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Chapter 23. Fleet Prison Admission. - John Ashton 1888

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But enough of the miserables in connection with the Fleet Prison. We shall find that it is even possible for a prisoner to write pleasantly, nay, even somewhat humorously, upon his position, as we may see by the perusal of a poem entitled "The _Humours_ of the Fleet. An humorous, descriptive Poem. Written by a Gentleman of the College" &c., Lond. 1749. Under the frontispiece, which represents the introduction of a prisoner into its precincts, is a poem of thirty-two lines, of which the following is a portion:--

THE DEBTORS' WELCOME TO THEIR BROTHER.

[Illustration: music]

Wel-come, wel-come, Bro-ther Debt-or, To this poor but mer-ry place, Where no Bay-liff, Dun, or Set-ter Dare to shew their fright-ful face. But, kind Sir, as you're a Stran-ger, Down your Gar-nish you must lay, Or your Coat will be in Danger,--You must ei-ther strip or pay.

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

Here we see, very vividly depicted, the introduction of a new prisoner; the Chamberlain is introducing him to the Cook, whilst the Goaler and Tapster seem, already, to have made his acquaintance.

The notes appended to the Poem are in the original.

After a somewhat long exordium on prosperity and poverty, together with the horrors of a spunging-house, and imagining that the debtor has obtained his _Habeas_, which would permit him to choose his prison, the Poet thus sings:

"Close by the Borders of a slimy Flood, Which now in secret rumbles thro' the Mud; (Tho' heretofore it roll'd expos'd to Light, Obnoxious to th' offended City's Sight.)[114]

"Twin Arches now the Sable Stream enclose Upon whose Basis late a Fabrick rose; In whose extended oblong Boundaries, } Are Shops and Sheds, and Stalls of all Degrees, } For Fruit, Meat, Herbage, Trinkets, Pork and Peas } A prudent City Scheme, and kindly meant; The Town's oblig'd, their Worships touch the Rent.

"Near this commodious Market's miry Verge, The Prince of Prisons Stands, compact and large; When, by the Jigger's[115] more than magick Charm, Kept from the Pow'r of doing Good--or Harm, Relenting Captives only ruminate Misconduct past, and curse their present State; Tho' sorely griev'd, few are so void of Grace, As not to wear a seeming chearful Face: In Drinks or Sports ungrateful Thoughts must die, For who can bear Heart-wounding Calumny? Therefore Cabals engage of various Sorts, To walk, to drink, or play at different Sports: Here, on the oblong Table's verdant Plain, The ivory Ball bounds, and rebounds again;[116] There, at Backgammon, two sit _tete a tete_, And curse alternately their Adverse Fate; These are at Cribbage, those at Whist engag'd And, as they lose, by turns become enrag'd: Some of more sedentary Temper, read Chance-medley Books, which duller Dullness breed; Or Politicks in Coffee-Room, some pore The Papers and Advertisements thrice o'er: Warm'd with the _Alderman_,[117] some set up late, To fix th' Insolvent Bill, and Nation's Fate; Hence, knotty Points at different Tables rise, And either Party's wond'rous, wond'rous wise: Some of low Taste, ring Hand Bells, direful Noise! And interrupt their Fellows' harmless Joys; Disputes more noisy now a Quarrel breeds. And Fools on both Sides fall to Loggerheads: Till wearied with persuasive Thumps and Blows, They drink, and Friends, as tho' they ne'er were Foes.

"Without Distinction, intermix'd is seen, A 'Squire quite dirty, a Mechanick clean: The Spendthrift Heir, who in his Chariot roll'd, All his Possessions gone, Reversions sold, Now mean, as once Profuse, the stupid Sot Sits by a _Runner's_ Side,[118] and _shules_[119] a Pot.

"Some Sots ill-manner'd, drunk, a harmless Fight! Rant noisy thro' the Galleries all Night; For which, if Justice had been done of late, The Pump[120] had been three pretty Masters Fate. With Stomacks empty, and Heads full of Care Some Wretches swill the Pump and walk the Bare;[121] Within whose ample Oval is a Court, } Where the more Active and Robust resort, } And glowing, exercise a manly Sport } (Strong Exercise with mod'rate Food is good, It drives in sprightful Streams the circling Blood;) While these with Rackets strike the flying Ball, Some play at Nine Pins, Wrestlers take a Fall; Beneath a Tent some drink, and some above Are slily in their Chambers making Love; _Venus_ and _Bacchus_ each keeps here a Shrine, And many Vot'ries have to Love and Wine.

"Such the Amusement of this merry Jail, Which you'll not reach, if Friends or Money fail: For e'er its three-fold Gates it will unfold, The destin'd Captive must produce some Gold: Four Guineas, at the least, for diff'rent Fees, Compleats your _Habeas_, and commands the keys; Which done, and safely in, no more you're led, If you have Cash, you'll find a Friend and Bed; But, that deficient, you'll but Ill betide, Lie in the Hall,[122] perhaps, or Common Side.[123]

"But now around you gazing _Jiggers_[124] swarm, To draw your Picture, that's their usual Term; Your Form and Features strictly they survey, Then leave you, (if you can) to run away.

"To them succeeds the Chamberlain, to see} If you and he are likely to agree;} Whether you'll tip,[125] or pay your Master's Fee.[126]} Ask him how much? 'Tis one Pound six and eight; And, if you want, he'll not the Twopence bate: When paid, he puts on an important Face, And shews _Mount Scoundrel_[127] for a charming Place: You stand astonish'd at the darken'd Hole, Sighing, the Lord have Mercy on my Soul! And ask, have you no other Rooms, Sir, pray? Perhaps enquire what Rent too, you're to pay: Entreating that he wou'd a better seek; The Rent (cries gruffly's)--Half a Crown a Week. The Rooms have all a Price, some good, some bad; But pleasant ones at present can't be had: This Room, in my Opinion's not amiss; } Then cross his venal Palm with half a Piece[128] } He strait accosts you with another Face. }

"Sir you're a Gentleman;--I like you well, But who are such at first, we cannot tell; Tho' your Behaviour speaks you what I thought, And therefore I'll oblige you as I ought:

"How your Affairs may stand, I do not know, But here, Sir, Cash does frequently run low. I'll serve you,--don't be lavish,--only mum! Take my Advice, I'll help you to a Chum![129] A Gentleman, Sir,--see, and hear him speak, With him you'll pay but fifteen Pence a Week;[130] Yet his Apartment's on the Upper Floor,[131] Well furnish'd, clean and nice; who'd wish for more? A Gentleman of Wit and Judgment too! Who knows the Place;[132] what's what, and who is who; My Praise, alas! can't equal his Deserts; In brief,--you'll find him, Sir, a Man of Parts.

"Thus, while his fav'rite Friend he recommends, He compasses at once their several Ends; The new come Guest is pleas'd, that he should meet So kind a Chamberlain, a Chum so neat: But, as conversing thus, they nearer come, Behold before his Door, the destin'd Chum.

"Why stood he there, himself could scarcely tell; But there he had not stood, had Things gone well: Had one poor Half-penny but blest his Fob, } Or, if in Prospect he had seen a Job, } H'had strain'ed his Credit for a Dram of Bob,[133] } But now, in pensive Mood, with Head down cast, His Eyes transfix'd as tho' they look'd their last; One Hand his open Bosom lightly held, And one an empty Breeches Pocket fill'd. His Dowlas Shirt no Stock or Cravat bore, And on his Head, no Hat or Wig he wore; But a once black shag Cap, surcharg'd with Sweat; His Collar, here a Hole, and there a Pleat; Both grown alike in Colour, that--alack! This, neither now was White, nor that was Black; But match'd his dirty yellow Beard so true, They form'd a three-fold Cast of Brick dust Hue; Meagre his Look, and in his nether Jaw Was stuff'd an elemosynary Chaw;[134] (Whose Juice serves present Hunger to asswage, Which yet returns again with tenfold Rage;) His Coat, which catch'd the Droppings from his Chin, Was clos'd at Bottom with a Corking-Pin; His Breeches Waistband a long Skewer made fast, While he from _Scotland_ Dunghill[135] snatch'd in Haste; His Shirt-Tail thin as Lawn, but not so white, Barely conceal'd his lank Affairs from Sight; Loose were his Knee Bands, and unty'd his Hose, Coax'd[136] in the Heel, in pulling o'er his Toes; Which spite of all his circumspective Care, Did thro' his broken dirty Shoes appear.

"Just in this hapless Trim and pensive Plight, The old Collegian[137] stood confess'd to Sight; Whom, when our new-come Guest at first beheld, He started back, with great Amazement fill'd; Turns to the Chamberlain, says, bless my Eyes! } Is this the Man you told me was so nice? } I meant his Room was so Sir, he replies; } The Man is now in Dishabille and Dirt, He shaves To-morrow tho', and turns his Shirt; Stand not at Distance, I'll present you, come My Friend, how is't? I've brought you here a Chum; One that's a Gentleman; a worthy Man, And you'll oblige me, serve him all you can.

"The Chums salute, the old Collegian first Bending his Body almost to the Dust; Upon his Face unusual Smiles appear And long abandon'd Hope his Spirits chear Thought he, Relief's at hand, and I shall eat; } Will you walk in, good Sir, and take a Seat! } We have what's decent here, tho' not compleat; } As for myself, I scandalize the Room, But you'll consider, Sir, that I'm at Home; Tho' had I thought a Stranger to have seen, I should have ordered Matters to've been clean; But here, amongst ourselves, we never mind, Borrow or lend--reciprocally kind; Regard not Dress;--tho' Sir, I have a Friend Has Shirts enough, and, if you please, I'll send. No Ceremony, Sir, you give me Pain; I have a clean Shirt, Sir.--But have you twain? O, yes, and twain to boot, and those twice told, Besides, I thank my Stars, a Piece of Gold. Why, then I'll be so free, Sir, as to borrow, I mean a Shirt, Sir,--only till To-morrow. You're welcome, Sir,--I'm glad you are so free. Then turns the old Collegian round with Glee; Whispers the Chamberlain with secret Joy, We live to-night!--I'm sure he'll pay his Foy: Turns to his Chum again with Eagerness, And thus bespeaks him with his best Address;

"See, Sir, how pleasant, what a Prospect's there; Below you see them sporting on the Bare; Above, the Sun, Moon, Star, engage the Eye, And those Abroad can't see beyond the Sky: These rooms are better far than those beneath, A clearer Light, a sweeter Air we breath; A decent Garden does our Window grace, With Plants untainted, undistain'd the Glass; And welcome Showers descending from above In gentle Drops of Rain, which Flowers love: In short, Sir, nothing can be well more sweet: But, I forgot--perhaps you chuse to eat; Tho', for my part, I've nothing of my own, To-day I scrap'd my Yesterday's Blade Bone; But we can send--Ay, Sir, with all my Heart, (Then very opportunely enters _Smart_).[138] O, here's our Cook, he dresses all Things well; Will you sup here, or do you chuse the Cell? There's mighty good Accommodations there, Rooms plenty, or a Box in Bartholm' Fair;[139] There, too, we can divert you, and may shew Some Characters are worth your while to know,

Replies the new Collegian, nothing more } I wish to see, be pleas'd to go before; } And, _Smart_, provide a handsome Dish for Four.}

"Too generous Man! but 'tis our hapless Fate In all Conditions, to be wise too late; For, even in Prison, those who have been free, Will shew, if able, Generosity; Yet find, too soon, when lavish of their Store,} How hard, when gone, it is to come at more; } And every Artifice in vain explore. } Some Messages Abroad, by Runners send. Some Letters write to move an absent Friend; And by Submission, having begg'd a Crown, In one night's Revel here they'll kick it down.[140] 'Tis true, this one Excuse they have indeed, When others _Cole it_,[141] they as freely _bleed_;[142] When the Wind's fair, and brings in Ships with Store[143] Each spends in turn, and trusts to Fate for more.

* * * * *

"The future Chums and Chamberlain descend The Dirt[144] knot Stairs, and t'wards the kitchen bend; Which gain'd, they find a merry Company, Listening to Tales (from _Smart_) of Baudry, All introduced with awkward Simile,[145] Whose Applications miss the Purpose pat. But in the Fire now burns th' unheeded Fat, Whose sudden Blaze brings L--nd--r[146] roaring in; Then _Smart_ looks foolish, and forsakes his Grin. The laughing Audience alter, too, their Tone, For who can smile, that sees Tom L--nd--r frown? He, magisterial rules the panic Cell, And rivals _Belzebub_,--in looking well: Indignant now, he darts malicious Eyes, While each Dependant from the Kitchen flies; Leaves _Smart_ to combat with his furious Ire, Who heeds him not, but strives to clear the Fire; Blowing and stirring still, no Pains he spares, And mute remains, while _Major Domo_ swears; Who bellows loud Anathemas on _Smart_, And the last Curse he gives is D--n your Heart; His trembling Lips are pale, his Eyeballs roll; Till, spent with Rage, he quits him with a Growl.

"Now, as our new-come Guest observ'd this Scene, (As odd an one, perhaps, as could be seen) He first on _Smart_, next on his Master gaz'd, And at the two extreams seem'd much amaz'd; Which _Smart_ perceiving, says in sober Mood, } Sir, I've a thousand Times his Fury stood; } But, yet, the Man tho' passionate, is good; } I never speak when he begins to bawl, For, should I swear like him, the House would fall."

Here follow two or three pages of but little interest to the reader and the Story continues:

"But I forgot;--the Stranger and his Chum, With t'other to, to _Barth'l'mew Fair_ are come; Where, being seated, and the Supper past, They drink so deep, and put about so fast, That 'ere the warning Watchman walks about, With dismal Tone repeating,--Who goes out?[147] 'Ere St. _Paul's_ Clock no longer will withold From striking Ten, and the Voice cries,--All told.[148] 'Ere this, our new Companions, every one In roaring Mirth and Wine, so far were gone, That every Sense from ev'ry Part was fled, And were with Difficulty got to Bed; Where in the Morn, recover'd from his Drink, The new _Collegian_ may have Time to think; And, recollecting how he spent the Night, Explore his Pockets, and not find a Doit.

"Too thoughtless Man! to lavish thus away A Week's Support in less than half a Day; But 'tis a Curse attends this wretched Place, To pay for dear bought Wit in little Space: The Time shall come, when this new Tenant here, Will in his Turn _shule_ for a Pot of Beer; Repent the melting of his Cash too fast, And snap at Strangers for a Nights Repast."