Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The small things of London
THE SMALL THINGS OF LONDON.
Without acorns you can’t have oaks. When you speak of cocks and hens you imply chickens. If you would enrich the world with an Epic poem (not that I particularly wish to see any addition to that class of literature), you must begin by writing, or at any rate by arranging in your head the two first lines. So of men and women. When you speak of Shakspere you imply a baby, yes! there was a moment when William Shakspere was little Willy in long clothes. No doubt nurse Dorothy, or—if the family, as some commentators suppose, were not very rich—good Mrs. Shakspere herself, took the little Willy in question out in her arms, and strolled with him along the banks of placid Avon. King Lears, and Hamlets, and Othellos as yet lay latent somewhere about the region of the pia mater in that remarkable child, but I have no doubt that he sucked his little fat thumbs much as other babies are wont to do. It is also probable that good Mrs. Shakspere, like other mothers—God bless them all—talked that sublimest sense, mother’s-nonsense, to the boy, and in her beatific visions saw him in her mind’s eye—it is only mothers who dare to draw on the future for such portentous sums—Lord Mayor of London. If so, she was wrong, as poor mothers sometimes are. Little William missed the Civic Chair.
The ingenious French writers who get up those mendacious books about the First Napoleon, are very eager to tell us that when the infant was just born, in the confusion of the moment, and by pure accident, he was placed upon a tapestry on which the skill of the artist had represented some terrible feats of arms. It might have been the doings of the Argonauts under the command of that filibustering fellow Jason; it might have been the battle of the Amazons, or of the Centaurs and Lapithæ; my recollection only serves me so far that I can assert with perfect confidence that the Napoleon tapestry in one form or another represented Broken Heads, an antique. Now they would have us believe that a wise spectator could have translated the contortions, and whinings, and squeakings of that troublesome child into some such phraseology as this—En avant la Garde! Nom de—nom de—nom de tonnerre. Affrontons la mitraille. Soldats, la victoire est la-bas prête à nous verser des petite verres, allons trinquer avec elle.—Nom de soixante mille cochons—la Garde en avant. I do not believe that this was the case, but that little Napoleon bawled upon that occasion simply because he felt rather cold, and would have been glad of a little milk in the usual way.
I am about to offer a few remarks upon the subject of children in general and London children—the Small Things of London—in particular; but although anxious to begin at the beginning, I cannot say that I in any way sympathise with those excellent people who can make out so many fine things from the whinings of babyhood. English mothers forgive me, I don’t like a baby. Mrs. Fondlechild, I know exactly what you are about to say; I was once a baby myself, and I will add that, according to my own view of the case, I must then have been a most objectionable atom. I should not have liked myself. I should not have wished to have been given myself to hold. I should have shrunk from touching myself. I would not have called myself a “Pobsy-Wobsy,” nor would I have admired my own pink toes. I could not with a clear conscience have asserted of myself that “bless my little heart I was the very image of papa.” I never could see the smallest resemblance between an infant and a stout middle-aged gentleman with a hooked nose and spectacles. This, however, but adds to the unpayable debt of gratitude we all owe to our mothers; but for female protection during those months of human jelly-dom, what would become of us! Nay, gentlest motherhood apart, are not all women ex officio protectors of helpless infancy? By some mysterious law of nature they appear to rejoice in human duodecimos at the very time they are most distasteful to me; and, I believe, if they would make a clean breast of it, to most of my fellows. The little creature that has a cap on, and cries in a sort of basket is to them a cameo, or a choice engraving. They see its points, and love to handle it. For myself I must say that I am distinctly afraid of a baby.
I do, however, most thoroughly see the beauty of the mother holding her child in her arms, or to her breast—(so I am not asked to touch it)—and I think it was well that this combination was selected as the favourite subject of Christian artists in the middle ages. But—here I fall back upon the subject of pretty little Mrs. Buttercup, of Number Blank, Blank Square—it is certainly the mother and not the child who exacts my tribute of admiration. Assume the baby to be absent, I should be well content to spend half-an-hour in Mrs. B.’s agreeable society; assume Mrs. B. to be absent, I would as soon spend half-an-hour with a young rook as with the baby. Baby so far plays into the hands of an æsthetic friend of the family that he is the unconscious instrument of educing very beautiful forms of expression upon Mrs. B.’s pure and gentle features, and he can conjure a look out of her eye which never, as I believe, fell to poor Buttercup’s lot, even when he had pulled her up fifteen miles against stream in the gladsome days of wooing and pink bonnets—just allowing himself time for a little beer on passing the locks. I never could see any poetry in the staring blue eyes of babyhood, although fully aware that, according to the doctrines of the true faith upon the Angelina model, we are required to believe that baby has recently quitted the realms aloft, and does not like its new quarters upon the crust of this fussy, hard-working planet. Of course, if this were so, it is enough to put an infant out to exchange the kisses of a seraph for the demonstrations of Mrs. Sago’s—the monthly nurse’s—professional affection. But I don’t believe the theory. I cannot help thinking that if I had ever enjoyed the supernatural comforts suggested in a previous state of existence I should have remembered something about the matter even now. I am, however, clear upon this point, that my very earliest recollection is of being on board a steamer in the Thames—my second of being taken to Astley’s, where an eminent artist of those days gratified us by personating the character of the French Emperor. He was always riding on and off the stage upon a white horse, and taking snuff in front of the foot-lights. I have also a recollection upon that occasion of a terrific combat between a Highland regiment and an overpowering French force, which terminated entirely to the advantage of the Highlanders. Now, remembering these things so well, how is it possible that I should have forgotten everything about the Elysian Fields—if, indeed, I had ever been there in a pre-infantine period of existence? Surely I should have been accustomed to play with a few favourite cherubs, I should have been friends with some ghosts. What had I done? Why was I turned out to work for my living? I protest I do not remember anything about the matter. Reader—do you?
Let us leave the young babies in the arms of their mothers. There lies the true Paradise for these little unsolved enigmas. When they come to be three or four years of age it is quite a different affair. When that happens, I can put myself right with the mothers of England. Who can ever forget those lovely groups of children which poor Sir William Ross knew so well how to translate upon ivory? Poor man! he is just gone from amongst us to a place where, as I hope, he sees more beautiful forms than he used to copy upon earth. Were they children—were they flowers? Yet what human intelligence and possibilities about them! One could see that the clear-browed little fellow with the long brown hair (numbered 1723 in the Miniature Room) might, at no very distant time, conduct the sweet little entity with the blue sash, who is thrusting back her fair silken curls with a little pink hand, where there are dimples instead of knuckles, to the hymeneal altar at St. George’s, Hanover Square. I mean that little girl yonder, numbered 1745. But what a deal of trouble the little fellow will have with the impersonal verbs between this and then—as yet he knows nothing about supines, and the child is glad. My little friend, too, in the blue sash has some hard days and red eyes before her on account of Cramer’s Exercises and her inveterate habit of thrusting her little ivory shoulder—it is the left one—out of her frock. But it will all go right in the long run. “Supines in um have an active signification:” Ut Re Mi Fa Sol—Fol-de-rol-de-riddle-dol. There are troubles on both sides, but they will meet at last.
Children at the age when Sir William Ross loved to arrest their beauty in its rapid flight are the sunbeams of a house, when they are not allowed to be its tyrants. For my own part, should like to see boy children born at five years of age, if this could be contrived without inconvenience. I would then keep them at this age for twenty years, and let them awake some morning twenty-five years old, and be captains, or perpetual curates, or junior partners, or something of that sort. The girl-children—also born at five years old—should be kept at that age for fifteen years; and on a given day be returning from their wedding tours. I should wish to be preserved from the worry of blessing my son-in-law, and wondering whether he was a young scoundrel or not, and the speeches at the wedding breakfast. No, let Emily-Jane come in with the oranges one day, and the next turn up as the beloved wife of some manly, straightforward young fellow, and mistress of a nice little house somewhere in South Kensington, with an arm-chair dedicated to the use of the aged Gamma.
One point is remarkable enough about London children of the humblest classes, and that is (despite of all the drawbacks of confined space, and I fear unwholesome dormitories, and improper or insufficient food), their healthy appearance. I would, however, make especial exception of unfortunate children who live down below Thames water-mark—Wandsworth way. It has often made my heart ache to watch the poor little ricketty creatures in those regions which are, as it were, the Pontine Marshes of London. They live, or rather stagger on through a few years of life in rows of houses with palings before them, incrusted with some green deposit which I am unable to describe by its scientific name. The back-yards abut upon each other; you commonly pass in upon the rows through turnstiles, the advantage of which I could never explain to myself, for certainly they are of no kind of use for keeping the poor little green children within bounds. On the contrary, these little human fungi cling to them like limpets to a rock, or if the sun one day shines with unusual fervour upon Paradise Row or Paragon Buildings, the creatures display their exhilaration of spirits by walking upon them, and twisting round them, and cultivating the science of callisthenics according to their feeble means. Alas! for the children of the poor, when the poor live below the Thames water-mark. Things, I believe, are in a somewhat better condition now; but when I knew the place it was full of open sewers and various forms of liquid abomination. When these were in a seething state, and covered with globules of gas under a July or August sun, the appeal to the senses was forcible but unsatisfactory. Nor did the ebb and flow of the tide make things better. The cruel time, as the medical men in those regions will tell you, was in the interval between the aggrandisement of the town in that direction and the introduction of improved systems of sewerage. So long as the place was only a filthy, ill-kept outskirt of London, there were hedge-rows and half-and-half country spots to which the children could betake themselves, and carry on the manufacture of dirt-pies under comparatively healthy conditions. It was, however, a terrible thing when the little Britons were bricked in, and compelled to carry on their scrofulous sports round the edges of open sewers. What a dreary business it was to watch them at their sluggish play; and how thin, shrill-voiced, big-boned women, who always appeared to be in a frenzy, would rush forward and with a few cuffs—to put a little spirit in them, I suppose—drag them to their wretched homes. There you might see them again crawling in and out of the mouldy houses in a listless way, or probably there would be one hollow-eyed little fellow who had got his cuffing over, and therefore was comparatively comfortable, sitting in the dirt before the paternal mansion with his back to the wall, and looking out upon vacancy in a speculative way.
Happily this description does not apply to the greatest portion of London. The children of the poor are to all appearance dirty, but healthy. It may well be that the explanation of this fact is that they are allowed to remain so long in the open air every day, chasing each other about the markets, or “overing” the posts according to their own pleasure. The London children soon gain a look of excessive sharpness, probably from the difficulty of solving the great halfpenny question with which they are brought face to face at a very early period of their existence. In my own quarter of the town—and no Londoner can pretend to an intimate knowledge of more than his own quarter—I have scores of little ragged friends whose ways of life I have daily opportunities of watching. What infinite pains they will take—what superhuman exertions they will make to earn the smallest coin! I know the exact corners where they will go to play it away at “buttons” when they have given themselves so much trouble to earn it. Of course this is not what takes place in the good-boy books, but it takes place in the streets of London. Had I been the son of a costermonger, and kicked by my parent out of the family residence at about seven a.m., and had I succeeded in earning a few halfpence by standing in the way of rich people who ride in cabs, or by turning wheels by the side of an omnibus, I believe I should have bought an eel-pie and a nice slice of greasy pudding, and risked the remainder of my earnings at “buttons.” There could but be a thrashing when one got home, and my papa could not have thumped the eel-pie, and the pudding, and the enjoyment I had derived from “buttons” out of me. What a singular thing it is that the little fellows—the progeny of professional beggars apart, who are brought up to the trade—so seldom beg of the passers-by. They are eager enough to render uncalled-for and unwelcome service, and to claim a reward, but that is purely a commercial transaction.
This is curious in a small and collateral way; but the real wonder is the enormous number of the London children. I don’t believe a word of the Registrar-General’s return. I have no kind of confidence in those Census papers which are occasionally distributed at our houses. In point of fact, when I know how the cook and housemaid at Gamma Lodge set the laws of their country at defiance upon the occasion of the last returns, and yet have not been sent to Newgate or the Tower—neither has the Attorney-General done anything to their prejudice in an ex officio way—how is it possible to have confidence on more critical points? Cook is fifty-seven years of age, if she is a day; she represented herself as twenty~six. Betty is a Particular Baptist, but returned herself as a member of the Establishment, because she considered it more genteel. Go and number the sands of the sea-shore, or the gnats who fly round your head on a summer’s evening, and you may be able to number the children of London. They ooze out from the pavement; they settle on the windows of the humblest apartments like flies. You can’t drive in a cab at a moderate speed down any of the London streets for fear of crushing a score or two of them under the horse’s feet. There is not a blind alley which is not choked with them. There is scarcely a shop where eatables are sold where they may not be discerned flattening their noses against the window-panes, and enjoying the pleasures of gastronomy in a vicarious way. It was but the other day I was lingering fondly about the Seven Dials, a locality which suits my humour on account of the bird-shops and the Celtic population, as well as from historic recollections, when on a sudden I became aware that I was afflicted with a plague of children. The place was crowded, but the children out-numbered the adults as two to one. I do not believe that the Seven Dials have any peculiar advantage in this respect.
It should also be remembered that we are only taking into calculation the children of the very poor. Petty tradesfolk of a very humble order indeed would not suffer their children to be running loose about the streets. These you may see on working days—at least the boys—returning from the schools at which they are imbibing the sweet rules of Practice and the French conjugations, generally with their arms round each other’s necks. Their little sisters are for the most part at boarding-schools, between certain limits of age, as say ten and fourteen; before and afterwards they are kept religiously at home under the maternal wing. Of course “genteel” children are out of the question. They are not allowed to swell the ranks of my dear little friends, the London Bedouins, a race with which I protest I have more sympathy than with the more orderly classes whose minds have been all set to Greenwich time, and who are really little better than incarnate formulaæ, or machines.
It would require a treatise especially devoted to the subject to give an accurate and scientific idea of the street children of London. There are the child-thieves, the child-beggars, the child-loungers, the child-tradesmen; or, more properly speaking, the trades-children; the child-wheels, the child-messengers, the child-sportsmen; or, say again, rather, the sports-children;—the Savoyard children who live by white-mice; the child-sweeps, and fifty other divisions which I must suggest rather than indicate. Every interest which is in full play amongst adults, equally stirs the child-mind of London. In the case of the children we can philosophise about them, and weigh and measure the value of their proceedings. The same thing might be done about ourselves by Beings slightly elevated above us in the scale of intelligence. I wonder how the idlers, and the lawyers who are killing themselves by overwork; and the spendthrifts, and the gentlemen in the City who spend dreary and dyspeptic existences in order to accumulate fortunes which their sons will dissipate, would come out of the trial, if they were tried by similar tests. Lilliput has its Gulliver; Gulliver his Brobdingnag;—we have a little advantage over the children,—let us therefore rejoice, and be wise at their expense.
The mimicry amongst them of adult-life is seen in the smallest as in the greatest things. Observe how they follow the fashion. Albert paletôts and tunics with wide sleeves, and the last thing in trowsers, and wide-awake hats, &c. &c., infallibly come upon the streets in last resort, and are imitated in rags. Of course there is a depth of ragdom where form and colour never penetrate; but speaking of a stratum in child-society, a little above this we shall find that the adult fashions, of about two years ago, now prevail there. It is clear that the little fellows can’t be dressed in the cast-off clothes of their superiors of the same age—for that is a question of child-fashion, and they do not imitate that. It is just as certain that little ragged Dick at the corner of the mews is not wearing the discarded apparel of the attorney’s clerk or medical student—modo et formâ , for that would be too big for his small limbs. There must have been a deliberate intention amongst the children of following the fashions prevailing amongst men. How far are the authorities at home concerned in this matter? I think I see indications of the mother’s pride, and the mother’s hand.
Another very curious feature of the London streets—as far as the children are concerned—is the recent praise-worthy attempt to inaugurate the reign of a child bourgeoisie. One would suppose that an infantine Louis Philippe had been abroad proclaiming the triumph of the middle-classes. Look at that little sturdy member of the Shoe-Black Brigade! What a microscopic representative he is of the pursy respectability of Ludgate Hill. With what an evil eye he regards the proceedings of the groups of little Bedouins who are devoting themselves to the too-fascinating game of “buttons” on the church-steps! He knows they will never come to any good. You see ledgers in his eye, as he pulls the halfpence he has earned from underneath his dirty apron, and whistles “a penny saved is a penny got” with variations. I am sure, if he could, he would send the little gamblers to a Reformatory after a severe preliminary lecture on the advantages of industry and self-control. He is a budding churchwarden—an alderman in the egg.
So many wise and excellent people seem to think it all right that children should be at once converted into men—have men’s opportunities—and be judged by the tests which we apply to the performances of manhood—that I suppose this movement should be cause for rejoicing to us all. I confess I have scruples. Children, I have always thought, should be children; and men, men. There is danger else that the man-child may become a child-man. In the condition of life in which I have been born, I have never known infantine or youthful prodigies come to much good. At three or four and twenty the hares are told out, and the poor stupid tortoises come lumbering along—and in real life, as in the fable, are for the most part best placed at the end of the race. As I have stood watching the demeanor and proceedings of those little Shoe-Black heroes, I have often wondered what manner of men they would turn out when twenty years have passed over their round smutty faces. Look at the poor little children who are obliged to work in the factories till they become just so many cogs and wheels in the cotton-spinning machine. In the agricultural districts again, I do not find that the human intelligence is improved by the process of putting children to work at seven, six, and even five years of age. The thing may be a hard necessity, and therefore not admit of discussion; but I cannot, as you would say, look on with a cheerful heart when I find poor children working hard whom I would much rather see devoting their energies to “corners” or prisoner’s base. I am told that the benevolent patrons of this movement have taken great care that every opportunity should be given to the sturdy little burghers of improving their minds in ragged schools, evening schools, night schools, Sunday schools. When do they play? Only conceive blacking shoes all day, and fagging all night at big A, little b, and the multiplication-table, and the course of the River Jordan; and the subject of the experiment a child of eight or nine years of age!
Still knowing, as I do too well, the child-misery of the London streets, I would not do more than enter a hesitating protest in favour of poor Jack as to the all-work-and-no-play system. It may be the best that can be done for him; and let us all be thankful that there are men amongst us who have influence, and leisure, and money, and above all kind hearts, who will look after the interests of these diminutive waifs and strays—these small flotsams and jetsams of the great human family. Their ultimate fate may not be as bright as I should wish it to be, but I know of something far worse—it is the short career of the little ricketty offspring of gin-drinking parents.
It must have sucked in vitriol, adulterated with morbid humours, even from the moment it first opened its unfortunate blinking eyes upon men and things in general. It is then used as an instrument for stimulating the benevolence of soft-hearted people, and secretly pinched to make it squall by the drunken virago in the tattered cloak. It is not difficult to note the further progress in life of the poor little victim. The forms of misery of course are various—here is one.
Not very long since I used to pass every night by the low wall which girds in the churchyard of St. Martin’s church. In the winter time, when the snow lay thick on the ground, there were nightly seated there in the snow, and against the wall, two wretched little children, who crouched and nestled against each other for shelter as well as they could. Sometimes the snow would fall thickly upon them; and at first as you passed along you might have mistaken them for a heap of something which had accumulated there, and been covered by snow. The two creatures had been placed there by their parents or owners to excite the commiseration of the passers by; and any trifle that might be given to them was instantly seized and confiscated by one or other of these wretches who were lurking close at hand.
At last they disappeared: I never knew what became of them.
This was just the hey-day time of plum-puddings and Christmas-trees, and Twelfth Night drawings for king and queen; when the bright rosy-cheeked children in velvet tunics and curious frills were in the full swing of infantine mirth and jollity. I would not deprive them of a single taper, or of a morsel of their cake; still might it not be well if even then some little memento were introduced to remind them of their poor little brothers and sisters without? I don’t exactly want the pastrycook’s art to be taxed for the production in sugar of the two forms of the two children in the snow; for I am sure that Johnny with the best intentions would hand one of them to Louisa, and then the two children would look each other gravely in the face, and bite off the heads of the two abandoned ones, without much thought of St. Martin’s church. They would look at the incident solely from a gastronomic point of view. Still it might be done. If the Egyptian revellers introduced the figure of a skeleton at their banquets to remind the adult revellers of Death; a hint might well be given to the children at a Christmas feast, that there is such a thing as poverty in the world, and that it presses sharply upon poor little creatures as little fitted to contend with the world as they are themselves.
I have particularly noticed two points at which rich children and poor children are brought into contact in the streets of London. I should not infer, from what I have seen, that the spectacle of the struggles and longings of his little fellow-creatures is very impressive to the mind of young Dives. How often it happens, when a carriage is drawn up in front of a silk-mercer’s shop, and mama inside is engaged in the purchase of a silken dress, that you see it filled with bright pleasant children’s faces. There is no doubt here that the small people who are out taking carriage exercise were put to bed each in her or his little white nest at about eight p.m. last night; that at seven a.m., or thereabouts, they were roused from their slumbers by a bevy of handmaidens and nurses—the careful housemaids of that small human furniture—who rubbed, and scrubbed, and polished them up to the best point of perfection, and parted their hair with straight “walks;” and they were made to kneel down and lisp their prayers for papa and mama and their daily bread, which latter supplication was habitually answered in a very satisfactory way. Then all but little Emily and the baby went down to breakfast in the dining-room with Mr. and Mrs. Dives, and carried on negotiations with more or less success for the tops and bottoms of eggs, and stray comforts in the shape of an odd spoonful of jam or marmalade. Then the lessons began, under the mild auspices of Miss Pansy; but the rudiments of science and literature had been so marvellously lightened by the labours of ingenious artists, that in truth philosophy in sport was made jest in earnest. Then the little Divites went to play. The contents of a toy-shop were at their disposal. Tommy set up his leaden soldiers—the only restriction upon his military independence being that he was not to suck the Sappers and Miners, nor stick the points of the weapons weilded by the Lancers into Mary Jane’s eye. Mary Jane took to her magnetic ducks; and little Horace summoned Shem, Ham, and Japhet, in their brilliant long coats, from the ark, to give an account of their stewardship. Then came one o’clock, and the legs of mutton, and the rice puddings, and dear mama again. Yes; they should be taken out for a drive in the carriage; and it was very true that a considerable period had elapsed since their stock of toys had been renewed; and if they would only make the sacrifice of being good and patient whilst their mama selected a dress at Messrs. Tulle and Sarsnet’s, their just remonstrances should receive practical attention at the new German toy-shop.
The carriage is drawn up in front of the establishment of those eminent silk-mercers. A fresh, country-looking young woman, tidily dressed, is seated on the front seat holding the fat baby on her lap—the baby in question being got up to a very dangerous point with feathers and laces and a long blue riding-habit sort of thing. Little Emily, also splendidly attired, but in a manner more fitted to her maturer years, is gravely sucking a finger of her glove—whilst Mary Jane, with all the aplomb and decision of a small woman, is endeavouring to keep the boys quiet, as these young gentlemen are playing at “castle” on the back seat of the carriage—Horace, the defending party, being at that moment in imminent danger from the vigorous manner in which his brother Thomas is pressing the siege. At this moment the combat is stopped by the appearance on the pavement of two apparitions which you would suppose to be two sets of the emblem of the Isle of Man in motion. Two young gentlemen are, in point of fact, endeavouring to earn an honest livelihood by being “wheels.” Their day has been spent in a very different way from that of the occupants of the carriage.
I fear they took their rest in the Adelphi Arches, as they had, “in a moment of excitement,” played away the amount of the previous day’s gains at pitch-and-toss, and consequently were unable to meet the demand for their night’s lodging at the “tight rope” which they usually patronised—that establishment being conducted strictly upon the “ready money” system. They had turned out from their airy caravanserai at a very early hour on the chance that something might turn up to their advantage. Nothing had turned up. Consequently they had stood for about half-an-hour in the immediate neighbourhood of a “saloop-stall,” with watering mouths, longing for a steaming cup of that fragrant liquid, and for a thick slice of bread and butter. They could not get it: they were consequently enabled at a subsequent period to enter upon their professional duties in admirable condition. They are, indeed, little else than dirty legs and small black heads. The less said about their clothing the better—for certainly the first act of any one who took them in hand would be to strip them of those filthy rags and chuck them into the fire. Now, do you suppose that Tommy and Horace in the carriage have the smallest idea of the significance of those human wheels in the mud? Not they! I will be bound to say if they have any feeling at all upon the subject, it is one of envy towards the fortunate individuals who are able to accomplish such feats in so masterly a way.
Come again to the window of this fashionable pastry-cook—it is somewhere in the neighbourhood of Charing Cross. See the little rich patricians inside laying the foundations of Rich Man’s Gout, and the little plebeians outside, flattening their noses against the window-panes, and, whether they like it or not, also laying upon their side the foundations of Poor Man’s Gout. I confess that the new theory—at least it was so to me—of gout is indescribably satisfactory. I like to think that rich and poor—the capitalist and the beggar—the bishop and the curate, must meet at last in the same form of suffering; unless, indeed, the rich man, the capitalist, or the bishop, has had bowels of compassion for his struggling, sorrowful fellow-creatures—in which case may his years be long, and painless, and when he has at last accomplished the period of man’s pilgrimage, may he gently fall asleep amidst the blessings and tears of all around him! Look at that fat, stupid boy inside—his cheeks all sticky with raspberry jam—he is doomed. I see him at forty-three years of age with bloated cheeks waddling along, and fumbling with a dinner-pill in his waistcoat-pocket. Look at that eager little girl who is slobbering down the custard, but with her eye upon a three-cornered cranberry-tart. The thin long boy has partaken of two sausage rolls, and innumerable tartlets, and he is now washing them down with ginger beer. Ah! young gentleman, there will come a day of reckoning for these things: Far better would it have been to commit half the duty of digestion to one of those small dirty parties outside, to whom a Bath bun would have been a foretaste of Paradise. Poor little things!—how eager and intent they are!—how their eyes follow the acts of the mid-day revellers as they plunge their fingers into the labyrinth of tarts, and—so help me Jellies and Blancmanges—they feel the first crunch of the happy-one’s teeth all up their hungry spines. You see they interchange rapid glances as a fresh tart is chosen, and then their attention becomes keen again, and they watch its gradual demolition with a look of Egyptian fixedness. Now may all bright fortunes follow on that little lady’s path in life who has interchanged some few words with her mother, I suppose, and has taken the open raspberry tart to the poor little cripple outside! May all good attend upon her as she passes on her gentle way through life—happy and shedding happiness around her! It is but a child’s act if you will; but she does not give herself the airs of a patroness, nor wait to be thanked, but runs back to her mother as half ashamed of what she had done. The little cripple does not seem to know what to make of it, but holds it up in an appealing way to his ragged grimy sister who is looking after him. He would, I think, only that his wits do not work quickly, transfer the responsibilities of the tart, with its delights, to her, only he lets the moment for action fly past. She encourages him to proceed with his labours, and the little Bedouins gather round to see Limping Bob perform the feat of disposing of the tart. They lick the smut on their hands as though it were jam, and encourage him to proceed. I had almost feared that when he had taken the first bite, and animal passion had obtained the mastery over him, he would in the delirium of the moment have forgotten everything in the world save the sensation of raspberry jam. No, he is not quite half way through the tart, and his infantine sense of justice whispers to him that enough is done. As he leans on his crutches he holds the tart up to his sister—there is the mark in the jam of his last bite—and says in a husky, undemonstrative way, “Now, Jenny, you have a go-in!” There was something in Adam after all!
Dear me—here I am, well-nigh arrived at the end of my allotted tether, and it seems to me that I have only just begun to talk to you about London children. I had wanted to tell you all about the child-crowds which gather round Punch, and how they look round to the parlour windows to see if their child-betters are taking their jokes:—and about the processions for beating the bounds, when my little friends are so grand with their banners and flags;—and about the babies in the perambulators, who have determinations of blood to their large heads, whilst the nurse-maids are flirting with the tall Horse Guards who sit by their sides sucking the nobs of their rattans;—and how angry the old gentlemen get when the perambulators are run over their dear old toes;—and about the Fifth of November, when all my sympathies are with the merry crowd who
see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot;—
and about the Blue Coat Boys, and the Sons of the Clergy upon their Great Field Day at St. Paul’s;—and what the little boys say to the Grenadiers at St. James’s Palace, and the tall Life Guards (Blue) at the Horse Guards, and how those men of war lose their warlike tempers, only it isn’t any use,—they can’t desert their posts, and they can’t shoot my young friends down on the spot;—and about the naughty little boys who, when I take I my favourite chesnut charger to Rotten Row, are so anxious to know “if I have left the key of the animal at home,” and “why I do not get inside him.” Well, well, it is no use, my friends, we have talked together awhile about London children,—now each of you add something of his own, and so you will fill up my shortcomings. Only let me say, in conclusion, that I hope we shall all be always very gentle and considerate in our conduct to these little miniature Adams and Eves—for we can do somewhat for Childhood and Youth—it is more difficult to be of service to our fellow-creatures afterwards. They will then take their own way, and sometimes they had better not. But we can keep children out of scrapes, and make the first years of their lives bright and happy.