To Sir WATKIN PHILLIPS, of Jesus college, Oxon.
The farce is finished, and another piece of a graver cast brought upon the stage.—Our aunt made a desperate attack upon Barton, who had no other way of saving himself, but by leaving her in possession of the field, and avowing his pretensions to Liddy, by whom he has been rejected in his turn.—Lady Griskin acted as his advocate and agent on this occasion, with such zeal as embroiled her with Mrs Tabitha, and a high scene of altercation passed betwixt these two religionists, which might have come to action, had not my uncle interposed. They are however reconciled, in consequence of an event which hath involved us all in trouble and disquiet. You must know, the poor preacher, Humphry Clinker, is now exercising his ministry among the felons in Clerkenwell prison—A postilion having sworn a robbery against him, no bail could be taken, and he was committed to jail, notwithstanding all the remonstrances and interest my uncle could make in his behalf.
All things considered, the poor fellow cannot possibly be guilty, and yet, I believe, he runs some risque of being hanged. Upon his examination, he answered with such hesitation and reserve as persuaded most of the people, who crowded the place, that he was really a knave, and the justice’s remarks confirmed their opinion. Exclusive of my uncle and myself, there was only one person who seemed inclined to favour the culprit.—He was a young man, well dressed, and, from the manner in which he cross-examined the evidence, we took it for granted, that he was a student in one of the inns of court.—He freely checked the justice for some uncharitable inferences he made to the prejudice of the prisoner, and even ventured to dispute with his worship on certain points of law.
My uncle, provoked at the unconnected and dubious answers of Clinker, who seemed in danger of falling a sacrifice to his own simplicity, exclaimed, ‘In the name of God, if you are innocent, say so.’ ‘No (cried he) God forbid that I should call myself innocent, while my conscience is burthened with sin.’ ‘What then, you did commit this robbery?’ resumed his master. ‘No, sure (said he) blessed be the Lord, I’m free of that guilt.’
Here the justice interposed, observing, that the man seemed inclined to make a discovery by turning king’s evidence, and desired the clerk to take his confession; upon which Humphry declared, that he looked upon confession to be a popish fraud, invented by the whore of Babylon. The Templar affirmed, that the poor fellow was non compos; and exhorted the justice to discharge him as a lunatic.—‘You know very well (added he) that the robbery in question was not committed by the prisoner.’
The thief-takers grinned at one another; and Mr Justice Buzzard replied with great emotion, ‘Mr Martin, I desire you will mind your own business; I shall convince you one of these days that I understand mine.’ In short, there was no remedy; the mittimus was made out, and poor Clinker sent to prison in a hackney-coach, guarded by the constable, and accompanied by your humble servant. By the way, I was not a little surprised to hear this retainer to justice bid the prisoner to keep up his spirits, for that he did not at all doubt but that he would get off for a few weeks confinement—He said, his worship knew very well that Clinker was innocent of the fact, and that the real highwayman who robbed the chaise, was no other than that very individual Mr Martin, who had pleaded so strenuously for honest Humphry.
Confounded at this information, I asked, ‘Why then is he suffered to go about at his liberty, and this poor innocent fellow treated as a malefactor?’ ‘We have exact intelligence of all Mr Martin’s transactions (said he); but as yet there is not evidence sufficient for his conviction; and as for this young man, the justice could do no less than commit him, as the postilion swore point-blank to his identity.’ ‘So if this rascally postilion should persist in the falsity to which he is sworn (said I), this innocent lad may be brought to the gallows.’
The constable observed, that he would have time enough to prepare for his trial, and might prove an alibi; or, perhaps, Martin might be apprehended and convicted for another fact; in which case, he might be prevailed upon to take this affair upon himself; or, finally, if these chances should fail, and the evidence stand good against Clinker, the jury might recommend him to mercy, in consideration of his youth, especially if this should appear to be the first fact of which he had been guilty.
Humphry owned he could not pretend to recollect where he had been on the day when the robbery was committed, much less prove a circumstance of that kind so far back as six months, though he knew he had been sick of the fever and ague, which, however, did not prevent him from going about—then, turning up his eyes, he ejaculated, ’The Lord’s will be done! if it be my fate to suffer, I hope I shall not disgrace the faith of which, though unworthy, I make profession.’
When I expressed my surprize that the accuser should persist in charging Clinker, without taking the least notice of the real robber who stood before him, and to whom, indeed, Humphry bore not the smallest resemblance; the constable (who was himself a thief-taker) gave me to understand, that Mr Martin was the best qualified for business of all the gentlemen on the road he had ever known; that he had always acted on his own bottom, without partner or correspondent, and never went to work but when he was cool and sober; that his courage and presence of mind never failed him; that his address was genteel, and his behaviour void of all cruelty and insolence; that he never encumbered himself with watches or trinkets, nor even with bank-notes, but always dealt for ready money, and that in the current coin of the kingdom; and that he could disguise himself and his horse in such a manner, that, after the action, it was impossible to recognize either the one or the other—‘This great man (said he) has reigned paramount in all the roads within fifty miles of London above fifteen months, and has done more business in that time, than all the rest of the profession put together; for those who pass through his hands are so delicately dealt with, that they have no desire to give him the least disturbance; but for all that, his race is almost run—he is now fluttering about justice, like a moth about a candle—there are so many lime-twigs laid in his way, that I’ll bet a cool hundred, he swings before Christmas.’
Shall I own to you, that this portrait, drawn by a ruffian, heightened by what I myself had observed in his deportment, has interested me warmly in the fate of poor Martin, whom nature seems to have intended for a useful and honourable member of that community upon which he now preys for subsistence? It seems, he lived some time as a clerk to a timber-merchant, whose daughter Martin having privately married, was discarded, and his wife turned out of doors. She did not long survive her marriage; and Martin, turning fortune-hunter, could not supply his occasions any other way, than by taking to the road, in which he has travelled hitherto with uncommon success.—He pays his respects regularly to Mr Justice Buzzard, the thief-catcher-general of this metropolis, and sometimes they smoke a pipe together very lovingly, when the conversation generally turns upon the nature of evidence.—The justice has given him fair warning to take care of himself, and he has received his caution in good part.—Hitherto he has baffled all the vigilance, art, and activity of Buzzard and his emissaries, with such conduct as would have done honour to the genius of a Caesar or a Turenne; but he has one weakness, which has proved fatal to all the heroes of his tribe, namely, an indiscreet devotion to the fair sex, and in all probability, he will be attacked on this defenceless quarter.
Be that as it may, I saw the body of poor Clinker consigned to the gaoler of Clerkenwell, to whose indulgence I recommended him so effectually, that he received him in the most hospitable manner, though there was a necessity for equipping him with a suit of irons, in which he made a very rueful appearance. The poor creature seemed as much affected by my uncle’s kindness, as by his own misfortune. When I assured him, that nothing should be left undone for procuring his enlargement, and making his confinement easy in the mean time, he fell down on his knees, and kissing my hand, which he bathed with his tears, ‘0 ’squire! (cried he, sobbing) what shall I say?—I can’t—no, I can’t speak—my poor heart is bursting with gratitude to you and my dear—dear generous—noble benefactor.’
I protest, the scene became so pathetic, that I was fain to force myself away, and returned to my uncle, who sent me in the afternoon with a compliment to one Mr Mead, the person who had been robbed on Black-heath. As I did not find him at home, I left a message, in consequence of which he called at our lodgings this morning, and very humanely agreed to visit the prisoner. By this time, lady Griskin had come to make her formal compliments of condolance to Mrs Tabitha, on this domestic calamity; and that prudent maiden, whose passion was now cooled, thought proper to receive her ladyship so civilly, that a reconciliation immediately ensued. These two ladies resolved to comfort the poor prisoner in their own persons, and Mr Mead and I ’squired them to Clerkenwell, my uncle being detained at home by some slight complaints in his stomach and bowels.
The turnkey, who received us at Clerkenwell, looked remarkably sullen; and when we enquired for Clinker, ‘I don’t care, if the devil had him (said he); here has been nothing but canting and praying since the fellow entered the place.—Rabbit him! the tap will be ruined—we han’t sold a cask of beer, nor a dozen of wine, since he paid his garnish—the gentlemen get drunk with nothing but your damned religion.—For my part, I believe as how your man deals with the devil.—Two or three as bold hearts as ever took the air upon Hounslow have been blubbering all night; and if the fellow an’t speedily removed by Habeas Corpus, or otherwise, I’ll be damn’d if there’s a grain of true spirit left within these walls we shan’t have a soul to do credit to the place, or make his exit like a true born Englishman—damn my eyes! there will be nothing but snivelling in the cart—we shall all die like so many psalm-singing weavers.’
In short, we found that Humphry was, at that very instant, haranguing the felons in the chapel; and that the gaoler’s wife and daughter, together with my aunt’s woman, Win Jenkins, and our house-maid, were among the audience, which we immediately joined. I never saw any thing so strongly picturesque as this congregation of felons clanking their chains, in the midst of whom stood orator Clinker, expatiating in a transport of fervor, on the torments of hell, denounced in scripture against evil-doers, comprehending murderers, robbers, thieves, and whore mongers. The variety of attention exhibited in the faces of those ragamuffins, formed a groupe that would not have disgraced the pencil of a Raphael. In one, it denoted admiration; in another, doubt; in a third, disdain; in a fourth, contempt; in a fifth, terror; in a sixth, derision; and in a seventh, indignation.—As for Mrs Winifred Jenkins, she was in tears, overwhelmed with sorrow; but whether for her own sins, or the misfortune of Clinker, I cannot pretend to say. The other females seemed to listen with a mixture of wonder and devotion. The gaoler’s wife declared he was a saint in trouble, saying, she wished from her heart there was such another good soul, like him, in every gaol in England.
Mr Mead, having earnestly surveyed the preacher, declared his appearance was so different from that of the person who robbed him on Black-heath, that he could freely make oath he was not the man: but Humphry himself was by this time pretty well rid of all apprehensions of being hanged; for he had been the night before solemnly tried and acquitted by his fellow prisoners, some of whom he had already converted to methodism. He now made proper acknowledgments for the honour of our visit, and was permitted to kiss the hands of the ladies, who assured him, he might depend upon their friendship and protection. Lady Griskin, in her great zeal, exhorted his fellow-prisoners to profit by the precious opportunity of having such a saint in bonds among them, and turn over a new leaf for the benefit of their poor souls; and, that her admonition might have the greater effect, she reinforced it with her bounty.
While she and Mrs Tabby returned in the coach with the two maidservants, I waited on Mr Mead to the house of justice Buzzard, who, having heard his declaration, said his oath could be of no use at present, but that he would be a material evidence for the prisoner at his trial; so that there seems to be no remedy but patience for poor Clinker; and, indeed, the same virtue, or medicine, will be necessary for us all, the squire in particular, who had set his heart upon his excursion to the northward.
While we were visiting honest Humphry in Clerkenwell prison, my uncle received a much more extraordinary visit at his own lodgings. Mr Martin, of whom I have made such honourable mention, desired permission to pay him his respects, and was admitted accordingly. He told him, that having observed him, at Mr Buzzard’s, a good deal disturbed by what had happened to his servant, he had come to assure him he had nothing to apprehend for Clinker’s life; for, if it was possible that any jury could find him guilty upon such evidence, he, Martin himself, would produce in court a person, whose deposition would bring him off clear as the sun at noon.—Sure, the fellow would not be so romantic as to take the robbery upon himself!—He said, the postilion was an infamous fellow, who had been a dabbler in the same profession, and saved his life at the Old Bailey by impeaching his companions; that being now reduced to great poverty, he had made this desperate push, to swear away the life of an innocent man, in hopes of having the reward upon his conviction; but that he would find himself miserably disappointed, for the justice and his myrmidons were determined to admit of no interloper in this branch of business; and that he did not at all doubt but that they would find matter enough to shop the evidence himself before the next gaol-delivery. He affirmed, that all these circumstances were well known to the justice; and that his severity to Clinker was no other than a hint to his master to make him a present in private, as an acknowledgment of his candour and humanity.
This hint, however, was so unpalatable to Mr Bramble, that he declared, with great warmth, he would rather confine himself for life to London, which he detested, than be at liberty to leave it tomorrow, in consequence of encouraging corruption in a magistrate. Hearing, however, how favourable Mr Mead’s report had been for the prisoner, he is resolved to take the advice of counsel in what manner to proceed for his immediate enlargement. I make no doubt, but that in a day or two this troublesome business may be discussed; and in this hope we are preparing for our journey. If our endeavours do not miscarry, we shall have taken the field before you hear again from
Yours, J. MELFORD LONDON, June 11