A Rogue's Life (Chapter 2, page 1 of 9)


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Chapter 2

THE opportunity I wanted presented itself in a curious way, and led,
unexpectedly enough, to some rather important consequences.

I have already stated, among the other branches of human attainment
which I acquired at the public school, that I learned to draw
caricatures of the masters who were so obliging as to educate me. I
had a natural faculty for this useful department of art. I improved it
greatly by practice in secret after I left school, and I ended by making
it a source of profit and pocket money to me when I entered the medical
profession. What was I to do? I could not expect for years to make a
halfpenny, as a physician. My genteel walk in life led me away from all
immediate sources of emolument, and my father could only afford to give
me an allowance which was too preposterously small to be mentioned. I
had helped myself surreptitiously to pocket-money at school, by selling
my caricatures, and I was obliged to repeat the process at home!

At the time of which I write, the Art of Caricature was just approaching
the close of its colored and most extravagant stage of development. The
subtlety and truth to Nature required for the pursuit of it now, had
hardly begun to be thought of then. Sheer farce and coarse burlesque,
with plenty of color for the money, still made up the sum of what the
public of those days wanted. I was first assured of my capacity for the
production of these requisites, by a medical friend of the ripe critical
age of nineteen. He knew a print-publisher, and enthusiastically showed
him a portfolio full of my sketches, taking care at my request not to
mention my name. Rather to my surprise (for I was too conceited to be
greatly amazed by the circumstance), the publisher picked out a few of
the best of my wares, and boldly bought them of me--of course, at his
own price. From that time I became, in an anonymous way, one of the
young buccaneers of British Caricature; cruising about here, there and
everywhere, at all my intervals of spare time, for any prize in the
shape of a subject which it was possible to pick up. Little did my
highly-connected mother think that, among the colored prints in the
shop-window, which disrespectfully illustrated the public and private
proceedings of distinguished individuals, certain specimens bearing
the classic signature of "Thersites Junior," were produced from designs
furnished by her studious and medical son. Little did my respectable
father imagine when, with great difficulty and vexation, he succeeded in
getting me now and then smuggled, along with himself, inside the pale
of fashionable society--that he was helping me to study likenesses which
were destined under my reckless treatment to make the public laugh at
some of his most august patrons, and to fill the pockets of his son with
professional fees, never once dreamed of in his philosophy.

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