Page images

or move.

Giles's, a drab in Fleet-Ditch, live in the eyes of millions, and eke out a dreary, wretched, scanty, or loathsome existence from the, gorgeous, busy, glowing scene around them. It is a common saying. among such persons that "they had rather be hanged in London than, die a natural death out of it any where else"-Such is the force of habit and imagination. Even the eye of childhood is dazzled and delighted with the polished splendour of the jewellers' shops, the neatness of the turnery ware, the festoons of artificial flowers, the confectionery, the chemists' shops, the lamps, the horses, the carriages, the sedan-chairs : to this was formerly added a set of traditional associations-Whittington and his Cat, Guy Faux and the Gunpowder Treason, the Fire and the Plague of London, and the Heads of the Scotch Rebels that were stuck on Temple Bar in 1745. These have vanished, and in their stead the curious and romantic eye must be content to pore in Pennant for the scite of old London-Wall, or to peruse the sentimental mile-stone that marks the distance to the place "where Hicks's Hall formerly stood !"

The Cockney lives in a go-cart of local prejudices and positive illusions ; and when he is turned out of it, he hardly knows how to stand

He ventures through Hyde Park Corner, as a cat crosses a gutter. The trees pass by the coach very oddly. The country has a strange blank appearance. It is not lined with houses all the way, like London. He comes to places he never saw or heard of. He finds the world is bigger than he thought it. He might have dropped from the moon, for any thing he knows of the matter. He is mightily disposed to laugh, but is half afraid of making some blunder. Between sheepishness and conceit, he is in a very ludicrous situation. He finds that the people walk on two legs, and wonders to hear them talk a dialect so different from his own. He perceives London fashions have got down into the country before him, and that some of the better sort are dressed as well as he is. A drove of pigs or cattle stopping the road is a very troublesome interruption. A crow in a field, a magpie in a hedge, are to him very odd animalse-he can't tell what to make of them, or how they live. He does not altogether like the accommodations at the inns—it is not what he has been used to in town.

He begins to be communicative—says he was “ born within the sound of Bow-bell," and attempts some jokes, at which nobody laughs. He asks the coachman a question, to which he receives no answer. All this is to him very unaccountable and unexpected. He arrives at his journey's end; and instead of being the great man he anticipated among his friends and country relations, finds that they are barely civil to him, or make a butt of him ; have topics of their own which he is as completely ignorant of as they are indifferent to what he says, so that he is glad to get back to London again, where he meets with his favourite indulgences and associates, and fancies the whole world is occupied with what he hears and sees.

A Cockney loves a tea-garden in summer, as he loves the play or the Cider-Cellar in winter—where he sweetens the air with the fumes of tobacco, and makes it echo to the sound of his own voice. This kind of suburban retreat is a most agreeable relief to the close and confined air of a city life. The imagination, long pent up behind a counter or between brick walls, with noisome smells, and dingy objects,

cannot bear at once to launch into the boundless expanse of the coumtry, but “shorter excursions tries,” coveting something between the two, and finding it at White-conduit House, or the Rosemary Branch, or Bagnigge Wells. The landlady is seen at a bow-window in near perspective, with punch-bowls and lemons disposed orderly around the lime-trees or poplars wave overhead to " catch the breezy air," through which, typical of the huge dense cloud that hangs over the metropolis, curls up the thin, blue, odoriferous vapour of Virginia or Oronooko-the benches are ranged in rows, the fields and hedge-rows spread out their verdure ; Hampstead and Highgate are seen in the back-ground, and contain the imagination within gentle limits-here the holiday people are playing ball; here they are playing bowls—here they are quaffing ale, there sipping tea—here the loud wager is heard, there the political debate. In a sequestered nook a slender youth with purple face and drooping head, nodding over a glass of gin toddy, breathes in tender accents—“ There's nought so sweet on earth as Love's

young dream ;” while “ Rosy Ann” takes its turn, and “ Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled” is thundered forth in accents that might wake the dead. In another part sit carpers and critics, who dispute the score of the reckoning or the game, or cavil at the taste and execution of the would-be Brahams and Ďurusets. Of this latter class was Dr. Goodman, a man of other times—I mean of those of Smollett and Defoe—who was curious in opinion, obstinate in the wrong, great in little things, and inveterate in petty warfare. I vow he held me an argument once an hour by St. Dunstan's clock,” while I held an umbrella over his head (the friendly protection of which he was unwilling to quit to walk in the rain to Camberwell) to prove to me that Richard Pinch was neither a fives-player nor a pleasing singer. “Sir," said he, “I deny that Mr. Pinch plays the game. He is a cunning player, but not a good one. I grant his tricks, his little mean dirty ways, but he is not a manly antagonist. He has no hit, and no lefthand. How then can be set up for a superior player ? And then as to his always striking the ball against the side-wings at Copenhagenhouse, Cavanagh, sir, used to say, “ The wall was made to hit at ! I have no patience with such pitiful shifts and advantages. They are an insult upon so fine and athletic a game! And as to his setting up for a singer, it's quite ridiculous. You know, Mr. H-, that to be a really excellent singer, a man must lay claim to one of two things; in the first place, sir, he must have a naturally fine ear for music, or secondly, an early education, exclusively devoted to that study. But no one ever suspected Mr. Pinch of refined sensibility; and his education, as we all know, has been a little at large. Then again, why should he of all other things be always singing “Rosy Ann," and “ Scots wha hae wi' Wallace bled," till one is sick of hearing them ? It 's preposterous, and I mean to tell him so.

You know, I'm sure, without my hinting it, that in the first of these admired songs, the sentiment is voluptuous and tender, and in the last patriotic. Now Pinch's romance never wandered from behind his counter, and his patriotism lies in his breeches' pocket. Sir, the utmost he should aspire to would be to play upon the Jews' harp!” This story of the Jews' harp tickled some of Pinch's friends, who gave him various hints of it, which nearly drove him mad, till he discovered what it was ;

would say.

for though no jest or sarcasm ever had the least effect upon him, yet he cannot bear to think that there should be any joke of this kind about him, and he not in the secret : it makes against that knowing character which he so much affects. Pinch is in one respect a complete specimen of a Cockney. He never has any thing to say, and yet is never at a loss for an answer. That is, his pertness keeps exact pace with his dulness. His friend, the Doctor, used to complain of this in good set terms." You can never make any thing of Mr. Pinch," he

Apply the most cutting remark to him, and his only answer is, ' The same to you, sir.' If Shakspeare were to rise from the dead to confute him, I firmly believe it would be to no purpose. I assure you, I have found it so. I once thought indeed I had him at a disadvantage, but I was mistaken. You shall hear, sir. I had been reading the following sentiment in a modern play—— The Road to Ruin,' by the late Mr. Holcroft—For how should the soul of Socrates inhabit he body of a stocking-weaver ?' This was pat to the point (you know our friend is a hosier and haberdasher). I came full with it to keep an appointment I had with Pinch, began a game, quarrelled with him in the middle of it on purpose, went upstairs to dress, and as I was washing my hands in the slop-basin (watching my opportunity) turned coolly round and said, 'It's impossible there should be any sympathy between you and me, Mr. Pinch: for as the poet says, how should the soul of Socrates inhabit the body of a stockingweaver ?Ay,' says he,' does the poet say so ? then the same to you, sir!' I was confounded, I gave up the attempt to conquer him in wit or argument. He would pose the Devil, sir, by his • The same to you, sir.'" We had another joke against Richard Pinch, to which the Doctor was not a party, which was, that being asked after the respectability of the Hole in the Wall, at the time that Randall took it, he answered quite unconsciously, “Oh! it's a very genteel place, I go there myself sometimes !" Dr. Goodman was descended by the mother's side from the poet Jago, was a private gentleman in town, and a medical dilettanti in the country, dividing his time equally between business and pleasure; had an inexhaustible flow of words, and an imperturbable vanity, and held “stout notions on the metaphysical score." He maintained the free agency of man, with the spirit of a martyr and the gaiety of a man of wit and pleasure about town--told me he had a curious tract on that subject by A. C. (Anthony Collins) which he carefully locked up in his box, lest any one should see it but himself, to the detriment of their character and morals, and put it to me whether it was not hard, on the principles of philosophical necessity, for a man to come to be hanged? To which I replied, " I thought it hard on any terms !" A knavish marker, who had listened to the dispute, laughed at this retort, and seemed to assent to the truth of it, supposing it might one day be his own case.

Mr. Smith and the Brangtons, in " Evelina,” are the finest possible examples of the spirit of Cockneyism. I once knew a linen-draper in the City, who owned to me he did not quite like this part of Miss Burney's novel. He said, “ I myself lodge in a first hoor, where there are young ladies in the house : they sometimes have company, and if I am out, they ask me to lend them the use of my apartment, which I readily do out of politeness, or if it is an agreeable party, I

perhaps join them. All this is so like what passes in the novel, that I fancy myself a sort of second Mr. Smith, and am not quite easy at it!" This was mentioned to the fair Authoress, and she was delighted to find that her characters were so true, that an actual person fancied himself to be one of them. The resemblance, however, was only in the externals; and the real modesty of the individual stumbled on the likeness to a city coxcomb!

It is curious to what a degree persons, brought up in certain occupations in a great city, are shut up from a knowledge of the world, and carry their simplicity to a pitch of unheard-of extravagance. London is the only place in which the child grows completely up into the man.

I have known characters of this kind, which, in the way of childish ignorance and self-pleasing delusion, exceeded any thing to be met with in Shakspeare or Ben Jonson, or the old comedy. For instance, the following may be taken as a true sketch. Imagine a person with a forid, shining complexion like a plough-boy, large staring teeth, a merry eye, his hair stuck into the fashion with curlingirons and pomatum, a slender figure, and a decent suit of black-add to which the thoughtlessness of the school-boy, the forwardness of the thriving tradesman, and the plenary consciousness of the citizen of London—and you have Mr. Dunster before you, the fishmonger in the Poultry. You shall hear how he chirps over his cups, and exults in his private opinions., “ I'll play no more with you," I said, “ Mr. Dunster--you are five points in the game better than I am.” I had just lost three half-crown rubbers at cribbage to him, which loss of mine he presently thrust into a canvass pouch (not a silk purse) out of which he had produced just before, first a few halfpence, then half a dozen pieces of silver, then a handful of guineas, and lastly, lying perdu at the bottom, a fifty pound bank-note. “ I'll tell you what,” I said, “ I should like to play you a game at marbles”—this was at a sort of Christmas party or Twelfth Night merry-making. “Marbles !" said Dunster, catching up the sound, and his eye brightening with childish glee, “ What! you mean ring-taw ?“ Yes." "I should beat you at it, to a certainty. I was one of the best in our school (it was at Clapham, Sir, the Rev. Mr. Denman's, at Clapham, was the place where I was brought up)—though there were two others there better than me. They were the best that ever were. I'll tell you, Sir, I'll give you an idea. There was a water-butt or cistern, Sir, at our school, that turned with a cock. Now suppose that brass ring that the windowcurtain is fastened to, to be the cock, and that these boys were standing where we are, about twenty feet off-well

, Sir, I 'll tell you

what I have seen them do. One of them had a favourite taw (or alley we used to call them)-he'd take aim at the cock of the cistern with this marble, as I may do now. Well, Sir, will you believe it? such was his strength of knuckle and certainty of aim, he'd hit it, turn it, let the water out, and then, Sir, when the water had run out as much as it was wanted, the other boy (he'd just the same strength of knuckle, and the same certainty of eye) he'd aim at it too, be sure to hit it, turn it round, and stop the water from running out. Yes, what I tell you is very remarkable, but it's true. One of these boys was named Cock, and t'other Butler.” “They might have been named Spigot and Fawcett, my dear Sir, from your account of them." " I should not mind playing you at fives neither, though I'm out of practice. I

think I should beat you in a week: I was a real good one at that. A pretty game, Sir! I had the finest ball, that I suppose ever was seen. Made it myself, I'll tell you how, Sir. You see, I put a piece of cork at the bottom, then I wound some fine worsted yarn round it, then I had to bind it round with some packthread, and then sew the case on. You'd hardly believe it, but I was the envy of the whole school for that ball. They all wanted to get it from me, but lord, Sir, I would let none of them come near it. I kept it in my waistcoat pocket all day, and at night I used to take it to bed with me and put it under my pillow. I couldn't sleep easy without it.”

The same idle vein might be found in the country, but I doubt whether it would find a tongue to give it utterance. Cockneyism is a ground of native shallowness mounted with pertness and conceit. Yet with all this simplicity and extravagance in dilating on his favourite topics, Dunster is a man of spirit, of attention to business, knows how to make out and get in his bills, and is far from being henpecked. One thing is certain, that such a man must be a true Englishman and a loyal subject. He has a slight tinge of letters, with shame I confess it-has in his possession a volume of the European Magazine for the year 1761, and is an humble admirer of Tristram Shandy (particularly the story of the King of Bohemia and his Seven Castles, which is something in his own endless manner) and of Gil Blas of Santillane. Over these (the last thing before he goes to bed at night) he smokes a pipe, and meditates for an hour. After all, what is there in these harmless half-lies, these fantastic exaggerations, but a literal, prosaic, Cockney translation of the admired lines in Gray's Ode to Eton College :

“What idle progeny succeed
To chase the rolling circle's speed

Or urge the flying ball?” A man shut up all his life in his shop, without any thing to interest him from one year's end to another but the cares and details of business, with scarcely any intercourse with books or opportunities for society, distracted with the buzz and glare and noise about him, turns for relief to the retrospect of his childish years; and there, through the long vista, at one bright loop-hole, leading out of the thorny mazes of the world into the clear morning light, he sees the idle fancies and gay amusements of his boyhood dancing like motes 'in the sunshine. Shall we blame, or should we laugh at him, if his eye glistens, and his tongue grows wanton in their praise ?

None but a Scotchman would- that pragmatical sort of personage, who thinks it a folly ever to have been young, and who, instead of dallying with the frail past, bends his brows upon the future, and looks only to the mainchance. Forgive me, dear Dunster, if I have drawn a sketch of some of thy venial foibles, and delivered thee into the hands of these Cockneys of the North, who will fall upon thee and devour thee, like so many cannibals without a grain of salt!

If familiarity in cities breeds contempt, ignorance in the country breeds aversion and dislike. People come too much in contact in town; in other places they live too much apart, to unite cordially and easily. Our feelings, in the former case, are dissipated and exhausted by being called into constant and yain activity; in the latter, they rust grow

dead for want of use. If there is an air of levity and inVOL. VIII. NO, XXXII.



« PreviousContinue »