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[-49-] SEVEN O'CLOCK A.M.- A PARLIAMENTARY TRAIN.
I KNOW that the part which I have proposed to myself in these
papers is that of a chronological Asmodeus; you, reader, I have enlisted, nolens
volens, to accompany me in my flights about town, at
all hours of the day and night; and you must, perforce, hold on by
the skirts of my cloak as I wing my way from quarter to quarter of
the immense city, to which the Madrid which the lame fiend showed
his friend was but a nut-shell. And yet, when I look my self-appointed task in the face, I am astounded, humiliated, almost disheartened, by its magnitude.
How can I hope to complete it within
the compass of this book, within the time allotted for daily literary
labour? For work ever so hard as we penmen may, and rob ever so
many hours from sleep as you may choose to compute - as we are
forced to do sometimes - that you may have your pabulum of printed
matter, more or less amusing and instructive, at breakfast time, or at
afternoon club reading hour, we must yet eat, and drink, and sleep,
and go into the world soliciting bread or favours, we must quarrel
with our wives, if married, and look out the things for the wash, if single -
all of which are operations requiring a certain expenditure of
time. We must, we authors, even have time, an't please you, to grow
ambitious, and to save money, stand for the borough, attend the boardroom, and be appointed
consuls-general to the Baratarian Islands.
The old Grub Street tradition of the author is defunct. The man of
letters is no longer supposed to write moral essays from Mount
Scoundrel in the Fleet, to dine at twopenny ordinaries, and pass
his leisure hours in night-cellars. Translators of Herodotus no
longer lie three in a bed; nor is the gentleman who is correcting
the proof-sheets of the Sanscrit dictionary to be found in a hay-loft
over a tripe shop in Little Britain, or to be heard of at the bar of
the Green Dragon. Another, and as erroneous, an idea of the
author has sprung up in the minds of burgesses. He wears, according to some wiseacres, a shawl
dressing-gown, and lies all day on
a sofa, puffing a perfumed narghile, penning paragraphs in violet
ink on cream-laid paper at intervals; or he is a lettered Intriguer,
who merely courts the Muses as the shortest way to the Treasury
bench, and writes May Fair novels or Della Cruscan tragedies that [-50-] he may the sooner become Prime Minister. There is another literary
idea that may with greater reason become prevalent - that of the
author-manufacturer, who produces such an amount of merchandise,
takes it into the market, and sells it according to demand and the
latest quotations, and the smoke of whose short cutty pipe, as he
spins his literary yarn, is as natural a consequence of manufacture as
the black cloud which gusts from Mr. Billvroller's hundred-feet-high
brick chimney as he spins his yarns for madapolams and "domestics."
The author-manufacturer has to keep his books, to pay his men, to
watch the course of the market, and to suit his wares to the prevailing caprice. And, like the cotton-spinner, he sometimes goes into
the " Gazette,'' paying but an infinitesimal dividend in the pound.
Did I not struggle midway into a phrase, some page or so since, and did it not waltz away from me on the nimble feet of a parenthesis? I fear that such was the case. How can I hope, I reiterate, to give you anything like a complete picture of the doings in London while still the clock goes round? I might take one house and unroof it, one street and unpave it, one man and disclose to you the secrets of twenty-four hours of his daily and nightly life ; but it is London, in its entirety, that I have presumed to "time" - forgetting, oh! egregrious and inconsistent! - that every minute over which the clock hand passes is as the shake of the wrist applied to a kaleidoscope, and that the whole aspect of the city changes with as magical rapidity.
I should be Briareus multiplied by ten thousand, and not Asmodeus at all, if I could set down in writing a tithe of London's sayings and doings, acts and deeds, seemings and aspects, at seven o'clock in the morning. Only consider. Drumming with your finger on a map of the metropolis; just measure a few palms' lengths, say from Camberwell Gate to the "Mother Redcap," on the one hand - from Limehouse Church to Kensington Gravel Pits, on the other. Take the cubic dimensions, my dear sir; think of the mean area; rub up those mathematics, for proficiency in whose more recondite branches you so narrowly escaped being second wrangler, twenty years since ; out with your logarithms, your conic sections, your fluxions, and calculate the thousands upon thousands of little dramas that must be taking place in London as the clock strikes seven. Let me glance at a few, as I travel with you towards that railway terminus which is our destination. Camberwell Gate: tollbar-keeper, who has been up all night, going to bed, very cross; tollbar-keeper's wife gets up to mind the [-51-] gate, also very cross. Woodendesk Grove, Grosvenor Park, Camberwell: Mr. Dockett, wharfage clerk in Messrs. Charter Party and Co.'s shipping house, Lower Thames Street, is shaving. He breakfasts at half-past seven, and has to be in the city by nine. Precisely at the same time that he is passing Mr. Mappin's razor over his commercial countenance, Mr. Flybynight, aged twenty-two, also a clerk, but attached to the Lost-Monkey- and-Mislaid-Poodle-Department (Inland Revenue), Somerset house, lets himself into No. 7, Woodendesk Grove, next door to Mr. Dockett's, by means of a Chubb's key. Mr. Flybynight is in evening costume, considerably the worst for the concussion of pale ale bottle corks. On his elegant tie are the stains of the dressing of some lobster salad, and about half-a-pint of the crimson stream of life, formerly the joint property of Mr. Flybynight's nose and of a cabman's upper lip, both injured during a "knock-down and drag-out" fight, supervening on the disputed question of the right of a passenger to carry a live turkey (purchased in Leadenhall market) with him in a hackney cab. Mr. Flybynight has been to two evening parties, a public ball (admission sixpence), where he created a great sensation among the ladies and gentlemen present, by appearing with a lady's cap on his head, a raw shoulder of mutton in one band, and a pound of rushlights in the other; and to two suppers-one of roasted potatoes in Whitechapel High Street, the second of scolloped oysters in the Haymarket. He paid a visit to the Vine Street station-house, too, to clear up a misunderstanding as to a bell which was rung by accident, and a policemans hat which was knocked off by mistake. The inspector on duty was so charmed with Mr. Flybynight's engaging demeanour and affable manners, that it was with difficulty that he was dissuaded from keeping him by him all night, and assigning him as a sleeping apartment a private parlour with a very strong lock, and remarkably well ventilated. He only consented to tear himself away from Mr. Flybynight's society on the undertaking that the latter would convey home his friend Mr. Keepitup, who, though he persistently repeated to all corners that he was "all right," appeared, if unsteadiness of gait and thickness of utterance were to be accepted as evidence, to be altogether wrong. Mr. Flybynight, faithful to his promise, took Mr. Keepitup (who was in the Customs) home; at least he took him as far as he would go-his own doorstep, namely, on which somewhat frigid pedestal he sat, informing the "milk," a passing dustman, and a lady in pink, who had lost her way, and seemed to think that the best way to find it was to consult [-52-] the pavement by falling prone thereupon every dozen yards or so - that though circumstances had compelled him to serve his country in a civil capacity, he was at heart and by predilection a soldier. In proof of which Mr. Keepitup struck his breast, volunteered a choice of martial airs, beginning with the "Death of Nelson," and ending with a long howl, intermingled with passionate tears and ejaculations bearing reference to the infidelity of a certain Caroline, surname unknown, through whose cruelty he "would never be the same man again." Mr. Flybynight, safely arrived at Woodendesk Grove, after these varied peripatetics, is due at the Lost-Monkey-and-Mislaid-Poodle Office at ten; but he will have a violent attack of lumbago this morning, which will unavoidably prevent him from reaching Somerset House before noon. His name will show somewhat unfavourably in the official book, and the Commissioners will look him up sharply, and shortly too, if he doesn't take care. Mr. Keepitup, who, however eccentric may have been his previous nocturnal vagaries, possesses the faculty of appearing at the Custom-house gates as the clock strikes the half-hour after nine, with a very large and stiff shirt-collar, a microscopically shaven face, and the most irreproachable shirt, will go to work at his desk in the Long Room, with a steady hand and the countenance of a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry; but Mr. Flybynight will require a good deal of soda-water and sal-volatile, and perhaps a little tincture of opium, before he is equal to the resumption of his arduous duties. Wild lads, these clerks; and yet they don't do such a vast amount of harm, Flybynight and Keepitup! They are very young; they don't beat the town every night; they are honest lads at bottom, and have a contempt for meanness and are not lost to shame. They have not grown so vicious as to be ashamed and remorseful without any good resulting therefrom; and you will he astonished five years hence to see Keepitup high up in the Customs, and Flybynight married to a pretty girl, to whom he is the most exemplary of husbands. Let me edge in this little morsel of morality at seven o'clock in the morning. I know the virtue of steadiness, lectures, tracts, latch-key-prohibitions, strict parents, young men's Christian associations, serious tea-parties and electrifying machines; but I have seen the world in my time, and its ways. Youth will be youth, and youthful blood will run riot. There is no morality so false as that which ignores the existence of immorality. Let us keep on preaching to the prodigals, and point with grim menace to the draff and husks, and the fatted calf which never shall be theirs if [-53-] they do not reform; let us thunder against their dissipation, their late hours, their vain "larks," their unseemly "sprees." It is our duty; it youth must be reproved, admonished, restrained by its elders. It has been so ever since the world began; but do not let us in our own hearts think every wild young man is bound hopelessly to perdition. Some there are, indeed, (and they are in evil case,) who have come to irremediable grief, and must sit aloof-spirits fallen never to rise again - and watch the struggling souls. But it must rejoice even those callous ones to see how many pecks of wild oats are sown every day, and what goodly harvests of home virtues and domestic joys are reaped on all sides, from the most unpromising soil. Let us not despair of the tendencies of the age. Young men will be young men, but they should be taught and led with gentle and wise counsels, with forbearance and moderation, to abandon the follies of youth, and to become staid and decorous. Flybynight, with such counsels, and good examples from his elders - ah, ye seniors! what examples are not due from you ! - will leave off sack and live cleanly like a gentleman; and Keepitup will not bring his parents' gray hairs with sorrow to the grave.
Seven o'clock in the morning! I have already ventured a passing allusion to the "milk." The poor little children who sell violets and water-cresses debouch from the great thoroughfares, and ply their humble trade in by-streets full of private houses. The newsvenders' shops in the Strand, Holywell Street, and Fleet Street, are all in full activity. Legions of assistants crowd behind the broad counters, folding the still damp sheets of the morning newspapers, and, with fingers moving in swift legerdemain, tell off "quires" and "dozens" of cheap periodicals. If it happen to be seven o'clock, and a Friday morning, not only the doors of the great newsvenders -such as Messrs. Smith it and Son and Mr. Vickers -but the portals of all the newspaper offices, will be crowded with newsmen's carts and newsmen's trucks; and from the gaping gates themselves will issue hordes of newsmen and flying cohorts of newsboys - boys with parcels, boys with bags, boys with satchels, men staggering under the weight of great piles of it printed paper. Mercy on us! what a plethora of brainwork is about, and what a poor criterion of its quality the quantity manifestly affords! Yon tiny urchin with the red comforter has but half-a-dozen copies tucked beneath his arm of a journal sparkling with wit, and radiant in learning, and scathing in its satire, and Titanic in its vigour; yet, treading on his heels, comes a colossus in corduroy, [-54-] eclipsed by a quadrangular mountain of closely-packed paper, quires - nay, whole reams - of some ragamuffin print, full of details of the last murder and abuse of some wise and good statesman because he happens to be a lord.
Seven, still seven! Potboys, rubbing their eyes, take down the shutters of taverns in leading thoroughfares, and then fall to rubbing the pewter pots till they assume a transcendent sheen. Within, the young ladies who officiate in the bar, and who look very drowsy in their curl-papers and cotton-print dresses, are rubbing the pewter counters and the brass-work of the beer-engines, the funnels and the whisky noggins, washing the glasses, polishing up the mahogany, cutting up the pork pies which Mr. Watling's man has just left, displaying the Banbury cakes and Epping sausages under crystal canopies. The early customers - matutinal habitués - drop in for small measures of cordials or glasses of peculiarly mild ale; and the freshest news of last night's fire in Holborn, or last night's division in the House, or last night's opera at Her Majesty's, are fished up from the columns of the "Morning Advertiser." By intercommunication with the early customers, who all have a paternal and respectful fondness for her, the barmaid becomes au courant with the news of the day. As a rule, the barmaid does not read the newspaper. On the second day of publication, she lends it to the dissenting washerwoman or the radical tailor in the court round the corner, who send small children, whose heads scarcely reach to the top of the counter, for it. When it is returned, she cuts it up for tobacco screws and for curl papers. I like the barmaid, for she is often pretty, always civil, works about fourteen hours a day for her keep and from eighteen to twenty pounds a year, is frequently a kin-less orphan out of that admirable Licensed Victuallers' School, and is, in nine cases out of ten, as chaste as Diana.
I should be grossly misleading you, were I to attempt to inculcate the supposition that at seven o'clock in the morning only the humbler classes, or those who have stopped up all night, are again up and doing. The Prime Minister is dressed, and poring over a savage leader in the "Times," denouncing his policy, sneering at his latest measure, and insulting him personally in a facetious manner. The noble officers told off for duty of her Majesty's regiment of Guards are up and fully equipped, though perchance they have spent the small hours in amusements not wholly dissimilar from those employed by the daring Flybynight and the intrepid Keepitup to kill time, and [-55-] have devoted their vast energies to the absorbing requirements of morning parade. Many of the infant and juvenile scions of the aristocracy have left their downy couches ere this, and are undergoing lavatory purgatory in the nursery. Many meek-faced, plainly-dressed young ladies, of native and foreign extraction, attached as governesses to the aristocratic families in question, are already in the school-room sorting their pupils' copy-books, or preparing for the early repetition of the music lesson, which is drummed and thrummed over in the morning pending the arrival of Signor Papadaggi or Herr Hammerer who comes for an hour and earns a guinea. The governess, Miss Grissell, does not work more than twelve hours a day, and she earns perhaps fifty guineas a year against Papadaggi's fifteen hundred and Hammerer's two thousand. But then she is only a governess. Her life is somewhat hard, and lonely, and miserable, and might afford, to an ill-regulated mind, some cause for grumbling ; but it is her duty to be patient, and not to repine. What says the pleasing poet?
"O! let us love our occupations,
Bless the squire and his relations,
Live upon our daily rations,
And always know our proper stations. * (*"The Chimes")
Let us trust Miss Grissel knows her proper station, and is satisfied.
Seven o'clock in the morning; but there are more governesses,
and governesses out of bed, than Miss Grissel and her companions in
woe, in the mansions of the nobility. Doctor Wackerbarth's young
gentlemen, from Towellem House, New Road, are gone to bathe at
Peerless Pool, under escort of the writing-master. The Misses Gimps'
establishment for young ladies, at Bayswater, is already in full activity:
and the eight and thirty boarders (among whom there are at present,
and have been for the last ten years, two, and positively only two,
vacancies. N.B.-The daughters of gentlemen only are received)-
the eight and thirty boarders, in curl papers and brown Holland pinafores, are floundering through sloughs of despond in the endeavour to
convey, in the English language, the fact that Calypso was unable to
console herself for the departure of Ulysses ; and into the French
vernacular, the information that, in order to be disabused respecting
the phantoms of hope and the whisperings of fancy, it is desirable to
listen to the history of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia. In Charter-house and Merchant
Taylors' and St. Paul's, the boys are already at [-56-] their lessons, and the cruel anger of Juno towards
with the shameful conduct of Clytemnestra to Agamemnon, are matters of public (though unwilling) discussion ; some private conversations
going on surreptitiously, meanwhile, touching the price of
alleytaws as compared with agates, and the relative merits of almond-rock and candied horehound. After all, the poor have their privileges
- their immunities; and the couch of the rich is not altogether a bed
of roses. Polly Rabbets, the charity girl, lies snugly in bed, while
the honourable Clementina St. Maur is standing in the stocks, or is
having her knuckles rapped for speaking English instead of French.
Polly has a run in the Dials before breakfast, an expedition to buy a
red herring for father, and perchance a penny for disbursement at the
apple-stall. She is not wanted at school till nine. The most noble
the Marquis of Millefleurs, aged ten, at Eton, has to rise at six ; he
is fag to Tom Tucker, the army clothier's son. He has to clean his
master's boots, fry bacon, and toast bread for his breakfast. If he
doesn't know his lesson in school, the most noble the Marquis of
Millefleurs is liable to be birched; but no such danger menaces
Jernmy Allbones at the National, or Tommy Grimes at the Ragged
School. If the schoolmaster were to beat them, their parents would
have the plagosus Orbilius up at the police-court in a trice, and the
Sunday newspapers would be full of details of the "atrocious cruelty
of a schoolmaster."
One more peep at seven o'clock doings, and we will move further afield. Though sundry are up and doing, the great mass of London is yet sleeping. Sleeps the cosy tradesman, sleeps the linendraper's shopman (till eight), sleeps the merchant, the dandy, the actor, the author, the petite maitresse. Hold fast while I wheel in my flight and hover over Pimlico. There is Millbank, where the boarders and lodgers, clad in hodden gray, with masks on their faces and numbers on their backs, have been up and stirring since six. And there, north-west of Millbank, is the palace, almost as ugly as the prison, where dwells the Great Governess of the Land. She is there, for you may see the standard floating in the morning breeze; and at seven in the morning, she, too, is up and doing. If she were at Osborne she would be strolling very likely on the white-beached shore, listening to the sea murmuring "your gracious Majesty," and "your Majesty's ever faithful subject and servant," and "your petitioner will ever pray;" for it is thus doubtless that the obsequious sea has addressed sovereigns since Xerxes' time. Or if the Imperial Governess were at [-57-] Windsor, she might, at this very time, be walking on those mysterious Slopes on which it is a standing marvel that Royalty can preserve its equilibrium. When I speak of our gracious lady being awake and up at seven o'clock, I know that I am venturing into the realms of pure supposition; but remember I am Asmodeus, and can unroof palaces and hovels at will. Is it not, besides, a matter of public report that the Queen rises early? Does not the Court newsman (I wonder whether that occult functionary gets up early too) know it? Does not everybody know it-everybody say it? And what everybody says must be true. There are despatches to be read; private and confidential letters to foreign sovereigns to be written; the breakfasts, perchance, of the little princes and princesses to be superintended; the proofs, probably, of the last Royal etching or princely photograph to be inspected; a new pony to be tried in the riding-house; a new dog to be taught tricks: a host of things to do. Who shall say? What do we know about the daily life of royalty, save that it must be infinitely more laborious than that of a convict drudging through his penal servitude in Portland Prison? I met the carriage of H.R.H. the Prince Consort, with H.R.H. inside it, prowling about Pedlar's Acre very early the other morning, going to or coming from, I presume, the South-Western Railway Terminus. When I read of her Majesty's "arriving with her accustomed punctuality" at some rendezvous at nine o'clock in the morning, I can but think of and marvel at the amount of business she must have despatched before she entered her carriage. If there were to be (which heaven forfend!) a coronation to-morrow, the sovereign would be sure to arrive with his or her "accustomed punctuality;" yet how many hours it must take to try on the crown, to study the proper sweep of the imperial purple, to learn by heart that coronation oath which is never, never broken! For my part, I often wonder how kings and queens and emperors find time to go to bed at all.
So now, reader, not wholly, I trust, unedified by the cursory view we have taken of Babylon the Great in its seven-o'clock-in-the-morning phase, we have arrived at the end of our journey-to another stage thereof, at least. We have flown from Knightsbridge to Bermondsey, not exactly as the crow flies, nor yet as straight as an arrow from a Tartar's how; but still we have gyrated and skimmed and wheeled along somehow, even as a sparrow seeking knowledge on the housetops and corn in the street kennels. And now we will go out of town. [-58-] Whithersoever you choose; but by what means of conveyance By water? The penny steamboats have not commenced their journeys yet. The Pride of the Thames is snugly moored at Essex Pier, and Waterman, No. 2, still keeps her head under her wing - or under her funnel, if you will. The omnibuses have not yet begun to roll in any perceptible numbers, and the few stage coaches that are still left (how they linger, those cheerful institutions, bidding yet a blithe defiance to the monopolising and all-devouring rail!) have not put in an appearance at the White Horse Cellar in Piccadilly, the Flower Pot in Bishopsgate Street, or the Catherine Wheel in the Borough. So we must needs quit Babylon by railway. Toss up for a terminus with me. Shall it be London Bridge, Briarean station with arms stretching to Brighton the well-beloved, Gravesend the chalky and periwinkley, Rochester the martial, Chatham the naval, Hastings the saline, Dover the castellated, Tunbridge Wells the genteel, Margate the shrimpy, Ramsgate the asinine, Canterbury the ecclesiastical, or Herne Bay the desolate? Shall it be the Great Northern, hard by Battle Bridge and Pentonville's frowning bastille? No; the fens of Lincolnshire nor the moors of Yorkshire like me not. Shall it be the Great Western, with its vast, quiet station, its Palladio-Vitruvian hotel, and its promise of travel through the rich meadows of Berkshire and b the sparkling waters of Isis, into smiling Somerset and blooming Devon? No; cab fares to Paddington are ruinously expensive, and I have prejudices against the broad gauge. Shall it be the Eastern Counties? Avaunt! evil-smelling Shoreditch, bad neighbourhood of worse melodramas, and cheap grocers' shops where there is sand in the sugar and birch-brooms in the tea. No Eastern Counties carriage shall bear me to the pestiferous marshes of Essex or the dismal flats of Norfolk. There is the South-Western. Hum! The Hampton Court line is pleasant; the Staines, Slough, and Windsor delicious; but I fancy not the Waterloo Road on a fine morning. I am undecided. Toss up again. Heads for the Great Western; tails for the London and North Western. Tails it is ; and abandoning our aerial flight, let us cast ourselves into yonder Hansom, and bid the driver drive like mad to Euston Square, else we shall miss the seven o'clock train.
This Hansom is a most dissipated vehicle, and has evidently been up all night. One of its little silk window-curtains has been torn from its fastenings and flutters in irregular festoons on the inward wall. The cushions are powdered with cigar ashes; there is a theatrical pass-check, and the thumb of a white kid glove, very dirty, lying at [-59-] the back. The long-legged horse with his ill-groomed coat, all hairs on end like the fretful porcupine his quills, and his tail whisking with derisive defiance in the face of the fare, carries his head on one side, foams at the mouth, and is evidently a dissipated quadruped, guilty, I am afraid, of every vice except hypocrisy. Of the last, certainly, he cannot be accused, for he makes not the slightest secret of his propensity for kicking, biting, gibbing, rearing, and plunging, a succession of which gymnastic operations brings us, in an astonishingly brief space of time, to George Street, Euston Square; where the cab-man, who looks like a livery-stable edition of Don Caesar de Bazan, with a horse-cloth instead of a mantle, tosses the coin given him into the air, catches it again, informs me contemptuously that money will grow warm in my pocket if I keep it there so long, and suddenly espying the remote possibility of a fare in the extreme distance of the Hampstead Road, drives off - tools off, as he calls it - as though the Powers of Darkness, with Lucifer and Damagorgon at their head, were after him.
I think the Euston Square Terminus is, for its purpose, the handsomest building I have ever seen, and I have seen a few railway stations. There is nothing to compare to it in Paris, where the termini are garish, stuccoed, flimsy-looking structures, half booths and half barracks. Not Brussels, not Berlin, not Vienna, can show so stately a structure, for a railway station, bien entendu; and it is only, perhaps, in St. Petersburg, which seems to have been built with a direct reference to the assumption of the Imperial crown at some future period by the King of Brobdignag, that a building can be found - the Moscow Railway Terminus, in fact - to equal in grandeur of appearance our columniatcd palace of the iron road. But the Russian station, like all else in that "Empire of Façades," is deceptive: a magnificent delusion, a vast and splendid sham. Of seeming marble without it is; within, but bad bricks and lath and plaster.
Open sesame! Let us pass the crowds of railway porters, who have not much to do just now, and are inclined to lounge about with their hands in their pockets, and to lean-in attitudes reminding the spectator of the Grecian statues clad in green velveteen, and with white letters on their collars - on their luggage trucks, for the passengers by the seven o'clock train are not much addicted to arriving in cabs or carriages which require to be unloaded, and there are very few shilling or sixpenny gratuities to be earned by the porters, for the securing of a comfortable corner seat with your back to the engine, or [-60-]
PARLIAMENTARY TRAIN : PLATFORM OF THE LONDON AND NORTH-WESTERN RAILWAY
[-61-] that inestimable comfort, a place in a first-class carriage whose door
the guard is good enough to keep locked, and in which you can make
yourself quite at home with a bottle of sherry, some walnuts, and a quiet game at écarté or
vingt un. The seven o'clock trainbands are
not exactly of the class who drink sherry and play cards; they are
more given to selling walnuts than to eating them. They are, for the
most part, hard-faced, hard-handed, poorly-clad creatures ; men in patched, time-worn garments; women in pinched bonnets and coarse
shawls, carrying a plenitude of baskets and bundles, but very slightly
troubled with trunks or portmanteaus. You might count a hundred
heads and not one hat-box; of two hundred crowding round the pay-place to purchase their third-class tickets for Manchester, or Liverpool,
or even further north, you would have to look and look again, and perhaps vainly after all, for
the possessor of a railway rug, or even an
extra overcoat. Umbrellas, indeed, are somewhat plentiful ; but they are not the
slim, aristocratic trifles with ivory handles and varnished covers - enchanter's wands to
ward off the spells of St. Swithin, which moustached dandies daintily insert between the roof and the hat-straps
of first-class carriages. Third-class umbrellas are dubious in colour,
frequently patched, bulgy in the body, broken in the ribs, and much
given to absence from the nozzle. Swarming about the pay-place,
which their parents are anxiously investing, thirteen-and-fourpence or
sixteen-and-ninepence in hand, are crowds of third-class children. I
am constrained to acknowledge that the majority of these juvenile
travellers cannot be called handsome children, well-dressed children,
even tolerably good-looking children. Poor little wan faces you see here, overshadowed by
mis-shapen caps, and bonnets nine bauble
square ; pour little thin hands, feebly clutching the scant gowns of
their mothers ; weazened little bodies, shrunken little limbs, distorted
often by early hardship, by the penury which pounced on them - not
in their cradles - they never had any-but in the baker's jacket in
which they were wrapped when they were born, and which will keep
by them, their only faithful friend, until they die, and are buried by
the parish-poor ailing little children are these, and among them who
shall tell how many hungry little bellies! Ah ! judges of Amontillado
sherry; crushers of walnuts with silver nut-crackers ; connoisseurs
who prefer French to Spanish olives, and are curious about the yellow
seal ; gay riders in padded chariots; proud cavaliers of blood-horses,
you don't know how painfully and slowly, almost agonisingly, the poor have to
scrape and save, and deny themselves the necessaries of [-62-] life, to gather together the penny-a-mile fare. It is a long way to
Liverpool, a long way to Manchester; the only passengers by the
seven o clock train who can afford to treat the distance jauntily, are
the Irish paupers, who are in process of being passed to their parish,
and who will travel free. O! marvels of eleemosynary locomotion
from Euston Square to Ballyragget or Carrighmadhioul!
But hark! the train bell rings; there is a rush, and a trampling of feet, and in a few seconds the vast hall is almost deserted. This spectacle has made me somewhat melancholy, and I think, after all, that I will patronise the nine o'clock express instead of the PARLIAMENTARY TRAIN.
Let us follow the crowd of third-class passengers on to the vast platform. There the train awaits them, puffing, and snorting, and champing its adamantine bit, like some great iron horse of Troy suddenly gifted with life and power of locomotion. By the way, I wonder how that same wooden horse we are supposed to read about in Homer, but study far more frequently in the pages of Lempriere, or in the agreeable metrical romance of Mr. Alexander Pope, really effected its entrance into Ilium. Was it propelled on castors, on rollers, or on those humble wooden wheels that quickened the march of the toy horse of our nonage - the ligneous charger from Mr. Fancy's shop in Fleet Street, painted bright cream-colour, with spots resembling red wafers stuck all over him, a perpendicular mane, and a bushy tail? Very few first or even second-class carriages are attached to the great morning train. The rare exceptions seem to be placed there more as a graceful concession to the gentilities, or the respectabilities, or the "gigabilities," as Mr. Carlyle would call them, than with any reference to their real utility in a journey to the north. Who, indeed, among the bustling Anglo-Saxons, almost breathless in their eagerness to travel the longest possible distance in the shortest possible time, would care to pay first-class fare for a trip to Manchester, which consumes ten mortal hours, when, by the space-scorning express, the distance may be accomplished, at a not unreasonable augmentation of fare, in something like five hours? So the roomy six-seated chariots, with their arm-rests and head-rests, are well nigh abandoned; and the wooden boxes, which appear to have been specially designed by railway directors to teach second-class travellers, who can afford to pay more than third-class fare, that they had much better pay first-class, and go the entire animal (which, indeed, seeing how abominable are our second-class carriages in England, is a far [-63-] preferable proceeding), are not much better tenanted. Some misanthropic men, in Welsh wigs and fur caps with flaps turned down over the ears, peer at us as we pass, pull up the window-frames captiously, as though they suspected us of a design to intrude on their solitude, and, watch in hand, call out in hoarse voices to the guard to warn him it is time the train had started. What is the use of being in a hurry, gentlemen? you will have plenty of breathing-time at Tring, and Watford, and Weedon, and some five-and-twenty other stations, besides opportunities for observing the beauties of nature at remote localities, where you will be quietly shunted off on to a siding to allow the express to pass you by.
But what a contrast to the quietude of the scarcely-patronised first and second-class wagons are the great hearse-like caravans in which travel the teeming hundreds who can afford to pay but a penny a mile! Enter one of these human menageries where the occupants are stowed away with little more courtesy or regard to their comfort than might be exemplified by the master of the ceremonies of one of Mr. Wombwell's vans. What a hurly-burly; what a seething mass; what a scrambling for places ; what a shrill turmoil of women's voices and children's wailings, relieved, as in the Gospodin Pomilaiou (the Kyrie Eleison of the Russian churches), by the deep bass voices of gruff men! What a motley assemblage of men, women, and children, belonging to callings multifariously varied, yet all marked with the homogeneous penny-a-mile stamp of poverty! Sailors with bronzed faces and tarry hands, and those marvellous tarpaulin pancake hats, stuck, in defiance of all the laws of gravity, at the back of their heads; squat, squarely-built fellows, using strange and occasionally not very polite language, much given to "skylarking" with one another, but full of a simple, manly courtesy to all the females, and marvellously kind to the babies and little children; gaunt American sailors in red worsted shirts, with case-knives suspended to their belts, taciturn men expectorating freely, and when they do condescend to address themselves to speech, using the most astounding combination of adjective adjurations, relating chiefly to their limbs and their organs of vision ; railway navvies going to work at some place down the line, and obligingly franked thither for that purpose by the company; pretty servant-maids going to see their relatives Jew pedlars; Irish labourers in swarms; soldiers on furlough, with the breast of their scarlet coatees open, and disclosing beneath linen of an elaborate coarseness of texture-one might fancy so many military [-64-]
PARLIAMENTARY TRAIN : INTERIOR OF A THIRD-CLASS CARRIAGE
[-65-] penitents wearing hair tunics; other soldiers in full uniform, with
their knapsacks laid across their knees, and their muskets-prudently
divested of the transfixing bayonets-which the old women in the
carriage are marvellously afraid will "go off" disposed beside them,
proceeding to Weedon barracks under the command of a staid Scotch
corporal, who reads a tract, Grace for Grenadiers or "Powder and
Piety," and takes snuff; journeymen mechanics with their tool-baskets;
charwomen, servants out of place, stablemen, bricklayers' labourers,
Ay, and there are, I am afraid, not a few bad characters among the crowd: certain dubiously-attired, flash-looking, ragged dandies, with cheap pins in their foul cravats, and long greasy hair floating over their coat-collars, impress me most unfavourably, and dispose me to augur ill for the benefit which Manchester or Liverpool may derive from their visit; and of the moral status of yonder low-browed, bull-necked, villanous-looking gentleman, who has taken a seat in a remote corner, between two stern guardians, and who, strive as he may to pull his coat-cuffs over his wrists, cannot conceal the presence of a pair of neat shining handcuffs, there cannot, I perpend, exist any reasonable doubt. But we must take the evil with the good: and we cannot expect perfection, not even in a Parliamentary Train.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]