Letter LIV: Thursday, May 30, 1850
The one whom I saw was a melancholy-looking man, with the sunken eyes and other characteristics of semi-starvation. His mouth was wide, and over his face were lines and wrinkles, telling of paint and premature age. I saw him performing in the street with a "school" of acrobats soon after I had been questioning him; and the readiness and business-like way with which he resumed his professional buffoonery was not a little remarkable. The tale he told was more pathetic than comic, and proved that the life of a street clown is perhaps the most wretched of all existences. Jest as he may in the street, his life is literally no joke at home:
"I have been a Clown for sixteen years,'' he said, "having lived totally by it for that time. I was left motherless at two years of age, and my father died when I was nine. He was a carman, and his master took me as a stable boy, and I stayed with him until he failed in business. I was then left destitute again, and got employed as a supernumerary at Astley's, at Is. a night; now the pay's less at some theatres. I was a "super" some time, and got an insight into theatrical life. I got acquainted, too, with singing people, and could sing a good song, and came out at last on my own account in the streets in the Jim Crow line. My necessities forced me into a public line, which I'm far from liking. I'd pull trucks at Is. a day rather than get 12s. a week at my business. I've tried to get out of the line. I've got a friend to advertise for me for any situation as groom. I've tried to get into the police, and I've tried other things, but somehow there seems an impossibility to get quit of the street business. Many times I have to play the Clown, and all kinds of buffoonery, with a very heavy heart. I have travelled very much, too, but I never did over well in the profession. At races I may have made lOs. for two or three days, but that was only occasional; and what is lOs. to keep a wife and family on, for a month may be? I have three children, one now only eight weeks old. You can't imagine, sir, what a curse the street
business often becomes, with its insults and starvations. The day before my wife was confmed, I jumped and laboured all day - a wet day too - and I earned ls. 3d. and returned, after jumping Jim Crow - I'm known as Sambo -to a home without a bit of coal, and with only half-a-quartern loaf in it. I know it was Is. 3d., for I keep a sort of log of my earnings and my expenses -here it is. It is what I've earned as clown, or thefunnyman, with a party of acrobats since the beginning of this year.'' (He showed me this log as he called it, which was kept in small figures, on paper folded up as economically as possible. His latest weekly earnings were - 12s. 6d., Is. lOd., 7s. 7d., 2s. 5d., 3s. I I liz d., 7s. 7 Yzd., 7s. 9~d., 6s. 411zd., lOs. lOIIzd., 9s. 7d., 6s. lllzd., 15s. 6~d., 6s. 5d., 4s. 2d., 12s. lO~d., 15s. 511zd., 14s. 4d. Against this there was the set-off of what the poor man had to expend for his dinner,&£., when out playing the clown, as he was away from home and could not dine with his family. The cyphers intimate the weeks when there was no such expense: 0, 0, 0, 0, 2s. 2Yzd., 3s. 9~d., 4s. 2d., 4s. 5d., 5s.