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have shared Yorick's fate, and his visits to Bellamy's are
comparatively few.

If he really be eating his supper now, at what hour can he
possibly have dined ! A second solid mass of rump-steak has
disappeared, and he eat the first in four minutes and three
quarters, by the clock over the window. Was there ever such


a personification of Falstaff! Mark the air with which he
gloats over that Stilton, as he removes the napkin which has
been placed beneath his chin to catch the superfluous gravy
of the steak, and with what gusto he imbibes the porter
which has been fetched, expressly for him, in the pewter pot.
Listen to the hoarse sound of that voice, kept down as it
is by layers of solids, and deep draughts of rich wine, and
tell us if you ever saw such a perfect picture of a regular
gourmand; and whether he is not exactly the man whom you
would pitch upon as having been the partner of Sheridan's
parliamentary carouses, the volunteer driver of the hackney-
coach that took him home, and the involuntary upsetter of
the whole party ?

What an amusing contrast between his voice and appear-
ance, and that of the spare, squeaking old man, who sits at
the same table, and who, elevating a little cracked bantam
sort of voice to its highest pitch, invokes damnation upon his
own eyes or somebody else's at the commencement of every
sentence he utters. "The Captain," as they call him, is a
very old frequenter of Bellamy's ; much addicted to stopping
" after the House is up " (an inexpiable crime in Jane's eyes),
and a complete walking reservoir of spirits and water.

The old Peer or rather, the old man for his peerage is
of comparatively recent date has a huge tumbler of hot
punch brought him; and the other damns and drinks, and
drinks and damns, and smokes. Members arrive every moment
in a great bustle to report that " The Chancellor of the
Exchequer's up," and to get glasses of brandy-and-water to
sustain them during the division; people who have ordered
supper, countermand it, and prepare to go down-stairs, when
suddenly a bell is heard to ring with tremendous violence,
and a cry of " Di-vi-sion ! " is heard in the passage. This is
enough ; away rush the members pell-mell. The room is
cleared in an instant; the noise rapidly dies away; you hear
the creaking of the last boot on the last stair, and are left
aione with the leviathan of rump-steaks.



ALL public dinners in London, from the Lord Mayor's annual
banquet at Guildhall, to the Chimney-sweepers 1 anniversary
at White Conduit House; from the Goldsmiths 1 to the
Butchers 1 , from the Sheriffs 1 to the Licensed Victuallers 1 ; are
amusing scenes. Of all entertainments of this description,
however, we think the annual dinner of some public charity
is the most amusing. At a Company's dinner, the people are
nearly all alike regular old stagers, who make it a matter of
business, and a thing not to be laughed at. At a political
dinner, everybody is disagreeable, and inclined to speechify
much the same thing, by-the-bye; but at a charity dinner
you see people of all sorts, kinds, and descriptions. The wine
may not be remarkably special, to be sure, and we have heard
some hard-hearted monsters grumble at the collection ; but we
really think the amusement to be derived from the occasion,
sufficient to counterbalance even these disadvantages.

Let us suppose you are induced to attend a dinner of this
description "Indigent Orphans 1 Friends 1 Benevolent Institu-
tion," we think it is. The name of the charity is a line or
two longer, but never mind the rest. You have a distinct
recollection, however, that you purchased a ticket at the
solicitation of some charitable friend : and you deposit your-
self in a hackney-coach, the driver of which no doubt that
you may do the thing in style turns a deaf ear to your


earnest entreaties to be set down at the corner of Great Queen-
street, and persists in carrying you to the very door of the
Freemasons'", round which a crowd of people are assembled to
witness the entrance of the indigent orphans'" friends. You
hear great speculations as you pay the fare, on the possibility
of your being the noble Lord who is announced to fill the
chair on the occasion, and are highly gratified to hear it
eventually decided that you are only a " wocalist."

The first thing that strikes you, on your entrance, is the
astonishing importance of the committee. You observe a
door on the first landing, carefully guarded by two waiters,
in and out of which stout gentlemen with very red faces
keep running, with a degree of speed highly unbecoming the
gravity of persons of their years and corpulency. You pause,
quite alarmed at the bustle, and thinking, in your innocence,
that two or three people must have been carried out of the
dining-room in fits, at least. You are immediately undeceived
by the waiter " Up-stairs, if you please, sir; this is the
committee-room." Up-stairs you go, accordingly ; wondering,
as you mount, what the duties of the committee can be, and
whether they ever do anything beyond confusing each other,
and running over the waiters.

' Having deposited your hat and cloak, and received a
remarkably small scrap of pasteboard in exchange (which,
as a matter of course, you lose, before you require it again),
you enter the hall, down which there are three long tables for
the less distinguished guests, with a cross table on a raised
platform at the upper end for the reception of the very
particular friends of the indigent orphans. Being fortunate
enough to find a plate without anybody's card in it, you
wisely seat yourelf at once, and have a little leisure to look
about you. Waiters, with wine-baskets in their hands, are
placing decanters of sherry down the tables, at very respect-
able distances; melancholy-looking salt-cellars, and decayed
vinegar-cruets, which might have belonged to the parents of
the indigent orphans in their time, are scattered at distant


intervals on the cloth; and the knives and forks look as if
they had done duty at every public dinner in London since
the accession of George the First. The musicians are scraping
and grating and screwing tremendously playing no notes but
notes of preparation ; and several gentlemen are gliding along
the sides of the tables, looking into plate after plate with
frantic eagerness, the expression of their countenances growing
more and more dismal as they meet with everybody's card
but their own.

You turn round to take a look at the table behind you,
and not being in the habit of attending public dinners are
somewhat struck by the appearance of the party on which
your eyes rest. One of its principal members appears to be
a little man, with a long and rather inflamed face, and gray
hair brushed bolt upright in front ; he wears a wisp of black
silk round his neck, without any stiffener, as an apology for
a neckerchief, and is addressed by his companions by the
familiar appellation of "Fitz," or some such monosyllable.
Near him is a stout man in a white neckerchief and buff'
waistcoat, with shining dark hair, cut very short in front, and
a great round healthy-looking face, on which he studiously
preserves a half sentimental simper. Next him, again, is a
large-headed man, with black hair and bushy whiskers; and
opposite them are two or three others, one of whom is a
little round-faced person, in a dress-stock aud blue under-
waistcoat. There is something peculiar in their air and
manner, though you could hardly describe what it is ; you
cannot divest yourself of the idea that they have come for 1
some other purpose than mere eating and drinking. You
have no time to debate the matter, however, for the waiters
(who have been arranged in lines down the room, placing the
dishes on table) retire to the lower end ; the dark man in
the blue coat and bright buttons, who has the direction of
the music, looks up to the gallery, and calls out " band " in a
very loud voice ; out burst the orchestra, up rise the visitors,
in march fourteen stewards, each with a long wand in his,

"NON NOBIS!" 193

hand, like the evil genius in a pantomime ; then the chair-
man, then the titled visitors ; they all make their way up the
room, as fast as they can, bowing, and smiling, and smirking,
and looking remarkably amiable. The applause ceases, grace
is said, the clatter of plates and dishes begins ; and every
one appears highly gratified, either with the presence of the
distinguished visitors, or the commencement of the anxiously-
expected dinner.

As to the dinner itself the mere dinner it goes off much
the same everywhere. Tureens of soup are emptied with
awful rapidity waiters take plates of turbot away, to get
lobster-sauce, and bring back plates of lobster-sauce without
turbot ; people who can carve poultry, are great fools if they
own it, and people who can't have no wish to learn. The
knives and forks form a pleasing accompaniment to Auber's
music, and Auber's music would form a pleasing accompani-
ment to the dinner, if you could hear anything besides the
cymbals. The substantiate disappear moulds of jelly vanish
like lightning hearty eaters wipe their foreheads, and appear
rather overcome by their recent exertions people who have
looked very cross hitherto, become remarkably bland, and ask
you to take wine in the most friendly manner possible old
gentlemen direct your attention to the ladies' gallery, and
take great pains to impress you with the fact that the charity
is always peculiarly favoured in this respect every one
appears disposed to become talkative and the hum of con-
versation is loud and general.

" Pray, silence, gentlemen, if you please, for Nan nobis ! "
shouts the toast-master with stentorian lungs a toast-master's
shirt-front, waistcoat, and neckerchief, by-the-bye, always
exhibit three distinct shades of cloudy-white. " Pray, silence,
gentlemen, for Non nobis ! " The singers, whom you discover
to be no other than the very party that excited your curiosity
at first, after "pitching" their voices immediately begin too-
booing most dismally, on which the regular old stagers burst
into occasional cries of " Sh Sh waiters ! Silence, waiters

VOL. i. o


stand still, waiters keep back, waiters," and other exor-
cisms, delivered in a tone of indignant remonstrance. The
grace is soon concluded, and the company resume their seats.
The uninitiated portion of the guests applaud Non nobis
as vehemently as if it were a capital comic song, greatly to
the scandal and indignation of the regular diners, who imme-
diately attempt to quell this sacrilegious approbation, by cries
of "Hush, husht" whereupon the others, mistaking these
sounds for hisses, applaud more tumultuously than before,
and, by way of placing their approval beyond the possibility
of doubt, shout " Encore ! " most vociferously.

The moment the noise ceases, up starts the toast-master :
" Gentlemen, charge your glasses, if you please ! " Decanters
having been handed about, and glasses filled, the toast-master
proceeds, in a regular ascending scale : " Gentlemen air
you all charged ? Pray silence gentlemen for the
cha i r ! " The chairman rises, and, after stating that he
feels it quite unnecessary to preface the toast he is about
to propose, with any observations whatever, wanders into
a maze of sentences, and flounders about in the most
extraordinary manner, presenting a lamentable spectacle of
mystified humanity, until he arrives at the words, "con-
stitutional sovereign of these realms," at which elderly gentle-
men exclaim " Bravo ! " and hammer the table tremendously
with their knife-handles. " Under any circumstances, it
would give him the greatest pride, it would give him the
greatest pleasure he might almost say, it would afford him
satisfaction [cheers] to propose that toast. What must be his
feelings, then, when he has the gratification of announcing,
that he has received her Majesty "s commands to apply to the
Treasurer of her Majesty's Household, for her Majesty's
annual donation of 25Z. in aid of the funds of this charity ! "
This announcement (which has been regularly made by every
chairman, since the first foundation of the charity, forty-two
years ago) calls forth the most vociferous applause ; the toast
is drunk with a great deal of cheering and knocking; and


" God save the Queen " is sung by the " professional gentle-
men;" the unprofessional gentlemen joining in the chorus,
and giving the national anthem an effect which the news-
papers, with great justice, describe as "perfectly electrical."

The other "loyal and patriotic" toasts having been drunk
with all due enthusiasm, a comic song having been well sung
by the gentleman with the small neckerchief, and a sentimental
one by the second of the party, we come to the most
important toast of the evening " Prosperity to the charity.""
Here again we are compelled to adopt newspaper phraseology,
and to express our regret at being "precluded from giving
even the substance of the noble lord's observations." Suffice
it to say, that the speech, which is somewhat of the longest*
is rapturously received ; and the toast having been drunk,
the stewards (looking more important than ever) leave the
room, and presently return, heading a procession of indigent
orphans, boys and girls, who walk round the room, curtseying,
and bowing, and treading on each other's heels, and looking
very much as if they would like a glass of wine apiece, to the
high gratification of the company generally, and especially
of the lady patronesses in the gallery. Exeunt children, and
re-enter stewards, each with a blue plate in his hand. The
band plays a lively air ; the majority of the company put
their hands in their pockets and look rather serious ; and
the noise of sovereigns, rattling on crockery, is heard from all
parts of the room.

After a short interval, occupied in singing and toasting,
the secretary puts on his spectacles, and proceeds to read the
report and list of subscriptions, the latter being listened to
with great attention. " Mr. Smith, one guinea Mr.
Tompkins, one guinea Mr. Wilson, one guinea Mr. Hickson,
one guinea Mr. Nixon, one guinea Mr. Charles Nixon, one
guinea [hear, hear !] Mr. James Nixon, one guinea Mr.
Thomas Nixon, one pound one [tremendous applause]. Lord
Fitz Binkle, the chairman of the day, in addition to an
annual donation of fifteen pounds thirty guineas [prolonged


knocking : several gentlemen knock the stems off their wine-
glasses, in the vehemence of their approbation]. Lady Fitz
Binkle, in addition to an annual donation of ten pound
twenty pound " [protracted knocking and shouts of " Bravo ! "]
The list being at length concluded, the chairman rises, and
proposes the health of the secretary, than whom he knows
no more zealous or estimable individual. The secretary, in
returning thanks, observes that lie knows no more excellent
individual than the chairman except the senior officer of the
charity, whose health lie begs to propose. The senior officer,
in returning thanks, observes that he knows no more worthy
man than the secretary except Mr. Walker, the auditor, whose
health he begs to propose. Mr. Walker, in returning thanks,
discovers some other estimable individual, to whom alone
the senior officer is inferior and so they go on toasting and
lauding and thanking : the only other toast of importance
being " The Lady Patronesses now present ! " on which all
the gentlemen turn their faces towards the ladies' gallery,
shouting tremendously ; and little priggish men, who have
imbibed more wine than usual, kiss their hands and exhibit
distressing contortions of visage.

We have protracted our dinner to so great a length, that
we have hardly time to add one word by way of grace. We
can only entreat our readers not to imagine, because we have
attempted to extract some amusement from a charity dinner,
that we are at all disposed to underrate, either the excellence
of the benevolent institutions with which London abounds, or
the estimable motives of those who support them.



"Now ladies, up in the sky-parlour : only once a year, if you please!"

" Sweep sweep sw-e-ep ! "


THE first of May ! There is a merry freshness in the sound,
calling to our minds a thousand thoughts of all that is
pleasant in nature and beautiful in her most delightful
form. What man is there, over whose mind a bright spring
morning does not exercise a magic influence carrying him
back to the days of his childish sports, and conjuring up before
him the old green field with its gently-waving trees, where
the birds sang as he has never heard them since where the
butterfly fluttered far more gaily than he ever sees him now,
in all his ramblings where the sky seemed bluer, and the
sun shone more brightly where the air blew more freshly
over greener grass, and sweeter-smelling flowers where
everything wore a richer and more brilliant hue than it is
ever dressed in now ! Such are the deep feelings of child-
hood, and such are the impressions which every lovely object
stamps upon its heart ! The hardy traveller wanders through
the maze of thick and pathless woods, where the sun's rays
never shone, and heaven's pure air never played ; he stands on
the brink of the roaring waterfall, and, giddy and bewildered,
watches the foaming mass as it leaps from stone to stone, and
from crag to crag ; he lingers in the fertile plains of a land


of perpetual sunshine, and revels in the luxury of their balmy
breath. But what are the deep forests, or the thundering
waters, or the richest landscapes that bounteous nature ever
spread, to charm the eyes, and captivate the senses of man,
compared with the recollection of the old scenes of his early
youth ? Magic scenes indeed ; for the fancies of childhood
dressed them in colours brighter than the rainbow, and almost
as fleeting !

In former times, spring brought with it not only such
associations as these, connected with the past, but sports
and games for the present merry dances round rustic pillars,
adorned with emblems of the season, and reared in honour
of its coining. Where are they now ! Pillars we have, but
they are no longer rustic ones ; and as to dancers, they are
used to rooms, and lights, and would not show well in the
open air. Think of the immorality, too ! What would your
sabbath enthusiasts say, to an aristocratic ring encircling the
Duke of York's column in Carlton-terrace a grand paussette
of the middle classes, round Alderman Waithman's monument
in Fleet-street, or a general hands-four-round of ten-pound
householders, at the foot of the Obelisk in St. GeorgeVfields ?
Alas ! romance can make no head against the riot act ; and
pastoral simplicity is not understood by the police.

Well; many years ago we began to be a steady and
matter-of-fact sort of people, and dancing in spring being
beneath our dignity, we gave it up, and in course of time
it descended to the sweeps a fall certainly, because, though
sweeps are very good fellows in their way, and moreover very
useful in a civilised community, they are not exactly the sort of
people to give the tone to the little elegances of society. The
sweeps, however, got the dancing to themselves, and they
kept it up, and handed it down. This was a severe blow to
the romance of spring-time, but, it did not entirely destroy
it, either ; for a portion of it descended to the sweeps with
the dancing, and rendered them objects of great interest. A
mystery hung over the sweeps in those days. Legends were


in existence of wealthy gentlemen who had lost children, and
who, after many years of sorrow and suffering, had found
them in the character of sweeps. Stories were related of a
young boy who, having been stolen from his parents in
his infancy, and devoted to the occupation of chimney-
sweeping, was sent, in the course of his professional career,
to sweep the chimney of his mother's bedroom; and how,
being hot and tired when he came out of the chimney, he
got into the bed he had so often slept in as an infant, and
was discovered and recognised therein by his mother, who
once every year of her life, thereafter, requested the pleasure
of the company of every London sweep, at half-past one
o'clock, to roast beef, plum-pudding, porter, and sixpence.

Such stories as these, and there were many such, threw an
air of mystery round the sweeps, and produced for them
some of those good effects which animals derive from the
doctrine of the transmigration of souls. No one (except the
masters) thought of ill-treating a sweep, because no one knew
who he might be, or what nobleman's or gentleman's son he
might turn out. Chimney-sweeping was, by many believers
in the marvellous, considered as a sort of probationary term,
at an earlier or later period of which, divers young noblemen
were to come into possession of their rank and titles : and
the profession was held by them in great respect accordingly.

We remember, in our young days, a little sweep about our
own age, with curly hair and white teeth, whom we devoutly
and sincerely believed to be the lost son and heir of some
illustrious personage an impression which was resolved into
an unchangeable conviction on our infant mind, by the
subject of our speculations informing us, one day, in reply to
our question, propounded a few moments before his ascent
to the summit of the kitchen chimney, "that he believed
he'd been born in the vurkis, but he'd never know'd his
father." We felt certain, from that time forth, that lie
would one day be owned by a lord ; and we never heard the
church-bells ring, or saw a flag hoisted in the neighbourhood,


without thinking that the happy event had at last occurred,
and that his long-lost parent had arrived in a coach and six,
to take him home to Grosvenor-square. He never came,
however; and, at the present moment, the young gentleman
in question is settled down as a master sweep in the neighbour-
hood of Battle-bridge, his distinguishing characteristics being
a decided antipathy to washing himself, and the possession
of a pair of legs very inadequate to the support of his
unwieldy and corpulent body.

The romance of spring having gone out before our time,
we were fain to console ourselves as we best could with the
uncertainty that enveloped the birth and parentage of its
attendant dancers, the sweeps; and we did console ourselves
with it, for many years. But, even this wretched source of
comfort received a shock from which it has never recovered
a shock which has been in reality its death-blow. We could
not disguise from ourselves the fact that whole families of
sweeps were regularly born of sweeps, in the rural districts
of Somers Town and Camden Town that the eldest son
succeeded to the father's business, that the other branches
assisted him therein, and commenced on their own account ;
that their children again, were educated to the profession ;
and that about their identity there could be no mistake
whatever. We could not be blind, we say, to this melancholy
truth, but we could not bring ourselves to admit it, neverthe-
less, and we lived on for some years in a state of voluntary
ignorance. We were roused from our pleasant slumber by
certain dark insinuations thrown out by a friend of ours,
to the effect that children in the lower ranks of life were
beginning to choose chimney-sweeping as their particular
walk ; that applications had been made by various boys to
the constituted authorities, to allow them to pursue the
object of their ambition with the full concurrence and
sanction of the law; that the affair, in short, was becoming
one of mere legal contract. We turned a deaf ear to these
rumours at first, but slowly and surely they stole upon us.


Month after month, week after week, nay, day after day, at
last, did we meet with accounts of similar applications. The
veil was removed, all mystery was at an end, and chimney-
sweeping had become a favourite and chosen pursuit. There
is no longer any occasion to steal boys ; for boys flock in
crowds to bind themselves. The romance of the trade has
fled, and the chimney-sweeper of the present day, is no more
like unto him of thirty years ago, than is a Fleet-street
pickpocket to a Spanish brigand, or Paul Pry to Caleb

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 16 of 31)