FOR the — day in April, 1865, I received three invitations: one to
attend the funeral of a wealthy old bachelor, who had resided in
Russell-square, and was to be buried in Highgate Cemetery; the
second, to be one of a wedding-party at a house in Baker-street; and
the third, to dine with a friend residing in one of the squares in
South Kensington. As the wedding and the funeral were to take place
about the same hour, and in different parts of London, it was
impossible for me to attend both. I was not particularly
interested in either. I knew but little of the young couple who were
to be married; and I am no admirer of a wedding-breakfast. I do not
like champagne in the morning, and have a strong dislike to the
stereotyped twaddle—dignified by the name of speeches—of the
breakfast-table. The gentleman whose funeral I was invited to attend
was little more than a stranger to me; and the sole reason for his
executors complimenting me with an invitation was that I had been
called upon to witness his will. The turning-point which decided me
in my choice between the two invitations was my wish to ascertain
whether a distant relation of the deceased, whom I knew intimately,
had been left any money. He was at the time a resident in India, and
far from being in affluent circumstances.
The invitation, then, for the funeral was accepted; and at the hour
appointed, the mourning coach drew up at my door to convey me to
the house of the deceased in Russell-square. On arriving, I found
two mutes, with the usual scarfs and a singular sort of black
banners in their hands, standing at the door. As soon as I alighted
from the carriage, one of them gave a prolonged, though subdued
knock at the door, and then resumed his original position. I entered
the house, and a respectable-looking, middle-aged man, with a white
cravat, and a face of great solemnity, took my hat, and in a low
solemn tone of voice asked me if I was a relative of the deceased. I
told him I was not, and asked him why he made the inquiry. After
giving a low sigh of relief (as if it gratified him to hear that my
feelings were less likely to be lacerated from the fact that no
relationship existed between me and the deceased), he softly
replied that he wished to know whether he was to place a silk or a
crape hat-band on my hat. Another attendant, with a face as solemn
as his fellow's, now ushered me into a large dining-room, from which
daylight had been studiously excluded,—the only light being from
some candles on the table. In this room were assembled perhaps a
dozen gentlemen, and it was easy to perceive that they did not
belong to the undertaker's staff, for although dressed in black,
there was not the slightest appearance of solemnity about them. They were conversing together in an ordinary tone of voice, about
different topics of the day; not one among them even naming the
deceased gentleman. Everything seemed to be taken by them in an
ordinary business-like way, as if their presence was a compliment
they were paying to the deceased, and nothing more.
Among the spectators, two only showed anything more than perfect
indifference on the occasion. These were young men, who, while
attempting to put on the look of unconcern which characterized the
rest of the party, were evidently in a state of satisfactory
excitement. I immediately guessed them to be the two presumed heirs
of the deceased, and that the principal subject of interest to them
at that moment was the amount which would be left to each. My
musings were interrupted by the entrance of two of the undertaker's
men,—one carrying a large silver tray with glasses on it, filled
with different sorts of wine, and the other a similar waiter with
cakes. These men were admirable models of funereal propriety. There
was a solemn expression upon their countenances, without the
slightest tinge of sorrow in it; their faces seemed as inflexible
as those we see on marble monuments; nothing, apparently, could
either make them laugh or weep. As they handed the waiters round,
they asked the guests, in a solemn, sepulchral tone of voice
admirably suited to the occasion, whether they would take a glass of
wine or some cake. When their duties were over, they again
left the room, in the same noiseless way in which they had entered.
The next event was the entrance of two others, as solemn as the
rest. One of them carried a large tray with black gloves on it, and
the other, taking each gentleman in turn, fitted him with a pair. "Can you tell me your number, sir?" he inquired of me, with great
solemnity. I told him I did not know it; and he chose two or three
pairs of the size he thought would suit me. This man's face struck
me more than any of the others, so rigidly solemn was it. After he
had finished his duties with me, he proceeded to the others, and so
on till all were provided with gloves, when he and his fellow
silently left the room, closing the door after them. The next part
of the ceremony consisted in several of the men entering the room,
some carrying on their arms long black cloaks, while others carried
hats, with the long hatband fixed upon them. As I had suspected, I
found there were only two with crape, and these were assigned to the
young men whose satisfied expression of countenance had led me to
imagine them to be relatives of the deceased. We were now ushered in
due form to the mourning coaches, four persons in each. I was
assigned a place in the last with the doctor, the solicitor, and
another individual, whose appearance and manners made me suspect he
had only been invited to make the number complete. What he was I
cannot form the slightest idea; he was certainly well dressed, but
from the time he entered the carriage, until the body was consigned
to the earth, he uttered not a single word; and as soon as the
ceremony was over he disappeared, and we saw him no more.
In due time the funeral procession arrived at the cemetery, and the
whole proceedings were carried through with the same air of cold,
indifferent propriety which had hitherto distinguished the ceremony. On returning to the house, I found myself alone in the carriage with
the doctor; the solicitor having entered one of the others, in
which were the two heirs. The doctor was a chatty, good-natured, and
shrewd little man of about fifty years of age, somewhat of a cynic,
and very intelligent. I soon found myself perfectly at home with him; and the body having been consigned to the earth, we both seemed
tacitly to admit that there was no occasion for any further
solemnity of manner, and conversed fluently together.
"Did you know anything of the deceased?" I inquired; "he seems to
have been little cared for, judging from the behaviour of those at
"I knew little more of him than as a patient," said the doctor; "he
was an ordinary sort of man, possessed of considerable wealth, of
which he was very penurious. At the same time, I must say I never
heard of an unworthy or dishonest action that he ever committed. His
good qualities seemed to be all of a negative description; nothing
particularly to admire, and
certainly less to object to."
"Are not those two young men with crape hat-bands his heirs?" I
"I believe so," said the doctor, "and they are of the same opinion; however, we shall know more on that subject by-and-by. They were
the only persons of the party who showed the slightest interest in
what was going forward, and their feelings seemed to be those of
"I remarked that," I said. "The money the old gentleman has left
them, seems in this case, at any rate, to have neutralized any
sorrow they might have felt at his decease."
"Exactly so," remarked the doctor, "and as far as my experience
goes, I believe the worst thing a man can do, in five cases out of
six, if he wishes for the love and affection of any individual after
his decease, is to leave him a large sum of money. I have frequently
noticed that a five-pound note given during life, is received with
far greater gratitude by the legatee, than five hundred pounds left
to him by will."
We conversed in this strain till the mourning coach had arrived at
the house in Russell-square, where the will was read. As both the
doctor and myself had anticipated, the two young men were left the
bulk of the property. I was sorry to see that my poor friend in
India, with a wife and a large family of children depending on him,
had no legacy. My curiosity on that point being now satisfied, I
left the house of sham mourning, and proceeded homewards, out of
spirits and disgusted with the whole proceeding. The impression made
on my mind by the funeral hung over me the whole day,—everything
seemed coloured by it; I was gloomy myself, and doubtless that made
every object assume the same tint in my eyes.
At last the hour arrived for me to dress for the dinner-party to
which I had been invited. When I arrived at the house I found most
of the guests assembled, and a very brilliant party they made. I was
on terms of intimacy with more than one-half of those present, but
still I could not raise my spirits to a point befitting the
occasion. The servants and waiters (for several had evidently been
hired) particularly attracted my attention as having the same solemn
expression of countenance which I had noticed in the undertaker's
men at the funeral in the morning. Although their duties were those
tending to cause hilarity and good humour, they did not seem to take
the slightest pleasure in their task, and had the dinner been in the
family vault instead of the well-lighted dining-room, their faces
could not have been more serious. Even when they had occasion to
speak to any of the guests, when naming the dishes they presented to
them, they did it in the sort of conventional whisper used by the
undertaker's men in the morning. At last one spoke to me, on
offering me some Moselle, in such a funereal tone of voice as to
especially attract my attention, and I turned round to look at him.
Judge of my surprise when I recognized the face of the undertaker's
man who had fitted on my gloves in the morning. From my surprised
manner it was utterly impossible that the man did not notice me,
still not the slightest change passed over his countenance. Had his
face been a plaster cast his feature, could not have been more
rigid. Several times during the meal I noticed him, and he evidently
saw me, yet still the same immobility of feature continued. At last
I gave up watching him, and conversed as fluently as I could with
the other guests.
The dinner was a perfect success. At length it was time to depart,
and one by one the guests left, until I was the last, having been
engaged in an earnest discussion with my host, which lasted for some
time after all the other visitors had gone. At last, I bade him
good-bye, and descended to the lower room to get my hat and coat. Here I found the undertaker's man and another person with him, who
from the expression of his countenance might have followed the same
"It is a very wet night, sir," said my friend of the morning;
not better send for a cab?"
"I should be much obliged to you if you would," said I. "I hope
there is a cab-stand near."
"No sir, I am sorry to say there is not; and on a wet night there
may be some difficulty in obtaining one. I suspect we must send as
far as the stand at Knightsbridge before one can be found. I am
afraid you will have to wait pretty well half an hour."
"It cannot be helped," I replied; "and you will oblige me by
sending for one immediately."
"Certainly, sir. John," continued he, addressing the other man, "put on your hat and get an umbrella, and fetch this gentleman a cab
as quickly as you can."
John immediately started on his errand, and I was left alone with my
"Did I not see you at the funeral this morning?" I inquired of him.
"Yes, sir," he replied, "and a very nice funeral it was. The house
I work for always do things in a capital manner; there is not one in
the trade better up to their business."
"But if you are an undertaker's man, how is it that you can be a
gentleman's servant at the same time?" I inquired.
"I am not a servant, sir," he answered; "I live with my brother, who
keeps a greengrocer's shop; and as I can wait well at table, I am a
good deal in request one way or another during the season. Before I
saw you at the funeral this morning, I assisted in laying out a
wedding-breakfast, and this evening, as you see, I am waiting at a
"Where may the wedding have been?" I inquired.
"At No. — Baker-street, sir."
By a singular coincidence, it was the very wedding to which I had
"You must have seen a good deal of life," I said to him.
"I have indeed, sir, seen a great deal of life; in our way of
business one cannot help it. What with waiting at christenings and
weddings, performing funerals, and attending at dinner-parties, I
assure you we get quite philosophical."
I have written the word philosophical, as I strongly suspect the man
intended to make use of it; at the same time I admit it might have
been physiological or psychological, or a mixture of the three.
"And pray, which might have been your original occupation," I
inquired, "the waiter, or the undertaker's man?"
"The undertaker's man was my original profession, and few men have
had more experience in it than I have. I began at the bottom of the
ladder and have worked up to the top rung. I have been at parish
funerals, and I have also attended at the interment of princes of
the blood royal." This was evidently said with the intention of
arousing my admiration and respect, and I determined to humour him
in his little vanity.
"And pray, which of your professions do you like best?" I inquired.
"Decidedly the undertaker's, sir; there is far more mind in it;
waiting at table is all mechanical."
"Do you generally see as little feeling shown at funerals as there
was at the one this morning?" I asked.
"It entirely depends, sir, upon who the parties may be, and what may
have been their line of life. Among the rich, old bachelors are
little cared for, as was the case with the gent we buried this
morning. A great deal more of sorrow is shown for old maids than for
old bachelors. In some houses I have seen old maids a good deal
grieved for, but I never saw a tear dropped for an old bachelor. Generally I find the poor are much more sorrowed after than the
"To what do you attribute the difference?" I inquired.
"Oh, sir, there are many causes. In the first place, those nearest
in relationship to the rich are anxious to know what money has been
left them; and they are always jealous of more being left to
another than themselves. Again, the absence of ladies takes away
from the sorrow of the scene, as of course they always cry more
freely than the men; still, I understand, even with them, that they
do not grieve as much as women of the poorer class do for their
relatives. They are also interested in what money has been left, and
then there are more people to console them. So what with that, and
thinking how they will have their mourning made (as I hear from the
ladies' maids, for of course I do not know it myself), their sorrow
appears to be considerably softened. I made up my mind on this point
when I was employed one day when very young on a heavy job in the
"A heavy job?" I inquired.
"Yes, sir, a heavy job."
"And pray what may a heavy job be?" I asked.
"What the newspapers call 'the funeral obsequies of the deceased
nobleman.' I noticed there how little any one cared about him. He
had lived a very fast life, and had been a very bad husband. His
wife did not pretend to the slightest sorrow for him, and he was
despised by his children; still it was a magnificent affair, and
many hundreds of pounds were spent to do him honour—what for, I do
not know, for never was a man less deserving of it."
"But I should have thought, that from the misery and degradation in
which a great portion of our poor live, they would neither have the
time nor inclination to grieve much for their relatives."
"You are very much mistaken, sir; the poor have far greater respect
shown to them at their decease than most people imagine. You would
be astonished if you knew how much they subscribed to their burial
clubs in order to get a decent funeral for their families. Even
amongst the poorest and worst, they will still rather pay for their
funerals than have those dear to them degraded by a pauper's
"And pray, what is there so terrible in a pauper's funeral?"
"Upon my word, sir, I don't know, unless it is that they look upon
it as a sign that nobody cares for the dead person. This feeling is
far more common among the women than the men. A poor man cares very
little what becomes of his body after his death; but I have known
women almost starving who had two or three pounds sewn up in their
linen for the purpose of avoiding a pauper's funeral."
"To what do you attribute this excessive dislike to a pauper's
funeral in women?" I asked.
"Well, sir, I have often been much puzzled about it, because a
pauper's funeral may be performed as decently as one that you pay
two pounds fifteen shillings for. I am half inclined to believe,
that to be buried by the parish is held by them to be a sign that
nobody cares for them, and this idea is frequently more terrible
than death itself. No matter how slight the regard that may be
shown, still they like to have somebody who does regret them. Some
time since, before I left off attending paupers' funerals, an old
woman who had been in the workhouse for some years, finding her
death approaching, sent for the matron. 'Mrs. B――,' she said,
have always been very kind to me, and I am very grateful to you for
it, but I want you to promise to do me one favour when I am dead. In
my stays you will find four pounds sewn up. One I wish to leave to
you, as a testimonial of your kindness—the other three I wish to be
expended on my funeral. I know the Poor Law Guardians would claim
the money if they could, but I have so great a dread of a pauper's
funeral, that I have kept it all the time I have been in the house,
and I hope you will see my wish carried out.' 'Certainly, Betty, I
will. But is there no one you would like to leave the money to? I
promise you if you are buried by the parish I will see that every
respect is shown you, just as if you paid for a funeral yourself.' 'No, ma'am,' said Betty, after hesitating a moment, 'I have no
relations whatever, they're all dead and gone; but I would rather
have my own funeral paid for, and that you should superintend it. It
will be a great comfort to me to know that when I die there will be
one person in the world who will have as much regard for me as to
see me decently buried.'"
"Then there is not much kind feeling existing between the inmates of
the workhouse?" I said.
"Well, sir, of course they go there as old men and women, and they
do not form friendships easily; still a death never occurs in a
workhouse ward without leaving a greater effect on those in it than
we noticed at that job we were at this morning."
"I should feel obliged," I said, interrupting him "if you would speak
of the interment of my deceased friend in somewhat more respectful
terms than calling it a job."
"I beg your pardon, sir, I meant the funeral we performed."
I felt some objection to the word "performed," but after a moment's
reflection I found it was so appropriate to the occasion, that I let
it pass without observation.
"Then if no friendships are formed in a workhouse ward, how do the
inmates show sorrow at the decease of one of their companions?"
"I don't mean to say absolute sorrow, sir, but a considerable degree
of respect. If a man dies in the male ward, you generally find on
the day of his funeral, all the rest will remain silent and
reserved; talk little to each other; and apparently be absorbed in
their own thoughts. In the women's ward, they generally cry a good
deal, but it soon passes off—far sooner than with the men. I assure
you, sir, there is a great deal that is wrong in the song, or piece
of poetry, that you have heard—
"'Rattle his bones
Over the stones;
He's only a pauper
That nobody owns.'
"You seem to think," I said, "that women get over their grief
sooner than men; is that really the case?"
"Yes it is, sir. Their sorrow is more expressive than the sorrow of
men, and their affection is certainly so too; but they do not grieve
"You mean respectable men, of course."
"No, sir. Even among the coarsest men, I have occasionally met with
instances of great affection. If you will not be offended at my
affability, I will give you a couple of proofs of the truth of what
"So far from being offended," I replied, "you will oblige me
particularly by so doing."
"Well, sir, my first case is that of a man, who was the ganger of a
party of navvies. He was a fellow of about six feet two inches high,
as strong as a horse; and about as ruffianly a brute as ever lived. He was a drunkard, and a bully, and none of his companions liked
him, although from the amount of work he did and the order he kept,
he was always in full employ, and earned
very high wages. He had been married to a very decent sort of woman,
whom he treated with indifference when sober, so long as she got his
meals ready for him—and with great brutality when he was drunk. The
woman died, and left a child, about three years of age. After her
death, Bill Storks and his little girl went to reside with his
sister, a widow woman, in Rotherhithe. Now Bill, who had not a
single particle of affection for any other human being—not even his
own sister—had a wonderful fondness for his child. He used to humour
her in everything, and nothing was too good for her. One day, when
she was about four years old, she was playing near the fire, and
knocked over a kettle of water, which scalded her so severely that
she died from the effects. Bill was away at the time, and as soon as
he received his sister's letter, telling him of the accident, he
left the job he was on, and came home three parts drunk, and raving
mad. His first act was to beat his sister cruelly, and then he
burst into tears, and cried like a child over his little daughter. The police were obliged to interfere, and he was informed that if he
laid his hand on his sister again, he would certainly be locked up,
and taken before a magistrate. As soon as he was sober, however, he
begged his sister's pardon for what he had done, and never laid his
hands on her again. Our people had to perform the funeral, and I had
the management of the job. The mourners consisted of Bill, his
sister, and two navvies. With the exception of the woman, they were
all pretty well intoxicated. The party lounged along, and in time we
reached the churchyard. Bill looked not sorrowful, but defiant, and
scowled around him, as if he should like to find somebody to quarrel
"All passed off quietly enough until the sexton threw some earth
upon the coffin, when the words 'Dust to dust' were said by the
clergyman. Bill then started up, and shaking his fist at the sky,
made use of such expressions against God, for having taken his child
away, that I should be sorry to repeat them. The clergyman looked
astonished, and was evidently upon the point of speaking to Bill,
when one of the navvies lurched up to him, and said, 'Don't mind
him, sir, he has not got his head, and he don't know what he is
saying on. You had better not speak to him, sir, he will be all
"The clergyman took the hint and proceeded with the service, and
when it was over, the party returned homewards. Before they had got
outside the churchyard walls Bill turned round, and began making use
of the same language as before. The woman, terrified, put her hand
upon his mouth and begged him to be quiet, reminding him that God
had the rights to take his child if he pleased.
"'She's right, Bill,' said one of the navvies. Don't stand making a
fool of yourself there.' And the party again turned homewards.
"That evening Bill, as well as his friends, got stupidly drunk upon
beer. He returned home about eleven o'clock at night, when he threw
himself upon the bed with his clothes on, and slept until the next
morning. When he arose he came down stairs and found his sister in
the room, and his breakfast spread out for him on the table. He took
no notice of her, but seating himself at the table, poured out some
tea, and began his meal; he had no appetite, however, and could not
swallow a mouthful. He pushed the things from him in a spiteful sort
of manner, and folding his arms on the table, he laid his head on
them, and there sat quietly for some time.
"At last he arose from his seat, and looking mechanically round the
room, his eye fell on a little basket, which had been a plaything of
his child's. He took it up and examined it for a minute, and then
began looking for other things which had belonged to her. He found a
little rag doll which he himself had made for her, and also a
coloured story-book he had once given to her. This he opened, and
his eye rested on the picture of a lion, on which were the marks of
her little fingers, for he had taught her to beat it, and say,
'Naughty lion.' These, with one or two other little things, he
placed in the basket, which he tied over with paper, and then hung
it on a hook over the chimneypiece. As soon as he had done this he
turned to his sister, who had come into the room. 'Don't let nobody
touch that there, do you hear?' he said. 'Mind if they do they shall
hear of it again, I can tell you.' Then snatching up his hat he left
the house, nor did he return to it again until the evening, and then
he was, as usual, drunk.
"He continued this way of life for two or three days, and then
resolved on going on a job into the country. When he left the house
he gave especial directions as well as threats to his sister,
against allowing any one to touch the basket; and then, without
saying another word, he took up his bundle and went away. In about a
fortnight's time he returned, in consequence of a quarrel he had had
with his mates. They had been drinking together one evening at a
public-house, when one of his comrades, who had joined him that day
said to him, 'I was very sorry to hear about that poor child of
yours, Bill.' Bill was at that moment drinking from a pewter pot. His eyes glared viciously at the man who had spoken to him, and,
saying, with an oath—'What do you speak about her for?' he dashed
the pewter pot at the other's head. Fortunately it did not hit him,
but struck the wall with such force that the pot was doubled up like
a glove. This caused a great row among the other navvies, and Bill
was obliged to leave. His first care on arriving at home was to
examine the little basket, and he gave a growl of satisfaction on
finding it had not been touched. He now loafed about London for some
days, doing no work, and drinking. One morning after breakfast, when
he was sitting quietly by the fire, his sister came into the room
with her bonnet and shawl on. 'Where are you going to, old gal?' he said, good-naturedly. 'I am
going,' she said, 'to get something for dinner, or you will have to
go without one.' 'Stop a minute,' he said, 'and I'll go with you;
only give me time to put on my boots.' He left the room, and his
sister seated herself on a chair to wait until he was ready. She
waited for more than half an hour, and then went until out to see
what he was about. She had hardly got to the door of the room before
she gave a loud scream and fell senseless to the floor. Before her,
in an outhouse in the yard, she saw her brother hanging by his neck
to one of the rafters. As soon as she recovered herself she called
for assistance, and they found the wretched man was quite dead. He
had never been able to get over the loss of his child, and at last
it became so oppressive to him that he put an end to his life.
"The other case is that of a poor widow who, with her two daughters
(one of them a great cripple), lived in one room. They had formerly
seen much better days, and were respectable. Although very
industrious they lived in great poverty, maintaining themselves by
any little jobs of needlework they could get. A time of distress,
however, came on, and work was not very plentiful, and the poor
cripple became worse in consequence of bad living. By away of making
their money go further, they gave up the doctor who usually attended
them, and obtained a ticket for the dispensary instead. The
dispensary doctor was a very kind, humane, and skilful man, and paid
them every attention in his power; but still the cripple did not
improve, and at last they began to be greatly alarmed about her.
"One day the widow said to him, 'Doctor, I am very uneasy about my
child. I wish you would tell me candidly whether there is any
danger.' 'I am sorry to say I should not be telling you the truth
if I said there was not; at the same time she may certainly live a
considerable time yet. Everything will depend upon the way we keep
up her constitution.' 'I am sure, sir' said the widow, she will
willingly take any medicines you may send her.' 'Medicine will do her
very little good,' said the doctor, 'beyond taking a little cod-liver
oil. What she wants is good nursing, good air, and plenty of
nourishment; the first, I know she has; the second, I fear she
cannot get; and you must make every effort to obtain the third. Meat
she must have every day, in some shape or other; beef-tea would be
as good as anything for her; and she ought also to have at least
a pint of porter, and a glass or two of port wine.'
"The poor woman sighed when she heard the doctor's directions, but
made no remark. There was only one way of obeying them; and that
was by pawning her things as far as they would go. This, however,
was not done without the mother and the other daughter suffering
great privation in consequence. I believe they lived upon nothing
but bread and water, and very little of that. The poor cripple
noticed how little they took, and pressed them to take some of the
things they had procured for her; but they made excuse that they had
no appetite, and did not care for meat or beer.
"At last the poor cripple gradually got worse, and died, just when
their means were nearly exhausted. It was really beautiful to see
the attention and kindness shown to the poor girl during her last
illness, by both mother and sister. She required a good deal of
nursing; and night and day they were unceasing in their attendance
on her. One was always on duty, while the other worked hard with her
needle, to obtain what little money they could by soldiers'
shirt-making. They never appeared to be tired, and the knowledge
that they were benefiting the poor girl seemed to keep up their
strength. After her death they had, of course, to bury her; but how
to do this they did not know, without asking the parish to let them
have a pauper's funeral. This, however, the mother and daughter
would on no account allow; and they set to work, night and day,
with their needle, to earn, if possible, enough to pay the expenses
of a funeral of the cheapest sort. They did not, however, succeed;
and at last the other lodgers began to complain of their keeping the
body so long in the room. They wanted one pound still to make up the
required sum; and the mother—in despair—went to the parish
officers, and asked whether they would be kind enough to let her
have a sovereign in order to bury her daughter. This could not be
done; for the Poor Law prohibits it. The clerk told her the
Guardians were only allowed to pay the whole or none. What to do
now, the poor woman did not know! To submit to a pauper's funeral
she would not; and to pay for another she could not. At last our
governor came to her help, and he said to her, 'My good soul, I will
tell you what I will do. I must send a parish coffin in the day time
to your house, that all may seem fair and straightforward; but in
the evening I will take it away and leave you another; the Guardians
will pay me for a parish funeral, and you can make it up to me after
it is over, and I will return them the money.'
"Well, the poor woman thankfully accepted the offer, and paid in
advance what money she had in hand. The funeral was ordered to take
place the next day,—and a very decent one it was, as I know, having
conducted it myself. The mother and daughter were the only mourners;
and I never saw greater sorrow than theirs. I noticed the widow, as
she stood by the grave, weeping bitterly. I think I see her now,—a
tall, pale-faced, thin-looking woman; and when it came to 'dust to
dust, and ashes to ashes,' she sank on her knees in a very curious
manner. It was not as if she had no strength, but it seemed rather
as if some heavy hand had been placed on the back of her neck,
against her will, which pressed her down, down, on her knees, at
last bending her head almost to the earth.
"The funeral over, we returned to the house. The mother and daughter
were sorrowful enough all that day, there was no doubt of it. The
next morning they opened the window and commenced cleaning the room; they were silent and sad as they were putting things away—but
still there were no tears. As soon as they had got things a little
put to rights, they again set to work to earn sufficient money to
pay the balance of the funeral expenses to our governor. He was
a good-natured man, and told them there was no necessity, as the
parish would not ask for the money, 'he was sure.' They told him
they were much obliged to him, but it was a mark of respect to the
one who was dead; and they were determined to pay every
shilling—which they honestly did. When the amount was made up, all
sorrow seemed to have left them. Understand me, sir, I do not mean
to say that they did not love the poor girl as dearly as ever; but
they did not grieve for her. They now managed to get on a little bit
in the world; and six months after the death of her sister, the
other girl married, and is now doing very well, and her mother still
lives with her.
"There was another case I met with—" Here a violent ringing was
heard at the door.
"Here's your cab, sir," said the undertaker's man, breaking off
suddenly, and hurriedly helping me on with my coat, and putting my
hat in my hand, as if he wished to get home as soon as possible. He
accompanied me to the street door, where I saw his companion, whom
he had sent for the cab.
"I am sorry I have kept you waiting, sir," he said; "but I had a
good deal of difficulty in finding a cab; it is such a nasty night,
they are very difficult to be had."
"I am much obliged to you for the trouble you have taken," I
replied, slipping at the same time a half-a-crown into his hand.
My loquacious friend noticed the gift, and immediately the
familiarity of his manner ceased, and he again assumed the solemn
aspect natural to the undertaker's man. The two now accompanied me
across the pavement to the cab, assisting me as I entered it in the
same manner they are accustomed to do on helping persons into a
mourning coach. They then closed the cab door, and retreating under
the portico, stood watching me on each side of the street door, with
the solemn aspect of a couple of mutes. The coachman then drove off,
and I threw myself back in the cab,—reflecting during my way home on
the mutability of human affairs.
THEATRES AND MUSIC HALLS.
THOSE readers of
the Argosy who have happened to cast their eyes upon previous papers
of mine will not suppose that I am at all dependent upon "Harry
Clifton," or the "Great Vance," or the "Inimitable Mackney," for the
amusement of my leisure, or that I can be interested, except as a
student of human nature, in songs like "Pretty Little Sarah,"
"Paddle your Own Canoe," or in any of the songs sung at third-rate
music-halls, with titles very much like the titles I meet with in
turning over music-books of the time of the Regency—such as "Go it,
if it kills you," "Widow Waddle's Jig," "Betsy's Delight," or
"Carlton House in a Bustle,"—from which I infer that the tastes of
the lower music-hall public are not very unlike the tastes of the
"fashionable" public before I was born. But, precisely because
I cannot be supposed to have any personal interest in the subject, I
may the more safely take up, in a passing way, a question which will
some day have historic interest, and emphasize, by anecdote and
comment, words of toleration and faiths in human nature which,
during the ten years for which I have been writing, I have never
lost an opportunity of speaking, with various applications.
Necessities of space compel the omission here of a discussion
of the place and function of Art in great cities. In that
discussion, however, I have taken, for purposes of illustration, the
ballet (it is always best to take the bull by the horns), which is
the most soundly abused of all entertainments, and, after allowing
for the very worst thing that the least amenable of critics can have
to say, I find myself compelled in fairness, to judge of public
entertainments in which there is one grain of Art, on principles
which are chiefly these :—
I. The function of Art is to chasten, while
delighting, by a symmetrical reflection of the play of human
passion, ever ascending into the sphere of emotion.
II. By presenting Beauty and Order as ends to be
sought for their own sake, Art, though not moral, allies itself with
III. Therefore, so long as Art continues faithful to
Beauty, it cannot, of itself, be inimical to Morality.
IV. The moment Art ceases to be beautiful, it becomes
powerless to give delight; it can then only confer pleasure, which
can be had better and cheaper without Art.
V. Under those circumstances, any exhibition
claiming to be artistic will chiefly attract pleasure-seekers.
VI. These pleasure-seekers would, under any circumstances,
find their pleasure; so that the grain of Art which the
exhibition may Gold in suspension is so much to the good.
I cannot help it (for the present) if there appears an almost
ludicrous remoteness in the application of these hints to an
imminent public question, the decision of which cannot fail to be a
landmark in the history of civilized freedom. The question is
just now fought as a free-trade question, but no such phraseology
can really cover the ground of the battle, though, for the present
(1866) the commercial aspect of the matter comes to the front.
Freedom of trade is the only kind of freedom which the multitude of
men can be got to understand at present; and much suffering and
degradation grow out of that limited intelligence of theirs.
We must continue to do the best we can and lift up the first flag
that comes handy (and this flag has a prestige about it, besides
being handy)—for the battle will not wait; but in the meanwhile we
need not be unheedful of larger, remoter issues than any which the
flag of free-trade covers. Free trade, free religion, free
art, and free self-culture are all bound up in the same bundle, and
stand or fall together. Our present concern is with a question
of free art and free trade combined.
In the capital of England, where the Court is situated,
Theatres and Plays, considered as actable, exist, in the last
resort, by sufferance of a quasi-public functionary, the Lord
Chamberlain; who has been gaily, and not without cause (as we shall
see) called the Lord Chambermaid. He may refuse his license to
any play, or any theatre—therefore, to every play, and every
theatre: an absurd, but not abstractly inconceivable result.
The Lord Chamberlain and his assistants may be, and sometimes are,
sensible and cultivated persons,  but the
function personified is what I speak of, and it is one of the least
credible anomalies of modern times. The Lord Chamberlain,
then, is a lineal descendant of the Master of the Revels: is a relic
of the days when masques and plays were in the first instance a kind
of privilege of the Court, and a functionary was supposed to be
necessary, to see that nothing "unhandsome" came "betwixt the wind"
and the "nobility." The vulgar might have may-poles and
dancing bears, and conjuring and tumbling, but the drama was not for
them—except as Lazarus might gather scraps at the door of Dives.
In the play-bills of the old patent theatres (Drury Lane and Covent
Garden) the actors still describe themselves as (his or) her
Majesty's servants, and seriously-disposed justices of the peace in
the provinces still look upon actors as vagabonds and sturdy
beggars. Great changes have arisen in dramatic matters since
the two largest theatres lost their patents, but the Lord
Chamberlain still remains, retaining and exercising his authority,
though at the moment at which I write, another change is evidently
breaking upon the horizon of dramatic and quasi-dramatic
Meanwhile, there is something almost too absurd for
contemplation in the exercise of certain functions by the Lord
Chamberlain. Somebody writes, for example, to inform him that,
in the somebody's opinion, the skirts of the ballet-girls at some
particular theatre are too short. His Lordship (I suppose)
goes, or sends, to see, and then forwards an intimation to the
director of the theatre that his young ladies must wear longer
dresses. They manage these things worse in France, 
(I have in my mind, while writing, a certain police regulation about
the Cancan); but I should think Englishmen can scarcely endure the
image of an elderly gentleman whose duty it is to see that the
tunics of English girls are long enough; or that they have the
regulation "skirt-tacks." Pray let us have a public
Chambermaid for these purposes—if they can be supposed matters for
any public functionary whatever. For my part, I hold them to
be matters of public sentiment. "With no one to embody it?"
With no one legally constituted to embody it. I believe
public sentiment, left to itself, will always, in such matters,
create a police of good understanding which cannot be evaded; while
the police of a function can be and is evaded; the growth of sound
sentiment being moreover retarded by the mere fact of the function's
existence. There is ample proof that the mischiefs aimed at,
for example, by Lord Campbell's Act, are much increased by the
existence of the Act.
However, to return. Between the Act of Parliament which
undertakes (we all know what queer things Acts of Parliament do
undertake, and they will undertake queerer things still as more
mediocrities find their way into the House of Commons) to define a
stage play, and the Lord Chamberlain's exercise of his functions, a
difficulty has arisen which, from its relations, historic and
philosophical, is worthy of deliberate notice.
In the time of Shakspeare, I have read that gallants smoked
and refreshed themselves at the theatres just as they pleased.
The habits of the Germans we all know, though I am not aware that,
except at the "summer" theatres, there is smoking in theatres even
in Germany. As it so happens that I am constitutionally
intolerant of tobacco in any shape, I have personally no desire (but
very much the reverse) that people should ever smoke in the theatres
of my own country. But I stand for justice—to everybody.
The habits of the English people, the masses, are no secret.
They like smoking; they like eating and drinking; they have no
notion of amusement without them. A small tradesman and his
wife going from Chelsea to Gravesend on board a Thames steamer,
begin to smoke, sip, and skin shrimps almost as soon as the
paddle-wheels are in motion. We also know (though one is
surprised to see how many well-informed people underrate it) the
fondness of "the common people" for singing and music—especially in
company. Now, in our own day, every kind of amusement is
provided on competitive and commercial principles, and paid for, to
be enjoyed in masses,  and my reader does not
want another word to lead him up to those strange places, called
Music-halls. Where or how the discrepancy first arose, or how
it grew to its present size, is another question; but the fact is,
that the half-cultivated population of our great cities who want
amusement has enormously increased, while the drama has not
overtaken their tastes, though, for the drama itself, there is still
a sufficient and a largely increased public. However, the
"Music-halls" all over the kingdom are filled nightly with
multitudes of men and women, who, while the singing or dancing
proceeds upon the stage, sit at tables or lounge about, munching,
drinking, smoking, chattering, laughing,—monster convivial parties,
in fact, held in public, the guests being about as much known to
each other as the guests at hundreds of "distinguished" balls or
"receptions" in a London season. The audiences, of course, are
as miscellaneous as possible, and widely different in different
parts of London and the provinces. In one quarter you have a
preponderance of the small tradesman and artisan element; but there
is always, of course, a large infusion of the pleasure-seeking
population of great cities. You cannot expect to go to any
such place without being brought face to face with the abandonment
of youth, eager for "pleasure;" nor can the least felicitous
concomitant of the scene blot out the grace of youth.
Being blind to nothing, I must still say that merely as a show of
animal spirits and young blood, I think a place like the Alhambra a
splendid spectacle. I happened to be there on the night of the
Oxford and Cambridge boat-race, when there was, I suppose, a much
larger sprinkling than usual of the best youth of England: and I was
powerfully moved by the beauty of the young men's faces. I was
there for some hours, moving about, watching, and listening, and
whatever I saw that I wished away, I left the place proud of my
country. And let me entreat the reader to remember that good
people have too often an exaggerating pruriency of their own, which
makes them quite unjust to mixed assemblies of human beings whose
object is distinctly "pleasure." Their budgets of "depravity"
will not really bear handling. Things are quite bad enough,
but their pathetic nonsense will seldom stand cross-examination.
In a parliamentary committee which sat some years ago upon
public-houses, a witness, speaking of a certain Saloon, said he
could not describe to the committee the scenes which he had
witnessed there. This answer I once found quoted in a magazine
article by an accomplished lady who was criticising in a very noble
and beautiful spirit the impurities of certain by-paths of modern
life. This "sensation" answer had evidently struck her mind
with horror; but what are the facts? The witness in question
was asked at a later period of his examination to explain what he
meant by not being able to describe the "scenes" he had witnessed.
His reply was, that the character and variety of the entertainments
were such as he could not describe! And how many old-bogie
stories of the sort break down in a similar way when rigorously
handled. Can anything be more absurd than what the terrified
pruriency of very well-meaning people figures to itself about what
"goes on" (that is a favourite phrase, goes on—it is so
deliciously mysterious!) "behind the scenes," or the "depravity" of
the ballet-girls? It is useless to disguise the fact that the
scene behind the scene to an unaccustomed eye is full of
piquancy. It cannot be unamusing, for example, to come close
to half a dozen women in short muslin clouds, laughing and
chattering—the usual innocent chatter of women; or to exchange
civilities with a lithe young creature of nineteen, whom you never
saw before and will never see again, with her bright curls gathered
up close round her little neck, in the dress of a (stage) fairly
prince, or a (stage) Watteau shepherd. There is piquancy in
this, as there is in smelling a rose or drinking a glass of wine, or
walking up Regent-street in the season on a fine afternoon.
But the piquancy does not, with ordinary human beings, survive use;
and the closer one gets to any class of one's fellow-creatures the
more one is struck by their resemblance to each other, and the great
excess of what is good and loveable over what is not. The
prurient good people think with horror of the "orgies" or
"saturnalia" that "go on" behind the unconscious curtain. Drop
them down suddenly in the midst of stage "business," and they would
be astonished to find that actresses are very much like their own
sisters, and that visitors must—get out of the way. Again let
me say there is no disguising the piquancy of the scene to certain
people—but they are not the people who would go behind the scenes,
expecting to find orgies or saturnalia there, any more than they are
people who think a thunderbolt ought to fall because a young girl in
a short tunic stands "chaffing" a stage-carpenter for a moment.
In dealing with any class of human beings of whom we know but
little, we must begin by dropping the old-bogie way of
thinking of them, if we want to get at the truth. For my part,
I repeat, I am not blind to the worst that can be said upon such
matters, and when that worst is allowed for, I maintain that the
good of the whole case is greater than the evil, and that these are
matters in which we have, above all things, to begin by being just.
We shall never better our fellow-creatures if we commence by looking
at them through the cloud of an old-bogie sensibility.
It so happens that another illustration of this subject is
ready to my hand. I had once myself, along with most people, a
very exaggerated idea of the amount of drinking that goes on at
these "music-halls." But after taking pains to observe and to
inquire, I am satisfied that the total amount of what is spent in
eating, drinking, and cigars is quite inconsiderable. Great
stress is laid, by those who know the habits of the working and
small trading classes, upon the fact that the wife is very often the
companion of the husband at these places—keeping him, it is
suggested, out of mischief. On the other hand, no doubt, some
wives may learn to drink themselves at such places. But, on
the whole, these monstrous symposia of the "people" point to
changes in our manners which, after a time, will prove to be for the
The chief difficulty lying in the way of any such change is
the indifferent, or positively bad quality, of the entertainment
given at the Music-halls. And so long as the Theatre proper is
"protected," how can we throw stones at the Music-halls? They
cannot give a dialogue, or a ballet with a story in it, without
serious risk, as the law stands. The utter absurdity of
restricting an entertainment to dumb show, or singing in
evening-dress, and then wondering that the audience contains
elements which are not of the choicest, is surely patent. For
the discussion of the question of "privilege" I have no patience.
To permit any people, any where, performing a play at
their own risk, and in their own way, is part of a policy for which
there are no words of scorn strong enough. Let us not lose our
temper over the subject, or over that of the function of the Lord
Chamberlain. A play is, of all things, that which is most
openly submitted to public opinion, and most rapidly and decisively
judged by it. A book, if it is bad, may have dropped poison
into a thousand hearts before anybody points it out, and even then
it cannot be recalled from the hands of those who have bought it.
But a play is submitted at once to the criticism of two thousand
people of average character and intelligence, and is liable to be
"damned" in an hour. If the Lord Chamberlain is less critical
than the average audience, he is worse than useless; if he is only
as critical, he is a cipher; if he were more critical, his
judgments could not be enforced. He is a simple absurdity.
Those who think he is useful in the interests of public virtue must
deal with the three alternatives just put, or, if they prefer it,
they may deal with Milton's scornful retort upon a similar
point—"Public virtue! public folly, rather—for who shall judge
of public virtue?"
I should be very glad if words of mine could help to induce
others to look without prejudice upon the coarseness of the
audiences, and the entertainments, at some of the fifth-rate places
of amusement in great cities. My own habits are those of a
very quiet, studious person; I have delicate health, and fastidious
senses—and yet I can tolerate, and with amused interest, a great
deal from which some very good people turn harshly away. At
the "Bower Saloon," Stangate, Westminster, I have witnessed a drama
called, in the bill of the play,
EFFECTS OF FAMILY
HATRED CARRIED ON
but I also saw once, and with pleasure, a girl act Hamlet there.
And very creditably she did it too, although she was so ignorant
that in the great soliloquy she said "sickled" for "sicklied."
On this occasion, the house was so crowded that the gallery audience
overflowed on to the sloping roofs of the boxes, and there was a
ring of naked, shoeless legs dangling in pairs over the heads of the
indignant dress-circle. Indeed, the excitement of the people
was so great (excusably, for Miss G――
was the only lady Hamlet I had then ever heard of, though Miss
Marriott has acted Hamlet since) that a disturbance appeared
imminent at one time of the evening. However, the Polonius of
the tragedy Mr. B――, came before
the drop-scene between the acts, and made an angry speech, of which
I caught a few words,—". . . . policeman at the door. . . . one of
you got a week the other day . . . . disgrace the savages in the
backwoods . . . ." The remainder was lost in a storm of
applause, and order was restored for the rest of the evening.
Generally speaking the behaviour of the people at third-rate and
fifth-rate places of amusement has almost incredibly improved within
the last six or eight years. I have been present at
performances at the east-end theatres , and at
the Victoria Theatre in the south, without being able to hear one
word of what the actors said. But all this is now changed.
It is true you may still see in the pit of a second-rate theatre (at
the Surrey you may see it) such a thing as a placard in which
"Persons are requested not to crack nuts during the performance;"
and there may be an occasional squabble, and a cry for "the Bobbies"
(vulgar for policemen); but that is the worst that happens.
Monday night and Saturday night are, of course, always noisy nights;
on Friday (the "order" night) the audience is not so "genteel;" and,
of course, at holiday-times the sovereign "people" have it a good
deal their own way. I was in the pit of a third-rate theatre
on Boxing-night, 1865. It was an hour's work to get in, and I
had to stand all the time, wedged in between two women and two or
three men, who talked incessantly, and in the coarsest conceivable
vein. The roughs in the place, men and women, joined in the
chorus of one of the songs imported from the Music-halls into the
pantomime ("Free-and-Easy" is the name of the song), and the
"swells" in the stalls stood up and turned their backs on the stage
to applaud the chanting roughs. I do not think the
conversational license taken by men and women of "the common people"
at inferior theatres at all exceeds that taken in private boxes at
first-class theatres; though, of course, talking in the body of the
place is more objectionable to listeners, and the tournure
of the phrases is not so elegant. Let me take the liberty of
supposing that you are in the pit of a fifth-rate theatre, and
listening to what goes on behind you or at your side, where there is
a household party—a tradesman, his wife, a friend of the family, and
his sweetheart. This is the kind of thing you might hear, as a
" comic" actor came forward with an absurd make-up:―
First Gentleman.—Oh! golley; aint he a reg'lar Cure!
His wife.—Now, then, Joe-in-the-copper, speak up; will you?
Second Gentleman.—Gawdstruth, aint he a
Sweetheart.—Oh my, jiminy! he is a head o'
This is not edifying; but you can well believe in the solid
virtues of people who are capable of such felicities.
By-and-by the conversation is resumed:―
Second Gentleman.—Have you seen Ovinia 
Sweetheart.—No; not yet.
Second Gentleman.—Ah, you've got to, I can tell you!
I cried like a water-cart when the kid dies—it is cutting, I can
Mamma.—Ropes of inions?
Gentleman.—Ah, it is inions, that is!
Sweetheart.―I s'pose it's a
very deep tradegy? Spoken with critical gravity, the present
writer having somehow betrayed that he is listening.
Gentleman.—(Evading the high-art question). I
ain't cried so much—not since I see Belphegor. I'll
take you to see her.
This is delivered with an air of patronage which would not
disgrace a Sultan; and then the happy pair fall to upon their
provisions, and flakes of piecrust fall, like rose-leaves, at the
feet of the lovers as they munch. Some commonplace question is
asked of me, which I answer with civility, and then, rising to
depart, I have the satisfaction of hearing myself called, in a
whisper, "a affable gent."
Some years ago I went one night to a place of cheap
entertainment called the Rotunda, in the Blackfriars-road, near the
bridge. It is now, I believe, a fire-stove shop, the little
circus having been put down as a nuisance but I lay no stress upon
that fact, for the ordinary, respectable Englishman,
especially the English shopkeeper, calls nearly everything unusual a
nuisance, and particularly anything that gathers a mob of roughs
together. That roughs frequented this Rotunda I know, for I
saw and heard them "roughing" on the night of my visit, and I do not
doubt that thieves and ill-conditioned people of all sorts were
there; but the audience behaved as well as any audience could
possibly behave, and one could hardly help being glad at heart to
see them sitting there so quietly, out of mischief for the time, and
getting the benefit of even so low a form of art. There was
solo singing in "character" (a cobbler, a Scotchman, an Irishman,
very coarse, but with no real harm about either the song or the
characterization), solo dancing, a rope performance, and a ballet
d'action. A ballet d'action―that
is to say, a ballet in which there is a story, as distinguished from
a ballet divertissement, in which there is (supposed to be)
none—is illegal; but my friends of the Rotunda evidently thought
they were keeping sufficiently to windward of the law by avoiding
dialogue, for the story of this ballet was told in the most
undisguised manner by the mere action; though, for the assistance of
slack wits, it was told in black and white also. The
stage-manager, at every turn of the plot, held up in front of the
stage a placard to say what was happening, as
SHE IS JEALOUS,
or—HE ENLISTS FOR A SOLDIER,
or— THEY ARE TO BE MARRIED TO-MORROW.
This last notification was received with tremendous applause.
As is universally the case at the low-class theatres even more than
at the better sort, I found the audience had their old
favourites. A half-withered, moiled-looking woman of fifty
odd, who danced in the ballet, was received and pursued with storms
of clapping and compliment—"Condemn my sanguinary organs of vision!
the old girl stuck to it, didn't she, Bill?" The performance
closed with a little exhibition on the tight-rope, in which the
clown, a quiet, decent, worn-looking man of about thirty, and his
very lovely young wife took part. I shall never forget the
exquisitely-turned limbs of this little woman. The rope on
which she had to walk went straight across the pit until it attached
itself to a fastening in the boxes, or gallery, so that this pretty
creature had to walk clean over the heads of the people in the
pit—over mine among the rest. Her husband, proud, I am sure,
of her beauty, followed her transit with jealous eyes; but it was
unnecessary. Honi soit qui mal y pense—it was a
chivalric pit. As for me, I believe I was suspected of being a
spy—though I hummed nigger tunes, jested with my neighbours, and
looked as much like a blackguard as I possibly could, in order to
My success, however, was not satisfactory to my own mind; and
the next time I visited a "gaff"—this was in Shoreditch—I sought,
and obtained for the sum of fourpence, a private box all to myself.
The premises were so confined that, in coming out, I lost my way,
after having taken only a step or two, into somebody's back parlour,
where there were plates and dishes set on a clean tablecloth, all
ready for supper. There was no smell of cooking about, but
that is nothing; the neighbourhood is a paradise of fried fish,
baked potatoes, whelks, eels, cockles, mutton-pies, cranberry tarts,
pig's trotters, and "faggots."  At this
place there was no ballet. The audience was what you might
expect. There were fiddlers, with a clarionet, a flute, and a
piano in the very last stage of knockiness—every bit of baize having
evidently been worn off the furrowed keys. This delicious
instrument, retained perhaps for the purpose of giving a refined air
to the entertainment, was feverishly played by a bald-headed, little
old man, who had so respectable an appearance that I wondered how he
had drifted into such a place. There were women there of all
ages; and one pleasant-looking young creature in the very centre of
the pit, with a babe held fast to her uncovered bosom. The
mother had no ring on, but she had an innocent face, 
and her presence did me good.
The first thing I heard from my private box was the then new
song, "God bless the Prince of Wales!" The Prince had just
been married, and the more distinctly loyal and affectionate parts
of the song were soundly and, I undertake to say, sincerely
applauded. Let me be excused for being sentimental enough to
add that I was moved by the evident heartiness with which I saw
these poor roughs—some of them pickpockets and drifted women—wished
well to the marriage. The singers of the song were two—a young
man, and a tall, stout woman, with highly-pomatumed hair, a
wedding-ring and keeper, a silk gown fixed high in the neck with a
large brooch, and a bunch of flowers in her hand—which was red and
large with labour. This song was followed by others—the usual
Irishman, Scotchman, and what not. Then came what the
Music-hall people will persist in calling a duologue. 
Two men, one representing Gutta Percha, and the other Leather, had a
sort of sham fight, mixed up with tumbling, singing, and banter, the
victory always leaning to the side of Leather, which greatly
delighted the audience. I need not say that all this was to me
very tedious buffoonery; but though some of the jokes were
unquestionable doubles entendres, as gross as any in
Shakspeare, I really lay no particular stress upon the fact as an
index of character. Humour must always turn on things
in which there is a quick and easy common understanding, and what
those things are which most readily present themselves to the mind
of the humorist depends on culture. Even this low humour had
an infinitesimal grain of art in it, and, honestly, I don't believe
people were measurably better or measurably worse for listening to
it; and I am satisfied that the majority of the women, in this
audience as in others, did not "take" the jokes. It is the
silly conceit of men, rather than any real depravity of instinct,
which makes them find anything to enjoy in this garbage.
However, after this "comic" singing had been continued till I was
very sick indeed, the audience began impatiently to stamp, clap,
whistle, and shriek out some word which I could not catch. Who
was the traveller that has recorded his bewilderment at some Paris
theatre when he heard everybody calling out, Ree-cat! Ree-cat!
This (as some readers may guess) turned out to be clipped French for
Henri Quatre; but no bewilderment could exceed that of the
gentleman in the private box, when every voice in this "gaff" seemed
to him to be shouting "Crœsus!
"What on earth could the people mean by this classical reference?
My wonder soon ceased, when a gentleman, who was hailed with the
greatest enthusiasm, came on to the stage and began to sing a song
called "Water-Cresses." This gave unspeakable delight, the
audience making up a chorus at the end of each verse, thus―
"She promised for to marry me, upon the
first of May,
With a gold ring and a bunch of watercreases!"
At the close of this entertainment the place was cleared, and
after a short time, a second audience admitted to a repetition of
the programme, or something fresh. In this manner such places
are made to pay.
The audiences at the better-class Theatres and Music-halls
stand related to audiences such as I have been speaking of, as the
people at a west-end club to the people in a beer-house parlour.
Upon all this I would merely found an à
fortiori argument in favour of the removal of all restraint but
police restraint, such as is exercised in the next street, from
places of public entertainment in which the common standards of
decency are maintained. In these matters, as in all others,
the nursing or protective policy applied in one direction, and the
exclusive policy applied in another, are found to have the usual
results. The "protected" entertainment degrades in quality,
and actually fetches "attractions" from the "unprotected." The
staple of the thing now called a burlesque or extravaganza,
consists, positively, of grotesque singing and dances imported from
the Music-halls into the Theatres. The Theatre prevents the
Music-hall from attempting to give anything like a dramatic
entertainment. The Music-hall gets up these singing
grotesqueries because it must do something lively, and then it is
avenged upon its "protected" enemy by the policy of imitation which
the latter is forced to adopt. Really it is a ridiculous piece
Probably I shall not be expected to go out of my way to
observe that neither at Theatres nor at Music-halls do I find what
appears to me most desirable in the way of popular entertainment.
But everywhere I find more to hope than to fear. I wish,
indeed, I could expect, in small compass, to express my deep sense
of the social importance of mixed assemblies, in which people of all
classes, out of jails and bedlams, are permitted to meet together
for some common purpose, under no restraints but those of police.
The tone of mixed assembles, taken as wholes, is always so much
higher than the tone of their lower elements, that they are among
the most efficacious instruments of education in manners. The
very coarsest put on their "best behaviour" before strangers; and so
the habit of self-restraint is begun. When the very worst has
been said for the very worst assembly of people that could be got
together, it still remains true that all classes of people have a
right to meet and amuse themselves in their own way. The
better the amusements they choose, the more they will be
benefited—we need not waste words over truisms; but our first duty
is to leave them their choice. This, at all events, is a
lesson in fair dealing—if we accompany our non-interference by an
expression of opinion that their choice might be better. The
prime duty, here as elsewhere, is to be simply just. If we
strive to be just, we shall not miss our reward. I never came
away from any assembly of my fellow-creatures, gathered together to
partake of an entertainment in common, without feeling my faith in
human nature raised, without a deep triumphing sense how much the
good exceeds the bad, wherever men and women meet in large numbers
together. Do you remember Sir Roger de Coverlet' at the play?
"As soon as the house was full and the candles lighted, my old
friend stood up and looked about him with that pleasure which a mind
seasoned with humanity naturally feels in itself at the sight of a
multitude of people who seem pleased with one another, and partake
of the same common entertainment." I never go to a place of
amusement without seeing the ghost of the good old man standing up
in the middle of the area.
For the sake of an argument à
fortiori (which the reader will construe as kindly as he can),
let me again speak for a moment of myself. No man can be more
reticent in his personal habits, no man can have stronger
convictions as to what is wrong or in bad taste at any place of
public amusement, no man can be more deeply pledged by his
antecedents and avowed principles to the "faith which Milton held,"
no man can possibly feel more acutely the incongruity between a
speech of Imogen or Rosalind and the clinking of glasses in a half
regardless crowd. But my likes and dislikes, my approvals and
disapprovals, are no guides for others, and I commit the greatest
possible wrong if I attempt to enforce them. You do not like
the idea of Hamlet's soliloquy delivered in the midst of
tobacco-smoke? No more do I. But who are you, pray?
Somebody else does like it, and you have no more right to
prevent his having it than you have to prevent his wearing a rose in
his button-hole, or employing a doctor whom you think a
quack. Nor is this all. There is no fact of the same
mixed order for which such an overwhelming mass of evidence can be
collected as the fact that all attempts to make laws for purposes of
protection, nursing, or guidance, are worse than stultified; they
are always punished by the event; and the people who are
intended to be benefited are generally the greatest sufferers.
So it was in the beginning, and so it will be for ever. The
watchword of true progress is, Hands off! It proceeds by
inducements, not by penalties; and only when unjust compulsion is
removed does any work of real improvement begin. For my part,
wherever the battle of freedom is fought, I fling myself into it; it
does not matter how much there is of what is ugly on the side of
those who are struggling; for the first condition of goodness is
liberty. When we, who stand for justice, hear people say that
the drama must be "protected," we reply, Nothing but rights
shall be protected if we can help it—if people like to meet together
and hear Mr. Tennyson's In Memoriam, Blair's Sermons,
or Herbert's Porch to the Temple, read while they are eating
and drinking, it is no business of anybody. For my part, to
use the words of Macaulay in his speech on the Chapels Bill in the
year 1844, I contend against the intolerance of these people now, in
precisely the same spirit as that in which I should be ready, in
case of need, to contend for their rights against intolerance from
any other side; and I only wish we had a few more of the
old-fashioned Liberals, like Mr. Locke and Mr. Clay, to fight in the
1. Lord Sydney and Mr. Donne (the Examiners of
Plays) are gentlemen of liberal feeling and high culture.
2. Let me say here, that I blush to the quick for
some of my confrères—who go
to Paris and come back imperialised. We are perpetually
pestered with what they do "in Paris." But who cares what they
do "in Paris?"
3. I have elsewhere expressed my regret that this
should be so; but it is not to be helped. Above all it is not
to be hindered by any act of injustice.
4. It has little to do with the subject, but I may
perhaps be allowed to express my surprise that people are still
found who risk opera at theatres in the south of London, where it is
always a dead failure. In the east, it is a success; because
there are so many Jews living there. I have heard La
Traviata and Il Trovatore at the Standard Theatre, and
have been surprised, as well as amused, at the keen criticism of the
pit upon the performance.
5. This adjuration is, in nine cases out of ten,
employed by the poor with no more idea of the meaning than they
would have of the meaning of 'zounds.
6. This is vulgar for Miss Avonia Jones. I
need not say that it is impossible for "the common people" not to
alter a name. They turn Reynolds into Randles, Albert into
Alibert, Nine Elms into Nine Ellums, Alexandra into Alexandria,
omnibus into omminibus, and Westminster into Westminster. Who
would grudge them a pleasure so innocent?
7. I will not assume the responsibility of
recommending any one to eat a faggot, but the smell is
delicious. It is the night-policeman's joy! "Does your
husband sleep, when he comes home at six in broad daylight?" said I
to a policeman's wife, once. "Law, yes, sir," said she, "I
stuffs a 'ankercher into the mug, to keep it hot, along with the
gravy, and he has his faggit, and goes sound asleep as a church."
8. She might have pawned her ring; but even if she
had none to pawn, those of my readers who the most rigidly hold to
the association of virtue and order, need not doubt that the woman's
face was innocent. There are, or were, until quite recently,
corners of London, where, as in some forest district in England, the
essence of conjugal virtue exists, though the form and name are
alien to the people's ideas. Now and then I am told a
clergyman undertakes a civilizade into these retreats, and
marries the willing couples; and I once heard an amusingly painful
anecdote of a just-married mother of four children going and
flaunting her newly-acquired "virtue" in the face of another mother
of a family—not yet married—who had nursed the other lady through a
long illness, and pawned her flat-irons to help her. The
ungrateful lady was hustled for her pains by some of the other
ladies, and in the evening there were a few fights got up among the
gentlemen—chiefly bricklayers' labourers—on this great public
9. There is no such word as this, which is a jumble
of Greek and Latin.
AS all the world
knows, the old fortifications of Vienna have been pulled down,—the
fortifications which used to surround the centre or kernel of the
city; and the vast spaces thus thrown open and forming a broad ring
in the middle of the town have not as yet been completely filled up
with those new buildings and gardens which are to be there, and
which, when there, will join the outside city and the inside city
together, so as to make them into one homogeneous whole. The
work, however, is going on, and if the war which has come does not
swallow everything appertaining to Austria into its maw, the ugly
remnants of destruction will be soon carted away, and the old glacis
will be made bright with broad pavements and gilded railings, and
well-built lofty mansions and gardens beautiful with shrubs—and
beautiful with turf also, if Austrian patience can make turf to grow
beneath Austrian sky. But if the war that has now begun to
rage is allowed to have its way, as most men think that it will, it
does not require any wonderful prophet to foretell that Vienna will
remain ugly, and that the dust of the brickbats will not be made
altogether to disappear for another half century.
No sound of coming war had as yet been heard in Vienna in the
days, not yet twelve months since, to which this story refers.
On an evening of September, when there was still something left of
daylight at eight o'clock, two girls were walking together in the
Burgplatz, or large open space which lies between the city palace of
the Emperor and the gate which passes thence from the old town out
to the new town. Here at present stand two bronze equestrian
statues, one of the Archduke Charles, and the other of Prince
Eugene. And they were standing there also, both of them, when
these two girls were walking round them; but that of the Prince had
not as yet been uncovered for the public. There was coming a
great gala day in the city. Emperors and empresses, archdukes
and grand-dukes, with their archduchesses and grand-duchesses, and
princes and ministers, were to be there, and the new statue of
Prince Eugene was to be submitted to the art critics of the world.
There was very much thought at Vienna of the statue in those days.
Well; since that the statue has been submitted to the art critics,
and henceforward it will be thought of as little as any other huge
bronze figure of a prince on horseback. A very ponderous
prince is poised in an impossible position, on an enormous dray
horse. But yet the thing is grand, and Vienna is so far a
finer city in that it possesses the new equestrian statue of Prince
"There will be such a crowd, Lotta," said the elder of the
two girls, "that I will not attempt it. Besides, we shall have
plenty of time for seeing it afterwards."
"Oh yes," said the younger girl, whose name was Lotta
Schmidt; "of course we shall all have enough of the old prince for
the rest of our lives; but I should like to see the grand people
sitting up there on the benches; and there will be something nice in
seeing the canopy drawn up. I think I shall come. Herr
Crippel has said that he would bring me, and get me a place."
"I thought, Lotta, you had determined to have nothing more to
say to Herr Crippel."
"I don't know what you mean by that. I like Herr
Crippel very much, and he plays beautifully. Surely a girl may
know a man old enough to be her father without having him thrown in
her teeth as her lover."
"Not when the man old enough to be her father has asked her
to be his wife twenty times, as Herr Crippel has asked you.
Herr Crippel would not give up his holiday afternoon to you if he
thought it was to be for nothing."
"There I think you are wrong, Marie. I believe Herr
Crippel likes to have me with him simply because every gentleman
likes to have a lady on such a day as that. Of course it is
better than being alone. I don't suppose he will say a word to
me except to tell me who the people are, and to give me a glass of
beer when it is over."
It may be as well to explain at once, before we go any
further, that Herr Crippel was a player on the violin, and that he
led the musicians in the orchestra of the great beer-hall in the
Volksgarten. Let it not be thought that because Herr Crippel
exercised his art in a beer-hall therefore he was a musician of no
account. No one will think so who has once gone to a Vienna
beer-hall, and listened to such music as is there provided for the
The two girls, Marie Weber and Lotta Schmidt, belonged to an
establishment in which gloves were sold in the Graben, and now,
having completed their work for the day,—and indeed their work for
the week, for it was Saturday evening,—had come out for such
recreation as the evening might afford them. And on behalf of
these two girls, as to one of whom at least I am much interested, I
must beg my English readers to remember that manners and customs
differ much in Vienna from those which prevail in London. Were
I to tell of two London shop girls going out into the streets after
their day's work, to see what friends and what amusement the fortune
of the evening might send to them, I should be supposed to be
speaking of young women as to whom it would be better that I should
be silent; but these girls in Vienna were doing simply that which
all their friends would expect and wish them to do. That they
should have some amusement to soften the rigours of long days of
work was recognized to be necessary; and music, beer, dancing, with
the conversation of young men, are thought in Vienna to be the
natural amusements of young women, and in Vienna are believed to be
The Viennese girls are almost always attractive in their
appearance, without often coming up to our English ideas of
prettiness. Sometimes they do fully come up to our English
idea of beauty. They are generally dark, tall, light in
figure, with bright eyes, which are however very unlike the bright
eyes of Italy and which constantly remind the traveller that his
feet are carrying him eastward in Europe. But perhaps the
peculiar characteristic in their faces which most strikes a stranger
is a certain look of almost fierce independence, as though they had
recognized the necessity, and also acquired the power of standing
alone, and of protecting themselves. I know no young women by
whom the assistance of a man's arm seems to be so seldom required as
the young women of Vienna. They almost invariably dress well,
generally preferring black, or colours that are very dark; and they
wear hats that are I believe of Hungarian origin, very graceful in
form, but which are peculiarly calculated to add something to that
assumed savageness of independence of which I have spoken.
Both the girls who were walking in the Burgplatz were of the
kind that I have attempted to describe. Marie Weber was older,
and not so tall, and less attractive than her friend; but as her lot
in life was fixed, and as she was engaged to marry a cutter of
diamonds, I will not endeavour to interest the reader specially in
her personal appearance. Lotta Schmidt was essentially a
Viennese pretty girl of the special Viennese type. She was
tall and slender, but still had none of that appearance of feminine
weakness which is so common among us with girls who are tall and
slim. She walked as though she had plenty both of strength and
courage for all purposes of life without the assistance of any
extraneous aid. Her hair was jet black, and very plentiful,
and was worn in long curls which were brought round from the back of
her head over her shoulders. Her eyes were blue,—dark
blue,—and were clear and deep rather than bright. Her nose was
well formed, but somewhat prominent, and made you think at the first
glance of the tribes of Israel. But yet no observer of the
physiognomy of races would believe for half a moment that Lotta
Schmidt was a Jewess. Indeed, the type of form which I am
endeavouring to describe is in truth as far removed from the Jewish
type as it is from the Italian; and it has no connection whatever
with that which we ordinarily conceive to be the German type.
But, overriding everything in her personal appearance, in her form,
countenance, and gait, was that singular fierceness of independence,
as though she were constantly asserting that she would never submit
herself to the inconvenience of feminine softness. And yet
Lotta Schmidt was a simple girl, with a girl's heart, looking
forward to find all that she was to have of human happiness in the
love of some man, and expecting and hoping to do her duty in life as
a married woman and the mother of a family. Nor would she have
been at all coy in saying as much had the subject of her life's
prospects become matter of conversation in any company; no more than
one lad would be coy in saying that he hoped to be a doctor, or
another in declaring a wish for the army.
When the two girls had walked twice round the hoarding within
which stood all those tons of bronze which were intended to
represent Prince Eugene, they crossed over the centre of the
Burgplatz, passed under the other equestrian statue, and came to the
gate leading into the Volksgarten. There, just at the
entrance, they were overtaken by a man with a fiddle-case under his
arm, who raised his hat to them and then shook hands with both of
"Ladies," he said, "are you coming in to hear a little music?
We will do our best."
"Herr Crippel always does well," said Marie Weber.
"There is never any doubt when one comes to hear him."
"Marie, why do you flatter him?" said Lotta.
"I do not say half to his face that you said just now behind
his back," said Marie.
"And what did she say of me behind my back?" said Herr
Crippel. He smiled as he asked the question, or attempted to
smile, but it was easy to see that he was much in earnest. He
blushed up to his eyes, and there was a slight trembling motion in
his hands as he stood with one of them pressed upon the other.
As Marie did not answer at the moment, Lotta replied for her.
"I will tell you what I said behind your back. I said
that Herr Crippel had the firmest hand upon a bow, and the surest
fingers among the strings in all Vienna,—when his mind was not
wool-gathering. Marie, is not that true?"
"I do not remember anything about the wool-gathering," said
"I hope I shall not be wool-gathering to-night; but I shall
doubtless;—I shall doubtless,—for I shall be thinking of your
judgment. Shall I get you seats at once? There; you are
just before me. You see I am not coward enough to fly from my
critics." And he placed them to sit at a little marble table,
not far from the front of the low orchestra in the foremost place in
which he would have to take his stand.
"Many thanks, Herr Crippel," said Lotta. "I will make
sure of a third chair, as a friend is coming."
"Oh, a friend!" said he; and he looked sad, and all his
sprightliness was gone.
"Marie's friend," said Lotta, laughing. "Do you not
know Carl Stobel?"
Then the musician became bright and happy again. "I
would have got two more chairs if you would have let me; one for the
fraulein's sake, and one for his own. And I will come down
presently, and you shall present me, if you will be so very kind."
Marie-Weber smiled and thanked him, and declared that she
should be very proud;—and the leader of the band went up into his
"I wish he had not placed us here," said Lotta.
"And why not?"
"Because Fritz is coming."
"But he is."
"And why did you not tell me?"
"Because I did not wish to be speaking of him. Of
course you understand why I did not tell you. I would rather
it should seem that he came of his own account,—with Carl. Ha,
ha!" Carl Stobel was the diamond-cutter to whom Marie Weber
was betrothed. "I should not have told you now,—only that I am
disarranged by what Herr Crippel has done."
"Had we not better go,—or at least move our seats? We
can make any excuse afterwards."
"No," said Lotta. "I will not seem to run away from
him. I have nothing to be ashamed of. If I choose to
keep company with Fritz Planken, that should be nothing to Herr
"But you might have told him."
"No; I could not tell him. And I am not sure Fritz is
coming either. He said he would come with Carl if he had time.
Never mind; let us be happy now. If a bad time comes
by-and-by, we must make the best of it."
Then the music began, and, suddenly, as the first note of a
fiddle was heard, every voice in the great beer-hall of the
Volksgarten became silent. Men sat smoking, with their long
beer-glasses before them, and women sat knitting, with their
beer-glasses also before them, but not a word was spoken. The
waiters went about with silent feet, but even orders for beer were
not given, and money was not received. Herr Crippel did his
best, working with his wand as carefully,—and I may say as
accurately,—as a leader in a fashionable opera-house in London or
Paris. But every now and then, in the course of the piece, he
would place his fiddle to his shoulder and join in the performance.
There was hardly one them in the hall, man or woman, boy or girl,
who did not know, from personal knowledge and judgment, that Herr
Crippel was doing his work very well.
"Excellent, was it not?" said Marie.
"Yes; he is a musician. Is it not a pity he should be
so bald?" said Lotta.
"He is not so very bald," said Marie.
"I should not mind his being bald so much, if he did not try
to cover his old head with the side hairs. If he would cut off
those loose straggling locks, and declare himself to be bald at
once, he would be ever so much better. He would look to be
fifty then. He looks sixty now."
"What matters his age? He is forty-five, just; for I
know. And he is a good man."
"What has his goodness to do with it?"
"A good deal. His old mother wants for nothing, and he
makes two hundred florins a month. He has two shares in the
summer theatre. I know it."
"Bah! what is all that when he will plaster his hair over his
old bald head?"
"Lotta, I am ashamed of you." But at this moment the
further expression of Marie's anger was stopped by the entrance of
the diamond-cutter, and as he was alone, both the girls received him
very pleasantly. We must give Lotta her due, and declare that,
as things had gone, she would much prefer now that Fritz should stay
away, though Fritz Planken was as handsome a young fellow as there
was in Vienna, and one who dressed with the best taste, and danced
so that no one could surpass him, and could speak French, and was
confidential clerk at one of the largest hotels in Vienna, and was a
young man acknowledged to be of much general importance,—and had,
moreover, in plain language declared his love for Lotta Schmidt.
But Lotta would not willingly give unnecessary pain to Herr Crippel,
and she was generously glad when Carl Stobel, the diamond-cutter,
came by himself. Then there was a second and third piece
played, and after that Herr Crippels came down, according to
promise, and was presented to Marie's lover.
"Ladies," said he, "I hope I have not gathered wool."
"You have surpassed yourself," said Lotta.
"At wool-gathering?" said Herr Crippel.
"At sending us out of this world into another," said Lotta.
"Ah; go into no other world but this," said Herr Crippel, "lest I
should not be able to follow you." And then he went away again to
Before another piece had been commenced, Lotta saw Fritz Planken
enter the door. He stood for a moment gazing round the hall, with
his cane in his hand and his hat on his head, looking for the party
which he intended to join. Lotta did not say a word, nor would she
turn her eyes towards him. She would not recognize him if it were
possible to avoid it. But he soon saw her, and came up to the table
at which they were sitting. When Lotta was getting the third chair
for Marie's lover, Herr Crippel, in his gallantry, had brought a
fourth, and now Fritz occupied the chair which the musician had
placed there. Lotta, as she perceived this, was sorry that it should
be so. She could not even dare to look up to see what effect this
new arrival would have upon the leader of the band.
The new comer was certainly a handsome young man,—such a one as
inflicts unutterable agonies on the hearts of the Herr Crippels of
the world. His boots shone like mirrors, and fitted his feet like
gloves. There was something in the make and sit of his trousers
which Herr Crippel, looking at them as he could not help looking at
them, was quite unable to understand. Even twenty years ago Herr Crippell's trousers, as Her Crippel very well knew, had never looked
like that. And Fritz Planken wore a blue frock coat with silk lining
to the breast, which seemed to have come from some tailor among the
gods. And he had on primrose gloves, and round his neck a bright
pink satin handkerchief, joined by a ring, which gave a richness of
colouring to the whole thing which nearly killed Herr Crippel,
because he could not but acknowledge that the colouring was good. And then the hat!
And when the hat was taken off for a moment, then the hair-perfectly black, and silky as a raven's wing, just waving
with one curl! And when Fritz put up his hand, and ran his fingers
through his locks, their richness and plenty and beauty were
conspicuous to all beholders. Herr Crippel, as he saw it,
involuntarily dashed his hand up to his own pate, and scratched his
straggling lanky hairs from off his head.
"You are coming to Sperl's to morrow, of course," said Fritz to
Lotta. Now Sperl's is a great establishment for dancing in the
Leopoldstadt which is always open of a Sunday evening, and which
Lotta Schmidt was in the habit of attending with much regularity. It
was here she had become acquainted with Fritz. And certainly to
dance with Fritz was to dance indeed! Lotta too was a beautiful
dancer. To a Viennese such as Lotta Schmidt, dancing is a thing of
serious importance. It was a misfortune to her to have to dance with
a bad dancer, as it is to a great whist-player among us to sit down
with a bad partner. Oh, what she had suffered more than once when
Herr Crippel had induced her to stand up with him!
"Yes; I shall go. Marie, you will go?"
"I do not know," said Marie.
"You will make her go, Carl, will you not?" said Lotta.
"She promised me yesterday, as I understood," said Carl.
"Of course we will all be there," said Fritz, somewhat grandly and I
will give a supper for four."
Then the music began again, and the eyes of all of them became fixed
upon Herr Crippel. It was unfortunate that they should have been
placed so fully before him, as it was impossible that he should
avoid seeing them. As he stood up with his violin to his shoulders,
his eyes were fixed on Fritz Planked, and Fritz Planken's boots, and
coat, and hat, and hair. And as he drew his bow over the strings he
was thinking of his own boots and of his own hair. Fritz was
sitting, leaning forward in his chair, so that he could look up into Lotta's face, and he was playing with a little amber-headed cane,
and every now and then he whispered a word. Herr Crippel could
hardly play a note. In very truth he was wool-gathering. His hand
became unsteady, and every instrument was more or less astray.
"Your old friend is making a mess of it to-night," said Fritz to
Lotta. I hope he has not taken a glass too much of schnaps."
"He never does anything of the kind," said Lotta, angrily. "He
never did such a thing in his life."
"He is playing awfully badly," said Fritz.
"I never heard him play better in my life than he has played
to-night," said Lotta.
"His hand is tired. He is getting old," said Fritz. Then Lotta moved
her chair and drew herself back, and was determined that Marie and
Carl should see that she was angry with her young lover. In the
meantime the piece of music had been finished, and the audience had
shown their sense of the performers' inferiority by withdrawing
those plaudits which they were so ready to give when they were
After this some other musician led for a while, and then Herr
Crippel had to come forward to play a solo. And on this occasion the
violin was not to be his instrument. He was a great favourite among
the lovers of music in Vienna, not only because he was good at the
fiddle and because with his bow in his hand he could keep a band of
musicians together, but also as a player on the zither. It was not
often now-a-days that he would take his zither to the music-hall in
the Volksgarten; for he would say that he had given up that
instrument; that he now played it only in private; that it was not
fit for a large hall, as a single voice, the scraping of a foot,
would destroy its music. And Herr Crippel was a man who had his
fancies and his fantasies, and would not always yield to entreaty. But occasionally he would send his zither down to the public hall;
and in the programme for this evening it had been put forth that
Herr Crippel's zither would be there and that Herr Crippel would
perform. And now the zither was brought forward, and a chair was put
for the zitherist, and Herr Crippel stood for a moment behind his
chair and bowed. Lotta glanced up at him and could see that he was
very pale. She could even see that the perspiration stood upon his
brow. She knew that he was trembling and that he would have given
almost his zither itself to be quit of his promised performance for
that night. But she knew also that he would make the attempt.
"What, the zither?" said Fritz. "He will break down as sure as he is
a living man."
"Let us hope not," said Carl Sobel.
"I love to hear him play the zither better than anything," said
"It used to be very good," said Fritz; "but everybody says he has
lost his touch. When a man has the slightest feeling of nervousness
he is done for the zither."
"H—sh; let him have his chance at any rate," said Marie.
Reader, did you ever hear the zither? When played, as it is
sometimes played in Vienna, it combines all the softest notes of the
human voice. It sings to you of love, and then wails to you of
disappointed love, till it fills you with a melancholy from which
there is no escaping, from which you never wish to escape. It speaks
to you as no other instrument ever speaks, and reveals to you with
wonderful eloquence the sadness in which it delights. It produces a
luxury of anguish, a fulness of the satisfaction of imaginary woe, a
realization of the mysterious delights of romance, which no words
can ever thoroughly supply. While the notes are living, while the
music is still in the air, the ear comes to covet greedily every
atom of tone which the instrument will produce, so that the
slightest extraneous sound becomes an offence. The notes sink and
sink so low and low, with their soft sad wail of delicious woe, that
the listener dreads that something will be lost in the struggle of
listening. There seems to come some lethargy on his sense of
hearing, which he fears will shut out from his brain the last,
lowest, sweetest strain, the very pearl of the music, for which he
has been watching with all the intensity of prolonged desire. And
then the zither is silent, and there remains a fond memory together
with a deep regret.
Herr Crippel seated himself on his stool and looked once or twice
round about upon the room almost with dismay. Then he struck his
zither, uncertainly, weakly, and commenced the prelude of his piece. But Lotta thought that she had never heard so sweet a sound. When he
paused after a few strokes there was a sound of applause in the
room,―of applause intended to encourage by commemorating past
triumphs. The musician looked again away from his music to his
audience, and his eyes caught the eyes of the girl he loved; and his
gaze fell also upon the face of the handsome, well-dressed, young
Adonis who was by her side. He, Herr Crippel the musician, could
never make himself look like that; he could make no slightest
approach to that outward triumph. But then, he could play the
zither, and Fritz Planken could only play with his cane! He
would do what he could! He would play his best! He had once almost
resolved to get up and declare that he was too tired that evening to
do justice to his instrument. But there was an insolence of success
about his rival's hat and trousers which spirited him on to the
fight. He struck his zither again, and they who understood him and
his zither knew that he was in earnest
The old men who had listened to him for the last twenty years
declared that he had never played as he played on that night. At
first he was somewhat bolder, somewhat louder than was his wont; as
though he were resolved to go out of his accustomed track; but,
after a while, he gave that up; that was simply the effect of
nervousness, and was continued only while the timidity remained
present with him. But he soon forgot everything but his zither and
his desire to do it justice. The attention of all present soon
became so close that you might have heard a pin fall. Even Fritz sat
perfectly still, with his mouth open, and forgot to play with his
cane. Lotta's eyes were quickly full of tears, and before long they
were rolling down her cheeks. Herr Crippel, though he did not know
that he looked at her, was aware that it was so. Then came upon them
all there an ecstasy of delicious sadness. As I have said above,
every ear was struggling that no softest sound might escape unheard. And then at last the zither was silent, and no one could have marked
the moment when it had ceased to sing.
For a few moments there was perfect silence in the room, and the
musician still kept his seat with his face turned upon his
instrument. He knew well that he had succeeded, that his triumph had
been complete, and every moment that the applause was suspended was an
added jewel to his crown. But it soon came, the loud shouts of
praise, the ringing bravos, the striking of glasses, his own name
repeated from all parts of the hall, the clapping of hands, the
sweet sound of women's voices, and the waving of white
handkerchiefs. Herr Crippel stood up, bowed thrice, wiped his face
with a handkerchief, and then sat down on a stool in the corner of
"I don't know much about his being too old," said Carl Stobel.
"Nor I either," said Lotta.
"That is what I call music," said Marie Weber.
"He can play the zither, certainly," said Fritz; "but as to the
violin, it is more doubtful."
"He is excellent with both,—with both," said Lotta, angrily.
Soon after that the party got up to leave the hall, and as they went
out they encountered Herr Crippel.
"You have gone beyond yourself to-night," said Marie, "and we wish
"Oh no. It was pretty good, was it? With the zither it depends
mostly on the atmosphere; whether it is hot, or cold, or wet, or
dry, or on I know not what. It is an accident if one plays well. Good-night to you. Goodnight, Lotta. Good-night, sir." And he took
off his hat, and bowed,—bowed, as it were, expressly to Fritz Planken.
"Herr Crippel," said Lotta, "one word with you." And she dropped
behind from Fritz, and returned to the musician. "Herr Crippel,
will you meet me at Sperl's tomorrow night?"
"At Sperl's? No. I do not go to Sperl's any longer, Lotta. You told
me that Marie's friend was coming to-night; but you did not tell me
of your own."
"Never mind what I told you, or did not tell you. Herr Crippel, will
you come to Sperl's to-morrow?"
"No; you would not dance with me, and I should not care to see you
dance with any one else."
"But I will dance with you."
"And Planken will be there?"
"Yes; Fritz will be there. He is always there. I cannot help that."
"No, Lotta; I will not go to Sperl's. I will tell you a little
secret. At forty-five one is too old for Sperl's."
"There are men there every Sunday over fifty,—over sixty, I am
"They are men different in their ways of life from me, my dear. No,
I will not go to Sperl's. When will you come and see my mother?"
Lotta promised that she would go and see the Frau Crippel before
long, and then tripped off and joined her party.
Stobel and Marie had walked on, while Fritz remained a little behind
"Did you ask him to come to Sperl's to-morrow?" he said.
"To be sure I did."
"Was that nice of you, Lotta?"
"Why not nice? Nice or not, I did it. Why should not I ask him, if I
"Because I thought I was to have the pleasure of entertaining
you;—that it was a little party of my own."
"Very well, Herr Planken," said Lotta, drawing herself a little away
from him; "if a friend of mine is not welcome at your little party,
I certainly shall not join it myself."
"But, Lotta, does not every one know what it is that Crippel wishes
"There is no harm in his wishing. My friends tell me that I am very
foolish not to give him what he wishes. But I still have the
"O yes; no doubt you still have the chance."
"Herr Crippel is a very good man. He is the best son in the world,
and he makes two hundred florins a month."
"O, if that is to count!"
"Of course it is to count. Why should it not count? Would the
Princess Theresa have married the other day if the young Prince had
had no income to support her?"
"You can do as you please, Lotta."
"Yes, I can do as I please, certainly. I suppose Adela Bruhl will be
at Sperl's to-morrow?"
"I should say so, certainly. I hardly ever knew her to miss her
"Nor I. I, too, am fond of dancing,—very. I delight in dancing. But
I am not a slave to Sperl's, and then I do not care to dance with
"Adela Bruhl dances very well," said Fritz.
"That is as one may think. She ought to; for she begins at ten, and
till two, always. If there is no one nice for dancing she puts up
with some one that is not nice. But all that is nothing to me."
"Nothing, I should say, Lotta."
"Nothing in the world. But this is something; last Sunday you danced
three times with Adela."
"Did I? I did not count."
"I counted. It is my business to watch those things, if you are to
be ever anything to me, Fritz. I will not pretend that I am
indifferent. I am not indifferent. I care very much about it. Fritz,
if you dance to-morrow with Adela you will not dance with me
again,—either then or ever." And having uttered this threat she ran
on and found Marie, who had just reached the door of the house in
which they both lived.
Fritz, as he walked home by himself, was in doubt as to the course
which it would be his duty as a man to pursue in reference to the
lady whom he loved. He had distinctly heard that lady ask an old
admirer of hers to go to Sperl's and dance with her; and yet, within
ten minutes afterwards, she had peremptorily commanded him not to
dance with another girl! Now, Fritz Planken had a very good opinion
of himself, as he was well entitled to have, and was quite aware
that other pretty girls besides Lotta Schmidt were within his reach. He did not receive two hundred florins a month, as did Herr Crippel,
but then he was five-and-twenty instead of five-and-forty; and, in
the matter of money, too, he was doing pretty well. He did love
Lotta Schmidt. It would not be easy for him to part with her. But
she, too, loved him,—as he told himself, and she would hardly push
matters to extremities. At any rate, he would not submit to a
threat. He would dance with Adela Bruhl, at Sperl's. He thought, at
least, that when the time should come, he would find it well to
dance with her.
Sperl's dancing saloon, in the Tabor Strasse, is a great institution
at Vienna. It is open always of a Sunday evening, and dancing then
commences at ten, and is continued till two or three o'clock in the
morning. There are two large rooms, in one of which the dancers
dance, and in the other the dancers and visitors, who do not dance,
eat, and drink, and smoke continually. But the most wonderful part
of Sperl's establishment is this, that there is nothing there to
offend any one. Girls dance and men smoke, and there is eating and drinking, and everybody is as well behaved as though there was a
protecting phalanx of dowagers sitting round the walls of the
saloon. There are no dowagers, though there may probably be a
policeman somewhere about the place. To a stranger it is very
remarkable that there is so little of what we call flirting;—almost
none of it. It would seem that to the girls dancing is so much a
matter of business, that here at Sperl's they can think of nothing
else. To mind their steps,—and at the same time their dresses, lest
they should be trod upon,—to keep full pace with the music, to make
all the proper turns at every proper time, and to have the foot fall
on the floor at the exact instant; all this is enough, without
further excitement. You will see a girl dancing with a man as though
the man were a chair, or a stick, or some necessary piece of
furniture. She condescends to use his services, but as soon as the
dance is over she sends him away. She hardly speaks a word to him,
if a word! She has come there to dance, and not to talk; unless,
indeed, like Marie Weber and Lotta Schmidt, she has a recognized
lover there of her very own.
At about half-past ten Marie and Lotta entered the saloon, and paid
their kreutzers, and sat themselves down on seats in the further
saloon, from which, through open archways, they could see the
dancers. Neither Carl nor Fritz had come as yet, and the girls were
quite content to wait. It was to be presumed that they would be
there before the men, and they both understood that the real dancing
was not commenced early in the evening. It might be all very well
for such as Adela Bruhl to dance with any one who came at ten
o'clock, but Lotta Schmidt would not care to amuse herself after
that fashion. As to Marie, she was to be married after another week,
and of course she would dance with no one but Carl Stobel.
"Look at her," said Lotta, pointing with her foot to a fair girl,
very pretty, but with hair somewhat untidy, who at this moment was
waltzing in the other room. "That lad is a waiter from the Minden
hotel. I know him. She would dance with any one."
"I suppose she likes dancing, and there is no harm in the boy," said
"No, there is no harm, and if she likes it I do not begrudge
it her. See what red hands she has."
"She is of that complexion," said Marie.
"Yes, she is of that complexion all over; look at her face. At any
rate she might have better shoes on. Did you ever see anybody so
"She is very pretty," said Marie.
"Yes, she is pretty. There is no doubt she is pretty. She is not a
native here. Her people are from Munich. Do you know, Marie, I think
girls are always thought more of in other countries than in their
Soon after this Carl and Fritz came together, and Fritz, as he
passed across the end of the first saloon, spoke a word or two to
Adela. Lotta saw this, but determined that she would take no offence
at so small a matter. Fritz need not have stopped to speak, but his
doing so might be all very well. At any rate, if she did quarrel
with him she would quarrel on a plain intelligible ground. Within
two minutes Carl and Marie were dancing, and Fritz had asked Lotta
to stand up.
"I will wait a little," said she, "I never like to begin much before
"As you please," said Fritz; and he sat down in the chair which
Marie had occupied. Then he played with his cane, and as he did so
his eyes followed the steps of Adela Buhl.
"She dances very well," said Lotta.
"H―m—m, yes." Fritz did not choose to bestow any strong praise on
"Yes, Fritz, she does dance well,—very well indeed. And she is never
tired. If you ask me whether I like her style, I cannot quite say
that I do. It is not what we do here,—not exactly."
"She has lived in Vienna since she was a child."
"It is in the blood then, I suppose. Look at her fair hair, all
blowing about. She is not like one of us."
"Oh no, she is not."
"That she is very pretty, I quite admit," said Lotta. "Those soft
grey eyes are delicious. Is it not a pity she has no eyebrows?"
"But she has eyebrows."
"Ah; you have been closer than I, and you have seen them. I have
never danced with her, and I cannot see them. Of course they are
there,—more or less."
After a while the dancing ceased, and Adela Bruhl came up into the
supper-room, passing the seats on which Fritz and Lotta were
"Are you not going to dance, Fritz," she said, with a smile, as she
"Go, go," said Lotta; "why do you not go? She has invited you."
"No; she has not invited me. She spoke to us both."
"She did not speak to me, for my name is not Fritz. I do not see how
you can help going, when she asked you so prettily."
"I shall be in plenty of time presently. Will you dance now, Lotta? They are going to begin a waltz, and we will have a quadrille
"No, Herr Planken, I will not dance just now."
"Herr Planken is it? You want to quarrel with me then, Lotta."
"I do not want to be one of two. I will not be one of two. Adela Bruhl is very pretty, and I advise you to go to her. I was told only
yesterday her father can give her fifteen hundred florins of
fortune! For me,—I have no father."
"But you may have a husband to-morrow."
"Yes, that is true, and a good one. Oh, such a good one!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"You go and dance with Adela Bruhl, and you shall see what I mean."
Fritz had some idea in his own mind, more or less clearly developed,
that his fate, as regarded Lotta Schmidt, now lay in his own hands. He undoubtedly desired to have Lotta for his own. He would have
married her there and then,—at that moment had it been possible. He
had quite made up his mind that he preferred her much to Adela Bruhl,
though Adela Bruhl had fifteen hundred florins. But he did not like
to endure tyranny, even from Lotta, and he did not know how to
escape the tyranny otherwise than by dancing with Adela. He paused a moment, swinging his cane, endeavouring to think how
he might best
assert his manhood and yet not offend the girl he loved. But he
found that to assert his manhood was now his first duty.
"Well, Lotta," he said, "since you are so cross with me, I will ask
Adela to dance." And in two minutes he was spinning round the room
with Adela Bruhl in his arms.
"Certainly she dances very well," said Lotta, smiling, to Marie, who
had now come back to her seat.
"Very well," said Marie, who was out of breath.
"And so does he."
"Beautifully," said Marie.
"Is it not a pity that I should have lost such a partner for ever?"
"It is true. Look here, Marie, there is my hand upon it. I will
never dance with him again,—never,—never,—never. Why was he so hard
upon Herr Crippel last night?"
"Was he hard upon Herr Crippel?"
"He said that Herr Crippel was too old to play the zither; too old! Some people are too young to understand. I shall go home, I shall
not stay to up with you to-night."
"Lotta, you must stay for supper."
"I will not sup at his table. I have quarrelled with him. It is all
over. Fritz Planken is as free as the air for me."
"Lotta, do not say anything in a hurry. At any rate do not do
anything in a hurry."
"I do not mean to do anything at all. It is simply this,—I do not
care very much for Fritz after all. I don't think I ever did. It is
all very well to wear your clothes nicely, but if that is all, what
does it come to? If he could play the zither, now!"
"There are other things except playing the zither. They say he is a
"I don't like book-keeping. He has to be at his hotel from eight in the morning till eleven at night."
"You know best."
"I am not so sure of that. I wish I did know best. But I never saw
such a girl as you are. How you change! It was only yesterday you
scolded me because I did not wish to be the wife of your dear friend
"Herr Crippel is a very good man."
"You go away with your good man! you have got a good man of your
own. He is standing there waiting for you, like a gander on one leg. He wants you to dance; go away." Then Marie did go away, and Lotta
was left alone by herself. She certainly had behaved badly to Fritz,
and she was aware of it. She excused herself to herself by
remembering that she had never yet given Fritz a promise. She was
her own mistress, and had, as yet, a right to do what she pleased
with herself. He had asked her for her love, and she had not told
him that he should not have it. That was all. Herr Crippel had asked
her a dozen times, and she had at last told him definitely,
positively, that there was no hope for him. Herr Crippel, of course,
would not ask her again;―so she told herself. But if there was no
such person as Herr Crippel in all the world, she would have nothing
more to do with Fritz Planken,―nothing more to do with him as a
lover. He had given her fair ground for a quarrel, and she would
take advantage of it. Then as she sat still while they were dancing,
she closed her eyes and thought of the zither and of the zitherist. She remained alone for a long time. The musicians in Vienna will
play a waltz for twenty minutes, and the same dancers will continue
to dance almost without a pause; and then, almost immediately
afterwards, there was a quadrille. Fritz, who was resolved to put
down tyranny, stood up with Adela for the quadrille also. "I am so
glad," said Lotta to herself. "I will wait till this is over, and
then I will say good-night to Marie, and will go home." Three or
four men had asked her to dance, but she had refused. She would not
dance to-night at all. She was inclined, she thought, to be a little
serious, and would go home. At last Fritz returned to her, and bade
her come to supper. He was resolved to see how far his mode of
casting off tyranny might be successful, so he approached her with a
smile, and offered to take her to his table as though nothing had
"My friend," she said, "your table is laid for four, and the places
will all be filled."
"The table is laid for five," said Fritz.
"It is one too many. I shall sup with my friend, Herr Crippel."
Crippel is not here."
"Is he not? Ah me! then I shall be alone, and I must go to bed supperless. Thank you, no, Herr Planken."
"And what will Marie say?"
"I hope she will enjoy the nice dainties you will give her. Marie is
all right. Marie's fortune is made. Woe is me! my fortune is to
seek. There is one thing certain, it is not to be found here in this
Then Fritz turned on his heel and went away; and as he went Lotta
saw the figure of a man, as he made his way slowly and hesitatingly
into the saloon from the outer passage. He was dressed in a close
frock coat, and had on a hat of which she knew the shape as well as
she did the make of her own gloves. "If he has not come after all!"
she said to herself. Then she turned herself a little round, and
drew her chair somewhat into an archway, so that Herr Crippel should
not see her readily.
The other four had settled themselves at their table, Marie having
said a word of reproach to Lotta as she passed. Now, on a sudden,
she got up from her seat and crossed to her friend.
"Herr Crippel is here," she said.
"Of course he is here," said Lotta.
"But you did not expect him?"
"Ask Fritz if I did not say I would sup with Herr Crippel. You ask
him. But I shall not all the same. Do not say a word. I shall steal
away when nobody is looking."
The musician came wandering up the room, and had looked into every
corner before he had even found the supper-table at which the four
were sitting. And then he did not see Lotta. He took off his hat as
he addressed Marie, and asked some question as to the absent one.
"She is waiting for you somewhere, Herr Crippel," said Fritz, as he
filled Adela's glass with wine.
"For me?" said Herr Crippel, as he looked round. "No, she does not
expect me." And in the meantime Lotta had left her seat, and was
hurrying away to the door.
"There! there!" said Marie; "you will be too late if you do not
run." Then Herr Crippel did run, and caught Lotta as she was taking
her hat from the old woman who had the girls' hats and shawls in
charge near the door.
"What, Herr Crippel, you at Sperl's? When you told me expressly, in
so many words, that you would not come! That is not behaving well to
"What, my coming? Is that behaving bad?"
"No; but why did you say you would not come when I asked you? You
have come to meet some one. Who is it?"
"You, Lotta; you."
"And yet you refused me when I asked you! Well, and now you are
here, what are you going to do? You will not dance."
"I will dance with you, if you will put up with me."
"No, I will not dance. I am too old. I have given it up. I shall
come to Sperl's no more after this. Dancing is a folly."
"Lotta, you are laughing at me now."
"Very well; if you like, you may have it so." By this time he had
brought her back into the room, and was walking up and down the
length of the saloon with her. "But it is no use our walking about
here," she said. "I was just going home, and now, if you please, I
"Not yet, Lotta."
"Yes; now, if you please."
"But why are you not supping with them?"
"Because it did not suit me. You see there are four. Five is a
foolish number for a supper party."
"Will you sup with me, Lotta?" She did not answer him at once.
he said, "if you sup with me now you must sup with me always. How
shall it be?"
"Always? no. I am very hungry now, but I do not want supper always. I cannot sup with you always, Herr Crippel."
"But you will to-night?"
"Then it shall be always." And the musician marched up to a table,
and threw his hat down, and ordered such a supper that Lotta Schmidt
was frightened. And when presently Carl Stobel and Marie Weber came
up to their table,—for Fritz Planken did not come near them again
that evening,—Herr Crippel bowed courteously to the diamond-cutter,
and asked him when he was to be married.
"Marie says it shall be next Sunday," said Carl.
"And I will be married the Sunday afterwards," said Herr Crippel. Yes; and there is my wife." And he pointed across the table with
both his hands to Lotta Schmidt.
"Herr Crippel, how can you say that?" said Lotta.
"Is it not true, my dear?"
"In fourteen days! no, certainly not. It is out of the question." But
nevertheless what Herr Crippel said came true, and on the next
Sunday but one he took Lotta Schmidt home to his house as his wife.
"It was all because of the zither," Lotta said to her old
mother-in-law. "If he had not played the zither that night I should
not have been here now."