Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Up to Date, by George Augustus Sala, 1895 - Three P.M. : A Charity Bazaar

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    EVERYBODY in smart society knows Monty Piffle; but there are very few people, I should say, who can form any definite idea as to that justly popular gentleman's means of subsistence; and, perhaps, were the question put point blank to Monty Piffle himself, he would have some difficulty in giving an entirely satisfactory reply. It is understood that he is very highly connected; but you cannot eat, drink, and be merry, dress faultlessly, and keep a man-servant and a brougham, on a pedigree and nothing else. They say, too, that Monty was formerly in the Hussars ; but the fact of your having formerly worn Her Majesty's uniform, does not necessarily imply that you have an income now that you no longer enjoy the splendid pay and perquisites bestowed on a subaltern in the British cavalry.
    The very best people in London are continually sending for Monty Piffle. When the United Growlers Club gave their grand ball and supper to Royalty, on the occasion of the Queen's Jubilee, the committee, only two days before the festival was to take place, discovered that the majority of the members were middle-aged or elderly gentlemen, and that among the [-106-] distinguished male guests whom they had invited very few had "any change left," as the saying goes, out of fifty years. What was to be done? How were the five hundred ladies invited to find partners? Forthwith did a modern Curtius leap into the gulf. "Send for Monty Piffie," suggested a wary and resourceful member. "Monty" is always to be found at the Junior Chappies' Club. Let him lay on a contingent of fifty eligible mashers, who are each to have a pair of lavender kids sewn with black, a gardenia for the buttonhole, and a guinea for their services as dancers at the ball.
    I don't know whether the suggestion of the wary and experienced member was adopted by the committee; but I feel confident that had such a proposition been made to him, he would have risen to it "like a bird." As it is, he has led the Cotillon in at least a dozen great London houses last season. He is unequalled at getting up a picnic; and when Mrs. Diogenes, wife of Mr. Cincinnatus Diogenes, the well-known Conservative M.P., gave her memorable performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, at the Tub, her charming riverside residence at Teddington, Monty was appointed acting-manager, and carried out all the arrangements pertaining to his functions, admirably.
    But it is, perhaps, as an organiser of charitable bazaars that this accomplished professor of the art of living handsomely on nothing a year excels himself. His last and most brilliant achievement in this direction has been the grand Chinese Festival and Feast of Lanterns Bazaar, for the benefit of that beneficent [-107-] institution, the Hospital for Sick Monkeys, in Gorilla Street, Marmoset Road, N.W.; and I have just returned from a visit to the bazaar, which cost me exactly three pounds eleven shillings, - the odd shilling being for a penny postage-stamp, which a lady of fashion was so condescending as to moisten with her adorable tongue, and to affix to a rubbishing little envelope. How many stamps she licked during the afternoon it would be impertinent to inquire; and I hope, indeed, for her health's sake, that she only made believe to apply her delightful lingual organ to the stamp, and that it had already been moistened with a camel's-hair brush dipped in water before she stuck it on the envelope. Still she seemed to have been doing the briskest of businesses throughout the three days the bazaar lasted.
    For the remaining three pounds ten shillings I have to show, item, an album photograph portrait of Carmen Sylva; item, a portrait of Buffalo Bill; item, a copy beautifully bound in pink calico of Miss Snarleyowe's thrilling romance, The Heads of the Headless; or, The Vengeance of Ada the Betrayed; item, a model eight-day clock, in pasteboard artistically decorated with gilt foil; and, finally, a pocket match-box, bearing the enamelled effigy of Ally Sloper, which her Grace the Duchess of Ducksandpeas affably assured me was silver, but which I shrewdly suspect to be electro. However, in any case, it is a blessed thing to have had the honour of being spoken to by a duchess; and my people at home assure me that I have had a more than ordinarily liberal supply of commodities in exchange for seventy [-108-] shillings sterling. Be it as it may, I shall have to live chiefly on haddocks and hard-boiled eggs for a fortnight; and if the collector from the Gaslight and Coke Company, Horseferry Road, calls, he will be informed that I have just started for Jeddo in Japan.
    The Chinese Festival and Feast of Lanterns Bazaar was, I am given to understand, a wholly original invention of the most versatile Piffle. As he pointed out to a select committee of lady patronesses, after an elegant luncheon at the Junior Chappies' Club, Park Lane, bazaars of the ordinary kind had been, from the picturesque and spectacular point of view, absolutely done to death. Old English village fairs, Old London fairs; Charles Dickens, Waverley; Spanish, Italian, Arabian Nights; Cavalier and Roundhead, and looped Petticoat Bazaars, have all been tried over and over again with varying success. It had once struck hint, he added, that a Newgate Calendar Bazaar might prove very interesting; but although many of the ladies declared that they would have no objection to appear in the garb and "make-up" of Jack Sheppard, Dick Turpin, Claude Duval, Captain Macheath, or Sixteen- String Jack, the Duchess of Ducksandpeas asked very pertinently whether any lady who respected herself, would like to become for three days a counterfeit presentment of Maria Manning, Catherine Hayes, or Mother Brownrigg. She admitted that the idea was a splendid one, and that General Sir George Baccus would look Blueskin to the life, while little Lord Teetotum was clearly just the figure for a good Artful [-109-] Dodger. Monty adduced Miss Blandy as a handsome female criminal, but nobody knew who Miss Blandy was, and Mr. Piffle's alternative proposal for a Chinese Bazaar was at once unanimously accepted, and the Royal Albert Hall was fixed upon for the holding of the three days' charitable festival.
    Here you are, then, at three in the afternoon, at Kensington Gore, and in the midst of all the fun of the fair. It is really a very bright and sparkling spectacle, and reflects, in its entirety, the highest credit on the skill, energy, and artistic taste of its indefatigable promoter. As Monty very practically put it to the committee, china was cheap, and if they ran out of Celestial accessories, they could "decant" with Japan. This appears to have been the case as you take a rapid glance around the enormous amphitheatre.
    Mr. Doubletie Brush, the eminent scene-painter, of the Royal Jocosity Theatre, has been engaged to transport a Chinese street bodily into the arena at Kensington; and if the tableau which he has executed be fifty times handsomer and five hundred times cleaner than Hog Lane, Canton, or Vermilion-Pencil Street, Pekin, the scene is at all events sufficiently celestial to please Western eyes. There is a porcelain tower, copied from the engraving of the famous ceramic structure at Naukin; and whether the porcelain tower still exists, or was demolished during the Tae-ping Rebellion, it is nobody's business to inquire. Hester, Marchioness of Doubledup, has opened a photographic studio in the top storey of the tower, where she takes heads at a very [-110-] moderate charge of two guineas and a half each. On the first floor, the Ladies Wilhelmina and Clementina Kincob are dealing extensively in babies' wardrobes. As Lady Clementina is thirty-five, and Lady Wilhelmina has just been celebrating the tenth anniversary of her thirtieth birthday, and both noble demoiselles are unmarried, I should not be surprised to find that some of the purchasers of the infantile garments may find them more of an ornamental than a useful character, and may, on the whole, think that they would have done better had they repaired to Mrs. Washington Moon or Mrs. Adley Bourne for baby outfits.
    On the ground floor of the porcelain tower, the Araucanian Ambassadress is selling penny-ices at eighteen- pence each. The Earl of Elsewhere has just had one, and proffered half a sovereign in payment. "I should have preferred a whole sovereign, my lord," observed her Excellency. "But my change?" gasped his lordship, who is rather an economical nobleman. "Change!"  titters the Araucanian Ambassadress, "there is no such thing as change here, my lord," and the titter is sarcastically re-echoed by Lady Blanche Manger, who is ambling about arrayed as a Chinese pedlar, selling packets of pins for half a crown apiece, and by Miss Chutnee Turmeric, the great millionaire Indian tea- merchant's daughter, who has a stall for dispensing her own papa's product, in charming little two-ounce packages, at the low price of seven and sixpence. Surely Butler was right, when he told us, "that the pleasure is as great, in being cheated, as to cheat."
    [-111-]  Apart from the object of the festival, which is simply philanthropic, and consequently laudable, the whole affair, from beginning to end, is an audacious, sparkling, and sprightly swindle. Some of the ladies have stocked their stalls with the worn-out odds and ends of their own bric-a-brac, for which they are charging fancy prices ; while others are "minting" money by selling autographs of famous people - signatures, the authenticity of which, I am afraid, would be disputed by Mr. Francis Harvey of St. James's Street, or any other expert in autographs. But one should never look too closely into the ethics of charitable bazaars. Everything, of course, is done with the view of replenishing the depleted coffers of the Hospital for Sick Monkeys; and if a lady does sell a few dozen of autographs, which no more belong to their reputed writers than they do to the Man in the Moon, who is to blame the fair deceivers? When people used to ask Albert Smith for autographs for a Fancy Fair, he was wont to reply: "By all means. Whose will you have? Shakespeare's, Milton's, Byron's, Shelley's, or Victor Hugo's?" And forthwith he would proceed to scribble as many apocryphal signatures as were demanded from him. Perhaps a good many ruses of a harmless kind have been practised by the autograph vendors of to-day.
    Here, however, is a stall heaped high with Chinese commodities and works of art, the genuineness of which is indisputable. Pipes, punch-bowls, teapots, concentric ivory balls, embroidered silks, gongs, flutes, and other musical instruments; models in wax of the hands with [-112-] nails hooked like claws, and the "golden lily," or small feet of Chinese ladies; weapons of war; pictures on rice-paper of Chinese tortures; mirrors, chess-boards, fans, stuffed birds, and a multitude of miscellaneous objects, all clearly emanating from the Flowery Land, form a most imposing display, presided over by three charming members of the British aristocracy, two of whom are arrayed in the gorgeous costume of Chinese ladies, while the third, who is slightly embonpoint, is dressed as a mandarin, with a long pigtail.
    Saucy Sir Lancelot Bucketshop, Bart., who did so very well at Epsom and better at Ascot this year, laughingly asks the lady mandarin whether her pigtail is a real one? Of course it is, replies the lady. How much would she sell it for? How much will Sir Lancelot give? Would five guineas be acceptable? Yes, five guineas will do. The lady mandarin quietly produces a dainty pair of scissors, passes her left hand behind her neck, coils her queue round her palm, and snips off the pigtail, apparently at the root. She hands the precious lock to the baronet, and with a charming smile, pockets the five guineas. "Of course, it is not real," she whispers to one of her lady colleagues. If my information be correct, this truly business-like lady mandarin has sold her pigtail on each of the days the bazaar has been open. Only, she watched cautiously for her customers, and waited patiently for her opportunity. For example, pigtail number one was purchased by the Hon. Hiram Chaw, tobacco-planter of Petersburg, Virginia, U.S.A., and pigtail number two became the property of the [-113-] Maharajah Rumjum Jellybag, of Hookypore. He was so enraptured with the lady mandarin, that she was nearly wheedling him out of the big emerald which he wore on his right forefinger.
    It may be whispered, however, that just as there is nothing new under the sun, the hair-selling device is a very old one. There is a well-known anecdote that at a charitable fair held at Frascati's, in Paris, early in the reign of Louis Philippe, one of the stalls was kept by the beautiful Lady Harriette D'Orsay, the daughter of Lord Blessington, and wife of the famous dandy, Count Alfred D'Orsay. Ladies then wore their hair in what was called the "Blenheim Spaniel" style; that is to say, in a thick cluster of short ringlets on each side of the head- a mode introduced in England by a charming lyric song-stress, named Anna Thillon, who sent not only Paris, but London, half crazy by her ravishing performance of the part of the Queen, in the opera of the Crown Diamonds.
Among the visitors to the bazaar was the ill-fated Duke of Orleans, the father of the Count of Paris, so well known in "up-to-date" society. The Duke indulged in a brisk flirtation with Lady Harriette, and professed the most passionate admiration for one of her ringlets. "Would you like to buy one?" asked the captivating dame. The Duke replied that he would be enraptured to possess such a treasure. Would he give five thousand francs for it? Gladly. Lady Harriette D'Orsay coolly cut off a whole bunch of her Blenheim Spaniel coiffure, and handed it to the Duke, who, having parted with the stipulated sum, pocketed his treasure [-114-] and walked away-not looking, however, for the moment, the happiest of mankind.
    Where's the harm? At the Chinese Festival to-day winsome little Mrs. Hernley Hunter sold one of her shoes for three guineas. She had been selling shoes all day. Lady Boblink, who is as tall as a maypole and as beautiful as a gazelle, has been earning many pounds sterling by biting off the tips of cigars, which I should say came rather from Hamburg, or from Houndsditch, than from Havana. Another lady, who has a dainty little pavilion to herself, has done very well by charging half a guinea a head for permission to see through an unperforated brick. The modus operandi is of the very simplest description. The victim, when he is admitted into the pavilion, is requested to fix his eyes on one end of a brick, then, will he be so kind as to lift his orbs of vision? He looks straight in front of him, and sees the other end of the brick reflected in a mirror. Consequently, he has seen through the brick. Where, again I ask, is the harm? All the coquettish touting and cozening, the extortion and imposture, and glaringly illegal fortune-telling-for which wretched gipsy women, not in society, are sent to gaol with hard labour, - all the fibbing and gambling, and downright highway robbery, are done in the sacred name of Charity; and let us hope that the Hospital for Sick Monkeys, including the worthy secretary, Mr. Frisky Pocketum, will flourish like the greenest of bay trees through the philanthropic exertions of Mr. Monty Piffle and the lady patronesses of the grand Chinese Festival and Feast of Lanterns Bazaar.

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