Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Round London : Down East and Up West, by Montagu Williams Q.C., 1894


Exit aristocracy, enter plutocracy—Old estates in new hands—A gambling establishment a hundred years ago — Mordecai Morris — His earliest recollections — His marriage — His death in harness — His will—A worthy successor—Keenness in pursuit of riches—Change of name by deed-poll—Herbert Maurice, Esq.—Cannot look the gentle­man—His son not a success at Eton—Peculiar in his dress.
   Go back some fifty years, and ascertain who then resided in Eaton Square, Belgrave Square, Grosvenor Square, and Park Lane. Compare the names with those of the present residents, and you will be considerably astonished at the change that time has brought about. A few of the old aristocracy remain, but the majority have been eliminated, and their places taken by nouveaux riches, Jews, and plutocrats. And this is not true. merely of the fashionable quarter of London alluded to. Country seats and estates—especially those situated within an easy distance from the metropolis—have also changed hands in, a great many instances. In point of fact, England is rapidly becoming a plutocracy; and the reason for this is not very far to seek.
   In a number of cases the aristocracy has become very much poorer. The depression in the value of land has had a good deal to do with this; while the reckless extravagance, gambling, and luxurious habits of men who, at an early age, came into their inheritance, have brought practical ruin on those who succeeded them. During the melting process these individuals have not enjoyed life, and have done but little if any good. The principal persons to be benefited by them have been usurers, bookmakers, stockbrokers, and professional gamblers. Mortgage after mortgage has been executed, entails have been cut off, absolute sales have been effected—and the end of it all [-116-] has been that ancient estates and old family properties have passed into new hands. Who have become possessed of them? Those who have made fortunes with great rapidity, by specula­tion or otherwise, in the City or in manufacturing districts, in England or the colonies.
   The object of this paper is to sketch one of these fortunate individuals — to describe his general habits, his family sur­roundings, and the efforts he has put forth to obtain a position in society.
   I must, in the first place, go back a generation or two in the family of my subject.
   Towards the end of the last century, in one of the principal thoroughfares of the West End, stood a house of somewhat dingy exterior, and of an appearance calculated to arouse the curiosity of any passer-by who happened to be ignorant of what, day by day—or, rather, night by night—was passing within its walls. During the daytime the blinds were drawn down, the doors were closed, and the whole building presented an appearance most funereal. At midnight, and for an hour or two before and after, a great change was apparent. The whole house was full of light and animation; carriages were constantly arriving; and men-servants in gorgeous liveries foregathered at and about the doorway. The house was a gambling establish­ment, and the visitors were the fashionable young bloods of the period.
   Gaming-houses were permitted in those days, and this was par excellence the first in all London. Here for years fortunes were won and lost, and the place was responsible for much human misery. Lives had here been rendered intolerable, and ruin of the most rapid and remorseless description had been sown broadcast.
   Next door to this pandemonium was a shop displaying the glittering stock of a West End jeweller. As you entered from the Street you found yourself in a narrow passage, with the door of the shop on the right and a staircase at the further end leading up to the first floor. On the wall of the staircase, painted in large gilt letters, was the name “Mordecai Morris.”
   Mordecai was a very remarkable man. For years he had pursued the calling of a money-lender and bill discounter. He had a keen eye to business, as he had shown by pitching upon these particular premises. But he had not been content with merely planting himself next door to the gaming-house. He had entered into an arrangement with the proprietor thereof [-117-] whereby, for a certain consideration, he was permitted to occupy ~ seat in one of the corridors of that establishment. The corridor led directly into the room where play was carried on. There he was to be seen transacting business night after night all the year round.
   Mordecai, so it was said, was a foreign Jew; but it may be doubted whether he himself had the remotest idea what part of the world he had originally hailed from. As a boy he had re­ceived little, if any, education. His earliest recollections were of the lowest part of the East End of London, where, during the week, he did odd jobs for his co-religionists. On Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, he picked up a few coppers by blacking the boots of the inhabitants of Petticoat Lane and its vicinity, who tarried for the purpose on their way to the synagogue.
   The shoe-black rose in the world by leaps and bounds. He married above him, and as a comparatively young man was left a widower with two sons and three daughters. After the death of his wife he resided in a remote street in Bloomsbury. He was an excellent father, and he had been a good husband. He. had no friends, and said he did not want any. I should add that he was a strict observer of all the rites and ceremonies of his ancient religion.
   Mordecai lived and prospered next door to the gaming-­house for a long spell of years. The late hours and the strain of business, however, told upon him at last, and one morning his old clerk entered the office to find him seated at his desk— his head fallen on his chest and a bunch of bank-notes in his right hand—cold and dead.
   Upon his will being read, it was found that he had not left all his money to his family, but a good portion of it to various Jewish institutions. To his two sons he had bequeathed fifty thousand pounds apiece, and to each of his daughters a suns sufficient to make them more than comfortable for life. The elder son did not long survive his father; he died in less than a year, leaving all his money to his brother.
   The latter inherited his father’s business qualities. Already he had employed his capital to good purpose. He had put a considerable portion of it into some colliery property in the north of England, which had turned out a veritable El Dorado. Fortune showered favours on him as years went on, and indeed he used laughingly to say that whenever he went out the sun was sure to shine. He put out his money here, there, and everywhere, and always with the same result—everything he [-118-] touched turned to gold. So prosperous had his collieries become, and so many thousand hands did they employ, that a town grew up around his property. Yet so keen was he in the pursuit of riches that he frequently travelled all night from the north of England, so as to be early at his broker’s in the City on the following morning. In fact, wherever there was money to be made he did not allow himself a moment’s rest. In due time he died, leaving behind him, besides four daughters, one son, to whom he bequeathed the bulk of his enormous fortune.
   The young man, by deed-poll, obtained Her Majesty’s permission henceforth to assume the name of Maurice in lieu of Morris. Thus he was known to the world as Herbert Maurice, Esq., of Maurice Town, Lancashire; of Broadstone Hall, Northamptonshire; and of —, Belgrave Square, London.
   Let us pass over a number of years, and make his acquaint­ance as a man of forty five, with an income of some eighty thousand pounds per annum.
   As a young man he had been a light-hearted, genial, and fairly generous fellow; but the acquisition of his enormous wealth changed all that. He exhibits twice as much chest and shirt-front as any ordinary person, and, in fact, is as puffed out as the toad in the well-known fable. The poor fellow is really too large for anything but elastic clothing. Early in life he married the only daughter of a large manufacturer, who, by reason of his having been several times mayor of his native town, had received at the hands of Her Majesty the honour of knighthood. At his death Sir Jacob left the whole of his property to his daughter.
   Mr. Herbert Maurice is short, slightly stout, and has bright red hair. In dress he is showy and loud of colour, and, though his garments are turned out by the very best clothes artist in London, he never seems altogether at his ease in them. Mr. Maurice rides the best cobs and horses, and, during the season, is to be seen every morning in the Park on horseback. Though his get-up in the saddle is of the most sporting description, and similar to that of all the fashionable young men of the day, there is always something outré about it—either his yellow riding-boots come up higher, or are of a brighter hue than is usual, or the cords that he wears are of a more shiny material than those of other frequenters of the Row. In a word, there is always something about his dress to cause the casual passer-[-119-] by to single him out from among the mounted crowd. He seldom or never walks. His brougham is the smartest fn London, and the same may be said of all his carriages. Their number is great, for each member of the family has his or her own private equipage. The Maurices’ carriages, which are to be seen day by day driving about the West End, bear, in rather large form, the crest of a palm-leaf underneath the motto “Virtute “—armorial bearings of course adopted since the passing of the Disabilities Act.
   Mrs. Maurice is not unlike her husband, save that she is very fine and large. She is fair, with prominent features, and a profusion of hair which originally, I believe, was brown, but which by some process has been changed to an extraordinary kind of chestnut.
   There are three children—two girls and one boy. The latter is just of age, while one of his sisters is eighteen and the other sixteen. The son and heir is shorter than his father. He is thinner, but his hair is of even a brighter red. The lad has been to Eton. His father thought it the correct thing to send him there, and so perhaps it was. But Gerald was any­thing but a success at this school of schools, he was neither a “wet bob” nor a “dry bob”; was no good at cricket; hated the river; never took to fives, football, or hockey; and at the request of his tutor, was removed by his father earlier than had been intended.
   On arriving at man’s estate Gerald became a member of one or two second-rate clubs. He smokes an enormous number of cigarettes, and passes a great portion of his time at the billiard-table. He is very peculiar in his dress, and has apparently correctly studied a picture gallery containing por­traits of old veterans of a hundred or two hundred years ago.
   He wears collars that reach half-way up Isis cheek, a black satin stock, a gorgeous pin, a tight-fitting frock coat, and trousers that cling so closely to his thin legs as to suggest difficulties in the way of getting them on, and still greater difficulties in the way of getting them off. He has been brought up to no particular business; his health is not good; he is extremely irritable; and, to those who put up with it, purse-proud to such a degree that I really believe his size is the only thing that protects him from utter annihilation, lie is not given to saying very much, but a remark he is very fond of making at the Rockingham Club, of which he is a constant habitué, is [-120-] “Hang it all, I think I ought to know a gentleman when I see one.”
   The girls, Bessie and Jessie, are buxom and extremely self. assertive. When perched in the magnificent barouche, vis-a-vis to their mamma, they seem to say to passers-by: “Now, my friends, be good enough to look at this and say what you think of it.”

[-nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.-]