We now come to a class of street-folk
wholly distinct from any before treated of. As yet we have been dealing
principally with the uneducated portion of the street-people -men whom, for the
most part, are allowed to remain in nearly the same primitive and brutish state
as the savage -creatures with nothing but their appetites, instincts, and
passions to move them, and made up of the same crude combination of virtue and
vice -the same generosity combined with the same predatory tendencies as the
Bedouins of the desert -the same love of revenge and disregard of pain, and
often the same gratitude and susceptibility to kindness as the Red Indian -and,
furthermore, the same insensibility to female honour and abuse of female
weakness, and the same utter ignorance of the Divine nature of the Godhead as
marks either Bosjesman, Carib, or Thug.
The costers and many other of the streetsellers before described, however, are bad -not so much from their own perversity as from our selfishness. That they partake of the natural evil of human nature is not their fault but ours, -who would be like them if we had not been taught by others better than ourselves to controul the bad and cherish the good principles of our hearts.
The street-sellers of stationery, literature, and the fine arts, however, differ from all before treated of in the general, though far from universal, education of the sect. They constitute principally the class of street-orators, known in these days as "patterers," and formerly termed "mountebanks," -people who, in the words of Strutt, strive to "help off their wares by pompous speeches, in which little regard is paid either to truth or propriety." To patter, is a slang term, meaning to speak. To indulge in this kind of oral puffery, of course, requires a certain exercise of the intellect, and it is the consciousness of their mental superiority which makes the patterers look down upon the costermongers as an inferior body, with whom they object either to be classed or to associate. The scorn of some of the "patterers" for the mere costers is as profound as the contempt of the pickpocket for the pure beggar. Those who have not witnessed this pride of class among even the most degraded, can form no adequate idea of the arrogance with which the skilled man, no matter how base the art, looks upon the unskilled. "We are the haristocracy of the streets," was said to me by one of the streetfolks, who told penny fortunes with a bottle. "People don't pay us for what we gives 'em, but only to hear us talk. We live like yourself, sir, by the hexercise of our hintellects -we by talking, and you by writing."
But notwithstanding the self-esteem of the patterers, I am inclined to think that they are less impressionable and less susceptible of kindness than the costers whom they despise. Dr. Conolly has told us that, even among the insane, the educated classes are the most difficult to move and govern through their affections. They are invariably suspicious, attributing unworthy motives to every benefit conferred, and consequently incapable of being touched by any sympathy on the part of those who may be affected by their distress. So far as my experience goes it is the same with the street-patterers. Any attempt to befriend them is almost sure to be met with distrust. Nor does their mode of life serve in any way to lessen their misgivings. Conscious how much their own livelihood depends upon assumption and trickery, they naturally consider that others have some "dodge," as they call it, or some latent object in view when any good is sought to be done them. The impulsive costermonger, however, approximating more closely to the primitive man, moved solely by his feelings, is as easily humanized by any kindness as he is brutified by any injury.
The patterers, again, though certainly more intellectual, are scarcely less immoral than the costers. Their superior cleverness gives them the power of justifying and speciously glossing their evil practices, but serves in no way to restrain them; thus affording the social philosopher another melancholy instance of the evil of developing the intellect without the conscience - of teaching people to know what is morally beautiful and ugly, without teaching them at the same time to feel and delight in the one and abhor the other -or, in other words, of quickening the cunning and checking the emotions of the individual.
Among the patterers marriage is as little frequent as among the costermongers; with the exception of the older class, who "were perhaps married before they took to the streets." Hardly one of the patterers, however, has been bred to a street life; and this constitutes another line of demarcation between them and the costermongers.
The costers, we have seen, are mostly hereditary wanderers -having been as it were born to frequent the public thoroughfares; some few of the itinerant dealers in fish, fruit, and vegetables, have it is true been driven by want of employment to adopt street-selling as a means of living, but these are, so to speak, the aliens rather than the natives of the streets. The patterers, on the other hand, have for the most part neither been born and bred nor driven to a street life -but have rather taken to it from a natural love of what they call "roving." This propensity to lapse from a civilized into a nomad state -to pass from a settler into a wanderer -is a peculiar characteristic of the pattering tribe. The tendency however is by no means extraordinary; for ethnology teaches us, that whereas many abandon the habits of civilized life to adopt those of a nomadic state of existence, but few of the wandering tribes give up vagabondising and betake themselves to settled occupations. The innate "love of a roving life," which many of the street-people themselves speak of as the cause of their originally taking to the streets, appears to be accompanied by several peculiar characteristics; among the most marked of these are an indomitable "self-will" or hatred of the least restraint or controul -an innate aversion to every species of law or government, whether political, moral, or domestic -a stubborn, contradictory nature -an incapability of continuous labour, or remaining long in the same place occupied with the same object, or attending to the same subject -an unusual predilection for amusements, and especially for what partakes of the ludicrous -together with a great relish of all that is ingenious, and so finding extreme delight in tricks and frauds of every kind. There are two patterers now in the streets (brothers) -well-educated and respectably connected -who candidly confess they prefer that kind of life to any other, and would not leave it if they could.
Nor are the patterers less remarkable than the costermongers for their utter absence of all religious feeling. There is, however, this distinction between the two classes -that whereas the creedlessness of the one is but the consequence of brutish ignorance, that of the other is the result of natural perversity and educated scepticism -as the street-patterers include many men of respectable connections, and even classical attainments. Among them, may be found the son of a military officer, a clergyman, a man brought up to the profession of medicine, two Grecians of the Blue-coat School, clerks, shopmen, and a class who have been educated to no especial calling -some of the latter being the natural sons of gentlemen and noblemen -and who, when deprived of the support of their parents or friends, have taken to the streets for bread. Many of the younger and smarter men, I am assured, reside with women of the town, though they may not be dependent for their livelihood on the wages got by the infamy of these women. Not a few of the patterers, too, in their dress and appearance, present but little difference to that of the "gent." Some wear a moustache, while others indulge in a HenriQuatre beard. The patterers are, moreover, as a body, not distinguished by that good and friendly feeling one to another which is remarkable among costermongers. If an absence of heartiness and good fellowship be characteristic of an aristocracy -as some political philosophers contend -then the patterers may indeed be said to be the aristocrats of the streets.
The patterers or oratorical street-sellers include among their class many itinerant traders, other than the wandering "paper-workers" - as those vending the several varieties of streetliterature are generally denominated. The Cheap Jacks, or oratorical hucksters of hardware at fairs and other places, are among the most celebrated and humorous of this class. The commercial arts and jests of some of these people, display considerable cleverness. Many of their jokes, it is true, are traditional -and as purely a matter of parrotry as the witticisms of the "funny gentlemen" on the stage, but their ready adaptation of accidental circumstances to the purposes of their business, betrays a modicum of wit far beyond that which falls to the share of ordinary "low comedians." The street-vendors of cough drops -infallible cures for the toothache and other ailments -also belong to the pattering class. These are, as was before stated, the remains of the obsolete mountebanks of England and the saltinbanque of France -a class of al fresco orators who derived their names from the bench -the street pulpit, rostrum, or platform -that they ascended, in order the better to deliver their harangues. The street jugglers, actors, and showmen, as well as the street-sellers of grease-removing compositions, corn-salve, razor-paste, plating-balls, waterproof blacking, rat poisons, sovereigns sold for wagers, and a multiplicity of similar street-trickeries -such as oratorical begging -are other ingenious and wordy members of the same chattering, jabbering, or "plattering" fraternity. These will all be spoken of under the head of the different things they respectively sell or do. For the present we have only to deal with that portion of the "pattering" body who are engaged in the street sale of literature -or the "paper-workers" as they call themselves. The latter include the "running patterers," or "death-hunters;" being men (no women) engaged in vending last dying speeches and confessions -in hawking "se-cond edi-tions" of newspapers -or else in "working," that is to say, in getting rid of what are technically termed "cocks;" which, in polite language, means accounts of fabulous duels between ladies of fashion -of apochryphal elopements, or fictitious love-letters of sporting noblemen and certain young milliners not a hundred miles from the spot -"cooked" assassinations and sudden deaths of eminent individuals -pretended jealous affrays between Her Majesty and the Prince Consort (but these papers are now never worked) -or awful tragedies, including mendacious murders, impossible robberies, and delusive suicides.
The sellers of these choice articles, however, belong more particularly to that order or species of the pattering genus known as "running patterers," or "flying stationers," from the fact of their being continually on the move while describing the attractions of the "papers" they have to sell. Contradistinguished from them, however, are the "standing patterers," or those for whose less startling announcements a crowd is necessary, in order that the audience may have time to swallow the many marvels worked by their wares. The standing patterers require, therefore, what they term a "pitch," that is to say a fixed locality, where they can hold forth to a gaping multitude for, at least, some few minutes continuously. They are mainly such street-sellers as deal in nostrums and the different kinds of street "wonders." Occasionally, however, the running patterer (who is especially literary) transmigrates into a standing one, betaking himself to "board work," as it is termed in street technology, and stopping at the corners of thoroughfares with a large pictorial placard raised upon a pole, and glowing with a highlycoloured exaggeration of the interesting terrors of the pamphlet he has for sale. This is either "The Life of Calcraft, the Hangman," "The Diabolical Practices of Dr. -on his Patients when in a state of Mesmerism," or "The Secret Doings at the White House, Soho," and other similar attractively-repulsive details. Akin to this "board work" is the practice of what is called "strawing," or selling straws in the street, and giving away with them something that is either really or fictionally forbidden to be sold, -as indecent papers, political songs, and the like. This practice, however, is now seldom resorted to, while the sale of "secret papers" is rarely carried on in public. It is true, there are three or four patterers who live chiefly by professing to dispose of "sealed packets" of obscene drawings and cards for gentlemen; but this is generally a trick adopted to extort money from old debauchees, young libertines, and people of degraded or diseased tastes; for the packets, on being opened, seldom contain anything but an odd number of some defunct periodical. There is, however, a large traffic in such secret papers carried on in what is called "the public-house trade," that is to say, by itinerant " paperworkers" (mostly women), who never make their appearance in the streets, but obtain a livelihood by "busking," as it is technically termed, or, in other words, by offering their goods for sale only at the bars and in the tap-rooms and parlours of taverns. The excessive indulgence of one appetite is often accompanied by the disease of a second; the drunkard, of course, is supereminently a sensualist, and is therefore easily taken by anything that tends to stimulate his exhausted desires: so sure is it that one form of bestiality is a necessary concomitant of another. There is another species of patterer, who, though usually included among the standing patterers, belongs rather to an intermediate class, viz., those who neither stand nor "run," as they descant upon what they sell; but those walk at so slow a rate that, though never stationary, they can hardly be said to move. These are the reciters of dialogues, litanies, and the various street "squibs" upon passing events; they also include the public propounders of conundrums, and the "hundred and fifty popular song" enumerators -such as are represented in the engraving here given. Closely connected with them are the "chaunters," or those who do not cry, but (if one may so far stretch the English language) sing the contents of the "papers" they vend.
These traffickers constitute the principal street-sellers of literature, or "paper-workers," of the "pattering" class. In addition to them there are many others vending "papers" in the public thoroughfares, who are mere traders resorting to no other acts for the disposal of their goods than a simple cry or exposition of them; and many of these are but poor, humble, struggling, and inoffensive dealers. They do not puff or represent what they have to sell as what it is not -(allowing them a fair commercial latitude). They are not of the "enterprising" class of street tradesmen. Among these are the streetsellers of stationery -such as note-paper, envelopes, pens, ink, pencils, sealing-wax, and wafers. Belonging to the same class, too, are the street-vendors of almanacs, pocket-books, memorandum and account-books. Then there are the sellers of odd numbers of periodicals and broadsheets, and those who vend either playing cards, conversation cards, stenographic cards, and (at Epsom, Ascot, &c.) racing cards. Besides these, again, there are the vendors of illustrated cards, such as those embellished with engravings of the Cyrstal Palace, Views of the Houses of Parliament, as well as the gelatine poetry cards -all of whom, with the exception of the racing-card sellers (who belong generally to the pattering tribe), partake of the usual characteristics of the street-selling class.
After these may be enumerated the vendors of old engravings out of inverted umbrellas, and the hawkers of coloured pictures in frames. Then there are the old book-stalls and barrows, and "the pinners-up," as they are termed, or sellers of old songs pinned against the wall, as well as the vendors of manuscript music. Moreover, appertaining to the same class, there are the vendors of playbills and "books of the performance" outside the theatre; and lastly, the pretended sellers of tracts -such as the Lascars and others, who use this kind of street traffic as a cloak for the more profitable trade of begging. The street-sellers of images, although strictly comprised within those who vend fine art productions in the public thoroughfares will be treated of under the head of The Street Italians, to which class they mostly belong.
OF THE FORMER AND PRESENT STREET-PATTERERS.
Of the street-patterers the running (or
flying) trader announces the contents of the paper he is offering for sale, as
he proceeds on his mission. It is usually the detail of some "barbarious
and horrible murder," or of some extraordinary occurrence -such as the
attack on Marshal Haynau - which has roused public attention; or the paper
announced as descriptive of a murder, or of some exciting event, may in reality
be some odd number of a defunct periodical. "It's astonishing," said
one patterer to me, "how few people ever complain of having been took in.
It hurts their feelings to lose a halfpenny, but it hurts
their pride too much, when they're had, to grumble in public about it." On
this head, then, I need give no further general explanation.
In times of excitement the running patterer (or "stationer," as he was and is sometimes called) has reaped the best harvest. When the Popish plot agitated England in the reign of Charles II. the "Narratives" of the design of a handful of men to assassinate a whole nation, were eagerly purchased in the streets and taverns. And this has been the case during the progress of any absorbing event subsequently. I was told by a very old gentleman, who had heard it from his grandfather, that in some of the quiet towns of the north of England, in Durham and Yorkshire, there was the greatest eagerness to purchase from the street-sellers any paper relative to the progress of the forces under Charles Edward Stuart, in 1745. This was especially the case when it became known that the "rebels" had gained possession of Carlisle, and it was uncertain what might be their route southward. About the period of the "affair of the '45," and in the autumn following the decisive battle of Culloden (in April, 1746), the "Northern Lights" were more than usually brilliant, or more than usually remarked, and a meteor or two had been seen. The street-sellers were then to be found in fairs and markets, vending wonderful accounts of these wonderful phenomena.
I have already alluded to the character of the old mountebank, and to his "pompous orations," having "as little regard to truth as to propriety." There certainly is little pompousness in the announcements of the patterers, though in their general disregard of truth they resemble those of the mountebank. The mountebank, however, addressed his audience from a stage, and made his address attractive by mixing up with it music, dancing, and tumbling; sometimes, also, equestrianism on the green of a village; and by having always the services of a merry-andrew, or clown. The nostrums of these quacks were all as unequalled for cheapness as for infallibility, and their impudence and coolness ensured success. Their practices are as well exposed in some of the Spectators of 1711-12 as the puppet-playing of Powel was good-humouredly ridiculed. One especial instance is cited, where a mountebank, announcing himself a native of Hammersmith, where he was holding forth, offered to make a present of 5s. to every brother native of Hammersmith among his audience. The mountebank then drew from a long bag a handful of little packets, each of which, he informed the spectators, was constantly sold for 5s. 6d., but that out of love to his native hamlet he would bate the odd 5s. to every inhabitant of the place. The whole assembly immediately closed with his generous offer."
There is a scene in Moncrieff's popular farce of "Rochester," where the hero personates a mountebank, which may be here cited as affording a good idea of the "pompous orations" indulged in by the street orators in days of yore:
"Silence there, and hear me, for my words are more precious than gold; I am the renowned and far-famed Doctor Paracelsus Bombastes Esculapus Galen dam Humbug von Quack, member of all the colleges under the Moon: M.D., L.M.D., F.R.S., L.L.D., A.S.S. - and all the rest of the letters in the alphabet: I am the seventh son of a seventh son -kill or cure is my motto -and I always do it; I cured the great Emperor of Nova Scotia, of a polypus, after he had been given over by all the faculty -he lay to all appearance dead; the first pill he took, he opened his eyes; the second, he raised his head; and the third, he jumped up and danced a hornpipe. I don't want to sound my own praise -blow the trumpet, Balaam (Balaam blows trumpet); but I tapped the great Cham of Tartary at a sitting, of a terrible dropsy, so that I didn't leave a drop in him! I cure the palsy, the dropsy, the lunacy, and all the sighs, without costing anybody a sigh; vertigo, pertigo, lumbago, and all the other go's are sure to go, whenever I come."
In his unscrupulousness and boldness in
street announcements, and sometimes in his humour and satire, we find the
patterer of the present day to be the mountebank of old descended from his
platform into the streets -but without his music, his clown, or his dress.
There was formerly, also, another class, differing little from the habits of that variety of patterers of the present day who "busk" it, or "work the public-houses."
"The jestours," says Mr. Strutt, in his "Sports and Pastimes of the People of England," "or, as the word is often written in the old English dialect, `gesters,' were the relaters of the gestes, that is, the actions of famous persons, whether fabulous or real; and these stories were of two kinds, the one to excite pity, and the other to move laughter, as we learn from Chaucer:
`And jestours that tellen tales, Both of wepying and of game.'
The tales of `game,' as the poet expresses himself were short jocular stories calculated to promote merriment, in which the reciters paid little respect to the claims of propriety or even of common decency. The tales of `game,' however, were much more popular than those of weeping, and probably for the very reason that ought to have operated the most powerfully for their suppression. The gestours, whose powers were chiefly employed in the hours of conviviality, finding by experience that lessons of instruction were much less seasonable at such times, than idle tales productive of mirth and laughter, accommodated their narrations to the general taste of the times, regardless of the mischiefs they occasioned by vitiating the morals of their hearers. Hence it is that the author of the `Vision of Pierce the Ploughman' calls them contemptibly `japers and juglers, and Janglers of gests.' He describes them as haunters of taverns and common ale-house, amusing the lower classes of the people with `myrth of minstrelsy and losels' tales,' (loose vulgar tales,) and calls them tale-tellers and `tutelers in ydell,' (tutors of idleness,) occasioning their auditory, `for love of tales, in tavernes to drink,' where they learned from them to jangle and to jape, instead of attending to their more serious duties.
"The japers, I apprehend, were the same as the bourdours, or rybauders, an inferior class of minstrels, and properly called jesters in the modern acceptation of the word; whose wit, like that of the merry-andrews of the present day (1806) consisted in low obscenity accompanied with ludicrous gesticulation. They sometimes, however, found admission into the houses of the opulent. Knighton, indeed, mentions one of these japers who was a favourite in the English court, and could obtain any grant from the king `a burdando,' that is, by jesting. They are well described by the poet:
`As japers and janglers, Judas' chyldren, Fayneth them fantasies, and fooles them maketh."
"It was a very common and a very favourite amusement, so late as the 16th century, to hear the recital of verses and moral speeches, learned for that purpose by a set of men who obtained their livelihood thereby, and who, without ceremony, intruded themselves, not only into taverns and other places of public resort, but also into the houses of the nobility"
The resemblance of the modern patterer to the classes above mentioned will be seen when I describe the public-house actor and reciter of the present day, as well as the standing patterer, who does not differ so much from the running patterer in the quality of his announcements, as in his requiring more time to make an impression, and being indeed a sort of lecturer needing an audience; also of the present reciters "of verses and moral speeches." But of these curious classes I shall proceed to treat separately.
OF THE HABITS, OPINIONS, MORALS, AND RELIGION OF PATTERERS GENERALLY.
In order that I might omit nothing which
will give the student of that curious phase of London life in London streets
-the condition of the patterers -a clear understanding of the subject, I
procured the following account from an educated gentleman (who has been before
alluded to in this work), and as he had been driven to live among the class he
describes, and to support himself by street-selling, his remarks have of course
all the weight due to personal experience, as well as to close observation: -
"If there is any truth in phrenology," writes the gentleman in question, "the patterers -to a man -are very large in the organ of ` selfesteem,' from which suggestion an enquiry arises, viz., whether they possess that of which they may justly pique themselves. To arrive at truth about the patterers is very difficult, and indeed the persons with whom they live are often quite in the dark about the history, or in some cases the pursuits of their lodgers.
"I think that the patterers may be divided into three classes. First, -those who were well born and brought up. Secondly, -those whose parents have been dissipated and gave them little education. Thirdly, -those who -whatever their early history -will not be or do anything but what is of an itinerant character. I shall take a glance at the first of these classes, presupposing that they were cradled in the lap of indulgence, and trained to science and virtue.
"If these people take to the streets, they become, with here and there an exception, the most reprobate and the least reclaimable. I was once the inmate of a lodging-house, in which there were at one time five University-men, three surgeons, and several sorts of broken-down clerks, or of other professional men. Their general habits were demoralised to the last degree - their oaths more horrid, extravagant, and farfetched than anything I ever heard: they were stupid in logic, but very original in obscenity. Most of them scoffed at the Bible, or perverted its passages to extenuate fraud, to justify violence, or eonstruct for themselves excuses for incontinence and imposition. It will appear strange that these educated persons, when they turn out upon the street, generally sell articles which have no connection with literature, and very little with art. The two brothers, who sell that wonder-working paste which removes grease from the outside of your collar by driving it further in, were both schoiars of Christ's Hospital. They were second Grecians, and might have gone to college; but several visits to suburban fairs, and their accompanying scenes of debauch, gave them a penchant for a vagabond life, and they will probably never relinquish it. The very tall man -there are several others - who sells razors and paste on a red pagoda-looking stall, was apprenticed to a surgeon in Colchester, with a premium of 300 guineas; and the little dark-visaged man, who sells children's money-boxes and traps to catch vermin, is the son of a late upholsterer in Bath, who was also a magistrate of that city. The poor man alluded to was a law-student, and kept two terms in Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Many similar cases might be mentioned -cases founded on real observation and experience. Some light may be thrown upon this subject by pointing out the modus operandi by which a friend of mine got imitiated into the 'art and mystery of patterism.' `I had lived,' he said, `more than a year among the tradesmen and tramps, who herd promiscuously together in low lodging-houses. One afternoon I was taking tea at the same table with a brace of patterers. They eyed me with suspicion; but, determined to know their proceedings, I launched out the only cant word I had then learned. They spoke of going to Chatham. Of course, I knew the place, and asked them, "Where do you stall to in the huey?" which, fairly translated, means, "Where do you lodge in the town?" Convinced that I was "fly," one of them said, "We drop the main toper (go off the main road) and slink into the crib (house) in the back drum (street)." After some altercation with the "mot" of the "ken" (mistress of the lodging-house) about the cleanliness of a knife or fork, my new acquaintance began to arrange "ground," &c., for the night's work. I got into their confidence by degrees; and I give below a vocabulary of their talk to each other:'
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