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

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suits all our conveniences. It is neither too early
nor too late : just the proper moment for starting
and arriving/ We are not disturbed at our break-
fast, and can get to Whitstable just in time for
lunch. On our journey down we talk music and
the drama, social topics, and law and police. We
note the extensive alterations at Bisley, the site-
changing castle at Rochester (which first appears on
our right, then on our left, and ultimately gets behind
us), and the deserted hop-gardens of Kent. The
day is delightful. Blue sky and warm sun, with just
a tinge of sharpness in the air telling of the approach-
ing autumn. The run down to the coast takes less
than no time, and we have scarcely leisure for a
game of penny nap before we have reached Whit-

Our host is on the platform ready to offer us a


hearty greeting. We quickly detrain, and are soon
in the cosy httle chaises that seem to be as much
natives of the place as the oysters themselves. We
rattle through the old-fashioned little town, passing
the '' Bear and Key," and quickly reach the Steam
Packet Hotel.

" What are you looking for ? " asks our host good-
naturedly, as he notices that I am searching for
something or other.

" The representative of the General Steam Naviga-
tion Company," I reply. "Does the boat go to
Margate or Ramsgate, or has it stopped running for

the season } "

" Oh, we have no steamer now," returns my friend.
"There used to be a packet that plied between
Whitstable and Gravesend, but that was years ago.
But we still have a hoy, and in the summer there
are worse journeys in the world than a sail from
Bishopsgate to within sight of Heme Bay. The
hoy makes the trip to London once a week, starts
on a Wednesday, and returns on a Sunday."

And then we make our first acquaintance with
the oysters.


We have entered a large shed, half of which is
occupied by tanks. These receptacles are filling
with water supplied by the rising tide.


" This is our waiting-room," says our host ; " here
come all the oysters after they have been brought to
the shore by the dredgers, and they are ready for
transmission to London."

And as I look down into the depths of the tanks
I am reminded of the temporary resting-place of
the turtles in a noted " tavern " in the City where
" green fat " and punch are the specialites de la

" The last time I went there," I tell my friends
as we walk across the rails on our way to a small
boat on the shingly shore, " I had been with a
tasting order to the docks. We had been a pleasant
party — several of the staff of a well-known ' high-
class weekly ' — and we none of us had felt the
influence of the fumes-bearing air of the docks in
the least. One of us on his return to the editor
called attention to this interesting fact — that in spite
of tasting several kinds of sherry and port, and
lunching subsequently on turtle, cold roast beef and
champagne, he was as right as right could be. The
consumption and inhaling of a certain, or rather
uncertain amount of alcohol had not affected him
in the least."

" And what did the editor say ? "
" Well," I reply, " our chief took rather a different
view of our colleague's condition, and expressed
his opinion that * he was as tipsy as a fly.' But


then the editor had not been able to join our
party, so we put down his estimate of our friend's
mental and physical stability to ' nasty jealousy.'
Moreover, as the conductor of a ' high-class weekly,'
he was bound to adopt a gloomy view of life and
its pleasures."

And by this time we have reached the shore and
entered the boat that is to take us to the dredger in
the offing.


I frankly confess that I am more of a landsman
than a sailor, so when I see a large cutter making
for us and apparently desirous of running us down
I am rather alarmed. However, there is really no
cause for fear, for the coming vessel is to be our
home for the next four hours ; it is making for us
because it wishes to take us aboard. We clamber
up the sides of our new boat, and start for the

And now that we are really on the ocean I begin
to realise the pleasures of the situation. Our boat,
although rough and unornamental, is scrupulously
clean. We are seated on comfortable deck-chairs
and watching lazily the preparations for luncheon.
A cloth as white as snow is spread before us, and
two of the crew are busily cutting slices of brown


bread and butter and opening bottles of stout and

" Do you ever use steam power ? " I ask as we pass
a perfect fleet of vessels like our own.

" No," says our host ; " it would not be possible.
You see we move sideways. The wind takes us
forward, and we are held back by the dredges. We
cover a considerable amount of submerged ground.
Had we steam the dredges would be pulled along
in single file instead of extended order, as they say
in the service."

As a captain of militia (the solitary distinction
of which I am really proud) I understand my host's
meaning and ^explain the matter to my companions.

And now we have our first taste of the treasures
of the vasty deep. One of the dredges has been
drawn up and its shears-like nets opened. Out
tumble a number of oysters with two or three five-
fingers and a few cockles. The brown bread and
butter, the sauterne, and last but not least, a plate
of " seconds " are handed round,

" Delicious ! " I exclaim, as I devour a bivalve with
gusto, " delicious ! "

I notice that my friend Trevelyan is like Brer
Rabbit, " saying nothing and lying low." But the
others are eating with the same satisfaction that I
am displaynig myself. I am rather horrified when


one of the crew, finding that there are three or four
oysters over, throws them into the sea.

" Oh, what waste ! " I exclaim.

" There are plenty more where those come from,"
replies our host with a smile. " Now, these are worth,
at the sea shore, about fifteen pence a dozen. In
London, however, they are half-a-crown a dozen,
or (when mixed with a few natives) four-and-six."

" Can you not do without the middleman ? " I
2sk, struck with the enormous difference between
the wholesale price and the retail price.

" It has often been suggested and no doubt some
day will come to pass."

And now I understand why Brer Rabbit Trevelyan
has been " lying low and saying nothing." Fresh
oysters have been brought on board and opened.
If the first were delicious, these are supremely de-
lightful. They have a magnificent flavour.

"Yes," says our host, "you are now tasting
genuine Whitstable natives. We call these, in
honour of our dear and beautiful Danish lady (that
was the title we gave her more than twenty years
ago, and she still deserves it), the Princess of Wales."

We loyally devour a couple of dozen apiece.
Then we pass over another part of the beds, and
fresh oysters are produced. They are larger than
the others, but of the same splendid flavour.

" These have been ten years in their shells," ex-


plains our host, *' and are not to be got except by
favour. They are not to be bought — they are not
in the market."

As I dispose of two or three splendid specimens,
I understand more and more clearly why Brer Rabbit
Trevelyan had refused to have anything to do with
" seconds."


We had started at noon, and now the hands of
our watches are nearing four. We are miles and
miles away from the shore, and can see on our
right the town of Heme Bay and a distant view of
the Reculvers. In our rear is Whitstable, with its
shipbuilding yards and miniature residential castle.
Our keen sea-air-created appetites are beginning to
be appeased. It is the time for conversation.

" Those last oysters were ten years in their shells,"
I surmise. " Dear me ! How long does it take
before an oyster reaches maturity — is sufficiently
grown to be eaten t "

" From four to five years," replies our host.
" There are three stages. The first is the appear-
ance of the oyster about the size of a pin's head,
then he grows slightly bigger and is the size of a
small pea, then he gets to the dimensions of a
farthing. He has then to be picked off the native


shell and thrown back into the sea to grow up on his
own account."

" Are there good and bad years for oysters ? "
" Why, certainly. An expert can almost tell an
oyster's age from the flavour, as a connoisseur knows
a wine's vintage by the bouquet. There have been
only three grand years during the present century —
one in the twenties, one in 1848, and one in 1893.
The year 1899 is also memorable."

I am comforted at this piece of intelligence, con-
sidering the sinister rumours that have recently been
flying about.

" Did the oysters like the dry and fine weather
of the past summer } "

" They revelled in it. They have to be looked
after carefully. Some oysters cannot stand the cold,
so we take them up by the million and carry them
south. We have winter quarters for them off Ports-
mouth. Then when they are stronger we fetch them
back and put them in their other beds at Whitstable."
" Do you feed them ? "

" Certainly not ; they feed themselves. But there
is something peculiar about the waters in these parts.
We import large numbers of foreigners and lay them
down. But whatever be their nationality on their
arrival they soon adopt the flavour of the true Whit-
stable native. And in this connection let me advise
you never to try to feed an oyster. Some people



put bran into the water. A big mistake. Keep a
wet cloth at the top of the barrel and drain them

Then we pass a boat that seems to be at the
farthest end of the oyster beds.

" Our police," says our host. " The crew come to
shore once a week to get provisions. The rest of
the time they are on the look-out for trespassers.
A number of unscrupulous luggers have to be
warned off. As you know, our oyster-beds are
strictly preserved."

And now the sun is setting, and we are going home.
We hear anecdotes about the five-fingers — how these
pests of the ^ ocean cling round oysters and clean them
out. The process takes years to accomplish, but
they manage the feat at last.

" We get tons of five-fingers. We sell them for
manure," says our host, who has been showing us
the suckers of these octopi in miniature. In calling
them octopi I beg to be allowed to forget my Latin,
and the number of the creatures' feet.

We talk oyster-shop as we drift along until one
of us asks if Wright, the low comedian, did not die
at Heme Bay ?

" No," returns another of us, who is better in-
formed ; " you are thinking of IMargate. The poor
fellow lost his wits before his life — he died hope-
lessly insane."




I tell my friends that I can just remember Wright
when Paul Bedford was his foil and " partner " When
Wright disappeared and my friend Mr. J. L. Toole
took his place, Paul Bedford acted in a similar
capacity to the new low comedian.

" Wright and Paul Bedford had a good time of it
in the Green Bushes" I observe, "when it was pro-
duced at the old Adelphi. Madame Celeste was of
course the heroine, and Miss Woolgar, subsequently
Mrs. Alfred Mellon, the Irish girl, and Billington (I
think) O'Connor. But I know nothing of the rest of
the cast. It was written, of course, by John Baldwin

"Yes," says one of us, "he was stock author at
the Adelphi when you were a boy. But later on
he shared the honours of the proud position with
Charles Selby, who wrote The Poor Strollers, in
which Webster, Billington, Wright, Madame Celeste,
and he himself appeared. That was the play in
which poor Wright told Billington after a long and
noble tirade to be less energetic in his gestures, as
his cheap coat was not made with a view to standing
the storm and stress of emotional oratory ! "

And with pleasant recollections of the past and



genial chat about things in general and nothing in
particular we reach the shore.


I recall the pleasantest of pleasant little dinners
in which our host and his amiable family take a
prominent part. Then comes the journey home,
enlivened by a game of skill in which an intimate
knowledge of spelling is assumed. And then later
still the train reaches the Victoria Station, and we
prepare to part.

" If any of your medical friends were to see you
now," says one of us, as we clasp hands, " they would
declare that you look 50 per cent, better than you
did this morning."

Quite true, I did look better. Nay, more, I felt
better. So I would counsel all Londoners to follow
my example. Go to Whitstable at the earliest
opportunity, and spend the whole day on a boat
eating the choicest oysters. You will find the ex-
perience absolutely delightful. And so easy to carry
out ! All that is requisite is the necessary invitation !





After the House is up for the summer recess the
platforms of the various London termini are crowded
with young gentlemen in high silk hats and Eton
jackets. These "fathers of the coming men" are
usually in the best of spirits, as they are returnmg
home for the holidays. If they are met by mothers
and sisters they are not above bestowing embraces
upon their near relatives, but if they happen to be
travelling en gar^on their dignity is tremendous.
They give directions to the porters and cabmen
with perfect sangfroid, and emphasise their com-
mands with the most munificent tips. They know
that the time for garnering pocket money has passed,
and that at home they will find coffers open for the
replenishment of empty purses. So the boys depart
for their parents' houses amidst the smiles and bless-
ings of sympathetic railway officials and the town-


bred jehus. But before reaching the platforms
most of these lads have been either taking part in
or assisting at entertainments of a more or less
dramatic character. During the past week the
collegians of Stoneyhurst have been performing an
operetta, those of Edgbaston a Latin play, and
those of St. Augustine's a drama in three acts. Only
the other day Harrow had its Speech Day, when
limitless amusement was afforded by the croaking
of frogs in full evening dress ; and Eton com-
memorated George the Third's birthday with the
usual procession of boats and selection of recitations.
Westminster does little in the summer, reserving the
comedies of Plautus and Terence for the long nights
of mid-December.


I am afraid that I may get into trouble if I suggest
that the far-famed " A.D.C." at Cambridge can be
counted in the number of juvenile histrionics. I am
not forgetful of that capital cut in Punch, by the late
Charles Keene, which told us that Oxford and Cam-
bridge " men " consid'ered the Eton and Harrow
cricket match as " the inter-University contest in
miniature." Still the " A.D.C." in my mind, and very
likely in the minds of many others, is primarily
connected with the school rather than the University.


Mr. F. C. Burnand, its founder, had been immensely
fond of theatricals when at Eton, and I believe while
at that historical seat of learning managed to get a
farce played at the Theatre Royal, Windsor. The
renowned editor of Vimch was the first member to
write an original piece for presentation at the
•■ A.D.C.," as another contributor to the London
Charivari, Mr. R. C. Lehmann, has been the last
Only a short while ago " Jupiter, LL.D." was delight-
ing Town and Gown at Cambridge to the great
satisfaction of the Cantabs in general and resident
dons in particular. Those who have not read Mr.
Burnand's " Recollections of the Cambridge A.D.C."
should get the book at once and study it. The
volume is full of amusing stories, and serves as a
record of the members of the famous society to the
date of pubhcation. The history of the " A.D.C."
is traced from the early days when Mr. Burnand
thought of calling the late Mr. Maddison Morton's
celebrated farce Box Kai Cox (to give it a Greek
flavour for the readier acceptance of the Vice Chan-
cellor) to the time when H.R.H. the Prince of Wales
was present at the club's jubilee. It would be a
good thing if the eminent author would consent to
issue a new edition of his admirable work, bringing
his " Recollections " up to date. Much has happened
since the days when " Charlie Hall " was the best
of stage managers, and " C. R. Carrington " the most


amusing of burlesquers. Only the other day I saw
these talented members of the best of clubs standing
in front of their president at the state opening of
the Tower Bridge. One of the two was Recorder
of London, and the other Lord Chamberlain. But
the A.D.C. has not only been a stepping-stone to
the Bench and the Senate, but also to the run of
the professional boards. A glance at the theatrical
programmes a few weeks before the London dramatic
season had come to an abrupt conclusion would have
revealed a number of names well known on the banks
of the Cam. To select a couple out of a dozen, I
may mention Messrs. Brookfield and Elliott. Oxford
has not been -quite so famous in histrionics as the
sister university. For some time there was a club
called " The Shooting Stars," but it ultimately
vanished (like its namesakes) into space. However,
recently, thanks amongst other causes to the efforts
of Mr. Henry Irving the younger, the Oxford Amateur
Dramatic Club has obtained considerable popularity.
But it will take a long while before any society
attains the success of the A.D.C. " Burnand's
Creation " was never more prosperous. May its
future be as pleasant as its present and its past.


To come to the entertamments ot a scholastic
" breaking up." The powers that are have a very


heavy responsibility. They should realise that in
their hands are at least three hours of valuable time.
A father must be very hard-hearted if he refuses
(without really valid excuse) to be present at the
performances of one of his own sons. Paterfamilias
gets an earnest request from Primus or Secundus,
or possibly Tertius, begging him to assist at his
" breaking up." Materfamilias has not only already
consented but settled the costume she proposes to
wear on the auspicious occasion. The female m-
fluence (filially instigated) is exercised, and Pater-
familias determines to run down. This often occurs,
and consequently the powers that are have at their
mercy a number of anxious and busy men. They
should treat these men kindly. They should do
their best to make the entertainment for those men
as little tedious as possible. It is their duty.

I speak feelingly, for I have myself been at times
induced to assist at '' breakmg-ups." Not very long
ago I was persuaded to travel over a hundred miles
to be present at an amateur performance in which
a young hopeful in whom I take the deepest possible
interest sustained a part. I arrived rather late, and
was met at the door of the temporary theatre by
my juvenile entertainer in full costume.

"What! are you not wanted on the stage?" I


" Oh dear no, not for hours. I don't appear until
the second act."

" And what do you do then ? "

" I appear as a waiter."

" Have you much to say ? " I queried.

" Well, no," was the reply. " Not much, at least
not very much. I answer ' Yes, sir,' twice, and then
go out!"

And I had made the journey to see this! How-
ever, it is only just to add that the waiter, when
played, was quite a success. Nothing could have
been better than the " go out."


And the attention I expended upon watching the
progress of this small part made me consider the
question of rehearsals in general and rehearsals of
school theatricals in particular. It is some years
since I rehearsed a piece of my own, and possibly
matters may have mended of late. But in the fairly
far away " long ago," actors and actresses having
" got their words and their crossings," allowed
matters to drift until the hour of performance. It
was assumed that " everything would be right at
night." The result of this system was this — the
premier, when the Press and the critical public were
present, became nothing more nor less than a dress


rehearsal. Naturally, a new piece was heavily handi-
capped by the unpreparedness of all concerned.
Until about the fourth representation it was im-
perfectly performed. These things are better
managed in Paris. On the Continent a play is most
carefully rehearsed. All the actors and actresses
(principals included) play at rehearsal exactly as
they intend to play at night. As related when
Charles Mathews took Cool as a Cucumber to
the French capital in the translated form of TJ Anglais
TimidCy he was surprised to find that a rehearsal
was played with as much care as a public repre-
sentation. As I have said the French were equally
astonished to see the great comedian walking
through his part as if he had just received his
scrip and had never seen his companions before.
However, in the case of Charles Mathews the
younger it was all right at night. But the fact
should not be accepted as the foundation for a pre-
cedent by amateurs.


When Dr. Liddel was headmaster at St. Peter's
College he was in the habit of superintending the
rehearsals of the Westminster Play. A story is told
against him that when one of his pupils had to
simulate intoxication, he proposed that the amateur
should " suggest drunkenness without losing dignity."



"You are a Roman," Dr. Liddel is reported to
have observed, " and a Roman never forgets his
position, even when enslaved by the too potent
contents of the wine cup."

In those distant days there used, I believe, to be a
beverage called " dog's nose " behind the scenes at
Westminster, and the would-be reveller drank deeply
— too deeply — of this stimulant to keep up his
courage. As a consequence, when he appeared in
the drunken scene the performance was remarkably
realistic, but scarcely redolent of " classical dignity."
So the story goes. No doubt the tale properly
belongs to the collection of Benjamin Trovato.

An amateur actor, who still adorns the boards —
but now on rare occasions — was accustomed to take
his directions from Dr. Liddel with adequate respect,
and then play his part at night after the model of
the late Mr. Wright and the present Mr. Toole.
My friend the waiter the other day gave a particularly
original rendering of his part.

" Did you do that at rehearsal ? " I asked, referring
to one of his " points."

" Oh, dear no," was the reply, " I kept it for the

It was rather a dangerous expedient, but on the
occasion to which I refer success attended the ex-
periment. It was one of those rare instances where
the end justified the means.



A school entertainment should not be too long. If

the boys must recite, let them confine themselves to

less than a hundred lines. If a piece is selected for

performance, a farce in a single scene is frequently

more effective than a comedy in five acts. Costume

plays are better than dramas of the day. A lad

feels less shy if he is " dressed up," and it is easier

to accept feeble acting if it is supposed to suggest

the manners and customs of the "long ago." If a

play has no female characters so much the better,

as, in spite of classical precedents, a lad appearing

as a lady is never entirely satisfactory. And in this

connection I may observe that pieces have been

written with a view to excluding the softer (or should

I say harder?) sex. It is better for the powers that

are to secure such a play rather than to trust to their

editing of " Hamlet " with a view to the exclusion

of Gertrude and Ophelia.

In conclusion, perhaps the best reason for the
continuance of school representations may be found
in the following dialogue, which took place between

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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 18 of 19)