Joseph Emin, 2: landed in paradise

Excerpts from
Emin, Joseph. Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, An Armenian, Written in English by Himself. Retrieved from Archive.Org 10/02/2014.

Corrected through comparison with
Emin, Joseph. Life and Adventures of Joseph Emin, An Armenian, Written in English by Himself. Amy Apcar, ed. Calcutta: Baptist Mission Press, 1918.

Page numbers are from the print copy. In most cases they correspond with the online version, but the latter has some errors and omissions. For this draft I am keeping outdated spellings of some words in the original and also the third-person voice in which Emin narrates his life. These will change for the performance script.

On Monday morning, a Swede, who was married to an English woman, came with a boat, and took them both to his house in Wapping (at the sign of Wapping Old Stairs): he was a very honest man, his wife a very good sort of a woman. Emin, with Masseh, his countryman, lived there upon bread and cheese about a week, and paid a shilling a week for sleeping. The landlord took them to the India House, to receive six months pay, at 9s. per month, which made 3l. 14s. In their way back, they met with the Swedish master of the house, who said to them, “My lads, this small sum is hardly enough to buy you a second-hand suit of old clothes in Ragfair; what then will you do to live, as you are to stay in this country, to be educated and brought up genteelly? Your best way I think will be, not to lose the opportunity of returning to Bengal with the rest of the lascars. A regulation is made by the Honourable Company, to work the ship in day-time only, and not to keep watch in the night, for a free passage without pay; otherwise you must do one of two things, either beg or starve. If you enter as a common servant or footman into gentlemen’s houses, in the first place, nobody knows you to give you a character. Supposing that there were, what would you do for want of the language, for you are hardly understood. I find it was a wild notion which some wicked man contrived to put into your head, to leave behind you a country equal to paradise, and to come into this confounded could region, where one is obliged to work like a horse, to break his heart for a livelihood only. I myself, for fifteen years, have worked hard and with great difficulty made a little money, and married that good English widow. I became an able housekeeper at last, and it is through her prudence and good economy, that we live somehow happily, so as to bring both ends to meet; for even a man of great fortune, if he is not careful enough in the management of it, will soon become a bankrupt, and be sent to gaol to be pickled.” The author heard all this with indifference. [Pp 28-29]

At the end of a fortnight, they met an Armenian at the Royal Exchange, named Stephenus, who shipped off Masseh to Amsterdam, and took Emin to his lodging, at one Mr. Newman’s on Dowgate Hill, facing Skinner’s Hall. The author had about fifty-two rupees, besides a few shillings, the remainder of his pay; he gave them all to Stephenus, out of which he paid three guineas to Mr. Middleton, master of an academy in Bishopsgate street, beforehand, agreeably to the rule established; and afterwards three more, when he had finished some learning; and agreed to pay a shilling a-day to Mrs. Newman for lodging, washing and boarding. He lived in that house exactly fifty days when the Armenian began to change his mind. Mrs. Newman found fault with his eating, which she thought was more than a shilling’s worth. Stephenus said, “I will give you a guinea a-month, but cannot afford more: manage as well as you can.” He contented himself even with that, better than with nothing, lodging in the same house, and paying a shilling a-week to sleep in the garret, two shillings and six-pence for washing and mending, and a shilling for shaving twice a- week, making in all fifteen shillings; there remained six shillings to live on, little more than two-pence halfpenny a-day. Almost for seven months he made a shift, in that miserable starving condition, and diligently attended the academy; when, to his sorrow, Mrs. Newman, his landlady, gave him a month’s warning to leave the lodging, and said: “The Armenian petty merchant will not stay with us on your account: as he pays thirty pounds sterling a-year for his table, should he leave the house, it will go against the grain with us.” Poor Mrs. Newman made many apologies, and shewed great uneasiness for the author’s distressed situation. [Pp 31-32]

He was obliged to absent himself from the academy, and try if he could get any employ. Mr. Newman and his good wife advised him to go to the register-office, a little mean room behind the Royal Exchange, and promised to give him a good character. Miss Newman, their daughter, was sent by them with Emin to have his name registered in a book, where several gentlemen who wanted servants -had set their names and directions. According to the custom, he paid a shilling, which he had found in one of the winter nights, about nine o’clock, walking in the Exchange in order to keep himself warm, as he was not permitted, by the severe order of the Armenian, to enter the room, or go near the kitchen fire; a barbarity neither a Turk nor a Jew would have been guilty of. The register master, laughing and making a jest of him all the time, directed him every day, in the morning, for a week, to different gentlemen; when he, with great difficulty, for want of proper food to keep him in strength, found the house being chiefly at a great distance, almost at the other end of the town, the gentlemen said, you are made a fool by the register, we are provided with servants. Some of them said, he looked very ugly; some swore; some said, he looked nine ways for a Sunday; and another said, “If anybody should chance to see your countenance, he would not have good luck for a fortnight together.”[Pp 32-33]

In this unspeakable condition he was directed at last to go to Drury Lane, to a broken house, where he found a carpenter working and a labourer, who was a soldier. When they were acquainted with his errand, they told him that their master was not a fine gentleman to keep a footman, but a bricklayer. Emin’s answer to the honest soldier was, “that he did not care if the person was a scavenger, to get bread by industry he would work at anything; but if he should not get business, he was resolved rather to die with hunger, like a man, than to beg.” This moved the brave soldier to such a degree, that it made him cry like a child; and turning himself towards the carpenter, “It is hard,” he said, “to be a stranger; for I was in the same situation once in Flanders.” He treated Emin with a pint of beer, which he drank against his will; in the mean time, he promised to speak a good word to his master. While he was comforting Emin, in came a gentleman, named Mr. Emir, a fresh looking man, about thirty years of age. The honest soldier accosted him, and began his mediation; but no sooner did he hear the name of a foreigner, than he flew into a passion, kicking about the rubbish, damning Emin for a Frenchman. He assured him of the contrary, and that he was an Armenian; that he had nothing in the world but a good character. The gentleman took the appellation for a German, and said, “Very well, I am very glad you are not a Frenchman; step in the next door.” He then called for a pint of beer; and seeing the author almost wasted away, ordered some bread and cheese; and stood by the bar. While Emin was eating, and again drinking up strong beer, to have his good opinion, (since the common people in London have the conceit, that if any labouring man does not drink strong beer, he will not be able to work,) Mr. Emir, the master bricklayer, was standing by looking at him, and pitying him with as much concern as if had been his brother. Emin could not be persuaded that he should pay all; he paid for the bread, and the master for the beer. [Pp 33-34]

This happened in the month of May, when he was twenty- six years of age; the days being long, the carpenter and soldier left off work and went away at the settled hour. Master Emir ordered Emin to sit on the rubbishing ground to work, and gave him a pickax to make holes at the narrow ends of slates to fasten pegs into them, which serve to fix them on the tops of houses. The author sat himself down contentedly to work; but while the bricklayer was taken up with other things, he broke, in half an hour’s time, near 200 slates, not knowing how to manage the tool. When his master came back to look how he was going on, he cried out, “O Lord, you ruin me; you have spoiled three shillings worth of materials! — come, come, that is not your business, it does not signify, I only did it to try you; I can see that you are willing to work; what you told me agrees with your industrious motions, you appear indefatigable; never mind it, you will be able to live in our country, for you seem to be a true German.” The author trying to correct the misunderstanding, said, “Sir, I am not a German;” he answered, “Well, well, Germans and Armenians are all alike, as long as you are not a Frenchman, I am glad of it.” He added, This is Saturday, to-morrow is Sunday, when all good Christians must go to church, and I hope you are one?” “Yes, master,” said Emin. “Then,” said he, “if you will come on Monday morning, you shall have half-a-crown a-day, like the rest of the work- men;” bidding a good afternoon, which made him in some degree happy. [P 34]

Emin had at that time two shillings left out of a guinea, the remainder of last month’s allowance by Stephenus: and, when he went home and told his mother-like Mrs. Newman what had happened, seeming to be pretty cheerful too, she said, “The work is very laborious, and equally dangerous: as you are not used to climb up high ladders, who knows but you may fall down, and break your neck into the bargain. Your best way will be to go to Blackwall or Deptford, and work with the people loading and unloading ships;; and consider you have but a fortnight more to stay in my house, for your Jew countryman every day threatens to leave us if you don’t go away.” He said nothing, went up to his garret, which, although very clean, to him appeared a loathsome dungeon, in which he hardly enjoyed comfort of bed for the space of nine months. He could not close his eyes that whole night, nor the next following, partly through hunger, partly vexation of mind; but praying to God, he bore it as well as he could. [Pp 34-35]

Disappointing Emir the bricklayer, two hours before sun- rise on Monday morning, he set out for Deptford. When he came to an ale-house by the side of the Thames, he called for a pint of porter like a lusty fellow, to appear well in the eyes of the housekeeper, sensible that for two days before he had not digested the same liquor, so that he poured poison upon poison. When he thought he could speak with assurance, he said to the woman, “Pray, madam, is there any vessel here, to be unloaded?” drinking up the pint, and calling for another, to appear more generous. She said, “No, Sir, you are too early, the Indiamen are not yet arrived; you have no occasion to spend your money in vain; I see you drink against your will, and are not very well.” He begged to lay himself down on the bench; she had no objection, and said to him, in a grave manner, “After you have rested a little, step into the next long room, there you will see many men lying and rolling upon dry hard boards, all for want of work.” A few minutes after, he got up and visited the mansion, with its owner. It was a real purgatory, where, if he should escape dying with hunger, he must share the same misery with them. His heart was filled with the distracting portion of beer, without a soul, in a plentiful country, to be found, who would bestow on him a drop of the antidote of hope. He can hardly recollect how he reached the lodging on Dowgate Hill, where he had just sense enough to throw himself down in the house. The darling drink of porters, the medical barley wine, had such an effect on him and took away his strength to such a degree, that he was not able to walk upstairs, and lay down upon the stone pavement in the yard, at the office door. [Pp 35-36]

The author seeing it was impossible for him to get any sort of employment in the light service of a gentleman, made it his business to go upon the Royal Exchange every day except Sundays, his finances being reduced so low as that he was obliged to make a more pinching calculation, and lived upon three halfpence a-day for three weeks, in order to linger away by degrees to the welcome gates of death. He found at last, on the ‘Change, a sailor in a blue jacket, belonging to Crisp’s office, talking to some other countrymen, perhaps no less destitute than himself. Curiosity as well as necessity, led him to know what they were about. ‘The man in the blue jacket said to him, “Well, my friend, will you do as they do?” “What is it?” said Emin. “They have no friends in London, like yourself,” answered he; “and are desirous to go to Jamaica: they are to sign indentures for so many years, some ten, some fifteen, some twenty. After the time limited shall be over, they will have a piece of land given them for their service. Though it is a little hard in that hot country, yet if they survive, and behave soberly, they may make their fortune.” By that sort of dog rhetorick he filled the author’s head full of sense, and his belly full of victuals. He said he would consider. [Pp 37-38]

[Next day, at Mr. Middleton’s academy, where he was brought to by young Middleton the day before. Mr. Middleton asked:] “What do you intend to do now, Mr. Emin?” He answered, “Sir, I am obliged to this young gentleman for his hospitality, which saved me from dying in the street for want. I beg it as a favour to take quarter in your house three or four days more, if it is not troublesome, and then I will go away about my business.” “Whither do you intend to go,” said he, “let me know it?” Emin then proceeded thus: “The bread of idleness is poison to a man who would rather starve than yield to it. I have agreed to sell myself on the ‘Change to work in the West-India plantations for a livelihood.” He then repeated his grateful thanks. Mr. Middleton said, “Can you bring to me the person with whom you have made the agreement?” “I don’t know, Sir,” said Emin; “if you please I will go for him.” He went; and when he had found him on the ‘Change, he said to him, “Come, let us go to a friend of mine just by, who is desirous to know the nature of the indenture which is to be signed.” The man no sooner heard the name “a friend” mentioned, than he flew in a passion, and said, “We have nothing to do with any one that has even an acquaintance in the place. Get away! don’t trouble my head about it.” But when the author went back and told Mr. Middleton of it, he very gladly expressed himself thus: “You have escaped being kidnapped; for those soul buyers make harmless creatures believe them till they get them on board, and then by compulsion oblige them to sign the wicked indenture, instead of ten or fifteen years, as had been settled a-shore, and according to their ages, make them write forty or fifty years, so that the poor simple slaves must live and die in misery. In my opinion, your best way will be, if you do not think yourself demeaned by it, to stay in my house, and wait on the gentlemen, keep the key of your desk, and when you have an opportunity, sit in the academy and mind your learning with them: you will then have boarding and education by your own industry, without being beholden to any one, and the servant will not be long before he goes away; you shall have the same wages that he has, which is nine pounds a-year.”[Pp 39-40]

[Shortly later] But, to his great sorrow, Mr. Middleton broke; and, being indebted to some tradesmen to the amount of 4000£ was obliged to conceal himself till a commission of bankrupt was taken out. … A fortnight after, Mr. Middleton came out. Mr. Reeves, another academy master, took the house; and Emin lost his wages, 6£. 10s. which were then due; ill-natured fortune making him a suferer as well as other creditors. At that time he had no more than 10s. 6d. in his pocket, with an old Rag-fair coat and waistcoat, and six sack-cloth shirts, darned by a good washer-woman in an hundred places, like the late king of Persia Carim Khan’s head- shawl, or the patched shoes of Peter the Great in the battle of Poltowa. … the author offered himself to the new schoolmaster to stay in the house as a servant; he answered very coolly, that he was provided. [Pp 42-43]

But fortunately, Mr. Warren, a barber, happened to know him at the academy, where he used to do some little errands. As the gentlemen were his customers, and he frequented the house, often dining there, and walking in the place, he knew Emin’s character, and asked him, if he was strong enough to do porter’s work? He answered without hesitation, yes; to save himself from going to take a survey of the streets of London again, after running eighteen months up and down. Oh! could he but catch that imaginary goddess Fortune, like one of flesh and blood, in a place where no soul should be but God alone, he would make her sensible of the cruel bitterness of the distress which she inflicts!

As the author thought he could not do otherwise, he consented to Mr. Warren’s proposal; and was conducted by him to one Mr. Robert’s, at the corner of Sun-yard, in the same street, a grocer, to whom he was recommended properly for his good character, agreeing to serve at the rate of 81. a year. The master said, “If the porter behaves well, I promise to make his wages 10£ next year.” He then began to work like a horse: in eighteen months he cleared his debt, partly by wages, partly by vails; and managed so as to save a little from his wages to pay for his trifling learning, whenever he had an opportunity. [P 43]

When the government ordered a lottery to raise money for the purchase of Sir Hans Sloane’s curiosities, he had courage to buy half a ticket, which cost him a guinea, and had a small prize of 4£. 10s.

His upper garment began to appear a little decent, but his linen was in the same plight, darning over darning; and not to use those faithful companions too ill, he thought it necessary through compassion never to wear them in the night-time, lest some unforeseen casualty should befall them, and deprive the author of their agreeable company. [Pp 43-44]

The author, from the time of his coming to London, during eighteen months at the academy, and twenty-one months in the service of Mr. Roberts (almost three years and a half), never missed an opportunity of writing to his father in Calcutta, from whom he received no answer; which made him the more uneasy in his servile situation, as he had given over even the hopes of his existence. But the same Armenian jeweller mentioned before, named Peter Paul, had on his arrival from Madras brought with him a servant from Bengal, who said to Emin, “Your father is angry with you; he cannot hold up his head among the Armenians, who continually in conversation are casting reflections upon him in that place, and laughing at him for his imprudence, in venturing to let his son go to learn English; well knowing the wildness of his temper before, and how untameable he was while in chains of strictness, which with his own hands he had broken, and let him loose to fly to the remotest part of the world, there to be lost for ever.”[P 46]

Some time after, about ten in the morning, the author, working in the shop, taking some sugar out of a hogshead, looking as dirty as a chimney sweeper, saw a gentleman stop at the door in his coach-and four, named William Davis, Esq., formerly chief at Dacca, in the honourable company’s employment. He inquired for Joseph Emin, gave him a letter from his father, and stood till he read it over. The contents were, that he was to receive from Mr. Davis 500 rupees, upon condition that he would return to Bengal, otherwise not to be entitled to a penny of the sum. He said to Mr. Davis, “Since my father mistrusts me, be pleased to write to him, that his son will neither receive the remitted money, nor submit to such severity, as he trusts himself to God, who will take care of him.” Mr. Davis much, on the whole, approved the author’s declaration, and said, “Call upon me in Norfolk-street, when an opportunity offers.” Mr. Roberts was surprised, with all his family, to think what could be his servant’s reason for chusing to stay in the house as a labouring porter, rather than receive 500 rupees, and return to his father like a gentleman: “Our country is depopulated,” said he, “for the sake of India; yet this man, in this low condition of life, prefers the former to the latter; he must know something which is a mystery to us. Well, well, Mrs. Roberts, Joseph is an honest fellow, and I am very glad he does not go for our own sakes: you know we like him as one of the family; and as he likes us as well, let him stay as long as he pleases.” The author was not mindless of Mr. Robert’s humane care, who now and then, when he had a great deal to do in the house, employed a ticket porter to do part of his work. [P 47]

He stayed three months more in the same house, which was exactly two years complete; but found the work too hard; and by carrying heavy loads in a basket on the knot upon his shoulders, hurt himself at last, and was obliged to take leave with three pounds thirteen shillings, which he had saved, in his pocket. [P 48]

He went thence to one Mr. Webster, attorney-at-law in Queen Street, Cheapside, upon whom he used to call twice a-week, to know if he could get a place as a writer in some gentleman’s counting-house, as he had been recommended two years before by a Mr. Philpot, one of the gentlemen boarders of Mr. Middleton’s academy. Mr. Webster, on inquiry, found Emin to be out of place; and knowing well that he could write a tolerable hand, employed him to write in his office, favouring him with board and lodging in his house. This little genteel success became a great subject of conversation among his brother porters, and the servant maids in Bishopsgate-street, who said, “Oh, Lord! the little Armenian porter is turned a gentleman;” not knowing it was but for a short time. There he copied cases of lawsuits about six weeks. He never missed a page without some quotation from the lives of Peter the Great of Russia, Charles the Twelfth of Sweden, and Telemachus; which, by mere chance, he found in the room, and thoughtlessly inserted them among the lines of his writing. Poor Mr. Webster was obliged to scratch them out for hours together, saying, in the meantime, to his Armenian clerk, “Sure, Mr. Emin, you have some very odd notions in your head; I believe you will be a soldier at last.” Finding it impossible for him, in spite of the utmost caution, to avoid errors, which dashed him with chagrin; good Mr. Webster could bear it no more; paid him twenty-six shillings, telling him politely, that the term was over, and there was no more business for him to do. [Pp 48-49]

He went away; and took a lodging somewhere about the Temple, where he staid a week; thence he removed to Holborn; thence to the Strand, to one Mr. Philpot’s, who kept a grocery, cyder and perry shop. He became a father, and his wife a mother, to Emin; who took his lodging up two pairs of stairs, bought his own sugar and tea, and every morning had a penny- worth of buttered roll for his breakfast. He resided with them in this economical manner. The kettle on the fire in a small room below stairs near the shop, was boiling gratis; each per- son put a spoonful of tea in the jointpot; and each had his cup and saucer, in which he took care to put sparingly a certain quantity of sugar. If he dined with them on common days, he paid three pence for his dinner; and if on Sunday, a groat. [P 49]

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