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The Progress of the Nation page 12


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The city apprentices still kept up their riotous character. On one occasion, having attacked and beaten their masters, they were some of them put into the pillory; whereupon they tore down the pillory, and when set up again, they again pulled it down. There were feuds and street encounters everywhere. The weavers and butchers, the frequenters of bear-gardens and theatres, or sword-players, were continually falling into parties and ending the dispute by a general melee. Macaulay has given the following account of the treatment which a visitor from the country used to meet with in this refined capital: - "When the lord of a Lincolnshire or a Shropshire manor appeared in Fleet Street, he was as easily distinguished from the resident population as a Turk or a Lascar. His dress, his gait, his accent, the manner in which he gazed at the shops, stumbled into the gutters, ran against the porters, and stood under the waterspouts marked him out as an excellent subject for the operations of swindlers and banterers. Bullies jostled him into the kennel, hackney - coachmen splashed him from head to foot, thieves explored with perfect security the huge pockets of his horseman's coat, whilst he stood entranced by the splendour of the lord mayor's show; money-droppers, sore from the cart's tail, introduced themselves to him, and appeared the most honest, friendly gentlemen that he had ever seen; painted women, the refuse of Leuckner Lane and Whetstone Park, passed themselves on him for countesses and maids of honour. If he asked the way to St. James's, his informant sent him to Mile End; if he went into a shop, he was instantly discerned to be a fit purchaser of everything that nobody else would buy - of second-hand embroidery, copper rings, and watches that would not go; if he rambled into any fashionable coffee-house, he became the mark for the insolent derision of fops, and the grave waggery of templars. Enraged and mortified, he soon returned to his mansion."

The aristocracy had evacuated the city - especially since the fire - and had located themselves along the Strand, Lincoln's Inn Fields, Bloomsbury, Soho, and all quarters tending towards Whitehall; others located themselves in Covent Garden; and in the fields now covered by the piles of Bedford Square and the British Museum stood the magnificent mansions of Bedford House and Montague House. But most of the sites of the splendid squares and streets of our now West End were open country, or the rubbish-heaps of the neighbourhood. Club-life was now beginning. There were numbers of political clubs; the most famous of which was the King's Head, or Green Ribbon Club, from the members wearing a green ribbon in their hats, to distinguish them from their opponents; there was the club of Shaftesbury and the whig party, which was engaged in the design of excluding the duke of York from the succession, and which raised all the Titus Qates' plots to accomplish their object. It met at the King's Head Tavern opposite to the Temple Gate.' But coffee-houses, now become general, were in reality clubs; and every class and party had its coffeehouse, where its members met. There was the literary coffee-house, called Will's, situate between Covent Garden and Bow Street, where Dryden was the great man, and where literary lords, literary lawyers, dramatists, players, and wits of all sorts met to settle the merits of literature and the stage. There were lawyers' coffee-houses, citizens' coffeehouses, doctors' coffee-houses, the chief of them Garraway's; Jesuits' coffee-houses, puritans' coffee-houses, and popish coffee-houses, where every man found his fellows, and partisans met and learned the news; and in these haunts the spirit of party and of religious antagonism was carried to its fiercest height. The chief place of public lounging was the New Exchange in the city, and Spring Gardens, Hyde Park, and the Mulberry Garden, which were continually occurring in the comedies of the day as the places of assignation, as well as the fashionable masquerades.

But whilst such were the most marked features of life in London at this day, we are not to suppose that there was not a large amount of the population who retained a love of virtue, purity, and domestic life. The religious were a numerous class; and the stern morality pf the nonconformists beheld with pity and indignation the dissipated flutterings of the corrupt world around them. Besides these there was a numerous population of sober citizens, who, though they did not go with the puritans in religion, were disgusted with the French manners, maxims, houses, and cookery, and stood by their native modes and ideas with sturdy John Bullism. The musical taste of the age tended to draw them together to more rational enjoyments than debauchery and the tainted stage, and the increasing use of coffee and tea gave to musical and social parties a more homelike and refined character.

The popular sports and amusements still, however, maintained their usual character. All the old cruel sports of bear-baiting, bull-baiting, and cock-fights, which the puritans had suppressed, came back with royalty. Horse- racing was in vogue; and gambling was such a fever amongst the wealthy, that many great estates were squandered at cards, and the duke of St. Albans, when more than eighty years of age, and quite blind, used to sit at the gaming-table from day to day, with a man beside him to tell him the cards. Billiards, chess, backgammon, and cribbage were in great request; and bowls, ninepins, boat- racing, yacht-racing, running at the ring, were sports both with the people and the gentry. Ladies joined in playing at bowls; skating was introduced by the courtiers, who had spent much time in Holland. Swimming and foot-races were fashionable; and we have seen that colonel Blood had planned to shoot Charles once when he went to swim in the Thames near Chelsea, and that the duke of Monmouth in his popular tour ran races against all comers, first -Without boots, and then beat them running in his boots whilst the others ran without.

Charles prided himself on his pedestrian feats. The common people were as much delighted, as their ancestors with all the exhibitions of Bartholomew Fair and Smithfield, of fire-eaters, jugglers, rope-dancers,, dancing dogs and monkeys, Punch, feats of strength, and travelling theatres, where some Scripture story was represented, as is yet the case in France.

In the country, life continued to move on at its usual rate. Land had not reached more than a fourth of its present value, and education was an immense way farther behind, so that a large amount of the aristocracy, including nearly the whole of the squirearchy, continued to live on their estates, and rarely made a visit to London. The ravages which the civil wars had made in all parts of the country had left traces on many a rental which were yet far from being obliterated; and the contempt into which the clerical office had fallen since the reformation, and absorption of the church lands, left one outlet for the sons of the squirearchy at this time little available. The landed gentry, therefore, for the most part continued to occupy a position of great local importance, but, with few exceptions, did not mingle much with the great world of London, or aspire to lead in social or political rivalry on the national arena. The squire was great on the bench and at the quarter sessions; he was often colonel of the militia, and knew his importance in the country; but beyond that he was little heard of except when civil strife called him out to defend the altar and the throne. But within his own little world he was Ťail in all, proud of his power, and prouder of his pedigree; but if the squire Westerns of Fielding's time are faithfully portrayed, how much more rustic, toryfied, and confined in the range of their ideas and experience must they have been nearly two hundred years ago! Few of them had the ambition to distinguish themselves by literary attainments - such accomplishments they left to the Drydens and Danbys of the metropolis. Many heirs of estates, therefore, at this era never went to a university, or, if they did, made but a brief abode there, and returned little better for the sojourn, depending on their property to give them all the eclat they aspired to. To enjoy the sports of the field, attend the county race meeting and county ball, to live surrounded by huntsmen and gamekeepers, to keep a coarse but exuberant table, and to terminate the day's sport by a drunken carouse, included the pursuits and habits of three-fourths of this class. The excess of drunkenness was something that would astonish these teetotal days. The rude and boisterous merriment of sporting squires amid the fumes of tobacco were deemed the quintessence of true life. The height of hospitality was to lay your guest under the table; whilst in the servants' hall the coachman or groom was made quite as fuddled, and master and man were often only sobered by an overturn into a ditch or a wayside pool. These drinking notions came down even to our time, and so much infected not only the country gentry but the literary class, that not many years ago a man was regarded as a man of no spirit or genius who did not drink hard and boast of it. The magazines of our own time kept up this insensate swagger, and the "Noctes" of Blackwood were a roystering echo of the more profane bacchanalian rout of the restoration.

As these gentry went little to town, their manners were proportionably rustic, and their circle of ideas confined, but from their confinement the more sturdy. Toryism of the most ultra type was rampant amongst them. Church and state, and the most hearty contempt of everything like dissent and of foreigners, were regarded as the only maxims for Englishmen; and the most absolute submission of the peasantry to the despotic squirearchy was exacted. In a justice room if a man was poor it was taken for granted that he was wrong. Justice Shallows and Dogberrys were not the originals of the pages of Shakespeare, but of the country bench of magistrates and its constabulary. Ideas travelled slowly, for books were few. A bible, a common prayer-book, and a "Gwillim's Heraldry" were the extent of many a gentleman's library. Newspapers were suppressed by the restrictions on the press during the latter part of Charles's reign; and the news-letters which supplied the country contained a very meagre amount of facts, but no disquisition.

There were few coaches, except in the districts immediately round London, or to the distance of twenty or thirty miles, and the roads were in general impassable in winter. On all but the main lines of highway pack-horses carried the necessary merchandise from place to place through deep narrow tracks, some of which remain to our time. It required four or five days to reach London by coach from Chester, York, or Bristol, and that attended by perils and discomforts that made travellers loth to encounter such a journey, and often to make their wills before starting. Macaulay has summed up the terrors of the road, as given by our diarists, in the following passage: - "On the best lines of communication the ruts were deep, the descents precipitous, and the ways often such that it was hardly possible to distinguish them in the dusk from the uninclosed heath and fen on both sides. Ralph Thoresby, the antiquary, was in danger of losing his way on the great north road between Barnby Moor and Tuxford, and actually lost his way between Doncaster and York; Pepys and his wife, travelling in their own coach, lost their way between Newberry and Reading. In the course of the same tour they lost their way near Salisbury, and were in danger of having to pass the night on the plain. It was only in fine weather that the whole breadth of the road was available for wheeled vehicles. Often the mud lay deep on the right and the left, and only a narrow track of firm ground rose above the quagmire. At such times obstructions and quarrels were frequent, and the pass was frequently blocked up during a long time by carriers neither of whom would give way. It happened almost every day that coaches stuck fast, until a team of cattle could be procured from some neighbouring farm to tug them out of the slough. But in bad seasons the travellers had to encounter inconveniences still more serious. Thoresby, who was in the habit of travelling between Leeds and the capital, has recorded in his diary such a series of perils and disasters as might suffice for a journey to the Frozen Ocean, or to the desert of Sahara. On one occasion he learned that the floods were out between Ware and London, that passengers had to swim for their lives, and that a higgler had perished in the attempt to cross. In consequence of these tidings he turned out of the high road, and was conducted across some meadows, when it was necessary for him to ride to the skirts in water. In the course of another journey he narrowly escaped being swept away by an inundation of the Trent. He was afterwards detained at Stamford four days, on account of the state of the roads, and then ventured to proceed only because fourteen members of the house of commons, who were going up in a body to parliament, with guides and numerous attendants, took him into their company. On the roads of Derbyshire travellers were in constant fear for their necks, and were frequently compelled to alight and lead their beasts. The great route through Wales to Holyhead was in such a state that, in 1685, a viceroy, going to Ireland, was five hours travelling fourteen miles - from Saint Asaph to Conway. Between Conway and Beaumaris he was forced to walk a great part of the way, and his lady was carried in a litter. His coach was, with much difficulty, and by the help of many hands, brought after him entire. In general, carriages were taken to pieces at Conway and borne on the shoulders of stout Welsh peasants to the Menai Straits. In some parts of Kent and Sussex none but the strongest horses could, in winter, get through the bog, in which at every step they sunk deep. The markets were often inaccessible during several months. It is said the fruits of the earth were sometimes suffered to rot in one place, while in another place, distant only a few miles, the supply fell short of the demand. The wheeled carriages in this district were generally pulled by oxen. When Prince George of Denmark visited the stately mansion of Petworth in wet weather he was six hours going nine miles; and it was necessary that a body of sturdy hinds should be on each side of his coach, m order to prop it. Of the carriages which conveyed his retinue several were upset and injured. A letter from one of the party has been preserved, in which the unfortunate courtier complains that, during fourteen hours, he never once alighted, except when his coach was overturned or stuck fast in the mud."

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Pictures for The Progress of the Nation page 12

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