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Chapter 1

THOUGHTS ABOUT PEOPLE

It is strange with how little notice, good, bad, or indifferent, a
man may live and die in London. He awakens no sympathy in the
breast of any single person; his existence is a matter of interest
to no one save himself; he cannot be said to be forgotten when he
dies, for no one remembered him when he was alive. There is a
numerous class of people in this great metropolis who seem not to
possess a single friend, and whom nobody appears to care for.
Urged by imperative necessity in the first instance, they have
resorted to London in search of employment, and the means of
subsistence. It is hard, we know, to break the ties which bind us
to our homes and friends, and harder still to efface the thousand
recollections of happy days and old times, which have been
slumbering in our bosoms for years, and only rush upon the mind, to
bring before it associations connected with the friends we have
left, the scenes we have beheld too probably for the last time, and
the hopes we once cherished, but may entertain no more. These men,
however, happily for themselves, have long forgotten such thoughts.
Old country friends have died or emigrated; former correspondents
have become lost, like themselves, in the crowd and turmoil of some
busy city; and they have gradually settled down into mere passive
creatures of habit and endurance.

We were seated in the enclosure of St. James's Park the other day,
when our attention was attracted by a man whom we immediately put
down in our own mind as one of this class. He was a tall, thin,
pale person, in a black coat, scanty gray trousers, little pinched-
up gaiters, and brown beaver gloves. He had an umbrella in his
hand--not for use, for the day was fine--but, evidently, because he
always carried one to the office in the morning. He walked up and
down before the little patch of grass on which the chairs are
placed for hire, not as if he were doing it for pleasure or
recreation, but as if it were a matter of compulsion, just as he
would walk to the office every morning from the back settlements of
Islington. It was Monday; he had escaped for four-and-twenty hours
from the thraldom of the desk; and was walking here for exercise
and amusement--perhaps for the first time in his life. We were
inclined to think he had never had a holiday before, and that he
did not know what to do with himself. Children were playing on the
grass; groups of people were loitering about, chatting and
laughing; but the man walked steadily up and down, unheeding and
unheeded his spare, pale face looking as if it were incapable of
bearing the expression of curiosity or interest.

There was something in the man's manner and appearance which told
us, we fancied, his whole life, or rather his whole day, for a man
of this sort has no variety of days. We thought we almost saw the
dingy little back office into which he walks every morning, hanging
his hat on the same peg, and placing his legs beneath the same
desk: first, taking off that black coat which lasts the year
through, and putting on the one which did duty last year, and which
he keeps in his desk to save the other. There he sits till five
o'clock, working on, all day, as regularly as the dial over the
mantel-piece, whose loud ticking is as monotonous as his whole
existence: only raising his head when some one enters the
counting-house, or when, in the midst of some difficult
calculation, he looks up to the ceiling as if there were
inspiration in the dusty skylight with a green knot in the centre
of every pane of glass. About five, or half-past, he slowly
dismounts from his accustomed stool, and again changing his coat,
proceeds to his usual dining-place, somewhere near Bucklersbury.
The waiter recites the bill of fare in a rather confidential
manner--for he is a regular customer--and after inquiring 'What's
in the best cut?' and 'What was up last?' he orders a small plate
of roast beef, with greens, and half-a-pint of porter. He has a
small plate to-day, because greens are a penny more than potatoes,
and he had 'two breads' yesterday, with the additional enormity of
'a cheese' the day before. This important point settled, he hangs
up his hat--he took it off the moment he sat down--and bespeaks the
paper after the next gentleman. If he can get it while he is at
dinner, he eats with much greater zest; balancing it against the
water-bottle, and eating a bit of beef, and reading a line or two,
alternately. Exactly at five minutes before the hour is up, he
produces a shilling, pays the reckoning, carefully deposits the
change in his waistcoat-pocket (first deducting a penny for the
waiter), and returns to the office, from which, if it is not
foreign post night, he again sallies forth, in about half an hour.
He then walks home, at his usual pace, to his little back room at
Islington, where he has his tea; perhaps solacing himself during
the meal with the conversation of his landlady's little boy, whom
he occasionally rewards with a penny, for solving problems in
simple addition. Sometimes, there is a letter or two to take up to
his employer's, in Russell-square; and then, the wealthy man of
business, hearing his voice, calls out from the dining-parlour,--
'Come in, Mr. Smith:' and Mr. Smith, putting his hat at the feet of
one of the hall chairs, walks timidly in, and being condescendingly
desired to sit down, carefully tucks his legs under his chair, and
sits at a considerable distance from the table while he drinks the
glass of sherry which is poured out for him by the eldest boy, and
after drinking which, he backs and slides out of the room, in a
state of nervous agitation from which he does not perfectly
recover, until he finds himself once more in the Islington-road.
Poor, harmless creatures such men are; contented but not happy;
broken-spirited and humbled, they may feel no pain, but they never
know pleasure.

Compare these men with another class of beings who, like them, have
neither friend nor companion, but whose position in society is the
result of their own choice. These are generally old fellows with
white heads and red faces, addicted to port wine and Hessian boots,
who from some cause, real or imaginary--generally the former, the
excellent reason being that they are rich, and their relations
poor--grow suspicious of everybody, and do the misanthropical in
chambers, taking great delight in thinking themselves unhappy, and
making everybody they come near, miserable. You may see such men
as these, anywhere; you will know them at coffee-houses by their
discontented exclamations and the luxury of their dinners; at
theatres, by their always sitting in the same place and looking
with a jaundiced eye on all the young people near them; at church,
by the pomposity with which they enter, and the loud tone in which
they repeat the responses; at parties, by their getting cross at
whist and hating music. An old fellow of this kind will have his
chambers splendidly furnished, and collect books, plate, and
pictures about him in profusion; not so much for his own
gratification, as to be superior to those who have the desire, but
not the means, to compete with him. He belongs to two or three
clubs, and is envied, and flattered, and hated by the members of
them all. Sometimes he will be appealed to by a poor relation--a
married nephew perhaps--for some little assistance: and then he
will declaim with honest indignation on the improvidence of young
married people, the worthlessness of a wife, the insolence of
having a family, the atrocity of getting into debt with a hundred
and twenty-five pounds a year, and other unpardonable crimes;
winding up his exhortations with a complacent review of his own
conduct, and a delicate allusion to parochial relief. He dies,
some day after dinner, of apoplexy, having bequeathed his property
to a Public Society, and the Institution erects a tablet to his
memory, expressive of their admiration of his Christian conduct in
this world, and their comfortable conviction of his happiness in
the next.

But, next to our very particular friends, hackney-coachmen, cabmen
and cads, whom we admire in proportion to the extent of their cool
impudence and perfect self-possession, there is no class of people
who amuse us more than London apprentices. They are no longer an
organised body, bound down by solemn compact to terrify his
Majesty's subjects whenever it pleases them to take offence in
their heads and staves in their hands. They are only bound, now,
by indentures, and, as to their valour, it is easily restrained by
the wholesome dread of the New Police, and a perspective view of a
damp station-house, terminating in a police-office and a reprimand.
They are still, however, a peculiar class, and not the less
pleasant for being inoffensive. Can any one fail to have noticed
them in the streets on Sunday? And were there ever such harmless
efforts at the grand and magnificent as the young fellows display!
We walked down the Strand, a Sunday or two ago, behind a little
group; and they furnished food for our amusement the whole way.
They had come out of some part of the city; it was between three
and four o'clock in the afternoon; and they were on their way to
the Park. There were four of them, all arm-in-arm, with white kid
gloves like so many bridegrooms, light trousers of unprecedented
patterns, and coats for which the English language has yet no name-
-a kind of cross between a great-coat and a surtout, with the
collar of the one, the skirts of the other, and pockets peculiar to
themselves.

Each of the gentlemen carried a thick stick, with a large tassel at
the top, which he occasionally twirled gracefully round; and the
whole four, by way of looking easy and unconcerned, were walking
with a paralytic swagger irresistibly ludicrous. One of the party
had a watch about the size and shape of a reasonable Ribstone
pippin, jammed into his waistcoat-pocket, which he carefully
compared with the clocks at St. Clement's and the New Church, the
illuminated clock at Exeter 'Change, the clock of St. Martin's
Church, and the clock of the Horse Guards. When they at last
arrived in St. James's Park, the member of the party who had the
best-made boots on, hired a second chair expressly for his feet,
and flung himself on this two-pennyworth of sylvan luxury with an
air which levelled all distinctions between Brookes's and Snooks's,
Crockford's and Bagnigge Wells.

We may smile at such people, but they can never excite our anger.
They are usually on the best terms with themselves, and it follows
almost as a matter of course, in good humour with every one about
them. Besides, they are always the faint reflection of higher
lights; and, if they do display a little occasional foolery in
their own proper persons, it is surely more tolerable than
precocious puppyism in the Quadrant, whiskered dandyism in Regent-
street and Pall-mall, or gallantry in its dotage anywhere.

Charles Dickens