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The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great By Henry Fielding Characters: 5653

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


GIVING AN ACCOUNT OF AS MANY OF OUR HERO'S ANCESTORS AS CAN BE GATHERED OUT OF THE RUBBISH OF ANTIQUITY, WHICH HATH BEEN CAREFULLY SIFTED FOR THAT PURPOSE.

It is the custom of all biographers, at their entrance into their work, to step a little backwards (as far, indeed, generally as they are able) and to trace up their hero, as the ancients did the river Nile, till an incapacity of proceeding higher puts an end to their search.

What first gave rise to this method is somewhat difficult to determine. Sometimes I have thought that the hero's ancestors have been introduced as foils to himself. Again, I have imagined it might be to obviate a suspicion that such extraordinary personages were not produced in the ordinary course of nature, and may have proceeded from the author's fear that, if we were not told who their fathers were, they might be in danger, like prince Prettyman, of being supposed to have had none. Lastly, and perhaps more truly, I have conjectured that the design of the biographer hath been no more than to shew his great learning and knowledge of antiquity. A design to which the world hath probably owed many notable discoveries, and indeed most of the labours of our antiquarians.

But whatever original this custom had, it is now too well established to be disputed. I shall therefore conform to it in the strictest manner.

Mr. Jonathan Wild, or Wyld, then (for he himself did not always agree in one method of spelling his name), was descended from the great Wolfstan Wild, who came over with Hengist, and distinguished himself very eminently at that famous festival, where the Britons were so treacherously murdered by the Saxons; for when the word was given, i.e. Nemet eour Saxes, take out your swords, this gentleman, being a little hard of hearing, mistook the sound for Nemet her sacs, take out their purses; instead therefore of applying to the throat, he immediately applied to the pocket of his guest, and contented himself with taking all that he had, without attempting his life.

The next ancestor of our hero who was remarkably eminent was Wild, surnamed Langfanger, or Longfinger. He flourished in the reign of Henry III., and was strictly attached to Hubert de Burgh, whose friendship he was recommended to by his great excellence in an art of which Hubert was himself the inventor; he could, without the knowledge of the proprietor, with great ease and dexterity, draw forth a man's purse from any part of his garment where it was deposited, and hence he derived his surname. This gentleman was the first of his family who had the honour to suffer for the good of his country: on whom a wit of that time made the following epitaph:-

O shame o' justice! Wild is hang'd, For thatten he a pocket fang'd, While safe old Hubert, and his gang, Doth pocket o' the natio

n fang.

Langfanger left a son named Edward, whom he had carefully instructed in the art for which he himself was so famous. This Edward had a grandson, who served as a volunteer under the famous Sir John Falstaff, and by his gallant demeanour so recommended himself to his captain, that he would have certainly been promoted by him, had Harry the fifth kept his word with his old companion.

After the death of Edward the family remained in some obscurity down to the reign of Charles the first, when James Wild distinguished himself on both sides the question in the civil wars, passing from one to t'other, as Heaven seemed to declare itself in favour of either party. At the end of the war, James not being rewarded according to his merits, as is usually the case of such impartial persons, he associated himself with a brave man of those times, whose name was Hind, and declared open war with both parties. He was successful in several actions, and spoiled many of the enemy: till at length, being overpowered and taken, he was, contrary to the law of arms, put basely and cowardly to death by a combination between twelve men of the enemy's party, who, after some consultation, unanimously agreed on the said murder.

This Edward took to wife Rebecca, the daughter of the above- mentioned John Hind, esq., by whom he had issue John, Edward, Thomas, and Jonathan, and three daughters, namely, Grace, Charity, and Honour. John followed the fortunes of his father, and, suffering with him, left no issue. Edward was so remarkable for his compassionate temper that he spent his life in soliciting the causes of the distressed captives in Newgate, and is reported to have held a strict friendship with an eminent divine who solicited the spiritual causes of the said captives. He married Editha, daughter and co-heiress of Geoffry Snap, gent., who long enjoyed an office under the high sheriff of London and Middlesex, by which, with great reputation, he acquired a handsome fortune: by her he had no issue. Thomas went very young abroad to one of our American colonies, and hath not been since heard of. As for the daughters, Grace was married to a merchant of Yorkshire who dealt in horses. Charity took to husband an eminent gentleman, whose name I cannot learn, but who was famous for so friendly a disposition that he was bail for above a hundred persons in one year. He had likewise the remarkable humour of walking in Westminster-hall with a straw in his shoe. Honour, the youngest, died unmarried: she lived many years in this town, was a great frequenter of plays, and used to be remarkable for distributing oranges to all who would accept of them.

Jonathan married Elizabeth, daughter of Scragg Hollow, of Hockley- in-the-Hole, esq.; and by her had Jonathan, who is the illustrious subject of these memoirs.

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