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

Bee, Jon

1828

CHAPTER V: A Sketch of Society, and Manners in the Metropolis

CHAPTER V: A Sketch of Society, and Manners in the Metropolis

 

BY metropolis we would be understood as speaking, not only of the City of London proper, which gives the popular name to a large district around it, but of the City of Westminster and Borough of Southwark also. Some persons, faunists and foreigners by birth, choose to contemn the inhabitants of this first of all cities in every respect, by terming them cockneys, and the district they occupy

Cockneyshire,

or, with more elegance,

Cockaigne.

But say what they like, let us expose as we may the weaknesses, the frailties, and even the crimes of Cockaigne, the triple compound just sketched contains a greater aggregate of talent, of trading honour and generosity, than any other city of ancient or modern times. Other cities may have been more populous, or more securely fortified; Delhi and Babylon, what were they ? Paris and St. Petersburgh, of what do they boast, that in London we cannot find an over match in kind? Happiness, comfort, health, ease, and progressive improvement, are perceptile every where, in the faces, the houses, the manufactories, the domestic arrangements of the major part of twelve hundred thousand persons; though we must make large deductions for

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casualties, and the usual drawbacks to which individuals occasionally subject themselves, or are reduced by the improvidence, the chicane or dishonesty of others, as much as by age, accident, or other uncontrollable events.

In the foregoing pages, we have necessarily performed the most ungracious part of our task first, by exhibiting the roguish part of the population, in nearly all their varied hues; interspersing the whole with short traits of character, real anecdote, facts and cases, that illustrate the actions, motives, casual lapses and errors, into which a vast portion have been led, or are likely to fall. This was the butt, the end and aim of the book, originally; but the employment would have afforded no satisfaction, if ultimate benefit were not likely to result from so much labour, to say nothing of the peril some of the personal occurrences involved; whilst the melancholy reflections all this waywardness must give rise to, are occasionally broken by an excursus now and then among mistaken individuals of the better orders of society. Notwithstanding the long catalogue of actual crime which we have thus set forth in full array, the bulk of settled Londoners our stranger is likely to come in contact with, will be found less active in their individual pursuits, of whatever nature these may be, and not anywise remarkable for evil doing; though superlatively animated when assembling for general purposes, as the carrying an election of any sort,

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to promote benevolence, or to oppose a bad ministry and its mistaken measures. Indeed, a free people, to be estimated rightly as to manners, must be judged of undertheir highest state of excitement; at which these arrive when exercising the elective franchise, and imagine they are making law makers, who will look after their pecuniary interests, and coerce the evil disposed by statutes, which the elect soon afterwards manufacture under our noses in frightful numbers. Whatever the bulk of the people may be found in any of the provincial cities, under similar circumstances, the population of London, of Westminster, of Middlesex and Southwark, is respectively in a superior degree; or, say baser, if the purpose be a bad one, as rioting, or the attempts of a mobocracy to rule the roost; with the exception that, in the Metropolis, more money is spent, or subscribed, to support a cause, and that scarcely any man or party can attempt to bear the sway, without raising up a strong opposing party, which is very likely to expose and overturn his best contrived plans of ambition. Although in practice several of her internal representatives cringe to the powers that be, and bow the head to Baal lowest when he appears in his worst attribute, yet is London City far from being Tory in principle. This I apprehend is a necessary consequence of the land-holders crippling commerce by their absurd tenacity of high average corn laws, and equally ridiculous as cruel game

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enactments; such truly despicable economists, as Sir Thomas Lethbridge and Lord Malmesbury, being often named in their assemblages, as

pretty samplers,

each in his way, of what they might expect from the worst elements of that party. On the other hand, Westminster is devoted to parliamentary reform, individually and collectively, the electors mis-taking this to be the panacea for all complaints; whilst the Borough of Southwark is radical, and tax- opposing, to the extreme of ridiculousness; and its better chastened counter part, the county of Surrey, lately proved, that she would no longer submit to the arrogant inefficiency of Holme Sumner and his high-sounding abettors of the squirearchy.

The habits of the people are gregarious to a fault, accompanied by conviviality and unrestrained manners; the younger folks, rising branches of improving mercantile houses, carrying these qualities to the extreme in many instances; when that happens which always takes place in similar cases-they fly off in a tangent, and are lost to their sphere. Among the middle walks of life, which may comprise about three-fifths of the whole resident population, who are easy in circumstances, and bland in their manners, the minor moral aberrations of their neighbours, their means of doing business, mode of managing a family, or extent of establishment-all which give cause for so many heart- burnings and prying investigations in

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little towns and dull cities, here occasion no unneighbourly uneasiness, no unchristian surmises, nor any of those base suggestions of reform as are met with to perfection in Calvinistic society; unless, indeed, the transgressors publish their misdeeds to the world, or render their doings offensive to mankind. Of the remaining two-fifths, one may belong almost entirely to the fictitious part of society, if that term can be used of persons who avoid generalising their intercourse, and are better studied in the fashionable novels that issue incontinently from the Burlington press of our ancient acquaintance, Mr. Henry Colburn,or from Messrs. Saunders and Ottley, hard by.

The remainingfifth of our population, leaving out of consideration all hospitals and other secluded places, consists of that link in society which denominate themselves the serious part of it. As in all other parts of the world, the more violent sects seek proselytes with most fervency, and attract together the greatest congregations of gaping ignorance, whom they fleece and cajole under various pretexts; whilst the modest Quaker, the unassuming Unitarian, the jaded Romanist, and the otherwise garrulous Jew, are content to wend their way, unseeing and unseen of controversialist or polemic.

Trade has been considered the main characteristic of the people of this immense metropolis, as it is in a less degree that of the whole na-

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tion. Within our cockney district, not only those professedly engaged in commerce seek after profit, by bartering one commodity for anothergenerallyfor money, or its representative paper, but the desire of gain pervades all classes and all ages, more universally than is perceptible in any other city of the empire. Every thing in London has its price, and every man and woman, too: virtue, honour, and honesty are marketable commodities; enjoyments may be purchased and happiness secured thereby, abstract from reflection; even love and affection are often swerved from their purpose, or fixed upon unworthy objects, by dint of lucre that is applied with malign judgment to purchase thoughtless pleasures. Religionists expend vast sums in procuring converts to their respective sects; so that faith is thus sacrificed at the shrine of good works, contrary to the rule they teach to lapsed conscious sinners; whilst the man of worth-being reduced, may carry his sorrows to market, and the widow dry her tears in the lap of benevolence.

Lay sectarians in good numbers speculate upon chapel-building, and the price paid for seats, according to the attractions of their cushion-thumper; whilst several undertake parish offices, or become tax-gatherers, and one or two, incongruously enough, accept the post of churchwardens: at Christ-church, one of them lately repaired the parish church throughout, at a cheap rate, and a very sanc-

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tified one is now erecting a Playhouse in Goodman's Fields-and all is Trade !

In the midst of the late bubbles for forming joint-stock-companies, to enrich the projectors and directors, by the sad impoverishment of the mass of adventurers, who was it stood foremost in the maniac pursuit, but those of the three professions (having at their head the legal scyon of the apostle of methodism)--with titledpersons, ladies, place-holders, people of state-cock- -neys by adoption, seeking after the loaves and fishes of the West, and the mammon of the East end of our huge metropolis? And this too is Trade, with a vengeful profit.

The spirit of Trade infuses itself into every transaction of life; or what is the same thing, every affair in which the citizehs of our tripolitan Town may engage, receives the tincture, the smack of trade in no trivial degree. Does one with his face towards Change meet another who has turned his back upon it, with a compliment, the latter replies, or, Even in their amusements-card-playing, for example, or a marriage-feast, all have

an eye to trade,

which they along-shore term

keeping your weather eye up;

and in some trades they institute dinners and suppers for the express purpose of transacting business, making sales in gross when the pleasures of gastronomy and the fumes of port wine have mellowed the heart and expanded the mind, if they fail to

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enlighten the understanding. For the first kind of banquet booksellers prefer the Albion and London Coffee-houses, whilst the second are better adapted to ship-brokers and timberdealers at Garraway's, and the purchasers of general produce, by candle, at Jack's.

Eating and drinking, in fact, are occupations in modern London that are undertaken, less with a view to appeasing the calls of nature, than to overpower her, and in frequent instances, absolutely kill her with kindness. After one of their great city gorge-matches, in which they vie with each other who shall swallow the largest quantities of viands, of flummeries, our citizens may be discovered in their recesses as immobile as the wolverene after a buffalo feast, incapable of

doing business

satisfactorily, yet unwilling to though almost ready to cry out, with Frank in the play, Then it is they justly incur the rebuke of greasy citizenship; then are they most liable to be captivated with extravagant schemes for making money without trouble, to enter into joint stock speculations, and commit those fitful acts of supererogative generosity which at times

astonish Europe,

and raise the smile of those who stand aloof, or have retired from the smoke and the vapour of the subscriptions,

to rusticate afar, the fields among.

The love of good living and jollity extends thither also, at times, and always pervades the

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three Towns, though not alike; the more distinguished gourmands being those of the West-end, while those of the Borough may be looked upon as mainly addicted to substantials.

No transaction in life, of whatever magnitude, that includes numbers in its train, is undertaken now-a-day unless attended by

a good tuck-out,

in low life, or a grand dinner in the higher. Upon this principle, the East India Directors could not think of despatching their new governor-general lately, without the accustomed belly-full of the products of earth and air, of water and fire-and fancy to boot.

Does the Marquis contemplate a new ministry, he invites the canditates to

a cabinet dinner,

the better to judge of their digestive powers, and thus infuse good fellowship into discordant minds, by way of the stomach; with the same view as the coy village maiden induces her Colin to get tipsy that she may ascertain the real bent of his soul when his heart is most unbent. If the Speaker of the House of Lords hold his state dinners, and he of the other house invite contending parties to his periodical feasts, to hobor-nob each other, and evince a disinterestedness they cannot feel; so do every class of society gormandise their friends to extreme obesity, or endeavour to pacify their opponents with stimulative draughts, that give vent to the worst passions of our nature, after having exhausted the more social qualities of the

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breast.[1] 

The mistake is not so much in the thing itself, as the extent to which it is carried. Pitt and Dundas are said to have unbended themselves extremely over the tuscan juice,

oblivious of the misery their counsels created;

perverting, probably, the advice of M. Tully, (Epistole ad Familiares,) to

spend some time daily in convivial company, because, in such communications, life is most truly enjoyed,

And the Roman orator was right, and so was the English, in his way, as well as the Scotch one: life is not worth carrying about, unless with due enjoyment; but the joyous souls, in the midst of their hilarity, should remember that the means of living is the cause of death: Lent in London is not half so well kept as Christmas; whence I deduce the precosity evinced by mere cockney children, which makes them adults in petticoats, men in their teens, and dooms them to premature old age.

Clubs.-An immense number of all descriptions, and with various purpose, pervade the *

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SPIRIT OF CLUBISM UNIVERSAL. whole town and country district: four thousand two hundred licensed public- houseseach of which has its club, or two or three, or more, weekly, gives a vast aggregate of human enjoyment; in every one of them singing of some sort or other is introduced, in nearly all politics prevail, and hilarity every where presides. The people of England are decidedly clubists; those of London eminently so; for, whereas, in provincial places, all society is more contracted, the independent and enlightened population of London, feeling less restraint, give free vent to their thoughts, their fancies and vagaries, insomuch that we sometimes find the wholly convivial clubists swerving a little from the right rule in their night rambles. The rise and progress of clubism, the spirit and purposes to which these are applied, the use which has been made of clubs as a political engine, and for electioneering purposes-would form a subject worthy the investigation of the curious and the enlightened inquirer. Some one has recently made

the clubs of London

the matter of a large separate history ; but this work is too expanded in personals, for the general reader: the like task was performed recently for a single club,

the Kit Cat,

which makes a figure in English story, as being mainly instrumental in bringing about the Hanover succession. But our friend should have taken a glance at the Jacobites, also ; the Queen's head clubs at Dolly's Beef-steak-house, the King's

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DR. LAWRENCE, JOHNSON AND BURKE. (James's) head, hard by, and the St. Ann's, Foster-lane, all professedly charitable. Next in age is the Beef-steak-club meeting, every Saturday at the English Opera-house, the resort of wits for the lastfour-score years; then there was

the Dirty-shirt-club,

that implied a certain carelessness of dress, quite compatible with sterling wit; next, the Coal-hole meetings vied with the latter in its designation, and we are told that Doctor Samuel Johnson was a frequenter of both, as well as

the Literaryclub,

and his own coterie at the Mitre, constantly. That truly great man had the full relish for clubism, and did not escape the rebukes of his serious friends for his convivial attachments: to one of those starched moralits, he replied, The doctor did not confine his ideas to clubs of wits, but must have witnessed the use that was made of them in propagating opinions of men and measures. We have proved how these, broached at one or two, fly like wildfire round the entire series of all descriptions of such assemblages, many persons being members of several, and some men visiting two or three of an evening, particularly when they have aught to propagate. Edmund Burke, in a letter to his friend Dr. French Lawrence, dreaded adding, soon after,

And Mr. Burke was right in this, as he was in most other matters to which he brought his great mind to fix all its attention; and he had, probably, in his sojournment among the spirits he spoke of, ample means of seeing the force he alludes to put in motion. In case of any great political struggle, a petition to parliament, or to nominate a new candidate, for example, the clubs and societies are all put in motion; certain active promoters of the proposed measure go round to various societies, or frequenters of some given places, where sits the presiding genius of the party, and the affair is opened up and discussed, without parade or formality; everyone is led, not directed or called upon, to consider the subject, and each individual, desiring not to shine less than others, he concurs in the measures, and promotes the views of the prime movers.

LITERATURE.-Among the numerous subjects for reflection, which will press upon the attention of the inquiring stranger, none is more likely to fix him for awhile than the great mass of intellect, natural and acquired, that is to be met with in his intercourse with all society. True, that some is superficial, much is assumed, a good deal but the tinsel and glitter of school acquirements; but still there remains a great fund of intelligence, derived from reading and

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PROMOTED.-TRADE SWINDLERS' BOOK. intercourse with the world, amongst the mercantile classes, generally spreading itself on particular topics into the ranks of the shopkeepers and manufacturers of every degree, almost visibly to the close observer. This taste for acquisition by reading, it must be confessed, began with the second rate persons of each department first, and extended itself upwards to the already fortunate traders, who were thus compelled to study somewhat intensely, or to resign the vantage ground to the new comers. From thirty years ago, to a dozen years since, the struggle was very great between them; the sale of books of every description immense, (vide page 120); and about the latter period, I took an opportunity of exhorting the junior branches of the better sort of citizens to persevere, in a manner that I was pleased to find had its desired effect.* Swindlers.-To the volume just referred to, the reader who would become acquainted with the practices of those who prey upon trade, must turn for information; I have very little to * Introduction (page xiii) to

the London Tradesman; a Familiar Treatise on the Rationale of Trade and Commerce; showing, first, the right Practice of Trade, and second, the Mal-practices of the Unworthy,

&c. &c. 8vo. second edition, , price 10s. 6d.

Whilst I live, perhaps, I shall never put forth a better book than this; one more generally useful, more strictly and plainly applied to its purposes, nor one better calculated to serve the commercial reader in his pursuits.

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add to what is there said as to their schemes, except that Koster and his crew have fallen into the habit of writing circulars to distant manufacturers, offering to accommodate them with fictitious acceptances, and then swindling the parties out of their stiff: they have been detected and up before the Lord Mayor several times in , , and . Anecdote; when the first edition of the book mentioned in the margin was published,

Dicky

ordered a copy to his warehouse, but foreswore the delivery, and I was soft enough to believe his protestations; chiefly, I apprehend, because they were made in an amended north country dialect.

 
 
Footnotes:

[] ASSOCIATING PRINCIPLE, STRONG.

[] STATE OF EXCITEMENT-ELECTIONEERING.

[] POLITICAL BIAS OF THE TRIPLE TOWN.

[] FICTITIOUS SOCIETY, AND THE SERIOUS.

[] TRADE INFLUENCETH ALL THINGS.

[] JOINT-STOCK BUBBLE MAKING.

[] GORMANDIZING-SCHEMING.

[] DINING TO UNBEND THE MIND.

[] ORATORS-POACHERS-LIFE ENJOYED.

[1] Hence the enormous consumption of provisions of every kind, and among the rest of game-hares, pheasants, partridges, about nineteen-twentieths of which, that are eaten throughout the metropolis, being obtained contrary to act, and at the great City Taverns, not one head a-year, but through poachers! Thus, those great and distinguished gourmands may be said to patronise poaching, if they do not sometimes eat their own, after being so obtained-as Jack Curtis (the ace of spades maker) did his own hare.

[] SWINDLING.-THE POLICE.