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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 434 Volume 17, New Series, April 24, 1852



No. 434. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, APRIL 24, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._


It is said that everything is to be had in London. There is truth
enough in the observation; indeed, rather too much. The conviction
that everything is to be had, whether you are in want of it or not, is
forced upon you with a persistence that becomes oppressive; and you
find that, owing to everything being so abundantly plentiful, there is
one thing which is _not_ to be had, do what you will, though you would
like it, have it if you could--and that one thing is just one day's
exemption from the persecutions of Puff in its myriad shapes and
disguises. But it is not to be allowed; all the agencies that will
work at all are pressed into the service of pushing and puffing
traffic; and we are fast becoming, from a nation of shopkeepers, a
nation in a shop. If you walk abroad, it is between walls swathed in
puffs; if you are lucky enough to drive your gig, you have to 'cut in
and out' between square vans of crawling puffs; if, alighting, you
cast your eyes upon the ground, the pavement is stencilled with puffs;
if in an evening stroll you turn your eye towards the sky, from a
paper balloon the clouds drop puffs. You get into an omnibus, out of
the shower, and find yourself among half a score of others, buried
alive in puffs; you give the conductor sixpence, and he gives you
three pennies in change, and you are forced to pocket a puff, or
perhaps two, stamped indelibly on the copper coin of the realm. You
wander out into the country, but the puffs have gone thither before
you, turn in what direction you may; and the green covert, the shady
lane, the barks of columned beeches and speckled birches, of gnarled
oaks and rugged elms--no longer the mysterious haunts of nymphs and
dryads, who have been driven far away by the omnivorous demon of the
shop--are all invaded by Puff, and subdued to the office of his
ministering spirits. Puff, in short, is the monster megatherium of
modern society, who runs rampaging about the world, his broad back in
the air, and his nose on the ground, playing all sorts of ludicrous
antics, doing very little good, beyond filling his own insatiable maw,
and nobody knows how much mischief in accomplishing that.

Push is an animal of a different breed, naturally a thorough-going,
steady, and fast-trotting hack, who mostly keeps in the Queen's
highway, and knows where he is going. Unfortunately, he is given to
break into a gallop now and then; and whenever in this vicious mood,
is pretty sure to take up with Puff, and the two are apt to make wild
work of it when they scamper abroad together. The worst of it is, that
nobody knows which is which of these two termagant tramplers: both are
thoroughly protean creatures, changing shapes and characters, and
assuming a thousand different forms every day; so that it is a task
all but impossible to distinguish one from the other. Hence a man may
got upon the back of either without well knowing whither he will be
carried, or what will be the upshot of his journey.

Dropping our parable, and leaving the supposed animals to run their
indefinite career, let us take a brief glance at some of the
curiosities of the science of Puffing and Pushing--for both are so
blended, that it is impossible to disentangle one from the other--as
it is carried on at the present hour in the metropolis.

The business of the shopkeeper, as well as of all others who have
goods to sell, is of course to dispose of his wares as rapidly as
possible, and in the dearest market. This market he has to create, and
he must do it in one of two ways: either he must succeed in persuading
the public, by some means or other, that it is to their advantage to
deal with him, or he must wait patiently and perseveringly until they
have found that out, which they will inevitably do if it is a fact. No
shop ever pays its expenses, as a general rule, for the first ten or
twenty months, unless it be literally crammed down the public throat
by the instrumentality of the press and the boarding; and it is
therefore a question, whether it is cheaper to wait for a business to
grow up, like a young plant, or to force it into sudden expansion by
artificial means. When a business is manageable by one or two hands,
the former expedient is the better one, and as such is generally
followed, after a little preliminary advertising, to apprise the
neighbourhood of its whereabouts. But when the proprietor has an army
of assistants to maintain and to salarise, the case is altogether
different: the expense of waiting, perhaps for a couple of years,
would swallow up a large capital. On this account, he finds it more
politic to arrest the general attention by a grand stir in all
quarters, and some obtrusive demonstration palpable to all eyes, which
shall blazon his name and pretensions through every street and lane of
mighty London. Sometimes it is a regiment of foot, with placarded
banners; sometimes one of cavalry, with bill-plastered vehicles and
bands of music; sometimes it is a phalanx of bottled humanity,
crawling about in labelled triangular phials of wood, corked with
woful faces; and sometimes it is all these together, and a great deal
more besides. By this means, he conquers reputation, as a despot
sometimes carries a throne, by a _coup d'état_, and becomes a
celebrity at once to the million, among whom his name is infinitely
better known than those of the greatest benefactors of mankind. All
this might be tolerable enough if it ended here; but, unhappily, it
does not. Experiment has shewn that, just as gudgeons will bite at
anything when the mud is stirred up at the bottom of their holes, so
the ingenuous public will lay out their money with anybody who makes a
prodigious noise and clatter about the bargains he has to give. The
result of this discovery is, the wholesale daily publication of lies
of most enormous calibre, and their circulation, by means which we
shall briefly notice, in localities where they are likely to prove
most productive.

The advertisement in the daily or weekly papers, the placard on the
walls or boardings, the perambulating vans and banner-men, and the
doomed hosts of bottle-imps and extinguishers, however successful each
may be in attracting the gaze and securing the patronage of the
multitude, fail, for the most part, of enlisting the confidence of a
certain order of customers, who, having plenty of money to spend, and
a considerable share of vanity to work upon, are among the most
hopeful fish that fall into the shopkeeper's net. These are the female
members of a certain order of families--the amiable and genteel wives
and daughters of the commercial aristocracy, and their agents, of this
great city. They reside throughout the year in the suburbs: they
rarely read the newspapers; it would not be genteel to stand in the
streets spelling over the bills on the walls; and the walking and
riding equipages of puffing are things decidedly low in their
estimation. They must, therefore, be reached by some other means; and
these other means are before us as we write, in the shape of a pile of
circular-letters in envelopes of all sorts--plain, hot-pressed, and
embossed; with addresses--some in manuscript, and others in
print--some in a gracefully genteel running-hand, and others decidedly
and rather obtrusively official in character, as though emanating from
government authorities--each and all, however, containing the bait
which the lady-gudgeon is expected to swallow. Before proceeding to
open a few of them for the benefit of the reader, we must apprise him
of a curious peculiarity which marks their delivery. Whether they come
by post, as the major part of them do, not a few of them requiring a
double stamp, or whether they are delivered by hand, one thing is
remarkable--_they always come in the middle of the day_, between the
hours of eleven in the forenoon and five in the afternoon, when, as a
matter of course, the master of the house is not in the way. Never, by
any accident, does the morning-post, delivered in the suburbs between
nine and ten, produce an epistle of this kind. Let us now open a few
of them, and learn from their contents what is the shopkeeper's
estimate of the gullibility of the merchant's wife, or his daughter,
or of the wife or daughter of his managing clerk.

The first that comes to hand is addressed thus: 'No.
2795.--DECLARATIVE NOTICE.--_From the Times, August 15, 1851._' The
contents are a circular, handsomely printed on three crowded sides of
royal quarto glazed post, and containing a list of articles for
peremptory disposal, under unheard-of advantages, on the premises of
Mr Gobblemadam, at No. 541 New Ruin Street. Without disguising
anything more than the addresses of these puffing worthies, we shall
quote _verbatim_ a few paragraphs from their productions. The
catalogue of bargains in the one before us comprises almost every
species of textile manufacture, as well native as foreign--among which
silks, shawls, dresses, furs, and mantles are the most prominent; and
amazing bargains they are--witness the following extracts:

'A marvellous variety of fancy silks, cost from 4 to 5
guineas each, will be sold for L.1, 19s. 6d. each.

Robes of damas and broche (foreign), cost 6 guineas, to be
sold for 2-1/2 guineas.

Embroidered muslin robes, newest fashion, cost 18s. 9d., to
be sold for 9s. 6d.

Worked lace dresses, cost 35s., to be sold at 14s. 9d.

Do. do. cost 28s. 6d., to be sold at 7s. 6d.

Newest dresses, of fashionable materials, worth 35s., to be
sold for 9s. 9d.

Splendid Paisley shawls, worth 2-1/2 guineas, for 16s.

Cashmere shawls (perfect gems), cost 4 guineas, to be sold
for 35s.'

A long list of similar bargains closes with a declaration that,
although these prices are mentioned, a clearance of the premises,
rather than a compensation for the value of the goods, is the great
object in view; that the articles will be got rid of regardless of
price; and that '_the disposal will assume the character of a
gratuitous distribution, rather than of an actual sale_.' This is
pretty well for the first hap-hazard plunge into the half-bushel piled
upon our table. Mr Gobblemadam may go down. Let us see what the next
will produce.

The second is addressed thus: '_To be opened within two hours after
delivery._--SPECIAL COMMISSION.--_Final Audit, 30th October 1851._'
The contents are a closely-printed extra-royal folio broadside, issued
by the firm of Messrs Shavelass and Swallowher, of Tottering Terrace
West. It contains a voluminous list of useful domestic goods,
presenting the most enormous bargains, in the way of sheetings,
shirtings, flannels, diapers, damasks, dimities, table-cloths, &c. &c.
The economical housewife is cautioned by this generous firm, that to
disregard the present opportunity would be the utmost excess of folly,
as the whole stock is to be peremptorily sold considerably _under half
the cost price_. The following are a few of the items:

'Irish lines, warranted genuine, 9-1/2d. per yard.

Fine cambric handkerchiefs, 2s. 6d. per dozen.

Curtain damask, in all colours, 6-1/2d. per yard.

Swiss curtains, elegantly embroidered, four yards long, for
6s. 9d. a pair--cost 17s. 6d.

Drawing-room curtains, elaborately wrought, at 8s. 6d. a
pair--cost 21s.'

The bargains, in short, as Messrs Shavelass and Swallowher observe,
are of such an astounding description, as 'to strike all who witness
them with wonder, amazement, and surprise;' and 'demand inspection
from every lady who desires to unite superiority of taste with genuine
quality and economy.'

The next is a remarkably neat envelope, with a handsomely embossed
border, bearing the words, 'ON ESPECIAL SERVICE' under the address,
and winged with a two-penny stamp. The enclosure is a specimen of fine
printing on smooth, thin vellum, in the form of a quarto catalogue,
with a deep, black-bordered title-page, emanating from the dreary
establishment of Messrs Moan and Groan, of Cypress Row. Here commerce
condescends to sympathy, and measures forth to bereaved and afflicted
humanity the outward and visible symbols of their hidden griefs. Here,
when you enter his gloomy penetralia, and invoke his services, the
sable-clad and cadaverous-featured shopman asks you, in a sepulchral
voice--we are not writing romance, but simple fact--whether you are to
be suited for inextinguishable sorrow, or for mere passing grief; and
if you are at all in doubt upon the subject, he can solve the problem
for you, if you lend him your confidence for the occasion. He knows
from long and melancholy experience the agonising intensity of wo
expressed by bombazine, crape, and Paramatta; can tell to a sigh the
precise amount of regret that resides in a black bonnet; and can match
any degree of internal anguish with its corresponding shade of colour,
from the utter desolation and inconsolable wretchedness of dead and
dismal black, to the transient sentiment of sorrowful remembrance so
appropriately symbolised by the faintest shade of lavender or French
gray. Messrs Moan and Groan know well enough, that when the heart is
burdened with sorrow, considerations of economy are likely to be
banished from the mind as out of place, and disrespectful to the
memory of the departed; and, therefore, they do not affront their
sorrowing patrons with the sublunary details of pounds, shillings, and
pence. They speed on the wings of the post to the house of mourning,
with the benevolent purpose of comforting the afflicted household.
They are the first, after the stroke of calamity has fallen, to mingle
the business of life with its regrets; and to cover the woes of the
past with the allowable vanities of the present. Step by step, they
lead their melancholy patrons along the meandering margin of their
flowing pages--from the very borders of the tomb, through all the
intermediate changes by which sorrow publishes to the world its
gradual subsidence, and land them at last in the sixteenth page,
restored to themselves and to society, in the frontbox of the Opera,
glittering in 'splendid head-dresses in pearl,' in 'fashionably
elegant turbans,' and in 'dress-caps trimmed with blonde and Brussels
lace.' For such benefactors to womankind--the dears--of course no
reward can be too great; and, therefore, Messrs Moan and Groan, strong
in their modest sense of merit, make no parade of prices. They offer
you all that in circumstances of mourning you can possibly want; they
scorn to do you the disgrace of imagining that you would drive a
bargain on the very brink of the grave; and you are of course obliged
to them for the delicacy of their reserve on so commonplace a subject,
and you pay their bill in decorous disregard of the amount. It is
true, that certain envious rivals have compared them to birds of prey,
scenting mortality from afar, and hovering like vultures on the trail
of death, in order to profit by his dart; but such 'caparisons,' as
Mrs Malaprop says, 'are odorous,' and we will have nothing to do with

The next, and the last we shall examine ere Betty claims the whole
mass to kindle her fires, is a somewhat bulky envelope, addressed in a
neat hand: _To the Lady of the House_. It contains a couple of very
voluminous papers, almost as large as the broad page of _The Times_,
one of which adverts mysteriously to some appalling calamity, which
has resulted in a 'most DISASTROUS FAILURE, productive of the most
_intense excitement_ in the commercial world.' We learn further on,
that from various conflicting circumstances, which the writer does not
condescend to explain, above L.150,000 worth of property has come into
the hands of Messrs Grabble and Grab, of Smash Place, 'which they are
resolute in summarily disposing of _on principles commensurate with
the honourable position they hold in the metropolis_.' Then follows a
list of tempting bargains, completely filling both the broad sheets.
Here are a few samples:

'Costly magnificent long shawls, manufactured at L.6, to be
sold for 18s. 6d.

Fur victorines, usually charged 18s. 6d., to sell at 1s. 3d.

2500 shawls (Barège), worth 21s. each, to sell at 5s.

Embroidered satin shawls (magnificent), value 20 guineas
each, to be sold for 3 guineas.'

The reader is probably satisfied by this time of the extraordinary
cheapness of these inexhaustible wares, which thus go begging for
purchasers in the bosoms of families. It is hardly necessary to inform
him, that all these enormous pretensions are so many lying delusions,
intended only to bring people in crowds to the shop, where they are
effectually fleeced by the jackals in attendance. If the lady reader
doubt the truth of our assertion, let her go for once to the
establishment of Messrs Grabble and Grab last named. An omnibus from
any part of the city or suburbs will, as the circular informs you, set
you down at the door. Upon entering the shop, you are received by a
polite inquiry from the 'walker' as to the purpose of your visit. You
must say something in answer to his torrent of civility, and you
probably name the thing you want, or at least which you are willing to
have at the price named in the sheet transmitted to you through the
post. Suppose you utter the word 'shawl.' 'This way, madam,' says he;
and forthwith leads you a long dance to the end of the counter, where
he consigns you over to the management of a plausible genius invested
with the control of the shawl department. You have perhaps the list of
prices in your hand, and you point out the article you wish to see.
The fellow shews you fifty things for which you have no occasion, in
spite of your reiterated request for the article in the list. He
states his conviction, in a flattering tone, that _that_ article would
not become you, and recommends those he offers as incomparably
superior. If you insist, which you rarely can, he is at length sorry
to inform you that the article is unfortunately just now out of stock,
depreciating it at the same time as altogether beneath _your_ notice;
and in the end succeeds in cramming you with something which you don't
want, and for which you pay from 15 to 20 per cent. more than your own
draper would have charged you for it.

The above extracts are given in illustration of the last new discovery
in the science of puffing--a discovery by which, through the agency of
the press, the penny-post, and the last new London Directory, the
greatest rogues are enabled to practise upon the simplicity of our
better-halves, while we think them secure in the guardianship of home.
We imagine that, practically, this science must be now pretty near
completion. Earth, air, fire, and water, are all pressed into the
service. It has its painters, and poets, and literary staff, from the
bard who tunes his harp to the praise of the pantaloons of the great
public benefactor Noses, to the immortal professoress of crochet and
cross-stitch, who contracts for L.120 a year to puff in 'The Family
Fudge' the superexcellent knitting and boar's-head cotton of Messrs
Steel and Goldseye. It may be that something more is yet within the
reach of human ingenuity. It remains to be seen whether we shall at
some future time find puffs in the hearts of lettuces and
summer-cabbages, or shell them from our green-peas and Windsor beans.
It might be brought about, perhaps, were the market-gardeners enlisted
in the cause; the only question is, whether it could be made to pay.



The following narrative relates more to medical than to criminal
history; but as the affair came in some degree under my notice as a
public officer, I have thought it might not be altogether out of place
in these slight outlines of police experience. Strange and
unaccountable as it may at first appear, its general truth will hardly
be questioned by those who have had opportunities of observing the
fantastic delusions which haunt and dominate the human brain in
certain phases of mental aberration.

On arriving in London, in 1831, I took lodgings at a Mr Renshawe's, in
Mile-End Road, not far from the turnpike-gate. My inducement to do so,
was partly the cheapness and neatness of the accommodation, partly
that the landlord's maternal uncle, a Mr Oxley, was slightly known to
me. Henry Renshawe I knew by reputation only, he having left Yorkshire
ten or eleven years before, and even that knowledge was slight and
vague. I had heard that a tragical event had cast a deep shadow over
his after-life; that he had been for some months the inmate of a
private lunatic asylum; and that some persons believed his brain had
never thoroughly recovered its originally healthy action. In this
opinion, both my wife and myself very soon concurred; and yet I am not
sure that we could have given a satisfactory reason for such belief.
He was, it is true, usually kind and gentle, even to the verge of
simplicity, but his general mode of expressing himself and conducting
business was quite coherent and sensible; although, in spite of his
resigned cheerfulness of tone and manner, it was at times quite
evident, that whatever the mental hurt he had received, it had left a
rankling, perhaps remorseful, sting behind. A small, well-executed
portrait in his sitting-room suggested a conjecture of the nature of
the calamity which had befallen him. It was that of a fair, mild-eyed,
very young woman, but of a pensive, almost mournful, cast of features,
as if the coming event, briefly recorded in the lower right-hand
corner of the painting, had already, during life and health, cast its
projecting shadow over her. That brief record was this:--'Laura
Hargreaves, born 1804; drowned 1821.' No direct allusion to the
picture ever passed his lips, in my hearing, although, from being able
to chat together of Yorkshire scenes and times, we speedily became
excellent friends. Still, there were not wanting, from time to time,
significant indications, though difficult to place in evidence, that
the fire of insanity had not been wholly quenched, but still
smouldered and glowed beneath the habit-hardened crust which concealed
it from the careless or casual observer. Exciting circumstances, not
very long after my arrival in the metropolis, unfortunately kindled
those brief wild sparkles into a furious and consuming flame.

Mr Renshawe was in fair circumstances--that is, his income, derived
from funded property alone, was nearly L.300 a year; but his habits
were close, thrifty, almost miserly. His personal appearance was neat
and gentlemanly, but he kept no servant. A charwoman came once a day
to arrange his chamber, and perform other household work, and he
usually dined, very simply, at a coffee-house or tavern. His house,
with the exception of a sitting and bed room, was occupied by lodgers;
amongst these, was a pale, weakly-looking young man, of the name of
Irwin. He was suffering from pulmonary consumption--a disease induced,
I was informed, by his careless folly in remaining in his wet clothes
after having assisted, during the greater part of the night, at a
large fire at a coach-factory. His trade was in gold and silver
lace-work--bullion for epaulettes, and so on; and as he had a good
connection with several West-end establishments, his business appeared
to be a thriving one; so much so, that he usually employed several
assistants of both sexes. He occupied the first floor, and a workshop
at the end of the garden. His wife, a pretty-featured, well-formed,
graceful young woman, of not more than two or three-and-twenty, was,
they told me, the daughter of a schoolmaster, and certainly had been
gently and carefully nurtured. They had one child, a sprightly,
curly-haired, bright-eyed boy, nearly four years old. The wife, Ellen
Irwin, was reputed to be a first-rate hand at some of the lighter
parts of her husband's business; and her efforts to lighten his toil,
and compensate by increased exertion for his daily diminishing
capacity for labour, were unwearying and incessant. Never have I seen
a more gentle, thoughtful tenderness, than was displayed by that young
wife towards her suffering, and sometimes not quite evenly-tempered
partner, who, however, let me add, appeared to reciprocate truthfully
her affection; all the more so, perhaps, that he knew their time
together upon earth was already shrunk to a brief span. In my opinion,
Ellen Irwin was a handsome, even an elegant young person: this,
however, is in some degree a matter of taste. But no one could deny
that the gentle kindness, the beaming compassion, that irradiated her
features as she tended the fast-sinking invalid, rendered her at such
times absolutely beautiful--_angelised_ her, to use an expression of
my wife's, with whom she was a prime favourite. I was self-debating
for about the twentieth time one evening, where it was I had formerly
seen her, with that sad, mournful look of hers; for seen her I was
sure I had, and not long since either. It was late; I had just
returned home; my wife was in the sick-room, and I had entered it with
two or three oranges:--'Oh, now I remember,' I suddenly exclaimed,
just above my breath; 'the picture in Mr Renshawe's room! What a
remarkable coincidence!'

A low, chuckling laugh, close at my elbow, caused me to turn quickly
towards the door. Just within the threshold stood Mr Renshawe, looking
like a white stone-image rather than a living man, but for the fierce
sparkling of his strangely gleaming eyes, and the mocking, triumphant
curl of his lips. 'You, too, have at last observed it, then?' he
muttered, faintly echoing the under-tone in which I spoke: 'I have
known the truth for many weeks.' The manner, the expression, not the
words, quite startled me. At the same moment, a cry of women rang
through the room, and I immediately seized Mr Renshawe by the arm, and
drew him forcibly away, for there was that in his countenance which
should not meet the eyes of a dying man.

'What were you saying? What truth have you known for weeks?' I asked,
as soon as we had reached his sitting-room.

Before he could answer, another wailing sound ascended from the
sick-room. Lightning leaped from Renshawe's lustrous, dilated eyes,
and the exulting laugh again, but louder, burst from his lips: 'Ha!
ha!' he fiercely exclaimed. 'I know that cry! It is Death's!--Death's!
Thrice-blessed Death, whom I have so often ignorantly cursed! But
that,' he added quickly, and peering sharply in my face, 'was when, as
you know, people said'--and he ground his teeth with rage--'people
said I was crazed--mad!'

'What can you mean by this wild talk, my friend?' I replied in as
unconcerned and quieting a tone as I could immediately assume. 'Come,
sit down: I was asking the meaning of your strange words below, just

'The meaning of my words? You know as well as I do. Look there!'

'At the painting? Well?'

'You have seen the original,' he went on with the same excited tone
and gestures. 'It crossed me like a flash of lightning. Still, it is
strange she does not know me. It is sure she does not! But I am
changed, no doubt--sadly changed!' he added, dejectedly, as he looked
in a mirror.

'Can you mean that I have seen Laura Hargreaves here?' I stammered,
thoroughly bewildered. 'She who was drowned ten or eleven years ago?'

'To be sure--to be sure! It was so believed, I admit, by everybody--by
myself, and the belief drove me mad! And yet, I now remember, when at
times I was calm--when the pale face, blind staring eyes, and dripping
hair, ceased for awhile to pursue and haunt me, the low, sweet voice
and gentle face came back, and I knew she lived, though all denied it.
But look, it is her very image!' he added fiercely, his glaring eyes
flashing from the portrait to my face alternately.

'Whose image?'

'Whose image!--Why, Mrs Irwin's, to be sure. You yourself admitted it
just now.' I was so confounded, that for several minutes I remained
stupidly and silently staring at the man. At length I said: 'Well,
there _is_ a likeness, though not so great as I imagined'----

'It is false!' he broke in furiously. 'It is her very self.'

'We'll talk of that to-morrow. You are ill, overexcited, and must go
to bed. I hear Dr Garland's voice below: he shall come to you.'

'No--no--no!' he almost screamed. 'Send me no doctors; I hate doctors!
But I'll go to bed--since--since _you_ wish it; but no doctors! Not
for the world!' As he spoke, he shrank coweringly backwards, out of
the room; his wavering, unquiet eyes fixed upon mine as long as we
remained within view of each other: a moment afterwards, I heard him
dart into his chamber, and bolt and double-lock the door.

It was plain that lunacy, but partially subdued, had resumed its
former mastery over the unfortunate gentleman. But what an
extraordinary delusion! I took a candle, and examined the picture with
renewed curiosity. It certainly bore a strong resemblance to Mrs
Irwin: the brown, curling hair, the pensive eyes, the pale fairness of
complexion, were the same; but it was scarcely more girlish, more
youthful, than the young matron was now, and the original, had she
lived, would have been by this time approaching to thirty years of
age! I went softly down stairs and found, as I feared, that George
Irwin was gone. My wife came weeping out of the death-chamber,
accompanied by Dr Garland, to whom I forthwith related what had just
taken place. He listened with attention and interest; and after some
sage observations upon the strange fancies which now and then take
possession of the minds of monomaniacs, agreed to see Mr Renshawe at
ten the next morning. I was not required upon duty till eleven; and if
it were in the physician's opinion desirable, I was to write at once
to the patient's uncle, Mr Oxley.

Mr Renshawe was, I heard, stirring before seven o'clock, and the
charwoman informed me, that he had taken his breakfast as usual, and
appeared to be in cheerful, almost high spirits. The physician was
punctual: I tapped at the sitting-room door, and was desired to come
in. Mr Renshawe was seated at a table with some papers before him,
evidently determined to appear cool and indifferent. He could not,
however, repress a start of surprise, almost of terror, at the sight
of the physician, and a paleness, followed by a hectic flush, passed
quickly over his countenance. I observed, too, that the portrait was
turned with its face towards the wall.

By a strong effort, Mr Renshawe regained his simulated composure, and
in reply to Dr Garland's professional inquiry, as to the state of his
health, said with a forced laugh: 'My friend, Waters, has, I suppose,
been amusing you with the absurd story that made him stare so last
night. It is exceedingly droll, I must say, although many persons,
otherwise acute enough, cannot, except upon reflection, comprehend a
jest. There was John Kemble, the tragedian, for instance, who'----

'Never mind John Kemble, my dear sir,' interrupted Dr Garland. 'Do,
pray, tell us the story over again. I love an amusing jest.'

Mr Renshawe hesitated for an instant, and then said with reserve,
almost dignity of manner: 'I do not know, sir'--his face, by the way,
was determinedly averted from the cool, searching gaze of the
physician--'I do not know, sir, that I am obliged to find you in
amusement; and as your presence here was not invited, I shall be
obliged by your leaving the room as quickly as maybe.'

'Certainly--certainly, sir. I am exceedingly sorry to have intruded,
but I am sure you will permit me to have a peep at this wonderful

Renshawe sprang impulsively forward to prevent the doctor reaching it.
He was too late; and Dr Garland, turning sharply round with the
painting in his hand, literally transfixed him in an attitude of
surprise and consternation. Like the Ancient Mariner, he held him by
his glittering eye, but the spell was not an enduring one. 'Truly,'
remarked Dr Garland, as he found the kind of mesmeric influence he had
exerted beginning to fail, 'not so _very_ bad a chance resemblance;
especially about the eyes and mouth'----

'This is very extraordinary conduct,' broke in Mr Renshawe; 'and I
must again request that you will both leave the room.'

It was useless to persist, and we almost immediately went away. 'Your
impression, Mr Waters,' said the physician as he was leaving the
house, 'is, I daresay, the true one; but he is on his guard now, and
it will be prudent to wait for a fresh outbreak before acting
decisively; more especially as the hallucination appears to be quite a
harmless one.'

This was not, I thought, quite so sure, but of course I acquiesced, as
in duty bound; and matters went on pretty much as usual for seven or
eight weeks, except that Mr Renshawe manifested much aversion towards
myself personally, and at last served me with a written notice to quit
at the end of the term previously stipulated for. There was still some
time to that; and in the meanwhile, I caused a strict watch to be set,
as far as was practicable, without exciting observation, upon our
landlord's words and acts.

Ellen Irwin's first tumult of grief subsided, the next and pressing
question related to her own and infant son's subsistence. An elderly
man of the name of Tomlins was engaged as foreman; and it was hoped
the business might still be carried on with sufficient profit. Mr
Renshawe's manner, though at times indicative of considerable nervous
irritability, was kind and respectful to the young widow; and I began
to hope that the delusion he had for awhile laboured under had finally
passed away.

The hope was a fallacious one. We were sitting at tea on a Sunday
evening, when Mrs Irwin, pale and trembling with fright and nervous
agitation, came hastily in with her little boy in her hand. I
correctly divined what had occurred. In reply to my hurried
questioning, the astounded young matron told me in substance, that
within the last two or three days Mr Renshawe's strange behaviour and
disjointed talk had both bewildered and alarmed her. He vaguely
intimated that she, Ellen Irwin, was really Laura somebody else--that
she had kept company with him, Mr Renshawe, in Yorkshire, before she
knew poor George--with many other strange things he muttered rather
than spoke out; and especially that it was owing to her son reminding
her continually of his father, that she pretended not to have known Mr
Renshawe twelve or thirteen years ago. 'In short,' added the young
woman with tears and blushes, 'he is utterly crazed; for he asked me
just now to marry him--which I would not do for the Indies--and is
gone away in a passion to find a paper that will prove, he says, I am
that other Laura something.'

There was something so ludicrous in all this, however vexatious and
insulting under the circumstances--the recent death of the husband,
and the young widow's unprotected state--that neither of us could
forbear laughing at the conclusion of Mrs Irwin's story. It struck me,
too, that Renshawe had conceived a real and ardent passion for the
very comely and interesting person before us--first prompted, no
doubt, by her accidental likeness to the portrait; and that some
mental flaw or other caused him to confound her with the Laura who had
in early life excited the same emotion in his mind.

Laughable as the matter was in one sense, there was--and the fair
widow had noticed as well as myself--a serious, menacing expression in
the man's eye not to be trifled with; and at her earnest request, we
accompanied her to her own apartment, to which Renshawe had threatened
soon to return. We had not been a minute in the room, when his hurried
step was heard approaching, and Mrs Waters and I stepped hastily into
an adjoining closet, where we could hear and partly see all that
passed. Renshawe's speech trembled with fervency and anger as he
broke at once into the subject with which his disordered brain was

'You will not dare to say, will you, that you do not remember this
song--that these pencil-marks in the margin were not made by you
thirteen years ago?' he menacingly ejaculated.

'I know nothing about the song, Mr Renshawe,' rejoined the young woman
with more spirit than she might have exhibited but for my near
presence. 'It is really such nonsense. Thirteen years ago, I was only
about nine years of age.'

'You persist, then, unfeeling woman, in this cruel deception! After
all, too, that I have suffered: the days of gloom, the nights of
horror, since that fearful moment when I beheld you dragged, a
lifeless corpse, from the water, and they told me you were dead!'

'Dead! Gracious goodness, Mr Renshawe, don't go on in this shocking
way! I was never dragged out of a pond, nor supposed to be
dead--never! You quite frighten one.'

'Then you and I, your sister, and that thrice-accursed Bedford, did
not, on the 7th of August 1821, go for a sail on the piece of water at
Lowfield, and the skiff was not, in the deadly, sudden, jealous strife
between him and me, accidentally upset? But I know how it is: it is
this brat, and the memories he recalls, that'----

Mrs Irwin screamed, and I stepped sharply into the room. The grasp of
the lunatic was on the child's throat. I loosed it somewhat roughly,
throwing him off with a force that brought him to the ground. He rose
quickly, glared at me with tiger-like ferocity, and then darted out of
the room. The affair had become serious, and the same night I posted a
letter to Yorkshire, informing Mr Oxley of what had occurred, and
suggesting the propriety of his immediately coming to London. Measures
were also taken for securing Mrs Irwin and her son from molestation.

But the cunning of lunacy is not easily baffled. On returning home the
fourth evening after the dispatch of my letter, I found the house and
immediate neighbourhood in the wildest confusion. My own wife was in
hysterics; Mrs Irwin, I was told by half-a-dozen tongues at once, was
dying; and the frightful cause of all was, that little George Irwin, a
favourite with everybody, had in some unaccountable manner fallen into
the river Lea, and been drowned. This, at least, was the general
conviction, although the river had been dragged to no purpose--the
poor child's black beaver-hat and feather having been discovered
floated to the bank, a considerable way down the stream. The body, it
was thought, had been carried out into the Thames by the force of the

A terrible suspicion glanced across my mind. 'Where is Mr Renshawe?' I
asked. Nobody knew. He had not been seen since five o'clock--about the
time, I soon ascertained, that the child was missed. I had the house
cleared, as quickly as possible, of the numerous gossips that crowded
it, and then sought a conference with Dr Garland, who was with Mrs
Irwin. The distracted mother had, I found, been profusely bled and
cupped, and it was hoped that brain-fever, which had been apprehended,
would not ensue. The physician's suspicions pointed the same way as
mine; but he declined committing himself to any advice, and I was left
to act according to my own discretion. I was new to such matters at
that time--unfortunately so, as it proved, or the affair might have
had a less painful issue.

Tomlins and I remained up, waiting for the return of Mr Renshawe; and
as the long, slow hours limped past, the night-silence only broken by
the dull moaning, and occasional spasmodic screams of poor Mrs Irwin,
I grew very much excited. The prolonged absence of Mr Renshawe
confirmed my impressions of his guilt, and I determined to tax him
with it, and take him into custody the instant he appeared. It was two
in the morning before he did so; and the nervous fumbling, for full
ten minutes, with his latch-key, before he could open the door, quite
prepared me for the spectral-like aspect he presented on entering. He
had met somebody, it afterwards appeared, outside, who had assured him
that the mother of the drowned child was either dead or dying. He
never drank, I knew, but he staggered as if intoxicated; and after he
had with difficulty reached the head of the stairs, in reply to my
question as to where he had been, he could only stutter with white
trembling lips: 'It--it--cannot be--be true--that Lau--that Mrs Irwin

'Quite true, Mr Renshawe,' I very imprudently replied, and in much too
loud a tone, for we were but a few paces from Mrs Irwin's bedroom

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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 434 Volume 17, New Series, April 24, 1852