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The old court suburb : or Memorials of Kensington regal, critical, & anecdotical (Volume 1) online

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visited libraries on the Continent, he dined with the
K



146 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

monks and others who possessed them, and made
a feast-day of it with the gaiety of his company.
When he assembled his friends over a new publica-
tion, or for the purpose of inspecting a set of old
ones, the meeting was what he delighted to call a
' symposium ' ; that is to say, they drank as well as
ate, and were very merry over old books, old words,
and what they persuaded themselves was old wine.
There would have been a great deal of reason in
it all, if the books had been worth as much inside
as out ; but in a question between the finest of works
in plain calf, and one of the fourth or fifth-rate, old
and rare, and bound by Charles Lewis, the old book
would have carried it hollow. It would even have
been read with the greater devotion. However, the
mania was harmless, and helped to maintain a
proper curiosity into past ages. Tom (for, though
a Reverend, and a Doctor, we can hardly think of
him seriously), was a good-natured fellow, not very
dignified in any respect ; but he had the rare merit
of being candid. A moderate sum of money was
bequeathed him by Douce ; and he said he thought
he deserved it, from the ' respectful attention ' he
had always paid to that not very agreeable gentle-
man. Tom was by no means ill-looking ; yet
he tells us, that being in company, when he was
young, with an elderly gentleman, who knew his
father, and the gentleman being asked by somebody
whether the son resembled him, ' Not at all ! ' was




vo&ttd . . . ama'



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 147

the answer. ' Captain Dibdin was a fine-looking
fellow.'

This same father was the real glory of Tom ; for
the reader must know, that Captain Dibdin was no
less a person than the ' Tom Bowling ' of the famous
sea-song :

' Here a sheer hulk lies poor Tom Bowling,
The darling of our crew.'

Captain Thomas Dibdin was the brother of Charles
Dibdin, the songster of the seamen ; and an admir-
able fellow was Charles, and a fine fellow, in every
respect, the brother thus fondly recorded by him.
4 No more ' (continues the song, for the reader will
not grudge us the pleasure of calling it to mind)

' No more he '11 hear the tempest howling,
For death has broach'd him too.

His form was of the manliest beauty,

His heart was kind and soft ;
Faithful below he did his duty,

But now he's gone aloft.'

Dr Dibdin was thus the nephew of a man of
genius, and the son of one of the best specimens
of an Englishman. His memory may be content.

The Doctor relates an anecdote of the house
opposite him, which he considers equal to any
4 Romance of Real Life.' This comes of the anti-
quarian habit of speaking in superlatives, and
expressing amazement at every little thing. As
the circumstance, however, is complete of its kind,




CHARLES DIBDIN



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 149

and the kind, though not so rare, we suspect, as may
be imagined, is not one of everyday occurrence, it
may be worth repeating. A handsome widow, it
seems, in the prime of life, but in reduced circum-
stances, and with a family of several children, had
been left in possession of the house, and desired to let
it. A retired merchant of sixty, who was looking
out for a house in Kensington, came to see it. He
fell in love with the widow ; paid his addresses to
her on the spot, in a respectful version of the old
question put to the fair showers of such houses,
(' Are you, my dear, to be let with the lodgings ? ') ;
and after a courtship of six months, was wedded
to the extemporaneous object of his affections at
Kensington Church, the Doctor himself joyfully offici-
ating as clergyman ; for the parties were amiable ;
the bridegroom was a collector of books ; and the
books were accompanied by a cellar full of burgundy
and champagne.

Returning into the high road, and continuing our
path on the Terrace side of the way, we come to
Leonard's Place, and to Earl's Court Terrace, in
both of which Mrs Inchbald resided for some
months, in boarding-houses ; in the former, at a
Mrs Voysey's ; in the latter, at No. 4. Boarding-
houses, though their compulsory hours of eating
and drinking did not suit her, she found more
agreeable than other lodgings, owing to their supply-
ing her with more companionship, and giving her



150 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

more to do for her companions. The poor souls in
these places appear to need it. Speaking of the
kind of hospital at Mrs Voysey's, in the summer
of 1818, she says 'All the old widows and old
maids of this house are stretched upon beds or
sofas, with swollen legs, nervous headaches, or
slow fevers ; brought on by loss of appetite, broken
sleep, and other dog-day complaints ; while I am
the only young and strong person among them, and
am called upon to divert their blue devils from
bringing them to an untimely end. I love to be
of importance ; and so the present society is flatter-
ing to my vanity.'

She was then sixty-five. What a god-send to
the poor creatures she must have been ! A woman
of genius, very entertaining, full of anecdote and
old stories, and though so young in mind, yet of
an age bodily to keep them in heart with them-
selves, and so make hope to live on.

At the back of Earl's Terrace was, and is, a
curious pretty, little spot, called Edwardes Square,
after the family name of Lord Kensington ; and
in this Square Mrs Inchbald must often have
walked, for the inhabitants of the Terrace have
keys to it, and it gives them a kind of larger
garden. We have called the spot curious as well
as pretty, and so it is in many respects, in one
of them contradictory to the prettiness, for one side
of the Square is formed of the backs and garden-



152 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

walls of the Earl's Terrace houses, and the opposite
side of it coach-houses, and of little tenements that
appear to have been made out of them. The whole
of this latter side, however, is plastered, and partly
overgrown with ivy, so as to be rather an ornament
than an eyesore. But what chiefly surprises the
spectator, when he first sees the place, is the large-
ness, as well as cultivated look of the square,
compared with the smallness of the houses on two
sides of it. The gardener's lodge, also, is made
to look like a Grecian temple, really in good taste ;
and though the grass is not as thick and soft as it
might be, nor the flowers as various, and pathways
across the grass had better have been straight than
winding (there being no inequalities of ground to
render the winding natural), yet, upon the whole,
there is such an unexpected air of size, greenness,
and even elegance in the place, especially when
its abundant lilacs are in blossom, and ladies are
seen on its benches reading, that the stroller, who
happens to turn out of the road, and comes upon
the fresh-looking sequestered spot for the first time,
is interested as well as surprised, and feels curious
to know how a square of any kind, comparatively
so large, and, at the same time, manifestly so cheap
(for the houses, though neat and respectable, are
too small to be dear), could have suggested itself
to the costly English mind. Upon inquiry, he
finds it to have been the work of a Frenchman.



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 153

The story is, that the Frenchman built it at the
time of the threatened invasion from France ; and
that he adapted the large square and the cheap
little houses to the promenading tastes and poorly-
furnished pockets of the ensigns and lieutenants of
Napoleon's army ; who, according to his speculation,
would certainly have been on the lookout for some
such place, and here would have found it. Here,
thought he, shall be cheap lodging and fete champetre
combined ; here, economy in-doors, and Watteau
without ; here, repose after victory ; promenades ;
la belle passion ; perusal of newspapers on benches ;
an ordinary at the Holland Arms, a French
Arcadia in short, or a little Palais Royal, in an
English suburb. So runs the tradition ; we do
not say how truly, though it could hardly have
entered an English head to invent it.

It was allowable for French imaginations in those
days to run a little wild, on the strength of
Napoleon's victories. We do not repeat the story
for the sake of saying how wild. We believe
that both Frenchmen and Englishmen, at present,
for reasons best known to all Governments, not
actually out of their senses, are for keeping to their
localities as peaceably and regularly as possible ;
and we devoutly hope they may continue to do
so, not only for the sake of the two greatest
nations in Europe, but for that of the security of
advancement For it is better to advance gently,



154 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

however slowly, than to be incessantly thrown back
from one extreme to another ; and the world and
right opinion will progress as surely as time does,
whatever efforts despots and bigots may make to
put back the clock.

It is said, in Kensington, that Coleridge once had
lodgings in Edwardes Square. We do not find
the circumstance in his biographies, though he once
lived in the neighbouring village of Hammersmith.
Perhaps, he was on a visit to a friend ; for we are
credibly informed, that he used to be seen walking
in the square. A lady, who was a child at the
time, is very proud of his having spoken to her,
and given her a kiss.




S. T. COLERIDGE



CHAPTER TWELVE

HOLLAND HOUSE is the only important mansion,
venerable for age and appearance, which is now to
be found in the neighbourhood of London. There
has been talk more than once of pulling it down ;
but every feeling of memory seems to start up at
the threat, and cry, No, No ! The cry is not
only one of the utmost parliamentary propriety :
the weight of the whole voice of the metropolis
may be said to be in it; nay, of the nation itself;
and even of the civilised world ; for what court
or diplomatist that knows of the ' Whigs,' knows
not of ' Holland House ' ? or what foreigner, with
any taste for English wit and localities, visits
London without going to see it ? It is not hand-
some ; it is not ancient ; but it is of an age
sufficient to make up for want of beauty ; it shows
us how our ancestors built before Shakspeare died ;
a crowd of the reigning wits and beauties of that,
and every succeeding generation, passes through
it to the ' mind's ^eye,' brilliant with life and colour ;
and there it stands yet, on its old rising ground,

156




THE OLD COURT SUBURB

with its proper accompaniment of sward
and trees, to gratify everybody that can
appreciate it, and shame any one that
would do it wrong.
May it everlast-
ingly be repaired,
and never look
otherwise than
past times beheld
it.

The upper apart-
ments of Holland
House are on a
level with the
stone gallery of
the dome of St
Paul's. Their
front windows
command a view *

of the Surrey hills ; as those of the back do of
Harrow, Hampstead, and Highgate.

When this interesting old mansion came into the
possession of the present lord, seeing the masons
at work, and finding one of the approaches to it
stopped up, we trembled at what he might be
going to do with it. That approach was called
Nightingale Lane, and had long, been a favourite
with the Kensingtonians ; for besides enabling
them to get closer to the nightingales, it afforded



\- 'S*i*5r

-^rfWSiPr

.^c

'*' >">i'r'-r, ,.- .
- v^V^t/



158 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

them a passage right in front of the house. This
passage was now closed ; a parapet wall was taking
the place of it ; two stone piers, designed by Inigo
Jones, disappeared from the courtyard ; and every-
thing looked as if the appearance of the house itself
was about to be altered.

The alarm, however, proved false. The house,
externally, remained untouched ; and when the
stone piers, not very intelligible in their previous
distance from one another, were found composing
a gate at the side of it, and vases of geraniums
made their appearance on the parapet wall, and
orange trees came in front of the geraniums, and
the shut-up lane was compounded for by a new
one, which, though it led only by a side of the
house, opened a more convenient passage to
Netting Hill, and was furnished, moreover, with
a bench like those in the parks, to give a resting-
place to passengers themselves (persons not too
often cared for in aristocratical changes), the alter-
ations, though producing an effect perhaps not
thoroughly harmonious between the northern
architecture and its southern accompaniments,
could not but be acknowledged to be improve-
ments in the main, and to have rendered the
entire spot more remarkable and attractive.

The aged look of the exterior of Holland House
is the more precious to the antiquary, inasmuch
as with the exception of a staircase or so, it is



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 159

the only part of its antiquity remaining. The
interior has long been so modernised, that a lover
of old times is grieved to find not a single room
in it which brings them before him. There is little
which is older than the youth of the late lord,
and much that has been further modernised by the
present. The fact is, that the house had become
so neglected during the nonage of the former, in
consequence of the reckless expenditures of the
first lord and his son Charles (the great Whig
leader), that there was talk of converting it into
a workhouse. Lord Holland, a respecter of old
associations, and of the pleasures of other people,
saved it ; and this circumstance should be counted
among the claims to respect of his own genial
memory.

The lodge, which the new lord has renovated
and doubled, is in a style suitable to the mansion ;
with the exception, perhaps, of the two footway
entrances, which look a little flimsy. The reten-
tion of the gilding on the iron gates may be
objected to by some, as partaking of the same
character ; but we think otherwise. The gilding
is but partial ; it relieves (to our eyes) the sombre-
ness of the iron ; and, being confined to the
ornamental portion of the work, gives it a kind of
golden efflorescence. We have not enough of this
kind of work in England ; do not sufficiently avail
ourselves of the bright lights and colours that we



160 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

might bring to bear on our sombre climate. To
see, on a dark, wet, muddy day, all the people
going along in dark or brown colours, everything
looking dingy or insipid the houses insipid, the
carts and wagons insipid, most of the carriages
equally so, and the faces either to match or full
of care, the circumstances all seem to conspire
with the weather to cut as miserable an appearance
as possible ; as though the passengers were tacitly
saying,

' Let us all be unhappy together.'

We are aware that there is a 'harmony' in the
spectacle ; but it is a wretched harmony ; and we
think a little cheerful discord would be bet -r.
Nobody objects to a rainbow. Flowers, protected
by verandahs in balconies, are welcome to the eyes
in any weather. There are colours that suit dark-
ness ; and a good diffusion of them at such times
would be a god-send. For our parts, we always
feel grateful on a rainy day, when we see a market
woman go by in a red cloak.

Of the lawn, or rather meadow, which lies in front
of Holland House, there is a tradition that Cromwell
and Ireton conferred in it, as a place in which they
could not be overheard. From circumstances here-
after to be noticed, the tradition is probable. It
shows that whatever the subject of the conference



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 161

may have been, they could not have objected to
being seen ; for there was neither wall, nor even
trees, we believe, at that time in front of the house,
as there is now ; and we may fancy royalists riding
by, on their road to Brentford, where the king's
forces were defeated, and trembling to see the two
grim republicans laying their heads together.

The grounds at the back of the house are more
extensive than might be supposed, and contain
many fine old trees of various kinds, with spots of
charming seclusion. The portion nearest the house
presents an expanse of turf of the most luxurious
description, with a most noble elm-tree upon it,
and an alcove facing the west, in which there is a
couplet that was put up by the late lord in honour
of Mr Rogers, and a copy of verses by Mr Luttrell,
expressing his inability to emulate the poet. The
couplet is as follows :

4 Here Rogers sat, and here for ever dwell,
To me, those pleasures that he sang so well.'

VLL. HD.

Inscriptions challenge comments ; brief ones, it
is thought, ought in particular to be faultless ; seats
in summer time, and loungings about on luxurious
turfs (half-an-hour before dinner), beget the most
exacting criticisms ; and thus a nice question has
arisen, whether the relative pronoun in this couplet
ought to be that or which. Our first impression was
L



1 62 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

in favour of that; but happening to repeat the
lines next morning while in the act of waking, we
involuntarily said which ; upon which side of the
question we are accordingly prepared to fight,
with all the inveteracy of deserters from the other.
Lord Holland's couplet is in the simple and
tranquil taste which he had so much right to ad-
mire ; Mr Luttrell's verses, which are a score longer,
would have been improved by compression. They
are a sample of the difference which they themselves
speak of, between natural and artificial writing, or
that which is prompted by what is felt, and that
which would emulate the expression of others.
The old eighteenth - century fashion of rhyming
with its ' heart and impart, rove, grove,' etc., is
here (literally) in all its glory. But see how
pleasant and readable are one or two natural ex-
pressions :



'Well, now I am fairly installed in the bower,
How lovely the scene ! how propitious the hour !
The breeze is perfumed, from the hawthorn it stirs
All is silent around me but nothing occurs ;
Not a thought, I protest, though I'm here and alone ;
Not a chance of a couplet that Rogers would own ;
Though my senses are raptur'd, my feelings in tune,
And Holland's my host, and the season is June.

So I rise, since the Muses continue to frown,
No more of a poet than when I sat down.'



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 163

Beyond this mossy lawn is the open undulating
ground, terminated by the Uxbridge Road, with
which the public have become acquainted by means
of the Highland Pastimes ; all round the grounds
is a rustic lane, furnishing a long leafy walk ; on
the western side of the house are small gardens,
both in new and old styles, the work of the late
Lady Holland, and the latter very properly retained,
both as a variety from the former, and as a fitting
accompaniment to the old house. It is also pleas-
ant to fancy in what sort of way our grandmothers
and great-grandmothers, the Chloes and Delias of
the eighteenth century, enjoyed their flower - beds.
In one of these gardens was raised the first specimen
of that beautiful flower, the dahlia, which the late
Lord Holland is understood to have brought from
Spain ; in another, on a pedestal, is a colossal bust
of Napoleon, by a pupil of Canova ; further west,
towards the Addison Road, are the Moats ; which
(to say nothing of the evidence furnished by an
apocryphal bit of brickwork that accompanies them)
are looked upon as the site of the older mansion
belonging to the De Veres ; and further still, a few
years ago, was an expiatory classical altar, erected
by the same lord, in memory of the fate of poor
Lord Camelford, a man half out of his wits, who
was killed on this spot in a duel which he insisted
on provoking. We know not why it was removed ;
probably to efface the melancholy impression.



1 64 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

The bust of Napoleon is inscribed with a felicitous
quotation from Homer :

Ov Y*P *"" T8vt]KV tiri \9ovi 8105 OSvororcus,
AXX' tri irov os KarepvKtrai evpa ITOVTW,
cv afKJnpvTT]' ^aXciroi 8 p.iv avSpts



' Which ' (says the person who is speaking on the
passage in Mr Faulkner's ' History of Kensington,'
and whom we take to have been the late Lord
Holland himself) ' I have seen somewhere translated
thus :

' He is not dead ; he breathes the air

In lands beyond the deep !
Some distant sea-girt island, where
Harsh men the hero keep.'

The translation is probably his lordship's own.*
Upon this inscription it may be observed, that harsh
men certainly had the keeping of the hero ; who had
been, however, a harsh man himself, and kept
thousands of men in worse durance. But his keepers
were not only harsh ; they were mean and shabby ;
refused him a title in his adversity, which they were
prepared to acknowledge had he consented to their
terms, when they doubted the issue of the contest ;
and they suffered him to be worried by a set of
men incapable of understanding him, except as

* The account of Holland House in Faulkner's book is written in a
style wholly different from the rest of it ; and instead of being used as
the writer must have intended, betrays other evidences of having been
clumsily taken into its pages in the lump.




-



THE OLD COURT SUBURB



165



jailers. It was the revenge of long-defeated dulness
upon fallen genius, and is a blot in the history of
England's greatness.

The altar in memory of Lord Camelford was an
ancient Roman one, erected on a modern base, and
was inscribed with a propitiatory dedication to de-
parted souls, or the gods who preside over places of
the dead a curious instance of classical ' making as
if of playing at Paganism on so serious an occasion.
It was quite, however, in the taste of the last century,
and was a local relief to the imagination.

' Hoc Diis Manibus Voto Dis- ',

cordiam Deprecamur.' . - ,

(Thus devoutly honouring the Dii
Manes we deprecate dissen-
sion.)

Lord Camel ford's body,
however, is not here. With
the passion for going to
extremes, which character-
ised him, he directed that
it should be buried under
a tree in a solitary spot in
Switzerland, which had in-
terested him during his
travels. He was a Pitt,
nephew to the great Earl
of Chatham, who wrote him
letters when a boy, that show




1 66 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

how little sometimes can be done in directing the future
career even of a child otherwise intelligent, who has
been born, from whatever cause, with a certain wild-
ness in his blood. The poor youth, who came to
his end before he was thirty, was wildness itself in




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many respects, though he was fond of serious studies.
His manners were perfect at times, but at others
would burst out into arrogance and insolence. He
was a Christian, it is said, upon conviction, and yet
could quarrel with a man about a prostitute, and
insist upon fighting him, notwithstanding all that
could be done to adjust the difference. The reason



THE OLD COURT SUBURB 167

he gave was, that his antagonist was too good a
shot to make it up with. The antagonist was a
Mr Best. Lord Camelford went up to him in
Stevens's Hotel in Bond Street, and addressed him
in the following placid words : ' Mr Best, I am glad
to see you face to face, and to tell you you are an
infamous scoundrel.' He afterwards confessed, like
a gentleman, that he had been the aggressor.

But an old house is not perfect without a ghost,
and Holland House has two. They do not indeed
haunt it, and were very transient in their appearance ;
but they will serve to give a bit of ghostly interest
to the spot, for those whose imaginations like to
' catch a fearful joy ' on such points. The account is
in Aubrey's ' Miscellanies,' which were written in the
reign of William the Third.

' The beautiful Lady Diana Rich, daughter to the
Earl of Holland, as she was walking in her father's
garden at Kensington, to take the fresh air before
dinner, about eleven o'clock, being then very well,
met with her own apparition, habit and everything,
as in a looking-glass. About a month after, she
died of the small-pox. And it is said, that her sister,
the Lady Isabella Thynne, saw the like of herself
also, before she died. This account I had from a
person of honour.'

Aubrey, though his gossip is valuable to a lover
of books, was credulous to excess. It is impossible,
however, to say what visions may not be seen by



1 68 THE OLD COURT SUBURB

people in bad states of health what actual images
the imagination, in certain morbid states of the brain,
may not bring before the eye. Nicolai, the German
bookseller, was in the habit of seeing spectral men
and women pass through his room ; and a sick young


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