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No. 5 John Street








First printed March i S99

Reprinted April 1899 {six times), May {twice)

June, July {twice)

Edinburgh : T. and A. Constable, Printers to Her Majesty






No. 5 John Street is a four-storied hovel in
the very heart of a slum which lies between two
of the finest thoroughfares of the West End. I
have come here, in this year of Diamond Jubilee,
to learn what it is to live on half-a-crown a day,
and to earn it. My scheme is not so high as a
pleasure, nor quite so mean as a fad.

This is how it came about.

Shortly before his death, my poor friend Lord

communicated to me a strange adventure

he had in the South Seas. In point of fact, the
secret did not become mine until, in a sense, it
was everybody's. Yet this did no disloyalty to
me as, usually, the sole sharer of his more inti-
mate thoughts. I learned from him his identity
with a person of quality whose memoir of travel,
The Island, had been prepared for the press by
another hand. Thus the public had no clue to
the real authorship, which was the very essence
of the secret.

It was a most uncommon experience. Per-
plexed with the shows of things around him, espe-
cially as seen from the standpoint of his rank and
position, my friend had receded ever further and
further from that standpoint, in the hope of get-


No. 5 John Street

ting human society into focus. He was the
victim of one of the most serious maladies of the
time, hereafter perhaps to be known as the im-
possibiHty of telHng what the deuce it all means.
It had first attacked him as he stood one day on
the steps of the Royal Exchange, and looked
down upon the amazing chequer-board of wealth
and poverty, abjectness and the pride of life,
at his feet. Ever receding from that scene in
terror, no less than in the hope of bringing it into
proportion, he had finally lost sight of it alto-
gether by backing to the other side of the world.
Here, a fortunate misadventure in an open boat
on the Pacific had landed him on a speck of coral
island in the waste of waters, which was scarcely
bigger than Kensington Gardens in a partnership
of superficial area with Hyde Park. It was in-
habited by a mixed race, Tahitian on the mother's
side, that knew nothing of the land of its fathers,
except by report of British greatness in the moral,
as in the material, domain. It was * run ' on prin-
ciples of almost primitive Christianity by a hand-
ful of men and women, who took some of their
exercise in feats of mountaineering among its
almost inaccessible peaks, and the rest in public
worship. It was governed by a rather ridiculous
old person of their own stamp, and administered
under a code of laws written in his pocket-book.
He was a fine specimen of hundreds of our coun-
trymen who live under the flag, more or less as
hermits, in waste places of the earth. In rare
cases, they form a population of one soul ; in all,


No. 5 John Street

no matter what the number of their associates,
they exhibit something of the majesty of the
Roman legionary astray among the Dacians of
the frontier. My friend sojourned with the
islanders for some time, and then left them, with
the conviction that in their simplicity, their inno-
cence, and their belief that the search after good-
ness was the true business of life, and con-
sequently the chief aim of British policy, he had
found his optical secret at last, and might hope to
o-et our own social scene into focus on his return.

He came back to London with the highest
hopes, but, alas ! they were cut short by his un-
timely death. I have always thought that this
event had a moral as well as a physical cause, and
that, to use the jargon of athletics, my friend had
overtrained his spirit for the race of life, and
grown stale. On this point, it only remains to
add in bare mention that the aged governor of
the island had a daughter, a beautiful creature,
with a mind like the crystal depths of her own
seas, and a shape, developed by sun, sea, air, and
daily feats of daring, which suggested a Venus of
Milo restored by the hand of God. But of the
more sacred subject of the dead man's relations
with her it does not become me to speak in detail.

As one of his executors, it fell to my lot to
examine his letters and papers. Among these I
found an earnest entreaty from the Governor that
my friend would consent to represent the little
community at the approaching Jubilee of the
Queen, The settlers had heard of that world-


No. 5 John Street

<Mie of the passir:? shies of
-^T tbat lock. ir. : : et: :'r.z':r

reoftheyear. Z:.tyzzi.:zz\:
:.: V" 2r.d! to •: : : ;~ t:''..-.^ :r.

:.c had sent
General for
::tr, written
-:. commis-

x-.z.r'Tx of what had


: :i : , _ _ - i^ ^ : ic^z^zr. t r. : and

e^-^ in

-' . - :-!.;.. My ofier wa.5 STt'rtted

-; -. of eratitude ir - e

:: ; . ' ' '"T of rt:- ". .

.: - ; : - .'-.'c. of the i^.^-_ ^:.d

:,: :..- - of Queen Victoria.

td to ^-^: -:y his Excellency's res'^t

- ot hifnT«M»lf figure in the cerer-

:5* premiers. H*; vras so a- -

- r: tut disapf : : " ^ ' : : ' i : : i^ ,

=" '^"^r'^ipt of :.t :^ ::' iy

_^ one. I V. ^ :: ; y ti

-: ir.y in my representative capa-


No. 5 John Street:

city : but to report on the laws, customs, insthn-
tions, and manners of the mother country, for the

edification of the islanders. Their aim was the
imitation of England : and my deceased firiend had
prepared me for the expression of their befi^diat
in this lay their royal road to the higher civilisa-
tion. As he o-ice observed. ' England is :>.e .-
great archetype of power. \fi:~ ..i ':-...:■ ::'
Ufe. Needless to say, they have r.:: ftr : -
mean^ of course, that c:r:.:~r:ir.:r .15 : _"i
them to their rock, A : .: : t .r i~ Jr:
comes from England, :::~ tr.e gre^: wa ~ :.
which they regard with a.-.: 5: the : ier of
Indians, down to the hi- :n in : r ::::i5re.

It is not much to know : but a gr-.r:: _5 i" ^ :.-
tion easily does the rest.'

It was, of course, a purely hrrji"- ircc'nt-
ment : but his Excellency ..i^. .. . : his

sign-manual, that anything ir. :he r.2r_re : . ~-^-
mate expenses, within the limits ::' 2 : r. . : :-
ling (twenty shillings V - :: • . f .::-: :o

me by a consigr.r.r".: :. the if .. 7 : • of


I was at first received wi:'r f:~v ~ ?^I\-:ng
a: :'r.r Colonial Omce. owing re : r : .: .. ; in
finding the ? :;: : : ::' : v / ^ -: ::ng to
the iniirs :: :~.r > iri One :: : : ; ; .. ?
cheered me with the ;.5 5.::ar-jr : ;.: : r;..; . /.
of the place, though he v- :,,'.
self to anv mo: : - : : : - ; r^ : : :
as to whether it was n:: .. ^ :eh

the ocean, leased to a S : ;


. v_s.

No. 5 John Street

tion of guano, showed that he really had but little
information to impart. I therefore declined his
obliging offer to look for it in the receipts under
the name of MacTavish. At length he confessed
that the clerk in charge of the smaller possessions
was absent on sick-leave, and that there was little
to be done until his return. I awaited this gentle-
man's recovery only to learn that another clerk,
who really did know something about it, had
been all the while on the premises, in a back
room. This one, at our first interview, unrolled
a map on the wall and unhesitatingly directed a
swooping forefinger to the settlement without the
aid of a magnifying glass. Thanks to his good
offices, I finally obtained the promise of facilities
for the presentation of the address. As to the
rest, the Imperial Government met me in an
exceedingly liberal spirit with the offer of a seat
on the western line of the procession at trade

I was still some time in advance of Jubilee
Day ; and having nothing in the world to do, I
thought I could not better employ the time than
in preparing the Report on Manners and Customs
at once. The account of the festival could then
be added, and the thing would be done. For
the manners and customs of my own order I
could easily answer without preparation. But
what was I to do about the others ? A sense of
responsibility to my commission showed me
that I ought to tell the islanders something of
the life of that section which has been so happily


No. 5 John Street

described as ' the other half.' But, alas ! I was as
ignorant of it as my employers themselves.

In a sort of wild rush for light, I procured an
invitation to a conference at the Mansion House
on the social question ; but, I am bound to say,
not with the expected results. We were a
hundred and fifty or so in the room, all talking
about the poor man. The Charity Organisation
Society was in attendance ; a bishop was on the
platform ; a colonial governor was on his legs ;
many meek and saintly women were scattered
about, with some who had, evidently, taken the
meeting between two afternoon calls. We talked
about the poor man. Oh ! how we talked about
him ! And though he was not there, we talked
at him, too, by mere force of habit. Some were
for doing useful things with him in the colonies ;
others for keeping him at home in labour settle-
ments and under lock and key. Others, again,
had a scheme by which, with strict frugality,
temperance, and self-denial, he might save just
;^4, 13s. yd. a year — a sum that, in twenty years
or so, might yield enough to supply him with
an annuity of /^g, 5s. od. for his old age. We
talked till there was barely time to run home and
dress for dinner. Then, with a hasty vote of
thanks to the chairman, we poured out into the
street, where the carriages were drawn up in

As I bounded along in a hansom, it struck me,
in the flash of a happy thought, that I, for one,
had talked and heard talk enough, and that it


No. 5 John Street

was time to go and see. I don't believe you
can address yourself to these problems from
the standpoint of ;^ 10,000 a year. The box
at the opera, the shooting, and the places of
settlement in three counties obscure the view.
I thought I should like to come a little nearer
to realities : 1 knew I was tired of reports.



In a week from that time I was in residence in
1 third tioor back in the slum.

I had been invited to join a University-
settlement at the East End. I went down
to look at it, but it proved to be a mere peep-
hole into the life I wanted to see, with the Peep-
ing Tom still a little too much on the safe side.
The inmate did not live the life. He observed
it merely from the standpoint of all the comforts
of home. And if he sometimes plunged into the
waters of tribulation, it was only in corks.

Now the essence of my plan was that I should,
for a certain time of probation, get my own living
with my own hands. I not only wished to report
with knowledge, but I was most eager to see
what I was worth in the market. I, therefore,
put myself under heavy bonds to Honour to
find a job, and to make it keep me — say for six
weeks. During that period, no matter what
the hardship, or what the temptation, I would
make my own earnings serve, and would school
myself to the same compulsory indifference to my
supports as a Black Prince at Cressy. After all,
it was a great saving of time as compared with
the earlier methods. The full term of the old


No. 5 John Street

Egyptian pilgrimage of the soul through the
lower world was three thousand years. Could
we have a more striking example of the improve-
ments in rapidity of transit which are the glory
of the age ? It was a freak if you like ; but so is
duck-shooting on the Caspian, in which sport I
was supposed to be engaged, by way of account-
ing for my absence from town at the opening of
the season. It was given out that I had crossed
Europe and a part of Asia to slay wild-fowl. No
one, I knew, would laugh at that, whereas every
one would have laughed at the Quixotism of my
real enterprise. Yet this was not Quixotic at
all ; it was prompted by a deep sense of duty
to my employers, as Agent-General of a colony.
To know what life at half-a-crown a day is like,
one ought to have nothing but the half-crown.
This was impossible in its full perfection, in my
case, but I felt that with a little self-control and
management it would be quite easy to have no
more for a time. A poor rich fellow, sure of his
election to the Heaven of Piccadilly in six weeks,
could but do his best. One thing was clear: if I
played my play honestly, I should obtain some
material for the Report, while a whole lifetime of
meetings at the Mansion House could give me
none. After my probation, I might hope to rise
to great things at that institution, perhaps to a
seat by the chair. Meanwhile, the motto was
fair play and the rigour of the game.

I therefore found a situation in a factory as
copyist and minor clerk. The place was less


No. 5 John Street

than a mile from my customary haunts, as the
crow flies ; yet, in the reckoning of Hfe and habits
and ways of thouo^ht, it was as remote from them
as Africa. It was but an odd job, with no hope
of a permanency. They were looking forward
to a temporary pressure of work, and were taking
on a few extra hands. I was to copy things out
of a book, or into a book, I hardly knew which,
and I did not care, so long as it meant eighteen
shillings a week, which sum, being divided by
seven, will, I think, be found to yield a trifle
over the half-crown for each day. So, on one
particularly fine morning, my faithful man Stubbs
being alone in the secret, I walked out of my
rooms in St. James's, with little more than the
old suit I stood upright in, and went straight to
a third floor back at No. 5 John Street. ' Ring
three times, please, and sing out " Chawley" at
the foot of the stairs.'

I was brought there by a good fellow whom I
met at the factory, a labourer, and, like myself,
an odd hand. He had a close crop of light
hair, and this, somehow, added to the promise
of strength in his chest and arms, in his small
round head, and in what I should call his fight-
ing face. There was good humour withal in
the twinkling eyes.

As I left the ofiice on the understanding of
my engagement for the following week, my first
care, of course, was to find a lodging. Just then
my eye fell on this pocket Hercules, who was in
close conflict with a heavy bale of goods, and I


No. 5 John Street

ventured to submit the difficulty to his friendly

Our alphabet, I regret to say, is not rich
enough for the notation of his Cockney dialect.
This is no more to be written phonetically than
a foreign tongue. I can but indicate his speech
system from time to time by a stray word,
which, if there is anything in the theory of the
correspondence between sounds and colours,
should have the effect of a stain of London mud.
It is as much as I can promise, and, as I hope,
my reader will endure. Yet, as I afterwards
learned, he had been educated by his country at
a public school. The poor fellow had become
an out-patient of that institution, with this sort
of congenital nasty taste in his mouth, and he
had been discharged without a cure.

'Wait for me at the cawnah to-night,' he said,
' when we knocks awf.'

' What rent kin yer affawd .'* ' was his first
question, when we resumed the conference, as
by appointment.

' Three shillings a week at the outside.'

' 'Ave yer got any sticks ? '

I was in no doubt as to his meaning. There is
a cheering approach to the union of classes in the
way in which the extremes of society sometimes
meet in their abuse of the mother tongue.

* None,' I replied, 'but I want to buy some.'

* Well, there 's a Model near where I lives, if
yer care for that sort o' thing.'

* Where do you live ? '


No. 5 John Street

• John Street.'
'Show me.'

* I could drink a pint fust,' he said.

It was his modest fee for agency, and I readily
gave it to him. We had to enter a gin palace for
the purpose. The fittings were superb; the smell
was not in keeping. He blew off the froth, drank,
and offered the pewter to me. I knew of this
custom, of course, for I had seen the ostlers
drink a thousand times, yet it sickened me some-
what in my new quality of partaker. What of
that ! The important thing was I had found a

'There's the Model,' he said, as we pursued
our way and passed a vast, towering packing-
case for humanity, pierced for miasmatic air and
uncertain light. ' Some likes 'em. I don't.
That 's my drum two doors beyond.'

His drum was better to look at. The whole
thoroughfare evidently had once been a haunt of
Jacobean fashion. This house was one of the
few left of the first foundation. It was three
floors high, had three windows to a floor, and
the promise of large front rooms. Externally it
was in a state of indescribable dirt, squalor, and
decay. The other houses, some of which were
more modern, but less substantial, matched it in
this respect. So did the model dwelling as to the
outer filth. I should greatly have preferred a
cleaner street, but my inexperience was altogether
against me. I knew nothing of management nor
of ways and means. Besides, I seemed to yearn


No. 5 John Street

for a neighbour. There was a back room vacant
at No. 5 on the same uppermost landing as my
friend's. I took it. It was soon furnished, with
his good help.

On this Saturday afternoon I have moved in.
On Monday I go to work. Letters and messages
from what is now my outer world are to reach
me through Stubbs, who, as I have said, is the
sole depositary of my secret. He is supposed to
put them in train for Central Asia ; he sends them
to John Street. It will be remembered that the
only difference in the effective distance is in point
of time.

The Report will, of course, demand special
treatment ; but, as I go on, I may as well make
a few rough notes of general experience by way
of feeling my own pulse, I have always admired
that man of science who carefully recorded his
progress in suffocation when he hoped he was
going to perish in a mine. These jottings may
be useful one day to the same kindly hand that put
my poor friend's papers into shape for the press.



And now to business. I go to work on Monday
morning, first thing. In at seven means up at
six. It shall be so, but how make sure of waking
in time ? My friendly guide is taken into con-
sultation. There is, it seems, a professional caller-
up in the building, who raps at doors at appointed
hours in the early morning or in the dead of
night, at a penny a rap, paid in advance. I enter
my name on his books.

My Budget! Next Saturday is pay-day — a
long perspective of a whole week. How much
have I in hand to stead me between this and
then? Just one pound two — a trifle more then
than the week's pay. In luck again! My friend,
I can see, thinks that 'for them as can stand'
steady labour, the regular eighteen shillings a
week is affluence. It is the * always there when
you want it' style of the thing, he says, that
tickles him. This friend, by the way, one must
learn to know by a name. I make the necessary
approaches. 'Call me "The Cove,"' he says ;
' that 's what they calls me abaht here. " Covey "
is the way some on 'em puts it when they 're pals.
That '11 do for me, if it '11 do for you. I 'm
"Covey" with the gal downstairs — "Low Covey"
B 17

No. 5 John Street

when she's wild; it's all the syme.' We fix it
then at 'Covey,' with the mental reservation
on my part that it may at any moment be
shortened to ' Cove ' if we have words. At the
same time, ' Low Covey ' seems best to serve
the uses of reference.

To the Budget, then. Rent, 2s. 6d. a week ;
coal and candle, 6d. — conjecturally, I admit, but
it must be so at first ; washing and attendance,
2s. od. I have some difficulty with Low Covey
over this item, and he passes it with reluctance.
He does his own washino- — when it is done.
The ' attendance ' he positively cannot under-
stand. He makes his own bed ' reg'lar every
Saturday,' and what else is there to do? I
explain that one must draw the line somewhere.
He says that he begins to fancy I must be a
sort of ' toff.' He yields finally to the joy of
dispensing patronage, and introduces me to a
weather-beaten woman in the front parlour who
will be glad of the money. She is to come in
every day and tidy up ; and, as she phrases it,
wash me by the week, for the sum named.
There is a secret clause in the treaty as to the
amount of washing, and I may have to come
to dickeys in my old age. The food I set
down at is. 6d. a day for six days of the week,
and 6d. on the seventh — in this instance Saturday.
It is, as Low Covey explains, a sort of compen-
satory, or dog-watch day.

* You mike do,' he says, ' and then you get your
tuck-in, Sundays. Lord, give me a reg'lar six-


No. 5 John Street

pence every day for grub, and I warrant I 'd
never starve.'

' How should you manage it, then ? '

' Cawfee and slice in the mornin' — three ha'-
pence. Dinner, two penn'orth o' block ornymint
and a penn'orth o' bread.'

Block ornaments, on explanation, turn out to
be the absolutely indefinable remnants of meat
offered in a miscellaneous heap at the common
butchers' shops. I do not like the idea of block
ornaments, and I will none of them. There is
another plan much more scientific. I was once
taught at a lecture that, with lentils, the ' red
pottage ' of Esau, an able-bodied man may live
in abundance on forty shillings a year. Some say
five shillingfs' worth will serve for the whole twelve-
month ; but the higher figure covers emergencies,
and, besides, admits of hospitality. There is
everything in lentils, especially, I believe, in the
variety known as 'splits' — nitrogenous albu-
minoids, starch, and digestible fibre galore, with
but an infinitesimal residue of indigestible ash.
It is to be lentil soup, then, for the dog-watch
day, with at least twopence saved on the estimate.
How difficulties vanish when you tackle them !
And what an historical solution is this — ancient
Egypt and modern Babylon both nourished in
the same way!

My miscellaneous expenditure — the little no-
things — I fix at IS. 6d. a week. This provides
the match, the bundle of wood, the bit of soap,
the evening paper, the omnibus, and even for


No. 5 John Street

the 'deserving object of charity.' We have still
about IS. 6d. left for revelry at the week's end.
The ' 'arf-pint ' of friendship with Low Covey,
the occasional Saturday night's music-hall, as a
compensation for Saturday morning's beans, with
all else needful in the light of life, will come out
of this.

The wages are spent. Yet what about clothes."*
Were it not for the time-limit of the adventure,
there would be nothing for it, in the long-run, but
aprons of autumn leaves. And what for sickness
and old age in the same case ? Query — cut out
the whole allowance for pleasure ? Impossible,
I think. Low Covey is for trusting to luck.
' Coats come somehow. I 've never bin without
one, and never thought 'ow I was to git one, all
my days. You worry too much, guv'nor. Put a

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