London Labour and the London Poor, volume 3

Mayhew, Henry


Exhibitor of Birds and Mice.


A STOUT, acute-looking man, whom I found in a decently-furnished room with his wife, gave me an account of this kind of streetexhi- bition:—

I perform," said he, "with birds and mice, in the open air, if needful. I was brought up to juggling by my family and friends, but colds and heats brought on rheumatism, and I left juggling for another branch of the profession; but I juggle a little still. My birds are nearly all canaries—a score of them sometimes, sometimes less. I have names for them all. I have Mr. and Mrs. Caudle, dressed quite in character: they quarrel at times, and that"s self-taught with them. Mrs. Caudle is not noisy, and is quite amusing. They ride out in a chariot drawn by another bird, a goldfinch mule. I give him any name that comes into my head. The goldfinch harnesses himself to a little wire harness. Mr. and Mrs. Caudle and the mule is very much admired by people of taste. Then I have Marshal Ney in full uniform, and he fires a cannon, to keep up the character. I can"t say that he"s bolder than others. I have a little canary called the Trumpeter, who jumps on to a trumpet when I sound it, and remains there until I"ve done sounding. Another canary goes up a poll, as if climbing for a leg of mutton, or any prize at the top, as they do at fairs, and when he gets to the top he answers me. He climbs fair, toe and heel—no props to help him along. These are the principal birds, and they all play by the word of command, and with the greatest satisfaction and ease to themselves. I use two things to train them—kindness and patience, and neither of these two things must be stinted. The grand difficulty is to get them to perform in the open air without flying away, when they"ve no tie upon them, as one may say. I lost one by its taking flight at Ramsgate, and another at Margate. They don"t and can"t do anything to teach one another; not in the least; every bird is on its own account: seeing another bird do a trick is no good whatever. I teach them all myself, beginning with them from the nest. I breed most of them myself. To teach them to sing at the word of command is very difficult. I whistle to the bird to make it sing, and then when it sings I feed, and pet, and fondle it, until it gets to sing without my whistling— understanding my motions. Harshness wouldn"t educate any bird whatsoever. I pursue the same system all through. The bird used to jump to be fed on the trumpet, and got used to the sound. To train Marshal Ney to fire his cannon, I put the cannon first like a perch for the bird to fly to for his food; it"s fired by stuff attached to the touchhole that explodes when touched. The bird"s generally frightened before he gets used to gunpowder, and flutters into the body of the cage, but after a few times he don"t mind it. I train mice, too, and my mice fetch and carry, like dogs; and three of the little things dance the tight-rope on their hind legs, with balance-poles in their mouths. They are hard to train, but I have a secret way, found out by myself, to educate them properly. They require great care, and are, if anything, tenderer than the birds. I have no particular names for the mice. They are all fancy mice, white or coloured. I"ve known four or five in my way in London. It"s all a lottery what I get. For the open-air performance, the West-end may be the best, but there"s little difference. I have been ill seven months, and am just starting again. Then I can"t work in the air in bad weather. I call 21s. a very good week"s work; and to get that, every day must be fine—10s. 6d. is nearer the mark as an average for the year. An order to play at a private house may be extra; they give me what they please. My birds "come with a whistle, and come with a call, and come with a good will, or they won"t do at all"—for me. The police don"t meddle with me—or nothing to notice. A good many of my birds and mice die before they reach any perfection— another expense and loss of time in my business. Town or country is pretty much the same to me, take it altogether. The wateringplaces are the best in the country, perhaps, for it"s there people go for pleasure. I don"t know any best place; if I did I"d stick to it. Ladies and children are my best friends generally.

The performance of the birds and mice above described is very clever. "Mr. and Mrs. Caudle" are dressed in red and blue cloaks, trimmed with silver lace and spangles; while Mr. Caudle, with an utter disregard of propriety, is adorned with a cocked hat.

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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