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Mr. Joseph Hanson, The Haberdasher   By: (1787-1855)

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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... Continue reading book >>

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