Luciferförsäljare

The street Lucifer-Match Trade is in the hands of persons who are unable to earn a penny by any other means, or who resort to it through roguery, or through sheer idleness, as a pretext for begging. It is mentioned by the poor as the very last shift. The persons who sell lucifer matches are of every age. In the New Cut, Lambeth, for instance, on a Saturday night especially, are many hale, strong, Irish labourers, some of whom beg vociferously, telling the most pitiful stories, and following the passers-by with provoking pertinacity. A man who has a long time had "a pitch" in the New Cut - a decent, intelligent man, who through accident had been crippled in his business of a glass-blower, and so was driven to his present occupation sells sometimes two dozen boxes a day - very rarely more - and seldom less than one dozen. He unites with the lucifer trade the sale of envelopes, writing paper, and other articles. He can leave his stock in the street, merely covered over, not even locked up - it is comprised in a sort of desk - because it says "it's hardly worth robbing; and who would rob a poor man?" The lucifer boxes cost him 3d. a dozen; he sells them for a halfpenny each, his customers being servant-maids and the wives of working men. He sometimes clears 15d. a day - averaging, perhaps, something less than 1s. - and considers that he is the most prosperous of any of his class in that populous neighbourhood, though he is always outsold on a Saturday night by a big Irishman, who sings "Mary Blane," and dances, and capers, and performs many antics, as a means of attracting a crowd about him, and so obtaining a great sale for his boxes or other wares. The really poverty-stricken vendors of lucifers are persons who have been discharged from the hospitals, friendless and penniless, and women, who have been in the House of Correction for petty offences, and have regained their liberty. Children are frequently sent out, their raggedness being rendered as conspicuous as possible, by parents who do not mind exposing them to any inclemency for a few pence. Within the recollection of my informant the sellers of lucifer-boxes have greatly increased. Within these three months he has recognised between thirty and forty new faces in and about the Cut; many of them he considers rather well-educated women. Among those driven to lucifer-match selling, I may instance the case of a soldier's widow. She lived in comfort with her husband, who had a pension of 6d. a day, while she carried on the business of a laundress, sometimes employing six women to wash, and as many to iron for her. Her husband's long illness enforced her constant attendance upon him; she had in consequence to neglect her business, and lost her connection, and at her husband's death was in the greatest distress. She sells lucifer matches, not having any other resource, the parish refusing her relief; she never sells more than two dozen, which leaves her a profit of 5d., as she gives 3½d. a dozen for them. In bad weather she sells hardly any, and has sometimes to walk the streets all night, for want of a shelter. She knows very many in the same condition as herself. Some of the dealers in lucifers let out boxes by the dozen or half-dozen, on trust, to girls, for sale or return, exacting daily payment with a per-centage. The lucifer- match sellers are a fluctuating class, and are comprised of every description of the wretched, the feeble, the imbecile and the cheating. I did not hear of any who purchased their wares at the manufacturer's, but always at the oilman's. Among the little girls who sell lucifers, and say that they clear 1d. or 2d. a day, some are quick and intelligent as regards their account of their way and means of living; indeed, they are painfully quick, I may say. They are untaught, barefooted, half-clad, shivering with cold, and their parents sick, or starving, or roguish. Their probable fate may be conjectured.1

Here is one of these professional beggars in the shape of a female "match seller." Matured in crime, as well as in years, she is known to the police all over [-43-] London. She has suffered imprisonment for begging, time after time, till, on the last occasion, Mr. Flowers, of Bow Street, accorded her "one month as an incorrigible." Her modus operandi is as follows:- She purchases a few boxes of "Sakerhets-tandsticker," after which she makes her way to the most prominent public thoroughfare, and, standing in the gutter, starts up a ditty. You cannot make out what the words are, but you can discern the remnants of a once fine mezzo-soprano voice which, of course, attracts the little children who happen to be near. Watching her opportunity she then purposely drops a few stray matches with a box, and starts a hue-and-cry that "some little vagabond has stolen her matches, nearly all she is possessed of." This of course draws a sympathetic crowd who proffer their stray coppers plentifully into this virago's hands in order to recoup her the loss she has incurred by the alleged theft. You now notice this prowler upon the charity of a humane public, standing in the Kingsland Road, as we make our journey to the city at night. Here is Shorediteh through which we make our way to the West End. Stop and converse with this intelligent looking boy with a Fry's cocoa box strung round his neck. In this he has some Bryant and May's safeties. "Lights, Sir! Lights, Sir!" His voice rings like a bell, and his intelligent and terse replies to the questions put to him are a source of admiration, and win him many a bright silver coin. He has only seen eleven summers, and yet he displays to [-44-] the observant eye an amazingly high intellect, and deep sagacity. His forehead is magnificently developed. Slight as my knowledge of phrenology is, I can perceive the noble organs of humanity beautifully and prominently developed. And yet this winning boy of eleven has been sent to sell matches in the street, and otherwise beg from the charitable, for the purpose of his support, his able-bodied healthful parents, and his little brother and sister. He lives not ten minutes' walk from here where the parents may be seen any evening at about the time the boy arrives home with his earnings - midnight.2

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