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The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 106/London Forty Years Ago

< The Atlantic Monthly‎ | Volume 18‎ | Number 106
 

LONDON FORTY YEARS AGO.

FROM THE MEMORANDA OF A TRAVELLER.


The Court of Chancery.—Feeling a desire to see for myself the highest embodiment of English law where it lurked—a huge and bloated personification of all that was monstrous and discouraging to suitors—in the secret place of thunder, just behind the altar of sacrifice, forever spinning the web that for hundreds of years hath enmeshed and overspread the mightiest empire upon earth with entanglement, perplexity, and procrastination, till estates have disappeared and families have died out, sometimes, while waiting for a decision,—I dropped into the Court of Chancery.

The first thing I saw was the Lord Chancellor himself,—Lord Eldon,—the mildest, wisest, slowest, and most benignant of men,—milder than Byron's Ali Pacha, wiser than Lord Bacon himself; and, if not altogether worthy of being called "the greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind," like his prototype, yet great enough as a lawyer to set people wondering what he would say next. He was quite capable of arguing a question on both sides, and then of deciding against himself; and so patient, withal, that he had just then finished a sitting of three whole days to Sir Thomas Lawrence, for a portrait of his hand,—a beautiful hand, it must be acknowledged, though undecided and womanish, as if he had never quite made up his mind whether to keep it open or shut.

And the next thing I took notice of, after a hurried glance at the carved ceiling and painted windows, and over the array of bewigged and powdered solicitors and masters,—a magnificent bed of cauliflowers, in appearance, with some of the finest heads I ever saw in my life—out of a cabbage-garden,—was a large, dark, heavy picture of Paul before Felix, by Hogarth, representing these great personages at the moment when Felix, that earliest of Lord Chancellors, having heard Paul through, says: "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." Lord Eldon was larger than I supposed from the portrait above mentioned. And this is the more extraordinary, because the heads of Lawrence, like those of ancient statuary, are always smaller than life, to give them an aristocratic, high-bred air, and the bodies are larger. The expression of countenance, too, was benignity itself,—just such as Titian would have been delighted with,—calm, clear, passionless, without a prevailing characteristic of any strength. "Felix trembled," they say. Whatever Felix may have done, I do not believe that Lord Eldon would have trembled till he had put on his night-cap and weighed the whole question by himself at his chambers.

 

Kean.—Wishing to see how this grotesque but wonderful actor—a mountebank sometimes and sometimes a living truth—would play at home after driving us all mad in America, I went to see him in Sir Giles Overreach. He played with more spirit, more of settled purpose, than with us, being more in earnest, I think, and better supported. There is one absurdity in the play, which was made particularly offensive by Oxberry's exaggeration. The dinner is kept waiting, and the whole business of the play suspended, for the Justice to make speeches. But the last scene was capital,—prodigious,—full of that dark, dismal, despairing energy you would look for in a dethroned spirit, baffled, like Mephistopheles, at the very moment his arm is outstretched, and his long, lean fingers are clutching at the shoulder of his victim. Being about to cross blades with his adversary, in a paroxysm of rage he plucks at the hilt of his sword, and stops suddenly, as if struck with paralysis, pale, and gasping for breath, and says,—in that far-off, moaning voice we all remember in his famous farewell to the "big wars that make ambition virtue,"—"The widow sits upon my arm, and the wronged orphan's tear glues it to the scabbard,—it will not be drawn," etc., etc.,—or something of the sort. It was not so much a thrilling as a curdling you felt.

 

Young, in Sir Pertinax.—Very good, though full of stage trick, or what they call, when they get bothered, or would like to bother you, stage business;—as where he throws his pocket-handkerchief before him on leaving the stage, somewhat after the style of Macready in Hamlet, which Forrest called le pas à mouchoir, and took the liberty of hissing. Good Scotch, generally, with a few wretched blunders, though his "booin', and booin', and booin'," and his vehement snuff-taking, and the declaration that "he could never stand oopright in the presence of a great mon in a' his life," were evidently copied from, or suggested by, George Frederick Cooke, who borrowed both from Macklin, if we may trust surviving contemporaries.

 

Robert Owen.—Breakfasted with Robert Owen, after having attended a conference of the brotherhood, where they talked a world of nonsense, and argued for a whole hour, without coming to a conclusion, about whether we are governed by circumstances or circumstances are governed by us. You would swear Owen was a Yankee, born and bred. He has the shrewd, inquisitive look, the spare frame, the sharp features, of a Connecticut farmer, and constantly reminds me of Henry Clay when he moves about. He is evidently sincere; but such a visionary! and so thoroughly satisfied that the world is coming to an end just as he would have it, that he allows no misgivings to trouble him, and never loses his temper, nor "bates one jot of heart or hope," happen what may. The last time we met—only three days ago—his great project was coming up before Parliament, and he told me, in confidence, that he was sure of a favorable result,—that he had counted noses, and had the most comfortable assurances from all the great leaders of the day,—and in short, between ourselves, that grass would be growing on the London Exchange within two years. The petition came up on the day appointed, and was allowed to drop out of the tail end of the cart, almost without a remark. But so far was he from being disheartened, that he lost no time in preparing for a trip across the Atlantic, which he had long had in contemplation, but was hindered from taking by the hopes he had been persuaded to entertain from his friends in Parliament, and by the business at Lanark,—a manufacturing place which he had built up of himself in Scotland, with eminent success, and most undoubted practical wisdom.

Wishing to leave a record with me for future ages, he wrote as follows in my album, with a cheerfulness, an imperturbability, a serene self-confidence, past all my conceptions of a visionary or enthusiast.

"I leave this country with a deep impression that my visit to America will be productive of permanent benefit to the Indian tribes, to the negro race, and to the whole population of the Western Continent, North and South, and to Europe.

"Robert Owen.

"London, 4th September, 1824."

What a magnificent scheme! How comprehensive and how vast! But nothing came of it, beyond the translation of his son, Robert Dale Owen, to this country,—a very clever, well-educated, and earnest, though rather awkward and sluggish young man, who has achieved a large reputation here, and will be yet more distinguished if he lives, being well grounded and rooted in the foundation principles of government, and both conscientious and fearless.

 

Old Bailey.—This and other like places, of which we have all read so much that we feel acquainted with them, not as pictures or descriptions, at second hand, but as decided and positive realities, I lost no time in seeing.

I found the court-room small, much smaller than the average with us, badly arranged, and worse lighted. A prisoner was up for burglary. He was a sullen, turbulent-looking fellow; and his counsel, an Old Bailey lawyer, was inquiring, with a pertinacity that astonished while it amused me, about the dirt in a comb. His object was to ascertain "whether it had been used or not"; and, as there were two sides to it, which side had become dirty from being carried in the pocket, and which from legitimate use. Before the prisoner was a toilet-glass, in which he could not help seeing his own pale, haggard, frightened face whenever he looked up,—a refinement of barbarism I was not prepared for in a British court of justice. I occupied a seat in the gallery, surrounded by professional pickpockets, burglars, and highwaymen, I dare say; for they talked freely of the poor fellow's chances, and like experts.

 

Joanna Baillie.—"Here," said Lady Bentham, wife of General Sir Samuel Bentham, the originator of that Panopticon, which was the germ of all our prison discipline as well as of all penitentiary improvements, the world over,—"Here is an autograph you will think worth having, I am sure, after what I have heard you say of the writer, and of her tragedies, and I want you to see her";—handing me, as she spoke, the following brief note, written upon a bit of coarse paper about six inches by four.

 

"If you are perfectly disengaged this evening, Agnes and I will have the pleasure of taking tea with you, if you give us leave.

"J. Baillie."

 

Now, if there was a woman in the world I wanted to see, or one that I most heartily reverenced, it was Joanna Baillie. Her "De Montfort" I had always looked upon as one of the greatest tragedies ever written,—equal to anything of Shakespeare's for strength of delineation, simplicity, and effect, however inferior it might be in the superfluities of genius, in the overcharging of character and passion, of which we find so much in Shakespeare; and, on the whole, not unlike that wonderful Danish drama, "Dyveke," or a part of "Wallenstein."

My great desire was now to be satisfied. We met, and I passed one of the pleasantest evenings of my life with Mrs. Baillie, as they called her, Lady Bentham, her most intimate if not her oldest friend, and "sister Agnes."

I found Mrs. Baillie wholly unlike the misrepresentations I had seen of her. She was rather small,—though far from being diminutive, like her sister Agnes,—with a charming countenance, full of placid serenity, almost Quakerish, beautiful eyes, and gray hair, nearly white indeed, combed smoothly away from her forehead. We talked freely together, avoiding the shop, and the impression she left on my mind was that of a modest, unpretending gentlewoman, full of quiet strength and shrewd pleasantry, with a Scottish flavor, but altogether above being brilliant or showy, even in conversation with a stranger and an author. She questioned me closely about my country and about the people, and appeared to take much interest in our doings and prospects. Her sister Agnes never opened her mouth, to the best of my recollection and belief, though she listened with her eyes and ears to the conversation, and appeared to enjoy it exceedingly; and as for Lady Bentham, though a clever woman of large experience and great resources, such was her self-denial and her generous admiration of the "queenly stranger," as I had called her friend in sport,—remembering how it was applied to the magnificent Siddons, when she represented Jane de Montfort,—that she did nothing more and said nothing more than what was calculated to bring out her friend to advantage. There was nothing said, however, from which a person unacquainted with the writings of Joanna Baillie would have inferred her true character,—no flashing lights, no surprises, no thunder-bursts. The conversation was, at the best, but sociable and free, as if we were all of the same neighborhood or household; but knowing her by her great work on the Passions, I was profoundly impressed, nevertheless, and left her well satisfied with her revelations of character.

 

Catalani.—What a magnificent creature! How majestic and easy and graceful! And then what a voice! One would swear she had a nest of nightingales and a trumpet obligato in her throat. No wonder she sets the great glass chandeliers of the Argyle rooms ringing and rattling when she charges in a bravura.

That she is, in some passages, a little—not vulgar—but almost vulgar, with a dash of the contadina, is undeniable; and she certainly has not a delicate ear, and often sings false; yet, when that tempestuous warbling in her throat breaks forth, and the flush of her heart's blood hurries over her face and empurples her neck, why then "bow the high banners, roll the answering drums," and shut up, if you wouldn't be torn to pieces by a London mob.

Say what you will, you must acknowledge—you must—that you never heard such a voice before, if there ever was one like it on earth,—so full and so impassioned, so rich and sympathetic. More educated, more brilliant organs there may be, like those of Pasta or Velluti, poor fellow!—more satisfying to the ear,—but none, I believe, so satisfying to the heart; none that so surely lifts you off your feet, and blinds and deafens you to all defects, and sets you wandering far away through the empyrean of musical sounds, till you are lost in a labyrinth of triumphant harmonies. The sad, mournful intonations of Velluti may bring tears into your eyes, but you are never transported beyond yourself by his piteous wailing.

And yet, if you will believe me, this woman has just been called out of bed to a London audience, who, instead of paying a guinea or half a guinea to hear her in opera, are paying only 2s. 6d. a head to hear her let off "God shave the King!" like a roll of musical thunder. She appears "in dish-abille" as they call it here, and in tears. And why is she summoned? Because the sufferin' people, having understood that she shares the house, insist on having their half-crowns and sixpences returned. It has been quite impossible to hear a word, ever since they were informed that she had been taken suddenly ill, and was not allowed to appear by her medical attendants. But what of that? Dead or alive, a British audience must have her out. And so a great banner was lifted on which was inscribed "Catalani sent for!" and then, after a while, as the uproar continued, and the outcries grew more violent, and the white handkerchiefs more and more stormy and threatening, another inscription appeared, "Catalani coming!" And lo! she comes! and comes weeping. But the people refuse to be comforted. And why? Because of their disappointment? Because of their passion for music? No indeed; but because they are told that she is to go snacks with the manager; and, her parsimony being proverbial, they are determined to rebuke it in a liberal spirit. Pshaw!

These people pretend to love music, and to love it with such a devouring passion that nothing less than the very best will satisfy them, cost what it may. Yet the opera-house, with the patronage of the royal family, the nobility, and the gentry, and open only twice a week, is never full even at the representation of the finest works of genius; and when such an artist as Catalani is engaged at one of the theatres, and the people are admitted for theatre prices, the first thing they do, after crowding the house to suffocation, is to call for "God save the King," or, if Braham is out, for "Kelvin Grove." Enthusiasts indeed,—carried away, and justly, by "Black-eyed Susan," or "Cherry Ripe," which they do understand, feel, and enjoy,—they are all ready to swear, and expect you to believe, that their passion is for opera music,—Italian or German, the Barber of Seville, or Der Freischütz. And therefore I say again, Pshaw!

 

John Dunn Hunter.—This luckiest and boldest of humbugs, whose book, by the merest accident, has obtained for him the favor of the Duke of Sussex, and, through the Duke, access to the highest nobility, has just been presented at Court, and is not a little mortified that his Majesty, on receiving a copy of the book, Hunter's "Captivity among the Indians," did not inquire after his health or make him a speech. He does not so much mind paying five guineas for the loan of a court suit, consisting of a single-breasted claret coat with steel buttons, a powdered tie, small-clothes, white-silk stockings, and a dress sword,—with instructions on which side it is to be worn, and how it is to be managed in backing out so as not to get between his legs and trip him up,—nor the having to pay for being mentioned in the Court Journal by a fellow who is called the King's Reporter; but then he will have the worth of his money, and so takes it out in grumbling and sulking. Not long ago he sent a note through the penny-post, sealed with a wafer, directed to the Marchioness of Conyngham, the king's mistress, in reply to an invitation from her ladyship, which he accepted, to meet the king! At least, such was the interpretation he put upon it. And now, after all this, to be fobbed off with a bow by "Gentleman George," the "fat friend" of poor Brummell, was indeed a little too bad.

Nothing he can say or do, however, will undeceive these people. Though he cannot shout decently, cannot bear fatigue or pain, is so far from being swift of foot that he is not even a good walker, talks little or no Indian, and is continually outraging all the customs of society after getting well acquainted with them, and doing all this by calculation, as in the case of the note referred to above, they persist in believing his story. I shall have to expose him.—P. S. I have exposed him.

While speaking just now of his acquaintance with the Duke of Sussex, who was very kind to him, and a believer to the last, I said that it was obtained for him by accident. It was in this way. At the house where he lodged a Mr. Norgate of Norfolk—not far from Holkham, the seat of Mr. Coke afterward Earl of Leicester—was also a lodger. Mr. Norgate invited Hunter down to his father's, and they went over to Holkham together. And there they met the Duke of Sussex, a great friend of Mr. Coke, both being Liberals and Oppositionists. His Royal Highness took a great fancy to Hunter, got him to sit to Chester Harding for his picture, gave him a gold watch and lots of agricultural tools to subdue the Indians with, and stuck to him through thick and thin, till I found it necessary to tear off the fellow's mask.

On separating from me, before I had got possession of the facts which soon after appeared in the "London Magazine," he wrote in my album the following sententious and pithy apothegm, which, of course, only went to show the marvellous power of adaptation to circumstances which would naturally characterize the man, if his story were true. It was in this way his dupes reasoned. If he sealed a letter with a wafer, and sent it through the penny-post to a woman of rank, that proved his neglected education or a natural disregard of polite usage, and of course that he had been carried off in childhood by the Indians, and knew not where to look for father or mother, sister or brother,—while, on the contrary, if he used wax, and set the seal upon it which had been given to him by the Duke of Sussex, that showed, of course, the sagacity and readiness of adaptation which ought to characterize the hero of Hunter's narrative. In short, he was another Princess Caraboo, or young Chatterton, or Cagliostro, or Count Eliorich, all of whom were made great impostors by the help of others, the over-credulous and the over-confident in themselves.

"He who would do great actions," writes our enormous bug-a-boo, "must learn to empoly his powers to the least possible loss. The possession of brilliant and extraordinary talents" (this was probably meant for me, as he had been trying to prevail upon my "brilliant and extraordinary talents" to return to America with him, and go among the savages about the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains, and there establish a confederacy of our own) "is not always the most valuable to its possessor. Moderate talents, properly directed, will enable one to do a great deal; and the most distinguished gifts of nature may be thrown away by an unskilful application of them.

"J. D. Hunter.

"London, 15th May, 1824."

 

Kean at a Public Dinner.—A terrible outcry just now, in consequence of certain exposures and a published correspondence. At a public dinner, he says he is going to America. The Duke of York, who presides, cries out, "No, no!" Shouts follow and the rattling of glasses, and men leap on the chairs and almost on the tables, repeating the Duke's "No, no!" till at last Kean promises to make an apology from the stage,—a perilous experiment, he will find, after which he cannot stay here. The object of Price, who has engaged him, is to kill off Cooper. The best actors now get fifty guineas a week, or twenty-five pounds a night for so many nights, play or pay, with a benefit.

 

Architecture.—I have seen no greater barbarisms anywhere than I find here. The screen of Carleton House,—a long row of double columns, with a heavy entablature supporting the arms of Great Britain,—"that and nothing more"; the doings of Inigo Jones in his water-gates and arches, with two or three orders intermixed; and the late achievements of Mr. Nash along Regent Street,—with the church spire, which has the attractiveness and symmetry of an exaggerated marlin-spike, for a vanishing point,—are of themselves enough to show that the people here have no taste, and no feeling for this department of the Fine Arts, however much they may brag and bluster.

But I have just returned from a visit to one of Sir Christopher Wren's masterpieces, which has greatly disturbed my equanimity, and obliges me to modify my opinion. It is a church back of the Mansion House; and is the original of Godefroy's Unitarian church at Baltimore, beyond all question: the dome rests on arches, and springs into the air, as if buoyed up and aspiring of itself. Bad for the music, however. Here I find West's picture of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen, with a figure which he has repeated in "Christ Healing the Sick," and a woman,—or young man, you do not feel certain which,—weeping upon the hand of the martyr, precisely as in a painting in Baltimore Cathedral by Renou, who must have borrowed or stolen it from West, if West did not borrow or steal it from him.

 

Drawings.—I have just returned from visiting a collection of drawings by the old masters,—Raphael, Michael Angelo, Rembrandt, Titian, &c., &c. Wonderful, to be sure! There is a pen-and-ink drawing by Munro, of uncommon merit; another from a capital old engraving by Tiffen, hardly to be distinguished from an elaborate line engraving, full of good faces and straight lines, with nothing picturesque. A moonlight and cottage by Gainsborough, very fine. Jackson's and Robinson's miniatures, and sketches in water-colors,—charming. Leslie's designs, with Stothard's on the same subject, are delightfully contrasted: Leslie's, neatly finished and full of individuality; Stothard's, a beautiful, free generalization, without finish. (But the engraver understands him, and finishes for him, adding the hands and feet in his own way.) It is a representation of Jeanie Deans's interview with the Queen. Leslie's figure is standing; Stothard's, kneeling: yet both are expressive and helpful to our conceptions. Here, too, I saw Rembrandt's celebrated "Battle of Death," with a skeleton blowing a horn, and helmeted and plumed, and having a thigh-bone for a battle-axe,—shadows on the shoulders of horsemen, and skeleton feet;—on the whole, a monstrous nightmare, such as you might expect from Fuseli after a supper on raw beef, but never from such a painter as Rembrandt.

 

Phrenology.—There must be something in this new science,—for they persist in calling it a science,—though I cannot say how much. Just returned from a visit to De Ville, in the Strand, in company with Chester Harding, Robert M. Sully, the painter, and Humphries, the engraver,—each differing from the others in character and purpose; yet, after manipulating our crania, this man says of each what all the rest acknowledge to be true, and what, said of any but the particular person described, would be preposterous. Why are the busts of Socrates and Solon what they should be, according to this theory of Gall and Spurzheim? Were they modelled from life, or from characters resembling them? Compared the head of a Greek boy with that of a young Hottentot. One was largely developed in the intellectual region, the other in the animal region, and the latter cries whenever his home or his mother is mentioned. Both are at school here. Thurtell's head is a great confirmation, which anybody can judge of. I must find time for a thorough investigation.

P. S.—I have kept my promise, and am thoroughly satisfied. Phrenology deserves to be called a science, and one of the greatest and best of sciences, notwithstanding all the quackery and self-delusion that I find among the professors. I have now studied it and experimented upon it for more than thirty years, and have no longer any misgivings upon the subject, so far as the great leading principles are involved.

 

Manners.—If we do not record our first impressions they soon disappear; and the greatest novelties are overlooked or forgotten. Already I begin to see women with heavily-laden wheel-barrows, without surprise. I have now learned, I hope, that a postman's rap is one, two, and no more; a servant's, one; while a footman gives from four to twenty, as hard as he can bang, so as to startle the whole neighborhood and make everybody run to the windows. Eating fish with a knife said to be fatal. Great personages give you a finger to shake. I did not know this when I took the forefinger of a cast-off mistress, the original of Washington Irving's Lady Sillicraft, a painted and withered old vixen, who meant to signify her liking for me, as I had reason to believe. Moles are reckoned such a positive beauty here that my attention has been called to them, as to fine eyes or a queenly bearing. A fine woman here means a large woman, tall, dignified, and showy, like a fine horse or a fine bullock.

Never shall I forget the looks and tones of a bashful friend, in describing his embarrassment. He was at Holkham, the seat of Mr. Coke, our Revolutionary champion, who, being in Parliament at the time, moved, session after session, the acknowledgment of our independence,—am I right here?—and actually gave the health of George Washington at a large dinner-party while the Revolutionary fires were raging. There was a large company at dinner, but for his life my friend did not know what to do with the ladies nor with his hands. Goes through room after room to get his dinner; is called upon to serve a dish he has never seen before, and knows not how to manage. Asked to take wine, and wants to ask somebody else, but cannot recall the name of a single person within reach, and whispers to the servant for relief, while his eye travels up and down both sides of the long table; is reminded of the guest who said to himself, loud enough to be overheard by the waiter behind his chair, "I wish I had some bread," to which the waiter replied without moving, "I wish you had." Durst not offer his arm to a lady, lest he should violate some of the multitudinous every-day usages of society, and so, instead of enjoying his dinner, just nibbled and choked and watched how others ate of the dishes he had never seen before. Yet this man was no fool, he was not even a blockhead; but he was frightened out of all propriety nevertheless. Poor fellow! Soon after this he went to Paris, and, having picked up a few French sentences, undertook to pass off one upon a servant who took his cloak as he entered the hotel of a French celebrity in a violent rainstorm. He flung the phrase off with an air, saying, "Mauvais temps," whereupon the word was passed up from mouth to mouth, and, to his unutterable horror, he was introduced to the company as M. Mauvais Temps.

 

Painting.—I have just been to see Mulready's famous "Lion and Lamb." He is a Royal Academician; and, spite of the cleverness we see in every touch, we are reminded of Pison's reply to the Academician, who asked what he was,—"I? O, I am nobody; not even an Academician." The picture is about eighteen by twenty-two inches, and belongs to his Majesty, George the Fourth. It represents two boys, a little child, a woman, and a dog. One boy has broken the strap of his trousers, and, bracing himself up for a clinch, is evidently encroaching on the other with his foot. He stands with his legs on the straddle, both fists made up for mischief, and head turned away in profile, with hat and books flung down upon the turf; while the other—the lamb—keeps his satchel in his hand, with one arm raised to parry the blow he is expecting. He has a meek, boyish face, and we have it in full. The back of the child is towards you, the mother terribly frightened; parts very fine, but as a whole the picture is not worthy of its reputation, to say nothing of the extravagant price paid for it,—some hundreds of guineas, they say.

 

Greenwich Fair.—Having read so much in story-books and novels, from my earliest childhood,—at one time in the gilt-covered publication of E. Newbury, St. Paul's Church Yard, and after that in larger books,—of the rioting at Greenwich Fair (another Donnybrook in its way), I determined to see for myself, and went down for the purpose, April 19th, 1824. Universal decorum characterized the whole proceedings till the day was over, after which there was a large amount of dancing and frolicking and sight-seeing and beer-drinking, but no drunkenness and no quarrelling. The people were saucy, but good-natured, like the Italian rabble, with their plaster confectionery, at a carnival. Women and girls would run down the long green slope together, which it is said the cockneys believe to be the highest land in the world, after Richmond Hill; and many of them stumble and slip and roll to the bottom, screaming and laughing as they go. This I understand to be a favorite pastime with people who are big enough to know better; for a part of the fun, and that which all seem to enjoy most, is in tripping one another up. Plenty of giants and dwarfs to be seen for a penny, with white Circassians, silver-haired, and actors of all sorts and sizes. "Walk in, ladies and gentlemen! walk in! Here's the rope-dancing and juggling, with lots of gilt gingerbread,—and all for sixpence! Here is the great Numidian lion!"—leading forth a creature not larger than a moderate-sized English mastiff,—"with a throat like a turnpike gate, and teeth like mile-stones, and every hair on his mane as big as a broomstick!" It was worth sixpence to see the fellow's face when he said this; but most of the people round me seemed to believe what they heard rather than what they saw. Actors and actresses turn out and dance and strut before the curtain.

Went into the Hospital, of which we have all heard so much, and into the Chapel. Here is the best picture West ever painted, I think. It is the shipwreck of St. Paul, with the viper and the fire: rocks rather crowded and confused; on the right are two figures, frequently, I had almost said always, to be found in his pictures, and always together. Old man on the right, capital!—Roof of the Hospital highly ornamented, though chaste, with painted pilasters, fluted; ceiling done by Sir James Thornhill, and is really a grand affair, not only for coloring and drawing, but for composition and general treatment. Architecture of the building, once a palace, worthy of the highest commendation, though it needs a back part to correspond with the two wings. Cupolas made to correspond, but seem rather out of place,—not wanted.

Had quite an adventure before I got away. I saw a young girl running down hill by herself. She fell, and stained her white frock all over one hip of a grass-green. She seemed to be much hurt and near fainting. I found her young, pretty, and modest, as you may readily infer from what follows,—usually if you hear of a woman being run over in the street, you may be sure she is neither young nor pretty,—and so seeing her greatly distressed about the figure she cut, and companionless, I took pity on her, and going with her found, after some search, an old woman in a garret with a husband, child, and grandchild, all huddled and starving in one room together. The husband was a waterman. He had "stove" his boat some years before, and was never able to get another; had two sons at sea; paid two shillings a week for the room, which they said was one shilling too dear, being only large enough to allow of two or three chairs, a table, and a turn-up bed. Poor Sarah took off her frock and washed it before me, without a sign of distress or embarrassment; and then we went off together and had a bit of a dance,—a rough-and-tumble fore-and-after,—at the nearest booth. With her bonnet off, and neat cap, her beautiful complexion and dark hair and eyes, how happened it that she was really modest and well-behaved? And how came she there? After some resolute questioning, I determined to see her home, at least so far as to set her down in safety in the neighborhood where she lived. The coach was crowded with strangers. It was late, and they were silent, and I thought sulky. Just as we were passing a lamp, after we had entered a wide thoroughfare, I saw a man's face under a woman's bonnet. Though not absolutely frightened, I was rather startled, and more and more unwilling to leave the poor girl to the mercy of strangers; for I saw, or thought I saw, signs of intelligence between two of the party; and in short, I never left her till the danger was over.

There were mountebanks and fortune-tellers and gypsies at every turn. The prettiest I met with told my fortune. "You are liked better by the women," said she, "than by the men." Very true. "You are loved by a widow named Mary." My landlady was a widow, and her name was Mary. "Which do you like best, Mary or Bessie?" In addition to Mary, there was another pleasant friend, supposed to be a natural daughter of George IV., named Bessie. But how the plague did the little gypsy know this? I found out, I believe, long after the whole affair was forgotten. There was present, without my knowledge, a man who was always full of such tricks, who knew me well, and who threw the gypsy in my way and put her up to all she knew. This was Humphries the engraver.

There was a great ball too,—a magnificent ball,—one shilling entrance. More than fifty couples stood up for a contra-dance, and tore down the middle and up outside, and cast off, as if they were all just out of a lunatic hospital. And yet, as I have said before, I believe, there was no drunkenness and no quarrelling.

 

Shooting the Bridge.—Wanting to go to the Tower, I took a boat above London Bridge at the wrong time of the tide, in spite of all remonstrances, and came near being swamped. Not being a good swimmer, and aware that people were often drowned there, I cannot understand what possessed me; but as the watermen were not afraid, and asked no questions, why should I be troubled? For aught they knew, I might be made of cork, or have a swimming-jacket underneath my coat, or a pocket life-preserver ready to be blown up at a moment's notice; and they were sure of the fee. At the mouth of the St. John's River, New Brunswick, they have a fall both ways, at a certain time of tide, through which and up and down which boats and rafts plunge headlong so as to take away your breath, while you are watching them from the bridge; but really, this little pitch of not more than three or four feet under London Bridge I should think more dangerous, and the people seem to think so too, for they are always on the watch after the tide turns, and swarm along the parapets, and rush from one side to the other, as the wherry shoots through the main arch, with a feeling akin to that of the man who followed Van Amburgh month after month to see him "chawed up" by the lion or tiger.

Major Cartwright.—Another fast friend of our country and the institutions of our country, and always ready to take up the quarter-staff in our defence. A great reformer, and honest as the day is long. Wrote much in favor of American independence in 1774, and, with Sir Francis Burdett and others, who chose to meddle with the British Constitution wherever they found a fragment large enough to talk about, has been visited by the government, and tried and imprisoned. His book on the British Constitution is, though somewhat visionary, both original and ingenious. He is six feet high, with a very broad chest; wears a fur cap and blue cotton-velvet dressing-gown in the sultriest weather; is a great admirer of Jeremy Bentham, Mrs. Wheeler, and Fanny Wright, by the way.

 

Woolwich.—After spending a day here under special advantages, I have succeeded in seeing whatever was worth seeing for my purpose, and in getting a fine sketch of a Woolwich Pensioner by Sully,—Robert M. Sully, nephew of Thomas Sully, and a capital draughtsman,—to serve as a companion piece for the Greenwich Pensioner by the same artist. The man had served against us in the Revolutionary War, and participated in the "affair" of Bunker Hill. The shovel hats, the long chins and retreating mouths of these aged men at Greenwich, are wonderfully hit off by Cruikshank, with a mere flourish of the pen. I have a scene in a watch-house, with half a score of heads, thoroughly Irish, drunk or sleepy, and as many more of these shovel hats, which the clever artist amused himself with scratching off,—as we sat talking together at a table,—on a little bit of waste paper, which fluttered away in the draft from a window, and fell upon the floor.

Saw a prodigious quantity of guns to be "let loose" in the dock-yard, to which I was admitted as a great privilege. When Alexander of Russia and the king of Prussia were admitted after the war, they were greatly disappointed and mortified, I was told, at seeing such a vast accumulation of warlike material. They supposed England to be exhausted.

The English artillery is far superior in details to the French, though not half so abundant. Where the French bring eighty pieces at once into the field, the English never have more than twenty pieces. The English lost only two guns in the whole Peninsular war; the French lost nearly eleven hundred, Waterloo included.

At Woolwich there are two or three hundred acres full of machinery, with saw-mills, planing-mills, &c. Saw, among other inventions and improvements, anchor shanks made largest about one third of the distance from the crown, where they always bend or break; an original screw-cutter of uncommon merit; and a perpetual capstan for drawing in wood for the mill.

 

Illuminations.—His Majesty's birthday. By one odd arrangement of colored lamps, which was intended for George IV., it reads thus, Giver, being G. IV. R. The populace break windows which are not lighted up. The king's tradesmen are most astonishing in their manifestations of loyalty; and, among others, I see an establishment with this inscription: "Bug Destroyer to his Majesty."

 

Chimney-Sweeps.—May 1. The little monsters appear in cocked hats and gilt paper, with their faces painted, and with dancing and music, and a very pretty girl pirouetting in a hogshead of cut paper, with large boys about her, like trees dancing. Of course, we are constantly reminded of Edward Wortley Montagu, and of his delightful experience with the chimney-sweeps.

 

John Randolph.—This madman is full of his vagaries here; says the most offensive things, but in such a high-bred, supercilious, if not gentlemanly way, that people cannot make up their minds about him, nor whether to cut him dead or acknowledge him for a genius and a humorist. Sir Robert Inglis says, publicly, that Mr. Randolph "on these boards" claimed for Virginia the first attempt at abolition. "And I am disposed to believe the gentleman correct," adds Sir Robert, "because of his opportunities for knowledge." Whatever related to the United States was received better than anything else in the proceedings of to-day at the Freemasons' Tavern. Very comfortable and gratifying.

 

Marquis of Stafford's Gallery.—Here I find about three hundred fine pictures, most of them by the old masters, and a large part worthy of enthusiastic admiration. Thirty-eight in the National Gallery cost sixty thousand pounds. What, then, are these worth as a collection?

 

Cary, the Translator of Dante.—Met him at Mr. Griffith's,—Sylvanus Urban's,—another great friend of our country, who insisted on my occupying the seat which Dr. Franklin used to sit in, and after him Lord Byron. Mr. Cary has a good, sensible face, is about five feet seven in height, and forty-six years old, very moderate of speech, and talks with a low voice. Among the guests were Captain Brace, who was with Lord Exmouth when he put through the Dey of Algiers after the fashion of our Preble. He seemed about sixty, with gray hair, and a youthful countenance.

 

Horticultural Exhibition.—Great show and surprising. No sales made. Pears better than ours; peaches nearly as good, and sell from a shilling to one and sixpence apiece. They resemble not our New Jersey or Maryland peaches, but such as grow about Boston. Grapes fine, nectarines capital; gooseberries, plums, mulberries, currants, all better than ours; apples wretched, "not fit to give the pigs," liked all the better for being hard, or ligneous.

I have just understood here, on the best authority, that Mr. Coke, of Norfolk, did move for an abandonment of the war, session after session, and finally gave the casting vote as mover. He did also give Washington's health at his own table once, with a large company of leading men about him, in the hottest part of the struggle. He looks like one of Trumbull's generals or statesmen, of the old Revolutionary type, and not unlike Washington himself, or General Knox.

 

Duke of Sussex.—Prodigious; even Chester Harding, who is a large man, over six feet, appears under-sized alongside of his Royal Highness. Went to a meeting for the encouragement of the arts. The Duke presided, and, being popular and willing so to continue, he made a speech. "Ladies and gentlemen," said he, "it affords me gratification to see, to recognize, so many persons assembled for the encouragement of what I may say is one of the best institutions of the country. Good deal of business coming up. I shall therefore reserve myself for the conclusion, and now call upon the Secretary to read the proceedings." Effect of the show seems to be very good. Some persons, girls and women, received three prizes.

 

Theatre.—Munden's farewell. Dosey and Sir Robert Bramble; among the finest pieces of acting I ever saw,—rich, warm, and full of unadulterated strength. Terrible crush at the entrance, the corners being neither stuffed nor rounded. Great screaming and screeching. "Take care o' that corner!" "Mind there!" "Oh! oh! you'll kill me!" "There now, lady's killed!" And it was indeed about as much as a woman's life was worth to venture into such a brutal mob. No consideration for women, as usual. They are pushed, crowded, overthrown sometimes, and sometimes trampled on without remorse or shame, as at the Duke of York's funeral.

 

Washington Irving.—Met him for the second time, and had more reason than ever for believing that, with all his daintiness and fastidiousness, he is altogether a man, hearty and generous, and his books, with all their shifting shadows, but a transcript of himself and of his unacknowledged visions and meditations. His pleasantry, too, is delightful; and, as you cannot question his truthfulness, he gains upon you continually, even while you pity his girlish sensitiveness. I do not see any picture of him that satisfies me, or does him justice. Newton cannot paint a portrait, nor indeed can Leslie; and the result is, that what we have foisted off upon us for portraits are only misunderstandings.

 

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.