Tuesday, July 22, 2008


by the Sandwichman

It was a dark and stormy night... The Sandwichman has dug up the following charming vignette from a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, author of the infamously cliched (and unfairly maligned?) first line, "It was a dark and stormy night...,"

On entering the Piazza, in which, as I am writing for the next century,
it may be necessary to say that Punch held his court, we saw a tall,
thin fellow, loitering under the columns, and exhibiting a countenance
of the most ludicrous discontent. There was an insolent arrogance about
Tarleton's good-nature, which always led him to consult the whim of the
moment at the expense of every other consideration, especially if the
whim referred to a member of the canaille whom my aristocratic friend
esteemed as a base part of the exclusive and despotic property of

"Egad, Devereux," said he, "do you see that fellow? he has the audacity
to affect spleen. Faith, I thought melancholy was the distinguishing
patent of nobility: we will smoke him." And advancing towards the man
of gloom, Tarleton touched him with the end of his cane. The man
started and turned round. "Pray, sirrah," said Tarleton, coldly, "pray
who the devil are you that you presume to look discontented?"

"Why, Sir," said the man, good-humouredly enough, "I have some right to
be angry."

"I doubt it, my friend," said Tarleton. "What is your complaint? a rise
in the price of tripe, or a drinking wife? Those, I take it, are the
sole misfortunes incidental to your condition."

"If that be the case," said I, observing a cloud on our new friend's
brow, "shall we heal thy sufferings? Tell us thy complaints, and we
will prescribe thee a silver specific; there is a sample of our skill."

"Thank you humbly, gentlemen," said the man, pocketing the money, and
clearing his countenance; "and seriously, mine is an uncommonly hard
case. I was, till within the last few weeks, the under-sexton of St.
Paul's, Covent Garden, and my duty was that of ringing the bells for
daily prayers but a man of Belial came hitherwards, set up a
puppet-show, and, timing the hours of his exhibition with a wicked
sagacity, made the bell I rang for church serve as a summons to
Punch,--so, gentlemen, that whenever your humble servant began to pull
for the Lord, his perverted congregation began to flock to the devil;
and, instead of being an instrument for saving souls, I was made the
innocent means of destroying them. Oh, gentlemen, it was a shocking
thing to tug away at the rope till the sweat ran down one, for four
shillings a week; and to see all the time that one was thinning one's
own congregation and emptying one's own pockets!"

"It was indeed a lamentable dilemma; and what did you, Mr. Sexton?"

"Do, Sir? why, I could not stifle my conscience, and I left my place.
Ever since then, Sir, I have stationed myself in the Piazza, to warn my
poor, deluded fellow-creatures of their error, and to assure them that
when the bell of St. Paul's rings, it rings for prayers, and not for
puppet-shows, and--Lord help us, there it goes at this very moment; and
look, look, gentlemen, how the wigs and hoods are crowding to the
motion* instead of the minister."

* An antiquated word in use for puppet-shows.

"Ha! ha! ha!" cried Tarleton, "Mr. Powell is not the first man who has
wrested things holy to serve a carnal purpose, and made use of church
bells in order to ring money to the wide pouch of the church's enemies.
Hark ye, my friend, follow my advice, and turn preacher yourself; mount
a cart opposite to the motion, and I'll wager a trifle that the crowd
forsake the theatrical mountebank in favour of the religious one; for
the more sacred the thing played upon, the more certain is the game."

"Body of me, gentlemen," cried the ex-sexton, "I'll follow your advice."

"Do so, man, and never presume to look doleful again; leave dulness to
your superiors."

And with this advice, and an additional compensation for his confidence,
we left the innocent assistant of Mr. Powell, and marched into the
puppet-show, by the sound of the very bells the perversion of which the
good sexton had so pathetically lamented.

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