Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - The Business of Pleasure, by Edmund Yates, 1879 - Chapter 33 - Gazetting Extraordinary

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QUIEN SABE? Who knows? is an exclamation constantly in the mouth of every Spaniard, from the hidalgo to the water-carrier. Que scais-je? What do I know? perpetually asks Michael de Montaigne in his Essays. When they prated of the universal knowledge of someone to Archdeacon Paley, the old theologian bade them ask their friend if he knew how oval frames were turned. We are told that the cobbler should stick to his last, and that, provided he is acquainted with all the appliances of his trade, the mysteries of under and double soling, welting, pressing, fronting, clumping, taking up, screw-pegging, and bevelling the edges, he need not bother himself about flints in the drift, or waste his midnight oil in endeavouring to find an antidote to disinfecting fluid. But suppose he does not know all about his own trade - suppose the cobbler has not got the length of his last properly in his mind - suppose there are combinations of cobbling of which he is ignorant - a style of boot-making of which he had never heard - what then? This is just where the shoe pinches the writer who has now the honour to address you. The desk is his lapstone, the pen his awl, the ink his thread, the paper his material. He calls himself a skilled workman, and as such he ought to know all the branches of journalism, the trade [-347-] to which he is affiliated. He thought he did know them all, in knowing the ordinary daily papers, the weekly press, the "organs" of various classes, the "sporting organ," with its singular phraseology and recondite lore ; the illustrated papers, wherein are always to be found exactly the same crowds of blob-headed faceless people staring with the same interest at royal processions, railway accidents, volunteer reviews, or the laying of foundation-stones, and wherein, week after week, with singular pertinacity, are presented engravings of trowels used in the last-named operation, engravings of inkstands presented to mayors, and engravings of other deeply-interesting trophies. He knew that architects and builders, booksellers and publishers, had periodicals specially devoted to their interests, and well conducted and he once saw The Grocer, and learnt from its pages that there were groceries called mannagroup and melado, and cheeses known as Gouda, Kauter, and Edam, new milk. But it is only within the last few days that lie has become acquainted with the existence of two publications of very peculiar qualities - organs steeped from the title to the imprint in matter relating to poverty and crime. They are both worth glancing through.
    The first is owned by, edited by, and bought by, our - your - everybody's - uncle. Here it is (London edition) price threepence, or ten shillings per annum, eight large quarto pages, The Pawnbroker's Gazette. Not "News," or "Journal," or " Herald," but "Gazette,"as if to pleasantly remind its readers of bankruptcies, and unredeemed pledges, and forced sales consequent thereupon. Printed and published in the highly legal and erst Insolvent Court locality of Serle's Place, Lincoln's Inn, this valuable organ has pursued the pawning tenor of its way for the last twenty-five years, gladdening the hearts of its subscribers by appearing with unfailing regularity once in every week. It bloomed into existence, therefore, concurrently with [-348-] Chartism and other national benefits perhaps dilated on the eternal fitness of pawnbrokers on the occasion of the Queen's marriage, the Duke of Wellington's funeral, and other great celebrations wherein portable property changed hands, and is now ably deprecating "the restrictions upon trade which are contained in the twenty-first section of the Pawnbroker's Act." We learn from the number before us that "recent events  naturally attract attention" to these restrictions, and ignorantly wonder what these "recent" events can possibly be. Carefully perusing this leading article, we come upon what seems the self-evident proposition, that "pawnbroking is a delicate operation," and are at once plunged into a reverie on the delicacy of pawning. We, in our utter ignorance, read "pawnbroking" from the outside point of view. Irresolute pacings in front of the shop, mock interest in the articles for sale, affectedly careless swaggerings through the front or purchaser's door, and furtive dartings into the private entrance round the corner, are the only images the phrase "delicate operation" conjures up. What can you expect of a man who never heard of the baleful twenty-first section, and who had no notion of pawnbrokers save as stern appreciative beings, mysteriously blessed with an unlimited supply of ready-money, and entertaining, to a man, cynical doubts as to the value of jewellery, and an unpleasant distrustfulness as to the quality of gold? But this "delicate operation" refers, not to the tendering, but to the acceptance of pledges, which, says the Gazette; "calls for great experience and knowledge of the world in those engaged in it."
    We believe this so implicitly, that we find ourself sneering with the writer at "no person under the age of sixteen being permitted to receive pledges," and saying with him that it savours of "the burlesque conditions of the oath which our fathers were presumed to take at Highgate." By [-349-] this time we have lost all sympathy with pawners, and are so imbued with the spirit of the paper as to feel every inch a Pawnee. Adopting, as is our habit, the tone and opinions of the journal we are reading, we assert boldly that "the poor and ignorant are many of them most improvident in their habits" we regret "it is impossible to repress this kind of improvidence by Act of Parliament;" we laugh with scorn at the absurdity of the supposition that "the pawnbroker has a natural bias towards the receipt of stolen goods;" and we say that it is annoying to the regular licensed trader "to see the well-intentioned efforts of the legislature only play into the hands of the dolly-shop keeper." We read the peroration of the article with a complacent feeling that it "settles" all profane people who would cast a doubt upon the divine right of pawnbroking; and so come triumphantly to the answers to correspondents. We are gratified to learn from the first of these that "in the event of any article pledged being found on redemption to have become damaged by rats and mice," we (regarded as a pawnbroker) are not liable to make good such damage, provided (and this is all-important) we "keep up such an efficient staff of cats as a prudent man would be bound to do under such circumstances." Before we have decided on the exact minimum number of those domestic animals consonant with prudence, we are plunged into another "answer," wherefrom we find that under certain circumstances (not named) "the magistrates have the power to order the delivery of the property;" and that we "can do nothing but submit until the pledger returns to England;" when, if he has sworn falsely, he may "be prosecuted for perjury." Turning in due course to the police intelligence, we find it has been carefully selected with an eye to the interests of the trade. Impudent robbery of coats from a pawnbroker's; a daring fellow who has broken a pawnbroker's window; a pawnbroker charged with dealing in [-350-] plate without a license; and a pawnbroker as witness against a prisoner-are the principal cases reported; they curiously serve to show the various phases of life permeated by the golden balls.
    The report of the monthly meeting of the committee of "The Metropolitan Pawnbrokers' Protection Society" is also very agreeable reading, though we regret to find that the "effort to have an annual dinner this year was unsuccessful," and that out of one hundred and seventy-three invitations issued, each requesting the courtesy of a reply, only twenty-one had met with any response. This regret is soon dissipated, however, in the vast interest inspired by the subjects brought before the committee. That the world is in a conspiracy against pawnbrokers, and that the most cautious conduct and the most complete organisation are necessary, is obvious from this record. A member of the society applies for assistance and advice, under the trying circumstance of an owner demanding property stolen from him, and pledged. Advice promptly given, assistance refused. Solicitor to society unfeelingly remarks there can be no doubt that the pawnbroker must give up the property, if it is identified; committee concur in his opinion. Committee return a similar answer to an application from a member for the means of defence (already refused by "the district committee") in connection with some stolen and pledged silk ; and justify their refusal by the remark that "no successful resistance can possibly be made." Discussion on a felonious and absconding pawnbroker's assistant; on a pawnbroker who stopped goods, offered under suspicious circumstances; on a case wherein property had been pledged by a wife, and redeemed by a husband (on a legal declaration that the ticket was lost), whereupon husband and wife adjourn to the Divorce Court, and wife's solicitor produces ticket, and claims the pledged property on her behalf; upon "duffing" jewellery made specially [-351-] to swindle the trade; and other kindred topics - prove that the sweet little cherubs who sit in committee at Radley's Hotel keep watch over the life and interests of every poor Jack whose profession is pawnbroking, and who falls among thieves, or otherwise knows trouble. These cherubs must not be confounded with the "Assistant Pawnbrokers' Benevolent Society," which is much agitated on "Mr. Floodgate's case," and a report of whose meeting is on the next page.
    Not without difficulty, for the particulars are given in former numbers of the Gazette, which we have not seen, do we make out that Mr. Floodgate is a pawnbroker's shop-man, who is being prosecuted for an alleged breach of the law relating to the purchase of precious metals. The Assistants' Society has met to discuss the propriety of furnishing him with the means of defence, and though some of its members express a strong opinion that it is the duty of "a master to defend his young man,'' still a committee is appointed to collect subscriptions on Mr. Floodgate's behalf. The solicitor informs us that "a defence may be conducted for twenty pounds, twenty-five pounds, thirty pounds, or, in fact, for any amount, according to the talent which might be retained," and hints that to defend this case in a style commensurate with the prosecution, we may be put to an expense of eighty or even one hundred pounds.
    We feel this to be a good round sum, but preferring it to the vague "any amount" previously mentioned, we separate, determined that our fellow-assistant shall be properly represented on the day of trial. That day of trial is now past; let us hope, therefore, that our efforts were not unavailing, and that Mr. Floodgate is (if wrongfully charged) at this moment making out duplicates, and rejoicing in the friendly protection afforded him by the society. Passing by the literature of the Gazette, we come [-352-] to the advertising pages. Here we have more proof of the usefulness of the paper, by finding every conceivable pawnbroking want appealed to. We can have for one shilling, post-free, "A table of the rates of profits allowed to be taken by pawnbrokers on intermediate sums;" for five shillings, "A statistical account of the operations in the Monts de Piété of France, Belgium, and Ireland, and of pawnbroking in England, with suggestions for its improvement."
    If we be of an antiquarian turn, a barrister-at-law has prepared for us The Law of Pawns which is not a work on chess, but a collection of adjudged cases, together with some historical account of the system of lending money on pawns, as practised by tradesmen, companies, and governments. Again, if we be a buyer, as well as a mortgagee, of miscellaneous property, three firms of auctioneers announce sales of unredeemed pledges on every day in the ensuing week. Pawnbroking businesses to be disposed of; pawnbroking tickets for the "sale trade," boldly written, at "from ninepence the gross;" pawnbroking duplicate tickets, of "a firmness and substance hitherto unsurpassed," numbered consecutively from one to ten thousand, no two tickets in the same month to bear a similar number, and no two tickets to be alike for two years; pawnbrokers' assistants who want places; and pawnbrokers who want assistants - are all headings to the advertisements. Youths, sharp active youths, young men, respectable young men, men of experience, men of from six to seventeen years' experience in the taking of pledges, countermen, salesmen innumerable, are open to engagements. The respectable young men mostly aspire to "a situation as third," whatever that may be; the youths are able to write tickets as well as serve at the counter; while the salesmen and men of experience can, as a rule, "mark for the window," and take the management in the absence of the principal.
    [-353-] Of the other journal we had indirectly heard. For in the Newgate Calendar are there not constant references to the Bow-Street Runners' organ, the Hue and Cry? The Bow-Street Runners are gone; it is years since we read the Newgate Calendar; and now we find that the Hue and Cry has given up that thrilling title, and calls itself the Police Gazette.
It is published by authority, and is of similar size and shape to the journal just described. It is, however, very different in style and tone, presenting neither leading article, answers to correspondents, reports of public meetings, or advertisements proper. We say advertisements proper, because the whole paper is filled with advertisements of a kind, but they are inserted free of charge, and were never liable to duty. The "wants," which occupy its columns, are wants of criminals still at large. The paper before us is thus subdivided: Four pages are taken up with "Informations," and four with the names of deserters from her Majesty's service. The "Informations" are subdivided into "Murder and Maliciously Wounding;" "Robbery and Larceny from the Person;" "Burglary and Housebreaking;" "Horse and Cattle Stealing;" "Larceny and Embezzlement;" "Frauds and Aggravated Misdemeanours;" "Miscellaneous;" "Property Stolen;" and "Property Found by Police Officers" (on the persons of prisoners and elsewhere). The style of this journal is of the closest, for it merely gives, as it professes, "the substance of all informations received in cases of felony, and of misdemeanours of an aggravated nature, and against receivers of stolen goods, reputed thieves and offenders escaped from custody, with the time, the place, and the circumstance of the offence. The names of persons charged with offences, who are known, but not in custody, and a description of those who are not known, their appearance, dress, and other marks of identity. The names of accomplices and accessories, with [-354-] every particular which may lead to their apprehension. A description, as accurate as possible, of property that has been stolen, and a minute description of stolen horses, for the purpose of tracing and recovering them." The facility of mental metempsychosis which made us a pawnbroker just now, converts us into a police-constable while reading this statement of the scope and bearing of the Police Gazette. We open it at our provincial station-house, and, conning over the descriptions to see whether any of them apply to the two suspicious-looking tramps we saw lurking about the manor-house yesterday when we were on duty, fail in this; but in one of the advertisements we recognise the plausible talkative man we met at the cross-roads on Sunday, who seemed, for all his talkativeness, to shun our eye, and whom we heard of afterwards as inquiring the way to the next town. We report our discovery, a message is sent to the police-superintendent of that town, and we have the satisfaction of knowing that the Blucher boots with a small hole in one toe will shortly carry their owner into Stamford jail. The extreme particularity of these descriptive "informations" is carried down to scars on the thumb, to peculiar modes of pressing the lips when speaking, to the accent of the voice, and to the expression of the eye. The dress in which "wanted" persons were last seen, down to the patches on their trousers, the cut and material of their coats, the amount of wear had out of their hats and boots, the size of the plaits in their shirts, and the colour of their stockings, is faithfully reproduced; and we rise from the perusal of this portion of the news from Bow Street convinced that we shall soon hear of a large proportion of the one hundred and ten "informations" it contains resulting in the apprehension of the persons described. Subsequently we turn to the list of deserters, the reward for whose apprehension has since 1857 been twenty shillings instead of ten. We carefully note the tabulated columns, [-355-] headed respectively, name, number of regiment, corps, where born, trade, age, size, hair, eyes, face, coat, trousers, date of desertion, marks, and remarks. Upwards of a thousand deserters from the militia and line are here described the sea-service, including the marines, does not furnish a fourth of that number.
    Instructed and edified, we put aside our newly-discovered periodicals, with an inaudibly-expressed hope that our distinguished name may never figure in the columns of either.