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JOHN FRANSHA M,
BY THE EDITOR.
One common complaint in everybody's mouth, is the want of variety of individual character—the dreary monotony we find every where pervading society. Men and women now-a-days are all alike-civilisation, as it is now developed, has been a leveller of the most destructive kind. Great men have been amongst us, and have blessed the earth with their presence, and their power, but they have left behind them none to follow in their steps, and to rival them in their name. To the past must we turn whenever we would recal to our minds how sublime and great, man, in his might and majesty, may become. We can reckon up but few Luthers, and Miltons, and Clarksons, because we have but few who can dare to stand alone in devotedness to truth and human right. Most men are enslaved by the opinions of the little clique in which they move. They can never imagine that beyond their little circle there can exist anything that is lovely or of good report. “ We are the men, and wisdom will die with us," is the implied burden of their daily song. We judge not according to abstract principles, but conventional ideas. The dancing Bayaderes, who visited London a few years since, were shocked at what they conceived the immodest attire of our English dames, who, in their turn, were thankful that they did not dress as the Bayaderes. They did know better than that. We, especially, from our insular position, from the amount of prejudice and port imbibed, not merely at Oxford, as Gibbon would lead us to believe, are liable to this failing. Abroad, people travel more, come more into collision, perhaps have fewer money ties, by which certain ideas are perpetuated, than ourselves, and the con. sequence is that we can recognise goodness and greatness only in certain established forms. They must be well dressed, they must be of respectable family,--they must go to church, and worship Him who stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, according to act of parliament. “Are you Shelley the atheist ?” said a warm admirer of our glorious constitution in church and state to the poet who, owning the soft impeachment, was knocked down by the Christian questioner, in a manner truly English, and not the one best adapted either to convince or convert. No wonder that we are a most monotonous people—that there is everywhere amongst us an universal sameness—that our great
February, 1849.-Vol. LIV. NO. CCXIV.
thinkers stand isolated and apart—that, like Childe Harold the man of independent thought,-must feel how deep a solitude is a peopled city, and exclaim
-" In the crowd
In such times, and amongst such people, a real genuine character is a most noteworthy object, --something to be talked of, studied, admired. Nor necessarily need the man be one whose name has been in every one's mouth, as the genius of the age. Popularity does not always denote worth, nor obscurity the re
“ Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air ;
Learning, and eccentricity, and great moral worth, may exist in persons of whom the world knows nothing. A character of this kind we now intend to introduce for the amusement of our readers. Though not the greatest of men, there was about him something that may instruct—that may teach howindomitable is the human will-how little circumstances affect the man who has in him strength to resolve, and that yet greater strength necessary to perform. With all his eccentricity, they will find that they are perusing the life of one of whom it may be said,
“He was a man, take him for all in all,
We shall not look upon his like again.”
In the old cathedral city of Norwich, in those days of glorious extravagance when “George the Third was king," threading his way along the intricate streets with which it abounds, might often be seen a figure, whose oddity of appearance would at once attract the eye. Possibly, a few roguish school-boys, with the want of true insight into character incident to that age, might be seen following in his wake. From them the stranger might learn that the individual before them was known by the sobriquet of Old Hornbutton Jack. With a countenance much resembling the portraits of Erasmus, with grey bair hanging about his shoulders, with his hat drawn over his eyes, and his hands behind him, as if in deep meditation, he would excite the curiosity of the observer; more especially when we add that the
little bandy-legged individual arrayed his outer man in a short green jacket, a broad hat, large shoes, and short worsted stockings; and well might the observer stare, for in John Fransham was no ordinary man.
Norwich has the honour of his birth, which important event took place about the year 1730, where Dr. Taylor for some time, in consequence of his superior talents, provided him with gratuitous instruction. At an early age he exhibited marks of genius, and appears to have been originally designed for the church. He applied himself to a course of study, with a view to that destination. Unfortunately, however, the want of funds obliged him to relinquish his plans, and betake himself to a far different vocation. At Wymondham he was apprenticed to a cooper. Three weeks, however, of this drudgery, sickened him of trade. He was, consequently, compelled to do something for a livelihood. Among other things, it is said of him that he wrote sermons, and offered them to clergymen, some of whom, struck with the singularity of the application, with the peculiarity of his appearance, and, perhaps, more than all, with the extent of his knowledge, offered him what he conceived to be the worth of his productions; more than this he never would accept.
But our hero found it difficult to procure a living by his pen, and his father having urged him to betake himself to some regular and constant employment, stating that he could not continue to find him with clothing, and gently hinting that the shoemaker's bill was more than the parental exchequer could meet, Fransham found himself in somewhat of a dilemma. Could he, whose soul had been attuned to celestial philosophy, descend from his mount of inspiration, and spend his life, and waste his powers, in the dull routine of some mechanical trade ? Most certainly not. At the same time honest John was compelled to admit, that in this world of ours, a want of money is a most serious ill. It was evident to him that, to gratify his literary taste, and yet live, he must live more simply than he had yet done. Fransham accordingly recollected that shoes were not absolutely necessary to his existence, much less to his literary progress. After reflecting, therefore, for a few minutes, he resolved to discard from his dress both shoes and stockings for ever.
This resolution, to which he adhered for three years, was, however, productive of some inconveniences. It, with some other eccentricities he displayed, induced his father to suspect that his intellect was disordered.
That a young man, in all the vigour of health, and remarkable-50 says his partial biographer, Mr. Saint-for his genius and knowledge, should walk about the streets without either shoes
or stockings, was a phenomenon which could not be accounted for by his parents or their neighbours, upon any other principle than a derangement. They could not place themselves in Fransham's situation—they could not imagine it possible that, merely to gratify an ardent thirst for knowledge, a youth would deviate so widely from the established custom in the mode of his attire. Nor did the father himself think it possible that his son would actually discontinue the use of those articles of dress, of the expense of which he had himself complained, and the continuance of which could only have been ensured by the son's remitting his ardour in the pursuit of his literary acquirements. To the father and his neighbours, the unconquerable ardour, the indefatigable exertions, and the steady perseverance of Fransham in the pursuit of knowledge, afforded no proofs of the soundness of his mind ; but the reverse. To walk without shoes or stockings—though the constant custom on the other side the Tweed—was considered as a proof of insanity, and the father was desirous to obtain medical advice on this delicate subject.
To effect this, however, was a task of considerable difficulty. It was by no means likely that the eccentric Fransham, in a sound state of health, would suffer himself to be taken before a physician, to be catechised about his health or his diet. At length, however, an opportunity occurred. About this period, Fransham received a legacy of about twenty-five pounds. With this sum he had previously declared he would purchase a pony. Kindness to animals, in general, was an early and strong trait in his character, but he had a remarkable attachment to horses. His father, therefore, endeavoured to avail himself of this resolution, by telling him that Sir Benjamin Wrench, an eminent physician, whom his father wished to consult respecting the soundness of his mind, wished to see him, as he had a very handsome pony to sell. Fransham (senior) had previously solicited Sir Benjamin to ask thirty pounds for the pony, as this would at once preclude the possibility of a purchase; while, at the same time, it would afford Sir Benjamin an opportunity of entering into conversation with the supposed victim of derangement. Fransham accordingly accompanied his father; but he had some previous suspicions of the trick which his father meant to put on him, and which were confirmed when he found that Sir Benjamin, without exhibiting the pony, demanded thirty pounds for it. Fransham, therefore, resolved that he in his turn would make his father the victim of a trick. Accordingly, upon being asked what he meant to do with the pony, “Make a friend of it, to be sure," was the reply. “But will you not ride it?” said Sir Benjamin. “Ride it! no, certainly not;
I will not be so cruel. I will lead it about, and talk with it, and make it my companion; and I will go with it wherever it may wish to stray and feed.” These singular replies, together with his still more singular appearance, induced Sir Benjamin to confirm the suspicions of his father; for after the son had left the room, his father went back, on some pretence, though in reality to be informed of Sir Benjamin's opinion, when Fran. sham, who listened at the door, heard the doctor say to his father, “You must keep him low, and by no means contradict him," with which Fransham junior was ever after highly amused.
Some time after this, his parents persuaded him to accept the situation of writer in the office of an attorney. There, however, he found but little opportunity of gratifying his thirst for philosophy and literature. He therefore soon relinquished a situation, the laborious confinement of which was only to be equalled by its monotonous drudgery. After this, he put himself under the instruction of a weaver named Wright, with whom he remained two years.
His instructor was a man after his heart. More
“Norwich weaver boy” has done the world good service. Wright, Fransham used to say, was one who could discourse well “on the nature and fitness of things. He possessed a finely philosophical spirit, and a soul well purified from vulgar errors. Fransham placed his loom not only in the same room with Wright's, but also in such a position, that while at work, they faced each other; by which means, the noise of their shuttles was not sufficient to prevent discussion, and they could thus converse together, without the slightest interruption to the employment by which they were enabled to procure their daily subsistence. After this, we need not wonder that Fransham should relinquish the honour of a clerkship in an attorney's office, even with the prospect of becoming an attorney himself, for the humble occupation of weaving, when accompanied by the means of pursuing his studies, and with the additional pleasure of friendly society, and pure and elevated conversation. The death of Wright again unsettled Fransham, and he started for Scotland, with a view to study at one or other of the seats of that learning which he so highly prized. He embarked for North Shields, with the intention of walking the rest of the way. Meeting, however, at Newcastle with a regiment known as the Old Buffs, he enlisted for a soldier, but was soon discharged from the service, from being too bandy-legged. Finding his pecuniary resources too much exhausted to accomplish his proposed object, he resolved to walk back to Norwich, which place he at length reached, with only three-half-pence, and a plaid which he had