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This article; first published in The Illustrated London News in1872 perfectly sums up the public (middle-class) attitude towards pavement artists.
Transcribed by Philip Battle
The ingenious devices of that queer class of shifty people about town who get their living by diverse plausible evasions of the law against simple downright begging, afford to the observant Londoner a subject of frequent remark.
In general, the police are not expected to interfere, unless the hunter for charitable halfpence commits the “blunder, worse than a crime” of speaking to street passengers, and directly asking them for a gift of money. Pretending to offer things for sale to persons most unlikely to buy them–a box of cigar-lights to an old maiden lady, a bundle of groundsel to a fast young gentleman, a gross of lead-pencils or hair-combs to me or you—is one way of beginning a conversation. This is presently turned into a pathetic narrative of the vendor’s private woes. “I’m without food since Thursday fortnight; and if any kind Christian could help us with a trifle, Sir or Madam, I’m sure I hope they’d get their reward!”
Another method, sometimes practised with much success by sturdy vagrants of rustic appearance, is that of pretending to have lost their way, or inquiring for the road to some distant place. Such a fellow, with the manly figure and bearing of a genuine country labourer, will stop you in Russell-square, and will say, “I beg your pardon, Sir, but could you direct me the nearest road to Wolverhampton, because I’ve walked all the way up from Great Grimsby in search of work, and now I’m going to find out a brother-in-law of mine there, in the harness-making trade, to see if he can get me a job; and if you’ll believe me, Sir, I haven’t eaten a bit of bread since I when through Reading the day before yesterday, and I don’t know where I shall lay my head this blessed night!”
This kind of appeal is far more likely to attract a sixpence or silver threepence from the pocket of unthinking benevolence than the common, odious, whining cry, “Kind gentleman, please to bestow your charity on a poor creature,” which assaults the impatient ear as you walk briskly home to dinner and your snug fireside.
But though an artful mendicant will often know how to flatter the self-esteem of educated Respectability by affecting to seek advice rather than to solicit alms, the safest trick, in daylight and in fine weather is to present a silent exhibition of suffering merit. A cripple or a blind man, for example, with testimonials signed by his late employer and the parish clergyman pasted on a board hung from his neck, and with the face of a saint prepared for his martyrdom at Smithfield, will do a pretty good business in Mayfair on a sunny afternoon. An old soldier, with a stump of arm or leg and the rags of a scarlet uniform; an old sailor, with a picture of a shipwreck; or the maimed survivor of a factory disaster, with relics and records of the accident suspended on the railing behind him, may reckon upon earning five shillings a day, without causing too much annoyance.
These well-contrived impersonations of human misery are in some degree tolerated because they do not make a noise or persecute the incredulous passer-by with repeated demands. They are not allowed, however, to offend the eyes of delicacy by the uncovering of painful mutilations or disgusting sores. As a matter of taste, if we have once convinced ourselves that all these persons are regular impostors, the least disagreeable form of displaying their skill is found in the ornamentation of the street pavement with coloured crayon drawings.
Our Illustration, which shows an artist of this class engaged in his customary vocation, requires no further comment. His proceedings are certainly not more objectionable than those of the blacking-men, who go about in the service of principal theatres, to stamp the name of a new melodrama or extravaganza upon the smooth flags beneath our feet. The worst that can be said of these “Pencillings by the Way” is that they are an idle man’s substitute for honest useful work. But how many of the literary and artistic performances which daily come under our notice are liable to the same reproof!
Feature from The Illustrated London News, pages 377 & 378. Published 19th October 1872