Poor Devil Author, by Washington Irving
Tales of a
I began life unluckily by being the wag and bright fellow at school;
and I had the farther misfortune of becoming the great genius of my
native village. My father was a country attorney, and intended that I
should succeed him in business; but I had too much genius to study, and
he was too fond of my genius to force it into the traces. So I fell
into bad company and took to bad habits. Do not mistake me. I mean that
I fell into the company of village literati and village blues, and took
to writing village poetry.
It was quite the fashion in the village to be literary. We had a little
knot of choice spirits who assembled frequently together, formed
ourselves into a Literary, Scientific, and Philosophical Society, and
fancied ourselves the most learned philos in existence. Every one had a
great character assigned him, suggested by some casual habit or
affectation. One heavy fellow drank an enormous quantity of tea; rolled
in his armchair, talked sententiously, pronounced dogmatically, and was
considered a second Dr. Johnson; another, who happened to be a curate,
uttered coarse jokes, wrote doggerel rhymes, and was the Swift of our
association. Thus we had also our Popes and Goldsmiths and Addisons,
and a blue-stocking lady, whose drawing-room we frequented, who
corresponded about nothing with all the world, and wrote letters with
the stiffness and formality of a printed book, was cried up as another
Mrs. Montagu. I was, by common consent, the juvenile prodigy, the
poetical youth, the great genius, the pride and hope of the village,
through whom it was to become one day as celebrated as
My father died and left me his blessing and his business. His blessing
brought no money into my pocket; and as to his business it soon
deserted me: for I was busy writing poetry, and could not attend to
law; and my clients, though they had great respect for my talents, had
no faith in a poetical attorney.
I lost my business therefore, spent my money, and finished my poem. It
was the Pleasures of Melancholy, and was cried up to the skies by the
whole circle. The Pleasures of Imagination, the Pleasures of Hope, and
the Pleasures of Memory, though each had placed its author in the first
rank of poets, were blank prose in comparison. Our Mrs. Montagu would
cry over it from beginning to end. It was pronounced by all the members
of the Literary, Scientific, and Philosophical Society the greatest
poem of the age, and all anticipated the noise it would make in the
great world. There was not a doubt but the London booksellers would be
mad after it, and the only fear of my friends was, that I would make a
sacrifice by selling it too cheap.
Every time they talked the matter over they increased the price. They
reckoned up the great sums given for the poems of certain popular
writers, and determined that mine was worth more than all put together,
and ought to be paid for accordingly. For my part, I was modest in my
expectations, and determined that I would be satisfied with a thousand
guineas. So I put my poem in my pocket and set off for London.
My journey was joyous. My heart was light as my purse, and my head full
of anticipations of fame and fortune. With what swelling pride did I
cast my eyes upon old London from the heights of Highgate. I was like a
general looking down upon a place he expects to conquer. The great
metropolis lay stretched before me, buried under a home-made cloud of
murky smoke, that wrapped it from the brightness of a sunny day, and
formed for it a kind of artificial bad weather. At the outskirts of the
city, away to the west, the smoke gradually decreased until all was
clear and sunny, and the view stretched uninterrupted to the blue line
of the Kentish Hills.
My eye turned fondly to where the mighty cupola of St. Paul's swelled
Dimly through this misty chaos, and I pictured to myself the solemn
realm of learning that lies about its base. How soon should the
Pleasures of Melancholy throw this world of booksellers and printers
into a bustle of business and delight! How soon should I hear my name
repeated by printers' devils throughout Pater Noster Row, and Angel
Court, and Ave Maria Lane, until Amen corner should echo back the
Arrived in town, I repaired at once to the most fashionable publisher.
Every new author patronizes him of course. In fact, it had been
determined in the village circle that he should be the fortunate man. I
cannot tell you how vaingloriously I walked the streets; my head was in
the clouds. I felt the airs of heaven playing about it, and fancied it
already encircled by a halo of literary glory.
As I passed by the windows of bookshops, I anticipated the time when my
work would be shining among the hotpressed wonders of the day; and my
face, scratched on copper, or cut in wood, figuring in fellowship with
those of Scott and Byron and Moore.
When I applied at the publisher's house there was something in the
loftiness of my air, and the dinginess of my dress, that struck the
clerks with reverence. They doubtless took me for some person of
consequence, probably a digger of Greek roots, or a penetrator of
pyramids. A proud man in a dirty shirt is always an imposing character
in the world of letters; one must feel intellectually secure before he
can venture to dress shabbily; none but a great scholar or a great
genius dares to be dirty; so I was ushered at once to the sanctum
sanctorum of this high priest of Minerva.
The publishing of books is a very different affair now-a-days from what
it was in the time of Bernard Lintot. I found the publisher a
fashionably-dressed man, in an elegant drawing-room, furnished with
sofas and portraits of celebrated authors, and cases of splendidly
bound books. He was writing letters at an elegant table. This was
transacting business in style. The place seemed suited to the
magnificent publications that issued from it. I rejoiced at the choice
I had made of a publisher, for I always liked to encourage men of taste
I stepped up to the table with the lofty poetical port that I had Been
accustomed to maintain in our village circle; though I threw in it
something of a patronizing air, such as one feels when about to make a
man's fortune. The publisher paused with his pen in his hand, and
seemed waiting in mute suspense to know what was to be announced by so
singular an apparition.
I put him at his ease in a moment, for I felt that I had but to come,
see, and conquer. I made known my name, and the name of my poem;
produced my precious roll of blotted manuscript, laid it on the table
with an emphasis, and told him at once, to save time and come directly
to the point, the price was one thousand guineas.
I had given him no time to speak, nor did he seem so inclined. He
Continued looking at me for a moment with an air of whimsical
perplexity; scanned me from head to foot; looked down at the
manuscript, then up again at me, then pointed to a chair; and whistling
softly to himself, went on writing his letter.
I sat for some time waiting his reply, supposing he was making up his
mind; but he only paused occasionally to take a fresh dip of ink; to
stroke his chin or the tip of his nose, and then resumed his writing.
It was evident his mind was intently occupied upon some other subject;
but I had no idea that any other subject should be attended to and my
poem lie unnoticed on the table. I had supposed that every thing would
make way for the Pleasures of Melancholy.
My gorge at length rose within me. I took up my manuscript; thrust it
into my pocket, and walked out of the room: making some noise as I
went, to let my departure be heard. The publisher, however, was too
much busied in minor concerns to notice it. I was suffered to walk
down-stairs without being called back. I sallied forth into the street,
but no clerk was sent after me, nor did the publisher call after me
from the drawing-room window. I have been told since, that he
considered me either a madman or a fool. I leave you to judge how much
he was in the wrong in his opinion.
When I turned the corner my crest fell. I cooled down in my pride and
my expectations, and reduced my terms with the next bookseller to whom
I applied. I had no better success: nor with a third: nor with a
fourth. I then desired the booksellers to make an offer themselves; but
the deuce an offer would they make. They told me poetry was a mere
drug; everybody wrote poetry; the market was overstocked with it. And
then, they said, the title of my poem was not taking: that pleasures of
all kinds were worn threadbare; nothing but horrors did now-a-days, and
even these were almost worn out. Tales of pirates, robbers, and bloody
Turks might answer tolerably well; but then they must come from some
established well-known name, or the public would not look at them.
At last I offered to leave my poem with a bookseller to read it and
judge for himself. "Why, really, my dear Mr.—a—a—I forget your
name," said he, cutting an eye at my rusty coat and shabby gaiters,
"really, sir, we are so pressed with business just now, and have so
many manuscripts on hand to read, that we have not time to look at any
new production, but if you can call again in a week or two, or say the
middle of next month, we may be able to look over your writings and
give you an answer. Don't forget, the month after next—good morning,
sir—happy to see you any time you are passing this way"—so saying he
bowed me out in the civilest way imaginable. In short, sir, instead of
an eager competition to secure my poem I could not even get it read! In
the mean time I was harassed by letters from my friends, wanting to
know when the work was to appear; who was to be my publisher; but above
all things warning me not to let it go too cheap.
There was but one alternative left. I determined to publish the poem
myself; and to have my triumph over the booksellers, when it should
become the fashion of the day. I accordingly published the Pleasures of
Melancholy and ruined myself. Excepting the copies sent to the reviews,
and to my friends in the country, not one, I believe, ever left the
bookseller's warehouse. The printer's bill drained my purse, and the
only notice that was taken of my work was contained in the
advertisements paid for by myself.
I could have borne all this, and have attributed it as usual to the
mismanagement of the publisher, or the want of taste in the public: and
could have made the usual appeal to posterity, but my village friends
would not let me rest in quiet. They were picturing me to themselves
feasting with the great, communing with the literary, and in the high
course of fortune and renown. Every little while, some one came to me
with a letter of introduction from the village circle, recommending him
to my attentions, and requesting that I would make him known in
society; with a hint that an introduction to the house of a celebrated
literary nobleman would be extremely agreeable.
I determined, therefore, to change my lodgings, drop my correspondence,
and disappear altogether from the view of my village admirers. Besides,
I was anxious to make one more poetic attempt. I was by no means
disheartened by the failure of my first. My poem was evidently too
didactic. The public was wise enough. It no longer read for
instruction. "They want horrors, do they?" said I, "I'faith, then they
shall have enough of them." So I looked out for some quiet retired
place, where I might be out of reach of my friends, and have leisure to
cook up some delectable dish of poetical "hell-broth."
I had some difficulty in finding a place to my mind, when chance threw
me in the way Of Canonbury Castle. It is an ancient brick tower, hard
by "merry Islington;" the remains of a hunting-seat of Queen Elizabeth,
where she took the pleasures of the country, when the neighborhood was
all woodland. What gave it particular interest in my eyes, was the
circumstance that it had been the residence of a poet. It was here
Goldsmith resided when he wrote his Deserted Village. I was shown the
very apartment. It was a relique of the original style of the castle,
with pannelled wainscots and gothic windows. I was pleased with its air
of antiquity, and with its having been the residence of poor Goldy.
"Goldsmith was a pretty poet," said I to myself, "a very pretty poet;
though rather of the old school. He did not think and feel so strongly
as is the fashion now-a-days; but had he lived in these times of hot
hearts and hot heads, he would have written quite differently."
In a few days I was quietly established in my new quarters; my books
all arranged, my writing desk placed by a window looking out into the
field; and I felt as snug as Robinson Crusoe, when he had finished his
bower. For several days I enjoyed all the novelty of change and the
charms which grace a new lodgings before one has found out their
defects. I rambled about the fields where I fancied Goldsmith had
rambled. I explored merry Islington; ate my solitary dinner at the
Black Bull, which according to tradition was a country seat of Sir
Walter Raleigh, and would sit and sip my wine and muse on old times in
a quaint old room, where many a council had been held.
All this did very well for a few days: I was stimulated by novelty;
inspired by the associations awakened in my mind by these curious
haunts, and began to think I felt the spirit of composition stirring
within me; but Sunday came, and with it the whole city world, swarming
about Canonbury Castle. I could not open my window but I was stunned
with shouts and noises from the cricket ground. The late quiet road
beneath my window was alive with the tread of feet and clack of
tongues; and to complete my misery, I found that my quiet retreat was
absolutely a "show house!" the tower and its contents being shown to
strangers at sixpence a head.
There was a perpetual tramping up-stairs of citizens and their
families, to look about the country from the top of the tower, and to
take a peep at the city through the telescope, to try if they could
discern their own chimneys. And then, in the midst of a vein of
thought, or a moment of inspiration, I was interrupted, and all my
ideas put to flight, by my intolerable landlady's tapping at the door,
and asking me, if I would "jist please to let a lady and gentleman come
in to take a look at Mr. Goldsmith's room."
If you know anything what an author's study is, and what an author is
himself, you must know that there was no standing this. I put a
positive interdict on my room's being exhibited; but then it was shown
when I was absent, and my papers put in confusion; and on returning
home one day, I absolutely found a cursed tradesman and his daughters
gaping over my manuscripts; and my landlady in a panic at my
appearance. I tried to make out a little longer by taking the key in my
pocket, but it would not do. I overheard mine hostess one day telling
some of her customers on the stairs that the room was occupied by an
author, who was always in a tantrum if interrupted; and I immediately
perceived, by a slight noise at the door, that they were peeping at me
through the key-hole. By the head of Apollo, but this was quite too
much! with all my eagerness for fame, and my ambition of the stare of
the million, I had no idea of being exhibited by retail, at sixpence a
head, and that through a key-hole. So I bade adieu to Canonbury Castle,
merry Islington, and the haunts of poor Goldsmith, without having
advanced a single line in my labors.
My next quarters were at a small white-washed cottage, which stands not
far from Hempstead, just on the brow of a hill, looking over Chalk
farm, and Camden town, remarkable for the rival houses of Mother Red
Cap and Mother Black Cap; and so across Cruckskull common to the
The cottage is in no wise remarkable in itself; but I regarded it with
reverence, for it had been the asylum of a persecuted author. Hither
poor Steele had retreated and lain perdue when persecuted by creditors
and bailiffs; those immemorial plagues of authors and free-spirited
gentlemen; and here he had written many numbers of the Spectator. It
was from hence, too, that he had despatched those little notes to his
lady, so full of affection and whimsicality; in which the fond husband,
the careless gentleman, and the shifting spendthrift, were so oddly
blended. I thought, as I first eyed the window, of his apartment, that
I could sit within it and write volumes.
No such thing! It was haymaking season, and, as ill luck would have it,
immediately opposite the cottage was a little alehouse with the sign of
the load of hay. Whether it was there in Steele's time or not I cannot
say; but it set all attempt at conception or inspiration at defiance.
It was the resort of all the Irish haymakers who mow the broad fields
in the neighborhood; and of drovers and teamsters who travel that road.
Here would they gather in the endless summer twilight, or by the light
of the harvest moon, and sit round a table at the door; and tipple, and
laugh, and quarrel, and fight, and sing drowsy songs, and dawdle away
the hours until the deep solemn notes of St. Paul's clock would warn
the varlets home.
In the day-time I was still less able to write. It was broad summer. The
haymakers were at work in the fields, and the perfume of the new-mown
hay brought with it the recollection of my native fields. So instead of
remaining in my room to write, I went wandering about Primrose Hill and
Hempstead Heights and Shepherd's Field, and all those Arcadian scenes
so celebrated by London bards. I cannot tell you how many delicious
hours I have passed lying on the cocks of new-mown hay, on the pleasant
slopes of some of those hills, inhaling the fragrance of the fields,
while the summer fly buzzed above me, or the grasshopper leaped into my
bosom, and how I have gazed with half-shut eye upon the smoky mass of
London, and listened to the distant sound of its population, and pitied
the poor sons of earth toiling in its bowels, like Gnomes in "the dark
People may say what they please about Cockney pastorals; but after all,
there is a vast deal of rural beauty about the western vicinity of
London; and any one that has looked down upon the valley of Westend,
with its soft bosom of green pasturage, lying open to the south, and
dotted with cattle; the steeple of Hempstead rising among rich groves
on the brow of the hill, and the learned height of Harrow in the
distance; will confess that never has he seen a more absolutely rural
landscape in the vicinity of a great metropolis.
Still, however, I found myself not a whit the better off for my
frequent change of lodgings; and I began to discover that in
literature, as in trade, the old proverb holds good, "a rolling stone
gathers no moss."
The tranquil beauty of the country played the very vengeance with me. I
could not mount my fancy into the termagant vein. I could not conceive,
amidst the smiling landscape, a scene of blood and murder; and the smug
citizens in breeches and gaiters, put all ideas of heroes and bandits
out of my brain. I could think of nothing but dulcet subjects. "The
pleasures of spring"—"the pleasures of solitude"—"the pleasures of
tranquillity"—"the pleasures of sentiment"—nothing but pleasures; and
I had the painful experience of "the pleasures of melancholy" too
strongly in my recollection to be beguiled by them.
Chance at length befriended me. I had frequently in my ramblings
loitered about Hempstead Hill; which is a kind of Parnassus of the
metropolis. At such times I occasionally took my dinner at Jack Straw's
Castle. It is a country inn so named. The very spot where that
notorious rebel and his followers held their council of war. It is a
favorite resort of citizens when rurally inclined, as it commands fine
fresh air and a good view of the city.
I sat one day in the public room of this inn, ruminating over a
beefsteak and a pint of port, when my imagination kindled up with
ancient and heroic images. I had long wanted a theme and a hero; both
suddenly broke upon my mind; I determined to write a poem on the
history of Jack Straw. I was so full of my subject that I was fearful
of being anticipated. I wondered that none of the poets of the day, in
their researches after ruffian heroes, had ever thought of Jack Straw.
I went to work pell-mell, blotted several sheets of paper with choice
floating thoughts, and battles, and descriptions, to be ready at a
moment's warning. In a few days' time I sketched out the skeleton of my
poem, and nothing was wanting but to give it flesh and blood. I used to
take my manuscript and stroll about Caen Wood, and read aloud; and
would dine at the castle, by way of keeping up the vein of thought.
I was taking a meal there, one day, at a rather late hour, in the
public room. There was no other company but one man, who sat enjoying
his pint of port at a window, and noticing the passers-by. He was
dressed in a green shooting coat. His countenance was strongly marked.
He had a hooked nose, a romantic eye, excepting that it had something
of a squint; and altogether, as I thought, a poetical style of head. I
was quite taken with the man, for you must know I am a little of a
physiognomist: I set him down at once for either a poet or a
As I like to make new acquaintances, considering every man a volume of
human nature, I soon fell into conversation with the stranger, who, I
was pleased to find, was by no means difficult of access. After I had
dined, I joined him at the window, and we became so sociable that I
proposed a bottle of wine together; to which he most cheerfully
I was too full of my poem to keep long quiet on the subject, and began
to talk about the origin of the tavern, and the history of Jack Straw.
I found my new acquaintance to be perfectly at home on the topic, and
to jump exactly with my humor in every respect. I became elevated by
the wine and the conversation. In the fullness of an author's feelings,
I told him of my projected poem, and repeated some passages; and he was
in raptures. He was evidently of a strong poetical turn.
"Sir," said he, filling my glass at the same time, "our poets don't
look at home. I don't see why we need go out of old England for robbers
and rebels to write about. I like your Jack Straw, sir. He's a
home-made hero. I like him, sir. I like him exceedingly. He's English
to the back bone, damme. Give me honest old England, after all; them's
my sentiments, sir!"
"I honor your sentiments," cried I zealously. "They are exactly my own.
An English ruffian for poetry is as good a ruffian for poetry as any in
Italy or Germany, or the Archipelago; but it is hard to make our poets
"More shame for them!" replied the man in green. "What a plague would
they have?" What have we to do with their Archipelagos of Italy and
Germany? Haven't we heaths and commons and high-ways on our own little
island? Aye, and stout fellows to pad the hoof over them too? Come,
sir, my service to you—I agree with you perfectly."
"Poets in old times had right notions on this subject," continued I;
"witness the fine old ballads about Robin Hood, Allen A'Dale, and other
staunch blades of yore."
"Right, sir, right," interrupted he. "Robin Hood! He was the lad to cry
stand! to a man, and never flinch."
"Ah, sir," said I, "they had famous bands of robbers in the good old
times. Those were glorious poetical days. The merry crew of Sherwood
Forest, who led such a roving picturesque life, 'under the greenwood
tree.' I have often wished to visit their haunts, and tread the scenes
of the exploits of Friar Tuck, and Clym of the Clough, and Sir William
"Nay, sir," said the gentleman in green, "we have had several very
pretty gangs since their day. Those gallant dogs that kept about the
great heaths in the neighborhood of London; about Bagshot, and
Hounslow, and Black Heath, for instance—come, sir, my service to you.
You don't drink."
"I suppose," said I, emptying my glass—"I suppose you have heard of
the famous Turpin, who was born in this very village of Hempstead, and
who used to lurk with his gang in Epping Forest, about a hundred years
"Have I?" cried he—"to be sure I have! A hearty old blade that; sound
as pitch. Old Turpentine!—as we used to call him. A famous fine
"Well, sir," continued I, "I have visited Waltham Abbey, and Chinkford
Church, merely from the stories I heard, when a boy, of his exploits
there, and I have searched Epping Forest for the cavern where he used
to conceal himself. You must know," added I, "that I am a sort of
amateur of highwaymen. They were dashing, daring fellows; the last
apologies that we had for the knight errants of yore. Ah, sir! the
country has been sinking gradually into tameness and commonplace. We
are losing the old English spirit. The bold knights of the post have
all dwindled down into lurking footpads and sneaking pick-pockets.
There's no such thing as a dashing gentlemanlike robbery committed
now-a-days on the king's highway. A man may roll from one end of
England to the other in a drowsy coach or jingling post-chaise without
any other adventure than that of being occasionally overturned,
sleeping in damp sheets, or having an ill-cooked dinner.
"We hear no more of public coaches being stopped and robbed by a
well-mounted gang of resolute fellows with pistols in their hands and
crapes over their faces. What a pretty poetical incident was it for
example in domestic life, for a family carriage, on its way to a
country seat, to be attacked about dusk; the old gentleman eased of his
purse and watch, the ladies of their necklaces and ear-rings, by a
politely-spoken highwayman on a blood mare, who afterwards leaped the
hedge and galloped across the country, to the admiration of Miss
Carolina the daughter, who would write a long and romantic account of
The adventure to her friend Miss Juliana in town. Ah, sir! we meet with
nothing of such incidents now-a-days."
"That, sir,"—said my companion, taking advantage of a pause, when I
stopped to recover breath and to take a glass of wine, which he had
just poured out—"that, sir, craving your pardon, is not owing to any
want of old English pluck. It is the effect of this cursed system of
banking. People do not travel with bags of gold as they did formerly.
They have post notes and drafts on bankers. To rob a coach is like
catching a crow; where you have nothing but carrion flesh and feathers
for your pains. But a coach in old times, sir, was as rich as a Spanish
galleon. It turned out the yellow boys bravely; and a private carriage
was a cool hundred or two at least."
I cannot express how much I was delighted with the sallies of my new
acquaintance. He told me that he often frequented the castle, and would
be glad to know more of me; and I promised myself many a pleasant
afternoon with him, when I should read him my poem, as it proceeded,
and benefit by his remarks; for it was evident he had the true poetical
"Come, sir!" said he, pushing the bottle, "Damme, I like you!—You're a
man after my own heart; I'm cursed slow in making new acquaintances in
general. One must stand on the reserve, you know. But when I meet with
a man of your kidney, damme my heart jumps at once to him. Them's my
sentiments, sir. Come, sir, here's Jack Straw's health! I presume one
can drink it now-a-days without treason!"
"With all my heart," said I gayly, "and Dick Turpin's into the
"Ah, sir," said the man in green, "those are the kind of men for
poetry. The Newgate kalendar, sir! the Newgate kalendar is your only
reading! There's the place to look for bold deeds and dashing fellows."
We were so much pleased with each other that we sat until a late hour.
I insisted on paying the bill, for both my purse and my heart were
full; and I agreed that he should pay the score at our next meeting. As
the coaches had all gone that run between Hempstead and London he had
to return on foot, He was so delighted with the idea of my poem that he
could talk of nothing else. He made me repeat such passages as I could
remember, and though I did it in a very mangled manner, having a
wretched memory, yet he was in raptures.
Every now and then he would break out with some scrap which he would
Misquote most terribly, but would rub his hands and exclaim, "By
Jupiter, that's fine! that's noble! Damme, sir, if I can conceive how
you hit upon such ideas!"
I must confess I did not always relish his misquotations, which
sometimes made absolute nonsense of the passages; but what author
stands upon trifles when he is praised? Never had I spent a more
delightful evening. I did not perceive how the time flew. I could not
bear to separate, but continued walking on, arm in arm with him past my
lodgings, through Camden town, and across Crackscull Common, talking
the whole way about my poem.
When we were half-way across the common he interrupted me in the midst
of a quotation by telling me that this had been a famous place for
footpads, and was still occasionally infested by them; and that a man
had recently been shot there in attempting to defend himself.
"The more fool he!" cried I. "A man is an idiot to risk life, or even
limb, to save a paltry purse of money. It's quite a different case from
that of a duel, where one's honor is concerned. For my part," added I,
"I should never think of making resistance against one of those
"Say you so?" cried my friend in green, turning suddenly upon me, and
putting a pistol to my breast, "Why, then have at you, my lad!—come,
disburse! empty! unsack!"
In a word, I found that the muse had played me another of her tricks,
and had betrayed me into the hands of a footpad. There was no time to
parley; he made me turn my pockets inside out; and hearing the sound of
distant footsteps, he made one fell swoop upon purse, watch, and all,
gave me a thwack over my unlucky pate that laid me sprawling on the
ground; and scampered away with his booty.
I saw no more of my friend in green until a year or two afterwards;
when I caught a sight of his poetical countenance among a crew of
scapegraces, heavily ironed, who were on the way for transportation. He
recognized me at once, tipped me an impudent wink, and asked me how I
came on with the history of Jack Straw's castle.
The catastrophe at Crackscull Common put an end to my summer's
campaign. I was cured of my poetical enthusiasm for rebels, robbers,
and highwaymen. I was put out of conceit of my subject, and what was
worse, I was lightened of my purse, in which was almost every farthing
I had in the world. So I abandoned Sir Richard Steele's cottage in
despair, and crept into less celebrated, though no less poetical and
airy lodgings in a garret in town.
I see you are growing weary, so I will not detain you with any more of
my luckless attempts to get astride of Pegasus. Still I could not
consent to give up the trial and abandon those dreams of renown in
which I had indulged. How should I ever be able to look the literary
circle of my native village in the face, if I were so completely to
falsify their predictions. For some time longer, therefore, I continued
to write for fame, and of course was the most miserable dog in
existence, besides being in continual risk of starvation.
I have many a time strolled sorrowfully along, with a sad heart and an
empty stomach, about five o'clock, and looked wistfully down the areas
in the west end of the town; and seen through the kitchen windows the
fires gleaming, and the joints of meat turning on the spits and
dripping with gravy; and the cook maids beating up puddings, or
trussing turkeys, and have felt for the moment that if I could but have
the run of one of those kitchens, Apollo and the muses might have the
hungry heights of Parnassus for me. Oh, sir! talk of meditations among
the tombs—they are nothing so melancholy as the meditations of a poor
devil without penny in pouch, along a line of kitchen windows towards
At length, when almost reduced to famine and despair, the idea all at
once entered my head, that perhaps I was not so clever a fellow as the
village and myself had supposed. It was the salvation of me. The moment
the idea popped into my brain, it brought conviction and comfort with
it. I awoke as from a dream. I gave up immortal fame to those who could
live on air; took to writing for mere bread, and have ever since led a
very tolerable life of it. There is no man of letters so much at his
ease, sir, as he that has no character to gain or lose. I had to train
myself to it a little, however, and to clip my wings short at first, or
they would have carried me up into poetry in spite of myself. So I
determined to begin by the opposite extreme, and abandoning the higher
regions of the craft, I came plump down to the lowest, and turned
"Creeper," interrupted I, "and pray what is that?" Oh, sir! I see you
are ignorant of the language of the craft; a creeper is one who
furnishes the newspapers with paragraphs at so much a line, one that
goes about in quest of misfortunes; attends the Bow-street office; the
courts of justice and every other den of mischief and iniquity. We are
paid at the rate of a penny a line, and as we can sell the same
paragraph to almost every paper, we sometimes pick up a very decent
day's work. Now and then the muse is unkind, or the day uncommonly
quiet, and then we rather starve; and sometimes the unconscionable
editors will clip our paragraphs when they are a little too rhetorical,
and snip off twopence or threepence at a go. I have many a time had my
pot of porter snipped off of my dinner in this way; and have had to
dine with dry lips. However, I cannot complain. I rose gradually in the
lower ranks of the craft, and am now, I think, in the most comfortable
region of literature.
"And pray," said I, "what may you be at present!" "At present," said
he, "I am a regular job writer, and turn my hand to anything. I work up
the writings of others at so much a sheet; turn off translations; write
second-rate articles to fill up reviews and magazines; compile travels
and voyages, and furnish theatrical criticisms for the newspapers. All
this authorship, you perceive, is anonymous; it gives no reputation,
except among the trade, where I am considered an author of all work,
and am always sure of employ. That's the only reputation I want. I
sleep soundly, without dread of duns or critics, and leave immortal
fame to those that choose to fret and fight about it. Take my word for
it, the only happy author in this world is he who is below the care of
The preceding anecdotes of Buckthorne's early schoolmate, and a variety
of peculiarities which I had remarked in himself, gave me a strong
curiosity to know something of his own history. There was a dash of
careless good humor about him that pleased me exceedingly, and at times
a whimsical tinge of melancholy ran through his humor that gave it an
additional relish. He had evidently been a little chilled and buffeted
by fortune, without being soured thereby, as some fruits become
mellower and sweeter, from having been bruised or frost-bitten. He
smiled when I expressed my desire. "I have no great story," said he,
"to relate. A mere tissue of errors and follies. But, such as it is,
you shall have one epoch of it, by which you may judge of the rest."
And so, without any farther prelude, he gave me the following anecdotes
of his early adventures.