Hackney-Coach-Stands

We main­tain that hack­ney-coaches, prop­erly so called, be­long solely to the me­trop­o­lis. We may be told, that there are hack­ney-coach stands in Ed­in­burgh; and not to go quite so far for a con­tra­dic­tion to our po­si­tion, we may be re­minded that Liv­er­pool, Man­ches­ter, ‘and oth­er large towns’ (as the Par­lia­men­tary phrase goes), have their hack­ney-coach stands. We read­ily con­cede to these places the pos­ses­sion of cer­tain ve­hi­cles, which may look al­most as dirty, and even go al­most as slowly, as Lon­don hack­ney-coaches; but that they have the slight­est claim to com­pete with the me­trop­o­lis, ei­ther in point of stands, dri­vers, or cat­tle, we in­dig­nantly deny.Take a reg­u­lar, pon­der­ous, rick­ety, Lon­don hack­ney-coach of the old school, and let any man have the bold­ness to as­sert, if he can, that he ever be­held any ob­ject on the face of the earth which at all re­sem­bles it, un­less, in­deed, it were an­oth­er hack­ney-coach of the same date. We have re­cently ob­served on cer­tain stands, and we say it with deep re­gret, rather dap­per green char­i­ots, and coaches of pol­ished yel­low, with four wheels of the same col­our as the coach, where­as it is per­fectly no­to­ri­ous to every one who has stud­ied the sub­ject, that every wheel ought to be of a dif­fer­ent col­our, and a dif­fer­ent size. These are in­no­va­tions, and, like oth­er mis­called im­prove­ments, aw­ful signs of the rest­less­ness of the pub­lic mind, and the lit­tle re­spect paid to our time-ho­n­oured in­sti­tu­tions. Why should hack­ney-coaches be clean? Our an­ces­tors found them dirty, and left them so. Why should we, with a fever­ish wish to ‘keep mov­ing,’ de­sire to roll along at the rate of six miles an hour, while they were con­tent to rum­ble over the stones at four? These are sol­emn con­sid­er­a­tions. Hack­ney-coaches are part and par­cel of the law of the land; they were set­tled by the Leg­is­la­ture; plated and num­bered by the wis­dom of Par­lia­ment.Then why have they been swamped by cabs and om­nibuses? Or why should peo­ple be al­lowed to ride quickly for eight­pence a mile, after Par­lia­ment had come to the sol­emn de­ci­sion that they should pay a shil­ling a mile for rid­ing slowly? We pause for a reply;—and, hav­ing no chance of get­ting one, be­gin a fresh para­graph.Our ac­quain­tance with hack­ney-coach stands is of long stand­ing. We are a walk­ing book of fares, feel­ing our­selves, half bound, as it were, to be al­ways in the right on con­tested points. We know all the reg­u­lar wa­ter­men with­in three miles of Cov­ent-gar­den by sight, and should be al­most temp­ted to be­lieve that all the hack­ney-coach horses in that dis­trict knew us by sight too, if one-half of them were not blind. We take great in­ter­est in hack­ney-coaches, but we sel­dom drive, hav­ing a knack of turn­ing our­selves over when we at­tempt to do so. We are as great friends to horses, hack­ney-coach and oth­er­wise, as the renowned Mr. Mar­tin, of cost­er­mon­ger no­to­ri­ety, and yet we nev­er ride. We keep no horse, but a clothes-horse; en­joy no sad­dle so much as a sad­dle of mut­ton; and, fol­low­ing our own in­cli­na­tions, have nev­er fol­lowed the hounds. Leav­ing these fleeter means of get­ting over the ground, or of de­pos­it­ing one­self upon it, to those who like them, by hack­ney-coach stands we take our stand.There is a hack­ney-coach stand un­der the very win­dow at which we are writ­ing; there is only one coach on it now, but it is a fair spec­i­men of the class of ve­hi­cles to which we have al­luded—a great, lum­ber­ing, square con­cern of a dingy yel­low col­our (like a bil­ious bru­nette), with very small glasses, but very large frames; the pan­els are or­na­men­ted with a faded coat of arms, in shape some­thing like a dis­sec­ted bat, the axle­tree is red, and the ma­jor­ity of the wheels are green. The box is par­tially cov­ered by an old great-coat, with a mul­ti­plic­ity of capes, and some ex­tra­or­di­nary-look­ing clothes; and the straw, with which the can­vas cush­ion is stuffed, is stick­ing up in sev­eral places, as if in ri­valry of the hay, which is peep­ing through the chinks in the boot. The horses, with droop­ing heads, and each with a mane and tail as scanty and strag­gling as those of a worn-out rock­ing-horse, are stand­ing pa­tiently on some damp straw, oc­ca­sion­ally winc­ing, and rat­tling the har­ness; and now and then, one of them lifts his mouth to the ear of his com­pan­ion, as if he were say­ing, in a whis­per, that he should like to as­sas­si­nate the coach­man. The coach­man him­self is in the wa­ter­ing-house; and the wa­ter­man, with his hands forced in­to his pock­ets as far as they can pos­si­bly go, is danc­ing the ‘dou­ble shuf­fle,’ in front of the pump, to keep his feet warm.The ser­vant-girl, with the pink rib­bons, at No. 5, op­po­site, sud­denly opens the street-door, and four small chil­dren forth­with rush out, and scream ‘Coach!’ with all their might and main. The wa­ter­man darts from the pump, seizes the horses by their re­spec­tive bri­dles, and drags them, and the coach too, round to the house, shout­ing all the time for the coach­man at the very top, or rather very bot­tom of his voice, for it is a deep bass growl. A re­sponse is heard from the tap-room; the coach­man, in his wooden-soled shoes, makes the street echo again as he runs across it; and then there is such a strug­gling, and back­ing, and grat­ing of the ken­nel, to get the coach-door op­po­site the house-door, that the chil­dren are in per­fect ec­stas­ies of de­light. What a com­mo­tion! The old lady, who has been stop­ping there for the last month, is go­ing back to the coun­try. Out comes box after box, and one side of the ve­hi­cle is filled with lug­gage in no time; the chil­dren get in­to every­body’s way, and the young­est, who has up­set him­self in his at­tempts to carry an um­brella, is borne off wounded and kick­ing. The young­sters dis­ap­pear, and a short pause en­sues, dur­ing which the old lady is, no doubt, kiss­ing them all round in the back par­lour. She ap­pears at last, fol­lowed by her mar­ried daugh­ter, all the chil­dren, and both the ser­vants, who, with the joint as­sis­tance of the coach­man and wa­ter­man, man­age to get her safely in­to the coach. A cloak is handed in, and a lit­tle bas­ket, which we could al­most swear con­tains a small black bot­tle, and a pa­per of sand­wiches. Up go the steps, bang goes the door, ‘Golden-cross, Char­ing-cross, Tom,’ says the wa­ter­man; ‘Good-bye, grandma,’ cry the chil­dren, off jin­gles the coach at the rate of three miles an hour, and the mamma and chil­dren re­tire in­to the house, with the ex­cep­tion of one lit­tle vil­lain, who runs up the street at the top of his speed, pur­sued by the ser­vant; not ill-pleased to have such an op­por­tu­nity of dis­play­ing her at­trac­tions. She brings him back, and, after cast­ing two or three gra­cious glances across the way, which are ei­ther in­ten­ded for us or the pot­boy (we are not quite cer­tain which), shuts the door, and the hack­ney-coach stand is again at a stand­still.We have been fre­quently amused with the in­tense de­light with which ‘a ser­vant of all work,’ who is sent for a coach, de­pos­its her­self in­side; and the un­speak­able grat­i­fi­ca­tion which boys, who have been des­patched on a sim­i­lar er­rand, ap­pear to de­rive from mount­ing the box. But we nev­er rec­ol­lect to have been more amused with a hack­ney-coach party, than one we saw early the oth­er morn­ing in Tot­ten­ham-court-road. It was a wed­ding-party, and emerged from one of the in­fe­ri­or streets near Fitzroy-square. There were the bride, with a thin white dress, and a great red face; and the brides­maid, a lit­tle, dumpy, good-hu­moured young wo­man, dressed, of course, in the same ap­pro­pri­ate cos­tume; and the bride­groom and his cho­sen friend, in blue coats, yel­low waist-coats, white trousers, and Ber­lin gloves to match. They stopped at the cor­ner of the street, and called a coach with an air of in­de­scrib­able dig­nity. The mo­ment they were in, the brides­maid threw a red shawl, which she had, no doubt, brought on pur­pose, neg­li­gently over the num­ber on the door, ev­i­dently to de­lude pedes­tri­ans in­to the be­lief that the hack­ney-coach was a pri­vate car­riage; and away they went, per­fectly sat­is­fied that the im­po­si­tion was suc­cess­ful, and quite un­con­scious that there was a great star­ing num­ber stuck up be­hind, on a plate as large as a school­boy’s slate. A shil­ling a mile!—the ride was worth five, at least, to them.What an in­ter­est­ing book a hack­ney-coach might pro­duce, if it could carry as much in its head as it does in its body! The au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of a bro­ken-down hack­ney-coach, would surely be as amus­ing as the au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of a bro­ken-down hack­neyed drama­tist; and it might tell as much of its trav­els with the pole, as oth­ers have of their ex­pe­di­tions to it. How many sto­ries might be re­lated of the dif­fer­ent peo­ple it had con­veyed on mat­ters of busi­ness or profit—plea­sure or pain! And how many melan­choly tales of the same peo­ple at dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods! The coun­try-girl—the showy, over-dressed wo­man—the drunk­en pros­ti­tu­te! The raw ap­pren­tice—the dis­si­pated spend­thrift—the thief!Talk of cabs! Cabs are all very well in cases of ex­pe­di­tion, when it’s a mat­ter of neck or noth­ing, life or death, your tem­po­rary home or your long one. But, be­sides a cab’s lack­ing that grav­ity of de­port­ment which so pe­cu­li­arly dis­tin­guishes a hack­ney-coach, let it nev­er be for­got­ten that a cab is a thing of yes­ter­day, and that he nev­er was any­thing bet­ter. A hack­ney-cab has al­ways been a hack­ney-cab, from his first entry in­to life; where­as a hack­ney-coach is a rem­nant of past gen­til­ity, a vic­tim to fash­ion, a hanger-on of an old Eng­lish fam­ily, wear­ing their arms, and, in days of yore, es­cor­ted by men wear­ing their liv­ery, stripped of his fin­ery, and thrown upon the world, like a once-smart foot­man when he is no longer suf­fi­ciently ju­ve­nile for his of­fice, pro­gress­ing lower and lower in the scale of four-wheeled de­gra­da­tion, un­til at last it comes to—a stand!

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