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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/56

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THE MAN WHO LAUGHS.

VI.

The laws against vagabonds have always been very rigorous in England. In her Gothic legislation England seemed to be inspired with this principle, Homo errans fera errante pejor. One of the special statutes classifies the man without a home as "more dangerous than the asp, dragon, lynx, or basilisk" (atrocior aspide, dracone, lynce, et basilico). For a long time England troubled herself as much concerning the Gipsies, of whom she wished to be rid, as about the wolves of which she had been cleared. In that the Englishman differed from the Irishman, who prayed to the saints for the health of the wolf, and called him "my god-father."

Nevertheless, in the same way that English law (as we have just seen) tolerated the wolf, which was tamed, domesticated, and become in some sort a dog, so it tolerated the regular vagabond, become in some sort a subject. It did not trouble itself about either the mountebank or the travelling barber, the quack doctor, the peddler, or the open-air scholar, as long as they had a trade to live by. Further than this, and with these exceptions, the kind of freedom which exists in the wanderer terrified the law. A tramp was a possible public enemy. That modern thing, the loafer, was then unknown; that ancient thing, the vagrant, was alone understood. A suspicious appearance, that indescribable something which all understand and none can define, was sufficient reason why society should seize a man by the collar and demand, "Where do you live? How do you get your living?" And if he could not answer, harsh penalties awaited him. Iron and fire were in the code: the law practised the cauterization of vagrancy. Hence, throughout English territory a veritable loi des suspects was