Зображення сторінки

denominate the Debtors' Prison, the more refined “ Barrett's Hotel,” in Whitecross-street, Cripplegate, and was, in due form, made over to the keeper thereof. Five or six gentlemen, better known by the appellation of “ Turnkeys,” here ushered me, with awful gravity, into a little, dirty, dark ante-room, where I remained in solitude and in silence until my conductor obtained a satisfactory receipt for my precious corpus from the authority who was henceforward to have the honour of becoming responsible for its safe custody.

Thence I was conducted to “the receiving ward,” so called from its appropriation to all new comers, during their first twenty-four hours' sojourn; for what other purpose than that of affording the being placed in charge of it the opportunity of making profits out of the necessaries required by his fellow-prisoners I know not. There I was placed under the surveillance of (a prisoner) an insolent, fat, pompous, bald-headed man,

to whom the care of this inducting part of the “ hotel” is confided, and from which he enjoys very considerable advantages and opportunities of making money; granted, I presume, as a reward for his eminent services to the community, and as a due appreciation of the justice of that tribunal, which condemned him to a lengthened imprisonment. Be this as


I consider him an unfortunate individual, never having heard a single person speak of him as other than a vulgar, imperious, overbearing man. I have been informed that, connected with some of the inferior city authorities, corporation influence has been the means of placing him in his present state of command.

In this “ ward” a miserable room, about twenty-four feet by sixteen, were seventeen other persons, of various degrees and ages, who had, most of them, been captured within the preceding twenty-four hours. *All were condemned to “ kill time as they best could during the day they were doomed to pass in this vile place.

After a sleepless night in a room with twelve other persons, I, with the rest of my captive brethren, was summoned by a little lynx-eyed turnkey, of sad and solemn countenance, one upon whose face a smile had never mantled, a very model of a Greffier; and him I followed to the public yard of the Middlesex division, which we entered at a quarter past nine, A.M., by a private door communicating with the dominions of the great bashaw I had just quitted. This yard contains four wards,”

" and the aggregate number of inmates is generally about three hundred. My little Cerberus conducted me to ward No. 8, and presented me to a gentlemanly-looking man of middle age, who was seated at a table, pen in hand, apparently quite at home, with sundry small memorandum-books strewed before him, in one of which my name was inscribed. This ceremony ended, the writer raised his head, and in a courteous but solemn tone stated, “ the fees are eighteen shillings :" these paid, and my two shillings in change of a sovereign deposited in a place of safety, I was informed, after a reference to one of the aforementioned books, that I was appointed to “ table No. 4.” This gentleman, whom I at first supposed to be a sort of deputy-chief, was a prisoner, who had been elected to the situation of steward or president by his brethren of the ward.

These formalities being ended, I ventured gradually to look around, and take a view of the room and the society into which I had fallen, and into whose mysteries I had just been initiated, with feelings partaking of anything but prepossession in favour of either.

Gentle readers, you who have a taste for intellectual pleasure and pursuits, who can enjoy “ the feast of reason and the flow of soul,” who have never been contaminated by association with the vulgar and the vicious, pause for a moment and imagine yourselves suddenly immured in a mean, filthy-looking, stone-floored room, covered with saw-dust, five strongly-barred windows upon either side, each containing a table surrounded by fixed nes for accommodation of eight persons, the greater part having their full complement; fancy yourselves at once brought into close communion with seventy persons, the larger portion from the lowest ranks of society, men whom vulgarity and ignorance had irrevocably sealed as their own, whose feelings, if they ever possessed any, were now as completely deadened and insensible as the pavement upon which they were standing-swearing, bawling, and robbing each other—and you may perhaps form some idea of the misery I endured, and the disgust and horror that pervaded my soul as I surveyed the incongruous group of which I had become a component part. Some individuals of which it was composed I purpose introducing hereafter to your notice.

An immense kitchen-range at one end of the room, filled with a huge fire adapted to the severer weather of January, rather than the auspicious heat of May, was fed ever and anon by a most unpropitious-looking being. I soon learnt that this mass of volcanic humanity was cook to the ward, and that he received for his services a salary of seven shillings a week,-an office to which he had been elected in consideration of his family and distresses.

To the gentleman who installed me with so much solemnity upon my entrée amongst the “ White-cross Knights,” and whom I must now introduce to my readers as the presiding chief, under the denomination of “ steward,” I was indebted for an insight into the rules and regulations by which the motley throng around me was governed.

The“ fee” money exacted from each captive, upon his arrival at the hotel,” forms a fund out of which servants' wages, coals, candles, and other necessaries are paid. The former consist of cook, swabber, and a chamberlain, to each of the four bed wards; each of these persons receive from 5s. to 7s. per week, according to their respective labours, and the “ steward” ten shillings; besides these, there are four committee men, chosen from each of the bed wards where they officiate as stewards, but in the ward below as auditors of public accounts, and a chairman for the preservation of order : these five last are gratuitous offices, but were formerly rewarded upon every Monday with a luncheon composed of sundry pounds of bread and cheese, and five quarts of

ram jam,” (which, translated for the benefit of unlearned readers, means strong ale;) but this custom, upon some occasion when the funds were at a low ebb, was broken through, and has now fallen into desuetude, to the discomfiture of all future and existing committee-men and chair

The vote by ballot is in full force at all elections for offices: these take place once every month, with the exception of that for stewerd, which is quarterly,

By this time I had a tolerably complete epitome of the Statute Book of this new world impressed upon my brain, and, my obliging informant being called away, I was left to my own reflections: these were of no crdinary or enviable nature. Of a warm and enthusiastic disposition, fondly attached to society composed of congenial minds, possessing an instinc



tive abhorrence of the low and vulgar, my feelings were unutterably painful as I surveyed the heterogeneous mob into which my fate had hurled me. I cursed that fate, and felt, at that moment, something like hatred to all my species. Men of all characters and grades, pursuits and principles, manners and resources, are here indiscriminately huddled together in large numbers, and, as will be readily conceived, confusion, vice, vulgarity, noise and uproar, holding a perpetual and unblushing court, reign triumphantly.

A train of the most melancholy thoughts took possession of me, from which I was agreeably roused by the entrance of some young ladies, who came upon a visit of consolation to their imprisoned parent-a professor of music. This man, Hanoverian by birth, had served fourteen years in the British army, and a like period in the band of his late Majesty, George the Fourth, the disbanding of which, by the present King, caused his ruin. This event threw him upon the world, with a family of nine children (seven under twelve years of age); distress stared him full in the face and preyed heavily upon his mind. He endeavoured to obtain employment at the National Theatres, and for some time succeeded; but the wretched state of the funds of those establishments occasioned delays in payment that overwhelmed him with misfortunes. Țo mental agony succeeded bodily illness; and, seized upon a bed of sickness, this man was arrested and consigned to a gaol for debts amounting to 891., forty of which were due to his landlord for rent; who, to his honour be it recorded, from many years previous knowledge of his tenant's upright and honourable conduct, like“ the good Samaritan,” poured the balm of consolation into his wounded breast, by offering all the sympathy which his limited means permitted, accompanied by a sincere expression of regret that they were so circumscribed as to prevent him from extricating him entirely, and an assurance that his family should not be molested in their abode during his incarceration; and, that when freed himself, he should still continue his tenant. This kindness was deeply appreciated by the poor prisoner, who expressed his thankfulness, whilst the big tear of sincere gratitude rolled down his care-worn cheek. The other creditors for the remaining sum of 491. continuing inexorable, he was compelled to apply for relief to the Insolvent Court. I had many opportunities of ascertaining this man's worth, and know that he had been most cruelly and unjustly treated.

To these were added, in quick succession, youth and age of both sexes, as visiters to their relatives or friends: to these latter,

“Shut out from the busy haunts of men,” beauty and plainness were almost equally welcome; the missions of the possessors sanctifying their

presence. It being now past 10 o'clock, the hour at which strangers are admitted, the “Hotel” began to assume an air of great bustle; butchers' boys with their trays; newsmen with a host of penny and other publications; Jews with spectacles, writing apparatus, and all kinds of trumpery merchandise; tripe-men ; green-grocers; lawyers, and their attendant clerks, with schedules and petitions, swelled the throng.

Somewhat amused with the change that had, as it were, magically taken place within so short a period, I discovered that I had become an object of curiosity to strangers as well as prisoners; to many of the former, I believe, of commiseration,

About this time I was formally introduced by the “ steward” to a respectable looking member of the table, to which I was appointed, and upon taking my seat thereat, I found myself in a state of embarrassment from the astonished gaze of my companions, whose eyes brightened as they satisfactorily stared at me, and in low, murmuring tones exclaimed to each other, “he's come on horseback," words that filled me with unbounded surprise. Left to myself and the mere light of human nature, I never could have divined the meaning of this phrase, or its applicability to myself; and as I would fain hope that none, or at most but a slender portion of my readers, may ever know the privileges of White-cross Knights, other than through the medium of these pages, I at once enlighten them by the information, that by “coming on horseback” is meant one who arrives with sufficient money about him to meet the demand for “fees"; and although this transaction takes place between the novitiate and the steward only, the circumstance is indirectly made known to all the members of the ward, by the immediate appointment of the former to a table; he is then considered to be a gentleman and true knight; but woe to the unlucky miserable wretch who enters this unhallowed haunt sans argent ! The Jews without Urim, without Thummim, cannot be in a more desolate state! The poverty-stricken captive has no “resting-place"; he has neither part nor lot in the services of the greasy cook, the fat swabber, chamberlain, boots, or other domestics; the comforts and conveniences of the fire, culinary-utensils, hot water, and candles are inexorably denied to him. Upon one only bench, at one only board, is he permitted to be placed; and lest the milk of human kindness should ooze from the breast of any charitably disposed brother, a fine of one shilling is imposed and levied with unrelenting exactness from the guilty being who dare evince commiseration, or sympathize with such an one in misfortune, by inviting him to a seat at any other table: this is an offence against the order of high degree, and punished by laws that, like those of the Medes and Persians, “ change not.” The imperious and voluptuous monarch of Assyria could not have been more deeply terror-stricken at sight of the handwriting traced by a superhuman power upon the wall of his palace, whilst profanely pledging his lords and concubines from the temple's sacred vessels, than is the unhappy money less wight, who, presuming to make his appearance amongst the White-cross Knights without his steed, views his own name in charaeters of frightful magnitude suspended in these halls, with the word defaulter " attached to it.

Immediately above the “only boardat which a wretch so miserable is allowed to take a seat, is placed the general salt-box, and if his meals

meagre and cheerless, his brethren of the cross take especial care they shall not lack savour. This, though expressly denominated “the defaulter's table,” the one only to which the poor

tekelitehas right of access, is invariably appropriated by the free and unexcepted knights to the washing of cups and platters; thus the luckless unspurred Chevalier's isolated privilege is entrenched upon

without remorse, and with his coffee he is pretty sure of gaining a large accession of “slop.”

(To be continued.)



[ocr errors]



What is the fault, and what is the danger of our literature of to-day? The actual. It is a fault, because out of the actual grows the selfish; and it is a danger, because the selfish at once confines and deteriorates whatever domain it possesses. The age 'to which we belong is essentially material and calculating, and the one hardens the heart, while the other narrows. There is too much of a mercantile spirit abroad ; we should rather say trading, for the word mercantile implies something more enlarged and enterprising than belongs to the diurnal gain of trade. Now, do not let it for a single moment be supposed that we are undervaluing the honesty and the industry of the minutest trader that, to use the common and expressive phrase, ever turned a penny.

But we do mean to say, that the small motive never led to the great result; and that the motives of modern mind are, like the mind itself of the duke in Patronage,“ infinitely small.” We remember an exclamation made by one of our most popular poets,-no, not ours; we are at the beginning of a new era, and they belong not unto it. I came,” said

“ to London, after some absence, and wanted to know what my World was doing. I went to

I was sure to hear all literary matters discussed there. Everybody was talking of books, and yet not a syllable was said of their contents. No remarks were made either of praise or of blame. Such-a-one had so much for their last work was the alpha and the omega of criticism. The price was everything.” Well, we have taken off the old reproach that

“ Pégase est un cheval Qui mêne les grands hommes à l'hôpital.” But how can we expect the lofty oracle, or the solemn hymn, when the temple is given up to the money-changers ? “ Getting and spending we lay waste our powers ;” and too late we shall discover that's we have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.” This is our modern version of the old legend. Formerly the demon made the bargain, and the soul was sold; now it is the mind. This was not the inspiration which made Coleridge find that poetry was its own exceeding great reward.” It was not this which taught Wordsworth,“ when his soul felt her destiny divine.” Our mistake in making tha an inducement which should only be a consequence. A trading literature will always be subservient to some ruling fashion. Popularity will be the object instead of fame. Its limit of time will be to-day; and it will follow where it ought to lead. Imitation will become inevitable. Now no great writer ever adapted himself to any ruling taste; he created a new one, and men perceived a source of delight which had hitherto been a sealed fountain. The number of fictions that start into existence, like the teeth sown by Cadmus, destroy one another; and their utter want of originality sufficiently proves our assertion. Repetition is the characteristic of our literature. What are the works that now crowd the press ?-poems, faint echoes of diviner music. We wrong the word echo by such use, for echo has a loveliness of her own. We should rather say that they

*“ The Pilgrims of the Rhine," by E. L. Bulwer, Esq., M.P. March.-VOL. XL. NO. CLIX.


« НазадПродовжити »