Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Twice Round the Clock, or The Hours of the Day and Night in London, by George Augustus Sala, 1859    

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[-v-] PREFACE.


    HAD I not fifty other valid reasons - did I not feel myself impelled to such a course by the long years of affectionate intercourse which have cast sunshine on that highway of life, of which the shadier side of the road has been apportioned to me, I should still, my dear Augustus, dedicate this book to you. I could show, I hope, my affection and esteem in other ways; but to address to you the Epistle Dedicatory of "Twice Round the Clock" is only your due, in justice and in courtesy. Civility is not so common a quality among the Eminent British Authors of the day, and mutual admiration is not so plentifully displayed by our Fieldings and Smolletts of 1859, that we middling and middle-class ink-spillers can afford to throw away a chance of saying a kind or civil thing to one another in the right way and in the right place. Do you, therefore, say something neat and complimentary about me in the preface to your next book; and I only trust that the task will confer as sincere a pleasure on you as it confers on me at this moment.
    But I might still, I must admit, admire you very much, without that admiration giving you a Right to the Dedication of a Book relating exclusively to London Life and London Manners in the nineteenth century. Herein, however, rests, I think, your claim: That you are the author of a capital book called "Paved with Gold," replete with [-vi-] the finest and shrewdest observation drawn from the scenes we have both delighted to survey, to study, and to describe, and of which book, although the basis was romantic fiction, the numerous episodes were picturesque but eminently faithful photographs of fact. I should have liked, myself, to tell the story of a prize fight, of a ratting match, or of a boy's low lodging-house, in my own way, and in these pages; but I shrank from the attempt after your graphic narratives in "Paved with Gold." And, again, have you not been for years the fellow-labourer of your brother Henry, in those deeply-tinted but unalterably-veracious studies of London Life, of which we have the results in "Labour and the Poor" and in the "Great World of London ?" Of how many prisons, workhouses, factories, work-rooms, have you not told the tale? of how many dramas of misery and poverty have you not been the chronicler? Let us bow to the great ones of letters, and, reading their books with a hearty, honest admiration, confess that the capacity to produce such master-pieces is not given to us; but let us, on our own parts, put in a modest claim to the recognition and approval of the public. Please remember the reporters. Please not to forget the bone-grubbers. Fling a pennyworth of praise to the excavators and night-watchmen who have at least industriously laboured to collect materials wherefrom better painters may execute glowing tableaux of London Life. At least, we have toiled to bring together our tale of bricks, that by the hand of genius they may be erected some day into a Pyramid. At least, we have endeavoured to our utmost to describe the London of our day as we have seen it, and as we know it; and, in the words of the judicious Master Hooker - of whose works, my Augustus, I am afraid you are not a very sedulous student-we have worked early and late on London, and have done our best to paint the infinitely-varied characteristics of its streets and its population, "Tho' for no other cause, yet for this, that Posteritie may know we have not looselie, thro' silence, permitted thinges to pass away as in a dreame; there shall be for men's information extant thus much concerning the present state of "- London.
    So you see, my dear friend, that I have dedicated my work to you; and that, bon gré, mal gré, you have been saddled with the dignity of its Patron. I might have addressed you in heroic verse, and with [-vii-] your name in capitals; and, in the manner of Mr. Alexander Pope, bidden you:-

    "Awake, my Mayhew: leave all meaner things
    To low ambition and the pride of kings.

    I believe your present ambition extends only to few-acre farming and the rearing of poultry, and I might well exhort you to return to your literary pursuits, and to leave the Dorkings and Cochin Chinas alone. But I refrain. Am I to insult my Patron with advice? Do I expect any reward for my dedication? Will your Lordship send me a handful of broad-pieces for my flattery's sake by the hands of your gentleman's gentleman? Will you put me down for the next vacancy as a Commissioner of Hackney Coaches, or the next reversion for a snug sine-cure connected with the Virginia Plantations or the Leeward Islands? Will your Lordship invite me to dinner at your country-seat, and place me between Lady Betty and the domestic chaplain? May I write rhyming epitaphs for her ladyship's pug-dog, untimely deceased from excess of (ream and chicken? Or will you speak to Mr. Secretary in my behalf, lest that last paper of mine against Ministers in "Mist's Weekly Journal" should draw down on me the ex-officio wrath of Mr. Attorney-General, and cause my ears to be nailed to the pillory? Can I ever hope to crack a bottle in your Lordship's society at Button's, or to see your Lordship's coach-and-six before my lodgings in Little Britain? Let us be thankful, rather, that the species of literary patronage at which I have hinted exists no longer, and that an Author has no need to toady his Patron in order to make him his friend. For what more in cordiality and kind-fellowship I could say, you will, I am sure, give me credit. When friendship is paraded too much in public, its entire sincerity may be open to doubt. I am afraid that Orestes, so affectionate on the stage, has often declined in the green-room to lend Pylades sixpencc; and I am given to understand, that Damon has often come down from the platform, where he has been saying such flourishing fine things about Pythias, and in private life has spoken somewhat harshly of that worth.
    You will observe that, with the economy which we should all strive to inculcate in an age of Financial Reform, I have made these remarks to serve two ends. You are to take them, if you please,[-viii-] as a Dedication. The public will be good enough to accept them as a Preface. But as the dedicatory has hitherto disproportionately exceeded the prefatory matter, a few words on my part are due to that great body-corporate of Patrons whom some delight to call the "many-headed monster;" some the "million;" some the fickle, ungrateful, and exigent - and some the generous, forbearing, and discerning British Public. 
    The papers I have now collected into a volume under the title of "Twice Round the Clock, or the Hours of the Day and Night in London," were originally published in the pages of the "Welcome Guest," a weekly periodical whose first and surprising success must be mainly ascribed to the taste and spirit of its original proprietor, Mr. Henry Vizetelly. I confess that I thought as little of "Twice Round the Clock" in the earlier hours of its publication as the critics of the Saturday Review - who, because I contributed for six years to another periodical whose conductor they hold in hatred, have been pleased to pursue me with an acharnement quite exciting to experience - may think of it, now. I looked upon the articles as mere ephemeral essays, of a description of which I had thrown off hundreds during a desultory, albeit industrious, literary career. But I found ere long that I had committed myself to a task whose items were to form an Entirety in the end; that I had begun the first act of a Drama which imperatively demanded working out to its catastrophe. I grew more interested in the thing; I took more pains; I felt myself spurred to accuracy by the conscientious zeal of the admirable artist, Mr. William M' Connell, whose graphic and truthful designs embellished my often halting text. I found, to my great surprise, that the scenes and characters I had endeavoured to embody were awakening feelings of curiosity and interest among the many thousand readers of the journal to which I contributed. The work, such as it is, was in the outset not very deliberately planned. I can only regret now, when it is terminated, that the details I have sometimes only glanced at were not more elaborately and completely carried out.
    It would be a sorry piece of vanity on my part to imagine that the conception of the History of a Day and Night in London is original. [-ix-] I will tell you how I came to think of the scheme of "Twice Round the Clock." Four years ago, in Paris, my then Master in literature, Mr. Charles Dickens, lent me a little thin octavo volume, which, I believe, had been presented to him by another Master of the craft, Mr. Thackeray, entitled - but I will transcribe the title-page in full.

Being a Critical Account of what is Transacted by People of almost all Religions, Nations, Circumstances, and Sizes of Understanding, in the 
In a true Description of a
As it is usually spent within the Bills of Mortality, calculated for the twenty-first of June.
Let Fancy guess the rest.-Buckingham.

    The date of publication is not given; but internal evidence proves the Opuscule to have been written during the latter part of the reign of George the Second; and in the copy I now possess, and which I bought at a "rarity" price, at a sale where it was ignorantly labelled among the "facetiae" -it is the saddest book, perhaps, that ever was written - in my copy, which is bound up among some rascally pamphlets, there is written on the fly-leaf the date 1759. Just one hundred years ago, you see. The work is anonymous; but in a manuscript table of contents to the collection of miscellanies of which it forms part, I find Written "By Tom Legge." The epigraph says that it "is printed for the author, and is to be sold by T. Legg, at the Parrot, Green Arbour Court, in the Little Old Bailey." Was the authorship mere guess-work on the part of the owner of the book, or was "Tom Legge" really the writer of "Low Life," and, if so, who was Tom Legge? Mr. Peter Cunningham, or a contributor to "Notes and Queries," may be able to inform us. I have been thus particular, for a reason that this thin octavo is one of the minutest, the most graphic-and while in parts coarse as a scene from the "Rake's Progress," the [-x-] most pathetic, picture of London life a century since that has been written. There are passages in it irresistibly reminding one of Goldsmith; but the offensive and gratuitous coarseness in the next page destroys that theory. Our Oliver was pure. But for the dedicatory epistle to the great painter prefixed, and which is merely a screed of fulsome flattery, I could take an affidavit that "Low Life" was written by William Hogarth. And why not, granting even the fulsome dedication? Hogarth could have more easily written this calendar of Town Life than the "Analysis of Beauty ;" and the sturdy grandiloquent little painter was vain enough to hare employed some hack to write the prefatory epistle, if, in a work of satire, he had chosen to assume the anonymous. Perhaps, after all, the book was written by some clever, observant, deboshed man out of Grub Street, who had been wallowing in the weary London trough for years, and had eliminated at last some pearls which the other swine were too piggish to discern. There, however, is " Low Life." If you want to know what London was really like in 1759, you should study it by aught and study it by day; and then you mar go with redoubled zest to your Fielding, Smollett, and Richardson, as one, after a rigorous grind at his Greek verbs, may go to his Euripides, refreshed. From this thin little octavo I need not say I borrowed the notion of "Twice Round the Clock." I chose a week-day instead of a Sunday, partly for the sake of variety, partly because Sunday in London has become so decorous as to be simply dull, and many of the hours would have been utterly devoid of interest. I brooded fitfully over the scheme for many months. At first I proposed to take my stand (in imagination) at King Charles's Statue, Chafing Cross, and describe the Life revolving round me during the twenty-four hours; but I should have trenched upon sameness by confinement to singularity ; and I chose at last all London as the theme of description- 

        "A mighty maze, but not without a plan."

    As a literary performance, this book must take its chance; and I fear that the chance will not be a very favourable one. Flippant, pretentious, superficial and yet arrogant of knowledge ; verbose without being eloquent; crabbed without being quaint; redundant without [-xi-] being copious in illustration; full of paradoxes not extenuated by originality; and of jocular expressions not relieved by humour - the style in which these pages are written, combines the worst characteristics of the comic writers who have been the "guides, philosophers and friends" of a whole school of quasi youthful authors in this era. I have reviewed too many would-be comic books in my time, not to be able to pounce on the unsuccessful attempts at humour in "Twice Round the Clock;" I have sufficient admiration and respect for the genuine models of literary rigour and elegance extant, not to feel occasionally disgusted with myself when I have found the most serious topics discussed with a grotesque grimace the while. It is a had sign of the age-this turning of " cart-wheels" by the side of a hearse, this throwing of somersaults over grave-stones. The style we write in is popular now; hut a few years, I hope, will see a re-action, when a literary man must be either clown or undertaker, and grinning through a horse-collar will not be tolerated in the case of a mountebank otherwise attired in a shroud. Meanwhile, I cannot accuse myself of pandering to a depraved taste. I neither follow nor lead it. I cannot write otherwise than I do write. The leopard cannot change his spots. Born in England, I am neither by parentage nor education an Englishman; and in my childhood I browsed on a salad of languages, which I would willingly exchange now for a plain English lettuce or potato. Better to feed on hips and haws than on gangrened green-gages and mouldy pine-apples. I read Sterne and Charles Lamb, Burton and Tom Brown, Scarron and Brantôme, Boccaccio and Pigault-le-Brun, instead of Mrs. Barbauld. and the Stories from the Spelling-book. I was pitchforked into a French college before I had been through Pinnock in English; and I declare that to this day I do not know one rule out of five in Lindley Murray's grammar. I can spell decently, because I can draw; and the power (not the knowledge) in spelling correctly is concurrent with the capacity for expressing the images before us more or less graphically and symmetrically. It isn't how a word ought to be spelt it is how it looks on paper, that decides the speller. I began to look upon the quaint side of things almost as soon as I could see things at all; for I was alone and Blind for a long time in childhood. I had so much to [-xii-] whimper about, poor miserable object, that I began to grin and chuckle at the things I saw, so soon as good Doctor Curée, the homoeopathist, gave me back my eyes. It is too late to mend now. While I am yet babbling, I feel that I have nearly said my say. This book, as a Book, will go, and be forgotten ; but it will, years hence, acquire comparative value when disinterred from the "two- penny-box" at a bookstall. Old Directories, Road Books, Court Guides. Gazetteers, of half a century since, are worth something now. They are as the straw that enters into the composition of new bricks or hooks. Let us bide our time, then, my Augustus, humbly but cheerfully. You may hare better fortune. You write novels and tales: and the chronicles of Love never die. But if in the year 1959, some historian of the state of manners in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, points an allusion in a foot note by a reference to an old book called "Twice Round the Clock," and which professes to be a series of essays on the manners and customs of the Londoners in 1859, that reference will be quite enough of reward for your friend. Macaulay quotes broadsides and Grub Street ballads. Carlyle does not disdain to put the obscurest of North German pamphleteers into the witness-box; albeit he often dismisses him with a cuff and a kick. At all events, we may be quoted some of these days, dear Gus, even if we are kicked into the bargain.


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