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in hand, as far as next door, just to say " good morning " to
Betsy Clark, and that Mr. Todd's young man just steps over
the way to say " good morning " to both of 'em ; and as the
aforesaid Mr. Todd's young man is almost as good-looking
and fascinating as the baker himself, the conversation quickly
becomes very interesting, and probably Avould become more
so, if Betsy Clark's Missis, who always will be a-followin' her
about, didn't give an angry tap at her bedroom window, on
which Mr. Todd's young man tries to whistle coolly, as he
goes back to his shop much faster than he came from it;
and the two girls run back to their respective places, and
shut their street-doors with surprising softness, each of them
poking their heads out of the front parlour window, a minute
afterwards, however, ostensibly with the view of looking at
the mail which just then passes by, but really for the purpose
of catching another glimpse of Mr. Todd's young man, who
being fond of mails, but more of females, takes a short look
at the mails, and a long look at the girls, much to the
satisfaction of all parties concerned.

The mail itself goes on to the coach-office in due course,
and the passengers who are going out by the early coach,
stare with astonishment at the passengers who are coming
in by the early coach, who look blue and dismal, and are
evidently under the influence of that odd feeling produced by
travelling, which makes the events of yesterday morning seem
as if they had happened at least six months ago, and induces
people to wonder with considerable gravity whether the friends
and relations they took leave of a fortnight before, have altered
much since they have left them. The coach-office is all alive,
and the coaches which are just going out, are surrounded by
the usual crowd of Jews and nondescripts, who seem to
consider, Heaven knows why, that it is quite impossible any
man can mount a coach without requiring at least sixpenny-
worth of oranges, a penknife, a pocket-book, a last year's


annual, a pencil-case, a piece of sponge, and a small series of

Half an hour more, and the sun darts his bright rays
cheerfully down the still half-empty streets, and shines with
sufficient force to rouse the dismal laziness of the apprentice,
who pauses every other minute from his task of sweeping out
the shop and watering the pavement in front of it, to tell
another apprentice similarly employed, how hot it will be to-
day, or to stand with his right hand shading his eyes, and
his left resting on the broom, gazing at the "Wonder," or
the " Tally-ho," or the " Nimrod," or some other fast coach,
till it is out of sight, when he re-enters the shop, envying the
passengers on the outside of the fast coach, and thinking of
the old red brick house "down in the country," where he
went to school : the miseries of the milk and water, and thick
bread and scrapings, fading into nothing before the pleasant
recollection of the green field the boys used to play in, and
the green pond he was caned for presuming to fall into, and
other schoolboy associations.

Cabs, with trunks and band-boxes between the drivers" legs
and outside the apron, rattle briskly up and down the streets
on their way to the coach-offices or steam-packet wharfs ; and
the cab-drivers and hackney-coachmen who are on the stand
polish up the ornamental part of their dingy vehicles the
former wondering how people can prefer "them Avild beast
cariwans of homnibuses, to a riglar cab with a fast trotter,"
and the latter admiring how people can trust their necks into
one of "them crazy cabs, when they can have a 'spectable
""ackney cotche with a pair of 'orses as von't run away with no
vun ; " a consolation unquestionably founded on fact, seeing
that a hackney-coach horse never was known to run at all,
" except," as the smart cabman in front of the rank observes,
" except one, and he run backwards."

The shops are now completely opened, and apprentices and
shopmen are busily engaged in cleaning and decking the
windows for the day. The bakers 1 shops in town are filled


with servants and children waiting for the drawing of the
first batch of rolls an operation which was performed a full
hour ago in the suburbs: for the early clerk population of
Somers and Camden towns, Islington, and Pentonville,. are
fast pouring into the city, or directing their steps towards
Chancery-lane and the Inns of Court. Middle-aged men,
whose salaries have by no means increased in, the same
proportion as their families, plod steadily along, apparently
with no object in view but the counting-house ; knowing by
sight almost everybody they meet or overtake, for they have
seen them every morning (Sundays excepted) during the last
twenty years, but speaking to no one. If they do happen to
overtake a personal acquaintance, they just exchange a hurried
salutation, and keep walking on either by his side, or in
front of him, as his rate of walking may chance to be. As
to stopping to shake hands, or to take the friend's arm, they
seem to think that as it is not included in their salary, they
have no right to do it. Small office lads in large hats, who
are made men before they are boys, hurry along in pairs, with
their first coat carefully brushed, and the white trousers of
last Sunday plentifully besmeared with dust and ink. It
evidently requires a considerable mental struggle to avoid
investing part of the day's dinner-money in the purchase of
the stale tarts so temptingly exposed in dusty tins at the
pastry-cooks 1 doors ; but a consciousness of their own im-
portance and the receipt of seven shillings a-week, with the
prospect of an early rise to eight, comes to their aid, and
they accordingly put their hats a little more on one side, and
look under the bonnets of all the milliners'* and staymakers 1
apprentices they meet poor girls ! the hardest worked,
the worst paid, and too often, the worst used class of the

Eleven o'clock, and a new set of people fill the streets.
The goods in the shop-windows are invitingly arranged; the
shopmen in their white neckerchiefs and spruce coats, look
as if they couldn't clean a window if their lives depended on

NOON. 61

it ; the carts have disappeared from Covent-garden ; the wag-
goners have returned, and the costermongers repaired to their
ordinary " beats " in the suburbs ; clerks are at their offices,
and gigs, cabs, omnibuses, and saddle-horses, are conveying
their masters to the same destination. The streets are
thronged with a vast concourse of people, gay and shabby,
rich and poor, idle and industrious; and we come to the
heat, bustle, and activity of Noox.



BUT the streets of London, to be beheld in the very height
of their glory, should be seen on a dark, dull, murky winter's
night, when there is just enough damp gently stealing down
to make the pavement greasy, without cleansing it of any of
its impurities ; and when the heavy lazy mist, which hangs
over every object, makes the gas-lamps look brighter, and
the brilliantly-lighted shops more splendid, from the contrast
they present to the darkness around. All the people who
are at home on such a night as this, seem disposed to make
themselves as snug and comfortable as possible ; and the
passengers in the streets have excellent reason to envy the
fortunate individuals who are seated by their own firesides.

In the larger and better kind of streets, dining parlour
curtains are closely drawn, kitchen fires blaze brightly up,
and savoury steams of hot dinners salute the nostrils of the
hungry wayfarer, as he plods wearily by the area railings.
In the suburbs, the muffin boy rings his way down the little
street, much more slowly than he is wont to do; for Mrs.
Macklin, of No. 4, has no sooner opened her little street-
door, and screamed out " Muffins ! " with all her might, than
Mrs. Walker, at No. 5, puts her head out of the parlour-
window, and screams " Muffins ! " too ; and Mrs. Walker has
scarcely got the words out of her lips, than Mrs. Peplow,
over the way, lets loose Master Peplow, who darts down the


!M 1 * ,^




street, with a velocity which nothing but buttered muffins
in perspective could possibly inspire, and drags the boy back
by main force, whereupon Mrs. Macklin and Mrs. Walker,
just to save the boy trouble, and to say a few neighbourly
words to Mrs. Peplow at the same time, run over the way
and buy their muffins at Mrs. Peplow's door, when it appears
from the voluntary statement of Mrs. Walker, that her
"kittle's jist a-biling, and the cups and sarsers ready laid,"
and that, as it was such a wretched night out o' doors, she'd
made up her mind to have a nice hot comfortable cup o'
tea a determination at which, by the most singular coin-
cidence, the other two ladies had simultaneously arrived.

After a little conversation about the wretchedness of the
weather and the merits of tea, with a digression relative to
the viciousness of boys as a rule, and the amiability of
Master Peplow as an exception, Mrs. Walker sees her
husband coming down the street; and as he must want his
tea, poor man, after his dirty walk from the Docks, she
instantly runs across, muffins in hand, and Mrs. Macklin
does the same, and after a few words to Mrs. Walker, they
all pop into their little houses, and slam their little street-
doors, which are not opened again for the remainder of the
evening, except to the nine o'clock "beer," who comes round
with a lantern in front of his tray, and says, as he lends
Mrs. Walker "Yesterday's 'Tiser," that he's blessed if he
can hardly hold the pot, much less feel the paper, for it's
one of the bitterest nights he ever felt, 'cept the night when
the man was frozen to death in the Brick-field.

After a little prophetic conversation with the policeman at
the street-corner, touching a probable change in the weather,
and the setting-in of a hard frost, the nine o'clock beer
returns to his master's house, and employs himself for the
remainder of the evening, in assiduously stirring the tap-
room fire, and deferentially taking part in the conversation
of the worthies assembled round it.

The streets in the vicinity of the Marsh-gate and Victoria


Theatre present an appearance of dirt and discomfort on
such a night, which the groups who lounge about them in no
degree tend to diminish. Even the little block-tin temple
sacred to baked potatoes, surmounted by a splendid design
in variegated lamps, looks less gay than usual ; and as to
the kidney-pie stand, its glory has quite departed. The
candle in the transparent lamp, manufactured of oil-paper,
embellished with "characters, 11 has been blown out fifty
times, so the kidney-pie merchant, tired with running back-
wards and forwards to the next wine-vaults, to get a light,
has given up the idea of illumination in despair, and the
only signs of his " whereabout, 11 are the bright sparks, of
which a long irregular train is whirled down the street every
time he opens his portable oven to hand a hot kidney-pie
to a customer.

Flat-fish, oyster, and fruit vendors linger hopelessly in the
kennel, in vain endeavouring to attract customers; and the
ragged boys who usually disport themselves about the streets,
stand crouched in little knots in some projecting doorway,
or under the canvas blind of a cheesemongers, where great
flaring gas-lights, unshaded by any glass, display huge piles
of bright red and pale yellow cheeses, mingled with little
fivepenny dabs of dingy bacon, various tubs of weekly Dorset,
and cloudy rolls of " best fresh. 11

Here they amuse themselves with theatrical converse, arising
out of their last half-price visit to the Victoria gallery, admire
the terrific combat, which is nightly encored, and expatiate
on the inimitable manner in which Bill Thompson can " come
the double monkey, 11 or go through the mysterious involutions
of a sailor's hornpipe.

It is nearly eleven o'clock, and the cold thin rain which
has been drizzling so long, is beginning to pour down in
good earnest; the baked-potato man has departed the
kidney-pie man has just walked away with his warehouse on
his arm the cheesemonger has drawn in his blind, and the
boys have dispersed. The constant clicking of pattens on the


slippy and uneven pavement, and the rustling of umbrellas,
as the wind blows against the shop-windows, bear testimony
to the inclemency of the night ; and the policeman, with his
oilskin cape buttoned closely round him, seems as he holds
his hat on his head, and turns round to avoid the gust of
wind and rain which drives against him at the street-corner,
to be very far from congratulating himself on the prospect
before him.

The little chandler's shop with the cracked bell behind the
door, whose melancholy tinkling has been regulated by the
demand for quarterns of sugar and half-ounces of coffee, is
shutting up. The crowds which have been passing to and
fro during the whole day, are rapidly dwindling away ; and
the noise of shouting and quarrelling which issues from the
public-houses, is almost the only sound that breaks the
melancholy stillness of the night.

There was another, but it has ceased. That wretched
woman with the infant in her arms, round whose meagre
form the remnant of her own scanty shawl is carefully wrapped,
has been attempting to sing some popular ballad, in the
hope of wringing a few pence from the compassionate passer-
by. A brutal laugh at her weak voice is all she has gained.
The tears fall thick and fast down her own pale face ; the
child is cold and hungry, and its low half-stifled wailing
adds to the misery of its wretched mother, as she moans
aloud, and sinks despairingly down, on a cold damp door-step.

Singing ! How few of those who pass such a miserable
creature as this, think of the anguish of heart, the sinking
of soul and spirit, which the very effort of singing produces.
Bitter mockery ! Disease, neglect, and starvation, faintly
articulating the words of the joyish ditty, that has enlivened
your hours of feasting and merriment, God knows how often !
It is no subject of jeering. The weak tremulous voice tells
a fearful tale of want and famishing; and the feeble singer
of this roaring song may turn away, only to die of cold and

VOL. i. F


One o'clock ! Parties returning from the different theatres
foot it through the muddy streets; cabs, hackney-coaches,
carriages, and theatre omnibuses, roll swiftly by; watermen
with dim dirty lanterns in their hands, and large brass plates
upon their breasts, who have been shouting and rushing
about for the last two hours, retire to their watering-houses,
to solace themselves with the creature comforts of pipes and
purl; the half-price pit and box frequenters of the theatres
throng to the different houses of refreshment; and chops,
kidneys, rabbits, oysters, stout, cigars, and "goes" innumer-
able, are served up amidst a noise and confusion of smoking,
running, knife-clattering, and waiter-chattering, perfectly

The more musical portion of the play-going com-
munity betake themselves to some harmonic meeting. As a
matter of curiosity let us follow them thither for a few

In a lofty room of spacious dimensions, are seated some
eighty or a hundred guests knocking little pewter measures
on the tables, and hammering away, with the handles of their
knives, as if they were so many trunk-makers. They are
applauding a glee, which has just been executed by the three
" professional gentlemen " at the top of the centre table, one
of whom is in the chair the little pompous man with the
bald head just emerging from the collar of his green coat.
The others are seated on either side of him the stout man
with the small voice, and the thin-faced dark man in black.
The little man in he chair is a most amusing personage,
such condescending grandeur, and such a voice !

" Bass ! " as the young gentleman near us with the blue
stock forcibly remarks to his companion, "bass! I b'lieve
you ; he can go down lower than any man : so low sometimes
that you can't hear him." And so he does. To hear him
growling away, gradually lower and lower down, till he can't
get back again, is the most delightful thing in the world,
and it is quite impossible to witness unmoved the impressive


solemnity with which he pours forth his soul in "My 'art's
in the "ighlands," or "The brave old Hoak." The stout
man is also addicted to sentimentality, and warbles "Fly, fly
from the world, my Bessy, with me," or some such song,
with lady-like sweetness, and in the most seductive tones

"Pray give your orders, genTr^n pray give your orders,"
says the pale-faced man with the red head ; and demands
for " goes " of gin and " goes " of brandy, and pints of stout,
and cigars of peculiar mildness, are vociferously made from
all parts of the room. The " professional gentlemen " are in
the very height of their glory, and bestow condescending
nods, or even a word or two of recognition, on the better-
known frequenters of the room, in the most bland and
patronising manner possible.

That little round-faced man, with the small brown surtout,
white stockings and shoes, is in the comic line ; the mixed
air of self-denial, and mental consciousness of his own powers,
with which he acknowledges the call of the chair, is particu-
larly gratifying. " GenTmen," says the little pompous man,
accompanying the word with a knock of the president's hammer
on the table " GenTmen, allow me to claim your attention
our friend, Mr. Smuggins, will oblige." " Bravo ! " shout
the company ; and Smuggins, after a considerable quantity
of coughing by way of symphony, and a most facetious sniff*
or two, which afford general delight, sings a comic song,
with a fal-de-ral tol-de-ral chorus at the end of every verse,
much longer than the verse itself. It is received with
unbounded applause, and after some aspiring genius has
volunteered a recitation, and failed dismally therein, the little
pompous man gives another knock, and says "GenTmen, we
will attempt a glee, if you please." This announcement calls
forth tumultuous applause, and the more energetic spirits
express the unqualified approbation it affords them, by knock-
ing one or two stout glasses off their legs a humorous device ;
but one which frequently occasions some slight altercation


when the form of paying the damage is proposed to be gone
through by the waiter.

Scenes like these are continued until three or four o'clock
in the morning; and even when they close, fresh ones open
to the inquisitive novice. But as a description of all of
them, however slight, would require a volume, the contents
of which, however instructive, would be by no means pleasing,
we make our bow, and drop the curtain.



WHAT inexhaustible food for speculation, do the streets of
London afford ! We never were able to agree with Sterne in
pitying the man who could travel from Dan to Beersheba,
and say that all was barren ; we have not the slightest
commiseration for the man who can take up his hat and
stick, and walk from Covent-garden to St. Paul's Churchyard,
and back into the bargain, without deriving some amusement
we had almost said instruction from his perambulation.
And yet there are such beings : we meet them every day.
Large black stocks and light waistcoats, jet canes and dis-
contented countenances, are the characteristics of the race ;
other people brush quickly by you, steadily plodding on to
business, or cheerfully running after pleasure. These men
linger listlessly past, looking as happy and animated as
a policeman on duty. Nothing seems to make an impres-
sion on their minds : nothing short of being knocked down
by a porter, or run over by a cab, will disturb their equa-
nimity. You will meet them on a fine day in any of the
leading thoroughfares : peep through the window of a west-
end cigar shop in the evening, if you can manage to get
a glimpse between the blue curtains which intercept the
vulgar gaze, and you see them in their only enjoyment
of existence. There they are lounging about, on round
tubs and pipe boxes, in all the dignity of whiskers, and


gilt watch-guards; whispering soft nothings to the young
lady in amber, with the large ear-rings, who, as she sits
behind the counter in a blaze .of adoration and gas-light,
is the admiration of all the female servants in the neigh-
bourhood, and the envy of every milliner's apprentice within
two miles round.

One of our principal amusements is to watch the gradual
progress the rise or fall of particular shops. We have
formed an intimate acquaintance with several, in different
parts of town, and are perfectly acquainted with their whole
history. We could name off-hand, twenty at least, which
we are quite sure have paid no taxes for the last six years.
They are never inhabited for more than two months consecu-
tively, and, we verily believe, have witnessed every retail trade
in the directory.

There is one, whose history is a sample of the rest, in
whose fate we have taken especial interest, having had the
pleasure of knowing it ever since it has been a shop. It is
on the Surrey side of the water a little distance beyond the
Marsh-gate. It was originally a substantial, good-looking
private house enough ; the landlord got into difficulties, the
house got into Chancery, the tenant Avent away, and the
house went to ruin. At this period our acquaintance with
it commenced ; the paint was all worn off; the windows were
broken, the area was green with neglect and the over-
flowings of the water-butt; the butt itself was without a
lid, and the street-door was the very picture of misery.
The chief pastime of the children in the vicinity had been
to assemble in a body on the steps, and to take it in turn
to knock loud double knocks at the door, to the great
satisfaction of the neighbours generally, and especially of
the nervous old lady next door but one. Numerous com-
plaints were made, and several small basins of water dis-
charged over the offenders, but without effect. In this
state of things, the marine-store dealer at the corner of the
street, in the most obliging manner took the knocker off',


and sold it : and the unfortunate house looked more wretched
than ever.

We deserted our friend for a few weeks. What was our
surprise, on our return, to find no trace of its existence ! In
its place was a handsome shop, fast approaching to a state
of completion, and on the shutters were large bills, informing
the public that it would shortly be opened with " an extensive
stock of linen-drapery and haberdashery/ 1 It opened in due
course ; there was the name of the proprietor " and Co." in
gilt letters, almost too dazzling to look at. Such ribbons and
shawls ! and two such elegant young men behind the counter,
each in a clean collar and white neckcloth, like the lover in
a farce. As to the proprietor, he did nothing but walk up
and down the shop, and hand seats to the ladies, and hold
important conversations with the handsomest of the young
men, who was shrewdly suspected by the neighbours to be
the " Co." We saw all this with sorrow ; we felt a fatal pre-
sentiment that the shop was doomed and so it was. Its
decay was slow, but sure. Tickets gradually appeared in the
windows ; then rolls of flannel, with labels on them, were
stuck outside the door ; then a bill was pasted on the street-
door, intimating that the first floor was to let ?mfurnished;
then one of the young men disappeared altogether, and the
other took to a black neckerchief, and the proprietor took
to drinking. The shop became dirty, broken panes of glass
remained unmended, and the stock disappeared piecemeal. At
last the company's man came to cut off the water, and then
the linen-draper cut off himself, leaving the landlord his
compliments and the key.

The next occupant was a fancy stationer. The shop was
more modestly painted than before, still it was neat; but
somehow we always thought, as we passed, that it looked
like a poor and struggling concern. We wished the man
well, but we trembled for his success. He was a widower
evidently, and had employment elsewhere, for he passed us
every morning on his road to the city. The business was


carried on by his eldest daughter. Poor girl ! she needed no

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 6 of 31)