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Wild proceeds to the highest consummation of human
The day now drew nigh when our great man was to exemplify the last and noblest act of greatness by which any hero can signalize himself. This was the day of execution, or consummation, or apotheosis (for it is called by different names) which was to give our hero an opportunity of facing death and damnation, without any fear in his heart, or, at least, without betraying any symptoms of it in his countenance. A completion of greatness which is heartily to be wished to every great man; nothing being more worthy of lamentation than when fortune, like a lazy poet, winds up her catastrophe awkwardly and, bestowing too little care on her fifth act, dismisses the hero with a sneaking and private exit, who had in the former part of the drama performed such notable exploits as must promise to every good judge among the spectators a noble, public, and exalted end.
But she was resolved to commit no such error in this instance. Our hero was too much and too deservedly her favourite [to be neglected by her in his last moments: accordingly, all efforts for a reprieve were vain, and the name of Wild stood at the head of those who were ordered for execution.
From the time he gave over all hopes of life, his conduct was truly great and admirable. Instead of shewing any marks of dejection or contrition, he rather infused more confidence and assurance into his looks. He spent most of his hours in drinking with his friends and with the good man above commemorated. In One of these compotations, being asked whether he was afraid to die,
he answered, ' D—n me, it is only a dance without music' Another time, when one expressed some sorrow for his misfortune, as he termed it, he said with great fierceness, 'A man can die but once.' Again, when one of his acquaintance hinted his hopes, that he would die like a man, he cocked his hat in defiance, and cried out greatly, 'Zounds! who's afraid?'
Happy would it have been for posterity, could we have retrieved any entire conversation which passed at this season, especially between our hero and his learned comforter; but we have searched many pasteboard records in vain.
On the eve of his apotheosis, Wild's lady desired to see him, to which he consented. This meeting was at first very tender on both sides: but it could not continue so; for unluckily some hints of former miscarriages intervening, as particularly when she asked him how he could
have used her so barbarously once as calling her b ,
and whether such language became a man much less a gentleman, Wild flew into a violent passion, and swore she
was the vilest of b s to upbraid him at such a season
with an unguarded word spoke long ago. She replied, with many tears, she was well enough served for her folly in visiting such a brute; but she had one comfort, however, that it would be the last time he could ever treat her so; that indeed she had some obligation to him, for that his cruelty to her would reconcile her to the fate he was to-morrow to suffer; and, indeed, nothing but such brutality could have made the consideration of his shameful death, (so this weak woman called hanging) which was now inevitable, to be borne even without madness. She then proceeded to a recapitulation of his faults in an exacter order and with more perfect memory than one would have imagined her capable of; and, it is probable, would have rehearsed a complete catalogue, had not our hero's
VOL. IV. Y
patience failed him, so that with the utmost fury and violence he caught her by the hair and kicked her as heartily as his chains would suffer him out of the room.
At length the morning came, which fortune at bis birth had resolutely ordained for the consummation of our hero's Greatnes8: he had himself indeed modestly declined the public honours she intended him, and had taken a quantity of laudanum, in order to retire quietly off the stage; but we have already observed, in the course of our wonderful history, that to struggle against this lady's decrees is vain and impotent: and, whether she had determined you shall be hanged or be a prime minister, it is in either case lost labour to resist. Laudanum, therefore, being unable to stop the breath of our hero, which the fruit of hemp-seed, and not the spirit of poppy-seed, was to overcome, he was at the usual hour attended by the proper gentleman appointed for that purpose, and acquainted that the cart was ready. On this occasion he exerted that greatness of courage which hath been so much celebrated in other heroes: and, knowing it was impossible to resist, he gravely declared he would attend them. He then descended to that room where the fetters of great men are knocked off in a most solemn and ceremonious manner. Then, shaking hands with his friends, (to wit, those who were conducting him to the tree,) and drinking their healths in a bumper of brandy, he ascended the cart, where he was no sooner seated, than he received the acclamations of the multitude, who were highly ravished with his Greatness.
The cart now moved slowly on, being preceded by a troop of horse-guards bearing javelins in their hands, through streets lined with crowds, all admiring the great behaviour of our hero, who rode on sometimes sighing, sometimes swearing, sometimes singing or whistling, as his humour varied.
When he came to the tree of glory he was welcomed with an universal shout of the people, who were there assembled in prodigious numbers to behold a sight much more rare in populous cities than one would reasonably imagine it would be, viz. the proper catastrophe of a great man.
But, though envy was, through fear, obliged to join the general voice in applause on this occasion, there were not wanting some who maligned this completion of glory, which was now about to be fulfilled to our hero, and endeavoured to prevent it by knocking him on the head as he stood under the tree, while the ordinary was performing his last office. They therefore began to batter the cart with stones, brick-bats, dirt, and all manner of mischievous weapons, some of which, erroneously playing on the robes of the ecclesiastic, made him so expeditious in his repetition, that with wonderful alacrity he had ended almost in an instant, and conveyed himself into a place of safety in a hackney coach, where he waited the conclusion with a temper of mind described in these verses,
Suave mari magna, turbcmtibus mquora ventis,
We must not, however, omit one circumstance, as it serves to shew the most admirable conservation of character in our hero to the last moment, which was, that whilst the ordinary was busy in his ejaculations, Wild in the midst of the shower of stones, &c. which played upon him, applied his hands to the parson's pocket, and emptied it of his bottle-screw, which he carried out of the world in his hand.
The ordinary being now descended from the cart, Wild had just opportunity to cast his eyes around the crowd, and to give them a hearty curse, when immediately the horses moved on, and with universal applause our hero swung out of this world.
Thus fell Jonathan Wild the Great, by a death as glorious as his life had been, and which was so truly agreeable to it, that the latter must have been deplorably maimed and imperfect without the former; a death which hath been alone wanting to complete the characters of several ancient and modern heroes, whose histories would then have been read with much greater pleasure by the wisest in all ages. Indeed we could almost wish, that, whenever Fortune seems wantonly to deviate from her purpose, and leaves her work imperfect in this particular, the historian would indulge himself in the licence of poetry and romance, and even do a violence to truth, to oblige his reader with a page, which must be the most delightful in all the history, and which could never fail of producing an instructive moral.
Narrow minds may possibly have some reason to be ashamed of going this way out of the world, if their eonsciences can fly in their faces, and assure them they have not merited such an honour; but he must be a fool who is ashamed of being hanged, who is not weak enough to be ashamed of having deserved it
The character of our hero, and the conelusion of this
We will now endeavour to draw the character of this Great Man; and, by bringing together those several features as it were of his mind, which lie scattered up and down in this history, to present our readers with a perfect picture of greatness.