London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
The live animals sold in the streets include beasts, birds, fish, and reptiles, all sold in the streets of London.
The class of men carrying on this business—for they are nearly all men—is mixed; but the majority are of a half-sporting and half-vagrant kind. informant told me that the bird-catchers, for instance, when young, as more than -fourths of them are, were those who "liked to be after a loose end," catching their birds, as a sort of sporting business, and then sometimes selling them in the streets, but far more frequently disposing of them in the bird-shops. "Some of these boys," a bird-seller in a large way of business said to me, "used to become rat-catchers or dog-sellers, but there's not such great openings in the rat and dog line now. As far as I know, they're the same lads, or just the same sort of lads, anyhow, as you may see 'helping,' holding horses, or things like that, at concerns like them small races at Peckham or Chalk Farm, or helping any way at the foot-races at Camberwell." There is in this birdcatching a strong manifestation of the vagrant spirit. To rise long before daybreak; to walk some miles before daybreak; from the earliest dawn to wait in some field, or common, or wood, watching the capture of the birds; then a long trudge to town to dispose of the fluttering captives; all this is done cheerfully, because there are about it the irresistible charms, to this class, of excitement, variety, and free and open-air life. Nor do these charms appear whit weakened when, as happens often enough, all this early morn business is carried on fasting.
The old men in the bird-catching business are not to be ranked as to their enjoyment of it with the juveniles, for these old men are sometimes infirm, and can but, as of them said to me some time ago, "hobble about it." But they have the same spirit, or the sparks of it. And in this part of the trade is of the curious characteristics of a street-life, or rather of an open-air pursuit for the requirements of a street-trade. A man, worn out for other purposes, incapable of anything but a passive, or sort of lazy labour— such as lying in a field and watching the action of his trap-cages—will yet in a summer's morning, decrepid as he may be, possess himself of a dozen or even a score of the very freest and most aspiring of all our English small birds, a creature of the air beyond other birds of his "order"—to use an ornithological term—of sky-larks.
The dog-sellers are of a sporting, trading, idling class. Their sport is now the rat-hunt, or the ferret-match, or the dog-fight; as it was with the predecessors of their stamp, the cock-fight; the bull, bear, and badger bait; the shrove-tide cock-shy, or the duck hunt. Their trading spirit is akin to that of the higher-class sporting fraternity, the trading members of the turf. They love to sell and to bargain, always with a quiet exultation at the time—a matter of loud tavern boast afterwards, perhaps, as respects the street-folk— how they "do" a customer, or "do" another. "It's not cheating," was the remark and apology of a very famous jockey of the old times, touching such measures; "it's not cheating, it's outwitting." Perhaps this expresses the code of honesty
|of such traders; not to cheat, but to outwit or over-reach. Mixed with such traders, however, are found a few quiet, plodding, fair-dealing men, whom it is difficult to classify, otherwise than that they are "in the line, just because they likes it." The idling of these street-sellers is a part of their business. To walk by the hour up and down a street, and with no manual labour except to clean their dogs' kennels, and to carry them in their arms, is but an idleness, although, as some of these men will tell you, "they work hard at it."|
Under the respective heads of dog and birdsellers, I shall give more detailed characteristics of the class, as well as of the varying qualities and inducements of the buyers.
The street-sellers of foreign birds, such as parrots, parroquets, and cockatoos; of gold and silver fish; of goats, tortoises, rabbits, leverets, hedgehogs; and the collectors of snails, worms, frogs, and toads, are also a mixed body. Foreigners, Jews, seamen, countrymen, costermongers, and boys form a part, and of them I shall give a description under the several heads. The prominently-characterized street-sellers are the traders in dogs and birds.