Victorian London - Populations - 'The Gent'



OF all the loungers who cross our way  in the public thoroughfares, the Gent is the most unbearable, principally from an assumption of style about him - a futile aping of superiority that inspires us with feelings of mingled contempt and amusement, when we contemplate his ridiculous pretensions to be considered "the thing."
    Were we inclined to dismiss the subject of our chapter in a few words, but, at the same time, anxious to give our readers the best general idea of him, we should say that the finest specimens of the Gent might be seen pourtrayed in the coloured "Fashions" with which certain tailors adorn their windows. In these pictorial representations of presumed style, some favourite West-end locality is taken for the back ground, and in front are many Gents, in such attitudes as may display their figures and little boots to the best advantage. Some are presumed to be arrayed for an evening party in green dress-coats and puce tights; some again are represented as sportsmen, with pinched-in waists that the shock of the first leap, or kick of the first fire, would knock in half; and others are promenade Gents in frock-coats and corded trousers, bowing to one another with much grace, or leading little Gents by the hand, who look like animated Daguerreotypes of themselves.
    A grade lower are the representations of men of ton, who figure at the side of cheap tailors' advertisements ; and at the bottom of the scale stand the dummies we sometimes see displayed at the doors of ready made clothes' shops, invested in the splendour of an entire suit "made to measure for the same terms." The announcements peculiar to the Frankensteins of these strange creations are both imaginative and full of spirit ; we write one of them, and present the copyright to any of them who may choose to adopt it


A wild excitement reigns throughout the town,
Policemen scour the city up end down,
And try throughout the day to capture Bean,
Who snapp'd the pistol at our lovely Queen.
Each guileless hunchback falls a ready prey,
And to the station-house is hauled away.
But had their garments been by Stitchtapes made,
To show their forms they had not been afraid.
Mark their drab Chesterfields of the first water,
With the first rain twill shrink four inches shorter.
One pound's the price - it surely can't be dear,
And warranted to wear for half the year.
The celebrated window-cleaning blouse,
To buy at six-and-six you can't refuse.
Their new dress-coat they make for one pound nine,
And at this price of course 'tis superfine.
With contract suits they build for eager nobs,
In the most dashing style of Sunday snobs.
Coarse cloth, rude vork, bad cutting, sod quick wear,
With, Stitchtapes' grand depot what can compare?
And recollect - old suits must be return'd,
If when worn out they're not worth being burn'd.
Then haste to Stitehtapes', and inspect their store,
For going once, you will return no more.*

[* Not ten days back, since this chapter was written, we were disgusted at perceiving a puffing advertisement of the class above alluded to, in which the melancholy death of the Duke of Orleans was made the medium of attracting the eye of the reader to the trumpery doggrel which followed.]

Such is the ubiquity of the Gent, and under so many phases does he move, that it is next to impossible to place him in any regular classification. However, evening is approaching, (the time when Gents and cheap umbrellas chiefly flourish), and we sally forth and jot down the peculiarities of such specimens as we may encounter, for the instruction of our friends.
    We have stumbled over one the minute we have quitted the house. This species is possibly a clerk, who is scribbling in an old coat all day at his office, and now puts on a cheap Taglioni, or one of the "Gent's new horsecloth envelopes," dons a cheap pair of gloves, sticks a cheap cigar in his mouth, and imagines that he is "rather the Stilton" than otherwise - "Stilton," or "cheese" being terms by which Gents imply style or fashion. He is pursuing a pretty girl of modest deportment, who is possibly going home after her hard day's toil at the bonnet-shop.

    The Gent has not the sense to perceive that his advances are repulsed with scorn and indignation. He imagines, that by addressing his coarse and annoying attempts at gallantry to an unprotected girl he is acting as if he was "upon town"  -  "a fast man"  - "up to a thing or two" - "a roué" - or some other such epithet; which it is the ambition of the Gent to get attached to his name. 
    There are a group of thorough-bred Gents (be careful, reader, not to confound them with thorough-bred gentlemen), whom we see through the window, lounging in a tobacco-shop - some leaning against the counter, others seated on tubs, and occupying the like positions. This employment is another variety of what Gents think knowing.
    The presiding goddess of this temple of smoke is an uneducated woman, who has been more or less pretty at some time or another; but still retaining sufficient attraction, it would seem, to draw the Gents about her. Here they will pass hours, finding intense pleasure in her common-place, uninteresting conversation - relating dull  jokes, worn-out anecdotes, or vapid inevitable puns to each other; and staring at any casual purchaser who may enter, as if he were an intruder on their domain.

    There are the Gents who are afterwards seen in the theatres at half-price; in the slips during the performance, and in the saloon during the entr'acte - the class, who, whilst they carry on brisk conversation and smart repartees (of a sort,) with the least reputable in public life, form the vapid nonentities of private society when females are present. They are men, to use a phrase more expressive than elegant, strongly addicted to bear parties - who think "a glass of grog and a cigar" the acme of social enjoyment, and who look upon all entertainments as bores that throw them into the society of ladies, or, indeed, any one of intellect or refinement.
    The toilet appertaining to Gent, has few variations. They like fierce stocks, cut-of-the-way cravats, large-pattern handkerchiefs, staring trousers, and the like articles. They think it grand to sit on the box of a coach, and are hurt if they cannot do so. They would imagine they lost caste if they did not know something about the horses and odds of an approaching race. They affect thick sticks and quuer superfluous pockets and buttons to their great-coats; and they regard the various night haunts of London with the same affectionate feeling that Alciphron evinced towards the gardens of Athens - with the exception that the young Epicurean was certainly not a Gent.
    At the theatres it has sometimes occurred that the Gents have been observed in private boxes, and when this is the case, they are perpetually pulling the curtains backwards and forwards, (because they have seen the elite shroud themselves behind their folds occasionally,) and exhibiting their hand only. During the play they assume a négligé attitude, which is meant to he imposing and aristocratic. When it is over they immediately migrate to a neighbouring tavern for some 

singing and supper; and here, perhaps, we may pitch upon the Sporting Gent - an individual in a cut-away coat, through the sleeves of which are thrust two ungloved beefy hands, who, if he cannot get into conversation upon dogs and horses, is as silent as a pickled salmon. The true Gent slaps Von Joel on the back, shakes hands with the chairman, and knows the comic singer. All this is, however, harmless in its way, for the majority of these houses are exceedingly well conducted; and, indeed, it is only the Gent, of the lowest sphere who deem it spirited to mix themselves up, in other resorts, with the ruffians of the ring, and the most degraded of either sex, in an atmosphere of oaths and odours, where indecency is mistaken for broad humour, and dull slang for first-rate wit.

Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1842