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calling "Cherries ripe, a penny a pound, full weight," was brought before the Lord Mayor, at the Mansion House, charged with causing an obstruction in the city. His scales and weights were produced in The scale intended to hold the fruit had a
piece of lead attached to it. His quarter-pound weight weighed two ounces, and his pound weight about seven ounces; but the most impudent fraud was perpetrated with regard to his half-pound weight, which weighed only one ounce and three-quarters— it being hollowed out below to the thinness of a wafer and filled up with a piece of cork.
When drastic measures were adopted, Punch, owing, if I remember rightly, to the Lord Bessborough of the day, was spared. The nobleman in question made a speech in the House of Lords defending our old friend. The House assented with much hilarity, and Polichinelle's solitary squeak was excepted from the general order of tongue-tying. Alas! there are few Punch-and-Judy shows about to-day.
In old days, organ-grinders were the worst torturers, as at that time they ground their instruments of torture wherever they saw a light at the window, even after ten or eleven o'clock at night; Another cruel nuisance was the German boy-band, every member of which attempted a different tune at the same time, on a damaged wind instrument. Evening was their great time; taking up a position before houses even when the knockers had been tied
up, and where the street was strewn with straw, they would create an intolerable din.
Besides these, there were the abominable horseorgan, with the kettledrum movement (which waited round corners till the policeman was out of sight); and a terrible widow, whose infant phenomena performed irritating sonatas on a jingling pianoforte placed on a costermonger's vegetable truck drawn by a small donkey.
Other torturers were men and women with harps and violins, singing, often out of tune, sentimental songs and duets; individuals with dulcimers who sang, generally outside public-houses, to the accompaniment of their instruments, "Man the Lifeboat" and "Gaily still my moments roll." One ingenious personage who was a whole band in himself played Pan's pipe, the bells, the drum, the hurdygurdy and the cymbals, at the same time his wife sometimes adding her voice to increase the din.
The best understanding existed between all these plagues, and they carefully imparted to each other the exact localities where their presence was least acceptable, and, therefore, most likely to be bought off at a remunerative figure.
As one sufferer declared, their methods differed in nothing from the practice of the Chinese mendicants, who clatter strips of bamboo at the door of a shopkeeper till they are got rid of by an alms. If not paid, they will create their disturbing din for any length of time, just as the London organ-grinder will
play his collection of discords three times over, to wear out his victim's patience. It becomes a battle of endurance on both sides, with this advantage on the part of the grinder-that his infliction becomes less endurable every moment. The bambooplayer however, is bound by custom to cease on receipt of the smallest piece of money current; his Italian counterpart in London has been known to refuse a shilling as not sufficient to buy him off.
Even good music, forced on the ear at all hours, becomes an unmitigated nuisance; but discordant melodies, execrably played, organs out of tune, and defective bagpipes, are absolutely unbearable.
The obtrusion of it at all times and seasons, at all hours of the day and most of the night, is indeed an intolerable torment. Probably madness could be produced by incessantly plying a prisoner with sweet sounds. It would be like the torture of the dripping water, which no head can long endure-not painful, perhaps agreeable in the commencement, but agony by repetition.
Canning told Sir Richard Mayne that on one occasion when writing a dispatch of great importance, a serious error occurred owing to the noise created by a band under his window.
Some people are gravely affected by street music, and one of these was the artist whose memory will probably ever be kept green by Punch and the inimitable illustrations to the Handley Cross Series.
In a letter written to the late Mr. Michael Bass,
MARK LEMON'S LETTER
M.P., who attempted to bring the subject of street music before the House of Commons, Mark Lemon, writing in 1864, said:
"I am so greatly interested in the success of your measure for the regulation of street music, that I am desirous of strengthening your hands by putting you in possession of some facts within my knowledge. I formerly lived in Gordon Street, Gordon Square, but was compelled to quit London to escape the distressing consequences of street music, although Gordon Street was comparatively a quiet locality. A dear friend of mine, and one to whom the public has been indebted for more than twenty years for weekly supplies of innocent amusement, and whose name will find a place in the future history of Art, has not been so fortunate. He lived in Brunswick Square, and remained there until the nervous system was so seriously affected by the continual disturbance to which he was subjected whilst at work, that he was compelled to abandon a most desirable home and seek a retreat at Kensington. After expending considerable sums to make his present residence convenient for his art work-placing double windows to the front of his house, etc., he is again driven from his home by the continual visitation of street bands and organ-grinders. The effect upon his health-produced, on my honour, by the causes I have named-is so serious, that he is forbidden to take horse-exercise or indulge in fast walking, as a palpitation of the heart has been produced,—a form of
angina pectoris, I believe, and his friends are most anxiously concerned for his safety. He is ordered to Homburg, and I know that the expatriation will entail a loss of nearly £50 a week upon him just at present. I am sure I need not withhold from you the name of this poor gentleman-it is Mr. John Leech."
A large number of other men well known in the literary and artistic worlds supported Mr. Bass in his attempts to get Parliament to suppress street music. Amongst them was Charles Dickens, who, writing for a number of celebrated men (Tennyson, Millais, Holman Hunt, Carlyle, and others) who were desirous of thanking Mr. Bass for introducing his Bill, said:
"Your correspondents are, all, professors and practitioners of one or other of the arts or sciences. In their devotion to their pursuits-tending to the peace and comfort of mankind-they are daily interrupted, harassed, worried, wearied, driven nearly mad, by street musicians. They are even made especial objects of persecution by brazen performers on brazen instruments, beaters of drums, grinders of organs, bangers of banjos, clashers of cymbals, worriers of fiddles, and bellowers of ballads; for, no sooner does it become known to those producers of horrible sounds that any of your correspondents have particular need of quiet in their own houses, than the said houses are beleaguered by discordant hosts seeking to be bought off."
An eccentric individual I once heard of, had a highly original way of getting rid of street music.