Sketches by Boz
7. Hackney-Coach Stands
We maintain that hackney-coaches, properly so called, belong solely to the metropolis.
We may be told, that there are hackney-coach stands in Edinburgh; and not to go quite
so far for a contradiction to our position, we may be reminded that Liverpool,
Manchester, 'and other large towns' (as the Parliamentary phrase goes), have THEIR
hackney-coach stands. We readily concede to these places the possession of certain
vehicles, which may look almost as dirty, and even go almost as slowly, as London
hackney-coaches; but that they have the slightest claim to compete with the metropolis,
either in point of stands, drivers, or cattle, we indignantly deny.
Take a regular, ponderous, rickety, London hackney-coach of the old school, and let
any man have the boldness to assert, if he can, that he ever beheld any object on the
face of the earth which at all resembles it, unless, indeed, it were another hackney-
coach of the same date. We have recently observed on certain stands, and we say it
with deep regret, rather dapper green chariots, and coaches of polished yellow, with
four wheels of the same colour as the coach, whereas it is perfectly notorious to every
one who has studied the subject, that every wheel ought to be of a different colour, and
a different size. These are innovations, and, like other miscalled improvements, awful
signs of the restlessness of the public mind, and the little respect paid to our time-
honoured institutions. Why should hackney-coaches be clean? Our ancestors found
them dirty, and left them so. Why should we, with a feverish wish to 'keep moving,'
desire to roll along at the rate of six miles an hour, while they were content to rumble
over the stones at four? These are solemn considerations. Hackney-coaches are part
and parcel of the law of the land; they were settled by the Legislature; plated and
numbered by the wisdom of Parliament.
Then why have they been swamped by cabs and omnibuses? Or why should people be
allowed to ride quickly for eightpence a mile, after Parliament had come to the solemn
decision that they should pay a shilling a mile for riding slowly? We pause for a reply; -
and, having no chance of getting one, begin a fresh paragraph.
Our acquaintance with hackney-coach stands is of long standing. We are a walking
book of fares, feeling ourselves, half bound, as it were, to be always in the right on
contested points. We know all the regular watermen within three miles of Covent-garden
by sight, and should be almost tempted to believe that all the hackney-coach horses in
that district knew us by sight too, if one-half of them were not blind. We take great
interest in hackney-coaches, but we seldom drive, having a knack of turning ourselves
over when we attempt to do so. We are as great friends to horses, hackney-coach and
otherwise, as the renowned Mr. Martin, of costermonger notoriety, and yet we never