Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Mystic London, by Charles Maurice Davies, 1875 - Chapter XXIV - Peculiar People

[... back to menu for this book]    




IN this title, be it distinctly understood, no reference  is intended to those anti-AEsculapian persons who,  from time to time, sacrifice to Moloch among the  Essex marshes. It is not necessary to journey even  as far as Plumstead in search of peculiarity, since the  most manifold and ever-varying types of it lie at one's  very doors. And here, at the outset, without quite  endorsing the maxim that genius is always eccentric,  let it be confessed that a slight deviation from the  beaten track is generally apt to be interesting. When  we see the photograph of some distinguished artist,  musician, or poet, and find the features very like those  of the pork butcher in the next street, or the footman  over the way, we are conscious of a feeling of disappointment  almost amounting to a personal grievance.  Mr. Carlyle and Algernon Swinburne satisfy as.  They look as we feel graphic writers and erotic poets  ought to look. Not so the literary females who affect  the compartment labelled "For ladies only," in the  reading room of the British Museum or on the Metropolitan  Railway. They are mostly like one's maiden [-199-] aunts, and savour far less of the authoress than some  of the charming girls who studiously avoid their exclusive  locale, and evidently use their reading ticket  only to cover with an appearance of propriety a most  unmistakable flirtation. This they carry on sotto voce  with ardent admirers of the male sex, who, though  regular frequenters of the reading room, are no more  literary than themselves. One might pick out a good  many peculiar people from that learned retreat - that  poor scholar's club room; but let us rather avoid any  such byways of life, and select our peculiars from the  broad highway. Hunting there, Diogenes-wise, with  one's modest lantern, in search - not of honest - but  eccentric individuals.
    And first of all, having duly attended to the ladies  at the outset, let there be " Place for the Clergy."  There is my dear friend the Rev. Gray Kidds, the  best fellow breathing, but, from a Diogenes point of  view, decidedly eccentric. Gray Kidds is one of those  individuals whose peculiarity it is never to have been  a boy. Kidds at fifteen had whiskers as voluminous  he now has at six-and-twenty, and as he gambolled  heavily amongst his more puerile schoolfellows,  visitors to the playground used to ask the assistant  masters who that man was playing with the boys.  They evidently had an uneasy notion that a private  lunatic asylum formed a branch of the educational  establishment, and that Gray Kidds was a harmless [-200-] patient allowed to join the boys in their sports. Gray  Kidds was and is literally harmless. He grew up  through school and college, innocently avoiding all  those evils which proved the ruin of many who were  deemed far wiser than himself. He warbled feebly  on the flute, and was adored as a curate, not only for  his tootle-tooings, but for his diligent presence at  mothers' meetings, and conscientious labours among  the poor. A preacher Kidds never pretended to be ;  but he had the singular merit of brevity, and crowded  more harmless heresies into ten minutes' pulpit oratory  than Colenso or Voysey could have done in double the  time. The young ladies made a dead set at him, of  course, for Kidds was in every respect eligible ; and  he let them stroke him like a big pet lamb, but there  matters ended. Kidds never committed himself. He  is now the incumbent of a pretty church in the  suburbs, built for him by his aunt, and, strange to say,  the church fills. Whether it is that his brevity is attractive,  or his transparent goodness compensates for  his other peculiarities, certainly he has a congregation ;  and if you polled that congregation, the one point on  which all would agree, in addition to his eligibility or  innocence, would be that the Rev. Gray Kidds was  "so funny."
    And now, for our second type of peculiarity, let us  beat back for one moment to the fair sex again. Mrs.  Ghoul is the reverse of spirituelle ; but she is some-[-201-]thing more - she is spiritualistic. She devoutly believes  that the spirits of deceased ancestors come at  her bidding, and tilt the table, move furniture insanely  about, or write idiotic messages automatically. She  is perfectly serious. She does "devoutly" believe this.  It is her creed. It is a comfort to her. It is extremely  difficult to reconcile such a source of comfort  with any respect for one's departed relatives, but that  is Mrs. Ghoul's peculiarity and qualification for a  niche amongst our originals.
    Miss Deedy, on the other hand, is ecclesiastical  to the backbone. Miss Deedy ruins her already  feeble health with early mattins (she insists on the  double t) and frequent fasts. Beyond an innocuous  flirtation with the curate at decorations, or a choral  meeting, Miss Deedy has as few sins as most of us  to answer for ; but, from her frequent penances, she  might be a monster of iniquity. She is known to  confess, and is suspected of wearing sackcloth. Balls  and theatres she eschews as "worldly," and yet she is  only just out of her teens. She would like to be a  nun, she says, if the habits were prettier, and they  allowed long curls down the back, and Gainsboroughs  above the brow. As it is, Miss Deedy occupies a  somewhat abnormal position, dangling, like Mahomet's  coffin, between the Church and the world. That,  again, is Miss Deedy's peculiarity.
    Miss Wiggles is a "sensitive." That is a new [-202-] vocation struck out by the prolific ingenuity of the  female mind. Commonplace doctors would simply  call her "hysterical ;" but she calls herself magnetic.  She is stout and inclined to a large appetite, particularly  affecting roast pork with plenty of seasoning ;  but she passes readily into "the superior condition"  under the manipulations of a male operator. She  makes nothing, save notoriety, by her clairvoyance  and other peculiarities; but she is very peculiar,  though the type of a larger class than is perhaps  imagined in this highly sensational age of ours.
    Peculiar boys, too - what lots of them there are !  What is called affectation in a girl prevails to quite  as large an extent in the shape of endless peculiarities  among boys. A certain Dick (his name is Adolphus,  but he is universally, and for no assignable reason,  known as Dick) rejoices in endorsing Darwinism by  looking and acting like a human gorilla. Dick is no  fool, but assumes that virtue though he has it not.  To see him mumbling his food at meals, or making  mops and mows at the wall, you would think him  qualified for Earlswood ; but if it comes to polishing  off a lesson briskly or being mulct of his pudding or  pocket-money, Master Dick accomplishes the polishing  process with a rapidity that gives the lie to his Darwinian  assumption.
    Well, they are a source of infinite fun, these eccentrics -  the comets of our social system. They have, [-203-] no doubt, an object in their eccentricity, a method in  their madness, which we prosaic planetary folks cannot  fathom. At all events, they amuse us and don't  harm themselves. They are uniformly happy and  contented with themselves. Of them assuredly is  true, and without the limitation he appends, Horace's  affirmation, Dulce est desipere, which Mr. Theodore  Martin translates, " 'Tis pleasing at times to be  slightly insane."

source: Charles Maurice Davies, Mystic London, 1875