Progress of the Nation page 14
This must be considered as the fashionable extreme; but the general state of society in which such life could be tolerated without infamy, must have been awful. The ease with which early and clandestine marriages could be made, led to mach profligacy and concealment. In short, the state of society was never worse. As the masters and mistresses were, so were, as a matter of course, their servants. The servants of the great aped the manners and language of their employers; tjiey assumed the names and titles of their masters and mistresses in their high-life-below-stairs jollifications; drank their best wines, and then detailed to their associates all the secrets of the family. At the theatres, where the gallery was appropriated to them, whilst waiting for their employers, they became so outrageous, that they were obliged to be shut out; but they forcibly broke their way in, and were only at length excluded by a guard of military being placed round the theatres.
With such a state of society, it may be imagined there was very little security in the streets. These still remained, for the most part, unpaved, and the kennels on each side of the street were still open, loaded with all manner of filth. The footpaths were little better. They were merely railed off from the main road, and only paved before the shops, which was done at the expense of the shopkeepers. In summer, the dust blowing was intolerable; but in winter and wet weather the nuisance was still worse. When heavy rains fell, the kennels and gutters became torrents, and discharged their Stygian contents into Fleet Ditch and other open channels; the whole thoroughfare was one scene y whilst the coachmen and carmen delighted to drive
along the kennels, so as to dash the dirt on the foot passengers. Fortunately there were then, as now, crossing- sweepers and shoe-blacks. Instead of the conveniences of cabs and omnibuses, the citizens then depended on coaches and sedans, the fares of which were moderate. There was also much more use of small boats up and down the river, a person being able to go from London to Westminster-bridge for threepence. At night the streets were miserably lighted, and thieves of all kinds were on the alert. In 1736 London had only about a thousand lamps, which were only lit through the winter months, and then only to midnight. People found their way by the aid of torches, or links, as they were called, and link-boys were in constant demand. But woe to those who were out at late hours. By day, the streets and squares were infested by pick-pockets and swarms of beggars; by night, by audacious thieves; nor were the lowest classes the worst that you met. Numbers of broken-down gentlemen and ruined gamblers assumed the trade of bullies, and committed insolences and outrages which now seem almost incredible. But tÜ most famous scamps of those times were the Mohocks, of which you have continual mention in the "Spectator" and "Tatler," and the plays of the day. These fellows ranged the streets disguised as savages, committing horrors and brutalities, which we wonder at existing under any ordinary government for a single week. They insulted and attacked all that they met; knocked down the watchman, exposed women in the most scandalous manner, sometimes performed on unoffending people what they called "tipping the line;" that is, squeezing their noses flat, and gouging out their eyes with their fingers. Some of them were called dancing-masters, because they thrust their swords into the legs of people to make them caper; and others, tumblers, because they placed women on their heads, or put them into barrels, and rolled them down Snow or Holborn Hill.
Amid all this incredible baseness and lawlessness, of course, brawls, fightings, and duels, abounded. The hackney- coachmen would, on occasion of a lock in the streets, descend from their seats, and commence a general battle with their whips, to the no small alarm of their "fares." People jostling on another in the streets, especially as they came from taverns or other places, where they had got flushed with wine, would suddenly draw on each other, and a desperate conflict would take place. Duels were frequent and bloody. The ring in Hyde Park, the back of Montagu House, and Barn Elms, were the great resorts for duelling. On such occasions, the seconds frequently joined, and desperate battles of half a dozen or more combatants took place.
Astrology, fortune-telling, and medical quackery flourished as much as vice and violence. The author of the "Spiritual Quixote" has given us a striking portraiture of one of the impudent quacks who used to traverse the country, and promise all sorts of impossible things. This man challenged all or any of the faculty to dispute with him in seven languages, including Hebrew, Arabic, and other equally unusual tongues, which he knew no medical men of the day were acquainted with. He declared himself the seventh son of a seventh son, and therefore was an infallible physician, according to. popular tradition. Many of these fellows rode in splendid carriages; and one Smith, in one drawn by six horses, followed by two other carriages, each with four. He was attended by four footmen in yellow liverieß, and four in blue, trimmed with silver. These fine fellows were his tumblers, merry andrew, trumpeter, speech- maker, &c.
In all classes there was an evident ambition to ascend in thö social scale. Amongst authors there still remained the practice of dedicating their works in most fulsome terms to some great man, who paid them for their flatteries; but there were already symptoms of the great publishers, Tonson, Lintot, &c. becoming the real patrons. Pope showed how much more might be obtained from the bookseller than from the great lord, who doled out his reward with a befitting Contempt; but the ignorance and frivolity of such a public äs then existed could not maintain many Popes. Authors were still miserably paid, with some few fashionable exceptions, and pursued their labours in such places as Drury-lane and Grub-street, thence become so expressive of abject authorship. The growing commerce of the country was gradually augmenting the substance and dignity of the English merchants. They were ambitious of knighthood, and were beginning to bestow on each other pretty freely the title of Uire. 'Still, they mostly continued to live in the city, chiefly in courts behind their warehouses and counting-houses. The hours on Change were from one o'clock till three, but some of the most eminent merchants transacted their business at Garraway's, Jonathan's, and Robins' coffee-houses.
The shopkeepers of London, in their eagerness for trade, had so completely obstructed the streets, and almost shut out the light, by theft huge signs stretched across from one side of the road to another, that they were compelled, in the reign of George II., to take them down, and place them against their Own walls. Many of these signs had grand pictures of particular animals upon them, and some of them have become corrupted now into very ludicrous ones. The motto, "God encompasses us," is now changed into "The Goat and Compasses;" "The Bologne, or Boleyn Mouth," into "The Bull and Mouth" "The Boleyn Lass" - adopted when Henry VIII. was become enamoured of Anne Boleyn - into "The Bull and Last;" "The Satyr and Bacchanals" into " Satan and Bag of Nails," &c. In many shops, raffles and auctions were the mode of selling their goods, especially jewellery and trinkets. Hawkers abounded, and cried their wares even in Westminster Hall; and in the streets were stalls, where wheels of fortune, dice, and other modes of gambling tempted the people, and thimble-rigging, and other tricks for fleecing the foolish, were openly carried on. Drunkenness was encouraged by carrying about liquors in wheelbarrows, and setting them out on stalls; and though the population of London was not more than one-third of its present amount, pot-houses were quite as numerous as they are now. By a report made by the magistrates of Middlesex in 1725, there were in the metropolis alone, exclusive of Southward, six thousand one hundred and eighty-seven houses and shops in which gin and other spirits were sold, besides the stalls and wheelbarrows. This amounted, in many parishes, to every tenth house; to others, every seventh; and in one, the largest of all, every fifth house! Such a picture of drunkenness, perhaps, no other age or nation ever exhibited. The same habits pervaded the country. Gentlemen seldom dined without ending the day in intoxication; and nothing was more common at country dinner-parties than that, whilst the master was getting drank in the dining-room, the coachman was getting drink in the servants' hall, and managed to turn his master oyer in a ditch before they reached home. In this respect the last hundred years have produced a vast and most encouraging change.
The amusements of the period continued much what they had been previously, with some additional features. The theatre retained all its profligacy, may be seen in the remaining plays of the time, and much of its absurdity. Cibber, Quin, and Garricls; carried acting to its perfection, and introduced increased splendour of scenery and costume; but the obvious propriety of dressing their characters in the costume of the countries,, times, and rank in which they lived, had not yet forced itself on the perception of either managers or public. "Cleopatra," "Semiramis," "Portia," or "Antigone," in the very deepest tragedy, would appear in the hooped petticoat, and with the powdered or towered head of the day, with her fan, and perhaps her lap-dog. Addison was by no means shocked at seeing his " Cato " represented in a flowing wig, square-cut coat, and Brussels lace neckcloth, at the same time that he was keenly alive to other absurdities-such as those of Flanders mares drawing aerial chariots, and real water flowing through canvas scenes. Besides the chief theatres and the opera, there were various minor theatres and places of exhibition, as Powel's Puppet Theatre, in the Piazza of Covent-garden, where pieces from the Bible history were acted with all the outrageous extravagances of the old miracle plays; where "Punch" might be seen dancing in Noah's Ark, or gaily figuring in the "Fall of Man." There was Winstanley's Water Theatre, in Piccadilly, where all kinds of aquatic pieces, enlivened by sea-nymphs, mermaids, tritons, &c., spouting fire and water, had a great charm for the public. Sadler's Wells, a mixture of the theatre and tavern, was a great resort to see the spectacles and hear the songs, to drink and smoke.
The suburbs abounded with places of entertainment. There were places up and down the river: as the Folly- house, Blackwall, and others at Chelsea, Kew, and Richmond, to which parties in boats went to eat fish, drink, smoke, walk in gardens, and listen to music. Ranelagh and Vauxhall were in their glory, with all their lamps and music, their frivolities and flirtations; but in the outskirts were various places which vied with them in their most vicious attractions.
Shooting matches were common in the outskirts; bowls, skittles, cricket, and foot-ball drew their thousands to Covent Garden Piazza, to Islington, to the Artillery Ground, and to numerous taverns of the suburbs. Boxing and prizefighting were great amusements, and encouraged by the aristocracy, as tending to produce a true John Bull character. The prize-fighting was a brutal and bloody spectacle, as described by a writer of the period. Bull-baiting, bear-baiting, dog and cock fighting, and the hanging of malefactors at Tyburn, still had wonderful charms for the populace.
Once a year all London was thrown into an uproar by Bartholomew Fair. This fair, which had continued to collect all the gentle and simple of London from the reign of Edward I., was legally confined to three days, but often extended itself much beyond that time; and high and low were drawn there in dense crowds, to see its shows and join in its, hubbub. This scene of metropolitan riot has only been suppressed in our time.
When the London season was over, the aristocracy flockec to Bath, Tunbridge Wells, and Epsom Wells, on the plea of sinking health, but only to continue the routine of dissipation. There water-drinking, parading, music, concerts, and parties helped the empty-minded gentry to endure their lives till the London season came round again. In the country the mode of spending time was the same as it had been for ages, for education and more intellectual pursuits had not yet ennobled the country life of the aristocracy. The old round of hunting, shooting, coursing, the county ball, and the country fair, filled up the time of the rude and ignorant gentry, whose portraitures had been handed down to us by Fielding and Smollett. The ladies divided themselves very much into two classes, - the fashionable one, whom we have described, and the greater number, who contrived to vegetate at home, amid hunting and drinking squires, making preserves, distilling cordial waters, and feeding and doctoring their poor neighbours. Very few books then found their way into the country town to enliven it, for there were no circulating libraries, and no Mudies in those days; yet the stories of Fielding, Richardson, Sterne, and Smollett were beginning to find their way into the country hall and the parsonage, and to herald a more awakened day. A journey to town now and then was a great event, and the travelling up through most infamous roads in the heavy old family coach, its recesses well stored with provisions and cordial drinks, and the exciting fears of highwaymen, and the wonders and adventures of a short sojourn amid the gaieties, vices, and impositions of London, served to furnish topics for conversation for years after.
In the Scottish portion of the empire, everything like lightness and gaiety was discountenanced by the presbyterian spirit; cards, theatres, singing, and any music but that of psalms, were regarded as sinful. The more innocent walk or cheerful converse on a Sabbath day were deemed violations of its sanctity. The certain consequence of this extreme severity was to drive the latitudinarian portion of the people into excess. All rational amusement being cut off, these betook themselves to taverns and public-houses. Drinking whisky and other strong liquors became excessive amongst the lawyers, the merchants, and the tradesmen. The lawyers, on Saturday nights, held their high jinks, as described by Scott in the novel of " Guy Mannering." Their example was freely followed by their clerks, and by the burghers, not less than by the populace. In strange contrast to the gloomy severity of the clergy and the religious portion of the community, stood out the hard drinking and rollicking of the other portion. Spite of the strict injunctions for keeping the Sabbath, numbers of tradesmen and others swarmed out of the towns to the neighbouring villages, where they indulged themselves in good suppers and plenty of whisky, on Sunday evenings.
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