Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

One of the chapters which appears to be most to the life must supply us with a subject and a delineation : it is that in which the Editor sets out with Godfrey in quest of lodging, the twain crossing to the Surrey side of the Thames :

They walked arm-in-arm through the city, passed Temple-bar, and crossed Waterloo-bridge ; “that bridge of sighs

to many a shareholder. Their walk was a very pleasant one, for the editor was rich in anecdote, knew many of the faces they met; and our hero was astonished when he saw that some of the first men of the day plodded their way through the streets on foot, and mingled unnoticed in the passing crowd. And this, thought Godfrey, is London! for they had met more than one individual, who would not have passed through the borough of Buttervote withont a crowd following at their heels; but here they walked with their cloaks wrapped around them, and not a head was turned to mark their passing by. And Godfrey shrank within himself; he thought of the extended hands which were ever ready to welcome him in the borough; but no one knew him there ! A poet, a prince, or a pauper, might just be elbowed in the self-same crowd, and not an eye turn round in astonishment. He saw how very great a man might be considered in some very little town, and yet be known to nobody in London ; that the mayor of Buttervote might walk from Chelsea to Whitechapel, and not a living soul know how great a man he was in his own little borough.

And such is London ! in whose streets we have seen the Duke of Wellington, when walking, gather up the folds of his short cloak, that he might keep clear of some “innocent blackness,” and not run down a poor sweep;-have seen Godwin, the author of “ Caleb Williams," waiting in a low entry among apple-women and "looped and windowed raggedness," until the shower abated. Your truly great men carry not their own grandeur; the world is their servant, and they toss their great-coats to it. They carry not an unnecessary garment; when they need it, it is there-a thousand hands are ready to put it on.

They had by this time reached Stamford-street ; and as there was rather a "taking” look about some of the houses, Godfrey expressed his inclination to locate there; but the editor had some idea of what a first-floor respectably furnished amounted to per week, so they struck more to the right, and into Lambeth.

There is a way of doing things in London very different to what you see elsewhere, especially in the lodging-letting department.

In a country town you see a dirty piece of paper stuck in the window, with four red wafers, which tells you bluntly and boldly that there were either " lodgings to let,” or

good beds for travellers." Not so in a decent lodging-letting, goodlooking, London street. There you are informed in gold letters, on a shining black or blue ground, surrounded with a neat-looking frame, that there are "genteel apartments to let for a gentleman." Or, perchance, you see written, in a very neat hand, on a richly embossed card, deeply fringed with riband, and looking quite like an ornament to the window, "apartments to let respectably furnished ;" or still neater and more astounding, “a back bed-room for a gentleman, with the use of the parlour :" which means that if

a friend calls he can be shown into the parlour, until you can show him into the back bed-room ; for the use of the parlour” is at the service of every lodger in the house for a few minutes, and you take

your

“turp" as they do in a barber's shop. And should your friend stay too long, a voice is soon heard in the passage, exclaiming, “Gentlemen who keep company, should pay for a sitting-room, and not let people wait about in this manner.”

They surveyed several apartments, and those who had really anything respectable to let, asked two guineas per week for a first floor, which included attendance ; and which attendance signified, that the poor little dirty Cinderella who opened the door, and did every thing, was to wait upon the first-floor lodgers (as well as the other half-dozen who already domiciled under the roof) when she had time. And, oh! the variety of beds, the real beds, the apologies for beds, and the concealed beds. Godfrey saw, in the course of the day, the bold four-poster, the cheap-looking tent, French-bedsteads without end, sofas, drawers, wardrobes, and the downright undisguised turn-up, where a servant might sleep, after she had worked until she could no longer keep her eyes open; and he thought that they knew well how to make the most of room in London.

“You find things look rather different here to what they do in the country ?" said the editor, as they again continued their search. “There is very little of that true homely English comfort to be found in such places as these. A real, downright London lodging-letting house is one of the most uncomfortable places in the civilized world. I mean one of those where the landlord lives by his lodgers, and is so good a hand at his business that he contrives to change them every week. Such houses as these are nearly all alike. I never enter one without feeling cold; there is not a single thing in the place that you can call your own. They were used by another the day before you came, and, probably, another takes possession the day after you have gone; and neither the landlord nor landlady cares who or what they were, so long as they are paid. All the chimney-pieces seem to me to be alike; they are ornamented with a number of little white dogs, birds, baskets, and shells, all looking like lumps of ice; and these the poor little dirty, half-fed servant girl, has to dust every morning. If you chance to get up a little earlier than usual, you have to sit down and look on while she dusts them. I always feel a strong inclination to throw such useless trumpery out of the window. And the fire-irons look so cold and bright, they make you feel as if you were freezing. They always stand in the same position; it pains you to see them so long in the same place; and were you to remove them only an inch, when you came back you would find them standing in the self-same spot as they did before. As for the fire, you might carry it all away in your hat without burning yourself. Then there is sure to be a mirror over the mantel-piece, the frame covered with gauze. You would feel much more comfortable if the mirror was but cracked; you might then think that somebody or another had been merry in that cheerless room ; but there are no signs of any one having played or romped there, no marks of restless children's hands to tell that they have used things as if they were their own, for they rarely let apartments to those who have chil. dren; the moody, the thoughtful, and the silent, are their favourites. Even the table-cover is free from grease ; there is no drop of ink upon it,

although it is nearly worn threadbare. As for the chairs and carpets, you feel half-afraid either to sit down on the one, or tread upon the other. Then your breakfast, they bring it up on a half-worn tray,- bread, butter, tea, half cold, and a rasher of bacon that looks as if it had been laid in the sun to warm, It comes and goes, and what is left, diminishes somehow in the dark kitchen below; for what could the poor hungry servant do, were it not for the lodgers? If a friend comes in on an evening, to take a glass of grog with you, you ring the bell; and after a long interval, the servant appears :--ten to one, if you want hot water, the fire is out. I always prefer cold grog, when I visit any of my friends in these trim abodes of misery. As for a cigar, -where could you shake off the ashes !--not on those cold bright fire irons ; not on that clean, threadbare carpet: no! there is no home-feeling about such places. Then your bill at the end of the weekyou know to a minute when it will be brought in; it is sure to be served up with the cold tea, and the sun-warmed bacon at breakfast ; and Heaven help the lodger who cannot pay it! They watch you as if you were a thief; you no sooner go out, than they are up in your rooms, to see whether you have taken anything or not: they count the white dogs, and the birds, and the little baskets, to see that you have not carried any off in your pockets. To be friends with any one under their roof, is against their principles; for, once familiar, they would begin to suspect that you wanted to run into debt: then with what face could they bully you for the money, if you did not pay to the day? They like your quiet, sullen, saucylooking lodger the best ; one who, when he goes out, slams the door in their faces, as if to say, “D-n you, I pay."

The Editor pictures a more captivating dwelling:They knocked at the door ; and were admitted by the landlady herself, -a stout, red-faced woman, but exceedingly polite. She had a first floor to let,-a sitting-room and bed-room; the terms, one guinea per week. They looked at the apartments, and found them very neatly furnished : the sitting-room contained a sofa, eight chairs, (two of them with arms,) two tables, carpet, hearth-rug, fender, fire irons, a mirror, coal-skuttle, and shells on the mantel-piece, with a few prints, framed and glazed, on the walls. The bed-room had a very comfortable look about it; it contained a bed, a chest of drawers, wash-hand stand, and a painted dressing-table, with a looking-glass upon it. Godfrey struck a bargain at once, and paid a week's rent in advance, which saved all trouble about a reference. This guinea a-week included the attendance of Cinderella, who was busied in the kitchen, washing.

Mr. Miller, with scenes and subjects of the above metropolitan description, may be advantageously compared with Boz, who to our thinking overlays his pictures, and fatigues you with a wire-drawn tediousness and endlessly minute touches, to the marring of nature and general effect. In Martin Chuzzlewit he is stale also, even as respects the repetition of himself: nor, were we closely to bring him into parallelism with the Basket-maker, should we wish for a better

illustration than by adducing those strained chapters which affect to describe London lodging-houses. Want of space, however, forbids this method of balancing the merits of the writers; and therefore we must content ourselves with an available passage or two of moderate extent and happier execution, although considerable effort be used to produce striking results. First, an autumnal evening :

It was pretty late in the autumn of the year, when the declining sun, struggling through the mist which had obscured it all day, looked brightly down upon a little Wiltshire village, within an easy journey of the fair old town of Salisbury.

Like a sudden flash of memory or spirit kindling up the mind of an old man, it shed a glory upon the scene, in which its departed youth and freshness seemed to live again. The wet grass sparkled in the light; the scanty patches of verdure in the hedges--where a few green twigs yet stood together bravely, resisting to the last the tyranny of nipping winds and early frosts—took heart and brightened up; the stream, which had been dull and sullen all day long, broke out into a cheerful smile ; the birds began to chirp and twitter on the naked boughs, as though the hopeful creatures half believed that winter had gone by and spring had come already. The vane upon the tapering spire of the old church glistened from its lofty station in sympathy with the general gladness; and from the ivy-shaded windows such gleams of light shone back upon the glowing sky, that it seemed as if the quiet buildings were the hoarding-place of twenty summers, and all their ruddiness and warmth were stored within.

Even those tokens of the season which emphatically whispered of the coming winter, graced the landscape, and, for the moment, tinged its livelier features with no oppressive air of sadness. The fallen leaves with which the ground was strewn gave forth a pleasant fragrance, and, subduing all harsh sounds of distant feet and wheels, created a repose in gentle unison with the light scattering of seed hither and thither by the distant husbandman, and with the noiseless passage of the plough as it turned up the rich brown earth and wrought a graceful pattern in the stubble fields. On the motionless branches of some trees, autumn-berries hung like clusters of coral beads, as in those fabled orchards where the fruits were jewels ; others, stripped of all their garniture, stood, each the centre of its little heap of bright red leaves, watching their slow decay; others again, still wearing theirs, had them all crunched and crackled up, as though they had been burnt ; about the stems of some were piled, in ruddy mounds, the apples they had borne that year; while others (hardy evergreens this class) showed somewhat stern and gloomy in their vigour, as charged by Nature with the admonition that it is not to her more sensitive and joyous favourites she grants the longest term of life. Still athwart their darker boughs the sun-beams struck out paths of deeper gold ; and the red light, mantling in among their swarthy branches, used them as foils to set its brightness off, and aid the lustre of the dying day.

A moment, and its glory was no more. The sun went down beneath the long dark lines of hill and cloud which piled up in the West an airy city, wall heaped on wall, and battlement on battlement ; the light was all withdrawn ;

[ocr errors]

the shining church tạrned cold and dark; the stream forgot to smile ; the birds were silent; and the gloom of winter dwelt on everything.

Take next a touch of oily sentimentality :

“ Tut, tut!" said Mr. Pecksniff, pushing his latest-born away, and running his fingers through his hair, as he resumed his tranquil face : “What folly is this! Let us take heed how we laugh without reason, lest we cry with it. What is the domestic news since yesterday ? John Westlock is gone, I hope ?"

"Indeed, no," said Charity.

“And why not ?" returned her father. “His term expired yesterday. And his box was packed, I know ; for I saw it, in the morning, standing in the hall."

"He slept last night at the Dragon," returned the young lady, "and had Mr. Pinch to dine with him. They spent the evening together, and Mr. Pinch was not home till very late."

“And when I saw him on the stairs this morning, Pa,” said Mercy, with her usual sprightliness, " he looked, oh, goodness, such a monster! with his face all manner of colours, and his eyes as dull as if they had been boiled, and his head aching dreadfully, I am sure, from the look of it, and his clothes smelling-oh it's impossible to say how strong, of"where the young lady shuddered—"of smoke and punch.

“Now I think," said Mr. Pecksniff, with his accustomed gentleness, though still with the air of one who suffered under injury without complaint, "I think Mr. Pinch might have done better than choose for his companion one who, at the close of a long intercourse, had endeavoured, as he knew, to wound my feelings. I am not quite sure that this was delicate in Mr. Pinch. I am not quite sure that this was kind in Mr. Pinch. I will go further, and say, I am not quite sure that this was even ordinarily grateful in Mr. Pinch.'

“But what can any one expect from Mr. Pinch ?" cried Charity, with as strong and scornful an emphasis on the name as if it would have given her unspeakable pleasure to express it, in an acted charade, on the calf of that gentleman's leg

Ay, ay," returned her father, raising his hand mildly; “it is very well to say what can we expect from Mr. Pinch: but Mr. Pinch is a fellowcreature, my dear; Mr. Pinch is an item in the vast total of humanity, my love; and we have a right-it is our duty—to expect in Mr. Pinch some development of those better qualities the possession of which in our own persons inspires our humble self-respect. No," continued Mr. Pecksniff; "no! Heaven forbid that I should say nothing can be expected from Mr. Pinch, or that I should say nothing can be expected from any man alive, (even the most degraded, which Mr. Pinch is not, no really); but Mr. Pinch has disappointed me; he has hurt me; I think a little the worse of him on this account, but not of human nature. Oh no, no !"

Capt. Knox is reputably known as the author of " Hardness," and other fictions. His novels have been so favourably received that he must have felt himself entitled to try his strength upon a story to be developed, moon after moon, and to dare criticism at the

« VorigeDoorgaan »