Coming to the story of the life of his hero, whom the author regards as “great people”, he seeks to convince the reader that greatness – contrary to the widespread misconception – is incompatible with kindness. The author considers absurd and absurd the desire of the biographers Caesar and Alexander of Macedon to attribute to these outstanding personalities such qualities as charity and justice. The author believes that by giving his characters such qualities, their biographers “destroy high perfection, called the integrity of character.” Absolutely irrelevant are the numerous references to the nobility and generosity of Caesar, who, according to the author, “with amazing greatness of spirit, destroyed the liberties of his homeland and, through deception and violence, placed himself head over the equal, corrupt and enslaved an entire people.”
The reader should be clear that such traits in a great man are unworthy of the purpose for which he was born: to create immeasurable evil. Therefore, if the author in his narrative talks about such a quality as kindness, then for him this concept will be a synonym for vulgarity and imperfection, which, alas, are still peculiar to the most intimate representatives of the human race.
Jonathan, born in 1665, has shown pride and ambition since his youth. He does not study very diligently, but invariably discovers an amazing skill in appropriating someone else’s. At the age of seventeen, his father takes him to London, where the young man meets the earl of La Ruz, a famous cheater, and helps him escape from arrest. Paying tribute to the dexterity of the hands of Jonathan, who during the game of cards mopping up the pockets of partners, the Count introduces him into the light, so that the young man applies his talents in a society of people who have status and money.
In gratitude, Jonathan persuades his friend, Bob Bagshot, to rob the count when a major winnings come to him. In this case, Jonathan appropriates the lion’s share of the booty, explaining this to Bob by the action of the basic law of human society: the low part of mankind are slaves who produce all the goods for the higher part of it. Since Jonathan considers himself to be great, justice demands that he always obtain what is extracted by someone else’s hands. Strengthening his arguments with threats, Jonathan subjugates his friend and decides to put together a gang, all members
of which will work for him. Then his greatness will be compared to the greatness of Caesar and Alexander, who always took their looted soldiers with their hands.
To obtain the money needed to organize the gang, Jonathan, with the help of the earl, deceives the merchant jeweler Thomas Hartfrey, school friend Jonathan.
Hartfrey receives a counterfeit bill, and Jonathan gets fake jewelry, whereas with the real count is hiding, leaving the accomplice in fools. And yet Jonathan manages to assemble a large gang, whose members, under his leadership, successfully steal a sprawl and a simpleton.
In order to uncheck the wife of Hartfrey, who faces bankruptcy, and at the same time with his property, Jonathan deftly removes him from the house and convinces his wife to take all the valuables and sail to Holland, where he, the devoted friend of her husband, will accompany her. The simple-minded woman agrees.
During the storm, Jonathan tries to seize it, but the captain of the ship saves her. The French counterpart takes the whole team prisoner, and when Mrs. Hartfrey tells the French captain about Jonathan’s behavior, he is put in a boat and abandoned to the mercy of fate. However, soon he is picked up by a French fishing boat, and Jonathan returns safely to London.
The warrant for the arrest of Hartfrey is already approved when he learns that his wife, leaving the children’s home, took all the valuable goods and, together with Jonathan, left for Holland. Jonathan visits Hartfrey in a Newt prison to regain his trust. He tells Hartfrey that the captain of a French ship captured his wife and appropriated all the valuables, and suggests that Hartfrey escape from prison. Hartfrey refuses indignantly.
Meanwhile, Jonathan opens an office in which every robber by his gang can get back his things, paying twice as much for their value. Jonathan’s affairs are going well, and he is planning to marry beautiful Leticia, the daughter of his old friend and his father’s companion. He had long had tender feelings for her, which she, alas, rejected in favor of many other men, including bandits from the gang of Jonathan.
But, having satisfied his passion, Jonathan soon becomes cold towards his wife and concludes a contract with her: from now on both of them will enjoy unlimited freedom.
Hartfrey begins to suspect that Jonathan is the true culprit of all his calamities, and he decides to get rid of the honest beggar as soon as possible, accusing Hartfrey of having sent his wife with all the values abroad, wishing to circumvent creditors. The bandit Firebad becomes a false witness, and the case is brought to court.
One of the rogues in the service of Jonathan, butcher Bluskin, refuses to give Jonathan the gold watch he stole. A riot is brewing in the gang, but Jonathan suppresses him: in the presence of the other scammers, he hands Bluskin to the police, and he finds a watch. The Dodgers understand that they have Jonathan in their hands, and agree to honestly give him the lion’s share of the booty, as was the case with them from the very beginning.
By the efforts of Jonathan and Fairblad, the court recognizes Hartfrey as guilty. However, soon the investigation begins that Bluskin, wounded by Jonathan’s life, wounded him with a knife. As a result, some of Jonathan’s glorious deeds are publicized.
Known for its incorruptibility, the judge seeks the introduction of a reservation in one of the parliamentary acts, according to which the one who commits theft by someone else’s hands is brought to criminal responsibility. The activities of Jonathan fall under this barbaric law, and he ends up in the Newgett prison, where his wife Leticia, caught in pocket theft, is soon brought.
Jonathan does not lose heart. He fights for power with a certain Roger Johnson, who is at the head of all the rogues of the New Age prison. Jonathan wins, and from now on all the prisoners pay him tribute, which he uses for his own needs. Learning that Hartfrey was sentenced to death, Jonathan is a shameful conscience, but this painful condition does not last long: remembering his greatness, he drives away the thought of saving an unlucky merchant.
Before the death of Hartfrey, his wife comes to him and they find out that the execution has been canceled, since Fireblad, who was a witness at the hearing of the case of Hartfrey, was convicted of a crime and confessed to the judge that he acted at the instigation of Jonathan.
The judge visits Hartfrey in prison and, along with him, listens to his wife’s story about everything that she happened to experience in her separation from her husband. Despite all her misadventures, she kept her chastity clean and even returned the jewelry that Count Aa Rüz had fetched from Hartfrey. Moreover, the African leader gave her a precious stone, the value of which can more than cover all the losses. The judge promises Hartfrey to get his full justification, and the lucky couple goes home. Jonathan, sentenced to hanging, arranges drinking with prisoners and, finally, following the example of many “greats” ends his days on the gallows.
Paying tribute to Jonathan’s memory and listing his numerous virtues, the author sums up his story: “While greatness consists in pride, power, audacity and harm to humanity – in other words, as long as a great man and a great scoundrel are synonymous, – until Wilde will be stand, not having rivals, on top of greatness. “