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A REVERIE AT THE BOAR'S-HEAD
TAVERN, IN EASTCHEAP.
THE improvements we make iu mental acquire
ments, only render us each day more sensible of the defects of our constitution: with this in view, therefore, let us often recur to the amusements of youth; endeavour to forget age and wisdom, and, as far as innocence goes, be as much a boy as the best of them.
Let idle declaimers mourn over the degeneracy of the age; but, in my opinion, every age is the same. This I am sure of, that man, in every season, is a poor, fretful being, with no other means to escape the calamities of the times, but by endeavouring to forget them ; for, if he attempts to resist, he is cer. tainly undone. If I feel poverty and pain, I am not so hardy as to quarrel with the executioner, even while under correction : I find myself no way disposed to make fine speeches, while I am making wry faces. In a word, let me drink when the fit is on, to make me insensible; aud drink when it is over, for joy that I feel pain no longer.
The character of old Falstaff, even with all his faults, gives me more consolation than the most studied efforts of wisdom: I here behold an agree able old fellow, forgetting age, and showing me the way to be young at sixty-five. Sure I am well able to be as merry, though not so comical, as he. Is it not in my power to have, though not so much wit, at least as much vivacity? - Age, care, wisdom, reflection, begone!-I give you to the winds. Let's have t'other bottle : here's to the memory of Shakspeare, falstaff, and all the merry men of Eastcheap.
Such were the reflections that naturally arose
while I sat at the Boar's-head tavern, still kept at Eastcheap. Here, by a pleasant fire, in the very room where old sir John Falstaff cracked his jokes, in the very chair which was sometimes honoured by prince Henry, and sometimes polluted by his immosal, merry companions, I sat and rumivated ou the follies of youth ; wished to be young again ; but was resolved to make the best of life while it lasted, and now and then compared past and present times together. I considered myself as the only living representative of the old knight; and transported my imagination back to the times when the prince and he gave life to the revel, and made even de. bauchery not disgusting. The room also conspired to throw my reflections back into antiquity : the oak floor, the Gothic windows, and the ponderous chimney-piece, had long withstood the tooth of time: the watchman had gone twelve: my com. panions had all stolen off, and none now remained with me but the landlord. From him I could have wished to know the history of a tavern that had such a long succession of customers : I could not help thinking that an account of this kind would be a pleasing contrast of the manuers of different ages; but my landlord could give me no ip forma tion. He continued to doze, and sot, and tell a tedious story, as nost other landlords usually do; and, though he said nothing, yet was never silent one good joke followed another good joke, and the best joke of all was generally begun towards the end of a bottle. I found at last, however, his wine and his conversation operate by degrees : he insensibly began to alter his appearance. His cravat seemed quilled into a ruff, and his breeches swelled into a fardingale, I now fancied him changing sexes; and, as my eyes began to close in slumber, I imagined my fat landlord actually converted into as fat a landlady. However, sleep made but few changes in my situation ; the tavern, the apartment, aud the table, continued as before ; nothing suf
fered mutation but my host, who was fairly altered into a gentlewoman, whom I knew to be dame Quickly, mistress of this tavern in the days of sir John; and the liquor we were drinking, which seemed converted into sack and sugar.
My dear Mrs. Quickly,' cried I (for I knew her perfectly well at first sight), 'I am heartily glad to see you. How have you left Falstaff, Pistol, and the rest of our friends below stairs? Brave and hearty, I hope ?_ In good sooth,' replied she, “he did deserve to live for ever; but he maketh foul work on't where he hath flitted. Queen Proserpine and he have quarrelled, for his attempting a rape upon her divinity ; and were it not that she still had bowels of compassion, it more than seems probable he might have been now sprawling in Tartarus.'
I now found that spirits still preserve the frailties of the flesh; and that, according to the laws of criticism and dreaming, ghosts have been known to be guilty of even more than Platonic affection : where fore, as I found her too much moved on such a topic to proceed, I was resolved to change the subject; and desiring she would pledge me in a bumper, observed with a sigh, that our sack was nothing now to what it was in former days. 'Ah, Mrs. Quickly, those were merry times when you drew sack for prince Henry: men were twice as strong, and twice as wise, and much braver, and ten thousand times more charitable, than nov. Those were the times! The battle of Agincourt was a victory indeed! Ever since that, we have only been degenerating; and I have lived to see the day when drinking is no longer fashionable. When men wear clean shirts, and women show their necks and arms, all are degenerated, Mrs. Quickly; and we shall probably, in another century, be fritted away into beaux or monkeys. Had you been on earth to see what I have seen, it would congeal all the blood in your body (your
soul I mean). Why, our very nobility now have the intolerable arrogance, in spite of what is every day remonstrated from the press ; our very nobility, I say, have the assurance to frequent assemblies, and presume to be as merry as the vulgar. See, my very friends have scarce manhood enough to sit to it till eleven; and I only am left to make a night on't. Prythee do me the favour to console me a little for their absence by the story of your own adventures, or the history of the tavern where we are now sitting. I fancy the narrative may have something singular.'
• Observe this apartment,' interrupted my com. panion, of neat device and excellent workmanship
In this room I have lived, child, woman, and ghost, more than three hundred years: I am ordered by Pluto to keep an annual register of every transaction that passeth here; and I have whilom complied three hundred tomes, which eftsoons may be submitted to thy regards.' None of your whil. oms or eftsoons, Mrs. Quickly, if you please,' I replied; I know you can talk every whit as well as I can; for, as you have lived here so long, it is but natural to suppose you should learn the conversation of the company. Believe me, dame, at best, you have neither too much sense, nor too much language, to spare; so give me both as well as you can : but first, my service to you; old women should water their clay a little now and then; and now to your story.'
• The story of my own adventures,' replied the vision, 'is but short and unsatisfactory; for, be. lieve me, Mr. Rigmarole, believe me, a woman with a butt of sack at her elbow, is never long. lived. Sir John's death afflicted me to such a de. gree, that I sincerely believe, to drown sorrow, I drank more liquor myself than I drew for my cus. tomers : my grief was sincere, and the sack was excellent. The prior of a neighbouring convent (for our priors then had as much power as a Mid. dlesex justice now), he, I say, it was who gave me a license for keeping à disorderly house; upon condition, that I should never make hard bargains with the clergy; that he should have a bottle of sack every morning, and the liberty of confessing which of my girls he thought proper in private every night. I had continued for several years to pay this tribute; and he, it must be confessed, continued as rigorously to exact it. I grew old insensibly; my customers continued, however, to compliment my looks while I was by, but I could hear them say I was wearing when my back was turned. The prior, however, still was constant, and so were half his convent; but one fatal morning he missed the usual beverage, for I had incautiously drank over night the last bottle myself. What will you have on't? The very next way Doll Tearsheet and I were sent to the house of correction, and accused of keeping a low bawdy-house. In short, we were so well purified there with stripes, mortifcation, and penance, that we were afterwards utterly unfit for worldly conversation : though sack would have killed me, had I stuck to it, yet I soon died for want of a drop of something comfortable, and fairly left my body to the care of the beadle.
Such is my own history ; but that of the tavern, where I have ever since been stationed, affords greater variety. In the history of this, which is one of the oldest in London, you may view the dif. ferent manners, pleasures, and follies of men, at different periods.--You will find inankind neither better nor worse now than formerly : the vices of an uncivilised people are generally more detestable, though not so frequent, as those in polite society. It is the same luxury which formerly stuffed your alderman with plum-porridge, and now crams him with turtle. It is the same low ambition that for. merly induced a courtier to give up his religion to please his king, and now persuades him to give up