Henry Watterson.

Old London Town and other travel sketches online

. (page 1 of 3)
Online LibraryHenry WattersonOld London Town and other travel sketches → online text (page 1 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


OLD LONDON TOWN

WATTERSON








<

\ j








525








(X








O








&H








^ 4

vJ !






>

K


<
- 1






<


Bfe !M






K


1 t |






03

H


>H 1 |






J


H c C5

h 1 ^X








CO -J








rt ^








W ^

> H








h~H

55


-






hN








I_J





OLD LONDON TOWN



OLD LONDON TOWN

AND OTHER TRAVEL
SKETCHES



By
Henry Watterson




The Torch Press, Publishers

Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Nineteen Ten




W3S

The Torch Series
Edited by Joseph Fort Newton



209425




FOREWORD

THESE delightful sketches of trav-
el, hardly more than films, were
written while the author was so-
journing abroad in 1906-7. They show
us a great journalist at play, revisiting
familiar places, musing, philosophizing,
and soliloquizing upon the course of hu-
man affairs. History haunts him, as it
does all who journey amid its lights and
shadows, and his observations and re-
flections have the mellow note of one
who has lived much and meditated deep-
ly one who feels the tears, not less than
the comedy, in mortal things. Pic-
turesque, discursive and entertaining,
they are all the more charming for a
touch of personal reminiscence.

J. F. N.



OLD LONDON TOWN

EsTDON, less than any of the great
Capitals of the world even less
than Berlin has changed its as-
pects in the last four decades of altera-
tion and development. During the Sec-
ond Empire, and under the wizard hand
of Baron Hauseman, a new Paris sprang
into existence. We know what has hap-
pened in New York and Chicago. But
London, except the Thames Embank-
ments and the opening of a street here
and there betwixt the City and the West
End the mid-London of Soho and the
Strand is very much the London I be-
came acquainted with nearly forty years
ago. To be sure many of the ancient
landmarks, such as Temple Bar, the
Cock and the Cheshire Cheese, have gone
to the ash heap of the forgotten, whilst
some imposing hostelries have risen in



the region about Trafalgar Square ; but,
in the main, the biggest village of Christ-
endom has lost none of its familiar ear-
marks, so that the exile set down any-
where from Charing Cross and Picadilly
Circus to the bustling region of the Old
Lady of Threadneedle Street, blindfold,
would, the instant the bandage were re-
moved from his eyes, exclaim, "It is
London!"

Yes, it is London; the same old Lon-
don; the same old cries in the street;
the same old whitey-brown atmosphere;
even the same old Italian organ grinders,
the tunes merely a trifle varied. Nor yet
without its charm, albeit to me of a
rather ghostly, reminiscential sort. I
came here in 1866, with a young wife
and roll of ambitious manscript, found
work to do and a publisher, lived for a
time in the clouds of two worlds, that of
Bohemia, of which the Savage Club was
headquarters, and that of the New Apo
calypse of Science which eddied about
the School of Mines in Jermyn Street
and the ' i Fortnightly Review, ' ' then pre-
sided over by George Henry Lewes, my
10



nearest friend and sponsor the late Pro-
fessor Huxley. I alternated my days
and nights between a somewhat familiar
intimacy with Spencer and Tyndall and
a wholly familiar intimacy with Tom
Robertson and Andrew Halliday. Arte-
mus Ward was in London and it was
to him that I owed these latter associa-
tions. Sir Henry Irving had not made
his mark. Sir Charles Wyndham was
still in America. There were Keenes
and Kembles yet upon the stage. Charles
Matthews ruled the roost of Comedy.
George Eliot was in the glory of her
powers and her popularity. Thackeray
was gone, but Charles Dickens lived and
wrote. Bulwer-Lytton lived and wrote.
Wilkie Collins and Charles Reade vied
with one another for current favor. Mod-
ern Frenchification had invaded neither
the Restaurants nor the Music Halls.
Evans's Coffee House (Pendennis core of
Harmony) prevailed after midnight in
Covent Garden Market. In short, the
solidarities of old England, along with
its roast, succulent, abundant and intact.
In the late autumn of 1864, Albert



Roberts and I found ourselves in Mont-
gomery, Alabama. Some friction having
arisen between Gen. Johnston, to whom I
was warmly attached, and Gen. Hood,
with whom, after Gen. Johnston had been
relieved of the command of the Army, I
had been serving, I wrote to my old
friend Major Banks, who owned the
Montgomery Mail, asking for work and
winter quarters. He replied at once,
bidding me come along and take posses-
sion. Of course Roberts went with me.
The next morning after our arrival an
advertisement offering "two single gen-
tlemen board and lodging in a private
family" arrested my attention.

The strange, impressive part of this
advertisement was an addendum which
stated that "references would be given
and required. " Why, at this stage of
the war, demoralization on every hand,
any human being should put himself or
herself, to the trouble to consider the
character or standing of any other hu-
man being, was what stumped me; so
round I went and rang the door-bell of
a pretty house in a garden enveloped by

12



a vine- clad veranda. A military gentle-
man of distinguished appearance was
just coming out, and, made acquainted
with the purpose of my visit, he said,
"Oh, that is an affair of my wife/ 7
returned with me and presented me to
a most handsome and gracious lady, in-
dubitably English, as, indeed, he was
himself. That afternoon Roberts and I
moved in.

It proved to be the family of Dr.
Scott, the Post Surgeon beside the
father and mother, two daughters, fif-
teen and seventeen, respectively, and two
lads, one of whom is now a Captain in
the United States Navy, the other the
President of a railway. Ultimately, Al-
bert Eoberts married the younger of the
two girls, his brother the elder. It does
look as though there were such a thing
as destiny, after all, does it not? I am
telling, however, only so much of this
story as affected my subsequent foreign
journey and first experience of London.

Dr. Scott was a son of that Captain
Scott who commanded Byron's flagship
in Grecian waters. He was actually pres-

13



ent in the room when Byron died, at
that time a lad of fifteen, or thereabouts.
He had come to America as surgeon to
a German colony just before the War of
Secession. Mrs. Scott was a sister of
Prof. Huxley. Armed with letters from
her I made my appearance at the School
of Mines, never having heard of Prof.
Huxley, but not doubting that, being a
brother of Mrs. Scott, he was a person
worth the knowing.

A most handsome and agreeable gen-
tleman met me with exceeding friendli-
ness ; indeed letters had preceded the one
I carried and he was expecting me. We
were at once invited to dinner, of course.

I shall never forget that dinner. There
were three male members of the party
beside myself and our host. One was a
Mr. Mill. Another was a Mr. Tyndall.
The third was a Mr. Spencer. They
seemed respectable, middle-class Eng-
lishmen, and having once reviewed a
book on education by a certain Mr. Her-
bert Spencer, I judged that this might
be he, and, in case it were, he must be,
if not a literary man, at least a peda-

14



gogue. The standing of the other two,
like that of Huxley himself, was un-
known to me; so that, after the ladies
were gone, and the talk became mascu-
line and puissant, I let myself in with
the intrepidity of ignorance and youth,
and, it being, as I thought, a contest for
the royalties of mind, I pragmatized
with Mr. Mill and "jawed back" to
Mr. Spencer and Mr. Tyndall, quite un-
conscious, if not of the depths I was
treading, yet of the dignity of the com-
pany I was keeping; though I got the
impression that except for an air of the
school-room in Mr. Mill and Mr. Spen-
cer, they were persons of more than
average intelligence. Several dinners
followed and I soon found my bearings ;
but it was too late to mend my manners,
and, to the end, I was known in this de-
lightful circle as "Tenfant prodige!"

But we must not let our horns get
too far ahead of our hounds. To me
London was Mecca. The look of it, the
very smell of it, was inspiration. Inci-
dentally I don't mind saying there
were some cakes and ale. The nights
15



were jolly enough down in the Adelphi,
where the barbarians of the Savage
Club held high revel, and George Au-
gustus Sala was Primate, and Edmund
Yates and Tom Robertson were High
Priests. Temple Bar blocked the pas-
sage from Belgravia to the Bank of Eng-
land, and there was no Holborn Via-
duct nor Victorian Embankment.

Aye, long ago! How far away it
seems, and how queer? To me it was
the London of story-books ; of Whitting-
ton and his cat and Goody Two-Shoes
and the Canterbury Shades; of Otway
and Marlowe and Chatterton; of Nell
Gwynne and Dick Steele and poor Gold-
smith ; of all that was bizarre and fanci-
ful in history, that was strange and ro-
mantic in legend; and not the London
of the Tower, the Museum and West-
minster Abbey ; not the London of Cre-
morne Gardens, newly opened, nor the
Argyle Rooms, which should have been
burned to the ground before they were
opened at all.

Since then I have been in and out of
London many times. I have been amused

76



here and bored here; but give me back
my old fool's paradise and I shall care
for naught else.

One may doubt which holds him clos-
est, the London of History or the London
of Fiction, or that London which is a
mingling of both, and may be called
simply the London of Literature, in
which Oliver Goldsmith carouses with
Tom Jones, and Harry Fielding dis-
cusses philosophy with the Vicar of
Wakefield, where Nicholas Nickleby
makes so bold as to present himself to
Mr. William Makepeace Thackeray and
to ask his intercession in favor of a poor
artist, the son of a hair-dresser of the
name of Turner in Maiden Lane, and
even where "Boz," as he passes through
Longacre, is tripped up by the Artful
Dodger, and would perchance fall upon
the siding if not caught in the friendly
arms of Sir Richard Steele on his way
to pay a call upon the once famous
beauty, the Lady Beatrix Esmond.

But yesterday I strolled into Mitre
Court, and threading my way through
the labyrinth of those dingy old law

17



chambers known as the Middle and In-
ner Temple, found myself in the little
graveyard of the Temple Church and
by the side of the grave of Oliver Gold-
smith. Though less than a stone 's throw
from Fleet Street and the Strand, the
place is quiet enough, only a faint hum
of wheels penetrating the cool precincts
and gloomy walls. There, beneath three
oblong slabs, put together like an outer
stone coffin, lies the most richly endowed
of all the vagabonds, with the simple
but sufficient legend :

"Here lies Oliver Goldsmith,

Born Nov. 10th, 1728. Died April 4th,

1774. "

to tell a story which for all its vagrancy
and folly, is somewhat dear to loving
hearts. He died leaving many debts and
a few friends. He lived a lucky-go-devil,
who could squander in a night of de-
bauch more than he could earn in a
month of labor. Yet he gave us the good
Primrose and "The Deserted Village "
and "The Traveller," and many a care-
dispelling screed beside.
18



The Frenchman would say "his des-
tiny." The less fanciful Briton, "his
temperament. " Poor Noll! He seemed
to know himself fairly well in spite of
his dissipations and his vanity, and he
sleeps sound enough now, perhaps as
soundly as the rest of those who in life
held him in a rather equivocal admira-
tion and affectionate contempt. There are
a few other tombs an effigy or two
round about, the weird old Chapel of
the Templars, shut in by great walls
from the streets beyond, to keep them
solemn company. For Goldsmith, at
least, there seems a fitness; for his life,
and such labor as he did, eddied round
these sad precincts. Nigh at hand was
the Mitre tavern, across the way the
Cock, and down the street the Cheshire
Cheese. Without the Vandal has been
busy enough, within all remains as it
was the day they buried him. Perhaps
he was not a desirable visiting acquaint-
ance. I dare say he was rather a trying
familiar friend. Pen-craft and purse-
making are often wide apart. The charm
of authorship ends in most cases upon

79



OF THE

UNIVERSITY



the printed page. The man carries his
sentiment in a globule of ink and it
evaporates by exposure to the atmos-
phere of the world of action. The song
of Dickens died by its own fireside. Kip-
ling, for all his word-painting, is hardly
a miracle of grace. Why should one
wish to have known Goldsmith, or
grudge him his place by the side of the
great old Doctor, and Burke, and Rey-
nolds, and Garrick? He lived his own
life, and, though it was not very clean
and wholly unprosperous, perhaps he en-
joyed it. He left us some rich fruitage
dangling over a wall, which may well
conceal all else. Of the dead, no ill!
Their faults to the past. The rest to
Eternity !

Gradually, but surely, a new London
is showing itself above the debris of the
old. Miles of roundabout are reduced by
short cuts. Thoroughfares are ruthlessly
cut through sacred precincts and land-
marks obliterated to make room for im-
posing edifices and widened streets. In
the end, London will be rebuilt to rival
Paris in the splendor, without the uni-

20



formity of its architecture. The grime
will, of course, attach itself in time to the
modern city as it did in the ancient, so
that the London that is to be will grow
old to the coming generations as the
London that was grew old to the genera-
tions that went before.

1 ' To-morrow and to-morrow and to-mor-
row

Creeps on this petty pace from day to
day,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death."

Ever and ever the old times, the dear
old times! Were they really any better
than these ? I don't think so we only
fancy them so. They had their displace-
ments. It was then, as now, "eat, drink
and be merry, for to-morrow ye die,"
life the same old walking shadow, the
same old play, or, lagging superfluous,
or laughing his hour upon the stage and
seen no more, the same old

"tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

21



Somehow, London has a tendency to
call up such reflections; sombre, serious
itself, to provoke moralizing, albeit a tur-
moil, with incessant flashes of light and
shade, the contrasts the vividest and
most precipitate on earth, deep and pen-
etrating, even from Hyde Park corner
to St. Martins-in-the-Fields, and on east-
ward beyond the Tower and into the
purlieus of Whitechapel and the soli-
tudes of Bethnal Green.



22



MEMORIES OF PARIS



MEMORIES OF PARIS

PARIS, like some agreeable people,
has a winning way of making it-
self detestable when put to it; and
I have never known it, through forty
years of intimate acquaintance, to take
so much trouble in this regard as dur-
ing the ten days we spent there.

As a rule coming from London to Par-
is is like stepping out of a cold into a
warm bath. Even the little swindles
with which you are cozened of your
good small change have a charm about
them. There is a constant suspicion of
music in the air. The snake-like route
from the Rue Richelieu at the head of
the Boulevard des Italiens down by the
Grand Opera House and the Madeline
and into and across the Place de la Con-
corde and up the Champs Elysees to the
Arch of Stars has the true serpentine
25



fascination. The smell of the asphalt
is of the Lotos bloom. The wavings of
the chestnut boughs, signals of the for-
bidden, are siren. The glitter is licen-
tious and dazzling; a certain resplend-
ency of costume and suggestion under
the electric clusters about the cafes, the
theaters and the hotels.

Then, the procession Lord the pro-
cession; the red legs of the soldiers and
the white caps of the grisettes; ouvrier,
cocotte and gamin, helter-skelter amid
the hurrying throng of sight-seers, for-
eign and domestic for even the genuine
Parisian never ceases to be a sight-seer
the procession is the most wondrous,
the most ever-changing in the whole
world, yet always the same ; and no end
to it. Just back and forth again, a liv-
ing loom whose shuttles flash through
strands of many colors, not always of
the cleanest; a merry-go-round, through
whose brilliant medley of contradictions,
of laughter and light, one cannot help
catching glimpses of another sort of
Niobe, all tears, of sorrow and want and
26



anguish. Nor any lack of humor, Har-
lequin with his cap and bells.

A day and a night in Paris is quite
enough for old stagers at this time of
the year. The ride from Cherbourg is
certainly tiresome. It was 9 o'clock
when we rolled into St. Lazarre. Not
too late, however, to go to No. 9 Rue
Duphot for a supper of oysters. The
Column was still standing in the Place
Yendome, though the blinds were up
in the shops along the Rue de la Paix.
A cold and drizzling rain was falling
from the skies and oozing up from the
asphalt. I looked in at Henry's and
there were the same old red-noses. I
looked in at the Chatham and there
were the same old blue-noses. Paris does
not change much.

There is full as much lying about eat-
ing as about drinking; nor all of it de-
fensive and exculpatory. The gourmet
is not always a gourmand. One may be
fastidious about his food without being
a hog. The good eating places of the
world may be told off on one's eight
fingers and two thumbs. Yet, I have
27



traveled apace and understand what is
meant by the Roast Beef of Old Eng-
land and the Poulet Roti of France, by
a chop in London and a saute in Paris,
by boiled Turbot in Mayfair and a Sole
au Joinville at Champoux's in the Place
de la Bourse, and to return to our mut-
ton by a Bouillebaisse in Marseille.
As Pascal used to build it, the Bouilla-
baisse was just what Thackeray describes
it

"A sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes,
# # # # * * #

Green herbs, red-peppers, mussels, saf-
fron,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach and dace. ' '

to which the coquillage of the Mediter-
ranean Sea, infinite in their variety,
peculiarly lent themselves. Old Terre
may have introduced it to Paris. That
was before my time. Philipe was my
man, Philipe, like Terre, "dead this
many a day." They still serve it on
Fridays at Champoux's and at the
28



Boeuf a la Mode away east of the old
Palais Royal.

Dissertations upon food are only a
trifle less dangerous than dissertations
upon drink. The dissertator is likely, if
not berated and condemned outright, to
be suspected, even by the friendliest,
with regard both to his appetite and his
parts of speech. Thackeray, taking his
cue from Horace, made it his wont to
speak fearlessly, and with surpassing
knowledge and freedom of the pleasures
of the table. " Respect thy dinner," was
his key-note. It is often said of his
writing that "the claret-stains are vis-
ible, ' ' as if any man ever did any really
good writing under vinous influence ; as
if, to impart life to its reader, to lift
his reader skyward, a writer must not
have about him all his faculties and re-
sources. The hapless, the much misun-
derstood, and often maligned, author of
"Pendennis" and "Vanity Fair" had a
good digestion, and made it an article of
faith e 'en to eat and drink his fill ; per-
haps his prose-poems in praise of food
were in a sense imprudent in a man of

29



his dignity and weight in the world of
letters; that entitled "Memorials of
Gormandizing" is certainly a master-
piece; but he who has left us "The Bal-
lad of Bouillabaisse" can afford a good
deal of detraction from the unsympa-
thetic, as of misconstruction from the
critical.

Was ever philosophy wiser, sweeter?
Could there be less of literary affecta-
tion, more of manly candor? I have
never been able to read aloud the verse
next to the last, not even to myself,
without that lumpy sensation in the
throat, which moves one to seek the se-
clusion of a darkened chamber. The
tragedy of that man's life! It was but
yesterday that the poor, distraught lady
once "the fair form nestled near me"
that "dear, dear face that looked fond-
ly up" making the beginning of life a
dream of happiness to the most affec-
tionate and impressionable of men was
borne to her final rest from the Retreat,
where she had dwelt nearly sixty years,
surviving her husband by nearly forty.
He a cynic !

30



Yesterday we went out to Chantilly.
It was the ancient home of the Mont-
morencys and the Condes. Next after
Versailles and Fontainebleau it is the
most interesting and best preserved of
the royal remains about Paris. Of the
Kings and puppets, the Queens and
Harlots, the Saints, Sinners and Heroes,
who dwelt in these palaces it may be
truly said that

' ' While they lived they lived in clover,
When they died, they died all over. ' '

God of dreams, how they perished and
have vanished!

At Chantilly, among the many ob-
jects of chivalry and frivolity that pre-
sent to the eye of the stranger their
ghastly and shameless effigies in bronze
and marble, from the mounted statue
of the old Constable Anne de Mont-
morency standing watch and guard over
the entrance of the chateau, to the tomb
of Henry the Second of Bourbon, the
Grand Condo, within its chapel, two por-
traits caught my fancy, transfixed my
attention and made me captive to th
31



exclusion of the rarer objects that filled
the winding galleries ; the one of Talley-
rand by Ary Scheffer, the other of Bona-
parte as First Consul, by Frangois Ger-
ard; both originals, of course, and hu-
manly, vividly life-like.

If the proper study of man is man, no
two men who ever lived will better re-
pay perusal. Napoleon was the genius
of action applied to arms. Talleyrand
was the genius of intellect applied to
civics. Had Napoleon listened to Tal-
leyrand his dynasty might to-day be
occupying the seats of the mighty held
by a peasant President even as the dy-
nasty of Bernadotte, brother-in-law of
Joseph Bonaparte, survives in far-away
Sweden. Talleyrand, himself, success-
fully riding every wave of a tempest
which abated not its fury his whole life
through, died at a great age in honor
and power ; wise counsellor to every par-
ty he agreed to serve, traitor to none
that was true to itself and France, in-
dispensable to all.

I have passed through all the Na-
poleonic stages; the boy's adoration of

32



the prowess of the warrior; the man's
reaction against tyranny and havoc ; the
student's period of suspended judgment,
of reflection and research, to settle upon
a definite belief touching the most com-
plicate and interesting human problem
the world has thus far had to consider
in its reading of history. This portrait
of Gerard's tended to confirm my im-
pression. It represents a young man of
eight and twenty, rather pale and thin
of visage, with dark chestnut locks and
deep, blue-gray eyes full of sadness, of
lips weak and feminine; not a particle
of the self -consciousness which appears
in the later pictures, nor the least pos-
ing for effect. It is not the Napoleon of
the battle-pieces; not the Napoleon of
the Coronation, of Elba and Waterloo
and St. Helena, " grand, gloomy and
peculiar ; " it is the Napoleon of St. Cyr
and the Rue St. Honore; the dreamer
who owed San Gene his wash bill; the
solicitous brother who watched tenderly
over little Louis ; the sentimentalist who
fell in love with the widow Beauhar-
nais; the poor Corsican, not yet full-

33



knowing of his power, a very youth in
the simplicity and earnestness with
which he seemed to return my heart-
throbs of compassion and sympathy.

I could have gone away and cried
with the thought of him and them, and
all of it; the fall from grace; the de-
lirium of ambition; the debauch of
glory; ending upon a lone, barren isle
of the ocean in one long wail of de-
spair, Prometheus bound to the rock,
not in fiction, or drama, but in real,
actual life, in living flesh and blood.

Yet he remains the most captivating
figure of history. Millions of pages
have been written, and will be written,
about him. Myriads go over yonder to
the little rotunda under the gilded dome
and look down with awe upon the splen-
did tomb below. Once upon a time it
seemed to me that a monster lay sleep-
ing there; perish the thought of it;
merely a man of surpassing gifts in
martial arts, and many moral infirmi-
ties, the sport and prey of fortune, far
more to be pitied than blamed. To me
he seems a brilliant gambler, who out-


1 3

Online LibraryHenry WattersonOld London Town and other travel sketches → online text (page 1 of 3)