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spread great gloom through the minds of the people in Little Britain. They shake their heads whenever they go by Bow Church, and observe, that they never expected any good to come of taking down that steeple, which in old times told nothing but glad tidings, as the history of Whittington and his Cat bears witness.
The rival oracle of Little Britain is a substantial cheesemonger, who lives in a fragment of one of the old family mansions, and is as magnificently lodged as a round bellied mite in the midst of one of his own Cheshires. Indeed he is a man of no little standing and importance; and his renown extends through Huggin Lane, and Lad Lane, and even unto Aldermanbury. His opinion is very much taken in affairs of state, having read the Sunday papers for the last half century, together with the Gentleman's Magazine, Rapin's History of England, and the Naval Chronicle. His head is stored with invaluable maxims which have borne the test of time and use for centuries. It is his firm opinion that “ it is a moral impossi
ble,” so long as England is true to herself, that any thing can shake her: and he has much to say on the subject of the national debt; which, some how or other, he proves to be a great national bulwark and blessing. He passed the greater part of his life in the purlieus of Little Britain, until of late years, when, having become rich, and grown into the dignity of a Sunday cane, he begins to take his pleasure and see the world. He has therefore made several excursions to Hampstead, Highgate, and other neighbouring towns, where he has passed whole afternoons in looking back upon the metropolis through a telescope, and endeavouring to descry the steeple of St. Bartholomew's. Not a stage coachman of Bull-andMouth Street, but touches his hat as he passes; and he is considered quite a patron at the coach-office of the Goose and Gridiron, St. Paul's Churchyard. His family have been very urgent for him to make an expedition to Margate, but he has great doubts of those new gim-cracks the steam-boats, and indeed thinks
himself too advanced in life to undertake seavoyages.
Little Britain has occasionally its factions and divisions, and party spirit ran very high at one time in consequence of two rival “ Burial Societies” being set up in the place. One held its meeting at the Swan and Horse Shoe, and was patronized by the cheesemonger; the other at the Cock and Crown, under the auspices of the apothecary: it is needless to say that the latter was the most fourishing. I have passed an evening or two at each, and have acquired much valuable information, as to the best mode of being buried; the comparative merits of churchyards; together with divers hints on the subject of patent iron coffins. I have heard the question discussed in all its bearings as to the legality of prohibiting the latter on account of their durability. The feuds occasioned by these societies have happily died of late; but they were for a long time prevailing themes of controversy, the people of Little Britain being extremely solici
tous of funeral honours and of lying comfortably in their graves.
Besides these two funeral societies there is a third of quite a different cast, which tends to throw the sunshine of good-humour over the whole neighbourhood. It meets once a week at a little old-fashioned house, kept by a jolly publican of the name of Wagstaff, and bearing for insignia a resplendent half-moon, with a most seductive bunch of grapes. The whole edifice is covered with inscriptions to catch the eye of the thirsty wayfarer; such as “ Truman, Hanbury, and Co.'s Entire,” “ Wine, Rum, and Brandy Vaults,” “Old Tom, Rum and Compounds, &c.” This indeed has been a temple of Bacchus and Momus from time immemorial. It has always been in the family of the Wagstaffs, so that its history is tolerably preserved by the present landlord. It was much frequented by the gallants and cavalieros of the reign of Elizabeth, and was looked into now and then by the wits of Charles the Second's day. But what Wagstaff principally prides himself upon, is, that Henry the Eighth, in one of his nocturnal rambles, broke the head of one of his ancestors with his famous walking staff. This however is considered as rather a dubious and vain-glorious boast of the landlord.
The club which now holds its weekly sessions here goes by the name of “ the Roaring Lads of Little Britain.” They abound in old catches, glees and choice stories, that are traditional in the place, and not to be met with in any other part of the metropolis. There is a mad-cap undertaker who is inimitable at a merry song; but the life of the club, and indeed the prime wit of Little Britain, is bully Wagstaff himself. His ancestors were all wags before him, and he has inherited with the inn a large stock of songs and jokes, which go with it from generation to generation as heir-looms. He is a dapper little fellow, with bandy legs and pot belly, a red face with a moist merry eye, and a little shock of grey hair behind. At the opening of every club night he is called in to sing his “ Confession of Faith,” which is the famous