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   Chapter 2 THREE

The History of the Life of the Late Mr. Jonathan Wild the Great By Henry Fielding Characters: 7788

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


THE BIRTH, PARENTAGE, AND EDUCATION OF MR. JONATHAN WILD THE GREAT.

It is observable that Nature seldom produces any one who is afterwards to act a notable part on the stage of life, but she gives some warning of her intention; and, as the dramatic poet generally prepares the entry of every considerable character with a solemn narrative, or at least a great flourish of drums and trumpets, so doth this our Alma Mater by some shrewd hints pre- admonish us of her intention, giving us warning, as it were, and crying-

-Venienti occurrite morbo.

Thus Astyages, who was the grandfather of Cyrus, dreamt that his daughter was brought to bed of a vine, whose branches overspread all Asia; and Hecuba, while big with Paris, dreamt that she was delivered of a firebrand that set all Troy in flames; so did the mother of our great man, while she was with child of him, dream that she was enjoyed in the night by the gods Mercury and Priapus. This dream puzzled all the learned astrologers of her time, seeming to imply in it a contradiction; Mercury being the god of ingenuity, and Priapus the terror of those who practised it. What made this dream the more wonderful, and perhaps the true cause of its being remembered, was a very extraordinary circumstance, sufficiently denoting something preternatural in it; for though she had never heard even the name of either of these gods, she repeated these very words in the morning, with only a small mistake of the quantity of the latter, which she chose to call Priapus instead of Priapus; and her husband swore that, though he might possibly have named Mercury to her (for he had heard of such an heathen god), he never in his life could anywise have put her in mind of that other deity, with whom he had no acquaintance.

Another remarkable incident was, that during her whole pregnancy she constantly longed for everything she saw; nor could be satisfied with her wish unless she enjoyed it clandestinely; and as nature, by true and accurate observers, is remarked to give us no appetites without furnishing us with the means of gratifying them; so had she at this time a most marvellous glutinous quality attending her fingers, to which, as to birdlime, everything closely adhered that she handled.

To omit other stories, some of which may be perhaps the growth of superstition, we proceed to the birth of our hero, who made his first appearance on this great theatre the very day when the plague first broke out in 1665. Some say his mother was delivered of him in an house of an orbicular or round form in Covent-garden; but of this we are not certain. He was some years afterwards baptized by the famous Mr. Titus Oates.

Nothing very remarkable passed in his years of infancy, save that, as the letters TH are the most difficult of pronunciation, and the last which a child attains to the utterance of, so they were the first that came with any readiness from young master Wild. Nor must we omit the early indications which he gave of the sweetness of his temper; for though he was by no means to be terrified into compliance, yet might he, by a sugar-plum, be brought to your purpose; indeed, to say the truth, he was to be bribed to anything, which made many say he was certainly born to be a great man.

He was scarce settled at school before he gave marks of his lofty and aspiring temper; and was regarded by all his schoolfellows with that deference which men generally pay to those superior geniuses who will exact it of them. If an orchard was to be robbed Wild was consulted, and, though he was himself seldom concerned in the execution of the design, yet was he always concerter of it, and treasurer of the booty, some little part of which he would now and then, with wonderful generosity, bestow on those who took it. He was generally very secret on these occasions; but if any offered to plunder of his own head, w

ithout acquainting master Wild, and making a deposit of the booty, he was sure to have an information against him lodged with the schoolmaster, and to be severely punished for his pains.

He discovered so little attention to school-learning that his master, who was a very wise and worthy man, soon gave over all care and trouble on that account, and, acquainting his parents that their son proceeded extremely well in his studies, he permitted his pupil to follow his own inclinations, perceiving they led him to nobler pursuits than the sciences, which are generally acknowledged to be a very unprofitable study, and indeed greatly to hinder the advancement of men in the world: but though master Wild was not esteemed the readiest at making his exercise, he was universally allowed to be the most dexterous at stealing it of all his schoolfellows, being never detected in such furtive compositions, nor indeed in any other exercitations of his great talents, which all inclined the same way, but once, when he had laid violent hands on a book called Gradus ad Parnassum, i. e. A step towards Parnassus, on which account his master, who was a man of most wonderful wit and sagacity, is said to have told him he wished it might not prove in the event Gradus ad Patibulum, i. e. A step towards the gallows.

But, though he would not give himself the pains requisite to acquire a competent sufficiency in the learned languages, yet did he readily listen with attention to others, especially when they translated the classical authors to him; nor was he in the least backward, at all such times, to express his approbation. He was wonderfully pleased with that passage in the eleventh Iliad where Achilles is said to have bound two sons of Priam upon a mountain, and afterwards to have released them for a sum of money. This was, he said, alone sufficient to refute those who affected a contempt for the wisdom of the ancients, and an undeniable testimony of the great antiquity of priggism.[Footnote: This word, in the cant language, signifies thievery.] He was ravished with the account which Nestor gives in the same book of the rich booty which he bore off (i.e. stole) from the Eleans. He was desirous of having this often repeated to him, and at the end of every repetition he constantly fetched a deep sigh, and said IT WAS A GLORIOUS BOOTY.

When the story of Cacus was read to him out of the eighth Aeneid he generously pitied the unhappy fate of that great man, to whom he thought Hercules much too severe: one of his schoolfellows commending the dexterity of drawing the oxen backward by their tails into his den, he smiled, and with some disdain said, HE COULD HAVE TAUGHT HIM A BETTER WAY.

He was a passionate admirer of heroes, particularly of Alexander the Great, between whom and the late king of Sweden he would frequently draw parallels. He was much delighted with the accounts of the Czar's retreat from the latter, who carried off the inhabitants of great cities to people his own country. THIS, he said, WAS NOT ONCE THOUGHT OF BY Alexander; BUT added, PERHAPS HE DID NOT WANT THEM.

Happy had it been for him if he had confined himself to this sphere; but his chief, if not only blemish, was, that he would sometimes, from an humility in his nature too pernicious to true greatness, condescend to an intimacy with inferior things and persons. Thus the Spanish Rogue was his favourite book, and the Cheats of Scapin his favourite play.

The young gentleman being now at the age of seventeen, his father, from a foolish prejudice to our universities, and out of a false as well as excessive regard to his morals, brought his son to town, where he resided with him till he was of an age to travel. Whilst he was here, all imaginable care was taken of his instruction, his father endeavouring his utmost to inculcate principles of honour and gentility into his son.

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