Page images
PDF
EPUB

of signals was not then perfected, and the means of conveying secret and swift intelligence, by telegraphic science, had not in those days been practised. The art of begging was then only art without science: the native genius of knavery unaided by method or discipline. The consequence was, that the beggars fled before my father's beadles, constables, and parish oversecrs; and they were dispersed through other parishes, or led into captivity to round-houses, or consigned to places called asylums for the poor and indigent, or lodged in workhouses, or crammed into houses of industry or penitentiary-houses, where, by my father's account of the matter, there was little industry and no penitence, and from whence the delinquents issued, after their seven days' captivity, as bad or worse than they went in. Be that as it may, the essential point with my father was accomplished: they were got rid of that season, and before the next season he resolved that I should be out of the hands of the women, and safe at a public school, which he considered as a specific for all my complaints, and indeed for every disease of mind and body incident to childhood. It was the only thing, he said, to make a man of me. “ There was Jack B- and Thomas D and Dick C-sons of gentlemen in our county, and young Lord Mowbray to boot, all at school with Dr. Y- and what men they, were already!” A respite of a few months was granted in consideration of my small stature, and of my mother's all-eloquent tears. Meantime my father took me more to himself; and, mixed with men, I acquired some manly, or what were called manly, ideas. My attention was wakened and led to new things. I took more exercise and less medicine; and with my health and strength of body my strength of mind and courage increased. My father made me ashamed of that nervous sensibility of which I had before been vain. I was glad that the past should be past and forgotten; yet a painful reminiscence would come over my mind whenever I heard or saw the word Jew. About this time I first became fond of reading, and I never saw the word in any page of any book which I happened to open without immediately stopping to read the passage. And here I must observe, that not only in the old story-books, where the Jews are as well fixed to be wicked as the bad fairies, or bad genii, or allegorical personifications of the devils and the vices in the old emblems, mysteries, moralities, &c., but in almost every work of fiction, I found them represented as hateful beings; nay, even in modern tales of very late years, since I have come to man's estate, I have met with books by authors professing candour and toleration-books written expressly for the rising generation, called, if I mistake not, Moral Tales for Young People; and even in these, wherever the Jews are introduced, I find that they are invariably represented as beings of a mean, avaricious, unprincipled, treacherous character, Even the peculiarities of their persons, the errors of their foreign dialect and pronunciation, were mimicked and caricatured, as if to render them objects of perpetual derision and detestation. I am far from wishing to insinuate that such was the serious intention of these authors. I trust they will in future profit by these hints. I simply state the effect which similar representations in the story books I read, when I was a child, produced on my mind. They certainly acted most powerfully and injuriously, strengthening the erroneous association of ideas I had accidentally formed, and confirming my childish prejudice by what I then thought the indisputable authority of printed books.

About this time also I began to attend to conversation -to the conversation of gentlemen as well as of ladies; and I listened with a sort of personal interest and curiosity whenever Jews happened to be mentioned. I recollect hearing my father talk with horror of some young gentleman who had been dealing with the Jews. I asked what this meant, and was answered, “ 'Tis something very like dealing with the devil, my dear." Those who give a child a witty instead of a rational answer do not know how dearly they often make the poor child pay for their jest. My father added, " It is certain, that when a man once goes to the Jews, he soon goes to the devil. So, Harrington, my boy, 1 charge you at your peril, whatever else you do, keep out of the hands of the Jews-never go near the Jews: if once they catch hold of you, there's an end of you, my boy.”.

Had the reasons for the prudential part of this charge been given to me, and had the nature of the disgraceful transactions with the Hebrew nation been explained, it would have been full as useful to me, and rather more just to them. But this was little or no concern of my father's. With some practical skill in the management of the mind, but with short-sighted views as to its permanent benefit, and without an idea of its philosophic moral cultivation, he next undertook to cure me of the fears which he had contributed to create. 1

He took opuportunities of pointing out how poor, how helpless, how wretched they are; how they are abused continually, insulted daily, and mocked by the lowest of servants, or the least of children in our streets; their very name a by-word of reproach: “He is a Jew-an actual Jew,” being the expression for avarice, hard-heartedness, and fraud. Of their frauds I was told innumerable stories. In short, the Jews were represented to me as the lowest, meanest, vilest of mankind, and a conversion of fear into contempt was partially effected in my mind; partially, I say, for the conversion was not complete ; the two sentiments existed together, and by an experienced eye could easily be detected and seen even one through the other.

Now whoever knows any thing of the passions--and who is there who does not ?-must be aware how readily fear and contempt run-into the kindred feeling of hatred. It was about this time, just before I went to school, that something relative to the famous Jew bill, became the subject of vehement discussion at my father's table. My father was not only a member of parliament, but a man of some consequence with his party. He had usually been a stanch friend of government; but upon one occasion, when he first came into parliament, nine or ten years before the time of which I am now writing, in 1753 or '54, I think, he had voted against ministry upon this very bill for the naturalization of the Jews in England. Government liberally desired that they should be naturalized, but there was a popular cry against it, and my father on this one occasion thought the voice of the people was right. After the bill had been carried half through it was given up by ministry, the opposition to it proving so violent. My father was a great stickler for parliamentary consistency, and moreover he was of an obstinate temper. Ten years could make no change in his opinions, as he was proud to declare. There was at this time, during a recess of parliament, some intention among the London merchants to send addresses to government in favour of the Jews; and addresses were to be procured from the country. The

ness.

county members, and among them of course my father, were written to; but he was furiously against the naturalization : he considered all who were for it as enemies to England; and, I believe, to religion. He hastened down to the country to take the sense of his constituents, or to impress them with his sense of the busi

Previous to some intended county meeting, there were, I remember, various dinners of constituents at my father's, and attempts after dinner, over a bottle of wine, to convince them that they were, or ought to be, of my father's opinion, and that they had better all join him in the toast of “ The Jews are down, and keep'em down."

A subject apparently less liable to interest a child of my age could hardly be imagined; but, from my peculiar associations, it did attract my attention. I was curious to know what my father and all the gentlemen were saying about the Jews at these dinners, from which my mother and the ladies were excluded. I was eager to claim my privilege of marching into the dining-room after dinner, and taking my stand beside my father's elbow, and then I would gradually edge myself on till I got possession of half his chair, and establish a place for my elbow on the table. I remember one day sitting for an hour together, turning from one person to another as each spoke, incapable of comprehending their arguments, but fully understanding the vehemence of their tones, and sympathizing in the varying expression of passion; as to the rest, quite satisfied with making out which speaker was for, anu which against, the Jews. All those who were against them I considered as my father's friends ; all those who were for them, I called by a common misnomer, or nietonymy of the passions, my father's enemies, because my father was their enemy. The feeling of party spirít, which is caught by children as quickly as it is revealed by men, now combined to strengthen still more and to exasperate my early prepossession. Astonished by the attention with which I had this day listened to all that seemed so unlikely to interest a boy of my age, my father, with a smile and a wink, and a side nod of his head, not meant, I suppose, for me to see, but which I noticed the more, pointed me out to the company, by whom it was unanimously agreed that my attention was a proof of uncommon abilities, and an early decided taste for public business. Young

[ocr errors]

Ipord Mowbray, a boy two years older than myself, a gawky schoolboy, was present; and had, during this long hour after dinner, manifested sundry symptoms of impatience, and made many vain efforts to get me out of the room. After cracking his nuts and his nut-shells, and thrice cracking the cracked-after suppressing the thick-coming yawns that at last could no longer be suppressed, he had risen, writhed, stretched, and had fairly taken himself out of the room. And now he just peeped in, to see if he could tempt me forth to play.

"No, no," cried my father, “you'll not get Harrington, he is too deep here in politics--but however, Harrington, my dear boy, 'tis not the thing for your young companion -go off and play with Mowbray: but stay, first, since you've been one among us so long, what have we been ialking of ?" “The Jews, to be sure, papa.” Right,” cried my father; " and what about them, “ Whether they ought to be let to live in England, or anywhere.”

Right again, that is right in the main,” cried my father: “though that is a larger view of the subject than we took.”

“And what reasons did you hear ?" said a gentleman in company.

“Reasons !” interrupted my father: "oh! sir, to call upon the boy for all the reasons he has heard-But you'll not pose him; speak up, speak up, Harrington,

[ocr errors]

my dear ?"

66

my boy!"

“I've nothing to say about reasons, sir."

“No! that was not a fair question,” said my father ; “but, my boy, you know on which side you are, don't

[ocr errors]

you ?"

“To be sure-on your side, father.”

" That's right-bravo! To know on which side one is, is one great point in life.”

“And I can tell on which side every one here is." Then going round the table, I touched the shoulder of each of the company, saying, “ A Jew !-No Jew!” and bursts of applause ensued.

When I came to my father again, he caught me in his arms, kissed me, patted my head, clapped me on the back, poured out a bumper of wine, bade me drink his toast, - No Naturalization Bill !--No Jews !” and while I

« PreviousContinue »