London Labour and the London Poor, extra volume

Mayhew, Henry
1851

The Swell Beggar.

The Swell Beggar.

A singular variety of this sort of mendicant used to be seen some years ago in the streets of Cambridge. He had been a gentleman of property, and had studied at one of the colleges. Race-courses, billiardtables, and general gambling had reduced him to beggary; but he was too proud to ask alms. As the "Ashamed Beggar" fortifies himself with a "pad," this swellbeggar armed himself with a broom. He swept a crossing. His clothes—he always wore evening-dress—were miserably ragged and shabby; his hat was a broken Gibus, but he managed to have good and fashionable boots; and his shirt collar, and wristbands were changed every day. A white cambric handkerchief peeped from his coattail pocket, and a gold eye-glass dangled from his neck. His hands were lady-like; his nails well-kept; and it was impossible to look at him without a mingled feeling of pity and amusement.

His plan of operations was to station himself at his crossing at the time the ladies of Cambridge were out shopping. His antics were curiously funny. Dangling his broom between his fore-finger and thumb, as if it were a light umbrella or riding-whip, he would arrive at his stand, and look up at the sky to see what sort of weather might be expected. Then tucking the broom beneath his arm he would take off his gloves, fold them together and put them into his coat-pockets, sweep his crossing carefully, and when he had finished, look at it with admiration. When ladies crossed, he would remove his broken hat, and smile with great benignity, displaying at the same time a fine set of teeth. On wet days his attentions to the fair sex knew no bounds. He would run before them and wipe away every little puddle in their path. On receiving a gratuity, which was generally in silver, he would remove his hat and bow gracefully and gratefully. When gentlemen walked over his crossing he would stop them, and, holding his hat in the true mendicant fashion, request the loan of a shilling. With many he was a regular pensioner. When a mechanic or poor-looking person offered him a copper, he would take it, and smile his thanks with a patronising air, but he never took off his hat to less than sixpence. He was a jovial and boastful beggar, and had a habit of jerking at his standup collar, and pulling at his imperial coxcombically. When he considered his day's work over, he would put on his gloves, and, dangling his broom in his careless elegant way, trip home to his lodging. He never used a broom but one day, and gave the old ones to his landlady. The undergraduates were kind to him, and encouraged his follies; but the college dons looked coldly on him, and when they passed him he would assume an expression of impertinent indifference as if he cut them. I never heard what became of him. When I last saw him he looked between forty and fifty years of age.

A singular variety of this sort of mendicant used to be seen some years ago in the streets of Cambridge. He had been a gentleman of property, and had studied at of the colleges. Race-courses, billiardtables, and general gambling had reduced him to beggary; but he was too proud to ask alms. As the "Ashamed Beggar" fortifies himself with a "pad," this swellbeggar armed himself with a broom. He swept a crossing. His clothes—he always wore evening-dress—were miserably ragged and shabby; his hat was a broken Gibus, but he managed to have good and fashionable boots; and his shirt collar, and wristbands were changed every day. A white cambric handkerchief peeped from his coattail pocket, and a gold eye-glass dangled from his neck. His hands were lady-like; his nails well-kept; and it was impossible to look at him without a mingled feeling of pity and amusement.

His plan of operations was to station himself at his crossing at the time the ladies of Cambridge were out shopping. His antics were curiously funny. Dangling his broom between his fore-finger and thumb, as if it were a light umbrella or riding-whip, he would arrive at his stand, and look up at the sky to see what sort of weather might be expected. Then tucking the broom beneath his arm he would take off his gloves, fold them together and put them into his coat-pockets, sweep his crossing carefully, and when he had finished, look at it with admiration. When ladies crossed, he would remove his broken hat, and smile with great benignity, displaying at the same time a fine set of teeth. On wet days his attentions to the fair sex knew no bounds. He would run before them and wipe away every little puddle in their path. On receiving a gratuity, which was generally in silver, he would remove his hat and bow gracefully and gratefully. When gentlemen walked over his crossing he would stop them, and, holding his hat in the true mendicant fashion, request the loan of a shilling. With many he was a regular pensioner. When a mechanic or poor-looking person offered him a copper, he would take it, and smile his thanks with a patronising air, but he never took off his hat to less than sixpence. He was a jovial and boastful beggar, and had a habit of jerking at his standup collar, and pulling at his imperial coxcombically. When he considered his day's work over, he would put on his gloves, and, dangling his broom in his careless elegant way, trip home to his lodging. He never used a broom but day, and gave the old ones to his landlady. The undergraduates were kind to him, and encouraged his follies; but the college dons looked coldly on him, and when they passed him he would assume an expression of impertinent indifference I never heard what became of him. When I last saw him he looked between and years of age.