Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Business of Pleasure, by Edmund Yates, 1879 - Chapter 1 - Introductory

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IF, as Froissart says, we English take our pleasure sadly after our fashion, it is very certain that we take it coolly. We will have it, be it in what shape it may, though dressmakers die is working against time for the preparation of our court robes, and bakers lives are sacrificed to our partiality for hot rolls. But when we have got it, we think very little of it, and very much less of those who, some by great natural gifts, combined with much labour, industry, and perseverance, minister to the pleasure of which we make so light. Great actors and singers are, by a certain portion of society, classed with cooks, mountebanks, and horse-jockeys. "That man who wrote the book, you know," is the phrase by which Mr. Tennyson or Dr. Darwin would be designated; and world-renowned artists are "odd persons whom one does not meet about." With that wretched imposition which occasionally in England is known as society - that gathering of vapidity to each component part of which the laws which guide it prescribe a blank ignorance - an uncaring, unquestioning acceptance of matters as they stand; a horror [-8-] of talent as low, and of unconventionality as not correct - with this dreary phantasm sometimes regnant among us, Business, however lumpy, coarse, unrefined, can be received, provided it be properly gilt; but Pleasure and her professors, however clever, bright, and decent, are under the ban. Yet the Business of Pleasure is carried on in the most methodical manner, is of enormous extent, employs countless "hands," and avails itself of all the counting-house, clerk, day-book, and ledger system, without which respectability cannot understand existence. To carry out the Business of English Pleasure, men and women are at this very time practising eight hours a day in dreary little Italian cities under renowned maestri, labouring against innumerable difficulties, privations, and disappointments, and solely cheered by the hope that on some future day they shall be permitted to minister to pleasure in London, and earn the meed reserved for a few such ministrants. In the Business of Pleasure, acres and acres of English ground, and Rhenish mountain, and French and Spanish plain, are set apart and cultivated to the highest degree of perfection; in the same interest hardy Norsemen are salmon-fishing; heavy Westphalian boors, preposterously accoutred, are boar- hunting; blue-bloused Alsatian peasants are fattening bilious geese; dirty Russians are oiling cod-sounds. Those engaged in the Business of Pleasure are of various stations, of various temperaments, of various degrees of usefulness; but from all is there required as strict honesty, punctuality, and fidelity, as proper and earnest a performance of their duties, as thorough rectitude, as in any other condition in life.
    It is my purpose in these Essays to show the inner life of some of those carrying on the Business of Pleasure, and bringing thereto as much energy, honesty, and industry, as great aptitude for business, as much self-abnegation, as much skill and talent for seizing opportunities and supplying promptly the public demand, and in very many cases as [-9-] much capital, as are required in any other business. It may arise from the fact that I spring from parents who by profession were, according to a generous Act of Parliament only recently repealed, set forth among their fellow-men as "rogues and vagabonds;" but one of whom certainly used up his life, and killed himself at an early age, from his unceasing labour in a popular, an honest, an intellectual, but a parliamentarily-despised calling. It may be that in my own career I have seen that those who made it their business to amuse men in their leisure, had very often a much more difficult, and always a more thankless, task than those who coped with men in their active work. It may have been from other causes not necessary to dwell upon; but I have long felt that the "butterfly" notion common among ordinary business people, as applied to those who belonged to none of the recognised professions, or whose trade could not be found entered in the exhaustive list in the Post-Office Directory, was a mistake. So that my family connection with theatrical life, and my own position as a journalist and writer, favouring the scheme, I determined upon giving specimens of the inner life of some of those establishments where pleasure is carried on as a regular business and in regular business fashion; showing, so far as is practicable and just, the method, manner, and expense of its conduct. To these I have added a few papers descriptive of the actual business details; the cost and conduct of certain of the sports and pastimes of Englishmen, such as hunting, shooting, etc. ; the organisation of an excursion- agent; the inner life of a newspaper-office; some articles descriptive of the behind-the-scenes of the Volunteer movement; and some other papers illustrative of London society.