Saturday, November 10, 2007


The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens

The Uncommercial Traveller by Charles Dickens
Allow me to introduce myself - first negatively.
No landlord is my friend and brother, no chambermaid loves me, no
waiter worships me, no boots admires and envies me. No round of
beef or tongue or ham is expressly cooked for me, no pigeon-pie is
especially made for me, no hotel-advertisement is personally
addressed to me, no hotel-room tapestried with great-coats and
railway wrappers is set apart for me, no house of public
entertainment in the United Kingdom greatly cares for my opinion of
its brandy or sherry. When I go upon my journeys, I am not usually
rated at a low figure in the bill; when I come home from my
journeys, I never get any commission. I know nothing about prices,
and should have no idea, if I were put to it, how to wheedle a man
into ordering something he doesn't want. As a town traveller, I am
never to be seen driving a vehicle externally like a young and
volatile pianoforte van, and internally like an oven in which a
number of flat boxes are baking in layers. As a country traveller,
I am rarely to be found in a gig, and am never to be encountered by
a pleasure train, waiting on the platform of a branch station,
quite a Druid in the midst of a light Stonehenge of samples.
And yet - proceeding now, to introduce myself positively - I am
both a town traveller and a country traveller, and am always on the
road. Figuratively speaking, I travel for the great house of Human
Interest Brothers, and have rather a large connection in the fancy
goods way. Literally speaking, I am always wandering here and
there from my rooms in Covent-garden, London - now about the city
streets: now, about the country by-roads - seeing many little
things, and some great things, which, because they interest me, I
think may interest others.
These are my chief credentials as the Uncommercial Traveller.
Never had I seen a year going out, or going on, under quieter
circumstances. Eighteen hundred and fifty-nine had but another day
to live, and truly its end was Peace on that sea-shore that
So settled and orderly was everything seaward, in the bright light
of the sun and under the transparent shadows of the clouds, that it
was hard to imagine the bay otherwise, for years past or to come,
than it was that very day. The Tug-steamer lying a little off the
shore, the Lighter lying still nearer to the shore, the boat
alongside the Lighter, the regularly-turning windlass aboard the
Lighter, the methodical figures at work, all slowly and regularly
heaving up and down with the breathing of the sea, all seemed as
much a part of the nature of the place as the tide itself. The
tide was on the flow, and had been for some two hours and a half;
there was a slight obstruction in the sea within a few yards of my
feet: as if the stump of a tree, with earth enough about it to
keep it from lying horizontally on the water, had slipped a little
from the land - and as I stood upon the beach and observed it
dimpling the light swell that was coming in, I cast a stone over
So orderly, so quiet, so regular - the rising and falling of the
Tug-steamer, the Lighter, and the boat - the turning of the
windlass - the coming in of the tide - that I myself seemed, to my
own thinking, anything but new to the spot. Yet, I had never seen
it in my life, a minute before, and had traversed two hundred miles
to get at it. That very morning I had come bowling down, and
struggling up, hill-country roads; looking back at snowy summits;
meeting courteous peasants well to do, driving fat pigs and cattle
to market: noting the neat and thrifty dwellings, with their
unusual quantity of clean white linen, drying on the bushes; having
windy weather suggested by every cotter's little rick, with its
thatch straw-ridged and extra straw-ridged into overlapping
compartments like the back of a rhinoceros. Had I not given a lift
of fourteen miles to the Coast-guardsman (kit and all), who was
coming to his spell of duty there, and had we not just now parted
company? So it was; but the journey seemed to glide down into the
placid sea, with other chafe and trouble, and for the moment
nothing was so calmly and monotonously real under the sunlight as
the gentle rising and falling of the water with its freight, the
regular turning of the windlass aboard the Lighter, and the slight
obstruction so very near my feet.
O reader, haply turning this page by the fireside at Home, and
hearing the night wind rumble in the chimney, that slight
obstruction was the uppermost fragment of the Wreck of the Royal
Charter, Australian trader and passenger ship, Homeward bound, that
struck here on the terrible morning of the twenty-sixth of this
October, broke into three parts, went down with her treasure of at
least five hundred human lives, and has never stirred since!
From which point, or from which, she drove ashore, stern foremost;
on which side, or on which, she passed the little Island in the
bay, for ages henceforth to be aground certain yards outside her;
these are rendered bootless questions by the darkness of that night
and the darkness of death. Here she went down.
Even as I stood on the beach with the words 'Here she went down!'
in my ears, a diver in his grotesque dress, dipped heavily over the
side of the boat alongside the Lighter, and dropped to the bottom.
On the shore by the water's edge, was a rough tent, made of
fragments of wreck, where other divers and workmen sheltered
themselves, and where they had kept Christmas-day with rum and
roast beef, to the destruction of their frail chimney. Cast up
among the stones and boulders of the beach, were great spars of the
lost vessel, and masses of iron twisted by the fury of the sea into
the strangest forms. The timber was already bleached and iron
rusted, and even these objects did no violence to the prevailing
air the whole scene wore, of having been exactly the same for years
and years.
Yet, only two short months had gone, since a man, living on the
nearest hill-top overlooking the sea, being blown out of bed at
about daybreak by the wind that had begun to strip his roof off,
and getting upon a ladder with his nearest neighbour to construct
some temporary device for keeping his house over his head, saw from
the ladder's elevation as he looked down by chance towards the
shore, some dark troubled object close in with the land. And he
and the other, descending to the beach, and finding the sea
mercilessly beating over a great broken ship, had clambered up the
stony ways, like staircases without stairs, on which the wild
village hangs in little clusters, as fruit hangs on boughs, and had
given the alarm. And so, over the hill-slopes, and past the
waterfall, and down the gullies where the land drains off into the
ocean, the scattered quarrymen and fishermen inhabiting that part
of Wales had come running to the dismal sight - their clergyman
among them. And as they stood in the leaden morning, stricken with
pity, leaning hard against the wind, their breath and vision often
failing as the sleet and spray rushed at them from the ever forming
and dissolving mountains of sea, and as the wool which was a part
of the vessel's cargo blew in with the salt foam and remained upon
the land when the foam melted, they saw the ship's life-boat put
off from one of the heaps of wreck; and first, there were three men
in her, and in a moment she capsized, and there were but two; and
again, she was struck by a vast mass of water, and there was but
one; and again, she was thrown bottom upward, and that one, with
his arm struck through the broken planks and waving as if for the
help that could never reach him, went down into the deep.
It was the clergyman himself from whom I heard this, while I stood
on the shore, looking in his kind wholesome face as it turned to
the spot where the boat had been. The divers were down then, and
busy. They were 'lifting' to-day the gold found yesterday - some
five-and-twenty thousand pounds. Of three hundred and fifty
thousand pounds' worth of gold, three hundred thousand pounds'
worth, in round numbers, was at that time recovered. The great
bulk of the remainder was surely and steadily coming up. Some loss
of sovereigns there would be, of course; indeed, at first
sovereigns had drifted in with the sand, and been scattered far and
wide over the beach, like sea-shells; but most other golden
treasure would be found. As it was brought up, it went aboard the
Tug-steamer, where good account was taken of it. So tremendous had
the force of the sea been when it broke the ship, that it had
beaten one great ingot of gold, deep into a strong and heavy piece
of her solid iron-work: in which, also, several loose sovereigns
that the ingot had swept in before it, had been found, as firmly
embedded as though the iron had been liquid when they were forced
there. It had been remarked of such bodies come ashore, too, as
had been seen by scientific men, that they had been stunned to
death, and not suffocated. Observation, both of the internal
change that had been wrought in them, and of their external
expression, showed death to have been thus merciful and easy. The
report was brought, while I was holding such discourse on the
beach, that no more bodies had come ashore since last night. It
began to be very doubtful whether many more would be thrown up,
until the north-east winds of the early spring set in. Moreover, a
great number of the passengers, and particularly the second-class
women-passengers, were known to have been in the middle of the ship
when she parted, and thus the collapsing wreck would have fallen
upon them after yawning open, and would keep them down. A diver
made known, even then, that he had come upon the body of a man, and
had sought to release it from a great superincumbent weight; but
that, finding he could not do so without mutilating the remains, he
had left it where it was.
It was the kind and wholesome face I have made mention of as being
then beside me, that I had purposed to myself to see, when I left
home for Wales. I had heard of that clergyman, as having buried
many scores of the shipwrecked people; of his having opened his
house and heart to their agonised friends; of his having used a
most sweet and patient diligence for weeks and weeks, in the
performance of the forlornest offices that Man can render to his
kind; of his having most tenderly and thoroughly devoted himself to
the dead, and to those who were sorrowing for the dead. I had said
to myself, 'In the Christmas season of the year, I should like to
see that man!' And he had swung the gate of his little garden in
coming out to meet me, not half an hour ago.
So cheerful of spirit and guiltless of affectation, as true
practical Christianity ever is! I read more of the New Testament
in the fresh frank face going up the village beside me, in five
minutes, than I have read in anathematising discourses (albeit put
to press with enormous flourishing of trumpets), in all my life. I
heard more of the Sacred Book in the cordial voice that had nothing
to say about its owner, than in all the would-be celestial pairs of
bellows that have ever blown conceit at me.
We climbed towards the little church, at a cheery pace, among the
loose stones, the deep mud, the wet coarse grass, the outlying
water, and other obstructions from which frost and snow had lately
thawed. It was a mistake (my friend was glad to tell me, on the
way) to suppose that the peasantry had shown any superstitious
avoidance of the drowned; on the whole, they had done very well,
and had assisted readily. Ten shillings had been paid for the
bringing of each body up to the church, but the way was steep, and
a horse and cart (in which it was wrapped in a sheet) were
necessary, and three or four men, and, all things considered, it
was not a great price. The people were none the richer for the
wreck, for it was the season of the herring-shoal - and who could
cast nets for fish, and find dead men and women in the draught?
He had the church keys in his hand, and opened the churchyard gate,
and opened the church door; and we went in.
It is a little church of great antiquity; there is reason to
believe that some church has occupied the spot, these thousand
years or more. The pulpit was gone, and other things usually
belonging to the church were gone, owing to its living congregation
having deserted it for the neighbouring school-room, and yielded it
up to the dead. The very Commandments had been shouldered out of
their places, in the bringing in of the dead; the black wooden
tables on which they were painted, were askew, and on the stone
pavement below them, and on the stone pavement all over the church,
were the marks and stains where the drowned had been laid down.
The eye, with little or no aid from the imagination, could yet see
how the bodies had been turned, and where the head had been and
where the feet. Some faded traces of the wreck of the Australian
ship may be discernible on the stone pavement of this little
church, hundreds of years hence, when the digging for gold in
Australia shall have long and long ceased out of the land.
Forty-four shipwrecked men and women lay here at one time, awaiting
burial. Here, with weeping and wailing in every room of his house,
my companion worked alone for hours, solemnly surrounded by eyes
that could not see him, and by lips that could not speak to him,
patiently examining the tattered clothing, cutting off buttons,
hair, marks from linen, anything that might lead to subsequent
identification, studying faces, looking for a scar, a bent finger,
a crooked toe, comparing letters sent to him with the ruin about
him. 'My dearest brother had bright grey eyes and a pleasant
smile,' one sister wrote. O poor sister! well for you to be far
from here, and keep that as your last remembrance of him!
The ladies of the clergyman's family, his wife and two sisters-inlaw,
came in among the bodies often. It grew to be the business of
their lives to do so. Any new arrival of a bereaved woman would
stimulate their pity to compare the description brought, with the
dread realities. Sometimes, they would go back able to say, 'I
have found him,' or, 'I think she lies there.' Perhaps, the
mourner, unable to bear the sight of all that lay in the church,
would be led in blindfold. Conducted to the spot with many
compassionate words, and encouraged to look, she would say, with a
piercing cry, 'This is my boy!' and drop insensible on the
insensible figure.
He soon observed that in some cases of women, the identification of
persons, though complete, was quite at variance with the marks upon
the linen; this led him to notice that even the marks upon the
linen were sometimes inconsistent with one another; and thus he
came to understand that they had dressed in great haste and
agitation, and that their clothes had become mixed together. The
identification of men by their dress, was rendered extremely
difficult, in consequence of a large proportion of them being
dressed alike - in clothes of one kind, that is to say, supplied by
slopsellers and outfitters, and not made by single garments but by
hundreds. Many of the men were bringing over parrots, and had
receipts upon them for the price of the birds; others had bills of
exchange in their pockets, or in belts. Some of these documents,
carefully unwrinkled and dried, were little less fresh in
appearance that day, than the present page will be under ordinary
circumstances, after having been opened three or four times.
In that lonely place, it had not been easy to obtain even such
common commodities in towns, as ordinary disinfectants. Pitch had
been burnt in the church, as the readiest thing at hand, and the
frying-pan in which it had bubbled over a brazier of coals was
still there, with its ashes. Hard by the Communion-Table, were
some boots that had been taken off the drowned and preserved - a
gold-digger's boot, cut down the leg for its removal - a troddendown
man's ankle-boot with a buff cloth top - and others - soaked
and sandy, weedy and salt.
From the church, we passed out into the churchyard. Here, there
lay, at that time, one hundred and forty-five bodies, that had come
ashore from the wreck. He had buried them, when not identified, in
graves containing four each. He had numbered each body in a
register describing it, and had placed a corresponding number on
each coffin, and over each grave. Identified bodies he had buried
singly, in private graves, in another part of the church-yard.
Several bodies had been exhumed from the graves of four, as
relatives had come from a distance and seen his register; and, when
recognised, these have been reburied in private graves, so that the
mourners might erect separate headstones over the remains. In all
such cases he had performed the funeral service a second time, and
the ladies of his house had attended. There had been no offence in
the poor ashes when they were brought again to the light of day;
the beneficent Earth had already absorbed it. The drowned were
buried in their clothes. To supply the great sudden demand for
coffins, he had got all the neighbouring people handy at tools, to
work the livelong day, and Sunday likewise. The coffins were
neatly formed; - I had seen two, waiting for occupants, under the
lee of the ruined walls of a stone hut on the beach, within call of
the tent where the Christmas Feast was held. Similarly, one of the
graves for four was lying open and ready, here, in the churchyard.
So much of the scanty space was already devoted to the wrecked
people, that the villagers had begun to express uneasy doubts
whether they themselves could lie in their own ground, with their
forefathers and descendants, by-and-by. The churchyard being but a
step from the clergyman's dwelling-house, we crossed to the latter;
the white surplice was hanging up near the door ready to be put on
at any time, for a funeral service.
The cheerful earnestness of this good Christian minister was as
consolatory, as the circumstances out of which it shone were sad.
I never have seen anything more delightfully genuine than the calm
dismissal by himself and his household of all they had undergone,
as a simple duty that was quietly done and ended. In speaking of
it, they spoke of it with great compassion for the bereaved; but
laid no stress upon their own hard share in those weary weeks,
except as it had attached many people to them as friends, and
elicited many touching expressions of gratitude. This clergyman's
brother - himself the clergyman of two adjoining parishes, who had
buried thirty-four of the bodies in his own churchyard, and who had
done to them all that his brother had done as to the larger number
- must be understood as included in the family. He was there, with
his neatly arranged papers, and made no more account of his trouble
than anybody else did. Down to yesterday's post outward, my
clergyman alone had written one thousand and seventy-five letters
to relatives and friends of the lost people. In the absence of
self-assertion, it was only through my now and then delicately
putting a question as the occasion arose, that I became informed of
these things. It was only when I had remarked again and again, in
the church, on the awful nature of the scene of death he had been
required so closely to familiarise himself with for the soothing of
the living, that he had casually said, without the least abatement
of his cheerfulness, 'indeed, it had rendered him unable for a time
to eat or drink more than a little coffee now and then, and a piece
of bread.'
In this noble modesty, in this beautiful simplicity, in this serene
avoidance of the least attempt to 'improve' an occasion which might
be supposed to have sunk of its own weight into my heart, I seemed
to have happily come, in a few steps, from the churchyard with its
open grave, which was the type of Death, to the Christian dwelling
side by side with it, which was the type of Resurrection. I never
shall think of the former, without the latter. The two will always
rest side by side in my memory. If I had lost any one dear to me
in this unfortunate ship, if I had made a voyage from Australia to
look at the grave in the churchyard, I should go away, thankful to
GOD that that house was so close to it, and that its shadow by day
and its domestic lights by night fell upon the earth in which its
Master had so tenderly laid my dear one's head.
The references that naturally arose out of our conversation, to the
descriptions sent down of shipwrecked persons, and to the gratitude
of relations and friends, made me very anxious to see some of those
letters. I was presently seated before a shipwreck of papers, all
bordered with black, and from them I made the following few
A mother writes:
REVEREND SIR. Amongst the many who perished on your shore was
numbered my beloved son. I was only just recovering from a severe
illness, and this fearful affliction has caused a relapse, so that
I am unable at present to go to identify the remains of the loved
and lost. My darling son would have been sixteen on Christmas-day
next. He was a most amiable and obedient child, early taught the
way of salvation. We fondly hoped that as a British seaman he
might be an ornament to his profession, but, 'it is well;' I feel
assured my dear boy is now with the redeemed. Oh, he did not wish
to go this last voyage! On the fifteenth of October, I received a
letter from him from Melbourne, date August twelfth; he wrote in
high spirits, and in conclusion he says: 'Pray for a fair breeze,
dear mamma, and I'll not forget to whistle for it! and, God
permitting, I shall see you and all my little pets again. Goodbye,
dear mother - good-bye, dearest parents. Good-bye, dear
brother.' Oh, it was indeed an eternal farewell. I do not
apologise for thus writing you, for oh, my heart is so very
A husband writes:
MY DEAR KIND SIR. Will you kindly inform me whether there are any
initials upon the ring and guard you have in possession, found, as
the Standard says, last Tuesday? Believe me, my dear sir, when I
say that I cannot express my deep gratitude in words sufficiently
for your kindness to me on that fearful and appalling day. Will
you tell me what I can do for you, and will you write me a
consoling letter to prevent my mind from going astray?
A widow writes:
Left in such a state as I am, my friends and I thought it best that
my dear husband should be buried where he lies, and, much as I
should have liked to have had it otherwise, I must submit. I feel,
from all I have heard of you, that you will see it done decently
and in order. Little does it signify to us, when the soul has
departed, where this poor body lies, but we who are left behind
would do all we can to show how we loved them. This is denied me,
but it is God's hand that afflicts us, and I try to submit. Some
day I may be able to visit the spot, and see where he lies, and
erect a simple stone to his memory. Oh! it will be long, long
before I forget that dreadful night! Is there such a thing in the
vicinity, or any shop in Bangor, to which I could send for a small
picture of Moelfra or Llanallgo church, a spot now sacred to me?
Another widow writes:
I have received your letter this morning, and do thank you most
kindly for the interest you have taken about my dear husband, as
well for the sentiments yours contains, evincing the spirit of a
Christian who can sympathise with those who, like myself, are
broken down with grief.
May God bless and sustain you, and all in connection with you, in
this great trial. Time may roll on and bear all its sons away, but
your name as a disinterested person will stand in history, and, as
successive years pass, many a widow will think of your noble
conduct, and the tears of gratitude flow down many a cheek, the
tribute of a thankful heart, when other things are forgotten for
A father writes:
I am at a loss to find words to sufficiently express my gratitude
to you for your kindness to my son Richard upon the melancholy
occasion of his visit to his dear brother's body, and also for your
ready attention in pronouncing our beautiful burial service over my
poor unfortunate son's remains. God grant that your prayers over
him may reach the Mercy Seat, and that his soul may be received
(through Christ's intercession) into heaven!
His dear mother begs me to convey to you her heartfelt thanks.
Those who were received at the clergyman's house, write thus, after
leaving it:
morning without accident, and am about to proceed to my home by
I am overpowered when I think of you and your hospitable home. No
words could speak language suited to my heart. I refrain. God
reward you with the same measure you have meted with!
I enumerate no names, but embrace you all.
MY BELOVED FRIENDS. This is the first day that I have been able to
leave my bedroom since I returned, which will explain the reason of
my not writing sooner.
If I could only have had my last melancholy hope realised in
recovering the body of my beloved and lamented son, I should have
returned home somewhat comforted, and I think I could then have
been comparatively resigned.
I fear now there is but little prospect, and I mourn as one without
The only consolation to my distressed mind is in having been so
feelingly allowed by you to leave the matter in your hands, by whom
I well know that everything will be done that can be, according to
arrangements made before I left the scene of the awful catastrophe,
both as to the identification of my dear son, and also his
I feel most anxious to hear whether anything fresh has transpired
since I left you; will you add another to the many deep obligations
I am under to you by writing to me? And should the body of my dear
and unfortunate son be identified, let me hear from you
immediately, and I will come again.
Words cannot express the gratitude I feel I owe to you all for your
benevolent aid, your kindness, and your sympathy.
MY DEARLY BELOVED FRIENDS. I arrived in safety at my house
yesterday, and a night's rest has restored and tranquillised me. I
must again repeat, that language has no words by which I can
express my sense of obligation to you. You are enshrined in my
heart of hearts.
I have seen him! and can now realise my misfortune more than I have
hitherto been able to do. Oh, the bitterness of the cup I drink!
But I bow submissive. God MUST have done right. I do not want to
feel less, but to acquiesce more simply.
There were some Jewish passengers on board the Royal Charter, and
the gratitude of the Jewish people is feelingly expressed in the
following letter bearing date from 'the office of the Chief Rabbi:'
REVEREND SIR. I cannot refrain from expressing to you my heartfelt
thanks on behalf of those of my flock whose relatives have
unfortunately been among those who perished at the late wreck of
the Royal Charter. You have, indeed, like Boaz, 'not left off your
kindness to the living and the dead.'
You have not alone acted kindly towards the living by receiving
them hospitably at your house, and energetically assisting them in
their mournful duty, but also towards the dead, by exerting
yourself to have our co-religionists buried in our ground, and
according to our rites. May our heavenly Father reward you for
your acts of humanity and true philanthropy!
The 'Old Hebrew congregation of Liverpool' thus express themselves
through their secretary:
REVEREND SIR. The wardens of this congregation have learned with
great pleasure that, in addition to those indefatigable exertions,
at the scene of the late disaster to the Royal Charter, which have
received universal recognition, you have very benevolently employed
your valuable efforts to assist such members of our faith as have
sought the bodies of lost friends to give them burial in our
consecrated grounds, with the observances and rites prescribed by
the ordinances of our religion.
The wardens desire me to take the earliest available opportunity to
offer to you, on behalf of our community, the expression of their
warm acknowledgments and grateful thanks, and their sincere wishes
for your continued welfare and prosperity.
A Jewish gentleman writes:
REVEREND AND DEAR SIR. I take the opportunity of thanking you
right earnestly for the promptness you displayed in answering my
note with full particulars concerning my much lamented brother, and
I also herein beg to express my sincere regard for the willingness
you displayed and for the facility you afforded for getting the
remains of my poor brother exhumed. It has been to us a most
sorrowful and painful event, but when we meet with such friends as
yourself, it in a measure, somehow or other, abates that mental
anguish, and makes the suffering so much easier to be borne.
Considering the circumstances connected with my poor brother's
fate, it does, indeed, appear a hard one. He had been away in all
seven years; he returned four years ago to see his family. He was
then engaged to a very amiable young lady. He had been very
successful abroad, and was now returning to fulfil his sacred vow;
he brought all his property with him in gold uninsured. We heard
from him when the ship stopped at Queenstown, when he was in the
highest of hope, and in a few short hours afterwards all was washed
Mournful in the deepest degree, but too sacred for quotation here,
were the numerous references to those miniatures of women worn
round the necks of rough men (and found there after death), those
locks of hair, those scraps of letters, those many many slight
memorials of hidden tenderness. One man cast up by the sea bore
about him, printed on a perforated lace card, the following
singular (and unavailing) charm:
May the blessing of God await thee. May the sun of glory shine
around thy bed; and may the gates of plenty, honour, and happiness
be ever open to thee. May no sorrow distress thy days; may no
grief disturb thy nights. May the pillow of peace kiss thy cheek,
and the pleasures of imagination attend thy dreams; and when length
of years makes thee tired of earthly joys, and the curtain of death
gently closes around thy last sleep of human existence, may the
Angel of God attend thy bed, and take care that the expiring lamp
of life shall not receive one rude blast to hasten on its
A sailor had these devices on his right arm. 'Our Saviour on the
Cross, the forehead of the Crucifix and the vesture stained red; on
the lower part of the arm, a man and woman; on one side of the
Cross, the appearance of a half moon, with a face; on the other
side, the sun; on the top of the Cross, the letters I.H.S.; on the
left arm, a man and woman dancing, with an effort to delineate the
female's dress; under which, initials.' Another seaman 'had, on
the lower part of the right arm, the device of a sailor and a
female; the man holding the Union Jack with a streamer, the folds
of which waved over her head, and the end of it was held in her
hand. On the upper part of the arm, a device of Our Lord on the
Cross, with stars surrounding the head of the Cross, and one large
star on the side in Indian Ink. On the left arm, a flag, a true
lover's knot, a face, and initials.' This tattooing was found
still plain, below the discoloured outer surface of a mutilated
arm, when such surface was carefully scraped away with a knife. It
is not improbable that the perpetuation of this marking custom
among seamen, may be referred back to their desire to be
identified, if drowned and flung ashore.
It was some time before I could sever myself from the many
interesting papers on the table, and then I broke bread and drank
wine with the kind family before I left them. As I brought the
Coast-guard down, so I took the Postman back, with his leathern
wallet, walking-stick, bugle, and terrier dog. Many a heart-broken
letter had he brought to the Rectory House within two months many;
a benignantly painstaking answer had he carried back.
As I rode along, I thought of the many people, inhabitants of this
mother country, who would make pilgrimages to the little churchyard
in the years to come; I thought of the many people in Australia,
who would have an interest in such a shipwreck, and would find
their way here when they visit the Old World; I thought of the
writers of all the wreck of letters I had left upon the table; and
I resolved to place this little record where it stands.
Convocations, Conferences, Diocesan Epistles, and the like, will do
a great deal for Religion, I dare say, and Heaven send they may!
but I doubt if they will ever do their Master's service half so
well, in all the time they last, as the Heavens have seen it done
in this bleak spot upon the rugged coast of Wales.
Had I lost the friend of my life, in the wreck of the Royal
Charter; had I lost my betrothed, the more than friend of my life;
had I lost my maiden daughter, had I lost my hopeful boy, had I
lost my little child; I would kiss the hands that worked so busily
and gently in the church, and say, 'None better could have touched
the form, though it had lain at home.' I could be sure of it, I
could be thankful for it: I could be content to leave the grave
near the house the good family pass in and out of every day,
undisturbed, in the little churchyard where so many are so
strangely brought together.
Without the name of the clergyman to whom - I hope, not without
carrying comfort to some heart at some time - I have referred, my
reference would be as nothing. He is the Reverend Stephen Roose
Hughes, of Llanallgo, near Moelfra, Anglesey. His brother is the
Reverend Hugh Robert Hughes, of Penrhos, Alligwy.
My day's no-business beckoning me to the East-end of London, I had
turned my face to that point of the metropolitan compass on leaving
Covent-garden, and had got past the India House, thinking in my
idle manner of Tippoo-Sahib and Charles Lamb, and had got past my
little wooden midshipman, after affectionately patting him on one
leg of his knee-shorts for old acquaintance' sake, and had got past
Aldgate Pump, and had got past the Saracen's Head (with an
ignominious rash of posting bills disfiguring his swarthy
countenance), and had strolled up the empty yard of his ancient
neighbour the Black or Blue Boar, or Bull, who departed this life I
don't know when, and whose coaches are all gone I don't know where;
and I had come out again into the age of railways, and I had got
past Whitechapel Church, and was - rather inappropriately for an
Uncommercial Traveller - in the Commercial Road. Pleasantly
wallowing in the abundant mud of that thoroughfare, and greatly
enjoying the huge piles of building belonging to the sugar
refiners, the little masts and vanes in small back gardens in back
streets, the neighbouring canals and docks, the India vans
lumbering along their stone tramway, and the pawnbrokers' shops
where hard-up Mates had pawned so many sextants and quadrants, that
I should have bought a few cheap if I had the least notion how to
use them, I at last began to file off to the right, towards
Not that I intended to take boat at Wapping Old Stairs, or that I
was going to look at the locality, because I believe (for I don't)
in the constancy of the young woman who told her sea-going lover,
to such a beautiful old tune, that she had ever continued the same,
since she gave him the 'baccer-box marked with his name; I am
afraid he usually got the worst of those transactions, and was
frightfully taken in. No, I was going to Wapping, because an
Eastern police magistrate had said, through the morning papers,
that there was no classification at the Wapping workhouse for
women, and that it was a disgrace and a shame, and divers other
hard names, and because I wished to see how the fact really stood.
For, that Eastern police magistrates are not always the wisest men
of the East, may be inferred from their course of procedure
respecting the fancy-dressing and pantomime-posturing at St.
George's in that quarter: which is usually, to discuss the matter
at issue, in a state of mind betokening the weakest perplexity,
with all parties concerned and unconcerned, and, for a final
expedient, to consult the complainant as to what he thinks ought to
be done with the defendant, and take the defendant's opinion as to
what he would recommend to be done with himself.
Long before I reached Wapping, I gave myself up as having lost my
way, and, abandoning myself to the narrow streets in a Turkish
frame of mind, relied on predestination to bring me somehow or
other to the place I wanted if I were ever to get there. When I
had ceased for an hour or so to take any trouble about the matter,
I found myself on a swing-bridge looking down at some dark locks in
some dirty water. Over against me, stood a creature remotely in
the likeness of a young man, with a puffed sallow face, and a
figure all dirty and shiny and slimy, who may have been the
youngest son of his filthy old father, Thames, or the drowned man
about whom there was a placard on the granite post like a large
thimble, that stood between us.
I asked this apparition what it called the place? Unto which, it
replied, with a ghastly grin and a sound like gurgling water in its
'Mr. Baker's trap.'
As it is a point of great sensitiveness with me on such occasions
to be equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation, I
deeply considered the meaning of this speech, while I eyed the
apparition - then engaged in hugging and sucking a horizontal iron
bar at the top of the locks. Inspiration suggested to me that Mr.
Baker was the acting coroner of that neighbourhood.
'A common place for suicide,' said I, looking down at the locks.
'Sue?' returned the ghost, with a stare. 'Yes! And Poll.
Likewise Emily. And Nancy. And Jane;' he sucked the iron between
each name; 'and all the bileing. Ketches off their bonnets or
shorls, takes a run, and headers down here, they doos. Always a
headerin' down here, they is. Like one o'clock.'
'And at about that hour of the morning, I suppose?'
'Ah!' said the apparition. 'THEY an't partickler. Two 'ull do for
THEM. Three. All times o' night. On'y mind you!' Here the
apparition rested his profile on the bar, and gurgled in a
sarcastic manner. 'There must be somebody comin'. They don't go a
headerin' down here, wen there an't no Bobby nor gen'ral Cove, fur
to hear the splash.'
According to my interpretation of these words, I was myself a
General Cove, or member of the miscellaneous public. In which
modest character I remarked:
'They are often taken out, are they, and restored?'
'I dunno about restored,' said the apparition, who, for some occult
reason, very much objected to that word; 'they're carried into the
werkiss and put into a 'ot bath, and brought round. But I dunno
about restored,' said the apparition; 'blow THAT!' - and vanished.
As it had shown a desire to become offensive, I was not sorry to
find myself alone, especially as the 'werkiss' it had indicated
with a twist of its matted head, was close at hand. So I left Mr.
Baker's terrible trap (baited with a scum that was like the soapy
rinsing of sooty chimneys), and made bold to ring at the workhouse
gate, where I was wholly unexpected and quite unknown.
A very bright and nimble little matron, with a bunch of keys in her
hand, responded to my request to see the House. I began to doubt
whether the police magistrate was quite right in his facts, when I
noticed her quick, active little figure and her intelligent eyes.
The Traveller (the matron intimated) should see the worst first.
He was welcome to see everything. Such as it was, there it all
This was the only preparation for our entering 'the Foul wards.'
They were in an old building squeezed away in a corner of a paved
yard, quite detached from the more modern and spacious main body of
the workhouse. They were in a building most monstrously behind the
time - a mere series of garrets or lofts, with every inconvenient
and objectionable circumstance in their construction, and only
accessible by steep and narrow staircases, infamously ill-adapted
for the passage up-stairs of the sick or down-stairs of the dead.
A-bed in these miserable rooms, here on bedsteads, there (for a
change, as I understood it) on the floor, were women in every stage
of distress and disease. None but those who have attentively
observed such scenes, can conceive the extraordinary variety of
expression still latent under the general monotony and uniformity
of colour, attitude, and condition. The form a little coiled up
and turned away, as though it had turned its back on this world for
ever; the uninterested face at once lead-coloured and yellow,
looking passively upward from the pillow; the haggard mouth a
little dropped, the hand outside the coverlet, so dull and
indifferent, so light, and yet so heavy; these were on every
pallet; but when I stopped beside a bed, and said ever so slight a
word to the figure lying there, the ghost of the old character came
into the face, and made the Foul ward as various as the fair world.
No one appeared to care to live, but no one complained; all who
could speak, said that as much was done for them as could be done
there, that the attendance was kind and patient, that their
suffering was very heavy, but they had nothing to ask for. The
wretched rooms were as clean and sweet as it is possible for such
rooms to be; they would become a pest-house in a single week, if
they were ill-kept.
I accompanied the brisk matron up another barbarous staircase, into
a better kind of loft devoted to the idiotic and imbecile. There
was at least Light in it, whereas the windows in the former wards
had been like sides of school-boys' bird-cages. There was a strong
grating over the fire here, and, holding a kind of state on either
side of the hearth, separated by the breadth of this grating, were
two old ladies in a condition of feeble dignity, which was surely
the very last and lowest reduction of self-complacency to be found
in this wonderful humanity of ours. They were evidently jealous of
each other, and passed their whole time (as some people do, whose
fires are not grated) in mentally disparaging each other, and
contemptuously watching their neighbours. One of these parodies on
provincial gentlewomen was extremely talkative, and expressed a
strong desire to attend the service on Sundays, from which she
represented herself to have derived the greatest interest and
consolation when allowed that privilege. She gossiped so well, and
looked altogether so cheery and harmless, that I began to think
this a case for the Eastern magistrate, until I found that on the
last occasion of her attending chapel she had secreted a small
stick, and had caused some confusion in the responses by suddenly
producing it and belabouring the congregation.
So, these two old ladies, separated by the breadth of the grating -
otherwise they would fly at one another's caps - sat all day long,
suspecting one another, and contemplating a world of fits. For
everybody else in the room had fits, except the wards-woman; an
elderly, able-bodied pauperess, with a large upper lip, and an air
of repressing and saving her strength, as she stood with her hands
folded before her, and her eyes slowly rolling, biding her time for
catching or holding somebody. This civil personage (in whom I
regretted to identify a reduced member of my honourable friend Mrs.
Gamp's family) said, 'They has 'em continiwal, sir. They drops
without no more notice than if they was coach-horses dropped from
the moon, sir. And when one drops, another drops, and sometimes
there'll be as many as four or five on 'em at once, dear me, a
rolling and a tearin', bless you! - this young woman, now, has 'em
dreadful bad.'
She turned up this young woman's face with her hand as she said it.
This young woman was seated on the floor, pondering in the
foreground of the afflicted. There was nothing repellent either in
her face or head. Many, apparently worse, varieties of epilepsy
and hysteria were about her, but she was said to be the worst here.
When I had spoken to her a little, she still sat with her face
turned up, pondering, and a gleam of the mid-day sun shone in upon
- Whether this young woman, and the rest of these so sorely
troubled, as they sit or lie pondering in their confused dull way,
ever get mental glimpses among the motes in the sunlight, of
healthy people and healthy things? Whether this young woman,
brooding like this in the summer season, ever thinks that somewhere
there are trees and flowers, even mountains and the great sea?
Whether, not to go so far, this young woman ever has any dim
revelation of that young woman - that young woman who is not here
and never will come here; who is courted, and caressed, and loved,
and has a husband, and bears children, and lives in a home, and who
never knows what it is to have this lashing and tearing coming upon
her? And whether this young woman, God help her, gives herself up
then and drops like a coach-horse from the moon?
I hardly knew whether the voices of infant children, penetrating
into so hopeless a place, made a sound that was pleasant or painful
to me. It was something to be reminded that the weary world was
not all aweary, and was ever renewing itself; but, this young woman
was a child not long ago, and a child not long hence might be such
as she. Howbeit, the active step and eye of the vigilant matron
conducted me past the two provincial gentlewomen (whose dignity was
ruffled by the children), and into the adjacent nursery.
There were many babies here, and more than one handsome young
mother. There were ugly young mothers also, and sullen young
mothers, and callous young mothers. But, the babies had not
appropriated to themselves any bad expression yet, and might have
been, for anything that appeared to the contrary in their soft
faces, Princes Imperial, and Princesses Royal. I had the pleasure
of giving a poetical commission to the baker's man to make a cake
with all despatch and toss it into the oven for one red-headed
young pauper and myself, and felt much the better for it. Without
that refreshment, I doubt if I should have been in a condition for
'the Refractories,' towards whom my quick little matron - for whose
adaptation to her office I had by this time conceived a genuine
respect - drew me next, and marshalled me the way that I was going.
The Refractories were picking oakum, in a small room giving on a
yard. They sat in line on a form, with their backs to a window;
before them, a table, and their work. The oldest Refractory was,
say twenty; youngest Refractory, say sixteen. I have never yet
ascertained in the course of my uncommercial travels, why a
Refractory habit should affect the tonsils and uvula; but, I have
always observed that Refractories of both sexes and every grade,
between a Ragged School and the Old Bailey, have one voice, in
which the tonsils and uvula gain a diseased ascendency.
'Five pound indeed! I hain't a going fur to pick five pound,' said
the Chief of the Refractories, keeping time to herself with her
head and chin. 'More than enough to pick what we picks now, in
sich a place as this, and on wot we gets here!'
(This was in acknowledgment of a delicate intimation that the
amount of work was likely to be increased. It certainly was not
heavy then, for one Refractory had already done her day's task - it
was barely two o'clock - and was sitting behind it, with a head
exactly matching it.)
'A pretty Ouse this is, matron, ain't it?' said Refractory Two,
'where a pleeseman's called in, if a gal says a word!'
'And wen you're sent to prison for nothink or less!' said the
Chief, tugging at her oakum as if it were the matron's hair. 'But
any place is better than this; that's one thing, and be thankful!'
A laugh of Refractories led by Oakum Head with folded arms - who
originated nothing, but who was in command of the skirmishers
outside the conversation.
'If any place is better than this,' said my brisk guide, in the
calmest manner, 'it is a pity you left a good place when you had
'Ho, no, I didn't, matron,' returned the Chief, with another pull
at her oakum, and a very expressive look at the enemy's forehead.
'Don't say that, matron, cos it's lies!'
Oakum Head brought up the skirmishers again, skirmished, and
'And I warn't a going,' exclaimed Refractory Two, 'though I was in
one place for as long as four year - I warn't a going fur to stop
in a place that warn't fit for me - there! And where the family
warn't 'spectable characters - there! And where I fortunately or
hunfort'nately, found that the people warn't what they pretended to
make theirselves out to be - there! And where it wasn't their
faults, by chalks, if I warn't made bad and ruinated - Hah!'
During this speech, Oakum Head had again made a diversion with the
skirmishers, and had again withdrawn.
The Uncommercial Traveller ventured to remark that he supposed
Chief Refractory and Number One, to be the two young women who had
been taken before the magistrate?
'Yes!' said the Chief, 'we har! and the wonder is, that a pleeseman
an't 'ad in now, and we took off agen. You can't open your lips
here, without a pleeseman.'
Number Two laughed (very uvularly), and the skirmishers followed
'I'm sure I'd be thankful,' protested the Chief, looking sideways
at the Uncommercial, 'if I could be got into a place, or got
abroad. I'm sick and tired of this precious Ouse, I am, with
So would be, and so was, Number Two. So would be, and so was,
Oakum Head. So would be, and so were, Skirmishers.
The Uncommercial took the liberty of hinting that he hardly thought
it probable that any lady or gentleman in want of a likely young
domestic of retiring manners, would be tempted into the engagement
of either of the two leading Refractories, on her own presentation
of herself as per sample.
'It ain't no good being nothink else here,' said the Chief.
The Uncommercial thought it might be worth trying.
'Oh no it ain't,' said the Chief.
'Not a bit of good,' said Number Two.
'And I'm sure I'd be very thankful to be got into a place, or got
abroad,' said the Chief.
'And so should I,' said Number Two. 'Truly thankful, I should.'
Oakum Head then rose, and announced as an entirely new idea, the
mention of which profound novelty might be naturally expected to
startle her unprepared hearers, that she would be very thankful to
be got into a place, or got abroad. And, as if she had then said,
'Chorus, ladies!' all the Skirmishers struck up to the same
purpose. We left them, thereupon, and began a long walk among the
women who were simply old and infirm; but whenever, in the course
of this same walk, I looked out of any high window that commanded
the yard, I saw Oakum Head and all the other Refractories looking
out at their low window for me, and never failing to catch me, the
moment I showed my head.
In ten minutes I had ceased to believe in such fables of a golden
time as youth, the prime of life, or a hale old age. In ten
minutes, all the lights of womankind seemed to have been blown out,
and nothing in that way to be left this vault to brag of, but the
flickering and expiring snuffs.
And what was very curious, was, that these dim old women had one
company notion which was the fashion of the place. Every old woman
who became aware of a visitor and was not in bed hobbled over a
form into her accustomed seat, and became one of a line of dim old
women confronting another line of dim old women across a narrow
table. There was no obligation whatever upon them to range
themselves in this way; it was their manner of 'receiving.' As a
rule, they made no attempt to talk to one another, or to look at
the visitor, or to look at anything, but sat silently working their
mouths, like a sort of poor old Cows. In some of these wards, it
was good to see a few green plants; in others, an isolated
Refractory acting as nurse, who did well enough in that capacity,
when separated from her compeers; every one of these wards, day
room, night room, or both combined, was scrupulously clean and
fresh. I have seen as many such places as most travellers in my
line, and I never saw one such, better kept.
Among the bedridden there was great patience, great reliance on the
books under the pillow, great faith in GOD. All cared for
sympathy, but none much cared to be encouraged with hope of
recovery; on the whole, I should say, it was considered rather a
distinction to have a complication of disorders, and to be in a
worse way than the rest. From some of the windows, the river could
be seen with all its life and movement; the day was bright, but I
came upon no one who was looking out.
In one large ward, sitting by the fire in arm-chairs of
distinction, like the President and Vice of the good company, were
two old women, upwards of ninety years of age. The younger of the
two, just turned ninety, was deaf, but not very, and could easily
be made to hear. In her early time she had nursed a child, who was
now another old woman, more infirm than herself, inhabiting the
very same chamber. She perfectly understood this when the matron
told it, and, with sundry nods and motions of her forefinger,
pointed out the woman in question. The elder of this pair, ninetythree,
seated before an illustrated newspaper (but not reading it),
was a bright-eyed old soul, really not deaf, wonderfully preserved,
and amazingly conversational. She had not long lost her husband,
and had been in that place little more than a year. At Boston, in
the State of Massachusetts, this poor creature would have been
individually addressed, would have been tended in her own room, and
would have had her life gently assimilated to a comfortable life
out of doors. Would that be much to do in England for a woman who
has kept herself out of a workhouse more than ninety rough long
years? When Britain first, at Heaven's command, arose, with a
great deal of allegorical confusion, from out the azure main, did
her guardian angels positively forbid it in the Charter which has
been so much besung?
The object of my journey was accomplished when the nimble matron
had no more to show me. As I shook hands with her at the gate, I
told her that I thought justice had not used her very well, and
that the wise men of the East were not infallible.
Now, I reasoned with myself, as I made my journey home again,
concerning those Foul wards. They ought not to exist; no person of
common decency and humanity can see them and doubt it. But what is
this Union to do? The necessary alteration would cost several
thousands of pounds; it has already to support three workhouses;
its inhabitants work hard for their bare lives, and are already
rated for the relief of the Poor to the utmost extent of reasonable
endurance. One poor parish in this very Union is rated to the
amount of FIVE AND SIXPENCE in the pound, at the very same time
when the rich parish of Saint George's, Hanover-square, is rated at
about SEVENPENCE in the pound, Paddington at about FOURPENCE, Saint
James's, Westminster, at about TENPENCE! It is only through the
equalisation of Poor Rates that what is left undone in this wise,
can be done. Much more is left undone, or is ill-done, than I have
space to suggest in these notes of a single uncommercial journey;
but, the wise men of the East, before they can reasonably hold
forth about it, must look to the North and South and West; let them
also, any morning before taking the seat of Solomon, look into the
shops and dwellings all around the Temple, and first ask themselves
'how much more can these poor people - many of whom keep themselves
with difficulty enough out of the workhouse - bear?'
I had yet other matter for reflection as I journeyed home, inasmuch
as, before I altogether departed from the neighbourhood of Mr.
Baker's trap, I had knocked at the gate of the workhouse of St.
George's-in-the-East, and had found it to be an establishment
highly creditable to those parts, and thoroughly well administered
by a most intelligent master. I remarked in it, an instance of the
collateral harm that obstinate vanity and folly can do. 'This was
the Hall where those old paupers, male and female, whom I had just
seen, met for the Church service, was it?' - 'Yes.' - 'Did they
sing the Psalms to any instrument?' - 'They would like to, very
much; they would have an extraordinary interest in doing so.' -
'And could none be got?' - 'Well, a piano could even have been got
for nothing, but these unfortunate dissensions - ' Ah! better, far
better, my Christian friend in the beautiful garment, to have let
the singing boys alone, and left the multitude to sing for
themselves! You should know better than I, but I think I have read
that they did so, once upon a time, and that 'when they had sung an
hymn,' Some one (not in a beautiful garment) went up into the Mount
of Olives.
It made my heart ache to think of this miserable trifling, in the
streets of a city where every stone seemed to call to me, as I
walked along, 'Turn this way, man, and see what waits to be done!'
So I decoyed myself into another train of thought to ease my heart.
But, I don't know that I did it, for I was so full of paupers, that
it was, after all, only a change to a single pauper, who took
possession of my remembrance instead of a thousand.
'I beg your pardon, sir,' he had said, in a confidential manner, on
another occasion, taking me aside; 'but I have seen better days.'
'I am very sorry to hear it.'
'Sir, I have a complaint to make against the master.'
'I have no power here, I assure you. And if I had - '
'But, allow me, sir, to mention it, as between yourself and a man
who has seen better days, sir. The master and myself are both
masons, sir, and I make him the sign continually; but, because I am
in this unfortunate position, sir, he won't give me the countersign!'
As I shut the door of my lodging behind me, and came out into the
streets at six on a drizzling Saturday evening in the last past
month of January, all that neighbourhood of Covent-garden looked
very desolate. It is so essentially a neighbourhood which has seen
better days, that bad weather affects it sooner than another place
which has not come down in the World. In its present reduced
condition it bears a thaw almost worse than any place I know. It
gets so dreadfully low-spirited when damp breaks forth. Those
wonderful houses about Drury-lane Theatre, which in the palmy days
of theatres were prosperous and long-settled places of business,
and which now change hands every week, but never change their
character of being divided and sub-divided on the ground floor into
mouldy dens of shops where an orange and half-a-dozen nuts, or a
pomatum-pot, one cake of fancy soap, and a cigar box, are offered
for sale and never sold, were most ruefully contemplated that
evening, by the statue of Shakespeare, with the rain-drops coursing
one another down its innocent nose. Those inscrutable pigeon-hole
offices, with nothing in them (not so much as an inkstand) but a
model of a theatre before the curtain, where, in the Italian Opera
season, tickets at reduced prices are kept on sale by nomadic
gentlemen in smeary hats too tall for them, whom one occasionally
seems to have seen on race-courses, not wholly unconnected with
strips of cloth of various colours and a rolling ball - those
Bedouin establishments, deserted by the tribe, and tenantless,
except when sheltering in one corner an irregular row of gingerbeer
bottles, which would have made one shudder on such a night,
but for its being plain that they had nothing in them, shrunk from
the shrill cries of the news-boys at their Exchange in the kennel
of Catherine-street, like guilty things upon a fearful summons. At
the pipe-shop in Great Russell-street, the Death's-head pipes were
like theatrical memento mori, admonishing beholders of the decline
of the playhouse as an Institution. I walked up Bow-street,
disposed to be angry with the shops there, that were letting out
theatrical secrets by exhibiting to work-a-day humanity the stuff
of which diadems and robes of kings are made. I noticed that some
shops which had once been in the dramatic line, and had struggled
out of it, were not getting on prosperously - like some actors I
have known, who took to business and failed to make it answer. In
a word, those streets looked so dull, and, considered as theatrical
streets, so broken and bankrupt, that the FOUND DEAD on the black
board at the police station might have announced the decease of the
Drama, and the pools of water outside the fire-engine maker's at
the corner of Long-acre might have been occasioned by his having
brought out the whole of his stock to play upon its last
smouldering ashes.
And yet, on such a night in so degenerate a time, the object of my
journey was theatrical. And yet within half an hour I was in an
immense theatre, capable of holding nearly five thousand people.
What Theatre? Her Majesty's? Far better. Royal Italian Opera?
Far better. Infinitely superior to the latter for hearing in;
infinitely superior to both, for seeing in. To every part of this
Theatre, spacious fire-proof ways of ingress and egress. For every
part of it, convenient places of refreshment and retiring rooms.
Everything to eat and drink carefully supervised as to quality, and
sold at an appointed price; respectable female attendants ready for
the commonest women in the audience; a general air of
consideration, decorum, and supervision, most commendable; an
unquestionably humanising influence in all the social arrangements
of the place.
Surely a dear Theatre, then? Because there were in London (not
very long ago) Theatres with entrance-prices up to half-a-guinea a
head, whose arrangements were not half so civilised. Surely,
therefore, a dear Theatre? Not very dear. A gallery at threepence,
another gallery at fourpence, a pit at sixpence, boxes and
pit-stalls at a shilling, and a few private boxes at half-a-crown.
My uncommercial curiosity induced me to go into every nook of this
great place, and among every class of the audience assembled in it
- amounting that evening, as I calculated, to about two thousand
and odd hundreds. Magnificently lighted by a firmament of
sparkling chandeliers, the building was ventilated to perfection.
My sense of smell, without being particularly delicate, has been so
offended in some of the commoner places of public resort, that I
have often been obliged to leave them when I have made an
uncommercial journey expressly to look on. The air of this Theatre
was fresh, cool, and wholesome. To help towards this end, very
sensible precautions had been used, ingeniously combining the
experience of hospitals and railway stations. Asphalt pavements
substituted for wooden floors, honest bare walls of glazed brick
and tile - even at the back of the boxes - for plaster and paper,
no benches stuffed, and no carpeting or baize used; a cool material
with a light glazed surface, being the covering of the seats.
These various contrivances are as well considered in the place in
question as if it were a Fever Hospital; the result is, that it is
sweet and healthful. It has been constructed from the ground to
the roof, with a careful reference to sight and sound in every
corner; the result is, that its form is beautiful, and that the
appearance of the audience, as seen from the proscenium - with
every face in it commanding the stage, and the whole so admirably
raked and turned to that centre, that a hand can scarcely move in
the great assemblage without the movement being seen from thence -
is highly remarkable in its union of vastness with compactness.
The stage itself, and all its appurtenances of machinery,
cellarage, height and breadth, are on a scale more like the Scala
at Milan, or the San Carlo at Naples, or the Grand Opera at Paris,
than any notion a stranger would be likely to form of the Britannia
Theatre at Hoxton, a mile north of St. Luke's Hospital in the Oldstreet-
road, London. The Forty Thieves might be played here, and
every thief ride his real horse, and the disguised captain bring in
his oil jars on a train of real camels, and nobody be put out of
the way. This really extraordinary place is the achievement of one
man's enterprise, and was erected on the ruins of an inconvenient
old building in less than five months, at a round cost of five-andtwenty
thousand pounds. To dismiss this part of my subject, and
still to render to the proprietor the credit that is strictly his
due, I must add that his sense of the responsibility upon him to
make the best of his audience, and to do his best for them, is a
highly agreeable sign of these times.
As the spectators at this theatre, for a reason I will presently
show, were the object of my journey, I entered on the play of the
night as one of the two thousand and odd hundreds, by looking about
me at my neighbours. We were a motley assemblage of people, and we
had a good many boys and young men among us; we had also many girls
and young women. To represent, however, that we did not include a
very great number, and a very fair proportion of family groups,
would be to make a gross mis-statement. Such groups were to be
seen in all parts of the house; in the boxes and stalls
particularly, they were composed of persons of very decent
appearance, who had many children with them. Among our dresses
there were most kinds of shabby and greasy wear, and much fustian
and corduroy that was neither sound nor fragrant. The caps of our
young men were mostly of a limp character, and we who wore them,
slouched, high-shouldered, into our places with our hands in our
pockets, and occasionally twisted our cravats about our necks like
eels, and occasionally tied them down our breasts like links of
sausages, and occasionally had a screw in our hair over each cheekbone
with a slight Thief-flavour in it. Besides prowlers and
idlers, we were mechanics, dock-labourers, costermongers, petty
tradesmen, small clerks, milliners, stay-makers, shoe-binders,
slop-workers, poor workers in a hundred highways and byways. Many
of us - on the whole, the majority - were not at all clean, and not
at all choice in our lives or conversation. But we had all come
together in a place where our convenience was well consulted, and
where we were well looked after, to enjoy an evening's
entertainment in common. We were not going to lose any part of
what we had paid for through anybody's caprice, and as a community
we had a character to lose. So, we were closely attentive, and
kept excellent order; and let the man or boy who did otherwise
instantly get out from this place, or we would put him out with the
greatest expedition.
We began at half-past six with a pantomime - with a pantomime so
long, that before it was over I felt as if I had been travelling
for six weeks - going to India, say, by the Overland Mail. The
Spirit of Liberty was the principal personage in the Introduction,
and the Four Quarters of the World came out of the globe,
glittering, and discoursed with the Spirit, who sang charmingly.
We were delighted to understand that there was no liberty anywhere
but among ourselves, and we highly applauded the agreeable fact.
In an allegorical way, which did as well as any other way, we and
the Spirit of Liberty got into a kingdom of Needles and Pins, and
found them at war with a potentate who called in to his aid their
old arch enemy Rust, and who would have got the better of them if
the Spirit of Liberty had not in the nick of time transformed the
leaders into Clown, Pantaloon, Harlequin, Columbine, Harlequina,
and a whole family of Sprites, consisting of a remarkably stout
father and three spineless sons. We all knew what was coming when
the Spirit of Liberty addressed the king with a big face, and His
Majesty backed to the side-scenes and began untying himself behind,
with his big face all on one side. Our excitement at that crisis
was great, and our delight unbounded. After this era in our
existence, we went through all the incidents of a pantomime; it was
not by any means a savage pantomime, in the way of burning or
boiling people, or throwing them out of window, or cutting them up;
was often very droll; was always liberally got up, and cleverly
presented. I noticed that the people who kept the shops, and who
represented the passengers in the thoroughfares, and so forth, had
no conventionality in them, but were unusually like the real thing
- from which I infer that you may take that audience in (if you
wish to) concerning Knights and Ladies, Fairies, Angels, or such
like, but they are not to be done as to anything in the streets. I
noticed, also, that when two young men, dressed in exact imitation
of the eel-and-sausage-cravated portion of the audience, were
chased by policemen, and, finding themselves in danger of being
caught, dropped so suddenly as to oblige the policemen to tumble
over them, there was great rejoicing among the caps - as though it
were a delicate reference to something they had heard of before.
The Pantomime was succeeded by a Melo-Drama. Throughout the
evening I was pleased to observe Virtue quite as triumphant as she
usually is out of doors, and indeed I thought rather more so. We
all agreed (for the time) that honesty was the best policy, and we
were as hard as iron upon Vice, and we wouldn't hear of Villainy
getting on in the world - no, not on any consideration whatever.
Between the pieces, we almost all of us went out and refreshed.
Many of us went the length of drinking beer at the bar of the
neighbouring public-house, some of us drank spirits, crowds of us
had sandwiches and ginger-beer at the refreshment-bars established
for us in the Theatre. The sandwich - as substantial as was
consistent with portability, and as cheap as possible - we hailed
as one of our greatest institutions. It forced its way among us at
all stages of the entertainment, and we were always delighted to
see it; its adaptability to the varying moods of our nature was
surprising; we could never weep so comfortably as when our tears
fell on our sandwich; we could never laugh so heartily as when we
choked with sandwich; Virtue never looked so beautiful or Vice so
deformed as when we paused, sandwich in hand, to consider what
would come of that resolution of Wickedness in boots, to sever
Innocence in flowered chintz from Honest Industry in striped
stockings. When the curtain fell for the night, we still fell back
upon sandwich, to help us through the rain and mire, and home to
This, as I have mentioned, was Saturday night. Being Saturday
night, I had accomplished but the half of my uncommercial journey;
for, its object was to compare the play on Saturday evening with
the preaching in the same Theatre on Sunday evening.
Therefore, at the same hour of half-past six on the similarly damp
and muddy Sunday evening, I returned to this Theatre. I drove up
to the entrance (fearful of being late, or I should have come on
foot), and found myself in a large crowd of people who, I am happy
to state, were put into excellent spirits by my arrival. Having
nothing to look at but the mud and the closed doors, they looked at
me, and highly enjoyed the comic spectacle. My modesty inducing me
to draw off, some hundreds of yards, into a dark corner, they at
once forgot me, and applied themselves to their former occupation
of looking at the mud and looking in at the closed doors: which,
being of grated ironwork, allowed the lighted passage within to be
seen. They were chiefly people of respectable appearance, odd and
impulsive as most crowds are, and making a joke of being there as
most crowds do.
In the dark corner I might have sat a long while, but that a very
obliging passer-by informed me that the Theatre was already full,
and that the people whom I saw in the street were all shut out for
want of room. After that, I lost no time in worming myself into
the building, and creeping to a place in a Proscenium box that had
been kept for me.
There must have been full four thousand people present. Carefully
estimating the pit alone, I could bring it out as holding little
less than fourteen hundred. Every part of the house was well
filled, and I had not found it easy to make my way along the back
of the boxes to where I sat. The chandeliers in the ceiling were
lighted; there was no light on the stage; the orchestra was empty.
The green curtain was down, and, packed pretty closely on chairs on
the small space of stage before it, were some thirty gentlemen, and
two or three ladies. In the centre of these, in a desk or pulpit
covered with red baize, was the presiding minister. The kind of
rostrum he occupied will be very well understood, if I liken it to
a boarded-up fireplace turned towards the audience, with a
gentleman in a black surtout standing in the stove and leaning
forward over the mantelpiece.
A portion of Scripture was being read when I went in. It was
followed by a discourse, to which the congregation listened with
most exemplary attention and uninterrupted silence and decorum. My
own attention comprehended both the auditory and the speaker, and
shall turn to both in this recalling of the scene, exactly as it
did at the time.
'A very difficult thing,' I thought, when the discourse began, 'to
speak appropriately to so large an audience, and to speak with
tact. Without it, better not to speak at all. Infinitely better,
to read the New Testament well, and to let THAT speak. In this
congregation there is indubitably one pulse; but I doubt if any
power short of genius can touch it as one, and make it answer as
I could not possibly say to myself as the discourse proceeded, that
the minister was a good speaker. I could not possibly say to
myself that he expressed an understanding of the general mind and
character of his audience. There was a supposititious working-man
introduced into the homily, to make supposititious objections to
our Christian religion and be reasoned down, who was not only a
very disagreeable person, but remarkably unlike life - very much
more unlike it than anything I had seen in the pantomime. The
native independence of character this artisan was supposed to
possess, was represented by a suggestion of a dialect that I
certainly never heard in my uncommercial travels, and with a coarse
swing of voice and manner anything but agreeable to his feelings, I
should conceive, considered in the light of a portrait, and as far
away from the fact as a Chinese Tartar. There was a model pauper
introduced in like manner, who appeared to me to be the most
intolerably arrogant pauper ever relieved, and to show himself in
absolute want and dire necessity of a course of Stone Yard. For,
how did this pauper testify to his having received the gospel of
humility? A gentleman met him in the workhouse, and said (which I
myself really thought good-natured of him), 'Ah, John? I am sorry
to see you here. I am sorry to see you so poor.' 'Poor, sir!'
replied that man, drawing himself up, 'I am the son of a Prince!
MY father is the King of Kings. MY father is the Lord of Lords.
MY father is the ruler of all the Princes of the Earth!' &c. And
this was what all the preacher's fellow-sinners might come to, if
they would embrace this blessed book - which I must say it did some
violence to my own feelings of reverence, to see held out at arm's
length at frequent intervals and soundingly slapped, like a slow
lot at a sale. Now, could I help asking myself the question,
whether the mechanic before me, who must detect the preacher as
being wrong about the visible manner of himself and the like of
himself, and about such a noisy lip-server as that pauper, might
not, most unhappily for the usefulness of the occasion, doubt that
preacher's being right about things not visible to human senses?
Again. Is it necessary or advisable to address such an audience
continually as 'fellow-sinners'? Is it not enough to be fellowcreatures,
born yesterday, suffering and striving to-day, dying tomorrow?
By our common humanity, my brothers and sisters, by our
common capacities for pain and pleasure, by our common laughter and
our common tears, by our common aspiration to reach something
better than ourselves, by our common tendency to believe in
something good, and to invest whatever we love or whatever we lose
with some qualities that are superior to our own failings and
weaknesses as we know them in our own poor hearts - by these, Hear
me! - Surely, it is enough to be fellow-creatures. Surely, it
includes the other designation, and some touching meanings over and
Again. There was a personage introduced into the discourse (not an
absolute novelty, to the best of my remembrance of my reading), who
had been personally known to the preacher, and had been quite a
Crichton in all the ways of philosophy, but had been an infidel.
Many a time had the preacher talked with him on that subject, and
many a time had he failed to convince that intelligent man. But he
fell ill, and died, and before he died he recorded his conversion -
in words which the preacher had taken down, my fellow-sinners, and
would read to you from this piece of paper. I must confess that to
me, as one of an uninstructed audience, they did not appear
particularly edifying. I thought their tone extremely selfish, and
I thought they had a spiritual vanity in them which was of the
before-mentioned refractory pauper's family.
All slangs and twangs are objectionable everywhere, but the slang
and twang of the conventicle - as bad in its way as that of the
House of Commons, and nothing worse can be said of it - should be
studiously avoided under such circumstances as I describe. The
avoidance was not complete on this occasion. Nor was it quite
agreeable to see the preacher addressing his pet 'points' to his
backers on the stage, as if appealing to those disciples to show
him up, and testify to the multitude that each of those points was
a clincher.
But, in respect of the large Christianity of his general tone; of
his renunciation of all priestly authority; of his earnest and
reiterated assurance to the people that the commonest among them
could work out their own salvation if they would, by simply,
lovingly, and dutifully following Our Saviour, and that they needed
the mediation of no erring man; in these particulars, this
gentleman deserved all praise. Nothing could be better than the
spirit, or the plain emphatic words of his discourse in these
respects. And it was a most significant and encouraging
circumstance that whenever he struck that chord, or whenever he
described anything which Christ himself had done, the array of
faces before him was very much more earnest, and very much more
expressive of emotion, than at any other time.
And now, I am brought to the fact, that the lowest part of the
audience of the previous night, WAS NOT THERE. There is no doubt
about it. There was no such thing in that building, that Sunday
evening. I have been told since, that the lowest part of the
audience of the Victoria Theatre has been attracted to its Sunday
services. I have been very glad to hear it, but on this occasion
of which I write, the lowest part of the usual audience of the
Britannia Theatre, decidedly and unquestionably stayed away. When
I first took my seat and looked at the house, my surprise at the
change in its occupants was as great as my disappointment. To the
most respectable class of the previous evening, was added a great
number of respectable strangers attracted by curiosity, and drafts
from the regular congregations of various chapels. It was
impossible to fail in identifying the character of these last, and
they were very numerous. I came out in a strong, slow tide of them
setting from the boxes. Indeed, while the discourse was in
progress, the respectable character of the auditory was so manifest
in their appearance, that when the minister addressed a
supposititious 'outcast,' one really felt a little impatient of it,
as a figure of speech not justified by anything the eye could
The time appointed for the conclusion of the proceedings was eight
o'clock. The address having lasted until full that time, and it
being the custom to conclude with a hymn, the preacher intimated in
a few sensible words that the clock had struck the hour, and that
those who desired to go before the hymn was sung, could go now,
without giving offence. No one stirred. The hymn was then sung,
in good time and tune and unison, and its effect was very striking.
A comprehensive benevolent prayer dismissed the throng, and in
seven or eight minutes there was nothing left in the Theatre but a
light cloud of dust.
That these Sunday meetings in Theatres are good things, I do not
doubt. Nor do I doubt that they will work lower and lower down in
the social scale, if those who preside over them will be very
careful on two heads: firstly, not to disparage the places in
which they speak, or the intelligence of their hearers; secondly,
not to set themselves in antagonism to the natural inborn desire of
the mass of mankind to recreate themselves and to be amused.
There is a third head, taking precedence of all others, to which my
remarks on the discourse I heard, have tended. In the New
Testament there is the most beautiful and affecting history
conceivable by man, and there are the terse models for all prayer
and for all preaching. As to the models, imitate them, Sunday
preachers - else why are they there, consider? As to the history,
tell it. Some people cannot read, some people will not read, many
people (this especially holds among the young and ignorant) find it
hard to pursue the verse-form in which the book is presented to
them, and imagine that those breaks imply gaps and want of
continuity. Help them over that first stumbling-block, by setting
forth the history in narrative, with no fear of exhausting it. You
will never preach so well, you will never move them so profoundly,
you will never send them away with half so much to think of. Which
is the better interest: Christ's choice of twelve poor men to help
in those merciful wonders among the poor and rejected; or the pious
bullying of a whole Union-full of paupers? What is your changed
philosopher to wretched me, peeping in at the door out of the mud
of the streets and of my life, when you have the widow's son to
tell me about, the ruler's daughter, the other figure at the door
when the brother of the two sisters was dead, and one of the two
ran to the mourner, crying, 'The Master is come and calleth for
thee'? - Let the preacher who will thoroughly forget himself and
remember no individuality but one, and no eloquence but one, stand
up before four thousand men and women at the Britannia Theatre any
Sunday night, recounting that narrative to them as fellow
creatures, and he shall see a sight!
Is the sweet little cherub who sits smiling aloft and keeps watch
on life of poor Jack, commissioned to take charge of Mercantile
Jack, as well as Jack of the national navy? If not, who is? What
is the cherub about, and what are we all about, when poor
Mercantile Jack is having his brains slowly knocked out by pennyweights,
aboard the brig Beelzebub, or the barque Bowie-knife -
when he looks his last at that infernal craft, with the first
officer's iron boot-heel in his remaining eye, or with his dying
body towed overboard in the ship's wake, while the cruel wounds in
it do 'the multitudinous seas incarnadine'?
Is it unreasonable to entertain a belief that if, aboard the brig
Beelzebub or the barque Bowie-knife, the first officer did half the
damage to cotton that he does to men, there would presently arise
from both sides of the Atlantic so vociferous an invocation of the
sweet little cherub who sits calculating aloft, keeping watch on
the markets that pay, that such vigilant cherub would, with a
winged sword, have that gallant officer's organ of destructiveness
out of his head in the space of a flash of lightning?
If it be unreasonable, then am I the most unreasonable of men, for
I believe it with all my soul.
This was my thought as I walked the dock-quays at Liverpool,
keeping watch on poor Mercantile Jack. Alas for me! I have long
outgrown the state of sweet little cherub; but there I was, and
there Mercantile Jack was, and very busy he was, and very cold he
was: the snow yet lying in the frozen furrows of the land, and the
north-east winds snipping off the tops of the little waves in the
Mersey, and rolling them into hailstones to pelt him with.
Mercantile Jack was hard at it, in the hard weather: as he mostly
is in all weathers, poor Jack. He was girded to ships' masts and
funnels of steamers, like a forester to a great oak, scraping and
painting; he was lying out on yards, furling sails that tried to
beat him off; he was dimly discernible up in a world of giant
cobwebs, reefing and splicing; he was faintly audible down in
holds, stowing and unshipping cargo; he was winding round and round
at capstans melodious, monotonous, and drunk; he was of a
diabolical aspect, with coaling for the Antipodes; he was washing
decks barefoot, with the breast of his red shirt open to the blast,
though it was sharper than the knife in his leathern girdle; he was
looking over bulwarks, all eyes and hair; he was standing by at the
shoot of the Cunard steamer, off to-morrow, as the stocks in trade
of several butchers, poulterers, and fishmongers, poured down into
the ice-house; he was coming aboard of other vessels, with his kit
in a tarpaulin bag, attended by plunderers to the very last moment
of his shore-going existence. As though his senses, when released
from the uproar of the elements, were under obligation to be
confused by other turmoil, there was a rattling of wheels, a
clattering of hoofs, a clashing of iron, a jolting of cotton and
hides and casks and timber, an incessant deafening disturbance on
the quays, that was the very madness of sound. And as, in the
midst of it, he stood swaying about, with his hair blown all manner
of wild ways, rather crazedly taking leave of his plunderers, all
the rigging in the docks was shrill in the wind, and every little
steamer coming and going across the Mersey was sharp in its blowing
off, and every buoy in the river bobbed spitefully up and down, as
if there were a general taunting chorus of 'Come along, Mercantile
Jack! Ill-lodged, ill-fed, ill-used, hocussed, entrapped,
anticipated, cleaned out. Come along, Poor Mercantile Jack, and be
tempest-tossed till you are drowned!'
The uncommercial transaction which had brought me and Jack
together, was this:- I had entered the Liverpool police force, that
I might have a look at the various unlawful traps which are every
night set for Jack. As my term of service in that distinguished
corps was short, and as my personal bias in the capacity of one of
its members has ceased, no suspicion will attach to my evidence
that it is an admirable force. Besides that it is composed,
without favour, of the best men that can be picked, it is directed
by an unusual intelligence. Its organisation against Fires, I take
to be much better than the metropolitan system, and in all respects
it tempers its remarkable vigilance with a still more remarkable
Jack had knocked off work in the docks some hours, and I had taken,
for purposes of identification, a photograph-likeness of a thief,
in the portrait-room at our head police office (on the whole, he
seemed rather complimented by the proceeding), and I had been on
police parade, and the small hand of the clock was moving on to
ten, when I took up my lantern to follow Mr. Superintendent to the
traps that were set for Jack. In Mr. Superintendent I saw, as
anybody might, a tall, well-looking, well-set-up man of a soldierly
bearing, with a cavalry air, a good chest, and a resolute but not
by any means ungentle face. He carried in his hand a plain black
walking-stick of hard wood; and whenever and wherever, at any
after-time of the night, he struck it on the pavement with a
ringing sound, it instantly produced a whistle out of the darkness,
and a policeman. To this remarkable stick, I refer an air of
mystery and magic which pervaded the whole of my perquisition among
the traps that were set for Jack.
We began by diving into the obscurest streets and lanes of the
port. Suddenly pausing in a flow of cheerful discourse, before a
dead wall, apparently some ten miles long, Mr. Superintendent
struck upon the ground, and the wall opened and shot out, with
military salute of hand to temple, two policemen - not in the least
surprised themselves, not in the least surprising Mr.
'All right, Sharpeye?'
'All right, sir.'
'All right, Trampfoot?'
'All right, sir.'
'Is Quickear there?'
'Here am I, sir.'
'Come with us.'
'Yes, sir.'
So, Sharpeye went before, and Mr. Superintendent and I went next,
and Trampfoot and Quickear marched as rear-guard. Sharp-eye, I
soon had occasion to remark, had a skilful and quite professional
way of opening doors - touched latches delicately, as if they were
keys of musical instruments - opened every door he touched, as if
he were perfectly confident that there was stolen property behind
it - instantly insinuated himself, to prevent its being shut.
Sharpeye opened several doors of traps that were set for Jack, but
Jack did not happen to be in any of them. They were all such
miserable places that really, Jack, if I were you, I would give
them a wider berth. In every trap, somebody was sitting over a
fire, waiting for Jack. Now, it was a crouching old woman, like
the picture of the Norwood Gipsy in the old sixpenny dream-books;
now, it was a crimp of the male sex, in a checked shirt and without
a coat, reading a newspaper; now, it was a man crimp and a woman
crimp, who always introduced themselves as united in holy
matrimony; now, it was Jack's delight, his (un)lovely Nan; but they
were all waiting for Jack, and were all frightfully disappointed to
see us.
'Who have you got up-stairs here?' says Sharpeye, generally. (In
the Move-on tone.)
'Nobody, surr; sure not a blessed sowl!' (Irish feminine reply.)
'What do you mean by nobody? Didn't I hear a woman's step go upstairs
when my hand was on the latch?'
'Ah! sure thin you're right, surr, I forgot her! 'Tis on'y Betsy
White, surr. Ah! you know Betsy, surr. Come down, Betsy darlin',
and say the gintlemin.'
Generally, Betsy looks over the banisters (the steep staircase is
in the room) with a forcible expression in her protesting face, of
an intention to compensate herself for the present trial by
grinding Jack finer than usual when he does come. Generally,
Sharpeye turns to Mr. Superintendent, and says, as if the subjects
of his remarks were wax-work:
'One of the worst, sir, this house is. This woman has been
indicted three times. This man's a regular bad one likewise. His
real name is Pegg. Gives himself out as Waterhouse.'
'Never had sitch a name as Pegg near me back, thin, since I was in
this house, bee the good Lard!' says the woman.
Generally, the man says nothing at all, but becomes exceedingly
round-shouldered, and pretends to read his paper with rapt
attention. Generally, Sharpeye directs our observation with a
look, to the prints and pictures that are invariably numerous on
the walls. Always, Trampfoot and Quickear are taking notice on the
doorstep. In default of Sharpeye being acquainted with the exact
individuality of any gentleman encountered, one of these two is
sure to proclaim from the outer air, like a gruff spectre, that
Jackson is not Jackson, but knows himself to be Fogle; or that
Canlon is Walker's brother, against whom there was not sufficient
evidence; or that the man who says he never was at sea since he was
a boy, came ashore from a voyage last Thursday, or sails tomorrow
morning. 'And that is a bad class of man, you see,' says Mr.
Superintendent, when he got out into the dark again, 'and very
difficult to deal with, who, when he has made this place too hot to
hold him, enters himself for a voyage as steward or cook, and is
out of knowledge for months, and then turns up again worse than
When we had gone into many such houses, and had come out (always
leaving everybody relapsing into waiting for Jack), we started off
to a singing-house where Jack was expected to muster strong.
The vocalisation was taking place in a long low room up-stairs; at
one end, an orchestra of two performers, and a small platform;
across the room, a series of open pews for Jack, with an aisle down
the middle; at the other end a larger pew than the rest, entitled
SNUG, and reserved for mates and similar good company. About the
room, some amazing coffee-coloured pictures varnished an inch deep,
and some stuffed creatures in cases; dotted among the audience, in
Sung and out of Snug, the 'Professionals;' among them, the
celebrated comic favourite Mr. Banjo Bones, looking very hideous
with his blackened face and limp sugar-loaf hat; beside him,
sipping rum-and-water, Mrs. Banjo Bones, in her natural colours - a
little heightened.
It was a Friday night, and Friday night was considered not a good
night for Jack. At any rate, Jack did not show in very great force
even here, though the house was one to which he much resorts, and
where a good deal of money is taken. There was British Jack, a
little maudlin and sleepy, lolling over his empty glass, as if he
were trying to read his fortune at the bottom; there was Loafing
Jack of the Stars and Stripes, rather an unpromising customer, with
his long nose, lank cheek, high cheek-bones, and nothing soft about
him but his cabbage-leaf hat; there was Spanish Jack, with curls of
black hair, rings in his ears, and a knife not far from his hand,
if you got into trouble with him; there were Maltese Jack, and Jack
of Sweden, and Jack the Finn, looming through the smoke of their
pipes, and turning faces that looked as if they were carved out of
dark wood, towards the young lady dancing the hornpipe: who found
the platform so exceedingly small for it, that I had a nervous
expectation of seeing her, in the backward steps, disappear through
the window. Still, if all hands had been got together, they would
not have more than half-filled the room. Observe, however, said
Mr. Licensed Victualler, the host, that it was Friday night, and,
besides, it was getting on for twelve, and Jack had gone aboard. A
sharp and watchful man, Mr. Licensed Victualler, the host, with
tight lips and a complete edition of Cocker's arithmetic in each
eye. Attended to his business himself, he said. Always on the
spot. When he heard of talent, trusted nobody's account of it, but
went off by rail to see it. If true talent, engaged it. Pounds a
week for talent - four pound - five pound. Banjo Bones was
undoubted talent. Hear this instrument that was going to play - it
was real talent! In truth it was very good; a kind of pianoaccordion,
played by a young girl of a delicate prettiness of face,
figure, and dress, that made the audience look coarser. She sang
to the instrument, too; first, a song about village bells, and how
they chimed; then a song about how I went to sea; winding up with
an imitation of the bagpipes, which Mercantile Jack seemed to
understand much the best. A good girl, said Mr. Licensed
Victualler. Kept herself select. Sat in Snug, not listening to
the blandishments of Mates. Lived with mother. Father dead. Once
a merchant well to do, but over-speculated himself. On delicate
inquiry as to salary paid for item of talent under consideration,
Mr. Victualler's pounds dropped suddenly to shillings - still it
was a very comfortable thing for a young person like that, you
know; she only went on six times a night, and was only required to
be there from six at night to twelve. What was more conclusive
was, Mr. Victualler's assurance that he 'never allowed any
language, and never suffered any disturbance.' Sharpeye confirmed
the statement, and the order that prevailed was the best proof of
it that could have been cited. So, I came to the conclusion that
poor Mercantile Jack might do (as I am afraid he does) much worse
than trust himself to Mr. Victualler, and pass his evenings here.
But we had not yet looked, Mr. Superintendent - said Trampfoot,
receiving us in the street again with military salute - for Dark
Jack. True, Trampfoot. Ring the wonderful stick, rub the
wonderful lantern, and cause the spirits of the stick and lantern
to convey us to the Darkies.
There was no disappointment in the matter of Dark Jack; HE was
producible. The Genii set us down in the little first floor of a
little public-house, and there, in a stiflingly close atmosphere,
were Dark Jack, and Dark Jack's delight, his WHITE unlovely Nan,
sitting against the wall all round the room. More than that: Dark
Jack's delight was the least unlovely Nan, both morally and
physically, that I saw that night.
As a fiddle and tambourine band were sitting among the company,
Quickear suggested why not strike up? 'Ah, la'ads!' said a negro
sitting by the door, 'gib the jebblem a darnse. Tak' yah pardlers,
jebblem, for 'um QUAD-rill.'
This was the landlord, in a Greek cap, and a dress half Greek and
half English. As master of the ceremonies, he called all the
figures, and occasionally addressed himself parenthetically - after
this manner. When he was very loud, I use capitals.
'Now den! Hoy! ONE. Right and left. (Put a steam on, gib 'um
powder.) LA-dies' chail. BAL-loon say. Lemonade! TWO. ADwarnse
and go back (gib 'ell a breakdown, shake it out o' yerselbs,
keep a movil). SWING-corners, BAL-loon say, and Lemonade! (Hoy!)
THREE. GENT come for'ard with a lady and go back, hoppersite come
for'ard and do what yer can. (Aeiohoy!) BAL-loon say, and leetle
lemonade. (Dat hair nigger by 'um fireplace 'hind a' time, shake
it out o' yerselbs, gib 'ell a breakdown.) Now den! Hoy! FOUR!
Lemonade. BAL-loon say, and swing. FOUR ladies meet in 'um
middle, FOUR gents goes round 'um ladies, FOUR gents passes out
under 'um ladies' arms, SWING - and Lemonade till 'a moosic can't
play no more! (Hoy, Hoy!)'
The male dancers were all blacks, and one was an unusually powerful
man of six feet three or four. The sound of their flat feet on the
floor was as unlike the sound of white feet as their faces were
unlike white faces. They toed and heeled, shuffled, doubleshuffled,
double-double-shuffled, covered the buckle, and beat the
time out, rarely, dancing with a great show of teeth, and with a
childish good-humoured enjoyment that was very prepossessing. They
generally kept together, these poor fellows, said Mr.
Superintendent, because they were at a disadvantage singly, and
liable to slights in the neighbouring streets. But, if I were
Light Jack, I should be very slow to interfere oppressively with
Dark Jack, for, whenever I have had to do with him I have found him
a simple and a gentle fellow. Bearing this in mind, I asked his
friendly permission to leave him restoration of beer, in wishing
him good night, and thus it fell out that the last words I heard
him say as I blundered down the worn stairs, were, 'Jebblem's elth!
Ladies drinks fust!'
The night was now well on into the morning, but, for miles and
hours we explored a strange world, where nobody ever goes to bed,
but everybody is eternally sitting up, waiting for Jack. This
exploration was among a labyrinth of dismal courts and blind
alleys, called Entries, kept in wonderful order by the police, and
in much better order than by the corporation: the want of gaslight
in the most dangerous and infamous of these places being quite
unworthy of so spirited a town. I need describe but two or three
of the houses in which Jack was waited for as specimens of the
rest. Many we attained by noisome passages so profoundly dark that
we felt our way with our hands. Not one of the whole number we
visited, was without its show of prints and ornamental crockery;
the quantity of the latter set forth on little shelves and in
little cases, in otherwise wretched rooms, indicating that
Mercantile Jack must have an extraordinary fondness for crockery,
to necessitate so much of that bait in his traps.
Among such garniture, in one front parlour in the dead of the
night, four women were sitting by a fire. One of them had a male
child in her arms. On a stool among them was a swarthy youth with
a guitar, who had evidently stopped playing when our footsteps were
'Well I how do YOU do?' says Mr. Superintendent, looking about him.
'Pretty well, sir, and hope you gentlemen are going to treat us
ladies, now you have come to see us.'
'Order there!' says Sharpeye.
'None of that!' says Quickear.
Trampfoot, outside, is heard to confide to himself, 'Meggisson's
lot this is. And a bad 'un!'
'Well!' says Mr. Superintendent, laying his hand on the shoulder of
the swarthy youth, 'and who's this?'
'Antonio, sir.'
'And what does HE do here?'
'Come to give us a bit of music. No harm in that, I suppose?'
'A young foreign sailor?'
'Yes. He's a Spaniard. You're a Spaniard, ain't you, Antonio?'
'Me Spanish.'
'And he don't know a word you say, not he; not if you was to talk
to him till doomsday.' (Triumphantly, as if it redounded to the
credit of the house.)
'Will he play something?'
'Oh, yes, if you like. Play something, Antonio. YOU ain't ashamed
to play something; are you?'
The cracked guitar raises the feeblest ghost of a tune, and three
of the women keep time to it with their heads, and the fourth with
the child. If Antonio has brought any money in with him, I am
afraid he will never take it out, and it even strikes me that his
jacket and guitar may be in a bad way. But, the look of the young
man and the tinkling of the instrument so change the place in a
moment to a leaf out of Don Quixote, that I wonder where his mule
is stabled, until he leaves off.
I am bound to acknowledge (as it tends rather to my uncommercial
confusion), that I occasioned a difficulty in this establishment,
by having taken the child in my arms. For, on my offering to
restore it to a ferocious joker not unstimulated by rum, who
claimed to be its mother, that unnatural parent put her hands
behind her, and declined to accept it; backing into the fireplace,
and very shrilly declaring, regardless of remonstrance from her
friends, that she knowed it to be Law, that whoever took a child
from its mother of his own will, was bound to stick to it. The
uncommercial sense of being in a rather ridiculous position with
the poor little child beginning to be frightened, was relieved by
my worthy friend and fellow-constable, Trampfoot; who, laying hands
on the article as if it were a Bottle, passed it on to the nearest
woman, and bade her 'take hold of that.' As we came out the Bottle
was passed to the ferocious joker, and they all sat down as before,
including Antonio and the guitar. It was clear that there was no
such thing as a nightcap to this baby's head, and that even he
never went to bed, but was always kept up - and would grow up, kept
up - waiting for Jack.
Later still in the night, we came (by the court 'where the man was
murdered,' and by the other court across the street, into which his
body was dragged) to another parlour in another Entry, where
several people were sitting round a fire in just the same way. It
was a dirty and offensive place, with some ragged clothes drying in
it; but there was a high shelf over the entrance-door (to be out of
the reach of marauding hands, possibly) with two large white loaves
on it, and a great piece of Cheshire cheese.
'Well!' says Mr. Superintendent, with a comprehensive look all
round. 'How do YOU do?'
'Not much to boast of, sir.' From the curtseying woman of the
house. 'This is my good man, sir.'
'You are not registered as a common Lodging House?'
'No, sir.'
Sharpeye (in the Move-on tone) puts in the pertinent inquiry, 'Then
why ain't you?'
'Ain't got no one here, Mr. Sharpeye,' rejoin the woman and my good
man together, 'but our own family.'
'How many are you in family?'
The woman takes time to count, under pretence of coughing, and
adds, as one scant of breath, 'Seven, sir.'
But she has missed one, so Sharpeye, who knows all about it, says:
'Here's a young man here makes eight, who ain't of your family?'
'No, Mr. Sharpeye, he's a weekly lodger.'
'What does he do for a living?'
The young man here, takes the reply upon himself, and shortly
answers, 'Ain't got nothing to do.'
The young man here, is modestly brooding behind a damp apron
pendent from a clothes-line. As I glance at him I become - but I
don't know why - vaguely reminded of Woolwich, Chatham, Portsmouth,
and Dover. When we get out, my respected fellow-constable
Sharpeye, addressing Mr. Superintendent, says:
'You noticed that young man, sir, in at Darby's?'
'Yes. What is he?'
'Deserter, sir.'
Mr. Sharpeye further intimates that when we have done with his
services, he will step back and take that young man. Which in
course of time he does: feeling at perfect ease about finding him,
and knowing for a moral certainty that nobody in that region will
be gone to bed.
Later still in the night, we came to another parlour up a step or
two from the street, which was very cleanly, neatly, even
tastefully, kept, and in which, set forth on a draped chest of
drawers masking the staircase, was such a profusion of ornamental
crockery, that it would have furnished forth a handsome sale-booth
at a fair. It backed up a stout old lady - HOGARTH drew her exact
likeness more than once - and a boy who was carefully writing a
copy in a copy-book.
'Well, ma'am, how do YOU do?'
Sweetly, she can assure the dear gentlemen, sweetly. Charmingly,
charmingly. And overjoyed to see us!
'Why, this is a strange time for this boy to be writing his copy.
In the middle of the night!'
'So it is, dear gentlemen, Heaven bless your welcome faces and send
ye prosperous, but he has been to the Play with a young friend for
his diversion, and he combinates his improvement with
entertainment, by doing his school-writing afterwards, God be good
to ye!'
The copy admonished human nature to subjugate the fire of every
fierce desire. One might have thought it recommended stirring the
fire, the old lady so approved it. There she sat, rosily beaming
at the copy-book and the boy, and invoking showers of blessings on
our heads, when we left her in the middle of the night, waiting for
Later still in the night, we came to a nauseous room with an earth
floor, into which the refuse scum of an alley trickled. The stench
of this habitation was abominable; the seeming poverty of it,
diseased and dire. Yet, here again, was visitor or lodger - a man
sitting before the fire, like the rest of them elsewhere, and
apparently not distasteful to the mistress's niece, who was also
before the fire. The mistress herself had the misfortune of being
in jail.
Three weird old women of transcendent ghastliness, were at
needlework at a table in this room. Says Trampfoot to First Witch,
'What are you making?' Says she, 'Money-bags.'
'WHAT are you making?' retorts Trampfoot, a little off his balance.
'Bags to hold your money,' says the witch, shaking her head, and
setting her teeth; 'you as has got it.'
She holds up a common cash-bag, and on the table is a heap of such
bags. Witch Two laughs at us. Witch Three scowls at us. Witch
sisterhood all, stitch, stitch. First Witch has a circle round
each eye. I fancy it like the beginning of the development of a
perverted diabolical halo, and that when it spreads all round her
head, she will die in the odour of devilry.
Trampfoot wishes to be informed what First Witch has got behind the
table, down by the side of her, there? Witches Two and Three croak
angrily, 'Show him the child!'
She drags out a skinny little arm from a brown dustheap on the
ground. Adjured not to disturb the child, she lets it drop again.
Thus we find at last that there is one child in the world of
Entries who goes to bed - if this be bed.
Mr. Superintendent asks how long are they going to work at those
How long? First Witch repeats. Going to have supper presently.
See the cups and saucers, and the plates.
'Late? Ay! But we has to 'arn our supper afore we eats it!' Both
the other witches repeat this after First Witch, and take the
Uncommercial measurement with their eyes, as for a charmed windingsheet.
Some grim discourse ensues, referring to the mistress of
the cave, who will be released from jail to-morrow. Witches
pronounce Trampfoot 'right there,' when he deems it a trying
distance for the old lady to walk; she shall be fetched by niece in
a spring-cart.
As I took a parting look at First Witch in turning away, the red
marks round her eyes seemed to have already grown larger, and she
hungrily and thirstily looked out beyond me into the dark doorway,
to see if Jack was there. For, Jack came even here, and the
mistress had got into jail through deluding Jack.
When I at last ended this night of travel and got to bed, I failed
to keep my mind on comfortable thoughts of Seaman's Homes (not
overdone with strictness), and improved dock regulations giving
Jack greater benefit of fire and candle aboard ship, through my
mind's wandering among the vermin I had seen. Afterwards the same
vermin ran all over my sleep. Evermore, when on a breezy day I see
Poor Mercantile Jack running into port with a fair wind under all
sail, I shall think of the unsleeping host of devourers who never
go to bed, and are always in their set traps waiting for him.
In the late high winds I was blown to a great many places - and
indeed, wind or no wind, I generally have extensive transactions on
hand in the article of Air - but I have not been blown to any
English place lately, and I very seldom have blown to any English
place in my life, where I could get anything good to eat and drink
in five minutes, or where, if I sought it, I was received with a
This is a curious thing to consider. But before (stimulated by my
own experiences and the representations of many fellow-travellers
of every uncommercial and commercial degree) I consider it further,
I must utter a passing word of wonder concerning high winds.
I wonder why metropolitan gales always blow so hard at Walworth. I
cannot imagine what Walworth has done, to bring such windy
punishment upon itself, as I never fail to find recorded in the
newspapers when the wind has blown at all hard. Brixton seems to
have something on its conscience; Peckham suffers more than a
virtuous Peckham might be supposed to deserve; the howling
neighbourhood of Deptford figures largely in the accounts of the
ingenious gentlemen who are out in every wind that blows, and to
whom it is an ill high wind that blows no good; but, there can
hardly be any Walworth left by this time. It must surely be blown
away. I have read of more chimney-stacks and house-copings coming
down with terrific smashes at Walworth, and of more sacred edifices
being nearly (not quite) blown out to sea from the same accursed
locality, than I have read of practised thieves with the appearance
and manners of gentlemen - a popular phenomenon which never existed
on earth out of fiction and a police report. Again: I wonder why
people are always blown into the Surrey Canal, and into no other
piece of water! Why do people get up early and go out in groups,
to be blown into the Surrey Canal? Do they say to one another,
'Welcome death, so that we get into the newspapers'? Even that
would be an insufficient explanation, because even then they might
sometimes put themselves in the way of being blown into the
Regent's Canal, instead of always saddling Surrey for the field.
Some nameless policeman, too, is constantly, on the slightest
provocation, getting himself blown into this same Surrey Canal.
Will SIR RICHARD MAYNE see to it, and restrain that weak-minded and
feeble-bodied constable?
To resume the consideration of the curious question of Refreshment.
I am a Briton, and, as such, I am aware that I never will be a
slave - and yet I have latent suspicion that there must be some
slavery of wrong custom in this matter.
I travel by railroad. I start from home at seven or eight in the
morning, after breakfasting hurriedly. What with skimming over the
open landscape, what with mining in the damp bowels of the earth,
what with banging, booming and shrieking the scores of miles away,
I am hungry when I arrive at the 'Refreshment' station where I am
expected. Please to observe, expected. I have said, I am hungry;
perhaps I might say, with greater point and force, that I am to
some extent exhausted, and that I need - in the expressive French
sense of the word - to be restored. What is provided for my
restoration? The apartment that is to restore me is a wind-trap,
cunningly set to inveigle all the draughts in that country-side,
and to communicate a special intensity and velocity to them as they
rotate in two hurricanes: one, about my wretched head: one, about
my wretched legs. The training of the young ladies behind the
counter who are to restore me, has been from their infancy directed
to the assumption of a defiant dramatic show that I am NOT
expected. It is in vain for me to represent to them by my humble
and conciliatory manners, that I wish to be liberal. It is in vain
for me to represent to myself, for the encouragement of my sinking
soul, that the young ladies have a pecuniary interest in my
arrival. Neither my reason nor my feelings can make head against
the cold glazed glare of eye with which I am assured that I am not
expected, and not wanted. The solitary man among the bottles would
sometimes take pity on me, if he dared, but he is powerless against
the rights and mights of Woman. (Of the page I make no account,
for, he is a boy, and therefore the natural enemy of Creation.)
Chilling fast, in the deadly tornadoes to which my upper and lower
extremities are exposed, and subdued by the moral disadvantage at
which I stand, I turn my disconsolate eyes on the refreshments that
are to restore me. I find that I must either scald my throat by
insanely ladling into it, against time and for no wager, brown hot
water stiffened with flour; or I must make myself flaky and sick
with Banbury cake; or, I must stuff into my delicate organisation,
a currant pincushion which I know will swell into immeasurable
dimensions when it has got there; or, I must extort from an ironbound
quarry, with a fork, as if I were farming an inhospitable
soil, some glutinous lumps of gristle and grease, called pork-pie.
While thus forlornly occupied, I find that the depressing banquet
on the table is, in every phase of its profoundly unsatisfactory
character, so like the banquet at the meanest and shabbiest of
evening parties, that I begin to think I must have 'brought down'
to supper, the old lady unknown, blue with cold, who is setting her
teeth on edge with a cool orange at my elbow - that the pastrycook
who has compounded for the company on the lowest terms per head, is
a fraudulent bankrupt, redeeming his contract with the stale stock
from his window - that, for some unexplained reason, the family
giving the party have become my mortal foes, and have given it on
purpose to affront me. Or, I fancy that I am 'breaking up' again,
at the evening conversazione at school, charged two-and-sixpence in
the half-year's bill; or breaking down again at that celebrated
evening party given at Mrs. Bogles's boarding-house when I was a
boarder there, on which occasion Mrs. Bogles was taken in execution
by a branch of the legal profession who got in as the harp, and was
removed (with the keys and subscribed capital) to a place of
durance, half an hour prior to the commencement of the festivities.
Take another case.
Mr. Grazinglands, of the Midland Counties, came to London by
railroad one morning last week, accompanied by the amiable and
fascinating Mrs. Grazinglands. Mr. G. is a gentleman of a
comfortable property, and had a little business to transact at the
Bank of England, which required the concurrence and signature of
Mrs. G. Their business disposed of, Mr. and Mrs. Grazinglands
viewed the Royal Exchange, and the exterior of St. Paul's
Cathedral. The spirits of Mrs. Grazinglands then gradually
beginning to flag, Mr. Grazinglands (who is the tenderest of
husbands) remarked with sympathy, 'Arabella', my dear, 'fear you
are faint.' Mrs. Grazing-lands replied, 'Alexander, I am rather
faint; but don't mind me, I shall be better presently.' Touched by
the feminine meekness of this answer, Mr. Grazinglands looked in at
a pastrycook's window, hesitating as to the expediency of lunching
at that establishment. He beheld nothing to eat, but butter in
various forms, slightly charged with jam, and languidly frizzling
over tepid water. Two ancient turtle-shells, on which was
inscribed the legend, 'SOUPS,' decorated a glass partition within,
enclosing a stuffy alcove, from which a ghastly mockery of a
marriage-breakfast spread on a rickety table, warned the terrified
traveller. An oblong box of stale and broken pastry at reduced
prices, mounted on a stool, ornamented the doorway; and two high
chairs that looked as if they were performing on stilts,
embellished the counter. Over the whole, a young lady presided,
whose gloomy haughtiness as she surveyed the street, announced a
deep-seated grievance against society, and an implacable
determination to be avenged. From a beetle-haunted kitchen below
this institution, fumes arose, suggestive of a class of soup which
Mr. Grazinglands knew, from painful experience, enfeebles the mind,
distends the stomach, forces itself into the complexion, and tries
to ooze out at the eyes. As he decided against entering, and
turned away, Mrs. Grazinglands becoming perceptibly weaker,
repeated, 'I am rather faint, Alexander, but don't mind me.' Urged
to new efforts by these words of resignation, Mr. Grazinglands
looked in at a cold and floury baker's shop, where utilitarian buns
unrelieved by a currant, consorted with hard biscuits, a stone
filter of cold water, a hard pale clock, and a hard little old
woman with flaxen hair, of an undeveloped-farinaceous aspect, as if
she had been fed upon seeds. He might have entered even here, but
for the timely remembrance coming upon him that Jairing's was but
round the corner.
Now, Jairing's being an hotel for families and gentlemen, in high
repute among the midland counties, Mr. Grazinglands plucked up a
great spirit when he told Mrs. Grazinglands she should have a chop
there. That lady, likewise felt that she was going to see Life.
Arriving on that gay and festive scene, they found the second
waiter, in a flabby undress, cleaning the windows of the empty
coffee-room; and the first waiter, denuded of his white tie, making
up his cruets behind the Post-Office Directory. The latter (who
took them in hand) was greatly put out by their patronage, and
showed his mind to be troubled by a sense of the pressing necessity
of instantly smuggling Mrs. Grazinglands into the obscurest corner
of the building. This slighted lady (who is the pride of her
division of the county) was immediately conveyed, by several dark
passages, and up and down several steps, into a penitential
apartment at the back of the house, where five invalided old platewarmers
leaned up against one another under a discarded old
melancholy sideboard, and where the wintry leaves of all the
dining-tables in the house lay thick. Also, a sofa, of
incomprehensible form regarded from any sofane point of view,
murmured 'Bed;' while an air of mingled fluffiness and heeltaps,
added, 'Second Waiter's.' Secreted in this dismal hold, objects of
a mysterious distrust and suspicion, Mr. Grazinglands and his
charming partner waited twenty minutes for the smoke (for it never
came to a fire), twenty-five minutes for the sherry, half an hour
for the tablecloth, forty minutes for the knives and forks, threequarters
of an hour for the chops, and an hour for the potatoes.
On settling the little bill - which was not much more than the
day's pay of a Lieutenant in the navy - Mr. Grazinglands took
heart to remonstrate against the general quality and cost of his
reception. To whom the waiter replied, substantially, that
Jairing's made it a merit to have accepted him on any terms:
'for,' added the waiter (unmistakably coughing at Mrs.
Grazinglands, the pride of her division of the county), 'when
indiwiduals is not staying in the 'Ouse, their favours is not as a
rule looked upon as making it worth Mr. Jairing's while; nor is it,
indeed, a style of business Mr. Jairing wishes.' Finally, Mr. and
Mrs. Grazinglands passed out of Jairing's hotel for Families and
Gentlemen, in a state of the greatest depression, scorned by the
bar; and did not recover their self-respect for several days.
Or take another case. Take your own case.
You are going off by railway, from any Terminus. You have twenty
minutes for dinner, before you go. You want your dinner, and like
Dr. Johnson, Sir, you like to dine. You present to your mind, a
picture of the refreshment-table at that terminus. The
conventional shabby evening-party supper - accepted as the model
for all termini and all refreshment stations, because it is the
last repast known to this state of existence of which any human
creature would partake, but in the direst extremity - sickens your
contemplation, and your words are these: 'I cannot dine on stale
sponge-cakes that turn to sand in the mouth. I cannot dine on
shining brown patties, composed of unknown animals within, and
offering to my view the device of an indigestible star-fish in
leaden pie-crust without. I cannot dine on a sandwich that has
long been pining under an exhausted receiver. I cannot dine on
barley-sugar. I cannot dine on Toffee.' You repair to the nearest
hotel, and arrive, agitated, in the coffee-room.
It is a most astonishing fact that the waiter is very cold to you.
Account for it how you may, smooth it over how you will, you cannot
deny that he is cold to you. He is not glad to see you, he does
not want you, he would much rather you hadn't come. He opposes to
your flushed condition, an immovable composure. As if this were
not enough, another waiter, born, as it would seem, expressly to
look at you in this passage of your life, stands at a little
distance, with his napkin under his arm and his hands folded,
looking at you with all his might. You impress on your waiter that
you have ten minutes for dinner, and he proposes that you shall
begin with a bit of fish which will be ready in twenty. That
proposal declined, he suggests - as a neat originality - 'a weal or
mutton cutlet.' You close with either cutlet, any cutlet,
anything. He goes, leisurely, behind a door and calls down some
unseen shaft. A ventriloquial dialogue ensues, tending finally to
the effect that weal only, is available on the spur of the moment.
You anxiously call out, 'Veal, then!' Your waiter having settled
that point, returns to array your tablecloth, with a table napkin
folded cocked-hat-wise (slowly, for something out of window engages
his eye), a white wine-glass, a green wine-glass, a blue fingerglass,
a tumbler, and a powerful field battery of fourteen casters
with nothing in them; or at all events - which is enough for your
purpose - with nothing in them that will come out. All this time,
the other waiter looks at you - with an air of mental comparison
and curiosity, now, as if it had occurred to him that you are
rather like his brother. Half your time gone, and nothing come but
the jug of ale and the bread, you implore your waiter to 'see after
that cutlet, waiter; pray do!' He cannot go at once, for he is
carrying in seventeen pounds of American cheese for you to finish
with, and a small Landed Estate of celery and water-cresses. The
other waiter changes his leg, and takes a new view of you,
doubtfully, now, as if he had rejected the resemblance to his
brother, and had begun to think you more like his aunt or his
grandmother. Again you beseech your waiter with pathetic
indignation, to 'see after that cutlet!' He steps out to see after
it, and by-and-by, when you are going away without it, comes back
with it. Even then, he will not take the sham silver cover off,
without a pause for a flourish, and a look at the musty cutlet as
if he were surprised to see it - which cannot possibly be the case,
he must have seen it so often before. A sort of fur has been
produced upon its surface by the cook's art, and in a sham silver
vessel staggering on two feet instead of three, is a cutaneous kind
of sauce of brown pimples and pickled cucumber. You order the
bill, but your waiter cannot bring your bill yet, because he is
bringing, instead, three flinty-hearted potatoes and two grim head
of broccoli, like the occasional ornaments on area railings, badly
boiled. You know that you will never come to this pass, any more
than to the cheese and celery, and you imperatively demand your
bill; but, it takes time to get, even when gone for, because your
waiter has to communicate with a lady who lives behind a sashwindow
in a corner, and who appears to have to refer to several
Ledgers before she can make it out - as if you had been staying
there a year. You become distracted to get away, and the other
waiter, once more changing his leg, still looks at you - but
suspiciously, now, as if you had begun to remind him of the party
who took the great-coats last winter. Your bill at last brought
and paid, at the rate of sixpence a mouthful, your waiter
reproachfully reminds you that 'attendance is not charged for a
single meal,' and you have to search in all your pockets for
sixpence more. He has a worse opinion of you than ever, when you
have given it to him, and lets you out into the street with the air
of one saying to himself, as you cannot again doubt he is, 'I hope
we shall never see YOU here again!'
Or, take any other of the numerous travelling instances in which,
with more time at your disposal, you are, have been, or may be,
equally ill served. Take the old-established Bull's Head with its
old-established knife-boxes on its old-established sideboards, its
old-established flue under its old-established four-post bedsteads
in its old-established airless rooms, its old-established
frouziness up-stairs and down-stairs, its old-established cookery,
and its old-established principles of plunder. Count up your
injuries, in its side-dishes of ailing sweetbreads in white
poultices, of apothecaries' powders in rice for curry, of pale
stewed bits of calf ineffectually relying for an adventitious
interest on forcemeat balls. You have had experience of the oldestablished
Bull's Head stringy fowls, with lower extremities like
wooden legs, sticking up out of the dish; of its cannibalic boiled
mutton, gushing horribly among its capers, when carved; of its
little dishes of pastry - roofs of spermaceti ointment, erected
over half an apple or four gooseberries. Well for you if you have
yet forgotten the old-established Bull's Head fruity port: whose
reputation was gained solely by the old-established price the
Bull's Head put upon it, and by the old-established air with which
the Bull's Head set the glasses and D'Oyleys on, and held that
Liquid Gout to the three-and-sixpenny wax-candle, as if its oldestablished
colour hadn't come from the dyer's.
Or lastly, take to finish with, two cases that we all know, every
We all know the new hotel near the station, where it is always
gusty, going up the lane which is always muddy, where we are sure
to arrive at night, and where we make the gas start awfully when we
open the front door. We all know the flooring of the passages and
staircases that is too new, and the walls that are too new, and the
house that is haunted by the ghost of mortar. We all know the
doors that have cracked, and the cracked shutters through which we
get a glimpse of the disconsolate moon. We all know the new
people, who have come to keep the new hotel, and who wish they had
never come, and who (inevitable result) wish WE had never come. We
all know how much too scant and smooth and bright the new furniture
is, and how it has never settled down, and cannot fit itself into
right places, and will get into wrong places. We all know how the
gas, being lighted, shows maps of Damp upon the walls. We all know
how the ghost of mortar passes into our sandwich, stirs our negus,
goes up to bed with us, ascends the pale bedroom chimney, and
prevents the smoke from following. We all know how a leg of our
chair comes off at breakfast in the morning, and how the dejected
waiter attributes the accident to a general greenness pervading the
establishment, and informs us, in reply to a local inquiry, that he
is thankful to say he is an entire stranger in that part of the
country and is going back to his own connexion on Saturday.
We all know, on the other hand, the great station hotel belonging
to the company of proprietors, which has suddenly sprung up in the
back outskirts of any place we like to name, and where we look out
of our palatial windows at little back yards and gardens, old
summer-houses, fowl-houses, pigeon-traps, and pigsties. We all
know this hotel in which we can get anything we want, after its
kind, for money; but where nobody is glad to see us, or sorry to
see us, or minds (our bill paid) whether we come or go, or how, or
when, or why, or cares about us. We all know this hotel, where we
have no individuality, but put ourselves into the general post, as
it were, and are sorted and disposed of according to our division.
We all know that we can get on very well indeed at such a place,
but still not perfectly well; and this may be, because the place is
largely wholesale, and there is a lingering personal retail
interest within us that asks to be satisfied.
To sum up. My uncommercial travelling has not yet brought me to
the conclusion that we are close to perfection in these matters.
And just as I do not believe that the end of the world will ever be
near at hand, so long as any of the very tiresome and arrogant
people who constantly predict that catastrophe are left in it, so,
I shall have small faith in the Hotel Millennium, while any of the
uncomfortable superstitions I have glanced at remain in existence.
I got into the travelling chariot - it was of German make, roomy,
heavy, and unvarnished - I got into the travelling chariot, pulled
up the steps after me, shut myself in with a smart bang of the
door, and gave the word, 'Go on!'
Immediately, all that W. and S.W. division of London began to slide
away at a pace so lively, that I was over the river, and past the
Old Kent Road, and out on Blackheath, and even ascending Shooter's
Hill, before I had had time to look about me in the carriage, like
a collected traveller.
I had two ample Imperials on the roof, other fitted storage for
luggage in front, and other up behind; I had a net for books
overhead, great pockets to all the windows, a leathern pouch or two
hung up for odds and ends, and a reading lamp fixed in the back of
the chariot, in case I should be benighted. I was amply provided
in all respects, and had no idea where I was going (which was
delightful), except that I was going abroad.
So smooth was the old high road, and so fresh were the horses, and
so fast went I, that it was midway between Gravesend and Rochester,
and the widening river was bearing the ships, white sailed or
black-smoked, out to sea, when I noticed by the wayside a very
queer small boy.
'Holloa!' said I, to the very queer small boy, 'where do you live?'
'At Chatham,' says he.
'What do you do there?' says I.
'I go to school,' says he.
I took him up in a moment, and we went on. Presently, the very
queer small boy says, 'This is Gads-hill we are coming to, where
Falstaff went out to rob those travellers, and ran away.'
'You know something about Falstaff, eh?' said I.
'All about him,' said the very queer small boy. 'I am old (I am
nine), and I read all sorts of books. But DO let us stop at the
top of the hill, and look at the house there, if you please!'
'You admire that house?' said I.
'Bless you, sir,' said the very queer small boy, 'when I was not
more than half as old as nine, it used to be a treat for me to be
brought to look at it. And now, I am nine, I come by myself to
look at it. And ever since I can recollect, my father, seeing me
so fond of it, has often said to me, "If you were to be very
persevering and were to work hard, you might some day come to live
in it." Though that's impossible!' said the very queer small boy,
drawing a low breath, and now staring at the house out of window
with all his might.
I was rather amazed to be told this by the very queer small boy;
for that house happens to be MY house, and I have reason to believe
that what he said was true.
Well! I made no halt there, and I soon dropped the very queer
small boy and went on. Over the road where the old Romans used to
march, over the road where the old Canterbury pilgrims used to go,
over the road where the travelling trains of the old imperious
priests and princes used to jingle on horseback between the
continent and this Island through the mud and water, over the road
where Shakespeare hummed to himself, 'Blow, blow, thou winter
wind,' as he sat in the saddle at the gate of the inn yard noticing
the carriers; all among the cherry orchards, apple orchards, cornfields,
and hop-gardens; so went I, by Canterbury to Dover. There,
the sea was tumbling in, with deep sounds, after dark, and the
revolving French light on Cape Grinez was seen regularly bursting
out and becoming obscured, as if the head of a gigantic lightkeeper
in an anxious state of mind were interposed every halfminute,
to look how it was burning.
Early in the morning I was on the deck of the steam-packet, and we
were aiming at the bar in the usual intolerable manner, and the bar
was aiming at us in the usual intolerable manner, and the bar got
by far the best of it, and we got by far the worst - all in the
usual intolerable manner.
But, when I was clear of the Custom House on the other side, and
when I began to make the dust fly on the thirsty French roads, and
when the twigsome trees by the wayside (which, I suppose, never
will grow leafy, for they never did) guarded here and there a dusty
soldier, or field labourer, baking on a heap of broken stones,
sound asleep in a fiction of shade, I began to recover my
travelling spirits. Coming upon the breaker of the broken stones,
in a hard, hot, shining hat, on which the sun played at a distance
as on a burning-glass, I felt that now, indeed, I was in the dear
old France of my affections. I should have known it, without the
well-remembered bottle of rough ordinary wine, the cold roast fowl,
the loaf, and the pinch of salt, on which I lunched with
unspeakable satisfaction, from one of the stuffed pockets of the
I must have fallen asleep after lunch, for when a bright face
looked in at the window, I started, and said:
'Good God, Louis, I dreamed you were dead!'
My cheerful servant laughed, and answered:
'Me? Not at all, sir.'
'How glad I am to wake! What are we doing Louis?'
'We go to take relay of horses. Will you walk up the hill?'
Welcome the old French hill, with the old French lunatic (not in
the most distant degree related to Sterne's Maria) living in a
thatched dog-kennel half-way up, and flying out with his crutch and
his big head and extended nightcap, to be beforehand with the old
men and women exhibiting crippled children, and with the children
exhibiting old men and women, ugly and blind, who always seemed by
resurrectionary process to be recalled out of the elements for the
sudden peopling of the solitude!
'It is well,' said I, scattering among them what small coin I had;
'here comes Louis, and I am quite roused from my nap.'
We journeyed on again, and I welcomed every new assurance that
France stood where I had left it. There were the posting-houses,
with their archways, dirty stable-yards, and clean post-masters'
wives, bright women of business, looking on at the putting-to of
the horses; there were the postilions counting what money they got,
into their hats, and never making enough of it; there were the
standard population of grey horses of Flanders descent, invariably
biting one another when they got a chance; there were the fleecy
sheepskins, looped on over their uniforms by the postilions, like
bibbed aprons when it blew and rained; there were their Jack-boots,
and their cracking whips; there were the cathedrals that I got out
to see, as under some cruel bondage, in no wise desiring to see
them; there were the little towns that appeared to have no reason
for being towns, since most of their houses were to let and nobody
could be induced to look at them, except the people who couldn't
let them and had nothing else to do but look at them all day. I
lay a night upon the road and enjoyed delectable cookery of
potatoes, and some other sensible things, adoption of which at home
would inevitably be shown to be fraught with ruin, somehow or
other, to that rickety national blessing, the British farmer; and
at last I was rattled, like a single pill in a box, over leagues of
stones, until - madly cracking, plunging, and flourishing two grey
tails about - I made my triumphal entry into Paris.
At Paris, I took an upper apartment for a few days in one of the
hotels of the Rue de Rivoli; my front windows looking into the
garden of the Tuileries (where the principal difference between the
nursemaids and the flowers seemed to be that the former were
locomotive and the latter not): my back windows looking at all the
other back windows in the hotel, and deep down into a paved yard,
where my German chariot had retired under a tight-fitting archway,
to all appearance for life, and where bells rang all day without
anybody's minding them but certain chamberlains with feather brooms
and green baize caps, who here and there leaned out of some high
window placidly looking down, and where neat waiters with trays on
their left shoulders passed and repassed from morning to night.
Whenever I am at Paris, I am dragged by invisible force into the
Morgue. I never want to go there, but am always pulled there. One
Christmas Day, when I would rather have been anywhere else, I was
attracted in, to see an old grey man lying all alone on his cold
bed, with a tap of water turned on over his grey hair, and running,
drip, drip, drip, down his wretched face until it got to the corner
of his mouth, where it took a turn, and made him look sly. One New
Year's Morning (by the same token, the sun was shining outside, and
there was a mountebank balancing a feather on his nose, within a
yard of the gate), I was pulled in again to look at a flaxen-haired
boy of eighteen, with a heart hanging on his breast - 'from his
mother,' was engraven on it - who had come into the net across the
river, with a bullet wound in his fair forehead and his hands cut
with a knife, but whence or how was a blank mystery. This time, I
was forced into the same dread place, to see a large dark man whose
disfigurement by water was in a frightful manner comic, and whose
expression was that of a prize-fighter who had closed his eyelids
under a heavy blow, but was going immediately to open them, shake
his head, and 'come up smiling.' Oh what this large dark man cost
me in that bright city!
It was very hot weather, and he was none the better for that, and I
was much the worse. Indeed, a very neat and pleasant little woman
with the key of her lodging on her forefinger, who had been showing
him to her little girl while she and the child ate sweetmeats,
observed monsieur looking poorly as we came out together, and asked
monsieur, with her wondering little eyebrows prettily raised, if
there were anything the matter? Faintly replying in the negative,
monsieur crossed the road to a wine-shop, got some brandy, and
resolved to freshen himself with a dip in the great floating bath
on the river.
The bath was crowded in the usual airy manner, by a male population
in striped drawers of various gay colours, who walked up and down
arm in arm, drank coffee, smoked cigars, sat at little tables,
conversed politely with the damsels who dispensed the towels, and
every now and then pitched themselves into the river head foremost,
and came out again to repeat this social routine. I made haste to
participate in the water part of the entertainments, and was in the
full enjoyment of a delightful bath, when all in a moment I was
seized with an unreasonable idea that the large dark body was
floating straight at me.
I was out of the river, and dressing instantly. In the shock I had
taken some water into my mouth, and it turned me sick, for I
fancied that the contamination of the creature was in it. I had
got back to my cool darkened room in the hotel, and was lying on a
sofa there, before I began to reason with myself.
Of course, I knew perfectly well that the large dark creature was
stone dead, and that I should no more come upon him out of the
place where I had seen him dead, than I should come upon the
cathedral of Notre-Dame in an entirely new situation. What
troubled me was the picture of the creature; and that had so
curiously and strongly painted itself upon my brain, that I could
not get rid of it until it was worn out.
I noticed the peculiarities of this possession, while it was a real
discomfort to me. That very day, at dinner, some morsel on my
plate looked like a piece of him, and I was glad to get up and go
out. Later in the evening, I was walking along the Rue St. Honore,
when I saw a bill at a public room there, announcing small-sword
exercise, broad-sword exercise, wrestling, and other such feats. I
went in, and some of the sword-play being very skilful, remained.
A specimen of our own national sport, The British Boaxe, was
announced to be given at the close of the evening. In an evil
hour, I determined to wait for this Boaxe, as became a Briton. It
was a clumsy specimen (executed by two English grooms out of
place), but one of the combatants, receiving a straight righthander
with the glove between his eyes, did exactly what the large
dark creature in the Morgue had seemed going to do - and finished
me for that night.
There was rather a sickly smell (not at all an unusual fragrance in
Paris) in the little ante-room of my apartment at the hotel. The
large dark creature in the Morgue was by no direct experience
associated with my sense of smell, because, when I came to the
knowledge of him, he lay behind a wall of thick plate-glass as good
as a wall of steel or marble for that matter. Yet the whiff of the
room never failed to reproduce him. What was more curious, was the
capriciousness with which his portrait seemed to light itself up in
my mind, elsewhere. I might be walking in the Palais Royal, lazily
enjoying the shop windows, and might be regaling myself with one of
the ready-made clothes shops that are set out there. My eyes,
wandering over impossible-waisted dressing-gowns and luminous
waistcoats, would fall upon the master, or the shopman, or even the
very dummy at the door, and would suggest to me, 'Something like
him!' - and instantly I was sickened again.
This would happen at the theatre, in the same manner. Often it
would happen in the street, when I certainly was not looking for
the likeness, and when probably there was no likeness there. It
was not because the creature was dead that I was so haunted,
because I know that I might have been (and I know it because I have
been) equally attended by the image of a living aversion. This
lasted about a week. The picture did not fade by degrees, in the
sense that it became a whit less forcible and distinct, but in the
sense that it obtruded itself less and less frequently. The
experience may be worth considering by some who have the care of
children. It would be difficult to overstate the intensity and
accuracy of an intelligent child's observation. At that
impressible time of life, it must sometimes produce a fixed
impression. If the fixed impression be of an object terrible to
the child, it will be (for want of reasoning upon) inseparable from
great fear. Force the child at such a time, be Spartan with it,
send it into the dark against its will, leave it in a lonely
bedroom against its will, and you had better murder it.
On a bright morning I rattled away from Paris, in the German
chariot, and left the large dark creature behind me for good. I
ought to confess, though, that I had been drawn back to the Morgue,
after he was put underground, to look at his clothes, and that I
found them frightfully like him - particularly his boots. However,
I rattled away for Switzerland, looking forward and not backward,
and so we parted company.
Welcome again, the long, long spell of France, with the queer
country inns, full of vases of flowers and clocks, in the dull
little town, and with the little population not at all dull on the
little Boulevard in the evening, under the little trees! Welcome
Monsieur the Cure, walking alone in the early morning a short way
out of the town, reading that eternal Breviary of yours, which
surely might be almost read, without book, by this time! Welcome
Monsieur the Cure, later in the day, jolting through the highway
dust (as if you had already ascended to the cloudy region), in a
very big-headed cabriolet, with the dried mud of a dozen winters on
it. Welcome again Monsieur the Cure, as we exchange salutations;
you, straightening your back to look at the German chariot, while
picking in your little village garden a vegetable or two for the
day's soup: I, looking out of the German chariot window in that
delicious traveller's trance which knows no cares, no yesterdays,
no to-morrows, nothing but the passing objects and the passing
scents and sounds! And so I came, in due course of delight, to
Strasbourg, where I passed a wet Sunday evening at a window, while
an idle trifle of a vaudeville was played for me at the opposite
How such a large house came to have only three people living in it,
was its own affair. There were at least a score of windows in its
high roof alone; how many in its grotesque front, I soon gave up
counting. The owner was a shopkeeper, by name Straudenheim; by
trade - I couldn't make out what by trade, for he had forborne to
write that up, and his shop was shut.
At first, as I looked at Straudenheim's, through the steadily
falling rain, I set him up in business in the goose-liver line.
But, inspection of Straudenheim, who became visible at a window on
the second floor, convinced me that there was something more
precious than liver in the case. He wore a black velvet skull-cap,
and looked usurious and rich. A large-lipped, pear-nosed old man,
with white hair, and keen eyes, though near-sighted. He was
writing at a desk, was Straudenheim, and ever and again left off
writing, put his pen in his mouth, and went through actions with
his right hand, like a man steadying piles of cash. Five-franc
pieces, Straudenheim, or golden Napoleons? A jeweller,
Straudenheim, a dealer in money, a diamond merchant, or what?
Below Straudenheim, at a window on the first floor, sat his
housekeeper - far from young, but of a comely presence, suggestive
of a well-matured foot and ankle. She was cheerily dressed, had a
fan in her hand, and wore large gold earrings and a large gold
cross. She would have been out holiday-making (as I settled it)
but for the pestilent rain. Strasbourg had given up holiday-making
for that once, as a bad job, because the rain was jerking in gushes
out of the old roof-spouts, and running in a brook down the middle
of the street. The housekeeper, her arms folded on her bosom and
her fan tapping her chin, was bright and smiling at her open
window, but otherwise Straudenheim's house front was very dreary.
The housekeeper's was the only open window in it; Straudenheim kept
himself close, though it was a sultry evening when air is pleasant,
and though the rain had brought into the town that vague refreshing
smell of grass which rain does bring in the summer-time.
The dim appearance of a man at Straudenheim's shoulder, inspired me
with a misgiving that somebody had come to murder that flourishing
merchant for the wealth with which I had handsomely endowed him:
the rather, as it was an excited man, lean and long of figure, and
evidently stealthy of foot. But, he conferred with Straudenheim
instead of doing him a mortal injury, and then they both softly
opened the other window of that room - which was immediately over
the housekeeper's - and tried to see her by looking down. And my
opinion of Straudenheim was much lowered when I saw that eminent
citizen spit out of window, clearly with the hope of spitting on
the housekeeper.
The unconscious housekeeper fanned herself, tossed her head, and
laughed. Though unconscious of Straudenheim, she was conscious of
somebody else - of me? - there was nobody else.
After leaning so far out of the window, that I confidently expected
to see their heels tilt up, Straudenheim and the lean man drew
their heads in and shut the window. Presently, the house door
secretly opened, and they slowly and spitefully crept forth into
the pouring rain. They were coming over to me (I thought) to
demand satisfaction for my looking at the housekeeper, when they
plunged into a recess in the architecture under my window and
dragged out the puniest of little soldiers, begirt with the most
innocent of little swords. The tall glazed head-dress of this
warrior, Straudenheim instantly knocked off, and out of it fell two
sugar-sticks, and three or four large lumps of sugar.
The warrior made no effort to recover his property or to pick up
his shako, but looked with an expression of attention at
Straudenheim when he kicked him five times, and also at the lean
man when HE kicked him five times, and again at Straudenheim when
he tore the breast of his (the warrior's) little coat open, and
shook all his ten fingers in his face, as if they were ten
thousand. When these outrages had been committed, Straudenheim and
his man went into the house again and barred the door. A wonderful
circumstance was, that the housekeeper who saw it all (and who
could have taken six such warriors to her buxom bosom at once),
only fanned herself and laughed as she had laughed before, and
seemed to have no opinion about it, one way or other.
But, the chief effect of the drama was the remarkable vengeance
taken by the little warrior. Left alone in the rain, he picked up
his shako; put it on, all wet and dirty as it was; retired into a
court, of which Straudenheim's house formed the corner; wheeled
about; and bringing his two forefingers close to the top of his
nose, rubbed them over one another, cross-wise, in derision,
defiance, and contempt of Straudenheim. Although Straudenheim
could not possibly be supposed to be conscious of this strange
proceeding, it so inflated and comforted the little warrior's soul,
that twice he went away, and twice came back into the court to
repeat it, as though it must goad his enemy to madness. Not only
that, but he afterwards came back with two other small warriors,
and they all three did it together. Not only that - as I live to
tell the tale! - but just as it was falling quite dark, the three
came back, bringing with them a huge bearded Sapper, whom they
moved, by recital of the original wrong, to go through the same
performance, with the same complete absence of all possible
knowledge of it on the part of Straudenheim. And then they all
went away, arm in arm, singing.
I went away too, in the German chariot at sunrise, and rattled on,
day after day, like one in a sweet dream; with so many clear little
bells on the harness of the horses, that the nursery rhyme about
Banbury Cross and the venerable lady who rode in state there, was
always in my ears. And now I came to the land of wooden houses,
innocent cakes, thin butter soup, and spotless little inn bedrooms
with a family likeness to Dairies. And now the Swiss marksmen were
for ever rifle-shooting at marks across gorges, so exceedingly near
my ear, that I felt like a new Gesler in a Canton of Tells, and
went in highly-deserved danger of my tyrannical life. The prizes
at these shootings, were watches, smart handkerchiefs, hats,
spoons, and (above all) tea-trays; and at these contests I came
upon a more than usually accomplished and amiable countryman of my
own, who had shot himself deaf in whole years of competition, and
had won so many tea-trays that he went about the country with his
carriage full of them, like a glorified Cheap-Jack.
In the mountain-country into which I had now travelled, a yoke of
oxen were sometimes hooked on before the post-horses, and I went
lumbering up, up, up, through mist and rain, with the roar of
falling water for change of music. Of a sudden, mist and rain
would clear away, and I would come down into picturesque little
towns with gleaming spires and odd towers; and would stroll afoot
into market-places in steep winding streets, where a hundred women
in bodices, sold eggs and honey, butter and fruit, and suckled
their children as they sat by their clean baskets, and had such
enormous goitres (or glandular swellings in the throat) that it
became a science to know where the nurse ended and the child began.
About this time, I deserted my German chariot for the back of a
mule (in colour and consistency so very like a dusty old hair trunk
I once had at school, that I half expected to see my initials in
brass-headed nails on his backbone), and went up a thousand rugged
ways, and looked down at a thousand woods of fir and pine, and
would on the whole have preferred my mule's keeping a little nearer
to the inside, and not usually travelling with a hoof or two over
the precipice - though much consoled by explanation that this was
to be attributed to his great sagacity, by reason of his carrying
broad loads of wood at other times, and not being clear but that I
myself belonged to that station of life, and required as much room
as they. He brought me safely, in his own wise way, among the
passes of the Alps, and here I enjoyed a dozen climates a day;
being now (like Don Quixote on the back of the wooden horse) in the
region of wind, now in the region of fire, now in the region of
unmelting ice and snow. Here, I passed over trembling domes of
ice, beneath which the cataract was roaring; and here was received
under arches of icicles, of unspeakable beauty; and here the sweet
air was so bracing and so light, that at halting-times I rolled in
the snow when I saw my mule do it, thinking that he must know best.
At this part of the journey we would come, at mid-day, into half an
hour's thaw: when the rough mountain inn would be found on an
island of deep mud in a sea of snow, while the baiting strings of
mules, and the carts full of casks and bales, which had been in an
Arctic condition a mile off, would steam again. By such ways and
means, I would come to the cluster of chalets where I had to turn
out of the track to see the waterfall; and then, uttering a howl
like a young giant, on espying a traveller - in other words,
something to eat - coming up the steep, the idiot lying on the
wood-pile who sunned himself and nursed his goitre, would rouse the
woman-guide within the hut, who would stream out hastily, throwing
her child over one of her shoulders and her goitre over the other,
as she came along. I slept at religious houses, and bleak refuges
of many kinds, on this journey, and by the stove at night heard
stories of travellers who had perished within call, in wreaths and
drifts of snow. One night the stove within, and the cold outside,
awakened childish associations long forgotten, and I dreamed I was
in Russia - the identical serf out of a picture-book I had, before
I could read it for myself - and that I was going to be knouted by
a noble personage in a fur cap, boots, and earrings, who, I think,
must have come out of some melodrama.
Commend me to the beautiful waters among these mountains! Though I
was not of their mind: they, being inveterately bent on getting
down into the level country, and I ardently desiring to linger
where I was. What desperate leaps they took, what dark abysses
they plunged into, what rocks they wore away, what echoes they
invoked! In one part where I went, they were pressed into the
service of carrying wood down, to be burnt next winter, as costly
fuel, in Italy. But, their fierce savage nature was not to be
easily constrained, and they fought with every limb of the wood;
whirling it round and round, stripping its bark away, dashing it
against pointed corners, driving it out of the course, and roaring
and flying at the peasants who steered it back again from the bank
with long stout poles. Alas! concurrent streams of time and water
carried ME down fast, and I came, on an exquisitely clear day, to
the Lausanne shore of the Lake of Geneva, where I stood looking at
the bright blue water, the flushed white mountains opposite, and
the boats at my feet with their furled Mediterranean sails, showing
like enormous magnifications of this goose-quill pen that is now in
my hand.
- The sky became overcast without any notice; a wind very like the
March east wind of England, blew across me; and a voice said, 'How
do you like it? Will it do?'
I had merely shut myself, for half a minute, in a German travelling
chariot that stood for sale in the Carriage Department of the
London Pantechnicon. I had a commission to buy it, for a friend
who was going abroad; and the look and manner of the chariot, as I
tried the cushions and the springs, brought all these hints of
travelling remembrance before me.
'It will do very well,' said I, rather sorrowfully, as I got out at
the other door, and shut the carriage up.
I travel constantly, up and down a certain line of railway that has
a terminus in London. It is the railway for a large military
depot, and for other large barracks. To the best of my serious
belief, I have never been on that railway by daylight, without
seeing some handcuffed deserters in the train.
It is in the nature of things that such an institution as our
English army should have many bad and troublesome characters in it.
But, this is a reason for, and not against, its being made as
acceptable as possible to well-disposed men of decent behaviour.
Such men are assuredly not tempted into the ranks, by the beastly
inversion of natural laws, and the compulsion to live in worse than
swinish foulness. Accordingly, when any such Circumlocutional
embellishments of the soldier's condition have of late been brought
to notice, we civilians, seated in outer darkness cheerfully
meditating on an Income Tax, have considered the matter as being
our business, and have shown a tendency to declare that we would
rather not have it misregulated, if such declaration may, without
violence to the Church Catechism, be hinted to those who are put in
authority over us.
Any animated description of a modern battle, any private soldier's
letter published in the newspapers, any page of the records of the
Victoria Cross, will show that in the ranks of the army, there
exists under all disadvantages as fine a sense of duty as is to be
found in any station on earth. Who doubts that if we all did our
duty as faithfully as the soldier does his, this world would be a
better place? There may be greater difficulties in our way than in
the soldier's. Not disputed. But, let us at least do our duty
towards HIM.
I had got back again to that rich and beautiful port where I had
looked after Mercantile Jack, and I was walking up a hill there, on
a wild March morning. My conversation with my official friend
Pangloss, by whom I was accidentally accompanied, took this
direction as we took the up-hill direction, because the object of
my uncommercial journey was to see some discharged soldiers who had
recently come home from India. There were men of HAVELOCK's among
them; there were men who had been in many of the great battles of
the great Indian campaign, among them; and I was curious to note
what our discharged soldiers looked like, when they were done with.
I was not the less interested (as I mentioned to my official friend
Pangloss) because these men had claimed to be discharged, when
their right to be discharged was not admitted. They had behaved
with unblemished fidelity and bravery; but, a change of
circumstances had arisen, which, as they considered, put an end to
their compact and entitled them to enter on a new one. Their
demand had been blunderingly resisted by the authorities in India:
but, it is to be presumed that the men were not far wrong, inasmuch
as the bungle had ended in their being sent home discharged, in
pursuance of orders from home. (There was an immense waste of
money, of course.)
Under these circumstances - thought I, as I walked up the hill, on
which I accidentally encountered my official friend - under these
circumstances of the men having successfully opposed themselves to
the Pagoda Department of that great Circumlocution Office on which
the sun never sets and the light of reason never rises, the Pagoda
Department will have been particularly careful of the national
honour. It will have shown these men, in the scrupulous good
faith, not to say the generosity, of its dealing with them, that
great national authorities can have no small retaliations and
revenges. It will have made every provision for their health on
the passage home, and will have landed them, restored from their
campaigning fatigues by a sea-voyage, pure air, sound food, and
good medicines. And I pleased myself with dwelling beforehand, on
the great accounts of their personal treatment which these men
would carry into their various towns and villages, and on the
increasing popularity of the service that would insensibly follow.
I almost began to hope that the hitherto-never-failing deserters on
my railroad would by-and-by become a phenomenon.
In this agreeable frame of mind I entered the workhouse of
Liverpool. - For, the cultivation of laurels in a sandy soil, had
brought the soldiers in question to THAT abode of Glory.
Before going into their wards to visit them, I inquired how they
had made their triumphant entry there? They had been brought
through the rain in carts it seemed, from the landing-place to the
gate, and had then been carried up-stairs on the backs of paupers.
Their groans and pains during the performance of this glorious
pageant, had been so distressing, as to bring tears into the eyes
of spectators but too well accustomed to scenes of suffering. The
men were so dreadfully cold, that those who could get near the
fires were hard to be restrained from thrusting their feet in among
the blazing coals. They were so horribly reduced, that they were
awful to look upon. Racked with dysentery and blackened with
scurvy, one hundred and forty wretched soldiers had been revived
with brandy and laid in bed.
My official friend Pangloss is lineally descended from a learned
doctor of that name, who was once tutor to Candide, an ingenious
young gentleman of some celebrity. In his personal character, he
is as humane and worthy a gentleman as any I know; in his official
capacity, he unfortunately preaches the doctrines of his renowned
ancestor, by demonstrating on all occasions that we live in the
best of all possible official worlds.
'In the name of Humanity,' said I, 'how did the men fall into this
deplorable state? Was the ship well found in stores?'
'I am not here to asseverate that I know the fact, of my own
knowledge,' answered Pangloss, 'but I have grounds for asserting
that the stores were the best of all possible stores.'
A medical officer laid before us, a handful of rotten biscuit, and
a handful of split peas. The biscuit was a honeycombed heap of
maggots, and the excrement of maggots. The peas were even harder
than this filth. A similar handful had been experimentally boiled
six hours, and had shown no signs of softening. These were the
stores on which the soldiers had been fed.
'The beef - ' I began, when Pangloss cut me short.
'Was the best of all possible beef,' said he.
But, behold, there was laid before us certain evidence given at the
Coroner's Inquest, holden on some of the men (who had obstinately
died of their treatment), and from that evidence it appeared that
the beef was the worst of possible beef!
'Then I lay my hand upon my heart, and take my stand,' said
Pangloss, 'by the pork, which was the best of all possible pork.'
'But look at this food before our eyes, if one may so misuse the
word,' said I. 'Would any Inspector who did his duty, pass such
'It ought not to have been passed,' Pangloss admitted.
'Then the authorities out there - ' I began, when Pangloss cut me
short again.
'There would certainly seem to have been something wrong
somewhere,' said he; 'but I am prepared to prove that the
authorities out there, are the best of all possible authorities.'
I never heard of any impeached public authority in my life, who was
not the best public authority in existence.
'We are told of these unfortunate men being laid low by scurvy,'
said I. 'Since lime-juice has been regularly stored and served out
in our navy, surely that disease, which used to devastate it, has
almost disappeared? Was there lime-juice aboard this transport?'
My official friend was beginning 'the best of all possible - ' when
an inconvenient medical forefinger pointed out another passage in
the evidence, from which it appeared that the lime-juice had been
bad too. Not to mention that the vinegar had been bad too, the
vegetables bad too, the cooking accommodation insufficient (if
there had been anything worth mentioning to cook), the water supply
exceedingly inadequate, and the beer sour.
'Then the men,' said Pangloss, a little irritated, 'Were the worst
of all possible men.'
'In what respect?' I asked.
'Oh! Habitual drunkards,' said Pangloss.
But, again the same incorrigible medical forefinger pointed out
another passage in the evidence, showing that the dead men had been
examined after death, and that they, at least, could not possibly
have been habitual drunkards, because the organs within them which
must have shown traces of that habit, were perfectly sound.
'And besides,' said the three doctors present, 'one and all,
habitual drunkards brought as low as these men have been, could not
recover under care and food, as the great majority of these men are
recovering. They would not have strength of constitution to do
'Reckless and improvident dogs, then,' said Pangloss. 'Always are
- nine times out of ten.'
I turned to the master of the workhouse, and asked him whether the
men had any money?
'Money?' said he. 'I have in my iron safe, nearly four hundred
pounds of theirs; the agents have nearly a hundred pounds more and
many of them have left money in Indian banks besides.'
'Hah!' said I to myself, as we went up-stairs, 'this is not the
best of all possible stories, I doubt!'
We went into a large ward, containing some twenty or five-andtwenty
beds. We went into several such wards, one after another.
I find it very difficult to indicate what a shocking sight I saw in
them, without frightening the reader from the perusal of these
lines, and defeating my object of making it known.
O the sunken eyes that turned to me as I walked between the rows of
beds, or - worse still - that glazedly looked at the white ceiling,
and saw nothing and cared for nothing! Here, lay the skeleton of a
man, so lightly covered with a thin unwholesome skin, that not a
bone in the anatomy was clothed, and I could clasp the arm above
the elbow, in my finger and thumb. Here, lay a man with the black
scurvy eating his legs away, his gums gone, and his teeth all gaunt
and bare. This bed was empty, because gangrene had set in, and the
patient had died but yesterday. That bed was a hopeless one,
because its occupant was sinking fast, and could only be roused to
turn the poor pinched mask of face upon the pillow, with a feeble
moan. The awful thinness of the fallen cheeks, the awful
brightness of the deep set eyes, the lips of lead, the hands of
ivory, the recumbent human images lying in the shadow of death with
a kind of solemn twilight on them, like the sixty who had died
aboard the ship and were lying at the bottom of the sea, O
Pangloss, GOD forgive you!
In one bed, lay a man whose life had been saved (as it was hoped)
by deep incisions in the feet and legs. While I was speaking to
him, a nurse came up to change the poultices which this operation
had rendered necessary, and I had an instinctive feeling that it
was not well to turn away, merely to spare myself. He was sorely
wasted and keenly susceptible, but the efforts he made to subdue
any expression of impatience or suffering, were quite heroic. It
was easy to see, in the shrinking of the figure, and the drawing of
the bed-clothes over the head, how acute the endurance was, and it
made me shrink too, as if I were in pain; but, when the new
bandages were on, and the poor feet were composed again, he made an
apology for himself (though he had not uttered a word), and said
plaintively, 'I am so tender and weak, you see, sir!' Neither from
him nor from any one sufferer of the whole ghastly number, did I
hear a complaint. Of thankfulness for present solicitude and care,
I heard much; of complaint, not a word.
I think I could have recognised in the dismalest skeleton there,
the ghost of a soldier. Something of the old air was still latent
in the palest shadow of life I talked to. One emaciated creature,
in the strictest literality worn to the bone, lay stretched on his
back, looking so like death that I asked one of the doctors if he
were not dying, or dead? A few kind words from the doctor, in his
ear, and he opened his eyes, and smiled - looked, in a moment, as
if he would have made a salute, if he could. 'We shall pull him
through, please God,' said the Doctor. 'Plase God, surr, and
thankye,' said the patient. 'You are much better to-day; are you
not?' said the Doctor. 'Plase God, surr; 'tis the slape I want,
surr; 'tis my breathin' makes the nights so long.' 'He is a
careful fellow this, you must know,' said the Doctor, cheerfully;
'it was raining hard when they put him in the open cart to bring
him here, and he had the presence of mind to ask to have a
sovereign taken out of his pocket that he had there, and a cab
engaged. Probably it saved his life.' The patient rattled out the
skeleton of a laugh, and said, proud of the story, ''Deed, surr, an
open cairt was a comical means o' bringin' a dyin' man here, and a
clever way to kill him.' You might have sworn to him for a soldier
when he said it.
One thing had perplexed me very much in going from bed to bed. A
very significant and cruel thing. I could find no young man but
one. He had attracted my notice, by having got up and dressed
himself in his soldier's jacket and trousers, with the intention of
sitting by the fire; but he had found himself too weak, and had
crept back to his bed and laid himself down on the outside of it.
I could have pronounced him, alone, to be a young man aged by
famine and sickness. As we were standing by the Irish soldier's
bed, I mentioned my perplexity to the Doctor. He took a board with
an inscription on it from the head of the Irishman's bed, and asked
me what age I supposed that man to be? I had observed him with
attention while talking to him, and answered, confidently, 'Fifty.'
The Doctor, with a pitying glance at the patient, who had dropped
into a stupor again, put the board back, and said, 'Twenty-four.'
All the arrangements of the wards were excellent. They could not
have been more humane, sympathising, gentle, attentive, or
wholesome. The owners of the ship, too, had done all they could,
liberally. There were bright fires in every room, and the
convalescent men were sitting round them, reading various papers
and periodicals. I took the liberty of inviting my official friend
Pangloss to look at those convalescent men, and to tell me whether
their faces and bearing were or were not, generally, the faces and
bearing of steady respectable soldiers? The master of the
workhouse, overhearing me, said he had had a pretty large
experience of troops, and that better conducted men than these, he
had never had to do with. They were always (he added) as we saw
them. And of us visitors (I add) they knew nothing whatever,
except that we were there.
It was audacious in me, but I took another liberty with Pangloss.
Prefacing it with the observation that, of course, I knew
beforehand that there was not the faintest desire, anywhere, to
hush up any part of this dreadful business, and that the Inquest
was the fairest of all possible Inquests, I besought four things of
Pangloss. Firstly, to observe that the Inquest WAS NOT HELD IN
THAT PLACE, but at some distance off. Secondly, to look round upon
those helpless spectres in their beds. Thirdly, to remember that
the witnesses produced from among them before that Inquest, could
not have been selected because they were the men who had the most
to tell it, but because they happened to be in a state admitting of
their safe removal. Fourthly, to say whether the coroner and jury
could have come there, to those pillows, and taken a little
evidence? My official friend declined to commit himself to a
There was a sergeant, reading, in one of the fireside groups. As
he was a man of very intelligent countenance, and as I have a great
respect for non-commissioned officers as a class, I sat down on the
nearest bed, to have some talk with him. (It was the bed of one of
the grisliest of the poor skeletons, and he died soon afterwards.)
'I was glad to see, in the evidence of an officer at the Inquest,
sergeant, that he never saw men behave better on board ship than
these men.'
'They did behave very well, sir.'
'I was glad to see, too, that every man had a hammock.' The
sergeant gravely shook his head. 'There must be some mistake, sir.
The men of my own mess had no hammocks. There were not hammocks
enough on board, and the men of the two next messes laid hold of
hammocks for themselves as soon as they got on board, and squeezed
my men out, as I may say.'
'Had the squeezed-out men none then?'
'None, sir. As men died, their hammocks were used by other men,
who wanted hammocks; but many men had none at all.'
'Then you don't agree with the evidence on that point?'
'Certainly not, sir. A man can't, when he knows to the contrary.'
'Did any of the men sell their bedding for drink?'
'There is some mistake on that point too, sir. Men were under the
impression - I knew it for a fact at the time - that it was not
allowed to take blankets or bedding on board, and so men who had
things of that sort came to sell them purposely.'
'Did any of the men sell their clothes for drink?'
'They did, sir.' (I believe there never was a more truthful
witness than the sergeant. He had no inclination to make out a
'Some, sir' (considering the question). 'Soldier-like. They had
been long marching in the rainy season, by bad roads - no roads at
all, in short - and when they got to Calcutta, men turned to and
drank, before taking a last look at it. Soldier-like.'
'Do you see any men in this ward, for example, who sold clothes for
drink at that time?'
The sergeant's wan eye, happily just beginning to rekindle with
health, travelled round the place and came back to me. 'Certainly,
'The marching to Calcutta in the rainy season must have been
'It was very severe, sir.'
'Yet what with the rest and the sea air, I should have thought that
the men (even the men who got drunk) would have soon begun to
recover on board ship?'
'So they might; but the bad food told upon them, and when we got
into a cold latitude, it began to tell more, and the men dropped.'
'The sick had a general disinclination for food, I am told,
'Have you seen the food, sir?'
'Some of it.'
'Have you seen the state of their mouths, sir?'
If the sergeant, who was a man of a few orderly words, had spoken
the amount of this volume, he could not have settled that question
better. I believe the sick could as soon have eaten the ship, as
the ship's provisions.
I took the additional liberty with my friend Pangloss, when I had
left the sergeant with good wishes, of asking Pangloss whether he
had ever heard of biscuit getting drunk and bartering its
nutritious qualities for putrefaction and vermin; of peas becoming
hardened in liquor; of hammocks drinking themselves off the face of
the earth; of lime-juice, vegetables, vinegar, cooking
accommodation, water supply, and beer, all taking to drinking
together and going to ruin? 'If not (I asked him), what did he say
in defence of the officers condemned by the Coroner's jury, who, by
signing the General Inspection report relative to the ship Great
Tasmania, chartered for these troops, had deliberately asserted all
that bad and poisonous dunghill refuse, to be good and wholesome
food?' My official friend replied that it was a remarkable fact,
that whereas some officers were only positively good, and other
officers only comparatively better, those particular officers were
superlatively the very best of all possible officers.
My hand and my heart fail me, in writing my record of this journey.
The spectacle of the soldiers in the hospital-beds of that
Liverpool workhouse (a very good workhouse, indeed, be it
understood), was so shocking and so shameful, that as an Englishman
I blush to remember it. It would have been simply unbearable at
the time, but for the consideration and pity with which they were
soothed in their sufferings.
No punishment that our inefficient laws provide, is worthy of the
name when set against the guilt of this transaction. But, if the
memory of it die out unavenged, and if it do not result in the
inexorable dismissal and disgrace of those who are responsible for
it, their escape will be infamous to the Government (no matter of
what party) that so neglects its duty, and infamous to the nation
that tamely suffers such intolerable wrong to be done in its name.
If the confession that I have often travelled from this Covent
Garden lodging of mine on Sundays, should give offence to those who
never travel on Sundays, they will be satisfied (I hope) by my
adding that the journeys in question were made to churches.
Not that I have any curiosity to hear powerful preachers. Time
was, when I was dragged by the hair of my head, as one may say, to
hear too many. On summer evenings, when every flower, and tree,
and bird, might have better addressed my soft young heart, I have
in my day been caught in the palm of a female hand by the crown,
have been violently scrubbed from the neck to the roots of the hair
as a purification for the Temple, and have then been carried off
highly charged with saponaceous electricity, to be steamed like a
potato in the unventilated breath of the powerful Boanerges Boiler
and his congregation, until what small mind I had, was quite
steamed out of me. In which pitiable plight I have been haled out
of the place of meeting, at the conclusion of the exercises, and
catechised respecting Boanerges Boiler, his fifthly, his sixthly,
and his seventhly, until I have regarded that reverend person in
the light of a most dismal and oppressive Charade. Time was, when
I was carried off to platform assemblages at which no human child,
whether of wrath or grace, could possibly keep its eyes open, and
when I felt the fatal sleep stealing, stealing over me, and when I
gradually heard the orator in possession, spinning and humming like
a great top, until he rolled, collapsed, and tumbled over, and I
discovered to my burning shame and fear, that as to that last stage
it was not he, but I. I have sat under Boanerges when he has
specifically addressed himself to us - us, the infants - and at
this present writing I hear his lumbering jocularity (which never
amused us, though we basely pretended that it did), and I behold
his big round face, and I look up the inside of his outstretched
coat-sleeve as if it were a telescope with the stopper on, and I
hate him with an unwholesome hatred for two hours. Through such
means did it come to pass that I knew the powerful preacher from
beginning to end, all over and all through, while I was very young,
and that I left him behind at an early period of life. Peace be
with him! More peace than he brought to me!
Now, I have heard many preachers since that time - not powerful;
merely Christian, unaffected, and reverential - and I have had many
such preachers on my roll of friends. But, it was not to hear
these, any more than the powerful class, that I made my Sunday
journeys. They were journeys of curiosity to the numerous churches
in the City of London. It came into my head one day, here had I
been cultivating a familiarity with all the churches of Rome, and I
knew nothing of the insides of the old churches of London! This
befell on a Sunday morning. I began my expeditions that very same
day, and they lasted me a year.
I never wanted to know the names of the churches to which I went,
and to this hour I am profoundly ignorant in that particular of at
least nine-tenths of them. Indeed, saying that I know the church
of old GOWER'S tomb (he lies in effigy with his head upon his
books) to be the church of Saint Saviour's, Southwark; and the
church of MILTON'S tomb to be the church of Cripplegate; and the
church on Cornhill with the great golden keys to be the church of
Saint Peter; I doubt if I could pass a competitive examination in
any of the names. No question did I ever ask of living creature
concerning these churches, and no answer to any antiquarian
question on the subject that I ever put to books, shall harass the
reader's soul. A full half of my pleasure in them arose out of
their mystery; mysterious I found them; mysterious they shall
remain for me.
Where shall I begin my round of hidden and forgotten old churches
in the City of London?
It is twenty minutes short of eleven on a Sunday morning, when I
stroll down one of the many narrow hilly streets in the City that
tend due south to the Thames. It is my first experiment, and I
have come to the region of Whittington in an omnibus, and we have
put down a fierce-eyed, spare old woman, whose slate-coloured gown
smells of herbs, and who walked up Aldersgate-street to some chapel
where she comforts herself with brimstone doctrine, I warrant. We
have also put down a stouter and sweeter old lady, with a pretty
large prayer-book in an unfolded pocket-handkerchief, who got out
at a corner of a court near Stationers' Hall, and who I think must
go to church there, because she is the widow of some deceased old
Company's Beadle. The rest of our freight were mere chance
pleasure-seekers and rural walkers, and went on to the Blackwall
railway. So many bells are ringing, when I stand undecided at a
street corner, that every sheep in the ecclesiastical fold might be
a bell-wether. The discordance is fearful. My state of indecision
is referable to, and about equally divisible among, four great
churches, which are all within sight and sound, all within the
space of a few square yards.
As I stand at the street corner, I don't see as many as four people
at once going to church, though I see as many as four churches with
their steeples clamouring for people. I choose my church, and go
up the flight of steps to the great entrance in the tower. A
mouldy tower within, and like a neglected washhouse. A rope comes
through the beamed roof, and a man in the corner pulls it and
clashes the bell - a whity-brown man, whose clothes were once black
- a man with flue on him, and cobweb. He stares at me, wondering
how I come there, and I stare at him, wondering how he comes there.
Through a screen of wood and glass, I peep into the dim church.
About twenty people are discernible, waiting to begin. Christening
would seem to have faded out of this church long ago, for the font
has the dust of desuetude thick upon it, and its wooden cover
(shaped like an old-fashioned tureen-cover) looks as if it wouldn't
come off, upon requirement. I perceive the altar to be rickety and
the Commandments damp. Entering after this survey, I jostle the
clergyman in his canonicals, who is entering too from a dark lane
behind a pew of state with curtains, where nobody sits. The pew is
ornamented with four blue wands, once carried by four somebodys, I
suppose, before somebody else, but which there is nobody now to
hold or receive honour from. I open the door of a family pew, and
shut myself in; if I could occupy twenty family pews at once I
might have them. The clerk, a brisk young man (how does HE come
here?), glances at me knowingly, as who should say, 'You have done
it now; you must stop.' Organ plays. Organ-loft is in a small
gallery across the church; gallery congregation, two girls. I
wonder within myself what will happen when we are required to sing.
There is a pale heap of books in the corner of my pew, and while
the organ, which is hoarse and sleepy, plays in such fashion that I
can hear more of the rusty working of the stops than of any music,
I look at the books, which are mostly bound in faded baize and
stuff. They belonged in 1754, to the Dowgate family; and who were
they? Jane Comport must have married Young Dowgate, and come into
the family that way; Young Dowgate was courting Jane Comport when
he gave her her prayer-book, and recorded the presentation in the
fly-leaf; if Jane were fond of Young Dowgate, why did she die and
leave the book here? Perhaps at the rickety altar, and before the
damp Commandments, she, Comport, had taken him, Dowgate, in a flush
of youthful hope and joy, and perhaps it had not turned out in the
long run as great a success as was expected?
The opening of the service recalls my wandering thoughts. I then
find, to my astonishment, that I have been, and still am, taking a
strong kind of invisible snuff, up my nose, into my eyes, and down
my throat. I wink, sneeze, and cough. The clerk sneezes; the
clergyman winks; the unseen organist sneezes and coughs (and
probably winks); all our little party wink, sneeze, and cough. The
snuff seems to be made of the decay of matting, wood, cloth, stone,
iron, earth, and something else. Is the something else, the decay
of dead citizens in the vaults below? As sure as Death it is! Not
only in the cold, damp February day, do we cough and sneeze dead
citizens, all through the service, but dead citizens have got into
the very bellows of the organ, and half choked the same. We stamp
our feet to warm them, and dead citizens arise in heavy clouds.
Dead citizens stick upon the walls, and lie pulverised on the
sounding-board over the clergyman's head, and, when a gust of air
comes, tumble down upon him.
In this first experience I was so nauseated by too much snuff, made
of the Dowgate family, the Comport branch, and other families and
branches, that I gave but little heed to our dull manner of ambling
through the service; to the brisk clerk's manner of encouraging us
to try a note or two at psalm time; to the gallery-congregation's
manner of enjoying a shrill duet, without a notion of time or tune;
to the whity-brown man's manner of shutting the minister into the
pulpit, and being very particular with the lock of the door, as if
he were a dangerous animal. But, I tried again next Sunday, and
soon accustomed myself to the dead citizens when I found that I
could not possibly get on without them among the City churches.
Another Sunday.
After being again rung for by conflicting bells, like a leg of
mutton or a laced hat a hundred years ago, I make selection of a
church oddly put away in a corner among a number of lanes - a
smaller church than the last, and an ugly: of about the date of
Queen Anne. As a congregation, we are fourteen strong: not
counting an exhausted charity school in a gallery, which has
dwindled away to four boys, and two girls. In the porch, is a
benefaction of loaves of bread, which there would seem to be nobody
left in the exhausted congregation to claim, and which I saw an
exhausted beadle, long faded out of uniform, eating with his eyes
for self and family when I passed in. There is also an exhausted
clerk in a brown wig, and two or three exhausted doors and windows
have been bricked up, and the service books are musty, and the
pulpit cushions are threadbare, and the whole of the church
furniture is in a very advanced stage of exhaustion. We are three
old women (habitual), two young lovers (accidental), two tradesmen,
one with a wife and one alone, an aunt and nephew, again two girls
(these two girls dressed out for church with everything about them
limp that should be stiff, and VICE VERSA, are an invariable
experience), and three sniggering boys. The clergyman is, perhaps,
the chaplain of a civic company; he has the moist and vinous look,
and eke the bulbous boots, of one acquainted with 'Twenty port, and
comet vintages.
We are so quiet in our dulness that the three sniggering boys, who
have got away into a corner by the altar-railing, give us a start,
like crackers, whenever they laugh. And this reminds me of my own
village church where, during sermon-time on bright Sundays when the
birds are very musical indeed, farmers' boys patter out over the
stone pavement, and the clerk steps out from his desk after them,
and is distinctly heard in the summer repose to pursue and punch
them in the churchyard, and is seen to return with a meditative
countenance, making believe that nothing of the sort has happened.
The aunt and nephew in this City church are much disturbed by the
sniggering boys. The nephew is himself a boy, and the sniggerers
tempt him to secular thoughts of marbles and string, by secretly
offering such commodities to his distant contemplation. This young
Saint Anthony for a while resists, but presently becomes a
backslider, and in dumb show defies the sniggerers to 'heave' a
marble or two in his direction. Here in he is detected by the aunt
(a rigorous reduced gentlewoman who has the charge of offices), and
I perceive that worthy relative to poke him in the side, with the
corrugated hooked handle of an ancient umbrella. The nephew
revenges himself for this, by holding his breath and terrifying his
kinswoman with the dread belief that he has made up his mind to
burst. Regardless of whispers and shakes, he swells and becomes
discoloured, and yet again swells and becomes discoloured, until
the aunt can bear it no longer, but leads him out, with no visible
neck, and with his eyes going before him like a prawn's. This
causes the sniggerers to regard flight as an eligible move, and I
know which of them will go out first, because of the over-devout
attention that he suddenly concentrates on the clergyman. In a
little while, this hypocrite, with an elaborate demonstration of
hushing his footsteps, and with a face generally expressive of
having until now forgotten a religious appointment elsewhere, is
gone. Number two gets out in the same way, but rather quicker.
Number three getting safely to the door, there turns reckless, and
banging it open, flies forth with a Whoop! that vibrates to the top
of the tower above us.
The clergyman, who is of a prandial presence and a muffled voice,
may be scant of hearing as well as of breath, but he only glances
up, as having an idea that somebody has said Amen in a wrong place,
and continues his steady jog-trot, like a farmer's wife going to
market. He does all he has to do, in the same easy way, and gives
us a concise sermon, still like the jog-trot of the farmer's wife
on a level road. Its drowsy cadence soon lulls the three old women
asleep, and the unmarried tradesman sits looking out at window, and
the married tradesman sits looking at his wife's bonnet, and the
lovers sit looking at one another, so superlatively happy, that I
mind when I, turned of eighteen, went with my Angelica to a City
church on account of a shower (by this special coincidence that it
was in Huggin-lane), and when I said to my Angelica, 'Let the
blessed event, Angelica, occur at no altar but this!' and when my
Angelica consented that it should occur at no other - which it
certainly never did, for it never occurred anywhere. And O,
Angelica, what has become of you, this present Sunday morning when
I can't attend to the sermon; and, more difficult question than
that, what has become of Me as I was when I sat by your side!
But, we receive the signal to make that unanimous dive which surely
is a little conventional - like the strange rustlings and settlings
and clearings of throats and noses, which are never dispensed with,
at certain points of the Church service, and are never held to be
necessary under any other circumstances. In a minute more it is
all over, and the organ expresses itself to be as glad of it as it
can be of anything in its rheumatic state, and in another minute we
are all of us out of the church, and Whity-brown has locked it up.
Another minute or little more, and, in the neighbouring churchyard
- not the yard of that church, but of another - a churchyard like a
great shabby old mignonette box, with two trees in it and one tomb
- I meet Whity-brown, in his private capacity, fetching a pint of
beer for his dinner from the public-house in the corner, where the
keys of the rotting fire-ladders are kept and were never asked for,
and where there is a ragged, white-seamed, out-at-elbowed bagatelle
board on the first floor.
In one of these City churches, and only in one, I found an
individual who might have been claimed as expressly a City
personage. I remember the church, by the feature that the
clergyman couldn't get to his own desk without going through the
clerk's, or couldn't get to the pulpit without going through the
reading-desk - I forget which, and it is no matter - and by the
presence of this personage among the exceedingly sparse
congregation. I doubt if we were a dozen, and we had no exhausted
charity school to help us out. The personage was dressed in black
of square cut, and was stricken in years, and wore a black velvet
cap, and cloth shoes. He was of a staid, wealthy, and dissatisfied
aspect. In his hand, he conducted to church a mysterious child: a
child of the feminine gender. The child had a beaver hat, with a
stiff drab plume that surely never belonged to any bird of the air.
The child was further attired in a nankeen frock and spencer, brown
boxing-gloves, and a veil. It had a blemish, in the nature of
currant jelly, on its chin; and was a thirsty child. Insomuch that
the personage carried in his pocket a green bottle, from which,
when the first psalm was given out, the child was openly refreshed.
At all other times throughout the service it was motionless, and
stood on the seat of the large pew, closely fitted into the corner,
like a rain-water pipe.
The personage never opened his book, and never looked at the
clergyman. He never sat down either, but stood with his arms
leaning on the top of the pew, and his forehead sometimes shaded
with his right hand, always looking at the church door. It was a
long church for a church of its size, and he was at the upper end,
but he always looked at the door. That he was an old bookkeeper,
or an old trader who had kept his own books, and that he might be
seen at the Bank of England about Dividend times, no doubt. That
he had lived in the City all his life and was disdainful of other
localities, no doubt. Why he looked at the door, I never
absolutely proved, but it is my belief that he lived in expectation
of the time when the citizens would come back to live in the City,
and its ancient glories would be renewed. He appeared to expect
that this would occur on a Sunday, and that the wanderers would
first appear, in the deserted churches, penitent and humbled.
Hence, he looked at the door which they never darkened. Whose
child the child was, whether the child of a disinherited daughter,
or some parish orphan whom the personage had adopted, there was
nothing to lead up to. It never played, or skipped, or smiled.
Once, the idea occurred to me that it was an automaton, and that
the personage had made it; but following the strange couple out one
Sunday, I heard the personage say to it, 'Thirteen thousand
pounds;' to which it added in a weak human voice, 'Seventeen and
fourpence.' Four Sundays I followed them out, and this is all I
ever heard or saw them say. One Sunday, I followed them home.
They lived behind a pump, and the personage opened their abode with
an exceeding large key. The one solitary inscription on their
house related to a fire-plug. The house was partly undermined by a
deserted and closed gateway; its windows were blind with dirt; and
it stood with its face disconsolately turned to a wall. Five great
churches and two small ones rang their Sunday bells between this
house and the church the couple frequented, so they must have had
some special reason for going a quarter of a mile to it. The last
time I saw them, was on this wise. I had been to explore another
church at a distance, and happened to pass the church they
frequented, at about two of the afternoon when that edifice was
closed. But, a little side-door, which I had never observed
before, stood open, and disclosed certain cellarous steps.
Methought 'They are airing the vaults to-day,' when the personage
and the child silently arrived at the steps, and silently
descended. Of course, I came to the conclusion that the personage
had at last despaired of the looked-for return of the penitent
citizens, and that he and the child went down to get themselves
In the course of my pilgrimages I came upon one obscure church
which had broken out in the melodramatic style, and was got up with
various tawdry decorations, much after the manner of the extinct
London may-poles. These attractions had induced several young
priests or deacons in black bibs for waistcoats, and several young
ladies interested in that holy order (the proportion being, as I
estimated, seventeen young ladies to a deacon), to come into the
City as a new and odd excitement. It was wonderful to see how
these young people played out their little play in the heart of the
City, all among themselves, without the deserted City's knowing
anything about it. It was as if you should take an empty countinghouse
on a Sunday, and act one of the old Mysteries there. They
had impressed a small school (from what neighbourhood I don't know)
to assist in the performances, and it was pleasant to notice
frantic garlands of inscription on the walls, especially addressing
those poor innocents in characters impossible for them to decipher.
There was a remarkably agreeable smell of pomatum in this
But, in other cases, rot and mildew and dead citizens formed the
uppermost scent, while, infused into it in a dreamy way not at all
displeasing, was the staple character of the neighbourhood. In the
churches about Mark-lane, for example, there was a dry whiff of
wheat; and I accidentally struck an airy sample of barley out of an
aged hassock in one of them. From Rood-lane to Tower-street, and
thereabouts, there was often a subtle flavour of wine: sometimes,
of tea. One church near Mincing-lane smelt like a druggist's
drawer. Behind the Monument the service had a flavour of damaged
oranges, which, a little further down towards the river, tempered
into herrings, and gradually toned into a cosmopolitan blast of
fish. In one church, the exact counterpart of the church in the
Rake's Progress where the hero is being married to the horrible old
lady, there was no speciality of atmosphere, until the organ shook
a perfume of hides all over us from some adjacent warehouse.
Be the scent what it would, however, there was no speciality in the
people. There were never enough of them to represent any calling
or neighbourhood. They had all gone elsewhere over-night, and the
few stragglers in the many churches languished there
Among the Uncommercial travels in which I have engaged, this year
of Sunday travel occupies its own place, apart from all the rest.
Whether I think of the church where the sails of the oyster-boats
in the river almost flapped against the windows, or of the church
where the railroad made the bells hum as the train rushed by above
the roof, I recall a curious experience. On summer Sundays, in the
gentle rain or the bright sunshine - either, deepening the idleness
of the idle City - I have sat, in that singular silence which
belongs to resting-places usually astir, in scores of buildings at
the heart of the world's metropolis, unknown to far greater numbers
of people speaking the English tongue, than the ancient edifices of
the Eternal City, or the Pyramids of Egypt. The dark vestries and
registries into which I have peeped, and the little hemmed-in
churchyards that have echoed to my feet, have left impressions on
my memory as distinct and quaint as any it has in that way
received. In all those dusty registers that the worms are eating,
there is not a line but made some hearts leap, or some tears flow,
in their day. Still and dry now, still and dry! and the old tree
at the window with no room for its branches, has seen them all out.
So with the tomb of the old Master of the old Company, on which it
drips. His son restored it and died, his daughter restored it and
died, and then he had been remembered long enough, and the tree
took possession of him, and his name cracked out.
There are few more striking indications of the changes of manners
and customs that two or three hundred years have brought about,
than these deserted churches. Many of them are handsome and costly
structures, several of them were designed by WREN, many of them
arose from the ashes of the great fire, others of them outlived the
plague and the fire too, to die a slow death in these later days.
No one can be sure of the coming time; but it is not too much to
say of it that it has no sign in its outsetting tides, of the
reflux to these churches of their congregations and uses. They
remain like the tombs of the old citizens who lie beneath them and
around them, Monuments of another age. They are worth a Sundayexploration,
now and then, for they yet echo, not unharmoniously,
to the time when the City of London really was London; when the
'Prentices and Trained Bands were of mark in the state; when even
the Lord Mayor himself was a Reality - not a Fiction conventionally
be-puffed on one day in the year by illustrious friends, who no
less conventionally laugh at him on the remaining three hundred and
sixty-four days.
So much of my travelling is done on foot, that if I cherished
betting propensities, I should probably be found registered in
sporting newspapers under some such title as the Elastic Novice,
challenging all eleven stone mankind to competition in walking. My
last special feat was turning out of bed at two, after a hard day,
pedestrian and otherwise, and walking thirty miles into the country
to breakfast. The road was so lonely in the night, that I fell
asleep to the monotonous sound of my own feet, doing their regular
four miles an hour. Mile after mile I walked, without the
slightest sense of exertion, dozing heavily and dreaming
constantly. It was only when I made a stumble like a drunken man,
or struck out into the road to avoid a horseman close upon me on
the path - who had no existence - that I came to myself and looked
about. The day broke mistily (it was autumn time), and I could not
disembarrass myself of the idea that I had to climb those heights
and banks of cloud, and that there was an Alpine Convent somewhere
behind the sun, where I was going to breakfast. This sleepy notion
was so much stronger than such substantial objects as villages and
haystacks, that, after the sun was up and bright, and when I was
sufficiently awake to have a sense of pleasure in the prospect, I
still occasionally caught myself looking about for wooden arms to
point the right track up the mountain, and wondering there was no
snow yet. It is a curiosity of broken sleep that I made immense
quantities of verses on that pedestrian occasion (of course I never
make any when I am in my right senses), and that I spoke a certain
language once pretty familiar to me, but which I have nearly
forgotten from disuse, with fluency. Of both these phenomena I
have such frequent experience in the state between sleeping and
waking, that I sometimes argue with myself that I know I cannot be
awake, for, if I were, I should not be half so ready. The
readiness is not imaginary, because I often recall long strings of
the verses, and many turns of the fluent speech, after I am broad
My walking is of two kinds: one, straight on end to a definite
goal at a round pace; one, objectless, loitering, and purely
vagabond. In the latter state, no gipsy on earth is a greater
vagabond than myself; it is so natural to me, and strong with me,
that I think I must be the descendant, at no great distance, of
some irreclaimable tramp.
One of the pleasantest things I have lately met with, in a vagabond
course of shy metropolitan neighbourhoods and small shops, is the
fancy of a humble artist, as exemplified in two portraits
representing Mr. Thomas Sayers, of Great Britain, and Mr. John
Heenan, of the United States of America. These illustrious men are
highly coloured in fighting trim, and fighting attitude. To
suggest the pastoral and meditative nature of their peaceful
calling, Mr. Heenan is represented on emerald sward, with primroses
and other modest flowers springing up under the heels of his halfboots;
while Mr. Sayers is impelled to the administration of his
favourite blow, the Auctioneer, by the silent eloquence of a
village church. The humble homes of England, with their domestic
virtues and honeysuckle porches, urge both heroes to go in and win;
and the lark and other singing birds are observable in the upper
air, ecstatically carolling their thanks to Heaven for a fight. On
the whole, the associations entwined with the pugilistic art by
this artist are much in the manner of Izaak Walton.
But, it is with the lower animals of back streets and by-ways that
my present purpose rests. For human notes we may return to such
neighbourhoods when leisure and opportunity serve.
Nothing in shy neighbourhoods perplexes my mind more, than the bad
company birds keep. Foreign birds often get into good society, but
British birds are inseparable from low associates. There is a
whole street of them in St. Giles's; and I always find them in poor
and immoral neighbourhoods, convenient to the public-house and the
pawnbroker's. They seem to lead people into drinking, and even the
man who makes their cages usually gets into a chronic state of
black eye. Why is this? Also, they will do things for people in
short-skirted velveteen coats with bone buttons, or in sleeved
waistcoats and fur caps, which they cannot be persuaded by the
respectable orders of society to undertake. In a dirty court in
Spitalfields, once, I found a goldfinch drawing his own water, and
drawing as much of it as if he were in a consuming fever. That
goldfinch lived at a bird-shop, and offered, in writing, to barter
himself against old clothes, empty bottles, or even kitchen stuff.
Surely a low thing and a depraved taste in any finch! I bought
that goldfinch for money. He was sent home, and hung upon a nail
over against my table. He lived outside a counterfeit dwellinghouse,
supposed (as I argued) to be a dyer's; otherwise it would
have been impossible to account for his perch sticking out of the
garret window. From the time of his appearance in my room, either
he left off being thirsty - which was not in the bond - or he could
not make up his mind to hear his little bucket drop back into his
well when he let it go: a shock which in the best of times had
made him tremble. He drew no water but by stealth and under the
cloak of night. After an interval of futile and at length hopeless
expectation, the merchant who had educated him was appealed to.
The merchant was a bow-legged character, with a flat and cushiony
nose, like the last new strawberry. He wore a fur cap, and shorts,
and was of the velveteen race, velveteeny. He sent word that he
would 'look round.' He looked round, appeared in the doorway of
the room, and slightly cocked up his evil eye at the goldfinch.
Instantly a raging thirst beset that bird; when it was appeased, he
still drew several unnecessary buckets of water; and finally,
leaped about his perch and sharpened his bill, as if he had been to
the nearest wine vaults and got drunk.
Donkeys again. I know shy neighbourhoods where the Donkey goes in
at the street door, and appears to live up-stairs, for I have
examined the back-yard from over the palings, and have been unable
to make him out. Gentility, nobility, Royalty, would appeal to
that donkey in vain to do what he does for a costermonger. Feed
him with oats at the highest price, put an infant prince and
princess in a pair of panniers on his back, adjust his delicate
trappings to a nicety, take him to the softest slopes at Windsor,
and try what pace you can get out of him. Then, starve him,
harness him anyhow to a truck with a flat tray on it, and see him
bowl from Whitechapel to Bayswater. There appears to be no
particular private understanding between birds and donkeys, in a
state of nature; but in the shy neighbourhood state, you shall see
them always in the same hands and always developing their very best
energies for the very worst company. I have known a donkey - by
sight; we were not on speaking terms - who lived over on the Surrey
side of London-bridge, among the fastnesses of Jacob's Island and
Dockhead. It was the habit of that animal, when his services were
not in immediate requisition, to go out alone, idling. I have met
him a mile from his place of residence, loitering about the
streets; and the expression of his countenance at such times was
most degraded. He was attached to the establishment of an elderly
lady who sold periwinkles, and he used to stand on Saturday nights
with a cartful of those delicacies outside a gin-shop, pricking up
his ears when a customer came to the cart, and too evidently
deriving satisfaction from the knowledge that they got bad measure.
His mistress was sometimes overtaken by inebriety. The last time I
ever saw him (about five years ago) he was in circumstances of
difficulty, caused by this failing. Having been left alone with
the cart of periwinkles, and forgotten, he went off idling. He
prowled among his usual low haunts for some time, gratifying his
depraved tastes, until, not taking the cart into his calculations,
he endeavoured to turn up a narrow alley, and became greatly
involved. He was taken into custody by the police, and, the Green
Yard of the district being near at hand, was backed into that place
of durance. At that crisis, I encountered him; the stubborn sense
he evinced of being - not to compromise the expression - a
blackguard, I never saw exceeded in the human subject. A flaring
candle in a paper shade, stuck in among his periwinkles, showed
him, with his ragged harness broken and his cart extensively
shattered, twitching his mouth and shaking his hanging head, a
picture of disgrace and obduracy. I have seen boys being taken to
station-houses, who were as like him as his own brother.
The dogs of shy neighbourhoods, I observe to avoid play, and to be
conscious of poverty. They avoid work, too, if they can, of
course; that is in the nature of all animals. I have the pleasure
to know a dog in a back street in the neighbourhood of Walworth,
who has greatly distinguished himself in the minor drama, and who
takes his portrait with him when he makes an engagement, for the
illustration of the play-bill. His portrait (which is not at all
like him) represents him in the act of dragging to the earth a
recreant Indian, who is supposed to have tomahawked, or essayed to
tomahawk, a British officer. The design is pure poetry, for there
is no such Indian in the piece, and no such incident. He is a dog
of the Newfoundland breed, for whose honesty I would be bail to any
amount; but whose intellectual qualities in association with
dramatic fiction, I cannot rate high. Indeed, he is too honest for
the profession he has entered. Being at a town in Yorkshire last
summer, and seeing him posted in the bill of the night, I attended
the performance. His first scene was eminently successful; but, as
it occupied a second in its representation (and five lines in the
bill), it scarcely afforded ground for a cool and deliberate
judgment of his powers. He had merely to bark, run on, and jump
through an inn window, after a comic fugitive. The next scene of
importance to the fable was a little marred in its interest by his
over-anxiety; forasmuch as while his master (a belated soldier in a
den of robbers on a tempestuous night) was feelingly lamenting the
absence of his faithful dog, and laying great stress on the fact
that he was thirty leagues away, the faithful dog was barking
furiously in the prompter's box, and clearly choking himself
against his collar. But it was in his greatest scene of all, that
his honesty got the better of him. He had to enter a dense and
trackless forest, on the trail of the murderer, and there to fly at
the murderer when he found him resting at the foot of a tree, with
his victim bound ready for slaughter. It was a hot night, and he
came into the forest from an altogether unexpected direction, in
the sweetest temper, at a very deliberate trot, not in the least
excited; trotted to the foot-lights with his tongue out; and there
sat down, panting, and amiably surveying the audience, with his
tail beating on the boards, like a Dutch clock. Meanwhile the
murderer, impatient to receive his doom, was audibly calling to him
'CO-O-OME here!' while the victim, struggling with his bonds,
assailed him with the most injurious expressions. It happened
through these means, that when he was in course of time persuaded
to trot up and rend the murderer limb from limb, he made it (for
dramatic purposes) a little too obvious that he worked out that
awful retribution by licking butter off his blood-stained hands.
In a shy street, behind Long-acre, two honest dogs live, who
perform in Punch's shows. I may venture to say that I am on terms
of intimacy with both, and that I never saw either guilty of the
falsehood of failing to look down at the man inside the show,
during the whole performance. The difficulty other dogs have in
satisfying their minds about these dogs, appears to be never
overcome by time. The same dogs must encounter them over and over
again, as they trudge along in their off-minutes behind the legs of
the show and beside the drum; but all dogs seem to suspect their
frills and jackets, and to sniff at them as if they thought those
articles of personal adornment, an eruption - a something in the
nature of mange, perhaps. From this Covent-garden window of mine I
noticed a country dog, only the other day, who had come up to
Covent-garden Market under a cart, and had broken his cord, an end
of which he still trailed along with him. He loitered about the
corners of the four streets commanded by my window; and bad London
dogs came up, and told him lies that he didn't believe; and worse
London dogs came up, and made proposals to him to go and steal in
the market, which his principles rejected; and the ways of the town
confused him, and he crept aside and lay down in a doorway. He had
scarcely got a wink of sleep, when up comes Punch with Toby. He
was darting to Toby for consolation and advice, when he saw the
frill, and stopped, in the middle of the street, appalled. The
show was pitched, Toby retired behind the drapery, the audience
formed, the drum and pipes struck up. My country dog remained
immovable, intently staring at these strange appearances, until
Toby opened the drama by appearing on his ledge, and to him entered
Punch, who put a tobacco-pipe into Toby's mouth. At this
spectacle, the country dog threw up his head, gave one terrible
howl, and fled due west.
We talk of men keeping dogs, but we might often talk more
expressively of dogs keeping men. I know a bull-dog in a shy
corner of Hammersmith who keeps a man. He keeps him up a yard, and
makes him go to public-houses and lay wagers on him, and obliges
him to lean against posts and look at him, and forces him to
neglect work for him, and keeps him under rigid coercion. I once
knew a fancy terrier who kept a gentleman - a gentleman who had
been brought up at Oxford, too. The dog kept the gentleman
entirely for his glorification, and the gentleman never talked
about anything but the terrier. This, however, was not in a shy
neighbourhood, and is a digression consequently.
There are a great many dogs in shy neighbourhoods, who keep boys.
I have my eye on a mongrel in Somerstown who keeps three boys. He
feigns that he can bring down sparrows, and unburrow rats (he can
do neither), and he takes the boys out on sporting pretences into
all sorts of suburban fields. He has likewise made them believe
that he possesses some mysterious knowledge of the art of fishing,
and they consider themselves incompletely equipped for the
Hampstead ponds, with a pickle-jar and wide-mouthed bottle, unless
he is with them and barking tremendously. There is a dog residing
in the Borough of Southwark who keeps a blind man. He may be seen,
most days, in Oxford-street, haling the blind man away on
expeditions wholly uncontemplated by, and unintelligible to, the
man: wholly of the dog's conception and execution. Contrariwise,
when the man has projects, the dog will sit down in a crowded
thoroughfare and meditate. I saw him yesterday, wearing the moneytray
like an easy collar, instead of offering it to the public,
taking the man against his will, on the invitation of a
disreputable cur, apparently to visit a dog at Harrow - he was so
intent on that direction. The north wall of Burlington House
Gardens, between the Arcade and the Albany, offers a shy spot for
appointments among blind men at about two or three o'clock in the
afternoon. They sit (very uncomfortably) on a sloping stone there,
and compare notes. Their dogs may always be observed at the same
time, openly disparaging the men they keep, to one another, and
settling where they shall respectively take their men when they
begin to move again. At a small butcher's, in a shy neighbourhood
(there is no reason for suppressing the name; it is by Nottinghill,
and gives upon the district called the Potteries), I know a
shaggy black and white dog who keeps a drover. He is a dog of an
easy disposition, and too frequently allows this drover to get
drunk. On these occasions, it is the dog's custom to sit outside
the public-house, keeping his eye on a few sheep, and thinking. I
have seen him with six sheep, plainly casting up in his mind how
many he began with when he left the market, and at what places he
has left the rest. I have seen him perplexed by not being able to
account to himself for certain particular sheep. A light has
gradually broken on him, he has remembered at what butcher's he
left them, and in a burst of grave satisfaction has caught a fly
off his nose, and shown himself much relieved. If I could at any
time have doubted the fact that it was he who kept the drover, and
not the drover who kept him, it would have been abundantly proved
by his way of taking undivided charge of the six sheep, when the
drover came out besmeared with red ochre and beer, and gave him
wrong directions, which he calmly disregarded. He has taken the
sheep entirely into his own hands, has merely remarked with
respectful firmness, 'That instruction would place them under an
omnibus; you had better confine your attention to yourself - you
will want it all;' and has driven his charge away, with an
intelligence of ears and tail, and a knowledge of business, that
has left his lout of a man very, very far behind.
As the dogs of shy neighbourhoods usually betray a slinking
consciousness of being in poor circumstances - for the most part
manifested in an aspect of anxiety, an awkwardness in their play,
and a misgiving that somebody is going to harness them to
something, to pick up a living - so the cats of shy neighbourhoods
exhibit a strong tendency to relapse into barbarism. Not only are
they made selfishly ferocious by ruminating on the surplus
population around them, and on the densely crowded state of all the
avenues to cat's meat; not only is there a moral and politicoeconomical
haggardness in them, traceable to these reflections; but
they evince a physical deterioration. Their linen is not clean,
and is wretchedly got up; their black turns rusty, like old
mourning; they wear very indifferent fur; and take to the shabbiest
cotton velvet, instead of silk velvet. I am on terms of
recognition with several small streets of cats, about the Obelisk
in Saint George's Fields, and also in the vicinity of Clerkenwellgreen,
and also in the back settlements of Drury-lane. In
appearance, they are very like the women among whom they live.
They seem to turn out of their unwholesome beds into the street,
without any preparation. They leave their young families to
stagger about the gutters, unassisted, while they frouzily quarrel
and swear and scratch and spit, at street corners. In particular,
I remark that when they are about to increase their families (an
event of frequent recurrence) the resemblance is strongly expressed
in a certain dusty dowdiness, down-at-heel self-neglect, and
general giving up of things. I cannot honestly report that I have
ever seen a feline matron of this class washing her face when in an
interesting condition.
Not to prolong these notes of uncommercial travel among the lower
animals of shy neighbourhoods, by dwelling at length upon the
exasperated moodiness of the tom-cats, and their resemblance in
many respects to a man and a brother, I will come to a close with a
word on the fowls of the same localities.
That anything born of an egg and invested with wings, should have
got to the pass that it hops contentedly down a ladder into a
cellar, and calls THAT going home, is a circumstance so amazing as
to leave one nothing more in this connexion to wonder at.
Otherwise I might wonder at the completeness with which these fowls
have become separated from all the birds of the air - have taken to
grovelling in bricks and mortar and mud - have forgotten all about
live trees, and make roosting-places of shop-boards, barrows,
oyster-tubs, bulk-heads, and door-scrapers. I wonder at nothing
concerning them, and take them as they are. I accept as products
of Nature and things of course, a reduced Bantam family of my
acquaintance in the Hackney-road, who are incessantly at the
pawnbroker's. I cannot say that they enjoy themselves, for they
are of a melancholy temperament; but what enjoyment they are
capable of, they derive from crowding together in the pawnbroker's
side-entry. Here, they are always to be found in a feeble flutter,
as if they were newly come down in the world, and were afraid of
being identified. I know a low fellow, originally of a good family
from Dorking, who takes his whole establishment of wives, in single
file, in at the door of the jug Department of a disorderly tavern
near the Haymarket, manoeuvres them among the company's legs,
emerges with them at the Bottle Entrance, and so passes his life:
seldom, in the season, going to bed before two in the morning.
Over Waterloo-bridge, there is a shabby old speckled couple (they
belong to the wooden French-bedstead, washing-stand, and towelhorse-
making trade), who are always trying to get in at the door of
a chapel. Whether the old lady, under a delusion reminding one of
Mrs. Southcott, has an idea of entrusting an egg to that particular
denomination, or merely understands that she has no business in the
building and is consequently frantic to enter it, I cannot
determine; but she is constantly endeavouring to undermine the
principal door: while her partner, who is infirm upon his legs,
walks up and down, encouraging her and defying the Universe. But,
the family I have been best acquainted with, since the removal from
this trying sphere of a Chinese circle at Brentford, reside in the
densest part of Bethnal-green. Their abstraction from the objects
among which they live, or rather their conviction that those
objects have all come into existence in express subservience to
fowls, has so enchanted me, that I have made them the subject of
many journeys at divers hours. After careful observation of the
two lords and the ten ladies of whom this family consists, I have
come to the conclusion that their opinions are represented by the
leading lord and leading lady: the latter, as I judge, an aged
personage, afflicted with a paucity of feather and visibility of
quill, that gives her the appearance of a bundle of office pens.
When a railway goods van that would crush an elephant comes round
the corner, tearing over these fowls, they emerge unharmed from
under the horses, perfectly satisfied that the whole rush was a
passing property in the air, which may have left something to eat
behind it. They look upon old shoes, wrecks of kettles and
saucepans, and fragments of bonnets, as a kind of meteoric
discharge, for fowls to peck at. Peg-tops and hoops they account,
I think, as a sort of hail; shuttlecocks, as rain, or dew.
Gaslight comes quite as natural to them as any other light; and I
have more than a suspicion that, in the minds of the two lords, the
early public-house at the corner has superseded the sun. I have
established it as a certain fact, that they always begin to crow
when the public-house shutters begin to be taken down, and that
they salute the potboy, the instant he appears to perform that
duty, as if he were Phoebus in person.
The chance use of the word 'Tramp' in my last paper, brought that
numerous fraternity so vividly before my mind's eye, that I had no
sooner laid down my pen than a compulsion was upon me to take it up
again, and make notes of the Tramps whom I perceived on all the
summer roads in all directions.
Whenever a tramp sits down to rest by the wayside, he sits with his
legs in a dry ditch; and whenever he goes to sleep (which is very
often indeed), he goes to sleep on his back. Yonder, by the high
road, glaring white in the bright sunshine, lies, on the dusty bit
of turf under the bramble-bush that fences the coppice from the
highway, the tramp of the order savage, fast asleep. He lies on
the broad of his back, with his face turned up to the sky, and one
of his ragged arms loosely thrown across his face. His bundle
(what can be the contents of that mysterious bundle, to make it
worth his while to carry it about?) is thrown down beside him, and
the waking woman with him sits with her legs in the ditch, and her
back to the road. She wears her bonnet rakishly perched on the
front of her head, to shade her face from the sun in walking, and
she ties her skirts round her in conventionally tight tramp-fashion
with a sort of apron. You can seldom catch sight of her, resting
thus, without seeing her in a despondently defiant manner doing
something to her hair or her bonnet, and glancing at you between
her fingers. She does not often go to sleep herself in the
daytime, but will sit for any length of time beside the man. And
his slumberous propensities would not seem to be referable to the
fatigue of carrying the bundle, for she carries it much oftener and
further than he. When they are afoot, you will mostly find him
slouching on ahead, in a gruff temper, while she lags heavily
behind with the burden. He is given to personally correcting her,
too - which phase of his character develops itself oftenest, on
benches outside alehouse doors - and she appears to become strongly
attached to him for these reasons; it may usually be noticed that
when the poor creature has a bruised face, she is the most
affectionate. He has no occupation whatever, this order of tramp,
and has no object whatever in going anywhere. He will sometimes
call himself a brickmaker, or a sawyer, but only when he takes an
imaginary flight. He generally represents himself, in a vague way,
as looking out for a job of work; but he never did work, he never
does, and he never will. It is a favourite fiction with him,
however (as if he were the most industrious character on earth),
that YOU never work; and as he goes past your garden and sees you
looking at your flowers, you will overhear him growl with a strong
sense of contrast, 'YOU are a lucky hidle devil, YOU are!'
The slinking tramp is of the same hopeless order, and has the same
injured conviction on him that you were born to whatever you
possess, and never did anything to get it: but he is of a less
audacious disposition. He will stop before your gate, and say to
his female companion with an air of constitutional humility and
propitiation - to edify any one who may be within hearing behind a
blind or a bush - 'This is a sweet spot, ain't it? A lovelly spot!
And I wonder if they'd give two poor footsore travellers like me
and you, a drop of fresh water out of such a pretty gen-teel crib?
We'd take it wery koind on 'em, wouldn't us? Wery koind, upon my
word, us would?' He has a quick sense of a dog in the vicinity,
and will extend his modestly-injured propitiation to the dog
chained up in your yard; remarking, as he slinks at the yard gate,
'Ah! You are a foine breed o' dog, too, and YOU ain't kep for
nothink! I'd take it wery koind o' your master if he'd elp a
traveller and his woife as envies no gentlefolk their good fortun,
wi' a bit o' your broken wittles. He'd never know the want of it,
nor more would you. Don't bark like that, at poor persons as never
done you no arm; the poor is down-trodden and broke enough without
that; O DON'T!' He generally heaves a prodigious sigh in moving
away, and always looks up the lane and down the lane, and up the
road and down the road, before going on.
Both of these orders of tramp are of a very robust habit; let the
hard-working labourer at whose cottage-door they prowl and beg,
have the ague never so badly, these tramps are sure to be in good
There is another kind of tramp, whom you encounter this bright
summer day - say, on a road with the sea-breeze making its dust
lively, and sails of ships in the blue distance beyond the slope of
Down. As you walk enjoyingly on, you descry in the perspective at
the bottom of a steep hill up which your way lies, a figure that
appears to be sitting airily on a gate, whistling in a cheerful and
disengaged manner. As you approach nearer to it, you observe the
figure to slide down from the gate, to desist from whistling, to
uncock its hat, to become tender of foot, to depress its head and
elevate its shoulders, and to present all the characteristics of
profound despondency. Arriving at the bottom of the hill and
coming close to the figure, you observe it to be the figure of a
shabby young man. He is moving painfully forward, in the direction
in which you are going, and his mind is so preoccupied with his
misfortunes that he is not aware of your approach until you are
close upon him at the hill-foot. When he is aware of you, you
discover him to be a remarkably well-behaved young man, and a
remarkably well-spoken young man. You know him to be well-behaved,
by his respectful manner of touching his hat: you know him to be
well-spoken, by his smooth manner of expressing himself. He says
in a flowing confidential voice, and without punctuation, 'I ask
your pardon sir but if you would excuse the liberty of being so
addressed upon the public Iway by one who is almost reduced to rags
though it as not always been so and by no fault of his own but
through ill elth in his family and many unmerited sufferings it
would be a great obligation sir to know the time.' You give the
well-spoken young man the time. The well-spoken young man, keeping
well up with you, resumes: 'I am aware sir that it is a liberty to
intrude a further question on a gentleman walking for his
entertainment but might I make so bold as ask the favour of the way
to Dover sir and about the distance?' You inform the well-spoken
young man that the way to Dover is straight on, and the distance
some eighteen miles. The well-spoken young man becomes greatly
agitated. 'In the condition to which I am reduced,' says he, 'I
could not ope to reach Dover before dark even if my shoes were in a
state to take me there or my feet were in a state to old out over
the flinty road and were not on the bare ground of which any
gentleman has the means to satisfy himself by looking Sir may I
take the liberty of speaking to you?' As the well-spoken young man
keeps so well up with you that you can't prevent his taking the
liberty of speaking to you, he goes on, with fluency: 'Sir it is
not begging that is my intention for I was brought up by the best
of mothers and begging is not my trade I should not know sir how to
follow it as a trade if such were my shameful wishes for the best
of mothers long taught otherwise and in the best of omes though now
reduced to take the present liberty on the Iway Sir my business was
the law-stationering and I was favourably known to the Solicitor-
General the Attorney-General the majority of the judges and the ole
of the legal profession but through ill elth in my family and the
treachery of a friend for whom I became security and he no other
than my own wife's brother the brother of my own wife I was cast
forth with my tender partner and three young children not to beg
for I will sooner die of deprivation but to make my way to the seaport
town of Dover where I have a relative i in respect not only
that will assist me but that would trust me with untold gold Sir in
appier times and hare this calamity fell upon me I made for my
amusement when I little thought that I should ever need it
excepting for my air this' - here the well-spoken young man put his
hand into his breast - 'this comb! Sir I implore you in the name
of charity to purchase a tortoiseshell comb which is a genuine
article at any price that your humanity may put upon it and may the
blessings of a ouseless family awaiting with beating arts the
return of a husband and a father from Dover upon the cold stone
seats of London-bridge ever attend you Sir may I take the liberty
of speaking to you I implore you to buy this comb!' By this time,
being a reasonably good walker, you will have been too much for the
well-spoken young man, who will stop short and express his disgust
and his want of breath, in a long expectoration, as you leave him
Towards the end of the same walk, on the same bright summer day, at
the corner of the next little town or village, you may find another
kind of tramp, embodied in the persons of a most exemplary couple
whose only improvidence appears to have been, that they spent the
last of their little All on soap. They are a man and woman,
spotless to behold - John Anderson, with the frost on his short
smock-frock instead of his 'pow,' attended by Mrs. Anderson. John
is over-ostentatious of the frost upon his raiment, and wears a
curious and, you would say, an almost unnecessary demonstration of
girdle of white linen wound about his waist - a girdle, snowy as
Mrs. Anderson's apron. This cleanliness was the expiring effort of
the respectable couple, and nothing then remained to Mr. Anderson
but to get chalked upon his spade in snow-white copy-book
characters, HUNGRY! and to sit down here. Yes; one thing more
remained to Mr. Anderson - his character; Monarchs could not
deprive him of his hard-earned character. Accordingly, as you come
up with this spectacle of virtue in distress, Mrs. Anderson rises,
and with a decent curtsey presents for your consideration a
certificate from a Doctor of Divinity, the reverend the Vicar of
Upper Dodgington, who informs his Christian friends and all whom it
may concern that the bearers, John Anderson and lawful wife, are
persons to whom you cannot be too liberal. This benevolent pastor
omitted no work of his hands to fit the good couple out, for with
half an eye you can recognise his autograph on the spade.
Another class of tramp is a man, the most valuable part of whose
stock-in-trade is a highly perplexed demeanour. He is got up like
a countryman, and you will often come upon the poor fellow, while
he is endeavouring to decipher the inscription on a milestone -
quite a fruitless endeavour, for he cannot read. He asks your
pardon, he truly does (he is very slow of speech, this tramp, and
he looks in a bewildered way all round the prospect while he talks
to you), but all of us shold do as we wold be done by, and he'll
take it kind, if you'll put a power man in the right road fur to
jine his eldest son as has broke his leg bad in the masoning, and
is in this heere Orspit'l as is wrote down by Squire Pouncerby's
own hand as wold not tell a lie fur no man. He then produces from
under his dark frock (being always very slow and perplexed) a neat
but worn old leathern purse, from which he takes a scrap of paper.
On this scrap of paper is written, by Squire Pouncerby, of The
Grove, 'Please to direct the Bearer, a poor but very worthy man, to
the Sussex County Hospital, near Brighton' - a matter of some
difficulty at the moment, seeing that the request comes suddenly
upon you in the depths of Hertfordshire. The more you endeavour to
indicate where Brighton is - when you have with the greatest
difficulty remembered - the less the devoted father can be made to
comprehend, and the more obtusely he stares at the prospect;
whereby, being reduced to extremity, you recommend the faithful
parent to begin by going to St. Albans, and present him with halfa-
crown. It does him good, no doubt, but scarcely helps him
forward, since you find him lying drunk that same evening in the
wheelwright's sawpit under the shed where the felled trees are,
opposite the sign of the Three Jolly Hedgers.
But, the most vicious, by far, of all the idle tramps, is the tramp
who pretends to have been a gentleman. 'Educated,' he writes, from
the village beer-shop in pale ink of a ferruginous complexion;
'educated at Trin. Coll. Cam. - nursed in the lap of affluence -
once in my small way the pattron of the Muses,' &c. &c. &c. -
surely a sympathetic mind will not withhold a trifle, to help him
on to the market-town where he thinks of giving a Lecture to the
FRUGES CONSUMERE NATI, on things in general? This shameful
creature lolling about hedge tap-rooms in his ragged clothes, now
so far from being black that they look as if they never can have
been black, is more selfish and insolent than even the savage
tramp. He would sponge on the poorest boy for a farthing, and
spurn him when he had got it; he would interpose (if he could get
anything by it) between the baby and the mother's breast. So much
lower than the company he keeps, for his maudlin assumption of
being higher, this pitiless rascal blights the summer road as he
maunders on between the luxuriant hedges; where (to my thinking)
even the wild convolvulus and rose and sweet-briar, are the worse
for his going by, and need time to recover from the taint of him in
the air.
The young fellows who trudge along barefoot, five or six together,
their boots slung over their shoulders, their shabby bundles under
their arms, their sticks newly cut from some roadside wood, are not
eminently prepossessing, but are much less objectionable. There is
a tramp-fellowship among them. They pick one another up at resting
stations, and go on in companies. They always go at a fast swing -
though they generally limp too - and there is invariably one of the
company who has much ado to keep up with the rest. They generally
talk about horses, and any other means of locomotion than walking:
or, one of the company relates some recent experiences of the road
- which are always disputes and difficulties. As for example. 'So
as I'm a standing at the pump in the market, blest if there don't
come up a Beadle, and he ses, "Mustn't stand here," he ses. "Why
not?" I ses. "No beggars allowed in this town," he ses. "Who's a
beggar?" I ses. "You are," he ses. "Who ever see ME beg? Did
YOU?" I ses. "Then you're a tramp," he ses. "I'd rather be that
than a Beadle," I ses.' (The company express great approval.)
'"Would you?" he ses to me. "Yes, I would," I ses to him. "Well,"
he ses, "anyhow, get out of this town." "Why, blow your little
town!" I ses, "who wants to be in it? Wot does your dirty little
town mean by comin' and stickin' itself in the road to anywhere?
Why don't you get a shovel and a barrer, and clear your town out o'
people's way?"' (The company expressing the highest approval and
laughing aloud, they all go down the hill.)
Then, there are the tramp handicraft men. Are they not all over
England, in this Midsummer time? Where does the lark sing, the
corn grow, the mill turn, the river run, and they are not among the
lights and shadows, tinkering, chair-mending, umbrella-mending,
clock-mending, knife-grinding? Surely, a pleasant thing, if we
were in that condition of life, to grind our way through Kent,
Sussex, and Surrey. For the worst six weeks or so, we should see
the sparks we ground off, fiery bright against a background of
green wheat and green leaves. A little later, and the ripe harvest
would pale our sparks from red to yellow, until we got the dark
newly-turned land for a background again, and they were red once
more. By that time, we should have ground our way to the sea
cliffs, and the whirr of our wheel would be lost in the breaking of
the waves. Our next variety in sparks would be derived from
contrast with the gorgeous medley of colours in the autumn woods,
and, by the time we had ground our way round to the heathy lands
between Reigate and Croydon, doing a prosperous stroke of business
all along, we should show like a little firework in the light
frosty air, and be the next best thing to the blacksmith's forge.
Very agreeable, too, to go on a chair-mending tour. What judges we
should be of rushes, and how knowingly (with a sheaf and a
bottomless chair at our back) we should lounge on bridges, looking
over at osier-beds! Among all the innumerable occupations that
cannot possibly be transacted without the assistance of lookers-on,
chair-mending may take a station in the first rank. When we sat
down with our backs against the barn or the public-house, and began
to mend, what a sense of popularity would grow upon us! When all
the children came to look at us, and the tailor, and the general
dealer, and the farmer who had been giving a small order at the
little saddler's, and the groom from the great house, and the
publican, and even the two skittle-players (and here note that,
howsoever busy all the rest of village human-kind may be, there
will always be two people with leisure to play at skittles,
wherever village skittles are), what encouragement would be on us
to plait and weave! No one looks at us while we plait and weave
these words. Clock-mending again. Except for the slight
inconvenience of carrying a clock under our arm, and the monotony
of making the bell go, whenever we came to a human habitation, what
a pleasant privilege to give a voice to the dumb cottage-clock, and
set it talking to the cottage family again! Likewise we foresee
great interest in going round by the park plantations, under the
overhanging boughs (hares, rabbits, partridges, and pheasants,
scudding like mad across and across the chequered ground before
us), and so over the park ladder, and through the wood, until we
came to the Keeper's lodge. Then, would, the Keeper be
discoverable at his door, in a deep nest of leaves, smoking his
pipe. Then, on our accosting him in the way of our trade, would he
call to Mrs. Keeper, respecting 't'ould clock' in the kitchen.
Then, would Mrs. Keeper ask us into the lodge, and on due
examination we should offer to make a good job of it for
eighteenpence; which offer, being accepted, would set us tinkling
and clinking among the chubby, awe-struck little Keepers for an
hour and more. So completely to the family's satisfaction would we
achieve our work, that the Keeper would mention how that there was
something wrong with the bell of the turret stable-clock up at the
Hall, and that if we thought good of going up to the housekeeper on
the chance of that job too, why he would take us. Then, should we
go, among the branching oaks and the deep fern, by silent ways of
mystery known to the Keeper, seeing the herd glancing here and
there as we went along, until we came to the old Hall, solemn and
grand. Under the Terrace Flower Garden, and round by the stables,
would the Keeper take us in, and as we passed we should observe how
spacious and stately the stables, and how fine the painting of the
horses' names over their stalls, and how solitary all: the family
being in London. Then, should we find ourselves presented to the
housekeeper, sitting, in hushed state, at needlework, in a baywindow
looking out upon a mighty grim red-brick quadrangle, guarded
by stone lions disrespectfully throwing somersaults over the
escutcheons of the noble family. Then, our services accepted and
we insinuated with a candle into the stable-turret, we should find
it to be a mere question of pendulum, but one that would hold us
until dark. Then, should we fall to work, with a general
impression of Ghosts being about, and of pictures indoors that of a
certainty came out of their frames and 'walked,' if the family
would only own it. Then, should we work and work, until the day
gradually turned to dusk, and even until the dusk gradually turned
to dark. Our task at length accomplished, we should be taken into
an enormous servants' hall, and there regaled with beef and bread,
and powerful ale. Then, paid freely, we should be at liberty to
go, and should be told by a pointing helper to keep round over
yinder by the blasted ash, and so straight through the woods, till
we should see the town-lights right afore us. Then, feeling
lonesome, should we desire upon the whole, that the ash had not
been blasted, or that the helper had had the manners not to mention
it. However, we should keep on, all right, till suddenly the
stable bell would strike ten in the dolefullest way, quite chilling
our blood, though we had so lately taught him how to acquit
himself. Then, as we went on, should we recall old stories, and
dimly consider what it would be most advisable to do, in the event
of a tall figure, all in white, with saucer eyes, coming up and
saying, 'I want you to come to a churchyard and mend a church
clock. Follow me!' Then, should we make a burst to get clear of
the trees, and should soon find ourselves in the open, with the
town-lights bright ahead of us. So should we lie that night at the
ancient sign of the Crispin and Crispanus, and rise early next
morning to be betimes on tramp again.
Bricklayers often tramp, in twos and threes, lying by night at
their 'lodges,' which are scattered all over the country.
Bricklaying is another of the occupations that can by no means be
transacted in rural parts, without the assistance of spectators -
of as many as can be convened. In thinly-peopled spots, I have
known brick-layers on tramp, coming up with bricklayers at work, to
be so sensible of the indispensability of lookers-on, that they
themselves have sat up in that capacity, and have been unable to
subside into the acceptance of a proffered share in the job, for
two or three days together. Sometimes, the 'navvy,' on tramp, with
an extra pair of half-boots over his shoulder, a bag, a bottle, and
a can, will take a similar part in a job of excavation, and will
look at it without engaging in it, until all his money is gone.
The current of my uncommercial pursuits caused me only last summer
to want a little body of workmen for a certain spell of work in a
pleasant part of the country; and I was at one time honoured with
the attendance of as many as seven-and-twenty, who were looking at
Who can be familiar with any rustic highway in summer-time, without
storing up knowledge of the many tramps who go from one oasis of
town or village to another, to sell a stock in trade, apparently
not worth a shilling when sold? Shrimps are a favourite commodity
for this kind of speculation, and so are cakes of a soft and spongy
character, coupled with Spanish nuts and brandy balls. The stock
is carried on the head in a basket, and, between the head and the
basket, are the trestles on which the stock is displayed at trading
times. Fleet of foot, but a careworn class of tramp this, mostly;
with a certain stiffness of neck, occasioned by much anxious
balancing of baskets; and also with a long, Chinese sort of eye,
which an overweighted forehead would seem to have squeezed into
that form.
On the hot dusty roads near seaport towns and great rivers, behold
the tramping Soldier. And if you should happen never to have asked
yourself whether his uniform is suited to his work, perhaps the
poor fellow's appearance as he comes distressfully towards you,
with his absurdly tight jacket unbuttoned, his neck-gear in his
hand, and his legs well chafed by his trousers of baize, may
suggest the personal inquiry, how you think YOU would like it.
Much better the tramping Sailor, although his cloth is somewhat too
thick for land service. But, why the tramping merchant-mate should
put on a black velvet waistcoat, for a chalky country in the dogdays,
is one of the great secrets of nature that will never be
I have my eye upon a piece of Kentish road, bordered on either side
by a wood, and having on one hand, between the road-dust and the
trees, a skirting patch of grass. Wild flowers grow in abundance
on this spot, and it lies high and airy, with a distant river
stealing steadily away to the ocean, like a man's life. To gain
the milestone here, which the moss, primroses, violets, blue-bells,
and wild roses, would soon render illegible but for peering
travellers pushing them aside with their sticks, you must come up a
steep hill, come which way you may. So, all the tramps with carts
or caravans - the Gipsy-tramp, the Show-tramp, the Cheap Jack -
find it impossible to resist the temptations of the place, and all
turn the horse loose when they come to it, and boil the pot. Bless
the place, I love the ashes of the vagabond fires that have
scorched its grass! What tramp children do I see here, attired in
a handful of rags, making a gymnasium of the shafts of the cart,
making a feather-bed of the flints and brambles, making a toy of
the hobbled old horse who is not much more like a horse than any
cheap toy would be! Here, do I encounter the cart of mats and
brooms and baskets - with all thoughts of business given to the
evening wind - with the stew made and being served out - with Cheap
Jack and Dear Jill striking soft music out of the plates that are
rattled like warlike cymbals when put up for auction at fairs and
markets - their minds so influenced (no doubt) by the melody of the
nightingales as they begin to sing in the woods behind them, that
if I were to propose to deal, they would sell me anything at cost
price. On this hallowed ground has it been my happy privilege (let
me whisper it), to behold the White-haired Lady with the pink eyes,
eating meat-pie with the Giant: while, by the hedge-side, on the
box of blankets which I knew contained the snakes, were set forth
the cups and saucers and the teapot. It was on an evening in
August, that I chanced upon this ravishing spectacle, and I noticed
that, whereas the Giant reclined half concealed beneath the
overhanging boughs and seemed indifferent to Nature, the white hair
of the gracious Lady streamed free in the breath of evening, and
her pink eyes found pleasure in the landscape. I heard only a
single sentence of her uttering, yet it bespoke a talent for modest
repartee. The ill-mannered Giant - accursed be his evil race! -
had interrupted the Lady in some remark, and, as I passed that
enchanted corner of the wood, she gently reproved him, with the
words, 'Now, Cobby;' - Cobby! so short a name! - 'ain't one fool
enough to talk at a time?'
Within appropriate distance of this magic ground, though not so
near it as that the song trolled from tap or bench at door, can
invade its woodland silence, is a little hostelry which no man
possessed of a penny was ever known to pass in warm weather.
Before its entrance, are certain pleasant, trimmed limes; likewise,
a cool well, with so musical a bucket-handle that its fall upon the
bucket rim will make a horse prick up his ears and neigh, upon the
droughty road half a mile off. This is a house of great resort for
haymaking tramps and harvest tramps, insomuch that as they sit
within, drinking their mugs of beer, their relinquished scythes and
reaping-hooks glare out of the open windows, as if the whole
establishment were a family war-coach of Ancient Britons. Later in
the season, the whole country-side, for miles and miles, will swarm
with hopping tramps. They come in families, men, women, and
children, every family provided with a bundle of bedding, an iron
pot, a number of babies, and too often with some poor sick creature
quite unfit for the rough life, for whom they suppose the smell of
the fresh hop to be a sovereign remedy. Many of these hoppers are
Irish, but many come from London. They crowd all the roads, and
camp under all the hedges and on all the scraps of common-land, and
live among and upon the hops until they are all picked, and the
hop-gardens, so beautiful through the summer, look as if they had
been laid waste by an invading army. Then, there is a vast exodus
of tramps out of the country; and if you ride or drive round any
turn of any road, at more than a foot pace, you will be bewildered
to find that you have charged into the bosom of fifty families, and
that there are splashing up all around you, in the utmost
prodigality of confusion, bundles of bedding, babies, iron pots,
and a good-humoured multitude of both sexes and all ages, equally
divided between perspiration and intoxication.
It lately happened that I found myself rambling about the scenes
among which my earliest days were passed; scenes from which I
departed when I was a child, and which I did not revisit until I
was a man. This is no uncommon chance, but one that befalls some
of us any day; perhaps it may not be quite uninteresting to compare
notes with the reader respecting an experience so familiar and a
journey so uncommercial.
I call my boyhood's home (and I feel like a Tenor in an English
Opera when I mention it) Dullborough. Most of us come from
Dullborough who come from a country town.
As I left Dullborough in the days when there were no railroads in
the land, I left it in a stage-coach. Through all the years that
have since passed, have I ever lost the smell of the damp straw in
which I was packed - like game - and forwarded, carriage paid, to
the Cross Keys, Wood-street, Cheapside, London? There was no other
inside passenger, and I consumed my sandwiches in solitude and
dreariness, and it rained hard all the way, and I thought life
sloppier than I had expected to find it.
With this tender remembrance upon me, I was cavalierly shunted back
into Dullborough the other day, by train. My ticket had been
previously collected, like my taxes, and my shining new portmanteau
had had a great plaster stuck upon it, and I had been defied by Act
of Parliament to offer an objection to anything that was done to
it, or me, under a penalty of not less than forty shillings or more
than five pounds, compoundable for a term of imprisonment. When I
had sent my disfigured property on to the hotel, I began to look
about me; and the first discovery I made, was, that the Station had
swallowed up the playing-field.
It was gone. The two beautiful hawthorn-trees, the hedge, the
turf, and all those buttercups and daisies, had given place to the
stoniest of jolting roads: while, beyond the Station, an ugly dark
monster of a tunnel kept its jaws open, as if it had swallowed them
and were ravenous for more destruction. The coach that had carried
me away, was melodiously called Timpson's Blue-Eyed Maid, and
belonged to Timpson, at the coach-office up-street; the locomotive
engine that had brought me back, was called severely No. 97, and
belonged to S.E.R., and was spitting ashes and hot water over the
blighted ground.
When I had been let out at the platform-door, like a prisoner whom
his turnkey grudgingly released, I looked in again over the low
wall, at the scene of departed glories. Here, in the haymaking
time, had I been delivered from the dungeons of Seringapatam, an
immense pile (of haycock), by my own countrymen, the victorious
British (boy next door and his two cousins), and had been
recognised with ecstasy by my affianced one (Miss Green), who had
come all the way from England (second house in the terrace) to
ransom me, and marry me. Here, had I first heard in confidence,
from one whose father was greatly connected, being under
Government, of the existence of a terrible banditti, called 'The
Radicals,' whose principles were, that the Prince Regent wore
stays, and that nobody had a right to any salary, and that the army
and navy ought to be put down - horrors at which I trembled in my
bed, after supplicating that the Radicals might be speedily taken
and hanged. Here, too, had we, the small boys of Boles's, had that
cricket match against the small boys of Coles's, when Boles and
Coles had actually met upon the ground, and when, instead of
instantly hitting out at one another with the utmost fury, as we
had all hoped and expected, those sneaks had said respectively, 'I
hope Mrs. Boles is well,' and 'I hope Mrs. Coles and the baby are
doing charmingly.' Could it be that, after all this, and much
more, the Playing-field was a Station, and No. 97 expectorated
boiling water and redhot cinders on it, and the whole belonged by
Act of Parliament to S.E.R.?
As it could be, and was, I left the place with a heavy heart for a
walk all over the town. And first of Timpson's up-street. When I
departed from Dullborough in the strawy arms of Timpson's Blue-Eyed
Maid, Timpson's was a moderate-sized coach-office (in fact, a
little coach-office), with an oval transparency in the window,
which looked beautiful by night, representing one of Timpson's
coaches in the act of passing a milestone on the London road with
great velocity, completely full inside and out, and all the
passengers dressed in the first style of fashion, and enjoying
themselves tremendously. I found no such place as Timpson's now -
no such bricks and rafters, not to mention the name - no such
edifice on the teeming earth. Pickford had come and knocked
Timpson's down. Pickford had not only knocked Timpson's down, but
had knocked two or three houses down on each side of Timpson's, and
then had knocked the whole into one great establishment with a pair
of big gates, in and out of which, his (Pickford's) waggons are, in
these days, always rattling, with their drivers sitting up so high,
that they look in at the second-floor windows of the old-fashioned
houses in the High-street as they shake the town. I have not the
honour of Pickford's acquaintance, but I felt that he had done me
an injury, not to say committed an act of boyslaughter, in running
over my Childhood in this rough manner; and if ever I meet Pickford
driving one of his own monsters, and smoking a pipe the while
(which is the custom of his men), he shall know by the expression
of my eye, if it catches his, that there is something wrong between
Moreover, I felt that Pickford had no right to come rushing into
Dullborough and deprive the town of a public picture. He is not
Napoleon Bonaparte. When he took down the transparent stage-coach,
he ought to have given the town a transparent van. With a gloomy
conviction that Pickford is wholly utilitarian and unimaginative, I
proceeded on my way.
It is a mercy I have not a red and green lamp and a night-bell at
my door, for in my very young days I was taken to so many lyings-in
that I wonder I escaped becoming a professional martyr to them in
after-life. I suppose I had a very sympathetic nurse, with a large
circle of married acquaintance. However that was, as I continued
my walk through Dullborough, I found many houses to be solely
associated in my mind with this particular interest. At one little
greengrocer's shop, down certain steps from the street, I remember
to have waited on a lady who had had four children (I am afraid to
write five, though I fully believe it was five) at a birth. This
meritorious woman held quite a reception in her room on the morning
when I was introduced there, and the sight of the house brought
vividly to my mind how the four (five) deceased young people lay,
side by side, on a clean cloth on a chest of drawers; reminding me
by a homely association, which I suspect their complexion to have
assisted, of pigs' feet as they are usually displayed at a neat
tripe-shop. Hot candle was handed round on the occasion, and I
further remembered as I stood contemplating the greengrocer's, that
a subscription was entered into among the company, which became
extremely alarming to my consciousness of having pocket-money on my
person. This fact being known to my conductress, whoever she was,
I was earnestly exhorted to contribute, but resolutely declined:
therein disgusting the company, who gave me to understand that I
must dismiss all expectations of going to Heaven.
How does it happen that when all else is change wherever one goes,
there yet seem, in every place, to be some few people who never
alter? As the sight of the greengrocer's house recalled these
trivial incidents of long ago, the identical greengrocer appeared
on the steps, with his hands in his pockets, and leaning his
shoulder against the door-post, as my childish eyes had seen him
many a time; indeed, there was his old mark on the door-post yet,
as if his shadow had become a fixture there. It was he himself; he
might formerly have been an old-looking young man, or he might now
be a young-looking old man, but there he was. In walking along the
street, I had as yet looked in vain for a familiar face, or even a
transmitted face; here was the very greengrocer who had been
weighing and handling baskets on the morning of the reception. As
he brought with him a dawning remembrance that he had had no
proprietary interest in those babies, I crossed the road, and
accosted him on the subject. He was not in the least excited or
gratified, or in any way roused, by the accuracy of my
recollection, but said, Yes, summut out of the common - he didn't
remember how many it was (as if half-a-dozen babes either way made
no difference) - had happened to a Mrs. What's-her-name, as once
lodged there - but he didn't call it to mind, particular. Nettled
by this phlegmatic conduct, I informed him that I had left the town
when I was a child. He slowly returned, quite unsoftened, and not
without a sarcastic kind of complacency, HAD I? Ah! And did I
find it had got on tolerably well without me? Such is the
difference (I thought, when I had left him a few hundred yards
behind, and was by so much in a better temper) between going away
from a place and remaining in it. I had no right, I reflected, to
be angry with the greengrocer for his want of interest, I was
nothing to him: whereas he was the town, the cathedral, the
bridge, the river, my childhood, and a large slice of my life, to
Of course the town had shrunk fearfully, since I was a child there.
I had entertained the impression that the High-street was at least
as wide as Regent-street, London, or the Italian Boulevard at
Paris. I found it little better than a lane. There was a public
clock in it, which I had supposed to be the finest clock in the
world: whereas it now turned out to be as inexpressive, moonfaced,
and weak a clock as ever I saw. It belonged to a Town Hall,
where I had seen an Indian (who I now suppose wasn't an Indian)
swallow a sword (which I now suppose he didn't). The edifice had
appeared to me in those days so glorious a structure, that I had
set it up in my mind as the model on which the Genie of the Lamp
built the palace for Aladdin. A mean little brick heap, like a
demented chapel, with a few yawning persons in leather gaiters, and
in the last extremity for something to do, lounging at the door
with their hands in their pockets, and calling themselves a Corn
The Theatre was in existence, I found, on asking the fishmonger,
who had a compact show of stock in his window, consisting of a sole
and a quart of shrimps - and I resolved to comfort my mind by going
to look at it. Richard the Third, in a very uncomfortable cloak,
had first appeared to me there, and had made my heart leap with
terror by backing up against the stage-box in which I was posted,
while struggling for life against the virtuous Richmond. It was
within those walls that I had learnt as from a page of English
history, how that wicked King slept in war-time on a sofa much too
short for him, and how fearfully his conscience troubled his boots.
There, too, had I first seen the funny countryman, but countryman
of noble principles, in a flowered waistcoat, crunch up his little
hat and throw it on the ground, and pull off his coat, saying, 'Dom
thee, squire, coom on with thy fistes then!' At which the lovely
young woman who kept company with him (and who went out gleaning,
in a narrow white muslin apron with five beautiful bars of five
different-coloured ribbons across it) was so frightened for his
sake, that she fainted away. Many wondrous secrets of Nature had I
come to the knowledge of in that sanctuary: of which not the least
terrific were, that the witches in Macbeth bore an awful
resemblance to the Thanes and other proper inhabitants of Scotland;
and that the good King Duncan couldn't rest in his grave, but was
constantly coming out of it and calling himself somebody else. To
the Theatre, therefore, I repaired for consolation. But I found
very little, for it was in a bad and declining way. A dealer in
wine and bottled beer had already squeezed his trade into the boxoffice,
and the theatrical money was taken - when it came - in a
kind of meat-safe in the passage. The dealer in wine and bottled
beer must have insinuated himself under the stage too; for he
announced that he had various descriptions of alcoholic drinks 'in
the wood,' and there was no possible stowage for the wood anywhere
else. Evidently, he was by degrees eating the establishment away
to the core, and would soon have sole possession of it. It was To
Let, and hopelessly so, for its old purposes; and there had been no
entertainment within its walls for a long time except a Panorama;
and even that had been announced as 'pleasingly instructive,' and I
know too well the fatal meaning and the leaden import of those
terrible expressions. No, there was no comfort in the Theatre. It
was mysteriously gone, like my own youth. Unlike my own youth, it
might be coming back some day; but there was little promise of it.
As the town was placarded with references to the Dullborough
Mechanics' Institution, I thought I would go and look at that
establishment next. There had been no such thing in the town, in
my young day, and it occurred to me that its extreme prosperity
might have brought adversity upon the Drama. I found the
Institution with some difficulty, and should scarcely have known
that I had found it if I had judged from its external appearance
only; but this was attributable to its never having been finished,
and having no front: consequently, it led a modest and retired
existence up a stable-yard. It was (as I learnt, on inquiry) a
most flourishing Institution, and of the highest benefit to the
town: two triumphs which I was glad to understand were not at all
impaired by the seeming drawbacks that no mechanics belonged to it,
and that it was steeped in debt to the chimney-pots. It had a
large room, which was approached by an infirm step-ladder: the
builder having declined to construct the intended staircase,
without a present payment in cash, which Dullborough (though
profoundly appreciative of the Institution) seemed unaccountably
bashful about subscribing. The large room had cost - or would,
when paid for - five hundred pounds; and it had more mortar in it
and more echoes, than one might have expected to get for the money.
It was fitted up with a platform, and the usual lecturing tools,
including a large black board of a menacing appearance. On
referring to lists of the courses of lectures that had been given
in this thriving Hall, I fancied I detected a shyness in admitting
that human nature when at leisure has any desire whatever to be
relieved and diverted; and a furtive sliding in of any poor makeweight
piece of amusement, shame-facedly and edgewise. Thus, I
observed that it was necessary for the members to be knocked on the
head with Gas, Air, Water, Food, the Solar System, the Geological
periods, Criticism on Milton, the Steam-engine, John Bunyan, and
Arrow-Headed Inscriptions, before they might be tickled by those
unaccountable choristers, the negro singers in the court costume of
the reign of George the Second. Likewise, that they must be
stunned by a weighty inquiry whether there was internal evidence in
Shakespeare's works, to prove that his uncle by the mother's side
lived for some years at Stoke Newington, before they were broughtto
by a Miscellaneous Concert. But, indeed, the masking of
entertainment, and pretending it was something else - as people
mask bedsteads when they are obliged to have them in sitting-rooms,
and make believe that they are book-cases, sofas, chests of
drawers, anything rather than bedsteads - was manifest even in the
pretence of dreariness that the unfortunate entertainers themselves
felt obliged in decency to put forth when they came here. One very
agreeable professional singer, who travelled with two professional
ladies, knew better than to introduce either of those ladies to
sing the ballad 'Comin' through the Rye' without prefacing it
himself, with some general remarks on wheat and clover; and even
then, he dared not for his life call the song, a song, but
disguised it in the bill as an 'Illustration.' In the library,
also - fitted with shelves for three thousand books, and containing
upwards of one hundred and seventy (presented copies mostly),
seething their edges in damp plaster - there was such a painfully
apologetic return of 62 offenders who had read Travels, Popular
Biography, and mere Fiction descriptive of the aspirations of the
hearts and souls of mere human creatures like themselves; and such
an elaborate parade of 2 bright examples who had had down Euclid
after the day's occupation and confinement; and 3 who had had down
Metaphysics after ditto; and 1 who had had down Theology after
ditto; and 4 who had worried Grammar, Political Economy, Botany,
and Logarithms all at once after ditto; that I suspected the
boasted class to be one man, who had been hired to do it.
Emerging from the Mechanics' Institution and continuing my walk
about the town, I still noticed everywhere the prevalence, to an
extraordinary degree, of this custom of putting the natural demand
for amusement out of sight, as some untidy housekeepers put dust,
and pretending that it was swept away. And yet it was ministered
to, in a dull and abortive manner, by all who made this feint.
Looking in at what is called in Dullborough 'the serious
bookseller's,' where, in my childhood, I had studied the faces of
numbers of gentlemen depicted in rostrums with a gaslight on each
side of them, and casting my eyes over the open pages of certain
printed discourses there, I found a vast deal of aiming at jocosity
and dramatic effect, even in them - yes, verily, even on the part
of one very wrathful expounder who bitterly anathematised a poor
little Circus. Similarly, in the reading provided for the young
people enrolled in the Lasso of Love, and other excellent unions, I
found the writers generally under a distressing sense that they
must start (at all events) like story-tellers, and delude the young
persons into the belief that they were going to be interesting. As
I looked in at this window for twenty minutes by the clock, I am in
a position to offer a friendly remonstrance - not bearing on this
particular point - to the designers and engravers of the pictures
in those publications. Have they considered the awful consequences
likely to flow from their representations of Virtue? Have they
asked themselves the question, whether the terrific prospect of
acquiring that fearful chubbiness of head, unwieldiness of arm,
feeble dislocation of leg, crispiness of hair, and enormity of
shirt-collar, which they represent as inseparable from Goodness,
may not tend to confirm sensitive waverers, in Evil? A most
impressive example (if I had believed it) of what a Dustman and a
Sailor may come to, when they mend their ways, was presented to me
in this same shop-window. When they were leaning (they were
intimate friends) against a post, drunk and reckless, with
surpassingly bad hats on, and their hair over their foreheads, they
were rather picturesque, and looked as if they might be agreeable
men, if they would not be beasts. But, when they had got over
their bad propensities, and when, as a consequence, their heads had
swelled alarmingly, their hair had got so curly that it lifted
their blown-out cheeks up, their coat-cuffs were so long that they
never could do any work, and their eyes were so wide open that they
never could do any sleep, they presented a spectacle calculated to
plunge a timid nature into the depths of Infamy.
But, the clock that had so degenerated since I saw it last,
admonished me that I had stayed here long enough; and I resumed my
I had not gone fifty paces along the street when I was suddenly
brought up by the sight of a man who got out of a little phaeton at
the doctor's door, and went into the doctor's house. Immediately,
the air was filled with the scent of trodden grass, and the
perspective of years opened, and at the end of it was a little
likeness of this man keeping a wicket, and I said, 'God bless my
soul! Joe Specks!'
Through many changes and much work, I had preserved a tenderness
for the memory of Joe, forasmuch as we had made the acquaintance of
Roderick Random together, and had believed him to be no ruffian,
but an ingenuous and engaging hero. Scorning to ask the boy left
in the phaeton whether it was really Joe, and scorning even to read
the brass plate on the door - so sure was I - I rang the bell and
informed the servant maid that a stranger sought audience of Mr.
Specks. Into a room, half surgery, half study, I was shown to
await his coming, and I found it, by a series of elaborate
accidents, bestrewn with testimonies to Joe. Portrait of Mr.
Specks, bust of Mr. Specks, silver cup from grateful patient to Mr.
Specks, presentation sermon from local clergyman, dedication poem
from local poet, dinner-card from local nobleman, tract on balance
of power from local refugee, inscribed HOMMAGE DE L'AUTEUR E
When my old schoolfellow came in, and I informed him with a smile
that I was not a patient, he seemed rather at a loss to perceive
any reason for smiling in connexion with that fact, and inquired to
what was he to attribute the honour? I asked him with another
smile, could he remember me at all? He had not (he said) that
pleasure. I was beginning to have but a poor opinion of Mr.
Specks, when he said reflectively, 'And yet there's a something
too.' Upon that, I saw a boyish light in his eyes that looked
well, and I asked him if he could inform me, as a stranger who
desired to know and had not the means of reference at hand, what
the name of the young lady was, who married Mr. Random? Upon that,
he said 'Narcissa,' and, after staring for a moment, called me by
my name, shook me by the hand, and melted into a roar of laughter.
'Why, of course, you'll remember Lucy Green,' he said, after we had
talked a little. 'Of course,' said I. 'Whom do you think she
married?' said he. 'You?' I hazarded. 'Me,' said Specks, 'and you
shall see her.' So I saw her, and she was fat, and if all the hay
in the world had been heaped upon her, it could scarcely have
altered her face more than Time had altered it from my remembrance
of the face that had once looked down upon me into the fragrant
dungeons of Seringapatam. But when her youngest child came in
after dinner (for I dined with them, and we had no other company
than Specks, Junior, Barrister-at-law, who went away as soon as the
cloth was removed, to look after the young lady to whom he was
going to be married next week), I saw again, in that little
daughter, the little face of the hayfield, unchanged, and it quite
touched my foolish heart. We talked immensely, Specks and Mrs.
Specks, and I, and we spoke of our old selves as though our old
selves were dead and gone, and indeed, indeed they were - dead and
gone as the playing-field that had become a wilderness of rusty
iron, and the property of S.E.R.
Specks, however, illuminated Dullborough with the rays of interest
that I wanted and should otherwise have missed in it, and linked
its present to its past, with a highly agreeable chain. And in
Specks's society I had new occasion to observe what I had before
noticed in similar communications among other men. All the
schoolfellows and others of old, whom I inquired about, had either
done superlatively well or superlatively ill - had either become
uncertificated bankrupts, or been felonious and got themselves
transported; or had made great hits in life, and done wonders. And
this is so commonly the case, that I never can imagine what becomes
of all the mediocre people of people's youth - especially
considering that we find no lack of the species in our maturity.
But, I did not propound this difficulty to Specks, for no pause in
the conversation gave me an occasion. Nor, could I discover one
single flaw in the good doctor - when he reads this, he will
receive in a friendly spirit the pleasantly meant record - except
that he had forgotten his Roderick Random, and that he confounded
Strap with Lieutenant Hatchway; who never knew Random, howsoever
intimate with Pickle.
When I went alone to the Railway to catch my train at night (Specks
had meant to go with me, but was inopportunely called out), I was
in a more charitable mood with Dullborough than I had been all day;
and yet in my heart I had loved it all day too. Ah! who was I that
I should quarrel with the town for being changed to me, when I
myself had come back, so changed, to it! All my early readings and
early imaginations dated from this place, and I took them away so
full of innocent construction and guileless belief, and I brought
them back so worn and torn, so much the wiser and so much the
Some years ago, a temporary inability to sleep, referable to a
distressing impression, caused me to walk about the streets all
night, for a series of several nights. The disorder might have
taken a long time to conquer, if it had been faintly experimented
on in bed; but, it was soon defeated by the brisk treatment of
getting up directly after lying down, and going out, and coming
home tired at sunrise.
In the course of those nights, I finished my education in a fair
amateur experience of houselessness. My principal object being to
get through the night, the pursuit of it brought me into
sympathetic relations with people who have no other object every
night in the year.
The month was March, and the weather damp, cloudy, and cold. The
sun not rising before half-past five, the night perspective looked
sufficiently long at half-past twelve: which was about my time for
confronting it.
The restlessness of a great city, and the way in which it tumbles
and tosses before it can get to sleep, formed one of the first
entertainments offered to the contemplation of us houseless people.
It lasted about two hours. We lost a great deal of companionship
when the late public-houses turned their lamps out, and when the
potmen thrust the last brawling drunkards into the street; but
stray vehicles and stray people were left us, after that. If we
were very lucky, a policeman's rattle sprang and a fray turned up;
but, in general, surprisingly little of this diversion was
provided. Except in the Haymarket, which is the worst kept part of
London, and about Kent-street in the Borough, and along a portion
of the line of the Old Kent-road, the peace was seldom violently
broken. But, it was always the case that London, as if in
imitation of individual citizens belonging to it, had expiring fits
and starts of restlessness. After all seemed quiet, if one cab
rattled by, half-a-dozen would surely follow; and Houselessness
even observed that intoxicated people appeared to be magnetically
attracted towards each other; so that we knew when we saw one
drunken object staggering against the shutters of a shop, that
another drunken object would stagger up before five minutes were
out, to fraternise or fight with it. When we made a divergence
from the regular species of drunkard, the thin-armed, puff-faced,
leaden-lipped gin-drinker, and encountered a rarer specimen of a
more decent appearance, fifty to one but that specimen was dressed
in soiled mourning. As the street experience in the night, so the
street experience in the day; the common folk who come unexpectedly
into a little property, come unexpectedly into a deal of liquor.
At length these flickering sparks would die away, worn out - the
last veritable sparks of waking life trailed from some late pieman
or hot-potato man - and London would sink to rest. And then the
yearning of the houseless mind would be for any sign of company,
any lighted place, any movement, anything suggestive of any one
being up - nay, even so much as awake, for the houseless eye looked
out for lights in windows.
Walking the streets under the pattering rain, Houselessness would
walk and walk and walk, seeing nothing but the interminable tangle
of streets, save at a corner, here and there, two policemen in
conversation, or the sergeant or inspector looking after his men.
Now and then in the night - but rarely - Houselessness would become
aware of a furtive head peering out of a doorway a few yards before
him, and, coming up with the head, would find a man standing bolt
upright to keep within the doorway's shadow, and evidently intent
upon no particular service to society. Under a kind of
fascination, and in a ghostly silence suitable to the time,
Houselessness and this gentleman would eye one another from head to
foot, and so, without exchange of speech, part, mutually
suspicious. Drip, drip, drip, from ledge and coping, splash from
pipes and water-spouts, and by-and-by the houseless shadow would
fall upon the stones that pave the way to Waterloo-bridge; it being
in the houseless mind to have a halfpenny worth of excuse for
saying 'Good-night' to the toll-keeper, and catching a glimpse of
his fire. A good fire and a good great-coat and a good woollen
neck-shawl, were comfortable things to see in conjunction with the
toll-keeper; also his brisk wakefulness was excellent company when
he rattled the change of halfpence down upon that metal table of
his, like a man who defied the night, with all its sorrowful
thoughts, and didn't care for the coming of dawn. There was need
of encouragement on the threshold of the bridge, for the bridge was
dreary. The chopped-up murdered man, had not been lowered with a
rope over the parapet when those nights were; he was alive, and
slept then quietly enough most likely, and undisturbed by any dream
of where he was to come. But the river had an awful look, the
buildings on the banks were muffled in black shrouds, and the
reflected lights seemed to originate deep in the water, as if the
spectres of suicides were holding them to show where they went
down. The wild moon and clouds were as restless as an evil
conscience in a tumbled bed, and the very shadow of the immensity
of London seemed to lie oppressively upon the river.
Between the bridge and the two great theatres, there was but the
distance of a few hundred paces, so the theatres came next. Grim
and black within, at night, those great dry Wells, and lonesome to
imagine, with the rows of faces faded out, the lights extinguished,
and the seats all empty. One would think that nothing in them knew
itself at such a time but Yorick's skull. In one of my night
walks, as the church steeples were shaking the March winds and rain
with the strokes of Four, I passed the outer boundary of one of
these great deserts, and entered it. With a dim lantern in my
hand, I groped my well-known way to the stage and looked over the
orchestra - which was like a great grave dug for a time of
pestilence - into the void beyond. A dismal cavern of an immense
aspect, with the chandelier gone dead like everything else, and
nothing visible through mist and fog and space, but tiers of
winding-sheets. The ground at my feet where, when last there, I
had seen the peasantry of Naples dancing among the vines, reckless
of the burning mountain which threatened to overwhelm them, was now
in possession of a strong serpent of engine-hose, watchfully lying
in wait for the serpent Fire, and ready to fly at it if it showed
its forked tongue. A ghost of a watchman, carrying a faint corpse
candle, haunted the distant upper gallery and flitted away.
Retiring within the proscenium, and holding my light above my head
towards the rolled-up curtain - green no more, but black as ebony -
my sight lost itself in a gloomy vault, showing faint indications
in it of a shipwreck of canvas and cordage. Methought I felt much
as a diver might, at the bottom of the sea.
In those small hours when there was no movement in the streets, it
afforded matter for reflection to take Newgate in the way, and,
touching its rough stone, to think of the prisoners in their sleep,
and then to glance in at the lodge over the spiked wicket, and see
the fire and light of the watching turnkeys, on the white wall.
Not an inappropriate time either, to linger by that wicked little
Debtors' Door - shutting tighter than any other door one ever saw -
which has been Death's Door to so many. In the days of the
uttering of forged one-pound notes by people tempted up from the
country, how many hundreds of wretched creatures of both sexes -
many quite innocent - swung out of a pitiless and inconsistent
world, with the tower of yonder Christian church of Saint Sepulchre
monstrously before their eyes! Is there any haunting of the Bank
Parlour, by the remorseful souls of old directors, in the nights of
these later days, I wonder, or is it as quiet as this degenerate
Aceldama of an Old Bailey?
To walk on to the Bank, lamenting the good old times and bemoaning
the present evil period, would be an easy next step, so I would
take it, and would make my houseless circuit of the Bank, and give
a thought to the treasure within; likewise to the guard of soldiers
passing the night there, and nodding over the fire. Next, I went
to Billingsgate, in some hope of market-people, but it proving as
yet too early, crossed London-bridge and got down by the water-side
on the Surrey shore among the buildings of the great brewery.
There was plenty going on at the brewery; and the reek, and the
smell of grains, and the rattling of the plump dray horses at their
mangers, were capital company. Quite refreshed by having mingled
with this good society, I made a new start with a new heart,
setting the old King's Bench prison before me for my next object,
and resolving, when I should come to the wall, to think of poor
Horace Kinch, and the Dry Rot in men.
A very curious disease the Dry Rot in men, and difficult to detect
the beginning of. It had carried Horace Kinch inside the wall of
the old King's Bench prison, and it had carried him out with his
feet foremost. He was a likely man to look at, in the prime of
life, well to do, as clever as he needed to be, and popular among
many friends. He was suitably married, and had healthy and pretty
children. But, like some fair-looking houses or fair-looking
ships, he took the Dry Rot. The first strong external revelation
of the Dry Rot in men, is a tendency to lurk and lounge; to be at
street-corners without intelligible reason; to be going anywhere
when met; to be about many places rather than at any; to do nothing
tangible, but to have an intention of performing a variety of
intangible duties to-morrow or the day after. When this
manifestation of the disease is observed, the observer will usually
connect it with a vague impression once formed or received, that
the patient was living a little too hard. He will scarcely have
had leisure to turn it over in his mind and form the terrible
suspicion 'Dry Rot,' when he will notice a change for the worse in
the patient's appearance: a certain slovenliness and
deterioration, which is not poverty, nor dirt, nor intoxication,
nor ill-health, but simply Dry Rot. To this, succeeds a smell as
of strong waters, in the morning; to that, a looseness respecting
money; to that, a stronger smell as of strong waters, at all times;
to that, a looseness respecting everything; to that, a trembling of
the limbs, somnolency, misery, and crumbling to pieces. As it is
in wood, so it is in men. Dry Rot advances at a compound usury
quite incalculable. A plank is found infected with it, and the
whole structure is devoted. Thus it had been with the unhappy
Horace Kinch, lately buried by a small subscription. Those who
knew him had not nigh done saying, 'So well off, so comfortably
established, with such hope before him - and yet, it is feared,
with a slight touch of Dry Rot!' when lo! the man was all Dry Rot
and dust.
From the dead wall associated on those houseless nights with this
too common story, I chose next to wander by Bethlehem Hospital;
partly, because it lay on my road round to Westminster; partly,
because I had a night fancy in my head which could be best pursued
within sight of its walls and dome. And the fancy was this: Are
not the sane and the insane equal at night as the sane lie a
dreaming? Are not all of us outside this hospital, who dream, more
or less in the condition of those inside it, every night of our
lives? Are we not nightly persuaded, as they daily are, that we
associate preposterously with kings and queens, emperors and
empresses, and notabilities of all sorts? Do we not nightly jumble
events and personages and times and places, as these do daily? Are
we not sometimes troubled by our own sleeping inconsistencies, and
do we not vexedly try to account for them or excuse them, just as
these do sometimes in respect of their waking delusions? Said an
afflicted man to me, when I was last in a hospital like this, 'Sir,
I can frequently fly.' I was half ashamed to reflect that so could
I - by night. Said a woman to me on the same occasion, 'Queen
Victoria frequently comes to dine with me, and her Majesty and I
dine off peaches and maccaroni in our night-gowns, and his Royal
Highness the Prince Consort does us the honour to make a third on
horseback in a Field-Marshal's uniform.' Could I refrain from
reddening with consciousness when I remembered the amazing royal
parties I myself had given (at night), the unaccountable viands I
had put on table, and my extraordinary manner of conducting myself
on those distinguished occasions? I wonder that the great master
who knew everything, when he called Sleep the death of each day's
life, did not call Dreams the insanity of each day's sanity.
By this time I had left the Hospital behind me, and was again
setting towards the river; and in a short breathing space I was on
Westminster-bridge, regaling my houseless eyes with the external
walls of the British Parliament - the perfection of a stupendous
institution, I know, and the admiration of all surrounding nations
and succeeding ages, I do not doubt, but perhaps a little the
better now and then for being pricked up to its work. Turning off
into Old Palace-yard, the Courts of Law kept me company for a
quarter of an hour; hinting in low whispers what numbers of people
they were keeping awake, and how intensely wretched and horrible
they were rendering the small hours to unfortunate suitors.
Westminster Abbey was fine gloomy society for another quarter of an
hour; suggesting a wonderful procession of its dead among the dark
arches and pillars, each century more amazed by the century
following it than by all the centuries going before. And indeed in
those houseless night walks - which even included cemeteries where
watchmen went round among the graves at stated times, and moved the
tell-tale handle of an index which recorded that they had touched
it at such an hour - it was a solemn consideration what enormous
hosts of dead belong to one old great city, and how, if they were
raised while the living slept, there would not be the space of a
pin's point in all the streets and ways for the living to come out
into. Not only that, but the vast armies of dead would overflow
the hills and valleys beyond the city, and would stretch away all
round it, God knows how far.
When a church clock strikes, on houseless ears in the dead of the
night, it may be at first mistaken for company and hailed as such.
But, as the spreading circles of vibration, which you may perceive
at such a time with great clearness, go opening out, for ever and
ever afterwards widening perhaps (as the philosopher has suggested)
in eternal space, the mistake is rectified and the sense of
loneliness is profounder. Once - it was after leaving the Abbey
and turning my face north - I came to the great steps of St.
Martin's church as the clock was striking Three. Suddenly, a thing
that in a moment more I should have trodden upon without seeing,
rose up at my feet with a cry of loneliness and houselessness,
struck out of it by the bell, the like of which I never heard. We
then stood face to face looking at one another, frightened by one
another. The creature was like a beetle-browed hair-lipped youth
of twenty, and it had a loose bundle of rags on, which it held
together with one of its hands. It shivered from head to foot, and
its teeth chattered, and as it stared at me - persecutor, devil,
ghost, whatever it thought me - it made with its whining mouth as
if it were snapping at me, like a worried dog. Intending to give
this ugly object money, I put out my hand to stay it - for it
recoiled as it whined and snapped - and laid my hand upon its
shoulder. Instantly, it twisted out of its garment, like the young
man in the New Testament, and left me standing alone with its rags
in my hands.
Covent-garden Market, when it was market morning, was wonderful
company. The great waggons of cabbages, with growers' men and boys
lying asleep under them, and with sharp dogs from market-garden
neighbourhoods looking after the whole, were as good as a party.
But one of the worst night sights I know in London, is to be found
in the children who prowl about this place; who sleep in the
baskets, fight for the offal, dart at any object they think they
can lay their their thieving hands on, dive under the carts and
barrows, dodge the constables, and are perpetually making a blunt
pattering on the pavement of the Piazza with the rain of their
naked feet. A painful and unnatural result comes of the comparison
one is forced to institute between the growth of corruption as
displayed in the so much improved and cared for fruits of the
earth, and the growth of corruption as displayed in these all
uncared for (except inasmuch as ever-hunted) savages.
There was early coffee to be got about Covent-garden Market, and
that was more company - warm company, too, which was better. Toast
of a very substantial quality, was likewise procurable: though the
towzled-headed man who made it, in an inner chamber within the
coffee-room, hadn't got his coat on yet, and was so heavy with
sleep that in every interval of toast and coffee he went off anew
behind the partition into complicated cross-roads of choke and
snore, and lost his way directly. Into one of these establishments
(among the earliest) near Bow-street, there came one morning as I
sat over my houseless cup, pondering where to go next, a man in a
high and long snuff-coloured coat, and shoes, and, to the best of
my belief, nothing else but a hat, who took out of his hat a large
cold meat pudding; a meat pudding so large that it was a very tight
fit, and brought the lining of the hat out with it. This
mysterious man was known by his pudding, for on his entering, the
man of sleep brought him a pint of hot tea, a small loaf, and a
large knife and fork and plate. Left to himself in his box, he
stood the pudding on the bare table, and, instead of cutting it,
stabbed it, overhand, with the knife, like a mortal enemy; then
took the knife out, wiped it on his sleeve, tore the pudding
asunder with his fingers, and ate it all up. The remembrance of
this man with the pudding remains with me as the remembrance of the
most spectral person my houselessness encountered. Twice only was
I in that establishment, and twice I saw him stalk in (as I should
say, just out of bed, and presently going back to bed), take out
his pudding, stab his pudding, wipe the dagger, and eat his pudding
all up. He was a man whose figure promised cadaverousness, but who
had an excessively red face, though shaped like a horse's. On the
second occasion of my seeing him, he said huskily to the man of
sleep, 'Am I red to-night?' 'You are,' he uncompromisingly
answered. 'My mother,' said the spectre, 'was a red-faced woman
that liked drink, and I looked at her hard when she laid in her
coffin, and I took the complexion.' Somehow, the pudding seemed an
unwholesome pudding after that, and I put myself in its way no
When there was no market, or when I wanted variety, a railway
terminus with the morning mails coming in, was remunerative
company. But like most of the company to be had in this world, it
lasted only a very short time. The station lamps would burst out
ablaze, the porters would emerge from places of concealment, the
cabs and trucks would rattle to their places (the post-office carts
were already in theirs), and, finally, the bell would strike up,
and the train would come banging in. But there were few passengers
and little luggage, and everything scuttled away with the greatest
expedition. The locomotive post-offices, with their great nets -
as if they had been dragging the country for bodies - would fly
open as to their doors, and would disgorge a smell of lamp, an
exhausted clerk, a guard in a red coat, and their bags of letters;
the engine would blow and heave and perspire, like an engine wiping
its forehead and saying what a run it had had; and within ten
minutes the lamps were out, and I was houseless and alone again.
But now, there were driven cattle on the high road near, wanting
(as cattle always do) to turn into the midst of stone walls, and
squeeze themselves through six inches' width of iron railing, and
getting their heads down (also as cattle always do) for tossingpurchase
at quite imaginary dogs, and giving themselves and every
devoted creature associated with them a most extraordinary amount
of unnecessary trouble. Now, too, the conscious gas began to grow
pale with the knowledge that daylight was coming, and straggling
workpeople were already in the streets, and, as waking life had
become extinguished with the last pieman's sparks, so it began to
be rekindled with the fires of the first street-corner breakfastsellers.
And so by faster and faster degrees, until the last
degrees were very fast, the day came, and I was tired and could
sleep. And it is not, as I used to think, going home at such
times, the least wonderful thing in London, that in the real desert
region of the night, the houseless wanderer is alone there. I knew
well enough where to find Vice and Misfortune of all kinds, if I
had chosen; but they were put out of sight, and my houselessness
had many miles upon miles of streets in which it could, and did,
have its own solitary way.
Having occasion to transact some business with a solicitor who
occupies a highly suicidal set of chambers in Gray's Inn, I
afterwards took a turn in the large square of that stronghold of
Melancholy, reviewing, with congenial surroundings, my experiences
of Chambers.
I began, as was natural, with the Chambers I had just left. They
were an upper set on a rotten staircase, with a mysterious bunk or
bulkhead on the landing outside them, of a rather nautical and
Screw Collier-like appearance than otherwise, and painted an
intense black. Many dusty years have passed since the
appropriation of this Davy Jones's locker to any purpose, and
during the whole period within the memory of living man, it has
been hasped and padlocked. I cannot quite satisfy my mind whether
it was originally meant for the reception of coals, or bodies, or
as a place of temporary security for the plunder 'looted' by
laundresses; but I incline to the last opinion. It is about breast
high, and usually serves as a bulk for defendants in reduced
circumstances to lean against and ponder at, when they come on the
hopeful errand of trying to make an arrangement without money -
under which auspicious circumstances it mostly happens that the
legal gentleman they want to see, is much engaged, and they pervade
the staircase for a considerable period. Against this opposing
bulk, in the absurdest manner, the tomb-like outer door of the
solicitor's chambers (which is also of an intense black) stands in
dark ambush, half open, and half shut, all day. The solicitor's
apartments are three in number; consisting of a slice, a cell, and
a wedge. The slice is assigned to the two clerks, the cell is
occupied by the principal, and the wedge is devoted to stray
papers, old game baskets from the country, a washing-stand, and a
model of a patent Ship's Caboose which was exhibited in Chancery at
the commencement of the present century on an application for an
injunction to restrain infringement. At about half-past nine on
every week-day morning, the younger of the two clerks (who, I have
reason to believe, leads the fashion at Pentonville in the articles
of pipes and shirts) may be found knocking the dust out of his
official door-key on the bunk or locker before mentioned; and so
exceedingly subject to dust is his key, and so very retentive of
that superfluity, that in exceptional summer weather when a ray of
sunlight has fallen on the locker in my presence, I have noticed
its inexpressive countenance to be deeply marked by a kind of
Bramah erysipelas or small-pox.
This set of chambers (as I have gradually discovered, when I have
had restless occasion to make inquiries or leave messages, after
office hours) is under the charge of a lady named Sweeney, in
figure extremely like an old family-umbrella: whose dwelling
confronts a dead wall in a court off Gray's Inn-lane, and who is
usually fetched into the passage of that bower, when wanted, from
some neighbouring home of industry, which has the curious property
of imparting an inflammatory appearance to her visage. Mrs.
Sweeney is one of the race of professed laundresses, and is the
compiler of a remarkable manuscript volume entitled 'Mrs. Sweeney's
Book,' from which much curious statistical information may be
gathered respecting the high prices and small uses of soda, soap,
sand, firewood, and other such articles. I have created a legend
in my mind - and consequently I believe it with the utmost
pertinacity - that the late Mr. Sweeney was a ticket-porter under
the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, and that, in consideration of
his long and valuable services, Mrs. Sweeney was appointed to her
present post. For, though devoid of personal charms, I have
observed this lady to exercise a fascination over the elderly
ticker-porter mind (particularly under the gateway, and in corners
and entries), which I can only refer to her being one of the
fraternity, yet not competing with it. All that need be said
concerning this set of chambers, is said, when I have added that it
is in a large double house in Gray's Inn-square, very much out of
repair, and that the outer portal is ornamented in a hideous manner
with certain stone remains, which have the appearance of the
dismembered bust, torso, and limbs of a petrified bencher.
Indeed, I look upon Gray's Inn generally as one of the most
depressing institutions in brick and mortar, known to the children
of men. Can anything be more dreary than its arid Square, Sahara
Desert of the law, with the ugly old tiled-topped tenements, the
dirty windows, the bills To Let, To Let, the door-posts inscribed
like gravestones, the crazy gateway giving upon the filthy Lane,
the scowling, iron-barred prison-like passage into Verulambuildings,
the mouldy red-nosed ticket-porters with little coffin
plates, and why with aprons, the dry, hard, atomy-like appearance
of the whole dust-heap? When my uncommercial travels tend to this
dismal spot, my comfort is its rickety state. Imagination gloats
over the fulness of time when the staircases shall have quite
tumbled down - they are daily wearing into an ill-savoured powder,
but have not quite tumbled down yet - when the last old prolix
bencher all of the olden time, shall have been got out of an upper
window by means of a Fire Ladder, and carried off to the Holborn
Union; when the last clerk shall have engrossed the last parchment
behind the last splash on the last of the mud-stained windows,
which, all through the miry year, are pilloried out of recognition
in Gray's Inn-lane. Then, shall a squalid little trench, with rank
grass and a pump in it, lying between the coffee-house and Southsquare,
be wholly given up to cats and rats, and not, as now, have
its empire divided between those animals and a few briefless bipeds
- surely called to the Bar by voices of deceiving spirits, seeing
that they are wanted there by no mortal - who glance down, with
eyes better glazed than their casements, from their dreary and
lacklustre rooms. Then shall the way Nor' Westward, now lying
under a short grim colonnade where in summer-time pounce flies from
law-stationering windows into the eyes of laymen, be choked with
rubbish and happily become impassable. Then shall the gardens
where turf, trees, and gravel wear a legal livery of black, run
rank, and pilgrims go to Gorhambury to see Bacon's effigy as he
sat, and not come here (which in truth they seldom do) to see where
he walked. Then, in a word, shall the old-established vendor of
periodicals sit alone in his little crib of a shop behind the
Holborn Gate, like that lumbering Marius among the ruins of
Carthage, who has sat heavy on a thousand million of similes.
At one period of my uncommercial career I much frequented another
set of chambers in Gray's Inn-square. They were what is familiarly
called 'a top set,' and all the eatables and drinkables introduced
into them acquired a flavour of Cockloft. I have known an unopened
Strasbourg pate fresh from Fortnum and Mason's, to draw in this
cockloft tone through its crockery dish, and become penetrated with
cockloft to the core of its inmost truffle in three-quarters of an
hour. This, however, was not the most curious feature of those
chambers; that, consisted in the profound conviction entertained by
my esteemed friend Parkle (their tenant) that they were clean.
Whether it was an inborn hallucination, or whether it was imparted
to him by Mrs. Miggot the laundress, I never could ascertain. But,
I believe he would have gone to the stake upon the question. Now,
they were so dirty that I could take off the distinctest impression
of my figure on any article of furniture by merely lounging upon it
for a few moments; and it used to be a private amusement of mine to
print myself off - if I may use the expression - all over the
rooms. It was the first large circulation I had. At other times I
have accidentally shaken a window curtain while in animated
conversation with Parkle, and struggling insects which were
certainly red, and were certainly not ladybirds, have dropped on
the back of my hand. Yet Parkle lived in that top set years, bound
body and soul to the superstition that they were clean. He used to
say, when congratulated upon them, 'Well, they are not like
chambers in one respect, you know; they are clean.' Concurrently,
he had an idea which he could never explain, that Mrs. Miggot was
in some way connected with the Church. When he was in particularly
good spirits, he used to believe that a deceased uncle of hers had
been a Dean; when he was poorly and low, he believed that her
brother had been a Curate. I and Mrs. Miggot (she was a genteel
woman) were on confidential terms, but I never knew her to commit
herself to any distinct assertion on the subject; she merely
claimed a proprietorship in the Church, by looking when it was
mentioned, as if the reference awakened the slumbering Past, and
were personal. It may have been his amiable confidence in Mrs.
Miggot's better days that inspired my friend with his delusion
respecting the chambers, but he never wavered in his fidelity to it
for a moment, though he wallowed in dirt seven years.
Two of the windows of these chambers looked down into the garden;
and we have sat up there together many a summer evening, saying how
pleasant it was, and talking of many things. To my intimacy with
that top set, I am indebted for three of my liveliest personal
impressions of the loneliness of life in chambers. They shall
follow here, in order; first, second, and third.
First. My Gray's Inn friend, on a time, hurt one of his legs, and
it became seriously inflamed. Not knowing of his indisposition, I
was on my way to visit him as usual, one summer evening, when I was
much surprised by meeting a lively leech in Field-court, Gray's
Inn, seemingly on his way to the West End of London. As the leech
was alone, and was of course unable to explain his position, even
if he had been inclined to do so (which he had not the appearance
of being), I passed him and went on. Turning the corner of Gray's
Inn-square, I was beyond expression amazed by meeting another leech
- also entirely alone, and also proceeding in a westerly direction,
though with less decision of purpose. Ruminating on this
extraordinary circumstance, and endeavouring to remember whether I
had ever read, in the Philosophical Transactions or any work on
Natural History, of a migration of Leeches, I ascended to the top
set, past the dreary series of closed outer doors of offices and an
empty set or two, which intervened between that lofty region and
the surface. Entering my friend's rooms, I found him stretched
upon his back, like Prometheus Bound, with a perfectly demented
ticket-porter in attendance on him instead of the Vulture: which
helpless individual, who was feeble and frightened, and had (my
friend explained to me, in great choler) been endeavouring for some
hours to apply leeches to his leg, and as yet had only got on two
out of twenty. To this Unfortunate's distraction between a damp
cloth on which he had placed the leeches to freshen them, and the
wrathful adjurations of my friend to 'Stick 'em on, sir!' I
referred the phenomenon I had encountered: the rather as two fine
specimens were at that moment going out at the door, while a
general insurrection of the rest was in progress on the table.
After a while our united efforts prevailed, and, when the leeches
came off and had recovered their spirits, we carefully tied them up
in a decanter. But I never heard more of them than that they were
all gone next morning, and that the Out-of-door young man of
Bickle, Bush and Bodger, on the ground floor, had been bitten and
blooded by some creature not identified. They never 'took' on Mrs.
Miggot, the laundress; but, I have always preserved fresh, the
belief that she unconsciously carried several about her, until they
gradually found openings in life.
Second. On the same staircase with my friend Parkle, and on the
same floor, there lived a man of law who pursued his business
elsewhere, and used those chambers as his place of residence. For
three or four years, Parkle rather knew of him than knew him, but
after that - for Englishmen - short pause of consideration, they
began to speak. Parkle exchanged words with him in his private
character only, and knew nothing of his business ways, or means.
He was a man a good deal about town, but always alone. We used to
remark to one another, that although we often encountered him in
theatres, concert-rooms, and similar public places, he was always
alone. Yet he was not a gloomy man, and was of a decidedly
conversational turn; insomuch that he would sometimes of an evening
lounge with a cigar in his mouth, half in and half out of Parkle's
rooms, and discuss the topics of the day by the hour. He used to
hint on these occasions that he had four faults to find with life;
firstly, that it obliged a man to be always winding up his watch;
secondly, that London was too small; thirdly, that it therefore
wanted variety; fourthly, that there was too much dust in it.
There was so much dust in his own faded chambers, certainly, that
they reminded me of a sepulchre, furnished in prophetic
anticipation of the present time, which had newly been brought to
light, after having remained buried a few thousand years. One dry,
hot autumn evening at twilight, this man, being then five years
turned of fifty, looked in upon Parkle in his usual lounging way,
with his cigar in his mouth as usual, and said, 'I am going out of
town.' As he never went out of town, Parkle said, 'Oh indeed! At
last?' 'Yes,' says he, 'at last. For what is a man to do? London
is so small! If you go West, you come to Hounslow. If you go
East, you come to Bow. If you go South, there's Brixton or
Norwood. If you go North, you can't get rid of Barnet. Then, the
monotony of all the streets, streets, streets - and of all the
roads, roads, roads - and the dust, dust, dust!' When he had said
this, he wished Parkle a good evening, but came back again and
said, with his watch in his hand, 'Oh, I really cannot go on
winding up this watch over and over again; I wish you would take
care of it.' So, Parkle laughed and consented, and the man went
out of town. The man remained out of town so long, that his
letter-box became choked, and no more letters could be got into it,
and they began to be left at the lodge and to accumulate there. At
last the head-porter decided, on conference with the steward, to
use his master-key and look into the chambers, and give them the
benefit of a whiff of air. Then, it was found that he had hanged
himself to his bedstead, and had left this written memorandum: 'I
should prefer to be cut down by my neighbour and friend (if he will
allow me to call him so), H. Parkle, Esq.' This was an end of
Parkle's occupancy of chambers. He went into lodgings immediately.
Third. While Parkle lived in Gray's Inn, and I myself was
uncommercially preparing for the Bar - which is done, as everybody
knows, by having a frayed old gown put on in a pantry by an old
woman in a chronic state of Saint Anthony's fire and dropsy, and,
so decorated, bolting a bad dinner in a party of four, whereof each
individual mistrusts the other three - I say, while these things
were, there was a certain elderly gentleman who lived in a court of
the Temple, and was a great judge and lover of port wine. Every
day he dined at his club and drank his bottle or two of port wine,
and every night came home to the Temple and went to bed in his
lonely chambers. This had gone on many years without variation,
when one night he had a fit on coming home, and fell and cut his
head deep, but partly recovered and groped about in the dark to
find the door. When he was afterwards discovered, dead, it was
clearly established by the marks of his hands about the room that
he must have done so. Now, this chanced on the night of Christmas
Eve, and over him lived a young fellow who had sisters and young
country friends, and who gave them a little party that night, in
the course of which they played at Blindman's Buff. They played
that game, for their greater sport, by the light of the fire only;
and once, when they were all quietly rustling and stealing about,
and the blindman was trying to pick out the prettiest sister (for
which I am far from blaming him), somebody cried, Hark! The man
below must be playing Blindman's Buff by himself to-night! They
listened, and they heard sounds of some one falling about and
stumbling against furniture, and they all laughed at the conceit,
and went on with their play, more light-hearted and merry than
ever. Thus, those two so different games of life and death were
played out together, blindfolded, in the two sets of chambers.
Such are the occurrences, which, coming to my knowledge, imbued me
long ago with a strong sense of the loneliness of chambers. There
was a fantastic illustration to much the same purpose implicitly
believed by a strange sort of man now dead, whom I knew when I had
not quite arrived at legal years of discretion, though I was
already in the uncommercial line.
This was a man who, though not more than thirty, had seen the world
in divers irreconcilable capacities - had been an officer in a
South American regiment among other odd things - but had not
achieved much in any way of life, and was in debt, and in hiding.
He occupied chambers of the dreariest nature in Lyons Inn; his
name, however, was not up on the door, or door-post, but in lieu of
it stood the name of a friend who had died in the chambers, and had
given him the furniture. The story arose out of the furniture, and
was to this effect:- Let the former holder of the chambers, whose
name was still upon the door and door-post, be Mr. Testator.
Mr. Testator took a set of chambers in Lyons Inn when he had but
very scanty furniture for his bedroom, and none for his sittingroom.
He had lived some wintry months in this condition, and had
found it very bare and cold. One night, past midnight, when he sat
writing and still had writing to do that must be done before he
went to bed, he found himself out of coals. He had coals downstairs,
but had never been to his cellar; however the cellar-key
was on his mantelshelf, and if he went down and opened the cellar
it fitted, he might fairly assume the coals in that cellar to be
his. As to his laundress, she lived among the coal-waggons and
Thames watermen - for there were Thames watermen at that time - in
some unknown rat-hole by the river, down lanes and alleys on the
other side of the Strand. As to any other person to meet him or
obstruct him, Lyons Inn was dreaming, drunk, maudlin, moody,
betting, brooding over bill-discounting or renewing - asleep or
awake, minding its own affairs. Mr. Testator took his coal-scuttle
in one hand, his candle and key in the other, and descended to the
dismallest underground dens of Lyons Inn, where the late vehicles
in the streets became thunderous, and all the water-pipes in the
neighbourhood seemed to have Macbeth's Amen sticking in their
throats, and to be trying to get it out. After groping here and
there among low doors to no purpose, Mr. Testator at length came to
a door with a rusty padlock which his key fitted. Getting the door
open with much trouble, and looking in, he found, no coals, but a
confused pile of furniture. Alarmed by this intrusion on another
man's property, he locked the door again, found his own cellar,
filled his scuttle, and returned up-stairs.
But the furniture he had seen, ran on castors across and across Mr.
Testator's mind incessantly, when, in the chill hour of five in the
morning, he got to bed. He particularly wanted a table to write
at, and a table expressly made to be written at, had been the piece
of furniture in the foreground of the heap. When his laundress
emerged from her burrow in the morning to make his kettle boil, he
artfully led up to the subject of cellars and furniture; but the
two ideas had evidently no connexion in her mind. When she left
him, and he sat at his breakfast, thinking about the furniture, he
recalled the rusty state of the padlock, and inferred that the
furniture must have been stored in the cellars for a long time -
was perhaps forgotten - owner dead, perhaps? After thinking it
over, a few days, in the course of which he could pump nothing out
of Lyons Inn about the furniture, he became desperate, and resolved
to borrow that table. He did so, that night. He had not had the
table long, when he determined to borrow an easy-chair; he had not
had that long, when he made up his mind to borrow a bookcase; then,
a couch; then, a carpet and rug. By that time, he felt he was 'in
furniture stepped in so far,' as that it could be no worse to
borrow it all. Consequently, he borrowed it all, and locked up the
cellar for good. He had always locked it, after every visit. He
had carried up every separate article in the dead of the night,
and, at the best, had felt as wicked as a Resurrection Man. Every
article was blue and furry when brought into his rooms, and he had
had, in a murderous and guilty sort of way, to polish it up while
London slept.
Mr. Testator lived in his furnished chambers two or three years, or
more, and gradually lulled himself into the opinion that the
furniture was his own. This was his convenient state of mind when,
late one night, a step came up the stairs, and a hand passed over
his door feeling for his knocker, and then one deep and solemn rap
was rapped that might have been a spring in Mr. Testator's easychair
to shoot him out of it; so promptly was it attended with that
With a candle in his hand, Mr. Testator went to the door, and found
there, a very pale and very tall man; a man who stooped; a man with
very high shoulders, a very narrow chest, and a very red nose; a
shabby-genteel man. He was wrapped in a long thread-bare black
coat, fastened up the front with more pins than buttons, and under
his arm he squeezed an umbrella without a handle, as if he were
playing bagpipes. He said, 'I ask your pardon, but can you tell me
- ' and stopped; his eyes resting on some object within the
'Can I tell you what?' asked Mr. Testator, noting his stoppage with
quick alarm.
'I ask your pardon,' said the stranger, 'but - this is not the
inquiry I was going to make - DO I see in there, any small article
of property belonging to ME?'
Mr. Testator was beginning to stammer that he was not aware - when
the visitor slipped past him, into the chambers. There, in a
goblin way which froze Mr. Testator to the marrow, he examined,
first, the writing-table, and said, 'Mine;' then, the easy-chair,
and said, 'Mine;' then, the bookcase, and said, 'Mine;' then,
turned up a corner of the carpet, and said, 'Mine!' in a word,
inspected every item of furniture from the cellar, in succession,
and said, 'Mine!' Towards the end of this investigation, Mr.
Testator perceived that he was sodden with liquor, and that the
liquor was gin. He was not unsteady with gin, either in his speech
or carriage; but he was stiff with gin in both particulars.
Mr. Testator was in a dreadful state, for (according to his making
out of the story) the possible consequences of what he had done in
recklessness and hardihood, flashed upon him in their fulness for
the first time. When they had stood gazing at one another for a
little while, he tremulously began:
'Sir, I am conscious that the fullest explanation, compensation,
and restitution, are your due. They shall be yours. Allow me to
entreat that, without temper, without even natural irritation on
your part, we may have a little - '
'Drop of something to drink,' interposed the stranger. 'I am
Mr. Testator had intended to say, 'a little quiet conversation,'
but with great relief of mind adopted the amendment. He produced a
decanter of gin, and was bustling about for hot water and sugar,
when he found that his visitor had already drunk half of the
decanter's contents. With hot water and sugar the visitor drank
the remainder before he had been an hour in the chambers by the
chimes of the church of St. Mary in the Strand; and during the
process he frequently whispered to himself, 'Mine!'
The gin gone, and Mr. Testator wondering what was to follow it, the
visitor rose and said, with increased stiffness, 'At what hour of
the morning, sir, will it be convenient?' Mr. Testator hazarded,
'At ten?' 'Sir,' said the visitor, 'at ten, to the moment, I shall
be here.' He then contemplated Mr. Testator somewhat at leisure,
and said, 'God bless you! How is your wife?' Mr. Testator (who
never had a wife) replied with much feeling, 'Deeply anxious, poor
soul, but otherwise well.' The visitor thereupon turned and went
away, and fell twice in going down-stairs. From that hour he was
never heard of. Whether he was a ghost, or a spectral illusion of
conscience, or a drunken man who had no business there, or the
drunken rightful owner of the furniture, with a transitory gleam of
memory; whether he got safe home, or had no time to get to; whether
he died of liquor on the way, or lived in liquor ever afterwards;
he never was heard of more. This was the story, received with the
furniture and held to be as substantial, by its second possessor in
an upper set of chambers in grim Lyons Inn.
It is to be remarked of chambers in general, that they must have
been built for chambers, to have the right kind of loneliness. You
may make a great dwelling-house very lonely, but isolating suites
of rooms and calling them chambers, but you cannot make the true
kind of loneliness. In dwelling-houses, there have been family
festivals; children have grown in them, girls have bloomed into
women in them, courtships and marriages have taken place in them.
True chambers never were young, childish, maidenly; never had dolls
in them, or rocking-horses, or christenings, or betrothals, or
little coffins. Let Gray's Inn identify the child who first
touched hands and hearts with Robinson Crusoe, in any one of its
many 'sets,' and that child's little statue, in white marble with a
golden inscription, shall be at its service, at my cost and charge,
as a drinking fountain for the spirit, to freshen its thirsty
square. Let Lincoln's produce from all its houses, a twentieth of
the procession derivable from any dwelling-house one-twentieth of
its age, of fair young brides who married for love and hope, not
settlements, and all the Vice-Chancellors shall thenceforward be
kept in nosegays for nothing, on application to the writer hereof.
It is not denied that on the terrace of the Adelphi, or in any of
the streets of that subterranean-stable-haunted spot, or about
Bedford-row, or James-street of that ilk (a grewsome place), or
anywhere among the neighbourhoods that have done flowering and have
run to seed, you may find Chambers replete with the accommodations
of Solitude, Closeness, and Darkness, where you may be as lowspirited
as in the genuine article, and might be as easily
murdered, with the placid reputation of having merely gone down to
the sea-side. But, the many waters of life did run musical in
those dry channels once; - among the Inns, never. The only popular
legend known in relation to any one of the dull family of Inns, is
a dark Old Bailey whisper concerning Clement's, and importing how
the black creature who holds the sun-dial there, was a negro who
slew his master and built the dismal pile out of the contents of
his strong box - for which architectural offence alone he ought to
have been condemned to live in it. But, what populace would waste
fancy upon such a place, or on New Inn, Staple Inn, Barnard's Inn,
or any of the shabby crew?
The genuine laundress, too, is an institution not to be had in its
entirety out of and away from the genuine Chambers. Again, it is
not denied that you may be robbed elsewhere. Elsewhere you may
have - for money - dishonesty, drunkenness, dirt, laziness, and
profound incapacity. But the veritable shining-red-faced shameless
laundress; the true Mrs. Sweeney - in figure, colour, texture, and
smell, like the old damp family umbrella; the tip-top complicated
abomination of stockings, spirits, bonnet, limpness, looseness, and
larceny; is only to be drawn at the fountain-head. Mrs. Sweeney is
beyond the reach of individual art. It requires the united efforts
of several men to ensure that great result, and it is only
developed in perfection under an Honourable Society and in an Inn
of Court.
There are not many places that I find it more agreeable to revisit
when I am in an idle mood, than some places to which I have never
been. For, my acquaintance with those spots is of such long
standing, and has ripened into an intimacy of so affectionate a
nature, that I take a particular interest in assuring myself that
they are unchanged.
I never was in Robinson Crusoe's Island, yet I frequently return
there. The colony he established on it soon faded away, and it is
uninhabited by any descendants of the grave and courteous
Spaniards, or of Will Atkins and the other mutineers, and has
relapsed into its original condition. Not a twig of its wicker
houses remains, its goats have long run wild again, its screaming
parrots would darken the sun with a cloud of many flaming colours
if a gun were fired there, no face is ever reflected in the waters
of the little creek which Friday swam across when pursued by his
two brother cannibals with sharpened stomachs. After comparing
notes with other travellers who have similarly revisited the Island
and conscientiously inspected it, I have satisfied myself that it
contains no vestige of Mr. Atkins's domesticity or theology, though
his track on the memorable evening of his landing to set his
captain ashore, when he was decoyed about and round about until it
was dark, and his boat was stove, and his strength and spirits
failed him, is yet plainly to be traced. So is the hill-top on
which Robinson was struck dumb with joy when the reinstated captain
pointed to the ship, riding within half a mile of the shore, that
was to bear him away, in the nine-and-twentieth year of his
seclusion in that lonely place. So is the sandy beach on which the
memorable footstep was impressed, and where the savages hauled up
their canoes when they came ashore for those dreadful public
dinners, which led to a dancing worse than speech-making. So is
the cave where the flaring eyes of the old goat made such a goblin
appearance in the dark. So is the site of the hut where Robinson
lived with the dog and the parrot and the cat, and where he endured
those first agonies of solitude, which - strange to say - never
involved any ghostly fancies; a circumstance so very remarkable,
that perhaps he left out something in writing his record? Round
hundreds of such objects, hidden in the dense tropical foliage, the
tropical sea breaks evermore; and over them the tropical sky,
saving in the short rainy season, shines bright and cloudless.
Neither, was I ever belated among wolves, on the borders of France
and Spain; nor, did I ever, when night was closing in and the
ground was covered with snow, draw up my little company among some
felled trees which served as a breastwork, and there fire a train
of gunpowder so dexterously that suddenly we had three or four
score blazing wolves illuminating the darkness around us.
Nevertheless, I occasionally go back to that dismal region and
perform the feat again; when indeed to smell the singeing and the
frying of the wolves afire, and to see them setting one another
alight as they rush and tumble, and to behold them rolling in the
snow vainly attempting to put themselves out, and to hear their
howlings taken up by all the echoes as well as by all the unseen
wolves within the woods, makes me tremble.
I was never in the robbers' cave, where Gil Blas lived, but I often
go back there and find the trap-door just as heavy to raise as it
used to be, while that wicked old disabled Black lies everlastingly
cursing in bed. I was never in Don Quixote's study, where he read
his books of chivalry until he rose and hacked at imaginary giants,
and then refreshed himself with great draughts of water, yet you
couldn't move a book in it without my knowledge, or with my
consent. I was never (thank Heaven) in company with the little old
woman who hobbled out of the chest and told the merchant Abudah to
go in search of the Talisman of Oromanes, yet I make it my business
to know that she is well preserved and as intolerable as ever. I
was never at the school where the boy Horatio Nelson got out of bed
to steal the pears: not because he wanted any, but because every
other boy was afraid: yet I have several times been back to this
Academy, to see him let down out of window with a sheet. So with
Damascus, and Bagdad, and Brobingnag (which has the curious fate of
being usually misspelt when written), and Lilliput, and Laputa, and
the Nile, and Abyssinia, and the Ganges, and the North Pole, and
many hundreds of places - I was never at them, yet it is an affair
of my life to keep them intact, and I am always going back to them.
But, when I was in Dullborough one day, revisiting the associations
of my childhood as recorded in previous pages of these notes, my
experience in this wise was made quite inconsiderable and of no
account, by the quantity of places and people - utterly impossible
places and people, but none the less alarmingly real - that I found
I had been introduced to by my nurse before I was six years old,
and used to be forced to go back to at night without at all wanting
to go. If we all knew our own minds (in a more enlarged sense than
the popular acceptation of that phrase), I suspect we should find
our nurses responsible for most of the dark corners we are forced
to go back to, against our wills.
The first diabolical character who intruded himself on my peaceful
youth (as I called to mind that day at Dullborough), was a certain
Captain Murderer. This wretch must have been an off-shoot of the
Blue Beard family, but I had no suspicion of the consanguinity in
those times. His warning name would seem to have awakened no
general prejudice against him, for he was admitted into the best
society and possessed immense wealth. Captain Murderer's mission
was matrimony, and the gratification of a cannibal appetite with
tender brides. On his marriage morning, he always caused both
sides of the way to church to be planted with curious flowers; and
when his bride said, 'Dear Captain Murderer, I ever saw flowers
like these before: what are they called?' he answered, 'They are
called Garnish for house-lamb,' and laughed at his ferocious
practical joke in a horrid manner, disquieting the minds of the
noble bridal company, with a very sharp show of teeth, then
displayed for the first time. He made love in a coach and six, and
married in a coach and twelve, and all his horses were milk-white
horses with one red spot on the back which he caused to be hidden
by the harness. For, the spot WOULD come there, though every horse
was milk-white when Captain Murderer bought him. And the spot was
young bride's blood. (To this terrific point I am indebted for my
first personal experience of a shudder and cold beads on the
forehead.) When Captain Murderer had made an end of feasting and
revelry, and had dismissed the noble guests, and was alone with his
wife on the day month after their marriage, it was his whimsical
custom to produce a golden rolling-pin and a silver pie-board.
Now, there was this special feature in the Captain's courtships,
that he always asked if the young lady could make pie-crust; and if
she couldn't by nature or education, she was taught. Well. When
the bride saw Captain Murderer produce the golden rolling-pin and
silver pie-board, she remembered this, and turned up her laced-silk
sleeves to make a pie. The Captain brought out a silver pie-dish
of immense capacity, and the Captain brought out flour and butter
and eggs and all things needful, except the inside of the pie; of
materials for the staple of the pie itself, the Captain brought out
none. Then said the lovely bride, 'Dear Captain Murderer, what pie
is this to be?' He replied, 'A meat pie.' Then said the lovely
bride, 'Dear Captain Murderer, I see no meat.' The Captain
humorously retorted, 'Look in the glass.' She looked in the glass,
but still she saw no meat, and then the Captain roared with
laughter, and suddenly frowning and drawing his sword, bade her
roll out the crust. So she rolled out the crust, dropping large
tears upon it all the time because he was so cross, and when she
had lined the dish with crust and had cut the crust all ready to
fit the top, the Captain called out, 'I see the meat in the glass!'
And the bride looked up at the glass, just in time to see the
Captain cutting her head off; and he chopped her in pieces, and
peppered her, and salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it
to the baker's, and ate it all, and picked the bones.
Captain Murderer went on in this way, prospering exceedingly, until
he came to choose a bride from two twin sisters, and at first
didn't know which to choose. For, though one was fair and the
other dark, they were both equally beautiful. But the fair twin
loved him, and the dark twin hated him, so he chose the fair one.
The dark twin would have prevented the marriage if she could, but
she couldn't; however, on the night before it, much suspecting
Captain Murderer, she stole out and climbed his garden wall, and
looked in at his window through a chink in the shutter, and saw him
having his teeth filed sharp. Next day she listened all day, and
heard him make his joke about the house-lamb. And that day month,
he had the paste rolled out, and cut the fair twin's head off, and
chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and salted her, and put
her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and ate it all, and
picked the bones.
Now, the dark twin had had her suspicions much increased by the
filing of the Captain's teeth, and again by the house-lamb joke.
Putting all things together when he gave out that her sister was
dead, she divined the truth, and determined to be revenged. So,
she went up to Captain Murderer's house, and knocked at the knocker
and pulled at the bell, and when the Captain came to the door,
said: 'Dear Captain Murderer, marry me next, for I always loved
you and was jealous of my sister.' The Captain took it as a
compliment, and made a polite answer, and the marriage was quickly
arranged. On the night before it, the bride again climbed to his
window, and again saw him having his teeth filed sharp. At this
sight she laughed such a terrible laugh at the chink in the
shutter, that the Captain's blood curdled, and he said: 'I hope
nothing has disagreed with me!' At that, she laughed again, a
still more terrible laugh, and the shutter was opened and search
made, but she was nimbly gone, and there was no one. Next day they
went to church in a coach and twelve, and were married. And that
day month, she rolled the pie-crust out, and Captain Murderer cut
her head off, and chopped her in pieces, and peppered her, and
salted her, and put her in the pie, and sent it to the baker's, and
ate it all, and picked the bones.
But before she began to roll out the paste she had taken a deadly
poison of a most awful character, distilled from toads' eyes and
spiders' knees; and Captain Murderer had hardly picked her last
bone, when he began to swell, and to turn blue, and to be all over
spots, and to scream. And he went on swelling and turning bluer,
and being more all over spots and screaming, until he reached from
floor to ceiling and from wall to wall; and then, at one o'clock in
the morning, he blew up with a loud explosion. At the sound of it,
all the milk-white horses in the stables broke their halters and
went mad, and then they galloped over everybody in Captain
Murderer's house (beginning with the family blacksmith who had
filed his teeth) until the whole were dead, and then they galloped
Hundreds of times did I hear this legend of Captain Murderer, in my
early youth, and added hundreds of times was there a mental
compulsion upon me in bed, to peep in at his window as the dark
twin peeped, and to revisit his horrible house, and look at him in
his blue and spotty and screaming stage, as he reached from floor
to ceiling and from wall to wall. The young woman who brought me
acquainted with Captain Murderer had a fiendish enjoyment of my
terrors, and used to begin, I remember - as a sort of introductory
overture - by clawing the air with both hands, and uttering a long
low hollow groan. So acutely did I suffer from this ceremony in
combination with this infernal Captain, that I sometimes used to
plead I thought I was hardly strong enough and old enough to hear
the story again just yet. But, she never spared me one word of it,
and indeed commanded the awful chalice to my lips as the only
preservative known to science against 'The Black Cat' - a weird and
glaring-eyed supernatural Tom, who was reputed to prowl about the
world by night, sucking the breath of infancy, and who was endowed
with a special thirst (as I was given to understand) for mine.
This female bard - may she have been repaid my debt of obligation
to her in the matter of nightmares and perspirations! - reappears
in my memory as the daughter of a shipwright. Her name was Mercy,
though she had none on me. There was something of a shipbuilding
flavour in the following story. As it always recurs to me in a
vague association with calomel pills, I believe it to have been
reserved for dull nights when I was low with medicine.
There was once a shipwright, and he wrought in a Government Yard,
and his name was Chips. And his father's name before him was
Chips, and HIS father's name before HIM was Chips, and they were
all Chipses. And Chips the father had sold himself to the Devil
for an iron pot and a bushel of tenpenny nails and half a ton of
copper and a rat that could speak; and Chips the grandfather had
sold himself to the Devil for an iron pot and a bushel of tenpenny
nails and half a ton of copper and a rat that could speak; and
Chips the great-grandfather had disposed of himself in the same
direction on the same terms; and the bargain had run in the family
for a long, long time. So, one day, when young Chips was at work
in the Dock Slip all alone, down in the dark hold of an old
Seventy-four that was haled up for repairs, the Devil presented
himself, and remarked:
'A Lemon has pips,
And a Yard has ships,
And I'll have Chips!'
(I don't know why, but this fact of the Devil's expressing himself
in rhyme was peculiarly trying to me.) Chips looked up when he
heard the words, and there he saw the Devil with saucer eyes that
squinted on a terrible great scale, and that struck out sparks of
blue fire continually. And whenever he winked his eyes, showers of
blue sparks came out, and his eyelashes made a clattering like
flints and steels striking lights. And hanging over one of his
arms by the handle was an iron pot, and under that arm was a bushel
of tenpenny nails, and under his other arm was half a ton of
copper, and sitting on one of his shoulders was a rat that could
speak. So, the Devil said again:
'A Lemon has pips,
And a Yard has ships,
And I'll have Chips!'
(The invariable effect of this alarming tautology on the part of
the Evil Spirit was to deprive me of my senses for some moments.)
So, Chips answered never a word, but went on with his work. 'What
are you doing, Chips?' said the rat that could speak. 'I am
putting in new planks where you and your gang have eaten old away,'
said Chips. 'But we'll eat them too,' said the rat that could
speak; 'and we'll let in the water and drown the crew, and we'll
eat them too.' Chips, being only a shipwright, and not a Man-ofwar's
man, said, 'You are welcome to it.' But he couldn't keep his
eyes off the half a ton of copper or the bushel of tenpenny nails;
for nails and copper are a shipwright's sweethearts, and
shipwrights will run away with them whenever they can. So, the
Devil said, 'I see what you are looking at, Chips. You had better
strike the bargain. You know the terms. Your father before you
was well acquainted with them, and so were your grandfather and
great-grandfather before him.' Says Chips, 'I like the copper, and
I like the nails, and I don't mind the pot, but I don't like the
rat.' Says the Devil, fiercely, 'You can't have the metal without
him - and HE'S a curiosity. I'm going.' Chips, afraid of losing
the half a ton of copper and the bushel of nails, then said, 'Give
us hold!' So, he got the copper and the nails and the pot and the
rat that could speak, and the Devil vanished. Chips sold the
copper, and he sold the nails, and he would have sold the pot; but
whenever he offered it for sale, the rat was in it, and the dealers
dropped it, and would have nothing to say to the bargain. So,
Chips resolved to kill the rat, and, being at work in the Yard one
day with a great kettle of hot pitch on one side of him and the
iron pot with the rat in it on the other, he turned the scalding
pitch into the pot, and filled it full. Then, he kept his eye upon
it till it cooled and hardened, and then he let it stand for twenty
days, and then he heated the pitch again and turned it back into
the kettle, and then he sank the pot in water for twenty days more,
and then he got the smelters to put it in the furnace for twenty
days more, and then they gave it him out, red hot, and looking like
red-hot glass instead of iron-yet there was the rat in it, just the
same as ever! And the moment it caught his eye, it said with a
'A Lemon has pips,
And a Yard has ships,
And I'll have Chips!'
(For this Refrain I had waited since its last appearance, with
inexpressible horror, which now culminated.) Chips now felt
certain in his own mind that the rat would stick to him; the rat,
answering his thought, said, 'I will - like pitch!'
Now, as the rat leaped out of the pot when it had spoken, and made
off, Chips began to hope that it wouldn't keep its word. But, a
terrible thing happened next day. For, when dinner-time came, and
the Dock-bell rang to strike work, he put his rule into the long
pocket at the side of his trousers, and there he found a rat - not
that rat, but another rat. And in his hat, he found another; and
in his pocket-handkerchief, another; and in the sleeves of his
coat, when he pulled it on to go to dinner, two more. And from
that time he found himself so frightfully intimate with all the
rats in the Yard, that they climbed up his legs when he was at
work, and sat on his tools while he used them. And they could all
speak to one another, and he understood what they said. And they
got into his lodging, and into his bed, and into his teapot, and
into his beer, and into his boots. And he was going to be married
to a corn-chandler's daughter; and when he gave her a workbox he
had himself made for her, a rat jumped out of it; and when he put
his arm round her waist, a rat clung about her; so the marriage was
broken off, though the banns were already twice put up - which the
parish clerk well remembers, for, as he handed the book to the
clergyman for the second time of asking, a large fat rat ran over
the leaf. (By this time a special cascade of rats was rolling down
my back, and the whole of my small listening person was overrun
with them. At intervals ever since, I have been morbidly afraid of
my own pocket, lest my exploring hand should find a specimen or two
of those vermin in it.)
You may believe that all this was very terrible to Chips; but even
all this was not the worst. He knew besides, what the rats were
doing, wherever they were. So, sometimes he would cry aloud, when
he was at his club at night, 'Oh! Keep the rats out of the
convicts' burying-ground! Don't let them do that!' Or, 'There's
one of them at the cheese down-stairs!' Or, 'There's two of them
smelling at the baby in the garret!' Or, other things of that
sort. At last, he was voted mad, and lost his work in the Yard,
and could get no other work. But, King George wanted men, so
before very long he got pressed for a sailor. And so he was taken
off in a boat one evening to his ship, lying at Spithead, ready to
sail. And so the first thing he made out in her as he got near
her, was the figure-head of the old Seventy-four, where he had seen
the Devil. She was called the Argonaut, and they rowed right under
the bowsprit where the figure-head of the Argonaut, with a
sheepskin in his hand and a blue gown on, was looking out to sea;
and sitting staring on his forehead was the rat who could speak,
and his exact words were these: 'Chips ahoy! Old boy! We've
pretty well eat them too, and we'll drown the crew, and will eat
them too!' (Here I always became exceedingly faint, and would have
asked for water, but that I was speechless.)
The ship was bound for the Indies; and if you don't know where that
is, you ought to it, and angels will never love you. (Here I felt
myself an outcast from a future state.) The ship set sail that
very night, and she sailed, and sailed, and sailed. Chips's
feelings were dreadful. Nothing ever equalled his terrors. No
wonder. At last, one day he asked leave to speak to the Admiral.
The Admiral giv' leave. Chips went down on his knees in the Great
State Cabin. 'Your Honour, unless your Honour, without a moment's
loss of time, makes sail for the nearest shore, this is a doomed
ship, and her name is the Coffin!' 'Young man, your words are a
madman's words.' 'Your Honour no; they are nibbling us away.'
'They?' 'Your Honour, them dreadful rats. Dust and hollowness
where solid oak ought to be! Rats nibbling a grave for every man
on board! Oh! Does your Honour love your Lady and your pretty
children?' 'Yes, my man, to be sure.' 'Then, for God's sake, make
for the nearest shore, for at this present moment the rats are all
stopping in their work, and are all looking straight towards you
with bare teeth, and are all saying to one another that you shall
never, never, never, never, see your Lady and your children more.'
'My poor fellow, you are a case for the doctor. Sentry, take care
of this man!'
So, he was bled and he was blistered, and he was this and that, for
six whole days and nights. So, then he again asked leave to speak
to the Admiral. The Admiral giv' leave. He went down on his knees
in the Great State Cabin. 'Now, Admiral, you must die! You took
no warning; you must die! The rats are never wrong in their
calculations, and they make out that they'll be through, at twelve
to-night. So, you must die! - With me and all the rest!' And so
at twelve o'clock there was a great leak reported in the ship, and
a torrent of water rushed in and nothing could stop it, and they
all went down, every living soul. And what the rats - being waterrats
- left of Chips, at last floated to shore, and sitting on him
was an immense overgrown rat, laughing, that dived when the corpse
touched the beach and never came up. And there was a deal of
seaweed on the remains. And if you get thirteen bits of seaweed,
and dry them and burn them in the fire, they will go off like in
these thirteen words as plain as plain can be:
'A Lemon has pips,
And a Yard has ships,
And I've got Chips!'
The same female bard - descended, possibly, from those terrible old
Scalds who seem to have existed for the express purpose of addling
the brains of mankind when they begin to investigate languages -
made a standing pretence which greatly assisted in forcing me back
to a number of hideous places that I would by all means have
avoided. This pretence was, that all her ghost stories had
occurred to her own relations. Politeness towards a meritorious
family, therefore, forbade my doubting them, and they acquired an
air of authentication that impaired my digestive powers for life.
There was a narrative concerning an unearthly animal foreboding
death, which appeared in the open street to a parlour-maid who
'went to fetch the beer' for supper: first (as I now recall it)
assuming the likeness of a black dog, and gradually rising on its
hind-legs and swelling into the semblance of some quadruped greatly
surpassing a hippopotamus: which apparition - not because I deemed
it in the least improbable, but because I felt it to be really too
large to bear - I feebly endeavoured to explain away. But, on
Mercy's retorting with wounded dignity that the parlour-maid was
her own sister-in-law, I perceived there was no hope, and resigned
myself to this zoological phenomenon as one of my many pursuers.
There was another narrative describing the apparition of a young
woman who came out of a glass-case and haunted another young woman
until the other young woman questioned it and elicited that its
bones (Lord! To think of its being so particular about its bones!)
were buried under the glass-case, whereas she required them to be
interred, with every Undertaking solemnity up to twenty-four pound
ten, in another particular place. This narrative I considered - I
had a personal interest in disproving, because we had glass-cases
at home, and how, otherwise, was I to be guaranteed from the
intrusion of young women requiring ME TO bury them up to twentyfour
pound ten, when I had only twopence a week? But my
remorseless nurse cut the ground from under my tender feet, by
informing me that She was the other young woman; and I couldn't say
'I don't believe you;' it was not possible.
Such are a few of the uncommercial journeys that I was forced to
make, against my will, when I was very young and unreasoning. And
really, as to the latter part of them, it is not so very long ago -
now I come to think of it - that I was asked to undertake them once
again, with a steady countenance.
Being in a humour for complete solitude and uninterrupted
meditation this autumn, I have taken a lodging for six weeks in the
most unfrequented part of England - in a word, in London.
The retreat into which I have withdrawn myself, is Bond-street.
From this lonely spot I make pilgrimages into the surrounding
wilderness, and traverse extensive tracts of the Great Desert. The
first solemn feeling of isolation overcome, the first oppressive
consciousness of profound retirement conquered, I enjoy that sense
of freedom, and feel reviving within me that latent wildness of the
original savage, which has been (upon the whole somewhat
frequently) noticed by Travellers.
My lodgings are at a hatter's - my own hatter's. After exhibiting
no articles in his window for some weeks, but sea-side wide-awakes,
shooting-caps, and a choice of rough waterproof head-gear for the
moors and mountains, he has put upon the heads of his family as
much of this stock as they could carry, and has taken them off to
the Isle of Thanet. His young man alone remains - and remains
alone in the shop. The young man has let out the fire at which the
irons are heated, and, saving his strong sense of duty, I see no
reason why he should take the shutters down.
Happily for himself and for his country the young man is a
Volunteer; most happily for himself, or I think he would become the
prey of a settled melancholy. For, to live surrounded by human
hats, and alienated from human heads to fit them on, is surely a
great endurance. But, the young man, sustained by practising his
exercise, and by constantly furbishing up his regulation plume (it
is unnecessary to observe that, as a hatter, he is in a cock'sfeather
corps), is resigned, and uncomplaining. On a Saturday,
when he closes early and gets his Knickerbockers on, he is even
cheerful. I am gratefully particular in this reference to him,
because he is my companion through many peaceful hours.
My hatter has a desk up certain steps behind his counter, enclosed
like the clerk's desk at Church. I shut myself into this place of
seclusion, after breakfast, and meditate. At such times, I observe
the young man loading an imaginary rifle with the greatest
precision, and maintaining a most galling and destructive fire upon
the national enemy. I thank him publicly for his companionship and
his patriotism.
The simple character of my life, and the calm nature of the scenes
by which I am surrounded, occasion me to rise early. I go forth in
my slippers, and promenade the pavement. It is pastoral to feel
the freshness of the air in the uninhabited town, and to appreciate
the shepherdess character of the few milkwomen who purvey so little
milk that it would be worth nobody's while to adulterate it, if
anybody were left to undertake the task. On the crowded sea-shore,
the great demand for milk, combined with the strong local
temptation of chalk, would betray itself in the lowered quality of
the article. In Arcadian London I derive it from the cow.
The Arcadian simplicity of the metropolis altogether, and the
primitive ways into which it has fallen in this autumnal Golden
Age, make it entirely new to me. Within a few hundred yards of my
retreat, is the house of a friend who maintains a most sumptuous
butler. I never, until yesterday, saw that butler out of superfine
black broadcloth. Until yesterday, I never saw him off duty, never
saw him (he is the best of butlers) with the appearance of having
any mind for anything but the glory of his master and his master's
friends. Yesterday morning, walking in my slippers near the house
of which he is the prop and ornament - a house now a waste of
shutters - I encountered that butler, also in his slippers, and in
a shooting suit of one colour, and in a low-crowned straw-hat,
smoking an early cigar. He felt that we had formerly met in
another state of existence, and that we were translated into a new
sphere. Wisely and well, he passed me without recognition. Under
his arm he carried the morning paper, and shortly afterwards I saw
him sitting on a rail in the pleasant open landscape of Regentstreet,
perusing it at his ease under the ripening sun.
My landlord having taken his whole establishment to be salted down,
I am waited on by an elderly woman labouring under a chronic sniff,
who, at the shadowy hour of half-past nine o'clock of every
evening, gives admittance at the street door to a meagre and mouldy
old man whom I have never yet seen detached from a flat pint of
beer in a pewter pot. The meagre and mouldy old man is her
husband, and the pair have a dejected consciousness that they are
not justified in appearing on the surface of the earth. They come
out of some hole when London empties itself, and go in again when
it fills. I saw them arrive on the evening when I myself took
possession, and they arrived with the flat pint of beer, and their
bed in a bundle. The old man is a weak old man, and appeared to me
to get the bed down the kitchen stairs by tumbling down with and
upon it. They make their bed in the lowest and remotest corner of
the basement, and they smell of bed, and have no possession but
bed: unless it be (which I rather infer from an under-current of
flavour in them) cheese. I know their name, through the chance of
having called the wife's attention, at half-past nine on the second
evening of our acquaintance, to the circumstance of there being
some one at the house door; when she apologetically explained,
'It's only Mr. Klem.' What becomes of Mr. Klem all day, or when he
goes out, or why, is a mystery I cannot penetrate; but at half-past
nine he never fails to turn up on the door-step with the flat pint
of beer. And the pint of beer, flat as it is, is so much more
important than himself, that it always seems to my fancy as if it
had found him drivelling in the street and had humanely brought him
home. In making his way below, Mr. Klem never goes down the middle
of the passage, like another Christian, but shuffles against the
wall as if entreating me to take notice that he is occupying as
little space as possible in the house; and whenever I come upon him
face to face, he backs from me in fascinated confusion. The most
extraordinary circumstance I have traced in connexion with this
aged couple, is, that there is a Miss Klem, their daughter,
apparently ten years older than either of them, who has also a bed
and smells of it, and carries it about the earth at dusk and hides
it in deserted houses. I came into this piece of knowledge through
Mrs. Klem's beseeching me to sanction the sheltering of Miss Klem
under that roof for a single night, 'between her takin' care of the
upper part in Pall Mall which the family of his back, and a 'ouse
in Serjameses-street, which the family of leaves towng ter-morrer.'
I gave my gracious consent (having nothing that I know of to do
with it), and in the shadowy hours Miss Klem became perceptible on
the door-step, wrestling with a bed in a bundle. Where she made it
up for the night I cannot positively state, but, I think, in a
sink. I know that with the instinct of a reptile or an insect, she
stowed it and herself away in deep obscurity. In the Klem family,
I have noticed another remarkable gift of nature, and that is a
power they possess of converting everything into flue. Such broken
victuals as they take by stealth, appear (whatever the nature of
the viands) invariably to generate flue; and even the nightly pint
of beer, instead of assimilating naturally, strikes me as breaking
out in that form, equally on the shabby gown of Mrs. Klem, and the
threadbare coat of her husband.
Mrs. Klem has no idea of my name - as to Mr. Klem he has no idea of
anything - and only knows me as her good gentleman. Thus, if
doubtful whether I am in my room or no, Mrs. Klem taps at the door
and says, 'Is my good gentleman here?' Or, if a messenger desiring
to see me were consistent with my solitude, she would show him in
with 'Here is my good gentleman.' I find this to be a generic
custom. For, I meant to have observed before now, that in its
Arcadian time all my part of London is indistinctly pervaded by the
Klem species. They creep about with beds, and go to bed in miles
of deserted houses. They hold no companionship except that
sometimes, after dark, two of them will emerge from opposite
houses, and meet in the middle of the road as on neutral ground, or
will peep from adjoining houses over an interposing barrier of area
railings, and compare a few reserved mistrustful notes respecting
their good ladies or good gentlemen. This I have discovered in the
course of various solitary rambles I have taken Northward from my
retirement, along the awful perspectives of Wimpole-street, Harleystreet,
and similar frowning regions. Their effect would be
scarcely distinguishable from that of the primeval forests, but for
the Klem stragglers; these may be dimly observed, when the heavy
shadows fall, flitting to and fro, putting up the door-chain,
taking in the pint of beer, lowering like phantoms at the dark
parlour windows, or secretly consorting underground with the dustbin
and the water-cistern.
In the Burlington Arcade, I observe, with peculiar pleasure, a
primitive state of manners to have superseded the baneful
influences of ultra civilisation. Nothing can surpass the
innocence of the ladies' shoe-shops, the artificial-flower
repositories, and the head-dress depots. They are in strange hands
at this time of year - hands of unaccustomed persons, who are
imperfectly acquainted with the prices of the goods, and
contemplate them with unsophisticated delight and wonder. The
children of these virtuous people exchange familiarities in the
Arcade, and temper the asperity of the two tall beadles. Their
youthful prattle blends in an unwonted manner with the harmonious
shade of the scene, and the general effect is, as of the voices of
birds in a grove. In this happy restoration of the golden time, it
has been my privilege even to see the bigger beadle's wife. She
brought him his dinner in a basin, and he ate it in his arm-chair,
and afterwards fell asleep like a satiated child. At Mr.
Truefitt's, the excellent hairdresser's, they are learning French
to beguile the time; and even the few solitaries left on guard at
Mr. Atkinson's, the perfumer's round the corner (generally the most
inexorable gentleman in London, and the most scornful of three-andsixpence),
condescend a little, as they drowsily bide or recall
their turn for chasing the ebbing Neptune on the ribbed sea-sand.
From Messrs. Hunt and Roskell's, the jewellers, all things are
absent but the precious stones, and the gold and silver, and the
soldierly pensioner at the door with his decorated breast. I might
stand night and day for a month to come, in Saville-row, with my
tongue out, yet not find a doctor to look at it for love or money.
The dentists' instruments are rusting in their drawers, and their
horrible cool parlours, where people pretend to read the Every-Day
Book and not to be afraid, are doing penance for their grimness in
white sheets. The light-weight of shrewd appearance, with one eye
always shut up, as if he were eating a sharp gooseberry in all
seasons, who usually stands at the gateway of the livery-stables on
very little legs under a very large waistcoat, has gone to
Doncaster. Of such undesigning aspect is his guileless yard now,
with its gravel and scarlet beans, and the yellow Break housed
under a glass roof in a corner, that I almost believe I could not
be taken in there, if I tried. In the places of business of the
great tailors, the cheval-glasses are dim and dusty for lack of
being looked into. Ranges of brown paper coat and waistcoat bodies
look as funereal as if they were the hatchments of the customers
with whose names they are inscribed; the measuring tapes hang idle
on the wall; the order-taker, left on the hopeless chance of some
one looking in, yawns in the last extremity over the book of
patterns, as if he were trying to read that entertaining library.
The hotels in Brook-street have no one in them, and the staffs of
servants stare disconsolately for next season out of all the
windows. The very man who goes about like an erect Turtle, between
two boards recommendatory of the Sixteen Shilling Trousers, is
aware of himself as a hollow mockery, and eats filberts while he
leans his hinder shell against a wall.
Among these tranquillising objects, it is my delight to walk and
meditate. Soothed by the repose around me, I wander insensibly to
considerable distances, and guide myself back by the stars. Thus,
I enjoy the contrast of a few still partially inhabited and busy
spots where all the lights are not fled, where all the garlands are
not dead, whence all but I have not departed. Then, does it appear
to me that in this age three things are clamorously required of Man
in the miscellaneous thoroughfares of the metropolis. Firstly,
that he have his boots cleaned. Secondly, that he eat a penny ice.
Thirdly, that he get himself photographed. Then do I speculate,
What have those seam-worn artists been who stand at the photograph
doors in Greek caps, sample in hand, and mysteriously salute the
public - the female public with a pressing tenderness - to come in
and be 'took'? What did they do with their greasy blandishments,
before the era of cheap photography? Of what class were their
previous victims, and how victimised? And how did they get, and
how did they pay for, that large collection of likenesses, all
purporting to have been taken inside, with the taking of none of
which had that establishment any more to do than with the taking of
But, these are small oases, and I am soon back again in
metropolitan Arcadia. It is my impression that much of its serene
and peaceful character is attributable to the absence of customary
Talk. How do I know but there may be subtle influences in Talk, to
vex the souls of men who don't hear it? How do I know but that
Talk, five, ten, twenty miles off, may get into the air and
disagree with me? If I rise from my bed, vaguely troubled and
wearied and sick of my life, in the session of Parliament, who
shall say that my noble friend, my right reverend friend, my right
honourable friend, my honourable friend, my honourable and learned
friend, or my honourable and gallant friend, may not be responsible
for that effect upon my nervous system? Too much Ozone in the air,
I am informed and fully believe (though I have no idea what it is),
would affect me in a marvellously disagreeable way; why may not too
much Talk? I don't see or hear the Ozone; I don't see or hear the
Talk. And there is so much Talk; so much too much; such loud cry,
and such scant supply of wool; such a deal of fleecing, and so
little fleece! Hence, in the Arcadian season, I find it a
delicious triumph to walk down to deserted Westminster, and see the
Courts shut up; to walk a little further and see the Two Houses
shut up; to stand in the Abbey Yard, like the New Zealander of the
grand English History (concerning which unfortunate man, a whole
rookery of mares' nests is generally being discovered), and gloat
upon the ruins of Talk. Returning to my primitive solitude and
lying down to sleep, my grateful heart expands with the
consciousness that there is no adjourned Debate, no ministerial
explanation, nobody to give notice of intention to ask the noble
Lord at the head of her Majesty's Government five-and-twenty
bootless questions in one, no term time with legal argument, no
Nisi Prius with eloquent appeal to British Jury; that the air will
to-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, remain untroubled by this
superabundant generating of Talk. In a minor degree it is a
delicious triumph to me to go into the club, and see the carpets
up, and the Bores and the other dust dispersed to the four winds.
Again, New Zealander-like, I stand on the cold hearth, and say in
the solitude, 'Here I watched Bore A 1, with voice always
mysteriously low and head always mysteriously drooped, whispering
political secrets into the ears of Adam's confiding children.
Accursed be his memory for ever and a day!'
But, I have all this time been coming to the point, that the happy
nature of my retirement is most sweetly expressed in its being the
abode of Love. It is, as it were, an inexpensive Agapemone:
nobody's speculation: everybody's profit. The one great result of
the resumption of primitive habits, and (convertible terms) the not
having much to do, is, the abounding of Love.
The Klem species are incapable of the softer emotions; probably, in
that low nomadic race, the softer emotions have all degenerated
into flue. But, with this exception, all the sharers of my retreat
make love.
I have mentioned Saville-row. We all know the Doctor's servant.
We all know what a respectable man he is, what a hard dry man, what
a firm man, what a confidential man: how he lets us into the
waiting-room, like a man who knows minutely what is the matter with
us, but from whom the rack should not wring the secret. In the
prosaic "season," he has distinctly the appearance of a man
conscious of money in the savings bank, and taking his stand on his
respectability with both feet. At that time it is as impossible to
associate him with relaxation, or any human weakness, as it is to
meet his eye without feeling guilty of indisposition. In the blest
Arcadian time, how changed! I have seen him, in a pepper-and-salt
jacket - jacket - and drab trousers, with his arm round the waist
of a bootmaker's housemaid, smiling in open day. I have seen him
at the pump by the Albany, unsolicitedly pumping for two fair young
creatures, whose figures as they bent over their cans, were - if I
may be allowed an original expression - a model for the sculptor.
I have seen him trying the piano in the Doctor's drawing-room with
his forefinger, and have heard him humming tunes in praise of
lovely woman. I have seen him seated on a fire-engine, and going
(obviously in search of excitement) to a fire. I saw him, one
moonlight evening when the peace and purity of our Arcadian west
were at their height, polk with the lovely daughter of a cleaner of
gloves, from the door-steps of his own residence, across Savillerow,
round by Clifford-street and Old Burlington-street, back to
Burlington-gardens. Is this the Golden Age revived, or Iron
The Dentist's servant. Is that man no mystery to us, no type of
invisible power? The tremendous individual knows (who else does?)
what is done with the extracted teeth; he knows what goes on in the
little room where something is always being washed or filed; he
knows what warm spicy infusion is put into the comfortable tumbler
from which we rinse our wounded mouth, with a gap in it that feels
a foot wide; he knows whether the thing we spit into is a fixture
communicating with the Thames, or could be cleared away for a
dance; he sees the horrible parlour where there are no patients in
it, and he could reveal, if he would, what becomes of the Every-Day
Book then. The conviction of my coward conscience when I see that
man in a professional light, is, that he knows all the statistics
of my teeth and gums, my double teeth, my single teeth, my stopped
teeth, and my sound. In this Arcadian rest, I am fearless of him
as of a harmless, powerless creature in a Scotch cap, who adores a
young lady in a voluminous crinoline, at a neighbouring billiardroom,
and whose passion would be uninfluenced if every one of her
teeth were false. They may be. He takes them all on trust.
In secluded corners of the place of my seclusion, there are little
shops withdrawn from public curiosity, and never two together,
where servants' perquisites are bought. The cook may dispose of
grease at these modest and convenient marts; the butler, of
bottles; the valet and lady's maid, of clothes; most servants,
indeed, of most things they may happen to lay hold of. I have been
told that in sterner times loving correspondence, otherwise
interdicted, may be maintained by letter through the agency of some
of these useful establishments. In the Arcadian autumn, no such
device is necessary. Everybody loves, and openly and blamelessly
loves. My landlord's young man loves the whole of one side of the
way of Old Bond-street, and is beloved several doors up New Bondstreet
besides. I never look out of window but I see kissing of
hands going on all around me. It is the morning custom to glide
from shop to shop and exchange tender sentiments; it is the evening
custom for couples to stand hand in hand at house doors, or roam,
linked in that flowery manner, through the unpeopled streets.
There is nothing else to do but love; and what there is to do, is
In unison with this pursuit, a chaste simplicity obtains in the
domestic habits of Arcadia. Its few scattered people dine early,
live moderately, sup socially, and sleep soundly. It is rumoured
that the Beadles of the Arcade, from being the mortal enemies of
boys, have signed with tears an address to Lord Shaftesbury, and
subscribed to a ragged school. No wonder! For, they might turn
their heavy maces into crooks and tend sheep in the Arcade, to the
purling of the water-carts as they give the thirsty streets much
more to drink than they can carry.
A happy Golden Age, and a serene tranquillity. Charming picture,
but it will fade. The iron age will return, London will come back
to town, if I show my tongue then in Saville-row for half a minute
I shall be prescribed for, the Doctor's man and the Dentist's man
will then pretend that these days of unprofessional innocence never
existed. Where Mr. and Mrs. Klem and their bed will be at that
time, passes human knowledge; but my hatter hermitage will then
know them no more, nor will it then know me. The desk at which I
have written these meditations will retributively assist at the
making out of my account, and the wheels of gorgeous carriages and
the hoofs of high-stepping horses will crush the silence out of
Bond-street - will grind Arcadia away, and give it to the elements
in granite powder.
The rising of the Italian people from under their unutterable
wrongs, and the tardy burst of day upon them after the long long
night of oppression that has darkened their beautiful country, have
naturally caused my mind to dwell often of late on my own small
wanderings in Italy. Connected with them, is a curious little
drama, in which the character I myself sustained was so very
subordinate that I may relate its story without any fear of being
suspected of self-display. It is strictly a true story.
I am newly arrived one summer evening, in a certain small town on
the Mediterranean. I have had my dinner at the inn, and I and the
mosquitoes are coming out into the streets together. It is far
from Naples; but a bright, brown, plump little woman-servant at the
inn, is a Neapolitan, and is so vivaciously expert in panto-mimic
action, that in the single moment of answering my request to have a
pair of shoes cleaned which I have left up-stairs, she plies
imaginary brushes, and goes completely through the motions of
polishing the shoes up, and laying them at my feet. I smile at the
brisk little woman in perfect satisfaction with her briskness; and
the brisk little woman, amiably pleased with me because I am
pleased with her, claps her hands and laughs delightfully. We are
in the inn yard. As the little woman's bright eyes sparkle on the
cigarette I am smoking, I make bold to offer her one; she accepts
it none the less merrily, because I touch a most charming little
dimple in her fat cheek, with its light paper end. Glancing up at
the many green lattices to assure herself that the mistress is not
looking on, the little woman then puts her two little dimple arms
a-kimbo, and stands on tiptoe to light her cigarette at mine. 'And
now, dear little sir,' says she, puffing out smoke in a most
innocent and cherubic manner, 'keep quite straight on, take the
first to the right and probably you will see him standing at his
I gave a commission to 'him,' and I have been inquiring about him.
I have carried the commission about Italy several months. Before I
left England, there came to me one night a certain generous and
gentle English nobleman (he is dead in these days when I relate the
story, and exiles have lost their best British friend), with this
request: 'Whenever you come to such a town, will you seek out one
Giovanni Carlavero, who keeps a little wine-shop there, mention my
name to him suddenly, and observe how it affects him?' I accepted
the trust, and am on my way to discharge it.
The sirocco has been blowing all day, and it is a hot unwholesome
evening with no cool sea-breeze. Mosquitoes and fire-flies are
lively enough, but most other creatures are faint. The coquettish
airs of pretty young women in the tiniest and wickedest of dolls'
straw hats, who lean out at opened lattice blinds, are almost the
only airs stirring. Very ugly and haggard old women with distaffs,
and with a grey tow upon them that looks as if they were spinning
out their own hair (I suppose they were once pretty, too, but it is
very difficult to believe so), sit on the footway leaning against
house walls. Everybody who has come for water to the fountain,
stays there, and seems incapable of any such energetic idea as
going home. Vespers are over, though not so long but that I can
smell the heavy resinous incense as I pass the church. No man
seems to be at work, save the coppersmith. In an Italian town he
is always at work, and always thumping in the deadliest manner.
I keep straight on, and come in due time to the first on the right:
a narrow dull street, where I see a well-favoured man of good
stature and military bearing, in a great cloak, standing at a door.
Drawing nearer to this threshold, I see it is the threshold of a
small wine-shop; and I can just make out, in the dim light, the
inscription that it is kept by Giovanni Carlavero.
I touch my hat to the figure in the cloak, and pass in, and draw a
stool to a little table. The lamp (just such another as they dig
out of Pompeii) is lighted, but the place is empty. The figure in
the cloak has followed me in, and stands before me.
'The master?'
'At your service, sir.'
'Please to give me a glass of the wine of the country.'
He turns to a little counter, to get it. As his striking face is
pale, and his action is evidently that of an enfeebled man, I
remark that I fear he has been ill. It is not much, he courteously
and gravely answers, though bad while it lasts: the fever.
As he sets the wine on the little table, to his manifest surprise I
lay my hand on the back of his, look him in the face, and say in a
low voice: 'I am an Englishman, and you are acquainted with a
friend of mine. Do you recollect - ?' and I mentioned the name of
my generous countryman.
Instantly, he utters a loud cry, bursts into tears, and falls on
his knees at my feet, clasping my legs in both his arms and bowing
his head to the ground.
Some years ago, this man at my feet, whose over-fraught heart is
heaving as if it would burst from his breast, and whose tears are
wet upon the dress I wear, was a galley-slave in the North of
Italy. He was a political offender, having been concerned in the
then last rising, and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. That
he would have died in his chains, is certain, but for the
circumstance that the Englishman happened to visit his prison.
It was one of the vile old prisons of Italy, and a part of it was
below the waters of the harbour. The place of his confinement was
an arched under-ground and under-water gallery, with a grill-gate
at the entrance, through which it received such light and air as it
got. Its condition was insufferably foul, and a stranger could
hardly breathe in it, or see in it with the aid of a torch. At the
upper end of this dungeon, and consequently in the worst position,
as being the furthest removed from light and air, the Englishman
first beheld him, sitting on an iron bedstead to which he was
chained by a heavy chain. His countenance impressed the Englishmen
as having nothing in common with the faces of the malefactors with
whom he was associated, and he talked with him, and learnt how he
came to be there.
When the Englishman emerged from the dreadful den into the light of
day, he asked his conductor, the governor of the jail, why Giovanni
Carlavero was put into the worst place?
'Because he is particularly recommended,' was the stringent answer.
'Recommended, that is to say, for death?'
'Excuse me; particularly recommended,' was again the answer.
'He has a bad tumour in his neck, no doubt occasioned by the
hardship of his miserable life. If he continues to be neglected,
and he remains where he is, it will kill him.'
'Excuse me, I can do nothing. He is particularly recommended.'
The Englishman was staying in that town, and he went to his home
there; but the figure of this man chained to the bedstead made it
no home, and destroyed his rest and peace. He was an Englishman of
an extraordinarily tender heart, and he could not bear the picture.
He went back to the prison grate; went back again and again, and
talked to the man and cheered him. He used his utmost influence to
get the man unchained from the bedstead, were it only for ever so
short a time in the day, and permitted to come to the grate. It
look a long time, but the Englishman's station, personal character,
and steadiness of purpose, wore out opposition so far, and that
grace was at last accorded. Through the bars, when he could thus
get light upon the tumour, the Englishman lanced it, and it did
well, and healed. His strong interest in the prisoner had greatly
increased by this time, and he formed the desperate resolution that
he would exert his utmost self-devotion and use his utmost efforts,
to get Carlavero pardoned.
If the prisoner had been a brigand and a murderer, if he had
committed every non-political crime in the Newgate Calendar and out
of it, nothing would have been easier than for a man of any court
or priestly influence to obtain his release. As it was, nothing
could have been more difficult. Italian authorities, and English
authorities who had interest with them, alike assured the
Englishman that his object was hopeless. He met with nothing but
evasion, refusal, and ridicule. His political prisoner became a
joke in the place. It was especially observable that English
Circumlocution, and English Society on its travels, were as
humorous on the subject as Circumlocution and Society may be on any
subject without loss of caste. But, the Englishman possessed (and
proved it well in his life) a courage very uncommon among us: he
had not the least fear of being considered a bore, in a good humane
cause. So he went on persistently trying, and trying, and trying,
to get Giovanni Carlavero out. That prisoner had been rigorously
re-chained, after the tumour operation, and it was not likely that
his miserable life could last very long.
One day, when all the town knew about the Englishman and his
political prisoner, there came to the Englishman, a certain
sprightly Italian Advocate of whom he had some knowledge; and he
made this strange proposal. 'Give me a hundred pounds to obtain
Carlavero's release. I think I can get him a pardon, with that
money. But I cannot tell you what I am going to do with the money,
nor must you ever ask me the question if I succeed, nor must you
ever ask me for an account of the money if I fail.' The Englishman
decided to hazard the hundred pounds. He did so, and heard not
another word of the matter. For half a year and more, the Advocate
made no sign, and never once 'took on' in any way, to have the
subject on his mind. The Englishman was then obliged to change his
residence to another and more famous town in the North of Italy.
He parted from the poor prisoner with a sorrowful heart, as from a
doomed man for whom there was no release but Death.
The Englishman lived in his new place of abode another half-year
and more, and had no tidings of the wretched prisoner. At length,
one day, he received from the Advocate a cool, concise, mysterious
note, to this effect. 'If you still wish to bestow that benefit
upon the man in whom you were once interested, send me fifty pounds
more, and I think it can be ensured.' Now, the Englishman had long
settled in his mind that the Advocate was a heartless sharper, who
had preyed upon his credulity and his interest in an unfortunate
sufferer. So, he sat down and wrote a dry answer, giving the
Advocate to understand that he was wiser now than he had been
formerly, and that no more money was extractable from his pocket.
He lived outside the city gates, some mile or two from the postoffice,
and was accustomed to walk into the city with his letters
and post them himself. On a lovely spring day, when the sky was
exquisitely blue, and the sea Divinely beautiful, he took his usual
walk, carrying this letter to the Advocate in his pocket. As he
went along, his gentle heart was much moved by the loveliness of
the prospect, and by the thought of the slowly dying prisoner
chained to the bedstead, for whom the universe had no delights. As
he drew nearer and nearer to the city where he was to post the
letter, he became very uneasy in his mind. He debated with
himself, was it remotely possible, after all, that this sum of
fifty pounds could restore the fellow-creature whom he pitied so
much, and for whom he had striven so hard, to liberty? He was not
a conventionally rich Englishman - very far from that - but, he had
a spare fifty pounds at the banker's. He resolved to risk it.
Without doubt, GOD has recompensed him for the resolution.
He went to the banker's, and got a bill for the amount, and
enclosed it in a letter to the Advocate that I wish I could have
seen. He simply told the Advocate that he was quite a poor man,
and that he was sensible it might be a great weakness in him to
part with so much money on the faith of so vague a communication;
but, that there it was, and that he prayed the Advocate to make a
good use of it. If he did otherwise no good could ever come of it,
and it would lie heavy on his soul one day.
Within a week, the Englishman was sitting at his breakfast, when he
heard some suppressed sounds of agitation on the staircase, and
Giovanni Carlavero leaped into the room and fell upon his breast, a
free man!
Conscious of having wronged the Advocate in his own thoughts, the
Englishman wrote him an earnest and grateful letter, avowing the
fact, and entreating him to confide by what means and through what
agency he had succeeded so well. The Advocate returned for answer
through the post, 'There are many things, as you know, in this
Italy of ours, that are safest and best not even spoken of - far
less written of. We may meet some day, and then I may tell you
what you want to know; not here, and now.' But, the two never did
meet again. The Advocate was dead when the Englishman gave me my
trust; and how the man had been set free, remained as great a
mystery to the Englishman, and to the man himself, as it was to me.
But, I knew this:- here was the man, this sultry night, on his
knees at my feet, because I was the Englishman's friend; here were
his tears upon my dress; here were his sobs choking his utterance;
here were his kisses on my hands, because they had touched the
hands that had worked out his release. He had no need to tell me
it would be happiness to him to die for his benefactor; I doubt if
I ever saw real, sterling, fervent gratitude of soul, before or
He was much watched and suspected, he said, and had had enough to
do to keep himself out of trouble. This, and his not having
prospered in his worldly affairs, had led to his having failed in
his usual communications to the Englishman for - as I now remember
the period - some two or three years. But, his prospects were
brighter, and his wife who had been very ill had recovered, and his
fever had left him, and he had bought a little vineyard, and would
I carry to his benefactor the first of its wine? Ay, that I would
(I told him with enthusiasm), and not a drop of it should be
spilled or lost!
He had cautiously closed the door before speaking of himself, and
had talked with such excess of emotion, and in a provincial Italian
so difficult to understand, that I had more than once been obliged
to stop him, and beg him to have compassion on me and be slower and
calmer. By degrees he became so, and tranquilly walked back with
me to the hotel. There, I sat down before I went to bed and wrote
a faithful account of him to the Englishman: which I concluded by
saying that I would bring the wine home, against any difficulties,
every drop.
Early next morning, when I came out at the hotel door to pursue my
journey, I found my friend waiting with one of those immense
bottles in which the Italian peasants store their wine - a bottle
holding some half-dozen gallons - bound round with basket-work for
greater safety on the journey. I see him now, in the bright
sunshine, tears of gratitude in his eyes, proudly inviting my
attention to this corpulent bottle. (At the street-comer hard by,
two high-flavoured, able-bodied monks - pretending to talk
together, but keeping their four evil eyes upon us.)
How the bottle had been got there, did not appear; but the
difficulty of getting it into the ramshackle vetturino carriage in
which I was departing, was so great, and it took up so much room
when it was got in, that I elected to sit outside. The last I saw
of Giovanni Carlavero was his running through the town by the side
of the jingling wheels, clasping my hand as I stretched it down
from the box, charging me with a thousand last loving and dutiful
messages to his dear patron, and finally looking in at the bottle
as it reposed inside, with an admiration of its honourable way of
travelling that was beyond measure delightful.
And now, what disquiet of mind this dearly-beloved and highlytreasured
Bottle began to cost me, no man knows. It was my
precious charge through a long tour, and, for hundreds of miles, I
never had it off my mind by day or by night. Over bad roads - and
they were many - I clung to it with affectionate desperation. Up
mountains, I looked in at it and saw it helplessly tilting over on
its back, with terror. At innumerable inn doors when the weather
was bad, I was obliged to be put into my vehicle before the Bottle
could be got in, and was obliged to have the Bottle lifted out
before human aid could come near me. The Imp of the same name,
except that his associations were all evil and these associations
were all good, would have been a less troublesome travelling
companion. I might have served Mr. Cruikshank as a subject for a
new illustration of the miseries of the Bottle. The National
Temperance Society might have made a powerful Tract of me.
The suspicions that attached to this innocent Bottle, greatly
aggravated my difficulties. It was like the apple-pie in the
child's book. Parma pouted at it, Modena mocked it, Tuscany
tackled it, Naples nibbled it, Rome refused it, Austria accused it,
Soldiers suspected it, Jesuits jobbed it. I composed a neat
Oration, developing my inoffensive intentions in connexion with
this Bottle, and delivered it in an infinity of guard-houses, at a
multitude of town gates, and on every drawbridge, angle, and
rampart, of a complete system of fortifications. Fifty times a
day, I got down to harangue an infuriated soldiery about the
Bottle. Through the filthy degradation of the abject and vile
Roman States, I had as much difficulty in working my way with the
Bottle, as if it had bottled up a complete system of heretical
theology. In the Neapolitan country, where everybody was a spy, a
soldier, a priest, or a lazzarone, the shameless beggars of all
four denominations incessantly pounced on the Bottle and made it a
pretext for extorting money from me. Quires - quires do I say?
Reams - of forms illegibly printed on whity-brown paper were filled
up about the Bottle, and it was the subject of more stamping and
sanding than I had ever seen before. In consequence of which haze
of sand, perhaps, it was always irregular, and always latent with
dismal penalties of going back or not going forward, which were
only to be abated by the silver crossing of a base hand, poked
shirtless out of a ragged uniform sleeve. Under all
discouragements, however, I stuck to my Bottle, and held firm to my
resolution that every drop of its contents should reach the
Bottle's destination.
The latter refinement cost me a separate heap of troubles on its
own separate account. What corkscrews did I see the military power
bring out against that Bottle; what gimlets, spikes, divining rods,
gauges, and unknown tests and instruments! At some places, they
persisted in declaring that the wine must not be passed, without
being opened and tasted; I, pleading to the contrary, used then to
argue the question seated on the Bottle lest they should open it in
spite of me. In the southern parts of Italy more violent
shrieking, face-making, and gesticulating, greater vehemence of
speech and countenance and action, went on about that Bottle than
would attend fifty murders in a northern latitude. It raised
important functionaries out of their beds, in the dead of night. I
have known half-a-dozen military lanterns to disperse themselves at
all points of a great sleeping Piazza, each lantern summoning some
official creature to get up, put on his cocked-hat instantly, and
come and stop the Bottle. It was characteristic that while this
innocent Bottle had such immense difficulty in getting from little
town to town, Signor Mazzini and the fiery cross were traversing
Italy from end to end.
Still, I stuck to my Bottle, like any fine old English gentleman
all of the olden time. The more the Bottle was interfered with,
the stauncher I became (if possible) in my first determination that
my countryman should have it delivered to him intact, as the man
whom he had so nobly restored to life and liberty had delivered it
to me. If ever I had been obstinate in my days - and I may have
been, say, once or twice - I was obstinate about the Bottle. But,
I made it a rule always to keep a pocket full of small coin at its
service, and never to be out of temper in its cause. Thus, I and
the Bottle made our way. Once we had a break-down; rather a bad
break-down, on a steep high place with the sea below us, on a
tempestuous evening when it blew great guns. We were driving four
wild horses abreast, Southern fashion, and there was some little
difficulty in stopping them. I was outside, and not thrown off;
but no words can describe my feelings when I saw the Bottle -
travelling inside, as usual - burst the door open, and roll obesely
out into the road. A blessed Bottle with a charmed existence, he
took no hurt, and we repaired damage, and went on triumphant.
A thousand representations were made to me that the Bottle must be
left at this place, or that, and called for again. I never yielded
to one of them, and never parted from the Bottle, on any pretence,
consideration, threat, or entreaty. I had no faith in any official
receipt for the Bottle, and nothing would induce me to accept one.
These unmanageable politics at last brought me and the Bottle,
still triumphant, to Genoa. There, I took a tender and reluctant
leave of him for a few weeks, and consigned him to a trusty English
captain, to be conveyed to the Port of London by sea.
While the Bottle was on his voyage to England, I read the Shipping
Intelligence as anxiously as if I had been an underwriter. There
was some stormy weather after I myself had got to England by way of
Switzerland and France, and my mind greatly misgave me that the
Bottle might be wrecked. At last to my great joy, I received
notice of his safe arrival, and immediately went down to Saint
Katharine's Docks, and found him in a state of honourable captivity
in the Custom House.
The wine was mere vinegar when I set it down before the generous
Englishman - probably it had been something like vinegar when I
took it up from Giovanni Carlavero - but not a drop of it was
spilled or gone. And the Englishman told me, with much emotion in
his face and voice, that he had never tasted wine that seemed to
him so sweet and sound. And long afterwards, the Bottle graced his
table. And the last time I saw him in this world that misses him,
he took me aside in a crowd, to say, with his amiable smile: 'We
were talking of you only to-day at dinner, and I wished you had
been there, for I had some Claret up in Carlavero's Bottle.'
It is an unsettled question with me whether I shall leave Calais
something handsome in my will, or whether I shall leave it my
malediction. I hate it so much, and yet I am always so very glad
to see it, that I am in a state of constant indecision on this
subject. When I first made acquaintance with Calais, it was as a
maundering young wretch in a clammy perspiration and dripping
saline particles, who was conscious of no extremities but the one
great extremity, sea-sickness - who was a mere bilious torso, with
a mislaid headache somewhere in its stomach - who had been put into
a horrible swing in Dover Harbour, and had tumbled giddily out of
it on the French coast, or the Isle of Man, or anywhere. Times
have changed, and now I enter Calais self-reliant and rational. I
know where it is beforehand, I keep a look out for it, I recognise
its landmarks when I see any of them, I am acquainted with its
ways, and I know - and I can bear - its worst behaviour.
Malignant Calais! Low-lying alligator, evading the eyesight and
discouraging hope! Dodging flat streak, now on this bow, now on
that, now anywhere, now everywhere, now nowhere! In vain Cape
Grinez, coming frankly forth into the sea, exhorts the failing to
be stout of heart and stomach: sneaking Calais, prone behind its
bar, invites emetically to despair. Even when it can no longer
quite conceal itself in its muddy dock, it has an evil way of
falling off, has Calais, which is more hopeless than its
invisibility. The pier is all but on the bowsprit, and you think
you are there - roll, roar, wash! - Calais has retired miles
inland, and Dover has burst out to look for it. It has a last dip
and slide in its character, has Calais, to be especially commanded
to the infernal gods. Thrice accursed be that garrison-town, when
it dives under the boat's keel, and comes up a league or two to the
right, with the packet shivering and spluttering and staring about
for it!
Not but what I have my animosities towards Dover. I particularly
detest Dover for the self-complacency with which it goes to bed.
It always goes to bed (when I am going to Calais) with a more
brilliant display of lamp and candle than any other town. Mr. and
Mrs. Birmingham, host and hostess of the Lord Warden Hotel, are my
much esteemed friends, but they are too conceited about the
comforts of that establishment when the Night Mail is starting. I
know it is a good house to stay at, and I don't want the fact
insisted upon in all its warm bright windows at such an hour. I
know the Warden is a stationary edifice that never rolls or
pitches, and I object to its big outline seeming to insist upon
that circumstance, and, as it were, to come over me with it, when I
am reeling on the deck of the boat. Beshrew the Warden likewise,
for obstructing that corner, and making the wind so angry as it
rushes round. Shall I not know that it blows quite soon enough,
without the officious Warden's interference?
As I wait here on board the night packet, for the South-Eastern
Train to come down with the Mail, Dover appears to me to be
illuminated for some intensely aggravating festivity in my personal
dishonour. All its noises smack of taunting praises of the land,
and dispraises of the gloomy sea, and of me for going on it. The
drums upon the heights have gone to bed, or I know they would
rattle taunts against me for having my unsteady footing on this
slippery deck. The many gas eyes of the Marine Parade twinkle in
an offensive manner, as if with derision. The distant dogs of
Dover bark at me in my misshapen wrappers, as if I were Richard the
A screech, a bell, and two red eyes come gliding down the Admiralty
Pier with a smoothness of motion rendered more smooth by the
heaving of the boat. The sea makes noises against the pier, as if
several hippopotami were lapping at it, and were prevented by
circumstances over which they had no control from drinking
peaceably. We, the boat, become violently agitated - rumble, hum,
scream, roar, and establish an immense family washing-day at each
paddle-box. Bright patches break out in the train as the doors of
the post-office vans are opened, and instantly stooping figures
with sacks upon their backs begin to be beheld among the piles,
descending as it would seem in ghostly procession to Davy Jones's
Locker. The passengers come on board; a few shadowy Frenchmen,
with hatboxes shaped like the stoppers of gigantic case-bottles; a
few shadowy Germans in immense fur coats and boots; a few shadowy
Englishmen prepared for the worst and pretending not to expect it.
I cannot disguise from my uncommercial mind the miserable fact that
we are a body of outcasts; that the attendants on us are as scant
in number as may serve to get rid of us with the least possible
delay; that there are no night-loungers interested in us; that the
unwilling lamps shiver and shudder at us; that the sole object is
to commit us to the deep and abandon us. Lo, the two red eyes
glaring in increasing distance, and then the very train itself has
gone to bed before we are off!
What is the moral support derived by some sea-going amateurs from
an umbrella? Why do certain voyagers across the Channel always put
up that article, and hold it up with a grim and fierce tenacity? A
fellow-creature near me - whom I only know to BE a fellow-creature,
because of his umbrella: without which he might be a dark bit of
cliff, pier, or bulkbead - clutches that instrument with a
desperate grasp, that will not relax until he lands at Calais. Is
there any analogy, in certain constitutions, between keeping an
umbrella up, and keeping the spirits up? A hawser thrown on board
with a flop replies 'Stand by!' 'Stand by, below!' 'Half a turn a
head!' 'Half a turn a head!' 'Half speed!' 'Half speed!'
'Port!' 'Port!' 'Steady!' 'Steady!' 'Go on!' 'Go on!'
A stout wooden wedge driven in at my right temple and out at my
left, a floating deposit of lukewarm oil in my throat, and a
compression of the bridge of my nose in a blunt pair of pincers, -
these are the personal sensations by which I know we are off, and
by which I shall continue to know it until I am on the soil of
France. My symptoms have scarcely established themselves
comfortably, when two or three skating shadows that have been
trying to walk or stand, get flung together, and other two or three
shadows in tarpaulin slide with them into corners and cover them
up. Then the South Foreland lights begin to hiccup at us in a way
that bodes no good.
It is at about this period that my detestation of Calais knows no
bounds. Inwardly I resolve afresh that I never will forgive that
hated town. I have done so before, many times, but that is past.
Let me register a vow. Implacable animosity to Calais everm- that
was an awkward sea, and the funnel seems of my opinion, for it
gives a complaining roar.
The wind blows stiffly from the Nor-East, the sea runs high, we
ship a deal of water, the night is dark and cold, and the shapeless
passengers lie about in melancholy bundles, as if they were sorted
out for the laundress; but for my own uncommercial part I cannot
pretend that I am much inconvenienced by any of these things. A
general howling, whistling, flopping, gurgling, and scooping, I am
aware of, and a general knocking about of Nature; but the
impressions I receive are very vague. In a sweet faint temper,
something like the smell of damaged oranges, I think I should feel
languidly benevolent if I had time. I have not time, because I am
under a curious compulsion to occupy myself with the Irish
melodies. 'Rich and rare were the gems she wore,' is the
particular melody to which I find myself devoted. I sing it to
myself in the most charming manner and with the greatest
expression. Now and then, I raise my head (I am sitting on the
hardest of wet seats, in the most uncomfortable of wet attitudes,
but I don't mind it,) and notice that I am a whirling shuttlecock
between a fiery battledore of a lighthouse on the French coast and
a fiery battledore of a lighthouse on the English coast; but I
don't notice it particularly, except to feel envenomed in my hatred
of Calais. Then I go on again, 'Rich and rare were the ge-ems shee-
e-e wore, And a bright gold ring on her wa-and she bo-ore, But O
her beauty was fa-a-a-a-r beyond' - I am particularly proud of my
execution here, when I become aware of another awkward shock from
the sea, and another protest from the funnel, and a fellow-creature
at the paddle-box more audibly indisposed than I think he need be -
'Her sparkling gems, or snow-white wand, But O her beauty was fa-aa-
a-a-r beyond' - another awkward one here, and the fellow-creature
with the umbrella down and picked up - 'Her spa-a-rkling ge-ems, or
her Port! port! steady! steady! snow-white fellow-creature at the
paddle-box very selfishly audible, bump, roar, wash, white wand.'
As my execution of the Irish melodies partakes of my imperfect
perceptions of what is going on around me, so what is going on
around me becomes something else than what it is. The stokers open
the furnace doors below, to feed the fires, and I am again on the
box of the old Exeter Telegraph fast coach, and that is the light
of the for ever extinguished coach-lamps, and the gleam on the
hatches and paddle-boxes is THEIR gleam on cottages and haystacks,
and the monotonous noise of the engines is the steady jingle of the
splendid team. Anon, the intermittent funnel roar of protest at
every violent roll, becomes the regular blast of a high pressure
engine, and I recognise the exceedingly explosive steamer in which
I ascended the Mississippi when the American civil war was not, and
when only its causes were. A fragment of mast on which the light
of a lantern falls, an end of rope, and a jerking block or so,
become suggestive of Franconi's Circus at Paris where I shall be
this very night mayhap (for it must be morning now), and they dance
to the self-same time and tune as the trained steed, Black Raven.
What may be the speciality of these waves as they come rushing on,
I cannot desert the pressing demands made upon me by the gems she
wore, to inquire, but they are charged with something about
Robinson Crusoe, and I think it was in Yarmouth Roads that he first
went a seafaring and was near foundering (what a terrific sound
that word had for me when I was a boy!) in his first gale of wind.
Still, through all this, I must ask her (who WAS she I wonder!) for
the fiftieth time, and without ever stopping, Does she not fear to
stray, So lone and lovely through this bleak way, And are Erin's
sons so good or so cold, As not to be tempted by more fellowcreatures
at the paddle-box or gold? Sir Knight I feel not the
least alarm, No son of Erin will offer me harm, For though they
love fellow-creature with umbrella down again and golden store, Sir
Knight they what a tremendous one love honour and virtue more: For
though they love Stewards with a bull's eye bright, they'll trouble
you for your ticket, sir-rough passage to-night!
I freely admit it to be a miserable piece of human weakness and
inconsistency, but I no sooner become conscious of those last words
from the steward than I begin to soften towards Calais. Whereas I
have been vindictively wishing that those Calais burghers who came
out of their town by a short cut into the History of England, with
those fatal ropes round their necks by which they have since been
towed into so many cartoons, had all been hanged on the spot, I now
begin to regard them as highly respectable and virtuous tradesmen.
Looking about me, I see the light of Cape Grinez well astern of the
boat on the davits to leeward, and the light of Calais Harbour
undeniably at its old tricks, but still ahead and shining.
Sentiments of forgiveness of Calais, not to say of attachment to
Calais, begin to expand my bosom. I have weak notions that I will
stay there a day or two on my way back. A faded and recumbent
stranger pausing in a profound reverie over the rim of a basin,
asks me what kind of place Calais is? I tell him (Heaven forgive
me!) a very agreeable place indeed - rather hilly than otherwise.
So strangely goes the time, and on the whole so quickly - though
still I seem to have been on board a week - that I am bumped,
rolled, gurgled, washed and pitched into Calais Harbour before her
maiden smile has finally lighted her through the Green Isle, When
blest for ever is she who relied, On entering Calais at the top of
the tide. For we have not to land to-night down among those slimy
timbers - covered with green hair as if it were the mermaids'
favourite combing-place - where one crawls to the surface of the
jetty, like a stranded shrimp, but we go steaming up the harbour to
the Railway Station Quay. And as we go, the sea washes in and out
among piles and planks, with dead heavy beats and in quite a
furious manner (whereof we are proud), and the lamps shake in the
wind, and the bells of Calais striking One seem to send their
vibrations struggling against troubled air, as we have come
struggling against troubled water. And now, in the sudden relief
and wiping of faces, everybody on board seems to have had a
prodigious double-tooth out, and to be this very instant free of
the Dentist's hands. And now we all know for the first time how
wet and cold we are, and how salt we are; and now I love Calais
with my heart of hearts!
'Hotel Dessin!' (but in this one case it is not a vocal cry; it is
but a bright lustre in the eyes of the cheery representative of
that best of inns). 'Hotel Meurice!' 'Hotel de France!' 'Hotel
de Calais!' 'The Royal Hotel, Sir, Angaishe ouse!' 'You going to
Parry, Sir?' 'Your baggage, registair froo, Sir?' Bless ye, my
Touters, bless ye, my commissionaires, bless ye, my hungry-eyed
mysteries in caps of a military form, who are always here, day or
night, fair weather or foul, seeking inscrutable jobs which I never
see you get! Bless ye, my Custom House officers in green and grey;
permit me to grasp the welcome hands that descend into my
travelling-bag, one on each side, and meet at the bottom to give my
change of linen a peculiar shake up, as if it were a measure of
chaff or grain! I have nothing to declare, Monsieur le Douanier,
except that when I cease to breathe, Calais will be found written
on my heart. No article liable to local duty have I with me,
Monsieur l'Officier de l'Octroi, unless the overflowing of a breast
devoted to your charming town should be in that wise chargeable.
Ah! see at the gangway by the twinkling lantern, my dearest brother
and friend, he once of the Passport Office, he who collects the
names! May he be for ever changeless in his buttoned black
surtout, with his note-book in his hand, and his tall black hat,
surmounting his round, smiling, patient face! Let us embrace, my
dearest brother. I am yours e tout jamais - for the whole of ever.
Calais up and doing at the railway station, and Calais down and
dreaming in its bed; Calais with something of 'an ancient and fishlike
smell' about it, and Calais blown and sea-washed pure; Calais
represented at the Buffet by savoury roast fowls, hot coffee,
cognac, and Bordeaux; and Calais represented everywhere by flitting
persons with a monomania for changing money - though I never shall
be able to understand in my present state of existence how they
live by it, but I suppose I should, if I understood the currency
question - Calais EN GROS, and Calais EN DETAIL, forgive one who
has deeply wronged you. - I was not fully aware of it on the other
side, but I meant Dover.
Ding, ding! To the carriages, gentlemen the travellers. Ascend
then, gentlemen the travellers, for Hazebroucke, Lille, Douai,
Bruxelles, Arras, Amiens, and Paris! I, humble representative of
the uncommercial interest, ascend with the rest. The train is
light to-night, and I share my compartment with but two fellowtravellers;
one, a compatriot in an obsolete cravat, who thinks it
a quite unaccountable thing that they don't keep 'London time' on a
French railway, and who is made angry by my modestly suggesting the
possibility of Paris time being more in their way; the other, a
young priest, with a very small bird in a very small cage, who
feeds the small bird with a quill, and then puts him up in the
network above his head, where he advances twittering, to his front
wires, and seems to address me in an electioneering manner. The
compatriot (who crossed in the boat, and whom I judge to be some
person of distinction, as he was shut up, like a stately species of
rabbit, in a private hutch on deck) and the young priest (who
joined us at Calais) are soon asleep, and then the bird and I have
it all to ourselves.
A stormy night still; a night that sweeps the wires of the electric
telegraph with a wild and fitful hand; a night so very stormy, with
the added storm of the train-progress through it, that when the
Guard comes clambering round to mark the tickets while we are at
full speed (a really horrible performance in an express train,
though he holds on to the open window by his elbows in the most
deliberate manner), he stands in such a whirlwind that I grip him
fast by the collar, and feel it next to manslaughter to let him go.
Still, when he is gone, the small, small bird remains at his front
wires feebly twittering to me - twittering and twittering, until,
leaning back in my place and looking at him in drowsy fascination,
I find that he seems to jog my memory as we rush along.
Uncommercial travels (thus the small, small bird) have lain in
their idle thriftless way through all this range of swamp and dyke,
as through many other odd places; and about here, as you very well
know, are the queer old stone farm-houses, approached by
drawbridges, and the windmills that you get at by boats. Here, are
the lands where the women hoe and dig, paddling canoe-wise from
field to field, and here are the cabarets and other peasant-houses
where the stone dove-cotes in the littered yards are as strong as
warders' towers in old castles. Here, are the long monotonous
miles of canal, with the great Dutch-built barges garishly painted,
and the towing girls, sometimes harnessed by the forehead,
sometimes by the girdle and the shoulders, not a pleasant sight to
see. Scattered through this country are mighty works of VAUBAN,
whom you know about, and regiments of such corporals as you heard
of once upon a time, and many a blue-eyed Bebelle. Through these
flat districts, in the shining summer days, walk those long,
grotesque files of young novices in enormous shovel-hats, whom you
remember blackening the ground checkered by the avenues of leafy
trees. And now that Hazebroucke slumbers certain kilometres ahead,
recall the summer evening when your dusty feet strolling up from
the station tended hap-hazard to a Fair there, where the oldest
inhabitants were circling round and round a barrel-organ on hobbyhorses,
with the greatest gravity, and where the principal show in
the Fair was a Religious Richardson's - literally, on its own
announcement in great letters, THEATRE RELIGIEUX. In which
improving Temple, the dramatic representation was of 'all the
interesting events in the life of our Lord, from the Manger to the
Tomb;' the principal female character, without any reservation or
exception, being at the moment of your arrival, engaged in trimming
the external Moderators (as it was growing dusk), while the next
principal female character took the money, and the Young Saint John
disported himself upside down on the platform.
Looking up at this point to confirm the small, small bird in every
particular he has mentioned, I find he has ceased to twitter, and
has put his head under his wing. Therefore, in my different way I
follow the good example.
I had parted from the small bird at somewhere about four o'clock in
the morning, when he had got out at Arras, and had been received by
two shovel-hats in waiting at the station, who presented an
appropriately ornithological and crow-like appearance. My
compatriot and I had gone on to Paris; my compatriot enlightening
me occasionally with a long list of the enormous grievances of
French railway travelling: every one of which, as I am a sinner,
was perfectly new to me, though I have as much experience of French
railways as most uncommercials. I had left him at the terminus
(through his conviction, against all explanation and remonstrance,
that his baggage-ticket was his passenger-ticket), insisting in a
very high temper to the functionary on duty, that in his own
personal identity he was four packages weighing so many kilogrammes
- as if he had been Cassim Baba! I had bathed and breakfasted, and
was strolling on the bright quays. The subject of my meditations
was the question whether it is positively in the essence and nature
of things, as a certain school of Britons would seem to think it,
that a Capital must be ensnared and enslaved before it can be made
beautiful: when I lifted up my eyes and found that my feet,
straying like my mind, had brought me to Notre-Dame.
That is to say, Notre-Dame was before me, but there was a large
open space between us. A very little while gone, I had left that
space covered with buildings densely crowded; and now it was
cleared for some new wonder in the way of public Street, Place,
Garden, Fountain, or all four. Only the obscene little Morgue,
slinking on the brink of the river and soon to come down, was left
there, looking mortally ashamed of itself, and supremely wicked. I
had but glanced at this old acquaintance, when I beheld an airy
procession coming round in front of Notre-Dame, past the great
hospital. It had something of a Masaniello look, with fluttering
striped curtains in the midst of it, and it came dancing round the
cathedral in the liveliest manner.
I was speculating on a marriage in Blouse-life, or a Christening,
or some other domestic festivity which I would see out, when I
found, from the talk of a quick rush of Blouses past me, that it
was a Body coming to the Morgue. Having never before chanced upon
this initiation, I constituted myself a Blouse likewise, and ran
into the Morgue with the rest. It was a very muddy day, and we
took in a quantity of mire with us, and the procession coming in
upon our heels brought a quantity more. The procession was in the
highest spirits, and consisted of idlers who had come with the
curtained litter from its starting-place, and of all the
reinforcements it had picked up by the way. It set the litter down
in the midst of the Morgue, and then two Custodians proclaimed
aloud that we were all 'invited' to go out. This invitation was
rendered the more pressing, if not the more flattering, by our
being shoved out, and the folding-gates being barred upon us.
Those who have never seen the Morgue, may see it perfectly, by
presenting to themselves on indifferently paved coach-house
accessible from the street by a pair of folding-gates; on the left
of the coach-house, occupying its width, any large London tailor's
or linendraper's plate-glass window reaching to the ground; within
the window, on two rows of inclined plane, what the coach-house has
to show; hanging above, like irregular stalactites from the roof of
a cave, a quantity of clothes - the clothes of the dead and buried
shows of the coach-house.
We had been excited in the highest degree by seeing the Custodians
pull off their coats and tuck up their shirt-sleeves, as the
procession came along. It looked so interestingly like business.
Shut out in the muddy street, we now became quite ravenous to know
all about it. Was it river, pistol, knife, love, gambling,
robbery, hatred, how many stabs, how many bullets, fresh or
decomposed, suicide or murder? All wedged together, and all
staring at one another with our heads thrust forward, we propounded
these inquiries and a hundred more such. Imperceptibly, it came to
be known that Monsieur the tall and sallow mason yonder, was
acquainted with the facts. Would Monsieur the tall and sallow
mason, surged at by a new wave of us, have the goodness to impart?
It was but a poor old man, passing along the street under one of
the new buildings, on whom a stone had fallen, and who had tumbled
dead. His age? Another wave surged up against the tall and sallow
mason, and our wave swept on and broke, and he was any age from
sixty-five to ninety.
An old man was not much: moreover, we could have wished he had
been killed by human agency - his own, or somebody else's: the
latter, preferable - but our comfort was, that he had nothing about
him to lead to his identification, and that his people must seek
him here. Perhaps they were waiting dinner for him even now? We
liked that. Such of us as had pocket-handkerchiefs took a slow,
intense, protracted wipe at our noses, and then crammed our
handkerchiefs into the breast of our blouses. Others of us who had
no handkerchiefs administered a similar relief to our overwrought
minds, by means of prolonged smears or wipes of our mouths on our
sleeves. One man with a gloomy malformation of brow - a homicidal
worker in white-lead, to judge from his blue tone of colour, and a
certain flavour of paralysis pervading him - got his coat-collar
between his teeth, and bit at it with an appetite. Several decent
women arrived upon the outskirts of the crowd, and prepared to
launch themselves into the dismal coach-house when opportunity
should come; among them, a pretty young mother, pretending to bite
the forefinger of her baby-boy, kept it between her rosy lips that
it might be handy for guiding to point at the show. Meantime, all
faces were turned towards the building, and we men waited with a
fixed and stern resolution:- for the most part with folded arms.
Surely, it was the only public French sight these uncommercial eyes
had seen, at which the expectant people did not form EN QUEUE. But
there was no such order of arrangement here; nothing but a general
determination to make a rush for it, and a disposition to object to
some boys who had mounted on the two stone posts by the hinges of
the gates, with the design of swooping in when the hinges should
Now, they turned, and we rushed! Great pressure, and a scream or
two from the front. Then a laugh or two, some expressions of
disappointment, and a slackening of the pressure and subsidence of
the struggle. - Old man not there.
'But what would you have?' the Custodian reasonably argues, as he
looks out at his little door. 'Patience, patience! We make his
toilette, gentlemen. He will be exposed presently. It is
necessary to proceed according to rule. His toilette is not made
all at a blow. He will be exposed in good time, gentlemen, in good
time.' And so retires, smoking, with a wave of his sleeveless arm
towards the window, importing, 'Entertain yourselves in the
meanwhile with the other curiosities. Fortunately the Museum is
not empty to-day.'
Who would have thought of public fickleness even at the Morgue?
But there it was, on that occasion. Three lately popular articles
that had been attracting greatly when the litter was first descried
coming dancing round the corner by the great cathedral, were so
completely deposed now, that nobody save two little girls (one
showing them to a doll) would look at them. Yet the chief of the
three, the article in the front row, had received jagged injury of
the left temple; and the other two in the back row, the drowned two
lying side by side with their heads very slightly turned towards
each other, seemed to be comparing notes about it. Indeed, those
two of the back row were so furtive of appearance, and so (in their
puffed way) assassinatingly knowing as to the one of the front,
that it was hard to think the three had never come together in
their lives, and were only chance companions after death. Whether
or no this was the general, as it was the uncommercial, fancy, it
is not to be disputed that the group had drawn exceedingly within
ten minutes. Yet now, the inconstant public turned its back upon
them, and even leaned its elbows carelessly against the bar outside
the window and shook off the mud from its shoes, and also lent and
borrowed fire for pipes.
Custodian re-enters from his door. 'Again once, gentlemen, you are
invited - ' No further invitation necessary. Ready dash into the
street. Toilette finished. Old man coming out.
This time, the interest was grown too hot to admit of toleration of
the boys on the stone posts. The homicidal white-lead worker made
a pounce upon one boy who was hoisting himself up, and brought him
to earth amidst general commendation. Closely stowed as we were,
we yet formed into groups - groups of conversation, without
separation from the mass - to discuss the old man. Rivals of the
tall and sallow mason sprang into being, and here again was popular
inconstancy. These rivals attracted audiences, and were greedily
listened to; and whereas they had derived their information solely
from the tall and sallow one, officious members of the crowd now
sought to enlighten HIM on their authority. Changed by this social
experience into an iron-visaged and inveterate misanthrope, the
mason glared at mankind, and evidently cherished in his breast the
wish that the whole of the present company could change places with
the deceased old man. And now listeners became inattentive, and
people made a start forward at a slight sound, and an unholy fire
kindled in the public eye, and those next the gates beat at them
impatiently, as if they were of the cannibal species and hungry.
Again the hinges creaked, and we rushed. Disorderly pressure for
some time ensued before the uncommercial unit got figured into the
front row of the sum. It was strange to see so much heat and
uproar seething about one poor spare, white-haired old man, quiet
for evermore. He was calm of feature and undisfigured, as he lay
on his back - having been struck upon the hinder part of his head,
and thrown forward - and something like a tear or two had started
from the closed eyes, and lay wet upon the face. The uncommercial
interest, sated at a glance, directed itself upon the striving
crowd on either side and behind: wondering whether one might have
guessed, from the expression of those faces merely, what kind of
sight they were looking at. The differences of expression were not
many. There was a little pity, but not much, and that mostly with
a selfish touch in it - as who would say, 'Shall I, poor I, look
like that, when the time comes!' There was more of a secretly
brooding contemplation and curiosity, as 'That man I don't like,
and have the grudge against; would such be his appearance, if some
one - not to mention names - by any chance gave him an knock?'
There was a wolfish stare at the object, in which homicidal whitelead
worker shone conspicuous. And there was a much more general,
purposeless, vacant staring at it - like looking at waxwork,
without a catalogue, and not knowing what to make of it. But all
these expressions concurred in possessing the one underlying
The uncommercial notice had established this as very remarkable,
when a new pressure all at once coming up from the street pinioned
him ignominiously, and hurried him into the arms (now sleeved
again) of the Custodian smoking at his door, and answering
questions, between puffs, with a certain placid meritorious air of
not being proud, though high in office. And mentioning pride, it
may be observed, by the way, that one could not well help investing
the original sole occupant of the front row with an air
depreciatory of the legitimate attraction of the poor old man:
while the two in the second row seemed to exult at this superseded
Pacing presently round the garden of the Tower of St. Jacques de la
Boucherie, and presently again in front of the Hotel de Ville, I
called to mind a certain desolate open-air Morgue that I happened
to light upon in London, one day in the hard winter of 1861, and
which seemed as strange to me, at the time of seeing it, as if I
had found it in China. Towards that hour of a winter's afternoon
when the lamp-lighters are beginning to light the lamps in the
streets a little before they are wanted, because the darkness
thickens fast and soon, I was walking in from the country on the
northern side of the Regent's Park - hard frozen and deserted -
when I saw an empty Hansom cab drive up to the lodge at Gloucestergate,
and the driver with great agitation call to the man there:
who quickly reached a long pole from a tree, and, deftly collared
by the driver, jumped to the step of his little seat, and so the
Hansom rattled out at the gate, galloping over the iron-bound road.
I followed running, though not so fast but that when I came to the
right-hand Canal Bridge, near the cross-path to Chalk Farm, the
Hansom was stationary, the horse was smoking hot, the long pole was
idle on the ground, and the driver and the park-keeper were looking
over the bridge parapet. Looking over too, I saw, lying on the
towing-path with her face turned up towards us, a woman, dead a day
or two, and under thirty, as I guessed, poorly dressed in black.
The feet were lightly crossed at the ankles, and the dark hair, all
pushed back from the face, as though that had been the last action
of her desperate hands, streamed over the ground. Dabbled all
about her, was the water and the broken ice that had dropped from
her dress, and had splashed as she was got out. The policeman who
had just got her out, and the passing costermonger who had helped
him, were standing near the body; the latter with that stare at it
which I have likened to being at a waxwork exhibition without a
catalogue; the former, looking over his stock, with professional
stiffness and coolness, in the direction in which the bearers he
had sent for were expected. So dreadfully forlorn, so dreadfully
sad, so dreadfully mysterious, this spectacle of our dear sister
here departed! A barge came up, breaking the floating ice and the
silence, and a woman steered it. The man with the horse that towed
it, cared so little for the body, that the stumbling hoofs had been
among the hair, and the tow-rope had caught and turned the head,
before our cry of horror took him to the bridle. At which sound
the steering woman looked up at us on the bridge, with contempt
unutterable, and then looking down at the body with a similar
expression - as if it were made in another likeness from herself,
had been informed with other passions, had been lost by other
chances, had had another nature dragged down to perdition - steered
a spurning streak of mud at it, and passed on.
A better experience, but also of the Morgue kind, in which chance
happily made me useful in a slight degree, arose to my remembrance
as I took my way by the Boulevard de Sebastopol to the brighter
scenes of Paris.
The thing happened, say five-and-twenty years ago. I was a modest
young uncommercial then, and timid and inexperienced. Many suns
and winds have browned me in the line, but those were my pale days.
Having newly taken the lease of a house in a certain distinguished
metropolitan parish - a house which then appeared to me to be a
frightfully first-class Family Mansion, involving awful
responsibilities - I became the prey of a Beadle. I think the
Beadle must have seen me going in or coming out, and must have
observed that I tottered under the weight of my grandeur. Or he
may have been in hiding under straw when I bought my first horse
(in the desirable stable-yard attached to the first-class Family
Mansion), and when the vendor remarked to me, in an original
manner, on bringing him for approval, taking his cloth off and
smacking him, 'There, Sir! THERE'S a Orse!' And when I said
gallantly, 'How much do you want for him?' and when the vendor
said, 'No more than sixty guineas, from you,' and when I said
smartly, 'Why not more than sixty from ME?' And when he said
crushingly, 'Because upon my soul and body he'd be considered cheap
at seventy, by one who understood the subject - but you don't.' - I
say, the Beadle may have been in hiding under straw, when this
disgrace befell me, or he may have noted that I was too raw and
young an Atlas to carry the first-class Family Mansion in a knowing
manner. Be this as it may, the Beadle did what Melancholy did to
the youth in Gray's Elegy - he marked me for his own. And the way
in which the Beadle did it, was this: he summoned me as a Juryman
on his Coroner's Inquests.
In my first feverish alarm I repaired 'for safety and for succour'
- like those sagacious Northern shepherds who, having had no
previous reason whatever to believe in young Norval, very prudently
did not originate the hazardous idea of believing in him - to a
deep householder. This profound man informed me that the Beadle
counted on my buying him off; on my bribing him not to summon me;
and that if I would attend an Inquest with a cheerful countenance,
and profess alacrity in that branch of my country's service, the
Beadle would be disheartened, and would give up the game.
I roused my energies, and the next time the wily Beadle summoned
me, I went. The Beadle was the blankest Beadle I have ever looked
on when I answered to my name; and his discomfiture gave me courage
to go through with it.
We were impanelled to inquire concerning the death of a very little
mite of a child. It was the old miserable story. Whether the
mother had committed the minor offence of concealing the birth, or
whether she had committed the major offence of killing the child,
was the question on which we were wanted. We must commit her on
one of the two issues.
The Inquest came off in the parish workhouse, and I have yet a
lively impression that I was unanimously received by my brother
Jurymen as a brother of the utmost conceivable insignificance.
Also, that before we began, a broker who had lately cheated me
fearfully in the matter of a pair of card-tables, was for the
utmost rigour of the law. I remember that we sat in a sort of
board-room, on such very large square horse-hair chairs that I
wondered what race of Patagonians they were made for; and further,
that an undertaker gave me his card when we were in the full moral
freshness of having just been sworn, as 'an inhabitant that was
newly come into the parish, and was likely to have a young family.'
The case was then stated to us by the Coroner, and then we went
down-stairs - led by the plotting Beadle - to view the body. From
that day to this, the poor little figure, on which that sounding
legal appellation was bestowed, has lain in the same place and with
the same surroundings, to my thinking. In a kind of crypt devoted
to the warehousing of the parochial coffins, and in the midst of a
perfect Panorama of coffins of all sizes, it was stretched on a
box; the mother had put it in her box - this box - almost as soon
as it was born, and it had been presently found there. It had been
opened, and neatly sewn up, and regarded from that point of view,
it looked like a stuffed creature. It rested on a clean white
cloth, with a surgical instrument or so at hand, and regarded from
that point of view, it looked as if the cloth were 'laid,' and the
Giant were coming to dinner. There was nothing repellent about the
poor piece of innocence, and it demanded a mere form of looking at.
So, we looked at an old pauper who was going about among the
coffins with a foot rule, as if he were a case of Self-Measurement;
and we looked at one another; and we said the place was well
whitewashed anyhow; and then our conversational powers as a British
Jury flagged, and the foreman said, 'All right, gentlemen? Back
again, Mr. Beadle!'
The miserable young creature who had given birth to this child
within a very few days, and who had cleaned the cold wet door-steps
immediately afterwards, was brought before us when we resumed our
horse-hair chairs, and was present during the proceedings. She had
a horse-hair chair herself, being very weak and ill; and I remember
how she turned to the unsympathetic nurse who attended her, and who
might have been the figure-head of a pauper-ship, and how she hid
her face and sobs and tears upon that wooden shoulder. I remember,
too, how hard her mistress was upon her (she was a servant-of-allwork),
and with what a cruel pertinacity that piece of Virtue spun
her thread of evidence double, by intertwisting it with the
sternest thread of construction. Smitten hard by the terrible low
wail from the utterly friendless orphan girl, which never ceased
during the whole inquiry, I took heart to ask this witness a
question or two, which hopefully admitted of an answer that might
give a favourable turn to the case. She made the turn as little
favourable as it could be, but it did some good, and the Coroner,
who was nobly patient and humane (he was the late Mr. Wakley), cast
a look of strong encouragement in my direction. Then, we had the
doctor who had made the examination, and the usual tests as to
whether the child was born alive; but he was a timid, muddle-headed
doctor, and got confused and contradictory, and wouldn't say this,
and couldn't answer for that, and the immaculate broker was too
much for him, and our side slid back again. However, I tried
again, and the Coroner backed me again, for which I ever afterwards
felt grateful to him as I do now to his memory; and we got another
favourable turn, out of some other witness, some member of the
family with a strong prepossession against the sinner; and I think
we had the doctor back again; and I know that the Coroner summed up
for our side, and that I and my British brothers turned round to
discuss our verdict, and get ourselves into great difficulties with
our large chairs and the broker. At that stage of the case I tried
hard again, being convinced that I had cause for it; and at last we
found for the minor offence of only concealing the birth; and the
poor desolate creature, who had been taken out during our
deliberation, being brought in again to be told of the verdict,
then dropped upon her knees before us, with protestations that we
were right - protestations among the most affecting that I have
ever heard in my life - and was carried away insensible.
(In private conversation after this was all over, the Coroner
showed me his reasons as a trained surgeon, for perceiving it to be
impossible that the child could, under the most favourable
circumstances, have drawn many breaths, in the very doubtful case
of its having ever breathed at all; this, owing to the discovery of
some foreign matter in the windpipe, quite irreconcilable with many
moments of life.)
When the agonised girl had made those final protestations, I had
seen her face, and it was in unison with her distracted heartbroken
voice, and it was very moving. It certainly did not impress me by
any beauty that it had, and if I ever see it again in another world
I shall only know it by the help of some new sense or intelligence.
But it came to me in my sleep that night, and I selfishly dismissed
it in the most efficient way I could think of. I caused some extra
care to be taken of her in the prison, and counsel to be retained
for her defence when she was tried at the Old Bailey; and her
sentence was lenient, and her history and conduct proved that it
was right. In doing the little I did for her, I remember to have
had the kind help of some gentle-hearted functionary to whom I
addressed myself - but what functionary I have long forgotten - who
I suppose was officially present at the Inquest.
I regard this as a very notable uncommercial experience, because
this good came of a Beadle. And to the best of my knowledge,
information, and belief, it is the only good that ever did come of
a Beadle since the first Beadle put on his cocked-hat.
It came into my mind that I would recall in these notes a few of
the many hostelries I have rested at in the course of my journeys;
and, indeed, I had taken up my pen for the purpose, when I was
baffled by an accidental circumstance. It was the having to leave
off, to wish the owner of a certain bright face that looked in at
my door, 'many happy returns of the day.' Thereupon a new thought
came into my mind, driving its predecessor out, and I began to
recall - instead of Inns - the birthdays that I have put up at, on
my way to this present sheet of paper.
I can very well remember being taken out to visit some peach-faced
creature in a blue sash, and shoes to correspond, whose life I
supposed to consist entirely of birthdays. Upon seed-cake, sweet
wine, and shining presents, that glorified young person seemed to
me to be exclusively reared. At so early a stage of my travels did
I assist at the anniversary of her nativity (and become enamoured
of her), that I had not yet acquired the recondite knowledge that a
birthday is the common property of all who are born, but supposed
it to be a special gift bestowed by the favouring Heavens on that
one distinguished infant. There was no other company, and we sat
in a shady bower - under a table, as my better (or worse) knowledge
leads me to believe - and were regaled with saccharine substances
and liquids, until it was time to part. A bitter powder was
administered to me next morning, and I was wretched. On the whole,
a pretty accurate foreshadowing of my more mature experiences in
such wise!
Then came the time when, inseparable from one's own birthday, was a
certain sense of merit, a consciousness of well-earned distinction.
When I regarded my birthday as a graceful achievement of my own, a
monument of my perseverance, independence, and good sense,
redounding greatly to my honour. This was at about the period when
Olympia Squires became involved in the anniversary. Olympia was
most beautiful (of course), and I loved her to that degree, that I
used to be obliged to get out of my little bed in the night,
expressly to exclaim to Solitude, 'O, Olympia Squires!' Visions of
Olympia, clothed entirely in sage-green, from which I infer a
defectively educated taste on the part of her respected parents,
who were necessarily unacquainted with the South Kensington Museum,
still arise before me. Truth is sacred, and the visions are
crowned by a shining white beaver bonnet, impossibly suggestive of
a little feminine postboy. My memory presents a birthday when
Olympia and I were taken by an unfeeling relative - some cruel
uncle, or the like - to a slow torture called an Orrery. The
terrible instrument was set up at the local Theatre, and I had
expressed a profane wish in the morning that it was a Play: for
which a serious aunt had probed my conscience deep, and my pocket
deeper, by reclaiming a bestowed half-crown. It was a venerable
and a shabby Orrery, at least one thousand stars and twenty-five
comets behind the age. Nevertheless, it was awful. When the lowspirited
gentleman with a wand said, 'Ladies and gentlemen'
(meaning particularly Olympia and me), 'the lights are about to be
put out, but there is not the slightest cause for alarm,' it was
very alarming. Then the planets and stars began. Sometimes they
wouldn't come on, sometimes they wouldn't go off, sometimes they
had holes in them, and mostly they didn't seem to be good
likenesses. All this time the gentleman with the wand was going on
in the dark (tapping away at the heavenly bodies between whiles,
like a wearisome woodpecker), about a sphere revolving on its own
axis eight hundred and ninety-seven thousand millions of times - or
miles - in two hundred and sixty-three thousand five hundred and
twenty-four millions of something elses, until I thought if this
was a birthday it were better never to have been born. Olympia,
also, became much depressed, and we both slumbered and woke cross,
and still the gentleman was going on in the dark - whether up in
the stars, or down on the stage, it would have been hard to make
out, if it had been worth trying - cyphering away about planes of
orbits, to such an infamous extent that Olympia, stung to madness,
actually kicked me. A pretty birthday spectacle, when the lights
were turned up again, and all the schools in the town (including
the National, who had come in for nothing, and serve them right,
for they were always throwing stones) were discovered with
exhausted countenances, screwing their knuckles into their eyes, or
clutching their heads of hair. A pretty birthday speech when Dr.
Sleek of the City-Free bobbed up his powdered head in the stagebox,
and said that before this assembly dispersed he really must
beg to express his entire approval of a lecture as improving, as
informing, as devoid of anything that could call a blush into the
cheek of youth, as any it had ever been his lot to hear delivered.
A pretty birthday altogether, when Astronomy couldn't leave poor
Small Olympia Squires and me alone, but must put an end to our
loves! For, we never got over it; the threadbare Orrery outwore
our mutual tenderness; the man with the wand was too much for the
boy with the bow.
When shall I disconnect the combined smells of oranges, brown
paper, and straw, from those other birthdays at school, when the
coming hamper casts its shadow before, and when a week of social
harmony - shall I add of admiring and affectionate popularity - led
up to that Institution? What noble sentiments were expressed to me
in the days before the hamper, what vows of friendship were sworn
to me, what exceedingly old knives were given me, what generous
avowals of having been in the wrong emanated from else obstinate
spirits once enrolled among my enemies! The birthday of the potted
game and guava jelly, is still made special to me by the noble
conduct of Bully Globson. Letters from home had mysteriously
inquired whether I should be much surprised and disappointed if
among the treasures in the coming hamper I discovered potted game,
and guava jelly from the Western Indies. I had mentioned those
hints in confidence to a few friends, and had promised to give
away, as I now see reason to believe, a handsome covey of
partridges potted, and about a hundredweight of guava jelly. It
was now that Globson, Bully no more, sought me out in the
playground. He was a big fat boy, with a big fat head and a big
fat fist, and at the beginning of that Half had raised such a bump
on my forehead that I couldn't get my hat of state on, to go to
church. He said that after an interval of cool reflection (four
months) he now felt this blow to have been an error of judgment,
and that he wished to apologise for the same. Not only that, but
holding down his big head between his two big hands in order that I
might reach it conveniently, he requested me, as an act of justice
which would appease his awakened conscience, to raise a retributive
bump upon it, in the presence of witnesses. This handsome proposal
I modestly declined, and he then embraced me, and we walked away
conversing. We conversed respecting the West India Islands, and,
in the pursuit of knowledge he asked me with much interest whether
in the course of my reading I had met with any reliable description
of the mode of manufacturing guava jelly; or whether I had ever
happened to taste that conserve, which he had been given to
understand was of rare excellence.
Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty; and then with the waning
months came an ever augmenting sense of the dignity of twenty-one.
Heaven knows I had nothing to 'come into,' save the bare birthday,
and yet I esteemed it as a great possession. I now and then paved
the way to my state of dignity, by beginning a proposition with the
casual words, 'say that a man of twenty-one,' or by the incidental
assumption of a fact that could not sanely be disputed, as, 'for
when a fellow comes to be a man of twenty-one.' I gave a party on
the occasion. She was there. It is unnecessary to name Her, more
particularly; She was older than I, and had pervaded every chink
and crevice of my mind for three or four years. I had held volumes
of Imaginary Conversations with her mother on the subject of our
union, and I had written letters more in number than Horace
Walpole's, to that discreet woman, soliciting her daughter's hand
in marriage. I had never had the remotest intention of sending any
of those letters; but to write them, and after a few days tear them
up, had been a sublime occupation. Sometimes, I had begun
'Honoured Madam. I think that a lady gifted with those powers of
observation which I know you to possess, and endowed with those
womanly sympathies with the young and ardent which it were more
than heresy to doubt, can scarcely have failed to discover that I
love your adorable daughter, deeply, devotedly.' In less buoyant
states of mind I had begun, 'Bear with me, Dear Madam, bear with a
daring wretch who is about to make a surprising confession to you,
wholly unanticipated by yourself, and which he beseeches you to
commit to the flames as soon as you have become aware to what a
towering height his mad ambition soars.' At other times - periods
of profound mental depression, when She had gone out to balls where
I was not - the draft took the affecting form of a paper to be left
on my table after my departure to the confines of the globe. As
thus: 'For Mrs. Onowenever, these lines when the hand that traces
them shall be far away. I could not bear the daily torture of
hopelessly loving the dear one whom I will not name. Broiling on
the coast of Africa, or congealing on the shores of Greenland, I am
far far better there than here.' (In this sentiment my cooler
judgment perceives that the family of the beloved object would have
most completely concurred.) 'If I ever emerge from obscurity, and
my name is ever heralded by Fame, it will be for her dear sake. If
I ever amass Gold, it will be to pour it at her feet. Should I on
the other hand become the prey of Ravens - ' I doubt if I ever
quite made up my mind what was to be done in that affecting case; I
tried 'then it is better so;' but not feeling convinced that it
would be better so, I vacillated between leaving all else blank,
which looked expressive and bleak, or winding up with 'Farewell!'
This fictitious correspondence of mine is to blame for the
foregoing digression. I was about to pursue the statement that on
my twenty-first birthday I gave a party, and She was there. It was
a beautiful party. There was not a single animate or inanimate
object connected with it (except the company and myself) that I had
ever seen before. Everything was hired, and the mercenaries in
attendance were profound strangers to me. Behind a door, in the
crumby part of the night when wine-glasses were to be found in
unexpected spots, I spoke to Her - spoke out to Her. What passed,
I cannot as a man of honour reveal. She was all angelical
gentleness, but a word was mentioned - a short and dreadful word of
three letters, beginning with a B- which, as I remarked at the
moment, 'scorched my brain.' She went away soon afterwards, and
when the hollow throng (though to be sure it was no fault of
theirs) dispersed, I issued forth, with a dissipated scorner, and,
as I mentioned expressly to him, 'sought oblivion.' It was found,
with a dreadful headache in it, but it didn't last; for, in the
shaming light of next day's noon, I raised my heavy head in bed,
looking back to the birthdays behind me, and tracking the circle by
which I had got round, after all, to the bitter powder and the
wretchedness again.
This reactionary powder (taken so largely by the human race I am
inclined to regard it as the Universal Medicine once sought for in
Laboratories) is capable of being made up in another form for
birthday use. Anybody's long-lost brother will do ill to turn up
on a birthday. If I had a long-lost brother I should know
beforehand that he would prove a tremendous fraternal failure if he
appointed to rush into my arms on my birthday. The first Magic
Lantern I ever saw, was secretly and elaborately planned to be the
great effect of a very juvenile birthday; but it wouldn't act, and
its images were dim. My experience of adult birthday Magic
Lanterns may possibly have been unfortunate, but has certainly been
similar. I have an illustrative birthday in my eye: a birthday of
my friend Flipfield, whose birthdays had long been remarkable as
social successes. There had been nothing set or formal about them;
Flipfield having been accustomed merely to say, two or three days
before, 'Don't forget to come and dine, old boy, according to
custom;' - I don't know what he said to the ladies he invited, but
I may safely assume it NOT to have been 'old girl.' Those were
delightful gatherings, and were enjoyed by all participators. In
an evil hour, a long-lost brother of Flipfield's came to light in
foreign parts. Where he had been hidden, or what he had been
doing, I don't know, for Flipfield vaguely informed me that he had
turned up 'on the banks of the Ganges' - speaking of him as if he
had been washed ashore. The Long-lost was coming home, and
Flipfield made an unfortunate calculation, based on the well-known
regularity of the P. and O. Steamers, that matters might be so
contrived as that the Long-lost should appear in the nick of time
on his (Flipfield's) birthday. Delicacy commanded that I should
repress the gloomy anticipations with which my soul became fraught
when I heard of this plan. The fatal day arrived, and we assembled
in force. Mrs. Flipfield senior formed an interesting feature in
the group, with a blue-veined miniature of the late Mr. Flipfield
round her neck, in an oval, resembling a tart from the
pastrycook's: his hair powdered, and the bright buttons on his
coat, evidently very like. She was accompanied by Miss Flipfield,
the eldest of her numerous family, who held her pocket-handkerchief
to her bosom in a majestic manner, and spoke to all of us (none of
us had ever seen her before), in pious and condoning tones, of all
the quarrels that had taken place in the family, from her infancy -
which must have been a long time ago - down to that hour. The
Long-lost did not appear. Dinner, half an hour later than usual,
was announced, and still no Long-lost. We sat down to table. The
knife and fork of the Long-lost made a vacuum in Nature, and when
the champagne came round for the first time, Flipfield gave him up
for the day, and had them removed. It was then that the Long-lost
gained the height of his popularity with the company; for my own
part, I felt convinced that I loved him dearly. Flipfield's
dinners are perfect, and he is the easiest and best of
entertainers. Dinner went on brilliantly, and the more the Longlost
didn't come, the more comfortable we grew, and the more highly
we thought of him. Flipfield's own man (who has a regard for me)
was in the act of struggling with an ignorant stipendiary, to wrest
from him the wooden leg of a Guinea-fowl which he was pressing on
my acceptance, and to substitute a slice of the breast, when a
ringing at the door-bell suspended the strife. I looked round me,
and perceived the sudden pallor which I knew my own visage
revealed, reflected in the faces of the company. Flipfield
hurriedly excused himself, went out, was absent for about a minute
or two, and then re-entered with the Long-lost.
I beg to say distinctly that if the stranger had brought Mont Blanc
with him, or had come attended by a retinue of eternal snows, he
could not have chilled the circle to the marrow in a more efficient
manner. Embodied Failure sat enthroned upon the Long-lost's brow,
and pervaded him to his Long-lost boots. In vain Mrs. Flipfield
senior, opening her arms, exclaimed, 'My Tom!' and pressed his nose
against the counterfeit presentment of his other parent. In vain
Miss Flipfield, in the first transports of this re-union, showed
him a dint upon her maidenly cheek, and asked him if he remembered
when he did that with the bellows? We, the bystanders, were
overcome, but overcome by the palpable, undisguisable, utter, and
total break-down of the Long-lost. Nothing he could have done
would have set him right with us but his instant return to the
Ganges. In the very same moments it became established that the
feeling was reciprocal, and that the Long-lost detested us. When a
friend of the family (not myself, upon my honour), wishing to set
things going again, asked him, while he partook of soup - asked him
with an amiability of intention beyond all praise, but with a
weakness of execution open to defeat - what kind of river he
considered the Ganges, the Long-lost, scowling at the friend of the
family over his spoon, as one of an abhorrent race, replied, 'Why,
a river of water, I suppose,' and spooned his soup into himself
with a malignancy of hand and eye that blighted the amiable
questioner. Not an opinion could be elicited from the Long-lost,
in unison with the sentiments of any individual present. He
contradicted Flipfield dead, before he had eaten his salmon. He
had no idea - or affected to have no idea - that it was his
brother's birthday, and on the communication of that interesting
fact to him, merely wanted to make him out four years older than he
was. He was an antipathetical being, with a peculiar power and
gift of treading on everybody's tenderest place. They talk in
America of a man's 'Platform.' I should describe the Platform of
the Long-lost as a Platform composed of other people's corns, on
which he had stumped his way, with all his might and main, to his
present position. It is needless to add that Flipfield's great
birthday went by the board, and that he was a wreck when I
pretended at parting to wish him many happy returns of it.
There is another class of birthdays at which I have so frequently
assisted, that I may assume such birthdays to be pretty well known
to the human race. My friend Mayday's birthday is an example. The
guests have no knowledge of one another except on that one day in
the year, and are annually terrified for a week by the prospect of
meeting one another again. There is a fiction among us that we
have uncommon reasons for being particularly lively and spirited on
the occasion, whereas deep despondency is no phrase for the
expression of our feelings. But the wonderful feature of the case
is, that we are in tacit accordance to avoid the subject - to keep
it as far off as possible, as long as possible - and to talk about
anything else, rather than the joyful event. I may even go so far
as to assert that there is a dumb compact among us that we will
pretend that it is NOT Mayday's birthday. A mysterious and gloomy
Being, who is said to have gone to school with Mayday, and who is
so lank and lean that he seriously impugns the Dietary of the
establishment at which they were jointly educated, always leads us,
as I may say, to the block, by laying his grisly hand on a decanter
and begging us to fill our glasses. The devices and pretences that
I have seen put in practice to defer the fatal moment, and to
interpose between this man and his purpose, are innumerable. I
have known desperate guests, when they saw the grisly hand
approaching the decanter, wildly to begin, without any antecedent
whatsoever, 'That reminds me - ' and to plunge into long stories.
When at last the hand and the decanter come together, a shudder, a
palpable perceptible shudder, goes round the table. We receive the
reminder that it is Mayday's birthday, as if it were the
anniversary of some profound disgrace he had undergone, and we
sought to comfort him. And when we have drunk Mayday's health, and
wished him many happy returns, we are seized for some moments with
a ghastly blitheness, an unnatural levity, as if we were in the
first flushed reaction of having undergone a surgical operation.
Birthdays of this species have a public as well as a private phase.
My 'boyhood's home,' Dullborough, presents a case in point. An
Immortal Somebody was wanted in Dullborough, to dimple for a day
the stagnant face of the waters; he was rather wanted by
Dullborough generally, and much wanted by the principal hotelkeeper.
The County history was looked up for a locally Immortal
Somebody, but the registered Dullborough worthies were all
Nobodies. In this state of things, it is hardly necessary to
record that Dullborough did what every man does when he wants to
write a book or deliver a lecture, and is provided with all the
materials except a subject. It fell back upon Shakespeare.
No sooner was it resolved to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday in
Dullborough, than the popularity of the immortal bard became
surprising. You might have supposed the first edition of his works
to have been published last week, and enthusiastic Dullborough to
have got half through them. (I doubt, by the way, whether it had
ever done half that, but that is a private opinion.) A young
gentleman with a sonnet, the retention of which for two years had
enfeebled his mind and undermined his knees, got the sonnet into
the Dullborough Warden, and gained flesh. Portraits of Shakespeare
broke out in the bookshop windows, and our principal artist painted
a large original portrait in oils for the decoration of the diningroom.
It was not in the least like any of the other Portraits, and
was exceedingly admired, the head being much swollen. At the
Institution, the Debating Society discussed the new question, Was
there sufficient ground for supposing that the Immortal Shakespeare
ever stole deer? This was indignantly decided by an overwhelming
majority in the negative; indeed, there was but one vote on the
Poaching side, and that was the vote of the orator who had
undertaken to advocate it, and who became quite an obnoxious
character - particularly to the Dullborough 'roughs,' who were
about as well informed on the matter as most other people.
Distinguished speakers were invited down, and very nearly came (but
not quite). Subscriptions were opened, and committees sat, and it
would have been far from a popular measure in the height of the
excitement, to have told Dullborough that it wasn't Stratford-upon-
Avon. Yet, after all these preparations, when the great festivity
took place, and the portrait, elevated aloft, surveyed the company
as if it were in danger of springing a mine of intellect and
blowing itself up, it did undoubtedly happen, according to the
inscrutable mysteries of things, that nobody could be induced, not
to say to touch upon Shakespeare, but to come within a mile of him,
until the crack speaker of Dullborough rose to propose the immortal
memory. Which he did with the perplexing and astonishing result
that before he had repeated the great name half-a-dozen times, or
had been upon his legs as many minutes, he was assailed with a
general shout of 'Question.'
'Within so many yards of this Covent-garden lodging of mine, as
within so many yards of Westminster Abbey, Saint Paul's Cathedral,
the Houses of Parliament, the Prisons, the Courts of Justice, all
the Institutions that govern the land, I can find - MUST find,
whether I will or no - in the open streets, shameful instances of
neglect of children, intolerable toleration of the engenderment of
paupers, idlers, thieves, races of wretched and destructive
cripples both in body and mind, a misery to themselves, a misery to
the community, a disgrace to civilisation, and an outrage on
Christianity. - I know it to be a fact as easy of demonstration as
any sum in any of the elementary rules of arithmetic, that if the
State would begin its work and duty at the beginning, and would
with the strong hand take those children out of the streets, while
they are yet children, and wisely train them, it would make them a
part of England's glory, not its shame - of England's strength, not
its weakness - would raise good soldiers and sailors, and good
citizens, and many great men, out of the seeds of its criminal
population. Yet I go on bearing with the enormity as if it were
nothing, and I go on reading the Parliamentary Debates as if they
were something, and I concern myself far more about one railwaybridge
across a public thoroughfare, than about a dozen generations
of scrofula, ignorance, wickedness, prostitution, poverty, and
felony. I can slip out at my door, in the small hours after any
midnight, and, in one circuit of the purlieus of Covent-garden
Market, can behold a state of infancy and youth, as vile as if a
Bourbon sat upon the English throne; a great police force looking
on with authority to do no more than worry and hunt the dreadful
vermin into corners, and there leave them. Within the length of a
few streets I can find a workhouse, mismanaged with that dull
short-sighted obstinacy that its greatest opportunities as to the
children it receives are lost, and yet not a farthing saved to any
one. But the wheel goes round, and round, and round; and because
it goes round - so I am told by the politest authorities - it goes
Thus I reflected, one day in the Whitsun week last past, as I
floated down the Thames among the bridges, looking - not
inappropriately - at the drags that were hanging up at certain
dirty stairs to hook the drowned out, and at the numerous
conveniences provided to facilitate their tumbling in. My object
in that uncommercial journey called up another train of thought,
and it ran as follows:
'When I was at school, one of seventy boys, I wonder by what secret
understanding our attention began to wander when we had pored over
our books for some hours. I wonder by what ingenuity we brought on
that confused state of mind when sense became nonsense, when
figures wouldn't work, when dead languages wouldn't construe, when
live languages wouldn't be spoken, when memory wouldn't come, when
dulness and vacancy wouldn't go. I cannot remember that we ever
conspired to be sleepy after dinner, or that we ever particularly
wanted to be stupid, and to have flushed faces and hot beating
heads, or to find blank hopelessness and obscurity this afternoon
in what would become perfectly clear and bright in the freshness of
to-morrow morning. We suffered for these things, and they made us
miserable enough. Neither do I remember that we ever bound
ourselves by any secret oath or other solemn obligation, to find
the seats getting too hard to be sat upon after a certain time; or
to have intolerable twitches in our legs, rendering us aggressive
and malicious with those members; or to be troubled with a similar
uneasiness in our elbows, attended with fistic consequences to our
neighbours; or to carry two pounds of lead in the chest, four
pounds in the head, and several active blue-bottles in each ear.
Yet, for certain, we suffered under those distresses, and were
always charged at for labouring under them, as if we had brought
them on, of our own deliberate act and deed. As to the mental
portion of them being my own fault in my own case - I should like
to ask any well-trained and experienced teacher, not to say
psychologist. And as to the physical portion - I should like to
It happened that I had a small bundle of papers with me, on what is
called 'The Half-Time System' in schools. Referring to one of
those papers I found that the indefatigable MR. CHADWICK had been
beforehand with me, and had already asked Professor Owen: who had
handsomely replied that I was not to blame, but that, being
troubled with a skeleton, and having been constituted according to
certain natural laws, I and my skeleton were unfortunately bound by
those laws even in school - and had comported ourselves
accordingly. Much comforted by the good Professor's being on my
side, I read on to discover whether the indefatigable Mr. Chadwick
had taken up the mental part of my afflictions. I found that he
had, and that he had gained on my behalf, SIR BENJAMIN BRODIE, SIR
DAVID WILKIE, SIR WALTER SCOTT, and the common sense of mankind.
For which I beg Mr. Chadwick, if this should meet his eye, to
accept my warm acknowledgments.
Up to that time I had retained a misgiving that the seventy
unfortunates of whom I was one, must have been, without knowing it,
leagued together by the spirit of evil in a sort of perpetual Guy
Fawkes Plot, to grope about in vaults with dark lanterns after a
certain period of continuous study. But now the misgiving
vanished, and I floated on with a quieted mind to see the Half-Time
System in action. For that was the purpose of my journey, both by
steamboat on the Thames, and by very dirty railway on the shore.
To which last institution, I beg to recommend the legal use of coke
as engine-fuel, rather than the illegal use of coal; the
recommendation is quite disinterested, for I was most liberally
supplied with small coal on the journey, for which no charge was
made. I had not only my eyes, nose, and ears filled, but my hat,
and all my pockets, and my pocket-book, and my watch.
The V.D.S.C.R.C. (or Very Dirty and Small Coal Railway Company)
delivered me close to my destination, and I soon found the Half-
Time System established in spacious premises, and freely placed at
my convenience and disposal.
What would I see first of the Half-Time System? I chose Military
Drill. 'Atten-tion!' Instantly a hundred boys stood forth in the
paved yard as one boy; bright, quick, eager, steady, watchful for
the look of command, instant and ready for the word. Not only was
there complete precision - complete accord to the eye and to the
ear - but an alertness in the doing of the thing which deprived it,
curiously, of its monotonous or mechanical character. There was
perfect uniformity, and yet an individual spirit and emulation. No
spectator could doubt that the boys liked it. With noncommissioned
officers varying from a yard to a yard and a half
high, the result could not possibly have been attained otherwise.
They marched, and counter-marched, and formed in line and square,
and company, and single file and double file, and performed a
variety of evolutions; all most admirably. In respect of an air of
enjoyable understanding of what they were about, which seems to be
forbidden to English soldiers, the boys might have been small
French troops. When they were dismissed and the broadsword
exercise, limited to a much smaller number, succeeded, the boys who
had no part in that new drill, either looked on attentively, or
disported themselves in a gymnasium hard by. The steadiness of the
broadsword boys on their short legs, and the firmness with which
they sustained the different positions, was truly remarkable.
The broadsword exercise over, suddenly there was great excitement
and a rush. Naval Drill!
In the corner of the ground stood a decked mimic ship, with real
masts, yards, and sails - mainmast seventy feet high. At the word
of command from the Skipper of this ship - a mahogany-faced Old
Salt, with the indispensable quid in his cheek, the true nautical
roll, and all wonderfully complete - the rigging was covered with a
swarm of boys: one, the first to spring into the shrouds,
outstripping all the others, and resting on the truck of the maintopmast
in no time.
And now we stood out to sea, in a most amazing manner; the Skipper
himself, the whole crew, the Uncommercial, and all hands present,
implicitly believing that there was not a moment to lose, that the
wind had that instant chopped round and sprung up fair, and that we
were away on a voyage round the world. Get all sail upon her!
With a will, my lads! Lay out upon the main-yard there! Look
alive at the weather earring! Cheery, my boys! Let go the sheet,
now! Stand by at the braces, you! With a will, aloft there!
Belay, starboard watch! Fifer! Come aft, fifer, and give 'em a
tune! Forthwith, springs up fifer, fife in hand - smallest boy
ever seen - big lump on temple, having lately fallen down on a
paving-stone - gives 'em a tune with all his might and main. Hooroar,
fifer! With a will, my lads! Tip 'em a livelier one, fifer!
Fifer tips 'em a livelier one, and excitement increases. Shake 'em
out, my lads! Well done! There you have her! Pretty, pretty!
Every rag upon her she can carry, wind right astarn, and ship
cutting through the water fifteen knots an hour!
At this favourable moment of her voyage, I gave the alarm 'A man
overboard!' (on the gravel), but he was immediately recovered, none
the worse. Presently, I observed the Skipper overboard, but
forbore to mention it, as he seemed in no wise disconcerted by the
accident. Indeed, I soon came to regard the Skipper as an
amphibious creature, for he was so perpetually plunging overboard
to look up at the hands aloft, that he was oftener in the bosom of
the ocean than on deck. His pride in his crew on those occasions
was delightful, and the conventional unintelligibility of his
orders in the ears of uncommercial landlubbers and loblolly boys,
though they were always intelligible to the crew, was hardly less
pleasant. But we couldn't expect to go on in this way for ever;
dirty weather came on, and then worse weather, and when we least
expected it we got into tremendous difficulties. Screw loose in
the chart perhaps - something certainly wrong somewhere - but here
we were with breakers ahead, my lads, driving head on, slap on a
lee shore! The Skipper broached this terrific announcement in such
great agitation, that the small fifer, not fifeing now, but
standing looking on near the wheel with his fife under his arm,
seemed for the moment quite unboyed, though he speedily recovered
his presence of mind. In the trying circumstances that ensued, the
Skipper and the crew proved worthy of one another. The Skipper got
dreadfully hoarse, but otherwise was master of the situation. The
man at the wheel did wonders; all hands (except the fifer) were
turned up to wear ship; and I observed the fifer, when we were at
our greatest extremity, to refer to some document in his waistcoatpocket,
which I conceived to be his will. I think she struck. I
was not myself conscious of any collision, but I saw the Skipper so
very often washed overboard and back again, that I could only
impute it to the beating of the ship. I am not enough of a seaman
to describe the manoeuvres by which we were saved, but they made
the Skipper very hot (French polishing his mahogany face) and the
crew very nimble, and succeeded to a marvel; for, within a few
minutes of the first alarm, we had wore ship and got her off, and
were all a-tauto - which I felt very grateful for: not that I knew
what it was, but that I perceived that we had not been all a-tauto
lately. Land now appeared on our weather-bow, and we shaped our
course for it, having the wind abeam, and frequently changing the
man at the helm, in order that every man might have his spell. We
worked into harbour under prosperous circumstances, and furled our
sails, and squared our yards, and made all ship-shape and handsome,
and so our voyage ended. When I complimented the Skipper at
parting on his exertions and those of his gallant crew, he informed
me that the latter were provided for the worst, all hands being
taught to swim and dive; and he added that the able seaman at the
main-topmast truck especially, could dive as deep as he could go
The next adventure that befell me in my visit to the Short-Timers,
was the sudden apparition of a military band. I had been
inspecting the hammocks of the crew of the good ship, when I saw
with astonishment that several musical instruments, brazen and of
great size, appeared to have suddenly developed two legs each, and
to be trotting about a yard. And my astonishment was heightened
when I observed a large drum, that had previously been leaning
helpless against a wall, taking up a stout position on four legs.
Approaching this drum and looking over it, I found two boys behind
it (it was too much for one), and then I found that each of the
brazen instruments had brought out a boy, and was going to
discourse sweet sounds. The boys - not omitting the fifer, now
playing a new instrument - were dressed in neat uniform, and stood
up in a circle at their music-stands, like any other Military Band.
They played a march or two, and then we had Cheer boys, Cheer, and
then we had Yankee Doodle, and we finished, as in loyal duty bound,
with God save the Queen. The band's proficiency was perfectly
wonderful, and it was not at all wonderful that the whole body
corporate of Short-Timers listened with faces of the liveliest
interest and pleasure.
What happened next among the Short-Timers? As if the band had
blown me into a great class-room out of their brazen tubes, IN a
great class-room I found myself now, with the whole choral force of
Short-Timers singing the praises of a summer's day to the
harmonium, and my small but highly respected friend the fifer
blazing away vocally, as if he had been saving up his wind for the
last twelvemonth; also the whole crew of the good ship Nameless
swarming up and down the scale as if they had never swarmed up and
down the rigging. This done, we threw our whole power into God
bless the Prince of Wales, and blessed his Royal Highness to such
an extent that, for my own Uncommercial part, I gasped again when
it was over. The moment this was done, we formed, with surpassing
freshness, into hollow squares, and fell to work at oral lessons as
if we never did, and had never thought of doing, anything else.
Let a veil be drawn over the self-committals into which the
Uncommercial Traveller would have been betrayed but for a discreet
reticence, coupled with an air of absolute wisdom on the part of
that artful personage. Take the square of five, multiply it by
fifteen, divide it by three, deduct eight from it, add four dozen
to it, give me the result in pence, and tell me how many eggs I
could get for it at three farthings apiece. The problem is hardly
stated, when a dozen small boys pour out answers. Some wide, some
very nearly right, some worked as far as they go with such
accuracy, as at once to show what link of the chain has been
dropped in the hurry. For the moment, none are quite right; but
behold a labouring spirit beating the buttons on its corporeal
waistcoat, in a process of internal calculation, and knitting an
accidental bump on its corporeal forehead in a concentration of
mental arithmetic! It is my honourable friend (if he will allow me
to call him so) the fifer. With right arm eagerly extended in
token of being inspired with an answer, and with right leg
foremost, the fifer solves the mystery: then recalls both arm and
leg, and with bump in ambush awaits the next poser. Take the
square of three, multiply it by seven, divide it by four, add fifty
to it, take thirteen from it, multiply it by two, double it, give
me the result in pence, and say how many halfpence. Wise as the
serpent is the four feet of performer on the nearest approach to
that instrument, whose right arm instantly appears, and quenches
this arithmetical fire. Tell me something about Great Britain,
tell me something about its principal productions, tell me
something about its ports, tell me something about its seas and
rivers, tell me something about coal, iron, cotton, timber, tin,
and turpentine. The hollow square bristles with extended right
arms; but ever faithful to fact is the fifer, ever wise as the
serpent is the performer on that instrument, ever prominently
buoyant and brilliant are all members of the band. I observe the
player of the cymbals to dash at a sounding answer now and then
rather than not cut in at all; but I take that to be in the way of
his instrument. All these questions, and many such, are put on the
spur of the moment, and by one who has never examined these boys.
The Uncommercial, invited to add another, falteringly demands how
many birthdays a man born on the twenty-ninth of February will have
had on completing his fiftieth year? A general perception of trap
and pitfall instantly arises, and the fifer is seen to retire
behind the corduroys of his next neighbours, as perceiving special
necessity for collecting himself and communing with his mind.
Meanwhile, the wisdom of the serpent suggests that the man will
have had only one birthday in all that time, for how can any man
have more than one, seeing that he is born once and dies once? The
blushing Uncommercial stands corrected, and amends the formula.
Pondering ensues, two or three wrong answers are offered, and
Cymbals strikes up 'Six!' but doesn't know why. Then modestly
emerging from his Academic Grove of corduroys appears the fifer,
right arm extended, right leg foremost, bump irradiated. 'Twelve,
and two over!'
The feminine Short-Timers passed a similar examination, and very
creditably too. Would have done better perhaps, with a little more
geniality on the part of their pupil-teacher; for a cold eye, my
young friend, and a hard, abrupt manner, are not by any means the
powerful engines that your innocence supposes them to be. Both
girls and boys wrote excellently, from copy and dictation; both
could cook; both could mend their own clothes; both could clean up
everything about them in an orderly and skilful way, the girls
having womanly household knowledge superadded. Order and method
began in the songs of the Infant School which I visited likewise,
and they were even in their dwarf degree to be found in the
Nursery, where the Uncommercial walking-stick was carried off with
acclamations, and where 'the Doctor' - a medical gentleman of two,
who took his degree on the night when he was found at an
apothecary's door - did the honours of the establishment with great
urbanity and gaiety.
These have long been excellent schools; long before the days of the
Short-Time. I first saw them, twelve or fifteen years ago. But
since the introduction of the Short-Time system it has been proved
here that eighteen hours a week of book-learning are more
profitable than thirty-six, and that the pupils are far quicker and
brighter than of yore. The good influences of music on the whole
body of children have likewise been surprisingly proved. Obviously
another of the immense advantages of the Short-Time system to the
cause of good education is the great diminution of its cost, and of
the period of time over which it extends. The last is a most
important consideration, as poor parents are always impatient to
profit by their children's labour.
It will be objected: Firstly, that this is all very well, but
special local advantages and special selection of children must be
necessary to such success. Secondly, that this is all very well,
but must be very expensive. Thirdly, that this is all very well,
but we have no proof of the results, sir, no proof.
On the first head of local advantages and special selection. Would
Limehouse Hole be picked out for the site of a Children's Paradise?
Or would the legitimate and illegitimate pauper children of the
long-shore population of such a riverside district, be regarded as
unusually favourable specimens to work with? Yet these schools are
at Limehouse, and are the Pauper Schools of the Stepney Pauper
On the second head of expense. Would sixpence a week be considered
a very large cost for the education of each pupil, including all
salaries of teachers and rations of teachers? But supposing the
cost were not sixpence a week, not fivepence? it is FOURPENCEHALFPENNY.
On the third head of no proof, sir, no proof. Is there any proof
in the facts that Pupil Teachers more in number, and more highly
qualified, have been produced here under the Short-Time system than
under the Long-Time system? That the Short-Timers, in a writing
competition, beat the Long-Timers of a first-class National School?
That the sailor-boys are in such demand for merchant ships, that
whereas, before they were trained, 10L. premium used to be given
with each boy - too often to some greedy brute of a drunken
skipper, who disappeared before the term of apprenticeship was out,
if the ill-used boy didn't - captains of the best character now
take these boys more than willingly, with no premium at all? That
they are also much esteemed in the Royal Navy, which they prefer,
'because everything is so neat and clean and orderly'? Or, is
there any proof in Naval captains writing 'Your little fellows are
all that I can desire'? Or, is there any proof in such testimony
as this: 'The owner of a vessel called at the school, and said
that as his ship was going down Channel on her last voyage, with
one of the boys from the school on board, the pilot said, "It would
be as well if the royal were lowered; I wish it were down."
Without waiting for any orders, and unobserved by the pilot, the
lad, whom they had taken on board from the school, instantly
mounted the mast and lowered the royal, and at the next glance of
the pilot to the masthead, he perceived that the sail had been let
down. He exclaimed, "Who's done that job?" The owner, who was on
board, said, "That was the little fellow whom I put on board two
days ago." The pilot immediately said, "Why, where could he have
been brought up?" The boy had never seen the sea or been on a real
ship before'? Or, is there any proof in these boys being in
greater demand for Regimental Bands than the Union can meet? Or,
in ninety-eight of them having gone into Regimental Bands in three
years? Or, in twelve of them being in the band of one regiment?
Or, in the colonel of that regiment writing, 'We want six more
boys; they are excellent lads'? Or, in one of the boys having
risen to be band-corporal in the same regiment? Or, in employers
of all kinds chorusing, 'Give us drilled boys, for they are prompt,
obedient, and punctual'? Other proofs I have myself beheld with
these Uncommercial eyes, though I do not regard myself as having a
right to relate in what social positions they have seen respected
men and women who were once pauper children of the Stepney Union.
Into what admirable soldiers others of these boys have the
capabilities for being turned, I need not point out. Many of them
are always ambitious of military service; and once upon a time when
an old boy came back to see the old place, a cavalry soldier all
complete, WITH HIS SPURS ON, such a yearning broke out to get into
cavalry regiments and wear those sublime appendages, that it was
one of the greatest excitements ever known in the school. The
girls make excellent domestic servants, and at certain periods come
back, a score or two at a time, to see the old building, and to
take tea with the old teachers, and to hear the old band, and to
see the old ship with her masts towering up above the neighbouring
roofs and chimneys. As to the physical health of these schools, it
is so exceptionally remarkable (simply because the sanitary
regulations are as good as the other educational arrangements),
that when Mr. TUFNELL, the Inspector, first stated it in a report,
he was supposed, in spite of his high character, to have been
betrayed into some extraordinary mistake or exaggeration. In the
moral health of these schools - where corporal punishment is
unknown - Truthfulness stands high. When the ship was first
erected, the boys were forbidden to go aloft, until the nets, which
are now always there, were stretched as a precaution against
accidents. Certain boys, in their eagerness, disobeyed the
injunction, got out of window in the early daylight, and climbed to
the masthead. One boy unfortunately fell, and was killed. There
was no clue to the others; but all the boys were assembled, and the
chairman of the Board addressed them. 'I promise nothing; you see
what a dreadful thing has happened; you know what a grave offence
it is that has led to such a consequence; I cannot say what will be
done with the offenders; but, boys, you have been trained here,
above all things, to respect the truth. I want the truth. Who are
the delinquents?' Instantly, the whole number of boys concerned,
separated from the rest, and stood out.
Now, the head and heart of that gentleman (it is needless to say, a
good head and a good heart) have been deeply interested in these
schools for many years, and are so still; and the establishment is
very fortunate in a most admirable master, and moreover the schools
of the Stepney Union cannot have got to be what they are, without
the Stepney Board of Guardians having been earnest and humane men
strongly imbued with a sense of their responsibility. But what one
set of men can do in this wise, another set of men can do; and this
is a noble example to all other Bodies and Unions, and a noble
example to the State. Followed, and enlarged upon by its
enforcement on bad parents, it would clear London streets of the
most terrible objects they smite the sight with - myriads of little
children who awfully reverse Our Saviour's words, and are not of
the Kingdom of Heaven, but of the Kingdom of Hell.
Clear the public streets of such shame, and the public conscience
of such reproach? Ah! Almost prophetic, surely, the child's
When will that be,
Say the bells of Step-ney!
Behold me on my way to an Emigrant Ship, on a hot morning early in
June. My road lies through that part of London generally known to
the initiated as 'Down by the Docks.' Down by the Docks, is home
to a good many people - to too many, if I may judge from the
overflow of local population in the streets - but my nose
insinuates that the number to whom it is Sweet Home might be easily
counted. Down by the Docks, is a region I would choose as my point
of embarkation aboard ship if I were an emigrant. It would present
my intention to me in such a sensible light; it would show me so
many things to be run away from.
Down by the Docks, they eat the largest oysters and scatter the
roughest oyster-shells, known to the descendants of Saint George
and the Dragon. Down by the Docks, they consume the slimiest of
shell-fish, which seem to have been scraped off the copper bottoms
of ships. Down by the Docks, the vegetables at green-grocers'
doors acquire a saline and a scaly look, as if they had been
crossed with fish and seaweed. Down by the Docks, they 'board
seamen' at the eating-houses, the public-houses, the slop-shops,
the coffee-shops, the tally-shops, all kinds of shops mentionable
and unmentionable - board them, as it were, in the piratical sense,
making them bleed terribly, and giving no quarter. Down by the
Docks, the seamen roam in mid-street and mid-day, their pockets
inside out, and their heads no better. Down by the Docks, the
daughters of wave-ruling Britannia also rove, clad in silken
attire, with uncovered tresses streaming in the breeze, bandanna
kerchiefs floating from their shoulders, and crinoline not wanting.
Down by the Docks, you may hear the Incomparable Joe Jackson sing
the Standard of England, with a hornpipe, any night; or any day may
see at the waxwork, for a penny and no waiting, him as killed the
policeman at Acton and suffered for it. Down by the Docks, you may
buy polonies, saveloys, and sausage preparations various, if you
are not particular what they are made of besides seasoning. Down
by the Docks, the children of Israel creep into any gloomy cribs
and entries they can hire, and hang slops there - pewter watches,
sou'-wester hats, waterproof overalls - 'firtht rate articleth,
Thjack.' Down by the Docks, such dealers exhibiting on a frame a
complete nautical suit without the refinement of a waxen visage in
the hat, present the imaginary wearer as drooping at the yard-arm,
with his seafaring and earthfaring troubles over. Down by the
Docks, the placards in the shops apostrophise the customer, knowing
him familiarly beforehand, as, 'Look here, Jack!' 'Here's your
sort, my lad!' 'Try our sea-going mixed, at two and nine!' 'The
right kit for the British tar!' 'Ship ahoy!' 'Splice the mainbrace,
brother!' 'Come, cheer up, my lads. We've the best liquors
here, And you'll find something new In our wonderful Beer!' Down
by the Docks, the pawnbroker lends money on Union-Jack pockethandkerchiefs,
on watches with little ships pitching fore and aft
on the dial, on telescopes, nautical instruments in cases, and
such-like. Down by the Docks, the apothecary sets up in business
on the wretchedest scale - chiefly on lint and plaster for the
strapping of wounds - and with no bright bottles, and with no
little drawers. Down by the Docks, the shabby undertaker's shop
will bury you for next to nothing, after the Malay or Chinaman has
stabbed you for nothing at all: so you can hardly hope to make a
cheaper end. Down by the Docks, anybody drunk will quarrel with
anybody drunk or sober, and everybody else will have a hand in it,
and on the shortest notice you may revolve in a whirlpool of red
shirts, shaggy beards, wild heads of hair, bare tattooed arms,
Britannia's daughters, malice, mud, maundering, and madness. Down
by the Docks, scraping fiddles go in the public-houses all day
long, and, shrill above their din and all the din, rises the
screeching of innumerable parrots brought from foreign parts, who
appear to be very much astonished by what they find on these native
shores of ours. Possibly the parrots don't know, possibly they do,
that Down by the Docks is the road to the Pacific Ocean, with its
lovely islands, where the savage girls plait flowers, and the
savage boys carve cocoa-nut shells, and the grim blind idols muse
in their shady groves to exactly the same purpose as the priests
and chiefs. And possibly the parrots don't know, possibly they do,
that the noble savage is a wearisome impostor wherever he is, and
has five hundred thousand volumes of indifferent rhyme, and no
reason, to answer for.
Shadwell church! Pleasant whispers of there being a fresher air
down the river than down by the Docks, go pursuing one another,
playfully, in and out of the openings in its spire. Gigantic in
the basin just beyond the church, looms my Emigrant Ship: her
name, the Amazon. Her figure-head is not disfigured as those
beauteous founders of the race of strong-minded women are fabled to
have been, for the convenience of drawing the bow; but I sympathise
with the carver:
A flattering carver who made it his care
To carve busts as they ought to be - not as they were.
My Emigrant Ship lies broadside-on to the wharf. Two great
gangways made of spars and planks connect her with the wharf; and
up and down these gangways, perpetually crowding to and fro and in
and out, like ants, are the Emigrants who are going to sail in my
Emigrant Ship. Some with cabbages, some with loaves of bread, some
with cheese and butter, some with milk and beer, some with boxes,
beds, and bundles, some with babies - nearly all with children -
nearly all with bran-new tin cans for their daily allowance of
water, uncomfortably suggestive of a tin flavour in the drink. To
and fro, up and down, aboard and ashore, swarming here and there
and everywhere, my Emigrants. And still as the Dock-Gate swings
upon its hinges, cabs appear, and carts appear, and vans appear,
bringing more of my Emigrants, with more cabbages, more loaves,
more cheese and butter, more milk and beer, more boxes, beds, and
bundles, more tin cans, and on those shipping investments
accumulated compound interest of children.
I go aboard my Emigrant Ship. I go first to the great cabin, and
find it in the usual condition of a Cabin at that pass. Perspiring
landsmen, with loose papers, and with pens and inkstands, pervade
it; and the general appearance of things is as if the late Mr.
Amazon's funeral had just come home from the cemetery, and the
disconsolate Mrs. Amazon's trustees found the affairs in great
disorder, and were looking high and low for the will. I go out on
the poop-deck, for air, and surveying the emigrants on the deck
below (indeed they are crowded all about me, up there too), find
more pens and inkstands in action, and more papers, and
interminable complication respecting accounts with individuals for
tin cans and what not. But nobody is in an ill-temper, nobody is
the worse for drink, nobody swears an oath or uses a coarse word,
nobody appears depressed, nobody is weeping, and down upon the deck
in every corner where it is possible to find a few square feet to
kneel, crouch, or lie in, people, in every unsuitable attitude for
writing, are writing letters.
Now, I have seen emigrant ships before this day in June. And these
people are so strikingly different from all other people in like
circumstances whom I have ever seen, that I wonder aloud, 'What
WOULD a stranger suppose these emigrants to be!'
The vigilant, bright face of the weather-browned captain of the
Amazon is at my shoulder, and he says, 'What, indeed! The most of
these came aboard yesterday evening. They came from various parts
of England in small parties that had never seen one another before.
Yet they had not been a couple of hours on board, when they
established their own police, made their own regulations, and set
their own watches at all the hatchways. Before nine o'clock, the
ship was as orderly and as quiet as a man-of-war.'
I looked about me again, and saw the letter-writing going on with
the most curious composure. Perfectly abstracted in the midst of
the crowd; while great casks were swinging aloft, and being lowered
into the hold; while hot agents were hurrying up and down,
adjusting the interminable accounts; while two hundred strangers
were searching everywhere for two hundred other strangers, and were
asking questions about them of two hundred more; while the children
played up and down all the steps, and in and out among all the
people's legs, and were beheld, to the general dismay, toppling
over all the dangerous places; the letter-writers wrote on calmly.
On the starboard side of the ship, a grizzled man dictated a long
letter to another grizzled man in an immense fur cap: which letter
was of so profound a quality, that it became necessary for the
amanuensis at intervals to take off his fur cap in both his hands,
for the ventilation of his brain, and stare at him who dictated, as
a man of many mysteries who was worth looking at. On the lar-board
side, a woman had covered a belaying-pin with a white cloth to make
a neat desk of it, and was sitting on a little box, writing with
the deliberation of a bookkeeper. Down, upon her breast on the
planks of the deck at this woman's feet, with her head diving in
under a beam of the bulwarks on that side, as an eligible place of
refuge for her sheet of paper, a neat and pretty girl wrote for a
good hour (she fainted at last), only rising to the surface
occasionally for a dip of ink. Alongside the boat, close to me on
the poop-deck, another girl, a fresh, well-grown country girl, was
writing another letter on the bare deck. Later in the day, when
this self-same boat was filled with a choir who sang glees and
catches for a long time, one of the singers, a girl, sang her part
mechanically all the while, and wrote a letter in the bottom of the
boat while doing so.
'A stranger would be puzzled to guess the right name for these
people, Mr. Uncommercial,' says the captain.
'Indeed he would.'
'If you hadn't known, could you ever have supposed - ?'
'How could I! I should have said they were in their degree, the
pick and flower of England.'
'So should I,' says the captain.
'How many are they?'
'Eight hundred in round numbers.'
I went between-decks, where the families with children swarmed in
the dark, where unavoidable confusion had been caused by the last
arrivals, and where the confusion was increased by the little
preparations for dinner that were going on in each group. A few
women here and there, had got lost, and were laughing at it, and
asking their way to their own people, or out on deck again. A few
of the poor children were crying; but otherwise the universal
cheerfulness was amazing. 'We shall shake down by to-morrow.' 'We
shall come all right in a day or so.' 'We shall have more light at
sea.' Such phrases I heard everywhere, as I groped my way among
chests and barrels and beams and unstowed cargo and ring-bolts and
Emigrants, down to the lower-deck, and thence up to the light of
day again, and to my former station.
Surely, an extraordinary people in their power of self-abstraction!
All the former letter-writers were still writing calmly, and many
more letter-writers had broken out in my absence. A boy with a bag
of books in his hand and a slate under his arm, emerged from below,
concentrated himself in my neighbourhood (espying a convenient
skylight for his purpose), and went to work at a sum as if he were
stone deaf. A father and mother and several young children, on the
main deck below me, had formed a family circle close to the foot of
the crowded restless gangway, where the children made a nest for
themselves in a coil of rope, and the father and mother, she
suckling the youngest, discussed family affairs as peaceably as if
they were in perfect retirement. I think the most noticeable
characteristic in the eight hundred as a mass, was their exemption
from hurry.
Eight hundred what? 'Geese, villain?' EIGHT HUNDRED MORMONS. I,
Uncommercial Traveller for the firm of Human Interest Brothers, had
come aboard this Emigrant Ship to see what Eight hundred Latter-day
Saints were like, and I found them (to the rout and overthrow of
all my expectations) like what I now describe with scrupulous
The Mormon Agent who had been active in getting them together, and
in making the contract with my friends the owners of the ship to
take them as far as New York on their way to the Great Salt Lake,
was pointed out to me. A compactly-made handsome man in black,
rather short, with rich brown hair and beard, and clear bright
eyes. From his speech, I should set him down as American.
Probably, a man who had 'knocked about the world' pretty much. A
man with a frank open manner, and unshrinking look; withal a man of
great quickness. I believe he was wholly ignorant of my
Uncommercial individuality, and consequently of my immense
Uncommercial importance.
UNCOMMERCIAL. These are a very fine set of people you have brought
together here.
MORMON AGENT. Yes, sir, they are a VERY fine set of people.
UNCOMMERCIAL (looking about). Indeed, I think it would be
difficult to find Eight hundred people together anywhere else, and
find so much beauty and so much strength and capacity for work
among them.
MORMON AGENT (not looking about, but looking steadily at
Uncommercial). I think so. - We sent out about a thousand more,
yes'day, from Liverpool.
UNCOMMERCIAL. You are not going with these emigrants?
MORMON AGENT. No, sir. I remain.
UNCOMMERCIAL. But you have been in the Mormon Territory?
MORMON AGENT. Yes; I left Utah about three years ago.
UNCOMMERCIAL. It is surprising to me that these people are all so
cheery, and make so little of the immense distance before them.
MORMON AGENT. Well, you see; many of 'em have friends out at Utah,
and many of 'em look forward to meeting friends on the way.
MORMON AGENT. This way 'tis. This ship lands 'em in New York
City. Then they go on by rail right away beyond St. Louis, to that
part of the Banks of the Missouri where they strike the Plains.
There, waggons from the settlement meet 'em to bear 'em company on
their journey 'cross-twelve hundred miles about. Industrious
people who come out to the settlement soon get waggons of their
own, and so the friends of some of these will come down in their
own waggons to meet 'em. They look forward to that, greatly.
UNCOMMERCIAL. On their long journey across the Desert, do you arm
MORMON AGENT. Mostly you would find they have arms of some kind or
another already with them. Such as had not arms we should arm
across the Plains, for the general protection and defence.
UNCOMMERCIAL. Will these waggons bring down any produce to the
MORMON AGENT. Well, since the war broke out, we've taken to
growing cotton, and they'll likely bring down cotton to be
exchanged for machinery. We want machinery. Also we have taken to
growing indigo, which is a fine commodity for profit. It has been
found that the climate on the further side of the Great Salt Lake
suits well for raising indigo.
UNCOMMERCIAL. I am told that these people now on board are
principally from the South of England?
MORMON AGENT. And from Wales. That's true.
UNCOMMERCIAL. Do you get many Scotch?
UNCOMMERCIAL. Highlanders, for instance?
MORMON AGENT. No, not Highlanders. They ain't interested enough
in universal brotherhood and peace and good will.
UNCOMMERCIAL. The old fighting blood is strong in them?
MORMON AGENT. Well, yes. And besides; they've no faith.
UNCOMMERCIAL (who has been burning to get at the Prophet Joe Smith,
and seems to discover an opening). Faith in - !
MORMON AGENT (far too many for Uncommercial). Well. - In anything!
Similarly on this same head, the Uncommercial underwent
discomfiture from a Wiltshire labourer: a simple, fresh-coloured
farm-labourer, of eight-and-thirty, who at one time stood beside
him looking on at new arrivals, and with whom he held this
UNCOMMERCIAL. Would you mind my asking you what part of the
country you come from?
WILTSHIRE. Not a bit. Theer! (exultingly) I've worked all my life
o' Salisbury Plain, right under the shadder o' Stonehenge. You
mightn't think it, but I haive.
UNCOMMERCIAL. And a pleasant country too.
WILTSHIRE. Ah! 'Tis a pleasant country.
UNCOMMERCIAL. Have you any family on board?
WILTSHIRE. Two children, boy and gal. I am a widderer, I am, and
I'm going out alonger my boy and gal. That's my gal, and she's a
fine gal o' sixteen (pointing out the girl who is writing by the
boat). I'll go and fetch my boy. I'd like to show you my boy.
(Here Wiltshire disappears, and presently comes back with a big,
shy boy of twelve, in a superabundance of boots, who is not at all
glad to be presented.) He is a fine boy too, and a boy fur to
work! (Boy having undutifully bolted, Wiltshire drops him.)
UNCOMMERCIAL. It must cost you a great deal of money to go so far,
three strong.
WILTSHIRE. A power of money. Theer! Eight shillen a week, eight
shillen a week, eight shillen a week, put by out of the week's
wages for ever so long.
UNCOMMERCIAL. I wonder how you did it.
WILTSHIRE (recognising in this a kindred spirit). See theer now!
I wonder how I done it! But what with a bit o' subscription heer,
and what with a bit o' help theer, it were done at last, though I
don't hardly know how. Then it were unfort'net for us, you see, as
we got kep' in Bristol so long - nigh a fortnight, it were - on
accounts of a mistake wi' Brother Halliday. Swaller'd up money, it
did, when we might have come straight on.
UNCOMMERCIAL (delicately approaching Joe Smith). You are of the
Mormon religion, of course?
WILTSHIRE (confidently). O yes, I'm a Mormon. (Then
reflectively.) I'm a Mormon. (Then, looking round the ship,
feigns to descry a particular friend in an empty spot, and evades
the Uncommercial for evermore.)
After a noontide pause for dinner, during which my Emigrants were
nearly all between-decks, and the Amazon looked deserted, a general
muster took place. The muster was for the ceremony of passing the
Government Inspector and the Doctor. Those authorities held their
temporary state amidships, by a cask or two; and, knowing that the
whole Eight hundred emigrants must come face to face with them, I
took my station behind the two. They knew nothing whatever of me,
I believe, and my testimony to the unpretending gentleness and good
nature with which they discharged their duty, may be of the greater
worth. There was not the slightest flavour of the Circumlocution
Office about their proceedings.
The emigrants were now all on deck. They were densely crowded aft,
and swarmed upon the poop-deck like bees. Two or three Mormon
agents stood ready to hand them on to the Inspector, and to hand
them forward when they had passed. By what successful means, a
special aptitude for organisation had been infused into these
people, I am, of course, unable to report. But I know that, even
now, there was no disorder, hurry, or difficulty.
All being ready, the first group are handed on. That member of the
party who is entrusted with the passenger-ticket for the whole, has
been warned by one of the agents to have it ready, and here it is
in his hand. In every instance through the whole eight hundred,
without an exception, this paper is always ready.
INSPECTOR (reading the ticket). Jessie Jobson, Sophronia Jobson,
Jessie Jobson again, Matilda Jobson, William Jobson, Jane Jobson,
Matilda Jobson again, Brigham Jobson, Leonardo Jobson, and Orson
Jobson. Are you all here? (glancing at the party, over his
This group is composed of an old grandfather and grandmother, their
married son and his wife, and THEIR family of children. Orson
Jobson is a little child asleep in his mother's arms. The Doctor,
with a kind word or so, lifts up the corner of the mother's shawl,
looks at the child's face, and touches the little clenched hand.
If we were all as well as Orson Jobson, doctoring would be a poor
INSPECTOR. Quite right, Jessie Jobson. Take your ticket, Jessie,
and pass on.
And away they go. Mormon agent, skilful and quiet, hands them on.
Mormon agent, skilful and quiet, hands next party up.
INSPECTOR (reading ticket again). Susannah Cleverly and William
Cleverly. Brother and sister, eh?
SISTER (young woman of business, hustling slow brother). Yes, sir.
INSPECTOR. Very good, Susannah Cleverly. Take your ticket,
Susannah, and take care of it.
And away they go.
INSPECTOR (taking ticket again). Sampson Dibble and Dorothy Dibble
(surveying a very old couple over his spectacles, with some
surprise). Your husband quite blind, Mrs. Dibble?
MRS. DIBBLE. Yes, sir, he be stone-blind.
MR. DIBBLE (addressing the mast). Yes, sir, I be stone-blind.
INSPECTOR. That's a bad job. Take your ticket, Mrs. Dibble, and
don't lose it, and pass on.
Doctor taps Mr. Dibble on the eyebrow with his forefinger, and away
they go.
INSPECTOR (taking ticket again). Anastatia Weedle.
ANASTATIA (a pretty girl, in a bright Garibaldi, this morning
elected by universal suffrage the Beauty of the Ship). That is me,
INSPECTOR. Going alone, Anastatia?
ANASTATIA (shaking her curls). I am with Mrs. Jobson, sir, but
I've got separated for the moment.
INSPECTOR. Oh! You are with the Jobsons? Quite right. That'll
do, Miss Weedle. Don't lose your ticket.
Away she goes, and joins the Jobsons who are waiting for her, and
stoops and kisses Brigham Jobson - who appears to be considered too
young for the purpose, by several Mormons rising twenty, who are
looking on. Before her extensive skirts have departed from the
casks, a decent widow stands there with four children, and so the
roll goes.
The faces of some of the Welsh people, among whom there were many
old persons, were certainly the least intelligent. Some of these
emigrants would have bungled sorely, but for the directing hand
that was always ready. The intelligence here was unquestionably of
a low order, and the heads were of a poor type. Generally the case
was the reverse. There were many worn faces bearing traces of
patient poverty and hard work, and there was great steadiness of
purpose and much undemonstrative self-respect among this class. A
few young men were going singly. Several girls were going, two or
three together. These latter I found it very difficult to refer
back, in my mind, to their relinquished homes and pursuits.
Perhaps they were more like country milliners, and pupil teachers
rather tawdrily dressed, than any other classes of young women. I
noticed, among many little ornaments worn, more than one
photograph-brooch of the Princess of Wales, and also of the late
Prince Consort. Some single women of from thirty to forty, whom
one might suppose to be embroiderers, or straw-bonnet-makers, were
obviously going out in quest of husbands, as finer ladies go to
India. That they had any distinct notions of a plurality of
husbands or wives, I do not believe. To suppose the family groups
of whom the majority of emigrants were composed, polygamically
possessed, would be to suppose an absurdity, manifest to any one
who saw the fathers and mothers.
I should say (I had no means of ascertaining the fact) that most
familiar kinds of handicraft trades were represented here. Farmlabourers,
shepherds, and the like, had their full share of
representation, but I doubt if they preponderated. It was
interesting to see how the leading spirit in the family circle
never failed to show itself, even in the simple process of
answering to the names as they were called, and checking off the
owners of the names. Sometimes it was the father, much oftener the
mother, sometimes a quick little girl second or third in order of
seniority. It seemed to occur for the first time to some heavy
fathers, what large families they had; and their eyes rolled about,
during the calling of the list, as if they half misdoubted some
other family to have been smuggled into their own. Among all the
fine handsome children, I observed but two with marks upon their
necks that were probably scrofulous. Out of the whole number of
emigrants, but one old woman was temporarily set aside by the
doctor, on suspicion of fever; but even she afterwards obtained a
clean bill of health.
When all had 'passed,' and the afternoon began to wear on, a black
box became visible on deck, which box was in charge of certain
personages also in black, of whom only one had the conventional air
of an itinerant preacher. This box contained a supply of hymnbooks,
neatly printed and got up, published at Liverpool, and also
in London at the 'Latter-Day Saints' Book Depot, 30, Florencestreet.'
Some copies were handsomely bound; the plainer were the
more in request, and many were bought. The title ran: 'Sacred
Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Church of Jesus Church of Latter-
Day Saints.' The Preface, dated Manchester, 1840, ran thus:- 'The
Saints in this country have been very desirous for a Hymn Book
adapted to their faith and worship, that they might sing the truth
with an understanding heart, and express their praise, joy, and
gratitude in songs adapted to the New and Everlasting Covenant. In
accordance with their wishes, we have selected the following
volume, which we hope will prove acceptable until a greater variety
can be added. With sentiments of high consideration and esteem, we
subscribe ourselves your brethren in the New and Everlasting
book - by no means explanatory to myself of the New and Everlasting
Covenant, and not at all making my heart an understanding one on
the subject of that mystery - a hymn was sung, which did not
attract any great amount of attention, and was supported by a
rather select circle. But the choir in the boat was very popular
and pleasant; and there was to have been a Band, only the Cornet
was late in coming on board. In the course of the afternoon, a
mother appeared from shore, in search of her daughter, 'who had run
away with the Mormons.' She received every assistance from the
Inspector, but her daughter was not found to be on board. The
saints did not seem to me, particularly interested in finding her.
Towards five o'clock, the galley became full of tea-kettles, and an
agreeable fragrance of tea pervaded the ship. There was no
scrambling or jostling for the hot water, no ill humour, no
quarrelling. As the Amazon was to sail with the next tide, and as
it would not be high water before two o'clock in the morning, I
left her with her tea in full action, and her idle Steam Tug lying
by, deputing steam and smoke for the time being to the Tea-kettles.
I afterwards learned that a Despatch was sent home by the captain
before he struck out into the wide Atlantic, highly extolling the
behaviour of these Emigrants, and the perfect order and propriety
of all their social arrangements. What is in store for the poor
people on the shores of the Great Salt Lake, what happy delusions
they are labouring under now, on what miserable blindness their
eyes may be opened then, I do not pretend to say. But I went on
board their ship to bear testimony against them if they deserved
it, as I fully believed they would; to my great astonishment they
did not deserve it; and my predispositions and tendencies must not
affect me as an honest witness. I went over the Amazon's side,
feeling it impossible to deny that, so far, some remarkable
influence had produced a remarkable result, which better known
influences have often missed. *
* After this Uncommercial Journey was printed, I happened to
mention the experience it describes to Lord Houghton. That
gentleman then showed me an article of his writing, in THE
EDINBURGH REVIEW for January, 1862, which is highly remarkable for
its philosophical and literary research concerning these Latter-Day
Saints. I find in it the following sentences:- 'The Select
Committee of the House of Commons on emigrant ships for 1854
summoned the Mormon agent and passenger-broker before it, and came
to the conclusion that no ships under the provisions of the
"Passengers Act" could be depended upon for comfort and security in
the same degree as those under his administration. The Mormon ship
is a Family under strong and accepted discipline, with every
provision for comfort, decorum and internal peace.'
When I think I deserve particularly well of myself, and have earned
the right to enjoy a little treat, I stroll from Covent-garden into
the City of London, after business-hours there, on a Saturday, or -
better yet - on a Sunday, and roam about its deserted nooks and
corners. It is necessary to the full enjoyment of these journeys
that they should be made in summer-time, for then the retired spots
that I love to haunt, are at their idlest and dullest. A gentle
fall of rain is not objectionable, and a warm mist sets off my
favourite retreats to decided advantage.
Among these, City Churchyards hold a high place. Such strange
churchyards hide in the City of London; churchyards sometimes so
entirely detached from churches, always so pressed upon by houses;
so small, so rank, so silent, so forgotten, except by the few
people who ever look down into them from their smoky windows. As I
stand peeping in through the iron gates and rails, I can peel the
rusty metal off, like bark from an old tree. The illegible
tombstones are all lop-sided, the grave-mounds lost their shape in
the rains of a hundred years ago, the Lombardy Poplar or Plane-Tree
that was once a drysalter's daughter and several common-councilmen,
has withered like those worthies, and its departed leaves are dust
beneath it. Contagion of slow ruin overhangs the place. The
discoloured tiled roofs of the environing buildings stand so awry,
that they can hardly be proof against any stress of weather. Old
crazy stacks of chimneys seem to look down as they overhang,
dubiously calculating how far they will have to fall. In an angle
of the walls, what was once the tool-house of the grave-digger rots
away, encrusted with toadstools. Pipes and spouts for carrying off
the rain from the encompassing gables, broken or feloniously cut
for old lead long ago, now let the rain drip and splash as it list,
upon the weedy earth. Sometimes there is a rusty pump somewhere
near, and, as I look in at the rails and meditate, I hear it
working under an unknown hand with a creaking protest: as though
the departed in the churchyard urged, 'Let us lie here in peace;
don't suck us up and drink us!'
One of my best beloved churchyards, I call the churchyard of Saint
Ghastly Grim; touching what men in general call it, I have no
information. It lies at the heart of the City, and the Blackwall
Railway shrieks at it daily. It is a small small churchyard, with
a ferocious, strong, spiked iron gate, like a jail. This gate is
ornamented with skulls and cross-bones, larger than the life,
wrought in stone; but it likewise came into the mind of Saint
Ghastly Grim, that to stick iron spikes a-top of the stone skulls,
as though they were impaled, would be a pleasant device. Therefore
the skulls grin aloft horribly, thrust through and through with
iron spears. Hence, there is attraction of repulsion for me in
Saint Ghastly Grim, and, having often contemplated it in the
daylight and the dark, I once felt drawn towards it in a
thunderstorm at midnight. 'Why not?' I said, in self-excuse. 'I
have been to see the Colosseum by the light of the moon; is it
worse to go to see Saint Ghastly Grim by the light of the
lightning?' I repaired to the Saint in a hackney cab, and found
the skulls most effective, having the air of a public execution,
and seeming, as the lightning flashed, to wink and grin with the
pain of the spikes. Having no other person to whom to impart my
satisfaction, I communicated it to the driver. So far from being
responsive, he surveyed me - he was naturally a bottled-nosed, redfaced
man - with a blanched countenance. And as he drove me back,
he ever and again glanced in over his shoulder through the little
front window of his carriage, as mistrusting that I was a fare
originally from a grave in the churchyard of Saint Ghastly Grim,
who might have flitted home again without paying.
Sometimes, the queer Hall of some queer Company gives upon a
churchyard such as this, and, when the Livery dine, you may hear
them (if you are looking in through the iron rails, which you never
are when I am) toasting their own Worshipful prosperity.
Sometimes, a wholesale house of business, requiring much room for
stowage, will occupy one or two or even all three sides of the
enclosing space, and the backs of bales of goods will lumber up the
windows, as if they were holding some crowded trade-meeting of
themselves within. Sometimes, the commanding windows are all
blank, and show no more sign of life than the graves below - not so
much, for THEY tell of what once upon a time was life undoubtedly.
Such was the surrounding of one City churchyard that I saw last
summer, on a Volunteering Saturday evening towards eight of the
clock, when with astonishment I beheld an old old man and an old
old woman in it, making hay. Yes, of all occupations in this
world, making hay! It was a very confined patch of churchyard
lying between Gracechurch-street and the Tower, capable of
yielding, say an apronful of hay. By what means the old old man
and woman had got into it, with an almost toothless hay-making
rake, I could not fathom. No open window was within view; no
window at all was within view, sufficiently near the ground to have
enabled their old legs to descend from it; the rusty churchyardgate
was locked, the mouldy church was locked. Gravely among the
graves, they made hay, all alone by themselves. They looked like
Time and his wife. There was but the one rake between them, and
they both had hold of it in a pastorally-loving manner, and there
was hay on the old woman's black bonnet, as if the old man had
recently been playful. The old man was quite an obsolete old man,
in knee-breeches and coarse grey stockings, and the old woman wore
mittens like unto his stockings in texture and in colour. They
took no heed of me as I looked on, unable to account for them. The
old woman was much too bright for a pew-opener, the old man much
too meek for a beadle. On an old tombstone in the foreground
between me and them, were two cherubim; but for those celestial
embellishments being represented as having no possible use for
knee-breeches, stockings, or mittens, I should have compared them
with the hay-makers, and sought a likeness. I coughed and awoke
the echoes, but the hay-makers never looked at me. They used the
rake with a measured action, drawing the scanty crop towards them;
and so I was fain to leave them under three yards and a half of
darkening sky, gravely making hay among the graves, all alone by
themselves. Perhaps they were Spectres, and I wanted a Medium.
In another City churchyard of similar cramped dimensions, I saw,
that selfsame summer, two comfortable charity children. They were
making love - tremendous proof of the vigour of that immortal
article, for they were in the graceful uniform under which English
Charity delights to hide herself - and they were overgrown, and
their legs (his legs at least, for I am modestly incompetent to
speak of hers) were as much in the wrong as mere passive weakness
of character can render legs. O it was a leaden churchyard, but no
doubt a golden ground to those young persons! I first saw them on
a Saturday evening, and, perceiving from their occupation that
Saturday evening was their trysting-time, I returned that evening
se'nnight, and renewed the contemplation of them. They came there
to shake the bits of matting which were spread in the church
aisles, and they afterwards rolled them up, he rolling his end, she
rolling hers, until they met, and over the two once divided now
united rolls - sweet emblem! - gave and received a chaste salute.
It was so refreshing to find one of my faded churchyards blooming
into flower thus, that I returned a second time, and a third, and
ultimately this befell:- They had left the church door open, in
their dusting and arranging. Walking in to look at the church, I
became aware, by the dim light, of him in the pulpit, of her in the
reading-desk, of him looking down, of her looking up, exchanging
tender discourse. Immediately both dived, and became as it were
non-existent on this sphere. With an assumption of innocence I
turned to leave the sacred edifice, when an obese form stood in the
portal, puffily demanding Joseph, or in default of Joseph, Celia.
Taking this monster by the sleeve, and luring him forth on pretence
of showing him whom he sought, I gave time for the emergence of
Joseph and Celia, who presently came towards us in the churchyard,
bending under dusty matting, a picture of thriving and unconscious
industry. It would be superfluous to hint that I have ever since
deemed this the proudest passage in my life.
But such instances, or any tokens of vitality, are rare indeed in
my City churchyards. A few sparrows occasionally try to raise a
lively chirrup in their solitary tree - perhaps, as taking a
different view of worms from that entertained by humanity - but
they are flat and hoarse of voice, like the clerk, the organ, the
bell, the clergyman, and all the rest of the Church-works when they
are wound up for Sunday. Caged larks, thrushes, or blackbirds,
hanging in neighbouring courts, pour forth their strains
passionately, as scenting the tree, trying to break out, and see
leaves again before they die, but their song is Willow, Willow - of
a churchyard cast. So little light lives inside the churches of my
churchyards, when the two are co-existent, that it is often only by
an accident and after long acquaintance that I discover their
having stained glass in some odd window. The westering sun slants
into the churchyard by some unwonted entry, a few prismatic tears
drop on an old tombstone, and a window that I thought was only
dirty, is for the moment all bejewelled. Then the light passes and
the colours die. Though even then, if there be room enough for me
to fall back so far as that I can gaze up to the top of the Church
Tower, I see the rusty vane new burnished, and seeming to look out
with a joyful flash over the sea of smoke at the distant shore of
Blinking old men who are let out of workhouses by the hour, have a
tendency to sit on bits of coping stone in these churchyards,
leaning with both hands on their sticks and asthmatically gasping.
The more depressed class of beggars too, bring hither broken meats,
and munch. I am on nodding terms with a meditative turncock who
lingers in one of them, and whom I suspect of a turn for poetry;
the rather, as he looks out of temper when he gives the fire-plug a
disparaging wrench with that large tuning-fork of his which would
wear out the shoulder of his coat, but for a precautionary piece of
inlaid leather. Fire-ladders, which I am satisfied nobody knows
anything about, and the keys of which were lost in ancient times,
moulder away in the larger churchyards, under eaves like wooden
eyebrows; and so removed are those corners from the haunts of men
and boys, that once on a fifth of November I found a 'Guy' trusted
to take care of himself there, while his proprietors had gone to
dinner. Of the expression of his face I cannot report, because it
was turned to the wall; but his shrugged shoulders and his ten
extended fingers, appeared to denote that he had moralised in his
little straw chair on the mystery of mortality until he gave it up
as a bad job.
You do not come upon these churchyards violently; there are shapes
of transition in the neighbourhood. An antiquated news shop, or
barber's shop, apparently bereft of customers in the earlier days
of George the Third, would warn me to look out for one, if any
discoveries in this respect were left for me to make. A very quiet
court, in combination with an unaccountable dyer's and scourer's,
would prepare me for a churchyard. An exceedingly retiring publichouse,
with a bagatelle-board shadily visible in a sawdusty parlour
shaped like an omnibus, and with a shelf of punch-bowls in the bar,
would apprise me that I stood near consecrated ground. A 'Dairy,'
exhibiting in its modest window one very little milk-can and three
eggs, would suggest to me the certainty of finding the poultry hard
by, pecking at my forefathers. I first inferred the vicinity of
Saint Ghastly Grim, from a certain air of extra repose and gloom
pervading a vast stack of warehouses.
From the hush of these places, it is congenial to pass into the
hushed resorts of business. Down the lanes I like to see the carts
and waggons huddled together in repose, the cranes idle, and the
warehouses shut. Pausing in the alleys behind the closed Banks of
mighty Lombard-street, it gives one as good as a rich feeling to
think of the broad counters with a rim along the edge, made for
telling money out on, the scales for weighing precious metals, the
ponderous ledgers, and, above all, the bright copper shovels for
shovelling gold. When I draw money, it never seems so much money
as when it is shovelled at me out of a bright copper shovel. I
like to say, 'In gold,' and to see seven pounds musically pouring
out of the shovel, like seventy; the Bank appearing to remark to me
- I italicise APPEARING - 'if you want more of this yellow earth,
we keep it in barrows at your service.' To think of the banker's
clerk with his deft finger turning the crisp edges of the Hundred-
Pound Notes he has taken in a fat roll out of a drawer, is again to
hear the rustling of that delicious south-cash wind. 'How will you
have it?' I once heard this usual question asked at a Bank Counter
of an elderly female, habited in mourning and steeped in
simplicity, who answered, open-eyed, crook-fingered, laughing with
expectation, 'Anyhow!' Calling these things to mind as I stroll
among the Banks, I wonder whether the other solitary Sunday man I
pass, has designs upon the Banks. For the interest and mystery of
the matter, I almost hope he may have, and that his confederate may
be at this moment taking impressions of the keys of the iron
closets in wax, and that a delightful robbery may be in course of
transaction. About College-hill, Mark-lane, and so on towards the
Tower, and Dockward, the deserted wine-merchants' cellars are fine
subjects for consideration; but the deserted money-cellars of the
Bankers, and their plate-cellars, and their jewel-cellars, what
subterranean regions of the Wonderful Lamp are these! And again:
possibly some shoeless boy in rags, passed through this street
yesterday, for whom it is reserved to be a Banker in the fulness of
time, and to be surpassing rich. Such reverses have been, since
the days of Whittington; and were, long before. I want to know
whether the boy has any foreglittering of that glittering fortune
now, when he treads these stones, hungry. Much as I also want to
know whether the next man to be hanged at Newgate yonder, had any
suspicion upon him that he was moving steadily towards that fate,
when he talked so much about the last man who paid the same great
debt at the same small Debtors' Door.
Where are all the people who on busy working-days pervade these
scenes? The locomotive banker's clerk, who carries a black
portfolio chained to him by a chain of steel, where is he? Does he
go to bed with his chain on - to church with his chain on - or does
he lay it by? And if he lays it by, what becomes of his portfolio
when he is unchained for a holiday? The wastepaper baskets of
these closed counting-houses would let me into many hints of
business matters if I had the exploration of them; and what secrets
of the heart should I discover on the 'pads' of the young clerks -
the sheets of cartridge-paper and blotting-paper interposed between
their writing and their desks! Pads are taken into confidence on
the tenderest occasions, and oftentimes when I have made a business
visit, and have sent in my name from the outer office, have I had
it forced on my discursive notice that the officiating young
gentleman has over and over again inscribed AMELIA, in ink of
various dates, on corners of his pad. Indeed, the pad may be
regarded as the legitimate modern successor of the old forest-tree:
whereon these young knights (having no attainable forest nearer
than Epping) engrave the names of their mistresses. After all, it
is a more satisfactory process than carving, and can be oftener
repeated. So these courts in their Sunday rest are courts of Love
Omnipotent (I rejoice to bethink myself), dry as they look. And
here is Garraway's, bolted and shuttered hard and fast! It is
possible to imagine the man who cuts the sandwiches, on his back in
a hayfield; it is possible to imagine his desk, like the desk of a
clerk at church, without him; but imagination is unable to pursue
the men who wait at Garraway's all the week for the men who never
come. When they are forcibly put out of Garraway's on Saturday
night - which they must be, for they never would go out of their
own accord - where do they vanish until Monday morning? On the
first Sunday that I ever strayed here, I expected to find them
hovering about these lanes, like restless ghosts, and trying to
peep into Garraway's through chinks in the shutters, if not
endeavouring to turn the lock of the door with false keys, picks,
and screw-drivers. But the wonder is, that they go clean away!
And now I think of it, the wonder is, that every working-day
pervader of these scenes goes clean away. The man who sells the
dogs' collars and the little toy coal-scuttles, feels under as
great an obligation to go afar off, as Glyn and Co., or Smith,
Payne, and Smith. There is an old monastery-crypt under Garraway's
(I have been in it among the port wine), and perhaps Garraway's,
taking pity on the mouldy men who wait in its public-room all their
lives, gives them cool house-room down there over Sundays; but the
catacombs of Paris would not be large enough to hold the rest of
the missing. This characteristic of London City greatly helps its
being the quaint place it is in the weekly pause of business, and
greatly helps my Sunday sensation in it of being the Last Man. In
my solitude, the ticket-porters being all gone with the rest, I
venture to breathe to the quiet bricks and stones my confidential
wonderment why a ticket-porter, who never does any work with his
hands, is bound to wear a white apron, and why a great
Ecclesiastical Dignitary, who never does any work with his hands
either, is equally bound to wear a black one.
Before the waitress had shut the door, I had forgotten how many
stage-coaches she said used to change horses in the town every day.
But it was of little moment; any high number would do as well as
another. It had been a great stage-coaching town in the great
stage-coaching times, and the ruthless railways had killed and
buried it.
The sign of the house was the Dolphin's Head. Why only head, I
don't know; for the Dolphin's effigy at full length, and upside
down - as a Dolphin is always bound to be when artistically
treated, though I suppose he is sometimes right side upward in his
natural condition - graced the sign-board. The sign-board chafed
its rusty hooks outside the bow-window of my room, and was a shabby
work. No visitor could have denied that the Dolphin was dying by
inches, but he showed no bright colours. He had once served
another master; there was a newer streak of paint below him,
displaying with inconsistent freshness the legend, By J. MELLOWS.
My door opened again, and J. Mellows's representative came back. I
had asked her what I could have for dinner, and she now returned
with the counter question, what would I like? As the Dolphin stood
possessed of nothing that I do like, I was fain to yield to the
suggestion of a duck, which I don't like. J. Mellows's
representative was a mournful young woman with eye susceptible of
guidance, and one uncontrollable eye; which latter, seeming to
wander in quest of stage-coaches, deepened the melancholy in which
the Dolphin was steeped.
This young woman had but shut the door on retiring again when I
bethought me of adding to my order, the words, 'with nice
vegetables.' Looking out at the door to give them emphatic
utterance, I found her already in a state of pensive catalepsy in
the deserted gallery, picking her teeth with a pin.
At the Railway Station seven miles off, I had been the subject of
wonder when I ordered a fly in which to come here. And when I gave
the direction 'To the Dolphin's Head,' I had observed an ominous
stare on the countenance of the strong young man in velveteen, who
was the platform servant of the Company. He had also called to my
driver at parting, 'All ri-ight! Don't hang yourself when you get
there, Geo-o-rge!' in a sarcastic tone, for which I had entertained
some transitory thoughts of reporting him to the General Manager.
I had no business in the town - I never have any business in any
town - but I had been caught by the fancy that I would come and
look at it in its degeneracy. My purpose was fitly inaugurated by
the Dolphin's Head, which everywhere expressed past coachfulness
and present coachlessness. Coloured prints of coaches, starting,
arriving, changing horses, coaches in the sunshine, coaches in the
snow, coaches in the wind, coaches in the mist and rain, coaches on
the King's birthday, coaches in all circumstances compatible with
their triumph and victory, but never in the act of breaking down or
overturning, pervaded the house. Of these works of art, some,
framed and not glazed, had holes in them; the varnish of others had
become so brown and cracked, that they looked like overdone piecrust;
the designs of others were almost obliterated by the flies
of many summers. Broken glasses, damaged frames, lop-sided
hanging, and consignment of incurable cripples to places of refuge
in dark corners, attested the desolation of the rest. The old room
on the ground floor where the passengers of the Highflyer used to
dine, had nothing in it but a wretched show of twigs and flowerpots
in the broad window to hide the nakedness of the land, and in
a corner little Mellows's perambulator, with even its parasol-head
turned despondently to the wall. The other room, where post-horse
company used to wait while relays were getting ready down the yard,
still held its ground, but was as airless as I conceive a hearse to
be: insomuch that Mr. Pitt, hanging high against the partition
(with spots on him like port wine, though it is mysterious how port
wine ever got squirted up there), had good reason for perking his
nose and sniffing. The stopperless cruets on the spindle-shanked
sideboard were in a miserably dejected state: the anchovy sauce
having turned blue some years ago, and the cayenne pepper (with a
scoop in it like a small model of a wooden leg) having turned
solid. The old fraudulent candles which were always being paid for
and never used, were burnt out at last; but their tall stilts of
candlesticks still lingered, and still outraged the human intellect
by pretending to be silver. The mouldy old unreformed Borough
Member, with his right hand buttoned up in the breast of his coat,
and his back characteristically turned on bales of petitions from
his constituents, was there too; and the poker which never had been
among the fire-irons, lest post-horse company should overstir the
fire, was NOT there, as of old.
Pursuing my researches in the Dolphin's Head, I found it sorely
shrunken. When J. Mellows came into possession, he had walled off
half the bar, which was now a tobacco-shop with its own entrance in
the yard - the once glorious yard where the postboys, whip in hand
and always buttoning their waistcoats at the last moment, used to
come running forth to mount and away. A 'Scientific Shoeing -
Smith and Veterinary Surgeon,' had further encroached upon the
yard; and a grimly satirical jobber, who announced himself as
having to Let 'A neat one-horse fly, and a one-horse cart,' had
established his business, himself, and his family, in a part of the
extensive stables. Another part was lopped clean off from the
Dolphin's Head, and now comprised a chapel, a wheelwright's, and a
Young Men's Mutual Improvement and Discussion Society (in a loft):
the whole forming a back lane. No audacious hand had plucked down
the vane from the central cupola of the stables, but it had grown
rusty and stuck at N-Nil: while the score or two of pigeons that
remained true to their ancestral traditions and the place, had
collected in a row on the roof-ridge of the only outhouse retained
by the Dolphin, where all the inside pigeons tried to push the
outside pigeon off. This I accepted as emblematical of the
struggle for post and place in railway times.
Sauntering forth into the town, by way of the covered and pillared
entrance to the Dolphin's Yard, once redolent of soup and stablelitter,
now redolent of musty disuse, I paced the street. It was a
hot day, and the little sun-blinds of the shops were all drawn
down, and the more enterprising tradesmen had caused their
'Prentices to trickle water on the pavement appertaining to their
frontage. It looked as if they had been shedding tears for the
stage-coaches, and drying their ineffectual pocket-handkerchiefs.
Such weakness would have been excusable; for business was - as one
dejected porkman who kept a shop which refused to reciprocate the
compliment by keeping him, informed me - 'bitter bad.' Most of the
harness-makers and corn-dealers were gone the way of the coaches,
but it was a pleasant recognition of the eternal procession of
Children down that old original steep Incline, the Valley of the
Shadow, that those tradesmen were mostly succeeded by vendors of
sweetmeats and cheap toys. The opposition house to the Dolphin,
once famous as the New White Hart, had long collapsed. In a fit of
abject depression, it had cast whitewash on its windows, and
boarded up its front door, and reduced itself to a side entrance;
but even that had proved a world too wide for the Literary
Institution which had been its last phase; for the Institution had
collapsed too, and of the ambitious letters of its inscription on
the White Hart's front, all had fallen off but these:
- suggestive of Lamentably Insolvent. As to the neighbouring
market-place, it seemed to have wholly relinquished marketing, to
the dealer in crockery whose pots and pans straggled half across
it, and to the Cheap Jack who sat with folded arms on the shafts of
his cart, superciliously gazing around; his velveteen waistcoat,
evidently harbouring grave doubts whether it was worth his while to
stay a night in such a place.
The church bells began to ring as I left this spot, but they by no
means improved the case, for they said, in a petulant way, and
speaking with some difficulty in their irritation, WHAT'S-be-comeof-
THE-coach-ES!' Nor would they (I found on listening) ever vary
their emphasis, save in respect of growing more sharp and vexed,
but invariably went on, 'WHAT'S-be-come-of-THE-coach-ES!' - always
beginning the inquiry with an unpolite abruptness. Perhaps from
their elevation they saw the railway, and it aggravated them.
Coming upon a coachmaker's workshop, I began to look about me with
a revived spirit, thinking that perchance I might behold there some
remains of the old times of the town's greatness. There was only
one man at work - a dry man, grizzled, and far advanced in years,
but tall and upright, who, becoming aware of me looking on,
straightened his back, pushed up his spectacles against his brownpaper
cap, and appeared inclined to defy me. To whom I pacifically
'Good day, sir!'
'What?' said he.
'Good day, sir.'
He seemed to consider about that, and not to agree with me. - 'Was
you a looking for anything?' he then asked, in a pointed manner.
'I was wondering whether there happened to be any fragment of an
old stage-coach here.'
'Is that all?'
'That's all.'
'No, there ain't.'
It was now my turn to say 'Oh!' and I said it. Not another word
did the dry and grizzled man say, but bent to his work again. In
the coach-making days, the coach-painters had tried their brushes
on a post beside him; and quite a Calendar of departed glories was
to be read upon it, in blue and yellow and red and green, some
inches thick. Presently he looked up again.
'You seem to have a deal of time on your hands,' was his querulous
I admitted the fact.
'I think it's a pity you was not brought up to something,' said he.
I said I thought so too.
Appearing to be informed with an idea, he laid down his plane (for
it was a plane he was at work with), pushed up his spectacles
again, and came to the door.
'Would a po-shay do for you?' he asked.
'I am not sure that I understand what you mean.'
'Would a po-shay,' said the coachmaker, standing close before me,
and folding his arms in the manner of a cross-examining counsel -
'would a po-shay meet the views you have expressed? Yes, or no?'
'Then you keep straight along down there till you see one. YOU'LL
see one if you go fur enough.'
With that, he turned me by the shoulder in the direction I was to
take, and went in and resumed his work against a background of
leaves and grapes. For, although he was a soured man and a
discontented, his workshop was that agreeable mixture of town and
country, street and garden, which is often to be seen in a small
English town.
I went the way he had turned me, and I came to the Beer-shop with
the sign of The First and Last, and was out of the town on the old
London road. I came to the Turnpike, and I found it, in its silent
way, eloquent respecting the change that had fallen on the road.
The Turnpike-house was all overgrown with ivy; and the Turnpikekeeper,
unable to get a living out of the tolls, plied the trade of
a cobbler. Not only that, but his wife sold ginger-beer, and, in
the very window of espial through which the Toll-takers of old
times used with awe to behold the grand London coaches coming on at
a gallop, exhibited for sale little barber's-poles of sweetstuff in
a sticky lantern.
The political economy of the master of the turnpike thus expressed
'How goes turnpike business, master?' said I to him, as he sat in
his little porch, repairing a shoe.
'It don't go at all, master,' said he to me. 'It's stopped.'
'That's bad,' said I.
'Bad?' he repeated. And he pointed to one of his sunburnt dusty
children who was climbing the turnpike-gate, and said, extending
his open right hand in remonstrance with Universal Nature. 'Five
on 'em!'
'But how to improve Turnpike business?' said I.
'There's a way, master,' said he, with the air of one who had
thought deeply on the subject.
'I should like to know it.'
'Lay a toll on everything as comes through; lay a toll on walkers.
Lay another toll on everything as don't come through; lay a toll on
them as stops at home.'
'Would the last remedy be fair?'
'Fair? Them as stops at home, could come through if they liked;
couldn't they?'
'Say they could.'
'Toll 'em. If they don't come through, it's THEIR look out.
Anyways, - Toll 'em!'
Finding it was as impossible to argue with this financial genius as
if he had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and consequently the
right man in the right place, I passed on meekly.
My mind now began to misgive me that the disappointed coach-maker
had sent me on a wild-goose errand, and that there was no postchaise
in those parts. But coming within view of certain
allotment-gardens by the roadside, I retracted the suspicion, and
confessed that I had done him an injustice. For, there I saw,
surely, the poorest superannuated post-chaise left on earth.
It was a post-chaise taken off its axletree and wheels, and plumped
down on the clayey soil among a ragged growth of vegetables. It
was a post-chaise not even set straight upon the ground, but tilted
over, as if it had fallen out of a balloon. It was a post-chaise
that had been a long time in those decayed circumstances, and
against which scarlet beans were trained. It was a post-chaise
patched and mended with old tea-trays, or with scraps of iron that
looked like them, and boarded up as to the windows, but having A
KNOCKER on the off-side door. Whether it was a post-chaise used as
tool-house, summer-house, or dwelling-house, I could not discover,
for there was nobody at home at the post-chaise when I knocked, but
it was certainly used for something, and locked up. In the wonder
of this discovery, I walked round and round the post-chaise many
times, and sat down by the post-chaise, waiting for further
elucidation. None came. At last, I made my way back to the old
London road by the further end of the allotment-gardens, and
consequently at a point beyond that from which I had diverged. I
had to scramble through a hedge and down a steep bank, and I nearly
came down a-top of a little spare man who sat breaking stones by
the roadside.
He stayed his hammer, and said, regarding me mysteriously through
his dark goggles of wire:
'Are you aware, sir, that you've been trespassing?'
'I turned out of the way,' said I, in explanation, 'to look at that
odd post-chaise. Do you happen to know anything about it?'
'I know it was many a year upon the road,' said he.
'So I supposed. Do you know to whom it belongs?'
The stone-breaker bent his brows and goggles over his heap of
stones, as if he were considering whether he should answer the
question or not. Then, raising his barred eyes to my features as
before, he said:
'To me.'
Being quite unprepared for the reply, I received it with a
sufficiently awkward 'Indeed! Dear me!' Presently I added, 'Do
you - ' I was going to say 'live there,' but it seemed so absurd a
question, that I substituted 'live near here?'
The stone-breaker, who had not broken a fragment since we began to
converse, then did as follows. He raised himself by poising his
finger on his hammer, and took his coat, on which he had been
seated, over his arm. He then backed to an easier part of the bank
than that by which I had come down, keeping his dark goggles
silently upon me all the time, and then shouldered his hammer,
suddenly turned, ascended, and was gone. His face was so small,
and his goggles were so large, that he left me wholly uninformed as
to his countenance; but he left me a profound impression that the
curved legs I had seen from behind as he vanished, were the legs of
an old postboy. It was not until then that I noticed he had been
working by a grass-grown milestone, which looked like a tombstone
erected over the grave of the London road.
My dinner-hour being close at hand, I had no leisure to pursue the
goggles or the subject then, but made my way back to the Dolphin's
Head. In the gateway I found J. Mellows, looking at nothing, and
apparently experiencing that it failed to raise his spirits.
'I don't care for the town,' said J. Mellows, when I complimented
him on the sanitary advantages it may or may not possess; 'I wish I
had never seen the town!'
'You don't belong to it, Mr. Mellows?'
'Belong to it!' repeated Mellows. 'If I didn't belong to a better
style of town than this, I'd take and drown myself in a pail.' It
then occurred to me that Mellows, having so little to do, was
habitually thrown back on his internal resources - by which I mean
the Dolphin's cellar.
'What we want,' said Mellows, pulling off his hat, and making as if
he emptied it of the last load of Disgust that had exuded from his
brain, before he put it on again for another load; 'what we want,
is a Branch. The Petition for the Branch Bill is in the coffeeroom.
Would you put your name to it? Every little helps.'
I found the document in question stretched out flat on the coffeeroom
table by the aid of certain weights from the kitchen, and I
gave it the additional weight of my uncommercial signature. To the
best of my belief, I bound myself to the modest statement that
universal traffic, happiness, prosperity, and civilisation,
together with unbounded national triumph in competition with the
foreigner, would infallibly flow from the Branch.
Having achieved this constitutional feat, I asked Mr. Mellows if he
could grace my dinner with a pint of good wine? Mr. Mellows thus
'If I couldn't give you a pint of good wine, I'd - there! - I'd
take and drown myself in a pail. But I was deceived when I bought
this business, and the stock was higgledy-piggledy, and I haven't
yet tasted my way quite through it with a view to sorting it.
Therefore, if you order one kind and get another, change till it
comes right. For what,' said Mellows, unloading his hat as before,
'what would you or any gentleman do, if you ordered one kind of
wine and was required to drink another? Why, you'd (and naturally
and properly, having the feelings of a gentleman), you'd take and
drown yourself in a pail!'
The shabbiness of our English capital, as compared with Paris,
Bordeaux, Frankfort, Milan, Geneva - almost any important town on
the continent of Europe - I find very striking after an absence of
any duration in foreign parts. London is shabby in contrast with
Edinburgh, with Aberdeen, with Exeter, with Liverpool, with a
bright little town like Bury St. Edmunds. London is shabby in
contrast with New York, with Boston, with Philadelphia. In detail,
one would say it can rarely fail to be a disappointing piece of
shabbiness, to a stranger from any of those places. There is
nothing shabbier than Drury-lane, in Rome itself. The meanness of
Regent-street, set against the great line of Boulevards in Paris,
is as striking as the abortive ugliness of Trafalgar-square, set
against the gallant beauty of the Place de la Concorde. London is
shabby by daylight, and shabbier by gaslight. No Englishman knows
what gaslight is, until he sees the Rue de Rivoli and the Palais
Royal after dark.
The mass of London people are shabby. The absence of distinctive
dress has, no doubt, something to do with it. The porters of the
Vintners' Company, the draymen, and the butchers, are about the
only people who wear distinctive dresses; and even these do not
wear them on holidays. We have nothing which for cheapness,
cleanliness, convenience, or picturesqueness, can compare with the
belted blouse. As to our women; - next Easter or Whitsuntide, look
at the bonnets at the British Museum or the National Gallery, and
think of the pretty white French cap, the Spanish mantilla, or the
Genoese mezzero.
Probably there are not more second-hand clothes sold in London than
in Paris, and yet the mass of the London population have a secondhand
look which is not to be detected on the mass of the Parisian
population. I think this is mainly because a Parisian workman does
not in the least trouble himself about what is worn by a Parisian
idler, but dresses in the way of his own class, and for his own
comfort. In London, on the contrary, the fashions descend; and you
never fully know how inconvenient or ridiculous a fashion is, until
you see it in its last descent. It was but the other day, on a
race-course, that I observed four people in a barouche deriving
great entertainment from the contemplation of four people on foot.
The four people on foot were two young men and two young women; the
four people in the barouche were two young men and two young women.
The four young women were dressed in exactly the same style; the
four young men were dressed in exactly the same style. Yet the two
couples on wheels were as much amused by the two couples on foot,
as if they were quite unconscious of having themselves set those
fashions, or of being at that very moment engaged in the display of
Is it only in the matter of clothes that fashion descends here in
London - and consequently in England - and thence shabbiness
arises? Let us think a little, and be just. The 'Black Country'
round about Birmingham, is a very black country; but is it quite as
black as it has been lately painted? An appalling accident
happened at the People's Park near Birmingham, this last July, when
it was crowded with people from the Black Country - an appalling
accident consequent on a shamefully dangerous exhibition. Did the
shamefully dangerous exhibition originate in the moral blackness of
the Black Country, and in the Black People's peculiar love of the
excitement attendant on great personal hazard, which they looked on
at, but in which they did not participate? Light is much wanted in
the Black Country. O we are all agreed on that. But, we must not
quite forget the crowds of gentlefolks who set the shamefully
dangerous fashion, either. We must not quite forget the
enterprising Directors of an Institution vaunting mighty
educational pretences, who made the low sensation as strong as they
possibly could make it, by hanging the Blondin rope as high as they
possibly could hang it. All this must not be eclipsed in the
Blackness of the Black Country. The reserved seats high up by the
rope, the cleared space below it, so that no one should be smashed
but the performer, the pretence of slipping and falling off, the
baskets for the feet and the sack for the head, the photographs
everywhere, and the virtuous indignation nowhere - all this must
not be wholly swallowed up in the blackness of the jet-black
Whatsoever fashion is set in England, is certain to descend. This
is a text for a perpetual sermon on care in setting fashions. When
you find a fashion low down, look back for the time (it will never
be far off) when it was the fashion high up. This is the text for
a perpetual sermon on social justice. From imitations of Ethiopian
Serenaders, to imitations of Prince's coats and waistcoats, you
will find the original model in St. James's Parish. When the
Serenaders become tiresome, trace them beyond the Black Country;
when the coats and waistcoats become insupportable, refer them to
their source in the Upper Toady Regions.
Gentlemen's clubs were once maintained for purposes of savage party
warfare; working men's clubs of the same day assumed the same
character. Gentlemen's clubs became places of quiet inoffensive
recreation; working men's clubs began to follow suit. If working
men have seemed rather slow to appreciate advantages of combination
which have saved the pockets of gentlemen, and enhanced their
comforts, it is because working men could scarcely, for want of
capital, originate such combinations without help; and because help
has not been separable from that great impertinence, Patronage.
The instinctive revolt of his spirit against patronage, is a
quality much to be respected in the English working man. It is the
base of the base of his best qualities. Nor is it surprising that
he should be unduly suspicious of patronage, and sometimes
resentful of it even where it is not, seeing what a flood of washy
talk has been let loose on his devoted head, or with what
complacent condescension the same devoted head has been smoothed
and patted. It is a proof to me of his self-control that he never
strikes out pugilistically, right and left, when addressed as one
of 'My friends,' or 'My assembled friends;' that he does not become
inappeasable, and run amuck like a Malay, whenever he sees a biped
in broadcloth getting on a platform to talk to him; that any
pretence of improving his mind, does not instantly drive him out of
his mind, and cause him to toss his obliging patron like a mad
For, how often have I heard the unfortunate working man lectured,
as if he were a little charity-child, humid as to his nasal
development, strictly literal as to his Catechism, and called by
Providence to walk all his days in a station in life represented on
festive occasions by a mug of warm milk-and-water and a bun! What
popguns of jokes have these ears tingled to hear let off at him,
what asinine sentiments, what impotent conclusions, what spellingbook
moralities, what adaptations of the orator's insufferable
tediousness to the assumed level of his understanding! If his
sledge-hammers, his spades and pick-axes, his saws and chisels, his
paint-pots and brushes, his forges, furnaces, and engines, the
horses that he drove at his work, and the machines that drove him
at his work, were all toys in one little paper box, and he the baby
who played with them, he could not have been discoursed to, more
impertinently and absurdly than I have heard him discoursed to
times innumerable. Consequently, not being a fool or a fawner, he
has come to acknowledge his patronage by virtually saying: 'Let me
alone. If you understand me no better than THAT, sir and madam,
let me alone. You mean very well, I dare say, but I don't like it,
and I won't come here again to have any more of it.'
Whatever is done for the comfort and advancement of the working man
must be so far done by himself as that it is maintained by himself.
And there must be in it no touch of condescension, no shadow of
patronage. In the great working districts, this truth is studied
and understood. When the American civil war rendered it necessary,
first in Glasgow, and afterwards in Manchester, that the working
people should be shown how to avail themselves of the advantages
derivable from system, and from the combination of numbers, in the
purchase and the cooking of their food, this truth was above all
things borne in mind. The quick consequence was, that suspicion
and reluctance were vanquished, and that the effort resulted in an
astonishing and a complete success.
Such thoughts passed through my mind on a July morning of this
summer, as I walked towards Commercial Street (not Uncommercial
Street), Whitechapel. The Glasgow and Manchester system had been
lately set a-going there, by certain gentlemen who felt an interest
in its diffusion, and I had been attracted by the following handbill
printed on rose-coloured paper:
Commercial-street, Whitechapel,
Where Accommodation is provided for Dining comfortably
300 Persons at a time.
Open from 7 A.M. till 7 P.M.
All Articles of the BEST QUALITY.
Cup of Tea or Coffee One Penny
Bread and Butter One Penny
Bread and Cheese One Penny
Slice of bread One half-penny or
One Penny
Boiled Egg One Penny
Ginger Beer One Penny
The above Articles always ready.
Besides the above may be had, from 12 to 3 o'clock,
Bowl of Scotch Broth One Penny
Bowl of Soup One Penny
Plate of Potatoes One Penny
Plate of Minced Beef Twopence
Plate of Cold Beef Twopence
Plate of Cold Ham Twopence
Plate of Plum Pudding or Rice One Penny
As the Economy of Cooking depends greatly upon the simplicity of
the arrangements with which a great number of persons can be served
at one time, the Upper Room of this Establishment will be
especially set apart for a
From 12 till 3 o'clock,
Bowl of Broth, or Soup,
Plate of Cold Beef or Ham,
Plate of Potatoes,
Plum Pudding, or Rice.
N.B. - This Establishment is conducted on the strictest business
principles, with the full intention of making it self-supporting,
so that every one may frequent it with a feeling of perfect
The assistance of all frequenting the Depot is confidently expected
in checking anything interfering with the comfort, quiet, and
regularity of the establishment.
Please do not destroy this Hand Bill, but hand it to some other
person whom it may interest.
The Self-Supporting Cooking Depot (not a very good name, and one
would rather give it an English one) had hired a newly-built
warehouse that it found to let; therefore it was not established in
premises specially designed for the purpose. But, at a small cost
they were exceedingly well adapted to the purpose: being light,
well ventilated, clean, and cheerful. They consisted of three
large rooms. That on the basement story was the kitchen; that on
the ground floor was the general dining-room; that on the floor
above was the Upper Room referred to in the hand-bill, where the
Public Dinner at fourpence-halfpenny a head was provided every day.
The cooking was done, with much economy of space and fuel, by
American cooking-stoves, and by young women not previously, brought
up as cooks; the walls and pillars of the two dining-rooms were
agreeably brightened with ornamental colours; the tables were
capable of accommodating six or eight persons each; the attendants
were all young women, becomingly and neatly dressed, and dressed
alike. I think the whole staff was female, with the exception of
the steward or manager.
My first inquiries were directed to the wages of this staff;
because, if any establishment claiming to be self-supporting, live
upon the spoliation of anybody or anything, or eke out a feeble
existence by poor mouths and beggarly resources (as too many socalled
Mechanics' Institutions do), I make bold to express my
Uncommercial opinion that it has no business to live, and had
better die. It was made clear to me by the account books, that
every person employed was properly paid. My next inquiries were
directed to the quality of the provisions purchased, and to the
terms on which they were bought. It was made equally clear to me
that the quality was the very best, and that all bills were paid
weekly. My next inquiries were directed to the balance-sheet for
the last two weeks - only the third and fourth of the
establishment's career. It was made equally clear to me, that
after everything bought was paid for, and after each week was
charged with its full share of wages, rent and taxes, depreciation
of plant in use, and interest on capital at the rate of four per
cent. per annum, the last week had yielded a profit of (in round
numbers) one pound ten; and the previous week a profit of six
pounds ten. By this time I felt that I had a healthy appetite for
the dinners.
It had just struck twelve, and a quick succession of faces had
already begun to appear at a little window in the wall of the
partitioned space where I sat looking over the books. Within this
little window, like a pay-box at a theatre, a neat and brisk young
woman presided to take money and issue tickets. Every one coming
in must take a ticket. Either the fourpence-halfpenny ticket for
the upper room (the most popular ticket, I think), or a penny
ticket for a bowl of soup, or as many penny tickets as he or she
choose to buy. For three penny tickets one had quite a wide range
of choice. A plate of cold boiled beef and potatoes; or a plate of
cold ham and potatoes; or a plate of hot minced beef and potatoes;
or a bowl of soup, bread and cheese, and a plate of plum-pudding.
Touching what they should have, some customers on taking their
seats fell into a reverie - became mildly distracted - postponed
decision, and said in bewilderment, they would think of it. One
old man I noticed when I sat among the tables in the lower room,
who was startled by the bill of fare, and sat contemplating it as
if it were something of a ghostly nature. The decision of the boys
was as rapid as their execution, and always included pudding.
There were several women among the diners, and several clerks and
shopmen. There were carpenters and painters from the neighbouring
buildings under repair, and there were nautical men, and there
were, as one diner observed to me, 'some of most sorts.' Some were
solitary, some came two together, some dined in parties of three or
four, or six. The latter talked together, but assuredly no one was
louder than at my club in Pall-Mall. One young fellow whistled in
rather a shrill manner while he waited for his dinner, but I was
gratified to observe that he did so in evident defiance of my
Uncommercial individuality. Quite agreeing with him, on
consideration, that I had no business to be there, unless I dined
like the rest, 'I went in,' as the phrase is, for fourpencehalfpenny.
The room of the fourpence-halfpenny banquet had, like the lower
room, a counter in it, on which were ranged a great number of cold
portions ready for distribution. Behind this counter, the fragrant
soup was steaming in deep cans, and the best-cooked of potatoes
were fished out of similar receptacles. Nothing to eat was touched
with his hand. Every waitress had her own tables to attend to. As
soon as she saw a new customer seat himself at one of her tables,
she took from the counter all his dinner - his soup, potatoes,
meat, and pudding - piled it up dexterously in her two hands, set
it before him, and took his ticket. This serving of the whole
dinner at once, had been found greatly to simplify the business of
attendance, and was also popular with the customers: who were thus
enabled to vary the meal by varying the routine of dishes:
beginning with soup-to-day, putting soup in the middle to-morrow,
putting soup at the end the day after to-morrow, and ringing
similar changes on meat and pudding. The rapidity with which every
new-comer got served, was remarkable; and the dexterity with which
the waitresses (quite new to the art a month before) discharged
their duty, was as agreeable to see, as the neat smartness with
which they wore their dress and had dressed their hair.
If I seldom saw better waiting, so I certainly never ate better
meat, potatoes, or pudding. And the soup was an honest and stout
soup, with rice and barley in it, and 'little matters for the teeth
to touch,' as had been observed to me by my friend below stairs
already quoted. The dinner-service, too, was neither conspicuously
hideous for High Art nor for Low Art, but was of a pleasant and
pure appearance. Concerning the viands and their cookery, one last
remark. I dined at my club in Pall-Mall aforesaid, a few days
afterwards, for exactly twelve times the money, and not half as
The company thickened after one o'clock struck, and changed pretty
quickly. Although experience of the place had been so recently
attainable, and although there was still considerable curiosity out
in the street and about the entrance, the general tone was as good
as could be, and the customers fell easily into the ways of the
place. It was clear to me, however, that they were there to have
what they paid for, and to be on an independent footing. To the
best of my judgment, they might be patronised out of the building
in a month. With judicious visiting, and by dint of being
questioned, read to, and talked at, they might even be got rid of
(for the next quarter of a century) in half the time.
This disinterested and wise movement is fraught with so many
wholesome changes in the lives of the working people, and with so
much good in the way of overcoming that suspicion which our own
unconscious impertinence has engendered, that it is scarcely
gracious to criticise details as yet; the rather, because it is
indisputable that the managers of the Whitechapel establishment
most thoroughly feel that they are upon their honour with the
customers, as to the minutest points of administration. But,
although the American stoves cannot roast, they can surely boil one
kind of meat as well as another, and need not always circumscribe
their boiling talents within the limits of ham and beef. The most
enthusiastic admirer of those substantials, would probably not
object to occasional inconstancy in respect of pork and mutton:
or, especially in cold weather, to a little innocent trifling with
Irish stews, meat pies, and toads in holes. Another drawback on
the Whitechapel establishment, is the absence of beer. Regarded
merely as a question of policy, it is very impolitic, as having a
tendency to send the working men to the public-house, where gin is
reported to be sold. But, there is a much higher ground on which
this absence of beer is objectionable. It expresses distrust of
the working man. It is a fragment of that old mantle of patronage
in which so many estimable Thugs, so darkly wandering up and down
the moral world, are sworn to muffle him. Good beer is a good
thing for him, he says, and he likes it; the Depot could give it
him good, and he now gets it bad. Why does the Depot not give it
him good? Because he would get drunk. Why does the Depot not let
him have a pint with his dinner, which would not make him drunk?
Because he might have had another pint, or another two pints,
before he came. Now, this distrust is an affront, is exceedingly
inconsistent with the confidence the managers express in their
hand-bills, and is a timid stopping-short upon the straight
highway. It is unjust and unreasonable, also. It is unjust,
because it punishes the sober man for the vice of the drunken man.
It is unreasonable, because any one at all experienced in such
things knows that the drunken workman does not get drunk where he
goes to eat and drink, but where he goes to drink - expressly to
drink. To suppose that the working man cannot state this question
to himself quite as plainly as I state it here, is to suppose that
he is a baby, and is again to tell him in the old wearisome,
condescending, patronising way that he must be goody-poody, and do
as he is toldy-poldy, and not be a manny-panny or a voter-poter,
but fold his handy-pandys, and be a childy-pildy.
I found from the accounts of the Whitechapel Self-Supporting
Cooking Depot, that every article sold in it, even at the prices I
have quoted, yields a certain small profit! Individual speculators
are of course already in the field, and are of course already
appropriating the name. The classes for whose benefit the real
depots are designed, will distinguish between the two kinds of
There are some small out-of-the-way landing places on the Thames
and the Medway, where I do much of my summer idling. Running water
is favourable to day-dreams, and a strong tidal river is the best
of running water for mine. I like to watch the great ships
standing out to sea or coming home richly laden, the active little
steam-tugs confidently puffing with them to and from the seahorizon,
the fleet of barges that seem to have plucked their brown
and russet sails from the ripe trees in the landscape, the heavy
old colliers, light in ballast, floundering down before the tide,
the light screw barks and schooners imperiously holding a straight
course while the others patiently tack and go about, the yachts
with their tiny hulls and great white sheets of canvas, the little
sailing-boats bobbing to and fro on their errands of pleasure or
business, and - as it is the nature of little people to do - making
a prodigious fuss about their small affairs. Watching these
objects, I still am under no obligation to think about them, or
even so much as to see them, unless it perfectly suits my humour.
As little am I obliged to hear the plash and flop of the tide, the
ripple at my feet, the clinking windlass afar off, or the humming
steam-ship paddles further away yet. These, with the creaking
little jetty on which I sit, and the gaunt high-water marks and
low-water marks in the mud, and the broken causeway, and the broken
bank, and the broken stakes and piles leaning forward as if they
were vain of their personal appearance and looking for their
reflection in the water, will melt into any train of fancy.
Equally adaptable to any purpose or to none, are the posturing
sheep and kine upon the marshes, the gulls that wheel and dip
around me, the crows (well out of gunshot) going home from the rich
harvest-fields, the heron that has been out a-fishing and looks as
melancholy, up there in the sky, as if it hadn't agreed with him.
Everything within the range of the senses will, by the aid of the
running water, lend itself to everything beyond that range, and
work into a drowsy whole, not unlike a kind of tune, but for which
there is no exact definition.
One of these landing-places is near an old fort (I can see the Nore
Light from it with my pocket-glass), from which fort mysteriously
emerges a boy, to whom I am much indebted for additions to my
scanty stock of knowledge. He is a young boy, with an intelligent
face burnt to a dust colour by the summer sun, and with crisp hair
of the same hue. He is a boy in whom I have perceived nothing
incompatible with habits of studious inquiry and meditation, unless
an evanescent black eye (I was delicate of inquiring how
occasioned) should be so considered. To him am I indebted for
ability to identify a Custom-house boat at any distance, and for
acquaintance with all the forms and ceremonies observed by a
homeward-bound Indiaman coming up the river, when the Custom-house
officers go aboard her. But for him, I might never have heard of
'the dumb-ague,' respecting which malady I am now learned. Had I
never sat at his feet, I might have finished my mortal career and
never known that when I see a white horse on a barge's sail, that
barge is a lime barge. For precious secrets in reference to beer,
am I likewise beholden to him, involving warning against the beer
of a certain establishment, by reason of its having turned sour
through failure in point of demand: though my young sage is not of
opinion that similar deterioration has befallen the ale. He has
also enlightened me touching the mushrooms of the marshes, and has
gently reproved my ignorance in having supposed them to be
impregnated with salt. His manner of imparting information, is
thoughtful, and appropriate to the scene. As he reclines beside
me, he pitches into the river, a little stone or piece of grit, and
then delivers himself oracularly, as though he spoke out of the
centre of the spreading circle that it makes in the water. He
never improves my mind without observing this formula.
With the wise boy - whom I know by no other name than the Spirit of
the Fort - I recently consorted on a breezy day when the river
leaped about us and was full of life. I had seen the sheaved corn
carrying in the golden fields as I came down to the river; and the
rosy farmer, watching his labouring-men in the saddle on his cob,
had told me how he had reaped his two hundred and sixty acres of
long-strawed corn last week, and how a better week's work he had
never done in all his days. Peace and abundance were on the
country-side in beautiful forms and beautiful colours, and the
harvest seemed even to be sailing out to grace the never-reaped sea
in the yellow-laden barges that mellowed the distance.
It was on this occasion that the Spirit of the Fort, directing his
remarks to a certain floating iron battery lately lying in that
reach of the river, enriched my mind with his opinions on naval
architecture, and informed me that he would like to be an engineer.
I found him up to everything that is done in the contracting line
by Messrs. Peto and Brassey - cunning in the article of concrete -
mellow in the matter of iron - great on the subject of gunnery.
When he spoke of pile-driving and sluice-making, he left me not a
leg to stand on, and I can never sufficiently acknowledge his
forbearance with me in my disabled state. While he thus
discoursed, he several times directed his eyes to one distant
quarter of the landscape, and spoke with vague mysterious awe of
'the Yard.' Pondering his lessons after we had parted, I bethought
me that the Yard was one of our large public Dockyards, and that it
lay hidden among the crops down in the dip behind the windmills, as
if it modestly kept itself out of view in peaceful times, and
sought to trouble no man. Taken with this modesty on the part of
the Yard, I resolved to improve the Yard's acquaintance.
My good opinion of the Yard's retiring character was not dashed by
nearer approach. It resounded with the noise of hammers beating
upon iron; and the great sheds or slips under which the mighty menof-
war are built, loomed business-like when contemplated from the
opposite side of the river. For all that, however, the Yard made
no display, but kept itself snug under hill-sides of corn-fields,
hop-gardens, and orchards; its great chimneys smoking with a quiet
- almost a lazy - air, like giants smoking tobacco; and the great
Shears moored off it, looking meekly and inoffensively out of
proportion, like the Giraffe of the machinery creation. The store
of cannon on the neighbouring gun-wharf, had an innocent toy-like
appearance, and the one red-coated sentry on duty over them was a
mere toy figure, with a clock-work movement. As the hot sunlight
sparkled on him he might have passed for the identical little man
who had the little gun, and whose bullets they were made of lead,
lead, lead.
Crossing the river and landing at the Stairs, where a drift of
chips and weed had been trying to land before me and had not
succeeded, but had got into a corner instead, I found the very
street posts to be cannon, and the architectural ornaments to be
shells. And so I came to the Yard, which was shut up tight and
strong with great folded gates, like an enormous patent safe.
These gates devouring me, I became digested into the Yard; and it
had, at first, a clean-swept holiday air, as if it had given over
work until next war-time. Though indeed a quantity of hemp for
rope was tumbling out of store-houses, even there, which would
hardly be lying like so much hay on the white stones if the Yard
were as placid as it pretended.
Ding, Clash, Dong, BANG, Boom, Rattle, Clash, BANG, Clink, BANG,
Dong, BANG, Clatter, BANG BANG BANG! What on earth is this! This
is, or soon will be, the Achilles, iron armour-plated ship. Twelve
hundred men are working at her now; twelve hundred men working on
stages over her sides, over her bows, over her stern, under her
keel, between her decks, down in her hold, within her and without,
crawling and creeping into the finest curves of her lines wherever
it is possible for men to twist. Twelve hundred hammerers,
measurers, caulkers, armourers, forgers, smiths, shipwrights;
twelve hundred dingers, clashers, dongers, rattlers, clinkers,
bangers bangers bangers! Yet all this stupendous uproar around the
rising Achilles is as nothing to the reverberations with which the
perfected Achilles shall resound upon the dreadful day when the
full work is in hand for which this is but note of preparation -
the day when the scuppers that are now fitting like great, dry,
thirsty conduit-pipes, shall run red. All these busy figures
between decks, dimly seen bending at their work in smoke and fire,
are as nothing to the figures that shall do work here of another
kind in smoke and fire, that day. These steam-worked engines
alongside, helping the ship by travelling to and fro, and wafting
tons of iron plates about, as though they were so many leaves of
trees, would be rent limb from limb if they stood by her for a
minute then. To think that this Achilles, monstrous compound of
iron tank and oaken chest, can ever swim or roll! To think that
any force of wind and wave could ever break her! To think that
wherever I see a glowing red-hot iron point thrust out of her side
from within - as I do now, there, and there, and there! - and two
watching men on a stage without, with bared arms and sledgehammers,
strike at it fiercely, and repeat their blows until it is
black and flat, I see a rivet being driven home, of which there are
many in every iron plate, and thousands upon thousands in the ship!
To think that the difficulty I experience in appreciating the
ship's size when I am on board, arises from her being a series of
iron tanks and oaken chests, so that internally she is ever
finishing and ever beginning, and half of her might be smashed, and
yet the remaining half suffice and be sound. Then, to go over the
side again and down among the ooze and wet to the bottom of the
dock, in the depths of the subterranean forest of dog-shores and
stays that hold her up, and to see the immense mass bulging out
against the upper light, and tapering down towards me, is, with
great pains and much clambering, to arrive at an impossibility of
realising that this is a ship at all, and to become possessed by
the fancy that it is an enormous immovable edifice set up in an
ancient amphitheatre (say, that at Verona), and almost filling it!
Yet what would even these things be, without the tributary
workshops and the mechanical powers for piercing the iron plates -
four inches and a half thick - for rivets, shaping them under
hydraulic pressure to the finest tapering turns of the ship's
lines, and paring them away, with knives shaped like the beaks of
strong and cruel birds, to the nicest requirements of the design!
These machines of tremendous force, so easily directed by one
attentive face and presiding hand, seem to me to have in them
something of the retiring character of the Yard. 'Obedient
monster, please to bite this mass of iron through and through, at
equal distances, where these regular chalk-marks are, all round.'
Monster looks at its work, and lifting its ponderous head, replies,
'I don't particularly want to do it; but if it must be done - !'
The solid metal wriggles out, hot from the monster's crunching
tooth, and it IS done. 'Dutiful monster, observe this other mass
of iron. It is required to be pared away, according to this
delicately lessening and arbitrary line, which please to look at.'
Monster (who has been in a reverie) brings down its blunt head,
and, much in the manner of Doctor Johnson, closely looks along the
line - very closely, being somewhat near-sighted. 'I don't
particularly want to do it; but if it must be done - !' Monster
takes another near-sighted look, takes aim, and the tortured piece
writhes off, and falls, a hot, tight-twisted snake, among the
ashes. The making of the rivets is merely a pretty round game,
played by a man and a boy, who put red-hot barley sugar in a Pope
Joan board, and immediately rivets fall out of window; but the tone
of the great machines is the tone of the great Yard and the great
country: 'We don't particularly want to do it; but if it must be
done - !'
How such a prodigious mass as the Achilles can ever be held by such
comparatively little anchors as those intended for her and lying
near her here, is a mystery of seamanship which I will refer to the
wise boy. For my own part, I should as soon have thought of
tethering an elephant to a tent-peg, or the larger hippopotamus in
the Zoological Gardens to my shirt-pin. Yonder in the river,
alongside a hulk, lie two of this ship's hollow iron masts. THEY
are large enough for the eye, I find, and so are all her other
appliances. I wonder why only her anchors look small.
I have no present time to think about it, for I am going to see the
workshops where they make all the oars used in the British Navy. A
pretty large pile of building, I opine, and a pretty long job! As
to the building, I am soon disappointed, because the work is all
done in one loft. And as to a long job - what is this? Two rather
large mangles with a swarm of butterflies hovering over them? What
can there be in the mangles that attracts butterflies?
Drawing nearer, I discern that these are not mangles, but intricate
machines, set with knives and saws and planes, which cut smooth and
straight here, and slantwise there, and now cut such a depth, and
now miss cutting altogether, according to the predestined
requirements of the pieces of wood that are pushed on below them:
each of which pieces is to be an oar, and is roughly adapted to
that purpose before it takes its final leave of far-off forests,
and sails for England. Likewise I discern that the butterflies are
not true butterflies, but wooden shavings, which, being spirted up
from the wood by the violence of the machinery, and kept in rapid
and not equal movement by the impulse of its rotation on the air,
flutter and play, and rise and fall, and conduct themselves as like
butterflies as heart could wish. Suddenly the noise and motion
cease, and the butterflies drop dead. An oar has been made since I
came in, wanting the shaped handle. As quickly as I can follow it
with my eye and thought, the same oar is carried to a turning
lathe. A whirl and a Nick! Handle made. Oar finished.
The exquisite beauty and efficiency of this machinery need no
illustration, but happen to have a pointed illustration to-day. A
pair of oars of unusual size chance to be wanted for a special
purpose, and they have to be made by hand. Side by side with the
subtle and facile machine, and side by side with the fast-growing
pile of oars on the floor, a man shapes out these special oars with
an axe. Attended by no butterflies, and chipping and dinting, by
comparison as leisurely as if he were a labouring Pagan getting
them ready against his decease at threescore and ten, to take with
him as a present to Charon for his boat, the man (aged about
thirty) plies his task. The machine would make a regulation oar
while the man wipes his forehead. The man might be buried in a
mound made of the strips of thin, broad, wooden ribbon torn from
the wood whirled into oars as the minutes fall from the clock,
before he had done a forenoon's work with his axe.
Passing from this wonderful sight to the Ships again - for my
heart, as to the Yard, is where the ships are - I notice certain
unfinished wooden walls left seasoning on the stocks, pending the
solution of the merits of the wood and iron question, and having an
air of biding their time with surly confidence. The names of these
worthies are set up beside them, together with their capacity in
guns - a custom highly conducive to ease and satisfaction in social
intercourse, if it could be adapted to mankind. By a plank more
gracefully pendulous than substantial, I make bold to go aboard a
transport ship (iron screw) just sent in from the contractor's yard
to be inspected and passed. She is a very gratifying experience,
in the simplicity and humanity of her arrangements for troops, in
her provision for light and air and cleanliness, and in her care
for women and children. It occurs to me, as I explore her, that I
would require a handsome sum of money to go aboard her, at midnight
by the Dockyard bell, and stay aboard alone till morning; for
surely she must be haunted by a crowd of ghosts of obstinate old
martinets, mournfully flapping their cherubic epaulettes over the
changed times. Though still we may learn from the astounding ways
and means in our Yards now, more highly than ever to respect the
forefathers who got to sea, and fought the sea, and held the sea,
without them. This remembrance putting me in the best of tempers
with an old hulk, very green as to her copper, and generally dim
and patched, I pull off my hat to her. Which salutation a callow
and downy-faced young officer of Engineers, going by at the moment,
perceiving, appropriates - and to which he is most heartily
welcome, I am sure.
Having been torn to pieces (in imagination) by the steam circular
saws, perpendicular saws, horizontal saws, and saws of eccentric
action, I come to the sauntering part of my expedition, and
consequently to the core of my Uncommercial pursuits.
Everywhere, as I saunter up and down the Yard, I meet with tokens
of its quiet and retiring character. There is a gravity upon its
red brick offices and houses, a staid pretence of having nothing
worth mentioning to do, an avoidance of display, which I never saw
out of England. The white stones of the pavement present no other
trace of Achilles and his twelve hundred banging men (not one of
whom strikes an attitude) than a few occasional echoes. But for a
whisper in the air suggestive of sawdust and shavings, the oarmaking
and the saws of many movements might be miles away. Down
below here, is the great reservoir of water where timber is steeped
in various temperatures, as a part of its seasoning process. Above
it, on a tramroad supported by pillars, is a Chinese Enchanter's
Car, which fishes the logs up, when sufficiently steeped, and rolls
smoothly away with them to stack them. When I was a child (the
Yard being then familiar to me) I used to think that I should like
to play at Chinese Enchanter, and to have that apparatus placed at
my disposal for the purpose by a beneficent country. I still think
that I should rather like to try the effect of writing a book in
it. Its retirement is complete, and to go gliding to and fro among
the stacks of timber would be a convenient kind of travelling in
foreign countries - among the forests of North America, the sodden
Honduras swamps, the dark pine woods, the Norwegian frosts, and the
tropical heats, rainy seasons, and thunderstorms. The costly store
of timber is stacked and stowed away in sequestered places, with
the pervading avoidance of flourish or effect. It makes as little
of itself as possible, and calls to no one 'Come and look at me!'
And yet it is picked out from the trees of the world; picked out
for length, picked out for breadth, picked out for straightness,
picked out for crookedness, chosen with an eye to every need of
ship and boat. Strangely twisted pieces lie about, precious in the
sight of shipwrights. Sauntering through these groves, I come upon
an open glade where workmen are examining some timber recently
delivered. Quite a pastoral scene, with a background of river and
windmill! and no more like War than the American States are at
present like an Union.
Sauntering among the ropemaking, I am spun into a state of blissful
indolence, wherein my rope of life seems to be so untwisted by the
process as that I can see back to very early days indeed, when my
bad dreams - they were frightful, though my more mature
understanding has never made out why - were of an interminable sort
of ropemaking, with long minute filaments for strands, which, when
they were spun home together close to my eyes, occasioned
screaming. Next, I walk among the quiet lofts of stores - of
sails, spars, rigging, ships' boats - determined to believe that
somebody in authority wears a girdle and bends beneath the weight
of a massive bunch of keys, and that, when such a thing is wanted,
he comes telling his keys like Blue Beard, and opens such a door.
Impassive as the long lofts look, let the electric battery send
down the word, and the shutters and doors shall fly open, and such
a fleet of armed ships, under steam and under sail, shall burst
forth as will charge the old Medway - where the merry Stuart let
the Dutch come, while his not so merry sailors starved in the
streets - with something worth looking at to carry to the sea.
Thus I idle round to the Medway again, where it is now flood tide;
and I find the river evincing a strong solicitude to force a way
into the dry dock where Achilles is waited on by the twelve hundred
bangers, with intent to bear the whole away before they are ready.
To the last, the Yard puts a quiet face upon it; for I make my way
to the gates through a little quiet grove of trees, shading the
quaintest of Dutch landing-places, where the leaf-speckled shadow
of a shipwright just passing away at the further end might be the
shadow of Russian Peter himself. So, the doors of the great patent
safe at last close upon me, and I take boat again: somehow,
thinking as the oars dip, of braggart Pistol and his brood, and of
the quiet monsters of the Yard, with their 'We don't particularly
want to do it; but if it must be done - !' Scrunch.
'It is neither a bold nor a diversified country,' said I to myself,
'this country which is three-quarters Flemish, and a quarter
French; yet it has its attractions too. Though great lines of
railway traverse it, the trains leave it behind, and go puffing off
to Paris and the South, to Belgium and Germany, to the Northern
Sea-Coast of France, and to England, and merely smoke it a little
in passing. Then I don't know it, and that is a good reason for
being here; and I can't pronounce half the long queer names I see
inscribed over the shops, and that is another good reason for being
here, since I surely ought to learn how.' In short, I was 'here,'
and I wanted an excuse for not going away from here, and I made it
to my satisfaction, and stayed here.
What part in my decision was borne by Monsieur P. Salcy, is of no
moment, though I own to encountering that gentleman's name on a red
bill on the wall, before I made up my mind. Monsieur P. Salcy,
'par permission de M. le Maire,' had established his theatre in the
whitewashed Hotel de Ville, on the steps of which illustrious
edifice I stood. And Monsieur P. Salcy, privileged director of
such theatre, situate in 'the first theatrical arrondissement of
the department of the North,' invited French-Flemish mankind to
come and partake of the intellectual banquet provided by his family
of dramatic artists, fifteen subjects in number. 'La Famille P.
SALCY, composee d'artistes dramatiques, au nombre de 15 sujets.'
Neither a bold nor a diversified country, I say again, and withal
an untidy country, but pleasant enough to ride in, when the paved
roads over the flats and through the hollows, are not too deep in
black mud. A country so sparely inhabited, that I wonder where the
peasants who till and sow and reap the ground, can possibly dwell,
and also by what invisible balloons they are conveyed from their
distant homes into the fields at sunrise and back again at sunset.
The occasional few poor cottages and farms in this region, surely
cannot afford shelter to the numbers necessary to the cultivation,
albeit the work is done so very deliberately, that on one long
harvest day I have seen, in twelve miles, about twice as many men
and women (all told) reaping and binding. Yet have I seen more
cattle, more sheep, more pigs, and all in better case, than where
there is purer French spoken, and also better ricks - round
swelling peg-top ricks, well thatched; not a shapeless brown heap,
like the toast of a Giant's toast-and-water, pinned to the earth
with one of the skewers out of his kitchen. A good custom they
have about here, likewise, of prolonging the sloping tiled roof of
farm or cottage, so that it overhangs three or four feet, carrying
off the wet, and making a good drying-place wherein to hang up
herbs, or implements, or what not. A better custom than the
popular one of keeping the refuse-heap and puddle close before the
house door: which, although I paint my dwelling never so brightly
blue (and it cannot be too blue for me, hereabouts), will bring
fever inside my door. Wonderful poultry of the French-Flemish
country, why take the trouble to BE poultry? Why not stop short at
eggs in the rising generation, and die out and have done with it?
Parents of chickens have I seen this day, followed by their
wretched young families, scratching nothing out of the mud with an
air - tottering about on legs so scraggy and weak, that the valiant
word drumsticks becomes a mockery when applied to them, and the
crow of the lord and master has been a mere dejected case of croup.
Carts have I seen, and other agricultural instruments, unwieldy,
dislocated, monstrous. Poplar-trees by the thousand fringe the
fields and fringe the end of the flat landscape, so that I feel,
looking straight on before me, as if, when I pass the extremest
fringe on the low horizon, I shall tumble over into space. Little
whitewashed black holes of chapels, with barred doors and Flemish
inscriptions, abound at roadside corners, and often they are
garnished with a sheaf of wooden crosses, like children's swords;
or, in their default, some hollow old tree with a saint roosting in
it, is similarly decorated, or a pole with a very diminutive saint
enshrined aloft in a sort of sacred pigeon-house. Not that we are
deficient in such decoration in the town here, for, over at the
church yonder, outside the building, is a scenic representation of
the Crucifixion, built up with old bricks and stones, and made out
with painted canvas and wooden figures: the whole surmounting the
dusty skull of some holy personage (perhaps), shut up behind a
little ashy iron grate, as if it were originally put there to be
cooked, and the fire had long gone out. A windmilly country this,
though the windmills are so damp and rickety, that they nearly
knock themselves off their legs at every turn of their sails, and
creak in loud complaint. A weaving country, too, for in the
wayside cottages the loom goes wearily - rattle and click, rattle
and click - and, looking in, I see the poor weaving peasant, man or
woman, bending at the work, while the child, working too, turns a
little hand-wheel put upon the ground to suit its height. An
unconscionable monster, the loom in a small dwelling, asserting
himself ungenerously as the bread-winner, straddling over the
children's straw beds, cramping the family in space and air, and
making himself generally objectionable and tyrannical. He is
tributary, too, to ugly mills and factories and bleaching-grounds,
rising out of the sluiced fields in an abrupt bare way, disdaining,
like himself, to be ornamental or accommodating. Surrounded by
these things, here I stood on the steps of the Hotel de Ville,
persuaded to remain by the P. Salcy family, fifteen dramatic
subjects strong.
There was a Fair besides. The double persuasion being
irresistible, and my sponge being left behind at the last Hotel, I
made the tour of the little town to buy another. In the small
sunny shops - mercers, opticians, and druggist-grocers, with here
and there an emporium of religious images - the gravest of old
spectacled Flemish husbands and wives sat contemplating one another
across bare counters, while the wasps, who seemed to have taken
military possession of the town, and to have placed it under waspmartial
law, executed warlike manoeuvres in the windows. Other
shops the wasps had entirely to themselves, and nobody cared and
nobody came when I beat with a five-franc piece upon the board of
custom. What I sought was no more to be found than if I had sought
a nugget of Californian gold: so I went, spongeless, to pass the
evening with the Family P. Salcy.
The members of the Family P. Salcy were so fat and so like one
another - fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, and aunts -
that I think the local audience were much confused about the plot
of the piece under representation, and to the last expected that
everybody must turn out to be the long-lost relative of everybody
else. The Theatre was established on the top story of the Hotel de
Ville, and was approached by a long bare staircase, whereon, in an
airy situation, one of the P. Salcy Family - a stout gentleman
imperfectly repressed by a belt - took the money. This occasioned
the greatest excitement of the evening; for, no sooner did the
curtain rise on the introductory Vaudeville, and reveal in the
person of the young lover (singing a very short song with his
eyebrows) apparently the very same identical stout gentleman
imperfectly repressed by a belt, than everybody rushed out to the
paying-place, to ascertain whether he could possibly have put on
that dress-coat, that clear complexion, and those arched black
vocal eyebrows, in so short a space of time. It then became
manifest that this was another stout gentleman imperfectly
repressed by a belt: to whom, before the spectators had recovered
their presence of mind, entered a third stout gentleman imperfectly
repressed by a belt, exactly like him. These two 'subjects,'
making with the money-taker three of the announced fifteen, fell
into conversation touching a charming young widow: who, presently
appearing, proved to be a stout lady altogether irrepressible by
any means - quite a parallel case to the American Negro - fourth of
the fifteen subjects, and sister of the fifth who presided over the
check-department. In good time the whole of the fifteen subjects
were dramatically presented, and we had the inevitable Ma Mere, Ma
Mere! and also the inevitable malediction d'un pere, and likewise
the inevitable Marquis, and also the inevitable provincial young
man, weak-minded but faithful, who followed Julie to Paris, and
cried and laughed and choked all at once. The story was wrought
out with the help of a virtuous spinning-wheel in the beginning, a
vicious set of diamonds in the middle, and a rheumatic blessing
(which arrived by post) from Ma Mere towards the end; the whole
resulting in a small sword in the body of one of the stout
gentlemen imperfectly repressed by a belt, fifty thousand francs
per annum and a decoration to the other stout gentleman imperfectly
repressed by a belt, and an assurance from everybody to the
provincial young man that if he were not supremely happy - which he
seemed to have no reason whatever for being - he ought to be. This
afforded him a final opportunity of crying and laughing and choking
all at once, and sent the audience home sentimentally delighted.
Audience more attentive or better behaved there could not possibly
be, though the places of second rank in the Theatre of the Family
P. Salcy were sixpence each in English money, and the places of
first rank a shilling. How the fifteen subjects ever got so fat
upon it, the kind Heavens know.
What gorgeous china figures of knights and ladies, gilded till they
gleamed again, I might have bought at the Fair for the garniture of
my home, if I had been a French-Flemish peasant, and had had the
money! What shining coffee-cups and saucers I might have won at
the turntables, if I had had the luck! Ravishing perfumery also,
and sweetmeats, I might have speculated in, or I might have fired
for prizes at a multitude of little dolls in niches, and might have
hit the doll of dolls, and won francs and fame. Or, being a
French-Flemish youth, I might have been drawn in a hand-cart by my
compeers, to tilt for municipal rewards at the water-quintain;
which, unless I sent my lance clean through the ring, emptied a
full bucket over me; to fend off which, the competitors wore
grotesque old scarecrow hats. Or, being French-Flemish man or
woman, boy or girl, I might have circled all night on my hobbyhorse
in a stately cavalcade of hobby-horses four abreast,
interspersed with triumphal cars, going round and round and round
and round, we the goodly company singing a ceaseless chorus to the
music of the barrel-organ, drum, and cymbals. On the whole, not
more monotonous than the Ring in Hyde Park, London, and much
merrier; for when do the circling company sing chorus, THERE, to
the barrel-organ, when do the ladies embrace their horses round the
neck with both arms, when do the gentlemen fan the ladies with the
tails of their gallant steeds? On all these revolving delights,
and on their own especial lamps and Chinese lanterns revolving with
them, the thoughtful weaver-face brightens, and the Hotel de Ville
sheds an illuminated line of gaslight: while above it, the Eagle
of France, gas-outlined and apparently afflicted with the
prevailing infirmities that have lighted on the poultry, is in a
very undecided state of policy, and as a bird moulting. Flags
flutter all around. Such is the prevailing gaiety that the keeper
of the prison sits on the stone steps outside the prison-door, to
have a look at the world that is not locked up; while that
agreeable retreat, the wine-shop opposite to the prison in the
prison-alley (its sign La Tranquillite, because of its charming
situation), resounds with the voices of the shepherds and
shepherdesses who resort there this festive night. And it reminds
me that only this afternoon, I saw a shepherd in trouble, tending
this way, over the jagged stones of a neighbouring street. A
magnificent sight it was, to behold him in his blouse, a feeble
little jog-trot rustic, swept along by the wind of two immense
gendarmes, in cocked-hats for which the street was hardly wide
enough, each carrying a bundle of stolen property that would not
have held his shoulder-knot, and clanking a sabre that dwarfed the
'Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to you at this Fair, as a mark of
my confidence in the people of this so-renowned town, and as an act
of homage to their good sense and fine taste, the Ventriloquist,
the Ventriloquist! Further, Messieurs et Mesdames, I present to
you the Face-Maker, the Physiognomist, the great Changer of
Countenances, who transforms the features that Heaven has bestowed
upon him into an endless succession of surprising and extraordinary
visages, comprehending, Messieurs et Mesdames, all the contortions,
energetic and expressive, of which the human face is capable, and
all the passions of the human heart, as Love, Jealousy, Revenge,
Hatred, Avarice, Despair! Hi hi! Ho ho! Lu lu! Come in!' To
this effect, with an occasional smite upon a sonorous kind of
tambourine - bestowed with a will, as if it represented the people
who won't come in - holds forth a man of lofty and severe
demeanour; a man in stately uniform, gloomy with the knowledge he
possesses of the inner secrets of the booth. 'Come in, come in!
Your opportunity presents itself to-night; to-morrow it will be
gone for ever. To-morrow morning by the Express Train the railroad
will reclaim the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker! Algeria will
reclaim the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker! Yes! For the honour
of their country they have accepted propositions of a magnitude
incredible, to appear in Algeria. See them for the last time
before their departure! We go to commence on the instant. Hi hi!
Ho ho! Lu lu! Come in! Take the money that now ascends, Madame;
but after that, no more, for we commence! Come in!'
Nevertheless, the eyes both of the gloomy Speaker and of Madame
receiving sous in a muslin bower, survey the crowd pretty sharply
after the ascending money has ascended, to detect any lingering
sous at the turning-point. 'Come in, come in! Is there any more
money, Madame, on the point of ascending? If so, we wait for it.
If not, we commence!' The orator looks back over his shoulder to
say it, lashing the spectators with the conviction that he beholds
through the folds of the drapery into which he is about to plunge,
the Ventriloquist and the Face-Maker. Several sous burst out of
pockets, and ascend. 'Come up, then, Messieurs!' exclaims Madame
in a shrill voice, and beckoning with a bejewelled finger. 'Come
up! This presses. Monsieur has commanded that they commence!'
Monsieur dives into his Interior, and the last half-dozen of us
follow. His Interior is comparatively severe; his Exterior also.
A true Temple of Art needs nothing but seats, drapery, a small
table with two moderator lamps hanging over it, and an ornamental
looking-glass let into the wall. Monsieur in uniform gets behind
the table and surveys us with disdain, his forehead becoming
diabolically intellectual under the moderators. 'Messieurs et
Mesdames, I present to you the Ventriloquist. He will commence
with the celebrated Experience of the bee in the window. The bee,
apparently the veritable bee of Nature, will hover in the window,
and about the room. He will be with difficulty caught in the hand
of Monsieur the Ventriloquist - he will escape - he will again
hover - at length he will be recaptured by Monsieur the
Ventriloquist, and will be with difficulty put into a bottle.
Achieve then, Monsieur!' Here the proprietor is replaced behind
the table by the Ventriloquist, who is thin and sallow, and of a
weakly aspect. While the bee is in progress, Monsieur the
Proprietor sits apart on a stool, immersed in dark and remote
thought. The moment the bee is bottled, he stalks forward, eyes us
gloomily as we applaud, and then announces, sternly waving his
hand: 'The magnificent Experience of the child with the whoopingcough!'
The child disposed of, he starts up as before. 'The
superb and extraordinary Experience of the dialogue between
Monsieur Tatambour in his dining-room, and his domestic, Jerome, in
the cellar; concluding with the songsters of the grove, and the
Concert of domestic Farm-yard animals.' All this done, and well
done, Monsieur the Ventriloquist withdraws, and Monsieur the Face-
Maker bursts in, as if his retiring-room were a mile long instead
of a yard. A corpulent little man in a large white waistcoat, with
a comic countenance, and with a wig in his hand. Irreverent
disposition to laugh, instantly checked by the tremendous gravity
of the Face-Maker, who intimates in his bow that if we expect that
sort of thing we are mistaken. A very little shaving-glass with a
leg behind it is handed in, and placed on the table before the
Face-Maker. 'Messieurs et Mesdames, with no other assistance than
this mirror and this wig, I shall have the honour of showing you a
thousand characters.' As a preparation, the Face-Maker with both
hands gouges himself, and turns his mouth inside out. He then
becomes frightfully grave again, and says to the Proprietor, 'I am
ready!' Proprietor stalks forth from baleful reverie, and
announces 'The Young Conscript!' Face-Maker claps his wig on, hind
side before, looks in the glass, and appears above it as a
conscript so very imbecile, and squinting so extremely hard, that I
should think the State would never get any good of him. Thunders
of applause. Face-Maker dips behind the looking-glass, brings his
own hair forward, is himself again, is awfully grave. 'A
distinguished inhabitant of the Faubourg St. Germain.' Face-Maker
dips, rises, is supposed to be aged, blear-eyed, toothless,
slightly palsied, supernaturally polite, evidently of noble birth.
'The oldest member of the Corps of Invalides on the fete-day of his
master.' Face-Maker dips, rises, wears the wig on one side, has
become the feeblest military bore in existence, and (it is clear)
would lie frightfully about his past achievements, if he were not
confined to pantomime. 'The Miser!' Face-Maker dips, rises,
clutches a bag, and every hair of the wig is on end to express that
he lives in continual dread of thieves. 'The Genius of France!'
Face-Maker dips, rises, wig pushed back and smoothed flat, little
cocked-hat (artfully concealed till now) put a-top of it, Face-
Maker's white waistcoat much advanced, Face-Maker's left hand in
bosom of white waistcoat, Face-Maker's right hand behind his back.
Thunders. This is the first of three positions of the Genius of
France. In the second position, the Face-Maker takes snuff; in the
third, rolls up his fight hand, and surveys illimitable armies
through that pocket-glass. The Face-Maker then, by putting out his
tongue, and wearing the wig nohow in particular, becomes the
Village Idiot. The most remarkable feature in the whole of his
ingenious performance, is, that whatever he does to disguise
himself, has the effect of rendering him rather more like himself
than he was at first.
There were peep-shows in this Fair, and I had the pleasure of
recognising several fields of glory with which I became well
acquainted a year or two ago as Crimean battles, now doing duty as
Mexican victories. The change was neatly effected by some extra
smoking of the Russians, and by permitting the camp followers free
range in the foreground to despoil the enemy of their uniforms. As
no British troops had ever happened to be within sight when the
artist took his original sketches, it followed fortunately that
none were in the way now.
The Fair wound up with a ball. Respecting the particular night of
the week on which the ball took place, I decline to commit myself;
merely mentioning that it was held in a stable-yard so very close
to the railway, that it was a mercy the locomotive did not set fire
to it. (In Scotland, I suppose, it would have done so.) There, in
a tent prettily decorated with looking-glasses and a myriad of toy
flags, the people danced all night. It was not an expensive
recreation, the price of a double ticket for a cavalier and lady
being one and threepence in English money, and even of that small
sum fivepence was reclaimable for 'consommation:' which word I
venture to translate into refreshments of no greater strength, at
the strongest, than ordinary wine made hot, with sugar and lemon in
it. It was a ball of great good humour and of great enjoyment,
though very many of the dancers must have been as poor as the
fifteen subjects of the P. Salcy Family.
In short, not having taken my own pet national pint pot with me to
this Fair, I was very well satisfied with the measure of simple
enjoyment that it poured into the dull French-Flemish country life.
How dull that is, I had an opportunity of considering - when the
Fair was over - when the tri-coloured flags were withdrawn from the
windows of the houses on the Place where the Fair was held - when
the windows were close shut, apparently until next Fair-time - when
the Hotel de Ville had cut off its gas and put away its eagle -
when the two paviours, whom I take to form the entire paving
population of the town, were ramming down the stones which had been
pulled up for the erection of decorative poles - when the jailer
had slammed his gate, and sulkily locked himself in with his
charges. But then, as I paced the ring which marked the track of
the departed hobby-horses on the market-place, pondering in my mind
how long some hobby-horses do leave their tracks in public ways,
and how difficult they are to erase, my eyes were greeted with a
goodly sight. I beheld four male personages thoughtfully pacing
the Place together, in the sunlight, evidently not belonging to the
town, and having upon them a certain loose cosmopolitan air of not
belonging to any town. One was clad in a suit of white canvas,
another in a cap and blouse, the third in an old military frock,
the fourth in a shapeless dress that looked as if it had been made
out of old umbrellas. All wore dust-coloured shoes. My heart beat
high; for, in those four male personages, although complexionless
and eyebrowless, I beheld four subjects of the Family P. Salcy.
Blue-bearded though they were, and bereft of the youthful
smoothness of cheek which is imparted by what is termed in Albion a
'Whitechapel shave' (and which is, in fact, whitening, judiciously
applied to the jaws with the palm of the hand), I recognised them.
As I stood admiring, there emerged from the yard of a lowly
Cabaret, the excellent Ma Mere, Ma Mere, with the words, 'The soup
is served;' words which so elated the subject in the canvas suit,
that when they all ran in to partake, he went last, dancing with
his hands stuck angularly into the pockets of his canvas trousers,
after the Pierrot manner. Glancing down the Yard, the last I saw
of him was, that he looked in through a window (at the soup, no
doubt) on one leg.
Full of this pleasure, I shortly afterwards departed from the town,
little dreaming of an addition to my good fortune. But more was in
reserve. I went by a train which was heavy with third-class
carriages, full of young fellows (well guarded) who had drawn
unlucky numbers in the last conscription, and were on their way to
a famous French garrison town where much of the raw military
material is worked up into soldiery. At the station they had been
sitting about, in their threadbare homespun blue garments, with
their poor little bundles under their arms, covered with dust and
clay, and the various soils of France; sad enough at heart, most of
them, but putting a good face upon it, and slapping their breasts
and singing choruses on the smallest provocation; the gayest
spirits shouldering half loaves of black bread speared upon their
walking-sticks. As we went along, they were audible at every
station, chorusing wildly out of tune, and feigning the highest
hilarity. After a while, however, they began to leave off singing,
and to laugh naturally, while at intervals there mingled with their
laughter the barking of a dog. Now, I had to alight short of their
destination, and, as that stoppage of the train was attended with a
quantity of horn blowing, bell ringing, and proclamation of what
Messieurs les Voyageurs were to do, and were not to do, in order to
reach their respective destinations, I had ample leisure to go
forward on the platform to take a parting look at my recruits,
whose heads were all out at window, and who were laughing like
delighted children. Then I perceived that a large poodle with a
pink nose, who had been their travelling companion and the cause of
their mirth, stood on his hind-legs presenting arms on the extreme
verge of the platform, ready to salute them as the train went off.
This poodle wore a military shako (it is unnecessary to add, very
much on one side over one eye), a little military coat, and the
regulation white gaiters. He was armed with a little musket and a
little sword-bayonet, and he stood presenting arms in perfect
attitude, with his unobscured eye on his master or superior
officer, who stood by him. So admirable was his discipline, that,
when the train moved, and he was greeted with the parting cheers of
the recruits, and also with a shower of centimes, several of which
struck his shako, and had a tendency to discompose him, he remained
staunch on his post, until the train was gone. He then resigned
his arms to his officer, took off his shako by rubbing his paw over
it, dropped on four legs, bringing his uniform coat into the
absurdest relations with the overarching skies, and ran about the
platform in his white gaiters, waging his tail to an exceeding
great extent. It struck me that there was more waggery than this
in the poodle, and that he knew that the recruits would neither get
through their exercises, nor get rid of their uniforms, as easily
as he; revolving which in my thoughts, and seeking in my pockets
some small money to bestow upon him, I casually directed my eyes to
the face of his superior officer, and in him beheld the Face-Maker!
Though it was not the way to Algeria, but quite the reverse, the
military poodle's Colonel was the Face-Maker in a dark blouse, with
a small bundle dangling over his shoulder at the end of an
umbrella, and taking a pipe from his breast to smoke as he and the
poodle went their mysterious way.
My voyages (in paper boats) among savages often yield me matter for
reflection at home. It is curious to trace the savage in the
civilised man, and to detect the hold of some savage customs on
conditions of society rather boastful of being high above them.
I wonder, is the Medicine Man of the North American Indians never
to be got rid of, out of the North American country? He comes into
my Wigwam on all manner of occasions, and with the absurdest
'Medicine.' I always find it extremely difficult, and I often find
it simply impossible, to keep him out of my Wigwam. For his legal
'Medicine' he sticks upon his head the hair of quadrupeds, and
plasters the same with fat, and dirty white powder, and talks a
gibberish quite unknown to the men and squaws of his tribe. For
his religious 'Medicine' he puts on puffy white sleeves, little
black aprons, large black waistcoats of a peculiar cut, collarless
coats with Medicine button-holes, Medicine stockings and gaiters
and shoes, and tops the whole with a highly grotesque Medicinal
hat. In one respect, to be sure, I am quite free from him. On
occasions when the Medicine Men in general, together with a large
number of the miscellaneous inhabitants of his village, both male
and female, are presented to the principal Chief, his native
'Medicine' is a comical mixture of old odds and ends (hired of
traders) and new things in antiquated shapes, and pieces of red
cloth (of which he is particularly fond), and white and red and
blue paint for the face. The irrationality of this particular
Medicine culminates in a mock battle-rush, from which many of the
squaws are borne out, much dilapidated. I need not observe how
unlike this is to a Drawing Room at St. James's Palace.
The African magician I find it very difficult to exclude from my
Wigwam too. This creature takes cases of death and mourning under
his supervision, and will frequently impoverish a whole family by
his preposterous enchantments. He is a great eater and drinker,
and always conceals a rejoicing stomach under a grieving exterior.
His charms consist of an infinite quantity of worthless scraps, for
which he charges very high. He impresses on the poor bereaved
natives, that the more of his followers they pay to exhibit such
scraps on their persons for an hour or two (though they never saw
the deceased in their lives, and are put in high spirits by his
decease), the more honourably and piously they grieve for the dead.
The poor people submitting themselves to this conjurer, an
expensive procession is formed, in which bits of stick, feathers of
birds, and a quantity of other unmeaning objects besmeared with
black paint, are carried in a certain ghastly order of which no one
understands the meaning, if it ever had any, to the brink of the
grave, and are then brought back again.
In the Tonga Islands everything is supposed to have a soul, so that
when a hatchet is irreparably broken, they say, 'His immortal part
has departed; he is gone to the happy hunting-plains.' This belief
leads to the logical sequence that when a man is buried, some of
his eating and drinking vessels, and some of his warlike
implements, must be broken and buried with him. Superstitious and
wrong, but surely a more respectable superstition than the hire of
antic scraps for a show that has no meaning based on any sincere
Let me halt on my Uncommercial road, to throw a passing glance on
some funeral solemnities that I have seen where North American
Indians, African Magicians, and Tonga Islanders, are supposed not
to be.
Once, I dwelt in an Italian city, where there dwelt with me for a
while, an Englishman of an amiable nature, great enthusiasm, and no
discretion. This friend discovered a desolate stranger, mourning
over the unexpected death of one very dear to him, in a solitary
cottage among the vineyards of an outlying village. The
circumstances of the bereavement were unusually distressing; and
the survivor, new to the peasants and the country, sorely needed
help, being alone with the remains. With some difficulty, but with
the strong influence of a purpose at once gentle, disinterested,
and determined, my friend - Mr. Kindheart - obtained access to the
mourner, and undertook to arrange the burial.
There was a small Protestant cemetery near the city walls, and as
Mr. Kindheart came back to me, he turned into it and chose the
spot. He was always highly flushed when rendering a service
unaided, and I knew that to make him happy I must keep aloof from
his ministration. But when at dinner he warmed with the good
action of the day, and conceived the brilliant idea of comforting
the mourner with 'an English funeral,' I ventured to intimate that
I thought that institution, which was not absolutely sublime at
home, might prove a failure in Italian hands. However, Mr.
Kindheart was so enraptured with his conception, that he presently
wrote down into the town requesting the attendance with to-morrow's
earliest light of a certain little upholsterer. This upholsterer
was famous for speaking the unintelligible local dialect (his own)
in a far more unintelligible manner than any other man alive.
When from my bath next morning I overheard Mr. Kindheart and the
upholsterer in conference on the top of an echoing staircase; and
when I overheard Mr. Kindheart rendering English Undertaking
phrases into very choice Italian, and the upholsterer replying in
the unknown Tongues; and when I furthermore remembered that the
local funerals had no resemblance to English funerals; I became in
my secret bosom apprehensive. But Mr. Kindheart informed me at
breakfast that measures had been taken to ensure a signal success.
As the funeral was to take place at sunset, and as I knew to which
of the city gates it must tend, I went out at that gate as the sun
descended, and walked along the dusty, dusty road. I had not
walked far, when I encountered this procession:
1. Mr. Kindheart, much abashed, on an immense grey horse.
2. A bright yellow coach and pair, driven by a coachman in bright
red velvet knee-breeches and waistcoat. (This was the established
local idea of State.) Both coach doors kept open by the coffin,
which was on its side within, and sticking out at each.
3. Behind the coach, the mourner, for whom the coach was intended,
walking in the dust.
4. Concealed behind a roadside well for the irrigation of a garden,
the unintelligible Upholsterer, admiring.
It matters little now. Coaches of all colours are alike to poor
Kindheart, and he rests far North of the little cemetery with the
cypress-trees, by the city walls where the Mediterranean is so
My first funeral, a fair representative funeral after its kind, was
that of the husband of a married servant, once my nurse. She
married for money. Sally Flanders, after a year or two of
matrimony, became the relict of Flanders, a small master builder;
and either she or Flanders had done me the honour to express a
desire that I should 'follow.' I may have been seven or eight
years old; - young enough, certainly, to feel rather alarmed by the
expression, as not knowing where the invitation was held to
terminate, and how far I was expected to follow the deceased
Flanders. Consent being given by the heads of houses, I was jobbed
up into what was pronounced at home decent mourning (comprehending
somebody else's shirt, unless my memory deceives me), and was
admonished that if, when the funeral was in action, I put my hands
in my pockets, or took my eyes out of my pocket-handkerchief, I was
personally lost, and my family disgraced. On the eventful day,
having tried to get myself into a disastrous frame of mind, and
having formed a very poor opinion of myself because I couldn't cry,
I repaired to Sally's. Sally was an excellent creature, and had
been a good wife to old Flanders, but the moment I saw her I knew
that she was not in her own real natural state. She formed a sort
of Coat of Arms, grouped with a smelling-bottle, a handkerchief, an
orange, a bottle of vinegar, Flanders's sister, her own sister,
Flanders's brother's wife, and two neighbouring gossips - all in
mourning, and all ready to hold her whenever she fainted. At sight
of poor little me she became much agitated (agitating me much
more), and having exclaimed, 'O here's dear Master Uncommercial!'
became hysterical, and swooned as if I had been the death of her.
An affecting scene followed, during which I was handed about and
poked at her by various people, as if I were the bottle of salts.
Reviving a little, she embraced me, said, 'You knew him well, dear
Master Uncommercial, and he knew you!' and fainted again: which,
as the rest of the Coat of Arms soothingly said, 'done her credit.'
Now, I knew that she needn't have fainted unless she liked, and
that she wouldn't have fainted unless it had been expected of her,
quite as well as I know it at this day. It made me feel
uncomfortable and hypocritical besides. I was not sure but that it
might be manners in ME to faint next, and I resolved to keep my eye
on Flanders's uncle, and if I saw any signs of his going in that
direction, to go too, politely. But Flanders's uncle (who was a
weak little old retail grocer) had only one idea, which was that we
all wanted tea; and he handed us cups of tea all round,
incessantly, whether we refused or not. There was a young nephew
of Flanders's present, to whom Flanders, it was rumoured, had left
nineteen guineas. He drank all the tea that was offered him, this
nephew - amounting, I should say, to several quarts - and ate as
much plum-cake as he could possibly come by; but he felt it to be
decent mourning that he should now and then stop in the midst of a
lump of cake, and appear to forget that his mouth was full, in the
contemplation of his uncle's memory. I felt all this to be the
fault of the undertaker, who was handing us gloves on a tea-tray as
if they were muffins, and tying us into cloaks (mine had to be
pinned up all round, it was so long for me), because I knew that he
was making game. So, when we got out into the streets, and I
constantly disarranged the procession by tumbling on the people
before me because my handkerchief blinded my eyes, and tripping up
the people behind me because my cloak was so long, I felt that we
were all making game. I was truly sorry for Flanders, but I knew
that it was no reason why we should be trying (the women with their
heads in hoods like coal-scuttles with the black side outward) to
keep step with a man in a scarf, carrying a thing like a mourning
spy-glass, which he was going to open presently and sweep the
horizon with. I knew that we should not all have been speaking in
one particular key-note struck by the undertaker, if we had not
been making game. Even in our faces we were every one of us as
like the undertaker as if we had been his own family, and I
perceived that this could not have happened unless we had been
making game. When we returned to Sally's, it was all of a piece.
The continued impossibility of getting on without plum-cake; the
ceremonious apparition of a pair of decanters containing port and
sherry and cork; Sally's sister at the tea-table, clinking the best
crockery and shaking her head mournfully every time she looked down
into the teapot, as if it were the tomb; the Coat of Arms again,
and Sally as before; lastly, the words of consolation administered
to Sally when it was considered right that she should 'come round
nicely:' which were, that the deceased had had 'as com-for-ta-ble a
fu-ne-ral as comfortable could be!'
Other funerals have I seen with grown-up eyes, since that day, of
which the burden has been the same childish burden. Making game.
Real affliction, real grief and solemnity, have been outraged, and
the funeral has been 'performed.' The waste for which the funeral
customs of many tribes of savages are conspicuous, has attended
these civilised obsequies; and once, and twice, have I wished in my
soul that if the waste must be, they would let the undertaker bury
the money, and let me bury the friend.
In France, upon the whole, these ceremonies are more sensibly
regulated, because they are upon the whole less expensively
regulated. I cannot say that I have ever been much edified by the
custom of tying a bib and apron on the front of the house of
mourning, or that I would myself particularly care to be driven to
my grave in a nodding and bobbing car, like an infirm four-post
bedstead, by an inky fellow-creature in a cocked-hat. But it may
be that I am constitutionally insensible to the virtues of a
cocked-hat. In provincial France, the solemnities are sufficiently
hideous, but are few and cheap. The friends and townsmen of the
departed, in their own dresses and not masquerading under the
auspices of the African Conjurer, surround the hand-bier, and often
carry it. It is not considered indispensable to stifle the
bearers, or even to elevate the burden on their shoulders;
consequently it is easily taken up, and easily set down, and is
carried through the streets without the distressing floundering and
shuffling that we see at home. A dirty priest or two, and a
dirtier acolyte or two, do not lend any especial grace to the
proceedings; and I regard with personal animosity the bassoon,
which is blown at intervals by the big-legged priest (it is always
a big-legged priest who blows the bassoon), when his fellows
combine in a lugubrious stalwart drawl. But there is far less of
the Conjurer and the Medicine Man in the business than under like
circumstances here. The grim coaches that we reserve expressly for
such shows, are non-existent; if the cemetery be far out of the
town, the coaches that are hired for other purposes of life are
hired for this purpose; and although the honest vehicles make no
pretence of being overcome, I have never noticed that the people in
them were the worse for it. In Italy, the hooded Members of
Confraternities who attend on funerals, are dismal and ugly to look
upon; but the services they render are at least voluntarily
rendered, and impoverish no one, and cost nothing. Why should high
civilisation and low savagery ever come together on the point of
making them a wantonly wasteful and contemptible set of forms?
Once I lost a friend by death, who had been troubled in his time by
the Medicine Man and the Conjurer, and upon whose limited resources
there were abundant claims. The Conjurer assured me that I must
positively 'follow,' and both he and the Medicine Man entertained
no doubt that I must go in a black carriage, and must wear
'fittings.' I objected to fittings as having nothing to do with my
friendship, and I objected to the black carriage as being in more
senses than one a job. So, it came into my mind to try what would
happen if I quietly walked, in my own way, from my own house to my
friend's burial-place, and stood beside his open grave in my own
dress and person, reverently listening to the best of Services. It
satisfied my mind, I found, quite as well as if I had been
disguised in a hired hatband and scarf both trailing to my very
heels, and as if I had cost the orphan children, in their greatest
need, ten guineas.
Can any one who ever beheld the stupendous absurdities attendant on
'A message from the Lords' in the House of Commons, turn upon the
Medicine Man of the poor Indians? Has he any 'Medicine' in that
dried skin pouch of his, so supremely ludicrous as the two Masters
in Chancery holding up their black petticoats and butting their
ridiculous wigs at Mr. Speaker? Yet there are authorities
innumerable to tell me - as there are authorities innumerable among
the Indians to tell them - that the nonsense is indispensable, and
that its abrogation would involve most awful consequences. What
would any rational creature who had never heard of judicial and
forensic 'fittings,' think of the Court of Common Pleas on the
first day of Term? Or with what an awakened sense of humour would
LIVINGSTONE'S account of a similar scene be perused, if the fur and
red cloth and goats' hair and horse hair and powdered chalk and
black patches on the top of the head, were all at Tala Mungongo
instead of Westminster? That model missionary and good brave man
found at least one tribe of blacks with a very strong sense of the
ridiculous, insomuch that although an amiable and docile people,
they never could see the Missionaries dispose of their legs in the
attitude of kneeling, or hear them begin a hymn in chorus, without
bursting into roars of irrepressible laughter. It is much to be
hoped that no member of this facetious tribe may ever find his way
to England and get committed for contempt of Court.
In the Tonga Island already mentioned, there are a set of
personages called Mataboos - or some such name - who are the
masters of all the public ceremonies, and who know the exact place
in which every chief must sit down when a solemn public meeting
takes place: a meeting which bears a family resemblance to our own
Public Dinner, in respect of its being a main part of the
proceedings that every gentleman present is required to drink
something nasty. These Mataboos are a privileged order, so
important is their avocation, and they make the most of their high
functions. A long way out of the Tonga Islands, indeed, rather
near the British Islands, was there no calling in of the Mataboos
the other day to settle an earth-convulsing question of precedence;
and was there no weighty opinion delivered on the part of the
Mataboos which, being interpreted to that unlucky tribe of blacks
with the sense of the ridiculous, would infallibly set the whole
population screaming with laughter?
My sense of justice demands the admission, however, that this is
not quite a one-sided question. If we submit ourselves meekly to
the Medicine Man and the Conjurer, and are not exalted by it, the
savages may retort upon us that we act more unwisely than they in
other matters wherein we fail to imitate them. It is a widely
diffused custom among savage tribes, when they meet to discuss any
affair of public importance, to sit up all night making a horrible
noise, dancing, blowing shells, and (in cases where they are
familiar with fire-arms) flying out into open places and letting
off guns. It is questionable whether our legislative assemblies
might not take a hint from this. A shell is not a melodious windinstrument,
and it is monotonous; but it is as musical as, and not
more monotonous than, my Honourable friend's own trumpet, or the
trumpet that he blows so hard for the Minister. The uselessness of
arguing with any supporter of a Government or of an Opposition, is
well known. Try dancing. It is a better exercise, and has the
unspeakable recommendation that it couldn't be reported. The
honourable and savage member who has a loaded gun, and has grown
impatient of debate, plunges out of doors, fires in the air, and
returns calm and silent to the Palaver. Let the honourable and
civilised member similarly charged with a speech, dart into the
cloisters of Westminster Abbey in the silence of night, let his
speech off, and come back harmless. It is not at first sight a
very rational custom to paint a broad blue stripe across one's nose
and both cheeks, and a broad red stripe from the forehead to the
chin, to attach a few pounds of wood to one's under lip, to stick
fish-bones in one's ears and a brass curtain-ring in one's nose,
and to rub one's body all over with rancid oil, as a preliminary to
entering on business. But this is a question of taste and
ceremony, and so is the Windsor Uniform. The manner of entering on
the business itself is another question. A council of six hundred
savage gentlemen entirely independent of tailors, sitting on their
hams in a ring, smoking, and occasionally grunting, seem to me,
according to the experience I have gathered in my voyages and
travels, somehow to do what they come together for; whereas that is
not at all the general experience of a council of six hundred
civilised gentlemen very dependent on tailors and sitting on
mechanical contrivances. It is better that an Assembly should do
its utmost to envelop itself in smoke, than that it should direct
its endeavours to enveloping the public in smoke; and I would
rather it buried half a hundred hatchets than buried one subject
demanding attention.
By the side of most railways out of London, one may see Alms-Houses
and Retreats (generally with a Wing or a Centre wanting, and
ambitious of being much bigger than they are), some of which are
newly-founded Institutions, and some old establishments
transplanted. There is a tendency in these pieces of architecture
to shoot upward unexpectedly, like Jack's bean-stalk, and to be
ornate in spires of Chapels and lanterns of Halls, which might lead
to the embellishment of the air with many castles of questionable
beauty but for the restraining consideration of expense. However,
the manners, being always of a sanguine temperament, comfort
themselves with plans and elevations of Loomings in the future, and
are influenced in the present by philanthropy towards the railway
passengers. For, the question how prosperous and promising the
buildings can be made to look in their eyes, usually supersedes the
lesser question how they can be turned to the best account for the
Why none of the people who reside in these places ever look out of
window, or take an airing in the piece of ground which is going to
be a garden by-and-by, is one of the wonders I have added to my
always-lengthening list of the wonders of the world. I have got it
into my mind that they live in a state of chronic injury and
resentment, and on that account refuse to decorate the building
with a human interest. As I have known legatees deeply injured by
a bequest of five hundred pounds because it was not five thousand,
and as I was once acquainted with a pensioner on the Public to the
extent of two hundred a year, who perpetually anathematised his
Country because he was not in the receipt of four, having no claim
whatever to sixpence: so perhaps it usually happens, within
certain limits, that to get a little help is to get a notion of
being defrauded of more. 'How do they pass their lives in this
beautiful and peaceful place!' was the subject of my speculation
with a visitor who once accompanied me to a charming rustic retreat
for old men and women: a quaint ancient foundation in a pleasant
English country, behind a picturesque church and among rich old
convent gardens. There were but some dozen or so of houses, and we
agreed that we would talk with the inhabitants, as they sat in
their groined rooms between the light of their fires and the light
shining in at their latticed windows, and would find out. They
passed their lives in considering themselves mulcted of certain
ounces of tea by a deaf old steward who lived among them in the
quadrangle. There was no reason to suppose that any such ounces of
tea had ever been in existence, or that the old steward so much as
knew what was the matter; - he passed HIS life in considering
himself periodically defrauded of a birch-broom by the beadle.
But it is neither to old Alms-Houses in the country, nor to new
Alms-Houses by the railroad, that these present Uncommercial notes
relate. They refer back to journeys made among those common-place,
smoky-fronted London Alms-Houses, with a little paved court-yard in
front enclosed by iron railings, which have got snowed up, as it
were, by bricks and mortar; which were once in a suburb, but are
now in the densely populated town; gaps in the busy life around
them, parentheses in the close and blotted texts of the streets.
Sometimes, these Alms-Houses belong to a Company or Society.
Sometimes, they were established by individuals, and are maintained
out of private funds bequeathed in perpetuity long ago. My
favourite among them is Titbull's, which establishment is a picture
of many. Of Titbull I know no more than that he deceased in 1723,
that his Christian name was Sampson, and his social designation
Esquire, and that he founded these Alms-Houses as Dwellings for
Nine Poor Women and Six Poor Men by his Will and Testament. I
should not know even this much, but for its being inscribed on a
grim stone very difficult to read, let into the front of the centre
house of Titbull's Alms-Houses, and which stone is ornamented a-top
with a piece of sculptured drapery resembling the effigy of
Titbull's bath-towel.
Titbull's Alms-Houses are in the east of London, in a great
highway, in a poor, busy, and thronged neighbourhood. Old iron and
fried fish, cough drops and artificial flowers, boiled pigs'-feet
and household furniture that looks as if it were polished up with
lip-salve, umbrellas full of vocal literature and saucers full of
shell-fish in a green juice which I hope is natural to them when
their health is good, garnish the paved sideways as you go to
Titbull's. I take the ground to have risen in those parts since
Titbull's time, and you drop into his domain by three stone steps.
So did I first drop into it, very nearly striking my brows against
Titbull's pump, which stands with its back to the thoroughfare just
inside the gate, and has a conceited air of reviewing Titbull's
'And a worse one,' said a virulent old man with a pitcher, 'there
isn't nowhere. A harder one to work, nor a grudginer one to yield,
there isn't nowhere!' This old man wore a long coat, such as we
see Hogarth's Chairmen represented with, and it was of that
peculiar green-pea hue without the green, which seems to come of
poverty. It had also that peculiar smell of cupboard which seems
to come of poverty.
'The pump is rusty, perhaps,' said I.
'Not IT,' said the old man, regarding it with undiluted virulence
in his watery eye. 'It never were fit to be termed a pump. That's
what's the matter with IT.'
'Whose fault is that?' said I.
The old man, who had a working mouth which seemed to be trying to
masticate his anger and to find that it was too hard and there was
too much of it, replied, 'Them gentlemen.'
'What gentlemen?'
'Maybe you're one of 'em?' said the old man, suspiciously.
'The trustees?'
'I wouldn't trust 'em myself,' said the virulent old man.
'If you mean the gentlemen who administer this place, no, I am not
one of them; nor have I ever so much as heard of them.'
'I wish I never heard of them,' gasped the old man: 'at my time of
life - with the rheumatics - drawing water-from that thing!' Not
to be deluded into calling it a Pump, the old man gave it another
virulent look, took up his pitcher, and carried it into a corner
dwelling-house, shutting the door after him.
Looking around and seeing that each little house was a house of two
little rooms; and seeing that the little oblong court-yard in front
was like a graveyard for the inhabitants, saving that no word was
engraven on its flat dry stones; and seeing that the currents of
life and noise ran to and fro outside, having no more to do with
the place than if it were a sort of low-water mark on a lively
beach; I say, seeing this and nothing else, I was going out at the
gate when one of the doors opened.
'Was you looking for anything, sir?' asked a tidy, well-favoured
Really, no; I couldn't say I was.
'Not wanting any one, sir?'
'No - at least I - pray what is the name of the elderly gentleman
who lives in the corner there?'
The tidy woman stepped out to be sure of the door I indicated, and
she and the pump and I stood all three in a row with our backs to
the thoroughfare.
'Oh! HIS name is Mr. Battens,' said the tidy woman, dropping her
'I have just been talking with him.'
'Indeed?' said the tidy woman. 'Ho! I wonder Mr. Battens talked!'
'Is he usually so silent?'
'Well, Mr. Battens is the oldest here - that is to say, the oldest
of the old gentlemen - in point of residence.'
She had a way of passing her hands over and under one another as
she spoke, that was not only tidy but propitiatory; so I asked her
if I might look at her little sitting-room? She willingly replied
Yes, and we went into it together: she leaving the door open, with
an eye as I understood to the social proprieties. The door opening
at once into the room without any intervening entry, even scandal
must have been silenced by the precaution.
It was a gloomy little chamber, but clean, and with a mug of
wallflower in the window. On the chimney-piece were two peacock's
feathers, a carved ship, a few shells, and a black profile with one
eyelash; whether this portrait purported to be male or female
passed my comprehension, until my hostess informed me that it was
her only son, and 'quite a speaking one.'
'He is alive, I hope?'
'No, sir,' said the widow, 'he were cast away in China.' This was
said with a modest sense of its reflecting a certain geographical
distinction on his mother.
'If the old gentlemen here are not given to talking,' said I, 'I
hope the old ladies are? - not that you are one.'
She shook her head. 'You see they get so cross.'
'How is that?'
'Well, whether the gentlemen really do deprive us of any little
matters which ought to be ours by rights, I cannot say for certain;
but the opinion of the old ones is they do. And Mr. Battens he do
even go so far as to doubt whether credit is due to the Founder.
For Mr. Battens he do say, anyhow he got his name up by it and he
done it cheap.'
'I am afraid the pump has soured Mr. Battens.'
'It may be so,' returned the tidy widow, 'but the handle does go
very hard. Still, what I say to myself is, the gentlemen MAY not
pocket the difference between a good pump and a bad one, and I
would wish to think well of them. And the dwellings,' said my
hostess, glancing round her room; 'perhaps they were convenient
dwellings in the Founder's time, considered AS his time, and
therefore he should not be blamed. But Mrs. Saggers is very hard
upon them.'
'Mrs. Saggers is the oldest here?'
'The oldest but one. Mrs. Quinch being the oldest, and have
totally lost her head.'
'And you?'
'I am the youngest in residence, and consequently am not looked up
to. But when Mrs. Quinch makes a happy release, there will be one
below me. Nor is it to be expected that Mrs. Saggers will prove
herself immortal.'
'True. Nor Mr. Battens.'
'Regarding the old gentlemen,' said my widow slightingly, 'they
count among themselves. They do not count among us. Mr. Battens
is that exceptional that he have written to the gentlemen many
times and have worked the case against them. Therefore he have
took a higher ground. But we do not, as a rule, greatly reckon the
old gentlemen.'
Pursuing the subject, I found it to be traditionally settled among
the poor ladies that the poor gentlemen, whatever their ages, were
all very old indeed, and in a state of dotage. I also discovered
that the juniors and newcomers preserved, for a time, a waning
disposition to believe in Titbull and his trustees, but that as
they gained social standing they lost this faith, and disparaged
Titbull and all his works.
Improving my acquaintance subsequently with this respected lady,
whose name was Mrs. Mitts, and occasionally dropping in upon her
with a little offering of sound Family Hyson in my pocket, I
gradually became familiar with the inner politics and ways of
Titbull's Alms-Houses. But I never could find out who the trustees
were, or where they were: it being one of the fixed ideas of the
place that those authorities must be vaguely and mysteriously
mentioned as 'the gentlemen' only. The secretary of 'the
gentlemen' was once pointed out to me, evidently engaged in
championing the obnoxious pump against the attacks of the
discontented Mr. Battens; but I am not in a condition to report
further of him than that he had the sprightly bearing of a lawyer's
clerk. I had it from Mrs. Mitts's lips in a very confidential
moment, that Mr. Battens was once 'had up before the gentlemen' to
stand or fall by his accusations, and that an old shoe was thrown
after him on his departure from the building on this dread errand;
- not ineffectually, for, the interview resulting in a plumber, was
considered to have encircled the temples of Mr. Battens with the
wreath of victory,
In Titbull's Alms-Houses, the local society is not regarded as good
society. A gentleman or lady receiving visitors from without, or
going out to tea, counts, as it were, accordingly; but visitings or
tea-drinkings interchanged among Titbullians do not score. Such
interchanges, however, are rare, in consequence of internal
dissensions occasioned by Mrs. Saggers's pail: which household
article has split Titbull's into almost as many parties as there
are dwellings in that precinct. The extremely complicated nature
of the conflicting articles of belief on the subject prevents my
stating them here with my usual perspicuity, but I think they have
all branched off from the root-and-trunk question, Has Mrs. Saggers
any right to stand her pail outside her dwelling? The question has
been much refined upon, but roughly stated may be stated in those
There are two old men in Titbull's Alms-Houses who, I have been
given to understand, knew each other in the world beyond its pump
and iron railings, when they were both 'in trade.' They make the
best of their reverses, and are looked upon with great contempt.
They are little, stooping, blear-eyed old men of cheerful
countenance, and they hobble up and down the court-yard wagging
their chins and talking together quite gaily. This has given
offence, and has, moreover, raised the question whether they are
justified in passing any other windows than their own. Mr.
Battens, however, permitting them to pass HIS windows, on the
disdainful ground that their imbecility almost amounts to
irresponsibility, they are allowed to take their walk in peace.
They live next door to one another, and take it by turns to read
the newspaper aloud (that is to say, the newest newspaper they can
get), and they play cribbage at night. On warm and sunny days they
have been known to go so far as to bring out two chairs and sit by
the iron railings, looking forth; but this low conduct, being much
remarked upon throughout Titbull's, they were deterred by an
outraged public opinion from repeating it. There is a rumour - but
it may be malicious - that they hold the memory of Titbull in some
weak sort of veneration, and that they once set off together on a
pilgrimage to the parish churchyard to find his tomb. To this,
perhaps, might be traced a general suspicion that they are spies of
'the gentlemen:' to which they were supposed to have given colour
in my own presence on the occasion of the weak attempt at
justification of the pump by the gentlemen's clerk; when they
emerged bare-headed from the doors of their dwellings, as if their
dwellings and themselves constituted an old-fashioned weather-glass
of double action with two figures of old ladies inside, and
deferentially bowed to him at intervals until he took his
departure. They are understood to be perfectly friendless and
relationless. Unquestionably the two poor fellows make the very
best of their lives in Titbull's Alms-Houses, and unquestionably
they are (as before mentioned) the subjects of unmitigated contempt
On Saturday nights, when there is a greater stir than usual
outside, and when itinerant vendors of miscellaneous wares even
take their stations and light up their smoky lamps before the iron
railings, Titbull's becomes flurried. Mrs. Saggers has her
celebrated palpitations of the heart, for the most part, on
Saturday nights. But Titbull's is unfit to strive with the uproar
of the streets in any of its phases. It is religiously believed at
Titbull's that people push more than they used, and likewise that
the foremost object of the population of England and Wales is to
get you down and trample on you. Even of railroads they know, at
Titbull's, little more than the shriek (which Mrs. Saggers says
goes through her, and ought to be taken up by Government); and the
penny postage may even yet be unknown there, for I have never seen
a letter delivered to any inhabitant. But there is a tall,
straight, sallow lady resident in Number Seven, Titbull's, who
never speaks to anybody, who is surrounded by a superstitious halo
of lost wealth, who does her household work in housemaid's gloves,
and who is secretly much deferred to, though openly cavilled at;
and it has obscurely leaked out that this old lady has a son,
grandson, nephew, or other relative, who is 'a Contractor,' and who
would think it nothing of a job to knock down Titbull's, pack it
off into Cornwall, and knock it together again. An immense
sensation was made by a gipsy-party calling in a spring-van, to
take this old lady up to go for a day's pleasure into Epping
Forest, and notes were compared as to which of the company was the
son, grandson, nephew, or other relative, the Contractor. A thickset
personage with a white hat and a cigar in his mouth, was the
favourite: though as Titbull's had no other reason to believe that
the Contractor was there at all, than that this man was supposed to
eye the chimney stacks as if he would like to knock them down and
cart them off, the general mind was much unsettled in arriving at a
conclusion. As a way out of this difficulty, it concentrated
itself on the acknowledged Beauty of the party, every stitch in
whose dress was verbally unripped by the old ladies then and there,
and whose 'goings on' with another and a thinner personage in a
white hat might have suffused the pump (where they were principally
discussed) with blushes, for months afterwards. Herein Titbull's
was to Titbull's true, for it has a constitutional dislike of all
strangers. As concerning innovations and improvements, it is
always of opinion that what it doesn't want itself, nobody ought to
want. But I think I have met with this opinion outside Titbull's.
Of the humble treasures of furniture brought into Titbull's by the
inmates when they establish themselves in that place of
contemplation for the rest of their days, by far the greater and
more valuable part belongs to the ladies. I may claim the honour
of having either crossed the threshold, or looked in at the door,
of every one of the nine ladies, and I have noticed that they are
all particular in the article of bedsteads, and maintain favourite
and long-established bedsteads and bedding as a regular part of
their rest. Generally an antiquated chest of drawers is among
their cherished possessions; a tea-tray always is. I know of at
least two rooms in which a little tea-kettle of genuine burnished
copper, vies with the cat in winking at the fire; and one old lady
has a tea-urn set forth in state on the top of her chest of
drawers, which urn is used as her library, and contains four
duodecimo volumes, and a black-bordered newspaper giving an account
of the funeral of Her Royal Highness the Princess Charlotte. Among
the poor old gentlemen there are no such niceties. Their furniture
has the air of being contributed, like some obsolete Literary
Miscellany, 'by several hands;' their few chairs never match; old
patchwork coverlets linger among them; and they have an untidy
habit of keeping their wardrobes in hat-boxes. When I recall one
old gentleman who is rather choice in his shoe-brushes and
blacking-bottle, I have summed up the domestic elegances of that
side of the building.
On the occurrence of a death in Titbull's, it is invariably agreed
among the survivors - and it is the only subject on which they do
agree - that the departed did something 'to bring it on.' Judging
by Titbull's, I should say the human race need never die, if they
took care. But they don't take care, and they do die, and when
they die in Titbull's they are buried at the cost of the
Foundation. Some provision has been made for the purpose, in
virtue of which (I record this on the strength of having seen the
funeral of Mrs. Quinch) a lively neighbouring undertaker dresses up
four of the old men, and four of the old women, hustles them into a
procession of four couples, and leads off with a large black bow at
the back of his hat, looking over his shoulder at them airily from
time to time to see that no member of the party has got lost, or
has tumbled down; as if they were a company of dim old dolls.
Resignation of a dwelling is of very rare occurrence in Titbull's.
A story does obtain there, how an old lady's son once drew a prize
of Thirty Thousand Pounds in the Lottery, and presently drove to
the gate in his own carriage, with French Horns playing up behind,
and whisked his mother away, and left ten guineas for a Feast. But
I have been unable to substantiate it by any evidence, and regard
it as an Alms-House Fairy Tale. It is curious that the only proved
case of resignation happened within my knowledge.
It happened on this wise. There is a sharp competition among the
ladies respecting the gentility of their visitors, and I have so
often observed visitors to be dressed as for a holiday occasion,
that I suppose the ladies to have besought them to make all
possible display when they come. In these circumstances much
excitement was one day occasioned by Mrs. Mitts receiving a visit
from a Greenwich Pensioner. He was a Pensioner of a bluff and
warlike appearance, with an empty coat-sleeve, and he was got up
with unusual care; his coat-buttons were extremely bright, he wore
his empty coat-sleeve in a graceful festoon, and he had a walkingstick
in his hand that must have cost money. When, with the head
of his walking-stick, he knocked at Mrs. Mitts's door - there are
no knockers in Titbull's - Mrs. Mitts was overheard by a next-door
neighbour to utter a cry of surprise expressing much agitation; and
the same neighbour did afterwards solemnly affirm that when he was
admitted into Mrs. Mitts's room, she heard a smack. Heard a smack
which was not a blow.
There was an air about this Greenwich Pensioner when he took his
departure, which imbued all Titbull's with the conviction that he
was coming again. He was eagerly looked for, and Mrs. Mitts was
closely watched. In the meantime, if anything could have placed
the unfortunate six old gentlemen at a greater disadvantage than
that at which they chronically stood, it would have been the
apparition of this Greenwich Pensioner. They were well shrunken
already, but they shrunk to nothing in comparison with the
Pensioner. Even the poor old gentlemen themselves seemed conscious
of their inferiority, and to know submissively that they could
never hope to hold their own against the Pensioner with his warlike
and maritime experience in the past, and his tobacco money in the
present: his chequered career of blue water, black gunpowder, and
red bloodshed for England, home, and beauty.
Before three weeks were out, the Pensioner reappeared. Again he
knocked at Mrs. Mitts's door with the handle of his stick, and
again was he admitted. But not again did he depart alone; for Mrs.
Mitts, in a bonnet identified as having been re-embellished, went
out walking with him, and stayed out till the ten o'clock beer,
Greenwich time.
There was now a truce, even as to the troubled waters of Mrs.
Saggers's pail; nothing was spoken of among the ladies but the
conduct of Mrs. Mitts and its blighting influence on the reputation
of Titbull's. It was agreed that Mr. Battens 'ought to take it
up,' and Mr. Battens was communicated with on the subject. That
unsatisfactory individual replied 'that he didn't see his way yet,'
and it was unanimously voted by the ladies that aggravation was in
his nature.
How it came to pass, with some appearance of inconsistency, that
Mrs. Mitts was cut by all the ladies and the Pensioner admired by
all the ladies, matters not. Before another week was out,
Titbull's was startled by another phenomenon. At ten o'clock in
the forenoon appeared a cab, containing not only the Greenwich
Pensioner with one arm, but, to boot, a Chelsea Pensioner with one
leg. Both dismounting to assist Mrs. Mitts into the cab, the
Greenwich Pensioner bore her company inside, and the Chelsea
Pensioner mounted the box by the driver: his wooden leg sticking
out after the manner of a bowsprit, as if in jocular homage to his
friend's sea-going career. Thus the equipage drove away. No Mrs.
Mitts returned that night.
What Mr. Battens might have done in the matter of taking it up,
goaded by the infuriated state of public feeling next morning, was
anticipated by another phenomenon. A Truck, propelled by the
Greenwich Pensioner and the Chelsea Pensioner, each placidly
smoking a pipe, and pushing his warrior breast against the handle.
The display on the part of the Greenwich Pensioner of his
'marriage-lines,' and his announcement that himself and friend had
looked in for the furniture of Mrs. G. Pensioner, late Mitts, by no
means reconciled the ladies to the conduct of their sister; on the
contrary, it is said that they appeared more than ever exasperated.
Nevertheless, my stray visits to Titbull's since the date of this
occurrence, have confirmed me in an impression that it was a
wholesome fillip. The nine ladies are smarter, both in mind and
dress, than they used to be, though it must be admitted that they
despise the six gentlemen to the last extent. They have a much
greater interest in the external thoroughfare too, than they had
when I first knew Titbull's. And whenever I chance to be leaning
my back against the pump or the iron railings, and to be talking to
one of the junior ladies, and to see that a flush has passed over
her face, I immediately know without looking round that a Greenwich
Pensioner has gone past.
I entertain so strong an objection to the euphonious softening of
Ruffian into Rough, which has lately become popular, that I restore
the right word to the heading of this paper; the rather, as my
object is to dwell upon the fact that the Ruffian is tolerated
among us to an extent that goes beyond all unruffianly endurance.
I take the liberty to believe that if the Ruffian besets my life, a
professional Ruffian at large in the open streets of a great city,
notoriously having no other calling than that of Ruffian, and of
disquieting and despoiling me as I go peacefully about my lawful
business, interfering with no one, then the Government under which
I have the great constitutional privilege, supreme honour and
happiness, and all the rest of it, to exist, breaks down in the
discharge of any Government's most simple elementary duty.
What did I read in the London daily papers, in the early days of
this last September? That the Police had 'AT LENGTH SUCCEEDED IN
WATERLOO ROAD.' Is it possible? What a wonderful Police! Here is
a straight, broad, public thoroughfare of immense resort; half a
mile long; gas-lighted by night; with a great gas-lighted railway
station in it, extra the street lamps; full of shops; traversed by
two popular cross thoroughfares of considerable traffic; itself the
main road to the South of London; and the admirable Police have,
after long infestment of this dark and lonely spot by a gang of
Ruffians, actually got hold of two of them. Why, can it be doubted
that any man of fair London knowledge and common resolution, armed
with the powers of the Law, could have captured the whole
confederacy in a week?
It is to the saving up of the Ruffian class by the Magistracy and
Police - to the conventional preserving of them, as if they were
Partridges - that their number and audacity must be in great part
referred. Why is a notorious Thief and Ruffian ever left at large?
He never turns his liberty to any account but violence and plunder,
he never did a day's work out of gaol, he never will do a day's
work out of gaol. As a proved notorious Thief he is always
consignable to prison for three months. When he comes out, he is
surely as notorious a Thief as he was when he went in. Then send
him back again. 'Just Heaven!' cries the Society for the
protection of remonstrant Ruffians. 'This is equivalent to a
sentence of perpetual imprisonment!' Precisely for that reason it
has my advocacy. I demand to have the Ruffian kept out of my way,
and out of the way of all decent people. I demand to have the
Ruffian employed, perforce, in hewing wood and drawing water
somewhere for the general service, instead of hewing at her
Majesty's subjects and drawing their watches out of their pockets.
If this be termed an unreasonable demand, then the tax-gatherer's
demand on me must be far more unreasonable, and cannot be otherwise
than extortionate and unjust.
It will be seen that I treat of the Thief and Ruffian as one. I do
so, because I know the two characters to be one, in the vast
majority of cases, just as well as the Police know it. (As to the
Magistracy, with a few exceptions, they know nothing about it but
what the Police choose to tell them.) There are disorderly classes
of men who are not thieves; as railway-navigators, brickmakers,
wood-sawyers, costermongers. These classes are often disorderly
and troublesome; but it is mostly among themselves, and at any rate
they have their industrious avocations, they work early and late,
and work hard. The generic Ruffian - honourable member for what is
tenderly called the Rough Element - is either a Thief, or the
companion of Thieves. When he infamously molests women coming out
of chapel on Sunday evenings (for which I would have his back
scarified often and deep) it is not only for the gratification of
his pleasant instincts, but that there may be a confusion raised by
which either he or his friends may profit, in the commission of
highway robberies or in picking pockets. When he gets a policeconstable
down and kicks him helpless for life, it is because that
constable once did his duty in bringing him to justice. When he
rushes into the bar of a public-house and scoops an eye out of one
of the company there, or bites his ear off, it is because the man
he maims gave evidence against him. When he and a line of comrades
extending across the footway - say of that solitary mountain-spur
of the Abruzzi, the Waterloo Road - advance towards me 'skylarking'
among themselves, my purse or shirt-pin is in predestined peril
from his playfulness. Always a Ruffian, always a Thief. Always a
Thief, always a Ruffian.
Now, when I, who am not paid to know these things, know them daily
on the evidence of my senses and experience; when I know that the
Ruffian never jostles a lady in the streets, or knocks a hat off,
but in order that the Thief may profit, is it surprising that I
should require from those who ARE paid to know these things,
prevention of them?
Look at this group at a street corner. Number one is a shirking
fellow of five-and-twenty, in an ill-favoured and ill-savoured
suit, his trousers of corduroy, his coat of some indiscernible
groundwork for the deposition of grease, his neckerchief like an
eel, his complexion like dirty dough, his mangy fur cap pulled low
upon his beetle brows to hide the prison cut of his hair. His
hands are in his pockets. He puts them there when they are idle,
as naturally as in other people's pockets when they are busy, for
he knows that they are not roughened by work, and that they tell a
tale. Hence, whenever he takes one out to draw a sleeve across his
nose - which is often, for he has weak eyes and a constitutional
cold in his head - he restores it to its pocket immediately
afterwards. Number two is a burly brute of five-and-thirty, in a
tall stiff hat; is a composite as to his clothes of betting-man and
fighting-man; is whiskered; has a staring pin in his breast, along
with his right hand; has insolent and cruel eyes: large shoulders;
strong legs booted and tipped for kicking. Number three is forty
years of age; is short, thick-set, strong, and bow-legged; wears
knee cords and white stockings, a very long-sleeved waistcoat, a
very large neckerchief doubled or trebled round his throat, and a
crumpled white hat crowns his ghastly parchment face. This fellow
looks like an executed postboy of other days, cut down from the
gallows too soon, and restored and preserved by express diabolical
agency. Numbers five, six, and seven, are hulking, idle, slouching
young men, patched and shabby, too short in the sleeves and too
tight in the legs, slimily clothed, foul-spoken, repulsive wretches
inside and out. In all the party there obtains a certain twitching
character of mouth and furtiveness of eye, that hint how the coward
is lurking under the bully. The hint is quite correct, for they
are a slinking sneaking set, far more prone to lie down on their
backs and kick out, when in difficulty, than to make a stand for
it. (This may account for the street mud on the backs of Numbers
five, six, and seven, being much fresher than the stale splashes on
their legs.)
These engaging gentry a Police-constable stands contemplating. His
Station, with a Reserve of assistance, is very near at hand. They
cannot pretend to any trade, not even to be porters or messengers.
It would be idle if they did, for he knows them, and they know that
he knows them, to be nothing but professed Thieves and Ruffians.
He knows where they resort, knows by what slang names they call one
another, knows how often they have been in prison, and how long,
and for what. All this is known at his Station, too, and is (or
ought to be) known at Scotland Yard, too. But does he know, or
does his Station know, or does Scotland Yard know, or does anybody
know, why these fellows should be here at liberty, when, as reputed
Thieves to whom a whole Division of Police could swear, they might
all be under lock and key at hard labour? Not he; truly he would
be a wise man if he did! He only knows that these are members of
the 'notorious gang,' which, according to the newspaper Policeoffice
reports of this last past September, 'have so long infested'
the awful solitudes of the Waterloo Road, and out of which almost
impregnable fastnesses the Police have at length dragged Two, to
the unspeakable admiration of all good civilians.
The consequences of this contemplative habit on the part of the
Executive - a habit to be looked for in a hermit, but not in a
Police System - are familiar to us all. The Ruffian becomes one of
the established orders of the body politic. Under the playful name
of Rough (as if he were merely a practical joker) his movements and
successes are recorded on public occasions. Whether he mustered in
large numbers, or small; whether he was in good spirits, or
depressed; whether he turned his generous exertions to very
prosperous account, or Fortune was against him; whether he was in a
sanguinary mood, or robbed with amiable horse-play and a gracious
consideration for life and limb; all this is chronicled as if he
were an Institution. Is there any city in Europe, out of England,
in which these terms are held with the pests of Society? Or in
which, at this day, such violent robberies from the person are
constantly committed as in London?
The Preparatory Schools of Ruffianism are similarly borne with.
The young Ruffians of London - not Thieves yet, but training for
scholarships and fellowships in the Criminal Court Universities -
molest quiet people and their property, to an extent that is hardly
credible. The throwing of stones in the streets has become a
dangerous and destructive offence, which surely could have got to
no greater height though we had had no Police but our own ridingwhips
and walking-sticks - the Police to which I myself appeal on
these occasions. The throwing of stones at the windows of railway
carriages in motion - an act of wanton wickedness with the very
Arch-Fiend's hand in it - had become a crying evil, when the
railway companies forced it on Police notice. Constabular
contemplation had until then been the order of the day.
Within these twelve months, there arose among the young gentlemen
of London aspiring to Ruffianism, and cultivating that muchencouraged
social art, a facetious cry of 'I'll have this!'
accompanied with a clutch at some article of a passing lady's
dress. I have known a lady's veil to be thus humorously torn from
her face and carried off in the open streets at noon; and I have
had the honour of myself giving chase, on Westminster Bridge, to
another young Ruffian, who, in full daylight early on a summer
evening, had nearly thrown a modest young woman into a swoon of
indignation and confusion, by his shameful manner of attacking her
with this cry as she harmlessly passed along before me. MR.
CARLYLE, some time since, awakened a little pleasantry by writing
of his own experience of the Ruffian of the streets. I have seen
the Ruffian act in exact accordance with Mr. Carlyle's description,
innumerable times, and I never saw him checked.
The blaring use of the very worst language possible, in our public
thoroughfares - especially in those set apart for recreation - is
another disgrace to us, and another result of constabular
contemplation, the like of which I have never heard in any other
country to which my uncommercial travels have extended. Years ago,
when I had a near interest in certain children who were sent with
their nurses, for air and exercise, into the Regent's Park, I found
this evil to be so abhorrent and horrible there, that I called
public attention to it, and also to its contemplative reception by
the Police. Looking afterwards into the newest Police Act, and
finding that the offence was punishable under it, I resolved, when
striking occasion should arise, to try my hand as prosecutor. The
occasion arose soon enough, and I ran the following gauntlet.
The utterer of the base coin in question was a girl of seventeen or
eighteen, who, with a suitable attendance of blackguards, youths,
and boys, was flaunting along the streets, returning from an Irish
funeral, in a Progress interspersed with singing and dancing. She
had turned round to me and expressed herself in the most audible
manner, to the great delight of that select circle. I attended the
party, on the opposite side of the way, for a mile further, and
then encountered a Police-constable. The party had made themselves
merry at my expense until now, but seeing me speak to the
constable, its male members instantly took to their heels, leaving
the girl alone. I asked the constable did he know my name? Yes,
he did. 'Take that girl into custody, on my charge, for using bad
language in the streets.' He had never heard of such a charge. I
had. Would he take my word that he should get into no trouble?
Yes, sir, he would do that. So he took the girl, and I went home
for my Police Act.
With this potent instrument in my pocket, I literally as well as
figuratively 'returned to the charge,' and presented myself at the
Police Station of the district. There, I found on duty a very
intelligent Inspector (they are all intelligent men), who,
likewise, had never heard of such a charge. I showed him my
clause, and we went over it together twice or thrice. It was
plain, and I engaged to wait upon the suburban Magistrate to-morrow
morning at ten o'clock.
In the morning I put my Police Act in my pocket again, and waited
on the suburban Magistrate. I was not quite so courteously
received by him as I should have been by The Lord Chancellor or The
Lord Chief Justice, but that was a question of good breeding on the
suburban Magistrate's part, and I had my clause ready with its leaf
turned down. Which was enough for ME.
Conference took place between the Magistrate and clerk respecting
the charge. During conference I was evidently regarded as a much
more objectionable person than the prisoner; - one giving trouble
by coming there voluntarily, which the prisoner could not be
accused of doing. The prisoner had been got up, since I last had
the pleasure of seeing her, with a great effect of white apron and
straw bonnet. She reminded me of an elder sister of Red Riding
Hood, and I seemed to remind the sympathising Chimney Sweep by whom
she was attended, of the Wolf.
The Magistrate was doubtful, Mr. Uncommercial Traveller, whether
this charge could be entertained. It was not known. Mr.
Uncommercial Traveller replied that he wished it were better known,
and that, if he could afford the leisure, he would use his
endeavours to make it so. There was no question about it, however,
he contended. Here was the clause.
The clause was handed in, and more conference resulted. After
which I was asked the extraordinary question: 'Mr. Uncommercial,
do you really wish this girl to be sent to prison?' To which I
grimly answered, staring: 'If I didn't, why should I take the
trouble to come here?' Finally, I was sworn, and gave my agreeable
evidence in detail, and White Riding Hood was fined ten shillings,
under the clause, or sent to prison for so many days. 'Why, Lord
bless you, sir,' said the Police-officer, who showed me out, with a
great enjoyment of the jest of her having been got up so
effectively, and caused so much hesitation: 'if she goes to
prison, that will be nothing new to HER. She comes from Charles
Street, Drury Lane!'
The Police, all things considered, are an excellent force, and I
have borne my small testimony to their merits. Constabular
contemplation is the result of a bad system; a system which is
administered, not invented, by the man in constable's uniform,
employed at twenty shillings a week. He has his orders, and would
be marked for discouragement if he overstepped them. That the
system is bad, there needs no lengthened argument to prove, because
the fact is self-evident. If it were anything else, the results
that have attended it could not possibly have come to pass. Who
will say that under a good system, our streets could have got into
their present state?
The objection to the whole Police system, as concerning the
Ruffian, may be stated, and its failure exemplified, as follows.
It is well known that on all great occasions, when they come
together in numbers, the mass of the English people are their own
trustworthy Police. It is well known that wheresoever there is
collected together any fair general representation of the people, a
respect for law and order, and a determination to discountenance
lawlessness and disorder, may be relied upon. As to one another,
the people are a very good Police, and yet are quite willing in
their good-nature that the stipendiary Police should have the
credit of the people's moderation. But we are all of us powerless
against the Ruffian, because we submit to the law, and it is his
only trade, by superior force and by violence, to defy it.
Moreover, we are constantly admonished from high places (like so
many Sunday-school children out for a holiday of buns and milk-andwater)
that we are not to take the law into our own hands, but are
to hand our defence over to it. It is clear that the common enemy
to be punished and exterminated first of all is the Ruffian. It is
clear that he is, of all others, THE offender for whose repressal
we maintain a costly system of Police. Him, therefore, we
expressly present to the Police to deal with, conscious that, on
the whole, we can, and do, deal reasonably well with one another.
Him the Police deal with so inefficiently and absurdly that he
flourishes, and multiplies, and, with all his evil deeds upon his
head as notoriously as his hat is, pervades the streets with no
more let or hindrance than ourselves.
My journeys as Uncommercial Traveller for the firm of Human-
Interest Brothers have not slackened since I last reported of them,
but have kept me continually on the move. I remain in the same
idle employment. I never solicit an order, I never get any
commission, I am the rolling stone that gathers no moss, - unless
any should by chance be found among these samples.
Some half a year ago, I found myself in my idlest, dreamiest, and
least accountable condition altogether, on board ship, in the
harbour of the city of New York, in the United States of America.
Of all the good ships afloat, mine was the good steamship 'RUSSIA,'
CAPT. COOK, Cunard Line, bound for Liverpool. What more could I
wish for?
I had nothing to wish for but a prosperous passage. My salad-days,
when I was green of visage and sea-sick, being gone with better
things (and no worse), no coming event cast its shadow before.
I might but a few moments previously have imitated Sterne, and
said, '"And yet, methinks, Eugenius," - laying my forefinger
wistfully on his coat-sleeve, thus, - "and yet, methinks, Eugenius,
'tis but sorry work to part with thee, for what fresh fields, . . .
my dear Eugenius, . . . can be fresher than thou art, and in what
pastures new shall I find Eliza, or call her, Eugenius, if thou
wilt, Annie?"' - I say I might have done this; but Eugenius was
gone, and I hadn't done it.
I was resting on a skylight on the hurricane-deck, watching the
working of the ship very slowly about, that she might head for
England. It was high noon on a most brilliant day in April, and
the beautiful bay was glorious and glowing. Full many a time, on
shore there, had I seen the snow come down, down, down (itself like
down), until it lay deep in all the ways of men, and particularly,
as it seemed, in my way, for I had not gone dry-shod many hours for
months. Within two or three days last past had I watched the
feathery fall setting in with the ardour of a new idea, instead of
dragging at the skirts of a worn-out winter, and permitting
glimpses of a fresh young spring. But a bright sun and a clear sky
had melted the snow in the great crucible of nature; and it had
been poured out again that morning over sea and land, transformed
into myriads of gold and silver sparkles.
The ship was fragrant with flowers. Something of the old Mexican
passion for flowers may have gradually passed into North America,
where flowers are luxuriously grown, and tastefully combined in the
richest profusion; but, be that as it may, such gorgeous farewells
in flowers had come on board, that the small officer's cabin on
deck, which I tenanted, bloomed over into the adjacent scuppers,
and banks of other flowers that it couldn't hold made a garden of
the unoccupied tables in the passengers' saloon. These delicious
scents of the shore, mingling with the fresh airs of the sea, made
the atmosphere a dreamy, an enchanting one. And so, with the watch
aloft setting all the sails, and with the screw below revolving at
a mighty rate, and occasionally giving the ship an angry shake for
resisting, I fell into my idlest ways, and lost myself.
As, for instance, whether it was I lying there, or some other
entity even more mysterious, was a matter I was far too lazy to
look into. What did it signify to me if it were I? or to the more
mysterious entity, if it were he? Equally as to the remembrances
that drowsily floated by me, or by him, why ask when or where the
things happened? Was it not enough that they befell at some time,
There was that assisting at the church service on board another
steamship, one Sunday, in a stiff breeze. Perhaps on the passage
out. No matter. Pleasant to hear the ship's bells go as like
church-bells as they could; pleasant to see the watch off duty
mustered and come in: best hats, best Guernseys, washed hands and
faces, smoothed heads. But then arose a set of circumstances so
rampantly comical, that no check which the gravest intentions could
put upon them would hold them in hand. Thus the scene. Some
seventy passengers assembled at the saloon tables. Prayer-books on
tables. Ship rolling heavily. Pause. No minister. Rumour has
related that a modest young clergyman on board has responded to the
captain's request that he will officiate. Pause again, and very
heavy rolling.
Closed double doors suddenly burst open, and two strong stewards
skate in, supporting minister between them. General appearance as
of somebody picked up drunk and incapable, and under conveyance to
station-house. Stoppage, pause, and particularly heavy rolling.
Stewards watch their opportunity, and balance themselves, but
cannot balance minister; who, struggling with a drooping head and a
backward tendency, seems determined to return below, while they are
as determined that he shall be got to the reading-desk in midsaloon.
Desk portable, sliding away down a long table, and aiming
itself at the breasts of various members of the congregation. Here
the double doors, which have been carefully closed by other
stewards, fly open again, and worldly passenger tumbles in,
seemingly with pale-ale designs: who, seeking friend, says 'Joe!'
Perceiving incongruity, says, 'Hullo! Beg yer pardon!' and tumbles
out again. All this time the congregation have been breaking up
into sects, - as the manner of congregations often is, each sect
sliding away by itself, and all pounding the weakest sect which
slid first into the corner. Utmost point of dissent soon attained
in every corner, and violent rolling. Stewards at length make a
dash; conduct minister to the mast in the centre of the saloon,
which he embraces with both arms; skate out; and leave him in that
condition to arrange affairs with flock.
There was another Sunday, when an officer of the ship read the
service. It was quiet and impressive, until we fell upon the
dangerous and perfectly unnecessary experiment of striking up a
hymn. After it was given out, we all rose, but everybody left it
to somebody else to begin. Silence resulting, the officer (no
singer himself) rather reproachfully gave us the first line again,
upon which a rosy pippin of an old gentleman, remarkable throughout
the passage for his cheerful politeness, gave a little stamp with
his boot (as if he were leading off a country dance), and blithely
warbled us into a show of joining. At the end of the first verse
we became, through these tactics, so much refreshed and encouraged,
that none of us, howsoever unmelodious, would submit to be left out
of the second verse; while as to the third we lifted up our voices
in a sacred howl that left it doubtful whether we were the more
boastful of the sentiments we united in professing, or of
professing them with a most discordant defiance of time and tune.
'Lord bless us!' thought I, when the fresh remembrance of these
things made me laugh heartily alone in the dead water-gurgling
waste of the night, what time I was wedged into my berth by a
wooden bar, or I must have rolled out of it, 'what errand was I
then upon, and to what Abyssinian point had public events then
marched? No matter as to me. And as to them, if the wonderful
popular rage for a plaything (utterly confounding in its
inscrutable unreason) I had not then lighted on a poor young savage
boy, and a poor old screw of a horse, and hauled the first off by
the hair of his princely head to "inspect" the British volunteers,
and hauled the second off by the hair of his equine tail to the
Crystal Palace, why so much the better for all of us outside
So, sticking to the ship, I was at the trouble of asking myself
would I like to show the grog distribution in 'the fiddle' at noon
to the Grand United Amalgamated Total Abstinence Society? Yes, I
think I should. I think it would do them good to smell the rum,
under the circumstances. Over the grog, mixed in a bucket,
presides the boatswain's mate, small tin can in hand. Enter the
crew, the guilty consumers, the grown-up brood of Giant Despair, in
contradistinction to the band of youthful angel Hope. Some in
boots, some in leggings, some in tarpaulin overalls, some in
frocks, some in pea-coats, a very few in jackets, most with
sou'wester hats, all with something rough and rugged round the
throat; all, dripping salt water where they stand; all pelted by
weather, besmeared with grease, and blackened by the sooty rigging.
Each man's knife in its sheath in his girdle, loosened for dinner.
As the first man, with a knowingly kindled eye, watches the filling
of the poisoned chalice (truly but a very small tin mug, to be
prosaic), and, tossing back his head, tosses the contents into
himself, and passes the empty chalice and passes on, so the second
man with an anticipatory wipe of his mouth on sleeve or
handkerchief, bides his turn, and drinks and hands and passes on,
in whom, and in each as his turn approaches, beams a knowingly
kindled eye, a brighter temper, and a suddenly awakened tendency to
be jocose with some shipmate. Nor do I even observe that the man
in charge of the ship's lamps, who in right of his office has a
double allowance of poisoned chalices, seems thereby vastly
degraded, even though he empties the chalices into himself, one
after the other, much as if he were delivering their contents at
some absorbent establishment in which he had no personal interest.
But vastly comforted, I note them all to be, on deck presently,
even to the circulation of redder blood in their cold blue
knuckles; and when I look up at them lying out on the yards, and
holding on for life among the beating sails, I cannot for MY life
see the justice of visiting on them - or on me - the drunken crimes
of any number of criminals arraigned at the heaviest of assizes.
Abetting myself in my idle humour, I closed my eyes, and recalled
life on board of one of those mail-packets, as I lay, part of that
day, in the Bay of New York, O! The regular life began - mine
always did, for I never got to sleep afterwards - with the rigging
of the pump while it was yet dark, and washing down of decks. Any
enormous giant at a prodigious hydropathic establishment,
conscientiously undergoing the water-cure in all its departments,
and extremely particular about cleaning his teeth, would make those
noises. Swash, splash, scrub, rub, toothbrush, bubble, swash,
splash, bubble, toothbrush, splash, splash, bubble, rub. Then the
day would break, and, descending from my berth by a graceful ladder
composed of half-opened drawers beneath it, I would reopen my outer
dead-light and my inner sliding window (closed by a watchman during
the water-cure), and would look out at the long-rolling, leadcoloured,
white topped waves over which the dawn, on a cold winter
morning, cast a level, lonely glance, and through which the ship
fought her melancholy way at a terrific rate. And now, lying down
again, awaiting the season for broiled ham and tea, I would be
compelled to listen to the voice of conscience, - the screw.
It might be, in some cases, no more than the voice of stomach; but
I called it in my fancy by the higher name. Because it seemed to
me that we were all of us, all day long, endeavouring to stifle the
voice. Because it was under everybody's pillow, everybody's plate,
everybody's camp-stool, everybody's book, everybody's occupation.
Because we pretended not to hear it, especially at meal-times,
evening whist, and morning conversation on deck; but it was always
among us in an under monotone, not to be drowned in pea-soup, not
to be shuffled with cards, not to be diverted by books, not to be
knitted into any pattern, not to be walked away from. It was
smoked in the weediest cigar, and drunk in the strongest cocktail;
it was conveyed on deck at noon with limp ladies, who lay there in
their wrappers until the stars shone; it waited at table with the
stewards; nobody could put it out with the lights. It was
considered (as on shore) ill-bred to acknowledge the voice of
conscience. It was not polite to mention it. One squally day an
amiable gentleman in love gave much offence to a surrounding
circle, including the object of his attachment, by saying of it,
after it had goaded him over two easy-chairs and a skylight,
Sometimes it would appear subdued. In fleeting moments, when
bubbles of champagne pervaded the nose, or when there was 'hot pot'
in the bill of fare, or when an old dish we had had regularly every
day was described in that official document by a new name, - under
such excitements, one would almost believe it hushed. The ceremony
of washing plates on deck, performed after every meal by a circle
as of ringers of crockery triple-bob majors for a prize, would keep
it down. Hauling the reel, taking the sun at noon, posting the
twenty-four hours' run, altering the ship's time by the meridian,
casting the waste food overboard, and attracting the eager gulls
that followed in our wake, - these events would suppress it for a
while. But the instant any break or pause took place in any such
diversion, the voice would be at it again, importuning us to the
last extent. A newly married young pair, who walked the deck
affectionately some twenty miles per day, would, in the full flush
of their exercise, suddenly become stricken by it, and stand
trembling, but otherwise immovable, under its reproaches.
When this terrible monitor was most severe with us was when the
time approached for our retiring to our dens for the night; when
the lighted candles in the saloon grew fewer and fewer; when the
deserted glasses with spoons in them grew more and more numerous;
when waifs of toasted cheese and strays of sardines fried in batter
slid languidly to and fro in the table-racks; when the man who
always read had shut up his book, and blown out his candle; when
the man who always talked had ceased from troubling; when the man
who was always medically reported as going to have delirium tremens
had put it off till to-morrow; when the man who every night devoted
himself to a midnight smoke on deck two hours in length, and who
every night was in bed within ten minutes afterwards, was buttoning
himself up in his third coat for his hardy vigil: for then, as we
fell off one by one, and, entering our several hutches, came into a
peculiar atmosphere of bilge-water and Windsor soap, the voice
would shake us to the centre. Woe to us when we sat down on our
sofa, watching the swinging candle for ever trying and retrying to
stand upon his head! or our coat upon its peg, imitating us as we
appeared in our gymnastic days by sustaining itself horizontally
from the wall, in emulation of the lighter and more facile towels!
Then would the voice especially claim us for its prey, and rend us
all to pieces.
Lights out, we in our berths, and the wind rising, the voice grows
angrier and deeper. Under the mattress and under the pillow, under
the sofa and under the washing-stand, under the ship and under the
sea, seeming to rise from the foundations under the earth with
every scoop of the great Atlantic (and oh! why scoop so?), always
the voice. Vain to deny its existence in the night season;
impossible to be hard of hearing; screw, screw, screw! Sometimes
it lifts out of the water, and revolves with a whirr, like a
ferocious firework, - except that it never expends itself, but is
always ready to go off again; sometimes it seems to be in anguish,
and shivers; sometimes it seems to be terrified by its last plunge,
and has a fit which causes it to struggle, quiver, and for an
instant stop. And now the ship sets in rolling, as only ships so
fiercely screwed through time and space, day and night, fair
weather and foul, CAN roll.
Did she ever take a roll before like that last? Did she ever take
a roll before like this worse one that is coming now? Here is the
partition at my ear down in the deep on the lee side. Are we ever
coming up again together? I think not; the partition and I are so
long about it that I really do believe we have overdone it this
time. Heavens, what a scoop! What a deep scoop, what a hollow
scoop, what a long scoop! Will it ever end, and can we bear the
heavy mass of water we have taken on board, and which has let loose
all the table furniture in the officers' mess, and has beaten open
the door of the little passage between the purser and me, and is
swashing about, even there and even here? The purser snores
reassuringly, and the ship's bells striking, I hear the cheerful
'All's well!' of the watch musically given back the length of the
deck, as the lately diving partition, now high in air, tries
(unsoftened by what we have gone through together) to force me out
of bed and berth.
'All's well!' Comforting to know, though surely all might be
better. Put aside the rolling and the rush of water, and think of
darting through such darkness with such velocity. Think of any
other similar object coming in the opposite direction!
Whether there may be an attraction in two such moving bodies out at
sea, which may help accident to bring them into collision?
Thoughts, too, arise (the voice never silent all the while, but
marvellously suggestive) of the gulf below; of the strange,
unfruitful mountain ranges and deep valleys over which we are
passing; of monstrous fish midway; of the ship's suddenly altering
her course on her own account, and with a wild plunge settling
down, and making THAT voyage with a crew of dead discoverers. Now,
too, one recalls an almost universal tendency on the part of
passengers to stumble, at some time or other in the day, on the
topic of a certain large steamer making this same run, which was
lost at sea, and never heard of more. Everybody has seemed under a
spell, compelling approach to the threshold of the grim subject,
stoppage, discomfiture, and pretence of never having been near it.
The boatswain's whistle sounds! A change in the wind, hoarse
orders issuing, and the watch very busy. Sails come crashing home
overhead, ropes (that seem all knot) ditto; every man engaged
appears to have twenty feet, with twenty times the average amount
of stamping power in each. Gradually the noise slackens, the
hoarse cries die away, the boatswain's whistle softens into the
soothing and contented notes, which rather reluctantly admit that
the job is done for the time, and the voice sets in again.
Thus come unintelligible dreams of up hill and down, and swinging
and swaying, until consciousness revives of atmospherical Windsor
soap and bilge-water, and the voice announces that the giant has
come for the water-cure again.
Such were my fanciful reminiscences as I lay, part of that day, in
the Bay of New York, O! Also as we passed clear of the Narrows,
and got out to sea; also in many an idle hour at sea in sunny
weather! At length the observations and computations showed that
we should make the coast of Ireland to-night. So I stood watch on
deck all night to-night, to see how we made the coast of Ireland.
Very dark, and the sea most brilliantly phosphorescent. Great way
on the ship, and double look-out kept. Vigilant captain on the
bridge, vigilant first officer looking over the port side, vigilant
second officer standing by the quarter-master at the compass,
vigilant third officer posted at the stern rail with a lantern. No
passengers on the quiet decks, but expectation everywhere
nevertheless. The two men at the wheel very steady, very serious,
and very prompt to answer orders. An order issued sharply now and
then, and echoed back; otherwise the night drags slowly, silently,
with no change.
All of a sudden, at the blank hour of two in the morning, a vague
movement of relief from a long strain expresses itself in all
hands; the third officer's lantern tinkles, and he fires a rocket,
and another rocket. A sullen solitary light is pointed out to me
in the black sky yonder. A change is expected in the light, but
none takes place. 'Give them two more rockets, Mr. Vigilant.' Two
more, and a blue-light burnt. All eyes watch the light again. At
last a little toy sky-rocket is flashed up from it; and, even as
that small streak in the darkness dies away, we are telegraphed to
Queenstown, Liverpool, and London, and back again under the ocean
to America.
Then up come the half-dozen passengers who are going ashore at
Queenstown and up comes the mail-agent in charge of the bags, and
up come the men who are to carry the bags into the mail-tender that
will come off for them out of the harbour. Lamps and lanterns
gleam here and there about the decks, and impeding bulks are
knocked away with handspikes; and the port-side bulwark, barren but
a moment ago, bursts into a crop of heads of seamen, stewards, and
The light begins to be gained upon, begins to be alongside, begins
to be left astern. More rockets, and, between us and the land,
steams beautifully the Inman steamship City of Paris, for New York,
outward bound. We observe with complacency that the wind is dead
against her (it being WITH us), and that she rolls and pitches.
(The sickest passenger on board is the most delighted by this
circumstance.) Time rushes by as we rush on; and now we see the
light in Queenstown Harbour, and now the lights of the mail-tender
coming out to us. What vagaries the mail-tender performs on the
way, in every point of the compass, especially in those where she
has no business, and why she performs them, Heaven only knows! At
length she is seen plunging within a cable's length of our port
broadside, and is being roared at through our speaking-trumpets to
do this thing, and not to do that, and to stand by the other, as if
she were a very demented tender indeed. Then, we slackening amidst
a deafening roar of steam, this much-abused tender is made fast to
us by hawsers, and the men in readiness carry the bags aboard, and
return for more, bending under their burdens, and looking just like
the pasteboard figures of the miller and his men in the theatre of
our boyhood, and comporting themselves almost as unsteadily. All
the while the unfortunate tender plunges high and low, and is
roared at. Then the Queenstown passengers are put on board of her,
with infinite plunging and roaring, and the tender gets heaved up
on the sea to that surprising extent that she looks within an ace
of washing aboard of us, high and dry. Roared at with contumely to
the last, this wretched tender is at length let go, with a final
plunge of great ignominy, and falls spinning into our wake.
The voice of conscience resumed its dominion as the day climbed up
the sky, and kept by all of us passengers into port; kept by us as
we passed other lighthouses, and dangerous islands off the coast,
where some of the officers, with whom I stood my watch, had gone
ashore in sailing-ships in fogs (and of which by that token they
seemed to have quite an affectionate remembrance), and past the
Welsh coast, and past the Cheshire coast, and past everything and
everywhere lying between our ship and her own special dock in the
Mersey. Off which, at last, at nine of the clock, on a fair
evening early in May, we stopped, and the voice ceased. A very
curious sensation, not unlike having my own ears stopped, ensued
upon that silence; and it was with a no less curious sensation that
I went over the side of the good Cunard ship 'Russia' (whom
prosperity attend through all her voyages!) and surveyed the outer
hull of the gracious monster that the voice had inhabited. So,
perhaps, shall we all, in the spirit, one day survey the frame that
held the busier voice from which my vagrant fancy derived this
I had been looking, yesternight, through the famous 'Dance of
Death,' and to-day the grim old woodcuts arose in my mind with the
new significance of a ghastly monotony not to be found in the
original. The weird skeleton rattled along the streets before me,
and struck fiercely; but it was never at the pains of assuming a
disguise. It played on no dulcimer here, was crowned with no
flowers, waved no plume, minced in no flowing robe or train, lifted
no wine-cup, sat at no feast, cast no dice, counted no gold. It
was simply a bare, gaunt, famished skeleton, slaying his way along.
The borders of Ratcliff and Stepney, eastward of London, and giving
on the impure river, were the scene of this uncompromising dance of
death, upon a drizzling November day. A squalid maze of streets,
courts, and alleys of miserable houses let out in single rooms. A
wilderness of dirt, rags, and hunger. A mud-desert, chiefly
inhabited by a tribe from whom employment has departed, or to whom
it comes but fitfully and rarely. They are not skilled mechanics
in any wise. They are but labourers, - dock-labourers, water-side
labourers, coal-porters, ballast-heavers, such-like hewers of wood
and drawers of water. But they have come into existence, and they
propagate their wretched race.
One grisly joke alone, methought, the skeleton seemed to play off
here. It had stuck election-bills on the walls, which the wind and
rain had deteriorated into suitable rags. It had even summed up
the state of the poll, in chalk, on the shutters of one ruined
house. It adjured the free and independent starvers to vote for
Thisman and vote for Thatman; not to plump, as they valued the
state of parties and the national prosperity (both of great
importance to them, I think); but, by returning Thisman and
Thatman, each naught without the other, to compound a glorious and
immortal whole. Surely the skeleton is nowhere more cruelly
ironical in the original monkish idea!
Pondering in my mind the far-seeing schemes of Thisman and Thatman,
and of the public blessing called Party, for staying the
degeneracy, physical and moral, of many thousands (who shall say
how many?) of the English race; for devising employment useful to
the community for those who want but to work and live; for
equalising rates, cultivating waste lands, facilitating emigration,
and, above all things, saving and utilising the oncoming
generations, and thereby changing ever-growing national weakness
into strength: pondering in my mind, I say, these hopeful
exertions, I turned down a narrow street to look into a house or
It was a dark street with a dead wall on one side. Nearly all the
outer doors of the houses stood open. I took the first entry, and
knocked at a parlour-door. Might I come in? I might, if I plased,
The woman of the room (Irish) had picked up some long strips of
wood, about some wharf or barge; and they had just now been thrust
into the otherwise empty grate to make two iron pots boil. There
was some fish in one, and there were some potatoes in the other.
The flare of the burning wood enabled me to see a table, and a
broken chair or so, and some old cheap crockery ornaments about the
chimney-piece. It was not until I had spoken with the woman a few
minutes, that I saw a horrible brown heap on the floor in a corner,
which, but for previous experience in this dismal wise, I might not
have suspected to be 'the bed.' There was something thrown upon
it; and I asked what that was.
''Tis the poor craythur that stays here, sur; and 'tis very bad she
is, and 'tis very bad she's been this long time, and 'tis better
she'll never be, and 'tis slape she does all day, and 'tis wake she
does all night, and 'tis the lead, sur.'
'The what?'
'The lead, sur. Sure 'tis the lead-mills, where the women gets
took on at eighteen-pence a day, sur, when they makes application
early enough, and is lucky and wanted; and 'tis lead-pisoned she
is, sur, and some of them gets lead-pisoned soon, and some of them
gets lead-pisoned later, and some, but not many, niver; and 'tis
all according to the constitooshun, sur, and some constitooshuns is
strong, and some is weak; and her constitooshun is lead-pisoned,
bad as can be, sur; and her brain is coming out at her ear, and it
hurts her dreadful; and that's what it is, and niver no more, and
niver no less, sur.'
The sick young woman moaning here, the speaker bent over her, took
a bandage from her head, and threw open a back door to let in the
daylight upon it, from the smallest and most miserable backyard I
ever saw.
'That's what cooms from her, sur, being lead-pisoned; and it cooms
from her night and day, the poor, sick craythur; and the pain of it
is dreadful; and God he knows that my husband has walked the
sthreets these four days, being a labourer, and is walking them
now, and is ready to work, and no work for him, and no fire and no
food but the bit in the pot, and no more than ten shillings in a
fortnight; God be good to us! and it is poor we are, and dark it is
and could it is indeed.'
Knowing that I could compensate myself thereafter for my selfdenial,
if I saw fit, I had resolved that I would give nothing in
the course of these visits. I did this to try the people. I may
state at once that my closest observation could not detect any
indication whatever of an expectation that I would give money:
they were grateful to be talked to about their miserable affairs,
and sympathy was plainly a comfort to them; but they neither asked
for money in any case, nor showed the least trace of surprise or
disappointment or resentment at my giving none.
The woman's married daughter had by this time come down from her
room on the floor above, to join in the conversation. She herself
had been to the lead-mills very early that morning to be 'took on,'
but had not succeeded. She had four children; and her husband,
also a water-side labourer, and then out seeking work, seemed in no
better case as to finding it than her father. She was English, and
by nature, of a buxom figure and cheerful. Both in her poor dress
and in her mother's there was an effort to keep up some appearance
of neatness. She knew all about the sufferings of the unfortunate
invalid, and all about the lead-poisoning, and how the symptoms
came on, and how they grew, - having often seen them. The very
smell when you stood inside the door of the works was enough to
knock you down, she said: yet she was going back again to get
'took on.' What could she do? Better be ulcerated and paralysed
for eighteen-pence a day, while it lasted, than see the children
A dark and squalid cupboard in this room, touching the back door
and all manner of offence, had been for some time the sleepingplace
of the sick young woman. But the nights being now wintry,
and the blankets and coverlets 'gone to the leaving shop,' she lay
all night where she lay all day, and was lying then. The woman of
the room, her husband, this most miserable patient, and two others,
lay on the one brown heap together for warmth.
'God bless you, sir, and thank you!' were the parting words from
these people, - gratefully spoken too, - with which I left this
Some streets away, I tapped at another parlour-door on another
ground-floor. Looking in, I found a man, his wife, and four
children, sitting at a washing-stool by way of table, at their
dinner of bread and infused tea-leaves. There was a very scanty
cinderous fire in the grate by which they sat; and there was a tent
bedstead in the room with a bed upon it and a coverlet. The man
did not rise when I went in, nor during my stay, but civilly
inclined his head on my pulling off my hat, and, in answer to my
inquiry whether I might ask him a question or two, said,
'Certainly.' There being a window at each end of this room, back
and front, it might have been ventilated; but it was shut up tight,
to keep the cold out, and was very sickening.
The wife, an intelligent, quick woman, rose and stood at her
husband's elbow; and he glanced up at her as if for help. It soon
appeared that he was rather deaf. He was a slow, simple fellow of
about thirty.
'What was he by trade?'
'Gentleman asks what are you by trade, John?'
'I am a boilermaker;' looking about him with an exceedingly
perplexed air, as if for a boiler that had unaccountably vanished.
'He ain't a mechanic, you understand, sir,' the wife put in: 'he's
only a labourer.'
'Are you in work?'
He looked up at his wife again. 'Gentleman says are you in work,
'In work!' cried this forlorn boilermaker, staring aghast at his
wife, and then working his vision's way very slowly round to me:
'Lord, no!'
'Ah, he ain't indeed!' said the poor woman, shaking her head, as
she looked at the four children in succession, and then at him.
'Work!' said the boilermaker, still seeking that evaporated boiler,
first in my countenance, then in the air, and then in the features
of his second son at his knee: 'I wish I WAS in work! I haven't
had more than a day's work to do this three weeks.'
'How have you lived?'
A faint gleam of admiration lighted up the face of the would-be
boilermaker, as he stretched out the short sleeve of his threadbare
canvas jacket, and replied, pointing her out, 'On the work of
the wife.'
I forget where boilermaking had gone to, or where he supposed it
had gone to; but he added some resigned information on that head,
coupled with an expression of his belief that it was never coming
The cheery helpfulness of the wife was very remarkable. She did
slop-work; made pea-jackets. She produced the pea-jacket then in
hand, and spread it out upon the bed, - the only piece of furniture
in the room on which to spread it. She showed how much of it she
made, and how much was afterwards finished off by the machine.
According to her calculation at the moment, deducting what her
trimming cost her, she got for making a pea-jacket tenpence halfpenny,
and she could make one in something less than two days.
But, you see, it come to her through two hands, and of course it
didn't come through the second hand for nothing. Why did it come
through the second hand at all? Why, this way. The second hand
took the risk of the given-out work, you see. If she had money
enough to pay the security deposit, - call it two pound, - she
could get the work from the first hand, and so the second would not
have to be deducted for. But, having no money at all, the second
hand come in and took its profit, and so the whole worked down to
tenpence half-penny. Having explained all this with great
intelligence, even with some little pride, and without a whine or
murmur, she folded her work again, sat down by her husband's side
at the washing-stool, and resumed her dinner of dry bread. Mean as
the meal was, on the bare board, with its old gallipots for cups,
and what not other sordid makeshifts; shabby as the woman was in
dress, and toning done towards the Bosjesman colour, with want of
nutriment and washing, - there was positively a dignity in her, as
the family anchor just holding the poor ship-wrecked boilermaker's
bark. When I left the room, the boiler-maker's eyes were slowly
turned towards her, as if his last hope of ever again seeing that
vanished boiler lay in her direction.
These people had never applied for parish relief but once; and that
was when the husband met with a disabling accident at his work.
Not many doors from here, I went into a room on the first floor.
The woman apologised for its being in 'an untidy mess.' The day
was Saturday, and she was boiling the children's clothes in a
saucepan on the hearth. There was nothing else into which she
could have put them. There was no crockery, or tinware, or tub, or
bucket. There was an old gallipot or two, and there was a broken
bottle or so, and there were some broken boxes for seats. The last
small scraping of coals left was raked together in a corner of the
floor. There were some rags in an open cupboard, also on the
floor. In a corner of the room was a crazy old French bed-stead,
with a man lying on his back upon it in a ragged pilot jacket, and
rough oil-skin fantail hat. The room was perfectly black. It was
difficult to believe, at first, that it was not purposely coloured
black, the walls were so begrimed.
As I stood opposite the woman boiling the children's clothes, - she
had not even a piece of soap to wash them with, - and apologising
for her occupation, I could take in all these things without
appearing to notice them, and could even correct my inventory. I
had missed, at the first glance, some half a pound of bread in the
otherwise empty safe, an old red ragged crinoline hanging on the
handle of the door by which I had entered, and certain fragments of
rusty iron scattered on the floor, which looked like broken tools
and a piece of stove-pipe. A child stood looking on. On the box
nearest to the fire sat two younger children; one a delicate and
pretty little creature, whom the other sometimes kissed.
This woman, like the last, was wofully shabby, and was degenerating
to the Bosjesman complexion. But her figure, and the ghost of a
certain vivacity about her, and the spectre of a dimple in her
cheek, carried my memory strangely back to the old days of the
Adelphi Theatre, London, when Mrs. Fitzwilliam was the friend of
'May I ask you what your husband is?'
'He's a coal-porter, sir,' - with a glance and a sigh towards the
'Is he out of work?'
'Oh, yes, sir! and work's at all times very, very scanty with him;
and now he's laid up.'
'It's my legs,' said the man upon the bed. 'I'll unroll 'em.' And
immediately began.
'Have you any older children?'
'I have a daughter that does the needle-work, and I have a son that
does what he can. She's at her work now, and he's trying for
'Do they live here?'
'They sleep here. They can't afford to pay more rent, and so they
come here at night. The rent is very hard upon us. It's rose upon
us too, now, - sixpence a week, - on account of these new changes
in the law, about the rates. We are a week behind; the landlord's
been shaking and rattling at that door frightfully; he says he'll
turn us out. I don't know what's to come of it.'
The man upon the bed ruefully interposed, 'Here's my legs. The
skin's broke, besides the swelling. I have had a many kicks,
working, one way and another.'
He looked at his legs (which were much discoloured and misshapen)
for a while, and then appearing to remember that they were not
popular with his family, rolled them up again, as if they were
something in the nature of maps or plans that were not wanted to be
referred to, lay hopelessly down on his back once more with his
fantail hat over his face, and stirred not.
'Do your eldest son and daughter sleep in that cupboard?'
'Yes,' replied the woman.
'With the children?'
'Yes. We have to get together for warmth. We have little to cover
'Have you nothing by you to eat but the piece of bread I see
'Nothing. And we had the rest of the loaf for our breakfast, with
water. I don't know what's to come of it.'
'Have you no prospect of improvement?'
'If my eldest son earns anything to-day, he'll bring it home. Then
we shall have something to eat to-night, and may be able to do
something towards the rent. If not, I don't know what's to come of
'This is a sad state of things.'
'Yes, sir; it's a hard, hard life. Take care of the stairs as you
go, sir, - they're broken, - and good day, sir!'
These people had a mortal dread of entering the workhouse, and
received no out-of-door relief.
In another room, in still another tenement, I found a very decent
woman with five children, - the last a baby, and she herself a
patient of the parish doctor, - to whom, her husband being in the
hospital, the Union allowed for the support of herself and family,
four shillings a week and five loaves. I suppose when Thisman,
M.P., and Thatman, M.P., and the Public-blessing Party, lay their
heads together in course of time, and come to an equalization of
rating, she may go down to the dance of death to the tune of
sixpence more.
I could enter no other houses for that one while, for I could not
bear the contemplation of the children. Such heart as I had
summoned to sustain me against the miseries of the adults failed me
when I looked at the children. I saw how young they were, how
hungry, how serious and still. I thought of them, sick and dying
in those lairs. I think of them dead without anguish; but to think
of them so suffering and so dying quite unmanned me.
Down by the river's bank in Ratcliff, I was turning upward by a
side-street, therefore, to regain the railway, when my eyes rested
on the inscription across the road, 'East London Children's
Hospital.' I could scarcely have seen an inscription better suited
to my frame of mind; and I went across and went straight in.
I found the children's hospital established in an old sail-loft or
storehouse, of the roughest nature, and on the simplest means.
There were trap-doors in the floors, where goods had been hoisted
up and down; heavy feet and heavy weights had started every knot in
the well-trodden planking: inconvenient bulks and beams and
awkward staircases perplexed my passage through the wards. But I
found it airy, sweet, and clean. In its seven and thirty beds I
saw but little beauty; for starvation in the second or third
generation takes a pinched look: but I saw the sufferings both of
infancy and childhood tenderly assuaged; I heard the little
patients answering to pet playful names, the light touch of a
delicate lady laid bare the wasted sticks of arms for me to pity;
and the claw-like little hands, as she did so, twined themselves
lovingly around her wedding-ring.
One baby mite there was as pretty as any of Raphael's angels. The
tiny head was bandaged for water on the brain; and it was suffering
with acute bronchitis too, and made from time to time a plaintive,
though not impatient or complaining, little sound. The smooth
curve of the cheeks and of the chin was faultless in its
condensation of infantine beauty, and the large bright eyes were
most lovely. It happened as I stopped at the foot of the bed, that
these eyes rested upon mine with that wistful expression of
wondering thoughtfulness which we all know sometimes in very little
children. They remained fixed on mine, and never turned from me
while I stood there. When the utterance of that plaintive sound
shook the little form, the gaze still remained unchanged. I felt
as though the child implored me to tell the story of the little
hospital in which it was sheltered to any gentle heart I could
address. Laying my world-worn hand upon the little unmarked
clasped hand at the chin, I gave it a silent promise that I would
do so.
A gentleman and lady, a young husband and wife, have bought and
fitted up this building for its present noble use, and have quietly
settled themselves in it as its medical officers and directors.
Both have had considerable practical experience of medicine and
surgery; he as house-surgeon of a great London hospital; she as a
very earnest student, tested by severe examination, and also as a
nurse of the sick poor during the prevalence of cholera.
With every qualification to lure them away, with youth and
accomplishments and tastes and habits that can have no response in
any breast near them, close begirt by every repulsive circumstance
inseparable from such a neighbourhood, there they dwell. They live
in the hospital itself, and their rooms are on its first floor.
Sitting at their dinner-table, they could hear the cry of one of
the children in pain. The lady's piano, drawing-materials, books,
and other such evidences of refinement are as much a part of the
rough place as the iron bedsteads of the little patients. They are
put to shifts for room, like passengers on board ship. The
dispenser of medicines (attracted to them not by self-interest, but
by their own magnetism and that of their cause) sleeps in a recess
in the dining-room, and has his washing apparatus in the sideboard.
Their contented manner of making the best of the things around
them, I found so pleasantly inseparable from their usefulness!
Their pride in this partition that we put up ourselves, or in that
partition that we took down, or in that other partition that we
moved, or in the stove that was given us for the waiting-room, or
in our nightly conversion of the little consulting-room into a
smoking-room! Their admiration of the situation, if we could only
get rid of its one objectionable incident, the coal-yard at the
back! 'Our hospital carriage, presented by a friend, and very
useful.' That was my presentation to a perambulator, for which a
coach-house had been discovered in a corner down-stairs, just large
enough to hold it. Coloured prints, in all stages of preparation
for being added to those already decorating the wards, were
plentiful; a charming wooden phenomenon of a bird, with an
impossible top-knot, who ducked his head when you set a counter
weight going, had been inaugurated as a public statue that very
morning; and trotting about among the beds, on familiar terms with
all the patients, was a comical mongrel dog, called Poodles. This
comical dog (quite a tonic in himself) was found characteristically
starving at the door of the institution, and was taken in and fed,
and has lived here ever since. An admirer of his mental endowments
has presented him with a collar bearing the legend, 'Judge not
Poodles by external appearances.' He was merrily wagging his tail
on a boy's pillow when he made this modest appeal to me.
When this hospital was first opened, in January of the present
year, the people could not possibly conceive but that somebody paid
for the services rendered there; and were disposed to claim them as
a right, and to find fault if out of temper. They soon came to
understand the case better, and have much increased in gratitude.
The mothers of the patients avail themselves very freely of the
visiting rules; the fathers often on Sundays. There is an
unreasonable (but still, I think, touching and intelligible)
tendency in the parents to take a child away to its wretched home,
if on the point of death. One boy who had been thus carried off on
a rainy night, when in a violent state of inflammation, and who had
been afterwards brought back, had been recovered with exceeding
difficulty; but he was a jolly boy, with a specially strong
interest in his dinner, when I saw him.
Insufficient food and unwholesome living are the main causes of
disease among these small patients. So nourishment, cleanliness,
and ventilation are the main remedies. Discharged patients are
looked after, and invited to come and dine now and then; so are
certain famishing creatures who were never patients. Both the lady
and the gentleman are well acquainted, not only with the histories
of the patients and their families, but with the characters and
circumstances of great numbers of their neighbours - of these they
keep a register. It is their common experience, that people,
sinking down by inches into deeper and deeper poverty, will conceal
it, even from them, if possible, unto the very last extremity.
The nurses of this hospital are all young, - ranging, say, from
nineteen to four and twenty. They have even within these narrow
limits, what many well-endowed hospitals would not give them, a
comfortable room of their own in which to take their meals. It is
a beautiful truth, that interest in the children and sympathy with
their sorrows bind these young women to their places far more
strongly than any other consideration could. The best skilled of
the nurses came originally from a kindred neighbourhood, almost as
poor; and she knew how much the work was needed. She is a fair
dressmaker. The hospital cannot pay her as many pounds in the year
as there are months in it; and one day the lady regarded it as a
duty to speak to her about her improving her prospects and
following her trade. 'No,' she said: she could never be so useful
or so happy elsewhere any more; she must stay among the children.
And she stays. One of the nurses, as I passed her, was washing a
baby-boy. Liking her pleasant face, I stopped to speak to her
charge, - a common, bullet-headed, frowning charge enough, laying
hold of his own nose with a slippery grasp, and staring very
solemnly out of a blanket. The melting of the pleasant face into
delighted smiles, as this young gentleman gave an unexpected kick,
and laughed at me, was almost worth my previous pain.
An affecting play was acted in Paris years ago, called 'The
Children's Doctor.' As I parted from my children's doctor, now in
question, I saw in his easy black necktie, in his loose buttoned
black frock-coat, in his pensive face, in the flow of his dark
hair, in his eyelashes, in the very turn of his moustache, the
exact realisation of the Paris artist's ideal as it was presented
on the stage. But no romancer that I know of has had the boldness
to prefigure the life and home of this young husband and young wife
in the Children's Hospital in the east of London.
I came away from Ratcliff by the Stepney railway station to the
terminus at Fenchurch Street. Any one who will reverse that route
may retrace my steps.
It fell out on a day in this last autumn, that I had to go down
from London to a place of seaside resort, on an hour's business,
accompanied by my esteemed friend Bullfinch. Let the place of
seaside resort be, for the nonce, called Namelesston.
I had been loitering about Paris in very hot weather, pleasantly
breakfasting in the open air in the garden of the Palais Royal or
the Tuileries, pleasantly dining in the open air in the Elysian
Fields, pleasantly taking my cigar and lemonade in the open air on
the Italian Boulevard towards the small hours after midnight.
Bullfinch - an excellent man of business - has summoned me back
across the Channel, to transact this said hour's business at
Namelesston; and thus it fell out that Bullfinch and I were in a
railway carriage together on our way to Namelesston, each with his
return-ticket in his waistcoat-pocket.
Says Bullfinch, 'I have a proposal to make. Let us dine at the
I asked Bullfinch, did he recommend the Temeraire? inasmuch as I
had not been rated on the books of the Temeraire for many years.
Bullfinch declined to accept the responsibility of recommending the
Temeraire, but on the whole was rather sanguine about it. He
'seemed to remember,' Bullfinch said, that he had dined well there.
A plain dinner, but good. Certainly not like a Parisian dinner
(here Bullfinch obviously became the prey of want of confidence),
but of its kind very fair.
I appeal to Bullfinch's intimate knowledge of my wants and ways to
decide whether I was usually ready to be pleased with any dinner,
or - for the matter of that - with anything that was fair of its
kind and really what it claimed to be. Bullfinch doing me the
honour to respond in the affirmative, I agreed to ship myself as an
able trencherman on board the Temeraire.
'Now, our plan shall be this,' says Bullfinch, with his forefinger
at his nose. 'As soon as we get to Namelesston, we'll drive
straight to the Temeraire, and order a little dinner in an hour.
And as we shall not have more than enough time in which to dispose
of it comfortably, what do you say to giving the house the best
opportunities of serving it hot and quickly by dining in the
What I had to say was, Certainly. Bullfinch (who is by nature of a
hopeful constitution) then began to babble of green geese. But I
checked him in that Falstaffian vein, urging considerations of time
and cookery.
In due sequence of events we drove up to the Temeraire, and
alighted. A youth in livery received us on the door-step. 'Looks
well,' said Bullfinch confidentially. And then aloud, 'Coffeeroom!'
The youth in livery (now perceived to be mouldy) conducted us to
the desired haven, and was enjoined by Bullfinch to send the waiter
at once, as we wished to order a little dinner in an hour. Then
Bullfinch and I waited for the waiter, until, the waiter continuing
to wait in some unknown and invisible sphere of action, we rang for
the waiter; which ring produced the waiter, who announced himself
as not the waiter who ought to wait upon us, and who didn't wait a
moment longer.
So Bullfinch approached the coffee-room door, and melodiously
pitching his voice into a bar where two young ladies were keeping
the books of the Temeraire, apologetically explained that we wished
to order a little dinner in an hour, and that we were debarred from
the execution of our inoffensive purpose by consignment to
Hereupon one of the young ladies ran a bell, which reproduced - at
the bar this time - the waiter who was not the waiter who ought to
wait upon us; that extraordinary man, whose life seemed consumed in
waiting upon people to say that he wouldn't wait upon them,
repeated his former protest with great indignation, and retired.
Bullfinch, with a fallen countenance, was about to say to me, 'This
won't do,' when the waiter who ought to wait upon us left off
keeping us waiting at last. 'Waiter,' said Bullfinch piteously,
'we have been a long time waiting.' The waiter who ought to wait
upon us laid the blame upon the waiter who ought not to wait upon
us, and said it was all that waiter's fault.
'We wish,' said Bullfinch, much depressed, 'to order a little
dinner in an hour. What can we have?'
'What would you like to have, gentlemen?'
Bullfinch, with extreme mournfulness of speech and action, and with
a forlorn old fly-blown bill of fare in his hand which the waiter
had given him, and which was a sort of general manuscript index to
any cookery-book you please, moved the previous question.
We could have mock-turtle soup, a sole, curry, and roast duck.
Agreed. At this table by this window. Punctually in an hour.
I had been feigning to look out of this window; but I had been
taking note of the crumbs on all the tables, the dirty tablecloths,
the stuffy, soupy, airless atmosphere, the stale leavings
everywhere about, the deep gloom of the waiter who ought to wait
upon us, and the stomach-ache with which a lonely traveller at a
distant table in a corner was too evidently afflicted. I now
pointed out to Bullfinch the alarming circumstance that this
traveller had DINED. We hurriedly debated whether, without
infringement of good breeding, we could ask him to disclose if he
had partaken of mock-turtle, sole, curry, or roast duck? We
decided that the thing could not be politely done, and we had set
our own stomachs on a cast, and they must stand the hazard of the
I hold phrenology, within certain limits, to be true; I am much of
the same mind as to the subtler expressions of the hand; I hold
physiognomy to be infallible; though all these sciences demand rare
qualities in the student. But I also hold that there is no more
certain index to personal character than the condition of a set of
casters is to the character of any hotel. Knowing, and having
often tested this theory of mine, Bullfinch resigned himself to the
worst, when, laying aside any remaining veil of disguise, I held up
before him in succession the cloudy oil and furry vinegar, the
clogged cayenne, the dirty salt, the obscene dregs of soy, and the
anchovy sauce in a flannel waistcoat of decomposition.
We went out to transact our business. So inspiriting was the
relief of passing into the clean and windy streets of Namelesston
from the heavy and vapid closeness of the coffee-room of the
Temeraire, that hope began to revive within us. We began to
consider that perhaps the lonely traveller had taken physic, or
done something injudicious to bring his complaint on. Bullfinch
remarked that he thought the waiter who ought to wait upon us had
brightened a little when suggesting curry; and although I knew him
to have been at that moment the express image of despair, I allowed
myself to become elevated in spirits. As we walked by the softlylapping
sea, all the notabilities of Namelesston, who are for ever
going up and down with the changelessness of the tides, passed to
and fro in procession. Pretty girls on horseback, and with
detested riding-masters; pretty girls on foot; mature ladies in
hats, - spectacled, strong-minded, and glaring at the opposite or
weaker sex. The Stock Exchange was strongly represented, Jerusalem
was strongly represented, the bores of the prosier London clubs
were strongly represented. Fortune-hunters of all denominations
were there, from hirsute insolvency, in a curricle, to closelybuttoned
swindlery in doubtful boots, on the sharp look-out for any
likely young gentleman disposed to play a game at billiards round
the corner. Masters of languages, their lessons finished for the
day, were going to their homes out of sight of the sea; mistresses
of accomplishments, carrying small portfolios, likewise tripped
homeward; pairs of scholastic pupils, two and two, went languidly
along the beach, surveying the face of the waters as if waiting for
some Ark to come and take them off. Spectres of the George the
Fourth days flitted unsteadily among the crowd, bearing the outward
semblance of ancient dandies, of every one of whom it might be
said, not that he had one leg in the grave, or both legs, but that
he was steeped in grave to the summit of his high shirt-collar, and
had nothing real about him but his bones. Alone stationary in the
midst of all the movements, the Namelesston boatmen leaned against
the railings and yawned, and looked out to sea, or looked at the
moored fishing-boats and at nothing. Such is the unchanging manner
of life with this nursery of our hardy seamen; and very dry nurses
they are, and always wanting something to drink. The only two
nautical personages detached from the railing were the two
fortunate possessors of the celebrated monstrous unknown barkingfish,
just caught (frequently just caught off Namelesston), who
carried him about in a hamper, and pressed the scientific to look
in at the lid.
The sands of the hour had all run out when we got back to the
Temeraire. Says Bullfinch, then, to the youth in livery, with
boldness, 'Lavatory!'
When we arrived at the family vault with a skylight, which the
youth in livery presented as the institution sought, we had already
whisked off our cravats and coats; but finding ourselves in the
presence of an evil smell, and no linen but two crumpled towels
newly damp from the countenances of two somebody elses, we put on
our cravats and coats again, and fled unwashed to the coffee-room.
There the waiter who ought to wait upon us had set forth our knives
and forks and glasses, on the cloth whose dirty acquaintance we had
already had the pleasure of making, and which we were pleased to
recognise by the familiar expression of its stains. And now there
occurred the truly surprising phenomenon, that the waiter who ought
not to wait upon us swooped down upon us, clutched our loaf of
bread, and vanished with the same.
Bullfinch, with distracted eyes, was following this unaccountable
figure 'out at the portal,' like the ghost in Hamlet, when the
waiter who ought to wait upon us jostled against it, carrying a
'Waiter!' said a severe diner, lately finished, perusing his bill
fiercely through his eye-glass.
The waiter put down our tureen on a remote side-table, and went to
see what was amiss in this new direction.
'This is not right, you know, waiter. Look here! here's
yesterday's sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again, two
shillings. And what does sixpence mean?'
So far from knowing what sixpence meant, the waiter protested that
he didn't know what anything meant. He wiped the perspiration from
his clammy brow, and said it was impossible to do it, - not
particularising what, - and the kitchen was so far off.
'Take the bill to the bar, and get it altered,' said Mr.
Indignation Cocker, so to call him.
The waiter took it, looked intensely at it, didn't seem to like the
idea of taking it to the bar, and submitted, as a new light upon
the case, that perhaps sixpence meant sixpence.
'I tell you again,' said Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'here's
yesterday's sherry - can't you see it? - one and eightpence, and
here we are again, two shillings. What do you make of one and
eightpence and two shillings?'
Totally unable to make anything of one and eightpence and two
shillings, the waiter went out to try if anybody else could; merely
casting a helpless backward glance at Bullfinch, in acknowledgement
of his pathetic entreaties for our soup-tureen. After a pause,
during which Mr. Indignation Cocker read a newspaper and coughed
defiant coughs, Bullfinch arose to get the tureen, when the waiter
reappeared and brought it, - dropping Mr. Indignation Cocker's
altered bill on Mr. Indignation Cocker's table as he came along.
'It's quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,' murmured the waiter;
'and the kitchen is so far off.'
'Well, you don't keep the house; it's not your fault, we suppose.
Bring some sherry.'
'Waiter!' from Mr. Indignation Cocker, with a new and burning sense
of injury upon him.
The waiter, arrested on his way to our sherry, stopped short, and
came back to see what was wrong now.
'Will you look here? This is worse than before. DO you
understand? Here's yesterday's sherry, one and eightpence, and
here we are again two shillings. And what the devil does ninepence
This new portent utterly confounded the waiter. He wrung his
napkin, and mutely appealed to the ceiling.
'Waiter, fetch that sherry,' says Bullfinch, in open wrath and
'I want to know,' persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'the meaning of
ninepence. I want to know the meaning of sherry one and eightpence
yesterday, and of here we are again two shillings. Send somebody.'
The distracted waiter got out of the room on pretext of sending
somebody, and by that means got our wine. But the instant he
appeared with our decanter, Mr. Indignation Cocker descended on him
'You will now have the goodness to attend to our dinner, waiter,'
said Bullfinch, sternly.
'I am very sorry, but it's quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,'
pleaded the waiter; 'and the kitchen - '
'Waiter!' said Mr. Indignation Cocker.
' - Is,' resumed the waiter, 'so far off, that - '
'Waiter!' persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'send somebody.'
We were not without our fears that the waiter rushed out to hang
himself; and we were much relieved by his fetching somebody, - in
graceful, flowing skirts and with a waist, - who very soon settled
Mr. Indignation Cocker's business.
'Oh!' said Mr. Cocker, with his fire surprisingly quenched by this
apparition; 'I wished to ask about this bill of mine, because it
appears to me that there's a little mistake here. Let me show you.
Here's yesterday's sherry one and eightpence, and here we are again
two shillings. And how do you explain ninepence?'
However it was explained, in tones too soft to be overheard. Mr.
Cocker was heard to say nothing more than 'Ah-h-h! Indeed; thank
you! Yes,' and shortly afterwards went out, a milder man.
The lonely traveller with the stomach-ache had all this time
suffered severely, drawing up a leg now and then, and sipping hot
brandy-and-water with grated ginger in it. When we tasted our
(very) mock-turtle soup, and were instantly seized with symptoms of
some disorder simulating apoplexy, and occasioned by the surcharge
of nose and brain with lukewarm dish-water holding in solution sour
flour, poisonous condiments, and (say) seventy-five per cent. of
miscellaneous kitchen stuff rolled into balls, we were inclined to
trace his disorder to that source. On the other hand, there was a
silent anguish upon him too strongly resembling the results
established within ourselves by the sherry, to be discarded from
alarmed consideration. Again, we observed him, with terror, to be
much overcome by our sole's being aired in a temporary retreat
close to him, while the waiter went out (as we conceived) to see
his friends. And when the curry made its appearance he suddenly
retired in great disorder.
In fine, for the uneatable part of this little dinner (as
contradistinguished from the undrinkable) we paid only seven
shillings and sixpence each. And Bullfinch and I agreed
unanimously, that no such ill-served, ill-appointed, ill-cooked,
nasty little dinner could be got for the money anywhere else under
the sun. With that comfort to our backs, we turned them on the
dear old Temeraire, the charging Temeraire, and resolved (in the
Scotch dialect) to gang nae mair to the flabby Temeraire.
A great reader of good fiction at an unusually early age, it seems
to me as though I had been born under the superintendence of the
estimable but terrific gentleman whose name stands at the head of
my present reflections. The instructive monomaniac, Mr. Barlow,
will be remembered as the tutor of Master Harry Sandford and Master
Tommy Merton. He knew everything, and didactically improved all
sorts of occasions, from the consumption of a plate of cherries to
the contemplation of a starlight night. What youth came to without
Mr. Barlow was displayed in the history of Sandford and Merton, by
the example of a certain awful Master Mash. This young wretch wore
buckles and powder, conducted himself with insupportable levity at
the theatre, had no idea of facing a mad bull single-handed (in
which I think him less reprehensible, as remotely reflecting my own
character), and was a frightful instance of the enervating effects
of luxury upon the human race.
Strange destiny on the part of Mr. Barlow, to go down to posterity
as childhood's experience of a bore! Immortal Mr. Barlow, boring
his way through the verdant freshness of ages!
My personal indictment against Mr. Barlow is one of many counts. I
will proceed to set forth a few of the injuries he has done me.
In the first place, he never made or took a joke. This
insensibility on Mr. Barlow's part not only cast its own gloom over
my boyhood, but blighted even the sixpenny jest-books of the time;
for, groaning under a moral spell constraining me to refer all
things to Mr. Barlow, I could not choose but ask myself in a
whisper when tickled by a printed jest, 'What would HE think of it?
What would HE see in it?' The point of the jest immediately became
a sting, and stung my conscience. For my mind's eye saw him
stolid, frigid, perchance taking from its shelf some dreary Greek
book, and translating at full length what some dismal sage said
(and touched up afterwards, perhaps, for publication), when he
banished some unlucky joker from Athens.
The incompatibility of Mr. Barlow with all other portions of my
young life but himself, the adamantine inadaptability of the man to
my favourite fancies and amusements, is the thing for which I hate
him most. What right had he to bore his way into my Arabian
Nights? Yet he did. He was always hinting doubts of the veracity
of Sindbad the Sailor. If he could have got hold of the Wonderful
Lamp, I knew he would have trimmed it and lighted it, and delivered
a lecture over it on the qualities of sperm-oil, with a glance at
the whale fisheries. He would so soon have found out - on
mechanical principles - the peg in the neck of the Enchanted Horse,
and would have turned it the right way in so workmanlike a manner,
that the horse could never have got any height into the air, and
the story couldn't have been. He would have proved, by map and
compass, that there was no such kingdom as the delightful kingdom
of Casgar, on the frontiers of Tartary. He would have caused that
hypocritical young prig Harry to make an experiment, - with the aid
of a temporary building in the garden and a dummy, - demonstrating
that you couldn't let a choked hunchback down an Eastern chimney
with a cord, and leave him upright on the hearth to terrify the
sultan's purveyor.
The golden sounds of the overture to the first metropolitan
pantomime, I remember, were alloyed by Mr. Barlow. Click click,
ting ting, bang bang, weedle weedle weedle, bang! I recall the
chilling air that ran across my frame and cooled my hot delight, as
the thought occurred to me, 'This would never do for Mr. Barlow!'
After the curtain drew up, dreadful doubts of Mr. Barlow's
considering the costumes of the Nymphs of the Nebula as being
sufficiently opaque, obtruded themselves on my enjoyment. In the
clown I perceived two persons; one a fascinating unaccountable
creature of a hectic complexion, joyous in spirits though feeble in
intellect, with flashes of brilliancy; the other a pupil for Mr.
Barlow. I thought how Mr. Barlow would secretly rise early in the
morning, and butter the pavement for HIM, and, when he had brought
him down, would look severely out of his study window and ask HIM
how he enjoyed the fun.
I thought how Mr. Barlow would heat all the pokers in the house,
and singe him with the whole collection, to bring him better
acquainted with the properties of incandescent iron, on which he
(Barlow) would fully expatiate. I pictured Mr. Barlow's
instituting a comparison between the clown's conduct at his
studies, - drinking up the ink, licking his copy-book, and using
his head for blotting-paper, - and that of the already mentioned
young prig of prigs, Harry, sitting at the Barlovian feet,
sneakingly pretending to be in a rapture of youthful knowledge. I
thought how soon Mr. Barlow would smooth the clown's hair down,
instead of letting it stand erect in three tall tufts; and how,
after a couple of years or so with Mr. Barlow, he would keep his
legs close together when he walked, and would take his hands out of
his big loose pockets, and wouldn't have a jump left in him.
That I am particularly ignorant what most things in the universe
are made of, and how they are made, is another of my charges
against Mr. Barlow. With the dread upon me of developing into a
Harry, and with a further dread upon me of being Barlowed if I made
inquiries, by bringing down upon myself a cold shower-bath of
explanations and experiments, I forbore enlightenment in my youth,
and became, as they say in melodramas, 'the wreck you now behold.'
That I consorted with idlers and dunces is another of the
melancholy facts for which I hold Mr. Barlow responsible. That
pragmatical prig, Harry, became so detestable in my sight, that, he
being reported studious in the South, I would have fled idle to the
extremest North. Better to learn misconduct from a Master Mash
than science and statistics from a Sandford! So I took the path,
which, but for Mr. Barlow, I might never have trodden. Thought I,
with a shudder, 'Mr. Barlow is a bore, with an immense constructive
power of making bores. His prize specimen is a bore. He seeks to
make a bore of me. That knowledge is power I am not prepared to
gainsay; but, with Mr. Barlow, knowledge is power to bore.'
Therefore I took refuge in the caves of ignorance, wherein I have
resided ever since, and which are still my private address.
But the weightiest charge of all my charges against Mr. Barlow is,
that he still walks the earth in various disguises, seeking to make
a Tommy of me, even in my maturity. Irrepressible, instructive
monomaniac, Mr. Barlow fills my life with pitfalls, and lies hiding
at the bottom to burst out upon me when I least expect him.
A few of these dismal experiences of mine shall suffice.
Knowing Mr. Barlow to have invested largely in the moving panorama
trade, and having on various occasions identified him in the dark
with a long wand in his hand, holding forth in his old way (made
more appalling in this connection by his sometimes cracking a piece
of Mr. Carlyle's own Dead-Sea fruit in mistake for a joke), I
systematically shun pictorial entertainment on rollers. Similarly,
I should demand responsible bail and guaranty against the
appearance of Mr. Barlow, before committing myself to attendance at
any assemblage of my fellow-creatures where a bottle of water and a
note-book were conspicuous objects; for in either of those
associations, I should expressly expect him. But such is the
designing nature of the man, that he steals in where no reasoning
precaution or provision could expect him. As in the following
Adjoining the Caves of Ignorance is a country town. In this
country town the Mississippi Momuses, nine in number, were
announced to appear in the town-hall, for the general delectation,
this last Christmas week. Knowing Mr. Barlow to be unconnected
with the Mississippi, though holding republican opinions, and
deeming myself secure, I took a stall. My object was to hear and
see the Mississippi Momuses in what the bills described as their
'National ballads, plantation break-downs, nigger part-songs,
choice conundrums, sparkling repartees, &c.' I found the nine
dressed alike, in the black coat and trousers, white waistcoat,
very large shirt-front, very large shirt-collar, and very large
white tie and wristbands, which constitute the dress of the mass of
the African race, and which has been observed by travellers to
prevail over a vast number of degrees of latitude. All the nine
rolled their eyes exceedingly, and had very red lips. At the
extremities of the curve they formed, seated in their chairs, were
the performers on the tambourine and bones. The centre Momus, a
black of melancholy aspect (who inspired me with a vague uneasiness
for which I could not then account), performed on a Mississippi
instrument closely resembling what was once called in this island a
hurdy-gurdy. The Momuses on either side of him had each another
instrument peculiar to the Father of Waters, which may be likened
to a stringed weather-glass held upside down. There were likewise
a little flute and a violin. All went well for awhile, and we had
had several sparkling repartees exchanged between the performers on
the tambourine and bones, when the black of melancholy aspect,
turning to the latter, and addressing him in a deep and improving
voice as 'Bones, sir,' delivered certain grave remarks to him
concerning the juveniles present, and the season of the year;
whereon I perceived that I was in the presence of Mr. Barlow -
Another night - and this was in London - I attended the
representation of a little comedy. As the characters were lifelike
(and consequently not improving), and as they went upon their
several ways and designs without personally addressing themselves
to me, I felt rather confident of coming through it without being
regarded as Tommy, the more so, as we were clearly getting close to
the end. But I deceived myself. All of a sudden, Apropos of
nothing, everybody concerned came to a check and halt, advanced to
the foot-lights in a general rally to take dead aim at me, and
brought me down with a moral homily, in which I detected the dread
hand of Barlow.
Nay, so intricate and subtle are the toils of this hunter, that on
the very next night after that, I was again entrapped, where no
vestige of a spring could have been apprehended by the timidest.
It was a burlesque that I saw performed; an uncompromising
burlesque, where everybody concerned, but especially the ladies,
carried on at a very considerable rate indeed. Most prominent and
active among the corps of performers was what I took to be (and she
really gave me very fair opportunities of coming to a right
conclusion) a young lady of a pretty figure. She was dressed as a
picturesque young gentleman, whose pantaloons had been cut off in
their infancy; and she had very neat knees and very neat satin
boots. Immediately after singing a slang song and dancing a slang
dance, this engaging figure approached the fatal lamps, and,
bending over them, delivered in a thrilling voice a random eulogium
on, and exhortation to pursue, the virtues. 'Great Heaven!' was my
exclamation; 'Barlow!'
There is still another aspect in which Mr. Barlow perpetually
insists on my sustaining the character of Tommy, which is more
unendurable yet, on account of its extreme aggressiveness. For the
purposes of a review or newspaper, he will get up an abstruse
subject with definite pains, will Barlow, utterly regardless of the
price of midnight oil, and indeed of everything else, save cramming
himself to the eyes.
But mark. When Mr. Barlow blows his information off, he is not
contented with having rammed it home, and discharged it upon me,
Tommy, his target, but he pretends that he was always in possession
of it, and made nothing of it, - that he imbibed it with mother's
milk, - and that I, the wretched Tommy, am most abjectly behindhand
in not having done the same. I ask, why is Tommy to be always the
foil of Mr. Barlow to this extent? What Mr. Barlow had not the
slightest notion of himself, a week ago, it surely cannot be any
very heavy backsliding in me not to have at my fingers' ends today!
And yet Mr. Barlow systematically carries it over me with a
high hand, and will tauntingly ask me, in his articles, whether it
is possible that I am not aware that every school-boy knows that
the fourteenth turning on the left in the steppes of Russia will
conduct to such and such a wandering tribe? with other disparaging
questions of like nature. So, when Mr. Barlow addresses a letter
to any journal as a volunteer correspondent (which I frequently
find him doing), he will previously have gotten somebody to tell
him some tremendous technicality, and will write in the coolest
manner, 'Now, sir, I may assume that every reader of your columns,
possessing average information and intelligence, knows as well as I
do that' - say that the draught from the touch-hole of a cannon of
such a calibre bears such a proportion in the nicest fractions to
the draught from the muzzle; or some equally familiar little fact.
But whatever it is, be certain that it always tends to the
exaltation of Mr. Barlow, and the depression of his enforced and
enslaved pupil.
Mr. Barlow's knowledge of my own pursuits I find to be so profound,
that my own knowledge of them becomes as nothing. Mr. Barlow
(disguised and bearing a feigned name, but detected by me) has
occasionally taught me, in a sonorous voice, from end to end of a
long dinner-table, trifles that I took the liberty of teaching him
five-and-twenty years ago. My closing article of impeachment
against Mr. Barlow is, that he goes out to breakfast, goes out to
dinner, goes out everywhere, high and low, and that he WILL preach
to me, and that I CAN'T get rid of him. He makes me a Promethean
Tommy, bound; and he is the vulture that gorges itself upon the
liver of my uninstructed mind.
It is one of my fancies, that even my idlest walk must always have
its appointed destination. I set myself a task before I leave my
lodging in Covent-garden on a street expedition, and should no more
think of altering my route by the way, or turning back and leaving
a part of it unachieved, than I should think of fraudulently
violating an agreement entered into with somebody else. The other
day, finding myself under this kind of obligation to proceed to
Limehouse, I started punctually at noon, in compliance with the
terms of the contract with myself to which my good faith was
On such an occasion, it is my habit to regard my walk as my beat,
and myself as a higher sort of police-constable doing duty on the
same. There is many a ruffian in the streets whom I mentally
collar and clear out of them, who would see mighty little of
London, I can tell him, if I could deal with him physically.
Issuing forth upon this very beat, and following with my eyes three
hulking garrotters on their way home, - which home I could
confidently swear to be within so many yards of Drury-lane, in such
a narrow and restricted direction (though they live in their
lodging quite as undisturbed as I in mine), - I went on duty with a
consideration which I respectfully offer to the new Chief
Commissioner, - in whom I thoroughly confide as a tried and
efficient public servant. How often (thought I) have I been forced
to swallow, in police-reports, the intolerable stereotyped pill of
nonsense, how that the police-constable informed the worthy
magistrate how that the associates of the prisoner did, at that
present speaking, dwell in a street or court which no man dared go
down, and how that the worthy magistrate had heard of the dark
reputation of such street or court, and how that our readers would
doubtless remember that it was always the same street or court
which was thus edifyingly discoursed about, say once a fortnight.
Now, suppose that a Chief Commissioner sent round a circular to
every division of police employed in London, requiring instantly
the names in all districts of all such much-puffed streets or
courts which no man durst go down; and suppose that in such
circular he gave plain warning, 'If those places really exist, they
are a proof of police inefficiency which I mean to punish; and if
they do not exist, but are a conventional fiction, then they are a
proof of lazy tacit police connivance with professional crime,
which I also mean to punish' - what then? Fictions or realities,
could they survive the touchstone of this atom of common sense? To
tell us in open court, until it has become as trite a feature of
news as the great gooseberry, that a costly police-system such as
was never before heard of, has left in London, in the days of steam
and gas and photographs of thieves and electric telegraphs, the
sanctuaries and stews of the Stuarts! Why, a parity of practice,
in all departments, would bring back the Plague in two summers, and
the Druids in a century!
Walking faster under my share of this public injury, I overturned a
wretched little creature, who, clutching at the rags of a pair of
trousers with one of its claws, and at its ragged hair with the
other, pattered with bare feet over the muddy stones. I stopped to
raise and succour this poor weeping wretch, and fifty like it, but
of both sexes, were about me in a moment, begging, tumbling,
fighting, clamouring, yelling, shivering in their nakedness and
hunger. The piece of money I had put into the claw of the child I
had over-turned was clawed out of it, and was again clawed out of
that wolfish gripe, and again out of that, and soon I had no notion
in what part of the obscene scuffle in the mud, of rags and legs
and arms and dirt, the money might be. In raising the child, I had
drawn it aside out of the main thoroughfare, and this took place
among some wooden hoardings and barriers and ruins of demolished
buildings, hard by Temple Bar.
Unexpectedly, from among them emerged a genuine police-constable,
before whom the dreadful brood dispersed in various directions, he
making feints and darts in this direction and in that, and catching
nothing. When all were frightened away, he took off his hat,
pulled out a handkerchief from it, wiped his heated brow, and
restored the handkerchief and hat to their places, with the air of
a man who had discharged a great moral duty, - as indeed he had, in
doing what was set down for him. I looked at him, and I looked
about at the disorderly traces in the mud, and I thought of the
drops of rain and the footprints of an extinct creature, hoary ages
upon ages old, that geologists have identified on the face of a
cliff; and this speculation came over me: If this mud could
petrify at this moment, and could lie concealed here for ten
thousand years, I wonder whether the race of men then to be our
successors on the earth could, from these or any marks, by the
utmost force of the human intellect, unassisted by tradition,
deduce such an astounding inference as the existence of a polished
state of society that bore with the public savagery of neglected
children in the streets of its capital city, and was proud of its
power by sea and land, and never used its power to seize and save
After this, when I came to the Old Bailey and glanced up it towards
Newgate, I found that the prison had an inconsistent look. There
seemed to be some unlucky inconsistency in the atmosphere that day;
for though the proportions of St. Paul's Cathedral are very
beautiful, it had an air of being somewhat out of drawing, in my
eyes. I felt as though the cross were too high up, and perched
upon the intervening golden ball too far away.
Facing eastward, I left behind me Smithfield and Old Bailey, - fire
and faggot, condemned hold, public hanging, whipping through the
city at the cart-tail, pillory, branding-iron, and other beautiful
ancestral landmarks, which rude hands have rooted up, without
bringing the stars quite down upon us as yet, - and went my way
upon my beat, noting how oddly characteristic neighbourhoods are
divided from one another, hereabout, as though by an invisible line
across the way. Here shall cease the bankers and the moneychangers;
here shall begin the shipping interest and the nauticalinstrument
shops; here shall follow a scarcely perceptible
flavouring of groceries and drugs; here shall come a strong
infusion of butchers; now, small hosiers shall be in the ascendant;
henceforth, everything exposed for sale shall have its ticketed
price attached. All this as if specially ordered and appointed.
A single stride at Houndsditch Church, no wider than sufficed to
cross the kennel at the bottom of the Canon-gate, which the debtors
in Holyrood sanctuary were wont to relieve their minds by skipping
over, as Scott relates, and standing in delightful daring of
catchpoles on the free side, - a single stride, and everything is
entirely changed in grain and character. West of the stride, a
table, or a chest of drawers on sale, shall be of mahogany and
French-polished; east of the stride, it shall be of deal, smeared
with a cheap counterfeit resembling lip-salve. West of the stride,
a penny loaf or bun shall be compact and self-contained; east of
the stride, it shall be of a sprawling and splay-footed character,
as seeking to make more of itself for the money. My beat lying
round by Whitechapel Church, and the adjacent sugar-refineries, -
great buildings, tier upon tier, that have the appearance of being
nearly related to the dock-warehouses at Liverpool, - I turned off
to my right, and, passing round the awkward corner on my left, came
suddenly on an apparition familiar to London streets afar off.
What London peripatetic of these times has not seen the woman who
has fallen forward, double, through some affection of the spine,
and whose head has of late taken a turn to one side, so that it now
droops over the back of one of her arms at about the wrist? Who
does not know her staff, and her shawl, and her basket, as she
gropes her way along, capable of seeing nothing but the pavement,
never begging, never stopping, for ever going somewhere on no
business? How does she live, whence does she come, whither does
she go, and why? I mind the time when her yellow arms were naught
but bone and parchment. Slight changes steal over her; for there
is a shadowy suggestion of human skin on them now. The Strand may
be taken as the central point about which she revolves in a halfmile
orbit. How comes she so far east as this? And coming back
too! Having been how much farther? She is a rare spectacle in
this neighbourhood. I receive intelligent information to this
effect from a dog - a lop-sided mongrel with a foolish tail,
plodding along with his tail up, and his ears pricked, and
displaying an amiable interest in the ways of his fellow-men, - if
I may be allowed the expression. After pausing at a pork-shop, he
is jogging eastward like myself, with a benevolent countenance and
a watery mouth, as though musing on the many excellences of pork,
when he beholds this doubled-up bundle approaching. He is not so
much astonished at the bundle (though amazed by that), as the
circumstance that it has within itself the means of locomotion. He
stops, pricks his ears higher, makes a slight point, stares, utters
a short, low growl, and glistens at the nose, - as I conceive with
terror. The bundle continuing to approach, he barks, turns tail,
and is about to fly, when, arguing with himself that flight is not
becoming in a dog, he turns, and once more faces the advancing heap
of clothes. After much hesitation, it occurs to him that there may
be a face in it somewhere. Desperately resolving to undertake the
adventure, and pursue the inquiry, he goes slowly up to the bundle,
goes slowly round it, and coming at length upon the human
countenance down there where never human countenance should be,
gives a yelp of horror, and flies for the East India Docks.
Being now in the Commercial Road district of my beat, and
bethinking myself that Stepney Station is near, I quicken my pace
that I may turn out of the road at that point, and see how my small
eastern star is shining.
The Children's Hospital, to which I gave that name, is in full
force. All its beds are occupied. There is a new face on the bed
where my pretty baby lay, and that sweet little child is now at
rest for ever. Much kind sympathy has been here since my former
visit, and it is good to see the walls profusely garnished with
dolls. I wonder what Poodles may think of them, as they stretch
out their arms above the beds, and stare, and display their
splendid dresses. Poodles has a greater interest in the patients.
I find him making the round of the beds, like a house-surgeon,
attended by another dog, - a friend, - who appears to trot about
with him in the character of his pupil dresser. Poodles is anxious
to make me known to a pretty little girl looking wonderfully
healthy, who had had a leg taken off for cancer of the knee. A
difficult operation, Poodles intimates, wagging his tail on the
counterpane, but perfectly successful, as you see, dear sir! The
patient, patting Poodles, adds with a smile, 'The leg was so much
trouble to me, that I am glad it's gone.' I never saw anything in
doggery finer than the deportment of Poodles, when another little
girl opens her mouth to show a peculiar enlargement of the tongue.
Poodles (at that time on a table, to be on a level with the
occasion) looks at the tongue (with his own sympathetically out) so
very gravely and knowingly, that I feel inclined to put my hand in
my waistcoat-pocket, and give him a guinea, wrapped in paper.
On my beat again, and close to Limehouse Church, its termination, I
found myself near to certain 'Lead-Mills.' Struck by the name,
which was fresh in my memory, and finding, on inquiry, that these
same lead-mills were identified with those same lead-mills of which
I made mention when I first visited the East London Children's
Hospital and its neighbourhood as Uncommercial Traveller, I
resolved to have a look at them.
Received by two very intelligent gentlemen, brothers, and partners
with their father in the concern, and who testified every desire to
show their works to me freely, I went over the lead-mills. The
purport of such works is the conversion of pig-lead into whitelead.
This conversion is brought about by the slow and gradual
effecting of certain successive chemical changes in the lead
itself. The processes are picturesque and interesting, - the most
so, being the burying of the lead, at a certain stage of
preparation, in pots, each pot containing a certain quantity of
acid besides, and all the pots being buried in vast numbers, in
layers, under tan, for some ten weeks.
Hopping up ladders, and across planks, and on elevated perches,
until I was uncertain whether to liken myself to a bird or a bricklayer,
I became conscious of standing on nothing particular,
looking down into one of a series of large cocklofts, with the
outer day peeping in through the chinks in the tiled roof above. A
number of women were ascending to, and descending from, this
cockloft, each carrying on the upward journey a pot of prepared
lead and acid, for deposition under the smoking tan. When one
layer of pots was completely filled, it was carefully covered in
with planks, and those were carefully covered with tan again, and
then another layer of pots was begun above; sufficient means of
ventilation being preserved through wooden tubes. Going down into
the cockloft then filling, I found the heat of the tan to be
surprisingly great, and also the odour of the lead and acid to be
not absolutely exquisite, though I believe not noxious at that
stage. In other cocklofts, where the pots were being exhumed, the
heat of the steaming tan was much greater, and the smell was
penetrating and peculiar. There were cocklofts in all stages; full
and empty, half filled and half emptied; strong, active women were
clambering about them busily; and the whole thing had rather the
air of the upper part of the house of some immensely rich old Turk,
whose faithful seraglio were hiding his money because the sultan or
the pasha was coming.
As is the case with most pulps or pigments, so in the instance of
this white-lead, processes of stirring, separating, washing,
grinding, rolling, and pressing succeed. Some of these are
unquestionably inimical to health, the danger arising from
inhalation of particles of lead, or from contact between the lead
and the touch, or both. Against these dangers, I found good
respirators provided (simply made of flannel and muslin, so as to
be inexpensively renewed, and in some instances washed with scented
soap), and gauntlet gloves, and loose gowns. Everywhere, there was
as much fresh air as windows, well placed and opened, could
possibly admit. And it was explained that the precaution of
frequently changing the women employed in the worst parts of the
work (a precaution originating in their own experience or
apprehension of its ill effects) was found salutary. They had a
mysterious and singular appearance, with the mouth and nose
covered, and the loose gown on, and yet bore out the simile of the
old Turk and the seraglio all the better for the disguise.
At last this vexed white-lead, having been buried and resuscitated,
and heated and cooled and stirred, and separated and washed and
ground, and rolled and pressed, is subjected to the action of
intense fiery heat. A row of women, dressed as above described,
stood, let us say, in a large stone bakehouse, passing on the
baking-dishes as they were given out by the cooks, from hand to
hand, into the ovens. The oven, or stove, cold as yet, looked as
high as an ordinary house, and was full of men and women on
temporary footholds, briskly passing up and stowing away the
dishes. The door of another oven, or stove, about to be cooled and
emptied, was opened from above, for the uncommercial countenance to
peer down into. The uncommercial countenance withdrew itself, with
expedition and a sense of suffocation, from the dull-glowing heat
and the overpowering smell. On the whole, perhaps the going into
these stoves to work, when they are freshly opened, may be the
worst part of the occupation.
But I made it out to be indubitable that the owners of these leadmills
honestly and sedulously try to reduce the dangers of the
occupation to the lowest point.
A washing-place is provided for the women (I thought there might
have been more towels), and a room in which they hang their
clothes, and take their meals, and where they have a good firerange
and fire, and a female attendant to help them, and to watch
that they do not neglect the cleansing of their hands before
touching their food. An experienced medical attendant is provided
for them, and any premonitory symptoms of lead-poisoning are
carefully treated. Their teapots and such things were set out on
tables ready for their afternoon meal, when I saw their room; and
it had a homely look. It is found that they bear the work much
better than men: some few of them have been at it for years, and
the great majority of those I observed were strong and active. On
the other hand, it should be remembered that most of them are very
capricious and irregular in their attendance.
American inventiveness would seem to indicate that before very long
white-lead may be made entirely by machinery. The sooner, the
better. In the meantime, I parted from my two frank conductors
over the mills, by telling them that they had nothing there to be
concealed, and nothing to be blamed for. As to the rest, the
philosophy of the matter of lead-poisoning and workpeople seems to
me to have been pretty fairly summed up by the Irishwoman whom I
quoted in my former paper: 'Some of them gets lead-pisoned soon,
and some of them gets lead-pisoned later, and some, but not many,
niver; and 'tis all according to the constitooshun, sur; and some
constitooshuns is strong and some is weak.' Retracing my footsteps
over my beat, I went off duty.
Once upon a time (no matter when), I was engaged in a pursuit (no
matter what), which could be transacted by myself alone; in which I
could have no help; which imposed a constant strain on the
attention, memory, observation, and physical powers; and which
involved an almost fabulous amount of change of place and rapid
railway travelling. I had followed this pursuit through an
exceptionally trying winter in an always trying climate, and had
resumed it in England after but a brief repose. Thus it came to be
prolonged until, at length - and, as it seemed, all of a sudden -
it so wore me out that I could not rely, with my usual cheerful
confidence, upon myself to achieve the constantly recurring task,
and began to feel (for the first time in my life) giddy, jarred,
shaken, faint, uncertain of voice and sight and tread and touch,
and dull of spirit. The medical advice I sought within a few
hours, was given in two words: 'instant rest.' Being accustomed
to observe myself as curiously as if I were another man, and
knowing the advice to meet my only need, I instantly halted in the
pursuit of which I speak, and rested.
My intention was, to interpose, as it were, a fly-leaf in the book
of my life, in which nothing should be written from without for a
brief season of a few weeks. But some very singular experiences
recorded themselves on this same fly-leaf, and I am going to relate
them literally. I repeat the word: literally.
My first odd experience was of the remarkable coincidence between
my case, in the general mind, and one Mr. Merdle's as I find it
recorded in a work of fiction called LITTLE DORRIT. To be sure,
Mr. Merdle was a swindler, forger, and thief, and my calling had
been of a less harmful (and less remunerative) nature; but it was
all one for that.
Here is Mr. Merdle's case:
'At first, he was dead of all the diseases that ever were known,
and of several bran-new maladies invented with the speed of Light
to meet the demand of the occasion. He had concealed a dropsy from
infancy, he had inherited a large estate of water on the chest from
his grandfather, he had had an operation performed upon him every
morning of his life for eighteen years, he had been subject to the
explosion of important veins in his body after the manner of
fireworks, he had had something the matter with his lungs, he had
had something the matter with his heart, he had had something the
matter with his brain. Five hundred people who sat down to
breakfast entirely uninformed on the whole subject, believed before
they had done breakfast, that they privately and personally knew
Physician to have said to Mr. Merdle, "You must expect to go out,
some day, like the snuff of a candle;" and that they knew Mr.
Merdle to have said to Physician, "A man can die but once." By
about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, something the matter with the
brain, became the favourite theory against the field; and by twelve
the something had been distinctly ascertained to be "Pressure."
'Pressure was so entirely satisfactory to the public mind, and
seemed to make every one so comfortable, that it might have lasted
all day but for Bar's having taken the real state of the case into
Court at half-past nine. Pressure, however, so far from being
overthrown by the discovery, became a greater favourite than ever.
There was a general moralising upon Pressure, in every street. All
the people who had tried to make money and had not been able to do
it, said, There you were! You no sooner began to devote yourself
to the pursuit of wealth, than you got Pressure. The idle people
improved the occasion in a similar manner. See, said they, what
you brought yourself to by work, work, work! You persisted in
working, you overdid it, Pressure came on, and you were done for!
This consideration was very potent in many quarters, but nowhere
more so than among the young clerks and partners who had never been
in the slightest danger of overdoing it. These, one and all
declared, quite piously, that they hoped they would never forget
the warning as long as they lived, and that their conduct might be
so regulated as to keep off Pressure, and preserve them, a comfort
to their friends, for many years.'
Just my case - if I had only known it - when I was quietly basking
in the sunshine in my Kentish meadow!
But while I so rested, thankfully recovering every hour, I had
experiences more odd than this. I had experiences of spiritual
conceit, for which, as giving me a new warning against that curse
of mankind, I shall always feel grateful to the supposition that I
was too far gone to protest against playing sick lion to any stray
donkey with an itching hoof. All sorts of people seemed to become
vicariously religious at my expense. I received the most
uncompromising warning that I was a Heathen: on the conclusive
authority of a field preacher, who, like the most of his ignorant
and vain and daring class, could not construct a tolerable sentence
in his native tongue or pen a fair letter. This inspired
individual called me to order roundly, and knew in the freest and
easiest way where I was going to, and what would become of me if I
failed to fashion myself on his bright example, and was on terms of
blasphemous confidence with the Heavenly Host. He was in the
secrets of my heart, and in the lowest soundings of my soul - he! -
and could read the depths of my nature better than his A B C, and
could turn me inside out, like his own clammy glove. But what is
far more extraordinary than this - for such dirty water as this
could alone be drawn from such a shallow and muddy source - I found
from the information of a beneficed clergyman, of whom I never
heard and whom I never saw, that I had not, as I rather supposed I
had, lived a life of some reading, contemplation, and inquiry; that
I had not studied, as I rather supposed I had, to inculcate some
Christian lessons in books; that I had never tried, as I rather
supposed I had, to turn a child or two tenderly towards the
knowledge and love of our Saviour; that I had never had, as I
rather supposed I had had, departed friends, or stood beside open
graves; but that I had lived a life of 'uninterrupted prosperity,'
and that I needed this 'check, overmuch,' and that the way to turn
it to account was to read these sermons and these poems, enclosed,
and written and issued by my correspondent! I beg it may be
understood that I relate facts of my own uncommercial experience,
and no vain imaginings. The documents in proof lie near my hand.
Another odd entry on the fly-leaf, of a more entertaining
character, was the wonderful persistency with which kind
sympathisers assumed that I had injuriously coupled with the so
suddenly relinquished pursuit, those personal habits of mine most
obviously incompatible with it, and most plainly impossible of
being maintained, along with it. As, all that exercise, all that
cold bathing, all that wind and weather, all that uphill training -
all that everything else, say, which is usually carried about by
express trains in a portmanteau and hat-box, and partaken of under
a flaming row of gas-lights in the company of two thousand people.
This assuming of a whole case against all fact and likelihood,
struck me as particularly droll, and was an oddity of which I
certainly had had no adequate experience in life until I turned
that curious fly-leaf.
My old acquaintances the begging-letter writers came out on the
fly-leaf, very piously indeed. They were glad, at such a serious
crisis, to afford me another opportunity of sending that Postoffice
order. I needn't make it a pound, as previously insisted
on; ten shillings might ease my mind. And Heaven forbid that they
should refuse, at such an insignificant figure, to take a weight
off the memory of an erring fellow-creature! One gentleman, of an
artistic turn (and copiously illustrating the books of the
Mendicity Society), thought it might soothe my conscience, in the
tender respect of gifts misused, if I would immediately cash up in
aid of his lowly talent for original design - as a specimen of
which he enclosed me a work of art which I recognized as a tracing
from a woodcut originally published in the late Mrs. Trollope's
book on America, forty or fifty years ago. The number of people
who were prepared to live long years after me, untiring benefactors
to their species, for fifty pounds apiece down, was astonishing.
Also, of those who wanted bank-notes for stiff penitential amounts,
to give away:- not to keep, on any account.
Divers wonderful medicines and machines insinuated recommendations
of themselves into the fly-leaf that was to have been so blank. It
was specially observable that every prescriber, whether in a moral
or physical direction, knew me thoroughly - knew me from head to
heel, in and out, through and through, upside down. I was a glass
piece of general property, and everybody was on the most
surprisingly intimate terms with me. A few public institutions had
complimentary perceptions of corners in my mind, of which, after
considerable self-examination, I have not discovered any
indication. Neat little printed forms were addressed to those
corners, beginning with the words: 'I give and bequeath.'
Will it seem exaggerative to state my belief that the most honest,
the most modest, and the least vain-glorious of all the records
upon this strange fly-leaf, was a letter from the self-deceived
discoverer of the recondite secret 'how to live four or five
hundred years'? Doubtless it will seem so, yet the statement is
not exaggerative by any means, but is made in my serious and
sincere conviction. With this, and with a laugh at the rest that
shall not be cynical, I turn the Fly-leaf, and go on again.
One day this last Whitsuntide, at precisely eleven o'clock in the
forenoon, there suddenly rode into the field of view commanded by
the windows of my lodging an equestrian phenomenon. It was a
fellow-creature on horseback, dressed in the absurdest manner. The
fellow-creature wore high boots; some other (and much larger)
fellow-creature's breeches, of a slack-baked doughy colour and a
baggy form; a blue shirt, whereof the skirt, or tail, was puffily
tucked into the waist-band of the said breeches; no coat; a red
shoulder-belt; and a demi-semi-military scarlet hat, with a
feathered ornament in front, which, to the uninstructed human
vision, had the appearance of a moulting shuttlecock. I laid down
the newspaper with which I had been occupied, and surveyed the
fellow-man in question with astonishment. Whether he had been
sitting to any painter as a frontispiece for a new edition of
'Sartor Resartus;' whether 'the husk or shell of him,' as the
esteemed Herr Teufelsdroch might put it, were founded on a jockey,
on a circus, on General Garibaldi, on cheap porcelain, on a toy
shop, on Guy Fawkes, on waxwork, on gold-digging, on Bedlam, or on
all, - were doubts that greatly exercised my mind. Meanwhile, my
fellow-man stumbled and slided, excessively against his will, on
the slippery stones of my Covent-garden street, and elicited
shrieks from several sympathetic females, by convulsively
restraining himself from pitching over his horse's head. In the
very crisis of these evolutions, and indeed at the trying moment
when his charger's tail was in a tobacconist's shop, and his head
anywhere about town, this cavalier was joined by two similar
portents, who, likewise stumbling and sliding, caused him to
stumble and slide the more distressingly. At length this Gilpinian
triumvirate effected a halt, and, looking northward, waved their
three right hands as commanding unseen troops, to 'Up, guards! and
at 'em.' Hereupon a brazen band burst forth, which caused them to
be instantly bolted with to some remote spot of earth in the
direction of the Surrey Hills.
Judging from these appearances that a procession was under way, I
threw up my window, and, craning out, had the satisfaction of
beholding it advancing along the streets. It was a Teetotal
procession, as I learnt from its banners, and was long enough to
consume twenty minutes in passing. There were a great number of
children in it, some of them so very young in their mothers' arms
as to be in the act of practically exemplifying their abstinence
from fermented liquors, and attachment to an unintoxicating drink,
while the procession defiled. The display was, on the whole,
pleasant to see, as any good-humoured holiday assemblage of clean,
cheerful, and well-conducted people should be. It was bright with
ribbons, tinsel, and shoulder-belts, and abounded in flowers, as if
those latter trophies had come up in profusion under much watering.
The day being breezy, the insubordination of the large banners was
very reprehensible. Each of these being borne aloft on two poles
and stayed with some half-dozen lines, was carried, as polite books
in the last century used to be written, by 'various hands,' and the
anxiety expressed in the upturned faces of those officers, -
something between the anxiety attendant on the balancing art, and
that inseparable from the pastime of kite-flying, with a touch of
the angler's quality in landing his scaly prey, - much impressed
me. Suddenly, too, a banner would shiver in the wind, and go about
in the most inconvenient manner. This always happened oftenest
with such gorgeous standards as those representing a gentleman in
black, corpulent with tea and water, in the laudable act of
summarily reforming a family, feeble and pinched with beer. The
gentleman in black distended by wind would then conduct himself
with the most unbecoming levity, while the beery family, growing
beerier, would frantically try to tear themselves away from his
ministration. Some of the inscriptions accompanying the banners
were of a highly determined character, as 'We never, never will
give up the temperance cause,' with similar sound resolutions
rather suggestive to the profane mind of Mrs. Micawber's 'I never
will desert Mr. Micawber,' and of Mr. Micawber's retort, 'Really,
my dear, I am not aware that you were ever required by any human
being to do anything of the sort.'
At intervals, a gloom would fall on the passing members of the
procession, for which I was at first unable to account. But this I
discovered, after a little observation, to be occasioned by the
coming on of the executioners, - the terrible official beings who
were to make the speeches by-and-by, - who were distributed in open
carriages at various points of the cavalcade. A dark cloud and a
sensation of dampness, as from many wet blankets, invariably
preceded the rolling on of the dreadful cars containing these
headsmen; and I noticed that the wretched people who closely
followed them, and who were in a manner forced to contemplate their
folded arms, complacent countenances, and threatening lips, were
more overshadowed by the cloud and damp than those in front.
Indeed, I perceived in some of these so moody an implacability
towards the magnates of the scaffold, and so plain a desire to tear
them limb from limb, that I would respectfully suggest to the
managers the expediency of conveying the executioners to the scene
of their dismal labours by unfrequented ways, and in closely-tilted
carts, next Whitsuntide.
The procession was composed of a series of smaller processions,
which had come together, each from its own metropolitan district.
An infusion of allegory became perceptible when patriotic Peckham
advanced. So I judged, from the circumstance of Peckham's
unfurling a silken banner that fanned heaven and earth with the
words, 'The Peckham Lifeboat.' No boat being in attendance, though
life, in the likeness of 'a gallant, gallant crew,' in nautical
uniform, followed the flag, I was led to meditate on the fact that
Peckham is described by geographers as an inland settlement, with
no larger or nearer shore-line than the towing-path of the Surrey
Canal, on which stormy station I had been given to understand no
lifeboat exists. Thus I deduced an allegorical meaning, and came
to the conclusion, that if patriotic Peckham picked a peck of
pickled poetry, this WAS the peck of pickled poetry which patriotic
Peckham picked.
I have observed that the aggregate procession was on the whole
pleasant to see. I made use of that qualified expression with a
direct meaning, which I will now explain. It involves the title of
this paper, and a little fair trying of teetotalism by its own
tests. There were many people on foot, and many people in vehicles
of various kinds. The former were pleasant to see, and the latter
were not pleasant to see; for the reason that I never, on any
occasion or under any circumstances, have beheld heavier
overloading of horses than in this public show. Unless the
imposition of a great van laden with from ten to twenty people on a
single horse be a moderate tasking of the poor creature, then the
temperate use of horses was immoderate and cruel. From the
smallest and lightest horse to the largest and heaviest, there were
many instances in which the beast of burden was so shamefully
overladen, that the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals have frequently interposed in less gross cases.
Now, I have always held that there may be, and that there
unquestionably is, such a thing as use without abuse, and that
therefore the total abolitionists are irrational and wrong-headed.
But the procession completely converted me. For so large a number
of the people using draught-horses in it were so clearly unable to
use them without abusing them, that I perceived total abstinence
from horseflesh to be the only remedy of which the case admitted.
As it is all one to teetotalers whether you take half a pint of
beer or half a gallon, so it was all one here whether the beast of
burden were a pony or a cart-horse. Indeed, my case had the
special strength that the half-pint quadruped underwent as much
suffering as the half-gallon quadruped. Moral: total abstinence
from horseflesh through the whole length and breadth of the scale.
This pledge will be in course of administration to all teetotal
processionists, not pedestrians, at the publishing office of 'All
the Year Round,' on the 1st day of April, 1870.
Observe a point for consideration. This procession comprised many
persons in their gigs, broughams, tax-carts, barouches, chaises,
and what not, who were merciful to the dumb beasts that drew them,
and did not overcharge their strength. What is to be done with
those unoffending persons? I will not run amuck and vilify and
defame them, as teetotal tracts and platforms would most assuredly
do, if the question were one of drinking instead of driving: I
merely ask what is to be done with them! The reply admits of no
dispute whatever. Manifestly, in strict accordance with teetotal
doctrines, THEY must come in too, and take the total abstinence
from horseflesh pledge. It is not pretended that those members of
the procession misused certain auxiliaries which in most countries
and all ages have been bestowed upon man for his use, but it is
undeniable that other members of the procession did. Teetotal
mathematics demonstrate that the less includes the greater; that
the guilty include the innocent, the blind the seeing, the deaf the
hearing, the dumb the speaking, the drunken the sober. If any of
the moderate users of draught-cattle in question should deem that
there is any gentle violence done to their reason by these elements
of logic, they are invited to come out of the procession next
Whitsuntide, and look at it from my window.

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