The Gang Of Street Boys
From 'The Life of Colonel Jack ' by Daniel Defoe (1724)

Before I tell you much more of our story, it would be very proper to give you something of our several characters, as I have gathered them up in my memory, as far back as I can recover things, either of myself, or my brother jacks, and they shall be brief and impartial.

Captain Jack was the eldest of us all, by a whole year. He was a squat, big, strong made boy, and promised to be stout when grown up to be a man, but not to be tall. His temper was sly, sullen, reserved, malicious, revengeful; and withal, he was brutish, bloody, and cruel in his disposition; he was as to manners a mere boor, or clown, of a carman-like breed; sharp as a street-bred boy must be, but ignorant and unteachable from a child. He had much the nature of a bull-dog, bold and desperate, but not generous at all; all the schoolmistresses we went to, could never make him learn, no, not so much as to make him know his letters; and as if he was born a thief, he would steal everything that came near him, even as soon almost as he could speak; and that, not from his mother only, but from anybody else, and from us too that were his brethren and companions. He was an original rogue, for he would do the foulest and most villanous things, even by his own inclination; he had no taste or sense of being honest, no, not, I say, to his brother rogues, which is what other thieves make a point of honour of; I mean that of being honest to one another. . . .

Major Jack was a merry, facetious, pleasant boy, had a good share of wit, especially off-hand wit, as they call it; was full of jests and good humour, and, as I often said, had something of a gentleman in him. He had a true manly courage, feared nothing, and could look death in the face, without any hesitation; and yet, if he had the advantage, was the most generous and most compassionate creature alive. He had native principles of gallantry in him, without anything of the brutal or terrible part that the captain had; and in a word, he wanted nothing but honesty to have made him an excellent man. He had learned to read, as I had done; and as he talked very well, so he wrote good sense, and very handsome language, as you will see in the process of his story.

As for your humble servant, Colonel Jack, he was a poor unhappy tractable dog, willing enough, and capable too, to learn anything, if he had had any but the devil for his school-master: he set out into the world so early, that when he began to do evil, he understood nothing of the wickedness of it, nor what he had to expect for it. I remember very well that when I was once carried before a justice for a theft which indeed I was not guilty of, and defended myself by argument, proving the mistakes of my accusers, and how they contradicted themselves; the justice told me it was a pity I had not been better employed, for I was certainly better taught; in which, however, his worship was mistaken, for I had never been taught anything but to be a thief; except, as I said, to read and write, and that was all, before I was ten years old; but I had a natural talent of talking, and could say as much to the purpose as most people that had been taught much more than I.

I passed among my comrades for a bold resolute boy, and one that durst fight anything; but I had a different opinion of myself, and therefore shunned fighting as much as I could, though sometimes I ventured too, and came off well, being very strong made, and nimble withal. However, I many times brought myself off with my tongue, where my hands would not be sufficient; and this, as well after I was a man, as while I was a boy.

I was wary and dexterous at my trade, and was not so often catched as my fellow rogues, I mean while I was a boy, and never after I came to be a man, no, not once for twenty-six years, being so old in the trade, and still unhanged, as you shall hear.

As for my person, while I was a dirty glass-bottle-house boy, sleeping m the ashes, and dealing always in the street dirt, it cannot be expected but that I looked like what I was, and so we did all; that is to say, like a black your shoes your honour, a beggar-boy, a blackguard-boy, or what you please, despicable, and miserable, to the last degree; and yet I remember, the people would say of me, that boy has a good face: if he was washed and well dressed, he would be a good pretty boy; do but look what eyes he has, what a pleasant smiling countenance: it is a pity! I wonder what the rogue's father and mother was, and the like: then they would call me, and ask me my name, and I would tell them my name was Jack. But what's your surname, sirrah? says they: I don't know, says I. Who is your father and mother? I have none, said I. What, and never had you any? said they: No, says I, not that I know of. Then they would shake their heads, and cry, Poor boy! and 'tis a pity, and the like; and so let me go. But I laid up all these things in my heart. . . .

In this manner we lived for some years; and here we failed not to fall among a gang of naked, ragged rogues like ourselves, wicked as the devil could desire to have them be at so early an age, and ripe for all the other parts of mischief that suited them as they advanced in years.

I remember that one cold winter night we were disturbed in our rest with a constable and his watch, crying out for one Wry-neck, who it seems had done some roguery, and required a hue and cry of that kind; and the watch were informed he was to be found among the beggar-boys under the nealing-arches in the glass-house. The alarm being given, we were awakened in the dead of the night, with, Come out here, ye crew of young devils, come out and show yourselves; so we were all produced: some came out rubbing their eyes, and scratching their heads, and others were dragged out; and I think there was about seventeen of us in all, but Wry-neck, as they called him, was not among them. It seems this was a good big boy, that used to be among the inhabitants of that place, and had been concerned in a robbery the night before, in which his comrade, who was taken, in hopes of escaping punishment, had discovered him, and informed where he usually harboured; but he was aware, it seems, and had secured himself, at least for that time. So we were allowed to return to our warm apartment among the coal-ashes where I slept many a cold winter night; nay, I may say, many a winter, as sound, and as comfortably as ever I did since, though in better lodgings. . . .

The major was elevated the next day to a strange degree. He came very early to me, who lay not far from him, and said to me, Colonel Jack, I want to speak with you. Well, said I, what do you say? Nay, said he, it is business of consequence, I cannot talk here; so we walked out. As soon as we were come out into a narrow lane, by the glass-house, Look here, says he, and pulls out his' little hand almost full of money.

I was surprised at the sight, when he puts it up again, and, bringing his hand out, Here, says he, you shall have some of it; and gives me a sixpence, and a shilling's worth of the small silver pieces. This was very welcome to me, who, as much as I was of a gentleman, and as much as I thought of myself upon that account, never had a shilling of money together before in all my life, not that I could call my own.

I was very earnest then to know how he came by this wealth, for he had for his share 7s. 6d. in money, the silver thimble, and a silk handkerchief, which was, in short, an estate to him, that never had, as I said of myself, a shilling together in his life.

And what will you do with it now, Jack? said I. I do? says he; the first thing I do I'll go into Rag Fair, and buy me a pair of shoes and stockings. That's right, says I, and so will I too; so away we went together, and we bought each of us a pair of Rag Fair stockings in the first place for five pence, not five pence a pair, but five pence together, and good stockings they were too, much above our wear, I assure you.

We found it more difficult to fit ourselves with shoes; but at last, having looked a great while before we could find any good enough for us, we found a shop very well stored, and of these we bought two pair for sixteen-pence.

We put them on immediately to our great comfort, for we had neither of us had any stockings to our legs that had any feet to them for a long time: I found myself so refreshed with having a pair of warm stockings on, and a pair of dry shoes, things, I say, which I had not been acquainted with a great while, that I began to call to my mind my being a gentleman, and now I thought it began to come to pass. When we had thus fitted ourselves, I said, Hark ye, Major Jack, you and I never had any money in our lives before, and we never had a good dinner in all our lives: what if we should go somewhere and get some victuals? I am very hungry.

So we will then, says the major, I am hungry too; so we went to a boiling cook's in Rosemary lane, where we treated ourselves nobly, and, as I thought with myself, we began to live like gentlemen, for we had three-pennyworth of boiled beef, two-pennyworth of pudding, a penny brick (as they call it, or loaf), and a whole pint of strong beer, which was seven-pence in all.

N.B. We had each of us a good mess of charming beef-broth into the bargain; and, which cheered my heart wonderfully, all the while we were at dinner, the maid and the boy in the house every time they passed by the open box where we sat at our dinner, would look in and cry, Gentlemen, do you call? and, Do ye call, gentlemen? I say this was as good to me as all my dinner.

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