Charles Dickens.

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with the front kitchen's children; the Irishman comes home



86 SKETCHES BY BOZ ?

drunk every other night, and attacks everybody; and the
one-pair back screams at everything. Animosities spring up
between floor and floor; the very cellar asserts his equality.
Mrs. A. "smacks' 1 Mrs, B/s child for "making faces."
Mrs. B. forthwith throws cold water over Mrs. A.'s child for
"calling names." The husbands are embroiled the quarrel
becomes general an assault is the consequence, and a police-
officer the result.



CHAPTER VI.

MEDITATIONS IN MONMOUTH-STREET.

WE have always entertained a particular attachment towards
Monmouth-street, as the only true and real emporium for
second-hand wearing apparel. Monmouth-street is venerable
from its antiquity, and respectable from its usefulness.
Holy well-street we despise ; the red-headed and red- whiskered
Jews who forcibly haul you into their squalid houses, and
thrust you into a suit of clothes, whether you will or not,
we detest.

The inhabitants of Monmouth-street are a distinct class ; a
peaceable and retiring race, who immure themselves for the
most part in deep cellars, or small back parlours, and who
seldom come forth into the world, except in the dusk and
coolness of the evening, when they may be seen seated, in
chairs on the pavement, smoking their pipes, or watching
the gambols of their engaging children as they revel in the
gutter, a happy troop of infantine scavengers. Their counte-
nances bear a thoughtful and a dirty cast, certain indications
of their love of traffic ; and their habitations are distinguished
by that disregard of outward appearance and neglect of
personal comfort, so common among people who are con-
stantly immersed in profound speculations, and deeply
engaged in sedentary pursuits.

We have hinted at the antiquity of our favourite spot.
"A Monmouth-street laced coat" was a by- word a century



88 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

ago; and still we find Monmouth-street the same. Pilot
great-coats with wooden buttons, have usurped the place
of the ponderous laced coats with full skirts ; embroidered
waistcoats with large flaps, have yielded to double-breasted
checks with roll-collars ; and three-cornered hats of quaint
appearance, have given place to the low crowns and broad
brims of the coachman school ; but it is the times that
have changed, not Monmouth-street. Through every altera-
tion and every change, Monmouth-street has still remained
the burial-place of the fashions; and such, to judge from all
present appearances, it will remain until there are no more
fashions to bury.

We love to walk among these extensive groves of the
illustrious dead, and to indulge in the speculations to which
they give rise; now fitting a deceased coat, then a dead pair
of trousers, and anon the mortal remains of a gaudy waist-
coat, upon some being of our own conjuring up, and en-
deavouring, from the shape and fashion of the garment itself,
to bring its former owner before our mind's eye. We have
gone on speculating in this way, until whole rows of coats
have started from their pegs, and buttoned up, of their
own accord, round the waists of imaginary wearers ; lines of
trousers have jumped down to meet them ; waistcoats have
almost burst with anxiety to put themselves on ; and half an
acre of shoes have suddenly found feet to fit them, and gone
stumping down the street with a noise which has fairly
awakened us from our pleasant reverie, and driven us slowly
away, with a bewildered stare, an object of astonishment to
the good people of Monmouth-street, and of no slight sus-
picion to the policemen at the opposite street corner.

We were occupied in this manner the other day, endeavour-
ing to fit a pair of lace-up half-boots on an ideal personage,
for whom, to say the truth, they were full a couple of sizes
too small, when our eyes happened to alight on a few suits
of clothes ranged outside a shop-window, which it imme-
diately struck us, must at different periods have all belonged



OLD CLOTHES. 89

to, and been worn by, the same individual, and had now,
by one of those strange conjunctions of circumstances which
will occur sometimes, come to be exposed together for sale
in the same shop. The idea seemed a fantastic one, and we
looked at the clothes again with a firm determination not to
be easily led away. No, we were right ; the more we looked,
the more we were convinced of the accuracy of our previous
impression. There was the man's whole life written as legibly
on those clothes, as if we had his autobiography engrossed
on parchment before us.

The first was a patched and much-soiled skeleton suit ;
one of those straight blue cloth cases in which small boys
used to be confined, before belts and tunics had come in, and
old notions had gone out : an ingenious contrivance for dis-
playing the full symmetry of a boy's figure, by fastening him
into a very tight jacket, with an ornamental row of buttons
over each shoulder, and then buttoning his trousers over it,
so as to give his legs the appearance of being hooked on,
just under the armpits. This was the boy's dress. It had
belonged to a town boy, we could see ; there was a shortness
about the legs and arms of the suit ; and a bagging at the
knees, peculiar to the rising youth of London streets. A
small day-school he had been at, evidently. If it had been
a regular boys 1 school they wouldn't have let him play on
the floor so much, and rub his knees so white. He had an
indulgent mother too, and plenty of halfpence, as the
numerous smears of some sticky substance about the pockets,
and just below the chin, which even the salesman's skill
could not succeed in disguising, sufficiently betokened. They
were decent people, but not overburdened with riches, or he
would not have so far outgrown the suit when he passed
into those corduroys with the round jacket ; in which he
went to a boys' school, however, and learnt to write and in
ink of pretty tolerable blackness, too, if the place where he

tied to wipe his pen might be taken as evidence.
A black suit and the jacket changed into a diminutive



90 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

coat. His father had died, and the mother had got the boy
a message-lad's place in some office. A long-worn suit that
one; rusty and threadbare before it was laid aside, but clean
and free from soil to the last. Poor woman! We could
imagine her assumed cheerfulness over the scanty meal, and
the refusal of her own small portion, that her hungry boy
might have enough. Her constant anxiety for his welfare,
her pride in his growth mingled sometimes with the thought,
almost too acute to bear, that as he grew to be a man his
old affection might cool, old kindnesses fade from his mind,
and old promises be forgotten the sharp pain that even
then a careless word or a cold look would give her all
crowded on our thoughts as vividly as if the very scene were
passing before us.

These things happen every hour, and we all know it ; and
yet we felt as much sorrow when we saw, or fancied we
saw it makes no difference which the change that began
to take place now, as if we had just conceived the bare
possibility of such a thing for the first time. The next suit,
smart but slovenly ; meant to be gay, and yet not half so
decent as the threadbare apparel ; redolent of the idle lounge,
and the blackguard companions, told us, we thought, that
the widow's comfort had rapidly faded away. We could
imagine that coat imagine ! we could see it ; we had seen it
a hundred times sauntering in company with three or four
other coats of the same cut, about some place of profligate
resort at night.

We dressed, from the same shop-window in an instant,
half a dozen boys of from fifteen to twenty ; and putting-
cigars into their mouths, and their hands into their pockets,
watched them as they sauntered down the street, and lingered
at the corner, with the obscene jest, and the oft-repeated
oath. We never lost sight of them, till they had cocked
their hats a little more on one side, and swaggered into the
public-house; and then we entered the desolate home, where
the mother sat late in the night, alone ; we watched her, as



A MELANCHOLY HISTORY. 91

she paced the room in feverish anxiety, and every now and
then opened the door, looked wistfully into the dark and
empty street, and again returned, to be again and again
disappointed. We beheld the look of patience with which
she bore the brutish threat, nay, even the drunken blow ;
and we heard the agony of tears that gushed from her very
heart, as she sank upon her knees in her solitary and wretched
apartment.

A long period had elapsed, and a greater change had taken
place, by the time of casting off the suit that hung above.
It was that of a stout, broad-shouldered, sturdy-chested man ;
and we knew at once, as anybody would, who glanced at
that broad-skirted green coat, with the large metal buttons,
that its wearer seldom walked forth without a dog at his
heels, and some idle ruffian, the very counterpart of him-
self, at his side. The vices of the boy had grown with the
man, and we fancied his home then if such a place deserve
the name.

We saw the bare and miserable room, destitute of furniture,
crowded with his wife and children, pale, hungry, and
emaciated; the man cursing their lamentations, staggering
to the tap-room, from whence he had just returned, followed
by his wife and a sickly infant, clamouring for bread ; and
heard the street-wrangle and noisy recrimination that his
striking her occasioned. And then imagination led us to
some metropolitan workhouse, situated in the midst of crowded
streets and alleys, filled with noxious vapours, and ringing
with boisterous cries, where an old and feeble woman,
imploring pardon for her son, lay dying in a close dark
room, with no child to clasp her hand, and no pure air
from heaven to fan her brow. A stranger closed the eyes
that settled into a cold unmeaning glare, and strange ears
received the words that murmured from the white and half-
closed lips.

A coarse round frock, with a worn cotton neckerchief, and
other articles of clothing of the commonest description.



92 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

completed the history. A prison, and the sentence banish-
ment or the gallows. What would the man have given then,
to be once again the contented humble drudge of his boyish
years ; to have been restored to life, but for a week, a day, an
hour, a minute, only for so long a time as would enable him
to say one word of passionate regret to, and hear one sound
of heartfelt forgiveness from, the cold and ghastly form that
lay rotting in the pauper's grave ! The children wild in the
streets, the mother a destitute widow ; both deeply tainted
with the deep disgrace of the husband and father's name, and
impelled by sheer necessity, down the precipice that had led
him to a lingering death, possibly of many years 1 duration,
thousands of miles away. We had no clue to the end of the
tale; but it was easy to guess its termination.

We took a step or two further on, and by way of restoring
the naturally cheerful tone of our thoughts, began fitting
visionary feet and legs into a cellar-board full of boots and
shoes, with a speed and accuracy that would have astonished
the most expert artist in leather, living. There was one
pair of boots in particular a jolly, good-tempered, hearty-
looking, pair of tops, that excited our warmest regard ; and
AVC had got a fine, red-faced, jovial fellow of a market-gardener
into them, before we had made their acquaintance half a
minute. They were just the very thing for him. There
were his huge fat legs bulging over the tops, and fitting
them too tight to admit of his tucking in the loops he had
pulled them on by ; and his knee-cords with an interval of
stocking; and his blue apron tucked up round his waist;
and his red neckerchief and blue coat, and a white hat stuck
on one side of his head ; and there he stood with a broad
grin on his great red face, whistling away, as if any other
idea but that of being happy and comfortable had never
entered his brain.

This was the very man after our own heart ; we knew all
about him ; we had seen him coming up to Covent-garden in
his green chaise-cart, with the fat tubby little horse, half a



A MERRY DANCE. 93

thousand times ; and even while we cast an affectionate look
upon his boots, at that instant, the form of a coquettish
servant-maid suddenly sprung into a pair of Denmark satin
shoes that stood beside them, and we at once recognised the
very girl who accepted his offer of a ride, just on this side
the Hammersmith suspension-bridge, the very last Tuesday
morning we rode into town from Richmond.

A very smart female, in a showy bonnet, stepped into a
pair of grey cloth boots, with black fringe and binding, that
were studiously pointing out their toes on the other side of
the top-boots, and seemed very anxious to engage his attention,
but we didn't observe that our friend the market-gardener
appeared at all captivated with these blandishments ; for
beyond giving a knowing wink when they first began, as if to
imply that he quite understood their end and object, he took
no further notice of them. His indifference, however, was
amply recompensed by the excessive gallantry of a very old
gentleman with a silver-headed stick, who tottered into a pair
of large list shoes, that were standing in one corner of the
board, and indulged in a variety of gestures expressive of his
admiration of the lady in the cloth boots, to the immeasurable
amusement of a young fellow we put into a pair of long-
quartered pumps, who we thought would have split the coat
that slid down to meet him, with laughing.

We had been looking on at this little pantomime with great
satisfaction for some time, when, to our unspeakable astonish-
ment, we perceived that the whole of the characters, including
a numerous corps de ballet of boots and shoes in the back-
ground, into which we had been hastily thrusting as many
feet as we could press into the service, were arranging them-
selves in order for dancing; and some music striking up at
the moment, to it they went without delay. It was perfectly
delightful to witness the agility of the market-gardener. Out
went the boots, first on one side, than on the other, then
cutting, then shuffling, then setting to the Denmark satins,
then advancing, then retreating, then going round, and then



94 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

repeating the whole of the evolutions again, without appearing
to suffer in the least from the violence of the exercise.

Nor were the Denmark satins a bit behindhand, for they
jumped and bounded about, in all directions ; and though
they were neither so regular, nor so true to the time as the
cloth boots, still, as they seemed to do it from the heart, and
to enjoy it more, we candidly confess that we preferred their
style of dancing to the other. But the old gentleman in the
list shoes was the most amusing object in the whole party ;
for, besides his grotesque attempts to appear youthful, and
amorous, which were sufficiently entertaining in themselves,
the young fellow in the pumps managed so artfully that every
time the old gentleman advanced to salute the lady in the
cloth boots, he trod with his whole weight on the old fellow's
toes, which made him roar with anguish, and rendered all
the others like to die of laughing.

We were in the full enjoyment of these festivities when
we heard a shrill, and by no means musical voice, exclaim,
"Hope you'll know me agin, imperence!"" and on looking
intently forward to see from whence the sound came, we found
that it proceeded, not from the young lady in the cloth boots,
as we had at first been inclined to suppose, but from a bulky
lady of elderly appearance who was seated in a chair at the
head of the cellar-steps, apparently for the purpose of superin-
tending the sale of the articles arranged there.

A barrel-organ, which had been in full force close behind
us, ceased playing; the people we had been fitting into the
shoes and boots took to flight at the interruption; and as
we were conscious that in the depth of our meditations we
might have been rudely staring at the old lady for half an
hour without knowing it, we took to flight too, and were soon
immersed in the deepest obscurity of the adjacent " Dials."



CHAPTER VII.

HACKNEY-COACH STANDS.

WK maintain that hackney-coaches, properly so called,
belong solely to the metropolis. We may be told, that there
are hackney-coach stands in Edinburgh ; and not to go quite
so far for a contradiction to our position, we may be reminded
that Liverpool, Manchester, " and other large towns " (as the
Parlimentary phrase goes), have their hackney-coach stands.
We readily concede to these places, the possession of certain
vehicles, which may look almost as dirty, and even go almost
as slowly, as London hackney-coaches : but that they have the
slightest claim to compete with the metropolis, either in point
of stands, drivers, or cattle, we indignantly deny.

Take a regular, ponderous, rickety, London hackney-coach of
the old school, and let any man have the boldness to assert,
if he can, that he ever beheld any object on the face of the
earth which at all resembles it, unless, indeed, it were another
hackney-coach of the same date. We have recently observed
on certain stands, and we say it with deep regret, rather
dapper green chariots, and coaches of polished yellow, with
four wheels of the same colour as the coach, whereas it is
perfectly notorious to every one who has studied the subject,
that every wheel ought to be of a different colour, and a
different size. These are innovations, and, like other mis-
called improvements, awful signs of the restlessness of the
public mind, and the little respect paid to our time-honoured



96 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

institutions. Why should hackney-coaches be clean ? Our
ancestors found them dirty, and left them so. Why should
we, with a feverish wish to "keep moving, 11 desire to roll
along at the rate of six miles an hour, while they were con-
tent to rumble over the stones at four? These are solemn
considerations. Hackney-coaches are part and parcel of the
law of the land ; they were settled by the Legislature ; plated
and numbered by the wisdom of Parliament.

Then why have they been swamped by cabs and omnibuses ?
Or why should people be allowed to ride quickly for eight-
pence a mile, after Parliament had come to the solemn
decision that they should pay a shilling a mile for riding
slowly ? We pause for a reply ; and, having no chance of
getting one, begin a fresh paragraph.

Our acquaintance with hackney-coach stands is of long
standing. We are a walking book of fares, feeling ourselves,
half bound, as it were, to be always in the right on contested
points. We know all the regular watermen within three miles
of Covent-garden by sight, and should be almost tempted to
believe that all the hackney-coach horses in that district knew
us by sight too, if one-half of them were not blind. We take
great interest in hackney-coaches, but we seldom drive, having
a knack of turning ourselves over when we attempt to do so.
We are as great friends to horses, hackney-coach and other-
wise, as the renowned Mr. Martin, of costermonger notoriety,
and yet we never ride. We keep no horse, but a clothes-
horse; enjoy no saddle so much as a saddle of mutton; and,
following our own inclinations, have never followed the hounds.
Leaving these fleeter means of getting over the ground, or of
depositing oneself upon it, to those who like them, by hackney-
coach stands we take our stand.

There is a hackney-coach stand under the very window at
which we are writing ; there is only one coach on it now, but
it is a fair specimen of the class of vehicles to which we have
alluded a great, lumbering, square concern of a dingy yellow
colour (like a bilious brunette), with very small glasses, but



OUR KNOWLEDGE OF OUR SUBJECT. 97

very large frames ; the panels are ornamented with a faded
coat of arms, in shape something like a dissected bat, the
axletree is red, and the majority of the wheels are green.
The box is partially covered by an old great-coat, with a
multiplicity of capes, and some extraordinary-looking clothes ;
and the straw, with which the canvas cushion is stuffed, is
sticking up in several places, as if in rivalry of the hay,
which is peeping through the chinks in the boot. The
horses, with drooping heads, and each with a mane and tail
as scanty and straggling as those of a worn-out rocking-horse,
are standing patiently on some damp straw, occasionally
wincing, and rattling the harness ; and now and then, one of
them lifts his mouth to the ear of his companion, as if he
were saying, in a whisper, that he should like to assassinate
the coachman. The coachman himself is in the watering-
house; and the waterman, with his hands forced into his
pockets as far as they can possibly go, is dancing the " double
shuffle," 1 in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm.

The servant-girl, with the pink ribbons, at No. 5, opposite,
suddenly opens the street-door, and four small children forth-
with rush out, and scream " Coach ! " with all their might
and main. The waterman darts from the pump, seizes the
horses by their respective bridles, and drags them, and the
coach too, round to the house, shouting all the time for the
coachman at the very top, or rather very bottom of his voice,
for it is a deep bass growl. A response is heard from the
tap-room ; the coachman, in his wooden-soled shoes, makes
the street echo again as he runs across it ; and then there is
such a struggling, and backing, and grating of the kennel,
to get the coach-door opposite the house-door, that the
children are in perfect ecstasies of delight. What a commo-
tion ! The old lady, who has been stopping there for the
last month, is going back to the country. Out comes box
after box, and one side of the vehicle is filled with luggage
in no time ; the children get into everybody^ way, and the
youngest, who has upset himself in his attempts to carry an

VOL. I. H



98 SKETCHES BY BOZ.

umbrella, is borne off wounded and kicking. The youngsters
disappear, and a short pause ensues, during Avhich the old
lady is, no doubt, kissing them all round in the back
parlour. She appears at last, followed by her married
daughter, all the children, and both the servants, who, with
the joint assistance of the coachman and waterman, manage
to get her safely into the coach. A cloak is handed in, and
a little basket, which we could almost swear contains a small
black bottle, and a paper of sandwiches. Up go the steps,
bangs goes the door, " Golden-cross, Charing-cross, Tom,"
says the waterman ; " Good-bye, grandma," cry the children,
off jingles the coach at the rate of three miles an hour, and
the mamma and children retire into the house, with the ex-
ception of one little villain, who runs up the street at the
top of his speed, pursued by the servant ; not ill-pleased to
have such an opportunity of displaying her attractions. She
brings him back, and, after casting two or three gracious
glances across the way, which are either intended for us or
the potboy (we are not quite certain which), shuts the door,
and the hackney-coach stand is again at a standstill.

We have been frequently amused with the intense delight
with which " a servant of all work," who is sent for a coach,
deposits herself inside; and the unspeakable gratification
which boys, who have been despatched on a similar errand,
appear to derive from mounting the box. But we never
recollect to have been more amused with a hackney-coach
party, than one we saw early the other morning in Totten-
ham-court-road. It was a wedding-party, and emerged from
one of the inferior streets near Fitzroy-square. There were
the bride, with a thin white dress, and a great red face ; and
the bridesmaid, a little, dumpy, good-humoured young woman,
dressed, of course, in the same appropriate costume ; and the
bridegroom and his chosen friend, in blue coats, yellow
waistcoats, white trousers, and Berlin gloves to match. They
stopped at the corner of the street, and called a coach with
an air of indescribable dignity. The moment they were in,



A HAPPY DELUSION. 99

the bridesmaid threw a red shawl, which she had, no doubt,
brought on purpose, negligently over the number on the
door, evidently to delude pedestrians into the belief that the
hackney-coach was a private carriage ; and away they went,
perfectly satisfied that the imposition was successful, and
quite unconscious that there was a great staring number



Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 8 of 31)