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A Scots Boy's World Sixty Years Ago
Chapter X. Winter Evening Pastimes


Looking back over the years one cannot but note the changed interests and outlook of the modern boy. That these are more varied and exciting than formerly need not be denied; that they are more strenuous or purposeful may well be doubted. Let me recall some actual episodes of far-off days, which, nevertheless, still loom large in emory.

For twenty years our growing family of brothers and sisters remained unscattered, and it was assuredly one of the happiest on earth. Yet our enjoyments were of the simplest, not without a touch of austerity, and marked by a certain self-containedness arising rather from sufficiency of numbers than from any spirit of exclusiveness.

With long school and home hours preparations on a scale unthinkable to the present generation, we had, indeed, but little time at our disposal, yet we were wisely encouraged to many varieties of cheerful recreation in the winter evenings, always assuming that the lessons for next day had been faithfully attended to. Two hereditary hobbies possessed us. Father had preserved, from the days of his boyhood, an old-fashioned magic lantern, the very smell of whose clotted wick was dear to our nostrils, and also a miniature panorama of his own construction. Our fixed ambition was to emulate or surpass these. My earliest savings were twice depleted in order to secure a lantern one degree better than the paternal model, and a real mahogany paint box by Rowney, stocked with gamboge, ultramarine, burnt umber and China ink, which we reckoned of primary importance in the production of a good-going panorama. Of course, these were merely the tools of our craft. Everything else had to be made by ourselves. Lantern slides we designed and painted on lengths of glass cut by the glazier's diamond, projecting the pictures on any available blank wall or damp sheet as quickly as produced.

Panoramas were more elaborate works of art, evolved] through weeks and months with what secrecy we could maintain until launched on an expectant public during the Christmas holidays. My own masterpiece set forth the story of " Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp," depth of colour and emphasis of outline doing something to atone for lack of perspective. Whenever an educative diorama came to town we were taken to see it, hence an early familiarity with the crunching car of Juggernaut, the filthy ablutions of Benares, and the funeral pyre of the Hindoo widow. The finale usually consisted of some super-resplendent scene such as the Holy Sepulchre illuminated for Easter, so I accordingly closed mine with an architectural drawing from "The Illustrated London News," which readily lent itself to coloured transparency. But the effect which most completely fetched my audience was the realistic presentation of a smiling Swiss village suddenly overwhelmed by an avalanche. To produce this, gas
had to be simultaneously manipulated before and behind the canvas, while an empty tin or metal tray was rattled, crescendo - wise, at the moment of catastrophe.

In such matters, however, I was fairly outstripped by a younger brother, who was a past master in such arts, and might easily have made his fortune as a showman. I remember how, on one occasion when a singularly versatile American brought a novel entertainment to the city, he wrote the proprietor in such understanding and appreciative terms as to draw from his fellow-craftsman a courteous reply accompanied by a presentation ticket! His own forte lay in the production of life-like moving figures with appropriate dialogue, his efforts culminating in a piece entitled "The Brave Little Tailor," whose motto was "Seven at one Blow." The description throughout was in racy verse, the concluding moral ot which can alone be given here:—

The poorest man by steady application
May rise to be the Ruler of a nation,
While giants, proud, who fear no living one,
May yet, by cunning, be completely done.
After this story, prove ye, if ye can,
That it takes nine tailors to make a man:
Just try: but I tell you 'twill be a failure,
For it takes seven men to make a tailor.

These homely exhibitions not only gave unbounded pleasure to members of our own household, but to numerous friends who witnessed the performances from time to time. Reserved and ordinary seats were provided. Sometimes a small charge would be made, including programme, and sometimes refreshments would be handed round in the form of sweets contributed by a generous patron.

Commercial ventures had a fascination for us. The earliest I remember was poke-making. The crisp paper bag of to-day had not come into universal use, and grocers' shops were stacked with hand-twisted pokes, which naturally appealed to a boy's imagination. Having contrived to possess myself of a sufficiency of waste paper, I laboured at making up those articles which seemed so indispensable. Fixing them in long shafts in the dining room, I flattered myself that it presented quite a business-like aspect. My calculations were at fault, however, for friends being expected to dinner, the whole was ruthlessly swept away before I could utter a protest. Envelope-making called for greater technical skill, but I soon learned to cut them with a fetching curve on the flap. The real problem was how to render them adhesive. Not that this was absolutely essential, for wafer closing was still in vogue: but I wanted mine to be up to date. When almost at my wit's end I discovered blisters of resinous gum exuding from a big cross-barred gate in the neighbourhood. These I surreptitiously picked off, garnering them carefully until they could be melted into a sticky paste which, though murky in colour, answered the purpose with tolerable success.

Having thus served a manufacturing apprenticeship, I aspired to the role of merchant. Observing that stationery was in constant demand, I procured a large grocer's box and stocked it well with pens, pencils, paper, notebooks, india rubber, marbles, &c., for all of which I found ready sale. An early speculation consisted in the purchase of a job lot of envelopes, which, after careful sorting into two qualities, yielded a fair return. A youthful brother was not so fortunate. He too hastily plunged for a considerable parcel of paper and envelopes which he thought cheap at an auction. In due time they were delivered at the house, when, to his dismay, he discovered that they were black-edged! I was able partially to relieve his dilemma by having the paper machine-cut, but, as this process could scarcely be applied to the envelopes, they proved a heavy handful.

Having already figured as the author of several ambitious little booklets, it occurred to me as a legitimate develoment to bring out a fortnightly news-letter entitled "The Parkgrove Journal," price twopence. This ran for several months, and contained a brief summary of house-hold occurrences, together with other items of general interest. The first page was of course devoted to advertisements, and naturally became a vehicle for pushing business. Take the following :—

Stationery you will find
Of very nearly every kind
At the warehouse undernamed,
Celebrated and far famed.

Account forms were printed at the miniature press of a school friend, and these were used in all cases where credit was given. By and by a confectionary department was added and prospered greatly. By purchasing wholesale and resting content with a small profit, it was easy to demonstrate to customers that they procured more acid drops or barley- sugar fish for a penny than through the ordinary channels, and a felt want was supplied. Terms here were strictly cash.

Later on this trading instinct brought some amusing experiences. Stepping into a saleroom one day, I espied a parcel containing six well-bound volumes of Milner's Church History and others of less note. These were quickly knocked down to me for half-a-crown, whereupon I proceeded to a second-hand bookseller, who at once relieved me of Milner at a shilling per volume, taking other two from my bundle for eighteen pence. Having thus trebled my outlay, I reserved one volume for myself, and put the remainder into gratuitous circulation. On another occasion I bid up to three shillings for a print of Benjamin Disraeli, when down came the hammer. This I placed in a picture dealer's window, where it shortly fetched half a guinea. Once again I was tempted with an excellent lot of Joynson's superfine paper in large sheets, on showing which to an enterprising lithographer, he promptly took them off my
hands at a satisfactory margin.

Minor games played an important part in the enjoyment of our winter evenings. The chief favourites were of our own invention. "Flags" and "Goose," " Parliament" and " Chuck " were names given to some that were perennially popular, and served for more than a generation to amuse an ever widening circle of children. "Flags" was geographically instructive : "Goose" was frankly based on chance. The others involved considerable thought with much balancing of probabilites and risks. Another favourite form of amusement was the composition of rhymes in a limited time, introducing ideas or words suggested at random. These often showed considerable merit and have been known to find their way into print.

An amusing legal element entered into some of our boyish relationships as is shown in a couple of papers before me. From the first of these it is evident that a healthy desire had sprung up to put an end to certain small misdemeanours. For this purpose the four eldest formed themselves into what was dignified by the title of "A Court," and their names were engrossed at the top of the constituting document. Then follows a list of fines to be imposed, among which appear:—

Not rising before eight,.. Two marbles.
Not having boots off before seven,.. Two marbles.
A knock on the shoulder, ... One marble.
Putting on a face,.. Two marbles.

Then ominous notifications follow:— "Anything else that may turn up, judgment according to discretion. All marbles to be paid on day of offence or the fine is increased by one for every additional day.' As the fines seem to have been periodically divided among the "Members of the Court," the penalties were of the lightest, while the majesty of the law was duly upheld.

The other legal document takes the form of a "Contract." Philately, in its initial stages, was the rage of the early sixties, and rival collections held the field to their mutual detriment. At length the following agreement was drawn up, subject to an appropriate cash payment by the leading collector:—"We, the undersigned, do promise not to collect stamps before 1st January, 1864, and we promise to be-'s agent, and to further the good of his collection, as far as we can, as proposed in his agreement, dated 23rd February, 1861." This is signed by the high contracting parties and duly attested by two witnesses, "one of whom is a clergyman."

At the end of this period two of us set up as stamp dealers, which afforded steady occupation and some gain. Our plan was to beg all round the connection for stamps, arrange them neatly on sheets, and expose these in the windows of friendly stationers. I cull a few extracts from my partners letters to a valuable correspondent, which shed a flood of light on the conduct of our business:—"We put a new sheet of stamps into G 's window, worth about 15s. at selling prices. Yesterday he said, 4 You are going to make a fortune off them! .We took sheet No. 2 out, having sold 6s. 6d. worth or, subtracting commission 4s. 4d. worth, besides, more than half our stamps over. I cannot understand how any person would pay more than id. for a single stamp, yet some of ours sold for 4d. each. . . ."

"We have made arrangements with a respectable firm in Argyle Street, and are happy to say that the commission is to be 3d. in the shilling. Many thanks for the stamps of last night, which, being old, are valuable, but any kind give great satisfaction. . . ." "We have just taken a sheet to F 's, who has promised to put them in his window. It is admirably situated, being quite close to the High School. We are going to put a sheet far west to tempt the rich people about the Park. . . " Besides the supplies we get from you we 'buy packets from the great dealers and retail them. One we bought for 6d. had 42 in it.

Even selling these at úd. each, we would make about is. after paying expenses, but, of course, some of them are worth a great deal more. . . " We note what you say about stamps, and are afraid you are taking too much trouble in getting them!"

For a good many years the eldest of us held a Sabbath evening class for such of the others as were of suitable age. The lessons consisted in repetition of a Scripture text and verse or two of Psalm with reading of Old Testament history, usually chosen from the battle scenes in Joshua, Samuel and The Kings, on which questions were asked. Though teacher and scholars were alike, sufficiently juvenile, interest seldom flagged. Little prizes were offered, as is shown by the following rhyme learned by each new entrant and which was doubtless intended to promote a proper esprit de corps :—

We all do like dear class,
We'll never let a Sabbath pass
Without attending at the school,
And thus we'll keep the classes full.

We'll always try to get a ticket,
And never do a thing that's wicked,
And when we've ten—'tis but a few !
We get a ' Band of Hope Review.'

Then once a month, if we've been good,
And gotten all the tickets we could,
We each do get—it is a fact!
A very, very pretty Tract.

These last were small pictorial leaflets printed on paper of many colours and costing about sixpence per hundred.

Fastern's-e'en and Hallow-e'en were hailed as feast days in our youthful calendar. Ducking for apples and cracking nuts evoked boisterous merriment, yet we came under the spell of a subtler charm in the performance of certain occult rites with the everwise Nurse as spae-wife. To her our individual fortunes were clearly discernible, whether revealed through the movement of white-of-egg clouds in a tumbler of water, or in the fantastic shapes assumed by pancakes, which in turn we cast upon the girdle. Cotton bales and ships at sea, judges' wigs and lofty pulpits were oftentimes forecasted; nor did a prosperous farm on some distant strand elude her inward eye.

Birthdays were invariably kept as Red Letter Days, eagerly looked forward to by the individual concerned. A letter to his grandmother from a very small brother is before me, where he naively remarks: "Sabbath passed very pleasantly, but Monday came at last!" These were occasions on which long felt wants were often supplied and when the slender purse was generously replenished. But the great annual exchange of gifts and greetings took place on New Year's Day, which was also the good Mother's birthday. The greetings were usually deposited on the breakfast plate; but the gifts were reserved till after dinner. Then, the board being cleared, a high-piled tray would be borne in aloft, laden
with elaborately tied parcels addressed from each to each. These were placed before Father, who distributed them with amusing running comments. His own gifts were usually accompanied by rhyming
couplets appropriate to the intended recipient—as for example :—

You'll be a merchant like Samuel Budgett,
Though for a time you'll have to trudge it.

Sometimes there would be more ambitious "Odes to Father Time" recalling in humorous vein the outstanding events of the past year.

In such merrily busy fashion passed a long succession of happy winter evenings, nor were they ever so much enjoyed as when Father found he could spare an hour from his exacting duties to mingle in the fun. On these occasions he would begin by making purchases at the "Sweetie Department," to be forthwith transmuted into prizes for the games to follow. If these were not prolonged till an unduly late hour, the fault did not rest with us!


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