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A short time after I came into Chiswell street to live, an odd circumstance occurred, which caused a great deal of talk; Mrs Chapman, who many years kept a livery stable in Coleman street, had a cat big with kitten; this cat was one day seen to fly at a fowl that was roasting by the fire, which she repeated several times, so that she was at last put out of the room; when this fowl was dressed and eaten they gave poor pussy the bones; but this was not enough, for when she lay in, they found that she had marked her kitten, as instead of two feet before, she had two wings with some short feathers on them. The singularity of this kitten drew great numbers to visit her, which occasioned so much trouble to Mrs Chapman, that she signed the death-warrant, and poor puss was drowned, and afterwards buried in the dung heap. I thought this story would read as well in my
Life as in the Philosophical Transactions, which prevented me from troubling those learned authors with it.
A few weeks after I came into this street I bade a final adieu to the gentle craft, and converted my little stock of leather, &c. into old books; and a great sale I had, considering my stock, which was not only extremely small, but contained very little variety, as it principally consisted of divinity; for as I had not much knowledge, so I seldom ventured out of my depth. Indeed, there was one class of books, which for the first year or two that I called myself a bookseller, I would not sell; for such was my ignorance, bigotry, superstition, (or what you please,) that I conscientiously destroyed such books as fell into my hands which were written by free-thinkers ; for really supposing them to be dictated by his sable highness, would neither read them myself nor sell them to others.
You will perhaps be surprised when I inform you, that there are in London (and I suppose in other populous places) persons who purchase every article which they have occasion for (and also many articles
which they have no occasion for, nor ever will) at stalls, beggarly shops, pawnbrokers, &c., under the idea of purchasing cheaper than they could at respectable shops, and of men of property. A considerable number of these kind of customers I had in the beginning, who forsook my shop as soon as I began to appear more respectable, by introducing better order, possessing more valuable books, and having acquired a better judgment, &c. Notwithstanding which, I declare to you, upon my honour, that these very bargain-hunters have given me double the price that I now charge for thousands and tens of thousands of volumes. For, as a tradesman increases in respectability and opulence, his oppor, tunities of purchasing increase proportionably, and the more he buys and sells, the more he becomes a judge of the real value of his goods. It was for want of the experience and judgment, stock, &c., that for several years I was in the habit of charging more than double the price I do for many thousand articles. But professed bargain-hunters often purchase old locks at the stalls in Moorfields, when half the wards are rusted off or taken out, and give more for them than they would have paid for new ones to any reputable ironmonger. And what numerous instances of this infatuation do we meet with daily at sales by auction, not of books only, but of many other articles, of which I could here adduce a variety of glaring instances : but (not to tire you) a few of recent date shall suffice. At the sale of Mr Rigby's books at Mr Christie's, Martyn's Dictionary of Natural History sold for fifteen guineas, which then stood in my catalogue at four pounds fifteen shillings; Pilkington's Dictionary of Painters at seven guineas, usually sold at three; Francis's Horace two pounds eleven shillings, and many others in the same manner. At sir George Colebrook's sale, the octavo edition of the Tatler sold for two guineas and a half. At a sale a few weeks since, Rapin's History, in folio, the two first volumes only, (instead of five,) sold for upwards of five pounds! I charge for the same from ten shillings and sixpence to one pound ten shillings. I sell great numbers of books to pawnbrokers, who sell them out of their windows at much higher prices, the purchasers believing that they are buying bargains, and that such articles have been pawned; and it is not only books that pawnbrokers purchase, but various other matters, and they always purchase the worst kind of every article they sell. I will even add, that many shops which are called pawnbrokers, never take in any pawn, yet can live by selling things which are supposed to be kept over time.
I went on prosperously until some time in September 1775, when I was suddenly taken ill of a dreadful fever; and, eight or ten days after, my wife was seized with the same disorder.
“ Human hopes, now mounting high,
Sinking to the depths below.” West's Pindar. At that time I kept only a boy to help in my shop, so that I fear, while I lay ill, my wife had too much care and anxiety on her mind. I have been told that, before she was confined to her bed, she walked about in a delirious state; in which she did not long continue, but contrary to all expectation died, in a fit of enthusiastic rant, on the ninth of November, surrounded by several methodistical preachers.
" Invidious death! how dost thou rend in sunder
Blair's Grave. She was in reality one of the best of women; and although for about four years she was ill the greatest part of the time, which involved me in the very depth of poverty and distress, yet I never once repented having married her.
.“ Still busy meddli'g memory,
Blair's Grave. 'Tis true she was enthusiastical to an extreme, and of course very superstitious and visionary, but as I was very far gone myself, I did not think that a fault in her.
Go, take thy seat the heav'nly choirs among,
Orlando Furioso. Indeed she much exceeded me, and most others that ever fell under my observation, as she in reality totally neglected and disregarded every kind of pleasure whatever, but those of a spiritual (or visionary) nature. Methinks I here see you smile: but I assure you she made no exception ; but was a complete devotee, and what is more remarkable, without pride or ill-nature. “ Intentions so pure, and such meekness of spirit, Must of course, and of right, heaven's kingdom inherit."
I am, dear friend, yours.
“ I've strange news to give you! but when you receive it 'Tis impossible, sir, that you should believe it! But as I've been told this agreeable story, I'll digress for a moment to lay it before ye."
Dear Sir, A FRIEND of mine, of whose veracity I entertain the highest opinion, has favoured me with an account of a lady who has to the full as much, indeed more of the spirit, but without the good-nature of Nancy Lackington. The fact is as follows:
“ 'Tis true 'uis pity: and pity 'tis it's true." Mr R-t, a genteel tradesman with whom I am acquainted, having lost his second wife early in 1790, courted and married one of the holy sisters a few months afterwards. They had lived together about six months, when Mr R-t, one Sunday, being a sober religious man, took down Doddridge's Lectures, and began to read them to his wife and family. But this holy sister found fault with her husband for reading such learned rational discourses, which savoured too much of human reason and vain philosophy, and wished he would read something more spiritual and edifying. He attempted to convince her that Dr Doddridge was not only a good rational divine, but to the full as spiritual as any divine ought to be ; and that to be more spiritual he must be less rational, and of course become fanatical and visionary. But these observations of the husband so displeased his spiritual wife, that she retired to bed, and left her husband to read Doddridge's Lectures as long as he chose to his chil. dren by a former wife.
The next morning, while Mr R-t was out on business, this holy sister, without saying one syllable to any person, packed up all her clothes, crammed them into a hackney-coach, and away she went. Mr R—t, poor soul! on coming home, discovered his immense loss, and in an almost frantic state, spent the first fortnight in fruitless attempts to discover her retreat.
" Three weeks after her elopement, I was (says Mr R-t) going down Cheapside one day, and saw a lady something like my wife, but as she was somewhat disguised, and I could not see her face, I was not sure. At last I ventured to look under her bonnet, and found that, sure enough, it was she. I then walked three times backwards and forwards in Cheap