Nonfiction > Henry Craik, ed. > English Prose > Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
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Henry Craik, ed.  English Prose.  1916.
Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
 
The Strolling Player
By Oliver Goldsmith (1730–1774)
 
From the Essays

I AM fond of amusement, in whatever company it is to be found; and wit, though dressed in rags, is ever pleasing to me. I went some days ago to take a walk in St. James’s Park, about the hour in which company leave it to go to dinner. There were but few in the walks, and those who stayed seemed, by their looks, rather more willing to forget that they had an appetite, than gain one. I sat down on one of the benches, at the other end of which was seated a man in very shabby clothes, but such as appeared to have been once fashionable; in short, I could perceive in his figure somewhat of the gentleman, but gentility (to speak like Milton) shorn of its beams.
  1
  We continued to groan, to hem, and to cough, as usual upon such occasions; and at last ventured upon conversation. “I beg pardon, sir,” cried I, “but I think I have seen you before; your face is familiar to me.”—“Yes, sir,” replied he, “I have a good familiar face, as my friends tell me. I am as well known in every town in England, as the dromedary or live crocodile. You must understand, sir, that I have been these sixteen years Merry Andrew to a puppet-show: last Bartholomew Fair my master and I quarrelled, beat each other, and parted; he to sell his puppets to the pincushion-makers 1 in Rosemary Lane, and I to starve in St. James’s Park.”  2
  “I am sorry, sir, that a person of your appearance should labour under any difficulties.”—“O sir,” returned he, “my appearance is very much at your service; but, though I cannot boast of eating much, yet there are few that are merrier: if I had twenty thousand a year I should be very merry; and thank the fates! though not worth a groat, I am very merry still. If I have threepence in my pocket, I never refuse to be 2 my three-halfpence; and if I have no money, I never scorn to be treated by any that are kind enough to pay my reckoning. What think you, sir, of a steak and tankard? You shall treat me now; and I will treat you again, when I find you in the Park in love with eating, and without money to pay for a dinner.”  3
  As I never refuse a small expense for the sake of a merry companion, we instantly adjourned to a neighbouring ale-house and in a few moments had a frothing tankard and a smoking steak spread on the table before us. It is impossible to express how much the sight of such good cheer improved my companion’s vivacity. “I like this dinner, sir,” says he, “for three reasons: first, because I am naturally fond of beef; secondly, because I am hungry; and, thirdly and lastly, because I get it for nothing: no meat eats so sweet as that for which we do not pay.” He therefore now fell-to, and his appetite seemed to correspond with his inclination. After dinner was over, he observed that the steak was tough: “and yet, sir,” returns he, “bad as it was, it seemed a rumpsteak to me. O the delights of poverty and a good appetite! We beggars are the very foundlings of Nature; the rich she treats like an arrant step-mother; they are pleased with nothing: cut a steak from what part you will, and it is insupportably tough; dress it up with pickles,—even pickles cannot procure them an appetite. But the whole creation is filled with good things for the beggar. Calvert’s butt out-tastes champagne and Sedgeley’s home-brewed excels Tokay. Joy, joy, my blood! though our estates lie nowhere, we have fortunes wherever we go. If an inundation sweeps away half the grounds of Cornwall, I am content, I have no lands there; if the stocks sink, that gives me no uneasiness—I am no Jew.” The fellow’s vivacity, joined to his poverty, I own, raised my curiosity to know something of his life and circumstances, and I entreated that he would indulge my desire. “That I will, sir,” said he, “and welcome; only let us drink to prevent our sleeping: let us have another tankard while we are awake—let us have another tankard; for ah, how charming a tankard looks when full!”  4
 
Note 1. To the pincushion-makers.  For sawdust. Rosemary Lane, or Rag Fair, in Whitechapel, was a centre of this industry. [back]
Note 2. to be = to contribute or subscribe. [back]
 
 
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