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drawing-rooms, the requisite number of bed-rooms, and the use of the
kitchen. The people of the house, ordinarily tradespeople, do the cooking
and furnish the necessary attendance. We engaged an extra servant, and
prepared to take possession that evening.

When we returned to the Vine, we found a visitor in this land of
strangers. Mrs. R - - , of New York, a relative and an old friend, had
heard that Americans of our name were there, and she came doubting and
hoping to the Vine. We found that the windows of our own drawing-room
looked directly into those of hers. A few doors below us dwelt Mrs. L - - ,
a still nearer relative; and a few days later, we had _vis-à-vis_, Mrs.
M'A - - , a sister of A - - 's, on whom we all laid eyes for the first time
in our lives! Such little incidents recall to mind the close
consanguinity of the two nations; although for myself, I have always
felt as a stranger in England. This has not been so much from the want
of kindness and a community of opinion many subjects, as from a
consciousness, that in the whole of that great nation, there is not a
single individual with whom I could claim affinity. And yet, with a
slight exception, we are purely of English extraction. Our father was
the great-great-grandson of an Englishman. I once met with a man, (an
Englishman,) who bore so strong a resemblance to him, in stature, form,
walk, features and expression, that I actually took the trouble to
ascertain his name. He even had our own. I had no means of tracing the
matter any farther; but here was physical evidence to show the affinity
between the two people. On the other hand, A - - comes of the Huguenots.
She is purely American by every intermarriage, from the time of Louis
the Fourteenth down, and yet she found cousins in England at every turn,
and even a child of the same parents, who was as much of an Englishwoman
as she herself was an American.

We drank to the happiness of America, at dinner. That day, fifty years,
she declared herself a nation; that very day, and nearly at that hour,
two of the co-labourers in the great work we celebrated, departed in
company for the world of spirits!

A day or two was necessary to become familiarized to the novel objects
around us, and my departure for London was postponed. We profited by the
delay, to visit Netley Abbey, a ruin of some note, at no great distance
from Southampton. The road was circuitous, and we passed several pretty
country-houses, few of which exceeded in size or embellishments,
shrubbery excepted, similar dwellings at home. There was one, however,
of an architecture much more ancient than we had been accustomed to see,
it being, by all appearance, of the time of Elizabeth or James. It had
turrets and battlements, but was otherwise plain.

The abbey was a fine, without being a very imposing, ruin, standing in the
midst of a field of English neatness, prettily relieved by woods. The
window already mentioned formed the finest part. The effect of these ruins
on us proved the wonderful power of association. The greater force of the
past than of the future on the mind, can only be the result of
questionable causes. Our real concern with the future is incalculably the
greatest, and yet we are dreaming over our own graves, on the events and
scenes which throw a charm around the graves of those who have gone before
us! Had we seen Netley Abbey, just as far advanced towards completion, as
it was, in fact, advanced towards decay, our speculations would have been
limited by a few conjectures on its probable appearance; but gazing at it
as we did, we peopled its passages, imagined Benedictines stalking along
its galleries, and fancied that we heard the voices of the choir, pealing
among its arches.

Our fresh American feelings were strangely interrupted by the sounds of
junketing. A party of Southampton cockneys, (there are cockneys even in
New York,) having established themselves on the grass, in one of the
courts, were lighting a fire, and were deliberately proceeding to make
tea! "To tea, and ruins," the invitations most probably run. We
retreated into a little battery of the bluff King Hal, that was near by,
a work that sufficiently proved the state of nautical warfare in the
sixteenth century.




LETTER III.

Road to London. - Royal Pastime. - Cockney Coachman. - Winchester Assizes.
- Approach to London. - The Parks. - Piccadilly. - Street Excursion.
- Strangers in London. - Americans in England. - Westminster Abbey.
- Gothic Decorations. - Westminster Hall. - Inquisitive Barber. - Pasta
and Malibran. - Drury-lane Theatre. - A Pickpocket. - A Fellow-traveller.
- English Gentlemen. - A Radical. - Encampment of Gipsies. - National
Distinctions. - Antiquities. - National Peculiarities.


To R. COOPER, ESQ. COOPERSTOWN.

At a very early hour one of the London coaches stopped at the door. I had
secured a seat by the side of the coachman, and we went through the "bar"
at a round trot. The distance was about sixty miles, and I had paid a
guinea for my place. There were four or five other passengers, all on the
outside.

The road between Southampton and London is one of little interest; even
the highway itself is not as good as usual, for the first twenty or thirty
miles, being made chiefly of gravel, instead of broken stones. The soil
for a long distance was thirsty, and the verdure was nearly gone. England
feels a drought sooner than most countries, probably from the
circumstances of its vegetation being so little accustomed to the absence
of moisture, and to the comparative lightness of the dews. The winds,
until just before the arrival of the Hudson, had been blowing from the
eastward for several weeks, and in England this is usually a dry wind. The
roads were dusty, the hedges were brown, and the fields had nothing to
boast of over our own verdure. Indeed, it is unusual to see the grasses
of New York so much discoloured, so early in the season.

I soon established amicable relations with my companion on the box. He had
been ordered at the Vine to stop for an American, and he soon began to
converse about the new world. "Is America anywhere near Van Diemen's
Land?" was one of his first questions. I satisfied him on this head, and
he apologised for the mistake, by explaining that he had a sister settled
in Van Diemen's Land, and he had a natural desire to know something about
her welfare! We passed a house which had more the air of a considerable
place than any I had yet seen, though of far less architectural
pretensions than the miniature castle near Cowes. This, my companion
informed me, had once been occupied by George IV. when Prince of Wales.
"Here his Royal Highness enjoyed what I call the perfection of life, sir;
women, wine, and fox-hunting!" added the professor of the whip, with the
leer of a true amateur.

These coachmen are a class by themselves. They have no concern with
grooming the horses, and keep the reins for a certain number of relays.
They dress in a particular way, without being at all in livery or
uniform, like the continental postilions, talk in a particular way, and
act in a particular way. We changed this personage for another, about
half the distance between Southampton and London. His successor proved
to be even a still better specimen of his class. He was a thorough
cockney, and altogether the superior of his country colleague, he was
clearly the oracle of the boys, delivering his sentiments in the manner
of one accustomed to dictate to all in and about the stables. In
addition to this, there was an indescribable, but ludicrous salvo to his
dignity, in the way of surliness. Some one had engaged him to carry a
blackbird to town, and caused him to wait. On this subject he sang a
Jeremiad in the true cockney key. "He didn't want to _take_ the
_bla-a-a-ck-bud_; but if the man wanted to _send_ the _bla-a-a-ck-bud_,
why didn't he _bring_ the _bla-a-a-ck-bud_?" This is one of the hundred
dialects of the lower classes of the English. One of the horses of the
last team was restiff, and it became necessary to restrain him by an
additional curb before we ventured into the streets of London. I
intimated that I had known such horses completely subdued in America by
filling their ears with cotton. This suggestion evidently gave offence,
and he took occasion soon after to show it. He wrung the nose of the
horse with a cord, attaching its end below, in the manner of a severe
martingale. While going through this harsh process, which, by the way,
effectually subdued the animal, he had leisure to tell him that "he was
an _English_ horse, and not an _out-landish_ horse, and _he_ knew best
what was good for him," with a great deal more similar sound
nationality.

Winchester was the only town of any importance on the road. It is
pleasantly seated in a valley, is of no great size, is but meanly built,
though extremely neat, has a cathedral and a bishop, and is the shire-town
of Hampshire. The assizes were sitting, and Southampton was full of troops
that had been sent from Winchester, in order to comply with a custom which
forbids the military to remain near the courts of justice. England is full
of these political mystifications, and it is one of the reasons that she
is so much in arrears in many of the great essentials. In carrying out the
practice in this identical case, a serious private wrong was inflicted, in
order that, in form, an abstract and perfectly useless principle might be
maintained. The inns at Southampton were filled with troops, who were
billeted on the publicans, will ye, nill ye; and not only the masters of
the different houses, but travellers were subjected to a great
inconvenience, in order that this abstraction might not be violated. There
may be some small remuneration, but no one can suppose for a moment, that
the keeper of a genteel establishment of this nature wishes to see his
carriage-houses, gateways, and halls thronged with soldiers. Society
oppresses him to maintain appearances! At the present day the presence of
soldiers might be the means of sustaining justice, while there is not the
smallest probability that they would be used for contrary purposes, except
in cases in which this usage or law - for I believe there is a statue for
it - would not be in the least respected. This is not an age, nor is
England the country, in which a judge is to be overawed by the roll of a
drum. All sacrifices of common sense, and all recourse to plausible
political combinations, whether of individuals or of men, are uniformly
made at the expense of the majority. The day is certainly arrived when
absurdities like these should be done away with.

The weather was oppressively hot, nor do I remember to have suffered more
from the sun than during this little journey. Were I to indulge in the
traveller's propensity to refer everything to his own state of feeling,
you might be told what a sultry place England is in July. But I was too
old a sailor not to understand the cause. The sea is always more temperate
than the land, being cooler in summer and warmer in winter. After being
thirty days at sea, we all feel this truth, either in one way or the
other. I was quitting the coast, too, which is uniformly cooler than the
interior.

When some twelve or thirteen miles from town, the coachman pointed to a
wood enclosed by a wall, on our left. A rill trickled from the thicket,
and ran beneath the road. I was told that Virginia Water lay there, and
that the evening before a single footpad had robbed a coach in that
precise spot, or within a few hundred yards of the very place where the
King of England at the moment was amusing himself with the fishing-rod.
Highway robberies, however are now of exceedingly rare occurrence, that in
question being spoken of as the only one within the knowledge of my
informant for many years.

Our rate of travelling was much the same as that of one of our own better
sort of stages. The distance was not materially less than that between
Albany and C - - n; the roads were not so hilly, and much better than our
own road; and yet, at the same season, we usually perform it in about the
same time that we went the distance between Southampton and London. The
scenery was tame, nor, with the exception of Winchester, was there a
single object of any interest visible until we got near London. We crossed
the Thames, a stream of trifling expanse, and at Kew we had a glimpse of
an old German-looking edifice in yellow bricks, with towers, turrets, and
battlements. This was one of the royal palaces. It stood on the opposite
side of the river, in the midst of tolerably extensive grounds. Here a
nearly incessant stream of vehicles commenced. I attempted to count the
stage-coaches, and got as high as thirty-three, when we met a line of
mail-coaches, that caused me to stop in despair. I think we met not less
than fifty within the last hour of our journey. There were seven belonging
to the mail in one group. They all leave London at the same hour, for
different parts of the kingdom.

At Hyde Park Corner I began to recall objects known in my early visits
to London. Apsley House had changed owners, and had become the property
of one whose great name was still in the germ, when I had last seen his
present dwelling. The Parks, a gateway or two excepted, were unchanged.
In the row of noble houses that line Piccadilly - in that
hospital-looking edifice, Devonshire House - in the dingy, mean,
irregular, and yet interesting front of St. James's - in Brookes's,
White's, the Thatched House, and various other historical _monuments_, I
saw no change. Buckingham House had disappeared, and an unintelligible
pile was rising on its ruins. A noble "_palazzo-non-finito_" stood at
the angle between the Green and St. James's Parks, and here and there I
discovered houses of better architecture than London was wont of old to
boast. One of the very best of these, I was told, was raised in honour
of Mercury, and probably out of his legitimate profits. It is called
Crockford's.

Our "_bla-a-a-ck-bud_" pulled up in the Strand, at the head of
Adam-street, Adelphi, and I descended from my seat at his side. An extra
shilling brought the glimmering of a surly smile athwart his
blubber-cheeks, and we parted in good-humour. My fellow-travellers were
all men of no very high class, but they had been civil, and were
sufficiently attentive to my wants, when they found I was a stranger, by
pointing out objects on the road, and explaining the usages of the inns.
One of them had been in America, and he boasted a little of his intimacy
with General This and Commodore That. At one time, too, he appeared
somewhat disposed to institute comparisons between the two countries, a
good deal at our expense, as you may suppose; but as I made no answers,
I soon heard him settling it with his companions, that, after all, it
was quite natural a man should not like to hear his own country abused;
and so he gave the matter up. With this exception, I had no cause of
complaint, but, on the contrary, good reason to be pleased.

I was set down at the Adam-street Hotel, a house much frequented by
Americans. The respectable woman who has so long kept it received me
with quiet civility, saw that I had a room, and promised me a dinner in
a few minutes. While the latter was preparing, having got rid of the
dust, I went out into the streets. The lamps were just lighted, and I
went swiftly along the Strand, recalling objects at every step. In this
manner I passed, at a rapid pace, Somerset House, St. Clement's-le-Dane,
St. Mary-le-Strand, Temple-bar, Bridge-street, Ludgate-hill, pausing
only before St. Paul's. Along the whole of this line I saw but little
change. A grand bridge, Waterloo, with a noble approach to it, had been
thrown across the river just above Somerset House, but nearly everything
else remained unaltered. I believe my manner, and the eagerness with
which I gazed at long-remembered objects, attracted attention; for I
soon observed I was dogged around the church by a suspicious-looking
fellow. He either suspected me of evil, or, attracted by my want of a
London air, he meditated evil himself. Knowing my own innocence, I
determined to bring the matter to an issue. We were alone, in a retired
part of the place, and, first making sure that my watch, wallet, and
handkerchief had not already disappeared, I walked directly up to him,
and looked him intently in the face, as if to recognize his features. He
took the hint, and, turning on his heels, moved nimbly of. It is
surprising how soon an accustomed eye will distinguish a stranger in the
streets of a large town. On mentioning this circumstance next day
to - - , he said that the Londoners pretend to recognize a rustic air in
a countess, if she has been six months from town. Rusticity in such
cases, however, must merely mean a little behind the fashions.

I had suffered curiosity to draw me two miles from my dinner, and was as
glad to get back as just before I had been to run away from it. Still
the past, with the recollections which crowded on the mind, bringing
with them a flood of all sorts of associations, prevented me from
getting into a coach, which would, in a measure, have excluded objects
from my sight. I went to bed that night with the strange sensation of
being again in London, after an interval of twenty years.

The next day I set about the business which had brought me to the
English capital. Most of our passengers were in town, and we met, as a
matter of course. I had calls from three or four Americans established
here, some in one capacity, and some in others; for our country has long
been giving back its increase to England, in the shape of admirals,
generals, judges, artists, writers and _notion-mongers_. But what is all
this compared to the constant accessions of Europeans among ourselves?
Eight years later, on returning home, I found New York, in feeling,
opinions, desires, (apart from profit,) and I might almost say, in
population, a foreign rather than American town.

I had passed months in London when a boy, and yet had no knowledge of
Westminster Abbey! I cannot account for this oversight, for I was a great
devotee of Gothic architecture, of which, by the way, I knew nothing,
except through the prints; and I could not reproach myself with a want of
proper curiosity on such subjects, for I had devoted as much time to their
examination as my duty to the ship would at all allow. Still, all I could
recall of the abbey was an indistinct image of two towers, with a glimpse
in at a great door. Now that I was master of my own movements, one of my
first acts was to hurry to the venerable church.

Westminster Abbey is built in the form of a cross, as is, I believe,
invariably the case with every Catholic church of any pretension. At its
northern end are two towers, and at its southern is the celebrated chapel
of Henry VII. This chapel is an addition, which, allowing for a vast
difference in the scale, resembles, in its general appearance, a school,
or vestry-room, attached to the end of one of our own churches. A Gothic
church is, indeed, seldom complete without such a chapel. It is not an
easy matter to impress an American with a proper idea of European
architecture. Even while the edifice is before his eyes, he is very apt to
form an erroneous opinion of its comparative magnitude. The proportions
aid deception in the first place, and absence uniformly exaggerates the
beauty and extent of familiar objects. None but those who have disciplined
the eye, and who have accustomed themselves to measure proportions by
rules more definite than those of the fancy, should trust to their
judgments in descriptions of this sort.

Westminster itself is not large, however, in comparison with St. Paul's,
and an ordinary parish church, called St. Margaret's, which must be, I
think, quite as large as Trinity, New York, and stands within a hundred
yards of the abbey, is but a pigmy compared with Westminster. I took a
position in St. Margaret's church-yard, at a point where the whole of the
eastern side of the edifice might be seen, and for the first time in my
life gazed upon a truly Gothic structure of any magnitude. It was near
sunset, and the light was peculiarly suited to the sombre architecture.
The material was a grey stone, that time had rendered dull, and which had
broad shades of black about its angles and faces. That of the chapel was
fresher, and of a warmer tint; a change well suited to the greater
delicacy of the ornaments.

The principal building is in the severer style of the Gothic, without,
however, being one of its best specimens. It is comparatively plain, nor
are the proportions faultless. The towers are twins, are far from being
high, and to me they have since seemed to have a crowded appearance, or to
be too near each other; a defect that sensibly lessens the grandeur of the
north front. A few feet, more or less, in such a case, may carry the
architect too much without, or too much within, the just proportions. I
lay claim to very little science on the subject, but I have frequently
observed since, that, to my own eye, (and the uninitiated can have no
other criterion,) these towers, as seen from the parks, above the tops of
the trees, have a contracted and pinched air.

But while the abbey church itself is as plain as almost any similar
edifice I remember, its great extent, and the noble windows and doors,
rendered it to me deeply impressive. On the other hand, the chapel is an
exquisite specimen of the most elaborated ornaments of the style. All
sorts of monstrosities have, at one period or another, been pressed into
the service of the Gothic, such as lizards, toads, frogs, serpents,
dragons, spitfires, and salamanders. There is, I believe, some typical
connexion between these offensive objects and the different sins. When
well carved, properly placed, and not viewed too near, their effect is far
from bad. They help to give the edifice its fretted appearance, or a look
resembling that of lace. Various other features, which have been taken
from familiar objects, such as parts of castellated buildings,
portcullises, and armorial bearings, help to make up the sum of the
detail. On Henry the Seventh's chapel, toads, lizards, and the whole group
of metaphorical sins are sufficiently numerous, without being offensively
apparent; while miniature portcullises, escutcheons, and other ornaments,
give the whole the rich and imaginative - almost fairy-like aspect, - which
forms the distinctive feature of the most ornamented portions of the
order. You have seen ivory work-boxes from the East, that were cut and
carved in a way to render them so very complicated, delicate, and
beautiful, that they please us without conveying any fixed forms to the
mind. It would be no great departure from literal truth, were I to bid you
fancy one of these boxes swelled to the dimensions of a church, the
material changed to stone, and, after a due allowance for a difference in
form, for the painted windows, and for the emblems, were I to add, that
such a box would probably give you the best idea of a highly-wrought
Gothic edifice, that any comparison of the sort can furnish.

I stood gazing at the pile, until I felt the sensation we term "a
creeping of the blood." I know that Westminster, though remarkable for
its chapel, was, by no means, a first-rate specimen of its own style of
architecture; and, at that moment, a journey through Europe promised to
be a gradation of enjoyments, each more exquisite than the other. All
the architecture of America united, would not assemble a tithe of the
grandeur, the fanciful, or of the beautiful, (a few imitations of
Grecian temples excepted,) that were to be seen in this single edifice.
If I were to enumerate the strong and excited feelings which are
awakened by viewing novel objects, I should place this short visit to
the abbey as giving birth in me to sensation No. 1. The emotion of a
first landing in Europe had long passed; our recent "land-fall" had been
like any other "land-fall," merely pleasant; and I even looked upon St.
Paul's as an old and a rather familiar friend. This was absolutely my
introduction to the Gothic, and it has proved to be an acquaintance
pregnant of more satisfaction than any other it has been my good fortune
to make since youth.

It was too late to enter the church, and I turned away towards the
adjoining public buildings. The English kings had a palace at Westminster,
in the times of the Plantagenets. It was the ancient usage to assemble the
parliament, which was little more than a _lit de justice_ previously to
the struggle which terminated in the commonwealth, in the royal residence,



Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperRecollections of Europe → online text (page 4 of 29)