A Book of Scoundrels

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Author: Charles Whibley

III. A Parallel

NOT a parallel, but a contrast, since at all points Peace is Brodie’s antithesis. The one is the austerest of Classics, caring only for the ultimate perfection of his work. The other is the gayest of Romantics, happiest when by the way he produces a glittering effect, or dazzles the ear by a vain impertinence. Now, it is by thievery that Peace reached magnificence. A natural aptitude drove him from the fiddle to the centre-bit. He did but rob, because genius followed the impulse. He had studied the remotest details of his business; he was sternly professional in the conduct of his life, and, as became an old gaol-bird, there was no antic of the policeman wherewith he was not familiar. Moreover, not only had he reduced house-breaking to a science, but, being ostensibly nothing better than a pictureframe maker, he had invented an incomparable set of tools wherewith to enter and evade his neighbour’s house. Brodie, on the other hand, was a thief for distraction. His method was as slovenly as ignorance could make it. Though by trade a wright, and therefore a master of all the arts of joinery, he was so deficient in seriousness that he stole a coulter wherewith to batter the walls of the Excise Office. While Peace fought the battle in solitude, Brodie was not only attended by a gang, but listened to the command of his subordinates, and was never permitted to perform a more intricate duty than the sounding of the alarm. And yet here is the ironical contrast. Peace, the professional thief, despised his brothers, and was never heard to patter a word of flash. Brodie, the amateur, courted the society of all cross coves, and would rather express himself in Pedlar’s French than in his choicest Scots. While the Englishman scraped Tate and Brady from a one-stringed fiddle, the Scot limped a chaunt from The Beggar’s Opera, and thought himself a devil of a fellow. The one was a man about town masquerading as a thief; the other the most serious among housebreakers, singing psalms in all good faith.

But if Peace was incomparably the better craftsman, Brodie was the prettier gentleman. Peace would not have permitted Brodie to drive his pony-trap the length of Evelina Road. But Brodie, in revenge, would have cut Peace had he met him in the Corn-market. The one was a sombre savage, the other a jovial comrade, and it was a witty freak of fortune that impelled both to follow the same trade. And thus you arrive at another point of difference. The Englishman had no intelligence of life’s amenity. He knew naught of costume: clothes were the limit of his ambition. Dressed always for work, he was like the caterpillar which assumes the green of the leaf, wherein it hides: he wore only such duds as should attract the smallest notice, and separate him as far as might be from his business. But the Scot was as fine a dandy as ever took (haphazard) to the cracking of kens. If his refinement permitted no excess of splendour, he went ever gloriously and appropriately apparelled. He was well-mannered, cultured, with scarce a touch of provincialism to mar his gay demeanour: whereas Peace knew little enough outside the practice of burglary, and the proper handling of the revolver.

Our Charles, for example, could neither spell nor write; he dissembled his low origin with the utmost difficulty, and at the best was plastered over (when not at work) with the parochialism of the suburbs. So far the contrast is complete; and even in their similarities there is an evident difference. Each led a double life; but while Brodie was most himself among his own kind, the real Peace was to be found not fiddle-scraping in Evelina Road but marking down policemen in the dusky byways of Blackheath. Brodie’s grandeur was natural to him; Peace’s respectability, so far as it transcended the man’s origin, was a cloak of villainy.

Each, again, was an inventor, and while the more innocent Brodie designed a gallows, the more hardened Peace would have gained notoriety by the raising of wrecks and the patronage of Mr. Plimsoll. And since both preserved a certain courage to the end, since both died on the scaffold as becomes a man, the contrast is once more characteristic. Brodie’s cynicism is a fine foil to the piety of Peace; and while each end was natural after its own fashion, there is none who will deny to the Scot the finer sense of fitness. Nor did any step in their career explain more clearly the difference in their temperament than their definitions of the gallows. For Peace it is `a short cut to Heaven’; for Brodie it is `a leap in the dark.’ Again the Scot has the advantage. Again you reflect that, if Peace is the most accomplished Classic among the housebreakers, the Deacon is the merriest companion who ever climbed the gallows by the shoulders of the incomparable Macheath.

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Chicago: Charles Whibley, "III. A Parallel," A Book of Scoundrels, ed. Stevens, Bertram, 1872 - and trans. Hapgood, Isabel Florence, 1850-1928 in A Book of Scoundrels (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920), Original Sources, accessed September 22, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPCTJNA35HHIXLM.

MLA: Whibley, Charles. "III. A Parallel." A Book of Scoundrels, edited by Stevens, Bertram, 1872 -, and translated by Hapgood, Isabel Florence, 1850-1928, in A Book of Scoundrels, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1920, Original Sources. 22 Sep. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPCTJNA35HHIXLM.

Harvard: Whibley, C, 'III. A Parallel' in A Book of Scoundrels, ed. and trans. . cited in 1920, A Book of Scoundrels, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 22 September 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=CPCTJNA35HHIXLM.