Cheyne Row --- How Do Londoners Pronounce It?
I AM an admirer of Thomas Carlyle, and on my last visit to London made a pilgrimage to Cheyne Row. It was a long distance from my room in the neighborhood of the British Museum; but who minds riding on the top of a ’bus through London streets, where “every step is history,” and who does n’t like to ask directions of a London policeman ? The policeman at Trafalgar Square, whom I asked for a ’bus to Cheyne (Shāyne) Row, was at a loss for a moment, but when I mentioned “Carlyle’s house,” he said, “Oh, you mean Chīne Row.” I was a bit surprised, for I had my pronunciation from one who had got his in London, he said. He, too, was a Carlylean, and had read Sartor seventeen times, carrying it around with him, when a young Methodist circuit-rider, in the breast-pocket of his coat, — doubtless to keep it safe from the eyes of his presiding elder. Anyhow the policeman put me on the right ’bus; the rest was simple: I needed now only to be asked to set down at the nearest point to Chīne Row. But the guard was puzzled till I said I was seeking Carlyle’s House, then he said, “ Oh, Chī-ne Row! ” He let me off at the right place, and I was soon at my goal. The matron gave me full freedom of house and garden, for I seemed to be the only visitor that rainy August afternoon, and I could inspect at my leisure the interesting relics and mementos of the Carlyles, and read most interesting authentic documents, such as Disraeli’s autograph letter offering Carlyle the Grand Cross of the Bath and the latter’s dignified but grateful answer declining it. The room of chief interest to me was, of course, the sound-proof study at the top of the house, where Carlyle could be at peace from the noise of London, and whence he would descend when he had read himself full seat himself on the floor in the sittingroom with his back against the chimneyjamb, light his pipe, and pour out, as it were molten lava from a volcano in eruption, a flood of ideas upon Mrs. Carlyle. It was a great afternoon — but my story was about the street-name, and I had still other experiences with that.
Cheyne Row opens into Cheyne Walk, and happily just as I entered the latter street a postman passed, whom I asked about the house where George Eliot died. He pointed it out (No. 4), and went on to tell me of other historic houses that I wanted to see, the sometime abode of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (No. 16) and the house where Turner died (No. 119). Indeed this postman’s brain was a veritable storehouse of information about Chelsean antiquities and historic associations, and he was as ready to tell it all as the Ancient Mariner. He was pleased that I had just come from Carlyle’s house, but most kindly corrected my pronunciation of the street-name. “We call it Chāy-ne Row, sir. You would be interested, sir,” he added, “to see Scots come there sometimes and sit on the stoop and shed tears about Carlyle.” I should indeed have been interested to see that, and I wondered what Carlyle’s ghost thought about it. But there were other places to see; so inventing some polite excuse I moved on, and soon met with another delightful bit of London courtesy. A man who seemed to be a common laborer had pointed out across the street the locality of Turner’s house, but I could not find either the number or the memorial tablet. Observing my puzzled movements, he crossed the wide muddy street and pointed out the tablet hidden under the overhanging ivy.
But I was not yet through with the name Cheyne Row. At the dinner table I was telling my experience with the policeman, the ’bus man, and the postman, and asked, “How do you call it, Mr. Hamilton ?” He was a retired Indian civil-service official whom we all found most agreeable and well informed. “Why, I should say Chāne Row,” he answered. The maid, who was waiting at the table, was evidently disturbed and uneasy, which was all explained when she knocked at my door after dinner, to say, “Mr. Hamilton doesn’t know, Sir; he’s just back from India; we call it Cheene Row.”
Mr. Hamilton’s pronunciation is the one given of the name (though not of this particular street) in the Century Dictionary, and the postman’s is that given by Carlyle, — “pronounced Chainie Row,” he writes to Mrs. Carlyle (see Froude’s Life, ii, p. 249), — but certainly London is not agreed on the way to call it.