London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Exhibitor of Mechanical Figures.


I AM the only man in London—and in England, I think—who is exhibiting the figuer of méchanique; that is to say, leetle figuers, that move their limbs by wheels and springs, as if they was de living cretures. I am a native of Parma in Italy, where I was born; that is, you understand, I was born in the Duchy of Parma, not in the town of Parma— in the campagne, where my father is a farmer; not a large farmer, but a little farmer, with just enough land for living. I used to work for my father in his fields. I was married when I have 20 years of age, and I have a child aged 10 years. I have only 30 years of age, though I have the air of 40. Pardon, Monsieur! all my friends say I have the air of 40, and you say that to make me pleasure.

When I am with my father, I save up all the money that I can, for there is very leetle business to be done in the campagne of Parma, and I determine myself to come to Londres, where there is affair to be done. I like Londres much better than the campagne of Parma, because there is so much affairs to be done. I save up all my money. I become very économique. I live of very leetle, and when I have a leetle money, I say adieu to my father and I commence my voyages.

At Paris I buy a box of music. They are made at Genève these box of music. When I come to Londres, I go to the public-house— the palais de gin, you understand—and there I show my box of music—yes, musical box you call it—and when I get some money I live very économique, and then when it become more money I buy another machine, which I buy in Paris. It was a box of music, and on the top it had leetle figuers, which do move their eyes and their limbs when I mounts the spring with the key. And then there is music inside the box at the same time. I have three leetle figuers to this box: one was Judith cutting the head of the infidel chief—what you call him?—Holeferones. She lift her arm with the sword, and she roll her eyes, and then the other hand is on his head, which it lifts. It does this all the time the music play, until I put on another figuer of the soldat which mounts the guard—yes, which is on duty. The soldat goes to sleep, and his head falls on his bosom. Then he wake again and lift his lance and roll his eyes. Then he goes to sleep again, so long until I put on the other figuer of the lady with the plate in the hand, and she make salutation to the company for to ask some money, and she continue to do this so long as anybody give her money. All the time the music in the box continues to play.

I take a great quantity of money with these figuers, 3s. a-day, and I live very économique until I put aside a sum large enough to buy the figuers which I exhibit now.

My most aged child is at Parma, with my father in the campagne, but my wife and my other child, which has only 18 months of age, are with me in Londres.

It is two months since I have my new figuers. I did have them sent from Germany to me. They have cost a great deal of money to me; as much as 35l. without duty. They have been made in Germany, and are very clever figures. I will show them to you. They perform on the round table, which must be level or they will not turn round. This is the Impératrice of the French—Eugénie—at least I call her so, for it is not like her, because her cheveleure is not arranged in the style of the Impératrice. The infants like better to see the Impératrice than a common lady, that is why I call her the Impératrice. She holds one arm in the air, and you will see she turns round like a person waltzing. The noise you hear is from the wheels of the méchanique, which is under her petticoats. You shall notice her eyes do move as she waltz. The next figure is the carriage of the Emperor of the French, with the Queen and Prince Albert and the King de Sardaigne inside. It will run round the table, and the horses will move as if they gallop. It is a very clever méchanique. I attache this wire from the front wheel to the centre of the table, or it would not make the round of the table, but it would run off the side and break itself. My most clever méchanique is the elephant. It does move its trunk, and its tail, and its legs, as if walking, and all the time it roll its eyes from side to side like a real elephant. It is the cleverest elephant of méchanique in the world. The leetle Indian on the neck, who is the driver, lift his arm, and in the pavilion on the back the chieftain of the Indians lift his bow and arrow to take aim, and put it down again. That méchanique cost me very much money. The elephant is worth much more than the Impératrice of the French. I could buy two— three—Impératrice for my elephant. I would like sooner lose the Impératrice than any malheur arrive to my elephant. There are plenty more Impératrice, but the elephant is very rare. I have also a figuer of Tyrolese peasant. She go round the table a short distance and then turn, like a dancer. I must get her repaired. She is so weak in her wheels and springs, which wind up under her petticoats, like the Impératrice. She has been cleaned twice, and yet her méchanique is very bad. Oh, I have oiled her; but it is no good, she must be taken to pieces.

When I sent to Germany to get these méchanique made for me, I told the mechanician what I desired, and he made them for me. I invented the figuers out of my own head, and he did the méchanique. I have voyaged in Holland, and there I see some méchanique, and I noticed them, and then I gave the order to do so and so. My elephant is the best of my leetle figures; there is more complication.

I first come to England eighteen years ago, before I was married, and I stop here seven years; then I go back again to Parma, and then I come back again to England four years ago, and here I stop ever since.

I exhibit my leetle figures in the street. The leetle children like to see my figuers méchanique dance round the table, and the carriage, with the horses which gallop; but over all they like my elephant, with the trunk which curls up in front, like those in the Jardin des Plantes, or what you call it Zoological Gardens.

When I am in the street I have two men beside myself, one plays the organ, and the other carry the box with the méchanique figuers inside, and I carry the table. The box with the méchanique is in weight about 80 lbs. English, and there are straps at the back for the arms to go through. It is as large as a chest of drawers, for the leetle figures are eighteen inches high, and each has a compartment to itself. I pay my men 1l. a-month, besides lodge, clean, and grub him.

The organ for the music is mine. I have another organ, with a horse to draw it, which I want to sell; for the horse, and the two men to play it, destroy all the profits.

When I make my figuers to play in the street I must make the table level, for they will not mount up a hill, because the méchanique is not sufficiently strong for that. I go to the West-end to show my leetle figures to the gentlemans and ladies, and their families; and I go to the East-end to the families of the work-people. I also go to Brixton and Hoxton, where they are severe for religion. They like my figures because they are moral, and their children can see them without sinning. But everywhere my figures have much success. Of all the places, I prefer, rather, Regent-street, and there I go to the leetle streets, in the corners, close by the big street. If I calcule how much money I receive for all the year,—but I have only had them two months,—it is six shillings by day regularly. Sometime I take ten shillings, and sometimes four shillings, but it settles itself to six shillings a-day. After paying for my men, and to clean, lodge, and grub them, I have three shillings for myself.

In wet weather, when it makes rain, or when there is fog, I cannot quit my house to show my figures, for the humidity attack the springs and wheels of the méchanique: besides, when it falls rain the dresses of my figuers are spoiled; and the robes of the Impératrice and the Tyrolese peasant are of silk and velvet bodies, with spangles, and they soon spoil. They cost me much money to repair their springs,—never less than eight shillings for each time: my peasant has been Street Telescope Exhibitor. [From a Photograph.] arranged twice in her springs. It was a watchmaker who arranged her, and he had to take all her inside out; and you know what those kind of people charge for their time.

Sometimes, when I am out with my figuers, the ladies ask me to perform my figuers before their windows, to show them to their families. The leetle children look through the window, and then they cannot hear the movement of the méchanique, and the figuers look like living. When the organ play a valtz to the Impératrice, he has to turn the handle quick at the commencement, when the spring is strong in the méchanique, and she turn quick; and to make the music slow when she turn less often, when the spring get weak at the end. This makes it have the look of being true to one living,—as if she danced to the music, although the organ play to her dancing. I always mount the figures with the key myself.

I have never performed to a school of young scholars, but I have visited evening-parties of children with my méchanique. For that they give me sometimes 8s., sometimes 10s., just as they are generous. My méchanique require nearly one hour to see them to perfection. The Impératrice of the French is what they admire more than the paysanne of Tyrol. The dress of the Impératrice has a long white veil behind her hairs, but her costume is not so soignée as the peasant"s, for she has no spangles; but they like to see the Impératrice of the French, and they excuse her toilet because she is noble. My elephant is the greatest delight for them, because it is more complicated in its méchanique. I have always to mount with the key the springs in its inside at least three times before they are fatigued with admiring it.

I never perform in the streets during the night, because the air is damp, and it causes injures to my méchanique; besides, I must have lights to show off the costume of my figuers, and my table is not large enough.

It is not only the leetle children that admire my méchanique, but persons of a ripe age. I often have gentlemen and ladies stand round my table, and they say "Very clever!" to see the lady figuers valtz, but above all when my elephant lift his trunk. The leetle children will follow me a long way to see my figuers, for they know we cannot carry the box far without exhibiting, on account of its weight. But my table is too high for them, unless they are at a distance to see the figuers perform. If my table was not high, the leetle children would want to take hold of my figuers. I always carry a small stick with me; and when the leetle children, who are being carried by other leetle children, put their hand to my figuers, I touch them with stick, not for to hurt them, but to make them take their hand away and prevent them from doing hurt to my méchanique.

When the costume of my Impératrice is destroyed by time and wear, my wife makes new clothes for her. Yes, as you say, she is the dress-maker of the Impératrice of the French, but it is not the Emperor who pays the bill, but myself. The Impératrice—the one I have, not that of the Emperor—does not want more than half a yard of silk for a petticoat. In the present style of fashion I make her petticoat very large and full, not for the style, but to hide the méchanique in her inside.

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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