépoer villa; the walls tottered, and they rushed forth in nakedness and desperation. Nor had they a moment to spare; for the Roman-cement foundations gave way, the anti-dry-rot timbers split into a thousand splinters, and the ponderous patent iron roof descended with one awful and crushing demolition upon the wrecks below. Poor Pooledoune was again unfortunate. Having delayed a minute to save an electrical apparatus for making diamonds of flints and asparagus, in which he had all but succeeded, he was struck by a projected mass of the broken wood, and had his right arm very badly fractured.

With these calamities terminated John Pooledoune's rural experiments. Hurlépoer was soon again in the market, but the value of land had fallen tremendously within the last eighteen months; and, though the auctioneer did his utmost, that which had cost twenty thousand pounds so short a while ago was sold for eight thousand pounds, and John's whole fortune reduced to little more than ten. Still there was a competency; and with the mind of a projector there is always contentment. John bought a small ready-furnished house, about two miles out of London, and sat down under its lowly slate roof, and all his troubles, with most philosophic apathy.

He engaged in lesser speculations with the same ardour with which he had embarked in extensive undertakings; but the doom of the Gipsies of Norwood was still upon him, and

"By making rich, made poor; By making happy, miserable; By amending, hurt;" * * *

continued to mark his progress—his progress!—his retrograde progress in life.

He had not been settled in his humble abode beyond the first quarter, making discoveries in science of the most astonishing description, when a railroad between Billingsgate and Blackwell drove him from his home. Private interests must always yield to public advantages. The road went right through Mr. Pooledoune's parlour; but then, when completed, how easy it would be to bring, by its ready means, white-bait from the water-side to the city; and how much toil and expense would be saved to the citizens in having their feed without the trouble of journeying so far for it in the heat of sultry summer. The greatest affliction to the individual was not the deterioration which his fortune again experienced in removing, but a calamity which had almost overwhelmed even his steadfast soul. We have said he was on the point of realising the most amazing discoveries in natural science. By a battery of unlimited galvanic power, continually directed to stones abstracted from St. Paul's Cathedral, Waterloo-bridge, and the Monument, he had ascertained that the church was built of the fur of the pulex, the bridge of butterflies' facets, and the Monument of midges' wings. Indeed he had obtained all these creatures entire and lively, in the course of his experiments upon decomposing the St. Paul pebbles, the Waterloo-bridge granite, and the Monumental free-stone; and the only difficulty which remained for solution was, that above a hundred other unknown and undescribed insects, probably of the antediluvian world, had been produced at the same time, and by the same means. It was hard, but the railroad caused the destruction of this theory; and several of the retorts being broken, the revivification interrupted, the reanimated killed, and the whole process served out, Mr. Pooledoune never enjoyed another opportunity for demonstrating these incomparable results. Thousands of years may elapse before any other experimentalist succeed to such an extent; and millions of men and philosophers of intermediate generations will die meanwhile, ignorant of the prodigious injury done to science and to John Pooledoune by the railroad between Billingsgate and Blackwell.

As we descend, we diminish in the eyes of those to whom we were distinguished objects whilst dwelling on the same or a higher elevation:—do we not really become less and less? Pooledoune's pursuits continued to be similar in character, in opinions, in expectations; but, ah! how different in worldly esteem! At the Mechanics' Institutes he was no longer promoted to the front-seats,—at the Society of Arts he was no more invited to deliver his sentiments,—his little contribution of insulated facts was unsought by the Statisticals,—and the British Association was too far off, with its Edinburgh and Dublin festivities, to meet his conveniency. Yet he devoted himself to the confusion of knowledge; and, in order to obtain larger interest on his fading capital, he dabbled in Mexican and Payous, and Greek loans.

Perfecting a fulminating powder to supersede the use of gunpowder, which could not explode except by the touch of a particular preparation, an ounce of it accidentally ignited one day, and blew out his right eye.

John's hair grew prematurely grey with such crosses, and he invented a dye to render it beautifully black. Most of those whom he  persuaded to give it a trial were turned most curiously grizzle, green, or yellow; but, perhaps from using an inordinate quantity, his own scalp was utterly removed, and his scull rendered as bald and shining as a polished pewter plate, whence the meat had been removed, but not the gravy.

He patronised Mechi's razor-strops and Hubert's roseate powder, in consequence of which all the lower features of his face became a mass of purulent offence.

He took to an infallible dentifrice, which preserved the enamel, and whitened without injuring the teeth. It was a noble specific, and did not contradict its advertisement: but all John's teeth fell out; and though the enamel was preserved, and they were white, his gums were exposed, empty, and red. He supplied his loss with a set of china ornaments, which made him grin and nod like a Mandarin, but with which he could not eat like a Christian, nor sleep like a savage.

John got poorer and poorer, shabbier and shabbier, sicklier and sicklier. He had been blown up by gas, burnt down by steam, ruined by railroads, cursed by every improvement on the whole pack of cards. He was crippled in his limbs, deficient of an eye, disfigured in face and person, and, worse than worst of all, his friends knew that he had but little left, and less to hope for. It was not four years since John Pooledoune had begun his career with a sound constitution, and two-and-thirty thousand pounds of ready money,—worth sixty thousand in any other way! Surely he was the "Victim of Improvement."

Nearly at last, when seen in the streets, John would point to his waterproof shoes, and hat the better for being soaked twenty-four hours in a washing-tub; and one noticed that his ugly-looking outer garment was a proof Macintosh, and his patent spectacles set in cases of india-rubber. And even his sorry truckle-bed, to which the late squire of Hurlépoer Hall now nightly sought his obscure and darkling way, was surmounted by a patent tick (it was double tick, for he had it on credit from an old philosophical crony,) filled with hot water,—as had been the brief course of the unfortunate to whom it could afford no rest.

Whether from the Macintosh preservative cloak, the waterproof shoes, the water-filled bed, the india-rubber, or the rubs of the weather, we have not ascertained; but poor John caught a horrid cold, and his cough was sadly aggravated by a contrivance in his chimney for consuming its own smoke. This the chimney resolutely refused; and, like all other quarrels, got so incensed that it would not even carry the smoke up. Cold, asthma, suffocation and starvation, were then the miserable companions of the quondam wealthy John Pooledoune.

In the misery of his heart, the wretched man took to drinking. That resource, under any circumstances, must very quickly have brought on the crisis; but true to the last, John resorted to patent British brandy, and his fate was astonishingly accelerated.

One dusky evening, in a state of inebriety, the ragged philosopher walked, or rather staggered out. The cool air breathed upon his fevered brow; he saw the streets illumed with gas, he witnessed the  smoke ascending from steam-engines, and, overcome by his emotions, when a Gravesend steamer, having beautifully run down another a hundred yards below, swept into the Adelaide Wharf he threw himself over London Bridge, and sank in the disturbed bosom of the silver, insulted, and persecuted Thames.

Wearily had his life dragged on for many a day, and yet it was doomed to another drag. Before he had been two minutes in the water, this last-mentioned combination of cards, creepers, and hooks, brought him to the surface, having caught him by his bald pate, and he was carried ashore in a sculler. The nearest surgeon being called in, happened to differ from the Humane Society, and hung him up by the heels while he administered stimulants; but John had imbibed so little of the element, that even this treatment did not kill him. But his look was deadly, and he was so debilitated by the medical treatment, that to be restored was impossible; and the parish authorities of Saint —— , inspecting his sorry equipments, became alarmed lest he should die where he had no business, and put them to the expense of a funeral. He was asked where he lived, in order that he might also die there; and a cart being procured, under the New Poor Law Act, he was carted towards the dismal abode he had indicated. His road lay along the new street to the new bridge; and, about a hundred yards down, in a dark avenue on his left, he could not, though others might, see the once rich and respected tenement of his father, Roger Pooledoune, hosier and citizen of London.

The night was frosty and bleak: John's clothes were thin and wet. Had he been taken to an old woman instead of a medical theorist, and dried and cherished even by the commonest fire of the parish workhouse, he would have survived his "accident:" but the law was imperative; he must be moved to his own parish, and he was moved into the parish of Eternity,—the parish which holds the rich and the poor, and Heaven only knows how they are provided for. Before the cart reached the "Union," John Pooledoune was a corpse.

On the ensuing day but one, a coroner's inquest sat upon his body, and one or two of the jurors were men who had known him in his prosperity. They could hardly identify the meagre and mutilated remains; but, in tenderness to the officials, who had killed him by doing all for the best, they returned a verdict of "Found Drowned."

Not being conchologists, we shall not attempt to describe the shell in which it was pretended that John Pooledoune was buried. In that shell no muscle of his ever reposed; it held a few of the paving-stones of the adjacent lane, which, if John had been alive to submit to his galvanic battery, would have been demonstrated to be composed of bumble bees' sacchyrometers. About the same hour that the stones were interred with the solemn ritual of the church service by the chaplain, the body also furnished the subject of a lecture by the surgeon of the workhouse to the pupils in an adjoining hospital. The scull in particular was singularly formed, at least it was so declared by the phrenologists, who were allowed to claw it, and who clearly showed that the bumps (caused by the watermen's drags) were organs of philoprogenitiveness, amativeness, and destructiveness.

In due time a perfect skeleton of John Pooledoune was scraped and prepared, and placed in a glass case in the museum of the hospital.

And thus was fulfilled the Gipsy's prophecy. He was "by curing, slain;" he was "never lost on earth, alive or dead," for he was dragged from the river and preserved in the surgeons' hall; he was "found by numbers" of sensible coroner's inquest men! he is yet in his glass case a "bodiless corpse, the victim of improvement, for ever to improve" the students of anatomy. There was

"No hand to close his eyes; No eye to see his grave; No grave to give him rest!"

He is "dead, resembling Death," yet keeps "his place among the dead and the living." "His end has not been an ending," and every one who inspects the hospital collection may know that "he is and is not!"

In a moral magazine such as Bentley's Miscellany it is naturally expected that a useful and instructive inference should be drawn from every tale; and assuredly ours needs little to point it: "May we all be preserved from the fascinations of Gipsies!"