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No. 082 [from The Spectator]
by [?]

No. 082
Monday, June 4, 1711.

‘… Caput domina venate sub hasta.’


Passing under Ludgate [1] 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 be 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; [2]

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.