London Recreations

The wish of per­sons in the hum­bler classes of life, to ape the man­ners and cus­toms of those whom for­tune has placed above them, is of­ten the sub­ject of re­mark, and not un­fre­quently of com­plaint. The in­cli­na­tion may, and no doubt does, ex­ist to a great ex­tent, among the small gen­til­ity—the would-be ar­is­to­crats—of the mid­dle classes. Trades­men and clerks, with fash­ion­able nov­el-read­ing fam­i­lies, and cir­cu­lat­ing-li­brary-sub­scrib­ing daugh­ters, get up small as­sem­blies in hum­ble im­i­ta­tion of Al­mack’s, and prom­e­nade the dingy ‘large room’ of some sec­ond-rate hotel with as much com­pla­cency as the en­vi­able few who are priv­i­leged to ex­hi­b­it their mag­nif­i­cence in that ex­clu­sive haunt of fash­ion and fool­ery. As­pir­ing young ladies, who read flam­ing ac­counts of some ‘fancy fair in high life,’ sud­denly grow des­per­ately char­i­ta­ble; vi­sions of ad­mi­ra­tion and mat­ri­mony float be­fore their eyes; some won­der­fully mer­i­to­ri­ous in­sti­tu­tion, which, by the strangest ac­ci­dent in the world, has nev­er been heard of be­fore, is dis­cov­ered to be in a lan­guish­ing con­di­tion: Thom­son’s great room, or John­son’s nurs­ery-ground, is forth­with en­gaged, and the afore­said young ladies, from mere char­ity, ex­hi­b­it them­selves for three days, from twelve to four, for the small charge of one shil­ling per head! With the ex­cep­tion of these classes of so­ci­ety, how­ever, and a few weak and in­sig­nif­i­cant per­sons, we do not think the at­tempt at im­i­ta­tion to which we have al­luded, pre­vails in any great de­gree. The dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter of the re­cre­ations of dif­fer­ent classes, has of­ten af­forded us amuse­ment; and we have cho­sen it for the sub­ject of our pre­sent sketch, in the hope that it may pos­sess some amuse­ment for our read­ers.If the reg­u­lar City man, who leaves Lloyd’s at five o’clock, and dri­ves home to Hack­ney, Clap­ton, Stam­ford-hill, or else­where, can be said to have any daily re­cre­ation be­yond his din­ner, it is his gar­den. He nev­er does any­thing to it with his own hands; but he takes great pride in it not­with­stand­ing; and if you are de­sirous of pay­ing your ad­dresses to the young­est daugh­ter, be sure to be in rap­tures with every flower and shrub it con­tains. If your poverty of ex­pres­sion com­pel you to make any dis­tinc­tion be­tween the two, we would cer­tainly rec­om­mend your be­stow­ing more ad­mi­ra­tion on his gar­den than his wine. He al­ways takes a walk round it, be­fore he starts for town in the morn­ing, and is par­tic­u­larly anx­ious that the fish-pond should be kept spe­cially neat. If you call on him on Sun­day in sum­mer-time, about an hour be­fore din­ner, you will find him sit­ting in an arm-chair, on the lawn be­hind the house, with a straw hat on, read­ing a Sun­day pa­per. A short dis­tance from him you will most likely ob­serve a hand­some paro­quet in a large brass-wire cage; ten to one but the two el­dest girls are loi­ter­ing in one of the side walks ac­com­pa­nied by a cou­ple of young gen­tle­men, who are hold­ing para­sols over them—of course only to keep the sun off—while the young­er chil­dren, with the un­der nurs­ery-maid, are strolling list­lessly about, in the shade. Be­yond these oc­ca­sions, his de­light in his gar­den ap­pears to arise more from the con­scious­ness of pos­ses­sion than ac­tu­al en­joy­ment of it. When he dri­ves you down to din­ner on a week-day, he is rather fa­tigued with the oc­cu­pa­tions of the morn­ing, and tol­er­a­bly cross in­to the bar­gain; but when the cloth is re­moved, and he has drank three or four glasses of his fa­vour­ite port, he or­ders the French win­dows of his din­ing-room (which of course look in­to the gar­den) to be opened, and throw­ing a silk hand­ker­chief over his head, and lean­ing back in his arm-chair, des­cants at con­sid­er­able length upon its beauty, and the cost of main­tain­ing it. This is to im­press you—who are a young friend of the fam­ily—with a due sense of the ex­cel­lence of the gar­den, and the wealth of its own­er; and when he has ex­hausted the sub­ject, he goes to sleep.There is an­oth­er and a very dif­fer­ent class of men, whose re­cre­ation is their gar­den. An in­di­vid­ual of this class, re­sides some short dis­tance from town—say in the Hamp­stead-road, or the Kil­burn-road, or any oth­er road where the houses are small and neat, and have lit­tle slips of back gar­den. He and his wife—who is as clean and com­pact a lit­tle body as him­self—have oc­cu­pied the same house ever since he re­tired from busi­ness twenty years ago. They have no fam­ily. They once had a son, who died at about five years old. The child’s por­trait hangs over the man­tel­piece in the best sit­ting-room, and a lit­tle cart he used to draw about, is care­fully pre­served as a rel­ic.In fine weath­er the old gen­tle­man is al­most con­stantly in the gar­den; and when it is too wet to go in­to it, he will look out of the win­dow at it, by the hour to­geth­er. He has al­ways some­thing to do there, and you will see him dig­ging, and sweep­ing, and cut­ting, and plant­ing, with man­i­fest de­light. In spring-time, there is no end to the sow­ing of seeds, and stick­ing lit­tle bits of wood over them, with la­bels, which look like epi­taphs to their mem­ory; and in the even­ing, when the sun has gone down, the per­se­ver­ance with which he lugs a great wa­ter­ing-pot about is per­fectly as­ton­ish­ing. The only oth­er re­cre­ation he has, is the news­pa­per, which he pe­ruses every day, from be­gin­ning to end, gen­er­ally read­ing the most in­ter­est­ing pieces of in­tel­li­gence to his wife, dur­ing break­fast. The old lady is very fond of flow­ers, as the hy­acinth-glasses in the par­lour-win­dow, and gera­ni­um-pots in the lit­tle front court, tes­ti­fy. She takes great pride in the gar­den too: and when one of the four fruit-trees pro­duces rather a lar­ger goose­berry than usu­al, it is care­fully pre­served un­der a wine-glass on the side­board, for the ed­i­fi­ca­tion of vis­i­tors, who are duly in­formed that Mr. So-and-so planted the tree which pro­duced it, with his own hands. On a sum­mer’s even­ing, when the large wa­ter­ing-pot has been filled and emp­tied some four­teen times, and the old cou­ple have quite ex­hausted them­selves by trot­ting about, you will see them sit­ting hap­pily to­geth­er in the lit­tle sum­mer­house, en­joy­ing the calm and peace of the twi­light, and watch­ing the shad­ows as they fall upon the gar­den, and grad­u­ally grow­ing thick­er and more som­bre, ob­scure the tints of their gay­est flow­ers—no bad em­blem of the years that have si­lently rolled over their heads, dead­en­ing in their course the bright­est hues of early hopes and feel­ings which have long since faded away. These are their only re­cre­ations, and they re­quire no more. They have with­in them­selves, the ma­te­ri­als of com­fort and con­tent; and the only anx­i­ety of each, is to die be­fore the oth­er.This is no ideal sketch. There used to be many old peo­ple of this de­scrip­tion; their num­bers may have di­min­ished, and may de­crease still more. Wheth­er the course fe­male ed­u­ca­tion has taken of late days—wheth­er the pur­suit of giddy friv­o­li­ties, and empty noth­ings, has ten­ded to un­fit wo­men for that quiet do­mes­tic life, in which they show far more beau­ti­fully than in the most crowded as­sem­bly, is a ques­tion we should feel lit­tle grat­i­fi­ca­tion in dis­cuss­ing: we hope not.Let us turn now, to an­oth­er por­tion of the Lon­don pop­u­la­tion, whose re­cre­ations pre­sent about as strong a con­trast as can well be con­ceived—we mean the Sun­day plea­sur­ers; and let us beg our read­ers to imag­ine them­selves sta­tioned by our side in some well-known rur­al ‘Tea-gar­dens.’The heat is in­tense this af­ter­noon, and the peo­ple, of whom there are ad­di­tion­al par­ties ar­riv­ing every mo­ment, look as warm as the ta­bles which have been re­cently painted, and have the ap­pear­ance of be­ing red-hot. What a dust and noise! Men and wo­men—boys and girls—sweet­hearts and mar­ried peo­ple—ba­bies in arms, and chil­dren in chaises—pipes and shrimps—cig­ars and peri­win­kles—tea and to­bacco. Gen­tle­men, in alarm­ing waist­coats, and steel watch-guards, prom­e­nad­ing about, three abreast, with sur­pris­ing dig­nity (or as the gen­tle­man in the next box face­tiously ob­serves, ‘cut­ting it un­com­mon fat!’)—ladies, with great, long, white pock­et-hand­ker­chiefs like small ta­ble-cloths, in their hands, chas­ing one an­oth­er on the grass in the most play­ful and in­ter­est­ing man­ner, with the view of at­tract­ing the at­ten­tion of the afore­said gen­tle­men—hus­bands in per­spec­tive or­der­ing bot­tles of gin­ger-beer for the ob­jects of their af­fec­tions, with a lav­ish dis­re­gard of ex­pense; and the said ob­jects wash­ing down huge quan­ti­ties of ‘shrimps’ and ‘win­kles,’ with an equal dis­re­gard of their own bod­ily health and sub­se­quent com­fort—boys, with great silk hats just bal­anced on the top of their heads, smok­ing cig­ars, and try­ing to look as if they liked them—gen­tle­men in pink shirts and blue waist­coats, oc­ca­sion­ally up­set­ting ei­ther them­selves, or some­body else, with their own canes.Some of the fin­ery of these peo­ple pro­vokes a smile, but they are all clean, and happy, and dis­posed to be good-na­tured and so­cia­ble. Those two moth­erly-look­ing wo­men in the smart pe­lisses, who are chat­ting so con­fi­den­tially, in­sert­ing a ‘ma’am’ at every fourth word, scraped an ac­quain­tance about a quar­ter of an hour ago: it orig­i­nated in ad­mi­ra­tion of the lit­tle boy who be­longs to one of them—that di­minu­tive spec­i­men of mor­tal­ity in the three-cor­nered pink sat­in hat with black feath­ers. The two men in the blue coats and drab trousers, who are walk­ing up and down, smok­ing their pipes, are their hus­bands. The party in the op­po­site box are a pretty fair spec­i­men of the gen­er­al­ity of the vis­i­tors. These are the fa­ther and moth­er, and old grand­moth­er: a young man and wo­man, and an in­di­vid­ual ad­dressed by the eu­pho­ni­ous title of ‘Uncle Bill,’ who is ev­i­dently the wit of the party. They have some half-dozen chil­dren with them, but it is scarcely nec­es­sary to no­tice the fact, for that is a mat­ter of course here. Every wo­man in ‘the gar­dens,’ who has been mar­ried for any length of time, must have had twins on two or three oc­ca­sions; it is im­pos­si­ble to ac­count for the ex­tent of ju­ve­nile pop­u­la­tion in any oth­er way.Ob­serve the in­ex­press­ible de­light of the old grand­moth­er, at Uncle Bill’s splen­did joke of ‘tea for four: bread-and-but­ter for forty;’ and the loud ex­plo­sion of mirth which fol­lows his wafer­ing a pa­per ‘pig­tail’ on the waiter’s col­lar. The young man is ev­i­dently ‘keep­ing com­pany’ with Uncle Bill’s niece: and Uncle Bill’s hints—such as ‘Don’t for­get me at the din­ner, you know,’ ‘I shall look out for the cake, Sally,’ ‘I’ll be god­fa­ther to your first—wager it’s a boy,’ and so forth, are equally em­bar­rass­ing to the young peo­ple, and de­light­ful to the eld­er ones. As to the old grand­moth­er, she is in per­fect ec­stas­ies, and does noth­ing but laugh her­self in­to fits of cough­ing, un­til they have fin­ished the ‘gin-and-wa­ter warm with,’ of which Uncle Bill or­dered ‘glasses round’ after tea, ‘just to keep the night air out, and to do it up com­fort­able and rig­lar arter sitch an as-ton­ish­ing hot day!’It is get­ting dark, and the peo­ple be­gin to move. The field lead­ing to town is quite full of them; the lit­tle hand-chaises are dragged wear­ily along, the chil­dren are tired, and amuse them­selves and the com­pany gen­er­ally by cry­ing, or re­sort to the much more pleas­ant ex­pe­di­ent of go­ing to sleep—the moth­ers be­gin to wish they were at home again—sweet­hearts grow more sen­ti­men­tal than ever, as the time for part­ing ar­rives—the gar­dens look mourn­ful enough, by the light of the two lan­terns which hang against the trees for the con­ve­ni­ence of smok­ers—and the wait­ers who have been run­ning about in­ces­santly for the last six hours, think they feel a lit­tle tired, as they count their glasses and their gains.

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