THE LUXURY OF WINTER.
OF course winter is very beautiful. All the poets, and most of the popular authors, Charles Dickens more especially, will have it so ; and who are we that we should contest their judgment ? 'They never weary of writing about Nature " in her virgin robe of white,"—a shroud would be a better simile,—and the " exquisite 'effect " of fresh snow upon the branches, and the joys of frost, and the " cheery ring" of the frozen ground, and the jollity of sport on the ice, and the harmless but exhilarating warfare carried on with snow missiles, and the rich glow, as of old port wine, which a day's skating spreads through your veins. It is all very nice, and schoolboys appreciate it wonderfully ; but, just for a change, we .should like to hear the opinion of London householders on the subject, particularly of such of them as happened with ourselves to be abroad in the snowstorm of Thursday. We venture to say that a majority—say of ninety-nine to one—will agree with us in Affirming that Charles Dickens is an impostor, that to a Londoner Ai sharp winter is a season of torment, a frost as bad as a second income-tax, a fall of snow worse than fifty concentrated fogs. He is the creature of civilization, and snow hates civilization, and the Londoner therefore hates snow. Talk of a cheery frost ; the first thing a frost does for a Londoner is to hand him over in humiliat- ing bondage to the only hateful class of English _trades- men, the people who call themselves plumbers, and are everything by which they can hope to extort a few more unnecessary pounds. The " frost has burst the pipes, Sir," remarks his servant confidentially, and the Londoner knows that sixpence more has been piled upon his income-tax. The water is pouring through his pet ceiling, the skylight is breaking with the weight of snow, the roof is letting in drops which fall in heavy splashes with an infernal purpose in their noise, and there is nothing to do but send for the man who can enend the pipes, and repair the skylight, and adjust the tiles, and who will pretend to do all those things, who makes you some unin- telligible statement about some pipe you never saw, and at last .sends in a bill which amounts to about 71. 10s. for each man's day's work, but which you are entirely powerless to dispute. Fretted with unexpected, and, as he knows, utterly useless expense, —for no plumber ever seems to repair anything—the Londoner tries to reach his office, or counting-house, or club, and is assailed at his doorstep by a couple of ruffians, who assert clamorously their right to clean " his " bit of pavement, and to be paid there- fore. If he is unwise he resists, thinking that in a civilized com- munity the authorities who tax him will see the street cleaned ; but if he has any experience of vestries, or any knowledge of -their genius for neglecting duty, he authorizes the work, and pays a shilling to have his steps made as slippery as glass, under pretence of clearing them. At last he is in the streets, and finds them laden a foot deep with a mass precisely like the pulp of brown paper, a sticky conglomerate of mud, snow, sand, and deadly cold water, which penetrates in a second through the strongest boots. He can scarcely see for the smut-loaded snow drifting in his eyes, scarcely walk for the clammy slush settled on the icebound pavements, scarcely hear for the wind. Every three yards one foot slips on the most treacherous footing in the world,— a stone pavement covered first with a thin coat of ice, then with a great coat of slush, and finally with a crisp white powder which wets his ankles through and through. Every thirty yards be becomes an involuntary partaker in the " exhilarating enjoy- ment" of snowballing, his share in which consists in receiving either a cricket ball in the back—your London Arab always loads his snowball, an outrage on boy morality which ought to be made capital—or a handful of loose snow deftly lodged between his coat collar and his neck. He looks round for an omnibus, but the only one in sight is full and steaming, or a cab, and is told by the driver, who really is " cheery," partly from the prospect of plunder, partly because he has discounted that plunder in gin, that he is " going home," but will carry him, nevertheless, for five times his fare. Ten times was asked, and given repeatedly to our personal knowledge, on Thursday with perfect impunity. Of course the Londoner—provided he does not wear spectacles, in which case he gives in at once, glad to escape lunacy—resists for five minutes, but all cabs are alike, and he yields at last, and seats himself in his hansom to find the glass let down on his nose, and the three separate chinks in that vehicle raining iced water on his waistcoat and each knee. Chilled to the boae, his feet wet, his knees wet, his hair dripping, not with water, but a liquid compound of ice and soot, he is carried at three miles an hour to his destination. There he finds everything going wrong, the telegraph wires hanging across the street, the gutter artistically choked up so as to flood the office, the " boys" up to their eyes in the luxury of making mud pies with the substance they call snow, and his partner, who lives in the country, eloquent on the loveliness of the landscape he had driven through. " Every branch, Sir," says that Goth, " looked like a stalactite," till his auditor wishes, as he tries to get warm, that they had,been stalactites, and hal tumbled on their admirer. All day long, if it is a day like Thursday, it is the same,—brown mud and yellow flakes outside, an incipient cold within, a total impos- sibility of going anywhere or seeing anybody, an absolute deter- mination that the fire shall burn, a secret acknowledgment that till wet soot ceases to fall down the chimney the fire will continue to disobey. The dreariness of a London office in a snowstorm is a thing absolutely unique, or if parallelel, paralleled only by that of a private parlour in a country inn when the rain is coming down with a manifest sense of duty to perform. " Cheery snow," indeed ! We wish Charles Dickens, and Mr. Kingsley, and all other muscular Christians, had been made to stand in it in the Strand all Thursday afternoon, sharing in the " exhilarating game," as played from under the Adelphi Arches. We also wish the storm had occurred a month later, when the borough members will be all in town. The London Vestries would get small mercy then, and Sir George Grey's Bill for handing the streets over to Sir J. Thwaites would have been rushed through with the energy peculiar to men with chilblains. Five minutes' enjoyment of the " cheery" slunk would have rid us of Bumbledom for ever.
Winter in London is bad. enough even for the well-to-do, but it must be a heartrending season for the poor. There were scores of working women out in that snowstorm with no additional protection except thin shawls, which held the snow nicely in their creases, and the whalebone imbecility called in England an um- brella, which affords about as much protection against driving snow as an artistically arranged cobweb, but which held forward es it is, is an irresistible target for the boys. Even the men, cab- men excepted, are badly clothed, the working class in London wearing nothing half as efficient against snow as a Scotch shep- herd's plaid, and leaning to an overcoat which, once wet, is about as comfortable as a wet sheet would be. They have gin, to be sure, but then gin will not supply the wages lost by the frost, by the impossibility of going up ladders, or walking on planks, or, as they say," findingtheir fingers for the cold." They have not enough firing either. Even the rich have not, a real roaring fire, a fire such as you may see in a cottage in Yorkshire, being unknown in London, and while the wisdom of Parliament has prohibited cheap coal lest the Great Northern dividends should decrease, wood costs rather more than its weight in copper. So the poor stamp and sip, and sip and stamp, and beat their arms, and try to make jokes, and look, as they are for the moment, one of the most miserable classes upon earth. Winter is beautiful, no doubt, but considering that it starves all agriculturists, and makes all dwellers in cities miserable, and kills the old, and gives chilblains to the young, and destroys telegraph wires, and interrupts rail- way trains, and makes water unattainable, and strikes the poor ten times as heavily as the rich, why we may be permitted to plead that, beautiful as it may be, it is in London not quite so " nice" as spring, that the " hard grey weather " which " makes English- men" is an unmitigated nuisance nevertheless, and that though the dweller on the Mediterranean has not usually a constitutional government, he has compensations.