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No. 47. TUESDAY, APRIL 17, 1753.
-Every age relates,
MAN, though as a rational being he has thought fit to style himself the lord of the creation, is yet frequently the voluntary slave of prejudice and custom; the most general opinions are often absurd, and the prevailing principles of action ridiculous.
It may, however, be allowed, that if in these instances reason always appeared to be overborne by the importunity of appetite; if the future was sacrificed to the present, and hope renounced only for possession; there would not be much cause for wonder: but that man should draw absurd conclusions, contrary to his immediate interest; that he should, even at the risk of life, gratify those vices in some, which in others he punishes with a gibbet or a wheel, is in the highest degree astonishing; and is such an instance of the weakness of our reason, and the fallibility of our judgment, as should incline
us to accept with gratitude of that guidance which is from above.
But if it is strange that one man has been immortalized as a god, and another put to death as a felon, for actions which have the same motive and the same tendency, merely because they were circumstantially different; it is yet more strange that this difference has been always such as increases the absurdity; and that the action which exposes a man to infamy and death wants only greater aggravation of guilt, and more extensive and pernicious effects, to render him the object of veneration and applause.
Bagshot, the robber, having lost the booty of a week among his associates at hazard, loaded his pistols, mounted his horse, and took the Kentish road, with a resolution not to return till he had recruited his purse. Within a few miles of London, just as he heard a village clock strike nine, he met two gentlemen in a post chaise, which he stopped. One of the gentlemen immediately presented a pistol, and at the same time a servant rode up armed with a blunderbuss. The robber, perceiving that he should be vigorously opposed, turned off from the chaise, and discharged a pistol at the servant, who instantly fell dead from his horse. The gentlemen had now leaped from the chaise : but the foremost receiving a blow on his head with the stock of the pistol that had been just fired, reeled back a few paces: the other having fired at the murderer without success, attempted to dismount him, and succeeded; but while they were grappling with each other, the villain drew a knife, and stabbed his antagonist to the heart. He then, with the calm intrepidity of a hero who is familiar with danger, proceeded to rifle the pockets of the dead; and the survivor having recovered from the blow, and being
imperiously commanded to deliver, was now obliged to comply. When the victor had thus obtained the pecuniary reward of his prowess, he determined to lose no part of the glory which, as conqueror, was now in his power: turning, therefore, to the unhappy gentleman whom he had plundered, he condescended to insult him with the applause of conscious superiority; he told him he had never robbed any persons who behaved better; and as a tribute due to the merit of the dead, and as a token of his esteem for the living, he generously threw him back a shilling to prevent his being stopped at the turnpike.
He now remounted his horse and set off towards London : but, at the turnpike, a coach that was paying the toll obstructed his way; and by the light of the flambeau that was behind it, he discovered that his coat was much stained with blood: this discovery threw him into such confusion that he attempted to rush by; he was, however, prevented; and his appearance giving great reason to suspect his motive, he was seized and detained.
In the coach were two ladies, and a little boy about five years old.
The ladies were greatly alarmed when they heard that a person was taken who was supposed to have just committed a robbery and a murder; they asked many questions with great eagerness; but their inquiries were little regarded, till a gentleman rode up, who, seeing their distress, offered his assistance. The elder of the two ladies acquainted him that her husband, Sir Harry Freeman, was upon the road in his return from Gravesend, where he had been to receive an only son upon his arrival from India, after an absence of near six years; that herself and her daughter-in-law were come out to meet them, but were terrified with the apprehension that they might have
been stopped by the man who had just been taken into custody. Their attention was now suddenly called to the other side of the coach by the child, who cried out in a transport of joy, “There is my grandpapa.” This was, indeed, the survivor of the three who had been attacked by Bagshot: he was mounted on his servant's horse, and rodely slowly by the side of the chaise, in which he had just placed the body of his son, whose countenance was disfigured with blood, and whose features were still impressed with the agonies of death. Who can express the grief, horror, and despair with which a father exhibited this spectacle to a mother and a wife, who expected a son and a husband, with all the tenderness and ardour of conjugal and parental affection! who had long regretted his absence, who had anticipated the joy of his return, and were inpatient to put into his arms a pledge of his love which he had never seen.
I will not attempt to describe that distress which tears would not have suffered me to behold: let it suffice that such was its effect upon those who were present, thạt the murderer was not, without difficulty, conducted alive to the prison; and, I am confident, that few who read this story would have heard with regret that he was torn to pieces by the way.
But, before they congratulate themselves upon a sense which always distinguishes right and wrong by spontaneous approbation and censures, let them tell me with what sentiments they read of a youthful monarch who, at the head of an army in which every man became a hero by his example, passed over mountains and deserts in search of new territories to invade, and new potentates to conquer; who routed armies which could scarce be numbered, and took cities which were deemed impregnable,