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CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF CHAMBERS'S INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,''CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.
No. 157. NEW SERIES.
SATURDAY, JANUARY 2, 1847.
THE SUPERNUMERARY CLASS.
Is walking through the streets of a great town, one might suppose it an easy matter to classify, at least in a general manner, the industrious inhabitants. From the grave merchant to the busy shopkeeper, and from him to the lowest stall-vender, all have their peculiar avocations; nay, even the street beggar may seem in some way to belong to the category, since mendicancy is with him a regular profession. But, after having appeared to go through the whole circle of industry, we still find a busy and numerous class left out, which it is impossible to place under any of the heads we may have imagined. They have no trade, no tools, no masters, and yet are never idle when they can help it; they have no home, no family, no friends, and yet rarely want a meal and a bed; they have no functions, no duties, no privileges of citizens, and yet are integral portions of the community to which they belong, and come in various ways into social and business contact with their fellows.
In London they form a portion-but only a portion -of that class whose name the statisticians tell us is Legion, who rise up every morning without knowing where or how to get their breakfast. In this numerous tribe, however, are included beggars, thieves, and others who look to the chances of their disreputable professions; whereas the individuals we allude to are not necessarily dishonest or ill-conducted, and have no calling whatever. They have nothing to do, but are willing to do anything; they have nowhere to go, but will readily go anywhere; they trust entirely to the chapter of accidents for their daily bread; and when they lie down at night, without a farthing in their pockets, and without a claim upon the pallet they occupy extending beyond the next morning, they congratulate themselves on having eaten and drunken throughout the day, and look forward with confidence to the morrow.
I have said that they are not ecessarily dishonest; but occasionally, when hard pressed, they have recourse to expedients that have little beyond ingenuity to recommend them. The morning, for instance, is a trying time, when the appetite is good, the air keen, and all those classes still in bed with whom it is possible to transact business without capital. It is necessary to begin the day; but how is it to be begun by one who has no money, no calling, no credit, who will not steal, and who is ashamed to beg? Then must come the expedients I have hinted at; and one of these I can relate from personal observation, since it is to it I owe my knowledge of the hitherto unclassified species I would describe.
a singular occupation. He wore a sleeved waistcoat and small-clothes, and might have been taken for a groom long out of place. His hat lay upon the ground and he was busy filling it with small stones from a heat a little distance, walking rapidly, but not running, between the two points and with such an earnest and anxious expression of countenance, that I could not refrain from asking what was the matter.
One morning, then, in the course of an early walk on the New Road, I was stopped by a group of passers-by, who had gathered round a young man engaged in rather
'A bet!' was the reply; and the bystander I had addressed bestowed upon his ignorant questioner a momentary glance of mingled surprise and contempt. He seemed, like the rest, to be an operative in some manufactory; and after an obvious struggle between his sense of duty and curiosity, laid down several halfpence near the hat, in token of his approbation of the young man's activity and of his good wishes for his success, and hurried away. This example was speedily followed, though less liberally, by one or two others of the group, for the hour forbade any dallying, and I at length found myself alone with the stone-picker. He looked at me for an instant, and then along the road; but there being no appearance of any more customers worth waiting for, he picked up the halfpence, shook the stones from his hat, and clapping it on his head, like a man who has got well through some laudable employment, walked off. But I was not disposed to part with him so easily. So you have won your bet?' said I, overtaking
him; and you are now, I presume, for breakfast?'
Not yet,' replied he after a moment's hesitation, during which I could see him scrutinise me from head to foot; what is fourpence-halfpenny? How do I know that anything else will turn up between this and dinner-time?'
'What do you mean to do, then, to increase the sum? Do you mean to make another bet with yourself?'
'No, no; that is well enough in its way when there is nothing else to be done; but I have now got a capital to begin the day with. There are worse dodges than picking up stones; but it is not respectable. I will turn these browns, master, into a white shilling before long, if I once make up my mind what lay to go upon.'
'I will put you upon a plan,' said I: 'tell me how you live, and where you live-give me a distinct notion of what you do to earn your bread for the whole day, and you shall have the shilling without further trouble.'
That would not be so easy,' replied he, as picking up stones. Bless you, I live nohow and nowhere, and I earn my bread just as it happens!'
'Then tell me how it happens: give me the history of a single day, so that it be a common day, and I shall not grudge the money.' Upon this hint he spake; and I am able, from the conversation that ensued, to make a somewhat curious, though melancholy contribution, to the history of social life.
This young man, who may be taken as the repre
sentative of his class, rises in the morning without a farthing in his pocket, without more clothes upon his back than are necessary for the purposes of decency, without property of any other kind in the world, and without a home to return to after passing the threshold of the one which had sheltered him the night before. Forth he goes, notwithstanding, with an assured look, an elastic step, and a heart full of the buoyant feelings of morning. If you ask him whither he is going, he will reply Nowhere.' His walk, in fact, has no determinate direction, and appears to have no termination. His quick, observant glance wanders on all sides in Towards the afternoon, the leading thoroughfares of search of something-he knows not what. But some- the west end are thronged with beauty and fashion; for thing does not come. The air is crisp. The houses although it is not quite proper for a lady of any dishave a cold, clear look, and their roofs are well-defined tinction to go out, except in her carriage, after twelve against the light gray sky. London is not now the con- o'clock, she has the privilege of walking in certain ventional city of authors and painters, but an assemblage streets while the vehicle waits. The influence exercised of the most remarkable streets and squares in the world, by this class of the community upon the supernumerary surrounded by the most transparent of atmospheres. is very remarkable. He watches anxiously over every Not a thread of smoke is seen above the countless disarrangement of their dress, warning them, when houses; and the sun has already been able to exorcise necessary, that they are in danger of dropping their the misty shapes that during the night had haunted collar or their boa, and being ever at hand to pick up the river, which now rolls in a smooth, bright, cheerful the article should it actually fall. Sometimes he revolume. The strange and almost awful silence which ceives only a sweet smile for his politeness: he would had brooded for several hours over the huge metro-rather have sixpence. But, in the meantime, he is far polis is broken. Groups of workmen pass by, their from neglecting the gentlemen, whom he frequently deep hoarse voices echoing in the empty streets; and admonishes to take care of their handkerchief. It is here and there, in all the principal thoroughfares, the said he sometimes pulls it out of the pocket himself a breakfast-stalls, set out with snowy table-cloths, smok- little farther, in order to give colour to the admonition; ing coffee urns, and huge slices of bread and butter, have but for my part I am willing to believe, if he does so, fairly commenced business. it is only to convince the proprietor more emphatically of his carelessness. In Paris, however, the supernumeraries, I admit, are not guiltless of analogous dodges; for I was myself the victim of one when passing along the side of the Champs Elysées, next the Avenue de Neuilly, where there is a barrier of posts to prevent horsemen from intruding on the footpath. These posts are always newly painted, and an artist is in waiting, at a few yards' distance, to rub your smeared skirts with turpentine!
It is these last adjuncts of the picture which, to confess the truth, attract most of our supernumerary's attention; and his interest in them increases as the morning wears on. They began to appear with the earliest peep of day, and will vanish when the streets are once more thronged with their busy population. On the present occasion, it is probably with some feeling of envy he sees numerous workmen regaling them selves previous to commencing their daily labours. For his part, he has to search for work before he can commence it; and at length, in hopelessness and hunger, he has recourse to the dodge' I have described.
It is not improbable that the young man may earn enough by such philanthropic exertions to authorise a visit to the a-la-mode beef-shop, where he dines luxuPassing over his paction with myself as something riously on soup, meat, and bread for a sum varying out of the usual routine, we must now follow him from three to five, or even more pence, according to through more familiar occurrences. Walking loung- appetite or funds. But this is not always the case; ingly along the street, he is seen glancing down the for he has numerous rivals; and wet weather, when it areas, and entering into chat with the housemaids, occurs, is a great damper to his prospects. Still he is who have just opened the window-shutters. Business fertile in all kinds of expedients. He will sometimes does not present itself all at once; still it is some even have recourse to an execution, or anything equally amusement to converse on things in general with horrid, and hawk the history of the affair along the these young ladies, whom he styles' ma'am,' and treats streets. In this case, so far from fearing the interwith much deference; while, on their part, they are ference of another, he always assumes a partner; and occasionally not loath to bestow a few condescending the two, taking different sides of the street, bawl words on a likely young fellow, though so far beneath out the same words in such a way as to render each them in station. But at length an opening for trade other alarmingly unintelligible. In winter, the superoccurs. In some house or other there is sure to be numerary fares a little worse than in summer, there broken glasses, bones, bits of useless metal, rags-any- being more bad weather in the former season; and thing, in short, of an utterly useless nature-which there is reason to believe that he and his brethren are Susan will not object to take a trifling sum for, rather sometimes forced to get up the melancholy cortège of than be the trouble of throwing them into the dust-froze-out gardeners,' who perambulate the streets with bin; and having expended his capital on such merchan- a cabbage-stock for an ensign. It is also affirmed that, dise, the young man hastens away to sell it at a profit on the 1st of May, and for several days after, he perto the wholesale dealers. forms the part of Jack-in-the-Green, who is supposed by the deluded population to be an actual chimneysweeper; and that, on the Gunpowder-Plot day, he masquerades as one of the bearers of that gigantic Guy who is carried about in a handbarrow in quest of halfpence.
These, however, are but occasional expedients, and I must return to his ordinary day. The chances of the twilight are not great for an honest supernumerary; and indeed he may be said to retire from the streets at the same hour with the upper classes when they go home to dinner. He reappears, however, somewhat earlier; for the playgoing bustle could hardly take place without his having some hand in it. He purchases, on speculation, a quantity of bills; but he is no more a bill-seller at the doors of the theatres than he is a bill-sticker.
He is now able to breakfast; and walking being no trouble to him, he does not scruple to go a considerable distance to a favourite stall, where the coffee is always hot, and the bread and butter always thick. Here the tables are turned, for he has not to beg the lady to sell. He calls her mother;' and in addressing him, she says Yes, sir,' and 'No, sir.'
As the day advances, he betakes himself to the localities where gentlemen are usually to be seen on horseback; for he places considerable dependence upon the service he may be able to render in holding a horse while the rider dismounts. It is this part of his resources which influences his choice of a dress, when it is possible for him to exercise any volition upon such a
subject at all. He makes himself as like a groom in appearance as he can; for a groom must be supposed to be an adept at holding a horse. The remuneration is always silver; and, upon the whole, he is not displeased at the substitution of fourpenny-pieces for sixpences, having the sense to observe that there have been a great many more horses to hold since the reduction of the cost. Still it is a hard service; for he has to hunt his prey from street to street, and sometimes, after all, the inconsiderate rider does not dismount till he gets home.
These are regular businesses, to which the parties apply themselves as systematically as shopkeepers do to theirs; while the supernumerary gives himself up, as usual, to his erratic habits. He meets your carriage a full mile from the place of resort, runs by its side at the risk of life and limb, and flashes his bills in at the window. If you buy the wrong one, it is no fault of his; and if you buy any at all, you cannot think (at least if there be a lady with you) of taking change out of your sixpence. From the time the theatres are full, his exertions for the good of the community begin to slacken, and he rather takes business as it comes, than makes a business of looking for it. He will still, however, run with tolerable alacrity to open the door of a cab when the waterman is out of the way; although in this case he depends entirely upon the passenger's liberality, as the cabman does not consider himself bound, either in law or honour, to give the customary halfpenny to a stranger. There is, indeed, some mystic tie between the cabman and the waterman which I do not altogether comprehend. By whom is the latter appointed? Through what influence does he maintain his state? These are questions I have often asked; and yet, even now, I can only surmise that he may owe his elevation to office, and permanence in it, to the publican of the stand.
'The world is void,
Darkness has no need
But it is not exactly darkness, for that would be nothing worse than intense night: the fog has a skindeep semi-transparency, like that of Parian marble, through which you see only a cold, hard, impenetrable substance. As you are rattling along in your carriage to a party, without visible horses or driver-with no streets, no lamps, no tokens whatever of a town, you might fancy yourself transported through the realms of space by the agency of enchantment. And this impression is confirmed, when a flare of lurid light appears suddenly at the window, illumining a set of wild anxious features-a spectral face without body, which, after glaring at you for an instant, disappears. This apparition is the supernumerary with his link; and if the fog were only a little thinner, you would see his brethren flitting about in troops-some gliding by the horses' heads, some stretching forth a welcome arm to a bewildered traveller who, in madly attempting to cross the street, has lost his way, but all engaged in such works as befit the friendly goblins of the night. By and by there comes a crash; your carriage has come into collision with another, and a score of phantom links are instantly upon the spot, and you are able to see the frightened face of the lady in the opposite vehicle, who, arrayed as she is in ball costume, looks like some fairy princess arrested by genii in her travels. The scene is heightened by the voices of the actors. In London everything is done in a hurry; and in the midst of din of every kind, pierced here and there by shrill screams, you arrive at your destination, and, with a hand under each of your arms, find yourself lifted into the hall. Faint, giddy, stunned, and confounded by the blaze of light, you stagger, from habit, up the staircase; and as your name heralds you along, you hardly recognise it for your own, in the con
fusion of your senses, till you find yourself in the accustomed blaze of the drawing-room, in the midst of a brilliant party, who appear utterly unconscious that there is such a thing as fog in the world.
THE DOCTOR'S FAMILY.
But although the supernumerary feels by this time
And the supernumerary? He has disappeared from our ken in the fog. With his public life ends his recorded history; and even I could not venture withi certainty upon more than one other fact-namely, that however great his earnings may have been during the day, he never enters the house he selects for his lair with more money in his pocket than the twopence he requires to pay in advance for the accommodation.
This is a melancholy picture, view it in what light we will. There is sadness mingled even with the smile with which we watch his endless expedients; and the sadness is the greater, that we know the picture to be true not merely of a few individuals, but of a numerous class. What effect the advancement of education and enlightenment may have upon this class, one can hardly surmise. We may hope that its members, for the time being, may be gradually absorbed into new openings for regular industry; but the probability remains that their places will be filled with others at least for a long space to come; for it can hardly be expected that the working population of so vast a metropolis will, even in our surprising day, receive an order and arrangement which will leave behind no-Supernumeraries.
But in the rural districts of England, and throughout Scotland, it is very different. There the festival of NewYear's Day is of as great importance as that of old father Christmas himself. Young people look forward joyfully to dancing the Old Year out and the New Year in.' It is held unlucky that the New Year should first dawn upon sleeping eyes; so in every house all sit up until midnight to let the young stranger in. Then, as the clock strikes twelve, the family and guests rise up and go in a mingled and noisy procession to the hall-door, which is opened with formal solemnity by the host; and thus the New Year is 'let in.'
It was New-Year's eve in the family of Dr James Renwick. They were keeping it merrily, as befitting the good old times, though it was not many new years before this one of 1847 (May blessings attend those whose eyes meet this, says the writer in a parenthesis wishing to all a happy New Year)! But before we enter Dr Renwick's mirthful house, let us describe its exterior-and not entirely from imagination.
The doctor's house was at the entrance of a little village, situated just on the bounds of a manufacturing region, yet far enough in the country to make it pleasant and quiet without being dull. It stood on a turn of the road, the steep declivity of which was overlooked by its high garden walls. Over these walls many and
many a time peeped children's curious faces, and little mischievous hands often dropped down flowers and pebbles on the stray passers-by. On the other side of the road a raised pathway led to the church—a Norman erection, old and quaint enough to charm Dr Dryasdust himself. In the churchyard was a village school-room, like a barn, and from thence rushed out daily a small troop of children, chasing the sheep that fed among the graves. Dr Renwick's was the great house of the place; rich in the glories of a gravel entrance and bay windows; and oh, such an orchard! Never was seen the like for apples and pears! But now it looked cold and stately in the gloom of a December night-starry, but moonless. A light covering of hoarfrost lay on the green plot, where, in early spring, snowdrops and crocuses peeped out from the grass, looking prettier than they ever do when set in the cold brown mould of a garden bed. A warm light streamed over the gravel walk through the half-drawn crimson curtains. Any passenger on the road would have said there was mirth and comfort within.
Mr Renwick and his wife had been blessed with many children. Their quiver was full of arrows; and they did not murmur at it. Out of ten sons and daughters, five were with them that day; some wedded, with children of their own; one was travelling in foreign lands; and three had gone the way of all before them. But the parents did not count these lost. One only though living-had been, and, to use the touching words of a father of old, was not.'
cheerfully around them. A dozen or more young cousins were dancing to the music of a piano and flute, while the elders played whist in an inner room. One or two quiet couples stole away into corners; they were too happy to dance and laugh with the rest. Among these was Isabel Renwick, the doctor's youngest and unmarried sister. The old parents looked at her as she stood with her betrothed in the shade of the crimson curtains.
'We shall have another fine tall son-in-law by this time next year, Letty, my dear,' whispered the old man to his wife with a merry smile.
'Don't talk nonsense before the children,' answered Mrs Renwick, trying to frown as she wiped her spectacles.
And so indeed there was; for it was the yearly gathering of the Renwick family, of which Dr James Renwick was now the eldest son. Three generations were met once more in the eyes of the doctor's aged parents, who lived with him. They were now too old to have the care of an establishment of their own; and therefore this year the family meeting was held at Dr Renwick's house, where they were spending the decline of life with their good and dutiful son. Contrary to general English usage, the yearly gather-theless, with all their grandeur.' ing of the Renwicks was not held on Christmas-day. This was partly because old Mr Renwick thought the day too much of a religious festival for frolic and sport. He had come from the land where his namesake preached, lived, and died among his persecuted brethren; and though Mr Renwick had been so long in England, that the memory of the heathery mountains and braes of his native land was like a dream, still he clung a little to the ways of his forefathers. Besides, it was on one Christmas-day that death had first crossed his threshold, and carried away their eldest born from the young parents, with bitter tears. It was many years since; but still they felt that to have merrymaking on that day would be treading in the shadow of a sorrow now gone by; so the day had ever since been changed from Christmas to New-Year's eve.
Dr James Renwick was the worthy son of a good father, and well did he occupy the station and fulfil the duties of a country physician. These duties are very different from those of a London practitioner. In a village the doctor' is an important person, second only to the clergyman. He has more to do than merely to heal the bodies of his neighbours. If he be respected, he knows all the affairs of the parish; it is he to whom all come for advice in distress; he is the mediator between helpless poverty and benevolent but cautious wealth; and much good or much evil may he do, as his will leads him. Dr Renwick was a good man, and he was accordingly respected. He had married early a wife of like feelings to himself, and they had brought up a rising family, the elder branches of whom were now men and women. Two brothers and a sister of the doctor were also round his table with their flock, few or many as it might be; so that the grandfather and grandmother looked on a tribe of juveniles as various in years, and name, and appearance, as ever clustered round the chair of age since the patriarchal days. Mr and Mrs Renwick sat beside the fire, looking
'Well, I always thought little Bell was the prettiest of all our children, and she will marry best, though last,' said the proud father. 'Little Bell' was a beautiful young woman of seven-and-twenty, whom no arguments could hitherto induce to quit her father's roof, until an old playmate returned from India, rich in money, and richer still in love, that time could not change. So Isabel was to be married at last.
The dance ended, and the various grandchildren sat down to rest, or walked idly about, arm-in-arm, talking and laughing.
'Do you know what a grand ball Aunt Hartford is giving to-night at the Priory?' said Jessie Renwick to her cousin William Oliphant.
'I doubt if they will be half so merry as we, never
Who is speaking about Mrs Hartford-of my eldest daughter?' said the grandfather sharply. Would that she had been no daughter of mine!' 'Hush, John, hush!' whispered his aged wife, laying her withered fingers on his arm.
Jessie only said that there was a grand party at the Priory to-night,' answered young Oliphant, for his cousin had shrunk aside, alarmed at her grandfather's harsh tone, so unusual to him.
'Let her go with all her pride and her gaieties! There is no blessing on an ungrateful child,' said Mr Renwick sternly. When she was born, her mother and I rejoiced, and we called her Letitia in our gladness; but she has been to us a bitter sorrow, and no joy. Do not speak of her, my children.'
The young people saw that there was deep sadness on their grandmamma's face, and that Mr Renwick's tone, though severe, was tremulous; so they did not again mention Mrs Hartford's name. The younger ones wondered; but many of the elder cousins knew of their aunt's great wealth, suddenly acquired by her husband's speculations; and how with wealth had come pride, and with pride coldness and disdain, so that at last Mr and Mrs Hartford were self-exiled from the family circle, and only known by hearsay to the children.
After a season, the slight shadow which poor Jessie's unlucky speech had thrown over the circle passed away. William Oliphant, ever thoughtful in those little things which make the sum of home-happiness, adroitly brought to his grandmother's chair the two youngest of the flock, Mrs Walter Renwick's bonnie little girl and boy, and the old lady's attention was diverted. She took Bessie on her knee, and told Henry a fairy tale, and thought no more of her own lost daughter. How much good had been done by this unnoticed ruse of kind William Oliphant!
Merrily passed the closing hours of the Old Year. The children danced again, and then Aunt Isabel was intreated to sing, and the plaintive music of her voice changed the laughter into a pensive but pleasant silence. After a minute or two they all thanked her cheerfully. They did not know-the careless children!-that of all the merry troop around her, Isabel had sung but for one, and to one. After a while the mirth grew noisier; the light-hearted troop would chorus Aunt Isabel's songs; and so those who could sing, and those who thought they could, all chimed in together, to the utter con