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First it seems to dispose for ever of the lie that
the best way to make a man work is to let him
starve. The shorter my commons, the longer my
loafing rests. Having lost hope of the issue, in
my first eager perambulation of the streets for
a living, I now wander them agape. I am
debauched into vagabondage, and I soon cease to
look for a job. The awful moral loneliness of the
life takes ' the heart of a man ' out of me. Self-
respect, I find, is still but the eclecticism of the


No. 5 John Street

respect of others. With no friendly eye on him,
the runner will lose his race. It is so plain that
nobody in all multitudinous London cares whether
I get work, or fail to get it, that I soon cease to
care on my own account. My chief concern is how
to glide through the day with the smallest possible
expenditure of toil, either of body or of mind.

It is easier, on the whole, to go hungry and
dirty — for I soon find that washing is but one of
the energies of hope — than to fret. So my nimble
step declines into a stroll, and the probation has
only to last long enough to make the stroll decline
into a slouch. I watch the passers-by for the fun
of the thing, since I have no longer any motive
of profit. I watch, and scratch, and munch my
fitful provender, and am passably content when it
chances to be a fine day. Aversion from the most
necessary labours grows on me like an untended
disease. When the bench is dusty, I leave it so
rather than lift a hand. I see the crowds pass,
and wonder what makes them so idly busy, I
am of the humour of Marcus, only I have come
down to it instead of working up. ' Soon, very
soon, thou wilt be ashes, or a skeleton, and
either a name, or not even a name. But name is
sound and echo, and the things which are much
valued in life are empty, and rotten, and trifling,
and like little dogs that bite one another, or little
children who wrangle, laugh, and weep. ... In
this flowing stream, then, on which there is no
abiding, what is there, of all that hurries by, on
which a man should set a high price .** '


No. 5 John Street

The Loafing Philosopher, I am convinced, is
of the same high mind as the Stoic, if he cannot
always put it in the same way. I tried one of
our Fellowship on the news of the day, as we
both lay sunning ourselves in Hyde Park. Our
country was engaged in two little wars ; all
Europe seemed to be preparing for a big one.
Sensational murders were not wanting to our
national home circle. There was a most appetis-
ing case of divorce. He said nothing, but he
growled indifference to the topics, as I broached
them one by one. I thought, as I am full sure
he thought, in his own fashion : * Asia and
Europe are corners of the universe ; all the
sea, a drop in the universe ; Athos, a little clod
of the universe. All the present time is a point
in eternity. All things are little, changeable,
perishable.' But he was too much a man of the
world to insist.

Naturally, I derive much comfort from statistics.
I know that only a few thousands in our little
township are so hard up for a meal as myself,
and that I am still one of a sort of aristocracy
whose luxury is one man, one room. Things
are not so bad after all. Over a hundred
thousand have to herd two in a room ; nearly
ninety thousand live three in the box ; nay,
they are still in thousands as they pig in seven
to the four square walls. I don't know the
number of hundreds of thousands who can afford
but two meals a day. I daresay it is not high.
The half-mealers, who always leave off with a


No. 5 John Street

hungry belly, I cannot pretend to reckon. I
only know I am of their number.

The curious point is that the few persons in
John Street who swell the statistical average of
the lucky grades are ever within one stage of my
present state. Their pasture land is the very
cutting edge of the famous margin of subsistence,
whether they earn wages of labour, or wages of
sin. A week's loss of work — almost a day's —
in hopeless industry, theft, or prostitution, will
bring them to an actual cautery of unimaginable
horrors. As I am abased to the parks and the
gutters, I hear things, and I see things, that
sear the conscience as with a red-hot brand.
My bestial mates are the scourings of society,
left in the sink after it has cleaned itself to don
its braveries. It appals me to find that there
are so many of us, women and men. Every
quarter of town seems to have its contingent ;
every class, to send us recruits. Stop for one
moment in the street to look about you, and a
brother of our mystery will be at your elbow to
cadge a brown. Hogarth's 'Gin Lane,' Pope's
' Alley,' are our alley, and our lane, with but a
difference of hooped skirts in the figures. The
poet merely touched the abomination and fled.
The painter, in his function of prophet, came
back to it again and again. He was of those
who see the ever shall be in the what is, while
the generating causes remain. You may match
any scene from his Inferno in the London of
to-day. The malady is deep down, and salve is


No. 5 John Street

no remedy. The symptoms that appear on the
surface are exactly what they were a century
and a half ago. Do what we may, there is ever
this gnawing death at the centre of things.

The strain of it seems to grow the harder as
the day of deliverance draws nigh. Letters
from my world to come pour in by every post.
The famished dog can now smell the uplifted
morsel, as well as see it, and he is fain to yell
for desire. I find cards, invitations, congratula-
tions, waiting for me in Stubbs's big covering
envelope every night. I read them as I nibble
my remainder crust, and wash down its gritty
morsels with the vintage of the backyard.
Town is filling ; fatuous people who give
dinners are gathering from all parts ; places
at good men's feasts await my choice ; the dear
old Achilles statue is again bordered with pretty
toilettes ; and there is everything to foster the
illusion that the world has a sweet smell.

The Eights have come out at Oxford, and
my old college has been bumped, to the general
consternation — even of the victors. This an-
nouncement, conveyed in an extremely sympa-
thetic note, affects me less than I should have
supposed, probably because it is not immedi-
ately connected with the prospect of eating and
drinking. It distresses me for all that. My
very indifTerence to it threatens a beginning of
moral paralysis. I seem to be losing touch of
things. But this, happily, is not to last. An

earnest, if interested, invitation to a great stud


H 11^

No. 5 John Street

sale rouses me with the promise of entertainment
for my first week of freedom. Here, at least, is
somethinof to long for that is not food. ' Donner
und Blitzen,' I learn, ' is a beautiful stamp of
hackney, on clean flat limbs, with great quality ;
a very fine mover, and has good manners and
courage.' Forgive the weakness! I have lived
so long with the coster's ass.

One letter gives me a most exhilarating account
of the meeting of the Ladies' Grand Council of
the Primrose League. The good work is going
on. Fifteen thousand copies of that portrait of
Lord Beaconsfield, which we saw in Covey's
room, have been distributed throughout the
poorer quarters of London. Some of the
roughest and least educated of labouring men
have shown a touching desire to possess them.
They are to be seen in many a home which
boasts but little furniture of any other kind.
The belief that this symbol is meat, if not exactly
drink, to the working man, and that it makes an
excellent substitute for a fire in cold weather, is
interesting beyond measure. Yet I think the
utterance of it might have been withheld, in
courtesy to the great colliery lord who sat in
the chair, flanked by the most glittering woman-
kind of his order.

Next Saturday night brings the hour of de-
liverance ; but — meanwhile .'* The sock rings
empty but for coppers, yet I want three shillings
to finish my probation with body and soul in
partnership. Two shillings would suffice at a


No. 5 John Street

pinch. And, as the bidding hangs fire at this
Dutch auction of claims, I feel that I would take
one-and-six rather than turn a customer away.
How to get it ? Once more, I resume my weary
tramp for a job, and with the same result. What
price a hungry belly ? I was a fool to make this
hard-and-fast promise at the start. I should
have settled a pound a week on myself to cover

The employment bureaux that have me on
their books keep me there. The charitable
agencies are only less keen on introductions
than the committee of a good subscription ball.
There is not enough work to go round. My
section - window cleaning, with its alternative,
copying by hand, is a drug in the market. It
seems all so ineffectual, though, at the same
time, it is so well meant. The good people
who manage the business of relief wear a guilty
look, and seem hardly to know how to face us.
They have tried to feed us on promises, some of
them Scriptural, which they cannot keep. The
great world of industry wants deft and competent
workers, and is too abundantly supplied in every
department, even with these. The very window-
cleaning is a craft, and I am untrained. And,
worst of all, the great world does not take us
seriously. It knows nothing of our employment
bureaux, and never thinks of seeking them out
when it wants hands. It is well aware that it
has only to whistle at the street corner to have
its utmost need supplied. There we stand,


No. 5 John Street

before our honorary secretaries, male or female,
our visitors, inquiry agents, or what not, mute
evidence against them of well-intentioned lies.
They have assured us that, if we keep our hands
from picking and stealing, and show a readiness
to take what offers, work will be found for us.
Here are the minor virtues! Where is the

I have come very low by Saturday, my last
day. I set forth with three ha'pence in my
pocket to tramp a stony London where no bread-
fruit grows. If it had been that South Sea
island, now, every bush would yield the rudi-
ments of a meal. The sickening cocoa in the
cupboard has given out. The very loaf has
come to its last crust. I buy a ha'porth of
bread, take a swig at a fountain, and tramp the
East End parks to kill time. It is a fine day ;
the grass is warm and dry ; and I have my
favourite Marcus for a pocket volume. It is
wonderful what depths of meaning I am able to
read into him with the help of a sinking at the
stomach. The hours pass, in languor, but hardly
in pain.

As evening draws near, however, the sub-
sidence reaches an abyss of discomfort hitherto
unknown. To check its course, I turn into a
Salvation Army shelter, and spend my last penny
in my last slum meal. In exchange for it, I get
a half bowl of soup and a slab of bread. I could
eat both portions four times over, of course, but
the meal as it stands is a * stay.' The soup is


No. 5 John Street

quite palatable, and of a consistency which makes
it both meat and drink. In these establishments
they never waste their time, or ours, with the
offer of a choice between thick and clear.

The only drawback to my contentment is in
the awful character of the surroundings. It is
near bedtime, and those who have come to stay
for the night are slouching to the lairs. What a
gang ! The blind and the halt, street beggars,
kerbstone salesmen, the sweepings of the railway
arches, of the Embankment, and of the parks.
They eat like dogs. Their speech is even in
more need of washing than their faces. Their
clothes are often but bandages for sores. Their
feet are sandalled with rag and string. It is
string everywhere ; the buttons have long since
given out. Your tramp is tied in as many points
as a Shakespearian swell.

I have never before come quite so near the
lowest depth. The fascination of it is such that
I am half tempted to make a night of it, and see
the horror out and out. It might throw precious
light on the scheme in which an evil principle
matches every good creation of its rival with a
bad one on its own hook. These new chums
are, perhaps, but the waste of the workshop
that turns out Mayfair. Unhappily, I have not
the money for my lodging. But I hit on a plan
that serves almost as well. I get leave to see
the dormitory as a possible customer, and I
enter a room where, as it seems, a hundred
coffins are ranged in a row. They are but


No. 5 John Street

bedsteads after all. Each is really a bottom-
less box, made of four planks, which has the
missing part supplied when it is laid on the floor.
As the hirer gives up his ticket he receives his
box, his mattress, covered with American cloth,
and his coverlet of leather. He takes up his
bed, and walks to a place in a row of coffined
sleepers which looks like a trench of the dead.
The slaves slept in still less comfort in old
Rome. But then Rome died of it, I have heard

The undressing is worse than the unrolling of
a mummy, with all its accompaniments of offence.
Some wear inner layers of paper, or of scraps of
cloth or flannel, in local application, which are but
so many charms against the visitations of local
pain. These unfoldings are multitudinous in
their diversity ; for being without settled habita-
tion, the nomad carries all his belongings on his
back. Our vagabonds bulge with ownership, and
some of them seem to strip quite thin. All that
they possess in the wide world is about them as
they stand upright, and it has to be about them
as they lie. They store the oddest items of
personal property, some of them relics of wide
travel, or of gentle lives of old — books, bundles
of newspaper cuttings, framed photographs, boxes
of dominoes, and packs of cards. A few fetich
rags are in the inventory, with a portable music-
stand, and a baby's shoe. How they hide these
in the daytime is a mystery ; how they guard
them at night is almost a greater mystery still.


No. 5 John Street

They pack them under mattresses, and thus
put two layers — one of humanity — between the
precious oddments and a thievish world. Rightly
speaking, every single bit of trumpery is fetich,
useless but for its satisfaction of a sense of pro-
perty, whereby they hold on to the idea of a
settled life somewhere on this side of the stars.

That sight finishes me ; and without waiting
for the stroke of midnight, as I should do, I
fairly turn tail. I rush back to No. 5, lock the
door, and put the key in my pocket, leave a line
for the landlord, ' Got a job in the country ;
keep an eye on my room.' Then I run straight
home to Piccadilly, let myself in, bathe, feed, and
sink into dreamless sleep, until I open my eyes
next morning on dear old Stubbs drawing the
curtains and laying the cup of tea by the bedside.




It is now the fierce round dance of the London
season. The step is the one named after St.
Vitus. We whirl from Monday morning to
Saturday night, and our genuflexions of Sunday
are pure refreshment of the joints.

My first care is to send to John Street a few
weeks' rent in advance. As soon as I have time
I will settle up there for good, and perhaps make
Low Covey heir to my effects. I mean to keep
the tin-kettle, or some other trinket of the kind,
in perpetuity. That 's for remembrance. But
I have no leisure just now. Breathing-time is
cheap at the price of the rent.

I hardly know how the mornings and the even-
ings make up the count of days. The Post
has done its duty, and I have a diary full of
engagements and a tray full of cards. What
would you ? It is the opening of the season,
and there is hope for the meanest of God's crea-
tures that has a line in the Red Book. Even
the veterans find a pulse again, as they see the
signs of summer in the Row.

Then, never forget, I have come back from the
shades, and from shades of the old pattern — not
so much a place of torment as of the negation of


No. 5 John Street

joy. The main point is that I am on the move
again among soft-spoken, sweet-smelling people,
and that I have recovered my sense of the fitness
of things. It is pleasant to know a spade for a
spade, and not to have to use it for a teaspoon.
Really, this Occidental scheme of affairs, at which
I turned up my nose a few weeks ago, has been
amazingly well planned. You feel as if you could
go on for ever, as in a Mohammedan heaven,
without repletion, and without satiety. Just when
the country tires, up you come to town. And,
wherever you are, what finely measured intervals
of grave and gay! Great music, I call it, with
its spring meetings of the turf, and of the learned
societies ; dress debates ; five o'clock teas. Oh
the Show ! the Show !

I open the campaign with a sale at Christie's.
I really did not mean to buy anything, yet I lay
out ;^400. Never mind ; it is only my savings
in John Street. All that I thought I wanted
was to hear the fall of the hammer, and to warm
myself a little in the sun of art. Surely this world
of paint is the world as it ought to be. Nature
corrected into harmonies of line and colour as
chief ends.

There are some capital bargains. Only two
thousand odd for a peasant family saying their
prayers before a ham bone ! It is a mere song
for a ham bone by Murillo. ' Rustic Piety ' is, I
think, the name. ' Venice the Golden,' again —
you know that first-class work — a paltry three
five hundred in guineas ! Where are the buyers ?


No. 5 John Street

It is almost a knock-out. Such are the accidents
of a fine day in a saleroom. To miss these
chances for fresh air is to buy that commodity at
a guinea a gulp. The prize is snapped up by a
dealer. By the twinkle in that dealer's eye, I
could swear that he has a customer for it at six
thousand down. Perhaps that very customer is,
at this moment, idling in the Park instead of
attending to his duties as a connoisseur. So his
debauch of raw sunshine has cost him over fifteen
hundred pounds. Serve him right !

It is all over in an hour or two ; and seven-
and-thirty thousand sterling changes hands.

Mine is but a sketch for the larger picture, but
it is signed by the Dutchman. Some boors
enjoy themselves in a cellar, in the John Street
of their day —

' When the good ale-sop
Doth dance in their foretop.'

Tis a marvel of balance, both in composition and
sueeestion. In the foreo^round, two swinish
figures toy in bibulous love ; in the background,
another pair grip in bibulous hate ; in the middle
distance, they are mellowing for these exercises
under the ministrations of a hag. And there has
been no break in the continuity of these festive
experiences for over two centuries, or, for that
matter, for over twenty. Such pictures are good
to live with. I mean to look at this one every

I hurry off after this extravagance, for I am


No. 5 John Street

due at a garden party in the frozen North by
Regent's Park. The invitation is from a dear old
friend, and I want to meet both her and a crowd.
It will enable me to pay fifty calls, or their equi-
valent, in half an hour, and each call is the
recovery of a thread of life.

It is a pretty place — still out of town, though
wellnigh in the heart of it, as you look at the
map. Why do we give this region nicknames ?
The large garden is railed off from the park, as
the park is railed off from the city — oasis within
oasis, and verdant to the last blade of grass.
Nor noise nor squalor of London can find its way
to the heart of this maze. They sometimes
penetrate our outer defences, but they never
reach the keep. Our first line is a high paling ;
our second, a continuous shrubbery deep and
high. Paradise itself — arranged, I believe, on
the same system of inner circles — could not be
more snug. This, I fancy, is Lady Deever's
happy thought in the gardening, for she is a
pious dame. They have had the place long
enough to make what they like of it ; a genera-
tion more, and it will be an ancestral hall. The
rose garden beats everything else I know, except
the great show places. Indeed it beats them, as
it is never shown. It is a retreat or a pleasaunce
at will — as melodiously quiet at need as the
court of a palace in Ispahan. I have a fancy that
it is easier to be good in such places than in John
Street. I am certain that it is easier to feel
good ; and morality is mainly an affair of senti-


No. 5 John Street

mental states. Without effort we are all courteous,
affable, urbane. The Deevers have managed to
acclimatise some small birds from Galicia which
are excellent substitutes for the nightingale ; and
just now, I am told, they are in full song. After
dark, you may hear them piping coquettish
defiance to the moon from impenetrable shades.

Our hostess confirms me in my fancy as to the
spiritual effect of the surroundings. ' I take all
my anxieties to my roses,' she says, 'and they
disappear. I call my three arched alleys ** Faith,"
" Hope," and "Charity,' and the lawn, with its
background of leafy shade, the " Peace that
passeth Understanding," I defy you to cherish a
harsh thought against any fellow-creature here.
You feel the brotherhood of mankind, especially
after they close the park gates,'

There is not much of that peace this afternoon,
but we have something in its place. The spark-
ling animation of all this sunshine, girl life, smart
dressing, and well-turned talk is as good as the
birds and the moonlight in its way. The Peace
that passeth Understanding is, just now, laid out
for light refreshment ; and, at a small portable
theatre, on one side of it, they are giving the
children a dance of marionettes.

One meets a friend at every turn. I contrive
to put off my account of the Caspian by pleading
that I must not forestall my book. How much
has happened since I went away ! There is some
slight feeling, I am afraid, about that change of a
lord-in-waiting at Windsor. Wrayling was posi-


No. 5 John Street

tively 'excused from attendance.' I am to hear
all about it, if I come back to this briar bush in
ten minutes, when old Lady Cautey will have got
rid of a parcel of girls.

' Dear old Sinclair ! Vou here ! '

' Vou here, that 's the point. But it 's good to
have you back again. You can give useful
information. Where 's the Caspian Sea ? '

' Now, Sinclair, don't take the bread out of a
man's mouth. Buy the book, when you get the
chance, and then you '11 know. And what 's your
news in the meantime ? '

' Groom - in - waiting ! ' he says, with modest
pride. ' But you 've seen that ! '

' Congratulations. Just the thing for you. Life
is earnest. By the way, is there anything in what
they are saying about Wrayling ? '

' Secrets of State, my dear fellow ! Honour of
the service. What do you take me for ? '

' That 's all right. But the birthday list is
public ; and I hope there 's no harm in saying
that I was delighted to read your father's name.'

'Thanks. Well, though I say it, it was no
more than he deserved. You 've no idea how he
has slaved for the party. He nursed his corner
of the county for four years, and brought it up,
alive and kicking, for Throne and Altar, at the
General Election. Not that we expected anything.
'Ware omejt, if you do ; it 's the surest way not to
get it. Old Cautey says we've got it because
they couldn't find a brewer, as if everybody hadn't
been a brewer some time. But don't you believe


No. 5 John Street

her. I really think it was done on its merits, so
far as the Dad was concerned. And what have
you been doing in the Cas '

* Come off, Sinclair ! Come off! '

' Oh well, you 've missed lots of fun here, that's
all. They did us fine up at Chester Races, I can
tell you. Best house parties I 've seen for years.
I was at Appleby's, "to meet the Prince," if you
please. Half the Inner Cabinet was at the
Towers, and there was quite a respectable show
of the Opposition at the High Butts. Our little
fandango was rather stately ; but they simply
went the pace at the Towers. So they did at
Raynor's. The Raynors have lived in France,
you know, and they 're up to all sorts of little
dodges to make their evenings go — scratch hops,
jew-de-society — all that sort of thing. They had
a funny little devil of a countess who kept us all
in a roar with her queer English and queerer
ways — just as full of mischief as they make 'em.
The Applebys borrowed her for dinner one night
— fact ; and what 's more, the Raynors lent her.
Very nice of 'em, wasn't it ? '

' And what are you up to now ? '

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Online LibraryRichard WhiteingNo. 5 John street → online text (page 7 of 21)