London Labour and the London Poor, extra volume

Mayhew, Henry
1851

Ashamed Beggars.

Ashamed Beggars.

By the above title I mean those tall, lanthorn-jawed men, in seedy well-brushed clothes, who, with a ticket on their breasts, on which a short but piteous tale is written in the most respectable of large-hand, and with a few boxes of lucifer-matches in their hands, make no appeal by word of mouth, but invoke the charity of passers-by by meek glances and imploring looks—fellows who, having no talent for "patter," are gifted with great powers of facial pathos, and make expression of feature stand in lieu of vocal supplication. For some years I have watched a specimen of this class, who has a regular "beat" at the west end of London. He is a tall man, with thin legs and arms, and a slightly-protuberant stomach. His "costume" (I use the word advisedly, for he is really a great actor of pantomime,) consists of an old black dresscoat, carefully buttoned, but left sufficiently open at the top to show a spotlessly white shirt, and at the bottom, to exhibit an old grey waistcoat; and a snowy apron, which he wears after the fashion of a Freemason, forgetting that real tradesmen are never seen in their aprons except behind the counter. A pair of tight, dark, shabby trousers, black gaiters without an absent button, and heavy shoes of the severest thickness, cover his nether man. Round his neck is a red worsted comforter, which neatly tied at the throat, descends straight and formally beneath his coat, and exhibits two fringed ends, which fall, in agreeable contrast of colour, over the beforemen- tioned apron. I never remember seeing a beggar of this class without an apron and a worsted comforter—they would appear to be his stock-in-trade, a necessary portion of his outfit; the white apron to relieve the sombre hue of his habiliments, and show up their well-brushed shabbiness; the scarlet comforter to contrast with the cadaverous complexion which he owes to art or nature. In winter the comforter also serves as an advertisement that his great-coat is gone.

The man I am describing wears a "pad" round his neck, on which is written— I was once a Respectable Tradesman, doing a Good Business; till Misfortune reduced me to this Pass! Be kind enough to Buy some of the Articles I offer, and you will confer a Real Charity!

In his hands, on which he wears scrupulously-darned mittens, he carries a box or two of matches, or a few quires of notepaper or envelopes, and half-a-dozen small sticks of sealing-wax. He is also furnished with a shabby-genteel looking boy of about nine years old, who wears a Shakesperian collar, and the regulation worsted comforter, the ends of which nearly trail upon the ground. The poor child, whose features do not in the least resemble the man's, and who, too young to be his son, is too old to be his grandson, keeps his little hands in his large pockets, and tries to look as unhappy and half-starved as he can.

But the face of the beggar is a marvellous exhibition! His acting is admirable! Christian resignation and its consequent fortitude are written on his brow. His eyes roll imploringly, but no sound escapes him. The expression of his features almost pronounces, "Christian friend, purchase my humble wares, for I scorn to beg. I am starving, but tortures shall not wring the humiliating secret from my lips." He exercises a singular fascination over old ladies, who slide coppers into his hand quickly, as if afraid that they shall hurt his feelings. He pockets the money, heaves a sigh, and darts an abashed and grateful look at them that makes them feel how keenly he appreciates their delicacy. When the snow is on the ground he now and then introduces a little shiver, and with a well-worn pockethandkerchief stifles a cough that he intimates by, a despairing dropping of his eyelids, is slowly killing him.

By the above title I mean those tall, lanthorn-jawed men, in seedy well-brushed clothes, who, with a ticket on their breasts, on which a short but piteous tale is written in the most respectable of large-hand, and with a few boxes of lucifer-matches in their hands, make no appeal by word of mouth, but invoke the charity of passers-by by meek glances and imploring looks—fellows who, having no talent for "patter," are gifted with great powers of facial pathos, and make expression of feature stand in lieu of vocal supplication. For some years I have watched a specimen of this class, who has a regular "beat" at the west end of London. He is a tall man, with thin legs and arms, and a slightly-protuberant stomach. His "costume" (I use the word advisedly, for he is really a great actor of pantomime,) consists of an old black dresscoat, carefully buttoned, but left sufficiently open at the top to show a spotlessly white shirt, and at the bottom, to exhibit an old grey waistcoat; and a snowy apron, which he wears after the fashion of a Freemason, forgetting that real tradesmen are never seen in their aprons except behind the counter. A pair of tight, dark, shabby trousers, black gaiters without an absent button, and heavy shoes of the severest thickness, cover his nether man. Round his neck is a red worsted comforter, which neatly tied at the throat, descends straight and formally beneath his coat, and exhibits fringed ends, which fall, in agreeable contrast of colour, over the beforemen- tioned apron. I never remember seeing a beggar of this class without an apron and a worsted comforter—they would appear to be his stock-in-trade, a necessary portion of his outfit; the white apron to relieve the sombre hue of his habiliments, and show up their well-brushed shabbiness; the scarlet comforter to contrast with the cadaverous complexion which he owes to art or nature. In winter the comforter also serves as an advertisement that his great-coat is gone.

The man I am describing wears a "pad" round his neck, on which is written—

413

I was once a

Respectable Tradesman,

doing a Good Business;

till Misfortune reduced me to

this Pass!

Be kind enough to Buy

some of the Articles I offer,

and you will confer a

Real Charity!

In his hands, on which he wears scrupulously-darned mittens, he carries a box or of matches, or a few quires of notepaper or envelopes, and half-a-dozen small sticks of sealing-wax. He is also furnished with a shabby-genteel looking boy of about years old, who wears a Shakesperian collar, and the regulation worsted comforter, the ends of which nearly trail upon the ground. The poor child, whose features do not in the least resemble the man's, and who, too young to be his son, is too old to be his grandson, keeps his little hands in his large pockets, and tries to look as unhappy and half-starved as he can.

But the face of the beggar is a marvellous exhibition! His acting is admirable! Christian resignation and its consequent fortitude are written on his brow. His eyes roll imploringly, but no sound escapes him. The expression of his features almost pronounces, "Christian friend, purchase my humble wares, for I am starving, but tortures shall not wring the humiliating secret from my lips." He exercises a singular fascination over old ladies, who slide coppers into his hand quickly, as if afraid that they shall hurt his feelings. He pockets the money, heaves a sigh, and darts an abashed and grateful look at them that makes them feel how keenly he appreciates their delicacy. When the snow is on the ground he now and then introduces a little shiver, and with a well-worn pockethandkerchief stifles a cough that he intimates by, a despairing dropping of his eyelids, is slowly killing him.