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The Science of “Diddling” by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

Jeremy Diddlers have existed from time immemorial down, as traces of them are found in all ancient and modern history, from the Bible to Shakspeare, from Shakspeare to the revelations of George Gordon Byron, who strutted his brief hour, acted his part, and—vanished. Diddler is derived from the word diddle, to do—every body who has not yet made his debut to the Elephant. We believe the word has escaped the attention of the ancient lexicographers, and even Worcester, and the still more durable “Webster,” have no note of the word, its derivation, or present sense.

A “Jeremy Diddler” is, in fact, one of your first-class vagabonds; a fellow who has been spoiled by indulgent parents, while they were in easy circumstances. Trained up to despise labor, not capacitated by nature or inclination to pass current in a profession, he finds himself at twenty possessed of a genteel address, a respectable wardrobe, a few friends, and—no visible means of support. There are but two ways about it—take to the highway, or become a Diddler—a sponge—and, like woodcock, live on “suction.” The early part of a Diddler's life is chiefly spent among the ladies;—they being strongly susceptible of flattering attentions, especially those of “a nice young man,” your Diddler lives and flourishes among them like a fighting cock. Diddler's “heyday” being over, he next becomes a politician—an old Hunker; attends caucusses and conventions, dinners and inaugurations. Never aspiring to matrimony among the ladies, he remains an “old bach;” never hoping for office under government, he never gets any; and when, at last, both youth and energies are wasted, Diddler dons a white neckcloth, combs his few straggling hairs behind his ears, and, dressed in a well-brushed but shocking seedy suit of sable, he jines church and turns “old fogie,” carries around the plate, does chores for the parson, becomes generally useful to the whole congregation, and finally shuffles off his mortal coil, and ends his eventful and useless life in the most becoming manner.

Cities are the only fields subservient to the successful practice of a respectable Diddler. New York affords them a very fair scope for operation, but of all the American cities, New Orleans is the Diddler's paradise! The mobile state of society, the fluctuations of men and business, the impossibility of knowing any thing or any body there for any considerable period, gives the Diddler ample scope for the exercise of his peculiar abilities to great effect. He dines almost sumptuously at the daily lunches set at the splendid drinking saloons and cafes, he lives for a month at a time on the various upward-bound steamboats. In New Orleans, the departure of a steamer for St. Louis, Cincinnati or Pittsburg, is announced for such an hour “to-day”—positively; Diddler knows it's “all a gag” to get passengers and baggage hurried on, and the steamer keeps going for two to five days before she's gone; so he comes on board, registers one of his commonplace aliases, gets his state-room and board among the crowd of real passengers, up to the hour of the boat's shoving out, then he—slips ashore, and points his boots to another boat. Many's the Diddler who's passed a whole season thus, dead-heading it on the steamers of the Crescent City. Sometimes the Diddler learns bad habits in the South, from being a mere Diddler, which is morally bad enough; he comes in contact with professional gamblers, plunges into the most pernicious and abominable of vices—gambles, cheats, swindles, and finally, as a grand tableau to his utter damnation here and hereafter, opens a store or a bank with a crowbar—or commits murder.

 
 
 

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