Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Keep it under your hat

I wrote about the pleasures of Judith Flanders's The Victorian City on Monday, but I can't help returning to it today to share one more wonderful bit. It comes from the same chapter as Monday's passage about the piemen, and it's a mere footnote to a section about coffee houses and the ways people ate there--including bringing their own meat for the waiter to put on the fire and cook. Flanders quotes from one of Dickens's All the Year Round pieces, "Night Walks," wherein he tells of seeing a man at a Covent Garden coffee house in 1860 take "out of his hat a large cold meat pudding." To that Flanders appends the following footnote:
If Dickens is to be believed, men kept almost everything they owned in their hats. It is almost quicker to itemize those characters who did not use their hat as a handy man-bag. Those who did include: Mr Pickwick, who keeps his glove and handkerchief there when he goes skating; in Oliver Twist a hat is home to Mr Bumble's handkerchief; the Dodger brings hot rolls and ham for breakfast in his; his pickpocket colleague Toby Crackit puts a shawl in "my castor" ["castor" = beaver]; in Nicholas Nickleby, Newman Noggs, flustered, tries to fit a parcel "some two feet square" into his, as well as keeping at different times a letter there, "some halfpence" and a handkerchief, while the moneylender Arthur Gride keeps large wedding favours in his; in The Old Curiosity Shop, Kit's handkerchief is in his hat; in Martin Chuzzlewit, Montague Tigg keeps old letters, "crumpled documents and small pieces of what may be called the bark of broken cigars" in his, while the stagecoachman uses his to store his parcels for delivery; in Little Dorrit, Pancks, the moneylender's clerk, keeps his notebook and mathematical calculations there; and finally, in David Copperfield, David puts a bouquet for Dora "in my hat, to keep it fresh"--possibly the only fully middle-class person in Dickens's novels to use this caching spot. Much later in the century Shelock Holmes notices a bulge in Watson's hat, which indicates the has stashed his stethoscope there, but there are few other mentions in fiction. I suspect it was a standard location for a man's handkerchief, and for all the other items Dickens merely thought it was funny.
If that litany of silliness hasn't convinced you to buy Flanders's book, I don't know what will!

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