A Rogue's Life HTML version

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.