For those of you unacquainted with my history and adventures, even though they were diligently documented in the periodicals of the day, every detail of my life laid bare for the consuming public to scoff and wonder at regularly and over a period of some 49 years; even though you managed to miss that and are still not familiar with the moniker of my humble self I will forgive you that and I will herewith give a brief narrative on my history.
I cannot give the date or even the year of my birth with any certainty, though it did fall, with some approximation, at the crux of the Georges and Victoria. It is my belief that this happy event favoured the Georgian end of the timeline due to my moral outlook on life, or lack of such. As a member of what the toffs call the ‘undeserving poor’ I will say that before Victoria took to the throne the poor was as a one, the poor was poor; but with the onset of what they call middle class morality there was those poor what was deserving and those poor what was not. And A. Sloper, through no fault of his own, other than taking a pleasure in his life, was cast down into the latter camp. So, when a cove spies his neighbours getting given a little of something for nothing then “Hullo”, he thinks to his self, “why should not I get a little something for nothing too”. And if that little something is not forthcoming then why should that cove not seek out that little something for his self by the guile and wits that God, if not the middle classes, gave to him?
And do not talk to me of the deserving poor being hardworking thus worthy of charity. Let me tell you that a life lived in a less that honest manner is far harder work than is known by any costermonger, docker or sweep.
Though I was unfortunate enough to be born into the lowest of classes I have always been of the opinion that I was of an aristocratic heritage. Growing to a height of well above the average I carried myself with what I liked to think of as a noble demeanour and the name I carried, which was the only gift I was presented with for many a year, of Alexander, suggested a grandeur that raised me above that rat-hole of Whitechapel to which I was born. To lend a credence to that aristocratic lineage that I proclaimed, I bedecked myself in the finest toggery I could lay my two hands upon. In truth, most of that finery was no longer what you might call fine, the tails were tattered and the topper I was famed for was battered, but these things sufficed.
The sobriquet of ‘Ally’, being a shortened form of Alexander, did not arise until my meetings with my first patron, Charles H. Ross. But we will come to that later into this brief history that I humbly narrate.
As I have already here stated, I made my money by less than honest means but there was rarely any violence in my financial endeavours. I say ‘rarely’ because although I may not have initiated any violence (my physical constitution was never conducive to the life of a bludger, brawler or bruiser), there were those that took great offense at my attempts at getting by in this cruel world and sadly felt the need to reward my endeavours by resorting to a violent assault upon my person. What a grave world we live in when even the finest of philanthropists will take so quick to savage behaviour when another man’s hand is found in his pocket. These were the drawbacks of being a pilferer and a dipper. There was fast readies to be had but it was a crude way for a cove to conduct his self, although, as the righteous of the day proclaimed pride to be a sin, I did stoop to help myself as the occasion arose as I would not like to be looked down upon by such goodly Christian reformers. And such was my notoriety as a dipper of pocket watches that there was a humorous observation what was passed around in society:
Sloper says that his watch goes well.”
“Well it seems the previous owner thought it went mysteriously.
Being, in truth, a kindly sort, I always preferred the manner whereby I would ‘persuade’ a gent to hand over his belongings to me willingly. Although living the life of a sharp was indeed an altogether more time consuming affair it did allow the possibility of a far greater financial reward and a swindle was a far more gentlemanly way to conduct business, allowing the other party a fair chance to escape the felon’s nefarious advances. A battle of wits, you may say.
Course a swindle, being a more complex affair than a meagre dip, will often require a second party, an accomplice, and the body I chose for this was a friend since childhood by the name of Isaac Moses, or Iky Mo as he was wont to be called, a Jewish brother from The Chapel. In such a fine endeavour as a swindle it was important to have a trustworthy friend to help keep the bluebottles from buzzing around and although Iky was, in truth, less trustworthy than a rat in a cheesemongery and he was never what you would call a friend to any man, he was the best I could get. We were on poor terms much of the time but we did manage to successfully divert the income of many a gent into our own pockets.
Here is a portrait of Iky Mo as captured in all of his swagger during our jaunt to the Paris Exhibition by our then illustrator, Marie Duval:
It was on one of my ventures with Iky that I met that first patron I mentioned, Charles H. Ross. We had gone up to Fleet Street with a plan to fleece one of the hackers that frequented that place and we had fell to imbibing too much at The Cheshire Cheese . . .
. . . but that shall be another story for another day as this talk of drinking establishments creates a terrible thirst and, as I am not recounting this history in an actual public house and, as such, am unable to pass this hat of mine around, then I will have to see if my current patrons have any of that fine gin left that, for some strange reason known only to themselves, they keep hidden away at the back of the scullery.