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ARCADIA !-what a nice place it must have been to be sure! A
perpetual pic-nic, without wasps or thunder-storms, and with nothing to pay. A
smiling landscape, all gently undulating - no fierce rocks or yawning
chasms. Banks on which wild thyme and violets continually grow. Eternal summer.
Fruits, flowers, and odoriferous herbs. Innocent flocks of more innocent
sheeplings; soft, mild, benignant, undesigning bleaters with dainty coats of
whitest wool, hanging in worsted ringlets, unsmirched by the red ochre or
cinnabar of mercenary grazier; yet when the sun rises or sets, gleaming with
iris tints from Nature's prism, making of each a mutton-rainbow-like Mr. Hunt's
sheep in his picture of Our English Coasts. And then the shepherds with their
long hair confined by an azure ribbon; their abundance of clean linen, and
guilelessness of braces; their silken hose, and shoon with purple heels; their
harmless sports consisting in shooting at a stuffed bird on a highly decorated
Maypole with a cross-bow bedecked with ribbons. And the shepherdesses with
auburn tresses and wide-spreading straw hats, with golden crooks, and wreaths of
flowers, and petticoats of gold and silk and satin brocade. And the old women -
the Dorcases and Cicelys - dear old dames with silvery hair, scarlet cloaks, and
ebony crutch-sticks; but who never scolded, oh no, nor had the rheumatism, nor
groaned about their precious bones and the badness of the times. There were no
Game Laws in Arcadia, no union workhouses, no beer-shops, no tally-men, no
police. There were balls every [-193-] and all day
long in Arcadia; endless country dances. No shepherd beat another shepherd or
shepherdess with his crook, or a poker, or pewter-pot; for there was no
quarrelling - save here and there a trifle of bickering, a transient fugacious
jealousy when Celia detected Corydon kissing of Phyllis, or if Sacharissa in a
pet broke Damon's pipe. But these fleeting differences would soon be reconciled:
all would kiss and be friends: and banquets to re-united friendship would take
place in cool grottoes on carpets of fair flowers; the viands (fruits,
syllabubs, and cakes of finest flour), cooled by murmuring, rippling, pebbly,
sparkling streamlets, and by fragrant boughs outside the cave, drooping with
foliage and luscious fruit, and waved by the pitying summer breeze; sheltering
the grotto's inmates from the burly Sun's too bold salute. And the sky was very
blue, and the birds sang carols continually.
Yet, though the golden age be gone, and there are no more picturesque shepherds or shepherdesses, save in the canvasses of Watteau and Laneret, Arcadia still exists. It lives in the very heart of London.
The prototype of the London arcade was, undoubtedly, the Oriental Bazaar. There is not a town in Turkey or Hindostan, without some dirty, stifling, covered passage, both sides of which overflow with amphitheatres of knick-knackery for sale. The Bezesteen of Stamboul is a genuine arcade, with all the crowding and confusion, the kaleidoscopic arrangement and gossip-bargaining of the Arcadia of England.
The French, who manage so many things better than we ourselves do, and not a few so much worse, have long had an Arcadia of their own. As a special measure of relief for their legionary flaneurs or street-pacers - driven, in wet weather, from the much-sauntered-over Boulevards - there were devised the unrivalled galleries and passages which are the delight of Paris, the admiration of strangers, and the bread-winners of unnumbered artificers, factors, and retailers of those heterogeneous odds and ends known as articles de Paris. To the Passage de l'Opera, des Panoramas, du Saumon, Jouffroy; from the Gaieties Vivienne, Colbert, and Véro-Dodat; the caricatures of Gavarni and Grandville, the classic lithographs of Jullien, the novels of Paul do Kock, the statuettes of Danton, and the ballads of Mademoiselle Eloisa Puget owe their chief celebrity. Beneath those glass roofs literary and artistic reputations have been won and lost.
Milan followed in the wake of Paris, and the city of the Duomo [-194-] boasts many plate-glass-adorned and knick-knack-crowded covered thoroughfares. Vienna and Berlin followed; but England knew not arcades before the present century. Some inventive genius accomplished a great feat in conjunction with certain shopkeepers and the Cork and Burlington estates. He brought Arcadia into Piccadilly, and built the Burlington Arcade.
At first the shops of this Arcade were small and dark. They sold no articles of positive necessity: the useful arts were repellent to Burlingtonian notions of industry: and luxury was almost exclusively purveyed for. Burlington (as became a comital godfather) was intensely aristocratic. Boots and shoes and gloves were certainly sold; but they fitted only the most Byronically small and symmetrical hands and feet; none but the finest and most odoriferous leathers were employed in their confection, and none but the highest prices charged for them. The staple manufactures of this Arcade have been in turns jewellery, fans, feathers, French novels, pictorial albums, annuals, scrap-books, caricatures, harps, accordions, quadrille music, illuminated polkas, toys, scents, hair-brushes, odoriferous vinegar, Rowlands' Macassar Oil, zephyr paletots, snuff- boxes, jewelled whips, clouded canes, lemon-coloured gloves, and false whiskers. Scarcely a fashionable vice, an aristocratic frivolity, or a Belgravian caprice, but had (and has) a representative in the Burlington Arcade. It was a little Vanity Fair. I have walked it many and many a time for years, thinking of John Bunyan, and wondering which was Britain Row and Portugal Row.
There was but one active handicraft exercised in the Arcade, and that was hair-cutting. The handicraftsmen cut your hair in sophisticated saloons, decorated with fallacious mural paintings of impossible Grecian landscapes, with flaming Greeks and Turks fighting. Below they inveigled you to buy drugs and potions wherewith to dye the gray hairs you should be proud of, blue black; and stuffs to make you emulate the smell of the civet, or the musk rat, and hogs' lard condimented into bears' grease, and wigs ;-woven lies made from dead men's hair to thatch live fools. Further on, there were boots to pinch feet, corsets to tighten waists, and gloves to cramp hands. Boys with bundles were rigidly excluded from the precincts. Smoking was not allowed through its length or breadth. It was paraded by padded, tight-booted, tight-girthed, wigged old beaus striving to look like boys of twenty; [-195-] by boys aping the vices of old men; by carpet warriors, and by knights fresh from Almack tournaments.
The department of Arcadia to which I have just (and it may seem to you rather harshly) alluded, has not been free from the vicissitudes, humiliations, and mutabilities common to buildings and thoroughfares, as well as to men. Yet, on the whole, it may be said that the Burlingtonians have been a prosperous and well-to-do community. If Burlington had appealed to the wisdom, learning, good taste; or to the scientific or philosophic tendencies of humanity, it might have been bankrupt long ago, and its traders gone barefoot. But Burlington has calculated, like the quack doctor, that of every fifty passers-by forty are fools. With Robert Macaire it has studied the immortal axiom delivered by that sage to Bertrand, 'The day passes, but the fools remain;' and has occupied itself with what is co-existent with the world and with humanity - human folly. But for such customers, the booths' in Vanity Fair, wherever its tents be pitched, would drive a poor trade indeed.
I will leave the Province of Burlington, and direct my attention to that of Exeter. One was of comital rank; but this is the fief of a marquisate. A word as to its antecedents.
Where now stands the street that forms the approach to Ronnie's magnificent bridge - the Bridge of Waterloo; the bridge of gorgeous sunset views - the Bridge of Sighs - the Rialto of transpontine theatricals, industrials of the New Cut, Elephant and Castle omnibuses, and women without names, without hope, without lives (save a certain dog-like existence). there stood, before I was born, certain dingy brick houses. One of them was the old office of the old (and now dead) 'Courier' newspaper; and many maybe old enough to remember the bulletin of the great victory of Waterloo being pasted up on the 'Courier' windows on the 21st of June, 1815. Another was the old Lyceum Theatre; a third was Mr. Day's trunk-shop. Close beside these buildings, stood two mighty elephants' tusks, and a burly Beefeater, directing the eager sight-seer, the impatient country cousin, the enthusiastic holidaymaker, to the Museum or Menagerie of Wild Animals, known throughout the United Kingdom as Crease's Wild Beast Show. Here had the lord of 'aitches' and the Patent Theatres - the great John Philip Kemble - borrowed of Mr. Crosse the Rhinoceros on which he took his ever-memorable ride through Covent Garden Market - in the early morning, when the sun was bright, and saloop-stalls were yet about - as dignified as a [-196-] lord, playing the fool as only wise men can. Here had the howlings of unnumbered savage brutes, the rugged Russian bear, the armed rhinoceros, like the Hyrcanian beast, shook the bricks of Exeter Change. Ye spotted snakes, ye dwelt there; hyenas, ye have laughed; jackals, ye have wept deceivingly; blue-faced monkeys, ye have shown your cerulean visages in those byegone Arcadian precincts. Here the "White Milliner," supposed to have been the Duchess of Tyrconnel fallen upon evil days, sold ribbons and gauzes. There held out against the united forces of Apothecaries' Hall and His Majesty's foot-guards Chunee, unconquered of refractory elephants. There he laughed at pounds of calomel and bales of drugs, and shook his sides with elephantine scorn at guns and pistols; till the great, embrowned regulation muskets of His Majesty's foot-guards cracked his leviathan skin and let his giant life out. Crosse's must have been an exhibition. Why wasn't I alive when Exeter Change was extant, and the admission up stairs' one shilling, or under?
But Arcadia was fated to come again; and Exeter Change, though it retains its name, has changed its locale, and is no more what it was. It is a changed change. It had a transition state - a sort of chrysalis-like grubhood as a bad bazaar - a very bad and lame imitation of those Margate and Ramsgate, and general watering-place knick-knack shops, where there are countless assemblages of trifles, unconsidered, because really useless, and where you may, perhaps, (if you have great good luck) win, after the investment of from seven to fifteen shillings, such a prize as a German silver pencil-case, or a tea-pot stand of plaited rushes. And then Exeter Change became a wilderness of bricks and mortar, scaffold-poles, hods, ladders and ropes, and it and its neighbourhood went mad on the building question,, after which and (up to 1853) ultimately, the Change changed its site, and burst on the world as an arcade - an Arcade of desolation, silence, despair.
What can I compare it to? The street of the tombs at Pompeii - the Via Sacra with all the shops: shut up and half a dozen funerals of Sextus Quintilius Somebody winding their way through its mournful lengths? A street in Tripoli or Algiers at mid-day when the sun is very hot and the plague is very had about? The 'dark entry' in Canterbury Cathedral Yard multiplied by two? Lawrence Pountney Hill (about the dreariest of thoroughfares I know) of a Sunday afternoon? Anything, anywhere, in any climate, country, age, or circum-[-197-]stance that is gloomy, dismal, heart-depressing, unventilated, graveyard-smelling-dull. This gloomy avenue leads from one and into another of the merriest London streets you would wish to find: one the bustling Catherine Street with its noisy News Exchange, and Old Drury (though to be sure that is not so very gay) at the top; the other the lively Wellington Street, embellished as it is with one of the most abusive cab-stands in the metropolis, and the sprightly Lyceum Theatre. But the Arcade is so dull. Some ghastly artist undertook, on its construction, to decorate it with mural arabesques. He has succeeded in filling the spaces between the shop-windows with some skeleton figures; -dripping, faded funerealities. These 'arabesques' ('mauresques' would be more appropriate, for they are very mortuary) twist themselves into horrible skeleton presentments, all in a leaden, deadened, dusky tone of colour; and, high over gas-lamps, and grimly clambering about shop-fronts, are melancholy dolphins and writhing serpents, and attenuated birds of paradise; all looking intensely wretched at the positions in which they find themselves. Likewise there are scrolls, which the Furies might twist in their hair; and leaves which seem ready to drop off for very deadness, and sepulchral headings, and egg-and-tongue fillets like rows of coffin nails.
And are there shops in this Arcadia? There are. And are these shops tenanted? Well; they are tenanted; but not much. A great many of the shops have had occupants; but somehow or other the occupiers are continually vacating. They never stopped. Doubtless they had many good and sufficient reasons for so persistently continuing not to remain. They went abroad, relinquished business, made their fortunes - perhaps. I can remember in this changing Change, house and estate agents, servants' registry offices, coal-mine offices (with neat little hampers of Wallsend in the window - a novelty which would answer well, I opine, with a horse-dealer, if he were to put a few pasterns and fetlocks and a horse-shoe or two in his window), booksellers, newsvenders and publishers (news and publicity here!), cigar-shops, tailors and habit-makers, milliners, dressmakers, and bonnet-builders, architects and surveyors, and a toy-shop: that didn't last. The drums and trumpets, the miniature guns and swords sounded and wielded there must have been of the same sort as those used at Napoleon's midnight review; the Tombolas must have had death's heads; the Jacks must have sprung, [-198-] not of boxes, but of sarcophagi; the kaleidoscopes must have shown nothing but prismatic goblins; the accordions played nothing but the Dead March in Saul.
I knew a French bookseller who established himself in Exeter Arcadia,. with his wife and olive-branches round him, vainly thinking to live by vending the lively nouvellettes and vaudevilles of the Land of the Gaul. But his little children pined among the brumous shades of the 'Cade, and sighed, like Mary Queen of Scots, for the fair land of France again - so the Frenchman vamosed. I also knew a confident foreigner who came here in the Exhibition year of '51, with two stools, a desk, and a Nugent's dictionary, on a vague speculation of interpreting, translating for, or verbally assisting foreigners visiting London during the Exhibition season.' Informations-Bureau' he called his shop, if I am not mistaken. But, as he spoke no English, and nobody came to make any inquiries who spoke any foreign language, his bureau came to nothing, and he vamosed, too.
Desolate, dreary, weary, as any grange with any number of moats, art thou, Arcadia of Exeter! Yet there is hope for thee. 'Hope comes to all,' says Milton, and may I live to see the day when thy shops shall overflow with merchandise, when thy outlets shall be blocked up with customers, when thy fame shall be spread among the nations, and excursion trains start from the uttermost ends of the earth to visit thee. Till then, farewell, or be, as heretofore, a desert - not howling, for there are no wild animals to howl in thee - an empty sepulchre, a deserted wine-cellar, an abandoned quarry, an exhausted coal-mine, a ruined temple, or 'Ninny's Tomb,' meet only for the nocturnal rendezvous of some Pyramus of the Strand with some Thisbe of Adam Street, Adelphi; be anything thou listest for, of a verity, Exeter, I (and, doubtless, my readers) am weary of thee.
The Lowther Arcade - I seek not to disguise it under any plausible incognito, for I am proud of it - is a tube of shops running from St. Martin's Churchyard into the Strand, very nearly opposite Hungerford Market. There is, frequently, very much noise in this tube as in that far-famed one across the Menai Straits that Mr. Stephenson built; and there are collisions and signals - but here my railroad similes end; for, in lieu of being a pitch-dark colour with grim iron-ribbed sides, with a flooring of slippery rails on which huge locomotive dragons with many jointed tails of carriages glide, this [-199-] tube is light and airy, and roofed with glass. it is noisy; but not with the screaming and snorting, and panting of engines, the rattling of wheels, and the jangling of chains it is resonant with the pattering of feet, the humming of voices, the laughter of children, the rustling of silken dresses, and buying, selling, bargaining, and chaffering.
The commodities vended in the Lowther Arcade I may classify under three heads: Toys, Jewellery, and Minor Utilities, about each of which I have a word to say.
Imprimis of toys. Enormous, preposterous, marvellous is Lowther in respect of toys. She possesses amphitheatres, rows upon rows, galleries upon galleries; Great Pyramids of Egypt, Great Towers of Belus, Great Tuns of Heidelberg, Great Beds of Ware, Great Dragons of Wantley, Giant Helmets of Otranto - of what? Of toys. Birmingham is the toyshop of Europe; Blair's Preceptor and Pinnock's Treasury of Knowledge say it is. But no: Lowther is. Look around, if you are sceptical, upon the toys of all nations, and for children of all ages, which give children such exquisite delight in playing with them - which give papa and mamma delight scarcely less exquisite in buying them. Cosmopolitan toys, too. Look at the honest, hearty, well-meaning toys of old England. The famous cockhorses of such high blood and mettle, that the blood has broken out all over their skins in an eruption of crimson spots; so full of spirit that their manes stand bolt upright, and their tales project like comets; such high and mighty cockhorses, that they disdain to walk, and take continual carriage exercise on wooden platforms, running on wheels. The millers' carts, so bravely painted, so full of snowy sacks, supposed to contain best boulted flour; but, in reality, holding sawdust. The carriers' carts, the mail phaetons, the block-tin omnibuses, the deal locomotives with woolly steam rushing from the funnels, the brewers' drays, and those simple, yet interesting, vehicles of plain white deal - exact models, in fact, of the London scavengers' carts - so much in request at Brighton and Margate for the cartage of sand, pebbles, and sea-weed, and sometimes used as hearses for the interment of a doll, or as Bath chairs for the exercise of an unwilling poodle.
Can you look unmoved, although you be a philosopher and your name Zeno, Plato, or Socrates, on the great Noah's arks - those Edens of wooden zoology, where the mouse lies down with the cameleopard (and is nearly as big) where the lion is [-200-] on such familiar terms with the jackass as to allow him to stand atop of him, with his hoofs in his jagged mane; where the duck is neatly packed (for more commodious stowage) in the bosom of the tigress, and then stands on his head between the fore feet of the elephant? Can you passively inspect the noble fluffy donkeys, with real fur, and the nicely equipoised panniers, and harness of softest, brownest leather? And those desirable family mansions, the dolls' houses, with the capital modern furniture, plate, glass and linen, with commands to sell which Messrs. Musgrove and Gadsden are not likely to be honoured. And the glorious kitchens, with that bottle-jack and meat screen and dripping-pan, at which was roasted the wooden sirloin of beef, painted and varnished. The boxes of red-handled carpenters' tools, which cut, and sawed, and chiselled nothing but children's fingers. The boxes of tea-things - now of wood, now of more ambition, tin and lead. The dolls - from Missey's flaxen-headed beauty, with the moveable blue eyes and the elegant pink leather extremities, swathed in silver tissue paper, to Master Jackey's favourite policeman, A.1, very blue in attire, and very stiff, with a very glazed hat, an intensely legible number, and varnished wooden boots. The fierce Hungarian hussar on horseback, with that cruel curved wire and counter-weight stuck through his entrails, with which he maintains an unceasing see-saw. The drummer with moveable arms. The musical toys, the accordions, the marvellous kaleidoscopes regarded at first as phantasmagoria of delight; but, breaking, or being broken, soon disclosing to our great disappointment and disgust, nothing but a disc of tin, a fragment of smoked glass, and some tawdry coloured chips? And such is life.
Hoops, nine-pins, drums covered with real parchment, innocently white above but which, were you to tear them, and look at the underpart, would, I gage, be found to be fragments of old deeds and indentures - such is life again: French toys, fierce toys, warlike toys, smelling of Young France, and glory, and blood - such as miniature cannon, lancers, sabretasches, war steamers armed en flute, sabres, muskets, shakos, and tri-coloured flags surmounted by the resuscitated Eagle of France. German toys, which like everything else coming from Deutschland, are somewhat quaint, and somewhat eccentric, and a thought misty : for example, queer old carved men and women, in queer attitudes, and animals whose anatomy is likewise of the queerest kind, and who yet have a queer ex-[-201-]pression of life and animation about them. Tortuous games, played with hammers and dice, and bells, and little men, which remind you somehow, you know not why, of Rhine Schlosses, and Gnomes and Undine, and Albert Durer's mailed knights. Then the Germans have monks and hermits who open, like the dolls' houses cupboard-door fashion, and show you (where gentlemen are generally supposed to accommodate - well, there is no harm in it - their insides) little chapels and oratories, with little altars and candles and priests. And who but the Germans too, would make long panoramas and dioramas opening in the accordion and collapsing manner, and strange monsters in boxes? An infinity of other jou-joux, such as India-rubber balls, whips of all shapes and capacities for chair or cock-horse flagellation, skipping-ropes, flutes, spades, rakes and hoes: all these are to be found in the toy department of the Lowther Arcade.
These toys are sold by bright-eyed damsels, and they are bought by plump married couples, and pretty cousins, and prim yet benignant old aunts, and cross yet kind old grandmothers - yea and by cross-grained bachelors and sulky mysogynists, and crabbed City men. I have seen a man - one of those men who were he but five-and-twenty you would immediately feel inclined to call, mentally, an old fellow- enter Lowther Arcadia by the Strand, looking as savage, as ill-tempered, as sulky as the defendant in a breach-of-promise case, dragging rather than leading a child; but I have seen him emerge ten minutes afterwards with an armful of toys looking sunny with good humour.
And they are bought, these toys, for that marvellous little people who are the delight and hope and joy, the sorrow, solace, chief anxiety, and chief pleasure, of grown-up man and womankind;- for those little manuscripts of the book of life yet unsent to press, unset up in stern uncompromising type, as yet uncirculating in proof-sheets for the inspection of the judge: to be bound and published and criticised at the last; -for those innocent little instruments of even-handed justice - the justice that makes of our children the chief punishment or reward to us - a heaven or a torment about us here in life. And whether Arcadia live or die, and whether those ruddy children and these plump parents continue or surcease, there will be toy-shops and toys and parents and children to purchase them to the end, I hope; for I believe toys to be the symbolic insignia of the freemasonry of child-[-202-]hood - as aprons and mallets, adzes and jewels are to the older freemasons of Lincoln's-Inn Fields - and that they are bonds of union, pledges of affection, from the man-child to the child-man; and that they are substantial lectures on useful arts and useful recreations; and although of course I would exclude from my Tommy's or Emily's play-box every toy that could suggest or hint at cruelty, intolerance, injustice or wrong, I do think that English toys (I speak not of the Gallic and bellicose ones) are mainly honest and well- meaning and even moral playthings. I love toys.
The second department of Lowther Arcadia of which I would wish, cursorily, to treat, is that connected with the sale of jewellery. The Lowther bijouterie is certainly unique. It may want the intrinsic value of the productions of Howell and James or Hunt and Roskell. The Lowtherian brilliants may not be of a water so fine as those of Regent Street or Cornhill; but the jewellery of my Arcade is as sparkling and as showy, as gay and as variegated as any assemblage of gems you like to mention - the jewel-house in the Tower of London, or the Queen of Spain's jewels, or Mr. Hope's. The gold is as yellow; though, perhaps, not quite so valuable as any Brown and Wingrove have to refine. The emeralds are green, the rubies red, the turquoises blue: and what other colours would you have emeralds, and rubies, and turquoises to be? Lowther shines, too, in cameos-none of your shrinking, shamefaced, genuine Roman ones - but great, bold, bouncing, pictorial pancakes: heads of Minerva as big as Bristol Channel oysters, and trios of Graces vying in size with bread-and-butter plates. Lowther hath, in its huge glass cases and beneath glass domes, good store of necklaces (the pearl ones like strings of varnished plovers' eggs), bracelets, agraffes, buckles, shirt-pins, hair ornaments; but it is in the article of brooches that she chiefly shines: brooches with a vengeance. Geological brooches, comprising every variety of strata, from blue clay to red sandstone, genteelly cut, polished, and set. Pictorial brooches, forcing on you the counterfeit presentments of a heterogeneous assemblage of celebrated female characters: Mary Queen of Scots, Madame de la Valliere, Marie Antoinette, and Jenny Lind; with a more cautious selection from among the gentlemen, ranging from Oliver Cromwell to Buffon the naturalist, or from Henry the Eighth to M. Kossuth. Brooches for hair, and simple jet or cornelian brooches. Landscape brooches, where the lake of Chamouni, [-203-] and Mont Blanc - the monarch of mountains, who was crowned so long ago - are depicted in a vivid blue and green manner - astonishing to the eyes of Professor Forbes, or Mr. Brockedon. Brooches for all ages, from that blushing girl of eighteen yonder - for whom the fond youth in the astonishing coat and the alarming waistcoat is purchasing a gigantic oval half-length of Charles the Second set in elaborate filigree - down to the white-headed old grandmamma, doubly widowed and doubly childless, who will here provide herself with a cheap yet handsome locket-brooch wherein to preserve a lock of sunny brown hair, all that is left (save a ciphering book) to remind her of that gallant nephew Harry, who went down in the war-steamer 'Phlegethon,' with all hands, far in the Southern Seas.
Nor is it the worse for being unreal - sham is hardly the word; for Lowther says boldly, Here is my jewellery; I will sell it to you at a price. If you choose to believe my half-crown cameo-moons are made of green cheese, my eighteen-penny bracelets sapphires or opals, my three-and-sixpenny necklaces barbaric pearl and gold, believe and be blest. We do not attempt to deceive you; if our price be too cheap, 'don't buy.' It may seem inconsistent in me, who have so lately borne rather hard upon the arcade of Burlington, that I should defend the fictitious gems that have their abode in the arcade of Lowther. But I consider this: that there is a difference between a sham deliberate, a wilful dophistry or wanton piece of casuistry, and a lie confessant; a work of fiction for instance - a novel, a fable, or a pleasant tale. As such, I consider the jewels of Lowther. Is it because my pretty tradesman's daughter, my humble milliner or sempstress; even my comely cook, housemaid, or damsel of all work cannot afford the real barbaric pearl and gold-the real rose and table diamonds-that they are to be debarred from wearing innocent adornments, wherewith to accomplish the captivation (which their bright faces have begun) of their respective swains and sweethearts? No. Leaving their aristocratic sisters to disport themselves in real Cashmeres from Delhi and Allahabad, and real lace' shawls from Brussels and Malines, they are content with humble Paisleys, and. unobtrusive Greenocks; so, abandoning genuine precious stones, genuine guinea gold, genuine pearls and. cameos, to perhaps not the happiest, but at least the more fortunate of their sex, they shall revel as it pleases them in the eighteenpenny finery of [-204-] this Arcadia ; and Samuel or William walking 'along with them,' or 'keeping of 'em company' in the smartest of surtouts and the whitest of Berlin gloves, on crowded steamboats, or amid the velvetty glades of the metropolitan parks, shall be as proud of them and of their jewels as though they were duchesses.
One more department of Arcadia yet remains to be explored. This is the section devoted to what I may call minor utilities, and though minor, they occupy a very considerable portion of the Lowther Arcade. Heaped in wild confusion - though not worse confounded - on the estrades of half a dozen merchants, are different ranges of shelves; grades on grades of such articles as cakes of Windsor soap, shaving dishes, shaving brushes, pocket combs, snuffer trays, bronze candlesticks, lucifer boxes, pipe lights, sealing wax; hair, tooth, clothes, and blacking brushes, French coffee-pots, tea canisters, workboxes, nutmeg graters, paper weights, pencil-cases, china mantel-shelf ornaments, knick-knacks for drawing-room tables, artificial flowers, watch-chains, perfumery, hair pins, plaster statuettes, penknives, scissors, dog-chains, walking- sticks, housewife-cases, knives, forks, and spoons, china plates, cups and saucers, wine glasses, decanters, presents from Brighton, tokens from Ramsgate, letter-clips, portfolios, music-cases, reticules, scent-bottles, and fans. There is scarcely a minor want, an everyday wish in the catalogue of everyday wants and wishes, but which can be supplied from the delightfully egregious farrago of fancy hucksteries here collected. It is the Bagdad of housekeeping odds and ends, the very place I should advise all those about to marry to visit when they have found that besides the household furniture, plate, linen. and bedding, pots, pans, they have discovered indispensable in fitting up their bridal mansion, there are yet a thousand and one things they cannot do without, and which nothing but a walk through Arcadia will satisfy them that they really want.
The most wonderful thing connected with the cosmopolitan merchandise displayed in the Lowther Arcade is the apparent recklessness with which the commodities are exposed to the touch of the passers-by, and the enormous apparent confidence which their proprietors appear to place in their customers. The toys are tested, and the minor utilities examined; the musical instruments are sounded at the good pleasure of those without, whether they mean buying or not buying; but be [-205-] assured, O man of sin - pilferer of small wares and petty larcener - that there is an eye within keenly glancing from some loophole contrived between accordions and tin breast-plates that watches your every movement, and is 'fly,' -to use a term peculiarly comprehensible to dishonest minds - to the slightest gesture of illegal conveyancing.
The Lowther Arcade should, to be properly appreciated and admired, be viewed at three widely distant periods of the day. First, in the early morning, when the hells of St. Martin's have just commenced carilloning the quarter-chimes to eight. Then the myriad wares that Lowther has to sell, are scattered about in a manner reminding you of the particoloured chaos of one of the Lowther's own kaleidoscopes indefinitely magnified and blown to pieces, or of the wardrobe and property room of a large theatre combined, when the employés are 'taking stock.' In the midst of this chaotic olla podrida of oddities pick their way, with cautious steps yet nimble, the Arcadian shepherds and shepherdesses, wearing mostly over their pastoral garments large aprons and pinafores of brown holland and gray calico. With feather brooms or gauzy dusters they dust and cleanse and furbish and rub up and brighten all the multifarious paraphernalia of their calling; and, swift the amphitheatrical benches or grades are crowned with rainbow toys, or glittering glass cases symmetrically arranged, artistically displayed to catch the eye and provoke the appetite of taste. Some pilgrim from the west may, at such times, fortuitously be found gliding among the fancy goods that corruscate the pavement, nervously apprehensive of stepping an inch to the right or to the left, lest he should 'fall into a bit of property,' his own might not be sufficient to replace.
I have no room for statistics, so I will not enter into any calculation as to the numerical quantities of fancy wares vended in the Lowther Arcade; the gross amount of money received, the average number of visitors, or matters of that kind. I may passingly observe, that there are toys, and gems and knick-knacks here, that are things of great price to-day, and positive drugs in the market to-morrow. At one time the public toy-taste runs upon monkeys that run up sticks, or old gentlemen that swing by their own door-knockers, squeaking dreadfully the while: at another period the rage is for the squeezeable comic masks and faces (at first and fallaciously supposed to be made of gutta-percha, but ultimately dis-[-206-]covered, through the agency of a precocious philosopher, aged seven - who ate one of them - to be formed from a composition of glue, flour, and treacle). Now, horrible writhing gutta-percha snakes are up, and now they are down; now pop-guns go off and now hang fire.
There are certain toys and fancy ornaments that always, however, preserve a healthy vogue, and command a ready sale. Of the former, the Noah's arks, and dolls' houses, and India-rubber balls, may be mentioned; although their nominal nomenclatures are sometimes altered to suit the exigencies of fashion. Thus we are enticed to purchase Uncle Buncle's Noah's ark, Peter Parley's balls, or Jenny Lind's Doll's mansion. Of the fancy goods, I may hint fugitively that some attenuated vases of artificial flowers under glass shades, I have known as Queen Adelaide's Own, Victoria's Wreath, The Jenny Lind Bouquet, and the Eugenie Vase. These flowerets are much cultivated as chimney ornaments by maiden ladies in the neighbourhoods of Peckham Rise and Muswell Hills. Lastly, there is a model, or sample piece of workmanship, of which copies are to this day sold, principally to the ladies, which I have known for nearly twenty years. It consists of a hollow cottage of latitudinarian architecture, composed of plaster of Paris, with stained glass windows, and with a practicable chimney. In the hollow part of the edifice an oil lamp is nocturnally placed; and the light pouring through the windows, and the smoke curling up the chimney (not altogether inodorously), produce a charming and picturesque effect. This building has had many names. When I knew it first, it was, I think, William Tell's Chalet. Then it was the Birthplace of the Poet Moore. Then it was Shakspeare's House. Then Her Majesty's Highland Hut or Shieling, near Balmoral, in Scotland. And now it is the Birthplace of Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe. House of many names! farewell! and thou, too, Arcadia! till at some future day I wander through thy spangled glades again.