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DIARY OF A BLASE."
Doror, June 1836.
There is a species of taxation in England, which may be said to be almost peculiar to the country. That there will be extortion or begging everywhere, even in America, is undoubted; but these two principles are, in England, carried on upon a system quite unknown in any other country. It is not the applicants for your money who are the real beggars; it is their employers, who, to increase their own profits, throw upon the public all the minor expenses, much in the same way that the farmers used to contrive that the parish should pay the wages of their labourers. To a constant traveller these expenses become enormous ; and even to one who travels seldom, they are at the time vexatious and irritating. They may be chiefly included under the heads of waiters, postilions, coachmen, guards, porters, and all those connected with embarkation and debarkation : the real mendicants are the innkeepers, coach proprietors, and general Steam Navigation Company, who, to reduce the nominal amount of their own charges without reducing their profits, have thrown upon the shoulders of the public all this variety of expenses, which ought to be defrayed by themselves. I took up a small volume to amuse me during my journey, without further attention to it at the time, except that it was one that I had not read. On opening it I found it was stated to be from the pen of Grant Thorburn, the seedsman and nailmaker of New York. After I had read a dozen pages, I felt convinced that although his style was well imitated, that it was from a superior hand. It is styled, “ Men and Manners in Britain; or, a Bone for the Trollopes and Fiddlers ;” a passage, indicating these extortions, arrested my attention.
I laid down the book, and determined to ascertain how far the observations were borne out in my present trip. · Drove in a cab to the Golden Cross, Charing Cross-stopped close to the heads of the leaders of the coach—a porter seizes my luggage. “ Which coach, sir ?”—“ Dovor.”—“ Just in time, sir.”—“ That's all I wished to be."--Takes my luggage into the coach-office.--" Please to remember the porter, sir.”—Gave him sixpence for walking five yards, a common agricultural labourer would have worked hard for three hours to obtain the same.
Inside the coach.—“ Your luggage was one portmanteau, carpetbag, and a dressing-case?"-“ Yes.”—“ They are all safe, sir, in the foreboot. Please to remember the porter, sir.”—Another sixpence, the man looked a shilling at me, demurred, holding the coach-door open, then slainmed it to.
I Continued from page 48.
On the road.–Stop half an hour at Rochester.-“ Waiter, a glass of brandy and waiter, cold without.”—“ Coach is ready, sir.”—“ How much, waiter?”—“ One shilling the brandy, sir.”—As much as to say, and sixpence for myself.
Stop at Canterbury.“ Coachman : Gentlemen and ladies, if you please," says the party, waking us out of a sleep too difficult to be obtained, to be renewed for the rest of the journey. Two-and-sixpence forked by the three gentlemen passengers; the last, a French lady, watching what was given, and very unwillingly, and evidently with surprise mixed with unwillingness, following the munificent example. But what are you to do? No one likes to be exposed to insult, and such would certainly be the case. I once recollect giving a shilling, and was told by the coachman that I had made a mistake in my vehicle, and should have come by the wagon, as my mother always had done before me. Although the quietest man in the world, I turned round and thrashed the fellow. But was that any consolation? Would it not have been better to have paid one-and-sixpence more than have run the risk of a black eye, and have obtained the certainty of my knuckles peeled bare, and hands disfigured for a week? Most surely; but then my mother! It was all filial duty. Canterbury being but sixteen miles from Dovor, it was imagined that the new coachman would hardly have ventured to ask for a fee; but, alas ! they had selected a man of such consummate impudence, that he boldly came in upon our arrival, and obtained from each one shilling.
The guard also now claimed his half-crown, and then all was paid up from London to Dovor: but now let us calculate the per centage. The coach fare inside was nominally twenty-eight shillings; and during the journey I had contributed to the support of no less than six individuals attached to the establishment, paying them sevenand-sixpence, or about twenty-seven per cent. And this is about the mark; that is, twenty-five per cent. is paid extra in England by this system of pauperism and robbery combined. The same ratio of expense attends embarkation of yourself and your luggage; nay, you cannot set your own person in the steam-vessel, although it is alongside the quay, without paying sixpence to the ladder-men, a species of accommodation which one would imagine that the proprietors of the vessels are bound to afford. But the worst of this is, that it is a regular organized system by the proprietors. Not only do their servants work without being paid, but they even pay the proprietors for their situations, as is well known to be a fact, in some of the principal London coffee-houses, and in all the hotels. And it is not the fault of those who demand the money, for they tell you truly that it is all they have to depend upon. How different is the case when you travel abroad! On your arrival at the seaport you will meet with extortion; but it is chiefly from English commissioners, your own countrymen, who have there introduced the English system. Travel post, or by diligence, there is no begging, no extortion of any kind from the postilions or conductors. Your luggage is put on and taken off without any demand, and if you choose to give à pour boire, it is thankfully received, but never asked for.
Habit and association blind us. No nation can well judge of its own merits and demerits. It is only the traveller par excellence. I refer not to the mere tourist; but the man who has been round and round the world, commencing from boyhood—who has, from continued absence, broken the links which would otherwise have bound him to the national pro aris et focis, who can truly judge, and whose opinion may deserve to carry some weight. He must be, in the truest sense of the word, a cosmopolite, free from all prejudice, and looking philosophically, but kindly, upon all countries alike, who can fully perceive the faults and the virtues of his own countrymen. Whether I have that claim I hardly know; as far as being torn from my paternal roof in childhood, and for a period of thirty years having wandered, not having remained, perhaps, more than four years out of that thirty in my own country, I may be considered as not wedded to national custom and prejudice; but whether I am competent, in other points, it is not for me to decide. I was reflecting last Sunday evening, when alone in my rooms, upon a very serious question.
Are the English the religious nation which they claim to be ? and are they justified in their pharisaical contempt of the French ? I thought for many hours, and it may be a matter of surprise, that I was unwillingly obliged to find a verdict against my own countrymen.
We are a sombre nation, a matter-of-fact nation, and in the middle and higher grades, perhaps, a moral nation, but not a religious nation; and the very outward observances are inimical to the true religion of the heart required by the Omniscient.
Let us first put the general question. Are we not the most gainseeking nation in existence? It is undeniable. Can we therefore serve Mammon so diligently for six days in the week, and then turn round with all sincerity to God on the seventh? Impossible ; it is contrary to nature. We may observe outward forms, but is the heart there? Can any man who has been ruled by what has become a habit, confirmed by years, divest himself of that habit at volition ? He may try to do it, and in the trial lays the merit; but he can no more prevent his thoughts wandering back to his worldly affairs, than an inveterate snuff-taker, with the box open before him, could deny himself a pinch of snuff, because it was the hallowed day.
It is the fact that, as a nation and in communities, our virtues and our vices in this world depend more upon circumstances than upon ourselves. This may be considered to be a bold assertion, but it is borne out by investigation in every race and in every clime.
I have said that we are a sombre nation. There is more than one cause for it. Our climate has some effect; but what has more, is the national feeling with which we are innoculated from our cradles as a money-getting community-to obtain the greatest possible results by the least possible means—a law of mechanics, which actuates every motive of action in the English community, and to which they sacrifice every thing. It is this pervading first principle which has made us a sombre and suicidal nation, not our climate; for actuated by it in all we do, we never study to please the imagination. There is no relaxation, no relief to the mind, which, like the machine, works on and on in its calling, till it wears out.
To prove the truth of this assertion, let us make a comparison between the two metropolises of England and France.
In London, where we suffer under a damp and foggy climate, and the smoke of coal fires, there is little or no ventilation in the narrow and confined streets,-and why? Because distance is time, time is money, and money is every thing.
In Paris, a merchant, when he takes a warehouse, will look as much for a cheerful situation as he will for a convenient one.
Bricks are cheaper than stone, and the very sombre hue of brick edifices is reflected upon the imagination. Does not the feeling of exhilaration rise when we pass through the light-built cheerful skirts of Paris, or saunter in the Boulevards, and the eye reposes upon the foliage of the trees?
The plan of building in London is equally productive of gloom. Space is money, and money every thing. The old and never-lostsight-of principle appears, of the greatest possible results by the least possible means ? What is the consequence ?
We have staircases just large enough to get up. With us, staircases are staircases. Our rooms are equally confined, and more dark from a want of sufficient light. The servants live in cellars, for the kitchens are cellars, and nothing more. There is no space for ornament, nor light to display it. The walls are mostly bare,—there is nothing to catch and please the eye--no attempt to win the imagination for a moment, and allow other thoughts to be dismissed. All is matter-of-fact, of necessity, and no more.
Examine the interior of a house at Paris, see the space that is sacrificed, the lightness, neatness, loftiness of the rooms, the cheerfulness occasioned by the mirrors, the paintings, the good taste of the ornamental department in all its branches. You will then perceive that all this affects the imagination, and that the contrary occasions you to be sombre. You may feel the truth of this when you recollect how strong the effect of a fine sunny day is upon the spirits of an Englishman. And why so ? because he is cheered by an accession of that light and air which he has denied to himself.
It is not the house of the rich man in Paris that I refer to; the same feeling pervades from high to low. Go into the porter's lodge, you will find that he has his decorations, his small mirror, his framed pictures, his little library, his flowers in the window-sill. It is but a hole, but it is as cheerful and gay as that hole can be made.
I feel convinced that the above observations are so true, that if London could be pulled down and rebuilt upon a better plan, a few years would materially improve the character of the inhabitants. We have sacrificed every thing to profit, and by so doing we have built ourselves dungeons. Who can be gay under such confinement, and actuated by the one only feeling of obtaining wealth ?
I have said that we are a sombre nation, and in the middle and higher classes a moral one.
And here I am afraid that I shall not give satisfaction ; for as there can be no true morality without religion, so then, as I have denied religion, some other cause must be found for our morality. It is to be found in the ever-acting principle of the community, in the constant seeking after the attainment of wealth. In a commercial nation like ours, it is absolutely necessary that probity should be upheld as one of the first principles of guidance. If a man has once established his character in this point, he has half established his fortune. The notorious Colonel Chartres is known to have said, that he would give twenty thousand pounds for a good character, if such were to be obtained by purchase; and on being asked his reason, very honestly confessed that it was because he would make one hundred thousand pounds by it.
Now a man is seldom honest in one point and not in another; and the moral code is, generally speaking, either received or rejected in toto. The youth of England are brought up morally and religiously ; it is their interest in advanced life to be the one, and to appear to be the other. In fact, they would perhaps be both, if circumstances would have permitted it; but they prove the truth of the Scripture, “ Ye cannot serve God and Mammon."
Although the higher classes have religion in their mouths, talk of the Established Church, danger of popery, &c., as I cannot pretend to say what they have in their hearts, I will only observe, that as legislators, they have done much harm both to the cause of religion and of morality. It is generally supposed, that a man will be moral first, and religious afterwards. Now our government have attempted to force religion, or rather, the outward observance of it, upon the lower classes, without in any way legislating for morality. The discrepancy of this conduct has been more than absurd. They refuse to the poorer classes innocent amusements, and at the same time wink at, and almost sanction, the most degrading vice.
It is a well known fact, that there are whole streets in the metropolis occupied only by thieves, pickpockets, and the most abandoned of females. Streets utterly deserted, unlighted, the houses in them spacious and lofty, once, perhaps, the abode of all that was respectable, and wealthy, and good, now dark and dismal purlieus, appropriated as dens for vice and immorality. I have been through them at night from curiosity-not without danger--and have beheld this extremity of vice, dissipation, and misery. In these streets there is no landlord who can call for his rent, but two-pence or three-pence a-night is charged for the inhabiting of rooms full of filth, where promiscuously are heaped together the abandoned of both sexes, who, after prowling for their prey, return to their lairs either moody from disappointment, or flushed with gin and success. And in these streets are permitted to advance to maturity, thousands of children of both sexes, a nursery for prostitution and pickpockets, who live in a state of abandonment, supporting themselves by petty thieving, until they become ripe for their respective professions. And yet, although this is well known, the government do not interfere. No, this nursery of present and future crime, is not worthy of their consideration !
Again, we have, as it is calculated, forty thousand unhappy women walking the streets of London, all with their respective beats, which