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very name had the chink of ready money to the ear of the corruptibles. A physiognomist acquainted with the sordid lines which the paltry vice of covetousness delves in the human countenance, might have distinguished a certain class of voters as he walked the streets. The hope of a five-pound note brought the glorious privileges of the British constitution home to the hearts and bosoms of a band of electors, not, perhaps, the majority of the constituents, but sufficiently numerous to reduce the suffrages of the honest portion to practical insignificance. The coolest members of the community, at a moment of such general excitement, were those who had come to the determination of putting themselves
up for sale, and knocking themselves down to the highest bidder. No personal affections or animosities warped them ; no political passions inflamed them ; no enthusiasm for reform or philanthropy betrayed them into extravagance, or for a moment diverted their minds from the simple calculation of the marketvalue of their votes. To then it was nothing whether Medlicott or Pigwidgeon was the greater orator, or whether this cause or that cause was likely to be advanced or prejudiced by the triumph of the one or the other. To these single-minded men, the only questions were, which of the candidates had the most to spend, and which of them was most disposed to spend it. They were to be seen walking about the town with their left bands thrust ostentatiously into their breeches pockets, a sign agreed upon among them, and perfectly well understood to be a public advertisement of their resolution to sell their country.
There was another fraction of the constituency which had intellectual tastes, political feelings, and moral principles; but being exposed to various foul influences, and deficient in moral courage, ardently desired to follow the dictates of their consciences, but were more likely, in the event of a fierce struggle, to obey the commands of their customers, acquiesce in the pleasure of their landlords, or yield to the intimidation of the rabble. Of this unfortunate class (to whom the possession of the franchise was nothing but a misfortune) some preserved a stubborn silence on the subject of the coming election; some openly and justly complained of the constitution that gave them a privilege without protecting them in the use of it; while others, ashamed of the tyranny to which they succumbed, affected approbation of the course to which they foresaw they would ultimately be driven by it. Practically and virtually, these unfortunate people were only the proxies of others, who really possessed the influence which the voters nominally wielded ; in many cases they were the proxies of persons to whom the law had positively refused the right of suffrage, disqualifying them to vote themselves, while it most preposterously enabled them to dictate and control the votes of others.
The Vicar and his friend Mr. Cox had hitherto been opposed to secret voting, but being particularly interested in this contest, and consequently paying more attention to its details than they had ever paid to an election before, they could never afterwards understand how any man, sincerely desirous to diminish the evils of bribery and intimidation, could object to the system of the ballot. Old Mr. Medlicott had the evils of terrorism brought under his own eyes in a very distinct and curious manner. He discovered that his own wife had been guilty of threatening to withdraw her paltry little custom from bakers, and butchers, and other tradesmen, should they presume to vote against her son. You may suppose how angry this made an honest little man like him. He gave the lady a hearty rating for her unconstitutional practices, desired to have no more such foul doings, and going round to every one of the little shops that had been threatened, disclaimed in the most explicit terms all participation or approval of Mrs. Medlicott's most improper conduct.
But when the struggle began in earnest, there was corruption enough of every kind, which was utterly beyond the control of Reuben's friends, or the conscientious portion of them. Before either of the rivals appeared on the stage, Mr. Primrose saw enough to make him regret that he had taken any part in the business at all, and placing Mrs. Mountjoy's purse in Dr. Page's hands, he made a precipitate retreat to London.
In every battle somebody, of course, must fire the first shot. The first shot upon this occasion was fired by the enemy in the form of a monstrous libel upon Mr. Medlicott, from the pen
of his friend Mr. Griffin.
Mrs. Medlicott was in despair, and went about the house wringing her hands, and complaining in the bitterest terms of the falsehood of the article.
“ One would think that you wished it was all true,” said the Vicar. “ The falsehood is just the thing you ought to be glad of. We must see about answering it, or getting it retracted.”
Dr. Page swore he would make them eat their words, and taking a cudgel in his hand, which he had probably bought with an eye to such uses, he strolled into the village.
The libel was evidently the production of a master of the art. After stating a good deal that was reasonable enough about the desultory life Reuben had led, and treating his pretensions, upon public grounds, with a contempt and ridicule to which no fair objection could be made, the article suddenly assumed the highest moral tone, laid down the broad principle that public virtue was incompatible with private vices, and deplored the imperious necessity which sometimes compelled a writer to discuss subjects at once the most delicate and the most repulsive. But duty (as usual in all such cases) was the paramount consideration; and he would, therefore, give the electors of Chichester a plain, unvarnished history of the man who had the incomparable insolence to solicit the suffrages of that ancient and venerable city. Then followed a series of statements, many of them sheer fictions, others founded upon little facts in Reuben's early career, which we have already imparted to our readers without lowering him much in their good opinion. The writer trembled, as he said, to approach that particular era of Mr. Medlicott's life, when he was the favoured inmate of his grandfather's house in Herefordshire, and, after disgracing the hospitable mansion of that great and good man, with debaucheries for which even the hot blood of youth was no apology, set one wing of it on fire, to destroy the records of his orgies, and to some extent actually effected his profligate purpose. He willingly passed over in silence many a year speni in low conviviality, in habits of daily intimacy with the scum of society; but he would like to know whether the potcompanions of glaziers and carpenters, the bosom friend of shoemakers and tailors, the Lothario of dairy-maids, and the Orpheus of the ale-house was a proper person to represent the capital of Sussex ? Would he dare to confess to the world the nature of his well-known connection with a gang of French adventurers, who commenced their career at Hereford, who travelled from thence to Cambridge, shoemakers in one place, booksellers in another, and hairdressers (he believed) at this present moment in London? Mr. Medlicott was impregnable, indeed upon one point; he was safe on the subject of his intrigues with the fair sex; bnt he was safe only because they were too scandalous to be alluded to by any writer of common decency. What would the virtuous inhabitants of that virtuous city think of a man, of whom it was stated (and, alas, upon too solid grounds), that he had gone the horrible and incredible length of attempting to seduce the affections of his own grandmother; but, to the eternal honour of her sex, that paragon of female purity had repelled his insulting addresses, and had only been prevented by motives easily understood from publicly exposing and denouncing her shameless assailant.
With this libel in his pocket, Dr. Page walked into the apothecary's shop. Mr. Pigwidgeon was not at home; he had gone to town to meet son, who was expected to arrive that evening from London. The Doctor hired a horse at the inn, rode into Chichester, and went straight to the office of the newspaper. He first asked for the editor, who was not to be seen ; then he inquired if by any chance his friend Mr. Pigwidgeon was on the premises, putting the question with all possible suavity, so as to disarm any suspicion of a hostile intention, which, indeed, his whiskers and the cudgel were well calculated to awaken. The stratagem succeeded. The Doctor was introduced the next moment into a small room, full of desks and papers, where he found the apothecary seated with another gentleman, from whose countenance he concluded, at the first glance, he was the person who wrote the libel, no matter who was responsible for its publication. Griffin was the very incarnation of the spirit of the cowardly, base, and malignant libeller. The cowardice was in his complexion, the malignity in his eye, the baseness everywhere. There never was a quicker operation of the mind than that by which both he and Mr. Pigwidgeon connected the cudgel with the attack on Reuben the moment the Doctor entered the room.
The latter being a man of very few words, came to the subject of his visit with the shortest possible preamble; said he took the liberty of waiting on Mr. Pigwidgeon, in consequence of some compliments that had been lately paid to Mr. Reuben Medlicott in print, and begged to know whether the apothecary or his friend was the author, as, upon such occasions, he was always particular about punishing the proper person.
Mr. Pigwidgeon replied, with a visible quivering all over, that he knew nothing about what the Doctor alluded to, and that, at all events, the editor was the only responsible person for whatever appeared in the paper. Mr. Griffin had only just arrived in Chichester, and what could he know of any such matter ?
Gentlemen,” said Page, planting himself pugnaciously opposite to them both, “ if I had the editor here, I should probably address myself to him alone, but as, fortunately for himself, he is elsewhere, I mean to hold you two severally and jointly responsible for the ruffianiy libel upon my absent friend, and there is but one condition that shall save you from my immediate vengeance; you must promise to insert the amplest retraction, and most abject apology, in the next number of your publication.”
Griffin looked furtively round the room, to see if there was any window to escape by, while the apothecary mumbled a protest against unnecessary violence, and said he was sure his friend the editor would be glad to qualify any observations he might have made, in the heat of a moment, calculated to hurt the feelings of anybody in the world.
Qualification won't do," said the Doctor; “retraction is the word; and to save you the trouble of additional composition, I'll dictate the terms of it. Take the pen in your hand, Mr. Griffin, and write what I bid you."
Griffin hesitated and murmured, but the club hanging over him like a comet, overcame all other considerations. The following was the Doctor's prescription, word for word:
“ The undersigned hereby acknowledges that the article relating to the character of Mr. Reuben Medlicott, published in the • Chichester Mercury' of the — inst., was written by him, and that the statements in it to the prejudice of that gentleman are utterly false and unfounded; that he had no ground whatsoever for imputing any immoral or dishonourable conduct to Mr. Medlicott at any period of his life ; on the contrary, he believes and knows him to be no less distinguished by the spotlessness of his reputation, than by the variety of his accomplishments, and the splendour of his talents.”
“Now read it over for me,” said Page, “till I see if it runs smooth."
With this request, also, Mr. Griffin complied, and only muttered an objection to the statement respecting Mr. Medlicott's talents and accomplishments, of which, he said, he knew nothing.
“ If you are ever called in question for that part of it, give me as your authority," said the Doctor; “ and now your signature, sir, if you please.”
“ This is very hard,” grumbled the caitiff, in the humour of Pistol swallowing the leek.
“I dare say” said Page, “this is not the first document of the kind you have put your name to, in your
time.” He then took the paper, handed it to Mr. Pigwidgeon, told him he would hold him responsible for its publication, and went his
way, much prouder of his exploit than he had reason to be,