Living Picture of London, for 1828 and Stranger's Guide Through the Streets of the Metropolis

Bee, Jon

1828

MOCK AUCTIONS.

 

So far as the barkers are concerned, these pests of the mercantile world obtained notice a few pages back with their Having so walked in, such made up auctions are easily distinguished from real ones, notwithstanding they assume all the external marks of genuineness, even up to advertising in the newspapers, and being held in the house of a person lately gone away, or absolutely dead. They are called mock auctions, because no intention exists

115

 

of selling under certain prices, previously fixed upon; which, although not high, is invariably too much for the quality of the goods- which are again of a very inferior cast. And they are further known, by the anxiety evinced to show the goods to strangers the moment they enter; by the overstrained panegyrics bestowed upon every thing put up; by the exacerbated vocabulary of the auctioneer, who endeavours to jest, to bully, and to jaw you into a purchase, asking you, in a petulant way, what you offer for this, that, and the other ? All night auctions are of this sort; the seller having purchased the goods for the express purpose of auctioning them off, often pushing the price exorbitantly beyond the real value; asseverating that the manufacturer never will be paid, and increasing his earnestness the more he lies, in order to keep up the delusion.

Sometimes, though the sale has not begun when you enter, they will immediately commence business, and perhaps one among them will pretend to make a purchase; not only so, he will even pay down the money, so that this is likely to induce you to make.a bidding. An equally deep manoeuvre is the offer to take back, or exchange, the articles under sale, for others, in a day, a week, or ten days. This is more particularly the case with watches; but if you do so take them back, you pay through the nose for the exchange, and you find out too late you had better have taken Dr. Johnson's advice,

116

 

and dealt

at a stately shop, at once, where it would not be worth their while to take you in for a pound or two, at the expense of their reputation.

On the other hand, it is not to be denied, that many bargains are met with at auctions of even the worst sort; and more especially was this the case during the late years of distressed trade, when manufacturers and 'large holders of goods were in the habit of raising the wind by sending their property to be sold for what it would fetch at the

manufacturers' salesmen's

auction, be that much or little. But here double destruction awaited them, in manner and form following. On all such occasions, as much money in advance is required as can be obtained, and is complied with to some extent; but this being ever insufficient for the pressing necessities of the seller, which increase in the exact ratio that prices fall, the auctioneer proposes to give his at once for the sum total; which done, to render the matter still worse, he incites the deluded man to go on making more goods and more, to an immense amount. Before the bills become due, the acceptor decamps, the MART (as such places are still called) changes hands, once or twice, into the possession of his coadjutors, and after undergoing other transmogrifications, it is at length shut up, whilst the deluded vender goes to a prison to learn the particulars of his own undoing, and to lament over his folly or

117

 

his misfortunes. In the prison, probably, he meets with one or other of the parties to his undoing, who had acted as clerk, adjunct, or partner in the fraudful concern, who is there serving out his time under the -termed

taking the benefit.

This was precisely as it happened at the famous mart, outside Temple-bar, kept by little Williams. His history would prove highly instructive: he had been a traveller for Major Blundell, opened a warehouse in Newgatestreet, and moved to Picket-street, as a retailer, but soon converted the premises to a mart. Here he did for the third time, transferring his effects to one or other of his colleagues. Among his finishing feats, may be reckoned his taking in a poor fellow for a thousand silk hats, and a foreigner for twice the number of chip ones; a Yorkshireman for a great quantity of second broad cloths, another clothier for kerseymeres and pelisse-cloths, and other people for butts of stout, beer, and pipes of wine, which he bottled off, and caroused over, until all burnt blue. All this, to say nothing of linen-drapery, which assumed to be the staple commodity at Williams's mart.

Goods so bought, the most casual observer will see, were easy of sale, though there might be but just so many people in town as required such articles, and would take them off. Accordingly, the silk hats were sold at three shillings each less than the invoice-prices; the

118

 

cloths in somewhat the same proportion, and the wine was bartered away to one Jeremy, in Holborn, for his old-fashioned stock of drapery, but the value was afterwards recovered by the assignees of Tom Williams by an action at law. After Williams's retreat, one Martial made an abortive attempt to continue the fun, as Dick Futner used to term it; but Martial failed, for want of that gumption, or decidedly rogues' tricks, which is necessary to the performance of great actions. After this exposition of the non-intention to pay the original manufacturer, who can doubt that great bargains were to be had, while

the fun

lasted, upon the principle of

cheap come, cheap go?

But, then, for careful people, to whom saving might be an object, the time taken up in attending the hourly lounge, the danger of being induced to buy super-necessary articles, [that are always total loss,] the circumspection indispensable on the part of the purchasers, to avoid being deceived in the articles they do want, altogether contribute to render bargain-hunting, at the very best of mock auctions, dangerously experimental. Hereby is disproved the old housewives' adage, which holds that

a penny saved is a penny got.

Hundreds have found out the futility of the pursuit, yet are numbers daily seen in attendance near the same neighbourhood, and at other mock-auctions all over town, that start up occasionally, and

hold on the uneven tenour of their way,

for a longer or

119

 

shorter period, according to the success of their dupery, as practised on buyers and sellers alike.

Generally speaking, all continuous auctions are cheats-nay, universally so, if we substitute the word deceptions for cheats, whether held by day or by night. If we excepted aught from this malediction, it would be the sales of printed books, especially of second-hand books; old, erudite, or classical scholars, without previous introduction, find no means of personally inspecting the stores of our booksellers, as formerly, when their shops presented an arrangement little superior to the modern book-stall, though ranged tier above tier, on flat railings. Thus, a hundred years since, John Gay sings:

The bookseller, whose shop's an open square, Foresees the tempest, and with early care Of learning strips the rails. Men of genius, those of studious habits, the student just risen from his desk, the ardent reader, cormorant of books, and the lounger who would kill time, all frequent

sales of books,

of whatever kind, and love to roam through the well-stocked library wherever access is unobstructed. For the most part, unblest with affluence, they dread to ask the price of an unmarked article, lest the wary bookseller, taking advantage of their preference, enhance the price of his commodity, in expectation of having the best at chaffering for its

120

 

real value. But the practice, began by Tom Osborne, (A.D. ,) in the sale of his large remainder collection, near Gray's Inn garden-gate, hath obtained in our day a wider range, by the

auctioning-off

of modern books also. True, it offers to persons less recherchee, to mere idlers, the ready means of supplying themselves with food for the mind; and, although the species of learning acquired in this desultory manner, is far removed from desirable knowledge in the present possessors, as rendering them querulous, invariably argumentative, and repulsively self- important, has produced upon the rising generation better habits of acquiring enlarged intellect, and more accurate modes of thinking than characterized their parents; who are dropping or have dropped into the silent tomb, full of civic garrulity, with the memory of hustings' oratory, and turbulent politics of one or the other extreme. The task might be pleasant, and would certainly be instructive, to pursue an extensive investigation into the history of the rise and progress of the present extended tastefor reading, if the inquiry were carried no further; upon us it devolves as a duty to give at least a luminous sketch, since London was the chief theatre of its maturation.[1] 

Pulpit eloquence soon felt its influence, the commonest transactions were conducted with

122

 

systematic regard to precision, and tavern discussions partook of the orce forensica, if not of pomposity. None would lag who felt sufficiently ambition's sway: all read, in some manner or other, se defensio, as 'twere, and the accumulation of little libraries on every floor,

123

 

and in every lodging, marked the clerk of studious habits above his fellows, the plodding journeyman of comparatively extensive reading, and the mechanic determined to excel his predecessors in quantity if not in the digestion. The advancement of many from these classes to civic honours, or at any rate to the gaze and admiration of parish auditory, or of charitable subscriptions, gave an impulse to the reading mania that was at once natural and striking. Hence, the desire of spreading substantial authors increased at a wonderful rate, and like the accumulation of a sand-bank, reproduced itself; the flimsy novelists and hackneyed were abandoned, when the sales of books numerously and rapidly succeeded each other throughout the country: no other goods were so transmitted for auction sales, whence we infer that printed books alone are the legitimate objects of such a mode as that wherein the articles seldom were pronounced

gone,

or actually sold, under cost price. This, it must be conceded, partook, in an essential manner, of the character of Mock-auctions; but then the book-auctioneer was furnished with numerous copies of the same work, and if he procured a fair price for a few, the residue mightgo for what they would fetch, and thus great bargains in this line were often obtained. It is true, that some (indeed a great proportion) of the articles of such

stocks

deserved no better fates being the refuse of certain great booksellers' ware-

124

REJECTED LITERATURE; THE ADVANCE houses, or the remainders of such large editions as the public disdained to

take off

by the usual methods of announcement, of puff, and purchased panegyric. Old John Stockdale was a great adventurer in this line, after he had tried on several other modes of dispensing learning he could not possess, and he was followed or preceded by many others, with like qualifications. In the transmission of large stocks of such from the publishing booksellers, or their heirs, to ferretting booksellers, who disseminated their purchases, it is a remarkable fact, that none but the most ignorant of their own body, interlopers, made any figure as

trade-auctioneers :

if any one more intelligent, as to spelling the titles aright, or other clerical denotation, endeavoured to direct their internal sales,

the trade

coalesced in this, though in no other general measure whatever, to kick him out; a King, a Hone, a Rider, or a Taylor, they eschewed as beings of another order.

Exploded learning, mistaken notions, false doctrines, or, at least, rejected literature, that was so promulged could operate no good, but gratify the craving appetite for reading, that is destined never to be satiated. At length, the owners of large prime stocks withheld them, extensive publishers neither died or run away, but the shoals of new publications, at high prices, still went on, amidst the universal cry of

shame

at the extravagance of authors and

125

 

cupidity of book-publishers. This outcry gave rise, as seemed inevitable, to a fresh shoal of authors

of a third and fourth rate, as to talent

126

 

and school learning; nor endowed with integrity sufficient to acknowledge their originals,

127

 

or to keep their "hands and pens" from pilfering and stealing the property of other publishers than their employers.

Notwithstanding I mean to pursue the subject of those and similar literatists, under a separate head, I could not refrain from the propriety of pushing this exposition so far, evidently arising, as this mockery does, out of another, viz, mock-auctions; for those sell themselves to the best bidder as these do their goods, as often as they can find purchasers, at equally unmerited prices too, and their productions are as factitiously got up as the razors before alluded to, with the additional fact, that the materials are clandestinely obtained.

Mock-auctions of furniture are frequently held at the auctioners' own rooms, are regularly advertised, and never fail to attract companies, part of which are hired persons-women as well as men, at a poor daily stipend: those for general purposes now existing, in addition to the beforementioned outside Temple-bar, may be found nightly in St. Martin's le Grand, above Holborn-bars, in Ludgate-street, and Leicestersquare; whilst that which went on for several years at the corner of Water-lane, Fleet-street, has ceased for the present; as hath, for two years, the daily mockery near Queen-street, in Cheapside, where Mr. Knockemdown has a mote in his eye as well as in his good name, whilst he bore invariably the farina of wheat on his mean

128

DUFFERS, WHAT: top. Nearly opposite, also, recently surceased a nightly rig in such books as are adverted to at page 124, or were manufactured for the knockout, together with unseemly caricatures. Of these abandoned money-making projects, it is good to observe, that grace enough prevailed to induce so much concession to public opinion, and the monitions of the bench at Guildhall.

Duffers and Buffers, both belong to the same species of keen traders, the latter being a novel genus arising out of the former; and although these seem to have passed away with the new circumstances attending our free-trade system, yet as the principles that dictated this line of policy may probably give way to the old arbitrary impolitic acts of exclusion and prohibition, we expect the return of buffing at no distant period; for the supporters of coercion and proscription, and lovers of starched morals, only retire from our sight awhile to return again with fresh vigour.

Duffers were anciently packmen, vendors of linen goods chiefly, invariably north countrymen, with us calling themselves and if they took up a station any where, keeping a warehouse or depository for their goodsthey assumed to be forsooth, and gave themselves airs. We knew Jordaine well: he was a Glasgowman, and the most successful of duffers in modern times; he incontinently despatched several of his helpmates to

129

THEIR PRACTICES; SKETCHES OF TWO. various points; [2]  these, of course, had to work up-hill, and were much upon a par with our present itinerant vendors of pack goods, who are mostly Irishmen, from the north; they become extremely importunate to do business with all they meet, and are found very troublesome to middling housekeepers, on the outskirts of Town, all of whom they cajole with pretended bargains. And what, although they be really so, have they not a dozen other methods of taking-in their customers, that all border upon the dishonest-if smashing and pilfering be not among these misdoings ! They

ring the changes,

too, much in the manner of the buffers, in which respect they nearly assimilate, if they were not varieties of the same, or the very same persons. In the City, their resort has been the Falcon, in Falcon-square; in the Borough, at certain lodging-houses, near the back of Union-street Police-office; in Westminster, they are more scattered, but whereever they ply for trade, or call in for custom,

130

BUFFERS DESCRIBED; become very great nuisances to all decent housekeepers who may chance to deal with them but once. In this latter respect they come again, under full consideration in Chapter IV. where we intend to speak of other walking tradesmen, who come within the meaning of the Hawker's and Pedlar's Law.

Buffers [3]  are a refinement upon the foregoing, or rather an abasement, according as the operations of the latter may be viewed, or suffered, by the party passing an opinion. They work in the streets, up and down; were alluded to higher up, (page 128); and, notwithstanding the opinion I formerly gave of the buffers, I must allow that the case of Dick Bowers and his set goes a great way to shake it; as does also the fact of my having seen one of the Westminster set in company of a street thief, on the very day of the latter being let loose from a six-months' incarceration in Cold-Bath-fields prison. Both instances coming together, within two months, makes the matter look queer. However, these

131

THEIR PRACTICES AND NOMINY. chaps are not all rogues, in the strict meaning of the word-they only sell readily to the best advantage. If they can persuade you an article is better than it actually is, you have nothing to complain of-every tradesman will do the same. The chief objection to them lies in their mode of operations, of which we shall speak presently, and in their overstrained recommention of their goods. As in every other species of cheatery, they look out for the unknowing, or silly, to whom, walking up with demure phiz and interesting air, they announce the pleasing intelligence that they have on sale (as may suit your appearance)

an excellent piece of corduroy, just sufficient for a breeches piece,

-or

some real India muslin, just brought home by a relation, enough for two gowns, at the price of one ;

or,

what would you think of some beautiful French silk stockings as cheap as cotton, and ten times as strong? Sir, there are two or three pieces of real India handkerchiefs, fine wear, that will last your life-time; and always look well, never wear out: One is yellow-one is chocolate,-one is ------. What a pity ! Only just now I sold a country gentleman,-your size,-a beautiful fine waistcoat piece (describing the one you wear)-full size, genteel, fast colours, never wear out, at-what d'ye think?

(then he starts out with a sum just half its value)--

Down there, Sir; yes, Sir, at that house with the grapes out, and chequers on, I'll show you

132

 

such things as you never saw. Very well worth your notice, Sir; no harm done, though you should not buy. I have a glass of grog in there, half drank; just step in and look at them.

Then, partly by persuasion, partly by force, he hands along his customer to a dark back room, where probably he exhibits some really good articles, if he has a judge of them to deal with, but taking care to

ring the changes

upon wrapping them up, on the event of a purchase. If you insist upon having the piece chosen, they take it away by force: for this was Dick Bowers transported; the article, Irish linen.

A master-piece of the game is, where his confederate comes in, and begins a conversation with his brother buffer. At the first, quite strangers to each other, the comer-in proposes to withdraw, through bashfulness, but is ordered to stay by the confederate, perhaps asked to partake of drink; for all which kindness he seems much obliged, and expresses his thanks clumsily. At length, more emboldened, he introduces a word or two in favour of the goods, magnifies their value, recommends a purchase, and all at once recollects having bought some article or other he now wears, of such another man. The two knaves join in the description of that man; both agree in the particulars, and in his character for honesty, shake hands and drink together.

Not less frequently, real tradesmen, living in the neighbourhood, who frequent the same

133

 

house, good naturedly (or with a worse motive) join in the recommendation of the article to be sold, and the delusion is then complete-the stranger is thus taken in with the aid of those who ought to be his protectors. Should you ultimately refuse to purchase, you must put up with a great deal of abuse, provocations to lay wagers, and to fight, or go through with the quarrel by contending against fearful odds. Whatever money you produce never returns to your pockets again; the landlord is sure to take part against you,

for the credit of his house;

and all present will declare themselves ready to swear that you have perpetrated such infernal things as in fact you never once so much as thought of. Those buffers, being very merry facetious fellows, with good conversational abilities, never fail to ingratiate themselves with the company who frequent the adjoining and, therefore they soon obtain the lingual help of some smoke-a-pipe person present, who will, if you

kick,

or

run restive

at their insinuations, carry much farther their charges against character. What would you think of being asked, in an authoritative tone, by one who employs some dozen score of workmen, Such a charge is scarcely bearable, though prudence dictates that you should not resent the affront as you ought. I have witnessed this piece of rudeness treated in both ways of resentment; either by rebutter or by silent indignation, and think

134

 

the latter preferable for the majority of persons; for if you can fight the whole party, and ultimately go before a magistrate, all the evidence is against you; the only obstacle to this last step being the presumption that the buffer is a real smuggler, when the landlord puts a stopper on legal proceedings, and the buffer bolts.

From this exposition, the reader will perceive the extreme danger of suffering himself to be goaded into the purchase of any article whatsoever in the street: they are invariably cheats who attempt to vend articles of wear in such a flying manner. The shortest way with all such casual cattle is to decline the least particle of conversation with them; and if they place a finger on your arm to stop your progress-peremptorily bid them

hands off;

or, if you have sufficient strength-knock them into the kennel-a severe, intelligible, and most appropriate rebuke. People may talk of a as they like, but there is nothing like a rap in the mouth of a saucy fellow, or in the eyes of an impudent one-as suits your fancy; though when his hand is laid on your sleeve, good opportunity presents itself for a real rap on the knuckles with your stick.

Sharpers of several other qualities than those daily prowl the streets, for the purpose of inducing unwary countrymen to part with their money, under one pretence or another; those which come nearest the buffers in their manner of approach, and who are frequently the very buffers themselves,

out of goods,

are gamblers at

135

 

cards, dominos, or shaking in the hat, and chalking under the hat; or they provoke strangers to play at some casual game, or excite wagers, all which we come to take into consideration in the ensuing pages. Meanwhile, we may observe, while passing along, that the sharpers, who mean to make prey of strangers, usually ascertain from what part of the country he may come, when some of the crew pretend to know it well, get into conversation, and entice the novice into a public-house to drink. He is not asked any questions directly, in words at length, but by inuendo or sidewise, as "

[They drink.] why, [Stranger smiles]:

136

 

The money betted is put into the hands of the first person, the stranger produces his money, they examine it, and in passing from hand to hand, it vanishes; or, at best, flash notes, not worth a straw, are returned to the witless wagerer, and whilst he is examining his new acquisition, the active members of the party move off in quick time, leaving one, an assumed dolt, apparently a stranger, to confuse the loser with surmises, about their coming back in a minute! All this while the sharpers are making the best of their way, though one may be a little lame, and whilst the landlord is being quested, the third rogue also runs off. If the countryman does not bring out his money in this manner, two rogues hide under a hat, or contrive some other play, and a third bets our stranger against the winner, who immediately becomes the loser; but these, with other in-door tricks, into which persons may fall, who are not exactly strangers, or may not be picked up in the streets, belong to Chapter IV.

 
 
Footnotes:

[] MOCK-AUCTION TRICKS.

[] AUCTION-MART, HISTORY AND UPSHOT:

[] EXPOSURE OF THEIR PRACTICES.

[] BARGAIN HUNTING

[] NOT ALWAYS ECONOMIC-BOOKS.

[] BOOK-SALES-EFFECTS OF:

[1] During the quarter of a century that this change in the aggregate of mind was working itself out, the prognoses and the corresponding symptoms of its approach, called forth the astonishment of allmen, and acquired the admiration of some, whilst others deprecated the march of intellect, as if it had been the march of Attila to the plains of Champagne, or the approach of the one-eyed general to those of Cannae. The latter, the active intolerants, were long time the most numerous party in the land: they already held the purse-strings of the nation, became possessed of the chief places of profit, of influence, and of church-government; whereby they constantly attracted to their ranks, also, the most enlightened of the other, or liberal party, because these placed no delight in riches; and their best politicians were usually too poor to be honest, as regarded abstract questions, whence arise the practices ofgovernment. What followed, or accompanied, those sears upon public feelings,the Bute influence over the royal mind, with the privy chamber appointment of succeeding high-prerogative administrations, but the arbitrary Scottish taxation of America, upon the advice of a wire-drawn, Glasgow-taught, writer on trade, Adam Smith by name, which produced war and the loss of thirteen flourishing colonies, with as many hundred miles of sea coast, which, (like the house that Jack built,) in its course entailed on us debt, and heaps of misery and almost ruin; that produced the general ferment of Europe, and engrafted shame on all its monarchs or their servants ; that overloaded us with taxes, whilst the perpetrators inhumanly increased the weight by jumping-up themselves; that nearly lost us India, ruined our manufactures, banished awhile our specie, and filled the country with distress and the lamentation of all ranks, including among the latter, the battened harpies themselves, the harshest croakers being those who had most recently risen from the puddle ! In the midst of this conflict of opinions, and struggle for power, or for existence, observant people saw without astonishment, that the spirit of inquiry was gone forth, in its most searching form, and discussion was at its height, embodied in suggestions of charlatan remedies, of proposals for a more beneficial and less expensive mode of administering the affairs of the nation, in speculating upon new sources of wealth, improvements in manufactures, machinery, gas, steam, and discoveries in art and science. Though inquiry was upon the full alert, the mind did not expand in proportion to its activity: though books increased in number, their quality was generally of the most mawky nature; projects abounded, schemes addled the heads of a few, patents passed in regimental array, and people required to be told what all this note of preparation and din of execution meant. The number of new books published annually, which, in 1788, did not amount to three hundred, in 1808, exceeded eight hundred different works; the mode of publication in small portions, which had obtained from the days of Benjamin Martin and Smollett, in small numbers, not exceeding two or three thousand each work, at most, so increased about the latter year, that two obscure individuals procured sale for at least two hundred and fifty thousand copies of a two-guinea publication, besides numerous other works from the same press, and many other presses moving with the same activity. All these works now under consideration came out in sixpenny portions, and when the cheap supply of substantial books, for various reasons assigned in the text, fell short of the demand, this facile mode of obtaining expensive works, became the parent of a still more extensive means of diffusing the marrow of the best books, that were selected and culled without mercy, and republished in portions of two-pence or three-pence each, to the amount, at one time, of forty-three distinct titles weekly. Their authors are noticed farther down.

[] MARCH OF INTELLECT AND OF EVENTS.

[] READING MANIA.

[] REPRODUCTION OF BOOKS, AND SALES.

[] OF SHOALS OF LOW AUTHORS.

[] CONCOCTION OF TRASH PUBLICATIONS:

[] COXCOMBRY.-MOCK-AUCTIONS.

[2] He cut up at ten thousand pounds, was a free liver, but never duffed it in the streets of London, so far as I could ascertain: neither did Donaldson; he, who when his very aged sire affectionately addressed him with the familiar "dear Jemmy," threatened to withdraw the old man's weekly pittance of twelve shillings, as the only means of expiating his ire. Ask Will. White, of Wood-street, about it: yet the fellow pretended to be a Scotchman, affected to be a London tradesman, and sometimes wrote up merchant.

[3] The term "buffer" is derived from the practice which once prevailed of carrying Bandanas, Sarsnets, French stockings, and other contraband goods, next their shirts; so, as they were obliged to undress in order to come at the goods, or, in other words, to strip to the skin, or buff, they obtained the name of buffers. When Mr. Barrington did his "Spy," they might, and probably did, carry their goods always about them, and show them in the streets; now, however, they carry on trade in a more genteel manner, leaving a pack at some public-house, near where they mean to ply for customers.

[] CONFEDERATED BUFFERS: DICK BOWERS.

[] DUPES ABUSED-ACCUSATORY COMPANIES.

[] WILY STREET SHARPERS:

[] A COLLOQUY.

[] SHARPING TRICKS: METHOD