On Being Found Out

At the close (let us say) of Queen Anne's reign, when I was a boy

at a private and preparatory school for young gentlemen, I remember

the wiseacre of a master ordering us all, one night, to march into

a little garden at the back of the house, and thence to proceed one

by one into a tool or hen house (I was but a tender little thing

just put into short clothes, and can't exactly say whether the

house was for tools or he
s), and in that house to put our hands

into a sack which stood on a bench, a candle burning beside it. I

put my hand into the sack. My hand came out quite black. I went

and joined the other boys in the schoolroom; and all their hands

were black too.

By reason of my tender age (and there are some critics who, I hope,

will be satisfied by my acknowledging that I am a hundred and

fifty-six next birthday) I could not understand what was the

meaning of this night excursion--this candle, this tool house, this

bag of soot. I think we little boys were taken out of our sleep to

be brought to the ordeal. We came, then, and showed our little

hands to the master; washed them or not--most probably, I should

say, not--and so went bewildered back to bed.

Something had been stolen in the school that day; and Mr. Wiseacre

having read in a book of an ingenious method of finding out a thief

by making him put his hand into a sack (which, if guilty, the rogue

would shirk from doing), all we boys were subjected to the trial.

Goodness knows what the lost object was, or who stole it. We all

had black hands to show the master. And the thief, whoever he was,

was not Found Out that time.

I wonder if the rascal is alive--an elderly scoundrel he must be by

this time; and a hoary old hypocrite, to whom an old schoolfellow

presents his kindest regards--parenthetically remarking what a

dreadful place that private school was; cold, chilblains, bad

dinners, not enough victuals, and caning awful!--Are you alive

still, I say, you nameless villain, who escaped discovery on that

day of crime? I hope you have escaped often since, old sinner.

Ah, what a lucky thing it is, for you and me, my man, that we are

NOT found out in all our peccadilloes; and that our backs can slip

away from the master and the cane!

Just consider what life would be, if every rogue was found out, and

flogged coram populo! What a butchery, what an indecency, what an

endless swishing of the rod! Don't cry out about my misanthropy.

My good friend Mealymouth, I will trouble you to tell me, do you go

to church? When there, do you say, or do you not, that you are a

miserable sinner, and saying so do you believe or disbelieve it?

If you are a M. S., don't you deserve correction, and aren't you

grateful if you are to be let off? I say again what a blessed

thing it is that we are not all found out!

Just picture to yourself everybody who does wrong being found out,

and punished accordingly. Fancy all the boys in all the school

being whipped; and then the assistants, and then the headmaster

(Dr. Badford let us call him). Fancy the provost marshal being

tied up, having previously superintended the correction of the

whole army. After the young gentlemen have had their turn for the

faulty exercises, fancy Dr. Lincolnsinn being taken up for certain

faults in HIS Essay and Review. After the clergyman has cried his

peccavi, suppose we hoist up a bishop, and give him a couple of

dozen! (I see my Lord Bishop of Double-Gloucester sitting in a

very uneasy posture on his right reverend bench.) After we have

cast off the bishop, what are we to say to the Minister who

appointed him? My Lord Cinqwarden, it is painful to have to use

personal correction to a boy of your age; but really . . . Siste

tandem carnifex! The butchery is too horrible. The hand drops

powerless, appalled at the quantity of birch which it must cut and

brandish. I am glad we are not all found out, I say again; and

protest, my dear brethren, against our having our deserts.

To fancy all men found out and punished is bad enough; but imagine

all the women found out in the distinguished social circle in which

you and I have the honor to move. Is it not a mercy that a many of

these fair criminals remain unpunished and undiscovered! There is

Mrs. Longbow, who is forever practicing, and who shoots poisoned

arrows, too; when you meet her you don't call her liar, and charge

her with the wickedness she has done and is doing. There is Mrs.

Painter, who passes for a most respectable woman, and a model in

society. There is no use in saying what you really know regarding

her and her goings on. There is Diana Hunter--what a little

haughty prude it is; and yet WE know stories about her which are

not altogether edifying. I say it is best for the sake of the

good, that the bad should not all be found out. You don't want

your children to know the history of that lady in the next box, who

is so handsome, and whom they admire so. Ah me, what would life be

if we were all found out and punished for all our faults? Jack

Ketch would be in permanence; and then who would hang Jack Ketch?

They talk of murderers being pretty certainly found out. Psha! I

have heard an authority awfully competent vow and declare that

scores and hundreds of murders are committed, and nobody is the

wiser. That terrible man mentioned one or two ways of committing

murder, which he maintained were quite common, and were scarcely

ever found out. A man, for instance, comes home to his wife,

and . . . but I pause--I know that this Magazine has a very large

circulation.* Hundreds and hundreds of thousands--why not say a

million of people at once?--well, say a million, read it. And

among these countless readers, I might be teaching some monster how

to make away with his wife without being found out, some fiend of a

woman how to destroy her dear husband. I will NOT then tell this

easy and simple way of murder, as communicated to me by a most

respectable party in the confidence of private intercourse.

Suppose some gentle reader were to try this most simple and easy

receipt--it seems to me almost infallible--and come to grief in

consequence, and be found out and hanged? Should I ever pardon

myself for having been the means of doing injury to a single one of

our esteemed subscribers? The prescription whereof I speak--that

is to say, whereof I DON'T speak--shall be buried in this bosom.

No, I am a humane man. I am not one of your Bluebeards to go and

say to my wife, "My dear! I am going away for a few days to

Brighton. Here are all the keys of the house. You may open every

door and closet, except the one at the end of the oak room opposite

the fireplace, with the little bronze Shakespeare on the

mantelpiece (or what not)." I don't say this to a woman--unless,

to be sure, I want to get rid of her--because, after such a

caution, I know she'll peep into the closet. I say nothing about

the closet at all. I keep the key in my pocket, and a being whom I

love, but who, as I know, has many weaknesses, out of harm's way.

You toss up your head, dear angel, drub on the ground with your

lovely little feet, on the table with your sweet rosy fingers, and

cry, "Oh, sneerer! You don't know the depth of woman's feeling,

the lofty scorn of all deceit, the entire absence of mean curiosity

in the sex, or never, never would you libel us so!" Ah, Delia!

dear, dear Delia! It is because I fancy I DO know something about

you (not all, mind--no, no; no man knows that).--Ah, my bride, my

ringdove, my rose, my poppet--choose, in fact, whatever name you

like--bulbul of my grove, fountain of my desert, sunshine of my

darkling life, and joy of my dungeoned existence, it is because I

DO know a little about you that I conclude to say nothing of that

private closet, and keep my key in my pocket. You take away that

closet key then, and the house key. You lock Delia in. You keep

her out of harm's way and gadding, and so she never CAN be found


* The Cornhill.--editor.

And yet by little strange accidents and coincidents how we are

being found out every day. You remember that old story of the Abbe

Kakatoes, who told the company at supper one night how the first

confession he ever received was--from a murderer, let us say.

Presently enters to supper the Marquis de Croquemitaine.

"Palsambleu, abbe!" says the brilliant marquis, taking a pinch of

snuff, "are you here? Gentlemen and ladies! I was the abbe's

first penitent, and I made him a confession, which I promise you

astonished him."

To be sure how queerly things are found out! Here is an instance.

Only the other day I was writing in these Roundabout Papers about a

certain man, whom I facetiously called Baggs, and who had abused me

to my friends, who of course told me. Shortly after that paper was

published another friend--Sacks let us call him--scowls fiercely at

me as I am sitting in perfect good humor at the club, and passes on

without speaking. A cut. A quarrel. Sacks thinks it is about him

that I was writing: whereas, upon my honor and conscience, I never

had him once in my mind, and was pointing my moral from quite

another man. But don't you see, by this wrath of the guilty-

conscienced Sacks, that he had been abusing me too? He has owned

himself guilty, never having been accused. He has winced when

nobody thought of hitting him. I did but put the cap out, and

madly butting and chafing, behold my friend rushes out to put his

head into it! Never mind, Sacks, you are found out; but I bear you

no malice, my man.

And yet to be found out, I know from my own experience, must be

painful and odious, and cruelly mortifying to the inward vanity.

Suppose I am a poltroon, let us say. With fierce mustache, loud

talk, plentiful oaths, and an immense stick, I keep up nevertheless

a character for courage. I swear fearfully at cabmen and women;

brandish my bludgeon, and perhaps knock down a little man or two

with it: brag of the images which I break at the shooting gallery,

and pass among my friends for a whiskery fire-eater, afraid of

neither man nor dragon. Ah me! Suppose some brisk little chap

steps up and gives me a caning in St. James's Street, with all the

heads of my friends looking out of all the club windows. My

reputation is gone. I frighten no man more. My nose is pulled by

whipper-snappers, who jump up on a chair to reach it. I am found

out. And in the days of my triumphs, when people were yet afraid

of me, and were taken in by my swagger, I always knew that I was a

lily liver, and expected that I should be found out some day.

That certainty of being found out must haunt and depress many a

bold braggadocio spirit. Let us say it is a clergyman, who can

pump copious floods of tears out of his own eyes and those of his

audience. He thinks to himself, "I am but a poor swindling,

chattering rogue. My bills are unpaid. I have jilted several

women whom I have promised to marry. I don't know whether I

believe what I preach, and I know I have stolen the very sermon

over which I have been sniveling. Have they found me out?" says

he, as his head drops down on the cushion.

Then your writer, poet, historian, novelist, or what not? The

Beacon says that "Jones's work is one of the first order." The

Lamp declares that Jones's tragedy surpasses every work since the

days of Him of Avon." The Comet asserts that "J's 'Life of Goody

Twoshoes' is a [Greek text omitted], a noble and enduring monument

to the fame of that admirable Englishwoman," and so forth. But

then Jones knows that he has lent the critic of the Beacon five

pounds; that his publisher has a half share in the Lamp; and that

the Cornet comes repeatedly to dine with him. It is all very well.

Jones is immortal until he is found out; and then down comes the

extinguisher, and the immortal is dead and buried. The idea (dies

irae!) of discovery must haunt many a man, and make him uneasy, as

the trumpets are puffing in his triumph. Brown, who has a higher

place than he deserves, cowers before Smith, who has found him out.

What is the chorus of critics shouting "Bravo"?--a public clapping

hands and flinging garlands? Brown knows that Smith has found him

out. Puff, trumpets! Wave, banners! Huzza, boys, for the

immortal Brown! This is all very well," B. thinks (bowing the

while, smiling, laying his hand to his heart); "but there stands

Smith at the window: HE has measured me; and some day the others

will find me out too." It is a very curious sensation to sit by a

man who has found you out, and who, as you know, has found you out;

or, vice versa, to sit with a man whom YOU have found out. His

talent? Bah! His virtue? We know a little story or two about his

virtue, and he knows we know it. We are thinking over friend

Robinson's antecedents, as we grin, bow and talk; and we are both

humbugs together. Robinson a good fellow, is he? You know how he

behaved to Hicks? A good-natured man, is he? Pray do you remember

that little story of Mrs. Robinson's black eye? How men have to

work, to talk, to smile, to go to bed, and try and sleep, with this

dread of being found out on their consciences! Bardolph, who has

robbed a church, and Nym, who has taken a purse, go to their usual

haunts, and smoke their pipes with their companions. Mr. Detective

Bullseye appears, and says, "Oh, Bardolph! I want you about that

there pyx business!" Mr. Bardolph knocks the ashes out of his

pipe, puts out his hands to the little steel cuffs, and walks away

quite meekly. He is found out. He must go. "Good-by, 'Doll

Tearsheet! Good-by, Mrs. Quickly, ma'am!" The other gentlemen and

ladies de la societe look on and exchange mute adieux with the

departing friends. And an assured time will come when the other

gentlemen and ladies will be found out too.

What a wonderful and beautiful provision of nature it has been

that, for the most part, our womankind are not endowed with the

faculty of finding us out! THEY don't doubt, and probe, and weigh,

and take your measure. Lay down this paper, my benevolent friend

and reader, go into your drawing-room now, and utter a joke ever so

old, and I wager sixpence the ladies there will all begin to laugh.

Go to Brown's house, and tell Mrs. Brown and the young ladies what

you think of him, and see what a welcome you will get! In like

manner, let him come to your house, and tell YOUR good lady his

candid opinion of you, and fancy how she will receive him! Would

you have your wife and children know you exactly for what you are,

and esteem you precisely at your worth? If so, my friend, you will

live in a dreary house, and you will have but a chilly fireside.

Do you suppose the people round it don't see your homely face as

under a glamour, and, as it were, with a halo of love round it?

You don't fancy you ARE as you seem to them? No such thing, my

man. Put away that monstrous conceit, and be thankful that THEY

have not found you out.