Miscellaneous Essays
By Thomas de Quincey

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Second Paper On Murder


DOCTOR NORTH: You are a liberal man: liberal in the true classical sense, not in the slang sense of modern politicians and education-mongers. Being so, I am sure that you will sympathize with my case. I am an ill-used man, Dr. North–particularly ill used; and, with your permission, I will briefly explain how. A black scene of calumny will be laid open; but you, Doctor, will make all things square again. One frown from you, directed to the proper quarter, or a warning shake of the crutch, will set me right in public opinion, which at present, I am sorry to say, is rather hostile to me and mine–all owing to the wicked arts of slanderers. But you shall hear.

A good many years ago you may remember that I came forward in the character of a dilettante in murder. Perhaps dilettante may be too strong a word. Connoisseur is better suited to the scruples and infirmity of public taste. I suppose there is no harm in that at least. A man is not bound to put his eyes, ears, and understanding into his breeches pocket when he meets with a murder. If he is not in a downright comatose state, I suppose he must see that one murder is better or worse than another in point of good taste. Murders have their little differences and shades of merit as well as statues, pictures, oratorios, cameos, intaglios, or what not. You may be angry with the man for talking too much, or too publicly, (as to the too much, that I deny–a man can never cultivate his taste too highly;) but you must allow him to think, at any rate; and you, Doctor, you think, I am sure, both deeply and correctly on the subject. Well, would you believe it? all my neighbors came to hear of that little æsthetic essay which you had published; and, unfortunately, hearing at the very same time of a club that I as connected with, and a dinner at which I presided–both tending to the same little object as the essay, viz., the diffusion of a just taste among her majesty’s subjects, they got up the most barbarous calumnies against me. In particular, they said that I, or that the club, which comes to the same thing, had offered bounties on well conducted homicides–with a scale of drawbacks, in case of any one defect or flaw, according to a table issued to private friends. Now, Doctor, I’ll tell you the whole truth about the dinner and the club, and you’ll see how malicious the world is. But first let me tell you, confidentially, what my real principles are upon the matters in question.

As to murder, I never committed one in my life. It’s a well known thing amongst all my friends. I can get a paper to certify as much, signed by lots of people. Indeed, if you come to that, I doubt whether many people could produce as strong a certificate. Mine would be as big as a table-cloth. There is indeed one member of the club, who pretends to say that he caught me once making too free with his throat on a club night, after every body else had retired. But, observe, he shuffles in his story according to his state of civilation. When not far gone, he contents himself with saying that he caught me ogling his throat; and that I was melancholy for some weeks after, and that my voice sounded in a way expressing, to the nice ear of a connoisseur, the sense of opportunities lost–but the club all know that he’s a disappointed man himself, and that he speaks querulously at times about the fatal neglect of a man’s coming abroad without his tools. Besides, all this is an affair between two amateurs, and every body makes allowances for little asperities and sorenesses in such a case. “But,” say you, “If no murderer, my correspondent may have encouraged, or even have bespoke a murder.” No, upon my honor–nothing of the kind. And that was the very point I wished to argue for your satisfaction. The truth is, I am a very particular man in everything relating to murder; and perhaps I carry my delicacy too far. The Stagyrite most justly, and possibly with a view to my case, placed virtue in the [Greek: to meson] or middle point between two extremes. A golden mean is certainly what every man should aim at. But it is easier talking than doing; and, my infirmity being notoriously too much milkiness of heart, I find it difficult to maintain that steady equatorial line between the two poles of too much murder on the one hand, and too little on the other. I am too soft–Doctor, too soft; and people get excused through me–nay, go through life without an attempt made upon them, that ought not to be excused. I believe if I had the management of things, there would hardly be a murder from year’s end to year’s end. In fact I’m for virtue, and goodness, and all that sort of thing. And two instances I’ll give you to what an extremity I carry my virtue. The first may seem a trifle; but not if you knew my nephew, who was certainly born to be hanged, and would have been so long ago, but for my restraining voice. He is horribly ambitious, and thinks himself a man of cultivated taste in most branches of murder, whereas, in fact, he has not one idea on the subject, but such as he has stolen from me. This is so well known, that the club has twice blackballed him, though every indulgence was shown to him as my relative. People came to me and said–"Now really, President, we would do much to serve a relative of yours. But still, what can be said? You know yourself that he’ll disgrace us. If we were to elect him, why, the next thing we should hear of would be some vile butcherly murder, by way of justifying our choice. And what sort of a concern would it be? You know, as well as we do, that it would be a disgraceful affair, more worthy of the shambles than of an artist’s attelier. He would fall upon some great big man, some huge farmer returning drunk from a fair. There would be plenty of blood, and that he would expect us to take in lieu of taste, finish, scenical grouping. Then, again, how would he tool? Why, most probably with a cleaver and a couple of paving stones: so that the whole coup d’oeil would remind you rather of some hideous ogre or cyclops, than of the delicate operator of the nineteenth century.” The picture was drawn with the hand of truth; that I could not but allow, and, as to personal feelings in the matter, I dismissed them from the first. The next morning I spoke to my nephew–I was delicately situated, as you see, but I determined that no consideration should induce me to flinch from my duty. “John,” said I, “you seem to me to have taken an erroneous view of life and its duties. Pushed on by ambition, you are dreaming rather of what it might be glorious to attempt, than what it would be possible for you to accomplish. Believe me, it is not necessary to a man’s respectability that he should commit a murder. Many a man has passed through life most respectably, without attempting any species of homicide–good, bad, or indifferent. It is your first duty to ask yourself, quid valeant humeri, quid ferre recusent? we cannot all be brilliant men in this life. And it is for your interest to be contented rather with a humble station well filled, than to shock every body with failures, the more conspicuous by contrast with the ostentation of their promises.” John made no answer, he looked very sulky at the moment, and I am in high hopes that I have saved a near relation from making a fool of himself by attempting what is as much beyond his capacity as an epic poem. Others, however, tell me that he is meditating a revenge upon me and the whole club. But let this be as it may, liberavi animam meam; and, as you see, have run some risk with a wish to diminish the amount of homicide. But the other case still more forcibly illustrates my virtue. A man came to me as a candidate for the place of my servant, just then vacant. He had the reputation of having dabbled a little in our art; some said not without merit. What startled me, however, was, that he supposed this art to be part of his regular duties in my service. Now that was a thing I would not allow; so I said at once, “Richard (or James, as the case might be,) you misunderstand my character. If a man will and must practise this difficult (and allow me to add, dangerous) branch of art–if he has an overruling genius for it, why, he might as well pursue his studies whilst living in my service as in another’s. And also, I may observe, that it can do no harm either to himself or to the subject on whom he operates, that he should be guided by men of more taste than himself. Genius may do much, but long study of the art must always entitle a man to offer advice. So far I will go–general principles I will suggest. But as to any particular case, once for all I will have nothing to do with it. Never tell me of any special work of art you are meditating–I set my face against it in toto. For if once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to incivility and procrastination. Once begin upon this downward path, you never know where you are to stop. Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other that perhaps he thought little of at the time. Principiis obsta–that’s my rule.” Such was my speech, and I have always acted up to it; so if that is not being virtuous, I should be glad to know what is. But now about the dinner and the club. The club was not particularly of my creation; it arose pretty much as other similar associations, for the propagation of truth and the communication of new ideas, rather from the necessities of things than upon any one man’s suggestion. As to the dinner, if any man more than another could be held responsible for that, it was a member known amongst us by the name of Toad-in-the-hole. He was so called from his gloomy misanthropical disposition, which led him into constant disparagements of all modern murders as vicious abortions, belonging to no authentic school of art. The finest performances of our own age he snarled at cynically; and at length this querulous humor grew upon him so much, and he became so notorious as a laudator tentporis acti, that few people cared to seek his society. This made him still more fierce and truculent. He went about muttering and growling; wherever you met him he was soliloquizing and saying, “despicable pretender–without grouping–without two ideas upon handling–without"–and there you lost him. At length existence seemed to be painful to him; he rarely spoke, he seemed conversing with phantoms in the air, his housekeeper informed us that his reading was nearly confined to God’s Revenge upon Murder, by Reynolds, and a more ancient book of the same title, noticed by Sir Walter Scott in his Fortunes of Nigel. Sometimes, perhaps, he might read in the Newgate Calendar down to the year 1788, but he never looked into a book more recent. In fact, he had a theory with regard to the French Revolution, as having been the great cause of degeneration in murder. “Very soon, sir,” he used to say, “men will have lost the art of killing poultry: the very rudiments of the art will have perished!” In the year 1811 he retired from general society. Toad-in-the-hole was no more seen in any public resort. We missed him from his wonted haunts–nor up the lawn, nor at the wood was he. By the side of the main conduit his listless length at noontide he would stretch, and pore upon the filth that muddled by. “Even dogs are not what they were, sir–not what they should be. I remember in my grandfather’s time that some dogs had an idea of murder. I have known a mastiff lie in ambush for a rival, sir, and murder him with pleasing circumstances of good taste. Yes, sir, I knew a tom-cat that was an assassin. But now"–and then, the subject growing too painful, he dashed his hand to his forehead, and went off abruptly in a homeward direction towards his favorite conduit, where he was seen by an amateur in such a state that he thought it dangerous to address him. Soon after he shut himself entirely up; it was understood that he had resigned himself to melancholy; and at length the prevailing notion was, that Toad-in-the-hole had hanged himself.

The world was wrong there, as it has been on some other questions. Toad-in-the-hole might be sleeping, but dead he was not; and of that we soon had ocular proof. One morning in 1812, an amateur surprised us with the news that he had seen Toad-in-the-hole brushing with hasty steps the dews away to meet the postman by the conduit side. Even that was something: how much more, to hear that he had shaved his beard–had laid aside his sad-colored clothes, and was adorned like a bridegroom of ancient days. What could be the meaning of all this? Was Toad-in-the-hole mad? or how? Soon after the secret was explained–in more than a figurative sense “the murder was out.” For in came the London morning papers, by which it appeared that but three days before a murder, the most superb of the century by many degrees had occurred in the heart of London. I need hardly say, that this was the great exterminating chef-d’oeuvre of Williams at Mr. Marr’s, No. 29, Ratcliffe Highway. That was the début of the artist; at least for anything the public knew. What occurred at Mr. Williamson’s twelve nights afterwards–the second work turned out from the same chisel–some people pronounced even superior. But Toad-in-the-hole always “reclaimed"–he was even angry at comparisons. “This vulgar gout de comparaison, as La Bruyère calls it,” he would often remark, “will be our ruin; each work has its own separate characteristics–each in and for itself is incomparable. One, perhaps, might suggest the Iliad–the other the Odyssey: what do you get by such comparisons? Neither ever was, or will be surpassed; and when you’ve talked for hours, you must still come back to that.” Vain, however, as all criticism might be, he often said that volumes might be written on each case for itself; and he even proposed to publish in quarto on the subject.

Meantime, how had Toad-in-the-hole happened to hear of this great work of art so early in the morning? He had received an account by express, dispatched by a correspondent in London, who watched the progress of art On Toady’s behalf, with a general commission to send off a special express, at whatever cost, in the event of any estimable works appearing–how much more upon occasion of a ne plus ultra in art! The express arrived in the night-time; Toad-in-the-hole was then gone to bed; he had been muttering and grumbling for hours, but of course he was called up. On reading the account, he threw his arms round the express, called him his brother and his preserver; settled a pension upon him for three lives, and expressed his regret at not having it in his power to knight him. We, on our part–we amateurs, I mean–having heard that he was abroad, and therefore had nothanged himself, made sure of soon seeing him amongst us. Accordingly he soon arrived, knocked over the porter on his road to the reading-room; he seized every man’s hand as he passed him–wrung it almost frantically, and kept ejaculating, “Why, now here’s something like a murder!–this is the real thing–this is genuine–this is what you can approve, can recommend to a friend: this–says every man, on reflection–this is the thing that ought to be!” Then, looking at particular friends, he said–"Why, Jack, how are you? Why, Tom, how are you? Bless me, you look ten years younger than when I last saw you.” “No, sir,” I replied, “It is you who look ten years younger.” “Do I? well, I should’nt wonder if I did; such works are enough to make us all young.” And in fact the general opinion is, that Toad-in-the-hole would have died but for this regeneration of art, which he called a second age of Leo the Tenth; and it was our duty, he said solemnly, to commemorate it. At present, and en attendant–rather as an occasion for a public participation in public sympathy, than as in itself any commensurate testimony of our interest–he proposed that the club should meet and dine together. A splendid public dinner, therefore, was given by the club; to which all amateurs were invited from a distance of one hundred miles.

Of this dinner there are ample short-hand notes amongst the archives of the club. But they are not “extended,” to speak diplomatically; and the reporter is missing–I believe, murdered. Meantime, in years long after that day, and on an occasion perhaps equally interesting, viz., the turning up of Thugs and Thuggism, another dinner was given. Of this I myself kept notes, for fear of another accident to the short-hand reporter. And I here subjoin them. Toad-in-the-hole, I must mention, was present at this dinner. In fact, it was one of its sentimental incidents. Being as old as the valleys at the dinner of 1812, naturally he was as old as the hills at the Thug dinner of 1838. He had taken to wearing his beard again; why, or with what view, it passes my persimmon to tell you. But so it was. And his appearance was most benign and venerable. Nothing could equal the angelic radiance of his smile as he inquired after the unfortunate reporter, (whom, as a piece of private scandal, I should tell you that he was himself supposed to have murdered, in a rapture of creative art:) the answer was, with roars of laughter, from the under-sheriff of our county–"Non est inventus.” Toad-in-the-hole laughed outrageously at this: in fact, we all thought he was choking; and, at the earnest request of the company, a musical composer furnished a most beautiful glee upon the occasion, which was sung five times after dinner, with universal applause and inextinguishable laughter, the words being these, (and the chorus so contrived, as most beautifully to mimic the peculiar laughter of Toad-in-the-hole:)–

  “Et interrogatum est à Toad-in-the hole–Ubi est ille reporter?
  Et responsum est cum cachinno–Non est inventus.”


  “Deinde iteratum est ab omnibus, cum cachinnatione undulante–
  Non est inventus.”

Toad-in-the-hole, I ought to mention, about nine years before, when an express from Edinburgh brought him the earliest intelligence of the Burke-and-Hare revolution in the art, went mad upon the spot; and, instead of a pension to the express for even one life, or a knighthood, endeavored to burke him; in consequence of which he was put into a strait waistcoat. And that was the reason we had no dinner then. But now all of us were alive and kicking, strait-waistcoaters and others; in fact, not one absentee was reported upon the entire roll. There were also many foreign amateurs present.

Dinner being over, and the cloth drawn, there was a general call made for the new glee of Non est inventus; but, as this would have interfered with the requisite gravity of the company during the earlier toasts, I overruled the call. After the national toasts had been given, the first official toast of the day was, The Old Man of the Mountains–drunk in solemn silence.

Toad-in-the-hole returned thanks in a neat speech. He likened himself to the Old Man of the Mountains, in a few brief allusions, that made the company absolutely yell with laughter; and he concluded with giving the health of

Mr. Von Hammer, with many thanks to him for his learned History of the Old Man and his subjects the assassins.

Upon this I rose and said, that doubtless most of the company were aware of the distinguished place assigned by orientalists to the very learned Turkish scholar Von Hammer the Austrian; that he had made the profoundest researches into our art as connected with those early and eminent artists the Syrian assassins in the period of the Crusaders; that his work had been for several years deposited, as a rare treasure of art, in the library of the club. Even the author’s name, gentlemen, pointed him out as the historian of our art–Von Hammer–

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Toad-in-the-hole, who never can sit still–"Yes, yes, Von Hammer–he’s the man for a malleus hæreticorum: think rightly of our art, or he’s the man to tickle your catastrophes. You all know what consideration Williams bestowed on the hammer, or the ship carpenter’s mallet, which is the same thing. Gentlemen, I give you another great hammer–Charles the Hammer, the Marteau, or, in old French, the Martel–he hammered the Saracens till they were all as dead as door-nails–he did, believe me.”

“Charles Martel, with all the honors.”

But the explosion of Toad-in-the-hole, together with the uproarious cheers for the grandpapa of Charlemagne, had now made the company unmanageable. The orchestra was again challenged with shouts the stormiest for the new glee. I made again a powerful effort to overrule the challenge. I might as well have talked to the winds. I foresaw a tempestuous evening; and I ordered myself to be strengthened with three waiters on each side; the vice-president with as many. Symptoms of unruly enthusiasm were beginning to show out; and I own that I myself was considerably excited as the orchestra opened with its storm of music, and the impassioned glee began–"Et interrogatum est à Toad-in-the-hole–Ubi est ille Reporter?" And the frenzy of the passion became absolutely convulsing, as the full chorus fell in–"Et iteratum est ab omnibus–Non est inventus”

By this time I saw how things were going: wine and music were making most of the amateurs wild. Particularly Toad-in-the-hole, though considerably above a hundred years old, was getting as vicious as a young leopard. It was a fixed impression with the company that he had murdered the reporter in the year 1812; since which time (viz. twenty-six years) “ille reporter" had been constantly reported “Non est inventus.” Consequently, the glee about himself, which of itself was most tumultuous and jubilant, carried him off his feet. Like the famous choral songs amongst the citizens of Abdera, nobody could hear it without a contagious desire for falling back into the agitating music of “Et interrogatum est à Toad-in-the-hole,” &c. I enjoined vigilance upon my assessors, and the business of the evening proceeded.

The next toast was–The Jewish Sicarii.

Upon which I made the following explanation to the company:–"Gentlemen, I am sure it will interest you all to hear that the assassins, ancient as they were, had a race of predecessors in the very same country. All over Syria, but particularly in Palestine, during the early years of the Emperor Nero, there was a band of murderers, who prosecuted their studies in a very novel manner. They did not practise in the night-time, or in lonely places; but justly considering that great crowds are in themselves a sort of darkness by means of the dense pressure and the impossibility of finding out who it was that gave the blow, they mingled with mobs everywhere; particularly at the great paschal feast in Jerusalem; where they actually had the audacity, as Josephus assures us, to press into the temple,–and whom should they choose for operating upon but Jonathan himself, the Pontifex Maximus? They murdered him, gentlemen, as beautifully as if they had had him alone on a moonless night in a dark lane. And when it was asked, who was the murderer, and where he was"–

“Why, then, it was answered,” interrupted Toad-in-the-hole, ’Non est inventus.” And then, in spite of all I could do or say, the orchestra opened, and the whole company began–"Et interrogatum est à Toad-in-the-hole–Ubi est ille Sicarius? Et responsum est ab omnibus–Non est inventus.”

When the tempestuous chorus had subsided, I began again:–"Gentlemen, you will find a very circumstantial account of the Sicarii in at least three different parts of Josephus; once in Book XX. sect. v. c. 8, of his Antiquities; once in Book I. of his Wars: but in sect. 10 of the chapter first cited you will find a particular description of their tooling. This is what he says–’They tooled with small scymetars not much different from the Persian acinacæ, but more curved, and for all the world most like the Roman sickles or sicæ.’ It is perfectly magnificent, gentlemen, to hear the sequel of their history. Perhaps the only case on record where a regular army of murderers was assembled, a justus exercitus, was in the case of these Sicarii. They mustered in such strength in the wilderness, that Festus himself was obliged to march against them with the Roman legionary force.”

Upon which Toad-in-the-hole, that cursed interrupter, broke out a-singing–"Et interrogatum est à Toad-in-the-hole–Ubi est ille exercitus? Et responsum est ab omnibus–Non est inventus.”

“No, no, Toad–you are wrong for once: that army was found, and was all cut to pieces in the desert. Heavens, gentlemen, what a sublime picture! The Roman legions–the wilderness–Jerusalem in the distance–an army of murderers in the foreground!”

Mr. R., a member, now gave the next toast–"To the further improvement of Tooling, and thanks to the Committee for their services.”

Mr. L., on behalf of the committee who had reported on that subject, returned thanks. He made an interesting extract from the report, by which it appeared how very much stress had been laid formerly on the mode of tooling, by the fathers, both Greek and Latin. In confirmation of this pleasing fact, he made a very striking statement in reference to the earliest work of antediluvian art. Father Mersenne, that learned Roman Catholic, in page one thousand four hundred and thirty-one[1] of his operose Commentary on Genesis, mentions, on the authority of several rabbis, that the quarrel of Cain with Abel was about a young woman; that, by various accounts, Cain had tooled with his teeth, [Abelem fuisse morsibus dilaceratum à Cain;] by many others, with the jaw-bone of an ass; which is the tooling adopted by most painters. But it is pleasing to the mind of sensibility to know that, as science expanded, sounder views were adopted. One author contends for a pitchfork, St. Chrysostom for a sword, Irenæus for a scythe, and Prudentius for a hedging-bill. This last writer delivers his opinion thus:–

  “Frater, probatæ sanctitatis æmulus,
  Germana curvo colla frangit sarculo:”

i.e. his brother, jealous of his attested sanctity, fractures his brotherly throat with a curved hedging-bill. “All which is respectfully submitted by your committee, not so much as decisive of the question, (for it is not,) but in order to impress upon the youthful mind the importance which has ever been attached to the quality of the tooling by such men as Chrysostom and Irenæus.”

[Footnote 1: “Page one thousand four hundred and thirty-one"–literally, good reader, and no joke at all.]

“Dang Irenæus!” said Toad-in-the-hole, who now rose impatiently to give the next toast:–"Our Irish friends; and a speedy revolution in their mode of tooling, as well as everything else connected with the art!”

“Gentlemen, I’ll tell you the plain truth. Every day of the year we take up a paper, we read the opening of a murder. We say, this is good, this is charming, this is excellent! But, behold you! scarcely have we read a little farther, before the word Tipperary or Ballina-something betrays the Irish manufacture. Instantly we loath it; we call to the waiter; we say, Waiter, take away this paper; send it out of the house; it is absolutely offensive to all just taste.’ I appeal to every man whether, on finding a murder (otherwise perhaps promising enough) to be Irish, he does not feel himself as much insulted as when Madeira being ordered, he finds it to be Cape; or when, taking up what he takes to be a mushroom, it turns out what children call a toad-stool. Tithes, politics, or something wrong in principle, vitiate every Irish murder. Gentlemen, this must be reformed, or Ireland will not be a land to live in; at least, if we do live there, we must import all our murders, that’s clear.” Toad-in-the-hole sat down growling with suppressed wrath, and the universal “Hear, hear!" sufficiently showed that he spoke the general feeling.

The next toast was–"The sublime epoch of Burkism and Harism!”

This was drunk with enthusiasm; and one of the members, who spoke to the question, made a very curious communication to the company:–"Gentlemen, we fancy Burkism to be a pure invention of our own times: and in fact no Pancirollus has ever enumerated this branch of art when writing de rebus deperditis. Still I have ascertained that the essential principle of the art was known to the ancients, although like the art of painting upon glass, of making the myrrhine cups, &c., it was lost in the dark ages for want of encouragement. In the famous collection of Greek epigrams made by Planudes is one upon a very charming little case of Burkism: it is a perfect little gem of art. The epigram itself I cannot lay my hand upon at this moment, but the following is an abstract of it by Salmasius, as I find it in his notes on Vopiscus: ’Est et elegans epigramma Lucilii, (well he might call it “elegans!”) ubi medicus et pollinctor de compacto sic egerunt, ut medicus ægros omnes curæ suæ commissos occideret:’ this was the basis of the contract, you see, that on the one part the doctor, for himself and his assigns, doth undertake and contract duly and truly to murder all the patients committed to his charge: but why? There lies the beauty of the case–’Et ut pollinctori amico suo traderet pollingendos.’ The pollinctor, you are aware, was a person whose business it was to dress and prepare dead bodies for burial. The original ground of the transaction appears to have been sentimental: ’He was my friend,’ says the murderous doctor; ’he was dear to me,’ in speaking of the pollinctor. But the law, gentlemen, is stern and harsh: the law will not hear of these tender motives: to sustain a contract of this nature in law, it is essential that a ’consideration’ should be given. Now what was the consideration? For thus far all is on the side of the pollinctor: he will be well paid for his services; but, meantime, the generous, the noble-minded doctor gets nothing. What was the little consideration again, I ask, which the law would insist on the doctor’s taking? You shall hear: ’Et ut pollinctor vicissim [Greek: telamonas] quos furabatur de pollinctione mortuorum medico mitteret doni ad alliganda vulnera eorurn quos curabat.’ Now, the case is clear: the whole went on a principle of reciprocity which would have kept up the trade for ever. The doctor was also a surgeon: he could not murder all his patients: some of the surgical patients must be retained intact; re infectâ. For these he wanted linen bandages. But, unhappily, the Romans wore woollen, on which account they bathed so often. Meantime, there was linen to be had in Rome; but it was monstrously dear; and the [Greek: telamones] or linen swathing bandages, in which superstition obliged them to bind up corpses, would answer capitally for the surgeon. The doctor, therefore, contracts to furnish his friend with a constant succession of corpses, provided, and be it understood always, that his said friend in return should supply him with one half of the articles he would receive from the friends of the parties murdered or to be murdered. The doctor invariably recommended his invaluable friend the pollinctor, (whom let us call the undertaker;) the undertaker, with equal regard to the sacred rights of friendship, uniformly recommended the doctor. Like Pylades and Orestes, they were models of a perfect friendship: in their lives they were lovely, and on the gallows, it is to be hoped, they were not divided.

“Gentlemen, it makes me laugh horribly, when I think of those two friends drawing and redrawing on each other: ’Pollinctor in account with Doctor, debtor by sixteen corpses; creditor by forty-five bandages, two of which damaged.’ Their names unfortunately are lost; but I conceive they must have been Quintus Burkius and Publius Harius. By the way, gentlemen, has anybody heard lately of Hare? I understand he is comfortably settled in Ireland, considerably to the west, and does a little business now and then; but, as he observes with a sigh, only as a retailer–nothing like the fine thriving wholesale concern so carelessly blown up at Edinburgh. ’You see what comes of neglecting business,’–is the chief moral, the [Greek: epimutheon], as Æsop would say, which he draws from his past experience.”

At length came the toast of the day–Thugdom in all its branches.

The speeches attempted at this crisis of the dinner were past all counting. But the applause was so furious, the music so stormy, and the crashing of glasses so incessant, from the general resolution never again to drink an inferior toast from the same glass, that my power is not equal to the task of reporting. Besides which, Toad-in-the-hole now became quite ungovernable. He kept firing pistols in every direction; sent his servant for a blunderbuss, and talked of loading with ball-cartridge. We conceived that his former madness had returned at the mention of Burke and Hare; or that, being again weary of life, he had resolved to go off in a general massacre. This we could not think of allowing: it became indispensable, therefore, to kick him out, which we did with universal consent, the whole company lending their toes uno pede, as I may say, though pitying his gray hairs and his angelic smile. During the operation the orchestra poured in their old chorus. The universal company sang, and (what surprised us most of all) Toad-in-the-hole joined us furiously in singing–

  “Et interrogatum est ab omnibus–Ubi est ille Toad-in-the-hole
  Et responsum est ab omnibus–Non est inventus.”


On the Knocking At the Gate  •  Second Paper On Murder  •  Joan of Arc  •  The English Mail-Coach  •  The Vision of Sudden Death  •  Dinner, Real and Reputed

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Miscellaneous essays, by Thomas De Quincey.
By Michigan Historical Reprint Series
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