'Scenes and Characters, No. 1, Seven Dials'
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"What do you mean by hussies?" interrupts a champion of the other party, who has evinced a strong inclination throughout to get up a branch fight on her own account ("Hoo-roar," ejaculates a pot-boy in a parenthesis, 'put the kye-bosh on her, Mary.") "What do you mean by hussies?" reiterates the champion. "Niver mind," replies the opposition expressively, "niver mind; you go home, and, ven you're quite sober, mend your stockings." This somewhat personal allusion, not only to the lady's habits of intemperance, but also to the state of her wardrobe, rouses her utmost ire, and she accordingly complies with the urgent request of the by-standers to "pitch in," with considerable alacrity. The scuffle became general, and terminates, in minor play-bill phraseology, with "arrival of the policemen—interior of the station-house, and impressive denouement." In addition to the numerous groups who are idling about the gin shops, and squabbling in the centre of the road, every post in the open space has its occupant, who leans against it for hours, with listless perseverance. It is odd enough that one class of men in London appear to have no enjoyment beyond leaning against posts. We never saw a regular bricklayer's labourer take any other recreation—fighting excepted. Pass through St. Giles's in the evening of a week day—there they are in their fustian dresses, spotted with brick-dust and whitewash—leaning against posts. Walk through Seven Dials on Sunday morning: there they are again—drab or light corduroy trousers, blucher boots, blue coats, and great yellow waistcoats—leaning against posts. The idea of a man dressing himself in his best clothes, to lean against a post all day! The peculiar character of these streets, and the close resemblance each one bears to its neighbour, by no means tends to decrease the bewilderment in which the unexperienced wayfarer through "the Dials" finds himself involved. He traverses streets of dirty, straggling houses, with here and there an unexpected court, composed of buildings as ill-proportioned and deformed as the half naked children that wallow in the kennels. Now and then, is a little dark chandler's shop, with a cracked bell hung up behind the door, to announce the entrance of a customer, or betray the presence of some young gentleman in whom a passion for shop tills has developed itself at an early age. Handsome, lofty buildings usurp the places of low dingy public-houses; long rows of broken and patched windows expose plants that may have flourished when "the Dials" were built, in vessels as dirty as "the Dials" themselves; and shops for the purchase of rags, bones, old iron, and kitchen stuff, vie in cleanliness with the bird-fanciers' and rabbit-dealers', which one might fancy so many arks, but for the irresistible conviction that no bird in its proper senses, who was permitted to leave one of them, would ever come back again. Brokers' shops, which would seem to have been established by humane individuals as refuges for destitute bugs, interspersed with announcements of day schools, penny theatres, petition-writers, mangles, and music for balls or routs, complete the "still life" of the subject; and dirty men, filthy women, squalid children, fluttering shuttlecocks, noisy battledores, reeking pipes, bad fruit, more than doubtful oysters, attenuated cats, depressed dogs, and anatomical fowls, are its cheerful accompaniments.
If the external appearance of the houses, or a glance at their inhabitants, presents but few attractions, a closer acquaintance with either is little calculated to alter one's first impression. Every room has its separate tenant, and every tenant is—by the same mysterious dispensation which causes a country curate to "increase and multiply" most marvellously—generally the head of a numerous family. The man in the shop, perhaps, is in the baked "jemmy" line, or the fire-wood and hearth-stone line, or any other line which requires a floating capital of eighteen-pence or thereabouts; and he and his family live in the shop, and the small back parlour behind it. Then there is an Irish labourer and his family in the back kitchen; and a jobbing man—carpet-beater and so forth—with his family in the front one. In the front one-pair there's another man with another wife and family, and in the back one-pair, there's "a young ooman as takes in tambour-work, and dresses quite genteel," who talks a good deal about "my friend," and "can't abear anything low." The second floor front, and the rest of the lodgers, are just a second edition of the people below, except a shabby-genteel man in the back attic, who has his half-pint of coffee every morning from the coffee-shop next door but one, which boasts a little front den called a coffee-room, with a fire-place, over which is an inscription, politely requesting that, "to prevent mistakes," customers will "please to pay on delivery." The shabby-genteel man is an object of some mystery, but as he leads a life of seclusion, and never was known to buy anything beyond an occasional pen, except half-pints of coffee, penny loaves, and ha'porths of ink, his fellow-lodgers very naturally suppose him to be an author; and rumours are current in the Dials, that he writes poems—for Mr Warren.
Now anybody who passed through the Dials on a hot summer's evening, and saw the different women in the house gossiping on the steps, would be apt to think that all was harmony among them, and that a more primitive set of people than the native Diallers could not be imagined. Alas! the man in the shop ill-treats his family; the carpet-beater extends his professional pursuits to his wife; the one-pair front has an undying feud with the two pair front, in consequence of the two-pair front persisting in dancing over his (the one-pair front's) head, when he and his family have retired for the night; the two-pair back will interfere with the front kitchen's children; the Irishman comes home drunk every other night, and attacks everybody; and the one-pair back screams at everything. Animosities spring up between floor and floor; the very cellar asserts his equality. Mrs A. smacks Mrs B.'s child for "making faces." Mrs B. forthwith throws cold water over Mrs A.'s child for "calling names." The husbands are embroiled—the quarrel becomes general—an assault is the consequence, and a police-office the result.