OUTSIDERS OF SOCIETY AND THEIR HOMES IN LONDON.
[explanations in brackets]
Whenever I looked up from my newspaper I met the eye of a middle-aged gentleman who
was sitting in the same box—a box, I should mention, in the coffee-room of an old-fashioned
hotel in London, which is partitioned off in primitive style. I say gentleman advisedly, for the
stranger had every apparent claim to be so called. For the rest there was little to distinguish
him from the crowd of well-dressed and well-mannered persons whom one meets about in
public places. He might be a clergyman, or a lawyer, or a doctor, though I should doubt his being
an active member of either profession. He gave you the idea of a man retired from any pursuit in
which he might have been engaged, and to be occupied rather in killing time than in inviting time
to kill him. He had a healthy, happy-looking face, bearing no traces of hard work or deep thought,
and his hair was only partially grey. He had a mild eye, and a mild voice, and a mild manner—I
noticed the two latter qualities through his intercourse with the waiter—and was so suave in his
ways as to be polite even to the port that he was drinking after an early dinner. He handled his
decanter in a caressing manner such as he might adopt towards a favourite niece, and took up
his wine-glass as gently as if it were a child.
Whenever I met his eye, I noticed that it gave me a kind of recognising look, which, however,
was not sustained; for, before he had thoroughly attracted my attention he always returned to
the illustrated journal before him, as if suddenly determined to master some abstruse subject
with a great deal of solution in the way of woodcuts. His communicative appearance made me
think that I had met him before, but it did not occur to me where, so I took no further notice.
Presently he spoke, but he only said—
"I beg your pardon, sir."
There was nothing to beg my pardon about, so I begged his, not to be outdone in gratuitous
courtesy. Then he begged mine again, adding—
"I thought you made a remark—I did not quite hear."
No, I said, I had not made any remark. Then we both bowed and smiled, and resumed our
reading—the stranger with some little confusion, I thought.
After a time he made a remark himself.
"I should not have intruded," said he, "but I thought I had met you before."
I am not one of those persons who think that every stranger who addresses them in a public
room means to pick their pockets, but I have a proper prejudice against being bored, and in
any case I had no resource but to answer as I did, to the effect that I could not recall the when
and the where.
"Were you ever in Vancouver's Island?" the stranger asked.
In the cause of truth, I was obliged to declare a negative.
"Then it could not have been there," said he, musingly; "but," he added, "you might have
known Colonel Jacko—a relation of mine—who was governor of the Island. You remind me of
him—that is why I ask."
I did not quite see the connection between knowing a man and bearing a personal
resemblance to him, but in disavowing any acquaintance with Colonel Jacko, I did so with all
"You have been probably in New Zealand?" pursued the stranger, warming apparently into
considerable interest in the question involved; "if so, you must have known Major-General
Mango, who commanded there in 18—."
I was obliged to confess my ignorance of the unfortunate colony in question, and of the
distinguished officer alluded to.
"I merely asked," continued the stranger with a desponding air, "as he was a relation of mine."
I had nothing to do with his relatives any more than himself, but his manner was so gentle that I
could not think it intentionally obtrusive, so I acknowledged the receipt of the information as
pleasantly as possible.
"If you had been in India," he pursued, taking it for granted apparently that I was no traveller,
"you would probably have met one of my sons. One is in the civil, the other in the military,
service. Both fine fellows. The elder was political agent at Tulwarpatam at the time when the
Rajah was so aggressive, and it was through his influence that his highness was induced to
remit the Abkaree duties, and give up his claim to the contested Jaghires. The other was
through the mutinies, and was wounded both at Delhi and Lucknow—curious coincidence, was
I admitted that his sons seemed to have done the State some service, and remarked upon the
coincidence as one of those mysterious dispensations of Providence for which it is impossible
to account. And that was all I could do towards the conversation, which dropped at this point.
Presently the stranger took his hat, with an undecided ultimately effectual movement. Then he
called the waiter, and had a little conversation with that functionary about the port, which he
said was not quite the same that he used to have in the year 1835. (I strongly suspect, by the
way, that he was right in this supposition; as the wine he had been drinking belonged probably
to the celebrated vintage of 1869.) At last he made a movement to depart, and ultimately did
depart, but only after a great deal of delay; and even when in actual motion across the room,
he looked back more than once, as if expecting somebody to ask him to remain.
When the waiter came to clear away the abandoned decanter and glass, I asked him if he
knew the gentleman who had just gone out.
"Yes, sir," was the reply; "we have known the gentleman for some years, though he does not
come very often. He lives by himself somewhere in town, and has no relations except some
who are abroad. He says he has no friends, too, as he has lost a great deal of money, and
cannot keep the society he did. He doesn't seem to know anybody who comes here, though
he talks to some now and then, as he has to you."
I was sorry not to have heard this before, that I might have treated the stranger with a little
more attention. For this glimpse I had of him, and the few hints given me by the waiter, were
sufficient to assure me that he belonged to a class who are more perhaps to be pitied than the
merely poor; that he is in the world but is not of it, and has a residence but is without a home;
that he is, in fact—an Outsider of Society.
People engaged in active pursuits—whether in spending or making money—are not likely to
be troubled by deprivations of the kind referred to. They live among their peers, with whom
they have interests in common. They are as important to others as others are important to
them. They are in the stream of pleasure or business as the case may be. There is no danger
that they will be forgotten. Their doors are besieged by visitors, drawn by diverse attractions;
so that it is necessary to make a vigorous classification of the latter, not only of the usual social
character, but distinguishing those who come to oblige the master of the house from those who
come to oblige themselves. Their tables are covered with cards and letters, prospectuses,
tradesmen's circulars, begging petitions, newspapers they have never ordered, and books
that it is thought they may possibly want. Their vote and interest is always being requested for
deserving individuals, and their subscriptions for equally deserving institutions. Chance of
being forgotten indeed! So long as they can be made useful there is as much chance of the
Bank of England being forgotten. Such men may be alone, sometimes, in one sense of the
term. That is to say, their relations may be scattered or dead. But that is of very little practical
moment in their case. They can always find people prepared to be second fathers or brothers
to them, and even mothers and sisters, it may be. They can always marry, too, and then a
home establishes itself as a matter of course.
But there are—who shall say how many?—people living in London who live almost alone; who
have no society except of a casual, and what may be called an anonymous kind; and whose
homes are merely places where they may obtain shelter and rest. I am not here alluding to the
class who are social and domestic outlaws because they are positively poor. There is no
anomaly in this condition of life; it is a natural consequence of having no money. The people I
mean have mostly money enough for themselves, but not sufficient to make them important to
others, and obtain for them consideration in the world. Sometimes their positions have
changed; sometimes things have changed around them and left their positions as they were,
the result being much the same. It may be that they are seeking to make a little more money
by such employments as agencies, secretaryships, and so forth—employments the most
difficult of all to get, as any man of moderate education and abilities can do the duties—but
most frequently they are content to vegetate upon what they have, and to concentrate
themselves upon the attainment of companionship and home. When one of the active men
whom I have mentioned goes away from home, the Post Office establishment is ruthlessly
disturbed by mandates for the re-addressing and forwarding of letters. The migration of one
of our passive friends makes no difference to anybody. Except it be an occasional
communication from a relation in a distant colony, sent to the care of an agent, he has no
letters to trouble him, and if he did not occasionally make a show of existence by asserting
himself in pen and ink, he might perish out of the memory of man. To such people the
advertising columns of the newspapers must possess peculiar interest; for a large number of
the announcements seem expressly intended to meet their requirements, while, on the other
hand, an equal number of the specified "Wants" seem to come from their class.
Homes for special purposes appear to be plentiful enough. You cannot take up a newspaper
without having your attention called to a dozen or two. Apart from the "Home for Lost and
Starving Dogs,"—which is an establishment not applying, except by sympathy, to any class of
my readers—we have such charities as the "Convalescent Home," established by the wife of
the Premier. In the next column we are sure to be reminded of the "Home for Little Boys," in
addition to which has just been appropriately projected a "Home for Little Girls,"—not the
least desirable object of the two. An individual speculator has also established what he rather
invidiously calls an "Epileptic Home for the Sons of Gentlemen,"—there being, it is to be
presumed, genteel as well as vulgar forms of the malady in question. "Educational Homes" for
youth of both sexes abound in newspaper announcements. They may afford very good
opportunities for the intended purpose, but I should prefer placing my trust in establishments
which are candidly called schools. Not long since I saw an advertisement in a morning paper
which ran, as nearly as I can remember, in these terms:—
"A clergyman in a popular parish by the sea-side, offers an Educational Home to a few little
boys of good principles, the sons of gentlemen. Apply," &c.
Now, without desiring to be harsh to the advertiser, I must take leave to say that the above
contains several important errors in taste. It would have been just as well, and a great deal
better perhaps, had the clergyman refrained from mentioning the popularity of his parish,
however much the description might be deserved. His specification of little boys "of good
principles" suggests a slur upon little boys in general which does not come well from an
educator of youth; and one would think that he would be more usefully engaged in taking in
hand little boys of bad principles, if any such exist. But the inference next suggested is even
less creditable to the reverend advertiser. It is of no use, it seems, for little boys to have good
principles, as far as he is concerned, unless they be the sons of gentlemen. This is sad.
But the mention of homes of a special character—of which there are many more in London
than have been enumerated—is only incidental to my present purpose. I especially allude to
lonely people who seek society, and to which society, in a certain limited degree, seems
continually offering to sell itself. And among lonely people, as far as homes are concerned,
must be included "persons engaged in the City," or "engaged during the day," who are
frequently appealed to by advertisers. The number of persons—idle or occupied—who want
homes seem to be equalled only by the number of persons who are prepared to offer them,
with very small pecuniary temptation. I have always thought that a great deal of self-sacrifice
must be necessary in the case of the family of a dancing-master who for years past has been
advertising his lessons with the addition that "the Misses X—— will officiate as partners." The
Misses X—— must surely be tired by this time of dancing with people who drop them directly
they are able to dance. But it must be still more sad to take into your family any chance
stranger who may be sufficiently respectable, board him, and lodge him, and promise to be
"cheerful" and "musical" for his amusement. But offers of this kind are plentiful enough, and
they would not be made were there not a fair supply of people to embrace them.
Looking back at only one daily paper for only a week or ten days may be found a host of
advertisements of both classes; and I will first allude to a few of these among the "Wants."
Here is a specimen:—"Home wanted by a respectable elderly lady—rather invalid, not
helpless—in a sociable family; meals with it understood. Children objectionable. Large
bedroom (not top) facing east or south indispensible. Aspectv important. Forty guineas [42
pounds]. Must be west of Holborn: other localities useless. Letters," &c.
It would be difficult to determine the exact state of this respectable elderly lady's health from
the above description, there being a rather long range between the affirmative and the
suggestions offered by the negative statement; but even though she be in a high state of
agility the conditions are surely rather complex: and there must be families in which forty
guineas a year go a great way if she has any chance of gratifying her wishes.
Another elderly lady is more explicit, if not quite grammatical. She describes herself as "an
invalid from rheumatism," and her desire is "to board with a genteel, cheerful family." Here
again there must be "no children." She prefers "the neighbourhood of St. John's Wood, near
the Park, or an equal distance from the West-End." Letters must be prepaid.
The following looks like a case in which society is an object:—"Board and residence wanted,
by a widow lady and a young lady, and partial board for a young gentleman, within three miles
north of London, near a station. Children objected to. (Poor children!) Three bedrooms
indispensible. Preference given to a musical family, where there is a daughter who would be
companionable." Terms, it is added, "must be moderate."
The following has not a pleasant sound:—"Wanted, a comfortable home for a female aged
seventy years, where there are no children (children again!). She must be treated with great
firmness. Twelve shillings will be paid weekly for board, lodging, and washing. Surrey side
It is evident that the above offer has not been made by the person for whom the
accommodation is sought. But such requirements, including even the "great firmness,"
doubtless get supplied. One of the numerous advertisers who provide homes for invalid ladies
offers, I observe, to give "reference to the relatives of a lady lately deceased," who lived in the
house for seven years.
Here is a "home" of remarkable character; it is described as situated in a favourite suburb on
the Metropolitan Railway, replete with every beauty and convenience, the details being
specially enumerated; and besides the railway, omnibuses pass the door to all parts of town.
"The advertiser," it is added, "would prefer one or two City gentlemen of convivial disposition,
and to such, liberal terms would be offered."
The advertiser has evidently an abstract love for City gentlemen of convivial disposition, since
he is prepared to share his home with any one or two of them. And if a City gentleman of
convivial disposition could make a vast wilderness dear—which it is very possible he could
do—one can fancy what a paradise he would make of this Cashmere at Shepherd's Bush. It
is not quite clear, indeed, that the advertiser is not prepared to pay instead of being paid by
the charming society he seeks, since he says that "to such liberal terms will be offered." It
must be a very delightful thing to be a City gentleman of convivial disposition, with the feeling
of having unknown friends, which has been said to resemble our ideas of the existence of
Another proffered "home" is described as having, in addition to all domestic comforts, "two
pianos, with young and musical society." This may be very pleasant; but I should feel some
misgivings at the prospect of making one of a "young and musical society" let loose upon
two pianos at the same time. There are different opinions, too, even about the best music,
under different conditions. The Irish soldier who was singing the "Last Rose of Summer," [tune]
perhaps from the bottom of his heart, but certainly at the top of his voice, was told by his
English comrade to hold his noise. "And he calls Moore's Melodies a noise," said the
musical enthusiast, disgusted at the want of taste exhibited by the cold-blooded Saxon.
A cheerful state of existence is suggested by another advertisement of a "home":—"Partial
board is offered to a gentleman by a cheerful, musical, private family. Early breakfast; meat
tea. Dinner on Sundays. Gas, piano, croquet. Terms £1 1s. per week. Write," &c.
The board must be partial indeed if that melancholy meal known as "meat tea" enters into the
arrangement. A "meat tea" would in any case mean that you were expected to go without
your dinner, since, if you had dined you would not want meat with your bohea [black tea of
lowest quality]. But there is no disguise about the matter here, for you are frankly told that
there will be dinner, as distinguished from a meat tea, on Sundays. It is a monstrous, unnatural
idea, and the family must be very cheerful, very musical, and very private, I should think, to
reconcile most men to such a state of things. Perhaps the piano and the croquet are intended
as a set-off, by suggesting female society of an accomplished kind; and of course there are
some girls for whom some men will submit to meat teas; but I have my own opinion as to the
chances of either one or the other.
Here is an advertisement of a "home" couched in popular terms. It would be a pity to interefere
with the writer's style, so I give it in full, with the omission, of course, of the address:—"A lady
having a larger house than she requires, is desirous of increasing her daily circle by receiving
a few gentlemen (who are engaged during the day) as boarders. The society is cheerful and
musical. To foreigners anxious to acquire elegant English, this is a good opportunity."
As for the lady having a larger house than she requires, one can fancy that to be the case if
she has room for several gentlemen, but how is it that so many persons get into larger houses
than they require, and are thereby impelled to offer similar accommodation? It must be
confessed, too, that the opportunity for foreigners to acquire elegant English is not very
apparent. Are the candidates for residence examined in elegant English before they are
admitted into the family? As for the cheerfulness and the music, those are of course matters
Among other "homes" which we find offered in the same paper is one with a curious
recommendation attached. It has "just been vacated," we are told, "by a young gentleman who
has successfully passed his examination." If the same advantage can be secured to the
incoming tenant the accommodation would be decidedly cheap, for the modest sum of thirteen
shillings a-week, which is all that is asked. But we are not told what is the nature of the
examination—for the army, the Civil Service, a degree, or what? Perhaps it is only in the
"elegant Engish" intended to qualify the tenant for the higher social sphere of the lady with the
partially superfluous house.
Invalid or "mentally afflicted" persons are always in great request among advertisers. Several
applications are before me now. One of these comes from "A medical man, residing in a
large and well-furnished house in one of the healthiest and most convenient out-districts of
London," who "wishes to receive any patient mentally or otherwise afflicted, as a resident;
boarding or separate arrangement as desired; a married couple, or two sisters, or friends,
not objected to." The contingency of companions in misfortune is a good idea; our medical
friend is evidently a far-sighted man. Then we find the wife of a medical man, who is willing to
take charge of "an afflicted (not insane) lady, gentleman, or child, to whom she offers a
comfortable home with experienced care." A similar offer is made by the occupants of a
farmhouse, but these do not draw the line at insanity, but declare that they have had the care
of an insane patient for many years, and can be highly recommended in consequence. Some
people, indeed, are so fond of taking care of insane patients that they would not have a sane
one if you made them a present of him. An illustration of this curious taste came under my
notice not long since. A very deserving man called to see a patron of his who had procured
him a post of the kind, which he had held for several months. "I am very glad to see you,
John," was the greeting, "and hope you are getting on in your employment." "Ah, that indeed I
am, sir," was the answer: "thanks to you, I am most comfortably provided for—in fact, I was
never so happy in my life. How did I get these two black eyes, sir? Oh, he gave them to me
yesterday morning. Oh, yes, I shall always be grateful—I never was so happy in my life."
It must be admitted that the majority of the "homes" which people offer to one another through
the medium of the papers are not exposed to contingencies of this kind; but the said people
must surely run the risk of finding themselves ill-assorted in no ordinary degree.
It is not to be supposed indeed that utter strangers would go and live together without some
strong inducements; and these inducements are generally money on the one side and society
on the other. The people who want the money—through having "larger houses than they
require," or other causes, of which any number may be found with great facility—are less to be
pitied than the people who want the society, for the latter must be dismally reduced in this
respect before they can be brought to take it on chance. In a "cheerful family, musically
inclined," part of the compact of course is that the incomer shall be cheerful, if not musical and
companionable, at any rate. The requisition sounds awful, but it is one to which hundreds of
harmless persons in this metropolis submit rather than be left alone. Many, of course, are
induced by considerations of economy; and of those still more unfortunate than the ordinary
class, are those of the more helpless, who do not accept a "home," upon independent terms,
but obtain it either gratuitously or for some very small payment upon condition of being useful
or helping to make things pleasant. Of these there are large numbers, to judge by the
advertisements; and I suspect that they are rather worse off than those who "go out" regularly
as governesses and companions, for the latter have at least a chance of lighting upon rich and
generous patrons. And here I may mention that a great deal of nonsense is written about
governesses—more perhaps than about most other things. Their trade is a bad one, no doubt,
because the market is overstocked. But that is no fault of the employers, who cannot be
expected to fill their houses with young ladies of varying tastes and tempers, on account of
their presumably "superior" education and intelligence. Nor is it to be taken for granted that
every governess is of the "superior" kind, and all the people who engage their services, vulgar
wretches who delight in inflicting mortification upon their betters. Who has not heard of families
of the best breeding and refinement being tortured beyond all endurance by governesses of
conspicuous inability to teach, who have let their pupils run wild, and concentrated their
attention upon the men of the house, and whose insolent and overbearing ways have made the
work of getting rid of them one of no common difficulty? Our novelists have not given us many
illustrations of this side of the picture; but you may depend upon it that Becky Sharpes are at
least as plentiful as Jane Eyres in real life.
A favorite resort of the homeless are boarding-houses. Of these establishments there are
hundreds in London—from those devoted to the entertainment of minor City clerks, rigorously
"engaged during the day," to those which—one is almost led to suppose—nobody under the
rank of a baronet is received, and even then not without a reference as to respectability on
the part of a peer. But most of these houses have one or two features in common. There is
always a large admixture of people who go there for the sake of society; and of this number a
considerable proportion is sure to consist of widows or spinsters of extremely marriageable
tendencies. The result is that, unless the residents be very numerous, individual freedom is
lost, and, instead of living an independent life as at an hotel, the members of a "circle" find
themselves surrounded by such amenities as may be supposed to belong a rather large and
singularly disunited family.
A great many marriages, however, are made in these establishments, and it is not on record
that they turn out otherwise then well. It must be admitted, too, that men go there to find wives
as well as women to find husbands, so that the arrangement thus far is fair on both sides. But I
have been informed by men who are not among the latter number, that it is found difficult
sometimes to get the fact generally understood. The consequent mistakes of course lead to
confusion, and the result is the occassional retirement of determined bachelors into more
There are "homes" in London where there is not much mention of marriage, except as a
reminiscence, and few of their members have the chance even of this melancholy enjoyment.
I allude to houses in which, through the exertions principally of benevolent ladies, other ladies,
who would probably be equally benevolent were they not less fortunate, have a residence
assigned to them upon advantageous terms. That is to say, they live in an establishment
where all their wants are supplied upon the payment, by themselves or their friends, of a small
contribution towards the necessary outlay, the remainder being covered by subscriptions of a
strictly private character. The recipients of this assistance are all gentlewomen—as is
necessary to the state of social equality in which they live—and their admittance is obtained
by favour of the benevolent ladies in question. These ladies are influenced, I suppose, by the
introductions brought by the candidates, and considerations of their previous position—which
has in every case been a great deal superior to their present position, as may be supposed.
The said "homes" are very few in number; so far as I know, they have no connection with one
another, and they are entirely private in their arrangements. The neighbours may happen to
know that a certain house in which they find so many ladies living together is not a boarding
house in the ordinary acceptation of the term; but there is nothing to proclaim the fact, and the
inmates live in an apparent state of independence equal to that of anybody about them. And
they live as contented, I believe, as can be in the case of persons who are not of such social
importance as they were, and who have plenty of leisure to talk over the fact. They are all
gentlewomen, as I have said, and upon terms of social equality; but it may be supposed that
there are differences between them, as there are between people generally in society. You
may depend upon it, that the lady who is related to an earl is of opinion that she is a preferable
object of consideration to the lady who is related only to a baronet, while the claims of the other
ladies to their several degrees of precedence are not unadjusted for want of accurate
investigation. A few very likely "give themselves airs" upon this score, while some pride
themselves upon their beauty when young—(none of the ladies are quite young now)—
and others establish a superiority upon account of their mental gifts. All this imparts a pleasant
variety to the conversation which would otherwise be in danger of falling into monotony. Such
at least, I suppose, to be the case, for I am dealing in generalities, and cannot claim to a
knowledge of any one in particular of these ladies' homes. For the rest, the occupants are
said to pass an easy, agreeable life, more especially those who are not without friends whom
they can go to visit—in which case they are free to have as much amusement as if they lived
in houses of their own.
I said something about boarding-houses just now. A great many of the homeless who have
not tried these establishments—or having tried them are unwilling to renew the experiment—
live in furnished lodgings. On the Continent they would probably put up at hotels: but hotels in
this country are not adapted for modest requirements, and furnished lodgings take a place
which they have not yet learned to occupy. The mode of life is anomalous. It is neither public
nor private. You may be independent in an hotel; you may be independent in your own house;
in lodgings you can be independent by no possibility. If you spend rather more money than
you would either in an hotel or your own house, you obtain comfort and attention; but the
object of most persons who take lodgings is to be rather economical than otherwise, so that
the reservation is of very little avail. Lodgings are of two classes—those that profess to be
so, and those that solemnly declare they are not. The former are decidedly preferable, apart
from the immorality of encouraging a sham. In the former case, if you occupy—say as a
bachelor—only a couple of rooms in town, and the rest of the house is let to other people, you
will obtain but precarious attendance from the solitary servant, and the chances are that you
will never be able to get a decently-cooked meal. The food that they waste in such places by
their barbarous mode of dealing with it is sad to think upon. Your only resource is to live out
of doors as much as possible, and consider your rooms only as a refuge—the logical
consequence of which is that it is best to abandon them altogether.
But you are better placed even under these conditions than if you go to a house in one of the
suburbs—a pretty villa-looking place—knowing nothing about it beyond the information offered
by the bill in the window. A not very clean servant opens the door, and does not impress you
favourably at first glance. You are hesitating, under some discouragement, when the mistress
of the house—presenting in her decorated exterior a considerable contrast to the servant—
appears upon the scene and reproves the domestic sternly for her neglected appearance,
sends her away to restore it, and meantime proceeds to transact business upon her own
account. You ask her if she lets apartments. She gives a reproving look, and says "No,"
ignoring the announcement made by the bill. You mention that you knocked in consequence of
seeing that intimation in the window; upon which the lady says—
"Oh, is it up? I was not aware. The fact is, I wish to receive a gentleman to occupy part of the
house, as it is too large for us"—the old story—"and my husband being a great deal out, I find
it rather lonely. But my husband is very proud and objects to having strange company."
You remark that you need not have applied in that case, and will go elsewhere. This brings the
lady to the point.
"Oh, I did not mean to say that you could not have any apartments here. I intend to have my
own way in that matter"—this is said in a playful, fluttery manner, with a running laugh. "If you
will step in I will show you the accommodation we have. All I meant to say was, that we are not
accustomed to let lodgings."
Rather amused than annoyed, you submit to be shown the rooms. They are pretty rooms—
light and cheerful, and ornamental to a fault—and the garden at the back is alone a relief
from the pent-up place you have been occupying in town. So, after a few preliminary
negotiations—conducted on the lady's side in the same playful manner—you agree to take
the place, say for three months. The lady is evidently pleased at your decision, and avails
herself of the opportunity for renewing her assurance that the house is not a lodging-house,
and that you may expect all the comforts of a domestic life.
"There are no other lodgers," she added; then, as if suddenly recollecting, she corrects
herself: "That is to say, there is a commercial gentleman who is a great deal away, sleeping
here for a night or two—a friend of my husband's—and yes, let me see, a medical gentleman
to whom we have allowed the partial use of a bedroom to oblige a neighbour just for the
present, but I do not count either of them as lodgers."
A commercial gentleman sleeping for a night or two, while he is a great deal away, does not
seem an ordinary lodger at any rate; and from the distinction drawn in the case of the
medical gentleman who is only allowed the partial use of a bedroom, you are inclined to think
that he is permitted to lie down but not go to sleep. However, you make no objection to these
anomalies, and take possession of your new abode.
There never was such an imposter, as you find out only next day. The bagman and the
medical student—as those gentlemen must be described, if the naked truth be respected—
turn out to be regular lodgers, and as thorough nuisances as a couple of noisy men addicted
to late hours and exaggerated conviviality can well be. And the woman never mentioned a
discharged policeman—her father, I believe—to whom she affords a temporary asylum in
the kitchen, in return for intermittent attentions in the way of blacking boots and cleaning
knives—when he happens to be sober. For the rest, there is nobody in the house who can
cook even such a simple matter as a mutton chop without spoiling it; and there seems to be
everybody in the house who is determined that your private stores shall not be allowed to spoil
for want of eating and drinking. Nothing is safe from the enemy, who combines forces against
you, and they take care that you shall have no protection, for not a lock which can give shelter
to any portable article will act after you have been two days in the house. As for your personal
effects, they are in equal danger. The average amount of loss in wearing apparel is one shirt
and two handkerchiefs a week; and miscellaneous articles are sure to go if they are in the
least degree pretty or curious. And the coolest part of the proceeding is, that the mildest
complaint on your part brings down a storm upon your devoted head, such as you could not
have expected from the playful and fluttering person who had given you such pleasant
assurances when you took the rooms. She claims to be Caesar's wife in point of immunity
from suspicion, and asserts the same privilege for everybody in the house. "No gentleman
was ever robbed there," she says; and she plainly hints that no gentleman would say he was,
even though he said the fact.
This is no exaggerated picture of many suburban lodgings to which outsiders of society are
led to resort for want of better accommodation; and a large number of persons who are not
outsiders in the sense in which I have employed the term, but who are simply not settled in
the metropolis, are exposed to a similar fate. For those who are prepared for an ordeal of
another nature, the "cleerful family, musically inclined," offers, one would think, a far
preferable alternative. But it is not everybody who is prepared to have society thrust upon
him, either in this quiet domestic way or in a large boarding-house, and there ought to be
better provision than there is for the floating mass of casual residents in London. In Paris not
only are there hotels suited to the requirements of all classes of persons, but the maisons
meubles [furnished lodgings] are places where they may live almost as independently as
in their own houses. In London, the only realization of the luxury short of an entire house is in
what we call "chambers;" and a man's chambers are most certainly his castle, whatever his
house may be. That the want is being appreciated, is evident from the rapid extension of the
"chambers" system, in the way of the independent suites of rooms known as "flats." But the
flats, as now provided in Victoria Street, and elsewhere, cost as much as entire houses, while
the latest additions, the Belgrave and Grosvenor mansions, are even more costly, and beyond
the reach of the classes to whom I have been referring. The latter would be deeply grateful for
accommodation of the kind on a more moderate scale, and the investment of capital in such
an object could not fail to be profitable. Besides the desolate people into whose sorrows I
have entered, there are in London, it must be remembered, many hundreds of outsiders of
society of a different kind, who are outsiders only from that conventional society in which it
takes so much money to "move," and who ought to command greater comfort than they do
while they are working their way in professional pursuits. For those actually in want of
companionship, I suppose they will always incline to the hotel, or the boarding-house, or the
"cheerful family, musically inclined."