Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

and spent, if not positively drunk, the motley | impure. Ballad-singing has been, and company salute the Sabbath morn.

ever will be a favorite amusement of the “If one could follow that crowd home, one workers, and if well managed and written. might moralize! Deep reflection, serious and calm thoughts, statesman and philanthropist,

these ballads may address themselves to might be spent upon them. What time shall the parents have for thought or praver, for the holy feelings of man's nature, just as cleanliness or godliness when they huddle to well as to the sensual and low passions, bed at such an hour, down some narrow court? which exist with the rich as well as the Place down the tired and the fevered child; I poor. there let it dream its infant life away with the In the same street in which the blaziny hoarse voice of Mr. Vox, the 'celebrated comic

temple of insobriety in which our author singer,' ringing in its ears. Wearied with misspent hours, and annoyed by wasted money, let

hath pictured Mr. Vox as singing, stands, the brutal quarrel now ensue between the shrew

there are also to be found hundreds of wife who begs her weekly pittance to keep house, poor, wretched people, whose subsistence and the brutal and inebriated husband. ^ Spirits is so scanty, that it does not permit them of evil, shut in my noisome cellars, or impri- to dream of so grand an entertainment as soned in the squat casks above my bar! what that of Mr. Vox and his company, any once was part of you scours now the veins of

more than it would of sitting with her hundreds of beings, and, whilst they lie in un

Majesty at the Haymarket opera-house, easy sleep, prepares the morbid apathy and the

and of listening to the trills of Alboni. quick-coming disease of the morrow."

For them, the itinerant ballad-monger

strikes up his quavering or roaring notes. Now, in our opinion, there can be no With them, the little stunted child crying question but that such entertainments as in weak voice some negro ballad, is a these tend materially to demoralize the master in song. Doubtlessly they find population; and yet the statesman and beauty in such songsters, for they will the Christian have been forced to discover reward him with farthings and halfpence; that a people cannot subsist without amuse- that is, those who are comparatively rich ment. And ignorant people tickled, pleas- amongst them; and for the others, one ed, and coquetted with, may for a long may see them listening with pleasure and time submit to the most rapacious and avidity to this eleemosynary concert, down wicked of governments. The Romans of the dark alley and the crowded court. the later empire have taught us this. So That some of these songs are improper long as they could obtain panem et cir- and nonsensical, there is no doubt; but censes, Didius Julianus might purchase the that the large majority have a great deal empire at an auction, or Elagabalus might of rude pathos, and even poetry and power disgust the world with his profligacy. But in them, speaks volumes for the kindly at the same time, it were unwise, because hearts and feelings of that noble race, the a vicious system of indulgence has paved British poor. Let the recollection of the the way for tyranny, to entirely destroy melody be ever so faint, the words of the an innocent amusement. There is “a time song ever so poor, you shall see the crowd to laugh,” says Solomon, and the heathen listen - attentisque auribus adstant, — to poet echoes the sentiment. An occasional | the sorrows of “Lucy Neal,” or the trourelaxation is wise and natural, and, there- bles of“ Ben Bolt.” fore, virtuous and conformable with Christianity. When this is denied, the people "Oh, don't you remember the wood, Ben Bolt, rush into the opposite extreme; the puri- | Near the green sunny slope of the hill, tanic severity of the Commonwealth, noble Where we oft have sung 'neath its wide-spreadas it was, unfortunately induced with an ing shade,

And kept time to the click of the mill ? uneducated people, the licentious pravity of the Restoration. In observing, there

The mill has gone to decay, Ben Bolt,

And a quiet now reigns all around, fore, on the “low life” of London a chapter

See, the old rustic porch with its roses so sweet, might easily, indeed should be, set aside Lies scattered and fall'n to the ground.” for their amusements and indulgences; and glancing for the last time at these, we We present this verse to our country assure the reader, that far from doing readers, who have often in quiet parlors away with them, we would merely substi- listened to the same song, as a protest tute the healthy and the elevating, for the against the supposition, that the “low low, the corrupt, the intoxicating and the people” like everything that is low. The song is of itself not very fine, but it has worthy of our attention. Taken on the about it an appeal to the heart which with whole, in this year of 1856, the observathose who listen to it, equals the tender- tion will not prove discouraging, nor shall ness of Chapelle, or the pastorals of we find the tone of morals, or the class of Guarini. These songs, too, arise from the ideas instilled by cheap literature, so depeople, with whom they are so popular. grading as many would have us suppose. After the battle of the Alma, one was A long and a wide acquaintance with the bawled about the holes and corners of subject, undertaken for a specific purpose, London, and eagerly bought by the deni- gives us the right to declare this ex cathezens thereof, which we believe has not drâ. Impure literature circulates in its achieved the popularity of the middle-class worst form amongst the roués and drawing-room, but which spoke to many bauchés of high life. With the poor, literaa widowed heart, and to many thousands ture and a taste for reading exist together of those whose true aspirations make the with the very natural fact, that they purify glory of the country. Its verses ran as and improve themselves. The act of writfollows:

ing novels and constructing tales, though

rudely practised, is yet much better done “ Mother, is the battle over?

now for the poor than it used to be. To Thousands have been slain, they say,

be sure we have stupid young ladies who Is my father coming ?—tell me,

will write to more stupid editors and ask Have the English gained the day?

their advice, as to whether they shall Is he well, or is he wounded Mother, do you think he's slain ?

marry the “fair gentleman” who is so If you know I pray you tell me

“insinuating,” or the “dark young man" Will my father come again ?"

whose eyes are so “ romantic;" but very

"luckily these things are now confined to Of course the purport of the song re

the kitchen and the milliner's workroom, quires that the father is slain; and the

and they in a few short months disgust poet winds up in sad doggrel, but with a their most ardent admirers. But there is touch of true pathos :

much comfort in knowing that ladies of

title a few years ago, passed through the “He died for old England's glory;

same ordeal, and that the Ladies' MisOur day may not be far between, cellany, and that little monthly, which But I hope at the last moment

Oliver Goldsmith edited for the bookseller, That we all shall meet again.” Griffith, contained precisely the same, and

even much worse and more mischievous We repeat that these songs are infinitely questions. In the library of the British parer and better than the songs of the Museum, are hundreds of such dead inanidrawing-room, sixty, fifty, ay, or forty ties, affording fine texts for one who should years ago. In Doctor Johnson's time - preach upon human folly and weakness, the grave old fellow himself wrote love but also conveying consolation and hope, songs-ladies perpetrated compositions of when we find that the mental epidemie a very curious tendency, and not only rages now amongst the lowest and most curious, but prurient. These have crept ignorant classes, instead of the highest and into our most modest collections, and most educated. The truth is, that the some of them may be even found in Dr. taste of our titled great-grandmothers Knox's “Elegant Extracts," and in Dods was considerably worse than that of our ley's “Collection of Poems;" in the books untaught cooks and housemaids is at presof fugitive poetry of the period they ent. When we remember that the Bon abound. The contrast is, therefore, much Ton Magazine was very popular, and to be noted, is very pleasing, and gives us that the scandalous tête-à-têtes in the great hope for the people of England, for Town and Country Magazine were when purity and true feeling exists in greedily perused, we shall not doubt the “ low life," there happiness will exist also. assertion. A great patriot declared, that he did not As regards the non-assertion of Christ. care who made the laws of a country so ianity, and often, indeed, the strange that he made the songs, and very often way in which religion itself is ignored in the happiness of a people is more endan- the popular journals-one of these boasts gered by a bad song than by a bad law. of a sale of a quarter of a million copies,

The literature of the lowest classes is 1 and of six times that number of readers

we have only to say that the fact exists | outrageous kind, which is bawled about and is to be deeply deplored. With re- the streets by the stentorian gentlemen of gard to one of these journals the case is that profession, and which, out of mere perhaps worse. It is edited by a clever curiosity, calls the heads of the neighborman-one, indeed, of wide intelligence hood out of their houses. Sometimes it and information—but who is, unfortu-is a story of an uncommitted murder. nately, so latitudinarian that he doubts Sometimes it is a scandalous account of everything, and what is more, he suggests the elopement of Mrs. S— with Mr. his doubts to other and weaker minds. T— both of the street or parish in The harm done by such a man is incalcu- which it is hawked. These often sell lable. But lower than these, by many, largely, especially in the country, but the many fathoms' measure, are certain pur- Londoners are becoming awake to the veyors of literature for the poor, in the ingenuity of the Seven Dials authors. shape of last-dying speeches and songs. In "low life” especially, is exhibited that Copies of the songs, verses of which we morbid craving after excitement which printed above, proceeded from the same always accompanies ignorance; accounts celebrated press in Seven Dials : for it is of “murders” and “last-dying speeches," in that populous neighborhood, in the printed on these broad sheets, are sold, neighborhood of Monmouth Street, and in not by thousands, but by tens of thousands the region of the Jews and old clothesmen, of copies. that the muse populaire dwells and flou- ! Our readers will not, perhaps, be surrishes. Curiously, the place has suffered prised to find that the criminal population no change during a whole century. of London, although existing within the Fielding, in his exquisite burlesque of limits inhabited by the poor and needy, “Tom Thumb,” places in the mouth of are yet not of them, but a totally distinct Lord Doodle the excellent apothegm: class. The fact is, that the very poor of

this great city, are "destroyed for lack of -"What is honor ? knowledge,” (Hosea 4:6)-of any kind of A Monmouth-street laced coat gracing to-day education, whereas the thieves of London My back, to-morrow glittering on another's.”

are an educated class, indeed learned

learned in deceit, in a knowledge of man, And cast-off garments and vamped boots and in their business and art. Mr. Mayform the staple commodities of the place hew, who has devoted a great deal of now. Here it is then that Catnach and time to this particular branch of study, Pitts, the rival publishers—the Tonson has arranged for us the different kinds of and Curll, the Murray and Bentley, of the people who form in London, as in all great greater literary world-employ their poets cities, a distinct class of beings, but who and retail their wares. If they chance to have an essential connection with “low hit upon a popular ballad they realize life :" large sums by it; but it is not every song, any more than every book, that achieves

"There is a distinct class of persons who have a notoriety. The consequence is that the

an innate aversion to any settled industry, and number of " dead” ballads deducts much since work is a necessary condition of the human from the profit of those which may be organization, the question becomes, How do said to live, and this necessarily subtracts, such people live? There is but one answer-on the score of dead stock, from the price | If they will not labor to procure their own food, paid to the poet, so that Pope's ill-natured

at Panels ill-natured of course they must live on the food procured by saying of Phillipps that he turned a the labor of others. Persian tale for half-a-crown,"

“The means by which the criminal classes

that is, obtain their living constitute the essential points that he put it in verse—is more than re- of difference among them, and form, indeed, the alized by the ballad-maker of Seven Dials. methods of distinction among themselves. The These blind Homers get but eighteen * Rampsmen,' the ‘Drummers,' the "Mobsmen,' pence each for their Iliad, which, after all, the 'Sneaksmen,' and the 'Shofulmen,' which is perhaps as much as they are worth. | are the terms by which the thieves themselves As every day does not afford a subject designate the several branches of the ‘profession,'

are but so many expressions indicating the for a song, the poet for the people is often

" several modes of obtaining the property of which driven to exercise his imagination, and he

ven to exercise nis magmation, and ne they become possessed. then produces a “cock;" that is, in the "The “Rampsman,' or 'Cracksman,' plunders slang of the district, a fabrication of some by force—as the burglar, footpad, etc.

“The ‘Drummer,' plunders by stupefaction-1 “The 'Cadgers,' by begging and exciting false as the 'hocusser.'

sympathy. "The ‘Mobsman,' plunders by manual dex “The Vagrants,' by declaring on the casual terity-as the pickpocket.

ward of the parish workhouse. “The 'Sneaksman,' plunders by stealth—as “Each of these, again, are unmistakably disthe petty-larceny boy. And

tinguished from the rest. The Flat-catchers' “ The Shofulman' plunders by counterfeits are generally remarkable for great shrewdness, -as the coiner.

especially in the knowledge of human character, “Now, each and all of these are a distinct and ingenuity in designing and carrying out species of the criminal genus, having little con- their several schemes. The Charley Pitchers' nection with the others. The cracksman,' or appertain more to the conjuring or sleight-ofhousebreaker, would no more think of associat- hand and black-leg class. “The Cadgers,' on ing with the sneaksman,' than a barrister the other hand, are to the class of cheats what would dream of sitting down to dinner with an the 'Sneaksman' is to the thieves—the lowest attorney. The perils braved by the housebreak- of all-being the least distinguished for those er or the footpad, makes the cowardice of the characteristics which mark the other members sneaksman contemptible to him; and the one is of the same body. As the "Sneaksman' is the distinguished by a kind of bull-dog insensibility least daring and expert of all the prigs, so is to danger, while the other is marked by a low, the Cadger' the least intellectual and cunning cat-like cunning.

of all the cheats. A ‘Shallow cove'—that is to "The · Mobsman,' on the other hand, is more say, one who exhibits himself half-naked in the of a handicraftsman than either, and is com- streets, as a means of obtaining his living—is paratively refined, by the society he is obliged looked upon as the most despicable of all creato keep. He usually dresses in the same elabo-tures, since the act requires neither courage, inrate style of fashion as a Jew on a Saturday (in | tellect, nor dexterity for the execution of it. which case he is more particularly described by Lastly, the Vagrants are the wanderers—the the prefix 'swell',) and mixes' generally in the English Bedouins—those who, in their own 'best of company,' frequenting for the purpose words, “love to shake a free leg'—the thoughtof business, all the places of public entertain- less and the careless vagabonds of our race." ment, and often being a regular attendant at church, and the more elegant chapels-especially during charity sermons. The mobsman takes These descriptions, in the main true, are his name from the gregarious habits of the class distinguished by that spirit of exaggerato which he belongs, it being necessary for the tion which attaches to Mr. Mayhew's writsuccessful picking of pockets that the work ings. The classes are not so distinct as be done in small gangs or mobs, so as to 'cover' | he would make out, and cracksmen” and the operator. " Among the Sneaksmen,' again, the pur

“sneaksmen” are to be found together, loiners of animals (such as the horse-stealers, J

Tjust as barristers and attorneys congregate the sheep-stealers, &c.) all, with the exception at the same table. The bar has its etiof the dog-stealers, belong to a particular tribe; 1 quette, but it is often broken through. these are agricultural thieves, whereas the and “low life” like haut ton, not only mobsmen are generally of a more civic charac- sometimes, but often lays aside its rules, ter.

and submits to necessity. “The 'Shofulmen,' or coiners, moreover, con- The earnings of these men whom Mr. stitute another species; and upon them, like

Mayhew has classed for us, are frequently the others, is impressed the stamp of the peculiar line of roguery they may chance to follow

to follow very high, but the devil is a bad payas a means of subsistence.

master, and the gains of vice are preca“Such are the most salient features of that rious. “I'd rather,” said a reformed portion of the habitually dishonest classes who | thief to the narrator, “live upon a pen. live by taking what they want from others. north o' bread a day, got honestly, than The other moiety of the same class, who live by

have lots of grub the other way-that I getting what they want given to them, is equally peculiar. These consist of the Flat-catchers'

would; not but what there's a deal to be the Hunters,' and Charley Pitchers,' the

made, particularly by handkerchiefs, but Bouncers,' and Besters.' tñe · Cadgers.' and you're always in fear, your conscience the. Vagrants.'

won't let yer rest, every sound you bears, “The Flat-catchers' obtain their means by it may be on the passage or on the stairs false pretences—as swindlers, duffers, ring-drop- | when you're a-bed, any how, you starts pers and cheats of all kinds.

| up and thinks it's some peeler come to take

yer !” The same man knew two houseby low gaming—as thimblerig-men. " The Bouncers' and 'Besters,' by betting,

breakers, who “would think it a bad intimidating, or talking people out of their pro- |

| night's work when they went out, if their perty.

share was not a hundred pounds, but

they was always poor, poor as he was, I or by a sermon from some conscientious with not a sixpence to bless themselves minister of Christ, should go forth to with."

meet his Lazarus, he would not in London The money earned by thieves is always, have very far to wander. Mr. Vanderor almost always, spent in low debauch- kiste, in his deeply interesting work, tells ery, and dissipated as soon as acquired. us the trials which poor people endure beAround them there are ever cunning and fore they attempt suicide. He is merely brutal flatterers and hangers-on ; the bur- relating the every-day experience of a glar is more secret now, but still he has his London City Missionary. courtiers and admirers, just as he did “These people” (he is speaking of an when Jack Sheppard made himself fa- industrious family, the support of which mous, and Jonathan Wild was employed was discharged upon a reduction of hands) by a weak and infamous government as “ were actually starving; they had been a thief-catcher. Thieves themselves are without food for two days. I immediately shunned as much by the honest poor, as gave them some money for food, which by the honest rich, but there is a bond be- was instantly procured, and on eating it tween them which keeps them very much the wind in both the parents occasioned together, and that bond is the persecution so much hysterics that I was really experienced from the police. From these alarmed. Another poor man," he conmen in office, whether at a fire, a review, tinues, “ described to me the effects of his a crowd, or in their own dark alley, the fasting for three days. “The first day,' poor of London get but rough treatment. said he, ''taint so werry bad if you has a Brought up in a hard school, frequently bit of 'baccer; the second, it's horrid, it is untaught themselves, and imported from sich gnawing; the third day 'taint so bad the country into London, the policemen again, you feel sinkish like and werry regard everybody who is not a “house- / faintish.” Another man he visited was holder” as one of the “ dangerous classes” “gnawing something black,”which proved whom he must “put down.” The phrase to be a bone picked from a dunghill, and used, is and has been a favorite with the in a state of decomposition. He adds, officer and police magistrate; and some “I could fill a volume with accounts of years ago a London alderman, dressed in cases of extreme distress and actual stara little brief authority, talked grandly vation." about the wickedness of self-murder, and The misery thus experienced tells upon assured a miserable and ruined girl, who the poor creatures at last ; and at the door had attempted to drown herself, that he of every police court hangs a black board, had determined, “with the aid of the po- upon which printed formula, headed lice, to put down suicide.” Such a speech, “FOUND DEAD," are pasted, which are smacking more of magisterial zeal than of filled up in the hand-writing of the police Christian sympathy, is yet remembered inspector. Many of these (about twelve and repeated by the poor and miserable. cases are constantly “before the public")

Suicide is, however, much less frequent are no doubt instances of accidental death, among the “low" people than the high. &c., such as drowning, but many, too They are often so poor that they have not many, alas ! are evidently those of starspirit enough to kill themselves, and they vation and exhaustion: the back room, endure unheard-of hardships. If any one garret, or ditch, where they are found, the is curious about this fact let him station scant clothing, the sunken cheeks and eyes, himself, upon a bitter night, of which our all betoken it; the parish doctor, who is climate affords many even in spring and called in to view the corpse, never doubts early summer, at one of those refuges for it. the homeless and the outcast, which pri- | The dwellings of the poor and low in vate charity has established in many por- London, are perhaps more wretched, tions of the town. He will there meet miserable, and contagious, than those of such haggard, downcast, miserable wretch- any people in the world. Modern improvees, such faded, troubled, and worn-out ment has done something to remedy this, specimens of humanity, that he will won- but there is yet much to do. Every sumder at that persistence in life which, for so mer, cholera and typhus make lanes among long a time, keeps body and soul together, the“ low life;” and although Field Lane If Dives ever in a repentant mood, touched and many of its adjacent courts have been by a wandering gleam of Christian charity, pulled down, yet the police are continually

« VorigeDoorgaan »