Page images



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

CHAPTER 1. My birth, parentage, and family pretensions. Unfortunately I prove

to be a detrimental or younger son, which is remedied by a trifling accident. I hardly receive the first elements of science from my father, when the elements conspire against me, and I am left an orphan.

Gentle reader, I was born upon the water — not upon the salt and angry ocean, but upon the fresh and rapid-flowing river. It was in a floating sort of box, called a lighter, and upon the river Thames, at low water, that I first smelt the mud. This lighter was manned (an expression amounting to bullism, if not construed kind-ly) by my father, my mother, and your humble servant. My father had the sole charge — he was monarch of the deck; my mother of course was queen, and I was the heir apparent.

Before I say one word about myself, allow me dutifully to describe my parents. First, then, I will portray my queen mother. Report says, that when first she came on board of the lighter, a lighter figure and a lighter step never pressed a plank; but as far as I can tax my recollection, she was always a fat, unwieldy woman. Locomotion was not to her taste - gin was. She seldom quitted the cabin never quitted the lighter: a pair of shoes may have lasted her for five years, for the wear and tear that she took out of them. Being of this domestic habit, as all married women ought to be, she was always to be found when wanted; but, Jacob Faithful



[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

though always at hand, she was not always on her feet. Towards the close of the day, she lay down upon her bed — a wise precaution when a person can no longer stand. The fact was, that my honoured mother, although her virtue was unimpeachable, was frequently seduced by liquor; and although constant to my father, was debauched and to be found in bed with that insidious assailer of female uprightness — gin. The lighter, which might have been compared to another garden of Eden, of wbich my mother was the Eve, and my father the Adam to consort with, was entered by this serpent who tempted her; and if she did not eat, she drank, which was even worse. At first, indeed — and I may mention it to prove how the enemy always gains admittance under a specious form she drank it only to keep the cold out of her stomach, which the humid atmoshpere from the surrounding water appeared to warrant. My father took his pipe for the same reason; but, at the time that I was born, he smoked and she drank, from morning to night, because habit had rendered it almost necessary to their existence. The pipe was always to his lips, the glass incessantly to hers. I would have defied any cold ever to have penetrated into their stomachs; — but I have said enough of my mother for the present; I will now pass on to my father.

My father was a puffy, round-bellied, long-armed, little man, admirably calculated for his station in, or rather out of, society. He could manage a lighter as well as any body; but he could do no

He had been brought up to it from his infancy. He went on shore for my mother, and came on board again the only remarkable event in his life. His whole amusement was his pipe; and, as there is a certain indefinable link between smoking and philosophy, my father, by dint of smoking, had become a perfect philosopher. It is no less strange than true, that we can puff away our cares with tobacco, when, without it, they remain an oppressive burthen to existence. There is no composing draught like the draught through the tube of a pipe. The savage warriors of North America enjoyed the blessing before we did; and to the pipe is to be ascribed the wisdom of their councils, and the laconic delivery of their sentiments. It would be well introduced into our own legislative assembly. Ladies, indeed, would no longer peep


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]

down through thc ventilator; but we should have more sense and fewer words. It is also to tobacco that is to be ascribed the stoical firmness of those American warriors, who, satisfied with the pipe in their mouths, submitted with perfect indifference to the torture of their enemies. From the well-known virtues of this weed arose that peculiar expression, when you irritate another, that you “put his pipe out.”

My father's pipe, literally and metaphorically, was never put out. He had a few apophthegms which brought every disaster to a happy conclusion; and, as he seldom or pever indulged in words, these sayings were deeply impressed upon my infant memory. One was, “It's no use crying; what's done can't be helped." When once these words escaped his lips, the subject was never renewed. Nothing appeared to move him: the adjurations of those employed in the other lighters, barges, vessels, and boats of every description, who were contending with us for the extra fout of water, as we drifted up or down with the tide, affected him not, further than an extra column or two of smoke rising from the bowl of his pipe. To my mother, he used but one expression, “Take it coolly;" but it always had the contrary effect with my mother, as it put her more in a passion. It was like pouring oil upon flame; nevertheless, the advice was good, had it ever been followed. Another favourite expression of my father's, when any thing went wrong, and which was of the same pattern as the rest of his philosophy, was, “Better luck next time.” These aphorisms were deeply impressed upon my memory. I continually recalled them to mind, and thus I became a philosopher long before my wise teeth were in embryo, or I had even shed the first set with which kind Nature presents us, that in the petticoat age we may fearlessly indulge in lollipop.

My father's education had been neglected. He could neither write nor read; but although he did not exactly, like Cadmus, inveot letters, he had accustomed himself to certain hieroglyphics, generally speaking sufficient for his purposes, and which might be considered as an artificial memory. “I can't write nor read, Jacob,” he would say; “I wish I could; but look, boy, I means this mark for three quarters of a bushel. Mind you recollects it


[ocr errors]

when I axes you, or I'll be blowed if I don't wallop you." But it was only a case of peculiar difficulty which would require a new hieroglyphic, or extract such a long speech from my father. I was well acquainted with his usual scratches and dots, and having a good memory, could put him right when he was puzzled with some misshapen x or z, representing some unknown quantity, like the same letters in algebra.

I have said that I was heir apparent, but I did not say that I was the only child born to my father in his wedlock. My honoured mother had had two more children; but the first, who was a girl, had been provided for by a fit of the measles; and the second, my elder brother, by tumbling over the stern of the lighter when he was three years old. At the time of the accident, my mother had retired to her bed, a little the worse for liquor; my father was on deck forward, leaning against the windlass, soberly smoking his evening pipe. “What was that?” exclaimed my father, taking his pipe out of his mouth, and listening; “I shouldn't wonder if it wasn't Joe.” And my father put in his pipe again, and smoked

away as before.

[ocr errors]


My father was correct in his surmises. It was Joe — who had made the splash which roused him from his meditations, for the next morning Joe was no where to be found. He was, however, found some days afterwards; but, as the newspapers say, and as may well be imagined, the “vital spark was extinct;" and moreover, the eels and chubs had eaten off his nose and a portion of his chubby face, so that, as my father said he was of no use to nobody." The morning after the accident, my father was up early and had missed poor little Joe. He went into the cabin, smoked his pipe, and said nothing. As my brother did not appear as usual for his breakfast, my mother called out for him in a harsh voice; but Joe was out of hearing, and as mute as a fish. Joe opened not his mouth in reply, neither did my father. My mother then quitted the cabin, and walked round the lighter, looked into the dog kennel to ascertain if he was asleep with the great mastiff - but Joe was nowhere to be found.

“Why, what can have become of Joe?” cried my mother, with maternal alarm in her countenance, appealing to my father, as she

[ocr errors]

bastened back to the cabin. My father spoke not, but taking his pipe out of his mouth, dropped the bowl of it in a perpendicular direction till it landed softly on the deck, then put it into his mouth again, and puffed mournfully. “Why, you don't mean to say that he is overboard?” screamed my mother.

My father nodded his head, and pussed away at an accumulated rate. A torrent of tears, exclamations, and revilings, succeeded to this characteristic announcement. My father allowed my mother to exhaust herself. By the time that she had finished, so was his pipe; he then knocked out the ashes, and quietly observed, “It's no use crying; what 's done can't be helped," and proceeded to refill the bowl.

“Can't be helped !” cried my mother; “but it might have been helped."

“Take it coolly,” replied my father.

“Take it coolly!” replied my mother in a rage — “take it coolly! Yes, you ’re for taking every thing coolly: I presume, if I fell overboard, you would be laking it coolly."

“You would be taking it coolly, at all events," replied my imperturbable father.

“O dear! O dear!” cried my poor mother; “two poor children, and lost them both!”

“Better luck next time," rejoined my father; “no, Sall, say no more about it."

My father continued for some time to smoke his pipe, and my mother to pipe her eye, until at last my father, who was really a kind-hearted man, rose from the chest upon which he was seated, went to the cupboard, poured out a teacup-ful of gin, and handed it to my mother. It was kindly done of him, and my mother was to be won by kindness. It was a pure offering in the spirit, and taken in the spirit in which it was offered. After a few repetitions, which were rendered necessary from its potency being diluted with her tears, grief and recollection were drowned together, and disappeared like two lovers who siuk down entwined in each other's arms.

With this beautiful metaphor, I shall wind up the episode of my uofortunate brother Joe.

« PreviousContinue »