Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

doors, may be considered as the physiognomy of a shop. Many of these, from a degree of west latitude at Tyburn Turnpike, or the White Horse, Piccadilly, to that of the Saracen's Head, Snow-Hill, and Carrington Bowles', St. Paul's Church-Yard, eastwardly, (the limits of his vicambulation); many of these he is in the habit of seeing and considering so. often, that he can distinguish them as accurately as Smilie, says a Scotch shepherd, could each of his three hundred sheep by the expression of countenance, and it is probable would know one again were he to meet with it in Japan or California. But these observations are in other instances grievously interrupted by the Auctuations of trade and speculation, thereby occasioning as many changes in the face of business, as might be noticed in the face of an army engaged in active service, where one man is advanced, another cashiered, this receives his quietus, and that deserts to make room for recruits; while some, on the other hand, remain steady in their ranks, and acquire a veteran respectability.

Thus I have often observed, that at certain periods of the year, and more especially in the spring, many of the shops present a new aspect, a fresh name, set forth in a very gilty manner, shines over the door, and the sides of which, with the windows, are all at once dressed out in silks and stuffs, as gorgeously as if some Oriental potentate had arrived and taken up his residence there; but before the next winter has come round perhaps, the name has disappeared, and the rich sails and streamers which seemed to swell and Poat in the gale of prosperity are gone, and in the musings of memory, when the close, blank, and cheerless shutter is surveyed in its stead, seem as if they had not been real. On enquiry, however, into some of the causes of this circumstance beyond my own apprehensions on the point, I was informed that there is a race, or tribe, of people, well known in the metropolis, that go under the several names of marshalls, sheriffs, bailifts, &c. &c., who appear to me to bear a strong resemblance to the Bedouin Arabs, as they are in the habit so frequently of making incursions on the peaceable settlements of trade, and seizing and bearing away such goods and chattels, vi et armis, as come within their reach, and sometimes even making prisoners of the inhabitants themselves, and carrying them off into captivity. I was also informed of a mode of defence occasionally adopted by a tradesman, when he apprehends any attack from these Bedouins. It is to inscribe the word Agent on his sign, in small characters, and often very curiously in German text, done about with flourishes, so that it requires in a casual spectator as much skill sometimes to make out the word, as to decypher an old manuscript. The first time I ever observed this, I conceived that it might be the name of the artist, just as you see--- Such-a-one, Sculpt. or Pinxt. in the corner of an engraving or picture; but this is not the case, for it seems to be a kind of charm or Talisman employed to keep off the Bedouins, in the same manner that the Mahometans wear a verse of the Koran or the like about the neck, as a defence against witchcraft and dis

eases ; and this resource, I am likewise informed, has in many occasions had the desired effect, by rendering the Bedouins fearful of attacking a place so protected.

The innumerable devices and images employed in the science of Signology, constitutes its great beauty and interest. These sometimes allude to the name, character, or history of the signified, and sometimes to his goods or occupation, but very frequently it is not easy to say to what they do allude. A few years ago I remember observing a sign in the neighbourhood of Fleet Market, bearing a Phænix, and the motto beneath of “ Nil desperandum,” by which I conceive the signified had formerly suffered in some incursions of the Bedouins, but meant to keep up a good heart. The Phænix, however, did not live a hundred years, as that sort of bird used to do, or perhaps it was a bird of passage, as it disappeared long since. Before, however, proceeding to any illustrations of this science in the signs which have particularly come before my notice, I wish to say a few words upon what appear to me to be two branches of this science, which, though of an inferior interest or utility, are nevertheless worthy of notice in the light of relationship;--an advertisement and a sample. And firstly, I could never yet make any satisfactory distinction between a sign and an advertisement; the purpose, plan, varieties, and ornaments of each being so much the same. An advertisement is, like a deed, commonly on paper, parchment, or vellum; but though Lord Coke says a deed cannot be upon wood, yet I remember to have seen, on some occasions, a wooden advertisement, and, on the other hand, one not unfrequently meets with paper signs in sheltered situations. Indeed, I perceive no absolute difference; for though the one appears to be the miniature of the other in size, the other again is of that in matter. They may according!y throw some light on each other by being considered together, and suggest to a spectator, by inference, what else might escape him.

If we begin with the poorest thing in al arts, namely, a quack medicine, and proceed upwards towards things of value and respectability, we generally find the artist, vendor, or exhibitor, puffing and fuming about them in exact proportion to their inferior quality. How innumerable have been my disappointments, when some years younger, in placing an implicit belief in the advertisements which I have read in newspapers, and in taking a direction from these printed signs to visit the house or shop that they issued from! One instance I will mention. --- Being very unwell, and at a great expence for medical attendance, I read of a famous elixir, which was composed and derived from various medicinal and delightful plants of the eastern world, unknown and unattainable in this country, which had the happy effect of elongating human existence, and defending it, or rather ridding it, of all constitutional troubles whatever. Overjoyed at the idea of possessing such an inestimable friend, I made purchase of a bottle directly, and carrying it home, shewed it to a person competent to give an opinion upon it, who examined it, and remarked that it was compounded of “asses milk, hog's-lard, stick brimstone,

" and sugar-candy." On my first visit to the metropolis, I also remember meeting with a paper sign over a blind archway, back of Holborn, which advertised, “ Genteel Accommodations for Single “ Gentlemen;" trying this place, by way of experiment, for a few days, I was served with unsavory food on a cracked plate, and put to sleep in the same room with a snoring stage coachman.

Samples, secondly, seem to have less resemblance to signs than have advertisements, but are rather their substitutes, and have an advantage in their portability, that they may travel to foreign parts, and extend the fame of a shopkeeper, while the sign can only be looked upon in one place, though at all times. The most humorous sample that I ever met with, was in the person of a Comedian who performed at one of the theatres, that once a year are opened for public admission, at a period of general gaiety, in a certain quarter of the Metropolis, noted for its congregations of cattle, and that unfortunate race of peasants so denounced and persecuted by Mr. Martin of Galway. The period alluded to, as my reader must be aware, extends but to a few days, yet the amusements being under the especial patronage of St. Bartholomew, are generally well attended, and I dont remember the cause now, but, one among many, I was carried myself in the current of a crowd thither up the long avenue of a lane, and regained my feet directly opposite to one of those legitimate and original theatres of Thespis, which it is now, though I know not the reason, the anti-classic fashion of the times to revile. On the platform which ran in front of the grand entrance, I perceived many “ angels ever bright and fair," dancing together in the hilarity of their hearts, and several figures, arrayed in the Roman toga or corslet, and military buskin, who appeared to me to be the resuscitated spirits of those famous Latin soldiers, Marius, Cæsar, the Gracchi, and others, who were so fond of mobs, walking about with a military step and a frowning aspect, and among them the Comedian before mentioned, or in the technical language of his profession, the clown. His dress and manners attracted very general notice, which should be the first aim of every public character. He then threw a somerset, and executed several very interesting specimens of orna

nental gymnastics, called tumbling, -when, stepping forward, he informed the crowd, that “ he wouldn't think of demanding any “ thing for these feats, but he hoped that they would be willing to “ pay for the rest.”

But I am afraid I have dwelt too long on these minor branches of Signology, to the neglect of the principal and important subject itself. Having explained, therefore, in the best manner I was able, my opinion respecting this science, without, as I informed my reader, at all entering into a profound investigation of it, I shall content myself by passing on to some illustrations, in the hope that these remarks, simple and unsatisfactory as they may have been, will still have the effect of directing the eye of some virtuoso to a proper consideration of this neglected science; and thus, that the world in a future day may be benefited by a judicious treatise respecting it,

being the duty of a public observer, like the “Little Unknown," to take cognizance of every thing in public that is decent and meritorious, for the information of those who have not time or similar opportunities of observation with himself. Such an act as the above, however praiseworthy, is nothing more than his duty, and therefore should it be attended with the happy consequences he anticipates, he would not wish, or be warranted to receive, any extraordinary quantity of thanks.

Respecting the signs in the Metropolis, as I have considered the science of Signology in a general point of view, I am not bound to speak of them particularly in one place; more especially since, in this case, as they are as public to all the world as myself, however I might edify my reader, by citing them in illustration, I should certainly fail in surprising or pleasing him. However, I have one or two remarks to make upon certain signs, for the purpose of setting public opinion right, an aim which it is boih my duty and my wish to be always attentive to.

The sign of the Bull and Mouth, (which by a foreigner has been termed our national sign) the public generally believe to have been formerly that of the Boulogne Mouth, which is not the case, for I am warranted in asserting, that its proper name is, and was, the Bull in Mouth, having been originally opened by an East Indian, who witnessed the extraordinary operation of a Boa Constrictor dining off of a Bull; which induced him on his going into business, to have as correct a picture painted of the occurrence as he could, in order that customers might be drawn to the house, to hear him give an aecount of it.

The original proprietor of an inn in Wood Street, Cheapside, was named Keys, a man distinguished through life for a very irascible and discontented disposition; as an image of his name, he had adopted for his sign, a Bunch of Keys, but on his death, his successor ingeniously invented the present device over the door, sigoificant of the characteristic of the late proprietor, viz. The Cross Keys.

A public-house, by no means as well known in that quarter of the Metropolis, is designated by the term of the Cat and Gridiron, which is certainly a very offensive alteration and disfigurement of its original name. Catharine Griderne, though a foreigner, was an amiable, honest, and pains-taking female, who brought up nineteen children, and buried three husbands; a record is preserved at some length of her in the parish, which furnishes evidence to prove, that though a publican, she was by no means a re-publican, and very little of the sinner.

In the same manner, in a lane which runs north and south out of a principal thoroughfare, a little way distant, stands the house of entertainment, bearing the sign of the “ Pig and Tinder Box,"--a vile and vulgar corruption of Pigrono Tinderbotski, the name of a poble Russian who, exiled from his own country, fled to this, and wound up the latter threads of life in peaceful obscurity at this house, which circumstance attracted such a host of visitors to see him, that

the landlord, in gratitude, had his picture taken for a sign. Would it not disturb the spirit of the noble Russian, were he now capable of earthly considerations, to think of the manner in which his name is perpetuated ?

There are many other signs, equally obscure in their transmutations and worthy of notice, which I am now willing to pass over, or rather pass by, as I find no particular fault with the derivations so generally assigned to them. As, for instance, The Goat and Compasses, and Bag of Nails--the former of which is said to be the alteration of “ God encompasses us,”—a sign which was no means one of the wonders of the times in the days of Cromwell, when it is supposed that one of his companions, who was a very spiritual man, wished to get into a spirituous kind of business, and so turned publican, with the above words for the appellation of his house, which would induce one to think, that he intended his customers to sing psalms instead of songs in his parlor, and very prejudicially to his own interests, hold the vice of inebriation in utter abhorrence. However, in the vast mutations which Signology, as well as man and empire, has undergone since those days; and when we are aware in the present time that it is the magistrate who encompasses a publichouse rather than Providence, I do not murmur so much at the modern acceptation of “ The Goat and Compasses,” particularly as a few years ago it was the “ Goat encompasses,” by which no doubt a satiric reflection was intended upon some conservator of the public

ier of licences. With the sign of the “ Bag of Nails," as derived from that of the “ Bacchanals," I am not disposed to quarrel in the least, from the great wit which appears to me to be contained in its meaning. Could a more happy similitude have been invented or adopted ? to have called them Bag of Screws,” might have been wanting wit, and very defamatory to their general character ; but between a veritable Bacchanal, and a good Nail, a great deal of resemblance exists; as, for instance, you would say that such a man was of good mettle, somewhat pointed, and never without a head.

So much for the Metropolis.

In a country town, where once I resided some time, my barber hung up his own likeness before his door for a sign, having shaved himself very smoothly before he sate for it. The influence of a pretty face in attracting custom, is very well known I believe all the world over, for the shopkeepers in Paris pay pretty women for merely sitting in a conspicuous situation all day, and there is no doubt that pretty barmaids have made the fortunes of many a host. But it is dangerous for one to trust too much to his own face as a lure, more especially as a man, since men l've often thought are more apt than women to think well of their personal appearance. My barber, I've no doubt, thought his face a very becoming part of himself, and yet it had no more character than a round of beef; and I'll be bound he didn't make enough out of it to pay the painter,

In travelling through Staffordshire, I once met with a biogra

peace, and ar

a

« PředchozíPokračovat »