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


    BESIDES cattle shows, and poultry shows, and fruit and flower shows, and rabbit shows, and Punch-and-Judy shows, and the annual showing of the Lord Mayor, there exist throughout London, in at least fifty different "slums," and corners, and crooked ways of the great City, establishments devoted to the "showing" of dogs. By name I have all along known of the existence of these places- knew that they had been in vogue since the days when there were public cockpits at Westminster and St. George's-in-the-Fields, and when hideous bulldogs drew badgers and aristocratic audiences at Hockley-in-the- Hole. With this extent of knowledge of the subject I should, doubtless, have remained content, had not a philanthropic soul, yearning to establish a dog-hospital in a toolshed at Canonbury, inclined my sympathies dog gishly, and resolved me to find out what a "dog show" meant.
   The columns of Bell's Life revealed more than a dozen invitations of the sort I was desirous of complying with. East, west, north, and south of the metropolis were the exhibitions to take place; and, in at least nine cases out of ten, Sunday evening was the time appointed. Of the advertisements the following is a fair sample :- " A Treat for the Fancy !-On Sunday evening next a Show will be held at Mr. Lerinke's, 'Duck,' Bethnal Green-chair taken at eight o'clock, by Mr. Abrahams, faced by Billy Cool. Mr. Abrahams will produce his splendid stud of toy terriers on this occasion. Mr. Lerinke has a terrier, weight three pounds and a half, open to kill with any dog in the world at his weight."
   The programme issued by the landlord of the "Lurcher," Waterloo Road, and mine host. of the "Crown," Fiddler's Alley, Haymarket, and half-a-dozen others, all more or less resembled the above. My ignorance, however, put anything like choice quite out of the question; and I selected Mr. Lerinke's establishment simply because it was first on the list.
   Passing Shoreditch Church, just as the good folk were flocking out therefrom, I took my way up the High Street till I came to a black, narrow gap in the face of it, between Church Street and the railway station, and into it I turned;-through Club Row, where the Sunday bird, and rabbit, and goat, and guinea-pig fair is held; past the "King of Clubs," where every evening, including the Sabbath, prize-fighting goes on, the fighters being chaffinches, and goldfinches, and canaries, the weapons their well-trained voices, and the prizes a " ten-pun'ote " or a German silver "waterpot," just as the birds' owners or backers may agree. Past these, through a lane or so, through a long alley, too narrow so to be called, and more like an accidental chink-a warp in the foul brickwork-and there was "Duck Street" and the "Duck" tavern, and the name of Lerinke written over the door. Following a man who wore a kennelish countenance and a close-fitting hairy cap, and who hugged something bulky within the breast of his coat in a manner highly suggestive of stolen goods, I crossed Mr. Lerinke's threshold and stood before his bar.
   It was not a handsome bar. The wooden front of it was at least as dirty as the floor, and exhibited symptoms of long familiarity with hobnailed boots and lazy knees, while the grimy, battered metal counter was chequered with a chain-pattern of glazy rings. About the walls in glasses were preserved specimens of canine monstrosity, from the span-long terrier to the bulldog in all his full- blown hideousness. Men and dogs filled the space before the bar, and behind the bar were Mr. Lerinke and Mrs. Lerinke, and a barmaid.
   I was surprised at Mr. Lerinke's appearance. Knowing that he fought dogs and held stakes for amateur pugilists, and kept a rat-pit, and was frequently in the pit and up to his eyes in rats, I had expected to see a brawny fellow, with big muscles, and a way with him that even a bulldog could not mistake; on the contrary, I found him a small man, with an everlasting smile and an oily voice-the sort of man, in fact, you would expect to find carrying the big banner in a "total abstinence" procession, or cutting bread and butter at a love-feast, rather than ruling among savage vermin and hobnobbing with bulldogs and bulldog-men. I don't know the sort of breed it is, but there is a dog one occasionally meets in the street, a brown dog, one part spaniel and seven parts kennel cur; a dog with lean loins, and an inquiring nose, and pursed lips, and a bewildered where's-the-next- meal-to-come-from expression about his eyes; he plods along the road with a business air, as though, having at last argued down the proud little bit of spaniel in him, he was bound on a begging errand to a West End relation. Now and then, however, he pulls up short and dead- "skidded," as it were, by that rebellious one-eighth of respectability-shakes his head miserably, and then forges along once more. Mr. Lerinke reminded me of this dog instantly. He looked exactly as it would have looked- just as beseeching and make-believe pleasant-if you had offered it meat on a skewer, and wickedly amused yourself by pricking its nose with the sharp end before you threw it down. As for Mrs. Lerinke, she looked contented and happy; and the few small Lerinkes to be seen about the place seemed soundly booted and breeched, and well fed. In ordinary cases this would not have been remarkable, but in this case it was; inasmuch as it was hard to understand how a manwith his heart so thoroughly set on dogs should trouble himself much about such trifles as wives and children. That his heart was set on dogs was clear. The loving sidelong glances he cast on them when he thought nobody was looking, the kindly purring noise he made while tenderly handling baby dogs, and the way in which he scratched their tiny polls and clucked to them, were ample proof of it. Conspicuous among the stuffed specimens on the walls was a murderous-looking bulldog in a handsome mahogany-and-glass case. The fate of this brute Mr. Lerinke was explaining to a gentleman who wore the head of a Skye terrier out of his coat-pocket as swells of the lower order occasionally wear their handkerchiefs. Had the defunct dog been an only son, the little man could not have exhibited more emotion. He would not, he said, have taken fifty pounds on the nail for it; indeed, he had had forty-five pounds ten offered for it; but it warnt likely ! You might as well have offered forty-five ten for his biggest kid, or-this in the lowest whisper-the missus herself. Well, sir, he was pisoned! He was the best in the world-too good to live-so the vagabuns pisoned him. On a Sunday morning it was hearty and well one minute among their legs in front of this bar, and the next minute, hallo! on this side of the bar dead as paving-stones! Proosick acid did it! On a bit of meat!
   The gentleman with the Skye terrier was so affected that he swallowed all his rum at a gulp, and hurried to a flight of stairs in the corner, and, thinking it probable that the stairs might lead to the show-room, I followed I had guessed rightly. When the door was pushed open there belched out a cloud so warm, so dense, so redolent of rank tobacco and spirituous liquors that only that a man came up close behind me laden with a snarling cur I think I should have retreated. In I went, however, and this is what I saw:-A long, narrow room, shallow from floor to ceiling as a church vault, and (by reason of the foul vapour) as gloomy, although there were several jets of gas burning. At the end of the room the flooring was raised a foot or so, and on this was the chairman's chair; and at the other extremity of the room was the chairman's " facer," proudly nursing a dreadful brute, with its jaws bound up with thongs of leather, and which I was confidently informed "was the handsomest brindled bull for miles round." Round the walls were more stuffed dogs and pictures of fighting-men and running-men, and of dogs killing rats, and of dogs and cocks killing each other. At one side of the room, and visible now and then through the many pairs of ragged legs that hemmed it in, was a great roaring fire, which was needful, for the night was very cold, and the draught came in at the gap at the bottom of the door, and in at the crazy windows, and in at a great hole in the ceiling from which the plaster had tumbled down.
   Concerning the company. In my rambles round about the great metropolis I have fallen in with some curious company. I have passed an evening in a room with a large number of women and men, and where, had it been known that I was anything but a thief or a scoundrel at enmity with the law, I stood an excellent chance of being thrown out of the window or having my head knocked against the wall; I have supped with tramps and beggars in a Kent Street kitchen; but, with few exceptions, I never before saw congregated so many faces with "hulks" branded on them, so much brazen blackguardism, so much bare brutality, as was exhibited by Mr. Lerinke's guests.
   There were, I should say, at least fifty of them; some with black coats and hats with curly brims, some in caps and flannel jackets, some with smocks and "ankle-jacks" -all, or nearly all, bull-necked, heavy-jawed, and with the hair dressed after a fashion known among its patrons as the "Newgate-knocker" style-that is, parted in masses on each side of the head, and turned under unnaturally. Every man possessed at least one dog, and as he sat at the table the animal was squatted by the side of his pot or glass, with his arm round it. These, however, were the "toy" dogs, marvels of shape and size-so small, some of them, that their weight is reckoned by ounces, and with limbs but little thicker than the stem of a tobacco-pipe, with beautifully-formed heads, and eyes full of intelligence. One could not help reflecting, after gazing first on the dog, then on its keeper, what a pity it was that the former should be tied to such a low-bred companion!
   How did these beautiful little creatures come into the hands of their present owners, is a question little less difficult to answer than another. Of what use are they to their masters? One may understand how affection may attach an honest man to an honest dog, or a ruffian to an able- bodied, ruffianly "brindled bull;" but what gratification can a big, coarse-minded man enjoy by the possession of a " toy ?" a thing without bark, or bite, or a single other quality assimilating with any one he himself possesses. One would as soon expect to find him keeping white mice or silkworms. " What is the value of that little clog ? " I asked of a young man in a tattered jacket and a very dirty shirt, who was showing " his terrier-weight two pounds and a quarter-against another. "I don't want to sell her," the young man replied; "twelve pounds is her worth-ten I'm offered for her."
   Had there been no other than dogs of the "toy" school in the room the business of the evening would have been, no doubt, carried on in a much more quiet way. As it was, however, there were shrill-voiced ratting dogs, and fighting terriers, and fighting bulldogs, struggling and straining their leashes to get at each other, with their red eyes starting from their heads, and their black lips curled back from their fangs, howling, yelping, barking shrilly and spitefully, or growling with a deeper rage from the bottom of their wide, red throats; while their masters, savages as themselves, roared out horrid blasphemy, and staked their eyes and limbs on the swaggering lies they uttered, and struck their great fists on the table to show they were in earnest in the wagers they offered to lay, and clapped hands together when the wager was made; while others, who had come on purpose to make a match and found a difficulty in "getting on" with any one, sat apart, stirring up their dogs to show their mettle, or clenching their muzzles and holding still their writhing limbs when for business reasons it was desirable that their tremendous courage should not be made too public.
   Apart from the bustle and the uproar sat two or three of the most miserable objects that could be imagined,- ragged, thin, and anxious-looking, and each accompanied by a gaunt, hollow-sided bulldog. I didn't ask their condition. It was too apparent. Like the poor fellow to whom some kind Indian acquaintance sent an elephant which he could not afford to keep, which nobody would buy, and which the authorities would not allow him to kill, so were each of these wretches afflicted with a bulldog, the only difference in the cases being that a fatal desire to belong to the "fancy," and not the whim of a friend, brought the calamity upon them, and that not sanitary considerations, but infatuation, obliges them to bear about the dreadful burden. So will they drag on a miserable existence, half-starved, and cordially hating each other, till the workhouse-doors, or others still more inexorable, part the wretched pair and break the spell.