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My life at school was like that of any other school-boy. I shall not record, even if I could remember, how often I was flogged when I did not deserve it, or how often I escaped when I did. Five years of my life passed away, of which I have nothing to relate but that I learned to whip a top, and to play at ball and marbles, each in their season; that I acquired in due course the usual quantity of Greek and Latin; and perpetrated in my time, I presume, the usual quantity of mischief. But in the fourth year of my schoolboy life, an opportunity for unusual mischief occurred. An accident happened, which, however trifling in itself, can never be effaced from my memory. Every particular connected with it, is indeed as fresh in my recollection as it was the day after it happened. It was a circumstance which awakened long dormant associations, and combined them with all the feelings and principles of party spirit, which had first been inculcated by my father at home, and which had been exercised so well and so continually by my companions at school, as to have become the governing power of my mind.
Schoolboys, as well as men, can find or make a party question, and quarrel out of any thing or out of nothing. There was a Scotch pedlar, who used to come every Thursday evening to our school to supply our various wants and fancies. The Scotch pedlar died, and two candidates offered to supply his place, an English lad of the name of Dutton, and a Jew boy of the name of Jacob. Dutton was son to a man who had lived as butler in Mowbray's family. Lord Mowbray knew the boy to be a rogue, but thought he was attached to the Mowbrays, and at all events was determined to support him, as being somehow supposed to be connected with his family. Reminding me of my early declaration at my father's table against the naturalization of the Jews, and the bon-mot I had made, and the toast I had drunk, and the pledge I had given, Mowbray easily engaged me to join him against the Jew boy; and a zealous partisan against Jacob I became, canvassing as if my life had depended upon this point. But in spite of all our zeal, noise, violence, and cabal, it was the least and the most simple child in the school who decided the election. This youngster had in secret offered to exchange a silver pencil-case for a top, or something of such inadequate value: Jacob, instead of taking advantage of the child, explained to him that his pencil-case was worth twenty tops. On the day of election, this little boy, mounted upon the top of a step-ladder, appeared over the heads of the crowd, and in a small clear voice, and with an eagerness which fixed attention, related the history of his pencil-case, and ended by hoping with all his heart that his friend Jacob, his honest Jacob, might be chosen. Jacob was elected. Mowbray and I, and all our party, vexed and mortified, became the more inveterate in our aversion to the successful candidate; and from this moment we determined to plague and persecute him, till we should force him to give up. Every Thursday evening, the moment he appeared in the school-room, or on the play-ground, our party commenced the attack upon "the Wandering Jew," as we called this poor pedlar; and with every opprobrious nickname, and every practical jest, that mischievous and incensed schoolboy zealots could devise, we persecuted and tortured him body and mind. We twanged at once a hundred Jew's-harps in his ear, and before his eyes we paraded the effigy of a Jew, dressed in a gabardine of rags and paper. In the passages through which he was to pass, we set stumbling-blocks in his way, we threw orange-peel in his path, and when he slipped or fell, we laughed him to scorn, and we triumphed over him the more, the more he was hurt, or the more his goods were injured. "We laughed at his losses, mocked at his gains, scorned his nation, thwarted his bargains, cooled his friends, heated his enemies--and what was our reason? he was a Jew."
But he was as unlike to Shylock as it is possible to conceive. Without one thought or look of malice or revenge, he stood before us Thursday after Thursday, enduring all that our barbarity was pleased to inflict; he stood patient and long-suffering, and even of this patience and resignation we made a jest, and a subject of fresh reproach and taunt.
How I, who was not in other cases a cruel or an ill-natured boy, could be so inhuman to this poor, unprotected, unoffending creature I cannot conceive; but such in man or boy is the nature of persecution. At the time it all appeared to me quite natural and proper; a just and necessary war. The blame, if blame there were, was divided among so many, that the share of each, my share at least, appeared to me so small, as not to be worth a moment's consideration. The shame, if we had any, was carried away in the tide of popular enthusiasm, and drowned and lost in the fury and noise of the torrent. In looking back upon this disgraceful scene of our boyish days--boyish indeed I can scarcely call them, for I was almost, and Mowbray in his own opinion was quite, a man--I say, in looking hack upon this time, I have but one comfort. But I have one, and I will make the most of it: I think I should never have done so much wrong, had it not been for Mowbray. We were both horribly to blame; but though I was full as wrong in action, I flatter myself that I was wrong upon better or upon less bad motives. My aversion to the Jew, if more absurd and violent, was less interested and malignant than Mowbray's. I never could stand as he did to parley, and barter, and chaffer with him--if I had occasion to buy any thing, I was high and haughty, and at a word; he named his price, I questioned not, not I--down was thrown my money, my back was turned--and away! As for stooping to coax him as Mowbray would, when he had a point to gain, I could not have done it. To ask Jacob to lend me money, to beg him to give me more time to pay a debt, to cajole and bully him by turns, to call him alternately usurer and my honest fellow, extortioner and my friend Jacob--my tongue could not have uttered the words, my soul detested the thought; yet all this, and more, could Mowbray do, and did.
Lord Mowbray was deeply in Jacob's debt, especially for two watches which he had taken upon trial, and which he had kept three months, making, every Thursday, some fresh excuse for not paying for them; at last Jacob said that he must have the money, that his employer could wait no longer, and that he should himself be thrown into prison. Mowbray said this was only a trick to work upon his compassion, and that the Jew might very well wait for his money, because he asked twice as much for the watches as they were worth. Jacob offered to leave the price to be named by any creditable watchmaker. Lord Mowbray swore that he was as good a judge as any watchmaker in Christendom. Without pretending to dispute that point, Jacob finished by declaring, that his distress was so urgent that he must appeal to some of the masters. "You little Jewish tell-tale, what do you mean by that pitiful threat? Appeal to the higher powers if you dare, and I'll make you repent it, you usurer! Only do, if you dare!" cried he, clenching his hand and opening it, so as to present, successively, the two ideas of a box on the ear, and a blow on the stomach. "That was logic and eloquence," added Mowbray, turning to me. "Some ancient philosopher, you know, or I know, has compared logic to the closed fist, and eloquence to the open palm. See what it is, Harrington, to make good use of one's learning."
This was all very clever, at least our party thought so, and at the moment I applauded with the rest, though in my secret soul I thought Jacob was ill used, and that he ought to have had justice, if he had not been a Jew. His fear of a prison proved to be no pretence, for it surmounted his dread of Mowbray's logic and eloquence, and of all the unpopularity which he was well aware must be the consequence of his applying to the higher powers. Jacob appealed, and Lord Mowbray was summoned to appear before the head master, and to answer to the charge. It was proved that the price set upon the two watches was perfectly fair, as a watchmaker, who was examined on this point, declared. The watches had been so damaged during the two months they had been in his lordship's possession, that Jacob declined taking them back. Lord Mowbray protested that they were good for nothing when he first had them.
Then why did he not return them after the first week's trial, when Jacob had requested either to have them back or to be paid for them? His lordship had then, as half a dozen of the boys on the Jew's side were ready to testify, refused to return the watches, declaring they went very well, and that he would keep them as long as he pleased, and pay for them when he pleased, and no sooner.
This plain tale put down the Lord Mowbray. His wit and his party now availed him not; he was publicly reprimanded, and sentenced to pay Jacob for the watches in a week, or to be expelled from the school. Mowbray would have desired no better than to leave the school, but he knew that his mother would never consent to this.
His mother, the Countess de Brantefield, was a Countess in her own right, and had an estate in her own power;--his father, a simple commoner, was dead, his mother was his sole guardian.
"That mother of mine," said he to us, "would not hear of her son's being turned out--so I must set my head to work against the head of the head master, who is at this present moment inditing a letter to her ladyship, beginning, no doubt, with, 'I am sorry to be obliged to take up my pen,' or, 'I am concerned to be under the necessity of sitting down to inform your ladyship.' Now I must make haste and inform my lady mother of the truth with my own pen, which luckily is the pen of a ready writer. You will see," continued he, "how cleverly I will get myself out of the scrape with her. I know how to touch her up. There's a folio, at home, of old Manuscript Memoirs of the De Brantefield family, since the time of the flood, I believe: it's the only book my dear mother ever looks into; and she has often made me read it to her, till--no offence to my long line of ancestry--I cursed it and them; but now I bless it and them for supplying my happy memory with a case in point, that will just hit my mother's fancy, and, of course, obtain judgment in my favour. A case, in the reign of Richard the Second, between a Jew and my great, great, great, six times great grandfather, whom it is sufficient to name to have all the blood of all the De Brantefields up in arms for me against all the Jews that ever were born. So my little Jacob, I have you."
Mowbray, accordingly, wrote to his mother what he called a chef-d'oeuvre of a letter, and next post came an answer from Lady de Brantefield with the money to pay her son's debt, and, as desired and expected, a strong reproof to her son for his folly in ever dealing with a Jew. How could he possibly expect not to be cheated, as, by his own confession, it appeared he had been, grossly? It was the more extraordinary, since he so well recollected the ever to be lamented case of Sir Josseline de Brantefield, that her son could, with all his family experience, be, at this time of day, a dupe to one of a race branded by the public History of England, and private Memoirs of the De Brantefields, to all eternity!
Mowbray showed this letter in triumph to all his party. It answered the double purpose of justifying his own bad opinion of the tribe of Israel, and of tormenting Jacob.
The next Thursday evening after that on which judgment had been given against Mowbray, when Jacob appeared in the school-room, the anti-Jewish party gathered round him, according to the instructions of their leader, who promised to show them some good sport at the Jew's expense.
"Only give me fair play," said Mowbray, "and stick close, and don't let him off, for your lives don't let him break through you, till I've roasted him well."
"There's your money," cried Mowbray, throwing down the money for the watches--"take it--ay, count it--every penny right--I've paid you by the day appointed; and, thank Heaven and my friends, the pound of flesh next my heart is safe from your knife, Shylock!"
Jacob made no reply, but he looked as if he felt much.
"Now tell me, honest Jacob," pursued Mowbray, "honest Jacob, patient Jacob, tell me, upon your honour, if you know what that word means--upon your conscience, if you ever heard of any such thing--don't you think yourself a most pitiful dog, to persist in coming here to be made game of for twopence? 'Tis wonderful how much your thoroughbred Jew will do and suffer for gain. We poor good Christians could never do as much now--could we any soul of us, think you, Jacob?"
"Yes," replied Jacob, "I think you could, I think you would."
Loud scornful laughter from our party interrupted him; he waited calmly till it was over, and then continued, "Every soul of you good Christians would, I think, do as much for a father, if he were in want and dying, as mine is." There was a silence for the moment: we were all, I believe, struck, or touched, except Mowbray, who, unembarrassed by feeling, went on with the same levity of tone as before: "A father in want! Are you sure now he is not a father of straw, Jacob, set up for the nonce, to move the compassion of the generous public? Well, I've little faith, but I've some charity--here's a halfpenny for your father, to begin with."
"Whilst I live, my father shall ask no charity, I hope," said the son, retreating from the insulting alms which Mowbray still proffered.
"Why now, Jacob, that's bad acting, out o' character, Jacob, my Jew; for when did any son of Israel, any one of your tribe, or your twelve tribes, despise a farthing they could get honestly or dishonestly? Now this is a halfpenny--a good halfpenny. Come, Jacob, take it--don't be too proud-- pocket the affront--consider it's for your father, not for yourself--you said you'd do much for your father, Jacob."
Jacob's countenance continued rigidly calm, except some little convulsive twitches about the mouth.
"Spare him, Mowbray," whispered I, pulling back Mowbray's arm; "Jew as he is, you see he has some feeling about his father."
"Jew as he is, and fool as you are, Harrington," replied Mowbray, aloud, "do you really believe that this hypocrite cares about his father, supposing he has one? Do you believe, boys, that a Jew pedlar can love a father gratis, as we do?"
"As we do!" repeated some of the boys: "Oh! no, for his father can't be as good as ours--he is a Jew!"
"Jacob, is your father good to you?" said one of the little boys.
"He is a good father, sir--cannot be a better father, sir," answered Jacob: the tears started into his eyes, but he got rid of them in an instant, before Mowbray saw them, I suppose, for he went on in the same insulting tone.
"What's that he says? Does he say he has a good father? If he'd swear it, I would not believe him--a good father is too great a blessing for a Jew."
"Oh! for shame, Mowbray!" said I. And "For shame! for shame, Mowbray!" echoed from the opposite, or, as Mowbray called it, from the Jewish party: they had by this time gathered in a circle at the outside of that which we had made round Jacob, and many had brought benches, and were mounted upon them, looking over our heads to see what was going on.
Jacob was now putting the key in his box, which he had set down in the middle of the circle, and was preparing to open it.
"Stay, stay, honest Jacob! tell us something more about this fine father; for example, what's his name, and what is he?" "I cannot tell you what he is, sir," replied Jacob, changing colour, "nor can I tell you his name."
"Cannot tell me the name of his own father! a precious fellow! Didn't I tell you 'twas a sham father? So now for the roasting I owe you, Mr. Jew." There was a large fire in the school-room; Mowbray, by a concerted movement between him and his friends, shoved the Jew close to the fire, and barricadoed him up, so that he could not escape, bidding him speak when he was too hot, and confess the truth.
Jacob was resolutely silent; he would not tell his father's name. He stood it, till I could stand it no longer, and I insisted upon Mowbray's letting him off.
"I could not use a dog so," said I.
"A dog, no! nor I; but this is a Jew."
"A fellow-creature," said I.
"A fine discovery! And pray, Harrington, what has made you so tender-hearted all of a sudden for the Jews?"
"Your being so hard-hearted, Mowbray," said I: "when you persecute and torture this poor fellow, how can I help speaking?"
"And pray, sir," said Mowbray, "on which side are you speaking?"
"On the side of humanity," said I.
"Fudge! On whose side are you?"
"On yours, Mowbray, if you won't be a tyrant."
"If! If you have a mind to rat, rat sans phrase, and run over to the Jewish side. I always thought you were a Jew at heart, Harrington."
"No more a Jew than yourself, Mowbray, nor so much," said I, standing firm, and raising my voice, so that I could be heard by all.
"No more a Jew than myself! pray how do you make that out?"
"By being more of a Christian--by sticking more to the maxim 'Do as you would be done by.'"
"That is a good maxim," said Jacob: a cheer from all sides supported me, as I advanced to liberate the Jew; but Mowbray, preventing me, leaped upon Jacob's box, and standing with his legs stretched out, Colossus-like, "Might makes right," said he, "all the world over. You're a mighty fine preacher, Master Harrington; let's see if you can preach me down."
"Let's see if I can't pull you down!" cried I, springing forward: indignation giving me strength, I seized, and with one jerk pulled the Colossus forward and swung him to the ground.
"Well done, Harrington!" resounded from all sides. Mowbray, the instant he recovered his feet, flew at me, furious for vengeance, dealing his blows with desperate celerity. He was far my overmatch in strength and size; but I stood up to him. Between the blows, I heard Jacob's voice in tones of supplication. When I had breath I called out to him, "Jacob! Escape!" And I heard the words, "Jacob! Jacob! Escape!" repeated near me.
But, instead of escaping, he stood stock still, reiterating his prayer to be heard: at last he rushed between us--we paused--both parties called to us, insisting that we should hear what the Jew had to say.
"Young Lord--," said he, "and dear young gentleman," turning to me, "let poor Jacob be no more cause now, or ever, of quarrel between you. He shall trouble you never more. This is the last day, the last minute he will ever trouble you."
He bowed. Looking round to all, twice to the upper circle, where his friends stood, he added, "Much obliged--for all kindness--grateful. Blessings!--Blessings on all!--and may--"
He could say no more; but hastily taking up his box, he retired through the opening crowd. The door closed after him. Both parties stood silent for a moment, till Mowbray exclaimed, "Huzza! Dutton for ever! We've won the day. Dutton for Thursday! Huzza! Huzza! Adieu! Adieu!--Wandering Jew!"
No one echoed his adieu or his huzzas. I never saw man or boy look more vexed and mortified. All further combat between us ceased, the boys one and all taking my part and insisting upon peace. The next day Mowbray offered to lay any wager that Jacob the Jew would appear again on the ensuing Thursday; and that he would tell his father's name, or at least come provided, as Mowbray stated it, with a name for his father. These wagers were taken up, and bets ran high on the subject. Thursday was anxiously expected--Thursday arrived, but no Jacob. The next Thursday came--another, and another--and no Jacob!
When it was certain that poor Jacob would appear no more--and when his motive for resigning, and his words at taking leave were recollected--and when it became evident that his balls, and his tops, and his marbles, and his knives, had always been better and more reasonable than Dutton's, the tide of popularity ran high in his favour. Poor Jacob was loudly regretted; and as long as schoolboys could continue to think about the same thing, we continued conjecturing why it was that Jacob would not tell us his father's name. We made many attempts to trace him, and to discover his secret; but all our inquiries proved ineffectual: we could hear no more of Jacob, and our curiosity died away.
Mowbray, who was two or three years my senior, left school soon afterwards. We did not meet at the university; he went to Oxford, and I to Cambridge.
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