« VorigeDoorgaan »
births of London in a ratio considerably greater than the general proportion; while, on the other hand, although funerals are performed by the Messrs. Earthworm in the next street, "on a scale unprecedentedly low," the inhabitants still refuse to die in anything like encouraging numbers to reward the speculation of those enterprising tradesmen. The fact would appear to be that Strawberry Street is a healthy locality, in spite of its indifferent drainage, which is perhaps balanced by its standing on a gentle declivity; and in spite of its want of paving, for it has never been paved, unless a single line of flag-stones down the centre of the footways is to be called paving. Perhaps the mud of the rainy season is somewhat mitigated by the flocks of pet ducks which pick a living out of it somehow, along with a battalion of scrubby cockney fowls, much abbreviated in the articles of wing and tail, whose clucking and crowing, mingled with the barking of a band of ragged terriers, the clink and thump of tools, and the bawling, shouting, and laughter of innumerable weather-proof children, make up the music of the place. Perhaps the street is healthy because labour is healthy; and hard work for ten hours a day is the lot of most of its inhabitants, who, for the most part, do not look for any other.
We said at the outset that the history of Strawberry Street was like that of many a human subject. Have we not shown it to be so? Does not many a pretentious spark, who comes to London purposing to gratify all manner of ambitions, get shifted by fortune down, and down, and down the ladder of loftiness, step by step, until he feels a firm footing at last, it may be very near the lowest round, and finds his vocation where nature designed it for him, in doing what he is best fitted for? Yea, verily, for we have witnessed this descent a hundred times, and generations unborn shall witness it after us. Another point of resemblance: ask for Strawberry Street now, and you shall be told you mean
Strawby Street. Familiarity has knocked off a syllable from the designation. If Miss Montgomery had remained at No. 10 till this time, it is our opinion she had been lopped down to Gumry. So it is that, if you inquire for Mr. Robert Fitzwilliams, who came to town in '34, intending to be one day developed into a city alderman, you may chance to find him doing duty as "Bob Wills," on a policeman's beat, and shining only in a glazed hat.
GREAT PUBLIC QUESTIONS.
As a bachelor of fifty, given to solitary speculations upon men and things from the altitude of my two-pair back, and with leisure enough upon my hands to allow me to look at all things considerately and dispassionately, I possess more advantages for observation and reflection than every philosopher can boast of. I am not compelled to come to a conclusion upon every popular topic that turns up, before I have looked at both sides of it. When I find the morning paper, after Betty has aired it and hung it over the back of my chair, hammering away with the vigour of a Cyclops in favour of one particular course of proceeding, or set of men, and browbeating or bullying the other side, I am not under the necessity of letting myself be crammed with wind from the editor's force-pump, and exciting my nervous system in a disagreeable way. I can afford to let the matter rest awhile, and wait till that unprincipled faction has had its say in its turn, in the evening paper, or in to-morrow's; and then, if I choose, I can compare notes, and weigh one side against the other, and draw a conclusion, if it be worth while, which it generally is not.
It is wonderful what advantages I derive by the practice of this compensating system, and what a knowing old person I have the reputation of being, solely from adherence to so simple a plan. The beauty of it lies in the fact, that it enables you to clear off matters as you go, and reduces the amount of important material for judgment to the minimum point. A most surprising number of great public questions
have I either settled outright, or shelved for future settlement in the course of my time. I would name some of them, but that the catalogue might appear invidious, and give offence to many worthy people; and I am unwilling to be the cause of scandal to anybody to whom that designation is applicable. But-there are public questions of a kind which do not admit of thus being disposed of, for the simple reason that they are addressed point-blank to the reader personally-that there are no two sides about them, and that they call for a definite answer in a manner unmistakeably plain and candid. These questions have weighed for a considerable time upon my mind, and I have observed latterly that they are growing more numerous, more pointed, more personal. Their notes of interrogation have stared me in the face at the breakfast-table, in my after-dinner chair, at the tea-table, any time for this twelvemonth; and yet I have never set eyes on a syllable in response. Can it be that they are all addressed to me individually, and that the propounders are waiting for my answers all this while? it should be so, how discourteous and unsympathising must appear in their eyes by this time! Let me hasten to redeem my fault, and let my natural modesty stand in excuse for the slur which my neglect hitherto may have cast upon my character. I will answer your questions, O my persistently inquiring friends! as it becomes me to answer them, and to the best of my humble ability.
The first-because, according to the best of my recollection, it has the claim of longest standing-asks me rather curtly, "Do you want luxuriant hair and whiskers ?" I might object to this inquiry as a little too personal; but, waiving that, let me say that there was a time when I might have replied more feelingly to the interesting questionwhen I wanted no luxuriance either of hair or whiskers, but only the sanction of fashion to wear them. In the days of my pilous luxuriance, whiskers were remorselessly mown
down as fast as they appeared; and now that all the world is cultivating them, my crop is not worth cultivation. The best I can do is to compromise the matter by a kind of halfshave, and pass muster as well as I may. As to my hair, Time has thinned it somewhat; but they tell me that, phrenologically, I look none the worse for that. So, with many thanks, my good friend, I will decline the luxuriant hair and whiskers.
Somebody has been asking pertinaciously for a long time past, "Do you bruise your oats yet?" There is something suggestive and consolatory about the yet. At present, I am bound to say, I do not bruise my oats; and this is a painful confession, inasmuch as I have no oats to bruise. If I had been more sparing in the quantity which, with such pleasure, I sowed broadcast wherever I went thirty years ago, might have had some left to bruise at this present moment. As it is, I have no horses to eat oats-pauper et pedester sum-I ride on Shank's naggie, or in my "Favorite " 'bus, when business calls me abroad. As yet, that is. I shall live in hopes, on the suggestion of my inquiring friend; and if he can put me in the way of becoming the proprietor of oats, and the etceteras implied when "" your oats" are spoken of, I will undertake to bruise them with all my heart, and on his peculiar principle.
Somebody else asks seriously, "Do you double up your perambulators ?" No, sir; but last Sunday morning, as I was walking quietly to church, I was doubled up by a perambulator in a most shameful and scandalous manner. Whether the fat matron who propelled the abominable machine was an etymologist, and imagined that her perambulator was to walk clean through me, I don't know; but she drove the front-wheel right between my legs, and I woke suddenly out of a reverie to find myself sprawling over a couple of gigantic babies. It was a providence that the twins were fat, fleshy, and soft, and that I escaped with