« PreviousContinue »
travelled husband to the anticipative optics of his wife. Sweet to behold him, in a calm summer evening, bowling along the village, enshrined like Ixion in a cloud-of dust, with a crew of breechless urchins screaming welcome as he passes. A smile is on the face of the hamlet, and even the schoolmaster doffs his hat at his approach. The maidservant rushes out in hope of a packet from her lover, and the barber with the weekly newspaper, tossed down to him from the box, flies pregnant with greatness, to be delivered at the village alehouse.
With respect to his accomplishments, the coachman is deservedly illustrious. If his conversation has not the copious elegance of Coleridge, it has all the easy copiousness of nature, with expletive beauties more peculiarly its own. It is at once nervous, flowing, and anecdotal, enforced with energetic anathemas and garnished with technical obscurities. In music he is no mean proficient; his school, as Lord Byron said of Christabel, is "wild and singularly original and beautiful," and not unfrequently contrives to "snatch a grace beyond the reach of art." Some, however, prefer the Italian, others the Irish, others the English-but I prefer the whip school of music; for, like the instrument from which its name is derived, it is striking, flexible, and melodious; and I can imagine
nothing more truly touching, than to hear a coachman, as he trundles along the road, "warble his native wood notes wild" to the pathetic tune of the Lass of Richmond Hill, or the more impassioned canzonet of Sally in our Alley.
The mention of music reminds me of that most musical of all modern whips, the late Isaac Walton-the Mæcenas of coachmen-the Braham of the Bath-road.-Sticklers for symmetry might perhaps assert that he was stout, inasmuch as he measured five foot four in height, and four foot five in breadth. His proportion, however, was correct; and though his body resembled a beer-barrel, and peradventure had been as often tapped, it was supported by legs of adequate rotundity, which, from the pleasing originality of their shape, might deceive the most cunning anatomist. In creating this goodly personage, nature seemed to have overlooked the trifling appendage of a neck, which was a subject of waggery to his friends, who used often to assert that honest Isaac could never be hung according to law, inasmuch as he had no neck to be hung by. For myself, I am not fond of repeating such idle tittle-tattle, and shall therefore close my description of his person by saying, that when set in motion, he gave no faint idea of a buttock of beef upon castors.
In his public capacity he was well known to
every tavern-keeper from London to Bath, and thrice fortunate was the ostler, on whom he turned the light of his countenance. On the road he was an epitome of regularity, and was never known to pass a town or village without suffering his stomach to take toll at the first public-house. Thus fortified he would manfully journey on, enlivening each mile by some witty anecdote or humorous ditty, of which last article he had an incalculable collection, and of such an accommodating nature that one tune would actually suit them all. This tune generally lasted a fortnight, and was then laid aside on half-pay. By strange ill-luck, however, I happened to be usually on the road when it was high in favour with Isaac's lungs, and it is only on the authority of other travellers that I mention the apocryphal fact of its dismissal.
It was a pleasant thing to hear this man "of intolerable entrails" warble the air "Old King Cole;" for there was a vocal abruptness about him, that with the boldness of original genius o'erleaped both time and tune. His ditties were mostly of a humorous cast, and one principal merit attending them was, that, unlike the negligent minstrelsy of the modern stage, they were never sung so badly as to be called for a second time. Pity it is that such accomplishments should ever be lost to the world; but "all flesh is grass," saith the Preacher, and
our coachman was doomed to be a melancholy instance of this biblical truth. He was suffocated in attempting to force a laugh at one of his own jokes, a necessity imposed upon his muscles by the serious demeanour of his hearers. His death clouded the countenance of every ostler from London to Bath; and many a publican, as he cast a rueful glance at his well-filled beer-barrels, thought with a sigh of the thirsty bowels of poor Isaac.
Peace be with thee, thou fat child of Bacchus, and unmolested be the sod that enwraps thee!— The pretty bar-maid, bedecked in summer topknots and neat russet shawl, shall long stand listening on tip-toe to the smack of thy whip, that never-failing herald of a kiss. Long shall the landlady sigh for thy pleasant speeches, and the traveller for his wonted anodyne. But to those who knew thee, all further panegyric is useless; and to those who did not, the sole melancholy duty (and a sacred one it is) remains of purchasing this tribute to thy memory, and strongly recommending it to the attention of men of science and of taste.
THE DEVIL'S COACH:
A Yorkshire Legend.*
"A dream, the veriest shadow of a dream,
EVERY one must have heard of the headless Coachman and his phantom tits. He tools them along the streets of Beverley at night-fall, and pulls up at the door of graceless invalids, when he thinks that they have occasion for a conveyance into the other world. What has become of his pericranium heaven only knows, nor indeed is it my business to enquire. Generally speaking, however, it
* The outline of this singular legend is well known to the good folks in the West Riding of Yorkshire, more particularly in the neighbourhood of Beverley. They believe that all naughty people are carried away in the Devil's Coach; which may be one reason why the young ladies are so outrageously virtuous in the North.