+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


A FEW days ago, I was walking in a street at
the western part of London, and I encountered
a mendicant individual of an almost extinct
species. Some years since, the oratorical
beggar, who addressed himself to the public
on each side of the way, in a neat speech
spoken from the middle of the road, was
almost as constant and regular in his appearances
as the postman himself. Of late, however,
this well-known figurethis cadger
Cicero of modern dayshas all but
disappeared; the easy public ear having probably
grown rather deaf, in course of time, to the
persuasive power of orators with only two
subjects to illustratetheir moral virtues and
their physical destitution.

With these thoughts in my mind, I stopped
to look at the rare and wretched object for
charity whom I had met by chance, and to listen
to the address which he was delivering for the
benefit of the street population and the street
passengers on both sides of the pavement.
He was a tall, sturdy, self-satisfied, healthy-
looking vagabond, with a face which would
have been almost handsome if it had not
been disfigured by the expression which
Nature sets, like a brand, on the countenance
of a common impostor. As for his style of
oratory, regard for truth and justice compels
me most unwillingly to admit that it was very
far superior, both in choice of language and
in facility of delivery, to half the professed
speeches which it has been my misfortune to
hear, out of the House of Commons and
(incredible as the assertion may appear) even
in it as well. Here is a specimen of my
oratorical vagrant's form of address, as I
happened to hear it, when I first stopped to
look at him:—

"Good Christian people, will you be so
very obliging as to leave off your various
occupations for a few minutes only, and
listen to the harrowing statement of a father
of a family, who is reduced to acknowledge
his misfortunes in the public streets? Work,
honest work, is all I ask for; and I cannot
get it. Why?—I ask, most respectfully, why?
Good Christian people, I think it is because
I have no friends. Alas! indeed I have no
friends." (Cheersin the shape of money
cast profusely by the hands of prosperous
people, revelling in friends, on both sides of
street.) "Surely my home ought to be a
happy one ? I feel, respectfully, quite sure of
that. Yes! I feel quite sure of that. Oh,
yes, I feel quite sure of that. But is it a
happy home ?  No: it is, I regret to say, a
starving home, because we have no friends
indeed it is sobecause we have no friends.
My wife and seven babes "—(Hear! hear!
in the shape of one philoprogenitive penny
from a family man)—"are, I am shocked to
tell you, without food. Yes! without food.
Oh, yes! without food." (A sympathetic
penny.) "Because we have no friends." (An
approving penny.) "I assure you I am right
in saying, because we have no friends. Why
am I and my wife and my seven babes starving
in a land of plenty ?  Why am I injured
by being deprived of work when I ask for
it ?  Why have I no share in the wholesome
necessaries of life, which I see, with my
hungry eyes, in butchers' and bakers' shops on each
side of me? Can anybody give me a reason
for this? I think, good Christian people,
nobody can. Must I perish in a land of
plenty because I have no work and because I
have no friends ? I cannot perish in a land
of plenty. No! I cannot perish in a land of
plenty. Oh, no! I cannot perish in a land of
plenty. Bear with my importunity, then, if I
ask you to leave off your various occupations
for a few minutes and to listen to the harrowing
statement of a father of a family, who is
likewise a starving and a friendless man."

With this neat return to the introductory
passage of his speech, the mendicant
individual paused; stared about him for some
more pecuniary tokens of public approval;
and, finding none forthcoming, walked
forward, with a funereal slowness of step, to
deliver a second edition of his address in
another part of the street.

While I had been looking at this man, I
had also been insensibly led to compare
myself, as I stood on the pavement, with
my oratorical vagrant, as he stood in the
roadway. In some important respects, I
found, to my own astonishment, that the
result of the comparison was not by any
means flattering on my side. I might
certainly assume, without paying myself any
great compliment, that I was the more honest
of the two; also that I was better educated