A Day’s Work in the City by One of the Underpaid. No. IV. — 12 o’clock — Lunch at Crosby Hall. Fun (8 August 1868): 226. Courtesy of the Suzy Covey Comic Book Collection in the George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida. Click on image to enlarge it.

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It doesn’t much matter whether a man drinks the best of champagne out of his own silver cup and drives into the city from Kensington in his own brougham and pair, or whether he gets jolted from his second floor lodgings to Cornhill in a twopenny bus and has to be contented with a pint of sour ale, — the great necessities of eating and drinking lay hold of both of us, and it’s doubtful to me (we’re an uncommonly doubtful lot in the city) whether the poor old chaps that I've always mentioned, — the broken-down old speculators who hang about Capel Court on tho chance of somebody standing a glass of stout and a hot Biusago ain't as happy when they can get that refreshment as when they owed their wine merchants, and felt as though tho wheels of the trap that were never paid for would break down with ’em and send ’em headlong to the deuce.

We must all eat and drink, and the question is how to do it for the money. It was to state as some sort of answer to this inquiry that we put up with all the slap-hang eating-houses and dingy fly-blown coffee-houses, and chop-houses with every sort of inconvenience, in the shape of sawdusty floors, hard benches, want of elbow-room, and no ventilation, — the proprietors of which made a very tidy thing out of us, and (many of them) kept their four-wheelers and their saddle-horses, and their little villas at Fulham, and all the rest of it, out of the penny to the waiter. They were quite right to do it, and the high rents in the city, where elbow room is paid for by the square inch answered every complaint, till somebody began to reckon up that our eightpences and shillings might be taken a little more account of. The consequence has been that as the poet, — though I’m hanged if I remember what poet,—has observed, “A change” has “come o’er the spirit of our dream.” If that remark originated with Shakespeare so much the better, for if there’s one place more than another that gives a notion of what may be done in the city (and mind you we’re precious conservative in the city, and stick to our sawdust and our flabby hot sausage, and our pale mutton broth, supped with a pewter spoon), I say if anything can show what may be done, it’s the Luncheon Bar at what wash once the house of call of that immortal poet, when Sir John Spencer lived there, or some other awful city swell in the times when Lord Mayors knew what was what, and entertained royalty as a regular thing. I really don’t think that half of us had a notion that there was much poetry in the city (for we're a prosaic lot, mind you, round the Royal Exchange) till wre found that old Banqueting Hall spread out with tables laid for dinner, and ate our plate of roast and boiled, and drank our bitter or our claret, or our sherry, and watched the young ladies that wait on us flitting about, — and looked up at the grand old oak roof, and blinked at the stained glass, and lost ourselves in the great bay window, and dreamed of Richard the Third and Sir Thomas More and all the rest of the swells that had dined there before us, and paid our shilling, including a penny for the attendants, and went out after, — well after a better dinner than many of us get of a Sunday.

There’s some satisfaction, too, in thinking that if the governor’s having his go-in upstairs in the throne room, it's off the same joint, even though he may be washingit down with moselle as you’ve been washing it down with bitter beer or claret, and it’s something to reflect upon that cheap and nasty don’t always go together, even in the City. To soe the luncheon, bar at twelve, that is what may be called having a peep at a representative institution; and Mr. Gladstone might do worse than look in to get a notion of the effect of the taking off the duty from light wines. There’s something soothing, mind you, to a chap like me in being able to go in and ask for a tumbler of number one or number two claret, or a glass of number five sherry, and eat a whole six courses of sandwiches, beginning with sardine or salmon or lobster, and going right through with ham, beef, fowl, and all the rest of it right down to marmalade or cheese, for about the usual eightpence; it’s what I call elevating to the refined sentiments of humanity, and if an occasional soda cream or a claret cup can be stretched to when we take our wives and sisters to have a bit of dinner with us so much the better.

There seems to me to be a sort of jovial influence hanging about the old place that has come down to it from the times when the great long raised table stretched across the great hall and the serving-men waited, on the floor below. There are no serving-men now but, was it Byron said in one of his poems ? (I’ve got a pocket edition at home and used to admire him as a boy), at all events, as somebody says somewhere, “fair-haired” (some of them have dark hair, but that’s the worst of poetical quotations), “fair-haired girls offering Sewers.” They don’t exactly offer flowers, but mostly things of an eminently eatable, when not of an eminently drinkable nature, and so the poet’s wrong again. What would be the use of llowers in the city at twelve o’clock if You’re too hungry for sentiment at that time I can tell you, and even the young ladies at the luncheon bar are too busy to talk to the young “toffs” that try to stand there with their elbows on the counter. They’re youthful half-pay clerks mostly, and they get the cuffs and the elbows of their eighteen shilling coats into their plates; but they learn better in a day or two, and find out that at Crosby Hall at 12 the business of the hour is eating and drinking as part of the day’s work in the City.

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Last modified 2 June 2018