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be driven to practise what it refuses to prevent, and thus test the
laws of the country by the _reductio ad absurdum_.

It is difficult to estimate the misery inflicted upon thousands of
persons, and the absolute pecuniary penalty imposed upon multitudes
of intellectual workers by the loss of their time, destroyed by
organ-grinders and other similar nuisances.

I have witnessed much and suffered more; many {343} communications
on the subject have reached me, and I fear that I may appear to have
neglected several of them. I hope, however, that the great sacrifice
of my own time, which has been forced upon me in order to secure the
remainder, may be accepted as my excuse. I will now mention some few of
the results.

Even policemen have frequently told me that organs are a great nuisance
to them personally. A large number of the police are constantly on
night duty, and of course these can only get their sleep during the
day. On such occasions their rest is constantly broken by the nuisance
of street music.

A lady, the wife of an officer on half-pay, writes to me, stating
her own sad case. Her husband, suffering under a painfully nervous
affection, is brought up to London for the benefit of medical advice.
Under these circumstances a sensible improvement takes place, but it
requires time and constant attention to advance the cure. In order to
profit by the eminent skill which London supplies, the lady and her
husband, at considerable sacrifice, take a very small house in a very
quiet little square. Unfortunately, the organ-grinders had possession
of it, and no entreaties would banish them. The irritation produced on
the invalid was frightful, and I feel it some relief not to have known
its almost inevitable termination.

Various accidents occur as the consequence of street music. It
occasionally happens that horses are frightened, and perhaps their
riders thrown; that carriages are run away with, and their occupiers
dreadfully alarmed and possibly even bruised.

The following casualties were reported, about three years ago, in most
of the daily newspapers:—

afternoon, shortly after four o’clock, a German band, whilst {344}
performing in the Old St. Pancras Road, was the cause of a most
dreadful accident. At the time mentioned, the band referred to was
playing at the corner of Aldenham Terrace, when a man named Charles
Field was driving one of Atcherley’s (the horse-slaughterer’s) carts
down Aldenham Street. At the end of Aldenham Street there is a
great declivity into the St. Pancras Road, and just as the cart was
turning it, laden with a dead horse, the big drum was beaten with
extraordinary violence. A cart was standing on the opposite side
of the road, to avoid which a short turn on the part of the driver
of Atcherley’s cart was necessary. The sudden beating of the drum
caused the horse to take fright, and the driver being pitched head
foremost from his seat, caused him to lose control over the animal
he was driving, which dashed in amongst the children and others who
were standing in the road listening to the music, knocking them down
right and left. When the consternation created by the occurrence had
subsided, no less than six poor children were found lying on the
ground in a helpless condition, the vehicle having passed over some
part of their persons. They were conveyed as fast as possible into the
adjacent surgery of Dr. Sutherin, of 28, Aldenham Terrace, who, with
his assistant, promptly attended upon them.

“William Hill, aged nine years, of 34, Stanmore Street, who had
sustained fractured ribs and other injuries; and

“Charles Harwood, aged eleven years, of 4, Clarendon Square, with
fracture of the left arm and groin, as well as right leg, caused by
the vehicle passing over them, were removed, by direction of Dr.
Sutherin, to University College Hospital.

“The other sufferers are Robert Thwaites, of 2, St. Pancras Square,
aged seven years, injury to leg and one of his feet;

“James Gunn, 34, Stanmore Street, crushed toes;

“William Young, 8, Percy Terrace, aged six years, contusion to head
and face; and

“A child, name unknown, considerably injured.

“The persons who witnessed the occurrence do not attribute any blame
to the driver; but as soon as it took place the German band were off
with as little delay as possible.”—_Daily Telegraph, Oct. 3, 1861._

If this sad accident had fortunately happened in Belgravia, there can
be little doubt that the law would have been altered, in order to
prevent the recurrence of such frightful misery.

No attempt, however, has yet been made to remove the cause; and I have
myself more recently seen a German brass band playing in a very narrow,
crowded street, close to the {345} Bank of England, at three o’clock
in the afternoon, making it difficult to pass, as well as dangerous to
one’s pocket.

On another occasion, at two o’clock, a German band was playing in
Piccadilly, at that crowded part, the Circus. In both instances the
police were looking on, and seemed to enjoy the music they were not
directed to stop.

I have obtained, in my _own_ country, an unenviable celebrity, not by
anything I have done, but simply by a determined resistance to the
tyranny of the lowest mob, whose love, not of music, but of the most
discordant noises, is so great that it insists upon enjoying it at all
hours and in every street. It may therefore be expected that I should
in this volume state at least the outline of my own case.

I claim no merit for this resistance; although I am quite aware that
I am fighting the battle of every one of my countrymen who gains
his subsistence by his intellectual labour. The simple reason for
the course I have taken is, that however disagreeable it has been,
it would have been still more painful to have given up a great and
cherished object, already fully within my reach. I have been compelled
individually to resist this tyranny of the lowest mob, because the
Government itself is notoriously afraid to face it.

On a careful retrospect of the last dozen years of my life, I have
arrived at the conclusion that I speak within limit when I state that
one-fourth part of my working power has been destroyed by the nuisance
against which I have protested. Twenty-five per cent. is rather too
large an additional income-tax upon the brain of the intellectual
workers of this country, to be levied by permission of the Government,
and squandered upon its most worthless classes.

The effect of a _uniform_ and _continuous_ sound, in distracting the
attention or in disturbing intellectual pursuits, is almost {346}
insensible. Those who reside near a waterfall—even Niagara—have their
organs soon seasoned and adapted to its monotony. It is the _change_
from quietness to noise, or from one kind of noise to another, which
instantly distracts the attention. It would be equally distracted by
the reverse—by the sudden change from the hum of the busy world to the
stillness of the desert.

The injurious effect of noisy interruptions upon our attention also
varies with the nature of the investigations upon which we are engaged.
If they are of a kind requiring but a very small amount of intellectual
effort, as, for instance, the routine of a public office, they will
be little felt. If, on the other hand, those subjects are of such a
character as to require the highest efforts of the thinker, then their
examination is interrupted by the slightest change in the surrounding

When the work to be done is proportioned to the powers of the mind
engaged upon it, the painful effect of interruption is felt as deeply
by the least intellectual as by the most highly gifted. The condition
which determines the maximum of interruption is,—that the mind
disturbed, however moderate its powers, shall be working up to its full

Finding, many years ago, the increasing interruption of my pursuits
from street music, as it is now tolerated, I determined to endeavour to
get rid of it by putting in force our imperfect law, as far it goes. I
soon found how very imperfect it is.

The first step is to require the performer to desist, and to assign
illness or other sufficient reason for the request. If a female
servant is sent on this mission it is quite useless. The organ-player
is scarcely ever acquainted with more than four or five words of our
language: but these always the most {347} vulgar, the most offensive,
and the most insulting. If a manservant is sent, the Italians are
often very insolent, and constantly refuse to depart. But there are
multitudes of sufferers who are ill and are in lodgings, and have no
servant to send. Besides, the servants must occasionally be absent,
being sent by their employers on their various duties.

The principle on which I proposed to act is, whenever it can be fully
carried out, usually very effective. It was simply this—to make it more
unprofitable to the offender to do the wrong than the right.

Whenever, therefore, an itinerant musician disturbed me, I immediately
sent out, or went out myself, to warn him away. At first this was not
successful; but after summoning and convicting a few, they found out
that their precious time was wasted, and most of them deserted the
immediate neighbourhood. This would have succeeded had the offenders
been few in number; but their name is legion: upwards of a thousand
being constantly in London, besides those on their circuit in the

It was not, however, the interest of those who deserted my station
to inform their countrymen of its barrenness; consequently, the
freshly-imported had each to gain his own experience at the expense
of his own and of my time. Perhaps I might have succeeded at last in
banishing the Italian nuisance from the neighbourhood of my residence;
but various other native professors of the art of tormenting with
discords increased as the licence of these Italian itinerants was
encouraged. Another event, however, occurred, which added much more
seriously to my difficulty.

Many years before I had purchased a house in a very quiet locality,
with an extensive plot of ground, on part of which I had erected
workshops and offices, in which I might carry {348} on the experiments
and make the drawings necessary for the construction of the Analytical
Engine. Several years ago the quiet street in which I resided was
invaded by a hackney-coach stand. I, in common with most of the
inhabitants, remonstrated and protested against this invasion of
our comfort and this destruction of the value of our property. Our
remonstrance was ineffectual: the hackney-coach stand was established.

The immediate consequence was obvious. The most respectable tradesmen,
with some of whom I had dealt for five-and-twenty years, saw the ruin
which was approaching, and, wisely making a first sacrifice, at once
left their deteriorated property as soon as they could find for it a
purchaser. The neighbourhood became changed: coffee-shops, beer-shops,
and lodging-houses filled the adjacent small streets. The character of
the new population may be inferred from the taste they exhibit for the
noisiest and most discordant music.

I have looked in vain for any public advantage to justify this heavy
injury to private property. It will scarcely be believed that another
hackney-coach stand actually exists within two hundred yards,[50]
namely, that in Paddington Street, which has a very large space
unoccupied by any houses on either side of the street, and which had
frequently cabs on it plying for hire during the whole night.

[50] The distance of the most eastern cab on the stand in Dorset
Street from the spot in Paddington Street, on which cabs might
stand without being opposite any houses, is in reality less than
140 yards. I am not aware of any two cab-stands placed so near
each other as those in question.

In endeavouring to put in force the existing law, imperfect as it is,
I have met with sundry small inconveniences which a Cabinet Minister
might perhaps think trivial, but which, in a slight degree, try the
temper even of a philosopher. {349}

Some of my neighbours have derived great pleasure from inviting
musicians, of various tastes and countries, to play before my windows,
probably with the pacific view of ascertaining whether there are
not some kinds of instruments which we might both approve. This has
repeatedly failed, even with the accompaniment of the human voice
divine, from the lips of little shoeless children, urged on by their
ragged parents to join in a chorus rather disrespectful to their
philosophic neighbour.

The enthusiasm of the performer, excited by such applause, has
occasionally permitted him to dwell too long upon the already forbidden
notes, and I have been obliged to find a policeman to ascertain the
residence of the offender. In the meantime the crowd of young children,
urged on by their parents, and backed at a judicious distance by a set
of vagabonds, forms quite a noisy mob, following me as I pass along,
and shouting out rather uncomplimentary epithets. When I turn round
and survey my illustrious tail, it stops; if I move towards it, it
recedes: the elder branches are then quiet—sometimes they even retire,
wishing perhaps to avoid my future recognition. The instant I turn,
the shouting and the abuse are resumed, and the mob again follow at a
respectful distance. The usual result is that the deluded musicians
find themselves left in the lurch at the police-court by their
enthusiastic encouragers, and have to pay a heavier fine for having
contributed to collect this unruly and ungenerous mob.

Such occurrences have unfortunately been by no means rare. In one case
there were certainly above a hundred persons, consisting of men, women,
and boys, with multitudes of young children, who followed me through
the streets before I could find a policeman. To such an extent has this
{350} annoyance of shouting out my name, without or with insulting
epithets, been carried, that I can truly affirm, unless I am detained
at home by illness, no week ever passes without many instances of it.

The police tell me that the children, “who are put up to the trick
by their parents,” belong chiefly to several ragged-schools in my
neighbourhood. I have myself repeatedly traced numbers of them into the
Portman Chapel School, in East Street. In one instance I went into that
school and made a formal complaint to the teacher, who expressed great
regret for it, and requested me, if I could see any of the offenders,
to point them out; but amongst the number of children then present I
was unable to identify the offenders.

The insults arising from boys, set on by their parents, and from other
older, and therefore less pardonable offenders, shouting out my name
under my windows, or as I pass along the streets, and even in the
middle of the night, are of almost constant occurrence. Of course, I
always appear to take no notice of such circumstances. Only a few days
ago, whilst I was engaged upon the present chapter, I had occasion to
pass down Manchester Street: when I was about half way down, I heard
from that end of the street I had left, loud and repeated cries of
“Stop thief.” I naturally turned round, when I saw two young fellows at
the corner, who repeated the cry twice, as loudly as they could, and
then ran, as hard as they were able, round the corner out of my sight.
There could be no mistake that this was intended to annoy me, because
it happened at a time when there was no person except myself in the
upper part of the street.

Another source of annoyance, fortunately only of a very limited amount,
arises from a perverse disposition of some of my neighbours, who, in
two or three instances, have gone to {351} the expense of purchasing
worn-out or damaged wind instruments, which they are incapable of
playing, but on which they produced a discordant noise for the purpose
of annoying me. One of these appearing at the police-court as a
witness for an organ-grinder, was questioned by the magistrate, and
informed that he would render himself liable to an indictment by the
continuance of such conduct. Another foolish young fellow purchased
a wind instrument with a hole in it, with which he made discordant
noises purposely to annoy me. Travelling in a third-class carriage to
Deptford, he described, with great zest to the person sitting opposite
to him, the instrument, its price, and the use he made of it. The
listener to this confidence was one of the best of my own draughtsmen,
who was quite as much disturbed by the street music as myself. The
police were made acquainted with the fact, and I believe still have,
from time to time, their eyes upon the young vagabond.

Another wilful disturber of my quiet, was a workman inhabiting an
attic in a street which overlooked my garden. When he returned daily
to his dinner, this fellow, possessing a penny tin whistle, opened
his window, and leaning out of it, blew his shrill instrument in the
direction of my garden for about half-an-hour. I simply noted the
fact in a memorandum book, and then employed the time he thought he
was destroying, in taking my daily exercise, or in any other outdoor
mission my pursuits required. After a perseverance in this course
during many months, he discontinued the annoyance, but for what reason
I never knew.

At an early period when I was putting the law in force, as far as I
could, for the prevention of this destruction of my time, I received
constantly anonymous letters, advising, and even threatening me with
all sorts of evils, such as {352} destruction of my property, burning
my house, injury to myself. I was very often addressed in the streets
with similar threats. On one occasion, when I was returning home from
an affair with a mob whom the police had just dispersed, I met, close
to my own door, a man, who, addressing me, said, “You deserve to have
your house burnt, and yourself in it, and I will do it for you, you old
villain.” I asked him if he had any objection to give me his address.
Of course he refused. I then followed him at a short distance, looking
out for a policeman. Whenever he saw one at a distance he turned
rapidly up the next street; this chase continued above half-an-hour;
he was then joined by a companion, an ill-looking fellow. They still
continued to turn off into another street whenever a constable became
visible in the distance. At last we saw a great crowd, into which they
both rushed, and further pursuit became impossible.

I will not describe the smaller evils of dead cats, and other offensive
materials, thrown down my area; of windows from time to time purposely
broken, or from occasional blows from stones projected by unseen hands.

The last annoyance I shall mention, occurred in the month of December
of the past year. I had been suffering considerably from ill-health,
and it became necessary that I should undergo a painful surgical
operation. Late in the night of that day, I got into a refreshing
sleep, when at one o’clock in the morning I was suddenly awakened by
the crash of a brass band, which continued playing whilst I was unable
to move, and was compelled passively to submit to the tormentors.

By a most singular accident, many weeks after, I became possessed of
evidence, that the musicians held a consultation in Manchester Square
about going to the top of the street to wake me up. I am glad, however,
to add, for the credit of {353} human nature, that _one_ of the party
advised them not to do it, and that he himself immediately left them.

It has been found, upon undoubted authority, by returns from benefit
societies, that in London, about 4·72 persons per cent. are constantly
ill. This approximation may be fairly assumed as the nearest yet
attained for the population of London. It follows, therefore, that
about forty-seven out of every thousand inhabitants are always ill.
The number of persons per house varies in different parts. In my own
district it averages ten to each house; in a neighbouring district the
average is thirteen per house.

In Manchester Street, which faces my own residence, there are fifty-six
houses. This, allowing the above average of ill-health, will show
that about twenty-six persons are usually ill in that street. Now the
annoyance from street music is by no means confined to the performers
in the street in which a house is situated. In my own case, there
are portions of five other streets in which street music constantly
interrupts me in my pursuits. If the portions of these five streets are
considered to be only equal in population to that of Manchester Street,
it will appear that upwards of fifty people who are ill, are constantly
disturbed by the same noises which so frequently interrupt my own

The misery inflicted upon those who are really ill is far greater than
that which arises from the mere destruction of time, however valuable.
A friend of mine, himself an excellent magistrate, suffering under a
severe and fatal complaint, was almost driven to distraction during the
last six months of his painful existence, by the constant occurrence of
the organ nuisance, which he was entirely unable to stop.

I have at times made attempts to register the number of such
interruptions in my pursuits; but these have been very {354} partial
and imperfect. I find by some notes, that during about eighty days,
I registered one hundred and sixty-five instances, the greater part
of which I went out myself to put a stop to the nuisance. In several
of these cases my whole day’s work was destroyed, for they frequently
occurred at times when I was giving instruction to my workmen relative
to some of the most difficult parts of the Analytical Engine.

At one period after I had succeeded in getting two or three
convictions, some of my neighbours put themselves to the expense of
having large placards printed, in which they abused me for having put
the law in force against the destroyers of my time. These placards
they stuck up in the windows of their little shops, at intervals from
Edgware Road to Tottenham Court Road. Some of them attempted verse and
thought it poetry; though the only part really imaginative was their
prose statements.

Unfortunately for my comfort, a few years ago, Mr. X——, one of the
magistrates of Marylebone Office, was succeeded by Mr. Y——. Now
the taste of the new magistrate, like that of his predecessor, was
favourable to the Italian organ: his predecessor might, however, have
been excused, as he was deaf. Possibly Mr. Y—— thinks that all Italian
music is high art, and therefore ought to be encouraged.

I soon discovered that it was useless to bring any musical offender
before him, and I had for some time to endure the most intolerable
interruption of my pursuits.

Upon one occasion, when I had summoned an organ-grinder before him, his
decision was, in my opinion, so unsatisfactory, that I determined to
address to the Home Secretary a remonstrance against it.

The case was heard by Mr. Y—— about the middle of July. My letter to
Sir George Grey, accompanied by a series {355} of the placards, was
sent to the Home Office about the middle of August. I waited patiently
for a reply, but, receiving none, I took it for granted that my letter
could not have reached the Home Secretary. At last, on the 17th of
December, I wrote to his private secretary, in order to ascertain
the fact: the reply to my note was—the simple admission that _the
letter had been received_. I confess that this event baffled all my
calculations. I had observed that high officials, distinguished by
their intellectual powers, were occasionally oblivious upon minor
points; but that high officials distinguished only by the office they
held were usually most rigidly courteous and exact.

After this I abstained for a long time from bringing any case before
Mr. Y——. At last a case occurred, which it appeared to me could not be
resisted. I brought it before that magistrate; it was heard, and the
charge was dismissed. Believing the decision to be erroneous in law,
I consulted a solicitor who had much experience in the Metropolitan
Police Courts, with the view of getting the opinion of the Court of
Queen’s Bench upon the subject.

My legal adviser had no doubt that the decision would be favourable,
but urged upon me the great expense, and advised me not to proceed. On
inquiry as to the probable amount, he suggested that it might reach

Online LibraryCharles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher → online text (page 25 of 36)