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braved the terrors of the ballot box. It is true that
the election is, at most, for seven years, and not for
life. The more lengthy period is reserved for the
occupants of " another place " ; but then they are
not chosen at all. Anyone can belong to the Peers —
it is only a question of birth. But a member of the
House of Commons has to be proposed, seconded,
and elected. He enters " the best club " backed by
a majority of votes. Under these circumstances, it
would not be wrong to say that, of the two chambers,
the lower is the more select,



THE PREMIER CLUB OF ENGLAND. 57

" Yes, the House is fairly comfortable at the end
of the century," said a friend of mine the other day.
"I have been in Parliament, as you know, for the
last twelve years, and think that to-day we can
certainly report progress. Herbert Gladstone during
his tenure of office worked wonders."

This was said to me in the strangers' coffee room.
The apartment did not differ in appearance from the
saloons we are accustomed to in Piccadilly or St.
James's Street. The tables were laid out for four.
Those nearest the windows, as usual, were most in
request. Through the glass panes a charming view
of the river could be obtained.

" Pretty, certainly," replied the hon. legislator who
had been entertaining me, to my laudatory observa-
tion ; " but St. Thomas's Hospital looks its best in the
sunlight. It is less pleasing when it is only dimly
visible in an approaching mist, and when we have a
fog, well, the prospect is not cheerful."

In spite of the pessimistic tone in which my friend
spoke, I could see that he was quite satisfied with his
surroundings.

THE KITCHEN COMMITTEE.

That most important matter, the cooking of the
meals of members, is entrusted to the Kitchen
Committee. I must confess that I do not envy



58 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY,

the chairman of that hard-working body. I can
fancy how he must be troubled with the equivalents
to "backed bills." Not that the fare is not of
the best. So far as I have been able to judge,
the viands of the House are of excellent quahty
and admirably prepared. The tariff is certainly
reasonable, perhaps (if an Irishism is excusable)
too reasonable. In spite of the careful control of a
very thoughtful Committee and a liberal contribution
from the privy purse of the House of Commons, its
coffee room has failed to pay its way. Certainly, thus
far there has only been a trifling sum on the wrong
side of the books, but still the fact remains that the
result is loss, not profit.

COFFEE ROOM CHARGES.

Prices are not high. For is. 6d. a member can get
for lunch a cut off the joint, vegetables, cheese, " green
food," and butter, with a pint of lager beer. The
House dinner is also to be commended. A member
can invite his friends (of both sexes) to partake of a
choice of soups, a couple of fishes, two entrees, a bird,
a savoury, and a sweet. For this he has to pay 5s.,
while the club regulation is strictly observed (" No
gratuities to the waiter "). By the way, this rule
caused quite an agitation some time since amongst
the " Roberts," and was very nearly the prologue



THE PREMIER- CLUB OF ENGLAND. 59

of a strike ; and here I may remark that the coffee
room attendants wear no livery, but are garbed (as
in restaurants) in plain evening dress. I suppose
were they to appear in appropriate costumes, they
would be seen in scarlet coats and blue knee-breeches.
My reason for this belief rests on the fact that the
building in which Parliament sits is Royal property.
It is called (for that reason) the Palace of West-
minster ; and yet, strange to say, the arms of our
Kings and Queens, so conspicuous in the decorations
of the exterior of the building, are rarely found in the
interior. The chairs and china bear only the Portcullis.
I fancy that the device points to the date when St.
Stephen's passed out of the direct control of the first
estate of the realm. When I make this suggestion I
am prepared to learn from the Serjeant-at-Arms (a
member of the Royal household) that the Palace is
still under the direct control of the Crown, and that
Parliament merely partakes of hospitality. The flag-
staff over the Victoria Tower used to be reserved for
the National Standard, run up when the Sovereign
visited St. Stephen's. Of late the Union Jack floats
in the air from sunrise to sunset when the House is
sitting. I fancy this new departure must have
obtained the Royal sanction. Certainly the fluttering
of the bunting is an improvement. Why not let us
have the flag all the year round?



6o LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.



THE COFFEE ROOMS.

There are three principal coffee rooms running
flush with the House, and overlooking the terrace
and the river. The centre apartment is free to
strangers. A member may thereat feast his personal
friends, who may, by the way, be his political foes ;
and here I may remark that from a club point of
view the House, like the Wyndham, the Marlborough,
and the Bachelors', is non-political. Of course it
has its sets. For instance, there are the Unionists and
the Gladstonians, the soldiers and the lawyers, the rail-
way men and supporters of beer, but these sets only
recognize tKeir professional companionship in the
House itself. At Westminster the western saloon
is reserved for the heads of the Government and the
Opposition. The Ministerial room has four long
tables ; two of them are reserved for members who
have reached Cabinet rank ; a couple more for the
Whips and Under Secretaries on either side. Of late
there has sprung into existence a fifth table, which
used to be visited by such celebrities as Mr. Chamber-
lain and Lord James of Hereford, who used to meet
thereat the Marquis of Hartington, before he became
the Duke of Devonshire, and Mr. Goschen, before
he accepted, with the others mentioned, positions in
the Cabinet. On the west of the strangers' saloon



THE PREMIER CLUB OF ENGLAND. 6i

is what may be termed the private dining room of
the private members.

Besides these apartments, there is a large vault-
like chamber level with the terrace, to which ladies
are admitted. A member, by giving notice, can hire
this banqueting hall (which to anyone with a lively
imagination is not unsuggestive of the mythical
" dungeon beneath the castle moat "), and feast his
guests to his heart's, more or less, content. Recently,
hon. gentlemen desirous of keeping a House for some
pet measure, have entertained their political friends in
it. And also on this level are a tea-room, to which the
fair sex can be admitted, and a smoking room for
strangers. But I must confess that all the apartments
flush with the terrace appear to be distinctly gloomy
and better suited to coals than conversation. The
advantage of the site of these rooms is the close
proximity of the terrace. In the summer it is pleasant
enough to sit beside the river, when the tide is
high. On rare occasions, at other times, the fumes
thrown off by mud baking in the sun constitute a bar
to perfect enjoyment

THE LIBRARY AND THE SMOKING ROOMS.

But perhaps the most imposing part of the House
is the library. The depot of books is divided into
several rooms, all of noble dimensions. The windows



62 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.

are on the river front. A casual glance at the
contents of the shelves shows that the volumes have
chiefl)^ to do with the history of Parliament

" I see you do get some new books now and again,"
I said to my friend, as I noticed a number of works
laid out on a table.

" Yes," he replied. " Here, you see, is a recently-
published Hfe of a well-known statesman."

" No novels } "

" Not at present. Up to now we have drawn the
line at biographical romances."

In one of the rooms of the library was the table of
the old House, saved when its former habitation was
burned to the ground. In its neighbourhood was a
bust of the late Sir Erskine May, and other memen-
toes of the past I noticed that the members using
the library were hard at work answering letters to
constituents. The stationery bearing the stamp of
the House is always awe-inspiring.

Having glanced at the bath-rooms and the
" barber's shop " (modern innovations, and constructed
on familiar lines), I came to the members' smoking
room. This was the pleasantest place in the House.
It has an air of comfort absent from many other of
the rooms. Mr. Gladstone once started a very
sensible arrangement. Over the mantelpiece, while
the House is sitting, appears an announcement (con-
tinually changing) of the business occupying the



THE PREMIER CLUB OF ENGLAND, 63

attention of members in another (and less agreeable)
place. This " affiche " might appear with advantage
in all the other rooms used by members.



A SUGGESTED IMPROVEMENT.

Why not (let me ask) introduce the electrophone
into the recreation rooms of the House ? All that
would be necessary would be an arrangement in
telephones. Were this done, the debates would be
heard in every part of the building. Should my
suggestion be adopted, I trust that truly right hon.
gentlemen will not forget the originator of the im-
provement.

" Now you have seen all there is to see," said my
friend, who had acted as my cicerone. " The club part
should be as comfortable as we can make it, for
during the Session we use it morning, noon and night.
We can rarely safely leave it. Some of the members
come when the doors open, and do not quit the
premises until warned by the cry of * Who goes
home t ' that the lights are being extinguished. I
wish we could get some exercise."

" There is no card-playing at St. Stephen's, is
there .? "

" Certainly not," my friend answered promptly.
" Some of the more frivolous of us, however,
occasionally revel in a game of chess."



64 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.

" And how about billiards ? "

" I never thought of billiards," answered my host
" Perhaps the House might entertain the suggestion.
The late Pope used to play billiards."

And then my friend and I left " the best club in
London."



65



CHAPTER VIII.

LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY.

There can be no more impressive sight for a foreigner
than when some State ceremonial collects together a
crowd of Londoners to welcome Royalty. The two
Jubilees, 1887 and 1897, were memorable for their
grandeur and enthusiasm, but, perhaps, town is seen
at its best at a popular prince's wedding. The Eng-
lish people are fond of marriages, and as each of the
Queen's children has taken to himself or herself a
wife or a husband there has been a season of rejoic-
ing. In spite of a perfunctory discordant note from
" the extreme left," the harmony has been complete.
That discord has always been lost in the full volume
of song that has risen from the popular chorus. But
the agitation invariably comes to nothing. The agi-
tators end by fighting for seats, and describing them-
selves as utterly disgusted if they are left out in the
cold and see nothing of the various processions.

5



66 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.



" MIND AND LEAVE THE BABY."

I have spoken of a " discordant note," but I do not
wish such a sound to be confounded with the words
of wise warning that have been written by that excel-
lent dramatist, novelist, and man of letters, Mr. G. R.
Sims. Just before the wedding of the Duke and
Duchess of York a poem by " Dagonet " appeared, in
which the author suggested to his friend the working
man that when he (the son of toil) and " the missus "
went out to see the illuminations on the happy occa-
sion they should leave their baby behind them. I hope
the words may be taken to heart when next there is a
grand function, for certainly they are deserving of
attention. More than a quarter of a century ago,
when the Duke of York's illustrious father was mar-
ried, the streets were crowded with an immense throng
of holiday-makers, and there was an ugly rush at
Temple Bar. The old archway, the work of Sir
Christopher Wren, stood (as all the world knows) on
the site now occupied by the Griffin. The Metro-
politan Police were on duty in the Strand, and Fleet
Street was in charge of the City constables. I fancy
that the two bodies, in those distant days, did not act
with the harmony that now is the characteristic of the
joint performance of their important duties. Be this



LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY. 67

as it may, the fight under the archway was something
terrific. There was a stream of people coming East
and a stream coming West, and the two currents met
under the gloomy stones of Temple Bar. I was in
the crowd myself, and it was all I could do to avoid
committing infanticide. There were a number of silly
women, who had brought children with them to see
the sights. I do not think the motive that caused
them to give their offspring such an airing was en-
tirely unselfish. It may have been possible that the
mothers found it impracticable to leave the babies at
home, and consequently had brought the infants with
them. Whatever may have been the cause the effect
was sad in the extreme. The women, crushed and
screaming, were at length showing they were not en-
tirely devoid of maternal feeling. " Oh, save the
poor child ! " was the cry from many a sorrowful
mother, and the appeal was disregarded. In such a
crowd it was impossible to move save where the cur-
rent directed, and it was as much as one could do to
keep one's feet. In the narrow part of the Strand,
just opposite the offices of Messrs. W. H. Smith and
Sons, I frequently lost my foothold, and was at times
carried by the throng. It was not a pleasant experi-
ence. My great effort was to keep my arms free,
well above the surging crowd. Once find your hands
helpless beside you and your chance of escaping a
fall and a trample becomes a small one. Not that

5*



68 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.

the crowd was ill-natured. On the contrary, there
was a general desire to be kind and considerate. The
rough element was conspicuous by its absence. Here
and there were five or six hobbledehoys banded to-
gether, arms upon shoulders, in single file. But their
attempted " rushes " were not tolerated, and with a
shout of " Drop it," they were made to desist. But
with all the goodwill in the world it was impossible
to protect a child in the midst of such a crowd. I
was quite a quarter of an hour before I could get
through Temple Bar, and in front of me was a woman
and her baby. I did my best to protect her by push-
ing with my back against the crush, and I even in-
duced others to follow my example. But after a
while the crowd was too many for us, and we were
swept along. The woman and her little one dis-
appeared in the enormous gathering, and I do not
know what became of them. I can only hope that a
merciful Providence watched over them. But for
years afterwards the piteous appeal of the poor mother
rang in my ears, " Oh, do save the poor child ! " and
as I write the scene returns to me. The tliousands
of lights, the illuminated Prince of Wales's feathers
that had taken the place of the gas lamps, the surging,
laughing crowd, the gaunt old gateway with its recol-
lections of traitors' heads and suggestions of the
Bridge of Sighs, and the one poor woman battling for
the life of her pale-faced, frightened little one! It



LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY. 69

is not a pleasant memory, and I repeat the warning of
" Dagonet," " leave the baby at home."



" MR. PUNCH " ON ROYAL MARRIAGES.



To turn to a pleasanter subject. Those who are old
enough to remember the marriage of the Prince of
Wales, and walked like Dr. Johnson (but rather more
expeditiously than he did) down Fleet Street, will re-
collect that " No. 85 " was filled with a company of fair
ladies and clever men surrounding a quaint statuette
of " Mr. Ftmchy Those who can boast with the en-
thusiasm and happiness of youth that it was " before
their time " will find a sketch of the group in the
volume of the London Charivari of the period. If
my memory does not play me false the drawing was
from the pencil of the late George Du Maurier, then
the society sketcher of Punch par excellence. As the
Jester of Fleet Street is a great protector of tradition
the same statuette (once again wearing a wedding
favour) put in an appearance at the wedding of the
Duke and Duchess of York, once again to be sur-
rounded by some of the same familiar faces. One of
those faces was that of the great artist in black and
white who, a few years ago, received well-deserved
honour at the hands of his sovereign. As Sir John
Tenniel has been the cartoonist of Punch since
1 85 1, it has been his duty to celebrate hi the



70 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.

pages of the world-famed journal with which
his name is inseparably connected the various
marriages of the members of the Royal Family.
The earliest of them all was the union of the
Princess Royal with Prince William of Prussia — a
union that has given to United Germany her present
Emperor. Mr. Punch was drinking the health of the
happy pair, and ready to throw after them the satin
slipper of good luck. Then came the glorious car-
toon of the marriage of the Prince and Princess of
Wales, when the sponsors of the Royal couple were
Britannia and the Sea King of Denmark, and the sur-
rounding throng for the first time suggested the
peoples of the Empire — Australians, Indians, Cana-
dians, and the conquerors of Southern Africa. These
two drawings were followed by others showing sweet
Princess Alice marrying the man of her choice, the
Sailor Prince gathering to himself the Rose of the
North, and the Soldier Duke bringing home his bride.
And not the least popular amongst them was that de-
sign which told the world how the Highland laddie
had assisted the Stuart lassie " to jump over the ring
fence," to the intense disgust of a not too well favoured
German band. But, whatever the subject, the motive
was the same — the picture showed the genuine joy
that the nation felt in the promise of domestic happi-
ness that each new union shadowed forth. It was the
delight of the nation more than a century ago that the



LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY. 71

King was a born Englishman. It is pleasing to think
that at the latest Royal wedding it could be said that
a born English Prince has married a bom English
Princess. The Duke and the Duchess can stay in
Britain until the end of the chapter and never find
themselves away from home. Such a reflection is not
without its value at the end of the century, when the
nation regards not entirely with approbation the
continual encroachment of foreign competition.

NUPTIAL PRESENTS.

But to return to the subject of the keeping of a wed-
ding holiday. The customary expressions of satisfac-
tion on such occasions take the form of presents and
illuminations. The list of the offerings to the Duke
and Duchess of York was instructive. Some of them
were of great intrinsic value, and others of a less
costly character. Lord Salisbury gave the Duke and
Duchess a complete set of his literary works, and I
think another offering consisted of a few bundles of
firewood. No doubt the will was taken for the deed
in every case, and the cost was absolutely outside the
region of consideration. Then there were any num-
ber of loyal addresses breathing a spirit of hearty
goodwill, and bearing the signatures of many worthy
and well-meaning individuals. I am glad to think that
these messages of peace were presented in person by



72 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.

their authors, but were bound together in a handsome
volume to be read hereafter. We have the authority of
The Times (confirmed by Mr. Henry Arthur Jones)
that " Cabinet Ministers are human — very human,"
and no doubt Royal Princes and Royal Princesses are
equally human. Accepting this theory, a betrothed
couple on the eve of their wedding had something
better to do than to listen to the pleasing platitudes
of the representatives of public bodies. Of course,
there were those who looked upon the presents as
superfluous, but presumably they were either sour old
bachelors or hypocrites. When young Brown leads to
the altar the lovely Miss Smith, a " friend of the
family " must be particularly ungenial and possibly
stingy who objects to sending a small cadeau iox the
good of the coming house. Many of us could say
that most of the charming objeis de virtu that adorn
our reception rooms would never have found their way
to their existing position had it not been for the kind
attention of our wedding guests. Who would buy the
clocks and the knick-knacks that are really so delight-
ful in the salon and the salle a manger in cold blood ?
John Leech years ago showed us the two wedding
gifts of a happy husband. On the first anniversary
of his marriage paterfamilias gave his wife a bouquet
and a bracelet, but a decade later the same gentleman
(now more a paterfamilias than ever) returned home
with a double perambulator and a large bundle of



LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY. 73

asparagus. So it seems ungracious to grudge all the
charming presents that the nation collectively and
individually present to the bride and bridegroom
when there is a wedding in the Royal Family. I
have noticed that on these auspicious occasions
a few fussy philanthropists invariably suggest the
benefaction of some deserving institution as an appro-
priate method of helping the young couple to com-
mence housekeeping. This seems to me to be rather
a roundabout way of honouring the bride and bride-
groom, and appears to deserve the title of " charity
away from home." Wedding presents, as a rule, are
more numerous than select, and happy are the newly-
married who do not find themselves possessors of
dozens of silver card-cases and grosses of carriage-
clocks. But in the instance of a Royal wedding, when
everybody tells everybody else what they are going
to send, a greater choice of objects becomes possible.

WEDDING DECORATIONS.

A glance at the streets on the occasion of a Royal
wedding shows that stars and capital letters in gas-
pipe are in high favour with those who wish to illu-
minate. More elaborate designs in crystal are also
received with approbation. The old " Vauxhall oil
lamps " of our forefathers seem to have lost their
popularity, although in the shape of " fairy lights "



74 LONDON AT END OF CENTURY.

they appear as the survival of the fittest. Nowadays,
at times of general rejoicing, there seems to be a
general desire for a house-to-house illumination. Per-
haps I may be permitted to suggest what I believe
to be rather a novel form of decoration. I tried the
system with some success during the Jubilee, and pro-
voked a feeling of envy amongst my neighbours. The
plan has only one slight drawback — if you are not
careful you may burn your house down, and possibly
then find that the illumination is not " covered " by
your policy of insurance. However, given scrupulous
attention to details and decent good luck, and you
should avoid all danger and expense and create quite
a sensation.

My idea is this. Convert your mansion into a re-
production of those miniature chalk cathedrals that
look so well when their windows are " cut out " and
filled in with coloured glass and the whole lighted up
with a candle. All you have to do is to get a large
quantity of tissue paper. Say you select pink and
blue. Having procured your materials, fill up the por-
tico with strips of the paper, and cover over every
pane of glass with the same semi-opaque medium.
Then put candles in profusion behind the paper, and
the thing is done. In special celebration of Her
Majesty's Jubilee I tried a transparency, but I cannot
conscientiously declare that it was wholly a success.
I got a very large box and covered it over with thick



LONDONERS HOLDING HOLIDAY. 75

brown paper. Then I " let in " the words " Long
Live the Queen." I put a moderator lamp behind
the covering. For five minutes it was absolutely
charming. But with the sixth minute the thing burst
into flames, and for some moments it was a question
whether or no we should invoke the assistance of the
Fire Brigade of the L.C.C. Fortunately, the confla-
gration " burned itself out " without doing any serious
damage, and as everybody was looking at the illumi-
nations, we escaped a visit of the gentlemen in occupa-
tion of the salvage vans. This was distinctly a score,
as " salvage " is always an expensive matter.



CONCLUSION.

In conclusion, the way to keep a wedding holiday
happily is to avoid dangerous crushes, oil lamps, and
boy assistants. If you want to be quite safe — if the
illumination is general— you can stay at home. You
may, under these circumstances, spend a cheerful even-


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Online LibraryArthur William À BeckettLondon at the end of the century : a book of gossip → online text (page 4 of 19)