Mendicants of London

Years ago, when I was a young dog, I had a really good nose. My dad told me that when he and my mom and I went on walks I had to smell everything. One of the things you have to get used to as you get to be an older dog is that things change. Now when we go on walks my young sister Happy is the one that finds all the great smells. I can still smell them, but she finds them. Oh well. You make adjustments. For me, its been a kind of transference: I’ve learned to ferret out dog-art and other dog stuff on the internet. Boy I hate that word ferret. I’m pretty sure its some kind of a cat, and Louie is enough cat for me. If only we dogs had had better vocal cords I’m almost sure we would have invented a better language. So this is a picture I found, nosing around the internet:

Dog helping blind beggar, London, 1816

Dog helping blind beggar, London, 1816
etching by John Thomas Smith

That blind man, George Dyball, and his dog, Nelson, were pretty well known around the streets of London back in 1816. I bet Nelson was good at getting alms and really loved his master. Lots of poor street people have dogs. Life is tough, but they have each other.

So who was this fellow, John Thomas Smith, the artist who made the picture and told us about Nelson and George? It turns out he was a pretty interesting and affable fellow. I think I would have liked to walk around London with him, and stop and get to know all the beggars and street cleaners, and the fancy people too. He wrote it all down and put it in books, and drew pictures of all of it too. Here is another etching he made:

John MacNally and his two dogs

I’m not sure you can read that text under the picture. In case not, it says the person’s name is John ManNally and the dogs, Boxer and Rover, “drew him a truck”. That’s because they didn’t have grocery carts back then so he had a wheeled barrel or cart and those dogs pulled it for him, probably full of all his stuff. They had to work, but I bet it beat being hungry. That front dog looks a little thin. Probably they were hungry sometimes anyway.

This next picture is another one of John Thomas Smith’s etchings. It shows a boy who was a street sweeper, and his dog. The artist doesn’t say their names.

Lad who swept the crossing at the end of Princess Street, Hanover Square

All the artist says is that: “this is the lad swept the crossing at the end of Princess Street, Hanover Square”. Must be somewhere in London. I never got to walk around with John Thomas Smith so I didn’t get to learn everything. He seemed like such a nice guy, when I read about him on the internet that I looked for a picture to see what he looked like. That was a tough one, but finally I found this portrait in his “Rainy Day” book when they re-issued it 72 years after he died. Here it is:

John Thomas Smith, engraved by Willam Skelton, from a drawing by John Jackson

John Thomas Smith, engraver, artist and author
from an engraving of by Willam Skelton from drawing by John Jackson

Here is part of the title page from the 1905 version of that “Rainy Day” book:

A Book for a Rainy Day

In this version of the book you will find a nice introduction with biographical information about John Thomas Smith. You can find it as a full-view book using google books search. But beware they have no quality control over there at google books, and nearly 50 pages of this book are missing. Look for the 19th century version to fill in the blanks. The years 1766-1833 mentioned in the title are the birth and death years of John Thomas Smith, which seems pretty weird, but maybe it is just a coincidence. We get lots of rainy days here in Colonia Ursulo Galvan, Xico, Veracruz, Mexico where I live, so maybe I’ll be reading this book.

Here is an etching of John Thomas Smith that shows an early 19th century seen of Street musicians in London, and it has three dogs so it especially caught my eye.

Street Musicians, 19th century, London

Finally, since there are very few art images of dancing dogs on the internet, I have to share this last one with you:

Dancing dog, London, 19th century

I really hope the fascinating images created by John Thomas Smith showing life, street people, buildings and other scenes of late 18th and early 19th century London have been preserved in a libraries or maybe even in the British Museum, where Smith himself held the post of “Keeper of the Prints and Drawings” for 17 years. At least some are available in the following book, which is where I found most of the images of today’s post.

mendicant wanderers through the steets of London (cover)

Thats enough web-sniffings for today. I hope you liked them.

Rita the dog.

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2 Responses to “Mendicants of London”

  1. Mom Says:

    Hi, Rita,
    I loved this post. I’m glad you had such a good time finding all those dog pictures. The books look very interesting.

    I think the man whose dogs pulled his cart might have been pulling his cart with him on it. It looked like the poor fellow might not have any legs.

    I am already looking forward to your next post.

    Love, Mom

  2. rita314 Says:

    Hi Mom,

    You are absolutely right. If he is legless, Boxer and Rover probably did pull old John MacNally on that ‘truck’. In fact if you look at the picture really closely I think you can see a low-to-the-ground cart that Mr. MacNally is sitting on, and one of its wheels too.

    Thanks for writing again.

    Your loving daughter,
    Rita the dog

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