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Pattering Religious and Political Dialogues
Posted on May 21, 2003 - 05:41 AM by Bill McCann

London has always been a noisy place. Amongst the cachophony of sound in the Victorian streets was the chanting of the "Patterers", either moving or stationary. In his London Labour and the London Poor, Henry Mayhew devoted an entire chapter to an investigation of the artistry, lives and habits of these Londoners. In this extract he introduces us to the patterer who specialised in religious and political dialogues.

To "work a litany" in the streets is considered one of the higher exercises of professional skill on the part of the patterer. In working this, a clever patterer -who will not scruple to introduce anything out of his head which may strike him as suitable to his audience -is very particular in his choice of a mate, frequently changing his ordinary partner, who may be good "at a noise" or a ballad, but not have sufficient acuteness or intelligence to patter politics as if he understood what he was speaking about. I am told that there are not twelve patterers in London whom a critical professor of street elocution will admit to be capable of 'working a catechism' or a litany. "Why, sir," said one patterer, "I've gone out with a mate to work a litany, and he's humped it in no time." To 'hump,' in street parlance, is equivalent to 'botch,' in more genteel colloquialism. "And when a thing's humped," my informant continued, "you can only 'call a go.' "To 'call a go,' signifies to remove to another spot, or adopt some other patter, or, in short, to resort to some change or other in consequence of a failure.

An elderly man, not now in the street trade, but who had "pattered off a few papers" some years ago, told me that he had heard three or four old hands -"now all dead, for they're a short-lived people" -talk of the profits gained and the risk ran by giving Hone's parodies on the Catechism, Litany, St. Athanasius' Creed, &c. in the streets, after the three consecutive trials and the three acquittals of Hone had made the parodies famous and Hone popular. To work them in the streets was difficult, "for though," said my informant, "there was no new police in them days, there was plenty of officers and constables ready to pull the fellows up, and though Hone was acquitted, a beak that wanted to please the high dons, would find some way of stopping them that sold Hone's things in the street, and so next to nothing could be done that way, but a little was done." The greatest source of profit, I learned from the reminiscences of the same man, was in the parlours and tap-rooms of public-houses, where the patterers or reciters were well paid "for going through their catechisms," and sometimes, that there might be no interruption, the door was locked, and even the landlord and his servants excluded. The charge was usually 2d. a copy, but 1d. was not refused.

During Queen Caroline's trial there were the like interruptions and hindrances to similar performances; and the interruptions continued during the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Bill until about the era of the Reform Bill, and then the hindrance was but occasional. "And perhaps it was our own fault, sir," said one patterer, "that we was then molested at all in the dialogues and catechisms and things; but we was uncommon bold, and what plenty called sarcy, at that time: we was so."

Thus this branch of a street profession continued to be followed, half surreptitiously, until after the subsidence of the political ferment consequent on the establishment of a new franchise and the partial abolition of an old one. The calling, however, has never been popular among street purchasers, and I believe that it is sometimes followed by a street-patterer as much from the promptings of the pride of art as from the hope of gain.

The street-papers in the dialogue form have not been copied nor derived from popular productions -but even in the case of Political Litanies and Anti-Corn-law Catechisms and Dialogues are the work of street authors.

One intelligent man told me, that properly to work a political litany, which referred to ecclesiastical matters, he "made himself up," as well as limited means would permit, as a bishop! and "did stunning, until he was afraid of being stunned on skilly." Of the late papers on the subject of the Pope, I cite the one which was certainly the best of all that appeared, and concerning which indignant remonstrances were addressed to some of the newspapers. The "good child" in the patter, was a tall bulky man; the examiner (also the author), was rather diminutive:

"The old English Bull John v. the Pope's Bull of Rome.
"My good Child as it is necessary at this very important crisis; when, that good pious and very reasonable old gentleman Pope Pi-ass the ninth has promised to favor us with his presence, and the pleasures of Popery -and trampled on the rights and privileges which, we, as Englishmen, and Protestants, have engaged for these last three hundred years - Since Bluff, king Hal. began to take a dislike to the broad brimmed hat of the venerable Cardinal Wolsey, and proclaimed himself an heretic; It is necessary I say, for you, and all of you, to be perfect in your Lessons so as you may be able to verbally chastize this saucy prelate, his newly made Cardinal Foolishman, and the whole host of Puseites and protect our beloved Queen, our Church, and our Constitution.[Note 1]
"Q. Now my boy can you tell me what is your Name?
"A. B Protestant.
"Q. How came you by that name?
"A. At the time of Harry the stout, when Popery was in a galloping consumption the people protested against the supremacy and insolence of the Pope; and his Colleges had struck deep at the hallow tree of superstition I gained the name of Protestant, and proud am I, and ever shall be to stick to it till the day of my death. "Let us say."From all Cardinals whether wise or foolish. Oh! Queen Spare us. "Spare us, Oh Queen.
"From the pleasure of the Rack, and the friendship of the kind hearted officers of the Inquisition. Oh! Johnny hear us. "Oh! Russell hear us.
"From the comforts of being frizzled like a devil'd kidney. Oh! Nosey save us. "Hear us Oh Arthur.
"From such saucy Prelates, as Pope Pi-ass. Oh! Cumming's save us. "Save us good Cumming.
"And let us have no more Burnings in Smithfield, no more warm drinks in the shape of boiled oil, or molten lead, and send the whole host of Pusyites along with the Pope, Cardinals to the top of mount Vesuvius there to dine off of hot lava, so that we may live in peace AND shout long live our Queen, and No Popery!"
For some pitches the foregoing was sufficient, for a street auditory "hates too long a patter;" but where a favourable opportunity offered, easily tested by the pecuniary beginnings, the "Lesson of the Day" was given in addition, and was inserted after the second "Answer" in the foregoing parody, so preceding the "Let us say:" "The Lesson of the Day.

"You seem an intelligent lad, so I think you are quite capable of Reading with me the Lessons for this day's service.
"Now the Lesson for the day is taken from all parts of the Book of Martyr's, beginning at just where you like.
"It was about the year 1835, that a certain renegade of the name of ***** -I beg his pardon, I mean Pusey, like a snake who stung his master commenced crawling step by step, from the master; he was bound to serve to worship a puppet, arrayed in a spangle and tinsel of a Romish showman.
"And the pestilence that he shed around spread rapidly through the minds of many unworthy members of our established Church; even up to the present year, 1850, inasmuch that St Barnabus, of Pimlico, unable to see the truth by the aid of his oculars, mounted four pounds of long sixes in the mid-day, that he might see through the fog of his own folly, by which he was surrounded.
"And Pope Pi-ass the ninth taking advantage of the hubbub, did create unto himself a Cardinal in the person of one Wiseman of Westminster.
"And Cardinal broadbrim claimed four counties in England as his diocese, and his master the Pope claimed as many more as his sees, but the people of England could not see that, so they declared aloud they would see them blowed first.
"So when Jack Russell heard of his most impudent intentions, he sent him a Letter saying it was the intention of the people of England never again to sub mit to their infamous mummeries for the burnings in Smithfield was still fresh in their memory.
"And behold great meetings were held in different parts of England where the Pope was burnt in effigy, like unto a Yarmouth Bloater, as a token of respect for him and his followers.[Note 2]
"And the citizens of London were stanch to a man, and assembled together in the Guildhall of our mighty City and shouted with stentorian lungs, long live the Queen and down with the Pope, the sound of which might have been heard even unto the Vatican of Rome.
"And when his holiness the Pope heard that his power was set at naught, his nose became blue even as a bilberry with rage and declared Russell and Cummings or any who joined in the No Popery cry, should ever name the felicity of kissing his pious great toe. "Thus Endeth the Lesson."
In the course of my inquiries touching this subject I had more than once occasion to observe that an acute patterer had always a reason, or an excuse for anything. One quick-witted Irishman, whom I knew to be a Roman Catholic, was "working" a "patter against the Pope," (not the one I have given), and on my speaking to him on the subject, and saying that I supposed he did it for a living, he replied:

"That's it then, sir. You're right, sir, yes. I work it just as a Catholic lawyer would plead against a Catholic paper for a libel on Protestants - though in his heart he knew the paper was right -and a Protestant lawyer would defend the libel hammer and tongs. Bless you, sir, you'll not find much more honour that way among us (laughing) than among them lawyers; not much."
The readiness with which the sharpest of those men plead the doings not only of tradesmen, but of the learned and sacred professions, to justify themselves, is remarkable.

Achilles and the Man on the Horse!

Sometimes a dialogue is of a satirical nature. One man told me that the "Conversation /a> between Achilles and the Wellington Statue," of which I give the concluding moiety, was "among the best," (he meant for profit), "but no great thing." My informant was Achilles -or, as he pronounced it, Atchilees -and his mate was the statue, or "man on the horse." The two lines, in the couplet form, which precede every two paragraphs of dialogue, seem as if they represent the speakers wrongfully. The answer should be attributed, in each case, to Achilles. [Note 3]
"The hoarse voice it came from the statue of Achilles
And 'twas answer'd thus by the man on the horse.
"Little man of little mind havn't I now got iron blinds, and bomb-proof rails when danger assails, a cunning devised job, to keep out an unruly mob, with high and ambitious views and remarkable queer shoes; I say, Old Nakedness, I say, come and see my frontage over the way, but I believe you can't get out after ten!
"No, you're as near where you are as at Quatre Bras, I hear a great deal what the public think and feel, plain as the nose on your face, we're deemed a national disgrace; they grumble at your highness, and at my want of shyness, and say many unpleasant things of Ligny and Marchienne!
"The hoarse voice it came from the statue of Achilles
And 'twas answer'd thus by the man on the horse.
"Ah! its a few days since the Nive, where Soult found me all alive, and the grand toralloo I made at Bordeaux; wasn't I in a nice mess, when Boney left Elba and left no address, besides 150 other jobs with the chill off I could bring to view.
"But then people will say, poor unfortunate Ney, and that you were dancing at a ball, and not near Hogumont at all, and that the job of St. Helena might have been done rather cleaner, and it was a shameful go to send Sir Hudson Lowe, and that you took particular care of No. 1, at Waterloo.
"The hoarse voice it came from the statue of Achilles
And 'twas answer'd thus by the man on the horse.
"Why flog 'em and 'od 'rot em, who said 'Up Guards and at 'em!" and you know that nice treat I received in Downing Street when hooted by a thousand or near, defended by an old grenadier, so no whopping I got, good luck to his old tin pot, oh! there's a deal of brass in me I'll allow.
"Its prophecied you'll break down, they're crying it about town, and many jokes are past, that you're brought to the scaffold at last, and they say I look black, because I've no shirt to my back, and its getting broad daylight, I vow!
"The hoarse voice it came from the statue of Achilles
But 'twas answer'd thus by the man on the horse. "H. V. HOOKER."
Of parodies other than the sort of compound of the Litany and other portions of the Church Service, which I have given, there are none in the streets -neither are there political duets. Such productions as parodies on popular songs, "Cab! cab! cab!" or "Trip! trip! trip!" are now almost always derived, for street-service, from the concert-rooms. But they relate more immediately to ballads, or street song; and not to patter.


1The references in what follows are to Pope Pius IX, Cardinal Wiseman, Lord John Russell and Edward Bouverie Pusey. Pius appointed a number of Catholic Bishops across England and made Wiseman the first Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster in 1850. This raised an anti-Catholic storm of indignation which was led by the Anglican bishops who protested at the assumption of ecclesiastical titles which they considered their sole prerogative. Lord John Russell was the then Prime Minister and he introduced the Ecclesiastical Titles Assumption Bill which was passed by large majorities in the Commons and the Lords. It prohibited the assumption of ecclesiastical titles already taken by the clergy of the Church of England. The Act had no force, however, because the Catholics named their sees from places not taken to designate Anglican bishops. It was repealed in 1871. Pusey was a Regius professor of Hebrew at Oxford, a theologian and leader of the "Oxford Movement" which opposed the spread of Rationalism in England. In 1843 he was suspended from preaching in Oxford on account of a university sermon on the Holy Eucharist. He worked closely with Cardinal Newman before the latter's conversion to Catholicism. Back

2 Yarmouth Bloater. A smoked half dried herring. Bloater was also used as a term of contempt for a person. Back

3 The conversation is between two statues in the vicinity of Hyde Park. The man on the horse refers to the colossal equestrian statue of Wellington which was erected in 1846 on top of the Triumphal Arch at Hyde Park corner (hence "highness") opposite Wellington's home, Apsley House. The Achilles refers to the bronze of Achilles across the road behind Apsley House and in Hyde Park (whih was locked at ten p.m.). This latter is also known as the "Ladies Trophy". Erected in 1822, it was paid for the by the "Ladies of England" to commemorate Wellington. The statue was executed as a nude and the na ve subscribers were rudely shocked by its nakedness (hence "lack of shyness"). The fig leaf it now wears was added to preserve their sensibilities. Back

Links to the other articles in the series.

The Origins of Patterers
The Morals of Patterers
The Patterers' Street Literature
Long Song-Sellers
The Running Patterer
The Death and Fire Hunters
The Second Edition
The Standing Patterers: I
The Standing Patterers: II

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