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daughters' dowry, and perhaps even their
children's bread? It causes a wife to be regarded as
a curiosity, costing such an extravagant price
that a reasonable man must contrive to do without
it. And what do they do at the end of a
month with all these three-or-four-thousand-franc
dresses, which they wear three or four times?
They sell them to dealers in second-hand clothes
for fifty or sixty francs apiece, and the cast-off
finery makes a rapid descent to embellish, perhaps
to demoralise, lower members of the social scale.


THERE is this difference between receiving an
official installation into any situation, and being
born to it, that while the former is merely the
work-a-day service of life, the latter is so lit up
with all the associations of childhood and youth,
that the most matter-of-fact business becomes
invested with something of the interest and
prestige of a birthright. Thus postal service is
almost an inheritance to us; for my earliest
recollections are connected with the daily routine
of office-work, carried on in the room which was
partly devoted to nursery employments and
amusements. Postal arrangements in the country,
so long since as 1827, were of the most
primitive order; and it was considered
sufficiently official, and convenient enough for the
public, if the postmaster provided in any ordinary
sitting-room a counter on which to sort
and stamp the letters; a letter-box, with a slide
opening into the street; and a wooden pane in
his window, with a door in it through which
inquiries could be made. Gazing through this
little door, with childishly wondering eyes, upon
the marvellous panorama and procession of the
outside world; sitting half-frightened upon the
counter, while my nurse stamped my arms and
forehead with talismanic impressions of the
name of my native town, to secure me from
gipsies and other baby-stealers, who were the
terror of our infancy; threats, when I was
troublesome, of being tied and sealed up in the
large London bag, and delivered over to the
mercy of the clerks there, whom I
confounded with the cannibals I heard my elder
brothers talking about; these are the most
vivid recollections of my first years. Visions
there are, too, faint but stirring, of a daily levee
at noon upon the arrival of the London mail of
the day before, when the privileged squire of
those times, a grand old colonel of dragoons,
whose costume was a bright green coat with
brass buttons, and huge white-topped boots,
invaded the forbidden precincts of the office itself,
and installing himself in the rocking-chair, read
his Times at leisure; while the letters were
sorted by almost children's hands, amid laughter,
frolic, and coquettish jests through the window,
besieged by an eager crowd without.

I suppose our office was a fair type of other
country-offices. We were one hundred and forty
miles from London, in a midland county, of
which our town was the second for size and
importance. It was the centre of a postal
district of about forty miles in circuit, containing
one hundred and seventy-two villages and
hamlets, with a considerable portion of a coal and
iron country thickly populated; yet the average
number of letters received and despatched
weekly, before the establishment of the penny
post, was only five hundred. The postage upon
these varied according to distance, from
fourpence to our county-town, which was eleven
miles off (a moderate walk), to one shilling and
fourpence-halfpenny to the extreme north of
Scotland; the odd halfpenny being charged on
every Scotch letter, as a toll for passing across
a bridge over the Tweed. Throughout all our
wide district there were no sub-offices, and the
distribution of rural letters was a private
concern; letter-carriers not then being servants of
the crown. One villanous old letter-carrier whom
I remember, was a drunken, surly, dishonest
scoundrel, and who used to carry the letters
away from the office to a wretched den of his
own, where we sometimes saw him sorting them
on the floor, while he growled and snarled over
them, like a dog over a heap of unsatisfactory
bones. Letters destined for any distance from
the town were always laid aside till a sufficient
number for the same locality were accumulated
to make it worth while to convey them, at the
charge of a penny a mile each letter. In those
times a postman's place was a lucrative and
leisurely one; and I dimly recollect a very fat
letter-carrier, who was quite portly and majestic
in his demeanour. And I can recal cases of
almost tragic interest, when letters written in
great trouble and anguishperhaps a summons
to a death-bed, or a circumstance that demanded
immediate attentiondid not reach the persons
addressed until days after the crisis must be
over; or even lay at the post-office for weeks,
unknown of, and unguessed at, until some chance
messenger happened to call and inquire for
them. Country agents, and gentlemen who did
not have private bags, were compelled to make
it part of the regular business of the day to ride
into the town, though at a distance of six or
eight miles, to ascertain if any correspondence
had arrived for them.

It was the time of " expresses" in my childhood
that clumsy arrangement for the swift
transmission of intelligenceclumsy, I mean,
in comparison with the playful flash of electric
wires. A special messenger, termed an
express, could be procured at a post-office, and
despatched officially with a single letter, and a
way-bill to check the time at the charge of a
shilling, and at the speed of ten miles an hour.
By some fortuitous circumstance, these
expresses always seemed to arrive in the dead of
the night, when the quietness of the quiet town
was deepened into a solemn stillness. There
would be the sudden trampling and ringing of
hoof-beats through the narrow streets; the
thundering of a volley of hurried blows upon
our fastened door; the shrill cry under the
window of "Haste, post haste!" the sound of
the sashes thrown up, and casements flung

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