This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading.
Lack of illustrations
it is curious that an article on a topic which lends itself very readily to illustration should be published without images. We noted that the images published with article no. 131, 'Samuel on Irritating People' (19th April 1890) seemed irrelevant to the text. Perhaps around this date the Cardiff Times is having difficulty finding appropriate contributors for its humorous column. In earlier years publication of 'Samuels Sentiments' was frequently interrupted. Later, regularity has possibly become prized above bimedialism (combining word and image into an integrated whole). The topic could be treated in a lively fashion, but we see none of the vigour of a Dickens, a Hazlitt or a Lamb.
'The fashion in boots has changed mightily, sir, even during the last few years', writes Samuel. So has the design of hotels, and he makes nothing of the radical change in scene from the old coaching inn to the modern hotel. The picture of the old gentleman is also so anachronistic as to be unbelievable. Dickens's Mr Pickwick, on which Samuel's old gentleman is based, was already a significant anachronism in Dickens's day, but could not be believed in the days when railways had smoothed out many social and regional differences. Samuel goes on to draw on another Dickensian anachronism, Mrs Gamp, characterised by her umbrella. He certainly doesn't welcome change, and is what was known in the twentieth century as 'a grumpy old man'. He continues to cast scorn on the fashion of turn-ups on trousers, as many must have done. We remember that as late as 1915, in his wish to hold back ageing, T.S. Eliot's 'Prufrock' resolves, 'I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled'.
Some details call for explanation
'blood-alleys' are marbles (i.e. alleys) streaked with red.
'crabshells' is slang for shoes.
'gimped' means frayed or given a scalloped or indented outline.
'spell and knur' was a popular game, and OED quotes the Daily Telegraph of 14th January 1872: 'Knur and Spell is simply a formalisation of something that every male person in the world must have done at some time throwing a ball or stone in the air and giving it a tremendous clout with a stick. … The Spell is the device that throws the ball (the Knur) into the air. It is an iron contraption that lies on the ground looking a bit like a rat trap; the framework holds a flat horizontal spring, held down by a catch. On the releasable end of the spring is a little cup containing the knur, a tiny white ball (porcelain, of all things), one inch across and weighing half an ounce. You stand about four feet away from the spell, armed with a ‘stick’, rather like a billiard cue with a hammer head (called the ‘pommel’). You tap the catch on the spell, the knur jumps up about four feet; the object is to hit it farther, over a fixed number of goes, than anyone else.
About the clogs, Samuel wonders whether 'the said owner is lazy and in the habit of getting quartered:' the sense of 'quartered' is obscure. It appears to mean being accommodated for the night, but a mill-girl could scarcely afford this. Another possibility is that to be 'quartered' meant to have wages docked for bad time-keeping, but there is no trace of this sense in the dictionaries.
laudator temporis acti: 'a praiser of time past [when he himself was a boy]' Horace, ‘Ars Poetica’ l.173), used of one who looks back to the past as a better time. —— David Skilton
here is a considerable amount of character in boots, sir, and I have often thought as I have wandered through the corridor of a large hotel and seen the various pairs of boots on the mats outside the doors that I could arrive at something like a definite conclusion as to the owners thereof. Mr Samuel Weller, I believe, entertained something like the same idea when Mr Pickwick found him industriously polishing a pair of 'tops' in the inn yard. The fashion in boots has changed mightily, sir, even during the last few years. There are few men who ever wear Wellingtons nowadays. But it is easy to guess the sort of old gentleman who will still be true to them. He will be a natty gentleman of the laudator temporis acti school (possibly a first-c!ass attorney of a cathedral town), a warm Conservative politically, and an individual who carries his silk handkerchief in his old-fashioned elongated flat-brimmed hat. He will be an old gentleman who reads the Times and the < span class="periodical"> Morning Post regularly, and who dries the aforementioned handkerchief before the fire when he comes down to breakfast -- a man who occupies the same high-backed pew in a Parish Church or the same seat in the Cathedral that he has sat in nearly every Sunday for 60 years, Depend on it he will boast tight trousers with straps, a bunch of seals, a swallow-tail coat and an eye-glass attached to his person by a broad black ribbon of silk.
Nothing is more characteristic of a child than its shoes, indeed[;] I know of one case in my own experience where a man bore most stoically the death of an only child he had almost worshipped, till one day, some months after the funeral, he came accidentally across a little pair of shoes belonging to the lost one, and he then burst into a frantic paroxysm of grief and refused to be comforted for days. A child's shoes seem almost to derive their very nature from the wearer. As you look at them you can see in your mind's eye the very shape and turn of the little pink feet, and you would scarcely be surprised at the time if the unoccupied shoes suddenly walked off of their own accord. Look at this pair of lad's boots nearly scrubbed through at the toes, and with much be-knotted laces in them that have palpably often been cut, when the youthful wearer has been at bedtime utterly wearied out with playing at 'lusty-bat' and hide-and-seek. You may depend upon it the wearer of those boots is what is called a 'pickle'— a juvenile addicted to climbing walls and trees, scrubbing his toes and knees thereby, given to occasional fights, a connoisseur in 'blood-alleys,' a fisher for minnows, a dabble[r] in forbidden streams and puddles, and a lover of apples, nuts, and plum pudding. And turning to this natty little pair of shoes with their neat ankle straps you can easily conjure up his little sister -- a tiny golden haired fairy who even now is beginning to manifest certain 'fetching' airs and graces.
Look at these dilapidated crabshells with the ricket[t]y uppers overhanging the apology for a sole from which they seem to threaten instant dissolution of partnership. Look at the heel, and you will see that it is three-cornered, it is so worn down at one side. There are the boots of the wayfarer you meet on the great dusty high roads in summer, the unshaven being who wanders on from workhouse to workhouse; who cadges tobacco, and coppers, and who has always walked an impossible number of miles in search of work (which he will never find) without having had a 'blessed bite in his 'ead for an incredible number of days,' And in point of dilapidation the pair here are not far behind the boots of the tramp. In their original state they no doubt made some pretensions to elegance, and even now they have a high degree of polish. But there are splits in them here and there, and the owner will doubtless, in order that these may be concealed as much all possible, artfully splash a dab of mud on them, or ink his stocking underneath. They are the only wear of a man in a suit turning green, and the bottoms of whose trousers are gimped and frayed, and you will probably find that their owner is a clerk out of employment, a broken-down tradesman who has taken to drink, a man who has seen better days.
This pair of high-heeled ladies' boots here show how far the exaggerations of fashion can go. They are strictly built for effect, with their light-coloured cloth tops, their patent leather toes, and their ridiculous heels. They have a meretricious look about them altogether, and I should say, sir, that the lady to whom they belonged was scarcely the sort of person that one would care to make the companion of one's wife and daughters. Then glance at the other pair of patent leathers — the property of a male being evidently, though there is something almost feminine in their finicking fragility. The man who wears them doubtless belongs to the stereotyped set of young men now so common — the young men who seem to have been turned out by machinery all to one feebly conceived pattern, and who dress, talk (heaven save us, what talk it usually is!) and 'mince' their words in precisely the same way. I have no doubt that the owner of these same boots will, even on the finest and brightest days, turn up his trouser bottoms in order to display the glories of his boots in full measure, just as all his fellow snobs do.
What different male boots there are. There is vigour and strength in the very look of the flat, projected sole, the good broad, low heel and the solid-looking uppers. They seem to speak of lusty, young manhood, of a weather-bronzed face, of a clear eye, an unerring aim in the purple heather and of all the sights and sounds of the open country. There is nothing about them of the feeble town fopling, with his cheap cynicism, his barmaid-mashing leer, and his undeveloped body and brain. Then glance, as another contrast, at this pair of ladies' boots. They have flat soles and heels, they are all of black felt, save as to the small toe-pieces, and they are of goodly size. The lady who wears them must, I feel sure, be an elderly spinster who studies comfort far more than appearances. Most possibly she will boast an old-fashioned reticule, a Gargantuan umbrella, a poplin dress, and a somewhat ascetic disposition.
And, oh, look at these manly boots that are 'nobbly' as to the tops where they are not cut and slashed. See how large and shapeless they are. And, oh, how choleric will be the individual to whom they belong, for I can read gout in every line of them. I wonder how often they have been used as a weapon of offence and gone flying across the room when some rush domestic or relation has dared to interview the owner in his own room during one of his paroxysms? A somewhat similar pair of boots lie here. You will see that they too are nobbly in a modified form, and mark how beautifully the leather hillocks seem to take a polish. They are the property of an elderly commercial man who is afflicted with corns, and you will see thousands of such pairs in any large mercantile centre.
Observe these plain and simple-looking 'Bluchers.' Cannot you read the army or the police in every line of them? They are in more senses than one 'service' boots. Then let us go on to clogs. Mark this plain pair of girl's clogs[.] I opine that these will every morning be donned before six o'clock in a morning before the owner betakes herself to 't’mill ' — that is unless the said owner is lazy and in the habit of getting quartered. These clogs will every Saturday and Sunday be exchanged probably for as good and smart a pair of boots as most ladies of position wear, for our Yorkshire mill girls are not the white slaves that London tailoresses and match-box makers are. This is a very different pair of clogs indeed. You will see that the clog is pointed at the toe to an unusual extent, and that the uppers are profusely ornamented with brass eyelet holes arranged after a pattern. This clog is bound to be associated (and rightly so) with the tap-room, the pigeon flying, spell and knur, pitch and toss brotherhood, and you can easily imagine the short-cropped greasy-capped man who owns it. His most noticeable article of wear after the clogs will be a gaudy neck-handkerchief, and he will, when he is not opening his mouth to blaspheme, complacently suck a very dirty and foul-smelling black clay pipe. He gets full value out of his clogs, for be not only uses them as a protection for his stockingless feet, but he finds them a useful weapon when a little domestic difficulty with his wife arises.
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Last modified 4 April 2022