網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

151

LONDON AT CHRISTMAS.

THERE was something kindly and genial in the Saturnalian feasts of the ancients, when bond and free, the helot and his master, enjoyed themselves together, and, for a few hours of the year, man’s common brotherhood was acknowledged by all. Christmas, during the long course of ages which have rolled by since our Lord's advent, has been a still more blessed time of immunity from the pains and penalties of poverty.

Wretched indeed was he for whom no friend or relative kept a chair at some hospitable table--for whom there was no hand-shaking, no smile of welcome, no hearty words of salutation. Christmas offered a sort of inning, after the toilsome monthly heats of the year, for the wayfarers and pilgrims of all the families of the land. Many who could meet but once during 365 days, met then. There was a national réunion of young and old-parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins; not a link in the chain of love was wanting; or, if sea or continent kept some dear ones away, their names were “household words, freshly remembered,” as the wine-cup circled around the hospitable board. In absence, Christmas was anticipated as the season of meeting. Sorrow of heart and toil of arm were sustained with greater patience, as fancy pleased the youthful and consoled the aged with visions of the grand December jubilee. Has any of this warmth and kindliness of feeling departed from among us? Do we recollect poor friends and relations as well as formerly, at Christmas? Is the goose, the turkey, and the chine brought to as many doors ? Are as many chimneys warmed by the hospitable fires that roast the sirloin, or keep the plumpudding a-boil ? Are mince-pies as much in request, and snap-dragon as popular as ever ? Let us take courage, and hope so.

Yet there is a change abroad. Many old customs and observances are fading out. Will our children listen to the waits as an edifying institution ? Will the mince-pies and plum-puddings of 1900 be as rich and tasty as those we shall enjoy so much on Christmas Day next? We must not be too critical, for certainly benevolence is not out of fashion. There will be plum-pudding, and substantial beef, and frothing porter in every London workhouse. Kindly masters and mistresses of the parish unions will not be wanting, to deck the hall or chapel with holly; and the gentle-hearted priest, as he blesses the liberal meal, will breathe words of peace and comfort for the poor pensioners. Nor will the infirmary patients be forgotten; each will have a share of the delicacies, and, in addition, the welcome dole of tea or snuff; while the younger inmates will rejoice over the boon of cakes and oranges. I know a medical man who visits the sick in one of the civic unions, whose good wife annually invests several pounds in toys for the poor children ; and I saw, not long since, Dr. Tait, the Bishop of London, stand by an infant's crib, in one of the wards of a paupers' school, and inquire of the nurse how she amused the little sufferer. Unselfish sympathy and genuine pity are not extinct. I do not measure them by the length of subscription lists, or the splendour of charitable asylums; no, but rather gauge the kindliness of our fellow-citizens by the generous though silent streams of bounty and tenderness which continually, and especially at this genial season, visit and cheer so many humble dwellings. Every City ward, where there are any poor, has its almoners. Bread, coals, materials for winter clothing, are liberally dispensed to all that need them. The rich merchant, in his suburban villa, takes care that the sons and daughters of want shall taste of his abundance. There is a holy magic in the power of wealth to make the hearts of widows and orphans sing for joy; and well do our prosperous traders exercise it. Even the prisons are cheered ; bondage is made less oppressive; the fetters get a velvet lining The City Companies send Christmas gifts to the magistrates of the adjacent districts; and private benefactors, symbolised as A., B., or C., drop their alms into the court box, to afford help in cases of severe destitution. Poor needlewomen, employed by slop clothiers, tempted to pawn materials for food or fire, meet with merciful judges, and are restored to their homes, with aids to fresh exertions, and the Scriptural counsel, “Go, and sin no more.

Christmas has various harbingers, all accompanied with pleasurable excitement. In the palmy days of Smithfield there was the great annual market, painfully crowded with oxen, sheep, and pigs—all fed to repletion; and the public ways adjoining were scarcely safe for pedestrians. Now, the cattle-show gives audible note of ten thousand coming banquets; and myriads of be-crinolined fashionables, with their beauish satellites, have taken Baker-street Bazaar by storm-as, in future years, they will the Agricultural Hall at Islington. Then, the week previous to the most convivial of convivial days, just make a pilgrimage from Camberwell to Leadenhall, or from Hampstead to Newgate Market. Observe in every genteel street the polishing of the window-panes-the glossy leaves with the

[ocr errors]

scarlet berries, and here and there a slip of mistletoe how suggestive of the expected good cheer and merriment within ! Then, the shops are all at their best and brightest - Christmas presents displayed in numberless tempting forms. Light airy fabrics for ball dresseselegant wreaths to encircle the heads of blushing girlsgloves as fancy-like and daintily tinted as the hands they are to cover; white satin shoes or kid boots—for what delicate feet are they designed! The stores of jewellery, particularly on Cornhill (surely the famed Goldsmiths'row must be eclipsed)—what multiform allurements to deck the lovely wives and sisters and daughters of civic magistrates— "gems rich and rare," pearls large and faultless, diamonds mimicing all the rainbow's huesbright, yet wellnigh lustreless, compared with eyes we may notice under certain caps and bonnets. Glance at the provision shops; what mountains of food-beef, mutton, pork—those giant ribs, cunningly made up of well-proportioned layers of fat and lean—those wonderful haunches from prize wethers—those temptations in the shape of sucking-pigs—those full-grown porcine limbs of maternal swine! Nor must we leave the grocers' windows unnoticed-yes, “New fruit, finest imported ;" the figs, how ripe and round; the raisins of the sun; the muscatels with the bloom on; the almonds, and French plums, and Normandy pippins—a puzzling choice for an epicure.

But look to the roadway, what an impenetrable deadlock. How will Mr. A 40 ever be able to set the wheels going again? Pickford's vans, and a long detachment of parcel delivery carts from each metropolitan railway, and in especial from the London Bridge terminus, filled to overflowing with baskets, hampers, parcels—each anxiously expected, and many not destined to be delivered in time for the feast. Did you leave an order at the fishmonger's in Lombard-street ? Will all those barrels of natives duly

reach their destination ? Will that goodly cod come to hand, or those monster soles be duly served at Alderman Kipper's table? A stormy scene, not over-pleasant to a Total Abstinence Society man, for here comes the vintner's cart, with specimen hampers of all imaginable wineschampagne and hock, old port and golden sherry, with juices from French, German, and nondescript vintages, too numerous to mention.

Truly, let us hope, people will be merry and wise this Christmas, that fines for inebriety will not be numerous, that the beef may be tender, the game and poultry not too long kept, the raisins well stoned, and the puddings thoroughly boiled.

Another unequivocal sign of coming Christmas is the breaking-up of schools, academies, colleges-metropolitan, suburban, provincial. What strings of omnibuses from the railways; their mercurial occupants-hopeful little men, from twelve to sixteen-poking their heads out of window, shouting in the mere gladness of their hearts, and scenting the holiday cheer afar off. Then the swarms of cabs and flys, filled with dainty little misses, rejoicing in pink cheeks and brilliant eyes, trying to look demure, and yet breaking the ice of formality with frequent simpers of uncontrollable enjoyment. Papa, and not unfrequently mamma too, waits at the house of business to welcome the darlings on their way home. How much genuine happiness do such meetings afford !-- little thought of, or even understood at the moment, but often remembered with unavailing regret when the Christmas of youth is a thing of the past.

Are the waits allowed in the City now-a-days? I used to hear them in Ivy-lane more than fifty years since, and very delightful music they seemed to dispense. In the silence of a crisp, frosty night, the sounds from a cracked fiddle or a time-roughened tongue, could bring up visions

« 上一頁繼續 »