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Title: Mr. Joseph Hanson, The Haberdasher
Author: Mitford, Mary Russell, 1787-1855
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Mary Russell Mitford

These are good days for great heroes; so far at least as regards the
general spread and universal diffusion of celebrity. In the matter
of fame, indeed, that grand bill upon posterity which is to be found
written in the page of history, and the changes of empires, Alexander
may, for aught I know, be nearly on a par with the Duke of Wellington;
but in point of local and temporary tributes to reputation, the great
ancient, king though he were, must have been far behind the great
modern. Even that comparatively recent warrior, the Duke of Marlborough,
made but a slight approach to the popular honours paid to the conqueror
of Napoleon. A few alehouse signs and the ballad of "Marlbrook s'en va't
en guerre," (for we are not talking now of the titles, and pensions, and
palaces, granted to him by the Sovereign and the Parliament,) seem to
have been the chief if not the only popular demonstrations vouchsafed by
friends and enemies to the hero of Blenheim.

The name of Wellington, on the other hand, is necessarily in every man's
mouth at every hour of every day. He is the universal godfather of every
novelty, whether in art, in literature, or in science. Streets, bridges,
places, crescents, terraces, and railways, on the land; steam-boats on
the water; balloons in the air, are all distinguished by that honoured
appellation. We live in Wellington squares, we travel in Wellington
coaches, we dine in Wellington hotels, we are educated in Wellington
establishments, and are clothed from top to toe (that is to say the male
half of the nation) in Wellington boots, Wellington cloaks, Wellington
hats, each of which shall have been severally purchased at a warehouse
bearing the same distinguished title.

Since every market town and almost every village in the kingdom, could
boast a Wellington house, or a Waterloo house, emulous to catch some
gilded ray from the blaze of their great namesake's glory, it would have
been strange indeed if the linendrapers and haberdashers of our good
town of Belford Regis had been so much in the rear of fashion as to
neglect this easy method of puffing off their wares. On the contrary,
so much did our shopkeepers rely upon the influence of an illustrious
appellation, that they seemed to despair of success unless sheltered by
the laurels of the great commander, and would press his name into the
service, even after its accustomed and legitimate forms of use seemed
exhausted. Accordingly we had not only a Wellington house and a Waterloo
house, but a new Waterloo establishment, and a genuine and original Duke
of Wellington warehouse.

The new Waterloo establishment, a flashy dashy shop in the market-place,
occupying a considerable extent of frontage, and "conducted (as the
advertisements have it) by Mr. Joseph Hanson, late of London," put forth
by far the boldest pretensions of any magazine of finery and frippery in
the town; and it is with that magnificent _store_, and with that only,
that I intend to deal in the present story.

If the celebrated Mr. Puff, he of the Critic, who, although Sheridan
probably borrowed the idea of that most amusing personage from the
auctioneers and picture-dealers of Foote's admirable farces,
first reduced to system the art of profitable lying, setting forth
methodically (scientifically it would be called in these days) the
different genera and species of that flourishing craft--if Mr. Puff
himself were to revisit this mortal stage, he would lift; up his hands
and eyes in admiration and astonishment at the improvements which have
taken place in the art from whence he took, or to which he gave, a name
(for the fact is doubtful) the renowned art of Puffing!

Talk of the progress of society, indeed! of the march of intellect, and
the diffusion of knowledge, of infant schools and adult colleges,
of gas-lights and rail-roads, of steam-boats and steam-coaches, of
literature for nothing, and science for less! What are they and fifty
other such nick-nacks compared with the vast strides made by this
improving age in the grand art of puffing? Nay, are they not for the
most part mere implements and accessories of that mighty engine of
trade? What is half the march of intellect, but puffery? Why do little
children learn their letters at school, but that they may come hereafter
to read puffs at college? Why but for the propagation of puffs do
honorary lecturers hold forth upon science, and gratuitous editors
circulate literature? Are not gas-lights chiefly used for their
illumination, and steamboats for their spread? And shall not history,
which has given to one era the name of the age of gold, and has entitled
another the age of silver, call this present nineteenth century the age
of puffs?

Take up the first thing upon your table, the newspaper for instance, or
the magazine, the decorated drawing-box, the Bramah pen, and twenty to
one but a puff more or less direct shall lurk in the patent of the one,
while a whole congeries of puffs shall swarm in bare and undisguised
effrontery between the pages of the other.

Walk into the streets;--and what meet you there? Puffs! puffs! puffs!
From the dead walls, chalked over with recommendations to purchase
Mr. Such-an-one's blacking, to the walking placard insinuating the
excellences of Mr. What-d'ye-call-him's Cream Gin*--from the bright
resplendent brass-knob, garnished with the significant words "Office
Bell," beside the door of an obscure surveyor, to the spruce carriage
of a newly arrived physician driving empty up and down the street,
everything whether movable or stationary is a puff.

     * He was a genius in his line (I had almost written an evil
     genius) who invented that rare epithet, that singular
     combination of the sweetest and purest of all luxuries, the
     most healthful and innocent of dainties, redolent of
     association so rural and poetical, with the vilest
     abominations of great cities, the impure and disgusting
     source of misery and crime. Cream Gin! The union of such
     words is really a desecration of one of nature's most genial
     gifts, as well as a burlesque on the charming old pastoral
     poets; a flagrant offence against morals, and against that
     which in its highest sense may almost be considered a branch
     of morality--taste.

But shops form, of course, the chief locality of the craft of puffing.
The getting off of goods is its grand aim and object. And of all shops
those which are devoted to the thousand and one articles of female
decoration, the few things which women do, and the many which they do
not want, stand pre-eminent in this great art of the nineteenth century.

Not to enter upon the grand manoeuvres of the London establishments, the
doors for carriages to set down and the doors for carriages to take
up, indicating an affluence of customers, a degree of crowd and
inconvenience equal to the King's Theatre, on a Saturday night, or the
queen's drawing-room on a birthday, and attracting the whole female
world by that which in a fashionable cause the whole female world loves
so dearly, confusion, pressure, heat and noise;--to say nothing of those
bold schemes which require the multitudes of the metropolis to afford
them the slightest chance of success, we in our good borough of Belford
Regis, simple as it stands, had, as I have said, as pretty a show of
speculating haberdashers as any country town of its inches could well
desire; the most eminent of whom was beyond all question or competition,
the proprietor of the New Waterloo Establishment, Mr. Joseph Hanson,
late of London.

His shop displayed, as I have already intimated, one of the largest and
showiest frontages in the market-place, and had been distinguished by a
greater number of occupants and a more rapid succession of failures in
the same line than any other in the town.

The last tenant, save one, of that celebrated warehouse--the penultimate
bankrupt--had followed the beaten road of puffing, and announced his
goods as the cheapest ever manufactured. According to himself, his
handbills, and his advertisements, everything contained in that shop was
so very much under prime cost, that the more he sold the sooner he must
be ruined. To hear him, you would expect not only that he should give
his ribbons and muslins for nothing, but that he should offer you
a premium for consenting to accept of them, Gloves, handkerchiefs,
nightcaps, gown-pieces, every article at the door and in the window was
covered with tickets, each nearly as large as itself, tickets that might
be read across the market-place; and townspeople and country-people came
flocking round about, some to stare and some to buy. The starers were,
however, it is to be presumed, more numerous than the buyers, for
notwithstanding his tickets, his handbills, and his advertisements, in
less than six months the advertiser had failed, and that stock never, as
it's luckless owner used to say, approached for cheapness, was sold off
at half its original price.

Warned by his predecessor's fate, the next comer adopted a newer and a
nobler style of attracting public attention. He called himself a steady
trader of the old school, abjured cheapness as synonymous with cheating,
disclaimed everything that savoured of a puff, denounced handbills and
advertisements, and had not a ticket in his whole shop. He cited the
high price of his articles as proofs of their goodness, and would bare
held himself disgraced for ever if he had been detected in selling
a reasonable piece of goods. "He could not," he observed, "expect to
attract the rabble by such a mode of transacting business; his aim was
to secure a select body of customers amongst the nobility and gentry,
persons who looked to quality and durability in their purchases, and
were capable of estimating the solid advantages of dealing with a
tradesman who despised the trumpery artifices of the day."

So high-minded a declaration, enforced too by much solemnity of
utterance and appearance--the speaker being a solid, substantial,
middle-aged man, equipped in a full suit of black, with a head nicely
powdered, and a pen stuck behind his ear--such a declaration from so
important a personage ought to have succeeded; but somehow or other
it did not. His customers, gentle and simple, were more select than
numerous, and in another six months the high-price man failed just as
the low-price man had failed before him.

Their successor, Mr. Joseph Hanson, claimed to unite in his own person
the several merits of both his antecedents. Cheaper than the cheapest,
better, finer, more durable, than the best, nothing at all approaching
his assortment of linendrapery had, as he swore, and his head shopman,
Mr. Thomas Long, asseverated, ever been seen before in the streets of
Belford Regis; and the oaths of the master and the asseverations of
the man, together with a very grand display of fashions and finery, did
really seem, in the first instance at least, to attract more customers
than had of late visited those unfortunate premises.

Mr. Joseph Hanson and Mr. Thomas Long were a pair admirably suited
to the concern, and to one another. Each possessed pre-eminently the
various requisites and qualifications in which the other happened to
be deficient. Tall, slender, elderly, with a fine bald head, a mild
countenance, a most insinuating address, and a general air of
faded gentility, Mr. Thomas Long was exactly the foreman to give
respectability to his employer; whilst bold, fluent, rapid, loud,
dashing in aspect and manner, with a great fund of animal spirits, and
a prodigious stock of assurance and conceit, respectability was, to
say the truth, the precise qualification which Mr. Joseph Hanson most

Then the good town of Belford being divided, like most other country
towns, into two prevailing factions, theological and political, the
worthies whom I am attempting to describe prudently endeavoured to catch
all parties by embracing different sides; Mr. Joseph Hanson being a
tory and high-churchman of the very first water, who showed his loyalty
according to the most approved faction, by abusing his Majesty's
ministers as revolutionary, thwarting the town-council, getting tipsy
at conservative dinners, and riding twenty miles to attend an eminent
preacher who wielded in a neighbouring county all the thunders of
orthodoxy; whilst the soft-spoken Mr. Thomas Long was a Dissenter and a
radical, who proved his allegiance to the House of Brunswick (for both
claimed to be amongst the best wishers to the present dynasty and
the reigning sovereign) by denouncing the government as weak and
aristocratic, advocating the abolition of the peerage, getting up an
operative reform club, and going to chapel three times every Sunday.

These measures succeeded so well, that the allotted six months (the
general period of failure in that concern) elapsed, and still found
Mr. Joseph Hanson as flourishing as ever in manner, and apparently
flourishing in trade; they stood him, too, in no small stead, in a
matter which promised to be still more conducive to his prosperity
than buying and selling feminine gear,--in the grand matter (for Joseph
jocosely professed to be a forlorn bachelor upon the lookout for a wife)
of a wealthy marriage.

One of the most thrifty and thriving tradesmen in the town of Belford,
was old John Parsons, the tinman. His spacious shop, crowded with its
glittering and rattling commodities, pots, pans, kettles, meat-covers,
in a word, the whole _batterie de cuisine_, was situate in the narrow,
inconvenient lane called Oriel Street, which I have already done myself
the honour of introducing to the courteous reader, standing betwixt a
great chemist on one side, his windows filled with coloured jars, red,
blue, and green, looking like painted glass, or like the fruit made of
gems in Aladdin's garden, (I am as much taken myself with those jars
in a chemist's window as ever was Miss Edgeworth's Rosamond,) and an
eminent china warehouse on the other; our tinman having the honour to be
next-door neighbour to no less a lady than Mrs. Philadelphia Tyler. Many
a thriving tradesman might be found in Oriel Street, and many a blooming
damsel amongst the tradesmen's daughters; but if the town gossip might
be believed, the richest of all the rich shopkeepers was old John
Parsons, and the prettiest girl (even without reference to her father's
moneybags) was his fair daughter Harriet.

John Parsons was one of those loud, violent, blustering, boisterous
personages who always put me in mind of the description so often
appended to characters of that sort in the dramatis personæ of Beaumont
and Fletcher's plays, where one constantly meets with Ernulpho
or Bertoldo, or some such Italianised appellation, "an old angry
gentleman." The "old angry gentleman" of the fine old dramatists
generally keeps the promise of the play-bill. He storms and rails during
the whole five acts, scolding those the most whom he loves the best,
making all around him uncomfortable, and yet meaning fully to do right,
and firmly convinced that he is himself the injured party; and after
quarrelling with cause or without to the end of the comedy, makes
friends all round at the conclusion;--a sort of person whose good
intentions everybody appreciates, but from whose violence everybody that
can is sure to get away.

Now such men are just as common in the real workaday world as in the old
drama; and precisely such a man was John Parsons.

His daughter was exactly the sort of creature that such training was
calculated to produce; gentle, timid, shrinking, fond of her father, who
indeed doated upon her, and would have sacrificed his whole substance,
his right arm, his life, anything except his will or his humour, to give
her a moment's pleasure; gratefully fond of her father, but yet more
afraid than fond.

The youngest and only surviving child of a large family, and brought
up without a mother's care, since Mrs. Parsons had died in her
infancy, there was a delicacy and fragility, a slenderness of form and
transparency of complexion, which, added to her gentleness and modesty,
gave an unexpected elegance to the tinman's daughter. A soft appealing
voice, dove-like eyes, a smile rather sweet than gay, a constant desire
to please, and a total unconsciousness of her own attractions, were
amongst her chief characteristics. Some persons hold the theory that
dissimilarity answers best in matrimony, and such persons would have
found a most satisfactory contrast of appearance, mind, and manner,
between the fair Harriet and her dashing suitor.

Besides his one great and distinguishing quality of assurance and vulgar
pretension, which it is difficult to describe, by any word short of
impudence, Mr. Joseph Hanson was by no means calculated to please
the eye of a damsel of seventeen, an age at which a man who owned to
five-and-thirty, and who looked and most probably was at least ten years
farther advanced on the journey of life, would not fail to be set down
as a confirmed old bachelor. He had, too, a large mouth, full of large
irregular teeth, a head of hair which bore a great resemblance to a wig,
and a suspicion of a squint, (for it did not quite amount to that odious
deformity,) which added a most sinister expression to his countenance.
Harriet Parsons could not abide him; and I verily believe she would have
disliked him just as much though a certain Frederick Mallet had never
been in existence.

How her father, a dissenter, a radical, and a steady tradesman of the
old school, who hated puffs and puffery, and finery and fashion, came to
be taken in by a man opposed to him in religion and politics, in action
and in speech, was a riddle that puzzled half the gossips in Belford. It
happened through a mutual enmity, often (to tell an unpalatable truth of
poor human nature) a stronger bond of union than a mutual affection.

Thus it fell out.

Amongst the reforms carried into effect by the town-council, whereof
John Parsons was a leading member, was the establishment of an efficient
new police to replace the incapable old watchmen, who had hitherto been
the sole guardians of life and property in our ancient borough. As far
as the principle went, the liberal party were united and triumphant,
They split, as liberals are apt to split, upon the rock of detail. It
so happened that a turnpike, belonging to one of the roads leading into
Belford, had been removed, by order of the commissioners, half a mile
farther from the town;--half a mile indeed beyond the town boundary;
and although there were only three houses, one a beer-shop, and the two
others small tenements inhabited by labouring people, between the site
of the old turnpike at the end of Prince's Street, and that of the new,
at the King's Head Pond, our friend the tinman, who was nothing if not
crotchetty, insisted with so much pertinacity upon the perambulation of
the blue-coated officials appointed for that beat, being extended along
the highway for the distance aforesaid, that the whole council were set
together by the ears, and the measure had very nearly gone by the board
in consequence. The imminence of the peril saved them. The danger of
reinstating the ancient Dogberrys of the watch, and still worse,
of giving a triumph to the tories, brought the reformers to their
senses--all except the man of tin, who, becoming only the more confirmed
in his own opinion as ally after ally fell off from him, persisted in
dividing the council six different times, and had the gratification of
finding himself on each of the three last divisions, in a minority of
one. He was about to bring forward the question upon a seventh occasion,
when a hint as to the propriety in such case of moving a vote of censure
against him for wasting the time of the board, caused him to secede from
the council in a fury, and to quarrel with the whole municipal body,
from the mayor downward.

Now the mayor, a respectable and intelligent attorney, heretofore John
Parsons' most intimate friend, happened to have been brought publicly
and privately into collision with Mr. Joseph Hanson, who, delighted to
find an occasion on which he might at once indulge his aversion to the
civic dignitary, and promote the interest of his love-suit, was not
content with denouncing the corporation _de vive voiæ_, but wrote three
grandiloquent letters to the Belford Courant, in which he demonstrated
that the welfare of the borough, and the safety of the constitution,
depended upon the police parading regularly, by day and by night, along
the high road to the King's Head Pond, and that none but a pettifogging
chief magistrate, and an incapable town-council, corrupt tools of a
corrupt administration, could have had the gratuitous audacity to cause
the policeman to turn at the top of Prince's Street, thereby leaving
the persons and property of his majesty's liege subjects unprotected
and uncared for. He enlarged upon the fact of the tenements in question
being occupied by agricultural labourers, a class over whom, as he
observed, the demagogues now in power delighted to tyrannise; and
concluded his flourishing appeal to the conservatives of the borough,
the county, and the empire at large, by a threat of getting up a
petition against the council, and bringing the whole affair before the
two Houses of Parliament.

Although this precious epistle was signed Amicus Patriæ, the writer
was far too proud of his production to entrench himself behind
the inglorious shield of a fictitious signature, and as the mayor,
professionally indignant at the epithet pettifogging, threatened both
the editor of the Belford Courant and Mr. Joseph Hanson with an action
for libel, it followed, as matter of course, that John Parsons not only
thought the haberdasher the most able and honest man in the borough, but
regarded him as the champion, if not the martyr, of his cause, and one
who deserved everything that he had to bestow, even to the hand and
portion of the pretty Harriet.

Affairs were in this posture, when one fine morning the chief magistrate
of Belford entered the tinman's shop.

"Mr. Parsons," said the worthy dignitary, in a very conciliatory tone,
"you may be as angry with me as you like, but I find from our good vicar
that the fellow Hanson has applied to him for a licence, and I cannot
let you throw away my little friend Harriet without giving you warning,
that a long and bitter repentance will follow such a union. There are
emergencies in which it becomes a duty to throw aside professional
niceties, and to sacrifice etiquette to the interests of an old
friendship; and I tell you, as a prudent man, that I know of my own
knowledge that this intended son-in-law of your's will be arrested
before the wedding-day."

"I'll bail him," said John Parsons, stoutly.

"He is not worth a farthing," quoth the chief magistrate.

"I shall give him ten thousand pounds with my daughter," answered the
man of pots and kettles.

"I doubt if ten thousand pounds will pay his just debts," rejoined the

"Then I'll give him twenty," responded the tinman.

"He has failed in five different places within the last five years,"
persisted the pertinacious adviser; "has run away from his creditors,
Heaven knows how often; has taken the benefit of the Act time after
time! You would not give your own sweet Harriet, the best and prettiest
girl in the county, to an adventurer, the history of whose life is to
be found in the Gazette and the Insolvent Court, and who is a high
churchman and a tory to boot. Surely you would not fling away your
daughter and your honest earnings upon a man of notorious bad character,
with whom you have not an opinion or a prejudice in common? Just think
what the other party will say!"

"I'll tell you what, Mr. Mallet or Mr. Mayor, if you prefer the sound of
your new dignity," broke out John Parsons, in a fury, "I shall do what
I like with my money and my daughter, without consulting you, or caring
what anybody may chance to say, whether whig or tory. For my part, I
think there's little to choose between them. One side's as bad as the
other. Tyrants in office and patriots out. If Hanson is a conservative
and a churchman, his foreman is a radical and a dissenter; and they
neither of them pretend to dictate to their betters, which is more than
I can say of some who call themselves reformers. Once for all, I tell
you that he shall marry my Harriet, and that your nephew sha'n't: so
now you may arrest him as soon as you like. I'm not to be managed
here, however you and your tools may carry matters at the Town Hall. An
Englishman's house is his castle."

"Well," said Mr. Mallet, "I am going. God knows I came out of old
friendship towards yourself, and sincere affection for the dear girl
your daughter. As to my nephew, besides that I firmly believe the young
people like each other, I know him to be as steady a lad as ever drew a
conveyance; and with what his father has left him, and what I can give
him, to say nothing of his professional prospects, he would be a fit
match for Harriet as far as money goes. But if you are determined----"

"I _am_ determined," roared John Parsons. "Before next week is out,
Joseph Hanson shall be my son-in-law. And now, sir, I advise you to go
and drill your police." And the tinman retired from behind the counter
into the interior of his dwelling, (for this colloquy had taken place in
the shop,) banging the door behind him with a violence that really shook
the house.

"Poor pretty Harriet!" thought the compassionate chief magistrate, "and
poor Frederick too! The end of next week! This is only Monday; something
may turn up in that time; we must make inquiries; I had feared that it
would have been earlier. My old tetchy friend here is just the man to
have arranged the marriage one day, and had the ceremony performed the
next. We must look about us." And full of such cogitations, the mayor
returned to his habitation.

On the Thursday week after this conversation a coach drew up, about
eight o'clock in the morning, at the gate of St Stephen's churchyard,
and Mr. Joseph Hanson, in all the gloss of bridal finery, newly clad
from top to toe, smiling and smirking at every instant, jumped down,
followed by John Parsons, and prepared to hand out his reluctant bride
elect, when Mr. Mallet, with a showy-looking middle-aged woman (a sort
of feminine of Joseph himself) hanging upon his arm, accosted our friend
the tinman.

"Stop!" cried the mayor.

"What for?" inquired John Parsons. "If it's a debt, I've already told
you that I'll be his bail."

"It is a debt," responded the chief magistrate; "and one that luckily he
must pay, and not you. Three years ago he married this lady at Liverpool
We have the certificate and all the documents."

"Yes, sir," added the injured fair one; "and I find that he has another
wife in Dublin, and a third at Manchester. I have heard, too, that he
ran away with a young lady to Scotland; but that don't count, as he was
under age."

"Four wives!" ejaculated John Parsons, in a transport of astonishment
and indignation. "Why the man is an absolute great Turk! But the
thing's impossible. Come and answer for yourself, Joseph Hanson."

And the tinman turned to look for his intended son-in-law; but
frightened at the sight of the fair claimant of his hand and person, the
bridegroom had absconded, and John Parsons and the mayor had nothing for
it but to rejoin the pretty Harriet, smiling through her tears as she
sate with her bride-maiden in the coach at the churchyard-gate.

"Well; it's a great escape! and we're for ever obliged to you, Mr.
Mayor. Don't cry any more, Harriet. If Frederick was but here, why, in
spite of the policemen---- but a week hence will do as well; and I am
beginning to be of Harriet's mind, that even if he had not had three or
four wives, we should be well off to be fairly rid of Mr. Joseph Hanson,
the puffing haberdasher."

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