The communication here given to the readers of this periodical reached the office of its publication under circumstances of unparalleled singularity.

An immense package appeared on the table one morning, which had been left, as was stated ingenuously outside, “on approval.” It must be owned that the dimensions of the supposed manuscript were, to judge from the outside, rather alarming, but it was none the less determined that in this, as in other cases, justice should be done to the volunteer contributor. The parcel was opened. What was the surprise of “the management” to find nothing inside but an old and much worn copy of Goldsmith’s Abridgment of the History of England.

The book was about to be flung aside, when Mr. Thomas Idle, who was loitering in the office at the time, happening in sheer listlessness to turn over the pages of the volume, suddenly uttered the dissyllable “Hullo.” A general rush was made towards the spot from which this sound emanated, and it was then found that the volume of Goldsmith was covered, as to the fly-leaves and the margins of the pages, with manuscript written in pencil, which, when it had been deciphered with much difficulty, came out in the form of the subjoined article.

All endeavours to trace the authorship of the paper have been made in vain. It had been left at the office—this was all the information that was to be got—by a stout good-natured-looking personage, with bushy whiskers, and dressed in a shooting-jacket: who had handed the package in with a grin, and with the remark, “You won’t often get anything like that, I’ll be bound!”

The manuscript begins thus:

The straw with which my hair is decorated has failed lately to afford me the pleasure which it was wont to give. The lath which I have furbished up, and made into a sceptre, will not do, either. It was a great consolation to me at first, but it has ceased to be so now. Nothing will give me any satisfaction except the possession of pens, ink, and paper, by means of which to impart my rapidly flowing ideas to the public. Ideas! Flowing ideas! They crowd and rush into my brain, trampling on one another’s heels at such a rate that I can keep them in no sort of order—and they are such valuable ideas, that they would set the whole world to rights if the whole world only knew about them.

And the world shall know about them. I asked for pens, ink, and paper, and they would not let me have them; but, I’ve got a book—what’s it called?—Goldsmith’s Abridgment of the History of England—and Struddles, the keeper, who is my dear friend, has lent me a pencil, and I can write all I want to say on the flyleaves and round the margins of the pages of this book, and then Struddles promises to take it away for me and to get it published. As to the pencil point, they won’t let me have a knife to cut it with, so when I’ve worked it down to the cedar (as if I was mad! Why see, I know what wood the lead of a pencil is set in), I give it to Struddles, and he cuts it for me; or if Struddles is out of the way, I bite the wood away, till there is lead enough bare to write with. But I must not waste my space. I want to get to my ideas at once. I am going to begin. Where shall I begin? Anywhere.

Why not raise your pavements up to the first floors of the houses. Not all the pavements in London at once (that would be a mad notion), but by degrees, and as opportunity offered?

Take Regent-street, for instance. Bless you, I know Regent-street well, and have often nearly been run over at that awful crossing at the Circus where it joins Oxford-street. Why not have an iron balcony the whole length of Regent-street on a level with the first-floor windows, to be used as the promenade for foot-passengers? You couldn’t do it at once, but by degrees you might, beginning at the Circus. Then might a suggestion made once by a dear friend of mine (Columbus Startles) be carried out completely. His idea was, that light iron bridges should be thrown up over the crossings at the Circus, and a capital idea it was. Well, my iron balcony would be like a continuation of these bridges, or the bridges would be a continuation of the iron balcony, and so you would be able to walk straight on when you came to the crossing, and take no account of the carriages, omnibuses, and carts, roaring along underneath you. But the wiseacres who think that I have not weighed all the difficulties of my plan will say, “And pray what is to become of the shops?” My answer is ready instantly. Raise them too, and let the shop-fronts be on the first, instead of the ground floor, which should then be used for storehouses, or whatever the upper portions of the houses are used for now. Once more I repeat, you must do all this by degrees. That is the great secret. Do it gradually.

How pretty it would be as well as convenient! The balcony or iron pavement would be supported on pillars of the same metal, and would communicate with the carriage-road by occasional staircases at the crossings. All the smaller streets would be left as they are. There is no difficulty in crossing over them; and supposing you were on my raised pavement in Regent-street, and wanted to turn into Conduit-street, for instance, you would descend the staircase at the corner, on which side you liked, and would proceed along the pavement of the latter thoroughfare exactly as usual. (The pavement, by-the-by, might remain just as it is under the iron arcade, and would be a pleasant refuge in rainy weather.)

Now something of this sort—I am not bigoted to my own scheme—but something of this sort will have to be done. Even when I was a gentleman at large, some two years ago now, I have waited and waited at some of the principal crossings in London for an opportunity of getting over, till my poor nerves got into such a state that I could hardly take advantage of the chance when it did come. Of course the thing is much worse now, and what will it be five years hence? Modern nerves are more delicate and susceptible than ancient nerves, and yet they are in some respects more severely tried. I am told that already people collect in groups at some of the London crossings waiting till the police come to their assistance. What will this come to, I ask again, five years hence?

So much for that idea. Now for the next. Let me see, what is the next?

When I kept house—an undertaking of such fearful difficulty, and surrounded with such severe mental trials, that my having anything to do with it is one of the causes of my being here, by mistake—when I kept house I observed, for my occupation led me to look out of window a good deal, that the street in which I resided was much frequented by a class of gentry with greasy hair, wearing caps instead of hats, with a general second-hand look about everything they had on, with villanous faces, and with bags or sacks slung over their shoulders. Sometimes these individuals carried work-boxes or tea-caddies in their hands: the boxes in question being held open, in order to show the splendour of their interiors. Now, I remarked that these men were always looking down into the areas, that they always appeared to be communicating by signs, or sometimes by word of mouth, with the servants, and that everything they did was done in a furtive and sheepish manner, very disagreeable to witness. Their communications with the servants would often terminate in a descent of the area steps, but it was always remarkable that no one of the individuals of whom I speak ever opened an area gate, or, indeed, did anything else without first glancing over his shoulder to right and left, looking first up the street and then down the street. On emerging from the area, that same look was repeated before the man would venture out into the street.

Sometimes it would happen, naturally enough, that one of these men would, in the course of his day’s work—what work?—arrive at the house then tenanted by me, and, little suspecting that I was hiding behind the wire blind and listening with all my might, would go through his usual manœuvres in front of my dining-room window. Watching till one of the servants chanced to approach the kitchen window, he would try to attract her attention by gently rattling a tea-caddy against the railings, and then, attention once caught—it was easily done, Heaven knows—he would begin cajoling the women, and calling the cook “mum:” an offence in itself which ought to be visited with transportation.

“Want a nice work-box, mum—nice tea-caddy, mum?” the sneak would begin.

The servants, I suppose, answered only by signals: at any rate, I could hear nothing of their replies. The sneak looked up and down the street again, and then crouched down so as to be nearer the kitchen window. He also swung the bag off his shoulder, to be able to get at its contents.

“Nice work-box or caddy, mum! very reasonable, mum. Nice ribbings of all colours! Bit of edging, ladies, for your caps.”

The telegraphing from below would seem to be in the negative, though not sufficiently so to discourage this wretched sneak. He got nearer to the gate, and again looked up and down the street.

“Make an exchange, mum, if you like! A old pair of gentleman’s boots, if you’ve got such a thing, mum, or a gentleman’s old ’at or coat, ladies. Take a’most anythink in change, ladies, if it was even so much as a humbrella, or an old weskit, or a corkscrew.”

And what business, pray, had my female servants with boots, hats, waistcoats, or corkscrews, in their possession? If these articles were given to that disgusting sneak, who, at the conclusion of the last sentence quoted, made his way furtively down the kitchen steps, where could they possibly come from? Women servants do not wear coats and waistcoats and hats, nor do they generally have corkscrews of their own in their possession.

Why are these area sneaks allowed? They may be identified by anybody, but by a policeman especially, at a single glance. Why are they allowed to pursue their avocations? My beloved friend Featherhead here, who has continual information from outside the walls, tells me that lately several robberies have been traced to these detestable creatures. Featherhead has a bee in his bonnet, poor fellow, but he is truth itself; I can depend implicitly upon what he tells me, and it really seems to me, that if you go on allowing these area-sneaks to spend their days in wandering about the less frequented streets, corrupting the servants, and making them as great thieves as they (the sneaks) are themselves, you must be much madder than any of us poor fellows who are living——well, in retirement.

I want to know, not that this has anything to do with the last subject—why should it? I suppose I may adopt a disjointed style if I choose—I want to know why, among you outside, the young men, the bachelors, are made so much more comfortable than they ought to be? You cannot keep them out of some of their luxuries and comforts, it is true. They live in central situations at trifling rents. They take their meals at clubs, where they are provided with such food as is hardly to be obtained anywhere else. They have no responsibilities, no anxieties worthy of the name. And, as if this was not enough, what else do you do to encourage them in celibacy? You allow them at any age to accept your hospitalities, and you expect no return, and you charge them twelve shillings only for the privilege of wearing a demi-griffin rampant on their little fingers, while the married man has to pay twenty-four. Now this, I say, is too bad. The bachelor is a selfish luxurious wretch, able to do more with three hundred a year than the family man can with three thousand. Tax him then—tax him heavily. He is young and strong, and able to endure—grind him down with taxation till he groans under the load, and then when he becomes a married man, and a worthy useful citizen, lighten his load instead of increasing it. And at the same time that we bully these selfish young dogs of bachelors, would it not be judicious to take a hint or two from them. How is it that they manage to get a maximum of enjoyment out of a minimum of expenditure? By combination. And why shouldn’t married people combine as well as bachelors? Not combine socially, I don’t mean that, but pecuniarily; as they already do to get their supplies of water, their gas, the books that they want to read. We ought to have club chambers for families. Great big handsome houses let off in floors. For want of these we have ruined our town; we have made metropolitan distances so vast that we want railways from one part of the town to another; we are involved, each one of us, in an enormous expenditure for which we only get the smallest amount of comfort. In the present state of society, the providing for families should be the work of a professional man. Why are you a householder, which is another name for a persecuted miserable swindled wretch?—why are you to be bothered with mysterious papers about gas-rates, and water-rates, and poor-rates, and police-rates, besides ten thousand other cares and botherations, which are at once vexatious and unworthy of your attention. Let it be the business—and a very profitable business it might be—of a professional man to take a house or houses, to attend to the rates, taxes, and repairs, and to superintend and watch its kitchen arrangements as carefully as such matters are looked after by the committee of a club.

“If you please, sir, the thor has set in and all the pipes is burst;”—“ If you please, sir, the man ’ave called to see about the biler, and he says could he speak to you about it;”—“There’s a party in the ’all, sir, as wishes to see you about the gas-meter, which he says a new one is wanted.” Such announcements as these, together with incessant intimations that, “A gentleman has called for the pore-rate, and has been twice before,” are familiar to every British householder. What bliss to hear no more allusions to such matters, and to make over a cheque once a quarter to an individual who would take all such troublesome matters off your hands for ever!

I have no space to dwell longer on this particular suggestion. I was thinking just now of something else that I wanted to say—what was it? Oh, I remember:

Why don’t you improve your street conveyances? As to omnibuses, they are beyond hope. A faint attempt was made to do something with them, but it soon subsided, and you have lapsed back into your old grooves again. But don’t you think something might be done with the cabs? Why not follow the plan adopted on railways, and have first and second-class cabs. According to the present arrangement, you go to the play with your wife, in a vehicle which just before has been occupied by six drunken blackguards returning from a foot race, or even by worse customers. If there were first-class and second-class cabs, such objectionable people would hail the latter, on account of the difference in price. And keeping still to the cab question, why don’t you have some means of communicating with the driver without thrusting your head and half your body out of the window? Even by doing that, you can hardly make yourself heard, in a crowded thoroughfare, till you have got past the house you wanted to stop at, or the street up which you should have turned. By means of a flexible tube you might give your direction with ease, without stirring from your place, or bawling yourself hoarse. And would it be too much to ask that in close cabs there should always be a light inside after nightfall? As it is, you plunge into the interior of that dark receptacle for locomotive humanity, compelled to take your chance of plumping down upon a seat on which some inconsiderate person has just before deposited a pair of boots thickly encrusted with mud. There is a lamp outside the Hansom; why don’t you have a lamp inside the four-wheeler? And talking of Hansoms, how is it that the public puts up with that guillotine window? We have a very nice fellow in this establishment who once broke one of those windows with his nose—the feature is a large one, and the scar is upon it to this hour. If it is not possible to make a window altogether outside the cab, allowing a good space between it and the apron for ventilation, at least the window as at present existing might be left to the management of the individual inside the cab. The majority of persons who have sense enough to find their way into one of these vehicles, would probably be capable of the mental and bodily effort of dealing with the window. But it is a curious thing, and difficult to account for, that all persons who are professionally mixed up with horses and carriages always treat you as if in all matters connected with either you were a perfect baby. I must leave this subject of Hansoms and four-wheelers. I come to my most important suggestion. It is new. It is practical. It gets us—the country generally—the government—the people—out of a difficulty. It is economical.

I have to propose a new method of rewarding merit in this country: a new way of distinguishing those among our citizens who have earned a right to our approval, and on whom it is the general wish to confer some great public evidence of our respect and gratitude. Hitherto, when we have sought to do honour to a great man, or to render an illustrious name additionally illustrious, it has been our custom to erect a monument.

Now, my desire is to establish a system the very reverse of this. I propose that in grateful remembrance of every great man who arises among us, instead of putting up a statue, or other monument, we go to work with axe and hammer, and pull one down!

Here would be a stimulus to exertion! Gracious powers! who that loved his country or—rather his town—would not strain every nerve to excel in his own particular department, when the hope was before him of delivering his fellow-creatures from one of those terrific monsters, the public statues! Once let the edict go forth, once let it be distinctly understood that any man who achieved greatness might not only feel secure himself from ever appearing in one of our public places with a scroll in one of his hands, and tights on both his legs, but that he would secure to himself the glory of abolishing a London statue—once let this be understood, and I believe there would be no end to our greatness as a nation. How would the flagging energies of a virtuous rising man revive as he passed the Duke of York’s Column, or George the Third’s Pigtail, or George the Fourth’s curly wig, and said to himself, “ A little more labour, a little longer effort, and, thou monstrosity, I shall lay thee level with the dust.”

Some one has remarked that we are not a military nation. From the moment when this plan of mine is adopted—as of course it will be—we shall become so. What will a man not do, what hardship will he not encounter, what danger will he not face, with the thought deep down in the recesses of his heart, that he is not only combating his country’s foes, but that he is helping to lift that load of horror off the arch at the top of Constitution-hill!

From one end of our social scale to the other our whole community would feel this additional stimulus to exertion. Even the illustrious prince in whose presence it has never been my good fortune to bask, would be urged on in a glorious and virtuous career by the thought that one day the statue of his great-uncle might by his greatness be swept away from the surface of Trafalgar-square, or that his noble acts would remove another great-uncle from King William-street, where he interrupts the traffic by vainly offering a coil of rope for sale, and depresses the spirits of the passers-by in a perfectly inexcusable manner. All classes, I say, would feel this stimulus. The politician would look at Lord George Bentinck, and, shaking his fist at him, would mutter, “Thy days are numbered.” The medical man would think of Jenner, and sign his prescription with a bolder hand. “Fiat pilula, ruat Jennerum!”

And consider how remarkable it is that the bronze coinage should have come into existence just at the moment when we are likely to have so much bronze thrown upon our hands. What unnumbered pennies there must be in the length and breadth of that fearful statue of the Duke of Wellington. Why, there must be change for a five-shilling-piece in his nose. The cocked hat would be a dowry for a princess. The stirrups—but. the mind shrinks before the contemplation of such wealth.

Proposed Form.
To His Excellency General Lord * * * * * *,
Field-Marshal, &c. &c. &c.

My Lord,

We hasten to approach your lordship with our heartfelt congratulations on your safe arrival on these shores, and also on the success which has attended your arms in every action in which you have been engaged while defending the interests of that great country which you so adequately and nobly represent.

We are directed to convey to your lordship the acknowledgments of your gracious sovereign for the services rendered by you to your country, and we are further directed to add to the honourable titles which already adorn your name, those of:—&c. &c. &c.

But a prouder distinction yet awaits your lordship; one which it will be more glorious to you to receive, and for us to confer.

It has been decided that such services as those by which you have recently so eminently distinguished yourself, are worthy of some more marked commemoration than any which mere titles, however illustrious, can afford. We have to announce to you that it is the intention of the sovereign of this country to confer upon you the highest honour which a monarch can give, or a subject receive.

It has, doubtless, not escaped the notice of one so well acquainted with our metropolis as your lordship, that in one of its principal thoroughfares, at the entrance to one of its principal parks, in the immediate vicinity of its clubs and its Tattersall’s, there exists a monster of noisome and appalling proportions, which, besides being the terror of the neighbourhood in which it is located, has disgraced the name of Britain in those foreign countries which the rumour of its existence has unfortunately reached.

This monster it has been your proud privilege to depose from his high place. An enemy to the fair name of this country, almost as much so as those other enemies over whom you have lately triumphed—that monster has fallen before your victorious approach, and beneath the spot which was once its lair may now be seen your lordship’s name, in bold characters, and underneath it the simple inscription—“Overthrown by this public Benefactor.”

As your lordship’s fellow-countrymen pass that inscription in their daily walks, not only will the remembrance of the numerous exploits with which your name is associated be kept continually before them, but their gratitude towards the man who has delivered his country from a terror and a shame, will be reawakened from day to day, and from hour to hour.

Feeling that nothing we could add would give any additional value to this tribute which we have thus the honour of offering to your lordship, we will now withdraw, wishing your lordship long life and health, and many a pleasant ride under that arch on Constitution-hill which will henceforth be always associated with your proudest triumphs and your most glorious achievements.

We are, &c. &c.


There! I’ve come to the end of the space at my disposal, and can say no more; but if you’ll only send me another big booksay Hansard’s Debates—I’ll annotate it with suggestions by the dozen.

By-the-by, does it strike you, or any of your readers, that Oliver Goldsmith was at all mad?


First published: All The Year Round vol. XI, 13 February 1864, pp. 9-13

go back to e-text list

go back to Wilkie Collins front page
visit the Paul Lewis front page

All material on these pages is © Paul Lewis 1997-2012