CURIOSITIES OF LONDON LIFE.
WE are going to lift the curtain, and present to the gaze of the Public many a varied scene in the strange drama of London life and experience. As all dramatic representations are preceded by a musical performance, and an audience looks for that as naturally as for any other part of the bill of fare, it is plain that we cannot do better than to call upon the members of our company to perform their own overture, preparatory to the entrance upon the stage of the several actors, who are summoned to play their parts for the general amusement and edification. Though some of our musicians are veritable curiosities in themselves, we have no other reason for giving them the precedence on the present occasion, than such as are suggested by the proprieties of the drama,- "Ting-ting- ting -the bell rings for the overture. It must be played by the
MUSIC-GRINDERS OF THE METROPOLIS.
Perhaps the pleasantest of all the outdoor accessories of a London life, are the strains of fugitive music which one hears in the quiet bye-streets or suburban highways-strains born of the skill of some of our wandering artists, who, with flute, violin, harp, or brazen tube of various shape and designation, make the brick-walls of the busy city responsive with the echoes of harmony. Many a time and oft have we lingered, entranced by the witchery of some street Orpheus, forgetful, not merely of all the troubles of existence, but of existence itself, until the strain had ceased, and silence aroused us to the matter-of-fact world of business. One blind fiddler, we know him well, with face upturned toward the sky, has stood a public benefactor any day these twenty years, and we know not how much longer, to receive the substantial homage of the music-loving million: but that he is scarcely old enough, he might have been the identical Oxford-street Orpheus of Wordsworth
"His station is there; and he works on the crowd;
He sways them with harmony merry and loud;
He fills with his power all their hearts to the brim;
Was aught ever heard like his fiddle and him?"
Decidedly not - there is nothing to match it; and so thinks
"the one-pennied boy" who spares him his one penny, and
deems it well bestowed. Then there are the harpers, with
their smooth French-horn-breathing and piccolo-piping comrades, who at the soothing hour of twilight affect the tranquil
and retired paved courts or snug enclosures, far from the
roar and rumble of chariot-wheels, where, clustered round
with lads and lasses released from the toils of the day, they
dispense romance and sentiment, and harmonious cadences,
in exchange for copper compliments and the well-merited
applause of fit audiences, though few. Again, there are the
valorous brass-bands of the young Germans, who blow such spirit-stirring appeals from their travel-worn and battered
tubes-to say nothing of the thousand performers of solos and
duets, who, wherever there is the chance of a moment's
hearing, are ready to attempt their seductions upon our ears
to the prejudice of our pockets. All these we must pass over
with this brief mention upon the present occasion; our business being with their numerous antitheses and would-be
rivals- the incarnate nuisances who fill the air with discordant and fragmentary mutilations and distortions of heaven-
born melody, to the distraction of educated ears and the
perversion of the popular taste.
"Music by handle," as it has been facetiously termed, forms our present subject. This kind of harmony, which is not too often deserving of the name, still constitutes, notwithstanding the large amount of indisputable talent which derives its support from the gratuitous contributions of the public, by far the larger proportion of the peripatetic minstrelsy of the metropolis. It would appear that these grinders of music, with some few exceptions which we shall notice as we proceed, are distinguished from their praiseworthy exemplars, the musicians, by one remarkable, and to them perhaps very comfortable, characteristic. Like the exquisite Charles Lamb -if his curious confession were not a literary myth,- they have ears, but no ear, though they would hardly be brought to acknowledge the fact so candidly as he did. They may be divided, so far as our observation goes, into the following classes:- 1. Hand-organists; 2. Monkey-organists; 3. Hand- barrow-organists; 4. Handcart-organists; 5. Horse-and-cart- organists; 6. Blind bird-organists; 7. Piano-grinders; 8. Flageolet-organists and pianists; 9. Hurdy-gurdy players.
1. The hand-organist is most frequently a Frenchman of the departments, nearly always a foreigner. If his instrument be good for anything, and he have a talent for forming a connection, he will be found to have his regular rounds, and may be met with any hour in the week, at the same spot he occupied at that hour on the week previous. But a man so circumstanced is at the head of the vagabond profession, the major part of whom wander at their own sweet will wherever chance may guide. The hand-organ which they lug about varies in value from £10 to £150 - at least, this last-named was the cost of a first-rate instrument thirty years ago, such as were borne about by the street-organists of Bath and Cheltenham, and the fashionable watering-places, and the grinders of the West End of London, at that period, when. musical talent was much less common than it is now. We have seen a contract for repairs to one of these instruments, including a new stop and new barrels, amounting to the liberal sum of £75: it belonged to a man who had grown so impudent in prosperity, as to incur the penalty of seven years' banishment from the town in which he turned his handle, for the offence of thrashing a young nobleman, who stood between him and his auditors too near for his sense of dignity. Since the invention of the metal reed, however, which, under various modifications and combinations, supplies the sole utterance of the harmonicon, celestina, seraphina, eolophon, accordion, concertina, &c., &c., and which does away with the necessity for pipes, the street hand-organ has assumed a different and infinitely worse character. Some of them yet remain what the old Puritans called "boxes of whistles "-that is, they are all pipes; but many of them might with equal propriety be called "boxes of Jews' harps," being all reeds, or rather vibrating metal tongues-and more still are of a mixed character, having pipes for the upper notes, and metal reeds for the bass. The effect is a succession of sudden hoarse brays as an accompaniment to a soft melody, suggesting the idea of a duet between Titania and Bottom. But this is far from the worst of it. The profession of hand-organist having of late years miserably declined, being in fact, at present, the next grade above mendicancy, the element of cheapness has, per force, been studied in the manufacture of the instrument. The barrels of some are so villanously pricked, that the time is altogether broken, the ear is assailed with a minim in place of a quaver, and vice versa; and occasionally, as a matter of convenience, a bar is left out, or even one is repeated, in utter disregard of suffering humanity. But, what is worse still, these metal reeds, which are the most untunable things in the whole range of sound-producing material, are constantly, from contact with fog and moisture, getting out of order; and howl dolorously as they will, in token of their ailments, their half-starved guardian, who will grind half an hour for a penny, cannot afford to medicate their pains, even if he is aware of them, which, judging from his placid composure, during the most infamous combination of discords, is very much to be questioned.* (* Among some of the continental nations, Justice, though blind, is not supposed to be deaf; she has, on the contrary, a musical ear, and compels the various grinders of harmony to keep their instruments in tune, under the penalty of a heavy fine. In some of the German cities, the police have summary jurisdiction in offences musical, and are empowered to demand a certificate, with which every grinder is bound to be furnished, showing the date of the last tuning of his instrument. We are not aware that consecutive fifths are punished by a month at the treadmill, but if he perpetrate false harmony, and his certificate be run out, he is mulcted in the fine. Such a bye-law would be a real bonus in London.)
2. The monkey-organist is generally a native of Switzerland or the Tyrol He carries a worn-out, doctored, and flannel-swathed instrument, under the weight of which, being but a youth, or very rarely an adult, he staggers slowly along, with outstretched back and bended. knees. On the top of his old organ sits a monkey, or sometimes a marmoset, to whose queer face and queerer tricks he trusts for compensating the defective quality of his music. He dresses his shivering brute in a red jacket and a cloth cap; and, when he can, he teaches him to grind the organ, to the music of which he will himself dance wearily. He wears an everlasting smile upon his countenance, indicative of humour, natural, and not assumed for the occasion; and though he invariably unites the profession of a beggar with that of monkey-master and musician, he has evidently no faith in a melancholy face, and does not think it absolutely necessary to make you thoroughly miserable in order to excite your charity. He will leave his monkey grinding away on a door-step, and follow you with a grinning face, for a hundred yards or more, singing in a kind of recitative, "Date qualche cosa, Signor! per amor di Dio, eccellenza, date qualche cosa!" If you comply with his request, his voluble thanks are too rapid for your comprehension; and if you refuse, he laughs merrily in your face as he turns away to rejoin his friend and coadjutor. He is a favourite subject with the young artists about town, especially if be is very good-looking, or, better still, excessively ugly; and he picks up many a shilling for sitting, standing, or sprawling on the ground, as a model in the studio. It sometimes happens that he has no organ, his monkey being his only stock in trade. When the monkey dies-and one sees by their melancholy comicalities, and cautious and painful grimaces, that the poor brutes are destined to a short time of it - he takes up with white mice, or, lacking these, constructs a dancing-doll, which, with the aid of a short plank with an upright at one end, to which is attached a cord, passing through the body of the doll, and fastened to his right leg, he keeps constantly on the jig, to the music of a tuneless tin whistle, bought for a penny, and a very primitive parchment tabor, manufactured by himself. These shifts he resorts to in the hope of retaining his independence and personal freedom-failing to succeed in which, he is driven, as a last resource, to the comfortless drudgery of piano-grinding, which we shall have to notice in its turn.
3. The handbarrow-organist is not uncommonly some lazy Irishman, if he be not a sickly Savoyard, who has mounted his organ upon a handbarrow of light and somewhat peculiar construction, for the sake of facilitating the task of locomotion. From the nature of his equipage, he is not given to grinding so perpetually as his heavily-burdened brethren. He cannot of course grind, as they occasionally do, as he travels along, so he pursues a different system of tactics. He walks leisurely along the quiet ways, turning his eyes constantly to the right and left, on the look-out for a promising opening. The sight of a group of children at a parlour-window brings him into your front garden, where be establishes his instrument with all the deliberation of a proprietor of the premises. He is pretty sure to begin his performance in the middle of a tune, with a hiccoughing kind of sound, as though the pipes were gasping for breath. He puts a sudden period to his questionable harmony the very instant he gets his penny, having a notion, which is tolerably correct, that you pay him for his silence and not for his sounds. In spite of his discordant gurglings and squealings, he is welcomed by the nursery- maids and their infant tribes of little sturdy rogues in petticoats who flock eagerly round him, and purchase the luxury of a half-penny grind, which they perform con amore, seated on the top of his machine. If, when your front garden is thus invaded, you insist upon his decamping without a fee, he shows his estimate of the peace and quietness you desiderate by his unwillingness to retire, which, however, he at length consents to do, though not without a muttered remonstrance, delivered with the air of an injured man. He generally contrives to house himself as night draws on, in some dingy tap-room appertaining to the lowest class of Tom-and-Jerry shops, where, for a few coppers and "a few beer," he will ring all the changes on his instrument twenty times over, until he and his admiring auditors are ejected at midnight by the police-fearing landlord.
4. The handcart-organists are a race of a very different and more enterprising character, and of much more lofty and varied pretensions. They generally travel in firms of two, three, or even four partners, drawing the cart by turns. Their equipage consists of an organ of very complicated construction, containing, besides a deal of very marvellous machinery within. its entrails, a collection of bells, drums, triangles, gongs, and cymbals, in addition to the usual quantity of pipes said metal-reeds that go to make up the travelling organ. The music they play is of a species which it is not very easy to describe, as it is not once in a hundred times that a stranger can detect the melody through the clash and clangor of the gross amount of brass, steel, and bell-metal put in vibration by the machinery. This, however, is of very little consequence, as it is not the music in particular which forms the principal attraction: if it serve to call a crowd together, that is sufficient for their purpose; and it is for this reason, we imagine, that the effect of the whole is contrived to resemble, as it very closely does, the hum and jangle of Greenwich Fair when heard of an Easter Monday from the summit of the Observatory Hill. No, the main attraction is essentially dramatic. In front of the great chest of heterogeneous sounds there is a stage about five or six feet in width, four in height, and perhaps eighteen inches or two feet in depth. Upon this are a variety of figures, about fourteen inches long, gorgeously arrayed in crimson, purple, emerald-green., blue, and orange draperies, and loaded with gold and tinsel, and sparkling stones and spangles, all doubled in splendour by the reflection of a mirror in the background. The figures, set in motion by the same machinery which grinds the incomprehensible overture, perform a drama equally incomprehensible. At the left-hand corner is Daniel in the lion's den, the lion opening his mouth in six-eight time, and an angel with outspread wings, but securely transfixed through the loins by a revolving brass pivot, shutting it again to the same lively movement. To the right of Daniel is the Grand Turk, seated in his divan, and brandishing a dagger over a prostrate slave, who only ventures to rise when the dagger is withdrawn. Next to him is Nebuchadnezzar on all fours, eating painted grass, with a huge gold crown on his head, which he bobs for a bite every other bar. In the right-hand corner is a sort of cavern, the abode of some supernatural and mysterious being of the fiend or vampire school, who gives an occasional fitful start, and turns an ominous-looking green-glass eye out upon the spectators. All these are in the background. In the front of the stage stands Napoleon, wearing a long sword and a cocked hat, and the conventional grey smalls-his hand of course stuck in his breast. At his right are Tippoo Saib and his sons, and at his left, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. After a score or so of bars, the measure of the music suddenly alters-Daniel's guardian angel flies off - the prophet and the lion lie down to sleep together - the Grand Turk sinks into the arms of the death-doomed slave -Nebuchadnezzar falls prostrate on the ground, and the fiend in the gloomy cavern whips suddenly round and glares with his green eye, as if watching for a spring upon the front row of actors, who have now taken up their cue and commenced their performance. Napoleon, Tippoo Saib, and Queen Victoria dance a three-handed reel, to the admiration of Prince Albert and a group of lords and ladies in waiting, who nod their heads approvingly-when br'r'r! crack! at a tremendous crash of gongs and grumbling of bass-notes, the fiend in the corner rushes forth from his lair with a portentous howl. Away, neck or nothing, flies Napoleon, and Tippoo scampers after him, followed by the terrified attendants; but lo! at the precise nick of time, Queen Victoria draws a long sword from beneath her stays, while up jumps the devouring beast from the den of the prophet, and like a true British lion - as he doubtless was all the while- flies at the throat of the fiend, straight as an arrow to its mark. Then follows a roar of applause from the discriminating spectators, amidst which the curtain falls, and, with an extra flourish of music, the collection of copper coin commences. This is always a favourite spectacle with the multitude, who never bother themselves about such trifles as anachronisms and unities; and the only difficulty the managers have to overcome in order to insure a remunerative exhibition is, that of finding a quiet locality, which shall yet be sufficiently frequented to insure them an audience. There are equipages of this description of very various pretensions and perfection, but they all combine the allurements of music and the drama in a greater or less degree.
5. The horse-and-cart-organists are a race of enterprising speculators, who, relying on the popular penchant for music, have undertaken to supply the demand by wholesale. It is impossible by mere description to impart an adequate idea of the truly appalling and tremendous character of their performances. Their machines are some of them vast structures, which, mounted upon stout wheels, and drawn by a couple of serviceable horses, might be mistaken for wild beast vans. They are crammed choke-full with every known mechanical contrivance for the production of ear-stunning noises. Wherever they burst forth into utterance, the whole parish is instantly admonished of their whereabouts, and, with the natural instinct of John Bull for a row-no matter how it originates-forth rushes the crowd to enjoy the dissonance. The piercing notes of a score of shrill fifes, the squall of as many clarions, the hoarse bray of a legion of tin trumpets, the angry and fitful snort of a brigade of rugged bassoons, the unintermitting rattle of a dozen or more deafening drums, the clang of bells firing in peals, the boom of gongs, with the sepulchral roar of some unknown contrivance for bass, so deep that you might almost count the vibrations of each note - these are a few of the components of the horse-and-cart-organ, the sum-total of which it is impossible to add up. Compared to the vicinity of a first-rater in full blow, the inside of a menagerie at feeding-time would be a paradise of tranquillity and repose. The rattle and rumble of carts and carriages, which drive the professors and possessors of milder music to the side-streets and suburbs, sink into insignificance when these cataracts of uproar begin to peal forth; and their owners would have no occasion to seek an appropriate spot for their volcanic eruptions, were it not that the police, watchful against accident, have warned them from the principal thoroughfares, where serious consequences have already ensued through the panic occasioned to horses from the continuous explosion of such unwonted sounds. In fact, an honourable member of the Commons' House of Parliament made a motion in the House, not long ago, for the immediate prohibition of these monster nuisances, and quoted several cases of alarm and danger to life of which they had been the originating cause. These formidable erections are for the most part the property and handiwork of the men who travel with them, and who must levy a pretty heavy contribution on the public to defray their expenses. They perform entire overtures and long concerted pieces, being furnished with spiral barrels, and might probably produce a tolerable effect at the distance of a mile or so - at least we never heard one yet without incontinently wishing it a mile off. By a piece of particular ill-fortune, we came one day upon one undergoing the ceremony of tuning, on a piece of waste-ground at the back of Coldbath Prison. The deplorable wail of those tortured pipes and reeds, and the short savage grunt of the bass mystery, haunted us, a perpetual day-and-night-mare, for a month. We could not help noticing, however, that the jauntily-dressed fellow, whose fingers were covered with showy rings, and ears hung with long drops, who performed the operation, managed it with consummate skill, and with an ear for that sort of music most marvellously discriminating.
6. Blind bird-organists. Though most blind persons either naturally possess or soon acquire an ear for music, there are yet numbers who, from the want of it, or from some other cause, never make any proficiency as performers on an instrument. Blindness, too, is often accompanied with some other disability, which disqualifies its victims for learning such trades as they might otherwise be taught. Hence many, rather than remain in the workhouse, take to grinding music in the streets. Here we are struck with one remarkable fact: the Irishman, the Frenchman, the Italian, or the Savoyard, at least so soon as he is a man, and able to lug it about, is provided with an instrument with which he can make a noise in the world, and prefer his clamorous claim for a recompense; while the poor blind Englishman has nothing but a diminutive box of dilapidated whistles, which you may pass fifty times without hearing it, let him grind as hard as he will. It is generally nothing more than an old worn-out bird organ, in all likelihood charitably bestowed by some compassionate Poll Sweedlepipes, who has already used it up in the education of his bullfinches. The reason, we opine, must be that the major part, if not the whole, of the peripatetic instruments of the metropolis are the property of speculators, who let them out on hire, and that the blind man, not being considered an eligible customer, is precluded from the advantage of their use. However this may be, the poor blind grinder is almost invariably found furnished as we have described him, jammed up in some cranny or corner in a third-rate locality, where, having opened or taken off the top of his box, that the curious spectator may behold the mystery of his too quiet music-the revolving barrel, the sobbing bellows, and the twelve leaden and ten wooden pipes-he turns his monotonous handle throughout the live-long day, in the all but vain appeal for the commiseration of his fellows. This. is really a melancholy spectacle, and one which we would gladly miss altogether in our casual rounds.
7. The piano-grinders are by far the most numerous of the handle-turning fraternity. The instrument they carry about with them is familiar to the dwellers in most of the towns in England. It is a miniature cabinet-piano, without the keys or finger-board, and is played by similar mechanical means to that which gives utterance to the hand-organ; but of course it requires no bellows. There is one thing to be said in favour of these instruments-they do not make much noise, and consequently are no very great nuisance individually. The worst thing against them is the fact, that they are never in tune, and. therefore never worth the hearing. After grinding for twelve or fourteen hours a day for four or five years, they become perfect abominations; and luckless is the fate of the poor little stranger condemned to perpetual companionship with a villanous machine, whose every tone is the cause of offence to those whose charity he must awaken into exercise, or go without a meal. These instruments are known to be the property of certain extensive proprietors in the city, some of whom have hundreds of them grinding daily in every quarter of the town. Some few are let out on hire-the best at a shilling a day; the old worn-out ones as low as two or three pence; but the great majority of them are ground by young Italians shipped to this country for the special purpose by the owners of the instruments. These descendants of the ancient Romans figure in Britain in a very different plight from that of their renowned ancestors. They may be encountered in troops sallying forth from the filthy purlieus of Leather Lane, at about nine or ten in the morning, each with his awkward burden strapped to his back, and supporting his steps with a stout staff, which also serves to support the instrument when playing. Each one has his appointed beat, and he is bound to bring home a certain prescribed sum to entitle him to a share in the hot supper prepared for the evening meal. We have more than once, when startled by the sound of the everlasting piano within an hour of midnight, questioned the belated grinder, and invariably received for answer, that he had not yet been able to collect the sum required of him. Still there can be no doubt that some of them contrive to save money; inasmuch as we occasionally see an active fellow set up on his own account, and furnished with an instrument immensely superior to those of his less prosperous compatriots. So great is the number of these wandering Italian pianists, that their condition has attracted the attention of their more wealthy countrymen, who, in conjunction with a party of benevolent English gentlemen, have set on foot an association for the express purpose of imparting instruction to poor Italians of all grades, of whom the vagabond musicians form the largest section.
It is easy to recognise the rule adopted in the distribution of the instruments among the grinders: the stoutest fellow, or he who can take the best care of it, gets the best piano; while the shattered and rickety machine goes to the urchin of ten or twelve, who can scarcely drag it a hundred yards without resting. It is to be supposed that the instruments are all rated according to their quality. There is at this moment wandering about the streets of London a singular and pitiable object, whose wretched lot must be known to hundreds of thousands, and who affords in his own person good evidence of the strictness of the rule above alluded to, as well as of the rigour with which the trade is carried on. We refer to a ragged, shirtless, and harmlessly insane Italian lad, who, under the guardianship of one of the piano-mongers, is driven forth daily into the streets, carrying a blackened and gutted old piano-case, in which two strings only of the original scale remain unbroken. The poor unwashed innocent transports himself as quickly as possible to the genteelest neighbourhood he can find, and with all the enthusiasm of a Jullien, commences his monotonous grind. Three turns of the handle, and the all but defunct instrument ejaculates "tink ;" six more inaudible turns, and then the responding string answers "tank. "Tink-tank is the sum-total of his performance, to any defects in which he is as insensible as a blind man is to colour. As a matter of course, he gets ill-treated, mobbed, pushed about, and upset by the blackguard scamps about town; and were it not for the police, who have rescued him times without number from the hands of his persecutors, he would long ere now have been reduced to as complete a ruin as his instrument. In one respect he is indeed already worse off than the dilapidated piano: he is dumb as well as silly, and can only utter one sound-a cry of alarm of singular intensity; this cry forms the climax of pleasure to the wretches who dog his steps, and this, unmoved by his silent tears and woful looks, they goad him to shriek forth for their express gratification. We have stumbled upon him at near eleven o'clock at night, grinding away with all his might in a storm of wind and rain, perfectly unconscious of either, and evidently delighted at his unusual freedom from interruption.
8 Flageolet-organists and pianists. It is a pleasure to award praise where praise is due, and it may be accorded to this class of grinders, who are, to our minds, the elite of the profession. We stated above that some of the piano-grinders contrive, notwithstanding their difficult position, to save money and set up for themselves. It is inevitable that the faculty of music must be innate with some of these wandering pianists, and it is but natural that these should succeed the best, and be the first to improve their condition. The instrument which combines the flageolet-stop with the piano is generally found in the possession of young fellows who, by dint of a persevering and savage economy, have saved sufficient funds to procure it. Indeed, in common hands, it would be of less use than the commonest instrument, because it requires frequent-more than daily-tuning, and would therefore be of no advantage to a man with no ear. Unless the strings were in strict unison with the pipes, the discordance would be unbearable; and as this in the open air can hardly be the case for many hours together, they have to be rectified many times in the course of a week. As might be reasonably supposed, these instruments are comparatively few. When set to slow melodies, the flageolet taking the air, and the piano a well-arranged accompaniment, the effect is really charming, and there is little reason to doubt, is found as profitable to the producer as it is pleasing to the hearer. They are to be met with chiefly at the West End of the town, and on summer evenings beneath the lawyers' windows in the neighbourhood of some of the Inns of Court.
9. The hurdy-gurdy player. We have placed this genius last, because, though essentially a most horrid grinder he too, is, in some sort, a performer. In London there may be said to be two classes of them-little hopping, skipping, jumping, reeling, Savoyard or Swiss urchins, who dance and sing, and grind and play, doing, like Caesar, four things at once, and whom you expect every moment to see rolling on the pavement, but who contrive, like so many kittens, to pitch on their feet at last, notwithstanding all their antics-and men with sallow complexions, large dark eyes, and silver ear-rings, who stand erect and tranquil, and confer a dignity, not to say a grace, even upon the performance of the hurdy-gurdy. The boys for the most part do not play any regular tune, having but few keys to their instruments, often not even a complete octave. The better instruments of the adult performers have a scale of an octave and a half, and sometimes two octaves, and they perform melodies and even harmonies with something like precision, and with an effect which, to give it its due praise, supplies a very tolerable caricature of the Scotch bagpipes. These gentry are not much in favour either with the genuine lovers of music or the lovers of quiet, and they know the fact perfectly well. They hang about the crowded haunts of the common people, and find their harvest in a vulgar jollification, or an extempore "hop" at the door of a suburban public house on a summer night. There are a few old-women performers on this hybrid machine, one of whom is familiar to the public through the dissemination of her vera effigies in Mr. Mayhew' s "London Labour and London Poor.
The above are all the grinders which observation has enabled us to identify as capable of classification. The reader may, if he likes, suppose them to be the metropolitan representatives of the Nine Muses - and that, in fact, in some sort they are, seeing that they are the embodiments to a certain extent of the musical tastes of a section at least of the inhabitants of London; though, if we are asked which is Melpomene? which is Thalia? &c., &c., we must adopt the reply of the showman to the child who asked which was the lion and which was the dog, and received for answer, "Whichever you like, my little dear."
With respect to all these grinders, one thing is remarkable: they are all, with the exception of a small savour of Irishmen, foreigners. Scarcely one Englishman, not one Scot, will be found among the whole tribe; and this fact is as welcome to us as it is singular, because it speaks volumes in favour of the national propensity, of which we have reason to be proud, to be ever doing something, producing something, applying labour to its legitimate purpose, and not turning another man's handle to grind the wind. Yet there is, alas! a scattered and characteristic tribe of vagabond English music-grinders, and to these we must turn a moment's attention ere we finally close the list. We must call them, for we know no more appropriate name, cripple-grinders. It is impossible to carry one s explorations very far through the various districts of London without coming upon one or more samples of this unfortunate tribe. Commerce maims and mutilates her victims as effectually as war, though not in equal numbers; and men and lads without arms, or without legs, or without either, and men doubled up and distorted, and blasted blind and hideous with gunpowder, who have yet had the misfortune to escape death, are left without limbs or eyesight, often with shattered intellects, to fight the battle of life at fearful odds. Had they been reduced to a like miserable condition while engaged in killing their fellow-creatures on the field of battle or on the deck of carnage, a grateful country would have housed them in a palace, and abundantly supplied their every want; but they were merely employed in procuring the necessaries of life for their fellows in the mine or the factory, and as nobody owes them any gratitude for that, they must do what they can. And behold what they do: they descend, being fit for nothing else, to the level of the foreign music-grinder, and, mounted on a kind of bed-carriage, are drawn about the streets of London by their wives or children, being furnished with a blatant hand-organ of last century's manufacture, whose ear- torturing growl draws the attention of the public to their woful plight, they extort that charity which would else fail to find them out. If there be something gratifying in the fact, that this is the only class of Britons who follow such an inglorious profession, there is nothing very flattering in the consideration, that even these are compelled to it by inexorable necessity.
Charles Manby Smith Curiosities of London Life, or Phases, Physiological and Social of the Great Metropolis, 1853