Sketches by Boz, Second Series (1837)

Description

Published by John Macrone, 1837, 1 vol.

Creator

Dickens, Charles

Date

Rights

Public domain, Google-digitised

Relation

Table of Contents and Relation to Previous Sketches:

Bibliographic Citation

Dickens, Charles. Sketches by Boz, Second Series (1837). Dickens Search. Eds. Emily Bell and Lydia Craig. Accessed [date]. https://www.dickenssearch.com/short-stories/1837_Sketches_by_Boz_Second_Series.

Transcription

PREFACE.

If brevity be the soul of wit, anywhere, it is most especially so, in a preface; firstly, because those who do read such things as prefaces, prefer them, like grace before meat, in an epigrammatic form; and, secondly, because nine hundred and ninety-nine people out of every thousand, never read a preface at all.

Some of these sketches were written before the appearance of the former series, and the remainder have been added at different periods since that time. The author ventures to hope that they may experience as favourable a reception as the first productions of his pen; and that the present volume will not be considered an unwelcome, or inappropriate sequel, to the two which preceded it.

With these few words, he gives a modest tap at the door of the public with his Christmas Piece, when, perhaps, he may imagine the following dialogue to ensue, founded on the well-known precedent of the charity-boys and the housemaid.

Publisher (to author.)⁠—You knock. 

Author (to publisher.)⁠—No⁠—you. [Here the publisher seizes the knocker, and gives a loud rap at the door.]

Public (suspiciously, and with the door a-jar.)⁠—Well; what do you want?

Publisher.⁠—Please, will you look at this Christmas Piece; me and the other boy goes partners in it.

Public.⁠— Go away; we have so many knocks of the same kind, at this time of year, that we are tired of answering the door. Go away.

Publisher (pushing it.)⁠—No; but do look at it, please. It's all his own doing, except the pictures; and they're capital, let alone the writing. [Here the public gradually softens, and takes the Christmas Piece in; upon which the Publisher makes a bow, and retires]⁠—while the author lingers behind, for one instant, to repeat an old form with much sincerity; and to express his hearty wish that his best friend, the Public, may enjoy "a merry Christmas, and a happy new year."

Furnival's Inn.
December 17, 1836.




The Streets by Morning.

The appearance presented by the streets of London an hour before sunrise on a summer’s morning, is most striking even to the few whose unfortunate pursuits of pleasure, or scarcely less unfortunate pursuits of business, make them well acquainted with the scene. There is an air of cold, solitary desolation about the noiseless streets we are accustomed to see thronged at other times by a busy, eager crowd, and the quiet, closely shut buildings which throughout the day are swarming with life and bustle, that is very impressive.

The last drunken man, who shall find his way home before sunlight, has just staggered heavily along, occasionally roaring out the burden of the drinking song of the previous night: the last houseless vagrant whom penury and the police have left in the streets, has coiled up his chilly limbs in some paved corner, to dream of food and warmth. The drunken, the dissipated, and the wretched have disappeared: the more sober and orderly part of the population have not yet awakened to the labours of the day: and the stillness of death is over the streets; its very hue seems to be imparted to them, cold and lifeless as they look, in the grey, sombre light of day-break. The coach-stands in the larger thoroughfares are deserted: the night-houses are closed: the chosen promenades of profligate misery are empty.

An occasional policeman may be seen at the street-corners, listlessly gazing on the deserted prospect before him; and now and then a rakish-looking cat runs stealthily across the road, and descends his own area with as much caution and slyness, bounding first on the water-butt, then on the dust-hole, and then alighting on the flag-stones, as if he were conscious that his character depended on his gallantries of the preceding night escaping public observation. A partially opened bedroom-window here, and there, bespeaks the heat of the weather, and the uneasy slumbers of its occupantand the dim scanty flicker of the rush-light, through the window-blind, denotes the chamber of watching or sickness. With these few exceptions the streets present no signs of life, nor the houses of habitation.

An hour wears away. The spires of the churches, and roofs of the principal buildings, are faintly tinged with the light of the rising sun; and the streets, by almost imperceptible degrees, begin to resume their bustle and animation. Market-carts roll slowly along: the sleepy waggoner impatiently urging on his tired horses, or vainly endeavouring to awaken the boy, who, luxuriously stretched on the top of the fruit-baskets, forgets in happy oblivion his long-cherished curiosity to behold the wonders of London.

Rough, sleepy-looking animals, of strange appearance, something between ostlers and hackney-coachmen, begin to take down the shutters of early public-houses; and little deal tables, with the ordinary preparations for a street-breakfast, make their appearance at the customary stations. Numbers of men and women (principally the latter), carrying upon their heads heavy baskets of fruit, toil down the park side of Piccadilly, on their way to Covent-garden; and, following each other in rapid succession, form a long straggling line from thence to the turn of the road at Knightsbridge.

Here and there, a bricklayer’s labourer, with the day’s dinner tied up in a handkerchief, walks briskly to his work, and occasionally a little knot of three or four school-boys on a stolen bathing expedition, rattle merrily over the pavement, their boisterous mirth contrasting forcibly with the demeanour of the little sweep, who, having knocked and rung till his arm aches, and being interdicted by a merciful legislature from endangering his lungs by calling out, sits patiently down on the door-step until the house maid may happen to awake.

Covent-garden market, and the avenues leading to it, are thronged with carts of all sorts, sizes, and descriptions, from the heavy lumbering waggon, with its four stout horses, to the jingling coster-monger’s cart with its consumptive donkey. The pavement is already strewed with decayed cabbage-leaves, broken hay-bands, and all the indescribable litter of a vegetable market, and the numerous noises are almost as multifarious—men shouting, carts backing, horses neighing, boys fighting, basket-women talking, piemen expatiating on the excellence of their pastry, donkeys braying, and a hundred other sounds, form a compound discordant enough, even to a Londoner’s ears, and remarkably disagreeable to those of country gentlemen, who are sleeping at the Hummums for the first time.

Another hour passes away, and the day begins in good earnest. The servant of all-work, who, under the plea of sleeping very soundly, has utterly disregarded "Missis's" ringing for half an hour previously, is warned by Master (whom Missis has sent up in his drapery to the landing-place for that purpose) that it’s half-past six, whereupon she awakes all of a sudden with well feigned astonishment, and goes down stairs very sulkily, wishing, while she strikes a light, that the principle of spontaneous combustion would extend itself to coals and kitchen ranges. When the fire is lit she opens the street-door to take in the milk, when, by the most singular coincidence in the world, she discovers that the servant next door has just taken in her milk too, and that Mr. Todd’s young man over the way, is by an equally extraordinary chance taking down his master’s shutters. The inevitable consequence is, that she just steps, milk-jug in hand, as far as next door, just to say "good morning" to Betsy Clark, and that Mr. Todd’s young man just steps over the way just to say "good morning" to both of ’em; and as the aforesaid Mr. Todd’s young man is almost as good-looking and fascinating as the baker himself, the conversation quickly becomes very interesting, and probably would become more so, if Betsy Clark’s missis, who always will be a followin’ her about, didn’t give an angry tap at her bed-room window, on which Mr. Todd’s young man tries to whistle coolly, as he goes back to his shop much faster than he came from it; and the two girls run back to their respective places, and shut their street-doors with surprising softness, each of them poking their heads out of the front parlour-window a minute afterwards, however, ostensibly with the view of looking at the mail which just then passes by, but really for the purpose of catching another glimpse of Mr. Todd’s young man, who, being fond of mails, but more fond of females, takes a short look at the coach and a long look at the girls, much to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

The mail itself goes on to the coach-office in due course, and the passengers who are going out by the early coach, stare with astonishment at the passengers who are coming in by the early coach, who look blue and dismal, and are evidently under the influence of that odd feeling produced by travelling, which makes the events of yesterday morning seem as if they had happened at least six months ago, and induces people to wonder with considerable gravity whether the friends and relations they took leave of, a fortnight before, have altered much since they have left them. The coach-office is all alive, and the coaches which are just going out are surrounded by the usual crowd of Jews and nondescripts, who seem to consider, Heaven knows why, that it's quite impossible any man can mount a coach without requiring at least sixpenn'orth of oranges, a penknife, a pocket-book, a last year’s annual, a pencil-case, a piece of sponge, and a small series of caricatures.

Half-an-hour more, and the sun darts his bright rays cheerfully down the still half-empty streets, and shines with sufficient force to rouse the diurnal laziness of the apprentice, who pauses every other minute from his task of sweeping out the shop and watering the pavement in front of it, to tell another apprentice similarly employed how hot it will be to-day, or to stand with his right hand shading his eyes and his left resting on the broom, gazing at the Wonder, or the Tally-Ho, or the Nimrod, or some other fast coach, till it's out of sight, when he re-enters the shop, envying the passengers on the outside of the fast coach, and thinking of the old red brick house "down in the country," where he went to school: the miseries of thin milk and water and thick bread and scrapings, fading into nothing before the pleasant recollection of the green field the boys used to play in, and the green pond he was caned for presuming to fall into, and other school-boy associations.

Cabs, with trunks and band-boxes between the drivers’ legs, and outside the apron, rattle briskly up and down the streets on their way to the coach-offices, or steam-packet wharfs; and the cab-drivers and hackney-coachmen who are on the stand, polish up the ornamental part of their dingy vehiclesthe former wondering how people can prefer "them wild beast cariwans of omnibuses, to a riglar cab with a fast trotter," and the latter admiring how people can trust their necks into one of "them crazy cabs, when they can have a ’spectable ackney cotche with a pair of orses as von’t run away with no vun;"a consolation unquestionably founded in fact, seeing that a hackney-coach horse never was known to run at all, "except," as the smart cabman in front of the rank observes, "except one, and he run back’ards!"

The shops are now completely opened, and apprentices and shopmen are busily engaged in cleaning and decking the windows for the day. The bakers’ shops in town are filled with servants and children waiting for the drawing of the first batch of rollsan operation which was performed a full hour ago, in the suburbs; for the early-clerk population of Somers and Camdon Towns, Islington and Pentonville, are fast pouring into the City, or directing their steps towards Chancery-lane and the Inns of court. Middle-aged men, whose salaries have by no means increased in the same proportion as their families, plod steadily along, apparently with no object in view but the counting-house: knowing by sight almost every body they meet or overtake, for they have seen them every morning (Sunday excepted) during the last twenty years; but speaking to no one. If they do happen to overtake a personal acquaintance, they just exchange a hurried salutation, and keep walking on, either by his side or in front of him, as his rate of walking may chance to be. As to stopping to shake hands, or to take the friend’s arm, they seem to think that it is not included in their salary, and they have no right to do it. Small office lads in large hats, who are made men before they are boys, hurry along in pairs with their first coat carefully brushed, and the white trowsers of last Sunday plentifully besmeared with dust and ink. It evidently requires a considerable mental struggle to avoid investing part of the day’s dinner-money in the purchase of the stale tarts so temptingly exposed in dusty tins at the pastry-cooks’ doors; but a consciousness of their own importance, and the receipt of seven shillings a week, with the prospect of an early rise to eight, comes to their aid, and they accordingly put their hats a little more on one side, and look under the bonnets of all the milliners’ and stay-makers’ apprentices they meet. Poor girls! The hardest worked, the worst paid, and, too often, the worst used, class of the community.

Eleven o’clock, and a new set of people fill the streets. The goods in the shop windows are invitingly arranged; the shopmen in their white neckerchiefs, and spruce coats, look as if they couldn’t clean a window if their lives depended on it; the carts have disappeared from Covent Garden; the waggoners have returned, and the costermongers repaired to their ordinary "beats" in the suburbs; clerks are at their offices, and gigs, cabs, omnibuses, and saddle-horses, are conveying their masters to the same destination. The streets are thronged with a vast concourse of peoplegay and shabby, rich and poor, idle and industrious; and we come to the heat, bustle, and activity, of NOON.



The Streets by Night.

But the Streets of London, to be beheld in the very height of their glory, should be seen on a dark, dull, murky, winter’s night, when there is just enough damp gently stealing down to make the pavement greasy, without cleaning it of any of its impurities, and when the heavy lazy mist which hangs over every object makes the gas lamps look brighter, and the brilliantly-lighted shops more splendid, from the contrast they present to the darkness around. Everybody at home on such a night as this, seem disposed to make themselves as snug and comfortable as possible; and the passengers in the streets have excellent reason to envy the fortunate individuals who are seated by their own fire-sides. 

In the larger and better kind of streets, dining parlour curtains are closely drawn, kitchen fires blaze brightly up, and savoury steams of hot dinners salute the nostrils of the hungry wayfarer, as he plods wearily by the area railings. In the suburbs, the muffin-boy rings his way down the little street, much more slowly than he is wont to do: for Mrs. Macklin, at No. 4, has no sooner opened her little street door and screamed out "Muffins" with all her might, than Mrs. Walker at No. 5, puts her head out of the parlour-window, and screams "Muffins" too, and Mrs. Walker has scarcely got the word out of her lips, than Mrs. Peplow over the way, lets loose Master Peplow, who darts down the street with a velocity which nothing but buttered muffins in perspective could possibly inspire, and drags the boy back by main force, whereupon Mrs. Macklin and Mrs. Walker, just to save the boy trouble, and to say a few neighbourly words to Mrs. Peplow at the same time, run over the way and buy their muffins at Mrs. Peplow’s door, when it appears from the voluntary statement of Mrs. Walker, that her kittle’s just a-biling, and the cups and sarsers ready laid, and that, as it was such a wretched night out o’ doors, she’d made up her mind to have a nice hot comfortable cup o’ tea—a determination at which, by the most singular coincidence, the other two ladies had simultaneously arrived. 

After a little conversation about the wretchedness of the weather and the merits of tea, with a digression relative to the viciousness of boys as a rule, and the amiability of Master Peplow as an exception, Mrs. Walker sees her husband coming down the street; and as he must want his tea, poor man, after his dirty walk from the Docks, she instantly runs across, muffins in hand, and Mrs. Macklin does the same, and after a few words to Mrs. Walker, they all pop into their little houses and slam their little street doors, which are not opened again for the remainder of the evening, except to the nine o’clock "beer," who comes round with a lantern in front of his tray, and says, as he lends Mrs. Walker "Yesterday’s 'Tiser," that he’s blessed if he can hardly hold the p, much less feel the paper, for it’s one of the bitterest nights he ever felt, ’cept the night when the man was frozen to death in the Brick-field. 

After a little prophetic conversation with the policeman at the street-corner, touching a probable change in the weather, and the setting-in of a hard frost, the nine o’clock beer returns to his master’s house, and employs himself for the remainder of the evening, in assiduously stirring the tap-room fire, and deferentially taking part in the conversation of the worthies assembled round it.

The streets in the vicinity of the Marsh-gate and Victoria Theatre present an appearance of dirt, and discomfort on such a night, which the groups who lounge about them, in no degree tend to diminish.  Even the little block-tin temple sacred to baked potatoes, surmounted by a splendid design in variegated lamps, looks less gay than usual: and as to the kidney-pie stand, its glory has quite departed. The candle in the transparent lamp, manufactured of oiled paper, embellished with "Characters" has been blown out fifty times, so the kidney-pie merchant, tired with running backwards and forwards to the next wine-vaults to get a light, has given up the idea of illumination in despair, and the only signs of his whereabout, are the bright sparks, of which a long irregular train is whirled down the street every time he opens his portable oven to hand a hot kidney-pie to a customer. 

Flat-fish, oyster, and fruit-vendors linger hopelessly in the kennel, in vain endeavouring to attract customers; and the ragged boys who usually disport themselves about the streets, stand crouched in little knots in some projecting doorway, or under the canvass window blind of the cheesemonger’s, where great flaring gas lights, unshaded by any glass, display huge piles of bright red, and pale yellow cheeses, mingled with little five-penny dabs of dingy bacon, various tubs of weekly Dorset, and cloudy rolls of "best fresh." 

Here they amuse themselves with theatrical converse, arising out of their last half-price visit to the Victoria gallery, admire the terrific combat, which is nightly encored, and expatiate on the inimitable manner in which Bill Thompson can come the double monkey, or go through the mysterious involutions of a sailor’s hornpipe.

It is nearly eleven o’clock, and the cold thin rain which has been drizzling so long, is beginning to pour down in good earnest; the baked-tatur man has departed—the kidney-pie man has just departed with his warehouse on his arm with the same object—the cheesemonger has drawn in his blind,— and the boys have dispersed. The constant clicking of pattens on the slippy and uneven pavement, and the rustling of umbrellas, as the wind blows against the shop windows, bear testimony to the inclemency of the night; and the policeman, with his oil-skin cape buttoned closely round him, seems as he holds his hat on his head, and turns round to avoid the gust of wind and rain which drives against him at the street corner, to be very far from congratulating himself on the prospect before him. 

The little chandler’s shop, with the cracked bell behind the door, whose melancholy tinkling has been regulated by the demand for quarterns of sugar and half-ounces of coffee, is shutting up. The crowds which have been passing to and fro during the whole day, are rapidly dwindling away; and the noise of shouting and quarrelling which issues from the public houses, is almost the only sound that breaks the melancholy stillness of the night. 

There was another, but it has ceased. That wretched woman with the infant in her arms, round whose meagre form the remnant of her own scanty shawl is carefully wrapped, has been attempting to sing some popular ballad in the hope of wringing a few pence from the compassionate passer-by. A brutal laugh at her weak voice, is all she has gained. The tears fall thick and fast down her worn pale face; the child is cold and hungry, and its low half-stifled wailing adds to the misery of its wretched mother, as she moans aloud, and sinks despairingly down, on a cold damp door-step.

Singing! How few of those who pass such a miserable creature as this, think of the anguish of heart, the sinking of soul and spirit, which the very effort of singing produces. What a bitter mockery! Disease, neglect, and starvation faintly articulating the words of the joyous ditty that has enlivened your hours of feasting and merriment, God knows how often! It is no subject for jeering. The weak tremulous voice tells a fearful tale of want and famishing; and the feeble singer of this roaring song, may turn away, only to die of cold and hunger.

One o’clock! Parties returning from the different theatres foot it through the muddy streets; cabs, hackney-coaches, carriages, and theatre omnibuses, roll swiftly by; watermen with dim dirty lanterns in their hands, and large brass plates upon their breasts, who have been shouting and rushing about, for the last two hours, retire to their watering houses, to solace themselves with the creature comforts of pipes and purl; the half-price pit and box frequenters of the theatres, throng to the different houses of refreshment; and chops, kidneys, rabbits, oysters, stout, cigars, and "goes" innumerable, are served up amidst a noise and confusion of smoking, running, knife clattering, and waiter clattering, perfectly indescribable. 

The more musical portion of the play-going community betake themselves to some harmonic meeting; and, as a matter of curiosity we will follow them thither for a few moments.

In a lofty room, of spacious dimensions, are some eighty or a hundred guests knocking little pewter measures on the tables, and hammering away, with the handles of their knives, as if they were so many trunk makers. They are applauding a glee, which has just been executed by the three "professional gentlemen" at the top of the centre table, one of whom is in the chair—the little pompous man with the bald head just emerging from the collar of his green coat. The others are seated on either side of him—the stout man with the small voice, and the thin-faced dark man in black. The little man in the chair is a most amusing personage,—such condescending grandeur, and such a voice.

"Bass!" as the young gentleman near us with the blue stock forcibly remarks to his companion, "bass!  I b’lieve you, he can go down lower than any man: so low sometimes that you can’t hear him." And so he does. To hear him growling away, gradually lower and lower down, till he can’t get back again, is the most delightful thing in the world, and it is quite impossible to witness unmoved the impressive solemnity with which he pours forth his soul in "My ’art’s in the Highlands, or "The Brave old Hoak." The stout man is also addicted to sentimentality, and warbles "Fly fly from the World, my Bessy, with me," or some such song, with lady-like sweetness and in the most seductive tones imaginable.

"Pray give your orders gen’l’m’n—pray give your orders"—says the pale-faced man with the red-head; and demands for "goes" of gin and "goes" of brandy, and pints of stout, and cigars of peculiar mildness, are vociferously made from all parts of the room. The "professional gentlemen" are in the very height of their glory, and bestow condescending nods, or even a word or two of recognition on the better known frequenters of the room, in the most bland and patronising manner possible.

The little round-faced man with the small brown surtout, white stockings and shoes, is in the comic line; the mixed air of self-denial, and mental consciousness of his own powers, with which he acknowledges the call of the chair, is particularly gratifying. "Gentlemen," says the little pompous man, accompanying the word with a knock of the president’s hammer on the table—"Gentlemen, allow me to claim your attention—Our friend Mr. Smuggins will oblige."—"Bravo!" shout the company, and Smuggins, after a considerable quantity of coughing by way of symphony, and a most facetious sniff or two, which afford general delight, sings a comic song with a fal-de-ral—tol-de-rol chorus at the end of every verse, much longer than the verse itself. It is received with unbounded applause; and after some aspiring genius has volunteered a recitation, and failed dismally therein, the little pompous man gives another knock, and says "Gen'lm'n, we will attempt a glee, if you please." This announcement calls forth tumultuous applause, and the more energetic spirits express the unqualified approbation it affords them by knocking one or two stout glasses off their legs—a humorous device; but one which frequently occasions some slight altercation when the form of paying the damage is proposed to be gone through, by the waiter.

Scenes like these, are continued until three or four o’clock in the morning; and even when they close, fresh ones open to the inquisitive novice.  But as a description of all of them, however slight, would require a volume, the contents of which, however instructive, would be by no means pleasing, we make our bow, and drop the curtain.


Making a Night of it.

Damon and Pythias were undoubtedly very good fellows in their way: the former for his extreme readiness to put in special bail for a friend; and the latter for a certain trump-like punctuality in turning up just in the very nick of time, scarcely less remarkable. Many points in their character have now obsolete. Damons are rather hard to find in these days of imprisonment for debt (except the sham ones, and they cost half-a-crown); and, as to the Pythiases, the few that have existed in these degenerate times, have had an unfortunate knack of making themselves scarce, at the very moment when their appearance would have been strictly classical. If the actions of these heroes, however, can find no parallel in modern times, their friendship can. We have Damon and Pythias on the one handPotter and Smithers on the other; and lest the two last-mentioned names should never have reached the ears of our unenlightened readers, we can do no better than make them acquainted with the owners thereof.

Mr. Thomas Potter, then, was a clerk in the city, and Mr. Robert Smithers was a ditto in the same; their incomes were limited, but their friendship was unbounded. They lived in the same street, walked into town every morning at the same hour, dined at the same slap-bang every day, and revelled in each other’s company very night. They were knit together by the closest ties of intimacy and friendship; or, as Mr. Thomas Potter touchingly observed, they were "thick-and-thin pals, and nothing but it." There was a spice of romance in Mr. Smithers’s dispositiona ray of poetrya gleam of miserya sort of consciousness of he didn’t exactly know what coming across him he didn’t precisely know whywhich stood out in fine relief against the off-hand, dashing, amateur-pickpocket-sort-of-manner, which distinguished Mr. Potter in an eminent degree.

The peculiarity of their respective dispositions, extended itself to their individual costume. Mr. Smithers generally appeared in public, in a surtout and shoes, with a narrow black neckerchief, and a brown hat, very much turned up at the sides peculiarities which Mr. Potter wholly eschewed: for it was his ambition to do something in the celebrated "kiddy" or stage-coach way, and he had even gone so far as to invest capital in the purchase of a rough blue coat with wooden buttons, made upon the fireman’s principle, in which, with the addition of a low-crowned, flower-pot-saucer-shaped hat, he had created no inconsiderable sensation at the Albion, and divers other places of public and fashionable resort.

Mr. Potter and Mr. Smithers had mutually agreed that, on the receipt of their quarter’s salary, they would jointly and in company "spend the evening" an evident misnomerthe spending applying, as everybody knows, not to the evening itself, but to all the money the individual may chance to be possessed of, on the occasion to which reference is made; and they had likewise agreed that, on the evening aforesaid, they would "make a night of it"an expressive term, implying the borrowing of several hours from to-morrow morning, adding them to the night before, and manufacturing a compound night of the whole.

The quarter-day arrived at lastwe say at last, because quarter-days are as eccentric as comets, moving wonderfully quick when you've a good deal to pay, and marvellously slow when you have a little to receive: and Mr. Thomas Potter and Mr. Robert Smithers met by appointment to begin the evening with a dinner; and a nice, snug, comfortable dinner they had, consisting of a little procession of four chops, and four kidneys, following each other, supported on either side by a pot of the real draught stout, and attended by divers cushions of bread, and wedges of cheese.

When the cloth was removed, Mr. Thomas Potter ordered the waiter to bring in, two goes of his best Scotch whiskey, with warm water and sugar, and a couple of his "very mildest" Havannahs, which the waiter did. Mr. Thomas Potter mixed his grog, and lit his cigar; Mr. Robert Smithers did the same; and then Mr. Thomas Potter jocularly proposed as the first toast, "the abolition of all offices whatever" (not sinecures, but counting-houses), which was immediately drank by Mr. Robert Smithers, with enthusiastic applause; and then they went on talking politics, puffing cigars, and sipping whiskey and water, until the "goes"most appropriately so calledwere both gone, which Mr. Robert Smithers forthwith perceiving, immediately ordered in two more goes of the best Scotch whiskey, and two more of the very mildest Havannahs; and the goes kept coming in, and the mild Havannahs kept going out, until what with the drinking, and lighting, and puffing, and the stale ashes on the table, and the tallow-grease on the cigars, Mr. Robert Smithers began to doubt the mildness of the Havannahs, and to feel very much as if he had been sitting in a hackney-coach, with his back to the horses.

As to Mr. Thomas Potter, he would keep laughing out loud, and volunteering inarticulate declarations that he was "all right," in proof of which, he feebly bespoke the evening paper after the next gentleman, but finding it a matter of some difficulty to discover any news in its columns, or to ascertain distinctly whether it had any columns at all, he walked slowly out to look for the comet, and after coming back quite pale with looking up at the sky so long, and attempting to express mirth at Mr. Robert Smithers having fallen asleep, by various galvanic chuckles, he laid his head on his arm, and went to sleep also. When he awoke again, Mr. Robert Smithers woke too, and they both very gravely agreed that it was extremely unwise to eat so many pickled walnuts with the chops, as it was a notorious fact that they always made people queer and sleepy; indeed, if it hadn't been for the whiskey and cigars, there was no knowing what harm they mightn’t have done ’em. So they took some coffee, and after paying the bill, twelve and two-pence the dinner, and the odd ten-pence for the waiter, thirteen shillings, started out on their expedition to manufacture a night.

It was just half-past eight, so they thought they couldn’t do better than go half-price to the slips at the City Theatre, which they did accordingly. Mr. Robert Smithers, who had become extremely poetical after the settlement of the bill, enlivening the walk by informing Mr. Thomas Potter, in confidence, that he felt an inward presentiment of approaching dissolution: and subsequently embellishing the theatre, by falling asleep, with his head and both arms gracefully drooping over the front of the boxes.

Such was the quiet demeanour of the unassuming Smithers, and such were the happy effects of Scotch whiskey and Havannahs on that interesting person; but Mr. Thomas Potter, whose great aim it was to be considered as a "knowing card," a "fast-goer," and so forth, conducted himself in a very different manner, and commenced going very fast indeedrather too fast at last, for the patience of the audience to keep pace with. On his first entry, he contented himself by earnestly calling upon the gentlemen in the gallery to "flare up," accompanying the demand with another request expressive of his wish that they would instantaneously "form a union," both which requisitions were responded to in the manner most in vogue on such occasions. "Give that dog a bone," cried one gentleman in his shirt sleeves. "Vere have you been having half a pint of intermediate?" cried a second. "Tailor!" screamed a third. "Barber’s clerk!" shouted a fourth. "Throw him over!" roared a fifth, while numerous voices concurred in desiring Mr. Thomas Potter to return to the arms of his maternal parent, or in common parlance to "go home to his mother." All these taunts Mr. Thomas Potter received with supreme contempt, cocking the low-crowned hat a little more on one side, whenever any reference was made to his personal appearance; and standing up with his arms a-kimbo, expressing defiance most melodramatically.

The overtureto which these various sounds had been an ad libitum accompanimentconcluded: the second piece began, and Mr. Thomas Potter emboldened by impunity, proceeded to behave in a most unprecedented and outrageous manner. First of all he imitated the shake of the principal female singer: then groaned at the blue fire, then affected to be frightened into convulsions of terror at the appearance of the ghost; and lastly, not only made a running commentary in an audible voice, upon the dialogue on the stage, but actually woke Mr. Robert Smithers who, hearing his companion making a noise, and having a very indistinct notion of where he was, or what was required of him, immediately, by way of imitating a good example, set up the most unearthly, unremitting, and appalling howling that ever audience heard. It was too much. "Turn 'em out," was the general cry. A noise as of shuffling of feet, and men being knocked up with violence against wainscotting, was heard: a hurried dialogue of "come out""I won’t""You shall""I shan’t""Give me your card Sir""You're a scoundrel, Sir," and so forth, succeeded; a round of applause betokened the approbation of the audience; and Mr. Robert Smithers and Mr. Thomas Potter found themselves shot with astonishing swiftness into the road, without having had the trouble of once putting foot to ground during the whole progress of their rapid descent.

Mr. Robert Smithers being constitutionally one of the slow-goers, and having had quite enough of fast-going, in the course of his recent expulsion, to last 'till the quarter-day then next ensuing, at the very least, had no sooner emerged with his companion from the precincts of Milton-street, than he proceeded to indulge in circuitous references to the beauties of sleep, mingled with distant allusions to the propriety of returning to Islington, and testing the influence of their patent Bramahs over the street-door locks to which they respectively belonged. Mr. Thomas Potter, however, was valorous and peremptory. They had come out to make a night of it; and a night must be made. So Mr. Robert Smithers, who was three parts dull, and the other dismal, despairingly assented; and they went into a wine-vaults to get materials for assisting them in making a night, where they found a good many young ladies, and various old gentlemen, and a plentiful sprinkling of hackney-coachmen and cab-drivers, all drinking and talking together; and Mr. Thomas Potter and Mr. Robert Smithers drank small glasses of brandy, and large glasses of soda, till they began to have a very confused idea either of things in general, or anything in particular; and when they had done treating themselves, they began to treat everybody else; and the rest of the entertainment was a confused mixture of heads and heels, black eyes and blue uniforms, mud and gas-lights, thick doors, and a stone paving. Then, as standard novelists expressively inform us—"all was a blank!" and in the morning the blank was filled up with the words "Station-house," and the station-house was filled up with Mr. Thomas Potter, Mr. Robert Smithers, and the major part of their wine-vault companions of the preceding night, with a comparatively small portion of clothing of any kind. And it was disclosed at the Police-office to the indignation of the Bench, and the astonishment of the spectators, how one Robert Smithers aided and abetted by one Thomas Potter, had knocked down and beaten, in divers streets, at different times, five men, four boys, and three women; how the said Thomas Potter had feloniously obtained possession of five door-knockers, two bell-handles, and a bonnet; how Robert Smithers, his friend, had sworn, at least forty pounds’ worth of oaths, at the rate of five shillings a-piece, terrified whole streets-full of His Majesty’s subjects, with awful shrieks and alarms of fire, destroyed the uniforms of five policemen; and committed various other atrocities, too numerous to recapitulate. And the magistrate, after an appropriate reprimand, fined Mr. Thomas Potter and Mr. Thomas Smithers, five shillings each, for being, what the law vulgarly terms, drunk, with the trifling addition of thirty-four pounds, for seventeen assaults, at five shillings a-head, with liberty to speak to the prosecutors.

The prosecutors were spoken to; and Messrs. Potter and Smithers lived on credit for a quarter, as best they might; and, although the prosecutors expressed their readiness to be assaulted twice a-week on the same terms, they have never since been detected in making a night of it.

Criminal Courts.

We shall never forget the mingled feelings of awe and respect, with which we used to gaze on the exterior of Newgate in our schoolboy days. How dreadful its rough, heavy walls, and low massive doors, appeared to us—the latter looking as if they were made for the express purpose of letting people in, and never letting them out again. Then the fetters over the debtors’ door, which we used to think were a bonâ fide set of irons, just hung up there, for convenience sake, ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice, and rivetted on the limbs of some refractory felon! We used to wonder how the hackney-coachmen on the opposite stand could cut jokes in the presence of such horrors, and drink pots of half-and-half so near the last drop.

Often have we strayed here in sessions time, just to catch a glimpse of the whipping-place, and that dark building on one side of the yard, in which is kept the gibbet with all its dreadful apparatus, and on the door of which we half expected to see a brass plate, with the inscription "Mr. Ketch;" for we never imagined that the distinguished functionary could by possibility live anywhere else. The days of these childish dreams have passed away, and with them many other boyish ideas of a gayer nature. But we still retain so much of our original feeling, that to this hour we never pass the building without something like a shudder.

What London pedestrian is there who has not, at some time or other, cast a hurried glance through the wicket at which prisoners are admitted into this gloomy mansion, and surveyed the few objects he could discern, with an indescribable feeling of curiosity? The thick door, plated with iron and mounted with spikes, just low enough to enable you to see, leaning over them, an ill-looking fellow in a broad-brimmed hat, belcher handkerchief, and top boots, with a brown coat, something between a great coat and a "sporting" jacket, on his back, and an immense key in his left hand. Perhaps you are lucky enough to pass just as the gate is being opened; then you see on the other side of the lodge, another gate, the very image of its predecessor, and two or three more turnkeys, who look like multiplications of the first one, seated round a fire which just lights up the whitewashed apartment sufficiently to enable you to catch a hasty glimpse of these different objects. We have a great respect for Mrs. Fry, but she certainly ought to have written more romances than Mrs. Radcliffe.

We were walking leisurely down the Old Bailey, a few weeks ago, when, just as we passed this identical gate, it was opened by the officiating turnkey. We turned quickly round, as a matter of course, and saw two persons descending the steps. We could not help stopping and observing them.

They were an elderly woman, of decent appearance, though evidently poor, and a boy of about fourteen or fifteen. The woman was crying bitterly; she carried a small bundle in her hand, and the boy followed at a short distance behind her. Their little history was obvious. The boy was her son, to whose early comfort she had perhaps sacrificed her own; for whose sake she had borne misery without repining, and poverty without a murmur; looking steadily forward to the time, when he who had so long witnessed her struggles for himself, might be enabled to make some exertions for their joint support. He had formed dissolute connexions; idleness had led to crime, and he had been committed to take his trial for some petty theft. He had been long in prison, and, after receiving some trifling additional punishments, had been ordered to be discharged that morning. It was his first offence, and his poor old mother, still hoping to reclaim him, had been waiting at the gate to implore him to return home.

We cannot forget the boy; he descended the steps with a dogged look, shaking his head with an air of bravado, and obstinate determination. They walked a few paces, and paused. The woman put her hand upon his shoulder in an agony of entreaty, and the boy sullenly raised his head as if in refusal. It was a brilliant morning, and every object looked fresh and happy in the broad, gay sun-light; he gazed around him for a few moments, bewildered with the brightness of the scene—it was long since he had beheld any thing save the gloomy walls of a prison. The contrast was powerful; perhaps the wretchedness of his mother made some impression on the boy’s heart; perhaps some undefined recollection of the time when he was a happy child, and she his only friend, and best companion, crowded on him—he burst into tears; and covering his face with one hand, and hurriedly placing the other in his mother’s, they walked away together. 

Curiosity has occasionally led us into both Courts at the Old Bailey. Nothing is so likely to strike the person who enters them for the first time, as the calm indifference with which the proceedings are conducted; every trial seems a mere matter of business. There is a great deal of form, but no compassion; considerable interest, but no sympathy. Take the Old Court for example. There sit the Judges, with whose great dignity everybody is acquainted, and of whom therefore we need say no more. Then, there is the Lord Mayor in the centre, looking as cool as a Lord Mayor can look, with an immense bouquet before him, and habited in all the splendour of his office. Then there are the Sheriffs, who are almost as dignified as the Lord Mayor himself; and the Barristers, who are quite dignified enough in their own opinion; and the spectators, who having paid for their admission, look upon the whole scene as if it were got up especially for their amusement. Look upon the whole group in the body of the Court—some wholly engrossed in the morning papers, others carelessly conversing in low whispers, and others, again, quietly dozing away an hour—and you can scarcely believe that the result of the trial is a matter of life or death to one wretched being present.

Turn your eyes to the dock; watch the prisoner attentively for a few moments, and the fact is before you, in all its painful reality. Mark how restlessly he has been engaged for the last ten minutes, in forming all sorts of fantastic figures with the herbs which are strewed upon the ledge before him; observe the ashy paleness of his face, when a particular witness appears, and how he changes his position and wipes his clammy forehead, and feverish hands, when the case for the prosecution is closed, as if it were a relief to him to feel that the jury knew the worst.

The defence is concluded; the judge proceeds to sum up the evidence, and the prisoner watches the countenances of the jury, as a dying man, clinging to life to the very last, vainly looks in the face of his physician for one slight ray of hope. They turn round to consult; you can almost hear the man’s heart beat, as he bites that stalk of rosemary, with a desperate effort to appear composed. They resume their places; a dead silence prevails as the foreman delivers in the verdict—"Guilty!" An appalling shriek bursts from a female in the gallery; the prisoner casts one look at the quarter from whence the noise proceeded, and is immediately hurried from the dock by the gaoler. The clerk directs one of the officers of the court to "take the woman out," and fresh business is proceeded with, as if nothing had occurred.

No imaginary contrast to a case like this, could be as complete as that which is constantly presented in the New Court, the gravity of which is frequently disturbed in no small degree, by the cunning and pertinacity of juvenile offenders. A boy of thirteen is tried, say for picking the pocket of some subject of his Majesty, and the offence is about as clearly proved as an offence can be. He is called upon for his defence, and contents himself with a little declamation about the jurymen and his country—asserts that all the witnesses have committed perjury, and hints that the police force generally, have entered into a conspiracy "again" him. However probable this statement may be, it fails to convince the Court, and some such scene as the following then takes place:—

Court: Have you any witnesses to speak to your character, boy?

Boy: Yes, my Lord; fifteen gen’lm’n is a vaten outside, and vos a vaten all day yesterday, vich they told me the night afore my trial vos a comin’ on.

Court: Inquire for these witnesses.

Here, a stout beadle runs out, and vociferates for the witnesses at the very top of his voice; you hear his cry grow fainter and fainter as he descends the steps into the court-yard below. After an absence of five minutes, he returns very warm, and hoarse, and informs the Court of what it was perfectly well aware of, before—namely, that there are no such witnesses in attendance. Hereupon the boy sets up the most awful howling ever heard within or without the walls of a court; screws the lower part of the palms of his hands into the corners of his eyes, and endeavours to look the picture of injured innocence. The jury at once find him "guilty," and his endeavours to squeeze out a tear or two, are redoubled. The governor of the gaol then states, in reply to an inquiry from the bench, that the prisoner has been under his care twice before. This the urchin resolutely denies in some such terms as—"S’elp me God, gen’lm’n, I never vos in trouble afore—indeed, my Lord, I never vos. It’s all a howen to my having a twin brother, vich has wrongfully taken to prigging, and vich is so exactly like me, that no vun ever knows the difference atween us."

This representation, like the defence, fails in producing the desired effect, and the boy is sentenced, perhaps, to seven years’ transportation. Finding it impossible to excite compassion, he gives vent to his feelings in an indignant cry of "Flare up, old big vig!" and as he declines to take the trouble of walking from the dock, is forthwith carried out by two men, congratulating himself on having succeeded in giving everybody as much trouble as possible.

Publication Type

Pseudonym

Files

1837_Sketches_by_Boz_Second_Series.pdf

Collection

Citation

Dickens, Charles, “Sketches by Boz, Second Series (1837),” Dickens Search, accessed January 27, 2023, https://www.dickenssearch.com/short-stories/1837_Sketches_by_Boz_Second_Series.

Document Viewer

Transcribe This Item

  1. 1837_Sketches_by_Boz_Second_Series.pdf

Social Bookmarking