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gardens,' 1 who has been married for any length of time, must
have had twins on two or three occasions ; it is impossible to
account for the extent of juvenile population in any other way.

Observe the inexpressible delight of the old grandmother,
at Uncle Bill's splendid joke of "tea for four: bread-and-
butter for forty;"" and the loud explosion of mirth which
follows his wafering a paper "pigtail" on the waiter's collar.
The young man is evidently " keeping company " with
Uncle Bill's niece : and Uncle Bill's hints such as " Don't
forget me at the dinner, you know," "I shall look out for
the cake, Sally," " I'll be godfather to your first wager it's
a boy," and so forth, are equally embarrassing to the young
people, and delightful to the elder ones. As to the old grand-
mother, she is in perfect ecstasies, and does nothing but laugh
herself into fits of coughing, until they have finished the
" gin-and-water warm with," of which Uncle Bill ordered
"glasses round" after tea, "just to keep the night air out,
and do it up comfortable and riglar arter sitch an as-tonish-
ing hot day ! "

It is getting dark, and the people begin to move. The
field leading to town is quite full of them ; the little hand-
chaises are dragged wearily along, the children are tired, and
amuse themselves and the company generally by crying, or
resort to the much more pleasant expedient of going to sleep
the mothers begin to wish they were at home again
sweethearts grow more sentimental than ever, as the time for
parting arrives the gardens look mournful enough, by the
light of the two lanterns which hang against the trees for the
convenience of smokers and the waiters who have been
running about incessantly for the last six hours, think they
feel a little tired, as they count their glasses and their gains.



" ARE you fond of the water ? " is a question very frequently
asked, in hot summer weathei*, by amphibious-looking young
men. " Very,"" is the general reply. " An't you ? " " Hardly
ever off' it," is the response, accompanied by sundry adjectives,
expressive of the speaker's heartfelt admiration of that
element. Now, with all respect for the opinion of society
in general, and cutter clubs in particular, we humbly suggest
that some of the most painful reminiscences in the mind of
every individual who has occasionally disported himself on
the Thames, must be connected with his aquatic recreations.
Who ever heard of a successful water-party ? or to put the
question in a still more intelligible form, who ever saw one ?
We have been on water excursions out of number, but we
solemnly declare that we cannot call to mind one single
occasion of the kind, which was not marked by more miseries
than any one would suppose could be reasonably crowded into
the space of some eight or nine hours. Something has always
gone wrong. Either the cork of the salad-dressing has come
out, or the most anxiously expected member of the party
has not come out, or the most disagreeable man in company
would come out, or a child or two have fallen into the water,
or the gentleman who undertook to steer has endangered
everybody's life all the way, or the gentlemen who volunteered
to row have been "out of practice," and performed very



alarming evolutions, putting their oars down into the water
and not being able to get them up again, or taking terrific
pulls without putting them in at all ; in either case, pitching
over on the backs of their heads with startling violence, and
exhibiting the soles of their pumps to the " sitters " in the
boat, in a very humiliating manner.

We grant that the banks of the Thames are very beautiful
at Richmond and Twickenham, and other distant havens,
often sought though seldom reached ; but from the " Red-us "
back to Blackfriars-bridge, the scene is wonderfully changed.
The Penitentiary is a noble building, no doubt, and the
sportive youths who " go in " at that particular part of the
river, on a summer's evening, may be all very well in per-
spective ; but when you are obliged to keep in shore coming
home, and the young ladies will colour up, and look per-
severingly the other way, while the married dittoes cough
slightly, and stare very hard at the water, you feel awk-
ward especially if you happen to have been attempting the
most distant approach to sentimentality, for an hour or two

Although experience and suffering have produced in our
minds the result we have just stated, we are by no means
blind to a proper sense of the fun which a looker-on may
extract from the amateurs of boating. What can be more
amusing than Searle's yard on a fine Sunday morning ? It's
a Richmond tide, and some dozen boats are preparing for the
reception of the parties who have engaged them. Two or
three fellows in great rough trousers and Guernsey shirts, are
getting them ready by easy stages ; now coming down the
yard with a pair of sculls and a cushion then having a chat
with the "jack," who, like all his tribe, seems to be wholly
incapable of doing anything but lounging about then going
back again, and returning with a rudder-line and a stretcher
then solacing themselves with another chat and then
wondering, with their hands in their capacious pockets,
" where them gentlemen's got to as ordered the six." One


of these, the head man, with the legs of his trousers carefully
tucked up at the bottom, to admit the water, we presume
for it is an element in which he is infinitely more at home
than on land is quite a character, and shares with the
defunct oyster-swallower the celebrated name of "Dando."
Watch him, as taking a few minutes'" respite from his toils,
he negligently seats himself on the edge of a boat, and fans
his broad bushy chest with a cap scarcely half so furry.
Look at his magnificent, though reddish whiskers, and mark
the somewhat native humour with which he " chaffs " the
boys and 'prentices, or cunningly gammons the gen'lm'n into
the gift of a glass of gin, of which we verily believe he
swallows in one day as much as any six ordinary men, with-
out ever being one atom the worse for it.

But the party arrives, and Dando, relieved from his state
of uncertainty, starts up into activity. They approach in
full aquatic costume, with round blue jackets, striped shirts,
and caps of all sizes and patterns, from the velvet skull-cap
of French manufacture, to the easy head-dress familiar to the
students of the old spelling-books, as having, on the authority
of the portrait, formed part of the costume of the Reverend
Mr. Dilworth.

This is the most amusing time to observe a regular Sunday
water-party. There has evidently been up to this period no
inconsiderable degree of boasting on everybody's part relative
to his knowledge of navigation ; the sight of the water rapidly
cools their courage, and the air of self-denial with which
each of them insists on somebody else's taking an oar, is per-
fectly delightful. At length, after a great deal of changing
and fidgeting, consequent upon the election of a stroke-oar :
the inability of one gentleman to pull on this side, of another
to pull on that, and of a third to pull at all, the boat's crew
are seated. " Shove her off ! " cries the cockswain, who looks
as easy and comfortable as if he were steering in the Bay of
Biscay. The order is obeyed ; the boat is immediately turned
completely round, and proceeds towards Westminster-bridge,


amidst such a splashing and struggling as never was seen
before, except when the Royal George went down. " Back
wa'ater, sir, 1 ' shouts Dando, " Back waiter, you sir, aft ; "
upon which everybody thinking he must be the individual
referred to, they" all back water, and back comes the boat,
stern first, to the spot whence it started. "Back water, you
sir, aft; pull round, you sir, for'ad, can't you? 1 ' shouts
Dando, in a frenzy of excitement. "Pull round, Tom, can't
you ? " re-echoes one of the party. " Tom an't for'ad," replies
another. " Yes, he is," cries a third ; and the unfortunate
young man, at the imminent risk of breaking a blood-vessel,
pulls and pulls, until the head of the boat fairly lies in the
direction of Vauxhall-bridge. "That's right now pull all
on you ! " shouts Dando again, adding, in an under-tone, to
somebody by him, "Blowed if hever I see sich a set of
muffs !" and away jogs the boat in a zigzag direction, every
one of the six oars dipping into the water at a different time ;
and the yard is once more clear, until the arrival of the
next party.

A well-contested rowing-match on the Thames, is a very
lively and interesting scene. The water is studded with boats
of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions ; places in the coal-barges
at the different wharfs are let to crowds of spectators, beer
and tobacco flow freely about; men, women, and children
wait for the start in breathless expectation ; cutters of
six and eight oars glide gently up and down, waiting to
accompany their proteges during the race ; bands of music
add to the animation, if not to the harmony of the scene ;
groups of watermen are assembled at the different stairs, dis-
cussing the merits of the respective candidates ; and the
prize wherry, which is rowed slowly about by a pair of sculls,
is an object of general interest.

Two o'clock strikes, and everybody looks anxiously in the
direction of the bridge through which the candidates for
the prize will come half-past two, and the general attention
which has been preserved so long begins to flag, when


suddenly a gun is heard, and a noise of distant hurrahing
along each bank of the river every head is bent forward
the noise draws nearer and nearer the boats which have
been waiting at the bridge start briskly up the river, and a
well-manned galley shoots through the arch, the sitters cheer-
ing on the boats behind them, which are not yet visible.

"Here they are," is the general cry and through darts
the first boat, the men in her, stripped to the skin, and
exerting every muscle to preserve the advantage they have
gained four other boats follow close astern ; there are not
two boats 1 length between them the shouting is tremendous,
and the interest intense. " Go on, Pink " " Give it her,
Red" "Sulliwin for ever " " Bravo ! George' 1 "Now,
Tom, now now now why don't your partner stretch out?"
"Two pots to a pint on Yellow," &c., &c. Every little
public-house fires its gun, and hoists its flag; and the men
who win the heat, come in, amidst a splashing and shouting,
and banging and confusion, which no one can imagine who
has not witnessed it, and of which any description would
convey a very faint idea.

One of the most amusing places we know, is the steam-wharf
of the London Bridge, or St. Katharine's Dock Company, on
a Saturday morning in summer, when the Gravesend and
Margate steamers are usually crowded to excess ; and as we
have just taken a glance at the river above bridge, we hope
our readers will not object to accompany us on board a
Gravesend packet.

Coaches are every moment setting down at the entrance
to the wharf, and the stare of bewildered astonishment with
which the " fares " resign themselves and their luggage into the
hands of the porters, who seize all the packages at once as
a matter of course, and run away with them, heaven knows
where, is laughable in the extreme. A Margate boat lies
alongside the wharf, the Gravesend boat (which starts first)
lies alongside that again ; and as a temporary communication
is formed between the two, by means of a plank and hand-


rail, the natural confusion of the scene is by no means

" Gravesend ? " inquires a stout father of a stout family,
who follow him, under the guidance of their mother, and a
servant, at the no small risk of two or three of them being
left behind in the confusion. "Gravesend?"

" Pass on, if you please, sir," replies the attendant" other
boat, sir."

Hereupon the stout father, being rather mystified, and the
stout mother rather distracted by maternal anxiety, the
whole party deposit themselves in the Margate boat, and after
having congratulated himself on having secured very comfort-
able seats, the stout father sallies to the chimney to look for
his luggage, which he has a faint recollection of having given
some man, something, to take somewhere. No luggage,
however, bearing the most remote resemblance to his own,
in shape or form, is to be discovered; on which the stout
father calls very loudly for an officer, to whom he states the
case, in the presence of another father of another family a
little thin man who entirely concurs with him (the stout
father) in thinking that it's high time something was done
with these steam companies, and that as the Corporation
Bill failed to do it, something else must; for really people's
property is not to be sacrificed in this way ; and that if the
luggage isn't restored without delay, he will take care it shall
be put in the papers, for the public is not to be the victim
of these great monopolies. To this, the officer, in his turn,
replies, that that company, ever since it has been St.
Kat'rine's Dock Company, has protected life and property ;
that if it had been the London Bridge Wharf Company,
indeed, he shouldn't have wondered, seeing that the morality
of that company (they being the opposition) can't be answered
for, by no one ; but as it is, he's convinced there must be
some mistake, and he wouldn't mind making a solemn oath
afore a magistrate that the gentleman'll find his luggage afore
he gets to Margate.


Here the stout father, thinking he is making a capital
point, replies, that as it happens, he is not going to Margate
at all, and that "Passenger to Gravesend" was on the
luggage, in letters of full two inches long; on which the
officer rapidly explains the mistake, and the stout mother,
and the stout children, and the servant, are hurried with all
possible despatch on board the Gravesend boat, which they
reached just in time to discover that their luggage is there,
and that their comfortable seats are not. Then the bell,
which is the signal for the Gravesend boat starting, begins to
ring most furiously : and people keep time to the bell, by
running in and out of our boat at a double-quick pace. The
bell stops ; the boat starts : people who have been taking leave
of their friends on board, are carried away against their will ;
and people who have been taking leave of their friends on
shore, find that they have performed a very needless cere-
mony, in consequence of their not being carried away at all.
The regular passengers, who have season tickets, go below
to breakfast; people who have purchased morning papers,
compose themselves to read them ; and people who have not
been down the river before, think that both the shipping
and the water, look a great deal better at a distance.

When we get down about as far as Blackwall, and begin
to move at a quicker rate, the spirits of the passengers appear
to rise in proportion. Old women who have brought large
wicker hand-baskets with them, set seriously to work at the
demolition of heavy sandwiches, and pass round a wine-glass,
which is frequently replenished from a flat bottle like a
stomach- warmer, with considerable glee : handing it first to
the gentleman in the foraging-cap, who plays the harp
partly as an expression of satisfaction with his previous
exertions, and partly to induce him to play " Dumbledumb-
deary," for "Alick" to dance to; which being done, Alick,
who is a damp earthy child in red worsted socks, takes
certain small jumps upon the deck, to the unspeakable satis-
faction of his family circle. Girls who have brought the


first volume of some new novel in their reticule, become
extremely plaintive, and expatiate to Mr. Brown, or young
Mr. O'Brien, who has been looking over them, on the blue-
ness of the sky, and brightness of the water; on which Mr.
Brown or Mr. O'Brien, as the case may be, remarks in a low
voice that he has been quite insensible of late to the beauties
of nature that his whole thoughts and wishes have centred
in one object alone whereupon the young lady looks up, and
failing in her attempt to appear unconscious, looks down
again ; and turns over the next leaf with great difficulty,
in order to afford opportunity for a lengthened pressure of
the hand.

Telescopes, sandwiches, and glasses of brandy -and- water cold
without, begin to be in great requisition ; and bashful men
who have been looking down the hatchway at the engine,
find, to their great relief, a subject on which they can con-
verse with one another and a copious one too Steam.

" Wonderful thing steam, sir." " Ah ! (a deep-drawn sigh)
it is indeed, sir." " Great power, sir." " Immense immense ! "
" Great deal done by steam, sir." " Ah ! (another sigh at the
immensity of the subject, and a knowing shake of the head)
you may say that, sir." "Still in its infancy, they say, sir."
Novel remarks of this kind, are generally the commencement
of a conversation which is prolonged until the conclusion of
the trip, and, perhaps, lays the foundation of a speaking
acquaintance between half-a-dozen gentlemen, who, having
their families at Gravesend, take season tickets for the boat,
and dine on board regularly every afternoon.



WE never see any very large, staring, black Roman capitals,
in a book, or shop-window, or placarded on a wall, without
their immediately recalling to our mind an indistinct and
confused recollection of the time when we were first initiated
in the mysteries of the alphabet. We almost fancy we see
the pin's point following the letter, to impress its form more
strongly on our bewildered imagination ; and wince involun-
tarily, as we remember the hard knuckles with which the
reverend old lady who instilled into our mind the first prin-
ciples of education for ninepence per week, or ten and sixpence
per quarter, was wont to poke our juvenile head occasionally,
by way of adjusting the confusion of ideas in which we were
generally involved. The same kind of feeling pursues us in
many other instances, but there is no place which recalls so
strongly our recollections of childhood as Astley's. It was not
a " Royal Amphitheatre " in those days, nor had Ducrow
arisen to shed the light of classic taste and portable gas
over the sawdust of the circus; but the whole character of
the place was the same, the pieces were the same, the clown^s
jokes were the same, the riding-masters were equally grand,
the comic performers equally witty, the tragedians equally
hoarse, and the "highly-trained chargers" equally spirited.
Astley's has altered for the better we have changed for the
worse. Our histrionic taste is gone, and with shame we


confess, that we are far more delighted and amused with
the audience, than with the pageantry we once so highly

We like to watch a regular Astley's party in the Easter or
Midsummer holidays pa and ma, and nine or ten children,
varying from five foot six to two foot eleven : from fourteen
years of age to four. We had just taken our seat in one of
the boxes, in the centre of the house, the other night, when
the next was occupied by just such a party as we should have
attempted to describe, had we depicted our beau ideal of a
group of Astley's visitors.

First of all, there came three little boys and a little girl,
who, in pursuance of pa^s directions, issued in a very audible
voice from the box-door, occupied the front row; then two
more little girls were ushered in by a young lady, evidently
the governess. Then came three more little boys, dressed like
the first, in blue jackets and trousers, with lay-down shirt-
collars : then a child in a braided frock and high state of
astonishment, with very large round eyes, opened to their
utmost width, was lifted over the seats a process which
occasioned a considerable display of little pink legs then
came ma and pa, and then the eldest son, a boy of fourteen
years old, who was evidently trying to look as if he did not
belong to the family.

The first five minutes were occupied in taking the shawls
off the little girls, and adjusting the bows which ornamented
their hair; then it was providentially discovered that one of
the little boys was seated behind a pillar and could not see,
so the governess was stuck behind the pillar, and the boy
lifted into her place. Then pa drilled the boys, and directed
the stowing away of their pocket-handkerchiefs, and ma
having first nodded and winked to the governess to pull the
girls' frocks a little more off their shoulders, stood up to
review the little troop an inspection which appeared to
terminate much to her own satisfaction, for she looked with
a complacent air at pa, who was standing up at the further


end of the seat. Pa returned the glance, and blew his nose
very emphatically ; and the poor governess peeped out from
behind the pillar, and timidly tried to catch ma's eye, with a
look expressive of her high admiration of the whole family.
Then two of the little boys who had been discussing the
point whether Astley's was more than twice as large as Drury
Lane, agreed to refer it to " George " for his decision ; at
which " George, 11 who was no other than the young gentleman
before noticed, waxed indignant, and remonstrated in no very
gentle terms on the gross impropriety of having his name
repeated in so loud a voice at a public place, on which all
the children laughed very heartily, and one of the little boys
wound up by expressing his opinion, that " George began to
think himself quite a man now, 11 whereupon both pa and ma
laughed too; and George (who carried a dress cane and was
cultivating whiskers) muttered that " William always was
encouraged in his impertinence; 11 and assumed a look of
profound contempt, which lasted the whole evening.

The play began, and the interest of the little boys knew
no bounds. Pa was clearly interested too, although he very
unsuccessfully endeavoured to look as if he wasn't. As for
ma, she was perfectly overcome by the drollery of the principal
comedian, and laughed till every one of the immense bows
on her ample cap trembled, at which the governess peeped
out from behind the pillar again, and whenever she could
catch ma's eye, put her handkerchief to her mouth, and
appeared, as in duty bound, to be in convulsions of laughter
also. Then when the man in the splendid armour vowed to
rescue the lady or perish in the attempt, the little boys
applauded vehemently, especially one little fellow who was
apparently on a visit to the family, and had been carrying on
a child's flirtation, the whole evening, with a small coquette
of twelve years old, who looked like a model of her mamma
on a reduced scale ; and who, in common with the other
little girls (who generally speaking have even more coquettish-
ness about them than much older ones), looked very properly


shocked, when the knight's squire kissed the princess's confi-
dential chambermaid.

When the scenes in the circle commenced, the children
were more delighted than ever ; and the wish to see what was
going forward, completely conquering pa's dignity, he stood
up in the box, and applauded as loudly as any of them.
Between each feat of horsemanship, the governess leant across
to ma, and retailed the clever remarks of the children on
that which had preceded: and ma, in the openness of her
heart, offered the governess an acidulated drop, and the
governess, gratified to be taken notice of, retired behind her
pillar again with a brighter countenance : and the whole party
seemed quite happy, except the exquisite in the back of the
box, who, being too grand to take any interest in the children,
and too insignificant to be taken notice of by anybody else,
occupied himself, from time to time, in rubbing the place
where the whiskers ought to be, and was completely alone in
his glory.

We defy any one who has been to Astley's two or three
times, and is consequently capable of appi'eciating the per-
severance with which precisely the same jokes are repeated
night after night, and season after season, not to be amused
with one part of the performances at least we mean the
scenes in the circle. For ourself, we know that when the
hoop, composed of jets of gas, is let down, the curtain
drawn up for the convenience of the half-price on their

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 10 of 31)