London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry




THE house-cricket may perhaps be deemed a still more annoying insect than the common cockroach, adding an incessant noise to its ravages. Though it may not be unpleasant to hear for a short time "the cricket chirrup in the hearth," so constant a din every evening must greatly interrupt comfort and conversation.

These garrulous animals, which live in a kind of artificial torrid zone, are very thirsty souls, and are frequently found drowned in pans of water, milk, broth, and the like. Whatever is moist, even stockings or linen hung out to dry, is to them a they will eat the skimmings of pots, yeast, crumbs of bread, and even salt, or anything within their reach. Sometimes they are so abundant in houses as to become absolute pests, flying into the candles and even into people"s faces.—(Kirby and Spence"s i. , .)

The house-cricket () is well known for its habit of picking out the mortar of ovens and fire-places, where it not only enjoys warmth, but can procure abundance of food. It is usually supposed that it feeds on bread. M. Latreille says it only eats insects, and it certainly thrives well in houses infested by the cockroach; but we have also known it eat and destroy lamb"s-wool stockings, and other woollen stuffs, hung near a fire to dry. Although the food of crickets consists chiefly of vegetable substances, they exhibit a propensity to carnivorous habits. The housecricket thrives best in the vicinity of a baker"s oven, where there are plenty of bread crumbs.

Mouffet marvels at its extreme lankness, inasmuch as there is not "found in the belly any superfluity at all, although it feed on the moisture of flesh and fat of broth, to which, either poured out or reserved, it runs in the night; yea, although it feed on bread, yet is the belly always lank and void of superfluity." —(, p. .)

White of Selborne, again, says, "as would suppose, from the burning atmosphere which they inhabit, they are a thirsty race, and show a great propensity for liquids, being frequently found dead in pans of water, milk, broth, or the like. Whatever is moist they are fond of, and therefore they often gnaw holes in wet woollen stockings and aprons that are hung to the fire. These crickets are not only very thirsty, but very voracious; for they will eat the scummings of pots, yeast, bread, and kitchen offal, or sweepings of almost every description."—()

The cricket is evidently not fond of hard labour, but prefers those places where the mortar is already loosened, or at least is new, soft, and easily scooped out; and in this way it will dig covert channels from room to room. In summer, crickets often make excursions from the house to the neighbouring fields, and dwell in the crevices of rubbish, or the cracks made in the ground by dry weather, where they chirp as merrily as in the snuggest chimney-corner. Whether they ever dig retreats in such circumstances we have not ascertained, though it is not improbable they may do so for the purpose of making nests.

"Those," says Mr. Gough of Manchester, "who have attended to the manners of the hearth-cricket, know that it passes the hottest part of the summer in sunny situations, concealed in the crevices of walls and heaps of rubbish. It quits its summer abode about the end of August, and fixes its residence by the fireside of kitchens or cottages, where it multiplies its species, and is as merry at Christmas as other insects in the dog-days. Thus do the comforts of a warm hearth afford the cricket a safe refuge, not from death, but from temporary torpidity, though it can support this for a long time, when deprived by accident of artificial warmth.

I came to a knowledge of this fact," continues Mr. Gough, "by planting a colony of these insects in a kitchen, where a constant fire was kept through the summer, but which is discontinued from November till June, with the exception of a day once in or weeks. The crickets were brought from a distance, and let go in this room, in the be-


ginning of ; here they increased considerably in the course of months, but were not heard or seen after the fire was removed. Their disappearance led me to conclude that the cold had killed them; but in this I was mistaken; for a brisk fire being kept up for a whole day in the winter, the warmth of it invited my colony from their hiding-place, but not before the evening; after which they continued to skip about and chirp the greater part of the following day, when they again disappeared — being compelled, by the returning cold, to take refuge in their former retreats. They left the chimneycorner on the , after a fit of very hot weather, and revisited their winter residence on the . Here they spent the summer merely, and at present () lie torpid in the crevices of the chimney, with the exception of those days on which they are recalled to a temporary existence by the comforts of the fire."—(Reeve, , p. .)

M. Bery St. Vincent tells us that the Spaniards are so fond of crickets that they keep them in cages like singing-birds.—(, Grillon. Rennie"s , edit. p. .)

Associated as is the chirping song of the cricket family ofinsects with the snug chimneycorner, or the sunshine of summer, it affords a pleasure which certainly does not arise from the intrinsic quality of its music. "Sounds," says White, "do not always give us pleasure according to their sweetness and melody; nor do harsh sounds always displease. Thus, the shrilling of the field-cricket (), though sharp and stridulous, yet marvellously delights some hearers, filling their minds with a train of summer ideas of everything that is rural, verdurous, and joyous." —(, ii. .)

Sounds inharmonious in themselves, and harsh,

Yet heard in scenes where peace for ever reigns,

And only there, please highly for their sake.

COWPER, , Book I.

This circumstance, no doubt, causes the Spaniards to keep them in cages, as we do singing-birds. White tells us that, if supplied with moistened leaves, they will sing as merrily and loud in a paper cage as in the fields; but he did not succeed in planting a colony of them in the terrace of his garden, though he bored holes for them in the turf to save them the labour of digging.

The hearth-cricket, again, though we hear it occasionally in the hedge-banks in summer, prefers the warmth of an oven or a good fire, and thence, residing as it were always in the torrid zone, is ever alert and merry—a good Christmas fire being to it what the heat of the dog-days is to others.

Though crickets are frequently heard by day, yet their natural time of motion is only in the night. As soon as darkness prevails the chirping increases, whilst the hearthcrickets come running forth, and are often to be seen in great numbers, from the size of a flea to that of their full stature.

Like the field-cricket, the hearth-crickets are sometimes kept for their music; and the learned Scaliger took so great a fancy to their song, that he was accustomed to keep them in a box in his study. It is reported that in some parts of Africa they are kept and fed in a kind of iron oven, and sold to the natives, who like their chirp, and think it is a good soporific.—(Mouffet, .)

Milton, too, chose for his contemplative pleasures a spot where crickets resorted:—

Where glowing embers through the room

Teach light to counterfeit a gloom,

Far from all resort of mirth,

See the cricket on the hearth."—Il Penseroso.

Rennie, in his , says, "We have been as unsuccessful in transplanting the hearth-cricket as White was with the field-crickets. In different houses we have repeatedly introduced crickets, but could not prevail on them to stay. of our trials, indeed, was made in summer, with insects brought from a garden-wall, and it is probable they thought the kitchen fire-side too hot at that season."—(p. .)

The so-called of the cricket is a vulgar error. The instrument (for so it may be styled) upon which the male cricket plays (the female is mute) consists of strong nervures or rough strings in the wing-cases, by the friction of which against each other a sound is produced and communicated to the membranes stretched between them, in the same manner as the vibrations caused by the friction of the finger upon the tambourine are diffused over its surface. It is erroneously stated in a popular work, that "the organ is a membrane, which in contracting, by means of a muscle and tendon placed under the wings of the insect, folds down somewhat like a fan;" and this, being "always dry, yields by its motion a sharp piercing sound."—(Bing, iv. Rennie"s , p. .)

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 Title Page
Chapter I: The Destroyers of Vermin
Our Street Folk - Street Exhibitors
Chapter III: - Street Musicians
Chapter IV: - Street Vocalists
Chapter V: - Street Artists
Chapter VI: - Exhibitors of Trained Animals
Chapter VII: Skilled and Unskilled Labour - Garret-Masters
Chapter VIII: - The Coal-Heavers
Chapter IX: - Ballast-Men
Chapter X: - Lumpers
Chapter XI: Account of the Casual Labourers
 Chapter XII: Cheap Lodging-Houses
Chapter XIII: On the Transit of Great Britain and the Metropolis
Chapter XIV: London Watermen, Lightermen, and Steamboat-Men
Chapter XV: London Omnibus Drivers and Conductors
Chapter XVI: Character of Cabdrivers
Chapter XVII: Carmen and Porters
Chapter XVIII: London Vagrants
 Chapter XIX: Meeting of Ticket-of-Leave Men