Memoirs of a Social Atom (07)

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CHAPTER XXXII

LONDON IN THE FIFTIES


AS nobody seemed to want my services in the provinces, I set out for London.  There I had friends, introductions, the promise of work.  It was not my first visit to the great city.  Four years before—to use a form of words which passed for wit in Gloucestershire—I had "shown London a fool."  It was the year of the Great Exhibition.  The memory of that marvellous creation—surpassed in size, but not eclipsed in grace or interest, by any effort that has succeeded it—remains as a dream of fairyland.  Nothing I have ever seen has impressed me as it did.  If I did not see all the wonders it contained, it was not so much my fault as my misfortune; for I spent the greater part of three days within its crystal walls—one day from ten in the morning till six at night.  The Exhibition of 1851 was the first of its kind, and the most enchanting.

    The London of 1855 differed vastly from the London of to-day.  It had no Thames Embankment, no underground railways, no street trams, no magnificent avenues, no suburban theatres.  Hornsey was a rural village, so was Streatham, so were dozens of other pretty places now absorbed in what Cobbett called the Great Wen.  Kennington Park was a common; Smithfield Market was held in the City; and the Percy lion with its poker tail came down from Northumberland House every day it heard the clock strike twelve!  The first-class playhouses could almost be counted on a single hand, and music halls were few and far between.  I can remember only four halls of any note—the Canterbury, the Oxford, the Holborn, and the Eagle.  The Brill, the New Cut, and Petticoat Lane were favourite places for Sunday morning marketings.  The Polytechnic was in its prime; the Coliseum was still patronised; and Vauxhall and Cremorne Gardens were bringing together nightly strange mixtures of the decent and the dissolute.  J. M. Bellew, Thomas Binney, and Robert Montgomery were notable among preachers, while a young man of the name of Spurgeon was beginning to draw audience and attention.

    Gye and Mapleson were rival caterers at Her Majesty's and Covent Garden.  Grisi and Mario, Alboni and Lablache, were still stars, albeit falling stars, of the operatic stage.  The three former appeared together in "Lucretia Borgia," during a series of popular representations at Drury Lane, when the house was full of fog as well as people, and we on the Olympian heights could only see the performers flitting like shadows across the stage.  English opera, with the help of Balfe and Wallace, and of Pyne and Harrison, was holding up its head too: the song of the Muleteer, as I heard Harrison render it, was, I thought, as fine as the song of the Toreador in "Carmen."  Webster reigned and played at the Adelphi, Buckstone at the Haymarket, Phelps at Sadler's Wells, Charles Kean at the Princess's.  It was in 1851 that I saw Phelps in "Timon of Athens," but it was not till years later that I saw what I thought was the greatest performance to be seen on any stage—Phelps's rendering of Sir Pertinax MacSycophant.  Charles Mathews retained his place for years as the prince of light comedy.  Wright and Paul Bedford were leading low comedians, so were Mr. and Mrs. Keeley, while people were beginning to talk about a clever little fellow at the Grecian—Frederick Robson, who, ascending to the major stage, made the burlesque of "Medea " as fearsome as a tragedy.  And then a few years later there came a sort of race for the first prize in the dramatic world between Henry Neville and Henry Irving.

    Temple Bar was a picturesque obstruction; the Adelphi Arches gave shelter to homeless hundreds; and the River Thames was an open sewer.  Long stretches of filthy slime, the playground of mud-larks, were exposed at every falling tide, and gave off such evil odours in hot weather that people had to hold their noses when they crossed the bridges.  There was a threat of pestilence as a consequence.  And then the authorities, seeing that something must be done, conceived a great sewerage scheme, and replaced the foul shores with that pride and glory of London—the Thames Embankment.  Other improvements—the construction of Holborn Viaduct, the widening of many thoroughfares, but, above all, the sweeping away of pestilential rookeries, such as the Seven Dials—have made the metropolis a far sweeter and handsomer city in the twentieth century than it was in the middle of the nineteenth.

    The order observed in the streets, the unwritten law of the people, was even then remarkable.  I may give an example.  The Morning Star was at that time the leading Radical daily in London—almost the only Radical daily, indeed.  It was my custom every morning (Sundays excepted, of course) to buy a copy at a news stall near the Horns Tavern at Kennington.  My business was in Fleet Street.  The route thither from the Horns was along Kennington Road, through Newington Butts, past the Elephant and Castle, along London Road, then along Blackfriars Road, and then over Blackfriars Bridge.  So orderly was the traffic throughout that route that I could, by keeping to the right, read my paper the whole way.  And I had nothing left to read in it—at least, nothing that I wanted to read—when I reached Fleet Street, nearly an hour's walk from Kennington.  The feat—if it was a feat—was only possible when people kept in line.  All I found it necessary to do, where the traffic was thickest, was to walk immediately behind somebody else.  Pedestrians at that period who did not observe the rule of the pavement had as bad a time of it as a dog in a fair.  Indeed, they were so buffeted about that they very soon discovered that it was really compulsory to "keep to the right."

    A well-known rendezvous for Reformers in the middle years of the century was the John Street Institution, situated near Tottenham Court Road.  It had been a chapel, I think, but was then leased by the followers of Robert Owen.  Lectures were given there; meetings were held there; classes were conducted there.  A more useful centre of social and political activity did not exist in all London.  The platform was perfectly free.  Chartism, Republicanism, Freethought, Socialism—all sorts and conditions of thought could be expounded in John Street if capable exponents desired to expound them.  I had heard Mrs. C. H. Dexter lecture there in 1851 on the Bloomer costume, and in the Bloomer costume.  There also, five years later, I heard the venerable Robert Owen, then a patriarch of eighty-four.  The subjects discussed were of the widest and most varied character—social, political, religious, literary, scientific, economical, historical.  And the lecturers who discussed them were as varied as the subjects—Thomas Cooper, Robert Cooper, Samuel Kydd, Dr. Mill, Dr. Sexton, Iconoclast, Henry Tyrrell, Richard Hart, Joseph Barker, Brewin Grant, George Jacob Holyoake, and many another whose very name is now forgotten.  Of all the able men who endeavoured to enlighten the public from the John Street platform not one survives save George Jacob Holyoake.  When the lease of the institution expired, a source of real light and ventilation expired also.

    There were other institutions which Reformers used to frequent when they saw a chance of expounding their ideas.  These were the debating rooms that were attached to certain taverns.  The leading three in my day were the Cogers, near St. Bride's Church; the Discussion Hall, in Shoe Lane; and the Temple Forum, in Fleet Street.  The Cogers was an ancient institution, dating from 1755, but was then fast dying, though it survived in a way till 1886, when its hall and all that belonged to it were put to the hammer.  Many who afterwards played a prominent part in the politics of the country, or attained high distinction at the bar or on the bench, had learnt to know the rules of debate and acquired an aptitude for public speaking at Cogers Hall.  Curran and Daniel O'Connell were both members, as also were John Wilkes, Orator Hunt, and many of the early English Radicals.  Among the legal Cogers who attained eminence were Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, Mr. Baron Maule, Mr. Justice Hannen, Serjeant Parry, Serjeant Ballantine, and Sir Edward Clarke.  Dickens, too, belonged to the ancient and honourable Society of Cogers; and George Augustus Sala has told how he made, or rather tried to make, his first speech to the Grand Coger in the chair.  The Temple Forum, I think, had no history.  It was held in a back room of the Green Dragon, small and ill-ventilated.  The only time I visited the place, the debaters, whom I could scarcely see for smoke, were discussing a celebrated case of the day—I think that of Constance Kent.  But the Discussion Hall had better quarters and a better set of speakers.

   The landlord of the tavern in Shoe Lane was named Walters, and the hall in which the meetings were held was a really presentable apartment—long and lofty, comfortably furnished with seats and tables, with a canopied chair for the president, who generally smoked a long pipe, and drank brandy and water.  As the rest of the company smoked and drank too, the scene had a free and easy air about it.  Oil paintings of some of the celebrities who had shared in the debates decorated the walls of the room, including those of Thomas Hardy, Alderman Waithman, and William Carpenter, all famous Radicals in their day.  The subject for discussion, together with the name of the gentleman who was to open it, was announced beforehand in the window of the tavern.  It was a point of some importance to get a good opener.  And as a fee of five shillings, with free drinks for the evening, was attached to the performance, there was no difficulty in getting clever, broken-down men from Fleet Street to accept the engagement.  Poor old Bronterre O'Brien, a tribune of the people in the palmy period of Chartism, but then a social and almost intellectual wreck, was often in demand for this purpose.  The permanent chairman for some years was Andrew Middlemass, who was supposed to be a journalist, who had formerly been an accountant in Newcastle, and whose death was recorded in 1889.  After each speech, the chairman used to make an important announcement—"The waiter's in the room; give your orders, gentlemen."  Many admirable speeches were delivered in Discussion Hall, although, as the night wore on, the applause, which was accompanied by the jingling of glasses, became rather boisterous.  The speakers could speak too.  One talked so well about finance and taxation that he went by the name of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.  Others were great on questions of foreign policy; others, again, on legal and social subjects.  They were not all beery people either, for among the frequenters was Mr. Fleming, then a member of the staff of the Morning Advertiser, but better known for his connection with Robert Owen's movement, having been, like Lloyd Jones and George Jacob Holyoake, a social missionary appointed by the great philanthropist to expound his theories and doctrines to the people.  The discussions which took place in my hearing rose far above the curious surroundings—so much so that I brought away from Discussion Hall a much more favourable opinion of the intelligence than of the habits of the debaters.

    The last visit I paid to the place was late at night.  It was in the company of Austin Holyoake, younger brother of George Jacob, and of John Watts, elder brother of Charles Watts.  We had been engaged in producing Mr. Bradlaugh's paper, the National Reformer.  When we had completed our work, it was proposed that we should go and see how the debaters finished up their proceedings.  Discussion by that time had degenerated into a noisy and general hubbub, in which everybody seemed to be talking at once.  All manner of strange characters, most of them more or less muzzy and muddled, were holding forth to each other.  Political orators, writers for the Standard, sub-editors of the Family Herald and the London Journal, contributors to other popular periodicals, waiters on Providence, hirelings of the press and of the platform, were among the men of light and leading who were enjoying a midnight revel in Shoe Lane.  Instead of reeling home when the tavern closed its doors, most of them adjourned to a "night house" in Farringdon Street, where, being joined by other sweepings from the streets and the newspaper offices, they continued their noisy drinkings and disputations till far into the morning.  One of the new revellers was notable at the time for his appearance on Chartist and Radical platforms.  John Henriette was a sort of Silas Wegg, a democratic orator with a wooden leg.  I was amazed, though the rest of the company seemed rather amused than amazed, when he openly boasted of having been employed by Lord Palmerston to assist in creating political diversions at electoral contests in the provinces.  It was the only time I ever had an opportunity of seeing how the lesser literary men of the day comported themselves at the close of the week's work, and I neither desired nor sought another.  The spectacle, so far from being impressive or elevating, was calculated to take the heart out of a young and ardent propagandist.


 
CHAPTER XXXIII

A PROPAGANDA OF IDEAS


WE did not forget our obligations—we poor propagandists.  Bear in mind that we were Republicans, not Revolutionists.  It was no part of our business to disturb, or attempt to disturb, the established order of things.  We wanted to make Republicans, not a Republic.  When we had done that, we felt and knew that the change would come as naturally and with as little disturbance as the fruit succeeds the flower.  The explanation, though it may not save the propaganda from ridicule, may at least help to save it from opprobrium.  Another thing—we were not the friends of every country but our own.  We were friends of the peoples, it is true, but we were friends of our own people first of all.  Patriots and propagandists, we had, we thought, an even higher idea of national honour than some of those who ruled the destinies of England.  Anyway, whether Monarchy or Republic, England was our home, our country, our beloved mother.  It was her heroes we revered; it was her people we wished to elevate; it was her renown we longed to increase.  The design was perhaps sufficiently dignified to redeem the small efforts we made from contempt or derision.  There was already a Republican association in London when two of us, after the break-up of the Brantwood experiment, found ourselves in the great city.  The brethren received us warmly.  Nor was it long before we had commenced such active operations as the nature of the movement sanctioned.  The very first distinct step we took was, I think, the distribution of tracts among the crowds that assembled in Hyde Park to celebrate the conclusion of peace after the Crimean War.  That insignificant effort was followed by the preparation of special leaflets that were scattered about with great care and discrimination.  It was intimated at the foot of the leaflets that copies of others could be had gratis at four addresses in different parts of London; but I do not recollect that a single application was ever received in consequence.  As, however, we were all young then, and had been told by Mazzini to "revere the enthusiasm of youth," the disappointment did not disconcert us.

    Our numbers never at any time, I think, exceeded twenty.  Yet we regularly held our family meetings—sometimes in Holborn, sometimes in Bethnal Green, sometimes in the City Road, at other times in the neighbourhood of the Regent's Park.  There we discussed schemes for the regeneration of mankind, subscribed our pence for propagandist efforts, and solemnly devised means and measures for converting the rest of the world to our views!  The minute book of the association, which is still preserved, clearly indicates that something much higher than material welfare entered into the ideas and the aims of the members.  There was nothing selfish or sordid in our methods or objects.  It was not to benefit ourselves, to increase our own leisure, advance our own interests, or promote our own enjoyment, that we combined.  Rather did we find satisfaction in sacrifice—the sacrifice of time, energy, and such poor resources as we possessed.  The members of our little society were so restricted in this world's goods that the audit of the first year's accounts showed an income from subscriptions of one pound six shillings and fourpence halfpenny, an expenditure of one pound six shillings, and a balance of fourpence halfpenny!  Nevertheless, impoverished as we were, we managed every now and then to contribute to the funds of the Continental Revolutionists of that day, thus helping to the utmost of our means in the liberation of oppressed nationalities.  Besides these small endeavours, we occasionally commissioned one or more of our members to attend meetings in the Caledonia Fields and elsewhere to advocate our doctrines or defend from aspersion the leaders of patriotic and revolutionary movements abroad.
 
    A pathetic interest attaches to some entries in the minutes relating to one of these leaders.  Stanislas Worcell, a venerable Polish nobleman, known to us all and beloved by us all, was then living in an obscure corner of London—a grave and dignified victim of Russian tyranny.  The minutes referring to Worcell begin in December, 1856, with a request to the members for information as to the price of a copy of a certain edition of Hutton's "Course of Mathematics."  The society resolved to purchase and make him a present of the book, the members subscribing five shillings and sixpence for that purpose.  A month later it was reported that efforts to obtain the book had failed, when the secretary was instructed to write to Mr. Worcell asking him whether any other edition would suit his requirements.  Then came the meeting for February, 1857.  "The secretary," so runs the report, "said that he had written to Mr. Worcell respecting the book which he required, but was sorry to inform the brethren that since doing so the brave-hearted old man had died—another victim to the inflexible tyranny of Russian misrule."  And then occurs this entry:—"As the only tribute of respect they could pay to his worth, and to show their abhorrence of the system which had made him an exile and a martyr, it was agreed that as many of the brethren as possible should follow his remains to Highgate Cemetery."

    The funeral of Worcell was a remarkable event.  It was attended by natives of almost all the countries of Europe—Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Russians, Frenchmen, nearly every man of them an exile, and nearly every man of them with a price upon his head.  There was, first and foremost, Joseph Mazzini, for whom the Austrians, after a rising in Milan, had searched the very coffins as they were being carried to the graveyard—slight of stature, sorrowful of countenance, intellect and power in every flash of his eye, in every line of his face, in every hair of his beard.  Then there was Alexander Herzen, who, flying from Russia, had managed to save his property from confiscation—the only man among the exiles who was not almost penniless.  And then there was Ledru Rollin, a leading member of the Provisional Government of February, who had fled from France in consequence of a violent protest in which he had shared on behalf of Poland.  The procession from Hunter Street to Highgate was preceded by a band of music playing the "Dead March."  Speeches, of course, as happened on all such occasions, were made over the grave—in English, in French, in Polish.  The speech in English was delivered by Peter Alfred Taylor, the friend of suffering peoples, afterwards and for many years member of Parliament for Leicester.  Ledru Rollin, who had great fame as an orator in France, looked the character (being handsome, tall, and portly) as he poured forth a flood of mellifluous language in denunciation of a despotism that had driven such men as Worcell to perish in a foreign land.  The Poles who spoke registered a vow of undying hatred of the Russian Government.  The company which thus bore testimony to deep affection for the exile was small; but most of the men composing it had been, and continued to be till they died, a terror to the despots of the Continent.

    Another political funeral occurred a year or two later.  It was that of Simon Bernard.  The mourners on this occasion were much more numerous than those who had followed the remains of Worcell.  One reason was that Dr. Bernard had not long before been charged with complicity in the attempt of Orsini against Louis Napoleon.  The acquittal which followed the trial was regarded as a popular triumph.  The death of the accused so soon after the verdict of the jury had set him at liberty naturally attracted a good deal of attention.  Hence the large crowd which, also accompanied by a band of music playing solemn airs, marched in procession to the Kensal Green Cemetery.  But, though the crowd was larger, it did not seem to me to be composed of the same elements or distinguished for the same dignity as that which had assembled at Highgate.  Perhaps the explanation was to be found in the character of the two exiles.  While Worcell was a man of saintly life and aspirations, Bernard was a bit of a madman—moreover, a furious Socialist, which at that time was much the same thing.  I shall give an example of his mad humour presently.  The main body of the mourners seemed to be made up of that type of revolutionist that is never happy except in revolt—the type that would destroy for the mere sake of destruction—the type that in later years produced a Ravachol and a Vaillant.  But I remember three notable men among them.  One was Felix Pyat, who was subsequently associated with the lurid affairs of the Paris Commune.  Another was the Russian exile Bakunin, a man of gigantic stature, who had lately performed the unparalleled feat of escaping from Siberia down the Amoor, and who afterwards became the chief of the Nihilists.  The third was Thomas Allsop, the friend of Lamb and Coleridge and Hazlitt, who also had been suspected of participation in revolutionary plots.  It was Allsop who told me, as we walked in the procession to Kensal Green, how Bernard had ventilated the theory that reverence for sacerdotalism would never be uprooted till a Pope in full canonicals was slain at the very altar!  Orations were delivered over the grave, but I have forgotten all about the people who delivered them.

    Hyde Park, the scene of the Peace Commemorations in 1856, was the scene a few months later of much more exciting occurrences.  We young men of the Republican Association were interested spectators of the occurrences—nothing more.  It was a paltry question to us—the question of the observance of the Sabbath.  As to beer, with which the question was then mixed up, we knew it to be the ruin of political effort.  Still we had interest in all popular excitements.  The rumpus arose from an attempt of Lord Robert Grosvenor to close the public-houses on Sundays.  A bill for the purpose had been introduced into Parliament.  Then the mischief began—rowdy on the part of the mob, violent on the part of the police.  Strange means were adopted to excite the passions of the populace.  I remember seeing outside the premises of Reynolds's Newspaper, then a purely demagogic organ, a large placard bearing these coarse lines:


D—their eyes
If ever they tries
To rob a poor man of his beer!


Other imprecations of like character had been preceded by invitations to the mob to "go and see how the aristocracy kept the Sabbath in Hyde Park."  Fashionable people were in the habit of enjoying Sunday rides or drives in Rotten Row.  The first Sunday after the incitement crowds lined both sides of the roadway, hooting and jeering the horsemen and carriage folk.  It was the prelude to disgraceful riots.  Next Sunday the ladies and gentlemen who ventured into the Row had to run the gauntlet of showers of turf and stones.  The angry mob had become brutal, as all angry mobs are apt to.  Another Sunday came round.  I went to see what was going to happen.  Very few riders presented themselves; but those who did were so pelted with stones that they had to gallop for their lives.  The scene was shameful.  Now came the turn of the police.  Orders were given to clear the park.  But the park was thronged by people who had no hand in the riots.  The majority of those I saw seemed to be well-dressed, well-behaved persons, belonging to the working and middle classes.  Most of them, like myself, were spectators of the demonstration rather than participators in it.  But the police, when charging the multitude in obedience to orders, necessarily came into collision with people who were not offenders at all.  Such certainly was the case in that part of the field which came under my notice.  I was sauntering among the crowd, when down came a long row of constables, raining blows on the heads of such as could not get out of reach of their bâtons.  It was necessary no doubt to suppress disorders; but I thought at the time, since I was very nearly a victim myself, that it might have been done with much less violence than was used.  The mob, driven out of the park, took its revenge on the houses in Mayfair.  Lord Robert Grosvenor thought it prudent to retire into the country; his proposed legislation was abandoned; and the Sunday riots in Hyde Park became a matter of history.

    Our little band of propagandists kept the flag flying till the end of the fifties.  Then, as the more active among them left London for the provinces, the Colonies, or the United States, the movement quietly died out.  There were republican agitations afterwards; but we had little or no sympathy with them, because they were based on no principle and informed by no elevated ideas.  What would be the value of a revolution which had for its root the accidental unpopularity of a prince of the blood?  What, again, was the worth of that paltry cry about the Cost of the Crown, raised by Sir Charles Dilke before his own tremendous lapse?  It was not because a prince was temporarily unpopular, nor because the Monarchy was supposed to be expensive, that the young men of the fifties gave themselves to a republican propaganda.  It was because, high above all accidents, high above all sordid interests, there shone and flamed before them the ideal of an exalted and duteous people.


 
CHAPTER XXXIV

THE "ILLUSTRATED TIMES"


THE Crimean War afforded a splendid opportunity for journalistic enterprise.  Few newspapers, however, on account of the Taxes on Knowledge, were able to take much advantage of it.  The Times, of course, did wonders with the letters of the first war correspondent, William Howard Russell.  Rather late in the day Henry Vizetelly, who had had a hand in initiating the Illustrated London News, projected a cheaper rival, the Illustrated Times, with a special artist at the front, Julian Portch, who unfortunately died at his post.  This new paper was an immediate success; for the Crimean War was followed by exciting criminal trials—for example, the trial of William Palmer for the Rugeley poisonings, and that of Madeleine Smith for the murder of her sweetheart in Glasgow.  Mr. Vizetelly, a brother of Frank Vizetelly, who was slain or lost with Hicks Pasha in the disastrous expedition to the Soudan in 1884, was the director of the paper—though it was understood that David Bogue, the Fleet Street publisher, provided most of the capital.  As I recollect him at the time, Vizetelly was an active, excitable, wayward sort of man—whimsical and changeable, too, which led to extravagance in management, and eventually to failure.  But he had, as we shall see, the faculty of finding able assistants.

    The brothers Vizetelly—Henry being then the sole member of the firm—had a printing and engraving business in Gough Square, next corner to Dr. Johnson's old residence.  It was there that the Illustrated Times was produced.  I was lucky enough to present a letter of introduction, just at the time when Vizetelly was making his preparations for the new venture.  My work at an office in Fetter Lane had been precarious.  Here I was for a while in clover.  I was assigned a frame with a good light.  Permanently employed, and earning what the pitmen call "good money," I was happy and contented, and to a certain extent prosperous.  The change which came later will furnish materials for a sad and bitter paragraph.  My highest ambition then and long afterwards was for a settled situation at "case" on a well-established newspaper.  Such a situation enabled the fortunate compositor not only to live comfortably, but to pass his leisure hours in the pursuits and activities that pleased him.  If happiness and comfort be the things to be desired, I, who have tried other avocations, know of no condition of life to be preferred to that of the workman who has constant and regular employment at the trade that he likes, provided he is fairly paid for the best he is capable of producing.  Many printers in London were thus pleasantly circumstanced.  But there were others—the waifs and strays of the trade—whose state was miserable enough.  These were known as "grass hands."  Too dissolute, many of them, to hold a permanent appointment when chance placed a permanent appointment in their way, they lived from hand to mouth—hanging round the offices of the society till a call came from this or that newspaper for temporary help on the day or night (usually the night) preceding publication.  I was a "grass hand" myself for a time, and suffered accordingly.

    The work on the Illustrated Times was at the beginning agreeable and profitable.  But the companionship—the general body of compositors—was of a mixed order.  Some of my comrades were sots; the conversation of some others was of the vilest character; but the majority were respectable and intelligent men.  One was an authority on music, another had a good knowledge of art, a third was well versed in literature.  We could talk at our work, and the talk was often about books and pictures and operas.  We even formed a magazine club—purchasing periodicals, reading them in turn, and then distributing them among the members.  Thackeray's "Virginians" and Dickens's "Little Dorrit" were, I recollect, among the serials for which we subscribed.  But we had our little troubles.  There was an irrepressible disposition among us to chaff each other.  My Gloucestershire dialect was still so pronounced that I could at first never utter a word aloud without hearing an aggravating echo all along the room.  I did not like it, but I had to put up with it.  One day, however, I noticed that my chief tormentor—a Scotchman—had also peculiarities of speech.  These I imitated as he had imitated mine.  The effect was instantaneous.  I had turned the tables.  No longer the butt of the room, I chaffed the rest as much as the rest chaffed me.  The incident conveys a moral.  Other young workmen may learn from it that the best way to relieve themselves of disagreeable attentions is to bestow similar attentions on the men who annoy them.  There will then be equality of—treatment at all events—which, after all, is the best that need be desired.  I have said that some of my comrades were sots.  There were two in particular.  One young fellow, when I had chaffingly alluded to his then unhappy condition, informed the whole room that I wasn't man enough to get drunk!  Of the other it was said that he had made various attempts to visit the Great Exhibition, but had found so many public-houses on the road that he never got there at all!

    The indifference of people to famous things or places in their own neighbourhood has been the subject of comment and surprise from ancient times downwards.  It was Pliny, I think, who told of a fountain in Italy that was visited by travellers from far distances which was yet scarcely known to the people who lived near it.  The same curious aptitude is observable everywhere, especially in London.  Among the compositors in Vizetelly's office was an intelligent man who had passed St. Paul's Cathedral twice a day for many years, and yet had never once had the curiosity or the inclination to look inside the memorable fane.  And another member of the companionship, whose work was chiefly with engravings, and who was not without some feeling for art himself, was born and still lived almost within a stone's throw of the National Gallery, but had never taken the trouble to inspect the treasures on its walls.  It is the country cousins who pay flying visits in great shoals to the Metropolis that see most of the sights.  But country cousins, as a rule, make short work of the business.  I recollect being in the National Gallery when a party of provincial visitors, hot and perspiring, passed me.  One of the ladies, while mopping her face with a handkerchief, exclaimed: "There now, we've done this place; let's be off to the Museum."  If ever Londoners do visit Westminster Abbey or the Tower, it is in the company of friends from the country.

    The Illustrated Times was one of the brightest productions of the fifties.  All manner of clever young writers, as well as some older writers, were connected with it.  Macrae Moir was the editor; James Hannay, author of "Singleton Fontenoy," wrote the leading articles; Edmund Yates began with the "Lounger at the Clubs" that system of personal journalism which has since been widely imitated; William White, a doorkeeper of the House of Commons, described the inner life of Parliament, anticipating the want which is now satisfied by Parliamentary letters in the daily press; Edward Draper contributed an informing weekly paper on Law and Crime; Sutherland Edwards supplied musical criticisms, the Brothers Brough dramatic criticisms, Noel Humphreys antiquarian notes; Augustus Mayhew did such pictorial work as painting in prose the scenes of the Rugeley poisonings; and George Augustus Sala wrote—when he could be got to write—reviews of books, descriptions of engravings, and in one case a serial novel.  All these gentlemen were much about the office.

    One night Sala came in a white waistcoat and a red face, looking so comically like a peony set on a tablecloth, that the compositors at the cases had to bury their noses in the space boxes.  Vizetelly had more trouble with George Augustus than with any other of his team.  When copy was wanted from him, he had to be hunted from one haunt to another.  He said himself that he always found a printer's devil alongside his boots in the morning.  It happened on one occasion that he was locked in a room at the office with a pot of porter and a packet of cigars till he had finished an article that was required at once.  But a more serious difficulty arose later.  Sala was writing his story, "The Baddington Peerage."  Nothing could induce him to keep up to time with the instalments.  At last Vizetelly hit upon an effective device.  An announcement was put in type that the editor would no longer apologise for the failure of the author to supply the continuation of the story, that he was tired of chasing him through all the taverns of Fleet Street and the Strand, and that he was now resolved to let the reader know with whom the responsibility for the lapse really lay.  A proof of this announcement was sent to Sala, with an intimation that it would appear in the ensuing issue of the paper unless the copy of the next instalment of the novel was in the hands of the printer by a certain hour.  Not only was the copy in hand at the time specified, but I believe there was no further trouble with the eccentric author till the story was finished.  It is not a little curious that no fewer than four of the gentlemen associated with the Illustrated Times—Vizetelly, Sala, Yates, and Edwards, all dead but Edwards—have published volumes of reminiscences.

    The companionship of the Illustrated Times had a pretty happy time till Mr. Macrae Moir was succeeded by Mr. Frederick Greenwood.  Mr. Greenwood, a brother of James Greenwood, the "Amateur Casual," had been a printer's reader in a well-known book office.  I remember him as a spruce young fellow with a rather supercilious air and a black lace necktie.  Long afterwards he was credited with suggesting to Mr. Disraeli that the Government should buy the Suez Canal shares; and only lately he has been described in a book about J. M. Barrie as "the good fairy of Barrie's literary life."  A disastrous change in the circumstances of the poor compositors come about when Mr. Greenwood took control of the copy.  It may not have been his fault, but we did not know whose else it could be.  The change had come with the change of editors.  Moreover, had not a heartless reply been returned to a piteous appeal we had made to the new man?  It is certain that our lives were made miserable.  We had to be at our cases every morning and all day afterwards lest work should come and others be put in our places.  But day after day it happened that work did not come till it was just upon time to go home; and then we had to stand at our cases till every scrap of copy was set—always till midnight, often till four or five o'clock in the morning—with the result that next day we had nothing to do again till the editor condescended to send round a great batch of copy in the evening, when of course the same dreary process had to be repeated.  The only consolation that the unhappy compositors had as they crawled homewards was in "nailing" (which does not mean blessing) the author or authors of their misery.

    It was an awful time for us all.  Part of my way had to be traversed alone, and then I must often have slept as I walked, for I now and then seemed to wake up with a start.  To add to our troubles we had to run the risk of being garrotted.  London was then in a state of alarm.  Almost every morning we read on the newspaper placards—"Another Garrotte Robbery," with sometimes the addition: "Death of the Victim."  Policemen, I remember, paced the streets in couples or in parties.  Luckily I was never molested, though I had to go home at the loneliest hours of the night and morning—probably because I took the precaution, when by myself, of walking in the middle of the road.  The Society of Compositors, I hope, has so reformed the laws and regulations of newspaper work in London that no poor devils have now to endure the horrors that fell to our lot in the fifties.

    Mr. Greenwood, I have said, was a printer's reader—printer's reader at the office where Carlyle's books were printed.  It was said that he had preserved and bound several volumes of the great man's proofs and manuscripts.  Carlyle was a terror to the printers—not so much on account of his handwriting as on account of his fearful tampering with the proofs.  Harriet Martineau, in that book of autobiography which my friend Hailing set up at Windermere in 1855, tells an amusing story on the subject.  One of Carlyle's works was going through the press in London.  A man from Edinburgh, where his earlier productions had been printed, was given some of his copy.  The man dropped it as if it had burnt his fingers.  "Lord have mercy!" he cried, "have you got that man to work for?  Lord knows when we shall get done with all his corrections!"  I was myself for a short time employed in the same office.  The "Life of Frederick the Great " was being set up there.  I saw some of the proofs.  It was the third that lay on the stone.  The matter was still in columns, not in pages, for paging was out of the question till the author had exhausted even his almost illimitable power of changing his modes of expression.  This third proof was so covered with corrections of all kinds that it would have taken little more trouble and time to reset the whole than to make the alterations.  Scarcely a sentence remained unchanged, while flags and circles enclosing new forms and phrases were scattered all over the sheet.  I have seen many "dirty proofs," but I never saw anything dirtier than Carlyle's—and that the third too!


 
CHAPTER XXXV

THE COUP D'ETAT


THE year 1851 was memorable for two things—the Great Exhibition in London and the Coup d'Etat in Paris.  The one was a triumph of enlightenment, the other the most appalling crime of the century.  The Coup d'Etat, indeed, surpassed in wickedness and horror, in treachery and remorselessness, anything that has ever been recorded, or is ever likely to be recorded, in Western history.  The East alone can furnish parallels to the infamy, and even these sink almost into insignificance alongside the supreme and monumental infamy of the Second of December.

    The vast majority of the people now living are not old enough to remember the events of 1851.  It may be that they have heard of them or read of them.  But they have no knowledge from personal experience of the thrill of horror that ran through the country when the news reached it of a diabolical outrage that had placed France at the mercy of "five base galley slaves."  We stood aghast—every one of us, from the highest to the lowest.  Every newspaper in the land proclaimed its abhorrence of the iniquity, its loathing of the adventurers who had perpetrated it.  What had happened in Paris was such a crime as could not have been conceived possible by the most lurid and diseased imagination.  It was, in fact, more than a crime: it was combination of all crimes—perjury, treason, treachery, the subornation of the soldiery, the overthrow of law, the wholesale arrest of all the leading citizens of France, the calm, deliberate slaughter of thousands of innocent people.  No civilized city in the whole world was ever the scene of so foul a saturnalia as Paris on that darkest day and night in all the annals of villainy.

    The chief criminal was a man whom the French people had chosen as President of the Republic.  He was supposed to be a Bonaparte, though there was some doubt as to his actual parentage.  He called himself Prince Louis Napoleon, and he claimed to be the inheritor of the Napoleonic legend.  Twice he had made theatrical attempts against the French Government—once with a tame eagle at Boulogne, which had been taught to fly to the top of a column, but which failed to carry out its instructions.  But the name he bore, or pretended to bear, helped him with the ignorant peasantry when, after the proclamation of the Republic of 1848, they were required to elect a President.  The election to the Presidency was the first step to absolute dominion.  But it was necessary that he should take an oath to preserve the Republic.  This he did on Dec. 20th, 1848, in the following terms: "Before God and the French people represented by the National Assembly, I swear to be faithful to the Republic, and to fulfil the duties imposed on me by the Constitution."  And then, as if to throw the representatives of the people off their guard, he added a declaration of his own.  But what is an oath more or less to the felon who means to break them all?

    The President lost no time in preparing his plans; but it took him nearly three years to find the suitable instruments for putting them into execution.  These instruments were all men of blemished reputations.  One had been in trouble in Algiers: he was made Minister of War.  Another had been dismissed from a prefecture in the provinces: he was made Prefect of Police.  Three or four of the conspirators were, as Kinglake says, known by names that were not bestowed upon them at baptism.  It was St. Arnaud who was given the Ministry of War; it was Maupas who was placed in the Prefecture of Police.  Among the rest were Morny, Magnan, and Persigny.  Magnan was Governor of Paris.  But the chief parts in the villainous drama were played by Maupas, Morny, Persigny, and St. Arnaud, with Louis Napoleon of course at the head of them—Victor Hugo's "five base galley slaves."  If the reader desires to know more about the scoundrels, as well as about the atrocious things they did, he is advised to consult the first volume of Kinglake's "History of the Crimean War."

    The night came.  It was the night preceding Dec. 2nd.  What happened was told by Maupas himself in a book of confessions published in 1884.  To allay suspicion the President gave a party at the Palace of the Elysee.  To further disarm suspicion, Maupas and St. Arnaud left the drawing-rooms of the Elysee by the principal door.  A few minutes after ten o'clock the conspirators had all assembled in the Prince's study.  "General St. Arnaud and myself," says Maupas, "again enumerated the measures we had prepared.  We both reasserted our confidence in the execution of our orders, and then we parted.  The Prince shook hands, as he would have done on any ordinary occasion, calm and confident, like all great men who require no effort to raise themselves to the level of the situation."  Bear in mind that the level of the situation to which the Prince raised himself was that of throttling the nation he had sworn to serve.  The soldiery had already been corrupted by a feast of sausages and champagne at the camp of Satory.  For the officers there was gold.  Before the conspirators dispersed, the Prince divided with St. Arnaud the contents of his cash box.  "Officers were presently seen breaking rouleaux of gold like sticks of chocolate, and thrusting the pieces into their pockets."  At six o'clock in the morning, Morny, or De Morny, took possession of the Home Office with two troops of Lancers.  "A quarter of an hour later—and most punctually, for all the agents in this dark night's work had been made to set their watches by that of De Maupas—seventy detachments of detectives and gendarmes, penetrating into seventy different houses, arrested three score and ten of the most popular men in France, and drove them off to prison."  Mazas was crowded with victims—statesmen, generals, journalists, members of Parliament, the two quæstors of the National Assembly.  Among them, dragged out of their beds in the early hours of a December morning, were M. Thiers, General Changarnier, General Cavaignac, Colonel Charras, General Lamoricière.  Not a man of any mark in Paris was left at large.  France, held by the throat, was at the mercy of conspirators and ruffians.

    The Coup d'Etat was consummated.  But the bloodiest part had yet to be done.  It was necessary to strike terror into the heart of the people.  St. Arnaud and Magnan had filled the Boulevards with troops, "bribed, excited, intoxicated, pitiless."  The citizens, curious and wondering, were looking from their windows or strolling along the sidewalks, not understanding what it all meant.  Women and children were mingled in the crowd.  There was resistance elsewhere.  Here there was none.  Not a man in the throng bore a weapon of any sort.  All at once the order was given to fire.  From end to end of the occupied Boulevards the rifles rang out.  Men fell, women fell, children fell.  Never a soul within sight was spared.  It was a battue—with peaceful, unarmed people for game, and a drunken soldiery for sportsmen.  The soldiers even entered some of the houses, slaughtering everybody they could find in them.  "The troops," said the Times of Dec. 12th, "were ordered to select by preference as their victims persons of the class least akin to Socialist insurgents."  The gutters of the Boulevards ran with blood; the trees of the Boulevards were watered with blood; a disreputable adventurer was wading through blood to a throne.  The Coup d'Etat at the beginning looked too grotesque to be serious.  After the massacre of the Boulevards, it assumed another shape—ghastly, horrible, fiendish.  The mountebanks had become demons.  The slaughtered, according to a list at the Prefecture of the Seine, numbered two thousand six hundred and fiftytwo—all ages, all ranks, both sexes.  Then came the proscriptions.  Eighty-eight representatives of the people were proscribed; tens of thousands of citizens were imprisoned, transported, interned; the pestilential colonies of Cayenne and Lambessa were choked with patriots who had been sent thither without even the semblance of a trial.

    The criminals had overthrown the Republic.  They were next to overthrow the Law.  Article 68 of the Constitution which the chief criminal had sworn to maintain declared—"Any measure by which the President of the Republic dissolves the National Assembly is a crime of high treason."  In the midst of the confusion and bloodshed of Dec. 2nd, two hundred and twenty members of the Assembly signed this decree:—


    The National Assembly, extraordinarily assembled at the Mairie of the Tenth Arrondisement,

    Considering the 68th Article of the Constitution,

    Considering that the Assembly is prevented by violence from discharging its functions,


Decrees:


    Louis Napoleon Bonaparte is stripped of his functions of President of the Republic.

    Citizens are bound to refuse him obedience.

    The Judges of the High Court of justice are summoned immediately to pronounce judgment on the President and his accomplices.


The High Court of Justice met immediately, and decreed as follows:—


In virtue of the Article 68 of the Constitution, the High Court of justice declares,

Louis Napoleon Bonaparte committed for the crime of high treason.

The High National jury is summoned to deliver judgment without delay.


    The declaration was signed by Hardouin, President, and Delapalme, Pataille, Moreau, Cauchy, Judges.  But the conspirators who had crushed the Republic now crushed the High Court of Justice.  There was from that time no law in France but the will of perjurers, traitors, assassins.

    Complete as was his triumph over France, the Republic, and the Law, Louis Napoleon, smeared and reeking with gore, was long uneasy on his blood-stained throne.  Even the despots of Europe held aloof from a "cutpurse of the Empire"— cutpurse and cutthroat too.  He wanted an alliance—matrimonial and political.  Austria declined the one.  England, to her shame and sorrow, yielded the other.  A weak and vacillating Ministry misled her into the trap.  It was Louis Napoleon's business to make war somewhere upon somebody.  He chose for quarrel the question of the Holy Places—the paltry question whether the Greek or Latin Churches should control the Sepulchre of the Saviour.  England was invited to join him against Russia.  The Emperor Nicholas had unfortunately aroused suspicion by proposing that the nations of Europe should prepare to divide the effects of the Sick Man.  We drifted into war.  It cost us thousands of lives; but it made the Conspirator of December respectable.  English people were not averse to the war, because they hoped that the independence of Poland would be revived as one of the consequences.  But there was really no intention of doing much harm to Russia—certainly none of liberating Poland.  As Kossuth said at the time, the attack on the Crimea was like striking at Russia in the heel of her boot.  The war was a dismal failure.  Only one thing was gained—the recognition and establishment of the Second Empire.

    Other humiliations followed for this country.  It had to receive the usurper as an ally.  Worse—it had to witness the scandal of his foul lips kissing both cheeks of the Queen of England.  When we read of this last indignity at Cherbourg, there was not an honest woman's face in Britain that did not burn with shame.  Four years—four sad and disgraceful years—had sufficed to blind the Press and the Government, and to some extent the people also, to the iniquities of M. Bonaparte.  But Victor Hugo would not let us forget them.  A translation of the poet's scathing philippic was published by Edward Truelove, then a bookseller at Temple Bar.  So subservient, however, had even our authorities become to successful villainy that the police tore down the placard announcing it.  Yet at that very moment thousands of French citizens, for no other crime than that of faithfulness to their country, were languishing and perishing in the swamps of Cayenne.  Others, more fortunate, had found refuge in the Channel Islands.  When, later, these exiles ventured to protest against the contamination involved in the visit of Royalty to the scene of the massacres of December, we had to submit to the ignominy of seeing them expelled without warrant and without trial.  It is worth while recalling the shame of that lamentable time if only as a warning against ever again paying homage to triumphant wrong.  The events recalled, too, are necessary to explain what were for us the still more exciting incidents of 1858.



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