No. 82.

Monday, June 4, 1711. [Steele.

---Caput domina venale sub hasta.-----Juv.

PASSING under Ludgate the other Day, I heard a Voice bawling for Charity, which I thought I had somewhere heard before. Coming near to the Grate, the Prisoner called me by my Name, and desired I would throw something into the Box: I was out of Countenance for him, and did as he bid me, by putting in half a Crown. I went away, reflecting upon the strange Constitution of some men, and how meanly they behave themselves in all Sorts of Conditions. The Person who begged of me is now, as I take it, Fifty; I was well acquainted with him till about the Age of Twenty-five; at which Time a good Estate fell to him by the Death of a Relation. Upon coming to this unexpected good Fortune, he ran into all the Extravagancies imaginable; was frequently in drunken Disputes, broke Drawers heads, talked and swore loud, was unmannerly to those above him, and insolent to those below him. I could not but remark, that it was the same Baseness of Spirit which worked in his Behaviour in both Fortunes: The same little Mind was insolent in Riches, and shameless in Poverty. This Accident made me muse upon the Circumstances of being in Debt in general, and solve in my Mind what Tempers were most apt to fall into this Error of Life, as well as the Misfortune it must needs he to languish under such Pressures. As for my self, my natural Aversion to that sort of Conversation which makes a Figure with the Generality of Mankind, exempts me from any Temptations to Expence; and all my Business lies within a very narrow Compass, which is only to give an honest Man, who takes care of my Estate, proper Vouchers for his quarterly Payments to me, and observe what Linnen my Laundress brings and takes away with her once a Week: My Steward brings his Receipt ready for my Signing; and I have a pretty Implement with the respective Names of Shirts, Cravats, Handkerchiefs and Stockings, with proper Numbers to know how to reckon with my Laundress. This being almost all the Business I have in the World for the Care of my own Affairs, I am at full Leisure to observe upon what others do, with relation to their Equipage and Oeconomy.

When I walk the Street, and observe the Hurry about me in this Town,

Where with like Haste, tho' diff'rent Ways they run;

Some to undo, and some to be undone;

I say, when I behold this vast Variety of Persons and Humours, with the Pains they both take for the Accomplishment of the Ends mentioned in the above Verse of Denham, I cannot much wonder at the Endeavour after Gain, but am extremely astonished that Men can be so insensible of the Danger of running into Debt. One would think it impossible a Man who is given to contract Debts should know, that his Creditor has, from that Moment in which he transgresses Payment, so much as that Demand comes to in his Debtor's Honour, Liberty, and Fortune. One would think he did not, know, that his Creditor can say the worst thing imaginable of him, to wit, That he is unjust, without Defamation; and can seize his Person, without being guilty of an Assault. Yet such is the loose and abandoned Turn of some Men's Minds, that they can live under these constant Apprehensions, and still go on to encrease the Cause of them. Can there be a more low and servile Condition, than to be ashamed, or afraid, to see any one Man breathing? Yet he that is much in Debt, is in that Condition with relation to twenty different People. There are indeed Circumstances wherein Men of honest Natures may become liable to Debts, by some unadvised Behaviour in any great Point of their Life, or mortgaging a Man's Honesty as a Security for that of another, and the like; but these Instances are so particular and circumstantiated, that they cannot come within general Considerations: For one such Case as one of these, there are ten, where a Man, to keep up a Farce of Retinue and Grandeur within his own House, shall shrink at the Expectation of surly Demands at his Doors. The Debtor is the Creditor's Criminal, and all the Officers of Power and State, whom we behold make so great a Figure, are no other than so many Persons in Authority to make good his Charge against him. Human Society depends upon his having the Vengeance Law allots him ; and the Debtor owes his Liberty to his Neighbour, as much as the Murderer does his Life to his Prince.

Our Gentry are, generally speaking, in Debt; and many Families have put it into a kind of Method of being so from Generation to Generation. The Father mortgages when his Son is very young: and the Boy is to marry as soon as he is at Age, to redeem it, and find Portions for his Sisters. This, forsooth, is no great Inconvenience to him; for he may wench, keep a publick Table or feed Dogs, like a worthy English Gentleman, till lie has out-run half his Estate, and leave the same Incumbrance upon his First-born, and so on, till one Man of more Vigour than ordinary goes quite through the Estate, or some Man of Sense comes into it, and scorns to have an Estate in Partnership, that is to say, liable to the Demand or Insult of any Man living. There is my Friend Sir ANDREW, tho' for many Years a great and general Trader, was never the Defendant in a Law-Suit, in all the Perplexity of Business, and the Iniquity of Mankind at present: No one had any Colour for the least Complaint against his Dealings with him. This is certainly as uncommon, and in its Proportion as laudable in a Citizen, as it is in a General never to have suffered a Disadvantage in Fight. How different from this Gentleman is Jack Truepenny, who has been an old Acquaintance of Sir ANDREW and my self from Boys, but could never learn our Caution. Jack has a whorish unresisting Good-nature, which makes him incapable of having a Property in any thing. His Fortune, his Reputation, his Time and his Capacity, are at any Man's Service that comes first. When he was at School, he was whipped thrice a Week for Faults he took upon him to excuse others; since he came into the Business of the World, he has been arrested twice or thrice a Year for Debts he had nothing to do with, but as a Surety for others; and I remember when a Friend of his had suffered in the Vice of the Town, all the Physick his Friend took was conveyed to him by Jack, and inscribed, 'A Bolus or an Electuary for Mr. Truepenny.' Jack had a good Estate left him, which came to nothing; because he believed all who pretended to Demands upon it. This Easiness and Credulity destroy all the other Merit he has; and he has all his Life been a Sacrifice to others, without ever receiving Thanks, or doing one good Action.

I will end this Discourse with a Speech which I heard Jack make to one of his Creditors, (of whom he deserved gentler Usage) after lying a whole Night in Custody at his Suit.


Your Ingratitude for the many Kindnesses I have done you, shall not make me unthankful for the Good you have done me, in letting me see there is such a Man as you in the World. I am obliged to you for the Diffidence I shall have all the rest of my Life : I shall hereafter trust no Man so far as to be in his Debt.


1. Ludgate was originally built in 1215, by the Barons who entered London, destroyed houses of Jews and erected this gate with their ruins. It was first used as a prison in 1373, being then a free prison, but soon losing that privilege. Sir Stephen Forster, who was Lord Mayor in 1454, had been a prisoner at Ludgate and begged at the grate, where he was seen by a rich widow who bought his liberty, took him into her service, and eventually married him. To commemorate this he enlarged the accommodation for the prisoners and added a chapel. The old gate was taken down and rebuilt in 1586. That second gate was destroyed in the Fire of London. The gate which succeeded and was used, like its predecessors, as a wretched prison for debtors, was pulled down in 1760, and the prisoners removed, first to the London workhouse, afterwards to part of the Giltspur Street Compter.

2. Sir John Denham's 'Cooper's Hill.'