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Chambers, William / Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 430 Volume 17, New Series, March 27, 1852
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CHAMBERS' EDINBURGH JOURNAL

CONDUCTED BY WILLIAM AND ROBERT CHAMBERS, EDITORS OF 'CHAMBERS'S
INFORMATION FOR THE PEOPLE,' 'CHAMBERS'S EDUCATIONAL COURSE,' &c.


NO. 430. NEW SERIES. SATURDAY, MARCH 27, 1852. PRICE 1-1/2_d._




PRONOUNCERS.


Do you not find, in almost every company, one who pronounces
decisively upon every matter which comes in question? His voice is
loud and firm, his eye bold and confident, and his whole manner
oracular. No cold hesitations as to points of fact ever tease him.
Little time does he require to make up his mind on any speculative
subject. He is all _yes_ or all _no_ at once and without appeal.
Opposite opinions he treats with, at the best, a sublime pity, meant
to be graceful, but, in reality, galling. He is often a goose; but, be
he what he may, it is ten to one that he carries off the majority of
the company in the mere sweep of his gown. They are led by him for the
time, fascinated by the energy of his pronunciations. They may all
recover from him afterwards--some after one day, some after two, and
particularly weak men after, perhaps, a week. At the moment, however,
the pronouncer has vast influence, and, if immediate action can be
determined on, it is very likely that he drags his victims into some
committal of themselves, from which subsequent escape may not be very
easy.

While pronouncing is thus the prominent quality of a few, it is more
or less the vice of nearly all. Men feel that they have an inherent
right to their opinion, and to the promulgation of it, and are not
very apt to reflect that there is another question--as to whether
their opinion be worth delivering; whether it has been formed upon a
good basis of knowledge or experience, or upon any basis at all;
whether it is the emanation of ripe judgment and reflection, or of
some mere passing gust of ideas springing from the whim of the minute.
Hence, when any question arises, it is seldom found that any one is
quite unprepared to give some sort of decision. Even the giddy girl of
seventeen will have something to say upon it, albeit she may never
have heard of the matter before. It is thought foolish-looking not to
be able to pronounce, as if one imperiled the right of private
judgment itself by not being prepared in every case to act upon it. In
consequence, what absurd opinions do we hear in all kinds of companies
upon all kinds of topics! How the angels, who know better, must weep!

A conversational party even of tolerably well-educated persons, often
presents itself in a ludicrous light. Some question has arisen amongst
them. No one has any clear or definite information upon it. They have
had disputes about the simplest matters of fact involved in it. Yet no
person there, down to the youngest, but would take scorn to be held as
incapable of pronouncing upon it. There are as many opinions as there
are persons present, and not one less confident than another. What is
very natural in such circumstances, no one has the least respect for
the opinions of any of the rest. Each, in fact, does justice upon his
neighbour for the absurdity of pronouncing without grounds, while
incapable of seeing the absurdity in himself. And thus an hour will be
passed in a most unprofitable manner, and perhaps the social spirit of
the company be not a little marred. How much better to say: 'Well,
that is a subject I know nothing about: I will not undertake to
judge.' Supposing all who are present to be in the same predicament,
they might dismiss the barren subject, and start another on which some
one could throw real light, and from which, accordingly, all might
derive some benefit.

Is not this habit of pronouncing without preparation in inquiry and
reflection just one of the causes of that remarkable diversity of
opinion which is so often deplored for its unpleasant consequences? In
ignorance--fancy, whim, and prejudice usurp the directing power. If we
take no time for consideration, we shall be apt to plunge into an
error, and afterwards persevere in it for the sake of consistency, or
because it has become a thing which we regard as our own. In such
circumstances, no wonder there are as many 'minds' as 'men.' But when
any one can speak on the ground of well-ascertained facts, and after
some deliberation on the bearings of the question, he must carry
others with him, not by fascination, but by real conviction, and thus
greatly reduce the proportion of opinions to men. Very likely, some
other man has got hold of a somewhat different range of facts, and
come to different conclusions: he, too, will have his party of
followers. But there being two or three discrepant views on the
subject, is a much less evil than there being as many as there are
individuals.

The right of pronouncing upon public affairs is one that would be
particularly clung to if there were any danger of its being lost, and
it certainly is not in England that any writer would be found ready to
challenge so valued a privilege. At the same time, no one will
seriously deny, that if this right were used more generally with the
advantage of a tolerable knowledge of the subject, it would be an
improvement. Public men may be acting, as, indeed, they must generally
do, upon certain data carefully brought out by inquiry: they may judge
and act amiss after all, for human judgment is fallible. But when we
contrast their means of forming a judgment with those of many persons
who hesitate not to pronounce upon their measures, it cannot be denied
that they stand in a strong position. When we hear a bold condemnation
of their acts from men who, so far from having gone through the same
process of inquiry, have not even perused the documents in which the
grounds of the administrative policy were explained, can we do
otherwise than smile at the pretensions of the _pseudo_-judges? Is not
the frequency of this unfounded judging much more apt to harden an
unlucky statesman than to make him amenable to counsel? On the other
hand, when a public man finds himself and his actions criticised by
men who have knowledge, he must be a hardy one indeed who can entirely
disregard the judgment.

If we attentively study the progress of any man who has acquired
influence over his fellow-creatures--apart from certain matters in
which the feelings are mainly concerned--we shall find that he has
distinguished himself by a habit of not pronouncing where he has no
means of forming a judgment. Such a man has had the good sense to see
and confess that he could not be expected to know many things
sufficiently well to entitle him to pronounce authoritatively upon
them. He has probably given some considerable share of attention to
certain subjects that are of some importance to his fellow-creatures,
and thus fitted himself, with regard to them, to speak with more or
less decision. Never found guilty of giving a vague, crudely-formed
judgment on things a hundred miles out of his way, but, on the
contrary, obtaining credit occasionally for the manner in which he
treats those with which he is conversant, he irresistibly acquires
character and influence. Young hasty minds laugh at his taking such
care not to commit himself: he is perhaps taxed with getting credit
for merely looking grave and holding his tongue. But this very holding
of the tongue when there is nothing to say, is, in reality, one of the
greatest, though often one of the last-learned virtues. Were his
merits purely negative, they would be great; tending as they do to
save truth from that obscuration which a multitude of ill-formed
opinions necessarily throw upon it. But we shall usually discover in
such men a positive merit also in their power to illustrate and give a
guiding opinion upon certain subjects of importance to public or
private interests.

There is not one sentence in this little essay which may not be justly
set down as mere commonplace. We acknowledge the fault; but defend it
on the ground that sound and useful commonplaces require a continual
refreshing and re-presentment, so many persons being, after all,
unaware or forgetful of them.

On a similar ground of defence, we would take leave to remind mankind
of the good old maxim, 'Hear the other party.' Familiar to most
people, observed by some, there are multitudes who uniformly act as if
they had never heard of it. To be quite candid, we often catch
ourselves neglecting it; and always, at the best, it takes a struggle
to make it a reality in our conduct. Experience, however, impresses us
more and more with a sense of its being absolutely essential to the
ascertainment of truth in any disputable case. There is so much bias
from self-love, so much recklessness about truth in general, and so
much of even a sincere faithlessness of narration, that no partial
account of anything is to be trusted. It is but a small concession to
the cause of truth, to wait till we hear the statement of the opposite
party, or not to pronounce without it. If anything were required to
prove how little this is reflected on, it would be the readiness of
nearly all persons to tell their own story, without intimating the
slightest doubt that it is to be implicitly received on their own
shewing. One cannot walk along a street, but some friend will come up
and inflict a narration, limited entirely to his own view of a case in
which he is interested or aggrieved, practically ignoring that there
can and must be another way of stating it. And so great is the
complaisance of mankind, that no one thinks of intimating any
necessity for consulting another authority before giving judgment.
Here the vicious habit of thoughtless pronouncing is doubly bad, as it
involves also a kind of flattery.

There are some novel doctrines and theories, which seem doomed to meet
with prejudice and opposition, but which yet must have some vitality
about them, seeing that they survive so much ill-treatment. It is
curious to observe how little regard to the rules of reasoning is
usually felt to be necessary in opposing these theories--how mere
pronouncing comes to stand in their case in the stead of evidence and
argument. Although they may have been brought forward as mere forms of
possible truth--ideal points round which to rally the scattered forces
of investigation--and only advanced as far as facts would go, and no
further--you will find them denounced as visions, tending to the
breach of the philosophic peace; while, on the other hand, those who
oppose them, albeit on no sort of ground but a mere pronunciation of
contrary opinion, obtain all the credit due to the genuine
philosopher. Abstractly, it would be generally admitted that any
doctrine for which a certain amount of evidence is shewn, can only be
overthrown by a superior force of evidence on the other side. But
practically this is of no avail. Doubt and denial are so important to
philosophy, and confer such an air of superior wisdom, that merely to
doubt and deny will be pretty sure to carry both the educated and the
uneducated vulgar. To get a high character in that position is of
course very easy. Little more than pronouncing is required. As to the
respective positions of the affirmer and denier in some future time,
when truth has attained the power of asserting her reign against
prejudice, that is another thing.

To return to the general question--If any one be impressed by our
remarks with a sense of the absurdity of pronouncing without knowledge
and reflection, let him endeavour to avoid it, and he will confer a
sensible benefit on society. When next he is in company, and a subject
occurs to tempt him into an expression of opinion, let him pause a
moment, and say to himself: 'Now, do I know anything about it--or if I
know something, do I know enough--to enable me to speak without fear
of being contradicted? Have I ever given it any serious reflection? Am
I sure that I have an opinion about it at all? Am I sure that I
entertain no prejudice on the point?' Were every one of us children of
British freedom to take these precautions, there would be more power
amongst us to pronounce wisely. There would be a more vigorous and
healthful public opinion, and the amenity, as well as instructiveness
of private society would be much increased.




COOLING THE AIR OF ROOMS IN HOT CLIMATES.


In our last number, allusion was made to a process for cooling the air
of apartments in hot climates, with a view to health and comfort. The
intolerable heat of the climate in India, during certain hours of the
day, is well known to be the cause of much bad health among European
settlers. By way of rendering the air at all endurable, the plan of
agitating it with punkahs, hung to the roofs of apartments, the
punkahs being moved by servants in attendance for the purpose, is
adopted. Another plan of communicating a sensation of coolness, is to
hang wet mats in the open windows. But by neither of these expedients
is the end in view satisfactorily gained. Both are nothing else than
make-shifts.

The new process of cooling now to be described, is founded on a
scientific principle, certain and satisfactory in its operation,
provided it be reduced to practice in a simple manner. The discoverer
is Professor Piazzi Smyth, who has presented a minute account of it in
a paper in the _Practical Mechanic's Journal_ for October 1850, and
also separately in a pamphlet. We invite public attention to this
curious but simple invention, of which we shall proceed to present a
few principles from the pamphlet just referred to.

Mr Smyth first speaks of the uselessness of the punkah, and the danger
of the wet mats. 'The wet mats in the windows for the wind to blow
through, cannot be employed but when the air is dry as well as hot,
and even then are most unhealthy, for although the air may feel dry to
the skin, there is generally far more moisture in it than in our own
climate; but the height of the temperature increasing the capacity of
the air for moisture, makes that air at 80 degrees feel very dry,
which at 40 degrees would be very damp. Now, one of the reasons of the
lassitude felt in warm climates is, that the air expanding with the
heat, while the lungs remain of the same capacity, they must take in a
smaller quantity by _weight_, though the same by _measure_, of oxygen,
the supporter of life; but if, in addition to the air being rarefied,
it be also still further distended by the vapour of water being mixed
with it, it is evident that a certain number of cubic inches by
measure, or the lungs full, will contain a less weight of oxygen than
ever; so little, indeed, that life can barely be supported; and we
need not wonder at persons lying down almost powerless in the hot and
damp atmosphere, and gasping for breath. Hence we see that any method
of cooling the air for Indians, instead of adding moisture, should
rather take it out of the air, so as to make oxygen predominate as
much as possible in the combined draught of oxygen, azote, and a
certain quantity of the vapour of water, which will always be present;
and hardly any plan could be more pernicious than the favourite though
dreaded one by those who have watched its results--of the wet mats.
Cold air--that is, air in which the thermometer actually stands at a
low reading--by reason of its density, gives us oxygen, the food of
the lungs, in a compressed and concentrated form; and men can
accordingly do much work upon it. But air which is merely cold to the
feelings--air in which the thermometer stands high, but which merely
gives us one of the external sensations of coolness--on being made by
a punkah, or any other mere blowing machine, to move rapidly over our
skin--or on being charged with watery vapour, or on being contrasted
with previous excessive heat--such air must, nevertheless, be rarefied
to the full extent indicated by the mercurial thermometer, and give
us, therefore, our supply of vital oxygen in a very diluted form, and
of a meagre, unsupporting, and unsatisfying consistence.... The _sine
quâ non_, therefore, for healthy and robust life in tropical
countries, is air cold and dry--cold to the thermometer and dry to the
hygrometer; or, in other words, dense, and containing little else than
the necessary oxygen and azote, and this supplied to a room, fresh and
fresh, in a continual current.'

He next goes on to describe the principle of his new plan of
cooling:--'The method by which I propose to accomplish this
consummation, so devoutly to be desired, is chiefly by taking
advantage of the well-known property of air to rise in temperature on
compression, and to fall on expansion. If air of any temperature, high
or low, be compressed with a certain force, the temperature will rise
above what it was before, in a degree proportioned to the compression.
If the air be allowed immediately to escape from under the pressure,
it will recover its original temperature, because the fall in heat, on
air expanding from a certain pressure, is equal to the rise on its
being compressed to the same; but if, _while the air is in its
compressed state, it be robbed of its acquired heat of compression_,
and then be allowed to escape, it will issue at a temperature as much
below the original one, as it rose above it on compression. Thus the
air, being at 90 degrees, will rise, if compressed to a certain
quantity, to 120 degrees; if it be kept in this compressed and
confined state until all the extra 30 degrees of heat have been
conveyed away by radiation and conduction, and the air be then allowed
to escape, it will be found, on issuing, to be of 60 degrees of
temperature. If a cooler be formed by a pipe under water, and air be
forced in under a given compression at one end, and be made to pass
along to the other, it may thereby, if the cooler be sufficiently
extensive, be robbed of all its heat of compression; and if the
apparatus is so arranged, as it easily may be, that at every stroke of
the pump forcing in air at one end of the pipe, an equivalent quantity
of the cooled compressed air escape from under a loaded valve at the
other, there will be an intermittent stream of cooled air produced
thereby, of 60 degrees Fahrenheit, in an atmosphere of 90 degrees,
which may be led away in a pipe to the room desired to be cooled.'

The only difficulty to be encountered consists in the erection and
working of machinery. There can be little fear on this score. We have
no doubt that any London engine-maker would hit off the whole scheme
of an air-cooling machine in half an hour. What is wanted is a
forcing-pump wrought by a one horse or two bullock-power. This being
erected and wrought outside of a dwelling, the air will be forced into
a convolution of pipe passing through a tank of water, like the worm
of a still, and will issue by a check-valve at every stroke of the
piston into the apartments to be cooled. Properly arranged, and with a
suitable supply of water trickling through the tank, air at 90 degrees
will be reduced to 60 degrees or thereabouts, which is the temperature
of ordinary sitting-rooms in England. What, it may be asked, will be
the expense of such an apparatus for cooling the air of a
dwelling-house? We are informed that it will not be greater than that
usually paid for heating with fires in this country; and if so, the
expense cannot be considered a serious obstacle to the use of the
apparatus. In the case of barracks for soldiers, hospitals, and other
public establishments, the process will prove of such important
service, that the cost, even if greater than it is likely to be,
should present no obstacle to its application.




THE CHURCH OF THE CUP OF COLD WATER.


One beautiful evening, in the year 1815, the parish priest of San
Pietro, a village a few miles distant from Sevilla, returned much
fatigued to his little cottage, where he found his aged housekeeper,
the Señora Margarita, watching for him. Notwithstanding that one is
well accustomed to the sight of poverty in Spain, it was impossible to
help being struck by the utter destitution which appeared in the house
of the good priest; the more so, as every imaginable contrivance had
been resorted to, to hide the nakedness of the walls, and the
shabbiness of the furniture. Margarita had prepared for her master's
supper a rather small dish of _olla-podriga_, which consisted, to say
the truth, of the remains of the dinner, seasoned and disguised with
great skill, and with the addition of some sauce, and a _name_. As she
placed the savoury dish upon the table, the priest said: 'We should
thank God for this good supper, Margarita; this olla-podriga makes
one's mouth water. My friend, you ought to be grateful for finding so
good a supper at the house of your host!' At the word host, Margarita
raised her eyes, and saw a stranger, who had followed her master. Her
countenance changed, and she looked annoyed. She glanced indignantly
first at the unknown, and then at the priest, who, looking down, said
in a low voice, and with the timidity of a child: 'What is enough for
two, is always enough for three; and surely you would not wish that I
should allow a Christian to die of hunger? He has not tasted food for
two days.'

'A Christian! He is more like a brigand!' and Margarita left the room
murmuring loudly enough to be heard.

Meanwhile, the unwelcome guest had remained standing at the door. He
was a man of great height, half-dressed in rags, and covered with mud;
while his black hair, piercing eyes, and carbine, gave him an
appearance which, though hardly prepossessing, was certainly
interesting. 'Must I go?' said he.

The priest replied with an emphatic gesture: 'Those whom I bring under
my roof are never driven forth, and are never unwelcome. Put down your
carbine. Let us say grace, and go to table.'

'I never leave my carbine, for, as the Castilian proverb says, "Two
friends are one." My carbine is my best friend; and I always keep it
beside me. Although you allow me to come into your house, and do not
oblige me to leave it until I wish to do so, there are others who
would think nothing of hauling me out, and, perhaps, with my feet
foremost. Come--to your good health, mine host, and let us to supper.'

The priest possessed an extremely good appetite, but the voracity of
the stranger soon obliged him to give up, for, not contented with
eating, or rather devouring, nearly the whole of the olla-podriga, the
guest finished a large loaf of bread, without leaving a crumb. While
he ate, he kept continually looking round with an expression of
inquietude: he started at the slightest sound; and once, when a
violent gust of wind made the door bang, he sprang to his feet, and
seized his carbine, with an air which shewed that, if necessary, he
would sell his life dearly. Discovering the cause of the alarm, he
reseated himself at table, and finished his repast.

'Now,' said he, 'I have one thing more to ask. I have been wounded,
and for eight days my wound has not been dressed. Give me a few old
rags, and you shall be no longer burdened with my presence.'

'I am in no haste for you to go,' replied the priest, whose guest,
notwithstanding his constant watchfulness, had conversed very
entertainingly. 'I know something of surgery, and will dress your
wound.'

So saying, he took from a cupboard a case containing everything
necessary, and proceeded to do as he had said. The stranger had bled
profusely, a ball having passed through his thigh; and to have
travelled in this condition, and while suffering, too, from want of
food, shewed a strength which seemed hardly human.

'You cannot possibly continue your journey to-day,' said the host.
'You must pass the night here. A little rest will get up your
strength, diminish the inflammation of your wound, and'----

'I must go to-day, and immediately,' interrupted the stranger. 'There
are some who wait for me,' he added with a sigh--'and there are some,
too, who follow me.' And the momentary look of softness passed from
his features between the clauses of the sentence, and gave place to an
expression almost of ferocity. 'Now, is it finished? That is well.
See, I can walk as firmly as though I had never been wounded. Give me
some bread; pay yourself for your hospitality with this piece of gold,
and adieu.'

The priest put back the gold with displeasure. 'I am not an
innkeeper,' said he; 'and I do not sell my hospitality.'

'As you will, but pardon me; and now, farewell, my kind host.'

So saying, he took the bread, which Margarita, at her master's
command, very unwillingly gave him, and soon his tall figure
disappeared among the thick foliage of a wood which surrounded the
house, or rather the cabin. An hour had scarcely passed, when
musket-shots were heard close by, and the unknown reappeared, deadly
pale, and bleeding from a deep wound near the heart.

'Take these,' said he, giving some pieces of gold to his late host;
'they are for my children--near the stream--in the valley.'

He fell, and the next moment several police-officers rushed into the
house. They hastily secured the unfortunate man, who attempted no
resistance. The priest entreated to be allowed to dress his wound,
which they permitted; but when this was done, they insisted on
carrying him away immediately. They would not even procure a carriage;
and when they were told of the danger of removing a man so severely
wounded, they merely said: 'What does it matter? If he recovers, it
will only be to receive sentence of death. He is the famous brigand,
José!'

José thanked the intercessor with a look. He then asked for a little
water, and when the priest brought it to him, he said in a faint
voice: 'Remember!' The reply was merely a sign of intelligence. When
they were gone, notwithstanding all Margarita could say as to the
danger of going out at night, the priest crossed the wood, descended
into the valley, and soon found, beside the body of a woman, who had
doubtless been killed by a stray ball of the police, an infant, and a
little boy of about four years old, who was trying in vain to awaken
his mother. Imagine Margarita's amazement when the priest returned
with two children in his arms.

'May all good saints defend us! What have you done, señor? We have
barely enough to live upon, and you bring two children! I suppose I
must beg from door to door, for you and for them. And, for mercy's
sake, who are these children? The sons of that brigand, gipsy, thief,
murderer, perhaps! I am sure they have never been baptised!' At this
moment the infant began to cry. 'And pray, Señor Clérigo, how do you
mean to feed that child? You know very well that we have no means of
paying a nurse. We must spoon-feed it, and nice nights that will give
me! It cannot be more than six months old, poor little creature,' she
added, as her master placed it in her arms. 'Fortunately, I have a
little milk here;' and forgetting her anger, she busied herself in
putting some milk on the fire, and then sat down beside it to warm the
infant, who seemed half-frozen. Her master watched her in silence, and
when at last he saw her kiss its little cheek, he turned away with a
quiet smile.

When at length the little one had been hushed into a gentle slumber,
and when Margarita, with the assistance of her master's cloak, and
some of her own clothes, had made a bed for the elder boy, and placed
him in it, the good man told her how the children had been committed
to his care, and the promise he had made, though not in words, to
protect them.

'That is very right and good, no doubt,' said Margarita; 'I only want
to know how we are all to live?' The priest opened his Bible, and read
aloud:

'Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of
cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he
shall in no wise lose his reward.'

'Amen!' said Margarita.

Twelve years passed by. The parish priest of San Pietro, who was now
more than seventy years old, was sitting in the sunshine at his door.
Near him, a boy of about twelve years old was reading aloud from the
Bible, looking occasionally towards a tall, fine-looking young man,
who was hard at work in a garden close by. Margarita, who was now
become blind, sat and listened. Suddenly, the sound of wheels was
heard, and the boy exclaimed: 'Oh! the beautiful carriage!' A splendid
carriage approached rapidly, and stopped before the door. A
richly-dressed servant approached, and asked for a cup of water for
his master.

'Carlos,' said the priest to the younger boy, 'go, bring water to the
gentleman; and add some wine, if he will accept it. Go quickly!' At
this moment, the carriage-door opened, and a gentleman, apparently
about fifty years old, alighted.

'Are these your nephews?' said he to the priest.

'They are more than that, señor; they are my children--the children of
my adoption.'

'How is that?'

'I will tell you, señor; for I am old and poor, and know but little of
the world, and am in much need of advice; for I know not what to do
with these two children.' He related the story we have just told. 'And
now, señor, what do you advise me to do?'

'Apply to one of the nobles of the court, who must assign you a
pension of four thousand ducats.'

'I asked you for advice, señor, and not for jest.'

'And then, your church must be rebuilt. We will call it the Church of
the Cup of Cold Water. Here is the plan. See, this is to be the
vicarage; and here, divided by this paling'----

'What does this mean? What would you say? And, surely, I remember that
voice, that face'----

'I am Don José della Ribeira; and twelve years ago, I was the brigand
José. I escaped from prison; and--for the revolution made great
changes--am now powerful. My children'----

He clasped them in his arms. And when at length he had embraced them a
hundred times, with tears, and smiles, and broken sentences; and when
all had in some degree recovered their composure, he took the hand of
the priest and said: 'Well, father, will you not accept the Church of
the Cup of Cold Water?' The old man, deeply affected, turned to
Margarita, and repeated:

'Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of
cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he
shall in no wise lose his reward.'

'Amen!' replied the aged woman, her voice tremulous from emotion.

A short time afterwards, Don José della Ribeira and his
two sons were present at the consecration of the church of
San-Pietro-del-Vaso-di-Aqua-Fria, one of the prettiest churches in the
neighbourhood of Sevilla.




MUSIC-GRINDERS OF THE METROPOLIS.


Perhaps the pleasantest of all the out-door accessories of a London
life are the strains of fugitive music which one hears in the quiet
by-streets or suburban highways--strains born of the skill of some of
our wandering artists, who, with flute, violin, harp, or brazen tube
of various shape and designation, make the brick-walls of the busy
city responsive with the echoes of harmony. Many a time and oft have
we lingered entranced by the witchery of some street Orpheus,
forgetful, not merely of all the troubles of existence, but of
existence itself, until the strain had ceased, and silence aroused us
to the matter-of-fact world of business. One blind fiddler, we know
him well, with face upturned towards the sky, has stood a public
benefactor any day these twenty years, and we know not how much
longer, to receive the substantial homage of the music-loving million.
But that he is scarcely old enough, he might have been the identical
Oxford-Street Orpheus of Wordsworth:--

'His station is there; and he works on the crowd,
He sways them with harmony merry and loud;
He fills with his power all their hearts to the brim--
Was aught ever heard like his fiddle and him?'

Decidedly not--there is nothing to match it; and so thinks 'the
one-pennied boy' who spares him his one penny, and deems it well
bestowed. Then there are the harpers, with their smooth
French-horn-breathing and piccola-piping comrades, who at the soothing
hour of twilight affect the tranquil and retired paved courts or snug
enclosures far from the roar and rumble of chariot-wheels, where,
clustered round with lads and lasses released from the toils of the
day, they dispense romance and sentiment, and harmonious cadences, in
exchange for copper compliments and the well-merited applause of fit
audiences, though few. Again, there are the valorous brass-bands of
the young Germans, who blow such spirit-stirring appeals from their
travel-worn and battered tubes--to say nothing of the thousand
performers of solos and duets, who, wherever there is the chance of a
moment's hearing, are ready to attempt their seductions upon our ears
to the prejudice of our pockets. All these we must pass over with this
brief mention upon the present occasion; our business being with their
numerous antitheses and would-be rivals--the incarnate nuisances who
fill the air with discordant and fragmentary mutilations and
distortions of heaven-born melody, to the distraction of educated ears
and the perversion of the popular taste.

'Music by handle,' as it has been facetiously termed, forms our
present subject. This kind of harmony, which is not too often
deserving of the name, still constitutes, notwithstanding the large
amount of indisputable talent which derives its support from the
gratuitous contributions of the public, by far the larger portion of
the peripatetic minstrelsy of the metropolis. It would appear that
these grinders of music, with some few exceptions which we shall
notice as we proceed, are distinguished from their praiseworthy
exemplars, the musicians, by one remarkable, and to them perhaps very
comfortable characteristic. Like the exquisite Charles Lamb--if his
curious confession was not a literary myth--they have ears, but no
ear, though they would hardly be brought to acknowledge the fact so
candidly as he did. They may be divided, so far as our observation
goes, into the following classes:--1. Hand-organists; 2.
Monkey-organists; 3. Handbarrow-organists; 4. Handcart-organists; 5.
Horse-and-cart-organists; 6. Blindbird-organists; 7. Piano-grinders;
8. Flageolet-organists and pianists; 9. Hurdy-gurdy players.

1. The hand-organist is most frequently a Frenchman of the
departments, nearly always a foreigner. If his instrument be good for
anything, and he have a talent for forming a connection, he will be
found to have his regular rounds, and may be met with any hour in the
week at the same spot he occupied at that hour on the week previous.
But a man so circumstanced is at the head of the vagabond profession,
the major part of whom wander at their own sweet will wherever chance
may guide. The hand-organ which they lug about varies in value from
L.10 to L.150--at least, this last-named sum was the cost of a
first-rate instrument thirty years ago, such as were borne about by
the street-organists of Bath, Cheltenham, and the fashionable
watering-places, and the grinders of the West End of London at that
period, when musical talent was much less common than it is now. We
have seen a contract for repairs to one of these instruments,
including a new stop and new barrels, amounting to the liberal sum of
L.75: it belonged to a man who had grown so impudent in prosperity, as
to incur the penalty of seven years' banishment from the town in which
he turned his handle, for the offence of thrashing a young nobleman,
who stood between him and his auditors too near for his sense of
dignity. Since the invention of the metal reed, however, which, under
various modifications and combinations, supplies the sole utterance of
the harmonicon, celestina, seraphina, colophon, accordian, concertina,
&c. &c. and which does away with the necessity for pipes, the street
hand-organ has assumed a different and infinitely worse character.
Some of them yet remain what the old Puritans called 'boxes of
whistles'--that is, they are all pipes; but many of them might with
equal propriety be called 'boxes of Jews-harps,' being all reeds, or
rather vibrating metal tongues--and more still are of a mixed
character, having pipes for the upper notes, and metal reeds for the
bass. The effect is a succession of sudden hoarse brays as an
accompaniment to a soft melody, suggesting the idea of a duet between
Titania and Bottom. But this is far from the worst of it. The
profession of hand-organist having of late years miserably declined,
being in fact at present the next grade above mendicancy, the element
of cheapness has, per force, been studied in the manufacture of the
instrument. The barrels of some are so villainously pricked that the
time is altogether broken, the ear is assailed with a minim in the
place of a quaver, and _vice versâ_--and occasionally, as a matter of
convenience, a bar is left out, or even one is repeated, in utter
disregard of suffering humanity. But what is worse still, these metal
reeds, which are the most untunable things in the whole range of
sound-producing material, are constantly, from contact with fog and
moisture, getting out of order; and howl dolorously as they will in
token of their ailments, their half-starved guardian, who will grind
half an hour for a penny, cannot afford to medicate their pains, even
if he is aware of them, which, judging from his placid composure
during the most infamous combination of discords, is very much to be
questioned.[1]

2. The monkey-organist is generally a native of Switzerland or the
Tyrol. He carries a worn-out, doctored, and flannel-swathed
instrument, under the weight of which, being but a youth, or very
rarely an adult, he staggers slowly along, with outstretched back and
bended knees. On the top of his old organ sits a monkey, or sometimes
a marmoset, to whose queer face and queerer tricks, he trusts for
compensating the defective quality of his music. He dresses his
shivering brute in a red jacket and a cloth cap; and, when he can, he
teaches him to grind the organ, to the music of which he will himself
dance wearily. He wears an everlasting smile upon his countenance,
indicative of humour, natural and not assumed for the occasion: and
though he invariably unites the profession of a beggar with that of
monkey-master and musician, he has evidently no faith in a melancholy
face, and does not think it absolutely necessary to make you
thoroughly miserable in order to excite your charity. He will leave
his monkey grinding away on a door-step, and follow you with a
grinning face for a hundred yards or more, singing in a kind of
recitative: 'Date qualche cosa, signer! per amor di Dio, eccellenza,
date qualche cosa!' If you comply with his request, his voluble thanks
are too rapid for your comprehension; and if you refuse, he laughs
merrily in your face as he turns away to rejoin his friend and
coadjutor. He is a favourite subject with the young artists about
town, especially if he is very good-looking, or, better still,
excessively ugly; and he picks up many a shilling for sitting,
standing, or sprawling on the ground, as a model in the studio. It
sometimes happens that he has no organ--his monkey being his only
stock in trade. When the monkey dies--and one sees by their melancholy
comicalities, and cautious and painful grimaces, that the poor brutes
are destined to a short time of it--he takes up with white mice, or,
lacking these, constructs a dancing-doll, which, with the aid of a
short plank with an upright at one end, to which is attached a cord
passing through the body of the doll, and fastened to his right leg,
he keeps constantly on the jig, to the music of a tuneless
tin-whistle, bought for a penny, and a very primitive parchment tabor,
manufactured by himself. These shifts he resorts to in the hope of
retaining his independence and personal freedom--failing to succeed in
which, he is driven, as a last resource, to the comfortless drudgery
of piano-grinding, which we shall have to notice in its turn.

3. The handbarrow-organist is not uncommonly some lazy Irishman, if he
be not a sickly Savoyard, who has mounted his organ upon a handbarrow
of light and somewhat peculiar construction, for the sake of
facilitating the task of locomotion. From the nature of his equipage,
he is not given to grinding so perpetually as his heavily-burdened
brethren.



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Library mainpage -> Chambers, William -> Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, No. 430 Volume 17, New Series, March 27, 1852