Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

one

upon scanty hospital beds, there were many people in this great city to whom that Sunday night was to be the last of any that they should pass on earth here. In the course of half a dozen dark, wakeful hours, one had leisure to think of these (and a little, too, of that certain supreme night, that shall come at one time or other, when he who writes shall be stretched upon the last bed, prostrate in the last struggle, taking the last look of dear faces that have cheered us here, and lingering moment more ere we part for the tremendous journey); but, chiefly, I could not help thinking, as each clock sounded, what is he doing now? has he heard it in his little room in Newgate yonder? Eleven o'clock. He has been writing until now. The gaoler says he is a pleasant man enough to be with ; but he can hold out no longer, and is very weary.

66 Wake me at four,” says he, “ for I have still much to put down.” From eleven to twelve the gaoler hears how he is grinding his teeth in his sleep. At twelve he is up in his bed, and asks, “ Is it the time? He has plenty more time yet for sleep; and he sleeps, and the bell goes on tolling. Seven hours more five hours more. Many a carriage is clattering through the streets, bringing ladies away from evening parties ; many bachelors are reeling home after a jolly night; Covent Garden is alive and the light coming through the cell-window turns the gaoler's candle pale.

Four hours more! 66 Courvoisier,” says the gaoler, shaking him, “it's four o'clock now, and I've woke you as you told me; but there's no call for you to get up yet." The poor wretch leaves his bed, however, and makes his last toilet; and then falls to writing, to tell the world how he did the crime for which he has suffered. This time he will tell the truth, and the whole truth. They bring him his breakfast “ from the coffee-shop opposite — tea, coffee, and thin bread and butter.' He will take nothing, however, but goes on writing. He has to write to his mother — the pious mother far away in his own country — who reared him and loved him; and even now has sent him her forgiveness and her blessing. He finishes his memorials and letters, and makes his will, disposing of his little miserable property of books and tracts that pious people have furnished him with. Ce 6 Juillet, 1840. François Benjamin Courvoisier vous donne ceci, mon ami, pour souvenir.He has a token for his dear friend the gaoler; another for his dear friend the under-sheriff. As the day of the convict's death draws nigh, it is painful to see how he fastens upon everybody who approaches him, how pitifully he clings to them and loves them.

While these things are going on within the prison (with which we are made accurately acquainted by the copious chronicles of such events which are published subsequently), X -'s carriage has driven up to the door of my lodgings, and we have partaken of an elegant déjeûner that has been prepared for the occasion. A cup of coffee at half-past three in the morning is uncommonly pleasant ; and X-enlivens us with the repetition of the jokes that Dash has just been making. Admirable, certainly — they must have had a merry night of it, that's clear; and we stoutly debate whether, when one has to get up so early in the morning, it is best to have an hour or two of sleep, or wait and go to bed afterwards at the end of the day's work. That fowl is extraordinarily tough — the wing, even, is as hard as a board ; a slight disappointment, for there is nothing else for breakfast. . Will any gentleman have some sherry and soda-water before he sets out? It clears the brains famously.” Thus primed, the party sets out. The coachman has dropped asleep on the box, and wakes up wildly as the hall-door opens. It is just four o'clock. About this very time they are waking up poor — pshaw! who is for a cigar? X

does not smoke himself; but vows and protests, in the kindest way in the world, that he does not care in the least for the new drab-silk linings in bis carriage. Z-, who smokes, mounts, however, the box. Drive to Snow Hill,” says the owner of the chariot. The policemen, who are the only people in the street, and are standing by, look knowing – they know what it means well enough.

How cool and clean the streets look, as the carriage startles the echoes that have been asleep in the corners all night. Somebody has been sweeping the pavements clean in the nighttime surely; they would not soil a lady's white satin shoes, they are so dry and neat. There is not a cloud or a breath in the air, except Z-'s cigar, which whiffs off, and soars straight upwards in volumes of white, pure smoke. The trees in the squares look bright and green as bright as leaves in the country in June. We who keep late hours don't know the beauty of London air and verdure; in the early morning they are delightful — the most fresh and lively companions possible. But they cannot bear the crowd and the bustle of mid-day. You don't know them then — they are no longer the same things. We have come to Gray's Inn ; there is actually dew upon the grass in the gardens; and the windows of the stout old red houses are all in a flame.

As we enter Holborn the town grows more animated ; and there are already twice as many people in the streets as you see at mid-day in a German Residenz or an English provincial town. The gin-shop keepers have many of them taken their shutters down, and many persons are issuing from them pipe in hand. Down they go along the broad bright street, their blue shadows marching after them ; for they are all bound the same way, and are bent like us upon seeing the hanging.

It is twenty minutes past four as we pass St. Sepulchre's : by this time many hundred people are in the street, and many

are coming up Snow Hill. Before us lies Newgate Prison ; but something a great deal more awful to look at, which seizes the eye at once, and makes the heart beat, is

more

[graphic][subsumed]

There it stands black and ready, jutting out from a little door in the prison. As you see it, you feel a kind of dumb electric shock, which causes one to start a little, and give a sort of gasp for breath. The shock is over in a second; and presently you examine the object before you with a certain feeling of complacent curiosity. At least, such was the effect that the gallows produced upon the writer, who is trying to set down all his feelings as they occurred, and not to exaggerate them at all.

After the gallows-shock had subsided, we went down into the crowd, which was very numerous,

but not dense as yet. It was evident that the day's business had not begun. People sauntered up, and formed groups, and talked ; the new comers asking those who seemed habitués of the place about former executions; and did the victim hang with his face towards the clock or towards Ludgate Hill? and had he the rope round his neck when he came on the scaffold, or was it put on by Jack Ketch afterwards ? and had Lord W- taken a window, and which was he? I may mention the noble Marquis's name, as he was not at the exhibition. A pseudo W- was pointed out in an opposite window, towards whom all the people in our neighborhood looked eagerly, and with great respect too. The mob seemed to have no sort of ill-will against him, but sympathy and admiration. This noble lord's personal courage and strength have won the plebs over to him. Perhaps his exploits against policemen have occasioned some of this popularity ; for the mob hate them, as children the schoolmaster.

Throughout the whole four hours, however, the mob was extraordinarily gentle and good-humored. At first we had leisure to talk to the people about us; and I recommend X—'s brother senators of both sides of the House to see more of this same people and to appreciate them better. Honorable Members are battling and struggling in the House ; shouting, yelling, crowing, hear-hearing, pooh-poohing, making speeches of three columns, and gaining “great Conservative triumphs,” or signal successes of the Reform cause,” as the case may be. Three hundred and ten gentlemen of good fortune, and able for the most part to quote Horace, declare solemnly that unless Sir Robert comes in, the nation is ruined. Three hundred and fifteen on the other side swear by their great gods that the safety of the empire depends upon Lord John; and to this end they quote Horace too. I declare that I have never been in a great London crowd without thinking of what they call the two “great” parties in England with wonder. For which of the two great leaders do these people care, I pray you? When Lord Stanley withdrew his Irish bill the other night, were they in transports of joy, like worthy persons who read the Globe and the Chronicle? or when he beat the Ministers, were they wild with delight, like honest gentlemen who read the Pust and the Times ? Ask yonder ragged fellow, who has evidently frequented debating-clubs, and speaks with good sense and shrewd good-nature. He cares no more for Lord John than he does for Sir Robert; and, with due respect be it said, would mind very little if both of them were ushered out by Mr. Ketch, and took their places under yonder black beam. What are the two great parties to him, and those like him? Sheer wind, hollow humbug, absurd claptraps; a silly mummery of dividing and debating, which does not in the least, however it may turn, affect his condition. It has been so ever since the happy days when Whigs and Tories began; and a pretty pastime no doubt it is for both. August parties, great balances of British freedom: are not the two sides quite as active, and eager, and loud, as at their very birth, and ready to fight for place as stoutly as ever they fought before? But lo! in the meantime, whilst you are jangling and brawling over the accounts, Populus, whose estate you have administered while he was an infant, and could not take care

of himself - Populus has been growing and growing, till he is every bit as wise as his guardians. Talk to our ragged friend. He is not so polished, perhaps, as a member of the “ Oxford and Cambridge Club; he has not been to Eton ; and never read Horace in his life : but he can think just as soundly as the best of you ; he can speak quite as strongly in his own rough way; he has been reading all sorts of books of late years, and gathered together no little information. He is as good a man as the common run of us; and there are ten million more men in the country as good as he, - ten million, for whom we, in our infinite superiority, are acting as guardians, and to whom, in our bounty, we give exactly nothing. Put yourself in their position, worthy sir. You and a hundred others find yourselves in some lone place, where you set up a government. You take a chief, as is natural; he is the cheapest order-keeper in the world. You establish half a dozen worthies, whose families you say shall have the privilege to legislate for you for ever; half a dozen more, who shall be appointed by a choice of thirty of the rest : and the other sixty, who shall have no choice, vote, place, or privilege, at all. Honorable sir, suppose that you are one of the last sixty : how will you feel, you who have intelligence, passions, honest pride, as well as your neighbor; how will you feel towards your equals, in whose hands lie all the power and all the property of the community? Would you love and honor them, tamely acquiesce in their superiority, see their privileges, and go yourself disregarded without a pang? you are not a man if you would. I am not talking of right or wrong, or debating questions of government.

But ask my friend there, with the ragged elbows and no shirt, what he thinks? You have your party, Conservative or Whig, as it

You believe that an aristocracy is an institution necessary, beautiful, and virtuous. You are a gentleman, in other words, and stick by your party.

And our friend with the elbows (the crowd is thickening hugely all this time) sticks by his. Talk to him of Whig or Tory, he grins at them : of virtual representation, pish! He is a democrat, and will stand by his friends, as you by yours ; and they are twenty millions, his friends, of whom a vast minority now, a majority a few years hence, will be as good as you. In the meantime we shall continue electing, and debating, and dividing, and having every day new triumphs for the glorious cause of Conservatism, or the glorious cause of Reform, until

may be.

« AnteriorContinuar »