AND SO let us beginne; and, as the Fabrick takes its Shape in front of you, alwaies keep the Structure intirely in Mind as you inscribe it. First, you must measure out or cast the Area in as exact a Manner as can be, and then you must draw the Plot and make the Scale. I have imparted to you the Principles of Terrour and Magnificence, for these you must represent in the due placing of Parts and Ornaments as well as in the Proportion of the several Orders: you see, Walter, how I take my Pen? And here, on another Sheet, calculate the positions and influences of the Celestiall Bodies and the Heavenly Orbs, so that you are not at a Loss on which Dayes to begin or to leave off your Labours. The D'esigne of the Worke, together with every several Partition and Opening, is to be drawne by straightedge and compass: as the Worke varies in rising, you must show how its Lines necessarily beare upon one another, like the Web which the Spider spins in a Closet; but, Walter, do this in black lead and not in inke -1 do not trust your Pen so far as yet.
At this Walter Pyne hangs down his Head in a sullen Manner, as if he was like to have been Whipp'd at the Cart's Tail, and I could not refrain my self from bursting out in Laughter. Walter was apt to be of a Morose and Sullen cast of Mind, and so to Cheer him I lean'd forward across the Table and gave him Inke readily-see, says I, what I will risk to keep you Merry? And now you are not so vex'd please continue: draw the erect elevation of this Structure in face or front, then the same object elevated upon the same draught and centre in all its optical Flexures. This you must distinguish from the Profile, which is signifyed by edging Stroaks and Contours without any of the solid finishing: thus a book begins with a frontispiece, then its Dedication, and then its Preface or Advertisement. And now we come to the Heart of our D'esigne: the art of Shaddowes you must know well, Walter, and you must be instructed how to Cast them with due Care. It is only the Darknesse that can give trew Formed to our Work and trew Perspective to our Fabrick, for there is no Light without Darknesse and no Substance without Shaddowe (and I turn this Thought over in my Mind: what Life is there which is not a Portmanteau of Shaddowes and Chimeras?). I build in the Day to bring News of the Night and of Sorrowe, I continued, and then I broke off for Walter's sake: No more of this now, I said, it is by the by. But you'll oblige me, Walter, to draw the Front pritty exact, this being for the Engraver to work from. And work trewe to my Design: that which is to last one thousand years is not to be praecipitated.
I had a violent Head-ach and, altho' there was only a small fire in the Closet, I was feeling unnaturall hot and walk'd out into Scotland-Yard; I knew that others imployed in the Office might stare at me, for I am an Object of Ridicule to them, and so I hasten'd my Steps to the Wood yards next the Wharfe where, since the Work men were at their Dinner, I might walk silent and unseen. This being the middle of Winter, and a strong Wind blown up, the River was pretty high for this spot and the Water was at times like to start a second Deluge while, on the Side opposite, the Feilds were quite darken'd as if in a Mist. And then of a sudden I could hear snatches of Song and confus'd Conversation; I whipp'd about, for in no wise could I ascertain where these Sounds came from, until I comforted my self with the Thought that it was the Wherry from Richmond which even then came into my View. So my Perceptions followed one another, and yet all this while my Thoughts were running on my seven Churches and were thus in quite another Time: like a Voyager I am confin'd in my Cabbin while yet dreaming of my Destination. And then, as I stand looking upon the River and the Feilds, I Blot them out with my Hand and see only the Lines upon my Palm.
I walk'd back to the Office, thinking to find Walter engag'd upon the Generall Plan and Upright, but I saw him lolling upon his Stool by the Chimney-Corner, gazing into the Fire as if he saw Strange Visions in the Coles and looking as melancholly as a Female Wretch does upon a Smith-Feild Pile. I trod softly to the Table and saw there one Draught half-made in inke and black lead. Well this is good for Nothing you impudent Rogue, said I, come here and see. And Walter in confusion rose from the Fire rubbing his Eyes, and would as like have rubb'd out his Face if he could. Look here Master Pyne, I continu'd, I do not like the jetting out of the Pillars after I instructed you to shew Pilasters there: and also here the Portal is near three feet out. Are you so wooden-headed that I must teach you Feet and Inches? Walter thrust his Hands into his Breeches and mutter'd so that I could not hear him.
And are you in such a Brown Study, I told him, that you cannot answer me?
I was sitting on my Stool, says he, and thinking on a Subject.
You will have Stools, Sir, when I beat them from your Arse. Then 1 went on: And in your Thought did you bring off any Conclusions?
I was thinking on Sir Christopher, and I was considering our new Church of Spittle-Fields.
And what does a green-head say of these Matters? (I do not give a Fart for Sir Chris, says I secretly to my self)
Master, says Walter, We have built near a Pitte and there are so vast a Number of Corses that the Pews will allwaies be Rotten and Damp.
This is the first Matter. The second Matter is this: that Sir Chris, thoroughly forbids all Burrials under the Church or even within the Church-yard itself, as advancing the Rottennesse of the Structure and unwholesome and injurious for those who worship there. Then he scratch'd his Face and look'd down at his dusty Shooes.
This is a weak little Thing to take up your contemplations, Walter, I replied. But he gaz'd up at me and would not be brought off, so after a Pause I continu'd: I know Sir Chris, is flat against Burrialls, that he is all for Light and Easinesse and will sink in Dismay if ever Mortality or Darknesse shall touch his Edifices. It is not reasonable, he will say, it is not natural. But, Walter, I have instructed you in many things and principally in this -I am not a slave of Geometricall Beauty, I must build what is most Sollemn and Awefull. Then I changed my Tack: from what Purse are we building these Churches, Walter?
From the Imposicion on Coles.
And are the Coles not the blackest Element, which with their Smoak hide the Sunne?
Certainly they feed the Fires of this City, says he.
And where is the Light and Easinesse there? Since we take our Revenues from the Under-world, what does it Signifie if we also Build upon the Dead?
There was a Noise in the adjoining Chamber (it is two Rooms struck into one, and thus has more of an Eccho), a Noise like to someone's quick Steps and I broke off my Discourse as Sir Chris, walk'd in, accouter'd as the Boys that run with the Gazette -Hat under Arm, and Breathless, and yet despite his Age not so corpulent neither. Walter rose up in a fright and spilt the Inke upon his Draught (which was no great Loss), but Sir Chris, did not perceive anything of this and stepp'd up to me wheezing like an old Goat. Master Dyer, says he, the Commission are expecting your Report on the New Churches: if it be not done already get it done now, since they are in great Hast- -Hast is for Fools, I murmur'd beneath my Breath.
And your Church in the Spittle-Fields, is it near complete?
It needs only the Lead on the Portico.
Well make hast to buy it now, since Lead is under 9L a tun but in a fair way to go up by next month. And then Sir Chris, stood biting his under-lip like an Infant without his Toy or a Wretch at the Foot of the Gallows. And the other Churches, he asks after a Pause, are they well advanc'd?
I have fixed on their Situacon, I replied, and three already are being Laid.
I must have exact Plans of the Buildings as they stand at present, says he, and you must press the Joyner to build severall Moddells The Modells are of my own devising, Sir Christopher.
What you will, Master Dyer, what you will. And he waved at my Draughts with inexpressible Weariness before he departed, leaving the Mustiness of his Wig behind him. When I was young and vigorous, and first in his Service, I composed some verses on Sir Chris.: The Globe's thy Studye; for thy restless Mind In a less limit cannot be confin'd.
Thy Portrait I admire: thy very lookes
Shew Wren is read in Farts as well as Books.
He that shall scan this Face may judge by it, Thou hast an Head peece that is throng'd with Shit.
But this was in another Time. Now I call'd out to Walter who linger'd in the Paymaster's Closet until Sir Chris, be gone. Did I tell you, says I when he returned to me, of the story of Nestor? And Walter shook his Head. Nestor, I continu'd, was the inventor of Mechanick Power, which is now so cryed up, and once he designed an Edifice of Gracefull Form but which was so finely contriv'd that it could bear only its own Weight. And Walter nodded sagely at this. It fell down, Master Pyne, with no other Pressure than the setting of a Wren on top of it. And he lets out a Laugh, which stops as short as it was begun like the Bark of a Dogge.
Walter is of a reserv'd Disposition and speaks little, but this is of no matter since it is a Temper like to my own. And be pleased to take a Scetch of his Figure as follows: He wears an old Coat with odd Buttons and a Pair of Trowsers patched in Leather so that he is all of a pickle.
His awkward Garb and his odd Trim (as they call it in the Office) make him an Object of Humour: Master Dyer's Gentleman, they call him.
But this is a fitting Title since thus can I mould him as the Baker moulds the Dough before he pops it in the Oven: I have turn'd him into a proper Scholar, and steer'd him safe among the Books which lie in his way. I acquainted him with certain Prints of the Aegyptian Obelisks, and advised him to studdy them well and copy them; I instructed him in my own Scriptures -in Aylet Sammes his Britannia Antiqua lllustrata, in Mr Baxter's Book Concerning the Certainty of the World of Spirits, in Mr Cotton Mather his Relations of the Wonders of the Invisible World and many other such, for this is fit Reading for one who wishes to become a thoro' Master. The Length of my necessary Instructions is too great to compleat here but there were four things I taught Walter to consider: 1) That it was Cain who built the first City, 2) That there is a true Science in the World called Scientia Umbrarum which, as to the publick teaching of it, has been suppressed but which the proper Artificer must comprehend, 3) That Architecture aims at Eternity and must contain the Eternal Powers: not only our Altars and Sacrifices, but the Forms of our Temples, must be mysticall, 4) That the miseries of the present Life, arid the Barbarities of Mankind, the fatall disadvantages we are all under and the Hazard we run of being eternally Undone, lead the True Architect not to Harmony or to Rationall Beauty but to quite another Game. Why, do we not believe the very Infants to be the Heirs of Hell and Children of the Devil as soon as they are disclos'd to the World? I declare that I build my Churches firmly on this Dunghil Earth and with a full Conception of Degenerated Nature.
I have only room to add: there is a mad-drunken Catch, Hey ho! The Devil is dead! If that be true, I have been in the wrong Suit all my Life.
But to return to the Thread of this History. Sir Chris, presses hard at our Heels, says I to Walter, and we must make an Account to the Commission: I will dictate it to you now and you must fair-write it later. And I clear my Throat, savoring the Blood in my Mouth. To the Honble. The Commission for Building Seven New Churches in the Cities of London and Westminster. Dated: 13 January 1712, from the Office of Works, Scotland Yard. Sirs, in obedience to your orders, I most humbly submit my Account, having been instructed by Sir Xtofer Wren, Surveyor to Her Majesty's Works, to have such Churches quite in my Charge. The weather being mighty favourable, there has been great forwardness in carrying on the New Church in Spittle-Fields. The masonry of the West End is now intirely com- pleated and the Portico is to be covered with Lead presently. The Plaistering is pretty forward, and withinne a month I shall send instructions for the Gallery and Inside furnishing. The Tower is advancing and has been carried up about Fifteen foot higher since my last account of it. (And my own tumbling Thought upon this Topick goes as follows: I will have one Bell only since too much Ringing disturbs the Spirits.) Of the other Churches it has been given into my Commission to build: the New Church at Limehouse is advanc'd as high as necessary for the season and it will be for the advantage of that Work to stop for the Present. This figure shewes half the outside of the Building -you will inclose it, Walter, will you not? -designed after a plain manner to be performed most with Ashler. I have added thin Pilasters to the walls, which are easily performed in rendering upon Brick-worke. I have given the ancient formed of Roofe which the experience of all Ages hath found the surest, noe other is to be trusted without doubling the thicknesse of the walles. When the Mason has sent me his Draughts, I will give you a carefull estimate of the charge, and returne you again the originall D'esignes, for in the handes of the workemen they will soon be soe defaced that they will not be able from them to pursew the Work to a Conclusion. This for the Church at Limehouse. The foundation of the Wapping New Church is carryed up as high as the Ground and ready to receive such sort of fabrick as I inclose draughts and Plans for. This for the Church at Wapping. We desire the honorable Board will be pleased to direct the covering of these respective Fabricks, and that the Ground therein to be walled in with Brick in order to hinder the Rabble and idle Mobb from getting in and finding ways to do continual Mischief. And then add this, Walter: In obedience to your Orders I have survey'd four other Parrishes mencioned and Sites for Churches; and which said Parrishes and Sites are humbly offered as followeth, viz And here, Walter, make precise the Situacions of St Mary Woolnoth, the New Churches in Blooms bury and Greenwich, and the Church of Little St Hugh in Black Step Lane.
That stinking Alley close by the Moor-Fields?
Write it down as Black Step Lane. And then end thus: All which is most humbly submitted by your most humble Servant to command.
Signed, Nicholas Dyer, Assistant Surveyour at Her Majesty's Office of Works, Scotland Yard.
And when you have made the fair-coppy, Walter, locke up the inke you whimzey-head. I laid my Hand on his Neck then, which made him to Quake and look asquint at me. No Musick-House nor Dancing for you tonight, says I in jest; and added this Thought to my self: no, nor likely to be if you tread in my Footsteps. It was now pritty near eight of the clock, and a Mist so obscured the Moon that the Yard itself was bathed in Red and I felt unquiet while gazing out at it; and in truth I had so many Apprehensions of Mind that they would as like have dragg'd me down to the Earth. But I took my Kersey-coat which hung upon a Pin in the entry, and call'd out to Walter, Be swift with that letter for, as the Preacher says, our Beings in this World are so uncertaine. And he gave his barking Laugh.
I had no sooner walked into Whitehall than I hollad for a Coach; it was of the Antique kind with Tin Sashes not Glass, pinked like the bottom of a Cullender that the Air might pass through the Holes: I placed my Eyes against them to see the Town as I passed within it and it was then broken into Peeces, with a Dog howling here and a Child running there. But the Lights and Ratling were pleasant to me, so that I fancied my self a Tyrant of my own Land. My Churches will indure, I reflected as I was born onward, and what the Coles build the Ashes will not burie. I have liv'd long enough for others, like the Dog in the Wheel, and it is now the Season to begin for myself: I cannot change that Thing call'd Time, but I can alter its Posture and, as Boys do turn a looking-glass against the Sunne, so I will dazzle you all. And thus my Thoughts rattled on like the Coach in which they were carryed, and that Coach was my poor Flesh.
The Crush of the Carriages was so great when we were got up into Fenchurch-Street that I was forc'd to step out at Billiter Lane and mobb it on foot along Leaden-Hall-Street; at last I managed to shoot myself thro' a Vacancy between two Coaches and cross'd the Street that went up into Grace-Church-Street. I walk'd into Lime Street, for I knew my path now and passed thro' many ways and turnings until I was got into Moor-Fields; then just past the Apothecary whose sign is the Ram I found the narrow lane, as dark as a Burying vault, which stank of stale sprats, Piss and Sir-Reverence. And there was the Door with the Mark upon it, and I knocked softly. It was time to even the Account, and then they shall see what fine Things I will do.
For when I trace back the years I have liv'd, gathering them up in my Memory, I see what a chequer'd Work of Nature my Life has been. If I were now to inscribe my own History with its unparalleled Sufferings and surprizing Adventures (as the Booksellers might indite it), I know that the great Part of the World would not believe the Passages there related, by reason of the Strangeness of them, but I cannot help their Unbelief: and if the Reader considers them to be but dark Conceits, then let him bethink himself that Humane life is quite out of the Light and that we are all Creatures of Darknesse.
I came crying into the World in the Year 1654. My Father was a Baker of Sea-Bisket and was born a Citizen of London, his Father being one before him, and my Mother was of honest Parents. I was born in Black-Eagle-Street in the Parish of Stepney, close by Monmouth Street and adjoining Brick Lane, in a wooden house which was tottering to the last degree and would have been pull'd down but for the vast Quantity of wooden dwellings on either side. There are those like me seiz'd with Feaver upon that day when they first came into the World, and I have good reason to Sweat on each fifth day of December for my first Entrance upon the Stage was attended with all the Symptoms of Death, as if I had been sensible of my future Works. My Mother gave me birth (or hatch'd her Egg, as they say), all bloody and Pissburnt in the hour before Dawn: I could see the grey Bars of Light rolling towards me, and I could heare the winde which gives signal of the end of Night. In the corner of the narrow mean Chamber, my Father stood with bow'd head since his Dame seemed about to leave this World presently, having endur'd many painful Hours during my Birth. The sunne rose up before the House: I could see it burning, and the shape of my Father crossing and crossing againe in front of it so that he seemed a meer Shaddowe. Truly this was a vale of Tears I had come upon, and thus was I like Adam who on hearing the voice of God in the Garden wept in a state of Primal Terrour. Had Nature design'd me to take up only some insignificant and obscure Corner of the Universe this would be but a meer prattling Relation but those who see my Work will wish to be acquainted with my first Appearance in the World: it is a matter of Certainty that, by a narrow Observation of the Temper and Constitution of the Child, we will see in very Embrio those Qualities which afterwards make it remarkable in all Eyes.
My Mother recover'd very soon, and raised me as a sprightly Infant who could turn as nimbly as a dry leaf in a whirle-wind; and yet even then I was possess'd by strange Fancies: altho' other Boys would hunt for butter-flyes and bumble-bees, or whip their Tops in the Dust, I was full of Fears and Bugbears. Where now in the Spittle-Fields my Church rises, there would I weep for no Reason I could name. But I pass over my Infantile years in silence, and go on to that Stage where I was put to learn: I attended the charity school in St Catherine's near the Tower, but all the Advance I made under Sarah Wire, John Ducket, Richard Bowly and a whole Catalogue of Teachers was only to know the Rudiments of my Mother Tongue. These were merry Days and yet not so Innocent neither: among my School-fellows I would play a Game like Blind-man-buffe with its You are tyed now and I must turn you about Thrice, and it was known to us Boys that we might call the Devil if we said the Lord's Prayer backwards; but I never did it myself then. There were many other unaccountable Notions among us: that a Kiss stole a minute off our lives, and that we must spit upon a dead Creature and sing Go you back from whence you came And do not choose to ask my Name.
When the Light began to be Dusky after School, some bold Sparks would creep into the Church-yard and, as they said, catch the Shad dowes of dead Men (and these no simple Phantasies to me now). But such Sport was not for me, and in the most part I kept my own Company: my studdyes were of a more solitary kind, and I laid out my little Money for books. One of my School-fellows, Elias Biscow, lent me Doctor faustus which pleased me, especially when he travelled in the Air, seeing all the World, but I was much troubled when the Devil came to fetch him and the consideration of that horrible End did so much to haunt me that I often dreamed of it. All the time I had from School, on Thursdays in the Afternoon and Saturday, I spent in reading on such things: the next I met with was Fryar Bacon, and then I read Montelion, Knight of the Oracle and Ornatus; borrowing the Book of one Person, when I had read it myself I lent it to another who lent me one of their owne so that, altho' sometimes at School I wanted Pens, Inke, Paper and other Necessaries, I never wanted Books.
When I was not at my Reading, I was often walking about. I had a thousand Threadbare topicks to excuse my absence from School, for I had gotten a haunt of Rambling and could not leave it: at first light I would slip on my Breeches over my Nakednesse, wash me and comb me, and then creep out into the Air. My Church now rises above a populous Conjunction of Alleys, Courts and Passages, Places full of poor People, but in those Years before the Fire the Lanes by Spittle- Fields were dirty and unfrequented: that part now called Spittle-Fields Market, or the Flesh-Market, was a Field of Grass with the Cows feeding on it. And there where my Church is, where three roads meet, viz Mermaid Alley, Tabernacle Alley and Balls Alley, was open ground until the Plague turned it into a vast Mound of Corrupcion.
Brick Lane, which is now a long well-paved Street, was a deep dirty Road, frequented by Carts fetching Bricks that way into White- chappel from Brick-kilns in the Fields (and had the Name on that account). Here I rambled as a Boy, and yet also was often walking abroad into that great and monstrous Pile of London: and as I felt the City under my Feet I had a habit of rowling Phrases around my Head, such as Prophesie Now, Devouring Fire, Violent Hands, which I would then inscribe in my Alphabeticall Pocket-Book along with any other odd Fancies of my own. Thus would I wander, but as like as not I would take my self to a little Plot of Ground close by Angell Alley and along the New Key. Here I used to sit against a peece of Ancient Stone and set my Mind thinking on past Ages and on Futurity. There was before me a stone Pedestal on which was fix'd an old rusty Horizontal Dial, with the Gnomon broke short off, and it was with an inexpressible Peacefulnesse that I gazed upon this Instrument of Time: I remember it as well as if it were Yesterday, and not already burned beneath the Weight of Years. (And now I consider: have I been living in a Dreame?) But of this I may speaker again in another Place, and I shall return in the mean time to my History for which I will, like a State Historian, give you the Causes as well as the Matter of Facts. I never had any faculty in telling of a Story, and one such as mine is will be contemned by others as a meer Winter Tale rather than that they should be brought to be afraid of another World and subjected to common Terrours which they despised before; for thus, to cut short a long Preamble, I have come to the most grievous story of the Plague.
I am perswaded that most Wretches let the World go wag: all is well, Jack has Joan, the Man has his Mare again, as they say, and they walk as it were above the Precipeece with no Conception of the vast Gulph and frightful Abyss of Darknesse beneath them; but it is quite another Case with me. The Mind in Infancy, like the Body in Embrio, receives impressions that cannot be removed and it was as a meer Boy that I was placed in the Extremity of the Human State: even now, a Crowd of Thoughts whirl thro' the Thorowfare of my Memory for it was in that fateful year of the Plague that the mildewed Curtain of the World was pulled aside, as if it were before a Painting, and I saw the true Face of the Great and Dreadfull God.
It was in my Eleventh year that my Mother attracted the noisome Distemper; first she had small knobs of flesh as broad as a little silver Peny, which were the Tokens of the Contagion, and secondly the Swellings upon her Body. The Chirugeon came to observe the Marks of the Sicknesse, and then stood slightly apart; Well what must I do, what will be the End of this? entreats my Father of him, and the Chirugeon pressed mightily to have her remov'd to the Pest-House adjoining the Moor-Fields, for as he said the Symptoms admitted of no Hope. But my Father would in no wise be perswaded: Tye her to the Bed then, says the Chirugeon and he gave my Father some bottles filled with Cordial Waters and with Elixir of Minerals; You are all in the same Ship, says he, and must Sink or Swim together. My Mother then called out to me Nick! Nick! but my Father would not let me go to her; soon she stank mightily and was delirious in her sick Dress. And indeed she became an Object of Loathing to me in her fallen state: there was no help for it but to Dye in her case, and I cared not how soon that might be. My Father wished me to flee into the Fields before the House was shut and marked, but my resolution was not for going: where should I go to, and how could I shift for my self in this fearful World? My Father was yet alive, and I might remain safe from the Contagion: considering these matters, even as the Thing stank on her Bed, I was of a sudden possess'd of an extream chearfulness of Spirits so that I might have sung a catch around my Mother's carcasse (you see what a Life mine was to be).
As I did not want my Liberty yet, but it might be for the future, I hid my self when the House was shut up by a Constable and Lord Have Mercy On Us set close over the Cross. A Watchman was plac'd by the Door and, tho' so many Houses in Black-Eagle-Street had been Visited that he would scarce have known who dwelled in them, I had no Desire to be seen, in case it became urgent to me to make my Escape.
Then my own Father began to sweat mightily, and a strange smell came off him in the way Flesh smells when put upon the Fire; he laid himself down upon the Floor of the Chamber where his Dame was but, tho' he called out to me, I would not go to him. From the Doorway I stared full in his Face and he stared back at me, and for an Instant our Thoughts revolved around each other: you are undone, says I, and with my Pulse beating high I left him.
I gather'd some Provisions of Beer, Bread and Cheese and, to avoid my Father's sight, I took my self to a little confin'd Closet above the Chamber where they both now lay in their Extremity: it was like to a Garret, with a window all cobwebbed over, and here I waited until they went to their Long Home. Now in the glass of Recollection I can see every thing: the shaddowes moving across the Window and across my Face; the clock telling the Hour until it fell silent like the World itself; the Noises of my Father beneath me; the little Murmurings in the House adjoining. I sweated a little but had no Tokens of the Sicknesse and, like a man in a Dungeon, I had visions of many spacious Waies, cool Fountains, shady Walks, refreshing Gardens and places of Recreation; but then my Thoughts would switch suddenly and I would be affrighted by Figures of Death who seemed to come in my own Shape and cast fearful Looks around them; then I awoke and all was quiet. No more moans now, thought I, they are dead and cold: then of a sudden my Fears ebbed away and I felt at Peace; like the Cat in the Fable, I smil'd and smil'd.
The House was now so silent that the Watch, calling and hearing no Noise withinne, summon'd the Dead-Cart and at the sound of his Voice I started up from my Reveries. There was a Hazard in being found with the Dead, and then (as it were) Imprison'd, and so I looked about me for a means of Escape. Although I was three storeys High, there were great Sheds before the Window (this was in back of the House, adjoining Monmouth Street) and as quick as Lightning I let my self down by means of them to the Ground: I had taken no Thought for Provisions, and had not even Straw to lie upon. Now I stood in the Dirt and Silence, and there were no Lights save those which had been placed by the Corses for the Dead-Carts. And there too as I turned up Black-Eagle-Street, I saw by the flickering Lanthorn my own Parents lying where the Watch had placed them, their Faces all shiny and begrimed: I was as like to have cried out in Fright until I recalled to myself that I was alive and these dead Things could in no manner harm me; and, making myself pritty invisible (for indeed there was little to be seen on so Dark a Night), I waited for the Cart to do its dismal Traffick.
The two Creatures were placed onto a bundle of Carcasses, all ragged and swollen like a Nest of Wormes, and the Bell-Man and two Linkes took the Cart down Black-Eagle-Street, past Corbets Court and through Brownes Lane: I follow'd close on their Heels, and could hear them making merry with their Lord Have Mercy On Us, No Man Will and their Wo To Thee My Honeys; they were Drunken to the highest degree, and were like to have Pitched the Corses into the Doorways so wayward was their track. But then they came out into the Spittle- Fields and, as I was running besides them now in my Wonder or Delirium (I know not what), of a sudden I saw a vast Pitte almost at my very Feet; I stopp'd short, star'd withinne it, and then as I totter'd upon the Brink had a sudden Desire to cast myself down. But at this moment the Cart came to the edge of the Pitte, it was turned round with much Merriment, and the Bodies were discharg'd into the Darknesse. I cou'd not Weep then but I can Build now, and in that place of Memory will I fashion a Labyrinth where the Dead can once more give Voice.
All that Night I wandred in the open Fields, sometimes giving vent to my Passions in loud singing and sometimes sunk into the most frightful Reflections: for in what a Box was I? I was at a great loss what to do, since I had been turned adrift to the wide World. I had not aim'd to return to my own House and indeed it proved impossible to do so: I soon discover'd that it had been pull'd down with several others by it, so noxious was the Air withinne; thus I was forc'd to go Abroad, and take up my old Rambling Humour once more. But I was now more cautious than of old: it was said (and I recall my Parents saying) that before the Pestilence there were seen publickly Daemons in Humane shape, which struck those they met, and those struck were presently seiz'd with the Disease; even those who saw such Apparitions (call'd Hollow Men) grew much alter'd. This was the Common report, at any rate: I believe now those Hollow Men to be a Recreation of all the Exhalations and Vapours of humane Blood that rose from the City like a general Groan. And it is not to be Wonder'd at that the Streets were mighty Desolate; there were in every place Bodies on the ground, from which came such a Scent that I ran to catch the Wind in my Nostrils, and even those who liv'd were so many walking Corses breathing Death and looking upon one another fearfully. And still alive? or And not dead yet? were their constant Enquiries of one another, tho' there were some who walked in such a Stupor that they cared not where they were going, and others who made Monkey noises into the Air. There were Children, also, whose Plaints could move even the Dying to Pity and their Verse echoes still in the Recesses and Corners of the Town: Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush!
We are all tumbled down.
Thus was I taught by many Signes that Humane life was of no certain course: we are governed by One who like a Boy wags his Finger in the inmost part of the Spider's web and breaks it down without a Thought.
It would tire the Reader should I dwell on my various Adventures as a Street-Boy, wherefore at present I shall say no more of them. I return in the mean time to my Reflections arising from these Incidents, and to my Considerations on the weaknesse and folly of Humane life. After the Plague abated, the Mobb were happy againe with their Masquerades, Rush-burying, Morrice-dances, Whitson-ales, Fortune telling, Legerdemain, Lotteries, Midnight-revels and lewd Ballads; but I was of a different Mould. I had looked about me and penetrated what had occurred, not let it pass like a sick man's Dreame or a Scene without a Plot. I saw that the intire World was one vast Bill of Mortality, and that Daemons might walk through the Streets even as Men (on point of Death, many of them) debauch themselves: I saw the Flies on this Dunghil Earth, and then considered who their Lord might be.
But now the Work of Time unravells and the Night has gone and I am returned to the Office where Walter Pyne is standing at the Side of me, tapping his Shooe upon the Floor. How long have I sat here in my Trance of Memory?
I have been thinking on the Dead, said I in haste, and at that Walter turned his Face from me and seemingly searched after his Rule; he does not like to hear me talk of such Matters, and so when he sat himself down I switched my Theme: It is as dusty here as the top of a Slut's cupboard, I cried, look at my Finger!
It cannot be helped, says he, for when the Dust is cleared away it returns again directly.
I was disposed to be Merry with him now: Is Dust immortal then, I ask'd him, so that we may see it blowing through the Centuries? But as Walter gave no Answer I jested with him further to break his Melancholy humour: What is Dust, Master Pyne?
And he reflected a little: It is particles of Matter, no doubt.
Then we are all Dust indeed, are we not?
And in a feigned Voice he murmured, For Dust thou art and shalt to Dust return. Then he made a Sour face, but only to laugh the more.
I went up to him and placed my Hands upon his Shoulders, which made him tremble a little. Hold still, I said, I have good News.
What News is this?
I now agree with you, 7 replied. I will place the Sepulture a little way off from the Spittle-Fields Church. And for your sake, Walter, not on the advice of Sir Chris, but for your Sake only. And I have a Secret to impart to you (at this he inclin'd his head): we will build it for the most part under the Ground.
I have Dream'd of this, said he. He spoke no more and kept his Back to me as he went about his Labours, tho' pritty soon I heard his low Whistle as he bent over his Sheets.
We must make Haste, I call'a taking Pen and Inke, for the Church must be compleat withinne the Year.
And the yeares turn so fast, adds Walter, and now he is vanish'd and I am gone back to the time of the Distemper when I went abroad among so many walking Carcasses sweating Poison. At first I seemed to be toss'd up and down by spightful Accidents of Fortune, and made the May-game of Chance, until one night I found the Thread in my Labyrinth of Difficulties. It was the last week of July, about Nine in the Night, and I was walking by the Hatters-shop near the Three Tun Tavern in Redcross-street. It was a Moonshiny night but the Moon, being got behind the Houses, shined only a slant and sent a little stream of light out of one of the small Lanes quite cross the Street. I paus'd to give a Glance to this Light when out of the Lane walked a tall and pritty lean Man dressed in a Velvet jacket, a Band and a black Cloack; with him stepped out two Women with white Linnen Handkerchiefs wrapped around the lower part of their Faces (so to protect their Nostrils from the Scents of the Plague). The Man had a swift pace, and his Companions troubled themselves to keep up to him, and then to my unutterable Astonishment he pointed at me (in my tattered Coat and ragged Shooes): There is the Hand as plain as can be, says he, do you see it plainly above his Head? He was elevated to a strange Degree and call'd over to me, Boy! Boy! Come here to me!
Come here to me! And then one of the women with him said, Do not go near him, for how do you know but he may have the Plague? To which he answered: Do not be afraid of him. And at that I came close to them.
What art thou? says he.
I am a poor Boy,
Why, have you no Sir-name?
And then strangely I bethought my self of my Schoolboy reading: Faustus, says I.
I dare say, he replies, that the Devil cannot catch you; and at that the two Women laugh'd heartily. Then he gave me a Coin: there is Sixpence for you, he says, if you will come with us. For consider these times, little Faustus, it is a great deal of Money and we mean you no Hurt.
I hugged it as close as a School-boy does a Birds-nest, but I was not easily to be perswaded: might these not be reeking Apparitions, the Spirits of the Pestilence, or might they not be Carriers of the Contagion?
But then the words of the Woman came back into my Head -Do not go near him -and I surmised that these were Humane and incorrupted Creatures. I will go with you, says I, for the space of a little way if you will give me good Reason. And I perceived there was an Alteration in the Man's Countenance as he said, I will save you from Ruin, little Faustus, if you come with me and that will be a Surety.
And so I began to walk with them, and we were got quite up into Fenchurch-street when the Wind blew mightily so that the Tiles of the very Roofs fell down upon the Ground. The Ways were now so dark that I was as bewilder'd as a Pilgrim in the Desart, but at last we came by a narrow Lane (which is to say, Black Step Lane): here I was led thro' a long obscure Entry where I groped my way like a Subterranean Labourer in the Caverns of a Cole-pit; there was no Link nor Watchman's lanthorn but my Companions moved on at a swift Pace until the Man came to a little wooden door where he knocked thrice and whisper'd Mirabilis (which was, as I learn'd, his proper Name). On entering this Dwelling I looked about me and saw that it was a mean paper Building, the walls old and ruinous, the Rooms miserable and straite with but dim burning Candles in them. Here were Men and Women, not less than Thirty in Number; and not the meanest sort of people neither but, as we say, in the middling degree of Life. They look'd on me strangely at first but Mirabilis led me by the Hand saying, He had the Sign over his Head, He is the Corn thrashed out of the Chaff, and such like Phrases. I was now in a state of great Perplexity but, seeing that this Assembly smiled mightily upon me and embraced me, I became somewhat easier in my Thoughts. Mirabilis set me down upon a little Stool, then brought me a wooden Dish with a grey liquor in it and bid me drink it off as a Cordial; I swallow'd it without examination and then fell into an extream Sweat so that my Heart beat high. Mirabilis then ask'd me who I desired to see. I said I wanted to see no one so much as my Mother before she Stank (my confus'd Words showing that the Liquor was working withinne me).
Then he took up a Looking-glass that was in the Room, and setting it down again bid me look in it -which I did, and there saw the exact Image of my Mother in that Habit which she used to wear, and working at her Needle. This was an Astonishment indeed and my Hair would have lifted off my Hat, if it had been on.
I put down the Glass and my very Thoughts seemed suspended: I had no Power to turn my Gaze but to the Face of Mirabilis who was now speaking to the Assembly and discoursing of Flames, Ruines, Desolations, the rain like a hotte Winde, the Sun as red as Blood, the very dead burnt in their Graves (thus did he Prophesie the Burning of the City). This Company was not like the Meeters with their Yea, I do say and their Let me entreat and their Hear ye this but, as it seemed to me in my befuddled State, they laugh'd and jested with one another. Then they anointed their Foreheads and Hand-wrists with I know not what and seem'd about to Depart. I rose up to go but Mirabilis laid his Hand upon my Arm: Do you sit still, says he, and I'll come to you again. At which I was a little frightened to be left alone, and he perceived it: Don't be afraid, little Faustus, he continues, there shall Nothing hurt you nor speak to you and, if you hear any Noise, don't you stir but sit still here. So he took up one of the Candles and they went into another Room by a little Door like a Closet-Door, and when he shut the Door after him I perceiv'd a little Window of one broad Square of Glass only that looked into the Room which they were gone into. I wanted to peep but I durst not stir for my Life and then, fatigued and exhausted by the surprizing Turns of this Night, I fell into a sound Sleep; before I did so, I seemed to hear screeching, much like that of a Catte.
And thus began my strange Destiny. I rested with Mirabilis seven dayes, and if any Reader should inquire why I did so I will answer: Firstly, I was a meer poor Boy and had seen my Mother in his Glass; Secondly, the teachings of Mirabilis are trew ones, as I shall explain further hereafter; Thirdly, the most wonderful thing in the Plague Year was that his intire Assembly had been preserv'd from Contagion by his Practises and his Prophesyings; Fourth, I was curious about all these Matters and Hunger and Thirst are not Appetites more vehement or more hard. Now what I know I would be glad to unknow again, but my Memory will not let me be untaught.
I shall Particularize now -like a Drunken Man, there were Occasions when Mirabilis reeled and danced about several times in a Circle, fell at last in an Extasy upon the Ground and lay for a short time as one Dead; meanwhile the Assembly took great Care that no Gnat, Fly or other Animal touch him; then he started up on a Sudden and related to them things concerning their trew Situation. Sometimes he fell upon the Ground and was whispering there unintelligibly to some thing that was neither seen nor heard. And then he would turn and say, Give me some Drink, quickly any thing to drink. On several Occasions he turned with his Face towards the wall intensely and greedily poring thereon, and beckning thereunto, as if he converst with some thing: he so sweated thro' his Cloaths that it stood like a Dew upon them, and then when he arose from his Extasie he desir'd a Pipe of Tobacco. And in the hour before Dusk he whisper'd to me that those whom he chose (as I had been chosen) must be washed and consecrated by the Sacrifice, and that in our Eucharist the Bread must be mingled with the Blood of an Infant. But these things are not to be committed to Paper, but to be delivered by Word of Mouth, which I may do when at last I see you, I shall say only at this point that I, the Builder of Churches, am no Puritan nor Caveller, nor Reformed, nor Catholick, nor Jew, but of that older Faith which sets them dancing in Black Step Lane. And this is the Creed which Mirabilis school'd in me: He who made the World is also author of Death, nor can we but by doing Evil avoid the rage of evil Spirits. Out of the imperfections of this Creator are procreated divers Evils: as Darknesse from his Feare, shaddowes from his Ignorance, and out of his Teares come forth the Waters of this World. Adam after his Fall was never restor'd to Mercy, and all men are Damned. Sin is a Substance and not a Quality, and it is communicated from parents to children: men's Souls are corporeal and have their being by Propagation or Traduction, and Life itself is an inveterate Mortal Contagion.
We baptize in the name of the Father unknown, for he is truly an unknown God; Christ was the Serpent who deceiv'd Eve, and in the form of a Serpent entered the Virgin's womb; he feigned to die and rise again, but it was the Devil who truly was crucified. We further teach that the Virgin Mary, after Christ's birth, did marry once and that Cain was the Author of much goodnesse to Mankind. With the Stoicks we believe that we sin necessarily or co-actively, and with Astrologers that all Humane events depend upon the Starres. And thus we pray: What is Sorrow? The Nourishment of the World. What is Man? An unchangeable Evil. What is the Body? The Web of Ignorance, the foundation of all Mischief, the bond of Corrupcion, the dark Coverture, the living Death, the Sepulture carried about with us. What is Time? The Deliverance of Man. These are the ancient Teachings and I will not Trouble my self with a multiplicity of Commentators upon this place, since it is now in my Churches that I will bring them once more into the Memory of this and future Ages. For when I became acquainted with Mirabilis and his Assembly I was uncovering the trew Musick of Time which, like the rowling of a Drum, can be heard from far off by those whose Ears are prickt.
But to go forward a little: that Sathan is the God of this World and fit to be worshipp'd I will offer certaine proof and, first, the Soveraignty of his Worship. The inhabitants of Hispaniola worship goblins, they of Calcutta worship the statues of the Devil, Moloch was the god of the Ammonites, the Carthaginians worshipped their Deity under the name of Saturn and it is the Straw Man of our Druides. The chief God of the Syrians was Baal-Zebub or Beel-Zebub, the Lord of Flies: his other Name is Baal-Phegor, the Gaping or Naked Lord, and his Temple is call'd the Beth-Peor. He is call'd Baal Saman among the Phoenicians, by which is meant the Sunne. Among the Assyrians he is call'd Adrammalech, and also he is called Jesus, the brother of Judas. Even on these British islands Baal Saman was worshipp'd after the manner of the Phoenicians, and this Tradition was carryed on by the Druides who committed no Thing to writing but their way of delivering the Mistery was by the secret Cabbala. They sacrificed Boys since it was their Opinion that Humane life, either in desperate sicknesse or in danger of Warre, could not be secured unless a vyrgyn Boy suffered in stead. And this further: demon from daimon, which is us'd promiscuously with theos as the word for Deity; the Persians call the Devill Div, somewhat close to Divus or Deus; also, ex sacramentiis expounded in Tertullian as exacramentum or excrement. And thus we have a Verse: Pluto, Jehova, Satan, Dagon, Love, Moloch, the Virgin, Thetis, Devil, Jove, Pan, Jahweh, Vulcan, he with th'awfull Rod, Jesus, the wondrous Straw Man, all one God.
Walter looks up and sales, Did you hear a person singing?
I hear no Thing but your own Noises, Walter, which are no Musick.
But there was something, said he after a Pause, tho' no doubt it was a workman.
Work on yourself, I replied, and use your Ears not so much as your Eyes: our Time is being all broken into Fragments with your Whimsies.
And at this he goes a little Red.
Now I hear him scratching a Coppy of my Draught, and as I leave the Sphere of Memory I hear the Noises of the World in which I am like to Drown: a Door creaks upon its Hinge, a Crow calls, a Voice is raised and I am no thing againe, for it is a hard Toil to withstand those other sounds of Time which rise and fall like the Beating of a Heart and bear us onward to our Grave.
But let us drop this Matter and look into the Beginning and far End of Things: these Druides held their yearly Sessions in London, close by the Place now call'd Black Step Lane, and their own sacred Misteries were passed on to certain of the Christians. Joseph of Arimathea, a Magician who had embalmed the Body of their Christ, was sent into Britain and was much honoured by the Druides; he it was who founded the first Church of the Christians in Glastonbury where St Patrick, the first Abbot, was entomb'd beneath a stone Pyramidde: for these Christians got a Footing so soon in Britain because of the Power of the Druids who were so eminent and because of the History of Magick. Thus under where the Cathedral Church of Bath now stands there was a Temple erected to Moloch, or the Straw Man; Astarte's Temple stood where Paul's is now, and the Britains held it in great Veneration; and where the Abbey of Westminster now stands there was erected the Temple of Anubis. And in time my own Churches will rise to join them, and Darknesse will call out for more Darknesse. In this Rationall and mechanicall Age there are those who call Daemons mere Bugs or Chimeras and if such People will believe in Mr Hobbes, the Greshamites and other such gee-gaws, who can help it? They must not be contradicted, and they are resolved not to be perswaded; I address myself to Mysteries infinitely more Sacred and, in Confederacy with the Guardian Spirits of the Earth, I place Stone upon Stone in Spittle-Fields, in Limehouse and in Wapping.
So I must take every Part in order: I had it in my Thought to give you this Preface to my Church in Spittle-Fields, for it is a long way which has no Destination, and in this instance it leads us to the Sepulture or Labyrinth which I will build beside that sovereign Church. I have by me the Relation of Kott's Hole (or House under Ground, as it is call'd), newly discovered in a peece of Ground within Two Miles of Cirencester commonly known by the Name of Col ton's Field. Two Labourers were digging a Gravell-pit at the foot of a Hill (which they had now sunk four yards deep) when they observ'd the Ground on that side next the Hill to be loose, and presently discovered an Entrance into the Belly of the Hill, which appearing very strange to them, and rather the work of Art than Nature, they got a Lanthorn and ventured in. There they entred a most dreadfull Passage, not above a yard in breadth and foure feet in height, and as Hot as a Stove. It had a Grave-like Smell and was half-full of Rubbidge; there were also here Tablets upon the Wall, which they no sooner touch'd to feel their Substance but they crumbled into Dust: from thence they saw a Passage into a square Room, which when they entered they saw athwart the Roome, at the upper end, the Sceleton of a Boy or small Man; in terrour the Labourers hastily quitted this dark Apartment, which they had no sooner done and reached the upper Air when the Hill sunk down again.
And it came into my Mind on reading this Account that this was the Site of the Mysteries, as Mirabilis had once related them to me: here the Boy who is to be Sacrificed is confin'd to the Chamber beneath the Earth and a large Stone rolled across its Face; here he sits in Darknesse for seven dayes and seven nights, by which time he is presum'd to have been led past the Gates of Death, and then on the eighth Day his Corse is led out of the Cave with much rejoycing: that Chamber is known itself as a Holy Place, which is inshrined to the Lord of Death.
Thus when I spoke to Walter of our new Sepulture, or Enclosure, my Thoughts were burryed far beneath: my own House under Ground will be dark indeed, and a true Labyrinth for those who may be placed there. It will not be so empty as Kott's Hole neither: there are no Grave-stones nor Vaults there but it is beside the Pitte, now quite overlaid and forgotten, where my Parents had been discharg'd and so many Hundred (I should say Thousand) Corses also. It is a vast Mound of Death and Nastinesse, and my Church will take great Profit from it: this Mirabilis once describ'd to me, viz a Corn when it dies and rots in the Ground, it springs again and lives, so, said he, when there are many Persons dead, only being buryed and laid in the Earth, there is an Assembling of Powers. If I put my Ear to the Ground I hear them lie promiscuously one with another, and their small Voices echo in my Church: they are my Pillars and my Foundation.
Walter, I cried, leave off your Dozing and take up your Penne; Time is pressing upon us, and so write to the Commission thus. Sirs, I beg leave to acquaint the Board that the Church Yard of Spittle-Fields as originally drawn on the Survey will be so very small that Burrials will grow extreamly inconvenient. It were necessary for me to take up the Legg of the Steeple, and the Foote of the Collumns in the Body of the Church, to make more Roome but that I have design'd a Sepulture remov'd from the Fabrick of the Church (as Sir Xtofer himself desires).
I have us'd the manner of building the Sepulture as it was in the Fourth Century, in the purest time of Christianity, as you may see from the Draught inclosed. And then upon the Ground I have form'd a white Pyramidde, in the manner of the Glastonbury Church but littel and framed of rough stone without the Lime, this also in the manner of the Early Christians. All which is humbly submitted and, Walter, write it quick while the Heat is upon us.
Thus do I veil my Intention with Cant, like a cozening Rogue, and use this temporary Scaffold of Words to counterfeit my Purpose. As for the Chamber it self: it will be sollid only in those parts that beare weight, and will be so contrived within-side to form a very intricate Labyrinth. I have placed Cavities in the thicknesse of the Walls where I will put these Signes -Nergal, that is Light of the Grave, Ashima, that is Fault, Nibhas, that is Vision, and Tartak, that is Chained. These true Beliefs and Mysteries are not be inscribed in easy Figures since the Mobb, being in Ignorance, will teare them down in their Feare. But if Violence does not happen, and it remaines hurried from vulgar Eyes, this Labyrinth will endure 1000 yeares.
And now hear, as my Work rose from the Burriall Ground, how the Dead do call out to the Living: it is the Custom in our Nation to have the Mason's son lay the heighest and last stone on the top of the Tower its Lanthorn. This Boy, Thomas, the son of Mr Hill, was a sprightly Spark in his tenth or eleventh year and perfectly well made: his Face was fair and varnished over by a blooming, and the Hair of his Head was thick and reclin'd far below his Shoulders. He was in great good Humour on the Morning of his Ascent and saw it as a merry Enter prize, climbing out upon the wooden Scaffold and nimbly advancing his Steps to the Tower. The Labourers and the Mason, his Father, look'd up at him and call'd out How do you Tom? and One step further! and such like Observations, while I stood silent by my small Pyram mide just lately made. But there was a sudden Gust of Wind and the Boy, now close to the Lanthorn, seemed to lose Heart as the Clowds scudded above his Head. He gazed steadily at me for an Instant and I cryed, Go on! Go on!; and at this Moment, just as he was coming up to the spiry Turret, the timbers of the Scaffold, being insecurely plac'd or rotten, cracked asunder and the Boy missed his Footing and fell from the Tower. He did not cry out but his Face seem'd to carry an Expression of Surprize: Curved lines are more beautiful than Straight, I thought to my self, as he fell away from the main Fabrick and was like to have dropped ripe at my own Feet.
The Mason his Father calling for Help rushed in the direction of the Pyramidde, where now Thomas lay, and the-Work men followed amaz'd. But he had expir'd at once. There was a contusion in his Head which I could not forebear from Noticing as I bent over the Body: the Blood ran out of his Mouth as out of a Bowl, and carne pouring upon the Ground. All those around stood stiff like a Figure, motionless and speechless, and I could hardly refrain from smiling at the Sight; but I hid my self with a woeful Countenance and advanc'd up to the Father who was ready to sink down with Grief (indeed the Death of his Son work'd hard upon his Bowels, and dragg'd him by degrees after him to the Grave). A littel Crowd of People was looking on with their What is the Matter? and Is he quite dead? and Poor creature, but I waved them away. Then I held fast to Mr Hill, and stayed silent to help Compose him: He has fled out of his Prison, said I at last, but he looked on me strangely and I stopp'd my self. The Mason was now quite stupid with Sorrow; he was alwaies a sullen and dogged Fellow but in his Grief he sett upon God and Heaven at a very foull rate, which pleased me mightily. I kept my Silence but this Reflection was rowling about my Mind as I gazed at the little Corse: He is pretty in Death because he did not feare it. Then the Father made to unbuckle his son's shooes, for I know not what Purpose, but I led him away and spoke to him gently.
At any rate, I said, give him leave to be buried where he fell and according to Custom: to which in his Agony he assented. Then he began to spew soundly.
And so all this was given to my Purpose: there is a certain ridiculous Maxim that The Church loves not Blood but this is nothing to the Case for the Eucharist must be mingled with Blood. Thus had I found the Sacrifice desir'd in the Spittle-Fields, and not at my own Hands: I had killed two Birds, as they say, and as I coached it from White-chappell I rejoyced exceedingly. I am in the Pitte, but I have gone so deep that I can see the brightness of the Starres at Noon.
AT NOON they were approaching the church in Spitalfields.
Their guide had stopped in front of its steps and was calling out, 'Come on! Come on!'. Then she turned to face them, her left eyelid fluttering nervously as she spoke: 'You have to use your imagination on a building like this. Do you see the decay? It should be lovely and clean, like the top.' She pointed vaguely at the steeple, before bending down to brush some dirt or dust off the edge of her white raincoat. 'What was that falling there?', one of the group asked, shielding his eyes with his right hand so that he might look more clearly at the sky around the church tower, but his voice was lost in the traffic noise which had only momentarily subsided: the roar of the lorries as they were driven out of the market in front of the church, and the sound of the drills blasting into the surface of the Commercial Road a little further off, shook the whole area so that it seemed to quiver beneath their feet.
The guide rubbed her fingers with a paper handkerchief before beckoning the group onwards; they hurried from the vicinity of the noise into the apparent chaos of streets and alleys beside the church, hardly noticing the people who stared at them incuriously. Then they stumbled into each other on the narrow pavement as their guide came suddenly to a halt and, in the relative quiet of this place, adopted a more intimate tone: 'Are there any Germans here?' and she went on without pausing for a reply, 'It was the great German poet, Heine, who said that London defies the imagination and breaks the heart'.
She looked down at her notes, and a murmur of voices could be heard from the houses closest to them. 'And yet there are other poets who have said of London that it contains something grand and everlasting.'
She glanced at her watch, and now the group could hear the other sounds of the street: the murmured voices were mixed with words from radio or television, and at the same time various kinds of music seemed to fill the street before ascending into the air above the roofs and chimneys. One song, in particular, could be heard coming from several shops and homes: it soared above the others before it, too, disappeared over the city.
'If we take our stand here and look south, ' -and she turned her back on them -'we will see where the Great Plague spread.' Some children nearby were calling out to each other, so she raised her voice. 'It's difficult to imagine, I suppose, but the disease carried off more than 7000 people in this neighbourhood alone, as well as 116 sextons and gravediggers.' She had remembered her lines, and knew that it was at this point they would laugh. 'And down there,' she continued, cutting them off, 'were the first houses.' They peered in the direction to which she was pointing and at first could see only the outline of a large office building, the cloudy surface of its mirror-glass reflecting the tower of Spitalfields church. The road was wet from a recent shower of rain and it reflected the light which at midday radiated from the neon shop-signs and from the interiors of offices and homes. The buildings themselves were variously coloured -in grey, light blue, orange and dark green -and there were slogans or drawings daubed upon some of them.
She could hear a train in the distance. 'And where we are standing now would have been open fields, where the dead and the dying came.' And as they looked at the site of the plague fields, they saw only the images on the advertising hoardings which surrounded them: a modern city photographed at night with the words HAVE ANOTHER BEFORE YOU GO glowing in the dark sky above it, an historical scene in washed-out sepia so that it resembled an illustration from an old volume of prints, and the enlarged face of a man smiling (although the building opposite this poster cast a deep shadow, which cut off the right side of the face). 'It has always been a very poor district,' she was saying when a group of four children, whose cries and whistles had already been heard, marched between them. They ignored the strangers and, looking straight ahead, chanted: What are you looking for in the hole?
What will you do with the stone?
Sharpen a knife!
What will you do with the knife?
Cut off your head!
They marched on and then turned round to stare as the guide took her party forward, her enthusiasm now diminished as she tried to recall more facts about this neighbourhood: and if I can't remember any, she thought, I'll just have to invent them.
And the streets around the Spitalfields church were soon filled with the children who had come tumbling and laughing out of school, shouting out nonsense words to each other until a general cry of 'Join in the ring! Join in the ring!' was taken up. And the question became 'Who's it?' until the answer was given, 'You're it!' and a small boy was pushed into the centre of the ring, an old sock wound around his eyes, and he was spun three times on the spot. He kept very still and counted under his breath as the children danced around him and called out, 'Dead man arise! Dead man arise!'. Then quickly and unexpectedly he lunged forward with his arms held out in front of him, and the others ran away screaming with excitement and fear.
Some of those in flight ran towards the church, but none of them would have dared to enter its grounds.
Where now the boy, Thomas, half-crouched behind the small pyramid which had been erected at the same time as the church itself, was watching them. The late afternoon sun threw his shadow upon the rough discoloured stone, as he traced its hollows and striations with his finger -afraid to look directly at the children, and yet not wanting to miss any of their movements. Thomas could feel the pyramid quiver as the lorries turned roaring into the Commercial Road, sending clouds of dust into the air as they did so: he had once noticed with astonishment how above an open fire the air itself quivered, and now he always associated that movement with heat.
The pyramid was too hot, even if he himself could not feel it. He jumped back from it and started to run towards the church; and, as he approached its stone wall, the noises of the external world were diminished as if they were being muffled by the fabric of the building itself.
The church changed its shape as he came closer to it. From a distance it was still the grand edifice which rose up among the congerie of roads and alleys around Brick Lane and the Market; it was the massive bulk which seemed to block off the ends of certain streets; it was the tower and spire which could be seen for more than two miles, and those who noticed it would point and say to their companions, There is Spitalfields, and Whitechapel beside it!' But as Thomas approached it now it ceased to be one large building and became a number of separate places -some warm, some cold or damp, and some in perpetual shadow. He knew every aspect of its exterior, each decaying buttress and each mossy corner, since it was here that on most days he came to sit.
There were times when Thomas would climb the fifteen steps and walk into the church itself. He would kneel in front of a small side-altar, with his hands shielding his eyes as if in prayer, and imagine the building of his own church: he constructed in turn the porch, the nave, the altar, the tower but then always he lost his way in a fantastic sequence of rooms and stairs and chapels until he was obliged to begin again. These journeys into the interior of the church were rare, however, since he could not be sure that he would remain alone: the sound of footsteps at the back of the church, echoing in the half-light, made him tremble with fear. On one occasion he had been roused from his reverie by voices chanting in unison, Take thy plague away from me; I am even consumed by the means of Thy heavy hand and I am falling, falling…', and he had left the church quickly, not daring to glance at those who had so unexpectedly joined him. Yet outside he was once again alone and at peace.
From the south wall of the church he could see an area which, although perhaps designed as a cemetery by the architect, was now merely a patch of ground with some trees, faded grass and, beside them, the pyramid. From the east wall there was nothing to be seen except a gravel path which led to the entrance of an old tunnel. The place was now boarded up and, although the large grey stones of its entry suggested that it had been built at an early date (and might even be contemporaneous with the church itself), it had been used as an air-raid 'shelter' during the last war and since that time had like the church itself decayed. Stories had accumulated around this 'house under ground', as the local children called it: it was said that the tunnel led to a maze of passages which burrowed miles into the earth, and the children told each other stories about the ghosts and corpses which were still to be found somewhere within it. But Thomas, although he believed such things, always felt himself to be safe when he was crouched against the stone of the church itself -as he was now, after he had run from the pyramid and the sight of the playing children.
And it was here that he tried to escape the memory of that day's events.
He attended the local school, St Katherine's: on charcoal grey mornings he would sit at his desk and savour the sweet classroom smell of chalk and disinfectant, just as he enjoyed the distinctive odour of ink and of his own books. In History class (which was known to the children as the 'Mystery' lesson), for example, he liked to write down names or dates and watch the ink flow across the spacious white paper of his exercise book. But when the bell rang he would walk out into the asphalt schoolyard uncertain and alone; among all the shrieking and shouting, he would move surreptitiously from one group to another, or he would pretend to find something of interest by the walls and railings away from the other children. But, if he could, he would always listen when they talked -so it was he learned that, if you say the Lord's Prayer backwards, you can raise the Devil; he learned, also, that if you see a dead animal you must spit on it and repeat, 'Fever, fever, stay away, don't come inside my bed today'. He heard that a kiss takes a minute off your life, and that a black beetle crawling across your shoe means that one of your friends is about to die. All these things he stored up in his memory, for it seemed to him to be knowledge that he must possess in order to be like the others; they had somehow acquired it naturally, but he had to find it and then cherish it.
For he was still eager to be with them and even to talk to them, and he did not mind showing that eagerness: on this particular afternoon five planes had passed in formation in the sky above the children, and they had pointed to them and chanted, 'It's a war! It's a war!'. And Thomas, too, joined in the excitement: he experienced no fear but in a curious sense he felt protected as he jumped up and down, waving at the planes as they disappeared into the distance and still shouting with the others. But then one boy came up to him and, with a smile, pinioned Thomas's arm behind his back, levering it upwards until he was forced to cry out in pain. And the boy whispered to him exultantly, 'Are you going to be burnt or buried? Answer me! Are you going to be burnt or buried?' And eventually Thomas muttered 'Buried!' and lowered his head.
'Say it louder!'
And he screamed out 'Buried!' before his tormentor would release him. The others had been alerted to the scene of Thomas's humiliation and now began to crowd around him, singing: Thomas Hill is no good, Chop him up for firewood.
When he's dead, boil his head,
Make it into ginger bread.
He knew that he should not cry, but he stood in the centre of the schoolyard with the tears running down his face; and when they saw the tears the children shouted 'Dry up and blow away!' as his sobs were drowned by the roar of the planes once more flying overhead.
Now he was crouched against the wall of the church, in such a position that he was effectively hidden from the street. He gazed at the grass and trees which bordered this place and, as a leaf fell from one of the branches and drifted slowly to the ground, the vision of the afternoon's pain and humiliation disappeared. The pigeons made elaborate formations around and in front of Thomas, wings upon wings until their shapes were indistinct, and the rustling also comforted him. He turned his face to the sun, and the clouds made a patchwork of shadows upon his body: he looked up at them and they seemed to be disappearing inside the church. And then he was climbing towards them, climbing the tower until the clouds hid him, climbing the tower as a voice called out, Go on! Go on!
A wind started up, carrying the odours which suggest the end of summer, and as Thomas awoke he saw the sunlight leave the grass like an eye suddenly closed. He stood up and as he walked away from the church the noises of the world returned; it was colder now and when he entered the street he began running, slightly clumsily as if he were aware of his own body as he ran. And there were some who glanced at him and thought Poor boy! as he hurried towards his home in Eagle Street, which is off Brick Lane.
He was not the only visitor to the church that day. Two boys were standing at a place where three roads meet (Mermaid Alley, Tabernacle Close and Balls Street), saying nothing but digging with their fingers into the mortar of an old wall which was already crumbling.
One of them looked at the side of the church, rising up at the end of Tabernacle Close, and then punched his companion on the shoulder: 'Do you want to go down the old tunnel?
And they continued this ritual incantation until they were beside the locked gates of the churchyard from where they could see the entrance of the tunnel, boarded up with planks which were already rotten and half-covered with foliage which was spreading over the curved roof. The two boys squeezed through the railings of the gates and then, hanging on to each other, walked towards the abandoned tunnel which had been the source and inspiration for so many local stories. They knelt down at the entrance and knocked upon the planks as if they were banging on someone's front door; both of them then began pulling at the wood, gingerly at first but soon with more eagerness and ferocity: one piece came free, and then another, until there was space enough to enter. They sat down upon the ground and gazed at each other: 'Are you going first?'
Until one of them said, 'You're bigger. You go first'. This was unanswerable: they spat on their hands and touched their thumbs together before the older boy lowered himself through the entry they had made and the other followed.
They stood up in the dark portal, and clutched each other in the manner of those who are in danger of falling. The first boy then tentatively began going down the steps, reaching out for his companion's hand as he did so, and as they descended the sound of their rapid breathing was quite audible in a place which was otherwise silent. When they reached the bottom they paused until their eyes became accustomed to the darkness: a tunnel seemed to appear in front of them, although it was of incalculable length, and there were words or drawings on the stones above their heads. The older boy moved a little way into the passage, flattening his right palm against the side although the wall itself was damp and cold, and after six or seven steps he came to a room on the right. They peered in, hesitating while the deeper darkness swirled around them, and slowly there emerged in one corner the outline of a bundle of rags. The older boy started to make his way into this small room when he thought he saw the rags heave and move: something might have been turning in its sleep and he screamed, stepping backward in his fright and knocking the smaller boy to the ground. Was there now a noise coming from within the room, or was it an echo of his scream? But both of them had already scrambled back to the stairs, and were escaping through the aperture they had made. They fell out of the tunnel and then stood up in the shadow of the church, looking in each others' faces for signs of the fear which both of them felt, before running down the gravel path towards the gates and the streets beyond. 'I fell over,' the younger one said when they were once more part of their own world, 'I hurt my knee. Look!' He sat down by the side of the road, and was sick in the gutter. 'You can put some iodine on that,' his friend told him before turning away in the expectation that the other would follow. And the darkness grew like a tree.
Thomas was now lying on his bed and, at the time when the two boys were escaping from the runnel, he was making shadows against the wall with his hands: 'Here is the church,' he whispered to himself, 'And here is the steeple. Open the doors and where are the people?'
Then he tired of this game, and turned the page of his book.
He and his mother lived in the upper two storeys of the old house in Eagle Street (beneath them was a dress-making establishment owned by an Indian family). His father, a baker, had died six years before: Thomas remembered a man sitting at the kitchen table, taking up a knife to carve some meat and then falling sideways with a smile upon his face, and his mother with a hand over her mouth. Now he heard the front door opening and then his mother climbing the stairs: Thomas!' she called, 'Are you in, Tommy?'. There was a slight quaver in her voice the second time, as if the fact that he did not reply at once meant that in some way he had been harmed. The death of her husband had rendered her timorous; the ground was now made of the thinnest glass through which she could see the abysses beneath her, and she had communicated this fearfulness to her son who always preferred to remain in his small attic room.
During these long summer evenings he would lie on his bed and read, sometimes concealing himself beneath a light cotton sheet which lent the pages an even and gentle glow. As his mother was climbing the stairs, he was reading an historical romance for children entitled Dr Faustus and Queen Elizabeth. He had just finished the chapter where the Virgin Queen had sent for the Doctor after she had been informed of his magical powers: for she had been told by a wise man that, if she could unriddle the mystery of Stonehenge, she would bear a child. And so Fausrus had sailed to England, only just escaping death as a dark whirlwind threatened to overwhelm his frail bark.
And now they were walking together towards the great stones: 'Faith,' exclaimed the Queen with a rueful smile, 'I wish I knew their dark mysteries.'
'Forsooth do not disturb yourself, your majesty,'
Fausrus replied in an imposing manner, 'I verily do believe that I can unriddle them.'
'Well deuce take you if you cannot,' she replied haughtily. And Thomas had read on quickly, hoping to reach the passage where the Devil takes Faustus into the air and shows him the kingdoms of the world. He had another book beside him, entitled Some English Martyrs; he had found it lying discarded at the back of the church, and the first of the stories he had read was of Little St Hugh: that he was 'a child of ten years, the son of a widow. One Koppin, a heathen, enticed him to a ritual house under ground where he was tortured and scourged and finally strangled. Then his body was left there unknown for seven days and seven nights. Immediately Hugh's body was recovered from the pit a blind woman was restored to sight by touching it and invoking the martyr; other miracles followed'.
Thomas often gazed at the pictures of the martyrs in this book, with their flesh being carved out by laughing men; their bodies were always thin and yellow but their bowels were very red, and underneath each illustration there was a phrase in Gothic lettering: Prophesy Now, Violent Hands, Devouring Fire, and so on.
His mother had stopped calling his name and was now climbing the second set of stairs to his room; for some reason he did not wish her to see him lying sprawled upon the bed, and so he jumped off it and sat on a chair beside the window. 'How's my Tommy?' she said hurrying towards him and then kissing him on the forehead; he flinched, turning his face away from her, and then pretended to watch something in the street outside in order to account for this gesture.
'What are you thinking about, Tommy?'
And then, after a pause, she added, 'It's so cold in this room isn't it?'
But he hardly noticed the cold and, after she had gone downstairs in order to prepare the evening meal, he sat very still in his chair and let the shadows pass across his face. He could hear faint voices from the adjoining houses, and then the chiming of a clock; and he heard, also, the rattle of plates and cups in other kitchens as his mother called for him to come down.
He descended slowly, counting out the stairs so loudly that he might have been hurling abuse; he was shouting out different words as he entered the kitchen, but then stopped abruptly when he saw that his mother was engaged in her unequal battle against the world -a world which, on this evening, adopted the dimensions of the wooden chairs which fell down at her feet, the gas rings of the oven which refused to light, and the kettle that burned her fingers; although growing within this little space there was also, as he knew, his mother's fury at the house and neighbourhood in which she felt herself to be trapped. She had just dropped a packet of butter upon the floor and was running her fingers along the table as she stared at it, when she caught sight of her son standing in the doorway: 'It's all right,' she explained, 'Mummy's just tired'. Thomas bent down to pick up the butter and looked at her shoes and ankles as he did so.
'Look at the dust in here,.' she was saying, 'Just look at it!' The sudden anger in her voice disturbed him but, as he stood up from the floor, he asked her in a dispassionate voice, 'Where does dust come from?'
'Oh I don't know, Tommy, from the ground probably.' And as she said this she looked round with increased distaste at the narrow kitchen, before realising that her son was gazing at her and biting his lip in distress. 'I don't know where it comes from, but I do know where it's going to,' and she blew the dust from the table into the air. And both of them laughed before turning their attention to their food: they might have been in competition, for they ate ferociously and did not even glance at each other as quickly and silently they finished their meal. And then Thomas took the empty plates, and carried them in silence to the sink where he began running water over them. His mother gave a little burp, which she did not try to conceal, before asking him what he had done today.
'You must have done something, Tommy. What happened at school?'
'I told you, I done nothing.' He never chose to mention the church, since he preferred his mother to believe that he disliked the area as much as she did. At that moment the single bell chimed seven o'clock.
'It's that church again, isn't it?' He kept his back to her and did not reply. 'I told you time and again.' He let the water flow over his fingers. 'I don't like you going there, what with that runnel and all. It could cave in and then where would you be?' For her the church represented all that was dark and immutably dirty about the area, and she resented the fascination which it obviously held for her son. 'Are you listening to me, young man?'
And then, turning round to look at her, he said, 'I think there's something inside that pyramid. It felt hot today.'
'I'll make you feel hot if you go near it again.' But she regretted the severity of her tone when she saw her son's anxious face. 'It's not good for you to spend so much time on your own, Tommy.' She lit a cigarette and blew the smoke towards the ceiling. 'I wish you was more friendly with the other boys.' He wanted to leave her now and go back to his room, but her dejected expression kept him back. 'I had friends at your age, Tommy.'
'I know. I saw the pictures.' He remembered the photograph of his mother as a young girl, her arm around a friend: both of them had been dressed in white, and it seemed to Thomas to be a painting of a time infinitely remote, a time before he had been thought of.
'Well then.' And a note of anxiety entered her voice again. 'Isn't there someone you want to play with?'
'I don't know. I'll have to think about it.' He examined the table, trying to puzzle out the secret of dust.
'You think too much Tommy, it's not good for you.' Then she smiled at him. 'Do you want to play a game?' She put out her cigarette with a quick movement and took him in her lap, rocking him backward and forward as she chanted a song which Thomas also knew by heart: How many miles to Babylon?
Three score miles and ten.
Can I get there by candle light?
Yes, and back again.
And she rocked him faster and faster until he felt dizzy and begged her to stop: he was sure that she would pull his arms out of their sockets, or that he would crash to the floor and be killed. But just as the game had reached its height she let him down gently and, with a sudden and unexpected sigh, rose up to switch on the electric light. And all at once Thomas saw how dark it had become outside: 'I think I'll go up now'. She was looking out of the window at the empty street below: 'Goodnight,' she murmured, 'Sleep tight'. And then she turned round and embraced her son so tightly that he had to struggle to get free while outside, as the amber street lights were illuminated, the local children were playing at catching each other's shadows.
Thomas could not sleep that night, and he was filled with a growing sense of panic as the solitary bell of the Spitalfields church chimed the half-hour and the hour. Once again he contemplated the events in the schoolyard, and in the darkness he imagined other scenes of suffering and humiliation: how the same boys might lie in wait for him, how when he passed they would fall upon him and kick him, and how he would not resist until he lay dead at their feet. He whispered their names -John Biscow, Peter Duckett, Philip Wire -as if they were deities to be propitiated. Then he climbed from his bed and leaned out of the open window; from here he could see the silhouette of the church roof, and above it seven or eight stars. In his mind's eye he tried to draw a line between each star, to see what complete figure it might make, but as he did so he felt a pressure on his cheek as if an insect were crawling across it: he glanced down into Monmouth Street, beyond the shed where the coals were kept, and saw what seemed to be a figure in a dark coat looking up at him.
It was winter now, and in the late days of October the children of Spitalfields made figures out of old clothes or newspapers and prepared them for the burning. But Thomas spent these evenings in his room, where he was constructing out of plywood and cardboard a model of a house. He used a small penknife to cut windows in its sides, and with his wooden ruler he laid out the plan of the rooms: indeed, so great was his enthusiasm that the little building already resembled a labyrinth. And as he walked to the churchyard in the early afternoon he was considering whether it was necessary to construct a basement: would the model be complete without it, or would it not? He came to the south wall and sat down in the dust, settling against the corner of the buttress in order to reflect upon these matters.
Until he became aware of movement in front of him: he looked up in alarm and pressed himself closer against the great church when he noticed a man and woman walking beneath the trees, which shook in the rising wind. They stopped; the man drank from a bottle before they both settled down upon the earth and lay beside each other.
Thomas glared with contempt as they kissed but, when the man put his hand upon her skirt, he grew more watchful. He got up slowly from beside the buttress in order to lie on the ground closer to them, and by the time he had done so the man had taken the woman's breast from her fawn jacket and begun to feel it. Thomas caught his breath, and started rocking himself on the ground in the same rhythm as the man's hand which now worked up and down; he felt a large stone digging in his stomach as he lay sprawled upon the earth but he was hardly aware of the discomfort as the man put his mouth to the woman's breast and kept it there. Thomas's throat was dry and he swallowed several times to try and control his rising excitement; it seemed as if his limbs were growing, like those of a giant, and he was sure that at any moment something would burst from him -he might be sick, or he might cry out, and in his alarm he rose to his feet. The man saw his shape against the stone and, grabbing the bottle which was lying by the woman's side, hurled it at Thomas who looked wildly around as it swung in an arc towards him. Then he ran to the back wall of the church, passing the entrance to the abandoned runnel before he collided with a man who must have been standing there. Without looking up, the boy ran on.
Pleading tiredness he went to bed early that night and, as he lay in his dark room, he could hear the sounds of rockets and flares issuing from the neighbouring streets. He believed that he did not miss such things, but he lay face downward on his bed and put the pillow over his head so that he could not hear them. And once more he watched as the man and woman walked beneath the trees and as they kissed, and now he was taking her breast into his mouth. He rocked upon his narrow bed, his body growing and growing, and he spread out his hands in horror as the ache turned into a stream which he entered and which at the same time left him like blood coming from a wound.
When eventually he came to rest, he stared dully at the wall. He did not want to move in case the blood poured from him and soaked the bed, and so he lay quite still in the darkness wondering if he was about to die: just then a rocket rose and exploded in the sky outside his window and, in its instantaneous white light, the plywood model cast an intense shadow on the floor. He started up from his bed in alarm, and then stared down at himself.
When he walked through the streets of Spitalfields on the following morning, the people whom he passed seemed to glance at him in curiosity or amazement, and he was sure that what he had done, or felt, had left some mark upon him. It would have been natural for him now to visit the church and sit beneath its walls, but he could not go back to the spot where he had seen the authors of his woes. He passed its entry two or three times, but then hurried back to Eagle Street with gathering excitement: and his mouth became dry when he entered his own room in order to fling himself down upon the bed. He lay quietly for a moment, listening to his heart beating, and then started tossing up and down with a fierce rhythm.
And then later he went downstairs to stoke up the fire, as his mother had asked him. He turned it around with his poker so that the new coals tumbled into the centre and, as they stirred and shifted in the heat, Thomas peered at them and imagined there the passages and caverns of hell where those who burn are the same colour as the flame.
Here was the church of Spitalfields glowing, red hot, and then in his exhaustion he fell asleep. It was his mother's voice which roused him, and in the first few seconds after waking he felt lost.
A succession of bright days did not lift Thomas's spirits; the bright ness disturbed him, and instinctively he sought the shadows which the winter sunlight casts. He felt at peace only in the hour before dawn, when the darkness seemed to give way slowly to a mist, and it was at this hour that he would wake and sit by his window. He had also taken to wandering: sometimes he walked through the streets of London, repeating words or phrases under his breath, and he had found an old square by the Thames in which a sun-dial had been erected. At weekends or in the early evenings he would sit here, contemplating the change which had come over his life and, in his extremity, thinking of the past and of the future.
Then one cold morning he woke and heard the screeching of a cat, although it might have been a human cry; he rose from his bed slowly and went to the window, but he could see nothing. He dressed quickly, combed his hair, and then walked quietly past his mother's bedroom: it was Saturday and she had what she called a 'lie in'. There was a time when he would have crawled into her bed and, as she slept, watched the dust stirring in the shafts of sunlight which entered her room, but now he crept down the stairs. He opened the door and crossed the threshold; as he went out into Eagle Street, the sound of his shoes on the frosted pavement echoed against the houses. Then he passed Monmouth Street and walked beside the church. He could see someone walking in front of him and, although it was not unusual in an area such as this for people to rise and go to their work early, Thomas slowed his pace so that he would not come too close. But as they both turned into Commercial Road the figure ahead, who was wearing some kind of dark top-coat or overcoat, seemed to slow down also -although he gave no sign that he was aware of the ten-year-old boy behind him.
Thomas stopped suddenly and pretended to look into the window of a record shop, although the bright posters and the glossy photographs shining in the neon light now seemed to him as strange as any objects brought up by a diver from the floor of the ocean. He kept himself unnaturally still as he stared at this display, but when after a minute he turned and walked on the other seemed as close as before.
Thomas went forward slowly, measuring pace by pace; he might have been engaged in that game where the feet must not touch the cracks in the pavement (or else, children say, you will break your mother's back), except that he never moved his eyes from the black coat of the figure in front of him.
The sun was rising above the houses of Spitalfields, a dull red circle like a reptile's eye, and although the man seemed still to be walking forward he was at the same time coming nearer: Thomas could see quite clearly his white hair, which curled over the collar of his black coat. And then the head turned slowly, and now the face smiles.
Thomas cried aloud, and ran diagonally across the street away from what he had just seen; he was running-back in the direction from which he had come, towards the church again, and as he ran he could hear the sound of footsteps chasing him (although, in truth, it might have been the echo of his own running steps). He turned the corner of Commercial Road and then, not looking back, he ran down Tabernacle Close at the end of which were the gates of the churchyard.
He knew that he would be able to squeeze his body through the railings in a way that no adult could: as yet the figure in Commercial Road might not have turned the corner, and he might get into the church itself unobserved. As he pushed his way through the gates, he saw the entrance to the tunnel and saw, also, that the planks which had been removed from its front had not yet been replaced. It was to this he ran, as to a place of refuge. He bent down, awkward and breathless, and scrambled through the damp entry: once more he thought he heard movement behind him, and in his panic he sprang forward before his eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. He did not know that there were stairs in front of him and he fell, twisting his leg beneath him as he tumbled down; the light from the opening of the tunnel, which he half-glimpsed as he lay sprawled at the bottom of the steps, then disappeared.
It was the odour of the passage which woke him, since it had crept into his mouth and formed a pool there. He was still lying where he had fallen, one leg tucked beneath his body; the floor of the passage was cold, and he could feel that coldness ascending into him. He seemed to have entered a world of profound silence but, as he raised his head to listen more acutely, straining every sense so that he might better understand his position, he could hear faint murmurs of wind or low voices which might have come from the streets outside or even from the tunnel itself. He tried to rise but fell back upon the ground when the pain returned to his leg: he dared not touch it but stared at it helplessly before leaning back against the damp wall and closing his eyes. Without thought he repeated some words which a boy had once chalked on the blackboard between lessons: 'A lump of coal is better than nothing. Nothing is better than God. Therefore a lump of coal is better than God'. And then he traced his own name with his finger on the cracked and broken floor. He had heard the children's stories about 'the house under ground' but at this moment he felt no particular fear -he had been living in the dark world of his own anxieties, and no infliction of reality could seem more terrible than that.
Now in the dim attenuated light he saw the outlines of the passage ahead of him, and some letters inscribed on the curved roof above him. He turned his head, although it hurt him to do so, but the entrance through which he had come seemed to have disappeared and he was no longer sure exactly where he was. He tried to move forward: he had heard many times, from the adults as well as the children of the neighbourhood, that there was one tunnel in this labyrinth which led straight into the church, and it was in this direction that he must surely try to go. He crawled back into the centre of the passage, and raised himself on his arms: using his elbows for grip, he pulled his body after them while all the time he kept his head up so that he might see what was in front of him. He was moving forward slowly when he thought he heard a sound, a scraping sound, at the end of the passage from which he had just come: he turned his head in terror, but there seemed to be nothing there. Thomas now felt hot despite the coldness of the air; he could sense the sweat running down his forehead and along the side of his nose, and he licked it off with his tongue as it swelled in drops upon his upper lip. The pain in his leg seemed to fluctuate with the beating of his heart so he counted the sequence out loud and then, at the sound of his own voice, he began to cry. He was crawling past small rooms or chambers just outside the range of his ordinary vision and yet he tried to move softly, so as not to disturb those who might dwell in this place. In his agony he forgot that he was still going forward, although his mouth was open and he was gulping for air.
Then a change came over him: the pain in his leg disappeared, and he could feel the sweat drying upon his face. He stopped, shifting himself so that he was once more propped against the cold wall, and then in a clear, calm voice he began to sing a verse which he had learnt many years before: Build it up with bricks and mortar, Bricks and mortar, bricks and mortar, Build it up with bricks and mortar, My fair lady.
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
Will not stay, will not stay,
Bricks and mortar will not stay,
My fair lady.
He sang this three times, and his voice echoed down the passages and rooms before fading away in the recesses of stone. He looked at his hands, which had become filthy from his exertions, and he spat on them before trying to wipe them clean on his trousers. Then, when he had forgotten about his hands, he examined the passage with great care, looking all around him with that interested expression children assume when they think that they are being watched. He ran his hand along the wall at each side of him, and just above his head, feeling the cracks and patches which had formed there: he clenched his fist and knocked upon the wall, which gave back a muffled sound as if it might contain hollow spaces within itself. Then Thomas gave a great sigh, bowed his head, and fell asleep. He was walking out of the passage; now he was through the upper door and ahead of him was a white tower; now he was standing upon the tower and was poised to dive into the lake. But he was afraid, and his fear became a person. 'Why have you come here?' she said. He turned his back upon her and, as he looked down at the dust upon his shoes, cried, 'I am a child of the earth!' And then he was falling.
When her son had not returned by tea-time, Mrs Hill grew worried.
She went up to his room several times, and on each occasion its emptiness disturbed her more: she picked up a book which had been left on a chair, and noticed how carefully her son had inscribed his name on the title page; then she peered down at the model which he had been constructing -her face immediately above the miniature labyrinth. At last she left the room again, closing the door quietly behind her. She went downstairs slowly and sat in front of the fire, rocking herself to and fro as she imagined all of the harm he might have suffered: she could see him enticed into a car by a stranger, she could see him knocked down by a lorry in the road, she could see him falling into the Thames and being carried away by the tide. It was her instinctive belief, however, that if she dwelled upon such scenes in sufficient detail she could prevent them from occurring: anxiety was, for her, a form of prayer. And then she spoke his name aloud, as if she were able to conjure him into existence.
But when she heard the bell of Spitalfields church strike seven, she took her coat and prepared herself to walk to the police station: the nightmare she had always feared had now descended on her. She came out into the street, carelessly dropping her coat at the threshold, but then she turned suddenly and went into the shop beneath her flat: Tommy's missing, have you seen him?' she asked the slight, rather nervous Indian girl who was standing behind the counter, The little boy, my son?' And the girl shook her head, her eyes wide at the sight of this distraught English woman who had never entered the shop before. 'No boy here,' she said, 'I'm very sorry.' Then Mrs Hill ran into Eagle Street, and the first person she passed was a neighbour: Tommy's gone missing!' she shouted, 'My Tommy's gone!' She moved on quickly, the woman following her in sympathy and also in curiosity. 'Mrs Hill's son has gone!' she called out in turn to a young girl who was standing in a doorway, 'Vanished!' And the girl, taking a quick look behind her into the house, went out to her as other women joined the procession following Mrs Hill down Brick Lane: 'It's this place,' she called out to them, 'I've always hated this place!' She was half-fainting now, and two of her neighbours caught up with her and helped her to walk. She turned round once only, to look wildly at the tower of the church, but it was already quite dark as the small group of women approached the police station.
When Thomas woke he could no longer move forward: his leg was fixed beneath him and seemed now to have stiffened his entire body, for the slightest motion caused him pain. He stared at the wall ahead of him, and noticed that the darkness was deeper where the stone had crumbled and that the passage now smelt of damp cardboard -like the model which he had been building with the hands which now were so cold and white. He did not want to talk out loud, because his mother had always told him that it was the first sign of madness, but he wanted to make sure that he was still alive. With great pain and deliberation he took out of his left hand pocket a piece of chewing gum, now rolled into a dry ball, and a bus ticket. He read out the words upon it: 'London Transport 21549. This ticket is available from stage no. indicated above and must be shown on demand. Not transferable'. And he knew that, if the numbers on the ticket added up to 21, he would be lucky all month; but he did not seem able to count them at the moment. 'My name is Thomas Hill,' he said, 'and I live at 6 Eagle Lane Spitalfields.' And he put his head upon his knees and wept.
He was in his house again, and his father was leading him downstairs.
'Have you got your ticket?' he was whispering to his son, 'You need your ticket. You have a long way to go.'
'I thought you were dead, Dad.'
'No one is really Dad,' his father was saying when Thomas woke, to find that the pain in his leg had gone and that he no longer felt like crying. The piece of hard gum was still clenched in his hand but, when he placed it in his mouth, the juices of his stomach made him retch. 'Don't mind the smell of the sick,' his father was saying, 'Get into bed now. You're up very late.' The passage was brightly lit and along its sides there were people lying or sitting. They were singing something in unison, although Thomas could only hear the last words which became the refrain: If all things were eternal And nothing their end bringing, If this should be, then how could we Here make an end of singing?
They were smiling at him and he walked towards them, arms outstretched, so that they might keep him warm. But he was falling from the tower as someone cried, Go on! Go on! and then the shadow came.
And when he looked up he saw the face above him.
THE FACE above me then became a Voice: It is a dark morning, Master, and after a fine moonshiny night it is terrible rainy. And I woke thinking, O God what will become of me? Open the curtains at the Beds feet, Nat (said I, smelling my stinking Breath upon the Sheets) and give me Air; then light a Candle quickly, I dream'd of a dark Place last night.
And shall I shut the door, Master, if I open the Window? He takes off my Cap and lays me back upon the Beds head, all the while talking: There is a little Mouse warming itself within the Fender, says he, and I have fed it some Milk.
This Boy would feel sorry even for the Stones I break: Damn it, Nat, kill it! I told him and he was stopp'd short in his puling Discourse.
I am of your Opinion, says he, after a Pause.
Nat Eliot is my Servant, a poor bewilder'd boy whom I keep out of Pi tie. He has had the Smallpox, which left him meek, and now he is afraid of every Child and Dog that looks at him. He blushes in Company, or grows Pale and out of Countenance if any one should notice him: so this for me, who must live in a Corner, is a proper Creature. When he first came to me he was afflicted with such a prodigious Stammering that he was seldom able to pronounce one single Word or Syllable without great Agitation and strange Motions in the Face, Mouth and Tongue. But I us'd my Art, and strok'd his Face and cured him: now, when he sits alone with me, he cannot give off gabbering. So on this morning, when I am all over sensible of Pain, he shaved my Head and, since he had me at a stand, talked a mishmash of Extravagances. You did not eat any thing last night, Master, says he, I know it from your Breath that you have not: my Mouse has eaten more than you (and then, remembering my words upon the Mouse, he paus'd). And have you, he goes on, forgot what your Mother taught you: Beef at Noon, Eggs at Night, Smile at the Moon For the Body is Right.
And I will give you another Verse, says I: I've ate Eel-pie, Mother, make my Bed soon For I'm sick at heart and shall Die before Noon.
Nat muses a while on this merry Song and then continues in his rushing Fashion: We must all eat, Master, and when you were lock'd in your chamber last night, I know not why and I do not ask, I had two penny worth of Beef and one penny worth of Pudding at the Boiling Cooks over the street yonder. That was the money I had laid by, so you see I am not such a child neither: and when the Cook pressed me to taste another Dish I pushed him off with some Words, Don't you come with that upon me, I told him Nat, 1 said, leave off your idle twittle-twattle. You are magoty-headed.
You are in the right, he replies, you are in the right. And he withdraws from me a little with downcast looks.
I have not bin out of my Bed these two weeks, since I was seiz'd on the Street with such a fit of the Gout that I could neither stand nor goe; with the help of a Chair-man I returned to my Lodgings and have lain since in my own Sweat like a Drab. Thus: I have a ganglio form swelling below my left Knee, which will soon become an encystid Tumor as usual in such cases. Also I have a black Spot on the joint of the great Toe of my left foot: the Spot is as broad as a Sixpence and black as a Hat. I know there is no Remedy, for it is the way my Humour is inclin'd: a rich state of Blood loaded with salts, sulphurs and spirituous Particles must at length kindle up a certain fiery Phosphorous which Nature exterminates in a fitt of the Gout. But it is like the gnawing of a Dogge and an actual Flame at the same time, and a man cannot without Horrour think upon this Fire got into his Veins and preying upon his Carcasse.
I call'd last week for a certain Rogers, an apothecary at the corner of Chancery-Lane and Fleetstreet, but when he walked into my Chamber I saw he was a Monkey for, if the language was learned, he who spoke it was Ignorant. Prepare for your Master, says he solemnly to Nat, four oyster shells red hot in Cyder: and Nat gaz'd at him in Perplexity as if he had been asked to tell the Stars through the Holes in his Hat. Then, says the Monkey-Doctor sitting at my Bedside, we must put Blisters of cantharides upon the Neck and Feet. And Nat scratch'd himself like a Wherry-man. Raw vapours are imbib'd, he continues, thro' the Pores and assimilate some Humour to themselves, so we must throw morbific matter upon the Extremities and this to relieve the Whole by punishing a Part. And I smil'd as Nat sat down in a Tremble.
After I had took his Physic, I made water freely and had a good Stool every day: both were foetid, the water full of clowds and very high-smelling. The Monkey also instructed me to eat sprouts, brocoli, spinage, parsley, turneps, parsneps, selery, lettice, cowcumbers and the like: this being done, I felt relief for three Dayes but I was only crawling out of the Shambles for a while and on the fourth day I could not rise from my Bed because of my Affliction. So now I lye by Day and toss or rave by Night, since the ratling and perpetual Hum of the Town deny me rest: just as Madness and Phrensy are the vapours which rise from the lower Faculties, so the Chaos of the Streets reaches up even to the very Closet here and lam whirl'd about by cries of Knives to Grind and Here are your Mouse-Traps. I was last night about to enter the Shaddowe of Rest when a Watch-man, half-drunken, thumps at the Door with his Past Three-a-dock and his Rainy Wet Morning. And when at length I slipp'd into Sleep I had no sooner forgot my present Distemper than I was plunged into a worse: I dream'd my self to be lying in a small place under ground, like unto a Grave, and my Body was all broken while others sung. And there was a Face that did so terrifie me that I had like to have expired in my Dream. Well, I will say no more.
Since I am too 111 to move out of Door I have written to Walter Pyne, inclosing my Instructions for the Churches which are to be dispatch'd with Haste, viz Sir Chris, will be with you next week by Tuesday or Wensday, so pray gett all our Accounts in good order and see that Sir Chris, findes noe Confusion through the whole Affair. You must also, Walter, coppy over the great plan of our second Church, in Lime-house, and deliver it presently to the Commission: do this on the scale of 10 ft in one inche, and put it in Inke so far as you are certain of it. And write thus at the foote of the Draughte: the Depth from East to West, or from A to C, is 113V2 Feet; the Length from North to South, or from E to F, is 154 Feet. Let me hear from you, Walter, when you have done this and I shall wait for your answer with Impatience. And praye minde that the Plummer performes his gutters well. And so fair well for now.
The rest I omit, for many a bitter Pill can be swallowed under a golden Cover: I make no Mencion that in each of my Churches I put a Signe so that he who sees the Fabrick may see also the Shaddowe of the Reality of which it is the Pattern or Figure. Thus, in the church of Lime-house, the nineteen Pillars in the Aisles will represent the Names of Baal-Berith, the seven Pillars of the Chappell will signify the Chapters of his Covenant. All those who wish to know more of this may take up Clavis Salomonis, Niceron's Thaumaturgus Opticus where he speaks of Line and Distance, Cornelius Agrippa his De occultia philosophia and Giordano Bruno his De magia and De vinculis in g'en`ere where he speaks of Hieroglyphs and the Raising of the Devilles.
You see there, Nat (for he has come slinking into my Chamber as I write to Walter), you see the great Iron chest by the window with three Locks to it: take this Key and open it. What is in there Master, says he, that must be lockd up and Bolted? His Eyes revolved around the Room, and I shoot out a laugh like a Pudding in a Bag: if you could but imagine the various Postures his causeless Fears place him in, you would be a great sharer with me in that Laughter. It is only the Paper to wrap up this Letter, I told him, and you must go with it now to my Office. And make haste: it is close by, you Rogue, and I will expect you back again presently.
My Lodgings are in the house of Mrs Best (a Taylor 's Widow) in Bear Lane, off Leicester-Fields; it is an old decay'd House, much like its Owner, and for ten shillings a week I have the two upper storeys: a closet, a dining room, and a bed chamber. Nat has his bed below, for I wish no one to be near me when I sleep. The Mistress of the House is a clownish woman, a Relict daubed thicker with Paint than her Sceleton is with Flesh so that she appears very much like a Mossoleum. All her business is with Sisars and Toothpicks, Tweezers, Essences, Pomatum, Paints, Paists and Washes; she has so many Patches upon her Face that she may soon be Pressed to Death like the inhabitants of Newgate. On the first day of my present Sicknesse, she was brought into my Chamber by Nat who knew not what to do for me.
Ah Mr Dyer, says she, I see you suffer mightily from the Gout as it was with my husband of dear Remembrance: you do not know the perpetual Watchings, the numberless Toils, the frequent Risings in the Night which Mr Best brought me to. Then she busied herself about my Bedside and gave me, as she said, her best advice: what lies in me, she whispered, will be at your Service. She rose to go, but turned like a dry leaf in a wind before reaching the Door: I could not forebear taking notice, she said, that you are enamoured of the old Books and does this mean that you have the Poets for Recreation? (I lay back in Pain, which she took for assent.) May I, she continu'd in a very familiar Manner, show you the Product of my Idle hours? And with that she went down to her Parlour and brought up with her again several Epitaphs and Elegies of her own composing. Do you wish to hear, Nat Eliot? she ask'd my Boy, feigning to be Coy with me, and as he gaped up at her she spoke thus: O Blessed letters, that combine in one All ages past; and make one live with all!
Make us confer with those who now are gone, And the dead living unto counsel call!
There is a want of Sense in that line, she mutters before continuing quickly: By you th'unborn shall have communion Of what we feel, and what does us befall.
Do you like? said she fetching a deep Sigh as Nat wept like a Tapster without good liquor. You say true, he murmured, you say true and the Relict gave a little satisfied Grin. I was like to have hurled back at her: Twas not the Muse but her strong beer that stung Her mouth being stopt, the Words came through the Bung.
But I held my peece: I am not yet an ancient Tenent, and can not be merry with her in my Fashion.
It is good Fortune, Nat said after she had departed, to have such Company: for what do we know that the Poets may not teach us, and this Mistress can spout well in Rhyme. And why is it, he went on, that Rhyme touches my Memory?
Let it touch nothing, 1 told him, or you will be a poor Boy indeed.
But Nat had already gone off in a Dream: Where were you, Master, he asks, before I was born and thought of?
I was here and there, I answered gazing out of the Window.
But where were you in this City?
I have had so many Dwellings, Nat, that I know these Streets as well as a strowling Beggar: I was born in this Nest of Death and Contagion and now, as they say, I have learned to feather it. When first I was with Sir Chris. I found lodgings in Ph'enix Street off Hogg Lane, close by St Giles and Tottenham Fields, and then in later times I was lodged at the corner of Queen Street and Thames Street, next to the Blew Posts in Cheapside. (It is still there, said Nat stirring up from his Seat, I have passed it!) In the time before the Fire, Nat, most of the buildings in London were made of timber and plaister, and stones were so cheap that a man might have a cart-load of them for six-pence or seven- pence; but now, like the Aegyptians, we are all for Stone. (And Nat broke in, I am for Stone!) The common sort of People gawp at the prodigious Rate of Building and exclaim to each other London is now another City or that House was not there Yesterday or the Situacion of the Streets is quite Chang'd (I contemn them when they say such things! Nat adds). But this Capital City of the World of Affliction is still the Capitol of Darknesse, or the Dungeon of Man's Desires: still in the Centre are no proper Streets nor Houses but a Wilderness of dirty rotten Sheds, allways tumbling or takeing Fire, with winding crooked passages, lakes of Mire and rills of stinking Mud, as befits the smokey grove of Moloch. (I have heard of that Gentleman, says Nat all a quiver). It is true that in what we call the Out-parts there are numberless ranges of new Buildings: in my old Black-Eagle Street, Nat, tenements have been rais'd and where my Mother and Father stared without understanding at their Destroyer (Death! he cryed) new-built Chambers swarm with life. But what a Chaos and Confusion is there: meer fields of Grass give way to crooked Passages and quiet Lanes to smoking Factors, and these new Houses, commonly built by the London workmen, are often burning and frequently tumbling down (I saw one, says he, I saw one tumbling!). Thus London grows more Monstrous, Straggling and out of all Shape: in this Hive of Noise and Ignorance, Nat, we are tyed to the World as to a sensible Carcasse and as we cross the stinking Body we call out What News? or What's a dock?.
And thus do I pass my Days a stranger to mankind. I'll not be a Stander-by, but you will not see me pass among them in the World.
(You will disquiet your self, Master, says Nat coming towards me).
And what a World is it, of Tricking and Bartering, Buying and Selling, Borrowing and Lending, Paying and Receiving; when I walk among the Piss and Sir-reverence of the Streets I hear, Money makes the old Wife trot, Money makes the Mare to go (and Nat adds, What Words won't do, Gold will). What is their God but shineing Dirt and to sing its Devotions come the Westminster-Hall-Whores, the Charing-cross whores, the Whitehall whores, the Channel-row whores, the Strand whores, the Fleet Street whores, the Temple-bar whores; and they are followed in the same Catch by the Riband weavers, the Silver-lace makers, the Upholsterers, the Cabinet-makers, Watermen, Carmen, Porters, Plaisterers, Lightemen, Footmen, Shopkeepers, Journey-men… and my Voice grew faint through the Curtain of my Pain.
Thus did I speak to Nat on the first Day of my Sicknesse and, thinking now on those work men that I mencioned, I see them as they pass by me in the thorow-fare of my Memory: Richard Vining, Jonathan Penny, Geoffrey Strode, Walter Meyrick, John Duke, Thomas Style, Jo Cragg. I speak these Names into the Air and the Tears run down my Face, for I know not what Reason. And now my Thoughts are all suspended and like a Pilgrim moving into the Glare of the Sun I am lost in the wastes of Time.
I was in the middle of this earnest Business when Nat comes in, returned from delivering my Letter to Walter, with his Will you drink a Dish of Tea with your Bread and Butter or will you have a Glass of Ale? He put me in such Confusion that I would have dismist him with a kick in the Arse, and yet the Particles of Memory gather around me and I am my self again.
And so I may return from this Digression to the Narrative of my trew History: I ought in method to have informed the Reader a few pages ago of my Life as a Street-Boy after my strange converse with Mirabilis, and so I shall go back a little here to where I left off. I will save you from Ruin, little Faustus he had said to me, and I have already imparted to you my Reasons for staying with his Assembly in Black Step Lane; for being a Boy pennyless and friendless as I then was, the Key to his Door burned a Hole in my Breeches (as they say) until I imployed it. For altho' my Rambling mood was not yet extinguish'd, it was still my Pleasure to studdye with Mirabilis when I so desired it: he did not press me to stay, nor did he so much as Hint at it, and when the Assembly arrived at Dusk I hasten'd into the Streets and made my self a child of Hazard. There was a Band of little Vagabonds who met by moon-light in the Moorfields, and for a time I wandred with them; most of them had been left as Orphans in the Plague and, out of the sight of Constable or Watch, would call out to Passers by Lord Bless you give us a Penny or Bestow a half penny on us: I still hear their Voices in my Head when I walk abroad in a Croud, and some times I am seiz'd with Trembling to think I may be still one of them.
For I was then much like a Glass-Bottle-House Boy, dealing always in the Street dirt: I slept in the days before Winter in Bulk-heads and Shop-doors where I was known (I cou'd not sleep in the House of Mirabilis, where the Noises affrighted me) and in the Winter, when the Plague had abated and the Streets were lighted again, I got into Ash-holes and was the very Figure of a Beggar boy, despicable and miserable to the last degree. Those in their snug Bed-chambers may call the Fears of Night meer Bugbears, but their Minds have not pierced into the Horror of the World which others, who are adrift upon it, know. So those who looked upon me in those past Evil Days shook their Heads and cryed Poor boy! or Tis a Pity!, but they offred me no Help and let me go: I did not make a Noise then but I laid up all these things in my Heart so that I was as well read in Men as in Books.
Truly, said Mirabilis gazing at my Raggs, you are Ship-wracked upon the Isle of Man but do not be downcast; read these Bookes, studdye them well and learn from me, and these Christian Gentlemen who turn their Faces from you will then be Dust under your Feet: when they are consum'd in Flame, the Lords of the Earth will do you no Harm. And thus was I comforted, even though my Portion did seem to be presently one of Confinement and a Gaol.
In this manner I lived from the months August until December when, the Plague almost ceas'd, my Aunt, the sister of my Mother, returned from the town of Watford where she had travelled to escape the Distemper. She began to make enquiries about me in the neigh bourhood of Spittle-Fields and, since I was now in the way of strowl ing abroad in the Streets where I had played as a Child, she soon became acquainted with my sad Condition and thereupon I was had into her House in Coleman-Street. I was now near Fourteen-year-old and she was at a Loss what to do with me for, though she carried fair weather in her Countenance, she was a perfect bundle of Contradictions and would no sooner hit upon a Course than tack herself round and choose another. Nick, says she to me, Fetch me that Book and yet let it alone too: but let me see it however, and yet 'tis no great matter either. Her Head was just like a squirrel's Cage, and her Mind was the Squirrel that whirled it round: that I should be bound Apprentice was her first Consideration, but she wearied her self over the question whether it be to a Book-seller, or Toy-man, or Coach-maker. I kept my Peace in this, understanding from Mirabilis that my Fate was already determined, but my Silence only kept this whirligig a spinning: And then again, says she, we might go back to the Country, tho' perhaps it is not wise if there is no good Company there, and yet I am all for Quietness.
Her Reflections were soon at a stand, however, for I was only with my Aunt for two month when London was put in to the Oven and the Fire burnt it. It would tire the Reader should I dwell on the Lamentable Judgment or God's Terrible Voyce (as they call'd it) but I have layed by in Memory how, when the Sun looked red like Blood as it peeped through the Smoke, the People cryed aloud to Heaven, raked in the dung of their rotten Hearts and voiced abroad their inward Filthinesse. As the Houses tumbled upon the Streets with a great roaring Noise, they cryed out We are undone! We are great Sinners! and the like: and yet as soon as the Danger was passed, they came back with their Hey ho the Devil is Dead!
Eat, drink, and go merry to Bed!
Thus the Sick confesse to their Contagion only when they are like to Die of it, even tho' they carry their Death with them every where. I saw one Gentlewoman who was burned into a very Emblemme of Mortality: her face, legs and feet were quite consumed to Ashes, the trunk of her Body was much burnt, but her Heart, her filthy Heart, was hanging like a Cole in the midst of it.
My Aunt was in the last stages of Uncertainty. We shall certainly be burnt, says she but she could not determine to remove her self and her goods to the open Fields. She ran into the Street and then came back againe: It is a hotte wind, Nick, she cries, does it blow this way? I think it does, she continues without waiting for my Answer, but perhaps in a little while it might Abate: the Noise is frightful, and yet do I hear it lessen? Hang out your cloathes, I told her, and the winde will dry them.
For I had no fear of the Flames: they were not for me, as Mirabilis had prophesied, and the Fire came to a Stop at the lower end of Coleman- Street.
At which my Aunt rejoyced exceedingly, and complimented herself upon her Resolution.
Little of the City remayned save part of Bread and Bishop-gate Street, all Leadenhall Street, and some of the adjacent Lanes about Algate and Cretchett Fryers. With the old Houses of Timber gone, new Foundations could be layed -and it was for this Reason that I soon came to Stand upon my own Legs. For I conceeved a great Fancy to become a Mason, which occurred to me in the following Fashion: 1 returned after the Fire to the House of Mirabilis in Black Step Lane (which had been saved from the Flames) and, meeting there my good Master, asked his Counsel now that the City had been laid waste. You will build, he replied, and turn this Paper-work house (by which he meant the Meeting-place) into a Monument: let Stone be your God and you will find God in the Stone. Then he pickt up his dark Coat, and in the dusk of the Evening departed away whither I never saw him afterwards.
But to make short this part of my Discourse: my Aunt having no Objection, and the Trade much in need of fresh Hands after the Fire, I was put out as a Mason's Apprentice to one Richard Creed. He was recommended as a Master capable of instructing me, and indeed he was a sober and honest Man. My Aunt could in no wise advance any Money for me, and therefore it was agreed that I should be taken as an Apprentice without Money on condition that I should serve for a while in his House in Ave Mary Lane, near Ludgate Street and by St Pauls Church: my Master promising to teach me the Art and Mysteries of his Trade, the which Promise was fulfill'd. And so fourteen years of my Life were run when I took my present Course, and yet such is the power of Memory that I am to this day troubled, and my Dreams filled with concern, often times imagining that I am still bound to my said Master, and that my Time will never be out. And it is true yet of Time, tho' in quite another sense.
Mr Creed was a pritty learned man and, for the two years which I served in his House as a Factotum so much as a Prentice, he very readily allowed me to use the Library in his private Closet. Here I read Vitruvius his De Architecture! but newly translated, and I was mov'd exceedingly when I saw in its Ninth Book the pyrammide of stone with the little Cell at its top, and this Inscription at the bottome of the Page: O pigmy Man, how transient compared to Stone! And in Master Freart his Paralell of Architecture, in a translation of Mr Evelyn, I saw the engraveing of a very antient Sepulture, with Pyrammides beyond, buried in a wild and uncultivated Place: that Figure so impress'd it self upon my Mind that I have been in a manner walking towards it all my Life. Then I peered into Wendel Dietterlin his Architecture!, and there were unveiled to me the several Orders: of the Tuscan, which is now mine own, I was then mov'd by its Strangeness and Awefulness; the obscured Shapes, the Shaddowes and the massie Openings so in- chanted my Spirit that when looking on them I imagined my self to be lock'd in some dark and Enclosed space. The heavinesse of Stone did so oppress me that I was close to Extinction, and I fancied that I could see in the Engraver's lines the sides of Demons, crumbled Walls, and half-humane Creatures rising from the Dust. There was some thing that waited for me there, already in Ruines.
Thus did I learn of Architecture and, appriz'd that workmen could advance to the degree of Architect in these times, I coveted that office for my self: to become the Structorum Princeps, as Mr Evelyn has it, the ingenious Artificer who must be learned in Astrologie and Arith metick, Musick no less than Geometry, Philosophy as well as Opticks, History no less than Law, was my set Purpose. But you cannot build out of Books, unless it be Castles in the Air, and I decided to step into the World for further Information: I listen'd to the Discourse of the work men in my Master's yard (next St Pauls on which he was then imployed) and held them in Conversation concerning matters of Practice; I also sought occasions to visit the brick-burnings in Whitechappell and here I learned of the earth which lies beneath London: these and like Matters I laid up in my Head, for there was no knowing to what Use they might come.
My Master, as I said, was set to work upon St Pauls after the Fire but the first time that ever I saw Sir Chris. Wren was in my Seventeenth year when I was working in the Yard. Sir Chris, walked in and, tho' even then he was a person of the last Importance, being both Surveyor-General and principall Architect for rebuilding the whole City, I did not know his Face. He had come into the Yard to inquire after the new Stone which had been promis'd but, my Master being absent for a Moment, Sir Chris, talked in a familiar manner to the Clerke who accompanied him. He pointed to some stone saying, This is not in good condition, it is mere Ragg: do you see how the Demand has debased the Materialls?
That is a softer Stone, says 1, and is about to be placed in Shelter: but it is no Ragg for, look, there are no flint beds nor clay holes near the face.
Then he gave me one of his sharp Looks: where is the Reigate stone, he asks (for it was this which he had order'd).
I do not know why you wish for Reigate, I replied (thinking him a simple Citizen), for tho' you may be able to cut through it like Wood it takes in Water: good Stone ought to defend itself by gathering a Crust.
The better Stone, I went on, is out of Oxfordshire, down the river from the Quarries about Burford. But if you will wait for my Master No need of a Master with such an Apprentice, says Sir Chris. smiling at his Clerk. Then turning to me quickly he ask'd, Can you name Stones? and glanced at my Hands to see what rough Usage they had had in this Trade.
Willingly I expressed to him what I had already learned by Rote: Free-stone, says I, and also Brick, Ragg, Flint, Marchasite, Pibble, Slate, Tile, Whetstone, Touch-stone, Pumice, Emry, Alabaster Hold! he exclaimed, There is more Method in you than in Vitruvius.
I take my Method, I replied, from Master Dietterling.
I don't remember the Book was translated into English that you mention, says he taking a Step backward.
No, I answer'd a little abashed, but 1 have looked upon the Pictures.
At this time my Master was come back into the Yard and Sir Chris, (whom I still did not know) said easily to him, Well, Dick Creed, here is a Boy who will teach you some new Tricks. And my Master assured him that I was but a simple Prentice. Well, says Sir Chris, again, Master Palladio was a stone mason and he was called lapicida long before he was ever known as architetto. And then he turned to me and tweaked me by the Chin: And what of Roofs, young architetto?
As to Roofs, I replied, good Oak is certainly the best and next to Oak good yellow Deal.
Sir Chris laughed, and then paced around the Yard before coming to rest with us again. Can he read and write, Dick? he asks pointing at me. And my Master says, Like a Scholar. So Nature and Art combine in One, he cries and his clerk smil'd for it was an Allusion.
In a word, Sir Chris, was much taken with me, and earnestly entreated my Master that I should be released into his Charge; to this my Master readily agreed, as a token of his respect for Sir Chris, (and no doubt with the expectation of being repaid in some other Coin).
And thus it was that I became Sir Chris, his Gentleman, and after that his Clerke, until in later time I became Clerke of the Works and now as I am, Assistant Surveyour. And yet it was no easy Road, for at once I was whirl'd into a Multitude of Business: Read and approve these Calculations for me, Sir Chris, would say, and when he knew I was master of one Art he would lead me to another; by degrees I was so advanct in my employment that many of the Despatches concerned my Business, viz. Mr Surveyour is also desir'd to send Mr Dyer to Visit the Quarrys in Kent and bring an account of the Rate of Materialls; Mr Dyer also to inquire into the Prices of brick, wainscott, timber and other Materialls; Mr Dyer to prepare a Draught of the Hospitall in perspective by direction of Mr Surveyour; Mr Dyer to put the work of the Sewers immediately in Hand; Mr Dyer to hasten the finishing of the plate of the Ground Plan.
You may see from this Catalogue that I ingraved Draughts for new intended Buildings and coppyed D'esignes on Paper, which tasks I performed with the utmost Diffidence since I had not been train'd up in that Direction. But when I left them with trembling Hands upon his writing Table, in expectation of hard Words, he merely glanced at them and then wrote, I doe approve of this D'esigne: Chris. Wren Kt.
He used to do his own exact Measure at the beginning, but he was at last overcome by the Multitude and Weight of his own Thoughts: I saw how he cooled little by little and grew weary (some times he became drunken after Dusk, and sat in a Stupor until I led him home).
And when he had overwhelm'd himself with other Work so that he could do no more in the Office, I devised my own Planns for the City edifices on which he was engaged; I toild for every Line till I sweated and then when I asked him how he liked it, he said very well as far as he looked but that he was so full of Business that he had but little Time to spare. But then he repented of his Briskness, and guided me forward until I became a proper Master.
It was in these early Years that Sir Chris, his Endeavours were all for St Pauls, but lately reduc'd to Ruines: there was scarce a course of Stones laid, over which he did not walk during the great Construction, and I would follow him with a bundle of Planns tucked beneath my Arm. See here, Nick, he would say, unless we take care these Compass arches will not press uniformly. He would bite his under-lip at this but then, when any thing pleased him well, he would cry Hum! and clap me upon the Shoulder. He would allwaies climb to the uppermost heights of the Scaffolding and when I held my self back (for it is a dreadfull thing to look down Praecipices) he would beckon me onward and laugh; then quite fresh still he would descend to the Ground and jump down into the Foundations, to emerge bespattered all over with Dust like a Postillion.
He was alwaies agreeable with the work men, and minded me to note their Business for my own Instruction. And so I watched the Carpenters setting up Scaffolds, or makeing Sheds and Fences; the Sawyers cutting Timber; the Labourers clearing away Stones and Rubbidge, or wheeling up Baggs of Lime to the Mortar Heaps; the Masons sawing off Stones or working and setting them; the Plumbers laying Pipes. Very soon I was constantly attending the Work without Sir Chris.: I alone was giving directions to the Men, measuring all the Masons' work (my old Master, Mr Creed, used to welcome me with a sally), keeping account of what Stores were delivered to the Storekeeper, taking care that the Carpenters and Labourers who worked by the Day were imployed as directed and kept to their Business. For it was very usual to see ten men in a Corner very busie about two men's work, taking much Care that every one should have due Proportion of the Labour. One wonderful piece of Difficulty, for which the whole Number had to perform, was to drag along a Stone of about Three Hundred Weight in a Carriage in order to be hoisted upon the Moldings of the Cuppola. And yet I dared not speak harshly to them, for if you find never so just a Fault with an English workman he will reply, Sir I do not come hither to be taught my Trade: I have served an Apprenticeship and have wrought before now with Gentlemen who have been satisfied with my Work. And then unless you soothed him, he would cast down his Tools in a Pother. I would instruct Sir Chris, in what had passed, still glowing with Rage and Indignation, and he would say Poh! Poh! all will be well, all will be well.
And all Manner of Things shall be well for now my Gout is abated, and I am return'd to the Office where Walter is saying, Why do you Sigh? I did not Sigh, I told him. But then this Thought presents itself to me: do I make Noises that I do not hear, and do I sigh, when I look back on the Years that have passed and which are so much like a Dreame?
For when I was first with Sir Chris. I could not but wonder at the strange Alteration in my Life, from being a meer Itinerant Mendicant of a Boy: it had all fallen out as Mirabilis had prophesied, and I doubted not but that he had in some way determined it. So I did not leave off my Visitings to Black Step Lane, tho' without Mirabilis the Assembly were in a very poor State and it fell to me to decipher his Books: which I did willingly enough, now that I was come (as I suppos'd) to Man's Estate. In the mean time I said nothing of these Matters to Sir Chris, who would have reviled me at a hard Rate and treated me as a meer Merry-Andrew. He liked to destroy Antient things: sad and wretched Stuff, he called it, and he us'd to say that Men are weary of the Reliques of Antiquity. He spoke in their stead of Sensible Knowledge, of the Experimentall Learning and of real Truths: but I took these for nothing but Fopperies. This is our Time, said he, and we must lay its Foundacions with our own Hands; but when he used such Words I was seiz'd with this Reflection: and how do we conclude what Time is our own?
As it turned out, Sir Chris, his own Perswasions were hurled against him, when it came to his Notice that he was building St Pauls Church upon an ancient Ruine. For when we open'd the Ground next to the Seite of the North Porticoe, some Stones were found which on further Inspection, after digging down sufficiently and removing what Earth lay in the way, appeared to be the Walls and Pavement of a Temple: close by was found a little Altar, on hearing of which Sir Chris, laughed and whisper'd to me, Let us make a Pilgrimage to the Pitte!
On our Arrival he heaved himself into the Foundacions and there Rummaging among a great many old Stones he found an earthern Lamp -a very mean work, says he, and throws it back among the Rubbidge. Then the next Morning the Image of a God was dug out of the Ground, being girt about with a Serpent and bearing a Wand in his Hand (the Head and Feet being broken off). It brings to mind, Sir Chris told me, an Observation which Erasmus made: that on the day of St Pauls conversion it was the custom in London to bring in procession to the Church a wooden Staff in which was cunningly wrought a Snake or a Serpent; what think you of that, Nick, since you allwaies have your Head stuck in old Books? And I said nothing, for who can speak of the Mazes of the Serpent to those who are not lost in them? But that some may see and understand an Object, others meerly neglecting it, you have an Instance in Mr John Barber who would not stir from his bed at the Black Boy in Pater-Noster-Row: he thought all the superficies of this terrestrial Globe was made of thin and transparent Glass, and that underneath there lay a Multitude of Serpents; he died laughing, at the Ignorance and Folly of those who could not see the true Foundacions of the World. Thus I also dismiss the narrow Conceptions of this Generation of Writers who speak with Sir Chris, of a new Restauration of Learning, and who prattle something too idly on the new Philosophy of Experiment and Demonstration: these are but poor Particles of Dust which will not burie the Serpents.
And so while others were mouthing such fantastical! and perishable Trash, I kept to my studdy of the antient Architects, for the greatness of the Antients is infinitely superior to the Moderns. It was my good Fortune that in Sir Chris, his Library there was a great Jumble of Books which he had taken up and then tossed aside, so it was here that I examined Cambden's Remains and Lisle his Saxon Monuments, Nicholas Caussin's De Symbolica Aegyptiorum Sapientia and the universall Kircher his Oedipus aegyptiacus in which he concludes that the Obelisks are the tables of esoterick knowledge. And as I write this Walter Pyne takes an exact Account, from my Direction, of my Historicall Pillar beside Limehouse Church: you may hear his Pen scratch. In Kircher, also I discover'd planns of the Pyramiddes, which gave Demonstration of how the Shaddowe is thrown by the Obelisk across the Desart land, and now Walter drops Inke across his Paper. Thus the Subjects of my Thought were the miraculous Memphitic pyrramides which the Aegyptians erected to the memory of their Gods who were Kings also: the Summities of these artificial Mountains were so high that from them, as from some august and terrible Throne, they seemed to the People to be reigning after their Death. This Plan is Ruined from the Staine, says Walter but I make no Answer to him. Thus in Sir Chris, his Library I reflected upon these stupendious Works, vast and of a manner Colossale, and of the curious Signs cut upon their Stone. I gaz'd upon the Shaddowes of fallen Collumnes until my Spirit itself became a very Ruine and so, as I proceeded further in my Books, it was a surety that I studdied part of my self. And Walter leaves the Office now, muttering to himself and walking to the River in order to dear his beating Mind and as I watch him I see my self once more in my youthful Dayes when Sir Chris, found me in his Library: Those who hasten to be wise, Nick, said he looking in on me, have some times lost their own Wits.
Get thee to a Privy, I whispered to myself as he went away chuckling.
One remarkable Passage concerning our Relations I was like to have forgot: which was our Discourse in the shaddowe of Stone-henge. Sir Chris., who as I said confus'd antique with antick, was not inclined to make so hard a Journey (it being more than eighty-five miles from London) but I perswaded him otherwise with an account of the Stones: some, by report, were of a lightish blew with a glister as if minerall were amongst them, and some of them again were of a greyish colour and were speckled with dark green. He had a Fancy to set such Stones in the Fabrick of St Pauls -since the Quarries of Hasselborough and Chilmark were close to the border of the Salisbury plain, and the great quarry at Aibury not many miles distant, I put it into his Head that we might discover more of the same curious Stones there. I am no great Traveller, having never been above three miles from London before, but I could not be appeas'd until I had seen this bowing place, this High Place of worship. Master Sammes believes it to be Phoenician, Master Camden thinks it belongs to the idol Markolis, and Mr Jones judges the Structure to be a Roman work consecrated to Coelus; but I got its Imagery by Heart (as they say): the true God is to be venerated in obscure and fearful Places, with Horror in their Approaches, and thus did our Ancestors worship the Daemon in the form of great Stones.
On the day of our Journey I waited on Sir Chris, at his House by the Office; Coming, coming he calls out to me from above the Stair-head, I'm only seeking my Ruffles and I hear his quick Steps echo through the Bed-chamber. Presently he is down like the Wind, out the Door, and into White-hall, settling his Wigg as he goes: then we coach'd it to the Standard in Cornhill, where the Stage for the London to Lands-End Road waited. What Company have we for the Coach? he asks of a Servant of the Inn.
Two only, and both Gentlemen, he replies.
I am pleased at this, Sir Chris, says to us both, but he was not so pleased neither: when he rode in a London coach, one arm would be out of the Coach on one side and the other on the other, but he was sore pressed for so much Room on this Journey. He took the place fronting to the Coach-box and clapped his Cloak-bag beneath his Legs: Well, says he smiling civilly upon the Company, I hope no one will smoke Tobacco since my Clerk here grows melancholy upon its Vapours. And I dared not deny it, for who knows but it may be true?
We pass'd along Cornhil, Cheapside, St Pauls Church-Yard (where Sir Chris, leaned out of the Coach, looking piercingly), Ludgate Hill, Fleet Street, The Strand, Hay-Market, Pickadilly (where Sir Chris, took out his Linnen and blew a Piece of Jelly from his Nose into it) and then past the Suburbs thro' Knightsbridg, Kensington, Hammersmith, Turnham Green and Hounslow: the Coach-man was driving at full career, as is too usual with them, but Sir Chris, says to me with a look of inexpressible satisfaction, You must acquire, Nick, the right Knack of hunouring the Coach's motion. And then he smiled upon our fellow-Travellers again. At this point, crossing Baker Bridge with the Powder-mills on the right and the Sword-mills on the left, we were jolted almost to Death by a number of large Holes: Don't spill us, Sir Chris, calls up, and then he gets out his Pocket-Book for his own Calculations, at which he continu'd until he slept. Thus on thro'
Staines and across the Thames by means of a Wooden-bridge to Egham and, after an easie Descent by the New England Inn on the left, we crossed over Bagshot Heath and came to Beugh-wood and Bag- shot.
Sir Chris, had now woken from his Doze and was engaged in familiar Conversation with one of the Companions of our journey: he had taken off his Wigg and played with it on his Lap as he talked, plucking at it as if it were a Goose. He loved to act the Schoolmaster with those unskilled in his Arts and, since he did not so much as notice me as he continued with his Discourse, I was able to fall into a Sleep until he woke me with his Nick! Nick! We are come to a Halt! We are come to a Halt!
We had arriv'd at Blackwater, a small place where we took Ayre by an Inn'e and, having need to Shit, I used the House of Office. Here it was agreed that we would Stick for the Night: Sir Chris, was all for going on, but he saw that the Journey had brought on me a small Feaver (since I sweat when I am away from home). Time is pressing, says he, but Nature presses on you more. He laughed then, and was inexpressibly merry after with the Travellers at Supper. When we climbed up to our Chamber at last, I very weary, he scanned the Observations and Rules for Guests affix'd to the Wall: Remember ye, says he intoning the Words as if they were meer Foolishness, that ye are in this world as in an Inn'e to tarry for a short space and then to be gone hence. At night when you come to your Inn'e thanke God for your Preservation: next morning pray for a good Journey. We must be on our knees then, Nick, he goes on, but I fear more from the Lice in these Beds than from the Roads. Then you must pray to the God of Lice, I replied, and hurried down to the Yard to vomit up my Meal.
On the next Day we passed thro' Hartley Row, eventually descending to Basingstoke, and it was when we had reached Church-Oakly that Sir Chris, desired to set up a Magneticall Experiment in the Coach. The other Travellers being willing to observe his Art, they tucked their Shooes up beneath them to give him more Room upon the Floor; he took out the sphericall Compass from his Cloack-bag and produc'd like a Conjuror a peece of Plane Board. The Magnet was half immersed in the Board, till it was like a Globe with the Poles in the Horizon, and he was about to bring on his steel-filings (the others looking on Transfix'd) when of a sudden there was a terrific Quake: going fast over a Bridge close to Whitchurch, the Driver had turned short and two of the Horses were over the Bridge; only the wheel horse hanging dead was able to keep the Coach from going over, as I lay tumbled on the Floor with my Fellows. Sir Chris., trying his Agility to get out of the window, was like to have jumped into the River as I watched but instead he dropp'd into the Dust. I thought it to be a terrible Fall, but he stood up with a good grace and looked puzzled at the Ground: then he seemed to have a need to Make Water and unbutton'd his Breeches in sight of us. One by one we escap'd through the same Window, and then were forced to sit in the Cold till a Team of Horses could be sent from Whitchurch to pull the Coach away from the Bridge; that night we stopp'd at a wretched Inn where we were smirked at by the Hostess. You could not have Prayed last night, said I, as the Observations recommended. No, he replied, and I have lost my Compass as a Penance for it.
The latter part of our Journey from the entrance of Wiltshire into Salisbury was very rough and abounded with Jolts, the Holes we were obliged to go through being very many and some of them Deep; and so it was with much Relief that we left the Coach at Salisbury and hired two Horses for the road across the Avon to the Plain and Stonehenge.
When we came to the edge of this sacred Place, we tethered our Horses to the Posts provided and then, with the Sunne direct above us, walked over the short grass which (continually cropt by the flocks of Sheep) seemed to spring us forward to the great Stones. I stood back a little as Sir Chris, walked on, and I considered the Edifice with steadinesse: there was nothing here to break the Angles of Sight and as I gaz'd I opened my Mouth to cry out but my Cry was silent; I was struck by an exstatic Reverie in which all the surface of this Place seemed to me Stone, and the Sky itself Stone, and I became Stone as I joined the Earth which flew on like a Stone through the Firmament.
And thus I stood until the Kaw of a Crow rous'd me: and yet even the call of the black Bird was an Occasion for Terrour, since it was not of this Time. I know not how long a Period I had traversed in my Mind, but Sir Chris, was still within my Sight when my Eyes were clear'd of Mist. He was walking steadily towards the massie Structure and I rushed violently to catch him, for I greatly wished to enter the Circle before him. I stopped him with a Cry and then ran on: when Crows kaw more than ordinary, said I when I came up to him all out of Breath, we may expect Rain. Pish, he replied. He stopped to tye his Shooe, so then I flew ahead of him and first reached the Circle which was the Place of Sacrifice. And I bowed down.
Master Jones says it is erected on the Cubit measure, says Sir Chris. coming after me and taking out his Pocket-Book, and do you see, Nick, its beautifull Proportions?
It is a huge and monstrous Work, I answered standing straight, and it has been called the Architecture of the Devil.
But he paid no heed to me: They must have used tall trees for Levers, he continu'd squinting up at the Stones, or they discover'd the art of ordering Engines for the raising of Weights.
Some said Merlyn was the Father, I replied, and raised these Stones by the hidden Mysteries of Magick.
Sir Chris, laughed at this and sat upon the Stone in the inner Circle.
There is an old rhyme, Nick, says he, which goes thus: This Fame saies, Merlyn to perfection brought But Fame said more than ever Merlyn wrought.
And he lean'd forward with a Smile.
You are sitting on the Altar Stone, I said; and he jumped up quickly like one bitten. Do you see, I continu'd, how it is of a harder Stone and designed to resist Fire?
I see no Scorch marks, he replied: but then he wandred among the other Stones as I recall'd another merry Verse: Will you wake him?
No, not I,
For if I do
He's sure to Cry.
When we were not close about each other I could talk freely again: For these are all places of Sacrifice, I call'A out, and these Stones are the Image of God raised in Terrour!
And Sir Chris, replied in a loud Voice: The Mind of Man is naturally subject to Apprehensions!
Upon this I told him that Peter della Valle, in his late Travels to the Indies, writes that at Ahmedabad there is a famous Temple wherein there is no other Image but a little column of Stone -named Mahadeu which in their language signifies the Great God. And that there are such structures in Africa, being Temples dedicated to Moloch. Even the Egyptian name Obelisk, I said, means consecrated Stone.
And he answer'`a: Ah Master Dyer, as the Prophets say, the old Men shall dream Dreames and the young Men shall see Visions and you are young still.
The skie was getting wonderful Dark with a strong Winde which swirled around the Edifice: Do you see, I said, how the Architraves are so strangely set upon the heads of the Upright stones that they seem to hang in the Air? But the winde took my words away from him as he crouched with his Rule and Crayon. Geometry, he called out, is the Key to this Majesty: if the Proportions are right, I calculate that the inner part is an Exagonall Figure raised upon the Bases of four Equilateral!
Triangles! I went up to him saying, Some believe they are Men metamorphosised into Stone, but he payed no Heed to me and stood with his Head flung back as he continu'd: And you see, Nick, there is an Exactness of Placing them in regard to the Heavens, for they are so arranged as to estimate the positions of the Planets and the fixed Starres. From which I believe they had magneticall compass Boxes.
Then the Rain fell in great Drops, and we sheltered beneath the Lintel of one great Stone as it turned from gray to blew and green with the Moisture. And when I lean'd my Back against that Stone I felt in the Fabrick the Labour and Agonie of those who erected it, the power of Him who enthrall'd them, and the marks of Eternity which had been placed there. I could hear the Cryes and Voices of those long since gone but I shut my Ears to them and, to keep away Phrensy, stared at the Moss which grew over the Stone. Consider this, I told Sir Chris., the Memphitic pyramid has stood about three thousand and two hundred years, which is not as long as this Edifice: but it was twenty years in building, with three hundred and sixty thousand men continually working upon it. How many laboured here, and for how long? And then I went on after a Pause: the Base of the pyramidde is the exact size and shape of Lincolns-Inn-Fields, and I have some times in my Mind's Eye a Pyrammide rising above the stinking Streets of London. The sky had cleared as I spoke, the clowds rowled away, and as the Sun struck the Ground I looked towards Sir Chris. But he seemed altered in Feature: he had heard nothing of my Matter but sat leaning his Head back upon the Stone, pale as a Cloth and disconsolate to a strange Degree. I lay no Stress upon the Thing called a Dream, he said, but I just now had a Vision of my Son dead.
It was Evening now, and as the sloping Rays of the Sunne shone on the ground beyond the Stones, we could easily distinguish the sepulchral Tumuli which lie in great Numbers around there; and this Phrase occurred to me as I looked upon them: the Banks where wild Time blows. At the sight of the Shaddowes which Stone-henge now cast upon the short Grass, Sir Chris, cleared up his Countenance: Well you see Nick, says he, how these are Shaddowes on a known Elevation to show the equal Hours of the Day. It is easy to frame the Pillars that every Day at such a Time the Shaddowes will seem to return, he continued, and I am glad to say that Logarithms is a wholly British art.
And out pops his Pocket-Book again as we made our Path towards our Horses which were quietly munching upon the Grass. I shall subjoyn as a Corollary to the foregoing Remarks that Sir Chris, his Son died of a Convulsive Fitt in a foreign Land, the which News we did not receive until several Months after the Events here related.
And now these Scenes return to me again and, tho' here in my Office, I am gone backward through Time and can see the Countenance of Sir Chris, as once it was in the shaddowe of Stone-henge. Truly Time is a vast Denful of Horrour, round about which a Serpent winds and in the winding bites itself by the Tail. Now, now is the Hour, every Hour, every part of an Hour, every Moment, which in its end does begin again and never ceases to end: a beginning continuing, always ending.
I have that Sentence now, says Walter turning to face me.
I glanced up, rubbing my Eyes: Then read it back to me, you, you But he interrupts with his Recitation: The great Tower at the West End of the Church at Limehouse is advancing, tho' the Masons have been in want of Portland Stone, which has somewhat hindered its Progress.
That is finely Put, said I smiling at him, but go one Inch further with this: There is nothing else in hand save the Clearing of the Earth and Rubbidge from under the Vaults. Your honourable Servant, Nicholas Dyer.
That is All?
That is All.
To explain this Matter, and to wind up Time so that I am returned to my present State: Beside my Church at Limehouse there had antiently been a great Fen or Morass which had been a burying-place of Saxon times, with Graves lined with chalk-stones and beneath them earlier Tombs. Here my work men have found Urns and Ivory Pins once fasten'd to wooden Shrouds, and beside them Ashes and Skulls. This was indeed a massive Necropolis but it has Power still withinne it, for the ancient Dead emit a certain Material Vertue that will come to inhere in the Fabrick of this new Edifice. By day my House of Lime will catch and intangle all those who come near to it; by Night it will be one vast Mound of Shaddowe and Mistinesse, the effect of many Ages before History. And yet I had hot and present Work on hand, for I was in want of the Sacrifice to consecrate this Place: the Observations of Mirabilis upon the Rites, which I explained further back, are pertinent to this Matter; but this onely by the way.
I have built my Church in Hang-Mans-Acre, by Rope-Makers-Field and Vyrgyn-Yard, near which Ground lay a Congregation of Rogues or Vagabonds who lived by the common Sewer which runs into the Thames. This Settlement of Sturdy Beggars or Strowling Men (whose Clothes smell as rankly as Newgate or Tyburn as their Countenances speak of Decay and Sicknesse) was a source of Contentment to me, for these counterfeit Aegyptians (as they are call'd) are Instances of Vengeance and 111 Fortune, the Church being their Theatre where they may become Objects for our Meditation. It is common in speaking to them to give them the title of Honest Men for they are indeed the Children of the Gods, and their Catch goes thus: Hang Sorrow and cast away Care For the Devil is bound to find us!
They are so hardened in this sort of Misery that they seek no other Life: from Beggaring they proceed to Theft, and from Theft to the Gallows. They know all the Arts of their dismal Trade, and tune their Voices to that Pitch which will raise Compassion with their God bless you Master and May Heaven reward you Master; Do you have a half-penny, a farthing, a broken Crust, they cry, to bestow upon him that is ready to Perish?
When I was a Street-boy and slept in Holes and Corners I became acquainted with the miserable Shifts of this Life: in our great City there are whole Fraternities of them living together, for even these forlorn Wretches subsist with a sort of Order and Government among themselves.
They are indeed as perfect a Corporation as any Company in England -one scowrs one Street (as I observ'd at the time) and another another, none interloping on the Province, or Walk as they call it, that does not belong to them. They are a Society in Miniature, and will nurse up a brood of Beggars from Generation to Generation even until the World's end. And thus their place is by my Church: they are the Pattern of Humane life, for others are but one Step away from their Condition, and they acknowledge that the beginning and end of all Flesh is but Torment and Shaddowe. They are in the Pitte also, where they see the true Face of God which is like unto their own.
I had gone to Limehouse in the afternoon to Survey for my self the south-western corner of the Foundacions which was afflicted by too much Dampnesse; I was musing upon this Matter, taking a Path towards the River, when I came close against the Settlement of Beggars which consisted of as many Ragged Regiments as ever I saw mustered together. I walked a little away from them, to get the Stink from my Nostrils, when I encountered by the side of a muddy Ditch a sad and meagre Fellow who kept his Head upon his Breast. When 1 stood beside him, my shaddowe stretching across his Face, he looked up at me and muttered as if by Rote, Good your Worship cast an Eye of Pity upon a poor decay'd Tradesman. He was reduced to the utmost Extremity, wearing nothing but old Shreds and Patches like a Stall in Rag-Fair.
What was your Trade? I asked him.
I was a Printer in Bristol, Master.
And you fell into Debts, and were forced to Break?
Alas, said he, the Disease that afflicts me is far different from what you conceeve of it, and is such as you cannot see: my State is one of fearful Guiltinesse from which I can never Break.
I was much taken with his Words, for he had come like a Bird into my Lime-House, and I sat my self down beside him. For a halfpenny, he continued, I might read you the Book of my Life? And I assented. He was a little man and had a high quavering way of Talk: his Eyes could not look at me and stared every where but in my Face. And as I sat with my Hand beneath my Chin he narrated his History in short, plain Words as if he had been reduced to the State of a meer Child through his Miseries (and this Thought came to me as he spoke: need the Sacrifice be a Child, and not one who has become a Child?).
This was his Wandring Life as he related it to me: He had set up in Trade in Bristol, but pritty soon he became attach'd to Brandy and Strong-water and let his Affairs slide; he remained continually at the Tavern where he was either drunk or ingaged in a quarrell, and left all his Business to his Wife who could not drive the Trade. Thus he became Insolvent and his Creditors, hearing of this, pressed upon him at so hard a Rate that he was in great fear of being taken by the Sergeant to the Kings-Bench: tho' he knew of no Warrant to apprehend him, nevertheless it was put into his Mind to flee (so great are the Bugbears that our own Guiltinesse creates); which course he took, leaving his Wife and Children who, bound to his Estate, were summarily brought into the Hazard. And have you seen them since that Time? I asked him. No, he replied, I see them only in my Mind's Eye and thus they haunt me.
He was a poor Wretch indeed, and a perfect Figure of that Necessity which puts a man to venture upon all manner of dangerous Actions, suggests strange Imaginations and desperate Resolutions, the product of which is only Disorder, Confusion, Shame and Ruin. As the Great rise by degrees of Greatnesse to the Pitch of Glory, so the Miserable sink to the Depth of their Misery by a continued Series of Disasters. Yet it cannot be denied but most Men owe not only their Learning to their Plenty, but likewise their Vertue and their Honesty: for how many Thousands are there in the World, in great Reputation for their Sober and Just dealings with Mankind, who if they were put to their Shifts would soon lose their Reputations and turn Rogues and Scoundrels? And yet we punish Poverty as if it were a Crime, and honour Wealth as if it were a Vertue. And so goes on the Circle of Things: Poverty begets Sin and Sin begets Punishment. As the Rhyme has it: When once the tottering House begins to shrink, Upon it comes all the Weight by strange Instinct.
Thus it was with this sick Monkey before me, waiting to be tied to the Tree. I turned my Face upon him after this Recital of his Woes and whisper'd, How are you called? I am called Ned.
Well, go on, my Ned. And so, Master, I became this poor Dunghil you see before you.
And why did you come here? I am here I know not how, unless there be some Lodestone in that new Church yonder. In Bath I was brought to the Brink of Eternity; in Salisbury I was consum'd to a meer Sceleton; in Guildford I was given up for a Dead Man. Now I am here in Lime- house, and before this in the unlucky Isle of Dogs.
And how are you? I am mighty weary and sore in my Feet, and could wish the Earth might swallow me, Master.
And where will you go, if it be not under the Earth? Where can I go? If I leave here, I must come back.
Why do you look so Fearfully on me, Ned? I have a Swimming in the Head, Master. Last night I dreamed of riding and eating Cream.
You are very much a Child. I have become so. Well, it is too late to be sorry.
Do you mean there is no Hope? No, not any Hope now. I have no means of continuing.
And will you make an End of it? What End do I have but the Gallows?
Well, if I were in your case I would prefer self-murther to a Hanging.
At this he passionately flew out and said, How can you? But I put my Finger to his Cheek, to still its Motion, and his Storm soon blew over. He was mine, and as I spoke my Eyes were brisk and sparkling.
Better that you choose your own Occasion, and not be the Top whipp'd by 111 Fortune. Well, Master, I understand you and I know what you would have me do.
I speak nothing, but let you speak. And I know nothing, but what I suppose you would have me know. And yet I cannot do it.
You cannot fear Death for the pain of it, since you have endured more Pain in Life than you shall find in Death. But then what of the World to come, Master?
You are past believing in the Old Wives Tales of Divines and Sermonisers, Ned. Your Body is all of you, and when that's done there's an End of it. And it is the End I have been seeking for this Poor Life. I am no thing now. I am undone.
The Night was coming on, being within half an Hour of Sunset, and the Light began to be dusky as I gave Ned my Knife. It grows Cold, said he. You will not be here so long, I replied, that it will freeze you. We walked together towards the Church, the work men now being gone to their Homes, and when Ned fell a'crying I bid him keep on: he was so poor a Bundle of Humanity that his Steps were but small and tottering, but at last I brought him to the brink of the Foundacions.
Then with his eyes wide and his arms across (one Hand clasping the Knife), he gazed upwards at my half completed Work as the Rays of the Sunne lengthened and the Stone grew dull. Then his gaze was fixt for a considerable time upon the Ground, for he durst not Stir from this life: he was as like to fall into a Melancholly fit, but I have more Mercury in my Temper and I guided his Knife till he fell.
I let slip an Ay me as I crouched to see him in the Darkness beneath the Church, then I rose from my Knees in a dung Sweat and burst out Laughing; for indeed there would be no great Miss of him. Yet I walk'd away at once, lest my Case should be discovered to the Watchman, and I hurried across Rope-Makers-Field to the River side; but as I did so I was forced to pass the Congr'egation of Beggars who were sat beside small Fires to fry their Scraps of Rottenness. They were ill-looking Vermin and even by their flickering Lights I could see their unkempt Hair, swarthy Countenances, and long rusty Beards swaddled up in Raggs: some Heads were covered with Thrum caps, and others thrust into the tops of old Stockings so that, with their Cloaths of diverse colours, they looked like nothing so much as Ancient Britons. I wrapped my Coat around me and hurried on, my nostrils filled with the Scent of their reeking Dung-hills and puddles of Piss.
Some of them seemed elevated strangely, and danced about a pitiful Fire in one corner of the Field: they stompt and roared like those being whipt at Bridewell, but that their Lashes came from strong Liquor and Forgetfulnesse. And as the Winde gusted from the River I heard Snatches of their Song, viz.
A Wheel that turns, a Wheel that turned ever, A Wheel that turns, and will leave turning never.
I must have stood listening in a strange Posture for this Band of Rogues caught sight of me and let out a loud Bawling and Calling to one another; and then a confus'd Hurry of Thought and Dizzinesse came upon me like a Man often meets in a Dreame. I ran towards them with outstretch'd Arms and cried, Do you remember me? I will never, never leave thee! I will never, never leave thee!
AND AS the cry faded away, the noise of the traffic returned with increased clarity. The group of vagrants were standing in a corner of some derelict ground, where unwanted objects from the city had over the years been deposited: broken bottles and unrecognisable pieces of metal were strewn over a wide area, crab grass and different varieties of tall ragweed partially obscured the shapes of abandoned or burnt-out cars, while rotting mattresses sank into the soil. A hoarding had been erected by the river side: it was of a dark red colour, but from here the images were indistinct and only the words HAVE ANOTHER BEFORE YOU GO were still visible. Now, in the early summer, this forgotten area had the sweet, rank, dizzying odour of decay. The vagrants had started a fire, piling up the old rags and newspapers which they found lying beside them, and were now dancing around it -or, rather, they stumbled backwards and forwards with their fire as the wavering centre. They shouted out words in the air but they were too deeply imbued in alcohol or meths to know either the time or the place in which they found themselves. A light rain fell across their faces as they stared upward from the turning earth.
Some distance away from them, in a corner of the ground closest to the Thames, a solitary tramp was staring at the figure in the dark coat who was now walking away: 'Do you remember me?' the tramp cried out, 'You're the one, aren't you! I've seen you! I've watched you!' The figure paused for a moment before hurrying on; then the tramp's attention shifted and, forgetting all about the man (who had even now reached the river and stood with his back towards the city), he bent over once more and continued digging with his hands into the damp earth. Behind him the outline of the Limehouse church could be seen against the darkening sky; he gazed up at the building, with its massive but now crumbling and discoloured stone, and rubbed his neck with the palm of his right hand. 'It's getting cold,' he said, T'm off. I've had enough of this. I'm cold.'
It was about half-an-hour before sunset and, although the other vagrants would stay by the fire until they dropped exhausted on the ground and slept where they fell, he started making his way to a derelict house (early Georgian in appearance) which stood at the corner of Narrow Street and Rope-Maker's-Field. This was an area in which there were many such dwellings, with their windows boarded up and their doors fastened with planks, but this particular place had been used for many years -and, as such, it was recognised and permitted by the police. The theory was that the employment of this one house prevented the vagrants from trying to enter the church or its crypt as a resting place but, in truth, none of them would have ventured into St Anne's.
The tramp had reached Narrow Street when he paused, recalling with sudden ferocity the back of the man who had walked away from him towards the river, although he could not remember when precisely this event had occurred. He turned around quickly and then, seeing nothing, with a slow step he walked into the house. The rain was being blown in as he entered the hallway, and he paused to look down at his cracked and gaping shoes; then he examined the moisture on his hands before rubbing them against the wall. He peered into the ground floor rooms to see if there were any faces he recognised as 'trouble': there were some who picked quarrels with anyone who came near them, and others who screamed or called out in the night.
There had even been occasions when, in a place such as this where tramps sheltered, one would get up in the middle of the night, kill another, and then go back to sleep again.
Three of them were already settled in the house: in the far corner of the largest room, a man and woman were lying against an old mattress: both of them seemed old, except that time moves fast for vagrants and they age quickly. In the middle of the room a young man was frying something in a battered saucepan, holding it gingerly above the fire which he had lit on the cracked stone floor. This is something, Ned,' he said to the tramp who now entered the room, This is really something, Neddo'. Ned glanced into the saucepan and saw food of an olive colour sizzling in its own fat. The smell made him feel uneasy: 'I'm off!' he shouted at the young man, although they were only a few inches apart.
'It's terrible rainy, Ned.'
T'm not happy here. I'm off!'
But instead of going outside he walked into the next room, which was used as a latrine; he pissed in a corner and then came back, glaring at the young man who was still bent over his fire. The old couple paid no attention to either of them: the woman had a dark brown bottle in one hand, and waved it around as she continued with what seemed to be an interrupted conversation. 'Dust, just look at the dust,' she was saying, 'and you know where it comes from, don't you? Yes, you know.' She turned her head sideways and glanced at her companion, who was bowed down with his head between his knees. Then she started singing in a low voice, Shadows of the evening Steal across the sky…
But her words became confused, and she repeated 'sky' or 'night' several times before relapsing into silence. She stared out of the window's broken panes: 'Now look at those clouds there. I'm sure there's a face in there looking at me.' She handed the bottle to her companion, who held it for a minute without bringing it to his lips.
Then she grabbed it from him.
Thanks for the drink,' he said abashed.
'Are you happy there?'
'I have been happy but I'm not happy now,' and he lay down with his back to her.
Ned had also settled himself into a corner, sighing as he did so. He put his hand into the right hand pocket of his capacious coat, which he wore even in the heat of summer, and took out an envelope; he opened it, and stared at the photograph which was inside. He cannot remember now if he had found it or if it had always been his, and it was so creased that the image upon it was almost unrecognisable; it appeared, however, to be a picture of a child taken in front of a stone wall, with some trees set back upon the right hand. The child had his arms straight down by his sides, with the palms outward, and his head was tilted slightly to the left. The expression upon his face was unclear, but Ned had come to the conclusion that this was a photograph of himself as a small boy.
The bell of Limehouse Church rang as each of them, in this house, drifted into sleep -suddenly once more like children who, exhausted by the day's adventures, fall asleep quickly and carelessly. A solitary visitor, watching them as they slept, might wonder how it was that they had arrived at such a state and might speculate about each stage of their journey towards it: when did he first start muttering to himself, and not realise that he was doing so? When did she first begin to shy away from others and seek the shadows? When did all of them come to understand that whatever hopes they might have had were foolish, and that life was something only to be endured? Those who wander are always objects of suspicion and sometimes even of fear: the four people gathered in this house by the church had passed into a place, one might almost say a time, from which there was no return.
The young man who had been bent over the fire had spent his life in a number of institutions -an orphanage, a juvenile home and most recently a prison; the old woman still clutching the brown bottle was an alcoholic who had abandoned her husband and two children many years before; the old man had taken to wandering after the death of his wife in a fire which he believed, at the time, he might have prevented.
And what of Ned, who was now muttering in his sleep?
He had once worked as a printer in Bristol, for a small firm which specialised in producing various forms of stationery. He enjoyed his work but his temperament was a diffident one, and he found it difficult to speak to his colleagues: when in the course of the day he had to talk to them, he often stared at his hands or looked down at the floor as he did so. This had also been his position as a child. He had been brought up by elderly parents who seemed so distant from him that he rarely confided in them, and they would stare at him helplessly when he lay sobbing upon his bed; in the schoolyard he had not joined in the games of others but had held himself back, as if fearing injury.
So he had been called a 'retiring' boy. Now his work-mates pitied him, although they tried not to show it, and it was generally arranged that he was given jobs which allowed him to work alone. The smell of ink, and the steady rhythm of the press, then induced in him a kind of peace -it was the peace he felt when he arrived early, at a time when he might be the only one to see the morning light as it filtered through the works or to hear the sound of his footsteps echoing through the old stone building. At such moments he was forgetful of himself and thus of others until he heard their voices, raised in argument or in greeting, and he would shrink into himself again. At other times he would stand slightly to one side and try to laugh at their jokes, but when they talked about sex he became uneasy and fell silent for it seemed to him to be a fearful thing. He still remembered how the girls in the schoolyard used to chant, Kiss me, kiss me if you can I will put you in my pan, Kiss me, kiss me as you said I will fry you till you're dead And when he thought of sex, it was as of a process which could tear him limb from limb. He knew from his childhood reading that, if he ran into the forest, there would be a creature lying in wait for him.
Generally after work he left quickly and returned through the streets of Bristol to his room, with its narrow bed and cracked mirror.
It was cluttered with his parents' furniture, which to him now smelled of dust and death, and was quite without interest except for a variety of objects which gleamed on the mantelpiece. He was a collector, and at weekends he would search paths or fields for old coins and artefacts: the objects he discovered were not valuable, but he was drawn to their status as forgotten and discarded things. He had recently found, for example, an old spherical compass which he had placed at the centre of his collection. He stared at in the evening, imagining those who in another time had used it to find their way.
Thus he lived until his twenty fourth year when, on one evening in March, he agreed to go with his work-mates to the local pub. He had not been able to concentrate on his work all that day: for some reason he had been experiencing a peculiar but unfocussed excitement; his throat was dry, his stomach tightened into cramps, and when he spoke he confused his words. When he arrived in the saloon bar he wanted to drink some beer quickly, very quickly, and for a moment he had an image of his own body as a flame: 'What'll you have? What'll you have?' he called out to the others, who looked at him astonished.
But he was filled with good fellowship and, as he waited for his order, he saw a discarded glass with some whisky still in it; surreptitiously, he drank it down before turning to his friends with a broad grin.
The more he drank that evening, the more he talked; he took everything that was said with a terrible seriousness, and interrupted other conversations continually. 'Let me explain,' he was saying, 'Try and see it my way for once.' Certain thoughts and phrases which had occurred to him in the past, but which he had kept to himself, now acquired real significance and he shouted them out in astonishment even as he faintly sensed the incredulity and horror which he would later feel at his own behaviour. But this did not matter if at last he was about to create a vivid impression upon the others: and that need became all the more desperate when he was no longer able to distinguish their faces, and they had become moons which encircled him. And he left his own body in order to howl at them from a distance: 'I shouldn't be here,' he was saying, 'I shouldn't be telling you this. I stole money. I stole it from the firm -you know when she puts the wages in the packets? I stole a lot, and they never found out.
Never. You know I was in prison for stealing once?' He looked around as if he were being hunted. 'It's terrible there, in a cell. I shouldn't be here. I'm a professional thief.' He took hold of a glass, but it slipped out of his grasp and shattered as it hit the floor; then he got up from his stool and swung blindly towards the door.
It was early morning when he woke up, fully clothed, on his bed and found himself staring at the ceiling with his arms rigid by his sides. At first he felt quite serene, since he was being borne aloft by the grey light approaching him in neat squares from the window, but then the memory of the previous evening struck him and, staring wildly around, he sprang up from the bed. He gnawed at his right hand as he tried to recall each event in order but he saw only an image of himself as blood red, his face contorted with rage, his body veering from side to side, and his voice magnified as if all the time he had been sitting alone in a darkened room. He concentrated on that darkness and was able to glimpse the faces of the others, but they were stamped with horror or detestation. And then he remembered what he had said about theft, and about prison. He got up and looked into the mirror, noticing for the first time that he had two large hairs growing between his eyebrows. Then he was sick in the small basin. Who was it that had spoken last night?
He was walking around in circles, the smell of the old furniture suddenly very distinct. There was a newspaper in his hand and he started reading it, paying particular attention to the headlines which seemed to be floating towards him so that now a band of black print encircled his forehead. He was curled upon the bed, hugging his knees, when the next horror came upon him: those who heard him last night would now have to report his theft, and his employer would call the police. He saw how the policeman took the telephone call at the station; how his name and address were spoken out loud; how he looked down at the floor as they led him away; how he was in the dock, forced to answer questions about himself, and now he was in a cell and had lost control of his own body. He was staring out of the window at the passing clouds when it occurred to him that he should write to his employer, explaining his drunkenness and confessing that he invented the story of theft; but who would believe him? It was always said that in drink there was truth, and perhaps it was true that he was a convicted thief. He began to sing, One fine day in the middle of the night, Two dead men got up to fight and then he knew what was meant by madness.
The terror began now: he heard a noise in the street outside his window, but when he stood up he turned his face to the wall.
Everything in his life seemed to have led him towards this morning, and he had been foolish not to see the pattern taking shape ahead of him; he went to his wardrobe and inspected his clothes with interest, as if they belonged to some other person. And it was while he was sitting in his faded armchair, trying to remember how his mother had bent forward to caress him, that he realised he was late for work; but of course he could not go there again. (In fact his colleagues had realised that night how drunk he had become, and paid little or no attention to his conversation: his remarks about theft and prison were thought to be an example of a strange sense of humour which he had never revealed to them before.) At some hour his clock sounded its alarm and he stared at it in horror: 'My God!' he said aloud, 'My God! My God!'. And so the first day passed.
On the second day he opened his window and looked about with curiosity; he realised that he had never properly noticed his street before, and he wanted to discover exactly what it was like. But it was like nothing, and he saw faces staring up at him. He shut the window quietly, waiting for his panic to subside. That night he talked in his sleep, finding the words for his bewilderment which he would never hear. And the second day passed. On the third day he found a letter which had been pushed under his door: he made a point of not looking at it but then, in exasperation, he placed it under the mattress of his bed. It occurred to him now to draw the curtains as well, so that no one should suspect he was indoors. Then he heard scuffling noises outside his room and he shrank back in terror: a large dog, or some other animal, was trying to get in. But the noises stopped. On the fourth day he woke up realising that he had been forgotten: he was free of the whole world, and the relief dazed him. He dressed quickly and went out into the street, pausing only to glance up at his own window before entering a pub where an old tramp with matted hair watched him intently. In his distress he picked up a paper, and saw that he was reading an account of a robbery. He stood up quickly, overturning the small table at which he had been sitting, and walked out. Then he returned to his small room and addressed the furniture which smelled now like his parents. And the fourth day passed: that night, he peered into the darkness but could see nothing and it seemed to him that his room, with all its familiar objects, had at last disappeared. The darkness had no beginning and no end; this is like death, he thought just before falling asleep, but the disease affecting me is one I cannot see.
His terror became his companion. When it seemed to diminish, or grow easier to bear, he forced himself to remember the details of what he had said and done so that his fears returned, redoubled. His previous life, which had been without fear, he now dismissed as an illusion since he had come to believe that only in fear could the truth be found. When he woke from sleep without anxiety, he asked himself, What is wrong? What is missing? And then his door opened slowly, and a child put its head around and gazed at him: there are wheels, Ned thought, wheels within wheels. The curtains were now always closed, for the sun horrified him: he was reminded of a film he had seen some time before, and how the brightness of the noonday light had struck the water where a man, in danger of drowning, was struggling for his life.
He now sometimes dressed in the middle of the night, and took off his clothes in the late afternoon; he was no longer aware that he put on oddly matched shoes, or that he wore a jacket without a shirt beneath it. One morning he left his room early and, to avoid being seen by the police (who he believed to be watching him), went out by the back entrance of the building. He found a shop several streets away, where he bought a small wristwatch, but on his return he became confused and lost his way. He arrived at his own street only by accident and as he entered his room he said out loud, Time flies when you're having fun'. But everything seemed quite different to him now: by approaching his room from another direction, Ned at last realised that it had an independent existence and that it no longer belonged to him.
He put the wristwatch carefully on the mantelpiece, and took up the spherical compass. Then he opened the door, and stepped over the threshold.
As soon as he had left the room and walked into the air, he knew that he would never return and for the first time his fears lifted. It was a spring morning, and when he walked into Severndale Park he felt the breeze bringing back memories of a much earlier life, and he was at peace. He sat beneath a tree and looked up at its leaves in amazement -where once he might have gazed at them and sensed there only the confusion of his own thoughts, now each leaf was so clear and distinct that he could see the lightly coloured veins which carried moisture and life. And he looked down at his own hand, which seemed translucent beside the bright grass. His head no longer ached, and as he lay upon the earth he could feel its warmth beneath him.
The afternoon woke him with a shout -two children were playing a little way off, and they seemed to be calling out to him. He stood up eagerly trying to catch their words, which had ended with something like 'All fall down', but when he walked towards them they ran away laughing and shouting, Sam, Sam, the dirty man, Washed his face in a frying pan!
He felt hot suddenly, and then realised that he had put on his dark overcoat before leaving: just as he was about to remove it, he saw that he was wearing a pyjama jacket beneath it. He walked awkwardly to a wooden bench, and sat there for the rest of the afternoon as those who passed by cast nervous glances at him. Then at dusk he rose up and began walking away from the streets he had known as a child, following the curve of the long road which he knew would take him into the open fields. And this was how his life as a vagrant began.
And how does it feel to go down into the water with your eyes wide open, and your mouth gaping, so that you can see and taste every inch of the descent? At first he went hungry because he did not know how to beg and, when food was given to him he could not eat it; but as he moved towards London he was taught the phrases of supplication he might use. In Keynsham, he slept by the roadside until he learned that he must always look for the night's shelter before it became dark. In Bath, he began to notice discarded cigarette ends and the other human refuse which he placed in the capacious pockets of his overcoat. By the time he had reached Salisbury he had been instructed in the arts of other vagrants, and in his shreds and patches had at last come to resemble them as he crept across the short grass to Stonehenge.
It was just after dawn and a weak sun patted him on the head as he approached the stones. Two cars were parked nearby, so Ned was cautious: he knew that the indifference which he encountered in cities could turn to anger or hostility in the open country. In fact he thought he could hear the voices of two men -they were shouting and may have been engaged in an argument of some kind -but when he came closer to the monument he could see no one. In relief he scuffed his muddy shoes in the dew, and as he looked back he could see the trail he had left gleaming in the early light; then he turned his head a second time, and the trail had faded. A crow called somewhere above him, and so frail was he now that a gust of wind blew him towards the circle -when he looked up he saw that he was already beneath the stones, and they seemed about to fall upon his head. He bent over, covering his eyes, and there were voices swirling around him -among them his own father saying, 'I had a vision of my son dead'. He fell against a stone and in his dream he was climbing the steps of a pyramid, from the summit of which he could see the smoking city until he was woken by the rain falling on his face. A slug had crawled over him as he lay upon the ground, leaving a silver thread across his coat. He rose to his feet, clutching at the damp stone as he did so, and then continued his journey under a dark sky.
His body had become a companion which seemed always about to leave him: it had its own pains which moved him to pity, and its own particular movements which he tried hard to follow. He had learned from it how to keep his eyes down on the road, so that he could see no one, and how important it was never to look back -although there were times when memories of an earlier life filled him with grief and he lay face down upon the grass until the sweet rank odour of the earth brought him to his senses. But slowly he forgot where it was he had come from, and what it was he was escaping.
In Hartley Row he could find nowhere to sleep and, as he crossed a bridge to escape from the lights of the town, a car swerved to avoid him: he fell backwards against an iron hand-rail and would have toppled into the river if he had not somehow found his balance. When the dust had cleared he unbuttoned his trousers and, laughing, pissed by the roadside. The adventure exhilarated him and he took the spherical compass out of his pocket and in an impulsive gesture threw it in a wide arc away from him; but he had gone only a few yards along the same road when he retraced his steps to find it. At Church Oakley he contracted a slight fever and, as he lay sweating in an old barn, he could feel the lice swimming in the unaccustomed heat of his own body. At Blackwater he tried to enter a pub but he was refused admission with shouts and curses: a young girl brought out some bread and cheese, but he was so weak that he vomited up the food in the yard. At Egham he was standing on a wooden bridge, staring down at the water, when he heard a voice behind him: 'A travelling man, I see. I like to see a travelling man'. Ned looked up, alarmed, and there standing beside him was an elderly man carrying a small suitcase: 'We are all travellers,' he was saying, 'and God is our guide'.
He had his arms outstretched, palms outward, and as he smiled Ned could see the slight protuberance of his false teeth. 'So don't despair, never despair' -and he looked wistfully down at the water -'Don't do it, my friend'. He knelt down on the road and opened his suitcase, handing Ned a pamphlet which he stuffed into his pocket to use later as the material for a fire. 'You will reach your destination, for God loves you,' and he stood up with a grimace. 'For your sake He might let the sun turn back in its course, and let time itself travel backwards.'
He looked down at his trousers, and then brushed the dust off them.
'If He cared to, that is.' Then, as Ned still said nothing, he looked towards the town: 'Any chance of lodgings there, is there?' He walked on without waiting for a reply, as Ned, too, travelled forward through Bagshot and Baker-bridge until he reached the suburbs of the city.
And after a few days he arrived in London, by way of the unlucky Isle of Dogs. He had heard that there was a hostel in Spitalfields and, although he was not clear in which direction he should travel, somehow he guided himself towards it: he had, after all, the old spherical compass still in his pocket. And so he found himself walking down Commercial Road, and perhaps he was also muttering to himself there since a young boy ran away from him in obvious fright. His legs were stiff, and his feet aching: he might have hoped that the earth would swallow him, but the sight of the church ahead of him drew him forward since he had come to understand during his wanderings that churches offered protection for men and women like himself. And yet as soon as he reached the steps of the church, and had sat down upon them, he was once more seized with apathy and with an aversion for any action or decision. With his head down he gazed at the stone beneath his feet as the solitary bell tolled above him: anyone who came upon him unawares might think he had been metamorphosised into stone, so still he seemed.
But then he heard a rustling somewhere to his left and, looking up, he saw a man and woman lying with each other beneath some trees. A dog had once tried to mount him when he was walking through a field: he had hit it several times with a large stone until eventually it had run away, bloody and yelping. And now he was once again filled with the same rage as he screamed out incomprehensible words to the couple who, on seeing him, sat up and stared without rising to their feet. A plane passed overhead and at once his fury disappeared; he would have resumed his silent contemplation of the cracks and hollows in the stone beneath his feet if someone, alerted by the sudden screaming, had not been walking towards him from the street.
The setting sun was in Ned's face, and he could not see clearly, but he assumed it was a policeman and prepared himself for the customary dialogue.
The figure approached him slowly, not altering his pace, and now stood at the bottom of the steps looking up at him; and his shadow covered Ned as he asked his name.
'My name is Ned.'
'And tell me, Ned, where do you come from?'
'I come from Bristol.'
' Bristol? Is that so?'
'So it seems,' Ned said.
'It seems you're a poor man now.'
'Now I am, but then I was in trade.'
'And so how did you come to be here?' the man asked him, reaching out to touch Ned's right cheek with his finger.
'I don't know how I came to be here, to tell you the truth.'
'But do you know how you are?'
'I'm weary, Sir, very weary.'
'So where are you going to now, Ned?'
He had forgotten that he had come to find the hostel: 'I don't know,' he answered, 'Anywhere. One place is as good as another when you're roaming. I might go and then again I might come back.'
'You're like a child, I see.'
'I might have become one, Sir, but I'm nothing really.'
That's sad, Ned. All that I can say is that's sad.'
'It's sad, to say the least.' And Ned looked up at the darkening sky.
'It's time, isn't it?'
'It's certainly time,' Ned said.
'Time, I mean, for you to be on your way again. This is not the place for y ou.'
Ned remained silent for a moment: 'And where shall I go to?'
There are other churches,' he replied. This one is not for you. Go towards the river.'
Ned watched the man, who pointed southward and then walked slowly away. He got up, suddenly cold, but as soon as he moved away from the church his weariness left him and he went back in the direction from which he had come -along Commercial Road, across Whitechapel High Street, and then down towards the Thames and Limehouse, all the time rubbing the spherical compass in his pocket.
This was an area haunted by other vagrants, most of them suspicious and solitary, and as he passed them he looked for those signs of degradation which tramps always recognise in each other -he wanted to see how much further he would have to fall now that he, too, had entered the great city.
He stopped at Wapping, by the corner of Swedenborg Court, and saw a church rise up beside the river -was this the place which the figure had pointed to, saying 'there are other churches'? The experiences of the evening had left him wounded and alert, so that now he looked fearfully around; he could hear the sigh of the river upon the mudflats, and the confused murmur of the city behind him; he gazed up at the human faces in the clouds, then he looked down upon the ground and saw the small whirlwinds of dust raised by the breeze which came from the Thames and brought with it also the sound of human voices. All of these things turned around him for ever, and it seemed to Ned that it was no longer he who was watching and hearing them: it was someone other.
He found that he was walking by the back of the Wapping church towards a park which adjoined it; here also protection might be gained and, as he hurried past the blackened stones, he caught sight of a small brick building in a far corner of the park. The place was now clearly abandoned although, as Ned approached it, he could see the letters M SE M OF engraved above the portal (the others had no doubt been obliterated by time). He peered in cautiously and, when he was sure that no other tramp was using it as a shelter, he passed the threshold and sat down against the wall; at once he began to eat some bread and cheese which he had taken from his pocket, looking around ferociously as he did so. Then he began to examine the rubbish which had been left here: most of it was familiar enough, but in one corner he found a discarded book with a white cover. He put out his hand to touch it and for a moment drew back, since the cover seemed to be protected by a sticky wax. Then he picked it up and noticed that over the course of time the pages had curled and clung together although, when he shook them, a photograph fell upon the ground. He gazed at if for a while, making out the features of a child, and then placed it in his pocket before he began painstakingly to separate the pages, smoothing each one down with his hand before he tried to read it. He concentrated on the words and symbols which were written here, but the print was now so smudged and overlaid that much of the book was quite unintelligible: he saw a triangle, and a sign for the sun, but the letters beneath them were unfamiliar. Then Ned looked out, gazing at the church, thinking of nothing.
There was a woman in the doorway, her clothes as patched and torn as Ned's own. She was patting her hair with the palm of her right hand and saying, 'Do you want it? Come and get it if you want it.' She was peering at him and, since he had said nothing in reply, she knelt down on the floor by the entrance.
'I don't want it,' he said, rubbing his eyes, 'I don't want anything.'
'All you men want it. I've had experience of all types of men,' and she laughed, throwing her head back so that Ned could see the wrinkles around her neck.
'I don't want it,' he repeated in a louder voice.
'I've had them all,' and she looked around the abandoned building.
'Most of them in here. It's nice in here, isn't it? Snug.' Ned started twisting a lock of his hair between two fingers so that it became as hard and as taut as wire. 'Let's have a look at it,' she said, craning her head towards him, and he flattened himself against the wall.
'Look at what?'
'You know what I mean. Every man's got one. Wee Willie Winkie.'
'I've got nothing, I've got nothing for you.' And he clutched the book he had been reading.
She crawled towards him and put her hands down on the damp soil as if she were about to dig for something; Ned rose slowly to his feet, his back still against the wall, and he did not take his eyes from her face. 'Come on,' she whispered, 'Give it to me' -and then she made a lunge for his trousers. In panic Ned put out his foot to stop her, but she grabbed it and tried to bring him down to the ground: 'You're a powerful man,' she said, 'but I've got you!' And then with all his strength he crashed the book down upon her head; this seemed to surprise her, for she let go of him and looked upwards, as if the object had fallen from the skies. Then very carefully, and with a measure of dignity, she rose to her feet and stood by the entrance of the shelter, glaring at him. 'What kind of man are you, anyway?' And she wiped her mouth with her arm: 'Look at you, you pathetic object! They don't give you money out of charity, they give it you out of fear.' And he looked at her wide-eyed. 'Do you think they care about you, you daft bugger? They just don't want you coming after them, they don't want to see you in the mirror when they look at their fat faces!'
'I don't know about that,' he said.
'They think you're mad, talking to yourself and all. It wouldn't take them long to go mad if they had you around, oh no it wouldn't.' And then she mimicked a high, quavering voice: 'Pity me, oh pity me, can you spare me something for a cup of tea?' He looked down at himself as she went on, 'Don't hurt me. I've suffered enough. I'm ugly. I'm smelly. Pity me.' And then she gazed at him in triumph. She was about to say something else when she noticed the crumbs of the bread and cheese which Ned had been eating: and, lifting up her skirts, she kicked her legs in the air as she sang, When I was a little girl I lived by myself And all the bread and cheese I got I laid upon the shelf.
For a moment she too might have pitied him, but then she laughed, dusted down her skirt and left without another word. Ned, still fighting for breath after the struggle, saw that he had ripped the binding of his book and that the pages were now being carried by the wind across the park and towards the church.
It was some evenings later when Ned, preparing his meal in the red brick shelter, heard a confused murmur of voices outside; at once he grew alarmed and crouched in a corner but, after a few moments, he realised that the shouts and calls were not directed against him but were coming from the far side of the little park. He peered out of the entrance and saw a group of children jumping and shrieking in a circle: two or three of them had sticks which they were throwing at something in the middle, as their cries echoed against the walls of the church. Then Ned saw that they were surrounding a cat which was hurling itself in fear against one child and then another in order to break free, only to be caught and hauled back into the centre of the circle; it had scratched and bitten some of them but the sight of their own blood seemed only to have provoked more frenzy in the children who, in their joy and fury, were now smashing their sticks against the lean body of the animal. Their look of rage was terrible to Ned: he remembered it from his own childhood, which at this moment descended upon him again. And he knew that, if they became aware he was watching them, their rage would soon be turned against him: it was not unusual for gangs of children to set upon a tramp and beat him senseless, shouting 'Bogeyman! Bogeyman!' as they kicked or spat at him.
He left the shelter and hurried down the small path which led into Wapping Wall, not daring to look back in case he should draw the children's glances upon him. He walked beside the river up to Limehouse, and the damp wind unsettled him; when he reached Shoulder-of-Mutton Alley he could see an abandoned warehouse ahead of him but, in his haste to reach it, he fell and gashed his leg against a piece of metal which had been left on the waste-ground through which he now trod. He was tired and yet, when eventually he lay down inside the warehouse, he could not sleep. He looked down at himself and, suddenly disgused at what he saw, said out loud, 'You have dug your own grave and now you must lie in it'. He closed his eyes and, leaning his head against the rotten wood, he had a sudden vision of the world -cold, heavy, unendurable like the awkward mass of his own body as at last he slept.
And the years have passed before he wakes now, after a night in the same warehouse beside the Thames -although, during the night, he had returned to Bristol and watched himself as a child. The years have passed and he has remained in the city, so that now he has become tired and grey; and when he roamed through its streets, he was bent forward as if searching the dust for lost objects. He knew the city's forgotten areas and the shadows which they cast: the cellars of ruined buildings, the small patches of grass or rough ground which are to be found between two large thoroughfares, the alleys in which Ned sought silence, and even the building sites where he might for one night creep into the foundations out of the rain and wind.
Sometimes dogs would follow him: they liked his smell, which was of lost or forgotten things, and when he slept in a corner they licked his face or burrowed their noses into his ragged clothes; he no longer beat them off, as once he had, but accepted their presence as natural. For the dogs' city was very like his own: he was close to it always, following its smells, sometimes pressing his face against its buildings to feel their warmth, sometimes angrily chipping or cutting into its brick and stone surfaces.
There were some places, and streets, where he did not venture since he had learnt that others had claims there greater than his own -not the gangs of meths drinkers who lived in no place and no time, nor the growing number of the young who moved on restlessly across the face of the city, but vagrants like himself who, despite the name which the world has given them, had ceased to wander and now associated themselves with one territory or 'province' rather than another. All of them led solitary lives, hardly moving from their own warren of streets and buildings: it is not known whether they chose the area, or whether the area itself had callen them and taken them in, but they had become the guardian spirits (as it were) of each place. Ned now knew some of their names: Watercress Joe, who haunted the streets by St Mary Woolnoth, Black Sam who lived and slept beside the Commercial Road between Whitechapel and Limehouse, Harry the Goblin who was seen only by Spitalfields and Artillery Lane, Mad Frank who walked continually through the streets of Bloomsbury, Italian Audrey who was always to be found in the dockside area of Wapping (it was she who had visited Ned in his shelter many years before), and 'Alligator' who never moved from Greenwich.
But, like Ned, they inhabited a world which only they could see: he sometimes sat on the same spot for hours at a time, until its contours and shadows were more real to him than the people who passed by.
He knew the places where the unhappy came, and there was one street corner at a meeting of three roads where he had seen the figure of despair many times -the man with his feet and arms splayed out in front of him, the woman embracing his neck and weeping. He knew the places which had always been used for sex, and afterwards he could smell it on the stones; and he knew the places which death visited, for the stones carried that mark also. Those who passed in front of him scarcely noticed that he was there, although some might murmur to each other 'Poor man!' or 'Such a pity!' before hurrying forward. And yet there was once a time, as he walked by the side of London Wall, when a man appeared in front of him and smiled.
'Is it still hard for you?' he asked Ned.
'Hard? Now there you're asking.'
'Yes, I am asking. Is it still bad?'
'Well, I'll tell you, it's not so bad.'
'Not so bad?'
'I've known worse, after all this time.'
'What time was it, Ned, that we met before?' And the man moved closer to him so that Ned could see the dark weave of his coat (for he would not look into his face).
'What time is it now, Sir?'
'Now, now you're asking.' The man laughed, and Ned looked down at the cracks in the pavement.
'Well,' he said to this half-recognised stranger, 'I'll just be on my way now.'
'Don't be long, Ned, don't be long.'
And Ned walked away without looking back, and without remembering.
As he had grown older in the city, his condition had become worse: fatigue and listlessness now held him, as slowly all his expectations were lowered like a bird which falls silent when a cloth is placed over its cage. One night he had stood in front of an electrical showroom and had watched the same flickering images upon a row of television sets; the programme, perhaps designed for children, showed some cartoon animals scampering across fields, gardens and ravines; from their terrified expressions it was clear to Ned that they were trying to escape from something, and when he opened his eyes again he saw a wolf blowing the chimney off a small house. Ned pressed his face against the glass front, and mouthed the words as the wolf spoke them, 'I'll huff and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down!' All night these images swirled around his head, growing larger and more vivid until the sleeping figure was engulfed in them, and he woke the next morning bewildered at his own rage. He wandered through the streets crying, 'Get lost! Just bugger off! Get lost!', but his voice was often drowned in the roar of the traffic.
A few days later he began to scrutinise each person who passed him, in case there was one who might know or remember him, or who might even now come to his aid; and when he saw a young woman looking idly into the window of a watch-repairer's, he glimpsed in her face all the warmth and pity which might once have protected him. He followed her as she walked down Leadenhall Street and up Cornhill, Poultry and Cheapside towards St Pauls: he would have called out to her, but as she turned the corner of Ave Maria Lane she joined a crowd watching the demolition of some old houses. The ground shook under Ned's feet as he came after her and instinctively he looked up at the gutted interiors of the houses; their sinks and fireplaces were visible from the street as a great iron ball was swung against an exterior wall.
The crowd cheered, and the air was filled with a fine debris which left a sour taste in Ned's mouth. In that instant he lost sight of her: he hurried forward towards St Pauls, calling out for her as the dust belched out of the old houses behind him.
It was after this that he entered what was known as the 'strange time'. Exhaustion and malnutrition had weakened him to such an extent that even the taste of his own saliva made him retch; cold and dampness entered his body so that he shook with a fever which would not abate. He was talking to himself now for most of the day: 'Yes,' he would say, Time is getting on. Time is certainly getting on'. And he would rise up from the ground, look around, and then sit down again.
He had a curiously weaving and tentative walk, taking several steps backward and then pausing before moving forward again: 'We don't want any rubbish round here,' one policeman had said to him as he stood quite still in the middle of the yard, and Ned had waited, eager to hear more of this, before being pushed violently into the thoroughfare.
Where now he heard words which fascinated him, for they seemed to be repeated in a certain pattern: on one day, for example, 'fire' was a word which he heard frequently and then on the next it was 'glass'. He had a recurring vision in which he saw his own shape, watching him from a distance. And then when sometimes he sat, bewildered and alone, he glimpsed shadows and vague images of others who moved and talked strangely -'like a book,' he had said.
And sometimes, also, it seemed as if these shadows recognised or knew Ned for they would walk around and cast their eyes upon him as they did so. And he called out to them, 'Pity me. Do you have a farthing or a broken crust?'
When he got up from the wooden floor, he was thirsty, and his throat was sore as if he had cried out the same word over and over again.
'And why should they pity me?' he thought as he walked away from the river. It was a cold, grey morning and Ned could smell the scent of burning rags or rubbish which came from the Tower Hamlets Estate on his right side. He walked into the Commercial Road and, raising his arm above his head so that it cast a slight shadow across his face, he could see Black Sam lying in the doorway of a betting shop: a heavy blanket was draped over his body, concealing his face and chest, but he had no shoes and his naked feet protruded into the street. Ned walked across to him and sat down by his side; there was a half-empty bottle near him, and he reached over to take it. 'Don't touch that,'
Black Sam muttered beneath his blanket, 'Don't fucking do it!' Then he removed the blanket, and they looked at each other without animosity. Ned's throat was still sore and he could taste the blood in his mouth as he spoke. 'Can you smell that burning, Sam? Something's burning somewhere.'
'It's the sun. What about that sun?' And Sam reached for the bottle.
'Now,' Ned said, 'Now there's something.'
'It's a cold and dark morning without the sun, Ned, and that's the truth of it.'
'It'll come,' he murmured, 'It'll come.' A column of smoke rose up in front of them, and Ned glanced at it in alarm. 'I'm not going to run,' he said, 'I've done nothing.'
Black Sam was whispering something to himself, and Ned leaned over eagerly to hear it: 'It keeps on turning,' he was saying, 'It keeps on turning'.
Ned noticed a small stream of piss issuing from beneath the blanket and running across the pavement into the gutter. But then he raised his head just in time to see the cloud cover vanish from the earth although the pillar of acrid smoke lent the sun a blood-red colour. 'I don't know how long I'll be here,' he said to Sam, 'I'll go now and then I'll come back.' And he rose to his feet, steadied himself, and began walking to that patch of derelict land by the river where the vagrants danced around their fires.
The bell of Limehouse Church was ringing when Ned woke up in the old house; the others (the old couple and the young man) were asleep, for it was still night, and so he rose cautiously. He left the room without thought, opened the door and crossed the threshold into the street known as Rope-Maker-Field. It was a clear, calm night and as he looked up at the bright stars he gave a deep sigh. He started walking towards the church itself, but weakness and lack of food now so wearied him that he was able to take only small and tottering steps.
Then he stopped before the church, crossed his arms over his chest and contemplated the futility of his life. He had come to the flight of steps which led down to the door of the crypt and, as he sensed the coldness which rose from them like a vapour, he heard a whisper which might have been 'I' or 'Me'. And then the shadow fell.
THE SHADDOWE falls naturally here since the Clowds, tho' they be nothing but a Mist flying high in the Air, cast their Shade upon the surface of the Water; learn how to do this in Stone and look you, Walter, I added, how the body of the Water moves. All things Flow even when they seem to stand still, as in the hands of Clocks and the shaddowes of Sun-dials. But Walter kept his Hands in his Breeches and squinted at the Ground; the Office was still within our Sight, even as we stood by the Thames, and he looked uneasily towards it. I asked him the Matter. Do not trouble your self, he replied.
I will know what is the Matter, I told him.
Nothing is the Matter, what should be the matter?
You trouble me now indeed, Walter Pyne.
It is nothing, said he, it is a Trifle, it is not worth talking of.
And I replied: Do not put me off with such Stuff as that.
It was Sad work to get the Truth out of him, and he was as like to have held his Tongue if I had not stood very High upon it and prevailed with him to Answer. They talk of you in the Office, he said (and I grew Pale), and they tell me that you stuff my Head with mildew'd Fancies and confus'd Rules (and the Sweat formed on my Brow), and they say that the Ruines of Antiquity lie too heavily upon you (I looked out over the River), and they say that I must follow another Master if I am to rise (I drew Blood from my Mouth but stood quite still).
My Mind became like a Blank, a paper unwritten: And who are these who tell you so? I asked at last, not looking at him.
They are those who profess themselves to have nothing but friendly intent towards me.
And then I turned my Eyes upon him and spoke: You are a Fool to believe any Man your friend, you must trust no Man, nor believe any one but such as you know will sin against their own Interest to lie or betray you. I know this to be so, Walter. He withdrew from me a little at that, but then I laughed out loud at him; these good Friends are meer Flyes, I said, who will feed on Excrement or a Honey-pot equally: I would rather my Life was hid in Obscurity than that my Actions should be known to them, for the smaller their Value of me the more I am at Liberty. But here I checked my self: should I once begin to speak freely, I should blirt out All and so hang my self. All this while Walter was gazing out at a Wherry in which there was a common man laughing and making antic Postures like an Ape: a merry Fellow, said I to break Walter's mood.
No, not so merry, he answered.
We walked back towards the Office and as we spoke with each other the Wind blew our Words in our Faces. And once more I asked him: Who are these who speak to you of me?
They are known to you, Sir.
They are known to me as Villains, I replied but I did not press Walter further on this Matter. And yet I am not blinde to those who work against me: Mr Lee, the Comptroller's Clerke, as heavy and dull as an old Usurer; Mr Hayes, Measuring Surveyour, as changing and uneasy as a Widow without a Fortune and one who emits his Unquietness like a Contagion; Mr Colthouse, Master Carpenter, a silly, empty, morose Fellow who has as much Conceit, and as little Reason for it, as any Man that I know; Mr Newcomb, Paymaster, who has but a low Genius and yet some of his Remarks would make a Body laugh at his Folly; Mr Vanbrugghe, Artificer, whose Productions are but sad and undigested Things like a sick man's Dreames. These are all Gingerbread Fellows, meer Tattlers, and I would as soon eat a Dish of Soup in a Common Ordinary as smile wildly in their Company. But since I keep my Time out of their dispose, therefore they contemn me.
And Walter is saying -it is a foolish Phrensy to care for Praise.
And the best things have the fewer Admirers, I replied, because there are more Dunces than able Men. Consider the work of Mr Vanbrugghe, which is much cryed up: when he tried to build the little Church of Ripon, the Cornices were so small that they could not weather the Work or throw off the Rain!
Then the Weight of this Life fell upon me, and I could scarce speak. I went presently out of Scotland Yard into Whitehall: I walked to the Chandlery and then, to still my beating Mind, I entered into the Church-Yard beside the Abbey. I take Delight in stalking along by my self on that dumb silent Ground, for if it be true that Time is a Wound then it is one that the Dead may Heal. And when I rest my Head upon the Graves I hear them speaking each to each: the grass above us, they say, is of a blew colour but why do we still see it and why are we not pluckt out of the earth? I hear them whispering, the long dead, in Cripplegate, in Farringdon, in Cordwainers Street and in Crutched Fryars: they are pack'd close together like Stones in the Mortar, and I hear them speak of the City that holds them fast. And yet still I burn at Walter's recent Words as this Thought comes to me: why do the Living still haunt me when I am among the Dead?
In rage at my self I walked from the Church-Yard and went up into Charing Cross: I passed the Mews Yard, through Dirty Lane, and then walked down Castle Street towards my Lodging. When I entered Nat Eliot was cleaning some Plates in the Kitchin: Lord Sir, says he, are you back so soon? And up he jumps from his Stool to take off my Boots.
There was a Caller, he goes on (making a pease-porridge of his Words), who desired me to acquaint you of his being here and that he desired if it might not be Troublesome that he might be admitted to you.
Did he speak so plainly?
But Nat paid no heed to my Jest and continu'd: My Master is not withinne, I told him, and is I know not where. He was very much of an ordinary Man and when he enquired your Business I said I will not be pumpt, I said you mistake your Fellow in me. He had mittins on his Hands, and a Fur-Cap on his Head, Master.
So, so, so, I said as I walked up to my Chamber, we will see, we will see.
Nat followed me and, taking up my Cap, stands in front of me: do you know that this Morning I went to buy a new one, says he (for my Cap was now fray'd), so when I stand looking outside the Hat-makers by Golden Square, the tradesman's boy comes out to me, Master, and says well he says do you see any thing you like for you look as if your Pockets had but Holes. What's that to you, says I, I have Money to pay for any Thing I like, and I shan't be huffed at for looking: do you know that saying, all that Glisters is not Gold and then I added again to him No more Nat, I said, tho' you would slobber your Fingers if you held your Tongue.
And he looked down upon the Ground. I am sorry to have given you so much Trouble, he replied. Then he went away; but he crept back later when I called him, and read me to Sleep.
All was revealed on the next Day, when I was by chance walking through Covent-Garden. As I turned out of the Piazza, on the right hand coming out of James-Street, I was jogged in the Elbow and, looking at my Neighbour, saw that it was one of my Assembly from Black Step Lane: I knew him as Joseph, a common man in Cloth-Coat and speckled Breeches. I called for you, he whispered, but your Boy denyed me.
I was not in the House, but why did you come for me there? And I gave him a furious Look.
You have not heard the News?
What News? I asked shuddering.
He was a Man of uncouth and halting Speech, but I peeced together his story as follows, viz: Two days before, some Report of our Activities was spread abroad, and thereupon a Riot was raised among the Streets by our Meeting-House, the people becoming very clamorous against it; there were six withinne the House and, on hearing a confus'd Noise approaching them, they first bolted the fore door, and then padlock'd the Back door, which was glazed, and began to fasten the Shutters belonging to it. The Mobb then threw Stones at the Windows, and among them Flint-stones of such a Size and Weight as were enough to have kill'd any Person they hit (which was their Purpose). They likewise stopp'd those passing thro' Black Step Lane, robb'd them of their Hats, tore off their Wiggs, and buffetted them on suspicion that they were Enthusiasticks (their canting Term): Joseph was one of these and escap'd scarcely with his Life. The Mobb had now crowded into both Lanes running each side of the House (a Disease comes out in Pus and runs so), and they forc'd the Doors.
There was no help for those inside but to give themselves up to the Mercy of the Mobb, who shewed none but barbarously mangled them, hacking and hewing them until there was no Life left in their Bodies. The House itself was quite destroy'd.
I was so confounded at this Discourse that I could not answer a Word but put my Hand across my Face. Be easy in your mind, Sir, Joseph continu'd, for your Part is not discover'd and the Dead cannot speak: the Remainder of us are not known. This soften'd me a little and I took him to The Red Gates, an Ale-house near to the Seven Dials, where we sat from Six till within a Quarter of Ten discoursing on these Events till by degrees I became quite Calm. It is an ill Wind etc., and in this Extremity I was moved to fashion a new D'esigne which would bring all back into Order and so protect me. For I had previously been at a Loss how to conduct my own hot Business without being discover'd soon enough, since it had occurred to me that the Labourers at Spittle-Fields and Limehouse might have Suspicions against me.
Now I pressed the man Joseph into my Service for, as I said to him, our Work could not be hindered by the Rages of the Mobb: just as it was within my Commission to raise more Churches, so it was my fixt Intention to build the sovereign Temple on Black Step Lane.
And what of the Sacrifices we must perform? said he smiling upon the Company in the Tavern.
You must do that for me, I answered. And then I added: Pliny the Eldest has an Observation that nullum frequentius votum, no Wish more frequent among Men than the Wish for Death. And then: Shall a Man see God and live? And then: You may find all you need among the pick-pocket Boys in the Moor-fields.
Why then, says he, here's a Health to my Arse; and he raised his Pot.
This is agreed, I replied.
When I left him it was a very dark Night and yet I stept towards the Hay-market to entertain my self, there mixing with a Crowd about two Ballad-singers who sang a mad Catch in the glare of their Lanthorns: For that he was some Fiend from Hell who stole, Having for Pride been burnt there to a Cole.
I could not tell where this foul Thing should be: A Succubus it did appear to me.
And then they seemed to turn their Faces to me, tho' they were quite blind, and I walked on into the Night.
It was my set Purpose to rid my self of the workmen who were even then imployed about my Church in Wapping; they were wooden headed Fellows but, as I suspected, they looked on me strangely and whisper'd behind my Back. And so I wrote thus to the Commission: Of the New Church of Wapping, Stepney, call'd St Georgesin-the East, the Foundacions have been begun without that due Consideration which is requisite, so that unless I take them up again I am out of all Hope that this D'esigne will succeed; I have no prejudice against the Workmen but that they are Ignorant Fellows. I have admonished them to the utmost of my Power to perform the Workes according to the agreements, but notwithstanding I have observ'd the Mortar not altogether so well beat, and a vast Quantity of Spanish has been mix'd with the Bricks altho' the Workmen pretend that there is no more than what is allowed by the Commissioners. I therefore pray you to give me liberty to bring in my own Workmen to build the said Church at Wapping. I have examined and enquired into their Abilities, and conceeved that they are fit for the Places desired: and have set their Charge as before at 21-per diem. AH of which is humbly submitted, Nich: Dyer.
After this I awaited the Issue, which was not long in coming favourable to me. The work men were dismissed and while the Foundacions were empty Joseph did his Work: the Blood was spilled in its due Time, and became (as it were) the Wave on which my Bark rose. Yet first it was necessarie to conceal the Corse and, with the Reason that the Foundacions were so ill laid that I must needs take them up againe without any Delay, I worked with Joseph in this Manner: I dug a Hole of about 2 Feet wide, in which I placed a little Deal-box containing nine Pounds of Powder and no more; a Cane was fixed to the Box with a Quick-match (as Gunners call it), and reached from the Box to the Ground above; along the Ground was laid a Train of Powder and, after the Hole was carefully closed up again with Stones and Mortar, I then lit the Powder and watch'd the effect of the Blow. This little Quantity of Powder lifted up the Rubbidge which had formed the Foundacions; and this it seemed to do somewhat leisurely, lifting visibly the whole Weight about nine Inches which, suddenly jumping down, made a great Heap of Ruines in that Place where now the Corse lay quite buried. He had been a little pretty Boy, about as tall as my Knee and but lately turned upon the Streets to beg. These were my Words to him: Boys and Girls come out to play, The Moon doth shine as bright as Day.
And these were his last Words to me: Dan never do so no more. Pitie I cannot, for I am not so weak; but it is not to be believed that he who holds the Knife or the Rope is without his own Torment.
My Inke is very bad: it is thick at the bottom, but thin and waterish at the Top, so that I must write according as I dip my Pen. These Memories become meer shortened Phrases, dark at their Beginning but growing faint towards their End and each separated so, one from another, that I am not all of a peece. Here laying beside me is my convex Mirror, which I use for the Art of Perspecktive, and in my Despair I look upon my self; but when I take it up I see that my right Hand seems bigger than my Head and that my Eyes are but glassy Orbs: there are Objects swimming at the Circumference of the Glass and here I glimpse distended a cloaths chest beneath the Window, with the blew damask Curtains blowing above it, a mahogany Buroe beside the Wall and there the Corner of my Bed with its blankets and bolster; there is my Elbow-chair, its Reflection curved beneath my own as I hold the Mirror, and next to it my side-board Table with a brass Tea-Kettle, lamp and stand. As my Visual rays receive from the Convex superficies a curved Light, these real Things become the surface of a Dream: my Eyes meet my Eyes but they are not my Eyes, and I see my Mouth opening as if to make a screaming Sound. Now it has grown Darke, and the Mirror shows only the dusky Light as it is reflected on the left side of my Face. But the voice of Nat is raised in the Kitchen below me, and coming back to my self I place a Candle in my Lan thorn.
And in this small Circle of Light I set down all exactly as it occurred. I must write of extreme Things in the dismal Night, for it was by Ratcliffe Dock that I built in trust to the dark Powers and above the filthy passages of Wapping, with its Lanes and Alleys of small Tenements, my third Church rises. Here all corrupcion and infection has its Centre: in Rope Walk lived Mary Crompton, the bloody Midwife who had six Sceletons of children of several Ages in her Cellar (these Sceletons are now to be seen at the Ben-Johnson's Head near St Brides Church). The Watch found two other Children also destroyed, lying in a Hand-baskett in the Cellar and looking like the Carcasses of Catts or Doggs, their Flesh eat with Vermin. And this one Mary Crompton averred that she had been moved and seduced by the Divil who appear'd to her in Humane form as she passed by Old Gravill Lane. It was next to this place, in Crab Court, where Abraham Thornton carryed out his Murthers and Tortures: on the Murder of the two young Boys, he said upon Oath that the Divil put him upon it when an Apparition came to him. The Black-Boy Tavern in Red-Maide Lane is also very unfortunate for Homicides, and has seldom been Tenanted. An old woman who last lodged there sat musing by her Fire and happened by Accident to look behind her and saw a dead Corps, to her thinking, lie extended upon the Floor; it was just as a Body should be, excepting that the Foot of one Leg was fix'd on the Ground as it is in a Bed when one lies with one Knee up (as I lie now); she look'd at it a long while, but on a sudden this melancholy Spectacle vanished -it is held by common report that this was the Apparition of a Man murdered, but it is my Belief that it was an ancient Murtherer returning to the Spot of his old Glory.
Here in Angell Rents next the Ratcliffe High-way was Mr Barwick barbarously killed, his Throat being cut, the right side of his Head open'd and his Scull broke: I suppose it was done with a Hammer or some such Weapon. A Tub-woman that carries Ale and Beer to the private Houses thereabouts heard the Victim and his Destroyer call out, and when I walk among these Passages I hear such Voices still: How can you strike a sick Man, you are a Dead Man, O Christ do not do it, Damn you are you not dead yet echo by the River. The Murtherer was afterwards hang'd in Chains near the place of his Crime -thus it is call'd Red Cliff, or Ratcliffe, the hanging Dock opposite my Church where the Bodies of the Damned are washed by the Water until they fall to Bits from the effects of Time. Many cry out Jesus, Maria, Jesus, Maria as they go to their Deaths but there was one Boy who killed his whole Family in Betts-Street and was taken in Chains to the Dock to be hang'd: when he saw the Gibbet he laugh'd at first, but then he raved and cried for Damnation. The Mobb could hardly forebear tearing him to Pieces, and yet they knew that if they trod upon the same Stones where Malefactors are done to Death, they would suffer a brief Agonie also. Destruction is like a snow-ball rolled down a Hill, for its Bulk encreases by its own swiftness and thus Disorder spreads: when the woman nam'd Maggot was hanged in Chains by here, one hundred were crushed to Death in the Tumult that came to stare upon her. And so when the Cartesians and the New Philosophers speak of their Experiments, saying that they are serviceable to the Quiet and Peace of Man's life, it is a great Lie: there has been no Quiet and there will be no Peace. The streets they walk in are ones in which Children die daily or are hang'd for stealing Sixpence; they wish to lay a solid Groundwork (or so they call it) for their vast Pile of Experiments, but the Ground is filled with Corses, rotten and rotting others.
Be informed, also, that this good and savoury Parish is the home of Hectors, Trapanners, Biters who all go under the general appelation of Rooks. Here are all the Jilts, Cracks, Prostitutes, Nightwalkers, Whores, Linnen-lifters, who are like so many Jakes, Privies, Houses of Office, Ordures, Excrements, Easments and piles of Sir-reverence: the whores of Ratcliffe High-way smell of Tarpaulin and stinking Cod from their continuall Traffick with seamen's Breeches. There are other such wretched Objects about these ruined Lanes, all of them lamentable Instances of Vengeance. And it is not strange (as some think) how they will haunt the same Districts and will not leave off their Crimes until they are apprehended, for these Streets are their Theatre. Theft, Whoredom and Homicide peep out of the very Windows of their Souls; Lying, Perjury, Fraud, Impudence and Misery are stamped upon their very Countenances as now they walk within the Shaddowe of my Church.
And in this world of Corrupcion I had as like forgot the House for Buggaronies next to the High-way, where grave Gentlemen dress in Women's cloaths, then patch and paint their Faces. They assume the Language as well as the Shape of Women, viz For God's sake, Ladies, what do you mean to use a tender Woman, as I am, with such Barbarity (the Cord is wound around its Neck and its Body suspended by Ropes), I come to make you a civil Visit and here you have prepared Cords and cruel Bands to bind me (the Rods are laid upon its pale Back), I beg of you to use me kindly for you will find me a Woman like your selves (and it comes off with a great Sigh, Nature discharg'd).
This puts me in mind of a Story: there is an Inn on the road between White-chapel and Limehouse, where on one gusty Evening a Gentleman rode up and ask'd for Lodgings. He took his Supper with some other Travellers, and astcnish'd the Company as much by the powers of his Conversation as by the elegance of his Manner. He was an orator, a poet, a painter, a musician, a lawyer, a divine and the magick of his Discourse kept the drowsy Company awake long after their usual Hour. At length, however, wearied Nature could be charmed no more but on observing the Fatigue of the society, the Stranger dis cover'd manifest signs of Uneasinesse: he therefore gave new force to his Spirits, but the departure of his Guests could not be long delay'd and he was eventually conducted to his Chamber. The remains of the Company retired also, but they had scarce closed their Eyes when the house was alarmed by the most terrible Shrieks that were ever known.
Frightened at what they heard, several of them rang their Bells and, when the Servants came, they declared that the horrid Sounds proceeded from the stranger's Chamber. Some of the Gentlemen immediately arose, to inquire into the extraordinary Disturbance; and while they were dressing themselves for the purpose, deeper Groans of Despair, and shriller Shrieks of agony, again astonished and terrified them. After knocking some time at the Stranger's door, he answered them as one woken from Sleep, declared he heard no Noise and desired he might not again be disturbed. Upon this they returned to their Chambers and had scarce begun to communicate their Sentiments to each other when their Converse was interrupted by a renewal of yells, screams and shrieks which once more they traced to the Stranger's chamber, the door of which they instantly burst open, and found him upon his Knees on his Bed, in the act of Scourging himself with the most unrelenting Severity, his Body streaming with Blood. On their seizing his Hand to stop the Strokes he begged them, in the most wringing tone of Voice, that as an act of Mercy they would retire for the Disturbance was now over. In the morning some of them went to his Chamber, but he was not there; and, on examining the Bed, they found it to be one Gore of Blood. Upon further Enquiry, the servants said that the Gentleman had come to the Stable booted and spurred, desired his Horse to be immediately saddled, and then rode at full speed towards London. The Reader may wonder how I, who make no mention of my being there, should be able to relate this as of my own Knowledge; but if he pleases to have Patience, he will have intire Satisfaction in that Point.
The Night is now so cold that I must put my Coat upon the Bed to warm me, and I meditate upon what follows as if it were a Dreame: for was it not a Dreame to see Sir Chris, his Hands steeped in Blood up to the Wrist-bones, and then scratching his head until his Wigg was tainted with it? It was his filthy Curiosity to pore in Humane Corses and so to besmear himself that he might trace each Nerve and all the private Kingdom of Veins and Arteries. I remark on it in this Place, after the history of the Gentleman Traveller, so that you may anatomise the Mind of him who looks into that Blood and Corrupcion and not only of him who Whips it from himself and spills it upon a Bed.
Sir Chris, was well known to those impannelled as Coroners to be a Man who understood the Anatomical Administration of the Humane Body, by means of his geometrical and mechanical Speculations, and one who showed such keen Inclination to cut the fresh Corses that he could be call'd upon in the Ministration of their Office. So it was that one day when I was working with him, on the making of Sewers at the West End of a Church, a packet arrived with a Messenger who desir'd an answer instantly -the Letter saying that the Corps of a Woman was even then lying in the Gate-house at Southwark Reach, having been taken from the River, and that if Sir Chris, should bring his Instruments they would be much obliged to him. Well, well; says he, another Body: I had been hoping for one. And then he asked the Messenger what was the fatal Stroke?
She drowned herself in the Thames, Sir, or so it seems.
Good, good, Sir Chris, goes on hardly hearing this News, but we have little time to prepare ourselves: have you the Stomach for it Nick?
It is not my Stomach, I replied and he laugh'd out loud, while the Messenger looked on bemus'd.
Come then, says he, we will cross the River and see about this Affair.
And so we walked straight to the Wharf at White-hall, where we hired an Oarsman to take us over. And even tho' the River-men set up their usual cacophony of Billingsgate abuse, Sir Chris, was lost in the Anticipation of his Work: Anatomy, says he as the Oaths fly about him, is a noble Art -You shitten skulled son of a Turd that has Spit your Brains in my Face, who was begot in Buggery, born in a House of Office, delivered at the Fundament -just as, Nick, the Body it self is a perfect peece of Work from the Hand of the Omniscient Architect -You Brandy-Faced Bawdy Son of a Brimstone Whore. Sir Chris, listens for a moment to the River-men and then speaks once more: Do you know that I have shown the Geometric Mechanics of Rowing -Piss up my arse, Buggar onie -to be a Vectis on a moving or c`edent Fulcrum -Every time you Conjobble with your Mother may she beget a Bellyfull of Crab lice. And then he smiles upon our Oarsman saying, He is a good Gentleman; and the Oarsman on hearing this shouts out to us: Well, Sirs, can you riddle me a riddle?
Oh yes, says Sir Chris., is it a Rhyme?
And then the man sings: Riddle my Riddle, my ree, And tell me what my Riddle shall be.
Long, white and slender,
Tickles Maids where they are tender
Lyes where Hair grows,
And hath long Slit under the Nose.
Why, cries Sir Chris., this is a Bodkin! And the Oarsman, looking sourly upon him, says You are right, Sir. And Sir Chris., lying back and smiling, trails his Finger in the Water until we reached the other Side.
We coach'd it at once to the Gate-house (being only about a Mile from where we landed) and thereupon the Coroner took us into a small Chamber where the naked Body of the Woman was to be seen.
Sir Chris, rapidly surveyed the Corse: She must have been a fine woman when she was dressed, he muttered as he started work upon her with his Surgeon's Tools. The Romans held it unlawfull to look on the Entrails, says he as he cuts into the Skin, but now Anataomy is a free and generall Practice. You see here, Nick, (shewing me the Inside of the Corse as he spoke), you see the Valve at the entrance of the gut Colon, and here the Milkie Veins and the Lymphatick Vessels (he looked up, his Hands dangling and bloody, and I heard a Roaring in my Ears); so we have discover'd the art of Transfusion of the Blood from one living Animal to another. It is of use, he continued, in Pleurisies, Cancers, Leprosies, Ulcers, Small Pox, Dotage, and all such Distempers.
There was a lady, I said when Sir Chris, had paused, who seeing Hoggs and other Creatures cut up and their Bowels taken out, tormented her self with the Thought that she also carried about with her in her own Body such stinking Filth, as she call'd it, inclosed.
Upon which she conceeved a sudden Abhorrence, and hated her own Body so that she did not know what Course to take to free her self from Uncleanness.
Meer Phrensy, Sir Chris, replied. See here, the Body is still fresh and what is this Corrupcion you mention but the Union and Dissolution of little Bodies or Particles: have you no Sense, Nick? I kept my Peace but I thought to myself: The meerest Rake-hell has a finer Philosophie.
The Coroner now returned into the Room, having gone out for Air, and asked Sir Chris, his Judgment on this poor, poor Girl (as he put it).
It was not self-murther, he replied, and I am induced to believe that she was knocked down with a Blow on her left Ear, from the large Settlement of Blood there (and he pointed to the Head with his little Hammer): after she was fell'd to the Ground by the Blow it is probable, with the Gripe of a strong Hand, that she was throttled, and this to be understood from the Stagnation on both sides of her Neck under her Ears; and from the Settlement of Blood on her Breast, he went on, I am inclined to believe that the person who throttled her rested his Arm on her Breast to gripe the stronger. She is not long Dead, he continu 'd, for although she was found floating upon the Thames, I find no Water in the Stomach, Intestines, Abdomens, Lungs, or cavity of the Thorax.
She did not drown her self for Shame neither, since her Uterus is perfectly free and empty.
I survey'd the woman's Face, flinching as if my own Body had felt the Blows she endured, and then I saw what she had seen: Well Madam, says her Murtherer, I was walking here as I generally do, will you not walk with me a little? And I saw the first Blow and suffer'd the first Agonie of her Pain. He has taken a white Cloath from his Breeches, looks at it, then throws it upon the Ground and his Hand goes around my Throat: You need not be afraid, he whispers, for you will be sure to get what you Want. And now I feel the Torrents of my own Blood surging in my Head.
And so ends your first Anatomy lesson, says Sir Chris, to me, but be pleased to wait now till I have washed my self.
Sir Chris, was always strowling abroad to seek out fresh Wonders, so filling his Head that it had become a pure Cabinet of Curiosities. On one Day he comes in after our Work is complete: Shall we see the sixteen-foot Worm brought from a young Gentleman and now lying in a Bottle at the House of Mr Moor, he asks, or shall we visit the Demoniack new clapp'd up in Bedlam? I advised him that the Worm was smaller than the Prodigy reported, having my self gone to observe it two days before; and, since there is nothing finer in an idle Hour than to make merry among the Lunaticks, I agreed to take that Course and walk with him that Way. We were admitted thro' the iron Gate of Bedlam and, having given Sixpence, turned in thro' another Barricado into the Gallery of the Men's Apartments where there was such a ratling of Chains and drumming of Doors that it made a body's Head ache. The Noise and Roaring, the Swearing and Clamour, the Stench and Nasrinesse, and all the Croud of afflicted Things to be seen there, joyn'd together to make the Place seem a very Emblem of Hell and a kind of Entrance into it.
We walked through with Linnen pressed against our Nostrils, and Sir Chris, gave his bright Glances all around at this assembly of derang'd Creatures. Some of the Mad who peeped through their Wickets were indeed known to him, for he had set them down in his Pocket-book before, and when one magoty-brained Fellow called out Masters, Masters! Sir Chris, murmured to me, Do not turn back but go on a little and see the Conclusion to his Cries. For there were others who, on hearing him, went back to hear what he had to say and, when they came close to his Wicket, he provided them all with a plentifull Bowl of Piss which he cast very successfully amongst them, singing out: I never give Victuals but I give Drink and you're welcome, Gentlemen. He is a merry Fellow, said Sir Chris, with a laugh. Then as we passed down this Passage we were knocked against certain Women of the Town, who gave us Eye-language, since there were many Corners and Closets in Bedlam where they would stop and wait for Custom: indeed it was known as a sure Market for Lechers and Loiterers, for tho' they came in Single they went out by Pairs. This is a Showing-room for Whores, I said.
And what better place for Lust, Sir Chris, replied, than among those whose Wits have fled?
The Singing and Ranting now grew so loud that Sir Chris, said no more to me but motioned me towards the Gate which led into the Gallery of the Women's Apartments. Here we discovered some more unhappy Objects, viz. a Woman who stood with her Back against the Wall crying Come John, Come John, Come John (I believe that to be her Son who is dead, Sir Chris, told me) while another was tearing her Straw in peece-meal, swearing and blaspheming and biting her Grate.
There was yet another talking very merrily at her peeping Hole, but when we came near her she was saying Bread was good with Cheese, and Cheese was good with Bread, and Bread and Cheese were good together. Sir Chris, bent down to listen to her and said Quite so, quite so, before the Stink sent us away from her Cell. We went back into the Mens Apartments where there were others raving of Ships that may fly and silvered Creatures upon the Moon: Their Stories seem to have neither Head nor Tayl to them, Sir Chris, told me, but there is a Grammar in them if I could but Puzzle it out.
This is a mad Age, I replied, and there are many fitter for Bedlam than these here confin'd to a Chain or a dark Room.
A sad Reflection, Nick.
And what little Purpose have we to glory in our Reason, I continu 'd, when the Brain may so suddenly be disorder'd?
Well that may be, that may be, said he hurriedly, but where is our new Demoniack? And he walked up to a Gaoler who he knew by Sight, and begins to converse with him; then he wags his Fingers at me to come forward. The Man is lockt away from the Spectators, he told me when I came up to him, but we are at Liberty to see him if we so please. This placed me in some Fear and Confusion, and I must have turned Pale or seemed Uneasy for Sir Chris, clapped me on the Shoulder saying: He cannot hurt you, Nick, he is in Chains; come, we will visit the Man for a Minute only. And so the Gaoler led us up a back stair-case to the private Chambers of Bedlam where those who are not fit for Entertainment are placed in Confinement. The Creature is in here, the Gaoler told us in a Sombre voice, but be comfortable, Gentlemen, he is nicely tyed.
When we went forward, and our Eyes grew accustomed to the thin Light, we saw the Man lying upon the Ground. In his Fitts, said the Gaoler rolling his Eyes, he has been blown about the Room or born up suddenly from his Chair, and would as like have flown away but the Holders of him hung at his Arms and Legs. At this Sir Chris, smiled but did not show it to the Gaoler. And then, he continu `a, he was lain down as if dead upon the Floor as he is now, Sirs, and then without the natural help of Arms or Legs has broken into such wild Curves and Bounces as cannot be described. Sir Chris, looked at the Luna tick but said nothing. And then, he went on, there were amazing hideous Sounds to be heard coming from him -sometimes as of Swine, or Water-mills, or of a Bear, and they mix up into a Peal of Noises. And then Have done, have done, murmured the Creature from the Ground, in a low Voice which affrighted me.
You see that his Lips did not move! exclaimed the Gaoler.
Have done, I said! And the Demoniack rose from the Floor: Sir Chris, and I stepped back a Pace, at which the Man laughed out loud.
Then he paid no more Heed to us: there were Rushes strewed on the Floor to keep his Bones from being broken, and he took them up and handled them as if they had been a Pack of Cards, every way acting the Gamester to the life; then he ordered the Rushes as if they had been Dice, then as if he had been playing at Bowl, with the various Postures of the Bowler.
Sir Chris, looked on silently and at last took out his Pocket-book, at which point the Demoniack spat a Ball of Phlegm at him. Then he began to Speak: The other day I lookt for your Worships Nativity, which lies in the Quadrature of a Magnet, in the Sextile of the Twins that always go in the Shade. Guard yourself from the Horse-flies. And he added: Thus have I puzled all thy Scholarship. At this I laugh'd and the Madman turned to me crying: What more Death still Nick, Nick, Nick, you are my own! At this I was terribly astounded, for he could in no wise have known my name. And in his Madness he called out to me again: Hark ye, you boy! I'll tell you somewhat, one Hawksmoor will this day terribly shake you! Then his Tongue rolled inwards all in a Lump, and his Eye-balls turned backwards, nothing but the White of them being seen. And the Gaoler made Signs for us to leave.
Who is this Hawksmoor, Sir Chris, asked me as we left the Mad-House and entered the Fields.
No one, I answered, no Man I know. Then leaving him I went quick into a Tavern, and swallow'd pot after pot of Ale till I became drunken.
I kept my own list of Wonders as much as did Sir Chris., tho' he would have been more afraid of the truth of my Stories than the Ape is of the Whip. Thus he was like to ridicule in my Hearing the Discourse concerning Mr Greatrack, the Irish stroker: pains strangely flew before his Hands, Dimness was cleared and Deafness cured by his Touch, running Sores were dried up, obstructions and stoppings remov'd and Cancerous Knots in the Breast dissolv'd. And then there was the narrative of the Child, Mary Duncan, who, when she pointed with her Finger at Neck, Head, Hand-wrists, Arms and Toes there did bloody Thorns appear. I kept among these Memorials the story of the woman in Islington who was deliver'd of a Child with the head of a Cat, for while she was Big she was frightened exceedingly by one which had got into her Bed. And when the Duke of Alva ordered three hundred Citizens to be put to Death together at Antwerp, a Lady who saw the Sight was presently afterwards deliver'd of a Child without a Head.
So lives the Power of Imagination even in this Rationall Age. There has also been in the News the History of Mr John Mompesson of Tedworth, who has related the moving of Chairs by Spirits invisible, the plucking of Hair and Night-cloaths, the great Heat, the singing in the Chimney, the scratching and the panting. For those who wish the Sight of such Ghosts and Apparitions I say this: it is of no long Duration, continuing for the most part only as you keep your Eyes steady (as I have done); the Timerous see meerly by Glances, therefore, their Eyes always trembling at the first sight of the Object, but the most Assured will fix their Look. There is this also: those who see the Daemon must draw down their Eyes with their Fingers after.
This mundus tenebrosus, this shaddowy world of Mankind, is sunk into Night; there is not a Field without its Spirits, nor a City without its Daemons, and the Lunaticks speak Prophesies while the Wise men fall into the Pitte. We are all in the Dark, one with another. And, as the Inke stains the Paper on which it is spilt and slowly spreads to Blot out the Characters, so the Contagion of darkness and malefaction grows apace until all becomes unrecognizable. Thus it was with the Witches who were tryed by Swimming not long before, since once the Prosecution had commenced no Stop could be put to the raving Women who came forward: the number of Afflicted and Accused began to encrease and, upon Examination, more confess'd themselves guilty of Crimes than were suspected of. And so it went, till the Evil revealed was so great that it threatened to bring all into Confusion.
And yet in the way of that Philosophie much cryed up in London and elsewhere, there are those like Sir Chris, who speak only of what is Rational and what is Demonstrated, of Propriety and Plainness.
Religion Not Mysterious is their Motto, but if they would wish the Godhead to be Reasonable why was it that when Adam heard that Voice in the Garden he was afraid unto Death? The Mysteries must become easy and familiar, it is said, and it has now reached such a Pitch that there are those who wish to bring their mathematicall Calculations into Morality, viz. the Quantity of Publick Good produced by any Agent is a compound Ratio of his Benevolence and Abilities, and such like Excrement. They build Edifices which they call Systems by laying their Foundacions in the Air and, when they think they are come to sollid Ground, the Building disappears and the Architects tumble down from the Clowds. Men that are fixed upon matter, experiment, secondary causes and the like have forgot there is such a thing in the World which they cannot see nor touch nor measure: it is the Praecipice into which they will surely fall.
There are those who say further that these are meer Dreames and no true Relations, but I say back to them: look upon my Churches in the Spittle-fields, in Limehouse, and now in the Parish of Wapping Stepney, and do you not wonder why they lead you into a darker World which on Reflection you know to be your own? Every Patch of Ground by them has its Hypochondriack Distemper and Disorder; every Stone of them bears the marks of Scorching by which you may follow the true Path of God. Now, these men of Reason assert that such Signs are but the Stuff of deep Melancholists or cozening Rogues but even in the Bible, that Book of the Dead, there are innumerable Instances: Evil Angels were sent among the Aegyptians, Psalm 78.49, God asked Sathan whence he came Job 1.7, and Sathan raised the Great Wind 5.19. Divils entered the Swine, Luke 8.33 and the Unclean Divil entered the Man, Luke 5.35. And of the Demoniack: No Man cou'd bind him, Mark 5. And divers other Passages: the Witch of Endor, that Pythoness whom Saul consulted 1. Sam 28 and who brought forth Samuel: an Old Man cometh up, and he is covered with a Mantle. And then as the Witch in Josephus verse 13 saith: I saw Gods ascending out of the Earth.
But some good Gentlemen of the present Age might ask me, Where is your Proof? And I answer: regard my Churches and the way their Shaddowes fall upon the Ground; look up at them, also, and see if you are not brought into Confusion. And I say further: if every thing for which the Learned are not able to give satisfactory Account shall be condemned as False and Impossible, then the World itself will seem a meer Romance. Let this suffice also: the Existence of Spirits cannot be found by Mathematick demonstrations, but we must rely upon Humane reports unless we will make void and annihilate the Histories of all passed things. But those who dare not say, There is no God!, content themselves by saying that Daemons are but Bugs and Chimaeras. I dispute not with such Persons: when a Man is of short sight he will be so in the midst of Prodigies or Miracles, and will mistake the Candle of his Reason for the Noonday Sunne. He will see nothing but Extension, Divisibility, Solidity, Mobility: he forgets his frail Mortality, and goes groaping in the Dark.
And o God it is Dark still: Certainly you slept very sound, says Nat, and I have already done all my little Jobs and the Floor is so clean, Master, there is no Place to Spit and all the while I was by my leathern Bucket you were murmuring Words in your Sleep Nat, I said, Nat I thought I had just lit a Candle and laid me down for an Instant.
No, Master, it is already Seven.
And the Night has passed?
It has gone like an Arrow tho' it is but an ill Morning and the Post-Master's Boy, who I contemn, has given us this.
And Nat puts down a little Pacquet which had inscribed upon it: To Mr Dyer, left at the Post-House in Leester-Fields. He stands next to me and peers at it, but a strange Trembling seiz'd me: Go on your way, Master Eliot, I said, and bring me some Beef and Eggs. When he left the Room I opened the Pacquet and there found a small Paper sent by a Hand unknown to me, which was written in large plain Letters thus: I have sin yr work in Gods name.1 am hear this fortnighet, and you shall hear from me as soon as I com into Whytehill. I ham with all my art your frind and the best frind in the world if Iget my service for all is due and my mouth quiet. As I read this Message which seem'd to Threaten me, my Bowels mov'd and I ran from my Bed to the Stool-pan; I sat there and looked about fearfully, as if the very Walls menac'd me, and I was near Shitting away my Life. Then I heard Nat come up the Stairs and I call'd out to him, I am at Stool: leave the Beef by the Door! Which he quickly did, and walk'd down again to the Kitchin.
This letter was not so cunningly writ that I could not puzzle out its Meaning: by some foul Chance, my Company at Black Step Lane had been discover'd, and with it my own earnest Business beside the Churches. I was now fix'd indeed and in an Instant become once more the Child crouched in an Ash-pit, in too much Agonie of Mind to cry out against the World. I rose from my Pot and laid my self down upon the Bed, as like to call for a Shroud as for a Pair of Breeches. I knew all the Acts were against me: In the 39 of Eliz 4 it was enacted that all Persons using any subtile Craft, or telling Destinies or Fortunes, should be taken and deemed Rogues, Vagabonds, sturdy Beggars, and shall be stripped naked from the Middle upwards and whipp'd till his or her Body be bloody. But that was as Nothing; I could be indicted on the Statute Primo Jacobi cap 12: that to feed, imploy or reward any evil Spirits is a Felony -that I did thus quondam malum Spiritum negotiare. It was further enacted that any Person or Persons using Witchcraft, Sorcery and all their Aiders, Abettors and Counsellors, being convicted and attainted of the same Offences, shall suffer Pain of Death as a Felon without Benefit of Clergy. This did stick in my Mind (as they say), and as I lie upon this Bed I rise up and enter the Stone Room of Newgate and I am stapled fast down to the Floor; now I am re- mov'd to the Bar of the Court of the King's Bench and Sir Chris, is come to bear Witnesse against me; now I am dragg'd to the Carte and I laugh at the Mobbe around me; and now my Hands are being tyed and the Cap is draped over my Face; and as I am dying I am pull'd by the Legs.
Thus my Fear crept through the Passages of my Senses: it presented itself in Figures, it adhered to Sounds, introduced Odours and infused it self in Savours. And I said softly to my self, Oh no, my Sentence is just.
But then my sanguine Humour came up again, and I bit my Hand till the Blood came from it: I know my own Strength, says I, for it has been tried and, if I foresee Storms, it is fit I should prevent them. Why should I shrink before an ignorant and covetous Rogue? When I find who wrote this, I will utterly destroy him.
And then this became the Thread of my Thoughts which led me through a Labyrinth of Fear: this insipid Letter, says I, is ill writ by D'esigne to lead me out of the right way of my Suspicions. Thus the Fellow writes Whytehill when the meerest Squab knows it is Whitehall.
And who are those that watch me or speak against me but only those in the Office? And who would know of my D'esignes but only those who steal into my Closet or question Walter Pyne about my Work? And who has set Walter against me and, as it may be, follow'd me? And yes, yes Indeed there is one who haunts Walter and gives him brave Words -one Yorick Hayes, the Measuring Surveyour, and one who if I were remov'd from the Office flatters himself that he would leap up into my Place. It may be he who writes: I shall Watch him, and Track him, and Crack him like a Crab-louse. The Thought of how I might get him out of the Way fill'd me with a Delight which ran in my Blood and set me walking about my Chamber.
And as I walked I conceeved a Bait of my own to catch this Sprat, this Homunculouse, and I wrote back thus: I understand not your Meaning by your Writing, explain yourself in your next and lett me know. I did not sign my Name but put upon the Cover: Mr Hayes.
Then I placed the Letter in the Waistband of my Drawers and call'd out for Nat, who came running into me.
You have not touch'd your Beef, says he, and you have drank Nothing neither: I say to Mrs Best that I know not what to do with you, and you are like the little Shrinking Man of the Fable who Enough, Nat.
You are in the right, says he and Yawns.
And then I went on: Nat, if you see any mean-faced, covetous idle Fellows lingering in this Quarter, and any such who cause you Uneasinesse, watch them and tell me. He looked at me surpriz'd and said nothing further but yawned again. Then, with a little Whistling under my Breath, I dress'd my self. Here was a Bold one indeed, but as I walk'd to the Office, my Feares returned. Each Passer-by who looked on me struck me with a fresh Terrour: I was a perfect Mystery to my self and was affected by so many various Passions that I scarce knew which way I travell'd. I entered Scotland-yard like a Guilty thing and, wheeling about to see that I was unobserv'd, I left my Letter to Mr Hayes in the Passage where the Rogue was assured of Discovering it.
Then, once again in my own Closet and among my own Planns and Papers, I took Heart and press'd forward with the Negociacions concerning my Work. Quickly I wrote to the Commission thus: The Church of Wapping Stepney moves forward. The Walls are now coming up to a height of fifteen or sixteen feet everywhere; the Mason has had a good Quantity of Portland Stone, although he has not made that Advance with the Work as might be expected. The Frost has pritty much affected some of the Brickwork that was done about the beginning of November: some must be taken out and new laid. But I am content. I am also inclosing Scetches of a very spacious and curious Peece of Painting to be placed at the West End of the Church -being the Figure of Time, with Wings display'd. Under the Feet of Time lyeth the Pourtrait of a Sceleton about 8 Foot in Length, under which is Glory in the form of an Equilateral Triangle within a spacious Circle.
This being a most proper Emblemme for a Christian Church, and one that hath been imployed since the early days of Christianity. Your humble servant: Nich. Dyer.
This is the only Picture which will be unveiled to the Commissioners, and my own Work remains conceal'd: for, in the third of my Churches, must also be represented a huge dark Man with red Eyes holding a Sword and clad in a white Garment, a Man holding a golden Sphere and dressed in Red, a Man with a hood of dark Linen over his Head and with his Hands raysed. When my old Mirabilis first acquainted me with such Stuff, I told him they brought into my Memory the Stories I had heard in my Childhood. And why should they not, said he, since it is in Childhood that our Sorrows begin? And how could I now forget the Corse withinne the Foundacions?
There was a Noise in the Passage and I took my self to my Doorway as if by Chance: it was the man Hayes entering, as I had thought, but I dared not glance at the Letter I had left as a Snare for him. We bowed to each other civilly enough, and then I turned as if I had forgot some thing. But I paus'd at my Door and, moving my Head a little, I saw out of the Corner of my Eye the clown Hayes pick up the Letter, open it, read it swiftly, and throw it down without so much as looking at me.
You are a dead Man, I thought to myself, so to taunt me.
And then the Serpent speaks: Mr Dyer, says he, I have examin'd the Ground by Wapping Church.
Did you look upon the Dust, as the Preacher tells us?
And he smiled for a Moment at my Jest before continuing: It will be very chargeable and difficult to make a Sewer there, Mr Dyer.
But it must be done, Mr Hayes, there is no other Place.
Then I must wait till the Foundations of all the Pillars are layed, he goes on, so pray do me the Favour to tell me when this is done.
Have you view'd the D'esigne? I ask'A showing my Teeth to him in a Grin.
[1051 Yes, it is in my Box.
I would be glad to have it againe in my Possession, Mr Hayes, since I havenoCoppie.
He saw then that he could not Shake me. He made to enter his own Chamber and, with his back towards me, spoke as it seemed into the Air: This is the third Church is it not, Mr Dyer?
Let atone, puppy, let alone was my Thought as I measured him up for his Shroud. Yes, I said, yes, it is the third.