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Thursday, June 6, 1850
I now come to the Street Musicians and Street Vocalists of
London. These are a more numerous class than any other of the street performers
that I have yet dealt with. The Musicians are estimated at 1,000, and the Ballad
Singers at 250.
The Street Musicians are of two kinds - the skilful and the blind. The former obtain their money by the agreeableness of their performance, and the latter in pity for their application rather than of their harmony. The blind Street Musicians, it must be confessed, belong generally to the rudest class of performers. Music is not used by them as a means of pleasing, but rather as a mode of soliciting attention. Such individuals are known in the "profession" by the name of "pensioners;" they have their regular rounds to make, and particular houses at which to call on certain days of the week, and from which they generally obtain a "small trifle. They form, however, a most peculiar class of individuals. They are mostly well-known characters, and many of them have been performing in the streets of London for many years. They are also remarkable for the religious cast of their thoughts, and the comparative refinement of their tastes and feelings.
I shall begin with the more skilful class of Street Musicians. Among these are the London Street Bands, English and German - the Highland Performers on the Bagpipes, and a few others. First of the English Street Bands:
Concerning these, a respectable man gave me the following details:
"I was brought up to the musical 'profession,' and have been a street performer twenty-two years, tho' I'm now only twenty-six. I sang and played the guitar in the streets with my mother when I was only four years old. We were greatly patronized by the nobility at that time. It was a good business when I was a child. A younger brother and I would go out into the streets for a few hours of an evening from five to eight, and make 7s. or 8s. for the two of us. Ours was and is the highest class of street music. For the last ten years I have been a member of a street band. Our band is now four in number. I have been in bands of eight, and in some composed of as many as twenty five; but a small band answers best for regularity. With eight in the band it's not easy to get 3s. a piece on a fine day, and play all day too. I consider that there are 1,000 musicians now performing in the streets of London; and as very few play singly, 1,000 performers, not reckoning persons who play with niggers or such like, will give not quite 250 street bands. Four in number is a fair average for a street band; but I think the greater number of bands have more than four in them. All the better sort of these bands play at concerts, balls, parties, processions, and water excursions, as well as in the streets. The class of men in the street bands is, very generally, those who can't read music, but play by the ear; and their being unable to read music prevents their obtaining employment in theatres or places where a musical education is necessary; and yet numbers of street musicians (playing by the ear) are better instrumentalists than many educated musicians in the theatres. I only know a few who have left other businesses to become musicians. The great majority - nineteen-twentieths of us - I should say, have been brought regularly up to be street performers. Children now are taught very early, and seldom leave the profession for any other business. Every year the street musicians increase. The better sort are, I think, prudent men, and struggle hard for a decent living. All the street performers of wind instruments are short-lived. Wind performers drink more, too, than the others. They must have their mouths wet, and they need some stimulant or restorative after blowing an hour in the streets. There are now twice as many wind as stringed instruments played in the streets; 15 or 16 years ago there used to be more stringed instruments. Within that time new wind instruments have been used in the streets. Cornopeans, or cornet-a- pistons, came into vogue about fourteeen years ago; ophicleides about ten years ago (I'm speaking of the streets); and saxhorns about two years since. The cornopean has now quite superseded the bugle. The worst part of the street-performers, in point of character, are those who play before or in public-houses. They drink a great deal, but I never heard of them being charged with dishonesty. In fact, I believe that there's no honester set of men breathing than Street musicians. The better class of musicians are nearly all married men, and they generally dislike to teach their wives music; indeed, in my band, and in similar bands, we wouldn't employ a man who was teaching his wife music, that she might play in the streets, and so be exposed to every insult and every temptation, if she's young and pretty. Many of the musicians wives have to work very hard with their needles for the slop-shops, and earn very little in such employ; 3s. a week is reckoned good earnings, but it all helps. The German bands injure our trade much. They'll play for half what we ask. They are very mean, feed dirtily, and the best band of them, whom I met at Dover, I know slept three in a bed in a common lodging-house, one of the lowest. They now block us out of all the country places to which we used to go in the summer. The German bands have now possession of the whole coast of Kent and Sussex, and wherever there are watering places. I don't know anything about their morals excepting that they don't drink. An English street performer in a good and respectable band will now average 25s. a week the year through. Fifteen years ago he could have had made £3 a week. Inferior performers make from 12s. to 15s. a week. I consider Regent-street and such places our best pitches. Our principal patrons in the parties line are tradesmen and professional men, such as attorneys. 10s. a night is our regular charge."
Next come the German Bands. I had the following statement concerning these from a young flaxen-haired and fresh coloured German, who spoke English very fairly:
"I am German, and have been six year in zis country. I was nearly fourteen when I come. I come from Oberfeld, eighteen miles from Hanover. I come because I would like to see how it was here. I heard zat London was a goot place for foreign music. London is as goot a place as I expect to find him. There was other six come over with me, boys and men. We come to Hull and play in ze country about half a year; we do middling, and Zen we come to London. I didn't make money at first when I come; I had much to learn, but ze band, oh! it did well, We was seven. I play ze clarionet, and so did two others; two play French horns, one ze trombone, and one ze saxhorn. Sometime we make 7s. or 8s. a piece in a day now, but the business is not so goot. I reckon 6s. a day is goot now. We never play at fairs, not for caravans. We play at private parties or public ball-rooms, and are paid so much a dance - sixpence a dance for ze seven of us. If zare is many dances it is goot; if not it is bad. We play sheaper zan ze English, and we don't spend so much. Ze English players insult us, but we don't care about that. Zey abuse us for playing sheap. I don't know what zeir terms for dances are. I have saved money in zis country, but very little of it. I want to save enough to take me back to Hanover. We all live togezer, ze seven of us. We have three rooms to sleep in, and one to eat in. We are all single men but one; and his wife, a German woman, lives wis us, and cooks for us. She and her husband have a bedroom to zemselves. Anysing does for us to eat. We all join in housekeeping and lodging and pay alike. Our lodging costs 2s. a week each; our board costs us about 15s. a week each; sometime rather less. But zat includes beer, and ze London beer is very goot, and sometime we dunk a goot deal of it. We drink very little gin, but we live very well, and have goot meals every day. We play in ze streets, and I sink most places are alike to us. Ladies and gentlemen are our best frients; ze working people give us very little. We play opera tunes chiefly. We don't don't associate with any Englishmen. Zare are three public-houses kept by Germans, where we Germans meet. Sugar bakers and other trades are of ze number. There are now five German brass-bands, with thirty-seven performers in zem, reckoning our own, in London. Our band lives near Whitechapel. I sink zare is one or two more German bands in the country. I sink my countrymen, some of them, save money; but I have not saved much yet."
The Highlanders, with their bagpipes, are next in order. A well-looking young man, dressed in full Highland costume, with modest manners, and of slow speech, as if translating his words from the Gaelic before he uttered them, gave me these details:
"I am a native of Inverness, and a Grant. My father was a soldier and a piper in the 42d. In my youth I was shepherd in the hills until my father was unable to support me any longer. He had 9d. a day pension for 17 years' service, and had been thrice wounded. He taught me and my brither the pipes; he was too poor to have us taught any trade, so we started on our own accounts. We travelled up to London, having only our pipes to depend upon. We came in full Highland dress. The tartan is cheap there, and we mak it up oursels. My dress as I sit here, without my pipes, would cost about £4 in London. Our mithers spin the tartan in Inverness-shire, and the dress comes to may-be 30s., and is better than the London. My pipes cost me 3 guineas new. It is between five and six years since I first come to London and I was twenty-four last November. When I started I thought of making a fortune in London, there was such great talk of it in Inverness-shire, as a fine place with plenty of money; but when I came I found the difference. I was rather a novelty at first, and did pretty well. I could make £1 a week then; but now I can't make 2s. a day, not even in summer. There are so many Irishmen going about London and dressed as Scotch Highlanders, that I really think I could do better as a piper even in Scotland. A Scotch family will sometimes give me a shilling or two when they find out I am a Scotchman. Chelsea is my best place, where there are many Scotchmen. There are now only five real Scotch Highlanders playing the bagpipes in the streets of London, and seven or eight Irishmen that I know of. The Irishmen do better than I do because they have more face. We have our own rooms. I pay 4s. a week for an empty room, and have my am furniture. We are all married men, and have no connection with any other street musicians. 'Tullochgorum,' are among the performances best liked in London. I'm very seldom insulted in the streets; and then mostly by being called an Irishman, which I don't like; but I pass it off just as weel as I can."
Of the Irish Pipes, a well-dressed, middle-aged man, of good appearance, wearing large green spectacles, led by a young girl, his daughter, gave me the following account:
"I was eleven years old when I lost my sight from cold, and I was brought up to the musical profession, and practised it several years in Ireland, of which country I am a native. I was a man of private property - small property - and only played occasionally at the gentle-people's places; and then more as a guest - yes, more indeed than professionally. In 1838 I married, and began to give concerts regularly; I was the performer, and played only on the Union pipes at my concerts. I'm acknowledged to be the best performer in the world, even by my own craft - excuse what seems self-praise. The union pipes are the old Irish pipes improved. In former times there was no chromatic scale; now we have eight keys to the chanter, which produce the chromatic scale as on the flute, and so the pipes are improved in the melody, and more particularly in the harmony. We have had fine performers of old. I may mention Caroll O'Daly, who flourished in the fifteenth century, and was the composer of the air that the Scotch want to steal from us - Robin Adair, which is 'Aileen ma ruen,' or 'Ellen my dear.' My concerts in Ireland answered very well indeed, but the famine reduced me so much that I was fain to get to England with my family, wife and four children - and in this visit I have been disappointed, completely so. Now I'm reduced to play in the streets, and make very little by it. I may average 15s. in the week in summer, and not half that in winter. There are many of my countrymen now in England playing the pipes, but I don't know one respectable enough to associate with, so I keep to myself; and so I cannot tell how many there are."
A very handsome man, swarthy even for a native of Bengal, with his black glossy hair most picturesquely disposed, alike in his head and in his whiskers and moustache, gave me, after an oriental salute, the following statement. His teeth were exquisitely white, and his laugh or smile lighted up his countenance to an expression of great intelligence. His dress was a garb of dark brown cloth, fitting close to his body and extending to his knee. His trowsers were of the same coloured cloth, and he wore a girdle of black and white cotton round his waist. He was accompanied by his son (whom he sometimes addressed in Hindostanee), a round-faced boy, with large bright black eyes and rosy cheeks. The father said -
"I was born in Calcutta, and was Mussulman - my parents was Mussulman - but I Christian now. I have been in dis contree ten year. I come first as servant to military officer, an Englishman. I live wit him in Scotland six seven mont. He left Scotland, saying he come back, but he not, and in a mont I hear he dead, and den I come London. London is very great place, and Indian city little if you look upon London. I use tink it plenty pleasure look upon London, as de great Government place, but now I look upon London and it is plenty bad pleasure. I wish very often return to my own contree, where every ting sheap, living sheap, rice sheap. I suffer from climate in dis contree. I suffer dis winter more dan ever I did. I have no flannels, no drawers, no waistcoat, and have cold upon my chest. It is now near five year I come London. I try get service, but no get service. I have character, but not from my last master. He could not give me; he dead yen I want it. I put up many insult in dis contree. I struck sometime in street. Magistrate punish man gave me blow dat left mark on my chin here. Gentlemen sometime save me from harm, sometime not. De boys call me black dis or de oder. Wen I get no service I not live, and I not beg in street, so I buy tom-tom for 10s. De man want 30s. De 10s. my last money left, and I start to play in streets for daily bread. I beat tom-tom and sing song about greatness of God, in my own language. I had den wife, Engliswornan, and dis little boy. I done pretty well first wid tom-tom, but it is very bad to do it now. When I began first I make 3s., 4s., 5s., or 6s. a day. It was someting new den, but nine or ten monts it was something old, and I took less and less, until now I hardly get piece of bread. I sometime get few shilling from two or three picture-men, who draw me. It is call model. Anyting for honest bread. I must not be proud. I cannot make above 6s. a week of tom-tom in street. Dere is, well as I know, about fifty of my contreemen playing and begging in streets of London. Dose who sweep crossing are Malay; some Bengal. Many are imposter, and spoil spectacle man. My contreemen live in lodging- house; often many are plenty blackguard lodging-houses, and dere respectable man is always insult. I have room for myself dis tree mont, and cost me tree shilling and six pennies a week; it is not own furniture; dey burn my cole, coal, and candle too. My wife would make work wid needle, but dere is no work for her, poor ting. She servant when I marry her. De little boy make jump in my contree's way wen I play tom-tom - he too little to dance - he six year. Most of my contreemen in street have come as Lascar, and not go back for bosen, and bosen mate, and flog. So dey stay for beg, or sweep, or anyting. Dey are never pickpocket dat I ever hear of."
I now come to the class of player on the harp and hurdy-gurdy, imitators of farm-yards on the fiddle, performers on bells, and on the bass viol. Among these the Blind Musicians will mostly be found.
A poor, feeble, half-witted looking man, with the appearance of far greater age than he represented himself (a common case with the very poor), told me of his sufferings in the streets. He was wretchedly clad, his clothes being old, patched, and greasy. He is well known in London, being frequently seen with a crowd of boys at his heels, who amuse themselves in playing all kinds of tricks upon him:
"I play the harp in the streets," he said, "and have done so for the last two years, and should be very glad to give it up. My brother lives with me, we're both bachelors, and he's so dreadful lame, he can do nothing. He is a coach body-maker to his business. I was born blind, and was brought up to music, but my sight was restored by Dr. Ware, the old gentleman, in Bridge-street, Blackfriars, when I was nine years old, but it's a near sight now. I'm 49 in August. When I was young I taught the harp and the pianoforte, but that very soon fell off, and I have been teaching on or off these many years - I don't know how many. I had three guineas a quarter for teaching the harp at one time, and two guineas for the piano. My brother and I have Is. and a loaf a piece from the parish, and the 2s. pays the rent. Mine's not a bad trade now, but its bad in the streets. I've been torn to pieces; I'm torn to pieces every day I go out in the streets, and I'd be glad to get rid of the streets for 5s. a week. The streets are full of ruffians. The boys are ruffians. The men in the streets too are ruffians, and encourage the boys. The police protect me as much as they can. I should be killed every week but for them; they're very good people. I've known poor women of the town drive the boys away from me, or try to drive them. It's terrible persecution I suffer - terrible persecution. The boys push me down and hurt me badly, and my harp too. They yell and make noises so, that I can't be heard, nor my harp. The boys have cut off my harp-strings, three of them, the other day, which cost me 6½d. or 7d. I tell them it's a shame, but I might as well speak to the stones. I never go out that they miss me. I don't make more than 3s. a week in the streets, if I make that."
One of the long-remembered street performers in London is a blind women, led by a female. She came to me scrupulously clean, and very tidily dressed; she was accompanied by her usual attendant in the streets, who was almost as clean and tidy as herself. Her countenance is cheerful, and her manners those of a well-contented old woman. She plays on a an old hurdygurdy, or an instrument of that description, which she calls a cymbal. It has a battered, heavy look with it, and is grievously harsh and out of tune. She said:
"I have been 43 years a public performer. My parents died when I was a child, and I was put into the poor-house, and left it before I was twenty, to earn my own living. The parish paid for my learning music, and bought me an instrument, and so started me in life, God bless them. I started with a cymbal, which some call a hurdy-gurdy, and have been playing it ever since; it's not the same instrument as I carry now, but I've had this one fifteen years last August. I have been blind since I was nine weeks old. When I started on my own account, a woman forty-one years of age, who had been in Bloomsbury poor-house with me, came out to lead me. We shared alike. She died, and I had several after that who didn't do me justice, for they didn't give me all the money. Forty years ago the two of us would get 6s. a day; now sometimes we can only make 2s. a day for the two of us on an average the summer through, and 1s. 6d. in winter. I have my regular rounds. My Monday's round is Marylebone; my Tuesday's is Kentish-town - they call me Mrs. Tuesday there - the people say, 'Ah, here's Mrs. Tuesday come;' Wednesday is Kensington way generally; Thursday is Brixton and that way; Friday, Hackney round, and Saturday is Pimlico way. In some rounds I have friends who have given me a trifle every week (or nearly so) for twenty years."
A quiet-looking man, half-blind, and wrapped in a large old faded, black cotton great coat, made the following statement, having first given me some specimens of his art:
"I imitate all the animals of the farm-yard on my fiddle. I imitate the bull, the calf, the dog, the cock, the hen when's she laid an egg, the peacock, and the ass. I have done this in the streets for nearly twelve years. I was brought up as a musician at my own desire. When a young man (I am now 53) I used to go out to play at parties, doing middling until my sight failed me. I then did the farm-yard on the fiddle for a living. Though I had never heard of such a thing before, by constant practice I made myself perfect. I studied from nature. I never was in a farm-yard in my life, but I went and listened to the poultry anywhere in town that I could meet with them, and I then imitated them on my instrument. The Smithfield cattle gave me the study for the bull and the calf. My peacock I got at the Belvidere-gardens in Islington. The ass is common, and so is the dog, and them I studied anywhere. It took me a month, not more, if so much, to acquire what I thought a sufficient skill in my undertaking, and then I started it in the streets. It was liked the very first time I tried it. I never say what animal lam going to give. I leave that to the judgment of the listeners. They could always tell what it was. I can make 12s. a week this year though. I play it in public houses as well as in the streets. My pitches are all over London, and I don't know that one is better than another. Working people are my best friends. Thursday and Friday are my worst days; Monday and Saturday my best, when I reckon 2s. 6d. a handsome taking. I am the only man who does the farm-yard."
A hale-looking blind man, with a cheerful look, poorly but not squalidly dressed, gave me the subjoined narrative. He was led by a strong, healthy- looking lad of 15, his step-son:
"I have been blind since within a month of my birth," he said, "and have been twenty-three years a street performer. My parents were poor, but they managed to have me taught music. I am 55 years old. I was one of a street band in my youth, and could make my 15s. a week at it. I didn't like the band, for if you are steady yourself, you can't get others to be steady, and so no good can be done. I next started a piano in the streets; that was twenty-three years ago. I bought a chaise big enough for an invalid, and having had the body removed, my piano was fitted on the springs and the axle-tree. I carried a seat, and could play the instrument either sitting or standing, and so I travelled through London with it. It did pretty well; in the summer I took never less than 20s., and I have taken 40s. on rare occasions in a week; but the small takings in the winter would reduce my yearly average to 15s. a week at the utmost. I played the piano, more or less, until within these three or four years. I started the bells that I play now, as near as I can recollect, some eighteen years ago. When I first played them I had my fourteen bells arranged on a rail, and tapped them with my two leather hammers held in my hands in the usual way. I thought next I could introduce some novelty into the performance. The novelty I speak of was to play the violin with the bells. I had hammers fixed on a rail, so as each bell had its particular hammer; these hammers were connected with cords to a pedal acting with a spring to bring itself up, and so by playing the pedal with my feet, I had full command of the bells, and made them accompany the violin, so that I could give any tune almost with the power of a band. It was always my delight in my leisure moments, and is a good deal so still, to study improvements such as I have described. The bells and violin together brought me in about the same as the piano. I played the violoncello with my feet also, on a plan of my own and the violin in my hand. I had the violoncello on a frame on the ground, so arranged that I could move the bow with my foot in harmony with the violin in my hands. The last thing I have introduced is the playing four accordions with my feet. The accordions are fixed in a frame, and I make them accompany the violin. Of all my plans, the piano and the bells and violin did the best, and are the best still for a standard. I can only average 12s. a week take the year through, which is very little for two."
I had the following narrative from a stout, blind woman, with a very grave and even meditative look, fifty-six years old, dressed in a clean cotton gown, the pattern of which was almost washed out. She was led by a very fine dog (a Scotch colley, she described it), a chain being affixed to the dog's collar. A boy, poor and destitute, she said, barefooted and wearing a greasy ragged jacket, with his bare skin showing through many rents, accompanied her when I saw her. The boy had been with her a month, she supporting him. She said:-
"I have been blind twelve years. I was a servant in my youth, and in 1824 married a journey-man cabinet-maker. I went blind from an inflammation two years before my husband died. We had five children all dead now - the last died six years ago; and at my husband's death I was left almost destitute. I used to sell a few laces in the street, but couldn't clear 2s. 6d. a week by it. I had a little help from the parish, but very rarely; and at last I could get nothing but an order for the house. A neighbour, a tradesman, then taught me at his leisure to play the violin, but I'm not a great performer. I wish I was. I began to play in the streets five years ago. I get halfpennies for charity, not for my music. Some days I pick up 2s., some days only 6d., and on wet days nothing. I've often had to pledge my fiddle for 2s. - I could never get more on it, and sometimes not that. When my fiddle was in pledge I used to sell matches and laces in the streets, and have had to borrow 1½d. to lay in a stock. I've sometimes taken 4d. in eight hours. My chief places when I've only the dog to lead me are Regent-street and Portland-place, and really people are very kind and careful in guiding and directing me - even cabmen - may God bless them."
A stout, hale-looking blind man, dressed very decently in coloured clothes, and scrupulously clean, gave me, the following details:
"I am one of the three blind Scotchmen who go about the streets in company, playing the violoncello, clarionet, and flute. We are really Highlanders, and can all speak Gaelic; but a good many London Highlandmen are Irish. I have been 30 years in the streets of London; one of my mates has been 40 years (he's 69); the other has been 30 years. I became partially blind, through an inflammation, when I was 14, and was stone blind when I was 22. Before I was totally blind I came to London, travelling up with the help of my bag-pipes, guided by a little boy. I settled in London, finding it a big place, where a man could do well (at that time), and I took a turn every now and then into the country. I could make l4s. a week, winter and summer through, 30 years ago, by playing in the streets. Now I can't make 6s. a week, take winter and summer. I met my two mates, who are both blind men - both came to England for the same reason as I did - in my journeyings in London, and at last we agreed to go together - that's twenty years ago. We've been together, on and off, ever since. Sometimes one of us will take a turn round the coast of Kent, and another round the coast of Devon; and then join again in London, or meet by accident. We have always agreed very well, and never fought. We - I mean the street blind - tried to maintain a burying and sick club of our own; but we were always too poor. We live in rooms. I don't know one blind musician who lives in a lodging- house. I myself know a dozen blind men now performing in the streets of London; these are not all exactly blind, but about as bad - the most are stone blind. The blind musicians are chiefly married men. I don't know one who lives with a woman unmarried. The loss of sight changes a man. He doesn't think of women, and women don't think of him. We are of a religious turn, too, generally. I am a Roman Catholic; but the other Scotch blind men here are Presbyterians. The Scotch in London are our good friends, because they give us a little sum altogether, perhaps; but the English working people are our main support; it is by them we live, and I always found them kind and liberal, the most liberal in the world as I know. Through Marylebone is our best round, and Saturday night our best time. We play all three together. Johhny Cope' is our best-liked tune. I think the blind Scotchmen don't come to play in London now. I can remember many blind Scotch musicians or pipers in London: they're all dead now. The trade's dead too; it is so. When we thought of forming the blind club there was never more than a dozen members. These were two basket-makers, one mat-maker, four violin players, myself, and my two mates, which was the number when it dropped for want of funds; that's now fifteen years ago. We were to pay is. a month, and sick members were to have 5s. a week when they'd paid two years. Our other rules were the same as other clubs, I believe. The blind musicians now in London are we three. C-, a Jew, who plays the violin; R- , an Englishman, who plays the violin elegantly; W- a harp-player; T- , violin again; H- ,violin (but he plays more in public-houses); R-, the flute; M'-, bagpipes; C-, bagpipes; K- , violin: that's all I know myself. There's a good many blind who play at the sailors' dances, Wapping and Deptford way. We seldom hire children to lead us in the streets; we have plenty of our own, generally. I have five. Our wives are generally women that have their eyesight; but some blind men - I know one couple - marry blind women."
The Street Vocalists are almost as large a body as the street musicians. It will be seen that there are fifty Ethiopian serenaders, and above 250 who live by ballad singing alone. In my present letter I shall deal with the Ethiopian Serenaders and the better class of Ballad Singers:
Two young men, who are of the former class, gave the following account. Both were dressed like decent mechanics, with perfectly clean faces, except that a little of the professional black remained at the root of the hairs on the forehead.
"We are niggers," said one man, "as it's commonly called; that is negro melodists. Nigger bands vary from four to seven, and have numbered as many as nine; our band is now six. We all share alike. I (said the same man) was the first who started the niggers in the streets about four years ago. I took the hint from the performance of Pell and the others at the St. James's. When I first started in the streets I had five performers, four and myself. There were the banjo-player, the bones, fiddle, and tambourine. We were regularly full-dressed in fashionable black coats and trowsers, open white waistcoats, pumps (bluchers some had, just as they could spring them), and wigs to imitate the real negro head of hair. Large white wrists or cuffs came out after. It was rather a venturesome 'spec, the street niggers, for I had to find all the clothes at first start, as I set the school a-going. Perhaps it cost me 6s. a head all round; all second-hand dress except the wigs, and each man made his own wig out of horse-hair died black, and sewn with black thread on to the skin of an old silk hat. Well, we first started at the top of the Liverpool-road, but it was no great success, as we weren't quite up in our parts, and didn't play exactly into one another's hands. None of us were perfect, we'd had so few rehearsals. One of us had been a street singer before, another a street-fiddler, another had sung nigger-songs in public- houses, the fourth was a mud-lark, and I had been a street singer. I was brought up to no trade regularly. When my father died I was left on the world, and I worked in Marylebone stone-yard, and afterwards sung about the streets, or shifted as I could. I first sung in the streets just before the Queen's coronation - and a hard life it was. But, to tell the truth, I didn't like the thoughts of hard labour - bringing a man in so little too - that's where it is; and as soon as I could make any sort of living in the streets, with singing and such like, I got to like it. The first debew, as I may say, of the niggers brought us in about 10s. among us, besides paying for our dinner and a pint of beer a piece. We were forced to be steady you see, sir, as we didn't know how it would answer. We sang from eleven in the morning till half-past ten at night, summer time. We kept on, day after day, not rehearsing, but practising in the streets, for reheasing in private was of little use; voices are as different in private rooms and the public streets as is chalk from cheese. We got more confidence as we went along. To be sure we all had cheek enough to start with, but this was a fresh line of business. Times mended as we got better at our work. Last year was the best year I've known. We start generally about ten, and play till it's dark, in fine weather. We averaged £1 a week last year. The evenings are the best time. Regent- street, and Oxford-street, and the greater part of St. James's are our best places. The gentry are our best customers, but we get more from gentlemen than from ladies. The City is good, I fancy, but they won't let us work it: it's only the lower parts, Whitechapel and Smithfield ways, that we have a chance in. Business and nigger songs don't go well together. The first four days of the week are pretty much alike for our business. Friday is bad, and so is Saturday, until night comes, and we then get money from the working people. The markets, such as Cleveland-street, Fitzroy-square (Tottenham-court-road's no good at any time), Carnaby-market, Newport-market, Great Marylebone-street, and the Edgware-road, are good Saturday nights. Oxford-street is middling. The New Cut is as bad a place as can be. When we started, the songs, we knew was 'Old Mr. Coon,' 'Going, ober de Mountain,' 'Dandy Jim of Caroline,' 'Rowley Bowly, O,' and 'Old Johnny Booker.' We stuck to them a twelvemonth. The 'Buffalo Gals' was best liked. The 'bones' - we've real bones, rib-of-beef bones; but some have ebony bones, which sound better than rib bones - they tell best in 'Going ober de Mountain,' for there's a symphony between every line. It's rather difficult to play the bones well; it requires hard practice, and it brings the skin off, and some men have tried it, but with so little success that they broke their bones and flung them away. The banjo is the hardest to learn of the lot. We have kept changing our songs all along; but some of the old ones are still going. The other favourites are, or were, 'Lucy Neale,' 'O, Susannah,' 'Uncle Ned,' 'Stop that Knocking,' 'Ginger Blue,' and 'Black-eyed Suseannah.' Things are not so good as they were. We can average £1 a-piece now in the week, but it's summer-time, and we can't make that in bad weather. Then, there's so many of us. There's the Somers-town 'mob' now in London; the King-street, the four St. Giles's mobs, the East End (but they're white Niggers), the two Westminster mobs, the Marylebone and the Whitechapel. We interfere with one another's beats sometimes, for we have no arrangement with each other, only we don't pitch near the others when they're at work. The ten mobs now in London will have fifty men in them at least; and there's plenty of stragglers, who are not regular niggers; there's so many dodges now to pick up a living air, sir. The Marylebone and Whitechapel lots play at nights in penny theatres. I have played at the Haymarket in the 'New Planet,' but there's no demand for us now at the theatres, except such as the Pavilion. There are all sorts of characters in the different schools, but I don't know any runaway gentleman, or any gentleman of any kind among us; not one; we're more of a poorer sort, if not to say a ragged sort, for some are without shoes or stockings. The niggers' that I know have been errand-boys, street-singers, turf-cutters, coalheavers, chandlers, paviours, mudlarks, tailors, shoemakers, tinmen, bricklayers' labourers, and people who have had no line in particular but their wits. I know of no connection with pickpockets, and don't believe there is any, though pickpockets go round the mobs; but the police fling it in our teeth that we're connected with pickpockets. It's a great injury to us is such a notion. A good many of the niggers - both of us here likes a little drop - drink as hard as they can, and a good many live with women of the town. A few are married. Some niggers are Irish; there's Scotch niggers too. I don't know a Welsh one, but one of the street nigger singers is a real black, an African."
An experienced street vocalist, of the better kind, upon whose statements I satisfied myself that every reliance might be placed, described to me the present condition of his calling. He was accompanied by his wife:-
"I have been in the profession of a vocalist," he said, "full twenty-five years. Before that I was a concert singer. I was not brought up to the profession; I was a shipping agent, but I married a concert-singer, and then followed the profession. I was young, and a little stage-struck." ("Rather," said his wife smiling, "he was struck with those who were on the stage" ); "and so I abandoned the ship-agency. I have tried my fortune on the stage as a singer, and can't say but what I have succeeded. In fact, my wife and I have taken more than any two singers that have ever appeared in the humble way. We have been street vocalists for twenty-five years. We sing solos, duets, and glees, and only at night. When we started, the class of songs was very different to what it is now. We were styled 'the royal glee singers.' 'Cherry ripe,' 'Meet me by moonlight,' 'Sweet home,' were popular then. Haynes Bailey's ballads were popular, and much of Bishop's music, as, indeed, it is still. Barnett's or Lee's music, however, is now more approved in the concert-rooms than Bishop's. Our plan was and is to inquire at gentlemen's houses if they wished to hear glee, or solo singing, and to sing in the street, or in the halls, as well as at parties. When we first commenced we have made £3 and £3 10s. in a night this way; but that was on extraordinary occasions, and £3 a week might be the average earnings, take the year through. These earnings continued eight or ten years, and then fell off. Other amusements attracted attention. Now, my wife, my daughter, and I may make 25s. a week by open-air singing. Concert singing is extra, and the best payment is a crown per head a night for low-priced concerts. The inferior vocalists get 4s., 3s., 2s. 6d., and some as low as 2s. Very many who sing at the concerts have received a high musical education; but the profession is so overstocked, that excellent singers are compelled to take poor engagements. The better sort of cheap concert singers, the man and wife both agreed in stating, were a well-conducted body of people, often struggling for a very poor maintenance, the women rarely being improper characters. "But now (said the husband) John Bull's taste is inclined to the brutal and filthy. Some of the 'character songs,' such as 'Sam Hall,' 'Jack Sheppard,' and others, are so indelicate that a respectable man ought not to take his wife and daughters to see them. The men who sing character songs are the worst class of singers, both as regards character and skill; they are generally loose fellows; some are what is called fancy men;' persons supported, wholly or partly, by women of the town. I attempted once to give concerts without these low character-singings, but it did not succeed, for I was alone in the attempt. I believe there are not more than half-a-dozen street vocalists of the same class as ourselves. They are respecable persons; and certainly open-air singing, as we practise it, is more respectable than popular concert singing as now carried on. No one would be allowed to sing such songs in the streets. The 'character' concerts are attended, generally, by mechanics and their families; there are more males than females among the audiences."