Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/Fish out of water
FISH OUT OF WATER.
A FEW WORDS ABOUT FOREIGN GENTLEMEN RESIDENT IN LONDON.
I do not know a much more terrible spectacle than the deck and cabin of a Calais and Dover steamer, when one of those vessels is bound for the shores of England, with a good stirring breeze from the N.W. The foreign gentlemen mostly act upon a system; and the system consists in lying down flat upon their backs, with a cuvette in the immediate vicinity for fear of the worst. Suppose the packet to start at night. After you have succeeded in wringing your passport and the permis d’ embarquer from the stern official with the long shade to his cap, and coursed along the pier with a number of small uneasy packages in your grasp, you arrive at length at the spot where the fussy little steamer is scolding away, and overpowering with its shrill tones the howling of the wind and the roar of the sea. It appeared that you must be too late, but there is always a quarter of an hour to spare, and you descend to the cabin, where the foreign gentlemen are awaiting their doom. Are these the Lucifers of the Boulevards? How are the mighty fallen!
Here indeed may be seen intense misery and intense selfishness. They know what is coming, and have distinctly made up their minds for the worst. There is but one swinging lamp in the cabin—but what a scene it reveals! Fat, pasty, pale men, whose beards seem to have attained a two days’ growth in a few hours, already groan with what they would call their emotions. All the vivacious cackle of the great nation—all the self-applausive politeness of our friends of the Palais Royal—quite, quite gone! The retching and the moaning have not yet commenced; but the curtain is about to draw up on the performances in this kind. Each gentleman as he enters the cave of despair, deposits on the table a little leather bag, something like a lady’s reticule, and lets slip the buckle of his trousers in order to give himself greater ease during his forthcoming throes. He then lets himself drop on the first sofa where he can find room to accommodate his miserable limbs—or it may be on the floor—but always taking care to have a cuvette within easy reach. In answer to the eager questions of many anxious inquirers, the phlegmatic steward only remarks, that, “Well, it may be just a little fresh, but we shan’t feel it till we gets out to sea.” There is a general movement amongst the sufferers, as if the steward’s words were very precious. They look up from their uneasy resting-places. “Qu’est-ce qu’il dit?” is asked on all sides. The reply is, “Il dit qu’il fait un peu frais, mais qu’il n’y aura rien jusqu’à ce que nous sommes en pleine mer!” Then there is a growl, and a remark that “Ce garçon là se moque de nous, dans quelques instants nous serons en marche, et sortis du port, et alors—Ah! mon Dieu!” There is a movement upon deck. They are drawing up the steps—a cry to cast off—and a general groan below.
In a few moments, just as the gentlemen had anticipated, the little steamer appears to be “taking” a series of turnpike gates. She is what is called by seamen a lively craft, and is giving conclusive evidence of her natural gaiety of character. Speaking from my own experience of such performances, I should say that the most fearful moment is when the steamer is at the top of a wave, and preparing for a fresh plunge, while a sort of thrill seems to run throughout her frame. You know too well what is coming, whilst she is balancing herself and rolling from side to side; then a pause, a fresh plunge, and horrible utterances from the afflicted creatures below. “Ah, mon Dieu! ça me soulève le cœur! Ayiai! Que sommes nous donc venus faire ici? Ayiai! Encore une cuvette!” Someway or another, the British mariner does not seem to feel as much commiseration for these unfortunate persons as the real misery of their situations might inspire, even into the most hardened hearts. “He didn’t ought to do it here, sir,” said an old sailor to me one night (I admit that on the night in question other feelings than those of scientific curiosity drew me occasionally to the bulwarks of the Eagle). “Why can’t you go to the side, you dirty brute?” This soothing question was directed to an unfortunate French gentleman, who was positively livid with misery, and as capable at that moment of reaching the side of the lively craft as he would have been of taking command of the ship. But we will not linger on the miseries of that middle passage. I think, however, I shall not be far wrong when I say, the foreign gentlemen don’t like it.
Those blessed, blessed lights of Dover! there they are at last. There is no use in attempting to keep the deception up any longer. I must give up the piratical dreams of my youth. I was not intended to be a Red Rover; indeed I fear, that although my marine miseries are not so complete as those of our foreign friends below, I should in the midst of any considerable hubbub of the elements prove but a Pea Green Rover after all. When my gallant crew were expecting the stern command of “Boarders away!” to fall from my iron lips, I should call out feebly, “Steward, steward!” The fact is, that my soul does sicken o’er the heaving wave; and if Lord Byron puts it as an inevitable inference that I am a “luxurious slave,” I cannot help it. I suppose it is so, and I must make the best of my position. How near those Dover lights seem! but what a way they are still off, if the lapse of time is to be computed by painful sensation! It is bad enough even in my own case; but I imagine that an Englishman’s worst miseries at sea are merely as the disagreeables consequent upon under-done muffins or crumpled rose-leaves when compared with the horrible sufferings of our continental friends from the like cause. What test, what gauge have we of the appalling agonies of a sea-sick Frenchman?
Even when we glide into Elysium within the protecting arms of that gentlest masonry and stone work, is there any term to the sufferings of our friends in the cabin? Here we are at Dover, I say, and are they all right? Not a bit of it. Still they are lying prostrate in grim and awful woe—one sufferer with the toe of his boot in his neighbour’s mouth; a second desiderating yet another cuvette, although the Eagle has folded her strong pinions, and is at rest; a third continues his moaning song of “Ah! mon Dieu! Ayiai!” Every now and then a patient sits up in a feeble way, and does exactly what he would have done had we been in mid-channel. The swinging lamp, which has ceased to swing, still lights up the human misery, while the steward, not without a certain scorn in his accent, which would I doubt not crop out more strongly but for his anxiety upon the subject of fees, endeavours to convince his passengers that they are divided but by a few steps from solid land. A clearance is effected at last, and slowly those forlorn Frenchmen stagger out of the cabin, and are passed up the ladder to the Custom House I know not how. The nearest approach I can imagine to their performances would be that of two or three dozen blue-bottle flies in a state of intoxication endeavouring to make their way up the slippery surface of a window-pane. However, at the Custom House they arrive at last, and when a Frenchman is once within the friendly shelter of the walls of a douane he is comparatively comfortable.
It is possible that the greater miseries endured by our French neighbours at sea must be referred to the manner and quality of their diet. The notion that all Englishmen are amphibious animals is quite a delusion. We have no doubt a much larger sea-faring class than the French, but an average Londoner and an average Parisian are pretty much upon an equality as far as matters nautical are concerned. The experience of each is probably confined to a dozen trips in the course of his life across the Straits of Dover. A good deal of stress has been laid upon our yachting propensities, and English yacht clubs. At one time I saw a good deal of yachting men, and my own testimony must decidedly be to the effect that when the sea was rough we were all invariably poorly; when it was very rough we were very poorly. Our authors of marine songs and marine ballads and marine novels are a good deal answerable for blinding our eyes upon this point. My position then is, that as far as nautical habits are concerned, the great bulk of Englishmen are much in the same position as their continental friends, but that their sufferings at sea are less intense. I refer this result to the difference in diet.
I want, to-day, to offer a few remarks upon the varieties of foreign ladies and gentlemen whom one sees about the streets of London, and therefore will not take advantage of the tempting opportunity for describing at length the manner of their landing upon our shores after a tempestuous passage. Enough is said. The humours of the southern ports are well-nigh at an end in consequence of the extension of our railroad system. He must be an unfortunate Frenchman indeed who cannot contrive to get a bouillon and a petit verre at the railway station, and to complete the clearance of that huge box which contains his “effects,” and to be snugly seated in a carriage on the Dover line within two or three hours, at most, of his disembarcation. They are off at last, and how they converse with each other upon the magnanimity with which they endured the trials of the passage, and how courteously they interchange confidences upon the details of their misery! Still they can scarcely have been pleased with the manner in which they were wafted to our shores. It was not a triumph. They cannot think so themselves. Here they are at London Bridge at last, and there is a general call for cabs, and general directions for Lester Squar.
A Frenchman’s first impressions of London can scarcely be favourable. He has but small appreciation of the comforts and conveniences which the town really contains; and he has an intense longing for various luxuries which it does not contain. Our foreign visitors would scarcely care a button about the well-paved and well-lighted streets on either side of Regent Street—but in Regent Street itself they would miss the splendour of the cafés, and the glare of lights at night, and the rattle of the dominoes, and the little marble tables under the canopies, and the moving gesticulating crowds. This is the sort of thing they have been accustomed to look for ever since they were little French boys with concave stomachs—they are now middle-aged Frenchmen with convex stomachs—how can you expect them to change their views in an hour, and adopt our habits and methods of thought?
If it were possible to name the time and occasion when you would preferably introduce a French friend to London, you would, I think, choose the latter spring or early summer, when the leaves were yet of tender green, their freshness uncontaminated by the London smoke; you would then lead him judiciously through the squares into Piccadilly—by the Green Park into Hyde Park—and so into Kensington Gardens. He would, no doubt, indulge you with a little rhapsody about the arbres séculaires in the locality last named—pining all the while to be back in Rotten Row, to see the young ladies on horseback. That spectacle is what the French gentleman would really enjoy—his vegetable enthusiasm being a pure delusion or fetch. I cannot blame him. A graceful young English girl upon her horse is a much prettier thing to look at than an elm or an oak. Be sure that your French friend, after some few courtesies of speech, will drop a hint to the effect that what he sees before him is very well in its way, but there is Madame de Something-or-other in the Bois de Boulogne who does these things in a more complete manner. In order not to wound his just susceptibilities, you leave him to infer your assent to that proposition, though perfectly aware that the fair equestrians of the Bois de Boulogne in its palmiest moment are no more to be compared with—may I not say what I think?—the far fairer equestrians of Rotten Row, than Piccadilly can stand comparison with those wonderful Boulevards of the French capital.
That sight is the one in London which would, as I think, most recommend itself to the appreciation of our continental friends. We certainly have nothing to show them which would strike upon the spectator’s eye like the old Place de la Concorde (I know not by what name it has been known for the last twelve months,) at Paris—with the Tuileries and the Triumphal Arch, and the Madeleine, and the former Palace of the Deputies. With all our legitimate pride about the value of our institutions, and the solid advantages derived from the labours of our Gas and Water Companies, we must in fairness admit that the position of a Frenchman in London, without friends or acquaintances, is exceedingly forlorn. His one idea is a visit to the Thames Tunnel, and when that entertainment, which at best is not of a very exciting character, is over, whither shall he turn for amusement? We are speaking, of course, of a Frenchman of respectability and character, for I suspect that continental blackguardism is more at its ease—has more elbow-room in London—than in any capital of Europe. It is removed from the daily and hourly surveillance of the police, and festers, and ferments, and conspires, and invents new forms of rascality in its own way. In the main, however, continental blackguardism in London lives upon itself. Continental blackguardism cannot master the difficulties of the English language. Those evil-eyed, sinister-looking men whom you see hanging about the streets in the neighbourhood of Leicester Square, and behind Regent Street, prey upon each other. They have secrets about each other. They farm each other, as it were, and each one contrives to get a shilling or two out of his neighbour in some marvellous manner which has always been a mystery to me. One would rather not inquire what is the ultimate source of their gains.
The police will tell you that there is almost always to be found in London a considerable number of foreigners who are engaged in various schemes for forging the notes of Foreign Banks, and of the Continental Trading Companies and Associations. The conductor of an enterprise of this kind, however, would not be much seen in the classical regions of Leicester Square. He would live quietly up at Pentonville or Islington, and not impossibly hold himself out as a Master of Languages. He would come down-stairs to take in his own pennyworth of milk, and occasionally offer a bunch of flowers to his landlady—such a nice man! He would have his agents at Birmingham, or Sheffield, and would display the most remarkable ingenuity in carrying on his negotiations with our English mechanics, so as to baffle the investigations of the police. At last the plot is discovered. It may be from the first that Joseph Mogg and Sons, of Sheffield, had informed the police that they were in trade relations with a queer customer, and had been instructed to go on as though nothing were the matter. One fine morning a business-like looking visitor, in plain clothes, calls up at 23, Elysium Crescent, and informs M. Anatole Charpentier that the sitting magistrate at Bow Street, or the Lord Mayor, would like to have the opportunity of making his acquaintance. The authorities are somewhat importunate in their courteous anxiety for an interview. M. A. Charpentier, in point of fact, is “wanted,” and the next day the town is made aware that for six months past there has been subtle machinery at work in London for largely defrauding the Bank of St. Petersburg.
It must always be remembered that there are large colonies of foreigners—merchants and others—settled in London, and indeed, in other chief towns of England, whose lives escape scrutiny altogether, because they follow up their objects of pursuit in a very legitimate way, and consequently are never submitted to the microscopic investigations of the police. The circles in which they move are, to use a cant word, “exclusive,” and few English people are ever admitted to their friendship, or even acquaintance. There is in London, and again in Liverpool, a Greek set; in London, and again in Manchester, a German set. I know of a set of Spanish merchants resident in London and the suburbs, and amongst them the presence of an English face is quite an exception to the rule. You find, of course, at the embassies and at “The Travellers,” little knots of the corps diplomatique, who necessarily, and as part of their professional duties, mix, to a very considerable extent, in English society; but in order to arrive at the arcana of their existence, you should meet these gentlemen at the lodgings of some of their own countrymen. These are generally in streets dependent upon Portman or Cavendish Squares. You would then awake to the painful consciousness, that the praise which you had heard lavished in public by these courteous diplomatists upon the three kingdoms, and our institutions, was not quite as sincere as might have been imagined. They get rid of their John-Bullisms with painful facility—and, hey presto! a little Paris or Vienna with all the prejudices, and all the cockneyisms of those great capitals, is reproduced in a moment before your astonished eyes. The Russian Embassy, before the Crimean War, used to be nearer to the mark of one of the great London houses than any other; but, since that event, both English and Russians regard each other with considerable suspicion. The English shut up their mouths,—and the Russians are too polite by half. These gentlemen, however, to do them but justice, never lose an opportunity of impressing upon your mind the good old St. Petersburg dogma, about the manifest destiny of the great Russian nation. The staple of their talk is a kind of namby-pamby mixture of sentimental philanthropy and man-of-the-worldism,—such as I suppose was talked at the Court of Catherine II. when the Polish question occupied her Majesty’s attention. If Marshal Suwarrow could have gone to a fancy ball in the character of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, that would, to a certain extent, have hit off the Russian idea. Another point that always struck me about the very highly polished representatives of the nation whom you meet in the capitals of Western Europe is their apparent omniscience, and their real ignorance when you come to converse with them half-a-dozen times. They have a kind of talk which answers somewhat to the Chinese taoli, of which Mr. Wingrove Cooke tells us in his admirable letters about China. It is all about la haute politique, and of permutations and combinations of the limitary boundaries of European states, and of Russia extending her hand to France, and of various wonderful but improbable alliances. But, at the bottom of all this you will find the most painful ignorance of the realities of political life—certainly of English political life.
The Prussian Embassy, under the learned and courteous auspices of the Chevalier Bunsen, could only be challenged in one particular—for assuredly not a word, save it were of respect and admiration, could be expressed with regard to the accomplished host. The only drawback there was, that the society was too learned for unlearned people. A gentleman would murmur something to you over a cup of tea, about a Sanscrit Root, and if you could not by a system of astute diplomacy, conceal from your interlocutor the fact that you were wholly unable to call for your boots in Sanscrit, you ran the risk of being considered an illiterate person. Another gentleman would tell you the last good thing in Runic. And what a fuss there used to be if Sir Henry Rawlinson had succeeded in digging up an inscription somewhere in Central Asia! You would commonly find that when submitted to the learned investigations of the company, its meaning was taken to be somewhat as follows: “I Collihops—son of Lollipops—the Great King—took towns—butchered the inhabitants, to my great glory, and the nations tremble which are the underneath named.” Then followed lists of the poor fellows whose throats this truculent sovereign had slit open during his glorious career, as well as of those who still trembled before him. The bearing of this inscription upon disputed points in the history of Rameses the CXLVIII. was so obvious that it luckily did not require much discussion. And how a learned professor—by whose side you had taken refuge, because he looked mild, and a safe, perennially-talking sort of man—would, in an intellectual sense, come down sixteen pairs of stairs, in order to meet you upon your own level, and instruct you as to the true point of view from which pretty Miss Oliver’s performances in the “Bonny Fish-Wife” ought to be regarded. There was always, however, something about “objective” and “subjective” which I could not make out; and then the last joke of our friend “Punch” was to be looked at “aesthetically;” and what was a man to do who had simply thought it funny, and so, not impossibly, had indulged in coarse laughter upon wrong grounds?
Before arriving at my true “Fish-out-of-Water,” who are rather the foreign wanderers in the streets, and the occasional visitors to our capital, I would add a few words about the Greek set in London, for I imagine it is not much known. The London Greeks, then, cannot be said to be fish out of water in one sense, for the maxim of the nation would seem to be ubi pecunia, ibi patria. They are almost as complete cosmopolitans as the Jews. The great Greek families who have established themselves well in commerce (their chief dealings are in corn and the money transactions of the Levant) are not only closely connected in business, but they daily strengthen their connection by intermarriages. The chief,—sometimes it is the chiefs,—of a firm, exercises an almost patriarchal authority over his tribe. It is somewhat of the old feudal kind, somewhat of the sort exercised by the General and Leaders of the Jesuits over the brothers of the order. No matter what Pericles or Epaminondas may be doing in London at the time he receives the order from above to proceed to New Orleans, or Shanghai, or Thibet, he must gird up his loins and be off. Nay, were Lysander upon that very day about to pass under the soft yoke of the Marriage Deity, hand in hand with his cousin Aspasia, Aspasia must be left in her bridal veil, and the concerns of the establishment receive his first attention. Five years hence, when he returns, he will find Aspasia, who in the meanwhile has inclined somewhat more to embonpoint, waiting for him. I think this is the most characteristic feature of this Greek set—in addition to their great aptitude for money-making. As a general rule,* they strongly dislike the English; and in their less reasonable moments—that is, when they are not doing sums in their heads—they are apt to talk considerable nonsense about a great and powerful Greek kingdom which is looming in the future, and of the hideous atrocities exercised by the English authorities in the Seven Islands. It sounds, too, very strange to an educated Englishman who has been duly whipped and driven through his course of Greek literature at a public school, and at one or other of the Universities, to hear classical names pronounced in the usual intercourse of domestic life in a trivial way. “Themistocles, if you can’t behave yourself you shall be sent up-stairs to bed without your tea.” “Oh, mama! dear Alcibiades has fallen down and broken his nose over the fender.” “It is high time that Pericles was put into trousers; they should be of the same material as Conon’s, but with a stripe down the sides like those of his cousin Agasippus.” “Please, mum, Master Eteocles is punching Master Polynices’ head in the back garden, and they are making each other such figures!” The Greek merchants in England are a very wealthy body.
It does not fall within the scope of these remarks to enter further into the subject than to say, that down by the Thames—Wapping and Rotherhithe way—there is a colony of Lascars and Chinese, who live in lodging-houses exclusively devoted to the reception of Eastern seamen, and wanderers. Their story may for to-day be dismissed with the repetition of Sir John Malcolm’s short chapter on the Manners and Customs of the Inhabitants of Muscat: “As for manners, they have none; and their customs are very nasty.” The existence of this Eastern colony is a feature in London life well worthy of study; occasionally you hear of them in the Police Reports in connection with a murder or robbery.
The foreign artistes in London again compose a society which, in one sense and more especially at one period of the year, lives apart. In the season, however, of course you will meet with the chief singers from the two operatic establishments at the great houses of London. It is as much a part of their profession to sing at such places for a money reward as it is to make their appearance in front of the foot-lights at the Haymarket or in Covent Garden. Those persons again whose names throughout the season you see duly recorded every day in the advertisement columns of the “Times” are, by the very exigency of their position, driven out into the world to seek for a connection. For the most part they give lessons on the piano, or in singing, and a concert once or oftener in the season. The less considerable professors—ladies as well as gentlemen—generally succeed in obtaining the use for the day of the rooms of Mrs. ——, in Harley Street, or some locality of that kind. Those who feel that they are treading upon safer ground boldly engage the Hanover Square Rooms, and support themselves by their own strength. Amongst this class you will commonly meet with most agreeable additions to any social circle. You will find them living for the most part Brompton way. They are generally economical in their habits, and put by money, which is intended as the fund for their future support at Paris, or Berlin, or Dresden. English people who are accustomed to consider large establishments with a multitude of servants, &c., as the test of comfort and respectability, would be astonished at the smallness of the income with which persons of this class are in the main content. When they have earned what they deem enough for their purposes they quietly retire from the exercise of their profession, and decline further labour merely for the purpose of accumulating money. Some of the leading teachers have indeed realised considerable fortunes; but in the main their earnings are not very large. During their stay amongst us, if they are not precisely fish out of water, they are at least longing for a change of stream.
I have never had any personal acquaintance with the great operatic singers, but I have been told by those who have cultivated their society that they are most agreeable companions. Surely it cannot be any great strain upon human credulity to suppose that Madame Grisi, and Alboni, and Titiens, and Csillag must be charming in society. Were we not all ready to put on crape for Malibran, and Sontag, and poor Madame Bosio, who but last year at this very time was warbling her sweet strains amongst us, and by the mere influence of her graceful presence converting Mr. Gye’s theatre into her own drawing-room? The curtain fell upon her, to the apprehension of the writer of these remarks, as Zerlina in the “Don John,” and now of all that music, and grace, and genius there is an end! I should almost grudge to hear any other singer take the part. Surely Mario must be a genial companion; and if Ronconi could not keep a dinner-table in a roar, the science of Lavater is a mere imposition upon the good sense of the public.
The ladies and gentlemen and wealthy merchants of whom I have hitherto been speaking are all too respectable, and too well hedged in by all the appliances and fences which money can purchase, to afford material for touching upon the ridiculous side of a foreigner’s visit to London. Many of those poor people at whose disembarcation at Dover we recently assisted, will have their trials before they become free of the town. Their first difficulty is with the class of cabmen. Even we Londoners who know something about London, and the situations of the various streets and squares, and have a general idea of the laws and regulations affecting public carriages, know to our cost that the London cabby is not always an individual of a placable and disinterested character. I remember meeting one evening at about 10.30 p.m. with an unfortunate French gentleman, who had thrust his head out of a cab, and was calling out “Rue du Duc” at the top of his voice. This was in the neighbourhood of Cavendish Square. It appeared upon inquiry that he had been driven away at about 2 p.m. by the cabman under whose guardianship I found him, from the Custom House, and had spent all the afternoon and evening driving about the town in search of Duke Street. Cabby had taken him to every Duke Street in London except the right one, which was Duke Street, Portman Square, and had now a small bill against him of 1l. 18s. 6d., or some sum of that kind. This was a good many years ago, and I hope that things have got better since. But let us suppose our French friend safely deposited at the Sablonnière in Leicester Square, or some humbler hostelry in that classical locality—what shall he do with himself?
Fish Out of Water.
His first idea—a very proper one—is to go and have a bath in order to wash off the impurities of the journey: that is not a very difficult matter under the auspices of the garçon at the inn where he may have taken up his abode. Breakfast of some kind is to be procured either in the house or in some of the dreary little cafés which have recently been established in and about Leicester Square. But how different is all this from the Boulevards and the Palais Royal! When this is done we will suppose M. Alexis de Corbillard and his friend M. Aristide Canard to sally forth in search of amusement, with the Guide Book to London in their hands. There are no doubt in this great capital many objects well worthy of the attention of our foreign visitors. Westminster Abbey is worth a dozen of Notre Dames. The shipping in the docks and river is what a Frenchman could scarcely conceive as existing even in his dreams. St. Paul’s not only extinguishes all Parisian rivalry, but may challenge comparison even with the great Roman cathedral. The town itself, from Putney to Blackwall, and from Hampstead to Dulwich, is, as far as we know, the largest human hive which has ever existed since we have had any record of man’s presence on the surface of this planet; but I am afraid my two French friends do not care much for these weightier matters. They want to see something corresponding to their own Boulevards; they miss the tap of the drum and the march of a regiment through the public streets. They want glasses of eau sucrée, and to sit before a café staring at a passing crowd of idlers. They want to see many things which they do not see—and they care very little about seeing what they do see. Above all things, they want to be seen themselves, and nobody seems to notice the fact of their existence.
Is not this the true secret of a Frenchman's discomfort in London? His own utter insignificance in the midst of this busy, jostling, hurried multitude. I should say that the best chance for our friends MM. Corbillard et Canard would be a lounge in Regent Street, if the afternoon be reasonably fine. They have a correct appreciation of the beauty of the charmantes Miss whom they meet in the course of their walk; but they make a slight mistake as to their own irresistible qualities vis-à-vis du beau sexe. Mrs. John Smith and her swanlike progeny, last from Montague Place, who are sailing down Regent Street in so stately a manner, their minds intent upon the newest patterns in the silk-mercers' windows, care very little for the murderous glances of our two friends. Mrs. Thomas Mitten and daughters, who are on their way to Exeter Hall, rather regard them as specimens of the wholly reprobate, and entirely lost; and if they give them a thought at all, it is just such a one as a sentimental connoisseur bestows upon those unfortunate persons in Rubens' famous picture, who are well-committed to that portion of the performance upon which the great artist has lavished such an abundance of yellows and reds. But, soft, whom have we here? The two brothers Thompson—one a stout and most respectable solicitor, resident in St. John's Wood; the other a tall thin West Indian merchant, living at Highgate. MM. Corbillard et Canard had a slight acquaintance with these gentlemen in Paris; they are to them here as manna in the wilderness. I protest the two brothers do not appear as gratified as they ought to be when they see their French friends bearing down upon them, and seem disposed to pass them with a frigid British nod. Such a conclusion, however, does not enter into the views of the MM. CC. They stop the way, and, to the astonishment and disgust of the Thompson brothers, Corbillard embraces John Thompson, and Canard embraces Thomas Thompson, in the manner of the French nation on the occasion of arrivals and departures at the railway stations. John Thompson's hat falls off in the process, and the little boys gather round to see the fun. Well, it is tiresome for a respectable middle-aged Englishman to be kissed in the public streets by a foreign gentleman with an exuberance of beard and moustaches, just as if he was a sweet girl in the embraces of her long-lost, long-loved Roderick just returned from the Punjaub—but in the young lady's case, without any damage to the proprieties, as the transaction occurs in the back drawing-room of 510, Welbeck Street. Whatever his feelings might have been, Roderick would never have ventured upon such a thing in Regent Street at 4 p.m., as the French gentlemen have done with regard to the Messrs. Thompson, who someway or another do not seem to enjoy the process. "Et comment se porte Madame Tonson, votre aimable épouse, et Miss Elise, ce charmant petit bouton de rose, qui vous ressemble comme deux gouttes d'eau?" These and other such inquiries are entirely thrown away upon the two brothers, whose one idea is to escape as speedily as possible from the grasp of their two Parisian acquaintances, and from the somewhat too lively demonstrations of their affection.
Really, after this meeting, the afternoon and evening do hang somewhat heavily on hand. If they had any friends or acquaintances in London who would receive them at their houses, or invite them to their clubs, and, above all, be competent to converse with them in their own language, the whole aspect of affairs would be entirely changed. London, as far as a foreign visitor is concerned, is a picture with a curtain before it—and no other than an English hand can draw the curtain. To the bulk of foreigners who visit London this curtain is the picture.
I am not the least surprised if, being left to their own devices, and driven to seek for their dinner in some of those dreadful dens near Leicester Square, they leave our shores under the impression that the human race cannot dine in London. It may be that, as the dens in question seem to them but spurious imitations of their own establishments in this kind, they boldly make their way into some third-class London eating-house, and appease their hunger with under-done boiled beef and greens, and when they return to their own country, and record their "Impressions de Voyage," they set it forth in a very solemn way that "la cuisine anglaise est infâme." They do not pause to consider how many English people—save driven to it by hard necessity—ever do take their meals in these Restaurants, as they would call them. I am not sure that Parisian dinners, served at the rate of 2 francs, or 1 f. 25 c., would receive the entire approval of gastronomic connoisseurs.
But what are our two "Fish out of Water" to do with their evening? I could not suggest anything better for them than the Café Chantant, in Leicester Square. They would there at any rate find cups of coffee, and great facilities in the way of eau sucrée, and meet with many of their countrymen. English Theatres are out of the question. Perhaps in the hey-day of summer, Cremorne, if they could find their way there, might prove a resource, and be to them a substitute for the Jardin des Fleurs, and other establishments such as those which are found in the Champs Elysées at Paris. If MM. Corbillard et Canard are compelled to spend a Sunday in London, I am truly sorry for them.
I do not know how many foreigners are to be found in England at any given time. We know from official sources—but then the French keep such registers in a more accurate way than we do—that at the present time there are 66,000 English residents in France; and assuming the average expenditure of each to be five francs a day, the sum total would amount to about 4,820,000l. a year. The number of the French in London alone must be very considerable; and it would be well in the present period of the world's history if we were always to do our best to meet them with courtesy and kindness, remembering that they have not been brought up with ideas like our own. They may have much to learn from us—we, much to learn from them. The French immigration into England, after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was one of the most important events in our history.
I have purposely avoided in these remarks all reference to Foreign Political Refugees—the real ones, and the impostors. Amongst the first are to be found some of the noblest men; amongst the second, perhaps the greatest scoundrels in Europe. They deserve a notice apart.