Sketches from St. George's Fields: Part the Fourth.

Sketches from St. George's Fields; by Giorgione di Castle Chiuso.

Peter Bayley

Thirty-nine irregular Spenserians (lacking the alexandrine). Peter Bayley's anonymously published merry tale describes how Lawless, a confidence-man on temporary leave from prison, makes a fool of the bailiff Fang and his assistant Snare by taking them to a fashionable French restaurant and teaching them the fatal phrase, "oui, oui." The poet, it should be pointed out, acquired his knowledge of the law not at the King's Bench Prison, but at Lincoln's Inn. Sketches from St. George's Fields is an early example of the illustrated book that would make such an impact in the 1820s; the headpiece for this poem depicts a bird flying from an open cage, the tailpiece an overturned wicker basket. The work was published anonymously. The seventeenth stanza is short a line in the original. The volume was successful enough that a sequel was published the following year.

New Monthly Magazine: "This is one of the pleasantest pieces of observation and satire which we have met with for a long time, though its subject is more captivating than attractive. It is professedly written by an Italian, and there is no attempt to support that character, except in the preface, in in some very sweet verses at the commencement of the poem. It consists of poetic sketches from the interior of the King's Bench prison, illustrated by little drawings full of characteristic and ingenious devices. The subjects, dreary as they are, are touched with a very light and graceful hand. There is no attempt at very stern satire, or very agonizing description, which the place we are afraid would supply; but the more superficial and gayer appearances of the scene are happily and vividly depicted. There life has its gradations, vanity its little triumphs, ambition its lowly stirrings, and enjoyment sometimes flings its transient gleam over the scene, and 'makes a sun-shine in the shady place.' In spite of the motto which the author has chosen — 'All hope abandon, ye who enter here' — he makes us feel that there is hope, and lightsomeness, and a sense of pleasure, more keen from its seldom indulgence, and occasions of happiness, relished the keener for their rarity, within the dead walls of St. George's Fields" 13 (May 1820) 598.

Literary Gazette: "It is a smart production, and, though not well designed, surpasses both in composition and in talent, the generality of works of the class to which it belongs. The author seems equal to a higher theme than the ignoble one he has chosen; he might be the painter of beauty, but has contented himself with sketching some clever scenes of the impure place, where his head quarters were (we hope only for a short period) established.... Some very neat engravings ornament this publication, which, if weeded of half a dozen improprieties, might be more freely mentioned, on account of the ability which it evinces. It is lamentable that a person of the writer's talents, should possess the experience necessary for the work; and it is to be regretted, that he has suffered some of the taints of his unfortunate situation to stain pages, otherwise deserving of praise. so true it is, that he who toucheth will be defiled. A story of a bailiff tricked into an expensive dinner at Brunet's hotel, by a person in possession of a day-rule, or protection from arrest, is pretty much in the Colman style" (8 April 1820) 230, 231.

Literary Chronicle: "The Sketches are at once humorous, satirical, and spirited, and often accompanied by reflections that are creditable to the heart as well as the head of the writer. He appears deeply read in the knowledge of human nature, and describes with force and correctness, its workings under various circumstances" 3 (12 May 1821) 295.

Monthly Review: "We fully believe that this author has lately been a prisoner, but not for debt; and we are equally incredulous as to his name, imagining him to be about as near a relation to Giorgione the painter as he is to any Italian. We are sorry also to be obliged to doubt concerning his place of confinement, his 'Castel Chiuso;' which, we strongly suspect, would be found much nearer to St. Sepulchre's Church than to the Surrey Theatre. Wherever he may have been immured, or whoever he may be, he is a very clever fellow, and worthy to tread with freedom, and not with any restraint, in the steps of George Colman the Younger" NS 92 (June 1820) 213.

Gentleman's Magazine: "The Sketches from St. George's Fields, by Georgiani di Castel Chaiso, of which the first series appeared in 1820, and the second in 1821, abound in witty reflections and pleasant raillery; and are evidently the production of a man of real talent. He calls himself 'an unknown author;' but we fancy that we trace the features of an intelligent young traveller. The volumes are handsomely printed, and contain several beautiful vignettes" 92 (April 1822) 347.

Good Reader, give me leave to ask a question;
Pray, in the King's Bench have you ever been?
"The Bench! Good Heaven! how shocking a suggestion!
Was e'er so saucy a companion seen?"
My gentle sir, pray mitigate this spleen;
I sadly swear I meditate no crime
Against your dignity: I only mean
To save, if possible, to both some time;
To you in reading — me in making — rhyme.

Well! you ne'er saw the place; or, if you did,
'Twere better not too closely to surmise;
Enough for me, those frowns the thought forbid;
Who sees too much — is rarely counted wise;
I rather boast that mine are prudent eyes;
Persons and things so quietly they read,
Nor by a glance confess they scrutinize,
That thoughtless lookers think me blind indeed,
When of themselves I take the strictest heed.

But, since you wish me to believe that college
Ne'er gave its finish to your education,
I, of its laws and customs having knowledge,
Ere I take up the thread of my narration,
Must say a little for your information:
Unless the virtues of DAY-RULES you know,
Their use from Term's commencement to Vacation,
I should but vainly ask you to bestow
The slightest notice on the tale below.

Says common law "In fictione juris
Consistit aequitas;" as you may see
In Jacob's Grammar set; which to be sure is
But just to say, that law and equity,
Unless a lie unite them, don't agree.
Let Scarlet, or let Abbot's self defend
The practice founded thus; enough for me,
This sapient maxim is the prisoner's friend,
And necessary to my story's end.

Well — then — this fiction of the law supposes
That every prisoner with means to pay
(For he that has not, this advantage loses)
Either has business in the courts, or may.
Bond, fee, and sureties first prepare the way;
And Mister Brooshooft's manual sign declares
That Mister Such-an-one, on such a day,
Hath got a Rule of Court, and so repairs
To town, or elsewhere, call'd by his affairs.

This little talisman of strange effect
(Four shillings just, and sixpence, is the price)
From baliff's power the wearer will protect,
And nullify a capias in a trice:
It bears a royal head in quaint device,
At least as true as that which Wellesley Pole
With taste for English artists much too nice
Stamped by Pistrucci's aid; Heaven rest his soul!
And shield henceforth the Mint from his controul.

In various ways the various purchasers
That sally forth with this protecting spell,
Employ the privilege this grant confers;
Some, like myself, their lawyer's citadel
Besiege, his speed long striving to impel;
To take a dinner with a friend some go;
In fashion's haunts some for an hour to swell;
Some strive, what creditors intend, to know;
And some the moments on their love bestow.

The custody of William Jones esquire,
That doughty marshal of terrific fame,
'Mid many prisoners held a youth of fire,
Whom scarce imprisonment itself could tame;
We'll call him Lawless, if you like the name;
'Twill answer just as well as if you knew
His own, his family, and whence he came—
Last Easter term, the usual forms, passed thro',
Procured a Day-rule, and away he flew.

In coat of Western, pantaloons of Stultz,
He pass'd; no butterfly, in early spring
Burst from the husk of chrysalis, exults
More gladly in the beatings of his wing,
When, as the flowers their mingled odours fling
Upon the heaving bosom of the air,
In fresh delights he flutters revelling,
Than Lawless joy'd, as blithe and debonair
He sallied forth from the dark den of care.

On all the public haunts he rang the changes,
Down Piccadilly negligently stray'd,
Look'd at the Albany, took ice at Grange's,
A tooth-brush bought in Burlington-arcade,
His shilling at the Pall-Mall gallery paid,
Not to see pictures, but himself to show;
For Bond-street and the Park then way he made,
(And both that day were full to overflow,)
And laugh'd and talk'd with all he chanced to know.

Young, handsome, witty, and of gentle blood,
The pink and mirror of the fashion too,
None higher in the ladies' graces stood;
No son of ton went forth to public view
That more the eyes of belles admiring drew.
Of those that Lawless in his progress saw
Blithe as he was, and degage, how few
From look or carriage could conclusion draw
That Lawless was a victim of the law!

By dozens invitations he declined;
For to a little dinner tete a tete
He had decidedly made up his mind,
And so had promised; but imperious Fate,
That on the thoughts of mortals will not wait,
Had destined him that day an exercise
Of patience; and a strange associate
For dinner brought at once before his eyes,
That sought to seize — but proved himself — a prize.

The hour when Lawless' mistress wont to dine
Approach'd; so briskly up to Leicester Square
He moved to take some bottles of French wine
From Jaunay's cellars, to improve their fare;
To get prime Chambertin was was all his care.
Brunet's hotel already was in view;
When Fang the bailiff, and his follower Snare,
Who well from past events his person knew,
To seize their fancied prey exulting flew.

Time was, perchance, when Lawless had turn'd pale if
A pair so horrible had met his sight;
Now, with his Day-Rule arm'd, he fear'd no bailiff,
Yet chose to counterfeit a little fright,
As this approach'd him with his satellite;
And form'd a plan that might beguile an hour,
And many an evil turn of Fang requite,
Who, when the law had plac'd him in his power,
Had shown himself morose, and curst, and sour.

"Captain, a pleasant day;" the catch-pole cried,
"And I am fortunate to meet you here.
Perhaps you'd better step with me aside,
The passers by our business need not hear.
I'll do the thing genteelly, do not fear;
I've got a writ against you here; that's all;
'Tis lucky that the coach-stand is so near.
Snare, run across the way, a chariot call;
Or — stay — a coach will better hold us all."

Said Lawless, "My good fellow, why such haste?
Brunet's is near: before we go I'd fain
Show what French cooking is, and let you taste
The Burgundy and excellent Champagne.
If you'll but dine with me I'll not complain;
I know your business for the day is ended,
So here you may an hour with me remain.
Come, we'll enjoy ourselves as never men did;
If you deny me, I shall be offended.

"My little Snare here seems a pleasant fellow:
I like his countenance: if you permit,
For once the man may with the master sit:
He'll furnish us with matter for our wit;
I know how proper due subordination;
Yet see no reason why a merry fit
May not, without disgrace to your vocation,
Friend Snare with you and me at table station."

As Lawless parley'd thus, his pocket-book,
As if without a purpose, he display'd,
From which what seem'd a roll of notes he took,
And to his pocket carelessly convey'd:
The sight on Fang a quick impression made,
Already yielding to the promised wine;
Nor of escape or trick was he afraid,
Since Snare, at table if allowed to dine,
Would make less practicable all design.

"Captain," he cried, "I'm sure I always try
Business to do in the genteelest way;
If dining at Brunet's will gratify
A wish of your's, I'll e'en consent to stay;
Yet 'tis not regular, I needs must say.
But let me ask one question ere we in go;
What must I do? my meaning how convey?
They nothing speak but French here; and by Jingo
I do not know a word of foreign lingo."

"A very proper question," Lawless cried,
"And one that shows you are a man of sense;
Faith, you must do as others, who can hide
Their want of learning with their impudence—
Affect an easy careless negligence;
If aught should puzzle you, pray look at me,
And when, surprised by any exigence,
A nod or movement of my eye you see,
('Tis all the French you need) exclaim, Oui, oui."

The bailiff having briefly thus instructed,
Who promised to observe his orders well,
His new companions Lawless now conducted
Up the three steps that front Brunet's hotel.
Fang, arm in arm with Lawless, with a swell
Moved boldly forward; Snare brought up the rear;
And, tho' from Jaunay's kitchen the rich smell
Regaled him with the promise of good cheer,
Felt his new situation somewhat queer.

Lawless was known; so when the coffee-room
He enter'd, all the waiters stared to see
Him so attended; yet did none presume
To laugh, or shrug; and stared the company
There dining, as the oddly-sorted three
One of the largest tables occupied;
And some suspected how the case might be;
This Lawless saw; and willing to decide
All doubts at once, he to the waiter cried,

"Eh Garcon! vite! la carte a Monsieur Snare;
Et faites venir ici Monsieur Jaunay.
(Fang, choose our dinner — here's the bill of fare)
Ecoutez, Jaunay, vous me connoissez,
Ce sont des sergents, qui m'ont arrete,
Mais sans aucun droit de me detenir;
Faites les payer — je serai donc, venge.
A leur depens je veux me divertir.
N'est ce pas juste, eh Fang?" — "Oui, oui, Mounseer."

A bow, a smile, from Jaunay, and a look
Most knowing, answer gave, and testified
That well the spirit of the plot he took;
The parties dining smoked the jest, and eyed
The awkward Fang, who turn'd on ev'ry side
The unintelligible bill of fare,
And, loth to own his ignorance, still pryed
On every column with a studied stare,
As if he knew one item printed there.

Yes, one — mock-turtle — 'mid the soups he knew,
But o'er its unknown neighbour, printaniere,
His eye, as o'er a Greek inscription, flew
Among the fish he flounder'd in despair;
Truite, cabillaud, and anguille, made him stare;
Nor beef nor veal he found in boeuf or veau:
He groan'd o'er voles a vent with financiere,
Or Bechamelle, and all the pastry row,
Patees aux huitres, ou Rognons de veau.

At length the jest a little tedious grew;
And Lawless from his much-bewilder'd eyes
The puzzling columns of the carte withdrew,
And search'd them o'er, a dinner to devise,
That well the bailiffs' throats might cauterize:
Of each high-season'd dish he made selection;
And oft he nodded to his new allies.
Who cried, "oui, oui," aloud, while each direction
In French, to add cayenne, escaped detection.

And since high-season'd dishes thirst create,
He order'd larger glasses for their wine,
And call'd for those that most exhilarate,
Champagne, and Hermitage, and Chambertin,
And this he called superb, and that divine;
And, as each bottle was demanded, made
To Fang and Snare the stipulated sign;
These manfully the part of Frenchmen play'd,
And roar'd "oui, oui," with laughable parade.

Dinner was served. It would have made you smile,
To see the uninitiated pair
Sit looking at each other for a while,
As doubting what to think of their new fare,
Then turn to Lawless, with inquiring stare,
To learn from him the true style of proceeding;
Then clumsily attempt, with awkward care,
To catch the right Parisian mode of feeding,
So indispensable to men of breeding.

They sipped the soup, and found it wondrous hot;
The fish came next, and that was hotter still;
And fire, as each of the fricandeau got
A taste, their mouths and throats appear'd to fill.
Large draughts of wine might mitigate the ill;
And Lawless, as he pledged them, gaily cried,
"Come, pass the bright Champagne; who heeds the bill?
I care not, so my friends be satisfied,
And wine, so excellent, be still supplied."

The wine indeed was bright; and most divinely
With briskness leaping in the glass it show'd;
And o'er their brains the subtile fumes crept finely,
As down the unwonted throats the nectar flow'd.
Each glass they took new zest for more bestow'd;
And now, so fairly were they enter'd in,
So loudly did their laughter now explode,
So near to riot was their mirth a-kin,
That soon 'twas needful to restrain the din.

Says the old adage, "Veritas in vino,"
(Read otherwise, "In vino veritas,")
And, may I ne'er taste claret more, if I know
A truer test of temper than the glass.
Before the power of wine disguises pass;
The brute assumes divine benevolence;
But wine returns him to his proper class,
Thrown from his guard, and in the negligence
Of jovial hours unfitted for pretence.

Such was the case with Fang, whose disposition
Seem'd borrow'd, half-and-half, from wolf and bear;
And soon appear'd the perfect exhibition
Of all its ugliness, exposed and bare;
And savagely the wretch began to swear:
And now, when Lawless, as the clamour swell'd
So highly, urged him firmly to forbear,
The brute against all discipline rebelled,
And, more entreated, but the louder yell'd.

"You take upon you finely to command,"
He loudly cried, with a malicious sneer,
"But I'll contrive to make you understand
That I both am, and will be, master here.
Come, sir, we'll march; with me your course you steer."
"Pooh, pr'ythee," Lawless cried, who saw the crisis
Was coming on, "now Fang, you only jeer;
But, 'faith, a jest like this not very nice is,
And more of it you give us than suffices."

"Jest me no jests," the bailiff foaming roar'd,
"You will not find me much inclined to jest;
You are my prisoner, and at a word,
Will you submit, or not, to my arrest?
Come, march at once; I swear you'll find it best:
I do not stand on trifles, if resisted;
You'll feel this if you put me to the test;
I scarce should need by Snare to be assisted,
And he a better man than you has fisted."

Said Lawless, "In one thought we don't concur ill;
Truly the time for jesting is gone by:
But I forewarn you, touch me at your peril;
Yourself, your man, your capias, I defy:
I've that which makes to all your power reply,
So, fellows, stand aside, and give me way:
With those I love to laugh at you I fly;
Console you with the bottle while you stay;
And don't forget the dinner-bill to pay."

He rose; then Fang roar'd, "Rescue!" and "Escape!"
And call'd to Snare to seize, or knock him down;
But, for himself, though glowing with the grape,
He relish'd not the style of Lawless' frown,
And fear'd indeed his widely-spread renown;
When all at once, to terminate the sport,
And the confusion of the rogues to crown,
While one stood doubting, t' other all amort,
Lawless to both spread forth his Rule of Court.

Not more Morocco's prince in horror stares,
When, Portia's picture trusting to behold,
From the Death's head the upbraiding scroll he tears,
Deluded by the specious glare of gold,
Than stared both Fang and Snare, when now unroll'd
The talisman of mighty power they saw:
That wondrous amulet at once controll'd,
As with the force of an acknowledged law,
The disappointed bailiff's outstretch'd paw.

Fang and his follower both stood astonished,
With gaping mouths and eyes distended wide:
Them Lawless thus with gravity admonished,
While peals of laughter rang on every side
From guests and waiters, who the scene had eyed:
"Good evening, friends; enjoy your jubilee;
And, if you think yourselves well Frenchified,
Whene'er you pass the Square remember me;
And never — above all — forget 'OUI, OUI.'"

He said; and though like famish'd wolves they raged,
Or tigers disappointed of their prey,
His person Lawless quickly disengaged,
And left them to the mercy of Jaunay,
Who forced reluctant Fang a bill to pay,
Whose length and total fill'd him with affright.
Swearing, he left the house; and, ripe for fray,
His spleen soon vented in a drunken fight,
That lodged him in the watch-house for the night.

[pp. 85-111]