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summons to a Police-office, was, on more than one occasion,
followed by a committal to prison. It was not in the power
of trifles such as these, however, to subdue the freedom of his
spirit. As soon as they passed away, he resumed the duties
of his profession with unabated ardour.

We have spoken of Mr. Barker and of the red-cab-driver,
in the past tense. Alas ! Mr. Barker has again become an
absentee ; and the class of men to which they both belonged
are fast disappearing. Improvement has peered beneath the
aprons of our cabs, and penetrated to the very innermost
recesses of our omnibuses. Dirt and fustian will vanish before
cleanliness and livery. Slang will be forgotten when civility
becomes general : and that enlightened, eloquent, sage, and
profound body, the Magistracy of London, will be deprived
of half their amusement, and half their occupation.



WE hope our readers will not be alarmed at this rather
ominous title. We assure them that we are not about to
become political, neither have we the slightest intention of
being more prosy than usual if we can help it. It has
occurred to us that a slight sketch of the general aspect of
"the House," and the crowds that resort to it on the night
of an important debate, would be productive of some amuse-
ment : and as we have made some few calls at the aforesaid
house in our time have visited it quite often enough for our
purpose, and a great deal too often for our personal peace and
comfort we have determined to attempt the description.
Dismissing from our minds, therefore, all that feeling of awe,
which vague ideas of breaches of privilege, Serjeant-at-Arms,
heavy denunciations, and still heavier fees, are calculated to
awaken, we enter at once into the building, and upon our

Half-past four o'clock and at five the mover of the
Address will be "on his legs," as the newspapers announce
sometimes by way of novelty, as if speakers were occasionally
in the habit of standing on their heads. The members are
pouring in, one after the other, in shoals. The few spectators
who can obtain standing-room in the passages, scrutinise
them as they pass, with the utmost interest, and the man
who can identify a member occasionally, becomes a person
of great importance. Every now and then you hear earnest

VOL. i f x


whispers of " That's Sir John Thomson. 1 ' " Which ? him with
the gilt order round his neck? 11 "No, no; that's one of the
messengers that other with the yellow gloves, is Sir John
Thomson." " Here's Mr. Smith." " Lor ! " " Yes, how d'ye
do, sir? (He is our new member) How do you do, sir?"
Mr. Smith stops : turns round with an air of enchanting
urbanity (for the rumour of an intended dissolution has been
very extensively circulated this morning); seizes both the
hands of his gratified constituent, and, after greeting him
with the most enthusiastic warmth, darts into the lobby with
an extraordinary display of ardour in the public cause, leaving
an immense impression in his favour on the mind of his
" fellow-townsman."

The arrivals increase in number, and the heat and noise
increase in very unpleasant proportion. The livery servants
form a complete lane on either side of the passage, and you
reduce yourself into the smallest possible space to avoid being
turned out. You see that stout man with the hoarse voice,
in the blue coat, queer-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, white
corduroy breeches, and great boots, who has been talking
incessantly for half an hour past, and whose importance has
occasioned no small quantity of mirth among the strangers.
That is the great conservator of the peace of Westminster.
You cannot fail to have remarked the grace with which he
saluted the noble Lord who passed just now, or the excessive
dignity of his air, as he expostulates with the crowd. He is
rather out of temper now, in consequence of the very
irreverent behaviour of those two young fellows behind him,
who have done nothing but laugh all the time they have
been here.

"Will they divide to-night, do you think, Mr. ?"

timidly inquires a little thin man in the crowd, hoping to
conciliate the man of office.

" How can you ask such questions, sir ? " replies the
functionary, in an incredibly loud key, and pettishly grasping
the thick stick he carries in his right hand. " Pray do not,


sir. I beg of you; pray do not, sir.' 1 '' The little man looks
remarkably out of his element, and the uninitiated part of
the throng are in positive convulsions of laughter.

Just at this moment some unfortunate individual appears,
with a very smirking air, at the bottom of the long passage.
He has managed to elude the vigilance of the special
constable down-stairs, and is evidently congratulating himself
on having made his way so far.

" Go back, sir you must not come here, 1 ' shouts the hoarse
one, with tremendous emphasis of voice and gesture, the
moment the offender catches his eye.

The stranger pauses.

" Do you hear, sir will you go back ? " continues the official
dignitary, gently pushing the intruder some half-dozen yards.

" Come, don't push me," replies the stranger, turning
angrily round.

" I will, sir."

" You won't, sir."

" Go out, sir."

** Take your hands off me, sir."

" Go out of the passage, sir."

" You're a Jack-in-office, sir."

"A what?" ejaculates he of the boots.

" A Jack-in-office, sir, and a very insolent fellow," reiterates
the stranger, now completely in a passion.

" Pray do not force me to put you out, sir," retorts the
other " pray do not my instructions are to keep this
passage clear it's the Speaker's orders, sir."

" D n the Speaker, sir ! " shouts the intruder.

"Here, Wilson ! Collins !" gasps the officer, actually
paralysed at this insulting expression, which in his mind is
all but high treason ; " take this man out take him out, I
say ! How dare you, sir ? " and down goes the unfortunate
man five stairs at a time, turning round at every stoppage,
to come back again, and denouncing bitter vengeance against
the commander-in-chief, and all his supernumeraries.


" Make way, gentlemen, pray make way for the Members,
I beg of you ! " shouts the zealous officer, turning back, and
preceding a whole string of the liberal and independent.

You see this ferocious-looking gentleman, with a com-
plexion almost as sallow as his linen, and whose large black
moustache would give him the appearance of a figure in a
hairdresser's window, if his countenance possessed the thought
which is communicated to those waxen caricatures of the
human face divine. He is a militia-officer, and the most
amusing person in the House. Can anything be more ex-
quisitely absurd than the burlesque grandeur of his air, as
he strides up to the lobby, his eyes rolling like those of a
Turk's head in a cheap Dutch clock? He never appears
without that bundle of dirty papers which he carries under
his left arm, and which are generally supposed to be the
miscellaneous estimates for 1804, or some equally important
documents. He is very punctual in his attendance at the
House, and his self-satish'ed " He-ar-He-ar," is not unfre-
quently the signal for a general titter.

This is the gentleman who once actually sent a messenger
up to the Strangers' 1 gallery in the old House of Commons,
to inquire the name of an individual who was using an eye-
glass, in order that he might complain to the Speaker that
the person in question was quizzing him ! On another
occasion, he is reported to have repaired to Bellamy's kitchen
a refreshment-room, where persons who are not Members
are admitted on sufferance, as it were and perceiving two
or three gentlemen at supper, who he was aware were not
Members, and could not, in that place, very well resent his
behaviour, he indulged in the pleasantry of sitting with his
booted leg on the table at which they were supping ! He is
generally harmless, though, and always amusing.

By dint of patience, and some little interest with our friend
the constable, we have contrived to make our way to the
Lobby, and you can jush manage to catch an occasional
glimpse of the House, as the door is opened for the admission


of Members. It is tolerably full already, and little groups
of Members are congregated together here, discussing the
interesting topics of the day.

That smart-looking fellow in the black coat with velvet
facings and cuffs, who wears his UOrsay hat so rakishly, is
" Honest Tom," a metropolitan representative ; and the large
man in the cloak with the white lining not the man by the
pillar; the other with the light hair hanging over his coat
collar behind is his colleague. The quiet gentlemanly-looking
man in the blue surtout, gray trousers, white neckerchief, and
gloves, whose closely -buttoned coat displays his manly figure
and broad chest to great advantage, is a very well-known
character. He has fought a great many battles in his time,
and conquered like the heroes of old, with no other arms
than those the gods gave him. The old hard-featured man
who is standing near him, is really a good specimen of a class
of men, now nearly extinct. He is a county Member, and
has been from time whereof the memory of man is not to the
contrary. Look at his loose, wide, brown coat, with capacious
pockets on each side; the knee-breeches and boots, the im-
mensely long waistcoat, and silver watch-chain dangling below
it, the wide-brimmed brown hat, and the white handkerchief
tied in a great bow, with straggling ends sticking out beyond
his shirt-frill. It is a costume one seldom sees nowadays, and
when the few who wear it have died off, it will be quite
extinct. He can tell you long stories of Fox, Pitt, Sheridan,
and Canning, and how much better the House was managed
in those times, when they used to get up at eight or nine
o'clock, except on regular field-days, of which everybody was
apprised beforehand. He has a great contempt for all young
Members of Parliament, and thinks it quite impossible that a
man can say anything worth hearing, unless he has sat in the
House for fifteen years at least, without saying anything at
all. He is of opinion that " that young Macaulay " was a
regular impostor; he allows, that Lord Stanley may do
something one of these days, but "he's too young, sir too


young. He is an excellent authority on points of precedent,
and when he grows talkative, after his wine, will tell you how
Sir Somebody Something, when he was whipper-in for the
Government, brought four men out of their beds to vote in
the majority, three of whom died on their way home again ;
how the House once divided on the question, that fresh candles
be now brought in ; how the Speaker was once upon a time
left in the chair by accident, at the conclusion of business,
and was obliged to sit in the House by himself for three hours,
till some Member could be knocked up and brought back
again, to move the adjournment ; and a great many other
anecdotes of a similar description.

There he stands, leaning on his stick ; looking at the throng
of Exquisites around him with most profound contempt ; and
conjuring up, before his mind's eye, the scenes he beheld in
the old House, in days gone by, when his own feelings were
fresher and brighter, and when, as he imagines, wit, talent,
and patriotism flourished more brightly too.

You are curious to know who that young man in the
rough great-coat is, who has accosted every Member who has
entered the House since we have been standing here. He is
not a Member; he is only an "hereditary bondsman," or, in
other words, an Irish correspondent of an Irish newspaper,
who has just procured his forty-second frank from a Member
whom he never saw in his life before. There he goes again
another ! Bless the man, he has his hat and pockets full

We will try our fortune at the Strangers' 1 gallery, though
the nature of the debate encourages very little hope of success.
What on earth are you about ? Holding up your order as
if it were a talisman at whose command the wicket would fly
open ? Nonsense. Just preserve the order for an autograph,
if it be worth keeping at all, and make your appearance at
the door with your thumb and forefinger expressively inserted
in your waistcoat-pocket. This tall stout man in black is
the door-keeper. "Any room?" "Not an inch two or


three dozen gentlemen waiting down-stairs on the chance of
somebody's going out." Pull out your purse " Are you quite
sure there's no room ? "-T-" I'll go and look," replies the door-
keeper, with a wistful glance at your purse, " but I'm afraid
there's not." He returns, and with real feeling assures you
that it is morally impossible to get near the gallery. It is
of no use waiting. When you are refused admission into the
Strangers' gallery at the House of Commons, under such
circumstances, you may return home thoroughly satisfied that
the place must be remarkably full indeed.*

Retracing our steps through the long passage, descending
the stairs, and crossing Palace-yard, we halt at a small
temporary door- way adjoining the King's entrance to the
House of Lords. The order of the serjeant-at-arms will
admit you into the Reporters' gallery, from whence you can
obtain a tolerably good view of the House. Take care of
the stairs, they are none of the best; through this little
wicket there. As soon as your eyes become a little used
to the mist of the place, and the glare of the chandeliers
below you, you will see that some unimportant personage
on the Ministerial side of the House (to your right hand) is
speaking, amidst a hum of voices and confusion which would
rival Babel, but for the circumstance of its being all in one

The "hear, hear," which occasioned that laugh, proceeded
from our warlike friend with the moustache ; he is sitting on
the back seat against the wall, behind the Member who is
speaking, looking as ferocious and intellectual as usual. Take
one look around you, and retire ! The body of the House
and the side galleries are full of Members ; some, with their
legs on the back of the opposite seat; some, with theirs
stretched out to their utmost length on the floor; some
going out, others coming in ; all talking, laughing, lounging,

* This paper was written before the practice of exhibiting Members of
Parliament, like other curiosities, for the small charge of half-a-crown, was


coughing, oh-ing, questioning, or groaning; presenting a
conglomeration of noise and confusion, to be met with in
no other place in existence, not even excepting Smithfield on
a market-day, or a cock-pit in its glory.

But let us not omit to notice Bellamy's kitchen, or, in
other words, the refreshment-room, common to both Houses
of Parliament, where Ministerialists and Oppositionists,
AVhigs and Tories, Radicals, Peers, and Destructives, strangers
from the gallery, and the more favoured strangers from below
the bar, are alike at liberty to resort; where divers honour-
able members prove their perfect independence by remaining
during the whole of a heavy debate, solacing themselves with
the creature comforts ; and whence they are summoned by
whippers-in, when the House is on the point of dividing;
either to give their " conscientious votes " on questions of
which they are conscientiously innocent of knowing anything
whatever, or to find a vent for the playful exuberance of
their wine-inspired fancies, in boisterous shouts of " Divide,"
occasionally varied with a little howling, barking, crowing, or
other ebullitions of senatorial pleasantry.

When you have ascended the narrow staircase which, in
the present temporary House of Commons, leads to the place
we are describing, you will probably observe a couple of
rooms on your right hand, with tables spread for dining.
Neither of these is the kitchen, although they are both
devoted to the same purpose; the kitchen is further on to
our left, up these half-dozen stairs. Before we ascend the
staircase, however, we must request you to pause in front of
this little bar-place with the sash-windows ; and beg your
particular attention to the steady honest-looking old fellow
in black, who is its sole occupant. Nicholas (we do not
mind mentioning the old fellow's name, for if Nicholas be
not a public man, who is? and public men's names are
public property) Nicholas is the butler of Bellamy's, and
has held the same place, dressed exactly in the same manner,
and said precisely the same things, ever since the oldest of


its present visitors can remember. An excellent servant
Nicholas is an unrivalled compounder of salad-dressing an
admirable preparer of soda-water and lemon a special mixer
of cold grog and punch and, above all, an unequalled judge
of cheese. If the old man have such a thing as vanity in
his composition, this is certainly his pride; and if it be
possible to imagine that anything in this world could disturb
his impenetrable calmness, we should say it would be the
doubting his judgment on this important point.

We needn't tell you all this, however, for if you have an
atom of observation, one glance at his sleek, knowing-looking
head and face his prim white neckerchief, with the wooden
tie into which it has been regularly folded for twenty years
past, merging by imperceptible degrees into a small-plaited
shirt-frill and his comfortable-looking form encased in a
well-brushed suit of black would give you a better idea of
his real character than a column of our poor description could

Nicholas is rather out of his element now ; he cannot see
the kitchen as he used to in the old House ; there, one window
of his glass-case opened into the room, and then, for the
edification and behoof of more juvenile questioners, he would
stand for an hour together, answering deferential questions
about Sheridan, and Percival, and Gastlereagh, and Heaven
knows who beside, with manifest delight, always inserting a
" Mister " before every commoner's name.

Nicholas, like all men of his age and standing, has a great
idea of the degeneracy of the times. He seldom expresses
any political opinions, but we managed to ascertain, just
before the passing of the Reform Bill, that Nicholas was a
thorough Reformer. What was our astonishment to discover
shortly after the meeting of the first reformed Parliament,
that he was a most inveterate and decided Tory ! It was
very odd : some men change their opinions from necessity,
others from expediency, others from inspiration; but that
Nicholas should undergo any change in any respect, was an


event we had never contemplated, and should have considered
impossible. His strong opinion against the clause which
empowered the metropolitan districts to return Members to
Parliament, too, was perfectly unaccountable.

We discovered the secret at last ; the metropolitan Members
always dined at home. The rascals ! As for giving additional
Members to Ireland, it was even worse decidedly unconstitu-
tional. Why, sir, an Irish Member would go up there, and
eat more dinner than three English Members put together.
He took no wine ; drank table-beer by the half-gallon ; and
went home to Manchester-buildings, or Millbank-street, for
his whiskey-and-water. And what was the consequence ?
Why the concern lost actually lost, sir by his patronage.
A queer old fellow is Nicholas, and as completely a part of
the building as the house itself. We wonder he ever left
the old place, and fully expected to see in the papers, the
morning after the fire, a pathetic account of an old gentle-
man in black, of decent appearance, who was seen at one of
the upper windows when the flames were at their height,
and declared his resolute intention of falling with the floor.
He must have been got out by force. However, he was got
out here he is again, looking as he always does, as if he
had been in a bandbox ever since the last session. There
he is, at his old post every night, just as we have described
him : and, as characters are scarce, and faithful servants
scarcer, long may he be there, say we !

Now, when you have taken your seat in the kitchen, and
duly noticed the large fire and roasting-jack at one end of
the room the little table for washing glasses and draining
jugs at the other the clock over the window opposite St.
Margaret's Church the deal tables and wax candles the
damask table-cloths and bare floor the plate and china on
the tables, and the gridiron on the fire ; and a few other
anomalies peculiar to the place we will point out to your
notice two or three of the people present, whose station or
absurdities render them the most worthy of remark.


It is half-past twelve o'clock, and as the division is not
expected for an hour or two, a few Members are lounging
away the time here in preference to standing at the bar of
the House, or sleeping in one of the side galleries. That sin-
gularly awkward and ungainly-looking man, in the brownish-
white hat, with the straggling black trousers which reach
about half-way down the leg of his boots, who is leaning
against the meat-screen, apparently deluding himself into the
belief that he is thinking about something, is a splendid
sample of a Member of the House of Commons concentrating
in his own person the wisdom of a constituency. Observe
the wig, of a dark hue but indescribable colour, for if it be
naturally brown, it has acquired a black tint by long service,
and if it be naturally black, the same cause has imparted to
it a tinge of rusty brown; and remark how very materially
the great blinker-like spectacles assist the expression of that
most intelligent face. Seriously speaking, did you ever see a
countenance so expressive of the most hopeless extreme of
heavy dulness, or behold a form so strangely put together?
He is no great speaker : but when he does address the House,
the effect is absolutely irresistible.

The small gentleman with the sharp nose, who has just
saluted him, is a Member of Parliament, an ex-Alderman,
and a sort of amateur fireman. He, and the celebrated
fireman's dog, were observed to be remarkably active at the
conflagration of the two Houses of Parliament they both
ran up and down, and in and out, getting under people's feet,
and into everybody's way, fully impressed with the belief that
they were doing a great deal of good, and barking tremen-
dously. The dog went quietly back to his kennel with the
engine, but the gentleman kept up such an incessant noise
for some weeks after the occurrence, that he became a positive
nuisance. As no more parliamentary fires have occurred,
however, and as he has consequently had no more opportu-
nities of writing to the newspapers to relate how, by way of
preserving pictures he cut them out of their frames, and


performed other great national services, he has gradually
relapsed into his old state of calmness.

That female in black not the one whom the Lord's-Day-
Bill Baronet has just chucked under the chin ; the shorter of
the two is " Jane : " the Hebe of Bellamy's. Jane is as great
a character as Nicholas, in her way. Her leading features are
a thorough contempt for the great majority of her visitors;
her predominant quality, love of admiration, as you cannot
fail to observe, if you mark the glee with which she listens
to something the young Member near her mutters somewhat
unintelligibly in her ear (for his speech is rather thick from
some cause or other), and how playfully she digs the handle
of a fork into the arm with which he detains her, by way
of reply.

Jane is no bad hand at repartees, and showers them about,
with a degree of liberality and total absence of reserve or
constraint, which occasionally excites no small amazement in
the minds of strangers. She cut jokes with Nicholas, too,
but looks up to him with a great deal of respect; the
immovable stolidity with which Nicholas receives the afore-
said jokes, and looks on, at certain pastoral friskings and
rompings (Jane's only recreations, and they are very innocent
too) which occasionally take place in the passage, is not the
least amusing part of his character.

The two persons who are seated at the table in the comer,
at the farther end of the room, have been constant guests
here, for many years past; and one of them has feasted
within these walls, many a time, with the most brilliant
characters of a brilliant period. He has gone up to the other
House since then ; the greater part of his boon companions

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 15 of 31)