RETURNING to London, after wanderings in the shires, and in some counties that pride themselves on not being shires, seemed to me like getting home again. A strange feeling this, it may be said, in one who had lived in the great town only a few weeks, and who had never been in England before. And so, indeed, it seemed to me, at first. But, notwithstanding the vastness of London, it impressed me greatly, and I do not know but chiefly, as a collection of homes. It has little beauty ; much of it is dull and dingy; more is commonplace, although it may be neither dull nor dingy. There is very little of it that poses itself before you architecturally and asks for admiration. But the whole of it, outside of “ the city ” proper, from Belgravia to Bethnal Green, has this home-like look. The very shops in Regent Street and New Bond Street and Oxford Street are more expressive of the sense of human habitation than of that of trade and traffic. In part this is due to the comparative lack of display and of staring sign-boards, and the absence of street railways, in which respects the contrast to New York, and to American towns which imitate New York, is very marked. But it seemed to me that this home-like homeliness of London (the strange freaks of language make this qualification and distinction possible and apprehensible) was caused by its gradual growth, and by the permanence of its not very substantially built houses. Very few indeed of these are ancient, or even at all venerable for their age, but a very large proportion of them are old fashioned. And thus, as man modifies even the face of nature, all the more has his presence among his own creations and his constant use of them left upon them the impression of his humanity. Even a man’s coat and hat, if he wears them long enough, receive the impress of his individuality. Do we not recognize certain integuments, even upon hall tables and hat-trees? And thus generations of Englishmen have left their mark upon the houses of London, which, without being a collection of curious architectural antiquities, is yet chiefly a slowly formed aggregation of urban homes, which bear upon their outsides the character of their inmates. The brain has given form and expression to the dome which is its workshop and dwelling-place.
There are nevertheless parts of London which are not without a likeness to some parts of New York and to some parts of Philadelphia, and a stronger likeness to certain parts of Boston. Edgeware Road and much of Oxford Street are very like the Sixth Avenue and the Third Avenue in New York. Give the houses in Edgeware Road, instead of their tawny, dingy outsides, walls of bright red brick, put a street railway in it, and a New Yorker carried to it on Aladdin’s carpet might easily believe that he was in some part of Sixth Avenue with which he was not familiar. At least, so I thought; but, alas, this was before Sixth Avenue was traversed from end to end in mid-air by that monstrous contrivance for the confiscation of the property of many people for the convenience, or rather the pleasure, of some others, — the elevated railway. This abomination, in addition to the other injuries which it inflicts, gives to the many miles of New York streets through which it runs, darkening and deforming them, a hideous unlikeness to the public highways in any other town in the world. Some parts of Oxford Street also have the same sort of likeness to the second and third rate streets of New York before the imposition of the elevated railways. There is the same mingling of dwelling-house and shop ; a like inferior style of building ; a display somewhat like that which is made in our shop-lined avenues, and which is quite unlike the modest reserve which prevails in Regent Street, St. James’s, New Bond Street, and Piccadilly. The likeness which I have pointed out is greatly helped by the fact that
Edgeware Road and the upper part of Oxford Street are nearly, if not quite, straight, — the straightest streets of any length that I saw in London, where the highways, as well as the by-ways, wind this way and that in the easiest and most natural manner possible. Only in Boston and in the very oldest part of New York have we anything like this natural irregularity. In London, and in most other towns in England, streets are passage ways between houses ; and the line of the street was originally determined by the position of the houses, and still remains so in a great measure. With us a street is, or at least seems to be, regarded merely as the directest possible passage way from one point to another, along which houses have been allowed to be built. In the one case, an idea of stability has governed; in the other, an idea of movement. There is, however, in this no indication of a difference of character between the people who built London and those who built New York and Philadelphia. The difference is produced simply by the fact that the later and larger parts of the latter places were laid out, projected, and that the former slowly grew. London has always been a town with suburbs ; and it has gradually, almost insensibly, absorbed its suburbs, which have been allowed to retain their old forms, as they have also retained their old names. The various quarters of London which are known as Charing, Smith field, Finsbury, Bethnal Green, Pimlico, and so forth are names of villages, or suburban places, or neighborhoods which have been swallowed up by the great town. When London was to be rebuilt, after the great fire (1666), in the plan proposed by a very eminent Englishman, Sir Christopher Wren, and approved by many other eminent Englishmen, including the king, the streets were all as straight as they could be drawn by rule; and the adoption of this plan was defeated only by the diffculty of settling the question of property in the land. The consequence was that the houses were rebuilt upon the old plots of land ; and of this the consequence was the retention of the old irregularity of the streets.
Oxford Street, which I have mentioned, is a very characteristic example of another peculiarity of London streets. It is the longest, broadest, and in a certain sense the most important thoroughfare in London. The road begins just out of Cock Lane, a little street made famous by the Cock Lane Ghost. But here it is called Holborn, or at first Holborn Hill. It is, however, really the continuation of a great street, which runs very directly through London from east to west, and which is called successively, beginning at the east, Mile End, Whitechapel Road, Aldgate High Street, Leadenhall Street, Cornhill, Cheapside, Newgate Street, Skinner Street, Holborn, Oxford Street. It is difficult to discover where these several divisions begin and end. There is no apparent cause for division. The road is continuous. It is as if Broadway had half a dozen names between the Bowling Green and Thirty-Fourth Street. The difference is caused merely by the great London thoroughfare’s retention of the names which its different parts received from time to time in past centuries ; while Broadway never had any name but that which it received at its startingpoint. It has shot three or four miles into infinite space within the memory of living men.
Although I found in London very much less of visible antiquity than I had looked for (and indeed it was so in most other towns that I saw in England), its general unlikeness to towns in the United States is striking, and is very much greater at the present day than there is good reason for. It should seem that if Brown, Jones, and Robinson, whether British subjects or citizens of the United States, were to build themselves houses, whether
in one place or another, under like influences of climate and habits of life, the result on the whole would be very much alike. And indeed it once was so. The New York of fifty years ago was very much like what a great part of London Ls now. An examination of old street views in New York will justify this remark. The lower part of Broadway, Beekman Street, Pearl Street, Greenwich Street, and the cross-streets below Canal Street were then filled with houses which in form, in expression, and in everything except color, were just like thousands of houses that make up now the better part of London west of Charing Cross. In London these houses have been allowed to stand. In New York they have been taken down, to give place to others more profitable. The conditions of property in houses and land in the two countries are so different that they affect the plans of owners and the stability of brick walls. The only question here is, whether an increase of rent can be obtained by “ tearing down ” and rebuilding; the result of which is that not only has the greater part of Wall Street been rebuilt twice within thirty years, but that beautiful and substantial houses in Fourteenth Street and on Union Square, and in other new parts of New York, not twenty-five years old, have been pulled down, within the last three or four years with as little remorse as if they were so many old hen-coops. In England there is no such indifference to dilapidation. There they cannot afford it; and indeed real property is so tied up there that houses cannot be shifted and scattered about as they are here. The consequence is a feeling of hesitation about destroying a house. In this there may be some inconvenience; but the general result is not altogether unadmirable.
Crosby Hall is a witness (although the example is an extreme one) of this unwillingness to improve a house off the face of the earth. The name of this building is known to all readers of Shakespeare’s Richard III. Richard, while Duke of Gloster, makes three appointments there. The house was built between 1466 and 1470 by Sir John Crosby, who was a grocer, an alderman, and a member of Parliament. It was therefore in the first gloss of its newness in Richard’s time, and is now about four hundred and ten years old. I knew something of its beauty and its history, and it was one of the buildings in London that I was curious to see ; but the way in which I saw it was most unexpected, and in effect quite ludicrous. I took my luncheon there, one day, with some dozen or score other chance feeders. It is now a common eating-house, chiefly frequented by commercial people. It is in Bishopsgate Street, not far from the Bank and the Exchange, and, like so many other places of note in London and in England, is quite withdrawn from general sight. It stands in a little court, and is hidden by houses and shops. As it is said to be the only remnant of the ancient domestic architecture of London, it is a building of peculiar interest. And certainly, if knightly grocers and aldermen customarily had such houses for their dwellingplaces, they were magnificently lodged. The hall, which was the principal room of the house, and served as dining, drawing, and dancing room, is some fifty or sixty feet in length, about thirty feet wide, and the ceiling, or rather roof, which is of oak, seems to be fifty feet high, but is, I believe, somewhat less. It is lighted from the upper part on both sides by arched windows, exceedingly beautiful and of marked simplicity of design ; and there is an oriel window so charming to the eye in its proportions and its detail that to see it alone is worth a pilgrimage. Two or three other rooms remain, not quite so large, and not nearly so lofty, but in the same noble style. This building seems to have come into the possession of the crown about a hun-
dred years after its erection, for it was used in Queen Elizabeth’s time for the reception of ambassadors. Since then it has passed through many changes. At one time it was a dissenting chapel; then it was used for public meetings, and for lectures and concerts. But for none of these was it very convenient, and it was deserted and useless. Nevertheless, it was not “ torn down,” as if it had been, for example, John Hancock’s house, but was allowed to stand, and at last was made into an eating-house, that hungry and thirsty trading Britons may eat their chops and soles and drink their beer and port wine in the very hall where Plantagenet and Tudor monarchs held their state. I was with a commercial friend at the hour of the midday meal, and he proposed luncheon, adding, “Let’s go to Crosby Hall.” I did not quite apprehend his meaning. It was much as if had proposed to me to take luncheon with him in Stonehenge or John O'Groat’s house. But we went, and although I enjoyed the beauty of the place I also enjoyed my luncheon; and the only result of my longexpected yet chance visit to this grand centre of Shakespearean and historical association was a brief memorandum in my pocket-book, thus : “ October 20th, Luncheon with M. at Crosby Hall. Windows. Beautiful old marble fireplace, carved corners, unlike, used as a sink. Twelve she-waiters, — all skinny.” The last somewhat irreverent remark records a fact worthy of note. Among the absurd notions which prevail about the people in the Old England and those in the New, not one is more unfounded and absurd than that which assigns full figures to the women of the former and spare figures to those of the latter. It seemed to me, on the contrary, that, although I saw more obese old women in England than I was quite accustomed to, I found there notably more slight figures, pinched features, and pale faces among the women who were between eighteen and thirty-five years old than I had ever seen before ; and of this my Crosby Hall observation was evidence. It is, however, probable that there is no excess on either side: it is not reasonable that there should be. And yet the nearest neighbors of our British cousins, the French, who see much more of them than we do, in their caricatures always represent the Englishwoman as “ slabsided ” and bony, with limp, artificial side-curls and projecting upper teeth.
On this same day I went to Guildhall, where Fortune favored me, as it often did in England. The building itself is a strange architectural medley. It was originally built in 1411 ; but almost all of it, except the walls and the crypt, was destroyed in the great fire of 1666, and the subsequent restorations and additions are poor in themselves and incongruous. The great hall, however, has the grandeur which, in architecture, is always given, in a certain degree, by size : it is one hundred and fifty feet long. The building has its name from the fact that it was erected by the united efforts of the various guilds of the city, — associations, or rather trading and social institutions, of which the very germ seems not to have crossed the ocean. We have nothing with which to compare them, or which will help to give any idea of them. Notwithstanding the changes that have taken place in society and in trade, they still exist as highly respectable and influential bodies; and although their visible function seems to the outside world limited chiefly to the performance of their annual dinners — a heavy task — they do much to preserve the civic dignity and trade stability of London. Guildhall is the City Hall of London, and is a sort of state palace for the Lord Mayor ; but it is also a place of meeting for the citizens, which our city balls are not. Like them, however, it is surrounded with courts of a minor grade, and within it some higher courts sometimes sit. The great hall contains some statues. Among them is one of William Pitt, and, if I remember rightly, one of Edmund Burke. They did not impress me as being of a high order of sculpture. Two other statues, or effigies, raised on high, adorned the place, — those known as Gog and Magog. I expected, of course, to see something grotesque in these famous figures ; but I was not prepared for quite such an exhibition of colossal puerility. These absurd monsters look like painted and gilded toys, made to please the boys of Brobdignag. Words can hardly express their gigantic childishness. Why they are retained in their present position, and how they ever came there, seem to be beyond conjecture. They have not even the glamour of antiquity upon them, for they are, or the originals were, the production of the seventeenth century; and yet, with this recent origin, their history and purpose seem to be entirely lost. No one, not even the city antiquaries, can tell anything about them, except that these present figures were made in the last century to replace others that were worn out by being carried in Lord Mayors’ shows. They stand there, wonderful and ridiculous witnesses to the immobility of British Philistinism.
There is an open space before the miserable front which Guildhall presents to the world, and this, as I approached it, was swarming with flocks of pigeons, which alternately swept down upon the ground and rose into the air. It was strange and pretty to see this multitude of gentle, winged creatures in the very heart of London. They are not always visible, I was told ; but like Gog and Magog they were an “ institution.” They brought at once to mind the flocks that Hilda watches from her tower window, in Hawthorne’s Roman romance. But not only the pigeons favored me. There was a little crowd before the hall, and some commotion; the reason of which proved to be that on that day the Lord Mayor visited the hall in state. He was just coming out, and I saw him ascend his great, yellow, gilded coach, in which was a man wearing an enormous fur cap, which made him look like that domestic instrument whilom used for washing windows, called a pope’s-head. A huge straight sword was thrust out of one of the windows of the carriage. The coach started, and a tall footman in a gorgeous light blue livery sprang after it, and, mounting it as it moved, took his place beside another being of like splendor. and his “ lordship ” was driven off. It seemed to me that a man of any sense must be very glad to get out of such a vehicular gimcrack as that, and to rid himself of such a preposterous companion as the man with the pope’s-head. I wondered how they could sit in the coach and look at each other without laughing. Nothing could be more out of place, more incongruous, than this childish masquerading seemed to be with English common sense, and with the sobriety and true dignity befitting such an official person as the mayor of the city of London. But I was told that the people of London rather insist upon this puerile pageantry ; and that the attempt of some previous Lord Mayors to mitigate the monstrosity of the “ Lord Mayor’s show ” (although it is of very modern origin) was received with disfavor, and had sensibly diminished their popularity.
The number of statues and of monuments of which statues form a part is great in London. It could hardly be otherwise in the capital of a country with such a history as England’s. Although few of these command much admiration as works of art, I found most of them interesting, not only on account of their associations, but as witnesses to the grateful memory in which the English people hold those who have served the country successfully, or only faithfully. Westward of Charing Cross one can hardly walk a quarter of a mile without seeing a monumental statue. Nor are the great statesmen and captains only thus honored. It was a pleasing sight to see in St. James’s Street a monument to the private soldiers who fell in the Crimean war. It has three typical figures of private soldiers in the uniforms of various arms of the service. And there is a monument to the Westminster scholars who fell in the same war, which is now generally admitted to have been a gigantic British blunder. But, right or wrong, Britannia never forgets those who faithfully do her bidding.
Two statues in South Kensington impressed me strongly. They are very unlike. One is that of a man of mature years, seated. He wears a robe, and on his head a kind of bonnet, something like the cap of a Doge of Venice. I was struck by the strength and the sagacity of the face, and perhaps even more by a certain expression, which, notwithstanding its unmistakable Oriental character, awoke in me a feeling of kindred quite unlike that with which I ever looked into any Hebrew or other Semitic face, either in life or in art, not to say any face of Mongol or other Turanian race. I did not know who it was, nor did I know that there was in London a statue of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy ; and yet as I approached it I felt that it must be he, as I soon found that it was by the inscription. I had learned, from friends who had known the great Parsee merchant in India, to honor him for his sagacity, for his public spirit, and for a large and sweet benevolence which we, in our religious arrogance, would call Christian. But few Christians have equaled, and none known to me have ever surpassed, in true philanthropy this fire-worshiper. The pleasure with which I looked upon his face was enhanced by the intuitive recognition in its lineaments, before I knew whose they were, of an inexpressible something that told of his Aryan origin. And yet this may possibly have been given to him by the English sculptor. The imparting of such subtle traits is an unconscious process, which takes place even beyond the bounds of legitimate art. I remember seeing the colored photograph of a young New York lady which was taken in Switzerland, to which the Teutonic manipulator had managed to impart, it was impossible to say how or wherein, a German look that was quite ludicrous.
The other statue was the Eagle Slayer, which seems to me to merit a reputation which, so far as I know, it has not attained. It represents a young man who has just launched from his bow an arrow at the soaring bird. The lithe and supple figure — a fine embodiment of the forms of youthful manly beauty — seems as if it were bounding into the air with eagerness. The archer has shot not only his shaft, but his whole soul into the air. He wings his arrow with his breath; and yet there is that quietness about it, that instantaneous arrest of movement, which is one characteristic trait of the highest type of Greek sculpture. It seems to me that I saw no modern statue in England equal to this one, of which I had never heard. And yet I should speak of it with some reserve for I saw it but once.
Of all the statues and monuments that I saw in London, the most ambitious was that which pleased me least. I mean the Albert monument in Hyde Park. Its first suggestion is the unfortunate question, Why should such a monument have been erected to such a man ? Prince Albert was an honorable, kindhearted, prudent, and accomplished gentleman. As princes go, he was certainly a very superior person ; so that we can forgive his being just the least bit priggish, as his biography by Mr. Theodore Martin reveals him to us. But the biography and the monument both seem to be quite out of proportion to the merits of their subject. If the Prince had united the genius of Napoleon to the virtues of Washington, there might, with more show of reason, have been such a literary and such a sculptured monument raised to him so soon after the close of his blameless and useful life. But even then something more simple and sober would have been more effective than this gilded, enthroned, enshrined, and canopied effigy of the demi-god of commonplace. In fact, this is the most obtrusively offensive monument in London. The Wellington statue on Hyde Park corner is ridiculous, but the Albert monument is ostentatiously vulgar.
At St. Saviour’s church I was more impressed than anywhere else in London by the bringing together of the dead past and the living present, and by their incongruity. This church is a mere remnant—only one transept, I believe — of the old priory church of St. Mary Overy, which was built in the early part of the thirteenth century, that golden age of ecclesiastical architecture. It stands near the Southwark end of London Bridge. In it are some old monumental tombs and slabs, at which I looked with interest. Here is the tomb of John Gower, who atoned somewhat for his poetry by contributing largely to the repairing of this beautiful church, in which his effigy, painted after nature, lies enshrined above his grave. Here is John Fletcher’s grave, and Philip Massinger’s ; and here, too, is the grave of one Edmund Shakespeare, an actor, who had a brother named William, also an actor; and he, Mr. John Spedding says, wrought with John Fletcher on his play, The Two Noble Kinsmen. I had stood a minute or two before the stones that bore these names, and had moved away, and was musing in the gloom over the effigy of an unknown knight in chain armor and a cylindrical helmet, which lay with crossed legs almost upon the very floor, when I was startled by the sharp whistle and the rumble of a railway train, which seemed almost to be directly overhead. And indeed the knight, whose good sword has been rust and whose body has been dust for nearly five hundred years, is lying very “ convenient ” to the station of the Southeastern Railway, on which, if he would but arise, he might start for Palestine, and be there in fewer days than it took him months to go, — if indeed he went. For the notion that the crossed legs of an effigy indicate a crusader is, I believe, abandoned, as one of those many bubble theories which science painfully blows up and admires, and then explodes only by blowing a little longer.
I went deliberately to Bolt Court for the sake of Dr. Johnson, who lived there in a house which is still standing. It is, I believe, the only memorial of him now existing. There is nothing at all remarkable about the place or the house; and it is chiefly noticeable because of its unlikeness to what any one not familiar with old London would expect to see. When we read of Johnson’s house in Bolt Court, although we do not think of the doctor as living in any state, we do not imagine a little place like a flagged yard, reached through a dark, narrow alley, and in which we should expect to see clothes drying on the lines. But such is Bolt Court, on which look a few houses with fronts that seem as if they ought to be their backs. That which was Dr. Johnson’s is a respectable brick building of three stories, in the plain, domestic style of the last century. Bolt Court is a representative place, — an example of those nooks and secluded recesses found in the towns all over England, and even in London, which are open to the public and frequented daily by many people, and which yet are so withdrawn from the public eye that by those who do not know of them, and where they are, their existence would never be suspected.
Wapping is a neighborhood of which many persons know the name, but nothing more. It is preserved from decay by an odor of tar and pitch in the song, Wapping Old Stairs, of which some of my readers may be glad to see the first stanza ; whereby they may remark how homely, and not only homely but tame and coarse and commonplace, are the folk-songs of Britain : —
Since last time we parted at Wapping Old Stairs,
When I swore that I still would continue the same,
And gave you the 'bacco box marked with my name.
When I passed a whole fortnight between decks with you,
Did I e’er give a kiss, Tom, to one of your crew ?
To be useful and kind with my Thomas I stayed;
For his trowsers I washed, and his grog, too, I made.”
Wapping, too, may be remembered as having afforded a principal link in the chain of evidence against the notorious impostor who claimed the Tichborne estate. Immediately on his arrival at London he went to Wapping (which Roger Tichborne would never have done), and there he was recognized as a former resident of the place. Wapping is a narrow strip of old London, which lies below the Tower and between London docks and the river. It is, as might be expected, wholly occupied by mariners, or those who supply their wants. It is very damp and very dingy, and everybody in it seems to smell of oakum. The “stairs” in the song (which, by the way, is not very old, —only of the last century) are the steps by which, in the days of wherries and London watermen, when the river was the principal highway between London and West minster, people descended to the river and took boat. There were Whitehall Stairs and many others, the names of which I do not now remember. Some of these stairs were of marble, with an arched and pillared gate-way. They have disappeared only within the last half century, and I believe one of them still remains. As I walked through Wapping, I saw in a dingy little window, on a dingy little card, “ Soup 1d. A good dinner 4d. and 5d.” But as I did not visit Wapping to dine I did not go in, and so saved my fourpence. And who knows but I might have been tempted into the extravagance of the extra penny ! As there was no longer a wherry to be had at Wapping Stairs, — which, if I could have had it, I should certainly have taken, — I took one of the little steamers at London Bridge, and came home that way. But I had some compensation. On the boat was a little band of minstrels, who were allowed to play for the few pence they could get. There was a fiddle, a flute, and a harp ; and the harpist, although his instrument was very primitive in structure, did not quite succeed in making me understand (what I have never been altogether able to understand) how it was that David, by harp-playing, could charm away Saul’s evil spirit. But their music was not very bad, and mingled not unpleasantly with the plash of the boat, as we glided by the old wharves and the Thames embankment. Euterpe had not watched over these her poor votaries, who were sadly neglected and forlorn. Their clothes had certainly been worn out by predecessors in their occupancy, and had never fitted them ; and they were shiny and drawn into rucks. Their trousers were darned at the knees with thread not so exactly of the color of the cloth as a punctilious tailor might have desired. And yet their shoes, although in one case tied with twine, were well blackened, and they wore chimney-pot hats; battered, indeed, and smoothed out and washed into a ghostly and sorrowful likeness to the real thing; but still they were chimney-pots. I remarked that well-blackened shoes and a chimney-pot hat seemed to be regarded by English people in their condition of life as the first steps toward respectability in dress, — the sine qua nons of elegant costume. When the time had come for collecting contributions, and the flute was going round, hat in hand, I spoke to the violin, who did not resent my intrusion. I asked him if they did well on the boats. “ Purty well, sir, thank
’e, — purty well, as things goes. But music is n’t ’preciated now as’t use t’ be; ’r else Hi should n’t be ’ere.” “ No, indeed ; you ’re something of a musician, I should say.” “Somethink! ” — a pause of admiring contemplation. “Wy, sir, Hi ’ave played in a band, — in horchesters. I ‘ve played in gentlemen’s ’ouses; heven in Russell Square, wen they give their parties, — vile-in, flute, piannah,” — I expected him to add cornet, sackbut, psaltery, and all kinds of music, but he disappointed me, and only said, “ hanythink; ” and he accompanied the mention of each of his many accomplishments with a gentle and gracious wave of his bow. “ Ah, yes, I see how it is; and your friend, the fluteplayer there, I suppose, is a fair musician, too.” “ No p’ticler friend o’ mine, sir. Business, business. No great musician, ’ither, sir.” Here he mused a moment. “ Plays well enough, but no feeling,” — a slight deprecatory shake of the head,— “ no sentiment; an’ ” — with a nod of conviction — “sentiment’s the thing in music, sir.” The flute-player had made his round ; and just at the hither end of his circle a gentleman dropped a fourpence into his hat, which he then presented to a lady and a lad sitting next the gentleman, when suddenly, with gracious flourish of the battered head covering, he said, politely, “ Beg pawdon, sir, — beg pawdon. Same party, I see.” We in the United States lose a great deal by having none but foreigners in positions like this. Our relations with those in the humbler walks of life are always with Germans, Irish, Italians, or, most rarely, French. Our street musicians, for example, are invariably Germans or Italians. And thus our sympathies are narrowed and limited, and our sight of life is all along one plane. One of the charms of England is that you are cheerfully served by Englishmen and Englishwomen; that from morning to night you look only into English faces, and hear your own language spoken without a brogue or a break.
I was not present as a guest at a wedding while I was in England. None of my acquaintances assumed the bonds while I was there ; and although I am sure that some of my fair friends would have willingly been married to the right man, just to please me, none of them were, and therefore I did not see that show. But I am inclined to think that I lost very little. A wedding in itself has very little attraction for a man ; and the difference between a wedding in England and one in America can be very slight among people of a like condition in life and of the same faith. However, I saw one marriage ceremony. It was at the church of St. Martin’sin-the-Fields. The church was open as I passed, and suspecting, from a little crowd of limp, draggled girls about the door, what was going on, I went in. The parties were of the lower middle class. It was just like a marriage in one of our churches, except that there was but one groomsman, or best man, and that there were none of those ridiculous “ ushers,” who have lately been added to the other painful impediments of the occasion. White wedding favors were worn ; and except these trifling points I observed in the mere ceremony no peculiarity to distinguish the occasion from a similar one here among similar people. But the bride and the two bridesmaids were pale, thin young women, and the bridegroom was a little London “gent.” In all the wedding party there was not one fine, blooming girl, nor one tall, well-made man. But there was one very fat old woman. They got into three carriages at the door, and drove sadly off, without the throwing of a single shoe, at which I was somewhat disappointed.
In this church there was a pew-opener, whose appearance and whose performance of his duty were remarkable. His function — unknown to us — is commonly committed in England to old women ; but here it was performed by a dwarfish man, the top of whose big, half-bald head hardly came up to the top of the sides of the pews. He would take intending worshipers up to a pew, the shining top of his head rising and falling gently along the line of the pews, open the door, usher them in with a bow, and then shut the door with a flourish of his hand in the air, above his head, that suggested the idea that he was drowning, and about to disappear for the last time. And once I saw him bring down his hand, and, with an extra flourish, pass it deftly across his nose in the quality of what used to be called a muck-ender, until we English-blooded people gave it a French name. It was a very dexterous and somewhat astonishing performance.
Funerals I saw, but also from the outside. And indeed these occasions are much more private in England than they are with us. There is no such general attendance of friends and acquaintances as crowds our houses of mourning, and even our churches, with an elegantly dressed throng of sympathy and curiosity. There are the immediate family, two or three very intimate friends, the pall-bearers, the solicitor, perhaps the medical man, a few mourning coaches ; and that is all. The mourning coaches are not mere ordinary coaches occupied by mourners ; and, indeed, they are frequently quite empty. They are large, portly vehicles, covered with some black, dull-surfaced material like cloth, and are, in fact, coaches put in mourning. The harness and the horse-cloths are black, and coachman and footman are also in black, with weeds on their hats. At the death of any person of condition the event is announced to the world at large by the display of a hatchment on the front of the house, generally between two of the windows on the first floor, — that is, the first floor above the ground floor, the second story. These hatchments are of white cloth, are about four feet square, and have a black border. Upon them are blazoned the armorial bearings of the deceased person. One morning, on one of the squares, I saw three houses with these funereal decorations, on one of which the lozenge-shaped shield and the absence of a crest told that it was the lady of the house that had departed. I cannot say that this fashion impressed me favorably. These hatchments seemed to be signs of a show going on within the house. They looked like unilluminated transparencies; and suggested a brass band.
Among my great pleasures at the Garrick Club was the sight of the large and very interesting collection of dramatic portraits that has accumulated there in the course of many years. Almost everything fine of this sort has gravitated there lately, as if by the operation of natural law. There were portraits in character and portraits out of character, portraits of actors and actresses of the past and of the present. There was the whole series of portraits in water-colors which were engraved for the fine edition of Bell’s British Theatre. Among the old paintings were two portraits of Peg Woffington, in which she did not appear so beautiful as I had expected to find her. But that was Charles Reade’s fault. I should not have been disappointed, had I not fallen in love with his heroine ; and yet he stood by me quite unrepentant. But all Peg’s possibilities, and some of her actualities, were written in her face. She must have been a most alluring creature. There, too, was a portrait of Mrs. Robinson as Rosalind. She is standing, and is evidently in one of the forest scenes. Yet this is her costume: powdered hair, a voluminous high white cravat that swathes her whole neck, furs, and a blue surtout coat decorated with a bow. Nevertheless she is charming ; for her figure is fine, so much of it as can be seen, and her face has some beauty and much character. Her audiences were accustomed to her costume, and therefore to them its incorrectness was of no account; and it seems to me as if, with that face and her art, she could make even us forget it.
One day I was attracted — I can hardly tell why, for the sight is not uncommon in London — by seeing a very handsome coroneted carriage, in which sat a little, ugly, wizened, peevish, middle-aged woman, dressed richly but very ill-favoredly. The horses were magnificent ; the coachman would have done honor to a bishop’s wig; and the footman was as fine a young man as one could wish to see ; and I could not but think how absurd it was, and what a shame, that four such splendid animals as those should be put to the use of carrying about such an insignificant creature as their mistress. But indeed one does not have to cross the ocean for that absurdity; we may see it almost as well dry-shod at home.
Richard Grant White.