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The capital of a nation may be considered in the light of the head and face of the human frame, which are supposed, by craniologists and physiognomists, to indicate the character of the indivi. dual. Having now been settled here some twelve months, and played the busy, inquisitive traveller all the time, I shall commence my promised picture of John Bull, by beginning with his head. Before I proceed, however, I must beg permission of your patience to make a few preliminary observations.
Strangers in every country always see the worst of it. Wherever we go, it will be found that the characters and the virtues of a people are best seen and most clearly developed at the domestic fire-side, where, in this country, strangers are rarely admitted. If they should be, however, they seldom become sufficiently intimate to form a just estimate of character, because the faults and the foibles of mankind are always more apt to strike our attention, than their virtues. Nothing therefore can be more unjust, than for a stranger to condemn a country on his first arrival, because he is cheated by a hackney coachman, or imposed upon by his landlord. Such has, however, been the criterion by which British travellers have judg
ed of our country, and such indeed seems to be the habit of most of those worthy persons who go about the world libelling the characters of whole nations under the mask of a book of travels.
Of this pitiful propensity I shall endeavour to devest myself as much as possible. Without omitting to record those little incidents which throw light on character and manners, I shall leave you occasionally to draw your own conclusions, bearing in mind that the two-legged wild beasts of great cities, as they have greater temptations and greater opportunities for the commission of crimes, are apt to be more vicious, when they incline to vice, than when placed in a different situation.
hether the same may be said of their virtuous propensities, I am somewhat inclined to doubt, although by no means prepared to give into the philosophical denunciations against large societies.
I invaded London under cover of a great fog, somewhat similar to that recorded on New-Year's eve in 1730, when, it is stated, that many persons fell into Fleet-ditch, and several prominent noses sustained serious damage by coming in contact with each other. Among the few objects I could see, was a person with a lantern, who, I
suppose, like Æsop, was looking about for an honest man. You may think, my dear brother, how scarce honest men must be in London. Alighting from the stage, there was a great contest for the privilege of carrying my trunks, like that of the Greeks and Trojans for the body of Patroclus. In conclusion, the Greek carried the day, as I found, for a goodnatured person apprised me, that if I permitted their attendance, I should probably never see my trunks again. I was not aware of the necessity of this caution, as you know in our own dear honest country, no man hesitates a moment to trust his VOL. I.
baggage with the first porter that offers, be he black or white. This is not one of those solitary instances from which no general conclusions can be drawn. It furnishes decisive proof, that at least one class of people of this country is not as honest as the same class in ours.
To escape the hacks I called a hack, and by that means fell out of the frying-pan into the fire ;' that is, if rushing upon a positive evil to escape a probable one, will justify the old proverb. He charged me three times the amount of his fare, and gave me a few bad shillings in change. These bad shillings are, in truth, as common as counterfeit notes are in our country, and strangers should be equally aware of them. Well, he drove me to the ****** coffee-house, the name of which, being derived from my own country, attracted the yearnings of my inclination. Here the master of the house very soon satisfied me I had been cheated. But as hackney-coachmen are for the most part rogues in grain, all over the world, new and old, I determined, in my own mind, to let John Bull off that time, and not denounce him on the score of this universal characteristic of a particular species of men.
The master of the house advised me to buy a Picture of London, which I did, and very much .consolation did it afford me. Among the first choice passages I fell upon, were the following: 66 Any man who saunters about London, with pockets on the outside of his coat, or who mixes in crowds without especial care of his pockets, deserves no pity on account of the losses he may sustain.” Again : “ Persons should be very particular as soon as they have called a hackney-coach, to observe the number, before they get into it. This precaution guards against imposition, or unforeseen accidents. There is no other method of punishing coachmen who misbehave, nor chance of recovering property carelessly left in the coach, but by the recollection of the number.” Now, brother, I could not come within a thousand of the number of my coach, for I had no idea of being cheated by a backney-coachman in this honest country.
For the benefit of any of your honest neighbours, who may chance to visit this city, and be cheated before they can get a
66 Picture of London," I will extract one or two more passages from that valuable work:
“ One of the most dangerous classes of swindlers are those pretended porters or clerks, who attend about the doors of inns, at the time the coaches are unloading; or who watch the arrival of post-chaises at the doors of the coffee-houses. These fellows, by various artifices, frequently obtain possession of the luggage of a traveller, who has occasion to lament the want of suspicion, in the loss of his clothes and other effects."
“ Mock auctions, in which plated goods are sold for silver, and a variety of incredible frauds practised upon the unwary, ought to be cautiously avoided. They may be in general known by a person being placed at the door to invite in the passing stranger.”
Strangers having business at Doctors' Commons, should previously know the address of a proctor, as all the avenues are beset by inferior clerks or porters, who watch and accost strangers, whom they take into some office, where they are paid in proportion to the nature of the business, which is conducted not in the most respectable way, and never without extra charges, unwarranted by the profession.”
“ In asking questions, or inquiring the way, it is necessary always to apply at a shop, or a publichouse, and never to rely upon the information which may be given by persons in the streets.”
Such, brother, are a few of the dangers which beset the traveller, in his adventurous pilgrimage through this wilderness of two-legged beasts of prey. One cannot help, if ever so little inclined, drawing conclusions favourable to the state of morals at home in our cities, when the fact is known, that none of these refined modes of swindling have as yet become naturalized in our new world. I imagine the cold, distant, suspicious demeanor, which Englishmen maintain towards each other in general originates, pot more in a frigid stupidity, than in an experience of the danger which results from that confidence, which may be placed in our fellow-creatures elsewbere, without so much hazard. When two tolerably intimate friends, of half a dozen years' standing, see each other coming from opposite directions, the first thing they do is to look all about to see if they cannot avoid meeting, without the appearance of a “dead cut,” by turning a corner, crossing the street, or admiring the caricatures in a print-shop. If all these expedients be beyond their reach, they crawl up to each other like two land tortoises, and perhaps offer a dead hand to shake. Then they commence a most capital colloquy about the weather, &c.