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PHASES OF 'PUBLIC' LIFE.
SHOULD the readers of these pages have formed or expressed
any opinion on the subject of Barclay's Dray, formerly herein adverted to, I
should not wonder if they opined that the wheels of that vehicle stood
grievously in need of lubricating; inasmuch as the spokes and axles thereof have
ceased revolving for some time; a dead lock being thereby created, and a crowded
literary thoroughfare blocked up. Weighty and sufficient reasons are not wanting
to be alleged in excuse for this temporary stoppage. The writer could, if he
chose, plead as many pleas as the defendant in an action at law - from 'never
indebted,' to 'leave and license;' yet he is of opinion that it would be far
more graceful and respectful in him to follow the example of that Mayor of
Boulogne, who, of the four-and-twenty sufficient reasons he had provided to
account for the non-firing of a salute to Henry the Eighth, put forward as the
first reason, that he had no gunpowder. So I may say, humbly, that the third
chapter of this essay was not sooner printed, because it was not written;-a
thoroughly logical and conclusive reason, reminding me of the Spanish fleet,
which could not be seen, because it was not in sight; or, to come nearer home,
of some worthy men-Conservatives, ratepayers, vestrymen, and other residents of
a country town I know, who petitioned lately against the introduction of
gas-lamps into the streets; for which they alleged as a reason - not that gas
was atheistical, or papistical, or subversive of Church and State - but solely
that, as they expressed it with beautiful simplicity, 'they didn't want no gas.'
The world has grown older, and the Registrar-General has written a good many columns in the Times' since we sat in [-93-] the dray together among the beer-barrels. The May sun was shining and the birds were singing, when I sat down to write chapter the first; but now, as I bend over chapter the third, the trees are strewing dead leaves on the grave of summer, and the October blast moans lamentably through the branches as though it were a dog, howling by night before a house for the year that is to die.
The public life of Israel; Judaical conviviality; that shall be my theme. The publics used by the peculiar people are marked with distinctive characteristics, like everything else appertaining to that curious race. When Holywell Street was more old clothesy than literary; and, when children of the Tribes lay in wait at the shop-doors behind cloaks and paletots, like wild beasts in ambush, frousy little public- houses nestled among the old clothes shops pretty numerously. They were not cheerful nor gaily-decorated establishments. Mostly with semicircular counters, mostly without forms or settles (for it is a peculiarity of the 'persuasion' to take its refreshment almost invariably standing): they smelt intolerably pf stale tobacco-smoke - that of bad cigars which the landlord and his customers continually smoked. No pipes were ever seen and no cigar-cases or cigar-boxes were ever produced. All smoked cigars, yet no man ever seemed to light afresh 'weed,' but kept on, from morn to dewy eve, continuously puffing at the same stump or fag-end of rolled tobacco or cabbage, or lettuce-leaf, as the case might be. They appeared to possess some magical property of indefinite prolongation.
The ,Jews' Harp' stood somewhere between Old Castle Street, Holywell Street, and Lyons Inn. There was an old clothes shop, wholesale, retail, and for exportation, on either side. Early in the morning, winter and summer, the gentlemen clothesmen of the vicinity called in for a cigar before they started on their habiliment-collecting rounds. Liquor they never consumed before business, and they even went trust (till the afternoon) for the cigar: it being a maxim among the people never to part with money, where disbursement could by any means be avoided, before some bargains bad been made, and some profit, however small, secured. Towards twelve o'clock the clothesmen would return with heavily-laden bags; and then the space before the bar became so crowded with Jews and their sacks that it resembled a granary of old clothes; then was the foaming pot quaffed, and [-94-] the fried flounder eaten; then were racy anecdotes told of keen bargains and unwary customers, and clothes-vendors who 'didn't know the value of things, no more than a child, my dear.' Towards evening the bar would be crowded again, but always with Jews. They betted on every imaginable topic-horses, dogs, the various lengths of cigars, theatricals, politics,-anything, in short, on which a variety of opinion could possibly exist, and could consequently offer a field for a wager. And then they played - these jovial Jews - at cribbage, at all-fours, at any game at which sixpences could be won or lost. The card-tables were the top of the counter, the crown of a hat, the knees of the players, a pair of bellows, or any other object offering a plane surface. The card-playing at the Jews' Harp' grew to such a pitch, that at last Moss lost his licence. He goes under the name of Montmorency now; has a Brougham, and handsome chambers in Waterloo Place; and, I am given to understand, does little bills for the Guards, horse and foot.
If you would see a genuine Jewish public (since Holywell Street has been un-Israelitised), our dray must rumble us through the narrow straggling City streets via Aldgate Pump to the heart of Jewish London. We could have taken St. Mary Axe as a nearer approach to it; but Bevis Marks, Mitre Street, Duke's Place, Cree Church Lane, St. Anne's Square, - half a dozen choked-up little streets running into the broad channel of Houndsditch, are more redolent of Jewish life. The sign of the people is everywhere. The air is heavy with the fumes of Minories-made cigars. Old - very old - Old Jewry is puffing lazily from open windows, or lounging on door steps, or chatting at street corners - apparently idle, but, trust me, doing keen strokes of business. It is Sunday morning, and the New Police Act notwithstanding, I can find half a dozen publics, not wide open, but still in the full swing of business. Sunday not being the Sabbath of the peculiar people, they have, of course, none of the scruples connected with working on that day that we have; so the Nemesis of the blue uniform, the lettered collar, and the glazed hat slumbers in Jewry on Sunday morning; won't see that beer is sold, won't remember that Church service is proceeding, won't hear the gurgling of beer-engines, or the murmurs of spirit-taps. Our Judaical public-house lies in Aminadab Street, close to Talmud Square, and hard by the Marks. It used to be known as Duke's Place. On one side resides Mr. [-95-] Reuben Sheeny, dealer in old gold and silver, who displays nothing more valuable in his shop- window than a wooden bowl with two anchor buttons, within a ragged, tarnished epaulette; but who, I dare say, has the wealth of the Indies inside, somewhere. On the other side is a little squeezed-up sandwich of a shop; which, at first sight, I mistook for a stall for the repair of Hebrew soles and upper leather; imagining that the Hebrew inscription over the window and on the doorjambs related to the mysteries of the crispinical art. But I have since found out my error. The grave old man with goggle-eyed spectacles and a flowing white beard is not a cobbler. He is a scribe, a public letter-writer, an écrivain public. He will write love-letters, draw contracts and agreements, make severe applications for little bills, and conduct the general correspondence of Jewry. Unchanging Jewry! Here, among the docks and screaming factories, to find a scribe. Writing, perhaps, with a reed pen, and possessing very probably the rolls of the law in his corner cupboard. Between these two tenements is the Bag o' Rags. The shutters are up, and the front door is closed; but, by the side door, free ingress and egress are afforded. Not less than fifty persons are in the narrow parlour and scanty bar, and your humble servant the only Nazarene. Behind the counter is Miss Leah, a damsel of distracting beauty, but arrayed for the moment in a gown of cotton print. Probably Miss Cosher adheres to the principle that beauty, when unadorned, is adorned the most, although yesterday, had you seen her walking to Synagogue, you would have seen the rainbow-tinted produce of the Chinese insect on her 'fair bodye;' the chef d'oeuvre of the looms of India on her symmetrical shoulders; the sparkling treasures of the mines of Golconda and of the Brazils on her neck and fingers; and with surely 'enough gay gold about her waist' in the way of watches, Trichinopoly chains, chatelaines and waist-buckles, to purchase that landed estate in the county of Northumberland alluded to by the proud young porter of Lord Viscount Bateman. Old Cosher sits smilingly by his blooming daughter, smoking; old Mrs. Cosher (very fat, and with a quintuple chin), is frying fish in a remarkably strong-smelling oil in the snuggery behind the bar, and Master Rabshekah Cosher, aged eight, is officiating as waiter, and pocketing the perquisites or royalties attached to his office with amazing rapidity; and with a confidence beyond his years. On the muddy pewter counter sits [-96-] a huge tom-cat-a cat of grave and imposing mien, a feline Lord Chancellor - sitting, solemnly blinking from out of his robes of three-piled fur.
I may say of the customers of this hostelry, of the neighbouring public 'The Three Hats,' and of 'The Sheenies Arms' round the corner, that the chief object of their Sunday morning's sojourn is the buying or selling of some articles of merchandise. From old Simon Rybeck of Bremen, who from his dress and piteous look you would not take to be worth twopence-halfpenny, but who from the depths of his greasy overcoat produces dazzling bracelets, and rings of price and necklaces such as a princess might covet, and as you, my dear sir, would like to present to your bride that is to be; from Mr. Levi, who wants to dispose of a brocaded petticoat formerly in the wardrobe of Queen Anne; from Mr. Belasco, who has some humming-birds, unstuffed, to sell; and brings them out by handsful, till the table is covered with iris-tinted feathers; from these down to Jewish lads and striplings, willing to swop, buy, sell, or speculate on anything in a small way - bargaining is the rule, quiet consumption of grog or beer with no reservation the exception. Old Mr. Rybeck has just brought out of his waistcoat pocket (after much fumbling and diving, and bringing up rusty keys and bladeless penknives) a dirty screw of paper which you would take, haply, to contain a pennyworth of tobacco, but which, unscrewing, Mr. Rybeck shows to contain loose diamonds - four or five hundred pounds' worth perhaps. From dirty hands to dirty hands are passed about massive golden chains and weighty arguments; and in some of the greasy, frayed, battered pocket-books, which are from time to time produced, lurk several of those autographs of Mr. Matthew Marshall, the sight of which is so good for sore eyes.
One parting glance we give at these strange Sunday customers - these olive faces and glistening eyes, and moist, red, pulpy lips. Look around, ere you leave, at an engraving on the parlour wall; of the New Synagogue and the Jews' Asylum; at the passover cakes over the mantel-piece, kept there from year's end to year's end; and, finally, into the dim snuggery in which Mrs. Cosher fried the fish. It is very dark and very narrow; but there is a rich Turkey carpet and handsome furniture, and a great cupboard, making a brave show of plate and linen. Among the dinner-party damask you would find, I dare say, a significant garment - Mr. Cosher's [-97-] shroud, which he wears over his clothes, and walks about City Streets in on the day of the 'White Fast.'
A sporting public-house. Have you any curiosity, gentle reader and student of beer in its varieties, to peep at the interior of a 'fighting-house?' You have: then let us stop our chariot before the sign below depicted.
It is evening. The 'mill' between Lurky Snaggs and Dan Pepper (the 'Kiddy'), for one hundred pounds a side, is due on the proximate morning. The parlour of the fighting-house, where the whereabouts of the fight is to be notified, is thronged by professional and amateur members of the Fancy. Hard talking has rendered these gentlemen's throats rather dry. Beer is indignantly repudiated as something too drouthy and thin-bodied by these noble sportsmen; and steaming 'fours' of gin and 'sixes' of brandy troop into the room on the waiter's tray in succession, as rapid as the flowers from the inexhaustible hat of Herr Louis Döbler. The parlour itself is a pugnacious-looking apartment, grimed with smoke, the paper torn from the walls in bygone scuffles and punchings of heads. Belcher, Mendoza, and Molyneux the black, spar ominously at the spectator from muddled mezzotinto plates in shabby black frames; while a tarnished gilt frame, on the surface of which a thousand flies had given up the ghost, surrounds a portrait, in oils, of Mr. Coffin himself, his muscles spasmodically developed, murderous highlows on his feet, and a gay Belcher handkerchief twisted round his waist; the whole painted by Archy M'Gilp (a clever man, but given to drinking). This work of art is flanked by a shadowy, evanescent engraving of Mr. Figg the gladiator, stripped to box for the championship in the reign of Queen Anne. There is a door, in the back of which divers accusations of unpaid drams are scored in chalk against members of the Prize Ring. There is, wheezing before the fire, an elderly bull-dog, blind of one eye, and with a face so scratched and scarred, and beaten out of shape in former combats, so crafty, savage, and villanous of aspect, that were I to see it on human shoulders and in a felon's dock, a thought very like 'fifteen years across the water for you, my man,' would pass through my mind. The parlour tables are dinted by angry pewter pots; the parlour chairs are dislocated by angry men who have used them as weapons of offence, and defence, or who have exhibited feats of dexterity and strength with them; such as balancing them on the tips of their noses - swinging them on their [-98-] little fingers at arms' length, or holding them between their teeth. The parlour company is numerous and not select. In a corner, tossing for half-crowns in a hat with Spanks the omnibus-proprietor, is a lord - a live lord, ye knayes! one of the few live lords who yet support the P.R. He is in a rough great-coat, every hair of which stands on end like quills upon the fretful porcupine, and known in sporting circles, I believe, from its resemblance to the outer envelope of a shaggy dog, as a 'bow-wow coat.' This is Lord Shortford, Lurky Snaggs's 'backer.' His noble father, the Earl of Absentaroo (whose broad lands were recently brought to the judicial hammer in the Encumbered Estates Court, in the island of Ireland), is a zealous admirer of the 'noble art of self-defence,' even at this time of day; he being on the wrong side of seventy, and very paralytic. At his lordship's Villa-Fisterati, near Cufficina, Tuscany, his lordship's grooms frequently have a 'set-to' on the lawn for his lordship's amusement: with the gloves on, of course; though, if they happen to fall off after the third or fourth round, his lordship is not unappeaseably incensed. Next to the lord is a cadaverous, wild-haired man, 'all tatter'd and torn.' He is an author, and cultivates literature upon small 'goes' of grog. He has written handbooks to the ring, memorabilia of boxers, ana of sporting characters without end. He has the chronology of every event in every fight, - from the days of Figg and Broughton to the last fight, at his fingers' ends. His toilet is on his back; his dressing-case (in the shape of a felting comb with all the back teeth knocked out) is in his pocket, cheek-by-jowl with his library (a torn copy of 'Boxiana') and his writing-desk (a tattered pad), an iron pen. lashed on to the stump of a tobacco-pipe by a piece of twine, and a penny bottle of ink with a paper plug formed from a defunct screw of bird's eye tobacco instead of a cork. He is as strong as a bull, but never fights. He is an oracle, but is too timid to bet, and too honest to go into the prophetic line of business. He is content to write his literary compositions on tap-room tables for the meagre wages doled out to him by cheap sporting periodicals, to get drunk at those said tables afterwards, and to sleep peaceably beneath their Pembroke canopies, when he falls. He has a pretty turn for poetry, and will write you an acrostic on any subject from geology to gaiters, for sixpence. He was a compositor once, and even works occasionally now, being able to set up in type the rounds of a fight, right off, without any manuscript. [-99-] Lord Shortford patronises him, from time to time; and he is at reciting an ode, in the Alcaic measure, composed by him in honour of his lordship, in which he (the peer) is celebrated as the 'Maecenas of the ring,' and for which Maecenas stood two dozen of Champagne. The room is, besides, thronged by fighting men, all with close-cropped hair, flattened noses, discoloured faces, wide mouths, short within of the natural allowance of teeth; and all addicted to the wearing of coats with big buttons, cloth-boots, and staring shawls. Then, there are young gentlemen in loose and slack garments, who were lately flogged at Eton, and are now in the Guards - old gentlemen, who have been a considerable time on town, and know, I am led to believe, every move thereon - seedy gentlemen living on their wits, and, seemingly, not thriving much on that course of diet. There are gentlemen who, from top to toe, are as plainly and clearly dupes as though they carried pigeon inscribed in legible characters on their hat-bands; and gentlemen in nose, whisker, and pervading appearance as unmistakeably hawks. There are some meritorious public characters decorated with a profusion of chains and rings, who know several Inspectors of the Metropolitan Police by sight, are on bowing terms with the stipendiary magistrates sitting at the London Police Offices, and who, I dare say, were you to ask them, could tell you which was the snuggest corner on Brixton treadmill, and the warmest cell in Coldbath Fields prison. There is the landlord, in a decent suit of black and a white neckcloth, which costume, superadded to his bonifacial apron and his eminently prize-fighting face, would tend to create a confused idea in your mind that, after be had been a gladiator, he had had a call and had gone into the ministry; but, finding that not to agree with him, had taken, eventually, to the public line. Finally, there is Lurky Snaggs, himself, the hero of to-morrow's fray. Mr. Coffin has had him in training for the last two months; and the devoted Snaggs has worn spiked shoes, and carried dumb-bells, and taken long country walks in heavy great-coats, and eaten semi-raw beef-steaks, all for the more effectual bruising, pounding, and mutilating of Dan Pepper, the 'Kiddy,' to-morrow morning. He broke away from his training a fortnight since, and was found in an adverse house solacing himself with a pint of raw rum, which abberration caused some terrible fluctuations in the betting-market; but, all things considered, he has been very docile [-100-] and abstemious, and is, as Mr. James Coffin triumphantly asseverates, in prime condition, 'with flesh as firm as my thumb.'
Betting, laughing, smoking, fierce quarrelling, snatches of roaring songs are the entertainments at the Bottleholder and Sponge. But Lurky Snaggs is off to bed, and we must be off with him. Whither shall this much-enduring dray convey us now? Let us go down to Flunkeyland to a Servants' Public.
No low neighbourhoods for you now - no narrow streets or swarming courts. Hie we to Belgravia; nay, that is too new - to Tyburnia: nay, the mortar is scarcely dry there, either. Let it be time-honoured Grosvenoria, the solemn, big-wigged, hair-powdered region, where the aristocracy of this land have loved to dwell time out of mind. Tyburnia and Belgravia may be very well for your yesterday nobility - your mushroom aristocrats - millionnaires, ex-Lord Mayors, and low people of that sort; but for the heavy swells of the peerage, those of the blue blood and the strawberry-leaves, and who came over with the Conqueror, Grosvenoria is the place. There seems to be a natural air of fashion and true gentility about it. Yet things do change, and streets will decline. The Earl of Craven lived in Drury Lane once; Sir Thomas More resided down Bishopsgate way; the Duke of Monmouth's address was Soho Square; and, who knows, some day or other, perhaps I shall engage a garret in the mighty Lower Grosvenor Street itself.
Out of Crinoline Square runs, parkwise, as all men know, Great Toppletoton Street. Where that thoroughfare intersects with Tip Street is, as you well know, Wangwidgeon House - a big mansion in the rustic style, of brick, with stone dressings, standing in a court-yard-where dwells that mighty prince, the Duke of Pampotter. Next door to him, down Tip Street, is the bachelor's mansion of the Honourable Tom Sardanapalus, M.P. Then comes Mrs. Zenobia, the rich Indian widow (worth two lacs: husband was in council: eats too much mulligatawney: a great tract distributor, and horse-whips her maid-servants). Then is the noble mansion, a double house, of old Sir Fielding Framboise, of the firm of Framboise, Verditter, and Plum, bankers, and a sleeping partner in a great brewery. And then, sir, come Toppletoton Mews, and down Toppletoton Mews is the Cocked Hat and Smalls, used by all the gentlemen servants in the neighbourhood.
[-101-] Checks, the landlord, who was the Bishop of Bosfursus's butler, and married Mrs. Crimmins his Grace's housekeeper, has a very delicate and difficult task to perform, I can assure you, to keep on friendly terms with all his customers - to oblige all and offend none. Some of the gentlemen are so very particular, so very scrupulous as to precedency and professional etiquette. There's the duke's gentleman, Mr. Lapp. Well, once upon a time, he was not too proud to step round and take a glass with Checks - in his private snuggery, be it understood - and even to smoke a pipe with Binns, Mrs. Zenobia's butler, and Truepenny, the Honourable Tom Sardanapalus's man, who reads all his master's blue-books, and is crushingly erudite on the case of the Ameers of Scinde. But, bless you, Mr. Lapp happening to see a groom - a low stock-broker's groom - in Checks's parlour, dandling Mrs. Crimmins' sister's child, there and then cut and repudiated Checks and his establishment for ever. He told Mr. Wedgewood, Prince Knoutikowski's groom of the chambers, that he 'would never enter that man's house again.' Checks, when he heard of it, said in great wrath, that 'nobody wanted him so for to do,' that he was 'a hupstart;' and that he, Checks, had kicked him many a time, when they both lived at Sir John's - where Checks was under-butler, and the duke's gentleman a knife-boy. Then, the footmen rebelled, because Doctor Philblister's coachman used the coffee-room. Then, even the grooms revolted, because a man of stably appearance, supposed to be an ostler out of place, used the tap-room; and, as he sat, made a hissing noise as though he was rubbing down horses. Poor Checks was very nearly out of his mind; at last he bethought him of the expedient of dividing his coffee-room into two, by a moveable wooden partition. In one of these he put the butlers, and in another the footmen. The great men among the former, and the tip-top valets were free of his snuggery; the grooms and coachmen had the taproom; -and the common helpers and stable-folk and the general public the bar.
Our dray has brought us from Mr. Checks's establishment to the brewery. We may, perhaps, by-and-by, look in upon it again, to inspect its home - the head-quarters of every one of the Phases of Public life we have already described.