Sketches by Boz HTML version

3. Shops and Their Tenants
What inexhaustible food for speculation, do the streets of London afford! We never were
able to agree with Sterne in pitying the man who could travel from Dan to Beersheba,
and say that all was barren; we have not the slightest commiseration for the man who
can take up his hat and stick, and walk from Covent-garden to St. Paul's Churchyard,
and back into the bargain, without deriving some amusement - we had almost said
instruction - from his perambulation. And yet there are such beings: we meet them
every day. Large black stocks and light waistcoats, jet canes and discontented
countenances, are the characteristics of the race; other people brush quickly by you,
steadily plodding on to business, or cheerfully running after pleasure. These men linger
listlessly past, looking as happy and animated as a policeman on duty. Nothing seems
to make an impression on their minds: nothing short of being knocked down by a porter,
or run over by a cab, will disturb their equanimity. You will meet them on a fine day in
any of the leading thoroughfares: peep through the window of a west- end cigar shop in
the evening, if you can manage to get a glimpse between the blue curtains which
intercept the vulgar gaze, and you see them in their only enjoyment of existence. There
they are lounging about, on round tubs and pipe boxes, in all the dignity of whiskers,
and gilt watch-guards; whispering soft nothings to the young lady in amber, with the
large ear-rings, who, as she sits behind the counter in a blaze of adoration and gas-
light, is the admiration of all the female servants in the neighbourhood, and the envy of
every milliner's apprentice within two miles round.
One of our principal amusements is to watch the gradual progress - the rise or fall - of
particular shops. We have formed an intimate acquaintance with several, in different
parts of town, and are perfectly acquainted with their whole history. We could name off-
hand, twenty at least, which we are quite sure have paid no taxes for the last six years.
They are never inhabited for more than two months consecutively, and, we verily
believe, have witnessed every retail trade in the directory.
There is one, whose history is a sample of the rest, in whose fate we have taken
especial interest, having had the pleasure of knowing it ever since it has been a shop. It
is on the Surrey side of the water - a little distance beyond the Marsh-gate. It was
originally a substantial, good-looking private house enough; the landlord got into
difficulties, the house got into Chancery, the tenant went away, and the house went to
ruin. At this period our acquaintance with it commenced; the paint was all worn off; the
windows were broken, the area was green with neglect and the overflowings of the
water-butt; the butt itself was without a lid, and the street-door was the very picture of
misery. The chief pastime of the children in the vicinity had been to assemble in a body