CURIOUS ANECDOTES RELATING TO THE HISTORY OF NEWGATE. There resided in the castle at the same time with Mr. Wild one Roger Johnson, a very GREAT MAN, who had long been at the head of all the prigs in Newgate, and had raised contributions on them. He examined into the nature of their defence, procured and instructed their evidence, and made himself, at least in their opinion, so necessary to them, that the whole fate of Newgate seemed entirely to depend upon him.
Wild had not been long in confinement before he began to oppose this man. He represented him to the prigs as a fellow who, under the plausible pretence of assisting their causes, was in reality undermining THE LIBERTIES OF NEWGATE. He at first threw out certain sly hints and insinuations; but, having by degrees formed a party against Roger, he one day assembled them together, and spoke to them in the following florid manner:
"Friends and fellow-citizens,--The cause which I am to mention to you this day is of such mighty importance, that when I consider my own small abilities, I tremble with an apprehension lest your safety may be rendered precarious by the weakness of him who hath undertaken to represent to you your danger. Gentlemen, the liberty of Newgate is at stake; your privileges have been long undermined, and are now openly violated by one man; by one who hath engrossed to himself the whole conduct of your trials, under colour of which he exacts what contributions on you he pleases; but are those sums appropriated to the uses for which they are raised? Your frequent convictions at the Old Bailey, those depredations of justice, must too sensibly and sorely demonstrate the contrary. What evidence doth he ever produce for the prisoner which the prisoner himself could not have provided, and often better instructed? How many noble youths have there been lost when a single alibi would have saved them! Should I be silent, nay, could your own injuries want a tongue to remonstrate, the very breath which by his neglect hath been stopped at the cheat would cry out loudly against him. Nor is the exorbitancy of his plunders visible only in the dreadful consequences it hath produced to the prigs, nor glares it only in the miseries brought on them: it blazes forth in the more desirable effects it hath wrought for himself, in the rich perquisites acquired by it: witness that silk nightgown, that robe of shame, which, to his eternal dishonour, he publicly wears; that gown which I will not scruple to call the winding-sheet of the liberties of Newgate. Is there a prig who hath the interest and honour of Newgate so little at heart that he can refrain from blushing when he beholds that trophy, purchased with the breath of so many prigs? Nor is this all. His waistcoat embroidered with silk, and his velvet cap, bought with the same price, are ensigns of the same disgrace. Some would think the rags which covered his nakedness when first he was committed hither well exchanged for these gaudy trappings; but in my eye no exchange can be profitable when dishonour is the condition. If, therefore, Newgate--" Here the only copy which we could procure of this speech breaks off abruptly; however, we can assure the reader, from very authentic information, that he concluded with advising the prigs to put their affairs into other hands. After which, one of his party, as had been before concerted, in a very long speech recommended him (Wild himself) to their choice.
Newgate was divided into parties on this occasion, the prigs on each side representing their chief or great man to be the only person by whom the affairs of Newgate could be managed with safety and advantage. The prigs had indeed very incompatible interests; for, whereas the supporters of Johnson, who was in possession of the plunder of Newgate, were admitted to some share under their leader, so the abettors of Wild had, on his promotion, the same views of dividing some part of the spoil among themselves. It is no wonder, therefore, they were both so warm on each side. What may seem more remarkable was, that the debtors, who were entirely unconcerned in the dispute, and who were the destined plunder of both parties, should interest themselves with the utmost violence, some on behalf of Wild, and others in favour of Johnson. So that all Newgate resounded with WILD for ever, JOHNSON for ever. And the poor debtors re-echoed THE LIBERTIES OF NEWGATE, which, in the cant language, signifies plunder, as loudly as the thieves themselves. In short, such quarrels and animosities happened between them, that they seemed rather the people of two countries long at war with each other than the inhabitants of the same castle.
Wild's party at length prevailed, and he succeeded to the place and power of Johnson, whom he presently stripped of all his finery; but, when it was proposed that he should sell it and divide the money for the good of the whole, he waved that motion, saying it was not yet time, that he should find a better opportunity, that the cloathes wanted cleaning, with many other pretences, and within two days, to the surprize of many, he appeared in them himself; for which he vouchsafed no other apology than that they fitted him much better than they did Johnson, and that they became him in a much more elegant manner.
This behaviour of Wild greatly incensed the debtors, particularly those by whose means he had been promoted. They grumbled extremely, and vented great indignation against Wild; when one day a very grave man, and one of much authority among them, bespake them as follows:
"Nothing sure can be more justly ridiculous than the conduct of those who should lay the lamb in the wolfs way, and then should lament his being devoured. What a wolf is in a sheep-fold, a great man is in society. Now, when one wolf is in possession of a sheep-fold, how little would it avail the simple flock to expel him and place another in his stead! Of the same benefit to us is the overthrowing one prig in favour of another. And for what other advantage was your struggle? Did you not all know that Wild and his followers were prigs, as well as Johnson and his? What then could the contention be among such but that which you have now discovered it to have been? Perhaps some would say, Is it then our duty tamely to submit to the rapine of the prig who now plunders us for fear of an exchange? Surely no: but I answer, It is better to shake the plunder off than to exchange the plunderer. And by what means can we effect this but by a total change in our manners? Every prig is a slave. His own priggish desires, which enslave him, themselves betray him to the tyranny of others. To preserve, therefore, the liberty of Newgate is to change the manners of Newgate. Let us, therefore, who are confined here for debt only, separate ourselves entirely from the prigs; neither drink with them nor converse with them. Let us at the same time separate ourselves farther from priggism itself. Instead of being ready, on every opportunity, to pillage each other, let us be content with our honest share of the common bounty, and with the acquisition of our own industry. When we separate from the prigs, let us enter into a closer alliance with one another. Let us consider ourselves all as members of one community, to the public good of which we are to sacrifice our private views; not to give up the interest of the whole for every little pleasure or profit which shall accrue to ourselves. Liberty is consistent with no degree of honesty inferior to this, and the community where this abounds no prig will have the impudence or audaciousness to endeavour to enslave; or if he should, his own destruction would be the only consequence of his attempt. But while one man pursues his ambition, another his interest, another his safety; while one hath a roguery (a priggism they here call it) to commit, and another a roguery to defend; they must naturally fly to the favour and protection of those who have power to give them what they desire, and to defend them from what they fear; nay, in this view it becomes their interest to promote this power in their patrons. Now, gentlemen, when we are no longer prigs, we shall no longer have these fears or these desires. What remains, therefore, for us but to resolve bravely to lay aside our priggism, our roguery, in plainer words, and preserve our liberty, or to give up the latter in the preservation and preference of the former?"
This speech was received with much applause; however, Wild continued as before to levy contributions among the prisoners, to apply the garnish to his own use, and to strut openly in the ornaments which he had stripped from Johnson. To speak sincerely, there was more bravado than real use or advantage in these trappings. As for the nightgown, its outside indeed made a glittering tinsel appearance, but it kept him not warm, nor could the finery of it do him much honour, since every one knew it did not properly belong to him; as to the waistcoat, it fitted him very ill, being infinitely too big for him; and the cap was so heavy that it made his head ache. Thus these cloathes, which perhaps (as they presented the idea of their misery more sensibly to the people's eyes) brought him more envy, hatred, and detraction, than all his deeper impositions and more real advantages, afforded very little use or honour to the wearer; nay, could scarce serve to amuse his own vanity when this was cool enough to reflect with the least seriousness. And, should I speak in the language of a man who estimated human happiness without regard to that greatness, which we have so laboriously endeavoured to paint in this history, it is probable he never took (i.e. robbed the prisoners of) a shilling, which he himself did not pay too dear for.