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[-78-] NINE O'CLOCK A.M.-THE CLERKS AT THE BANK, AND THE BOATS ON THE RIVER.
It is nine o'clock, and London has breakfasted. Some unconsidered tens of thousands have, it is true, already enjoyed with what
appetite they might their pre-prandial meal; the upper fifty thousand,
again, have not yet left their luxurious couches, and will not breakfast
till ten, eleven o'clock, noon; nay, there shall be sundry listless,
languid members of fast military clubs, dwellers among the tents
of Jermyn Street, and the high-priced second floors of Little Ryder
Street, St. James's, upon whom one, two, and three o'clock in the
afternoon shall be but as dawn, and whose broiled bones and devilled
kidneys shall scarcely be laid on the damask breakfast-cloth before Sol
is red in the western horizon.
I wish that, in this age so enamoured of statistical information, when we must needs know how many loads of manure go to every acre of turnip-field, and how many jail-birds are thrust into the black hole per mensem for fracturing their pannikins, or tearing their convict jackets, that some M'Culloch or Caird would tabulate for me the amount of provisions, solid and liquid, consumed at the breakfasts of London every morning. I want to know how many thousand eggs are daily chipped, how many of those embryo chickens are poached, and how many fried; how many tons of quartern loaves are cut up to make bread-and-butter, thick and thin; how many porkers have been sacrificed to provide the bacon rashers, fat and streaky ; what rivers have been drained, what fuel consumed, what mounds of salt employed, what volumes of smoke emitted, to catch and cure the finny haddocks and the Yarmouth bloaters, that grace our morning repast. Say, too, Crosse and Blackwell, what multitudinous demands are matutinally made on thee for pots of anchovy paste and preserved tongue, covered with that circular layer - abominable disc! - of oleaginous nastiness, apparently composed of rancid pomatum, but technically known as clarified butter, and yet not so nasty as that adipose horror that surrounds the truffle bedecked pate de foie gras. Say, Elizabeth Lazenby, how many hundred bottles of thy sauce (none of which are genuine unless signed by thee) are in request to give a relish to cold meat, game, and fish. Mysteries upon mysteries are there connected with [-79-] nine o'clock breakfasts. Queries upon queries suggest themselves to the inquisitive mind. Speculations upon speculations present themselves to him who is observant. Are those eggs we see in the coffee-shop windows, by the side of the lean chop with a curly tail, the teapot with the broken spout, and the boulder~looking kidneys, ever eaten, and if so, what secret do the coffee-shop proprietors possess of keeping them from entire decomposition? For I have watched these eggs for weeks together, and known them by bits of straw and flecks of dirt mucilaginously adhering to their shells, to be the selfsame eggs; yet when I have entered the unpretending house of refreshment, and ordered "tea and an egg," I have seen the agile but dingy handmaiden swiftly approach the window, slide the glass panel back with nimble (though dusky) fingers, convey an egg to the mysterious kitchen in the background, and in a few minutes place the edible before me boiled, yet with sufficient marks of the straw upon it to enable me to discern my ancient friend. Who, again, invented muffins ?-and what becomes of all the cold crossbuns after Good Friday? I never saw a crossbun on Holy Saturday, and I believe the boy most addicted to saccharine dainties would scorn one.
So hungry London breakfasts, but not uniformly well, at nine o'clock in the morning. In quietly grim squares, in the semi-aristocratic North-West End - I don't mean Russell and Bloomsbury, but Gordon, Tavistock, Queen, and Camden, on the one side, and Manchester and Portman on the other-the nine o'clock breakfast takes place in the vast comfortless dining-room, with the shining side-board (purchased at the sale of Sir Hector Ajacks, the great Indian general's, effects), and the portrait of the master of the house (Debenham Storr, R.A., pinxit), crimson curtain and column in foreground, dessert plate, cut orange, and-supposed-silver hand-bell in front ditto. This is the sort of room where there is a Turkey carpet that has been purchased at the East India Company's sale rooms, in Billiter Street, and which went cheap because there was a hole in one corner, carefully darned subsequently by the mistress of the house. The master comes down stairs gravely, with a bald head-the thin, gray hair carefully brushed over the temples, and a duffel dressing-gown. He spends five minutes in his "study," behind the breakfast dining-room; not, goodness knows, to consult the uncut books on the shelves-uncomfortable works, like Help's "Friends in Council," that scrap of rusty BACON, and Mr. Harriet Martineau's "India," are among the number; but to break the seals of the letters ranged for him on the leather-covered table - [-80-] he reads his correspondence at breakfast - to unlock, perchance, one drawer, take out his cheque-book, and give it one hasty flutter, one loving glance, and to catch up and snuggle beneath his arm the copy of the "Times" newspaper, erst damped, but since aired at the kitchen fire, which the newsvender's boy dropped an hour since down the area. It may be, too, that he goes into that uselessly (to him) book-furnished room, because he thinks it a good, a grand, a respectable thing to have a "study" at all. This is the sort of house where they keep a footman, single-handed - a dull knave, who no more resembles the resplendent flunkey of Eaton Square or Westbourne Terrace, than does the cotton~stockinged "greencoat" of the minor theatres; who is told that he must wear a morning jacket, and who accoutres himself in a striped jerkin, baggy in the back and soiled at the elbows, that makes him look like an hostler, related, on the mother's side, to a Merry Andrew. The mistress of the house comes down to nine o'clock breakfast, jingling the keys in her little basket, and with anxious pre-occupation mantling from her guipure collar to her false front, for those fatal crimson housekeeping books are to be audited this morning, and she is nervous. The girls come down in brown- holland jackets and smartly dowdy skirts, dubious as to the state of their back hair; the eldest daughter frowning after her last night's course of theology (intermingled with the last novel from Mr. Mudie's). As a rule, the young ladies are very ill-tempered; and, equally as a rule, there is always one luckless young maiden in a family of grown-up daughters who comes down to breakfast with her stockings down at heel, and is sternly reprimanded during breakfast because one of her shoes comes off under the table ; he who denounces her being her younger brother, the lout in the jacket, with the surreptitious peg-top in his pocket, who attends the day-school of the London University, and cribs his sisters' Berlin-wool canvas to mend his Serpentine yacht sails with. The children too old to breakfast in the nursery come down gawky, awkward, tumbling, and discontented, for they are as yet considered too young to partake of the frizzled bits of bacon which are curling themselves in scorched agony on the iron footman before the grate, the muffins, which sodden in yellow butter-pools in the Minton plates on the severely-creased damask table-cloth, or the dry toast which, shrivelled and forbidding, grins from between the Sheffield-plated bars of the rack. The servants come in, not to morning breakfast, but to morning prayers. The housemaid has just concluded her morning flirtation with the baker; [-81-] the cook has been crying over "Fatherless Fanny." The master of the house reads prayers in a harsh, grating voice, and Miss Charlotte, aged thirteen, is sent to her bed-room, with prospects of additional punishment, for eating her curl-papers during matins. The first organ-grinder arrives in the square during breakfast; and the master of the house grimly reproves the children who are beginning to execute involuntary polkas on their chairs, and glowers at the governess - she is such a meek young creature, marked with the small-pox, that I did not think it worth while to mention her before - who manifests symptoms of beating her sad head to the music. How happy, at least how relieved, everybody is when the master exchanges his duffel dressing- gown for a blue body-coat, takes his umbrella, and drives off in his brougham to the city or Somerset House! The children are glad to go to their lessons, though they hate them at most times, passably. Miss Meek, the governess, is glad to install herself in her school-room, and grind "Mangnall's Questions," and "Blair's Preceptor," till the children's dinner, at one o'clock; though she would, perhaps, prefer shutting herself up in her own room and having a good cry. The mistress finds consolation, too, in going downstairs and quarrelling with the cook, and then going upstairs and being quarrelled with by the nurse. Besides, there will be plenty of time for shopping before Mr. M. comes home. The girls are delighted that cross papa is away. Papa always wants to know what the letters are about which they write at the little walnut-tree tables with the twisted legs. Papa objects to the time wasted in working the application collars. Papa calls novel reading and pianoforte practice "stuff," with a very naughty adjective prefixed thereunto. This is the sort of house that is neatly, solidly furnished from top to toe, with every modern convenience and improvement: with bath-rooms, conservatories, ice cellars; with patent grates, patent door-handles, dish-lifts, asbestos stoves, gas cooking ranges, and excruciatingly complicated ventilatory contrivances; and this is also the sort of house where, with all the conveniences I have mentioned, every living soul who inhabits it is uncomfortable.
As the clock strikes nine, you see the last school-children flock in to the narrow alley behind St. Martin's Lane, hard by the Lowther Arcade, and leading to the national schools. They have been romping and playing in the street this half-hour; and it was but the iron tongue of St. Martin that interrupted that impending fight between the young brothers Puddicomb, from King Street, Long Acre, who [-82-] are always fighting, and that famous clapper-clawing match between Polly Briggs and Susey Wright. At the last stroke of nine there hurries into the school corridor a comely female teacher in a green plaid shawl: and, woe be unto her! nine has struck full ten minutes, when the inevitable laggard of every school appears, half skurrying, half crawling, her terror combating with her sluggishness, from the direction of Leicester Square. She is a gaunt, awkward girl, in a "flibberty-flobberty" hat, a skimping gray cape, with thunder-and- lightning buttons, an absurdly short skirt, and lace-edged trousers, that trail over her sandaled shoes. Add to this her slate and satchel, and she is complete. When will parents cease, I wonder, to attire their children in this ridiculous and preposterous manner. Hannah (her name is Hannah, for certain!) left her home in Bear Street in excellent time for school ; but she has dawdled, and loitered, and gloated over every sweetstuff and picture shop, and exchanged languid repartees with rude boys. She will be kept in to a certainty this afternoon, will Hannah!
Now is the matutinal occupation of the milkwoman nearly gone; her last cries of "Milk, ho! " die away in faint echoes, and she might reasonably be supposed to enjoy a holiday till the afternoon's milk for tea were required; but not so. To distant dairies she hies, and to all appearances occupies herself in scrubbing her milk pails till three o'clock. I have a great affection (platonic) for milkwornen. I should like to go down to Wales and see them when they are at home. What clean white cotton stockings they wear, on-no, not their legs-on the posts which support their robust torsos! how strong they are There are many I should be happy to back, and for no inconsiderable trifle either, to thrash Ben Caunt. Did you ever know any one who courted a milkwoman? Was there ever a milkwoman married, besides Madam Vestris, in the "Wonderful Woman?" Yes; I love them- their burly forms; their mahogany faces, handsomely veneered by wind and weather; their coarse straw bonnets flattened at the top; their manly lace-up boots, and those wonderful mantles on their shoulders, which are neither shawl, tippet, cape nor scarf, but a compound of all, and are of equally puzzling colour and patterns.
The postman is breakfasting in the interval between the eight and the ten o'clock delivery. Does he take his scarlet tunic off when he breakfasts? Does he beguile the short hour of refreshment by reading, between snaps of bread and butter and gulps of coffee, short extracts from "A Double Knock at the Postman's Conscience," by [-83-] the Reverend Mr. Davis, Ordinary of Newgate? For if the postman reads not during breakfast-time, I am wholly at a loss to know, dog-tired as he must be when he comes home from his rounds at night, when he can find time for pursuing his literary studies. By the way, where does the postman lodge ? I have occupied apartments in the same house with a policeman; I was once aware of the private residence of a man who served writs ; and I have taken tea in the parlour of the Pandean pipes to a Punch-and-Judy; but I never knew personally the abode of a postman. Mr. Sculthorpe and Mr. Peacock know them but too frequently, to the postman's cost.
Nine o'clock, and the grande armée of "musicianers" debouches from Spitalfields, and Leather Lane, Holborn, and far-off Clerkenwell, and, in compact columns, move westward. Nine o'clock, and the sonorous cry of " Old clo' !" is heard in sequestered streets chiefly inhabited by bachelors. Nine o'clock, and another grande armée veers through Temple Bar, charges down Holborn hill, escalades Finsbury, captures Cornhill by a dexterous flank movement, and sits down and invests the Bank of England in regular form. This is London going to business in the city.
If the morning be fine, the pavement of the Strand and Fleet Street looks quite radiant with the spruce clerks walking down to their offices, governmental, financial, and commercial. Marvellous young bucks some of them are. These are the customers, you see at a glance, whom the resplendent wares in the hosiers' shops attract, and in whom those wary industrials find avid customers. These are the dashing young parties who purchase the pea-green, the orange, and the rose-pink gloves; the crimson braces, the kaleidoscopic shirt-shuds, the shirts embroidered with dahlias, deaths' heads, racehorses, sun-flowers, and ballet-girls ; the horseshoe, fox-head, pewterpot-and-crossed-pipes, willow-pattern-plate, and knife-and-fork pins. These are the glasses of city fashion, and the mould of city form, for whom the legions of fourteen, of fifteen, of sixteen, and of seventeen shilling trousers, all unrivalled, patented, and warranted, are made; for these ingenious youths coats with strange names are devised, scarves and shawls of wondrous pattern and texture despatched from distant Manchester and Paisley. For them the shiniest of hats, the knobbiest of sticks, gleam through shop-windows; for them the geniuses of "all-round collars" invent every week fresh yokes of starched linen, pleasant instruments of torture, reminding us equally of the [-83-]
NINE O'CLOCK : OMNIBUSES AT THE BANK
NINE O'CLOCK : PENNY STEAMBOATS ALONGSIDE THE PIER AT LONDON BRIDGE
[-85-] English pillory, the Chinese cangue, the Spanish garotte, the French
lucarne to the guillotine (that window from which the criminal looks
out into eternity), and the homely and cosmopolitan dog-collar!
There are some of these gay clerks who go down to their offices with
roses at their button-holes, and with cigars in their mouths; there
are some who wear peg-top trousers, chin-tufts, eye-glasses, and varnished boots. These mostly turn off in the Strand, and are in the
Admiralty or Somerset House. As for the government clerks of the
extreme "West-end" - the patricians of the Home and Foreign Offices -
the bureaucrats of the Circumlocution Office, in a word - they ride
down to Whitehall or Downing Street in broughams or on park hacks.
Catch them in omnibuses, or walking on the vulgar pavement, for-
sooth! The flags of Regent Street they might indeed tread gingerly,
at three o'clock in the afternoon; but the Strand, and at nine o'clock
in the morning! Forbid it, gentility! I observe - to return to the
clerks who are bending citywards - that the most luxuriant whiskers
belong to the Bank of England. I believe that there are even
whisker clubs in that great national institution, where prizes are
given for the best pair of favoris grown without macassar. You
as a general rule, distinguish government from commercial clerks by
the stern repudiation of the razor, as applied to the beard and moustaches, by the former; and again I may remark, that the prize for
the thinnest and most dandy-looking umbrellas must be awarded, as of
right, to the clerks in the East India House-mostly themselves slim,
natty gentlemen, of jaunty appearance, who are all supposed to have
had tender affairs with the widows of East India colonels. You
may know the cashiers in the private banking houses by their white
hats and buff waistcoats; you may know the stock-brokers by their
careering up Ludgate Hill in dog-carts, and occasionally tandems,
and by the pervading sporting appearance of their costume; you may
know the Jewish commission agents by their flashy broughams, with
lapdogs and ladies in crinoline beside them; you may know the
sugar-bakers and the soap-boilers by the comfortable double-bodied
carriages with fat horses in which they roll along; you may know
the Manchester warehousemen by their wearing gaiters, always
carrying their hands in their pockets, and frequently slipping into
recondite city taverns up darksome alleys, on their way to Cheapside,
to make a quiet bet or so on the Chester Cup or the Liverpool Steeple-chase; you may know, finally, the men with a million of money, or
thereabouts, by their being ordinarily very shabby, and by their [-87-] wearing shocking bad hats, which have seemingly never been brushed,
on the backs of their heads.
"Every road," says the proverb, "leads to Rome ;" every commercial ways leads to the Bank of England. And there, in the midst of that heterogeneous architectural jumble between the Bank of England itself, the Royal Exchange, the Poultry, Cornhill, and the Globe Insurance Office, the vast train of omnibuses, that have come from the West and that have come from the East-that have been rumbling along the Macadam while I was prosing on the pedestrians - with another great army of clerk martyrs outside and inside, their knees drawn up to their chins, and their chins resting on their umbrella handles, set down their loads of cash-book and ledger fillers. What an incalculable mass of figures must there be collected in those commercial heads! What legions of £. s. d.! What a chaos of cash debtor, contra creditor, bil payable, and bills receivable; waste-books, day-books, cash-books, and journals; insurance policies, brokerage, agio, tare and tret, dock warrants, and general commercial bedevilment! They file off to their several avocations, to spin money for others, often, poor fellows, while they themselves are blest with but meagre stipends. They plod away to their gloomy wharves and hard-hearted counting-houses, where the chains from great cranes wind round their bodies, and they dance hornpipes in bill-file and cash-box fetters, and the mahogany of the desks enters into their souls. Upon my word, I think if I were doomed to clerkdom, that I should run away and enlist; but that would avail me little, for I am equally certain that, were I a grenadier, and my commanding officer made me mount guard, that I should pop my musket into the sentry-box and run away too.
So the omnibuses meet at the Bank and disgorge the clerks by hundreds ; repeating this operation scores of times between nine and ten o'clock. But you are not to delude yourself, that either by wheeled vehicle or by the humbler conveyances known as "Shanks's mare," and the "Marrowbone stage" - in more refined language, walking - have all those who have business in the city reached their destination. No; the Silent Highway has been their travelling route. On the broad - would that I could add the silvery and sparkling - bosom of Father Thames, they have been borne in swift, grimy little steamboats, crowded with living freights from Chelsea, and Pimlico, and Vauxhall piers, from Hungerford, Waterloo, Temple, Blackfriars, and Southwark, straight by the hay-boats, with their lateen sails dis-[-88-]coloured in a manner that would delight a painter, straight by Thames police hulks, by four and six-oared cutters, by coal-barges, and great lighters laden with bricks and ashes and toiling towards Putney and Richmond; by oozy wharves and grim-chimneyed factories; by little, wheezy, tumbledown waterside public-houses ; by breweries, and many-windowed warehouses; by the stately gardens of the Temple, and the sharp-pointed spires of city churches, and the great dome of Paul's looming blue in the morning, to the Old Shades Pier, hard by London Bridge. There is landing and scuffling and pushing; the quivering old barges, moored in the mud, are swaying and groaning beneath trampling feet. Then, for an instant, Thames Street, Upper and Lower, is invaded by an ant-hill swarm of spruce clerks, who mingle strangely with the fish-women and the dock-porters. But the insatiable counting-houses soon swallow them up: as though London's commercial maw were an hungered too, for breakfast, at nine o'clock in the morning.
[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]