The brutes searched Mrs. Caudle's basket at the Custom House
9.5 cm high by 8.9 cm wide, partially vignetted
Forty-third plate for Jerrold's Mrs.Caudle's Curtain Lectures (first published 9 August 1845): "The Twenty-Sixth Lecture," p.133.
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Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham.
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Passage Illustrated: The Caudles braving Boulogne's Customs House
"Now, none of your profane cryings out! You needn't talk about Heaven in that way: I'm sure you're the last person who ought. What I say is this. Your conduct at the Custom House was shameful—cruel! And in a foreign land, too! But you brought me here that I might be insulted; you'd no other reason for dragging me from England. Ha! let me once get home, Mr. Caudle, and you may wear your tongue out before you get me into outlandish places again. . . . .
What have you done? Well, it's a good thing I can't see you, for I'm sure you must blush. Done, indeed!Why, when the brutes searched my basket at the Custom House!A regular thing, is it? Then if you knew that, why did you bring me here? And you could stand by, and see that fellow with mustachios rummage my basket; and pull out my night-cap and rumple the borders, and — well! if you'd had the proper feelings of a husband, your blood would have boiled again. But no! There you stood looking as mild as butter at the man, and never said a word; not when he crumpled my night-cap — it went to my heart like a stab — crumpled it as if it were any duster. I dare say if it had been Miss Prettyman's night-cap — oh, I don't care about your groaning — if it had been her night-cap, her hair-brush her curl-papers, you'd have said something then. Oh, anybody with the spirit of a man would have spoken out if the fellow had had a thousand swords at his side. Well, all I know is this: if I'd have married somebody I could name, he wouldn't have suffered me to be treated in that way, not he!
"Now, don't hope to go to sleep, Mr. Caudle, and think to silence me in that manner. I know your art, but it won't do. It wasn't enough that my basket was turned topsy-turvy, but before I knew it, they spun me into another room, and — How could you help that? You never tried to help it. No; although it was a foreign land, and I don't speak French — not but what I know a good deal more of it than some people who give themselves airs about it — though I don't speak their nasty gibberish, still you let them take me away, and never cared how I was ever to find you again. In a strange country, too! But I've no doubt that that's what you wished: yes, you'd have been glad enough to have got rid of me in that cowardly manner. If I could only know your secret thoughts, Caudle, that's what you brought me here for, to lose me. And after the wife I've been to you! [Lecture XXVI. "Mrs. Caudle's first night in France — "Shameful Indifference" of Caudle at the Boulogne Custom House," p. 132-134]
The Caudles discover that arriving at Boulogne is far more complicated than simply stepping off the pier at Margate. The arrival there of the much-reviled, attractive Miss Prettyman seems to have triggered Mrs. Caudle's desire to visit France, or, more accurately, one of the popular French "watering-places" immediately across the Channel, Boulogne-sur-Mer in the Pas-de-Calais, only thirty-one miles from Folkestone. The General Steamship Navigation Company from the 1820s offered just a passenger service, its most popular run being London to Margate. It added regular services between London, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Ostend, Calais, Boulogne, Lisbon, and Gibraltar, and from Brighton to Le Havre and Dieppe. By August 1825, the GSN possessed a fleet of fifteen steamers built at Deptford. By 1833 the company was carrying mails and passengers from London to Hamburg, Ostend, Boulogne, and Rotterdam.
Mrs. Caudle complains about the bare legs of the fish-girls in the marketplace, about the French language (largely unknown to her), about the rude and intrusive behaviour of the Customs House officials, and even about the French lock on their bedroom door. She seems to forget that she demanded that her husband bring her to this "barbarous country" (135). However, she makes the best of her situation by shopping for French lace in the marketplace:
I afterwards," writes Caudle, "found out to my cost wherefore she inquired about lace. For she went out in the morning with the landlady to buy a veil, giving only four pounds for what she could have bought in England for forty shillings!"
Undoubtedly for comic purposes Jerrold and Keene are depicting a worst-case scenario for British tourists who are daring to venture onto Gallic shores. Mrs. Caudle feels a sense of violation about having her frilled night-cap handled by a foreign official, the scene which Keene has selected for illustration. The illustrator elaborates on her bedtime-lecture re-hashing of the scene earlier that day. Keene shows her asserting herself as she complains to a non-plussed Job as she grasps one part of the garment that the customs-officer has just pulled out of her basket, which has become an opened suitcase (night-gown uppermost) in Keene's illustration. The upper-middle-class status of most of the male English travellers is implied by their silken beaver top-hats. An interesting touch is the embedded notice "Aux Voyageurs" on the wall above the very French-looking official in the peaked cap. This dingy interior implies that the port of Boulogne Customs House is an inferior structure compared to the elegant neo-classical buildings on the other side of the English Channel, but its principal function seems to be facilitating three officials' checking disembarking tourists for incidental contraband.
Related Material: British Customs Houses of the Period
- The Custom House designed by Robert Smirke
- The Custom House, a watercolor by Mortimer Menpes
- The Custom House, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, from London on Thames in Bygone Days"
- The Custom House, from Eighty Picturesque Views of the Thames and Medway
Related Material on Leisure
- The Development of Leisure in Britain, 1700-1850
- The Development of Leisure in Britain after 1850
- Technology and Leisure in Britain after 1850
Jerrold, Douglas. Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures, as Suffered by the late Job Caudle.Edited from the Original MSS. by Douglas Jerrold. With a frontispiece by Leech, and as motto on the title-page, "Then, Pistol, lay thy head in Fury's lap. — Shakespeare." London: PunchOffice; Bradbury and Evans, 1846.
Jerrold, Douglas. Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures. Illustrated by John Leach and Richard Doyle. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1856.
Jerrold, Douglas. Mrs. Caudle's Curtain Lectures. Illustrated by Charles Keene. London: Bradbury and Evans, 1866.
Last modified 16 December 2017