Saturday, February 26, 2005

John Seed: from Pictures from Mayhew


At Woolwich we were all on the fuddle
at the Dust Hole I went to beg
of a Major whose brother was in Spain
he’d himself been out I said I
was a sergeant in the 3rd Westminster Grenadiers
you know & served under your brother oh
yes that’s my brother's regiment says he where
was you then on the 16th of October
why sir I was at the taking of
the city of Irun says I in fact
I was with the costermongers in St. Giles’s
calling cabbages white heart cabbages oh then said
he what day was Ernani taken on why
said I a little tipsy & bothered at
the question that was the 16th of October
too very well my man says he tapping
his boots with a riding whip I’ll see
what I can do for you the words
were no sooner out of his mouth when
he stepped up to me & gave me
a regular pasting he horsewhipped me up &
down stairs along the passages my flesh was
like sassages I managed at last to open
the door & get away


I became a turnpike sailor & went out
as one of the Shallow Brigade wearing Guernsey
shirt & drawers or tattered trowsers there was
a school of four we only got a
tidy living 16s or £1 a day among
us we used to call every one that
came along coalheavers & all sea-fighting captains
now my noble sea-fighting captain we used
to say fire an odd shot from your
larboard locker to us Nelson’s bull-dogs but
mind we never tried that dodge on at
Greenwich for fear of the old geese the
Shallow got so grannied in London the supplies
got queer shipwrecks got so common in the
streets I quitted the land navy


In wet weather I used to dress tidy
& very clean for the respectable broken-down
tradesman or reduced gentleman caper I wore a
suit of black generally & a clean dickey
& sometimes old black kid gloves & I
used to stand with a paper before my
face as if ashamed:


This is called standing pad with a fakement
it’s a wet-weather dodge & isn't
so good as screeving but I did middling
& can’t bear being idle

I've done the shivering dodge too gone out
in the cold weather half naked one man
can’t get off shivering now Shaking Jemmy went
on with his shivering so long he couldn’t
help it at last he shivered like a jelly
like a calf’s foot with the ague on
the hottest day in summer it’s a good
dodge in tidy inclement seasons it’s not so
good a lurk by two bob a day
as it once was it’s a single-handed job
if one man shivers less than another he
shows it isn’t so cold as the good
shiverer makes it out then it’s no go

Author’s Note: Every word in the above poems is drawn from Henry Mayhew's writings on London published in the Morning Chronicle from 1849 to 1850, then in 63 editions of his own weekly paper, London Labour and the London Poor between December 1850 and February 1852 and then in the four volume work of the same title.

PICTURES FROM MAYHEW is forthcoming Shearsman books, Exeter, April 2005, and may be ordered here.
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