London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Gun-Exercise Exhibitor—One-Legged Italian.


I AM an Italian, domiciled at Genoa, and I speak very little French, only just enough to ask for things—to get my life with, you know. Genoa is the most rich town of Piedmont, but it is not the most jolie. Oh no! no! no! Turin is the most beautiful, oh yes! It is a long street of palaces. You know Turin is where the King of Sardinia, with the long moustaches, lives. Has Monsieur been to Turin? No! Ah, it is a great sight! Perhaps Monsieur has seen Genoa? No! Ah you have a great pleasure to come. Genoa is very rich, but Turin is very beautiful. I prefer Turin.

I was a soldier in my country. Oh, not an officer. I was in the 2nd battalion of the Bassolein, nearly the same as the Chasseurs de Vincennes in France. It is the first regiment in Piedmont. We had a green uniform with a roll collar, and a belt round one shoulder, and a short rifle. We had a feather one side of our hats, which are of felt. Ah, c"était bien joli ça! We use long bullets, Minié ones. All the army in my country are under four brothers, who are all generals, and Ferdinando Marmora is the commanderin- chief—the same that was in the Crimea. Nearly all my companions in the Bassolein regiment were from the Tyrol. Ah, they shoot well! They never miss. They always kill. Sacré Dieu!

I was wounded at the bataille de Pescare, against the Austrians. We gained the battle and entered the town. The General Radetzky was against us. He is a good general, but Ferdinando Marmora beat him. Ferdinando was wounded by a ball in the cheek. It passed from left to right. He has the mark now. Ah, he is a good general. I was wounded. Pardon! I cannot say if it was a bal de canon or a bal de fusil. I was on the ground like one dead. I fell with my leg bent behind me, because they found me so. They tell me, that as I fell I cried, "My God! my God!" but that is not in my memory. After they had finished the battle they took up the wounded. Perhaps I was on the ground twelve hours, but I do not know exactly. I was picked up with others and taken to the hospital, and then one day after my leg decomposed, and it was cut directly. All the bone was fracassé, vairy beaucoup. I was in the hospital for forty days. Ah! it was terrible. To cut the nerves was terrible. They correspond with the head. Ah, horrible! They gave me no chloroform. Rien! rien! No, nor any dormitore, as we call it in Italian, you know,—something in a glass to drink and make you sleep. Rien! rien! If I had gone into the Hôpital des Invalides, I should have had 20 sous a-day; but I would not, and now my pension is 12 sous a-day. I am paid that now; whether I am here or there, it is the same. My wife receives the 12 sous whilst I am here. I shall not stop here long. The langue is too difficult. No, I shall not learn it, because at the house where I lodge we speak Italian, and in the streets I speak to no one.

I have been to France, but there the policemen were against me. They are bêtes, the policemen français. The gentlemen and ladies all all good. As I walked in the streets with my crutch, one would say, "Here, poor fellow, are two sous;" or, "Come with me and have some wine." They are good hearts there. Whilst I was going to Paris I walk on my leg. I also even now and then find good occasions for mounting in a voiture. I say to them, "Monsieur, accord me the relief of a ride?" and they say, "Yes, come, come."

In England no police interfere with me. Here it is good. If the police say to me "Go on, go on," I say, "Pardon, Monsieur," and move away. I never ask any body for money. I work in the streets, and do my gun exercise, and then I leave it to the Bon Dieu to make them give me something. I never ask.

I have been very unfortunate. I have a tumour come under the arm where I rest on my crutch. It is a tumour, as they call it in France, but I do not know what it is named in English. I went to the hospital of San Bartolommeo and they cut it for me. Then I have hurt my stomach, from the force of calling out the differing orders of commanding, whilst I am doing my gun exercises in the streets. I was two months in my bed with my arm and my stomach being bad. Some days I cannot go out, I am so ill. I cannot drink beer, it is too hot for me, and gets to my head, and it is bad for my stomach. I eat fish: that is good for the voice and the stomach. Now I am better, and my side does not hurt me when I cry out my commanding orders. If I do it for a long time it is painful.

Ah, pauvre diable! to stop two months in my bed, June, August! The most beautiful months. It was ruin to me.

After I have gone out for one day, I am forced to rest for the next one. Monday I go out, because I repose on the Sunday. Then all goes well, I am strong in my voice. But I cannot travailler two days following. It is not my leg, that is strong. It is my stomach, and the pains in my side from crying out my commandements. When I go out I make about 10s. a-week. Yes, it comes to that. It is more than 1s. a-day.

I have a cold. I go out one day when it blew from the north, and the next day I was ill. It makes more cold here than at Genoa, but at Turin in the winter it is more cold than here. It is terrible, terrible. A servant brings in a jug of water, and by-and-by it has ice on its top. I find the bourgeois and not the militaires give the most money. All the persons who have voyagé in France and Italy will give me money—not much, you know, but to me fortune, fortune! If I see a foreigner in the crowd I speak to him. I know the face of an étranger tout-de-suite. Some say to me, "Vous parlez Français?" "Oui Monsieur." Others ask me, "You speak Italian?" "Si, Signor." I never, when I go through my exercise, begin by addressing the people. If I told them I had been a soldier in the army of Sardinia, they would not understand me. Yes, some of the words sound the same in French and English, such as army and soldat, but I have not the heart to beg. I have been soldier, and I cannot take off my cap and beg. I work for what they give me. They give me money and I give them my exercise. I sometimes have done my exercise before a great crowd of people, and when it is done nobody will give me money, and my heart sinks within me. I stand there honteux. One will then in pity throw a sou, but I cannot pick it up, for I will not sell my pride for a penny. If they hand it to me, then I take it, and am pleased with their kindness. But I have only one leg, and to throw the penny on the ground is cruel, for I cannot bend down, and it hurts my pride to put such money in my pocket.

The little children do not annoy me in the streets, because I never do my exercise until they are at school. Between one and two I never do my exercise, because the little children they are going to their lessons. They never mock me in the streets, for I have been unfortunate to lose my legs, and nobody will mock a miserable infortuné. The carts of the butchers and the bakers, which carry the meat and the bread, and go so fast in the streets, they frighten me when I do my exercises. They nearly écrasé the gens. Tenez! Yesterday I go to the chemm de fer de Birmingham, to the open space before the station, and then I do my exercise. All the people come to their windows and collect about to see me. I walk about like a soldier —but only on my one leg, you know, hopping— and I do my exercise with my crutch for my gun. I stand very steady on one leg. There was a coachman of a cab, and he continued to drive his horse at me, and say, "Go on! go on!" There was no policeman, or he would not have dared to do it, for the policemen protect me. Le bête! I turn upon him, and cry, "Bête! take care, bête!" But he still say, "Get on." The cheval come close to my back whilst I hop on my one leg to avoid him. At last I was very tired, and he cried out always, "Get on! get on!" So I cried out for help, and all the ladies run out from their houses and protect me. They said, "Poor fellow! poor fellow!" and all gave me a half sou. If I had had five shillings in my pocket, I would have gone to a journal and reported that bête, and had the fellow exposed; but I had not five shillings, so I could not go to a journal.

When I do my exercise, this what I do. I first of all stand still on one leg, in the position of a militaire, with my crutch shouldered like a gun. That is how I accumulate the persons. Then I have to do all. It makes me laugh, for I have to be the general, the capitaines, the drums, the soldiers, and all. Pauvre diable! I must live. It is curious, and makes me laugh.

I first begin my exercises by doing the drums. I beat my hands together, and make a noise like this—"hum, hum! hum, hum, hum! hum, hum! hum, hum! hu-u-u-m!" and then the drums go away and I do them in the distance. You see I am the drummers then. Next I become the army, and make a noise with my foot, resembling soldiers on a march, and I go from side to side to imitate an army marching. The I become the trumpeters, but instead of doing the trumpets I whistle their music, and the sound comes nearer and nearer, and gets louder and louder, and then gradually dies away in the distance, as if a bataillon was marching in front of its general. I make a stamping with my foot, like men marching past. After that I become the officiers, the capitaines and the lieutenants, as if the general was passing before them, and my crutch becomes my sword instead of my gun. Then I draw it from my side, and present it with the handle pointed to my breast. Then I become the general, and I gives this order: "Separate bataillons three steps behind—un, deux, trois!" and I instantly turn to the army again and give three hops to the side, so that the general may walk up and down before me and see how the soldiers are looking. Then I in turn become the officier who gives the commands, and the soldiers who execute them. It hurts my voice when I cry out these commands. They must be very loud, or all the army would not hear them. I can be heard a long way off when I call them out. I begin with "PORTEZ AR-R-R-MES!" that is, "Carry arms," in England. Then I lift my crutch up on my left side and hold it there. Then comes "PRESENT AR-R-RMES!" and then I hold the gun—my crutch, you know—in front of me, straight up. The next is, "REPOSE AR-R-RMES!" and I put to my hip, with the barrel leaning forwards. When I say, barrel, it"s only my crutch, you understand. Then I shout, "Un, deux, trois! GROUND AR-R-RMS!" and let the top of my crutch slide on to the road, and I stamp with my toes to resemble the noise. Afterwards I give the command, "PORTEZ AR-R-RMES!" and then I carry my arms again in my left hand, and slap my other hand hard down by my right side, like a véritable soldier, and stand upright in position. Whilst I am so I shout, "SEPARATE THE COLUMNS! UN, DEUX, TR-R-ROIS!" and instantly I hop on my one leg three times backwards, so as to let the general once more walk down the ranks and inspect the men. As soon as he is supposed to be near to me, I shout "PRÉSENT AR-R-RMES!" and then I hold my gun—the crutch, you comprehend— in front of me. Then, as soon as the general is supposed to have passed, I shout out, "RE- POSE AR-R-RMES!" and I let the crutch slant from the right hip, waiting until I cry again "GROUND AR-R-R-RMS! UN, DEUX, TR-R-ROIS!" and then down slides the crutch to the ground.

Next I do the other part of the review. I do the firing now, only, you comprehend, I don"t fire, but only imitate it with my crutch. I call out "GROUND AR-R-RMS!" and let the top of my crutch fall to the earth. After that I shout, "LOAD AR-R-RMS! UN, DEUX, TR-R-ROIS!" and I pretend to take a cartouche from my side, and bite off the end, and slip it down the barrel of my crutch. Next I give the command, "Draw RAM- RODS! UN, DEUX, TR-R-ROIS!" and then I begin to ram the cartridge home to the breech of the barrel. Afterwards I give the com- mand, "COCK AR-R-RMS!" and then I pretend to take a percussion cap from my side-pocket, and I place it on the nipple and draw back the hammer. Afterwards I shout, "POINT AR-R-RMS!" and I pretend to take aim. Next I shout, "RECOVER AR-R-RMS!" that is, to hold the gun up in the air, and not to fire. Then I give orders, such as "POINT TO THE LEFT," or "Point to the right," and whichever way it is, I have to twist myself round on my one leg, and take an aim that way. Then I give myself the order to "FIRE!" and I imitate it by a loud shout, and then rattling my tongue as if the whole line was firing. As quickly as I can call out I shout, "RECOVER AR-R-RMS!" and I put up my gun before me to resist with my bayonet any charge that may be made. Then I shout out, "DRAW UP THE RANKS AND RECEIVE THE CAVALRY!" and then I work myself along on my one foot, but not by hopping; and there I am waiting for the enemy"s horse, and ready to receive them. Often, after I have fired, I call out "CHAR-R-RGE!" and then I hop forwards as fast as I can, as if I was rushing down upon the enemy, like this. Ah! I was nearly charging through your window; I only stopped in time, or I should have broken the squares in reality. Such a victory would have cost me too dear. After I have charged the enemy and put them to flight, then I draw myself up again, and give the order to "FORM COLUMNS!" And next I "CARRY AR-R-RMS," and then "PRESENT AR-R-RMS," and finish by "GROUNDING AR-R-RMS," UN, DEUX, TR-R-ROIS."

Oh, I have forgotten one part. I do it after the charging. When I have returned from putting the enemy to flight, I become the general calling his troops together. I shout, "AR-R-RMS ON THE SHOULDER!" and then I become the soldier, and let my gun rest on my shoulder, the same as when I am marching. Then I shout, "MARCH!" and I hop round on my poor leg, for I cannot march, you comprehend, and I suppose myself to be defiling before the general. Next comes the order "Halt!" and I stop still.

It does not fatigue me to hop about on one leg. It is strong as iron. It is never fatigued. I have walked miles on it with my crutch. It only hurts my chest to holloa out the commands, for if I do not do it with all my force it is not heard far off. Besides, I am supposed to be ordering an army, and you must shout out to be heard by all the men; and although I am the only one, to be sure, still I wish to make the audience believe I am an army.

One day I was up where there is the Palace of the Regina, by the park, with the trees—a very pretty spot, with a park corner, you know. I was there, and I go by a street where the man marks the omnibus which pass, and I go down a short street, and I come to a large place where I do my exercises. A gentleman say to me, "Come, my friend," and I go into his house, and he give me some bread, and some meat, and some beer, and a shilling, and I do my exercises for him. That is the only house where I was called to perform inside. He spoke Italian, and French, and English, so that I not know which country he belongs to. Another day I was doing my exercises and some little children called to their mamma, "Oh, look! look! come here! the soldier! the soldier!" and the dame said to me, "Come here and perform to my little boys;" and she gave me sixpence. Those are my fortunes, for to-day I may take two or three shillings, and to-morrow nothing but a few miserable sous; or perhaps I am ill in my stomach with shouting, and I cannot come out to work for my living.

When it is cold it makes the end of my leg, where it"s cut off, begin to tremble, and then it almost shakes me with its shivering, and I am forced to go home, for it is painful.

I have been about fourteen months. They wanted 4s. to bring me from Boulogne to London; but I had no money, so at the bureau office they gave me a ticket for nothing. Then I came straight to London. When I came to London I couldn"t speak English, and I knew no one; had no money, and didn"t know where to lodge. That is hard—bien dur. I bought some bread and eat it, and then in the evening I met an Italian, who plays on the organ, you know; and he said, "Come with me;" and he took me to his lodgings, and there I found Italians and Frenchmen, and I was happy. I began to work the next day at my exercises.

One day I was in the quarter of the palaces, by the park, you know, and I began my exercises. I could not speak English, and a policeman came to me and said, "Go on!" What"s that? I thought. He said, "Go on!" again, and I couldn"t comprehend, and asked him, "Parlate Italiano?" and he kept on saying, "Go on!" This is drôle, I thought; so I said, "Vous parlez Français?" and he still said, "Go on!" What he meant I couldn"t make out, for I didn"t know English, and I had only been here a week. I thought he wanted to see my exercises, so I began, "Portez ar-r-r-mes!" and he still said, "Go on!" Then I laughed, and made some signs to follow him. Oh, I thought, it is some one else who wants to see my exercises; and I followed him, enchanted with my good fortune. But, alas! he took me to a police office. There I had an interpreter, and I was told I must not do my exercises in the street. When I told them I was a soldier in the army of the ally of England, and that I had been wounded in battle, and lost my leg fighting for my country, they let me go; and since the policemen are very kind to me, and always say, "Go on," with much politeness. I told the magistrate in Italian, "How can England, so rich and so powerful, object to a pauvre diable like me earning a sou, by showing the exercises of the army of its ally?" The magistrate laughed, and so did the people, and I said, "Good day," and made my reverence and left. I have never been in a prison. Oh, no! no! no! no! no! What harm could I do? I have not the power to be a criminal, and I have the heart to be an honest man, and live by my exercises.

I have travelled in the country. I went to Cheltenham and Bristol. I walked very little of the way. I did my exercises at one place, and then I got enough to go to another town. Ah, it is beautiful country out there. I went to Bristol. I made 7s. in two days there. But I don"t like the country. It does not suit me. I prefer London.

I one day did my exercises by—what do you call it? where the people go up—high, high—no, not St. Paul"s—no, by a bridge, where there is an open space. Yes, the monument of Nelson; and then, O! what a crowd! To the right and the left, and to the front and behind, an immense crowd to see my exercises. I made a good deal of money that day. A great deal. The most that I ever did.

I make about 8s. a-week regularly; I make more than that some weeks, but I often don"t go out for a week, because in the rain nobody will come to see my exercises. Some weeks I make 15s., but others not 5s. But I must make 8s. to be able to pay for lodgings, and food, and washing, and clothes, and for my shoe; for I only want one. I give 3d. a-day for my lodgings; but then we have a kitchen, and a fire in it, where we go and sit. There are a great many paysans there, a great many boys, where I lodge, and that gives me pain to see them; for they have been brought over from their country, and here they are miserable, and cannot speak a word of English, and are made to work for their master, who takes the money. Oh! it"s make me much pain.

I cannot say if there are any others who do their exercises in the streets; but I have never seen any. I am, I think, the only stranger who does his exercises. It was my own idea. I did it in France whilst I was travelling; but it was only once or twice, for it was défendu to do it; and the policemen are very severe. Ils sont bêtes, les policemen en France. The gentlemens and ladies very good heart, and give a poor diable des sous, or offer wine to pauvre diable qui a perdu sa jambe en combattant pour sa patrie; mais les policemen sont bêtes. Ah, bêtes! so bêtes I can"t tell you.

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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