The rise and fall of Ebenezer Feingaster
I have mentioned before, I believe, my noted ancestor, Ebenezer Feingaster. It is not true, of course, that any such person ever existed or, if he did, his existence has never been called to my attention. Still, as we know, mere factuality is but a mere leaf blowing in the wind compared to the sturdy oak of belief. In these matters belief is all and factuality is nothing. Well, not precisely nothing. It is, after all, something but then fried eels are something, probably a source of indigestion. If you will insist upon mundane factuality then I must insist upon those fried eels as an accompaniment. Mind you, I require fried eels. Do not try to palm off mock eel pie as a replacement.
As I say I believe that I have mentioned before my noted ancestor, Ebenezer Feingaster. I suppose you will, quite acutely, notice that said belief refers to my having mentioned him. On its face my statement testifies only that I have mentioned him and not that he exists. His existence, a datum which seems most improbable on the face of it, is not in question; the only matter in question is whether I have mentioned him before. I assert that I have. It is my firmest belief, that rock of certainty on which all beliefs rest, the Cartesian “cogito, ergo sum” from which I derive my deepest convictions, my faith in God, Country, and Maple Walnut Ice Cream.
My metaphysical beliefs are not to the moment so let us defer discussing them to another time when, to the accompaniment of “Teen Angel” as sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, we can consider them at our leisure. What I wish to speak of is Ebenezer Feingaster and his rise and fall. This is a minor inaccuracy: I do not wish to speak of him; no one does. He has been ruthlessly expunged from the family records. The only person who ever willingly spoke of him was his mother and she only did so in conversations in which she upbraided his father. My speaking of him is merely one of those minor compulsions which so burden those us who are less fortunate in life.
You may wonder how it is that Ebenezer became an ancestor of mine; such a man is not likely to acquire a wife. He did no such thing, of course. The one time that he proposed marriage, the indignant father of the poor lady that he opportuned had him publicly horse whipped. In his time Ebenezer Feingaster was a man of some wealth and he had in his employ a poor scullery maid who took what employment she could get on such terms as she could get. I will leave the details to your imagination. They are best not spoken of and are really quite sordid.
Ebenezer Feingaster came from a family of ancient lineage in Kent. That is to say, his family resided in Kent and their lineage was quite ancient, being exactly the same as that of the rest of the human race. Being a younger son he did not inherit the ancestral estate. You may wonder how it is that he could be a younger son considering that he was an only child. As it happened his father was a logician of sorts. When he saw what sort of child he had sired he declared that nobody was senior to his son and that nobody should inherit his estate. Nobody did; he spent it all on drink and riotous living and died bankrupt.
Having been cast out penniless into the world Ebenezer apprenticed himself to the village whoremaster under whom he proposed to learn the trade of whoremongering. It was his wont to sample his master’s wares which, after all, were not diminished by his sampling, said peculiar renewal being a feature of the wares. It was not wise of him. His amatory peculations led to his acquiring those diseases whose mark upon his countenance so distinguished him. It might well have been that he would have prospered as a humble village whoremonger, it being a trade for which he was suited by inclination. Alas, the lasses who labored beneath the sheets had a distressing tendency to renounce sin and flee to the nunnery once they had experienced his attentions. This so made the village whoremaster wroth that he forthwith discharged Ebenezer sans pay and recommendation.
Being at loose ends (an unfortunate physical ailment of his which it will better not to discuss) Ebenezer took himself to sea, signing on as a common hand on an Indian merchant ship. He was quite a favorite of his fellow sailors, not, it must be admitted, as a friend but rather as the popular choice as the butt of practical jokes. This scarcely mattered to him since he had long been accustomed to being the object of rude derision. What did matter was that he closely observed the sharp business practices of the ship’s captain in matters of trade, learning by example those useful techniques of the short weight, counterfeit goods, and the misleadingly worded contract. In short he learned those arts which distinguish the respectable man of business.
Home from the sea, he set up shop in Bristol. In truth he did little trade with the local citizens, they having quickly learned the nature of his commercial practices. Instead he prospered by doing a lively business with unwary travellers and merchant sailors. It is true that few of them were repeat customers; this did not concern him for his practice was to extract all possible profit from a customer in the first transaction. It was said of him that he could ruin a duke by selling him a sheet of note paper. This was true enough for he had done so. It must be admitted, however, that the price of the aforesaid piece of note paper had more to do with what was written on the paper and with the hand that inscribed the note.
By such means he came at length to be a great man in the nation. He was not, you will understand, received in the best homes or, indeed, in any home willingly. Still, wealth has such a gloss and sheen that it casts into shade mere defects of character and countenance. In due course he decided that he should take a bride to befit his situation, a decision that led to the results that I have described above. Angered and embittered by the contumely heaped upon him by the young lady to whom he had offered his hand and by the wounding imposed upon him by her indignant father he swore a terrible revenge.
He employed the scaff and raff (that would be Robert Scaff and William Raff) of Bristol to follow the father, determine his every movement, and discern from his habits where he might best be waylaid. Having so determined the man’s practices Ebenezer secreted himself in a convenient alley and, when the unfortunate man passed, quickly jumped out of the alley from behind him and STEPPED ON THE MAN’S SHADOW. Having taken his revenge to the fullest degree he turned once again to the satisfactions of commerce.
Alas, from that moment on there was a blight upon him and all of his measures failed. His hand no longer deceived the slowest eye. Even the most witless child could best him in a transaction and within a year’s time he was utterly ruined. There were no choices left for him but debtor’s prison or parliament. Being without scruples he chose parliament. There he sank to the depths, becoming first a back bencher and then a minister. It is with the greatest pleasure that I can report that he did not attain the greatest degree of degradation; I must admit that he did seek the office of prime minister but fortunately he was carried off in an outbreak of the plague, an outbreak distinguished by the fact that he was the only victim. It was, perhaps, an unusual variant of that dread disease for, whereas the usual symptoms are black pustules, his symptoms strongly resembled the wounds inflicted by a knife in the back.
Thus ends my tale. As for the moral, a person should take care to be born well formed and into a loving family of considerable wealth. If Ebenezer had but attended to these points we might well be pointing to him with pride as an honorable ancestor. It certainly would have been nice to have someone in the family tree who fits that description.
This page was last updated December 10, 1999.