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Thursday, 26 January 2012

“A Texas Tale of Love and Mystery: Or: Book Review: The Herbalist’s Apprentice by Rosa Morgan Lockwood:

Last year, for the first time, I decided to record a list of all the books I had read over the course of 2011. I have typed up the list below, and as you may observe, I do not waiver much from the Victorian stuff; all of it is either written by Victorians or set in Victorian England, and specifically the hub of the Empire; London.

  • Hard Times (Dickens)
  • A London Child of the 1870’s (M.V Hughes)
  • The Mesmerists Apprentice (Lee Jackson)
  • Dickens (Peter Ackroyd)
  • Paved With Gold (Augustus Mayhew)
  • True History of a Little Ragamuffin (James Greenwood)
  • To London Town (Arthur Morrison)
  • Diary of a Murder (Lee Jackson)
  • The Invention of Murder (Judith Flanders)
  • Death at the Priory (James Ruddick)
  • In the Year of the Jubilee (George Gissing)
  • The Newgate Jig (Ann Featherstone)
  • The Herbalists Apprentice (Rosa Morgan Lockwood)
  • Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde (Re-Read) (Stevenson)
  • The Body Snatcher (Stevenson)
  • Diary of a Nobody (George & Weedon Grossmith)
  • The World for a Shilling (Michael Leapman)

Then, in June last year I wrote a blog post about the Statue of Liberty, the famous landmark that stands in New York, having been given to the USA to celebrate their centennial by France. In the post I wrote that I always struggled to come to terms with America in the nineteenth century. I don’t know why, but I could never think of the USA in that era without thinking immediately of cowboys and Indians and towns full of saloons and pale riders. In a quest to correct me, Rosa – an author and blogger from America – contacted me and told me she had just finished writing a novel set in Texas in 1850, and would I like to read it to try and broaden my nineteenth century American horizon. I said I would very much like to read it, having never read anything set in ‘Victorian’ America before. I also agreed to write a review after I finished – something else I have never done before, and I doubt the nation’s entertainment critics will be fearing for their livelihoods just yet…

The book was ‘The Herbalist’s Apprentice’ and I was reliably informed that ‘Herbalist’ carried a silent ‘H’.
Within a week I received my signed copy, and looked at it with a kind of strange foreboding. What was I hoping for? I was hoping for a book with a good story, first and foremost, and secondly, I was hoping to ‘experience’ 1850’s America as best I could. So, having finished the book I was currently reading, I picked it up and began.

Predictably, I felt like I was in a foreign place, and for the first five or six pages was overcome with a strange feeling of homesickness. (Bizarrely, in my mind I was wondering how preparations were going in London for the Great Exhibition of 1851. Probably, I thought, to try and get the era into context, since the usual clues, such as slang or familiar buildings or streets were not present.) Speaking of slang, another strangeness that fueled my homesickness was the accents of the characters, some of whom, of course, in my mind spoke with a Texan twang. At first, these kept slipping, but after a chapter or so, my inner reading monologue was set firmly to ‘Texan’ for the characters that required it, and it came a little easier.

Onto the actual book then, and I best shed a little light on the story, here is the description from the back of the book:

At seventeen, Mia is bursting with questions about love and life, but none are more pressing than the lavender scented memories concerning her mother's mysterious death. Against her father's wishes, she secretly visits Mosswood, the palatial home of the nefarious Captain Biggs, where she becomes entangled in a web of deception.
Should Mia trust the captain's dashing son, Daniel, whose sincere and refined manners win her heart?

Or should she trust the rugged Frenchman, Henri, a Galveston Customs Officer, who is investigating the Biggs family, and whose seductive ways sweep her off her feet.

Desperate for help and guidance, Mia turns to the one person she can trust; Miss Emily, a freed mulatto slave who dispenses pearls of wisdom as adroitly as her herbal tinctures. Apprenticed to her in the art of healing, Mia begs her for the truth behind all the secrets.

When the past and it's mysteries are finally revealed, what dangerous steps will this impetuous young woman take to find justice?

I enjoyed the story, and the questions posed above are answered with great satisfaction in the final chapters as the story builds and comes to a head. The thing that came across to me most was the sense of sultry, dusty Texan heat, but this feeling was conveyed not by a flurry of adjectives, but concealed within paragraphs that subtly suggested that it was hot and dry and dusty. The atmosphere created was impressive, and certainly helped to set the sense of place for a luddite like me, who needed all the help he could get to be hoisted out of his nineteenth century London rut.

The novel covers an impressively wide range of topics, despite coming in at only 300 pages. Notable topics are racism, war, slavery, forbidden love, loss, class, history, industry, English upper-class pretentiousness and colonialism.

Reading ‘The Herbalists Apprentice’ was a new experience for me, but it’s not simply for that reason that I would recommend giving it a read, but because its an effectively atmospheric and immersive story, which sweeps its skirts gently along the warm and dusty roads of 1850’s Texas, until, before you know it, you find yourself in the centre of an intriguing mystery.

Rosa Morgan Lockwood blogs at and can be found on Twitter @VictorianTime 

Friday, 20 January 2012

D.O. Hill and Early Photography: Or: A Guest Post by Alison Bacon:

Most people know that Fox Talbot invented photography. Not so many are aware that its first real flowering took place north of the border. Alison Bacon unravels the events that brought an artist into the frame at just the right moment.

The Scottish connection
In 1839 William Henry Fox Talbot found a way of capturing an image on light-sensitive paper and rendering it stable. The negative/positive process allowed any number of prints to be produced from a single ‘calotype’, and so modern photography was born. 
With competitors snapping at his heels, Fox Talbot was quick to protect his invention with patents, but he entrusted the details to his close friend Sir David Brewster. Brewster, an eminent if irascible scientist (now best known for inventing the kaleidoscope) was at that time Principal of St. Andrews University.

St. Andrew's Cathedral & Rule's Tower
Brewster gathered around him a group of academics and townsmen, all interested in the new science of making images from light. One of these was John Adamson, a local doctor. John enlisted the help of his younger brother Robert, a talented engineer dogged by ill-health. After many false starts, the Adamson brothers managed to replicate Fox Talbot’s methods. When the inventor saw their results, he agreed not to extend his patents to Scotland and allowed Robert Adamson to set up a photography business in Edinburgh.

Enter the artist
In the spring of 1843, Edinburgh was galvanised by a crisis in the Church of Scotland over the right of congregations to appoint their own ministers. Earlier that year, appeals to the English parliament to uphold this right had finally failed, and Thomas Chalmers, the radical church leader, called on the General Assembly to assert the church’s independence from the state. On the 18th of May, only a week after Adamson’s arrival, Chalmers and some 450 ministers left the Assembly as it sat in Edinburgh and reconvened to form a new Free Church of Scotland.  This Act of Disruption was followed five days later by the formal signing of a Deed of Demission. Among the many onlookers was David Octavius Hill
Hill and Daughter

Hill was an established landscape artist who also held the position of Secretary to the newly formed Royal Scottish Academy. Like many others he was impressed by the moral courage of Chalmers and his followers. He offered to produce a commemorative painting, to include as many portraits as possible of the ministers who had signed the Deed. But his problem was one of time. To create portraits from life he needed to sketch the subjects, most of whom would leave Edinburgh within a few days.
Brewster was also present at the signing and learned of Hill’s intention. Seeing a perfect opportunity to promote Adamson’s work, he suggested Hill could eliminate the need for sketches by using calotypes instead  and persuaded him to visit Adamson’s studio on Calton Hill. Despite Hill’s initial scepticism, Adamson’s demonstration of the new technique quickly won him over.

Hill and Adamson
Although twenty years his senior, Hill struck up an immediate friendship with Adamson and after a few weeks he and his daughter moved in to share the Rock House studio. Hill’s wife having died a few years earlier, the two men and a five year-old must have made an odd household in Victorian Edinburgh.
'Edinburgh Ale' (1843) Left to Right - Ballantyne, Bell & Hill
 But Hill was a key figure in society. He saw that the calotype was much more than an artist’s short-cut and soon had Edinburgh ablaze with the notion of sitting for this new kind of portrait. The Demission painting was put on hold as writers, churchmen, actors and visiting dignitaries all rolled up to have a calotype taken.
The experience of sitting in bright sunlight for over a minute, as was then required, could be an ordeal, but Hill’s social and artistic skills produced results that were both pleasing and naturalistic. By July of 1843, Hill and Adamson prints were appearing in a gallery owned by Hill’s brother, and early the following year were exhibited at the RSA.
King Fisher

This dynamic and creative partnership lasted for four years and in that time Hill and Adamson captured around three thousand images taken not just in the studio but also around Edinburgh, St. Andrews and the fishing village of Newhaven. Some rate as significant works of art, others as social documents. Many are both. A large number can now de viewed online. (The images reproduced here are all from the National Galleries of Scotland Flickr photostream.)

The end of the affair
The partnership might have gone on to even greater achievements, but late in 1847 Adamson, still only twenty six, fell seriously ill. He went home to St. Andrews where he died in January 1848. By his own admission, Hill had never been interested in the technical side of the calotype. After Adamson’s death he failed to find another partner and withdrew to his original career as artist, teacher and administrator.
In the course of his public life, D.O. Hill experienced a series of deep personal losses, from the death of his wife Ann in 1841, to that of his ‘amiable friend’ Adamson and finally, in 1860, the loss of his beloved daughter Chattie. But in 1862 he finally married Amelia Paton, an artist, sculptor and family friend who supported him in his final years. With her help and encouragement he completed the Disruption painting begun almost twenty years earlier and in a touching anachronism included in it both himself and Robert Adamson, immediately recognisable as the man with the camera.
Hill's Memorial
 Hill’s love affair with photography turned out to be short-lived, but his impact was immense. It could be argued that he lacked the technical know-how of a photographer, but it was his energy, vision and compositional skill that placed photography on the artistic and cultural stage. Any good history of photography will make reference to the Hill & Adamson story. Further links and references can be found here.

Alison Bacon graduated from St. Andrews University a lifetime ago. Since then she has been a librarian, an IT trainer and more recently a writer. Back in the seventies she had a mild flirtation with early photography. Her current obsession with D.O. Hill looks like being the real deal. 

A huge thanks to Alison for this super post, writing about a subject I find fascinating, and that makes the Victorian period one of the best in history to study - photography.

Friday, 13 January 2012

“Like Painting the Forth Bridge…” Or: The Greatest Victorian Bridge, Finished at Last…For Now:

Recently, on the 9th December 2011, the perpetual painting job on the magnificent Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland was at last completed. here is an article from BBC News heralding the end of this task

Originally, a bridge designed by Sir Thomas Bouch was going to cross the Firth of Forth and connect Edinburgh to Fife, but the tragic disaster that befell one of Bouch’s earlier bridges, the Tay (read about that disaster here) meant that the project was suspended, and eventually taken away from him altogether after a public enquiry found that he had utterly mis-designed the tragic Tay Bridge.
The Forth Bridge project was given instead to civil engineers Sir John Fowler (who had worked on the metropolitan underground line in London) and Sir Benjamin Baker (who had transported Cleopatra’s Needle from Egypt to London), who designed the fantastic bridge that stands to this day.

The building and construction was carried out by Glasgow engineering company ‘Sir William Arrol & Co.’ and this project was groundbreaking in a number of ways;
Firstly, it was the first bridge in Britain to be made entirely of nothing but steel – a relatively unknown quantity when it came to bridges – If the Forth Bridge is compared to another bridge designed in the same decade – Tower Bridge in London, the immediate thing that is noted is that the Forth is a fairly sparse looking structure; there is nothing showy to it, is not dressed up with cladding, it is 100% function, 0% aesthetic, and in being so (in my opinion) becomes 100% both, and I can think of no Bridge in the country as industrially picturesque.
The Forth Under Construction

Secondly, when the bridge opened in March 1890, it was the longest single cantilever bridge in the world (though it was overtaken in 1917 by the Quebec Bridge) and was Britain’s first cantilever bridge, but these records were not made simply for the sake of it; as with the appearance of the bridge, they were purely functional.

Following the Tay disaster, public confidence in railway bridges was significantly damaged. The under-engineering of the Tay had given such structures a fearsome reputation, and to remedy this, Fowler and Baker knew that the Forth had to be the biggest and strongest bridge ever seen to restore confidence in railway bridges. The design they came up with was that of a cantilever. The strength of this design was demonstrated by co-designer Benjamin Baker at a lecture. The demonstration is shown in the picture below:

Behind the people is a photograph of the bridge, and in front of that, people act as a human version of the structure, to the same scale as the photograph of the bridge, so the men in the chairs on either side represent the vertical piers directly above them on the photograph, and the bricks next to them assume the role of the anchor piers at each end of the bridge.
The arms of the men in the chairs are supported by wooden beams held in their hands and butted against their chairs, and the tops of the two outermost ends of the beams are steadied by ropes attached to the anchor piers (or bricks) A little platform in the centre of the picture is suspended between the top ends of the wooden beams held by the inner hands of the two men.

This cantilever arrangement provided the perfect balance of forces, and supported the weight of the man sat upon the centre platform with ease. This human version of the bridge perfectly demonstrated that the bridge was well supported enough, and strong enough top cope with rail traffic.

During the building, which lasted from 1883 to 1890, five thousand men worked on the project (most of whom were foreigners) and during the seven-year build, fifty seven men died, the youngest being just sixteen years of age.

The Bridge, which was opened by the Prince of Wales upon its completion, was one of the great Victorian achievements. It was, however, quite high maintenance, and needed constant painting. In those days, and right up until forty or fifty years ago men without harnesses or safety equipment and with nothing but a flat cap on their heads climbed the steel structure with a tin of paint and a brush, coating the bridge with paint from one end to the other, and then turning around and going back again. As the article states, this task will not need to be done now for another twenty or so years due to the paint used, which sounds the death knell on the metaophor ‘like painting the Forth Bridge’ to describe a never-ending or thankless task…

Friday, 6 January 2012

The Child Doomed to a Doll-Less Existence Has an Injustice Inflicted on Her for Which no Other Education can Effectually Compensate: Or: The Importance of Giving Children Toys:

In the evenings it is often my wont to pick up a periodical or a bit of Victorian journalism for a little light reading. An article can be read in around fifteen minutes and doesn’t require the same kind of commitment as a book, and so the other night I turned to my old friend James Greenwood for a little entertainment.

Whilst thumbing through ‘Mysteries of Modern London’ (1883) I came across an article I had not read before, and to my delight I found it pertinent to the last few months for a number of reasons;

Firstly, and most obviously, it speaks of Christmas, and toys, and we are in December, and, having done a bit of Christmas shopping myself recently, have seen the furore surrounding the seasons’ ‘must have toys and gadgets’. But also, and in ways I’m not sure how to describe, the article (for me, anyway) seemed to have some significance when read in context of both the summer riots that occurred in Britain, and also Britain’s place in Europe. Perhaps I saw things in the article that weren’t there, though, and I’d appreciate feedback and comments from anyone who sees what I saw.

On top of that, though, this is a fascinating article, which speaks to the importance of children having good toys to play with, that they may grow into rounded adults. (Perhaps this is the point that led me to think of the riots, and that perhaps the participants missed something whilst growing up.)

The article:

Poor Folly’s Playthings:
IT may at first thought appear an absurdity, but it is, nevertheless, profoundly true, that not least among the many good reasons why England should beware of being beguiled into a war with the rest of Europe is that one of the almost immediate results would be a toy famine in our land. Why it should be would not be easy to tell, but it is a fact that we are no more independent in the matter of toys than as regards our breadstuffs and our bacon, and the hundred other commodities that go towards the sum total of what are called the necessaries of existence. There are some - and they would most likely be the old bachelor portion of the community - who will say that it is ridiculous to speak of mere toys as bearing any relation even to our daily needs; but the only reply that can be made to all such observations is that it is a great pity that those who utter them do not know better.

A very little reflection should convince us that toys are almost as essential to our children's wholesome growth and well-being as the food they eat and the clothes they wear. The melancholy effects of a toy dearth would make themselves apparent in a very short time - ere our present race of small girls and boys became women and men. It is not a mere question of amusing the infant mind. Deprived of their doll and their doll's house, our little maidens would be shut out from influences that are who shall say how valuable in developing characteristics that in after life go so far towards making them inestimable wives and mothers? The waxen image with its pink shoes and flaxen curls is not a mere object to idolise. Were it so, it might be well spared. Children, girls especially, are shrewd observers, and the faculty of imitation is seldom wanting in them. Their treatment is always a more or less exaggerated repetition of their nursery personal experiences, and one, as a rule, finds the parent's or the nurse's method of child management reflected in Miss six years playing at being mother with a sawdust-stuffed baby. She takes an earnest and methodical delight in dressing and undressing it, and in making its bed in the tiny cot. With an expression of countenance indicative of her sense of the responsibility that rests with her, she attends to dolly's wardrobe, and so discovers in a practical manner the use of needles and cottons; in its behalf, she sets the Lilliputian house in order, and makes everything within it neat and tidy, so that even mamma, should she peep into it, could find no faults.

Many an adult might learn a useful lesson were he at times privileged to peep into dolldom when the presiding genius was at home with her waxen and wooden family gathered about her. It is good to be a furtive looker-on when the young dolls' housekeeper, overhauling the contents of the nursery litter cupboard, comes on an old favourite long discarded on account of its infirmities. Accident has deprived it perhaps of its nose, it has become prematurely bald, or a murderous assault by the terrier has incurably crippled both its legs; anyway it has been relegated to obscurity as being no longer presentable in respectable company. But now, as its mistress contemplates it so forlorn and neglected, so dusty and shabby, her old love returns for it in full force, and she bedews its battered visage with remorseful tears and makes humble confession of her penitence to it. Yes, that day at least she will have nothing to say to her new doll, who as yet is spick-and-span and innocent of flaw or defect; she gives herself entirely to the comfort and caressing of the legless one, dressing it in the richest array at her disposal and placing it in the position of honour. Nor does it invariably happen that the newly-fanned flame dies out as quickly as its warmth was rekindled. Often enough it proves that the old affection revived is constant ever after – during doll-hood that is to say – and that, however splendid may be the doll who appears as the reigning favourite, the invalided one is snugly bestowed in the toy box, the doll of dolls, after all is said and done.

The child doomed to a doll-less existence has an injustice inflicted on her for which no other education can effectually compensate, and the result of the unnatural deprivation would of course manifest itself more markedly if she were at the same time deprived of every other kind of plaything as well. Nor does a toyless boy afford a spectacle less to be pitied. Cut him off from bat and ball, from battledore and shuttlecock, from kite and rocking-horse, and from mimic fife and drum and peg-top and whipping-top, and what would life be worth to him? It would be of little use endeavouring to make it up to him by supplying him with an abundance of what are called educational toys - with boxes of wooden "bricks" that he may study the art of bridge-building and the principle of the key-stone, or with magnetic fish and hydrostatic and pneumatic implements and kaleidoscopes, or any other gilded pill of the make-believe plaything sort, by means of which a boy may be beguiled into acquiring a knowledge of scientific laws when he imagines he is simply amusing himself. On the specious plan alluded to they make soldiers in France. In that country miniature guns, swords, and cannons are looked on as almost the only playthings fit for a boy, and the result furnishes significant proof of how great is the influence of the toys of the child on the character and disposition of the man. Take away from an English boy his accustomed playthings and he would mope and be miserable. In sheer desperation he would be driven so constantly to his books that, ere he attained his teens, he would have become so terribly clever as to be a nuisance and an abhorrence to all who knew him: his heart would grow grey while yet his head bore the curly locks of youth, and there would be for him nothing in the world that was not sour to his taste as a green goose-berry.

There would be danger of this alarming state of affairs coming to pass in the event of England being "Boycotted" by other nations, including Germany, France, and Switzerland, from which countries nine-tenths of the toys placed in the hands of English children are derived. We have not the knack of cheap toy-making. It would be a gain to us if we had. It is not a sufficient reason that we do not give our attention to it; because the scanty pay the women and children toy-makers of Germany and Switzerland receive makes it more profitable to import toys than to invest capital for their home production. I don't know what the rate of pay of a German toy-maker may be, but if she earns less than our lucifer-box maker or our slop tailoress, it is a marvel how she keeps whole - hearted enough to stick to toy-making at all. There are thousands of poor souls, women and girls, residing in the back streets of London, whose average earnings do not exceed sixpence a-day, and such, if they could be taught to move their fingers at toy-making as nimbly as they are compelled to at the starving trades at which they at present find employment, the occupation would be far pleasanter, and might be made to pay as well, or better.

And this idea is the more worth consideration in view of the undoubted fact that year-by-year the custom of introducing toys at our domestic festivities grows more common. This is due, no doubt, in great part, to our adoption of the German Christmas tree; and it may perhaps be argued that, since we are indebted to Germany for the pretty idea of the tree, we should not begrudge that country the privilege of providing the fruit for it, especially as the crop she assures us is so abundant and unfailing. There is enough for all. Choice fruit, in shape of imitation horses and donkeys, so elaborately made and finished that they cost almost half as much as the living creatures of the common sort, and clockwork peacocks valued at a guinea and a-half and Noah's arks with every animal so true to nature that the price of the whole collection, with the ark to keep them in, is ten or twelve pounds; and farmyards, with sheep that bleat when you stroke their fleecy backs, and tin ponds for the ducks and geese to swim in. These high- class fruits of the Christmas-tree, for those who can afford to indulge in such luxuries, with hundreds of cases, each one as large almost as a two-roomed country cottage, and stuffed full with toys, cheap and common, are such as eventually find their way at Christmas and on New Year's Eve to the fancy shops and the countless toy-stalls that now, on such occasions, may be seen in every street market-place in the metropolis. Cheap and common though they may be, however, the toys of Poverty Market are neither slovenly in shape, nor coarse and vulgar in design. The only exceptions to the rule are those hideous wooden painted dolls, with eyes that invariably squint, and whose matchwood legs, hinged to their square trunks, stretch out with obstinate rigidity and break off short when any attempt is made to compose them. Where these monstrosities hail from, and how it happens that they still find a place in the English toy market is quite unaccountable, unless it is that there are still to be found amongst the more ignorant of the poorer classes, mothers whose reign over their children is a reign of terror, and part of whose system it is to scare a fractious child by thrusting one of these dreadful little bogies before its eyes. But in every other respect the improvement that has taken place in the manufacture of the cheapest kind of toys is as amazing as it is gratifying.

There was a time, and that not more than a quarter of a century since, when almost the only toy (excepting the squinting penny doll above mentioned) with which a poor man's child was acquainted was the famous "lamb," with its body of clay, cotton-wool for fleece, and five lucifer matches for its legs and tail. Nor was this curiosity of nature to be always obtained. People had to wait for the day when the old woman who appeared to hold a monopoly for their manufacture came round. It was lucky for the old soul that she did not live in these later times, or, with her ringing cry she might have found herself "put down" along with the muffin bell.
"If I'd as much money as I could tell, I'd never come crying young lambs to sell," piped up the old woman; and she did such a trade that it is by no means certain that the reason why she retired from the trade was not that one day she found time to tell over the money she had accumulated, and, finding she had enough, she gave over lamb-making, and that particular breed for which she was renowned became extinct.

You may buy a lamb for a penny still on any street market stall, and, with all respect for the memory, of the old woman, it is worth an entire flock of the ridiculous things she used to turn out at the price. You may buy every other kind of toy at an equally reasonable rate-a clockwork mouse for twopence, and a set of doll's tea-things for three- pence, either in china or artistically turned in wood. The ancient and ludicrous spotted hare with his body like a ninepin and his legs mere stumps, has retired in favour of an animal symmetrically shaped and finished; while the long established peg top has found a formidable rival in a self-acting spring spinner of handsome appearance, the price of which is only one penny. The very marbles are not what they were when I was a boy. There were only two sorts then, and they were known as "commoneys" and "stoneys." The first were brittle disappointments in baked clay, and as often as not shattered themselves and our hopes as well at the moment of victory. The others were more durable, but they were exceedingly expensive. You got no more than six or eight for a penny probably. But marbles are moulded in glass now - elegant little globes, curiously threaded and coloured with all the hues of the rainbow - and I saw them the other day in Brick Lane being sold at the rate of ten for a halfpenny, which, one way and another, is evidence of the eternal fitness of things. "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." There never was a time when our schoolboy Jacks, and Jills as well, were so hardly worked as now. They require, consequently, a more abundant supply of toys than formerly, and at a price fairly within their means, and lo! here they are.

In connection with the toy interest there have always been two of its features that I could never understand, nor was anyone I ever yet applied to able to give me any satisfactory information. In the first place, who are the unknown geniuses constantly racking their inventive faculties to produce some new whimsy penny plaything? and, secondly, by whom is it that the said latest inventions carried hot from the factory (wherever that may be) to the neighbourhood of the Royal Exchange, there to be retailed by a band of gutter speculators who seemingly are engaged exclusively in this line of business? As to the first question, it is quite certain that the novelties are not all the creation of one man's brain. Any one familiar with the neighbourhood of the Bank of England, the Exchange and Broad Street, with eyes to see and ears to listen, cannot have missed the fact that scarce a day passes without there being "something new in the hands of the penny toymen exhibited and bawled out to tempt those of the crowd that throng the pavement. The variety is endless. To-day it is a magic mousetrap, a marvellous microscope, or a dancing donkey; tomorrow, a Chinese puzzle of rings and links, a Japanese parasol, a squeaking Jack-in-the-box, a jumping frog, or a wonderful bird- whistle. It would occupy at least half a column to enumerate merely the names of these new wares and toy tricks, that sell by hundreds on a Monday, and are represented by something else on Wednesday, becoming at that time so stale and unprofitable that unsold stock represents so much wasted capital.

What is the system on which the novelties are produced? Are there anywhere in London speculative toy-makers, opulent men who have made much money at the game, and who daily are to be found at their handsome city chambers to give audience to needy inventors with something to sell? Do they wait in an ante-room and crowd on the stairs, there being so many of them, each one jealously hugging in the breast pocket of his shabby old coat the last offspring of his ingenuity in the shape of a comical "grandfather's clock," or a dancing clown, or a magic mirror, and passing one at a time into the great man's presence? One would like unobserved to be a witness of the proceedings. The encourager of genius lolling in his chair at his ease, and with gold-rimmed glasses bestriding his shrewd nose, condescendingly contemplating the "frolicsome donkey" the poor needy wretch of an inventor has brought for his inspection, and which he earnestly recommends as being sure to "take" with the public, while he jerks at the string and shows how by that means the animal cocks its ears and flings up its hind legs, to the dismay of the gay young lady who occupies the saddle. The patron shakes his head.
"Not so bad," says he, "but where's the profit to come from, selling 'em to the trade at fourpence-ha'penny a dozen, with all that precious lot of pasteboard and paint to find, to say nothing about the j'ints and the string. I'll say seven and six, if you like, for the notion, but I won't give another shilling."
And the inventor of the frolicsome donkey, with a sigh (he had asked fifteen shillings for the article), pockets the money, and retires to make way for a brother genius, who has belaboured his brains for a week past to bring to perfection a guttapercha mouse that squeaks when its tail is pinched.

I don't of course say that this is the sort of thing that really goes on; it merely occurs to my mind as being possible, because, unless the ingenious little articles one sees offered for sale cost next to nothing in their production, it would be impossible for the "trade" to maintain its briskness. It is brisk, undoubtedly, in the localities indicated - in Threadneedle Street, and in the neighbourhood of the Stock Exchange - which shows how much success in the most trifling businesses depends on an instinctive knowledge of the desires and weaknesses of our fellow creatures. As an ignorant and inexperienced person with the last invented jumping frog to dispose of, I should no more think of taking it to the Stock Exchange than to the top of the monument. What on earth should a "bull" or a "bear" know, or desire to know, about jumping frogs? or mice that squeak when their tales are pinched, or frolicsome donkeys? You would never dream they could take delight in such absurdities to see them when they are in the street conspiring iii pairs, or brooding solitary, and using their pencil point as a toothpick, lost to the world for the time in a field of figures. Fancy breaking in on such a man's cogitation by soliciting him to buy a Punch's squeaker. The idea is too ridiculous to be for a moment entertained. There appears to be one way of accounting for the mystery and only one.

There are mysteries of Mammon's acre, and this may be of them. Everyone is aware how terribly harassing to the mental powers are complicated calculations made offhand, and frequently against time, which has to be beaten by a neck-by half a head, if money is to be made by the speculation. It is possible-nay, probable - that, under extraordinary pressure, the brain even of a bull may become heated and disturbed and a bear be conscious of symptoms that make him feel uncomfortable. The proper and immediate thing, of course, is to resort to some means of tranquilising the nervous system. The simplest remedies are always the safest, and sometimes the most efficacious. Is it impossible, then, that an excited bull, feeling the fit coming on, may hurry to his chambers and bid his faithful clerk make haste and procure him some toy the contemplation of which shall amuse him, though only for a couple of minutes? He knows that if he can but laugh his congestion will be relieved, and he will be himself again. He therefore sends out into Broad-street for a frolicsome donkey, or a Punch's squeaker, communes with one or the other the secrecy of his chamber for a few minutes, and then emerges as cool and self-possessed a bull as ever pastured in a Devon meadow. If I have hit on a correct solution of the matter, the constant craving in the neighbourhood in question for novel toys is accounted for.
-          James Greenwood, Mysteries of Modern London, 1883

There you have it, parents; by ignoring the incessant advertising and not getting your children the latest must-have gadgets that they desired this Christmas, you have actually destroyed their future. Now, one of those clay sheep sounds delightful…