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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Henry Fielding (1707–1754)

Different Hats: Different Principles

From “Jonathan Wild”

WILD had now got together a very considerable gang, composed of undone gamesters, ruined bailiffs, broken tradesmen, idle apprentices, attorneys’ clerks, and loose and disorderly youth, who, being born to no fortune, nor bred to any trade or profession, were willing to live luxuriously without labour. As these persons wore different principles—i.e., hats—frequent dissensions grew among them. There were particularly two parties, viz., those who wore hats fiercely cocked, and those who preferred the nab or trencher hat, with the brim flapping over their eyes. The former were called Cavaliers and Tory-rory-ranter Boys, etc.; the latter went by the names of Wags, Roundheads, Shake-bags, Old-nolls, and several others. Between these, continual jars arose, insomuch that they grew in time to think there was something essential in their differences, and that their interests were incompatible with each other, whereas, in truth, the difference lay only in the fashion of their hats. Wild, therefore, having assembled them all at an alehouse on the night after Fierce’s execution, and perceiving evident marks of their misunderstanding, from their behaviour to each other, addressed them in the following gentle but forcible manner:

“Gentlemen, I am ashamed to see men embarked in so great and glorious an undertaking as that of robbing the public, so foolishly and weakly dissenting among themselves. Do you think the first inventors of hats, or, at least, of the distinctions between them, really conceived that one form of hat should inspire a man with divinity, another with law, another with learning, another with bravery? No; they meant no more by these outward signs than to impose on the vulgar, and, instead of putting great men to the trouble of acquiring or maintaining the substance, to make it sufficient that they condescend to wear the type or shadow of it. You do wisely, therefore, when in a crowd, to amuse the mob by quarrels on such accounts, that, while they are listening to your jargon, you may with the greater ease and safety pick their pockets; but surely to be in earnest, and privately to keep up such a ridiculous contention among yourselves, must argue the highest folly and absurdity. When you know you are all prigs, what difference can a broad or a narrow brim create? Is a prig less a prig in one hat than in another? If the public should be weak enough to interest themselves in your quarrels, and to prefer one pack to the other, while both are aiming at their purses, it is your business to laugh at, not imitate, their folly. What can be more ridiculous than for gentlemen to quarrel about hats, when there is not one among you whose hat is worth a farthing? What is the use of a hat further than to keep the head warm, or to hide a bald crown from the public? It is the mark of a gentleman to remove his hat on every occasion, and in courts and noble assemblies no man ever wears one. Let me hear no more, therefore, of this childish disagreement, but all toss up your hats together with one accord, and consider that hat as the best which will contain the largest booty.”

He thus ended his speech, which was followed by a murmuring applause, and immediately all present tossed up their hats together, as he had commanded them.