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Autobiographical Reminiscences of David Johnston
Chapter XIV

"The world is a bundle of hay,
Mankind are the asses who pull;
Each tugs in a different way,
Aud the greatest of all is John Bull."

NOW I am in London, the city of the world; the Scotchman's field of laudable effort; the head and front of civilization; the rewarder of merit, and the chastiser of everything low. This very spot, too, Downie's wharf, is suggestive of a retrospect which is by no means flattering to myself. Here, years ago, I spent a night on board the Trusty, Captain Christy, sent by my cold half-brother on my supposed way back to an offended home. Here pride gained the ascendancy and led me a dance up the Baltic, to escape an ordeal which that very step had the effect of aggravating to a ten-fold degree, but it may be all for the best. At least I know it's good to think so. I begin to feel the importance of the present juncture as a new starting point. I am in London; I am eighteen years old, in possession of as many shillings as years in hard cash, a good sound constitution, a good trade at my finger ends, and a determination second to none. What, then, do I lack to insure success? Judgment, sound judgmerit. Alas ! that is an attribute that never has held a prominent place in the composition of my character. The wages of a journeyman baker in those days ran, for foremen, from 20 to 30 shillings a week; for second hands, from 15 to 20; for third hands, from 9 to 14. My first place with Mr. Gibb, Silver street, Golden square, brought ten shillings a week.

This was obtained through the medium of what is termed in London a house of call. Every trade has its house or houses of call, and to the uninitiated they are very useful. They partake of the communistic and the office of intelligence principles combined. Those in place never allow the outs to starve. The landlord keeps a record of applications for men, and all the members are interested in supplying the wants of the trade in that direction in order to relieve themselves of a self-imposed tax. Having traveled the streets for six weeks, my exchequer down to a solitary shilling, the receipt of my first week's wage was very acceptable. Of course, a portion of this had to be applied to treat the boys who helped me to gain this round of the ladder by which to climb to fortune. Now all London was astir to have his first parliament opened in person by that notable specimen of royalty, George the Fourth. Riots having occurred at his coronation, when he rudely debarred Queen Caroline of the privilege, many were apprehensive that such might characterize this, his first public act as king. The town was divided, but such is the intoxicating effect of royal pageantry on the multitude that I should hesitate to give credence to that of which I was on that occasion an eye and ear witness. I took my stand among the gaping crowd in Piccadilly, where his Majesty was coolly received. I was borne along in the living mass as near to the royal carriage, drawn by eight richly caparisoned horses, as I could get. At Charing Cross the coolness had ripened into a hiss. At the Horse Guards faint hisses mingled with loud cheers, down Parliament street cheers gaining the ascendancy, and by the time the cavalcade arrived at the parliament house no sound but the most throat-cracking huzzas saluted my unsophisticated ear. Consistency, thou art a jewel! Aspiring to a higher round in the ladder after the coronation I soon found a second hand's place of seventeen shillings with Mr. Baldie, of Frith street, Soho square. During this year (1822) the King visited Scotland, and who should have the honor of being the chosen few to accompany him became the theme of angry controversy and much jealousy in high places,—so much so that the celebrated Lord Castle-reagh retired in high dudgeon to his country seat, and destroyed himself by severing his jugular vein. The King in his caprice had taken into his social councils a rich, ignorant baker of the name of Sir William Curtis, the man who, it is said, proposed at a Bacchanalian spree a toast of "the three C's," and on being asked to explain said the three C's stood for Church, King and Curtis. This man was at this period cartooned and caricatured as no other man ever was, and he had in his mansion a very large apartment in which to display them. One I well remember. He was dressed in a grotesque Highland costume, and for a sporran, hanging from the lower part of his huge body, an immense turtle, of the flesh of which creature he was known to be passionately fond. The King had the bad taste to carry this voluptuous ignoramus with him to the north, creating thereby a good deal of gossiping scandal from his coarseness. Strange conduct on the part of one who was said to be the first gentleman in Europe! The new Marriage Act was made law this year, as also the new Bread Law, doing away with the quartern and half-quartern loaves, rendering it penal to sell bread otherwise than by weight. About this time I became acquainted with Sophia Grainger, a young lady, the only daughter of an elderly widow lady living on her means in Somers Town. To the influence of this dear lady, morally and physically speaking, I confess to standing indebted for my salvation. The life of a journeyman baker in London is, to say the least, anomalous. Without the advantages of domesticity he is held in a species of slavery by his employers by means of the domestic tie. Bakers must sleep on the premises of the scene of their daily and nightly labor. Their barracks, as their sleeping apartment is termed, run from decent to the beastly. An incident may suffice to show the nature of the latter. I had aspired to the altitude of foreman, and engaged with a gentleman who shall here be nameless. The bakehouse, as usual, was in the cellar, the oven beneath the public pavement.

I asked for the barracks, wherein to deposit my surplus clothing, arid was disgusted on being led into a dark nook in the cellar, fitted up with bunks for beds, and entirely without a chance of light or ventilation. My first impulse was to leave, but the thoughts of my new elevation induced me to stay to learn. This man was very religious; employed much of his time distributing religious tracts among the denizens of the neighboring mews, abolished Sunday trading, established domestic family worship in his splendid parlor, at which on Sunday morning all the domestics, male and female (three of each), were requested to attend, which I did once, and could not help thinking that that was once too often. I remained in his service six months, and on being asked my reasons for non-attendance at family worship I told him that after a night's rest in such a bed, in such a place, I failed to find myself in a frame of mind suitable for worship, and therefore should leave his service next Saturday night, which I did, and was afterward glad to learn that the rebuke was not thrown away. The hours of labor, too, are drawn out to an ungodly degree. Commencing at eleven p. m., his day's work is spun out till the following p. m. about six during the six lawful days in the week, and on Sundays from nine till two. Notwithstanding the limited time given him for rest and recreation it must be acknowledged that the hours were often very injudiciously spent. Dancing among the Scotch bakers laid claim to the hours that belonged to the bed and the book, and that thoughtless pastime taking a prominent part in the long list of my weaknesses I easily fell a victim to the fascinating maze. To keep the arrangement free from objectionable characters some twenty of us hired the Bedform rooms, High Hol-born, for two nights in the week. These rooms were kept by a highly respectable family of the name of Trevest, who seemed to be well pleased with our partics, as well they might, for in the whole course of subsequent experience I have failed to witness anything of the kind so well conducted.

During 1825 I worked for Mr. Tate, corner of Hand Court, High Holborn. There I received the painful news of my father's death at eighty-four years of age. The celebrated banker Fauntleroy was executed at the Old Bailey in that year. Led on by the fascinations of a Mrs. Forbes he committed the most heartless frauds and caused the total ruin of numbers, among whom were many widows and orphans. About this epoch Daniel O'Connell was causiug some uneasiness in the councils of conservatism by his telling appeals to the people in behalf of Catholic emancipation. He is also charged with creating a movement which, in later years, under the auspices of his more fiery and less politic coadjutor, Fergus O'Connor, gave some trouble and a good deal of apprehension. It was rumored also that he (Daniel O'Connell) wrote the celebrated document called the "Charter," which advocated a thorough change of government, rendered the more lucid to the masses by its distinguishing features, called points, viz: (1) Universal suffrage, (2) vote by ballot, (3) annual parliaments, (4) non-property qualification, (5) payment of members of parliament; in opposition to the present system of septennial parliaments: (2) Open voting, (3) property qualification of the exercise of the franchise, (4) non-payment of members of parliament, (5) property qualifications of members of parliament.

This document called for a wide departure from the then present system, which, with all its faults, had stood the brunt of many a hard-fought battle and borne the nation on to a state of prosperity which was the envy of the world. Still the reforming spirit had fairly fastened on that wonderful people. It seemed that an obscuring veil had been withdrawn from the nation's vision, and suddenly exposed to view the most glaring inconsistencies. It saw and marveled at old Gatten and old Sarum, sitting in their easy conservative chairs, playfully manufacturing political tools to help existing powers, to prolong monopolies aged in plethora. It saw busy Birmingham, with all its ingenuity and all its energy, voiceless in the law-making process, and wondered at its own blindness. Now monopoly trembled in its most impregnable stronghold— the Bank of England, the East India Company, the West India interest, with its system of human bondage, the high-handed landed interest lording it over the million in taxing the laborer's loaf. All these, with a thousand and one intermediate abuses, requiring the pruning-knife or, like the blasted fig-tree, rooting out. What a sickle-waiting harvest! Who the laborers? The house is divided against itself. The privileged class will have all things remain as they are. Open once the flood-gates of reform and who shall say what part of our sacred constitution will sustain the shock? The shallow-thinking understrata, taking pattern from a neighboring nation, would have all things swept away that they may, in their wisdom, begin anew. But, happily, there is in Great Britain a wiser, sounder, deeper-thinking middle class.

In their horny hands the sickle placed,
Whate'er they undertake is ne'er disgraced.

The happy blending of the two antagnonisms appears to the subscriber as the course of wisdom. Surely he must be a blind reformer whose composition lacks the valuable ingredient of conservatism, and vice versa, the conservatism of an individual lies open to objection who opposes the removal of a palpable abuse, even if actuated by fear of consequences. I was working in Mount street, Grosvenor square, among the elite of the metropolis, when the first blow was struck at the West India monopoly by admitting the saccharine products of the Mauritius at an equal ratio of duty with those of the West Indies, which had the effect of rendering their entire property unproductive, and which paved the way for the abolition at a later day of that blot which for so many years had stained the otherwise fair escutcheon of Great Britain—human slavery. Under the auspices of Earl Grey the growing agitation for reform in parliament was fast ripening into an irresistible force. All the reformers seemed to agree to concentrate their forces on some such measure as would augment the popular voice, well knowing that by increased facilities each particular hobby would be more easily attained. The Irish patriot was waxing strong when the Duke of York, in his Protestant zeal, in his place in parliament, made a violent anti-Catholic speech, ending in a solemn oath to do all in his power, while life lasted, to prevent Catholics sitting in parliament. This speech was printed in letters of gold, on vellum, and distributed broadcast over the kingdoms three, while Dan went on in the even tenor of his way.

One of the most prominent men of the day was Henry Brougham. His father, Brougham of Vaux, in Cumberland, in his youth repaired to the Scottish capital, and married the sister of Robertson, the historian, and I believe Harry was the only issue of that union. He distinguished himself in his profession, and in literary circles was one of the brightest ornaments of that famous galaxy of talent which adorned Edinburgh at that epoch; but, like all aspiring Scotchmen, he partook at an early date of the London fever, and the tone of his ambition may be gathered from the expression he is said to have made use of when taking farewell of his friends and stepping into his carriage. "Good-by, friends," he said, "here goes the future Lord Chancellor of England"—a prognostication which was verified under very peculiar circumstances. He was one of those retained to defend the character of Queen Caroline in opposition to the vile charges and insinuations advanced against that unhappy lady by an unkind husband and the pandering sycophants of a corrupt court. The evidence of the Duke of Clarence had been adduced against the Queen when H. R. H. for a short time left the court, and on his return, and when about to take his seat, Brougham was in the midst of a volley of invectives against the enemies of his client such as no other man could wield. In the heat of argument he had the daring to utter the following words: " Notwithstanding the evidence of that royal slanderer now resuming his seat, the royal lady at the bar of this court is as innocent of the crimes and follies with which she is charged as the child unborn." We now leave the future lord to fight his own battles against a host of enemies in high places, increased in numbers and virulence by his action on the Queen's trial; but if his prestige was impaired in the aristocratic ranks by his internperate language on that trial it was more than compensated for by the rise in the tide of popular sentiment.

My acquaintance with Sophia had, in the course of four years, ripened into an inseparable attachment, and we mutually came to the conclusion that her mother should be made acquainted with our true position. My humble position in life made me backward, but the ordeal passed in a cordial reception, and my mind was much relieved by the prospect of the termination of a sort of vagabond life which naturally pertains to an undomesticated domestic. None but those who have been deprived of the amenities of life can possibly appreciate their true value. The gates were thrown open to a golden elysium "—a happy home in which I was made most welcome.

1824.. At this time, in a way stripped of all ostentation, was borne the mortal remains of England's great poet, Lord Byron, on its way from Missolonghi, in Greece, where he died, to their final resting-place in Hacknall, near Newstead Abbey, the seat of his ancestry. Mine eyes beheld his faithful Fletcher following his beloved master's bier in the simple cortege proceeding through the streets of Camden Town, in the northern district of London. ' There were very few of his former admirers present. Amongst the few could be distinguished his bosom-friend, John Cam Hobhouse. Most of the elite who danced around the poet during his hours of idleness contented themselves on this solemn occasion by sending their empty carriages — a fitting representation of most of the hearts who owned them. With the honorable exceptions, I would say —


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