Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

from the London Review.

THE ENGLISH AT HOME.*

But by for the most popular of our street institutions is the drama of Punch and Judy, which M. Esquiros very justly regards as worthy of the attention of the critic and the historian. Puppet-shows have existed from time immemorial in England. Macbeth was once played with wooden figures. In the reign of the "merry Monarch" petitions were presented by the proprietors of the principal theaters, praying that a particular puppet-show might be put down, so seriously did it interfere with their receipts. Even the churches were deserted in the vicinity of these exhibitions. The direct origin of Punch can not be traced. In the ancient Mysteries, there was generally a person called Vice, whose function it was " to shed over the serious parts of a drama humorous or ridiculous features." In all probability the Punch of our street theatricals is his degenerate descendant.

In the popularity of Punch, M. Esquiros discerns features of English character. Mr. Punch himself, though withall a domestic tyrant, and sadly given to thrashing his wife—a gentleman of violent temper and by no means amenable to authority, personifies, nevertheless, "a side of the English character—strength of soul, presence of mind, and self-control." His brutal conduct to Mrs. Judy, and the very loose and turbulent nature of his matrimonial relations, are fatal to his popularity with the fair sex, few of whom, M. Esquiros remarks, are to be found in the crowds which witness his performances. But the invincible strength with which he seems to struggle against the afflictions of life— "the mocking energy with which he braves the horror of dungeons, and hears the death-sentence pronounced"—the nil desperandum spirit which leads him to sing comic songs on the way to the scaffold which his persecutors have prepared for him—these are the features which endear him to the English public, expressive as they are of the national temperament.

• Concluded from page 60.

"The Punch a British public wants," said an old gentlemen who could never resist the temptation to watch the performance, "must have a tenacious mind, fertile in expedients to triumph over material force in the shape of a huge black dog, over illness in the form of a doctor, over death in the form of a skeleton, and over all the enemies of the human race in the shape of the devil. This results from the British character, which does not like to be beaten, even when in the wrong."

The English are essentially a grave people. They do not crowd round the street-show merely to witness the fun. The drama of Punch is popular because it is national. Nor is it only popular. It has a power of influencing the masses on questions of politics and morality. M. Esquiros quotes cases in point:

"Some years ago, during a general election, a showman placed on the stage a candidate for Westminster, who kissed Judy and her child, and then asked Mr. Punch for his vote. When the Divorce Bill passed by the Commons, was before the House of Lords, I myself heard a showman who took advantage of Punch and Judy's conjugal disputes to support that Bill. Three years back, a certain movement took place in the public opinion against the punishment of death; and another puppet showman at once placed in Mr. Punch's mouth—an interested party in the question—certain words in favor of the abolition of the gallows."

"Great Britain," says M. Esquiros, "is the classic ground of puffs." He illustrates his point by the case of the so-called Aztec children, who were shown all over England as having been obtained from the mysterious cities of Central America, where they were worshiped as idols. They were said to be the descendants of the ancient bird-men, preserved in the temples of Iximay. Their silence was quoted in proof of their sacredness, and the interest of the exhibition was enhanced by a romantic account of the dangers incurred in removing them from the temple. The two children were, in fact, deaf and dumb idiots, who were discovered in America certainly, but only in the tent of an itinerant showman, who exhibited them in company with a very tall pig!

The English nation is easily cheated, there is no doubt; We are ready to swallow any amount of wonders, whether Tom Thumbs, talking fish, singing oysters, sea-serpents, or any thing else Mr. Barnum and his compatriots and imitators may concoct. An English crowd does not object to be duped—indeed it expects to be —but the subterfuge must be cleverly disguised. A showman is readily forgiven for cheating, if he can manage to throw some skill into the deception. Every thing depends on method. The Bosjesmans, who were bond fide savages, were exhibited a few years since at Glasgow fair. The thing was done so openly and honestly, that the exhibition failed. The mob declared that they were either Irishmen or sweeps. "Success," said a showman, "depends less on the object shown, than on the mode in which it is shown. The great sea-serpent itself would be nothing without an oral chronicle appealing to the imagination of the mob.

Some of the itinerant showmen of England have achieved not only notoriety, but fortune. The celebrated Richardson commenced life as a potboy. An old man, with a peep-show on his back, came one night to the inn in which Richardson served. He was taken ill and died. Grateful for the attention shown him by the lad during his illness, he left him his peepshow. This was the nucleus of a future fortune. Adding one curiosity after another to his collection, he rose rapidly in popular favor, and died with the sum of fifty thousand pounds in the funds. A very interesting story has been preserved by M. Esquiros:

"During St Alban's fair a fire broke out in the town, and Richardson, who was then owner of a portable theater, stopped the performance, and at the head of his actors, struggled bravely with the flames, to try and save the life and property of the inhabitants. The loss, however, was very great; and a subscription was opened on behalf of the sufferers, the gentlemen of St. Alban's sending their one, two, and as much as five guineas. One day a man in short, black breeches, woolen stockings, and a large blue coat, walked into the office, and threw on the table one hundred guineas. 'What name shall I put down ?' the treasurer said. 'Say, a friend,' the stranger replied, and walked out; but one of the persons present had recognized

Richardson the showman, and his name figured in the list of donors."

Another eminent showman was fortunate enough to win the notice of royalty. Wombwell, who was very clever as a veterinary surgeon, was called in one day, by the late Prince Consort, to attend a pack of hounds, whose disease had baffled the entire profession. He at once discovered that the secret of their malady lay in the water which they drank. The Prince, delighted at the recovery of his hounds, asked Wombwell what his fee was. The showman, however, declined to take a fee, on the ground that he hadn't a single want in the world. As the Prince insisted—

"Wombwell said, that if his Royal Highness was determined to make him a present, he would be glad to accept a coffin made out of the wood of the Royal George. This demand was acceded to, and this singular article of oaken furniture figured for some time in the showman's house, and in it the wild-beast man now reposes at Kensal Green."

From the free and romantic life of strolling players and showmen, M. Esquiros conducts us to a class of vagrant tradesmen in whose existence romance plays but a feeble part. In selecting the "lower zones of social life," he is guided by the principle that " the originality of the Anglo-Saxon race is principally found in them." The real life of a people has seldom been described by the historian. The staple of our standard histories is statecraft, with now and then a picture of regal pomp. Mr. Charles Knight has done a little toward furnishing the history of the people of England; but his work, creditable and interesting as it is, does not supply the desideratum. The researches of M. Esquiros, among the lower zones, have secured a great deal of valuable information which, to most Englishmen, will be quite new.

The coster-mongers, (originally costardmongers, or apple-sellers,) in London alone, are estimated at upward of forty thousand persons, men, women, and children. Some of these are stationary, and have stalls, more or less respectable. Others are nomadic. The itinerant classes are subdivided into the legitimate and illegitimate—the former of whom deal in fish, vegetables, and English fruits: the latter comprehending the vendors of oranges, cocoa-nuts, water-cresses, sprats, and periwinkles. Between these two castes, though they seem to have so many interests in common, there is, nevertheless, the widest difference. Even costermongers have their aristocracy. A legitimate coster would not condescend to sell sprats, if he were dying of hunger! Oranges are left, by common consent, to the Irish, while the cocoa-nut salesman is almost invariably a Jew. Having very little personal property, the costermongers have, in many cases, to buy their daily stock with borrowed money; while some have to borrow the stock itself, and hire their basket, truck, or donkey-cart, and even the weights and measures. They have to pay twenty per cent per week for this accommodation. Nor are they the only sufferers. The tax falls upon the poor, who are compelled to sustain the injury caused by this iniquitous usury.

As might have been expected, the costermongers are not highly educated and enlightened. By the age of seven, they are in business on their own occount. The children of costers are about the sharpest in the world. In fact, they have no childhood, but are brought up to be old men and women before they reach the age of eight. Their religion is as much neglected as their education. But they are not altogether irreligious. They have a great liking for the Gospel history. The feeding of the five thousand by our Saviour is most interesting to them. "That proves," they say, "that he was a thorough gentleman." But while appreciating benevolence, they do not indulge in sentiment. "I don't wish any body any harm," said a young girl, who had been describing the glories of the cholera-time, when melons and pine-apples could be bought almost for nothing; "but if the cholera comes back, it would be a great blessing to people of our class."

Among the most important of the itinerant street-traders, are the hawkers and the patterers. Some of the latter are men of education, who have been dragged down from a higher level of society by profligacy and the love of a vagabond life. They are the street speech-makers. Their aim is to attract popular attention to their wares by a pompous harangue. Some of them soar to the very hights of mob oratory, and would shine on the hustings. One, a very sage and 'cute man, gives a lecture on domestic economy,

and then invites his audience to purchase a miraculous save-all, price one penny. During Palmer's trial, an enterprising patterer read,* day by day, to the public, the record of the progress of the trial in the Times; and at the close of each reading, commended to his hearers some infallible nostrum which he had for sale. The most respectable of the class are generally booksellers, who at times are literary men. One of these, with whom M. Esquiros chanced to meet, gave him the following story of Southey, which is worth preserving:

"One day, among my hearers, I noticed Southey, whom I knew from his coming to my old master's shop. ... I read in his eyes that he wanted one of my books—a rare old edition—and quietly ran down even below tho price the book had cost me, eighteen pence. I would have offered it to him for nothing, if I had not feared a refusal; but what was my grief when he placed in my hand a crown, and went away just as I was giving him the change! I called him back, but he said, with a shake of the head, 'Keep it, the book's worth that to me.'"

There are lower levels of vagrant commercial life than these. There is the family of the "finders/'—not precisely English in its type, for the continental cities abound in this class of industry. But London exhibits one variety of the species indigenous only to the metropolis, the "cigarend finder," who frequents the neighborhood of theaters, casinos, music-halls, and clubs, to glean the cigar-ends which may have been thrown away. Precarious as such an employment may seem, it yields a very fair return for the time and energy spent over it. What is done with the cigar fragments when found, we dare hardly guess. Perhaps the genius which converts cabbage-leaves into tobacco can construct new cigars out of the burnt relics of old ones. The "mud-larks" are of the "finder" family, and search for bits of coal, iron, wood, or any thing else that may turn up among the mud left on the banks of the Thames by the retreating tide. They embrace all ages, but are made up mainly of little boys and decrepit old women. The lowest in this scale of "finders" are the "sewer-hunters," who are found in no other city of the world.

"With old shoes on their feet, a bag on their back, a canvas apron fastened round their waist, and a long staff in their hand, they enter, no one knowing how, those horrible and forbidden places. This pole, armed with an iron hook, serves to secure their footing and sound the ground, while they have a dark-lantern fastened on their chests, which throws a light some distance before them."

The reward for this disgusting toil is seldom more than "bones, nails, pieces of iron and copper, and dead animals," whose skins they sell. Sometimes coins, jewels, and articles of plate are found; and it is probably the chance of finding such treasures that acts as an inducement to undergo the horrors of the sewer-hunter's life. There is, too, a dash of the Englishman's love of independency in it. "I like this kind of life," said one: "I work when it is my pleasure, I rest when I like, and no one has a right to order me about." Nor is this life unhealthy. The sewer-hunters are generally robust and jolly men, with rosy cheeks.

We are indebted to M. Esquiros for a very interesting sketch of the salt-springs and salt-mines of Cheshire, which, though a very fertile source of wealth, have seldom been honored with the notice of the literary traveler. M. Esquiros chose the little town of Northwich as his headquarters of observation. Beautiful as is the locality, we should not like to live in Northwich. At the "Angel," where our author lodged, "the staircase staggered like a drunken man," and the walls of the room seemed to be on the worst of terms with the floor. This inn, however, was a substantial edifice in comparison with the majority of buildings in Northwich. On walking through some of the streets, the traveler saw " roofs no longer resting on the houses, brick walls rent, windows that had assumed the quaintest forms, and chimneys that allowed the smoke to emerge half-way up, through yawning crevices." The landlady of a public-house said calmly: "Our house will fall; I only hope my son will not be in it at the moment, for I feel assured I shall finish with it." The bed of the river has sunk so much, that a man-of-war may now tack, where but a few years back a boat could hardly make its way. The reason of this terrible dilapidation lies in the fact that "the town and neighborhood rest on a soil internally traversed by abundant springs; and these subterranean water-courses, formed by the rains, become saline at the expense of the solid masses of salt over which they run. The result is, that they disintegrate the rock, and the crust of supercial earth settles with the houses, the fields, and the streams."

Northwich is doomed to perish by the very salt to which it owes its existence and trade.

The salt-springs, which furnish an average of twenty two per cent of salt, are not of course so productive, and certainly not so romantic, as the saltrmines. Unlike the gloomy home of the coal, the salt-mine, with its crystallized columns, and its dry and pleasant temperature, presents a picture of positive beauty. It is difficult, says M. Esquiros,

"not to admire this simple but grand architecture; these empty spaces, extending in the darkness like the nave of an immense subterranean church; these works, which have the shape, color, and transparency of sugar-candy, these massive pillars, which shine in the reflection of the light you carry in your hand; and more than all this, the religious character which silence and night shed over these labors of human industry."

The mine which he visited was worked by fifty men, who extracted a weekly average of fifteen hundred tons of raw salt, without the assistance of horses and ponies, which in some of the mines are employed to drag the blocks of salt on a tramway. The salt is conveyed from the mouth of the mine to the boiling-house; and when it has boiled for six or seven hours, it is carried to a hot room, where it is left to dry. It is then ready for the market. The annual produce is estimated at five hundred thousand tons; and the mines give employment to some ten or twelve thousand men. The work of the miner is salubrious and agreeable, but the thirst resulting from it is almost intolerable. The temptation to drink is very powerful. The mmers say they have a devil in their throats. From their dissipated habits it is to be feared that many gallons of drink are required to exorcise the evil spirit.

Foreigners will be more interested by the views of M. Esquiros on the military status and resources of England than by any other portions of his work. The old and not yet exploded notion that the English are a nation of shopkeepers finds an elaborate refutation in his pages. His descriptions of our actual force, and our immense capabilities for meeting any possible emergency, are such as not only to astonish his countrymen, but deeply to interest many of our own, who have very limited and undefined notions of our military resources. M. Esquiros, though a lover and, as we trust he will prove, a maker of peace, is yet a Frenchman, and a man of sense. He has no faith in the Brummagem doctrine of olive-leaves. His is the theory which the experience of every year strengthens and confirms, that to be prepared for war is to be assured of peace. He does not believe that there is any national desire, on the part of Frenchmen, for the invasion of England; but however that may be, he shows very clearly that such an invasion is impossible, because we have made it so. The fighting colonels across the Channel, who, we believe, do not represent the French army, would do well to study the statistics of M. Esquiros. The worst thing we can wish our enemies is, that they should invade our shores. They might possibly effect a landing, though that would be no easy matter. But even if they forced a passage through our wooden and iron walls, and through bristling ranks of regulars and volunteers, and planted their flag on the time-honored old Tower, what then I There lies the pith of the whole question. Were England but half as powerful as she is, or half as patriotic, no invading army could find its way home from her shores.

Woolwich, the great emporium and work-shop of our military organization, owes this dignity to a mere accident. The Royal Foundry used to be in Moorfields. Some bronze guns, taken from the French by Marlborough, were brought here in 1716 to be recast. A large crowd of officers and people collected to see the process. A young German in the crowd, whose name was Schalch, discovered that the mold into which the metal was to be poured was damp; and rightly judging that the contact of the boiling metal with a humid surface would cause an explosion, he at once communicated his fears to the authorities. But military authorities were as slow to take advice in 1716 as they are in this year of grace 1862; so Schalch and his friends quietly withdrew. In a few minutes there was a terrible and fatal explosion. The mold had burst and scattered its fragments in ruin. The authorities sought out Schalch, made him superintendent of a new gun-factory, and committed to him the responsibility of choosing a fresh site. He selected the ground now occupied by the Government works. The natural resources of the place attest the wisdom of the selection. But the

conditions of war have materially changed since the days of Schalch. Woolwich is no longer a desirable site. Looking at it from a strategical point of view, it is open to considerable peril. Our military stores ought to be beyond the reach of danger; and Government has resolved to spend nine millions of money in rendering Woolwich impregnable.

The gun-casting department, which was formerly the most attractive and important, has lost its prestige. The Armstrong gun is not cast, but wrought. The process is at present a secret, and the public are not admitted to view the whole of the operation. The machinery used in the construction of the new gun is massive and marvelous. The monstrous steamhammer, which, while falling "with a solemn gravity befitting such a mass," at another time "deals two or three hundred crushing blows in a minute," seems to have fairly overpowered the philosophical Frenchman. A gigantic plane in the factory peels the iron from the block like the paring of an apple. The gun is ultimately bored by " a perforating implement, which plunges and advances in the body of its victim like the beak of a vulture." Nor is the machinery the only costly item in the production of guns. Since the. year 1852, the Government has paid to private individuals for artillery experiments nearly eighty thousand pounds.

The machinery in the gun-carriage department is equally wonderful. Those beautiful specimens of carriage-work which excite the admiration of all visitors to the International Exhibition, and which are absolutely without flaw, require no ordinary apparatus for their construction. The circular-saw is itself a miracle.

"A few steps had carried me to a plank platform, resembling the empty stage of a theater, when my guide made me a sign to wait, and whispered, 'She is coming.' Who is she? In answer, an enormous log was thrown along the stage. A man turned an instrument, and I saw a steel disk emerge from a groove in the floor, armed with a circle of teeth, displayed one after another as the disk emerged from the ground. This metal wheel advanced, leaped on the log, walked straight through it without halting, and then, its work being completed, it returned remorsely to its den, like a monster which has devoured its prey. When the saw disappeared, I asked leave to visit the cave in which it lay hidden. I went down a deep staircase, where I saw in the gloom the shark-toothed thing, still warm with the results of its massa

« ElőzőTovább »