A first-class ticket to
Gravesend costs nine-pence, and the society is of a mixed description—of
course. But it is one of the peculiarities of England, that a “mixed
society” does not by any means present so striking an appearance as in Germany
or France. It is not easy to look into people; and as for their exterior, their walk, mariners,
dress, and conduct, there is even among the poorer classes, a strong flavour of
the “gentleman.” The French blouse, or the German “ kittel,” have no existence in this country ; the black silk hat is the only headdress which Englishmen
tolerate. A man in a black dress coat, hat, and white cravat, hurrying through
London streets early in the morning, is not, as a raw German would fancy, a
professor going to his lecture-room, or an attaché
on the track of some diplomatic mystery. No ; in the pocket of that man, if you were to pick it, you would find
a soap-box, strop, and razor—he is a barber. Or, as the case may be, a
man-milliner, or waiter, or tailor, or shoe-maker. Many an omnibus driver sits
on the box in a white cravat. In Paris, they say, with a black dress-coat and
affability, you find your way into the most fashionable drawing-rooms. Men in
black dress-coats descend now and then into London sewers, and that, too,
without being in the least affable.
The women of England, too, do not betray their social position by their dress. Coloured silks, black velvets, silk or straw bonnets with botanical ornaments, are worn by a lady’s maid, as well as by the lady. Possibly, the maid’s dress may be less costly; the lady, too, may sweep her flounces with a distinguished air there may be some difference or other, but who can see all and know all by just looking at at people?
See, for instance, that lovely face under’ a grey bonnet—there to the left of the cabin-stair’s. She has just risen from her seat. What a slender, graceful figure! Pray dont look at her feet. What ease, what decency in her every movement; and how grandly, yet how confidently, does she take the arm of her companion! By Jove, he has got a black dress-coat, and a white tie! A handsome couple ! He is well-shaven, has fine thin lips, with that peculiar, lurking smile of superiority, which the most good-natured Englishmen can scarcely divest themselves of; his auburn hair is splendidly got up ; his dress is of superfine cloth; his linen is unexceptionable ; he has a gold chain dangling on his waistcoat, and. dazzling all beholders. That man, for one, is a gentleman!
“He is nothing of the kind,” says Dr. Keif; “he does not pay his tailor’s bill, he is a journeyman tailor, and the coat I wear is the work of his hands ; it is a capital coat, and I will thank him for making it.” Saying which, the Doctor made his way to the young couple, and forthwith shook hands with them.
Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853