Stories about Jack Sheppard

Stanzas printed in the British Journal of November 28, 1724: [1]

       Thornhill, 'tis thine to gild with fame
       Th' obscure, and raise the humble Name;
       To make the form elude the Grave,
       And Sheppard from oblivion fave.
       Tho' Life in vain the wretch implores,
       An exile on the farthest Shore,
       Thy pencil brings a kind Reprieve,
       And bides the dying Robber live.
       This piece to latest time shall stand,
       And shew the wonders of thy Hand.
       Thus former Masters grac'd their Name,
       And gave egregious Robbers Fame.
       Appelles, Alexander drew,
       Caesar is to Aurellius due,
       Cromwell inLilly's works doth shine,
       And Sheppard, Thornhill, lives in thine.

Julius Caesar and Jack Sheppard, A Play: [2]

       Caesar: How now wretch! what madness has inspired thee with the thought of swelling into a comparison with me?

       Sheppard: Look you, Sir, I have been as excellent in my way, as you in yours, perhaps more so: and, as we are now in a place where glory is our best portion, I can see no reason why an equality in merit should not be a foundation for an equality in fame.
       Caesar: And is it possible! Gods! what do I hear? are all my battles compared to street robberies? all my seiges to burglaries? and must all the actions of my life be tarnished by a vile comparison with a slave, whose highest character is that of a gaol-breaker?
       Sheppard: Softly, good Caesar. Is it more a crime to pick a lock, than unhinge a constitution? are a pair of fetters more sacred than the liberties of the people? and is it more dishonourable to slip through the hands of a gaoler, than break through the laws of one's country?
       Caesar: How, friend, I have caught thee: wast not thou made a public spectacle of infamy for a breach of thy country's laws?
       Sheppard: And it's there (if any where) I have an advantage over thee: I only infringed the laws, not overturned them. I did not grow too big a villain for them to punish me, as you did, and therefore was punished in an extraordinary manner; but surely, in fair reasoning, it is the crime, not the punishment, that is scandalous.
       Caesar: That I am ready to grant, but pry'thee, what are my crimes?

       Sheppard: Alack, Sir! I want memory to report them. Usurping tyranny; enslaving your country; destroying the established plan of government; invading foreigners, whose freedom you had no right to disturb; and perplexing citizens, whose liberties you were obliged to preserve. In a word, being seditious at home, and troublesome abroad, is the best character you have to boast of.
       Caesar: This is a little odd: but pray, Sir, had I no virtues?
       Sheppard: Very few. Some accomplishments indeed you had, and so had I, or neither of us had been fit for our business: your purpose was to obtain power; mine to get riches: we both took illegal methods, and therefore some supplemental qualities were necessary to our undertakings; you was learned, wise, and valiant; I was sly, cunning, and dextrous.
       Caesar: And will you then make no difference between our enterprizes?
       Sheppard: Not till you shew me, that the one was more warrantable than the other, or less noxious to mankind; and which ever you prove so, I'll allow to be the most laudable.
       Caesar: Very well! as yet you have only shewn that our vices are equal: now, pray Sir, what are your virtues?
       Sheppard: Did I ever pretend to any? Sir, you mistake me. I only put in for fame, to which virtue is but an indifferent title. In truth, Sir, if either you or I had virtue, we had been forgotten long since.
       Caesar: Heyday! and so you are content, if I give up my character for that of a villain, to be thought one too.
       Sheppard: I never aspired to be greater than Caesar.
       Caesar: Presumptuous! and dost thou hope to be equal.
       Sheppard: Why not? my actions are as wonderful, and some what honester.
       Caesar: Why does thou not relate them then? for as yet I have heard nothing but infamous things of thy performing.
       Sheppard: I hate boasting; but I could write like thee an account of my life, it would not be credited, but it would be free from the censures that may be passed upon thine: men would find nothing in it undertaken through wantonness or ambition. I did not ravage, as you did, in the East for fame, in the West for supremacy: all my actons were enterprized on a justifiable score, the maintenance of life, and if glory attended them, she came unrivited and unexpected.
       Caesar: I perceive by your discourse, that you are a leveller, and not to be conversed with on such subjects; but you were pleased to affirm just now, that I had no virtues; I tie you to that affection, and, laying aside my character of a monarch, will join issue withyou upon the foot of personal merit.
       Sheppard: Why now you talk reason, and I will hear you with pleasure.
       Caesar: What's your opinion of my courage?
       Sheppard: Why, that you had courage is not to be disputed; but you must allow it to me also, and I think I have shewn it to a greater degree than you did. I fancy, declaring war alone and unarmed against a whole potent Kingdom, is what you would not have ventured upon. Besides, courage is a quality so many brutes have in common with us, that it's almost a shame to boast on it; and that it has such a dependance on our constitution that it has no more merit than birth, beauty, or any other accidental ornament; and a man is no more to be praised, or blamed, for having or wanting courag, than for having a fine hand, or a distorted face.
       Caesar: What of my humanity and moderation?
       Sheppard: Trick and artifice, like my own; rigour and cruelty would have undone you: why I never purloined anything that could be of no use to me.
       Caesar: What say you to my wisdom and learning?
       Sheppard: Your learning I don't understand, but I hope you would not palm it upon me for a virtue. And as for your wisdome, I am ashamed the world should be so long imposed upon by it: I have contribed a better plot for stealing a gold watch, than that by which you stole the liberties of Rome: nor was your scheme for getting the sword of power into your hands by any means equal to mine for procuring one whose only worth was a silver hilt. O! that I had been Caesar, and you Sheppard; I should have made a glorious Emperor, and you but a sorry thief.
       Caesar: Come, good words and few; I have one question to ask. What are your thoughts of my resolution? do you think passing the Rubicon, or swimming from Alexandria to my fleet, have historical actions their equals?
       Sheppard: Heyday? did you ever hear of my two escapes? and do you think the man who has resolution enough to attempt them, did not surpass you?
       Caesar: They were acts of despair, not of resolution.
       Sheppard: I believe, Sir, you will find them founded on the fame principle with yours; or, if they vary, it is for the better. Such of your mad pranks as you had no occasion to play, were done for glory; those which you were forced on, for life. My actions were all of the latter sort, and therefore, as I hinted before, more meritorious than yours; for, next to playing the fool, the greatest folly is doing it only with a view to be talked of.
       Caesar: 'Tis somewhat hard, that, though I have given up my public character, you will allow me no personal merit in my private.
       Sheppard: Sir, I have reason. You and I have done great actions in our several ways; but the ends for which we did them render them vile. There is no such thing as personal merit independent of society, nor can any accomplishment deserve that name, but in proportion to the benefit which the weal public receives from them. Courage, humanity, moderation, wisdom, learning, and resolution, are fine qualities, but it is the use and application which makes them virtues; and, the only reason for paying any regard to them, is, that, when men are engaged for the good of their kind, such qualities make them more able to procure is effectually, which argument is reversed, when the purpose is alter'd.
       Caesar: I am almost of your opinion. You reason well; and I wish, for the peace of mankind, the rulers of the earth had so just a notion of my character as you have.