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Its Situation Its Antiquity Origin of the Name-Commodities sold in it Physical Aspect of those who attend it Their business Character The Fair abounds in Romantic Incidents Conversation between an old Coat and old Hat Reflections suggested by Rag Fair.
THERE are many parts of the metropolis which are as much unknown to the great majority of the population as are the unexplored localities at the antipodes. That this should be so in the case of those who have been only a few years in London, will not appear a matter of particular surprise when the requisite allowances are made for its great extent, and the comparatively unfrequented places there are in it; but it does excite one's wonder, that the remark should hold good in the case of those who have spent a [-122-] lifetime in the metropolis. Ask any half-dozen persons you meet, who have been from twenty to thirty years in London, whether they have ever been in Rag Fair, and five out of the six will answer you in the negative. The probability is, that four of the number may not be able to tell you in what locality it is situated; very likely two, if not three, may inform you that they have never heard of such a place. And yet there is not a scene in London, more worthy of being witnessed, than that which Rag Fair exhibits. The place in which the fair is held is in the vicinity of Houndsditch. It begins at the end of Cutler Street, leading out of Houndsditch, and proceeds about seventy or eighty feet in an eastward direction. It then embraces a narrow street, called White's Alley, extending about a hundred feet towards the north; thence it again takes an eastward turn, proceeding in a direct line and extending as far as Petticoat Lane, where it turns to the north and south. Probably the entire length of the locality graced by the presence of the patrons of Rag Fair, may be nearly a quarter of a mile; [-123-] while the width of the space it occupies varies with the breadth of the streets and lanes in which it is held. The largest of these lanes is dark and dirty. It is quite an era in its existence to be illumed by even the most momentary gleam of sunshine. Anyone would find it a perfectly safe speculation to wager any sum his opponent might be pleased to accept, that, for eight consecutive months of the year namely, from September to May the sun will not show his face on the pavement of the leading street. It is never dry. While the dust is :flying in all directions, to the serious inconvenience of the eyes, the throat, and the nostrils, in the other streets and lanes of the metropolis, the centre of this dark dirty street exhibits a Thames in miniature. Let no one suspect me of exaggeration or hyperbole when I say, that, for centuries past, there has been a substance, at least ankle-deep, constituting a compromise between water and mud, in this particular spot. There are persons who, for the space of half-a-century, have been eye-witnesses to the fact, and who are ready at any time to bear their attesta-[-124-]tion to it. And these parties state, that they have heard their parents vouch for the same fact as regarded another half-century before their time. Whence the moisture comes is a problem beyond the powers of my philosophy to solve. One would suppose that the rain cannot be the author of it; because it is a perfect puddle when the metropolis has been suffering a severe drought of several weeks' continuance. I am rather inclined to the hypothesis though I advance it with becoming modesty that the fact is to be chiefly accounted for from the circumstance of the water which the Jews who inhabit the lane are in the practice of emptying into it, intermingling with the dirt; and, after thus resolving itself into the "consistency" of mud, continuing in the same form, in consequence of there being neither sunshine, nor wind, nor drought, to interfere with it. But be the causes what they may, the fact is as I have stated.
At what particular period Rag Fair was instituted, is a point which none of our metropolitan antiquaries, so far as I know, have been able to ascertain. That it has existed for centuries is [-125-] beyond question; there are historical proofs to that -effect. It is held every day in the week, Saturday and Sunday excepted. The reason why there is no fair on Saturday is, that the Jews, by whom it is chiefly frequented, hold their Sabbath on that day. The reason of its not being held on our Sunday is, that the law, or rather the local authorities, will not allow it. The fair may be said fairly to commence at half-past one. 1ft the summer season, it is kept up, with great spirit, until about six; in winter, the traffic ceases, and the buyers and sellers quit the place of merchandise, when it becomes too dark to inspect the ragged commodities in which they deal.
As to th.e origin of the name of this fair, there cannot be two opinions. It clearly derives the appellation of "Rag" from the circumstance of ragged clothes being the staple commodity in which its patrons deal. It is pre-eminently a place of rags. The people in it, some thousands in number, may be said, in a double sense, to be a mass of rags. Their arms, and backs, and shoulders, are loaded with articles of [-126-] cast-off apparel, which have all the appearance of having served the purpose of targets; while those which grace their persons are, it may be said with the utmost confidence, incomparably more "tattered and torn" than was the apparel of the amorous rogue, so celebrated in nursery lore, who "kissed the maiden all forlorn." Though worlds depended on the decision, you could not tell whether the heap of clothes in their arms, or the mass on their persons is the more valuable.
Nor is it in the matter of apparel only that the personal appearance of the merchants harmonizes with the merchandise. The most striking accordance obtains throughout. The article of soap, as applied to their hands or faces, seems to be proscribed on principle. Judging from their aspect, you would imagine it was as much a part of their creed, religiously to abstain from the use of soap, as it is to avoid the contamination of pork.
Talk of an assemblage of Radicals as being the unwashed? Why it is a misapplication of terms a positive perversion of language, to [-127-] speak in this way of any congregation of universal-suffrage politicians that ever lent their ears to the oratory of Mr. Feargus O'Connor or Dr. Wade, while Rag Fair can boast of its merchants. They are, literally, the unwashed. Of clean water they have a positive practical, if not theoretical, horror. A person with a clean face, or a decent coat on his back, is a sort of rara avis in Rag Fair; and, when he does make his appearance, he cannot fail to excite the special wonder of the buyers and sellers who congregate in that classical locality. It may be fairly doubted, whether the ebony-faced inhabitants of Timbuctoo are more surprised when a white man chances to stray into their outlandish region.
The quantity of old clothes in Rag Fair is truly astonishing. It is difficult to imagine whence the articles can all have come! One would suppose, the worn-out apparel of the whole population of London was exhibited in it. In addition to the loads under which the thousands of Jews; men, women, and children, who stand in the market-place, groan, there are [-128-] tables and forms in front of every door and window on either side of the streets, and lanes, and alleys, on which are mountains of old "clo." Of course, as hats, according to the ,notions that now-a-days prevail in the world, are considered an essential part of one's wardrobe, there is no lack of chapeaus in this mercantile region; and what is more, they are in the most perfect harmony with the articles of woollen manufacture.
The buyers and sellers who congregate in Rag Fair are thorough men of business. They are persons of few words; they have no time for talking. Unlike their brethren in Monmouth Street and Holywell Street, who systematically ask three times as much as they will be glad to accept, they ask the lowest price, or within two or three pence of it, in the first instance. "How much?" says Moses, snatching a coat, or waistcoat, or pair of trousers, from the arms or shoulders of Solomon, and giving it a hasty inspection.
"Van and sixpensh," answers the latter.
"Take van and twopensh?" says the former.
"No," remarks Solomon; and thereupon [-129-] Moses tosses the article of "old clo" contemptuously on his arms, and marches away with a snarlish expression of countenance.
Every word they speak, every glance of their eye, every movement they make, shows how eager the frequenters of Rag Fair are to do business. And unless they did use despatch in their transactions, they could never manage to carry on their traffic; for it is to be remembered, that a whole suit of apparel is usually sold for half-a-crown; so that, even supposing they got it for nothing, instead of perhaps paying two shillings for it, their profit would not be large.
Who the consumers, if that be the proper word, of the commodities vended in Rag Fair are, has always been to me an insolvable problem. Now and then you may see some wretched Spitalfields' weaver bargaining for, and eventually buying, a suit of rags to call them clothes were a misnomer for one and ninepence or two shillings; but to see Christians of any class in Rag Fair, is a comparative novelty. Not only does the large assemblage consist of Jews, but almost every person you see [-130-] appears in the capacity of merchant; all have a greater or less quantity of tattered apparel to dispose of. I ought to add, that all are buyers as well as sellers; for the commodities are perpetually changing hands. I could never, or very rarely, observe any article so disposed of going out of the market altogether. I wish that some of our political economists, or free-trade theorists would turn their attention to the commerce of Rag Fair; it strikes me, that they would have some difficulty in reconciling its transactions with their principles and systems.
Rag Fair abounds with romantic incidents. It would afford a fine field for the pen of the novelist. A work under the title of "The Romance of' Rag Fair" if skilfully treated, would be one of the most attractive productions which have recently appeared. A Jew old-clothes man would make an admirable hero. I throw out the hint: it is not my fault if it be not adopted. I am not to blame if the idea be not put into a tangible shape, in the form of three goodly post octavos. But let that pass. Fabulists have always had the privilege of making [-131-] the brute creation speak; and speak, too, with a degree of rationality which ought to put many a biped to the blush. The stones of Orpheus must have had ears and a refined musical taste: else how could they have been so exquisitely charmed with the rich melody which he so e1oquent1y discoursed. The Greeks and the Romans not only ascribed to almost everything, animate and inanimate, the principles of consciousness and intelligence, but even worshipped all things as deities. Philosophers, too, of the present day, assure us that there is nothing above, below, or around us, that is not impregnated with tile principles of life that every blade of grass and every tree of the forest is full of vitality and susceptible of pleasure or pain that in fact our globe is nothing but a clumsy colossal animal, possessing all the feelings and exercising all the functions of life. Let me not, therefore, be charged with advancing any extravagant position when I invest the staple commodities of Rag Fair with the attributes of consciousness and the powers of speech. Many an interesting confabulation takes place between two or [-132-] more of the various articles in a Jew old-clothes man's bag, carelessly slung over his shoulders. Rag Fair is in this sense vocal, though the ears of ordinary mortals are shut against the language in which the various articles express themselves. A few months only have elapsed since a very intelligent surtout and a shrewd and well-informed chapeau, both of which had some time previously graced the person of Lord Melbourne, accidentally met together amidst sundry other commodities, in the arms of an Israelitish dealer in "cast-off clothes," and while he was exposing them for sale in Rag Fair, they, after the interchange of the usual civilities, entered into a very animated and interesting conversation.
"Well, my old friend," said the hat, " I little expected to find you here."
"And I dare say," remarked the coat, "you as little expected, twelve months ago, to find yourself here."
The chapeau groaned in acknowledgment of the humbling truth.
"Dear me, how altered you look! It was [-133-] with great difficulty I could recognise you," observed the coat.
"Altered, indeed," returned the chapeau, with a sigh and in a tone which would have touched the heart of a stone.
"Come, come, don't take it so much to heart," added the surtout; "there's nothing but ups and downs in the world."
" Very true all true," sighed the hat; "and yet, with all my philosophy, I cannot help sorrowing, at times, over my unhappy and degraded destiny."
"The contrast between what we once were and now are is certainly mortifying enough. It is 8uBicieRt to draw tears from one's eyes. But the Fates decreed that we should be reduced to our present condition, and to repine at our lot were of no avail. Do tell us your adventures," continued the surtout, "since we last parted, which is now more than three years."
"My history," replied the hat, "during the period you mention is at once a melancholy and eventful one. You know that the person who claimed the credit of having manufactured me, [-134-] singled me out from the hundreds of which his stock at the time consisted, as the best in his possession, when desired by Lord Melbourne to furnish him with one of his choicest chapeaus. I prided myself on this circumstance, and gave due credit to the 'maker,' for his taste and judgment. He could not have made a better selection. I felt and the consciousness was to me the source of proud satisfaction that if not, like the head of him I was about to enclose, a Prime Minister, I was, at least, a prime hat; and, as you chanced to grace his lordship's back on the first day I was enthroned on his head, you doubtless remember how well I looked and how much I improved his appearance. I have been, times without number, in the presence of royalty. I have often been at Cabinet meetings, called for the purpose of deliberating and deciding on matters affecting, not only the well-being of my native country, but bearing on the destinies of the world itself. Oh, what tales could I unfold! What secrets could I reveal! What startling disclosures could I make! But that may not be; they shall go down with me to the [-135-] grave. It shall never be said of me that I have been guilty of a breach of confidence. While I graced the head of Lord Melbourne how often have my fellow-hats, covering the craniums of other persons, been raised to do me homage! But this is only prefatory matter. I had not surmounted the head of his lordship above two months when I was discarded. It is true, that by this time, the bright and beautiful gloss in which I gloried when first placed on his lord. ship's summit, began to fade; but still I flattered myself I would confer a lustre on any head in Europe, even on the head of the sovereign himself, William the Fourth, whom my liege lord at that time served. Judge then what must have been my mortification when 'dismissed' by his lordship with as little ceremony as if I had been one of his veriest menials. I had not been many days thrown aside by the Prime Minister, when I was seized by one of his lacqueys, and was doomed to the degradation of being encircled by half-a-yard of lace, the usual sign and symbol of lacqueyism, and then deposited on the attic of his liveried per-[-136-]son. In the course of a few months more, even he grew ashamed of me, and cast me contemptuously into a wall-press, where I was imprisoned for some weeks. At last he sold me to a Jew in Monmouth Street, for a mere trifle. Levy seemed to feel for me in my reduced situation; for he not only expended several hours in carefully dressing me up, as he called it, but, when offering me for sale to his customers, was very eloquent in my praise, calling me one of 'de best hats vat vas ever seed.' At last, I was purchased by a journeyman cobbler, by whom I was treated with every indignity. The first night I adorned his head, he got himself into a row and me into disgrace. A blow, which an Irish hodman aimed at his crown, chanced to alight on mine, and completely knocked it in. Judge what a pitiable aspect I then presented. But this was only the beginning of the insults and maltreatment I was destined to receive as the property of my new owner. I was, on the same night, knocked off his head, which, I ought to remark, was as brainless as his coat was buttonless; and was as disrespectfully kicked [-137-] about on the ground by the clumsy hoofs of some half-dozen Chartists who figured in the scene, as if I had been a football made for their special amusement. The result was, that I was bruised, and mutilated, and disfigured all over by the donkey toes of these soi-dissant patriots, who had given, in my case, a fine illustration of their physical-force doctrines. Hitherto I had borne up against all the reverses and outrages which I had had to encounter; but now the mangled spectacle I presented, made me quite ashamed of myself. If anything could have increased my mortification, it would have been the circumstance of hearing a brother cobbler next day accost my worthless master with the slang observation, 'I say, old chap, what a shocking-bad hat you've got!' I felt the truth of the remark; and when I remembered that I had been so recently deemed worthy of a place on the head of the Prime Minister of an empire which embraces within its comprehensive grasp no fewer than 130,000,000 human beings, and on which the sun never sets when I remembered this, I did not the less acutely smart un-[-138-]der the disrespectful and unmannerly observation. Reproachful and contemptuous epithets were also now applied to me, which were as rare as they were offensive to my ears. I was called, in what I now understand to be the vile phraseology which passes current among the 'swinish multitude' with whom my proprietor was in the habit of associating; I was called by them 'a four-and-ninepenny tile.' In the course of a few weeks, I presented as naked an appearance as one of the pigs exhibited in a butcher's shop; there remained not the slightest trace of the fine silken pile in which I used to glory when adorning the head of Lord Melbourne. And the holes in me, caused by the bad usage I had been of late subjected to, were so numerous, that you would have fancied I must have been made a substitute for a target, and been shot at as such. Complexion I had none. There is not a painter in existence that could have told what my colour was."
Here the coat interposed by remarking, that the narrative was at once a most eventful and melancholy one.
[-139-] The chapeau continued "I shall soon be done; and yet notwithstanding my dismal and degraded destiny, I could not help at times,· while perched on the head of the cobbler's person, thinking with myself how different were the ideas and projects which occupied the Premier's head, when I encircled it, and those which tenanted the cranium it was now my hard fate to enclose. The Prime Minister thought of nothing but royal dinners, drawing-rooms, party politics, Parliamentary majorities, and quarterly salaries. The cobbler never troubled himself with aught beyond his pot of porter and pipe of tobacco. The one he swilled, and the other he whiffed every night, until he could neither drink nor smoke any longer. His evening's potations, which I should remark always took place in the 'Hole in the Wall,' almost invariably concluded by his getting into a quarrel; and his head and I were usually the sufferers. One very wet night, about six months ago, he drank himself into a state of beastly intoxication, and on his way home lost his equilibrium, and took up a horizontal position in the gutter in [-140-] Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields. I fell off his head, and was picked up by some unprincipled pedestrian, and have remained ever since in the corner of the garret in which he vegetated, till I was sold, the other day, for eightpence-halfpenny, to the old-clothes man, in whose possession you and I now are. "
The surtout, who had 1istened throughout, with the deepest interest, to the touching tale, condoled with the hat on the reverse of fortune which had befallen it, and sought to console it by the consideration that its day was now nearly done, and that, consequently, little more in the shape of suffering or degradation could be in reserve for it.
"But tell us, friend," said the hat, after a momentary pause, "how you have fared since last we met together you on the back, and I on the head of the Prime Minister of England."
" My history," returned the surtout, "may he told in the space of five or six minutes. You may remember that I formed a part of his lordship's wardrobe, before you were raised to [-141-] the elevated position you afterwards occupied on his head."
The hat nodded in token of assent.
" Yes," resumed the coat, " I was fitted for Lord Melbourne precisely a fortnight before you were sent for to South Street. I was ordered to be got ready for him at a very eventful period, namely, the day after he had been appointed by his sovereign, in April, 1835, the successor of Sir Robert Peel, as First Lord of the Treasury. In the excess of his joy at his restoration to power, he sent for Snip, who, no less delighted at the idea of again fitting a Prime Minister, expended a little extra precision in the process of measuring his lordship. I was carefully and tastefully made, and carried home by the master decorator himself. I was ' tried on,' as the knights of the scissors phrase it, and found to b 'a fit' to a nicety. I recollect as well as if it had been but yesterday, with what an air of self-complacency Snip surveyed both myself and his lordship when I was first put on his lordship's back. 'It's just the thing, my lord; fits to a hair!' he exclaimed in accents of [-142-] triumph. 'Oh, very well,' observed the Premier, and the other withdrew, quite in a tailor's style. All eyes were fixed on me. Whether I was in Downing Street, or in the House of Lords, I was equally envied and admired. I was the observed of all observers. The Conservatives were the only persons who did not greet me with a smile of approbation when I presented myself. They hated me with a deadly hatred; I was a constant eyesore to them. But the Conservatives, at that time, were a miserable minority in the country; while, to counterbalance their dislike, I had the proud satisfaction of knowing that Whigs, Radicals, and Liberals of every grade, nay even the people themselves, absolutely enjoyed a visual repast while their eyes rested on me. There is an adage to the effect that no man is a hero to his valet de chambre. The observation is a gratuitous and unwarrantable libel on lacqueys. At all events, it did not hold good in my case. His lordship's valet, who was, to all intents and purposes, my valet also, treated me with the greatest respect; he abso-[-143-]lutely overpowered me with acts of attention. Be brushed me with the greatest care every morning: he picked off with his fingers every little mote which his eagle eye discovered on any part of my person. Nay, he would not have allowed the sun to shine, or the wind to blow upon me, if he could have helped it.
"But I am getting tedious. I only dwell on what I was with the view of enabling you to form some idea, by means of contrast, of the depths of my subsequent degradation. My downfal speedily followed yours. Little did I imagine that, when you were discarded, I should have to encounter similar disgrace within the short space of a fortnight; yet so it was. I was one night doffed, never to be donned again by either Lord Melbourne or any other lord. I was unceremoniously and disrespectfully thrown aside. I fell into the hands of a male domestic, who, not needing me himself, disposed of me for thirty shillings to a Jew dealer in cast-off clothes. You may easily imagine what my quality, what my worth was, when Moses gave so high a price for me. His eye glistened with [-144-] delight when I became his property. In a few days afterwards, I was hung up outside a shop in Holywell Street, a place which is a sort of national gallery of cast-off clothes. Moses pointed to me with evident triumph, as he hailed every male passer-by, with a 'Buy a good surtout, sir; cheap, sir, cheap! ' This was for some time a severe trial, a sad reverse to me; but I bore up under the visitation with wonderful philosophy, from a feeling of my decided superiority to all the surtouts, ay, and coats, and waistcoats, and small-clothes to boot, which ranged well nigh from one end of the street to the other. What I considered the worst indignity of an, was the circumstance of being doomed to witness one broken-down dandy after another coming to try me on, and then, either because I did not suit him, or the state of his finances did not suit the price demanded by my owner, applying to me the most disparaging epithets. Faults and defects which you would have thought the ingenuity of man could not have imputed to me, were manufactured by these persons with a facility and effrontery [-145-] which showed what adepts these despicable fellows were in the science of inventing and employing falsehood. I will undertake to say, that their like, in this respect, has not appeared since the celebrated Baron Munchausen quitted the stage. I never saw so clearly as I now did the truth of Falstaff's proposition, when he exclaimed, with so much emphasis, 'Oh, how this world is given to lying!' But we must forgive and forget. Besides, what could the poor fellows do, when their treasury was unequal to my purchase? They were only following the example of the fox in the fable, when he applied the epithet sour to the plums, which he had in vain attempted to get at. The Jew asked 'three poundsh' for me, but would have ultimately taken two. Twenty-five shillings were often offered, but the offer was, of course, spurned by Moses with becoming spirit. It was some consolation under the deep sense I felt of my degradation, that the Holywell Street salesman into whose hands I had fallen, was most liberal in his praises of me. Never did George Robins himself; when in his [-146-] most enthusiastic moods and his happiest laudatory vein, expatiate with greater force or felicity on the merits of any of the countless estates which he has put up and knocked down, than did Moses on my excellences. At last, one magazine day, a poor author whose wardrobe was in a miserable plight, and whose finances would have been still worse oft' but for the lucky circumstance of his having just received a couple of guineas for an article of his, extending to twenty-one pages, close print, which had been inserted in the current number of 'The Colossal Miscellany' paid his respects to me. He might have pursued the even tenor of his way, absorbed in his own meditations on the calamities of genius, the fickleness of the reading world, and the rapacity, oft-times mingled with insolence, of publishers, without observing me, had not Moses seized him by the breast of his tattered coat, and particularly pointed me out to him. 'There, sir,' said the Jew, 'is something vich I flatter myself is vorthy of your notish.' The other glanced his eye towards the locality in which I was exhibited, and seemed [-147-] to fall in love with me at first sight. I was tried on, and pronounced by Moses, and admitted by the man of letters himself, to be an excellent fit. 'What do you ask for this surtout?'
" 'Jusht three poundsh,' answered Moses.
" 'That's quite out of the question. I'll give the half if you like to take it.'
" 'Can't take it, sir; it cost myself more monish.'
" 'I won't give more,' said the author, with considerable seeming decision of tone; and as he announced his determination, he was about to leave the shop.
" 'I'll tell you vat I'll do: I'll take two poundsh ten; that's the lowest farthing I can take.'
" 'I won't give a sixpence more,' remarked the author, and he proceeded a few steps farther on.
" 'VeIl, here it is at two poundsh. You never had a better coat in your life at the monish.' .
" 'Just the thirty shillings, and no more,' [-148-] reiterated the correspondent of 'The Colossal Miscellany.'
" 'Can't take it ; cost myself a great deal more monish.'
" 'Then you keep your coat, and I keep my money,' observed the author, somewhat snappishly. He proceeded about a dozen yards, when suddenly turning round on his heel, 'I say,' said he, 'I'll give you five shillings more, if you like, but beyond that I won't go the fraction of a farthing.'
" 'Make it the thirty-seven,' said Moses.
" 'Here's the money,' answered the literary man, jingling his two sovereigns and two shillings in his pocket, 'take it or want it.'
" 'Vell, then, the coat is yours, sir,' said the descendant of Abraham, taking me down from the wall to which I had been some weeks affixed, and handing me over to the purchaser, who duly handed the other the thirty-five shillings in return. For six consecutive months afterwards I was never off my new proprietor's back for an hour, except during the time he was in bed. Need I say then that this hard and [-149-] constant service soon told upon me? My looks speedily altered for the worse. Eventually I became threadbare, lost all my colour, and what was still more mortifying, the author thrust his elbows through me, suffered my buttons to drop off one by one, and altogether allowed me to get into such a deplorable condition that I was actually ashamed to be seen in the streets or in decent company. At length I had more the appearance of a coat on the back of a scarecrow, than on that of a human being, and a man of intellect, too. I saw clearly that it was my new master's necessity and not his will that consented to my thus disgracing both him and myself so long. At length fortune so far smiled on him again, that, after half-a-dozen ineffectual attempts, he succeeded in getting another twenty-eight pages of matter into 'The Colossal Miscellany;' in return for which the spirited proprietor gave him two guineas and a half. With this sum he bought another cast-off coat, and I was insultingly thrown aside by him, as I had been before by the First Lord of the Treasury. Next day, a Jew with a [-150-] dirty bag thrown over his shoulder, and catering for old clothes, was observed by my master to pass along one of the courts leading out of Shire Lane, when being called in, he, after a little higgling, purchased me for one and eightpence. Solomon at once bundled me up and thrust me into his dirty bag with the least imaginable ceremony. This was the unkindest cut of all; for even had it been possible to forget how careful the person entrusted with the charge of Lord Melbourne's wardrobe was, to prevent the slightest crease in me, I could not but remember that the poor half-starved author himself always displayed a commendable solicitude that I should be kept as free from injury as possible. When released from the imprisonment of the old-c1othes man's bag, I was made to serve, for some weeks, the ignoble purpose of stopping up a broken window in a dark dungeon in Rosemary Lane."
"Horrible, most horrible!" interposed the hat, unable to restrain itself at the degrading treatment to which its former neighbour on the person of Lord Melbourne had been doomed to submit.
[-151-] " Ah, you may well say that!" resumed the outraged surtout, heaving a deep sigh as it spoke. " While in the ignoble position to which I have just referred, I often thought of the words which I had frequently heard the poor author, when in his service, repeat ' To what base uses may we not come at last, Horatio!' From my last purchaser I was transferred to the hands of another Israelite, who, after patching me up in the best way he could, has brought me to Rag Fair, along with yourself, in the hope of disposing of us to some poor wretch, towards whom fortune has sworn eternal hostility."
" We shall probably fall into the hands of some starving Spitalfields weaver," observed the hat.
" No matter into whose hands we fall. We cannot descend lower in the scale of degradation. Here we are, handled and tossed about by the dirty paws of every person who chooses to inspect us. We cannot serve any one much longer. The veriest victim of destiny could not keep me from becoming a mass of rags in another month."
[-152-] "Nor could human ingenuity," observed the chapeau, "contrive to retain me on the human head four weeks from this date."
"All I wish is, that, as we have thus met again under such singular though deplorable circumstances, we may be purchased by the same wretch, that we may, by that means, spend our few remaining days together."
" Amen," groaned the other, and the conversation dropped.
Did the various articles of worn-out apparel which are exposed for sale in Rag Fair, but choose to be communicative, what wondrous and romantic tales could they not unfold! Just look at that waistcoat; it is worn to a shred; it is so utterly faded, that you do not know what its original colour was. You would not give eighteenpence for it; and yet, two years ago, it encircled the breast of one of the leaders of the fashionable world. It has dazzled the eyes of hundreds of the votaries of dissipation at Almack's, Devonshire House, the Opera, and the other resorts of the aristocracy. It has been probably admired, in conjunction with its then [-153-] dashing owner, by more than one of the loveliest in person and noblest in birth of "England's titled daughters." Ask it, where now is he who then wore it in all the pride of his heart? Possibly its answer would be, that, as in the case of many of the other devotees of the goddess of fashion, his desire for display has involved him in moral as well as pecuniary ruin, and that he is now in as degraded a situation as the waistcoat itself an outcast from all society, if not immured in rags and misery in some of the prisons of the metropolis.
This is no imaginary picture; neither is it a rare one. Many an article of apparel is exhibited for sale- in Rag Fair which, some years previously, often graced the aristocratic drawing-room, while its then possessor has descended in the scale of circumstances and station in society with a corresponding rapidity. Where is the difference between A1mack's and Rag Fair in the case of a coat or waistcoat, and Devonshire House and one of the desolate and. dingy cells in the Queen's Bench prison, in the case of an individual r The descent is as great, the degra-[-154-] dation as deep, in the one instance as in the other.
There are other articles of wearing apparel in Rag Fair which, could their language be understood, would recite tales of distress, produced, not by crime or extravagance, but by misfortune, which would soften the hardest heart, and extort tears from the eyes of persons quite unaccustomed to the melting mood. Inexorable necessity first compelled them to part with a portion of their wardrobe to the pawnbroker; the remainder followed some time afterwards. Unable to redeem any portion of it, the whole is sold; and, after being worn until incapable of adhering to one's person much longer, the articles find their way, in the natural course of things, to Rag Fair.
I never could gaze on the varied assortment of old clothes exhibited for sale in this locality, without thinking with myself, that were some of the original proprietors of the articles present, they would be overjoyed to regain possession, in their present faded, threadbare, and tattered state, of things, which, three or four years ago,[-155-] when in the height of their prosperity, they threw aside as unfit to be any longer worn, merely because there may have been some slight spot on them. I cannot name an instance, no such instance consisting with my own individual knowledge; but I feel assured that I am guilty of no undue stretch of the imagination, when I take it for granted, that instances have occurred in which persons who have thrown aside apparel which was in excellent condition at the time, have been thankful, when overtaken by reverses, to re-purchase, for a few shillings, the same apparel when worn to shreds, from some old-clothes merchant in Rag Fair.