I DID not spend a whole Sunday on the Thames; but as I was going to morning service at the Abbey, and to evening service at St. Paul’s, I chose to make the river my way from one to the other; and doing this it seemed to me good to go leisurely over the whole of it within what is called the metropolitan district. This one is enabled to do easily and pleasantly by the little steamers that ply back and forth constantly within those limits. The day was as beautiful as a summer sky, with its bright blue tempered by lazy clouds smiling with light and sailing upon a soft, gentle breeze, could make it; the sense of Sunday seemed to pervade the air; and even the great city sat in sweet solemnity at rest. When science has taken entire possession of mankind, and we no more find anything to worship, will the Sunday-less man possess, in virtue of his rule of pure reason, any element of happiness that will quite compensate him for that calm, sweet, elevating sense — so delicate as to be indefinable, and yet so strong and penetrating as to pervade his whole being and seem to him to pervade all nature — of divine serenity in the first day of the Christian week? It is passing from us, fading gradually away, not Into the forgotten, —for it can never be forgotten by those who have once felt it,— but into the unknown. There are men now living who have never known it; their numbers will increase; and at last, in the long by and by, there will be a generation of civilized men who will say, that there should ever have been a difference between one day and another passes human understanding. This sense of Sunday is much stronger in the country than in the town, — strangely, for the current of life is there much less visibly interrupted; and it is always deepened by a sky at once bright and placid. And such a sky has its effect even in town: I felt it on this day, as I glided, through sunny hours and over gentle waters, past the solid stateliness and homely grandeur that are presented on the Thames side of London.
I walked across the lower end of St. James’s Park, passing over much the same ground that King Charles trod on that 30th of January when, in the midst of a regiment of Cromwell’s Ironsides, but attended personally by his own private guard and his gentlemen of the bed-chamber, and with the Parliamentary colonel in command walking uncovered by his side, he went to lay down his handsome, weak, treacherous head upon the block before the outraged Commonwealth of England, — an event which, notwithstanding the Restoration and the subsequent two centuries of monarchy in England, is the greatest and most significant of modern times, and is also of all grand retributive public actions the most thoroughly and characteristically English. Tyrants have been put to death or driven from their thrones at other times and by other peoples; but then for the first time, and first by men of English blood and speech, was a tyrant solemnly and formally tried like an accused criminal, condemned as a criminal, and put to death in execution of a warrant issuing from a court constituted by the highest power in the land. Compared with this high-handed justice the assassination of a Cæsar is like a brawl among “high-toned” politicians, and the expulsion of the Bourbons the chance consequence of a great popular tumult. And in this was its endless worth and its significance, — that from that time there was a new tenure of kingship. Then for the first time the great law of government was written, — that it should be for the best interests of the governed; and it was written in the blood of a king. This was the one boon of that great act to England, to the English race, to all civilized Christendom; for politically the beheading of Charles was a blunder; and the Commonwealth, after living an artificial life for a few years, died an inevitable death, because it was born out of due time.
None the less because it was Sunday did I find the cows at the place towards the lower end of the park, whither I strolled, and where they and their predecessors have stood day after day for centuries, professing to give new milk to visitors thirsting for this rustic beverage, either for its own sake, or that it might by its associations enhance the rural effect of the meadows and the trees. I did not drink of the product of their maternal founts; but my experience leads me to the unhesitating conclusion that if those cows give milk instead of milk-andwater they must be of a breed which, or the product of which, cannot be found in Middlesex without St. James’s Park. The milk of London is a little thicker, a little more opaque, and a little whiter than its fog. Whether or no it is more nourishing I shall not venture to say.
Probably these cows do give milk-andwater, and produce intuitively, as becomes metropolitan British kine, their article of trade ready adulterated. For, many times as I passed the place where they stand, I never saw man, woman, or child drinking; and I am sure that if they gave real milk there would at least be a procession to them of mothers and nurses with their weanlings. They seemed to be of the homely variety known as the red cow, to which belonged she of the crumpled horn and she that jumped over the moon. And if this were so it is yet another witness to the perpetuity of things in England; for the facetious Tom Brown, who lived and wrote in the days of James II., tells of the intrusion of the milk-folks upon the strollers through the Green Walk with the cry, “ A can of milk, ladies! A can of red cow’s milk, sir! ” I could not but think that if kine could communicate their thoughts there would be in that little knot of horned creatures a tradition of the looks of Charles I. and of Cromwell, and of Charles II. and of the Duchess of Cleveland, and of Nell Gwynne, and of dear, vain, close-fisted, kind-hearted Pepys, and of the beautiful Gunnings, and of the captivating, high-tempered Sarah Jennings, who could cut off her own auburn hair to spite the Duke of Marlborough, and fling it into his face, and of the Duchess of Devonshire, who kissed the butcher and wore the hat; and of all those noted beauties, wits, gallants, and heroes whose names and traits are the gilded flies in the amber of our literature. For there probably has been no time since the park ceased to be a royal chase when there was not at least some one of the herd, and probably more, that could have learned all these things in direct line of tradition from predecessors. So, to be sure, the same is true of the men and the women of London; but the directness of such a course of transmission was brought more home to me in considering these cattle, as they stood there, the representatives and perpetuators of a little custom, older than any commonwealth, in one of the richest, most populous, and most powerful nations of the earth.
Chewing the cud of my fancies, I passed out of the park, and soon was at the Abbey door; but not soon was I much farther. I had not troubled myself upon the score of punctuality; and being a few minutes late I found the Abbey — that part of it which is used for service — full, even to the crowding of the aisles down to the very doors. I managed to squeeze myself in, but was obliged to stand, and moreover to be leaned against like a post, through service and through sermon. In these I found no noteworthy unlikeness, even of a minor sort, to what I had been accustomed to hear from my boyhood. The changes in the language of the Book of Common Prayer to adapt it to the political constitution and the social condition of “ America” are so few and so slight that they must be closely watched for to be detected. The preacher was Canon Duckworth, canon in residence, who reminded me in voice, in accent, and in manner very much, and somewhat in person, although he was less ruddy, of a distinguished clergyman of the same church in New York, and whose sermon was the same sensible, gentleman - like, moderately high-church talk which may be heard from half a dozen pulpits in that city every Sunday. Not every one of those who preach them, however, or the like of them in England, has Canon Duckworth’s rich, vibrating voice and fine, dignified presence. The long hood of colored silk that he wore (his was crimson), like all English clergymen that I saw within the chancel, was not, as I find many persons suppose it to be, an article of ecclesiastical costume. It was merely his master’s hood, — that which belonged to him as Master of Arts. The different colors of the linings of these academic hoods indicate the degree of the wearer and the university by which it was bestowed. They are worn by university “clerks” on all formal occasions.
After the sermon there was an administration of the communion, and all persons who were not partakers were required to leave the church. The exodus was very slow. Even after the throng was thinned and movement was easy, many lingered, looking up into the mysterious beauty of that noble nave. These the vergers did not hesitate to hasten, addressing them in some cases very roughly, as I thought, and even putting their hands upon their shoulders; but on my telling one of them that although I did not mean to commune I should like to remain during the service, he with ready civility, and with no shilling-expectant expression of countenance, took me to a seat within a gate and very near the outer rails. In this service, too, I found nothing peculiar to the place or to the building, — indeed, how could there well be? — but I observed that certain of the communicants as they passed through the railing on their way to the table (which they, I suppose, would call the altar) and as they returned, carried their hands upright before them, holding the palms closely together and bowing their heads over them, with an air which conveyed the impression that they thought they were behaving like the saints in an altarpiece or in a missal. Perhaps I might have observed the same practice before if my church-going had been more frequent since the outbreak of “ritualism.”
It was strange, as I came out from sucb a solemn service in that venerable and sacred pile, and strongly indicative of the political position of the church in England, to be met just outside the door by a man who carried under his arm a huge bundle of handbills, calling a meeting and making a protest about some municipal matter. These he distributed freely to the communicants, as they issued from the celebration of the mystery, who took them as a matter of course into the same hands which had been pressed together with such ascetic fervor only a few minutes before, and, glancing at them, put them for the most part carefully into their pockets. We know that the English Church is a part of the government of England; but its peculiar place is shown by practices which to us would seem highly indecorous. I saw posted on the doors of parish churches, in the rural counties,—beautiful with the beauty of a lost inspiration, and venerable with the historic associations of centuries thick with acts of import, — notices of those persons in the parish who had taken out licenses to keep dogs; the list being always led by the name of the lord of the manor. There this was no sacrilege. A parish in England is a political and legal entity, with material boundaries within which certain officers have power; and the parish church is its moral centre. Why, therefore, should not the licenses of dogs be announced upon its doors?
Soon after leaving the Abbey I was at the river-side; and in a minute or two along came a small black steamer, about twice as long as one of the little tug-boats that run puffing and bustling about New York harbor, and no wider. It seemed to me more than simple, indeed almost rude in its bare discomfort; and certainly it was as far from anything gay or festive in appearance as such a boat could be. The absence of bright paint and gilding, and of all that glare of decoration which it is thought necessary to make “Americans” pay for, commended the little craft to my favor; but I thought that without these it yet might have been made a little less coarse and much more comfortable. On the dingy deck were some benches or long settles of unmitigated wood; and that was all. There was not even an awning; but perhaps awnings would interfere with the vailing of the funnel as these boats pass under the bridges, and they might perhaps also be in danger of fire from the small cinders that then escape. The passengers, in number about a score, were all of what would he called in England the lower middle class, with one exception, a finelooking man, manifestly a “ gentleman,” and with an unmistakable military air.
As I sat upon my hard seat, worn shiny by the sitting of countless predecessors, and looked around upon my fellow-passengers, I was impressed by the stolidity of their faces. The beauty of the sky, the soft, fresh breeze, the motion, the fact that it was a holiday, a fine Sunday, seemed to awaken no glow of feeling in their bosoms. And yet they were, most of them, plainly pleasure-seekers. As we moved swiftly on (I had taken an up boat) we soon passed over toward the Surrey side of the river. Erelong an elderly woman who sat near me turned to me, and, pointing out at some distance ahead on our left a square tower, the familiar outlines of which had attracted my attention some minutes before, asked, “ Wot buildin’s that there ? ” “ Lambeth, madam ; the Archbishop of Canterbury’s palace.” “ The Harchbishop o’ Cantubbury! Well, well! deary me! A many times as I ’ve bin on the river, I never see that afore.” To be asked such a question by a Londoner in my first half hour upon the Thames astonished me, and the confession that followed it was amazing; for Lambeth palace is almost opposite Westminster. This was within the first week after my arrival in England, and although I met with an exhibition of this kind of ignorance even before I set foot on English ground, I was not yet prepared for quite such an example. Before a fortnight had passed I had learned better.
As I turned to look at the questioner, I Saw that she was a nicely-dressed, obese female, and that she was accompanied by a nicely-dressed, obese man who plainly was her husband. The couple had lived together a long while; they had grown old together; they had grown fat together; together they had sunk, year after year, deeper into a slough of stupidity ; together they had, as they passed through the world and life, become more and more ignorant of the one, and more and more indifferent to all of the other, except eating and drinking and the little round of their daily duties that enabled them to eat and drink. Their faces had grown like each other, not only in expression but in form. The noses had become more shapeless; the chinless jaws had swelled and rounded imperceptibly into the short, thick nock. Those faces probably had once expressed some of the vivacity of youth; but this had passed away, and nothing, no trace of thought or feeling, had come into its place, — only fat; a greasy witness of content; and the result was two great sleepy moons of flabby flesh pierced here and there by orifices for animal uses. I made surreptitiously an outline sketch of their two faces, as they sat side by side staring stupidly before them; and it looked like two Bourbon heads on a medal. He was one of those long-bodied, shortlegged Englishmen who are framed with facilities for a great development of paunch. Man and wife were about the same height; and at the next landing they got up and waddled off together. I laughed within myself, as I am laughing now ; and yet why should I have sat there and scoffed at those good folk for being what nature and circumstances had made them?
Of a very different fabric in every way was the military-looking man whom I have already mentioned. He was tall and strong, although not stout, — a wellmade, good-looking man, with a certain consciousness of good looks not uncommon among handsome Englishmen, and not unpleasant. His dress showed that union of sobriety with scrupulous neatness and snugness which is characteristic of the Englishmen of the upper classes.
He alone of all my male fellow-passengers kept me in countenance in my chimney-pot hat. The round-topped hat, called “ wide awake,” or what not, has become so common in London that a crowd looked down upon from window or from ’bus seems like a swarm of great black beetles. I walked toward this gentleman, thinking that I would speak to him if he appeared willing; but he dismissed my doubts by speaking first. Brief as my experience in England had been, this did not surprise me; for I had already learned that English folk — women as well as men — are free in their intercourse with strangers to a degree that made me wonder whence came their reputation for gruff reserve. I should say that the chances of a pleasant chat with a fellow-traveler in England compared with those in the United States were as seven to three. I have again and again traveled from New York to Boston, and from New York to Washington and back (both journeys being of about two hundred and thirty miles each way), without having one word spoken to me by a stranger, although my journeys have always been by daylight ; but in England I never went a dozen miles in company with other people without pleasant talk with one or more of them. Nor is such intercourse limited to traveling; there is a freedom of intercourse there to which we are comparative strangers; this, notwithstanding the visible limitations and restraints of rank,—perhaps rather by reason of them.
We sat down and talked as the boat glided swiftly up the river, the banks of which became gradually more suburban in appearance. The Thames, wherever I saw it, whether below London bridge, or above that landmark and within the metropolitan district, or beyond, where it passes Kew and Isleworth and Twickenham and Richmond and Hampton, is remarkable for its character. It is nowhere common-looking; and the variety of its traits within a few miles surprises the eye at every stage with new delight. From the wide-expanding shores, the vast gloomy docks, the huge black hulls, and the strange, clumsy lighter craft of the Pool and Limehouse Reach, past the stately magnificence of the embankment and the Abbey, with the Houses of Parliament on one side, and Lambeth on the other, up to the enchanting rural scene at Richmond, is not farther than it is from one village to another just like it through miles of sameness upon even the Hudson. My talk with my temporary companion was the mere chat of fellowtravelers under a bright sky; but even he managed to illustrate that narrowness of knowledge of which I found so many examples, As we looked off toward the west end of the town, there were in sight three or four rows of new houses, all unfinished, and some not yet roofed. He spoke of “ so much buildup goin’ on ” and “ sellin’ houses,” and wondered how it was and why gentlemen built houses and sold them. Thereupon I told him of the associations of builders, masons, carpenters, and the like, who built houses by a sort of club arrangement, and had their pay in an interest in the houses, which they sold at a good profit. Now this I merely remembered having read some two or three years before in the London Building News. It was nothing in me to know it; the remarkable thing was that a Yankee, not yet a week in England, should be called upon to tell it to an intelligent Englishman.
Our little boat soon reached her upper landing, and then turned back. I went down the river to London Bridge, and there, after visiting the Monument and looking at the plain and unpretending solidity of the warehouses, which had the look of holding untold wealth, and after loitering about the murky purlieus of Thames Street, I crossed the bridge and was in Southwark. But of course the bridge was like a short street across the river (it used to be a street with houses on either side), and one end of it was much the same as the other. In the people that I met, who were generally of the lower classes, there was a pleasant appearance of homogeneousness. They were all English people; and the speech that I heard, although it was not cultivated and was sometimes even rude, was English. I heard no brogue, or other transformation of my mother tongue. Little else attracted my attention, except the general inferiority of the men in height and weight to those we see in New England, and the rarity of good looks, not to say of beauty, in the women. They were all plainly in their Sunday clothes, which did not much become them, and in which they were at once much set up and ill at ease.
On my way to St. James’s Park I had stopped at a little costermonger’s stand and bought an apple, merely for the sake of a few words with the man and his wife, who were both in attendance. I took up an apple carelessly as I was going away, when the man said, “ No, sir, don’t take that; it’s no good. Let me get you a better;” and he picked out one of the best he could find. He appeared pleased when I thanked him and said that was a good one. Ungratefully, I gave the fruit to the first urchin I met; for although I might have been willing to walk down St. James’s Street munching an apple on a Sunday morning, it was not for an English apple that I would have done so. But none the less I reflected that the like of that had never happened to me in my boyhood, when I did buy apples to eat them anywhere, in casa or fuori di casa ; and I thought that most persons in trade would not have regarded that transaction as “business” on the part of my costermonger. If he could “ work off ” his poor stock first, at good prices, he should do so, and —caveat emptor. I do not mean to imply that all costermongers in England are like him; but, notwithstanding all that we hear about the tricks of British traders, adulteration, and the like, I will say that his was the spirit which seemed to me to prevail among the retail dealers with whom I dealt in England. The seller seemed to be willing to take some trouble to please me, and without making any fuss about it, — to be pleased when I was pleased.
Not far from the Southwark end of London Bridge I passed a little fruiter’s stall. It was plainly a temporary affair set up for the Sunday trade; but in it were hanging some bunches of very fine white grapes, and I bought some that I might take them down to the river-side and eat them. They were only eight pence a pound. Down to the river-side I went, and, finding an old deserted boat or scow, I seated myself upon it, and ate my grapes and flung the skins into the water, as it ebbed swiftly past me, but softly and almost without a ripple. As I lay there the beauty of the day began to sink into my soul. The air had a softness that was new to me, and which yet I felt that I was born to breathe. The light in the low, swelling, slowly moving clouds seemed to come from a heaven that I once believed was beyond the sky, and they did not dazzle my eyes as I looked up at them. The stillness in such a place impressed me, and took possession of me. There was not a sound, except the distant plash of the wheels of one of the little steamers, or a faint laugh borne down to me from the parapet of the bridge. And there lay before me, stretching either way beyond my sight, the great, silent city,—London, the metropolis of my race; the typical city of my boyhood’s dreams and my manhood’s musings; the port from which my forefather had set sail two hundred and fifty years ago, to help to make a new England beyond the sea; the place whose name was upon all the books that I had loved to read; the scene of all the great historical events by which I had been most deeply moved. It was worth the Atlantic voyage to enjoy that vision, that silent hour. Within my range of sight, as I turned my head, were the square turrets of the Tower and the pinnacles of Westminster; and I must have been made of duller stuff than most of that which either came from or remained in England between 1620 and 1645 not to be stirred by the thoughts of what had passed, of mighty moment to my people, at those two places, or between them. Many of those events flitted through my mind; but that which, settled in it and took possession of it was the return of Hampden and Pym and the other Five Members who had fled from Westminster to London before King Charles and his halberdiers. From where I sat, had I sat there on the llth of January, 1642, I might have seen that now silent and almost empty stretch of water swarming with wherries and decorated barges outside two lines of armed vessels that began at London Bridge and ended at Westminster, while up the river, between this guard of honor, sailed to Westminster a ship bearing the five men whose safety was the pledge of English liberty; and along that opposite bank, now silent and almost empty (not indeed the embankment, but the Strand, then the river street, as its name indicates), marched the trained-bands of London, with the sheriffs and all the city magnates and the shouting citizens, amid the booming of guns, the roll of drums, and the clang of trumpets. It was London that received and sheltered the Five Members; it was London that protected them against the king; it was London that carried them back in triumph past Whitehall, then emptied of its royal tyrant, to resume their seats at Westminster, at the command of the outraged but undaunted House of Commons. That was the brightest, greatest day in London’s history; that the most memorable pageant of the many memorable seen upon the bosom of old Thames. I should not have enjoyed this vision and these thoughts if I had not lusted for those grapes, and for the pleasure of eating them to the music of the rippling water.
Again I took a steamer and went up the river and returned, that I might mark well the bulwarks and the palaces of this royal city, and see it all from the outside by daylight; and also that I might enjoy the day, which was beautiful with a rich, soft, cool beauty unknown to the land from which we are driving the Sitting Bulls and Squatting Bears, to whose coarse constitutions and rude perceptions the fierce glories of its skies are best adapted. On the return trip the few passengers thinned rapidly away, so that at Charing Cross (I believe it was) every one but myself went ashore; and as no one came on board I was left actually alone upon the deck, like Casabianca. This did not suit me, for I wanted to see the people as well as the place; and I too, just in time, went hastily ashore to wait for another steamer. The landings are made at long, floating piers or platforms; and upon one of these I walked up and down, after having bought another ticket. Erelong another steamer came, well loaded, and I watched the people as they came ashore. Thoughtlessly I turned and walked with the last of them toward the stairs by which they made their exit to the city. It was my first day on the Thames, and I had not observed how very brief the stoppages of the boats were: they touch and go. I was startled by the plash of the wheels, and, turning, I saw the boat in motion. Instinctively I made for her, and taking the length of the platform as the start for a running jump, I easily cleared the widening distance and the taffrail, and landed lightly on the deck. But it was a wonder that I was not frightened out of my jump and into the water, for there was sensation and commotion on the boat, and cries; two of the deck hands sprang forward, and stretched out their arms to catch me as if I had been a flying cricket-ball; and when I was seen safely on the deck there were cheers, — decorous cheers, after the English fashion. Indeed, I was sitting comfortably down and opening a newspaper before the little stir that I had caused was over. I did not read my paper; for I was in the condition in which Montaigne supposed his cat might be when he played with her. The action of the people interested me quite as much as mine interested them. These English folk, whom I had been taught were phlegmatic and impassible, had been roused to visible and audible manifestation of excitement by an act that would not have caused an “American” to turn his head. The passengers on our crowded ferry-boats saw men jump on board them after they were under way day after day without moving a muscle, until, too many having jumped into the water, and too many of these having been drowned, we put up gates and chains, not long ago, to stop the performance. I should not take that jump again, nor should I have taken it then if I had stopped to think about it; but I was glad that I did take it then, not for the saving of the five or ten minutes that I did not know what to do with, but for the revelation that it made to me of English character.
I landed again at London Bridge, and went to evening service at St. Paul’s. I have said before that this great cathedral church has no attractions for my eye externally, except in its dome, that heaves itself heavily np into the dim atmosphere; nor has its interior any grand or even religious aspect to me. The service there, too, as we sat on settles under the dome, seemed to me entirely lacking in the impressiveness of that at Westminster. The voices of the clergymen were indistinct, almost inaudible; the singing sounded comparatively feeble, like the wailing of forlorn and doleful creatures in a great cave. The introit, although the dean was there with a stronger array of assisting clergymen, and choir boys in surplices, and vergers than I had seen before, seemed a comparatively ragged, childish performance. I took a distaste to the whole thing, and managed to slip away between the service and the sermon, in which movement I found myself kept in countenance by others.
I strolled for a little while about the silent city, meeting not more people than I should have met in Wall Street or the lower part of Broadway on a Sunday afternoon. Moreover, during service the bright skies had darkened, and it had begun to rain, after the English fashion; but it soon stopped, and the black clouds were white again, also after the English fashion. Feeling hungry, I began to look about for a place where I could get luncheon. I soon found one, but the door was closed ; and this was the case with another, and yet another. The reason of this, as I learned, was that during the hours of divine service all public-houses are required to be closed in England, another witness to the political position of the Established Church. I had been startled in the morning, while at breakfast, by hearing street cries, and looking from my window had seen peripatetic costermongers uttering the inarticulate and incomprehensible noises by which they allure people to buy their wares. This seemed to me very strange on a Sunday morning in England; but I found that everything of this kind is allowed, except during the hours of morning and evening service. This brought up to me the religious discipline of New York in my boyhood, or rather my infancy; for I remember that when I, not yet five years old, was taken to St. George’s Church, in Beekman Street, there were chains stretched across the street above and below the church, to prevent the passing of vehicles, and also to keep away the carriages of those who did not let their beasts and their servants rest on Sunday. And I remember in the summer time, when the church doors were open, the faint, distant stamp of the waiting horses mingling drowsily with the monotonous sing - song of the worthy clergyman (who read the service and preached in black silk gloves with the forefinger and thumb cut open that he might turn the leaves), and lulling my little wearied brain to sleep that was broken only by the burst of the great organ. Think how the liberty-loving people of a city which has produced a Tweed for its chief manager and a Fernando Wood for its mayor and its representative would now endure chains across a street to prevent them from disturbing the devotions of others! The right to obstruct and mar our streets is now only to be had by great corporations who are rich enough to pay (but not us) handsomely for the privilege.
Erelong the prescribed hour had gone by, and the doors of the churches and of the eating-houses and the tap-rooms were opened, and more people appeared in the streets. I went to two or three of the latter, but did not go in. They repelled me; they were in such out-ofthe-way places, they were so small, so unsightly, so rude and dirty; and, moreover, there was an uncanny air about them that took away my appetite. At last, however, I saw an entrance that attracted me, and I went in, expecting to find myself on the threshold or in the porch, at least, of an eating-house. But I was only at the street end of a long, narrow passage, which was like an alley. This I followed to a place where it gave upon certain doors; and by the exercise of some ingenuity I discovered the publichouse, which, like so many public places in English cities, seemed to shrink into the remotest recesses of privacy. It was a very queer-looking place. The room was very small. In the open space a table for six people could not have been set conveniently. On one side was a small, semicircular bar, — so small that the stout publican behind it seemed to be standing in the barrel out of which he produced his liquors. On another side, nearly at right angles, was a large window opening into a room, half tap-room, half kitchen, where two bar-maids waited. On the broad ledge of this window were two or three cold joints. Into the room, on another side, a singular structure projected itself. It had three or four sides, and was sashed, and in fact was an in-door bay-window. Its floor was about three feet above that of the principal room, and it was about eight feet across. It was entered by steps along-side the bar, and also by a door on its own level. It was carpeted, and furnished with a table with two chairs; in one of the chairs sat a woman who was evidently the hostess. She was a large woman, red as to her face, round as to her figure; but indeed as to figure she had long ceased to be of any particular shape. As to the dress of her she was very imposing. She wore a gown of pale lilac-purple moiré antique, and her every movement betrayed a consciousness that it was very moiré and, although quite fresh, very antique. She was right. I never before saw such an obtrusive garment. It invaded all the senses; for it was so stiff that the frou-frou of it was like the crackling of stout wrapping paper. She wore a lace cap (real, O female reader!), and a lace collar confined by an enormous and brilliant brooch. Around her neck was a thick, dull gold chain, by which hung a locket that would have served a fop of George II.’s time for a snuff-box; in her shapeless ears were glaring, jingling pendants ; and her fat fingers flashed with rings. She spoke familiarly with the man in the bar, who came out of his pen once in a while and stumped about the place; but whether he was her husband, or she intended him to be so at some future time, I could not quite make out. But I suspected, from a certain subdued air about him, that his case was the former; and besides, how otherwise such a gorgeous creature could look with favor upon a little semi-bald-headed, paunchy fellow in his shirt sleeves was quite incomprehensible.
I asked for some beef and a glass of Burton ale, which were soon cheerily placed before me by one of the bar-maids. Both were excellent; but I was obliged to stand as I ate and drank, and indeed half a dozen persons on chairs would have so filled up the place that it would have been impassable. I soon drained my glass, and holding it out said, “ Another.” When it was brought me, at the first sip I set it down, and said, “ That’s not the same ale; and it’s not Burton.” It proved that the bar-maid who had first served me did not fill my glass the second time, and that the other had by mistake done so from the wrong tap. But I was at once struck with the impression that I had plainly made upon these Hebes by my quick detection of the error. The mistake was of course corrected at once, with humble apologies; but then I saw them put their heads together and look at me with evident respect as a man who was not to be imposed upon in the matter of ale, to my great amusement. But why laugh at these poor she-tapsters ? Are there not men, gentlemen, who have “ a reputation ” as wine tasters, and who are “ authorities ” on the subject, and who are mightily set up because thereof? I remember that, once dining at the table of a rich snob, he told me, as he gave me some Cos, that one of his friends, when in Europe, had some wine set before him as to which there were serious doubts; and he, tasting it, said at once that it was Cos, which proved to be true. “ And that, you know,” said Lueullus, “ was a great thing for him.” I cannot see how any one who has Once drunk either Cos or castor-oil can ever mistake its flavor; but why a man should be respected because he knows the taste of what he eats and drinks, and makes a talk about it, passes my understanding. In England, however, such accomplishment is more highly prized than it is with us; or I should rather say that there are more people there who respect it, — both in great dining-rooms and in little tap-rooms.
While I was still occupied with my beef and beer, there entered to the hostess a visitor, a stout middle-aged woman richly arrayed in black silk. Indeed, when she had mounted the steps and got, somewhat in the manner of a burglary, into the little bay-window, it was an engineer’s problem to determine how two such women in two such silk dresses could both be and move in that narrow space. The sweep of their two trains was portentous. Each was a threatening silken comet. But the hostess had the happiness of far eclipsing the other. The sheen and the shimmer of that lilac silk were not to be dimmed by the approach of any black, however much it might have “ cost a yard.” There was large performance in the way of ceremony and courtesying, which, owing to the formation of the place, had the air of private theatricals, and for which I, another hungry man, and the bar-maids were the audience. “ Ow do you do, Mrs.—? I ope you ’re well.” “ Quite well, Mrs. —, an' I opes you ’re the same.” “ Thenk you; my ’elth’s very good. Could I hoffer you hanythink? ” “ Ho, no, my dear Mrs. —, not on hany account.” “ Ho, now, indeed you must obleege me by takin’ a little somethink. Juss a drop o’ sherry, now, an’ a biscuit.” “ Well, Mrs.—, since you ’re so wery pressin’, I think I will.” This performance went on amid contortions of civility. Indeed the ladies threatened the very existence of the little structure by the transaction of their tremendous courtesies; and I expected to see certain portions of the moiré antique and of the black silk appear through the riven glass on either side. Was the contrast between the fine dresses of these women and their affectation of fine manners on the one side, and their reality and what would have been truly becoming to them on the other, peculiar to England? I am inclined to think not. The peculiarity was that the play was played before me on Sunday on a little stage in a little tap-room.
Leaving these grandes dames to the discussion of their sherry and biscuit, I walked home, and after a solitary dinner on English mutton, slept soundly upon my first Sunday in London.
Richard Grant White.