Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Unsentimental Journeys; or Byways of the Modern Babylon, by James Greenwood, 1867


   FAR be it from me to give utterance to a single word that may be construed into a justification of drunkenness. To my eyes no sight is more deplorable than that of a gin-wrecked man or woman,-a hideous, blear-eyed wretch, soaked and sodden, the breath of whose body is a pestilence, and the clammy touch of whose palsied hand is a thing to loathe; who cumbers the face of the earth as an unweighted human carcass is sometimes seen cumbering the face of the living ocean-an ugly, shameful drift, tattered and penniless, too vile for shark's food, though the fish be of the rapacious bottle-nosed species, whose lurking-place is behind a pewter-covered bar, and whose maw, as a rule, is not set against offal. If there is anything more deplorable, it is the fact that these human beacons, visibly consuming in the liquid fire that fills and torments them, are inefficient to warn off the reckless voyager, who, out of selfishness or despair, or, as has happened many a thousand times, simple, goodnatured weakness and a yearning for jolly-good-fellowship, launches on that enchanted sea beneath whose surface, so gay and sparkling, lurks blackness, and death, and such horrible shapes as are never seen but by men whose heads are shaven and whose arms are confined in strait-jackets, lest, in their terrible fright, they should lay murderous hands on themselves to escape therefrom. The honest man who is at the pains to set up buoys and landmarks for the salvation of these reckless ones-nay, who devotes his life to the business of piloting such endangered craft into safe haven, and that without hope or expectation of "salvage," deserves the gratitude of his fellow-men as a hero of high degree, for such he is. Happily, there are many such amongst us; and well would it be for them, as for us all, if their army were strong enough to occupy the field to the exclusion of mistaken meddlers and priggish pretenders, who mistake water on the brain for the irresistible pressure of a "mission," impelling them to run a muck against all vats and beer barrels. Burning with teapot valour, these doughty ones open shop in all quarters of the town, not so much for the purpose of plucking brands from the burning, as of rendering sticks uninflammable by an abundant saturation in a variety of slops spouted from a platform in the shape of speechifying, or purveyed in cups and mugs, to grown sticks, male and female, and to mere twigs of twelve and fourteen, at a price that leaves a decent profit for the purchase of glorification medals.
   Pewkers' Hall, in our neighbourhood, is one of these anti-tippling camps. Its founder and secretary, manager and treasurer, is the Rev. Dapple Mookow, a minister of the Alack-a-day Saints persuasion, and the proprietor of the patent movable corrugated-zinc chapel, a little way down the road. Pewkers' Hall is not a building of imposing appearance; indeed, it does not appear at all until you have penetrated an alley diverging from the high street, and which is overhung by a notice-board, inscribed "Pewkers' Hall at the bottom! " Its style of architecture is of the Rebuke-to-Vanity order, and, exteriorly, the hall is not unlike a watchhouse, being plain brick and single-storied, with no other window than a skylight in the roof, and a plain, unpanelled door with a latch, and painted lead-colour, while upon the door and the wall in its immediate vicinity are stuck many printed placards and written notifications relating to the Pewker interest, past, present, or to come. The Pewkers muster strong on Saturday nights (that being the night on which their enemies the drunkards take the field in greatest force); and it was on a recent Saturday night that, happening to walk that way, I turned into the hall to see what was going on.
   Enrolled Pewkers-such was my first discovery-were admitted free; but, not being in the enjoyment of that privilege, an entrance-fee of one penny was demanded of me at the door; this slight obstacle overcome, however, I was as free to enter as a Pewker born. The business of the evening had not yet commenced, so I had time to look about me.
   The hall was not so large as it seemed from the outside; nevertheless, it was of fair size, being, to the best of my guessing, about fifty feet wide by thirty deep from the street door to the platform, on which was mounted a table and an armchair; and on the table, to my utter astonishment, there was neatly and handily arranged two long pipes, a paper of tobacco, and the sort of wooden hammer that is seen in the hands of the ordinary cheap concert-room chairman. The place was as clean as a soup kitchen. The walls, nay, the very beams overhead, were whitewashed; and the floor, and the tables, and the forms were as meekly clean as soap and scrubbing-brush could make them. Under the tables were earthern spittoons, spotless as dinner plates, and filled with white deal sawdust. In the centre of the room was a gas stove, brilliant as a well-blacked boot, within which primly twinkled a ring of sedate and well-regulated gas-jets. Everywhere the hand of the charwoman -not the ordinary gin-drinking slut, but the abstaining and conscientious charwoman - was visible; and the contrast of Pewkers' Hall to the tavern parlour, with its seductive rubbed mahogany, and its artfully arranged ledges and nooks, its great coal fire, and its delusive snugness and coziness, generally rendered complete. Pictorial art had been called in for the decoration of the walls. There were George Cruikshank's "Bottle" plates, and his equally effective " Drunkard's Children." Had these been all, it would have been well enough; indeed, Pewker or anti-Pewker, it would have been hard to find more eloquent and appropriate wall-hanging for such a place. But it was not all by a frightful deal.
   There were pictures-dozens of them-the subjects of which appeared to be judiciously chosen with a view of affecting at once the mind and the stomach of the beholder. There were anatomical pictures, representing the liver of the drunkard, as well as his various intestinal ducts and canals during the last stage of gin rot. There was an elaborate lilac and crimson drawing of the drunkard's brain as it appeared during an attack of delirium tremens. There were serio-comic pictures of drunkenness-one of a man, brandy-nosed and hideously helpless, with the upper part of his skull sawn off by fiends, while swarms of tiny imps, with horns and tails, clambered about him, rifling him completely. One sturdy devil was perched on the inebriated one's shoulders, and with a sort of coal scoop dug out the drunkard's brain, handing it down in bucketfuls to the clambering imps. Some of the imps, however, were otherwise engaged; they wriggled in and out of the drunkard's pockets, and stole his money, and his watch, and his spectacles, and his pocket-comb. In the background of the picture stood, amicably posed, the father of lies and deceit (in full uniform and with his tail-tuft arranged as a trident), a publican, and a madhouse-keeper, holding in one extended hand a strait-jacket and in the other several hundredweight of chains and manacles. The brain-bearing imps brought their buckets to the madhouse-keeper; the pickpockets brought their booty to the publican and poured it into his capacious fob; while the devil stood smilingly looking on, calmly confident of the hulk when the wreckers had done their worst with it. There were a dozen other pictures, all of the same school, and containing, along with the representative of drunkenness, at least one horned and tailed devil, and imps, and hell-flames, and toads, and fire-breathing scorpions and poison-snakes. It was quite a relief to turn from them and listen to the homely tinkle of spoons and teacups, and to sniff the grateful aroma of mocha that now came steaming in from the open kitchendoor in the passage by the side of the platform.
   While I was examining the pictures the company were coming in, so that when I now looked round, the hall was tolerably full. The majority of those present were sad and meek looking young men, in whom, as was evident at a glance, the faculty for getting drunk was constitutionally wanting-a fact which detracted considerably from their claim to be considered heroes of self-denial in the matter of spirits and malt liquors. There were a few middle-aged men, and the remainder was made up of boys of fourteen or sixteen, who carried their heads defiantly, and whose loins were evidently girded very tight indeed, for a brush with the demon Alcohol, should he dare venture to assail them. A tall woman, with a high-necked frock and the sternest aspect, came round for orders, and presently brought them, fifteen pints, at least, on a big tea-tray, and which she carried with an ease which doubtless acted as a caution to any youthful Pewker disposed to offer her the least atom of impudence. Seeing that coffee was to be had as well as tea, I ordered a cup of it; and, as several gentlemen were smoking, I smoked as well. Just as I had " lit up," and made myself as comfortable as one may on a ten-inch form without a back, in came the chairman. To my great surprise, it was the Rev. Dapple Mookow himself. It was not surprising that the patron, and secretary, and treasurer should take the chair; but that he should take a public pipe of birdseye as well! This he did, however, jovially acknowledging the plaudits of the auditory by waving the flaming splint with which he ignited his tobacco. The person with the high-necked gown brought him a cup of something-a common cup, blue and brotherly-out of which he sipped, and then faced about and rapped the table for silence.
   "Well, and how are we all ?" inquired Mr. Mookow, in a motherly tone; " safe and sound, I hope, as when last we met. Eh, is it so ? Has any brother to tell of the Devil's tempting him ?"
   Nobody answered, though, to judge from the visage of a lantern-jawed youth of about fifteen, who sat in the row before mine, the odour of brimstone was in his nostrils, and he strongly suspected Satan of having designs against him. However, as it was a statement of facts and not of suspicions that Mr. Mookow asked for, he merely gasped significantly and held his peace. A general and joyful clapping of hands ensued on the tacit understanding that the old man of sin had tampered with no Pewker since the previous Wednesday. After this Mr. Mookow delivered a longish address on the advantages of "total abstinence" and the frightful results of beer-drinking, which altogether might well have served as text to the blazing pictures on the wall; and I experienced much relief when, after bringing both his fists to the table with a tremendous bang, he consigned the drunkard's soul to everlasting torment, wiped his perspiring brow with his handkerchief, and said, in the blandest of voices-
   "And now, after business, let us seek pleasure. Let us show the loathsome drunkard, as we have shown him before, that we can be merry as well as wise, that we can bandy the jest of abstinence, and laugh the temperate laugh, and sing the soul-enlivening song, with as loud a voice and as hearty as he, hiccuppy with strong drink, drivels forth his blasphemous legends in praise of blood-poison-in praise of brain-rot-in praise of a shaven head and a madman's rattling chain ! Brothers, we will have a song. What shall it be ? "
   "Fill up the tea-urn!" "Coffee is my darling!"
   "The grog-blossomed nose ! " These and several other strange and by myself never-before-heard song-titles were bawled out in different parts of the room. " Fill up the tea-urn " was, however, decidedly in the majority; and, teacup in hand, the Rev. Mr. Mookow proceeded to deliver himself of that stirring teetotal ditty, to the tune of "Pour out the Rhine wine ":-

   Fill up the tea-urn ! let it brim!
   We'll have no stint in measure;
   In the bubbling flood let the congou swim,
   And set it on the hob to draw at leisure.
   For there's nought can cheer the heart that's low
   Like a steaming cup of the good congou.
   Like a steam-ing cup
   Like a steam-ing cup
   Like a steam-ing cup
   O-o-o-f the good con-gou.
   Pour out the cheering nut-brown stream,
   With a hand that's firm and steady !
   And an eye that's bright as a glad sunbeam,
   In the cup that's standing milked and sugared ready.
   Just try it once, and you'll find it so-
   A drink divine is the good congou.
   A drink divine, &c.
   Spare not the tea-urn! fill again !
   Nor fear to quaff its brewing.
   It brings no pain, like the drunkard's drain,
   Nor rags, nor madness, poverty and ruin.
   Then trumpet its fame where'er you go,
   And friendship pledge in the good congou.
   And friendship pledge, &c.

   This stave, which Mr. Mookow sang very well, was deservedly applauded; and the company "friendship pledged" in the lauded beverage until nothing but grounds remained in every cup, and some little time was spent in replenishing. Order at length restored, Master Shiddlecot (the lantern-jawed one already alluded to) was called on for a song; a call to which he responded with considerable alacrity, and commenced a stave which, from its length and other causes, it is undesirable to give here in its entirety. One verse will serve :

   Our tea! our tea! our wholesome tea;
   What a cheering sight is a cup of tea,
   A cup-a cup of tea,
   When it's up to the mark and perfectly sound,
   And sweetened with sugar that's not over brown'd,
   A drop of new milk, and the stir of a spoon,
   Completes it-the total abstainer's boon.
   Away with your gin, rum, and ale, and give me
   The cup that's delightful-a beautiful cup of tea!

   "Bravo! Mr. Shiddlecot; what shall we have the pleasure of saying after that very excellent song ?" said the chairman.
   "Well, sir, I don't know any toasts or sentiments," replied Mr. Shiddlecot. "But if you are agreeable, I'll substitute a conundrum. Why is a drunkard pulling a cat's tail like Mr. Jones's teacup ?"
   One prolonged giggle at the not unreasonably embarrassed Mr. Jones, and then a dead stillness.
   "Come, we give it up, Mr. Shiddlecot," laughed the chairman. " It's one of your posers, I suppose."
   "You give it up ?" replied Mr. Shiddlecot, glancing proudly triumphant round him. "Then, gentlemen, the reason why a drunkard pulling a cat's tail is like Mr. Jones's teacup is, because he's tea's in it! " Pewkers' Hall was not a handsome edifice, but to be capable of standing, without the slightest tremor, the tremendous explosion of laughter that followed Mr. Shiddlecot's explanation spoke volumes for its great strength. Several riddles followed, but not one of them was fit to hold a candle to that of Mr. Shiddlecot; and after a while Mr. Barker was called on for a stave. This was one of the elderly gentlemen who sat in the front row, and was evidently on terms of intimacy with Mr. Mookow.
   "I think I must decline," said Mr. Barker, clearing his voice ready to begin. "I don't know any songs but those I make up myself, and I'm sure you must be tired of hearing them."
   "So they must, Barker; so they must," observed a brisk-looking young fellow, who had come in late, and who, judging from his countenance, was not always a Pewker. "That's what I tell them when they call on me." "Ay, ay; but you won't get out of it, Mr. Jonas," was the universal exclamation, and then followed a rattling of crockery and a cry of " The Fiery Nose! The Fiery Nose! "
   "Well, if I must, I must," said Mr. Jonas, modestly; "but at present the call is with Mr. Barker."
   And, without further ado, Mr. Barker struck up. His song seemed to have no particular title, and it was adapted to a " nigger" tune popularly known as " Rosa May," and ran as follows:-

   Come, brothers, listen unto me, and a story I'll relate,
   How I in time was rescued from a wretched drunkard's fate.
   I used to swill my nightly fill of ale, and beer, and gin,
   Nor for my wife and family cared I a single pin.
   My eyes were bleared, a razed beard, likewise a drunkard's nose;
   My children bare and naked were, because I pawned their clothes;
   My wife I bruised, and much ill-used, and, shameful thing to say,
   Distrained the bed from under her my tavern score to pay.
   But, thanks to Mr. Mookow, now all that is set aside;
   Upon my wife and family I now can look with pride.
   The reason's plain, I now abstain, and mean to, never fear-
   I never more intend to be a slave to gin and beer.

   There was a generous amount of applause at this by no means cheerful lay, which had barely subsided when the call for" The Fiery Nose " broke out most vociferously. "Come, Mr. Jonas," said the chairman, persuasively, "they will have it, you see."
   "Well, sir, I will, since you wish it," replied Mr. Jonas. "But it is a painful song for me to sing, it is indeed; not on account of the tune, that's easy enough; it's the sentiment that makes it painful."
   "Nonsense ! "Tit for Tat " " Give and Take! " "Serve 'em right! " "Go on, Jonas " These and similar cries seemed to reassure the teetotal poet, and to the tune of the "Cork Leg," and with voice and action excellent enough to have made his fortune at Canterbury Hall, he commenced " The Fiery Nose" :-

   A certain man in our town
   A tippler was of great renown.
   Gin, whiskey, or rum, whichever he saw,
   Were welcome to enter his thirsty maw.
   Right toorallooral, &c.
   He drank and he drank till, as you may suppose,
   He presently sported a fiery nose,
   And it grew so hot that it came to this,
   If it touched his liquor, it made it " hiss." Chorus.
   At length came a day, so the story is told,
   The hot-nosed man caught a terrible cold.
   The nose he blew, he'd himself but to blame
   And he blew till it smouldered and burst in a flame. Chorus.
   Though a careful man was this tippling sot,
   His house was insured, but his nose was not.
   So he rushed to the street, with a gasp and a cough,
   And buried his snout in the cool horsetrough. Chorus.
   Though the water began to boil in a minute,
   It failed to extinguish the blazing nose in it.
   The flame it increased, and grew broader and higher,
   Till the trough and the pump were one crackling fire. Chorus.
   Now, finding himself in this terrible plight,
   He took to his heels with all his might,
   Till he found a distillery yard, when, pat,
   He soused head-over-heel in a brimming vat. Chorus.
   Alarmed at sight of the terrible flame,
   The distiller himself and his foreman came.
   He heard the tippler's story out,
   Then winked like a man who knows what he's about. Chorus.
   Said he, " Though I cannot extinguish your nose,
   If you'll listen awhile I've a scheme to propose.
   I'll give you two hundred a year if you'll stay,
   And pass all your time in this self-same way." Chorus.
   The man with the fiery nose agreed.
   The distiller his fortune made with speed,
   For whenever he wanted a brewing of gin,
   He'd a vat fill with water and pop the man in. Chorus.
   An hour in soak was quite enough,
   When the liquor became most capital stuff.
   How the man with the fiery nose must grin
   When he hears the fame of his " sparkling gin " Chorus.

   The applause was deafening, and an encore unanimously demanded, when, seeing that Mr. Jonas was about to comply, I thought it time to bid the Pewkers goodnight.