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H

AVING met in the “Harleian Miscellany” with an

account of a pet thief of ours, the famous Du Val,

who flourished in the time of Charles II., and wishing to introduce him worthily to the readers, it has brought to mind such a number of the light-fingered gentry, his predecessors, that we almost feel hustled by the thoughts of them. Our subject, we may truly fear, will run away with us. We feel beset, like poor Tasso in his dungeon; and are not sure that our paper will not suddenly be conveyed away from under our pen. Already we miss some excellent remarks which we should have made in this place. If the reader should meet with any of that kind hereafter, upon the like subject, in another man's writings, twenty to one they are stolen from us, and ought to have enriched this our plundered exordium. He that steals an authors purse, may emphatically be said to steal trash ; but he that filches from him his good things------Alas! we thought our subject would be running away with us. We must keep firm. We must put something hcavier in our remarks, as the little thin Grecian philosopher used to put lead in his pockets, lest the wind should steal him.

The more ruffianly crowd of thieves should go first, as pioneers; but they can hardly be looked upon as progenitors of our gentle Du Val ; and besides, with all their ferocity, some of them assume a grandeur, from standing in the remote shadows of

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antiquity. There was the famous son, for instance, of Vulcan and Medusa, whom Virgil calls the dire aspect of half-human Cacus—“Semihominis Caci facies dira.” (“Æneid,” Book VIII.v. 194.) He was the Raw-head-and-bloody-bones of ancient fable. He lived in a cave by Mount Aventine, breathing out fiery smoke, and haunting King Evander's highway like the Apollyon of " Pilgrim's Progress."

Semperque recenti
Cæde tepebat humus ; foribusque adfixa superbis
Ora virûm tristi pendebant pallida tabo."
The place about was ever in a plash
Of steaming blood ; and o'er the insulting door

Hung pallid human heads, defaced with dreary gore. He stole some of the cows of Hercules, and dragged them backwards into his cave to prevent discovery ; but the oxen happening to low, the cows answered them; and the demigod, detecting the miscreant in his cave, strangled him after a hard encounter. This is one of the earliest sharping tricks upon record.

Autolycus, the son of Mercury (after whom Shakspeare christened his merry rogue in the “Winter's Tale”), was a thief suitable to the greater airiness of his origin. He is said to have performed tricks which must awake the envy even of horsedealers ; for, in pretending to return a capital horse which he had stolen, he palmed upon the owners a sorry jade of an ass, which was gravely received by those' flats of antiquity. Another time he went still further; for, having conveyed away a handsome bride, he sent in exchange an old lady elaborately hideous; yet the husband did not find out the trick till he had got off.

Autolycus himself, however, was outwitted by Sisyphus, the son of Æolus. Autolycus was in the habit of stealing his neighbours' cattle, and altering the marks upon them. Among others he stole some from Sisyphus; but, notwithstanding his usual precautions, he was astonished to find the latter come and pick out his oxen, as if nothing had happened. He had marked them under the hoof. Autolycus, it seems, had the usual generosity of genius; and was so pleased with this evidence of superior cunning, that

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some say he gave him in marriage his daughter, Anticlea, who was afterwards the wife of Laertes, the father of Ulysses. According to others, however, he only favoured him with his daughter's company for a time, a fashion not yet extinct in some primitive countries; and it was a reproach made against Ulysses, that Laertes was only his pretended, and Sisyphus his real, father. Sisyphus has the credit of being the greatest knave of antiquity. His famous punishment in hell, of being compelled to roll a stone up a hill to all eternity, and seeing it always go down again, is attributed by some to a characteristic trait, which he could not help playing off upon Pluto. was supposed by the ancients that a man's ghost would wander in a melancholy manner upon the banks of the Styx as long as his corpse remained without burial. Sisyphus, on his death-bed, purposely charged his wife to leave him unburied; and then begged Pluto's permission to go back to earth, on his parole, merely to punish her for so scandalous a neglect. Like the lawyer, however, who contrived to let his hat fall inside the door of heaven, and got St Peter's permission to step in for it, Sisyphus would not return; and so, when Pluto had him again, he paid him for the trick with setting him upon this everlasting job.

The exploits of Mercury himself, the god of cunning, may be easily imagined to surpass everything achieved by profaner hands. Homer, in the hymn to his honour, has given a delightful account of his prematurity in swindling. He had not been born many hours before he stole Vulcan's tools, Mars's sword, and Jupiter's sceptre. He beat Cupid in a wrestling bout on the same day; and Venus caressing him for his conquest, he returned the embrace by filching away her girdle. He would also have stolen Jupiter's thunderbolts, but was afraid of burning his fingers. On the evening of his birthday, he drove off the cattle of Admetus, which Apollo was tending. The goodhumoured god of wit endeavoured to frighten him into restoring them ; but could not help laughing when, in the midst of his threatenings, he found himself without his quiver.

The history of thieves is to be found either in that of romance or in the details of the history of cities. The latter have not come down to us from the ancient world, with some exceptions in the comic writers, immaterial to our present purpose, and in the loathsome rhetoric of Petronius. The finest thief in old history is the pirate who made that famous answer to Alexander, in which he said that the conqueror was only the mightier thief of the two. The story of the thieving architect in Herodotus, we will tell another time. We can call to mind no other thieves in the Greek and Latin writers (always excepting political ones) except some paltry fellow's who stole napkins at dinner, and the robbers in Apuleius, the precursors of those in “ Gil Blas.” When we come, however, to the times of the Arabians and of chivalry, they abound in all their glory, both great and small. Who among us does not know by heart the story of the neverto-be-forgotten “Forty Thieves," with their treasure in the green wood, their anxious observer, their magical opening of the door, their captain, their concealment in the jars, and the scalding oil, that, as it were, extinguished them, groaning, one by one? Have we not all ridden backwards and forwards with them to the wood a hundred times ?-watched them, with fear and trembling, from the tree ?-sewn up, blind-folded, the four quarters of the dead body ?--and said, Open, Sesame," to every door at school? May we ride with them again and again, or we shall lose our appetite for some of the best things in the world.

We pass over those interlopers in our English family, the Danes ; as well as Rollo the Norman, and other freebooters, who only wanted less need of robbery to become respectable . conquerors. In fact, they did so, as they got on. We have also no particular worthy to select from among that host of petty chieftains who availed themselves of their knightly castles and privileges to commit all sorts of unchivalrous outrages. These are the giants of modern romance, and the Veglios, Malengins, and Pinabellos, of Pulci, Spenser, and Ariosto.

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They survived in the petty states of Italy a long while ; gradually took a less solitary though hardly less ferocious shape among the fierce political partisans recorded by Dante; and at length became represented by the men of desperate fortunes, who make such a figure, between the gloomy and the gallant, in Mrs Radcliffe's “ Mysteries of Udolpho.” The breaking up of the late kingdom of Italy, with its dependencies, has again revived them in some degree ; but not, we believe, in any shape above common robbery. The regular modern thief seems to make his appearance for the first time in the imaginary character of Brunello, as described by Boiardo and Ariosto. He is a fellow that steals every valuable that comes in his way. The way in which he robs Sacripant, king of Circassia, of his horse, has been ridiculed by Cervantes ; if indeed he did not rather repeat it with great zest; for his use of the theft is really not such a caricature as in Boiardo and his great follower. While Sancho is sitting lumpishly asleep upon the back of his friend Dapple, Gines de Passamonte, the famous thief, comes and gently withdraws the donkey from under him, leaving the somniculous squire propped up on the saddle with four sticks. His consternation on waking may be guessed. But in the Italian poets, the Circassian prince has only fallen into a deep meditation, when Brunello draws away his steed. Ariosto appears to have thought this extravagance a hazardous one, though he could not deny himself the pleasure of repeating it ; for he has made Sacripant blush when called upon to testify how the horse was stolen from him. (“ Orlando Furio.,"c. 27, st. 84.)

In the Italian novels and the old French tales are a variety of extremely amusing stories of thieves, all most probably founded on fact. We will give a specimen as we go, by way of making this article the completer. A doctor of laws in Bologna had become rich enough, by scraping money together, to indulge himself in a grand silver cup, which he sent home one day to his wife from the goldsmith’s. There were two sharping fellows prowling about that day in search of a prize ; and getting scent

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