Victorian London - Advertising - Classified Ads
But there are---who shall say how many?---people
living in London who live almost alone; who have no
society except of a casual, and what may be called an
anonymous kind; and whose homes are merely places
where they may obtain shelter and rest. I am not here
alluding to the class who are social and domestic outlaws
because they are positively poor. There is no anomaly
in this condition of life; it is a natural consequence of
having no money. The people I mean have mostly
money enough for themselves, but not sufficient to make
them important to others, and obtain for them consideration
in the world. Sometimes their positions have
changed; sometimes things have changed around them
and left their positions as they were, the result being
much the same. It may be that they are seeking to
make a little more money by such employments as agencies,
secretaryships, and so forth---employments the most
difficult of all to get, as any man of moderate education
and abilities can do the duties---but most frequently
they are content to vegetate upon what they have, and to
concentrate themselves upon the attainment of companionship
and home. When one of the active men whom I
have mentioned goes away from home, the Post Office
establishment is ruthlessly disturbed by mandates for the
re-addressing and forwarding of letters. The migration
of one of our passive friends makes no difference to
anybody. Except it be an occasional communication from a
relation in a distant colony, sent to the care of an agent,
he has no letters to trouble him, and if he did not occasionally
make a show of existence by asserting himself in
pen and ink, he might perish out of the memory of man.
To such people the advertising columns of the newspapers
must possess peculiar interest; for a large number of the
announcements seem expressly intended to meet their
requirements, while, on the other hand, an equal number
of the specified "Wants" seem to come from their class.
Homes for special purposes appear to be plentiful
enough. You cannot take up a newspaper without having
your attention called to a dozen or two. Apart from the
"Home for Lost and Starving Dogs,"---which is an
establishment not applying, except by sympathy, to any
class of my readers---we have such charities as the
"Convalescent Home," established by the wife of the
Premier. In the next column we are sure to be
reminded of the "Home for Little Boys," in addition to
which has just been appropriately projected a "Home
for Little Girls,"---not the least desirable object of the
two. An individual speculator has also established what
he rather invidiously calls an "Epileptic Home for the
Sons of Gentlemen,"---there being, it is to be presumed,
genteel as well as vulgar forms of the malady in question.
"Educational Homes" for youth of both sexes abound in
newspaper announcements. They may afford very good
opportunities for the intended purpose, but I should
prefer placing my trust in establishments which are candidly
called schools. Not long since I saw an advertisement
in a morning paper which ran, as nearly as I can
remember, in these terms:---
"A clergyman in a popular parish by the sea-side,
offers an Educational Home to a few little boys of good
principles, the sons of gentlemen. Apply," &c.
Now, without desiring to be harsh to the advertiser, I
must take leave to say that the above contains several
important errors in taste. It would have been just as
well, and a great deal better perhaps, had the clergyman
refrained from mentioning the popularity of his parish,
however much the description might be deserved. His
specification of little boys "of good principles" suggests
a slur upon little boys in general which does not come
well from an educator of youth; and one would think
that he would be more usefully engaged in taking in hand
little boys of bad principles, if any such exist. But the
inference next suggested is even less creditable to the
reverend advertiser. It is of no use, it seems, for little
boys to have good principles, as far as he is concerned,
unless they be the sons of gentlemen. This is sad.
But the mention of homes of a special character---of
which there are many more in London than have been
enumerated---is only incidental to my present purpose.
I especially allude to lonely people who seek society, and
to which society, in a certain limited degree, seems
continually offering to sell itself. And among lonely people,
as far as homes are concerned, must be included "persons
engaged in the City," or "engaged during the day,"
who are frequently appealed to by advertisers. The number
of persons---idle or occupied---who want homes seem
to be equalled only by the number of persons who are
prepared to offer them, with very small pecuniary
temptation. I have always thought that a great deal of
self-sacrifice must be necessary in the case of the family
of a dancing-master who for years past has been
advertising his lessons with the addition that "the Misses
X------- will officiate as partners." The Misses X-------
must surely be tired by this time of dancing with people
who drop them directly thay are able to dance. But it
must be still more sad to take into your family any
chance stranger who may be sufficiently respectable,
board him, and lodge him, and promise to be "cheerful"
and "musical" for his amusement. But offers of this
kind are plentiful enough, and they would not be made
were there not a fair supply of people to embrace them.
Looking back at only one daily paper for only a week
or ten days may be found a host of advertisements of
both classes; and I will first allude to a few of these
among the "Wants."
Here is a specimen:---"Home wanted by a respectable elderly
lady---rather invalid, not helpless---in a sociable family; meals with
it understood. Children objectionable. Large bedroom
(not top) facing east or south indispensible. Aspect
important. Forty guineas. Must be west of Holborn:
other localities useless. Letters," &c.
It would be difficult to determine the exact state of
this respectable elderly lady's health from the above
description, there being a rather long range between the
affirmative and the suggestions offered by the negative
statement; but even though she be in a high state of
agility the conditions are surely rather complex: and
there must be families in which forty guineas a year go a
great way if she has any chance of gratifying her wishes.
Another elderly lady is more explicit, if not quite
grammatical. She describes herself as "an invalid from
rheumatism," and her desire is "to board with a genteel,
cheerful family." Here again there must be "no children."
She prefers "the neighbourhood of St. John's
Wood, near the Park, or an equal distance from the
West-End." Letters must be prepaid.
The following looks like a case in which society is an
object:---"Board and residence wanted, by a widow lady and a
young lady, and partial board for a young gentleman,
within three miles north of London, near a station.
Children objected to. (Poor children!) Three bedrooms
indispensible. Preference given to a musical family,
where there is a daughter who would be companionable."
Terms, it is added, "must be moderate."
The following has not a pleasant sound:---"Wanted, a
comfortable home for a female aged seventy years, where
there are no children (children again!). She must be treated
with great firmness. Twelve shillings will be paid weekly for
board, lodging, and washing. Surrey side preferred," &c.
It is evident that the above offer has not been made
by the person for whom the accommodation is sought.
But such requirements, including even the "great firmness,"
doubtless get supplied. One of the numerous
advertisers who provide homes for invalid ladies offers, I
observe, to give "reference to the relatives of a lady
lately deceased," who lived in the house for seven years.
Here is a "home" of remarkable character; it is described
as situated in a favourite suburb on the Metropolitan
Railway, replete with every beauty and convenience,
the details being specially enumerated; and besides
the railway, omnibuses pass the door to all parts of
town. "The advertiser," it is added, "would prefer one
or two City gentlemen of convivial disposition, and to
such, liberal terms would be offered."
The advertiser has evidently an abstract love for City
gentlemen of convivial disposition, since he is prepared to
share his home with any one or two of them. And if a
City gentleman of convivial disposition could make a vast
wilderness dear---which it is very possible he could do---one
can fancy what a paradise he would make of this
Cashmere at Shepherd's Bush. It is not quite clear,
indeed, that the advertiser is not prepared to pay instead
of being paid by the charming society he seeks, since he
says that "to such liberal terms will be offered." It
must be a very delightful thing to be a City gentleman of
convivial disposition, with the feeling of having unknown
friends, which has been said to resemble our ideas of the
existence of angels.
Another proffered "home" is described as having, in
addition to all domestic comforts, "two pianos, with
young and musical society." This may be very pleasant;
but I should feel some misgivings at the prospect of
making one of a "young and musical society" let loose
upon two pianos at the same time. There are different
opinions, too, even about the best music, under different
conditions. The Irish soldier who was singing the
"Last Rose of Summer," perhaps from the bottom of his
heart, but certainly at the top of his voice, was told by
his English comrade to hold his noise. "And he calls
Moore's Melodies a noise," said the musical enthusiast,
disgusted at the want of taste exhibited by the cold-blooded
A cheerful state of existence is suggested by another
advertisement of a "home":---"Partial board is offered to a
gentleman by a cheerful, musical, private family. Early breakfast;
meat tea. Dinner on Sundays. Gas, piano, croquet. Terms
L1 1s. per week. Write," &c.
The board must be partial indeed if that melancholy
meal known as "meat tea" enters into the arrangement.
A "meat tea" would in any case mean that you
were expected to go without your dinner, since, if you had dined
you would not want meat with your bohea. But there is no disguise about the matter here, for you
are frankly told that there will be dinner, as distinguished
from a meat tea, on Sundays. It is a monstrous,
unnatural idea, and the family must be very cheerful, very
musical, and very private, I should think, to reconcile
most men to such a state of things. Perhaps the piano
and the croquet are intended as a set-off, by suggesting
female society of an accomplished kind; and of course
there are some girls for whom some men will submit to
meat teas; but I have my own opinion as to the chances
of either one or the other.
Here is an advertisement of a "home" couched in
popular terms. It would be a pity to interefere with the
writer's style, so I give it in full, with the omission, of
course, of the address:---"A lady having a larger house
than she requires, is desirous of increasing her daily circle
by receiving a few gentlemen (who are engaged during the
day) as boarders. The society is cheerful and musical. To
foreigners anxious to acquire elegant English, this is a good opportunity."
As for the lady having a larger house than she requires,
one can fancy that to be the case if she has room for
several gentlemen, but how is it that so many persons
get into larger houses than they require, and are thereby
impelled to offer similar accommodation? It must be
confessed, too, that the opportunity for foreigners to
acquire elegant English is not very apparent. Are the
candidates for residence examined in elegant English
before they are admitted into the family? As for the
cheerfulness and the music, those are of course matters of taste.
Among other "homes" which we find offered in the
same paper is one with a curious recommendation
attached. It has "just been vacated," we are told, "by a
young gentleman who has successfully passed his
examination." If the same advantage can be secured to the
incoming tenant the accommodation would be decidedly
cheap, for the modest sum of thirteen shillings a-week,
which is all that is asked. But we are not told what is
the nature of the examination---for the army, the Civil
Service, a degree, or what? Perhaps it is only in the
"elegant Engish" intended to qualify the tenant for the
higher social sphere of the lady with the partially
Invalid or "mentally afflicted" persons are always in
great request among advertisers. Several applications
are before me now. One of these comes from "A medical
man, residing in a large and well-furnished house in
one of the healthiest and most convenient out-districts of
London," who "wishes to receive any patient mentally
or otherwise afflicted, as a resident; boarding or separate
arrangement as desired; a married couple, or two
sisters, or friends, not objected to." The contingency of
companions in misfortune is a good idea; our medical
friend is evidently a far-sighted man. Then we find the
wife of a medical man, who is willing to take charge of
"an afflicted (not insane) lady, gentleman, or child, to
whom she offers a comfortable home with experienced
care." A similar offer is made by the occupants of a
farmhouse, but these do not draw the line at insanity,
but declare that they have had the care of an insane
patient for many years, and can be highly recommended
in consequence. Some people, indeed, are so fond of
taking care of insane patients that they would not have
a sane one if you made them a present of him. An
illustration of this curious taste came under my notice
not long since. A very deserving man called to see a
patron of his who had procured him a post of the kind,
which he had held for several months. "I am very glad
to see you, John," was the greeting, "and hope you are
getting on in your employment." "Ah, that indeed I
am, sir," was the answer: "thanks to you, I am most
comfortably provided for---in fact, I was never so happy
in my life. How did I get these two black eyes, sir?
Oh, he gave them to me yesterday morning. Oh, yes, I
shall always be grateful---I never was so happy in my life."
It must be admitted that the majority of the "homes"
which people offer to one another through the medium of
the papers are not exposed to contingencies of this kind;
but the said people must surely run the risk of finding
themselves ill-assorted in no ordinary degree.
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W.S.Gilbert , London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, 1870?