Page images

The family lived in one of those beautiful rural villages which eighty years ago were still to be found within a few miles of St. Paul's, but yet were outside the roar of the great city. The long dreary rows of jerry-built villas, which, like tentacles, stretch out on every side from the heart of the octopus, had not then invaded such peaceful retreats as Edgware, Muswell Hill, or Edmonton. Charles Lamb has left us delightful impressions of some of these villages which seemed to him when he wrote to be in the very heart of the country, where nightingales sang unaffrighted in the bushes, and real cows gave real cream and milk to the villagers.

The family house was a white, old-fashioned, rambling place, standing in an old garden, surrounded by meadows where the children tumbled and played and rode the donkey barebacked. The books tell of a baker famous for his rolls and rusks, and a special cake, dear to the little ones. An old Quaker maiden lady lived opposite, in the tiniest of cottages, with the tiniest of maidservants. She was reputed an authority on simples, and all the ordinary disorders of life, and valued herself principally upon her skill in children's complaints. Was she not called in when the youngest child swallowed a penny, and did she not administer an appalling mixture? And was not the penny found afterwards where it had fallen, in the cot! The fame of this cure was quickly spread abroad, however, and added much to the old lady's popularity. The nurse carried the children sturdily in her arms, and prophesied St. Vitus's dance if their brains were to be shaken up in 'them perambulators.' She too was a notable person, of quick affections and temper be it said, and when one of her little charges became unruly, would threaten him with Mr. Rhodes's bull-Mr. Rhodes having a large dairy farm in the neighbourhood, and the bull enjoying a well-earned reputation; Mr. Rhodes's descendants having since dealt in continents, not dairy farms.

The children grew up in that large liberty of country life which is so conducive to healthy development. The postman, blowing a horn, came along at the end of the lane every morning, and brought once a week the 'Penny Magazine,' a new and most wonderful book for the children. There was in the house a stock of good old-fashioned volumes, Elegant Extracts' among them. The little green-covered 'Pickwicks' had not yet begun to appear, and the era of the modern novel had not yet dawned

The dome of St. Paul's was the dominating feature of the landscape; and every day, wet or fine, the father of the household went into the great City on a four-horse coach.

The books tell of a social life nearly akin to the social life of to-day. The Opera and the Theatre assume, perhaps, an unusual place in the pleasures of the household. But then Edmund Kean, Malibran, Grisi, were filling the stage. The writer possesses a huge cloak of finest cloth lined with white satin for use in Fop's Alley,' as the Promenade in the Opera-house was then called. She remembers hearing the owner declaim favourite passages from Shakespeare after the manner of different actors. The French stage also was not neglected; French plays were to be heard occasionally, and an uncle who had received his education in France came over to read Racine with the young folk before they were taken into the town to hear Rachel on the stage in' Phèdre.'

For the rest, things went on pretty much as they would to-day with a young and intelligent family, for all that there were no railroads out of London, no ocean steamers, and no penny postThere were dancing and singing lessons, dinner parties, and a yearly dance. The cost of these is elaborately set forth in the account-books, and also the cost of building up a sufficient cellar of wine. Very little wine was drunk in the household, but in those days people bought wine to keep, and skill and judgment went far in reducing cost. The cellar would sometimes demand a tithe of the year's income. The family were always taken to the seaside for change of air by stage-coach; or abroad, as the children became old enough to learn foreign languages.

The first thing that strikes one on looking at the books is the vast change in the scale of the wages of domestic servants. The family was served by cook, housemaid, and page, with the addition of nurse and nursery-maid as children came into it. The young servants began at 6l., the cook received 16l., the housemaid 117., the nurse 18. As against this economy in wages must be put the high price of bread and of tea. Tea cost anything between 58. 6d. and 128. a pound, and all the servants expected tea; sugar, too, was dear, but milk and butter cheap; vegetables were grown in the garden for the most part, but potatoes remained a considerable item. Meat was cheap, 6d. or 7d. a pound, rather more than frozen meat is now.

Here are the household bills for a year. Let us take the year

[merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

The whole expenditure for that year was just over 500l. What strikes one is the apparent ease and luxury of the family life with the small general expenditure. As the years go by the family increases and the expenditure also, but whether the year has been a bad or a good one, some saving is always effected. It seems to have been agreed that a good, comfortable house, with a good garden, was a first consideration, and after that come a variety of intelligent occupations. There were no restaurants in those days to run up the weekly expenditure: no golf or other expensive amusements; tobacco does not appear in any form; and the wife's petty cash, which figures by itself as a separate item in each month's account, does not allow for the droppings from the purse of the lady of to-day who seldom leaves the house without spending some shillings and has nothing at the end of the day to show for it. Relatively large sums seem to have been paid for the more important things in family life-a good home, education, a good holiday; but there seems to have been general restraint in the small personal items which count for so much in the family budget of to-day.

Clothes, curiously, vary in price less than we should have expected. Calico was very dear, so was flannel; dressmakers, on the other hand, were comparatively cheap. When the wife is first married the trousseau reduces the personal outlay, but we find her going shortly to Paris and buying there an ostrich feather boa for 41. on another occasion she buys a green velvet dress and turban to match, with bird-of-paradise feather, the whole for 191. This also in Paris. There are purchases of old lace, presents of jewellery, and one can almost hear the groans with which the wife complains that not even a present to her but must go down in the big book. The big book, bound and in many volumes, runs through the years and covers a golden wedding; it tells a plain and simple story of happy lives spent together in the closest affection, with infinite care and tenderness for the children growing up, and a fine generosity on occasions, even when the income was still a slender one.

What strikes one as really remarkable is the certainty that life eighty or a hundred years ago was very much like the life of to-day; that before penny posts, railways, and ocean-going steamers, families living in modest ease, in pure country air, came into London for the theatre and opera, though they came on a coach instead of in a motor; that fathers took their families to the sea or abroad, just as the thoughtful father might do to-day-and it really does not seem to have cost any more. It would appear that the increased facilities for moving about have not in truth made life any cheaper, because the temptation to be always on the move is irresistible and constant movement has become almost a disease for most of us to-day. The penny post, too, has certainly increased the money spent on postage, as it has increased a thousand fold our correspondence. The marvellous material facilities by which we are surrounded have bred in us new wants, and have produced a new race of men and women: true, our travelling costs less, but then we travel so much more that, like the guests at the mad hatter's tea party, we are always moving on.

These records of pounds, shillings, and pence tell a true and unvarnished tale. It would be possible to write a family history from them, of the delicacy of one child, of the school achievements of the elder boys, the family love of music, of the stage, of books, of foreign travel; it is all quite plain and clear. The writer has been encouraged to write these few pages of the uneventful annals of a quiet family by the knowledge of the anxiety felt by so many to-day, who would fain marry, as to ways and means, as to the minimum income on which a reasonable married life is possible. There is a haunting terror of the sordid and the squalid, those spectres before which love flies. There can be in truth no absolute standard; what spells riches to the one, spells poverty to the other, and we are an expensive generation. The sordid and the squalid are, however, within our own control, and it is a satisfaction to know that the highest pleasures are commonly those which can be had at the least expenditure. People nowadays fritter quite a large sum away every year on things and in ways for which they get no return. It is a habit like any other habit. When one hears fathers and mothers talk of giving their children every advantage, it might often be reasonably suggested that they are giving them every disadvantage. To acquire simple and cultivated tastes in early life is in itself a goodly heritage; and for the rest, no human wisdom as to marriage has got beyond the motto on the leaden casket: Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.'

[ocr errors]






THE ordinary historical mystery is at least so far clear that one or other of certain solutions must be right, if we only knew which. Perkin Warbeck was the rightful King, or he was an impostor. Giacopo Stuardo at Naples (1669) was the eldest son of Charles II., or he was a humbug. The Man in the Iron Mask was certainly either Mattioli or Eustache Dauger. James VI. conspired against Gowrie, or Gowrie conspired against James VI., and so on. is reason and human nature at the back of these puzzles. But at the back of the Campden mystery there is not a glimmer of reason or of sane human nature, except on one hypothesis, which I shall offer. The events are, to all appearance, motiveless as the events in a feverish dream. The whole Matter is dark and mysterious; which we must therefore leave unto Him who alone knoweth all Things, in His due Time, to reveal and to bring to Light.'

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

So says the author of A True and Perfect Account of the Examination, Confession, Trial, and Execution of Joan Perry, and her two Sons, John and Richard Perry, for the Supposed Murder of Will Harrison, Gent., Being One of the most remarkable Occurrences which hath happened in the Memory of Man. Sent in a Letter (by Sir Thomas Overbury, of Burton, in the County of Gloucester, Knt., and one of his Majesty's Justices of the Peace) to Thomas Shirly, Doctor of Physick, in London. Also Mr. Harrison's Own account,' &c. (London. Printed for John Atkinson, near the Chapter House, in St. Paul's Church-Yard. No date, but apparently of 1676.)

Such is the vast and breathless title of a pamphlet, which, by undeserved good luck, I have just purchased. The writer, Sir Thomas Overbury,' the nephew and heir,' says Mr. John Paget, 'of the unhappy victim of the infamous Countess of Somerset' (who had the elder Overbury poisoned in the Tower), was the Justice of the Peace who acted as Juge d'Instruction in the case of Harrison's disappearance.2

Copyright, 1904, by Andrew Lang, in the United States of America,

[ocr errors]


Paget, Paradoxes and Puzzles, p. 342. Blackwoods, 1874.

VOL. XVI.-NO. 92, N.S.


« PreviousContinue »