Part 7 out of 8
Ruffians, actually got hold of two of them. Why, can it be doubted
that any man of fair London knowledge and common resolution, armed
with the powers of the Law, could have captured the whole
confederacy in a week?
It is to the saving up of the Ruffian class by the Magistracy and
Police--to the conventional preserving of them, as if they were
Partridges--that their number and audacity must be in great part
referred. Why is a notorious Thief and Ruffian ever left at large?
He never turns his liberty to any account but violence and plunder,
he never did a day's work out of gaol, he never will do a day's
work out of gaol. As a proved notorious Thief he is always
consignable to prison for three months. When he comes out, he is
surely as notorious a Thief as he was when he went in. Then send
him back again. 'Just Heaven!' cries the Society for the
protection of remonstrant Ruffians. 'This is equivalent to a
sentence of perpetual imprisonment!' Precisely for that reason it
has my advocacy. I demand to have the Ruffian kept out of my way,
and out of the way of all decent people. I demand to have the
Ruffian employed, perforce, in hewing wood and drawing water
somewhere for the general service, instead of hewing at her
Majesty's subjects and drawing their watches out of their pockets.
If this be termed an unreasonable demand, then the tax-gatherer's
demand on me must be far more unreasonable, and cannot be otherwise
than extortionate and unjust.
It will be seen that I treat of the Thief and Ruffian as one. I do
so, because I know the two characters to be one, in the vast
majority of cases, just as well as the Police know it. (As to the
Magistracy, with a few exceptions, they know nothing about it but
what the Police choose to tell them.) There are disorderly classes
of men who are not thieves; as railway-navigators, brickmakers,
wood-sawyers, costermongers. These classes are often disorderly
and troublesome; but it is mostly among themselves, and at any rate
they have their industrious avocations, they work early and late,
and work hard. The generic Ruffian--honourable member for what is
tenderly called the Rough Element--is either a Thief, or the
companion of Thieves. When he infamously molests women coming out
of chapel on Sunday evenings (for which I would have his back
scarified often and deep) it is not only for the gratification of
his pleasant instincts, but that there may be a confusion raised by
which either he or his friends may profit, in the commission of
highway robberies or in picking pockets. When he gets a police-
constable down and kicks him helpless for life, it is because that
constable once did his duty in bringing him to justice. When he
rushes into the bar of a public-house and scoops an eye out of one
of the company there, or bites his ear off, it is because the man
he maims gave evidence against him. When he and a line of comrades
extending across the footway--say of that solitary mountain-spur of
the Abruzzi, the Waterloo Road--advance towards me 'skylarking'
among themselves, my purse or shirt-pin is in predestined peril
from his playfulness. Always a Ruffian, always a Thief. Always a
Thief, always a Ruffian.
Now, when I, who am not paid to know these things, know them daily
on the evidence of my senses and experience; when I know that the
Ruffian never jostles a lady in the streets, or knocks a hat off,
but in order that the Thief may profit, is it surprising that I
should require from those who ARE paid to know these things,
prevention of them?
Look at this group at a street corner. Number one is a shirking
fellow of five-and-twenty, in an ill-favoured and ill-savoured
suit, his trousers of corduroy, his coat of some indiscernible
groundwork for the deposition of grease, his neckerchief like an
eel, his complexion like dirty dough, his mangy fur cap pulled low
upon his beetle brows to hide the prison cut of his hair. His
hands are in his pockets. He puts them there when they are idle,
as naturally as in other people's pockets when they are busy, for
he knows that they are not roughened by work, and that they tell a
tale. Hence, whenever he takes one out to draw a sleeve across his
nose--which is often, for he has weak eyes and a constitutional
cold in his head--he restores it to its pocket immediately
afterwards. Number two is a burly brute of five-and-thirty, in a
tall stiff hat; is a composite as to his clothes of betting-man and
fighting-man; is whiskered; has a staring pin in his breast, along
with his right hand; has insolent and cruel eyes: large shoulders;
strong legs booted and tipped for kicking. Number three is forty
years of age; is short, thick-set, strong, and bow-legged; wears
knee cords and white stockings, a very long-sleeved waistcoat, a
very large neckerchief doubled or trebled round his throat, and a
crumpled white hat crowns his ghastly parchment face. This fellow
looks like an executed postboy of other days, cut down from the
gallows too soon, and restored and preserved by express diabolical
agency. Numbers five, six, and seven, are hulking, idle, slouching
young men, patched and shabby, too short in the sleeves and too
tight in the legs, slimily clothed, foul-spoken, repulsive wretches
inside and out. In all the party there obtains a certain twitching
character of mouth and furtiveness of eye, that hint how the coward
is lurking under the bully. The hint is quite correct, for they
are a slinking sneaking set, far more prone to lie down on their
backs and kick out, when in difficulty, than to make a stand for
it. (This may account for the street mud on the backs of Numbers
five, six, and seven, being much fresher than the stale splashes on
These engaging gentry a Police-constable stands contemplating. His
Station, with a Reserve of assistance, is very near at hand. They
cannot pretend to any trade, not even to be porters or messengers.
It would be idle if they did, for he knows them, and they know that
he knows them, to be nothing but professed Thieves and Ruffians.
He knows where they resort, knows by what slang names they call one
another, knows how often they have been in prison, and how long,
and for what. All this is known at his Station, too, and is (or
ought to be) known at Scotland Yard, too. But does he know, or
does his Station know, or does Scotland Yard know, or does anybody
know, why these fellows should be here at liberty, when, as reputed
Thieves to whom a whole Division of Police could swear, they might
all be under lock and key at hard labour? Not he; truly he would
be a wise man if he did! He only knows that these are members of
the 'notorious gang,' which, according to the newspaper Police-
office reports of this last past September, 'have so long infested'
the awful solitudes of the Waterloo Road, and out of which almost
impregnable fastnesses the Police have at length dragged Two, to
the unspeakable admiration of all good civilians.
The consequences of this contemplative habit on the part of the
Executive--a habit to be looked for in a hermit, but not in a
Police System--are familiar to us all. The Ruffian becomes one of
the established orders of the body politic. Under the playful name
of Rough (as if he were merely a practical joker) his movements and
successes are recorded on public occasions. Whether he mustered in
large numbers, or small; whether he was in good spirits, or
depressed; whether he turned his generous exertions to very
prosperous account, or Fortune was against him; whether he was in a
sanguinary mood, or robbed with amiable horse-play and a gracious
consideration for life and limb; all this is chronicled as if he
were an Institution. Is there any city in Europe, out of England,
in which these terms are held with the pests of Society? Or in
which, at this day, such violent robberies from the person are
constantly committed as in London?
The Preparatory Schools of Ruffianism are similarly borne with.
The young Ruffians of London--not Thieves yet, but training for
scholarships and fellowships in the Criminal Court Universities--
molest quiet people and their property, to an extent that is hardly
credible. The throwing of stones in the streets has become a
dangerous and destructive offence, which surely could have got to
no greater height though we had had no Police but our own riding-
whips and walking-sticks--the Police to which I myself appeal on
these occasions. The throwing of stones at the windows of railway
carriages in motion--an act of wanton wickedness with the very
Arch-Fiend's hand in it--had become a crying evil, when the railway
companies forced it on Police notice. Constabular contemplation
had until then been the order of the day.
Within these twelve months, there arose among the young gentlemen
of London aspiring to Ruffianism, and cultivating that much-
encouraged social art, a facetious cry of 'I'll have this!'
accompanied with a clutch at some article of a passing lady's
dress. I have known a lady's veil to be thus humorously torn from
her face and carried off in the open streets at noon; and I have
had the honour of myself giving chase, on Westminster Bridge, to
another young Ruffian, who, in full daylight early on a summer
evening, had nearly thrown a modest young woman into a swoon of
indignation and confusion, by his shameful manner of attacking her
with this cry as she harmlessly passed along before me. MR.
CARLYLE, some time since, awakened a little pleasantry by writing
of his own experience of the Ruffian of the streets. I have seen
the Ruffian act in exact accordance with Mr. Carlyle's description,
innumerable times, and I never saw him checked.
The blaring use of the very worst language possible, in our public
thoroughfares--especially in those set apart for recreation--is
another disgrace to us, and another result of constabular
contemplation, the like of which I have never heard in any other
country to which my uncommercial travels have extended. Years ago,
when I had a near interest in certain children who were sent with
their nurses, for air and exercise, into the Regent's Park, I found
this evil to be so abhorrent and horrible there, that I called
public attention to it, and also to its contemplative reception by
the Police. Looking afterwards into the newest Police Act, and
finding that the offence was punishable under it, I resolved, when
striking occasion should arise, to try my hand as prosecutor. The
occasion arose soon enough, and I ran the following gauntlet.
The utterer of the base coin in question was a girl of seventeen or
eighteen, who, with a suitable attendance of blackguards, youths,
and boys, was flaunting along the streets, returning from an Irish
funeral, in a Progress interspersed with singing and dancing. She
had turned round to me and expressed herself in the most audible
manner, to the great delight of that select circle. I attended the
party, on the opposite side of the way, for a mile further, and
then encountered a Police-constable. The party had made themselves
merry at my expense until now, but seeing me speak to the
constable, its male members instantly took to their heels, leaving
the girl alone. I asked the constable did he know my name? Yes,
he did. 'Take that girl into custody, on my charge, for using bad
language in the streets.' He had never heard of such a charge. I
had. Would he take my word that he should get into no trouble?
Yes, sir, he would do that. So he took the girl, and I went home
for my Police Act.
With this potent instrument in my pocket, I literally as well as
figuratively 'returned to the charge,' and presented myself at the
Police Station of the district. There, I found on duty a very
intelligent Inspector (they are all intelligent men), who,
likewise, had never heard of such a charge. I showed him my
clause, and we went over it together twice or thrice. It was
plain, and I engaged to wait upon the suburban Magistrate to-morrow
morning at ten o'clock.
In the morning I put my Police Act in my pocket again, and waited
on the suburban Magistrate. I was not quite so courteously
received by him as I should have been by The Lord Chancellor or The
Lord Chief Justice, but that was a question of good breeding on the
suburban Magistrate's part, and I had my clause ready with its leaf
turned down. Which was enough for ME.
Conference took place between the Magistrate and clerk respecting
the charge. During conference I was evidently regarded as a much
more objectionable person than the prisoner;--one giving trouble by
coming there voluntarily, which the prisoner could not be accused
of doing. The prisoner had been got up, since I last had the
pleasure of seeing her, with a great effect of white apron and
straw bonnet. She reminded me of an elder sister of Red Riding
Hood, and I seemed to remind the sympathising Chimney Sweep by whom
she was attended, of the Wolf.
The Magistrate was doubtful, Mr. Uncommercial Traveller, whether
this charge could be entertained. It was not known. Mr.
Uncommercial Traveller replied that he wished it were better known,
and that, if he could afford the leisure, he would use his
endeavours to make it so. There was no question about it, however,
he contended. Here was the clause.
The clause was handed in, and more conference resulted. After
which I was asked the extraordinary question: 'Mr. Uncommercial,
do you really wish this girl to be sent to prison?' To which I
grimly answered, staring: 'If I didn't, why should I take the
trouble to come here?' Finally, I was sworn, and gave my agreeable
evidence in detail, and White Riding Hood was fined ten shillings,
under the clause, or sent to prison for so many days. 'Why, Lord
bless you, sir,' said the Police-officer, who showed me out, with a
great enjoyment of the jest of her having been got up so
effectively, and caused so much hesitation: 'if she goes to
prison, that will be nothing new to HER. She comes from Charles
Street, Drury Lane!'
The Police, all things considered, are an excellent force, and I
have borne my small testimony to their merits. Constabular
contemplation is the result of a bad system; a system which is
administered, not invented, by the man in constable's uniform,
employed at twenty shillings a week. He has his orders, and would
be marked for discouragement if he overstepped them. That the
system is bad, there needs no lengthened argument to prove, because
the fact is self-evident. If it were anything else, the results
that have attended it could not possibly have come to pass. Who
will say that under a good system, our streets could have got into
their present state?
The objection to the whole Police system, as concerning the
Ruffian, may be stated, and its failure exemplified, as follows.
It is well known that on all great occasions, when they come
together in numbers, the mass of the English people are their own
trustworthy Police. It is well known that wheresoever there is
collected together any fair general representation of the people, a
respect for law and order, and a determination to discountenance
lawlessness and disorder, may be relied upon. As to one another,
the people are a very good Police, and yet are quite willing in
their good-nature that the stipendiary Police should have the
credit of the people's moderation. But we are all of us powerless
against the Ruffian, because we submit to the law, and it is his
only trade, by superior force and by violence, to defy it.
Moreover, we are constantly admonished from high places (like so
many Sunday-school children out for a holiday of buns and milk-and-
water) that we are not to take the law into our own hands, but are
to hand our defence over to it. It is clear that the common enemy
to be punished and exterminated first of all is the Ruffian. It is
clear that he is, of all others, THE offender for whose repressal
we maintain a costly system of Police. Him, therefore, we
expressly present to the Police to deal with, conscious that, on
the whole, we can, and do, deal reasonably well with one another.
Him the Police deal with so inefficiently and absurdly that he
flourishes, and multiplies, and, with all his evil deeds upon his
head as notoriously as his hat is, pervades the streets with no
more let or hindrance than ourselves.
CHAPTER XXXI--ABOARD SHIP
My journeys as Uncommercial Traveller for the firm of Human-
Interest Brothers have not slackened since I last reported of them,
but have kept me continually on the move. I remain in the same
idle employment. I never solicit an order, I never get any
commission, I am the rolling stone that gathers no moss,--unless
any should by chance be found among these samples.
Some half a year ago, I found myself in my idlest, dreamiest, and
least accountable condition altogether, on board ship, in the
harbour of the city of New York, in the United States of America.
Of all the good ships afloat, mine was the good steamship 'RUSSIA,'
CAPT. COOK, Cunard Line, bound for Liverpool. What more could I
I had nothing to wish for but a prosperous passage. My salad-days,
when I was green of visage and sea-sick, being gone with better
things (and no worse), no coming event cast its shadow before.
I might but a few moments previously have imitated Sterne, and
said, '"And yet, methinks, Eugenius,"--laying my forefinger
wistfully on his coat-sleeve, thus,--"and yet, methinks, Eugenius,
'tis but sorry work to part with thee, for what fresh fields, . . .
my dear Eugenius, . . . can be fresher than thou art, and in what
pastures new shall I find Eliza, or call her, Eugenius, if thou
wilt, Annie?"'--I say I might have done this; but Eugenius was
gone, and I hadn't done it.
I was resting on a skylight on the hurricane-deck, watching the
working of the ship very slowly about, that she might head for
England. It was high noon on a most brilliant day in April, and
the beautiful bay was glorious and glowing. Full many a time, on
shore there, had I seen the snow come down, down, down (itself like
down), until it lay deep in all the ways of men, and particularly,
as it seemed, in my way, for I had not gone dry-shod many hours for
months. Within two or three days last past had I watched the
feathery fall setting in with the ardour of a new idea, instead of
dragging at the skirts of a worn-out winter, and permitting
glimpses of a fresh young spring. But a bright sun and a clear sky
had melted the snow in the great crucible of nature; and it had
been poured out again that morning over sea and land, transformed
into myriads of gold and silver sparkles.
The ship was fragrant with flowers. Something of the old Mexican
passion for flowers may have gradually passed into North America,
where flowers are luxuriously grown, and tastefully combined in the
richest profusion; but, be that as it may, such gorgeous farewells
in flowers had come on board, that the small officer's cabin on
deck, which I tenanted, bloomed over into the adjacent scuppers,
and banks of other flowers that it couldn't hold made a garden of
the unoccupied tables in the passengers' saloon. These delicious
scents of the shore, mingling with the fresh airs of the sea, made
the atmosphere a dreamy, an enchanting one. And so, with the watch
aloft setting all the sails, and with the screw below revolving at
a mighty rate, and occasionally giving the ship an angry shake for
resisting, I fell into my idlest ways, and lost myself.
As, for instance, whether it was I lying there, or some other
entity even more mysterious, was a matter I was far too lazy to
look into. What did it signify to me if it were I? or to the more
mysterious entity, if it were he? Equally as to the remembrances
that drowsily floated by me, or by him, why ask when or where the
things happened? Was it not enough that they befell at some time,
There was that assisting at the church service on board another
steamship, one Sunday, in a stiff breeze. Perhaps on the passage
out. No matter. Pleasant to hear the ship's bells go as like
church-bells as they could; pleasant to see the watch off duty
mustered and come in: best hats, best Guernseys, washed hands and
faces, smoothed heads. But then arose a set of circumstances so
rampantly comical, that no check which the gravest intentions could
put upon them would hold them in hand. Thus the scene. Some
seventy passengers assembled at the saloon tables. Prayer-books on
tables. Ship rolling heavily. Pause. No minister. Rumour has
related that a modest young clergyman on board has responded to the
captain's request that he will officiate. Pause again, and very
Closed double doors suddenly burst open, and two strong stewards
skate in, supporting minister between them. General appearance as
of somebody picked up drunk and incapable, and under conveyance to
station-house. Stoppage, pause, and particularly heavy rolling.
Stewards watch their opportunity, and balance themselves, but
cannot balance minister; who, struggling with a drooping head and a
backward tendency, seems determined to return below, while they are
as determined that he shall be got to the reading-desk in mid-
saloon. Desk portable, sliding away down a long table, and aiming
itself at the breasts of various members of the congregation. Here
the double doors, which have been carefully closed by other
stewards, fly open again, and worldly passenger tumbles in,
seemingly with pale-ale designs: who, seeking friend, says 'Joe!'
Perceiving incongruity, says, 'Hullo! Beg yer pardon!' and tumbles
out again. All this time the congregation have been breaking up
into sects,--as the manner of congregations often is, each sect
sliding away by itself, and all pounding the weakest sect which
slid first into the corner. Utmost point of dissent soon attained
in every corner, and violent rolling. Stewards at length make a
dash; conduct minister to the mast in the centre of the saloon,
which he embraces with both arms; skate out; and leave him in that
condition to arrange affairs with flock.
There was another Sunday, when an officer of the ship read the
service. It was quiet and impressive, until we fell upon the
dangerous and perfectly unnecessary experiment of striking up a
hymn. After it was given out, we all rose, but everybody left it
to somebody else to begin. Silence resulting, the officer (no
singer himself) rather reproachfully gave us the first line again,
upon which a rosy pippin of an old gentleman, remarkable throughout
the passage for his cheerful politeness, gave a little stamp with
his boot (as if he were leading off a country dance), and blithely
warbled us into a show of joining. At the end of the first verse
we became, through these tactics, so much refreshed and encouraged,
that none of us, howsoever unmelodious, would submit to be left out
of the second verse; while as to the third we lifted up our voices
in a sacred howl that left it doubtful whether we were the more
boastful of the sentiments we united in professing, or of
professing them with a most discordant defiance of time and tune.
'Lord bless us!' thought I, when the fresh remembrance of these
things made me laugh heartily alone in the dead water-gurgling
waste of the night, what time I was wedged into my berth by a
wooden bar, or I must have rolled out of it, 'what errand was I
then upon, and to what Abyssinian point had public events then
marched? No matter as to me. And as to them, if the wonderful
popular rage for a plaything (utterly confounding in its
inscrutable unreason) I had not then lighted on a poor young savage
boy, and a poor old screw of a horse, and hauled the first off by
the hair of his princely head to "inspect" the British volunteers,
and hauled the second off by the hair of his equine tail to the
Crystal Palace, why so much the better for all of us outside
So, sticking to the ship, I was at the trouble of asking myself
would I like to show the grog distribution in 'the fiddle' at noon
to the Grand United Amalgamated Total Abstinence Society? Yes, I
think I should. I think it would do them good to smell the rum,
under the circumstances. Over the grog, mixed in a bucket,
presides the boatswain's mate, small tin can in hand. Enter the
crew, the guilty consumers, the grown-up brood of Giant Despair, in
contradistinction to the band of youthful angel Hope. Some in
boots, some in leggings, some in tarpaulin overalls, some in
frocks, some in pea-coats, a very few in jackets, most with
sou'wester hats, all with something rough and rugged round the
throat; all, dripping salt water where they stand; all pelted by
weather, besmeared with grease, and blackened by the sooty rigging.
Each man's knife in its sheath in his girdle, loosened for dinner.
As the first man, with a knowingly kindled eye, watches the filling
of the poisoned chalice (truly but a very small tin mug, to be
prosaic), and, tossing back his head, tosses the contents into
himself, and passes the empty chalice and passes on, so the second
man with an anticipatory wipe of his mouth on sleeve or
handkerchief, bides his turn, and drinks and hands and passes on,
in whom, and in each as his turn approaches, beams a knowingly
kindled eye, a brighter temper, and a suddenly awakened tendency to
be jocose with some shipmate. Nor do I even observe that the man
in charge of the ship's lamps, who in right of his office has a
double allowance of poisoned chalices, seems thereby vastly
degraded, even though he empties the chalices into himself, one
after the other, much as if he were delivering their contents at
some absorbent establishment in which he had no personal interest.
But vastly comforted, I note them all to be, on deck presently,
even to the circulation of redder blood in their cold blue
knuckles; and when I look up at them lying out on the yards, and
holding on for life among the beating sails, I cannot for MY life
see the justice of visiting on them--or on me--the drunken crimes
of any number of criminals arraigned at the heaviest of assizes.
Abetting myself in my idle humour, I closed my eyes, and recalled
life on board of one of those mail-packets, as I lay, part of that
day, in the Bay of New York, O! The regular life began--mine
always did, for I never got to sleep afterwards--with the rigging
of the pump while it was yet dark, and washing down of decks. Any
enormous giant at a prodigious hydropathic establishment,
conscientiously undergoing the water-cure in all its departments,
and extremely particular about cleaning his teeth, would make those
noises. Swash, splash, scrub, rub, toothbrush, bubble, swash,
splash, bubble, toothbrush, splash, splash, bubble, rub. Then the
day would break, and, descending from my berth by a graceful ladder
composed of half-opened drawers beneath it, I would reopen my outer
dead-light and my inner sliding window (closed by a watchman during
the water-cure), and would look out at the long-rolling, lead-
coloured, white topped waves over which the dawn, on a cold winter
morning, cast a level, lonely glance, and through which the ship
fought her melancholy way at a terrific rate. And now, lying down
again, awaiting the season for broiled ham and tea, I would be
compelled to listen to the voice of conscience,--the screw.
It might be, in some cases, no more than the voice of stomach; but
I called it in my fancy by the higher name. Because it seemed to
me that we were all of us, all day long, endeavouring to stifle the
voice. Because it was under everybody's pillow, everybody's plate,
everybody's camp-stool, everybody's book, everybody's occupation.
Because we pretended not to hear it, especially at meal-times,
evening whist, and morning conversation on deck; but it was always
among us in an under monotone, not to be drowned in pea-soup, not
to be shuffled with cards, not to be diverted by books, not to be
knitted into any pattern, not to be walked away from. It was
smoked in the weediest cigar, and drunk in the strongest cocktail;
it was conveyed on deck at noon with limp ladies, who lay there in
their wrappers until the stars shone; it waited at table with the
stewards; nobody could put it out with the lights. It was
considered (as on shore) ill-bred to acknowledge the voice of
conscience. It was not polite to mention it. One squally day an
amiable gentleman in love gave much offence to a surrounding
circle, including the object of his attachment, by saying of it,
after it had goaded him over two easy-chairs and a skylight,
Sometimes it would appear subdued. In fleeting moments, when
bubbles of champagne pervaded the nose, or when there was 'hot pot'
in the bill of fare, or when an old dish we had had regularly every
day was described in that official document by a new name,--under
such excitements, one would almost believe it hushed. The ceremony
of washing plates on deck, performed after every meal by a circle
as of ringers of crockery triple-bob majors for a prize, would keep
it down. Hauling the reel, taking the sun at noon, posting the
twenty-four hours' run, altering the ship's time by the meridian,
casting the waste food overboard, and attracting the eager gulls
that followed in our wake,--these events would suppress it for a
while. But the instant any break or pause took place in any such
diversion, the voice would be at it again, importuning us to the
last extent. A newly married young pair, who walked the deck
affectionately some twenty miles per day, would, in the full flush
of their exercise, suddenly become stricken by it, and stand
trembling, but otherwise immovable, under its reproaches.
When this terrible monitor was most severe with us was when the
time approached for our retiring to our dens for the night; when
the lighted candles in the saloon grew fewer and fewer; when the
deserted glasses with spoons in them grew more and more numerous;
when waifs of toasted cheese and strays of sardines fried in batter
slid languidly to and fro in the table-racks; when the man who
always read had shut up his book, and blown out his candle; when
the man who always talked had ceased from troubling; when the man
who was always medically reported as going to have delirium tremens
had put it off till to-morrow; when the man who every night devoted
himself to a midnight smoke on deck two hours in length, and who
every night was in bed within ten minutes afterwards, was buttoning
himself up in his third coat for his hardy vigil: for then, as we
fell off one by one, and, entering our several hutches, came into a
peculiar atmosphere of bilge-water and Windsor soap, the voice
would shake us to the centre. Woe to us when we sat down on our
sofa, watching the swinging candle for ever trying and retrying to
stand upon his head! or our coat upon its peg, imitating us as we
appeared in our gymnastic days by sustaining itself horizontally
from the wall, in emulation of the lighter and more facile towels!
Then would the voice especially claim us for its prey, and rend us
all to pieces.
Lights out, we in our berths, and the wind rising, the voice grows
angrier and deeper. Under the mattress and under the pillow, under
the sofa and under the washing-stand, under the ship and under the
sea, seeming to rise from the foundations under the earth with
every scoop of the great Atlantic (and oh! why scoop so?), always
the voice. Vain to deny its existence in the night season;
impossible to be hard of hearing; screw, screw, screw! Sometimes
it lifts out of the water, and revolves with a whirr, like a
ferocious firework,--except that it never expends itself, but is
always ready to go off again; sometimes it seems to be in anguish,
and shivers; sometimes it seems to be terrified by its last plunge,
and has a fit which causes it to struggle, quiver, and for an
instant stop. And now the ship sets in rolling, as only ships so
fiercely screwed through time and space, day and night, fair
weather and foul, CAN roll.
Did she ever take a roll before like that last? Did she ever take
a roll before like this worse one that is coming now? Here is the
partition at my ear down in the deep on the lee side. Are we ever
coming up again together? I think not; the partition and I are so
long about it that I really do believe we have overdone it this
time. Heavens, what a scoop! What a deep scoop, what a hollow
scoop, what a long scoop! Will it ever end, and can we bear the
heavy mass of water we have taken on board, and which has let loose
all the table furniture in the officers' mess, and has beaten open
the door of the little passage between the purser and me, and is
swashing about, even there and even here? The purser snores
reassuringly, and the ship's bells striking, I hear the cheerful
'All's well!' of the watch musically given back the length of the
deck, as the lately diving partition, now high in air, tries
(unsoftened by what we have gone through together) to force me out
of bed and berth.
'All's well!' Comforting to know, though surely all might be
better. Put aside the rolling and the rush of water, and think of
darting through such darkness with such velocity. Think of any
other similar object coming in the opposite direction!
Whether there may be an attraction in two such moving bodies out at
sea, which may help accident to bring them into collision?
Thoughts, too, arise (the voice never silent all the while, but
marvellously suggestive) of the gulf below; of the strange,
unfruitful mountain ranges and deep valleys over which we are
passing; of monstrous fish midway; of the ship's suddenly altering
her course on her own account, and with a wild plunge settling
down, and making THAT voyage with a crew of dead discoverers. Now,
too, one recalls an almost universal tendency on the part of
passengers to stumble, at some time or other in the day, on the
topic of a certain large steamer making this same run, which was
lost at sea, and never heard of more. Everybody has seemed under a
spell, compelling approach to the threshold of the grim subject,
stoppage, discomfiture, and pretence of never having been near it.
The boatswain's whistle sounds! A change in the wind, hoarse
orders issuing, and the watch very busy. Sails come crashing home
overhead, ropes (that seem all knot) ditto; every man engaged
appears to have twenty feet, with twenty times the average amount
of stamping power in each. Gradually the noise slackens, the
hoarse cries die away, the boatswain's whistle softens into the
soothing and contented notes, which rather reluctantly admit that
the job is done for the time, and the voice sets in again.
Thus come unintelligible dreams of up hill and down, and swinging
and swaying, until consciousness revives of atmospherical Windsor
soap and bilge-water, and the voice announces that the giant has
come for the water-cure again.
Such were my fanciful reminiscences as I lay, part of that day, in
the Bay of New York, O! Also as we passed clear of the Narrows,
and got out to sea; also in many an idle hour at sea in sunny
weather! At length the observations and computations showed that
we should make the coast of Ireland to-night. So I stood watch on
deck all night to-night, to see how we made the coast of Ireland.
Very dark, and the sea most brilliantly phosphorescent. Great way
on the ship, and double look-out kept. Vigilant captain on the
bridge, vigilant first officer looking over the port side, vigilant
second officer standing by the quarter-master at the compass,
vigilant third officer posted at the stern rail with a lantern. No
passengers on the quiet decks, but expectation everywhere
nevertheless. The two men at the wheel very steady, very serious,
and very prompt to answer orders. An order issued sharply now and
then, and echoed back; otherwise the night drags slowly, silently,
with no change.
All of a sudden, at the blank hour of two in the morning, a vague
movement of relief from a long strain expresses itself in all
hands; the third officer's lantern tinkles, and he fires a rocket,
and another rocket. A sullen solitary light is pointed out to me
in the black sky yonder. A change is expected in the light, but
none takes place. 'Give them two more rockets, Mr. Vigilant.' Two
more, and a blue-light burnt. All eyes watch the light again. At
last a little toy sky-rocket is flashed up from it; and, even as
that small streak in the darkness dies away, we are telegraphed to
Queenstown, Liverpool, and London, and back again under the ocean
Then up come the half-dozen passengers who are going ashore at
Queenstown and up comes the mail-agent in charge of the bags, and
up come the men who are to carry the bags into the mail-tender that
will come off for them out of the harbour. Lamps and lanterns
gleam here and there about the decks, and impeding bulks are
knocked away with handspikes; and the port-side bulwark, barren but
a moment ago, bursts into a crop of heads of seamen, stewards, and
The light begins to be gained upon, begins to be alongside, begins
to be left astern. More rockets, and, between us and the land,
steams beautifully the Inman steamship City of Paris, for New York,
outward bound. We observe with complacency that the wind is dead
against her (it being WITH us), and that she rolls and pitches.
(The sickest passenger on board is the most delighted by this
circumstance.) Time rushes by as we rush on; and now we see the
light in Queenstown Harbour, and now the lights of the mail-tender
coming out to us. What vagaries the mail-tender performs on the
way, in every point of the compass, especially in those where she
has no business, and why she performs them, Heaven only knows! At
length she is seen plunging within a cable's length of our port
broadside, and is being roared at through our speaking-trumpets to
do this thing, and not to do that, and to stand by the other, as if
she were a very demented tender indeed. Then, we slackening amidst
a deafening roar of steam, this much-abused tender is made fast to
us by hawsers, and the men in readiness carry the bags aboard, and
return for more, bending under their burdens, and looking just like
the pasteboard figures of the miller and his men in the theatre of
our boyhood, and comporting themselves almost as unsteadily. All
the while the unfortunate tender plunges high and low, and is
roared at. Then the Queenstown passengers are put on board of her,
with infinite plunging and roaring, and the tender gets heaved up
on the sea to that surprising extent that she looks within an ace
of washing aboard of us, high and dry. Roared at with contumely to
the last, this wretched tender is at length let go, with a final
plunge of great ignominy, and falls spinning into our wake.
The voice of conscience resumed its dominion as the day climbed up
the sky, and kept by all of us passengers into port; kept by us as
we passed other lighthouses, and dangerous islands off the coast,
where some of the officers, with whom I stood my watch, had gone
ashore in sailing-ships in fogs (and of which by that token they
seemed to have quite an affectionate remembrance), and past the
Welsh coast, and past the Cheshire coast, and past everything and
everywhere lying between our ship and her own special dock in the
Mersey. Off which, at last, at nine of the clock, on a fair
evening early in May, we stopped, and the voice ceased. A very
curious sensation, not unlike having my own ears stopped, ensued
upon that silence; and it was with a no less curious sensation that
I went over the side of the good Cunard ship 'Russia' (whom
prosperity attend through all her voyages!) and surveyed the outer
hull of the gracious monster that the voice had inhabited. So,
perhaps, shall we all, in the spirit, one day survey the frame that
held the busier voice from which my vagrant fancy derived this
CHAPTER XXXII--A SMALL STAR IN THE EAST
I had been looking, yesternight, through the famous 'Dance of
Death,' and to-day the grim old woodcuts arose in my mind with the
new significance of a ghastly monotony not to be found in the
original. The weird skeleton rattled along the streets before me,
and struck fiercely; but it was never at the pains of assuming a
disguise. It played on no dulcimer here, was crowned with no
flowers, waved no plume, minced in no flowing robe or train, lifted
no wine-cup, sat at no feast, cast no dice, counted no gold. It
was simply a bare, gaunt, famished skeleton, slaying his way along.
The borders of Ratcliff and Stepney, eastward of London, and giving
on the impure river, were the scene of this uncompromising dance of
death, upon a drizzling November day. A squalid maze of streets,
courts, and alleys of miserable houses let out in single rooms. A
wilderness of dirt, rags, and hunger. A mud-desert, chiefly
inhabited by a tribe from whom employment has departed, or to whom
it comes but fitfully and rarely. They are not skilled mechanics
in any wise. They are but labourers,--dock-labourers, water-side
labourers, coal-porters, ballast-heavers, such-like hewers of wood
and drawers of water. But they have come into existence, and they
propagate their wretched race.
One grisly joke alone, methought, the skeleton seemed to play off
here. It had stuck election-bills on the walls, which the wind and
rain had deteriorated into suitable rags. It had even summed up
the state of the poll, in chalk, on the shutters of one ruined
house. It adjured the free and independent starvers to vote for
Thisman and vote for Thatman; not to plump, as they valued the
state of parties and the national prosperity (both of great
importance to them, I think); but, by returning Thisman and
Thatman, each naught without the other, to compound a glorious and
immortal whole. Surely the skeleton is nowhere more cruelly
ironical in the original monkish idea!
Pondering in my mind the far-seeing schemes of Thisman and Thatman,
and of the public blessing called Party, for staying the
degeneracy, physical and moral, of many thousands (who shall say
how many?) of the English race; for devising employment useful to
the community for those who want but to work and live; for
equalising rates, cultivating waste lands, facilitating emigration,
and, above all things, saving and utilising the oncoming
generations, and thereby changing ever-growing national weakness
into strength: pondering in my mind, I say, these hopeful
exertions, I turned down a narrow street to look into a house or
It was a dark street with a dead wall on one side. Nearly all the
outer doors of the houses stood open. I took the first entry, and
knocked at a parlour-door. Might I come in? I might, if I plased,
The woman of the room (Irish) had picked up some long strips of
wood, about some wharf or barge; and they had just now been thrust
into the otherwise empty grate to make two iron pots boil. There
was some fish in one, and there were some potatoes in the other.
The flare of the burning wood enabled me to see a table, and a
broken chair or so, and some old cheap crockery ornaments about the
chimney-piece. It was not until I had spoken with the woman a few
minutes, that I saw a horrible brown heap on the floor in a corner,
which, but for previous experience in this dismal wise, I might not
have suspected to be 'the bed.' There was something thrown upon
it; and I asked what that was.
''Tis the poor craythur that stays here, sur; and 'tis very bad she
is, and 'tis very bad she's been this long time, and 'tis better
she'll never be, and 'tis slape she does all day, and 'tis wake she
does all night, and 'tis the lead, sur.'
'The lead, sur. Sure 'tis the lead-mills, where the women gets
took on at eighteen-pence a day, sur, when they makes application
early enough, and is lucky and wanted; and 'tis lead-pisoned she
is, sur, and some of them gets lead-pisoned soon, and some of them
gets lead-pisoned later, and some, but not many, niver; and 'tis
all according to the constitooshun, sur, and some constitooshuns is
strong, and some is weak; and her constitooshun is lead-pisoned,
bad as can be, sur; and her brain is coming out at her ear, and it
hurts her dreadful; and that's what it is, and niver no more, and
niver no less, sur.'
The sick young woman moaning here, the speaker bent over her, took
a bandage from her head, and threw open a back door to let in the
daylight upon it, from the smallest and most miserable backyard I
'That's what cooms from her, sur, being lead-pisoned; and it cooms
from her night and day, the poor, sick craythur; and the pain of it
is dreadful; and God he knows that my husband has walked the
sthreets these four days, being a labourer, and is walking them
now, and is ready to work, and no work for him, and no fire and no
food but the bit in the pot, and no more than ten shillings in a
fortnight; God be good to us! and it is poor we are, and dark it is
and could it is indeed.'
Knowing that I could compensate myself thereafter for my self-
denial, if I saw fit, I had resolved that I would give nothing in
the course of these visits. I did this to try the people. I may
state at once that my closest observation could not detect any
indication whatever of an expectation that I would give money:
they were grateful to be talked to about their miserable affairs,
and sympathy was plainly a comfort to them; but they neither asked
for money in any case, nor showed the least trace of surprise or
disappointment or resentment at my giving none.
The woman's married daughter had by this time come down from her
room on the floor above, to join in the conversation. She herself
had been to the lead-mills very early that morning to be 'took on,'
but had not succeeded. She had four children; and her husband,
also a water-side labourer, and then out seeking work, seemed in no
better case as to finding it than her father. She was English, and
by nature, of a buxom figure and cheerful. Both in her poor dress
and in her mother's there was an effort to keep up some appearance
of neatness. She knew all about the sufferings of the unfortunate
invalid, and all about the lead-poisoning, and how the symptoms
came on, and how they grew,--having often seen them. The very
smell when you stood inside the door of the works was enough to
knock you down, she said: yet she was going back again to get
'took on.' What could she do? Better be ulcerated and paralysed
for eighteen-pence a day, while it lasted, than see the children
A dark and squalid cupboard in this room, touching the back door
and all manner of offence, had been for some time the sleeping-
place of the sick young woman. But the nights being now wintry,
and the blankets and coverlets 'gone to the leaving shop,' she lay
all night where she lay all day, and was lying then. The woman of
the room, her husband, this most miserable patient, and two others,
lay on the one brown heap together for warmth.
'God bless you, sir, and thank you!' were the parting words from
these people,--gratefully spoken too,--with which I left this
Some streets away, I tapped at another parlour-door on another
ground-floor. Looking in, I found a man, his wife, and four
children, sitting at a washing-stool by way of table, at their
dinner of bread and infused tea-leaves. There was a very scanty
cinderous fire in the grate by which they sat; and there was a tent
bedstead in the room with a bed upon it and a coverlet. The man
did not rise when I went in, nor during my stay, but civilly
inclined his head on my pulling off my hat, and, in answer to my
inquiry whether I might ask him a question or two, said,
'Certainly.' There being a window at each end of this room, back
and front, it might have been ventilated; but it was shut up tight,
to keep the cold out, and was very sickening.
The wife, an intelligent, quick woman, rose and stood at her
husband's elbow; and he glanced up at her as if for help. It soon
appeared that he was rather deaf. He was a slow, simple fellow of
'What was he by trade?'
'Gentleman asks what are you by trade, John?'
'I am a boilermaker;' looking about him with an exceedingly
perplexed air, as if for a boiler that had unaccountably vanished.
'He ain't a mechanic, you understand, sir,' the wife put in: 'he's
only a labourer.'
'Are you in work?'
He looked up at his wife again. 'Gentleman says are you in work,
'In work!' cried this forlorn boilermaker, staring aghast at his
wife, and then working his vision's way very slowly round to me:
'Ah, he ain't indeed!' said the poor woman, shaking her head, as
she looked at the four children in succession, and then at him.
'Work!' said the boilermaker, still seeking that evaporated boiler,
first in my countenance, then in the air, and then in the features
of his second son at his knee: 'I wish I WAS in work! I haven't
had more than a day's work to do this three weeks.'
'How have you lived?'
A faint gleam of admiration lighted up the face of the would-be
boilermaker, as he stretched out the short sleeve of his thread-
bare canvas jacket, and replied, pointing her out, 'On the work of
I forget where boilermaking had gone to, or where he supposed it
had gone to; but he added some resigned information on that head,
coupled with an expression of his belief that it was never coming
The cheery helpfulness of the wife was very remarkable. She did
slop-work; made pea-jackets. She produced the pea-jacket then in
hand, and spread it out upon the bed,--the only piece of furniture
in the room on which to spread it. She showed how much of it she
made, and how much was afterwards finished off by the machine.
According to her calculation at the moment, deducting what her
trimming cost her, she got for making a pea-jacket tenpence half-
penny, and she could make one in something less than two days.
But, you see, it come to her through two hands, and of course it
didn't come through the second hand for nothing. Why did it come
through the second hand at all? Why, this way. The second hand
took the risk of the given-out work, you see. If she had money
enough to pay the security deposit,--call it two pound,--she could
get the work from the first hand, and so the second would not have
to be deducted for. But, having no money at all, the second hand
come in and took its profit, and so the whole worked down to
tenpence half-penny. Having explained all this with great
intelligence, even with some little pride, and without a whine or
murmur, she folded her work again, sat down by her husband's side
at the washing-stool, and resumed her dinner of dry bread. Mean as
the meal was, on the bare board, with its old gallipots for cups,
and what not other sordid makeshifts; shabby as the woman was in
dress, and toning done towards the Bosjesman colour, with want of
nutriment and washing,--there was positively a dignity in her, as
the family anchor just holding the poor ship-wrecked boilermaker's
bark. When I left the room, the boiler-maker's eyes were slowly
turned towards her, as if his last hope of ever again seeing that
vanished boiler lay in her direction.
These people had never applied for parish relief but once; and that
was when the husband met with a disabling accident at his work.
Not many doors from here, I went into a room on the first floor.
The woman apologised for its being in 'an untidy mess.' The day
was Saturday, and she was boiling the children's clothes in a
saucepan on the hearth. There was nothing else into which she
could have put them. There was no crockery, or tinware, or tub, or
bucket. There was an old gallipot or two, and there was a broken
bottle or so, and there were some broken boxes for seats. The last
small scraping of coals left was raked together in a corner of the
floor. There were some rags in an open cupboard, also on the
floor. In a corner of the room was a crazy old French bed-stead,
with a man lying on his back upon it in a ragged pilot jacket, and
rough oil-skin fantail hat. The room was perfectly black. It was
difficult to believe, at first, that it was not purposely coloured
black, the walls were so begrimed.
As I stood opposite the woman boiling the children's clothes,--she
had not even a piece of soap to wash them with,--and apologising
for her occupation, I could take in all these things without
appearing to notice them, and could even correct my inventory. I
had missed, at the first glance, some half a pound of bread in the
otherwise empty safe, an old red ragged crinoline hanging on the
handle of the door by which I had entered, and certain fragments of
rusty iron scattered on the floor, which looked like broken tools
and a piece of stove-pipe. A child stood looking on. On the box
nearest to the fire sat two younger children; one a delicate and
pretty little creature, whom the other sometimes kissed.
This woman, like the last, was wofully shabby, and was degenerating
to the Bosjesman complexion. But her figure, and the ghost of a
certain vivacity about her, and the spectre of a dimple in her
cheek, carried my memory strangely back to the old days of the
Adelphi Theatre, London, when Mrs. Fitzwilliam was the friend of
'May I ask you what your husband is?'
'He's a coal-porter, sir,'--with a glance and a sigh towards the
'Is he out of work?'
'Oh, yes, sir! and work's at all times very, very scanty with him;
and now he's laid up.'
'It's my legs,' said the man upon the bed. 'I'll unroll 'em.' And
'Have you any older children?'
'I have a daughter that does the needle-work, and I have a son that
does what he can. She's at her work now, and he's trying for
'Do they live here?'
'They sleep here. They can't afford to pay more rent, and so they
come here at night. The rent is very hard upon us. It's rose upon
us too, now,--sixpence a week,--on account of these new changes in
the law, about the rates. We are a week behind; the landlord's
been shaking and rattling at that door frightfully; he says he'll
turn us out. I don't know what's to come of it.'
The man upon the bed ruefully interposed, 'Here's my legs. The
skin's broke, besides the swelling. I have had a many kicks,
working, one way and another.'
He looked at his legs (which were much discoloured and misshapen)
for a while, and then appearing to remember that they were not
popular with his family, rolled them up again, as if they were
something in the nature of maps or plans that were not wanted to be
referred to, lay hopelessly down on his back once more with his
fantail hat over his face, and stirred not.
'Do your eldest son and daughter sleep in that cupboard?'
'Yes,' replied the woman.
'With the children?'
'Yes. We have to get together for warmth. We have little to cover
'Have you nothing by you to eat but the piece of bread I see
'Nothing. And we had the rest of the loaf for our breakfast, with
water. I don't know what's to come of it.'
'Have you no prospect of improvement?'
'If my eldest son earns anything to-day, he'll bring it home. Then
we shall have something to eat to-night, and may be able to do
something towards the rent. If not, I don't know what's to come of
'This is a sad state of things.'
'Yes, sir; it's a hard, hard life. Take care of the stairs as you
go, sir,--they're broken,--and good day, sir!'
These people had a mortal dread of entering the workhouse, and
received no out-of-door relief.
In another room, in still another tenement, I found a very decent
woman with five children,--the last a baby, and she herself a
patient of the parish doctor,--to whom, her husband being in the
hospital, the Union allowed for the support of herself and family,
four shillings a week and five loaves. I suppose when Thisman,
M.P., and Thatman, M.P., and the Public-blessing Party, lay their
heads together in course of time, and come to an equalization of
rating, she may go down to the dance of death to the tune of
I could enter no other houses for that one while, for I could not
bear the contemplation of the children. Such heart as I had
summoned to sustain me against the miseries of the adults failed me
when I looked at the children. I saw how young they were, how
hungry, how serious and still. I thought of them, sick and dying
in those lairs. I think of them dead without anguish; but to think
of them so suffering and so dying quite unmanned me.
Down by the river's bank in Ratcliff, I was turning upward by a
side-street, therefore, to regain the railway, when my eyes rested
on the inscription across the road, 'East London Children's
Hospital.' I could scarcely have seen an inscription better suited
to my frame of mind; and I went across and went straight in.
I found the children's hospital established in an old sail-loft or
storehouse, of the roughest nature, and on the simplest means.
There were trap-doors in the floors, where goods had been hoisted
up and down; heavy feet and heavy weights had started every knot in
the well-trodden planking: inconvenient bulks and beams and
awkward staircases perplexed my passage through the wards. But I
found it airy, sweet, and clean. In its seven and thirty beds I
saw but little beauty; for starvation in the second or third
generation takes a pinched look: but I saw the sufferings both of
infancy and childhood tenderly assuaged; I heard the little
patients answering to pet playful names, the light touch of a
delicate lady laid bare the wasted sticks of arms for me to pity;
and the claw-like little hands, as she did so, twined themselves
lovingly around her wedding-ring.
One baby mite there was as pretty as any of Raphael's angels. The
tiny head was bandaged for water on the brain; and it was suffering
with acute bronchitis too, and made from time to time a plaintive,
though not impatient or complaining, little sound. The smooth
curve of the cheeks and of the chin was faultless in its
condensation of infantine beauty, and the large bright eyes were
most lovely. It happened as I stopped at the foot of the bed, that
these eyes rested upon mine with that wistful expression of
wondering thoughtfulness which we all know sometimes in very little
children. They remained fixed on mine, and never turned from me
while I stood there. When the utterance of that plaintive sound
shook the little form, the gaze still remained unchanged. I felt
as though the child implored me to tell the story of the little
hospital in which it was sheltered to any gentle heart I could
address. Laying my world-worn hand upon the little unmarked
clasped hand at the chin, I gave it a silent promise that I would
A gentleman and lady, a young husband and wife, have bought and
fitted up this building for its present noble use, and have quietly
settled themselves in it as its medical officers and directors.
Both have had considerable practical experience of medicine and
surgery; he as house-surgeon of a great London hospital; she as a
very earnest student, tested by severe examination, and also as a
nurse of the sick poor during the prevalence of cholera.
With every qualification to lure them away, with youth and
accomplishments and tastes and habits that can have no response in
any breast near them, close begirt by every repulsive circumstance
inseparable from such a neighbourhood, there they dwell. They live
in the hospital itself, and their rooms are on its first floor.
Sitting at their dinner-table, they could hear the cry of one of
the children in pain. The lady's piano, drawing-materials, books,
and other such evidences of refinement are as much a part of the
rough place as the iron bedsteads of the little patients. They are
put to shifts for room, like passengers on board ship. The
dispenser of medicines (attracted to them not by self-interest, but
by their own magnetism and that of their cause) sleeps in a recess
in the dining-room, and has his washing apparatus in the sideboard.
Their contented manner of making the best of the things around
them, I found so pleasantly inseparable from their usefulness!
Their pride in this partition that we put up ourselves, or in that
partition that we took down, or in that other partition that we
moved, or in the stove that was given us for the waiting-room, or
in our nightly conversion of the little consulting-room into a
smoking-room! Their admiration of the situation, if we could only
get rid of its one objectionable incident, the coal-yard at the
back! 'Our hospital carriage, presented by a friend, and very
useful.' That was my presentation to a perambulator, for which a
coach-house had been discovered in a corner down-stairs, just large
enough to hold it. Coloured prints, in all stages of preparation
for being added to those already decorating the wards, were
plentiful; a charming wooden phenomenon of a bird, with an
impossible top-knot, who ducked his head when you set a counter
weight going, had been inaugurated as a public statue that very
morning; and trotting about among the beds, on familiar terms with
all the patients, was a comical mongrel dog, called Poodles. This
comical dog (quite a tonic in himself) was found characteristically
starving at the door of the institution, and was taken in and fed,
and has lived here ever since. An admirer of his mental endowments
has presented him with a collar bearing the legend, 'Judge not
Poodles by external appearances.' He was merrily wagging his tail
on a boy's pillow when he made this modest appeal to me.
When this hospital was first opened, in January of the present
year, the people could not possibly conceive but that somebody paid
for the services rendered there; and were disposed to claim them as
a right, and to find fault if out of temper. They soon came to
understand the case better, and have much increased in gratitude.
The mothers of the patients avail themselves very freely of the
visiting rules; the fathers often on Sundays. There is an
unreasonable (but still, I think, touching and intelligible)
tendency in the parents to take a child away to its wretched home,
if on the point of death. One boy who had been thus carried off on
a rainy night, when in a violent state of inflammation, and who had
been afterwards brought back, had been recovered with exceeding
difficulty; but he was a jolly boy, with a specially strong
interest in his dinner, when I saw him.
Insufficient food and unwholesome living are the main causes of
disease among these small patients. So nourishment, cleanliness,
and ventilation are the main remedies. Discharged patients are
looked after, and invited to come and dine now and then; so are
certain famishing creatures who were never patients. Both the lady
and the gentleman are well acquainted, not only with the histories
of the patients and their families, but with the characters and
circumstances of great numbers of their neighbours--of these they
keep a register. It is their common experience, that people,
sinking down by inches into deeper and deeper poverty, will conceal
it, even from them, if possible, unto the very last extremity.
The nurses of this hospital are all young,--ranging, say, from
nineteen to four and twenty. They have even within these narrow
limits, what many well-endowed hospitals would not give them, a
comfortable room of their own in which to take their meals. It is
a beautiful truth, that interest in the children and sympathy with
their sorrows bind these young women to their places far more
strongly than any other consideration could. The best skilled of
the nurses came originally from a kindred neighbourhood, almost as
poor; and she knew how much the work was needed. She is a fair
dressmaker. The hospital cannot pay her as many pounds in the year
as there are months in it; and one day the lady regarded it as a
duty to speak to her about her improving her prospects and
following her trade. 'No,' she said: she could never be so useful
or so happy elsewhere any more; she must stay among the children.
And she stays. One of the nurses, as I passed her, was washing a
baby-boy. Liking her pleasant face, I stopped to speak to her
charge,--a common, bullet-headed, frowning charge enough, laying
hold of his own nose with a slippery grasp, and staring very
solemnly out of a blanket. The melting of the pleasant face into
delighted smiles, as this young gentleman gave an unexpected kick,
and laughed at me, was almost worth my previous pain.
An affecting play was acted in Paris years ago, called 'The
Children's Doctor.' As I parted from my children's doctor, now in
question, I saw in his easy black necktie, in his loose buttoned
black frock-coat, in his pensive face, in the flow of his dark
hair, in his eyelashes, in the very turn of his moustache, the
exact realisation of the Paris artist's ideal as it was presented
on the stage. But no romancer that I know of has had the boldness
to prefigure the life and home of this young husband and young wife
in the Children's Hospital in the east of London.
I came away from Ratcliff by the Stepney railway station to the
terminus at Fenchurch Street. Any one who will reverse that route
may retrace my steps.
CHAPTER XXXIII--A LITTLE DINNER IN AN HOUR
It fell out on a day in this last autumn, that I had to go down
from London to a place of seaside resort, on an hour's business,
accompanied by my esteemed friend Bullfinch. Let the place of
seaside resort be, for the nonce, called Namelesston.
I had been loitering about Paris in very hot weather, pleasantly
breakfasting in the open air in the garden of the Palais Royal or
the Tuileries, pleasantly dining in the open air in the Elysian
Fields, pleasantly taking my cigar and lemonade in the open air on
the Italian Boulevard towards the small hours after midnight.
Bullfinch--an excellent man of business--has summoned me back
across the Channel, to transact this said hour's business at
Namelesston; and thus it fell out that Bullfinch and I were in a
railway carriage together on our way to Namelesston, each with his
return-ticket in his waistcoat-pocket.
Says Bullfinch, 'I have a proposal to make. Let us dine at the
I asked Bullfinch, did he recommend the Temeraire? inasmuch as I
had not been rated on the books of the Temeraire for many years.
Bullfinch declined to accept the responsibility of recommending the
Temeraire, but on the whole was rather sanguine about it. He
'seemed to remember,' Bullfinch said, that he had dined well there.
A plain dinner, but good. Certainly not like a Parisian dinner
(here Bullfinch obviously became the prey of want of confidence),
but of its kind very fair.
I appeal to Bullfinch's intimate knowledge of my wants and ways to
decide whether I was usually ready to be pleased with any dinner,
or--for the matter of that--with anything that was fair of its kind
and really what it claimed to be. Bullfinch doing me the honour to
respond in the affirmative, I agreed to ship myself as an able
trencherman on board the Temeraire.
'Now, our plan shall be this,' says Bullfinch, with his forefinger
at his nose. 'As soon as we get to Namelesston, we'll drive
straight to the Temeraire, and order a little dinner in an hour.
And as we shall not have more than enough time in which to dispose
of it comfortably, what do you say to giving the house the best
opportunities of serving it hot and quickly by dining in the
What I had to say was, Certainly. Bullfinch (who is by nature of a
hopeful constitution) then began to babble of green geese. But I
checked him in that Falstaffian vein, urging considerations of time
In due sequence of events we drove up to the Temeraire, and
alighted. A youth in livery received us on the door-step. 'Looks
well,' said Bullfinch confidentially. And then aloud, 'Coffee-
The youth in livery (now perceived to be mouldy) conducted us to
the desired haven, and was enjoined by Bullfinch to send the waiter
at once, as we wished to order a little dinner in an hour. Then
Bullfinch and I waited for the waiter, until, the waiter continuing
to wait in some unknown and invisible sphere of action, we rang for
the waiter; which ring produced the waiter, who announced himself
as not the waiter who ought to wait upon us, and who didn't wait a
So Bullfinch approached the coffee-room door, and melodiously
pitching his voice into a bar where two young ladies were keeping
the books of the Temeraire, apologetically explained that we wished
to order a little dinner in an hour, and that we were debarred from
the execution of our inoffensive purpose by consignment to
Hereupon one of the young ladies ran a bell, which reproduced--at
the bar this time--the waiter who was not the waiter who ought to
wait upon us; that extraordinary man, whose life seemed consumed in
waiting upon people to say that he wouldn't wait upon them,
repeated his former protest with great indignation, and retired.
Bullfinch, with a fallen countenance, was about to say to me, 'This
won't do,' when the waiter who ought to wait upon us left off
keeping us waiting at last. 'Waiter,' said Bullfinch piteously,
'we have been a long time waiting.' The waiter who ought to wait
upon us laid the blame upon the waiter who ought not to wait upon
us, and said it was all that waiter's fault.
'We wish,' said Bullfinch, much depressed, 'to order a little
dinner in an hour. What can we have?'
'What would you like to have, gentlemen?'
Bullfinch, with extreme mournfulness of speech and action, and with
a forlorn old fly-blown bill of fare in his hand which the waiter
had given him, and which was a sort of general manuscript index to
any cookery-book you please, moved the previous question.
We could have mock-turtle soup, a sole, curry, and roast duck.
Agreed. At this table by this window. Punctually in an hour.
I had been feigning to look out of this window; but I had been
taking note of the crumbs on all the tables, the dirty table-
cloths, the stuffy, soupy, airless atmosphere, the stale leavings
everywhere about, the deep gloom of the waiter who ought to wait
upon us, and the stomach-ache with which a lonely traveller at a
distant table in a corner was too evidently afflicted. I now
pointed out to Bullfinch the alarming circumstance that this
traveller had DINED. We hurriedly debated whether, without
infringement of good breeding, we could ask him to disclose if he
had partaken of mock-turtle, sole, curry, or roast duck? We
decided that the thing could not be politely done, and we had set
our own stomachs on a cast, and they must stand the hazard of the
I hold phrenology, within certain limits, to be true; I am much of
the same mind as to the subtler expressions of the hand; I hold
physiognomy to be infallible; though all these sciences demand rare
qualities in the student. But I also hold that there is no more
certain index to personal character than the condition of a set of
casters is to the character of any hotel. Knowing, and having
often tested this theory of mine, Bullfinch resigned himself to the
worst, when, laying aside any remaining veil of disguise, I held up
before him in succession the cloudy oil and furry vinegar, the
clogged cayenne, the dirty salt, the obscene dregs of soy, and the
anchovy sauce in a flannel waistcoat of decomposition.
We went out to transact our business. So inspiriting was the
relief of passing into the clean and windy streets of Namelesston
from the heavy and vapid closeness of the coffee-room of the
Temeraire, that hope began to revive within us. We began to
consider that perhaps the lonely traveller had taken physic, or
done something injudicious to bring his complaint on. Bullfinch
remarked that he thought the waiter who ought to wait upon us had
brightened a little when suggesting curry; and although I knew him
to have been at that moment the express image of despair, I allowed
myself to become elevated in spirits. As we walked by the softly-
lapping sea, all the notabilities of Namelesston, who are for ever
going up and down with the changelessness of the tides, passed to
and fro in procession. Pretty girls on horseback, and with
detested riding-masters; pretty girls on foot; mature ladies in
hats,--spectacled, strong-minded, and glaring at the opposite or
weaker sex. The Stock Exchange was strongly represented, Jerusalem
was strongly represented, the bores of the prosier London clubs
were strongly represented. Fortune-hunters of all denominations
were there, from hirsute insolvency, in a curricle, to closely-
buttoned swindlery in doubtful boots, on the sharp look-out for any
likely young gentleman disposed to play a game at billiards round
the corner. Masters of languages, their lessons finished for the
day, were going to their homes out of sight of the sea; mistresses
of accomplishments, carrying small portfolios, likewise tripped
homeward; pairs of scholastic pupils, two and two, went languidly
along the beach, surveying the face of the waters as if waiting for
some Ark to come and take them off. Spectres of the George the
Fourth days flitted unsteadily among the crowd, bearing the outward
semblance of ancient dandies, of every one of whom it might be
said, not that he had one leg in the grave, or both legs, but that
he was steeped in grave to the summit of his high shirt-collar, and
had nothing real about him but his bones. Alone stationary in the
midst of all the movements, the Namelesston boatmen leaned against
the railings and yawned, and looked out to sea, or looked at the
moored fishing-boats and at nothing. Such is the unchanging manner
of life with this nursery of our hardy seamen; and very dry nurses
they are, and always wanting something to drink. The only two
nautical personages detached from the railing were the two
fortunate possessors of the celebrated monstrous unknown barking-
fish, just caught (frequently just caught off Namelesston), who
carried him about in a hamper, and pressed the scientific to look
in at the lid.
The sands of the hour had all run out when we got back to the
Temeraire. Says Bullfinch, then, to the youth in livery, with
When we arrived at the family vault with a skylight, which the
youth in livery presented as the institution sought, we had already
whisked off our cravats and coats; but finding ourselves in the
presence of an evil smell, and no linen but two crumpled towels
newly damp from the countenances of two somebody elses, we put on
our cravats and coats again, and fled unwashed to the coffee-room.
There the waiter who ought to wait upon us had set forth our knives
and forks and glasses, on the cloth whose dirty acquaintance we had
already had the pleasure of making, and which we were pleased to
recognise by the familiar expression of its stains. And now there
occurred the truly surprising phenomenon, that the waiter who ought
not to wait upon us swooped down upon us, clutched our loaf of
bread, and vanished with the same.
Bullfinch, with distracted eyes, was following this unaccountable
figure 'out at the portal,' like the ghost in Hamlet, when the
waiter who ought to wait upon us jostled against it, carrying a
'Waiter!' said a severe diner, lately finished, perusing his bill
fiercely through his eye-glass.
The waiter put down our tureen on a remote side-table, and went to
see what was amiss in this new direction.
'This is not right, you know, waiter. Look here! here's
yesterday's sherry, one and eightpence, and here we are again, two
shillings. And what does sixpence mean?'
So far from knowing what sixpence meant, the waiter protested that
he didn't know what anything meant. He wiped the perspiration from
his clammy brow, and said it was impossible to do it,--not
particularising what,--and the kitchen was so far off.
'Take the bill to the bar, and get it altered,' said Mr.
Indignation Cocker, so to call him.
The waiter took it, looked intensely at it, didn't seem to like the
idea of taking it to the bar, and submitted, as a new light upon
the case, that perhaps sixpence meant sixpence.
'I tell you again,' said Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'here's
yesterday's sherry--can't you see it?--one and eightpence, and here
we are again, two shillings. What do you make of one and
eightpence and two shillings?'
Totally unable to make anything of one and eightpence and two
shillings, the waiter went out to try if anybody else could; merely
casting a helpless backward glance at Bullfinch, in acknowledgement
of his pathetic entreaties for our soup-tureen. After a pause,
during which Mr. Indignation Cocker read a newspaper and coughed
defiant coughs, Bullfinch arose to get the tureen, when the waiter
reappeared and brought it,--dropping Mr. Indignation Cocker's
altered bill on Mr. Indignation Cocker's table as he came along.
'It's quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,' murmured the waiter;
'and the kitchen is so far off.'
'Well, you don't keep the house; it's not your fault, we suppose.
Bring some sherry.'
'Waiter!' from Mr. Indignation Cocker, with a new and burning sense
of injury upon him.
The waiter, arrested on his way to our sherry, stopped short, and
came back to see what was wrong now.
'Will you look here? This is worse than before. DO you
understand? Here's yesterday's sherry, one and eightpence, and
here we are again two shillings. And what the devil does ninepence
This new portent utterly confounded the waiter. He wrung his
napkin, and mutely appealed to the ceiling.
'Waiter, fetch that sherry,' says Bullfinch, in open wrath and
'I want to know,' persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'the meaning of
ninepence. I want to know the meaning of sherry one and eightpence
yesterday, and of here we are again two shillings. Send somebody.'
The distracted waiter got out of the room on pretext of sending
somebody, and by that means got our wine. But the instant he
appeared with our decanter, Mr. Indignation Cocker descended on him
'You will now have the goodness to attend to our dinner, waiter,'
said Bullfinch, sternly.
'I am very sorry, but it's quite impossible to do it, gentlemen,'
pleaded the waiter; 'and the kitchen--'
'Waiter!' said Mr. Indignation Cocker.
'--Is,' resumed the waiter, 'so far off, that--'
'Waiter!' persisted Mr. Indignation Cocker, 'send somebody.'
We were not without our fears that the waiter rushed out to hang
himself; and we were much relieved by his fetching somebody,--in
graceful, flowing skirts and with a waist,--who very soon settled
Mr. Indignation Cocker's business.
'Oh!' said Mr. Cocker, with his fire surprisingly quenched by this
apparition; 'I wished to ask about this bill of mine, because it
appears to me that there's a little mistake here. Let me show you.
Here's yesterday's sherry one and eightpence, and here we are again
two shillings. And how do you explain ninepence?'
However it was explained, in tones too soft to be overheard. Mr.
Cocker was heard to say nothing more than 'Ah-h-h! Indeed; thank
you! Yes,' and shortly afterwards went out, a milder man.
The lonely traveller with the stomach-ache had all this time
suffered severely, drawing up a leg now and then, and sipping hot
brandy-and-water with grated ginger in it. When we tasted our
(very) mock-turtle soup, and were instantly seized with symptoms of
some disorder simulating apoplexy, and occasioned by the surcharge
of nose and brain with lukewarm dish-water holding in solution sour
flour, poisonous condiments, and (say) seventy-five per cent. of
miscellaneous kitchen stuff rolled into balls, we were inclined to
trace his disorder to that source. On the other hand, there was a
silent anguish upon him too strongly resembling the results
established within ourselves by the sherry, to be discarded from
alarmed consideration. Again, we observed him, with terror, to be
much overcome by our sole's being aired in a temporary retreat
close to him, while the waiter went out (as we conceived) to see
his friends. And when the curry made its appearance he suddenly
retired in great disorder.
In fine, for the uneatable part of this little dinner (as
contradistinguished from the undrinkable) we paid only seven
shillings and sixpence each. And Bullfinch and I agreed
unanimously, that no such ill-served, ill-appointed, ill-cooked,
nasty little dinner could be got for the money anywhere else under
the sun. With that comfort to our backs, we turned them on the
dear old Temeraire, the charging Temeraire, and resolved (in the
Scotch dialect) to gang nae mair to the flabby Temeraire.
CHAPTER XXXIV--MR. BARLOW
A great reader of good fiction at an unusually early age, it seems
to me as though I had been born under the superintendence of the
estimable but terrific gentleman whose name stands at the head of
my present reflections. The instructive monomaniac, Mr. Barlow,
will be remembered as the tutor of Master Harry Sandford and Master
Tommy Merton. He knew everything, and didactically improved all
sorts of occasions, from the consumption of a plate of cherries to
the contemplation of a starlight night. What youth came to without
Mr. Barlow was displayed in the history of Sandford and Merton, by
the example of a certain awful Master Mash. This young wretch wore
buckles and powder, conducted himself with insupportable levity at
the theatre, had no idea of facing a mad bull single-handed (in
which I think him less reprehensible, as remotely reflecting my own
character), and was a frightful instance of the enervating effects
of luxury upon the human race.
Strange destiny on the part of Mr. Barlow, to go down to posterity
as childhood's experience of a bore! Immortal Mr. Barlow, boring
his way through the verdant freshness of ages!
My personal indictment against Mr. Barlow is one of many counts. I
will proceed to set forth a few of the injuries he has done me.
In the first place, he never made or took a joke. This
insensibility on Mr. Barlow's part not only cast its own gloom over
my boyhood, but blighted even the sixpenny jest-books of the time;
for, groaning under a moral spell constraining me to refer all
things to Mr. Barlow, I could not choose but ask myself in a
whisper when tickled by a printed jest, 'What would HE think of it?
What would HE see in it?' The point of the jest immediately became
a sting, and stung my conscience. For my mind's eye saw him
stolid, frigid, perchance taking from its shelf some dreary Greek
book, and translating at full length what some dismal sage said
(and touched up afterwards, perhaps, for publication), when he
banished some unlucky joker from Athens.
The incompatibility of Mr. Barlow with all other portions of my
young life but himself, the adamantine inadaptability of the man to
my favourite fancies and amusements, is the thing for which I hate
him most. What right had he to bore his way into my Arabian
Nights? Yet he did. He was always hinting doubts of the veracity
of Sindbad the Sailor. If he could have got hold of the Wonderful
Lamp, I knew he would have trimmed it and lighted it, and delivered
a lecture over it on the qualities of sperm-oil, with a glance at
the whale fisheries. He would so soon have found out--on
mechanical principles--the peg in the neck of the Enchanted Horse,
and would have turned it the right way in so workmanlike a manner,
that the horse could never have got any height into the air, and
the story couldn't have been. He would have proved, by map and
compass, that there was no such kingdom as the delightful kingdom
of Casgar, on the frontiers of Tartary. He would have caused that
hypocritical young prig Harry to make an experiment,--with the aid
of a temporary building in the garden and a dummy,--demonstrating
that you couldn't let a choked hunchback down an Eastern chimney
with a cord, and leave him upright on the hearth to terrify the
The golden sounds of the overture to the first metropolitan
pantomime, I remember, were alloyed by Mr. Barlow. Click click,
ting ting, bang bang, weedle weedle weedle, bang! I recall the
chilling air that ran across my frame and cooled my hot delight, as
the thought occurred to me, 'This would never do for Mr. Barlow!'
After the curtain drew up, dreadful doubts of Mr. Barlow's
considering the costumes of the Nymphs of the Nebula as being
sufficiently opaque, obtruded themselves on my enjoyment. In the
clown I perceived two persons; one a fascinating unaccountable
creature of a hectic complexion, joyous in spirits though feeble in
intellect, with flashes of brilliancy; the other a pupil for Mr.
Barlow. I thought how Mr. Barlow would secretly rise early in the
morning, and butter the pavement for HIM, and, when he had brought
him down, would look severely out of his study window and ask HIM
how he enjoyed the fun.
I thought how Mr. Barlow would heat all the pokers in the house,
and singe him with the whole collection, to bring him better
acquainted with the properties of incandescent iron, on which he
(Barlow) would fully expatiate. I pictured Mr. Barlow's
instituting a comparison between the clown's conduct at his
studies,--drinking up the ink, licking his copy-book, and using his
head for blotting-paper,--and that of the already mentioned young
prig of prigs, Harry, sitting at the Barlovian feet, sneakingly
pretending to be in a rapture of youthful knowledge. I thought how
soon Mr. Barlow would smooth the clown's hair down, instead of
letting it stand erect in three tall tufts; and how, after a couple
of years or so with Mr. Barlow, he would keep his legs close
together when he walked, and would take his hands out of his big
loose pockets, and wouldn't have a jump left in him.
That I am particularly ignorant what most things in the universe
are made of, and how they are made, is another of my charges
against Mr. Barlow. With the dread upon me of developing into a
Harry, and with a further dread upon me of being Barlowed if I made
inquiries, by bringing down upon myself a cold shower-bath of
explanations and experiments, I forbore enlightenment in my youth,
and became, as they say in melodramas, 'the wreck you now behold.'
That I consorted with idlers and dunces is another of the
melancholy facts for which I hold Mr. Barlow responsible. That
pragmatical prig, Harry, became so detestable in my sight, that, he
being reported studious in the South, I would have fled idle to the
extremest North. Better to learn misconduct from a Master Mash
than science and statistics from a Sandford! So I took the path,
which, but for Mr. Barlow, I might never have trodden. Thought I,
with a shudder, 'Mr. Barlow is a bore, with an immense constructive
power of making bores. His prize specimen is a bore. He seeks to
make a bore of me. That knowledge is power I am not prepared to
gainsay; but, with Mr. Barlow, knowledge is power to bore.'
Therefore I took refuge in the caves of ignorance, wherein I have
resided ever since, and which are still my private address.
But the weightiest charge of all my charges against Mr. Barlow is,
that he still walks the earth in various disguises, seeking to make
a Tommy of me, even in my maturity. Irrepressible, instructive
monomaniac, Mr. Barlow fills my life with pitfalls, and lies hiding
at the bottom to burst out upon me when I least expect him.
A few of these dismal experiences of mine shall suffice.
Knowing Mr. Barlow to have invested largely in the moving panorama
trade, and having on various occasions identified him in the dark
with a long wand in his hand, holding forth in his old way (made
more appalling in this connection by his sometimes cracking a piece
of Mr. Carlyle's own Dead-Sea fruit in mistake for a joke), I
systematically shun pictorial entertainment on rollers. Similarly,
I should demand responsible bail and guaranty against the
appearance of Mr. Barlow, before committing myself to attendance at
any assemblage of my fellow-creatures where a bottle of water and a
note-book were conspicuous objects; for in either of those
associations, I should expressly expect him. But such is the
designing nature of the man, that he steals in where no reasoning
precaution or provision could expect him. As in the following
Adjoining the Caves of Ignorance is a country town. In this
country town the Mississippi Momuses, nine in number, were
announced to appear in the town-hall, for the general delectation,
this last Christmas week. Knowing Mr. Barlow to be unconnected
with the Mississippi, though holding republican opinions, and
deeming myself secure, I took a stall. My object was to hear and
see the Mississippi Momuses in what the bills described as their
'National ballads, plantation break-downs, nigger part-songs,
choice conundrums, sparkling repartees, &c.' I found the nine
dressed alike, in the black coat and trousers, white waistcoat,
very large shirt-front, very large shirt-collar, and very large
white tie and wristbands, which constitute the dress of the mass of
the African race, and which has been observed by travellers to
prevail over a vast number of degrees of latitude. All the nine
rolled their eyes exceedingly, and had very red lips. At the
extremities of the curve they formed, seated in their chairs, were
the performers on the tambourine and bones. The centre Momus, a
black of melancholy aspect (who inspired me with a vague uneasiness
for which I could not then account), performed on a Mississippi
instrument closely resembling what was once called in this island a
hurdy-gurdy. The Momuses on either side of him had each another
instrument peculiar to the Father of Waters, which may be likened
to a stringed weather-glass held upside down. There were likewise
a little flute and a violin. All went well for awhile, and we had
had several sparkling repartees exchanged between the performers on
the tambourine and bones, when the black of melancholy aspect,
turning to the latter, and addressing him in a deep and improving
voice as 'Bones, sir,' delivered certain grave remarks to him
concerning the juveniles present, and the season of the year;
whereon I perceived that I was in the presence of Mr. Barlow--
Another night--and this was in London--I attended the
representation of a little comedy. As the characters were lifelike
(and consequently not improving), and as they went upon their
several ways and designs without personally addressing themselves
to me, I felt rather confident of coming through it without being
regarded as Tommy, the more so, as we were clearly getting close to
the end. But I deceived myself. All of a sudden, Apropos of
nothing, everybody concerned came to a check and halt, advanced to
the foot-lights in a general rally to take dead aim at me, and
brought me down with a moral homily, in which I detected the dread
hand of Barlow.
Nay, so intricate and subtle are the toils of this hunter, that on
the very next night after that, I was again entrapped, where no
vestige of a spring could have been apprehended by the timidest.
It was a burlesque that I saw performed; an uncompromising
burlesque, where everybody concerned, but especially the ladies,
carried on at a very considerable rate indeed. Most prominent and
active among the corps of performers was what I took to be (and she
really gave me very fair opportunities of coming to a right
conclusion) a young lady of a pretty figure. She was dressed as a
picturesque young gentleman, whose pantaloons had been cut off in
their infancy; and she had very neat knees and very neat satin
boots. Immediately after singing a slang song and dancing a slang
dance, this engaging figure approached the fatal lamps, and,
bending over them, delivered in a thrilling voice a random eulogium
on, and exhortation to pursue, the virtues. 'Great Heaven!' was my
There is still another aspect in which Mr. Barlow perpetually
insists on my sustaining the character of Tommy, which is more
unendurable yet, on account of its extreme aggressiveness. For the
purposes of a review or newspaper, he will get up an abstruse
subject with definite pains, will Barlow, utterly regardless of the
price of midnight oil, and indeed of everything else, save cramming
himself to the eyes.
But mark. When Mr. Barlow blows his information off, he is not
contented with having rammed it home, and discharged it upon me,
Tommy, his target, but he pretends that he was always in possession
of it, and made nothing of it,--that he imbibed it with mother's
milk,--and that I, the wretched Tommy, am most abjectly behindhand
in not having done the same. I ask, why is Tommy to be always the
foil of Mr. Barlow to this extent? What Mr. Barlow had not the
slightest notion of himself, a week ago, it surely cannot be any
very heavy backsliding in me not to have at my fingers' ends to-
day! And yet Mr. Barlow systematically carries it over me with a
high hand, and will tauntingly ask me, in his articles, whether it
is possible that I am not aware that every school-boy knows that
the fourteenth turning on the left in the steppes of Russia will
conduct to such and such a wandering tribe? with other disparaging
questions of like nature. So, when Mr. Barlow addresses a letter
to any journal as a volunteer correspondent (which I frequently
find him doing), he will previously have gotten somebody to tell
him some tremendous technicality, and will write in the coolest
manner, 'Now, sir, I may assume that every reader of your columns,
possessing average information and intelligence, knows as well as I
do that'--say that the draught from the touch-hole of a cannon of
such a calibre bears such a proportion in the nicest fractions to
the draught from the muzzle; or some equally familiar little fact.
But whatever it is, be certain that it always tends to the
exaltation of Mr. Barlow, and the depression of his enforced and
Mr. Barlow's knowledge of my own pursuits I find to be so profound,
that my own knowledge of them becomes as nothing. Mr. Barlow
(disguised and bearing a feigned name, but detected by me) has
occasionally taught me, in a sonorous voice, from end to end of a
long dinner-table, trifles that I took the liberty of teaching him
five-and-twenty years ago. My closing article of impeachment
against Mr. Barlow is, that he goes out to breakfast, goes out to
dinner, goes out everywhere, high and low, and that he WILL preach
to me, and that I CAN'T get rid of him. He makes me a Promethean
Tommy, bound; and he is the vulture that gorges itself upon the
liver of my uninstructed mind.
CHAPTER XXXV--ON AN AMATEUR BEAT
It is one of my fancies, that even my idlest walk must always have
its appointed destination. I set myself a task before I leave my
lodging in Covent-garden on a street expedition, and should no more
think of altering my route by the way, or turning back and leaving
a part of it unachieved, than I should think of fraudulently
violating an agreement entered into with somebody else. The other
day, finding myself under this kind of obligation to proceed to
Limehouse, I started punctually at noon, in compliance with the
terms of the contract with myself to which my good faith was
On such an occasion, it is my habit to regard my walk as my beat,
and myself as a higher sort of police-constable doing duty on the
same. There is many a ruffian in the streets whom I mentally
collar and clear out of them, who would see mighty little of
London, I can tell him, if I could deal with him physically.
Issuing forth upon this very beat, and following with my eyes three
hulking garrotters on their way home,--which home I could
confidently swear to be within so many yards of Drury-lane, in such
a narrow and restricted direction (though they live in their
lodging quite as undisturbed as I in mine),--I went on duty with a
consideration which I respectfully offer to the new Chief
Commissioner,--in whom I thoroughly confide as a tried and
efficient public servant. How often (thought I) have I been forced
to swallow, in police-reports, the intolerable stereotyped pill of
nonsense, how that the police-constable informed the worthy
magistrate how that the associates of the prisoner did, at that
present speaking, dwell in a street or court which no man dared go
down, and how that the worthy magistrate had heard of the dark
reputation of such street or court, and how that our readers would
doubtless remember that it was always the same street or court
which was thus edifyingly discoursed about, say once a fortnight.
Now, suppose that a Chief Commissioner sent round a circular to
every division of police employed in London, requiring instantly
the names in all districts of all such much-puffed streets or
courts which no man durst go down; and suppose that in such
circular he gave plain warning, 'If those places really exist, they
are a proof of police inefficiency which I mean to punish; and if
they do not exist, but are a conventional fiction, then they are a
proof of lazy tacit police connivance with professional crime,
which I also mean to punish'--what then? Fictions or realities,
could they survive the touchstone of this atom of common sense? To
tell us in open court, until it has become as trite a feature of
news as the great gooseberry, that a costly police-system such as
was never before heard of, has left in London, in the days of steam
and gas and photographs of thieves and electric telegraphs, the
sanctuaries and stews of the Stuarts! Why, a parity of practice,
in all departments, would bring back the Plague in two summers, and
the Druids in a century!
Walking faster under my share of this public injury, I overturned a
wretched little creature, who, clutching at the rags of a pair of
trousers with one of its claws, and at its ragged hair with the
other, pattered with bare feet over the muddy stones. I stopped to
raise and succour this poor weeping wretch, and fifty like it, but
of both sexes, were about me in a moment, begging, tumbling,
fighting, clamouring, yelling, shivering in their nakedness and
hunger. The piece of money I had put into the claw of the child I
had over-turned was clawed out of it, and was again clawed out of
that wolfish gripe, and again out of that, and soon I had no notion
in what part of the obscene scuffle in the mud, of rags and legs
and arms and dirt, the money might be. In raising the child, I had
drawn it aside out of the main thoroughfare, and this took place
among some wooden hoardings and barriers and ruins of demolished
buildings, hard by Temple Bar.
Unexpectedly, from among them emerged a genuine police-constable,
before whom the dreadful brood dispersed in various directions, he
making feints and darts in this direction and in that, and catching
nothing. When all were frightened away, he took off his hat,
pulled out a handkerchief from it, wiped his heated brow, and
restored the handkerchief and hat to their places, with the air of
a man who had discharged a great moral duty,--as indeed he had, in
doing what was set down for him. I looked at him, and I looked
about at the disorderly traces in the mud, and I thought of the
drops of rain and the footprints of an extinct creature, hoary ages
upon ages old, that geologists have identified on the face of a
cliff; and this speculation came over me: If this mud could
petrify at this moment, and could lie concealed here for ten
thousand years, I wonder whether the race of men then to be our
successors on the earth could, from these or any marks, by the
utmost force of the human intellect, unassisted by tradition,
deduce such an astounding inference as the existence of a polished
state of society that bore with the public savagery of neglected
children in the streets of its capital city, and was proud of its
power by sea and land, and never used its power to seize and save
After this, when I came to the Old Bailey and glanced up it towards
Newgate, I found that the prison had an inconsistent look. There
seemed to be some unlucky inconsistency in the atmosphere that day;
for though the proportions of St. Paul's Cathedral are very
beautiful, it had an air of being somewhat out of drawing, in my
eyes. I felt as though the cross were too high up, and perched
upon the intervening golden ball too far away.
Facing eastward, I left behind me Smithfield and Old Bailey,--fire
and faggot, condemned hold, public hanging, whipping through the
city at the cart-tail, pillory, branding-iron, and other beautiful
ancestral landmarks, which rude hands have rooted up, without
bringing the stars quite down upon us as yet,--and went my way upon
my beat, noting how oddly characteristic neighbourhoods are divided
from one another, hereabout, as though by an invisible line across
the way. Here shall cease the bankers and the money-changers; here
shall begin the shipping interest and the nautical-instrument
shops; here shall follow a scarcely perceptible flavouring of
groceries and drugs; here shall come a strong infusion of butchers;
now, small hosiers shall be in the ascendant; henceforth,
everything exposed for sale shall have its ticketed price attached.
All this as if specially ordered and appointed.
A single stride at Houndsditch Church, no wider than sufficed to
cross the kennel at the bottom of the Canon-gate, which the debtors
in Holyrood sanctuary were wont to relieve their minds by skipping
over, as Scott relates, and standing in delightful daring of
catchpoles on the free side,--a single stride, and everything is
entirely changed in grain and character. West of the stride, a
table, or a chest of drawers on sale, shall be of mahogany and
French-polished; east of the stride, it shall be of deal, smeared
with a cheap counterfeit resembling lip-salve. West of the stride,
a penny loaf or bun shall be compact and self-contained; east of
the stride, it shall be of a sprawling and splay-footed character,
as seeking to make more of itself for the money. My beat lying
round by Whitechapel Church, and the adjacent sugar-refineries,--
great buildings, tier upon tier, that have the appearance of being
nearly related to the dock-warehouses at Liverpool,--I turned off
to my right, and, passing round the awkward corner on my left, came
suddenly on an apparition familiar to London streets afar off.
What London peripatetic of these times has not seen the woman who
has fallen forward, double, through some affection of the spine,
and whose head has of late taken a turn to one side, so that it now
droops over the back of one of her arms at about the wrist? Who
does not know her staff, and her shawl, and her basket, as she
gropes her way along, capable of seeing nothing but the pavement,
never begging, never stopping, for ever going somewhere on no
business? How does she live, whence does she come, whither does
she go, and why? I mind the time when her yellow arms were naught
but bone and parchment. Slight changes steal over her; for there
is a shadowy suggestion of human skin on them now. The Strand may
be taken as the central point about which she revolves in a half-
mile orbit. How comes she so far east as this? And coming back
too! Having been how much farther? She is a rare spectacle in
this neighbourhood. I receive intelligent information to this
effect from a dog--a lop-sided mongrel with a foolish tail,
plodding along with his tail up, and his ears pricked, and
displaying an amiable interest in the ways of his fellow-men,--if I
may be allowed the expression. After pausing at a pork-shop, he is
jogging eastward like myself, with a benevolent countenance and a
watery mouth, as though musing on the many excellences of pork,
when he beholds this doubled-up bundle approaching. He is not so
much astonished at the bundle (though amazed by that), as the
circumstance that it has within itself the means of locomotion. He
stops, pricks his ears higher, makes a slight point, stares, utters
a short, low growl, and glistens at the nose,--as I conceive with
terror. The bundle continuing to approach, he barks, turns tail,
and is about to fly, when, arguing with himself that flight is not
becoming in a dog, he turns, and once more faces the advancing heap
of clothes. After much hesitation, it occurs to him that there may
be a face in it somewhere. Desperately resolving to undertake the
adventure, and pursue the inquiry, he goes slowly up to the bundle,
goes slowly round it, and coming at length upon the human
countenance down there where never human countenance should be,
gives a yelp of horror, and flies for the East India Docks.
Being now in the Commercial Road district of my beat, and
bethinking myself that Stepney Station is near, I quicken my pace
that I may turn out of the road at that point, and see how my small
eastern star is shining.
The Children's Hospital, to which I gave that name, is in full
force. All its beds are occupied. There is a new face on the bed
where my pretty baby lay, and that sweet little child is now at
rest for ever. Much kind sympathy has been here since my former
visit, and it is good to see the walls profusely garnished with
dolls. I wonder what Poodles may think of them, as they stretch
out their arms above the beds, and stare, and display their
splendid dresses. Poodles has a greater interest in the patients.
I find him making the round of the beds, like a house-surgeon,
attended by another dog,--a friend,--who appears to trot about with
him in the character of his pupil dresser. Poodles is anxious to
make me known to a pretty little girl looking wonderfully healthy,
who had had a leg taken off for cancer of the knee. A difficult
operation, Poodles intimates, wagging his tail on the counterpane,
but perfectly successful, as you see, dear sir! The patient,
patting Poodles, adds with a smile, 'The leg was so much trouble to
me, that I am glad it's gone.' I never saw anything in doggery
finer than the deportment of Poodles, when another little girl
opens her mouth to show a peculiar enlargement of the tongue.
Poodles (at that time on a table, to be on a level with the
occasion) looks at the tongue (with his own sympathetically out) so
very gravely and knowingly, that I feel inclined to put my hand in
my waistcoat-pocket, and give him a guinea, wrapped in paper.
On my beat again, and close to Limehouse Church, its termination, I
found myself near to certain 'Lead-Mills.' Struck by the name,
which was fresh in my memory, and finding, on inquiry, that these
same lead-mills were identified with those same lead-mills of which
I made mention when I first visited the East London Children's
Hospital and its neighbourhood as Uncommercial Traveller, I
resolved to have a look at them.
Received by two very intelligent gentlemen, brothers, and partners
with their father in the concern, and who testified every desire to
show their works to me freely, I went over the lead-mills. The
purport of such works is the conversion of pig-lead into white-
lead. This conversion is brought about by the slow and gradual
effecting of certain successive chemical changes in the lead
itself. The processes are picturesque and interesting,--the most
so, being the burying of the lead, at a certain stage of
preparation, in pots, each pot containing a certain quantity of
acid besides, and all the pots being buried in vast numbers, in
layers, under tan, for some ten weeks.
Hopping up ladders, and across planks, and on elevated perches,
until I was uncertain whether to liken myself to a bird or a brick-
layer, I became conscious of standing on nothing particular,
looking down into one of a series of large cocklofts, with the
outer day peeping in through the chinks in the tiled roof above. A
number of women were ascending to, and descending from, this
cockloft, each carrying on the upward journey a pot of prepared
lead and acid, for deposition under the smoking tan. When one
layer of pots was completely filled, it was carefully covered in
with planks, and those were carefully covered with tan again, and
then another layer of pots was begun above; sufficient means of
ventilation being preserved through wooden tubes. Going down into
the cockloft then filling, I found the heat of the tan to be
surprisingly great, and also the odour of the lead and acid to be
not absolutely exquisite, though I believe not noxious at that
stage. In other cocklofts, where the pots were being exhumed, the
heat of the steaming tan was much greater, and the smell was
penetrating and peculiar. There were cocklofts in all stages; full
and empty, half filled and half emptied; strong, active women were
clambering about them busily; and the whole thing had rather the
air of the upper part of the house of some immensely rich old Turk,
whose faithful seraglio were hiding his money because the sultan or
the pasha was coming.
As is the case with most pulps or pigments, so in the instance of
this white-lead, processes of stirring, separating, washing,
grinding, rolling, and pressing succeed. Some of these are