How some people… part 2

Observe throughout, I have taken the acquisition of wealth, or at least competence, as the test of “getting on;” for if I were to speak of philosophers and men of science, and benefactors to their species who care for none of these things, — I wonder where they live — it might lead me a little too far.

But if you want to get on in trade, there is the little preliminary difficulty of finding capital, which must be overcome. The difficulty is not uncommonly met by starting in business without it; but then the chapter of accommodation-bills, and selling under cost price, is soon opened, and Basinghall Street looms heavily under your lee — to make no mention of another thoroughfare which connects Ludgate Hill on the south with Aldersgate Street on the north.

It is, however, to be remarked that the greatest fortunes which have been realised in London trade have been made by men who have started with nothing — I believe it is the more usual thing to say, who came to London, each future millionaire, with half-a-crown in his pocket.

It is never one shilling, or one sovereign — the precise sum is half-a-crown. They must have been men of special faculties, and it is probable that the stern preliminary apprenticeship, when they were bound to sweep out the shop, carry parcels, and sleep on the counter, or under it, may have been necessary, in order to harden them for the coming strife. It may be requisite to spend certain years in the Desert before you are fit to carry on the battle amongst the vines and fig-trees of the Promised Land. Our romance-writers have indulged us largely with pictures of the struggles amongst the Professional Classes.

I should like to see a few good sketches of the Romance of London Trade. The amount of acuteness, and industry, and energy — (all charlatanism apart) — brought to bear upon the concerns of any great London tradesman’s establishment —be he publisher, wine-merchant, brewer, bill-discounter, dealer in marqueterie and curiosities,or what you will — would be very surprising to those whose attention has not been drawn to the subject in a particular way.

Men don’t get on in trade in London, so as to attain a high place amongst their thousand rivals, without the possession of some qualities and faculties which would be worthy of one’s notice and consideration. I am bound to add, that I have been told by a friend, who himself occupies a very distinguished position in the City of London, and who has had abundant opportunities of knowing the story of the origin and progress of the great City Houses, that to many of them their prosperity came by mere chance; in other cases it was thrust upon them against their will.

They happened, for example, to have become involved in certain agencies which they would have gladly disavowed, and which they endeavoured to repudiate by all means at their disposal, but they were held nolentes volentes to their bargain, and to the acquisition of unbounded wealth. In other cases,the possession of securities, of which they would gladly have washed their hands, has forced their operations into particular channels — and through these channels, in the long run, they have threaded their way into full Pactolus against their own will,despite of their own most strenuous efforts to turn back.

I know it is usual for men of letters in sketches of this kind to call particular attention to the struggles of their own class. But the literary class is but a small class after all, and even if we throw in the artists and musicians, the total number will be comparatively inconsiderable by the side of those who earn their living by buying and selling, and by commerce in its general branches.

After all, I do not see why the struggles of gentlemen who write indifferent books and paint indifferent pictures should be more interesting than the efforts of persons who sell indifferent butter, or milk which has been largely drawn from the cow with the iron tail. I leave,of course, out of the question the few men of real genius and originality of conception whom any country contains at any given time — they will surely make their own way through all difficulties,and require but little help or sympathy.

In Art or Literature it is a dreadful thing to be a Frog, and to undertake the Bull’s business. Any young man who comes to London with reasonable capacity for literary work, and who is not so silly as to fancy himself a man of genius when he is not one, will, without much difficulty, find the means of earning a respectable living, so he be industrious and punctual to his engagements.

Neither the London publishers nor the London public are in a conspiracy to put down literary talent, or even literary energy. The sooner, however, young neophytes of this class leave off writing monodies on Chatterton, and recognise the great fact that unless they can take place amongst the All England Eleven, a literary life is a life of hard labour reasonably well rewarded, the sooner they will be likely to “get on” in London.

I spoke just now of getting on by “coups,” and divided this class of success mainly into two heads— speculations in the marriage market or the money market. I have hitherto only been considering the case of men; but when we come to this division of the subject we are approaching more sacred ground — how do young ladies get on in London? Unfortunately, marriage is almost a woman’s only chance in life. The alternative is —what?

A very few may support themselves by literary labour, and if you want to see specimens of ladies who have devoted themselves to that species of industry, they are to be seen in that wonderful new reading-room of the Museum. I would not for any consideration say one word which should suggest ridicule on such a point.God speed them, say I, and that the more that I have known instances amongst them where the proceeds of their honourable toil have been ungrudgingly bestowed upon procuring comforts and medical aid for a sick parent, husband, or child.

How industriously they sit all through the long summer days at their work, with just an occasional pause, as though the picture of the little lodging in which the one for whose sake this toil had been undertaken had flashed across their minds. But it won’t do — time is too precious to be wasted even on the luxury of home thoughts. Till the hour of closing comes the pen must be busy with the notebook. I wonder what manner of work will be ultimately forthcoming from those piles of huge ponderous volumes by which they are surrounded. It used to be a very hard time of it for these poor ladies in the old reading-room of the Museum where there was that dreadful odour which might be warranted to produce headache in persons of the soundest constitution within two hours. But now the Museum ladies have a magnificent Pantheon sort of place in which they may prosecute their labours quite in a regal way — as undisturbed and as free from all chances of intrusion as though they were in their own drawing-rooms. Let us hope they may ”get on.”

Another alternative, which occasionally turns out well enough, but in the majority of instances must be painful in the extreme, is that of the governess’s life. Those who draw fortunate numbers in this lottery may glide on quietly enough from youth to womanhood, from womanhood too ld age, and be ultimately provided for by their former pupils; but I should fear there must be many internal struggles and heart burnings even under the most favourable circumstances which a man can with difficulty appreciate or understand.

The picture of the governess is not a pleasant one as she sits surrounded by a parcel of noisy children, into whose reluctant heads it is her duty to instill such portions of human learning as they are capable of containing. She is at the piano,counting “One, two, three, — one, two, three,”whilst two of her pupils are endeavouring to thump an infantine duet out of the jingling instrument — which is good enough for the schoolroom — and a small boy on a stool in the corner is sulking over his Latin grammar.

Even when all goes reasonably well, there must, one should think, be moments when the thought will occur to her that such a thing as a home of her own might be a human possibility. In the little desk upstairs in which she keeps her treasures, I should not wonder if there were a few letters written by a hand which is now cold in death, or by one who has thought that it might tend more to his advantage and advancement in life if he did not encumber himself with what are called “responsibilities?” I hope he may lose his digestive powers, at an early period of his career, and if he should marry well, and be thoroughly miserable, it will serve him right.

Nor is the duty of acting as “companion” to a peevish old lady, and attending to the nervous ailments of a fat wheezing lap-dog, a very enviable lot. There are troubles, too, with the servants which do not meet the eye of the casual observer, as well as the more patent inconveniences of such a situation. Still food and shelter are to be obtained in such a way as well as a small legacy when the “Resurgam” business is taken in hand, and the will is opened, and the “companion” must again seek her fortune, and try to get on in a new world.

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When I think of what a terrible struggle existence is to women who have not the protection of a father or husband interposed between them and the raging battle of life, I can scarcely venture to censure the young ladies, who are ever on the outlook for a good match, with any degree of acrimony, who can tell what the secret history of their homes may be? What are the scenes of domestic broil to which they are daily and reluctant witnesses? — how are they not worried and baited by their very mothers to make a successful foray upon elder-son-dom?

A London ball-room, where the young ladies are busily engaged in “getting on” is, however, a curious scene enough to a philosophic eye. The first condition necessary that you may be able to watch the manoeuvres going on around you in a calm and dispassionate manner, is that an idea should prevail amongst dowagers that you are a man of no account in a money way. You will then be left to conduct your investigations in peace. I like to see three or four of these graceful combatants trying for the same prize. Let us look around us — a tall young man reputed to be the lord of unbounded wealth has just stepped into the arena with his crush hat under his arm. There is a general stir amongst the formidable dowagers in the back-ground, who, by ingenious flutterings of fans and eye-telegrams, hoist the signal for the light craft to engage the enemy. They are nothing loth — the tall dark young lady with a languishing glance fires the first shot.

A spirited gushing young thing with candid blue eyes, and great decision of character,takes a young lady friend by the arm, and in the artless confidence of virgin friendship leads her across the room as if she had some secret of great weight and moment to impart to her, — but as they pass the young millionaire she pours into him a good raking fire from the corner of her eye, and takes up position so as to silence the artillery of the more languid combatant.

An elderly lady, with two scraggy, and not very fascinating syrens — her daughters — sails up, and is just on the very point of grappling the prize, when she is cut off by old Lady Sophia Spatterdash, who undertakes, in a professional way, the business of bringing young ladies out, and finding husbands for them.

At this moment she has under her charge Miss Eveline Dermott, and Miss Harriett Fluketon; Miss Eveline is all soul, like one of those fair abstractions of Mr. Thorburn’s, who look as if they drew their nourishment from the milky way. Miss Harriet is a good deal “body” — a young lady with a cheery laugh, and not a bad hand at going across country. Young Millions must be hard to please if one or other of these entrancing creatures will not suit what the wretch would call “his book.”

Lady Sophia marches up to the enemy at once with all the confidence of a veteran. The careful mother with the two young ladies who are not inclined to embonpoint stands no more chance against her than militia against regular troops. As for the gushing young thing with the blue eyes, Lady Sophia would box her ears upon the spot if she ventured to interfere with her plans, so she has no resource but to look at the Spatterdash detachment with a look of astonishment, whisper something in the ear of her confidante, and burst into a laugh.

Lady Sophia sees and appreciates it all, but she is far too old a soldier to waste fire at so critical a moment upon so contemptible a foe, always reserving to herself the privilege of saying something spiteful to our gushing friend at a later period of the evening when apt occasion presents itself for doing so in the most offensive manner possible; and Lady S. is not a bad judge of such an occasion.

Before half a minute has elapsed, the experienced dowager has asked Miss Evelina if she would not like to take a turn, and told young Millions off to carry the duty out. In a moment they are threading the mazes of the dance, and Miss Evelina is “getting on.”

These struggles have their ludicrous side; but yet we must not judge too harshly of these poor girls who are struggling for prizes in the matrimonial market per fas et nefas[through right and wrong]. Make clean breasts of it my masculine friends, and tell me, when driven to it by sharp necessity, have you never taken extraordinary leaps in order to avoid the pungency of that suggestive bayonet with which Anangke — she of the thin lips and stony eyes — has goaded you on?

You must get on in your trades, professions, and callings whatever they may be. Marriage is a woman’s profession. We have had impressive biographies by the cart-load, in which we are informed how Lord Eldon, Benjamin Franklin, and other worthies have “got on” in the world. Each of these contains a chapter entitled “Early Struggles.”

Now I should like to see a true and honest biography of Miss Jane Smith who was so pretty, and had not a penny, and who was worried by her mamma, and teazed by her ugly cousins; how hard she practised, how industriously she danced, how ingeniously she contrived to make her few chiffons do duty over and over again, like a regiment of stage soldiers. She slew many victims, you will say, in the course of her triumphant career. Perhaps Jane Smith did so — so did Napoleon Buonaparte.

But Jane was only solving the subsistence question, whilst the stern Corsican was engaged in cutting throats for glory. The poverty-stricken moths who came fluttering round that clear brilliant taper which was known to mortals in ballrooms as “Jane Smith,” danced round her at their own proper peril. If they singed their wings it was their own affair. Before they took the matter in hand they knew perfectly well that J. S. had not one penny — neither had they.

She is now not a little inclined to embonpoint, and is the honoured and sentimental wife of Lewis Pimento, Esq., Molasses Lodge, Barnes Common, and recommends her young friends never to listen to any voice, but the voice of the heart. J. S., however, has “got on.” Such a biography as the one indicated would be exceedingly difficult of execution, it would require a woman to feel it, and a man to write it.

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I would not, however, leave it on record as an opinion of mine that it is only the ladies who do business on the Matrimonial Rialto. I remember well, when I was a youth fresh from the University, calling one morning upon two young wiseacres like myself, scarcely with the down upon their cheeks. I found the foolish boys engaged in preparing lists of the heiresses of that season. Of course, the only difficulty was to decide in what quarters the two handkerchiefs should be thrown.

The two Sultans had been distinguished in the University examinations, and they took it as a matter of course that they were to retain the same position throughout life. Alas!they had counted without my revered friend. Lady Sophia Spatterdash, who would think no more of putting her foot on a Senior Wrangler [ top Math undergraduates at Cambridge University] than I would of knocking the ash off a cigar.

I am bound to say that they did not subsequently act upon their then views. Perhaps Lady S. S. did put her foot on them; perhaps they did not like the look of the thing when they were brought face to face with the little drawbacks upon their projects.One is now a fat rector in Lincolnshire, with eleven children; he married his cousin, who had not one sixpence. The other took to the bar, and conducted to the hymeneal altar a young lady possessed of 2500 l., which he insisted should be settled upon herself. He has toiled like a galley-slave in his profession, and is now beginning to”get on.”

These two lads were, of course, of the fine metal from which Englishmen are forged.They had indulged in that silly dream for a moment, just as they might have taken up a bad French novel, and imagined themselves the heroes of it; but when they tried to act the parts they broke down, and well was it for them that it was so.

Many men, however, will and do take this fatal leap every season, without considering how miserable the speculation is in a mercantile point of view. Marry 10,000/. or 5000/. a year, my friends,if you can, and go in, and be stall-fed oxen for the remainder of your days. But do not under-take to support a lady and her family until the end of your lives for an insufficient consideration. The bargain is a bad one on your side. Of course I am speaking of mercenary marriages; but I should think much better of your chances of ultimate success if you had the nerve boldly to throw your hat into the ring, and fight the battle of life out in a manly and creditable way.

Falling back upon the general argument, it would seem by the practice of late years, that one of the surest methods of attaining success is the lavish use of advertisements. This is of course, but self-assertion proclaiming itself in printed characters,a foot and a-half in length, upon dead-walls. It is an ascertained fact with regard to some of the best known quack medicines that their sale bears an exact proportion to the number of times they are advertised. The expenses are enormous, but still if he conducts his operations wisely, the proprietor is able to realise a very comfortable living upon the margin between income and outlay.

Say that you have discovered, by a series of judicious experiments suggested by a hint taken from an old Coptic MS., that the ordinary stinging-nettle— so it be properly manipulated — is a sovereign remedy against all the ills that flesh is heir to.

You have at length succeeded in educing the virtues of this plant in an irreproachable way, and combining them in the form of a pill — you would then, I conceive, proceed in the following way:  You would give your pill a Greek name — you would engage a sufficient number of hands for manufacturing purposes. You would hire a shop in a leading thoroughfare and put something in the windows — say a large snake under glass —which should be so attractive to the gamins as to cause a permanent stoppage. You would send men about the streets in Egyptian costumes —they are most telling when they walk solemnly in Indian file — you would cover the walls of the metropolis, and stuff both the metropolitan and provincial papers full of advertisements all laudatory of the pill. At the end of the year your account would probably stand thus:

Stinging-nettles . . . .                               Nil.    Expense of collection, and cartage . 500          Kent, wages, and manufacture .      1000          Advertisements . . ..                              8000 

9,500

By Pills, less commission               12,000

Profit 2,500

No notice is taken of small matters in the above calculation, which is purely approximative — but if a man can succeed in making 9500 /. breed 2500 /. in the course of a year, he may really be said to be “getting on” in London. Now, whether you are artist, author, tailor, or owner oft he Brandy- Ball line of clippers, running between Liverpool and Melbourne, the point is to make the public swallow your pill. Advertise!

I saw a gentleman the other night who was in a fair way to earning a handsome fortune by mesmerism. He was a Gaul, with a beautiful black beard. He had with him a young lady, a native also of the French empire, whom, by a few passes, he could throw into a state of seeming repose; when she read letters blindfolded, or when the letters were applied to the pit of her stomach she could tell you the contents without the smallest trouble. It was, however, indispensable that the French gentleman should read them first.

There is an old Frenchwoman going about the streets of London who, on her side, “gets on” in a singular way. She is constantly to be seen at the northern end of the Burlington Arcade. Two large poodles are her stock in trade. When the exhibition is about to commence, with a wave of her hand she dismisses her two dogs, — the one straightway runs up Cork Street — the other up Old Burlington Street. In Clifford Street they cross each other, and each returns to his mistress by the route on which the other had set out. This ingenious lady is exceedingly well paid for this gratifying exhibition, and so “gets on” comfortably enough.

It would, however, require a volume to describe the manifold manners in which livings are to be earned in the streets of London. So enormous is the amount of money flying about that an Irish lady can support herself in comfort upon an apple-stall in a reasonably good situation. A crossing in a frequented thoroughfare is an estate. Life in London, however, is conducted on a very high pressure system indeed.

There is, I fear, far greater difficulty in keeping money than in earning it. So far I have used simply the subsistence test of “getting on,” but if one were to speak of the thousand shifts and meannesses of which people are guilty, in order to “get on” in London society where the money aenigma has long since received a satisfactory solution, we should come straightway upon half the social vices and follies of the day.

I never thought of opening that chapter in the stories of London Life upon the present occasion. As the result of some little experience of human struggles in this great Babylon in which my lot has been cast, I should strongly incline to the opinion that — save in cases where there is a heavy affliction such as blindness, or some disease which paralyses action and leaves a man to the mercy of his fellow-creatures — any man can “get on” in London in some fashion or other, save his own vices or bad habits stand in his way. Charlatanism has a good deal, and chance a great deal to do with the brilliant results; but I have not been writing of men who find Golcondas, but of those who are content to get on in London. A far more dismal story might be told about those who “get off.”

Author of this article: Gamma.  First published: June 1860

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