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INCIDENT AT A TAVERN.
that Englishmen are not always the immaculate creatures soine would have us suppose. There must have been between 250 and 300 persons in the hall. Lord requested the company to listen for one moment: “Gentlemen,” said he,“ I find that we are most rudely insulted at this house, in being called upon to pay half a crown for a cold slice and a roll. For one, I will not do it. Not because I am unwilling to pay any reasonable charge, but because it is both unjust and abusive. Besides, I do not wish my companion, who is an American, nor any other stranger who may be present, to suppose that we do not know when we are well treated, or that we will submit to an insult like this from our own countrymen. I propose that we pay the usual charge for such an entertainment, and leave our good will for the house; or else pay the bill this fellow presents, and let the house suffer the consequences. Injustice is never to be borne by free Englishmen." The name of the speaker was passed from mouth to mouth down the hall, and the whole company received the speech with loud and tumultuous applause. In the midst of the uproar the proprietor of the house made his appearance, to offer an apology: “Gentlemen and ladies, indeed, I am quite mortified that my servant should have so far forgotten his instructions as to present such a bill. It is too much; indeed, it is quite too much. And, since you have been so grossly injured, I will dismiss my waiter, and let you pay what you
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think proper, begging you most humbly to accept this apology, and pardon the mistake; for it is a mistake, gentlemen and ladies.”
“We will accept the apology, sir,” answered Lord ," and in the most delicate manner insinuate that it would be well for you to see that your guests are not insulted in any such way again; or you may find that it is an unprofitable speculation."
The mortified proprietor bowed himself out of the room after the manner at court, taking care to run his back against the door in his passage out in no very graceful style; after which, the whole posse of waiters, by their boisterous language addressed to each other but intended for the company, gave us to understand that they had charged no more than they had been instructed to.
I observe there is a great convenience here in being able to charge upon servants the abuses practised by their masters: they are the indispensable scapegoats for the sins of every establishment. It reminds one of paragraphs so often seen in the newspapers, in which the poor “printer's devil” receives the credit of every literary blunder which the editor, from want of brains or some other cause, happens to make.
I have been very much astonished to find the system of petty shaving so extensively carried on in England. I had supposed that in this respect America was pre-eminent; for it has passed into a proverb, that in the United States a man can be shaved
IMPOSITIONS OF SERVANTS... 39 for nothing. But I think, unless we sharpen up our wits, John Bull will bear off the palm. I do not now refer to the contemptible custom which everywhere prevails in England, of compelling you (as an Irishman would say) to give voluntarily a piece of money to every lazy drone who succeeds, by dint of impudence and obsequiousness, in stopping up your way, and who presents his bill of charges with an air of servility which would degrade a Turkish slave. For all travellers who have been in England know that the moment a guest is leaving the house, a crowd of creatures flock around him, greater in number, perhaps, than he has at any time seen in the establishment, each with his charge; and the aggregate of which amounts to as much or more than his bill at the bar. Their charges! and for what? First of all comes “ Boots" with his demand: he wishes to be “ remembered.” You wear laced cloth boots, which stand in no particular need of any assistance from the knight of the brush. But“ Boots” “ really hopes the gentleman will remember him." Next comes the “ porter, sir, please.” His claim is based upon carrying your luggage : a small carpetbag which you took in your hand. Next, “ waiter, sir, please.” You look at the gentleman somewhat dubiously, and he “hopes you will remember him.” This you cannot readily do, as you never had the honour of seeing him before; but he remembers you, which is all the same to him. And last, but not least (for an English chambermaid is no inconsider
able personage - in size), appears the irresistible grace of the upper story, and her claim you certainly cannot dispute, for she appeals to your gallantry at once; and, besides, she has prepared a chamber which you never entered, and never will. No, I do not refer to this all-prevailing system of insult and abuse; for the revised statutes of English etiquette have legalized these exactions of " loafers" and “ loaferesses,” to use a very expressive Americanism. You submit to these ancient (and, of course, venerable) customs of England, as you do to the everlasting drizzling of its climate, although you know that these beggars are importuning for their masters, who, in most instances, either directly or indirectly, pocket the money you give them. It is an ingenious way of filching from the traveller more than even an English landlord has the face to ask for his frequently wretched accommodations.
But I only speak of this incidentally. I allude to the extravagant charges for everything one buys or gets done, without a previous bargain; and to the custom, which is so common, of imposing upon strangers and foreigners expenses which even an Englishman will not submit to, baptized as he is into abuses and taxation from his baptismal font to his taxed sepulchre. I will not complain, however; for the pleasure of visiting this beautiful land, of walking over the ground on which have fallen the footsteps of the illustrious of past ages, will more than compensate for the inconveniences of the journey.
But I will say that such annoyances render one's visit not the more agreeable.
After lunch we had time for a walk of a mile or two through the town. “This must be an odious place to live in, my lord.”
“ Pardon me. Will you say sir? It is very pleasant, when we meet with Americans, all of whom are heirs apparent to the throne, to lay aside our titles: will you say sir?” ..
“ Most certainly, sir.”
“Ah! that's it—thank you: you are very kind. Yes, this Birmingham is really a dreadful place. One breathes nothing here but coal smoke: it's almost enough to make one a native of Newcastle to live in Birmingham. And then you can hear nothing, from the beginning to the end of the year, but the infernal rumbling of machinery. But I am wrong ; for I am told that Birmingham has the largest organ in the world, except the great organ at Harlaem. Many of the most splendid articles of plate in the kingdom are made here. But I conclude it is the residence of few except those who are drawn together for purposes of business.”
I inquired what were the principal articles of manufacture in the town. “I have in my pocket,” he answered, “ a paper which contains an enumeration by Mr. Stevenson of the more important, as well as some of the curious, minute, and almost endless variety of articles made at Birmingham. Here they are: 56 Files, guns, pocket-books, gilt toys and jewel.