The English Rogue (Parts 4 & 5)


Friends and fellow Travellers, said he, from my Childhood I have had wondrous and various vicissitudes of Fortune, in so much that though the relation of several of your lives which I have had, seems very strange and eminently remarkable to me, yet when you shall hear me giving you an account of the transactions of my life, which I shall trouble you with very speedily, you will look upon them as incredible as Mounsieur St. Serfs Voyage into the Moon, or the Travels of Sir John Mandivle.










Heh! Oh, well. Easy to be wise after the event.

It does make me laugh, though, to think that I expended so much thought and effort on a forensic examination of the third part of The English Rogue, trying to determine to my own satisfaction, at least, whether Richard Head had been involved in its creation, only to be quite sure within the first few pages of this fourth part that in spite of his later denials, he had certainly written it himself.

This opening section finds Dorothy continuing her account of her relationship with the soldier of fortune, and recounting to her friends some stories that he told to her of his own “adventures”, which in tone and attitude hark back to the ugly, dog-eat-dog view of the world expressed in Volume 1.

One of them is about the time a friend of the soldier of fortune confided in him about his affair with a woman who also supplied him with money, upon which he immediately began searching for means by which to betray his friend both sexually and financially.

In the other, we hear how the soldier of fortune took a brutal revenge on a woman who refused to have sex with him unless he gave her money…even though he knew she was a prostitute.

As I said of the plagiarism towards the end of Volume 3 – it’s as good as a signature.

But in spite of these trademark touches, as we noticed in the third part there is a certain softening in the overall text of this volume, which again suggests a shift in attitude amongst the reading public towards a less wholehearted embrace of stories of successful crime and cheating. Even more surprising is a slightly less cynical attitude towards marriage. The final section of Dorothy’s lengthy monologue (which now spans three volumes!) consists chiefly of the tales illustrating the unfortunate consequences of marriage purely for gain; and while there is still plenty of lying and cheating and scheming in these stories, they tend to conclude with lovers overcoming the barriers between them. There is also an early conversation between the captain of the boat and Meriton Latroon, in which the former declares that although he may cheat the rest of the world, our central characters may depend upon his good faith—which turns out to be true (and is in keeping with Francis Kirkman’s honour-amongst-thieves attitude).

This fourth volume picks up precisely where the third broke off (which, since the two were published simultaneously, makes me suspect that this section was written last), with our adventurers on St Helena; and Richard Head makes an attempt to curry favour with me by opening with a 126-word run-on sentence featuring a shark:

Whilst we anchored at the island of St. Helena there happened a sad Accident; whilst we were recreating and refreshing our selves in the Island, one of our men (that brought us ashore in the Skiff) being an excellent Swimmer, stript himself, and over the side of the Boat he went, he had not been long in the water before such as stood on the shore to see him swim, perceived a Shark to make towards him; who cryed out, A Shark, a Shark, hasten to the Boat; which he did with incredible speed, and had laid his hands on her side as the Shark snapt at his Leg, and having it in his mouth turned on his back, and twisted it off from his knee.

Hey! – no big deal, right?—

The fellow protested to me that when this was done, he felt no pain any where but under his Arm pits; the fellow was drest and perfectly cur’d…

This little contretemps over, and the ship stocked with food and water, the party sets out again. Another travelogue section follows, with lengthy descriptions of Sicily, and a variety of adventures including a visit to an apparently haunted villa; an interlude which turns out to involve forbidden love and ends (again) in a happy marriage.

As the travellers move on, we return to our regularly scheduled talk-fest, with Dorothy concluding her story about the crone and her husband, whose misdeeds finally escalate to murder, leading to the conviction and execution of both. The tales of the soldier of fortune follow, inspiring a general rumination upon marriage.

(In an amusing touch, an elderly husband, although accepting that his young wife will marry again after his death, makes one condition: “I only beg you not to be married to F. K., who of all your Company-keepers I had most suspition of, and therefore most cause to hate…)

Dorothy finally runs out of stories, and the narrative passes to the only one of the party who has not so far related his life story, the captain of the travellers’ ship. It appears that Richard Head finally came around to Francis Kirkman’s way of thinking, as here he seems to recognise that he doesn’t need Meriton Latroon to have a rogue’s biography.

The Captain (who, of course, is never given a name) was bastard-born and abandoned upon the parish. He was adopted by a woman who did her best to raise him right, but who (we are given to understand) couldn’t fight nature. Even so, we might be surprised the boy’s rapid adoption of criminality, and the reason for it:

My Nurse could not choose, when I was but Seven years old, but take notice of many things I committed, for which she severly chastis’d me, endeavouring so to stop me in my first proceedings, knowing my pretty Rogueries had their rise from an inclination to all manner of Vice. Above all things I loved all sorts of strong Liquors… I loved in an extraordinary manner, whatsoever was strong, yet being too young, and so could not drink for the sake of good company, I would greedily drink for its own sake, and that I might procore my satisfaction that way, I found frequent opportunities to steal small parcels out of my Nurses Purse when she was asleep… Any small trivial thing, as a Knife, &c. in any House whereever I came, I instantly seiz’d them as my proper Goods and Chattels, and converted them to the use aforesaid…

The boy’s main collaborator is the madam of a local brothel, who completes his education:

…the well-disposed Matron thereof, would not only receive what I brought, but would give me half as much Ale as it was worth… Nay, she…instructed and encouraged me in the Art of theevery, telling me the welcomer I was, the oftener I came. By this means I began to know what it was to keep Company, her Wenches being my initiators, by whose help and my forward endeavours, I commenced Master of Art, before I could sum up Twelve years; I soon became Professor of that deep Mystery, and could…swear mouthingly, (which others calls gracefully,) look impudently, talk impertinently, or imprudently, drink profoundly, and smoak everlastingly…

But all goods things must come to an end, and the boy is finally caught in the act of thievery – which has the consequence of exposing the Madam’s side-line as a fence. She manages to wriggle out of the charges against herself (let’s just say she’s an old friend of the judge), and coaches the boy in a show of repentence, which wins him the mercy of the court—which is to say, he is sentenced to transportation to Virginia, rather than hanged.

However, in the end a Bristol merchant buys the boy’s freedom, meaning to bind him as a servant. The boy plays along, naturally enough, but takes the first opportunity to bolt. After a period spent begging, he ends up being taken on at an inn in Barnstable, where his reversion to his old alcohol-fueled stealing habits brings him into conflict with the tapster; and if we needed any further confirmation that Richard Head was the author of this piece, we have it in (1) the fact that despite being the one in the wrong, the boy plots revenge against the tapster, and (2) that it involves, well…

I could find no other way but this; observing the Tapster to be very laxative, I went and consulted the House of Office, and found the middle Board to be suitable and serviceable to my purpose; for my loosing of but two or three Nails I could make it turn topsy turvy…

But even Richard Head, it seems, can learn something; and our young plotter ends up being hoist with his own petard.

Something like his “petard”, anyway.

About four of the Clock in the Morning I was awakened out of my sleep, by an exceeding Griping of my Guts, and found a great pronness to go to Stool; the fumes that ascended from the excess of my Drinking Ale the night past, had not only intoxicated my Brain, but for that time so depraved my memory, that I remembered not any thing of the Trap I had laid for the Tapster; wherefore to obey Natures commands, I ran hastily into the House of Office, and with my Breeches in my hands, and treading on the Board, it slipt up, and in I dropt…

More “adventures” – which is to say, more lying, cheating, begging and stealing – follow; and amusingly again, after the boy has successfully defrauded merchants of all different sorts and businesses, he ends up falling foul of—the booksellers:

So clapping his hands on the knees of my Breeches, discovered what I had been doing. This disgracing Villain makes no more ado, but bawls out aloud, Master, Master, come quickly, I have caught the Book-worm that hath devoured so many Books of late…

The particular escapade lands the boy on a transport to Barbados; and although the account of the journey offers some interesting historical details, such as that those being transported and those undertaking voluntary emigration are simply bundled in together, the former under no particular restraint, mostly this turns out to be an excuse for a wearying account of the life and adventures of everyone on board:

…viz. 1 Broken Tradesman. 2 Jilts. 1 Pretended poor Captain. 1 Counterfeit Libertine Minister. 1 Soldier of Fortune. 1 New Exchange Girl. 2 Button-makers. 1 Orange-Wench. 3 Crackt Maid-servants. 1 Stockin-Mender. 4 Common Prostitutes.

The captain of the transport ship takes an improbable fancy to the boy, and gives him the post of cabin-boy, thus setting him on his way to a seafaring life. After several journeys back and forth, the boy gives his master the slip in England, and many more adventures follow, in which he is sometimes the victim, most often the perpetrator. Here we begin to slip back into the old, confusing, “tale within a tale” structure, as the boy falls in with various companions who relate their own adventures (or someone else’s) to him.

This section of the volume also includes a lengthy examination of gambling, as the boy makes friends with, and is tutored by, a professional gamester, with minute accounts of the various ways of cheating (as well as an explanation of the rules of the main dice-gains of the time, such as “Hazzard”, which I actually found useful!). Unexpectedly, however, this part of the story ends with an exhortation:

Consider how few there are if any who have gotten an Estate by play, but how many thousand antient and worthy families have been ruined and destroyed thereby. It is confest there is no constant gamester but at one time or other hath a considerable run of winning; but such is the infatuation of play, that I could never hear of any that could give over when they were well. I have known those have gotten many hundreds of pounds, and have rested a while with an intention never to play more; but by over perswasion, having broke bulk, as they term it, were in again for all and lost it…

—a sad instance of Richard Head proving conspicuously incapable of taking his own advice, since he spent much of his life wrestling with the consequences of a gambling addiction.

Anyway, having thus ruined himself on land, the boy slinks back to his old master with his tail between his legs, and resumes his shipboard career—eventually emerging as “the Captain”.

The Captain’s tale done, Jinny picks up the narrative duties, contributing a lengthy tale of an apprentice brewer who schemes his way to a wife, a business and an estate, only to get his comeuppance on the form of a greedy and demanding second wife; a tale periodically enlivened by its author forgetting who’s supposed to be telling it, and calling her “Mary”—who, as those of you with a better memory than Richard Head might recall, was poisoned by Latroon’s Indian wife in Volume 3.

This story then takes an abupt turn into yet another rogue’s biography, as it focuses upon the son of the brewer and his second wife, whose habits include faking his own suicide whenever his parents try to check his headlong, downward career or punish him for any of his numerous misdeeds:

…for it was all the News of the place, that Mr R.’s son was drowned, to the great grief of his Father and Mother: he was so well pleased to hear that they were all so ill pleased; and thought how he should be revenged upon them that were resolved to be revenged on him; the consideration of his Mothers sorrow was great joy to him, and he hoped to reap this benefit that he might for the future rule, and reign in his Roguery; hoping that his Father and Mother would leave him to his own dispose; lest he should hereafter do that in earnest, that they would now find in jest: but thinking that they had not as yet suffered enough for what they made him suffer, a two days imprisonment, whereas he had not been wanting above one day…

This “young extravagant” then takes over the rest of the volume, giving Latroon himself a run for his money in the obnoxious stakes as spends his time drinking, whoring and cheating, and committing a range of “freacks” and “frollicks”, from the viciously cruel (such as his unprovoked assault of an elderly woman selling puddings in the street) to as close as his author can come to the poetically just:

He intended to have some frollick with this Barber; and the Barber gave him a very good accasion and opportunity: for the Barber having occasion to make water, and being somewhat lazy, pissed about the shop. Our Gallant asked his reason; and told him, it was a nasty trick. To which the Barber pleaded, for excuse, that it was no great matter, for he was to leave the shop in a weeks time, and to remove to another, and therefore it would not annoy him much… No sooner did [the Barber] mount up the stairs but down went our Gallants breeches, and there in the middle of the Shop he laid the biggest load he could exonerate himself of… The Barber although he had sweet powder in his hand, yet he could not only smell, but see that there was somewhat in the Shop that was not so sweet to the scent, nor pleasant to the sight; wherefore he also asked his Customer his reason for so doing? He replied, he had the very same reason for disburthening himself, as he had: for said he, I am to leave the shop presently, and it will not annoy me much…

And yet there are those who don’t believe that Richard Head wrote this.

The “extravagant” does finally get caught out, being arrested for debt; and since his mother has (belatedly) come to her senses enough not to pay it for him, he spends some time in prison, where he makes the acquaintance of a professional house-breaker and, after negotiating his release, embarks in earnest upon a criminal career—which is abruptly terminated, not by the forces of law and order, but by the 17th century equivalent of the animator suffering a fatal heart attack – AARGH!:

This adventure was like to have proved Tragical to the hard-hearted Bayliff, who with much difficulty disengaged himself. But our two Extravagants were extreamly well-pleased with the Washer-womans Revenge, as we hope the Reader will be; and now we shall put an end to this Fourth Part: And, if (as we hope) you are pleased with what is already written. we shall in short time give you greater pleasure and satisfaction in the Continuation of our Extravagants adventures, which shall be fully furnished in a Fifth and Last Part.

Yes. Well.

In spite of the “hopes” of its author, this was the last official volume of The English Rogue, if not quite the bitter end of it. After this there was, as we have seen, a falling out and a parting of the ways between Francis Kirkman and Richard Head; the former returning to his career of publishing, bookselling and copyright infringement, with occasional returns to authorship, the latter becoming trapped in a spiral of gambling and debt, dividing his time between prison and the sanctuaries, and trying spasmodically to write himself out of his financial woes. Francis Kirkman died in 1680, while Richard Head – although fittingly for such a life, the details are murky – is generally believed to have died in 1686 when the ship on which he was travelling to the Isle of Wight foundered.

What happened to the rights to the four volumes of The English Rogue after the death of Francis Kirkman, and who held them, remains obscure. However, in 1688 there was a sudden revival of the work, in an edition which carries the following rather evocative details of its publication:

London, Printed for J. Back at the Black Boy on London-Bridge, near the Draw-Bridge, 1688.

Reminding us that at the time, numerous businesses and houses were situated upon the bridge itself.

This new version of what (now that I’ve washed my hands of it) I can think of indulgently as “my old friend” carries the title: The English Rogue; or, Witty Extravagant: Described In The Life Of Meriton Latroon, before launching into a full-page summary of Latroon’s career that deserves consideration in its own right:

Containing, The Description of his Birth and Parentage. His early Waggeries and more mature Villainies. The Hardships and Punishments he endured: the many Pollicies and Strategems he invented to support himself: the the various Discoveries of Cheats and Rogueries made by him. His many Escapes from Danger; and the frequent Troubles and Pressures of Mind he lay under for his wicked Exploits. His many witty Expressions and Observations of Things and Matters. His Amorous Discourses and Entertainment. And in fine, his various Fortunes and Misfortunes through the whole Course of his Life. With the eminent Cheats and Artifices of either Sex layed open, as a Warning to all Persons to shun the Mischiefs that attends an evil Course of Life, &c.

I do like that “&c.”.

This title-page then further promises the reader, The Four PARTS. To which is added a Fifth PART, compleating the whole History of his Life.

So this should be a fairly substantial work, right? After all, each individual volume of The English Rogue was equivalent in length to 150 – 200 of today’s pages, the first volume being somewhat longer than its sequels; so let’s call it 700 pages in total. What, then, are we to make of this publication? – which in its original format consists of 232 pages – or in modern terms, about 150 pages?

As you can imagine, after fighting through that fourth volume, the last thing I wanted was more of The English Rogue; so it was with great relief and amusement that I discovered that I didn’t really have any more of it on my hands, but was instead flicking through an extreme abridgement of all four volumes – which are not just savagely cut down, but out of order – to which its…well, you can hardly say author…its compiler’s main contribution is an occasional re-write, apparently to clean up some of the language, or soften Latroon’s misconduct.

For example, this notorious passage:

That he, going about to correct me for this unlucky and mischievous fact, was by me shown a very shitten trick, which put him into a stinking condition, for having made myself laxative on purpose I squirted into his face upon the first lash given. That being upon boys’ backs, ready to be whipped, I had often bit holes in their ears. That another time sirreverencing in a paper, and running to the window with it, which looked out into the yard, my aged mistress looking up to see who opened the casement, I had like to have thrown it into her mouth; however for a time deprived her of what little sight she had left. That another time I had watched some lusty young girls, that used in summer nights about twelve o’clock to wash themselves in a small brook near adjacent, and that I had concealed myself behind a bush, and when they were stripped, took away their clothes, making them dance home after me stark naked to the view of their sweethearts whom I had planted in a place appointed for that purpose, having given them before notice of my design.

—appears in this version in this considerably shortened, and considerably bowdlerised, form:

…and then proceeded to tell her of a great many Tricks and Rogueries that I had played, as biting holes in the Boys Ears when upon their backs, squirting indecently in his Face, playing Tricks with the Maids Ware, and almost blinding my Mistress with a Sir— which I dropped upon her Face out of the Casement as she was Gauping upwards…

The bulk of this short publication is taken from Richard Head’s original work, which is the source for 141 out of its 232 pages. From that point, we hop from spot to spot, volume to volume: Gregory’s story, which makes up most of the second volume, is slashed down to just over twenty pages; this is followed by even briefer accounts of the lives of Mary and Dorothy, the “crone’s story” being entirely omitted from the latter (although not Dorothy’s own baby-selling), and then by an abrupt lurch to the poisoning of the former by Latroon’s wife; after which the remaining party sets out from India and lands in Surat without delay, where Jane (Jinny) is found.

Here the narrative becomes strangely confused, as we find Latroon recounting as his own some of the adventures of the soldier of fortune, as told by Dorothy in the third volume; an account which suddenly mutates into some of the captain’s adventures as a young man from the fourth volume, mutates again into some of the inn-cheats practiced by Dorothy’s hosts in the third volume, then becomes the haunted villa episode at the beginning of the fourth, followed by a description of various criminal activities told at third hand in the third volume, after which the fourth volume reappears with the telling of an anecdote about a homicidally jealous husband and the streetsmart apothecary who only pretends to sell him poison.

I think.

All of which takes us to page 230 of 232. By now, some people might be wondering what happened to that “Fifth PART” we were promised (or threatened with)? Well, it makes its appearance here, all one page and a half of it, in the form of a sudden fatal illness for Latroon, which gives him just enough time to repent (again) and lecture us all on how we shouldn’t do what he did:

And now expecting, in a short time, my Dissolution, it is my earnest request, That all Persons, of whatsoever Age or Sex, should be warned by my many Misfortunes, and what may yet remain abundantly worse behind if infinite Mercy interceed not with offended Justice, which I have infinitely provoked, to leave me miserable in the never-ending flight of an immeasurable Eternity.

I hope Henry Bradshawe felt he got his shilling’s worth:


See also:

The English Rogue (Part 1)
The English Rogue (Part 2)
The English Rogue (Part 3)

9 Responses to “The English Rogue (Parts 4 & 5)”

  1. (applause)
    I bogged down somewhere in volume 1 and haven’t plucked up the courage to return.

  2. And I do not blame you AT ALL. In this instance, I am perfectly content to take one for the team.

    (Would you believe I’ve since read something just about as bad and difficult..?)

  3. Lyz, you deserve a medal for slogging through all this.
    I have to admit, even if it’s vulgar, disgusting, in very poor taste, and extremely immature, I cracked up at what our Gallant did in the Barber’s shop. I’ve never heard of “exonerate” being used in that fashion.

  4. Well, it took six years, but apparently Richard Head finally realised that poo does not in itself constitute a punchline.

    “Exonerate” I can deal with; it’s the use of “Gallant” in this context that I’m struggling with. 🙂

  5. The word “exonerate” is now prime in-joke material… if this were a crowd that was in the habit of making poop jokes.

  6. I didn’t mean to create a monster! I hope you’ll all exonerate me!

    No, wait—

  7. Courtroom dramas will never be the same


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