“O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!”
So wrote Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), and, it has to be said, your average British Victorian was not without plenty of people intent on showing them to themselves as others saw them!
Journalists and authors from across the globe were intent on paying visits to London and then reporting back to their readers on what they had seen and encountered.
One such visit was paid to London in August, 1879, by Parisian author M. Millaud, and, his experiences were republished by The London Evening Standard on Monday, 25th August, 1879:-
A PARISIAN UPON ENGLISH TRAVEL
M. Millaud is continuing his career of discovery in England.
A visit to the slums of Whitechapel is an indispensable item on the programme of every Parisian’s visit to London.
THE HEADQUARTERS OF ALL VICE
M. Clarette visited them a few weeks ago, and sent his account to the Temps. M. Millaud informs his readers that Whitechapel is the headquarters of all the vice and wretchedness of London; of all the murderers, thieves, beggars, and drunkards of the British metropolis.
A stranger who ventured to visit that region without a bowie knife would run the risk of being thrown into the Thames.
He sums up his appreciation of the East-end of London by affirming that it has not its equivalent in any other country in the world.
Hideous vice and wretchedness, under the most repulsive forms, meet the eye at every moment.
In other countries – France for example – vice is veiled, as it were, by gaiety or thirst for amusement. In Paris you do not meet with half-naked drunken women rolling in the mud and insensible to the tread of the horse that crushes them.
A VISIT TO SCOTLAND YARD
M. Millaud is warm in his praise of the kind attentions of Mr. Williamson, of whom he says:- “He received us with courtesy and gave us the necessary permissions with a promptness which it is impossible to meet with in any public service in France.”
M. Millaud then goes on to describe his visit to Scotland-yard and expresses his high admiration of the simple and effective manner in which the dossiers of delinquents are kept.
STOLEN ARTICLES RETURNED
He then goes on to impart some interesting information which may be quite new to most of your readers concerning the museum of stolen articles.
M. Millaud assures us that:-
“The police keep all stolen articles, and do not restore them to their owners. They return them to the thief when he leaves the prison. Here is the reason for doing so.
A man is condemned for having stolen your watch; so long as the watch remains in the museum the thief cannot complain of having been condemned for stealing it; it forms his visible and tangible remorse. If it is returned to him when he leaves prison it is because he has paid for his theft.
He wanted a watch and the police told him it would cost him four months. He does his four months, and the watch is his own.
Such is the paradox of which English justice is based.
I think I have perfectly understood what I was told, and that I have imparted it in its clearest form.”
ENGLISH FOOD CAUSES SADNESS
In another letter, M. Millaud explains why sadness reigns in England. He thinks English food must be the cause:-”
It is nourishing, good, plentiful, but it is as thick as syrup. Salmon and potatoes, roast beef in enormous quantities, plain puddings, like fortresses, and the whole washed down by half-and-half, with inextinguishable thirst, into the entrails.
After the dinner described you must not think of walking fourteen yards without going into a bar.
There you drink a brandy and soda standing, which relieves you a little, but not for long.
The English slake their thirst with port or sherry containing a great deal of alcohol, and that is throwing oil on the fire.
ONE MEAL A DAY
To excuse them it must be remembered that they eat but one meal a day, but that is a very copious one.
In the morning people who have work to do take bread and butter and tea; very busy people rush into a bar and get the barmaid to give them a sandwich and a glass of sherry, and then rush out again.
Confirmed loungers take their stand at the bar and look for a long time at the barmaid without speaking a word, and this contemplation lasts for ten minutes; the lounger eats half of his sandwich, contemplates again, eats another mouthful, drinks, re-contemplates, and goes out without saying good-bye.”
ALL ABOARD THE OMNIBUS
M. Millaud then gives an accurate description of the London omnibus, the prestige, savoir vivre, and chic – of their drivers.
The conductor, he says, is a little less majestic, but even he wears a tall hat.
“The tall hat,” says M. Millaud, “is universal in London. Street beggars wear tall hats, so do engine drivers sometimes. Masons build houses in their shirt sleeves, but they wear tall hats.
EQUALITY IN COSTUME
You cannot see a single blouse in London.
Equality in costume is the first duty of the true Briton.
The artisans who can work in gloves wear gloves; some few wear an apron, but they are exceptions, and because they are afraid of soiling their linen.
I have said that the Londoners do not amuse themselves because they are not expansive.
The lounger is absorbed in himself.
THEY DON’T TALK
Two friends at table do not talk to each other.
A lover and his sweetheart exchange not a word; they eat and drink without saying what they think; when the waiter brings a dish, or a pint of beer, one of the friends serves himself and then it is the turn of the other; but complete silence’ reigns.
The lover raises the pint, and says to his companion, “Will you?” “Yes, please,” is her answer.
That is all; and then the couple fall again into their spleen. ”
Decidedly M. Millaud is the power who has given us the gift to see ourselves as others see us.”