In the parlour of the Green Dragon, a public-house in the immediate neighbourhood of Westminster Bridge, everybody talks politics, every evening, the great political authority being Mr. Robert Bolton, an individual who defines himself as ‘a gentleman connected with the press,’ which is a definition of peculiar indefiniteness. Mr. Robert Bolton’s regular circle of admirers and listeners are an undertaker, a greengrocer, a hairdresser, a baker, a large stomach surmounted by a man’s head, and placed on the top of two particularly short legs, and a thin man in black, name, profession, and pursuit unknown, who always sits in the same position, always displays the same long, vacant face, and never opens his lips, surrounded as he is by most enthusiastic conversation, except to puff forth a volume of tobacco smoke, or give vent to a very snappy, loud, and shrill hem! The conversation sometimes turns upon literature, Mr. Bolton being a literary character, and always upon such news of the day as is exclusively possessed by that talented individual. I found myself (of course, accidentally) in the Green Dragon the other evening, and, being somewhat amused by the following conversation, preserved it.
‘Can you lend me a ten-pound note till Christmas?’ inquired the hairdresser of the stomach.
‘Where’s your security, Mr. Clip?’
‘My stock in trade,—there’s enough of it, I’m thinking, Mr. Thicknesse. Some fifty wigs, two poles, half-a-dozen head blocks, and a dead Bruin.’
‘No, I won’t, then,’ growled out Thicknesse. ‘I lends nothing on the security of the whigs or the Poles either. As for whigs, they’re cheats; as for the Poles, they’ve got no cash. I never have nothing to do with blockheads, unless I can’t awoid it (ironically), and a dead bear’s about as much use to me as I could be to a dead bear.’
‘Well, then,’ urged the other, ‘there’s a book as belonged to Pope, Byron’s Poems, valued at forty pounds, because it’s got Pope’s identical scratch on the back; what do you think of that for security?’
‘Well, to be sure!’ cried the baker. ‘But how d’ye mean, Mr. Clip?’
‘Mean! why, that it’s got the hottergruff of Pope.
“Steal not this book, for fear of hangman’s rope;
For it belongs to Alexander Pope.”
All that’s written on the inside of the binding of the book; so, as my son says, we’re bound to believe it.’
‘Well, sir,’ observed the undertaker, deferentially, and in a half-whisper, leaning over the table, and knocking over the hairdresser’s grog as he spoke, ‘that argument’s very easy upset.’
‘Perhaps, sir,’ said Clip, a little flurried, ‘you’ll pay for the first upset afore you thinks of another.’
‘Now,’ said the undertaker, bowing amicably to the hairdresser, ‘I think, I says I think—you’ll excuse me, Mr. Clip, I think, you see, that won’t go down with the present company—unfortunately, my master had the honour of making the coffin of that ere Lord’s housemaid, not no more nor twenty year ago. Don’t think I’m proud on it, gentlemen; others might be; but I hate rank of any sort. I’ve no more respect for a Lord’s footman than I have for any respectable tradesman in this room. I may say no more nor I have for Mr. Clip! (bowing). Therefore, that ere Lord must have been born long after Pope died. And it’s a logical interference to defer, that they neither of them lived at the same time. So what I mean is this here, that Pope never had no book, never seed, felt, never smelt no book (triumphantly) as belonged to that ere Lord. And, gentlemen, when I consider how patiently you have ’eared the ideas what I have expressed, I feel bound, as the best way to reward you for the kindness you have exhibited, to sit down without saying anything more—partickler as I perceive a worthier visitor nor myself is just entered. I am not in the habit of paying compliments, gentlemen; when I do, therefore, I hope I strikes with double force.’
‘Ah, Mr. Murgatroyd! what’s all this about striking with double force?’ said the object of the above remark, as he entered. ‘I never excuse a man’s getting into a rage during winter, even when he’s seated so close to the fire as you are. It is very injudicious to put yourself into such a perspiration. What is the cause of this extreme physical and mental excitement, sir?’