The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 33
"I am going to show you, this afternoon, a couple of characteristics which comprise the sum of the intelligence and opinion of the age."
A gentleman—Mr. Borrowsense—came in, and was asked what he thought of the European complication. He answered that he did not know, not having seen the morning's news. Upon that he called for a chop, and whilst eating it, he read an article in a newspaper, and then pronounced his dictum on the "complication" very authoritatively.
"If Russia," remarked Mr. Borrowsense, to another person called Mr. Filchthought, "if Russia insists on retention, and Austria wants a new treaty, defining the partition, the Emperor of France will demand compensation on the Rhine. England, of course, will object, and we shall have war, sir—war!"
"Yes," replied Mr. Filchthought, "I have said from the first there would be war; for you will observe page 85 that the Emperor will claim compensation, and Austria a new treaty, when Russia maintains the occupation, and England will not allow it."
"What is this about?" cried I to Tenebrosa. "A man gets his ideas from a newspaper, and utters them as his own. But, lo! he has no credit for what he says, since the person he speaks to repeats back into his teeth the very opinions he has spoken. Ah! this is an extraordinary, an exceptional case."
"We shall soon see," answered the Embodied Craft.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon when we sallied forth again, and, as we passed along Cornhill, a great hubbub arose.
"The oracle of lies has spoken," said my Attendant, who evidently gathered the cause of the confusion from the excited talkers around us. "A telegraphic despatch has just come in. 'A great battle has been fought. The North have defeated the South, and annihilated an entire army.'"
"And that is false?" I enquired.
"It will be contradicted in the morning," he replied.
I derided the Spirit, and he bore it patiently.
"For the present, I will finish the task that I have proposed to myself," said he.
We overheard a person, named Mr. Tellnews, informing Mr. Knowsit, that a large steam vessel had gone upon the rocks on the east coast.
"What has been the reason?" asked Knowsit.
"Why, my opinion is, that the castings of the engines were bad," replied Tellnews; "and that one of them has given way. At least I think so. Of course the ship became unmanageable, and was lost."page 86
"Just what I remarked when the vessel sailed," observed Knowsit. "Silkens and Co. made them, and I was sure something would happen to them. In fact, I mentioned the castings at the time. For, you see, if castings are bad, some part is sure to give way; and if that does happen, as I always said it must," laying his hand confidently and confidentially on the other's shoulder, "the vessel is beyond all control—neither captain nor engineer can save her, and go on the rocks she must, if rocks are near. By the bye, have you heard that poor Pillars is very ill? The doctor says he has been indulging too much—wine and city dinners have done it all."
"Exactly what I thought," said Tellnews. "You know wine must be taken in quantities to suit your constitution, and heavy dinners are enough to unsettle anybody. Always what I thought.—"
The counter-play was exceedingly amusing—exceedingly.
"So it is with nine hundred and ninety-nine out of the thousand," remarked Archimago. "To pilfer from another behind his back is an old commonplace. The new style puts it in the dark—which is, to re-echo the theft before the speaker's face, and present it as original. Here is an example of the propagation of the system, for it is not the characteristic of Tellnews; but he has educated himself into it for his own preservation. It is the unrecognised art of selfdefence. Let us now hear how a man can filch from another that which he does not know, under the pretence of knowing it."
Two men were in high debate on the influence of page 87 the stars. The warmest, Mr. Textshow, spoke as though deeply informed on the subject, and was nettled at his opponent, Mr. Fullappear's scantiness of information, as well as illogical assertions. He stopped suddenly in his zeal, and, as if to catch his opponent, said,—
"Now, you are learned in Scripture, what does the song of Deborah and Barak prove?"
"Well, what does it prove?" coolly asked the other.
"Nay, I put the question to you, and, to come home, what does the record of the death of Sisera prove?" asked Textshow.
"You put two questions together, the song of Deborah and Barak, and the death of Sisera, which have no relation to each other that I see," observed Fullappear, with a sage countenance, in which all the lore of the Old Testament was incorporated. "And I do not see the relevancy of either of them."
This drove Textshow, gnashing his mental teeth, to expose the facts of which the other was ignorant, as follows :—"The stars in their courses fought against Sisera." Deborah and Barak's song, Judges v. 20. Nevertheless, Fullappear argued very presumptuously upon the facts, so soon as he heard definitely of their existence.
Our attention was shortly called to another couple of men.
"They speak of ordinary affairs," said Tenebrosa.
"I suppose you have heard of the accident on the Winkum Wankum Railway," said Mr. Learntall. "A most horrible affair. It sets all the country ringing."
"It is a terrible catastrophe," answered Mr. Twiggem.page 88
"Friend Twiggem knows nothing of the matter at all," whispered the Mocking Spirit. "It only occurred last midnight, although he supposes it is a week old, and he will not seem ignorant of what he hears all the country knows. Note his art."
"Fifty killed," said Learntall.
"I believe that is an exaggeration," remarked Twiggem, sagaciously.
"Do you think the rope did it?" said the one.
"That might have something to do with it," said the other. "But, after all is said, to my mind it was the smash that did the worst."
"Ha! ha! ha! you are funny. As the cripple said, it was not the fall, but the sudden stop, that damaged him," observed the first.
"Very good. But you seem scarcely aware of the circumstances. How have you heard them?" observed the second.
"Why, the carriages were being drawn up an incline by a standing engine, leaving the locomotive behind," stated Learntall. "The rope broke, and down went the carriages into the locomotive at the bottom."
"Precisely!" answered Twiggem. "And what I meant to say was, that if the locomotive had not been there, no accident would have happened . . . . . ."
"Number two has drawn number one. That farce is ended. Let us look out for a fresh one," said Archimago.
His humour was so merciless, however, that I chose to seek amusement elsewhere. Verily the farces of my Disenchanter were the jests of the grave-diggers page 89 in the tragedy of Hamlet. Accordingly, I discharged the Spirit, and that evening I went to see an opera at the Imperial Theatre.
I was not without apprehensions that, being alone, I should spend the time unhappily. A gentleman, however, soon spoke to me; and he became so very entertaining, that things were made more pleasant than I expected. This new acquaintance, Mr. Fore-stallaloud by name, appeared to know the opera from beginning to end. He informed me of each scene by anticipation, thereby judiciously preventing any surprise that the author might have intended for the observer. He hummed the tunes that I might lose none of their effect; whilst he kept time with his waving hand, and criticized the accuracy of the singing without respect to the acting which accompanied it. Altogether he made himself agreeable to himself and my neighbours, who were so greatly pleased with his criticisms that they carried them away in their memory to retail as their own original ideas at home.
(I have notes of this and other operas in my pocket-book, but that relic of past arts is deposited amongst the State-books of my Tribe. An order will be got for its production at the next meeting of the Witenagemot.)
From his general kindness and attention, Mr. Forestallaloud promised to be a more fortunate friend to me than my departed one; but, alas, the Imperial Theatre, from its many turns and passages, was as bad to get out of as a worse place,—overcrowding, it may be, applied in both instances,—and my friend, from exposure in our exit from the one, caught a catarrh-fever and went to the other.