I am pleased to announce the completion of the online book London Character by Mr. Jones, printed in either 1870 or 1871. The complete text of the 344 page book and its 74 illustrations are available for reading and viewing. This is public domain material that can be freely used.

My transcription was commenced with the idea of providing Sherlockians a glimpse of London during the Victorian Era, the setting for most of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Of course, the 1871 date comes a decade before Holmes and Watson moved into 221B Baker Street. Therefore, some of the book's information does not apply. It mentions the court officer rank of "serjeant", abolished in 1880. The building described in the "Billingsgate" section was torn down in 1875. However, most of what the book describes would apply to a large degree to the time of Holmes and Watson. On my own website, I have also provided a list of some correspondencies with Sherlock Holmes stories and a search engine for use in determining if some obscure term in the Canon is anywhere mentioned in London Characters.

Mr. Jones was a lawyer and a reviewer of plays. Those interests show up in his book. After studying what he writes about himself, I strongly suspect that he is portrayed at the end of the "Sketches in Court" section as "The Jovial Counsel". If so, then the picture there is of him. His love for humorous incidents is most evident in the "Scenes in Court" section. Here is a specimen:

Application was now made to the judge that ladies might be requested to leave the Court, it being proposed to call the medical evidence to prove the nature of some injuries which were included in the "otherwise seriously damaged and hurt" of the declaration. The request was at once acceded to, and the Court, by the usher, its mouthpiece, proclaimed aloud that all ladies were to leave the Court. A flutter ensued among the petticoats, and many went their way, with an expression of mingled surprise and indignation upon the faces of the wearers of them, as though they resented the notion of raising and then disappointing their curiosity. I say many went their way, but not all; some there were who put a bold---their expelled sisters called it a brazen---face upon the matter, and stuck to their seats like women whose desire for knowledge is greater than their sense of shame. His lordship looked round upon these law-loving dames, and remarked, in a significant tone, that he had directed all ladies to quit the Court. It was at this particular moment that the usher became immortal, not knowing, however, the greatness of the fame which he was laying up for himself. Whether he really did not see the bonnets, whose unshamefaced owners kept them obstinately in the halls of justice, or whether it was in the profundity of his scorn that he spake it, this deponent showeth not, but in answer to the remark thrown out by the learned judge, came from the usher the pride-killing words, "All the ladies HAVE left the Court, my lord."

A smile, and then a titter, which waxed speedily till it became a laugh, was observable on the face of the judge, jurors, and counsel. Even a blush flitted across the countenances of the unshamefaced ones, and the usher stood a satirist confessed in the middle of the Court. His lordship adopted the meaning which all hearers attached to the words of the censor, himself as much astonished at his speech as the most amused one there, and, looking towards Serjeant -------, said that he might now proceed, since the modest women had left the Court.

There have been at least three books with London Characters as the start of their titles. Two of them were by the famous Victorian editor and author Henry Mayhew (1812-1887): London Characters and Crooks, 1851, and London Characters: Illustrations of the Humor, Pathos, and Peculiarities of London Life, 1874. Interestingly, in the Billingsgate section of his 1871 London Characters and the Humorous Side of London Life, Mr. Jones twice mentioned Henry Mayhew by name:

Some years ago Mr. Henry Mayhew, in a series of remarkable articles in the "Morning Chronicle," gave a tabulated statement of the probable amount of this trade; and about five or six years later, Dr. Wynter, in the "Quarterly Review," quoted the opinion of some Billingsgate authority, that the statement was probably not in excess of the truth... ... Another learned authority, Mr. Braithwaite Poole, when he was goods manager of the London and North-Western Railway Company, brought the shell-fish as well as the other fish into his calculations, and startled us with such quantities as fifty million mussels, seventy million cockles, three hundred million periwinkles, five hundred million shrimps, and twelve hundred million herrings. In short, putting this and that together, he told us that about four thousand million fish, weighing a quarter of a million tons, and bringing two million sterling, were sold annually at Billingsgate! Generally speaking, Mr. Poole's figures make a tolerably near approach to those of Mr. Mayhew; and therefore it may possibly be that we Londoners---men and women, boys, girls, and babies -- after supplying country folks--- eat about two fish each every average day, taking our fair share between turbot, salmon, and cod at one end of the series, and sprats, periwinkles and shrimps at the other.


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Last modified 24 November 2012