THUMBNAIL STUDIES IN THE LONDON STREETS.

[explanations in brackets]

Who are these people who pass to and fro? What lives are theirs? What are their stories? Who are
their friends? What is their business? Each has a story of his own—each has a cluster of friends of
his own—each is the centre of a domestic circle of greater or less extent—each is an object of
paramount interest to somebody; there are few, very few, who are so unhappy, so isolated, as not
to be the absolute centre around which some one's thoughts revolve. Of these men and women who
pass and repass me in the crowded street, one is an only son, on whose progress in life his
bereaved mother has staked her happiness; another is the ne'er-do-well husband of a spirit-broken,
but still loving wife; a third is a husband that is to be; a fourth is the father of a big hungry family—
very one, from peer to beggar, is the living centre of some social scheme. They are all so much
alike, and yet so widely different; their stories are so wonderfully similar in their broad outlines,
and yet so strangely unlike in their minute particulars. Just as one man's face is like another's, so
is the story of his life: no two faces are exactly alike, yet all have many points in common.

A large crowd of people always presents many curious subjects of speculation. The bare fact of
their being there is marvellous in itself, when we come to think of it, without thinking too deeply.
As a rule, it is better to think, but not to think too deeply. If we don't think at all, our mind is but a
blank; if we just glance below the surface, we may without difficulty conjure up a host of pleasant
paradoxes, the contemplation of which is enough to keep the mind amused, and to give play to a
healthy and fanciful reflection. But if we think too deeply, we come to the reason of things—we
destroy our visionary castles—we brush away our quaint theories, and we reduce everything to
the absolute dead-level from which we started. Apply these remarks to a large crowd of people—
say a monster Reform gathering in Hyde Park. Here are thirty thousand people vindicating their
claim to the franchise, some by talking windily to a mob who can't hear them, others by an
interchange of gentle chaff, others by going to sleep on their backs on the grass. The man who
don't trouble himself to think about them accepts their presence as a fact which is merely
attributed to a popular demagogue and a few thousand handbills. He who dips below the surface,
finds a train of thoughts of this nature prepared for him: "How utterly baseless is the doctrine of
chances! Take any two of these people at random: one is (say) a bricklayer, born in
Gloucestershire; another is a tailor, who hails from Canterbury: well, what would have been the
betting, thirty years ago, that the Gloucestershire bricklayer would not be lolling on the grass at
Hyde Park, listening to the inflated nonsense of the Kentish tailor, at eight o'clock on a given
evening in August, eighteen hundred and sixty-seven? Why, the odds would have been incalculably
great against such a concurrence. But here are not only the Gloucestershire bricklayer and the
Kentish tailor, but also twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight others, the odds
against any one of whom meeting any other in the same place, at the same time, and on the same
day, would have been equally incalculable; and yet, here they all are!" Here is a vast field of
speculation opened out for the consideration of him who only dips below the surface. It is enough,
in itself, to keep his mind in a condition of pleasant easy-going activity for months at a time. But
the miserable man who sees a fallacy in this chain of reasoning, and, so to speak, hauls up his
intellectual cable to see where the fault lies, discovers that it exists in the fact that no one,
thirty years ago, prophesied anything of the kind concerning either the Gloucester bricklayer or
the Kentish tailor, or any other twain of the multitude before him—that the odds against any one
having prophesied such a concurrence would be infinitely greater than the odds anybody would
have staked against such a prophecy being verified; that he has been troubling himself about a
mass of utter nonsense; and that, in the absense of any prophecy to that effect, there is nothing
more remarkable in the fact of the Gloucestershire bricklayer meeting the Kentish tailor and the
twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-eight other noodles who go to make up the crowd,
than is to be found in the fact that thirty thousand people can be brought together, out of one
city, who think that the cause of Reform is susceptible of any material advancement by such a
means.

The London streets always afford pleasant fund of reflection to a superficial thinker. Hardly a
man passes by who has not some more or less strongly marked characteristic which may serve
to distinguish him from his fellows, and give a clue to his previous history. Of course the clue may
be an erroneous one; but if it prove to be so, that is the fault of the sagacious soul who follows it
up too closely. Here is an instance taken at random. The easy-going speculator who is content with
such deductions as the light of nature may enable him to make, sets him down as a thriving
bill-discounter. He is an old gentleman who has, at various epochs in his chequered career, been
a wine-merchant, a cigar-dealer, a Boulogne billiard player, a trafficker in army commissions, a
picture-dealer, a horse-dealer, a theatrical manager, and a bill discounter. Each of these
occupations has left its mark, more or less emphasized, upon his personal appearance. He finds
bill-discounting by far the most profitable of his employments, and he sticks to it. He has a large
army connection, and can tell off the encumberances on most of the large landed estates of Great
Britain and Ireland. He has a fine cellar of old wines, and several warehouses of cigars and old
masters—commodities which enter largely into all his discounting transactions. He has a large
house, and gives liberal parties, and it is astonishing (considering his antecedents) how many
young men of family find it worth while to "show up" at them.

Here we have Mr. Sam Travers of the metropolitan theatres. Mr, Sam Travers is a stock low
comedian at a favorite minor establishment, and Mr. Sam Travers's pre-occupied demeanour
and unreasonable galvanic smiles suggest that his next new part is the most prominent subject
matter of his reflections. Mr. Travers was a music-hall singer and country clown until his
developing figure interfered with the latter line of business, and he has now subsided into the
"comic countryman" of the establishment to which he is attached. His notions of "make up" are
for the most part limited to a red wig and a nose to match; but he is a "safe" actor, and on his
appearance on the stage the gallery hail him by name as one man. He can't pass a man with
a red head and red nose without exclaiming, "By Jove! there's a bit of character, eh!" and he
falls into the mistake, too common among his class, of supposing that a man who looks, in the
streets, as if he had been "made up" for the stage, is on that account characteristic and to be
carefully imitated.

A wicked old character is represented in the initial to this paper. He is a gay old bachelor, of
disgraceful habits and pursuits—a coarse old villain without a trace of gentlemanly, or even
manly, feeling about him. He stands at his club-window by day, leering at every respectable
woman who passes him, in a manner that would insure him a hearty kicking were he not the
enfeebled, palsied old thing he is. At dinner he drinks himself into a condition of drivelling
imbecility, from which he arouses himself in time to stagger round to the nearest stage-door.
His income is probably derived from the contributions of disgusted connections who pay him
to keep out of their sight, and when he dies, he will die, unattended, in a Duke Street
lodging-house, whose proprietor will resent the liberty as openly as he dares.

Here is an amusing fellow—an artistic charlatan. He is by profession an artist; his "get up" is
astonishingly professional, and his talk is studio slang. He never paints anything, but haunts
studios, and bothers hard-working craftsmen by the hour together. He has been all over the
world, and knows every picture in every gallery in Europe. To hear him talk, you would think he
was the acknowledged head of his profession. Certainly, as far as his exterior goes, there
never was so artistic an artist (out of a comedy) as he.

Bound, I should say, for rehearsal. Much more quiet and ladylike than people who only know
her from the stalls, as a popular burlesque prince, would expect her to be. A good quiet girl
enough, with a bedridden mother and three or four clean but seedy little children dependent
on her weekly salary (eked out, perhaps, by dancing and music lessons) for their daily bread.
Very little does she know about Ascot drags and Richmond dinners: her life is a quiet round of
regular unexciting duties, only relieved at distant intervals by the flash and flutter of a new part.
She will marry, perhaps, the leader of the band, or the stage-manager, or the low comedian,
grow fat, and eventually train pupils for the stage.

Ah! his story, past and to come, is easily told. Bank clerk by day—casino reveller by night,
eventually a defaulter; three years' penal servitude, ticket of leave [license given to a convict
under imprisonment to go at large and labor for himself]
, then a billiard marker and betting
man, and if successful, perhaps a small cigar-shop keeper. Or, if he has relations, his passage
may be paid out to Australia, where he will begin as an attorney's clerk and perhaps end as a
judge. Most of us have some great original whom we set up as a type of what a man should be,
and that selected by our friend is the "great Vance." He frames his costume from the outsides
of comic songs, and his air and conversation are of the slap-bang order of architecture. His
clothes and those of his friends are always new—offensively new—a phenomenon which is not
easily accounted for when the limited nature of their finances is taken into consideration. I have
a theory that they are clothed gratuitously by West-end tailors who want to get up a fashionable
reaction in the matter of gentlemen's dress, and who think that this end may be most readily
attained by clothing such men as these in exaggerations of existing fashions. But this is just one
of those speculations to which I have alluded to at some length, and which on closer investigation
I feel I should be tempted to reject. So I decline to pursue the subject.

A London crowd is an awful thing, when you reflect upon the number of infamous characters of
which it is necessarily composed. I don't care what crowd it is—whether it is an assemblage of
'raff' at a suburban fair, a body of Volunteers, Rotten Row in the season, or an Exeter Hall May
meeting. Some ingenious statistician has calculated that one in every forty adults in London is
a professional thief; that is to say, a gentleman who adopts, almost publicly, the profession of
burglar, pickpocket, or area sneak; who lives by dishonesty alone, and who, were dishonest
courses to fail him, would have no means whatever of gaining a livelyhood. But of the really
disreputable people in London, I suppose that acknowledged thieves do not form one twentieth
portion. Think of the number of men now living and doing well, as respectable members of
society, who are destined either to be hanged for murder or to be reprieved, according to the
form which the humanitarianism of the Home Sectretary for the time being may take. Murderers
are not recruited, as a rule, from the criminal classes. It is true that now and then a man or
woman is murdered for his or her wealth by a professed thief, but it is the exception, and not the
rule. Murder is often the crime of one who has never brought himself under the notice of the
police before. It is the crime of the young girl with a illegitimate baby; of the jealous husband,
lover, or wife; of a man exposed suddenly to a temptation which he cannot resist—the
temptation of a good watch or well-filled purse, which, not being a professional thief, he does
not know how to get at by any means short of murder. Well, all the scoundrels who are going to
commit these crimes, and to be hung or reprieved for them accordingly, are now walking among
us, and in every big crowd there must be at least one or two of them. Then the forgers; they are
not ordinarily professional thieves; they are usually people holding situations of greater or less
responsibility, from bank managers down to office boys; well, all these forgers who are to be
tried at all the sessions and assizes for the next twenty years, are walking about among us as
freely as you or I. Then the embezzlers—these are always people who stand well with their
employers and their friends. I remember hearing a judge say, in the course of the trial of a
savings-bank clerk for embezzlement, when the prisoner's counsel offered to call witnesses to
character of the highest respectability, that he attached little or no value to the witnesses called to
speak to their knowledge of the prisoner's character in an embezzlement case, as a man must
necessarily be of good repute among his fellows before he could be placed in a position in which
embezzlement was possible to him. Then the committers of assaults of all kinds. These are
seldom drawn from the purely criminal classes, though, of course, there are cases in which
professional thieves resort to violence when they cannot obtain their booty by other means. All
these people—all the murderers, forgers, embezzlers, and assaulters, who are to be tried for
their crimes during the next (say) twenty years, and moreover, all the murderers, forgers,
embezzlers, and assaulters whose crimes escape detection altogether (here is a vast field
for speculation open to the ingenious statisticians—of whom I am certainly one—who begin with
conclusions, and 'try back' to find premisses!)—all are elbowing us about in the streets of this
and other towns every day of our lives. How many of these go to make up a London crowd of,
say, thirty thousand people? Add to this unsavoury category all the fraudulent bankrupts, past
and to come, all the army of swindlers, all the betting thieves, all the unconscientious liars, all the
men who ill-treat their wives, all the wives who ill-treat their husbands, all the profligates of both
sexes, all the scoundrels of every shape and dye whose crimes do not come under the ken of
the British policeman, but who, for all that, are infinitely more harmful to the structure of London
society than the poor prig who gets six months for a 'wipe,' and then reflect upon the nature of
your associates whenever you venture into a crowd of any magnitude!

Struck by these considerations (I am not a deep thinker, as I hinted in a former page—if I
thought more deeply about them I might find reasons which would induce me to throw these
considerations to the winds), I beg that it will be understood that all the remarks that I may make
in favour of the people who form the subject of this chapter, are subject to many mental
reservations as to their probable infamy and possible detection.

Here is a gentleman who, as far as I know, is a thoroughly good fellow. He is a soldier, and a
sufficiently fortunate one, and stands well up among the captains and lieutenant-colonels of his
regiment of Guards. He has seen service in Crimea, as his three undress medals testify. He is,
I suppose, on his way to the orderly-room at the Horse Guards, for, at this morte saison, his
seniors are away, and he is in command. Unlike most Guardsmen, he knows his work
thoroughly, for he was the adjutant of his battalion for the six or seven years of his captaincy.
He is a strict soldier; rather feared by his subalterns when he is in command, but very much
liked notwithstanding. He has married a wealthy wife, has a good house in Berkeley Square,
and a place in Inverness-shire, with grouse-moors, deer-forests, and salmon-streams of the
right sort. He is thinking of standing for the county, at his wife's suggestion, but beyond a genial
interest in conservative successes, he does not trouble himself much about politics. Everybody
likes him, but he may—I say, he may—be an awful scoundrel at bottom.

Here are two young gentlemen (on your right), who appear to be annoying a quiet-looking and
rather plain young milliner [one who designs, makes, trims, or sells women's hats]. I am sorry to
say that this is a group which presents itself much too often to the Thumbnail Sketcher. I do not
mean to say that the two young men are always disgraceful bullies of unprotected young women,
or that the unprotected young women are always the timid, shrinking girls that they are
commonly represented to be in dramas of domestic interest, and in indignant letters to the
"Times" newspaper. I am afraid that it only too often happens that the shrinking milliner is quite
as glad of the society of the young men who accost her as the young men are of hers, although
I am bound to admit that in the present case the girl seems a decent girl, and her annoyers two
"jolly dogs," of the most objectionable type. One of them is so obliging as to offer her his arm,
while the other condescends to the extent of offering to carry her bandbox, an employment with
which he is probably not altogether unfamiliar in the ordinary routine of his avocations. She will
bear with them for a few minutes, in the hope that her continued silence will induce them to cease
their annoyance, and when she finds that their admiration is rather increased than abated by her
modest demeanour, she will stop still and request them to go on without her. As this is quite out
of the question, she will cross the road and they will follow her. At length their behavior will
perhaps be noticed by a plucky but injudicious passer-by, who will twist one of them on to his
back by the collar, and be knocked down himself by the other. Upon this a fight will ensue, the
young milliner will escape, and the whole thing will end unromantically enough in the station-house.

Here is an unfortunate soldier, a fit and proper contrast to the comfortable and contented
Guardsman (page 13). He is one of the Indian army of martyrs, who has given up all hope of
anything like promotion, and, after a life of battles, has subsided into that refuge for destitute
officers, a volunteer adjutancy. He is a thoroughly disappointed man, but he is much too well
bred to trouble you with his disappointments, unless you pump him on the subject, and then you
will find that the amalgamation of the British and Indian forces has resulted in complications that
you cannot understand, and that one of these complications is at the bottom of his retirement
from active service. He has strong views upon, and a certain interest in, the Banda and Kirwee
prize money, and he looks forward to buying an annuity for his mother (who lets lodgings) with
his share, if he should get it. He is poor—that is to say, his income is small; but he always
manages to dress well, and looks gentlemanly from a gentleman's—although, perhaps, not
from a tailor's—point of view.

This rather heavy and very melancholy-looking gentleman with the thick black beard is a
purveyor of touch-and-go farces to the principal metropolitan theatres. He also does amusing
gossip for the provincial journals, light frothy magazine articles, dramatic criticisms for a weekly
paper, and an occasional novel of an airy, not to say extremely trivial nature. His name is well
known to the readers of light literature, and also to enthusiastic play-goers who go early and
come away late. He is supposed by them to pass a butterfly existence, flitting gaily from
screaming farce to rollicking "comic copy," and back again from rollicking comic copy to
screaming farce. But this is not exactly true of his professional existence. He is a moody buffoon
in private life, much addicted to the smoking of long clay pipes and the contemplation of bad
boots. He is, at bottom, a good-natured fellow, and a sufficiently industrious one. He is much
chaffed for his moody nature now, but he will die some day, and then many solemn bumpers
will be emptied by his club fellows to the memory of the good heart that underlaid that thin
veneer of cynicism.

Here is a sketch from the window at White's. He is also a member of the Senior and the Carlton,
but he is seldom seen at either. He prefers the view from White's, and he prefers the men he
meets there, and he likes the chattiness of that famous club. He knows everybody, does the old
major, and has, in his time, been everywhere. He has served in a dozen different capacities, and
in almost as many services; indeed, his range of military experience extends from a captaincy of
Bashi Bazouks to a majority of Yeomanry Cavalry. He has been rather a sad dog in his time, but
he is much quieter now, and is extremely popular among dowagers at fashionable
watering-places [seaside health-resorts].

This young gentleman is a Foreign Office clerk, and he is just now on his way to discharge his
arduous duties in that official paradise. He is a rather weak-headed young gentleman, of very
good family and very poor fortune, and in course of time he will churn up into a very sound,
serviceable ambassador. At present he does not "go out" with the Government, though that
distinction may be in reserve for him if he perseveres in his present judicious course of
gentlemanly sleepiness. He is, in common with most of his Foreign Office fraternity, a great deal
too well dressed. It is really astonishing that young men of birth and breeding, as most of these
Foreign Office clerks are, should be so blind to the fact that there is nothing in this world so
utterly offensive to men of cultivated taste as a suit of brand new clothes. His views, at present,
are limited to his office, the "Times," his club, and any shootings and fishings that may be
offered to him by friendly proprietors.

The streets are strange levellers. They form a common ground upon which all ranks meet on
equal terms—where no one, however lofty his station (so that it fall short of royalty), or however
distinguished his career, has any right of precedence to the disadvantage of humbler members
of the community. The First Lord of the Treasury, in whose presence small statesmen tremble,
will, if he happens to run against a costermonger [hawker of fruit, fish, etc.], be asked, with no
ceremony whatever, where is shoving to; and the Lord High Chancellor of England when he
walks abroad is nothing better than a "bloke" in the eyes of him who keeps a potato-can. It is in
the streets that the private soldier stops the Commander-in-Chief to ask him for a light, and
over-dressed shopmen sneer at seedy dukes. There the flunky ogles the lady into whose service
he may be about to enter, and there the indiscriminating 'busman invites countesses into his
conveyance. In the streets the penniless Fenian finds his "Fool's Paradise" half realized—rank
is abolished, and an equal distribution of property is all that remains for him to accomplish.

The Thumbnail Sketcher will often find an amusing if not a profitable occupation in attentively
noticing the peculiarities of almost any one person who happens to be walking in his direction. It is
astonishing how much of a total stranger's tastes and habits may be learnt by simply following him
through half a mile of crowded thoroughfare. You will find, perhaps, that he stops at all print-shops;
if so, he has a taste, good or bad, for art in certain of its branches, and you can form an idea as to
the quality of that taste by taking note of the pictures that principally arrest his attention. Is that the
"Phryne De'couverte" that he is admiring? Ah! I fear his taste for art is not so immaculate as it
should be. He is stopping now at a fashionable perfumer's, and he is reading an account of the
marvellous deceptive powers of the "Indistinguishable scalp,"—a fact that directs my attention to so
much of his hair as I can see below his hat-brim, and I notice that it stands out unnaturally from the
nape of the neck. His next pause is at the shop of an eminent Italian warehouseman, and as his
eyes glisten over pots of caviare, Lyons sausages, and pates de foie gras, I conclude that he
is a bon vivant. A pretty woman passes him, and he makes a half-turn in her direction—a sad
dog, I'm afraid. Another and a prettier woman overtakes him, and he hurries his pace that he may
keep up with her—a very sad dog, I'm sure. He passes the shop of a flashy tailor, and gazes
admiringly at a pair of trousers that seem to scream aloud—so he must be a bit of a "cad."
Opticians' shops have no charms for him, so his tastes do not take a scientific form; and as he
passes a window full of Aldines and Elzevirs, I suppose he is not a ripe scholar. A glass case of
grinning teeth pulls him up, so I conclude that his powers of mastication are giving way, and as he
takes off his hat to a gentleman who only touches his own in reply, I see that his social position is
not eminent. Playbills seem to possess an extraordinary fascination for him, and he dawdles for
half an hour at a time over photographic Menkens and Abingdons—he is evidently a patron of
the drama in its more objectionable forms. He crosses crowded thoroughfares without hesitation,
so he is a Londoner, and I see from the fact that he stops to buy a "Bradshaw," that he is going
out of town. Another provision shop arrests his attention, and I feel confirmed in the conclusion I
have arrived at that he is an epicure, practical or theoretical; and as I eventually lose him in a
cheap eating-house, I render the latter alternative the more probable of the two. Altogether I have
seen enough of him to justify me in determining that a personal acquaintance with him is not an
advantage which I would go through fire and water to obtain.

It frequently happens, however, that a pretty accurate notion of a man's habits and character may
be arrived at without taking all this trouble. A glance is often sufficient to enable an observant
Thumbnail Sketcher to satisfy himself, at all events, on these points; and so that he himself is
satisfied, it matters little whether he is right or wrong in his deductions. Here is a gentleman
about whom their can be no mistake. He is a Promoter of Public Companies. He will, at ten
days' notice, get you up an association for any legitimate purpose you may think fit, and a good
many illegitimate ones into the bargain. He is a specious, showy, flashily-dressed knowing-looking
gentleman, with a general knowledge of most things, and an especial and particular acquaintance
with the manners and customs of fools in general. He has served an apprenticeship in a good
many excellent schools. He was an attorney once, but he was young then, and blundered, so they
struck him off the rolls. He afterwards jobbed on the Stock Exchange, but (being still young) he
misappropriated funds, and although he was not prosecuted, he found it convenient to steer clear
of that commercial Tattersall's for the future. He then became clerk to a general agent, and
afterwards touted for a respectable discounter. He made a little money at this, and determined
to give legitimate commerce a turn, so he opened a mock auction, and sold massive silver
tea-services and chronometers of extraordinary value, all day long, to two faded females and
three dissipated Jewish lads of seedy aspect but unlimited resources. The district magistrates,
however, took it upon themselves to post policemen at his door to warn would-be customers
away, so he turned his hand to betting, and succeeded so well that he soon found himself in a
position to take a higher stand. He got up a Company, with six other influential Betters, for the
supply of street-lamps to Central Africa, showing in his prospectus, that where street lamps were
to be found, houses would soon be gathered together, and houses, if gathered together in
sufficient numbers, formed important cities, a large proportion of the revenues of which would,
of course, flow into the pockets of the public-spirited shareholders. The "Central Africa Street
Lamp Company (Limited)" flourished for a short time only, but it enabled him to form a
connection by which he lives and flourishes. He is very disinterested in all his undertakings: he
never cares to share in the profits of his Promotions—he is good enough to leave them all to his
shareholders. All he wants is a sum down or a good bill at three months, and the Company, once
set a-going, will never be troubled with him again. His varied experience has taught him many
useful lessons—and this among others, that only fools take to illegitimate swindling.

Who is this dull and bilious man? He is a high-class journalist and essayist, whose pride and
boast it is that he has never written for a penny paper. Being a heavy and a lifeless writer, he
entertains a withering contempt for amusing literature of every description. He takes the
historical plays of Shakespeare under his wing, and extends his pompous patronage to Sheridan
Knowles and all other deceased dramatists who wrote in five acts, only he never goes to see their
productions played. Upon modern dramas of all kinds he is extremely severe, and he lashes
burlesque writers (when he condescends to notice them) without mercy. He has never been
known to amuse anybody in the whole course of his literary career, and would no more make a
joke than he would throw a summersault. In the early stages of his career he made a comfortable
income by writing sermons for idle clergymen, and his facility for arguing in circles, combined
with a natural aptitude for grouping his remarks under three heads and a "Lastly," made him
popular with his more orthodox customers, so he always had plenty to do. He used to sell his
sermons to London clergymen as modern dramatic authors sell their plays to London managers—
reserving the "country right" and farming them through the provinces, with important pecuniary
results. He is generally to be found in the bar-parlours of solemn taverns, where he presides as
Sir Oracle over a group of heavy-headed but believing tradesmen. He is a contributor to all
religious magazines of every denomination, and is usually regarded by his intimate friends as a
ripe, but wholly incomprehensible scholar.

Our next is an artist's model. He is a shocking old scamp with a virtuous beard, and a general air
of the patriarch Moses gone to the bad. He was once a trooper in a regiment of Life Guards, but
he drank to such an extent that he was requested to resign. In the course of a period of enforced
leisure he grew his beard, and as it happened to grow Mosaically, he became popular with
artists of the high art school, and he found it worth his while to let himself out for hire at per hour.
Artists are men of liberal souls, who don't care how much their models may drink so that they
don't come drunk into the studio; but they are extremely particular upon this latter point, and the
patriarch does not always respect their prejudices. So it often happens that his time is at his
disposal, and when this happens he engages himself as a theatre supernumerary. He has been
convicted of dishonesty on two or three occasions, and was once sent for trial and sentenced to
penal servitude for three years. He has a way of advertising himself by taking off his hat and
showing his forehead and hair (which are really good) whenever he sees a gentleman in a velvet
coat and eccentric beard.

Then comes a gentleman whose source of income is a standing wonder to all his friends.
Nobody can tell how he gets his living. Sometimes he is very flush of ready money and sometimes
he is hard up for half-a-crown. His mode of life is altogether contradictory and inconsistent. He
lives in a small house in a fifth-rate square, and his household consists of himself, a depressed
wife, five untidy children, and two maidservants. But, on the other hand, he drives magnificent
horses in irreproachable phaetons, gives elaborate dinners, with all sorts of out-of-season
delicacies, has his stall at the Opera, and drives to all races in a four-in-hand of his own hiring.
Times have been when the showy phaeton was returned to the livery-stable keeper, and when
Mr. Charles had orders to send him no more salmon—when he and his family have been known
to feed on chops and rice pudding—when his hall has entertained a succession of dunning
[demanding payment] tradesmen from nine in the morning till nine at night—and when he himself
had been seen outside omnibuses. But these occasional periods of monetary depression have
passed away, and he has come out of them with renewed splendour. A phaeton and pair (only
not the same) await his orders as before, and salmon at a guinea a pound forms the least
extravagant feature of his daily meal. Now and then he disappears from his neighbourhood for
six months at a time, and his tradesmen are left to tell the stories of their wrongs to the
maidservant over the area railings. But he turns up again, in course of time, pays them off, and
so gets fresh credit. Altogether he is a social mystery. The only hypothesis that appears to
account for these phenomena is that he keeps a gaming house.

Here is poor young Aldershot. He is very young and very foolish, but he will grow older and wiser,
and his faults may be pardoned. On the strength of his [military] commission, and a singularly
slender allowance, he is able to get credit for almost any amount, and what wonder that he avails
himself of the opportunity? The great mistake of his life is that he does harmless things to excess.
He over eats, he over drinks, he over rides, he over dances, he over smokes, and he over
dresses. He has no distinctive points beyond these—his other qualifications are mostly negative.
He is at present simply a smoky donkey with a developed taste for mild vice, a devoted faith in
his autocratic tailor, and a confirmed objection to the wedding tie. He will grow out of all this, if
he has the good luck to spend ten or fifteen years in India, and he will return a big, burly, bronzed
captain with hair on his hands, and a breast like a watch-maker's shop. The nonsense will have
been knocked out of him by that time, and his views on the subject of matrimony will change.

The following gentleman has seen better days. He was once a prizefighter and kept a public
house upon which he promised to thrive, but the police and the licensing magistrates interfered,
and one fine morning he found his occupation gone. In point of fact his public house (which was
in Lant Street, Borough) became known as a rendezvous for thieves of the worst class, and his
license was consequently suspended. His figure developed too rapidly to allow of his following
his other calling with credit, so he had nothing for it but to turn his hand to card-sharping and
patter-business on race-courses and at street corners. He is gifted with a loud voice, an ad
captandum
manner, and a fluent delivery, and in the assumed character of a gentleman who
has undertaken to dispose of a certain number of purses with sovereigns in them for one shilling,
in accordance with the terms of a bet of ten thousand guineas made between two sporting
noblemen of acknowledged celebrity, he manages to net a very decent livelihood.

The Thumbnail Sketcher's partiality for the London streets may be attributed, in a great measure,
to the fact that, being a person of no consideration whatever elsewhere, he becomes, as soon
as he places his foot upon the pavement, an autocrat invested with powers and privileges of the
most despotic description. It is then in his power to inconvenience his fellow-man to an extent
unknown in any other sphere of action, excepting perhaps a theatre. A man who goes forth in the
morning with the determination of annoying as many people as possible during the day, without
bringing himself within the pale of the law, has an exciting, and at the same time perfectly safe,
career before him. It is then open to him to annoy hurried people by asking them the way to
obscure or impossible addresses. He can call at and inspect all the apartments to be let upon
his road; he may buy oranges (if that luscious fruit is in season) and scatter the peel broadcast
on the pavement; he may, by quietly munching a strong onion, drive a crowd from a print-seller's
window; and he can, at any time, reassemble one by disputing with a cabman on the matter of
his fare. He may delay a street-full of busy people by stopping his Hansom in (say) Threadneedle
Street; and he may, in half a dozen words, carefully selected, put the whole mechanism of the
London police into operation. He may delay an omnibus-full of people by pretending to have
dropped a sovereign in the straw, and if it is a wet day, he can spoil any lady's dress with his
muddy boots or his wet umbrella. He can at any time, on a narrow pavement, drive well-dressed
ladies into the roadway, a pastime popular enough with the politest nation in the world, but
which has hardly yet acquired a recognized footing among coarse and brutal Englishmen. In short,
he has it in his power to make himself an unmitigated nuisance with perfect impunity; and it is a
creditable feature in his character that he does not often take advantage of his privilege. He is
satisfied with the power vested in him, without caring to set its machinery in motion without due
provocation.

The prerogative which I have here claimed for the Thumbnail Sketcher is not his alone; it is
shared in a greater or less degree by all. Indeed the humbler and more filthy the passenger, the
more marked are his privileges. The organ-grinder has it in his power to poison the atmosphere
with his hideous and distracting music whenever he pleases; the costermonger and dustman
may make morn hideous with their professional yells; German bands may bray wherever they
choose, and Punch-and-Judy-men crow and chuckle in every street; while the wealthy and
comparatively inoffensive bone-crusher, soap-boiler, knacker, or tanner is liable at any moment
to be indicted as a nuisance if he happens to be in evil odour with his neighbours. The state of
things is altogether an anomaly, but the humbler classes in whose favour it operates might surely
be disposed to take the many benefits they derive from it as a set-off to the manhood suffrage
which is not yet accorded to them. It may be taken indeed as a moral certainty that hardly a man
walks into a London street without causing an inconvenience of greater or less magnitude to
some of his fellow-passengers. But it is not the fashion to estimate moral certainties as physical
certainties are estimated, and therefore people are allowed to walk abroad whenever they
please without regard to the fearful annoyance that may be caused to a refined and sensitive
organization by an outrageous hat, a taste for bad cigars, or a passion for peppermint drops.
It is instructive, by the way, to contrast the utter irresponsibilty of a moral certainty with the
absolute responsibility of a physical certainty. A certainty is a certainty, whether it be moral or
physical; it is a moral certainty that in the course of the erection of (say) the new Law Courts at
least a dozen people will be accidentally killed, yet nobody would dream of stopping the works
on that account. But if it were possible to enter into an exceptional arrangement with Fate, by
which the deliberate slaughter of one man before the first stone was laid would secure absolute
immunity for the hundreds of others whose lives would otherwise be in daily peril during the eight
or ten years which must elapse before the works are completed, society would protest with one
voice against the inhuman compact, and the contractor who entered into it would be branded as
a cold-blooded murderer. But from a politico-economical point of view he would be a
conspicuous benefactor to his species.

The Thumbnail Sketcher, having now let off his superfluous steam, proposes once more to take
the reader by the arm and direct his attention to half a dozen more of the involuntary models
who unwittingly provided him with amusement and instruction whenever he takes his walks
abroad.

Here is an amusing example of that bland, gentlemanly, useful humbug the fourth-rate family
doctor. Although undoubtedly a humbug, he is not a quack. His professional acquirements are
quite up to the average mark, although they seldom go beyond it. He has satisfied the College
of Surgeons and he has passed the Hall with decency; he has even, perhaps, graduated an
M.B. at London, and is consequently styled Doctor by courtesy. But he is a humbug for all that.
He is not satisfied with the average professional status to which his average professional
acquirements and average professional brain would, if honestly worked, confine him; he soars
high above this, on the strength of a bland, impressive manner, an imposing presence, and a
certain quiet audacity in prescribing eccentric but harmless remedies for fanciful complaints. He
is much too sensible a fellow to go beyond his depth, but his depth is a tolerably deep one, and
his plan of elevating himself on moral tiptoes makes it appear considerably deeper than it really
is. As I said before, with all his humbug and pretence he can, if he likes, be really useful, and his
waiting-room is daily thronged with real or fanciful sufferers, who are quite justified in placing a
modest belief in him. Their mistake consists in believing in him absolutely, on the mere strength
of a bland, impressive presence.

Who is this red-faced, white-haired, pompous old gentleman who is holding forth in a window
of the "Senior?" He is an old officer who retired on half-pay forty years ago, a humble,
blundering captain, and who, by dint of long standing, has worked his way up into the dignified
list of generals. When in active service he knew absolutely nothing of his duty; he was the stock
regimental by-word whenever the subject of military incompetence was broached. He was the
scapegoat upon whose shoulders the responsibility of all regimental blunders was laid, and
subalterns, six weeks old, would pose him with impossible questions and record his oracular
replies. Now, however, that he has been cut off for forty years or so from anything in the shape
of practical experience in military matters, and so has attained the rank of major-general, he is
looked upon as an important authority on the organization of armies, and advanced strategy.
He is a county magistrate and a member of an important borough, and his orations on
Horse-Guards mismanagement and military innovations, though little regarded in the House,
are looked upon by the outside public with a respect which is born rather of his military rank
than of his military knowledge.

On next page stands an anomalous gentleman, one of a group of four seedy but flashy
individuals who are loafing about the doors of a theatrical public-house in Bow Street. He is an
ex-equestrian, and the proprietor of a traveling circus. A few years ago he was known as that
daring and graceful rider Annibale Corinski, whose "Courier of the Dardanelles" on fourteen
horses was justly celebrated as the most thrilling performance ever witnessed in this or any
other country. But Annibale grew too fat for the business, so he married the widow of his late
employer and set up as a circus proprietor on his own account. His present position, as
master of the ring, is one of qualified dignity. It is true that, by virtue of his office, he is entitled
to appear in a braided military frock, jack-boots, and a gold-lace cap; but he has, on the other
hand, to submit to nightly affronts from ill-conditioned jesters, whose mildest insults take the
form of riddles with offensive answers, calculated to cover him publicly with confusion.

Here comes a tall, soldierly man in civilian clothes. He is soldierly in his carriage, only he has no
moustache, and his little black eyes are quick and restless. He is awake to most things, and his
only delusion is that, being a policeman in plain clothes, he looks like a prosperous shopkeeper,
a confidential clerk, a nobleman of easy manners, or a country yokel in town for a "spree,"
according to the characters which the peculiarities of his several cases require him to assume.
But the disguises are a failure. The more he disguises himself the more he looks like a
policeman in plain clothes, and as long as he continues in the force his official identity will
assert itself.

Now appears a curious old bachelor of eccentric habits. Nobody knows much about him, except
a confidential man-servant who effectually defeats any attempt to pump him on the subject of his
master's eccentricities. All that is known of him is that he lives in a lodging-house in Duke-street,
St. James's. His valet is the only person who is ever allowed to enter his room; his meals,
carefully but not expensively organised, are served with extraordinary punctuality; he has a
horror of children and tobacco, and a nervous dread of Hansom cabs; he takes a walk, between
two and three every afternoon, round St. James's Square, along Pall Mall, up St. James's
Street, and so home, stopping regularly at Sam's to look at the profile pictures of distinguished
sporting and other noblemen, and finishing up with a Bath bun and a glass of cherry-brandy at
the corner of Bond-street. He is supposed by some to be a fraudulent banker, by others a
disgraced clergyman, by others an escaped convict of desperate character, and by the more
rational portion of his observers as a harmless monomaniac. He never gives his name, and
his lodgings are taken for him by his valet. There is a rumour afloat that he is a royal descendant
of Hannah Lightfoot, and that he is only waiting for an opportunity to declare his rights and step
at once into the throne of England; but I believe that this theory is confined to an imaginative and
romantic few.

Here is one of those miserable ghosts that start up from time to time in the London streets, to
sicken the rich man of his wealth and to disgust the happy man with his happiness. If the
wretched object before us could put his thoughts into intelligible English, what a story of misery,
want, filth, sickness, and crime he could unfold! He is of course a thief; who in his situation
would not be? He is a liar; but his lies are told for bread. He is a blasphemer; God help him,
what has he to be thankful for? He is filthy in his person; but filth means warmth in his
vocabulary. He pushes his way insolently among well-dressed women, who shrink from his
infected rags; why should he respect those whose only regard for him is a feeling of
undisguised aversion? He can tell you of open-air places where there is snug lying; places
where you can sleep with tolerable comfort for nothing; he can tell you all about the different
houses of detection, criminal gaols, police-cells, and tramp-wards in the neighbourhood of the
metropolis; and he can compare their various merits and demerits, and strike a balance in
favour of this or that. He has been a thief since he could walk, and he will be a thief till he dies—
it is the only trade that has ever been opened to him, and in his case it has proved a poor one.
Truly he is one of the saddest sights in the London streets.

London Characters