He kept a commonplace book! Was ever such thrift in a thief? Whatever images or thoughts flashed through his brain, he seized them on paper, even `amidst the jollity of a tavern, or in the warmth of an interesting conversation.' Was it then strange that he triumphed as a man of fashionable and cultured leisure? He would visit Ranelagh with the most distinguished, and turn a while from epigram and jest to empty the pocket of a rich acquaintance. And ever with so tactful a certainty, with so fine a restraint of the emotions, that suspicion was preposterous. To catalogue his exploits is superfluous, yet let it be recorded that once he went to Court, habited as a clergyman, and came home the richer for a diamond order, Lord C--'s proudest decoration. Even the assault upon Prince Orloff was nobly planned. Barrington had precise intelligence of the marvellous snuff-box-- the Empress's own gift to her lover; he knew also how he might meet the Prince at Drury Lane; he had even discovered that the Prince for safety hid the jewel in his vest. But the Prince felt the Prig's hand upon the treasure, and gave an instant alarm. Over-confidence, maybe, or a too liberal dinner was the cause of failure, and Barrington, surrounded in a moment, was speedily in the lock-up. It was the first rebuff that the hero had received, and straightway his tact and ingenuity left him. The evidence was faulty, the prosecution declined, and naught was necessary for escape save presence of mind. Even friends were staunch, and had Barrington told his customary lie, his character had gone unsullied. Yet having posed for his friends as a student of the law, at Bow Street he must needs declare himself a doctor, and the needless discrepancy ruined him. Though he escaped the gallows, there was an end to the diversions of intellect and fashion; as he discovered when he visited the House of Lords to hear an appeal, and Black Rod ejected him at the persuasion of Mr. G--. As yet unused to insult, he threatened violence against the aggressor, and finding no bail he was sent on his first imprisonment to the Bridewell in Tothill Fields. Rapid, indeed, was the descent. At the first grip of adversity, he forgot his cherished principles, and two years later the loftiest and most elegant gentlemen that ever picked a pocket was at the Hulks--for robbing a harlot at Drury Lane! Henceforth, his insolence and artistry declined, and, though to the last there were intervals of grandeur, he spent the better part of fifteen years in the commission of crimes, whose very littleness condemned them. At last an exile from St. James's and Ranelagh, he was forced into a society which still further degraded him. Hitherto he had shunned the society of professed thieves; in his golden youth he had scorned to shelter him in the flash kens, which were the natural harbours of pickpockets. But now, says his biographer, he began to seek evil company, and, the victim of his own fame, found safety only in obscene concealment.
At the Hulks he recovered something of his dignity, and discretion rendered his first visit brief enough. Even when he was committed on a second offence, and had attempted suicide, he was still irresistible, and he was discharged with several years of imprisonment to run. But, in truth, he was born for honour and distinction, and common actions, common criminals, were in the end distasteful to him. In his heyday he stooped no further than to employ such fences as might profitably dispose of his booty, and the two partners of his misdeeds were both remarkable.
James, the earlier accomplice affected clerical attire, and in 1791 `was living in a Westphalian monastery, to which he some years ago retired, in an enviable state of peace and penitence, respected for his talents, and loved for his amiable manners, by which he is distinguished in an eminent degree.' The other ruffian, Lowe by name, was known to his own Bloomsbury Square for a philanthropic and cultured gentleman, yet only suicide saved him from the gallows. And while Barrington was wise in the choice of his servants, his manners drove even strangers to admiration. Policemen and prisoners were alike anxious to do him honour. Once when he needed money for his own defence, his brother thieves, whom he had ever shunned and despised, collected
But it was not until the pickpocket set out for Botany Bay that he took full advantage of his gentlemanly bearing. To thrust `Mr.' Barrington into the hold was plainly impossible, even though transportation for seven years was his punishment. Wherefore he was admitted to the boatswain's mess, was allowed as much baggage as a first-class passenger, and doubtless beguiled the voyage (for others) with the information of a well-stored mind. By an inspiration of luck he checked a mutiny, holding the quarter-deck against a mob of ruffians with no weapon but a marline-spike. And hereafter, as he tells you in his `Voyage to New South Wales,' he was accorded the fullest liberty to come or go. He visited many a foreign port with the officers of the ship; he packed a hundred note-books with trite and superfluous observations; he posed, in brief, as the captain of the ship without responsibility. Arrived at Port Jackson, he was acclaimed a hero, and received with obsequious solicitude by the Governor, who promised that his `future situation should be such as would render his banishment from England as little irksome as possible.' Forthwith he was appointed high constable of Paramatta, and, like Vautrin, who might have taken the youthful Barrington for another Rastignac, he ended his days the honourable custodian of less fortunate convicts. Or, as a broadside ballad has it,
He left old Drury's flash purlieus, To turn at last a copper.
Never did he revert to his ancient practice. If in his youth he had lived the double-life with an effrontery and elegance which Brodie himself never attained, henceforth his career was single in its innocence. He became a prig in the less harmful and more offensive sense. After the orthodox fashion he endeared himself to all who knew him, and ruled Paramatta with an equable severity. Having cultivated the humanities for the base purposes of his trade, he now devoted himself to literature with an energy of dulness, becoming, as it were, a liberal education personified. His earlier efforts had been in verse, and you wonder that no enterprising publisher had ventured on a limited edition. Time was he composed an ode to Light, and once recovering from a fever contracted at Ballyshannon, he addressed a few burning lines to Hygeia:
Hygeia! thou whose eyes display The lustre of meridian day;
and so on for endless couplets. Then, had he not celebrated in immortal verse his love for Miss Egerton, untimely drowned in the waters of the Boyne? But now, as became the Constable of Paramatta, he chose the sterner medium, and followed up his `Voyage to New South Wales' with several exceeding trite and valuable histories.