William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

Thanks to Nelson Miller for sending along this sequence of sonnets (Henley himself referred to them as "quatorzains") and one concluding non-sonnet written in 1898 to accompany a series of paintings of London street life by William Nicholson at Nicholson's request.

The sequence In Hospital (Victorian Web) contains several sonnets.

London Types (1898)

return to sonnet central return to the Victorian Era

I. 'Bus Driver

He's called The General from the brazen craft
And dash with which he sneaks a bit of road
And all its fares; challenged, or chafed, or chaffed,
Back-answers of the newest he'll explode;
He reins his horses with an air; he treats
With scoffing calm whatever powers there be;
He gets it straight, puts a bit on, and meets
His losses with both lip and £ s. d. ;
He arrogates a special taste in short;
Is loftily grateful for a flagrant smoke;
At all the smarter housemaids winks his court,
And taps them for half-crowns; being stoney-broke,
Lives lustily; is ever on the make;
And hath, I fear, none other gods but Fake.

II. Life-Guardsman

Joy of the Milliner, Envy of the Line,
Star of the Parks, jack-booted, sworded, helmed,
He sits between his holsters, solid of spine;
Nor, as it seems, though Westminster were whelmed,
With the great globe, in earthquake and eclipse,
Would he and his charger cease from mounting guard,
This Private in the Blues, nor would his lips
Move, though his gorge with throttled oaths were charred!
He wears his inches weightily, as he wears
His old-world armours; and with his port and pride,
His sturdy graces and enormous airs,
He towers, in speech his Colonel countrified,
A triumph, waxing statelier year by year,
Of British blood, and bone, and beef, and beer.

III. Hawker

Far out of bounds he'd figured--in a race
Of West-End traffic pitching to his loss.
But if you'd see him in his proper place,
Making the browns for bub and grub and doss,
Go East among the merchants and their men,
And where the press in noisiest, and the tides
Of trade run highest and widest, there and then
You shall behold him, edging with equal strides
Along the kerb; hawking in either hand
Some artful nothing made of twine and tin,
Cardboard and foil and bits of rubber band:
Some penn'orth of wit-in-fact that, with a grin,
The careful City marvels at, and buys
For nurselings in the Suburbs to despise!

IV. Beef-Eater

His beat lies knee-high through a dust of story--
A dust of terror and torture, grief and crime;
Ghosts that are England's wonder, and shame, and glory
Throng where he walks, an antic of old time;
A sense of long immedicable tears
Were ever with him, could his ears but heed;
The stern Hic Jacets of our bloodiest years
Are for his reading, had he eyes to read,
But here, where Crookback raged, and Cranmer trimmed,
And More and Strafford faced the axe's proving,
He shows that Crown the desperate Colonel nimmed,
Or simply keeps the Country Cousin moving,
Or stays such Cockney pencillers as would shame
The wall where some dead Queen hath traced her name.

V. Sandwich-Man

An ill March noon; the flagstones gray with dust;
An all-round east wind volleying straws and grit;
St. Martin's Steps, where every venomous gust
Lingers to buffet, or sneap, the passing cit;
And in the gutter, squelching a rotten boot,
Draped in a wrap that, modish ten-year syne,
Partners, obscene with sweat and grease and soot,
A horrible hat, that once was just as fine;
The drunkard's mouth a-wash for something drinkable,
The drunkard's eye alert for causal toppers,
The drunkard's neck stooped to a lot scarce thinkable,
A living crawling blazoning of Hot-Coppers,
He trails his mildews towards a Kingdom-Come
Compact of sausage-and-mash and two-o'rum!

VI. 'Liza

'Liza's old man's perhaps a little shady,
'Liza's old woman's prone to booze and cring;
But 'Liza deems herself a perfect lady,
And proves it in her feathers and her fringe.
For 'Liza has a bloke her heart to cheer,
With pearlies and a barrer and a jack,
So all the vegetables of the year
Are duly represented on her back.
Her boots are sacrifices to her hats,
Which knock you speechless--like a load of bricks!
Her summer velvets dazzle Wanstead Flats,
And cost, at times, a good eighteen-and-six.
Withal, outside the gay and giddy whirl,
'Liza's a stupid, straight, hard-working girl.

VII. "Lady"

Time, the old humourist, has a trick to-day
Of moving landmarks and of levelling down,
Till into Town the Suburbs edge their way,
And in the Suburbs you may scent the Town.
With Mount Street thus approaching Muswell Hill,
And Clapham Common marching with the Mile,
You get a Hammersmith that fills the bill,
A Hampstead with a serious sense of style.
So this fair creature, pictured in The Row,
As one of that "gay adulterous world," whose round
Is by the Serpentine, as well would show,
And might, I deem, as readily be found
On Streatham's Hill, or Wimbledon's, or where
Brixtonian kitchens lard the late-dining air.

VII. Bluecoat Boy

So went our boys when Edward Sixth, the King,
Chartered Christ's Hospital, and died. And so
Full fifteen generations in a string
Of heirs to his bequest have had to go.
Thus Camden showed, and Barnes, and Stillingfleet,
And Richardson, that bade our Lovelace be;
Thus to his Genevieve young S. T. C.
With thousands else that, wandering up and down,
Quaint, privileged, liked and reputed well,
Made the great School a part of London Town
Patent as Paul's and vital as Bow Bell:
The old School nearing exile, day by day,
To certain clay-lands somewhere Horsham way.

IX. Mounted Police

Army Reserve; a worshipper of Bobs,
With whom he stripped the smock from Candahar;
Neat as his mount, that neatest among cobs;
Whenever pageants pass, or meetings are,
He moves conspicuous, vigilant, severe,
With his Light Cavalry hand and seat and look,
A living type of Order, in whose sphere
Is room for neither Hooligan nor Hook.
For in his shadow, wheresoe'er he ride,
Paces, all eye and hardihood and grip,
The dreaded Crusher, might in his every stride
And right materialized girt at his hip;
And they, that shake to see these twain go by,
Feel that the Tec, that plain-clothes Terror, is nigh.

X. News-Boy

Take any station, pavement, circus, corner,
Where men their styles of print may call or choose,
And there--ten times more on it than Jack Horner--
There you shall find him swathed in sheets of news.
Nothing can stay the placing of his wares--
Not 'bus, nor cab, nor dray! The very Slop,
That imp of power, is powerless! Ever he dares,
And, daring, lands his public neck and crop.
Even the many-tortured London ear,
The much-enduring, loathes his Speeshul yell,
His shriek of Winnur! But his dart and leer
And poise are irresistible. Pall Mall
Joys in him, and Mile End; for his vocation
Is to purvey the stuff of conversation.

XI. Drum-Major

Who says Drum-Major says a man of mould,
Shaking the meek earth with tremendous tread,
And pacing still, a triumph to behold,
Of his own spine at least two yards ahead!
Attorney, grocer, surgeon, broker, duke--
His calling may be anything, who comes
Into a room, his presence a rebuke
To the dejected, as the pipes and drums
Inspired his port!--who mounts his office stairs
As though he led great armies to the fight!
His bulk itself's pure genius, and he wears
His avoirdupois with so much fire and spright
That, though the creature stands but five feet five,
You take him for the tallest He alive.

XII. Flower-Girl

There's never a delicate nurseling of the year
But our huge London hails it, and delights
To wear it on her breast or at her ear,
Her days to colour and make sweet her nights.
Crocus and daffodil and violet,
Pink, primrose, valley-lily, close-carnation,
Red rose and white rose, wall-flower, mignonette,
The daisies all--these be her recreation,
Her gaudies these! And forth from Drury Lane,
Trapesing in any of her whirl of weathers,
Her flower-girls foot it, honest and hoarse and vain,
All boot and little shawl and wilted feathers:
Of populous corners right advantage taking,
And, where they squat, endlessly posy-making.

XIII. Barmaid

Though, if you ask her name, she says "Elise,"
Being plain Elizabeth, e'en let it pass,
And own that, if her aspirates take their ease,
She ever makes a point, in washing glass,
Handling the engine, turning taps for tots,
And countering change, and scorning what men say,
Of posing as a dove among the pots,
Nor often gives her dignity away.
Her head's a work of art, and, if her eyes
Be tired and ignorant, she has a waist;
Cheaply the Mode she shadows; and she tries
From penny novels to amend her taste;
And, having mopped the zinc for certain years,
And faced the gas, she fades and disappears.

The Artist Muses at His Ease

The Artist muses at his ease,
Contented that his work is done,
And smiling--smiling!--as he sees
His crowd collecting, one by one.
Alas! his travail's but begun!
None, none can keep the years in line,
And what to Ninety-Eight is fun
May raise the gorge of Ninety-Nine!

William Ernest Henley
Muswell Hill, 1898