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“Over her sides we dash,
We gallop across her deck -
On the merchant-captain's neck -
Well struck, well struck, black James !
Frantic shouts of applause and encore hailed the atrocious sentiments conveyed by Mr. Hoff in this ballad, from everybody except Bardolph, who sat muzzy and unmoved, and only winked to the waiter to bring him some more whiskey.
VI. When the piratical ballad of Mr. Hoff was concluded, a simple and quiet-looking young gentleman performed a comic song, in a way which, I must confess, inspired me with the utmost melancholy. Seated at the table with the other professional gents, this young gentleman was in nowise to be distinguished from any other young man of fashion : he has a thin, handsome, and rather sad countenance; and appears to be a perfectly sober and meritorious young man. But suddenly (and I dare say every night of his life) he pulls a little flexible, gray countryman's hat out of his pocket, and the moment he has put it on, his face assumes an expression of unutterable vacuity and folly, his eyes goggle round savage, and his mouth stretches almost to his ears, and he begins to sing a
The battle-song and the sentimental ballad already published are, I trust, sufficiently foolish, and fair specimens of the class of poetry to which they belong; but the folly of the comic country song was so great and matchless, that I am not going to compete for a moment with the author, or to venture to attempt anything like his style of composition. It was something about a man going a-courting Molly, and “ feayther,” and "kyows,” and “peegs," and other rustic produce. The idiotic verse was interspersed with spoken passages, of corresponding imbecility. For the time during which Mr. Grinsby performed this piece, he consented to abnegate altogether his claim to be considered as a reasonable being ; utterly to debase himself, in order to make the company laugh ; and to forget the rank, dignity, and privileges of a man.
His song made me so profoundly wretched that little Grigg, remarking my depression, declared I was as slow as a parliamentary train.
I was glad they didn't have the song over again. When it was done, Mr. Grinsby put his little gray hat in his pocket, the maniacal grin subsided from his features, and he sat down with his naturally sad and rather handsome young countenance.
( Grinsby, thinks I, what a number of people and things in this world do you represent! . Though we weary listening to you, we may moralize over you ; though you sing a foolish, witless song, you poor young melancholy jester, there is some good in it that may be had for the seeking. Perhaps that lad has a family at home dependent on his grinning : I may entertain a reasonable hope that he has despair in his heart; a complete notion of the folly of the business in which he is engaged ; a contempt for the fools laughing and guffawing round about at his miserable jokes ; and a perfect weariness of mind at their original dulness and continued repetition. What a sinking of spirit must come over that young man, quiet in his chamber or family, orderly and sensible like other mortals, when the thought of tom-fool hour comes across him, and that at a certain time that night, whatever may be his health, or distaste, or mood of mind or body, there he must be, at a table at the “ Cave of Harmony," uttering insane ballads, with an idiotic grin on his face and hat on his head.
To suppose that Grinsby has any personal pleasure in that song, would be to have too low an opinion of human nature : to imagine that the applauses of the multitude of the frequenters of the Cave tickled his vanity, or are bestowed upon him deservedly would be, I say, to think too hardly of him. Look at him. He sits there quite a quiet, orderly young fellow. Mark with what an abstracted, sad air he joins in the chorus of Mr. Snape's second song,
66 The Minaret's bells o'er the Bosphorus toll,” and having applauded his comrade at the end of the song (as I have remarked these poor gentlemen always do), moodily resumes the stump of his cigar.
“ I wonder, my dear Grigg, how many men there are in the city who follow a similar profession to Grinsby's? What a number of poor rogues, wits in their circle, or bilious, or in debt, or henpecked, or otherwise miserable in their private circumstances, come grinning out to dinner of a night, and laugh and crack, and let off their good stories like yonder professional funny fellow? Why, I once went into the room of that famous dinner-party conversationalist and wit, Horsely Collard ; and whilst he was in his dressing-room arranging his wig, just looked over the books on the table before his sofa. There were · Burton's Anatomy' for the quotations, three of which he let off that night; Spence's Literary Anecdotes,' of which he fortuitously introduced a couple in the course of the evening ; • Baker's Chronicle ;' the last new Novel, and a book of Metaphysics, every one of which I heard him quote, besides four stories out of his commonplace book, at which I took a peep under the pillow. He was like Grinsby.” Who isn't like Grinsby in life? thought I to myself, examining that young fellow.
“When Bawler goes down to the House of Commons from a meeting with his creditors, and having been a bankrupt a month before, becomes a patriot all of a sudden, and pours you out an intensely interesting speech upon the West Indies, or the Window Tax, he is no better than the poor gin-and-water practitioner yonder, and performs in his Cave, as Grinsby in his under the Piazza.
“ When Serjeant Bluebag fires into a witness, or performs a jocular or a pathetic speech to a jury, in what is he better than Grinsby, except in so far as the amount of gain goes? — than poor Grinsby rapping at the table and cutting professional jokes, at half-a-pint-of-whiskey fee.
“When Tightrope, the celebrated literary genius, sits down to write and laugh - with the children very likely ill at home with a strong personal desire to write a tragedy or a sermon, with his wife scolding him, his head racking with pain, his mother-in-law making a noise at his ears, and telling him that he is a heartless and abandoned ruffian, his tailor in the passage, vowing that he will not quit that place until his little bill is settled when, I say, Tightrope writes off, under the most miserable private circumstances, a brilliant funny article, in how much is he morally superior to my friend Grinsby? When Lord Colchicum stands bowing and smiling before his sovereign, with gout in his toes and grief in his heart; when parsons in the pulpit - when editors at their desks - forget their natural griefs, pleasures, opinions, to go through the business of life, the masquerade of existence, in what are they better than Grinsby yonder, who has similarly to perform his buffooning?”
As I was continuing in this moral and interrogatory mood no doubt boring poor little Grigg, who came to the Cave for pleasure, and not for philosophical discourse - Mr. Bardolph opposite caught a sight of the present writer through the fumes of the cigars, and came across to our table, holding his fourth
glass of toddy in his hand. He held out the other to me: it was hot and gouty, and not particularly clean.
“ Deuced queer place this, hey?” said he, pretending to survey it with the air of a stranger. “I come here every now and then, on my way home to Lincoln's Inn — from from parties at the other end of the town. It is frequented by a parcel of queer people - low shop-boys and attorneys' clerks ; but hang it, sir, they know a gentleman when they see one, and not one of those fellows would dare to speak to me- - no, not one of 'em, by Jove — if I didn't address him first, by Jove! I don't suppose there's a man in this room could construe a page in the commonest Greek book. You heard that donkey singing about · Leonorar' and before her?' How Flibber would have given it to us for such rhymes, hey? A parcel of ignoramuses! but, hang it, sir, they do know a gentleman!” And here he winked at me with a vinous bloodshot eye, as much as to intimate that he was infinitely superior to every person in the room.
Now this Bardolph, having had the ill-luck to get a fellowship, and subsequently a small private fortune, has done nothing since the year 1820 but get drunk and read Greek. He despises every man that does not know that language (so that you and my dear sir, come in for a fair share of his contempt). He can still put a slang song into Greek Iambics, or turn a police report into the language of Tacitus or Herodotus; but it is difficult to see what accomplishment beyond this the boozy old mortal possesses. He spends nearly a third part of his life and income at his dinner, or on his whiskey at a tavern ; more than another third portion is spent in bed. It is past noon before he gets up to breakfast, and to spell over The Times, which business of the day being completed, it is time for him to dress and take his walk to the Club to dinner. He scorns a man who puts his h’s in the wrong place, and spits at a human being who has not had a University education. And yet I am sure that bustling waiter pushing about with a bumper of cigars; that tallow-faced young comic singer; yonder harmless and happy Snobs, enjoying the conviviality of the evening (and all the songs are quite modest now, not like the ribald old ditties which they used to sing in former days), are more useful, more honorable, and more worthy men, than that whiskeyfied old scholar who looks down upon them and their like.
He said he would have a sixth glass if we would stop: but we didn't; and he took his sixth glass without us. My melancholy young friend had begun another comic song, and I could bear it no more. The market carts were rattling into Covent Garden ; and the illuminated clock marked all sorts of small hours as we concluded this night's pleasure.
GOING TO SEE A MAN HANGED.*
X-, who had voted with Mr. Ewart for the abolition of the punishment of death, was anxious to see the effect on the public mind of an execution, and asked me to accompany him to see Courvoisier killed. We had not the advantage of a sheriff's order, like the “six hundred noblemen and gentlemen ” who were admitted within the walls of the prison ; but determined to mingle with the crowd at the foot of the scaffold, and take up our positions at a very early hour.
As I was to rise at three in the morning, I went to bed at ten, thinking that five hours' sleep would be amply sufficient to brace me against the fatigues of the coming day. But, as might have been expected, the event of the morrow was perpetually before my eyes through the night, and kept them wide open. I heard all the clocks in the neighborhood chime the hours in succession ; a dog from some court hard by kept up a pitiful howling; at one o'clock, a cock set up a feeble, melancholy crowing; shortly after two the daylight came peeping gray through the window-shutters; and by the time that X arrived, in fulfilment of his promise, I had been asleep about half an hour. He, more wise, had not gone to rest at all, but had remained up all night at the Club, along with Dash and two or three more. Dash is one of the most eminent wits in London, and had kept the company merry all night with appropriate jokes about the coming event. It is curious that a murder is a great inspirer of jokes. We all like to laugh and have our fling about it; there is a certain grim pleasure in the circumstance a perpetual jingling antithesis between life and death, that is sure of its effect.
In mansion or garret, on down or straw, surrounded by weeping friends and solemn oily doctors, or tossing unheeded
* Originally published in Fraser's Magazine.