In the midst of these reflections, another thought, which had not befor_truck me, occurred to my mind. "I exult," said I, "and reasonably, over th_mpotence of my persecutor. Is not that impotence greater than I have ye_magined? I say, he may cut off my existence, but cannot disturb my serenity.
It is true: my mind, the clearness of my spirit, the firmness of my temper,
are beyond his reach; is not my life equally so, if I please? What are th_aterial obstacles, that man never subdued? What is the undertaking s_rduous, that by some has not been accomplished? And if by others, why not b_e? Had they stronger motives than I? Was existence more variously endeared t_hem? or had they more numerous methods by which to animate and adorn it? Man_f those who have exerted most perseverance and intrepidity, were obviously m_nferiors in that respect. Why should not I be as daring as they? Adamant an_teel have a ductility like water, to a mind sufficiently bold an_ontemplative. The mind is master of itself; and is endowed with powers tha_ight enable it to laugh at the tyrant's vigilance." I passed and repasse_hese ideas in my mind; and, heated with the contemplation, I said, "No, _ill not die!"
My reading, in early youth, had been extremely miscellaneous. I had read o_ousebreakers, to whom locks and bolts were a jest, and who, vain of thei_rt, exhibited the experiment of entering a house the most strongl_arricaded, with as little noise, and almost as little trouble, as other me_ould lift up a latch. There is nothing so interesting to the juvenile mind,
as the wonderful; there is no power that it so eagerly covets, as that o_stonishing spectators by its miraculous exertions. Mind appeared, to m_ntutored reflections, vague, airy, and unfettered, the susceptible perceive_f reasons, but never intended by nature to be the slave of force. Why shoul_t be in the power of man to overtake and hold me by violence? Why, when _hoose to withdraw myself, should I not be capable of eluding the mos_igilant search? These limbs, and this trunk, are a cumbrous and unfortunat_oad for the power of thinking to drag along with it; but why should not th_ower of thinking be able to lighten the load, till it shall be no longe_elt?—These early modes of reflection were by no means indifferent to m_resent enquiries.
Our next-door neighbour at my father's house had been a carpenter. Fresh fro_he sort of reading I have mentioned, I was eager to examine his tools, thei_owers and their uses. This carpenter was a man of strong and vigorous mind;
and, his faculties having been chiefly confined to the range of hi_rofession, he was fertile in experiments, and ingenious in reasoning upo_hese particular topics. I therefore obtained from him considerabl_atisfaction; and, my mind being set in action, I sometimes even improved upo_he hints he furnished. His conversation was particularly agreeable to me; _t first worked with him sometimes for my amusement, and afterward_ccasionally for a short time as his journeyman. I was constitutionall_igorous; and, by the experience thus attained, I added to the abstrac_ossession of power, the skill of applying it, when I pleased, in such _anner as that no part should be inefficient.
It is a strange, but no uncommon feature in the human mind, that the ver_esource of which we stand in greatest need in a critical situation, thoug_lready accumulated, it may be, by preceding industry, fails to present itsel_t the time when it should be called into action. Thus my mind had passe_hrough two very different stages since my imprisonment, before this means o_iberation suggested itself. My faculties were overwhelmed in the firs_nstance, and raised to a pitch of enthusiasm in the second; while in both _ook it for granted in a manner, that I must passively submit to the goo_leasure of my persecutors.
During the period in which my mind had been thus undecided, and when I ha_een little more than a month in durance, the assizes, which were held twice _ear in the town in which I was a prisoner, came on. Upon this occasion m_ase was not brought forward, but was suffered to stand over six month_onger. It would have been just the same, if I had had as strong reason t_xpect acquittal as I had conviction. If I had been apprehended upon the mos_rivolous reasons upon which any justice of the peace ever thought proper t_ommit a naked beggar for trial, I must still have waited about two hundre_nd seventeen days before my innocence could be cleared. So imperfect are th_ffects of the boasted laws of a country, whose legislators hold thei_ssembly from four to six months in every year! I could never discover wit_ertainty, whether this delay were owing to any interference on the part of m_rosecutor, or whether it fell out in the regular administration of justice,
which is too solemn and dignified to accommodate itself to the rights o_enefit of an insignificant individual.
But this was not the only incident that occurred to me during my confinement,
for which I could find no satisfactory solution. It was nearly at the sam_ime, that the keeper began to alter his behaviour to me. He sent for me on_orning into the part of the building which was appropriated for his own use,
and, after some hesitation, told me he was sorry my accommodations had been s_ndifferent, and asked whether I should like to have a chamber in his family?
I was struck with the unexpectedness of this question, and desired to kno_hether any body had employed him to ask it. No, he replied; but, now th_ssizes were over, he had fewer felons on his hands, and more time to loo_bout him. He believed I was a good kind of a young man, and he had taken _ort of a liking to me. I fixed my eye upon his countenance as he said this. _ould discover none of the usual symptoms of kindness; he appeared to me to b_cting a part, unnatural, and that sat with awkwardness upon him. He went o_owever to offer me the liberty of eating at his table; which, if I chose it,
he said, would make no difference to him, and he should not think of chargin_e any thing for it. He had always indeed as much upon his hands as one perso_ould see to; but his wife and his daughter Peggy would be woundily pleased t_ear a person of learning talk, as he understood I was; and perhaps I migh_ot feel myself unpleasantly circumstanced in their company.
I reflected on this proposal, and had little doubt, notwithstanding what th_eeper had affirmed to the contrary, that it did not proceed from an_pontaneous humanity in him, but that he had, to speak the language of person_f his cast, good reasons for what he did. I busied myself in conjectures a_o who could be the author of this sort of indulgence and attention. The tw_ost likely persons were Mr. Falkland and Mr. Forester. The latter I knew t_e a man austere and inexorable towards those whom he deemed vicious. H_iqued himself upon being insensible to those softer emotions, which, h_elieved, answered no other purpose than to seduce us from our duty. Mr.
Falkland, on the contrary, was a man of the acutest sensibility; hence aros_is pleasures and his pains, his virtues and his vices. Though he were th_itterest enemy to whom I could possibly be exposed, and though no sentiment_f humanity could divert or control the bent of his mind, I yet persuade_yself, that he was more likely than his kinsman, to visit in idea the scen_f my dungeon, and to feel impelled to alleviate my sufferings.
This conjecture was by no means calculated to serve as balm to my mind. M_houghts were full of irritation against my persecutor. How could I thin_indly of a man, in competition with the gratification of whose ruling passio_y good name or my life was deemed of no consideration? I saw him crushing th_ne, and bringing the other into jeopardy, with a quietness and composure o_is part that I could not recollect without horror. I knew not what were hi_lans respecting me. I knew not whether he troubled himself so much as to for_ barren wish for the preservation of one whose future prospects he had s_niquitously tarnished. I had hitherto been silent as to my principal topic o_ecrimination. But I was by no means certain, that I should consent to go ou_f the world in silence, the victim of this man's obduracy and art. In ever_iew I felt my heart ulcerated with a sense of his injustice; and my very sou_purned these pitiful indulgences, at a time that he was grinding me into dus_ith the inexorableness of his vengeance.
I was influenced by these sentiments in my reply to the jailor; and I found _ecret pleasure in pronouncing them in all their bitterness. I viewed him wit_ sarcastic smile, and said, I was glad to find him of a sudden become s_umane: I was not however without some penetration as to the humanity of _ailor, and could guess at the circumstances by which it was produced. But h_ight tell his employer, that his cares were fruitless: I would accept n_avours from a man that held a halter about my neck; and had courage enough t_ndure the worst both in time to come and now.—The jailor looked at me wit_stonishment, and turning upon his heel, exclaimed, "Well done, my cock! Yo_ave not had your learning for nothing, I see. You are set upon not dyin_unghill. But that is to come, lad; you had better by half keep your courag_ill you shall find it wanted."
The assizes, which passed over without influence to me, produced a grea_evolution among my fellow-prisoners. I lived long enough in the jail t_itness a general mutation of its inhabitants. One of the housebreakers (th_ival of the Duke of Bedford), and the coiner, were hanged. Two more were cas_or transportation, and the rest acquitted. The transports remained with us;
and, though the prison was thus lightened of nine of its inhabitants, ther_ere, at the next half-yearly period of assizes, as many persons on th_elons' side, within three, as I had found on my first arrival.
The soldier, whose story I have already recorded, died on the evening of th_ery day on which the judges arrived, of a disease the consequence of hi_onfinement. Such was the justice, that resulted from the laws of his countr_o an individual who would have been the ornament of any age; one who, of al_he men I ever knew, was perhaps the kindest, of the most feeling heart, o_he most engaging and unaffected manners, and the most unblemished life. Th_ame of this man was Brightwel. Were it possible for my pen to consecrate hi_o never-dying fame, I could undertake no task more grateful to my heart. Hi_udgment was penetrating and manly, totally unmixed with imbecility an_onfusion, while at the same time there was such an uncontending frankness i_is countenance, that a superficial observer would have supposed he must hav_een the prey of the first plausible knavery that was practised against him.
Great reason have I to remember him with affection! He was the most ardent, _ad almost said the last, of my friends. Nor did I remain in this respect i_is debt. There was indeed a great congeniality, if I may presume to say so,
in our characters, except that I cannot pretend to rival the originality an_elf-created vigour of his mind, or to compare with, what the world ha_carcely surpassed, the correctness and untainted purity of his conduct. H_eard my story, as far as I thought proper to disclose it, with interest; h_xamined it with sincere impartiality; and if, at first, any doubt remaine_pon his mind, a frequent observation of me in my most unguarded moment_aught him in no long time to place an unreserved confidence in my innocence.
He talked of the injustice of which we were mutual victims, withou_itterness; and delighted to believe that the time would come, when th_ossibility of such intolerable oppression would be extirpated. But this, h_aid, was a happiness reserved for posterity; it was too late for us to rea_he benefit of it. It was some consolation to him, that he could not tell th_eriod in his past life, which the best judgment of which he was capable woul_each him to spend better. He could say, with as much reason as most men, h_ad discharged his duty. But he foresaw that he should not survive his presen_alamity. This was his prediction, while yet in health. He might be said, in _ertain sense, to have a broken heart. But, if that phrase were in any wa_pplicable to him, sure never was despair more calm, more full of resignatio_nd serenity.
At no time in the whole course of my adventures was I exposed to a shock mor_evere, than I received from this man's death. The circumstances of his fat_resented themselves to my mind in their full complication of iniquity. Fro_im, and the execrations with which I loaded the government that could be th_nstrument of his tragedy, I turned to myself. I beheld the catastrophe o_rightwel with envy. A thousand times I longed that my corse had lain i_eath, instead of his. I was only reserved, as I persuaded myself, fo_nutterable woe. In a few days he would have been acquitted; his liberty, hi_eputation restored; mankind perhaps, struck with the injustice he ha_uffered, would have shown themselves eager to balance his misfortunes, an_bliterate his disgrace. But this man died; and I remained alive! I, who,
though not less wrongfully treated than he, had no hope of reparation, must b_arked as long as I lived for a villain, and in my death probably held up t_he scorn and detestation of my species!
Such were some of the immediate reflections which the fate of this unfortunat_artyr produced in my mind. Yet my intercourse with Brightwel was not, in th_eview, without its portion of comfort. I said, "This man has seen through th_eil of calumny that overshades me: he has understood, and has loved me. Wh_hould I despair? May I not meet hereafter with men ingenuous like him, wh_hall do me justice, and sympathise with my calamity? With that consolation _ill be satisfied. I will rest in the arms of friendship, and forget th_alignity of the world. Henceforth I will be contented with tranqui_bscurity, with the cultivation of sentiment and wisdom, and the exercise o_enevolence within a narrow circle." It was thus that my mind became excite_o the project I was about to undertake.
I had no sooner meditated the idea of an escape, than I determined upon th_ollowing method of facilitating the preparations for it. I undertook t_ngratiate myself with my keeper. In the world I have generally found suc_ersons as had been acquainted with the outline of my story, regarding me wit_ sort of loathing and abhorrence, which made them avoid me with as much car_s if I had been spotted with the plague. The idea of my having first robbe_y patron, and then endeavouring to clear myself by charging him wit_ubornation against me, placed me in a class distinct from, and infinitel_ore guilty than that of common felons. But this man was too good a master o_is profession, to entertain aversion against a fellow-creature upon tha_core. He considered the persons committed to his custody, merely as so man_uman bodies, for whom he was responsible that they should be forthcoming i_ime and place; and the difference of innocence and guilt he looked down upo_s an affair beneath his attention. I had not therefore the prejudices t_ncounter in recommending myself to him, that I have found so peculiarl_bstinate in other cases. Add to which, the same motive, whatever it was, tha_ad made him so profuse in his offers a little before, had probably it_nfluence on the present occasion.
I informed him of my skill in the profession of a joiner, and offered to mak_im half a dozen handsome chairs, if he would facilitate my obtaining th_ools necessary for carrying on my profession in my present confinement; for,
without his consent previously obtained, it would have been in vain for me t_xpect that I could quietly exert an industry of this kind, even if m_xistence had depended upon it. He looked at me first, as asking himself wha_e was to understand by this novel proposal; and then, his countenance mos_raciously relaxing, said, he was glad I was come off a little of my hig_otions and my buckram, and he would see what he could do. Two days after, h_ignified his compliance. He said that, as to the matter of the present I ha_ffered him, he thought nothing of that; I might do as I pleased in it; but _ight depend upon every civility from him that he could show with safety t_imself, if so be as, when he was civil, I did not offer a second time for t_nap and take him up short.
Having thus gained my preliminary, I gradually accumulated tools of variou_orts—gimlets, piercers, chisels, et cetera. I immediately set myself to work.
The nights were long, and the sordid eagerness of my keeper, notwithstandin_is ostentatious generosity, was great; I therefore petitioned for, and wa_ndulged with, a bit of candle, that I might amuse myself for an hour or tw_ith my work after I was locked up in my dungeon. I did not however by an_eans apply constantly to the work I had undertaken, and my jailor betraye_arious tokens of impatience. Perhaps he was afraid I should not have finishe_t, before I was hanged. I however insisted upon working at my leisure as _leased; and this he did not venture expressly to dispute. In addition to th_dvantages thus obtained, I procured secretly from Miss Peggy, who now an_hen came into the jail to make her observations of the prisoners, and wh_eemed to have conceived some partiality for my person, the implement of a_ron crow.
In these proceedings it is easy to trace the vice and duplicity that must b_xpected to grow out of injustice. I know not whether my readers will pardo_he sinister advantage I extracted from the mysterious concessions of m_eeper. But I must acknowledge my weakness in that respect; I am writing m_dventures, and not my apology; and I was not prepared to maintain th_nvaried sincerity of my manners, at the expense of a speedy close of m_xistence.
My plan was now digested. I believed that, by means of the crow, I coul_asily, and without much noise, force the door of my dungeon from its hinges,
or if not, that I could, in case of necessity, cut away the lock. This doo_ed into a narrow passage, bounded on one side by the range of dungeons, an_n the other by the jailor's and turnkeys' apartments, through which was th_sual entrance from the street. This outlet I dared not attempt, for fear o_isturbing the persons close to whose very door I should in that case hav_ound it necessary to pass. I determined therefore upon another door at th_urther end of the passage, which was well barricaded, and which led to a sor_f garden in the occupation of the keeper. This garden I had never entered,
but I had had an opportunity of observing it from the window of the felons'
day-room, which looked that way, the room itself being immediately over th_ange of dungeons. I perceived that it was bounded by a wall of considerabl_eight, which I was told by my fellow-prisoners was the extremity of the jai_n that side, and beyond which was a back-lane of some length, that terminate_n the skirts of the town. Upon an accurate observation, and much reflectio_pon the subject, I found I should be able, if once I got into the garden,
with my gimlets and piercers inserted at proper distances to make a sort o_adder, by means of which I could clear the wall, and once more tak_ossession of the sweets of liberty. I preferred this wall to that whic_mmediately skirted my dungeon, on the other side of which was a populou_treet.
I suffered about two days to elapse from the period at which I had thoroughl_igested my project, and then in the very middle of the night began to se_bout its execution. The first door was attended with considerable difficulty;
but at length this obstacle was happily removed. The second door was fastene_n the inside. I was therefore able with perfect ease to push back the bolts.
But the lock, which of course was depended upon for the principal security,
and was therefore strong, was double-shot, and the key taken away. _ndeavoured with my chisel to force back the bolt of the lock, but to n_urpose. I then unscrewed the box of the lock; and, that being taken away, th_oor was no longer opposed to my wishes.
Thus far I had proceeded with the happiest success; but close on the othe_ide of the door there was a kennel with a large mastiff dog, of which I ha_ot the smallest previous knowledge. Though I stepped along in the mos_areful manner, this animal was disturbed, and began to bark. I was extremel_isconcerted, but immediately applied myself to soothe the animal, in which _resently succeeded. I then returned along the passage to listen whether an_ody had been disturbed by the noise of the dog; resolved, if that had bee_he case, that I would return to my dungeon, and endeavour to replace ever_hing in its former state. But the whole appeared perfectly quiet, and I wa_ncouraged to proceed in my operation.
I now got to the wall, and had nearly gained half the ascent, when I heard _oice at the garden-door, crying, "Holloa! who is there? who opened the door?"
The man received no answer, and the night was too dark for him to distinguis_bjects at any distance. He therefore returned, as I judged, into the hous_or a light. Meantime the dog, understanding the key in which thes_nterrogations were uttered, began barking again more violently than ever. _ad now no possibility of retreat, and I was not without hopes that I migh_et accomplish my object, and clear the wall. Meanwhile a second man came out,
while the other was getting his lantern, and by the time I had got to the to_f the wall was able to perceive me. He immediately set up a shout, and thre_ large stone, which grazed me in its flight. Alarmed at my situation, I wa_bliged to descend on the other side without taking the necessary precautions,
and in my fall nearly dislocated my ankle.
There was a door in the wall, of which I was not previously apprised; and,
this being opened, the two men with the lantern were on the other side in a_nstant. They had then nothing to do but to run along the lane to the plac_rom which I had descended. I endeavoured to rise after my fall; but the pai_as so intense, that I was scarcely able to stand, and, after having limped _ew paces, I twisted my foot under me, and fell down again. I had now n_emedy, and quietly suffered myself to be retaken.