Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Up to Date, by George Augustus Sala, 1895 - Eight Forty-Five A.M. : Breakfast on board a Pullman 

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I HAVE a habit - I do not know whether it be a good or a bad one, but it has been for a long time my custom - while I am dictating my "copy," to turn over the leaves of a bound volume of some illustrated paper, say the Graphic, or the Gentlewoman, or the Paris Illustration. I do not find that cursory peeps at the pictures in the volume interrupt, to any perceptible extent, the sluggish but steady flow of my diction; nay, I find, even, that these glances at the wood-engravings are very often of direct help to me; calling up, as they do, images of bygone scenes which I have beheld, or of bygone people whom I have known. Under some circumstances, the seemingly desultory dallying with the illustrated paper has more than once suggested to me the idea for an article which, springing up armed cap--pie like Minerva from Jove's head, has forthwith been translated into speech, and taken down by a careful amanuensis.
    For example, I wished this morning to draw another picture of London-Up-toDate life; and for a few minutes I felt undecided what particular hour of the [-193-] day I should select, and what special function I should describe this week. I may hint that I am very anxious to induct you into the humorous mysteries of Petticoat Lane on Sunday morning; but a neat disguise, consisting of a very seedy moleskin jacket, corduroy "kicksies," Blucher boots, a red neckerchief, and a billycock hat, which I have ordered for my expedition to the East End, is not quite ready yet. In process of time I hope (D.V.) to take my readers to a Board School, to a County Court, to a Theatrical Dancing Academy, to a Pantomime Rehearsal, and to a Cookery Exhibition ; and especially to the great Gogmagog Co-operative Stores in You-Don't-Say-So Street. But, for one reason or another, not one of the subjects I have mentioned seemed suitable for my purpose to-day.
    So, after a fashion, I essayed the "Sortes Virgilianae" with a volume of the Graphic for the year 1870. What were they doing in London Up to Date two-and- twenty years ago? I opened the volume of the Graphic at random- "The Honourable Artillery Company's Ball." I don't know if the H.A.C. have had a ball at all this season; if they have been enjoying high jinks at Finsbury they have not invited me to partake of them; and the "Private View of the Exhibition of the Royal Academy" is gone and past. "State Concert at Buckingham Palace," - that is ancient history so far as 1892 is concerned. "Marriage of Princess Louise and the Marquis of Lorne in St. George's Chapel, Windsor." Alas! I thought, and vainly thought, that [-194-] I should be able to say something about a royal wedding many weeks ago; but there has been "a rent instead of a garment, and burning instead of beauty"; and it is at graves and not at marriage altars that these old feet have stumbled. Turn again thy pages, O Graphic! What have we here? Upon my word, the very subject for a "London Up to Date." January 29, 1870: "A Dining-Car on the Union Pacific Railway, U.S.A."
    "Now, what on earth," I seem to hear a large number of my esteemed readers exclaim, "can a dining-car on the Union Pacific Railway have to do with 'London Up to Date'? Is the man growing 'dotty'? Some time ago he told us that he had received a complimentary communication from an anonymous lady correspondent, who expressed her satisfaction at the circumstance that his writings 'exhibited so few signs of the decrepitude of age'; but here are age and decrepitude with a vengeance! Wait a minute. Everybody knows that the Union Pacific Railroad joins on to the Central Pacific, which dovetails into a line still farther East - the three consecutive railroads bringing the traveller from Chicago safely, comfortably, and luxuriously, by way of Omaha, Ogden, and Sacramento City, to San Francisco. "With what face, then," my beloved readers may still demand, "can this, perhaps, demented, and, certainly, chuckle-headed writer treat the interior of an American dining-car, twenty-two years ago, as a thing appertaining in any shape, or in any sense, to an Up-to-Date picture of [-195-] English life and manners in the month of August 1892 ?"
    At once I hope to make the little mystery quite clear to you. I am an old traveller across the Rocky Mountains; but for the nonce, I do not mean to say anything more, either about Pullman or Silver Palace-cars on the railroads between Chicago and the Golden Gates. It happens, nevertheless, that a cursory survey of the picture in the Graphic furnished me at once with my text; inasmuch, as only a few mornings since I travelled from Brighton to London Bridge terminus in a Pullman car, and on board thereof partook of breakfast.
    Well; you may still urge somewhat disparagingly, there was nothing so very strange in that occurrence. The Pullman-car service on the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway is understood to be altogether up to date; and no doubt, the Pullman Car Company, as well, do their very best to minister to the comfort of the passengers. All I can say, in extenuation of the offence of telling people that which they know as well as I do, and possibly a great deal better, is, that up to the morning I have just mentioned, I had never taken a place in a Pullman car, leaving Brighton at 8.45 A.M. Our train, when we come up to Babylon on business, is the 9.45 A.M. one, which lands us at 11.5 at Victoria; and in five minutes afterwards we are in our chambers hard by, and in the midst of an avalanche of letters. We like the 9.45 AM. because it is usually punctual, and not overcrowded; and, again, the hour at which it [-196-] starts allows us to consume our breakfast comfortably - a matter of some importance since, if you look at the comparatively terrible amount of time which in our advanced state of civilisation is taken up by the exercitations of the bath and the toilette, and in giving directions to servants and so forth, it is difficult to see how you can get to the station before 9.45, unless you rise at six, or unless you forego your breakfast. Both of these contingencies should be scrupulously avoided; for, if you leave your bed earlier than it is your usual custom to rise, you will surely feel desperately fagged and jaded before the afternoon is half through; and as for going without breakfast altogether, shun, by all possible means, the adoption of such a course. Unless you have broken your fast, if only to the extent of a cup of cafe an lait and a slice of bread-and-butter, you will be in a vile temper all day long; and the world has been half ruined over and over again, through princes and potentates having gone without their breakfasts, and becoming in consequence testy, grumpy, aggressive, and bloodthirsty.
    On the occasion in question, as it chanced, the exigence of business was of such a pressing nature, that we had to make up our minds to leave Brighton by the 8.45 train. We were so hurried that we had not even time for the cafe au lait and the slice of bread-and- butter; and even when we had submitted to that self-denying ordinance, it was only by two or three minutes or so that we contrived to catch the train for London Bridge.
[-197-] What, then, was my delight, when, settling down somewhat sulkily, I am afraid, in the car for nonsmokers - for a cigar in the early morning and fasting should be avoided - I descried in the adjoining saloon a number of little tables very daintily decked with spotless white table-cloths; the whole most attractively suggestive of something to eat. With a modicum of nervous palpitation, I asked the obliging sleeping-car conductor what these snowy table-cloths might mean. He looked at me with a glance mildly expressive of astonishment. "Breakfast, sir," he replied. "Breakfast! Where?" I interrogatively answered. "Why breakfast on board, sir," quoth the conductor, making room, as he spoke, for a trimly-clad page to pass, who bore in his hand a tray, on which I thought I could discern something bearing a remarkable resemblance to buttered toast; the verisimilitude of a boiled egg, and a third viand which had a surprisingly close likeness to a fried sole, well egged-and-breadcrumbed, and frizzling hot. Could we have broiled soles, boiled eggs, and buttered toast? Why, certainly. And broiled ham and eggs, or kidneys, or bloaters, or haddock? Assuredly. There was a bill of fare; and there was no reason wily we should not breakfast in ease and comfort. The which we presently proceeded to do; and we were not charged any more for our meal than we should have had to pay had we breakfasted in the coffee-room of a well-conducted hotel. But what a simpleton the conductor may have thought me for asking him whether we could breakfast on board [-198-] the Pullman that particular morning! Had I been a stockbroker or a shipbroker, a merchant or a banker, or a city man of any kind, I should have known all about the Pullman breakfast train; but you see, that although for five-and-thirty years past I have earned the chief part of my livelihood in connection with a newspaper office in Fleet Street, E.C., I am not by any means "a party in the city."
    For a quarter of a century, in fact, I have known scarcely anything about the regions beyond St. Paul's; and a few weeks since, having to dine at Vintners' Hall, my Jehu and I got hopelessly fogged and "clubbed" between Queen Victoria Street, E.C., and Cannon Street. We were worse belated in Eastcheap; and found ourselves at last on Tower Hill, whence we had to retrace our steps, or rather our wheels, to find Upper Thames Street. Now, the gentlemen who patronise the 8.45 A.M. Brighton and London Bridge train are, as a rule, affluent "parties in the city," who have residences at Brighton-irrespective, of course, of their town mansions in Allahabad Gardens, S.W., and their country seats in the Dukeries, or elsewhere,-and I must confess that I felt somewhat alarmed when I found myself surrounded by so many wealthy-looking persons, discussing their breakfasts with an affability which was quite charming, but which did not fail, for all that, to impress me tacitly though formidably with the conviction, that in all likelihood every one of their number was able to buy up my humble self, pecuniarily speaking, five hundred times over. Yet, here they were, quietly sipping their tea and [-199-] coffee, chipping their eggs, and munching their toast just like ordinary mortals!
    Very possibly you have breakfasted on board a Pullman, and have come to consider that early morning meal, succulent, well served, and inexpensive, as something quite in the usual course of things. So, probably, you will consider it, if you are so fortunate as not yet to have attained middle age. Englishmen under forty-five are apt to be astonished at nothing. They take for granted a number of things that would have set Katterfelto's hair on end with wonder. Those things which their elders look upon as marvels, they regard with sublime equanimity as ordinary facilities of life, the provision of which they have a right to expect, and every hitch in the supply of which should be at once resented by indignant remonstrance in the shape of long letters of complaint addressed to the daily papers. All I can say is, that the conveniences of modern existence have become so numerous and so elaborate as to fill me, during most of my thinking hours, with unbounded surprise; and, I assure you, that very often I feel, mentally speaking, inclined to pinch myself to ascertain whether I am really awake, or whether I am dreaming some Alnaschar vision of things that might be, but, as yet, are not.
    You may think it a very slight matter that a number of ladies and gentlemen should be able to partake of a well-cooked, well-ordered breakfast on board a train progressing at a speed of some five-and-forty miles an hour; but to me, that such a thing has been practicable[-200-] is simply marvellous, inasmuch as I very well remember, not only the period long anterior to Pullman cars, but a time when there was no railway from London to Brighton at all.
     For some time past there has been a plethora in the publishing world of what I may call "coaching-books." The popularity of the Road Club, and the Four-in-Hand Club, and the many stage-coaches, driven either by private gentlemen or by professional "whips," which, during the summer, make long or short jaunts along the high-roads of England - which are assuredly the finest high-roads in the world - have naturally led to the putting forth of a multiplicity of books concerning coaching as it was carried on during the Regency, and up to the period of the accession of Queen Victoria. Some of these works contain the genuine reminiscences of elderly people, who have either horsed coaches on their own account, or who frequently travelled forty or fifty years ago by those conveyances; while other productions of this nature are somewhat of a scissors-and-paste character, owing much of their interest to copious extracts from the writings of "Nimrod," the old files of Bell's Life in London, and copies from drawings by Harry Alken, Pyne, and Herring.
    Now it is not my desire to be a Bore; in fact, it has always been my most sedulous desire to avoid wearying the public. Consequently I will spare you any lengthened infliction of tediousness touching the old Brighton mail and stage-coaches-the "spanking tits" that drew them; the scarlet-jerkincd guards who [-201-] sounded their horns so sonorously; the box-seat which was so eagerly coveted; to say nothing of such notable drivers as Brackenbury, Goodman, and Sir Vincent Cotton, who, all baronet as he was, was not too proud at the conclusion of the journey, when the coach was setting down its passengers in Castle Square, Brighton, to give utterance to the traditional hint about "remembering the coachman," which remembrance invariably took the form of a douceur of half a crown.
    Two maiden aunts of Sir Vincent once travelled with him, so the story went; and when the baronet, whose estates were at the time a little "dipped," touched his hat at the proper time, and politely expressed a hope that they would "remember the coachman," they tossed their heads and loftily replied, "That they knew the coachman's mother." To which Sir Vincent placidly but emphatically answered, "That he was very glad to hear the pleasing fact, but that they would be kind enough to remember the coachman all the same." But I must not be a bore. Away, memories of the "Times" coach, the "Age" and the "Royal Sovereign," the last of which, I think, was a vehicle of a white colour, and on the roof of which, hampers full of fish were habitually carried from Brighton to London.
    The "fish-coach" had a tariff of fares slightly cheaper than those charged by the "Times" and the "Age," the merchandise which was carried imparting to it an odour that the proprietors sought to obviate by frequent repainting; but the combined perfume of coach-varnish [-202-] and fish was not found to be very gratifying to the olfactory organs of the passengers.
    After all, admitting the marvellous characteristics of express-trains, excursion-trains, the electric telegraph, and all the other features of that scheme of railway construction, organisation, and development which were absolutely non-existent in my nonage, there are, to my mind, few things more wonderful than the economy of the railway commissariat, not only in the shape of breakfasting comfortably on board a Pullman, not only in the way of lunching or dining on board trains on the Midland, the Great Northern, and the London and North Western lines, but in divers phases, and under divers conditions on railway lines all over Europe and the United States. Wheresoever we travel, we find more extensive, more elaborate arrangements made for enabling passengers to refect themselves comfortably at their leisure, luxuriously, and without exorbitant charge. Already I have assisted at more than one semi-public luncheon on a railway train, and have made, or have listened to speeches at a hospitable board, racing along at express speed, and some of these days, perhaps, I shall be an invited guest to a wedding breakfast in a Pullman, or I shall have an invitation to a grand entertainment on board the "Wild Irishman," or the "Flying Dutchman," comprising a ball in one car, and a champagne supper in the other. We are rapidly tending, so it seems to me, in that direction.

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source: George Augustus Sala, London Up to Date, 1895