« VorigeDoorgaan »
elicited in the interval; and, first putting a few simple questions to the child as to the nature of an oath, which she answered satisfactorily, he swore her to the truth of what she had already said, and was about to say in reply to any questions asked.
The case, as the coroner observed, was the simplest that could possibly occur. From the replies of the child, we learned the following facts, exemplifying, I have` no doubt, the history of multitudes of the countless army of workers for daily bread, except in the extreme suddenness of the death, which made the circumstance legally amenable to investigation under a coroner's warrant. The deceased had been employed for many years by a manufacturer in the City, and was highly respected for his sobriety and industry. On the Wednesday before the inquest, which was held on a Monday, he had come home unexpectedly at two in the afternoon, complaining of great difficulty in breathing, and, requesting his wife to make him some tea, had gone to bed. Having drank a little, he said he wished very much for a quiet sleep, and desired his wife not to let the children make a noise. The deponent, the eldest but one of the children, of which there were eight, alone remained with the mother at his bedside. The mother requested him to "have the doctor," but he refused to do so, and leaning back on his pillow, as though very, very weary, fell asleep. He remained silent for about an hour, and then commenced breathing heavily (the child described it as "snoring in his breast"). After some time he was again silent; when his wife, observing that his head lay very low in the bed, rose to place a pillow beneath it, and was horror-struck at finding him cold and stiffening. Medical aid was immediately summoned, but all too late; he had been dead nearly an hour. The stertorous breathing was the sole evidence of his last agony. He was sixty-three years of age; his wife, who was five-and-twenty years younger, was on the point of giving birth to a ninth child, and could not attend
the inquest. The elderly female I had taken for the mother of the child, was a kind and simple-hearted neighbour, whose evidence merely corroborated that of the child, and gave proof of her own genuine feeling and tender sympathy.
The witnesses being desired to withdraw, we proceeded to deliberate upon the verdict. It was not considered necessary to have a post-mortem examination. The coroner, an approved medical practitioner himself, assured us there was nothing suspicious or even unusual in the case. The poor man had doubtless died of disease of the heart, or of apoplexy—a dissection might decide which. But of what use or import was it to know? The immediate cause of his death might, perhaps, be found in the extreme exposure to cold to which he had subjected himself on the morning of his decease; it having come out in evidence that he had mistaken the hour, and rose at half-past three o'clock in the morning, instead of six, in his anxiety to be early at work during a press of business. Not thinking it worth while to go to bed again for so short a time, he had sat without fire for more than a couple of hours before proceeding to his employment.
We could do nothing better than adopt the suggestion of the coroner, and agree to the verdict of "Death from natural causes," which was accordingly done.
It was surprising how suddenly the face of things now changed. Everybody rose and buttoned up his great-coat, and donned his gloves, and bared the right hand again to sign the document, half printed, half written, containing the verdict, and then departed without ceremony; so hastily, indeed, that I saw more than one return for walking-sticks or umbrellas forgotten in their anxiety to be off. It was curious to see the different modes of handling the pen; some, delighting in their dashing autograph and flourish, made signatures audible at twenty yards distance; others, with careful deliberation, in a manner printed their names,
legible for centuries. One slim, Adonis-like figure, whom I took for an artist, wrote the finest Italian hand with a pen which he produced from a gold " Mordan ;" his performance, however, was immediately buried under the signature of an old stager, who, having less perfect vision, inscribed with the gaping quill of the party, his own blotty patronymic immediately upon it. Next came our friend of poker and snuffbox celebrity. He was the last excepting myself, and twice he signalled me to precede him; but I was inexorable, and determined to inspect his caligraphy, cost what it would. Still he dallied, and looked wofully around him. It was plain he had not calculated upon this, and it was not till the coroner lifted his head to remind him of his duty, that, in desperation he seized the pen-could it possibly be for the first time in his life? I am afraid so. There it stood upright between the fingers of his clenched fist, dripping with ink (he had thrust it to the bottom of the wine-glass), and distilling drops more durable than precious. After many futile attempts to settle upon the right spot, he at length succeeded in the perpetration of a series of hieroglyphics that might have defied Champollion.
Having appended my own humble signature, I retreated to the corner I had hitherto occupied in search of hat and gloves. The little child who gave all the evidence we had heard was sitting by the window, and now sobbing violently, as if for the first time aware of the extent of her loss. The kind-hearted neighbour held one of her hands, and tried in vain to soothe and comfort her. After an equally vain attempt on my own part, I turned to withdraw, and found that the coroner had taken his flight with a precipitancy which I could only account for on the supposition of another sudden death-or a dinner. In his chair sat a stalwart drover, who rang the bell violently, and vociferated, as I descended the stairs, "Come, Betsy! serve up the steaks, and bring a pint of stout!"
LONDON SHOPS, OLD AND NEW.
THE shops of ancient London, by which we must be understood to mean the London of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, are described by a city historian as of "ane meane appearance"-consisting of an open shop, at the entrance of which stood the owner or his apprentice, and a solar," or upper chamber above, in which solar, it is more than probable, the proprietor resided with his household. The mercantile guilds, in our day so wealthy and prosperous, were then comparatively in their infancy, and struggling with debt and difficulties. When they became prosperous, the shops of London became splendid; but even then their magnificence was for a long time confined to a single locality. In the fifteenth century, there was a vast deal of wealth accumulated in the metropolis, but it was engrossed by comparatively few individuals. One of the most wealthy was Geoffrey Boleyn, a mercer in the Old Jewry. He was great-great-grandfather of Queen Elizabeth by her mother's side, and was lord mayor of London in 1457. In his time, the whole of the foreign and wholesale trade was confined to the hands of a few great capitalists; and some of the most illustrious families in the kingdom may trace their origin from men who were at that period London merchants. The oldest shops of which we have any particular account are those of the goldsmiths standing in Cheap, the modern Cheapside, of which the goldsmiths would seem to have had possession from time immemorial. Of these, the most remarkable by far is that which was built by Thomas Wood,
who was one of the sheriffs of London in the year 1491. Maitland describes it as the most beautiful frame and front of fair houses and shops that were within the walls of London, or elsewhere in England, commonly called Goldsmiths' Row, betwixt Bread Street end and the Cross in Cheap, but within Bread Street Ward. It contained in number ten dwelling-houses and fourteen shops, all in one frame, uniformly built four stories high, beautified towards the street with the goldsmiths' arms, and the likeness of woodmen, in memory of his (Thomas Wood's) name, riding on monstrous beasts; all which were cast in lead, richly painted over and gilt. These he gave to the goldsmiths, with stocks of money to be lent to young men having those shops, &c. This said front was again new painted and gilt over in the year 1594, Sir Richard Martin being then mayor, and keeping his mayoralty in one of them."
The example of Thomas Wood did not want imitators. New shops, worthy to vie with those he had erected, arose to complete his plan. As the city increased in wealth, it also increased in splendour. Cheapside, which was then of more than double the breadth it is now, was the scene of all processions and of royal or civic display. It was the centre of the shopocracy, and continued so to be almost up to the time of the great fire, which swept away its glory and magnificence for ever. King Charles I., it appears, took a special interest in the goldsmiths' shops in Cheap, as we learn from the following record of the year 1629:—“ At this time, the city greatly abounded in riches and splendour, such as former ages were unacquainted with. Then it was beautiful to behold the glorious appearance of goldsmiths' shops in the south row of Cheapside, which in a continued course reached from the Old Change to Bucklersbury, exclusive of four shops only of other trades in all that space." These four shops were an offence to the royal eye, and gave rise to an order from the privy-council, which we abbreviate thus: