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Story Of London

The Adventures of James Batson: IV


This is the autobiography of a 17th century rogue with a most idiosyncratic family (his mother died of a longing for mushrooms when there were none). He was born in 1603 and died in the year of the Great Fire of London (1666). He next finds himself in Mons, Belgium where, after destroying a candle-maker’s entire stock, he once again ends up in gaol. Released at the request of is mistress he turns over a new leaf and woos and wins a young maid. She soon cuckolds him and is thrown out in rags. Now infected with Venereal Disease, our hero seeks medical advice but is treated for his alcoholism and spends two miserable months being ‘cured.’ After another drunken brawl he is dismissed and makes his way to London where he opens a tavern. But the gallows awaits him.

NewgateBy this time you may suppose I was pretty remarkable, for I had got the name of the merry Englishman, and being out of place spent my money like a lord. My purse being exhausted, I got into the service of Count Piccolomeni; and a little afterwards we were ordered to march towards Hainault, and in a few days encamped under the walls of Mons.A comical adventure befell me one day in this place. I happened to go abroad, after dining in the town, with my head so full that I took children for men and blue for black. Staggering along in this condition, I came up to a chandler’s shop, which was all hung about with rows of tallow candles, and I, taking them for bunches of radishes, asked the owner why he pulled the leaves off. He not understanding what I meant, and perceiving the pickle I was in, made me no answer, but fell a laughing very heartily; but I, who had doubtless a drunken longing for radishes, put out my hand to one of the rows that hung upon a long stick, and laying hold of two candles pulled so hard that all the range came down. The shopkeeper, seeing his goods broken, took up a cudgel and exercised it so, you would have thought he had been beating off stock fish. Though drunk, I was so sensible of the pain that, drawing my sword, I charged him as my mortal enemy. He, seeing me void of fear and reason, fled into a room behind the shop, and shut the door after him. Finding that, though I made a hundred passes at the door, the smart of my bones did nothing abate, I vented my spleen against the candles and, laying about me, left the whole shop strewed with grease.It happened a gang of soldiers were passing by, and they, at the request of the neighbours, carried me out into the street by force, I still crying : ” What! cudgel me for a radish or two which are not worth a farthing.” A complaint was carried to my master, who ordered me to be sent to jail, and the next day, when I awoke, I found myself in irons.There I suffered for the radish fray, there I fasted though it was not Lent, and there was dieted, without any liberty of getting drunk. At length my mistress took pity on me, and begged my master to forgive me, who, seeing me protected by such an angel, ordered me to be set free, on my paying for the damage done to the candles. I left the jail with a full resolution never more to disoblige my master. I lived so sedate and modest for a little time after this that it surprised my master, who continually heaped new favours upon me, and I, leaving off drinking for the present, grew amorous. To this purpose I made choice of a waiting maid, a country lass in dress, but a courtier in keeping her word. She was young in years, but old in cunning, carried all her fortune about her, and, being fatherless, for the more decency and security of her person served an aunt of hers, who kept a tavern, where I was acquainted. I set my heart on this virgin pullet, and one day, putting my hand upon her soft bubbies, she gave me such a kick that I defy the best Flanders mare to have outdone her. She withdrew into her chamber, and from that time fled from me as if I had been the devil. I was up to the ears in love, and knew not what to do. However, at last, I wrote a billet doux, and accompanied it with a present. The poor harmless creature, who had been several times upon trial before, and still pleaded, ” Lord, I know not what you mean,” bit at the bait, received the present, heard the message, and gave me leave, under the pretence of quenching my thirst, to pay her a visit, which I did, and from that moment she began to fleece me, and her aunt to pluck my feathers. Our love grew so hot that the customers who used the tavern took notice of it; therefore, to save her reputation, for she passed for a maid, I took lodgings for her, and by that means got her from her aunt. My lady was so nice that she could not eat snails, because they had horns; nor fish, because of the bones; nor rabbits, because they had tails. She swooned away at the sight of a mouse; but rejoiced to see a company of grenadiers. Before me she fed by ounces and in my absence by pounds. She hated to be confined, and loved liberty; and, under colour of melancholy, was never from the window or door. At first she used to receive abundance of visitors, pretending that all the men were her cousins; but I being informed they were carnal kindred put her into an enclosure, taking a room that had no window to the street, and when I went abroad left a spy upon her actions.Every now and then she would be lost, and rise again the third day, as drowned bodies do. Though she shed abundance of tears, and swore a thousand oaths to persuade me that my ill nature made her withdraw herself to her aunt’s, and that she had never been out of her doors, nor seen by anybody, yet I did not forbear thrashing her so severely that she did not for a good while show any more of her tricks.I was confoundedly jealous of this creature, and not without a reason, for I had her not in keeping above four months, before she very civilly tipped me a distemper very common in Naples. Enraged at this, I beat her unmercifully, took away all her clothes but a few rags, and kicked her out of doors. I advised with a surgeon and a physician about my case, who both condemned me to be anointed like a witch, and to slabber like a natural. But I, hoping to find some way to avoid enduring the pains of hell in this world, went to every doctor of note. I told them of my distemper, and they all unanimously told me that if I designed to live I must forbear drinking (and they had as good have bid me cut my own throat), and that the wine I had so plentifully swallowed was to be distilled out of my body in water. Perceiving they all agreed in the same story, I resolved to get into the hospital, and take a gentle salivation.I was kindly received, those good people being willing to entertain one madman more in their godly house, and, treating me like a soul in purgatory, they scalded my entrails and stifled me for want of breath, keeping me always, like Dives, with my tongue hanging out of my mouth a quarter of a yard, still begging a drop of wine off some poor Lazarus, and preaching up the works of mercy; but they told me that patience was a virtue, and would carry me to heaven, and that I must suffer for my former excesses. At the end of two months I had been in the hospital I was dismissed perfectly cured, but my legs looked like trap sticks, my body like a shotten herring, and my voice like a eunuch. The first inquiry I made was for the next tavern, and there I ate everything I could come at, as if I had been a man in perfect health, making a jest of the doctor, and laughing at the surgeon, bestowing a thousand blessings on the good man that first found out the vine, and double the number on those who plant and prune it. After I had got a good refreshment, I inquired after my kind mistress and her aunt, both of whom had left the place just after I had entered the hospital. I was not at all sorry for it; but went to find out some of my old comrades, whom I found merrily carousing.At last a dispute arose among them, and swords were drawn. I was fool enough to concern myself, and one of the party against me gave me such a blow with his sword (but as it happened it was the flat part) that he made me void a flood of claret at my mouth. All the skip- kennel troop took to their heels, thinking I was killed, and I, believing myself not far from it, bawled out for a surgeon, who was called, and he feeling my pulse beat very unregular, and observing how I retched and sweated, never inquired into the cause of my distemper, but bid the landlord get a priest to prepare me for death. The good man, being unwilling I should die like a heathen in a Christian country, ran in all haste and brought one, who, being curious to see the wound, took off my hat, and found my head clear from blood, and without any other hurt but a bump raised by the stroke I had received.He asked those who had seen the fray whether I had any other wounds besides that; and being informed I had not says to the master of the house : “If this man was to make his confession every time he is troubled with this distemper he ought always to have a chaplain along with him. Sleep is the only thing will cure this disorder; therefore carry him to bed, and I will answer for his life.” His orders were obeyed, and the next morning I found myself out of danger, and went to wait on my master, who received me with a frowning brow, and bid me begone about my business; that he discarded me his service, and left me at liberty to go where I pleased. This was a terrible blow to me; but I was comforted the next morning by my generous master sending me a handsome present in gold, with a command from him to leave the place, which I did the next morning, resolving to go to France, and from thence to my native country.The carrier with whom I set out was a great gamester, and the second night invited me to his room, which was next the stable, and there by the light of a scurvy lamp I won all his money. Enraged at his ill fortune, he threw the cards in my face, and I in return wiped him across the face with my hat. He ran to a corner to lay hold of a rusty sword, and I discharged the lamp at him so furiously that he was oil all over, and I half dead with fear, being in the dark, and the door shut. However, I was fortunate to find the sally port, and fled to the watch, whither my greasy carrier followed me with his rusty tilter. A corporal met and disarmed him, after giving each of us half a dozen bangs, and then inquired into the affair, and endeavoured to reconcile us, but in vain, the carrier refusing to consent till I paid the damage done to his coat. I gave him half his money again, and the other part I spent on the corporal, watchmen, myself and the carrier, drowning the quarrel, and forgetting all wrongs.After travelling many a tedious mile I at last got to Calais, and from thence to London. Being come to the metropolis, I went directly to my father’s house that had been, which upon inquiry I found in the hands of a stranger. I asked for my sisters, and was told they were removed into another world. I found they had both been married, and had left children; so that my hopes of getting anything by their deaths proved abortive. Destitute of friends, I knew not what to do, especially finding the gout come upon me. At last, by the advice of an acquaintance, I took a public house and, understanding several languages, have now very good custom from foreigners. I intend to leave off my foolish pranks; and as I have spent my juvenile years and money in keeping company, hope to find some fools as bad as myself, who delight in throwing away their estates and impairing their healths.This is all the account he gives of himself and all the information we can get further of him is that he kept an inn in Smithfield, and got a considerable fortune. But being eager to be rich at once, he, jointly with his ostler, committed a most barbarous and cruel murder; for a gentleman who had purchased an estate in the country was obliged to pay the money in London, and accordingly came to town for that purpose, putting up at Batson’s inn. The ostler, in taking the gentleman’s bags off, perceived they were very heavy, and acquainted his master with it, and they two soon agreed to murder the gentleman, and divide the booty, the first of which was barbarously executed by the ostler, who cut the guest’s throat, and then they removed the body into a closet. But a dispute arose in dividing the money, which made the ostler leave his master with what he could get; and he getting drunk the same night discovered the inhuman deed, producing several pieces of gold as a confirmation. The neighbours at first thought it was all fiction, until the fellow often calling God to witness of the truth, and vowing revenge on his master (thinking by his discovery to save himself), a stander by more penetrating than the rest sent for a constable and got him secured, who being carried, before a magistrate persisted in it, and desired the house of his master might be searched, which was accordingly done, and the body found. In a small time after they were both arraigned and convicted. The ostler died just after that but Batson was deservedly executed, dying penitent, and in the communion of the Church of Rome, the principles of which he had imbibed by going into foreign parts. And thus ended the life of this detestable villain about a year before the restoration of King Charles Il.