Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Life in the London Streets, by Richard Rowe, 1881 - Chapter 4 - The Bird Catcher

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IV.

THE BIRD CATCHER.

".No: I dont 'old with this new hact about Small Birds. It's on'y another bit o' the swells' spite. They aint satisfied with nobblin' the game birds. No: they must keep poor men from 'avin' singin' birds, and other poor men from makin' their livin' by ketchin' on 'em: It's jest a bit o' spite, I tell ye. Stuff an' nonsense about 'sterminatin' on 'em: birds breeds a deal too free and is a deal too sharp for that!
    "Look at sparrers now, how they swarm right in the wery 'eart o' Lon'on, the cheeky beggars; they's 'sterminated, isn't they? An' yet you can git your money out o' sparrers, too. It don't come to much a bird, but then they's so plenty, that makes up for 't.
    "I don't old with sellin' sparrers to children jest to be tormented,- I 'ate cruelty as much as any man; but I can't see as there's any more 'arm in ketchin' sparrers for the sparrer matches than there is in breedin' pigeons for the swells' pigeon matches. What beats me is that in a place like Lon'on where sparrers is so plenty, folks should let theirselves die o' starwation, so long as they could git a bit o' fire anywheres to cook 'em at. Why in any back-[-99-]yard you could ketch a lot o' sparrers wi' an ole sieve, an' they aint bad eatin' when they're plump. I've tried 'em jest to see. Of course, there ain't much on 'em at the plumpest, but then you can cat a lot, and crunch 'em up, bones an' all.
    "There's another bird ain't much of a song-bird,- leastways, some folks says it's got a sweet little pipe of its own, but if't has, it's like the donkey's gallop, uncommon short as well,-an' that's the robin. Well, when I was a young un, a good many would'nt ketch 'em, though you could git a good price for em.
    'Cock Robin and Jenny Wren
    Is God Almighty's cock an' hen,'
we used to say. But we've got to ketch rohins now. The stationers an' the ladies wants 'em, not for the song, but for orniments. Well, that ain't our fault: blame them as will have 'em cotched, not us as doesn't want to ketch 'em.
    "Yes, I've heared about chaffers hem' blinded with red-hot needles to make 'em sing better, but I never see it done, an' if 'tis done 'taint our fault. We ketches the birds to turn a honest penny, an' sells 'em to the shops, or them we thinks will treat 'em well an' git some fun out on 'em, an' no 'arm to anybody: if they don't, that's their look out not ours. But you won't make me believe in a 'urry that [-100-] them as fancies birds treats 'em bad. You see what smart cages they gits for 'em, an' how clean an' bright they keeps 'em, an' how they buys sand, an' seed, an' turfs, an' chickweed, an' gr'unsel. An' don't the birds like their cages neither? Jest hear 'em sing! Why there they are, got board an' lodgin' without a mite o' trouble; an' in the winter, when the birds as isn't cotched goes shiverin' an' starvin' about, they're warm an' snug an' sure of a bellyful.
    "Why if we wasn't to ketch birds there's 'undreds in Lon'on would never ear the sound o' one, and don't it cheer a sooty old street up to hear a lark singin' in it? Out by the Dials there's a man, not one o' the dealers, but a tradesman, has got four 'ung up outside his 'ouse,-I ain't sure as it ain't six, - and it does your heart good to ear 'em all pipin.' away together. They pinin' in captivity, indeed! Bosh! They're as jolly as sandboys.
    "Look at a goldfinch, too: he mopes, don't he? or a bullfinch? or you hear a thrush or a blackbird singin' in a court as jolly as if they was in the country. Instid o' bein' run down, we ought to be made much on as benefakters of our specie, we bird-ketchers ought. We 'arn a honest livin', an' while we're doin' on it, we gives a lot o' pleasure to them as pays us an' to them as don't. That's more than a loryer can say, any'ow.
    [-101-] "Nightingales? Yes, I ketches 'em when I can, an' wish I could ketch 'em orf'ner; but it's 'ard work, and you've to go a goodish step out mostly. Sometimes they come near Lon'on way, where there's a bit of a park, an' then what a precious row there is if you lure 'em out. What's that but selfish, I'd like to know. The swells wants to keep 'em all to their greedy selves. They belong to me every bit as much as they do to the swells, if I can on'y ketch 'old on 'em; an' I sells 'em where more'll 'ear 'em than if they stayed where they was; an' if I do make a shillin' or two by doin' on it where's the 'arm o' that? The money don't come out o' the swell's pocket, and it's a 'ard thing if a man mayn't arn a honest livin' jest because he's poor! All the more reason why he shouldn't be stopped from arnin' his livin'! Now there's some o' the swells as got plenty, - leastways it ought to be,- an' yet they want more, an' they ain't by no means partic'lar whether it's honest or not, the way they gits it.
    "Well yes, some says cotched nightingales beats theirselves to death agin the wires, but there's plenty as doesn't. They takes to the cage kindly enough, an' good reason why, when they're well treated. Look at canaries. They was wild birds somewheres once, an' now they're all bred in cages, an' yet you'd say they was pretty jolly. There ain't a jollier [-102-] bird goin'. It's my belief it's doin' a bird a kindness gittin' it into a cage, so long as you feed it well, an' keep it clean, and make friends wi' it, and don't let the cat git 'old on it. Law bless ye, I'd a canary 'ud perch on my 'ead an' tweet down sarcy at the cat, as if it was darin' of her to fly at it; and if I hadn't a-been there, the cat wouldn't ha' dust to touch it: the canary knew that well enough.
    "Now look'ee ere. Inside o' a house there's one cat, say, as may be a henemy to a bird, but may easily be perwented, an' everybody else in the house is the bird's friends. Well, now, if that there bird was flyin' about on its own 'ook outside o' the house, 'ow many henemies would it 'ave, and nobbudy to give it its grub nayther? There's reason in everythink, if you'll on'y look for 't, an' them as runs down birdketchers hasn't got it all their own way quite so much as they thinks p'r'aps.
    "No, I ain't ashamed o' my business. I took to 't early, an' I've stuck to 't late, an' I 'ope I shall be able to go out ketchin' a year or two more, please God. What I shall do when I can't, if I should live so long, I am sure I don't know. I can't turn my 'and to nought else, an' I'll go bail I should pine away, as you call it, a deal sooner in the 'ouse than a bird would in a cage. They don't pet old paupers. Instid o' givin' on 'em rape seed, when they're mopish, they stop their baccy. [-103-] 
    "No: I hopes God will give me the use o' my limbs 's long as I've got breath in me, an 's long as I can crawl I'll go ketchin'. Them as likes may call it a wagabone's life; I say it's a gen'leman's life, an' I knows more about it than they does. You're your own master: nobbudy can't order ye about, - leastways not till this hact come in, - 'cept ye are trespassin' an' then it's easy enough, if cheek and chaff, won't do it, to git a better pitch, or if you can't to come back to where you was afore.     Trampin' in an' out s the hardest work, an' what's that? Good 'ealthy hexercise an' nice fresh hair, any'ow in the country. You 'aven't to be ollus in a drive to am your bread, like the poor fellows as works in Lon'on. You can take your time, an' smoke your pipe, if you like, an' loll about on the grass like a sofy, and then, if you've luck, jest one pull may'ap brings ye in more than them poor critturs gits for slavin' all the week long in Lon'on, an' sent scurryin' from pillar to post, an' gittin' blackguarded into the bargin as if they was pickpockets. No: it's a gen'leman's life is a bird-ketcher's. You fills your pocket an' takes your pleasure at the same time; an' ain't that jest what the gen'lemen does as shoots their game, an' then sends it up to be sold at Leaden'all? Where's the diff'rence I'd like to know, 'cept that we're better off than the swells: we ain't to keep no keepers an' that. [-104-] They're out o' pocket whatever price they git, but our game 's pretty nigh all clear profit when it's sold.
    "Yes, I've sold birds' eggs as well as birds, but takin' eggs for a bird-ketcher, mostly is sp'ilin' is markit. You can git more for a bird than a hegg, an' birds is easier to come at. Sometimes they're shy enough, but other times, if you've a good call-bird or can whistle well yourself, they'll walk right into the net for all their sharpness. 'Taint orfen I goes to church. I've to work o' Sundays as well as week-days, if you can call it work. There's a good sale of birds in the beginning o' the week, but the worst on it is some as as their own trades in the week takes to ketchin' on the Sunday, which don't seem exackly fair to us as as to make our livin' on it. Sich as them, I says, ought to keep the Sabbath day wholly. Hows'ever now an' agin I've been to church, though not orfen. Once was a bitter cold day. I was arf perished, an' I went into a church where I see a lot of people, jest to git warm, an' a nice snug seat up by the stove I got. I couldn't stay out in the fields, though the birds was so tame you could ha' cotched 'em by puttin' salt on their tails; I do believe they would ha' pecked crumbs out o' your and, an' twould ha' been a charity to take 'em. I got a goodish pull, an' then I went to church. Well, what d'ye think the parson [-105-] read out 'In vain is the snare laid in the sight of any bird.' Why, bless your 'eart, the birds I'd cotched see me pitch my net plain enough, but into it they flew in a minute,- I'd no need to lay down. I s'pose they wanted to git warm, like me at church, or else they see the call-bird's seed.
    "Well, yes, take 'em all round, bird-ketchers, I should say, is a decentish set o' chaps, though they do call us wagabones an' tain't orfen we goes to church. Some of us takes our drops at times, like other folk; but then, you see, we must be up betimes good part o' the year, an' them as has got to rise hearly can't orfen afford to go to bed late; so I should say there's a good few, as a old Scotch chap I know says, worse lushingtons than us.
    'Hearly to bed and hearly to rise
    Makes a man 'ealthy, wealthy, and wise.'
    "I'm 'ealthy enough, thank God, an' it's my belief it's the ketchin' as made an' kep' me so. I've never 'ad the rheumatiz, for all the fog and frost and snow I've been out in. I can't say much about the wealth and the wisdom."

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