− British Isles 1800–49
Knight's London: Street Noises 1841
Comprising Chapter VIII of Knight’s London, Vol 1, written by Charles Knight and published in London in 1841.
‘THE SILENT WOMAN,’ one of the most popular of Ben Jonson’s comedies, presents to us a more vivid picture than can elsewhere be found of the characteristic noises of the streets of London more than two centuries ago. It is easy to form to ourselves a general idea of the hum and buzz of the bees and drones of this mighty hive, under a state of manners essentially different from our own; but it is not so easy to attain a lively conception of the particular sounds that once went to make up this great discord, and so to compare them in their resemblances and their differences with the roar which the great Babel now “sends through all her gates.” We propose, therefore, to put before our readers this passage of Jonson’s comedy; and then, classifying what he describes, illustrate our fine old dramatic painter of manners by references to other writers, and by the results of our own observation.
The principal character of Jonson’s ‘Silent Woman’ is founded upon a sketch by a Greek writer of the fourth century, Libanius. Jonson designates this character by the name of “Morose;” and his peculiarity is that he can bear no kind of noise, even that of ordinary talk. The plot turns upon this affectation; for, having been entrapped into a marriage with the Silent Woman, she and her friends assail him with tongues the most obstreperous, and clamours the most uproarious, until, to be relieved of this nuisance, he comes to terms with his nephew for a portion of his fortune, and is relieved of the Silent Woman, who is in reality a boy in disguise. We extract the dialogue which will form a text to our paper; the speakers being Truewit, Clerimont, and a Page:–
“True. I met that stiff piece of formality, his uncle, yesterday, with a huge turban of night-caps on his head, buckled over his ears.
“Cler. O ! that’s his custom when he walks abroad. He can endure no noise, man.
“True. So I have heard. But is the disease so ridiculous in him as it is made? They say he has been upon divers treaties with the fish-wives and orange-women; and articles propounded between them: marry, the chimney-sweepers will not be drawn in.
“Cler. No, nor the broom-men : they stand out stiffly. He cannot endure a costard-monger; he swoons if he hear one.
“True. Methinks a smith should be ominous.
“Cler. Or any hammer-man. A brasier is not suffered to dwell in the parish, nor an armourer. He would have hang’d a pewterer’s ‘prentice once upon a Shrove-Tuesday’s riot, for being of that trade, when the rest were quit.
“True. A trumpet should fright him terribly, or the hautboys.
“Cler. Out of his senses. The waits of the city have a pension of him not to come near that ward. This youth practised on him one night like the bellman, and never left till he had brought him down to the door with a long sword; and there left him flourishing with the air.
“Page. Why, sir, he hath chosen a street to lie in, so narrow at both ends that it will receive no coaches, nor carts, nor any of these common noises: and therefore we that love him devise to bring him in such as we may, now and then, for his exercise, to breathe him. He would grow resty else in his cage; his virtue would rust without action. I entreated a bearward, one day, to come down with the dogs of some four parishes that way, and I thank him he did; and cried his games under Master Morose’s window; till he was sent crying away, with his head made a most bleeding spectacle to the multitude. And, another time, a fencer marching to his prize had his drum most tragically run through, for taking that street in his way at my request.
“True. A good wag! How does he for the bells?
“Cler. O! in the queen’s time he was wont to go out of town every Saturday at ten o’clock, or on holyday eves. But now, by reason of the sickness, the perpetuity of ringing has made him devise a room with double walls and treble ceilings; the windows close shut and caulk’d: and there he lives by candlelight.”
The first class of noises, then, against which Morose protected his ears by
“a huge turban of night-caps,” is that of the ancient and far-famed LONDON CRIES. We have here the very loudest of them – fish-wives, orange-women, chimney-sweepers, broom-men, costard-mongers. But we might almost say that there were hundreds of other cries; and therefore, reserving to ourselves some opportunity for a special enumeration of a few of the more remarkable of these cries, we shall now slightly group them, as they present themselves to our notice during successive generations.
And first let us go back as far as the days of Henry V. Lydgate, in his very
curious poem of ‘London Lyckpeny,’ has recorded the cries of four centuries and a half ago. He tells us that at the door of Westminster Hall,
“Fleming begun on me for to cry,
Master, what will you copen or buy,
Fine felt hats, or spectacles to read?”
Spectacles to read before printing was invented must have had a rather limited market; but we must bear in mind where they were sold. In Westminster Hall there were lawyers and rich suitors congregated, worshipful men, who had a written law to study and expound, and learned treatises diligently to peruse, and titles to hunt after through the labyrinths of fine and recovery. The dealer in spectacles was a dealer in hats, as we see; and the articles were no doubt both of foreign manufacture. But lawyers and suitors had also to feed, as well as to read
with spectacles; and on the Thames side, instead of the coffeehouses of modern date, were tables in the open air, where men every day ate and drank jollily, as they now do at a horse-race:–
“Cooks to me they took good intent,
And preferred me bread with ale and wine,
Ribs of beef both fat and full fine:
A fair cloth they gan for to spread.”
London itself seems to have been especially full of food and the cries of feeding. In Eastcheap
“One cries ribs of beef and many a pie.”
In Canwyke Street (Cannon Street)
“Then comes in one crying hot sheep’s feet.”
Those who preferred a vegetable diet had their choice:
“Hot peascod one began to cry:”
and the dessert was not wanting, for there was the cry of
“Strawberries ripe, and cherries in the rise.”
There were venders of “pepper and saffron,” bidding him draw near; and the cry which is still heard and tolerated by law, that of mackerel, rang through every street. There was the cry of “rushes green” which tells us of by-gone customs – rushes for the floor. In Cheap (Cheapside) he saw much people standing, who proclaimed the merits of their velvets, silk, lawn, and Paris thread. These, however, were shopkeepers; but their shops were not after the modern fashion of plate-glass windows, and carpeted floors, and lustres blazing at night with a splendour that would put to shame the glories of an eastern palace. They were rude booths, the owners of which bawled as loudly as the itinerants; and they went on bawling for several centuries, like butchers in a market, so that, in 1628, Alexander Gell, a bachelor of divinity, was sentenced to lose his ears and to be degraded from the ministry, for giving his opinion of Charles I., that he was fitter to stand in a Cheapside shop with an apron before him, and say “what lack ye?” than to govern a kingdom. With unpaved streets, and no noise of coaches to drown any particular sound, we may readily imagine the din of the great London thoroughfares of four centuries ago, produced by all this vociferous demand for custom. The chief body of London retailers were then itinerant, literally pedlers ; and those who had attained some higher station were simply stall-keepers. The streets of trade must have borne a wonderful resemblance to a modern fair. Competition was then a very rude thing, and the loudest voice did something perhaps to carry the customer.
If the age of the Stuarts was not the greatest period of London cries (and it is probable that the progress of refinement had abolished many of them), that period has preserved to us the fullest records of their wonderful variety. Artists of all countries and times have delighted to represent those peculiarities of costume and character which belong to the history of cries. Annibal Carracci has immortalized the cries of Bologna; and from the time of James I. to that of George IV., we have woodcuts and etchings almost numberless of the cries and Itinerant Trades of London. There is a very rare sheet of woodcuts in the British Museum, containing twelve cries ; and these may be taken, on the authority of Mr. Smith, the late keeper of the prints, as of the same date as Ben Jonson’s “fish wives and costard-mongers.” We have here the reverend watchman, with his “Hang out your light,” and the noisy “bellman,” described and engraved in a recent paper. The “orange-women” of Ben Jonson are here figured to the life. The familiar mention of the orange-sellers in the ‘Silent Woman,’ and this very early representation of one of them, show how general the use of this fruit had become in England at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is stated, though the story is somewhat apocryphal, that the first oranges were imported by Sir Walter Raleigh. It is probable that about his time they first became an article of general commerce. We now consume about two hundred and fifty millions of oranges every year. The orange-women who carried the golden fruit upon their heads through every street and alley, with the musical cry of
“Fair lemons and oranges,
Oranges and citrons,”
lasted for a century or two.
The ‘Cries’ of Tempest were published in the beginning of the eighteenth century, but many of the designs, which are by Mauron (sometimes spelt Lauron), belong unquestionably to an earlier period. The orange-woman became, as everything else became, a more prosaic person as she approached our own times. She was a barrow-woman at the end of the last century; and Porson has thus described her:–
“As I walked through the Strand so cheerful and gay,
I met a young girl a-wheeling a barrow ;
Fine fruit, sir, says she, and a bill of the play.”
The transformation was the same with the cherry-women. The
“Strawberries ripe, and cherries in the rise,”
of the days of Henry V., was a poetical cry. It must have come over the ear, telling of sunny gardens not a sparrow’s flight from the city, such as that of the Bishop of Ely in Holborn, and of plenteous orchards which could spare their boughs as well as their fruit. “Cherry ripe” was the cry in the seventeenth century; and we all know how Herrick has married the words to poetry which is not the worse for having been as popular in our own day as “Jump Jim Crow:”
“Cherry ripe – ripe – ripe – I cry,
Full and fair ones; come, and buy .
If so be you ask me where
They do grow? I answer, there,
Where my Julia’s lips do smile,
There’s the land, or cherry-isle;
Whose plantations fully show
All the year where cherries grow.”
What a tribute to the fine old poet, who says,
“I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, arid bowers,”
to have had the dirty lanes of London, two hundred years after his death, made
vocal with words that seemed to gush from his heart like the nightingale’s song!
But the cries of “Cherry ripe” and of “Fair oranges” are now rarely heard. The barrow laden with its golden or ruby treasures is wheeled in comparative silence through the Strand. Driven off the pavement by the throng of population, the orange-woman stands upon the edge of the kerb, poising her laden basket so as to present the least impediment to the passengers, and thus satisfy the inexorable policeman. She is now silent. Even Morose, with his “turban of nightcaps,” would shun her not.
We shall not readily associate any very agreeable sounds with the voices of the “fish-wives.” The one who cried “Mackerel” in Lydgate’s day had probably no such explanatory cry as the “Mackerel alive, alive ho!” of modern times. In the seventeenth century the cry was “New mackerel;” and in the same way we have “New Wall-fleet oysters,” and “New flounders.” The freshness of fish must have been a considerable recommendation in those days of tardy intercourse. But quantity was also to be taken into the account, and so we find the cries of “Buy my dish of great smelts;” “great plaice;” “great mussels.” Such are the fish-cries in Overton’s various collections, The respectable one-eyed lady whom we here present is in Tempest’s set; and her cry is “Four for sixpence, mackerel.” She is to be contrasted with the damsel gaily tripping with a basket on her head, to the cry of “Buy my dish of great eels” and with another sprightly maiden, who vociferates “Crab, crab, any crabs?” The fish-wives are no longer seen in our great thoroughfares. In Tottenham Court Road, indeed, which still retains the character of a market, they stand in long rows as the evening draws in, with paper-lanthorns stuck in their baskets on dark nights; and there they vociferate as loudly as in the old time.
The “costard-monger” that Morose dreaded, still lives amongst us, and is still noisy. He bawls so loud even to this day, that he puts his hand behind his ear to mitigate the sensation which he inflicts upon his own tympanum. He was originally an apple-seller, whence his name ; and, from the mention of him in the old dramatists, he appears to have been frequently an Irishman. In Jonson’s ‘Bartholomew Fair,’ he cries “pears.” Ford makes him cry “pippins.” He is a quarrelsome fellow, according to Beaumont and Fletcher:–
“And then he’ll rail like a rude costermonger,
That schoolboys had just cozened of his apple,
As loud and senseless.”
The costermonger is now a travelling shopkeeper. We encounter him not in Cornhill, or Holborn, or the Strand: in the neighbourhood of the great markets and well-stored shops he travels not. But his voice is heard in most back streets stretching into the suburbs ; and there his donkey-cart stands at the door, as the dingy servant-maid cheapens a bundle of cauliflowers. He has monopolized all the trades that were anciently represented by such cries as “Buy my artichokes, mistress;” “Ripe cowcumbers;” “White onions, white St. Thomas* onions;” “White radish;” “Ripe young beans;” “Any baking pears;” “Ripe speragas.” He would be indignant to encounter such petty chapmen interfering with his wholesale operations. He would rail against them as the city shopkeepers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries railed against itinerant traders of every denomination.
In the days of Elizabeth, they declare by act of common council, that in ancient times the open streets and lanes of the city have been used, and ought to be used, as the common highway only, and not for hucksters, pedlers, and hagglers, to stand and sit to sell their wares in, and to pass from street to street hawking and offering their wares. In the seventh year of Charles I. the same authorities denounce the oyster-wives, herb-wives, tripe-wives, and the like, as “unruly people;” and they charge them somewhat unjustly, as it must appear, with “framing to themselves a way whereby to live a more easy life than by labour.”
“How busy is the man the world calls idle!”
The evil, as the citizens term it, seems to have increased; for in 1694 the common council threatened the pedlers and petty chapmen with the terrors of the laws against rogues and sturdy beggars, the least penalty being whipping, whether for male or female. The reason for this terrible denunciation is very candidly put: the citizens and shopkeepers are greatly hindered and prejudiced in their trades by the hawkers and pedlers. Such denunciations as these had little share in putting down the itinerant traders. They continued to flourish, because society required them; and they vanished from our view when society required them no longer. In the middle of the last century they were fairly established as rivals to the shopkeepers. Dr. Johnson, than whom no man knew London better, thus writes in the ‘Adventurer:’ “The attention of a new-comer is generally first struck by the multiplicity of cries that stun him in the streets, and the variety of merchandise and manufactures which the shopkeepers expose on every hand.” The shopkeepers have now ruined the itinerants – not by putting them down by fiery penalties, but by the competition amongst themselves to have every article at hand for every man’s use, which shall be better and cheaper than the wares of the itinerant. Whose ear is now ever deafened by the cries of the broom-men? The Bavarian broom-women, with their “buy a broom” and their hideous songs, belong to the class of street exhibitions. They go with the Savoyard and his monkey and white mice. But the man who bears about real brooms for use has vanished. He was a sturdy fellow in the days of old Morose, carrying on a barter which in itself speaks of the infancy of civilization. His cry was “old shoes for some brooms.” These proclamations for barter no doubt furnished a peculiar characteristic of the old London cries.
The itinerant buyers were as loud, though not so numerous, as the sellers. The familiar voice of “old clowze” has lasted through some generations; but the glories of Monmouth Street were unknown when a lady in a peaked bonnet and a laced stomacher went about proclaiming “old satin, old taffety, or velvet;” and a puritanical-looking gentleman, with three hats on his head, and a bundle of rapiers in his hand, bawled “old cloaks, suits, or coats.” There was trading then going forward from house to house, which careful housewifery and a more vigilant police have banished from the daylight, if they have not extirpated it altogether. Before the shops are open and the chimneys send forth their smoke, there may be now sometimes seen creeping up an area a sly-looking beldam, who treads as stealthily as a cat. Under her cloak has she a pan, whose unctuous contents will some day assist in the enlightenment or purification of the world, in the form of candles or soap. But the good lady of the house, who is a late riser, knows not of the transformation that is going forward. In the old days she would have heard the cry of a maiden, with tub on head and pence in hand, of “any kitchen-stuff have you, maids?” and she probably would have dealt with her herself, or have forbidden her maids to deal. So is it with the old cry of “any old iron take money for?” The fellow who then went openly about with sack on back was a thief, and an encourager of thieves; he now keeps a marine-store.
A curious parallel might be carried out between the itinerant occupations which the progress of society has entirely superseded, and those which even the most advanced civilization is compelled to retain. We can here only hastily glance at a few of these differences. The water-carrier is gone. It is impossible that London can ever again see a man bent beneath the weight of a yoke and two enormous pails, vociferating “New River water.” In the days of James I. the water-carrier bore a large can upon his shoulders, with a towel over his back and another over his breast, and he was called a tankard-bearer; for he travelled to and from some conduit, whose waters were bright and ever flowing; and, filling his vessel, he dealt out the quarts and gallons of the precious liquid to those who never dreamt of a full supply except they lived near the river-bank or close to the conduit.
He is gone. But he still remains in Paris. There are still there some three or four thousand porteurs d’eau, who carry water from family to family, either in a cask upon wheels or in pails with yokes. It has been computed that 180,000l. is annually paid for this species of labour. In Madrid the same occupation gives subsistence to a very large number of people; and there the passenger is invited to taste the pure element, brought from a distance of thirty miles, by the cry of “Water, fresh water, fresh from the fountain! Who drinks, gentlemen; who drinks?” But the number of persons thus employed, compared with the London milk-carriers, is no doubt small. The cry of “Milk,” or the rattle of the milk-pail, will never cease to be heard in our streets. There can be no reservoirs of milk, no pipes through which it flows into the houses. The more extensive the great capital becomes, the more active must be the individual exertion to carry about this article of food. The old cry was, “Any milk here?” and it was sometimes mingled with the sound of “Fresh cheese and cream;” and it then passed into “Milk, maids below;” and it was then shortened into “Milk below;” and was finally corrupted into “Mio,” which some wag interpreted into mi-eau – demi-eau – half-water. But it must still be cried, whatever be the cry. The supply of milk to the metropolis is perhaps one of the most beautiful combinations of industry we have. The days are long since past when Finsbury had its pleasant groves, and Clerkenwell was a village, and there were green pastures in Holborn, and St. Pancras boasted only a little church standing in meadows, and St. Martin’s was literally in the fields. Slowly but surely does the baked clay stride over the clover and the buttercup; and yet every family in London may be supplied with milk by eight o’clock every morning at their own doors. Where do the cows abide? They are congregated in wondrous masses in the suburbs; and though in spring-time they go out to pasture in the fields which lie under the Hampstead and Highgate hills, or in
the vales of Dulwich and Sydenham, and there crop the tender blade,
“When proud pied April, dress’d in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,”
yet for the rest of the year the coarse grass is carted to their stalls, or they devour what the breweries and distilleries cannot extract from the grain harvest. Long before “the unfolding star wakes up the shepherd” are the London cows milked; and the great wholesale venders of the commodity bear it in carts to every part of the town, and distribute it to hundreds of itinerants, who are waiting like the water-carriers at the old conduits. It is evident that a perishable commodity which every one requires at a given hour must be so distributed. The distribution has lost its romance. Misson, in his ‘Travels’ published at the beginning of the last century, tells us of the May-games of “the pretty young country girls that serve the town with milk.” Alas! the May-games and pretty young country girls have both departed, and a milk-woman has become a very unpoetical personage. There are few indeed of milk-women who remain. So it is with most of the occupations that associate London with the country. The cry of “Water-cresses” used to be heard from some barefoot nymph of the brook, who at sunrise had dipped her feet into the bubbling runnel, to carry the green luxury to the citizens’ breakfast-tables. Water-cresses are now grown like cabbages in gardens. The cry of “Rosemary and lavender” once resounded through the thoroughfares; and every alley smelt “like Bucklersbury in simple time,” when the whole street was a mart for odoriferous herbs.
Cries like these are rare enough now; yet we have heard them. Crossing a bye-street a week ago we felt an unwonted fragrance in the air; and as some one has truly said that scents call up the most vivid associations, we had visions of a fair garden afar off, and the sports of childhood, and the song of the lark that
“At my window bade good morrow
Thiough the sweet briar.”
There was a pale-looking man with little bunches in his hand, who with a feeble voice cried, “Buy my sweet-briar.” There are still, however, silent damsels in the less crowded and fashionable thoroughfares who present the passengers with moss-roses and violets. Gay tells us,
“Successive cries the seasons’ change declare,
And mark Ihe monthly progress of the year.
Hark ! how the streets with treble voices ring,
To sell the bounteous product of the spring.”
We no longer hear the cries which had some association of harmonious sounds with fragrant flowers. They degenerated, no doubt, as our people ceased to be musical; and the din of “noiseful gain” exterminated them.
Of the street trades that are past and forgotten, the smallcoal-man was one of the most remarkable. He tells a tale of a city with few fires; for who could now imagine a man earning a living by bawling “Small coals” from door to door, without any supply but that in the sack which he carries on his shoulders? His cry was, however, a rival with that of ” Wood to cleave.” In a capital full of haberdashers, what chance would an aged man now have with his flattering solicitation of “Pretty pins, pretty women?” He who carries a barrel on his back, with a measure and funnel at his side, bawling “Fine writing-ink,” is wanted neither by clerks nor authors. There is a grocer’s shop at every turn; and who therefore needs him who salutes us with “Lilly-white vinegar?” The history of cries is a history of social changes. The working trades, as well as the venders of things that can be bought in every street, are now banished from our thoroughfares. “Old chairs to mend” still salutes us in some retired suburb; and we still see the knife-grinder’s wheel; but who vociferates “Any work for John Cooper?” or “A brass pot or an iron pot to mend?”
The trades are gone to those who pay scot and lot. What should we think of our prison discipline nowadays, if the voice of lamentation was heard in every street, “Some broken bread and meat for the poor prisoners; for the Lord*s sake pity the poor?” John Howard put down this cry. Or what should we say of the vigilance of excise-officers if the cry of aqua vitæ met our ears? The chiropodist has now his half-guinea fee; in the old days he stood at corners, with knife and scissors in hand, crying, “Corns to pick.” There are some occupations of the streets, however, which remain essentially the same, though the form be somewhat varied. The sellers of food are of course amongst these. “Hot peascods,” and hot sheep’s feet, are not popular delicacies, as in the time of Lydgate. “Hot wardens,” and “Hot codlings,” are not the cries which invite us to taste of stewed pears and baked apples. But we have still apples hissing over a charcoal fire; and potatoes steaming in a shining apparatus, with savoury salt-butter to put between the “fruit” when it is cut; and greasy sausages, redolent of onions and marjoram; and crisp brown flounders; and the mutton-pie-man, with his “toss for a penny.” Rice-milk, furmety, barley-broth, and saloop are no longer in request. The greatest improvement of London in our own day has been the establishment of coffee-shops, where the artisan may take his breakfast with comfort and even with luxury.
It is stated that there are now several thousands of coffee-shops in London where the charge for a cup of coffee and a slice of bread and butter is as low as a penny; where a good breakfast may be had for threepence; where no intoxicating liquors are sold; and where the newspapers and the best periodical works may be regularly found. In one of the largest of these establishments, where the charge is three halfpence for a cup of coffee and twopence for a cup of tea, sixteen hundred persons are daily served. This is a vast improvement upon the old saloop-man, who sold his steaming mixture to the shivering mechanic as he crept to his work. It is something better for human happiness than the palmy days of the old coffee-houses. The ‘Tatler’ and ‘Spectator’ were the refiners of manners; and the papers which are dated from White’s and the Grecian derive something perhaps from the tone of society which there prevailed. Let not those, if any there be, who hold that knowledge and taste should be luxuries for the few, curl the lip when Mr. Humphries, a coffee-shop keeper, informs them, that since he has been in business a manifest improvement has taken place in the taste for literature amongst the classes who frequent his house.
But we are forgetting Morose, and his “turban of night-caps.” Was Hogarth familiar with the old noise-hater when he conceived his own “Enraged Musician?” In this extraordinary gathering together of the producers of the most discordant sounds, we have a representation which may fairly match the dramatist’s description of street noises. Here we have the milk-maid’s scream, the mackerel-seller’s shout, the sweep upon the house-top, to match the fish-wives and orange-women, the broom-men and costard-mongers. The smith, who was “ominous,” had no longer his forge in the busy streets of Hogarth’s time: the armourer was obsolete: but Hogarth can rival their noises with the pavior’s hammer, the sowgelder’s horn, and the knife-grinder’s wheel. The waits of the city had a pension not to come near Morose’s ward; but it was out of the power of the Enraged Musician to avert the terrible discord of the blind hautboy-player. The bellman, who frightened the sleepers at midnight, was extinct; but modern London had acquired the dustman’s bell. The bear-ward no longer came down the street with the dogs of four parishes, nor did the fencer march with a drum to his prize; but there was the ballad-singer, with her squalling child, roaring worse than bear or dog; and the drum of the little boy playing at soldiers was a more abiding nuisance than the fencer. Morose and the “Enraged Musician” had each the church-bells to fill up the measure of discord. In our own days there has been legislation for the benefit of tender ears ; and there are now penalties, with police-constables to enforce them, against all persons blowing any horn or using any other noisy instrument, for the purpose of calling persons together, or of announcing any show or entertainment, or for the purpose of hawking, selling, distributing, or collecting any article, or of obtaining money or alms. These are the words of the Police Act of 1839 ; and they are stringent enough to have banished from our streets all those uncommon noises which did something to relieve the monotony of the one endless roar of the tread of feet and the rush of wheels. The street noise now is deafening when we are in the midst of it; but in some secluded place, such as Lincoln’s Inn Gardens, it is the ever-present sullen sound of angry waves dashing upon the shingles. The horn that proclaimed extraordinary news, running to and fro among peaceful squares and secluded courts, was sometimes a relief. The bell of the dustman was not altogether unpleasant.
In the twilight hour, when the shutters were not yet closed, and the candles were not yet burning, the tinkle of the muffin-man had something in it very soothing. It is gone. But the legislators have still left us our street music. There was talk of its abolition ; but they have satisfied themselves with enacting that musicians, on being warned to depart from the neighbourhood of the house of any householder by the occupier or his servant, or by a police constable, incur a penalty of forty shillings by refusal. De la Serre, who came to England with Mary de Medici, when she visited the Queen of Charles I., is enthusiastic in his praises of the street music of London:– “In all public places, violins, hautboys, and other kinds of instruments are so common, for the gratification of individuals, that in every hour of the day our ears may be charmed with their sweet melody.” England was then a musical nation; but from that time nearly to our own her street-music became a thing to be legislated against. It ought now to be left alone, if it cannot be encouraged by the State.
In the days of Elizabeth, and of James and Charles, the people were surrounded with music, and imbued with musical associations. The cittern was heard in every barber’s shop; and even up to the publication of the ‘Tatler’ it was the same: “Go into a barber’s anywhere, no matter in what district, and it is ten to one you will hear the sounds either of a fiddle or guitar, or see the instruments hanging up somewhere.” The barbers or their apprentices were the performers: “If idle, they pass their time in life-delighting music.” Thus writes a pamphleteer of 1597. Doctor King, about the beginning of the last century, found the barbers degenerating in their accomplishments, and he assigns the cause: “Turning themselves to periwig-making, they have forgot their cittern and their music.” The cittern twanged then in the barbers’ shops in the fresh mornings especially ; and then came forth the carman to bear his loads through the narrow thoroughfares. He also was musical. We all know how Falstaff describes Justice Shallow: “He came ever in the rear-ward of the fashion, and sung those tunes to the over-gcutched housewives that he heard the carmen whistle.” He had a large stock of tunes. In Ben Jonson’s ‘Bartholomew Fair,’ one of the characters exclaims, “If he meet but a carman in the street, and I find him not loth to keep him off of him, he will whistle him and all his tunes over at night in his sleep.” Half a century later even, “barbers, cobblers, and plowmen,” were enumerated as ” the heirs of music.” Who does not perceive that when Isaac Walton’s milk-maid sings,
“Come live with me and be my love,”
she is doing nothing remarkable? These charming words were the common possession of all. The people were the heirs of poetry as well as of music. They had their own delicious madrigals to sing, in which music was “married to immortal verse,” – and they could sing them. Morley, writing in 1597, says, “Supper being ended, and music-books, according to custom, being brought to the table, the mistress of the house presented me with a part, earnestly requesting me to sing; but when, after many excuses, I protested unfeignedly that I could not, every one began to wonder yea, some whispered to others, demanding how I was brought up.” In a condition of society like this, the street music must have been worth listening to. “A noise of musicians,” as a little band was called, was to be found everywhere ; and they attended upon the guests in taverns and ordinaries, and at “good men’s feasts” in private houses. In ‘The Silent Woman’ it is said, “the smell of the venison, going through the streets, will invite one noise of fiddlers or other;” and again, “They have intelligence of all feasts; there’s good correspondence betwixt them and the London cooks.” Feasts were then not mere occasions for gluttony and drunkenness, as they became in the next generation. As the drunkenness went on increasing, the taste for music went on diminishing. In the next century, the ‘Tatler’ writes, “In Italy nothing is more frequent than to hear a cobbler working to an opera tune; but, on the contrary, our honest countrymen have so little an inclination to music, that they seldom begin to sing till they are drunk.” Thus we went on till the beginning of the present century, and indeed later. The street music was an indication of the popular taste. Hogarth’s blind hautboy-player, and his shrieking ballad-singer, are no caricatures. The execrable sounds which the lame and the blind produced were the mere arts of mendicancy. The principle of extorting money by hideous sounds was carried as far as it could go by a fellow of the name of Keiling, called Blind Jack, who performed on the flageolet with his nose. Every description of street exhibition was accompanied with these terrible noises. The vaulter, and the dancing lass, and the tumbler creeping through a hoop, and the puppet-showman, and the dancing dogs, and the bear and monkey, had each their own peculiar din, whether of drum, fiddle, horn, or bagpipes, compared with which the music of Morose’s bear-ward and fencer would have been as the harmony of the spheres.
In the fashionable squares, towards the close of the last century, matters were little mended. Dayes, who published a collection of street views about 1789, has given us the group which concludes our paper. Here we have the organ, the triangle, the tambourine, and the hurdy-gurdy, – each striving which should be loudest, and winning by their united exertions the applause of all bystanders. After the peace our thoroughfares gradually resounded with the somewhat improved melody of the street-singers of Paris; and a lady with a neat coiffure accompanied the organ with the monotonous chant of “Le gai Troubadour.” An Italian was now and then imported with his guitar; and his knowledge of harmony compensated for his somewhat cracked voice. All at once glee-singers started up. Then a “noise” or two of really tolerable instrumental performers were to be found in Portland Place and other streets of the west; and even those who were familiar with Rossini might stop to listen.
The chief of all the “street noises” of the present day, happily has, at all events, one redeeming element, we mean the cry of the newspaper boy. The penny newspapers, “Daily Telegraph,” “Daily News,” “Globe, sir?” “Standard, sir?” assail our ears at every hour in all our leading thoroughfares; and after mid-day little boys in the Strand, in Holborn, in Tottenham Court Road, and along the chief omnibus routes, bawl “Echo,” “Echo,” “Special Echo,” till long after sundown. Nor are these cries confined to the great Metropolis; every country town shares in them, thanks to the wide-spread ramifications of our railway system. There is one consolation, however, which we call to mind whenever we find our ears assailed by these cries, they are spreading among the lower orders, on the whole, a taste for information which must help to educate and refine the masses.