London Labour and the London Poor, extra volumeMayhew, Henry
Dependants of Beggars.
The dependants of beggars may be divided into screevers proper; i. e., writers of "slums and fakements" for those who live by "screeving," and referees, or those who give characters to professional beggars when references are required. Beggars are generally born and bred to the business. Their fathers and mothers were beggars before them, and they have an hereditary right to the calling. The exceptions to this rule are those who have fallen into mendicancy, and follow it from necessity, and those who have flown to it in a moment of distress, and finding it more lucrative than they supposed, adopted it from choice. Hence it follows that the majority are entirely destitute of education; and by education I mean the primary arts of reading and writing. Where there is demand there is supply, and the wants of mendicants who found their account in "pads," and "slums," and "fakements," created "screevers."
The antecedents of the screever are always more or less—and generally more —disreputable. He has been a fraudulent clerk imprisoned for embezzlement; or a highly-respected treasurer to a philanthropic society, who has made off with the funds entrusted to him; or a petty forger, whose family have purchased silence, and "hushed up" a scandal; or, more frequently, that most dangerous of convicts, the half-educated convict—who has served his time or escaped his bonds.
Too proud to beg himself, or, more probably, too well known to the police to dare face daylight; ignorant of any honest calling, or too idle to practise it; without courage to turn thief or informer; lazy, dissolute, and self-indulgent, the screever turns his little education to the worst of purposes, and prepares the forgery he leaves the more fearless cadger to utter.
The following are specimens of the screever's work, copied from the original documents in the possession of Mr. Horsford, of the Mendicity Society:—
"Parish of Battersea;
County of Surrey.
My readers will perceive that the above document is written in a semi-legal style, with a profuse amount of large capitals, and minute particularity in describing localities, though here and there an almost ostentatious indifference exists upon the same points. Thus we are told that the parish of Battersea is in the county of Surrey, and that Port Glasgow is in North , while on the other hand we are only informed that the absconding Andrew Talfour, of Bay Street, Port Glasgow, N.B., made off to the , which, considering the vast extent of our colonial possessions, is vague, to say the least of it. It must also be allowed that, the beginning the word "benevolent" in the paragraph with a capital B is equally to the credit of the writer's head and heart. It is odd that after having spelt "responsible" so correctly, the writer should have indulged a playful fancy with "responsibiity;" but perhaps trifling orthographical lapses may be in keeping with the assumed character of vestry-clerk. Critically speaking, the weak point of this composition is its punctuation; its strong point the concluding paragraph, "the GIVEN under my hand at the VESTRY," which carries with it the double weight of a royal proclamation, and the business-like formality of an Admiralty contract; but the composition and caligraphy are trifles—the real genius lies in the signatures.
I wish my readers could see the names attached to this "Memorial" as they lay before me. The , "J. S. Jenkinson," is written in the most clerical of hands; "Watson and Co." is round and commercial; "John Forster & Co." the same; the "Revd J. Twining" scholarly and easy; "Alderman J. Humphery" stiff and upright. These names are evidently copied from the Red Book and Directory; some are purely fictitious; many are cleverly executed forgeries.
The ingenuity of the concocter and compiler—of the sympathiser with the woes of Mr. Alexander Fyfe of Port Glasgow, N.B.—was exercised in vain. The imposture was detected; he was taken to a police-court, condemned, and sentenced.
Here is the case of another unfortunate Scotchman from the pen of the same gifted author. The handwriting, the wording, the capitals, and the N.B.'s, are identical with those of the warm-hearted vestryclerk of Battersea.
"These are to certify that Mr. Alexr. Malcolm Ship-Owner and General Merchant, was on his passage from FRASERBURGH. ABERDEENSHIRE. N.B. on the night of the inst when his vessel the Susan and Mary of Fraserburgh laden with Corn was run down by a "steamer name unknown" the Crew consisting of persons narrowly escaping with their lives.
Mr. Malcolm sustained a loss of property by the appalling event to the amount of . and being a person of exemplary character with a numerous family entirely depending upon him for support his case has excited the greatest sympathy, it has therefore been proposed by a few of his friends to enter into a subscription on his behalf with a view of raising by voluntary contributions a sufficient sum to release him from his present embarrassed situation.
I have known him for several years a constant trader to this wharf, and consider him worthy of every sympathy."
The signatures attached to this are imitations of the handwriting of various firms, each distinct, individual, and apparently genuine.
The next "screeve" takes the form of a resolution at a public meeting:—
Parish of Kensington
"The Gentry and Clergy of this neighbourhood will no doubt remember that the late Mr. Edward Wyatt, (for many years a respectable tradesman in this parish) died in embarrassed circumstances in , leaving a Widow and Children totally unprovided for, the eldest of whom a fine Girl years of age having been a Cripple from her Birth has received a liberal education and is considered a competent person to superintend a SEMINARY for the tuition of young females which would
|materially assist her Mother in supporting a numerous family.|
A meeting was convened on Monday evening the inst (the Revd J. P. Gall, Incumbent of St. Johns, in the Chair) when it was unanimously proposed to enter into a subscription with a view of raising by voluntary contributions the sum of in order to establish the afflicted girl in this praise worthy undertaking, I have been instructed by the Parochial Authorities to draw up this statement and therefore take upon myself the responsibility of so doing knowing the case to be meriting sympathy.
By order of the Chairman
The above letter is written in a better style than those preceding it. Great talent is exhibited in the imitations of "lady'shand." The signatures "Mrs. Coventry," "Mrs. Cribb," "The Misses Howard," and "Mrs. Harris" (surely this screever must have been familiar with the works of Dickens), are excellently done, but are surpassed by the clever execution of the letters forming the names, "The Misses Shorland" and "Miss Hall ," which are masterpieces of feminine caligraphy.
The following note was sent to its address, accompanied by a memorial in of the envelopes, but the faulty grammar, so unlike the style in which a member of Parliament ought to write, betrayed it.
"Committee Room No.
"Mr. J. Whatman presents his respectful compliments to the Revd. W. Smith Marriott at the earnest request of the poor families (whose case will be fully explained on perusal of the accompanying document in the bearer's possession), begs to submit it for that gentlemen's charitable consideration.
The persons whom this concerns are natives of Cranbrook Gondhurst, Brenchley &c and bears unexceptionable characters, they have the honor of knowing Mr. Marriott at Worsmorden and trust he will add his signature to the list of subscribers, for which favour they will feel grateful.
J. Whatman takes more than ordinary interest in this case having a knowledge of its authenticity, he therefore trusts that the motives which actuates him in complying with the request will be deemed a sufficient apology.
"This Memorial sheweth that Mr. Henry Shepherd a General Carrier from EWELL, CHEAM, SUTTON &c. to LONDON VIA Mitchem, Morden, Tooting and Clapham, was returning home on the Evening of Thursday the inst when near the Elephant and Castle, his Horse took fright at a Band of street Musicians and ran off at a furious pace, the Van coming in contact with a Timber carriage was dashed to pieces, the Animal received such injuries as caused its death, and Mr. SHEPHERD endeavouring to save the property entrusted to his care for delivery had his Right Leg fractured and is now an inmate of GUYS HOSPITAL.
"On further investigation We find his loss exceeds . and knowing him to be an Industrious, Honest man, with a large family depending upon his exertions for support We earnestly beg leave to recommend his case to the notice of the Gentry and Clergy of his neighbourhood, trusting their united Donations in conjunction with our mutual assistance will release a deserving family from their present unfortunate position in life.
My readers must admire the ingenuity of this letter. The Mitchem looks so formal and convincing. The grouping of the circumstances—the "local colouring," as the critics would call it, which contributed to the ruin of the ill-fated general carrier Henry Shepherd—is excellent.—"Near the Elephant and Castle his horse took fright at a band of street musicians." What more natural? "Ran off at a furious pace. The van, coming in contact with a timber carriage, was The Animal," not the horse— that would have been tautological, and Animal with a capital A. "The Animal received such injuries as , and Mr. Shepherd, endeavouring to save the property entrusted to his care—." Admirable man! Devoted carrier!—leaving his van to smash—his horse to perish as they might, that the goods confided to him might receive no hurt. ". . . . endeavouring to save the property entrusted to his care for delivery, had his , and is now an inmate of Guy's Hospital."
This is as well conceived and carried out as Sheridan's pistol-bullet that misses its mark, "strikes a bronze Hercules in the mantel-piece, glances off through the window, and wounds the postman who was coming to the door with a double letter from Northamptonshire!"
The word "Paid" and its abbreviation pd. is scattered here and there artistically among the subscriptions. A small note in a different hand, in a corner of the last page shows the fate of industry and talent misapplied. It runs:—
The last instance I shall cite is peculiar, from the elaborate nature of the deception, and from containing a forgery of the signature of Lord Brougham. The screever, in this case, has taken a regularly printed Warrant, Execution, or Distress for Rent, filled it up with the name of Mrs. Julia Thompson, &c., and placed an imaginary inventory to a fictitious seizure. The word "Patent" is spelt "Pattent," which might be allowable in a broker's man, but when "Ewer" is written "Ure," I think he is too hard upon the orthography peculiar to the officers of the Sheriff of Middlesex, particularly as it is evident from the rest of the filling--in of the form that the error is intentional. Not only law but science is invoked in aid of this capital case of sham real distress. "Pleuro-Pneumonia" looks veterinary and veracious enough to carry conviction to the hearts of the most sceptical.
Removing any goods off the premises to avoid a distress or any person aiding, assisting, or concealing the same, will subject themselves to double the value of such effects so removed or concealed, or suffer imprisonment in the , there to be kept to hard labour without Bail or Mainprize for Months, pursuant to the Act George .
Sold by G. H. Beckford, Law Stationer, , .
"TAKE NOTICE, That by the authority and on the behalf of your Landlord, Thos. Young, I have this Sixteenth day of April in the year of Our Lord distrained the several goods and chattels specified in the Schedule or Inventory hereinunder written in
in the Parish of Paddington in the County of Middlesex, for , being Months and arrears Rent due to the said Mr. Thos. Young at Febry last and if you shall not pay the said Months and Arrears Rent so due and in arrear as aforesaid together with the costs and charges of this distress or replevy the said goods and chattels within days from the date hereof I shall cause the said goods and chattels to be appraised and sold, pursuant to the statute in that case made and provided.
The Schedule or Inventory above referred to:—
Mahogany Dining Tables
Mahogany Seated Chairs
Arm Do. Do.
Oil Paintings Gilt Frames
Large Pier Glass
Carpet and Hearthrug
Fender and Fire-irons
Quantity of Chimney Ornaments
Long Table Deal
Large Copper Boiler
Large Water Butt
Doz. of Knifes and Forkes
Quantity of Earthen ware &c. &c.
Feather Beds & Bedding
Flock Do Do.
Washhand stand Ure &c.
set of Bedroom Carpeting
Staircase Carpeting, Brass Rods &c
Cwt. of Hay
Quantity of Manure
And Sundry Dairy Utensils
&c. &c. &c.
On the back of this legal document is written:
"This memorial sheweth that Mrs. Julia Thompson, widow, Cowkeeper and Dairywoman has since the demise of her husband which took place in supported a family consisting of children by the assistance of a small Dairy the Pleuro- Pneumonia a disease Among Cattle has prevailed in the neighbourhood for several weeks during which time she has lost Milch Cows estimated at . " " which will end in her entire ruin unless aided by the Hands of the Benevolent whose Donations in conjunction with Our mutual assistance will We trust enable Mrs. Thompson to realize some part of her lost property to follow her Business As before.
The most notorious "screevers" of the present day are Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Johnson of , or as he is proud of being called, "Johnson the Schemer."