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stuck up behind, on a plate as large as a schoolboy's slate.
A shilling a mile ! the ride was worth five, at least, to them.

What an interesting book a hackney-coach might produce,
if it could carry as much in its head as it does in its body !
The autobiography of a broken-down hackney-coach, would
surely be as amusing as the autobiography of a broken-down
hackneyed dramatist ; and it might tell as much of its travels
with the pole, as others have of their expeditions to it. How
many stories might be related of the different people it had
conveyed on matters of business or profit pleasure or pain !
And how many melancholy tales of the same people at
different periods ! The country-girl the showy, over-dressed
woman the drunken prostitute ! The raw apprentice the
dissipated spendthrift the thief!

Talk of cabs ! Cabs are all very well in cases of expedi-
tion, when it's a matter of neck or nothing, life or death,
your temporary home or your long one. But, besides a cab's
lacking that gravity of deportment which so peculiarly dis-
tinguishes a hackney-coach, let it never be forgotten that a
cab is a thing of yesterday, and that he never was anything
better. A hackney-cab has always been a hackney-cab, from
his first entry into life ; whereas a hackney-coach is a remnant
of past gentility, a victim to fashion, a hanger-on of an old
English family, wearing their arms, and, in days of yore,
escorted by men wearing their livery, stripped of his finery,
and thrown upon the world, like a once-smart footman when
he is no longer sufficiently juvenile for his office, progressing
lower and lower in the scale of four-wheeled degradation,
until at last it comes to a stand!



WALKING without any definite object through St. Paul's
Churchyard, a little while ago, we happened to turn down a
street entitled, " Paul's-chain," and keeping straight forward
for a few hundred yards, found ourself, as a natural con-
sequence, in Doctors' Commons. Now Doctors' Commons
being familiar by name to everybody, as the place where
they grant marriage-licenses to love-sick couples, and divorces
to unfaithful ones ; register the wills of people who have any
property to leave, and punish hasty gentlemen who call
ladies by unpleasant names, we no sooner discovered that we
were really within its precincts, than we felt a laudable
desire to become better acquainted therewith ; and as the
first object of our curiosity was the Court, whose decrees
can even unloose the bonds of matrimony, we procured a
direction to it ; and bent our steps thither without delay.

Crossing a quiet and shady court-yard, paved with stone,
and frowned upon by old red brick houses, on the doors of
which were painted the names of sundry learned civilians, we
paused before a small, green-baized, brass-headed-nailed door,
which yielding to our gentle push, at once admitted us into
an old quaint-looking apartment, with sunken windows, and
black carved wainscoting, at the upper end of which, seated
on a raised platform, of semicircular shape, were about a
dozen solemn-looking gentlemen, in crimson gowns and wigs.


At a more elevated desk in the centre, sat a very fat and
red-faced gentleman, in tortoise-shell spectacles, whose digni-
fied appearance announced the judge ; and round a long
green-baized table below, something like a billiard-table
without the cushions and pockets, were a number of very
self-important-looking personages, in stiff neckcloths, and
black gowns with white fur collars, whom we at once set
down as proctors. At the lower end of the billiard- table
was an individual in an arm-chair, and a wig, whom we
afterwards discovered to be the registrar; and seated behind
a little desk, near the door, were a respectable-looking man
in black, of about twenty-stone weight or thereabouts, and
a fat-faced, smirking, civil-looking body, in a black gown,
black kid gloves, knee shorts, and silks, with a shirt-frill in
his bosom, curls on his head, and a silver staff in his hand,
whom we had no difficulty in recognising as the officer of the
Court. The latter, indeed, speedily set our mind at rest
upon this point, for, advancing to our elbow, and opening
a conversation forthwith, he had communicated to us, in less
than five minutes, that he was the apparitor, and the other
the court-keeper; that this was the Arches Court, and
therefore the counsel wore red gowns, and the proctors fur
collars; and that when the other Courts sat there, they
didn't wear red gowns or fur collars either; with many other
scraps of intelligence equally interesting. Besides these two
officers, there was a little thin old man, with long grizzly
hair, crouched in a remote corner, whose duty, our com-
municative friend informed us, was to ring a large hand-bell
when the Court opened in the morning, and who, for aught
his appearance betokened to the contrary, might have been
similarly employed for the last two centuries at least.

The red-faced gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles
had got all the talk to himself just then, and very well he
was doing it, too, only he spoke very fast, but that was
habit; and rather thick, but that was good living. So we
had plenty of time to look about us. There was one


individual who amused us mightily. This was one of the
bewigged gentlemen in the red robes, who was straddling
before the fire in the centre of the Court, in the attitude of
the brazen Colossus, to the complete exclusion of everybody
else. He had gathered up his robe behind, in much the
same manner as a slovenly woman would her petticoats on a
very dirty day, in order that he might feel the full warmth
of the fire. His wig was put on all awry, with the tail
straggling about his neck ; his scanty grey trousers and short
black gaiters, made in the worst possible style, imparted an
additional inelegant appearance to his uncouth person ; and
his limp, badly-starched shirt-collar almost obscured his eyes.
We shall never be able to claim any credit as a physiogno-
mist again, for, after a careful scrutiny of this gentleman's
countenance, we had come to the conclusion that it bespoke
nothing but conceit and silliness, when our friend with the
silver staff whispered in our ear that he was no other than a
doctor of civil law, and heaven knows what besides. So of
course we were mistaken, and he must be a very talented
man. He conceals it so well though perhaps with the
merciful view of not astonishing ordinary people too much
that you would suppose him to be one of the stupidest
dogs alive.

The gentleman in the spectacles having concluded his
judgment, and a few minutes having been allowed to elapse,
to afford time for the buzz in the Court to subside, the
registrar called on the next cause, which was " the office of
the Judge promoted by Bumple against Sludberry." A
general movement was visible in the Court, at this announce-
ment, and the obliging functionary with silver staff whispered
us that "there would be some fun now, for this was a
brawling case."

We were not rendered much the wiser by this piece of infor-
mation, till we found by the opening speech of the counsel
for the promoter, that, under a half-obsolete statute of one
of the Edwards, the court was empowered to visit with the


penalty of excommunication, any person who should be
proved guilty of the crime of " brawling," or " smiting," in
any church, or vestry adjoining thereto; and it appeared, by
some eight-and-twenty affidavits, which were duly referred to,
that on a certain night, at a certain vestry-meeting, in a
certain, parish particularly set forth, Thomas Sludberry, the
party appeared against in that suit, had made use of, and
applied to Michael Bumple, the promoter, the words " You
be blowed;" and that, on the said Michael Bumple and
others remonstrating with the said Thomas Sludberry, on
the impropriety of his conduct, the said Thomas Sludberry
repeated the aforesaid expression, "You be blowed; 1 ' and
furthermore desired and requested to know, whether the said
Michael Bumple "wanted anything for himself;" adding,
"that if the said Michael Bumple did want anything for
himself, he, the said Thomas Sludberry, was the man to give
it him;"" at the same time making use of other heinous
and sinful expressions, all of which, Bumple submitted, came
within the intent and meaning of the Act ; and therefore he,
for the soul's health and chastening of Sludberry, prayed for
sentence of excommunication against him accordingly.

Upon these facts a long argument was entered into, on both
sides, to the great edification of a number of persons interested
in the parochial squabbles, who crowded the court ; and when
some very long and grave speeches had been made pro and
con, the red-faced gentleman in the tortoise-shell spectacles
took a review of the case, which occupied half an hour more,
and then pronounced upon Sludberry the awful sentence of
excommunication for a fortnight, and payment of the costs
of the suit. Upon this, Sludberry, who was a little, red-
faced, sly-looking, ginger-beer seller, addressed the court, and
said, if they'd be good enough to take off' the costs, and
excommunicate him for the term of his natural life instead,
it would be much more convenient to him, for he never went
to church at all. To this appeal the gentleman in the
spectacles made no other reply than a look of virtuous


indignation ; and Sludberry and his friends retired. As the
man with the silver staff informed us that the court was on
the point of rising, we retired too pondering, as we walked
away, upon the beautiful spirit of these ancient ecclesiastical
laws, the kind and neighbourly feelings they are calculated
to awaken, and the strong attachment to religious institu-
tions which they cannot fail to engender.

We were so lost in these meditations, that we had turned
into the street, and run up against a door-post, before we
recollected where we were walking. On looking upwards to
see what house we had stumbled upon, the words " Preroga-
tive-Office,'" written in large characters, met our eye ; and as
we were in a sight-seeing humour and the place was a public
one, we walked in.

The room into which we walked, was a long, busy-looking
place, partitioned off, on either side, into a variety of little
boxes, in which a few clerks were engaged in copying or
examining deeds. Down the centre of the room were several
desks nearly breast high, at each of which, three or four
people were standing, poring over large volumes. As we
knew that they were searching for wills, they attracted our
attention at once.

It was curious to contrast the lazy indifference of the
attorneys 1 clerks who were making a search for some legal
purpose, with the air of earnestness and interest which
distinguished the strangers to the place, who were looking
up the will of some deceased relative ; the former pausing
every now and then with an impatient yawn, or raising their
heads to look at the people who passed up and down the
room ; the latter stooping over the book, and running down
column after column of names in the deepest abstraction.

There was one little dirty-faced man in a blue apron, who
after a whole morning's search, extending some fifty years
back, had just found the will to which he wished to refer,
which one of the officials was reading to him in a low hurried
voice from a thick vellum book with large clasps. It was

WILLS. 105

perfectly evident that the more the clerk read, the less the
man with the blue apron understood about the matter.
When the volume was first brought down, he took oft' his hat,
smoothed down his hair, smiled with great self-satisfaction,
and looked up in the reader's face with the air of a man who
had made up his mind to recollect every word he heard.
The first two or three lines were intelligible enough ; but
then the technicalities began, and the little man began to
look rather dubious. Then came a whole string of compli-
cated trusts, and he was regularly at sea. As the reader
proceeded, it was quite apparent that it was a hopeless case,
and the little man, with his mouth open and his eyes fixed
upon his face, looked on with an expression of bewilderment
and perplexity irresistibly ludicrous.

A little further on, a hard-featured old man with a deeply-
wrinkled face, was intently perusing a lengthy will with the
aid of a pair of horn spectacles : occasionally pausing from his
task, and slily noting down some brief memorandum of the
bequests contained in it. Every wrinkle about his toothless
mouth, and sharp keen eyes, told of avarice and cunning.
His clothes were nearly threadbare, but it was easy to see
that he wore them from choice and not from necessity; all
his looks and gestures down to the very small pinches of snuff
which he every now and then took from a little tin canister,
told of wealth, and penury, and avarice.

As he leisurely closed the register, put up his spectacles,
and folded his scraps of paper in a large leathern pocket-book,
we thought what a nice hard bargain he was driving with
some poverty -stricken legatee, who, tired of waiting year after
year, until some life-interest should fall in, was selling his
chance, just as it began to grow most valuable, for a twelfth
part of its worth. It was a good speculation a very safe
one. The old man stowed his pocket-book carefully in the
breast of his great-coat, and hobbled away with a leer of
triumph. That will had made him ten years younger at the
lowest computation.


Having commenced our observations, \ve should certainly
have extended them to another dozen of people at least, had
not a sudden shutting up and putting away of the worm-eaten
old books, warned us that the time for closing the office had
arrived ; and thus deprived us of a pleasure, and spared our
readers an infliction.

We naturally fell into a train of reflection as we walked
homewards, upon the curious old records of likings and dis-
likings ; of jealousies and revenges ; of affection defying the
power of death, and hatred pursued beyond the grave, which
these depositories contain ; silent but striking tokens, some
of them, of excellence of heart, and nobleness of soul ;
melancholy examples, others, of the worst passions of human
nature. How many men as they lay speechless and helpless
on the bed of death, would have given worlds but for the
strength and power to blot out the silent evidence of
animosity and bitterness, which now stands registered against
them in Doctors 1 Commons !



THE wish of persons in the humbler classes of life, to ape
the manners and customs of those whom fortune has placed
above them, is often the subject of remark, and not
unfrequently of complaint. The inclination may, and no
doubt does, exist to a great extent, among the small gentility
the would-be aristocrats of the middle classes. Trades-
men and clerks, with fashionable novel-reading families,
and circulating-library-subscribing daughters, get up small
assemblies in humble imitation of Almack's, and promenade
the dingy " large room " of some second-rate hotel with as
much complacency as the enviable few who are privileged to
exhibit their magnificence in that exclusive haunt of fashion
and foolery. Aspiring young ladies, who read flaming
accounts of some " fancy fair in high life, 11 suddenly grow
desperately charitable ; visions of admiration and matrimony
float before their eyes ; some wonderfully meritorious institu-
tion, which, by the strangest accident in the world, has never
been heard of before, is discovered to be in a languishing
condition : Thomson's great room, or Johnson 1 s nursery -ground,
is forthwith engaged, and the aforesaid young ladies, from
mere charity, exhibit themselves for three days, from twelve
to four, for the small charge of one shilling per head ! With
the exception of these classes of society, however, and a few
weak and insignificant persons, we do not think the attempt


at imitation to which we have alluded, prevails in any great
degree. The different character of the recreations of different
classes, has often afforded us amusement ; and we have chosen
it for the subject of our present sketch, in the hope that it
may possess some amusement for our readers.

If the regular City man, who leaves Lloyd's at five o'clock,
and drives home to Hackney, Clapton, Stamford-hill, or else-
where, can be said to have any daily recreation beyond his
dinner, it is his garden. He never does anything to it with
his own hands ; but he takes great pride in it notwith-
standing; and if you are desirous of paying your addresses
to the youngest daughter, be sure to be in raptures with
every flower and shrub it contains. If your poverty of
expression compel you to make any distinction between the
two, we would certainly recommend your bestowing more
admiration on his garden than his wine. He always takes a
walk round it, before he starts for town in the morning,
and is particularly anxious that the fish-pond should be kept
specially neat. If you call on him on Sunday in summer-time,
about an hour before dinner, you will find him sitting in an
arm-chair, on the lawn behind the house, with a straw hat
on, reading a Sunday paper. A short distance from him you
will most likely observe a handsome paroquet in a large
brass-wire cage; ten to one but the two eldest girls are
loitering in one of the side walks accompanied by a couple of
young gentlemen, who are holding parasols over them of
course only to keep the sun off while the younger children,
with the under nursery-maid, are strolling listlessly about, in
the shade. Beyond these occasions, his delight in his garden
appears to arise more from the consciousness of possession
than actual enjoyment of it. When he drives you down to
dinner on a week-day, he is rather fatigued with the occu-
pations of the morning, and tolerably cross into the bargain ;
but when the cloth is removed, and he has drank three or
four glasses of his favourite port, he orders the French
windows of his dining-room (which of course look into the


garden) to be opened, and throwing a silk handkerchief over
his head, and leaning back in his arm-chair, descants at
considerable length upon its beauty, and the cost of main-
taining it. This is to impress you who are a young friend
of the family with a due sense of the excellence of the
garden, and the wealth of its owner ; and when he has
exhausted the subject, he goes to sleep.

There is another and a very different class of men, whose
recreation is their garden. An individual of this class,
resides some short distance from town say in the Hamp-
stead-road, or the Kilburn-road, or any other road where
the houses are small and neat, and have little slips of back
garden. He and his wife who is as clean and compact a
little body as himself have occupied the same house ever
since he retired from business twenty years ago. They have
no family. They once had a son, who died at about five
years old. The child's portrait hangs over the mantelpiece
in the best sitting-room, and a little cart he used to draw
about, is carefully preserved as a relic.

In fine weather the old gentleman is almost constantly in
the garden ; and when it is too wet to go into it, he will
look out of the window at it, by the hour together. He has
always something to do there, and you will see him digging,
and sweeping, and cutting, and planting, with manifest
delight. In spring-time, there is no end to the sowing of
seeds, and sticking little bits of wood over them, with labels,
which look like epitaphs to their memory ; and in the
evening, when the sun has gone down, the perseverance with
which he lugs a great watering-pot about is perfectly
astonishing. The only other recreation he has, is the news-
paper, which he peruses every day, from beginning to end,
generally reading the most interesting pieces of intelligence
to his wife, during breakfast. The old lady is very fond of
flowers, as the hyacinth -glasses in the parlour-window, and
geranium-pots in the little front court, testify. She takes
great pride in the garden too : and when one of the four


fruit-trees produces rather a larger gooseberry than usual, it
is carefully preserved under a wine-glass on the sideboard,
for the edification of visitors, who are duly informed that
Mr. So-and-so planted the tree which produced it, with his
own hands. On a summer's evening, when the large watering-
pot has been filled and emptied some fourteen times, and the
old couple have quite exhausted themselves by trotting about,
you will see them sitting happily together in the little
summer-house, enjoying the calm and peace of the twilight,
and watching the shadows as they fall upon the garden, and
gradually growing thicker and more sombre, obscure the tints
of their gayest flowers no bad emblem of the years that
have silently rolled over their heads, deadening in their
course the brightest hues of early hopes and feelings which
have long since faded away. These are their only recreations,
and they require no more. They have within themselves, the
materials of comfort and content; and the only anxiety of
each, is to die before the other.

This is no ideal sketch. There used to be many old people
of this description ; their numbers may have diminished, and
may decrease still more. Whether the course female educa-
tion has taken of late days whether the pursuit of giddy
frivolities, and empty nothings, has tended to unfit women
for that quiet domestic life, in which they show far more
beautifully than in the most crowded assembly, is a question
we should feel little gratification in discussing : we hope not.

Let us turn now, to another portion of the London popu-
lation, whose recreations present about as strong a contrast
as can well be conceived we mean the Sunday pleasurers ;
and let us beg our readers to imagine themselves stationed
by our side in some well-known rural "Tea-gardens."

The heat is intense this afternoon, and the people, of
whom there are additional parties arriving every moment,
look as warm as the tables which have been recently painted,
and have the appearance of being red-hot. What a dust and
noise! Men and women boys and girls sweethearts and


married people babies in arms, and children in chaises
pipes and shrimps cigars and periwinkles tea and tobacco.
Gentlemen, in alarming waistcoats, and steel watch-guards,
promenading about, three abreast, with surprising dignity
(or as the gentleman in the next box facetiously observes,
"cutting it uncommon fat!' 1 ) ladies, with great, long, white
pocket-handkerchiefs like small table-cloths, in their hands,
chasing one another on the grass in the most playful and
interesting manner, with the view of attracting the attention
of the aforesaid gentlemen husbands in perspective ordering
bottles of ginger-beer for the objects of their affections, with
a lavish disregard of expense; and the said objects washing
down huge quantities of "shrimps" and "winkles,"" with an
equal disregard of their own bodily health and subsequent
comfort boys, with great silk hats just balanced on the top
of their heads, smoking cigars, and trying to look as if they
liked them gentlemen in pink shirts and blue waistcoats,
occasionally upsetting either themselves, or somebody else,
with their own canes.

Some of the finery of these people provokes a smile, but
they are all clean, and happy, and disposed to be good-
natured and sociable. Those two motherly-looking women in
the smart pelisses, who are chatting so confidentially, insert-
ing a " ma'am " at every fourth word, scraped an acquaint-
ance about a quarter of an hour ago : it originated in
admiration of the little boy who belongs to one of them
that diminutive specimen of mortality in the three-cornered
pink satin hat with black feathers. The two men in the blue
coats and drab trousers, who are walking up and down,
smoking their pipes, are their husbands. The party in the
opposite box are a pretty fair specimen of the generality of
the visitors. These are the father and mother, and old grand-
mother : a young man and woman, and an individual
addressed by the euphonious title of "Uncle Bill," who is
evidently the wit of the party. They have some half-dozen
children with them, but it is scarcely necessary to notice the


fact, for that is a matter of course here. Every woman in " the

Online LibraryCharles DickensThe works of Charles Dickens (Volume 26) → online text (page 9 of 31)