Among the begging-letter fraternity there are not a few persons who affect to be literary men. They have at one time or another been able to publish a pamphlet, a poem, or a song-generally a patriotic one, and copies of these works-they always call them "works"-they constantly carry about with them to be ready for any customer who may turn up.
I have known a notable member of this class of beggars for some years. He was introduced to me as a literary man by an innocent friend who really believed in his talent. He greeted me as a brother craftsman, and immediately took from the breast-pocket of his threadbare surtout a copy of one of his works.
"Allow me," he said, "to present you with my latest work; it is dedicated, you will perceive, to the Right Honourable the Earl of Derby-here is a letter from his lordship complimenting me in the most handsome terms;" and before I could look into the book, the author produced from a wellworn black pocket-book a dirty letter distinguished by a large red seal.
Sure enough it was a genuine letter beginning "The Earl of Derby presents his compliments," and going on to acknowledge the receipt of a copy of Mr. Driver's work. Mr. Driver-I will call my author by that name-produced a great many other letters, all from persons of distinction, and the polite terms in which they were expressed astonished me not a little.
I soon, however, discovered the key to all this condescension. The work was a political one, glorifying the Conservative party, and abounding with all sorts of old-fashioned Tory sentiments. The letters Mr. Driver showed me were of course all from tories.
The "work" was quite a curiosity. It was called a political novel. It had for its motto, "Pro Rege, Lege, Aris et Focis," and the dedication to the Right Honourable the Earl of Derby was displayed over a whole page in epitaph fashion.
At the close of our interview Mr. Driver pointed out to me that the price of the work was two shillings. Understanding the hint, I gave him that amount, when he called for pen and ink, and wrote on the fly leaf of the work, "To -- --, Esq., with the sincere regards of the author.-J. Fitzharding Driver."
On looking over the book-it was a mere paper-covered pamphlet of some hundred pages-I found that the story was not completed. I mentioned this to Mr. Driver the next time I met him, and he explained that he meant to go to press- that was a favourite expression of his-to go to press with the second volume shortly.
Ten years, however, have elapsed since then, and Mr. Driver has not yet gone to press with his second volume. The last time I met him he offered me the original volume as his "last new work," which he presumed I had never seen. He also informed me that he was about to publish a patriotic song in honour of the Queen.
Would I subscribe for a copy-only threeand-sixpence-and he would leave it for me? Mr. Driver had forgotten that I had subscribed for this very song eight years previously. He showed me the selfsame MS. of the new national anthem, which I had perused so long ago. The paper had become as soft and limp and dingy as a Scotch one-pound note, but it had been worth a good many one-pound notes to Mr. Fitzharding Driver.
Mr. Driver has lived upon this as yet unpublished song, and that unfinished political novel, for ten years and more. I have seen him often enough to know exactly his modus operandi. Though practically a beggar Mr. Driver is no great rogue. Were you to dress him well, he might pass for a nobleman. As it is, in his shabby genteel clothes he looks a broken-down swell. And so in fact he is.
In his young days he had plenty of money, and went the pace among the young bloods 410 of Bond Street. Mr. Driver's young days were the days of the Regent. He drove a dashing phaeton-and-four then, and lounged and gambled, and lived the life of a man about town. He tells you all that with great pride, and also how he came to grief, though this part of the story is not so clear.
There is no doubt that he had considerable acquaintance among great people in his prosperous days. He lives now upon his works, and the public-house parlours of the purlieus of the west-end serve him as publishing houses. He is a great political disputant, and his company is not unwelcome in those quarters. He enters, takes his seat, drinks his glass, joins in the conversation, and, as he says himself, shows that he is a man of parts.
In this way he makes friends among the tradesmen who visit these resorts. They soon find out that he is poor, and an author, and moved both to pity and admiration, each member of the company purchases a copy of that unfinished political novel, or subscribes for that new patriotic song, which I expect will yet be in the womb of the press when the crack of doom comes.
I think Mr. Driver has pretty well used up all the quiet parlours of W. district by this time. Not long ago I had a letter from him enclosing a prospectus of a new work to be entitled "Whiggery, or the Decline of England," and soliciting a subscription to enable him to go to press with the first edition.
I have no doubt that every conservative member of both houses of Parliament has had a copy of that prospectus. Mr. Fitzharding Driver will call at their houses for an answer, and some entirely out of easy charity, and others from a party feeling of delight at the prospect of the Whigs being abused in a book even by this poor beggar, will send him down halfcrowns, and enable the poor wretch to eat and drink for a few months longer.
On more than one occasion while I have known him, Mr. Driver has been on the point of "being well off again," to use his own expression. His behaviour under the prospect was characteristic of the man, his antecedents, and his mode of life. He touched up his seedy clothes, had some cotton-velvet facings put to his threadbare surtout, revived his hat, mounted a pair of shabby patent-leather boots, provided himself with a penny cane, adorned with an old silk tassel, and appeared each day with a flower in his button-hole.
In addition to these he had sewn into the breast of his surtout a bit of parti-coloured ribbon to look like a decoration. In this guise he came up to me at the Crystal Palace one day, and appeared to be in great glee. His ogling and mysterious manner puzzled me. Judge of my astonishment when this hoary, old, tottering, toothless beggar informed me, with many self-satisfied chuckles, that a rich widow, "a fine dashing woman, sir," had fallen in love with him, and was going to marry him. The marriage did not come off, the pile is worn away from the velvet facings, the patentleather boots have become mere shapeless flaps of leather, the old broad-brimmed hat is past the power of reviver, and the Bond Street buck of the days of the Regent now wanders from public-house to public-house selling lucifer matches.
He still however carries with him a copy of his "work," the limp and worn MS. of his anthem, and the prospectus of "Whiggery, or the Decline of England." These and the letters from distinguished personages stand him in better stead than the lucifer matches, when he lights upon persons of congenial sympathies.
- Henry Mayhew, "London Labor and The London Poor"