Victor Meldrew, 1855-style, revisited

“Four in Hand” by Thomas Eakins (1880)

“Four in Hand” by Thomas Eakins (1880)

Snippets 62. The English Hotel Nuisance by Albert Richard Smith (1855) is one long glorious rant about how annoying it was to stay in a hotel or inn at the time.  We previously looked at a quote from the book in Snippets 34. Rarely have I had the pleasure to read something written by such a grumpy author. In the following quote he draws a parallel with stage coaches, celebrating their demise and hoping for a similar demise of traditional inns. But on his way to making his point he cannot quite resist deviating even further from his topic, in order to criticise… well, just about everything and everyone really:

We all of us remember the misery of a journey on a coach fifteen or twenty years ago. Who the people were who used to write and talk about the pleasure of sitting behind “four spanking tits” I never could understand. The tits never spanked when I was perched behind them on the black shelf which was called a seat, and was about as comfortable as a mantel-piece. Then again, “the box” was considered a great thing to secure. I never intrigued, or fee’d, or struggled for it. It entailed an uncomfortable position, with the trouble of holding a bunch of hard leather reins in your hand while the driver got down; and the bore of listening to his common-place uninteresting attempt at conversation when he kept his place. If you went behind you had no room for your legs, or they hung dangling over the wheels. If it was cold, you were frozen; if it rained, you were soaked; and if it was dusty, you were smothered. All was as bad and dreary and miserable as it could well be; and yet no one had the courage to say that it was so, anymore than now, at present, anybody would dare to state that the “Huguenots” is a finer opera than “Figaro” — that they went to hear the Reverend Mr. So-or-so because they wanted to be seen there, as “the thing to do just at present,” rather than from the slightest nuance of religious feeling; that the Manchester Art-Treasure Exhibition really did not delight or amuse the people so much as the artist-critics said it did, although it was certainly a good thing for Manchester and for the pickings a few of our friends made out of it; that Sunday ought not to be the miserable day it is; that the Boxing Day and Easter Monday “intelligent crowds” who throng the British Museum are simply, for the most part, ignorant gapers, who go there because it is something curious to see for nothing, and would like it still better if Memnon moved his eyes by clockwork, and if, at certain intervals fireworks sprung from his ears.

A few notes of explanation: Les Huguenots is an opera by Giacomo Meyerbeer, which premiered in 1836 and was probably the most successful opera of the century. It was first performed in London in 1842. Eagle-eyed readers might have spotted the impossibility of the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition (1857) being mentioned in an 1855 book. Well spotted if you did! This is because the quote is taken from the 1858 edition, for which Smith had rewritten a significant proportion of the text of the book. In the original edition he instead labelled the Crystal Palace exhibition as “a dismal Stock-Exchange-Art failure” with “plaster of Paris heads stuck about it”. Oh, and the slang term for horses used by Smith is obviously not one that would be used today…


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This entry was posted in 19th Century, Books, Britain, England, History, Humor, Humour, Snippets, Stagecoaches, Travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Victor Meldrew, 1855-style, revisited

  1. Coral Waight says:

    We all know someone like this.

    Liked by 1 person

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