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PHASES OF 'PUBLIC' LIFE.
IN a suburban locality, mostly, shall you find the artistic public-house.
There is nothing essentially to distinguish it from other houses of
entertainment. Indeed, by day, were it [-81-] the
presence, perhaps, of an old picture or two in the bar, and a bran-new sacred
piece by young Splodger 'Madonna col Bambino' (models Mrs. Splodger and
Master W. Splodger), with an intensely blue sky, a preternaturally fat Bambino,
and a Madonna with a concentrated sugar-candyish sweetness of expression
- w ere it not for these, you would be puzzled to discover that the arts had
anything to do with this class of public. But after eight o'clock at night, or
so, the smoking- room is thronged with artists, young and old: gray-headed
professors of the old school, who remember Stothard, and have heard Fuseli
lecture; spruce young fellows who have studied in Paris, or have just come home
from Italy, full of Horace Vernet, Paul Delaroche, the loggie and stanze
of the Vatican, the Pitti Palace, and the Grand Canal; moody disciples of
the numerous class of artists known as the 'great unappreciated,' who imagine
that when they have turned their shirt-collars down, and their lips up, grown an
enormous beard and moustache, and donned an eccentric felt hat, all is done that
can be done by art, theoretical, practical, and aesthetical, and that
henceforward it is a burning and crying shame if their pictures are not hung 'on
the line' in the Exhibition of the Royal Academy, or if the daily papers do not
concur in a unanimous paean of praise concerning their performances. Very rarely
condescends also to visit the artists' public that transendent genius Mr.
Cimabue Giotto Smalt, one of the P.P.P.B. or Prae-painting and Perspective
Brotherhood.' Mr. Smalt, in early life, made designs for 'The Ladies' Gazette of
Fashion,' and was suspected also of contributing the vigorous and
highly-coloured illustrations to 'The Hatchet of Horrors'- that excellent work
published in penny numbers by Skull, of Horrorwell Street. Subsequently
awakening, however, to a sense of the hollowness of the world, and the
superiority of the early Italian school over all others, he laid in a large
stock of cobalt, blue, gold leaf, small wooden German dolls, and glass eyes, and
commenced that course of study which has brought him to the proud position he
now holds as a devotional painter of the most aesthetic acerbity and the most
orthodox angularity. He carefully unlearned all the drawing and perspective
which his kind parents had been at some trouble and expense to have him taught;
he studied the human figure from his German dolls, expression from his
collection of glass eyes, drapery from crumpled sheets of foolscap paper, colour
from judiciously selected morceaux (in panel), such [-82-]
as Barclay and Perkins's blue board, and the Red Lion at Brentford. He
paints shavings beautifully, sore toes faultlessly. In his great picture of St.
Laurence, the bars of the gridiron, as branded on the saint's flesh, are
generally considered to be masterpieces of finish and detail. Some critics
prefer his broad and vivid treatment of the boils in his picture of 'Job
scraping himself' (the potsherd exquisitely rendered), exhibited at the Academy
last year, and purchased by the Dowager Lady Grillo of Pytchley. He dresses in a
sort of clerico-German style, cuts his hair very short, sighs continually, and
wears spectacles. No Mondays, Tuesdays, or Wednesdays, are there in his
calendar. The days of the week are all Feasts of St. Somebody, or Eves of
something, with him. When he makes out his washing-bill, his laundress is
puzzled to make out what 'shyrtes' and 'stockynges' mean, for so he writeth them
down; and when he wanted to let his second floor, not one of the passers-by
could for the life of them understand the wondrous placard he put forth in his
parlour window, the same being an illuminated scroll, telling in red, blue, and
gold hieroglyphics of something dimly resembling this:
FURNISHED CHAMBERES MAIE ON YE UPPER FLOOR BEE HADDE.
Pipes are in great request in the smoking-room of the artists' public-fancy pipes of elaborate workmanship and extraordinary degrees of blackness. The value of a pipe seems to increase as its cleanliness diminishes. Little stumpy pipes, the original cost of which was one halfpenny, become, after they have been effectually fouled and smoke-blackened, pearls beyond price-few content themselves with a simple yard of clay - something more picturesque - more moyen age. Chrome, who paints still life' nicely, fruit and flowers, and so on, (his detractors say apples, oranges, and bills of the play,) smokes a prodigious meerschaum, warranted to be from the Danube, crammed with Hungarian tobacco, and formerly the property of the Waywode of Widdin. Scumble (good in old houses and churches) inhales the fumes of a big pipe with a porcelain bowl, purchased in the Dom-Platz of Aix-la-Chapelle, and. having Saladin and all his paladins depicted thereon. The black cutty, patronised by Bristley (son of Sir Hogg Bristley, R.A.) has been his constant companion in the adventurous sketching journeys he has undertaken - was with him when [-83-] under sentence of fusillation for sketching a droschky in the Nevski Perspective at Petersburgh; when lion-hunting in Caffreland; nay, it is suspected, even lay quiescent in his pocket when hunted as a lion here, on his return.
In the further corner, sits, as perpetual vice-chairman, the famous Nobbs. Nobbs was gold medalist and travelling student of the Royal Academy in the year Thirty-four. He has been a blockhead ever since, he has never painted a picture worth looking at; nor, I seriously believe, were you to lock him in a room with a pencil and a piece of paper, could he draw a pint pot from recollection. Yet hath he covered roods, perches, acres of tinted paper, with studies from the antique and the life; set him before a statue, with drawing-boards crayons, compasses, and plumb-line complete, and he will give you every hair of Moses's beard, every muscle of the Discobolus; give him a Raphael or a Titian to copy, and he will produce a duplicate so exact that you would be puzzled to tell the ancient from the modern.
Storyteller in ordinary, historiographer, and undisputed nautical authority, is Jack Bute, who is supposed, once upon a time, to have painted Lord Nelson's portrait, and who, on strength of that one achievement, has been a famous man ever since, Who would not be proud of standing fourpenn'orth to Jack Bute? Jack has been a sailor, too, a gallant sailor. 'I was et Algiers, sir,' he says, 'and fit there' - he always says fit .'I was among the boarders, and the only difficulty I had in shaking the Algerine blackguards off my boarding- pike, I spitted. so many of them.' Sometimes an over-sense of his dignity, and an over-dose of gin and water, make Jack quarrelsome and disagreeable; sometimes he is maudlin, and can only ejaculate 'Nelson' - 'Fourpenn'orth' -amid floods of tears.
The artists' 'public' is generally hard-by a 'life school,' or institution where adult artists meet nocturnally to study the human figure, animals &c., from the life. One of the standing patterns or text-books of the school is quietly standing in front of the house now, in the shape of a symmetrically-shaped donkey, which Bill Jones, its master, the costermonger, is very happy (for a consideration) to lend to the life school to be 'drawed' at night, after the patient animal has been drawing all day. Another pattern is refreshing himself with mild porter at the bar, being no other, indeed, than the well-known Caravaggio Potts, Artisite~modê1e, as he styles himself. He began [-84-] life as Jupiter Tonans, subsequently passed through the Twelve Apostles, and is now considered to be the best Belisarius in the model world. His wife was the original Venus Callipyge, of Tonks, R.A., but fluctuates at present between Volumnia and Mrs. Primrose.
The landlord of the artists' inn knows all about the exhibitions, what days they open, and what days they shut - who ought to have been hung 'on the line,' who the prize-holders in the Art Union are, and what pictures they are likely to select for their prizes. Were you to enter the sitting-room, you would be astonished at the number of portraits, full- length, half-length, three-quarter-length, in oil, water-colour, and crayons, of himself, his wife, children, and relations generally, which adorn that apartment. Has the blushing canvas blotted out the sins of the slate?
Between art and literature there is a very strong band of union (becoming stronger every day, I trust), and I would step at once from the artists' tavern to the literary tavern, were I not enabled to save time and our chariot steeds by remaining awhile in Camden Town, where two or three varieties of Public life yet remain to be noticed; for, in this locality uplifts its lofty head 'The Railway Tavern;' here, also, is the 'house' frequented by veterinary surgeons; here, the hostelry affected by medical students. A brief word we must have with each of them.
Hope - wild, delusive, yet comfortable hope - baked the bricks and hardened the mortar of which the Railway Tavern was built. Its contiguity to a railway station appeared to its sanguine projector a sufficient guarantee for immense success. He found out what the fallacies of hope were, before he had done building. He hanged himself. To him enters an enterprising licensed victualler, formerly of the New Cut, who obtained a transient meed of success by an announcement of the sale within of 'Imperial black stuff, very nobby.' Everybody was anxious to taste the 'Imperial black stuff,' and for some days the Railway Tavern was thronged; but the public found out that the mixture was not only very nobby, but very nasty, and declined a renewal of the draught. The next proprietor was a fast gentleman, which may account for his having gone so very fast into 'The Gazette;' although he always attributed his ruin to his having had a great many pewter pots stolen, which he subsequently unwittingly received again in the guise of bad half-crowns. For years the Railway Tavern [-85-] stood, big, white, deserted-looking, customerless; but a new neighbourhood gradually arose round the station; front streets gradually generated back streets; back streets begot courts and alleys. There is a decent assemblage of customers, now, at the bar; a fair coffee-room connection, and a very numerous parlour company, composed of guards and engine-drivers; strongly perfumed with lamp-oil, who call the locomotives 'she,' the company 'they,' and each other 'mate.' Though it has been built some years, the Railway Tavern has yet an appearance of newness. The paint seems wet, the seats unworn, and the pots unbattered. The doors have not that comfortable, paint-worn manginess about the handle common to public-house portals in frequented neighbourhoods. The Railway Tavern always reminds me of the one hotel in a small Irish town-that square, white, many-windowed, uncomfortable-looking edifice, frowning at the humble, ramshackle little chapel, awing the pigs and embellishing the landscape; but seldom troubled with custom or customers.
Out of the way, lumbering drink-dray of ours, and let this smart gig, with the fast-trotting mare braced up very tight in the shafts thereof, rattle by! In the vehicle sits a gentleman with a very shiny hat, a very long shawl, and an indefinite quantity of thick great-coats, from the pocket of one of which peep a brace of birds. The gig is his 'trap,' and the fast- trotting mare is his mare Fanny, and he himself is Mr. Sandcracks, of the firm of Sandcracks and Windgall, veterinary surgeons. He is going to refresh Fanny with some meal and water, and himself with some brandy and ditto, at the Horse and Hocks, a house especially favoured and frequented by veterinary surgeons, and the walls of whose parlour (the H. and H.) are decorated with portraits of the winners of ever so many Derbys, and some curious anatomical drawings of horses. The frequenters of the H. and H. are themselves curious compounds of the sporting character and the surgeon. You will find in the bar, or behind it (for they are not particular), or in the parlour, several gentlemen, with hats as shiny, shawls as long, and coats as multifarious, as Mr. Sandcracks', discoursing volubly, but in a somewhat confusing manner, of dogs, horses, spavins, catch-weights; the tibia and the fibula, handicaps, glanders, the state of the odds, and comparative anatomy. They will bet on a horse and bleed him with equal pleasure - back him, dissect him, do almost everything with him that can be done with a home. They must work hard and earn money; [-86-] yet to my mind they always seem to be driving the fast-trotting mare in the smart gig to or from the Horse and Hocks.
Medical men don't enter into my category of public' users. They have their red port wine at home. The Medical students' public is never known by its sign. It may be the Grapes, or the Fox, or the Magpie and Stump, but it is always distinguished among the students as Mother So-and-so's, or Old What-d'ye-call-him's. The students generally manage to-drive all other customers away. Nor chair, nor benches - nay, nor settles, are required for the students' parl'our. They prefer sitting on the tables; nor do they want glasses-they prefer pint pots; consuming even gin and water from those bright flagons: nor do they need spit teens, nor pictures on the walls, nor bagatelle-boards.
If I wonder how the veterinary surgeon finds time to practise, how much greater must be my dubiety as to how the medical students find time to study! The pipe, the pot of half and half, the half-price to the theatre, the Cider-cellars to follow, and the knocker-twisting gymnastics to follow that (with, sometimes, the station-house by way of rider), appear to fill up their whole time-to leave not a point unoccupied upon the circle of their daily lives. Yet, work they must, and work they do. The smoking, drinking, fighting life, is but an ordeal - somewhat fiery, it is true - from which have come unscathed Doctor Bobus, rolling by in his fat chariot; Mr. Slasher, ready to cut off all and each of my limbs, in the cause of science, at St. Spry's Hospital; but, from which have crawled, singed, maimed, blackened, half-consumed, poor Jack Fleam (he sang a good song did Jack, and was a widow's son), now fain to be a new policeman; and Coltsfoot, the clinical clerk at Bartholomew's, who died of delirium tremens on his passage to Sydney.
On again we roll, and this time we leave the broad suburban roads, furzed with trim cottages and gardens - white cottage bonnets with green ribbons - for crowded streets again. If you want to back Sally for the Chester Cup, or Hippopotamus for the double event, or to get any information on any sporting subject, where can you get it better, fresher, more authentjc, than in one of the sporting-houses, of which I dare say I am not very far out if I say there are a hundred in London? Not houses where sporting is casually spoken of, but where it is the staple subject of conversation, business, and pleasure to the whole of the establishment, from the landlord to the potboy.
[-87-] Let us take one sporting-house as a type. Dozens of pictures - Derby winners, Dog Billys, the Godolphin Arabian; Snaffle, the jockey; Mr. Tibbs, the trainer (presented to him by a numerous circle of, &c., &c.). Nailed against the wall are a horse-shoe, worn by Eclipse, and a plate formerly appertaining to Little Wonder. In a glass case behind the bar is a stuffed dog - Griper; indeed, the famous bull-dog formerly the property of that enthusiastic sporting character, Jack Myrtle, who having had rather too decided a settling day with one Mr. Ware, was done to death at Aylesbury; the body of Mr. Ware having been found in a pond, and twelve ignorant jurymen having concurred in a verdict that the bold Jack Myrtle put him there. The landlord of the sporting-house is a sporting character you may believe me. Such a chronological memory he has of all the horses that have won races, for goodness knows how many years! Such bets he makes touching these same chronological questions! - such crowns, half-crowns, and 'glasses round' he wins! When he has been lucky on an event,' he stands unlimited champagne. He had a Derby Sweep, and a St. Leger Sweep, and a Great Northamptonshire Sweep, and a great many other sweeps, or ticket lotteries, at his house; of which sweeps I only know that I never drew the highest horse in any of them, and never knew the sporting character who did.
Horses are A.1, of course, at the sporting public, but dogs are not despised. The Screwtail Club have a 'show' meeting every Friday night, followed by an harmonic meeting. At the 'show,' comparisons take place, and the several qualifications are discussed of spaniels, terriers, greyhounds, and almost every other kind of canine quadruped. Dark-whiskered men in velveteen shooting-coats, loom mysteriously about the bar on show nights. In their pockets they have dogs; to them enter 'parties,' or agents of 'parties' who have lost the said 'dogs' - flagons of beer, and noggins of Geneva without number, are discussed to bind bargains, or 'wet' bargains, or as portions of the 'regulars,' to which the agents or their assigns are entitled.
Who comes to the sporting public-house? Who drinks in its bar and parlour? Who puffs in its smoking-room ?-who, but the sallow-faced little man, with the keen black eye and the bow-legs - swathed in thick shawls and coats - who, every Derby-day, bursts on your admiring gaze, all pink silk, snowy buck-skins, and mirror-like tops, as a jockey? Who but [-88-] 'Nemo,' who offers you an undeniable 'tip,' and 'Mendax,' with his never-failing pick?' who come incog., indeed, but still come to see without being seen? Who, but that fool of all fools - that dupe of all dupes - that gull of all- gulls - the sporting fool, the sporting dupe, the sporting gent! He (brainless youth) who has 'good information' about Hawkeye, who 'lays out his money' upon Buster; who backs Pigeon for the 'double event;' who 'stands to win' by every horse, and loses by them all; who is so stupendously knowing, and is so stupidly and grievously plucked by the most transparent sharpers upon earth!
London, the great city of refuge for exiles of all
nations, the home or place of sojourn for foreign ambassadors, foreign
merchants, foreign singers, cooks, artists, watchmakers, sugar-bakers,
organ-grinders, and hair-dressers, has necessarily also its public-houses,
favoured by the more especial and peculiar patronage of foreigners temporarily
or permanently resident in the metropolis. The foreigner can take his glass, and
imbibe his 'grogs' with as much pleasure as the true Briton; although, perhaps,
with somewhat more moderation, and less table-thumping, glass-replenishing,
waiter-bullying, and subsequent uneven and uncertain locomotion. It is a great
mistake to imagine that foreigners cannot appreciate and do not occasionally
indulge in conviviality; only they generally content themselves with the
'cheering' portion of the cup, eschewing its 'inebriating' part.
Let us essay a pull at the beer-engine of one of the foreign hostelries of London - the refugees' house of call. Herr Brutus Eselskopf, the landlord, is a refugee himself, a patriot without a blot on his political scutcheon. He has been a general of brigade in his time; but he has donned the Boniface apron, and affiliated himself to the Boniface guild, and dispenses his liquors with as much unconcern as if he had never worn epaulettes and a cocked hat, and had never seen real troops with real bands and banners defile before him. Where shall his house be? In the purlieus of Oxford Street, near Leicester Square, or in the centre of that maze of crooked, refugee-haunted little streets between Saint Martin's Lane and Saint Anne's Church, Soho? Go for Soho! Go for a mean, unpretending-looking little house of entertainment at the corner of a street, a Tadmor in the wilderness, set up by Herr Brutus Eselskopf for the behoof of his brothers in exile.
[-89-] No very marked difference can at first be discerned, as regards fittings up and appurtenances, between the refugees' and any other public-house. There is a bar and a barmaid, there is a beer-engine and there are beer-drinkers; and were it not that the landlord wears a Turkish cap, with blue tassels, and a beard and moustaches of prodigious magnitude, all of which are rather out of the common or Britannic order of things, you might fancy yourself at an English public-house. But five minutes' sojourn therein, and five minutes' observation of the customers, will soon convince you to the contrary. Herr Eselskopf's little back parlour is filled, morning, noon, and night, with foreigners under political clouds of various degrees of density, and in a cloud of uniform thickness and of strong tobacco, emitted in many-shaped fumes from pipes of eccentric design. By the fire, reading the 'Allgemeine Zeitung' or 'Ost-Deutsche Post,' and occasionally indulging in muttered invectives against the crowned heads of Europe, generally, and the Emperor of Austria in particular, is that valiant republican Spartacus Bursch, erst P.H.D. of the University of Heidelberg, then on no pay, but with brevet rank, behind a barricade formed of an omnibus, two water-carts and six paving-stones at Frankfort; subsequently and afterwards of the Charité Hospital at Berlin, possessor of a broken leg; afterwards of the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, condemned to imprisonment for life; - afterwards of Paris, France, Red Republican manufacturer of lucifer-matches, affilié of several secret societies, chemical lecturer, contractor for paving roads, usher in a. boarding-school; then of Oran, Algeria, private soldier in the Foreign Legion; then of Burgos, Santander, St. Sebastian, and Passajes, warrior in the Spanish service, Carlist or Christino by turns; then of Montevideo; then of the United States of America, professor in the colleges of Gouveville, Va., and Ginslingopolis, Ga.; barman at a liquor store, professor of languages, and marker at a New Orleans billiard-room; subsequently and ultimately of London, promoter of a patent for extracting vinegar from white lead, keeper of a cigar-shop, professor of fencing, calisthenics, and German literature; and latterly out of any trade or occupation.
There is likewise to be found here, the Polish colonel with one arm, Count Schottischyrinkski playing draughts with Professor Toddiegraff, lately escaped from Magdeburg; Captain Scartaffaccio, who has fought bravely under Charles Albert, at Novara, and for the Danes in Schleswig Holstein, [-90-] and against the French on the battlements of Rome, and under Manin, at Venice, against the Austrians; also there may be encountered sundry refugees of the vielle souche - the old style, in fact-men who can remember the Grand Duke Constantine, the knout, nose-slitting, and Siberia; who have been St. Simonians, and Carbonaros, and Setembrists; who can tell you grim stories of the piombi of Venice, of Prussian citadels, and Italian galleys, of the French cellular vans, and the oubliettes of Spielberg. But the last few years, and the almost European revolt that followed the Revolution of 1848, has brought to England a new class of refugees, somewhat looked down on, it must be said, by the old hands, the matriculated in barricades, and those who have gone in for honours in street combats, but still welcomed by them as brothers in adversity. These are enthusiastic young advocates, zealous young sons of good families, patriotic officers, who have thrown up their commissions under despot standards to fight for liberty, freedom-loving literary men, republican journalists, Socialist workmen. These poor fellows have been hunted from frontier to frontier on the Continent, like mad dogs. Half of them have been condemned to death in their own country, many of them forced to fly from home, and kindred, and friends, and occupation, for deeds or thoughts expressed in print or writing, which ministers or governments would take, here, more as compliments than otherwise. They manage things differently abroad; and so there are in London many public-houses and coffee-shops always full of refugees. Harmless enough they are, these unfortunate forestieri. There are black sheep among them, certainly; but St. Wapshot's sainted fold itself has, sometimes, muttons of suspicious hue amongst its snowy fleeces. There are refugees who cheat a little sometimes at billiards, and who rob their furnished lodgings, and attempt to pass bad half-crowns, and forge Prussian bank-notes (I never could find out how they could pay for forging, for their value appears to vary between twopence-halfpenny and sixpence). There are refugees who get up sham testimonials, and are connected with swindling companies and gambling cigar-shops, but consider how many thousands of them here in London, born and bred gentlemen, who have lost everything in the maintenance of what they conscientiously believed to be the right against might, live quietly, honestly, inoffensively, doing no harm, existing on infinitesimal means, working hard for [-91-] miserable remuneration, willing to do anything for a. crust, teaching languages for sixpence a lesson, painting portraits for a shilling a-piece, taking out lessons on the flute or piano-forte in bread or meat! We give them foot-room, to be sure, but little more; and stout John Bull, with all his antipathy to foreigners, may sometimes melt at the sight of a burly Polish major of heavy dragoons, explaining the intricacies of an Italian verb to the young ladies in a boarding-school, or a Professor of moral philosophy selling cigars on commission for his livelihood. They live, somehow, these poor foreigners, much as the young ravens do, I opine; yet they meet sometimes at Herr Eselskopf's, in Soho, or at some French or Polish or Italian public-house in the same refugee neighbourhood, and take their social glass, drinking to better times, when they shall enjoy their own again. Meanwhile, they accommodate themselves, as best they may, to the manners and customs of their step-fatherland, forgetting Rhine wines and Bavarian beer, and such foreign beverages for the fence, and living humbly, industriously, contentedly, good-humouredly, on such poor meats and drinks as they can get.
I call these refugees (and they form the great majority of the exiles in London) the quiescent ones; but there are also the incandescent ones, the roaring, raging, rampaging, red-hot refugees; the amateurs in vitriol, soda-water bottles full of gunpowder, and broken bottles for horses' hoofs; the throwers of grand pianofortes from first-floor windows on soldiers' heads, the cutters off of dragoons' feet, the impalers of artillerymen. There are some of these men in London. Where do they meet? Not at Herr Eselskopt's, certainly. They did frequent his establishment; but since Hector Chalamot, ex-silkweaver from Lyons, attempted to bite off the nose of Captain Sprottleowski, on the question of assassinating the King of Prussia: which little rixe was followed by Teufelshand, delegate of the United Society of Brother Butchers, demanding the heads of the company: and ,by little Doctor Pferdschaff insisting on singing his 'Tod-lied,' or Hymn to the Guillotine, to the tune of the Hundredth Psalm, - since these events, good Herr Eselskopf would have none of them. They met after that at a little gasthaus in Whitechapel, formerly known as the 'Schinkenundbrod,' or German sandwich house; but Strauss, the landlord, in compliment to the severe political principles of his guests, re-christened it under the title of the 'Tyrants' Entrails.' Liberty, equality, [-92-] and fraternity were here the order of the day, until Dominico Schiavonne was stabbed by an Italian seaman from the docks, because he was a Roman; the assassin being subsequently knived himself by another seaman, because he was a Tuscan.
Well, well! Can ever a pot boil without some scum at the top? There is bellow and black smoke as well as a bullet to every blunderbuss.