Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Gaslight and Daylight, by George Augustus Sala, 1859 - Chapter 5 - Things Departed

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I use the parlour, I am not ashamed to say it, of the 'Blue Pigeon.' There was an attempt, some months since, headed, I believe, by that self-educated young jackanapes, Squrrel, to prevail on the landlord to change the appellation of 'parlour' into 'coffee-room;' to substitute horsehair-covered benches for the Windsor chairs; to take the sand off the floor, and the tobacco-stoppers off the table. I opposed it. Another person had the impudence to propose the introduction of a horribly seditious publication, which he called a liberal newspaper. I opposed it. So I did the anarchical proposition to rescind our standing order, that any gentleman smoking a cigar instead of a pipe, on club nights, should he fined a crown bowl of punch. From this you will, perhaps, Sir, infer that I am a Conservative. Perhaps I am. I have my own opinions about Catholic Emancipation, Parliamentary Reform, and the Corn Laws.
    I have nothing to do with politics, nor politics with me, just now; but I will tell you what object I have in addressing you. I can't help thinking, coming home from the club, how curiously we adapt ourselves to the changes that are daily taking place around us; how, one by one, old habits and old customs die away, and we go about our business as unconcernedly as though they never had been. Almost the youngest of us - if he choose to observe, and can remember what he observes - must have a catalogue of 'things departed;' of customs, ceremonies, institutions, to which [-57-] people were used, and which fell gradually into disuse; which seemed, while they existed, to be almost necessaries of life, and for which now they don't care the value of a Spanish bond. There was a friend of mine, a man of genius, whose only fault was his continuous drunkenness, who used to say that the pith of the whole matter lay in the 'doctrine of averages.' I was never a dab at science and that sort of thing; but I suppose he meant that there was an average in the number of his tumblers of brandy and water, in the comings up of new fashions, and in the goings down of old ones; then of the old ones coming up again, and so vice versa, till I begin to get muddled (morally muddled, of course), and give up the doctrine of averages in despair.
    I have a copious collection in my memory of things departed. I am no chicken (though not the gray-headed old fogy that insulting Squrrel presumes to call me); but if I were to tell you a tithe of what I can remember in the way of departed fashions, manners, and customs, the very margins of this paper would be flooded with type. Let me endeavour to recall a few-a very few only-of what I call things departed.
    Hackney-coaches, for instance. Why, a boy of twelve years of age can remember them; and yet, where are they now? Who thinks of them? Grand, imposing, musty-. smelling, unclean old institutions they were. Elaborate heraldic devices covered their panels; dim legends used to be current amongst us children, that they had all been noblemen's carriages once upon a time, but falling - with the princely houses they appertained to - into decay, had so come to grief and hackney-coachhood. They had wonderful coachmen, too - imposing individuals, in coats with capes infinite in number. How they drove! How they cheated! How they swore! The keenest of your railway cabbies, the most extortionate of your crack Hansoms, would have paled before the unequalled Billingsgate of those old-world men, at the comprehensive manner in which you, your person, costume, morals, family, and connections, were cursed. As all boatmen at Portsmouth have (or say they have) been Nelson's coxswain, so used I to believe every hackney-coachman I saw to be the identical Jarvey who had been put inside his own vehicle by the Prince of Wales, and driven about the metropolis by that frolicsome and royal· personage, in company with Beau Brummel, Colonel Hanger, and Philippe Egalité. [-58-] But the hackney-coach is now one of the things departed. There is one - one still, I believe - stationed in the environs of North Audley Street, Oxford Street. I have seen it - a ghostly, unsubstantial pageant - flit before me, among cabs and omnibuses, like a vehicular phantom ship. The coachman is not the rubicund, many-caped Jehu of yore. He is a thin, weazened old man in a jacket (hear it!) and Wellington boots. The armorial bearings on the coach-panels are defaced; the springs creak; the wheels stumble as they roll. I should like to know the man who has the courage to call that hackney-coach off the stand, and to ride in it. He must he a Conservative.
    What have they done with the old hackney-coaches? Have they sent them to Paris as raw materials for barricades? Are their bodies yet mouldering, as in a vale of dry bones, in some Long Acre coach-builder's back shop? and some day, mounted on fresh springs, fresh painted and fresh glazed, newly emblazoned with heraldic lies, with flaunting hammer-cloths and luxurious squabs, are they to roll once more to courtly levee, or civic feast, to stop the way at ball or opera, to rattle nobility to the portal of St. George's, Hanover Square, to be married, or follow it, creeping, and with windows up, to be buried?
    What have they done with the old cabriolets, too - the bouncing, rattling, garishly-painted cabs, with a hood over the passenger, and a little perch on one side for the driver? They upset apple-stalls often-their fares, too, frequently. Their drivers were good whips, and their horses skittish. Where are they now? Do they ply in the streets of Sydney or San Francisco, or have their bodies been cut up, years ago, for firewood and lucifer-matches?
    Intimately connected, in association and in appearance, with the Jarveys, were the Charleys, or watchmen. They went out with oil-lamps, the Duke of Wellington's ministry, and the Bourbon family. Like the coachmen, they wore many-caped coats; like them, they wore low-crowned hats, end were rubicund in the countenance; like them, they were abusive. In the days of our youth we used to beat these Charleys, to appiopriate their rattles, to suspend them in mid air, like Mahomet's coffin, in their watch-boxes. Now-a-days, there be stern men, Policemen, in oilskin hats, with terrible truncheons, and who 'stand no nonsense'; they do all the beating themselves, and lock us up when we would strive to [-59-] knock them down. There is yet, to this day, a watch-box- a real monumental watch-box standing, a relic of days gone by-somewhere near Orchard Street, Portman Square. It has been locked up for years; and great-coated policeman pass it nightly, on their beat, and cast an anxious glance towards it, lest night-prowlers should be concealed behind its worm-eaten walls.
    And, touching great-coats, are not great-coats themselves among the things departed? We have Paletôts (the name of which many have assumed), Ponchos, Burnouses, Sylphides, Zephyr wrappers, Chesterfields, Llamas, Pilot wrappers, Wrap-rascals, Bisuniques, and a host of other garments, more or less answering the purpose of an over-coat. But where is the great-coat - the long, voluminous, wide-skirted garment of brown or drab broadcloth, reaching to the ankle, possessing unnumbered pockets; pockets for bottles, pockets for sandwiches, secret pouches for cash, and side-pockets for bank-notes? This venerable garment had a cape, which, in wet or snowy weather, when travelling outside the 'High- flyer' coach, you turned over your head. Your father wore it before you, and you hoped to leave it to your eldest son. Solemn repairs - careful renovation of buttons and braiding were done to it, from time to time. A new great-coat was an event - a thing to be remembered as happening once or so in a lifetime.
    There are more coaches and coats that are things departed, besides hackney-coachmen and long great-coats. Where are the short stages? Where are the days when we went gipsying, in real stage-coaches, from the 'Flower-Pot,' in Bishops- gate Street, to Epping Forest, or to Kensington, or to the inaccessible Hampstead? The time occupied in those memorable journeys now suffices for our transportation to Brighton -  fifty-two good English miles. Where is the Brighton coach itself? its four blood-horses; the real live baronet, who coached it for a livelihood; and, for all the 'bloody hand' in his scutcheon, sent round his -servant to collect the gratuitous half-crowns from the passengers.
    Things departed are the pleasant view of London from Shooter's Hill, the houses on the river, and, over all, the great dome of St. Paul's looming through the smoke. What is the great North Road now? one of the Queen's highways, and nothing more; but, in those days, it was the great coaching thoroughfare of the kingdom. Highgate flourished; but, [-60-] where is Highgate now? I was there the other day. The horses were gone, and the horse-troughs, and the horse-keepers. Yet, from the window of the Gate-house I could descry in one coup d'oeil, looking northwards, thirteen public-houses. The street itself was deserted, save by a ragged child, struggling with a pig for the battered remnant of a kettle. I wondered who supported those public-houses now; whether the taps were rusty, and the pots dull; or whether, in sheer desperation at the paucity of custom, the publicans had their beer from one another's houses, and, at night, smoked their pipes and drank their grog in one another's bar-parlours. So, yet wondering and undecided, I passed through Highgate Archway-where no man offered to swear me- and came to the turnpike, where I saw a lamentable illustration of the hardness of the times, in the turnpike-man being obliged to take toll in kind; letting a costermonger and a donkey-cart through for vegetables; and a small boy, going Islington-wards, for an almost bladeless knife.
    Where is Cranbourne Alley? where that delightful maze of dirty, narrow, little thoroughfares, leading from Leicester Square to St. Martin's Lane? There was an alley of bonnet- shops-behind whose dusty windows faded Tuscans and Leghorns were visible, and at the doors of which stood women, slatternly in appearance, but desperate and accomplished touters. Man, woman, or child, it was all the same to them; if they had made up their minds that you were to buy a bonnet, buy one you were obliged to do, unless gifted with rare powers for withstanding passionate persuasion and awful menace. Piteous stories were told of feeble-minded old gentlemen emerging from the 'courts,' half-fainting, laden with bonnet-boxes, and minus their cash, watches, and jewellery, which they had left behind them, in part payment for merchandise which they had bought, or had been compelled to buy. The Lowther Arcade was not built in those days; and, in Cranbourne Alley, there were toy-shops, and cheap jewellery warehouses, and magazines for gimcracks of every description. Moreover, in Cranbourne Alley was there not Hamlet's - not Hamlet the Dane, but Hamlet, the silversmith! How many times have I stood, wondering, by those dirty windows, when I ought to have been wending my way to Mr. Wackerbarth's seminary for young gentlemen! Peering into the dim obscurity, dimly making out stores of gigantic silver dish-covers, hecatombs of silver spoons and forks - a [-61-] Pelions upon Ossas of race-cups and church services,- Hamlet was, to me, a synonyme with boundless wealth, inexhaustible credit, the payment of Console - the grandeur of commercial Britain, in fact. Hamlet, Cranbourne Alley, and the Constitution! Yet Cranbourne Alley and Hamlet are both things departed.
    In the shops in this neighbourhood they sold things which have long since floated down the sewer of Lethe into the river of Limbo. What has become of the tinder-box ?-the box we never could find when we wanted it; the tinder that wouldn't light; the flint and steel that wouldn't agree to strike a light till we had exhausted our patience, and chipped numerous small pieces of skin and flesh from our fingers? Yet Bacon wrote his 'Novum Organum,' and Blackstone his 'Commentaries,' by tinder-box-lighted lamps: and Guy Fawkes was very nearly blowing up the Legislature with a tinderbox-lighted train. The tinder-box is gone now; and, in its place, we have sinister-looking splints, made from chopped-up coffins; which, being rubbed on sand-paper, send forth a diabolical glare, and a suffocating smoke. But they do not fail, like the flint and steel, and light with magical rapidity; so, as everybody uses them, I am obliged to do so too.
    And, while I speak of lights and smoke, another thing departed comes before me. There is no such a thing as a pipe of tobacco now-a-days, sir. I see English gentlemen go about smoking black abominations like Irish apple-women. I hear of Milo's, Bums' cutty-pipes, Narghiles, Chiboucks, meerschaums, hookahs, water pipes, straw pipes, and a host of other inventions for emitting the fumes of tobacco. But where, sir, is the old original alderman pipe, the church-warden's pipe, the unadulterated 'yard of clay?' A man was wont to moisten the stem carefully with beer ere he put it to his lips; when once it was alight, it kept alight; a man could sit behind that pipe, but can a man sit behind the ridiculous figments they call pipes now? The yard of clay is departed. A dim shadow of it lingers sometimes in the parlours of old city taverns; I met with it once in the Bull Ring at Birmingham. I have heard of it in Chester; but in its entirety, as a popular, acknowledged pipe, it must be numbered with the things that were.
    Where are the franks? I do not allude to the warlike race of Northmen, who, under the sway of Pharamond, first gave France its name; neither do I mean those individuals who, [-62-] rejoicing in the appellation of Francis, are willing to accept the diminutive of Frank - I mean those folded sheets of letter-paper, which, being endorsed with the signature of a peer, or of a Member of Parliament, went thenceforward post-free. There were regular frank-hunters-men who could nose a Member who had not yet given all his franks away, with a scent as keen as ever  Cuban bloodhound had for negro flesh. He would give chase m the lobby; run down the doomed legislator within the very shadow of the Sergeant-at-Arms' bag-wig; and, after a brief contest, unfrank him on  the spot.  They were something to look at, and something worth having, those franks, when the postage to Edinburgh was thirteen-pence. But the franks are gone - gone with the procession of the mail-coaches on the first of May; they have fallen before little effigies of the sovereign, printed in red, and gummed at the back. English Members of Parliament have no franks now; and the twenty-five (though of a metallic nature) allowed, till very lately, to the Members of the French Legislature, have even been abolished.
    I never think of franks without a regretful remembrance of another thing departed - a man who, in old tunes, stood on the steps of the Post-office in St. Martin's le Grand; with a sheet of cartridge-paper, and whom I knew by the appellation of 'it forms.' 'It forms,' he was continually saying, 'now it forms a jockey-cap, now a church-door, a fan, a mat, the paddle-boxes of a steamer, a cocked hat;' and, as he spoke, he twisted the paper into something bearing a resemblance to the articles he named. He is gone; so is the sheet of fool's-cap we used to twist into the semblance of cocked hats, silkworm-boxes, and boats, when boys at school. The very secret of the art is lost in these degenerate days, I verily believe, like that of making Venetian bezoar, or staining glass for windows.
    Whole hosts of street arts and street artists are among the things departed. Where is the dancing bear, with his piteous brown muzzle and uncouth gyrations? Where is the camel? Where the tight-rope dancers? the performers on stilts? Where are these gone? Say not that the New Police Act has abolished them; for though that sweeping piece of legislation has silenced the dustman's bell, and bade the muffin-boy cry muffins no more, we have still the organ-grinders with, or without, monkeys, the Highland bagpipes, and the acrobats. The fantoccinis are almost extinct; and I suppose Punch [-63-] will go next. It is all very well, and right, and proper of course. Dancing bears and camels, monkeys and fantoccinis, am all highly immoral, no doubt; but I should just like to see what the British Constitution would be without Punch and Judy.
    The small-coal man is gone; the saloop stall; the blind~ man and his dog are becoming rarae aves; the grizzled Turk with a dirty turban, and a box of rhubarb before him, is scarcely ever to be met with. In his stead we have a liver-coloured Lascar, shivering in white cotton robes, selling tracts of the inflammatory order of Piety, and' occasionally offering them in exchange for gin. Age, caprice, the encouragement of new favourites, are driving these old-established ornaments of the streets away.
    1 do not quarrel so much with the ever-changing fashions in dress. I can give up without a sigh the leg-of-mutton sleeves, those dreadful pear-shaped monsters of silk and muslin, they wore about the year '30. I will not clamour for the revival of the bishop's sleeves - unwieldy articles that were always either getting squashed flat as a pancake in a crowd, or dipping into the gravy at dinner. I will resign the monstrous Leghorn hats - the short-waisted pelisses, the Cossack trousers, and flaming stocks in which we arrayed ourselves, when George the Fourth was king; but let me drop one tear, heave one sigh, to the memories of pig-tails and Hessian boots.
    Both are things departed. One solitary pig-tail, I believe, yet feebly flourishes in some remote corner of the agricultural districts of England. It comes up to town during the season; and I have seen it in New Burlington Street. The Hessians, though gone from the lower extremities of a nation, yet find abiding place on the calves of the Stranger in Mr. Kotzebue's play of that name, and over the portals of some bootmakers of the old school. The Hessians of our youth are gone. The mirror-polished, gracefully-outlined, silken-tasselled Hessians exist no more - those famous boots, the soles of which Mr. Brummel caused to be blacked, and in the refulgent lustre of which the gentleman of fashion immortalised by Mr. Warren was wont to shave himself.
    Of the buildings, the monuments, the streets, which are gone, I will not complain. I can spare that howling desert in the area of Leicester Fields, with its battered railings, its cat-haunted parterres, its gravel walks, usurped by snails, and [-64-] overgrown with weeds. I like Mr. Wyld's Great Globe better. I can dispense with the old Mews of Charing Cross, and the bill-covered hoarding surrounding them, though I loved the latter, for the first announcement of the first play I ever saw was pasted there. I like Trafalgar Square (barring the fountains) better. I can surrender the horrible collection of mangy sheds, decomposed vegetables, and decaying baskets, which used to block up Farringdon Street, and which they called Fleet Market. I can renounce, though with a sigh, the Fleet Prison, acquiesce in the superiority of New Oxford Street over St. Giles and the Holy Land, and of Victoria Street, as compared with the dirt and squalor and crime of Westminster. Yet, let me heave one sigh for King's Cross, that anomalous little area where many roads converge, and many monuments have stood. There was a stone monster, an adamantine Guy Fawkes, which was traditionally supposed to represent George the good, the magnificent, the great; his curly wig, his portly mien, his affable countenance. Little boys used to chalk their political opinion freely on the pedestal, accompanied by rough cartoons of their parents and guardians, their pastors and masters; omnibus drivers and conductors pointed the finger of hilarity at it, as they passed by; it was a great statue. They have taken it away, with the Small-pox Hospital into the bargain, and though they have set up another George, stirrupless, hatless, and shoeless, in Trafalgar Square, and the Hospital is removed elsewhere, the terminus of the Great Northern Railway, and the pedestal with three big lamps now standing in their stead, are a dis-sight to mine eyes, and make me long for the old glories of King's Cross and Battle Bridge.
    Smithfield is going. Tyburn is gone (I am not such an old fogy, Mr. Squrrel, as to be able to remember that; nor so stanch a Conservative as to regret it, now that it is gone). Bartholomew Fair is gone. Greenwich Fair going. Chalk Farm Fair a melancholy mockery of merriment. Let me ask a few more interrogations, and let me go too.
    Where are the fogs? Light brumous vapours I see hanging over London, in December; but not the fogs of my youth. They were orange-coloured, substantial, palpable fogs, that you could cut with a knife, or bottle up for future inspection. In those fogs vessels ran each other down on the river; link- boys were in immense request; carriages and four drove into chemists' shops and over bridges; and in the counting-house [-65-] of Messrs. Bingo, Mandingo, and Flamingo, where I was a smell boy, copying letters, we burnt candles in the battered old sconces all day long. I saw a, fog, a real fog, the other day, travelling per rail from Southampton; but it was a white one, and gave me more the idea of a balloon voyage than of the fog de facto.
Gone with the fogs are the link-boys, the sturdy, impudent varlets, who beset you on murky nights with their flaming torches, and the steady-going, respectable, almost aristocratic link-bearers, with silver badges often, who had the monopoly .of the doors of the opera, and of great men's houses, when balls or parties were given. I knew a man once who was in the habit of attending the nobility's entertainments, not by the virtue of an invitation, but by the grace of his own indomitable impudence, and by the link-boys' favour. An evening costume, an unblushing mien, and a crown to the link-boy, would be sufficient to make that worthy bawl out his name and style to the hall-porter; the hall-porter would shout it to the footman; the footman yell it to the groom of the chambers; while the latter intoning it for the benefit of the lady or gentleman of the house, those estimable persons would take it for granted that they must have invited him; and so bowing and complimenting, as a matter of course, leave him without restriction to his devices, in the way of dancing, flirting, écarté, playing, and supper-eating. Few and far between are the link-boys in this present 1859. The running footmen with the flambeaux have vanished these many years; and the only mementos surviving of their existence are the blackened extinguishers attached to the area railings of some old-fashioned houses about Grosvenor Square. With the flambeaux, the sedan-chairs have also disappeared; the drunken Irish chairmen who carried them; the whist-loving old spinsters, who delighted to ride inside them. I have seen disjecta membra - venerable ruins, here and there, of the sedan- chairs at Bath, at Cheltenham, at Brighton; but the bones thereof are marrowless, and its eyes without speculation.
    The old articles of furniture that I loved, are things departed. The mirror, with its knobby gilt frame, and stunted little branches for candles, the podgy eagle above it, and its convex surface reflecting your face in an eccentric and distorted manner; the dumb waiter, ugly and. useful; the dear old spinnet, on which aunt Sophy used to play those lamentable pieces of music, the 'Battle of Prague' and the [-66-] Caliph of Bagdad* (*temporarily resuscitated lately)  the old 'cheffonnier, the whatnot,' and the 'Canterbury;' the workbox, with a view of the Pavilion at Brighton on the lid; the Tunbridge ware, (supplanted now by vile, beautifully-painted, artistic things of papier-mache, from Birmingham, forsooth,) - gone, and for ever.
    Even while I talk, whole crowds of 'things departed' flit before me, of which I have neither time to tell, nor you patience to hear. Post-boys, 'wax-ends from the palace,' - Dutch-pugs, black footmen, the window-tax, the Palace Court, Gatton, and Old Sarum! What will go next, I wonder? - Temple Bar, Lord Mayor's Day,* *(It is well nigh gone. The man in armour is a myth, and his place knows him no more.) or the 'Gentleman's Magazine?'
    Well, well: it is all for the best, I presume. The trivial things that I have babbled of, have but departed with the leaves and the melting snow - with the hopes that are extinguished, and the ambition that is crushed-with dear old friends dead, and dearer friendships severed. I will be content to sit on the milestone by the great road, and, smoking my pipe, watch the chariot of life, with Youth on the box and Pleasure in the dicky, tear by till the dust thrown up by its wheels has whitened my hair, and it shall be my time to be numbered among the things departed.