Cache-Control: public, max-age=1024000 English Rogues


Pastor Moritz had very little contact with crime while in England although an encounter on the road to Oxford (see below) might perhaps have qualified. During a coach trip, however, one of his companions insited on describing how English rogues are organised.

London, June 17th, 1782.

One of the longest and pleasantest walks I have yet taken is from Paddington to Islington; where to the left you have a fine prospect of the neighbouring hills, and in particular of the village of Hampstead, which is built on one of them; and to the right the streets of London furnish an endless variety of interesting views. It is true that it is dangerous to walk here alone, especially in the afternoon and in an evening, or at night, for it was only last week that a man was robbed and murdered on this very same road. But I now hasten to another and a more pleasing topic.

Richmond, 21st June, 1782.

The man who was with us in the coach pointed out to us the country seats of the lords and great people by which we passed; and entertained us with all kind of stories of robberies which had been committed on travellers, hereabouts; so that the ladies at last began to be rather afraid; on which he began to stand up for the superior honour of the English robbers, when compared with the French: the former he said robbed only, the latter both robbed and murdered.

Notwithstanding this there are in England another species of villains, who also murder, and that oftentimes for the merest trifle, of which they rob the person murdered. These are called footpads, and are the lowest class of English rogues; amongst whom in general there reigns something like some regard to character.

The highest order of thieves are the pickpockets or cutpurses, whom you find everywhere; and sometimes even in the best companies. They are generally well and handsomely dressed, so that you take them to be persons of rank; as indeed may sometimes be the case: persons who by extravagance and excesses have reduced themselves to want, and find themselves obliged at last to have recourse to pilfering and thieving.

Next to them come the highwaymen, who rob on horseback; and often, they say, even with unloaded pistols, they terrify travellers, in order to put themselves in possession of their purses. Among these persons, however, there are instances of true greatness of soul, there are numberless instances of their returning a part of their booty, where the party robbed has appeared to be particularly distressed; and they are seldom guilty of murder.

Then comes the third and lowest, and worst of all thieves and rogues, the footpads before mentioned; who are on foot, and often murder in the most inhuman manner, for the sake of only a few shillings, any unfortunate people who happen to fall in their way. Of this several mournful instances may be read almost daily in the English papers. Probably they murder, because they cannot like highwaymen, aided by their horses, make a rapid flight: and therefore such pests are frequently pretty easily pursued and taken if the person robbed gives information of his robbery in time.

Oxford 25th June, 1782

The road now led me along a low sunken piece of ground between high trees, so that I could not see far before me, when a fellow in a brown frock and round hat, with a stick in his hand a great deal stronger than mine, came up to me. His countenance immediately struck me as having in it something suspicious. He however passed me; but, before I was aware, he turned back and asked me for a halfpenny to buy, as he said, some bread, as he had eaten nothing that day. I felt in my pocket, and found that I had no halfpence: no, nor even a sixpence; in short, nothing but shillings. I told him the circumstance, which I hoped would excuse me; on which he said, with an air and manner the drift of which I could not understand, "God bless my soul!"

This drew my attention still closer to the huge brawny fist, which grasped his stick, and that closer attention determined me immediately to put my hand in my pocket and give him a shilling. Meanwhile a coach came up. The fellow thanked me and went on. Had the coach come a moment sooner, I should not easily have given him the shilling, which, God knows, I could not well spare. Whether this was a footpad or not, I will not pretend to say, but he had every appearance of it.