« AnteriorContinuar »
over them. But its happiest effect was, that not another lawsuit took place throughout the whole of his administration; and the office of constable fell into such decay, that there was not one of those losel scouts known in the province for many years. I am the more particular in dwelling on this transaction, not only because I deem it one of the most sage and righteous judgments on record, and well worthy the attention of modern magistrates, but because it was a miraculous event in the history of the renowned Wouter -being the only time he was ever known to come to a decision in the whole course of his life.
THE GRAND COUNCIL OF NEW AMSTERDAM ---WITH
REASONS WHY AN ALDERMAN SHOULD BE FAT.
To assist the doubtful Wouter in the arduous business of legislation, a board of magistrates was appointed, which presided immediately over the police. This potent body consisted of a scout or bailiff with powers between those of the present mayor and sheriff; five burgermeesters, who were equivalent to aldermen; and five schepens, who officiated as scrubs, sub-devils, or bottleholders, to the burgermeesters, in the same manner as do assistant aldermen to their principals at the present day-it being their duty to fill the pipes of the lordly burgermeesters, hunt the markets for delicacies for corporation dinners, and to discharge such other little offices of kindness as were occasionally required. It was, moreover, tacitly understood, though not specifically enjoined, that they should consider themselves as butts for the blunt wits of the burgermeesters, and should laugh most heartily at all their jokes ; but this last was a duty as rarely called into action in those days as it is at present, and was shortly remitted, in consequence of the tragical death of a fat little schepen, who actually died of suffocation in an unsuccessful effort to force a laugh at one of the burgermeester's Van Zandt's best jokes.
In return for these humble services, they were permitted to say yes and no at the council board, and to have that enviable privilege, the run of the public kitchen; being graciously permitted to eat, and drink, and smoke, at all those snug junketings, and public gormandizings, for which the ancient magistrates wereequally famous with their more modern successors. The post of schepen, therefore, like that of assistant alderman, was eagerly coveted by all your burghers of a certain description, who have a huge relish for good feeding, and an humble ambition to be great men in a small way—who thirst after a little brief authority, that shall render them the terror of the alms-house and the bridewell that shall enable them to lord it over obsequious poverty, vagrant vice, outcast prostitution, and hungerdriven dishonesty--that shall place in their hands the lesser, but galling scourge of the law, and give to their beck a houndlike pack of catchpoles and bum-bailiffs—tenfold greater rogues than the
culprits they hunt down!—My readers will excuse this sudden warmth, which I confess is unbecoming of a grave historian; but I have a mortal antipathy to catchpoles, bum-bailiffs, and little great men.
The ancient magistrates of this city corresponded with those of the present time no less in form, magnitude, and intellect, than in prerogative and privilege. The burgomasters, like our aldermen, were generally chosen by-weight; and not only the weight of the body, but likewise the weight of the head. It is a maxim practically observed in all honest, plain thinking, regular cities, that an alderman should be fat-and the wisdom of this can be proved to a certainty. That the body is in some measure an image of the mind, or rather that the mind is moulded to the body, like melted lead to the clay in which it is cast, has been insisted on by many men of science, who have made human nature their peculiar study. For as a learned gentleman of our own city observes, “there is a constant relation between the moral character of all intelligent creatures and their physical constitution-between their habits and the structure of their bodies.” Thus we see, that a lean, spare, diminutive body is generally accompanied by a petulant, restless, meddling mind. Either the mind wears down the body by its continual motion; or else the body, not affording the mind sufficient house-room, keeps it continually in a state of fretfulness, tossing and worrying about, from the uneasiness of its situation. Whercas your round, sleek, fat, unwieldy periphery is ever attended by a mind like itself, tranquil, torpid, and at ease; and we may always observe, that your well-fed, robustious burghers are in general very tenacious of their ease and comfort; being great enemies to noise, discord, and disturbance; and surely none are more likely to study the public tranquillity than those who are so careful of their own. Who ever hears of fat men heading a riot, or herding together in turbulent mobs ?-No-no-it is your lean, hungry men, who are continually worrying society, and setting the whole community by the ears.
The divine Plato, whose doctrines are not sufficiently attended to by philosophers of the present age, allows to every man three souls : one immortal and rational, seated in the brain, that it may overlook and regulate the bodya second consisting of the surly and irascible passions, which, like belligerent powers, lie en camped around the heart-a third mortal and sensual, destitute of reason, gross and brutal in its propensities, and enchained in the belly, that it may not disturb the divine soul, by its ravenous howlings. Now, according to this excellent theory, what can be more clear, than that your fat alderman is most likely to have the most regular and well-conditioned mind? His head is like a huge spherical chamber, containing a prodigious mass of soft brains, whereon the rational soul lies softly and snugly couched, as on a feather bed ; and the eyes, which are the windows of the bed-chamber, are usually halfclosed, that its slumberings may not be disturbed by external objects. A mind thus comfortably lodged, and protected from disturbance, is mani festly most likely to perform its functions with regularity and ease. By dint of good feeding, moreover, the mortal and malignant soul, which is confined in the belly, and which, by its raging and roaring, puts the irritable soul in the neighbourhood of the heart in an intolerable passion, and thus renders men crusty and quarrelsome when hungry-is completely pacified, silenced, and put to rest : whereupon a host of honest good-fellow qualities, and kind-hearted affections, which had lain in perdue, slily peeping out of the loopholes of the heart, finding this Cerberus asleep, do pluck up their spirits, turn out one and all in their holiday suits, and gambol up and down the diaphragm-aisposing their possessor to laughter, good humour, and a thousand friendly offices towards his fellow-mortals.
As a board of magistrates, formed on this model, think but very ittle, they are less likely to differ and wrangle about favourite opinions ; and as they generally transact business upon a hearty dinner, they are naturally disposed to be lenient and indulgent in the administration of their duties. Charlemagne was conscious of this, and therefore (a pitiful measure, for which I can never forgive him), ordered in his cartularies, that no judge should hold a court of justice, except in the morning, on an empty stomach.A rule which, I warrant, bore hard upon all the poor culprits in his kingdom. The more on