refined in manners and speech, and quite agree-
able company for anybody of any age who does
not find in total lack of originality a tendency to
The restaurant " habit," too, throws recollec-
tion back to when it was virtually non-existent,
if only for want of opportunity for indulgence.
For a woman, the pastry-cook's ; for the ordinary
man without a club, or too far from it if he had
one, the Cock, or the Cheshire Cheese, or Pym's,
or Prosser's, or Simpson's, to name only such
few of the resorts for a hungry but respectable
The Restaurant "Habit"
bachelor as occur to me at the moment â€” that was
the recognised rule. Or if he was a bachelor of
enterprise, he could seek, and find, gastronomic
adventure about Soho and Leicester Square. But
a place where the two hostile sexes could repu-
tably as well as amicably meet for a real luncheon
or a real dinner was distinctly not the rule.
Everybody knows what is both the rule and
the custom now, and I have nothing to say in
favour of the old system except that a bachelor,
permanent or temporary, who knew his way
about, could dine under it to his heart's desire,
as to both meat and wine, though on a hard
bench in a dark " box," on a carpet of sawdust,
and where such an innovation as a table-napkin
In short, we Mid-Victorians were an essentially
home-keeping race, whenever we had a home to
keep. It is true that we carried out a great deal
of colonisation. But we were not globe-trotters,
taking us all round. When we left our homes,
or no-homes, here, it was usually to make homes
elsewhere, with only the vaguest, if any, prospect
of return. It is on the lower, and therefore
broader, social levels that the distinctive character
of a given period is best displayed, and whereon
its extreme illustrations are therefore to be looked
for. There was, in the early 'sixties, nothing
extraordinary in the case of my gyp at Trinity
Hall, who, though an elderly man, had never
been in a railway carriage. It would be more
than extraordinary were there any such gyp now.
There is a certain quarter of the Royal Borough
of Kensington called Notting Dale, or the Pot-
teries, where the title of Woman is unknown â€”
" Me and another Lady " is a common example
of the proper form. Two or three years ago I
happened to become acquainted with one of these
Ladies of the Royal Borough, a very estimable
lady, willing, and almost able, to get through a
day's charing at nearly eighty years old. She
was still quite able, as well as willing, to take care
of a husband well over eighty, terribly crippled
with chronic rheumatism for more than thirty
years, but a fine old fellow still, who liked to tell
how, in what I gathered had been rather a stormy
youth, he " drank hard, fought hard, and worked
hard " ; how he had never known toothache, nor
lost a tooth except one in a fight ; and how he
could still draw a nail out of a boot with the
others. But that is by the way. The point is
that the Lady had been born in Notting Dale,
had been married in Notting Dale, and had
never set foot outside Notting Dale, scarcely
indeed beyond her native alley, once, save for
a single outing at the Crystal Palace, during the
whole of her nearly fourscore years. She could
not read, nor could her husband ; she had never
had more than that one solitary glimpse of wood
and water ; her whole world consisted of one single,
sordid slum. Yet she was a good, shrewd,
sensible woman â€” I beg her pardon, lady â€” even a
wise one, if contentment be really as wise as was
once supposed. Other Victorians, too, I have
met in her class who, Londoners born and bred,
had never seen, nor cared to see, the Thames.
And much higher up the social pyramid, say
midway, a holiday of Continental travel was rare.
Those who did travel, for business or pleasure, no
doubt got to know the countries they visited
better than is at all usual at present. They did not
find a little Britain ready for their reception in
every town. But then, on the other hand, they
had but few opportunities for the study of railway
stations and hotels.
" Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits."
Were our wits homelier, when we were young,
than the wits of those who are young to-day ? I
think they were. We were not a clever folk.
We had plenty of cleverness among us, of course :
but it was not plentiful enough for promotion
from exception to rule. It zs the rule â€” now.
So extensively diffused is it as to render its
occasional absence, not its normal presence,
Mid- Victorian Memories
observed. In no previous period has the average
of cleverness been anywhere anything like so
high. In literature, in art, in music, in drama,
in journalism, in scientific research, in mechanical
invention, in games, in advertisement, even in
philosophy â€” but there is no occasion to catalogue
the departments of human activity in which
cleverness can be displayed : for it is daily being
displayed in all, to an extent that creates a fogy-
like feeling in those whose lines were cast in a
generation of narrower interests and slower
brains. Even the clever fool, though he was
always more or less in evidence, has become
perceptibly less rare. John Blackwood used to
say that it was " aâ€” confounded â€” clever thing
to write a novel at all." (I have taken the
liberty of weakening his epithet.) If it was â€”
confoundedly â€” clever then, it must be â€” con-
foundedly â€” clever now : and so, considering the
enormously increased rate of production, now
that not to have written a novel is a distinction,
how â€” confoundedly â€” clever a whole generation
of novelists must be !
Yet, after all, "cleverness" is not a term of
high praise. Nobody calls Shakespeare a
"clever" dramatist, or Virgil a "clever" poet,
or Newton a " clever " mathematician, or Beet-
hoven a " clever" composer. While " clever " is
" Let who will be Clever "
opposed to " stupid," it is also inapplicable to
Greatness. There seems indeed a decided incon-
sistency between the terms : and not only between
the terms, but between the things. It is quite
possible to be great without being at all clever:
it is certainly quite common to be exceedingly
clever without being in the least degree great.
And I think that the direct influence exercised
by Carlyle, Newman, Ruskin, Maurice, Darwin,
upon their own generation, and continued by
process of development into ours, corresponds
more closely with what all of us feel to be meant
by Greatness than anything of the sort that has
been experienced in later times. It may be that
we were then more liable, through our deficiency
in cleverness, to be intellectually impressed ; but
then it may be because of what nobody will
question â€” that there is at present nobody great
enough to be greatly impressive. And even in
the matter of my own " idle trade," as it has been
idly called, I suppose that any list of English
novelists of permanently high distinction would
certainly include the names of Thackeray, Dickens,
Charles Reade, George Eliot, George Meredith,
Anthony Trollope, Bulwer, Charlotte Bronte,
Charles Kingsley, Mrs. Gaskell, Wilkie Collins.
Some two or three of these were unquestionably
great : the greatness of others will be a matter of
Mid- Victorian Memories
opinion : but all were at least eminent enough to
make memorable a certain Mid- Victorian decade
wherein were conspicuously represented all eleven
names. The new novels of 1851-60 included
"Esmond" and "The Newcomes " : "Bleak
House" and " A Tale of Two Cities " : " It is
Never too late to Mend " : '' Scenes of Clerical
Life," "Adam Bede " and "The Mill on the
Floss": "The Ordeal of Richard Feverel"
" The Warden " and " Barchester Towers "
" My Novel " and " What will he do with it ? "
"Villette" and "The Professor": " Hypatia "
" The Woman in White." A few more years
would have brought in Mrs. Oliphant, and Black -
more's " Lorna Doone."
I began these recollections by maintaining it to
be everybody's duty to contribute his personal
impressions to the atmospheric record of his own
time, regardless of their importance, though little
or none. It is, after all, of the ordinary lives of
ordinary folk that the characteristic atmosphere of
any period is composed : the lives of great men
tell us but little of their times. The theoretical
duty has, on the whole, proved a practical pleasure,
so far as memory can ever prove a pleasure in a
parti-coloured world. And my concluding remem-
brance of a certain literary decade warrants me in
A Literary Decade
claiming for the title of Mid-Victorian novelist no
small honour, while ascribing to the whole period
an atmosphere which, as second to none in every
vital quality, was good to breathe : â€”
Je ne suis pas la rose ; mais j'ai vecu pres d'elle.
Printed by Hazelly Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbuty.
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