Hello Folks, we’re back with a fabulous interview I had with Mr. John Campbell. He’s a man of mischief and adventure-a boastful chap, if I might say so. Please join me in welcoming John.
Hello, John! Welcome and thank you for taking the time out to answer a few questions. Shall we begin?
Your humble servant ma’am. Prey, please do proceed. Do you mind if I take a pinch of snuff, while we talk? Good show.
No problem. Whatever makes you feel at home. So let’s get started.
Me: How was your childhood?
John: My mother was employed as the governess to the squire’s children, Edward and George, and my father was the squire’s bailiff. In truth, however, I was the illegitimate son of the master, and Edward and George were my half brothers. I was allowed to play with them but supposed to ‘know my place.’ But, ‘pon my soul, I was having none of that. I was brighter and more athletic than they were. As I grew, I developed a taste for mischief, if you take my meaning, but I also learned how to be as cunning as the fox. I realised that if I tainted Edward and George with my mischief, the consequences would be less severe. I even looked like the squire, whereas Edward and George did not. I was his favourite, and I played him like a fiddle. I had a ball of a childhood.
Me: What impression do you make on people when they first meet you? How about after they’ve known you for a while?
John: Are you in earnest, madam?- You are, well then, if I am to answer truthfully then I would have to say – any impression that I want. Look, I’m a rogue, an imposter, a swindler – a man without honour, without empathy for my fellow man. I can be anything I want to be, and make people believe it. Only one person in my life has known the truth about me, but then I am such good company he still loved me anyway.
Me: No empathy, huh? Then I must ask, what are you most ashamed of in your life?
John: The famous pugilist, Samuel Mendoza was my only real friend. I was his manager, his promoter. We took Georgian London by storm. We were famous, invited to all the best society parties, we moved in the highest of circles. Samuel even met the King, George the Third, and was a personal friend of the Prince of Wales. But most of all we won vast amounts of money, in the boxing ring and gambling on his fights. We spent it like water – well I did. But it was the card table that was my undoing. I was a good card player – well I was until my wits were addled by John Barleycorn or the fruit of the vine. I lost so very heavily, and then I started chasing my losses by raising the stakes, higher and higher. My debts mounted, were massive and I could see no way of paying them off. To my shame, I stole from Samuel my only friend and the most honourable man I have ever met.
Me: Is there anything you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done? What would happen if you did it?
John: I was educated by my mother as a gentleman. As I child I was allowed in the big house. I have always believed that is where I belonged. But fate has cast me as a penniless scallywag, so I have had to live on my witts. But one day I will become a Lord and have the big house. And no one will suspect I am not what I seem.
Me: Meaning, a swindler. So you do possess a little empathy. What’s the worst thing that’s happened in your life? What did you learn from it?
John: Remorse over what I had done to Samuel. I have never lost a minute’s sleep before over my deceptions. A good ruse has always brought me pleasure not regret. But in stealing from Samuel, the most principled man in London, I have crossed a line. What did I learn from it? I have learned that I cannot deal with it, it causes me many hours of melancholy.
Me: Ah, that’s the conscience talking. If anything, I think it appropriate for you to tell me about your best friend. How did you meet?
John: Ah, the honorable Samuel Medina. Do I remember when we first met? ‘Oh I certainly do – how could I forget. I remember it well. A spring morning in 1785 and a brash young Jewish boy wanting to fight the world. I had just deserted the army. I was a common private, but I had stolen a captains uniform and invented the persona of Captain John Campbell-John. It was my first day walking the streets of London looking to purloin a few coins.
As I was walking past Smithfield Market I was taken by the very distinct odour of the place – of blood, flesh, and faeces – and then, incongruously, the sweeter smell of roasting meat. A pig was roasting on a spit, a great dripping pan beneath catching the fat as it dropped. And then my attention was drawn to a fracas in an adjacent street. An impromptu ring was being formed outside a greengrocer’s establishment; a fight was about to take place, but the two adversaries seemed to be totally mismatched. The first was a stout, athletic man in the prime of his life, standing nearly six feet tall, but his adversary was a youth of eighteen or nineteen years of age, standing no more than five feet eight inches. The lad seemed to have neither the size nor the strength for this fight, but he was magnificent, he had an athleticism that counteracted and nullified the power of his opponent.
I became his manager that day – I had hit the jackpot.
Me: What would you like it to say on your tombstone?
John: If you lent me £5, and never saw me again, then you are a fortunate man.
Me: YIKES! Then it would be a good thing that you are gone and buried. What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?
John: Oh, my wits, ma’am, together with my lack of principles – they are the tools of my trade. The so-called. “Gentlemen,” treat lesser members of society with disdain. Whenever I see that look of condescension, I revel in being able to outwit them. They may have wealth and privilege, but I see it as their own folly if I relieved them of some of their wealth.
Me: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?
John: Why madam, I survive by doing clever and sometimes dishonest things. I live on the edge, but it makes me feel so alive. What would I like to change – well not much – perhaps I should not enjoy the company of John Barleycorn to much. Maybe I should not take him to the gaming table.
Me: A deceiver to the end. But even though you take pride in your so-called trade, do you have a connection to God or are you solely a man of the world?
John: ‘Pon my soul, madam, do you have to ask. God and I have never been travelling companions. And to call me a man of the world doesn’t do me justice either.
Me: Do you have any secrets you’d like to confess?
John: Oh, so very many secrets. But do I want to confess them? No, it would take so very long.
Me: To end this interview with a traveling, deceptive man, what place haven’t you been to but would like to visit?
John: Anywhere, where people do not know me. Where I can practice my skills, my impersonations. Captain John Campbell-John is a fine masquerade, but I would like to create others. A dealer in antiquities, maybe – or perhaps a banker. So much scope for a swindle, don’t you think? And the ladies are always impressed by wealth and station.
Oh, have we finished? So soon, no more of your charming company. Then may I propose a cup of coffee or chocolate perhaps? I know a very fine establishment, not two minutes walk from here.
If you’re interested in learning more about Captain John Campbell, head on over to Amazon to get a copy of Gospels by Stephen Taylor, or visit his website, which provides links for buying Gospels and his other books.
Rogues and Boozin’,