Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Hibernian Mendicant
By Maria Edgeworth (17681849)
From Essay on Irish Bulls
PERHAPS the reader may wish to see as well as hear the petitioner. At first view you might have taken him for a Spaniard. He was tall; and if he had been a gentleman, you would have said that there was an air of dignity in his figure. He seemed very old, yet he appeared more worn by sorrow than by time. Leaning upon a thick oaken stick as he took off his hat to ask for alms, his white hair was blown by the wind.
He held his hat towards us, with nothing importunate in his manner, but rather with a look of confidence in us, mixed with habitual resignation. His thanks were Heaven bless you!Long life and success to you! to you and yours! and may you never want a friend as I do.
These last words were spoken low. He laid his hand upon his heart as he bowed to us, and walked slowly away. We called him back; and upon our questioning him further, he gave the following account of himself.
I was bred and bornbut no matter where such a one as I was bred and born, no more than where I may die and be buried, I, that have neither son, nor daughter, nor kin, nor friend, on the wide earth, to mourn over my grave when I am laid in it, as I soon must. Well! when it pleases God to take me, I shall never be missed out of this world, so much as by a dog; and why should I?having never in my life done good to anybut evilwhich I have lived to repent me of manys the long day and night, and ever shall whilst I have sense and reason left. In my youthful days God was too good to me: I had friends and a little home of my own to go toa pretty spot of land for a farm, as you could see, with a snug cabin, and everything complete, and all to be mine; for I was the only one my father and mother had, and accordingly was made much of, too much; for I grew headstrong upon it and high, and thought nothing of any man, and little of any woman but one. That one I surely did think of; and well worth thinking of she was. Beauty, they say, is all fancy; but she was a girl every man might fancy. Never was one more sought after. She was then just in her prime, and full of life and spirits; but nothing light in her behaviourquite modestyet obliging. She was too good for me to be thinking of, no doubt; but Faint heart never won fair lady, so I made bold to speak to Rose, for that was her name, and after a world of pains, I began to gain upon her good liking, but couldnt get her to say more than she had never seen the man she should fancy so well. This was a great deal from her, for she was coy and proud-like, as she had a good right to be; and, besides being young, loved her little innocent pleasure, and could not easy be brought to give up her sway. No fault of hers: but all very natural. Well! I always considered she never would have held out so long, nor have been so stiff with me had it not been for an old aunt Honour of hersGod rest her soul! One should not be talking ill of the dead; but she was more out of my way than enough; yet the cratur had no malice in her against me, only meaning her childs good, as she called it, but mistook it, and thought to make Rose happy by some greater match than me, counting her fondness for me, which she could not but see something of, childishness, which she would soon be broke of. Now there was a party of English soldiers quartered in our town and there was a sergeant amongst them, that had money and a pretty place, as they said, in his own country. He courted Rose, and the aunt favoured him. He was a handsome portly man, but very proud, and looked upon me as dirt under his feet, because I was an Irishman; and at every word would say, Thats an Irish bull! or Do you hear Paddys brogue? at which his fellow soldiers, being all English, would look greatly delighted. Now all this I could have taken in good part from any but him, for I was not an ill-humoured fellow; but there was a spite in him I plainly saw against me, and I could not, nor would not take a word from him against me or my country, especially when Rose was by, who did not like me the worse for having a proper spirit. She little thought what would come of it. Whilst all this was going on, her aunt Honour found to object against me, that I was wild, and given to drink; both which charges were false and malicious, and I knew could come from none other than the sergeant, which enraged me the more against him for speaking so mean behind my back. Now I know, that though the sergeant did not drink spirits, he drank plenty of beer. Rose took it, however, to heart and talked very serious upon it, observing she could never marry a man given to drink, and that the sergeant was remarkably sober and staid, therefore most like, as her aunt Honour said, to make a good husband. The words went straight to my heart, along with Roses look. I said not a word, but went out, resolving, before I slept, to take an oath against spirits of all sorts for Roses sweet sake. That evening I fell in with some boys of the neighbours, who would have had me along with them, but I denied myself and them; and all I would taste was one parting glass, and then made my vow in the presence of the priest, forswearing spirits for two years. Then I went straight to her house to tell her what I had done, not being sensible that I was at that time a little elevated with the parting glass I had taken. The first thing I noticed on going into the room was the man I least wished to see there, and least looked for at this minute: he was in high talk with the aunt, and Rose sitting on the other side of him, no way strange towards him, as I fancied; but that was only fancy, and effect of the liquor I had drunk, which made me see things wrong. I went up, and put my head between them, asking Rose did she know what I had been about?
Yes; too well! said she, drawing back from my breath. And the aunt looked at her, and she at the aunt, and the sergeant stopped his nose, saying he had not been long enough in Ireland to love the smell of whiskey. I observed, that was an uncivil remark in the present company, and added, that I had not taken a drop that night, but one glass. At which he sneered, and said that was a bull and a blunder, but no wonder, as I was an Irishman. I replied in defence of myself and my country. We went on from one smart word to another; and some of his soldier men being of the company, he had the laugh against me still. I was vexed to see Rose bear so well what I could not bear myself. And the talk grew higher and higher; and from talking of blunders and such trifles, we got, I cannot tell you how, on to great party matters, and politics, and religion. And I was a Catholic, and he a Protestant; and there he had the thing still against me. The company seeing matters not agreeable, dropped off till none were left but the sergeant, and the aunt, and Rose, and myself. The aunt gave me a hint to part, but I would not take it; for I could not bear to go away worsted, and being borne down as it were by the English faction, and Rose by to judge. The aunt was called out by one who wanted her to go to a funeral next day: the Englishman then let fall something about our Irish howl, and savages, which Rose herself said was uncivil, she being an Irishwoman, which he, thinking only of making game on me, had forgot. I knocked him down, telling him that it was he that was the savage to affront a lady. As he got up he said that hed have the law of me, if any law was to be had in Ireland.
Do you mean to call me a coward? said he. This is what an English soldier must not bear. With that he snatches at his arms that were beside him, asking me again, did I mean to call an Englishman coward?
It is not the worse for that, may be, says I, very coolly, despising the man now, and just took up a knife, that was on the table, to cut off a button that was hanging at my knee. As I was opening the knife he asks me, was I going to stab at him with my Irish knife, and directly fixes a bayonet at me; on which I seizes a musket and bayonet one of his men had left, telling him I knew the use of it as well as he or any Englishman, and better; for that I should never have gone, as he did, to charge it against an unarmed man.
Rose calls to me to stop; but we were both out of ourselves at the minute. We thrust at each otherhe missed meI hit him. Rose ran in between us to get the musket from my hand: it was loaded, and went off in the struggle, and the ball lodged in her body. She fell! and what happened next I cannot tell, for the sight left my eyes, and all sense forsook me. When I came to myself the house was full of people, going to and fro, some whispering, some crying; and till the words reached my ears, Is she quite dead? I could not understand where I was, or what had happened. I wished to forget again, but could not. The whole truth came upon me, and yet I could not shed a tear! but just pushed my way through the crowd into the inner room, and up to the side of the bed. There she lay stretched, almost a corpsequite still! Her sweet eyes closed, and no colour in her cheeks, that had been so rosy! I took hold of one of her hands, that hung down, and she then opened her eyes, and knew me directly, and smiles upon me, and says, It was no fault of yours: take notice, all of you, it was no fault of his if I die; but that I wont do for his sake, if I can help it!that was the last word she spoke. I thinking, from her speaking so strong, that she was not badly hurt knelt down to whisper to her, that if my breath did smell of spirits, it was the parting glass I had tasted before making the vows I had done against drink for her sake; and that there was nothing I would not do for her, if it would please God to spare her to me. She just pressed my hand, to show me she was sensible. The priest came in, and they forced our hands asunder, and carried me away out of the room. Presently there was a great cry, and I knew all was over.
Here the old mans voice failed, and he turned his face from us. When he had somewhat recovered himself, to change the course of his thoughts, we asked whether he were prosecuted for his assault on the English sergeant, and what became of him?
Oh! to do him justice, as one should do to everyone, said the old man, he behaved very handsome to me when I was brought to trial; and told the whole truth, only blamed himself more than I would have done, and said it was all his fault for laughing at me and my nation more than a man could bear, situated as I was. They acquitted me through his means. We shook hands, and he hoped all would go right with me, he said; but nothing ever went right with me after. I took little note ever after of worldly matters: all belonging to me went to wrack and ruin. The hand of God was upon me: I could not help myself, nor settle mind or body to anything. I heard them say sometimes I was a little touched in my head: however that might be I cannot say. But at the last I found it was as good for me to give all that was left to my friends, who were better able to manage, and more eager for it than I; and fancying a roving life would agree with me best, I quitted the place, taking nothing with me, but resolved to walk the world, and just trust to the charity of good Christians, or die, as it should please God. How I have lived so long He only knows, and His will be done. (From Essay on Irish Bulls