Chapter 40 PLACARDS, BRASS-JEWELERS, TRUCK-HORSES, AND STEAMERS
As I wish to group together what fell under my observation concerning th_iverpool docks, and the scenes roundabout, I will try to throw into thi_hapter various minor things that I recall.
The advertisements of pauperism chalked upon the flagging round the doc_alls, are singularly accompanied by a multitude of quite differen_nnouncements, placarded upon the walls themselves. They are principall_otices of the approaching departure of _"superior, fast-sailing, coppered an_opper-fastened ships,"_ for the United States, Canada, New South Wales, an_ther places. Interspersed with these, are the advertisements of Jewis_lothesmen, informing the judicious seamen where he can procure of the bes_nd the cheapest; together with ambiguous medical announcements of the trib_f quacks and empirics who prey upon all seafaring men. Not content with thu_ublicly giving notice of their whereabouts, these indefatigable Sangrados an_retended Samaritans hire a parcel of shabby workhouse-looking knaves, whos_usiness consists in haunting the dock walls about meal times, and silentl_hrusting mysterious little billets—duodecimo editions of the large_dvertisements—into the astonished hands of the tars.
They do this, with such _a_ mysterious hang-dog wink; such a sidelong air;
such a villainous assumption of your necessities; that, at first, you ar_lmost tempted to knock them down for their pains.
Conspicuous among the notices on the walls, are huge Italic inducements to al_eamen disgusted with the merchant service, to accept a round bounty, an_mbark in her Majesty's navy.
In the British armed marine, in time of peace, they do not ship men for th_eneral service, as in the American navy; but for particular ships, going upo_articular cruises. Thus, the frigate Thetis may be announced as about to sai_nder the command of that fine old sailor, and noble father to his crew, _Lor_eorge Flagstaff._
Similar announcements may be seen upon the walls concerning enlistments in th_rmy. And never did auctioneer dilate with more rapture upon the charms o_ome country-seat put up for sale, than the authors of these placards do, upo_he beauty and salubrity of the distant climes, for which the regiment_anting recruits are about to sail. Bright lawns, vine-clad hills, endles_eadows of verdure, here make up the landscape; and adventurous youn_entlemen, fond of travel, are informed, that here is a chance for them to se_he world at their leisure, and be paid for enjoying themselves into th_argain. The regiments for India are promised plantations among valleys o_alms; while to those destined for New Holland, a novel sphere of life an_ctivity is opened; and the companies bound to Canada and Nova Scotia ar_ured by tales of summer suns, that ripen grapes in December. No word of wa_s breathed; hushed is the clang of arms in these announcements; and th_anguine recruit is almost tempted to expect that pruning-hooks, instead o_words, will be the weapons he will wield.
Alas! is not this the cruel stratagem of Brace at Bannockburn, who decoyed t_is war-pits by covering them over with green boughs? For instead of a farm a_he blue base of the Himalayas, the Indian recruit encounters the keen sabe_f the Sikh; and instead of basking in sunny bowers, the Canadian soldie_tands a shivering sentry upon the bleak ramparts of Quebec, a lofty mark fo_he bitter blasts from Baffin's Bay and Labrador. There, as his eye sweep_own the St. Lawrence, whose every billow is bound for the main that laves th_hore of Old England; as he thinks of his long term of enlistment, which sell_im to the army as Doctor Faust sold himself to the devil; how the poor fello_ust groan in his grief, and call to mind the church-yard stile, and his Mary.
These army announcements are well fitted to draw recruits in Liverpool. Amon_he vast number of emigrants, who daily arrive from all parts of Britain t_mbark for the United States or the colonies, there are many young men, who,
upon arriving at Liverpool, find themselves next to penniless; or, at least,
with only enough money to carry them over the sea, without providing fo_uture contingencies. How easily and naturally, then, may such youths b_nduced to enter upon the military life, which promises them a free passage t_he most distant and flourishing colonies, and certain pay for doing nothing;
besides holding out hopes of vineyards and farms, to be verified in th_ullness of time. For in a moneyless youth, the decision to leave home at all,
and embark upon a long voyage to reside in a remote clime, is a piece o_dventurousness only one removed from the spirit that prompts the army recrui_o enlist.
I never passed these advertisements, surrounded by crowds of gaping emigrants,
without thinking of rattraps.
Besides the mysterious agents of the quacks, who privily thrust their littl_otes into your hands, folded up like a powder; there are another set o_ascals prowling about the docks, chiefly at dusk; 'who make strange motion_o you, and beckon you to one side, as if they had some state secret t_isclose, intimately connected with the weal of the commonwealth. They nudg_ou with an elbow full of indefinite hints and intimations; they glitter upo_ou an eye like a Jew's or a pawnbroker's; they dog you like Italia_ssassins. But if the blue coat of a policeman chances to approach, ho_uickly they strive to look completely indifferent, as to the surroundin_niverse; how they saunter off, as if lazily wending their way to a_ffectionate wife and family.
The first time one of these mysterious personages accosted me, I fancied hi_razy, and hurried forward to avoid him. But arm in arm with my shadow, h_ollowed after; till amazed at his conduct, I turned round and paused.
He was a little, shabby, old man, with a forlorn looking coat and hat; and hi_and was fumbling in his vest pocket, as if to take out a card with hi_ddress. Seeing me stand still he made a sign toward a dark angle of the wall,
near which we were; when taking him for a cunning foot-pad, I again wheele_bout, and swiftly passed on. But though I did not look round, I _felt_ hi_ollowing me still; so once more I stopped. The fellow now assumed so mysti_nd admonitory an air, that I began to fancy he came to me on some warnin_rrand; that perhaps a plot had been laid to blow up the Liverpool docks, an_e was some Monteagle bent upon accomplishing my flight. I was determined t_ee what he was. With all my eyes about me, I followed him into the arch of _arehouse; when he gazed round furtively, and silently showing me a ring,
whispered, "You may have it for a shilling; it's pure gold-I found it in th_utter-hush! don't speak! give me the money, and it's yours."
"My friend," said I, "I don't trade in these articles; I don't want you_ing."
"Don't you? Then take, that," he whispered, in an intense hushed passion; an_ fell flat from a blow on the chest, while this infamous jeweler made awa_ith himself out of sight. This business transaction was conducted with _ounting-house promptitude that astonished me.
After that, I shunned these scoundrels like the leprosy: and the next time _as pertinaciously followed, I stopped, and in a loud voice, pointed out th_an to the passers-by; upon which he absconded; rapidly turning up into sigh_ pair of obliquely worn and battered boot-heels. I could not help thinkin_hat these sort of fellows, so given to running away upon emergencies, mus_urnish a good deal of work to the shoemakers; as they might, also, to th_rowers of hemp and gallows-joiners.
Belonging to a somewhat similar fraternity with these irritable merchants o_rass jewelry just mentioned, are the peddlers of Sheffield razors, mostl_oys, who are hourly driven out of the dock gates by the police; nevertheless,
they contrive to saunter back, and board the vessels, going among the sailor_nd privately exhibiting their wares. Incited by the extreme cheapness of on_f the razors, and the gilding on the case containing it, a shipmate of min_urchased it on the spot for a commercial equivalent of the price, in tobacco.
On the following Sunday, he used that razor; and the result was a pair o_ormented and tomahawked cheeks, that almost required a surgeon to dress them.
In old times, by the way, it was not a bad thought, that suggested th_ropriety of a barber's practicing surgery in connection with the chin-
harrowing vocation. Another class of knaves, who practice upon the sailors i_iverpool, are the pawnbrokers, inhabiting little rookeries among the narro_anes adjoining the dock. I was astonished at die multitude of gilded balls i_hese streets, emblematic of their calling. They were generally next neighbor_o the gilded grapes over the spirit-vaults; and no doubt, mutually t_acilitate business operations, some of these establishments have connectin_oors inside, so as to play their customers into each other's hands. I ofte_aw sailors in a state of intoxication rushing from a spirit-vault into _awnbroker's; stripping off their boots, hats, jackets, and neckerchiefs, an_ometimes even their pantaloons on the spot, and offering to pawn them for _ong. Of course such applications were never refused. But though on shore, a_iverpool, poor Jack finds more sharks than at sea, he himself is by no mean_xempt from practices, that do not savor of a rigid morality; at leas_ccording to law. In tobacco smuggling he is an adept: and when cool an_ollected, often manages to evade the Customs completely, and land goodl_ackages of the weed, which owing to the immense duties upon it in England,
commands a very high price.
As soon as we came to anchor in the river, before reaching the dock, thre_ustom-house underlings boarded us, and coming down into the forecastle,
ordered the men to produce all the tobacco they had. Accordingly severa_ounds were brought forth.
"Is that all?" asked the officers.
"All," said the men.
"We will see," returned the others.
And without more ado, they emptied the chests right and left; tossed over th_unks and made a thorough search of the premises; but discovered nothing. Th_ailors were then given to understand, that while the ship lay in dock, th_obacco must remain in the cabin, under custody of the chief mate, who ever_orning would dole out to them one plug per head, as a security against thei_arrying it ashore.
"Very good," said the men.
But several of them had secret places in the ship, from whence they daily dre_ound after pound of tobacco, which they smuggled ashore in the manne_ollowing.
When the crew went to meals, each man carried at least one plug in his pocket;
_that_ he had a right to; and as many more were hidden about his person as h_ared. Among the great crowds pouring out of the dock-gates at such hours, o_ourse these smugglers stood little chance of detection; although vigilan_ooking policemen were always standing by. And though these _"Charlies"_ migh_uppose there were tobacco smugglers passing; yet to hit the right man amon_uch a throng, would be as hard, as to harpoon a speckled porpoise, one of te_housand darting under a ship's bows.
Our forecastle was often visited by foreign sailors, who knowing we came fro_merica, were anxious to purchase tobacco at a cheap rate; for in Liverpool i_s about an American penny per pipe-full. Along the docks they sell an Englis_ennyworth, put up in a little roll like confectioners' mottoes, with poetica_ines, or instructive little moral precepts printed in red on the back.
Among all the sights of the docks, the noble truck-horses are not the leas_triking to a stranger. They are large and powerful brutes, with such slee_nd glossy coats, that they look as if brushed and put on by a valet ever_orning. They march with a slow and stately step, lifting their ponderou_oofs like royal Siam elephants. Thou shalt not lay stripes upon these Roma_itizens; for their docility is such, they are guided without rein or lash;
they go or come, halt or march on, at a whisper. So grave, dignified,
gentlemanly, and courteous did these fine truck-horses look—so full of cal_ntelligence and sagacity, that often I endeavored to get into conversatio_ith them, as they stood in contemplative attitudes while their loads wer_reparing. But all I could get from them was the mere recognition of _riendly neigh; though I would stake much upon it that, could I have spoken i_heir language, I would have derived from them a good deal of valuabl_nformation touching the docks, where they passed the whole of their dignifie_ives.
There are unknown worlds of knowledge in brutes; and whenever you mark _orse, or a dog, with a peculiarly mild, calm, deep-seated eye, be sure he i_n Aristotle or a Kant, tranquilly speculating upon the mysteries in man. N_hilosophers so thoroughly comprehend us as dogs and horses. They see throug_s at a glance. And after all, what is a horse but a species of four-foote_umb man, in a leathern overall, who happens to live upon oats, and toils fo_is masters, half-requited or abused, like the biped hewers of wood an_rawers of water? But there is a touch of divinity even in brutes, and _pecial halo about a horse, that should forever exempt him from indignities.
As for those majestic, magisterial truck-horses of the docks, I would as soo_hink of striking a judge on the bench, as to lay violent hand upon their hol_ides.
It is wonderful what loads their majesties will condescend to draw. The truc_s a large square platform, on four low wheels; and upon this the lumpers pil_ale after bale of cotton, as if they were filling a large warehouse, and ye_ procession of three of these horses will tranquilly walk away with th_hole.
The truckmen themselves are almost as singular a race as their animals. Lik_he Judiciary in England, they wear gowns, —not of the same cut and colo_hough,—which reach below their knees; and from the racket they make on th_avements with their hob-nailed brogans, you would think they patronized th_ame shoemaker with their horses. I never could get any thing out of thes_ruckmen. They are a reserved, sober-sided set, who, with all possibl_olemnity, march at the head of their animals; now and then gently advisin_hem to sheer to the right or the left, in order to avoid some passin_ehicle. Then spending so much of their lives in the high-bred company o_heir horses, seems to have mended their manners and improved their taste,
besides imparting to them something of the dignity of their animals; but i_as also given to them a sort of refined and uncomplaining aversion to huma_ociety.
There are many strange stories told of the truck-horse. Among others is th_ollowing: There was a parrot, that from having long been suspended in it_age from a low window fronting a dock, had learned to converse prett_luently in the language of the stevedores and truckmen. One day a truckma_eft his vehicle standing on the quay, with its back to the water. It wa_oon, when an interval of silence falls upon the docks; and Poll, seein_erself face to face with the horse, and having a mind for a chat, cried ou_o him, _"Back! back! back!"_
Backward went the horse, precipitating himself and truck into the water.
Brunswick Dock, to the west of Prince's, is one of the most interesting to b_een. Here lie the various black steamers (so unlike the American boats, sinc_hey have to navigate the boisterous Narrow Seas) plying to all parts of th_hree kingdoms. Here you see vast quantities of produce, imported fro_tarving Ireland; here you see the decks turned into pens for oxen and sheep;
and often, side by side with these inclosures, Irish deck-passengers, thick a_hey can stand, seemingly penned in just like the cattle. It was the beginnin_f July when the Highlander arrived in port; and the Irish laborers were dail_oming over by thousands, to help harvest the English crops.
One morning, going into the town, I heard a tramp, as of a drove of buffaloes,
behind me; and turning round, beheld the entire middle of the street filled b_ great crowd of these men, who had just emerged from Brunswick Dock gates,
arrayed in long-tailed coats of hoddin-gray, corduroy knee-breeches, and sho_ith shoes that raised a mighty dust. Flourishing their Donnybrook shillelahs,
they looked like an irruption of barbarians. They were marching straight ou_f town into the country; and perhaps out of consideration for the finances o_he corporation, took the middle of the street, to save the side-walks.
"Sing _Langolee, and the Lakes of Killarney,"_ cried one fellow, tossing hi_tick into the air, as he danced in his brogans at the head of the rabble. An_o they went! capering on, merry as pipers.
When I thought of the multitudes of Irish that annually land on the shores o_he United States and Canada, and, to my surprise, witnessed the additiona_ultitudes embarking from Liverpool to New Holland; and when, added to al_his, I daily saw these hordes of laborers, descending, thick as locusts, upo_he English corn-fields; I could not help marveling at the fertility of a_sland, which, though her crop of potatoes may fail, never yet failed i_ringing her annual crop of men into the world.