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[-158-] THREE P.M. - DEBENHAM AND STORR'S AUCTION-ROOMS, AND THE PANTHEON BAZAAR.
The travelled reader has visited that astonishing atelier of mosaics and
pietra dura in Florence maintained at the charges of the late Grand
Duke of Tuscany, (he has been signally kicked off thronedom, since
the first writing of these presents), and has watched with admiring
amazement the patient ingenuity with which the artisans adjust the
tiny little vitreous and metallic fragments, that, firmly imbedded in
paste, make the fruits and flowers, the birds and angels of the mosaic.
What an impossible task it is, apparently, to form the microscopic
bits into comely shapeliness, symmetrical in form and glowing with
rich colours! yet how deftly the artists accomplish their task! how the
work grows beneath their nimble hands! What astonishing memories
these maitre mosaicists must have, remembering to a pin's point where
the high lights on the petals of a rose will fall, and storing up in their
minds archives of the eyelashes of the Madonna, precedents for every [-159-] scintillation of the rays in the golden nimbus round His head ! The
mosaicists of Rome, and Florence, and Venice - though the glorious
art has well-nigh died out in the Adriatic city - are the real administrative reformers, after all. The right thing in the right place is their
unvarying motto, and they are never found putting the round men in
the square holes, or vice versa.
I have been led into this train of thought by the contemplation of the exigencies of " Twice Round the Clock." Time, my slave for once, though he has been my stern and cruel master for years and years, and at whom I mean to throw a dart when this series shall be completed - Time, who is my bond servant, to fetch and carry, to hew wood and draw water for yet a span, has culled from the wild garden of Eternity, and thrown at my feet, a heterogeneous mass of hours, minutes, and seconds, and has said with a mocking subserviency - "There, say master, there are the hours of the day and night, and their minutest subdivisions; try and paste them on your printed calendar; try and reconcile your men and women to them; try and apportion in its proper measure of time each grain of sand to the futile rivings and strivings of your conceited humanity. You have stumbled on from hour to hour since the sun was young, telling, with indifferent success, the good and bad deeds that are done in London as the relentless needle pushes round and round the dial. Here, then, is Three o'Clock in the Afternoon. Take it; see what you can make of it, and much good may it do you!" And as Time, or the vagrant thought I have embodied for the nonce, says this, he sticks his tongue into his cheek, as though he thought that three o'clock in the afternoon were rather a poser to me.
Old man with the scythe and hour-glass, I defy thee! I will admit that three o'clock post meridian, requires much deliberation and cogitation, in order to give the millions of human marionettes, of whom I hold, temporarily, the strings, their suitable employment; but it is rather from a profusion than a paucity of scenes and things germane to the hour that I am embarrassed. At three, Change is still going on, though its busy time, the acme of its excitement, is over. As the clock strikes four, the city of London is in full pant; the clerks rush up Cheapside, and dive down the wealthy narrow lanes, their bursting billbooks (secured by leather-covered chains tied round their bodies) charged with "three months after date, please pay to the order," which they cram into letter-boxes for acceptance. The private banking houses in [-160-] Lombard Street are in an orderly uproar of finance. The rattling of, shovels is incessant; office-boys cast thousands of pounds, in notes, bills, and money, to the cashier, carelessly, across the counter, paying vast sums in to their masters' accounts; and the mighty partners - in checked neckerchiefs, buff waistcoats, and creaking boots tremendous bank - partners, who are baronets, and members of Parliament, lords even - stalk back from Change, pay a farewell visit to the bank parlour, have a short but solemn confab with confidential subordinates, relative to coming transactions at time clearing-house, and then enter their carriages, and are borne to clubs, to the House of Commons, to Greenwich dinners, or, perchance, if they have a dinner-party at home, to their magnificent villas at Putney and Roehampton. What a colony of bankers dwell there! the sommités of the haute finance seem to entertain as decided a partiality for the banks of the Thames, as the stockbrokers do for Brixton and Tulse Hill. Rare lives these moneykeepers lead - scattering in the West that which they gather in the East. Graperies, pineries, conservatories, ice-houses, dinner-parties, balls, picnics; all these do they enjoy they, their comely wives and handsome daughters. They marry into the aristocracy! they have countesses and marchionesses in their list of partners. It is not so many centuries ago since the bankers were humble sellers of gold plate, dwelling in Lombard Street and the Chepe, and following the great courtiers round the quadrangle of the Exchange, intreating their lordships' honours to be allowed to keep their cash. Worthy individuals, however, are the majority of these bankers, and it is but very rarely indeed that they make ducks and drakes of their customers' moneys. They are not so very proud either, for all their splendid carriages and horses; and here, upon my word, is Baron Lionel de Rothschild tearing up Ludgate Hill in a common Hansom cab; but he, like the bad man whom Martial in an epigram declares not to be so much vicious as vice itself, is less a Banker than a Bank.
As three o'clock grows old, and the tide of business shows unmistakeable indices of an ebb at no very remote period, so far as the city is concerned, that same business is at the West-end in its extremest activity. The shops of the West Strand, Piccadilly, Oxford and Regent Streets, are thronged with customers, chiefly ladies; the roadway is encumbered with carts and carriages; and street avocations-the minor commerce of the mighty mart-are in full swing. Thick-necked and beetle-browed individuals, by courtesy called dog-fanciers, but who in [-161-] many cases might with as much propriety answer to the name of dog- stealers - forbidding-looking gentry, in coats of velveteen, with large mother-o'-pearl buttons, and waistcoats of the neat and unpretending moleskin - lurk about the kerbs of the purlieus of Regent Street and Waterloo Place (the police drive them away from the main thoroughfares), with the little "dawgs" they have to sell tucked beneath their arms, made doubly attractive by much washing with scented soap, and the further decoration of their necks with pink or blue ribbons. Here is the little snub-nosed King Charles - I hope the retroussé appearance of his nasal organ is not due to the unkind agency of a noose of whipcord - his feathery feet and tail, and his long silky ears, sweeping the clean summer pavement. Here is the Newfoundland pup, with his bullet head and clubbed caudal-appendage, winking his stupid little eyes, and needing, seemingly, an enormous amount of licking into shape. Here is the bull-dog, in his full growth, with his legs bowed, his tail inclining to the spiral, his broad chest, thin flanks, defined ribs, moist nozzle, hare lip, bloodshot eyes, protruding fang, and symmetrical patch over one eye ; or else, in a state of puppyhood, peeping from his proprietor's side-pocket, all pink and white like a morose sucking-pig become a hermit. Here is the delightful little toy English terrier, with his jet-black coat, erect neck, and tan paws; and here the genuine Skye, gray or brown, like an unravelled ball of worsted. See, too, grimacing at all who come to view, like a mulatto at a slave auction, who fancies himself good-looking, the accomplished French poodle, with his peaked nose, woolly wig, leggings, and tail band, and his horrible shaved, salmon-coloured body. He can dance; he can perform gun-drill ; he can fall motionless, as though dead, at the word of command; he can climb up a lamp-post, jump over a stick, hop on one leg, carry a basket in his mouth, and run away when he is told that a policeman is coming. You can teach him to do anything but love you. These, and good store of mongrels and half-breeds that the dealer would fain palm upon us as dogs of blood and price, frisk and fawn about his cord-trouser covered legs; but where is the toy-dog par excellence, the playful, snappish, fractious, facetious, charming, utterly useless little dog, that, a quarter of a century since, was the treasure of our dowagers and our old maids? Where is the Dutch pug? Where is that Narcissus of canine Calibanism, with his coffee-coloured coat, his tail in a ring like the blue-nosed baboon's, his crisped morsels of ears, his black muzzle, his sharp, gleaming little teeth, his intensely [-162-] red lips and tongue? Is he extinct, like the lion-dog from Malta, the property of her Majesty the Queen, and the "last of his race," whom courtly Sir Edwin Landseer drew ? Are there no more Dutch pugs? They must exist somewhere. Cunning dealers owning recherché kennels in the New Road or at Battle Bridge, or attending recondite "show clubs," held at mysterious hostelries in the vicinity of Clerkenwell, must yet have some undoubted specimens of the pug for sale. There must be burghers yet, in the fat comfortable houses at Loo by the Hague, or in the plethoric, oozy vicinage of Amsterdam - there must be Tietjens, and Tenbroecks, and van Ramms, and van Bummels, whose pride it is, amidst their store of tulip bulbs, china vases, cabinet pictures by Breughel and Ostade, lacquer-work from Japan, and spice-boxes from Java, to possess Dutch pugs in the flesh. But the creature is seen no more in London streets, and we must be content with him on Hogarth's canvases, in Linacres engravings, or modelled in china, as we see him in the curiosity shops. I have indeed seen the elephant - I mean the Dutch pug - alive and snarling, once in my life. He was led by a bright scarlet ribbon-scarlet, mind, not pink or blue-attached to his silver collar; and there must have been something in the appearance of my youthful legs (1 was but five, and they were bare, plump, and mottled) that excited his carnivorous propensities, for, long as is the lapse of time, I remember that he rushed at me like a coffee-coloured tiger. His mistress was a Duchess, the grandest, handsomest Duchess that had ever lived (of course, I except Georgina of Devonshire) since the days of that Grace of Queensberry of whom Mr. Thackeray was good enough to tell us in the " Virginians." She, my Duchess, wore a hat and feathers, diamonds, and a moustache - a downy nimbus round her mouth, like that which Mr. Philip insinuates rather than paints in his delightful Spanish girls' faces. I see her now, parading the cliff at Brighton, with her black velvet train - yes, madam, her train -held up by a page. She was the last duchess who drove down to Brighton in a coach and six. She was the last duchess who at Twelfth-night parties had a diamond ring baked in the cake which was to be distributed by lots. Before she came to her coronet, she had been a singing woman at a playhouse, had married a very foolish rich old banker, and, at his death, remarried a more foolish and very poor duke. But she was an excellent woman, and the relative to whom she left the bulk of her wealth, is one of the most charitable, as I am also afraid she is one of the most ennuyée, ladies in England. I am proud of my reminiscence. It [-163-] is not every one that has seen a Dutch pug and the Duchess of St. Albans alive.
Body of me! here am I wasting my time among the dog-fanciers- (when the name of the man in the iron mask, the authorship of "Junius," the murderer of Caspar Hauser, and the date of the laws of Menu, shall be known, it shall also be patent to all men why trafficking in dogs and horses seem necessarily connected with roguery) - here am I descanting on poodles and pug-dogs, when, with quick observant eyes, I should be noting the hundred little trades that are being driven at three o'clock in the afternoon. The feverish industry - the untiring perseverance - the bitter struggle, and all for yon scanty morsel of bread, and a few inches of space for repose at night in a fourpenny lodging-house! Follow the kerb-stone from the County Fire Office to St. Martin's Lane. See the itinerant venders of catch-'em-alive-o's, of cheap toys, of quires of writing-paper, sealing-wax and envelopes, all for the small charge of one penny; see the industrials who have walking-sticks, umbrellas, gutta-percha whips, aerated balls, locomotive engines and statuettes of Napoleon in glass phials, that make us wonder, as with flies in amber, however they, the engines and statuettes, got there; the women who have bouquets to dispose of - how many times have they been refreshed beneath the pump, this droughty day ?- the boys and girls in looped and windowed raggedness striving to sell fruit, flowers, almanacks, pencils, fusees - anything, to keep the wolf from the door. He is always at the door, that wolf - always at that yawning portal, and his name is Famine. The worst of the brute is, that he comes not alone - that he has a friend, a brother wolf with him, who hankers round the corner, and is always ready to pop in at the door at the slightest suspicion of a summons. This wolf is a full-paunched rogue, and liberal, too, of succulent, but poisoned, food to his friends. This is the thief wolf, the gallows wolf, the Calcraft wolf. Lupus carnifex. He keeps up an incessant whining baying, which, being interpreted, means, "Work no more. See how hard the life is. What's the good of working? Come and Steal." Look here, my lords and gentlemen - look here, my right honourable friends - look here, my noble captains - look here, your honours' worships - come out of your carriages, come out of your clubs, come out of your shooting-boxes in the Highlands, and your petites maisons in the Regent's Park, and look at these faded and patched creatures. I tell you that they have to rise early and go to bed late; that they have to work hours and [-164-] hours before they can turn one penny. They have never been taught; they are seldom fed, and more seldom washed ; but they don't steal. I declare that it is a wonder they do not - a marvel and a miracle they do not. They remain steadfastly honest; for, in the troubled sea of their lives, Almighty Mercy has planted a Pharos, or light-house. The night is pitchy black oft enough ; the light revolves-is for a time invisible - and the poor forlorn, tempest-torn man watches the blank horizon in all but mute despair; but the blessed gladdening gleam comes round again, as we have all seen it many a time on the ocean, and, sighing, the honest man resolutely keeps on his course.
Following the kerb-stone myself from the before-mentioned County Fire Office to St. Martin's Lane, and passing through Leicester Square - which, what with the Alhambra "Palace" and its hideous American posters, the Great Globe, and the monster cafés chantants, I begin to be rather uncertain about recognising - passing, not without some inward trembling, the stick shop at the corner of the lane, while on either side of the portal those peculiarly ugly carved clubs - the very Gog and Magog of walking-stickery - keep watch and ward, I cut dexterously through the living torrent that is flowing from Charing Cross toward St. Giles's (they were villages once, Charynge and Saint Gyles's - ha! ha!) and commence the ascent of New Street, a feat well nigh as disagreeable, if not as perilous, as that of Mont Blanc. I hate this incorrigible little thoroughfare; this New Street. It is full of bad smells, mangy little shops, obstructions, and bad characters. There is a yawning gin-palace at its south-western extremity. The odours of its eating-houses - especially of a seedy little French pension bourgeoise about half way up - are displeasing to my nostrils. The cigars vended in New Street are the worst in London, and the sweetstuff shops are mobbed - yes, mobbed - by children in torn pinafores who never have any pocket handkerchiefs. Of late days, photographers have hung out their signs and set up their lenses in New Street; and if, passing through the street, you escape being run over by a wagon or upset by an inebriated market-gardener, you run great risks of being forcibly dragged into the hole tenanted by a photographic "artist," and "focussed," willy nilly. Thoroughfares, almost inconceivably tortuous, crapulous, and infamous, debouch upon New Street. There is that Rose Street, or Rose Alley, where, if I be not wrong in my topography, John Dryden, the poet, was waylaid and cudgelled; and there is a wretched little haunt called Bedfordbury, a devious, slimy little reptile [-165-] of a place, whose tumble-down tenements and reeking courts spume forth plumps of animated rags, such as can be equalled in no London thoroughfare save Church Lane, St. Giles's. I don't think there are five windows in Bedfordbury with a whole pain of glass in them. Rags and filthy loques are hung from poles, like banners from the outward walls. There is an insolent burgher of Bedfordbury, who says I owe him certain stivers. Confound the place! its rags, its children, its red herrings, and tobacco-pipes crossed in the windows, its boulders of whitening, and its turpentine-infected bundles of firewood!
The pursuit of New Street, thus maledicted, brings me to King Street, Covent Garden, a broad, fair, well-conducted public way, against which I have no particular prejudice; for it leads up to Covent Garden Market, which I love; and it contains within its limits the Garrick Club.
Before, however, you come to the Garrick, before you come to the coffee-shop where there is that strange collection of alarming-looking portraits ; before you come to Mr. Kilpack's cigar divan and bowling-alley, you arrive at the door of an unpretending, though roomy mansion, the jambs of whose portals are furnished with flattering catalogues relative to "this day's sale," and the pavement before whose frontage is strewn with fragments of straw and shreds of carpeting. It is strange, too, if you do not see half a dozen or so burly-looking porters lounging about the premises, and a corresponding number of porter's knots, the straw stuffing bulging occasionally from rents in their sides, decorating the railings, as the pint pots do the iron barriers of the licensed victuallers. This mansion contains the great auction-room of Messrs. Debenham and Storr. Let us enter without fear. There is scarcely, I think, so interesting an exhibition in London; yet, in contradistinction to the majority of London exhibitions, there is nothing to pay.
In this monstrous amalgam of microcosms, London, a man may, if he will only take the trouble, find that certain places, streets, rooms, peculiar spots and set apart localities, are haunted by classes of people as peculiar as the localities they affect, and who are seldom to be found anywhere else. In the early forenoon, long before business hours commence, the benches of the piazza of the Royal Exchange have their peculiar occupants - lank, mystic-looking men, mostly advanced in years, and shiny in threadbare blackclothdom. They converse with one another seldom, and when they do so, it is but in furtive whispers, the cavernous mouth screened by the rugose hand, with its knotted [-166-] cordage of veins and its chalkstoned knuckles, as though the whisper were of such commercial moment that the locutor feared its instantaneous transport to the ears of Rothschild or Baring, and the consequent uprising or downfalling of stocks or corn, silk or tallow. Who are these men, these Exchange ghosts, who haunt the site of Sir Thomas Gresham's old "Burse?" Are they commission agents come to decay, bankrupt metal brokers, burnt-out, uninsured wharfingers, lame ducks of the Stock Exchange, forced even to "waddle" from the purlieus of Capel Court? There they sit day after day - their feet (lamentably covered with boots of fastidious bigness, for, alas ! the soles are warped, the sides crack, the heels are irrevocably lopsided) beating the devil's tattoo on the stone pavement, their big cotton umbrellas distilling a mouldy moisture, or a pair of faded Berlin gloves, quite gone and ruined at the fingers, lying on the bench beside them. Their battered hats oscillate on their heads through overloading with tape-tied papers, and oft-times, from the breast-pocket of their tightly-buttoned coats, they drag leathern pocketbooks, white and frayed at the edges like the seams of their own poor garments, from which pocketbooks they draw greasy documents, faded envelopes, sleezy letters, which have been folded and refolded so often that they seem in imminent danger of dropping to pieces like an over-used passport at the next display. With what an owl-like, an oracular, look of wisdom they consult these papers! What are they all about The bankruptcy of their owners thirty years ago, and the infamous behaviour of the official assignees (dead and buried years since)? their early love correspondence? their title-deeds to the estates in Ayrshire, and the large pasture lands in the Isle of Skye? Who knows? But you never see these ghostly time-waiters anywhere but on Change, and out of Change hours. Directly the legitimate business of that place of commercial re-union commences, they melt away imperceptibly, like the ghost of Hamlet's father at cock-crow, coming like shadows and so departing.
The dreadful night dens and low revelling houses of past midnight London, the only remnants left among us of the innumerable "finishes" and saloons and night-cellars of a former age, have also their peculiar male population, stamped indelibly with the mint-mark of the place, and not to be found out of it, save in the dock of the adjacent police-court. Where these ruffiani, these copper captains and cozening buzgloaks, are to be found during the day, or even up to midnight - for in the gallery even of any decent theatre they would not be admitted - [-167-] must remain a secret; perhaps, like the ghoules and afrits, the bats and dragons of fable, they haunt ruinous tombs, deserted sepulchres, churchyards sealed up long since by the Board of Health ; but so soon as two or three o'clock in the morning arrives, they are to be found wherever there are fools to be fleeced or knaves to plot with. You study their lank hair and stained splendid stocks, their rumpled jay's finery and rascal talk, their cheap canes and sham rings; but they, too, fade away with the dawn - how, no man can say, for the meanest cabman would scorn to convey them in his vehicle - and are not beheld any more till vagabondising time begins again.
"Supers," too-or theatrical supernumeraries, to give them their full title - are a decidedly distinctive and peculiar race; and though reported, and ordinarily believed, to exercise certain trades and handicrafts in the daytime, such as shoemaking, tailoring, bookbinding, and the like, my private belief is that no "super" could exist long in any atmosphere remote from behind the scenes or the vicinity of the stage-door of a theatre. Look, too, at the audience of a police court look at the pinched men who persist in attending the sittings of the Insolvent Debtors' Court in Portugal Street, or hang about the dingy tavern opposite, and who consume with furtive bites Abernethy biscuits and saveloys, half hidden in the folds of blue cotton pocket-handkerchiefs. Yes, the proverb reads aright - as many men, so many minds; and each man's mind, his idiosyncrasy, leads him to frequent a certain place till he becomes habituated to it, and cannot separate himself therefrom. There are your men who delight in witnessing surgical operations, and those who never miss going to a hanging. There is a class of people who have a morbid predilection for attending coroners' inquests, and another who insist upon going to the Derby, be the weather wet or dry, cold or hot, though they scarcely know a horse's fore from his hind legs, and have never a sixpenny bet on the field. There is a class who hang about artists' studios, knowing no more of painting than Mr. Wakley does of poetry; there are the men you meet at charity dinners, the women you meet at marriages and christenings. Again, there is a class of eccentrics, who, like the crazy Earl of Portsmouth, have an invincible penchant for funerals - black jobs, as the mad lord used to call them ; and finally, there are the people who haunt SALES BY AUCTION.
Walk into Debenham and Storr's long room, and with the exercise of a little judgment and keenness of observation, you will be enabled to [-168-]
THREE O'CLOCK P.M. : DEBENHAM AND STORR'S AUCTION ROOMS
[-169-] recognise these amateurs of auctions in a very short space of time, and
to preserve them in your memory. They very rarely bid, they yet
more rarely have anything knocked down to them; indeed, to all
appearances, the world does not seem to have used them well enough to
allow them to buy many superfluities, yet there they stand patiently,
hour after hour, catalogue in hand - they are always possessed of catalogues -
ticking off the amount of the bids, against the numbers
of the articles which they never buy; you should remark, too, and
admire, the shrewd, knowing, anxious scrutiny which they extend to
the articles which are hung up round the room, or which are held up
for inspection by the porter, as the sale proceeds. They seem actually
interested in the cut of a Macintosh, in the slides of a telescope, in the
triggers of a double-barrelled gun; they are the first to arrive at, the
last to leave the Sale ; and then, in the close of the afternoon, they
retire, with long-lingering footsteps, as though-like the gentleman
for whom a judge of the land and twelve honest men had settled that a
little hanging was about the best thing that could be done, and who
so often fitted the halter, took leave, and traversed the cart - they were
"loath to depart," which I am willing to believe they are. I imagine
to myself, sometimes, that these men are cynical philosophers, who
delight in the contemplation of the mutabilities of property; who
smile grimly-within their own cynical selves - and hug themselves at
the thought, not only that flesh is grass, that sceptre and crown must
tumble down, and kings eat humble pie, but that the richest and the
rarest gems and gew-gaws, the costliest garments, the bravest panoplies,
must come at last to the auctioneer's hammer.
Perhaps you would like to know what they are selling by auction at Debenham and Storr's this sultry July afternoon. I should very much like to know what they are not selling. Stay, to be just, I do not hear any landed estates or advowsons disposed of: you must go to the Auction Mart in Bartholomew Lane if you wish to be present at such Simoniacal ceremonies; and, furthermore, horses, as you know, are in general sold at Tattersall's, and carriages at Aldridge's repository in St. Martin's Lane. There are even auctioneers, I am told, in the neighbourhood of Wapping and Ratcliffe Highway, who bring lions and tigers, elephants and ourangoutangs, to the hammer ; and, finally, I must acquit the respectable firm, whose thronged sale-room I have edged myself into, of selling by auction such trifling matters as human flesh and blood.
[-170-] But from a chest of drawers to a box of dominoes, from a fur coat to a silver-mounted horsewhip, from a carpenter's plane to a case of lancets, from a coil of rope to a silk neck-tie, from a dragoon's helmet to a lady's thimble, there seems scarcely an article of furniture or wearing apparel, of use or superfluity, that is not to be found here. Glance behind that counter running down the room, and somewhat similar to the narrow platform in a French douane, where the luggage is deposited to be searched. The porters move about among a heterogeneous assemblage of conflicting articles of merchandise; the clerk who holds aloft the gun or the clock, or the sheaf of umbrellas, or whatever other article is purchased, hands it to the purchaser, when it is knocked down to him, with a confidential wink, if he knows and trusts that customer, with a brief reminder of "money" and an outstretched palm, signifying that a deposit in cash must be forthwith paid in case such customer be not known to him, or, what will sometimes happen, better known than trusted. And high above all is the auctioneer in his pulpit, with his poised hammer, the Jupiter Tonans of the sale.
And such a sale! Before I have been in the room a quarter of an hour, I witness the knocking down of at least twenty dress coats, and as many waistcoats and pairs of trousers, several dozen shirts, a box of silk handkerchiefs, two ditto of gloves, a roll of best Saxony broadcloth, a piece of Genoa velvet, six satin dresses, twelve boxes of artificial flowers, a couple of opera glasses, a set of ivory chessmen, eighteen pairs of patent leather boots - not made up - several complete sets of carpenters' tools, nine church services, richly bound, a carved oak cabinet, a French bedstead, a pair of china vases, a set of harness, three boxes of water colours, eight pairs of stays, a telescope, a box of cigars, an enamel miniature of Napoleon, a theodolite, a bronze candelabrum, a pocket compass, twenty-four double-barrelled fowling-pieces (I quote verbatim and seriatim from the catalogue), a parrot cage, three dozen knives and forks, two plated toast-racks, a Turkey carpet, a fishing-rod, winch, and eelspear, by Cheek, a tent by Benjamin Edgington, two dozen sheepskin coats, warranted from the Crimea, a silver-mounted dressing-case, one of eau-de-Cologne, an uncut copy of Macaulay's "History of England," a cornet-a-piston, a buhl inkstand, an eight-day clock, two pairs of silver grape-scissors, a poonah-painted screen, a papier-mache work-box, an assortment of variegated floss-silk, seven German flutes, an ivory casket, two girandoles for wax candles, an ebony fan, five flat-irons, and an accordion.
[-171-] There! I am fairly out of breath. The mere perusal of the catalogue is sufficient to give one vertigo. But whence, you will ask, the extraordinary incongruity of the articles sold? We know when a gentleman "going abroad" or "relinquishing housekeeping," and who is never - Oh dear, no ! - in any manner of pecuniary difficulty, honours Messrs. So-and-So with instructions to sell his effects, what we may look forward to when the carpets are hung from the windows with the sale-bills pinned thereon, and the auctioneer establishes a temporary rostrum on the dining-room table. We know that after the "elegant modern furniture" will come the "choice collection of pictures, statuary, and virtu," then the "carefully-selected library of handsomely-bound books," and then the "judiciously assorted stock of first-class wines." But what gentleman, what tradesman, what collector of curiosities and odds and ends even, could have brought together such an astounding jumble of conflicting wares as are gathered round us to-day! The solution of the enigma lies in a nutshell, and shall forthwith be made manifest to you. The articles sold this afternoon are all pawnbrokers' pledges unredeemed, and this is one of Messrs. Debenham and Storr's quarterly sales, which the law hath given, and which the court awards. Your watch, which your temporary pecuniary embarrassments may have led you to deposit with a confiding relative thirteen months since, which your renewed pecuniary embarrassments have precluded you from redeeming, and which your own unpardonable carelessness has made you even forget to pay the interest upon, may be among that dangling bundle of time-pieces which the clerk holds up, and on which the auctioneer is, at this very moment, descanting.
The eloquence of the quarterly sale does not by any means resemble the flowery Demosthenic style first brought into fashion among auctioneers by the distinguished George Robins. Here are no ponds to be magnified by rhetoric into fairy lakes, no little hills to be amplified into towering crags, no shaven lawns to be described as "boundless expanses of verdure." The auctioneer is calm, equable, concise, but firm, and the sums realised by the sale of the articles are reasonable - so reasonable, in fact, that they frequently barely cover loan and interest due to the pawnbroker. But that is his risk; and such is the power of competition in trade, that a London pawnbroker will often lend more upon an article than it will sell for. In the provinces the brethren of the three golden balls are more cautious; and in Dublin they are shamefully mean in their advances to their impoverished clients; but it [-172-] is in Paris par excellence, that the great national pawning establishment, the Mont de Piété, manifests the most decided intention, by the microscopic nature of its loans, of taking care of itself.
Much noise, much dust, and an appreciable amount of confusion, must necessarily, my patient friend and companion, exist at every auction, though it must be admitted, to the credit of Messrs. Debenham and Storr, that their proceedings are always marked by as much regularity and decorum as the nature of their transactions will admit of. For auctioneering is the Bohemianism of commerce; and whether it be the purser of a man-of-war selling the effects of a deceased Jack Tar before the mainmast; an impromptu George Robins, with a very large beard, knocking down red flannel shirts, jack-boots, and gold rocking-cradles at the Ballarat diggings; my former friends, the fish salesmen, brandishing their account-books over their piscine merchandise in Billingsgate ; or the courtly Robins, in propria persona, eloquently bepuffing the Right Hon. the Earl of Cockletops's broad acres, which he has been honoured with instructions to sell, in consequence of the insolvency of his Lordship, there always enters into the deed of selling something wild, something picturesque, and something exciting. It is strange, too, how soon the virtues of auctioneering are apt to degenerate into vices; and how thin a barrier exists between its legitimate commercial business and an imbroglio of roguish chaffering.
So is it on the turf. There, on the velvet verdant lawn before the Grand Stand at Epsom, sits, or stands, or reclines, my Lord the immaculate owner of Podasokus or Cynosure. Betting-book in hand, he condescends to take the odds from Mr. Jones, who may have been a journeyman carpenter ten years since, but whose bare word is good now for a hundred thousand pounds. The peer and the plebeian bet together amicably; they respect their parole agreements; they would disdain to admit the suspicion of a fraud in their transactions; they are honourable men both, though they might, I acknowledge, do something better for a livelihood than gamble on the speed of a racehorse yet, all honourable men as they are on the turf, within two feet of them, outside the Grand Stand railing, are some hundreds of turfites depending for their existence upon exactly the same means-betting, but who cheat, and lie, and cozen, and defraud, and swagger about in an impudent boastfulness of roguery, till the most liberal-minded member of the non-cheating community must regret, almost, that the [-173-] old despotic punishments are gone out of vogue, and that a few of these rogues' ears cannot be nailed to the winning post, a few of them tied up to the railings of the Grand Stand and soundly swinged, and a few more placed in neat pillories, or commodious pairs of stocks beneath the judge's chair. Like the honourable betters inside, and the thievish touts outside, electioneering is apt to suffer by the same disreputable companionships; and within a few stones' throw of Garraway's, there may be pullulating an infamous little watch-box of dishonesty, where a thick-lipped, sham Caucasian auctioneer, is endeavouring, with the aid of confederates as knavish as he, to palm off worthless lamps, lacquered tea-trays, teapots of tin sophisticated to the semblance of silver, and rubbishing dressing-cases, upon unwary country visitors, or even upon Cockneys, who, were they to live to the age of Methuselah, would never be thoroughly initiated into the ways of the town.
And now stand on one side: the auction company - it is nearly four o'clock - stream forth from Dehenham's. I spoke of the amateurs of auctions - the people who persist in attending them, but who rarely appear to become purchasers of anything. There is not much difficulty, however, in discerning who the people are who are really bidding and really buying. here they come, bagged and bundled, and gesticulating and jabbering. They are Jews, my dear. They are the hook-nosed, ripe-lipped, bright-eyed, cork-screw ringleted, and generally oleaginous-looking children of Israel. They cluster, while in the sale-room, round the auctioneer and his clerk, who (the last) seems to have an intimate acquaintance with them all. They nod and chuckle, and utter Hebrew ejaculations, and seem, all the while that the sale is proceeding, to be in an overboiling state of tremour and nervous excitement. A sale by auction is to them as good-better-than a play; so is everything on this earth, in, about, or in the remotest connection with which, there is something that can be bought, or something that can be sold, or something that can be higgled for. If ever you attend auctions, my friend and reader, I should advise you not to bid against the Jews. If it seem to you that any one of the Caucasian Arabs has set his mind upon the acquisition of an article, let him bid for it and buy it, a'goodness name ; for if you meddle with the matter, even by the augmentation of a sixpence, he will so bid and bid against you, that he will bid you, at last, out of your hat, and out of your coat, and out of your skin, and out of your bones; even as the cunning man [-174-] of Pyquag, that Diedrich Knickerbocker tells of, questioned Anthony van Corlear, the trumpeter, out of his fast-trotting nag, and sent him home mounted on a vile calico mare.
There are some here, who are dissatisfied with the bargains they have made, and are squabbling in a lively manner on the foot pavement. Mark, I entreat you, among them, those dusky-faced females, mostly given to the loose and flabby order of corpulency, who are shabbily dressed, yet with a certain tendency to the wearing of lace bonnets, and faded cashmeres, and who have moreover a decided penchant for golden bangles and earrings, and rings with large stones that do not shine. You cannot make up your mind at once that they are Jewesses, because they have a conflicting facial resemblance to Gipsies. During the sale they have been reclining, not to say squatting, on the broad goods counter in shabby state, like second-hand sultanas, making bids in deep contralto voices, or mysteriously transmitting them through the intermediary of glib Jew boys with curly heads. These commercial females must be reckoned among the million and one mysteries of London. I imagine them to be the ladies dwelling in remote suburbs or genteel neighbourhoods gone to decay, who, in the columns of the "Times," are always expressing a desire to purchase second-hand wearing apparel, lace, jewellery, and books, for the purpose of exportation to Australia, and for which they are always willing to pay ready money, even to the extent of remitting post-office orders in immediate return for parcels from the country. They, too, I think, must keep the mysterious "ladies' wardrobe shops" known to the Abigails in aristocratic families, and which are, a little bird has told me, not altogether unknown to the patrician occupants of the noblest mansions of the realm. Thus, there seems to be a perpetual round of mutation and transmutation going on among clothes. The natural theory of reproduction here seems carried to its most elaborate condition of practice; and, bidding adieu to Debenham and Storr's, the chaffering Jews, and the dusky ladies' wardrobe women, my mind wanders to Rag Fair, thence to the emporium of Messrs. Moses and Son, and thence, again, to Stultze, Nugee, and Buckmaster, and I end in a maze of cogitation upon the "Sartor Resartus" of Thomas Carlyle.
Come, let us struggle into the open, and inhale the flower-laden breeze that is wafted from Covent Garden market. There, we are in King Street; and, I declare, there is my aunt Sophy's brougham, with my identical aunt and my cousin Polly in the interior of the [-175-] vehicle. They are bound, I will go bail, either to the Soho Bazaar or to the Pantheon, in Oxford Street. Jump up behind; fear no warning cry of whip behind addressed to the coachman by malevolent street boy, disappointed in his expectations of an eleemosynary ride. Remember, we are invisible; and as for the dignity of the thing, the starched, buckramed, and watchspringed-hooped skirts of my female relatives take up at least three and a half out of the four seats in the brougham: the remaining moiety of a place being occupied, as of right, by my aunt's terrier, Jip, who threatens vengeance with all his teeth on any one who should venture to dispossess him.
I told you so. They have passed Charles Street, Soho, whisked by the Princess's Theatre, and alighted beneath the portico of the Pantheon. The affable beadle (whose whiskers, gold-laced hat-band, livery buttons, and general deportment, are as superior to those the property of the beadle of the Burlington Arcade, as General Washington to General Walker) receives the ladies with a bow. He is equalled, not surpassed, in polished courtesy, by his brother beadle at the conservatory entrance in Great Marlborough Street, who bows ladies out with a dignified politeness worthy of the best days of Richelieu and Lauzun.
So into the Pantheon, turning and turning about in that Hampton-Court-like maze of stalls, laden with pretty gimcracks, toys, and papier maché trifles for the table, dolls and childrens' dresses, wax flowers and Berlin and crotchet work, prints, and polkas, and women's ware of all sorts. Up into the gallery, where you may look down upon a perfect little ant-hill of lively industry. And, if you choose, into that queer picture-gallery, where works by twentieth-rate masters have been quietly accumulating smoke and dust for some score years, and where the only conspicuous work is poor shiftless Haydon's big nightmare picture of "Lazarus." They have lately added, I believe, a photographic establishment to the picture-gallery of the Pantheon; but I am doubtful as to its success. It requires a considerable amount of moral courage to ascend the stairs, or to enter the picture department at all. The place seems haunted by the ghosts of bygone pictorial mediocrities. It is the lazar-house of painting-an hospital of incurables in art.
I am not aware whether any of my present generation of readers - people are born, and live and die, so fast now-a-days- remember a friend of mine who dwelt in an out-of-the-way place called Tattyboy's Rents, and whom I introduced to the public by the name of [-176-] Fripanelli. He was a music-master-very old, and poor, and ugly; almost a dwarf in stature, wrinkled, decrepit ; he wore a short cloak, and the boys called him "Jocko;" indeed, he was not at all unlike a baboon in general appearance. But Fripanelli in his time - a very long time ago - though now brought to living in a back slum, and teaching the daughters of chandlers' shopkeepers, had been a famous professor of the tuneful art. He knew old Gaddi - Queen Caroline's Gaddi - well: he had been judged worthy to preside at the pianoforte at Velluti's musical classes; and he had even written the music to a ballet, which was performed with great eclat at the King's Theatre, and in which the celebrated Gambalonga had danced. To me, Frip. had an additional claim to be regarded with something like curiosity mingled with reverence; for he had positively been, in the halcyon days of youth, the manager of an Italian opera company, the place of whose performance was - wherever do you think ? - the Pantheon, in Oxford Street. Now, as I stand in the lively bazaar, with the prattling little children, and the fine flounced ladies, I try to conjure back the days when Fripanelli was young, and when the Pantheon was a theatre. From here in the vestibule - where the ornamented flower-pots, and the garden-chairs of complicated construction, and the busts with smoky cheeks and noses, and marvellously clubbed heads of hair, have their locus standi - from here sprang the grand staircase. There was no Haydon's picture of Lazarus for our grandfathers and grandmothers in hoops and powder - you must remember that Fripanelli looks at least two hundred and fifty years of age, and is currently reported to be ninety - to stare at as they trotted up the degrees. Yonder, in the haven of bygone mediocrities in the picture-gallery, may have been the crush-room; the rotunda at the back of the bazaar, where now the vases of wax-flowers glimmer in a perpetual twilight, must have been the green-room ; the conservatories were dressing-rooms, and the stage door was undoubtedly in Great Marlborough Street. How I should have liked to witness the old pigtail operas and ballets performed at the Pantheon, when Fripanelli and the century were young. "Iphigenia in Aulis," "Ariadne in Naxos," "Orestes and Pylades," "Daphnis and Chloë, "Bellerophon," "Eurydice," the "Clemency of Titus," the "Misfortunes of Darius," and the " Cruelty of Nero "-these were the lively subjects which our grandfathers and grandmothers delighted to have set to Italian music. Plenty of good heavy choruses, tinkle-tankling instrumental music, plaintive ditties, with accompaniments on the fife [-177-]
THREE O'CLOCK P.M. : THE PANTHEON BAZAAR
[-178-] and the fiddle, and lengthy screeds of droning recitatives, like the
Latin accidence arranged for the bagpipes. Those were the days of
the unhappy beings of whom Velluti and Ambrogetti were among the
last whom a refined barbarity converted into soprani. The Italians
have not many things to thank the first Napoleon for; yet to his
sway in Italy humanity owes the abolition of that atrocity. They dig
up some of the worthy old pigtail operas now, and perform them on
our modern lyric stage. A select audience of fogies, whose sympathies are all with the past, comes to listen, and goes to sleep; and
"Iphigenia in Aulis," or "Ariadne in Naxos,! is consigned to a
Capuletian tomb of limbo. Days of good taste are these, my masters,
when aristocratic ears are tickled by the melodious naughtinesses of
the great Casino-and-Codliver-oil opera, the "Traviata;" by the
Coburg melodrama, mingled with Mrs. Ratcliffe's novel, and finished
with extracts from Guicciardini's "Annals "-called the "Trovatore,"
[-who was it fried that child, or broiled him, or ate him: Azucena,
Leonora, the Conde di Luna, Mrs. Harris, all or any of them?-] or by
the sparkling improbabilities of "Rigoletto," with its charming
Greenacre episode of the murdered lady in the sack. We manage
those things so much better now-a-days. And the ballets, too; do
you know positively that in the pig-tail opera times, the lady dancers
wore skirts of decent length? do you know that Guimard danced in a
hoop that reached nearly to her ankles, and that Noblet wore a corsage that ended just below her armpits, and a skirt that descended
far below her knees? Do you know, even, that Taglioni, and Ellsler,
and Duvernay, the great terpsichorean marvels of twenty years since,
disdained the meretricious allurements of this refined and polished
age, that calls garters "elastic bands," and winces at a grant of
twenty pounds a year for providing living models for the students of
the Dublin Academy ?-that strains at these gnats, and swallows the
camel of a ballet at the opera! Oh, stupid old pig-tail days, when
we could take our wives and sisters to hear operas and see ballets,
without burning with shame to think that we should take, or they
suffer themselves to be taken, to witness a shameless exhibition, fit
only for the blasé patricians of the Lower Empire!
In the memoirs of old Nollekens, the sculptor, you will find that he was an assiduous frequenter of the Italian Opera at the Pantheon, to which he had a life admission - it did not last his life though, I am afraid - and that he sat in the pit with his sword by his side, and a worsted comforter round his neck. This must surely, however, have [-179-] been before the days of Fripanelli's management. It is hard to say, indeed, for the Pantheon has been so many things by turns and nothing long. Once, if I mistake not, there was wont to be an exhibition of wax-work here; once, too, it was famous as a place for masquerades of the most fashionable, or, at least, of the costliest description. Here Charles Fox and Lord Maldon, with dominoes thrown over their laced clothes, and masks pressed upon their powdered perukes, reeled in from the chocolate houses and the E. O. tables; here, so the legends say, the bad young prince, who afterwards became a worse old king, the worthless and witless wearer of the Prince of Wales's three ostrich plumes - here George III.'s eldest born met the beautiful Perdita. He ill-treated her, of course, afterwards, as he ill-treated his wives (I say wives, in the plural number, do you understand?) and his mistresses, his father, his friends, and the people he was called upon to govern. He lied to, and betrayed, them all; and he was Dei gratia, and died in the odour of civil list sanctity, and they have erected a statue to his disreputable memory in Trafalgar Square.
Soft, whisper low, tread softly: the Pantheon was once a church! Yes, there were pews in the area of the pit, and free-sittings in the galleries. There is a singing, buffooning place in Paradise Street, Liverpool, where they dance the Lancashire clog-hornpipe, yell comic songs on donkeys' backs, perform acrobatic feats, juggle, strum the banjo, clank the bones, belabour the tambourine, stand on their heads, and walk on the ceiling. This place is called the Colosseum, but it was once a chapel. The pews, with very slight alteration, yet exist, and on the ledges where the hymn-books were wont to lie, stand now the bottles of Dublin stout and ginger-pop. I do not like these violent revolutions, these galvanic contrasts. They are hideous, they are unnatural, they are appalling. To return to the Pantheon - I still follow the legends - after it had been a masquerading temple and a waxwork show, and then a church, it was changed once more into a theatre; but mark what followed. One Saturday night the company were playing "Don Giovanni," and midnight had struck before the awful tramp of the Commendatore was heard re-echoing through the marble corridors of the libertine's palace, and the last tube of maccaroni stuck in Leporello's throat; but when, the finale being at its approach, and to cap the climax of the catastrophe, twelve demons in flame-coloured garments, and bearing torches flaming with resin, rose from trap-doors to seize the guilty Don, the manager, who had been watching the scene from the wing, rushed on the stage with a screech of horror, [-180-] crying out, " There are thirteen! There are thirteen!" And so there were! A solitary demon, with flaming eyes, a tail of incredible length, and bearing two torches, appeared, no man knew whence - he hadn't come up a trap to the foot-lights (the audience screaming and fainting by scores), danced a ghastly pas seul, cut six, and disappeared in a blaze of livid-coloured fire, which had not been provided in the usual iron pans by the property man.* (* I am afraid that this legend must be regarded as what the "Times" newspaper called, in reference to old Peter Thellusson's delicate sense of honour, in providing for a possible restitution of property left in his charge by the ancient noblesse of France-a "modern myth." An analogous story, relative to the appearance of a real demon on the stage, in addition to those forming part of the dramatis personae, is related in connection with Edward Alleyn, the actor; and the supernatural visitation, it is said, caused him to quit the stage as a profession, and found Dulwich College.) Whether he took Don Giovanni or the manager away with him the legend does not state; but it is certain that the latter went bankrupt a month afterwards, of course as a punishment for his sins; whereupon the lease of the Pantheon was purchased by a sober-minded speculator, who forthwith converted it into a bazaar, as which it has greatly thriven ever since.
I am very fond of buying toys for children; but I don't take them to the Pantheon for that purpose. I fear the price of the merchandise which the pretty and well-conducted female assistants at the stalls have to sell. I have been given to understand that incredible prices are charged for India-rubber balls, and that the quotations for drums, hares-and-tabors, and Noah's arks, are ruinously high. I have yet another reason for not patronising the Pantheon as a toy mart. It frequently happens that I feel slightly misanthropic and vicious in my toy-dealing excursions, and that my juvenile friends have sudden fits of naughtiness, and turn out to be anything but agreeable companions. Woe betide the ill-conditioned youngsters who cause me to assume the function of a vicarious "Bogey! " But I serve them out, I promise you. To use a transpontine colloquialism, ungenteel but expressive, I "warm them." Not by blows or pinches - I disdain that; not by taking them into shops where they sell unwholesome pastry or deleterious sweetstuff - I have no wish to impair their infantile powers of digestion; though both processes, I have been given to understand, are sometimes resorted to by child-quellers ; but I "warm them" by taking them into toy shops and buying them ugly toys. Aha! my young friends! who bought you the old gentleman impaled on the area railing while in the act of knocking at his own street door, and who [-181-] emitted a dismal groan when the pedestal on which he stood was compressed? Who purchased the monkey with the horrible visage, that ran up the stick? who the dreadful crawling serpent, made of the sluggishly elastic substance-a compound of glue and treacle, I believe - of which printers' rollers are made, and that unwound himself in a shudderingly, reptile, life-like manner on the parlour carpet? Who brought you the cold, flabby toad, and the centipede at the end of the India-rubber string, with his heavy chalk body and quivering limbs, the great-grandfather of all the irreverent daddy-long-legs who wouldn't say their prayers, and were taken, in consequence, by those elongated appendages, and thrown, with more or less violence, downstairs? This is about the best method I know for punishing a refractory child. There is another, an almost infallible and Rarey-like process of taming juvenile termagants in the absence of their parents; but it entails a slight modicum of physical cruelty. Say that you are left alone with a child, too young to reason with, and who won't behave himself. - Don't slap him: it is brutal and cowardly on your part; besides, it leaves marks, and you don't want to make an enemy of his mother. Don't make faces at him: it may spoil the beauty of your own countenance, and may frighten him out of his little wits. Shake him. Shake him till he becomes an animated whirligig. He isn't appalled; he is only bewildered. He doesn't know what on earth the unaccustomed motion means: then wink at him, and tell him that you will do it again if he doesn't behave himself; and it is perfectly wonderful to see to what complete submission you can reduce him. It is true that a grown person must be a callous brute to try such measures with a defenceless infant; but let that pass - we can't get on in the world without a little ruffianism. I have heard, even, that in the matrimonial state a good shaking will from time to time - but soft!
The young ladies who serve behind the counters at the Pantheon, are much given to working the spiky cobweb collars in which our present belles delight, and which are worked in guipure, or crotchet, or application, or by some other process with an astounding name of which I am profoundly ignorant. To their lady customers they behave with great affability. The gentlemen, I am pleased, though mortified to say, they treat with condescension mingled with a reserved dignity that awes the boldest spirit. It is somewhat irritating, too, to know that they can be as merry as grigs among themselves when they so choose; and it is a bending of the brows, a clinching of the fists, and [-182-] a biting of the lips matter, to see them flitting from stall to stall, romping with one another in a pastoral manner, and retailing merry anecdotes, which may possibly be remarks on your personal appearance. Yet I have known a man with large whiskers (he went to the bad, and to Australia, and is now either high in the government or in the police over there) to whom a young lady assistant in the Pantheon, on a very wet day, once lent a silk umbrella. But he was always a bold man, and had a winning way with the sex.
It is time, if you will excuse my mentioning it, that we should quit this labyrinth of avenues between triple-laden stalls, all crowded with ladies and children, whose voluminous jupons - the very babes and sucklings wear crinoline now - render locomotion inconvenient, not to say perilous. Pass the refreshment counter, where they sell the arrowroot cakes, which I never saw anywhere else, and let us enter the conservatory - a winter garden built long ere Crystal Palaces or Jardins d'Hiver were dreamt of, and which to me is as pleasant a lounge as any that exists in London: a murmuring fountain, spangled with gold and silver fish, and the usual number of "winking bubbles beading at the brim;" and good store of beautiful exotic plants and myriad-hued flowers. The place is but a niche, a narrow passage, with a glass roof and a circle at the end, where the fountain is, like the bulb of a thermometer; but to me it is very delightful. It is good to see fair young faces, fair young forms, in rainbow, rustling garments, flitting in and about the plants and flowers, the fountain and the gold fish. It is good to reflect how much happiness and innocence there must be among these pretty creatures. The world for them is yet a place for flirting, and shopping, and dancing, and making themselves as fair to view as they and the looking-glass and the milliner can manage. The world is as yet a delightful Pantheon, full of flowers - real, wax, and artificial, and all pleasant - sandal-wood fans, petticoats with worked edges, silk stockings, satin shoes, white kid gloves, varnished broughams, pet dogs, vanille ices, boxes at the opera, tickets for the Crystal Palace, tortoise-shell card-cases, enamelled visiting-cards, and scented pink invitation notes, with " On dansera" in the left-hand bottom corners, muslin slips, bandoline, perfumes, ballads and polkas with chromolithographed frontispieces, and the dear delightful new novels from Mudie's with uncut leaves, and mother-o'-pearl paper knives with coral spring handles to cut them withal. They have kind mammas and indulgent port-wine papas, who bring them home such nice things from the city. They sit under such darling clergymen, with curls in the [-183-] centre of their dear white foreheads; they hare soft beds, succulent dinners, and softly-pacing hacks, on which to ride in coquettish-looking habits and cavalier hats. John the footman is always anxious to run errands for them; and their additional male acquaintance is composed of charming creatures with white neckcloths, patent leather boots, irreproachable whiskers, and mellow tenor voices. Oh! the delightful world; sure, it is the meilleur des mondes possible, as Voltaire's Doctor Pangloss maintained. It is true that they were at school once, and suffered all the tyranny of the "calisthenic" exercises and the Francis mark, or were, at home, mewed up under the supervision of a stern governess, who set them excruciating tasks; but, oh! that was such a long time since, they were so young then- it was ever such a long time ago. You silly little creatures! it was only the day before yesterday, and the day after to-morrow-. But "gather ye rosebuds while ye may," and regard not old Time as he is a-flying. For my part, I will mingle no drop of cynicism in the jewelled cup of your young enjoyment; and I hope that the day after to-morrow, with unkind husbands and ungrateful children, with physic-bottles and aches and pains, amid debts and duns, may never come to you, and that your pretty shadows may never be less.
You see that I am in an unusual state of mansuetude, and feel for the nonce inclined to say, " Bless everybody "- the Pope, the Pretender, the Pantheon, the pretty girls, and the sailors' pig-tails, though they re now cut off. Every sufferer from moral podagra has such fits of benevolence between the twinges of his gout. But the fit, alas! is evanescent; and I have not been ten minutes in the conservatory of the Pantheon before I begin to grumble again. I really must shut my ears in self- defence against the atrocious, the intolerable screeching of the parrots, the parroquettes, the cockatoos, and the macaws, who are permitted to hang on by their wicked claws and the skin of their malicious beaks to the perches round the fountain. The twittering of the smaller birds is irritating enough to the nervously afflicted; but the parrots ! ugh! that piercing, long-continued, hoarse shriek-it is like a signal of insane communication given by a patient at Hanwell to a brother lunatic at Colney Hatch. The worst of these abominable birds is, that they cannot or will not talk, and confine themselves to an inarticulate gabble. However, I suppose the fairest rose must have its thorns, and the milkiest white hind its patch of darker colour; so it is incumbent on us, in all charity, to condone the ornithological nuisance which is the main drawback to a very [-184-] pretty and cheerful place of resort. Only, I should like to know the people who buy the parrots, in order that I might avoid them.
As we entered by Oxford Street, with its embeadled colonnade, it becomes our bounden duty to quit the building by means of that portal which I assumed to have been in days gone-by the stage-door of the pig-tail opera-house, and which gives egress into Great Marlborough Street. I can't stand the parrots; so, leaving my aunt (I wish she would lend me a hundred pounds), and my cousin (I wish she would lend me a kiss, and more sincerely do I wish that either of them existed in the flesh, or elsewhere but in my turbid imagination); leaving these shadowy relatives genteelly bargaining (they have already purchased a papier mache inkstand and a coral wafer-stamp), I slip through the conservatory's crystal precincts, inhale a farewell gust of flower-breeze, pass through a waiting-room, where some tired ladies are resting till their carriages draw up, and am genteelly bowed out by affable beadle No. 2.
And now, whither away? Shall I cross the road, and commence the first of a series of six lessons in dancing from Miss Leonora Geary? Shall I visit the harp and pianoforte establishment of Messrs. Erard, and try the tone of an "upright grand?" Shall I he me to Marlborough Street police-court, and see how Mr. Bingham or Mr. Hardwick may be getting on? No: I think I will take a walk down Regent Street (one cannot too frequently perambulate that delightful thoroughfare at the height of the season), turn off by Vigo Lane, and take a stroll - a five minutes' stroll, mind, for I have an appointment close to St. George's Hospital, and Mr. Decimus Burton's triumphal arch, as soon after four as possible - down the Burlington Arcade.
I remember once refecting myself at a public dinner - the Tenth Anniversary Festival of the Hospital for Elephantiasis, I think it was - when my next neighbour to the right (to the left was a rural dean) was a gentleman in a white waistcoat that loomed large like the lateen sail of a Palermian felucca, and whose convivial countenance was of the exact hue and texture of the inside of an over-ripe fig. He took remarkably good care of himself during dinner time, had twice spring soup, and twice salmon and cucumber, led the waiters a terrible life, and gathered quite a little grove of bottles of choice wine round him. I am bound to say that he was not selfish or solitary in his enjoyment, for he pressed a peculiar Sautern upon me, and an especial Chateau Lafitte (the landlord must have known and respected him), with a silver label hanging to its bottle neck, like the badge of a Hansom [-185-] cabman. He also recommended gosling to me, as being the very thing to take after lamb, in a rich husky voice, that did one good to hear. At the conclusion of the repast, after we had dabbled with the rosewater in the silver-gilt shield, which it is the custom to send round, and which nobody knows exactly what to do with - I always feel inclined to upset it, for the purpose of eliciting an expression of public feeling, and clearing the atmosphere generally; and when the business of the evening, as the absurd system of indiscriminate toast-giving is termed, had commenced, and the professional ladies and gentlemen were singing something about the " brave and bearded barley" in execrable time and tune, of course in the most preposterously irrelevant connection with the health just drank - either the Army and Navy, or the two Houses of Parliament - my neighbour with the ripe fig countenance turned to me, and wiping his moist lips with his serviette, whispered these remarkable words: " Sir, a public dinner is the sublimation of an assemblage of superfluities." He said no more during the evening, filled up his name, however, for a handsome amount in the subscription-list (his name was announced amid thunders of applause by the secretary, but I really forget whether he was a general or a wholesale grocer), and went away in anything but a superfluous state of sobriety. But his words sank deep into my mind, and they bring me at once to the Burlington Arcade.
Which is to me another sublimate of superfluities: a booth transplanted bodily from Vanity Fair. I don't think there is a shop in its enceinte where they sell anything that we could not do without. Boots and shoes are sold there, to be sure, but what boots and shoes? varnished and embroidered and be-ribboned figments, fitter for a fancy ball or a lady's chamber, there to caper to the .jingling melody of a lute, than for serious pedestrianism. Paintings and lithographs for gilded boudoirs, collars for puppy dogs, and silver-mounted whips for spaniels, pocket handkerchiefs, in which an islet of cambric is surrounded by an ocean of lace, embroidered garters and braces, fillagree flounces, firework-looking bonnets, scent bottles, sword- knots, brocaded sashes, worked dressing-gowns, inlaid snuff-boxes, and falbalas of all descriptions; these form the stock-in-trade of the merchants who have here their tiny boutiques. There are hairdressers' shops too; but I will be bound that their proprietors would not be content with trimming a too luxuriant head of hair. They would insist upon curling, oiling, scenting, and generally tittivating you. They would want you to buy amandine for your hands, kalydor [-186-] for your hair, dentifrice, odonto, vinaigre de toilette, hair-brushes with ivory backs, and tortoiseshell pocket-combs with mirrors appended to them. They would insist that you could not live without pommade Honqroise and fizatures for the moustaches, or Frangipani for the pocket-handkerchief. I have very few ambitions, but one is to become the proprietor of a house in the Burlington Arcade, and forthwith to open a chandler's shop in the very midst of its vanities and its whim-whams. The reproof, I trust, would be as stern, though I am afraid it would have as little effect, as that of the uncompromising patriots of the reign of terror, who planted the parterres of the Tuileries gardens with potatoes. To the end of time, I perpend, we shall have this hankering after superfluities, and little princesses will ask their governesses why the people need starve for want of bread, when there are such nice Bath buns in the confectioners' shop windows.
But the clock of St. James's warns me that I am due at Hyde Park Corner, and passing by yet another beadle, I emerge into Piccadilly.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]