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- Mr. Midshipman Easy - 6/78 -


The next morning Master Jack Easy was not only very sore, but very hungry, and as Mr Bonnycastle informed him that he would not only have plenty of cane, but also no breakfast, if he did not learn his letters, Johnny had wisdom enough to say the whole alphabet, for which he received a great deal of praise, the which, if he did not duly appreciate, he at all events infinitely preferred to beating. Mr Bonnycastle perceived that he had conquered the boy by one hour's well-timed severity. He therefore handed him over to the ushers in the school, and as they were equally empowered to administer the needful impulse, Johnny very soon became a very tractable boy.

It may be imagined that the absence of Johnny was severely felt at home, but such was not the case. In the first place, Dr Middleton had pointed out to Mrs Easy that there was no flogging at the school, and that the punishment received by Johnny from his father would very likely be repeated--and in the next, although Mrs Easy thought that she never could have survived the parting with her own son, she soon found out that she was much happier without him. A spoilt child is always a source of anxiety and worry, and after Johnny's departure Mrs Easy found a quiet and repose much more suited to her disposition. Gradually she weaned herself from him, and, satisfied with seeing him occasionally, and hearing the reports of Dr Middleton, she, at last, was quite reconciled to his being at school, and not coming back except during the holidays. John Easy made great progress; he had good natural abilities, and Mr Easy rubbed his hands when he saw the Doctor, saying, "Yes, let them have him for a year or two longer, and then I'll finish him myself." Each vacation he had attempted to instil into Johnny's mind the equal rights of man. Johnny appeared to pay but little attention to his father's discourses, but evidently showed that they were not altogether thrown away, as he helped himself to everything he wanted, without asking leave. And thus was our hero educated until he arrived at the age of sixteen, when he was a stout, good-looking boy, with plenty to say for himself,--indeed, when it suited his purpose, he could out-talk his father.

Nothing pleased Mr Easy so much as Jack's loquacity. "That's right; argue the point, Jack--argue the point, boy," would he say, as Jack disputed with his mother. And then he would turn to the Doctor, rubbing his hands, and observe, "Depend upon it, Jack will be a great, a very great man." And then he would call Jack and give him a guinea for his cleverness; and at last Jack thought it a very clever thing to argue. He never would attempt to argue with Mr Bonnycastle, because he was aware that Mr Bonnycastle's arguments were too strong for him, but he argued with all the boys until it ended in a fight, which decided the point; and he sometimes argued with the ushers. In short, at the time we now speak of, which was at the breaking up of the Midsummer holidays, Jack was as full of argument as he was fond of it. He would argue the point to the point of a needle, and he would divide that point into as many as there were days of the year, and argue upon each. In short, there was no end to Jack's arguing the point, although there seldom was point to his argument.

Jack had been fishing in the river, without any success, for a whole morning, and observed a large pond which had the appearance of being well stocked--he cleared the park palings, and threw in his line. He had pulled up several fine fish, when he was accosted by the proprietor, accompanied by a couple of keepers.

"May I request the pleasure of your name, young gentleman?" said the proprietor to Jack.

Now Jack was always urbane and polite.

"Certainly, sir; my name is Easy, very much at your service."

"And you appear to me to be taking it very easy," replied the gentleman. "Pray, sir, may I enquire whether you are aware that you are trespassing?"

"The word trespass, my dear sir," replied Jack, "will admit of much argument, and I will divide it into three heads. It implies, according to the conventional meaning, coming without permission upon the land or property of another. Now, sir, the question may all be resolved in the following. Was not the world made for all? and has any one, or any portion of its inhabitants, an exclusive right to claim any part of it, as his property? If you please, I have laid down the proposition, and we will now argue the point."

The gentleman who accosted Jack had heard of Mr Easy and his arguments; he was a humorist, and more inclined to laugh than to be angry; at the same time that he considered it necessary to show Jack that under existing circumstances they were not tenable.

"But, Mr Easy, allowing the trespass on the property to be venial, surely you do not mean to say that you are justified in taking my fish; I bought the fish, and stocked the pond, and have fed them ever since. You cannot deny but that they are private property, and that to take them is a theft?"

"That will again admit of much ratiocination, my dear sir," replied Jack; "but,--I beg your pardon, I have a fish." Jack pulled up a large carp, much to the indignation of the keepers, and to the amusement of their master, unhooked it, placed it in his basket, renewed his bait with the greatest sang, and then throwing in his line, resumed his discourse. "As I was observing, my dear sir," continued Jack, "that will admit of much ratiocination. All the creatures of the earth were given to man for his use--man means mankind--they were never intended to be made a monopoly of; water is also the gift of heaven, and meant for the use of all. We now come to the question how far the fish are your property. If the fish only bred on purpose to please you, and make you a present of their stock, it might then require a different line of argument; but as in breeding they only acted in obedience to an instinct with which they are endowed on purpose that they may supply man, I submit to you that you cannot prove these fish to be yours more than mine. As for feeding with the idea that they were your own, that is not an unusual case in this world, even when a man is giving bread and butter to his children. Further--but I have another bite--I beg your pardon, my dear sir--ah! he's off again"

"Then, Mr Easy, you mean to say that the world and its contents are made for all."

"Exactly, sir; that is my father's opinion, who is a very great philosopher."

"How then does your father account for some possessing property and others being without it?"

"Because those who are the strongest have deprived those who are weaker."

"But would not that be always the case even if we were in that state of general inheritance which you have supposed? For instance, allowing two men to chase the same animal, and both to come up to it at the same time, would not the strongest bear it off?"

"I grant that, sir."

"Well, then, where is your equality?"

"That does not disprove that men were not intended to be equal; it only proves that they are not so. Neither does it disprove that everything was not made for the benefit of all; it only proves that the strong will take advantage of the weak, which is very natural."

"Oh! you grant that to be very natural. Well, Mr Easy, I am glad to perceive that we are of one mind, and I trust we shall continue so. You'll observe that I and my keepers being three, we are the strong party in this instance, and admitting your argument, that the fish are as much yours as mine, still I take advantage of my strength to repossess myself of them, which is, as you say, very natural--James, take those fish."

"If you please," interrupted Jack, "we will argue that point--"

"Not at all; I will act according to your own arguments--I have the fish, but I now mean to have more--that fishing-rod is as much mine as yours, and being the stronger party I will take possession of it. James, William, take that fishing-rod,--it is ours."

"I presume you will first allow me to observe," replied Jack, "that although I have expressed my opinion that the earth and the animals on it were made for us all, that I never yet have asserted, that what a man creates by himself, or has created for him for a consideration, is not his own property."

"I beg your pardon; the trees that that rod was made from were made for us all, and if you, or any one for you, have thought proper to make it into a rod, it is no more my fault than it is that I have been feeding the fish, with the supposition that they were my own. Everything being common, and it being but natural that the strong should take advantage of the weak, I must take that rod as my property, until I am dispossessed by one more powerful. Moreover, being the stronger party, and having possession of this land, which you say does not belong to me more than to you--I also shall direct my keepers to see you off this property. James, take the rod--see Mr Easy over the park palings. Mr Easy, I wish you a good morning."

"Sir, I beg your pardon, you have not yet heard all my arguments," replied Jack, who did not approve of the conclusions drawn.

"I have no time to hear more, Mr Easy; I wish you a good morning." And the proprietor departed, leaving Jack in company with the keepers.

"I'll trouble you for that rod, master," said William. James was very busy stringing the fish through the gills upon a piece of osier.

"At all events you will hear reason," said Jack: "I have arguments--" "I never heard no good arguments in favour of poaching," interrupted the keeper.

"You're an insolent fellow," replied Jack. "It is by paying such vagabonds as you that people are able to be guilty of injustice."

"It's by paying us that the land an't poached--and if there be some excuse for a poor devil who is out of work, there be none for you, who call yourself a gentleman."

"According to his account, as we be all equal, he be no more a gentleman than we be."

"Silence, you blackguard, I shall not condescend to argue with such as you: if I did, I could prove that you are a set of base slaves, who have just as much right to this property as your master or I have."

"As you have, I dare say, master."

"As I have, you scoundrel; this pond is as much my property, and so are the fish in it, as they are of your master, who has usurped the right."


Mr. Midshipman Easy - 6/78

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