The London Christmas Evenings of 1826
William Hone, The Every Day Book, 2 Vols. London: William Tegg, 1825, 1827.
The London Christmas evenings of 1826, appear to have been kept out of doors, for every place of entertainment was overflowing every night.
At this season, from six o’clock in the evening, a full tide of passengers sets in along every leading Street to each of the theatres. Hackney coaches drawl, and cabriolets make their way, and jostle each other, and private carriages swiftly roll, and draw up to the box door with a vigorous sweep, which the horses of hired vehicles are too aged, or too low in condition to achieve. Within a hundred yards of either playhouse, hands are continually thrust into each coach window, with “a bill of the play,” and repeated cries of “only a penny!“ The coach-door being opened, down fall the steps with a sharp clackity-clack-click, and the companies alight, if they can, without the supernumerary aid of attendant pliers, who offer their over-ready arms to lean upon, and kindly entreat:— “Take care, sir!” — mind how you step ma’am — this way if you please — this way,” all against your will, and ending with “I hope you’ll please to remember a poor fellow!“ the “poor fellow” having done nothing but interrupt you. When past the “pay place,” great coats, umbrellas, shawls or other useful accompaniments to and from “the house,” though real encumbrances within it, may be safely deposited with persons stationed for their reception, who attach tickets to them, and deliver corresponding numbers, which ensure the return of your property on your coming out; six-pence or a shilling being a gratuity for the accommodation Then, when the whole is over, there is the strict blockade of coaches further than the eye can reach; servants looking out for the parties they came with, and getting up their masters’ carriages; and a full cry of hackney coachmen and their representatives, vociferating ‘Want a coach, sir? Here’s your coach sir! Which is it, sir? Coach to the city sir! West end, sir! Here! Coach to the city! Coach to Whitechapel! Coach to Portman-square! Coach to Pentonville! Coach to the Regent’s Park! This way this way ! Stand clear there! Chariot, or a coach, sir? No chariots, sir, and all the coaches are hired! There’s a coach here, sir — just below! Coachman, draw up!” and drawing up is impossible, and there is an incessant confusion of calls and complaints, and running against each other, arising out of the immediate wants of every body, which can only be successively gratified. Pedestrians make their way home, or to the inns, as fast as possible, or turn in to sup at the fish-shops, which, in five minutes, are more lively than their oysters were at any time. “Waiter! Waiter! Yes, sir! Attend to you directly, sir! Yours is gone for, sir! Why, I’ve ordered nothing! It’s coming directly, sir! Ginger-beer — why this is poison! Spruce — why this is ginger-beer! Porter, sir! I told you brandy and water! Stewed oysters ! I ordered scolloped! When am I to have my supper? You’ve had it, sir — I beg your pardon, sir, the gentleman that sat here is gone, sir! Waiter! waiter!” and so on; and he who has patience, is sure to be indulged with an opportunity of retaining it, amidst loud talking and laughter; varied views of the new pantomime; conflicting testimony as to the merits of the clown and the harlequin; the “new scenery, dresses, and machinery; “likings and dislikings of certain actresses; “the lovely” Miss So-and-so, or “that detestable” woman, Mrs. Such-an-one, that clever fellow, “Thing-a-merry,” or that stupid dog, “What-d’ye-call-um.” These topics failing, and the oysters discussed, then are stated and considered the advantages of taking something ”to keep ’em down ;“ the comparative merits of Burton, Windsor, or Edinburgh ale; the qualities of porter; the wholesomeness of smoking; the difference between a pipe and a segar, and the preference of one to the other whether brandy or rum, or the clear spirit of juniper, is the best preservative of health; which of the company or their friends can drink most; whether the last fight was “a cross,” and who of all the men in the fancy is most “game;” whether the magistrates dare to interfere with “the ring ;“ whether if fighting should be “ put an end to” Englishmen will have half the courage they had three hundred years ago, before prize fighting existed; whether Thurtell was not “a good one” to the last, and whether there’s a better “trump” in the room. On these points, or to points like these, the conversation of an oyster room is turned by sitters after the play, till they adjourn to “spend the evening” at the “flash-and foolish” houses which “keep it up” all night in the peculiar neighbourhood of the public office, Bow-street. This is more than mere animal gratification, as the police reports exemplify.
Capital oysters, I declare!
Excellent spruce, and ginger beer!
Don’t you take vinegar? there’s the bread—
We’ll just have a pipe—and then to bed.
Why should not this be deemed a real scene, and as respectable as that just described. It is quite as lively and as intellectual. The monkey eats, and according to many accounts can catch fish as well as man. It is told of this animal, that from love of the crab and experience of his claws, he gently shakes his tail before the hole of the crab, who, as soon as he begins to “pull him by his long tail,” is drawn out by that dependancy and falls a prey to his decoyer. It is related that a party of officers belonging to the 25th regiment of infantry, on service at Gibraltar, amused themselves with whiting fishing at the back of the rock till they were obliged to shift their ground from being pelted from above, they did not know by whom. At their new station they caught plenty of fish, but the drum having beat to arms, they rowed hastily ashore, and drew their boat high and dry upon the beach. On their return they were greatly surprised to find it in a different position ashore, and some hooks bailed which they had left bare. In the end it was ascertained that their pelters while they were fishing were a party of young monkeys. They were driven off by two or three old ones who remained secretly observing the whiting fishing of the officers till they had retired. The old monkeys then launched tire boat, put to sea, baited their hooks, and proceeded to work. The few fish they caught, they hauled up with infinite gratification, and when tired they landed, placed tire boat as nearly as they could in its old position, and went up the rock with their prey. General Elliot, while commander at Gibraltar, never suffered the monkeys with which the rock abounds to be molested or taken.
The faculty of imitation in monkeys is limited, but not so in man; a remarkable instance of this is lately adduced in a pleasant little story of perhaps the greatest performer on our stage.
At a splendid dinner-party at lord ——-‘s they suddenly missed Garrick, and could not imagine what was become of him, till they were drawn to the window by the convulsive screams and peals of laughter of a young negro boy, who was rolling on the ground in an ecstasy of delight to see Garrick mimicking a turkey-cock in the court yard, with his coat-tail stuck out behind, and in a seeming flutter of feathered rage and pride. Of our party only two persons present had seen the British Roscius; and they seemed as willing as the rest to renew their acquaintance with their old favourite. This anecdote is new: it is related by the able Writer of a paper concerning “Persons one would wish to have seen,’1 as an instance of Garrick’s singleness of purpose when he was fully possessed by an idea.
1. In the New Monthly Magazine, Jan. 1826. Return
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