[... back to menu for this book]
A TRIAL OF JEWRY.
DON'T talk to me about November! Don't point with triumphant
finger to your Letts's Diary, or hunt out that Almanac which the never-dying
Francis Moore, Physician, still persists in producing in alternate black and red
letter, and which he calls Vox Stellarum! They may make this
present month November, if they like; it comes after October and precedes
December, I know; but I am not to be put down by mere book-learning and
meteorological statistics. I go by the weather, and I see no fog, no Scotch
mist, no heavy atmosphere and incessant rain, which, as a Briton, I have a right
to expect; produce for me, if you please, that pea-soup cloud, which, descending
on earth, immediately gives rise to an epidemic of "spleen," and
causes men to attach themselves to lamp-posts, and hurl themselves from bridges!
I defy you. I decline to accept your - even to my ignorant mind - unscientific
explanation of there being "a peg out" in the harmony of the seasons,
or that "something has slipped" in the grand mechanism but I am with
you in your avowal that an April morning has accidentally "turned up"
in the middle of the dreary autumn, and very much regret that " a previous
engagement," to use the language of society's vortex, prevents my enjoying
it as I should wish.
[-177-] I ought to stop here in my garden for at least an hour more on this Sunday morning, lolling about, and patting my dog's big head, and caressing the cold nose which he thrusts into my hand as he walks gravely by my side, and gazing vacantly but with great delight over the broad green meadows and the purple-tinted cultivated land; over the fertile pastures and the big sweeping gardens, so trimly kept; over the red-roofed houses and the well-thatched ricks, and the tiny threads of the silver Brent, and the whole glorious landscape that lies between me and Harrow Church far away on the horizon. The church-bells are silent yet, and there is not one sound to break the stillness. Looking over the hedge (which within the last few days has become very bare and ragged, and which has concentrated all its few remaining leaves on one spot, like an elderly gentleman conscious of baldness), I see the farm-horses keeping holiday by blundering gravely over their pasture- field, only diversifying their never-wearying amusement of eating by an occasional grave and decorous roll upon their backs, from which they arise with a very astonished look around, and an apparent consciousness of having been betrayed into a temporary abnegation of dignity; I see the ducks all gathered together in a cluster at one corner of the pond in a farm-yard, and the geese, who immediately take affront at Nero's appearance, and hiss, like a theatrical manager's friends who have come in with orders and don't get front places; and - woe is me! - crossing the edge of the farmyard, by the footpath in the Fair Meadow, I see the vicar of the parish, who gives me a cheery "Good morning," and pointing towards the church, says he shall see me presently. Which statement is, though my excellent friend doesn't know it, the reverse of truth. He will not see me presently To-day, the square pew with the red-covered seats, and the hassocks which want binding, and always go off like dusty fireworks whenever they are touched, will not contain me. [-178-] To-day, the charity children who sit behind us will sniff unscared by my occasional remonstrative glances; to-day, the clerk will have it all his own way with the responses, and the vicar will miss his churchwarden; for, as I have before remarked, I have a previous engagement, and as I have not before remarked, I am going to make a trial of Jewry.
For the first time for many years, but not for the first time in my life. My first trial of Jewry was, if I mistake not, in connection with a pressing call for money on my part, and the production of a stamped piece of paper on the part of Jewry. Ten pounds was the sum required; but after Jewry - sitting in his own private house in Burton Crescent - had read the letter of introduction which I presented to him (and which had been given me by Uptree, of the Tin-tax Office), and had made me sign the stamped paper acknowledging myself his debtor for twelve pounds, "value received," he proceeded to explain that he had only a five-pound note in the house. Aghast at this information, I asked him what I was to do. He frankly confessed he did not know; at length, smitten with a sudden idea, he pointed to an oil-painting of a Spanish boy, which stood against the wall, and told me I might "take the Murillo." I represented to Jewry that my want was money, not Murillos; upon which he suggested the pledging of the Murillo for five pounds. "Dicks'll do it for you in a minute," Jewry said. "Here, Dicks !" And Dicks presenting. himself in the shape of a very evil-looking clerk, was told to take "that round the corner," and to bring five pounds back. Dicks returned in three minutes without the Murillo, and with three pounds, which was all, he said, he could get for it. As Jewry handed me the money, he said: "About the ticket now? That's no use to you! You'll never take the picture out; and if you did, you wouldn't know what to do with it! Come; I'll give you ten shillings for the ticket!" And he did; and eight pounds [-179-] ten was all I ever got for my twelve-pound bill, which I had to pay at the end of the month.
But the trial of Jewry which I am now about to make is of a different kind. It involves my leaving behind me my watch and my purse, my putting on an unobtrusive garb and a wide-awake hat, my stealing out at the back gate so as to be unobserved by the servants, and my making the best of my way to an adjacent railway station. There, after a minute's interval, I am picked up by a train all blossoming with male and female specimens of "Sunday out," and, after making a circuitous journey, calling at Kentish Town and Hampstead Heath, dallying in that Utopia the Camden Road, flitting from Kingsland to Hackney, glancing at Victoria Park, and getting a glimpse of distant masts at Stepney, I am landed at Fenchurch Street, scud rapidly down Billiter Street and St. Mary Axe, and, opposite Bishopsgate Church, into which are crowding the denizens of the neighbourhood, find my intended companions awaiting my arrival. Two in number are my companions; one, Oppenhardt, my friend, whose innate patrician feelings were outraged by having allowed himself to come east of Temple Bar, and who was standing, with an acute expression of hurt dignity in every feature, contemplating the back of Inspector Wells, who was to be our guide in the trial of Jewry which we were about to make. As I crossed the road, I looked at those two men, and mused, for twenty seconds by the clock, upon the falsity of appearances. There was Oppenhardt - whose paternal grandfather was, I believe, a worthy German sugar-baker at Hamburg - looking, with his blue greatcoat, and his black beard, and his perpetual expansion of nostril, like a peer of the realm at the very least; and there was Inspector Wells, a pallid round-faced man, with a light fringe of whisker, and a sleepy boiled eye, and a stout idle figure; and yet I believe the Custom House possesses no clerk having a more acute [-180-] knowledge of drawback and rebate, of allowances and landing dues, than Oppenhardt; nor has the City of London Police an officer so sharp and pains-taking, so unweary and intelligent, as Inspector Wells. With very few words I make my companions known to each other; and then, obedient to the inspector's suggestion, we cross the road and prepare for our plunge. "It's going with the stream, gentlemen," says our guide, "and taking the rough with the smooth. You've brought nothing of any value with you, I suppose? Handkerchiefs in an inside pocket, if you please! You'll soon see why!" "Do they know you, Wells?" I asked. "Some of 'em, sir; but not all. I thought of putting on my uniform coat, but then they'd made way, and you'd have seen the place under rather a false view, perhaps! It's better we should rough it with the rest."
As he finished his sentence, we turned short round to the right, up a street called Sandys Row, and were in the thick of it. Jewry, which I have come to make trial of; lies in the heart of the city of London, in the corner of the angle made by Bishopsgate Street and Houndsditch. In the midst of it stands a huge block of building, for the most part windowless, but crane-bearing, and having odd trapdoors, some near the roof, some near the basement, for the swallowing in or giving out of goods. For this is where the defunct company which had its head-quarters in the Street of the Hall of Lead - the company which had an army and a navy of its own, and ruled kings and princes, but which has now dwindled down into a mere appanage of Downing Street, and has shrunk into a "board" - used in the old days to store the costly silks which had been brought from its dominions in the far Ind. This hideous building was then filled with the rarest specimens of Eastern handicraft, and looked then just as it looks now, when, from its appearance, you would guess that turmeric, or sago, or starch, or anything equally commonplace, was its contents. [-181-] Round it seethes and bubbles Jewry, filling up the very narrow street, with very small strips of pavement on either side, and what ought to have been a way for vehicles, between them; every bit of space, however, covered with mob - dirty, pushing, striving, fighting, high-smelling, higgling, chaffering, vociferating, laughing mob. Shops on either side, so far as can be seen above mob's head; tool-shops, files, saws, adzes, knives, chisels, hammers, tool-baskets, displayed in the open windows, whence the sashes have been removed for the better furtherance of trade doors open, sellers and buyers hot in altercation, spirited trade going on. Hatters', hosiers', tailors', boot-makers' shops, their proprietors forced by competition to leave the calm asylum of their counters, and to stand at their doors uttering wholesome incitement to the passers-by to become purchasers: not to say importuning them with familiar blandishments. For, in what should be the carriage-way is a whole tribe of peripatetic vendors of hats, hosiery, clothes, and boots, hook-nosed oleaginous gentry with ten pair of trousers over one arm and five coats over the other; with Brobdingnagian boots (some with the soles turned uppermost, showing a perfect armoury of nails), which are carried on a square piece of board, and which look harder than the board itself; a few hats; an enormous number of cloth caps of all shapes and sizes - made, so Wells tells me, from the skirts or otherwise unworn parts of old coats. Jewry will stand any trial you like to make of her in the way of actual requirements, I'll warrant it. Are you in search of mental pabulum? Here it is I Trays full of literature of all kinds, gaudily-bound books of shilling lore, or tattered copies of the Hebrew Law. Engravings, coloured or plain? Here shall you see how Herr Jakobs in the Hoher Strasse, Berlin, has copied, or thinks he has copied, some old English prints of fox-hunting scenes; and here shall you see the marvellous horses, and the more marvellous riders, and the more mar-[-182-]vellous leaps which the German artist has probably evolved from the depths of his internal consciousness, as his countryman did the camel; here shall you see Abraham offering up Isaac the former in all the glory of the grand old Jewish type, dignified and bearded, than which, when good, there is scarcely anything better; but Isaac a little too nosy, and rather too oily, and considerably too lippy, and, on the whole, too much like the young Jew-boy who just now tried to steal a bit of liver out of the frying-pan in which a quantity of it is hissing, and who so nearly received in his eye the point of the steel fork which the Jewish maiden, watching over it earnestly, prodded at that feature. For eating is by no means neglected in Jewry; in the glassless windows of many of the houses the frying-pans are hard at work, presided over by Jewry's daughters, bright-eyed, dark-skinned, nimble-fingered, shrill-tongued. Pleasant to look upon are Jewry's daughters, despite a certain oiliness, which is probably attributable to contact with the contents of the frying-pan. It is in the contemplation of Jewry's mammas that you begin to doubt the beauty of the race; for, when you behold Jewry's mammas in the flesh, you generally behold them in rather too much of it, and they have an objection to buttons, and hooks-and eyes, and other ligaments; a hatred of corsets and chemisettes, and other womanly neatnesses; a tendency to bulge, and an aversion to soap and water - all of which peculiarities detract from their charms in the impartial eye (meaning mine).
Liver and fried fish are the principal, but by no means the only, edible articles for sale; through the crowd come wending men with glass dishes on their heads, containing long gelatinous-looking fruits. "Pickled cucumbers," says Wells, as they pass, "pickled cucumbers, never eat by anybody but Jews, and never seen elsewhere; they're said to be reg'lar good eating, but I never heard tell of a Christian who tried one. But the Jews - Lor' bless you - they hold em in their fists, and bite away at 'em like boys do at lollipops!" [-183-] Wells also tells me that pickles of every kind are in high favour in Jewry; that the denizens thereof will eat pickles at any time, no matter whether onions, cauliflower, cabbage, or what not, and will drink the pickle-liquor "as you would a glass of sherry." I think I can understand this. I can imagine that a pickle must be, in some conditions, a fine setter up! Say, at a bargain, for instance. How, just before asking your price, a fine stinging acrid pickle must sharpen your faculties, and clear your brain, and set your nerves, and string your persuasive powers! How, if you be purchaser, it must lower your tone and your aspects of human life, and degrade the article in your views, and render you generally unpleasant and morose and disinclined to deal, and so eventually successful! No wonder pickles are at a premium in Jewry.
All this time we are slowly struggling through the crowd, which, never ceasing for an instant, surges round us, reminding one more of an illumination-night mob in its component parts than anything else. And it is curious to see how the itinerant vendors of goods, be they of what sort they may - whether sham jewellery, cheap music, pipes and cigars, bullfinches, boxes of dominoes, bird-whistles, or conjuring tricks - are whirled about in the great vortex of humanity; now, in the midst of their "patter," caught upon a surging wave and carried away long past those whom they were but this moment in the act of addressing. So, we pass through Cutler Street and Harrow Alley, borne along with scarcely any motion of our own, the crowd behind us pushing, the crowd before us shoving; and we, by dint of broad shoulders and tolerable height, making our way with occasional drifting into out-of-the-way courses, but always looked after by Inspector Wells. I don't suppose there is the smallest danger of our coming to grief; for indeed I never saw a better-behaved mob : thieves there are in scores, no doubt, from burly roughs with sunken eyes and massive jaws, sulkily [-184-] elbowing their way through the mass, to "gonophs" and pickpockets of fourteen or fifteen, with their collarless tightly-tied neck-handkerchiefs their greasy caps and "aggrawator" curls - indeed we have not been in the crowd two minutes, before Oppenhardt has the back pockets of his greatcoat turned inside out, and I felt myself carefully "sounded" all over by a pair of lightly-touching hands. But there is no ribaldry, no blackguardism, no expression of obnoxious opinion. One gentleman, indeed, wants to know "who those collared blokes is," in delicate allusion to our clean shirts ; but he is speedily silenced and one Jewish maiden, who, with much affection, addresses us as "dears," and advises us to "take care of our pockets," is sternly rebuked by an elderly matron, who says, "Let 'em alone if they comes here, they must suffer." But, generally, Mob is thoroughly good-tempered. Mob like Oppenhardt very much, and make numerous inquiries as to what he'll take for his beard, where he lives when he is at home, whether he ain't from furrin parts, brother to the Princess Hallexandry, a Rooshan, etc. One young gentleman, with a potato-can, points to his fruit, and says, invitingly, "'Ave a tightener, captin:" at which Oppenhardt is pleased. Mob is more familiar with me, as being humbler, and more akin to its own order in one tremendous struggle, a lad puts his arms round me and cries out, "Here we are! All together, guv'nor!"
So, onward with the stream, catching occasional glimpses of Hebrew inscriptions against the walls, endless repetitions of a handbill issued by the Jewish Society for the Diffusion of Knowledge, and announcing a Sabbath lecture by Brother Abrahams over Brother Lazarus recently deceased, noticing here and there huge rolls of edible stuff hung up called "swoss," which is apparently divided by the thinnest line of religious demarcation from sausage-meat; onward amidst constant cries of "Pockets, pockets, take care of [-185-] your pockets!" and occasional rushes, evidently for pocket-picking purposes, until we make our way to where the crowd becomes even denser, and our progress is slower and harder to fight for, till at last, down a very greasy step, we make our entrance into the Clothes Exchange. This is a roofed building, filled round every side and in the centre with old-clothes stalls; and here, piled up in wondrous confusion, lie hats, coats, boots, hobnailed shoes, satin ball-shoes, driving-coats, satin dresses, hoops, brocaded gowns, flannel jackets, fans, shirts, stockings with clocks, stockings with torn and darned feet, feathers, parasols, black-silk mantles, blue-kid boots, Belcher neckerchiefs, and lace ruffles. This is to what my lady's wardrobe comes, Horatio this is the ante-penultimate of flounce and furbelow, of insertion-tucker and bishop-sleeve. Mamselle Prudence has my lady's leavings, and Abigail looks after her perquisites, and thus the trappings of fashion come down to Jewry, and are refreshed and retouched, sponged and lacquered and refaced, and take their final leave of life amid the fashionable purlieus of Whitechapel, or the nautical homes of the blessed at Shadwell. No lack of customers here ; stalwart roughs being jammed into tight pea-jackets by jabbering salesmen, who call on the passers-by to admire the fit. "Plue Vitney, ma tear! Plue Vitney, and shticksh to him like his shkin, don't it?" " Who could fit you if I can't?" "Trai a vethkit, then!" - this to me - "a thplendid vethkit, covered all over with thilver thripes!" While, after declining this gorgeous garment, I find Oppenhardt in the clutches of a lithe-fingered Delilah, who is imploring him to let her sell him "thutch a thirt!" Everywhere the trade is brisk, and the sales progress through an amount of fierce argument, verbal and gesticulatory, which would be held fatal to business anywhere else in London, but which is here accepted as a part of the normal condition of commerce.
In and out of the rows of stalls we dived, Wells in [-186-] front, recognised occasionally, sometimes by a tradesmnan seated in solemn dignity at his stall, who insists on a friendly handshake. Sometimes the inspectorial presence is acknowledged by a sly nod or a wink, as much as to say, "No uniform! Then you don't want to be much noticed! How are you?" and sometimes by a half-chaffing shout of " Vot, is it you, thargent! now'th your time for a hovercoat!" We see plenty of public-houses, all with Jewry signs ; and we suggest to Wells that, being half suffocated, perhaps we ought to have "something" after this protracted struggle and the swallowing of this dust. But he says, "Not yet, sir; in a jewel-house!" and with that mysterious hint proceed we to clear the way out of the Exchange.
In a jewel-house! As I ponder on the words, my mind rushes away to the regalia in the Tower and Colonel Blood's attempt thereon; to Hunt and Roskell's shop, and the Queen of Spain's jewels, which were in the old Exhibition of '51 ; to the Palais Royal at Paris, and the Zeil at Frankfurt; to a queer street at Amsterdam, where I once saw a marvellous collection of jewellery; to a queer man whom I once met in a coffee-shop, who told me he "travelled in emeralds;" to Sindbad's Valley of Diamonds, and - Wells breaks my reverie by touching my arm. I follow him across a square, in the centre of which are several knots of men in discussion; Opposite tins stands the door of "The Net of Lemons," apparently closed, but it yields to Wells's touch ; and, following him up a passage, I find myself in a low-roofed, square-built, comfortable room. Round three sides of it are ranged tables, and on these tables are ranged large open trays of jewellery. There they lie in clusters, thick gold chains curled round and round like snakes, long limp silver chains, such as are worn by respectable mechanics over black satin waistcoats on Sundays, great carbuncle pins glowing out of green-velvet cases, diamond rings and pins, and brooches and necklaces. [-187-] Modest emeralds in quaint old-fashioned gold settings, lovely pale opals, big finger-rings made up after the antique with cut cornelian centre-pieces, long old-fashioned earrings (I saw nothing in any of the trays in modern settings), little heaps of loose rubies, emeralds, and turquoises, set aside in corners of the trays, big gold and silver cups and goblets and trays and tazzas, here and there a clumsy old épergne, finger-rings by the bushel, pins by the gross, watches of all kinds, from delicate gold Genevas down to the thick turnipy silver "ticker" associated with one's school-days, and shoals of watch-works without cases. "They've melted down the cases," says Inspector Wells to me in a fat whisper, "and can let the works go very cheap." Such trade as is being done is carried on in a very low tone ; the customers, nearly all of whom are smoking cigars, bend over the trays and handle the goods freely, sometimes moving with them in their hands to another part of the room, to see them in a better light, and the vendors making not the least objection.
I thought I noticed a whisper run round as we entered, but the sight of Wells was sufficient, and no further notice was taken. We were afterwards told, however, that a stranger is generally unceremoniously walked out, and informed that "it's a private room." After a few moments we were introduced by Inspector Wells to Mr. Marks, the landlord of the house, who wore a pork-pie hat and had a diamond brooch in his shirt, and two or three splendid diamond rings on his not too clean hands, and whose face struck me as being one of the very knowingest I have ever met with. Very affable was Mr. Marks, answering all my questions in the readiest manner. No! he didn't consider it a full morning; you see, the great diamond sale at Amsterdam was on just now, and many of his frequenters were away at it. Had any great bargains been made that morning? Well, there had been a set of diamonds brought in, which were sold about ten o'clock for seventeen hundred [-188-] pounds, and which, up to the present time (it was now about twelve), had been re-sold in the room nine times, and each time at a profit. Some men had made two pounds profit, some three, one as much as thirteen pounds - but each had re-sold his diamonds at a profit. " That's the vay vith our people!" said Mr. Marks; "anything for a deal! Ve mustht have a deal, and in a deal ve mustht have a leetle profit. Lath veek I had a thouthand poundth tranthaction - I rethold the goods the thame day. Vot vos my profit? Fifty poundth? No! Theven and thicpeth! Thtill, there yes a profit. Look here now" (pulling a handful of various coin, perhaps four pounds fifteen in value, out of his left-hand trousers-pocket), "that'th vot I made on my little tranthactionth thith morning ! Committhion money I call it."
I asked Mr. Marks if there were any celebrated characters at that time in his house, and he begged us to walk into his sanctum: a cheery well-appointed kitchen, arrived at by passing through the bar. There he introduced us to Mr. Mendoza, one of the largest diamond-merchants in the world, and a gentleman who had been consulted as to the cutting and setting of the Koh-i-noor. A quiet-looking man Mr. Mendoza, with a sallow complexion and an eye beaming like a beryl. Told by Mr. Marks that we are curious strangers without any objectionable motive, Mr. Mendoza was truly polite, and on being asked if he had anything of price with him, produced from the breast-pocket of his overcoat a blue paper which looked like the cover of a Seidlitz powder, but which contained large unset diamonds to the value of four hundred and seventy-five pounds. As these were exposed to our view, Mr. Marks took from his waistcoat-pocket a glittering pair of fine steel pincers, and, selecting three or four of the largest diamonds, breathed on them and then put them on one side, with a view to purchase. "You use pincers, I see, Mr. Marks?" I [-189-] remarked. " Vell, thir," says that urbanest of men, with a wink that conveys volumes, "fingerth is thticky, and dimonth cling to the touch. Mr. Mendoza knowth me and don't mind vot I do, but he vouldn't let everybody try his dimonth. You thee, the vay to try a dimonth ith by breathin' on him. Vell, ven thum folkth trieth 'em, they inhaleth inthed of ekthalin, and thoveth out their tongueth at the thame time, tho that ven they put'th their tongueth back again, there ain't qvite tho many dimonth in the paper ath there voth at firth!" I asked Mr. Mendoza if he had ever been robbed, and he told me never. Was he not well known? Yes, but he kept to the broad thoroughfares, and never went out at night. He showed us several other papers of diamonds of greater or less value, and several stones handsomely set in rings.
Hospitable intentions overcame Mr. Marks (a really sensible, good-natured, most obliging man), and he insists upon our having a bottle of wine. Clicquot he proposes. We decline Clicquot, but as he will not be balked, and insists upon our "giving it a name," we stand sponsor to sherry. And very good sherry it is, and very good is Mr. Marks's talk over it. He tells us what sober people they are in Jewry, and how they never, by any chance, have more than one glass of brandy-and-water at a sitting; how they leave his rooms at two and go home to dinner, not returning until six in the evening, when they have coffee and sit down to whist, playing away till eleven; "when," says Mr. Marks with a terrific wink in the direction of Inspector Wells, whose back happens to be turned, "when thith houth alwayth clotheth to the minute, accordin' to the Act o' Parlyment." Every word of which talk is, as the Inspector afterwards pithily informs me, "kidment:" a pleasant dissyllable, meaning, I believe, in pure Saxon, playful flight of fancy.