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PHASES OF 'PUBLIC' LIFE.
WHEN the race of this huge London World-City shall be run - when the
millstone shall have been cast into its waters, and the word has gone forth that
Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen - when the spider shall weave his web
amidst the broken columns of the Bank; the owl shriek through the deserted
arcades of the Exchange; and the jackal prowl through labyrinths of ruins and
rubbish, decayed oyster-shells and bleached skeletons, of the dogs of other
days, where once was Regent Street - I should very much like to know what the
'Central Australian Society for the Advancement of Science,' or the 'Polynesian
Archaeological Associatjon,' or the 'Imperial New Zealand Society of
Antiquaries,' would be likely to make of a great oblong board which glares at me
[-67-] through the window at which I am writing
this present paper - a board some five-and-twenty feet in length perchance,
painted a bright resplendent blue, and on which are emblazoned in glittering
gold the magic words, 'Barclay, Perkins, and Co.'s Entire.'
One of these boards will, perchance, be disinterred by some persevering savant from a heap of the relics of old London antiquities; wheel-less, shaft-less, rotting Hansom's cabs, rusted chimney-cowls, turnpike-gates of ancient fashion and design, gone-by gas-lamps and street-posts. And the savant will doubtless imagine that he will find in the mysterious board - the once glittering characters - some sign, some key, to the secret freemasonry, some shibboleth of the old London world. Learned pamphlets will be written, doubtless, to prove a connection between Barclay and Perkins and Captain the pedestrian, and Perkins' steam-gun, who and which, joined together by some Siamese bond of union, became thenceforth and for ever one entire 'Co.' Other sages, haply, will have glimmering notions that Barclay and Perkins have something to do with a certain X.X.X.; others stoutly maintain that the words formed but Christian and surnames, common among the inhabitants of old London, even as were the well-known 'Smiths,' and the established 'Jones.' We know,' they will say, 'that the great architect of the most famous buildings in old London was called "Voluntary Contributions;" we know that a majority of the citizens of that bygone city were addicted to the creed of Zoroaster, or sun-worship; for we find on the ruins of their houses votive plates of brass, of circular form, bearing an effigy of the sun, with a reference to fire-insurance - these things have been demonstrated by learned doctors and professors of ability; why may we not, then, assume that Barclay and Perkins were names possessed in an astonishingly prolific degree by London citizens, who, proud of belonging to so respectable a family, were in the habit of blazoning the declaration of their lineage in blue and gold on an oblong board, and affixing the same to the front of their houses?' The Emperor of China has upwards of five thousand cousins, who are distinguished from the tag-rag and bobtail of the Celestial Empire by wearing yellow girdles. 'Why,' these sages will ask, 'may not the parent Barclay Perkins have been a giant, blessed with hundreds of arrows in his quiver, whose thousand thousand descendants were proud to be clad like him in a livery of blue and gold?'
[-68-] Then the sages will squabble, and wrangle, and call each other bad names, and write abusive diatribes against each other by magnetic telegraph, just as other sages were wont to squabble and wrangle about the Rosetta Stone, the Source of the Niger, and Bruce's discoveries; or, as they do now, about the North-West Passage and the percement of the Isthmus of Suez, the causes of the cholera and diphtheria, and the possibility of aerial navigation. As it has been, so it is, and will be, I suppose; and if we can't agree nowadays, so shall we, or rather our descendants, disagree in times to come, and concerning matters far less recondite or abstruse than Barclay Perkins.
I know what Barclay and Perkins mean, I hope; - what Combe and Delafield - what Truman, Hanbury, and Buxton - what Calvert and Co.-what Reid and Co. - what Bass - what Allsopp - what Broadwood, Mundell, and Huggins. You know, too, gentle, moderate, and bibulous reader of the present age. They all mean BEER. Beer, the brown, the foaming, the wholesome, and refreshing, when taken in moderation; the stupifying, and to-station-house-leading, when imbibed ~o excess. That oblong board, alt blue and gold, I have spoken of as visible from my parlour window, has no mystery for me. Plainly, unmistakably, it says Beer: a good tap; four- pence a pot in the pewter; threepence per ditto if sent for in your own jug.
And if you admit (and you will admit, or you are no true Englishman) that beer be good - and, being good, that we should be thankful for it - can you tell me any valid reason why I should not write on the subject of Beer? Seeing how many thousands of reputable persons there are throughout the country who live by the sale of beer, and how many millions drink it,- seeing that beer is literally in everybody's mouth, it strikes me we should not ignore beer taken in its relation towards the belles lettres. Tarry with me, then, while I discourse on Beer - on the sellers and the buyers thereof - and of their habitations. I will essay to navigate my little bark down a river of beer, touching, perchance, at some little spirit-creek, or gently meandering through the 'back-waters' of neat wines.
When the Spanish student - immortalised by Le Sage - was inducted into the mysteries of the private life of Madrid, he availed himself of a temporary aerial machine, in a person of diabolical extraction, called Asmodeus - who further assisted [-69-] him in his bird's-eye inspection, by taking the roofs off the houses. When the nobility and gentry frequenting the fashionable circles of the Arabian Nights, were desirous of travelling with extraordinary rapidity, they were sure to be accommodated with magical carpets, or swift-flying eagles, or winged horses. Then they could be rendered invisible, or provided with telescopes, enabling them to see through every obstacle, from stone walls to steel castles; but things are changed, and times are altered now. One can't go from London to Liverpool without buying a railway-ticket, and being importuned to show it half a dozen times in the course of the journey. If you want to study character in the Stock Exchange, you can get no more invisible suit to do it in than a suit of invisible green, and run, moreover, the risk of hearing a howl of '201!' and feeling two hundred pair of hands, and two hundred pair of feet to match, bonneting, buffeting, hustling, and kicking you from the high place of Mammon.
So, then, in the study of Beer and Beerhouses, I have had no adventitious aid from accommodating demons, obliging genii, invisible caps, carpets, or cloaks. 'Experientia' - you know the rest. I have graduated in Beer; I have mastered its mysteries; and I will now assume, for your benefit, a magic power, which I devoutly wish I had possessed during my Beery researches. Come with me, then, in the spirit, to Bankside; and, after a cursory stroll round the fountain-head of beer, let us seat ourselves (still in the spirit) at the tail of one of these big drays, drawn by big horses, and, fearing no cries of 'whip behind!' from jealous boys (for, being spiritual, we are, of course, invisible), perambulate the metropolis, rapt in the contemplation of Beer. Surrounded with Barclay and Perkins's beer-barrels, our steeds conducted by Barclay and Perkins's red night-capped draymen, we will go in this, our magic chariot, from public-house to public-house: 'The latent tracks, the giddy heights explore;' 'shoot folly as it flies, and catch the manners living as they rise;' attempt a mild classification of the peculiar social characteristics of the different metropolitan 'publics;' give, in short, a view and a description, however lame and incomplete it may be, of 'London on Tap.'
I do not purpose, in these pages, at least, to enter minutely into the consideration of the aspect of a London Brewery, or of the manufacture of the great English beverage; so, then, our stay will be but short in this huge brick beer emporium.
[-70-] I make remark, en passant, that an odour prevails in and about the establishment, resembling an amalgamation of several washing-days, a few cookshops, and a stable or two. To cursory spectators, such as you and. I are, the brewery will offer very little besides this, and a general impression of 'bigness,' length, height, breadth, rotundity. The premises are large, the vats are large; the stables, the strong, stalwart homes, the provisions of hay and straw, of malt and hops, of smoke and steam, are all large. Large, also, to almost Titanic extensiveness, are the draymen - gladiators of the Beery arena, with Phrygian caps of scarlet hue, and wide-spread leathern aprons. Large are their labours; larger still, their appetites; largest and mightiest of all, their thirst of beer. Grocers and pastry-cooks, they say, give their apprentices and shopmen the run of all the delicacies they deal in, for the first month of their service - carte blanche to the plums, and figs, and tarts, of which - to the ultimate benefit of the tradesman-they speedily get very sick and tired; but with the drayman-neophyte it seems quite different; for I never heard - nor, did I hear, should I credit the assertion - that any of Barclay and Perkins's men ever got tired of Barclay and Perkins's tap. Largely impressed, therefore, with their pervading largeness, we will leave the brewhouse for the present.
Privately, we may be allowed, and confidentially, to surmise, that the profits of the proprietors are also large - very large, indeed; but goodness forbid that we should venture to hint (aloud, at least) that the prices they demand and obtain for beer are large, and - considering malt, and hops, and grain, and Free Trade, and that sort of thing - a great deal too large, and not quite just.
The heavy wheels of our chariot have been rumbling, while I spoke, through the great thoroughfare which commences at Charing Cross, and ends at Mile End - somewhere about where there was, once on a time, a Maypole. It diverges, going westward; and we are in a trice in a street, in which I never was in a vehicle in my life without being blocked up, and in which, in the present instance, we. are comfortably wedged with a timber-laden waggon, a hearse, and an advertising-van in front, and a Hansom cab or two, a mail-phaeton, and Mr. Ex-Sheriff Pickles's elegant chariot behind. Leaving the respective drivers to exchange compliments, couched in language more or less parliamentary, we will descend for a moment - for the neighbourhood is thickly studded with public-houses - and we shall have time, ere our [-71-] chariot be extricated, to investigate numerous varieties of 'London on Tap.'
Here, first - blatant, gay, and gaudy - is a GIN PALACE - a 'ginnery,' in full swing.
The Palladio or the Vitruvius who built this palace, has curiously diversified the orders of architecture in its construction. We have Doric shafts with Corinthian capitols - an Ionic frieze-Renaissance panels - a Gothic screen to the bar-parlour. But French polish and gilding cover a multitude of (architectural) sins; and there is certainly no lack of either the one or the other here. Tier above tier surround the walls, supporting gigantic casks, bearing legends of a fabulous number of gallons contained within. Yet are they not dummies; for we may observe spiral brass pipes, wriggling and twisting in snake-like contortions till they reach the bar, and so to the spirit-taps, where they bring the costly hogshead of the distiller home to the lips of the humblest costermonger, for a penny a glass. Beer is sold, and in considerable quantities - a halfpenny a pint cheaper, too, than at other hostelries; but it is curious beer-beer of a half-sweet, half-acrid taste, black to the sight, unpleasant to the taste, brown in the froth, muddy in consistence. Has it been in delicate health, and can that shabby old man, in close confab with the landlord at the door, at the steps of the cellar, be the 'Doctor?' Or has it been adulterated, 'fined,' doctored, patched, and cobbled up, for the amusement and instruction of amateurs in beer-like steam-frigates, for instance, or Acts of Parliament?
The area before the bar, you will observe, is very spacious. At this present second hour of the afternoon, there are, perhaps, fifty people in it; and it would hold, I dare say, full twenty more, and allow space, into the bargain, for a neat stand-up fight. One seems very likely to take place now between the costermonger, who has brought rather an inconvenient number of 'kea-rots' and 'turmuts' into the bar with him, and a peripatetic vendor of fish - the quality of whose wares he has (with some show of justice, perhaps) impugned. So imminent does the danger appear, that the blind matchseller - who was anon importuning the belligerents-hastily scuttles off; and an imp of a boy, in a man's fustian jacket, and with a dirty red silk kerchief twisted round his bull neck, has mounted the big tub, on which he eats astride, pipe in hand-a very St. Giles's Bacchus - declaring that he will see 'fair play.' Let us edge away a little towards the bar - [-72-] for the crowd towards the door is somewhat too promiscuous to be agreeable; and it is not improbable that in the mêlée, some red-kerchiefed citizen, of larger growth, whose extensor and flexor muscles are somewhat more powerfully developed, may make a savage assault on you, for his own private gratification, and the mere pleasure of hitting somebody.
This ginnery has not only a bar public, but divers minor cabinets, bibulous loose boxes, which are partitioned off from the general area; and the entrances to which are described in flowery, but somewhat ambiguous language. There is the 'Jug and Bottle Entrance,' and the entrance 'For Bottles only.' There is the 'Wholesale Bar,' and the 'Retail Bar'; . but, wholesale or retail, jug or bottle, the different bars all mean Gin! The long pewter counter is common to all. A counter perforated in elaborately-pricked patterns, like a convivial shroud, apparently for ornament, but really for the purpose of allowing the drainings, overflowings, and outspillings of the gin-glasses to drop through, which, being collected with sundry washings, and a dash, perhaps, of fresh material, is, by the thrifty landlord, dispensed to his customers under the title of 'all sorts.' Your dram-drinker, look you, is not unfrequently paralytic, wofully shaky in the hand; and the liquor he wastes, combined with that accidentally spilt, tells up wonderfully at the close of the year. There are cake-baskets on the counter, patronised mostly by the lady votaries of the rosy (or livid?) god ; but their tops are hermetically sealed, and their dulcet contents protected by a wire dome, or cupola, of convex form. Besides what I have described, if you will add some of my old friends the gold-blazoned boards, bearing the eulogies of various brewers, together with sundry little placards, framed and glazed, and printed in colours, telling, in seductive language, of Choice Compounds,' Old Tom,' 'Cream of the Valley,' 'Superior Cream Gin,' 'The Right Sort,' 'Kinahan's L.L.,' 'The Dew off Ben Nevis,' the 'Celebrated Balmoral Mixture, 'patronised by his Royal Highness Prince Albert' (the illustrious personage, clad in full Highland costume, with an extensive herd of red deer in the distance, is represented taking a glass of the 'Mixture' with great apparent gusto) ; besides these, I repeat, you will need nothing to 'complete the costume,' .as the romancers have it, of a Gin Palace.
Except the landlord, perhaps, who is bald and corpulent, who has a massive watch-chain, and a multiplicity of keys, and whose hands seem to leave the pockets of his trousers as [-73-] seldom as his keen eye does the gin-drawing gymnastics of his barmen. Gymnastics they are, tours de force, feats of calisthenics as agile as any performed by the agile professor whom I have just seen pass, all dirt, flesh-coloured drawers, and spangles. A quick, sharp, jerking twist for the spirit tap, allowing to run till the liquor is within a hair's breadth of the top of the measure, and no longer; a dexterous tilt of the 'two,' or 'three out' glasses required; an agile shoving forward of the pewter noggin with one hand, while the other inevitable palm is presented for the requisite halfpence; and oh! such a studious carefulness that one hand is not emptied before the other is filled. It is not everybody can serve in the bar of a Gin Palace. The barman wears a fur cap-generally - sometimes a wide-awake. He is addicted to carrying a piece of straw, a pipe-light, or the stalk of a flower in his mouth, diversifying it occasionally by biting half-crowns viciously. When he gives you change, he slaps it down on the counter in a provocatory manner; his face is flushed; his manner short, concise, sententious. His vocabulary is limited; a short 'Now then,' and a brief 'Here you are,' forming the staple phrases thereof. I wonder what his views of human nature - of the world, its manners, habits, and customs - can be like. Or what does the barmaid think of it? I should like to know: the young lady in the coal-black ringlets (like magnified leeches), the very brilliant complexion, and the coral necklace. Mercy on us! what can she, a girl of eighteen, think of the faces, the dress, the language of the miserable creatures among whom she spends sixteen hours of her life every day - every mortal day throughout the year-once in every three weeks (her 'day out') excepted?
One word about the customers, and we will rejoin our chariot, which must surely be extricated by this time. Thieves, beggars, costermongers, hoary-headed old men, stunted, ragged, shock-haired children, blowzy, slatternly women, hulking bricklayers, gaunt, sickly hobbedehoys, with long greasy hair. A thrice-told tale. Is it not the same everywhere! The same pipes, dirt, howling, maundering, fighting, staggering gin fever. Like plates multiplied by the electro-process - like the printer's stereo - like the reporter's manifold - you will find duplicates, triplicates of these forlorn beings everywhere. The same woman giving her baby gin; the same haggard, dishevelled woman, trying to coax her drunken husband home; the same mild girl, too timid [-74-] even to importune her ruffian partner to leave off drinking the week's earnings, who sits meekly in a corner, with two discoloured eyes, one freshly blacked-one of a week's standing. The same weary little man, who comes in early, crouches in a corner, and takes standing naps during the day, waking up periodically - for 'fresh drops.' The same red-nosed, ragged object who disgusts you at one moment by the force and fluency of his Billingsgate, and surprises you the next by bursting out in Greek and Latin quotations. The same thin, spectral man who has no money, and with his hands piteously laid one over the other, stands for hours gazing with fishy eyes at the beloved liquor-smelling, thinking of, hopelessly desiring it. And lastly, the same miserable girl, sixteen in years, and a hundred in misery; with foul, matted hair, and death in her face; - with a tattered plaid shawl, and ragged hoots, a gin-and-fog voice, and a hopeless eye.
Mr. Ex-Sheriff Pickles's carriage no longer stops the way, and the big draymen have conducted the big horses and the big dray to its destination. Beer has to be delivered at the sign of the 'Green Hog Tavern;' whither, if you have no objection, we will forthwith hie.
The Green Hog is in a tortuous, but very long street - a weak-minded street indeed, for it appears unable to decide whether to go to the right or to the left, straight or zig-zag, to be broad or to be narrow. The Green Hog participates in this indecision of character. It evidently started with the intention of having a portico, but stopping short, compromised the matter by overshadowing the street door with a hideous excrescence between a verandah, a 'bulk,' and a porch. Contradictory, also, is the Green Hog; for it calls itself; over the door, the Green Hog Tavern, over the window, a Wine Vaults, and round the corner (in the Mews) a Spirit Stores. The bar is shamefaced, having run away to the end of a long passage; and even then, when you do get to it, is mere like a bow-window than like a bar, and more like a butler's pantry than either. Very few customers do you see standing at the bar of the Green Hog; yet does its verdant porcinity considerable business with Barclay Perkins.
The truth is, the Green Hog is one of a class of publics, becoming rapidly extinct in London. It is a tavern - one of the old, orthodox, top-booted, sanded-floored taverns. It does a good business, not by casual beer-drinkers, but in 'lunch, dinner, and supper beers.' A better business, perhaps, in [-75-] wines and dinners; for to the Green Hog resort a goodly company of the customers of the 'old school,' - men who yet adhere to the traditional crown bowl of punch, and the historical 'rump and dozen,' who take their bottle of wine after dinner, and insist upon triangular spittoons. They are behind the times, perhaps, and the Green Hog is a little behind them too. The Green Hog can't make out competition, and new inventions, and fresh blood, and new resources. 'My father kept this house afore me,' says the Green Hog, 'and my son'll keep it after me.' So, within his orthodox and time-honoured precincts, a 'go' of sherry is still called a bottle of sherry a glass of brandy and water is charged a shilling. 'Bell's Old Weekly Messenger' is taken in; and the Green Hog goes to bed at midnight - winter or summer - week-day or Sabbath.
The parlour (or common room) of the Green Hog is a sight The ceiling is low and bulging, and is covered with a quiet, gray-patterned paper. There is a sanded floor, a big fireplace, 'settles' on either side thereof, long substantial tables, and a chair on a dais nailed against the wall. No newfangled portraits hang on the walls, of race-homes, Radical Members of performers at the Theatres Royal. There is, however, Mr Charles Young, in mezzotint, Roman costume, and toga. There is the best of monarchs in jack-boots and a pig-tail,. reviewing two hundred thousand volunteers in Hyde Park. There is the next best of monarch, in his curliest wig, smiling affably at the fur collar of his surtout. There is the portrait of the late landlord, and the portrait of the present one. There is, finally, Queen Caroline, looking deeply injured in an enormous hat and feathers, and an aquatint view of the opening of Blackfriars Bridge.
To this comfortable and old-fashioned retreat come the comfortable and old-fashioned customers, who use the Green hog. Hither comes Mr. Tuckard, a round old gentleman, supposed to be employed in some capacity at the Tower of London, but whether as a warder, an artillery-man, or a gentleman-gaoler - deponent sayeth not. He appears regularly at nine o'clock every morning, eats a huge meat-and-beer breakfast, orders his dinner, re-appears at six o'clock precisely, eats a hearty dinner, drinks a bottle of port, and smokes nine pipes of tobacco, washed down by nine tumblers of gin and water He invariably finishes his nine tumblers just as John the waiter (of whom no man ever knew the surname, or saw the bow to his neck-tie) brings in tumbler of brandy and water, [-76-] number four, for Mr. Scrayles, the eminent corn-chandler (reported to be worth a mint of money). The door being opened, Mr. Tuckard rises, looks round, nods, and without further parley, makes a bolt through the door and disappears. This, with but few interruptions, he has done daily and nightly for five-and-thirty years. He rarely speaks but to intimate friends (with whom he has had a nodding acquaintance for twenty years, perhaps). He occasionally condescends to impart, in a fat whisper, his opinions about the funds and the weather. It is reported that he cannot read, for he never was known to take up a newspaper - that he cannot write - that he never sleeps. No one knows where he lives. He is Tuckard, employed in the Tower of London; that is all. Sometimes, on high days and holidays, he hands round a portentous golden snuff-box, purporting, from the engraving on its lid, to have been presented to Thomas Tuckard, Esquire, by his friends and admirers, members of 'The Cobb Club.' Who was Cobb? and what manner of Club was his?
Besides the mysterious possessor of the snuff-box, and the wealthy corn-chandler, there are some score more grave and sedate frequenters of the parlour, all 'warm' men, financially speaking, all quietly eloquent as to the funds and the weather, and all fond of their bottle of wine, and their tumbler of grog. Time and weather, changes of ministry, births, deaths, and marriages seem to have but little effect on them, nor to ruffle, in any sensible degree, the even tenour of their lives. They will continue, I have no doubt, to 'use' the Green Hog as long as they are able to use anything; and when the grog of life is drained, and the pipe of existence is extinguished, they will quietly give place to other old codgers, who will do, doubtless, as they did before them.
Don't suppose that Barclay and Perkins's dray, or Barclay and Perkins's men have been idle or unprofitably employed while I have been poking about the parlour of the Green Hog. No: theirs has been the task to raise the cellar-flap on the pavement, and to lower, by means of sundry chains and ropes, the mighty butts of beer required for the lunches, dinners, and suppers of the Green Hog's customers. Curious evolutions, both human and equestrian, were performed during the operation. Small boys took flying leaps over the prostrate barrels; the stalwart steeds cut figures of eight in the narrow thoroughfare, occasionally backing into the chandler's shop opposite, to the imminent peril of the Dutch cheeses, balls of [-77-] twine, screws of tobacco, and penny canes there exposed to view, and the loudly-expressed consternation of the proprietrix; the pavement on one side was rendered temporarily impassable by a barricade of tightly-strained cordage, and the otherwise equable temper of the servant-maid from No. 4, seriously ruffled, as, emerging from the door with a foaming jug of half-and-half, a dirty rope came right across her clean white stocking. Then, after all this, have the gigantic draymen rested and refreshed themselves. A temporary game of hide-and-seek has taken place - each red-capped butt-twister wandering about anxiously inquiring for his 'mate;' but the lost have been found; and, when from the dark and poky parlour we re-enter the bow-windowed bar (where the sweet-smelling thicket of lemons, and the punch- bowls, the punch-ladles, with William and Mary guineas soldered in them, and the bright-eyed landlord's daughter are) - we find the mighty yeomen discussing huge dishes of beef-steaks and onions, and swallowing deep draughts from the Pierian spring of Barclay's best.
Take with me, I entreat, a glass of Dutch bitters from that pot-bellied, quaint-shaped bottle with the City shield and dagger on it, for all the world like one of the flasks in Hogarth's Modern Midnight Conversation. Then as the draymen have finished their repast, and our chariot awaits us, let us sally forth into London again, and seek a fresh tap.
What have we here? A pictorial 'public.' Lithographic prints, wood engravings in the windows; highland gentlemen, asseverating, in every variety of attitude, that their names are Norval - that their pedigrees are pastoral, and that their last past places of residence were the Grampian Hills; Hamlet declaring his capacity to tell a hawk from a handsaw; Job Thornbury vindicating the rights of the Englishman's fireside; Lady Macbeth lamenting the inutility of all the perfumes of Arabia to sweeten 'this little hand' - which looks large; clowns bewailing the loss of a 'farden,' grinning hideously meanwhile - all as performed by Messieurs and Mesdames So-and-so, at the Theatres Royal. The little glazed placards in the window, telling of chops, steaks, and Schweppe's soda-water, are elbowed, pushed from their stools, by cartoons of the 'Bounding Brothers of the Himalaya Mountains;' Signor Scapino and his celebrated dog Jowler; Herr Diavolo Buffo, the famous corkscrew equilibrist (from the Danube), and tightrope dancer; or Mademoiselle Smicherini the dancer, with [-78-] undeniable silk fleshings, and very little else. Lower down, bills of theatrical benefits, tournaments at tea-gardens, 'readings' from Shakspeare, and harmonic meetings dispute the pavement with the legitimate possessors of the soil-the brewers and distillers. Within is a grove - a forest rather, of play-bills, waving their red and black leaves in Vallambrosan density. Patent theatres, minor theatres, country theatres - even Transatlantic temples of the drama. This is a theatrical public - a house of call for Thespians. Over the way is the Theatre Royal, Barbican; round the corner, up the court and two pair of stairs, Mr. Wilfred Grindoff Belville, has his theatrical agency office; here meet the Sock and Buskin Club; and here, in days gone by, the great Konks, the tragedian, was wont to imbibe that bottle and a half of gin, without the aid of which he disdained to perform his famous character of 'The Robber of the Hills.'
To the theatrical public come the actors of the Theatre Royal, Barbican, their friends and acquaintances, being actors at other theatres, and that anomalous class of persons who hunt for orders, and scrape acquaintance with theatrical people, of which and of whom they afterwards discourse voluminously in the genteel circles. Hither, also, come comedians, dancers, and pantomimists who are for the time out of engagements, who have placed their names on Mr. W. G. Belville's 'list,' and expect situations through his agency. A weary-looking, heart-sick with hope deferred body they are. There, intently studying the bill of the Bowie-knife Theatre, New York, is Mr. Montmorency de Courcy (né Snaggs) in a mulberry-coloured body-coat and gilt basket buttons, cheek trousers, and a white hat. He is from the Northern Circuit, and hopes, please the pigs and Mr. Belville, to do second low comedy in London yet, though he has been a long time 'out of collar.' At the door, you have Mr. Snartell, the low comedian from Devonport, and Mr. Rollocks, the heavy father from the Bath Circuit, who affects, in private life, a low- crowned hat with a prodigious brim (has a rich though somewhat husky bass voice), and calls everybody 'My son.' These, with many more dark-haired, close-shaven, and slightly mouldily-habited inheritors of the mantles of Kean, Dowton, or Blanchard, wait the live-long day for the long-wished-for engagements.
Inside, at the bar, Signor Scapino, in propria persona, is exercising his celebrated dog Jowler at standing on the hind [-79-] legs, placing a halfpenny on the counter, and receiving a biscuit instead; two or three stage-carpenters are enjoying themselves over the material used to 'grease the traps,' i.e. half a crown's worth of stimulants placed to their credit by the author of the last new piece over the way; while the author himself, a mysterious individual in spectacles, and clutching an umbrella, eagerly scrutinizes the pile of country play-bills, in the hope of discovering among them some theatre at which one of his pieces has lately been performed, and air which he can be 'down' for half a crown an act for each representation. Then there is a little prematurely-aged man, Doctor Snaffles, indeed, as be is called, who did the 'old man' line of business, but who does very little to speak of now, except drink. Drink has been his bane through life; has thrown him out of every engagement he ever had, has muddled his brain, rendered his talent a shame and a curse, instead of a credit and a blessing to him; made him the ragged, decrepit, palsied beggar-man you see him now. He asks the barmaid piteously for a pinch of snuff, which she never refuses him and returns him in addition, sometimes (when be can find no old theatrical friend to treat him) half a pint of porter. He is never seen to eat, and sleeps nowhere in particular, and has not washed within the memory of man.
There's a little snuggery or private parlour behind the bar, to which are only free the actors of the adjacent theatre, of a certain standing, and their friends. In the intervals of rehearsals before and after the performance this little snuggery is crammed. The heavy tragedian makes jokes that set the table in a roar, and the low comedian is very dismally and speechlessly drawing lines in beer with his finger on the Pembroke table. In the chimney corner sits Mr. Berrymax, a white-haired old gentleman, with a pleasant expression of countenance, who, though not an actor, enjoys prodigious consideration in the profession, as a play-goer of astonishing antiquity, who is supposed to remember Mrs. Bracegirdle, Peg Woffington - nay Betterton, almost; whose opinions on all points of reading, business, and stage traditions, are looked upon as oracles, whose decisions are final, and whose word is law.
The landlord of the theatrical public-house is, very probably, a retired actor - a prompter who has made a little money - or, sometimes, even an unsuccessful manager. His daughter may be in the ballet at the adjacent theatre; or, perhaps, if he be a little 'warm,' she may have taken lessons [-80-] from Signor Chiccarini, wear a black velvet dress, carry an oblong morocco music-case, like a leathern candle-box, and sing at the Nobility's Concerts, and in the choruses of Her Majesty's Theatre. There are other theatrical publics, varying however in few particulars from the one into which we have peeped. There is the 'public' over the water, whither the performers at the Royal Alexandrina Theatre (formerly the old Homborg) resort; where Jobson, the original Vampire of Venice, reigns supreme, and where you may see a painted announcement, that - 'Bottles are lent for the Theatre,' meaning that any thirsty denizen of the New Cut, who may choose to patronise, on a given night, the Royal Alexandrina Theatre, with his wife, family, and suite, may here buy beer, and borrow a bottle to hold it, wherewith to regale himself between the acts, the standing order of the theatre as to 'No bottles allowed,' notwithstanding. Then there is the equestrian theatrical house, also, over the water, where you may see fiercely moustachioed gentlemen, who clank spurs, and flourish horsewhips, after the manner of life-guardsmen off duty; who swear fearfully, and whose grammar is defective; who affect a great contempt for actors, whom they term 'mummies,' and who should be in polite parlance denominated 'equestrian performers,' but are generally, by a discerning but somewhat too familiar public, known as 'horse-riders.' There are, of course, different cliques and coteries holding their little discussions, and conserving their little prejudices and antipathies, their likings and dislikings, in the various classes of theatrical publics; but there is common to them all a floating population of old play-goers, superannuated pantomimists, decayed prompters, actors out of engagement, and order-hunters and actor-haunters.
Ramble on again, wheels of Barclay's dray; clatter, ye harness, and crack, ye loud-sounding whips; and let us leave the world theatrical for the world pictorial. Let us see the Arts on tap!