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London at the end of the century : a book of gossip online

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trebling, the time required for the journey. And here,
a props de bottes, let me say that, if you are going to
cross a mountain pass, don't go by the night diligence,
but take a carriage. If you are going by boat in Italy,
it will be as well to enquire when those boats leave
port, when they arrive at their destination, and if
they carry cargo. One particularly hot autumn I de-
cided to return from Rome by water. The capital of
Christendom was placarded with posters telling of the
delights of the line of Somebody freres. I deter-
mined to patronise the firm. I went on board at
Civita Vecchia at 12 noon, and found that the boats
started at midnight Then when I was imprisoned
on board I discovered that the ship was carrying a
cargo of green figs. A little later I noticed the decks
and berths swarming with worms. I got off at Leg-
horn. As I was leaving I noticed that the cargo was
being changed — the good ship was leaving the figs at
Leghorn and taking on board any number of pigs
destined for a midnight cruise to Genoa !


Supposing that money is no consideration, ought
one to take a courier ? Personally, I say no ; al-


though, of course, it is pleasant to have some one to
reheve one of the necessity of paying hotel bills, look-
ing after luggage, and taking tickets. Beyond this a
courier is practically valueless. In these days of uni-.
versal travelling you don't want him as a guide. And
even if you do, you are lucky if he knows more than
your Baedeker or Murray can tell you.

" What is that, Karl ? " you ask.

" I think, sare, it is a church," replies your guide,
companion, but scarcely friend.

" And that ? "

" It may be a town hall, or perhaps a theatre."

And you have to fall back upon your red books.
On the whole, even with untold gold at your com-
mand, it seems to me that a courier is superfluous.


If you have gone over the same ground before, it
will be your own fault if you have not made notes in
your diary. I always jot down my impressions of a
hotel en route. I could travel half over Europe and
know where to go and what hotel to avoid. As to
luggage, of course the less you take the better, as
" extra weight " mounts up terribly the moment you
get quit of the influence exercised by the great
English railway companies. Still, never travel with-
out your dress clothes, a frock coat, and a hat bov



Paris, Vienna, and Berlin are on a par with London,
and you should be quite as particular in your apparel
in those capitals as you are when you are lounging
in the Park or strolling down Bond Street in the
height of the season. Of course, evening dress is
indispensable. If you do not take it with you, you
may be sure that before your trip is over you will
have urgently required it. Then, again, it is always
as well to carry your passport. You may never be
asked for it, but still to have it about you gives you a
sense of security that nothing else can afford. Finally,
take the advice of my old and valued friend Sir Henry
Thompson and never drink water on the Continent
pur et simple. As a matter of fact, it will not be
pur et simple, but very much the reverse. Take cold
tea in profusion and (the least advertised) aerated
water. Last tip of all. When you have had enough
of the Continent come back to England. You will
then learn that (alas!) there is no place like home.




About August the arrival platforms at the various

London termini of the railway companies are

crowded with young gentlemen who have come home

to their parents to enjoy from six weeks to a couple

of months' vacation. Those who have returned from

inland schools expect a trip to the seaside, and those

who have just left the sea breezes suggest other

pleasant resorts. The young gentlemen are on their

best behaviour, and if some of their " toppers " have

served as inadequate substitutes for footballs during

the journey the incident is of no lasting importance.

For the moment the juvenile hopefuls are as " good

as gold." For some days they will probably remain

in this pleasant disposition. Then as they grow

accustomed to the clemency of their parents, and

forget the discipline of the Rev. Dr. Birch, they will

become as "good as silver." And later still silver

1 8*


will be exchanged for copper, and not improbably for
brass. When they arrive at this stage of behaviour
the worst will not be over, but only just begun. 1
think we may take it that the holidays will be made
up of a week of gold, three days of silver, forty-eight
hours of copper, and a month and a half of brass.
Under these circumstances, it will be wise to get your
family to the seaside well before gold turns into the
baser metals. If you do not, the chances are that
your most cherished books will be dirty-fingered,
your most valuable carpets stamped out, and your
neighbours for miles round set at open defiance.


Some years ago there was published a brochure
(I believe of American origin) called " Helen's
Babies," in which were described the doings of two
naughty but otherwise pleasant children. And
earlier still — if I am not mistaken, a third of a cen-
tury since — the proprietors of Funch gave to the
world an excellent volume, in which John Leech had
drawn and coloured a series of cartoons showing the
chief incidents of " Master Jacky's Holidays." As a
father I do not regret that this last work is out of
print. So far as I can remember, the artist had
shown how very bad his hero could be. In one
picture Jacky was seen playing a game of cricket in


the drawing-room, in another he was discovered
"repairing" the furniture by hammering superfluous
nails into the backs of the dining-room chairs, in a
third he was practising the performance of a " foot-
balancer," with the baby instead of a barrel on the
soles of his boots. Altogether Jacky was having a
better time of it than his parents, and I think I may
add his sisters, his cousins, his uncles, and his aunts.
Nowadays Jacky's sons and even grandsons are
better behaved than their unruly ancestor. Still,
there is something in the principle of heredity, and
consequently it is as well to get to the seaside as
quickly as possible. Having children of my own
(excellent boys— like their father the very pattern of
propriety), I have some little experience of what is
best to be done. It is as well to go down unaccom-
panied (save by your excellent better half) to the
seaside place you propose to honour with your
patronage. I have known the most promising lodg-
ing lost by the appearance of Young Hopeful and
his brethren. A lady of my acquaintance a short
time since had just arranged for apartments on par-
ticularly beneficial terms, when everything was
spoiled by the sudden appearance of her two good

" No, thank you, ma'am," exclaimed the landlady,
a spinster of mature age ; " I'd rather not let the
lodgings. I don't like children."


" But," said the fond mother, " these are the best
of boys. Everyone says that they have the faces of

"That may be," replied the landlady; "but you
don't say what kind of angels! My experience is
that the better they look the worse they are."

And nothing could shake the decision of the
lodging-keeper, and my friend and her boys had to
go elsewhere.

Another reason why we should look out for apart-
ments without accompanists is to escape the chance
of infection. Some householders at the seaside have
a very elastic conscience anent the subject of illness.
In the opinion of many who wish to get rid of their
" drawing-rooms " and their " parlour-floors " whoop-
ing cough is " a slight cold," scarlet fever " a harmless
rash," and typhoid merely " a bad headache." In
August the lodgings are fairly free from danger, but
in May, June, and the early part of July there is
always a good deal of what I may term " floating
illness " about. People who have children who have
just recovered from this and that are very fond of
sending them to the East Kent coast to regain com-
plete recovery. All you can do when you find this
has been done is to charge the landlady with having
infringed the statute. If you are a barrister and can
back up your charge with a little legal knowledge so


much the better. And after doing this there is
nothing else to be done.


In securing a seaside residence for our youngsters
it is not always advisable to attempt to obtain for
them the questionable advantage of what may be
termed " a common green." A recreation ground
" open to all residents of Imperial Terrace " may be
very pleasant for the seniors, but occasionally the
juniors find their chief amusement in quarrelling with
one another. The occupants of " the common
green " frequently split into sets. The Browns refuse
to talk to the Joneses, and both boycott the Robin-
sons. Then Young Hopeful, if he is of an ingenious
turn of mind, utilises the backs of the houses as a
sort of contributory savings bank. I have heard of
a case where certain young gentlemen of a benevo-
lent turn of mind appeared as " mysterious minstrels,"
with blue spectacles, wideawake hats, and mufflers
complete, and set themselves to collect pence for a
charitable object. Provided with a toy banjo and a
miniature tambourine, they regaled the occupants of
the Imperial Terrace with a selection of comic songs
chosen from the repertoire of the neighbouring
sands. Until their efforts in the cause of philan-
thropy were discovered by their parents these young


disciples of Howard and Wilberforce collected some-
thing like three or four shillings a day. The
collections, I have heard, were devoted to the
encouragement of that languishing branch of trade,
the " real Turkish sherbet " and miscellaneous sweet-
stuff industry. I have been told that these same
boy-benefactors, on the regatta night, having
organised a small display of fireworks on " the
common green," proposed to admit the public to the
grounds — a privilege hitherto reserved for the exclu-
sive use of the bond fide residents of Imperial
Terrace. However, that the public might not be
overburdened with a sense of unsolicited obligation,
the boys, with a tact considerably in advance of
their years, proposed charging each candidate for
admission the sum of twopence, as a sort of compli-
mentary entrance fee. No doubt the sum realised
by this thoughtful arrangement would have been
expended on the further support of the decayed
industry to which I have already referred. But, as
ill-fortune would have it, the first persons to seek
admission were the parents of the Masters Hopeful.
This would have been a matter of small importance
had a member of the firm been at the gate, but cruel
fate decided that a sympathetic friend should have
been left in charge, who knew not Mr. and Mrs.
Hopeful, senior. This sympathetic friend, being a
little misty in his arithmetic, informed tlie candidates


for admission that the charge was "twopence each,
or sixpence for the two." An expose followed —
with tearful results.


But if " a common green " is not always a success,
the sands can scarcely be called a triumph. I mean,
of course, if the sands are sands with the customary
accessories. The children who patronise the golden
strand have the advantage of learning a number of
comic songs better suited for the seaside than the
drawing-room. It is all very well for hoarse-voiced
niggers to describe the advantages or disadvantages
of " a pimple on the nose " to the presumably in-
different sad sea waves, but such topics of conversa-
tion, even when introduced by youngsters of blood
and breeding, are a little out of place in my lady's
boudoir. Further, the perambulating phrenologists
may interfere with a boy's future by suggesting that
as he is witty, rich and virtuous, he should " marry a
young lady from a restaurant and open a little public
'ouse, in which he was sure to do well." Such
proposals, if adopted by a lad of an impressionable
disposition, might compromise most seriously a con-
templated career in diplomacy, the army, the navy,
or at the forensic (as distinguished from the tavern)
bar. But perhaps the most serious danger of all is


the off chance of the spread of infection. Some little
while ago I saw two lads quarrelling.

" I tell you what," said one to the other, " when my
big brother comes down he will give it you. When
he comes you will catch it ! "

" Catch what ? " was the reply, " a licking ? "

" No, the whooping cough ! "

But perhaps, after all, in these days of cabs and
omnibuses you can catch whatever there is to be
caught as easily in London as elsewhere. If the
children are all day long in the open air, and take
advantage of the inviting proximity of the sea, they
should be as fever proof at a watering place as in
town. However, when possible it is as well to keep
on the safe side.

In your own self-defence it is as well to supply
amusements for the children. If you do not you may
be sure (if they are worth their salt) they will take
the matter into their own hands, to your ultimate

Bicycles in moderation are pleasant distraction,
and even fishing (under the guidance of an experi-
enced boatman) is permissible. If you do not
grant these concessions the boys will either hire a
gig and try to drive tandem or perch themselves on
some exceedingly slippery and dangerous rocks in
pursuit of the wily minnow. Meet your children
half way. Strive to be their " guides, philosophers^


and friends." If you are not, you may be sure they
will lead you a pretty dance.

In conclusion, if the youngsters are a little lively,
it will be only a proof that they are in the vigour of
good health. After all, boys will be boys, for the
reason, presumably, that they cannot possibly be
girls. So long as they are truthful and kind to
animals, and fond of their parents, what more can you
want } If they smash windows, wear out carpets,
and upset expensive china, it is only for three
months in the year. Nay more, even if they cele-
brate (rather after date) the Diamond Jubilee by
hanging in their bedroom four dozen lighted
Japanese lanterns, what does it matter t The
chances are they won't burn the house down, and
even if they do, are you not insured? The holi-
days are soon over, and when they come to a
conclusion you miss your boys, although they may
be " pickles." When all is said and done they have
only been following a precedent. It is unnecessary
to go into the matter too strictly, but it may be that
that precedent may have been set by yourself. The
boy is the father of the man, and who can recall the
freaks of childhood? As a rule, it is the naughty
boy who becomes a bishop^ and the boy who is
" much too good to live " who performs that painful
operation known as " coming a cropper."




About the time of year when the House is up, the
clubs are closed, and only barristers desirous of
" vacation business " remain in town, everyone who
can afford the luxury of a trip to the Continent
thinks of " Crossing the Channel." To most of us
it is not a very pleasant thought, scarcely (as Mr.
Burnand would say) a " happy thought." But
Englishmen who would set foot upon foreign shores,
must face the difficulty and overcome their repug-
nance to mal de mer. After all, nowadays, in the
very worst weather, thanks to the magnificent
boats of the South Eastern and Chatham and Dover
Companies, the journey only takes a little over an
hour. I believe the Lord Warden and the Calais
Doirures, if put to it, can cover the sea be-
tween harbour and harbour, in fifty-five minutes. I
need scarcely say, that this is a vast improvement


upon the times of long ago, when the Foam and
her sister ships used to journey slowly and surely
from port to port. I fancy the vessels to which I
refer still exist, and some times appear in the night
time, but the day mail passengers have the advantage
of the pick of the Companies' fleet. And nine times
out of ten the passage is charming — that is to say,
when the equinoctial gales (like the spot stroke) are
barred. But the latter, unfortunately, are of villain-
ous quality and rapidly pull down the average. Still,
crossing the Channel is a solid or rather liquid fact
and cannot be shirked by a Londoner. He must
visit Paris, which, according to the Institute of
Journalists, is a part of the London District.


Until patriotism interfered there seemed a chance
of escaping the terrors of the waves by getting from
England to France under sea and under ground.
Some years ago I was honoured with an invitation to
inspect the Channel Tunnel. The prime mover in
the scheme was present, and the party he entertained
were statesmen, soldiers, and journalists. After we
had been carried in a truck some little distance, and
had walked through a hole about five feet four in
height and width a further distance, we came to the
end of the excavation. The boring was being


carried on with the assistance of compressed air, and
the works were illuminated with what was then a
novelty, the electric light. After we had admired
all that was to be seen we were entertained at
luncheon. Everyone was confident of success, and
the idea of a scare was scouted. Two of our party
were military men, and I was amused to note the
prime mover in the scheme suggesting a plan for the
defence of the mouth of the Tunnel. The warriors
courteously listened, but did not seem convinced.
This visit was paid in the days when the Channel
Tunnel was scarcely " contentious business." It
had been approved by Beaconsfield and Gladstone,
and the murijiurs of the generals were then un-
developed. A story is told of the late " Professor "
Percival Leigh, that when inviting his friends to eat
some mushrooms set before them he suggested that
although the best medical authorities declared the
fungi in question to be highly poisonous, " he did
not think so." In like manner, although most of the
great military experts have declared the Channel
Tunnel would weaken our powers of defence, " I
don't think so." And I never feel more confident on
the point than when I am on the seas between Dover
and Calais in tempestuous weather.



Charles Dickens, in his " Uncommercial Traveller,"
and Thackeray, in one of his " Christmas Books,"
have described the first primitive attempts at
travelling with the assistance of steam locomotion.
In the forties, a gentleman of means got to the coast
in his chariot, shipped it on board the packet, and
continued his journey when he reached " the other
side." Not long ago I came upon an inn in Dover
nestling under the shadow of the Castle, which, from
its sign, must have been close to the departure stage
of the steam packets. I am not sufficiently learned
in the history of " one of the most important of our
Cinque Ports " to say whether the boat ever started
from that part of the place which is farthest away
from the Lord Warden Hotel. However, there
within a stone's throw of the new pier and the large
caravanserai that is now the prosperous Hotel
Burlington, was " the Mail Packet Inn." To reach
Boulogne from Folkestone, is now an easy matter,
but in the days of the past the favourite route was
from St. Katharine's Docks. When I was a child, I
was constantly going to Boulogne via the Thames,
and then the steamers were called the Albion, the
Panther, and the City of Cologne. I have been
told that the G.S.N. Co. — an association with a very


large fleet — moves its boats from station to station
as they grow older. For instance, wheji new, a
vessel may run between London and Bordeaux, then
from London to Margate, then ultimately appear as a
ferry-boat on the coast of Japan. I wonder what has
became of the Albion and what has been the fate of a
steamer still older, the Father Thames. In days gone
by they were thronged with passengers who had
every confidence in their sea-going qualities. I have
braved in their cabins (but in a half-hearted fashion)
many a bad passage. Peace be to their timbers if
still afloat, or if broken up, to their ashes.


On a bright sunshiny day there is nothing more
charming than a run over from Folkestone to
Boulogne, or from Dover to Calais. Those who
haunt the departure stages of the two southern
watering-places, will observe many a familiar face on
the boat that leaves the Admiralty Pier at i p.m.
and returns at 5.15. This vessel is particularly
favoured by the Bar during the vacation, and one
popular Recorder whose silk gown was constantly
worn at the C. C. C. in leading Treasury prosecutions,
is frequently seen pacing its quarter-deck. But when
the winds begin to blow, and the waves to rise, life
on board a Channel steamship becotnes less tolerable.


There are any number of remedies for mal de mer,
but none absolutely and invariably reliable. It is a
wise precaution to seat oneself amidships — just in rear
of the funnels and exactly between the paddle boxes.
Fresh air is very desirable, but sometimes it has to
be bought at the cost of a drenching. A glass of
champagne before starting or a lemon squash have
both their admirers, and I have been credibly in-
formed that chloral taken under doctor's advice is
serviceable. But when I hear remedies for sea-sick-
ness considered, I always think of that wonderful
series of pictures by Leech that amused our fathers
years ago. The cuts showed how a man should take
a hearty meal before leaving the shore, and then
stand firmly in the centre of the steamer with his eyes
fixed upon a distant object, and accommodating his
body to the movements of the vessel. *' And then
the result would probably be this," was the legend
of a final sketch showing the poor traveller in a
condition of comic collapse.


I think, on the whole, Englishmen are better
sailors than Frenchmen. Certainly an inspection of
" Mossoo " after a " dirty passage " is not calculated
to increase the prestige of " The Great Nation." He
generally leans on the arm of his wife and is utterly



regardless of appearances. His buttonhole of the
Legion of Honour is uncared for and he is feeble to
a degree. When asked brusquely whether he wishes
to go to " Charing Cross, Cannon Street, St. Paul's
or Victoria," he replies in a broken voice that he
desires to be taken to " Londres." Some years since,
I went over to Calais on a perfectly calm day (so it
appeared to all the English on board) en route for
the south. As it was a trial trip, we had shipped
some douaniers who were to inspect our luggage
while we were half seas over. When we got into
port at Calais, we found that the representatives of
the French Customs had been too ill to attend to
their duties !- And yet as I have said, the sea
appeared to us sturdy Britons as calm as a mill pond.
I suppose the affair is a matter of temperament com-
bined with nationality.


Having referred to the douane I must confess that
unless one's luggage is examined en route, the right
of search is distinctly a nuisance. If you happen to
have a uniform, it is a good idea to put it on the
top of your clothes when travelling abroad. The
douaniers have a certain respect for the military,
and when they see the scarlet and gold their in-
spection becomes perfunctory. And you may take


it for granted that the foreigners will never be sur-
prised at any insular eccentricity. Many years ago I
was entrusted with a box containing wedding cake.
Of course the officer of douane desired that it should
be exhibited.

" What is this droll kind of comestible ? " he asked.
. " A sort of plum pudding," I promptly replied.

" Very good. You English are inexplicable ; "
and he chalked the cover of the box. He was not
in the least astonished at my carrying a plum pudding

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 15 of 19)