Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Twice Round the Clock, or The Hours of the Day and Night in London, by George Augustus Sala, 1859   

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    I have the fortune, or misfortune, to live in a "quiet street," and am myself an essentially quiet man, loving to keep myself in the Queen's peace, and minding my own business, though devoutly wishing that people would not mind it for me in quite so irritating a degree. I sleep soundly when in health, and never question Mrs. Lillicrap's mystifying items in her weekly bill, of "mustard, vinegar, and mending," or "pepper, postage stamps, and mother-o'-pearl buttons." I never grumble at the crying of babies, remembering that a wise and good doctor once told me that those dear innocents pass the days of their nonage in a chronic state of stomach-ache and congestion of the brain, and console myself with that thought. I can even support, without much murmuring, the jangling of the pupils' piano at Miss Besom's establishment for young ladies, next door. Distance, and a party-wall, lend enchantment to the sound, and I set no more store by it than I do by the chirruping of the birds in the town-bred foliage at the extremity of Buckingham Street, or the puffing and snorting of the halfpenny steamboats at the "Fox-under-the-Hill." I am so quiet, that I can allow the family of a distant blood-relation to reside in the parlours for twelve months, without troubling myself about their health ; and I never yet rebelled at the perverse orthography of the washerwoman, who persists in spelling my half-hose thus "Won pare sox." When I die, I hope that they will lay me in a very quiet church-yard in Kent, that I know, where some one who cared for me has been mouldering away peacefully these four years, where the [-105-] cleryman's blind white pony will browse upon the salad that I am eating by the roots ; where the children will come and have famous games - their silver voices and pattering feet upon the velvet turf make out a pleasant noise, I wot ; and where they will write "Requiescat in pace" upon my gravestone; if, indeed, I leave maravedis enough behind me for Mr. Farley to cut me an inscription withal.
    Yet, quiet as I am, I become at Eleven o'Clock in the Morning o n every day of the week save Sunday a raving, ranting maniac - a dangerous lunatic, panting with insane desires to do, not only myself but other people, a mischief, and possessed, less by hallucination than by rabies. For so sure as the clock of St. Martin's strikes eleven, so sure does my quiet street become a pandemonium of discordant sounds. My teeth are on edge to think of them. The "musicianers," whose advent from Clerkenwell and the East-end of London I darkly hinted in a preceding chapter, begin to penetrate through the vaster thoroughfares, and make their hated appearance at the head of my street. - First Italian organ-grinder, hirsute, sunburnt, and saucy, who grinds airs from the "Trovatore" six times over, follows with a selection from the "Traviata," repeated half a dozen times, finishes up with the "Old Hundredth" and the "Postman's Knock," and then begins again. Next, shivering Hindoo, his skin apparently just washed in walnut juice, with a voluminous turban, dirty white muslin caftan, worsted stockings and bob-nailed shoes, who, followed by two diminutive brown imps in similar costume, sings a dismal ditty in the Hindostanee language, and beats the tom-tom with fiendish monotony. Next comes a brazen woman in a Scotch cap, to which is fastened a bunch of rusty black feathers, apparently culled from a mourning coach past service. She wears a faded tartan kilt, fleshings, short calico trews, a velveteen jacket, tin buckles in her shoes, and two patches of red brick-dust on her haggard cheeks, and is supposed to represent a Scottish highlander. She dances an absurd fling, interpolated occasionally with a shrill howl to the music of some etiolated bagpipes screeded by a shabby rogue of the male sex, her companion, arrayed in similar habiliments. Next come the acrobats-drum, clarionet, and all. You know what those nuisances are like, without any extended description on my part. Close on their heels follows the eloquent beggar, with his numerous destitute but scrupulously clean family, who has, of course, that morning parted with his last shirt Then a lamentable woman with a baby begins to whimper "Old Dog [-106-] Tray." Then swoop into the street an abominable band of ruffians, six in number. They are swarthy villains, dressed in the semblance of Italian goatherds, and are called, I believe, pifferari. They play upon a kind of bagpipes - a hideous  pig-skin-and-walking-stick-looking affair, and accompany their droning by a succession of short yelps and a spasmodic pedal movement that would be a near approach to a sailor's hornpipe, if it did bear a much closer resemblance to the war-dance of a wild Indian. Add to these the Jews crying "Clo'!" the man who sells hearthstones, and the woman who buys rabbit-skins, the butcher, the baker, and the boys screaming shrill Nigger melodies, and rattling pieces of slate between their fingers in imitation of the "bones," and you will be able to form an idea of the quietude of our street. From the infliction of the soot-and-grease-bedaubed and tambourine-and-banjo-equipped Ethiopian serenaders, we are indeed mercifully spared ; but enough remains to turn a respectable thoroughfare into a saturnalia.
    I can do nothing with these people. I shout, I threaten, I shake my fist, I objurgate them from my window in indifferent Italian, but to no avail. They defy, scorn, disregard, make light of me. They are encouraged in their abominable devices, not merely by the idlers in the street, the servant-maids gossiping at the doors, the boys with the baskets, and the nurse children, but by the people at the windows, who seem to have nothing to do but to look from their casements all day long. There is an ancient party of the female persuasion opposite my humble dwelling, who was wont to take intense interest in the composition of my literary essays. She used to bring her work to the window at first; but she never did a stitch, and soon allowed that flimsy pretext to fall through, and devoted herself with unaffected enjoyment to staring at me. As I am modest and nervous, I felt compelled to put a stop to this somewhat too persevering scrutiny; but I disdained to adopt the pusillanimous and self-nose-amputating plan of pulling down the window blinds. I tried taking her portrait as she sat, like an elderly Jessica, at the casement, and drew horrifying caricatures of her in red chalk, holding them up, from time to time, for her inspection; but she rather seemed to like this last process than otherwise; and I was obliged to change my tactics. The constant use of a powerful double-barrelled Solomon's race-glass of gigantic  dimensions was first successful in discomposing her, and ultimately routed her with great moral slaughter; and she now only approaches the window in a hurried and furtive [-107-] manner. I daresay she thinks my conduct most unhandsome. She and the tall man in the long moustaches at number thirteen, all the pupils at the ladies' school next door, the two saucy little minxes in black merino and worked collars at number nine, and that man with the bald head shaped like a Dutch cheese, in the parlour at number nine, who is always in his shirt sleeves, drums with his fingers on the window panes, and grins and makes faces at the passers-by, and whom I conscientiously believe to be a confirmed idiot, are all in a league against me, and have an alliance, offensive and defensive, with the musical canaille below. They cry out "Shame" when I remonstrate with those nuisances they shout and jeer at me when I sally forth from the door, and make rabid rushes at the man with the bagpipes: they inquire derisively whether I consider myself lord of the creation l I am tempted - desperately tempted - to avail myself of my rights as a Civis Romanus, to summon the aid of the police, and to give one of the grinders, howlers, or droners in charge. Mr. Babbage, the arithmetician, does it; why should not I? What progress can I make in "Twice Round the Clock" in the midst of this hideous din? But then I remember, with much inward trouble, that I have in public committed myself more than once in favour of street music-that I have laughed at the folly of putting down bagpipes and barrel-organs by act of Parliament. I remember, too - I hope in all its force and Truth - a certain axiom, that the few must always suffer for the enjoyment of the many - that we are not all sages in decimals and logarithms - or people writing in books and newspapers - that the sick, the nervous, the fastidious, and the hypochondriacal, are but drops of water in a huge ocean of hale, hearty, some what thick-skinned and thick-eared humanity, who like the noisy vagabonds who are my bane and terror in the quiet street, and admire their distressing performances. Some men cannot endure a gaping pig to many persons the odour of all roots of the garlic family is intolerable - I hate cats. I had an aunt who said that she could not "abide" green as a colour. Yet we should not be justified, I think, in invoking the terrors of the legislature against roast pork, onions, cats, and green peas Mr. Babbage must pursue his mathematical calculations in a study at the back of his house, and I must he me to the Reading-room of the British Museum, or turn out for a stroll.
    And in this stroll, which, if the weather be fine, almost invariably leads towards one or other of the parks, I am frequently permitted to witness the imposing ceremony of "trooping the guard" in the Palace-[-108-]yard, St. James's. Why her Majesty's Foot Guards should be "trooped" at eleven o'clock in the morning, and in what precise evolutions the operation of "trooping" consists, I am unable to state. Eleven o'clock, too, does not seem always a rigidly adhered-to hour; for, on the mornings of the days consecrated to our "Isthmian games", to the cosmopolitan Derby, and the more aristocratic, but equally attractive Ascot Cup, the time taken is nine instead of eleven, doubtless for the convenience of the heavy guardsmen, who, with heavy Cigars protruding from their heavy moustaches, and heavy opera-glasses slung by their sides, go solemnly down to the races in heavy drags.
    To the uninitiated, "trooping the guard" appears to consist in some hundred and fifty grenadiers in full uniform, their drums and fifes and their brass band at their head, marching from the Horse Guards, across the parade ground, and along the Mall to the Palace-yard, where the Queen's colours are stuck into a hole in the centre, where the officer on guard salutes them, where the other officers chat in the middle of the quadrangle, and where officers and men, and a motley crowd of spectators, listen to the enlivening strains of the brass band playing selections from the popular operas of the day. No complicated manoeuvres seem to be performed; the automaton-like inspection of the "troops" takes place on the other side of the park; and when the colours are firmly fixed, and left in charge of a sentry, the "troops" file off again, the officers repairing to their clubs, and the soldiers to their barracks, while the brass bandsmen at once subside into private life, and become civilians of decidedly Cockney tendencies.
    Hungry men are said, sometimes, to lull the raging of their appetites by sniffing the hot, and, to some noses, fragrant breeze which is emitted from between the gratings of an eating-house. To some the contemplation of eel pies, smoking rounds of beef, rumpsteak pies, and pen'orths of pudding, shining in the glory of dripping, and radiant with raisins, is almost as satisfying as the absolute possession of those dainties. It is certain that contented spirits do yet exist, by whom the sight of the riches and the happiness of others is accepted as a compensation for the wealth and the felicity which they do not themselves enjoy. It is a very pleasant mental condition, this-to be able to stare a pastry-cook's window out of countenance, and partake of, in imagination, the rich plum-cakes, the raspberry-tarts, and the lobster-patties, without coveting those dainties; to walk up Regent Street, and wear, mentally, the "ducks of bonnets," the Burnouse cloaks and the Llama shawls, which [-109-]


[-110-] poverty forbids us to purchase; to walk through the Vernon or Sheepshanks collections, and hang up the delightful Landseers, Websters, and Mulreadys in fantastic mind-chambers of our own; to call Hampton Court and Windsor our palaces, and St. James's and the Green our parks; to fancy that the good people who have horses and carriages, and jewels, and silks, and satins, have but a copyhold interest in them, and that the fee-simple of all these fine things is in us. Such imaginative optimists can sit down unmurmuringly to a Barmecide feast; the "Court Circular" pleases them as much as an invitation to the Queen's ball ; a criticism on "Lucrezia Borgia" at the opera delights them as much as an actual stall at Covent Garden; and Mr. Albert Smith's Egyptian Hall ascent of Mont Blanc, and his more recent Chinese entertainment, are to them quite as full of interest and adventure as a real pilgrimage to Chamouni, a toilsome scramble up the "Grands Mulets," a sail in a sampan on the Canton river, or a "flghtee pigeon" with the "Braves" in Hog Lane.
    The immortal young ladies who have been occupied in their eternal crochet-work any time since the siege of Troy, and who are called the Fates, have decided that it is better for me to be Alone. I am condemned for life to soliloquise. None of the young women with whom I have (to adopt the term current in domestic service) "kept company," would, in the end, have anything to do with me. They were very punctual in sending me cards - one sent me cake, but that was long ago - when they were married. One said I squinted, another that I was ill-tempered, and a third wondered at my impudence. Joan went off to Australia to join her cousin the digger, who, having done well at Bendigo, had written home for a wife, as he would for a Deans' revolver. Sarah married the linendraper (I am happy to state that he manifested himself stupid and ferocious, and went, commercially, to the dogs within six months after marriage); as for Rachel, she positively fell in love with the tailor who came to measure me for my wedding suit, and married him. A nursemaid with a perambulator nearly tripped me up the other day, and sitting in that infantile chariot was Rachel's eldest. Even the young lady who sold sardines at Stettin, and who, while I was waiting three years since for the ice to break up in the Baltic, undertook to teach me the prettiest German I ever heard in Deutschland, evinced a decided partiality for a certain baker with a Vandyke beard, who was a member of the Philharmonic Society of that town on the Oder, and at length jilted me for a trumpeter in a dragoon [-111-] regiment, a burly knave in a striped and fringed uniform, all red and yellow, like a flamingo. The heartless conduct of the grocer's daughter towards me has already been recorded in print. So I am alone. Not repining, however, but taking pleasure in other people's children, with the additional consolation of not having their little frocks and perambulators to pay for, and passably content to sit on a mile-stone by the great roadside, and smoke the calumet of peace, watching the wain of life, with youth on the box and pleasure in the dickey, tear by, till the dust thrown up by the wheels has whitened my hair, and it shall be time enough to think of a neat walking funeral for One.
    Now, do you understand why I alluded to the pleasures of imagination in connection with the contemplation of cook-shops, pictures, and palaces? Now, do you comprehend how a hopelessly solitary man-if you put a single grain of philosophic hachisch into that pacific calumet of his - can derive so much pleasure and contentment from the sight of other folk's weddings? I say nothing of courtship, which, on the part of a third party, argues a certain amount of, perhaps, involuntary eaves-dropping and espionage, but which, when the boys and girls love each other sincerely, is as delightful a sight as the sorest of eyes, the sorest of hearts, could desire to witness. What pretty ways they have, those simple young "lovyers!" what innocent prattlings and rompings, what charming quarrels and reconciliations! Edward would dance with Miss Totterdown last night; Clara flirted most shamefully with Wertha Bjornsjertnjöe, the Scandinavian poet, and Lady Walrus's last lion. What confiding billings and cooings! how supremely foolish they are! and what an abhorrent thing is common-sense in love at all! Wondrously like ostriches, too, are Jenny and Jemmy Jessamy. They hide their pretty heads in each other's bosoms, and fancy they are totally invisible. They have codes of masonic telegraphy, as legible as Long-Primer to the meanest understanding. I reckon among my friends a professor of photography in fashionable practice, and marvellous are the stories he has to tell of the by-play of love that takes place sometimes in his glass studio. For you see, when, in order to "focus" a young couple before him, he throws the curtain of the camera over his head, Jenny and Jemmy Jessamy are apt, in the sweet ignorance of love, to fancy that the operator can't see a bit what is going on; so Jenny arranges Jemmy's hair, and gives the moustache a twist, and there is a sly kiss, and a squeeze, and a pressure of the foot or so, and a variety of harmless endearing blandishments, known to our American cousins [-112-] (who are great adepts at sweet-hearting) under the generic name of "conoodling," and all of which are faithfully transmitted through the lens, and neatly displayed in an inverted position on the field of the camera, to the edification of the discreet operator. Oh, you enamoured young men and women, you don't know that the eyes of domestic Europe are always fixed on you, and that your pretty simperings and whimperings form a drama which becomes the source of infinite amusement and delight to the philosophic bystanders. And is it not much better so, and that our lads and lasses should court in the simple, kindly Anglo-Saxon way, than that we should adopt foreign manners, and marry our wives, as in France, starched and prim from the convent or the boarding school? Away with your morose, sulky, icy, ceremonious courtships. The Shepherd in Virgil, the moralist said, grew acquainted with Love, and found him a native of the rocks. But he did not dwell there in sulky solitude, I will be bound. The rock was most probably the Rocher de Cancale, ·where he sat and ate dinde truffée, and quaffed Chambertin, with his Psyche, in a new bonnet and cream-coloured gloves, by his side. And they went to the play afterwards, and had merry times of it, you may be sure.
    I am very fond of weddings, and, to abandon for a moment the egotism and engrossing self-sufficiency which so delightfully characterise my sex, I fancy that the sight of the solemnisation of matrimony has equal charms for that better part of creation, whose special vocation it is, under all circumstances, to be married and happy, but who arc oft-times, alas! as hopelessly celibate as the Trappist. One can scarcely go to a wedding without seeing some of these brave knights-errant. these preux chevaliêres of womanhood, these uncloistered nuns, these hermits in a vale of wax lights and artificial flowers, clustering in the galleries, or furtively ensconced in pews near the altar. They are very liberal to the pew-openers, these kind old maids, and are always ready with smelling-bottles if there be any fainting going on. They take their part in the crying with praiseworthy perseverance, and echo the responses in heartrending sobs ; they press close to the bride as she comes down the aisle on the arm of her spouse, and eye her approvingly and the bridesmaids criticisingly; then go home, the big Church Service tucked beneath their mantles - go home to the solitary mutton chop and bleak shining hearth, with the cut paper pattern grinning through the bars like a skeleton. There are some cynics who irreverently call old maids "prancers," and others who, with positive [-113-]


[-114-] brutality, accuse them of leading monkeys in a place which I would much rather not hear of, far less mention. They are, to be sure, somewhat stiff and starched, have uncomfortable prejudices against even the moderate use of mild cigars, and persist in keeping hideous little dogs to snap at your ankles; but how often would the contemptuous term "old maid," were its reality known, mean heroic self-sacrifice and self- denial-patience, fortitude, unrepining resignation? No man, who is not a Caliban or Miserrimus, need remain, his life long, a bachelor. The Siamese twins married; the living skeleton was crossed in love, but afterwards consoled himself with a corpulent widow; the hunchbacked Scarron found a beautiful woman to love and nurse him; and General Tom Thumb turned benedict the other day. But how many women-young, fair, and accomplished, pure and good and wise-are doomed irrevocably to solitude and celibacy! Every man knows such premature old maids; sees among a family of blooming girls one who already wears the stigmata of old maidenhood. It chills the blood to see these hopeless cases, to see the women resign themselves to their fate with a sad meek smile-to come back, year after year, and find them still meek, smiling, but sad, confirmed old maids. It is ill for me, who dwell in quite a Crystal Palace of a glass house, to throw so much as a grain of sand at the windows opposite, but I cannot refrain from sermonising my fellows on their self-conceited bachelorhood. What dullards were those writers in the "Times" newspaper about marriage and three hundred a year! Did Adam and Eve have three halfpence a year when they married? Has the world grown smaller? Are there no Australias, Americas, Indies? Are there no such things as marrying on a pound a week in a top garret, and ending in a mansion in Belgrave Square? no such things as toil, energy, perseverance? husband and wife cheering one another on, and in wealth at last pleasantly talking of the old times, the struggles and difficulties? We hear a great deal now-a-days about people's "missions." The proper mission of men is to marry, and of women to bear children; and those who are deterred from marriage in their degree (for we ought neither to expect nor to desire Squire B. to wed Pamela every day) by the hypocritical cant about "society" and "keeping up appearances", had much better send society to the dogs and appearances to the devil, and have nothing more to do with such miserable sophistries.
    This diatribe, which I sincerely hope will increase the sale of wedding-rings in the goldsmiths' shops forty-fold, brings me naturally [-115-] to the subject of the second cartoon, by which the ingenious artist who transcribes my inky men and women into flesh and blood, has chosen to illustrate the hour of eleven o'clock in the morning. Here we are at a fashionable wedding at St. James's Church, Piccadilly. 
    If I had the tongue or pen of Mr. Penguin, the urbane and aristocratic correspondent of the "Morning Post," I should give you quite a vivid, and at the same time a refined, description of that edifying spectacle - a marriage in high life. How eloquent, and, by turn, pathetic and humorous, I could be on the bevy of youthful bridesmaids-all in white tulle over pink glacd silk, all in bonnets trimmed with white roses, and with bouquets of camelias and lilies of the valley! How I could expatiate, likewise, on the appearance of the beauteous and highborn bride, her Honiton lace veil, her innumerable flounces; and her noble parents, and the gallant and distinguished bridegroom, in fawn-coloured inexpressibles and a cream-coloured face ; and his "best man," the burly colonel of the Fazimanagghur Irregulars; and the crowd of distinguished personages who alight from their carriages at the little wicket in Piccadilly, and pass along the great area amid the cheers of the little boys! They are all so noble and distinguished, that one clergyman can't perform the ceremony, and extra parsons are provided like extra oil-lamps on a gala night at Cremorne. The register becomes an autograph-book of noble and illustrious signatures; the vestry-room has sweet odours of Jocky Club and Frangipani lingering about it for hours afterwards ; the pew-opener picks up white satin favours tied with silver twist. A white rose, broken short off at the stem, lie unregarded on the altar-steps ; and just within the rails are some orange-blossoms from the bride's coronal. For they fall and die, the blossoms, as well as the brown October leaves. Spring has its death a well as autumn a death followed often by no summer, but by cold and cruel winter. The blossoms fall and die, and the paths by the hawthorn hedges are strewn with their bright corses. The blossoms droop and die; the little children die, and the green velvet of the cemetery is dotted with tiny grave-stones.
    See, the bridal procession comes into garish Piccadilly, and, amid fresh cheers and the pealing of the joy-bells, steps into its carriages. 

    "Happy, happy, happy pair!
    None but the brave,
    None but the brave,
    None but the brave, deserve the fair.

[-116-] So sings Mr. John Dryden, whilom poet laureate. Let us hope that the brides of St. James's are all as fair as the bridegrooms are brave, and that they all commence a career of happiness by that momentous plunge into the waters of matrimony at eleven o'clock in the morning. With which sincere aspiration, I will clap an extinguisher on the Hymeneal torch, which I have temporarily lighted, and so to read time births, marriages, and deaths in the "Times."

[nb. grey numbers in brackets indicate page number, (ie. where new page begins), ed.]