London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry

1851

Blind Performer on the Bells.

A HALE--looking blind man, with a cheerful look, poorly but not squalidly dressed, gave me the subjoined narrative. He was led by a strong, healthy-looking lad of , his stepson:—

I have been blind since within a month of my birth," he said, "and have been 23 years a street performer. My parents were poor, but they managed to have me taught music. I am 55 years old. I was one of a street-band in my youth, and could make my 15s. a-week at it. I didn"t like the band, for if you are steady yourself you can"t get others to be steady, and so no good can be done. I next started a piano in the streets; that was 23 years ago. I bought a chaise big enough for an invalid, and having had the body removed, my piano was fitted on the springs and the axle-tree. I carried a seat, and could play the instrument either sitting or standing, and so I travelled through London with it. It did pretty well; in the summer I took never less than 20s., and I have taken 40s. on rare occasions, in a week; but the small takings in the winter would reduce my yearly average to 15s. a-week at the utmost. I played the piano, more or less, until within these three or four years. I started the bells that I play now, as near as I can recollect, some 18 years ago. When I first played them, I had my 14 bells arranged on a rail, and tapped them with my two leather hammers held in my hands in the usual way. I thought next I could introduce some novelty into the performance. The novelty I speak of was to play the violin with the bells. I had hammers fixed on a rail, so as each bell had its particular hammer; these hammers were connected with cords to a pedal acting with a spring to bring itself up, and so, by playing the pedal with my feet, I had full command of the bells, and made them accompany the violin, so that I could give any tune almost with the power of a band. It was always my delight in my leisure moments, and is a good deal so still, to study improvements such as I have described. The bells and violin together brought me in about the same as the piano. I played the violoncello with my feet also, on a plan of my own, and the violin in my hand. I had the violoncello on a frame on the ground, so arranged that I could move the bow with my foot in harmony with the violin in my hand. The last thing I have introduced is the playing four accordions with my feet. The accordions are fixed in a frame, and I make them accompany the violin. Of all my plans, the piano, and the bells and violin, did the best, and are the best still for a standard. I can only average 12s. a-week, take the year through, which is very little for two.

 
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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