Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark Studies the Costermonger Language


"Funny that we never took to asses in New York and other parts of the States," said Mark one afternoon as we were passing through Soho, London. He was watching the little costermonger carts traveling to and fro with considerable speed, taking into account the petty draft animals, the heavy loads and the boy or girl perched on top.

"The donkeys seem well fed," mused Clemens a block or two further on, "but I don't like a whip in the driver's hand. Hear that," he cried indignantly, "the rude way that corduroy-panted chap is talking to his meek donkey. Let's listen some more. It's a scream."

After the cart had driven away, Clemens said: "The patter of the costermonger, when you come to think of it, is really a language within the English language, and one might do worse than give it printed tongue—i.e., raise it above the merely occasional use British writers accord it. I want to look into that costermongery," he continued. "See if you can't find, hire or steal some coster chap worth listening to, some one who knows the patter with all the trimmings." And at his door he added: "Get an 'Arriet,' for the 'Arry's' are too tough."

A week or two later Herbert Beerbohm Tree found us such a patter artist among the employees of Her Majesty's Theatre—a scrub lady—and here follow some of the stories she told us, corrected and amended by Mark, who cut out coster words not generally understood.