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[-330-] ONE O'CLOCK A.M.-EVANS'S SUPPER-ROOMS, AND A FIRE.
In the bleak, timbery city of Copenhagen, so terribly maltreated at the
commencement of the century by Admiral Lord Nelson, K.C.B.; in
that anything-but-agreeable capital of Denmark, where raw turnips
sliced in brandy form a favourite whet before dinner, -where they
blacklead (apparently) the stairs in the houses, and three-fourths of
every apartment are sacrificed to the preposterous exigencies of the [-331-] Stove; where the churches are mostly of wood, and the streets are
paved with a substance nearly resembling petrified kidney potatoes;
in Copenhagen, then, I formed, some thirty months since, a transient
acquaintance with an old gentleman in green spectacles. He was a
Dane, formerly commercial, now retired from business. He came
every day, and with unvarying regularity, to take his post-prandial
coffee and petit verre in the speise saal of the hotel then afflicted with
my custom: he generally indulged in the refreshment by dipping a
large lump of sugar in the hot liquid, sucking it, replenishing it, occasionally replacing the lump, till the cup was emptied; and he snuffed
eternally. These are not such peculiar characteristics of a foreign
gentleman that I have any special cause to dwell upon them here;
but as the hotel was very empty, and I was very dull, I made this old gentleman
- as my incorrigible habit is - a study and a theme. I converted him into a mental
clothes-prop, and hung an infinity of fantastic notions, theories, and speculations upon him. We soon became,
thanks to the French language and constant proximity, tolerably good
friends. Of course the old gentleman did not delay long in asking me
why I had come to Copenhagen. That question is invariably asked you - ad
nauseam, too - throughout the North of Europe. They begin
at Hamburg, continue at Berlin, return to it in Denmark and Sweden,
and end at St. Petersburg. If a man be not a commercial traveller,
or a diplomatist, a spy, or a negotiator of forged bank-notes, these
Northern people seem utterly bewildered as to his object in coming
to such latitudes. The Rhine, the Mediterranean, the Bosphorus, the
Holy Land, Switzerland, the Tyrol, good; but the North: que diable!
what does he want in that galley? I confess that I was somewhat at
a loss to give a straightforward answer to the old gentleman in green
spectacles. I might have told him that I had come to see the birthplace of Hans Christian Anderson ; but then I was not quite certain
as to whether that delightful Danish writer first drew breath in Copenhagen. It would have been equally disingenuous to have adduced a
wish to see the famous Thorwaldsen's Museum as the reason for my
visit; for with shame I acknowledge that, having no guide-book with
me, I had entirely forgotten that the Danish metropolis contained that
triumph of plastic art. It is true that, by attentive study of the
glorious museum, I subsequently atoned for my mnemonic shortcomings. So, being on the horns of a dilemma, I elected to tell the truth
-n ot a bad plan under any circumstances - and said that I had come
to Copenhagen for the simple reason that I did not know what to do [-332-] with myself, and would have gone with equal alacrity to Nova Zambia
or to Katamandu; which candid avowal placed me on a most confidential footing with the old gentleman in green spectacles, and materially assisted the progress of our intercourse.
Now, whatever can this Danish old gentleman and his verdant spectacles have to do with One o'Clock in the morning, and Evans's Supper-rooms? You must have patience, and you shall hear. In subsequent chatty interviews, it came out that the old gentleman had once upon a time - a very long while ago, more than a quarter of a century - been in England. His reminiscences of our country were very dim and indistinct by this time. His knowledge of the English language, I take it, had not at any time been very extensive, and it was reduced now to a few phrases and interjections; some trifling oaths, a few facetious party-cries, current, I presume, at the time of his visit, and having, mainly, reference to Catholic Emancipation and the Reform Bill; these, with some odds and ends of tattered conversation, formed his philological stock in trade. But, even as "single speech Hamilton" had his solitary oration, Mrs. Dubsy's hen her one chick, and Major Panton his unique run of luck at the card-table, so my old gentleman had his one story which he persisted in delivering in English. It was a mysterious and almost incomprehensible legend; and began thus: "Ackney Rod! Aha !" Then he would snuff and suck his lump of sugar, and I would look on wonderingly. Then he would explain matters a little. "Ackney Rod. I live there so long time ago. Aha!" This would lead to a renewed series of snuffings and suckings, and he would proceed - "Vontleroy he not ang. He rich man, banquier in America. He ang in a sospender basket. Aha!" For the life of me, I could not for a long time understand the drift about "Vontleroy" and the "sospender basket;" but at length a light broke in upon me, and I began to comprehend that this wondrous legend related to Henry Fauntleroy, the banker, who was hanged at Newgate for forgery, and concerning whose apocryphal rescue from strangulation - by the means, according to some, of a silver tube in his windpipe, and, according to others, of an apparatus of wicker-work, which, suspending him from the waist, so took the strain off his neck - rumours were current at the time of his death and for a considerable period afterwards. This cock-and-bull story was well-nigh all the poor man could recollect about England, and he decidedly made the most of it.
And, after all, I have only introduced him as a species of gentle-[-333-]man-usher to another foreign acquaintance - with whom my intercourse was even more transient, for I met him but once in my life, and then had only about seven minutes' conversation with him on the deck of a steamer - whose knowledge of English and recollection of England were even more limited. "Var fine place," he remarked, referring to my native land. "Moch night plaisir, London. Sing-song ver good. Ev'ns magnifique." There, the secret of my digression is out now, and I land you- somewhat wearied with the journey, it may be - under the Piazza of Covent Garden Market.
Mr. Charles Dickens once declared in print that were he to start a horse for the Derby, he would call that horse Fort and Mason: the delightful hampers of edibles and drinkables vended by that eminent firm about the period of Epsom Races being connected with the most pleasurable of his impressions concerning that exciting sporting event. I have no doubt that my steamboat acquaintance was not by any means solitary in his enthusiastic estimate of the "magnifique" nature of Ev'ns, or EVANS'S, and its "sing-song;" and his opinion is, I have reason to believe, shared by many hundreds of English country gentlemen who patronise the Bedford, the Tavistock, the Hummums, and other kindred Covent Garden hotels, and who at Evans's find their heartiest welcome and their most inexhaustible fund of amusement. Nor can I see myself, exactly, how this great town of ours could manage to get on without the time-honoured Cave of Harmony; for be it known to all men - at least to so many as do not know it already - Evans's, though Captain Costigan is no longer permitted to sing his songs there, and even Colonel Newcome, were he to volunteer to oblige the company with a song, would be politely requested to desist by a waiter-is the "Cave," and the " Cave" is Evans's. It is not without a certain sly chuckle of gratulation that I record this fact. Those friends of mine who have adopted the highly honourable pursuit of hiding round corners in order to throw, with the greater security, jagged stones at me as I pass, those precious purists and immaculate precisians who cry hard upon a writer on London life in the nineteenth century, because he describes things and places which every man knows to exist, and whose existence he for one has not the hypocrisy to deny - these good gentlemen will scarcely be angry with their poor servant, Scriblerus, for giving a word-picture of a place of amusement which is immortalised in the first chapter of "The Newcomes." And please to observe, gentlemen, that I am not about to venture on the very delicate ground with respect to the quality of the [-334-] songs once sung at Evans's, and so boldly trodden by Mr. Thackeray. I have the less need to do so, as that delicate or indelicate ground has long since-and to the honour of the present proprietor, Mr. Green - been ploughed up and sown with salt, and the musical programme rendered as innocuous as the bill of fare of a festival in a cathedral town.
And now for the place itself. About a century since, when the shadowy hero of the "Virginians" was beating the town with my Lords Castlewood and March, and Parson Sampson, and his black man Gumbo was flirting with Colonel Lambert's servant-maids; about a century since, when in reality Johnson - not so long since emancipated from sleeping on bulks with that other homeless wretch, and man of genius, Savage - was painfully finishing his gigantic work, the "Dictionary;" when Goldsmith was "living in Axe Lane among the beggars," or starving in Green Arbour Court; when honest Hogarth dwelt at the sign of the Golden Head, in Leicester Fields (he had set up his coach by this time, worthy man, was Serjeant-painter to the King, and had his country-house at Chiswick); when the wicked, witty Wilkes was carousing with other "choice spirits" as wicked and as witty as he, at Medmenham Abbey; when the furious Churchill was astonishing the town with his talent and his excesses; when Lawrence Sterne was yet fiddling, and painting, and preaching, while his friend Hall indited the "Crazy Tales;" when George II., hitherto considered as a heavy, morose German king, who did not like "boetry and bainting, and could not see the fun of the " March to Finchley," but now for the first time revealed to us by Mr. Carlyle as a dapper, consequential little coxcomb - the "mein bruder der comodiant," "my brother the playactor" of Friedrich-Wilhelm, was Sovereign of Great Britain, by the grace of the Act of Settlement and the madness of the Stuarts - this town of London was full of choice holes and corners, known under the generic name of "night cellars." You may see in Liverpool to this day - and I am told, also, in New York-some flourishing specimens of these inviting localities, but they have almost died out in London. The White Horse Cellar in Piccadilly is now a booking-office; the Shades in Leicester Square (underneath Saville House), once Pennant's "pouting house for princes," is a restaurant; the cellar of the Ship at Charing Cross is yet a tavern, but is used more as a waiting-room for passengers by the Kent Road and Deptford omnibuses; and a whole nest of cellars were swept away by the Adamses when the Adelphi Terrace, with a worse range of cellars [-335-] beneath, as it afterwards turned out, was constructed. But the night cellars of a hundred years ago! What dens, what sinks, what roaring saturnalia of very town scoundrelism they must have been! We have but two reliable authorities extant as to their manners and appearance: Hogarth's prints, and the pages of the Old Bailey Sessions Papers. The former are the engraven testimony of a man to whose honest nature it was utterly abhorrent and intolerable to bear false witness; the latter is a record that cannot lie. I don't mean by these Sessions Papers the collection of trials known as the "Newgate Calendar." In these, crimes are dressed up with all manner of romantic and adventitious details, and occasionally spiced with moral reflections by the ordinary of Newgate. I mean the real Sessions Papers, the verbatim reports of the trials-from murder to pot-stealing - taken officially in short-hand by the Gurneys and their predecessors, and which, in their matchless extenso, remain, to the inestimable advantage of our historians and our painters of manners. They date from the time of Judge Jeffreys, to the last session of the Central Criminal Court - it may have been the day before yesterday.
The cellars come out with a perfectly livid radiance in the reports of these trials. You see the "brimstone" woman, whom Hogarth pointed out to his friend and sketched upon his thumbnail, spurting brandy from her mouth at the enraged virago her companion. You see Kate Hackabout passing the stolen watch to Tom Idle, who is under the unseen surveillance of one of Justice de Veil or Harry Fielding's runners, and the luckless Thomas will be laid by the heels by daybreak to-morrow. Kate will go to Bridewell, there to be whipped and to pick oakum. Foote's Mother Cole is here, you may be sure; and Tom Rakewell, spending his last guineas among the gamblers and ruffians. Who else are there? Ferdinand Count Fathom, you may sure; poets and hack-writers - for Grub Street existed then in spirit and in truth - making my lord's gold pieces, which he gave for that last foolishly-fulsome dedication, fly. Yes; Mr. Peregrine Pickle, and you are spending your night in the cellar. And Mr. Thomas Jones, fresh from the western counties,-you, too, are here, with a laced coat bought out of my Lady Bellastou's last bank-note. Ah! Thomas! Thomas! if pure-minded Sophy Western could but see you in this bad place, among these ruffianly companions ! - among horse-jockeys, highwaymen - captains, unfrocked parsons; deboshed adventurers, redolent of twopenny ordinaries and Mount Scoundrel in the Fleet; disbanded lieutenants of phantom regiments; scriveners [-336-] struck off the rolls, ruined spendthrifts, Irish desperadoes enthusiastic for the Pretender and other men's pence, bankrupt traders, French and Italian rascals flagrant from the galleys of foreign seaports, and all, according to their own showing, distressed patriots; German swindlers and card-sharpers, who declare themselves to be Counts of the Holy Roman Empire, Jew coin-clippers and diamond-slicers, riverside vagabonds in the pay of the commanders of press-gangs on the look-out for benighted journeymen, or dissolute lads who have run away from their apprenticeship or quarrelled with their parents, recruiting crimps for both sexes, usurers looking for prodigals who have yet money to lose, bailiffs' followers looking for prodigals who have lost all and owe more; and, scattered among all this scum of frantic knavery and ragabosh, some gay young sprigs of aristocracy, some officers in the regiment of Guards, some noisy young country squires of the Western type. This, all garnished with dirt and spilt liquors, with the fumes of mum, Geneva, punch, ~vine, and tobacco smoke, with oaths and shrieks and horrid songs, with the clatter of glasses and tankards, the clash of rapiers and verberations of bludgeons - is the London night cellar of a hundred years ago. Round Covent Garden such places positively swarmed. The Strand, the neighbourhood of Exeter Change, Long Acre, and Drury Lane, reeked with dens of this description. For hereabouts were the playhouses, and in their purlieus, as in those of cathedrals, you must expect to find, and do find, in every age, the haunts of vice and dissipation. It may be profane to say ubi apis ibi mel: but such is the sorry fact.
I am to give you notice that this article was originally intended to be intensely topographical - nay, sant soit peu, antiquarian and archaeological. It was my desire to give you a minute description of the hostelry called Evans's Hotel, and whose basement contains the saloon known as Evans's supper-room, from the earliest period of authentic research to the present time. How it emerged from a state of brawling night-cellarhood, to the dignity of a harmonic meeting; who first ordered "chops to follow," and what ingenious spirit originally suggested the curious principle now in practice, of paying for your refreshment at the door on quitting the establishment; who instituted the glee-choir, introduced books of the words, and discovered that baked potatoes are necessarily associated with bumpers of stout, poached eggs, and liberally cayenned kidneys; who formed the gallery of portraits which now graces the walls of the ante-saloon, and who first dreamed of such an Arabian Night's succedaneum as a ladies' gallery. [-337-] All these things it was my firm intention to record, in Roman type, for your amusement, if not your edification. "Who knows," I asked myself enthusiastically, "if I take sweet counsel (hot and strong as well as sweet, sometimes) of Mr. Paddy Green, most urbane of nocturnal Bonifaces, and sit reverentially at the feet of Mr. Peter Cunningham, who, it is rumoured, in the matter of London localities, could, an he chose, rival the marvellous feat of memory ascribed to old Fuller of the 'Worthies', who could repeat backwards, and without book, the names of all the tavern signs on both sides of the way from Temple Bar to Ludgate: who knows," I repeated, "but that I shall be able to submit to the readers of 'Twice Round the Clock,' a copy of an unpaid score left by Oliver Goldsmith at some Evans's of the past; or put it upon record that Sir Thomas Lawrence and Major Hanger had claret-cup together here, on the night that Thurtell was hanged, or that on the fatal evening when the Catholic Bill passed the Lords, a live bishop - a hackney coachman's many-caped coat over his apron and shorts - descended Evans's well-worn stairs, ordered a Welsh rabbit, partook of two 'stouts,' and, the tears coursing down his right reverend cheeks, murmured- ' Britain! oh my country! Delenda esl Carthago!' by way of chorus to Captain Costigan's favourite ditty of The Night before Larry was stretched?'"
In the famous gardens of the Villa Pallavicini, near Genoa, there is an artificial piece of water winding between rocks, at the extremity of which the mimic river seems to lose itself in the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Nothing of the sort is the case: the sea is, in reality, more than three hundred yards distant; but the intervening ground has been so dexterously sloped and masked with groups of plants, that the optical delusion is marvellous. Of such are the aspirations of mankind. In such disappointment ended my castles in the air with respect to Evans's. It was from across the ocean that I had to respond to the printers' wail for "copy:" this article was commenced in view of the Castle of Rolandseck, on board a Rhine steamer, whose worn-out engines throbbed as irregularly as though they had palpitation of the heart. It is being continued now at the sea-side, in bed, gruel on the one side, sweet spirits of nitre on the other: and where it will be finished, who can tell? Old AEsop told the soldiers, when they asked him whither he was going, that he did not know, whereupon they arrested him for an impertinent. "Was I not right?" he cried; "did I know that I was going to jail? " "Sait on où l'on va ?" echoes Diderot. How do I, how do you, how does your lordship, how does [-338-] your grace, how does your majesty, know what will happen the moment after this? Therefore, take heed of the present time, and make your wills: the best will, in my humble thinking, that a man can make, being that strong will and determination to act as justly as he can in each moment in the which he is permitted to live.
So you understand, now, why I was compelled to dispense with the assistance of Mr. Paddy Green and Mr. Peter Cunningham, and why I am reduced to a dependence on my own personal reminiscences with respect to Evans's, without the adventitious aid of recondite anecdote and historical data. Here is the place as I remember it.
One o'clock in the morning. Of course we are supposed to be spending just a fortnight in town, and putting up at the Bedford, or it would never do to be so early-late abroad. We have been to the play, and have consumed a few oysters in the Haymarket; but the principal effect of that refreshment seems to have been to make us ten times hungrier. The delicate bivalves of Colchester have failed in appeasing our bucolic stomachs. We require meat. So, says the friend most learned in the ways of the town to his companion - "Meat at our hotel we eschew, for we shall find the entertainment of the dearest and dullest. We will go sup at Evans's, for there we can have good meat and good liquor at fair rates, and hear a good song besides." Whereupon we walk till the piazza, about which I have kept you so long lingering, looms in sight. A low doorway, brilliantly lit with gas, greets our view. We descend a flight of some steps, pass through a vestibule, and enter the "Cave of Harmony."
Push further on, if you please. You are not to linger in this antechamber, thickly hung with pictures, and otherwise, with its circular marble tables, much resembling a Parisian café, minus the mirrors and the rattle of the dominoes. This ante-chamber will be treated of anon; but your present business is with chops and harmony.
Passing, then, through this atrium, the visitor finds himself in a vast music-hall, of really noble proportions, and decorated not only with admirable taste, but with something nearly akin to splendour. You see I am at a loss for authorities again, and I cannot tell you how much of the hall is Corinthian, and how much composite; whether the columns are fluted, the cornices gilt or the soffits carved, and whether the Renaissance or the Arabesque style most prevails in the decorations employed. All I know is, that it is a lofty, handsome, comfortable room, whose acoustic properties, by the way, are far superior to those enjoyed by some establishments with loftier phil-[-339-]harmonic pretensions. At the northern extremity of the hall is a spacious proscenium and stage, with the grand pianoforte de rigueur, the whole veiled by a curtain in the intervals of performance. As for the huge area stretching from the proscenium to a row of columns which separate it from the ante-chamber café, it is occupied by parallel lines of tables, which, if they do not groan beneath the weight of good eatables and drinkables piled upon them, might certainly be excused for groaning-to say nothing of shrieking, yelling, and uttering other lamentable noises, evoked by the unmerciful thumping and hammering they undergo at the conclusion of every fresh exercitation of harmony.
Still, the eatables and drinkables do merit a paragraph, and shall have one. To the contemplative mind they are full of suggestions, and evidence of the vast digestive powers of the English people. To any but a race of hardy Norsemen, sons of Thor and Odin, hammerers of steel, welders of iron, and compellers of adverse elements, men who are sometimes brought to live when on shipboard upon weevily biscuit that breaks the teeth, and salted leather, humorously nicknamed beef; or in trenches, upon rancid pork, toasted on bayonet or ramrod tips; to any but that unconquerable, hard-headed, and strong-stomached people, of whom it is sometimes said that they would eat a donkey if they were allowed to begin at the hind legs, this post-midnight repast at Evans's would be full of menace of perturbed slumbers, distraught dreams, nay, even ghastly nightmares. Your Frenchman, when he sups, takes his cold salad, his appetising fruit, his succulent partridge, his light omelette, or, at most, his thin weak bouillon, with a lean cutlet to follow. He drinks sugar-and-water, wine-and-water, or, on high holiday nights, a glass or two of champagne; puffs his mild cigars, and goes to bed, simpering that he has bien soupé. And even then, sometimes, your Frenchman has dreams, and rising in bed, with the hair of his flesh standing up, vows that he will sup no more. Your Italian sups on his three-halfpennyworth of maccaroni. Your Spaniard rubs a piece of bread with garlic, and eats it, blesses heaven, and goes to sleep with a cigarette in his mouth. Your gross German affects the lighter kind of cold meats and salads at supper, and washes down his spare repast - to be sure, it is the fourth within the twelve hours - with some frothy beer. The Americans can't be said to sup, any more than they breakfast, lunch, or dine. They are always overeating, over-drinking, and over-smoking themselves; and were it not for their indomitable pluck and perseverance, their tendency to dys-[-340-]pepsia would be an insurmountable obstacle to their ever becoming a great people. For the great peoples have always had strong stomachs. Homer's heroes ate beef undone. When the Romans took to made-dishes and kick-shaws, then came their decadence, and the strong-stomached barbarians of the North overran them. To make an end of foreign wanderings, Russian suppers, among the people, are just no suppers at all. One - or at most two - meals a day, is the rule with the moujik. In elegant society, the cook might as well provide for supper painted chickens and lobster salads made of sealing-wax and cut paper, as any genuine viands. A supper at St. Petersburg, means champagne and gambling till the next morning.
But see the suppers set forth for the strong-stomached supporters of Evans's. See the pyramids of dishes arrive; the steaming succession of red-hot chops, with their brown, frizzling caudal appendages sobbing hot tears of passionate fat. See the serene kidneys unsubdued, though grilled, smiling though cooked, weltering proudly in their noble gravy, like warriors who have fallen upon the field of honour. See the hot yellow lava of the Welsh rabbit stream over and engulf the timid toast. Sniff the fragrant vapour of the corpulent sausage. Mark how the russet leathern-coated baked potato at first defies the knife, then gracefully cedes, and through a lengthened gash yields its farinaceous effervescence to the influence of butter and catsup. The only refreshments present open to even a suspicion of effeminacy are the poached eggs, glistening like suns in a firmament of willow-pattern plate; and those too, I am willing to believe, are only taken by country-gentlemen hard pressed by hunger, just to "stay their stomachs," while the more important chops and kidneys are being prepared. The clouds of pepper shaken out on these viands are enough to make Slawkenbergius sneeze for a fortnight; the catsup and strong sauces poured over them are sufficient to convince Sir Toby Belch that there are other things besides ginger, which are apt to be "hot i' the mouth," and, as humble servitors in attendance on these haughty meats, are unnumbered discs of butter, and manchets of crustiest bread galore.
Pints of stout, if you please, no puny half-measures, pints of sparkling pale ale, or creaming Scotch, or brownest Burton, moisten these sturdy rations. And when the strong men have supped, or rather before they have supped, and while they have supped, and indeed generally during the evening, there bursts out a strong smell of something good to drink; and presently you perceive that the strong men [-341-]
ONE O'CLOCK A.M. : EVAN'S SUPPER-ROOMS
[-342-] have ordered potent libations of spirituous liquors, hot whiskey-and-
water being the favourite one; and are hastily brewing mighty jorums
of punch and grog, which they undoubtedly quaff; puffing, meanwhile, cigars of potency and
fragrance - pipes are tabooed - taken
either from their own cigar-cases, or else recently laid in from the
inexhaustible stores of the complaisant Herr von Joel.
"Who will always be retained on this establishment," the proprietor good-naturedly promises, and more good-naturedly performs. "Why," asks the neophyte, "is it necessary for my well-being, or the prosperity of this establishment, that the services of Herr von Joel should always be retained thereon? Why this perpetual hypothecation of Joel? Can no one else sell me cigars? What am I to Joel, or what is Joel to me? Confound Joel!" To which I answer: "Rash neophyte, forbear, and listen. In the days when thou wert very young and foolish, wore lay-down collars, and had no moustaches, save the stickiness produced by much-sucked sweetstuff on the upper lips - in the days when thou wert familiar, indeed, with Doctor Wackerbarth's seminary for young gentlemen, but not with Evans's - Herr von Joel, young and sprightly then, was a famous Mimic. In imitating the cries of birds, Herr von Joel was unrivalled, and has never been approached. In the old days, when he was famous, and did the lark and the linnet so well, he brought crowds of visitors to the old supper-rooms, who laughed and wondered at his mimicry, supped and drank, and smoked, and paid fat scores. So Joel, in his generation, was a benefactor to Evans's. And now, when the thorax is rusty, and the larynx no longer supple, the faithful servant rests upon "his well-earned laurels "-of tobacco-leaves-among the old faces of old friends. "His helmet is a hive for bees"- and Havannah cigars, and "his services will always be retained in this establishment." One would shudder to think of Wellington's old charger, Copenhagen, being sent to Cow Cross, to the knackers, instead of ending his days peacefully in a paddock at Strathfieldsaye. No one likes to hear of Sophie Arnould or Mademoiselle Camargo (the ballet-dancer who introduced short petticoats) being brought to indigence in their declining years. Guilbert in the hospital, Camöens starving, blind Belisarius begging for an obolus, these are pitiable; and to this day I think the country might have done something for the widow of Ramo Samee. We give pensions to the families of those who use their swords well, but I should like to know how many can swallow them as Ramo did?
[-343-] All the while the company have been supping and I have been prosing, the "Cave of Harmony" has not belied its name. A bevy of fresh-coloured youths, of meagre stature, of curly hair, in broad collars and round jackets, such as distinguished you and me, neophyte, when we were pupils at Dr. Wackerbarth's, have made themselves manifest on the stage, and in admirable time and tune have chanted with their silver-bell voices those rare old glees which were written by the honest old masters before the Father of Evil had invented Signor Guiseppe Verdi. Thersites Theorbo (who is an assiduous frequenter of the Cave at hours when men of not so transcendent a genius are in bed) Thersites Theorbo, down yonder in the café ante-saloon, glowering over his grog, cannot forbear beating time and wagging his august head approvingly when he hears the little boys sing. May their pure harmony do the battered old cynic good! Honest old glees! though your composers wore pigtails and laced ruffles. And none the worse, either, because we owe some of the most beautiful of them to an Irish nobleman. Do you know who that nobleman was? Go ask Mr. Thackeray, who, in an absurd copy of verses, written in barbarous Cockney slang, has brought the "unaccustomed brine" to these eyes many and many a time. He describes a stately lady sitting by an open window, beside the "flowing Boyne," with a baby on her lap. It is a man child, and not far off is the father,
"... Most musical of Lords,
A playing madrigals and glees
Upon the harpsichords.
And this child's father was old Lord Mornington, whose son was Arthur, Duke of Wellington.
If you scrutinise the faces of these juvenile choristers somewhat narrowly, and happen yourself to be a tolerably regular attendant at the abbey church of St. Peter's, Westminster, it is not at all improbable that you may recognise one or two young gentlemen whom, arrayed in snowy surplices, you may have heard trilling forth in shrill notes their parts of the service among the gentlemen choristers and minor canons of the Abbey. I wonder if it is very wicked for them to be found at Evans's thus late. I don't mean at one o'clock in the morning, for they mostly disappear about midnight. Perhaps not so wicked, for I know there are some people so very religious that they only think of religion on Sundays; and fancy that week-day transactions can't have the slightest connection with the Sabbath. However this [-344-] may be, I must mention it as a curious fact in relation with the moral economy of Evans's, that in the old days, when Captain Costigan or one of his peers, was about to sing anything approaching to a chanson grivoise, the juveniles were invariably marched out of the room by a discreet waiter, in order that their young ears might not be contaminated.
With respect to the remaining harmonic attractions of Evans's, I shall be very brief. I believe that on some evenings individuals of the Ethiopian way of thinking, and accoutred in the ordinary amount of lamp-black, Welsh wig, and shirt-collars, and provided with the usual banjo, accordion, tambourine, and bones, are in the habit of informing the audience that things in general are assuming an appearance of "Hoop de dooden do ;" also of lamenting the untimely demise of one Ned, an aged blackamoor, who stood towards them in an avuncular relation, and of passionately demanding the cause of their master effecting the sale of their persons, by auction or otherwise, on the day on which they entered into the state of matrimony. I am given to understand that a gentleman with an astonishing falsetto voice is a great favourite among the habitués, and that some screaming comic songs by popular vocalists are nightly given with immense applause; but I candidly confess that I am not qualified to speak with any great degree of certitude with respect to these performances. I go to Evans's generally very late, and as seldom venture close to the proscenium. I am content to bide in the ante-saloon, and to muse upon Thersites Theorbo, glowering over his grog.
This iracund journalist - to borrow an epithet from Mr. Carlyle - is not by any means solitary in his patronage of the marble-tabled, portrait-hung café. To tell the honest truth, as, in Paris, if you wish to see the actors in vogue, you must go to the Café du Vaudeville - if the authors, to the Café Cardinal or the Café du Helder - if the artists, to the Café des Italiens - if the students, to the Café Beige - and if the dandies, to the Café do Paris; so in London, if you wish to see the wits and the journalist men about town of the day, you must go to Evans's about one o'clock in the morning. Then those ineffables turn out of the smoking-rooms of their clubs - clique-clubs mostly - and meet on this neutral ground to gird at one another. Autres temps, autres moeurs. A century since it used to be Wills's or Button's, or the Rose; now it is Evans's. I should dearly like to draw some pen-and-ink portraits for you of the wits as they sit, and drink, and smoke, at one o'clock in the morning; but I dare not. As for [-345-] Thersites Theorbo, he is a shadow. You know what I told you about clubs; and this place also is a prison-house to me. It is true, Heaven help me, that I am not affiliated to witcraft myself that I am neither priest nor deacon. Still I have been one of the little boys in red cassocks, who swing the censors, and I dare not reveal the secrets of the sacristy. But I may just whisper furtively in your ear, that Ethelred Guffoon is never seen at Evans's. It makes his head ache. Mr. Goodman Twoshoes, also, is but a seldom visitor to the Cave of Harmony. He prefers his snug corner-box at the Albion, where he can brew his beloved ginger-punch. It is not that the wits despise the "Cave." Mr. Polyphemus, the novelist, not unfrequently condescends to wither mankind through his spectacles from one of the marble tables; and I have seen the whole "Times" newspaper - proprietors, editors, special correspondents, and literary critics - hob-nobbing together at ... Will you hold your tongue, sir?
One trifling indiscretion more, and I have done with Evans's. "It is not generally known," as accurate, erudite, and amusing Mr. John Timbs would say, that the sly gallantry of Mr. Green, the proprietor of the Cave of Harmony, caused him, when his new and sumptuous music-hall was in course of construction, to move the architect to build some cunning loop-holes and points of espial connected with commodious apartments - in other words, with private boxes, somewhat resembling the baignoires in the Parisian theatres, whence ladies could see and hear all that was going on without being seen or heard. A somewhat similar contrivance exists, it will be remembered, in our House of Commons; I only wish that the fair ones who there lie perdues during a late debate, were doomed to hear as little trash as meets their ears from the secluded bowers overhanging Evans's. What passport is required to ensure admission into these blissful regions I know not; but I have it on good authority that ladies of the "very highest rank and distinction" - to use a "Morning Postism" - have on several occasions graced Evans's with their presence, and with condescending smiles looked down upon the revelries of their lords.
Tell me, you who are so quick of hearing, what is that noise above our heads - it must be in the street beyond - and which dominates the revelry as the sound of the cannon did the music of the Duchess of Richmond's ball before Quatre Bras. It grows louder and louder, it comes nearer and nearer, it swells into a hoarse continually-jarring [-346-] roar, as I sit smoking at Evans's. The sham blackamoor on the stage pauses in his buffoonery, forbears to smite his woolly pate with the tambourine; his colleague's accordion is suspended in the midst of a phthisic wheeze, and the abhorred bones quiver, yet unrererberate in the nicoto-alcholoicho-charged air. The rattle of knives and forks, the buzzing conversation, cease; a hundred queries as to the cause of the noise rise on as many lips; the waiters forget to rattle the change, the toper forgets to sip his grog: there is intrornission even in the inspiration of tobacco fumes: then comes the mighty answer - comes at once from all quarters - caught up, echoed and re-echoed, and fraught with dread, the momentous word - FIRE!
Man, it has been somewhere pertinently observed, is a hunting animal. The delight in having something to run after: whether it be a pickpocket, who has just eloped with a watch or a silk handkerchief; a dog with a kettle tied to his tail, a hare, a deer, a woman, a fugitive hat, a slaver, a prima donna, a lord's tuft, an oriental traveller, a deformed dwarf-something to chase, something to scour and scud after, something to run down, and ultimately devour and destroy: such a pursuit enlivens and comforts the heart of man, and makes him remember that he has the blood of Nimrod in his veins. The schoolboys at Eton have their "paper chases," and course miles through the pleasant playing-fields, crossing brooks, and tearing through hedges, after a quire of foolscap torn up into shreds. The child chases a butterfly; the adult exhausts himself and his horse in racing after a much-stinking fox; and the octogenarian frets his palsied old limbs, and bursts into a feverish snail's gallop, after a seat on the Treasury Bench, or a Strip of blue velvet embroidered with "honi soit qui mal y pense" in gold, and called a garter. There is a wild, engrossing excitement and pleasure in hunting; the fox-hound, the otter, the "harmless necessary cat," would tell you so, were their speech articulate ; but of all things huntable, chasable, rundownable, I doubt if there be one that can equal a Fire.
"Fire! fire!" It matters not how late the hour be, how important the avocations of the moment, that magic cry sets all legs, save those of the halt and the bed-ridden, in motion-strikes on every tympanum. "Fire! fire! " as the sound rolls earwards, the gambler starts up from the dicing-table, the bibber leaves the wine-pots, the lover rises from his mistress's feet, the blushing maiden forgets half of that last glowing declaration, the captive runs to his grated window, the sluggard sits up on his couch, the sick man turns his head [-347-] on his pillow to whence issues the portentous cry. Hundreds of impulses are bound up in the uncontrollable desire that prompts us to run at once after the "Fire! " Fear: it may be our own premises that are blazing, our own dear ones that are in peril. Hope and cupidity: we may be rogues, and there may be rich plunder from a fire. Duty: we may be policemen, firemen, or newspaper reporters. Generous emulation, brave self-devotion: there may be lives at stake and lives to save. Curiosity: it is as good to see a house burned (when it doesn't happen to be your own) as a bear baited or a man hanged. All these may prompt us to follow the howl of the fire- dogs; but, chiefest of all, is the vague, indefinite, yet omnipotent desire to swell a pursuing crowd, to join in a hue and cry, to press to the van of the chasers: to hunt something, in fact.
I never could understand where a London crowd comes from. Be the hour ever so late, were the street ever so deserted a moment before, a man quarrelling with his wife, or cry of Fire, will be sufficient to evoke the presence of a compact and curious crowd, growing instantaneously thicker and noisier. Whether they start from the sewers or the cellar-gratings, or drop from the chimney-pots or the roof-copings, is indeterminate; yet they gather somehow, and jostle, squeeze, yell, stamp, and tear furiously. No conscription, no mustering of the posse comitatis, no summoning of ban and arrière ban, no "call of the House," no sending forth of the "fiery cross," no beacon signalling, no Vehmgericht convening under penalty of the cord and dagger, could be half so successful in calling multitudes together as the one word - FIRE! A minute past, I was at Evans's, tranquilly conversing with the veteran Herr von Joel, and now I find myself racing like mad up St. Martin's Lane, towards St. Giles's. how I found my hat and donned it I haven't the slightest idea, and I sincerely hope that I didn't forget to pay the waiter for my chop, kidney, stout, and etceteras. All I know is, that I am running after that hoarse cry, and towards that awful Redness in the sky; that I tread upon unnumbered corns; that I hold cheap as air, innumerable punches and Thrusts which I receive from my neighbours; and that I will not by any means undertake to make oath that I am not myself also vociferating, "Fire! Fire!" with the full strength of my lungs.
I thought so. There goes the "Country Fire Office." There it goes, dashing, rattling, blazing along-only the very strongest adjective, used participle-wise, can give a notion of its bewildering speed- there it goes, with its strong, handsome horses, champing, fuming, [-348-] setting the pavement on fire with their space-devouring hoofs, and seeming to participate in the fire-hunting mania. They need no whip; only the voices of the firemen, clustering on the engine like bees, the loose rattle of the reins on their backs, and the cheers of the accompanying crowd. The very engine, burnished and glistening, flashing and blushing in its scarlet and gold in the gaslight, seems imbued with feeling, and scintillating with excitement - (Oh! critics of fishy blood, oyster temperament, and tortoise impulses, pardon my heedless exuberance of epithet) - so gleaming and glittering, and its catherine-like wheels revolving, and the moon just tipping the burnished helmets and hatchets of the fire-men, who will have a ruddy glare on those accoutrements shortly, goes screaming through the night, the County Fire-engine. The Northern Express blazing over Chatmoss at speed is a terrible sight to see: that fiery messenger has subdued the wilderness, and made the waste places, whilom the haunts of bats and dragons, tremble; but the fast-tearing fire-engine is nobler and more Human. It cleaves its way through the sleeping city; it bears the tidings of succour and deliverance. You express-train may convey but a company of chapmen and pedlars, thirsting to higgle in the cheapest so that they may haggle in the dearest market; but the fire-engine is freighted with brave manly hearts, braced-with little lust of lucre, God knows! for their pay is but a pittance - to the noble task of saving human life. That they do so save it, almost every night throughout the year, save it in the midst of peril to their own, in the ever-imminent peril of a sudden, hideous, unrewarded death, Mr. Braidwood and the fire companies know full well. That the best of the young British painting men, John Everett Millais, should have chosen the every-day, but none the less glorious, heroism of a fireman for the theme of a magnificent picture, is good to know; and the very thought of the picture goes far towards making us forgive the painter for his asinine "Sir Isumbrasse," or whatever the abortion was called; but it would be better if the knowledge of our firemen's good deservings were extended beyond Mr. Braidwood and the fire companies. The deeds of those plain men with the leathern helmets and the trusty hatchets, have received neither their full meed of praise, nor a tithe of their meed of reward. I have yet to hear of the Fireman's Order of Valour; I have yet to learn that our bounteous Government, so prompt to recognise diplomatic demerit, to reward political worthlessness, and to ennoble military failure, have thought it worth their while to bestow even the minutest modicum of a pension on a fireman. To [-349-]
ONE O'CLOCK A.M. : A FIRE
[-350-] be sure, these worldly, unwise men, arc, for their own interests' sake,
disastrously and inexcusably modest, unobstrusive, and retiring. There
is no trumpeter attached ez-officio to the fire brigade. Would you
believe it, that these unambitious men, their glorious labours over, are
content to retire to the sheds where their engines stand at livery,
where they eat bread-and-cheese with clasp knives, read cheap newspapers, and teach tricks to their dogs? Their principal recreation is
to scrub, polish, tickle, and frictionise the brass and wood work of the
fire-engines to a Dutch pitch of cleanliness, and they are much given,
I am sorry to say, to the smoking of long clay pipes. This is, in
itself, sufficient to ruin them in the estimation of such sages and
public benefactors as ex-Lord Mayor Carden. Let us hope that it is
not his ex-Lordship's house that is being burned down this November
No - the fire is in the very thickest part of St. Giles's. Unfaithful topographers may have told you that the "Holy Land" being swept away and Buckeridge Street being pulled down, St. Giles's exists no more. Ne'n croyez rien. The place yet lives - hideous, squalid, decrepit-yet full of an unwholesome vitality. Splendid streets have been pierced through the heart of this region - streets full of mansions four and six storeys high-affluent tradesmen display their splendid wares through glistening plate-glass windows. But St. Giles's is behind, round about, environing the new erections, sitting like Mordecai in the gate on the threshold of the brick and mortar and stucco palaces with which cunning contractors and speculative builders have sought to disguise the most infamous district in London. The proof of what I have asserted is very easy. You have but to be invited to dinner in Gower Street, or to have a morning call to make in Bedford Square. Take a walk from young Mr. Barry's bran-new opera-house in Bow Street, and walk straight a-head-nearly a measured mile to the Square of Bedford. You pass the gigantic carriage factory, which I will call by its ancestral name of Houlditch's - for it always seems to be changing proprietors-at the corner of Long Acre. You ascend Endell Street, and greet with satisfaction such signs of advancing civilisation as baths and wash-houses, and a bran-new dispensary. I had forgotten to mention that you might have had a back view of St. Martin's Hall. Then you cross the area of High Street, St. Giles's, or High Street, Holborn, whichsoever you may elect to call it. Then, still straight a-head, you mount Charlotte Street, Bloomsbury, a thoroughfare dignified by any number of churches, belonging to any num-[-351-]ber of persuasions. And then you are at your journey's end, and are free to call in Bedford Square, to dine in Gower Street, or to go see the Nineveh Marbles in the British Museum, comrne bon vous semble.
But throughout this pilgrimage, passing by edifices erected in the newest Byzantine, or early English, or Elizabethan, or sham Gothic style, you have had St. Giles's always before, behind, and about you. From a hundred foul lanes and alleys have debouched, on to the spick-and-span-new promenade, unheard-of human horrors. Gibbering forms of men and women in filthy rags, with fiery heads of shock hair, the roots beginning an inch from the eyebrows, with the eyes themselves bleared and gummy, with gashes filled with yellow fangs for teeth, with rough holes punched in the nasal cartilage for nostrils, with sprawling hands and splay feet, tessellated with dirt - awful deformities, with horrifying malformations of the limbs and running sores ostentatiously displayed; Ghoules and Afrits in a travestie of human form, rattling uncouth forms of speech in their vitrified throttles. These hang about your feet like reptiles, or crawl round you like loathsome vermin, and in a demoniac whine beg charity from you. One can bear the men; ferocious and repulsive as they are, a penny and a threat will send them cowering and cursing to their noisome holes again. One cannot bear the women without a shudder, and a feeling of infinite sorrow and humiliation. They are so horrible to look upon, so thoroughly unsexed, shameless. Heaven-abandoned and forlorn, with their bare liver-coloured feet beating the devil's tattoo on the pavement, their lean shoulders shrugged up to their sallow cheeks, over which falls hair either wildly dishevelled or filthily matted, and their gaunt hands clutching at the tattered remnant of a shawl, which but sorrily veils the lamentable fact that they have no gown - that a ragged petticoat and a more ragged under garment are all they have to cover themselves withal. With sternness and determination one can bear these sights; but, heavens and earth! the little children! who swarm, pullulate - who seem to be evoked from the gutter, and called up from the kennel, who clamber about your knees, who lie so thickly in your path that you are near stumbling over one of them every moment, who, ten times raggeder, dirtier, and more wretched-looking than their elders, with their baby faces rendered wolfish by privation, and looking a hundred years old, rather than not ten times that number of days, fight and scream, whimper and fondle, crawl and leap like the phantoms a man sees during the access of delirium tremens. I declare that there are babies among these miserable ones - babies with the preter-[-352-]naturally wise faces of grown up men; babies who, I doubt little, can lie, and steal, and beg, and who, in a year or so, will be able to fight and swear, and be sent to jail for six months' hard labour. Plenty of the children are big enough to be "whipped and discharged." Yes; that is the pleasant tee-totum: "six months' hard labour," "whipped and discharged," the merry prologue to Portland and the hulks, the humorous apprenticeship to the penal settlements and the gallows. And yet people will tell me that St. Giles's is "done away with" - "put down," as the worshipful Sir Peter Laurie would say. Glance down any one of the narrow lanes you like after passing Broker's Row. See the children coming out of the gin-shops and the pawnbrokers'. Ask the policeman whether every court in the vicinity be not full of thieves, and worse. Look at the lanes themselves, with the filthy rags flaunting from poles in the windows in bitter mockery of being hung out to dry after washing; with their belching doorways, the thresholds littered with wallowing infants, and revealing beyond a Dantean perspective of infected backyard and cloacan staircase. Peep, as well as you may for the dirt-obscured window panes, and see the dens of wretchedness where the people whose existence you ignore dwell-the sick and infirm, often the dying, sometimes the dead, lying on the bare floor, or, at best, covered with some tattered scraps of blanketing or matting; the shivering age crouching over fireless grates, and drunken husbands bursting through the rotten doors to seize their gaunt wives by the hair, and bruise their already swollen faces, because they have pawned what few rags remain to purchase gin. But then St. Giles's doesn't exist! It has been done away with! It is put down! "Stunning Joe Banks" and Bamfylde Moore Carew have been subdued by civilisation and the march of intellect! Of course.
Notwithstanding all which there is a terrific fire in the very midst of St. Giles's to-night; and that conflagration may do more in its generation towards the abolition of the district, than all the astute contractors and speculative builders. The fire is at an oilman's shop, who likewise manufactures and deals in pickles, and from the nature of the combustible commodities in which he trades, you may anticipate a rare blaze. Blaze! say an eruption of Mount Vesuvius rather; far high into the air shoot columns of flame, and hanging thickly over all are billows upon billows of crimson smoke, the whole encircled by myriads of fiery sparks that fall upon the gaping crowd and make them dance and yell with terror and excitement.
[-353-] The police have very speedily made a sanitary cordon round about the blazing premises, and let none pass save those who hare special business near the place. The firemen are "welcome guests" within the magic cordon, as also the fussy, self-important sergeants and inspectors of police, who often do more harm than good with their orders and counter-orders. There are some other gentlemen, too, who slip in and out unquestioned and unchallenged. They don't pump at the fire-engines, and they don't volunteer to man the fire-escape. But they seem to have an undisputed though unrecognised right to be here, there, and everywhere, and are received on a footing of humorous equality by the police, the fire-escape men, the firemen, and the very firemen's dogs. They are not official-looking persons by any means. They wear no uniforms, they carry no signs of authority, such as truncheons, armlets, or the like. They are rather given, on the contrary, to a plain and unpretending, not to say "seedy," style of attire. Napless hats, surtouts tightly buttoned up to the throat and white at the seams, pantaloons of undecided length, unblackened bluchers, and umbrellas, seem to be the favourite wear among these gentlemen. They are, not to mince the matter, what are termed "occasional reporters" to the daily newspapers, and, in less courteous parlance, are denominated "penny-a-liners." It is the vocation of these gentlemen (worthy souls for the most part-working very hard for very little money) to prowl continually about London town, in search of fires, failings in and down of houses, runnings away of vicious horses, breakings down of cabs, carriages, and omnibuses; and, in fact, accidents and casualties of every description. But especially fires. Fatal accidents are not unnaturally preferred by the occasional reporters, because they lead to coroners' inquests, which have of course also to be reported; and, in the case of a fire, a slight loss of life is not objected to. It entails "additional particulars," and perhaps an inquiry before the coroner, with an examination of witnesses relative to the cause of the fire; nay, who knows but it may end in a trial for arson? There was - and may be now - a gentleman attached to the combustible department of the press, who was so well known and practised a hand at reporting conflagrations, that he was christened, and to some extent popularly known as, the "Fire King." It was facetiously suggested that he was unconsumable, made of asbestos, not to be affected by heat, like Signor Buono Cuore at Cremorne Gardens. According to the legend current in London newspaper circles, the "Fire King" had his abode next door to a fire-engine station in the [-354-] Waterloo Road, and further to guard against the possibility of missing one of these interesting, and, to him, remunerative events, he caused to be inscribed on the door-jamb, in lieu of the ordinary injunction to "ring the top bell," this solitary announcement on a neat brass plate, "Fire Bell." So, when a fire was signalled within the beat of that portion of the brigade stationed in the Waterloo Road - or, indeed, anywhere else if of sufficient magnitude, for the brigade are not by any means particular as to distances, and would as lief go down the river to Gravesend or up it to Henley if occasion required - a stalwart brigadier, his helmet and hatchet all donned, would pull lustily at the fire-bell, accompanying the tintinnabulation by stentorian shouts of "Wake up, Charley!" Charley, the "Fire King, perhaps at that moment serenely dreaming of new Great Fires of London, Temples of Diana at Ephesus, and Minsters at York, ignited by Erostatratuses and Jonathan Martins yet unborn, would sing out of the window a sonorous "All right!" hastily dress, descend, jump on the ready-harnessed engine, and be conveyed jubilantly, as fast as ever the horses could carry him, to the scene of the fire. But two stains existed on the "Fire King's" otherwise fair escutcheon. It was darkly rumoured that on one occasion - it was a very fat fire at a patent candle manufactory - he had offered to bribe the turncock, so tampering with the supply of water; and that on another, it being a remarkably cold winter's night, he expressed a hope that the main might be frozen. And yet a more tender-hearted man - additional particulars, and the claim of a wife and large family being put out of the question - than the Fire King, does not exist.
Meanwhile the oil and pickle man's house blazes tremendously. The houses on either side must go too; so think the firemen. Fears are entertained for the safety of the houses over the way, already scorched and blistering, and the adjoining tenements within a circle of a hundred yards are sure to be more or less injured by water, for the street is wretchedly narrow, and the houses lean-to frightfully. One extremity of the thoroughfare has been shored up for years by beams, now rotting. The oil and pickle man is heavily insured, so is the contractor for army clothing over the way, so is the wholesale boot and shoe manufacturer next door. It would be a mercy if the whole decayed stack of buildings were swept away by the devouring, yet purifying element. Yes, a mercy, surely a mercy. But the miserable inhabitants of the crumbling tenements that cling like barnacles to the skirts of the great shops and factories, are they insured? See them [-355-] swarming from their hovels half naked, frenzied with terror and amazement, bearing their trembling children in their arms, or lugging their lamentable shreds and scraps of household goods and chattels into the open. Are they insured? The fire will send them to the workhouse, or, maybe, to the workhouse dead-wall - for they have no legal settlement there, or they are not casual paupers, or they haven't seen the relieving-officer, or they are too early, or too late - there to crouch and die. To be sure, they ought never to have been born. They are not necessary for the prosperity of the wholesale trade in boots and shoes, oil, pickles, and army clothing. Why cumber they the earth?
And still the fire leaps up into the cold morning air. The house will be gutted out and out, the police now say authoritatively. Happily there is no danger to be apprehended now for human life within the blazing pile. The oil and pickle chandler does not dwell in his warehouse. He has a snug villa at Highgate, and is very probably now contemplating the motley sky from his parlour-window, and wondering wherever the fire can be. The only living person who had to be rescued was an old housekeeper, who persisted in saying that she had lived in the house "seven and thirty year," and wouldn't leave it while one stone remained on another; which was not so very difficult a task, seeing that the premises were built throughout of brick. She had to be hustled at last, and after much to do, into the fire-escape; but for hours afterwards she led the firemen a terrible life respecting the fate of a certain tom-cat, of extraordinary sagacity, called Ginger, which she averred to have left sitting on the lid of the water-butt, but which very soon afterwards appeared in the flesh, so scorched that it smelt like burnt feathers, and clawing convulsively at the collar of a police-constable of the F. division. It is, perhaps, scarcely worth while-to state that in the course of the fire a poor woman is carried from one of the adjoining hovels dead. She was close upon her confinement, and the child and she are gone to a more peaceable and merciful city, where lives, at least, are assured for ever.
Towards two o'clock, the columns of flame begin to grow slenderer, less continuous, more fitful. The clanking of the fire-engines does not decrease, however, in the least, though the firemen joyfully declare that the fire is "got under." The surrounding publicans - who, though they closed at midnight, have all taken down their shutters with marvellous alacrity - are doing a roaring trade in beer, which is distributed to the volunteers at the pumps in sufficiently liberal quantities, a check being kept upon the amount consumed by means of tickets. Where [-356-] the tickets come from I have no means of judging, but this wonderful fire-brigade seem prepared for everything.
So, feeling very hot and dry, and dazed about the eyes with constant contemplation of the flames, I leave St. Giles's and the oil and pickle vender's warehouse, which, when daylight comes, will be but a heap of charred, steaming ruins, and wander westward, musing over the fires I have seen and the fires I have read of. I think of the great fire of London in Charles's time - the fire that began at Pudding Lane and ended at Pye Corner, and in commemoration of which they built that strange monument, with the gilt shaving-brush at the top-
" ... London's column, pointing to the skies,
Like a tall bully, lifts its head and lies.
I think of the great fire at the Tower of London in 1841, of which I was an eye-witness, and which consumed the hideous armouries built by William III. and their priceless contents. I think upon the great scuffle and scramble to rescue the crown and regalia from the threatened Jewel House, such a scuffle and scramble as had not taken place since Colonel Blood's impudent attempt to steal those precious things. Then my mind reverts to the monster conflagration by which the winter palace at St. Petersburg was destroyed in 1839; of the strange discovery then made, that dozens of families lived on the roof of the palace-lived, and roosted, and died, and kept fowls and goats there, of whose existence the court and the imperial household had not the remotest idea; of the sentinel who died at his post, notwithstanding the imperial command to leave it, because he had not been relieved by his corporal; and of the Czar himself watching with compressed lips the destruction of his magnificent palace, and vainly entreating his officers not to risk their lives in endeavouring to save the furniture. One zealous aide-de-camp could not be dissuaded from the attempt to reach a magnificent pier-glass, framed in gold and malachite, from a wall, whereupon his Imperial Majesty, seeing that injunction, entreaty, menace were all in vain, hurled, with the full force of his gigantic arm, his opera-glass at the sheet of crystal, which was shivered to atoms by the blow. Not an uncharacteristic trait of Nicholas Romanoff.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]