Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Night Side of London, by J. Ewing Ritchie, 1858 - The Mogul

[back to menu for this book]



NOT the Great Mogul in Thibet, but the Mogul in Drury-lane, is an increasingly popular place of public amusement. I was there a few years since, and it was not more than half full. The other night I could hardly get standing room, though I paid sixpence and went with the operative swells into the gallery. In these days the test of everything is success. We speak well of the tradesman who does the largest business - of the writer whose books sell the most - of the actor or preacher that draws the largest crowd. We do not stop to criticise the manner in which that business is done, the influence of the writer, the doctrine taught by the preacher, or the character of the acting. On the ordinary principle, then, the Mogul is a creditable establishment, for it is a successful one. Indeed, in the present state of society, it is hardly possible to conceive how a place that combines entertainment and drinking together can well be [-174-] otherwise. In the course of last summer Vauxhall was open a few nights; I was credibly informed that on each night it was supposed not more than half the company paid for admission, the other half having been admitted by means of orders. It is calculated the sale of drink and refreshment to the crowd thus collected will yield a profit sufficient to cover all expenses. Thus it is such places as the Mogul pay. The entrance fee and the sale of intoxicating drinks must amount to a sum out of which a proprietor can extract a handsome profit.
    Thus at the Mogul you have a double attraction. Are you a gin-drinker, you can go and get your quartern or half-quartern over the bar - or you can lounge into the concert-room and quietly sit soaking the whole evening; for, as the performance does not close till midnight, the time admits of a man getting "fou" between the commencement and the close of the entertainment. Drury-lane is what may be called a low neighbourhood, devoted principally to butchers' and bakers' shops, pawnbrokers' establishments, and gin-palaces. Pass these latter any hour of the day you will, and you will find [-175-] them crowded by laundresses, and charwomen, and haggard old crones from the sister isle, and young wives whose husbands, it may be, are hard at work. There they stand in the streets, with babies in their arms and dirty children in rags by their side, gossiping with women as ill-conditioned as themselves; and as gossiping makes them thirsty, and as drinking makes people drunk, it is not difficult to imagine the state in which many of these women are. In the middle of the day it is very obvious that many of them have had more than enough. How they can afford it always puzzles me - I cannot, I know, and I believe my weekly earnings equal theirs. The pawnbrokers may help them - but their material guarantees cannot be perpetually forthcoming. These gin-drinkers live cheap, I grant. They herd in the horrid slums of Drury- lane - and people say sometimes, Can you wonder that such poor wretches drink? but they forget that it is the drink that makes them such poor wretches. The money these women spend in drink would pay for decent apartments and clothes that would be clean and comfortable, not ragged and filthy, and stinking with every abomination. It is not poverty that creates [-176-] drunkenness, but drunkenness that creates poverty, and the poverty thus created - the dreariest kind of all poverty - abounds in Drury-lane. Well, then, exclaims one of the new school, who believes mankind are to be regenerated by fiddling, does not such a place as the Mogul have a beneficial influence? I will answer this by describing the kind of amusement afforded at the Mogul. You are pent up in a room where the air is ten times worse than in any theatre - any crowded chapel - or worse than in the late Reading Room of the British Museum or the House of Commons. You see a little of the worst acting in London - broad farce, chiefly by artists, if I may term them such, who are more remarkable for their weakness than their strength. "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounce it to you, trippingly on the tongue; but if you mouth it, as many of our players do, I had as lief the town crier spoke my lines. Nor do not saw the air too much with your hands," says Hamlet; but actors of the class you meet in the Mogul never seem to have heard of the Prince of Denmark. There are some people who doubt whether good acting has a beneficial effect, but there are none who doubt that the effect of bad [-177-] acting is altogether bad. But the dramatical part of the entertainment constitutes but a small part of the evening's amusement. There is a lady who sings sentimental songs, and a gentleman who sings comic ones, and another gent, with dismal voice and weary mien, who declares-
        "The gurls of dear Old England
        Are the gurls of gurls for me-e-eh."
I am not aware that any of these performers sing songs of an objectionable character; and if a sneer is now and then introduced at what common decent people believe to be good, and true, and righteous, and of beneficial tendency, it is only, perhaps, such as would be approved of by the patrons of the Haymarket. You tell me that this is better than sitting all night at a bar drinking; but, I ask, is not this entertainment itself an excuse for drinking? You see the room is full of men and women evidently belonging to the working classes; now of all men working men can least afford to waste time in such places. All their future emphatically depends upon themselves. More than most men are they called upon to exercise self-denial and to cultivate their powers, if they would achieve inde-[-178-]pendence. But how can the working men who sit night after night in such places as the Mogul ever hope to rise? yet any night there must be a couple of hundred of such present, for they swarm 1ike bees. They come professedly for the entertainment, but all the while it lasts they are doing a good deal in the drinking line. It is not one glass or two that will satisfy them; and the worst of it is, that many very clever fellows when once they begin drinking do not know when to leave off. In this respect they are like Dr Johnson, who could either feast or fast, but could never be a moderate drinker. They come to the Mogul - perhaps they would never think of sitting all night in a public-house - but they come to the Mogul for the entertainment, and they finish by drinking as if they had come for the drink alone. The Mogul is indeed an educational establishment, but unfortunately it educes the wrong set of faculties. In Drury-lane, of all lanes in the world, there is the least occasion to associate intoxicating drink with happiness. Everywhere the idea is a mischievous delusion and a remnant of barbarism, but there it is a positive curse. At the Mogul you will see the sweetheart with her lover, the mother with [-179-] her child,-it may be the sucking babe,-till midnight, breathing an air of tobacco smoke, the husband and the wife, all you say enjoying themselves in a social way, but all, I say, encouraging an appetite which, if it gets the mastery,- and in the majority of cases it does, - will destroy them without mercy. Were the Mogul simply a gin-palace, it would have far less patronage, it would merely have its share of the general trade; but the fact that it provides musical and dramatic entertainments-that it gives decent people an excuse for drinking - that it attracts those whom a common gin-shop would repel - is that precisely which gives it its power for danger. Such places are decoy shops, the more dangerous as drinking in Drury-lane is really disgusting, and enough to make a man a teetotaller for life. The neighbourhood is rich in warnings, but the habitué of the Mogul soon learns to heed them not.