網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

expected, as a matter of course, that the word would be accompanied by a blow. There was another old Frenchman, with a closely cropped head and long moustache-both as white as snow,—who wore a discoloured ribbon at his button-hole, and was addressed as Colonel. He was a Legitimist, but for pure love of his country had preferred serving in the grand army under Napoleon to remaining inactive or to emigrating. He taught fencing when any one would take lessons of him, and, when they wouldn't, coloured engravings for a livelihood. He was of a somewhat boisterous temperament, however, and preferred taking his evening solace at an ill-conditioned little coffee-shop in the neighbourhood frequented chiefly by foreign gentlemen in difficulties, where until late at night you could hear the jingling of dominoes, and the wrangling of politicians who never could agree.

The foreign democratic element had also a shelter at the Chambers, and a very bearded, restless, uncomfortable element it was, with apparently as great a hatred to paying its rent in advance, laving itself with soap and water, refraining from smoking tobacco in its bed-chambers, and otherwise conforming to the rules of the establishment, as to tyranny and military coercion. The foreign democratic element was always squabbling with the steward, and now and then endeavoured (mutually) to bruise and stab itself, accusing itself (mutually) of being a traitor and spy in the employ of tyrants. Ruthyn Pendragon avoided the foreign democratic element, then, as all men in their senses would act wisely in avoiding it, now.

Of English lodgers-British, rather, for there were Scotchmen and Welshmen among them, there was a sufficiently curious variety. All kinds of waifs and strays had drifted to this lone shore, and lay here in a tangled heap of shingle and sea-weed. It was certain that few of them could see worse, but it was generally understood that many of them had seen better, days. There was a tall and old man who had been at one time the possessor of a large fortune. He talked of the days when he had been in the commission of the peace, and kept a pack of hounds. He always posted, he said, from Warrington to London, and with four horses, in defiance of the London and North-Western Railway, which he considered as a dangerous innovation. He had been an extravagant man, and boasted of some orgie he had had in George the Fourth's days, when he had dammed up a fountain, and made punch in the basin. Nobody believed this; but few refused to place credence in the report that he had been a very wicked old fellow, who had wasted his substance in riotous living, broken his wife's heart, and turned his children out of doors. Of his fortune nothing was left now but two or three Chancery suits. He had lain long in the Fleet and in the Bench for contempt, and for costs, and other offences against the High Court at Lincoln's Inn, until at last Chancery itself had got tired of him, and Lord Brougham, one fine morning in his chancellorship, had inexorably, but mercifully, turned him out. It

cery itself hes against thed in the two or ty

was an equal mercy when he discovered the Chambers, a quiet place where he could live for next to nothing, and grumble at his ease, and even find an audience to listen to his case," and sympathise with his grievances. How he managed to live was no small mystery; but he had plenty of bundles of yellow dog-eared papers left, and there appears to be some power of living by suction given to Chancery suitors, and which makes their interminable papers a source of nutriment to them. At least Clidger, that was the tall suitor's name, managed to rub along, and to find stationery wherewith perpetually to memorialise, petition, and otherwise bore almost to desperation the Lord Chancellor who was in, and the Lord Chancellor who was out, and the rising lawyer who was supposed to have a chance of becoming Lord Chancellor some day or another,to say nothing of the Vice Chancellors, the daily and weekly newspapers, and the Houses of Lords and Commons.

There was Tottlepot, too. Tottlepot had been a lieutenant in the Marines, a coal-merchant, and a schoolmaster, and now existed on a small annual pension granted him by his brother, a clergyman in Somersetshire, on the express condition that he should never come within twenty-five miles of his residence. Tottlepot's three great misfortunes were, that he had once been a very handsome man, and still considered himself (he was fifty) to be so; that he was intolerably conceited; and that he wrote a very bold, legible, and symmetrical hand. These circumstances concurred in making the unhappy wretch believe that he was a poet. He wrote rhyme continually, on every kind of subject, and in every kind of metre. That which he indited was so legible, that he found no difficulty in reading it aloud, on all occasions, in a disgustingly flowing and sonorous voice-couplet after couplet, and stanza after stanza. Had he stammered or boggled over it, the man might have entertained some doubt as to his poetic faculty ; but rolling out his verses as he could, and did, by the hundred dozen, he had not the remotest shadow of uncertainty as to his great and transcendent genius. A man to be avoided, struck dumb with a sledgehammer, or struck dumb at any rate, was Tottlepot, late of the Marines, the Coal Exchange, and the Scholastic Profession. He spoke of himself, now reverently, affectionately, soothingly, as the “poor poet,”—and now arrogantly and boastfully as one with a divine inheritance, one who had stolen fire from Heaven, Sir, and suffered for it, like Prometheus. If the newspapers were late, he recorded their tardiness in a sonnet. He wrote poems on fine days, on wet days, and on foggy ones. He described a cold in his head, or a corn that he had cut, in the Spenserian stanza, and when he had a disagreement with the steward, which was about twice in every three days, withered that functionary, to his own—Tottlepot's—thinking, in Popeian heroics. Who has not known these insufferably vain and empty men, who, on the strength of much wordiness and a half-clouded intellect, turn down their collars, neglect to comb their hair, or fulfil their responsibilities in this life, and give themselves out as Poets. Did they ever abound more than at present? Will some kind, real satirist be good enough to come forward and fustigate them into a sense of shame, and a knowledge of their own position as average rate-paying Christians ? Was there ever a time when they more needed the warning hammered into them half a century since by one who was no poet, but who, unless I greatly err, has since become one of the greatest men of letters, lawyers, and sages that the world has seen? Say, was it Brougham, or was it Jeffrey, who wrote, “We really cannot permit all the shallow coxcombs who languish under the burden of existence to take themselves for spell-bound geniuses. The most powerful stream, indeed, will stagnate the most deeply, and will burst out to more wild devastation when obstructed in its peaceful course; but the weakly current is, upon the whole, more liable to obstruction, and will mantle and rot, at least, as dismally as its betters. The innumerable blockheads, in short, who betake themselves to suicide, dram-drinking, and dozing in dirty nightcaps, will not allow us to suppose that there is any real connection between ennui and talent, or that fellows who are fit for nothing better than mending shoes or cracking stones may not be very miserable if they are unfortunately raised above their proper occupations."*

Tottlepot and Clidger,—the one with his poetry, the other with his grievances,-together with the silent misery of the little old snuffy Marquis de la Vieille Roche, and the beards and bluster of the foreign democratic element, were not very conducive to Ruthyn Pendragon's peace of mind. But for the cheapness of the chambers, he might have been speedily tempted to leave them; but he found companions less demonstrative, and, ultimately, two or three almost congenial to his ways of thought. There was a quiet population of broken-down tradesmen, clerks timewan and shattered, yet still able to scrape a weekly subsistence by making up the books of butchers and tailors in the evening and collecting debts. There were a few small commission-agents, who were satisfied with their legitimate gains, and therefore did not prosper much. There was a reduced farmer named Cherfit-one of those sad spectacles, a fat man grown thin, and whose skin was as baggy as the clothes he wore. A great speculation in corn, or hops, or clover, had made him bankrupt; but he had not lost his equanimity. He calmly remembered the days when he used to farm a thousand acres; was perfectly contented with criticising the points of the cab and cart horses he saw passing the window; was almost an infallible judge of the weather; was a stanch Protectionist, and assiduously perused the prices current of those markets whose fluctuations were nothing to him now. Add to these, if you please, a dapper little man, whose name was, aptly enough, Mr. Smart, who had taught writing, arithmetic, and the use of the globes any time these fifty years in ladies' schools, chiefly in the neighbourhood of Cam

* Edinburgh Review, 1818.

berwell and Kensington; a wan, sunburnt man, who had been agent for a Chinese opium house at Canton for many years, who had not made a fortune out of that traffic, and was suspected of habitually chewing the narcotic drug in which he had once dealt; and a superannuated theatrical prompter, whose sight was now too bad to enable him to “hold the book,” who was, to his great good luck," on the Fund," and who was looked upon as an infallible authority as to new pieces and first appearances : he never went to the theatre, but attended the performances through the intermediary of a newspaper, and always with a saving clause, disparaging to the present state of the drama, and laudatory of those glorious days when John Kemble and Jack Bannister, Joey Munden and Jerry Sneak Russell, flourished. In what manner of gyrations do people flourish, I wonder ?-angularly, or in curves, or in “parabolic envelopes," as that unexpected comet, the other day, is said to have done.

Ah! let me no forget; there was an artist, too, at the chambers. His name was Clere ;-John Clere-nothing more. He was so desperately poor, and so painfully struggling an artist, that he should properly have lived in a garret, worn a threadbare black-velvet coat, continually smoked a short pipe, abused the Hanging Committee of the Royal Academy, and the extortionate race of picture-dealers, and lain on his back all day on a flock-bed, waiting for patronage. He did nothing at all of the kind. Although not three-and-twenty years of age, he never smoked, and did not even wear a moustache; nor, although his hair was of an auburn hue, and abundant in quantity, did he part it down the middle, torture it into ringlets, or allow it to flow over the collar of his coat behind. He avowed, with much simplicity, that he was the son of a butcher at Norwich, that he had been bred at a charity-school, and, disliking the paternal calling, was on the eve of being apprenticed to a shoemaker, when he thought that he would come to London and see if he could earn a crust by the exercise of that taste for drawing which he had shown, chiefly in chalk and slate-pencil, from the very earliest days that he had worn a muffin-cap and leathers. At St. Wackleburga's charity. school he bad learned to read and write imperfectly; all the rest he had taught himself. He was fortunate enough to arrive in the great town, a raw lad, in 1845, when there was a great railway mania. More iron roads were projected than there were towns and villages, almost, for them to connect with one another. Certain standing orders of Parliament had to be complied with, and certain maps and plans to be deposited at the offices of the Board of Trade, by midnight at a given date. These maps and plans were lithographed; and lithographic draughtsmen-nay, any ticket-writer who could make a mark on stone or tracing-paper-were at a premium. John Clere went in with the rest to a great lithographer in the City about a fortnight before the great day. He had been dropping prospectuses down areas at a penny a-piece-every body, the lame, the halt, and the blind, found employment in connection with railways in the famous “forty five :" beggars were directors, and alms-men members, of provisional committees—when a youthful acquaintance, engaged in the same pursuit, told him of the great run on lithographic draughtsmen. He remembered that he had once made a chalk drawing or two on stone of a popular churchwarden, and a new pump for a printer in Norwich, who had paid the clever charity boy a few shillings for his pains. He went with specimens of his proficiency, and a neatly-written character from the master of St. Wackleburga; who, good pedagogue, always predicted that John Clere would become either president of the Royal Academy, or coach-painter in ordinary to her Majesty. The great lithographer cared nothing at all about his character, and very little about his specimens. He wanted hands. He gave every body a chance who said that he understood map-drawing. If the neophyte made blots, and showed manifest incapability, he was forthwith turned out. If he was up to his work, he was paid five shillings an hour for it, and might go on drawing maps and plans all day and all night. John Clere had a lithographic pen put in his hand, a stone before him, and a map to copy from. He proved neat and expeditious; and before a week was out his hire was raised to ten—to fifteen shillings an hour, to say nothing of refreshments laid on gratis and supplied at discretion. He made junctions between Stoke Pogis and Walton-on-the-Naze, with a branch to Stony Stratford, calling at Ashton-under-Lyne. He drew sections of the great Saddle. back tunnel, and the great Lough Swilly bridge, and the great Ben Nevis viaduct. Ah, if those balcyon days could have lasted for ever! They did not. The fixed day for delivery arrived. Cabs tore up to the Board of Trade, disgorging frantic engineers and foaming agents laden with bolsters, with bales, with pillows of maps and plans. I suppose that not one-hundredth of those projected railways were ever completed, ever commenced indeed. However, John Clere found himself the better for fifty pounds in hard cash when that memorable midnight-hour struck. He had secured, too, a friend in the lithographer, who saw his talent and admired his wondrous perseverance; but alas, while the lithographer had paid his workmen on the nail, the projecting companies neglected to pay the lithographer. The Stoke Pogis and Walton-on-the-Naze people, the Lough Swillyites and the Saddlebackians, owed him hundreds. He went bankrupt, and to the colony of Natal, whence he wrote now and then to John Clere, advising him to save up money enough to emigrate to that flourishing settlement.

John Clere had no luck for six years afterwards. He lived for a very long time on the fifty pounds the railway mania had brought him, and then sank down into a day-to-day fight for bread-and-cheese. When he could earn enough to buy bread with, he spent it in a subscription to a night-school in Frith Street, Soho, where he could draw from the “round," or plaster casts from the antique; and hoped some day to be able to subscribe to another school, where he could draw from the living model. He

« 上一頁繼續 »